Nicolae: The Rise of Antichrist, pp. 48-51
Buck Williams knows what is happening. He knows what’s coming.
Thanks to more than a year of study with Bruce Barnes, Buck is thoroughly familiar with the details of the End Times check list. He has a schedule for the Great Tribulation and it sets a clear itinerary for the few remaining months of life on earth. Some of the events prophesied are cryptic, but those come later. The first several items on the check list are explicitly, unmistakably clear: war, famine, death.
That war has begun, just as Buck had known it must. And he knows what that means — knows what will, inescapably, follow. War and famine and death have been “… given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.”
Buck has, with his own eyes, seen the bombs begin to fall. And he knows they will keep falling, as foretold that they must, until one fourth of humanity is dead.
He knows this. He had known that this war would come, and now that it has arrived he knows that it will continue.*
Since we know that Buck knows all of this, his behavior in the next few pages seems impossible to explain. For a moment, earlier in this book, it seemed that Buck was going to act on what he knows is happening. The very first thing he did when the war began was to race to acquire an off-road vehicle well-suited for fleeing the final moments of civilization. It seemed that at least one of our heroes was finally going to take Jesus’ advice. If you find yourself suddenly faced with an apocalypse, Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel:
… flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down to take what is in the house; someone in the field must not turn back to get a coat.
Yet Buck didn’t flee to the mountains. Here we are in Chapter 3 and Buck’s shiny new luxury-survivalist Range Rover is parked in the lot of a suburban church, just a few short miles from the city of Chicago, which Buck has every reason to expect is about to be obliterated.
And he isn’t there collecting supplies — ammunition, canned food, bottled water or holy water. Instead he’s just calmly printing out the contents of Bruce’s hard drive and making hotel arrangements for a longer stay downtown.
He had packaged pages and Bruce’s computer into one huge carton. As he lugged it out, he told Chloe, “Drop me off at the Chicago bureau office, and then you’d better check with The Drake and be sure our stuff is still there. We’ll want to keep that room until we find a place to live closer to here.”
I can only explain this by imagining that Buck is in shock and in denial.
For her part, Chloe seems to be right there with him:
“I was hoping you’d say that,” Chloe said. “Loretta is devastated. She’s going to need a lot of help here. What are we going to do about a funeral?”
Chloe expects a funeral for Bruce, because that’s what happens when a friend dies. Or at least that’s what happens when a friend dies and it’s not right in the midst of the Great Tribulation, as the seals of judgment are being opened and divine and antidivine wrath are both being poured out to claim the lives of more than a billion people.
“You’re going to have to help handle that, Chlo’. You’ll want to check with the coroner’s office, have the body delivered to a funeral home nearby here, and all that.”
Only people deep, deep in denial could imagine that any of this was still possible. Unable to cope with the scale of the devastation they have personally witnessed — the ruins of the hospital, the mushroom cloud they saw rising over the North Side — they’ve developed a kind of traumatic amnesia, shutting out every thought except that of the death of their friend.
If they stopped for a second and allowed themselves to absorb all that they’ve seen, or if they glanced at all those charts and timelines from Bruce’s notes — explanations of prophecies that Buck is, at this very moment, carrying in his hands — then they’d have to realize that there’s no way the Drake hotel or the coroner’s office or a funeral home could still possibly be functioning normally, or at all.
They must be in denial. They must have forgotten about all those other casualties.
“… have the body delivered to a funeral home nearby here, and all that. With so many casualties, it’s going to be a mess, so they’ll probably be glad to know that at least one body has been claimed.”
So much for my denial/traumatic amnesia theory.
And I’m afraid that was the only theory I had that could make sense of this. All I can do now is marvel at the strangeness and stupidity of our heroes in these pages — and at the strangeness and stupidity of the authors.
Here are two characters who believe that a global, perhaps-nuclear war has been foreordained by God. They have been expecting and awaiting the onset of this war, which they know will continue until it claims a fourth of the earth. And they have seen it begin, felt the concussive blast of a bomb that they know will only be the first of many, many more.
So put yourself in their shoes, what would you do? Would you book a room in a downtown high-rise?** Head back to the office? Try to make funeral arrangements for a friend who died just as the war was beginning?
The staggering weirdness of their behavior here is made even stranger by the glib casualness of it all.
“We’re each going to need a vehicle,” Buck says to Chloe. And then, to underscore the point, he adds, “I can’t promise I’ll be around here all the time.”
Or in other words, he’s calling dibs on the Range Rover. Chloe seems to have guessed he would:
“Loretta, bless her heart,*** thought of the same thing in spite of all she’s going through. She reminded me that there’s a fleet of extra cars among the congregation and has been ever since the Rapture. They lend these out for just such crises as this one.”
First let’s commend Jerry Jenkins for finally realizing — 50 pages into the third book of his series — that all those real, true Christians raptured away in the first book would have left behind empty homes and abandoned cars. Buck Williams has gone car-shopping twice since then, paying full price for a new model each time while all along the Rev. Billings’ Buick and Irene Steele’s minivan have sat unused.
Jenkins still doesn’t seem to grasp how many millions of empty homes and abandoned cars his version of the rapture implies, or the full implications of that. But at least — belatedly — he’s realized that he can exploit this previously ignored consequence to solve another of his commuting-logistics conundrums.
The astonishing bit here, though, is Chloe’s reference to “just such crises as this one.” She’s not talking about the destruction of the hospital, the church’s loss of its pastor, the death of every church member who may have been at or near the airport, or the onset of war, pestilence and death that will sweep away one fourth of the earth. Those are about other people and so those, therefore, do not constitute “crises.” No, the urgent crisis here — the priority — is that Buck Williams and his wife need a second car.
“Good,” Buck said. “Let’s get you fixed up with one of those.”
He called dibs, remember. We all heard him.
Chloe asks Buck about the 5,000 pages of file-dump in the box he’s carrying and his vague plan to, you know, make copies and, like, pass them out.
“Buck, wait a minute. There’s no way we can reproduce that until someone has read all of it. There’s got to be private, personal stuff in there. And you know there will be direct references to Carpathia and to the Tribulation Force. We can’t risk being exposed like that.”
Buck had an ego crisis. He loved this woman, but she was ten years his junior and he hated when it seemed as if she was telling him what to do, especially when she was right.
This … this … thing the authors are doing here through Buck, it needs a name.
I’ve heard a thousand variations of this very thing, from pastors, politicians and business executives. This thing, this sick passive-aggressive ritual, is something such men often perform whenever they’re speaking in public with their wives present, usually with a forced chuckle and oozing the same feigned humility that the authors here attribute to Buck.
The authors would, of course, insist that they’re poking fun at Buck here, and that this “ego crisis” is a foible of his. In just the same way all those pastors and politicians always pretend they’re poking fun at their own “egos” rather than flexing them by making all those similarly disingenuous comments at the expense of their wives, asserting a claim of dominance by portraying even common decency and fairness as expressions of magnanimous, benevolent condescension. Such magnanimity is, of course, what every husband owes to the little lady, but silly me, sometimes my ego gets in the way and I forget to show it — so the joke’s on me!
That thing needs a name. Maybe if we can figure out what to call it, we can figure out how to kill it.
Fortunately for Buck here, the authors have kept this bit confined to Buck’s internal thoughts. He didn’t say all that out loud to Chloe, and thus she is spared from having to punch him in the neck. Instead, she says:
“Just entrust it to me, hon. I’ll spend every day between now and Sunday poring over it line by line. By then we’ll have something to share with the rest of New Hope, and we can even announce that we might have something in copied form for them within a week or so.”
It’s a plan, then. Chloe will edit and rewrite 5,000 pages by Sunday, and then, “within a week or so,” she’ll have it all retyped and they can then make copies, bind them, and distribute them to all members of New Hope Village Church, each of whom will then have the chance to read through all 5,000 pages at their leisure. Because that’s clearly the easiest way to get the word out.
“But where will you do this?”
“Loretta has offered to let us stay with her. She’s got that big old house, you know.”
“That would be perfect, but I hate to impose.”
“Buck, we would hardly be imposing. She’ll hardly know we’re there. Anyway, I sense she’s so lonely and beside herself with grief that she really needs us.”
This bears an uncanny resemblance to the usual social niceties involving an offer of hospitality. The would-be guest expresses a reluctance to trouble the would-be host, who in turn insists that it’s no trouble at all, and that she would be glad for the company.
The slight difference here — the bit that makes this near-resemblance uncanny — is that both Chloe and Buck seem to interpret Loretta’s social niceties literally. Whatever it was she actually said — we hear echoes of it from Chloe in “that big old house” and “hardly know [you’re] there” — the couple has decided to take it at face value. They’ve convinced themselves that they really are the ones doing her a great favor by allowing her to accommodate them.
But the core thing here is that one sentence: “Loretta has offered to let us stay with her.” However Chloe and Buck want to spin it, that’s the essential fact of the matter. Loretta is extending hospitality to them.
That sentence is on page 50, about two-thirds of the way down the page. Buck and Chloe exchange a bit of wince-inducing banter (“I keep you around because you’re cute,” she says), and then, on page 51, we come to this:
“You’ve forgotten the shelter under the church.”
“I haven’t forgotten it, Chloe. I’m just praying it’ll never come to that. Does anybody else know about that place except the Tribulation Force?”
“No. Not even Loretta. It’s an awfully small place. If Daddy and Amanda and you and I had to stay there for any length of time, it wouldn’t be much fun.”
Eighteen lines. That’s the distance from “Loretta has offered to let us stay with her” to “Not even Loretta. It’s an awfully small place.” About half a page separates them.
At the bottom of page 50, Buck and Chloe are in need and Loretta extends hospitality to them in their time of need. At the top of page 51, Buck and Chloe discuss what they would do to Loretta in her time of need and, well …
Half an hour later, Buck pulled into the Chicago area office of Global Community Weekly magazine.
Hey look, the GIRAT suddenly remembers his day job. It’s been a while since he’s checked in at the office, but apart from the destruction of New York, Washington and London and the perhaps-nuclear bombing of airports across the continent, it’s been a slow news week.
“I’m going to get us a couple of cell phones,” Chloe said. “I’ll call The Drake and then get down there and get our stuff. I’ll also talk with Loretta about a second vehicle.”
“Get five of those cell phones, Chloe, and don’t scrimp.”
As if Mrs. Buck Williams would ever think to “scrimp” when it comes to telephones.
In 1995, when Jenkins wrote the first book in this series, cell phones were an exotic luxury item. By the time he was writing this book, in 1997, they’d become much more common. Chloe’s abrupt announcement, above, is how Jenkins went about catching up with technology — just suddenly inserting cell phones into the world of these books, like Dawn Summers, and then acting as though they had been there all along. A bit jarring, but it solves his problem.
It raises other, new problems, though, such as why our heroes expect these cell phones to have coverage amidst a nuclear war, why they think they will be safe to use now that Nicolae controls all communications, or how they expect to recharge them once the grid shuts down as war, famine and pestilence seize the earth.
“Five?” she said. “I don’t know if Loretta would even know how to use one.”
“I’m not thinking of Loretta. I just want to make sure we have a spare.”
If Buck allowed Loretta to have a phone then he wouldn’t have an extra one for himself.
He’s not thinking of Loretta. He never is, bless his heart.
– – – – – – – – – – – –
* Buck also knows, or should know, that it’s even worse than he may have expected. The shape of this war suggests that his odds of survival are even lower than the 75-percent chance he might have thought he would have.
The rider on the red horse, war, the second seal of judgment “permitted to take peace from the earth,” seems to have a narrower focus, with Nicolae Carpathia’s weirdly one-sided World War III confining its destruction to North America, North Africa and Britain. The total population of those areas adds up to less than “a fourth of the earth.” If the war remains confined to those regions, and if that war is to kill one fourth of the earth’s population, then no one in America should expect to survive.
** Set aside for the moment the whole World War III and mushroom-cloud business. Don’t worry about why O’Hare International Airport is now closed in this story. Just consider that much, on it’s own. O’Hare is closed. No flights in. No flights out. Now consider what that means for the likelihood of booking that downtown hotel room.
*** “Bless her heart” is not a term we’ve heard from Chloe previously, nor is it a term that 21-year-old Chicagoans are likely ever to use. Since Chloe associates the term with Loretta here, I’m going to assume that’s where she picked up the phrase — although she did so without quite understanding it.
Loretta, Jenkins said, is from the South. My guess is that Chloe heard Loretta say something like, “So Buck bought himself a new luxury SUV, did he? Well. Bless his heart,” and that Chloe mistook this for an expression of affection.