Chapter Sixteen: Skipping Satanic devotion for something better
They had to miss the Satan daily devotional hour, the time when everyone on earth tuned their VRT to channel 666 and worshiped Satan's image while he talked to them. The demons would do something to make their hosts go into a trance. When they awoke an hour later, they wouldn't remember anything, but somehow that hour reinforced their evil hold. If you missed one episode, the demons punished you severely.
"I still think we should've brought the dogs," Nick said as they walked along McDonnell Trail, which led out of town.
Ronny shook his head. "Our automatic guns will be enough protection." Ronny didn't know why Nick had thought they were supposed to let the dogs kill old man Stypinski's cats. He hadn't said anything to Valerie or Nick, but was fairly confident that wasn't their mission.
As they walked, the street lights became fewer and fewer, until they were surrounded by deep blackness, only their flashlights an aid to lead the way. Only occasionally would a car drive by and light up their surroundings, as most could barely afford food and clothes let alone cars. The air smelled sulfurous, like the smell left lingering in the air after an enforcer demon walked by. A light rain drizzled and Ronny tasted the drops with his tongue, feeling a slight sting as he did. It tasted acidic and he spit it out.
When Ronny had cried out in desperation the other night, he'd received a very distinct message. He didn't hear anything audible, but knew nevertheless to go to this location and God would have somebody there to help them. Ronny hadn't told Valerie and Nick this, as he was sure they wouldn't have come.
Ronny had been mildly surprised, but very happy, when Nick and Valerie said they were having the same urge, but remained unaware of its origin. If they were really going to have an encounter with God, Ronny would prefer company. He'd never done anything like this before and was frightened.
Ronny wondered if the demons were aware of what was ahead. None of them felt an overpowering urge to stop. On the contrary, they kept walking, compelled but not knowing why, at least not Valerie and Nick.
After a long distance, Nick stopped walking. "I'm getting a funny feeling. Maybe we should go back."
Ronny could sense their destination up ahead. They had passed right by Stypinski's place, but there was another farmhouse about two minutes walk away. "We're almost there, Nick. Don't stop now."
"He's right," Valerie said. "I feel we must do this."
Nick finally relented. They continued on and found themselves amongst a crowd of thousands. There was a white van parked near the house, and in the middle of the yard, there was a raised platform with four speakers in front. Also on the platform was a podium with a microphone.
"There's something strange going on here," Nick said. "I don't think I like it. Let's get out of here."
"Just wait a minute," Ronny said. "We'll find out soon. Be patient."
Nick asked several people beside him what was going on, and received three "I don't knows" before someone mentioned they suspected a speaker was going to talk about God. The mere suggestion got him visibly nervous.
"I'm leaving," Nick said and was about to turn back when several people got on the platform. He froze, shock tattooed on his face.
Ronny looked at the podium and realized what had shaken his friend: Nick's dad was on the platform.
Nick started to feel very uncomfortable. He nervously looked around and noticed his mom seemed a little rattled herself. She was fidgeting and licking her lips. Only Ronny seemed eager to hear more; he was half-smiling, leaning slightly forward, and bobbing around to see better.
Nick's heart started to beat faster and his face felt flushed. He wondered if he should try to get away while he still could. The demons would probably kill him if he tried converting to God's side.
An inner tug told him to run. If he didn't, something weird might happen. Unexpectedly, however, Nick didn't feel any pains of warning, only inner thoughts deluging his mind; even now, he was lusting for the beautiful lady standing beside his dad. But the thoughts were more controllable. He wondered if Ronny could have been right, and perhaps God was helping him somehow. He hadn't even asked for any.
"We didn't advertise," the speaker continued, "yet you all came here tonight. Thousands of you. That was no coincidence. You didn't hear about us through the VRT or radio or even by word of mouth, but you did hear from God."
The preacher moved about the platform for emphasis. "Satan and his demons are not going to win this war and you don't need to fear them."
Nobody in the crowd said anything. There was a deathly hush.
Nick swallowed hard, as the speaker continued to talk. Something deep in the pit of his stomach responded, and shame fell upon him like a ton of bricks. He felt as if he had heightened senses, or perhaps a new sixth sense.
Nick didn't know why, but he suddenly felt as if he were being watched by millions of eyes, which could see deep into his soul. He bobbed his head above the crowd, eyes darting wildly, head moving right and left. Nobody was staring at him, but he felt exposed.
The man on the podium pointed his finger at one section of the crowd and fanned it out over the rest. "But even though you've turned your back on God, and have asked demons to come into your heart instead of Jesus Christ, He can, and will, forgive you and restore you if you come to Him."
Nick wanted desperately to believe it could be so. He had lived for so long now, it seemed, weakly giving in to sensuous desires. But he was afraid. If he tried but failed, they would punish him severely, perhaps make him torture himself to death.
Nick looked at his mom. She was clenching her jaws and pounding her fist into her hands. She looked as if she wanted to use her machine gun to kill everyone in the crowd, but especially those on the platform. However, she was constrained by forces Nick didn't understand, nor could see. It was as if she were being held by an invisible force field, unable to act until allowed, until the message was finished.
Ronny was smiling an idiotic grin, wider than a happy clown. He swayed his head back and forth as if in some beautiful dreamland, constrained from shouting praises to God in so far as he didn't want to interfere with the message. Nick wondered if, perhaps, Ronny had already experienced the mysterious freedom the speaker was talking about.
"The Scriptures are very clear." The people on the podium gazed solemnly at the audience. "It says all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But I know I will go to heaven when I die. I will not go to hell and be punished eternally for my sins. Why?"
Again, there was a slight pause as the speaker let the audience soak up his words. Then he told them how God loved them so much He gave His only begotten Son to die for them, and by believing in Him they could have eternal life; God's grace was sufficient to blot out all of their sins. The man even told them about his own past, when he too had been deceived and possessed. He encouraged them to come forward and receive the same deliverance he had experienced long ago.
Nick felt as if a huge weight was being lifted off his back, and a metal clamp which had tightly gripped his head was being loosened. The words of encouragement and hope were so soothing. A tingle went through his body as he felt, for the first time in a long time, there might be real hope for him. Then the fear hit.
Nick looked at the many shadowy faces created by the yard light above the platform. Some were twisted and seething. These same people were wringing their guns in their hands, waiting for the moment to act. Nick still had his survival instinct. Despite what the speaker said about living forever after death, Nick wasn't sure he wanted to experience it yet. The angry people were going to open fire the first chance they got. When exactly that was, he didn't know, but he knew it would happen. Perhaps God was temporarily restraining them, but Nick didn't trust He would continue to do so.
His mother was clenching her gun now too. She must have totally given herself over to the dark powers. If he wanted to stay alive, he would have to do the same. Nick didn't feel proud of himself, but he was a survivor. At least he'd make it home alive, back to the gang, even though a part of him didn't want to go back.
He remembered he still had a Bible stored somewhere in his basement. If he could just get home, Nick could dust it off and read its contents. Surely, if these Christians were speaking the truth, he could experience deliverance at home as easily as here. And he wouldn't have to risk being killed. In fact, if he sneaked out now, it would be all the better.
As he contemplated the possibilities, his fear destroyed the tiny ray of hope he'd experienced. Nick felt the weight fall back on his shoulders and the metal clamp, once again, gripped his head, squeezing tighter than ever before. He realized he couldn't sneak away, for Stro-kar had other plans. Nick let out a muffled groan, as the evil impulses of Stro-kar deluged his mind. He knew what he had to do. Nick was to open fire as soon as God released him from constraints.
Nick looked at his sweaty hands, wringing his gun in anticipation. He found he couldn't move either--he was held tight. He felt as if his mind was inside another body. This wasn't him, not the real him, the new mind which had started to surface.
After a while, the part of him that had responded to the message was relegated to the back recesses of his mind. Nick was his old self again, no longer a stranger in a foreign body. He was Stro-kar-Nick, waiting for his opportunity, relishing in thinking of the bloodshed he would soon cause. His only regret was he was commanded to simply kill them. It would be better if he could slowly torture them to death.
"Time is running out," the preacher said, as if he knew what Nick was thinking. "If God has been drawing on your heart, come to the front of this platform."
Thousands flocked to the platform, some screaming and fighting themselves, but moving nevertheless. Ronny was one of the happy ones. Without hesitation, he ran to the front, like a child ecstatic to meet his long lost father.
For several minutes, Nick listened to the gentle encouragement to come forward and make a commitment to Christ. When he strained his neck to the right and left, he saw several hundred like himself, frozen and clutching guns.
Finally, the preacher commanded the demons to leave the people's bodies in the name of Jesus, and led them in a prayer. "Dear Lord, I know I'm a sinner and need your forgiveness," he began and they repeated after him.
Nick watched the blond-haired lady whisper in his father's ear. His dad nodded and seemed to take that as a cue to mouth something which looked like a prayer and stomp on the ground.
Suddenly Nick was free. Now! Stro-kar was telling him to act now! He pulled back the bolt on his gun and aimed at the crowd, but it was difficult as the ground started to shake.
Somebody beside him let off a few rounds and bodies started to drop. Nick congratulated himself that he wasn't part of the new converts. The trusting religious fools had been betrayed by their God. Bullets tore their backs open before they fell to the ground. Oddly enough, Nick noticed everyone who died had a smile on their face.
The tremors become violent convulsions, knocking Nick to the ground. His mother and several others fell on top of him, but he was glad because they served as a canopy of protection from the large hailstones which started plummeting from heaven.
One man clutched a twisted and bleeding nose, as he writhed on the ground. He was being systematically beaten to death, but the group leaders and their new followers were calmly loading the van. When they were done, they drove away with a huge crowd running alongside. Nick noticed the earthquake and hail lessened the farther away they got.