EMERGENCY PRAYER SESSION.
As Stewart’s pixilation disappeared, Jesse’s eyes rolled to the rear of his head, and his torso thrusted backward in consternation. “Wow, I’m surprised he exercised restraint,” he said. “Typically, he has one hand on his heart and the other on the H-bomb button.”
“Jess, I’m sorry,” Matt pled. “I didn’t realize I am being so insensitive.”
Jesse, without making eye contact, held up his palm as if to plea with his cousin to stop. “Keep trying Bob and Stacy,” he replied.
The next ten minutes of their walk seemed like a constant loop. Wailing sirens, honking horns, and the cries of panicked passersby filled the air. The tension amongst Sarah and the Maiths was palpable.
A half a mile away from the Clarkson district, their physical and mental exhaustion prevented them from realizing where on Bergen Boulevard they were.
An enthusiastic fellow dressed in a black garbage back interrupted them.
“Jesse Maith! Welcome back!” exclaimed the man. Jesse froze in shock, raised his eyebrows, then realized they were in Faithville.
What he didn’t notice was how the colony had seemingly quadrupled in size since their last visit. The stench of discarded food, trash bins and dumpsters, and general uncleanliness of the seemingly hundreds of pryvies was vomit-inducing.
The rancid breath of Gabriel, The Four’s de facto leader, filtered through Jesse’s nose like a potent stomach-churning drug.
“Oh, hi, Gabriel, right?” Jesse asked.
“Yes!” Gabriel replied. “I’m disappointed in the Alpine loss, but we have more important things to worry about! Won’t you and your friends join us for a prayer session in my tent?”
“Well, thank you for the offer, but we need to get going. We are trying to connect with our families in Manhattan.”
“They’ll be okay, believe it!”
“With all due respect, Gabriel, we’re a little scared and it would be best if…”
Gabriel wrapped his fetid arms around Jesse’s left shoulder, nauseating him. “My boy, it’s a matter of faith! If you keep praying, your family will be fine.”
A queasiness overtook Jesse. He wasn’t sure whether to be offended or astonished, but he knew he was too uncomfortable to marshal any further rebuttals as he began leading him toward a large green tent at once in front of them.
As they entered, they were greeted by the remaining Faithville Four. Jesse rebuffed the offers for hugs and pleasantries from Isiah, Zachary, and Peter, and instead took in a fascinating yet curious view of the tent’s interior: makeshift piecemeal’d pews of plastic chairs, wooden planks suspended over tires and other large objects, and metal benches flanked a plain green walkway that led to a card table near the back that posed as an altar, with a faded-gold Joshuan cross nailed to the rear wall.
Conspicuously absent from the tent was artificial light, but a tiny space at the apex of the tent’s roof was a circular-cut hole that allowed natural light to shine down upon the altar.
The crude setting for a house of worship did not deter up to fifty additional pryvies from gathering inside.
“Ah, the quarterback!” Zachary exclaimed. “You’re right on time!”
“Right on time for what?!” Jesse asked.
“Emergency prayer session,” Isiah gleamed. “Tragedies are a perfect opportunity for them!”
A perfect opportunity? Excuse me?! Why would thousands dying make you so excited?! To validate your deific inclinations?! Jesse thought. He looked into Isiah’s eyes like daggers.
“Look, fellas,” Jesse sternly said, “if you want to have a prayer session, by all means. But when you’re finished, may I have a quick word with you four?”
“Of course, sir!” Isiah exclaimed. He then received approval from Gabriel, Zachary, and Peter, and the Four began walking toward the altar.
“C’mon,” Jesse pled to his cousins and Sarah, “let’s wait outside.”
“Jesse, can we please go home?” Mary pled as they exited the tent. “Why would you even entertain these weirdos?”
“I’m surprised they didn’t get offended when you declined to join them in a prayer,” Matt said.
“I don’t think they will pray for the victims,” Sarah posited.
“They’re not?!” Mary asked.
“They’re pryvies that migrated from the cities, and they have an undying devotion to you-know-who,” Sarah replied. “It’s a hallmark of those types of tents. And don’t you think it’s strange that more have sprung up here recently? Is there something they know?”
“Perhaps we should ask them,” Jesse said.
“No!” Mary pled, thrusting her arms skyward in disgust. “Didn’t you just tell us we need to focus on reaching our parents?!”
Jesse sighed, realizing his hypocrisy. “You’re right, Mare,” he resigned.
“I’m with Mary on this one, Jess,” Matt sternly interjected. “You may think you’re trying to act like a natural leader, but a leader doesn’t threaten his subordinates!”
“Look, I said I was sorry! I overreacted! I know you meant nothing by…”
“Hey!” Matt interrupted. “If you want to stay here and preach to your pryvie friends, Mary and I will walk home together while trying to accomplish a more important task!”
“Which,” Mary screamed, “I’ve called mom and dad a combined eighteen times now, and still nothing!”
“Boys and girls!” Peter interrupted as he rubbed his bald head as he and the other Faithville Four members reemerged outside the tent. “Why are you yelling?”
“That’s none of your business!” Mary snapped.
“Now, I don’t think the good Lord would appreciate that!” Peter replied with a grin.
“May I ask a question?” Sarah interpolated. “Do you think your prayers will heal the families of the victims amid their grief?”
“It will,” Gabriel vehemently replied. “Faith is the key to life, according to Joshua! And honestly, if their families can’t grasp that, I feel sorry for them!”
“Will God protect those assuredly be sent to the front lines to fight New Alaska?” Sarah sternly asked. “Because you and I both know that prayers won’t stop your head from being blown to smithereens by an HK-87.”
“Miss,” Isiah smoothly interjected, “if we go to armed conflict with New Alaska, God is sending a message that we need to heed another call to action to protect our freedom and our way of life!”
“Let me guess,” Zachary angrily interjected. “You’re getting talking points from those heathen devils at NOR, who wouldn’t know freedom if it bit them in the face?!”
“You’re okay with living in poverty like this?!” an astounded Sarah replied. The Maiths stood by frozen in silence, not knowing how to or if they should intervene.
“Miss,” Zachary steadfastly replied while pointing his finger at Sarah. “We’d rather live in poverty than take any marching order from a government type!”
“But you’ll listen to you-know-who?!”
“It is your duty to respect the office of the Ultimate Minister!”
“Miss, I think you need to recuse yourself from this conversation! We worked hard, all under our own freewill, to educate ourselves about the world, economics, and individual liberties…”
“And how have you benefitted economically?!”
“If I have to continue to work hard, so be it! It’s better than being told what to think and how to feel!”
“So if you-know-who tells you to go off to New Alaska and drop an H-bomb, you’d obey that order?! Even if one of his cronies points a laser at your head?!”
“To protect our freedoms, absolutely! And I speak for the rest of my friends that we will gladly go to the front lines if called upon!”
“BUT YOU’RE CONTRADICTING YOUR…”
A loud ringing reverberating from her backpack interrupted Sarah’s rant. Frantically, she ran to her backpack, produced her ultraphone, and gasped when she saw the name of the recipient.
“DAD?!” she shrieked and exhilaratingly panted for air when the image of her gray-balding father’s oval face with scruffy white beard appeared.
“Yes, honey,” Sarah’s father replied, smiling. “I’m in the office, but we’re all safe.”
“She’s safe, too. I reached her two minutes ago.”
Sarah fell to her knees and began sobbing, liberatingly releasing a myriad of pent-up emotions. She hadn’t felt more relieved in her entire life.
Before Jesse could walk over to embrace her, Gabriel re-grabbed his attention. “See! The power of prayer, my friend!” he exclaimed. Jesse rolled his eyes, approached him, and smirked.
“Gabe, my man,” Jesse jibed, “I think you’ve totally missed the point. But… since you and your boys are keen on such power, would you mind joining me in a quick Joshuan prayer?”
“You know the Joshuan Diaries?!” Gabriel exclaimed.
“I think I know enough, so I hope you’ll indulge me.”
“Of course! Boys! Gather ’round!”
Isiah, Zachary, and Peter enthusiastically crowded around Jesse. As the Faithville Four fixed their collective eyes on Jesse with enthused anticipation, Jesse cleared his throat and protracted his chest. “Gentlemen,” he began, “this won’t be a prayer in the conventional sense. This will be a verbatim quote from the first book of the Joshuan diaries which I think fits the occasion.” Jesse and the four then locked hands and closed their eyes, and Jesse’s voice boomed like an artificial loudspeaker. “Brothers and sisters,” he began, drawing the attention of at least ten to twenty pryvies in the vicinity. “In times of trouble, many will turn to the Lord for comfort, but we also must be very careful to not let the Lord’s teachings influence us to commit divisive and potentially harmful acts against our fellow human beings! We must do unto others as the Lord’s comfort would do unto us, and anything deviant is a sin! Amen!”
Jesse released his hands from the grip of Gabriel and Isiah, approached Sarah, and gave her a hug and kiss. “I’m glad your parents are safe,” he whispered.
“Thank you,” she quivered as she buried her head in her arms.