My friends, moving as if they were zombies, formed a circle with this doppelganger.  Only Evie was left to the side, spared from whatever unholy contract had been formed.  The seven linked hands in the centre, like a football huddle, and shouted in one voice, strong and guttural.  I saw reality tear like a curtain and beheld what lay behind it.

            This was the same desert I had wandered through for years; the one Mara said was a physical representation of spiritual realities.  That meant that nothing here was “real” in the sense that it was not made of sand or stone or solid matter at all.  We were not here in our corporeal forms, exactly, but travelled here in spirit.  I had seen the conversation between the two Ethans in the desert but it had been a representation of an internal struggle.  Everything was symbolic.

            So now I saw what was happening as the seven men in the desert joined forces.  On one level I saw them standing on sand, with a sky of fire and sun, but behind them, overlapping with that reality perspective, I saw something far more frightening.  It seemed at once to be a realm of shadow and fire, a dark ocean and a frozen place, and all at once.  I felt fear even though I knew this was a vision of things past, and not something happening to me now.

            From out of this darkness I saw something emerge, something that terrified me like nothing else I had seen on this journey.  It rose up out of the depths, oozing malice and suffering.  I could barely look at it, and when I did I could barely discern its shape or colour.  Everything about it seemed to be shifting:  at times it was black and covered with horns, at others grey and scaly, then slimy and a dusky brown.  It roared, in the same voice the seven had used, and I saw it throw itself forward.  The monstrosity had seven heads, and the long stalks of its necks snaked outwards.

            Those seven heads opened the maws of their mouths wide and swallowed my friends whole.  I could still see them standing there, in the exact same positions, but I also knew that they were inside this beast.  It had taken them into itself, or put itself into them.  I could not tell which.  Perhaps somehow it was both.  I trembled in fear, even as my friends were returned to the “real world,” leaving me alone in the desert.

Instead of staying with myself, my vision took me with my friends.  I saw them travel down the mountain in their underwear, accompanied by the demon with my face.  I knew Genevieve had already begun to suspect the replacement on some level, but at every turn something would distract her from the truth.  It would be years before she knew that I did not walk among them any longer.

            The group went up a driveway to an opulent house, and there the suave Simon Lamb welcomed them.  I had seen him in the visions received through the pool in the desert, and I knew he served in some advisory capacity to them in their Citadel.  Now I came to understand that he had been their benefactor, supporting the building of their church.

            I also came to understand that he was not what he seemed.  Again I saw the veil of reality pulled aside, and beneath it the dark powers that were at work.  The seven-headed hydra that had possessed my friends bowed low before another beast within Mr. Lamb, a beast that walked like a man but had two horns and shining yellow eyes that gleamed with malevolence.  He had the smile of a hungry shark, and together these two were going to cause great evil.

            All through the Gospels are stories of people possessed by demons and saved by Jesus of Nazareth.  Most people in my church discounted these stories as fantastical additions or ancient superstition.  Some attributed the stories to cases of epilepsy or schizophrenia.  No one in the modern perspective, they argued, could believe that demons ever existed, so these ancient peoples simply misunderstood what was happening around them.  Now, with the evidence before my eyes, I seriously considered that perhaps our “modern” day and age was the one that misunderstood reality.  Demons walked among us.

            I was forced to watch the seven-headed beast feeding off the sins of my friends throughout the years that they ran their church.  I saw it growing stronger every time it convinced them to be selfish, to forget the teachings of our parents and our faith.  Every time Daniel had premarital sex or raped some innocent girl, the beast basked in his lechery.  Whenever Evan hoarded money, or Owen ate too much, it gloated.  The worst was watching how it used Jason.

            The plan of the two beasts was insidious.  Whenever people were sick, they came to Jay.  That was an earthly reality.  Well, on the spiritual dimension these fiends inhabited, those wounds and illnesses were caused by demons, and to “cure” the disease, the beasts simply commanded the demon to withdraw.  However, these minor imps took part of that person’s strength with them, drained their life and their faith, and fed it to the greater beasts, increasing their strength, their power.  And then the demons would circle around, eventually causing new sicknesses in the same people, forcing them to return for healing and to continue a vicious circle. 

Worse still, the despair engendered by living in these atrocious times caused more demons to appear in the world, freed from their hellish home by the sins and faithlessness of the human race.  Everything kept getting worse, and I understood why I had entered a place in the mountains of the spirit world that was winter cold, a place where faith died.  The wide path, I knew, would have led me to these beasts, led me to the source of despair in the world.  It would have led me to the place where the Gates of Hell opened to unleash its demonic children upon the unsuspecting planet.

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