Bishop Hollingsworth rubbed his temples as the two women continued to yell at each other. He didn’t even remember what the initial argument had been about. He put a smile on his face and stood up from the kitchen table. He put one hand on the shoulder of each woman and patted them until the combatants stopped yelling.
“Ladies, ladies,” he said in a soothing, even tone. “I’m sure Susan never meant to say those things to Richard. It was just stress, that’s all.”
The woman on the left crossed her arms and glared at the woman on his right. The woman on the right sighed, shook her head, and said, “You’re right, Father. It’s just a stupid TV show.”
The woman on the left wanted to say something else, but looked at Hollingsworth instead. She must have seen the frustration in his eyes, so she took a deep breath and shook her head as well.
“Good, good,” Hollingsworth said. “Who wants tea?”
The woman on the right waved to the woman on the left. “Let’s go. I think the latest batch of sun tea is cold now.”
“Sure, why not?” said the woman on the left.
They turned and left without another word. Peace restored. Hollingsworth sighed and shook his head at the ceiling. He sat back down at the table with a grunt.
Whoever thought this was a vital assignment is going to pay dearly, he thought. He got his phone out of his jacket and selected the note taking app. He began to type a stern letter to his superior at the diocese, jamming the screen with his angry fingers.
“Father?” a female voice said.
Hollingsworth looked up and saw a young woman clutching a Bible in a pink cover standing over him.
Hollingsworth groaned inwardly, but smiled just the same. “Yes, my child?”
The woman smiled back, nervous. “Hi, I’m Gracelyn.” She stuck her arm out, straight as a rail, in a quick, mildly aggressive movement.
Hollingsworth shook her hand, noting her strong grip. “What can I do for you, Gracelyn?”
Gracelyn slid into the chair next to him and looked him right in the eye. “I think I’m having a bit of a crisis of faith, Father.”
“I’m actually a Bishop, my dear,” Hollingsworth said. “But, what seems to be the problem?”
Gracelyn looked at the table for a moment, then back up. “I think someone is trying to… send me a message. From above.”
This is new, thought Hollingsworth. Out loud he said, “A message? Really? What kind of message?”
Gracelyn smiled thinly. “Something is coming. An event I can’t explain, yet, but I know it’s soon. The dreams say so.”
Hollingsworth put his hand on Gracelyn’s. “Pregnancy can be hard, I know. It’s a sad fact, but hormones can do strange things to the body and the emotions. You shouldn’t read too much into fevered dreams. You all seem to be having them…”
“No,” Gracelyn said firmly. She pulled her hand away. “This is different. This is real. None of the others have had dreams like this. I checked.”
Hollingsworth resisted the urge to shake his head. “What kind of dreams, dear?”
Gracelyn looked down again, then back up. “They scare me, Father.”
“Call me Bishop,” Hollingsworth said. “Tell me, then what’s scaring you.”
Gracelyn leaned forward. “It’s just like in the Bible. First, a great purple star fell from Heaven, and blighted the Earth with a great purple cloud. There was nothing left, Bishop. Nothing. The stars were blotted out, and the Sun was black, and the Moon was red…” Gracelyn choked in fear.
“Well, that sounds like the Book of Revelation. Have you read that far?” Hollingsworth said.
Gracelyn looked at him sharply. “I’ve read it all, cover to cover. I have most of it memorized, of course.”
“Of course,” Hollingsworth said soothingly. “What I’m saying is, you’re dreaming about Revelations, which could mean that you are feeling stressed about the pregnancy, that’s all. Fearing that it’s the end of something, when in fact it’s a beginning. A new life for you, and this child.”
Gracelyn puckered her eyebrows. “Maybe…” she said in a low voice.
“It’s perfectly natural, given the nature of this pregnancy, to have hidden fears.”
“How do we know?” asked Gracelyn. “Given the nature of these pregnancies, how can we know anything is natural?”
“The doctors assure me that everything is going according to plan. Nothing out of the ordinary is happening.”
Gracelyn shook her head. “These children weren’t created by God, but by Man’s science. How can we know anything? What have they told you?”
Gracelyn’s paranoia was starting to make Hollingsworth uncomfortable. “They told me the same thing they told you… these embryos were created through gene therapies to be stronger, more intelligent, tougher soldiers.”
Gracelyn nodded. “Super soldiers. To defend our country. Then why do I keep having these dreams?”
“I don’t know,” Hollingsworth said. “It’s probably just hormone induced stress, like I said.”
Hollingsworth’s phone rang. “I really need to take this.” He stood up and walked quickly away.
Gracelyn was waiting for him outside his office when he arrived the next morning.
“Sleep well?” he said. “Gracelyn, wasn’t it?”
Gracelyn stood ramrod straight, clutching her Bible. “No, not at all. The dream was worse last night.”
Hollingsworth unlocked his door and gestured for her to enter first. Gracelyn practically ran inside and planted herself in the chair opposite his desk. Hollingsworth put his briefcase down and sat at his desk. He could tell by looking at her that she hadn’t slept the night before. She was a bundle of nerves, wound up tight. She didn’t look at him, but she kept staring at the crucifix by the window. Hollingsworth felt a twinge of pity.
“Tell me,” he said in a quiet voice.
“More based on Revelations. But, Bishop, it was the Whore of Babylon I saw this time. Seducing and killing all these men. She enjoyed it! She knew I was watching, and… she enjoyed it. She invited me, like I was a whore too…” Gracelyn put her face in her free hand. She gripped the Bible like a life preserver.
“You’re not a whore,” Hollingworth said firmly. He got up and sat beside her. “You’re not. You’re doing a great service to your country, and for medical science. There’s no sin in that.”
“The marks…” Gracelyn moaned. “The marks on their foreheads, just like the Bible. Everything just like the Bible said.”
Hollingsworth put his arm around her shoulders. “Listen to me. You are being of service, there’s no sin in that. You can turn down the money if you choose.”
“My… my ministry…” Gracelyn groaned.
“God provides, my child. Rest assured of that,” Hollingsworth said.
“That doesn’t explain the monsters,” Gracelyn said. “The dream about all the monsters fighting in the great war. The war for the Earth. What does it all mean?” She looked at him in desperation.
“You are afraid the child you carry is a monster,” he said. He glanced at his appointment book.
“I have an appointment to inspect the lab today, to make sure nothing illegal or unethical is happening there. Join me, and you’ll see that there’s nothing to be afraid of. It’s all rather boring, to be honest.” He smiled at Gracelyn.
Gracelyn managed a small smile. “Sure, God wants us to confront our fears, right?”
“Exactly,” Hollingsworth said. “The appointment is a 9 am. I have a few calls to make beforehand. You can stay if you want until then.”
Gracelyn relaxed. “I’ll just read until then.”
Hollingsworth nodded and returned to his desk. He picked up his phone and dialed.
9 am came, and Hollingsworth led Gracelyn to the lab building beyond the main house. He had spoken to the project head Dr. Knipprath earlier, so Gracelyn was cleared to enter with him. The inspection tour took the tone of a school field trip. A technician led them through a maze of tables filled with all kinds of equipment and computer stations. The dizzying array of medical and technical terms went mostly over Hollingsworth’s head, but Gracelyn seemed genuinely interested in everything. Hollingsworth was gratified to see Gracelyn’s fear gradually replaced by curiosity and respect.
They were passing by one of several clean rooms, when Gracelyn froze. The curiosity on her face turned to amazement, then amazement became fear.
Hollingsworth stood beside her. “What’s wrong, my dear?”
Gracelyn pointed to something in the room, her finger jabbed the thick glass. “That,” she said in a flat voice.
A large clear box was standing in the middle of the room. In the box was what appeared to be a large fragment of purple crystal.
“An amethyst,” Hollingsworth said. “A big one, by the looks of it. I don’t know much about…”
Gracelyn cut him off. “The purple star,” she said. “That’s part of the star that fell to Earth. The marked ones had that in their foreheads, too!” Her voice was raspy and low. “It’s here!”
The lab tech, who had overheard everything, stuck his thumb in the direction of the exit. “Well, that concludes the tour…”
Hollingworth looked at him. The man looked anxious, and kept gesturing for them to leave. Hollingsworth grew alarmed.
“What is that?” he asked the tech.
The man jerked. “Nothing. Just some amethyst, like you said. Nothing to see here, folks.”
“Bullshit!” Gracelyn snarled. “That’s the purple star, idiot. Why is it here? What have you done?” Gracelyn was nearly shouting.
Techs and other personnel were looking at them with growing alarm. “Get them out of here!” yelled a senior tech.
Gracelyn advanced on their unfortunate guide. “What have you done? It’s the End Times! You’ve brought it upon us! Fool!”
Hollingsworth grabbed Gracelyn by the shoulders and steered her out of the lab building. She resisted, but Hollingsworth didn’t let her go until they were back in the main house.
Gracelyn went to the nearest bathroom to calm herself. Hollingsworth sat down on one of the couches with a heavy sigh.
A heavy-set woman sat in a chair nearby and was eating ice cream from a carton. “What’s her problem?” she asked.
Hollingsworth shrugged. “Hormones.”
The woman grunted and looked back at the television.