Chapter 30: Deserving of Suspicion?
The adults riding in the rear of the Sin Preacher’s camper covered pickup truck are fidgety. Currently they are driving further away from where the rest of the group is camped out. They squirm as they sit wearing damp clothes from their trek across the river in advance of the undead. Ben and his group have found themselves in a shiny blue pickup truck covered with a white camper. Bouncing along dirt farm roads courtesy of a woman who'd emerged quietly from the woods telling them she was a Sin Preacher. He kept his eyes glued to his two rescued children Chip and Belinda sitting in the cab with Miriam. Meanwhile he, Jamal, Sara and Cody Carson slide about the trucks spotless bed. "Now remember our goal is to get back to our people." Ben whispers as every head nods in agreement. Lockett looks suspiciously at the woman driving the truck before she speaks. "We need to lay some ground rules." She tells the men then proceeds to count of her points on her fingers. "We don't give away our exact number of people. We don't surrender our weapons or at the very least don't give up everything. We also don't tell exactly where we are from or heading to." Jamal sheepishly raises his hand. "Where are we headed to no one told me anything?" Carson palm plants his hand up to his face grinning. "She means where we are headed back to bro." Jamal's smile brightens considerably. "Ok good." He remarks. "Why are we being so secretive I don't see the problem?" Ben challenges his young charge. "Look Mr. James the apocalypse tends to bring out the worst in people. This chick just strolls out the woods all creepy and shit like it's just any other day why is that? What was she doing out here alone?" Private Lockett offers in her defense firing off the mostly rhetorical questions in rapid succession. "How many religious folks have you seen in movies and read about in books that go nuts during the end times. One minute they are friendly the next minute you‘re picking out matching jumpsuits." The men simply stare in disbelief as the truck hits a rut in the clay road. "What books have you been reading Private?" Ben asks snorting. "All I care about is getting back to my family. We have all seen things that defy movies in the last few days. I suggest we all stop equating real life to the movies. We are making this up as we go along." Private Lockett scoots in closer. "I agree with you a hundred and ten percent Mr. James. Therefore I say we thank her for the ride then ask to borrow some mode of transport and get while the getting’s good." Ben’s head bobs up and down with a grin. Finally Lockett is seeing things from his perspective. "Deal." He sticks his hand out and Sara shakes it vigorously.
A tap on the window startles the conspiring troop of survivors from their semi circle. Miriam slides the window open "Welcome to The First New Faith Baptist Church ladies and gentlemen." Out the right side of the truck's camper a pristine white steeple stands majestically. Atop the spire sits a glistening chrome cross it seems to sparkle in the early day sunlight. The church sits out front of two smaller separate utility buildings. One of the buildings is actually nothing more than a shed. "Miriam you don't seem to have much in the way of fortifications." Private Carson crab walks his large body forward to the window. "We don't need anything more than we have. With things the way they are now out of sight and out of mind is the best defense." She talks smiling up into the rearview mirror. They drive up to a tall razor wire topped fence a short squat man wobbles out of the church's side door and begins to work thick chains off the fence. Fencing wraps the back half of the church's property encompassing the larger of the two utility structures a large tin roofed storage building. "Why the fence then?" Carson continues to probe. "It was up before the Rapture came to pass young man as I said we haven’t done much.” She hunches her shoulders dismissively. Carson sighs looking back to Lockett. "Ma'am I'm sorry." He apologizes red blush spreading up his cheeks. "It's just that given what we've seen in the last few days. It is extremely hard to believe you have survived in this unassuming church." They pull through the gate and to the rear of the property moving for the larger utility building. "Young man we haven't survived here we have simply benefited from the grace of God. He has protected us and allowed use to continue his work in these difficult times." The truck idles out front of the building’s metal doors for several minuets. A brief look of frustration crosses the Sin Preacher's face. The doors roll back from inside she pulls forward slowly entering the dimly lantern lit structure. There are dozens of cars parked inside they are no more than barely visible dark silhouettes. "We hide all the cars trying to lessen our presence." With that she steps from the light weight truck. "All the survivors who choose to stay with us we store their transpiration for them.” She drops the lift gate opening the camper’s Plexiglas door upwards. "There are others?" Ben asks pushing Chip's wheelchair out. He looks up getting his answer two men now flank the Preacher each stands silently holding up flickering lanterns. Ben stands from the truck bed unfolding the chair. "Yes Sir Mr. James we have found others and others have found us as well." Ben excuses himself as the others climb from the truck’s rear.
He makes his way up to the front of the pickup his son is waiting with the door open. "Hop off B." Chip instructs his sister then he hefts himself out of his seat dropping down into the seat of his wheelchair. Ben holds his arms out anxious to hug his baby again. "Daddy." She squeals leaping from the truck’s cab narrowly missing hitting her head on the roof. He spins about on the dirt floor the small girl on his hip. Chip rolls on his father's heels back to the rear of the truck. The portly man who rolled back the fence has now joined the group. As Chip comes into view all three men noticeably drop their eyes to his chair. "This kids in a wheelchair." The chubby man with the round belly reports as if no one has yet noticed scratching his head in confusion. "What? What!?" Chip shouts nudging the chair forward in the dirt. "So nobody in the world has ever seen a person in a wheelchair before?" Ben reaches down placing a reassuring hand on his son's chest. "Calm down Junior." He says using that old parental trick of talking softer to an agitated child. It doesn't work with Chip as the stress and strain have merged with the unwanted pity everyone seems to have for him. "No Dad I won't." He says defiantly shrugging Ben's hand down with one of his own. "Last night I rolled down a hill through a car wreck fighting off zombies then jumped in a truck drove down the block. I found a house that had a zombie living in it. She let us in at some point I had a seizure and when I woke up killed and the zombie. Then I held off an army of zombies til my dad and his friends came along all while keeping my little sister safe. What did you do last night Captain Chubby?" Chip swipes his damp hair back from his eyes. The husky man not taking too kindly to being insulted moves for Chip then freezes in place. Now Ben makes his presence felt depositing Belinda into Chip's lap. "Do we have a problem here?" Ben inquires puffing his wide chest up stepping between the man and his eldest son. The aggressor says nothing he's more focused on the cool sensation of metal pressed against the back of his head. Private Lockett sports a sly grin on her face the lantern light dancing off her flawless brown skin. She doesn't say a word to anyone. It is in this moment that Benjamin James knows he can trust his family to the juvenile soldiers and that they are now a part of his team. "Yes we do have a few problems." The Preacher steps up cleaning her glasses. "First and foremost Silas Proctor apologize for as God proclaimed to Moses.” Who made the deaf, the mute, the seeing and the blind was it not I?'" The Sin Preacher slowly raises her hand gently placing it atop Sara Lockett's. With subtle pressure she convinces Sara that they mean no harm as the weapon is lowered by both women. "Brother Proctor you have shown disrespect to this man and his family make you apologies this instant. You and I both know this boy can move better than you even in a wheelchair." Silas exhales feeling the pressure of the gun against his skull abate. He takes his hat from his head refusing to make eye contact with anyone except Benjamin. He extends a hand in a gesture of genuine good will. "I'm sorry buddy aint mean no harm just aint seen nobody around who's disabled. If this kid done did all them things like yawls saying then my hats off to ya." Ben and Silas shake hands the tensions eases from the room. Miriam interrupts "Now we still have one other issue to resolve Mr. James." She leans in closer to Chip before she speaks. "Here in our church children must respect their elders at all times young Mr. James. The Bible says 'Honor thy mother and father and here we take the letter of the Bible seriously son." Ben doesn't understand where Miriam is going initially before he weighs in. "Trust me Pastor my children are well aware of their behavior and the word of God." The Sin Preacher raises her gaze to the father towering over her. "You are strong in the word of God Mr. James this is good." Ben's mouth hangs agape "Umm No Ma'am my wife is far stronger in the word than I am." Ben admits to the preacher who responds in turn. "Well I can't wait to meet her then." Miriam stands looking about. "Where are my manners?" She claps one of the men standing besides her on the back. "James family and friends these gentlemen are members of my humble little house of worship." Miriam introduces the tall burly man in blue jeans and flannel holding a lantern to her left first. "Pardon his grey hair it comes from years of Earthly knowledge. This is Jim Hosstrum one of the best men I know." The man smiles and passes handshakes all around even managing to include little Belinda James. Miriam doesn't stop moving to the man on her right. "Now this is Ben Culverson we call him BC and please don't mind the disgusting wad of chaw in his mouth." She rolls her eyes at the man condemning him with just a look. With a move only a seasoned veteran of chewing tobacco would attempt. He swallows the lump of wadded tobacco in much the same manner a kid does when busted chewing gum by their teacher in class. Private Carson feels his stomach churn having grown up on a farm and realizing the septic brew the man had just "gutted." "You fine folks have already met Mr. Silas Proctor here." The preacher motions to the chubby farmer. After a rousing round of handshakes the dimly lit building falls silent. All present seem to be waiting for the preacher to speak. "Brother Proctor anything to report this morning?" She asks. "No Ma'am nuttin at’ all been as quite as kept round here." He says slapping his hat atop his balding head. "Good … good." She scans the building. "We should be able to go this way." She points to a door near where they had pulled into the large shed. "This will lead us into the church then we can go to my office." Private Lockett raises her hand having holstered her pistol. "Private ... Lockett" Miriam reads the name stitched on the girls uniform. "As long as what you say is not blasphemous please feel free to speak." Sara Lockett looks mildly agitated for a second attempting to gauge if the woman is serious or not. "Oh I only did that to get everyone's attention. Unless you have more Stars and Bars on your uniform than me I pretty much say what I please." She glances dismissively at their host. "Where are all the people who these cars belong to?" The men all appear to bluster at the tone the young female soldier has used with the pastor. Miriam raises a hands palm up calming the men instantly without a word. "They are all in the church of course my child as I have said we offer the same thing as we did before the Rapture." Lockett teeters inward waiting on the answer "annnnd that would be?" Miriam glides across the grouping to Belinda tussling the girl’s wild locks of curly sandy hair. "Shelter." Miriam gives a one words response her face goes blank.
"Where is he?" She asks flatly as the men a take turns looking to each other unsure of who should answer. Jim clears his throat and hitches up his pants. "Pastor he doesn't tell us where he is going or what he's doing and quite frankly Ma'am that's fine with me." Miriam's eyes narrow her displeasure is immediately clear. "I'm here." A voice calls back from deep in unseen black shadows. Every head pivots towards the sound of the voice. The Sin Preacher stares into the darkness unmoving. In the thick stillness of pitch black solitude she can see a faint glow. His "one flaw" she thinks to herself watching the cherry orange of a cigarette intensify the fade. "Brother Gustavo what have we spoken about as it relates to cleanness in the Lord’s temple?" The glow trails to the earthen floor then vanishes. "Excellent Brother Gustavo now have you thought about our discussion this morning? How feasible is it that we can be successful?" The man in the rear makes no attempt to move up and be apart of the group. His deep emotionless voice is enough to send Belinda James crawling from her beloved brother's lap into the safety of her father's arms. Ben is keenly aware of his baby girl shivering in his arms he doesn't know if the sensation comes from fear or the fact that she's chilled. "It depends on the size of the opposing force Pastor." Miriam cuts her eyes at Ben then replies to the shrouded apparition. "These nice folk here were hunted by somewhere in the neighborhood of two to three hundred lost souls. They are flocking this way out of the Clow Falls, Clow Oaks area. I beseech you Brother Gustavo have faith. For it was Judges 15:15 that Sampson did slay a thousand men with the jawbone of ass." Silence drapes the claustrophobic improvised carport. His words boom back. "If I use the lay of the land to my advantage I believe the Lord will grant me success in this endeavor." The weight casting a pall over Miriam's face lifts. "Excellent Brother Gustavo I pray for your safe return we shall convene in my office once you are done." The Sin Preacher falls to her knees. The three men with her see the woman prostrate on the ground and follow suit without question. She begins to pray aloud. "Dear Lord we humbly beg you grant our Brother Gustavo safe passage as he seeks to do you will. Keep your hands around him as you did Daniel in the lions den." The men surrounding the Preacher mumble in fervent prayers under their collective breath. The new group of survivors stand befuddled at what they are witnessing. Private Lockett turns to Carson making the international hand gesture for crazy. Circling her index finger around her temple while crossing her eyes and sticking out her tongue Sara Lockett mocks the people praying. Belinda James giggles slapping her hands over her mouth her father shooting her a disapproving stare he shifts her from one hip to the other. "Amen." With that the thin woman in hunter's attire rises back to her feet. Jim and BC follow suit with relative ease. The group stands about watching Silas Proctor comically struggle to get to his feet with all of the grace of a two legged turtle. Miriam cocks her head at the rotund little man. Jim and BC both set about helping Silas to a standing position. "Go forth Brother Gustavo and bring us the victory. Now let us go become acquainted with the others in the church and plan on how we can get you back to your family." Ben and the Preacher lead the others out of the front door into the warm sun. The shadow at in the rear of the building is briefly visible he exits through a rickety door closing it quietly behind himself.
Gustavo plods across the dense overgrown grass from the building to the shed the Sin Preacher had given him to conduct his pre ordained tasks in. He walks slightly hunched over but at almost seven feet tall most people wouldn't notice. His dusty tattered overalls ride up over his gnarly brown work boots. The wind blows at his thick unmoving black hair styled in a decidedly Elvis like pompadour. His meticulously combed hair sways but manages stay in place. Gustavo stops at the red pad locked doors of the smaller shed. He fishes the keys out of his pockets using his long thin spider like fingers. Waiting for the others to enter the front of the church before unlocking the padlock on the end of a heavy rusted steel cross bar. Gustavo pushes the bar up then sliding his rail thin body in the slight opening in the door. Once inside he's greeted by dark and unmoving air Gustavo grabs a steel identical bar on the opposite and lowers it. He snaps the padlocks through a ring securing the bar in place. Assured he's alone the quirky loner fires up his lighter placing a cigarette in his mouth. Smoking was his lone vice in pious life of servitude to the New Faith Baptist church from handyman to gardener he did it all for the church. Now with the Rapture upon them he has been called to do his greatest work for the church in the name of the Lord. Reaching down in the darkness he feels around for the small generator then pulls the handle back. After several choking sputters it burps to life powering eight small light bulbs strung four each alongside the cramped structure. Beat up tools benches line the walls but each is neat and orderly. He takes a long step over the metal bomb shelter hatch at his feet that leads to an underground passage. This gives him direct unseen accesses into the belly of New Faith. A large misshapen vehicle sits under a white tarp only it's massive off road tires are visible. His mind wanders as it has the tendency to do. Thinking to himself he smiles "My greatest creation ever my Frankenstein’s Monster." Walking in long odd strides he squeezes past the truck headed for the rear door. The doors were a patch work of reinforced welded steel plates that rolled pack on well oiled tracks. These doors run flush with the exterior fence. Gustavo directs his eyes above the door following the thick insulated cable that he's used to complete circuit when he electrified the fence running around the church. With one flip of the long black handled switch on the right side of the doors electricity would surge through the metal encircling them. In the corner sits the most out of place thing in the room a simple small brown dresser with a chipped oval mirror nailed to the wall above it. Inside the top drawer he has pulled open is a uniform from his second job the only one he could get. Gustavo is the lone ice cream man in the entire sparsely populated county. Today the Sin Preacher would allow him to marry the two things he loved the most into one.
Minuets later Gustavo stands dressed head to toe in white wearing a set of highly polished black shoes. Looking in the mirror he straightens his black bow tow placing the paper triangle hat slightly off to the left atop his thick bristly black hair. Today there would be no delivering of ice cream treats to the waiting mouths of children. He would be instead delivering the Lord's vengeance to the lost souls wandering aimlessly about. He grabs the corner of the cloak hiding his work and tugs. The white tarp falls away to reveal a highly modified pristine white ice cream truck sitting four feet off the ground on those thick black tires with the deep treads. His eyes trace the right side of the truck the window where he'd once sold cool ice cream treats was replace with thick metal grates. He’d done the same procedure to the window on the left side as well. His front windshield was protected by the same mesh steel grate. Gustavo cranes his long neck to catch a glimpse of the roof to which he took time to affix a chrome overhang. It hung over the edges of the ice cream truck and there were winches attached to each side. Collapsible hydraulic legs at the corners to keep his creation from being tipped over. The only thing that remains untouched on the roof is a twirling two foot tall illuminated ice cream cone. As it slowly rotated on the trucks roof the words "Cool Treats" spiraled around and around… With his hunched Sasquatch gait he makes his way to the generator shutting it off casting the building in darkness once more. Gustavo lifts a ladder from the floor placing it against the rear bumper he climbs into the truck heaving the ladder in behind him. He places the ladder on hooks welded to the wall. Then slams the rear door of the malformed ice cream truck a pair of cabin lights gives off a small measure of light. Half a dozen thick bolts later the rear of the truck is secure. He turns about checking his work making his way to the driver’s set. The long deep freezer remained along left side beneath the window. Above freezer on the wall he had half a dozen hunting rifles on hooks below them sat boxes of ammunition. Neatly welded to the side of each window is a metal box containing dozens of spiral metal spears each with a finger loop bent into the end. Each spear had its end flattened out and ground to a razor sharp edge. Gustavo squeezes his way past all of his self made implements to his seat. Where a passenger seat would have been stands a control panel which had had installed to utilize all of his upgrades with ease. He sits on the worn black leather seat which bounces under his weight. Gustavo leans forward pulling the key from under his shirt it dangles on a silver chain around his neck. Taking great care not to muss his hair he takes the key off its chain. Sticking it into the ignition He reaches over his head to the visor pressing a white button on a small black rectangular box. The metal doors he's facing pop open with a metallic clank much like a bank vault door. Sunlight floods the utility shed as the doors part. Gustavo can see miles of hilly green rolling pastures the sun is shinning while birds chirp in the trees. He rubs his clean shaved chin thinking "This one section of the world has yet to see the festering filth of the apocalypse." Turning the key the engine catches smoothly throwing the truck into gear he rolls the beast out into the sun for the first time. "Thy Will Be Done" he mumbles under his breath. Depressing the button on the visor again he waits for the doors to close securely before heading of on his mission.
Gustavo is enjoying a drive through the desolate countryside as the minuets and miles tick by. He knows the route the Sin Preacher had taken along the back roads into Clow Oaks. If he didn't all he needed to do was follow the massive black cloud of smoke fouling the beautiful blue sky as the sub division burned. He spots the first zombies wandering aimlessly in a field coming over a steep hill. Gustavo wishes he had the mental acuity to figure out how the dead tracked their victims. They never gave up they never slowed down they just kept coming. The only thing he was sure of is what he had told the Sin Preacher. They are attracted to sound as their eyes are clouded over their vision must be terrible. He had gone out on his usual run the morning after the power had gone out trying to sell off his treats as they were melting in the sweltering heat. He almost didn't make it back to the church alive but the Lord had given him a vision an idea. He stops the truck letting it idle reaching to his right he flips a switch. Overhead a low whine starts the hydraulic legs deploy out in sections. The mounted motor driving them deep into the soft earth until the Ice Cream truck is braced. He wants a smoke so bad his lips are dry but he won't foul his vessel while he works. He shuts the engine off taking the key and hanging it back on its hook. Now came his favorite part flipping the switch on the dashboard. "Pop goes the weasel" begins to blare from the speakers. That song from every one's childhood that signaled the ice cream man was coming. For the undead lost souls of the apocalypse it was no different. The dead pivot in unison making for the wailing truck. They shuffle falling over tumbling down the hill like happy children. There one was difference however these forms beating their way blindly towards the ice cream man wanted a treat of a different kind. It was warm and had to be pulled fresh from the bone it was human flesh. Gustavo waited rising from his seat he takes a black leather apron from a hook on the wall pulling it over his head deftly tying it around his waist. Next came two elbow length cauterized rubber gloves he fits onto his hands. The Ice Cream Man was open for business as "Pop goes the weasel" play in its tantalizing repetitive cycle.
We find half of our group of survivors guest at the New Faith Baptist church this week. Where as they plot on a way to get back to the others. They find themselves suspect of the woman who has lent them a helping hand saving their lives. What makes them even uneasier is the voice of the man they can not see. Who is Brother Gustavo and why is he driving a souped up ice cream truck into a horde of zombies anyway?
Come back and find out the week of Sunday May 5th for Chapter 31 of The Living Dark.
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