The Sign of the Cross
by Tim Simmons
“All right, Mommy, just be patient.”
Outside the run-down shack that Lottie Moore called home, the mid-summer air began to cool slightly as the remaining rays of sunlight receded into the Mississippi night, draining the warm pastel orange from each cloud. Shadowy mountains emerged from the distance as if summoned by some unseen signal. A distant blue-white flash on the horizon briefly illuminated a wooden cross affixed to the top of the roof.
“It won’t be long now, Mommy.” The cyclic grinding of a can opener droned beneath the high-pitched petitions of Lottie’s gray and white cat while a small television blared from the living room. The cat seemed to mimic the circular motion of the can with its body by turning in endless circles. “It’s your favorite. Tuna flavor.” Lottie dumped the contents into a small plastic bowl, mashed it a few times with a fork and placed it on the floor.
“There you go. Now, you say your prayer before you eat that,” Lottie said as she walked back to the sink. The cat took a few sniffs, turned toward Lottie and meowed plaintively. “Well, you're not going to get anything else. If you don't eat that, you'll just have to do without.”
Lottie opened the kitchen closet and tossed the empty can into the trash. “The LORD will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked — Proverbs 10:3.” Lottie paused and looked at her cat. “You aren’t wicked, are you Mommy? Is that why you aren’t eating?”
The cat answered with a soft meow.
“Well, I guess the Lord knows. Nothing is kept hidden from him, Mommy. He knows if you’re hiding any sin in your heart. ‘O God, thou knowest my foolishness; and my sins are not hid from thee — Psalms 69:5’. It’s better to confess it and get it out into the open and ask him to forgive you.”
The cat meowed again and walked toward Lottie.
“That’s right, Mommy. Just tell the Lord and he’ll make you white as snow again.”
A subsonic rumble softly shook the foundations of the lone house then reluctantly faded. Outside, pine trees swayed and creaked in the warm night air.
“Well, if you aren’t hungry then it’s your own fault. You must not have been sincere with your confession, Mommy. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness — you know where that one comes from. You’ll either starve or repent. It’s your choice.”
The television program halted abruptly and a weatherman began speaking. Lottie turned off the kitchen light, walked to the television and turned the volume control up.
The following counties are under a severe thunderstorm warning: Wilkinson, Adams, Jefferson, Claiborne, Hinds, Madison... — Lottie reached up to her chest and put her hand over the cross that hung beneath her nightgown. Be prepared to take cover if situations warrant. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.
Lottie walked to the window and cracked the curtain slightly, peering up into the night sky. An occasional flash of lightning could be seen to the southwest. She turned and walked past the small coffee table where she kept her Bible prominently displayed and always open. A moment after she sat down in her recliner the cat leapt into her lap with a meow that always had the quality of inquiry.
“Now, lay down and be still,” Lottie ordered. Mommy stared at Lottie for a second more, turned a few times, and then lay down.
“There’s really nothing on. But the Lord’s always there, Mommy. Let’s see what he has to say to us tonight.” Lottie leaned toward the coffee table, holding Mommy secure, and picked up the Bible. She pointed at one of the open pages and began reading. “Mark 5:11,” she pronounced, smiling at Mommy. “Now there was there nigh unto the mountains a great herd of swine feeding. And all the devils besought him, saying, Send us into the swine, that we may enter into them. And forthwith Jesus gave them leave. And the unclean spirits went out, and entered into the swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the sea, (they were about two thousand;) and were choked in the sea.”
Lottie shivered and a loud boom rattled the windows. Mommy twisted around and tried to jump, but Lottie grabbed her just in time and pulled her back. “There, now. Just lie down,” she said, petting her gently. “It’s okay,” she soothed.
Reluctantly Mommy curled up again. Lottie flipped some pages, pointed and began reading aloud. “Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. — Mark 16:9.” Lottie looked up and stared blankly at the television.
A crack of thunder snapped just outside the little house and Lottie almost dropped her Bible. Mommy jumped onto the coffee table and bounded for safety down the dark hallway. “It’s just thunder, Mommy. You don’t have to be afraid. Come on. Come to Nanny,” Lottie called. Lottie waited. “Well, be a fraidy-cat, then.”
A soft sound like frying bacon began. Rain. A moment later, a complete downpour drowned out the man on the television. Lottie went to the window again, clutching her crucifix with one hand and holding the word of God with the other. She parted the curtain with the Bible and watched. A blinding flash was soon followed by an explosive crash of thunder. The wind was now whipping in angry gusts. The television program went briefly silent.
We interrupt this program to bring you a special weather report. A tornado warning has been issued for Hinds and Madison counties. A tornado has been reported touching down about ten miles north of Lynchburg. It is traveling northeast at about thirty-five miles per hour. If you are in the path of the tornado, seek shelter in — the television went black as Lottie pushed the power button.
“The weather is in God’s hands and no amount of worrying can change it. God frowns upon worrywarts. It just means they aren’t trusting him completely. Nothing takes the worry away like reading God’s word!” Lottie exclaimed as she sat down again and flipped a few pages and began to read a random passage out loud. “Matthew 17:15 — Lord, have mercy on my son: for he is lunatick, and sore vexed: for ofttimes he falleth into the fire, and oft into the water. And I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.
“Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I suffer you? Bring him hither to me’. And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour.”
Lottie paused and looked up at the ceiling. “Halleluiah! No demon can withstand the power of Jesus,” she rejoiced while raising an upturned palm to the ceiling.
The small lamp beside her recliner flickered for a second then stabilized. Lottie stood up. “Better get a candle,” she mumbled. The rain continued to fall in thick sheets, whipped against the west side of the house by malicious winds. A high-pitched crackling immediately preceded an explosion that rocked the house as lightning struck somewhere close by.
The lamp flickered again and Lottie stared at it. The light stabilized once more and oddly it grew brighter. It grew brighter still and then began to fade in a strangely even manner, as if the voltage were being varied by a control somewhere. A small sputter and the living room became dark. Lottie felt her way into the kitchen and flipped the light switch out of habit. “Oh, Lord! I must be getting senile,” she quipped. Fumbling through a drawer, she managed to find a candle and some matches.
As she lit the candle, she began to sing an old favorite of hers from her childhood. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine ooooh, this little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Now, where is that candle holder?” Now able to see, she rummaged through another drawer and not managing to find a proper holder, she took a cup from the cabinet and slowly walked back to the living room.
In startling synchronization, a monstrous cacophony of thunder ripped through the air outside the little shack just as Lottie set the candle on the table. Wind bullied the house incessantly and the rain did not let up.
“Mommy!” Lottie called. Lottie sat back into her recliner. She spoke out loud. “Lord, this little light is all I need to see your light. Show me your word.” Turning several pages to the Gospel of Luke, she read another random passage: “Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to-” she halted in mid-sentence.
A loud metallic sound similar to the sound of a trash can being hit with a baseball bat managed to sneak past the din of the storm and into Lottie’s living room. Lottie walked to the window and pulled the curtain open. It was too dark to see anything, especially with so much rain. She reached over toward the door and flipped on the outside light switch. “No power. I know I’m senile now!” she said.
A flash of lightning that seemed to echo several times illuminated the landscape as Lottie watched through the window. A shape, perhaps a man — no, not a man — much larger than a man — something dark just standing there in the rain not fifty feet from the window. Lottie froze. She jerked the curtain closed and ran to make sure the door was bolted and locked.
Her pulse quickened as competing explanations fought for supremacy. The thought that kept pushing its way to the top of her consciousness she would not entertain. She backed away from the door a few steps but continued staring at the doorknob.
A trick of the storm, that’s all. Maybe it was just an optical illusion, the dark area between objects... the negative space. Not something but nothing — perhaps just a lost soul trying to find shelter. Maybe the rain on the window distorted the shape somewhat.
But could she bring herself to open the door if she heard a knock? Maybe he would knock and she would say “Who is it?” and he would answer, “I’m lost, wet and need a spot to dry off and rest.” She would then let him in to find out that it was only a man wandering lost after all. After several minutes no knock came. Perhaps it was nothing after all.
Lottie turned away from the door and resumed her place on the couch. “Lord, I need you,” she said and began reading again. “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall-”
A flash of lightning outlined a large silhouette on the curtain. Lottie stared and slowly put her Bible down on the couch. She stood and took a few steps toward the window and hesitated. “Who is it?” she yelled.
Seconds later, a huge crash of thunder made her jump backward, almost tripping over the small coffee table. The wind turned vicious and lightning electrified the skies, but the shadow Lottie saw on the curtain was now gone. Thunder gave way to what seemed like a steady roar, which grew louder by the minute. The house began to shake softly and pictures fell from the mantle above the fireplace. Lottie fell to her knees.
“Oh, Lord, I pray and I beg you to deliver me from this evil! Your word says that if we ask anything in Jesus’ name that you’d grant it if we have faith. Lord, I believe you are faithful and I have faith in you, oh, Lord.”
Immediately the roar became muffled and the shaking ceased. The rain stopped and the wind died down almost instantly. Lottie jumped to her feet and walked back and forth with her hands raised and palms faced upward saying “Halleluiah, Lord!” again and again.
All that could be heard outside now was a soft low humming that would have been inaudible had the TV been on. But Lottie did not notice. Nor did she notice the faint red glow where the curtain and the windowpanes met. She remembered stories about the eye of a storm being quiet or the moments right before a tornado being oddly still. Could this be the calm before the storm?
Then Lottie heard what sounded like deep voices just outside the living room door but she could make out none of the words. The thought she had suppressed earlier surfaced again.
As curiosity temporarily overcame her fright, she got up and walked toward the window. She put her hand, now shaking visibly, on the curtain but could not force herself to peek through. She hesitated.
The living room door exploded inward in a spray of splintered chunks and Lottie fell backward, tripping over the coffee table and landing on her back between it and the couch. Three creatures, each larger than any man and making loud half-human sounds, rushed through the door. They paused, looking left and right. Lottie looked up — and screamed.
The creatures lumbered closer to Lottie and one of them spoke.
Lottie clutched her cross and recited her verses. “The LORD is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? — Psalms 27:1,” she mumbled softly.
The largest of the creatures lunged toward her, its head coming within a few feet of hers. It let out an ear-shattering yell and raised its arm, pointing one of its bulky fingers toward her. Tremors gripped her and she closed her eyes. A thought flashed into her mind. Maybe showing her cross and rebuking the demons might send them away like Jesus did. She gained new resolve from one of her favorite verses: If God be for us, who can be against us? — Romans 8:31.
With her eyes still tightly closed, she pulled the cross from beneath her nightgown and held it out toward the nearest creature, her arm shaking so much that it appeared she was waving it quickly back and forth. She knew that the demons could not harm her if God was on her side. She held it up the way she remembered from the old vampire movies and commanded, “In the holy name of Jesus... Get thee behind me, Satan! — Matt-”
The red flash only lasted a moment. The silver crucifix hung in mid-air for a split second and then fell to the floor, landing in a newly formed pool of blood and water. One of the creatures walked up to the puddle and retrieved the cross, letting it dangle in a slow spin, water and blood dripping from it. The largest creature, after placing the cross inside a rectangular container, pressed a small button on its vest and spoke:
Report status 3041222: Operations impeded by storms this date. Aljoran presence identified. Reconnaissance mission continues as scheduled.
* * *
Three space travelers visit an isolated shack in the heart of Mississippi. They ask no questions, for there is no need. They see the sign. Before leaving Earth, they scout several other cities and relay their findings to their superiors, advising them to begin sending the attack drones at once. Interstellar scouts on a mission to identify terrorist planets speed away from Earth and begin the three-year journey back to their homeworld, where terrorists are not afraid to be seen — a place where terrorists have adopted a simple sign to represent themselves: the sign of the cross.
Copyright © 2006 by Tim Simmons