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Authors: Edwin Page

Blood Cult (2 page)

BOOK: Blood Cult
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3

I couldn’t sleep.
The bedroom light had been left on at Chrissie’s request. She was snuggled
between us, snoring gently with a serene expression upon her face that gave no
hint of the tears that had dampened her cheeks after we’d explained what had
happened as best we could.

I glanced over at Bob, a stray strand of Chrissie’s hair threatening to
make me sneeze as it tickled my nose. I resisted the urge, brushing my face
with my palm before looking at the back of my husband’s head, wishing to be in
his arms.

Sirens continued to rise and fall. The sound of distant gunshots
occasionally joined them and each time my shoulders stiffened in response, glad
that we lived in a relatively peaceful suburb of the town.

Looking to the bedside clock, I found that it was just after midnight.

‘Leah?’ The word was a whispered breath.

I turned to find Bob staring at me over our daughter’s head, his
expression haunted. Glancing down at her face to check she hadn’t been
disturbed, I nodded in response.

‘I can’t sleep,’ he stated.

‘Neither can I.’

‘I keep thinking about Mum and Dad.’

‘I’m sure they’re fine.’ The words held no conviction and I could feel the
muscles about my eyes constrict, revealing the lie. Bob’s parents lived in Washington
D.C. and I was pretty certain it would have been one of the first places to
get hit.

His frown deepened and he sighed. ‘I haven’t felt like a smoke in years,
but I could sure do with one now,’ he admitted, licking his lips.

I considered giving my permission, telling him that these were
extenuating circumstances and he could get a packet if that’s what he really
wanted, but held my tongue.

The light flickered. We both looked up at the suede-effect shade hiding
the bulb as it regained its brightness. More gunfire erupted, this time closer
than before.

‘That sounds like an automatic,’ stated Bob.

‘Do you think we’re safe here?’ I asked, not sure that I really wanted to
hear the answer.

He held my gaze. ‘I don’t know,’ he conceded after a moment, ‘but where
else would we go?’

His reply echoed my own thoughts. I’d flicked through my mental address
book in the hope of thinking of somewhere we could go, somewhere safe that
would offer our greatest chance of survival, but nowhere had come to mind.
Without any idea of what was left beyond the borders of Burlington, there could
be no firm plan beyond staying put for the time being.

‘Thank God we did the weekly shop on Monday,’ I stated, resting my head
and staring at the ceiling, the stock of food meaning we wouldn’t have to leave
the house for at least a few days.

The bulb flickered again and drew my gaze. The room was suddenly plunged
into utter darkness, the streetlights failing at the same time.

‘Looks like the grid’s gone down,’ stated Bob in the pitch.

I turned to the sound of his voice, but could see absolutely nothing. ‘Do
you think it’ll come back on?’ I asked, fear evident in my tone.

There was a slight pause before he answered.

‘I don’t know.’ There was regret in his voice. He wanted to offer
reassurance, wanted to know the answers. Bob was the kind of man that liked to
feel in control and suddenly that illusion had been shattered, leaving him
floundering as he tried to adjust to the uncertainty of the new situation. He
wasn’t letting on, but I’d seen it in his eyes after we’d spoken to Chrissie.
His words had affected him as much as they had our daughter. It was as if to
say them aloud had somehow confirmed the reality of what had happened, made it
real.

The stark flash of police lights briefly lit the room’s interior as the
roar of a speeding engine sounded from the street outside. Chrissie groaned in
her sleep and her left arm flopped onto my midriff. I lay in the darkness with
eyes open and thoughts circling, unable to settle.

The idea that tomorrow wouldn’t be just another day, that there would
never be another day like those that had gone before, was virtually impossible
to comprehend. It was unreal. No matter how hard I tried to grasp it, it eluded
me.

I don’t know how long I lay there trying to come to terms with what had
happened, but I do know that weariness eventually overcame me. When I woke the
room was filled with diffused sunlight. I lay for a few moments and then my
brow creased and I turned my head on the pale pillow. The bed beside me was
empty.

I looked to the window on the far side, cream curtains hiding the view.
There was no noise. Or rather, there was no evidence of human noise. The sound
of traffic that usually arose from the nearby highway was gone. The birdsong
was striking and I couldn’t recall the last time I’d noticed it. It was so
clear and present, unfettered by the rumble of human activity.

The sound of Chrissie’s laughter arose from downstairs. I stared at the
door beyond the foot of the bed for a moment and then sat up, swinging my legs
over the side. I bunched my toes in the thick carpet, something I’d developed
as a habit to reduce pre-work stress after watching
Die Hard
with Bob,
John McClane doing the same to reduce the stress of flying.

I frowned as I thought about the report that needed finishing by the end
of the week. Catching myself, the reality of what had happened the day before
rushed in.

I looked to my reflection in the full-length mirror on the wardrobe door
before me and shook my head. ‘At least that’s one good thing about the end of
the world,’ I stated with a frown, pushing all thoughts of the financial report
from my mind despite the nagging feeling that I ought to get it done.

Standing, I briefly considered dressing, but ended up padding out of the
room in my white nightie, hem just below the knee. I went downstairs and headed
into the kitchen-diner. Bob was frying eggs on the far side of the room as
Chrissie tucked into a bowl of Frosted Flakes while sitting at the table.

‘You just missed Dad doing his Incredible Hulk impression,’ said Chrissie
as she looked over with a smile, spoon raised halfway to her mouth.

I stared at her as I struggled to take in the scene of apparent
normality.

‘You know, the one when grits his teeth and makes the veins in his neck
pop out, his face going all red,’ she expanded, mistaking my look of confusion
for a lack of comprehension.

I quickly turned and left the room, walking along the hall and entering
the lounge.

‘What’s wrong with Mommy?’ I heard her ask as I took deep breaths,
feeling a little sick.

‘You eat your breakfast. I’ll go check on her,’ replied Bob.

I heard his footsteps drawing closer in the hush and felt him enter
behind me.

‘Is everything okay?’ he asked, moving round to stand in front of me and
searching my gaze as I bowed my head.

‘I can’t just pretend everything’s fine,’ I said.

‘No one’s asked you to,’ he replied, sounding puzzled by my response.

I raised my eyes to his. ‘How can you go on like nothing’s happened?’

‘I can’t,’ he replied, ‘but I can go on like it shouldn’t change who we
are or how we act as a family.’ His words were steady and firm, like his gaze.
‘We need something to hold on to, and that something is what we share together.
It’s each other.’

I looked into his eyes for a few moments and I nodded.

‘There’s no traffic noise,’ I observed, glancing out of the front window.
‘Even the sirens have fallen silent.’

‘Yeah,’ he said with a nod, following my gaze, ‘I haven’t worked out if
that’s a good thing or bad thing yet.’ He turned back to me. ‘Come on,’ he
said, taking hold of my hand. ‘Come and have some eggs. I’ve done them just the
way you like them. No icky stuff.’ He smiled softly.

I couldn’t help but return the gesture thanks to his use of the
description I’d used the first time he’d cooked me eggs. ‘Okay.’

He leant forward and we kissed, the touch making my lips tingle. Bob then
led me back into the kitchen, Chrissie looking up from the screen of her
mobile.

‘I can’t get any reception,’ she commented. ‘Is it okay if I go call for
Rachel?’

Our smiles faded, hands parting as I went over and seated myself beside
her, trying to find the right words to explain that she was confined to the
house for her own safety without scaring her.

4

I helped take
food to those in the church. Peters had asked the congregation to return to
their homes and bring whatever they could spare. Some were unwilling to leave,
filled with fear after the night of sirens and gunshots. The southern horizon
was ablaze, and not with the rising sun. There was a hellfire glow in the
distance and the sky above was black with smoke. The past was being seared
away, the sins of humanity being cauterized.

Those that did venture out brought back all they could, having no intention
to return to the isolation of their homes. I could see it; the neediness of
those gathered within the church. They needed the company and the strange sense
of community that was beginning to take shape. There was safety in numbers, or
so they thought.

A local work crew were boarding up the broken windows as their families
sat amongst the crowded pews. More people were arriving, crowding in. There was
little room left and I had to wade through those seated on the cold stone floor
in order to hand out plastic cups and bowls that had been retrieved by the
owner of ‘Time to Party.’ How fucking apt.

The hammering and drilling of the workmen echoed loudly around the
confines, subduing conversation as others moves through the masses with a
choice of breakfast cereals and cartons of milk. Peters had called for
volunteers at the same time as asking for people to fetch food, and now they
were set to work on the first food service of our time in the church.

People nodded their thanks when I handed them their plastic spoons, but
few spoke to me. Most recognised me. I knew their faces. Nearly thirty years
walking the streets with my board had made me a familiar face in those parts.
Maybe they didn’t want to admit that I was right or maybe it was the gleam in
my eyes that caused them to look away when I was near.

One thing I remember clearly about that morning was the light in the
stained glass windows along the northern side of the building. There was one
picture in particular that kept catching my eye, though I didn’t realise its
significance until later. It was a picture of St Michael with his sword in one
hand and the cup of Christ in the other. The glow in the eastern sky was
captured in the gold of the cup, making it gleam. I’d never seen it glow like
that before. It never had. The stained glass on the opposite side of the church
had filtered the light, but now that it was gone, the grail was illuminated,
the work crew as yet to board up the window opposite.

Returning to the vestry, I found Reverend Peters looking flustered as he
stared at the diminishing piles of plastic cups and bowls.

‘There’s not enough,’ he stated, glancing at me as a young couple
flattened the cereal boxes that had been emptied during their rounds and took
up two more from a large table in the middle of the long room that was cluttered
with a disorganised collection of foodstuffs.

‘We should send some people out to the store and take what we need,’ I
stated, glancing at my sandwich board as it rested against the far wall beside
the washroom door.

He turned to me. ‘Steal it?’

‘There is no stealing anymore. There is only survival.’

He looked at me with eyebrows raised. ‘After everything you’ve said to me
in the past about the sins of this society, you’re going to steal.’

I shook my head. ‘Don’t you understand what’s fucking happened?’

‘Language,’ he scolded.

‘Life as we know it is over,’ I continued, ignoring his interruption and
my words taking on a zealous energy. ‘Money is meaningless. There’ll be no more
weekly visits to the grocery store, no more shopping online for shit you don’t
need and no more divide between the rich and poor. The playing field has been
levelled. The old world is gone. It’s all been blown away. These are the last
days of man. This is the fucking end. The shit has well and truly hit the fan
and this time it’s gonna stick.’

He stared at me, the heat of my words having stunned him into silence.

‘I’ll take a group to the store and come back with supplies,’ I said with
a softer tone after a few moments, an elderly woman called Mrs Jacobs shuffling
in with a pile of dirty bowls in her withered hands.

‘But…’

‘There’s no but,’ I said, interrupting his intended protest. ‘If we don’t
get there soon looters will clear everything from the shelves. Once the reality
of what’s happened sinks in, everyone will be trying to get their hands on
whatever they can in order to survive. We’ve got to make sure we get our hands
on it first.’

I could see he was continuing to struggle with what I’d said. The truth
of our situation was like a second blast from the bomb. It was a mental
shockwave, blowing away everything that had been taken for granted, blasting
the old way of life into fucking pieces and showing it for the house built on
sand that it was.

Before he could voice anymore concerns, I turned and left the vestry.
Going to the pulpit, I mounted the steps and stood at the lectern. It was the
first time I’d ever stood there, on high, looking out over the gathered faces.
I was filled with a sense of authority and the presence of God Himself. I could
feel His guiding hand. It was no accident that I found myself there. I felt at
home. It was where I belonged.

I heard the vestry door open and turned to find Peters looking at me in
surprise, clearly not having expected me to take up his position, but rather to
address everyone from before the altar. I held his gaze for a moment, a
challenge in my eyes. He lowered his gaze and stared at the floor.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ I began, turning back to the congregation. ‘I’m
asking for volunteers for a food run. We’re going to the local store to stock
up on supplies and your help would be appreciated. Anyone who has transport,
but does not intend to come, please make your vehicle available for the greater
good. Someone will be passing around shortly to collect all keys.’

The people glanced at each other and there was a round of uneasy
mumbling.

‘This is survival,’ I stated loudly, banging my fist upon the lectern.

The church fell silent, the whisper of my words echoing in the eaves as
all eyes became fixed on me, the workmen at the windows falling still.

‘Life as we knew it is over. If you want to survive, you listen to me,’ I
said, looking out at them with a firm gaze, seeing the fear in their
expressions as they tried to adjust and cope with the unexpected.

‘Most of you have seen me on the streets of this town. God revealed the
truth to me. I knew this time would come and I know what we need to do. I have
been waiting for a long time. I am prepared.

‘The Lord has brought you all together. You heard His call. Now hear my
voice, for it is His voice. He speaks through me.’

Peters moved to the rear of the pulpit. ‘Come down from there,’ he said
in a whisper. ‘That is not your place.’

‘I am the Voice of God,’ I declared loudly, ignoring his words.

‘You’re unhinged,’ said John from amidst the pews on my right.

‘Let Reverend Peters speak,’ said Fran as she sat beside her bloated
husband.

Peters rose onto the first step, expecting me to give up the position.

‘Reverend Peters is unfit to lead you.’

‘We don’t want leadership, we want spiritual guidance,’ said a man I
didn’t recognise to the left, smartly dressed in a dark suit and looking for
all the world like he should be on Wall Street selling the world short.

‘The people have spoken,’ said Peters with growing confidence. ‘Now step
down and let me soothe the disquiet you have caused.’

‘Do any of you realise what’s fucking coming?’ I said angrily.

‘Let Peters speak,’ called Mrs Jacobs.

‘YOU’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!’ I boomed, my words magnified by the interior
of the church and echoing like thunder.

There was stunned silence.

A couple of the younger children began to cry, their parents attempting
to comfort them. Peters took hold of my sleeve, but I yanked it from his feeble
grasp.

‘This is your descent into Hell,’ I said with firm conviction. ‘This is
judgement, people. This is God saying, “ENOUGH!”’

A number of the people present visibly jumped as I yelled the last word.

‘Do you want to know what’s coming? Headaches, dizziness, bleeding gums,
hair loss, fatigue and vomiting. You’re all going to wish you’d died in the
blast before the end.’

‘That’s enough, Clark,’ stated Peters from behind me.

‘It’s not nearly enough,’ I snapped over my shoulder. ‘This is the end of
days,’ I announced to the congregation, ‘and I am the mouthpiece of God.’

The Reverend tried to take hold of me once again and I turned, shoving
him violently backward. He tripped, falling to the floor with a look of shock
on his gaunt face as he stared up at me.

‘If you want to get through this with as little pain and suffering as
possible, then you’ll listen to me. I’ve been expecting this for many years and
know all there is to know about what’s going to happen,’ I said to the crowd,
my voice lower, more reassuring. ‘I can see you through to the end.’

A few looks were shared amongst those crammed upon the pews and in the
aisles. The children began to quiet and I could hear Peters getting to his feet
behind me.

‘I know what to do to ease your passing.’

‘Who says we’re going to pass? We might survive,’ called Bud as he sat to
the rear.

I shook my head and made a show of taking a deep, sorrowful breath. ‘No,’
I stated with firmness. ‘We’re too close to the blast to survive. Radiation poisoning
is sure to follow and there’s no escaping it.’

‘We could get away,’ said a woman in the middle of the ranks to the left.

‘Where to?’ I asked pointedly. ‘If New York has been hit then you can bet
your bottom dollar that it’s not the only place.’

‘One station was saying that there’s been strikes all along the eastern
seaboard,’ nodded an elderly gent in the front row, glancing back at the woman
over his shoulder.

‘Then we go west,’ she said, her tone containing a pleading edge, as if
she needed to hear that there was somewhere we could run to, some way of
avoiding the distress of what was to come.

‘There is no getting away from this,’ I stated as Peters lingered behind
the pulpit, unsure what he should do. ‘It may even be too late to leave, even
if there were somewhere to go.’

‘Too late?’ said a mother, her eyes wide as she held her young daughter
at her side protectively.

I gave another nod. ‘Are any of you starting to feel achy?’

There were a few worried looks and nods, mainly among the elderly.

‘It’s already starting. I can ease it. God has been preparing me for this
and I stand ready.’

‘You’re just a street-corner bum,’ said the man in the suit. ‘What
happened, saw one too many of your buddies die face down in the desert or lost
all your money in the crash of o-eight and then found God? Who the hell are you
that we should take any damn notice of what you say?’

‘He was a member of an eighties rock band,’ responded John, the Reverend
clearly having shared what I’d told him in confidence. ‘Found God while playing
a gig in New Jersey.’

‘New Jersey’s the last place God would be,’ added Fran.

‘That’s right, God spoke to me. He chose me. Now His choice will bare
fruit. I know everything there is to know about this,’ I said, glancing out of
the windows yet to be boarded up. ‘You want to suffer? Go ahead, put your faith
in the Reverend. You want to have your suffering eased? Then put your faith in
me just like the Good Lord has.’

There was a watchful hush. People continued to stare at me for a while as
they took in my words and Peters loitered behind me, feeling the change of mood
within the church. Mumbling slowly grew in volume and people turned to one
another and began to discuss what I’d said. The tide was clearly turning in my
favour.

The Reverend suddenly moved forward beside the pulpit. ‘People! People,
listen to me,’ he said, raising his gangly arms to get their attention as he
stood before them. ‘If we remain strong for each other we can get through
this.’

‘See!’ I exclaimed, pointing down at him as he stood to my left. ‘He’s totally
oblivious to the truth. He thinks we can all join hands and sing “Kumbaya” and
everything will be all right,’ I scoffed.

‘Don’t listen to him. I am the one ordained by the church. I am the one
who speaks for the Lord in this house.’

‘You speak for nothing but ignorance,’ I responded as the congregation
watched the interaction intently. I knew that if I could undermine him enough
then the majority of those in the church would follow me.

‘What should we do now then, Reverend? What’s our next move?’ I looked at
him with my brows raised expectantly.

‘Um...’ He struggled to find an answer, a struggle that was clear for all
to see.

‘See, he doesn’t know,’ I stated to the congregation. ‘I know what action
we must take and I also know that now is a time for decisive leadership.’

‘Let the Reverend speak,’ stated John.

‘Yes, let him speak,’ concurred Fran.

‘Okay, let’s hear what he has to say,’ I said, turning to him once again.
‘Reverend, you’ve had a few moments to think about it. What should we do next?’

He looked out at the gathered faces which were turned to him expectantly.
‘I don’t know,’ he conceded, shoulders sagging. ‘All I know is that we should
pray to the Lord for forgiveness and hope His grace will shine upon us.’

‘What about food, water, medication?’ I asked.

He looked to the flagstones at his feet. ‘I haven’t any idea where to
start.’

‘Then let me make a proposal,’ I stated, turning back to the huddled
masses. ‘I will take charge…’

There were a few grumbles and shaking heads.

‘…But Reverend Peters will continue to lead you in prayer and take the
sermons.’ I looked to the congregation, knowing that my concession was likely
to win over at least some of those who were dubious.

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