by Fr. Jonathan Atchley
My contribution to the Halloween Story Contest.)
Everyone loves underdogs. And that’s what we were, though I didn’t feel much love in this war since the lousy invasion started. “Aliens from Space, Earthmen Die” was how the papers would read that evening, if they hadn’t al;ready been destroyed. While many were aware of the biblical concept of Armageddon, no one imagined this was how it would occur.
We stood waiting for orders. Lieutenant Turner pushed his way out of our Intelligence Tent like he’d been doused with water--hair disheveled, mouth gaping, hands darting here and there wile issuing commands. “We are the decoy, men! Central has us down as a ghost army. Our job is to distract the enemy, make it seem like our defenses are better and larger than they are while global forces prepare their final assault. Deployment is in an hour; corpsmen ready for engagement, follow me inside.” He disappeared within the smothering folds of a large canvas tent. All of us moved to follow him. Exhausted, we were still ready for a piece of the action.
The lieutenant presented his plan. We were to feign a false offensive, magnifying our presence with lights and noise, making ourselves more fearsome than we were. We would travel in segue with the military drones; I was supposed to manage the sound system, morphing fearful whispers into the sound of victorious rallies. Dustin, a buddy, would handle lights, and Reggie, other special effects. Dozens of others were assigned to help us pull off the seemingly impossible--instill the enemy with fear that, to date, manifested no fear.
We drove on skirmish lines with aplomb, speakers blaring, penetrating shadows with Batman-like projections onto the night sky. Dusty regaled: “Wait till they get a load of me!” I rejoined with a grim chuckle.
Our position was precarious. We were far outnumbered and outgunned. Our little ruse seemed like a high school play compared to the Broadway production we were competing against, but lives depended on how well we played that part. We drove thirty klicks around their base that night, mustering all the bravado our hearts could brandish. But we never expected to engage the enemy head on. That wasn’t the plan, though, of course, that was how it turned out.
We’d been working behind a canopy of trees and heavy underbrush for a few hours when the enemy rushed. Tall, lanky things with several pairs of limbs fired at us with weapons that hissed with flame and lightning. My heart sank as they quickly passed through our façade. As night gave way to rosy-fingered dawn, fleeting shadows showed we were like ants rallying before an anteater. The enemy was everywhere, and oppressively terrifying. The men and I uttered a prayer, knowing that somehow God would sort things out, if not here and now, then when we soon stood before him in Judgement.
That’s when Reggie tugged at my arm and drew my attention to a gathering mass of silent sentinels who suddenly appeared, armed with massive bows. They stood taller than the enemy, practically innumerable, and with ruthless efficiency began releasing torrents of arrows on our alien predators. One of the defenders hovered in the air, commanding courageous troops to rout the foe. His face shone with an unearthly light, brilliant and beautiful. That’s when I noticed he had wings, and my heart soared, recalling a psalm: “though I walk through the dark valley, I have nothing to fear for you are with me.” One of our guys cried out: “look, it’s St. Michael!” The sun had risen.
Victory was ours by day’s end and the foe completely routed, which would have been impossible if not for the Heavenly Host that came to fight for us. We had been commissioned to feign attack on man’s temporary mortal foe, but the real defense and victory came with this divinely ennobled Ghost Army. We were the imposters, they the saving grace. Many of us fell to our knees and began weeping, but I stood my ground, gaze transfixed as I met his eyes. Michael, if that is who he was, smiled and nodded with affection, his noble poise motionless for the minute we shared mutual success. Slowly, then, he and the other Angelic allies swiftly rose to the clouds and passed from sight. My heart too soared, reveling with victorious gory in the service of Our Lord’s Battalion.