Don Winters found himself slumped in a passably comfortable chair within a nondescript hotel room, part of a hotel chain that had over a thousand exact copies of itself spread across the United States. Eggshell white walls, white drapes, beige carpets, and espresso-colored furniture. A 50” flat-screen television mounted to the wall hung darkly like a painting of a starless night. ReVival 36 had ended hours earlier and the Revelator had been considering his advancement in the Almasy Invitational.
“How do you feel?”
A weary Winters looked up from the chair to meet Mary’s eyes. “I feel…”
His voice trailed off and she moved closer, her lips nearly on the edge of his ear. “Proud.” The whisper sent a chill down his spine. He recoiled from her slightly. She was right, but he was afraid to admit it.
“It’s alright.” She reassured him, lightly patting his shoulder. “What you did was in service of His Word and Light. You don’t feel proud of yourself, but what you have accomplished through Him. There is no sin in that.”
Winters nodded in agreement and stood, arching his back as he did to stretch it out Crash Jackson had been a game opponent, and Don was beginning to feel the first faint ripples of pain creep through his back and shoulders. “Heavier than I thought,” ran through his head as he met Mary’s gaze in a mirror.
“It doesn’t feel right.” He responded. “Joseph and I have been talking about the need to stay humble, to stay level-headed. It’s the only way we will spread the Word.”
“Father.” There was the slightest tinge of venom bubbling up from Mary’s throat. “You gave Crash Jackson what you promised him. You did it through His Word and Light. If there is any time to take pride in such a thing, it’s now and in this moment.”
She was relentless, and her words stung like one of Don’s own knife-edge chops echoing through St. Louis after blitzing across Crash’s chest.
“Absolution.” She nodded as he said the word. “A promise granted and fulfilled.”
Don turned to look at Mary once again but found she was gone. “Must have returned to her room,” he thought. Never once considering he hadn’t heard the door open or close. He was surrounded by the same silent static that had only been broken by their voices. An open journal sat on a small table pulling at him. He sat back down in the chair he had recently raised out of, and picked up his pen.
October 6, 2023
The first victory is not a triumph, and I don’t believe it’s something to be proud of, but Mary may have a good point. She always seems to have one in these situations. There’s nothing to be proud of in beating Crash Jackson or advancing in the Almasy. There’s no pride to be found in doing the things I’m supposed to be doing. This is His plan and it’s my job to carry them out. She’s right though, I should be proud Crash was given absolution in His name. Not that I beat Crash, but that through Him, Crash was the first to be redeemed.
Through Him all things are possible and that is something to be proud of.
In the eyes of Don Winters, the progress on church property was astounding. The building looked nearly brand new as the crew, now up to a hearty 14, were relentless in their pursuit of peerless renovation. The group was still sleeping in tents, something Don was slightly concerned with as the days grew shorter and the temperatures cooler. They had insisted on staying outside, however, and would only ever step inside the church to use the basement’s bathroom, or for service.
Despite his uneasiness with their situation, he relented because the strength of their community buoyed him just as much as it did them. Joseph often reminded his cohorts that sleeping outside under the stars was a great way to retain humility. Anyone who grumbled was immediately chastised by Mary for not seeing the merits of sleeping out under the great wide open sky and seeing His creation before them. She drilled into them that they should be proud and thankful for everything He created and that Father Winters had blessed them with the opportunity to soak it in.
Don still preferred to spend most of his time in the company of Mary and Joseph. They had been the first to arrive and were the only two he was on a regular first-name basis with. The other dozen had mentioned their names, but it was hard to remember things when the information was coming faster than could be processed.
He was still hesitant to join them under the communal tent where they ate their meals, held prayer meetings, and stayed out of the sun. To him, it was their place, much like the rectory was his place. There was a mutual respect between these divisions and he wished to keep it this way as long as he could.
As he was winding down his evening stroll around the property, one of the two new faces popped up in front of him. She smiled plainly, carrying a large wooden spoon in one hand and a ladle in the other.
“Won’t you join us for supper, Father Don?” There was hope at the end of the question.
Another voice cut through the air, Don didn’t recognize that one either. “Now Sister Abigail, we’ve been told Father Winters prefers to dine alone. Isn’t that right, Father?”
Winters turned to face the new voice. “Yes, that’s right.” He studied the man for a moment. “Have we met?”
“Brother John, Father.” He smiled, but it felt like he was holding something back.
“But you MUST come,” Abigail was pleading. “The food is so good, oh, I could just about eat until I burst!”
John interjected again. “Abigail, you’ve got to show some restraint. I already told you-”
Don smiled. “It’s fine, John. I appreciate her zeal. Abigail, I promise to try and make it to dinner one of these nights. I’ll let you know when to have a plate ready for me. How does that sound? ”
Abigail grinned. She and John turned and hurried to the tents, while Don Winters walked back to the rectory. The sun was setting as he made the short way back. The stridulation of crickets still filled the night air, but their sound was slowing as autumn took hold Don wasn’t sure if he was ready for silent nights at the church.
October 18th, 2023
I’m home. I feel His presence here stronger than anywhere else. The last two weeks have been fascinating. Traveling across the country with the Mobile Ministry, spreading the word in every city possible, I feel like I’m getting through to people. County fairs have been a perfect place for me to start. Delilah was right, working hard and my faith and belief of His Word and Light would eventually shine through to them. Jacob was right as well, their minds were not necessarily as quick as others. They could be more easily swayed. A movement is built on ideas and beliefs. They are but as I am, a tool for His use.
I’ve had two weeks to think about Mary’s words about beating Jackson in the Almasy. I am proud that Crash was given Absolution in His name. I am proud that the entire world saw The Revelator spread His message. Defeating Crash, and now spending all this time on the road, meeting the people, and seeing their eyes light up with hope and belief, it’s giving me confidence. I truly believe I am on a righteous path. A divine mission sent down from above. His will must be done and I am bound to execute it.
In all honesty, this newfound confidence has shaken me to my core. It’s not how I’ve been taught to act. It’s not how I was brought up to believe in Him. However, there is a core group here led by Mary that is not only encouraging this new behavior, they’re almost pushing it on me. Mary, pushing how proud we should all be of the work we’re doing in His name. Abigail’s zeal for his Word and Light is as impressive as her appetite. She’s been working hard with Miriam, and they are the driving force behind getting out and recruiting. “There can never be enough members, there can always be more.” I can hear their voices in my head now, urging me on.
There are others who are not exactly opposed to Mary’s group, but they prefer a more moderate approach. John and Samuel insisted I need to take a conservative role, and slowly spread His Word and Light. To know that this is a marathon, not a race, and we can’t win it in a single day, week, or even year. I’ve even noticed a small rift between Joseph and Mary here. Joseph prefers the understated approach to her zealousness. I have to admit it can be difficult to contend with them all, but they see me as their leader. They trust me to take the correct action and because of this, together we will not fail Him.
I’ll be in Louisville, spreading His Word and Light.
Don Winters stepped down off his crate and stared down at the egg Bobby Dean had dropped moments earlier on live television. He felt a small measure of satisfaction pulling one over Dean and Cancer Jiles, but he could feel his anger rising as well. They shouldn’t have been there. The message The Revelator was spreading was not intended for their ears. Dean and Jiles were trespassers, interlopers, undesirables unworthy of His Word and Light. That’s what had Don’s blood beginning to boil, and with each step back toward the Mobile Ministry he could feel his temperature rising. “How dare they.” He muttered under his breath.
October 20, 2023
Who do they think they are? Who does Cancer Jiles think he is? A God? When there is only His Word and Light? Blasphemy. Every single word that comes out of that man’s mouth is untrustworthy and blasphemous. There is something incredibly evil inside of that man, and despite the impetus, I have my doubts about whether he is deserving. Crash was promised and that promise was delivered, but Jiles? The bile in my gut begins to rise at the mere thought of his name.
A false idol.
It makes me sick.
The parking brake released from the bus as it began to leave the parking lot jostled Winters from his thoughts. He watched out the window to see the scenery slowly passing by, the arena lit up, the fountain spouting in tune to something indiscernible. The bus headed back for the highway to trek home to the church. Winters dropped his head to his chest and began dozing off, but made one promise to himself before he did.
Sunday. His day.
“Good morning, Father Don.” Fourteen voices recalled in cheery unison.
The Revelator stood at the lectern, the camera focused only on him, now recording. He was, as always dressed in a white suit and crimson shirt. The Roman collar was becoming less of an albatross with each passing day. He looked at the camera with kind eyes and a small smile, his hands lightly gripping the lectern before him.
“We are gathered here this morning to discuss Jeremiah 17:11. I believe this is important to talk about today because of the events you witnessed in Louisville. The complete contempt and disrespect that man and his gluttonous tow-along had for us and His Word and Light. It churns my stomach to even mention him, but we must. He demands it of us.”
Winters paused his monologue momentarily to regain his composure. He could feel the first bead of sweat forming along the brow of his auburn slickback.
“Jeremiah 17:11 tells us that, like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch, so is he who gets riches but not by justice; in the midst of his days they will leave him, and at his end, he will be a fool.”
His right hand freed itself from the lectern.
“Cancer Jiles.” His hand gesticulated to his stomach as the name escaped his lips. “The partridge gathering the brood he did not hatch. Profiting off of the work of Dean, Doozer, countless others that don’t bear worthy of mentioning, and now, Avalon. Did Cancer Jiles earn this following? Does he deserve the riches he has bestowed upon himself?”
Both hands were free now. The Revelator was becoming more animated in his movements.
“Right now, in this moment Jiles is the cock of the walk. He feathers and preens about while the hens mindlessly follow and dote upon him. They all work to serve their false idol, but I have to ask, where is he leading them? Where is their fulfillment in life?”
He paused, considering his next words.
“There is NO justice in the existence of Cancer Jiles. He is an evil, unholy danger. He has never earned anything honestly in this life, and he will tell you that with a smile. He will use, abuse, demean, and belittle his followers. Yet he believes they will never leave him, and oh, my brothers and sisters, that is where Cancer Jiles is quite wrong. In the end, he’s nothing more than an antiquated parlor trick. They will not be deceived forever. The Bandits are the fools now, but they will see the Light one day.”
Don Winters smiled again, sweat streaking down his face now.
“As detestable as he is, there is much to be admired in a man who will so openly lie to you. So openly cheats, or steals to get what he wants. Why is that admirable? It’s admirable because you know exactly what sort of person you are dealing with. Right down to an atomic level. Cancer Jiles is nothing more than a false idol, and at the end of the day, when it comes right down to it, deep down inside he knows that. It eats away at his core.”
Winters gripped the lectern once more and leaned forward slightly.
“Cancer Jiles is a false idol leading a flock of hens only for himself. There is no end goal other than Cancer Jiles. We are holding up His Word and Light. Our cause is righteous. Our cause is undeniable. Ours is the one true cause. His is the one true Word. His is the one true Light. False idols and prophets cannot stand before us and that includes Cancer Jiles. That includes the eGG Bandits, but I promise you one day they will see. They will have a revelation and a realization and Cancer Jiles will be all alone.”
Another smile. Winters was enjoying himself. He could hear their voices in the back of his mind urging him on, even as he saw them sitting in front of him. He felt as if they were all quite intimately connected in this moment. No competing for attention and direction, only unity.
“Do you know why Cancer Jiles always wears those ridiculous sunglasses?” He was getting off-topic, but he didn’t care. “It’s because he demands that everyone see themselves in him. Such is the outrageous size of his ego. A false idol that demands you see yourself in him cannot stand. He can only lead to excess and ruin. He must be stopped, his Golden Ticket confiscated. His Word and Light demands that The Revelator write the name of Cancer Jiles in the book. He demands absolution. I will give Him the greatest prize I can possibly give, The Greek God of Cool.”
Later that evening Don Winters, feeling cool and relaxed, sent word to Abigail that he would finally be attending dinner with the parishioners. Don knew that they would be infinitely more excited than he would by the prospect, and that was alright. This was more about them, throwing them a little something to make them feel more like he was one of them and not just leading them like Cancer Jiles. The connectedness he felt during the sermon only solidified this thought in his mind. He couldn’t allow himself to become a cancer himself, there was enough of that going around, whether it be secret or a man that embodied the disease.
The sun had already set and a few solar lights dimly lit a path down to the big tent. Don wanted to take his time, the crickets had slowed down even further than the last time he had walked the grounds like this. Autumn was setting in and a cold, hard winter wasn’t far behind. Their faith would see them through, though. The thought of that warmed his heart and his pace down the path quickened.
The first thing that he noticed was the lack of light coming from the tents. Usually, lanterns brightened the area, but it was cascaded in darkness. As loathe as he was to use the technology, Don Winters pulled out a mobile phone and swiped the flashlight on as he approached the tent.
The second thing that hit him was the smell, and it was overpowering. His eyes immediately began to water, his stomach turned itself over three or four times and he doubled over gagging and hacking over the wretched odor. Winters told his constitution he would not puke and he gathered himself upright to enter the tent.
The third thing that came to his attention was the sound coming from within. Incessant droning. A cacophony of buzzing thrummed up in his ears and didn’t relent. Holding his breath he opened the makeshift flap door and entered the area. The folding tables lined up across the center of the area were set with fifteen identical place settings.
Don Winters waved his phone over the table to illuminate what he could. Every last plate was filled with rotting eggs. Scrambled, omelets, poached, hard-boiled, you name it, they were there. The smell of sulphur was becoming unbearable and flies were thick in the air buzzing around his head, flying on him, landing on him. He could hear them. Hear their front legs cleaning their antennae. He had to get out.
He opened the flap and rushed outside, trying to suck in the cool autumn air. He stared up at the black night sky and it reminded him of the hotel’s 50” television. He then gasped one last time before everything else went dark, too.