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Authors: Edwin Page

Blood Cult (7 page)

BOOK: Blood Cult
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‘What are you thinking about?’ asked Bob.

I looked into his eyes. ‘We’ll be okay, won’t we?’

‘I think there’s a good chance,’ he said with a nod. ‘Especially now.’ He
glanced at the radio.

I nodded, my heart calming and taking a breath. ‘Thank God you turned the
radio on.’

He shook his head and smiled. ‘It had nothing to do with God, it was our
daughter.’

I looked at him curiously.

‘I couldn’t stomach that boy band she likes and hadn’t got my MP3 player
with me,’ he said, leaning forward and picking up the memory stick that he’d
placed atop the dash. ‘If she hadn’t got such bad taste…’ He grinned at me and
let the rest of the sentence go unsaid.

I couldn’t help but smile in response. ‘I should go and finish up with
the packing.’

‘There’s no rush anymore.’

I looked at him in surprise.

‘I think it would be a good idea to wait until the early hours, then
Chrissie will sleep most of the way and won’t be disturbed by anything we might
run into on the way.’

‘I thought you said it’s a straightforward journey and will only take a
couple of hours.’

Bob nodded. ‘That’s right, but we still don’t know what’s out there,
beyond Burlington. We also don’t know how far the signal is reaching. If
survivors closer to the blast have heard it we could come across people who are
in a bad way. I don’t want Chrissie to see that.’

I glanced at the house, the faint light of the candles visible behind the
curtains of our bedroom. ‘Neither do I,’ I concurred, wondering how long we
could keep her from the potentially harsh realities of the new world.

12

I sat on the
area of grass at the back of the church, my sandwich board standing before me
and a candle flickering softly in a lantern to my right. I was waiting for the
coat of white paint to dry on the bottom of both sides, an idea having struck
me on our return. I couldn’t take credit. It was God working through me again.

I glanced over my shoulder at the portion of the parking lot that I could
see from my vantage point. There were still a couple of campfires burning
despite how late it was and people were huddled around them talking in hushed
voices. Most had retired to their vehicles or one of the school buses in the
hope of finding some rest.

My gaze settled on the parade float tucked into the far corner across
from me. I wondered at its use, but knew the Lord would reveal it in time.

Turning back to the board, I touched the paint with my index finger,
finding it still tacky. I glanced at the unopened pot of red resting beside the
lantern with the cleaned brush on top and considered whether to begin despite
the coat of white needing a little more time.

Hearing the door to the Vestry open, I looked beyond the corner of the
church to find Reverend Peters stepping out onto the sidewalk beside the
parking lot, shadows about his eyes hinting at the sickness that was beginning
to take hold. He paused a moment as he glanced around, spying me on the small
lawn.

Narrow shoulders sagging, he made his way over and came to a stop a few
yards from me. ‘The painkillers aren’t working,’ he stated flatly.

I looked up at him and nodded. I’d only given him paracetamol and
ibuprofen, knowing they’d do little to ease the headaches, muscle pains and
dizziness that many were starting to complain of. The morphine that had been
liberated from the hospital dispensary was hidden amidst the food boxes, reserved
for me and my followers so that we could continue on when the others laboured
under the weight of their terminal sickness.

‘Give them all another dose,’ I stated.

‘It hasn’t been four hours.’

I couldn’t help but let out a snort of derisive laughter. ‘Do you really
think that matters now? They’re dying. We’re all fucking dying. There’s no
point worrying about getting addicted or causing some minor internal damage
when they won’t be alive long enough for it to have any effect.’

His expression became tighter. ‘Surely there is some hope?’

I shook my head. ‘There’s no hope. There’s no pills for radiation
poisoning, no quick remedy. None of us will survive.’

He opened his mouth to respond, but the sound of rapid steps caused him
to turn. Dodge had appeared from the vestry door, a look of amazement on his
face as he ran over to join us.

‘There’s a transmission,’ he stated, hurrying out to stand on the grass.

‘A transmission?’ I asked, craning my neck to look up at him.

He nodded. ‘On the radio. It’s from Montreal. It says they weren’t hit by
a bomb.’

My brow furrowed as I stared up at him in surprise.

‘Clive was monitoring the frequencies, trying to find some kind of
emergency broadcast or something, when he stumbled on it by accident. It’s
really faint and keeps breaking up, but they say it’s safe and survivors should
head there.’

As his words came to an end an excited murmured began to arise from the
parking lot behind me as the news spread throughout the encampment. I continued
to stare up at the young man, my mind churning with confusion as he rubbed the
cleft in his chin, waiting expectantly for some kind of response from me. This
was judgement, this was the time of reckoning for the whole of humanity, and
yet Montreal had escaped being hit in the attack.

‘Some people want to set off straight away,’ stated Dodge, looking from
me to the Reverend.

Peters shook his head. ‘We mustn’t rush into this. We must make
preparations and make sure our needs during the journey will be catered for,’
he replied, glancing at me with a gleam in his eyes as he felt the balance of
power shifting, hoping that he could take control.

Dodge looked back to me, but I remained speechless.

A couple ran over, their hands gripped tight as if fearing to let go.
‘We’re heading off,’ stated the young man, beatnik hair and a goatee to match,
baggy red trousers coupled with a sweatshirt depicting Hendrix on guitar, his
girlfriend echoing his own tastes.

‘Don’t be hasty,’ said Peters. ‘If you wait, we can all leave together.

He shook his head. ‘We need to go. Charlize is feeling sick and the
sooner we head on up there, the sooner she can get proper treatment.’

‘You know what they say about patience, Andrew.’

‘Sorry Reverend, but we’re going. Hope to see you up there.’

The couple turned and headed on over to a brown and silver station wagon,
Andrew helping Charlize into the passenger seat before getting behind the wheel
and starting the engine. I watched as they left, my eyes not truly focussing on
their departure as I continued to ponder the news.

Peters stared after the couple for a moment and then turned to Dodge.
‘Come on, we’ve got plenty to do before we set off,’ he stated before walking
back to the church.

Dodge hesitated a moment, glancing down at me, and then followed after
him. I turned to see them disappear through the vestry door, mind reeling as a
result of the Montreal revelation.

I looked back at the sandwich board before me as if in a daze. ‘The end
is…,’ I read aloud, the last of the black on white words having been painted
out and a question mark now superimposed over the fresh paint in my mind’s eye.
The end was what? Had it truly come? Could I have possibly been mistaken?

I shook my head and turned to the dark sky. The thick layer of low clouds
was hidden in the darkness, unseen now that there was no light pollution from the
city below. Trying to clear my mind, I waited for God’s guidance.

‘No,’ I stated with conviction, feeling a sudden certainty within,
knowing that the Lord was still with me.

Nuclear war had been waged and there could be no doubt that Judgement Day
had come. The fact that Montreal had escaped the bomb didn’t mean the people
there would escape death. The radioactive fallout would be carried to them on
weather systems, and even if they managed to avoid that, how long would it be
before their food and drinking water ran out? The world would be polluted by
what had been unleashed in His name, by His divine glory, and they could not
survive.

‘“And there before me was a pale horse. Its rider was named Death”,’ I
stated, the quote from the book of Revelation filling me with a renewed sense
of certainty and purpose. Nodding to myself, I could see the truth with clarity
once again. The pale horse would ride across the Earth. None would be left
standing in its wake. Death now had dominion over the world.

I bowed my head and closed my eyes. ‘Lord, please forgive me for my
weakness, for my doubt.’

There was the sensation of a hand being laid softly upon my head.

I lifted my gaze back to the clouds and smiled. ‘Thank you,’ I said with
a nod.

Turning to the pot of paint and brush, my smile remained as I took them
up and prized off the lid with the brush’s handle, restored to the faith that
divine judgement was at hand.

13

I peered into
Chrissie’s room to find her asleep on the bed covers. She was curled in her
clothes, thumb in her mouth and Ollie cuddled to her cheek. The octopus had
been made by my mother using old tights and was given to Chrissie on her first
birthday. It was her favourite possession, its homemade charm endearing it to
her, along with the smile stitched in red on its round head, which sported a
mop of brown hair in thick yarn.

The stub of a candle burned on the bedside cabinet, lending her face a
soft warmth and I was struck by the urge to take a picture. I began to turn
away in order to go back to my bedroom and retrieve the digital camera and
suddenly caught myself. Even though the laptop still had enough charge so that
the photo could be uploaded, it wouldn’t be long until the battery was flat and
without electricity to charge it or to turn on the printer, the photo would be
lost forever.

I looked back to the scene with a sorrowful frown, trying to capture it
in my mind’s eye. It was a picture of peaceful innocence and I feared that its
tranquillity would soon be shattered.

Sighing, I took up her case from where she’d left it by the door, as
requested. With one last glance, I walked away and headed along the landing,
hearing Bob taking one of the boxes of food from the hallway below as he
continued to pack the Falcon in readiness for our departure.

I walked down the stairs, taking every care to make as little noise as
possible so Chrissie wouldn’t be woken by the disturbance. I reached the
hallway, pausing at the foot to look back over my shoulder, listening for any
sign that she’d been roused, but hearing nothing but the faint sound of Bob
placing the box into the trunk outside.

I began towards the front door, which was wide open, allowing the cool
night air to reach into the house.

‘Nice set of wheels you got there, man. Must have set you back a lot of
paper.’

My steps faltered as the words filtered along the hall. Stepping into the
lounge on the right, I looked to the front window, unable to see much of
anything thanks to the lack of street lighting, the only illumination afforded
by the Falcon’s interior light.

‘Paper?’ replied Bob.

I felt my shoulders tighten as I made out two youths standing beyond the
Interceptor’s trunk and the beginning of the gently sloping driveway.

‘Yeah, you know, dough. It’s all just paper now, man.’

Bob turned to them as he stood by the open driver’s door on the far side.
Despite the darkness, I could tell that he was tense due to his demeanour and I
felt my heart begin to pound as I watched with wide eyes.

‘There’s only one currency now, man.’ The left-hand youth made a movement
that was unmistakable even in the gloom. He’d drawn a gun from his belt and was
pointing it at Bob.

‘I don’t want any trouble.’

‘None of us want trouble, but we’re all in a whole heap of it now,’ said
the other youth.

‘Your wheels are mine now and this is how I’m paying for it,’ said the
one toting the gun. ‘This thing makes me richer than paper ever could,’ he
added, waving the weapon.

‘You’re not taking the car,’ responded Bob firmly.

‘How much would you like to bet on it? Your life?’

‘Come on, man. It doesn’t have to go down like this,’ said the other
youth. ‘Just put the keys in the ignition and back away.’

‘You’re not taking the car,’ repeated Bob.

The young man with the gun stepped alongside the Falcon. ‘I guess you
don’t value your life higher than your wheels.’

‘Is there a problem here?’ It was a man’s voice that I didn’t recognise
and came from the street behind the youths.

They turned and Bob peered into the gloom as he tried to make out who was
out there. I couldn’t see any sign of the newcomer, my heart pounding against
my ribcage and palms clammy as I continued to hold Chrissie’s case in my right
hand.

‘Lower the gun,’ said the stranger hidden in the darkness.

‘What the fuck has this got to do with you, man?’ asked the armed youth
in agitation.

‘Just lower your weapon and drop it to the ground.’

‘Who the fuck do you think you are, some end of the world vigilante? Go
fuck yourself. We’re taking this guy’s car and that’s the end of it.’

There was a brief spark of light as he fired the handgun, the gunshot
cracking through the hush. I was given a start by the blast that came after, a
small burst of flame appearing for a moment ten yards beyond the two youths and
lighting the face of the man who had moved in across the street only a month
before, a sheen of perspiration glistening on his dark forehead.

The armed youth was thrown backwards by the shotgun blast and landed in a
heap by Bob’s feet beyond my sight. I saw Bob quickly duck down, disappearing
from view for a moment before rising with the pistol in his hand, pointing it
at the remaining interloper.

The kid looked from the man in the street to Bob and raised his hands in
the air. ‘I don’t want no trouble,’ he stated, backing down onto the sidewalk.

‘You just tried to take my car by gunpoint and you’re telling me you
don’t want trouble?’ said Bob, shaking his head.

I watched, mouth running dry and worried that he was going to shoot the
youth, the tone of his voice carrying a definite threat. My body was trembling.
I felt like calling out, like shouting for him to let the boy go.

‘Get the hell out of here,’ he said eventually.

The boy looked at both men in turn and then hightailed it down the
street, soon vanishing into the night as I felt a flood of relief.

‘Mommy?’ Chrissie’s distressed call came from the top of the stairs.

I hastened out of the room and looked up to the left to see her standing
at the top with the last of the candle held in one hand and Ollie in the other,
his legs dangling to the floor. ‘Go back to your room, Honey.’

‘I heard gunfire.’

‘Everything’s okay. Just go and wait in your room. We should be setting
off soon.’

‘Is Daddy okay?’

I nodded. ‘He’s fine.’

‘What happened?’ Her expression remained fearful.

‘I promise everything’s okay, but you must go back to your room now, Honey,’
I reiterated. ‘Go on.’ I made an ushering motion.

Chrissie hesitated and then turned and vanished from sight as she
reluctantly returned to her room. I stood for a moment, taking a few deep
breaths as my pulse began to calm.

Turning, I went to the door, the case still tightly gripped in my hand. I
rushed from the house and went to Bob, our new neighbour standing on the far
side of the body lying on the driveway, pump-action shotgun at his side as he
frowned down at youth and looked a little sickly.

‘That’s the first time I’ve ever fired the gun,’ he stated in a whisper
as I passed around the hood and drew up to Bob.

‘You okay?’ I asked, staring at him worriedly.

He nodded. ‘Fine.’

Our neighbour vomited onto the flower bed beside the driveway, bending double
in the aftermath of what had happened.

‘I couldn’t let them take the car,’ said Bob, glancing at the body, the
light spilling around him from the interior of the car highlighting the gory
wound upon the youth’s chest.

‘It’s just a car,’ I responded. ‘You’re worth a hell of a lot more.’

‘Our food’s in the trunk and we’d have been left without transport to
head north. All I could think about was getting you and Chrissie to safety.
That’s all that mattered.’

The man spat the last of the bile from his mouth and slowly straightened,
his black leather jacket creaking, a taupe casual shirt beneath tucked untidily
into his chinos. His gaze briefly lingered on the body and then he turned to
us. ‘I was having trouble sleeping. I heard you packing up to leave and went to
the window to watch. That’s when I saw the kids approaching.’ He took a
wavering breath as he continued to battle his nausea.

‘Thanks for coming to my rescue. I don’t know what would have happened if
you hadn’t shown up.’

‘I couldn’t just stand by and watch.’

‘The name’s Bob.’

‘Tyreese,’ he responded as they shook hands.

‘Leah,’ I stated, reaching out and shaking his hand, noticing it
trembling as he withdrew it afterwards.

‘I hoped I’d never fire this thing. It was just a bit of homefront
protection, something to scare away any wannabe thieves,’ he said, briefly
looking down at the pump-action, ‘but when the bombs dropped I knew this day
would come.’ Tyreese shook his head and took another deep breath. ‘I just wish
it hadn’t come so soon.’

He turned his gaze back to us. ‘Have you all got somewhere safe to go?’
he asked, a pleading edge to his tone.

Bob glanced at me and I nodded my silent consent. ‘Montreal wasn’t hit,’
he stated, turning back to our neighbour.

Tyreese looked at us in surprise. ‘Really?’

Bob nodded and then moved to sit on the edge of the driver’s seat. Taking
the pistol in his left hand, he reached in with the right, turning on the radio.
The woman’s voice spoke from the door-mounted speakers as the message continued
to repeat. We stood in silence and listened, waiting for the English version to
come to an end before the stereo was turned off once again.

‘Do you really think it’ll be safe?’

‘What other choices are there?’ replied Bob as he got back out of the
car. ‘We’d been thinking of going to the Adirondack Mountains, but then heard
the message this afternoon.’

Tyreese looked at us for moment, clearly struggling to put voice to the
question he wanted to ask. ‘Can I tag along with you guys?’

Bob glanced at me again, but I didn’t know how to respond. He’d just
risked his life in order to help, but we didn’t know him. He’d been reclusive
ever since moving in and I hadn’t seen him but a couple of times.

‘Please,’ he urged.

‘There’s no room in the Falcon,’ stated Bob.

‘I could follow in my car,’ suggested Tyreese.

‘You got a wife or kids?’ Bob glanced across the street, Tyreese’s house
merely a patch of deeper darkness in the night.

He shook his head. ‘It’s just me and my cat. I’ve got plenty of food,’ he
offered, ‘and I’d have your backs,’ he added, glancing down at the youth, a pool
of blood slowly spreading from his torso.

Bob looked to me again. ‘Sounds like a good idea to me. There’s safety in
numbers and the food would come in handy if something happens out on the road.’

I nodded.

‘How quick can you get ready for the road?’ he asked, turning back to
Tyreese.

‘Half an hour maybe.’

‘Good. Honk when you’re ready and we’ll head off together.’

‘Much appreciated,’ said Tyreese.

‘It’s the least we can do, after all, you may have just saved my life.’
Bob smiled thinly.

‘Mommy?’

We all turned to the front door as Chrissie stepped out of the house
apprehensively. Her eyes were wide as she took in the scene.

‘I told you to wait in your room,’ I stated, putting her case on the
driveway and quickly striding around the hood as I made my way to her.

‘Go back inside, Honey,’ called Bob.

‘You said everything was okay,’ she said, clutching Ollie to her chest
for comfort as I approached.

‘It is,’ I replied as I put a hand to her shoulder in order to guide her
back into the house.

‘Who’s that with Daddy?’ she asked, resisting my gentle persuasion.

‘That’s Tyreese. He’s going to be coming with us to Montreal.’

‘Did he kill the man?’

I looked at her in surprise.

‘I can see him through the gap under the car,’ she stated.

I sighed and crouched before her, holding my daughter’s gaze. ‘It doesn’t
matter who killed him. What matters is that we’re all safe and that you go back
inside until we’re ready to leave.’

‘Why did he kill him?’

‘Please, Chrissie,’ I said with growing irritation.

‘He was a bad man who tried to steal Daddy’s car, Honey,’ responded Bob.
‘Now do as your mother says and go back in.’

Her gaze suddenly became fixed on something and her expression changed to
one of horrified surprise. ‘Why does Daddy have a gun?’ she asked in a whisper.

I took a breath and shook my head, wishing she’d stayed in her room, that
she hadn’t borne witness to the scene on the driveway. ‘The world is different
now, Honey,’ I stated, looking deep into her eyes. ‘It’s more…’ I tried to
think of the right word. ‘…Dangerous.’

‘Dangerous?’ she echoed quietly.

I nodded. ‘Yes. We’ve already told you how things have changed, but what
we didn’t say is that some people will act differently now.’

‘How do you mean “differently”?’

‘People will do things they wouldn’t normally do in order to survive, and
that might mean trying to take things from us that they want or need.’

‘Bad people?’

‘Desperate people,’ I replied.

‘Will Daddy have to shoot them?’

‘Hopefully not. Things will be different in Montreal.’ I gave her
shoulder a gentle squeeze. ‘We’ll be safe there.’

‘How long will it be before we can come back?’

I sagged a little, wishing I hadn’t told her that our stay would only be
temporary. ‘We might not be able to come back.’

‘But you said…’

‘I know what I said, but Mommy might have been wrong.’

‘But I want to come back.’

‘It can’t be helped, Honey. It’s too dangerous here now, not just because
of people like the ones that tried to take Daddy’s car, but because of the
bomb.’

Chrissie glanced around, looking into the darkness. ‘But nothing’s
changed.’

‘We don’t have any electricity.’

‘That’s happened before.’

I released her shoulder. ‘I’m not arguing with you about it, Chrissie.
You need to listen to me and your father. We’re looking out for your best
interests and if you want to stay safe and well you need to do as we tell you.
Do you understand?’ I held her gaze.

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