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The Devil’s Debut

         

 

 

Marie Roget stood gazing into the bathroom mirror.  It was the only piece of furniture not looted or vandalized in the condemned hotel.  The auburn haired, infantile-faced adolescent looking out of from the glass was, she reflected, pure fiction.  The only part of Marie’s anatomy shown in the mirror that remained unchanged from the fiend of hell, where her dark eyes—the same black orbs that had beguiled politicians, tycoons, and kings and had once mocked Christ. 

Ironically, those same beacons that so often gave her away were the only parts of her amorphous body she could not change.  Marie was tempted to conjure up a pair of colored contacts to hide her terrible stare.  She wasn't certain how she should actually present herself to the world.  Her plain brown dress had seemed appropriate enough, but she needed a fashionable wardrobe now.  What bubbled inside her—the greatest malevolent force ever brewed—could scarcely be contained, as she studied herself in the mirror.  For one brief moment, her eyes flashed red with energy.  Her skin radiated an ethereal light.  The effect lasted during the sudden burst of thoughts racing through her mind, dissipating as she looked beyond herself into the glass.

A notion, born of impatience and ambition, gripped her as she stared into the mirror.  In the quiet of the room Marie Roget’s infernal heart hammered hard in her delicate ribcage.  Perspiration gathered on her infantile brow.  After turning from her reflection, she paced around the room a moment as would a feline trapped in a cage.  Drawn to the door handle, she opened the door finally and slipped down the hall.  The sound of snoring in each room was interspersed with snorts and fitful groans, reminding her that she was among alcoholics, drug addicts, and the lowest riff-raff from the street.  After she left her temporary refuge, a notion filled her head.

In the hollows of Skid Row, it seemed no one knew Satan was afoot.  What if, she dared ask herself, she gave them—the mainstream—a small inkling of things to come.  What fun that would be? She thrilled at the thought.  The compulsion swelled in Marie Roget’s inscrutable mind.  Walking softly down the rickety staircase, she drew her robe against her bare skin until passing through the ramshackle lobby and emerging on the street.

          As a few wary tramps, who were shuffling up and down the boulevard, looked on, Marie was tempted to throw her robe aside and scamper naked down the boulevard, leaping gazelle like, humming a Wagnerian aria, as she began her official debut.  Instead, she paused in silence to reflect on her mission, drawing her robe more tightly around her shivering frame.  This was Skid Row…. Who but a handful of lecherous tramps would find a naked woman bereft of her senses significant?  In spite of her attempts at being discreet, she had been tempted to give them a show…. But not this way.  She must have a logical plan.

Common sense returned momentarily to Marie Roget.  She began jogging back to the condemned hotel.  It was not time, she reminded herself.  She must not compromise her goals with melodrama.  There would be plenty of time for theatrics later on the world stage.  More importantly for Marie, was the unspeakable danger she would not admit to: the prophecies. 

It was not merely John the Revelator and the Apostles who prophesized her return.  Did not Jesus, himself, promise signs and portents in the Latter Days?  Marie had no intentions of playing to a Biblical script, which was one reason why she chose her present form: a young woman.  She must not portray the Scarlet Woman of the Harlot Church, which scampering naked down the street might convey.  She must in the future avoid all indications of geographical and political boundaries of the one world government and church forecasted by prophets and apostles of the Judeo-Christian faiths.  Everything she did from now on must be totally the opposite from doomsday forecasts.  Without those outdated prophecies, there could be no end times chronology.  She would be writing the script!

As she stood under the marquee, however, her natural theatrical impulse seemed stronger than her common sense.  If she’s going to debut, she reasoned, it must be subtle, unique, and be shown to only a select few.  What would be the harm?  Looking up into the morning sky, an idea and rationale took hold that made sound sense to her. 

          “I came up through the bowels of the earth,” she exclaimed in a girlish voice. “That’s what everyone expects.  So I’ll make my debut in the clouds, appearing in the morning sky!”

Marie’s alter ego replied quickly “This is madness.  How can you be subtle with such a grand scheme?” But it was too late, the transformation of her amorphous body had already begun.   Her robe fill onto the sidewalk as if she had suddenly disappeared.  For a moment, as she hovered excitedly down the boulevard, she created a ghostly imprint on the surrounding scene.  She appeared as smog and moved as engine exhaust, causing eye irritation, offending noses and, at several points, startling drivers half out of their wits.  Yet she remained just outside of visual range and never once made a sound.

          Soaring high into the sky, changing through various will-o’ the-wisp forms into something that would be apparent that to Abaddon, the gate keeper's eyes, Satan again reinvented herself over a range of evolutionary themes.  As a primordial mist, blown by the wind, she remained airborne awhile.  After transforming into a translucent Precambrian glob, her body took on gradual pigmentation and design.  Her primitive blob-like shape became a fish swimming through the air, then a tadpole, salamander, and flying reptile with a great wingspan and a monstrous beak.  Flying experimentally a moment, then rising majestically in the sky, she disappeared prudently into the clouds.

          When she had broken through the other side, Lucifer had been reborn, rising up, as would the Phoenix, amid fire and smoke, flapping her devilish wings and rolling her cat-like eyes.  As the stereotype devil of hell, this creature signaled to Abaddon, now looking up through the Porthole of Man, her reign on earth.  And yet, it was witnessed by only a small audience on the topside of the clouds, beyond the view of earth.  Not a soul had seen her yet, except the Gate Master of Hell and the passengers, flight crew, and attendants aboard Flight 127 from Paris France.

          While this indicated satanic power, it also signaled her war with God.  Although it was a new beginning, Abaddon, who sat now on the Throne of Hell, wondered if it might not just be the beginning of the end of Satan or God.  He was not sure….Nor was Mare Roget, whose foolish impulse had shown her hand.

          A great dread filled the serpent as he sat on the Throne of Hell.  This was not a game or exercise to while away infernal time.  Where the master had been content with the status quo before, she now had a grand plan in mind.  Where her minions on earth had harvested most of the souls, she would take charge up there in a way never dreamed of before.  Where she had frequently appeared topside to tempt a random soul, she now had the entire earth in mind, and she would not come back down until she had won the war… or lost.

 

******

          For the flight personnel and some of the passengers aboard Flight 127 to Los Angeles, the miracle filtered through both human skepticism and atmospheric conditions.  Of the few on the sunlit side of the plane witnessing this bizarre formation, not all of them had seen it clearly and/or long enough to venture an opinion.  It had been several hundred feet away from the plane when it surfaced and it lasted for only a few moment before sinking back into the clouds.  The brightness of the sun shining on the plane as well as the rapid movements of the mirage also distracted from the show.  Nevertheless, a chosen few aboard Flight 127, would become the first to witness Satan’s debut.

Among those who would later come forth as witnesses to this event were the captain, himself, his copilot, two stewardesses, and two Roman Catholic clerics, who would take snapshots and capture the event they hoped would turn out on their digital camera and camcorder.

          As the pilot gave his before landing speech, he found his attention quickly drawn to the apparition ahead, but it registered slowly in his skeptical mind.

          “This is your captain speaking,” he began cheerily. “We are now in a flight path for LAX.  We should be landing shortly and breaking through this lovely mantle of clouds.  For those of you who have never seen the city’s smog, ‘no there hasn’t been a nuclear exchange.’  According to the tower, it’s only a second stage alert and rather pleasant for this time of year.  The tower has cleared Flight 127 to land.  Many years ago, pilots would have to tell passengers to douse their cigarettes.  Now I must ask you to douse your cell phones and laptops, since this interferes with communications.  Please fasten your seat belts and please remain seated and secured in your seats until we land.   Thank you for flying Allied Air!”

          “Fasten your safety belts,” Flight attendant Sondra Largo reminded the clerics preoccupied with the view.

          “Please remain seated,” Ashley Dumas, her co-worker told them, as they began fumbling with the camera in the young priests hands.

          “This is your captain again,” the pilot’s voice returned suddenly. “I’ve just sighted an interesting cloud formation directly to my left.  Some of you may already have noticed.  It looks sort of like the devil, although my copilot sees old Neptune surfacing from the sea.  For those of you on the sunlit side it should already be visible as we continue our turn.”

          A science fiction and UFO buff, herself, Sondra’s dark eyes flashed with excitement as she took the window side and strapped herself in.

          “Look, Ashley, it does look like the devil.” She pointed out of the porthole.

          “It looks like a cloud to me,” Ashley replied indifferently .

          In truth, though, Ashley’s green eyes had grown slightly myopic since attending night school this year.  Without her new glasses, which were still in her purse, the apparition in the clouds might just as well have been the Pillsbury Dough Boy.  As she pulled her spectacles finally out and placed them on her freckled nose, she was able to see just enough of the apparition to cause her to gasp.

          As the plane began a wide arc, the apparition came closer and closer, but then began disappearing below the clouds.  It had lasted, the priest clocked it with his watch, only three and one-half minutes.

          “What do you suppose that was?” Ashley asked her friend.

          “I’m not sure,” Sondra replied breathlessly, her small nose pressed against the glass, “but it was not a UFO!”

          “It’s a sign from God!” the young nun looked back from her seat. “Father Dominickk and I’ve taken pictures of it to show our bishop and maybe the Pope!                    

“It’s him, the devil!  It’s beginning right before our eyes!” Father Dominickk now responded, his gazed transfixed on the sight. “I’ve seen the dragon!” he whispered to himself. 

“... Where now is the beast?

          In his mind now, the priest remembered the passage from the Book of Revelations that introduced this event.  For the first time in his long, uneventful career as a priest, he felt the breath of God at his neck and knew what his mission was on earth.

 

Rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them.  Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, knowing that he has only a short time.

 

******

After its prelude, Satan sank through the clouds, descending as a malevolent vapor down to earth.  For one brief moment, captured in the minds of several onlookers below, the vapor was visible, appearing to many eyewitnesses as a small tornado or, more simply, as an ominous mist that disappeared completely several hundred feet in the air. 

As Father Dominick La Farge and Sister Monique Clausin exited Flight 127, they could hear the excited murmurs of passengers and flight attendants who had seen the formation in the clouds.  Father Dominick, always impulsive with his religious fervor, had decided, against the good sister’s advice, to talk to some of the eyewitnesses before heading back to Saint Joseph’s rectory in town.  He wanted to bolster his documented evidence and he and Monique’s account with like-minded opinions of this event.

Most of his short question and answer interviews occurred during the several moments that the passengers disembarked from the plane into the terminal.  Using the small recorder in his coat, he captured their acknowledgements and brief comments on tape.  Bowing to the nun’s wishes, he promised to limit his inquisitiveness from the flight crew to only the two flight attendants they met on the plane.  This would round off his list of eyewitnesses when he played the tape for the bishop that day.  Captured on both the digital camera and camcorder slung around his neck, he believed, was the greatest evidence of all: graphic proof of the dragon, which was forever imprinted in the priest’s crowded mind.

His articulate and excellent English, with only a hint of a French accent struck the two airline stewardesses, Sondra Largo and Ashley Dumas, as amusing, but caused an eyebrow to raise faintly on the nun’s haggard face.  Monique knew how foolish this all sounded to anyone else who had not seen the cloud formation.  A few of the exiting passengers had snickered at the “deranged priest.”  She was not certain that the flight attendants, themselves, would not make fun of Dominick too.  The sound of his tiny cassette recorder was barely audible as he engaged the women on the gangplank entering the terminal.  A look of determination, often interpreted as fanaticism, now glowed in his piercing dark eyes. 

The long journey from Paris’s noisy and crowded airport had seemed to take its toll on Sister Monique Clausen, and yet she managed to straighten her habit and spruce herself up in the tiny restroom offered in the plane.  Not so for the dedicated, fact-gathering priest.  His priestly garb looked as if he had slept in it, which in fact he had.  His hair, always mussed, stuck out in all directions and his shoes had not been polished in months.  Monique’s only desire was to retreat into her quarters at the rectory, however simple, shower, eat a simple meal and sleep until noon tomorrow.  The good father, who was already worn-out from his sleepless energy, would simply crash somewhere, perhaps at the rectory on the nearest couch.  In his present frame of mind, he had no desire for sleep or even proper sustenance.  She had never seen him so utterly driven before nor so bereft of his common sense.    

As he eyed their nametags carefully, he at first struck the stewardesses as quizzical and eccentric.  Monique had experienced the priest’s impulsiveness before, but had never gotten used to the momentary difficulties it caused them.  So far in their short careers together it appeared as if the Lord watched over and even approved of the priest’s recklessness.  Today, this hour, she sensed, with a feeling of uneasiness, that he was about to launch them on his greatest spiritual detour.

“Pardon me mademoiselles Largo and Dumas,” he called out to the stewardesses as they continued on their way, “what did you think of this phenomenon outside the plane?  Was that not one for the books, eh?”

Monique cringed. 

“Well,” Sondra said with a titter, “at first I thought it might be a close encounter of some sort, but now I think it’s sort of a religious thing.”

“Sort of a religious thing, eh?” Dominick said cagily. “Yes-yes mon amé that is what sister Monique and I believe.”

“Really?  So, we weren’t hallucinating.” Ashley giggled foolishly, her exhaustion displaying itself in an expansive yawn. “Just what was that supposed to be out there Padre—the devil?”

“Ah, ouí, mademoiselle,” he nodded reflectively, “but padre is Spanish, is it not?  I am French-American.  Your name, Dumas, is French too, is it not?  Are you from this city?”

The question seemed irrelevant to the women, but Sister Monique, who wanted no part of this conversation, understood perfectly well.  The priest wanted to know whether or not these two bimbos were locals in case he wanted to talk to them again. 

“French-Canadian,” Ashley corrected the beaming Dominick gently, “but I was born in Garden Grove.”

“Garden Grove?” he murmured, rolling the unfamiliar name over and over in this mouth. “Garden Grove, Garden Grove...Where is this Garden Grove?”

“Orange County.” Ashley looked at him in disbelief.

As if that just explained everything, the stewardess looked dully into space, but Sondra studied the pushy priest as he went on with what really interested him now.

“So, you both saw the dragon?” his heart quickened. “You truly saw it in the clouds!”

“Oh, it wasn’t a dragon,” Sondra frowned thoughtfully. “I think Ashley was right.  It definitely had horns like a devil.  When I heard the captain announce it, I was hoping it might be a UFO.”

“I think I understand.” It was his turn to frown thoughtfully. “You are—how do they say it?—a science fiction buff.  Is this not correct mademoiselle?”

“Yes, I guess so,” Sondra was growing irritated now. “This is all very interesting father, what did you say your name was?”

“Very interesting, indeed,” he persisted, his eyes moving abstractedly to her nametag. “You, like many of your countrymen, prefer a scientific explanation when confronted with the unknown.  But this is not science fiction mademoiselle Largo.  Your name—Largo—sounds Latin too, eh?  Are you perhaps a Catholic?”

“Italian-American,” she said flatly, “born a Catholic.  I’m not sure what I am now.”

“You belong to the true church my daughter,” he spoke now as a priest.

At this point, with the two stewardesses' verifications on the tape recorder in his pocket, he realized he had intruded enough.  They had all seen a cloud formation that looked like Satan.  What more could one say?

“Please call my cell phone,” he quickly passed his business card to each one of them, “if you wish to talk more about this matter.  I know you are both tired as sister Monique and myself.  With Sister Monique’s help, I plan on investigating this event.  I believe that we were all blessed in seeing the dragon.  I am certain that we live in momentous times,... perhaps the last days.”

On that ominous note, he and Sister Monique bid the two stewardesses adieu and, elbowing their way through the press of people, made their way to the baggage counter.  The stewardesses walked at a much slower rate as the rush of disembarking passengers passed them by.

“The last days?  What did he mean by that Ashley?” Sondra’s dark eyes seemed troubled now. “... I’ve heard my boyfriend mention those words, but Brad’s parents are Bible-thumping Protestants.  I’ve never heard a priest talk like that before!”

“I don’t know anything about religion.” Ashley yawned widely again. “But that man gave me the creeps!  He was too pushy.  I think he was taping us too.  The nerve of that guy!”

“Perhaps he was a little pushy,” Sondra replied, watching the priest and nun disappear completely in the crowd. “... But I have this strange feeling we’ll see that man again!”

It was as if a drumbeat had begun in Sondra’s head; suddenly, inexplicably she sensed that her life would never be the same.

 

******

          Straight ahead as they hunted for the baggage counter, Dominick could see a newsman interviewing travelers waiting in line.  Next to the shorter man, stood a tall, handsome black man panning his camera up and down the line. 

          “Don’t even think of it, father,” Monique spoke quickly in French.

          “C'est bon!” Dominick cried, heading directly for the men.

          This is not a good idea,” she muttered with concern.

          “Excuse me please,” he motioned to the chubby, balding reporter holding a mike. “I have a much better story for you right here!” He pointed to his carrying case.

          “Father, we’re doing a report for On-the-Spot News,” Waldo Stubbs, the reporter explained dully.  “But if you have some scenic tape to show us, mail it to the station.  We’re quite busy now!”

          “It is about the dragon in the sky,” Dominick blurted quickly as the reporter turned away. “Surely, you’ve heard passengers talking about this on their way out.”

          “No, I haven’t,” replied the reporter, folding his arms and tapping his remote microphone abstractedly on his arm. “All I’ve heard is a lot of bellyaching about airport security delays and congestion.” “You about anything about dragons, Cole?” he turned to his partner now. “Did I miss something somewhere?”

          “Matter of fact, Stubby, you did,” his cameraman said, letting the camera dangle in its sling. “I heard a bunch of them who just come out thatta-way.” He pointed to the disembarkation point they had just exited.

          “Why didn’t you tell me?” Waldo asked with a flicker of irritation. “Anything would be better than this.” “So, you took some video shots.” He looked at Dominick with mounting interest in his eyes.

          “Please, Father Dominick, this will not sit well with the bishop,” Monique begged.

          “She’s right, she’s always right.” The priest tapped his carrying case longingly. “This is too public and circus-like.  I don’t want this to be another human interest-feature on the news.”

          “All right, fine.” Waldo shrugged lightly. “We’ll look at your tape.

          Dominick looked at his proffered hand in horror.  Monique was shaking her head emphatically and motioning for him to move on.  Doing the next best thing now, he did what he had done for the stewardesses and handed him his card, with his cell phone number but this time he jotted the address of the rectory  hastily on its back.  With little more fanfare, Waldo thanked him briefly and turned back to his interviews with the passengers in line.  Dominick bowed politely to the newsmen and retreated in step with the nun.

 

******

          After locating their luggage on the conveyer belt, they hailed the first porter in sight.

The priest and nun followed the porter with their many suitcases and parcels to the pickup zone outside the main entrance of the terminal, exhaustion plainly evident on their haggard faces.  In spite of his fatigue, Sister Monique could see a familiar radiance in the priest’s face, magnified many times this day by dragon in the sky.

          “That was potentially very stupid!” she scolded him now.

          “Perhaps,” he sighed wistfully, “but the fact is I want the world to know!”

          “Father, you don’t have to convince me of this miracle,” she argued with him gently, as he waved impatiently at the nearest cab. “The bishop is quite another matter, however.  He may not be interested in your diversion.  He would be furious if he saw this story on the news.  He's a tired old man.  He will be interested in our notes from the Paris Convocation, that is all.  Wait and show this first to the monsignor before giving it to the world.”

          “That convocation was a waste of time and church business.” He made a disparaging gesture with his hand. “All these arguments about whether or not the church should condone certain forms of capital punishment and all those other tired social issues are decided in most countries by the division of church and state.  Frankly, I didn’t agree with our last president’s lackluster response to war on terrorism and our narrow-minded approach to church unity.  I agree with that President Trump fellow.  On the subject of ecumenism, I like diversity.   Have you forgotten that my brother is a Pentecostal missionary, Monique?  But these issues dodge the greater issue that the church can control: men’s souls, which is more important than dogma.  Dear Blessed Mary, we both just saw the onslaught of the dragon.  Others did too.  I’m a priest, Sister Monique.  It’s about time I act like one, instead of a Vatican scribe!”

          “You chose this path, father, we both did,” she sighed, flicking her habit out of her face. “What greater way to have an effect on the world than travel it?  You would not be able to do that stuck in a parish in some backwoods town.”

          “I’m not talking about a parish,” he found himself struggling with an idea.  “... I will need to convince those myopic princes of the faith that our church should be at the forefront of bringing about this message.  I don’t want to be stuck in one place, but neither do I want to waste time at anymore doctrinal conferences or convocations on church matters.”

          As Dominick assisted the porter placing their luggage into the cab, the priest and nun continued to argue about the logic of pressing the point at this particular time.  The porter’s dark face broke into a wide grin as he listened to the two clerics’ dispute. 

Father Dominick clung stubbornly to what he felt was his new mission from God but realized that Sister Monique was only concerned about him getting into trouble again.  Last summer, when he and the good sister were attending a synod on ecumenism in London, Dominick took a British Episcopal priest to task for his support of gay ordination and female clerics and was rebuked by Monsignor Carpel, a liberal Italian priest.  Though he often defended his fellow Christians in other denominations, Father Dominick, who had merely tongue lashed the Englishman, nearly came to blows with his superior in defense of the church.  From that day forward, Dominick was known in church circles as the warrior Jesuit priest.  And yet he was also considered to be a maverick by many of his superiors and peers.  His scholarly abilities and mastery of seven languages, including his native French, added to his grasp of apologetics and knowledge of the scriptures, had decided his career within the church.  Sister Monique Clausin, who had a similar background and had been an interpreter at the Vatican, was a natural choice as he secretary and aide.

          It had been several years since Dominick had presided over a church service or even said mass and as many years since Monique had functioned as a nun.  Both were considered prodigies in the church.  A feeling of urgency to serve his church on behalf of all Christendom had once again been ignited in the priest, but Sister Monique had been quite happy acting as a goodwill ambassador, interpreter and secretary-assistant for the prodigal priest.  Why couldn’t he just leave things as they were?

          “You will wait until we speak to Bishop Murphy?” She looked hopefully at his flushed face as they seated themselves in the backseat of the cab.

“Yes-yes,” he said hoarsely, as he sat his laptop upon his knees. “Now hush, be quiet.  I must prepare for this event.  What was the words Mademoiselle Largo used?  Ah yes, a close encounter.  But we know what it was, eh Monique?”

          “Yes, indeed,” the nun smiled wanly, “the Sign of the Dragon.”

          As an introduction to his rush of thoughts, the priest typed:

         

             Today, from the window of Flight 127, I have seen the Dragon.  Where now is the beast who cannot be far away?  All the Protestant fundamentalists claim the Devil will begin his work in Europe and that the False Prophet and Antichrist will be found in the remnants of the Roman Empire, which is in Italy, Germany or perhaps France.  But I wonder now if the Dragon will not straightaway seek out the Beast. There is something strange and inconsistent with what we have seen, almost theatrical, flying in the face of eschatological and apocalyptic tradition.  I sense—no I believethat a different interpretation of Saint John’s Revelations is in order that will upset traditional eschatology.  Perhaps it will even make me a heretic in many Christians’ eyes. 

        We the passengers of Flight 127 have seen the Devil’s debut in Los Angeles—the City of the Angels.  This, I believe, must be where it all begins, and it is to my eyes, a Jesuit priest, among all clerics, that God allowed this to be first seen!