Marching into March!
Joseph tried to fling himself through the crowd, but snagged the cords tying his ankles together and he fell into Max. Max wrapped him up and yelled, “Grab him!” The mob surged forward and took hold of him. He struggled, but cords and hands held him tight.
Tim came running back to see what was happening. “Hey, what’s going on?” Nobody listened.
“Jesus! Not that!” Joseph yelled, looking at Cleve. “Help me!”
“Hey,” Cleve said, moving to stand between them and the street corner. “You sure you want to do that?” A white pickup rolled by. “Remember what happened to Sondra? She just stuck her arm in one.”
“Why not?” one of the others spat. “He’d-a killed you and Red over here, if he coulda. Back off, Cleve!”
The crowd tried to carry Joseph to the curb. Cleve moved to block them, but others pushed him out of the way.
“Tim!” Cleve yelled. “This ain’t right — tell ’em!”
Tim sprinted around the crowd to stand next to Cleve. “Wait a minute!” he shouted, waving his arms. We don’t know what those things do to people. We could just shoot him, if it comes down to it.”
“Eight! There’s eight of us!” Joseph yelled. “We’re holed up in the Marriot Suites in Midtown! We got deer rifles and shotguns!”
“Eight, including yourself?” Tim asked.
“Yeah! Oh God, please don’t let ’em do that!”
A white pickup rolled up to the stop sign at the corner. “Throw him in the bed!” someone yelled, and the people holding Joseph hustled toward it. Tim and Cleve moved to stop them, Charles moved but not quickly enough; all three were pushed aside. Joseph screamed in terror.
A voice thundered from behind them, “See that ye do it not!” They hesitated; the truck turned and rolled away. Everyone turned to see a short man in a frayed suit marching toward them. His bald white head reflected the overcast sky.
“This doesn’t concern you!” one of the men holding Joseph shouted.
“Your hate and fear should concern you,” the newcomer responded. “For as you give yourselves to it, you become like the man that you would sacrifice to the Eater of Souls. Is that truly your wish?”
A certain tension began to evaporate, and a man holding one of Joseph’s legs let go and stood aside. “Let him stand on his own,” the newcomer said, and it was done. They parted to allow the newcomer to approach Joseph.
“Who— whoever you are,” Joseph stammered, hands still wired behind his back, “thanks.”
“Thank the Lord, upon whom you called in your extremity,” the newcomer said. “For you have sinned, no more and no less than any of those here, and the redemption you and they are offered is one and the same.” He swept a hand across the crowd, but spoke to Joseph. “Your hate has led you here, nearly to your destruction. You must now put aside that hate, and enter the synagogue of Satan, from whence your hate flows, no more.”
“I don’t understand…”
“I mean, if you would save your soul, you must find another place to go. Woe, I say, woe unto you if you return to the so-called friends from whence you came! Truly, it would be better if they were to give your soul to the Eater!”
“So we’re supposed to let him go?” Max said. “What’ll stop him from coming back?”
Charles moved to stand near Joseph and waved his hands for attention; he paused for a moment and everyone waited. “We’re leaving anyway,” he said at last. “You all know as well as I do that nobody’s gonna vote to keep us all here, or stay behind when everyone else leaves. Even if he or his friends come back, there won’t be anyone here for them to bother.”
“You got another place to go, Joseph?” Cleve asked.
Joseph thought a minute. “Yeah,” he said. “My uncle has a place outside Alpharetta. I guess I can go there, it’s as good as anywhere else. If he’s not there, he’d want someone in the family to keep it up.”
“You know how to get there from here? Go that way,” Cleve pointed down the street, “keep going until you get to Monroe. It’s the first main drag. Go right on Monroe, and follow it to Piedmont. Take another right, follow Piedmont to Roswell Road, and that’ll take you to Alpharetta. You might want to grab a bicycle on the way.”
“Yeah, I’ll manage,” Joseph said. “If someone unties me.”
Cleve stepped behind Joseph and unwrapped the lamp cord, Joseph’s gun still on his shoulder. “Now you ain’t gonna pull anything on me, right? I gave you my word and I kept it. Time for you to give me yours.”
Joseph looked at the short man, then back at Cleve. He looked at the gun, then shook his head. “Yeah,” he said. “I’m done. I’m outta here.” He turned the way Cleve had pointed him, rubbed his wounded arm, then bent to untie his ankles before walking away. He did not look back.
“Who are you, anyway?” Tim said to the newcomer.
“I am one called to ministry. The gay man, beaten and left for dead, the drunkard shaken in the grip of his addiction, the man shot, the woman raped, the tourist mugged — I hold their hands, pray over their hurts, bind their wounds, and give them comfort until the ambulance arrives. Jeremiah Fortune Patterson was the name given me at my birth, some in my youth called me Jerry, but men and women such as you will ever call me Preacher.” Several in the crowd laughed.
“Tonight, you must make an important decision,” Patterson said. “I will leave you to make that decision. Go in peace. God willing, I will see you again.” He turned and left, walking the way he came.