The soldiers had the benefit of being handed orders to carry out a post-apocalyptic contingency plan like it was a living will. They received the order to disperse, packed up, and sped away with a mushroom cloud in the rearview mirror. They followed the heat signature of a drone-like it was the north star that was guiding them to an undisclosed location. No matter how far they pushed on, they could find nowhere that wasn’t under the sackcloth sky.
Army chaplain Reverand Adams second masters was in psychology. His job not only outlived civilized life. It was the busiest he had been at any point in his fifteen-year career. The end of the world precipitated a crisis in faith for a lot of men in the battalion. Even the GIs who just barely three days prior hadn’t given God much thought came to the Reverend looking for a word of solace, and for someone steady for them to hold onto during their quickly dwindling hours on earth.
For awhile, soldering had managed to let them keep one foot in a life they wanted desperately to believe wasn't gone forever. The intense sense of purpose that distracted their minds from living dreams of all the ways their loved ones surely died.
When soldiers came to him looking for a way to deal with the grief of personal loss, Adams was relatively well prepared for that. Active duty required the grieving process to be expedient. Some of them just seemed to fade away. They were like breathing corpses. Living bodies with no one behind their vacant eyes. It’s a way out the mind takes when death would be preferable to the pain of existence.
But there were many minds where the truth was a growing fissure tearing through their sanity. They watched the blizzard of ash with unblinking eyes and fell deeper and deeper inside themselves until they weren’t much more present than the catatonics. Unfortunately for military planners, the nuclear apocalypse could be something that caused instant and irreversible trauma. It also left Adams in a crisis where he was torn between the Reverend and the officer. By his assessment, it looked a lot like the end of days, but Armageddon was bad for morale, and that was just something he couldn’t preach to the troops. It had occurred to him that he might have just witnessed the events foretold in revelations and he might not have been selected to join Christ in heaven and had been along with everyone else who didn’t make the grade condemned to a short-lived atomic hell before being swallowed up the oblivion at the end of the time
Sometimes the soldiers that came to see him would have these exact questions, and this was where Adams had the fewest answers. Was there no God, or had God condemned them to hell?
“I don’t think we could say what we saw was the end of the world necessarily,” Adams said, trying to sound gently authoritative.
“Why not?” the young private asked visibly, frustrated.
“Where do you think we are where do you think this is heading?” the young private asked indignantly.
Adams stood up “That wasn't Armageddon,” he said with some derision. “That was just a limited nuclear exchange!” He said, throwing up his hands. “Don’t worry, soldier God has kept you alive to continue serving him, do you understand?”
The private didn’t answer. There was a sharp knock at the door.
“Yeah?” Adams replied, happy to be relieved of the conversation.
The door opened, and an MP filled the frame. Major Adams, General Rurcheck requests your presence just as soon as you have fulfilled your duties as a spiritual anchor, sir!” The MP barked. Adams quickly dismissed the private and promised to resume the conversation another time.
“The MP detail escorted Adams to a humvee that drove up an isolated road perpendicular to their camp. The lonely stretch of country road was surrounded by boundless fields of wheat wilted by the cold touch of nuclear winter. A blizzard of ash fell from the sky and accumulated on the ground like snow. The darkness had thickened since he’d last seen it. Besides the pale headlights that were suffocated by the blackness, the only light was a distant blood orange glowing at the edge of space and drowning out the sun and the stars. Adams was lead to a humvee waiting just a few yards ahead. The MP opened the rear passenger's side door. LT. General Rurcheck was sitting behind the driver’s seat with a bible in his lap.
Adams soluted Rurcheck returned the gesture
“C'mon in,” he said with a friendly smile.
“Yes sir,” Adams said as he climbed into the back seat.
“At ease,” Rurcheck said.
“I’m going to speak openly and frankly about some things, and I hope you’ll do the same,” Rurcheck said.
“Yes, sir,” Adams nodded.
“Do you believe in the gospel?” The general asked, holding up his bible.
Adams was stunned by the question. “I am ordained, sir,” he replied.
“Fine, but when you read this book, do you read a collection of anecdotes about a philosophical approach to life, or are you reading actual accounts of things that have happened and things that are yet to come?”
“Well, Jesus often used parables to convey his message…”
“I’m not talking about that,” Rurcheck interrupted.
“I mean Genesis, the garden, the flood the angles breaking the seals and unleashing fire and brimstone.
“Is that what you think is happening, sir?” Adams asked.
“Now is not the time to pull the crap you learned in your psych courses Chaplain,” Rurcheck said sharply. “Do you believe there is no other truth besides what is written on these pages?”
“Yes, I do,” said Adams
“Good, I’m glad we’re on the same page then,” said Rurcheck.
Adams was relieved he’d apparently answered right.
“I was re-reading revelations, and at first, I was disturbed that I hadn’t ascended into heaven. Cause aren’t the righteous supposed to be raptured? I realized though the events described here precede the creation of God’s new kingdom. He’s coming here. We’re not going to him. That’s why I called you here today. God has given me a mission, and you’re a vital part of it.” Rurcheck explained.
“What does God want us to do?” Adams asked.
“Isn’t it obvious Chaplain? It’s up to restore order and start laying the foundation for his new kingdom. This is just a time of purification. It's up to us to finish his work.”
Adams followed Rurcheck and his escort of MPs into the field. There was a group of shadows stretching out from around the pale white UV light of a battery-powered lantern. Adams stopped when he saw five men on their knees with their hands bound behind their backs.
“Thes are the first infidels we will purge from the new kingdom,” announced Rurcheck. “Two Jews, a follower of Mohammad, and a Hindi. I need you to give them their last rites.
Adams could hear the frightened men whimpering under their hoods.
“Sir, with all due respect…”
“What do you think we should tell Jesus Major? Say sorry they refused to believe in you, and I didn’t really care. Are we cool?” Sneered Rurcheck “This is revelations, the end of days and the final judgment of all mankind I don’t think Christ is going to be willing to deal with that bullshit do you, Chaplain?”
Adams didn’t answer. He was surrounded by Rurcheck’s disciples, and they were willing to kill for him and didn’t seem to know that he was a Methodist, and the last rites are a Catholic tradition. Adams could either refuse to be part of the inquisition on moral grounds and end up donning a hood of his own. He didn’t know how the ritual was precisely supposed to proceed so Adams did the only thing he could think to do and started reciting the Lord's prayer;
“Our father who art in heaven. Hallowed be thy name,”
Rurcheck joined, and soon the crowd of executioners was reciting the prayer in unison. The heathens were shot in the back of the head at point-blank range and dropped into a shallow grave. Watching the faceless men fall into the dirt put things into perspective. The world had ended, and whether it was by the hand of God or not didn’t matter. He was nowhere to be found, and just as it had been before, the nuclear rapture lost men found still gave themselves over to demented personalities who are always there when God is nowhere to be found.