“I hear he’s a cult leader.”
“The preacher.” Walter said as he pointed to the little white building alongside Route Thirty-Five. The sign on the building read: “Signs & Wonders Fellowship.”
The pair had been riding in silence for ten minutes. They’d made this trip twice daily, Monday through Friday, for the better part of ten years. Once on the way to the textile mill and the other on the way home. Tonight they were heading home.
“I hear he uses mind control to keep congregants attending. I also hear that if you want to attend you have to show a pay stub so he can be sure you’re giving the Lord proper due.”
“Where’d you hear that?” Ed asked.
“I know all the same people you do.”
“Pritnear,” Walter said.
“Well who do you know that I don’t know and why are you talking about the preacher?“
“Just making conversation.”
“What’d you hear?”
“I told you what I heard; the preacher brainwashes people and makes them bring their pay stub if they want to be members”
“No, I mean, what did you hear to make you bring it up just then?”
“People will talk, Ed.”
“Well who said what, Walter?”
“I hear you’ve been in regular attendance as of late.”
“Who told you that?”
“People,” Walter said. “Let me ask you, do they speak in tongues? I heard they speak in tongues and have people fainting from the Holy Ghost.”
“What else did you hear?”
“I heard he got run out of the last town they set up a church in. I also heard he’s a cult leader and uses brain-washing techniques.”
“I just went a handful of times and pritnear the whole town knows,” Ed said.
“Well,” said Walter. “Whatcha think?”
“Not much to think really.”
“What was it like?”
“They had a guitar and drums.”
“Did they speak in tongues?”
“A little bit,” Ed paused. “A lot I guess.”
“Did they fall on the floor?”
“Did they ask for your pay stub?”
“No. Where’d you hear that?”
“I told you; people.”
“People don’t know nothing. They know nothing but that don’t stop ‘em from running their mouths.”
“What people, Ed?”
“People in this town that don’t trust a stranger cause they never saw one and anytime something’s a little bit different they raise all hell. He’s a nice man with a nice family.”
“You know its a heresy don’t you?” Walter asked.
“Going against the Word of God.”
“I know what heresy is but what are they doing akin to heresy?”
“Fainting and talking in tongues. The whole holy roller deal. It’s heresy and Reverend said it’s strange fire.”
“You talked to Bill?”
“I did. He asked about you and said he was concerned that you were being deceived.”
“He said that?”
“In as many words he did.”
“Well, if he was so concerned he could’ve given me a call or stopped by the house. He’s been there before”
“And don’t you think he’s a little busy with the rest of the congregation to be stopping by your house?” Walter asked.
“I don’t know,” Ed said. “They seem like nice people. The pastor moved his family from Ohio to start this work.”
“And why do you think he needed to move here? Don’t we have enough churches? Is the whole state of Ohio saved and redeemed so the preacher moved here to the armpit of the world?”
“He said God spoke to him in a dream and who am I to say different? I think it’s making people hopeful. Like maybe God hasn’t forgotten about us after all.
“Whoop,” Walter interrupted, as he pointed to the wooded edge of the field alongside the road. There, stood a large buck surveying the open terrain in front of him. Beside him grazed a small group of does.
“Eight pointer looks like,” Ed said.
“At least a six,” Walter said.
The pair continued their ride in silence for another moment.
“Anyways,” Ed said. “I always feel better after leaving then I did before the service started.”
“What does your wife think?”
“She feels the same. She said going there makes her feel hopeful. They’ve been talking about starting a food bank and figuring out other ways to help the community.”
Walter slowed the truck as they entered the town limits. The town had a dinner that was open until nine every evening, except Sunday when they were closed entirely. The town had one stop sign that most people took to simply mean slow down a bit.
“God told him?” Walter asked.
“He said he kept dreaming of this place and that he heard God speak to him in a dream.”
“To come here?”
“That’s what he said,” Ed answered.
They drove past the row of stores that constituted the main drag. There was Family Grocery and Drugs, there was John’s Gaming Supply and a boarded up shop that used to be Mountain Antiques. Before that it was a bookstore and before that it was the original Family Grocery and Drugs.
“This must be the promised land.” Walter said, as he rolled down his window and let his arm rest outside his truck. “I can really see the attraction in a place like this. Are you going to start attending there regular?”
“I don’t know,” Ed said. “I like the guitar and drums.”
“Guitar and drums don’t make it right, Ed.”
“Well, if I’m honest I really don’t like the speaking in tongues,” Ed sighed. “But they are really nice people. His wife is really nice too. They have five kids and all of them are involved there.”
“And in one year they’ll be gone on to the next town.”
“There’s but one reason to come to the middle of nowhere and that’s because they are running. And let me add this; God ain’t sending no one here that’s gonna teach heresy.”
Walter slowed the truck to the front of Ed’s house.
“You’re probably right.” Ed said as he opened the truck door and hopped down into his driveway. “I’ll see ya tomorrow, Walt.”