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Authors: Edwin Page

Blood Cult (10 page)

BOOK: Blood Cult
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I looked at her and was at a loss for words, the heat that had suddenly
risen within beginning to fade in response to the sight of her despair. The
tears came quick and fast as I began to sob, the shock of what we’d witnessed
hitting home with nauseating force.

I vomited to the side, arms cradling my stomach as I doubled over. Bile
dripped from my mouth as I retched, my stomach quickly emptied after not having
eaten since lunchtime the previous day.

‘Are you okay, Mommy?’ The question was softly spoken.

I spat to clear the foul taste from my mouth and nodded. ‘I’ll be fine, Honey,’
I replied, turning my head to her as I held my stomach, waves of sickness still
rising.

‘We need to go,’ I stated, looking past her to Bob.

‘Let’s give Tyreese a little longer,’ he replied.

‘We barely know him.’

‘I owe him, Leah,’ he insisted. ‘We’re not going to abandon him out
here.’

‘You want to stay in sight of what’s up there?’ I asked. ‘You want out
daughter to see that?’

‘We could wait down here. He’ll see the car.’

I shook my head. ‘We need to leave and we need to go home.’

‘Home!’

‘Yes,’ I replied firmly. ‘It’s not safe out here and I’m not willing to
risk heading to another border crossing only to find it’s us in the path of the
missiles.’ I straightened, taking a couple of deep breaths.

‘We can’t survive back there.’

‘How can you be so sure we’ll survive out here?’ I countered.

‘Leah, we need to get somewhere safe and beyond the reach of the
fallout.’

I glanced up. ‘Beyond the reach?’ I raised my eyebrows as I looked back
at him.

‘Are you guys okay?’

We all turned to the sound of Tyreese’s voice, finding him walking down
the embankment towards us.

‘What happened to you?’ asked Bob.

‘I saw that couple with the station wagon stranded on the side of the
road and stopped to pick them up, after all, we’re all headed to the same place
and I had plenty of room in the Hyundai.

‘They climbed in the back and then the guy dived forward and grabbed my
gun from the passenger seat, the shotgun riding shotgun. They forced me out of
the car and then left me at the side of the highway.’

‘At least you’re okay.’

‘Christmas was in the passenger footwell,’ he said, frown deepening as he
glanced up towards the highway.

‘Christmas?’ asked Chrissie.

‘My tabby.’

She turned to me questioningly.

‘His cat,’ I explained.

‘You’ve obviously seen what the air cavalry did,’ said Bob, nodding
towards the interstate.

Tyreese gave a nod. ‘I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with
my own eyes.’

‘We’re going back to Burlington,’ I announced, Bob turning to me with a
look of disapproval.

‘We’re discussing what to do next,’ he corrected.

‘I think we should go home,’ stated Chrissie.

‘That’s two votes to one,’ I stated. ‘Looks like you’re the decider,’ I
added, looking up at Tyreese.

He pondered, turning back to the highway.

‘I think we should try a different crossing,’ said Bob in the hope of
getting agreement.

‘With all these people heading north there’s likely to be less population
and a lot of empty houses.’

‘And?’ Bob looked up at him in temporary confusion.

‘And that means there’s less risk from other people and more places to
search for food that may have been left behind in the rush to leave. It also
means there may be stores, cafes, even restaurants which still have plenty of
stock that hasn’t been looted.’

Bob’s expression changed as he thought about what Tyreese had said. ‘You
know what I’m like when it comes to admitting when I’m wrong,’ he stated as he
turned to me. ‘Well, I might have been.’

‘My place is pretty secure,’ said Tyreese. ‘I got additional locks put on
the doors and it would take more than a brick to break the windows.’

I looked up at him in puzzlement.

‘I’m a software designer,’ he revealed. ‘There’s some very expensive
computer equipment inside. There’s also a new game I was developing that’d be
worth a fortune to Snowstorm’s competitors,’ he stated. ‘Not that it’s worth a
cent now.’

‘We’re not going to our house?’ Chrissie looked at me in concern.

‘It’ll only be just across the road, you can pop over if there’s anything
you want.’

‘But only with one of us accompanying you,’ added Bob as he straightened.
‘I’m going to need to rearrange inside the car before we can set off.’ He
looked up the embankment as vehicles began to move along the off ramp once again
now that the way north was permanently blocked.

‘I’ll give you a hand,’ stated Tyreese.

They walked up the slope towards the Falcon and I noted a few bedraggled
survivors making their way in our direction from where the helicopters had
struck. ‘You’d better hurry,’ I called after them, pointing at the people when
Bob looked back over his shoulder.

He nodded and quickened his pace, reaching the car and ducking into the
rear in order to reorganise the bags, boxes and cases that were stowed behind
my seat. ‘This can go in the passenger footwell,’ he stated, handing out the black
carryall to Tyreese.

‘Why can’t we go back to our house?’ asked Chrissie.

I looked at her and stroked her cheek. ‘We need to keep you safe.’

‘We can be safe at ours.’

‘Maybe, but not as safe as we’ll be in Tyreese’s house. Think of it as an
adventure, a chance to explore.’

‘But it’s only across the street.’

‘I’ve got TV,’ Tyreese called down to us, having heard Chrissie’s words.

‘Really?’ she asked.

He nodded. ‘There’s solar panels on the roof at the back of the house.
I’ve also got a pretty decent DVD collection.’

‘I bet it’s not as good as Daddy’s,’ she responded.

Tyreese looked into the car as Bob moved a couple of carrier bags, placing
them onto the small rear shelf. ‘How may have you got?’

‘Not far shy of a thousand,’ replied Bob.

Tyreese nodded, his expression showing that he was mildly impressed.

‘Hand over the keys.’ The demand was edged with desperation.

I looked to the right. A man was standing ten yards away from the hood on
the far side of the Falcon. He had a rifle pointed at Tyreese’s chest, blood
dripping down his forehead from a deep gash and body trembling slightly.

‘This ain’t my car,’ stated Tyreese as he dropped the carryall and slowly
raised his hands. He took a step back, Bob falling still as he continued to
lean in through the rear passenger door.

‘You, inside, get out here and give me the keys.’

Bob slowly exited the car.

‘Don’t look, Chrissie,’ I whispered, pulling her towards me.

‘But what’s going to happen to Daddy?’

‘Give me the keys,’ demanded the man again, taking a step closer and aiming
the rifle at Bob’s head from the far side of the Falcon.

I drew Chrissie to my chest and held her tight. My gaze rested on the pistol
tucked into the back of Bob’s belt, his right hand slowly moving towards it and
my pulse quickening.

‘I’m not going to give you the keys,’ stated Bob, his voice holding
steady.

‘This ain’t a fucking toy,’ said the man, nodding the end of the rifle.

Bob drew and pointed the handgun over the top of the car. ‘Neither is
this.’

Tyreese backed further away as the two men stared at each other.

‘How good a shot are you?’ asked Bob. ‘Because I can tell you now, I
never miss.’

The man blinked blood from his left eye as it continued to seep from the
wound, some becoming matted in the dark brown hair at the side of his head. ‘I ain’t
gonna ask you again.’

‘It would be wasted breath if you did,’ responded Bob, the gun unwavering
in his hand. ‘Now, lower the rifle and back away.’

‘I need your car,’ said the man. ‘My wife, she’s back there and she’s
badly hurt,’ he added, his tone gaining a pleading tone.

Bob glanced along the road.

A single shot rang out, the rifle bucking slightly in the man’s grasp.

17

I stood at the
head of the aisle waiting for Shane to give me the signal, regularly glancing
over to the vestry door. The Penguins, John and Fran, were standing at the end
of the pews as jugs of water were passed from person to person and they filled
their plastic cups. Reverend Peters and the rest of his small band of
supporters had been preparing sandwiches for the fourth sitting in the Vestry,
but I knew that’s not what they’d be doing now, not by a long shot.

I glanced at Dodge, who was already positioned at the main doors opposite
me. I was filled with excitement. There was no nervousness. I knew I was doing
God’s Will and there wasn’t even a shred of doubt. Though the reaction of the
congregation was bound to be initially hostile, I simply knew one hundred
percent that somehow it would all work out. It was meant to be.

I toyed with the capsules of liquid morphine in my pocket, needing to
fidget as I waited. Turning to the Vestry door, I found Shane looking out
through a thin gap. He nodded and I returned the gesture.

‘John, Fran, the Reverend has asked for your to help bring the sandwiches
out,’ I stated as the Vestry door was quickly closed.

They looked over at me.

‘Why didn’t you say when you first came out here?’ asked John.

‘You should have told us straight away,’ added Fran.

‘I was a little distracted.’

They frowned, John glancing at the jug of water he’d been taking to the
end of each pew in turn, still those at the back waiting to fill their cups.
‘You’ll have to pass it back,’ he called to the woman who was currently
pouring.

She nodded her response and John began to lead his wife towards me. They
passed without even giving me a glance. If they had maybe they’d have seen the
grin I was trying to hide or the glimmer in my eyes that would have warned them
that everything wasn’t as it seemed.

I looked along the aisle and gave a nod. Dodge took hold of the left-hand
handle and slipped out of the church.

Turning, I watched The Penguins waddle up to the vestry door. Their steps
faltered as John opened it and I imagined the look on their faces when they set
eyes on the scene within.

I couldn’t hide my grin any longer and it broadened to epic proportions
as I watched them enter, Fran looking back over her shoulder with a worried
expression, her eyes praying for someone to notice what was happening. No one
did.

I scanned the people seated upon the pews in readiness for the fourth
breakfast sitting. Some were starting to show signs of the sickness they were
feeling. Many were complaining of headaches, aching muscles, dizziness and
nausea. Things would only get worse, but there was still time enough to bring
judgement to those north that had escaped the direct effects of the bomb.

Walking to the pulpit, I climbed up and looked at the wooden offering
bowl that I’d left on the lectern in readiness. The chalice rested on the table
down to the right, along with the bottles of wine, glasses and unleavened bread,
supposedly ready for Peters to conduct the final communion of the morning
before everyone readied themselves for the journey north.

The doors opened on the far side and people began to file in, those
already seated turning in surprise at the unexpected disturbance. If they were
surprised by that, they were going to be blown away by what was to come.

I stifled a laugh as the newcomers found seats, the lines of pews soon
becoming packed and the stragglers having to stand at the back. Dodge followed
to the rear, holding up his thumb before closing and locking the doors.

The interior was filled with confused murmuring as people looked to me
and wondered what was happening. I cleared my throat, readying myself to give
my first sermon.

‘We are gathered here today to give praise to the Lord,’ I began. ‘I have
received His guidance and it is this that I wish to share with you today, for I
know how to get through this.’

‘Where’s Reverend Peters?’ asked Old Bud Turney from the front row.

‘Today many of you have taken Holy Communion,’ I continued, ignoring the
question. ‘You have drunk the blood of Christ in order to purify your souls.’

I looked out across the congregation. ‘I tell you now that the Lord has
shown me that to purify your bodies you must drink the blood of those
unaffected by the bomb.’

Shane opened the vestry door right on cue. He, David and Wade led out six
people, bags over their heads and hands tied behind their backs. The Reverend’s
vestments had been removed and replaced with a vest and black slacks for fear
that the sight of him being let out in his robes of status would be too much
for some in the audience to stomach.

They were brought to a stop in a line before the altar, facing the
congregation. With small kicks to the backs of their legs, they were brought to
their knees on the flagstones, a couple of moans of pain arising from behind
the gags tied about their hidden mouths. Shane and the Chang brothers stood behind
the bagged captives, pistols in their hands as a murmur filled the interior of
the church.

‘These people before you have not been affected by the fallout. They are
pure, and their purity can be transferred to you,’ I stated confidently.

‘They will give the greatest sacrifice for the greater good, just as
Christ did. They will spill their blood in order that we can once more become
pure.’

A few heads shook amidst the crowd and there were grumbles of
disagreement.

With my stomach churning with excitement, I took up the offering bowl and
stepped down from the pulpit. I walked to stand beside the first in the line,
Reverend Peters himself.

‘God has shown me the way with signs and omens,’ I stated. ‘He is with me
and I shall prove it to you all.’

Bending, I placed the bowl on the floor before the Reverend. I slid a
carving knife from the back of my board shorts as I moved to stand behind the
kneeling old man, a couple of gasps rising to the eaves.

Taking hold of his thinning hair through the bag, I pushed him forward so
that his neck was exposed over the bowl. ‘This is God’s Will,’ I stated.

The knife was quickly drawn across the Reverend’s throat. Blood spurted
and splattered into the wooden bowl. There was a dull thud as one of the women
fainted. A kid began to cry as parents drew their children close and turned
them away from the sight before the altar.

The splattering became thick splashing as the bowl filled and I felt the
weight of Reverend Peters’ body increase, his life slipping away in the final
pulses of his heart, which betrayed him in the last, pumping the blood of his
existence from the gash.

The people gathered in the church watched in stunned silence as the flow
became no more than drips. I moved the body aside and released it. Peters’
corpse fell, his skull cracking on the flagstones within the concealment of the
bag. Wiping the blade on his vest, I tucked it back into my shorts and picked
up the offering bowl before straightening.

Making sure to act while the congregation’s horror and surprise kept them
frozen in place, I strode to the table. I glanced at the contents of the
chalice as I took it in my left hand, having already slipped morphine into its
confines unnoticed. I made a show of pouring some of the blood into the golden
cup and then lifted it on high.

‘Who’ll be the first to drink? Who’ll give his sacrifice meaning?’ I
called, briefly glancing at the Reverend’s body.

My words echoed about the interior. No one moved, the gentle sobbing of
children the only sound.

‘Can’t any of you feel the presence of God? He watches. He waits for you
to show your faith. This is His grand design. This is part of His plan. It is
the divine cure that will take away your pain.’

Still no one made a move, all eyes fixed upon me as I stood with the
goblet raised.

‘HAVE YOU NO FAITH?’ I shouted.

A hand tentatively rose into the air towards the rear on the left-hand
side, another following suit on the right.

‘Cheryl Matthews. Thank you,’ I stated, smiling at the short elderly lady
who was a regular at the church as she sat hunched with a grey shawl over her
shoulders, the signs of her sickness clear in the hollows of her eyes and the
paleness of her excessively wrinkled face.

I turned to the balding old man on the right. I didn’t recognise him, but
noted his hand was trembling slightly as he continued to hold it in the air.
‘And your name is?’

‘Mark Boase,’ he replied, shifting within the large bomber jacket he was
wearing, the collar up and clearly feeling the chill thanks to his declining
health.

I nodded. ‘Cheryl and Mark, come on down,’ I called, moving to the head
of the aisle as I lowered the chalice.

‘You’ve shown your faith in the Lord and He is pleased. Now come and take
your reward, for He will take away your pain and His grace will settle within
you.’

They made their separate ways along their pews, people watching them with
a mixture of surprise and disgust. Cheryl stumbled as she neared the end, the
weakness of her condition clear to see, something for which I was thankful. The
change that would be brought about by the morphine would be all the more noticeable.
Again, God was at work and making sure His judgement came to fruition.

‘Dodge, can you give Mrs Matthews a hand,’ I called.

He moved from the door as she reached the end of her pew. Taking her arm,
he slowly led her up the aisle behind Mark as I subtly swirled the thickening
contents of the goblet to make sure the drug was mixed in.

Mark came to a stop before me, putting his hand to his temple and looking
like he may vomit. Dodge brought Cheryl to a stop beside him as the
congregation watched. She took deep breaths and put out her hand to lean on the
end of the front pew.

‘You can all see how they suffer. Now see the glory of the Lord.’

I handed the cup to Cheryl and she took it in trembling hands, cradling
it as she slowly raised it to her lips. A look of distaste pinched her rounded
face and deepened her mass of wrinkles as she caught the iron smell of the
blood.

‘Drink and be purified by the Lord,’ I instructed.

She tipped the cup and drank some of the blood within, eyes closing as
she did so.

‘A little more,’ I said as she went to hand the chalice to Mark.

She looked at me for a moment and then drank down another small mouthful,
quickly passing it over as she fought to keep it down. I held her gaze and
smiled, nodding my approval as Mark supped.

‘You will soon both feel the healing power of God and you’ll know He is
truly the Almighty,’ I announced.

‘Go sit in the choir seats,’ I said quietly, pointing at the rows of
narrow seating to either side of the church beyond the altar. ‘It will not be
long until you feel the blessed healing power of the Lord.’

Dodge helped Cheryl past the line of kneeling prisoners and the altar,
taking her to the long bench on the right with Mark following behind, his steps
unsteady. I turned my attention back to those arrayed before me, holding the
cup high once again.

‘Will no one else taste His bounty?’

‘You’re sick,’ mumbled a man to the left of the front pews.

I turned to him. ‘No, I’m not sick, and that’s the point. God watches
over me and guides my actions. You are the one who is sick, my friend, and if
you would only drink from this grail you would find that sickness lifting.’

‘I wouldn’t drink from it even if one of your goons put a gun to my
head,’ he responded, glancing at the three teens standing behind the captives
before turning his disdainful gaze back to me.

He slowly rose to his feet. ‘I’m leaving. This is not the work of the
Lord, but of the Devil himself.’

‘The door is locked,’ I stated flatly.

He glanced over his shoulder at the main doors and then his gaze turned
to the vestry door beyond the pulpit. He quickly strode towards it, passing
around the back of the altar.

Shane looked at me questioningly, adjusting the grip on his gun.

I shook my head.

The man reached the door. Opening it, he paused and turned. ‘This man,’
he said, pointing over at me, ‘is possessed by the Devil and his words are
poison. You should all leave before they taint your souls.’

He looked out at the congregation for a moment and then left, leaving the
door open behind him as an invitation for others to follow. Glances and hushed
words were shared in his wake, a few people beginning to rise, those with
children amongst them. The members who were feeling the effects of the
radiation the most remained in station, wanting to see what would happen to
Cheryl and Mark, looking over at them as they remained seated on the choir
bench.

‘People, listen to me. What is a couple more minutes? My words will be
shown to be true. God’s hand will be seen to be in play and you will know He
guides me,’ I called, raising my hands in the hope of getting their attention,
the chalice and bowl still held tightly.

Some paused, pondering whether they should wait, but others began to file
into the aisle, making their way towards me in order to leave via the vestry.
They kept their eyes averted as they moved by the body of the Reverend, most
unaware that it was indeed Peters lying dead before them.

‘Wait!’ called Mark as the first of the faithless reached the vestry
door.

Everyone without exception turned to him as he got to his feet, the
tightness which had been evident in his expression having largely dropped away.
‘He’s right,’ he said with amazement, eyes taking on a brightness that had not
been there before.

Cheryl nodded her agreement. ‘I feel it too,’ she agreed with a nod, staying
seated. ‘My headache has gone and my sickness is subsiding.’

‘I feel almost normal,’ said Mark, walking over from the bench on legs
that had regained their stability.

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