"Welcome, welcome, friend," the dark-haired man said, sticking out his hand, "I'm Christopher."
Rob shook the offered hand. "Rob. It's, uh, it's nice to meet you."
"We were just about to sit down for the evening meal," the woman standing next to Christopher said, "Would you care to join us?"
"Sure," Rob said, "Thank you."
The couple, or at least he assumed they were a couple, led Rob in to the house. "We don't get too many visitors out here," the woman said, "But we like to be hospitable."
"Not too many are these days," Rob replied.
"Well, it's important for us to display the love to everyone," she said, "We are the chosen, after all."
"I see," Rob said, unsure of how to reply. "By the way, I didn't catch your name."
"Are you married? I mean, to each other?"
"Oh, no," she laughed. "There's no marriage here."
Rob fell silent and let them lead him through the house and out the back. They ended up in a large barn. A pair of long, wooden tables ran most of the length of the building. Each table was about half occupied, with men ranging in age from about seventy to maybe fifteen sitting on the inside and women, mostly skewed towards younger ages, sitting on the outside.
"Take a seat," Christopher said, gesturing towards an empty spot next to a young man and across from a blond teenage girl.
Rob took the offered seat. He shook hands with the guy sitting next to him. "Rob."
"Charlie." Nice to meet you.
He turned to the girl, who smiled shyly, then looked down at the table. "Hey, I'm Rob," he said.
She looked up, smiled again, and mumbled something. "That's Kristen," Charlie said. "She's kind of shy, but once you get to know her better...well, you'll learn, I'm sure."
Rob didn't get a response. Christopher had taken a position at the head of one of the tables. He loudly cleared his throat and began speaking.
"Friends," he said, "Today is a truly auspicious day. I have heard from the lord. He has given me a message to share with you all. It has been ten days since the Lord took away our enemies and our work is finally to begin."
Rob risked a look across the table at Kristen. She was staring at Christopher with rapt attention and an expression somewhere between love and worship. He turned and caught a glance at a couple of the men at the other table. They, too, had adopted an expression of worship. He began to feel distinctly uncomfortable.
He pulled his jacket close to his side as unobtrusively as possible. The reassuring bulk of the Glock in its concealed pocket offered a bit of comfort.
"We have waited for the prophesied day," Christopher continued, "The day that the Lord removes the lukewarm church from this world and takes the innocents in to his divine protection so that we can begin the true work of preparing this world for the imminent return of the Messiah.
"And much work must be done to prepare this world. For the Good Book commands, 'Go ye therefore and multiply and subdue the Earth.' And that it what we will do. Tonight the Lord told me it is time to begin multiplying so that we might raise new children in the proper way.
"I have told you," he voice lowered, "That the sins of this world will be repaid to it seven fold. The Lord has shown that He is displeased with the heathens, the heretics, and the false believers for raising the innocent to be full of carnal and worldly knowledge. So the Lord has taken the innocents away.
"It is now time," his voice rose, "Time for us. It is time for us to multiply. It is time for us to subdue. It is time for us to lead the world in the Lord's name," he finished nearly at a yell.
The young man next to Rob had turned his attention to the girl across the table. He was studying her with a lustful gaze. Everything suddenly clicked in to place. He wanted to run.
"I'm so glad you've come to join us," Kristen said from across the table. "I didn't think I'd be able to play my part in the Lord's plan."
"You, uh, you what?"
"I've been preparing my entire life for this moment," she smiled at him, "But as the youngest, I didn't think I would have a chance. This is a great blessing."
"The youngest? How old are you?"
Rob swallowed hard and blinked. "And you've been here your entire life?"
"Yes," she nodded enthusiastically, "I've been blessed to be born and raised here, in the Lord's new Eden."
"I have to go," Rob said. He began to get up from the table, but suddenly realized he was already standing. All he could think about was escape.
Several of the men had also stood up. They began to gather around him.
"What seems to be the commotion?" Christopher asked, stepping between two of the men to stand directly in front of Rob.
"I'm really not comfortable with...well, with whatever it is you're doing here," Rob said. "I think I'm going to go."
"But you haven't even had dinner," Christopher said. "I'm sure that it will all seem much better after you've filled your stomach."
"No, no, that's okay."
"Really, we insist."
"I do, too," Rob pulled out the Glock. The men all backed off a step. He turned to Kristen. "Look, I don't know you," he said, "But if things are happening here that I think are happening, you don't have to stick around."
"But it's the Lord's plan," she replied.
"No," Rob shook his head, "It isn't. Look, I don't know what god's plan is, but it's not this. This is just fucked up."
"I will not go with you," she said. "I will stay here and do the work the Lord has given me. The Good Book says that I will be blessed by my children, so I must play my part."
"I should put a bullet through your head," Rob said to Christopher, his voice lowering to an angry growl. "But I don't think that killing you will save that poor girl from being exploited by one of these other perverts."
One of the other men stepped in front of Christopher. "I don't think you have enough bullets to kill us all, mister. Do you?"
Rob's finger tightened on the trigger and for a brief moment he considered trying to get to Christopher. "No," he whispered, relaxing his grip, "I don't."
"These are our ways," Kristen said. "We live by the word of the Lord."
"I don't think that your god called you to have children with the first random guy who shows up," Rob said. "Christopher over here is exploiting you. You don't have to stay. Come with me. Please."
"You should probably go," Kristen said. "You obviously do not understand the ways of the Lord and will bring judgment down upon us if you stay."
Rob realized his was in a no win situation. He backed out of the barn, then turned and ran back to his Subaru.
As he got back on the road and pointed the car towards Missouri, he looked in the rear view mirror and made a simple vow. "I will never leave anyone behind again," he said to the empty highway behind him. "I've run away too many times."
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3 weeks ago