The U.S. of After Chapter 28

Ethan

That lady knew something about me.

I could see it on her face when she looked at my shirt.

I knew that I had to put as much distance between myself and these people as possible and I had to do it soon.  I thought I’d wait until nightfall, see what I could find as far as supplies and then split.

The people were shuffling around, some of them gathering over to where Jacob was standing.  He had a small black book in his hand and he was waiting quietly, being patient for a good crowd to gather.  I knew a con man when I saw one.  The old man had a good game going.  I decided to listen.

“Friends,” said Jacob, his voice remarkably carrying a good hundred feet to the back of the crowd where I stood with my arms folded.  “How many of you know the verse from the Bible that says ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me’?”

A few people raised their hands.  A guy next to me let out a string of profanity that was eloquent and artful, expressing the desire to hang the old man.  It made me chuckle.  Jacob continued.

“Many people know Philippians four thirteen well,” he continued, smiling.  “But most people skip completely over verse twelve which says, and I’ll read it ‘I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter what the situation, I’ve learned the secret of how to live when I’m full or when I’m hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little.’  Now, what is that secret the writer mentions here?  We’ve all been through some terrible things these past few years.  None of us standing here today can say that they have not been visited by tragedy or some other horror, but you may be asking why we have to suffer all of these terrible disasters.”

“I know why,” spoke a tiny old woman with a stooped back who was near the front.  “It’s because we’re being judged for our sin and because we as a nation turned our back on God.”

There was a murmur in the crowd as several around her shouted agreement.  That guy next to me just laughed.  Jacob put up his hands to quiet them down, and they eventually stopped grumbling.  He had a way of getting people to listen to him that was almost otherworldly.

“I’m sure that if you are a person of faith, you might think this,” said Jacob evenly.  “However, I’m sure the people who lived in the dark ages probably felt the same way.  How about the people living during the black plagues that swept Europe?  Do you not think that they assumed the world would soon end?  Surely they did!  As we look around us at the horrors that a final world war has brought, the devastation of an economic collapse, the abandonment of our government and the ravages of Volos, we must try to find some kind of peace in all of it, find some kind of hope.”

“Hope is right here,” shouted a burly man toward the middle of the crowd, his accent thick with that hillbilly drawl.  “We got plenty of hope right here with our families and friends.  We can start over!”

“What you have here is stable,” Jacob replied, his ice blue eyes looking directly at the burly fellow, his smile kind and genuine.  Something in those eyes started to speak to me until I remembered that this guy was running a con and snapped out of it.  Man, this guy was good.

“That stability may not last, however,” Jacob continued.  “What if we are attacked by one of the militia groups or raiders?  What if Volos gains entrance to this camp?  Life is full of ‘what ifs?’.  The writer of this letter in the Bible said he had found the secret of being content, that he had been poor and rich, that he had been without food and had also experienced times when he had plenty to eat.  His secret was that he had found peace in the salvation that comes through the blood of Jesus Christ.”

“Preach on, preacher!” screamed a dirty, oily man to my left, so loud it startled me.  “Tell us about how Jesus is going to come and take us all away from here in a rapture!  Tell us about how he’s bidin’ his good ol’ easy time to come and save us all!  Tell us how we should give all our stuff to you and then go on top of a mountain to wait on his return!  Tell us how he loves us so much he died for us!  Tell us a million other lies!”

This stirred up the crowd.  They started grumbling and shouting and it was as if all of them were venting out all the frustrations that came with living in the Bible belt and being told about the day when Jesus would come and take us all to happy heaven, but never seeing it.  Back in Jersey we had no illusions, and not many evangelicals, either.  These people felt as if they had been lied to, and they weren’t far from the truth.

“Jesus, in chapter twenty four of the book of Matthew said there would be a great falling away,” said Jacob, his calm voice somehow louder than the growing roar of the crowd.  “Only those with true faith will find peace in this dark age.  Just because your religious leaders bought into the lazy lie of the rapture doesn’t mean you should give up on Jesus.  He did not fail you.  Your church leaders did.  What I am talking about today is a way to have hope in this dark age.  It gives me peace, helps me to face the evils of this world, and gives me purpose.  I just wanted to share that with all of you, not convince you to follow some broken ideology.”

“Can Jesus make the water stop being bitter?” said the old woman at the front.  “We have to boil it, but it still tastes like copper.  It’s been this way for three days.”

Jacob looked directly at her.  His face contorted strangely and I thought for a second that he might actually cry.  He turned, bent down and picked up that old hickory walking stick of his and walked toward a granite boulder that jutted out of the ground just a few feet from the flowing river.  The crowd parted around him strangely, as if they were afraid to touch him, many of them still murmuring angry words of disbelief and hatred, the voices of nearly a hundred suffering people.  Jacob looked around, muttered something under his breath I couldn’t hear, and struck the rock with the end of his stick.

That’s when things went all wacko.

The walking stick seemed to grip the granite for a minute and then the end of it, I swear, started sinking right into the rock.  Jacob gave a quick jerk on the stick and it came out, and what was left was a hole where crystal clear water started gushing out.  I rubbed my eyes and looked again, and the people let out a collective gasp as they started gathering up their water buckets and canteens and going over to fill up.  Jacob, looking a little tired, shoulders slumping a bit, walked over to a small rock about the size of a stool and sat, holding his walking stick out in front of him for support.

Pretty good trick.

The people drank immediately, many of them saying it tasted sweet and was cold as iced water.  I waited in line and by the time I got up to the water, I noticed that the girl who had fainted when I entered camp was standing at my elbow.

Her eyes were full of tears, and she didn’t look too happy.

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