By John B
One day in my travels I came across a city nestled in a valley at the foot of a steep mountain range. It was a beautiful city, modern and convenient, with museums, concert halls, theaters, and every entertainment one could want. Its shops and malls and markets overflowed with every kind of luxury, every necessity, and everything in plenty. I was so impressed with this city that I decided to stay awhile, to see what other wonders it possessed. I walked the streets and talked to people, who were happy and content; they worked hard and enjoyed the fruits of their labors. Everyone was friendly, and there was no crime to speak of.
The city was like a jewel, and it occurred to me that, like a jewel, it might easily become the object of lust for outsiders. It was then I noticed the city’s vulnerability to attack. Though encircled by mountains on three sides, the city had no army that I could see, no defense force, and no one seemed concerned about the dangers of attack.
Then I followed the road that led out of the city, through the mouth of the valley, and there I saw a lone watchtower, made of wood. Not very impressive, I thought, since the city itself was built of the most modern materials, with towers and tall buildings gleaming in the sun. I approached the wooden tower and stopped at the foot of it. Wooden steps led to the top, wrapping around the sides of the tower. I began to climb, and when I reached the top I saw two men standing at the railing. One was staring into the distance through binoculars, the other turned to me with a sour expression.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Just a visitor,” I said. “I saw your tower and wanted to see what you’re doing here.”
He grimaced and looked away.
“None of your business,” he said.
I shrugged. If he wanted to be rude, he had that right. But I wasn’t ready to be completely ignored just yet.
“You know,” I said, “it occurred to me that the city behind us could easily be invaded through that valley back there. They don’t seem to have an army to defend them, and there are lots of enemies out there who would love to invade them.”
“Don’t worry about it!” the rude man snapped. “That’s why we’re here.”
I waited for him to continue, but he fell silent, still scowling.
“You’re here to defend the city from attack?” I asked finally.
He heaved an exaggerated sigh, as if I were more trouble than I was worth.
“Our job is to watch for trouble and sound a warning.”
I nodded encouragingly. “Well that’s a relief,” I said. “At least they won’t be surprised by a sudden attack. So you fellows are part of the army?”
His face took on a look of pain. “No! We don’t have an army. We’re just the watchmen.”
I was puzzled. “But what good is it to sound a warning if there’s no army to defend the city?”
“We don’t believe in armies,” he said. “When we sound the warning, the people will run into the mountains and hide.”
“They’ll just abandon the city?” I was surprised. “Without a fight?”
“But won’t the enemy follow the people into the mountains and kill them?”
“No. Look, what’s it to you, anyway?”
“Nothing,” I told him. “I was just so impressed with the city that I’d hate to see anything happen to it. I’m just an interested observer.”
“What’s your name?”
“John B. What’s yours?”
“You can call me Pastor.”
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Pastor.”
“Not ‘Mister’,” he retorted, “just Pastor.”
He jerked a thumb toward his companion. “His name is Deacon.”
I nodded at Deacon, but he never lowered his binoculars.
“You didn’t answer my question,” I reminded Pastor.
“Whether the invaders would hunt down the people in the mountains and kill them.”
“They won’t,” he said with finality. “Those mountains are a fortress of rocks, mister. Anyway, God promised to protect the people.”
“That’s right. God said the watchman must keep a vigil, and sound a warning, and he would protect the people himself.”
“God would protect them...”
I stared across the plain, following the gaze of Deacon with his binoculars. The plain was vast and empty, not an enemy in sight.
“How do you know God said all that?” I asked Pastor. He grimaced again, and I wondered if he might decide to toss me off the tower.
“Our leader told us,” he said.
“May I ask who is your leader?”
“Herbert W. Alarmstrong.”
“That’s an odd name. I never heard it before.”
“God needed a man who would raise a strong alarm,” Pastor told me sincerely. “So he called Mr. Alarmstrong.”
“And Mr. Alarmstrong appointed you men to keep watch here?”
“Where is Mr. Alarmstrong? Why isn’t he here?”
“He’s awfully busy. He doesn’t have time to waste up here on the tower.”
“But God gave him the duty, you said.”
“That’s right, but it’s a matter of government.”
“I see.” I didn’t see at all.
He stared at me. I stared back at him. He smiled for the first time.
“What are you talking about?” I asked him.
“God rules from the top down, like a pyramid. God tells Mr. Alarmstrong what to do, and Mr. Alarmstrong tells us. We tell the people under us.”
“Which people are under you?”
“The people in the city.”
“Ah. The people you are here to protect.”
“Not protect, just warn. We warn them, but it’s up to them whether they heed the warning.”
“You have no responsibility to them after you warn them?”
“That’s right. But if we don’t warn them, their blood is on our hands.”
“I got it.”
I turned and looked back toward the city. It was only a few miles away, perfectly framed by the ring of mountains around it. Shining in the sun, gorgeous and splendid. I shook my head in admiration, and just a little consternation; at least the city had watchmen to warn of approaching danger, but it had no army.
“If you do see an enemy,” I asked Pastor, “how do you sound the warning? Do you have a siren?”
He pointed to the telephone. “We simply call the head office and they will set off sirens in the city. Everyone knows that when they hear the sirens they are supposed to evacuate.”
I nodded in satisfaction. “Well, it looks like you’ve got everything covered,” I said.
He sniffed haughtily. “Of course we do.”
The man with the binoculars – Deacon – suddenly stiffened and pointed. I followed his finger, and even without binoculars I could see the two airliners approaching.
“What’s that?” I asked. “Does the city have an airport?”
Pastor shook his head. “No airport. Those look to me like hijacked airliners.”
I felt stab of alarm. “Hijacked! How can you tell?”
“I don’t know for sure, of course, but why else would they be coming this way? No airlines in this city.”
The jets passed overhead, barely a thousand feet above us.
“Al Qaeda,” Deacon said.
My heart thundered in my chest. “Al Qaeda! Holy shit! Those are terrorists! You better sound the warning!”
But Pastor shook his head. “We don’t have any instructions concerning Al Qaeda,” he said, and his companion turned his binoculars back across the empty plain, looking for enemies.
I watched the airliners, and just one minute later saw them dive into two tall buildings. My blood ran cold as I watched the magnificent twin towers collapse in a smoking rain of fiery death.
“Jesus Christ!” I shouted. “They must have killed ten thousand people! Why didn’t you sound the alarm?”
But Pastor didn’t answer me.
Half an hour later a caravan approached down the road, a caravan of beat-up old cars and surplus military trucks. Dozens of grungy men wearing bandoliers glared up at the tower as they went past us, many of them carrying AK-47s.
“Palestinians,” Deacon announced.
“More terrorists!” I cried. “You better sound the alarm! They could be carrying explosives!”
Deacon turned his glasses back across the empty plain. Pastor said nothing as we both watched the caravan approach the city.
“You are going to sound the alarm, aren’t you?” I pressed.
“I don’t have any instructions concerning Palestinians,” he said.
I watched with a sinking heart as the caravan disappeared into the city. Half an hour later I began to see explosions in every direction, and the scream of victims carried to my ears on the breeze.
“Good God! They’re blowing people up!” I was nearly in tears now.
Deacon and Pastor stood staring across the plain. I had barely gotten my emotions in check when I saw a contrail approaching high in the sky, like a meteor at ninety thousand feet. Deacon followed it with his glasses, then lowered them and pointed.
“Looks like North Korea!” he shouted.
“What is it?” I asked, feeling a sense of terror down in the soles of my feet.
“It’s an ICBM,” Pastor said slowly, squinting into the bright sky. “Could be a nuke.”
“Oh God!” I cried. “Oh, shit! Oh, fuck! You’ve got to call this in! You’ve got to warn the city!”
Both Deacon and Pastor followed the missile as it began its dive toward the city, their faces intent, but neither picked up the phone.
At the last possible second they averted their eyes as the day flashed brighter than the sun, and the wooden watch tower began to smolder. An iron fist punched out of the city and smashed the tower to splinters before it could burn; Deacon and Pastor and I were carried tumbling through the air, our clothing on fire, and landed in the sand hundreds of yards from where the tower had been.
For a moment I was blinded, and skin was peeling off my body from hideous burns, yet I felt no immediate pain. Then my vision cleared, and I looked toward the city – but it was no longer there. What I saw instead was an ugly, roiling mushroom of smoke and fire that rose lazily into the sky above the mountains. Clearly everyone in the city had to be dead, their atoms rising in the mushroom cloud.
Pastor pushed himself to his knees and sat beside me, also watching the aftermath of the carnage. Looking at him, I began to weep.
“You son of a bitch!” I wailed, “why didn’t you sound the alarm!”
He shook his head helplessly, mucous running out of his nose. “I didn’t have any instructions regarding the North Koreans,” he said.
I stared at him in mute disbelief for thirty seconds.
“You didn’t sound the alarm when Al Qaeda came!” I accused him, somewhat like a prosecutor in a courtroom; “You didn’t sound the alarm when the Palestinians came! You didn’t sound the alarm when the North Koreans came!” I grabbed his shoulders and shook him weakly. “What the hell is the matter with you!”
Now Pastor was crying, too. He began to shake with the intensity of his emotion, and lowered his head, shaking it from side to side.
“It wasn’t supposed to happen like this,” he blubbered.
“What do you mean?”
He looked at me with streaming eyes, still sobbing.
“Mr. Alarmstrong didn’t tell us about any of this,” he said.
I released his shoulder and fell back away from him, staring in helpless frustration. “What do you mean?”
Pastor shrugged helplessly, still sobbing.
“Mr. Alarmstrong told us to watch for the Germans.”
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