The Fourth River
“Curse the infidel Americans.”
Ahmad slammed on his brakes, skidding to a stop and spraying golden dust against the desert sky. He jumped from the cab of a rust-eaten military truck—his feet hitting sand so hot it softened the soles of his boots. The truck was an old green 1942 GMC CCKW. The white U.S. Star still showed on the driver’s door, but the canvas that had covered the truck bed was long gone. Ahmad had no idea what mission originally brought his truck into Iraq. He didn’t care. The truck was his now.
Hot, stinging beads of sweat ran down his forehead. He wiped them with his sleeve as he raised binoculars to his eyes one more time. “It’s there. I know it’s there,” he said through gritted teeth. He needed one last score. Then he would head home. He focused the binoculars, sweeping them across the desert to the southwest. He squinted against the late afternoon glare to scan miles of rock…and sand…
Ahmad hated the American dogs and their interference in Iraq, but he had to admit that their abandoned weapons created a good source of income. Everyone had their market. His was small arms: M4s, M15s, Russian Kalishnikovs that had made their way down from Afghanistan. Ahmad made sure they found their way to the jihadist resistance. The old GMC had been his first find, and it was perfect for his current needs.
He knew the cache was close, no more than a kilometer or so. If he could find it, he could be home to his wife, Amira, before sundown.
Wait. What was that? Something caught the sunlight just to his left. “I have you now,” he said, smiling greedily. He focused his binoculars in the direction of the flash. The light blazed again, wiping the grin from his face.
What he saw made no sense. He was in a desert wasteland. There wasn’t a living thing in sight. Yet, the flashing light was intensely green, fiercely alive.
Climbing back into the dilapidated cab, Ahmad fired up the old diesel engine. He ground the tired transmission into gear and gunned it in the direction of the light. His collection slid back and forth in the bed behind him as he raced towards the area. What is that? Lightning? Some strange electrical anomaly? He thought perhaps he’d been in the heat too long.
Ahmed stopped the truck, letting the engine idle. The hair on the back of his neck stood on end. “You’re a fool, Ahmad,” he muttered nervously. “If you leave now, you’ll be home in time for dinner.” He had almost won the war with his curiosity when the light flashed again. Now he could see clearly, but what he saw was impossible. Wiping sweat from his eyes, Ahmad squinted through the shimmering heat and saw what looked like a garden—a verdant array of green.
He started the truck and crept slowly towards the flashing light and strange green foliage. He rolled to a stop about fifty feet away. Sliding carefully out of the cab, Ahmad stood still in the quietness of the barren desert, staring at the dreamlike sight. The sun hadn’t yet set, but he shivered. The light, now clearly electrical, popped and sparked again, fracturing the air and creating a fissure in time, or space, or… It was almost like a door into another dimension. Ahmad inched forward to peer through the expanding doorway. He was disturbingly aware of the reality of his situation. He most certainly was not dreaming. Ahmad knew all the tricks of the desert, but this wasn’t a trick. Yes, there is green grass. There are trees. I can see them. I can smell them! His shoulders rose and fell as he filled his lungs with perfume that surpassed the realm of his imagination.
“This is a miracle of Allah,” he whispered. “He has granted me Paradise.”
Ahmad walked slowly, reverently, closer to the opening portal. He could feel the energy enveloping him like lightning when it strikes too close for comfort. It was pulsating from the ground through the hot desert wind and into his very bones. Ahmad removed his boots, preparing himself to witness whatever was to be shown to him. The air began to dance in anticipation. The current gained in strength and intensity until a final flash of light split the air itself. There, unveiled in front of Ahmad was a sight so otherworldly he began to doubt the breath in his lungs. It was lush, green—the brightest green imaginable and spattered with vivid flowers. He could see just a glimpse of cool, blue water, and he knew. It was Paradise! Ahmad began to run towards the lush coolness that awaited him.
Suddenly, the earth rumbled as the current of electricity awakened the deepest parts of the desert. The rocks around him quaked and clattered violently. Stumbling to a stop, he cried out. He struggled to keep his balance as the earth heaved beneath his feet. With an explosion of light, the doorway was open. Ahmad tried desperately to breathe. His heart raced wildly out of control as his eyes fixed on the sight before him. Towering over Ahmad was a huge figure that seemed to be made of lightning itself—nine feet tall, brilliant white clothing, golden hair swirling as though caught up in a supernatural whirlwind.
The Eternal Guardian.
Protector of the Garden.
Ahmad saw the sword in the being’s hand. He heard the whirring as it flashed round and round past his ears. The guardian’s face was terrible. It’s eyes flared in rage. Those eyes were fixed on Ahmad.
Ahmad opened his mouth to scream, but no sound came. His legs buckled, and he sank to his knees. His eyes locked on the angel above him.
The angel’s blade sang one more time, completing a final arc before whipping down and finding its target.
Ahmad’s headless body fell to the ground. His blood vanished quickly into the hot, thirsty sand.
Lightning flashed once more, and the fissure in space closed. The angel was gone. The beautiful garden vanished, and the desert returned to its solitude. All was quiet except for the gentle sound of trickling water.
A small cleft had opened in the rocky desert floor releasing a bubbling, clear stream that slowly began to spread.