Spoilers ahead! If you haven’t read the novel, then I would suggest you stop reading this now!
(This is how I originally wrote the chapter concerning Pastor Erik Burnley and his breakaway dictatorship in Kansas. My tough-as-nails editor didn’t like it and she demanded changes to the ending. This is from my original, unedited manuscript and as you can see, the ending of this chapter is very different than what was in the novel, enjoy!)
CHAPTER 26: A CRISIS OF FAITH
Pastor Erik Burnley immediately stood up as soon as the private elevator opened its doors. The self-styled President of Christian Kansas walked around his office table and stood in front of the three men. One of them he already knew as Lloyd Mallory, former United States Governor of the state and now his vice president. The two men from the south were strangers to him but he hoped that by the end of the meeting that they would be good friends by then.
After his handshake, Mallory gestured at the shorter man with his open palm. “This here is Clay Sheldon, he is the newly elected Grand Wizard of the new, Southern Klan of America.”
Pastor Erik smiled as he shook the man’s hand. “Welcome to the Republic of Kansas, Mr. Sheldon. First time in our great state?”
Sheldon smiled back. His teeth were crooked and had major gaps in between them. “First time I’ve ever been away from the south, Mr. President. I must congratulate you in the founding of your new country. It’s been an impressive achievement.”
Mallory pointed to the second, taller man wearing a cowboy hat. “And this here is Lemuel Winger. He represents the Klans of the Midwest.”
Pastor Erik shook the second man’s hand as well. “And a hearty welcome to you, Mr. Winger. Gentlemen, why don’t we sit over by my couch there, I think it will be more comfortable rather than those stuffy office chairs by my desk.”
Both men laughed as Pastor Erik led the way. Within minutes, all four men were sitting happily on the leather couches and chairs in the center of the vast office. Lloyd Mallory quickly poured a glass of bourbon for everyone before taking out his cigar and lighting it.
Sheldon raised his tumbler as he smiled at the pastor. “To the great new country of Christian Kansas. May she last a thousand years.”
Mallory chuckled as he drank to the toast. “Let’s hope Jesus comes back sooner rather than later, we’re being deluged by non-stop problems now.”
Pastor Erik waived a finger at his vice president. “Now, now, Lloyd. The pressing problems of running a brand new country are miniscule when compared to our security,” he said before turning his attention at the other two men. “Now gentlemen, I hear that the Klans are uniting, is that true?”
Sheldon nodded energetically. “That is indeed true, Mr. President. I’m proud to be part of a new organization and we are officially calling ourselves the Southern Imperial White Knights of the Klu Klux Klan. Since these ancient gods came storming back to the world, the various different Klan organizations began to meet and recruit new members. As you well know, the reason why there have been so many independent organizations in modern times is because the Federal Government of the United States was able to infiltrate our ranks with impunity. The only way we could have survived during those years was to stay small and secretive. But now that the Feds have been dealt numerous blows, we feel that it was time that the different groups unite and bring back the Klan into prominence. So far, we have been very successful. Our membership has increased by over a thousand percent and we can now openly display our allegiance to the one true race, and the one true god. And I must say, we owe quite a lot of our success to you.”
Pastor Erik beamed. “Why I’m flattered. But surely you can’t really give me any credit for the rebirth of the Klan, could you? You ought to pat yourselves on the back for doing all the hard work.”
“You were and remain a great influence to us, Mr. President,” Sheldon said. “You have become a de-facto independent state in the heart of what was once the United States, and you have your own army to protect it. You proved to us that such things are possible. And that’s why we’re here. We want to negotiate an alliance with you.”
“Before we go on, I must say this, gentlemen,” Pastor Erik said. “My allegiance is to the teachings of our lord. The Rock of God Church is the one true church and our actions have proven it. We are a holy sanctuary against the forces of Satan. I cannot, with good faith, enter into an alliance of any kind with people who are not part of the word of God.”
Sheldon put his palms up. “Mr. President, we are fully prepared to be part of your great church. The inner circle of leaders has given me full authority to say this. We all want to join your flock. We know that it is the one true path to salvation in these terrible times.”
Pastor Erik raised his eyebrows in both surprise and satisfaction. “Are you fully prepared to accept the church’s teachings as well as to proclaim me as the personal prophet of our Lord Jesus Christ?”
“We’ll be more than happy to do that,” Winger said. “Like Clay here, I too was chosen to represent the various Klans of the Midwest for this meeting, and I can tell you that we are also fully prepared to be under your church. There’s a lot of survivalist enclaves that my people can recruit from and spread the word of your church.”
Mallory grinned as he adjusted his white leather hat. “I told you this would be a productive meeting, Pastor.”
Pastor Erik nodded in assent as he kept looking at his two guests. “Both your offers are very generous and enticing so far. What kind of an alliance do you propose?”
Sheldon drank the last of the whiskey in his glass and set it down on the coffee table before continuing. “Well, for starters I can tell you that my organization has set up a new Klan Bureau of Investigation. In the last few months we’ve had many Fed agents from the FBI and other agencies who have secretly joined up with us and pledged their allegiance. This means that we now have a network of spies that can function as an early warning system in case of specific threats against your country. The Klan can function as an ally in that regards.”
“That’s wonderful,” Pastor Erik said. “But can you trust these so-called new recruits to tell the truth? How do you determine whether or not that they might be double agents or something?”
Sheldon laughed. “Oh, we’ve been testing them for loyalty every now and then to make sure that they stay true to our cause. For example, I ordered a whole batch of FBI agents to murder their own director. As a sign of faithfulness to the Klan, so to speak.”
“I think I might have heard it over the news a few days ago. What happened?”
“About six of them got close and shot the director,” Sheldon said. “He’s in a coma from multiple gunshot wounds from what I last heard. Four other agents balked at the operation and so the Klan inner circle had the rest of the group execute them.”
Mallory giggled. “You guys sure don’t mess around.”
“I admit that our numbers are few right now,” Sheldon said. “But we will keep on growing. The South is pretty much a giant swamp thanks to the constant rains and the Fed government can’t help. The Klan now has a number of enclaves all over the place and we can increase our territory but we need your help.”
Pastor Erik rubbed his chin. “What kind of help do you need?”
“Guns,” Sheldon said. “Lots of guns. Preferably military hardware. And maybe even a nuke or two. We’re gonna need technical specialists to set up those nukes though.”
“I can supply your group with guns, that won’t be a problem,” Pastor Erik said. “The nukes, we have to be very careful with how we deploy them. If we started to freely give those away then the Feds might come down hard on us. I heard over the radio that one of their generals had to be restrained because he wanted to nuke the whole of Kansas after we set off our nuclear device in Cheyenne Mountain. It’s a very tenuous situation right now.”
“Oh, but we’re not planning to nuke the Feds left and right. We just want a couple for our own protection, just like what you’re doing. We figure that once the Feds know that the Klan has nukes which we will detonate should they come after us, we figure that they will leave us alone too.”
Pastor Erik sighed. Just days ago he had talked to a Senator from Virginia. The Feds were secretly trying to negotiate with him to put an end to the conflict. They were willing to cede him de-facto control over Kansas, provided that he stayed where he was and not to attempt an expansion. The Feds also demanded the return of the President and Admiral Zimmerman as a sign of good faith. But with this new alliance, then the war against the Feds would enter into a new and more dangerous phase. “Let me think about it,” he said softly. “I can offer you all sorts of assistance but as far as the nuclear issue goes, I can’t give you an answer at this time.”
“Fair enough, Mr. President,” Sheldon said. “We can spread the word of God using our influence and I feel we can ultimately make America white again. Who knows, if we can keep this up then perhaps you may ultimately become president of the entire country.”
Pastor Erik smirked. “That really is my one dream right now. If I can just bring the entire country under one church- my church- then we will be an unassailable beacon of light and hope throughout the rest of the world. First, Kansas. Then, the United States. And finally, the rest of the world. I truly believe this. If all of humanity can embrace the teachings of my church then we can throw these demons back to the hell that spawned them. I think that’s the reason why Jesus hasn’t come back yet. He is waiting for me to fulfill my destiny.”
“And we’ll be with you every step of the way,” Mallory said.
Winger raised his glass. “Amen to that.”
The elevator doors opened again. Steve Van Dyke strode into the room, he kept moving until he was directly behind Pastor Erik and began to whisper in his ear. Mallory just shrugged as he poured himself another glass of bourbon.
Pastor Erik’s face was flushed as he stood up. “Gentlemen, you must excuse me. I have some matters that need attending. Lloyd, can you continue the meeting? I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
The other three stood up as he walked with Steve back to the elevator. The moment they got into the lift and the doors closed, Pastor Erik slapped the steel walls with an open palm. The clanging noise reverberated for a few seconds before subsiding. Within a few minutes they were on their way down, heading for the basement sub level.
Pastor Erik let out a deep breath. “You told me he was tightly guarded by two teams on constant rotation.”
“Yes,” Steve said softly. “The men were handpicked by me.”
“So how in the hell could he have disappeared then?”
Steve just stared at the closed elevator doors. “I don’t know.”
“Goddamn it! He was our bargaining chip. Now our chances of being attacked by the Feds have increased exponentially.”
“I don’t believe it was an inside job. Nobody saw the President leave his cell.”
“What about the video? Isn’t there a constant surveillance on his cell?”
“Yes, there is.”
“So what happened then?”
“I think it’s best if I show it to you.”
The elevator doors opened and they were greeted by an armed escort of five heavily-armed SOL troopers. They walked for several minutes until they came upon a steel door that was labeled Security Room. There was no doorknob so Steve just knocked twice and looked at the video camera above them. Seconds later, the door opened and they walked inside. The soldiers that accompanied them stayed in the corridor.
There was only one technician in the room and he was trying to adjust the video quality on a number of video feeds. When Steve and Pastor Erik entered the room he instantly stood at attention.
“Play the recording again,” Steve said.
The technician sat down at his console and pushed a button. The central monitor immediately began a replay of the last few minutes of the President’s disappearance. It showed the US head of state sitting on a chair in his cell. For a few seconds nothing seemed to happen until a black mist suddenly appeared behind him. Then it seemed that the President looked directly at the camera and began screaming.
Pastor Erik leaned over the console as he tried to look at every minute detail on the video monitor. “Is there any sound to this?”
“No, sir,” the technician said. “We only have it available for video.”
The President seemed to be in obvious pain though they couldn’t determine if it was the mist that was causing it. Within less than a minute, two shadowy hands came out of the black fog and drew him into it. Then the mist rapidly dissipated until there was nothing left but an occupied cell. It was as if he just walked out.
Pastor Erik looked away. His face had turned white as snow.
Steve tapped the technician on his shoulder. “Leave us.”
The man got up and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. Steve turned and looked at the pastor, who slumped down on the chair and had a blank look in his eyes.
Steve crouched so he was at eye level with his superior. “Are you alright?”
Pastor Erik’s chin began to tremble. “Oh my god, it was a supernatural force that took him away. I-I can’t believe it. It looked like a d-demon of some sort.”
“We know there are demons in the world, but Jesus is on our side.”
Pastor Erik placed his hands over his eyes and whimpered. “Oh my god, we’re damned. We don’t stand a chance against forces like that. We don’t have a prayer!”
Steve frowned. “What are you talking about?”
Pastor Erik started sobbing. “All this, it was just a sham.”
“What do you mean it was all a sham?”
“This whole thing. When I asked for donations and I made a prophecy that Jesus would return… I just made it up! People were believing in me so I kept it up. I-I mean I had a g-good life and all since I never really had to work in my life. All I had to do was say I was doing it all for our lord and everybody fell for it. But … seeing that, t-that thing just take him away as if he was never there … I’ve never seen anything like it before. I-I only half believed the news reports b-but there it is, that demon… I saw it!”
“You’re not making any sense,” Steve said. “You know that these ancient gods have returned and they are destroying the planet. We should have expected something like this to happen.”
Pastor Erik shook his head rapidly. “No, don’t you see … those demons out there are real. That video proves it. B-But Jesus … oh God. He never spoke to me! Can’t you see? I’ve been lying to everyone all this time! I told you all that God is on our side, b-but I lied! I never even heard his voice! I was just making it all up as I went along.”
Steve closed his eyes. He couldn’t believe it. The man who was the leader of this new country was now unraveling before his eyes. All those promises that Jesus Christ would come back for them. All those reassurances that they were the chosen people. All lies. If the people got wind of this there would be mass panic. Their military would desert. The Feds would probably have them all arrested. It was at that moment that he knew he had to do something before it was too late.
Pastor Erik had his head down. “I want my daddy! Please, make it go away, daddy. Make this horrible dream all go away. I promise I’ll be a good boy from now on.”
Steve clenched his teeth in rage as he grabbed the pastor by his collar and stood him up. “Shut up! Pull yourself together!”
Pastor Erik kept crying. “I-I can’t do this anymore, Steve! I don’t want to die! Help me!”
“Goddamn you!” Steve shouted as his hands clenched the pastor’s throat. “Shut up! You can’t break down like this! Think of your followers!”
“No, no,” Pastor Erik said nervously. “I-I’ve had enough. You can have it all, I just want to get out of here! I give up!”
A white hot rage swept over Steve as his big, strong hands tightened around the pastor’s throat.
Pastor Erik began to gag. His kegs soon buckled and he was down on his knees. Steve’s grip was like an iron vise that wouldn’t let go. He tried to struggle but it all felt so hopeless. All he wanted was to sit on his dad’s lap and cry, just like when he was but a boy and did something bad. He wanted daddy so badly that he stopped fighting the pain in his throat. That was when everything began to get blurry. Pastor Erik tried to breathe but his gullet just wouldn’t let any air in. Then everything started going dark. There was no more pain, no more feelings, just a long sleep, a slumber that would last forever.
When it was all over, Steve stood upright and breathed heavily. After catching his breath, he punched in the commands to delete the surveillance video in the security room as well as that of the President’s disappearance. Then he activated the intercom system.
“I need a medical team to the sub basement Security Room right away,” he said softly. “There’s been an accident.”