His arrival at home shattered the sense of reaching a peaceful decision, as a theoretical decision met reality. Judith’s car blocked the driveway, forcing him to park on the street. Both the garage door and the car’s hatchback stood open. He saw Caleb’s and Luke’s cars on the street. As he got out of the car, Sophia came through the front door carrying a large box. She placed it in the car, and glared at him.
“I can’t believe you’re putting Judith through this.”
“I’m not putting her through anything.”
Sophia turned and stomped back into the house without answering him. Any residual hope he and Judith could work things out vanished. He saw at once that she was moving out of the house.
He walked in and confronted Caleb and Luke, “is this what the Lord wants of you? Is destroying my marriage part of the plan?”
“We aren’t breaking up your marriage,” Caleb answered, “we know you’re seeing another woman.”
“You drove her home from work the other day, then you spent the night in Missoula. You didn’t go to Gathering like you told us you would.”
“So you admit you’ve been spying on me.”
“You know we have to protect the Gathering,” Caleb snapped.
He went on to say he’d told the Senior Servant in Missoula to call him and let him know if Samuel made it there. He dutifully reported Samuel’s absence. He and Luke had come over this morning to talk to Judith. That discussion led them to believe that Samuel’s actions endangered Judith’s welfare. They had to move her out for her own welfare.
“How am I endangering her?”
“You did that when you opened your home to demons.”
Samuel almost laughed, but Caleb was dead serious. Luke held up a manila folder that had been laying on the coffee table. It was Samuel’s research file.
“We found this.”
“What did you do, ransack the whole house?”
“We talked to Matt, we knew you’d been looking at forbidden books and websites. You have obviously decided to Forsake The Word. We have to protect Judith. Your actions are a danger to her spirituality.”
Judith listened to this exchange from the bottom of the stairs, a box in her arms. After staring at him for several seconds, she spoke, her voice low and controlled.
“I can’t believe you don’t want to see our daughter. Paradise is coming, and soon. She’s gone and now you’re taking our son. I will see Charlene soon, but you and my son are gone forever. You’re going to let our son go to college, and on top of that, live with Outsiders while he’s there. You didn’t even have the courage to discuss it with me.”
“I wanted a chance to meet the other family first.”
“Why? They’re Outsiders, if you were a good Disciple, you wouldn’t need to know anything else about them. You’re throwing everything away.”
“Yes, your fabled new work is going to bring paradise, after they’ve purged everybody that isn’t a good little slave of The Chief Apostle.”
“I assume an idea that stupid could only come from one of your Forsaker websites. It’s ridiculous.” Luke snapped.
“Is it Luke? Are you denying you’re under orders to get rid of people like me, and Norm Halbert?”
“It’s not true. Of course I deny it.”
Samuel pulled out his cell phone, found that picture of the letter on Luke’s table. “What about this?”
Luke barely glanced at it before declaring it a fake.
“Is this a fake?” Samuel asked, holding up the picture of Luke’s notes, “it’s your handwriting.”
“You have no business going through my personal and official correspondence.”
“But it is perfectly all right for you to go through mine?”
“Yes it is. I’m responsible for the spiritual well-being of your family.”
Luke and Caleb looked at each other for a moment, then Caleb nodded agreement with an unspoken question.
“Samuel Wilson,” Luke said formally, “I declare that by your words and actions you have Forsaken the Word. You are Cast-out, no longer a Disciple. We will inform the Gathering of our decision.”
Judith announced that she had everything she needed for the moment. They all left without saying another word. Samuel sat heavily in a chair, overcome with emotional shock. He couldn’t believe they acted so quickly, or had they? Obviously they took some time to collect information, and Luke didn’t sound like he acted alone. After a moment’s thought, he called Matt.
He half expected to get only voice mail. To his surprise, Matt answered, but spoke only briefly.
“I told them everything. They were going to rip my family apart, and I can’t do that. It’s easier to just do what they want. Besides, the New Work may well start Armageddon. I can’t give up now.”
With that, he ended the call. Samuel stared at the phone. The one person he still thought of as a friend had turned his back on him. But it wasn’t Matt’s fault, like a good slave, he just returned to what he knew because he was comfortable there.
He sat alone, thinking, until David came home. His son tried to apologize for causing so much trouble.
“Mom cried, Sophia yelled, and Uncle Luke lectured me. I couldn’t take it. I’m sorry.”
“It isn’t your fault.”
Samuel shook his head, and repeated himself.
“No it isn’t your fault. It’s that damnable religion. The books I’ve read are all right, the Disciples are slaves. They are so tightly bound they can’t even see the chains anymore.”
“They’re pretty much wrong about everything aren’t they?”
“No they’re right about one thing, if you start studying what they teach, it won’t hold up to scrutiny. Once I started studying the door was open and a flood of knowledge poured in.”
He laughed, “maybe that was the demon they think I brought into the house.”
“Are you Okay?” Ski, the shop manager leaned into Samuel’s office. “No offense, but you look terrible today.”
Samuel had no idea what to say, just said he was fine. It sounded lame even to him.
“No, I’m not all right. Come in and shut the door, I need to talk to somebody. Judith left me.”
“Jesus.” Ski shut the door and sat in the chair in front of the desk.
It took Samuel a few minutes to run through the events that led to the breakup. He didn’t go into much detail on what he’d found out, only that he could no longer believe his religion, or its leaders.
“I guess I was unhappy with it all for a long time. I was on my way out anyway, I think, they just made it happen sooner. I don’t know what I’m going to do. My wife is gone, I don’t have any friends…” His voice trailed off.
“Sam,” Ski started and stopped abruptly. “Sorry, I know you prefer Samuel…”
“Actually I would prefer Sam. My parents named me after the prophet, and always insisted on using the full name.” He stopped to think for a second, “funny, a lot of Disciples don’t use nicknames. I don’t know why.”
“Okay then,” Ski grinned, “now you can be Sam. A new name for a new life. You have many friends here in the shop. We’ve all been watching you doing your research and cheering you on. That church is a nut house.”
“Yes, really. Look, we wanted to throw a little celebration for you when your kid got into college, but we knew your religion didn’t approve. Why don’t you invite him down tomorrow and I’ll have Irene get us a cake.”
The next afternoon David and Samuel joined the shop staff for a little party at the end of the workday. Everyone congratulated David on his acceptance at college. Upon hearing what he planned to study, several cracked jokes about knowing where the brains in the family went.
Samuel found himself agreeing to help George Cowley get his boat in the water, they could go fishing together. He recognized a need to make new friends, but it was hard to shake a lifetime of prohibitions against forming friendships with Outsiders. Suddenly it struck him, “I am an Outsider.”
David spent most of his time talking to Irene’s daughter about college life. Underneath a festive shell, however, he couldn’t shake an inner sadness. Judith’s absence left a hole his co-workers could not fill.
On June First, he sat down at his desk to pay bills as he always did. He ended with extra money, the effects of the raise that came with the promotion. He wondered if Judith needed money and decided that if she did, she could ask for it. He hesitated for a moment over the money he gave to Caleb every month to help with Uncle Harry. He decided to send it any way. Harry had given his life to a fairytale, that was punishment enough.
He wrote the check and put it into an envelope. He wanted to be a fly on the wall when Caleb had to decide to take money from a Forsaker. David called down the hall, asking what he was laughing about. He explained what he was doing.
“Don’t worry, he’ll take the money.”
David still maintained contact with a few friends at the Gathering House, although their parents discouraged talking to him. As he put it, they were waiting to turn eighteen so they could leave home and forget the religion. Sam always wondered what how they planned to live. At least David had the sense to go to school. Two days after he mailed the check to Caleb, David called him at work to pass on news from one of the friends.
“Dad, I’ve got bad news. Uncle Harry died in his sleep last night.”
The news did not surprise him, the man was in eighties. He felt sad, not so much at Harry’s death, but that he’d spent his life chasing a false hope. But he’d been happy with his choice. That afternoon he tried to call Caleb several times, but didn’t get an answer. He called Judith, and left a message. Late in the day she responded with a text.
“We’ve made arrangements for a service for Harry at the Gathering House. Caleb says it is not appropriate for you to be there.” That same day, he noticed the check he wrote Caleb had cleared his account.
Saturday morning, the weekend before the Grand Gathering in Seattle Sam looked out his window to see four Disciples getting out of a car at the end of the block. He could see the small slips of paper they carried, planning to deliver to his neighbors. Every year they handed out invitations to the Grand Gathering. Did they really expect Outsiders to drive across the state to go to a religious convention?
The four split into pairs, each pair taking one side of the street. Robert and Karen Brown had his side of the street. Sam watched from an upstairs window where they couldn’t see him. It didn’t take long for them to reach the neighbor on his left. He couldn’t see what happened, he guessed no one was at home. Then, instead of continuing on the sidewalk, they crossed the street, walked past his house on the far side, and recrossed the street to go to the house on his right.
He heard David laughing in his room. “Dad, did you see that?”
“What do they think is going to happen, the Forsaker cooties are going to get them?”
“In a sense, yes. I imagine they think we’re demonized.”
The boat bobbed on the water of Sprague Lake, forty-five minutes west of Spokane. George and Sam watched the tips of the rods for signs they had hooked a fish, and talked quietly. It was now Sam’s third fishing trip. He had yet to catch a fish, but he enjoyed the time with his new friend. They had a lot in common. George had lost his wife to cancer two years earlier. He understood the losses Sam experienced, both Charlene and Judith. He understood the emotional toll imposed on Sam by the shunning he now experienced. He didn’t try to offer platitudes, but was always willing to lend an ear.
Now Sam looked toward the western horizon, listening to the distant traffic on the interstate. Judith was there, attending the Grand Gathering. Ironically, considering the Word’s view of education, they had rented the University of Washington’s stadium for the event.
“Your wife is at that big convention isn’t she?”
“Do you hate them?”
“No I don’t hate them. I pity them. It all sounds so wonderful, dead loved ones will live again, we’ll all live forever right here on the Earth. Except it will be a Paradise, no death, sickness, hunger, war.”
“Except it’s all an illusion.”
He pointed out The Word’s previous false predictions. Those were just the specific dates. For almost a hundred years, they kept saying the end of the world was due soon. It looked like they were about to announce a new prediction.
George shook his head, and asked why would anybody believe them? Sam talked in general terms about his research. People altered their memory of events, or how they thought about facts to keep the illusions alive. He explained sunk costs, how people couldn’t walk away from emotional investments. Uncle Harry was a perfect example. After giving his life to the Word of God Foundation, the thought of turning away was too much to bear, even though he died old, contrary to the expectations of his youth.
George grunted, and then said “I used to think you were nuts for believing some of what you believed. Now I’m amazed you managed to escape.”
“Yeah, I know. It’s hard to break free, the Apostles have four million people enslaved to this dream of Paradise. The Disciples can’t see they’re slaves, the mental tools to think for themselves have been subverted by their Masters in Seattle.
“I can’t hate them, I want to help them. I’d like to find a way. Maybe that’s my new purpose in life.”
He looked out at the calm waters of the lake.
“I’m free now. It will take some getting used, I’ve never been free to think and do what I want.”
“I’m glad,” said George, “but right now you need to start reeling, you’ve got a fish on.”
Two hundred miles west of Sam and George, Judith Wilson sat in the stand at Husky Stadium with Sophia and Caleb. Their seats, located at the front of the upper level offered them an excellent view of the stage. For two days, they hung on every word, and waited in excitement for today’s climactic speech by the Chief Apostle.
“Isn’t it funny,” Sophia said just before the opening music started, “how the Foundation rented this stadium from the University? The Lord will destroy this place at Armageddon, but now He’s using it to gather us together to learn more about His Word, not Outsider nonsense.”
Judith felt a cold knot in her stomach. In a few months, her son would start school a few miles away. A few months after that, God would end his existence, except in her memory. She pushed the thought away. Yesterday’s program had included a dramatic presentation depicting a rebellion against Moses. The earth opened up and swallowed Korah, the rebel leader, and all those following him. The speaker that followed it admonished the Disciples to avoid the sin and fate of Korah by obeying The Lord’s chosen Apostles.
She had vowed then to keep her loyalty to The Lord. She knew she would face tribulation and great cost but also great rewards. Charlene would join her in Paradise! Perhaps if she stayed faithful her son and husband would return. If not, she still would not give up her faith.
The music started, and the remainder of the thirty thousand Disciples found their seats. After a few minutes of music a speaker announced the start of the afternoon session. The program included another drama before the Chief Apostle’s speech. After the prayer, the speaker urged the audience to pay close attention to the stage presentation, it related directly to Apostle Rodgers’ message.
For an hour, she watched the play depict important events from the lives of Noah, Abraham, and Lot culminating in the destruction of Jericho and the Israelite’s arrival in Paradise. When it ended, the audience rose and roared in approval. Without any further introduction, Rodgers strode across the stage and took his place before the microphone.
“Are you ready to live in Paradise?”
The crowd roared again, applause broke out, followed by cheers. Rodgers held his hands up, indicating silence. The Disciples grew quiet, but still Rodgers stood in silence. After long seconds, he spoke again.
“We have thought The Lord Almighty would bring us to Paradise on Earth in His due time. We have, that is all of us Disciples, Apostles, myself included, have earnestly searched the scriptures to see when that appointed time would occur. Our enemies accuse us of being false prophets.
"Our expectation, our hope for salvation has not changed. We have an assurance from the Bible the Lord will destroy the wicked at the worldwide Battle of Armageddon; that we will receive our reward, eternal life in Paradise on Earth!”
The crowd started to cheer, but Rodgers waved them to silence.
“But we missed an important point. We expected The Lord to bring us Paradise on a silver platter. We ignored the fact the He has always required action from His Disciples. As we just saw, those loyal to The Lord don’t wait, they act.”
He surveyed the crowd for a moment.
“Like Noah will you build a place of safety, and take refuge in it, so you will not be destroyed in the day of The Lord’s wrath?”
Scattered cries of “yes” sounded around the stadium. Rodgers cupped a hand to his ear.
“I can’t hear you.”
The crowd shouted as one voice.
“Like Abraham, will you demonstrate your faith, to show yourself ready to make the ultimate sacrifice?
“Yes,” the crowd answered. Judith began to cry, as the thought struck her that she was already sacrificing her son.
“I am loyal to The Lord,” she shouted, even though no one could hear her over the crowd.
“Like Lot, will you flee from a wicked world, not turning back, heeding The Lord’s commands without question.”
Again, the crowd roared its agreement. Judith joined in, without reservation, yelling her agreement through her tears. She would not be Lot’s wife!
“Like the Israelites of old before the wall of Jericho, will you carry The Lord’s final message to a wicked world, will you do your part to show faith and destroy that world?”
The Disciples yelled and cheered, many clapped or thrust fists in the air.
“If you want Paradise, the time is NOW. Our actions will usher in Paradise. We will prove our Faith and Loyalty to The Lord Almighty, and he will provide our reward. Are you ready to act, and receive?”
The crowd went wild, as if screaming could demonstrate faith and bring in Paradise that moment. Rodgers continued to yell into the microphone, making himself heard over the racket.
“When The Lord called Isiah to action, how did the prophet answer?”
“Here I am, send me.” Thirty thousand Disciples spoke as one.
Judith lost control of her tears, she cried, unsure if she was sad at the loss of her family or overjoyed at the approach of Paradise. She raised her arms high, and joined the shouting.
“HERE I AM, SEND ME.”
Armageddon’s Slaves © Jeffrey Thomas All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. All events and characters are products of the author’s
imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead is purely coincidental