As I poured the liquor for the already intoxicated men, I was filled with a sense of purpose. I was here. I’d made it into the den of evil and unworthy men. God had brought me to this place to do His will. So I would gain the favor of those in charge and become as valuable to them as I could . . .
. . . then I would tear them apart. Destroy everything they held dear. And when the time was right, I would bring Prophet David’s wrath down upon them all . . . until there was nothing left of this club.
The sinners dead.
And burning in the great red fires of hell.
Present day . . .
I stared straight ahead through swollen eyes as another drop of water fell to the floor. The air was sticky; the Texan humidity was climbing to its peak. My cell darkened to almost pitch black as yet another storm rolled in. Thunder growled in the distance, moving ever closer to New Zion.
Many minutes passed, until the edge of the lightning storm began to sporadically light up the dark room. The rain turned from a light drizzle to a torrential downpour as it hammered on my cell roof. The gentle drops that had been falling through the small cracks in the stone ceiling became an angry stream that crashed onto the floor.
I moved my leg, wincing as my muscles protested. I tried to do the same with my arm. I huffed out in frustration when my entire body burned with pain.
I squinted up at the wall behind me, my temples throbbing. My vision swam in blurred lines, balancing on the ever-present edge of unconsciousness.
I made myself focus. I counted the tallies I’d managed to scrape onto the wall with the sharpened edge of a stone. Thirty-five. Thirty-five . . . thirty-five . . . I had been in this cell for thirty-five days. Had suffered daily exorcisms and beatings by the new disciple guards . . .
“Repent! Repent and bow down to the prophet!” Brother James screamed as I hung from the chains in the ceiling.
“No,” I rasped. Searing agony sliced over my back as the leather belt slashed yet another stripe across my already broken skin.
“Repent! Repent and declare your loyalty to your prophet!”
My eyes closed as streams of fresh blood ran down my back, over my dangling legs, splashing to the floor at my feet.
My jaw clenched. I closed my eyes, praying for absolution. Praying to be taken from this pain . . . this damned constant pain . . .
“Do you repent?” Brother Michael asked. My heart beat once, twice, three times as his question ran through my brain.
“Just repent and this will all end. Repent and all the pain will stop. Repent and join your brother in leading the people to heaven. Repent and never look at the inside of your cell again.”
My breathing hitched as the temptation to submit to Judah’s demands tried to push its way to my lips. The words ‘I repent’ hung on the tip of my tongue. My broken body wanted to speak them, just for a reprieve . . . But then my soul steeled as I thought of the Lord’s Sharing I had witnessed . . . the pain . . . the fear . . . the acts of pedophilic sin being done in my name . . .
I blew out the rest of the breath I was holding and felt my chest lighten. “No . . . I will not repent . . . I will never repent . . . ”
I kept my eyes closed. I kept them tightly shut as a hard fist slammed into my ribs, ripping a strangled bellow from my raw throat. But I didn’t care. I would not bow down to my brother.
I couldn’t . . . I just . . . couldn’t . . .
My eyes swam again and I shook my throbbing head, trying to hold on to consciousness. I was sick of waking disoriented and alone in darkness. I was done with the aching bones, broken skin and vomiting. I was done with listening to my brother preach his hysterical doomsday sermons through the speakers around the commune.
My fingernails scraped against the stone floor as I tried to make myself stand. I willed my legs to function, but they wouldn’t. I tried again, managing to crawl onto my knees. But my weak muscles collapsed, unable to hold my weight, and I landed on my back with a thud. The air was knocked from my lungs as my spine slammed to the hard floor. I breathed hard through my nostrils as the frustration built up inside me. A traitorous tear fell from the corner of my right eye as the desolation took hold. The dark creature that forever burrowed in my stomach began digging in its claws.
The screech of a speaker coming to life sounded outside. “People of New Zion!” I closed my weary eyes as Judah’s voice came drifting into my silent cell. “The heavy storm and the darkness above signal the end. Make no mistake, Armageddon is coming! The floods creeping toward our home, the daily strife we all suffer in following God’s path . . . they all lead the way to our salvation. Work harder at the tasks given to you. Pray with even more devotion. We shall prevail!”
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