The Ark of Apocalypse

CHAPTER ONE        

 

Simon of Ethiopia

The colossal ship inched its way slowly up to the mooring. The hull was black with "Lykes Lines" written in bold white lettering on the side. A dozen white cranes reached up into the thick, wet fog from its deck. Crowds of dirty, virulent looking Frenchmen came running up to the edge of the dock carrying guns, clubs, picks, and whatever else they could find for a weapon. The captain peered over the side at the forming mob, but appeared to be unconcerned. He was a very short Japanese man with a long, ragged beard, heavy black overcoat, and black sea cap. The dock was up the Loire River near Angers, France. Through the fog could be seen the stone remnants of a thirteenth century castle. The captain signaled his loyal and devoted deck hands to lower the ramp. Then he slowly made his way up the stairs to the captain's deck.

The moment the ramp touched down on the dock, the mob charged up the ramp and onto the ship, pushing and shoving each other to board first. Frantically, they rushed around the deck, then down the various stairways that led into the holds of the ship. Through every room and on every deck they scoured and searched, not even knowing or caring what they were looking for. The ship was completely empty. No cargo. No food. No fuel. No loot. The hostile mob cursed and swore at one other, indignant that there was nothing to take. Some beat on the walls and equipment of the ship with their weapons in outrage.

One surly group decided to raid the captain's deck and turned as a unit towards the white stairs to begin the climb. Suddenly they stopped in their tracks, frightened by the site above them. Standing on the top of the landing was a 7 foot 4 inch powerful black man.  He was holding a two barrel 50 caliber machine gun in one hand while the other was stuffed into the pocket of a heavy, full-length, black overcoat. He stared down at the mob without fear or even anger. There was no expression on his face whatsoever. They slowly backed down the stairs without taking their eyes off the giant. Then turning away, they continued their search until they were satisfied that the ship was empty. They would have killed the captain if it hadn't been for the tall man who stood in front of him known as Simon of Ethiopia.

Simon turned and looked down at the captain. "Thank you, Hank. I hope that we meet again." He paused, looking down at the ship's deck and rubbed the tip of the two barrel gun across his feet. "Thank you. The time for sacrifice is here." Simon reached out and held Hank's hand gently. "Goodbye, Hank. May God protect you!"

"Good hunting, Simon!" Tears were rolling down the Captain’s weathered face. "May this truly be the beginning! If so … you are a very special man." The captain hugged Simon tightly, but his hands could only reach halfway around his enormous waist.

Simon walked slowly down the stairs through the mob that quickly separated to let him pass. He walked down the ship's ramp and across the dock without looking back. Two armed men met him at the end of the dock where they exchanged greetings and led him to an old American army Jeep. As they sped away, the captain watched from the deck where he remained. After they were out of sight, he turned to look down at the mob. They stared up at him without moving.

The dilapidated looking Jeep moved swiftly down a cobblestone street next to the river. They drove quickly around the tired, battered walls of one of Angers' chateaux, designed to withstand the protracted sieges of the time and to protect the western gateway to the chateau region.

They sped up a ramp and into the court of the large fort. The two men led Simon inside through an enormous gallery lavishly decorated with beautiful antique tapestries which caught his eye, but then swiftly hustled him out the back door. Outside again, Simon followed them down a path lined with rose bushes and into a small clearing in the trees. There, in the center of the opening, sat a modified Apache AHH-64 helicopter with two Hellfire missiles attached to her belly, front and aft machine guns, and extra gas tanks, all painted black. There were signs on both sides, but layers of black tape hid the lettering.

Simon walked over to the chopper without saying a word. He scurried around to the other side and examined everything. He looked up through the opening in the trees at the still-foggy sky. He still carried his 50 caliber in his right hand with deceptive ease. He was so large that his gun appeared to be  average sized but was not. He walked purposefully back to the two men and asked "You have The Letter?"

The Frenchman silently reached into his overcoat and handed a leather covered folder to Simon. It was sealed with a wax seal. Simon checked the seal against the one on his ring, and then looked back at the men. With affection but without a smile, he placed his left hand first on one man's shoulder and then on the other's. With that, he turned away from them and climbed into the black chopper. He looked at his odd companions as they backed away, and then he started the engine.

Slowly, he lifted up through the trees and into the fog. He pulled off to the right and over the Loire River. Here and there he noticed small fires below him, but he did not allow anything to divert his attention. He followed the river, past the great and beautiful chateaux until he reached Tours.

Tours was totally in ruins. The streets looked quiet, and few buildings remained standing. Lights shone sporadically throughout the city and brought up old memories for Simon. He let his mind wander back to that night many years ago. That wonderful night when he walked into a candle lit church and looked at his bride in all her wedding finery, Simon felt his heart contract in agony at the memory and quickly shook his head as if to shake it from his mind. He turned south at Tours and the bird thundered over the lovely Chenonceau with its white stone towers jutting up from the river Cher. It seemed untouched from the air, but he knew that was probably an illusion. He reached into his breast pocket and extracted a map, spread it out on the seat beside him and studied it again for the hundredth time. He knew it by heart, but he was taking no chances!

After being aloft for several hours, Simon spotted a large corn field with an elaborate eight-pointed cross cut into the rows of corn. He checked his map again, circled the area looking for anything out of place; then began to descend into the center of the cross. At the head of the cross was an old truck filled with corn. A dark-haired, middle-aged man sat motionless in the driver's seat and stared at Simon through the dirty window. When the blades stopped and all was quiet, the man started his truck and crept very slowly toward the chopper, his eyes fixed on Simon. He stepped out of the truck and pulled a long gas hose from inside the corn and drew it toward the chopper. He refueled both tanks, continuing to stare at the large and silent man who just watched from his seat. When the man finished, he replaced the hose, glanced furtively at Simon one last time, and backed his truck all the way to the head of the cross.

Simon restarted the engine and was quickly airborne. He headed south. He would spot two more crosses before reaching his destination but did not land. As the sun was setting, Simon thought about why he was in this chopper and why he was doing what he was doing.

The sun was rising again. Though he had not slept, Simon was alert and easily spotted the landmarks. He was close. He scrutinized the ground below him. There it was. To his left was the obscure stone castle, the Tour Magdale. There was the village of Rennes-le-Chateau, the lake, the church, and there….there was Bezu, the small mountain. Simon turned towards Bezu and hovered over its south side. He finally found what he was looking for and began searching for a landing site. There was none close, so he picked one a mile away and laid the chopper down very softly.