A Place for Compassion

Allahu akbar! shrieked the Crusader, as he swung his scimitar down at the neck of the Muslim, who knelt, head bowed, before him.

As the prophecy had foretold, he had come as a thief in the night, silently dropping from the ceiling, grabbing the pastor before she could walk out onto the Sanctuary for Christmas service.

Pastor Mary and her flock had much to be thankful for. Unlike most congregations, A Place for Compassion was vibrant and growing. They followed The Golden Rule. They cared for the sick, the weak, the destitute, the hungry, the desperate, the lost. And they gave their love to everyone. No one was turned away.

Their pastor today was a transgender Muslim woman. Which made them a perfect target for the Crusaders, on this Christmas: the first day of the end of the world.

“Good evening everyone,” the pastor’s shaky voice had said from the speakers. “This is Pastor Mary. We have a bit of a problem, and it’s very important that you please be quiet.” She waited. The congregation fell silent.

Nothing moved, save for the shimmering Stations which lined either side of the Nave. Each Station played solid holographic scenes from historical events celebrated by the Compassion movement. There stood Jesus, speaking from atop a hill;  there sat Cyrus the Messiah, releasing the Jews, and Hindus of Kerala, welcoming them ashore; Mohandas Gandhi leading the Salt March; Bayard Rustin, Rosa Parks, and a long line of others, handcuffed but smiling, as they stood up and walked, single file, from the back of a bus and out onto the street, to join the marchers of Selma; seas of people, as far as you can see, filling plazas and parks, bridges and highways – ordinary people, stopping soldiers and tanks, in gentle revolutions, from Manila to Beijing, Czechoslovakia to Tunisia. Nelson Mandela, dancing in the streets.

“I will now read to you this note.” Pastor Mary’s voice had said. “Please do not make a sound. If anyone raises their voice, if anyone moves, we will all be killed. In just a few moments you will see me walk out onto the Sanctuary, and kneel down in front of you. A member of the Hashshashin will accompany me. He will speak to you. And then I will be decapitated,” the Pastor said with no emotion. “Please, again, do not make any sound, do not move. No one else will be harmed.”

No one moved. No one made a sound. The congregation stopped breathing.

Pastor Mary walked out onto the Sanctuary, head erect, a beatific smile on her face. She had lived a good life, and was ready to be martyred for the Lord. She only wished that she had a little more time. Who will take care of my family? The thought almost made her weep. She steeled herself. I will not give them that pleasure. She walked to the front of the altar, knelt in front of her congregation, and smiled. “God is good,” she said to them one last time, and bowed her head.

Allahu akbar, said the Crusader casually, as he strode out of the rectory and onto his stage. His voice was soft, but an invisible mic made it echo all over the chamber. Shrouded in black from head to foot, he wore on his chest the emblem of the Hashshashin: green crescent, red knife. Scimitar strapped to his back. “God is great,” he said in guttural English.

Three other Crusaders had set up lights and cameras, then moved unhurriedly to block the exits. Their leader smiled as he crossed the Sanctuary toward the kneeling pastor, closing his eyes for a moment as he inhaled the fear that fogged the room. He sneered into a camera and asked, “Where is your god now?”

The camera zoomed out slowly to reveal the kneeling pastor, the stunned congregation, the Crusader taking position, raising the scimitar over his head. “There is only one true God, and we, the Hashshashin, soldiers of Allah, have been commanded by God to bring justice to America, and to destroy from His creation all abomination, as we do so here today.”

Allahu akbar! shrieked the Crusader, as he swung his scimitar down at the neck of the Muslim, who knelt, head bowed, before him.

And then the lights went out.

 

Shortly before the Feds completed their interviews, the Special Agent in charge reported to the woman who had just waltzed into the church like she was in charge. “Here’s what we got so far,” the agent said, swiping through the transcripts and translations that his crew were streaming live into his slate. “After the lights went out, there was a tremendous crash, followed quickly by at least three more crashes somewhere by the doors, sounds of cables – maybe bullets – whizzing through the air, at least three more Allahu’s and maybe one Hail Mary, we’re not sure about that. Pastor Mary said it sounded more like “Hey, Mary”, which makes more sense, since she ain’t Catholic …” the agent trailed off as he saw Pastor Mary approach the leader of the four Crusaders, who were all dazed and hogtied, dangling upside-down on cables from each arch of the lantern tower. The pastor’s right hand was raised, like she was about to give the Benediction. “HALT Mary! PLEASE don’t bless the evidence!” the agent hollered.

“Shortly thereafter,” the agent returned to his report, “several witnesses heard a female voice say “Woah, good job Gaaaaaail”. Possibly Gay, because a male voice then said “That was sooooooo Gay”. Or Gail. A female, a second female, apparently, was heard to say, “I’d give it a 5. Out of 10”, and another male said “It helped that they painted their crescents incandescent green”. The voices sounded odd, so they’re probably using translators or distorters of some kind. The genders could be a misdirect. The way they talked … they talked like kids, but that could also be a misdirect. Then the lights came back on, and that’s what these God-fearing people saw,” the agent said, pointing at the dangling, swinging, wriggling Crusaders.

He walked up to the leader so they were face to face though upside-down. “Screens up”, he said to himself, and Screens appeared in mid-air next to each dangling perp, displaying their Bios. “All of them are ex military. This one here’s a Seal. All are known to be, or are suspected to be, members of God’s Crusaders.”

He gave the leader a poke on the forehead, causing him to swing like a human piñata.  This calmed the agent’s mind and helped him think. Thinking did not come easily to FBI Special Agent Brandon Malcolm X Washington. His parents named him X in honor of Malcolm, but his childhood friends called him X because he went cross-eyed when he thought too hard. He still awoke in a sweat some mornings, jumping up from a dream of that dark day in middle school, when he was first bullied and humiliated. There he stood, a giant of a boy, child of a long line of proud Zulu warriors, head bowed and in tears, having frozen in front of the whole class, after fifteen humiliating minutes of trying to solve for X, while the Nerds at the back of the class snickered and jeered. Brandon’s people were made for battle – not so much for solving for X. The Nerds stuck a note to his locker that day. On the top it read: x = 0. And beneath that formula were written these words: “Translation for Brandon X: the value of X is ZERO.” Nerds can be so mean sometimes.

But that was then. Here and now, he was a rising star in the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, and its geeks looked up to him in awe. Who’s laughing now, Nerds?

“Crusaders pretending to be Hashshashin, hoping to start a war,” Brandon concluded.

“Or end it,” Mom replied.

 

Back on the church roof, Ariel said, “Well that was fun!”

“10 out of 10!” I said. I’m into rating these days.

“Yes it was!” Gabriel was happy too. It was his plan that we had executed so flawlessly. And it was his acrobatics at the lantern tower that made Ariel go Woah: the effortless way he hogtied the leader, then launched himself 40 feet up into the air, to dive through a narrow arch, and plunge headfirst back toward the ground. Then, somersaulting in midair to right himself, he floated down slowly, and landed gently on his feet. The carbon cable he had hooked to his belt now hung from the arch 40 feet above. Pulling on the cable as if raising a flag, he hauled his captive high into the air, boots first. The Crusader’s screams were muffled by the ski mask that Gabriel had removed from the leaders’s head, and packed into the leader’s mouth.

“Although …” Gabriel continued hesitantly, “and please don’t think this is a criticism, Ate, it’s just a suggestion … but maybe next time you can not say my name so loud?” (Ate, pronounced AH-teh, is Filipino for “Big Sis”. Ariel prefers to be called Kuya (KOO-yah) or “Big Bro”, but that’s already taken.)

“But I said Gail though,” Ariel replied, sheepishly.

Gail?” Daniel asked. “I thought you said Gay. That’s why I said that was sooooooo Gay, to help you cover it up.”

“Awwww, you’re so sweet. Sometimes.” Ariel said. “Okay. Next time, no names.”

“It’s too late now, you know that right? Those cameras were rolling, and that place was probably crawling with all sorts of bugs to begin with. This will be traced back to us. It’s just a matter of time.”

“You are such a party pooper Ed,” Ariel said.

“It doesn’t matter, Kuya” Daniel tried to assure our eldest brother. “We should always assume that we’re being stalked anyway. Never let our guards down.”

“Or our pants,” I added.

“Hm. That’s weird,” Ed said, scratching his head. “I’m pretty sure that you said what you said to make me feel better, thanks Daniel. But somehow … I feel even worse.”

Ariel giggled, as she pushed her earpiece deeper into her ear. “Don’t make fun of my fears,” Ed said with a pout.

“It’s not all about you Ed,” she said as she turned to me. “Guess what, Little One?” she asked.

I did not like that smile on my sister’s face –  the one that always warned of terrible things to come.

“No thank you,” I replied, as if that would stop her.

“Brandon’s talking to mom right now, and he just called you a girl.”

“That’s okay, I’ll pay him back,” I laughed. Normally, I wouldn’t find that very funny. But after all the bad news we got this morning, I just had to laugh.

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