Jesus Town

From the New Beginnings Universe by

Brian W. Porter
Chapter 1 Bob For weeks the papers had been full of Satan's work in the land of the dirty Arabs across the ocean, those heathens who could not understand that Jesus Christ was the only way to reach God, the only way to find heaven when you died. Terrorist activity around the world had died down over the past few years since we destroyed Pakistan's secret police and many of the trails across the mountains of Afghanistan. The world protested the actions of our President, a true conservative, strong on defense, a relief after we had endured years of nearly socialist rule from Democrats and so called Republicans. Despite all those protests in other countries, peace around the world became normal, as I knew it would when America was again in control. The only exception to that peace was those heathens in the desert lands who insisted that their style of oppression would save the world. This spring, one of their fanatical groups acted, tried to steal a bio weapon, and found that God was not on their side. The Angel of Death had traveled from there across all the lands, Christian and heathen alike, killing almost all of humanity. Now the papers predicted that life

would end for most of those in this country within the next day or two, and I was not stupid enough to think that a chemical would spare anyone because of their religion, unlike those brainless heathens who let this loose. The evening of the Death, on my way home from the auto battery assembly line, I found my way to the church to talk to Brother Michael. I had questions he could answer, and hoped to find him alone. Instead, I walked into an unscheduled service and sat at the end of the third row from the door, a few people away from the prettiest girl in the congregation. Brother Michael stood at the alter facing us, his suit and tie immaculate, his hands outstretched. "Praise God! Praise Jesus! The devil has put his hands upon the world. Satan has used his agents, those heathens of the desert, to spread his evil across the lands. And it's coming, brothers and sisters. I say to you it's coming! Like a cloud of death, like a cloud of locusts come to eat the very souls of the ungodly, this blanket of death approaches. "It's already hit the Sodom of Hollywood, the Gomorrah of San Francisco, those capitals of Satan's work. They are gone! Many have gone to Hell. The adulterers and those who have relations with their own sex have found their home for eternity in the Devil's fires. But there is good news brothers and sisters. Those who fought the evil of pornography and sex in the movies, those who fought teaching children about sex on TV, those who fought the liberal baby killing ways of the highly paid and influential actors, those who fought for God's way have gone to heaven. Praise Jesus! Praise Jesus they've gone to heaven. Jae-sus, Jae-sus, Jae-sus." He drew the Jae-sus chant out until it was almost a drone. After a pause, he continued on, "The Midwest, the breadbasket of our great country, has lain down its life. Those good farmers who worked hard to supply food for our bellies, to bring righteousness and love and caring into the world, good Christians all, most have gone to be with their God in heaven. Praise Jesus! Jae-sus, Jae-sus, Jae-sus. "Now it approaches us. But do not fear! The righteous, those who truly believe and follow Jesus' path, those who praise Jesus' name, shall live. They shall live to fight! To fight the evil that remains, the evil that Satan leaves to ruin the world. Say it with me. Praise Jesus." The congregation joined in, and I once again tuned Brother Michael out. Most of his congregation of the New Life Baptist Church just outside of Middletown had trickled in after dinner to wait and pray while the death approached. He had apparently been preaching in the same vein for hours, interspersing tirades against evil with prayers, as if his personal mission had become the saving of the world from evil. I sat near the back of the church building, listening to his preaching, and praying hard. Heathen terrorists had indeed unleashed evil over all the land in the form of a diabolical biological warfare agent, and it spread following the general wind

flow. Occasionally a boy would slip Brother Micheal a note, the latest city to succumb to the death that was spreading over the land. Even the southern hemisphere was vulnerable, it was that strong. Definitely an agent of Satan. I was having a hard time staying awake, but every once in a while Michelle would lean forward slightly from where she sat three seats away and look toward me, and smile. Her long, beautifully long and straight blonde hair, her oval face, her almost nonexistent eyebrows, and her slim build got to me. Every time I looked at her, my groin tightened. I had to constantly beg God to forgive me for the lustful thoughts that swept through my brain every time I looked at her. Brother Michael’s tone changed and the congregation leaned forward. Now he had turned toward the alter and was praying. "Lord, we beg you to forgive us of all our sins, to find us worthy of your love, of your mercy. We will fight for you, fight the battle that must be fought, that we must win against the minions of Satan. Lord, find us worthy even as Satan's death arrives, we, Your servants, who follow Your teachings and Your directions no matter where they lead." A noise to my left distracted me. Brother Ian, who owned the gas station across town, coughed and leaned sideways, falling into the side aisle. To my right Sister Jolene of the craft supply store gagged and fell forward. Michelle, she who I would like to marry but was afraid to ask, looked at me again, a cry for help dripping from her eyes. She smiled, and collapsed. Mrs. Peabody the florist, who sat just in front of me, fell forward, her head hitting the floor hard, splitting open, but not bleeding. Mr. Lloyd-Williams, the writer, and a very smart person who said there was nothing to do but hope and pray, leaned back in his seat, his mouth open, and his eyes looking toward the rear ceiling. Mr. Potter and his wife who sat between Michelle and me collapsed. The Jones. The Urbaniaks, the Chiassons, the Griffins. Everywhere throughout the church people died where they prayed. Some I did know, some I did not, a few I had never seen before. I guess they just came in 'cause they were scared and we offered hope. There was not much hope except for salvation, for people were dying all around me. Why didn't I die? A car crashed outside, and another, nearby. One exploded. And still I lived and Brother Michael prayed. "Lord, I know the Devil is trying to take your people. I can feel his cold hand upon my shoulder, but I shall not follow! Praise Jesus! With your help, I shall not succumb to his wishes! Praise Jesus! I shall worship You, Lord, You and only You, for You are my savior, my king. I will follow wherever You lead. Praise Jesus! Jae-sus, Jae-sus, Jae-sus. "Yes, Lord, I hear. I will take those who are worthy and go to the river. There we will live in your name. We will gather those you send into a force for Your good. We will do this Lord. Right now we will do this, in Your name. Praise

Jesus! Alleluia! Amen." Brother Michael raised his head and, still facing away from us, called, "Brother Bob, Brother Cyrus, Sister Susan. The Lord has shown me what to do, who lives, who will join us, and what must be done. You three are called as Elders." Brother Michael turned toward the congregation, now mostly dead. "Elders, stand." I stood and looked around. Both Brother Cyrus and Sister Susan stood. How Brother Michael had know we three lived, and just a few others, I do not know. I did not understand why he named me as an elder. I am not that religious. I try to follow the teachings in the Bible, but I am a sinner and must always ask forgiveness. If that makes me worthy, well, there must be better people in the world, more righteous than me. There must be. "Elders, lead the flock outside." I was named first, so I stepped carefully across fallen bodies, friends just moments before, but whose souls had been called home, to heaven I hoped. Slowly I walked up the center aisle, followed by the others who still lived, who would join Brother Michael in God's adventure. I threw open the heavy darkstained paneled doors. They stayed opened wide as if held open by angels. A car burned in the ditch just south of the church, the fire slowly spreading our direction. I led those who were left into the middle of the road, a main route from the north to Washington, one that bypassed Baltimore, used constantly by cars and the big trucks, but empty, empty as I knew it would be from now on. We turned and watched the door, waiting for Brother Michael to appear. Flames crossed the dry grass, traveling against the slight breeze, heading toward the church building with Brother Michael inside. The flames jumped the remaining three feet to land on the wall, almost as they were thrown. The wooden church building erupted in flame just as Brother Michael calmly walked out holding the Bible and a hymnal. He called to us, "Praise Jesus! From ashes we came, and as ashes we return. Those of the Godly who are inside, who have not been called to join us, will not rot but will be burned. Ashes to ashes! Praise Jesus! May Jesus have mercy on the many souls called home tonight. See my children? His will is done even by the flames that raze what is no longer needed, since the end times are here. The end times! The warriors of Jesus prepare to battle the forces of evil." He joined us in the middle of the road. "We are God's children, and Jesus' soldiers. We go to the Chessie Café, there to meet other soldiers. Praise, Jesus." *** June

I slipped silently in the door and carefully clicked the latch closed. I'd been out for the night, getting stoned, drunk, and very well laid by Sanford Brown, the biggest boy in school, and I don't mean his body. I felt wonderful, well used, as I tiptoed away from the door, safely in again. The light on the stand exploded in brightness, blinding me for a second. This couldn't be the drugs. Pot doesn't affect you that way. When I could see again, I saw that Mother, the bitch, stood there, glaring at me. A night of fun ruined because I would have to hassle with her. I whined, "Jesus, Mom, I'm not that late. I was just out with some friends. What's the big deal? It's not like we robbed a bank or something." "I'll tell you what the deal is, young lady. You are sixteen, and my responsibility, and while your are in this house you will not, I repeat, you will not stay out until one in the morning again. Do you hear me? I know you were drinking. Probably smoking pot, too." "Aw, mom. No we weren't. I was with Sanford, and you know he doesn't do that." She hated him because he was black or something. I didn't care either way. He was damn good. His name had the desired effect, though. "That, that, that. Do we need a pregnancy test?" God, I got her good. Now for another shock. "We're careful." "Careful? What do you mean careful? Do you have any idea the diseases you can get, and what if you are pregnant? Go to your room. We'll deal with this in the morning." The fuckin' bitch thought she could punish me. We'd see. Not more than an hour later I had changed, snuggled into bed, and had just dozed off. Someone or something tapped repeatedly at my window and startled me awake. I slid out from between the covers, cursed the disturbance, and slid the curtain open a crack. Joy stood outside and held hands with her little brother, her personal sex toy. I figured they'd played together again, and wanted to visit, but then I saw the look in Joy's eyes. They were haunted, as if she'd seen a ghost or something. Something had happened, something major and terrible. I slid the window up. "What's wrong?" I asked. "It's true. Everybody died." Even her voice sounded haunted, like she was from another world or a zombie or something. I asked, "What? What's true?" I didn't keep up with the boring news like she did. School and playtime kept me too busy. She said, "That cloud that's supposed to be killing almost everyone and coming this way. It's true. It's here. Everybody I've checked is dead. Go check on your mom. I'll bet she's dead, too. I thought you'd be dead. The whole fuckin' world's fuckin' dead." Mom dead? I couldn't be so lucky. But if everyone was dead, then Sanford was dead. What would I do for fun now? "Be right back," I told Joy. I sneaked down the hall and opened Mom's

bedroom door. She wasn't there. Going back through the house I found her in the living room slumped in the chair, a cigarette burned all the way to her fingers. If she didn't feel that, she was more than asleep. Just to be sure, I gave her a shake. She leaned forward and bounced off her head onto the floor, still in the same position. The bitch was really dead. I backed away. What would I do now? Mom was dead, and our last words were a fight. What did I do? What would I do now? I ran back to my room scared to death. Joy still waited at my window. "Come on," she urged. "The Rev's got a group walking up the street. If we hurry and follow the tracks, we can get ahead of him. I mean, they’ll take care of us if nothing else." I knew that church. Always shouting "Praise God" and other stuff. I didn't need that, but if they would keep me safe, and possibly fed, it'd be worth it. Maybe some normal people were with him. If not I could always leave him later when I found some. I climbed out the window. Joy grabbed my hand, and her brother's, and pulled us across the street to the seldom-used train tracks. "Now just play along with me when we meet them and we'll be OK." *** Bob The air was clear and cool, the sky bright with stars, a normal late spring night that was far from normal. We walked up the middle of the road and there was no traffic other than ourselves. Normally lines of trucks would fly past, let loose from the traffic light up ahead, that persistent green dot that was our first goal. Brother Michael kept up a running patter about God's plan and purpose, and what he saw in our future. I could only think about Michelle, how she looked, how she smiled when she looked at me, even as she died. She was a lovely person, quiet and kind. I was getting ready to ask her to a lunch or dinner, stirring up my courage to get to know her, and maybe more, when this happened, this end to my one dream. Again I asked Jesus' forgiveness for my potentially evil thoughts. We turned the corner by the feedlot, the huge storage bins spreading monstrous shadows in the night. Three figures moved from the darkness toward Brother Michael. Even well after midnight like it was, people were out. Were their intentions honorable? I had no way of knowing, so I eased closer to Brother Michael, as did Brother Jake, a warehouseman or something. We were protection if necessary. "Do not fear," Brother Michael said quietly. "These are friends, Godly

people called to join us." He raised his voice to include the newcomers. "This is Sister June, Sister Joy, and Little Brother Taylor, here to take care of your needs and wants Brother Bob, Brother Jake, to cook for you, to care for your clothes, to keep you warm when you sleep. They will provide what you ask as they have been instructed to do by Jesus. Others will come in the future, pairings provided by God." Sister Susan, a woman in her mid twenties, small and thin, what you would call petite, asked, "As I am for you, Brother Michael?" "Yes, Sister Susan, as you are for me. What has God told you?" "That I am your wife, to do what you ask of me, anything you ask of me, as a good wife should." "Praise Jesus! You see, Jesus provides, always. All our flock shall be paired, husband with wife, so we may procreate. Marriage no longer needs the papers of a secular government, but only the instructions and blessings of our mighty Savior Jesus Christ in whose hands we have commended our lives. "Come Brothers and Sisters and Children all. We have two more miles to go and we shall find shelter. And in the morning we shall be fed by the blessings of God Almighty." Sister June drew close to me as we walked. I glanced at her, noting her long, brown hair combed straight down from a part in the middle of her head. She was not as pretty in the face as Michelle was, but she had her own beauty, a calmness, a gentleness that showed when she looked at me. Her body was slim, not much fuller than Michelle's was, and she looked younger, years younger than me, barely old enough to know what was going on. I looked at Sister Joy, who was not much older. "Brother Bob," a voice behind me said. "Yes, Brother Jake?" "I note the age of our new Sisters, and it makes me wonder. Why would God send these who have barely grown to be our companions?" I thought quickly. What would Brother Michael say? I answered, "Because they are pure in word and deed, untouched by the evil of the human race, especially lustful human males." I wondered if I had spoken rightly. Brother Michael knew everything. I wondered what he would say. Brother Michael called over his shoulder, "You need not worry about sin, for they carry little, if any, as do all of us. Any sins that any of us carry are easily forgivable. All you need do is to ask Jesus tonight before you sleep." We turned to the left onto Route 13, another main road with no traffic. Brother Michael told us, "Our shelter is just up here, the small restaurant we all know. It is here that more will gather before we move on to the village we will form." "How old are you?" I quietly asked Sister June. "I am sixteen. Sister Joy is seventeen, and my close friend. We kept each

other from sin. Her brother is twelve, and needs a man to teach him how to live. It is good he is with Brother Jake, yes? Brother Jake and his sister to care for him. He will learn pious ways, godly ways. I have seen that, and it is good." I asked, "What have you seen for us?" "Nothing. I cannot see anything that has to do with me, and only generalities for others, whether something is good or bad. Sister Joy told me she's seen that she and her brother will learn much from her partner, some of which may seem ungodly, but which will all come to good." A quarter mile walk took us to the Chessie Cafe, the small local restaurant where Michelle had been a waitress. I ate many meals here, sitting at the counter, watching her as she picked up plates from the pass-through and took them to customers. The restaurant closed at nine and I expected it to be locked up, but God had prepared for us. The front door was unlocked and the dining room was empty. A small generator in the back purred, electricity for the freezer. "Come, Brother Bob, Brother Jake. Pull the tables around like this. We will make small private areas for those who have paired. There are seven pairs, no eight, now. Those of you who have not found your partner do not worry. He or she will be provided in the near future. You will sleep on that side of the room. Do not worry, we will have two or three join us before we wake, but we will be safe. We are protected by God's power, by the blanket of safety provided by Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Now it is time for bed, and for those paired to consummate their marriage under the eyes of God." I looked at Sister June. She smiled and led me to the area we'd just built, a small alcove surrounded by tablecloths. I heard Brother Michael say, "You know what to do, woman." From another alcove, I heard, "Taylor, turn your back. Your time to learn will come later." "Sister," I began. "Just June and Bob now that we are married, and this is as much privacy as we'll get for a time, so keep your voice low, but don't worry about offending me or hurting me. My husband can do no wrong." I would have to wait for the future before agreeing with that statement. I made so many mistakes, was always asking God for forgiveness, and doing no wrong was something I was not prepared to accept. I quietly admitted, "June, I've heard things, but I must confess don't know what to do." She smiled, which added beauty to her face. "Just pray to Jesus, take off your clothes, and follow His will. He'll show us what to do." I had never seen a naked woman before, let alone lay next to such a beautiful creature now that she had removed her clothes. She was soft in a firm sort of way, her skin smooth to the touch and warm. I brushed her breast, small and round, and peaked and soft, with a bump on the end that grew as I

explored. Her in-drawn breath was followed by encouragement as she told me it felt good. I squeezed the bump, which brought more encouragement. She felt my rod, which sent tingles throughout my body and caused my groin to tighten as it had when I looked at Michelle. It grew hard, harder than when I had to pee in the morning, and it felt as if it was filling up from inside. June told me to lie on my back. She squatted over me and slowly lowered herself. I felt my rod enter a tight, warm, moist envelope, a home for my body. I felt her sit on me and rock, and my being entered her and I felt no more until she lay alongside me, her chest pressing my chest, a relief from tension I hadn't realized I had, easing me toward sleep. *** June I lied up a storm that night, even pretended to have some type of vision or something, and God was I good. They didn't suspect a thing, especially not that Robert. He was a virgin for God's sake. He always did what that preacher said and apologized for the least little thing. I was going to have to break him of that habit or he'd drive me crazy. I had to lead him along that first night, show him what to do and not let him know I had experience. He wasn't as big as Sanford was, not by a long shot, but after I got him started he did well enough, and I can teach him more later, suggest games and stuff. I'll teach him how to please me over the next few weeks. Maybe he'll get to like sex as much as I do, I thought. I'll teach him in weeks? Come on, June. Get real. It'll take months. Years, maybe, if you consider the inhibitions I have to break down. How long am I going to be stuck with these Jesus freaks anyway? The rest of my life, maybe, so I had better get to doing good. What will I have to do? Grind grain, clean the house, worship as if I mean it for God's sake. Go through all the motions. Right now, I have a task. How to do this so I can get off? Lie. Tell him I'm a virgin. Let him fumble. Pretend. That's it. Sit on him. It's not half bad this way. Oh, God that hit the spot. There, and there, and there, and yes! That is so damn good. That's it. Now to finish him. Shit, what a life I'm in for. No more drinking and partying. Drudgery for the next how many years? For the rest of my life probably. Shit. I was stuck there with those God fearing goody-goodies and there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. I leaned forward and felt sorry for myself. ***

Bob I could see why people wanted to get married. God had invented a wonderful thing, this man and woman thing, this sex. The intense, almost sinful feelings it awoke amazed me, feelings I did not know existed, and since we had married in the eyes of God, I was not guilty of sin. I felt refreshed and relaxed, ready to face the world, or sleep deeply. But that was not to be. A tear dropped on my shoulder. I lifted her chin so she'd look at me. "You're crying?" "It's my first time, too. Last night my mother told me many things I would need in life, including the first time a man entered me would hurt, and that way was the best to control the pain. Then the death came as we prayed, as we knew it would, and she died, as did my father, and Joy's father, and her mother. Joy and I knew we would live, and what we must do, and here we are. But now it's time to sleep. In a few days, we will be able to explore more. Just hold me for now." She turned so her body cradled in mine. It was an interesting feeling, having another person with me, a female, and naked. Sleeping together felt right, normal, and full of wonderful sensations that I didn't have to feel guilty about. We slept, except the one time I woke, slipped between her legs, and rocked until I could sleep again.

Chapter 2 Bob I woke well after the sun rose to the aroma of bacon and sausage and eggs and home fries, a smell I thought I'd never savor again. After I slid my pants and shirt on, I rose to look around. Behind the counter was a huge man, as black as a man could be; someone you wouldn't want to meet in the city, in an alley, after dark; someone I'd never seen before. He towered over Brother Jake, who was helping him by turning pancakes. I wondered how Jake could associate with someone like that, how the darky could be part of our group. He had to be some kind of drug dealing inner city crackhead. All the rest of our group were white, good God fearing Christians. But Brother Michael had said that others would join us, so he must be OK. Slipping around the tables I started toward the counter. Brother Michael strode in the door still immaculate in his gray suit, white shirt, and gray tie. He called across the room, "Brother Bob, you're awake. Praise God. Meet some new members of our flock sent to us by Jesus, Brother Shorty and Sister Amber. Brother Shorty is a short order cook and knows about food preparation, butchering, stuff like that. It's a needed skill, Praise Jesus." "Got breakfast for ya, man," Shorty called. He sounded normal. As I moved toward the counter, he turned and looked at me with hard eyes. A scar ran from near his left eye across his left cheek to near his nose. He stood, I guessed, sixeight or six-nine, and he must have weighed about three hundred pounds. He didn't look like he had much fat on him with his huge tattooed arms and barrel chest. Then he smiled and chuckled. He said, "Got eggs and meat and taters for ya. What you want?" His front teeth were missing, probably from fighting. He worried me. Nighttime he wouldn't be visible, not very, especially with those dark clothes. He could do anything, anything to any of us. But Brother Michael had said he was OK, so I took him at his word and accepted this cook for what he was. I tried to put a good face on it, to use some humor. "I don't know. How about a couple eggs, scrambled like my brain, some sausage, and some home fries if you have them ready." He chuckled at the small joke and said, "Scrambled like your brain. I like that. Sausage and eggs comin' right up." When he turned, I saw the "Bikers for Christ" logo on the sleeveless denim jacket he wore open like a vest. Maybe he was OK.

"Smells like food," June said as she joined me. "Who's the cook?" "That's Brother Shorty." I answered. She smiled, a much better look than I saw last night. "Like fun he is. More like a giant if you ask me. By his looks I'd say a big friendly giant." She was too trusting in my opinion, especially of those people. She would learn. Shorty turned his head and smiled. "That's me, ma'am, a Big Friendly Giant like my niece says. Whachya want for breakfast?" I guess everyone had lost somebody. I'd lost my parents and friends, yet as long as I was with this group I didn't think of that, or maybe God just protected my thoughts. It must be that, for this felt so normal. June said, "Steak and eggs if you got it, Shorty." "No problem. How big you want your steak. We got minute steak up to twenty-four ounce T-bone. Want to get rid of them all before the gas runs out and they spoil." "Oh, just a minute steak or two will do. Good Morning Brother Michael." "Sister June. It's good to see you awake and alive, praise God. We have work to do today, shopping without money and bringing back the supplies Jesus sends us to gather. "Brother Bob, you and Sister June will take the dull red landscaping truck you see outside and go to the shopping center south of our former church building. Pick up as many non perishables as you can, canned foods and pastas and others that will not spoil, tissues, toiletries, things like that. Bring the heavy items first, in cases that you should find in the back room. When you return we will transfer what you bring to a larger truck, several large trailers I'm told, that will act as storehouses when we reach our destination. You will make several trips, not only today, but tomorrow also. For now, take Brother Sam with you. Oh, and on the third trip you will pick up a hitchhiker who you will find where seventy-two meets 301." I asked, "Who is Brother Sam?" Brother Michael smiled. "Brother Sam approaches. He should enter, now." I heard the door open and turned to look. A person I didn't know, slightly oriental looking, with jeans and jacket like most of us were wearing, stood in the door. "Brother Sam, come in," Brother Michael called. Brother Michael had never taken his eyes off me, but he had known when someone arrived before they opened the door, and who they were. He had known the exact instant when the Death came. He had known who lived. These powers went beyond normal human practice. Was he truly touched by God? Or was this the work of Satan? The stranger stopped just inside the door. "How did you know my name? Have we met?" He didn't sound like a foreigner. Brother Michael said, "That is correct, we

have not. Jesus told me you were coming, who you were and what he has in store for you. Here. Sit. Eat. You are hungry. I must go do more of God's work." Brother Michael strode out the door. "Man, is he for real?" Shorty asked no one in particular. "Why?" I asked. "It's like he can see the future, like he knows things. Like he's clairvoyant or something." This was my question exactly, but as Chief Elder, I had responsibilities no matter what questions were in my heart. I answered, "He truly speaks to God. God tells him what is going to happen." "No, man. That's just not possible. Not like that. I mean God will indicate what path, but that guy knows details. It's too much, I think." I insisted, "Brother Michael is a Godly man. It wasn't until the death, while he was praying at the alter, that he began to see everything. I truly believe that God has touched him, that God has a mission for him, for all of us." And at that moment, I did. Shorty expressed his doubts, or lack of caring. He turned to the newcomer who sat a stool away from me at the counter. "Yeah? Well that may well be, but right now I'm cook. What you want – Sam, ain't it?" "That's right. What do you have?" the stranger asked as he sat at the counter. "Name it and I'll cook it, no problem." *** Three large trailers, one with a tractor attached, waited in the parking lot when we returned from our first shopping trip. We'd taken a small six-wheel flatbed truck that had fence railing on the sides and back to the shopping center and filled it up with cases of canned goods, half an hour's work. How Brother Michael knew they would come is beyond me, and beyond several others I've talked to, but he always seemed to know the immediate future. Brother Ben just accepted it. He said God spoke to Brother Michael not as a feeling, but as a true voice from the heavens when he prayed. Brother Shorty wondered if God was talking, or the Devil. I had known Brother Michael for a long time, and he had always been a good man, true to his word, and a follower of the Bible's teachings. Yet since the hour when the angel of death touched so many, he was different. He saw more, saw the future. I had wondered myself about Brother Michael's source of knowledge, but I trusted Brother Ben's opinion more than I trusted the cook's. Still, whether it was God or the Devil I could not say. For three days we gathered supplies and people after our group's morning prayer, three days of hard work as I carted and stored heavy cases of food, clothing, and other stores, some of which I'd have never thought about getting.

Brother Jake picked up rifles and ammunition for hunting, since Brother Michael said animals would grow in abundance. Every evening we gathered together in the diner for prayer, and every night June suggested some new game, some new way for showing love. Then she wanted to do it again, and again, all of which was fun. Most of the newcomers who showed up just walked into the diner saying they were led here. We now had two archeologists who had studied ancient ways and could teach us how they had fished and hunted without technology. They had suggested a trip to the archery store and the library, which Luke made. Now we had most of what we needed to live and learn. A husband and wife team knew Chinese and herbal medicine. Many had the skill of farming and said planting would have to begin soon. Brother Michael said we were ready to move, and that God was going to clear an area for us. Smoke rose from a large area to the right of us, closer to the river, as we started out the next morning, and farther in the distance I saw huge clouds of smoke and steam. The wind was from our backs, so fire in that direction did not worry me since anything like that would head toward the river, guided by the breeze. But the nuclear power plant was also that direction, across the river, near where the smoke and steam rose in a column. The wind was steadily from our back, and maybe if it lasted a few days we would stay safe. I couldn't see God preparing us like this, then letting us die from radiation poisoning, and Brother Michael had just said the Lord was getting things ready for us. Maybe that's what the fire was. *** June God, these people are strange. They pray and praise God and Jesus every morning, then pray and praise God and thank Jesus every night. And they believe that it helps. How could you believe that some all-powerful being would care for you? Would even have time to care for an individual? But that's what they think. I don't know if it's crazy, or just stupid. And then Bob thinks this preacher is the Pope or something, that he has a direct line to the Supreme Being, and that everything he says is right. I must admit that so far he has been right. That preacher is just plain weird. I mean he sees the future or something. It's more than just good guesses; he knows details, names, stuff like that. It's scary. Three trucks, and the next morning Luke arrives and parks three trailers in front of the diner. People's names before they show. And Bob follows his every word, as if he's, what is it, infallible or something. Just like the Pope. Scary.

That was hard work when we lifted those cases and moved them around. The canned goods are heavy. But we had fun, too. And I'm finally getting Bob to loosen up a bit about sex. He's not as hesitant, as scared as he used to be. When I talked Bob into screwing in the middle of that store the time Sam had gone to check out another store? Now that was a blast, a bit of morning delight as a reward for hard work, and a fitting reward since I've played my part so well. I may have other rewards, too. I caught that Amber, Shorty's girl, as she looked my way like she wondered if I liked her. She could be fun, a bit of a change. Blacks aren't as sweet as whites are, but they do react, and they've been put down so long they like to spread their wings, or legs. That's just a general statement you understand. Every individual is different, and to learn about another, whoever it is, is a blast. We'll have to see what the future brings. Last night, Brother Michael had said that we had what he called 'The Lord's Work', complete with capitals, ahead of us, less than a year away. He said a group would try to take us over, but the Lord would use them to clean house, to take some of the Godly away, and then have others punish them, some other group. Years from now, seven to be exact, we would fight a war against the 'Minions of Satan' as he called them, and that we must gird ourselves for the coming battles, so we have to build new homes on the burned out ground I see ahead of us. Hey, I didn't sign up for no army, but it's all I got right now.

Chapter 3 Bob After hours of walking, we topped a small rise and I could see the river, a broad expanse of water with a line of marshland barely visible on the other side, some of the marsh burning, the smoke rising almost straight up. The panorama was nearly perfect. No trees or houses blocked my sight of the water or opposite shore, a different look from the houses and trees I remembered were there a week or so ago when I went past on my way into Delaware City. Only occasional wisps of smoke from a recent fire impeded my sight. To the left and right were farm fields, a few already plowed and planted, with what I didn't know. Houses sat off in the distance, with barns next to them, untouched by the fire that had consumed the town. Smoldering remains of buildings under a cloud-covered sky waited for us that afternoon when we reached the small town of Port Penn. Everything except the warehouse of the feed store had burned to the ground. For some reason, the fire had scorched the front of the store, and burned the two houses behind the warehouse, including their above ground pools, but it never touched what we needed inside the building. That was a sign from God, I thought, an endorsement of Brother Michael's holiness. The local bar, a large one-story flatroofed building, that advertised bands on some nights, that had a reputation for the sinful acts that happened there, and that had people coming there from miles around, had burned to the ground. The elementary school, the church, and the connected parish house had all burned. Every house had burned, most to the ground. Some places had brick or cinder block ruins denoting the place where people had lived or worked, but that was all we could see. There was nothing left except a few smoldering partial walls. It looked like a neighborhood destroyed by bombs. Brother Michael stood in the middle of the destruction and turned in a full circle, his hands outstretched. "You see, my children, my brothers and sisters, how God punishes the ungodly? Even the church was destroyed for the sins of those who lived here. Only what we need was saved from the flames of destruction. Praise Jesus. Let us pray." We all bowed our heads. I noticed that June and Joy and Taylor bowed later than the others did, almost like they didn't know what to do and were following the rest. If they had grown up in another church that could be, and they still could be followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Brother Michael prayed, "We thank you Lord for the gift of this land, for the gift of farming, of growing our own food. We thank you Lord for this gift of a gathering place in the midst of our village. We thank you Lord for the gift of gentle breezes and of the coming rain that the ground may cool and our crops may grow in abundance. We thank you Jesus for our health and our very lives. Praise Jesus!" He clapped his hands together. "We have work to do. We are to build small houses for those who will live here. Those who farm will move out into the surrounding countryside. God will direct you to a farmhouse, which you will clean out in this way. Throw out everything that was powered by electricity. Stoves of any nature, except a wood stove one of you will find, you will throw out. Only chairs, tables, other necessary furniture, and musical instruments that do not need electricity are to remain inside. All that is not kept will go into a pile on the south side of the house, at least one thousand feet away. Wood stoves and ovens will be provided later. Tonight, return here to break bread with us in thanks of God's mercy, and tell me what farming equipment you have and the fuel you will require to plow and harvest for the next year. "But first we must consecrate this area, especially this block, this square, bless it in the name of Jesus, for the whole town and the outlying farms will be his, for his work. Praise Jesus!" We prayed for a time in the beginning of a drizzle, then Brother Michael dispatched the farmers to their respective houses with the admonition to help each other with the heavy work. The truck driver, a dirty looking character named Luke, took the front end of a large truck, what he called a day cab, to pick up lumber and supplies from where Brother Michael told him they would be, already loaded and ready to go. The rain fell harder, soaking us and providing comfort from the overheated ground. After three days of hard working without a shower, the water felt good, as if it rinsed off some of our old life along with the grime. Brother Michael walked onto the steaming ground in the central block. "My children, you see here the work of the Lord. He has caused all the sinner's bodies and all the sinner's works to burn in a huge conflagration, and He cools the earth when we arrive. Praise Jesus! "This is what he has told me. We are to build houses, small one room houses of poles and wood that he will provide and Brother Luke will gather, with walls that rise to a peak, covered with steel, and that covered with dirt and grass to protect us from the weather. The southern wall is to end just below the peak to leave an opening for the smoke to escape. The floors will be God's dirt with a stone fire pit near the south wall, which will be used for cooking and warmth. The entrance will be in the sloped roof toward the east, toward the river, with a wall in front of the opening so as to protect those inside from the wind. You will live in these houses with your wife and your young children for a time until we

move across the river, after the first battle with Satan's forces. You will raise your young children in a Christian manner until they are five years old. At that time they will be moved to one of two houses, large houses that will be provided, the boy's house and the girl's house, there to be raised in Christian splendor by our elder folk, where they can learn of God's ways and how to live in the new times praising God. "All will have tasks to do, work assigned, because there is much work when you do the will of the Lord. We will share, everyone a share according to his efforts. This has been told to me by Jesus. "Two strong men, you and you, will clear that area there, the space within this stone square. When it is cleared and level I will bless it again as the place of our worship, the Celebration Square. "Brother Shorty, we will need a feast tonight, to be held in the Celebration Square after it is consecrated. Find wood and food, please, and use a hole in the ground lined with stones for an oven. Build a fire inside the hole, and when the fire dies, cover it with the aluminum you will find in the feed store. Place your food on that, wrapped in whatever will keep it clean, and cover it with dirt. It will bake. "You, you, and you, help Brother Shorty gather what he needs. You two will also dig the oven the size of the aluminum piece just inside and to the right of the feed store door. You will dig the hole four feet deep, a depth that will be needed to hold all the food. "Brother Bob, come with me." *** Brother Michael and I walked north for over an hour, traveling out of town, following route 9 through marshland and across the canal bridge. I could see that Port Penn was the only place that had burned, like it was a Sodom or Gomorrah that had to be purged, or maybe it was more holy than anywhere else. Delaware City was still intact, as was the island with the fort, and New Castle in the distance. All the huge chemical plants were still intact. I wondered why God would just burn this one area, unless it was like Brother Michael had said, that God had cleansed the area for us, a place where we could live. I decided that was the case as we approached Delaware City, a community that had not burned, and that definitely had a rotten odor. While we walked, Brother Michael told me about his vision. "I have seen, Brother Bob, that we are not here to fight a huge war as is told in Revelations. That is for others, although we may have to wage a small war in seven years. No, we are here to protect the morals of the world from those who would have us walk unclothed in the bright of day, who would teach children the sin of fornication, who would use plants and animals in ways not of God. They are close, but we will not know of them for a time, not until we are attacked by the truly evil and they issue the punishment that God does not want us to inflict."

He went on in that vein for a time, until at last he told me, "For now we must fight off individual and small bands of demons, evil people who will try to stop us. Some may have just gone insane, or anti-social, but many will be minions of Satan." As we topped a rise we saw the oil refinery of Delaware City, huge towers rising to the sky, some rusted, some bright or painted. Convoluted pipes in a maze so complicated it would take decades to trace them out connected to great stacks of tall poles used for burning off gasses that no longer flamed at the top. A large tank farm stood across the road, near the river. I'd heard that there was an unloading dock, a pipe that went out into the river for barges and ships to connect to and unload. What I didn't see was oil or some other liquid spilled, so apparently the supervisors or managers or whoever got the plant shut down before they died. Brother Michael said, "See here the works of man, technology that without his knowledge and manipulative skill lies useless. This is not what God intended when he made the Garden of Eden, or when he told Noah and his family to repopulate the Earth. What mankind has done, where we have gone, has brought this upon the human race. We did it to ourselves, with the guidance of Satan. "What you can see is no longer useful. No longer will this liquid be pumped out of the ground. No longer will trucks roll on the road or ships ply the oceans with cargo holds filled. Only what we make and grow ourselves will sustain us now. This is how it should be, Praise God. 'For man shall live by the sweat of his brow.' That is what God instructed. In order to grow our food, to live, we have the need to use some of the gasoline and the diesel stored here in those tanks, however. God will provide other ways, but not yet. Tomorrow you will come with another whom we have not met, one who used to work here and knows where the necessary equipment is. You will fill the tank trucks that God will provide and Luke will maneuver, you will fill them with the amount of liquid Jesus says we will need. The rest of the oil and gas will stay here to be used by one of the Devil's servants to start a major conflagration, one that will make the burning of our town look small. This force of God started by evil will for last three days. Three days! Burning through the works of man and the marsh to the canal and the river in places, but not beyond, destroying all the evil so new life can grow! Praise God! Praise Jesus. Jae-sus, Jae-sus, Jae-sus. Great is your holy name. Praise God. "You see what is to be done. It is time for us to return, to help with the cleaning of the Celebration Square. Tomorrow, and the next day, we will all build. Then several of us will continue building, while some will catch the fish that visit. Then will come the time for us to celebrate the Sabbath and the loving hand of Jesus." When we returned to the village about three hours after we left, I got busy.

Several burned houses had basements that had to be filled and leveled, good places to dump debris. Luke returned with a flatbed filled with stacks of lumber, then left to get the poles from an electric company storehouse. That evening we had a celebration dinner of ham and roasts and vegetables and potatoes, all baked together with just the right seasonings so the flavors melded into an utterly delicious feast. June and I had almost finished eating when Brother Michael walked over with a short and chubby person in tow. Brother Michael said, "Brother Bob, this is Brother Fred. He's the one I told you about earlier. You and he will leave after the morning meal to do as God instructed. Until later, God bless." Brother Michael grabbed a drumstick and walked off, followed by the Fred person. *** June That first day, I was assigned to a small group that raked a burned out block, one of the two-or three-sided blocks that surrounded the square. It must have been a hot fire; the ground still steamed even after an hour of rain. Everything was burnt to a crisp, to ash, destroyed, all the houses and the pictures and the beds and stoves and TVs and whatever else the people who lived here had. The Reverend or Preacher or whatever, Brother Michael, had found some garden rakes somewhere, probably in the seed store. I grabbed one and went to the square on the north side of town closest to the river. I could use the water to clean up if I needed. To rake bare ground is a mindless process, just stroke, stroke, stroke, over and over, with an occasional find to break the monotony. While I raked, I considered what Brother Michael had said. I don't believe what I just heard, I told myself. Sure, I want kids, the sooner the better, and I don't care who the father is. But you best not take my kids away from me, not at five or at any other time when they're growing up. No way. How will I be able to teach them about the pleasures of life besides this constant worship? Well, maybe that's what he's trying to prevent. But it sounds more like he's going to brainwash them like the army and stuff did to new recruits like my cousin. He came out of boot camp totally changed. That's not good. Especially when you start young like that. Isn't that something like they did in that book, '1984' I think it was? Or like they did in Communist Russia and North Korea like we learned in school? No way do I want my kids brainwashed like that. Maybe I'll find somewhere else to live by then. The black girl, Shorty's girlfriend, Amber her name is, joined me, along with

two of the guys, one armed with a shovel. They were to move anything large we found. We raked from the corner of the block nearest the square toward the river, and uncovered items with almost every stroke. Some we just tossed aside. Others the guys moved, sometimes they had to dig it out and work together to throw in on the scrap pile. While we raked and the guys moved stuff, Amber and I talked. She had been a server at the restaurant where Shorty worked, one of the better places in a ritzy suburb. She said those people tipped well, but they treated her and the other servers like servants, like slaves, nobodies to just throw away when their usefulness ended. Shorty was with a biker group, a bunch of ex druggies who found Jesus as they said. He was not nearly as religious as Bob, and enjoyed a quickie, or not so quickie, whenever Amber asked. She said he was gentle and loving and pretty good, although she liked to change up once in a while, try some 'new white meat or maybe girl'. Those were her words. They'd heard about the group and decided to check it out, to see if they could fit in. She said that there were way too many restrictions, not enough openness, and that she felt as if some of the Elders as she called them were bigots. She included Bob in that number. That could be, and she seemed smart, and was leaving, maybe, so I didn't see a need to take offense. I asked her what she thought we were in for. She said that we'd probably revert back to the pioneer days, when women did a lot of the housework and cooked and food prep and men farmed and hunted. I suggested that we'd be more like the Indians back in colonial times since we'd have to make our own clothes and stuff from animal skins. That was not something I wanted to do. I wondered if there were any other groups around, any place else where I could go, although I'd probably have to do the same thing there as I did here. The Preacher did mention some other group that he said was from the devil, or practiced the devil's ways or something. I'd probably get along with them better than here, but I didn't know where they were, and I had it about as good as I could get right here. Bob progressed nicely. We found another partially melted stove, and a car. That one stymied the men, so we took a break and looked up Brother Michael.

Chapter 4 Bob The next morning after we ate, Fred and I rode in Luke's truck, just the front part, to the refinery. It was an experience I hadn't had before. The ride was much rougher than a car, the thing tilted forward every time he hit the brakes, he pushed in the clutch twice every time he shifted, and he shifted a lot. He also drove much faster than I thought was safe, but there was no other traffic, so I guess it was OK. When we were climbing the slight rise to route 9, he said, "There's a drop yard with five or six tankers in it. And I know where others are less than five miles from here. I can move them anywhere you want and drop them, but I have to know where." Fred said, "I think the tank level's high enough so gravity will feed the loading rack, otherwise I got to get the generator going, or we'll load directly from the tank, which will not be fun I'll tell you, so the first stop is the tank farm. Go up route 9 to the gate, the second gate, and go in, then turn left on the first road and follow that back and we'll check the levels." Luke followed his instructions, turned in the entrance at the second gate. It was locked, so he plowed through just like in one of the movies I occasionally watched to be sociable. We soon reached the area with the huge tanks, each tank a city block or so in diameter and surrounded by a ten-foot high berm. The tanks towered over our heads like huge buildings or something, painted gray with colored circle patterns facing each of the directions. Luke stopped in the middle of the road and shut off the engine. Fred climbed down and walked among the tanks looking at gauges next to valves, then returned to the truck. "What do we need?" he asked. I told him what Brother Michael had told me this morning, "At least eight or nine thousand gallons of gasoline, maybe more if possible for one tanker, and thirty-five thousand gallons of diesel." Fred grinned. "Plenty of both back there to gravity, and tank five has light gas and seven has number two, and we might have to do the valves manually, but that's no biggy, so just drop the trailers under the rack and we'll fill them. No weight restrictions, now, huh?" Luke said, "I wouldn't overload them too much or the weight may break the frame." Fred thought for a moment. "There is that. So normal is eight thousand, so

we should be able to do nine. OK. Bring five over, the ones with the extra axle if possible. They can handle more weight." While we waited for Luke to bring the trailers around, Fred checked a gray wooden box mounted on a pole nearby. It had switches inside labeled with codes, and meters that all showed zero. "Yep, it's manual we got to do. When we get the first set up I'll walk you through the valves, and we'll open all but the last one, and when the tank's a bit over half full you can close them from there to here to leave the line sort of dry so there's less pollution if there's a spill. After all, we're down river. Here he comes." We watched as Luke pulled a tanker trailer between two yellow lines under an overhead set of pipes. One pipe had a large hose attached with the other end hanging from a hook. Luke detached the trailer and drove away to get another. Fred unclipped a thick wire from the frame of the pipe rack and clamped it to the trailer. "You always want to set the static discharge first, 'cause any spark'll cause fumes to go, especially this stuff, ya know. People don't realize the risk they're taking just putting gas into their cars." He climbed onto the tanker and attached the hose to a fitting, then opened a lid. "OK, now we go for a walk. I'm going to open this valve last when we get back, and thinking about it, maybe it'd be better to open them from the tank to here to check for leaks, then you'll have to run back and when I call start closing them, but it'll be easier to gauge how long it takes so maybe that's better anyway." We walked back to the tanks, a good ten minute stroll, and then began tracing the pipe and opening valves. They were not easy to open since the process was usually automatic, Fred had to disconnect the extra levers, and the manual operation wheels were stiff. Together, and with a bit of penetrating oil, we got the job done. You could hear the liquid drop into the tank truck. Fred said the valves would be easier to close, but I wasn't sure if the pressure would push back and make them impossible to move. Three hours after we started the job, we were done, without any major leaks. Luke showed up about fifteen minutes later from staging the first tanker, the one filled with gasoline, and two filled with the diesel, just outside the village and gave us a ride back. *** Luke spent the day after we loaded the tanker trucks going from farm to farm, first with the diesel, then with the gasoline. He said many of the farms had tanks for heating oil he could use, and fifty-five gallon drums for whatever was left. The next day, Luke brought the rest of the wood for the houses. During that first week, we cleaned the town, especially the celebration

square, changing the ground from burned out ruins into rocky dark dirt with patches of grass. We sowed seed for grass and flowers we found in the feed store much as the farmers sowed crops with the hope that the land would become beautiful. Several of the others went out around the area collecting what God told Brother Michael was waiting for us. Several days of hard work passed, our stores grew, and our small town began to take shape. As soon as all the wood arrived, Brother Michael's house was built. It was twice the length of the rest of the houses so he would have a small meeting room up front. Each of us had houses made from six twenty-foot long telephone poles tied together, with another pole laid along the top for a roof beam. Half a foot extra was left on the north side, and an extra three feet was left on the south side to support the protection for the smoke hole. Eight foot long joists were fastened across the poles once they were raised and steady. Sheets of corrugated steel were laid sideways on the wood and the seams sealed. Then about a foot of dirt was packed on the steel, with the corrugations preventing the dirt from sliding. Grass and wild flower seed were thrown on the dirt so the roots would hold everything together. I was enjoying a cup of coffee that cool evening after building my house with the help of several others, talking to June about what we needed and how to arrange beds and storage, when Brother Shorty asked if he could discuss something with me. I invited him into my brand new house, one of the first built. Before the Death, I doubt we would have talked for any reason. I certainly would not have asked someone like him in to my house. We ducked in a door only five feet tall, shortly to be covered with a cloth or hide. The walls sloped toward the peak of the roof twelve feet above us. Several containers already hung from twine tied to the boards. I started the first fire in our pit and watched sparks dance toward the smoke hole as flames spread along the small logs. When the flames grew and the room had begun to warm, we sat on a piece of rug near the fire. Shorty griped, "Tell me. Just who does that Michael think he is?" I'd worked this question out myself just yesterday, praying for guidance. I felt that Brother Michael had truly been touched by Jesus, that he saw the will of God and could pass it on. He performed minor miracles. I did not expect him to feed thousands or even hundreds of people with a few fish and some bread, or turn water into wine, but he was bringing us together, and almost everyone said that if you did what he said it worked out fine. Even the crops would be on time, and the farmers were hopeful this would be a good year, with enough prayer. To stall, I asked, "You mean Brother Michael?" "Yeah. Who does he think he is telling everyone what to do?" That one was easy. "He's our leader, designated by Jesus, leader of the village and commander of an army to fight evil." "Army? This bunch? You've got to be kidding. Ragtag group of survivors is

more like it. Well, I just wanted to find out what you really thought about him ordering everyone around." "He's just passing on instructions from God. He works as hard as the rest of us. You've seen that." Shorty's tone changed from augmentative to conversational. At least I had quelled his anger some. He said, "I won't argue about that. I just don't like his ways. Look, Amber and I are cutting out soon. I just wanted to let you know. No hard feelings or anything. I mean Luke can cook good, and he knows fish, and you have several hunters who can butcher. This is just not my scene. OK?" I, for one, would not mind if he left. He was the only dark skin here, and we didn't need him. I said, "OK. But I don't know why you're telling me." "I wanted to see your take on it since you seem sort of level headed. Now I'm not sure about your head, but no problem, it's just my opinion. You'll be OK here, and we'll find a place. No hard feelings, OK?" "I guess. When are you leaving?" "Soon as I tell Michael. I mean, I won't just disappear, but this is not for me. See ya." He stalked off into the night. *** June Two hidden places in the river were designated bath areas, one for men and one for us women. We each had several changes of clothes, but they didn't stay clean by themselves. We'd have to scrub them in water, without soap since the herb people could not find the soap plant they knew. I was sure there was something that would work, and wondered why God didn't tell Brother Michael. Maybe God wanted us dirty. Just north of the square that I had helped rake was a man-made pond or reservoir at the edge of a park, almost a small lake, with easy access to the water. I took the clothes there and scrubbed them well, actually the best I could. We didn't have soap, and even if we did, I wasn't going to pollute that pond, although it would probably grow algae, muck, or something soon enough anyway. The smell should come out of the clothes this way, and most of the dirt, and I could dry them back at what was called a house. Ha! House indeed. It was less than a shack. I'd bet the Indians had more room in their lodges. There wasn't even a door to close or lock, just a piece of cloth behind the windbreak so people couldn't see in before they announced themselves. I guess when your village is so small and everyone knows everyone like we do, then theft is a minor problem. But there were times that I'd like to be undisturbed.

One of those times appeared just then. Amber carried a bundle of dirty laundry to the pond. Apparently, she had the same idea I had, or maybe she'd seen me come here and thought it was a good idea. We would get along if she stayed. Neither of us were as goody-goody as the preacher and his congregation I guess you would call it. I didn't care what color her skin was; she and I fit together better than the others. The only person I could call a friend was Joy, and I didn't think she'd last too long. She and her brother liked to play too much. I thought Amber would stick around, but maybe not if her man decided to move on. "Hey," I said. "How you doing?" She said, "The right question is, what am I doing? Shorty and I are booking. I can't stand it here. Too many rules. Not enough freedom. So much for her friendship. "I know what you mean, but where else is there?" "That we don't know, but we're going searching. You could too, if your old man wasn't so gung-ho on Preacher man." "Yeah. I wouldn't mind. You're right. There's not enough freedom. I mean, Bob's OK, but he's just a beginner. He really was a virgin that first night. I'm teaching him, but I got to work to get off, you know? I'd like to lay back and enjoy once in a while. He'll learn, but it takes time." She smiled and her eyes lit up in anticipation of something. She told me, "I understand. I know that while I'm here I won't have anyone but Shorty. He's good, really good, but I like a change once in a while myself." "Really?" I asked putting extra interest in my voice. My prospects looked good. She nodded to the side where rhododendron and boxwood grew in a large, nearly impenetrable clump. No one would see us there. "There are bushes over there." *** Bob That afternoon, Brother Tom, Brother Jake, and I were given the task of exploration south of the village. Brother Michael told us to bring back the most useful items we would find along the river. South of town, just off the main road, was a boat basin filled with private cruisers and speedboats. Tied to the outside of the dock was a commercial fishing boat, the fuel tank almost dry. On it, we found a storage locker filled with large nets and other tools, and attached to the back was what must be the boat's dingy, a painted row boat with an engine on the back and oars stored

nearby. We loaded the dingy with some of the nets, and Brother Jake rowed it back to town so Brother Tom and I could continue on the mission. A small private dock just downriver held another rowboat just a bit too large for the bed of the truck. Even after we slowly drove back to the fishing boat and loaded the rest of the nets into the front, the bow, it still tilted backwards. Brother Tom had to row that boat back to the growing village, while I drove farther south and found nothing else really useful. When I returned, Sister Jean, a long time seamstress and alterations specialist for a bridal shop, searched the nets for damage, worked out how to tie the knots that held the cable together, and made sure the large nets were in good condition. If there was any doubt that God had his hand in our survival, they were dissipated the next morning. Sister Mary ran up from the river shouting, “The fish are running! The fish are running!” Brother Jed looked out of his house and called, “What? You mean Shad or Herring? What do you mean fish are running?” “There’s a whole bunch of big fish in the river, and at the mouth of the stream.” “A school? Cool. Good.” Jed yelled toward the village, “Get the nets! Get the boats! We have schools! Get the nets!” He dove back inside to get dressed. People hurried out of their houses and ran to the storage hut. Brother Michael was already there, by the door. He handed out the large fishing nets. “Do we have enough people to handle this?” Jed asked as he rolled a wheelbarrow over to carry the net to the river. Families began to arrive from the outlying farms. Brother Michael answered, “We will in just three minutes, Brother. Take this down to the river and spread it out. I will send more wheelbarrows to you to carry the fish back. What will we need?" "Salt for preservation, mostly. A place to smoke them if that's possible." "There is a place to smoke the fish. Some will gather wood. Others will go for salt. There is a supply nearby. Be at peace, Brother Jed. Gather what Jesus has sent us. All we need will be provided, as you have seen." "Yes, Brother Michael. I see that those from the outlying farms have come to help without anyone calling them. I can see God's hand in this. I believe." He turned and wheeled the net toward the stream, shouting at people to hurry. I followed Brother Jed with an empty wheelbarrow. When I arrived at the river, I could see the fish jumping, breaking the surface as they headed upstream. I'd never seen that before and wondered if it was normal behavior, or if maybe these fish were sick. Brother Jed was already laying the net out on the shore upstream. Two others rowed the two boats onto the shore near us. I approached Jed and asked, "Is this usual, this jumping?"

"It does not matter. These are sent by God to feed us. Even if they are sick, they will be cleansed by heat and fire before we eat them. Why? Do you have doubts?" "I just wonder if this is something sent by Satan to bring us down." "If it was, then Brother Michael would have known. And the folk on the farms would not be here. Jesus sent them, so it is alright." I told him what I had observed, and what had me worried. "Yes, but Brother Michael did not know ahead of time. It was Sister Mary who first alerted us." "He did not? He had the nets ready to go as soon as the cry was raised. Sorting them out takes at least an hour. I would think he just did not say, but still, you may be right. I will keep a close eye out for signs of sickness. In the meantime, help. You're strong. Grab that corner, tie it to one of the boats, and send it out into the stream. Wait for four people, then wade out into the water. Keep the top of the net, the line where you see the cork floats, above the water. Brother Jake, Sister Ann." He called others over. I saw Fred, thought about him holding the net up in the water, and told him to row the boat out slowly and to watch us so he didn't go too fast. Several of us pushed the boat into the water, and then we walked into the river, the water level climbing our bodies, the net heavy and gaining weight as the water soaked in. I struggled to keep my balance as I moved toward the center of the stream. The net jumped, then tugged again, then began to vibrate as fish hit it and became entrapped. The rope almost pulled out of my hands as I struggled to cross the stream. There were places where the stream bed was slick and it was hard to keep from sliding. One of the women fell, came up out of the water laughing, and grabbed onto the net again. Another woman fell, letting some fish pass out of the net, then one of the brothers slipped. I managed to keep my footing. Jed called from the shoreline, "OK! Fred, start a circle back toward me, slowly. Watch how the others are standing. We want to encircle the fish, pull them back onto shore." The boat turned toward the river, then back toward the shore, moving slowly. Fred kept an eye on us did not row too quickly as we walked toward the shore. I directed him to turn quicker or more slowly so we would encircle the most fish. Some of the others began to wade into the water from where they waited along the bank. They would capture the fish as we brought them in and throw them on the wheelbarrows. That's when I heard an engine on the shore. A tractor pulling a farm wagon with high sides came into sight, a more efficient way to carry the catch. The driver turned around at the top of the narrow dirt path that ran from the road to the bank, climbed off the tractor, and dropped a ramp from the wagon. We slowly approached the shore, the net becoming heavier. June ran out to join me, grabbing the net between Brother Jake and me. Others added their

strength as we worked the fish in toward the shore. Several more women waded in and threw fish into the wheelbarrows, which others ran up to the cart. In a short time, the wagon was filled, as were all of the wheelbarrows. "Let the rest go," Brother Jed called. "Leave those tangled in the net stay where they are. We'll add them to the catch when we reach the square." The tractor and wagon left, followed by the wheelbarrows. We left the net in the stream with Brother Jed and others, waiting for the wheelbarrows or the wagon to return, and walked back to the village. Brother Michael had stayed behind while everyone else went to the stream. It's not that he shirked; he had the baking pit cleaned, a fire started, and many wooden barrels set out. He waved as we approached and pointed along the inland road. A pickup approached, the driver waving frantically, the bed filled almost to overflowing with large bags, most likely of salt. I reached the square just as he pulled up. His shirt was stained with sweat, most likely from loading the truck. The bags were all marked as food grade salt. Brother Jed said, "Take these bags and pour a layer into each of these barrels. Who can fillet a fish? Hurry. Bring barrels around behind the wagon. Use the tailgate as a table. We have knives. Clean enough fish for a layer, cover them with salt, and do it again. When you are done, roll the barrels into the shed here where Brother Michael has set up a smoke house." "What about these fish caught in the net?" Sister Mary asked as several people helped steady the heavy water laden net as it was wheeled into the square. "Clean the fish and set the fillets here," Brother Michael instructed. "When the baking pit is ready, we will cook them. It's fresh fish for dinner tonight." A general cheer rose as the community worked together to ensure our future. As we all worked to store the catch, news passed around. The fields were plowed and planted, some before the Devil played his games in the Middle East, some just recently. One of the brothers who had been out hunting said he had climbed the water tower looking for game and could see a line of clouds approaching. He thought it would rain hard after dark. We hurried, and by evening the catch was cleaned and in the smoke house, the remains saved for the field of the farmer who supplied the wagon, and the fish tangled in the net were gathered and baking. *** June God, what a madhouse. Everybody went crazy, all excited over a bunch of fish. Oh, well. It was the first time, and we did have fun. I was busy in the house

and arrived a bit late as they worked the net toward the shore. That short guy from the refinery rowed the boat, and Bob shouted directions from a bit behind him. Everyone was soaked, and I noted that many of the women's dresses clung to their bodies, and few wore bras. Some of them looked interesting, but I knew none would want to play. I made sure I got soaked, too, just in case any of the men took notice. We pulled the net to the shore. A nearly solid platform of fish rose from the bottom, the top layer flopping on the surface. Some of the people threw fish into wheelbarrows that took the wriggling load up the path to a waiting farm wagon with high sides. In half an hour or so it was full and Jed, leader of this project, told us to let the rest of the fish go. We dropped the net and watched as the fish swam away. Most of the people followed the wagon back to the village, but six of us waited with the net, held under the water to let the fish caught in it breathe for a while more. One of the wheelbarrows returned after a few minutes. We struggled the net onto it, then Mary and Charles steadied it as the rest of us trooped back to the square. When we arrived, everyone was busy. Four people stood behind the wagon and cut, no, cleaned the fish and threw them into barrels. Others poured salt into the barrels and patted it down. Two people started to pull fish out of the net and cleaned them at the side of the wagon. Marsha supplied large leaves to wrap the fillets in so they could go in the oven to bake. Two ten pound bags of potatoes and cans of veggies were brought out to bake with the fish. Shorty worked hard to prepare all the food. We would all eat well. Slim, a rugged hunk I would not mind getting to know better, came back from hunting and said a line of clouds approached from the west, and it looked like we'd get rain in a couple of hours. I hoped the fish would be done by then, but Brother Michael was not worried. He said, "Bake what we gathered from the nets, and the rest, the salted fish in the barrels, store in the back corner for later, then take the prepared food into the storage barn. There is room for all. We will have a celebration." I knew what kind of celebration I wanted, but with this crowd that was not to be. Instead, I slipped beside Bob and described in detail a new game for tonight. He reacted, and I knew I'd have fun. Now if only I could get others to relax and join us.

Chapter 5 Bob The day before the seventh Sabbath, Brother Michael had John and Isaac, both familiar with boats, go out onto the river and work the large net around another school of fish. I asked Brother Michael if the fish were safe to eat with all the pollution in the river, but he said God had told him that the fish would come from the clean areas, that the pollution was in the channel and that would soon be covered with silt. Since I didn't have any information to the contrary, and since I trusted Jesus, I dropped the subject. I was about to turn away when a shout drew our attention. We turned toward the noise and saw Brother Jake as he dragged Sister Joy and her younger brother Taylor out of their house. Both were naked. Brother Jake yelled, "You are an abomination! This is blasphemy! This is sinfulness to the extreme!" He saw us. "Brother Michael. I caught these two having relations. Fornicating. Brother and sister in bed as if they were married!" People began to gather, curious as to what caused the outcry. I stood where I had talked to Brother Michael, who approached Brother Jake, who in turn held Sister Joy by her right arm and her brother by his left, both without clothes, naked for all to behold. Brother Michael said, "That does go against God's teaching, Brother Jake, but this is a time for calm, for consideration, not for anger. Think about what Jesus would say. This goes against God's law, brother lying with sister. This goes against man's law also. But man's law is no more. Only God's law holds sway. Only what God wrote in the Old Testament, and what Jesus taught." Brother Michael lowered his head for a moment as if praying. He continued, "So what does the Bible say? God wrote that, as Brother Jake has pointed out, brother lying with sister is an abomination. The two are not to know each other as if they are married. God wrote that those caught should be punished by public execution, death by stoning, the same punishment as for adultery. And I know that you in your anger would relish the thought of taking revenge, as would others. You have been hurt by their deceit. Not only have they lain together, but also Sister Joy lied when she pretended to love Jesus and follow His words. She is a plant by the Devil, by Satan, to rise up and cause us harm. But we have found her out before she can cause mischief, praise God. Jesus has shown her for who she is. Praise Jesus! Now, considering what God has said, these two must be punished by

stoning. Yet I remember what Jesus said to those who gathered to punish Mary Magdalene. I ask the same question of all of you. Who is free of sin? Who? Not I. I have sinned. I have made mistakes and gone against the will of God, and through the grace and blood of Jesus Christ, I have been forgiven and freed from that sin, but I must admit that, in the past, I have sinned. I cannot throw the first stone. Any of you? Are there any of you who are so perfect that they have never sinned in their lives?" He paused for a moment. "I thought not. These two will be banished from our community, never to return. They will leave as they stand, with nothing, and go into the wild world, inland or to the North, there to pray for God's forgiveness and mercy. *** June Joy and Taylor got caught, the dummies. Instead of finding a few areas in the woods where they could play, or bushes like Amber and I had, Joy and her brother had gone and done it right in the house, almost the same as doing it in the open, and they'd gotten caught. To tell the truth, I'm surprised they weren't caught sooner, before the Death. Maybe their folks were in on it, too? Wish I knew back then. I wouldn't have minded joining in on some family fun. Maybe that's how she learned. She did teach me, and we had some fun times before things changed. That's all in the past, though. It's a new way of life now, and they couldn't learn, so they blew it. Look at them there as they stand naked in front of everybody. They look all embarrassed and scared. I would too, but it's what you get if you don't think about the consequences of what you do and are careful. They should have found some bushes. At least Brother Michael won't have them killed. Just banished. What was it that one person said, shunned? No, then they'd be in the community. I think that's how it works. Yep, I was right. Mary just said so. God, they look so pitiful as they walk away hand in hand, nowhere to go, no food, no clothes. I hope they live. Oh, well. Back to the drudgery. I still have to find a broom and sweep the floor. ***

Bob I watched as the two adulterers walked naked along the road leading away from the river. That was better than they deserved, to walk away, together. Even naked with nothing, it was better. We were here to fight Satan's forces Brother Michael had said, yet they walked away, over the hill, a better life than the devil's spawn deserved. Incest. That was something had I never thought about, how family members could to grow to love physically. Making love, bedroom play, was only for husband and wife, not two men or two women, or for those in the same family. Not for those who mixed races, as some called it, either. Just man and wife, both the same color, and both white. Since Shorty left, and now those two, we were pure again and could fight the good fight. I wandered along the shore of the river as I considered the problem of incest. How would that happen? Innocent children's games continued? Parents teaching their children? The work of the Devil, his suggestions followed either way. And it was wrong. Any children born of the relationship would be abominations, not only in God's eyes, but also in man's. Proper men, those who followed the teachings of Jesus, those who knew the one way to heaven and the truth of the Bible, they would know. The only way to save the children would be to kill them when they were born, and that would be murder. Brother Michael was right in what he did. But it raised questions, his actions, and this trouble. How did he not see Satan's relationship with those two when they had first arrived? Wasn't he told? Didn't God tell him to separate the brother and sister? Didn't he know not to take them in? Was he truly doing God's work? Or did he know? Was he told about them, and told to wait until the proper time? Was it that the spy you knew was better than one you did not? I'd heard that once, long ago. And what about Sister June, my wife? She was friends with the friends of Satan. Did she not see it? Possibly not. They could have hidden better in the before times. Was June as innocent as she had said? She did seem awfully familiar with the bedroom practices, but that may have been God's teaching, God's lead as she said. She may have heard about it, read about it, so as not to fumble when first dealing with her husband. She did say her mother told her some things. Had she lain with any of the men folk? I did not think so. I did not think she had the opportunity. I could stay with her in good conscious. But what about Brother Michael? Now he was another matter, one that would require more thought. Much more thought. What did happen when the Death came? The heretics, the dirty Arabs, followed the will of their so-called God, Allah, the Devil, and released the gas that killed almost every human on the planet. Anyone who would do such a

thing had to be following Satan. There was no other explanation. This was the first round of the Thousand Year Conflict predicted in the Bible, the war that spared only a few by God's will, mostly the goodhearted people who followed Jesus. There were some who would still follow the Devil's ways, who would try to crush us and run our lives and not let us follow Jesus' teachings. I knew this, but did not believe that there were as many who followed Satan as followed Jesus. Many, I believe, God had let live to confuse the enemy, to make him think his forces were strong. All we had to do was to survive, as Brother Michael had said, and soon we would be ready to fight the minions of Satan, whoever they were. For when the time came, even those who did not follow the Lord Jesus Christ would fight against Satan's evil. But was Brother Michael really following Jesus' will, or was he unknowingly listening to Satan? I'd have to take it step by step. When the Death first occurred, when the heathens released the Devil's gas, He learned about it from the newspaper, the same as we all did. He preached that we had to truly repent, all of us, that those who truly repented of their sins, who constantly asked forgiveness, who were steadfast in their belief, they would live, and so it seems to be. Up until the Angel of Death took the spirits of those who believed but were not strong enough, and those who did not believe, Brother Michael had to pray hard to learn God's will. He always knew what to do, what was right, but I'd seen him spend hours on his knees praying for enlightenment. And then the Angel of Death passed through. Instantly he knew things, who lived, that we would meet people, where to find supplies, what was ready to be gathered and what was not. Where to go. What kind of houses to build. And it appeared that God was helping him. The town was burned, cleansed for our use. The oil and gas was waiting for us. Food was stored at a small diner that happened to have a generator. People arrived, people we needed, who had knowledge and skills needed by the community, who had been led here as they said in their own words. But could that also be the work of Satan? Could Satan influence so many good Christians? Brother Michael had not known that Shorty would leave. He had not known that Joy and her brother had an incestuous affair, when both were too young as the laws of the past state said. Or had he? He may have known what would happen, but declined to tell us. Perhaps it was the will of God that he not tell us, that knowing such would have spread dissension through the group. Perhaps God wanted us to see that the punishment was not of the Old Testament, but of the New. Perhaps the lesson was that to deal with evil you must use love. That made sense. My faith that Brother Michael followed the Lord was restored. I had walked a good distance along the shoreline, hours it seemed since the sun was past halfway. I was thirsty, so I stooped down and took a sip from the river. The water tasted salty. I knew the bay had salt water, but that was downstream a good bit, at least ten miles from here, or more. The water here

should be fresh, or a mixture that was mostly fresh. I turned back to my house and my wife to eat a wonderful meal in peace. I would discuss this question with Brother Michael in the morning. *** "Brother Bob!" Brother Michael stood outside my house as the sun was rising. I had no idea what he wanted, so I hurriedly dressed and stepped outside. "Brother Bob, your faith in me is restored, I believe? Do not worry; all have doubted at some time, some more than others. After you eat, I need you to go with Brother Luke in the pickup and find the place where you tasted the salt water. Then go three more miles downstream. You will find a sand beach near an inlet. At the upstream edge of the sand beach, fill the tubs you will have with the salt water, then cover the tubs with the glass that you will find in the barn behind you. In a week, the water will evaporate. Every week, you and Brother Luke will go there and scrape the salt from the edge of the tubs, then refill them. "While you are gone, Sister June and some of the other women will gather the leaves and pods of plants I will show them. Sister Carrie will teach the women to spin thread on a spinning wheel that Farmer Tom will find. They will learn how to spin thread and weave cloth, and how to make baskets from the stalks of the plants. We will make our own clothes and containers. "The salt you gather will also be important. It will not only season and preserve our food, but will allow us to tan the skins of the animals we hunt. Now go and eat. Brother Luke will be ready shortly. Praise Jesus." I ate breakfast and drank a cup of coffee. Not long after I finished Brother Luke called. We went south and found the stream just as Brother Michael had said we would. I praised Jesus for his sight. Luke was not so convinced. "Brother Michael is scary at times, what he knows, you know?" I answered, "Yeah. God tells him things. I recently had doubts, but now I know. He truly hears the voice of God." "Good. I'm glad you know that. He told me something I'm not sure about. He said that after the snow, when we're ready to plant again, strangers will come and try to take us over, that they'll kill some of us, and that we should not take revenge, that others will avenge us and punish the sinners. Does that sound right?" I thought about the question. "He did say a battle was coming, that some would try to take us over. Yes, he did say that. I forgot about it. He said God was going to clean house or something, whatever that means." "Well, if he told you too. Everything's covered? Let's head on back."

Chapter 6 Bob Nearly a year had passed since the Death, since God turned the work of the Devil into a glorious new world. During that time, we gained a blacksmith and several fishers, a hunter who would bring in animals for meat, and a seamstress who also knew how to tan the skins of the animals. We found some broken engines and converted them to steam, and now we had steam-powered equipment. We trained horses we found running free to the harness, so now we had horse drawn plows and carts, already in service, and our blacksmith was refitting a wagon for steam power using scavenged parts. Now, when the poison petroleum fuel ran out, we would still have a way to plow and carry goods. We had gathered salt and cattails and grass for hay and the straw left in the field. We had the first children ready to arrive, and June said she was working on our first. Generally, God was good to us in our little village. Twice we had seen a plane, a machine that we hadn't seen since the Death. Brother Michael said that it was sent by the Devil, so we prayed for God to shield us, that it would overlook us. Apparently, that was not to be. One afternoon, while I was talking to Brother Cyrus about the sweet corn he had just planted on his farm and whether he would be able to store it since Brother Michael had us move everything out of the main barn, a small car followed by a large van with windows tinted almost black pulled into town and parked at Celebration Square. We watched a man get out of the passenger side. Cleanshaven, he wore a clean flannel shirt and jeans, almost new, and had a rifle in his hand and a pistol on his hip in a holster. He looked around at the village and walked around the front of the car. The driver, dressed nearly the same way, opened his door and sat in the seat, a rifle on his lap. The stranger standing in front of the car called, "Who's in charge around here? Who's your leader?" "That would be me," Brother Michael said as he walked up from his house. 'Not much of a place here. Having troubles?" Brother Michael stopped when he stood near us, a little closer to the stranger and to the side. He didn't appear to react to the insult, which is what it was even disguised as an offer of help. I did not trust these people who showed weapons before they greeted someone, who insulted the people they were trying to help, who had how many others hiding behind dark glass. Brother Michael calmly said, "We do alright, with the help of the Lord Jesus

Christ. Has he sent you to help us?" The stranger turned toward the person in the car."Well God, damn, Caleb. We got us a bunch of Jesus freaks." They were both grinning, teeth showing in an almost snarl. "I kinda doubt God or anybody sent us, but we are here to offer help." "What kind of help?" Brother Michael asked. "Oh, well, we got electricity where we are, got a power plant by a dam running. Can't run lines all the way up here, but we could charge batteries and bring them up. Then we could help if you had a problem, supply information, solve problems that you couldn't figure out. We'll also know who your neighbors are and can get help to you quickly if you have a fire or a flood." Brother Michael said, "Jesus provides all the help we need." "Yeah?" the stranger asked. "What if you're attacked? How would He help you then? You don't have any weapons." "We don't need weapons. We have the might of the Lord on our side. One or two individuals may go to heaven, but the community will survive. And Jesus will punish those who cause us harm in His own way. We know that God cares for us. He has given us the fruit of the fields and the fish in the river. We do well. We truthfully would prefer to be left in peace." The stranger said, "Only one way you're going to have peace. I'll make it simple since you obviously don't have too much smarts. You're going to join our community, our coalition, or you're going to die." Brother Michael did not react to the insults and threats. Instead, he calmly asked, "And just what is this coalition you speak about?" "It's a coalition of neighbors coordinated by those in Conowingo, us, we who have the weapons and plane. You'll follow our laws and pay what we ask, plus trade with who we say, what we say, and when we say." Brother Michael looked down at the ground and shook his head. He quietly said, "We follow God's laws, what is written in the Bible. It is all the law a man needs. Jesus taught that those who live by greed, and not by honesty and hard work, would spend eternity in Hell. Is that what you want? There's still hope. You can ask for forgiveness and be saved." The stranger in the car stood up and shouted, "Jesus Christ, will you shut up about all that God stuff? God ain't going to help you now. No way." Brother Michael turned toward him and asked, "But how can you say that? Jesus gave his life for you and your friends. He gave His life so no sinner must truly die, praise Jesus. All you have to do is ask His forgiveness and you will be saved from the fiery pits of Hell. You don't need to do anything else to be saved. Then He will take care of you, and you won't need anyone else telling you what to do." I agreed with Brother Michael and hoped he would convince these people to accept Jesus, or leave. But instead of leaving, the driver aimed his gun at

Brother Michael. The other one said, "I'm tired of hearing how God is going to save me. You will do what we say when we say it, and pay us tribute when we collect it, about a quarter of what you grow in your case." Brother Michael said, "Tribute? The proper term is taxation, a realm of secular entities and not for the glory of God. You must give up your greedy ways and follow the Lord Jesus Christ or you will burn in Hell forever. Is that what you want?" I saw several others get out of the van holding large rifles. That distracted me so I did not see Brother Michael murdered, but I heard the gun shot, and I saw him crumple with blood on his neck. So did Sister Susan. She ran out of the house and across path to where Brother Michael lay on the ground, blood dripping from his head. She knelt next to him, her belly large with child preventing her from doing more. She screamed, "You killed him, you animal!" She looked at the stranger with hate in her eyes, a look I had not seen before. As she rose to her knees, another shot rang out. Sister Susan slumped to the ground. As First Elder, I was now in charge. As others ran over to see what caused the commotion, I said, "Now look. You just can't go killing people like that. It isn't God's way. Why don't you just leave? All we want is to be left alone to follow God's path." The lead stranger said, "Wouldn't have to kill anyone if you all would just cooperate." "How can we cooperate when you do not follow the teachings of Jesus?" I asked. A bright light flashed and a pain exploded in my head.

*** June I heard a shot, a gunshot. I'd heard them before outside clubs with Sanford and knew what it was immediately. No one had firecrackers or any other type of fireworks. It had to be a gun. I'd been tired lately, and sick in the morning. Cindy said I was probably pregnant, which would explain why I didn't have a period last month. Now I was in bed fighting the queasies that would only come in the first months of pregnancy. I wondered why the merciful God Bob talked about would make me suffer through the hot times all big and waddling. My morning nap disturbed, I rolled out of bed and walked slowly out toward a crowd at Celebration Square. Everyone in the village had gathered near one corner. I heard someone, I think it was Sister Susan, scream something about killing and animal, then I heard another shot. I hurried. When I got close I saw Susan and Michael on the ground with some blood on their bodies, but not much. Bob talked to some asshole with a gun. There were other strangers with guns spread out all over the place. Who were these people, and what did they think they were doing? I heard another shot. Bob slumped to his knees and fell forward. I ran. When I reached Bob, he lay on the ground with his nose in the dirt, the left side of his face and head gone. There was no doubt he was dead. My provider, my protector, my lover. Sure, I didn't really agree with what he thought or believed, but what the hell, he was my husband. I reacted. I growled, "Who's the mother fucker who did this? I'll kill you, you bastard." The stranger Bob had talked to, not the one who had shot him since the angle was wrong, chuckled, looked over his shoulder at the others, and said, "Oh, ho. We have a sinner in our midst. Why do you stay with these people if you're normal? Come along with us. We'll make ya feel good and give you a good life." I growled "Shut up, you asshole." I was in no mood to make friends and influence people at the time. I was pissed. They had shot my man. "Watch the name calling, bitch. We're the ones with the guns. You all will do as we say." Cyrus stepped forward and asked, "What is it you want us to do?" The wimp. "Now you're being more reasonable. You sow your seed and gather your harvest, whatever you planted, and later we'll come and collect our share. And if you give us any problems, this is what you'll get." The speaker shot Cyrus in the head.

No one said a thing then. It was like everyone in the village was in shock. Jake returned from the river just then. He looked at the bodies on the ground, and I could see the anger that raged just under control. The stranger said, "Good. It's about time you acted right, you stupid Jesus Freaks. We have other places to visit. Remember, we'll be back. Just as a reminder." He motioned to the storage barn and Michael's house, the largest in the village. Two others ran with gas cans to the buildings, doused them with gasoline, and lit them on fire. The conquerors climbed back into their car and van, turned into the square so they would face the opposite direction, and drove inland. Jake shook his fist as they disappeared over the hill. "We will see what God wants for them. Brother Jed, take Brother Gregory here and follow them. The Lord will lead you. Try to warn the village they approach. If that is not possible, be a witness to what happens. Suggest nothing. I believe our attackers will find they are not welcome this far north. Go! "Now for the rest of us. The supports and the grass of Brother Michael's house will burn, but it will not fall down. The barn is another matter. It is beyond redemption. Brother Luke, take one other in the truck and gather wood, large columns for the supports, six by six for the beams, rafters and metal plates for the roof, and planks and paint for the walls. You will find all we need at the National Guard storage facility on route 9 north of the refineries. The rest of us will clean up the Devil's works. "Sister June. I see you are alone. I am saddened at your loss. He was a good man. A good man. You may live with me as a working guest, doing your share as all women must, but not dealing with me as a wife, until God assigns you another man, or you may leave when a wanderer you fancy passes by." He shrugged. "More, we cannot do." No way was I sticking around here forever. I wanted revenge. I wanted to kill the person who had done this to Bob. But I had to wait until I was ready to travel. I'd have to find weapons and become proficient with them. Somehow, sometime, Conowingo would pay.

*** Copyright 2012 Attribution Non-commercial No-derivs You may share this work with anyone in any way with the following provisions. You must share the complete work, including the title and this notice. You may not make any changes. You may not use this work commercially or accept payment without the written permission of the Author. Any and all rights and credit are held by Brian W. Porter. ***

Also by Brian W. Porter You Cannot Run From Yourself The Discovery of Tonylobons The Defense of Tonylobons The Caterpillar Campaign Growing a Colony The Regional Life The Traveler Books or previews, and other short stories, essays, and poetry are available at http://www.scribd.com/Brian%20W%20Porter.

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