Monday, May 27, 2013

Chapter 33: Inside the Sin Preacher's House

Chapter 33: Inside the Sin Preacher’s House

       Big Ben James assists his son Chip as he maneuvers his wheelchair. Belinda sits in Chip’s lap as they descend a small set of stairs coming into the back of the gleaming white church. Ben is happy they are safe for the moment but he has a larger concern. He and his recently rescued children are now separated from his wife and younger son. Well that's just one of his concerns the other is the disembodied voice belonging to the unseen mystery man at the rear of the barn/carport. He would definitely have words with Miranda the Sin Preacher as to this man's true identity. Benjamin has developed one rule of thumb since becoming a parent. "If my child doesn’t like somebody then I don't like them." He funnels through his mind as Chip's chair bangs down the last hollow wooden step. "Alright Mr. James and company let us help you get settled in so you all can catch your breath.” Miranda speaks while the group gathers in the tight dusty hallway. She hangs her hunting rifle on a brown wall mounted coat hook outside a flimsy plain chocolate brown colored door. On the door in those tacky gold and black peel off letters you buy from the hardware store to put on your mailbox it reads "Pastor's Office." "Mr. James if you don't mind I'd like to get everyone situated. Then I have some things I’d like to show you and Sara." Miranda asks politely. Ben and Sara eye each other with a measurable sense of unease initially. The Sin Preacher senses the apprehension floating about the two like dust in the air. Sara as usual speaks first "We aren't surrendering our weapons period." The soldier says bluntly. "Nor would I want you to Sara. I firmly believe in this time of Tribulation the Lord wants his soldiers well armed." Miranda responds in almost the same manner a politician would address an irksome reporter. "Follow me everyone." She continues leading the group down the musty smelling hallway. Sara intentionally falls to the rear of the line. Her trust issues have served her well thus far in life so why buck the trend now? The group is standing on the lower level of the church. They head through a small brown cork wood door coming into a wide area filled with tiny offices and classrooms on either side. At the far end is a common area decorated with mustard colored furniture older than mostly everyone in the group. Lining the walls are folding tables filled with various foods. Some of the foods are prepared others bags of snacks like a high school vending machine has been upended and poured across the tables.

     There are a few women and children along with one or two men they haven't met milling about. "This is where my inner circle of trustees and I live along with family and a few close friends." The Sin Preacher points out to the group. "Everyone ..... Everyone can I have your attention please?" She brings the people to order they all gather around the meek librarian looking woman. "This is Mr. Benjamin James ..." She directs the crowd's attention to Ben who smiles and waves as if he's a nervous game show contestant. "These are his kids and some members of his group. Some of whom are ....." Miranda turns confused her face puckering up as if a thought has caused he brain to seize. She waves the index finger on each hand at Privates Cody Carson and Sara Lockett. "Are still ..... Orrrrr… were military how's that work?" The question seems to genuinely puzzle Private Carson who looks to Lockett his de-facto commanding officer. "Still military Ma'am." Sara answers curtly. "Well hell then where's the rest of your people?" A large man in a red and black flannel shirt asks. His girth barely held at bay by a pair of bright yellow well worm tape measure patterned suspenders. The elastic clearly working overtime to restrain his belly from spilling over his belt. "The last time we saw them they were pretty well spread out." Lockett answers the man's question shifting her rifle in hand. "Spread out where?" The hefty man’s reply comes with a deep chewing tobacco tinged chuckle. "The ground." Sara tells the man with his inquiring line of questioning. Her face is stony devoid of emotion unlike the jubilant basement dwellers in the church. "The last time we saw any of our people other than Private Medina who is currently with the rest of our people. They were spread out in pieces mostly all over the ground. We were posted up at St. George's hospital the day after 'The Event." Sara decides to spare some details as there are a few children present. "The Sun went down and as I am sure many of you have seen or heard by now. Everyone who is bitten by an infected but survives until nightfall will die and reanimate as soon as the Sun sets." Somewhere a woman gasps aloud and judging by the looks on some of faces present not everyone knows this last nugget of information. "We imagine being at a major hospital the only one with power within a hundred miles. Now imagine almost everyone there with some type of bite or wound from an infected person. Now imagine what happened when the Sun went down." Lockett looks to Carson the bulky soldier is pale. She can tell he hasn't thought about the first night since it happened. "It was a massacre the infected pounced as soon as their eyes opened or they could drag themselves from their body bags. In less than ten minuets several hundred medical staff and soldiers we all dead, dying or busy being devoured." The room goes silent. "How'd you escape then?" The man in the flannel asks indignation dripping from his words. Private Sara Lockett has quickly grown tired of The New Faith Baptist Church and all of its occupants. "We were lucky is all I guess." Lockett tells the crowd dismissively. "We fought our way to an Armored Personnel Carrier. Then by the skin of out teeth we escaped using the hulking APC we plowed over everything in our way." The man’s braying donkey like laughter erupts as he slaps the arm of a younger man standing next to him. Miranda turns to Sara. "I'm sorry Private Lockett will you please forgive my dear brother Jeb? We don't believe in luck here at New Faith." Lockett raises her arms dropping her rifle to her side in frustration. "Well then I guess it's a good thing none of you were there." Sara is caught in one of those rare moments where a person wants to storm off dramatically but doesn't know the environment they are in. Her dramatic exit would loose a lot of muster if she inadvertently ended up in a bathroom or some place equally stupid.


      The Sin Preacher raises her hands to calm her exasperated congregation. "Look everyone these are my personal guest. So let us do away with the inquisition and remember there but for the grace of God go I." Heads being to nod in acceptance around the room as the preacher continues. "We have all for the most part been blessed to have been ....... somewhat removed from the ills that have plagued others during the rapture." Sara crinkles her nose up at the word "rapture." She makes inadvertent eye contact with Ben. She bugs her eyes wide in mockery as if to say "I told you so." Private Lockett readily admits she doesn’t know much about the Bible but this does not fit what she does know. "They actually think this is the rapture?" The question works its way from one side of her mind to the other as she stands silently. "Mr. James .... Private Lockett we can continue the tour while the others change clothes and eat if that's ok?" Miranda’s suggestion to split the group up is met with immediate rejection. "I'm not leaving my kids ..." Ben says defiantly. "We'll be ok dad I can handle it." Chip speaks up from his chair. "I will be right her Mr. James." Jamal blurts clapping Chip on the back. "I will not let them leave my sight." He reiterates stepping forward. "And I won't let him leave my sight." Carson chimes in playfully bumping Jamal. It is only in these closed confines that Ben realizes how big Cody is. Ben looks from Cody to Jamal and he thinks he can sense a bond with the young men. It looks like the James family has just grown by four. "Alright Sara if you don't mind?" Ben breathes deeply forcing out a smile trying to disguise the apprehension he feels. Private Lockett marches forward like stubborn child. The Sin Preacher leads the pair from her lair up a small boxed in flight of stairs that banks to the right. They come to a dimly lit landing two oil burning lanterns the kind you find in almost any camp site flicker. Behind them there are several stairs that lead up the locked doors of the church’s small sanctuary. It doesn’t appear as though the sanctuary is being used much these days. "Good day gentlemen." She announces to the two men flanking either side of the heavily barricaded church doorway. "Pastor" Both men acknowledge in unison like frightened school children. "I have some guest to introduce to you." She tells the two shadows. Both men step up into the cone of soft dancing light. "This is Mr. Benjamin James and Private Sara Lockett of the United States Army." Miranda gesture motions in the general direction of the two men currently pulling guard duty at the main doors to the church. "This is Deacon …" She tells Ben and Sara. "And in a bit of irony not lost on me He is also a Deacon in the church." Her attempt at humor was dry to say the least. "To his left ..." Miranda says pointing to a large well built older looking gentleman missing two fingers on his left hand. "We call him Colonel as he is retired military." Miranda grins broadly at Sara showing off her sparking white teeth. It's like she is saying "see I have soldiers too."


     There are handshakes all around the Sin preacher continues on. "I picked them up as they were being relentlessly pursued by the unclean.” Sara frowns up and now out of sight of Miranda congregation she wants to have a question answered. "'Unclean?” Lockett speaks up. "Why do you call them that?" Sara scans the men present but never let The Sin Preacher's face out of her gaze. "What do you mean when you say unclean?” The Preacher says her words becoming icy with frustration. "Because that's what they are filthy rotting sacks of lost humanity. The unclean vessels left behind after God has unleashed his Rapture calling up the souls that once dwelt with in them.” She squints attempting to read the girl's brown eyes in the dim light. "This is clearly the beginning of the end times my young friend you'd better come to terms with this fact.” The men wisely hold their tongues regardless of what they are truly thinking. "That's almost comical ..." Lockett says. She had been waiting to tangle with the preacher. Sara Lockett didn't believe in religion much but she believed in man even less. She viewed this 'Sin Preacher' in much the same light as the charlatans on television. They twisted the word of God, manipulated men and women all for their own personal gain. Sometimes when she thought no one was looking Lockett would read the Bible to herself just to see what the fuss was about. She was a free independent thinker the idea that she needed someone to talk to God on her behalf troubled her. "Do tell Private Lockett …” The man with the missing fingers takes an aggressive step towards Sara Lockett. "Stand down this instant!" Miranda admonishes the man showing her temper for all but the briefest second. He slinks back like a beaten circus animal. “What then Sara would you have us call these decrepit wanders?” She chuckles the way a parent laughs at a child trying to walk in their shoes. “What are they Private Lockett … zombies… the undead? You think what we believe is comical? Ha!” The Sin Preacher scoffs. “If you don’t believe in God Private Lockett then why must you force that upon others who do?” Lockett stands there the lights dancing off her brown skin. She and the Sin Preacher are now entwined in a genuine good ole fashioned stare down. “Suddenly you have nothing to say?” The Sin Preacher blinks first. “Typical … well Sara nothing personal but you may find people whose beliefs are based in the word of the most high and mighty in a house of worship oddly enough.” She crosses her arms glancing down a set of stairs opposite the one they came up. “Colonel …” Miranda appears to have moved on after having taken Private Lockett’s cynicism to task. “Tomorrow morning I want everyone ready. We will be assigning tasks and chores in my office. There will be no exceptions if we are to make this work.” The man may be on the business side of forty five but his physic is impressive. “Yes Ma’am …” He answers with a deep gravely voice. “Is there anything to report on watch thus far today Brothers?” Miranda cocks her head towards the door. “Nothing serious Ma’am just saw a few of the unclean ones passing through the area around the church.” Colonel relays the gist of what they have observed on this bright sunny day. “I want you to go out after Brother Gustavo returns and give them release understand?” Both men shake their heads to show their compliance. “Brother Deacon I am going down to show my guest the other survivors would you please accompany us?” She asks the man in a manner that suggests he can in no way refuse her off. “Yes Ma’am … “He says before bounding down the staircase that was tight as the one they’d come up banking down to the right. Miranda follows Brother Deacon the Deacon. Ben stops letting Sara pass him tugging her arm. He blows an angry sigh in her direction through clenched teeth like an angry teapot. Brother Deacon opens a flimsy brown door at the base of the stairs. Muted light drifts from the room. They enter the room unlike the one on the opposite side of the church. Compared to where the Sin Preacher and her inner circle reside a pall hangs over this space. There were people packed in every nook of the space. Nobody smiled there was just a constant murmur of human speech. All that ended the second the Sin Preacher enters the room. Silence fills the packed space the smell of so many unwashed frightened bodies only adds to the worry Ben feels taking roost in his gut.
   Well it appears there is both good and bad to be had in The New Faith Baptist Church. The Sin Preacher has welcomed the James Survivor group into the church. After a brief tour and some clear tension between Private Sara Lockett and The Sin Preacher. Even as Sara urges Ben to bid farewell to the church and its inhabitants things seem to take an odd turn. Ben has some questions of his own and now that he's enter a room opposite the preacher's inner sanctum he has even more concern.
   Come Back for Chapter 34 of The Living Dark the week of June 7th. The survivors will be here will you?
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