What is life? Is it just something we muddle through, hoping that a series of random events won’t bring us to some untimely demise? Or is it something with a deeper inconceivable purpose just outside our level of perception, yet malleable enough to give rise to sporadic moments of clarity? Countless individuals have experienced what the French call déjà vu, meaning “already seen.” Déjà vu is a person’s sense of having already experienced an occurrence, or perhaps it is simply a moment of clarity. Some individuals even have what some call an inner sight, allowing them to perceive things just outside our plane of existence. Inner sight may manifest in many ways, including: dreams with profound prophetic meaning, a barely distinguishable movement just beyond one’s field of vision, a glimpse into the spiritual realm, or the sense of a nearby presence. Are these also moments of clarity? The level of perception tends to vary from person to person, but one thing remains constant. A brief glimpse of clarity is far better than constantly seeing that which cannot be seen by most. Consistently seeing such a realm would drive anyone insane, for there are things no mortal should see or hear. And, if you are that rare individual with all-seeing clarity into this hidden realm . . . you have my sympathies.
CHAPTER ONE – THE FALLEN
In a realm of existence completely imbued with various shades of gray, black, and white, hideous spirits and fallen angels cursed and hissed as they roamed to and fro. Although they weren’t restrained in their movement, most felt their realm was a prison. Some had the ability to phase in and out of the realm to influence and affect the children of Adam, while others, finding it more difficult to leave, felt the full brunt of its oppression. They expressed their displeasure with moans, hisses, shrieks, and deep grumblings throughout the near-endless expanse.
In a separate special region of semi-darkness, a dense gray hue encircled a large area, preventing a significant amount of light from permeating. Surrounding this vast meeting place were repulsive guards of rotting flesh and unparalleled strength. They were chosen by Samyaza for their ruthless nature and their ability to physically overmatch any threat, which were perfect traits to have as guardians for the members of the Inner Circle. Each guardian scanned the area outside of the meeting, confident there wasn’t a remote chance of a threat occurring but tirelessly performing their duties without hesitation. At times, a passing demon would pause to glance in the guardians’ direction and peer at the region of semidarkness. Realizing it could not see within, the hapless spirit would quickly go on its way. It understood the importance of the meeting being held within and the threat of being harmed by a guardian if it tarried too long.
Remarkably, despite the opaque outer shell of the meeting area, it was well-lit within, illuminated by the presence of the members of the Inner Circle. Chosen first by Samyaza himself to lead the rebellion against God, the Inner Circle was comprised of fallen archangels. The Inner Circle normally totaled six but today a minor archangel outsider joined the ranks, bringing the total number to seven, as they all waited for their superior to appear. For now, the Inner Circle talked among themselves as they waited impatiently. One topic dominated each conversation: why would a non-Inner Circle minor archangel be invited? They all took their true forms as sickly-looking fallen angels emitting a dull yellow glow. Before their fall from heaven, they had shone with a magnificent brilliance, but they were now shadows of what they had once been. Not often did they show their true forms since it was a reminder of what they lost. They revealed their true selves only in the presence of their peers or superiors in important meetings. This was to express an act of openness, showing they had nothing to hide. So it was with disdain that they showed their true form in the presence of a minion.
Without warning, a formidable guardian, much larger than the ones patrolling the perimeter outside, appeared in the center of the semi-dark region and gazed around. Pausing to acknowledge every member, he finally crossed his arms and emitted a piercing howl. Once finished, he left the area to take his place with the rest of the guardians.
Several seconds later, Vethaz-Niba appeared in the room, causing the fallen angels to drop to one knee and bow their heads. Normally, a higher-level fallen archangel would run the meeting, but the appearance of one of Samyaza’s assistants elevated the importance of the meeting beyond what they originally thought. Whenever one of the assistants appeared, it meant that Samyaza himself was focused on the outcome.
“Rise,” said Vethaz-Niba. His form was much different than the other fallen angels. He had six wings: two covered his feet, two behind his back for flying, and the remaining two hung by his sides as extra limbs. He emitted a dull yellow glow but didn’t look as sickly as the others. Vethaz-Niba looked more like a fallen seraph than a fallen archangel.
Vethaz-Niba nodded to each member as he walked to the center. “Let us proceed,” he said. The others made a perfect circle around their superior.
“I’ll start,” said one of the fallen archangels, pointing a haggard finger toward the minor archangel a few spaces to his left. “Your mishandling of the Dukane problem was inexcusable. You not only allowed a frail old woman to make your forces look ineffective, but you allowed her son to escape your grasp and the journals to be recovered. Not only did you fail to locate them, but now it appears their cause has gained momentum. There seems to be a network of individuals helping them. Where is the Dukane family? Who’s helping them? And why are you still in charge of such a mismanaged and poorly executed mission?”
The fallen archangel shook with anger as he waited for the response from Pravus, who didn’t take long to answer.
“I thought this meeting was called to strategize and develop a plan that would set our agenda back on course. When did this become a finger-pointing session? For you to blame me while you did nothing to assist in any of these plans is plain cowardice. It’s easier to sit back and judge than to help resolve a problem,” said Pravus, who paused briefly and then smiled. “It’s quite evident your next words will accuse those in charge of the failure to deploy the global death plague. Isn’t it?”
The accusing fallen angel glanced in the direction of the others he was going to call out next but remained silent. He didn’t know what to say since that last statement had deflated his thunder.
Pravus continued, “We all can stand here and accuse the other in front of Vethaz-Niba, but it won’t change a thing.”
“You’re right. It won’t change a thing, but at least we’ll have a full account of what went wrong. Right?” The accusing fallen angel responded, trying to save face.
Clinching his hands, Pravus turned his body fully to the accuser. “You doubt my abilities? Do you wish to try them?” he said, ready to pounce.
Before another word could be said, Vethaz-Niba intervened. “That’s enough,” he said softly. Slowly, his side wings rose and covered his eyes as he prepared himself to listen. “I want a full account of what went wrong.”
Pravus bowed. “Of course. As you wish,” he said quickly.
Pravus described how his direct reports badly assessed the level of protection AnnMarie Dukane possessed, causing a perfectly well-devised plan to spiral out of control and leading to the loss of Shaune Dukane, the journals, and a humiliating battle with a multitude of angels.
“It’s amazing how you’ve easily shifted the blame from yourself to your underlings. The blame should fall solely on you since they were under your direct guidance,” said the accuser, without hesitation.
Ignoring the statement, Pravus went on to say that his forces were actively searching for the Dukanes and the journals.
The accuser lashed out in response again. “But if they’re protected as well as you stated before, there’s no way we’ll be able to find them.”
“Shut up!” shouted Pravus.
The accuser lifted his hands. “I’m just making sure everyone here understands that you’re leaving out vital information.”
Wings falling slowly to his side, Vethaz-Niba addressed the two. “We all fully understand the seriousness of the situation. I would appreciate it if you,” Vethaz-Niba focused on the accuser, “would kindly keep your opinions to yourself until the appropriate time to share them. You are being more disruptive than helpful.”
When the accuser bowed his head in submission, Vethaz-Niba turned to Pravus. “Is there more, or are you done?”
The fallen seraph nodded and looked at three fallen archangels that were far too quiet. The three were his associates, working closely with Vethaz-Niba for many missions in the past, so they held a slightly higher position than all other fallen archangels in the meeting—and everyone present knew it. The three did not bow nor acknowledge Vethaz-Niba’s gaze. They just waited for the question.
“Yet again, another failure,” said the fallen seraph. “After so much planning and mobilizing of our agents to key locations, it all fell apart. Compared to the Dukane blunder, this was far more important and would have turned the tide of our present situation. How did this fall apart so quickly?”
The first of the three crossed his arms around his massive chest. “A global terrorist alert was initiated by the U.S., and our once-infallible firewall was hacked.”
“I know that, Raez,” said Vethaz-Niba. “The question is: how?”
“I don’t know. We’re currently looking into it,” Raez said coldly.
The other fallen archangels shifted nervously since they didn’t expect Vethaz-Niba to be addressed with little respect. They didn’t have much interaction with the three elevated fallen archangels, but they’d heard rumors that they were highly regarded by Samyaza’s direct reports. They weren’t sure whether this type of interaction was common or just borderline disrespect.
“And how is that investigation going?” Vethaz-Niba continued.
“As you know, these things take time if we want to continue our level of secrecy,” Raez said, turning to his partners. The two picked up on the cue and continued.
Phasa frowned as he opened his mouth to talk. “Secrecy leads to undesirable results if it’s poorly managed. The result of our current failure is most likely due to either a leak in our resources—”
“Which I highly disagree with,” said the third, called Seriasus.
Phasa continued, undaunted, “Or due to intervention, again.”
Vethaz-Niba clinched his fists, trying to contain his anger. “Are you suggesting someone outside our level of influence was given a vision? A revelation into our plans?”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. It happened times before and should be considered a possibility when making plans of this magnitude,” said Phasa. “It’s always a risk trying to destroy something that may not be ready to be destroyed.”
Raez lifted his wings in anger, which was an act of challenge. “What my brother Phasa is trying to say is that the plan was too ambitious. Did we think something like this would be allowed? Did we think they would just sit idly by and let their precious creation be destroyed? This is madness. If we are to strike, we should do so in a way that will guarantee success.”
Lifting his wings in response, Vethaz-Niba stared at his long-trusted ally, wondering if Raez truly wanted to challenge his authority with his aggressive posture. He knew his friend was just furious, needing to vent. Raez had probably made a mistake; however, he couldn’t let this action be unanswered. In a flash, Vethaz-Niba flew toward Raez and grab his neck. As his nails dug in, a cynical snarl formed on his face.
“Yield, my friend.”
Raez stared at his superior before lowering his eyes and wings.
“You chose wisely,” Vethaz-Niba said, removing his hand. “I understand your frustration, but this path you’re taking will only lead to your own demise.”
As Raez rubbed his neck, Phasa addressed the fallen seraph. “No disrespect,” he said, bowing his head, “but surely you can see how disconcerting this can be? Gaining a step, losing two. Winning a battle, only to lose another. If we are truly gaining ground, why does it feel as though we’re in the same place? We were just a day away from ending this injustice and having the revenge we deserve. Then a global warning here and an unforeseen hack there, and we’re right back where we were before. We could’ve still released the plague, killing millions, and everyone would’ve just thought it was a terrorist plot. They would have never connected anything to us. It would’ve been a small victory instead of the hollow defeat we now feel.”
“Understood,” Vethaz-Niba said as he slowly walked back to his previous position within the circle. “We did do something like that during World War II. Millions were killed, yet we gained no significant ground. No, releasing the plague would have solved nothing. We need to continue to figure out where all this went wrong and correct it immediately. Seriasus, you said you doubted any of your resources leaked this information. How sure are you?”
“I’m 100-percent sure. Our network is tight,” Seriasus answered.
“Yes, that may be true, but after the firewall was breached, how confident are you now?” asked Vethaz-Niba.
“A substantial list of agents and operatives was downloaded, but no one higher than that.”
“If I may interrupt,” said Phasa as he looked at Pravus. “These events – the Dukane situation, the failure of the global plague, the hacking of our firewall—all seemed to have occurred within a very close and tight window. This can’t be coincidence but must be connected somehow. I believe unlocking the mystery to just one of them will reveal all.”
Raez cleared his throat. “That’s what I was trying to say before. We have to be surgical about things and not just run around with a large, dull club.”
Vethaz-Niba raised his wings to cover his eyes again. They all remained quiet for a long moment, waiting for a decision. During that time, the three higher-ranked fallen archangels stared at Pravus, wondering why the minor archangel had been invited to such a meeting. He was one of their direct reports working on the Dukane journal retrieval and should’ve never made his report in the meeting instead of them. Pravus lowered his eyes, knowing he had a lot of explaining to do when the meeting was over.
Revealing his eyes again, Vethaz-Niba looked at the three. “We need answers to what went wrong, but first you must protect and shore up your resources. We can’t afford to have such a large list revealed or hunted down by anyone.”
“I’m already working on it,” said Seriasus.
“Good. A resolution to these matters should be expedient. Take any approach you want—surgical, whatever. It doesn’t matter; just get it done. Samyaza’s eyes will be focusing on your next report. Now, for the other matters at hand.”
Addressing the other fallen archangels in the meeting, Vethaz-Niba conducted the other reports and concerns without incident. The rest knew Vethaz-Niba wouldn’t be so lenient with any other acts of disrespect, so the meeting concluded rather quickly.
Vethaz-Niba lifted his wings and, with his head tilted back, emitted a loud wail from his mouth. All others present lowered their heads and responded with a lower moan. After a long moment, Vethaz-Niba disappeared, bringing the official end of the meeting. Immediately, the fallen archangels flew away or shifted into another realm, except for the Raez, Phasa, Seriasus, and Pravus. The meeting area remained since Inner Circle members were still present; only when it was empty would it disappear and the guardians be released from their duty.
“Since when do you answer to anyone other than us? And why were you invited here?” asked Raez, trying to remain calm. “We could’ve easily reported on the status of the Dukanes and the journals.”
The accused kept his head down in respect as he answered the question. “I do not know and can’t speculate as to why. But when the invitation came how could I refuse?”
Phasa placed his hand on Raez’s shoulder to steady his compatriot, knowing that the answer wasn’t what Raez had expected.
“We were given orders by Vethaz-Niba, which means you must now inform both us and him of anything thing you discover. However, you weren’t directly removed from our authority on this matter and will still have to operate under our scrutiny and guidance. Understood?” said Raez, not holding back his displeasure over the whole situation.
“Then you may leave, Pravus, and don’t expect any assistance. You will have to perform this investigation personally,” said Raez.
Pravus nearly lifted his head upon hearing his instructions. He was important enough that forcing him to do fieldwork was a demotion and a slap in the face. Without a word, he shifted into another realm, leaving the three in the meeting area alone.
“Was that necessary?” Seriasus asked Raez.
“We gave him FBI agents, dark assassins, and a legion of demons to ensure that Shaune Dukane remain ours, and he lost all of his assets. And what does he get? An invitation to an Inner Circle meeting? Unheard of,” Raez said, raising its voice. “If he’s going to get the answers Vethaz-Niba requested, it’ll have to be of his own accord and while we are still his superiors.”
“Well, it seems as though you’re just setting him up to fail,” said Seriasus.
Raez choose his words carefully. “This will show his true merit. I’m tired of him blaming others when it’s his lack of leadership qualities that may have lost the journals. If he fails, he’ll have no one to blame but himself. Anyway, we have more pressing matters at hand.”
The other two waited for Raez to continue. “We have to shore up our Sheol agents around the globe and handle the five officials we had governing the five global regions.”
“What should we do with officials since they were inoculated before the release of the genovirion?” asked Phasa. “Is there really a need to have all these people walking around beginning to think they’re immortal?”
“Kill ’em,” Seriasus said quickly. “As for the agents, within a few days, they’ll be back in their safe sites. After we guarantee that the firewall is once again impermeable, we’ll reset all of the agents’ credentials.”
“Kill all of them?” asked Phasa, still focusing on the officials. “I can think of one who has proven himself. We’d be hard-pressed to find another like him.”
“The one over the European, Asia, and Middle-Eastern regions? The one who directed the development of the genovirion?” asked Seriasus as he rubbed his chin. “I agree. I’m sure we can find something interesting to keep him busy for a while.”
Raez look at each of his close brothers. “So, are we all in agreement? Are we done here?”
They all nodded and disappeared from the realm, united in their passion for revenge and determined to uncover the forces behind their recent failures. Once they identified those individuals, their revenge would be like hell on Earth.
As one, all the guardians turned toward the region of semi-darkness, clapped their hands once, and watched as it dissipated. The guardians then left in different directions. The meeting was over.
CHAPTER TWO – THE DUKANES
There are still areas on Earth, like remote inhospitable areas in Alaska and Antarctica, unspoiled by human hands. In contrast, extensive human contact usually leaves a land constantly struggling to regain the natural beauty it once possessed. The subarctic Grande Prairie in Alberta Canada is a perfect example of this struggle. Being just northwest of Edmonton, it’s an area of approximately 60,000 residents currently focused on farming, forestry, and oil. It’s a productive area, able to employ thousands of people while the surrounding areas were sporadically populated with small towns and private farmlands.
Several kilometers east of Rainbow Lake, one such farming site was converted into a private compound by a reclusive billionaire desiring to enjoy the serenity of nature far from the noisy populace associated with human technology. The compound, with its lone dirt road, stood out from the rest of the land as a testament of human contradiction. The owner’s desire to embrace the natural beauty of the land brought devastation through the construction of the compound situated on obsidian rock. Surrounded by electrified, three-meter-tall wire fences with curved barbed wire encasing the top, the compound boasted warning signs jutting from the ground every 30 meters to warn off any wanderers or curious individuals. The posts emitted a low-frequency sound whenever wildlife came too close, warning them off and preventing an unfortunate electrocution. This approach was rather strange for someone wanting to be close to nature, but it was totally consistent with an eccentric personality.
Within this compound, whose circumference was approximately two kilometers, there was a central facility and many small houses surrounding it. The working staff, their families, and guests on rare occasions, lived in the smaller houses while the central facility was the billionaire’s main residence. The setup represented a camp-like atmosphere but with state-of-the-art housing facilities, all the amenities of comfortable living, and several large satellite dishes to keep in contact with the outside world. Residents of the nearby towns shunned the billionaire and his ridiculous compound, going as far as to call it a country within a country or even a large Canadian cult. Many didn’t know of the people inside, but as long as the occupants weren’t a bother, they were tolerated.
Within this compound, the Dukane family found their current resting place. After months of moving around in secret to elude the forces still looking for them, Julie Targus was contacted by the reclusive billionaire who’d happened to came across some of the journal excerpts she had so carefully placed on the Internet. Intrigued by what he’d read, he’d wanted to learn more and eventually invited them to his compound. After the Dukanes arrived, everyone in the compound slowly learned of their new visitors’ beliefs and greeted them with apprehension.
The entire Dukane clan lived on the compound. Shaune, Lisa, Nicole, and Brad lived in their own small house, while AnnMarie and Julie lived in another. Life was slow and boring but, for the time being, stable and safe. For the kids, there really wasn’t much to do. With only a few others their age, it was almost like solitary confinement. They couldn’t contact their old friends or make any type of contact outside the compound. As for the adults, it was an answer to all their prayers to find a safe place they could call home for a while.
Since the compound was so isolated from the life they were used to, Brad, Nicole, and some the staff’s children were taken west to the Hay River for a short excursion. Since it was summer in Alberta, the river was flowing and the surrounding area was a nice place to visit and have fun—a change of pace from the compound. However, Nicole was having a hard time adjusting to the mundane life in Canada away from her close friends and the variety of things to do in a city. She knew why they were here and even shuddered whenever she thought too deeply on what they’d recently gone through. She tried to be mature about it but found herself slipping into depression from time to time. As she sat on the river bed, throwing rocks into the rushing water, the other kids were running around having fun. Brad had no problems adjusting to the changes and making friends while Nicole remained distant when others her age made approaches toward her, hoping to invite her to some activities. Eventually, they withdrew, gave her some space, and waited for her to open up.
Unbeknownst to Nicole, a tall guardian angel looked down on her. He knew she would adapt to her new life, but he allowed her to find her own way during this difficult time. This was something Nicole had to do on her own. Detecting a commotion close by, the angel quickly turned. What was going to happen was out of his control, but he smiled, wondering how Nicole was going to handle it.
Nicole grabbed another rock. Instead of throwing from a sitting position, she stood. As she was ready to throw the rock, she felt a hard thud on her head.
“Ow!” she whispered as she dropped the rock and felt her head; it was wet to the touch. She looked on the ground to see what had hit her. A small fish was flopping on the shore with life still in it.
“Oh, man. Oh my goodness!” she heard her brother Brad saying far behind her. “Why’d you stand up? Dang, are you okay?”
“A fish? You threw a fish at me?” she said softly as she turned. “You hit me . . . with a fish! What’s wrong with you?”
“You stood up!” Brad pleaded. “Why’d you stand up? I just wanted to scare you, and you stood up.” He then smiled and pointed a finger at his sister. “You looked so funny. That thing whacked your head good.”
Brad started to laugh uncontrollably as he recalled the look on his sister’s face. Then he looked at her and realized he needed to quickly put distance between them. He took off in the opposite direction.
“Where you going? Get back here, you little turd!” Nicole took a few steps after her brother, then stopped. She looked at the still-flopping fish, felt a surge of compassion, and tossed it back into the river. Turning on a dime, her mind flashed back to the fish hitting her on her head. She smiled as she slowly gained on her brother. It was kind of funny, but she’d never let him know that once she caught him and pounded him into submission. Nicole’s guardian angel slowly shook his head as he remembered how resilient children could be.
AnnMarie sat comfortably on a reclining chair with a pen and a legal pad in hand as she captured her thoughts on paper. She smiled as her hand moved in a fluid motion, recording rich inner thoughts with deep meaning. Writing poems seemed to have calmed her mind once she came to the compound. It brought her stability and self-expression since everyone else was too busy or preoccupied to hear the ramblings of an old woman. Looking down at the poem, she decided to call it “Clouds” and read it out loud:
“White expanses in a sky of blue,
“I always look up and wonder,
“What would it be like to touch you with my hand?
“Never again looking down at what used to keep me bound,
“To fly away and to be finally free,
“No more pain, no more worry,
“To be lifted up, to fly in the sky,
“Making the clouds my home, never looking back,
“To be engulfed with you pure, untouched white plumes,
“To make you my home—oh, if the clouds were my home.”
AnnMarie smiled at the poem and turned the page to write another one when she was interrupted by her roommate Julie Targus.
“Why do you write the same type of poems all the time? You’re like a little kid crying about wanting to go home. You really do need to change your point of view,” Julie said as she walked downstairs into the living room where AnnMarie sat. “I mean, come on: are you really giving up on life? There’s so much for us yet to do,” she jested.
“I already did my part,” AnnMarie mumbled.
“Excuse me? I didn’t hear you,” said Julie, sitting down next to her friend.
“Oh, nothing. So, how’s it going up there in your computer center? Is it everything you’ve ever wanted and more?” she said, changing the subject.
A huge smile appeared on Julie’s face as she recalled her emotions the very first day she’d stepped into the computer center. It was all she could’ve wanted in the latest custom-made server with three separate workstations so she could multitask with ease. Each workstation had two 23-inch widescreen monitors directly above it, and her chair was made of soft mahogany leather. Her greatest joy was a well-stocked refrigerator and pantry, making it so she would never have to leave the room—as long as she resisted the urge to either sleep or go to the bathroom.
“Yeah, that look on your face said it all.” AnnMarie looked at the blank piece of paper and immediately started thinking on what poem to write next.
Julie’s thoughts focused back on AnnMarie. “You’ve been keeping to yourself since we’ve got here. Are you all right? What’s bothering you?”
“Not a thing, dear. Don’t you worry about me. I’m just fine,” AnnMarie said without taking her gaze off the paper. Only when she saw Julie’s hand on it did she look up again.
“Want to go for a walk? I feel like stretching my legs,” said Julie.
After the two put on their light jackets, since they weren’t yet accustomed to the mild summers, they took a non-eventful stroll along the inner perimeter of the compound. Neither talked much except for an occasional comment of how spacious the land seemed to stretch beyond the fence. They continued along a random path until they ended near the front entrance of a familiar house. Julie looked at AnnMarie, who shrugged, indicating she didn’t mind making an impromptu visit to the occupants.
Seconds after Julie knocked on the door, Lisa Dukane open it. With unexpected enthusiasm, Lisa grabbed Julie in a big bear hug and then repeated it on AnnMarie.
“Whoa,” said Julie, scratching her head in shock. “You’re acting like you haven’t seen us in years. We’re just a few houses down, you know.”
“So? It’s been far too long since your last visit. When was it again? That’s right, yesterday. You know, I really wanted you all to stay in the same house as us. We were together for far too long before we were blessed by coming here. It’s like we don’t see each other as much as we used to, but I understand how you need your own privacy and all. Oh, my!” Her hands flew up to her cheeks. “Where are my manners? Come in; come in. The kids are on a field trip, and Shaune’s meeting with our hospitable host. Would you like some coffee, tea? Or maybe some crumpets?” she jested as she looked at Julie while guiding them to the living room.
For a long time, they had all worried about Lisa, who had problems adjusting to the constant clandestine moving. It was a difficult life, but the current stability of living in a home again had let her bubbly personality resurface. It wasn’t the home she had raised her children in, but it was a home nevertheless—a resemblance of stability. At this moment, that was all she wanted and what she needed to take her mind off the spiritual darkness hovering just outside her field of perception.
After everyone was comfortably seated, Lisa continued her barrage of long-winded talking. “I was just wondering what to do for dinner. Brad always wants some sort of bagel bologna sandwich, while Nicole craves something starchy. Shaune says he doesn’t really care, but I know he does. He’s a picky eater but doesn’t want to put any pressure on me to make a particular meal. And now, since you’re here, what do you want to eat? You know you’re staying for dinner, right? Now what meal will satisfy everyone? I think I’ll have to forget about Brad’s bologna. I really can’t think of a dish that has anything to do with that.” Lisa paused and looked at the two. “Oh, my. Where are my manners? Did I ask you if you wanted either coffee or tea?”
AnnMarie lowered her head and shook it slowly, while Julie, wide-eyed, just stared at Lisa and then suddenly burst into laughter.
“What?” Lisa said, wondering if she missed something. “What? I ask you that already?”
Julie held up her hand. “Lisa, I’ve never seen this side of you.”
“Neither have I,” AnnMarie said. “You’re always so calm and collected. Today, you’re on some verbal speed track.”
Lisa remembered what she had said when the two women came into the house and slowly smiled. “Oh, my goodness. That’s . . . I don’t know what to say.”
Both AnnMarie and Julie laughed out loud. Once AnnMarie regained her composure, she said, “I guess it feels good to have something stable again after we’ve been running around for a while?”
Lisa looked around the living room. “Yeah, but it’s not home. Nothing can be like what we’ve lost, but it reminds me of how it used to be before all this started. Sometimes I ask God why He allowed us to go through this. When all of this started, I never imagined our lives would end up like this.”
“The kids seem to be handling it well,” said Julie.
“They’re good. God bless them . . . but what about later? What kind of life are we mapping out for them? What about school and friends?”
“Yeah, that’s hard, but we have to trust that God will turn this around,” said Julie. “It’s just so shocking that Sheol runs so deep. It’s like there’s no place on Earth to run without them showing up sooner or later.”
AnnMarie nudged Julie, but it was too late. The damage was done. Lisa’s demeanor paled as she considered the possibility of leaving this current haven. If they were forced to leave this place, she didn’t know whether she could take it. Her eyes began to pool with tears as she looked at Julie.