Denied the modern marvel of electricity, the small building glowed in the warmth of candlelight illuminating the faces of his captive audience. He preferred candlelight, it allowed the shadows to come alive and join in the ceremony. It helped set the mood, bringing his flock back to an earlier time in history, one he himself longed for.
“Brethren, I say unto thee, do not keep thy faith.” The tall thin man standing behind the podium raised his left hand as people on the benches in front of him answered in a mixed chorus of ‘no’s’ and ‘tell it brother’s’. “Again,” his voice lowered so they had to be quiet to hear him. “I urge you, do, not, keep, your, faith. No!” He shook his head and spoke louder. “No,” he smacked the podium. “I say this, share, your faith, give your faith to others,” as his audience clapped and agreed as he moved from behind the podium. “Faith, my brothers and sisters is most valuable when shared. Faith, only grows when shared.” He paused for affect and to listen to the replies, making sure his tiny congregation was still hanging on his every word.
Zeke nodded. “Where, where does your faith live?” He opened his arms out wide signaling the others hiding in the shadows waiting their turn to appear. “Does faith live in your heart, in your mind, in your body?” The pitch in his voice got louder. He didn’t need a microphone to project his voice, to hell and back with technology. The energy in the air was palpable, he breathed it in allowing it to fill him. “Nay!” He countered. “Nay, it is in your blood, your blood carries your faith.” His audience was at a fevered pitch, hanging on his every word. He promised them salvation and he promised them it would be tonight.
He waved his hands silencing them and like the good children they were, they quieted and waited. He looked to the left and turned his attention to a lovely young woman in a wheelchair. All eyes turned to her and a collective sigh swept through the tiny building.
Zeke held out his hand to her. “My lovely Christiana, tell me my love, is there enough faith in this room to share?”
The young woman blushed at being the center of attention. She slowly lifted her right hand to her chest and nodded once.
Zeke released the breath he was holding. It was always a fifty-fifty chance Chris was paying attention and remembered her part. He put his hands on his hips and shook his head. “I am pleased my brethren, pleased. What a joyous night, a perfect night, a night like no other. I promised you salvation and I will bring it to you.” His audience moved again murmuring amongst themselves. It was time to bring out the angels. “Remember our first meeting? Do you remember the reason you followed me here, to this place? You were unhappy with your lives, dissatisfied. Yes, you have your wealth, the admiration and esteem from your colleagues and those surrounding you. The realization is, at some point you are going to lose it all and die.” His voice was somber yet sympathetic. “I promised if you followed me and obeyed me I would reward you with everlasting life. Not in heaven. Who needs the dull, tranquil state of unimagined boredom? Here, here on earth, I have been given the power of death over life and I my children, am going to share it, with you.” His congregation shouted; cheering, clapping, and waving their arms. Zeke breathed in their excitement like an aphrodisiac. The scene had been set, the players in place, time to spring the trap.
The shabby wooden doors were locked and reinforced, the stained glass windows were only reachable with a ladder and none of them knew of the cellar door behind what use to serve as an altar. Zeke looked out at his converts, sheep for the slaughter.
Zeke threw his head back and his arms up. “How many, how many, how many can I save? One, two, twenty, all?” He lowered his arm and hung his head. His children were screaming now, pick me, pick me. They were promising him money, and jewels, houses, anything. He ignored it letting the fervor grow in them, letting their blood heat the already too warm room. A whisper reached his ears and snapped his head up.
“Wait!” He raised his hand. “Do you hear?” They took turns shushing each other. “The angels, the angels have come,” above and behind him appeared four men. A strange ethereal quality surrounded them. You could hear the women in the audience sigh.
Zeke turned to face the ‘angels’. He frowned at them, a warning for them to get their parts right or pay the price later. He narrowed his eyes as he looked at them. Michael was the first and furthest to his left. His ink black hair tickled his shoulders and alabaster skin covered a sculpted body. Next to him, hung Gabriel who was as dark as Michael was white. His build a little thicker than Michael and an inch taller. He was the only one allowed to have long hair but it hung in thin braids passed his shoulders. He gave Zeke a slight nod, such a good boy. Next was Raphael who looked every bit the Latino he used to be including the hair thin mustache over his upper lip. One glance from Zeke and the smirk he was wearing disappeared. He too had a sculpted body the likes of which Adonis himself would envy. Last but not least was Uriel, Zeke’s oldest and most faithful minion. His blonde hair and blue eyes often charmed more than the ladies. He didn’t need to look at Zeke. He obeyed like a well-heeled dog. What Zeke wanted Uriel did regardless of the task. They were all bare-chested but wore loose white pants.
Zeke threw his hands in the air. “Angels, I beg thee, help me in my task, tell me, how many may I save?”
The angels pretended to scour the audience for one worthy of saving. Uriel went to move but Michael stepped out of line before he could. He didn’t look at Zeke who was fuming.
“All, they must all be saved.”
Zeke hissed letting Michael know this little incident wouldn’t be forgotten. “If all are to be saved who, who shall go first?” The congregation became quiet, each hoping their name would be the one called. He turned to face his audience. “Bring the one to me; bring me the first of the chosen.”
There was movement towards the back as people made way. Two woman wearing shear flowing white gowns leading another woman. They stopped short of Zeke and bowed to him taking a step back. Zeke took in the woman’s looks; she was of average height with bouncy red hair, green eyes and a fair complexion. Her full lower lip trembled as her eyes flitted over Zeke’s face looking for reassurance, warmth; she’d not find any, not from him. Zeke reached out and barely touched her jaw with the tip of his finger. She was now paralyzed, none of the congregation knew it. He stepped back.
“Undress her and ready her for the ceremony.”
The four angels moved, drifting from their perches to join the lowly masses on the ground. They walked past Zeke slowly, in a calculated walk as if they had all the time in the world. It had taken them three weeks of hard work to decide which of the flock to choose, but in the end it was Michael’s decision since she would be his. Sherry’s eyes got big but she couldn‘t move, couldn‘t stop them. She looked at Zeke and for a brief second panicked, then thought no more.
When she was naked, Zeke turned her around for the others to see. He held her arms out at her sides. “Drink in the sight of her youth and beauty. She will never age, she will never die.” The congregation cheered, they would be next, wouldn’t they? Zeke moved in front of Sherry, he gathered her in his arms; it seemed as if he was holding her lovingly against him.
Zeke did his best not to choke. The woman’s blood was awful, it was thick and filled with drugs from trying to lose weight, stay awake, fall asleep and depression. He kept sucking, pulling at the flesh of her neck, finally, finally her body convulsed against his as the last drop of blood splashed against the back of his throat. He pulled his head away from her neck, blood trickled from the corners of his mouth. He closed his eyes as her blood warmed him as it making its way through his system. He dropped her body to the ground. He smiled when the sheep gasped. He turned on them, a wicked, evil smile playing on his normally docile face.
“Save them my angels, save them all.”
Stunned for the briefest of seconds, the congregation remained still. A muffled scream and a gurgle and they instantly went crazy making a mad dash for the door. Zeke sighed and watched the ensuing blood bath with little to no amusement. He had already moved on to thinking about something else as his eyes watched the slaughter.
Uriel caught his eye and knelt at his feet. He bowed his head. “Master,”
Zeke put his hand on Uriel’s cheek. “My sweet, Uriel, such a good boy, did you get enough?” Uriel turned his head to the side. “Silly child, you need your strength, go feed.”
Uriel looked at Zeke, the love in his eyes evident. “Can I get you something, Master?”
“You are always thinking of me.” Zeke smiled, a genuine smile a father would have for a son. “No, I’m fine, go drink your fill.”
“Thank you, Master.” Uriel kissed the back of Zeke’s hand and disappeared into the darkness to feed. He returned promptly dragging a young man by his arm.
Uriel bowed. “For, for her,”
“How thoughtful,” Zeke bent and kissed the top of Uriel’s head. “Go,”
Uriel smiled and went back to feed.
Zeke put his hand into the animal’s hair and raised it to eye level. The thing flinched when he looked it in the eye. It was still conscious, how delicious. It would see its own death. “Uriel is so thoughtful, he has earned a reward, don’t you think?” Zeke took his other hand and plunged it into the chest of the paralyzed man. His mouth opened but no sound issued forth. Zeke tugged pulling away the flesh and bone protecting the animal’s heart. There was a brief crunching sound as he pulled the ribs off protecting the heart. He reached into the chest cavity and tugged once pulling the still beating heart from the vermin’s chest, another tug and it was free from the body altogether. The man’s body convulsed as Zeke dropped it. He walked towards Chris and knelt before her.
“Look, darling, a present from Uriel,”
Chris blinked and her eyes focused on Zeke. She smiled and looked at the proffered present. “Ooh, for me? How sweet you are.” She took the heart lovingly into her hands and cradled it against her chest. “It’s still warm and full of blood.” She raised it to her mouth and devoured it.
Zeke smiled and stood. He looked around; the humans were dead now, laying in pieces all over the church. He walked to the altar. “Come to me children, come.” Six bodies moved to kneel in front of him. He smiled at them. “How beautiful you all are.” Blood covered their bodies and clothes, their faces and hair. They smiled back at him their eyes glistening like jewels. He held his hands out. “Gabriel, Jayden, come to me.” They moved to stand in front of him resting a cheek in the palm of his hand. “You have both done well this time. You may have four weeks, go.”
Gabriel smiled. “Thank you, Master, thank you.” He grabbed Jayden’s hand and disappeared.
“Raphael, Maria, come.” They stood in the spot Gabriel and Jayden vacated. “My lovely children, you too have done well.” He rubbed his thumb over Maria’s cheek. “This was an exceptional location. The seasons are getting colder now. We should head south from here, anywhere but Louisiana.”
“Yes, Master, south.” She blinked at him.
“Be ready for me in three weeks.”
“Yes, Master, thank you.” Raphael went to say something and she hissed at him. He lowered his head and they were gone.
Zeke put his hands behind his back. “Uriel,”
“Y, yes Master.”
“Please take Chris downstairs and get her ready to leave. Make sure you change her clothes and clean her off.”
“Yes, Master.” Uriel moved from Zeke’s sight and wheeled the blood covered Chris from the room.
Zeke waited for the sound of the door closing softly behind Uriel. He looked at Michael. “You were a naughty boy tonight Michael.”
“Silence,” Michael cringed at the tone of Zeke’s voice. “I did not give you permission to speak.” Zeke kept his voice soft and calm. “I should kill you and that thing for your impertinence.” Michael went to speak but closed his mouth. Zeke reached out and held Michael by the throat squeezing ever so lightly. “I do not need you, you, need me.” He tightened his grip. “Without me, you are dead, without you, I am still the Master. There will always be another Michael out there, another Raphael or Maria. I can replace you as easily as a pair of shoes.” He released Michael who fell to the ground gasping for air. “I only keep you because you amuse me. This was Uriel’s night, it was he who was supposed to lead, and you robbed him of it. Such a selfish child you are, I cannot abide greed in my children. You must pay for your bad behavior.” He looked over his shoulder at the woman chosen to go first. “Take her downstairs and get her ready. I’ll get to your punishment before we leave.”
“Y, yes, Master, th, thank you.”
Zeke reached out and petted Michael’s hair. “I know you were excited about tonight but you must not let your emotions control you.”
Michael bowed his head. “I’m sorry, truly Master, I am sorry.” He moved staying low and picked up the woman slinging her over his shoulder. He went to take a step when something pierced his chest. His perfect face contorted in sorrow. “Master,” he dropped the woman and his body jerked as Zeke pulled his hand out of his body. He coughed and blood ran from his mouth. He closed his eyes as Zeke moved behind him. “Thank you,”
Zeke grabbed Michael’s head. “You are welcome, child.” With a gentle twist Michael’s head turned. There was crunching, snapping and Michael’s head separated from his body. Zeke dropped Michael’s head then without giving it another thought decapitated the woman
Uriel heard footsteps on the stairs but didn’t bother to look away from his task. “Michael?”
“Michael won’t be joining us on our journey.”
Uriel sighed. “Master,”
“He outlived his amusement potential.” Zeke started undressing. “Is everything else ready to go?”
“Yes, Master.” Uriel moved and helped Zeke finish. “Master?”
“Yes, child?” He turned to look at Uriel when he didn’t answer right away. “What is it, ask, come on, you ask for so little, tell me what is it you need from me.”
Uriel kept his head bent and looked at Zeke. “I, I don’t want to impose on you.”
“Child, you are beginning to wear on my nerves, tell me.” Uriel mumbled something and cowered away from Zeke. Zeke chuckled. “Very well, for being patient and well behaved you shall have your wish.”
Uriel looked at Zeke and smiled. “Thank you, Master, thank you.”
Uriel put the last of the suitcases in the trunk of the car and held the door open for his master. Zeke moved to Uriel and looked back at the burning building. Humans were such stupid creatures, they were never satisfied, and they always wanted more. More wealth, more health, beauty, fame, power, youth, they wanted more and whatever they wanted Zeke promised them was in their grasp through him. He exploited their weaknesses time and again in each town they stopped in. Stupid creatures. He put a hand on Uriel’s cheek and kissed the other. “Remember the speed trap on the edge of town.”
Uriel smiled. “Yes, Master.”