15 June 2024

13 – Bold and brave

It was close to noon when John went to the Eden’s Gate complex to refer Joseph about the latest establishments he had bought from the local owners. He had recently acquired a dairy farm, a bait store and a gift store. None of the three were making huge profits. Still, both financial and material loot would go to the cult.

He had invested all his attention and concentration in these repetitive tasks, attempting to avoid thinking about the she-devil, to forget that she was dependent on Jacob and his infamous training procedures. The way he worried about her annoyed him. He didn’t like to be sentimental, which he’d never been, and he hated to appear weak or at the mercy of others.

Since his adoption by the Duncan, he’d made sure he was always in control. Control which seemed to slip away from him with increasing regularity. In the past, it was wrath that motivated his outbursts. Then desire had taken over, and now… he couldn’t even clearly identify the feeling that was haunting him.

But at least, it seemed to help him manage his outbursts. Some would have called it friendship, but John knew that he couldn’t love anyone except his brothers, and no one could like him back. Monstrous children have no friends. He had only had one friend : Holly Pepper. Yet when Joseph had excommunicated her, John had not felt such a void. His every skin pore hadn’t claimed hers as they were calling Dana’s.

His entire adult life, he had made sure that no one could intrude too intimately into his private sphere, risking to hurt him as he had been in his childhood. He had become pain-proof and had built an impenetrable barrier around his soul to make sure that no one could reach him.

He didn’t want to think about that crying toddler, cowering in the corner while his older brother took a beating from crazy old Seed’s belt in his place. He didn’t want to think about that little boy, kneeling on a cold kitchen floor, being whipped and confessing every conceivable sin he was accused of in hopes that everything would stop. He wanted to forget this talented lawyer, who threw indecent parties in his luxurious apartment and offered alcohol and drugs to anyone who wished, trying to drown the void that haunted him with numerous one-night stands.

The only suitable image was the one of the Baptist. This bold and brave man who would do anything to fulfill his divine destiny. This well-respected or feared man who always ended up getting what he wanted, thanks to the Power of Yes that his “parents” had instilled in him, the only positive point he could draw from his unfortunate past experience.

That virtuous man could not afford to weaken when faced with a woman, especially the incarnated devil seeking to dismantle all of Joseph’s plans. And yet, the silence of her absence was constantly screaming in his face.

Since they had been around each other, even before he fucked her, a new impulse pushed him to invest even more in his actions. When he spent time with her, he wanted to live, to let himself go and to enjoy the smallest pleasures that the present moment offered him. Such as the smile she would give him when he was being clumsy or expressing a ridiculous idea.

John Seed never made anyone smile, and the only screams he got came from the pain of a tattoo or an atonement. But with her, everything had changed. He didn’t have to torture her to get her to say yes, to repeat his name. Every time she said it, it was like a soft caress to his ears. She accepted him despite his imperfections and their totally opposite ways of thinking. The attention she gave him was free and not motivated by fear, need for recognition or money.

He was brought out of his thoughts by Joseph coming to him. He got out of his pickup to hug and greet him, and they headed to the chapel to discuss current affairs.

John was not comfortable being in the church after the recent events that had led the deputy to Jacob’s place. He was afraid his elder brother had been informed, even though Jacob had promised his silence. Joseph was smart and could read people’s souls. He certainly suspected something, and the Baptist dreaded the possibility that he would tell him.

They sat down in the small back room. The younger man presented the deeds of sale to his brother, commenting on the presumed turnover of each business and the resources that could be made available to the cult. When he finished his brief presentation, Joseph smiled and congratulated him.

— Well done John, I am delighted with your commitment and productivity. For some time now, I have felt you more invested than ever in our Project, and that makes me proud of you.
— Thank you, Joseph, I am also proud to assist you.
— I do notice, however, that you have been getting very few, if any, confessions in recent weeks. I haven’t seen you bless anyone in a long time either. Is there a reason for that ?
— I’m very busy closing as many deeds as possible, it takes up a lot of my time. You know, paperwork…
— That’s a shame. Don’t forget that our days are numbered. We must have our members ready before the end of this world if we want them to walk through Eden’s gate with us.
— I get it. I’ll get back there quickly.
— What about the deputy ? Has she confessed ? Have you managed to absolve her of her sins ? Will she join us soon ?
— Well… she hasn’t confessed yet. But she’s with Jacob now, I guess he’s making sure she’ll be involved.
— Good. But that’s not enough, I expect her to be purified and to atone, once she leaves Jacob’s program. Do you want me to entrust this task to another devotee ?

His chest tightened at the idea that someone else might approach Dana and harm her. His eyes certainly betrayed the stupor he couldn’t contain.

— Someone else ? Why ?
— I feel like you’re having a hard time distinguishing when she’s around you. Am I wrong ?
— Believe me Joseph, I remain completely invested in Eden’s Gate and nothing will make me stray from our path. I’m just making sure she obeys us and doesn’t make our job any harder than it already is.
— Fine. If you promise me, I guess I can fully trust you. I had a sneaking suspicion that you two were pretty close and there was something going on that I wasn’t informed of. I’m glad to know that I was wrong.

The Baptist swallowed hard. He opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by a cult member entering and slamming the doors behind him. Phew !

Joseph got up and walked toward him, followed by John.

— What’s going on?
— The… the sinner ! She’s at the compound gate !
— Interesting !

The Father turned to John and smiled in satisfaction before turning back to the breathless man.

— Capture her !
— That won’t be necessary ! She walked in of her own free will, she’s unarmed !
— It only gets better ! Bring her to me now.

A bad feeling came over the Baptist. He was relieved to know that Jacob had freed her, but her going to the compound on her own didn’t make sense. If he had succeeded in converting her, his elder brother would have immediately bragged about it to the rest of the siblings, which he didn’t know was the case.

The seconds he waited seemed like hours. In what condition would he find her ? Would Jacob’s training have destroyed whatever good remained in her ? Would she remain as tolerant towards him if his brother had tortured her beyond her limits ?

She walked through the door, her hands tied behind her back and held by two men who did not trust her. He was immediately relieved to see that she appeared to be in good physical health.

The two cultists released her as soon as she was close to Joseph, on his order. They went out to leave them alone. The elder Seed spoke up.

— My child, how nice to see you here. What brings you to me ? Have you finally realized that you’ve been going down the wrong path ?
— I’ve come to meet John.

The interested party jumped at the sound of his name. He congratulated himself for having remained in the background, which had certainly prevented Joseph from noticing. However, his brother turned to him to throw a questioning glance, before continuing, to the policewoman’s attention.

— John ? Why do you want to see him ?
— Because I want to confess.

A big smile appeared on Joseph’s lips.

— Ah, finally something reasonable. Do you eventually recognize all the evil you have done around you ?

She frowned. The Baptist could guess she was clenching her fists and holding back from insulting his brother.

— I’m sorry, but a confidence should be private. I will only tell the person in charge of the atonement.
— All right then ! Let’s do that right away. John, take care of her. Deputy, you are our guest for dinner tonight. That is, if you’re in any shape to move after my brother handles you.

John stepped out of Joseph’s shadow to grab her firmly and somewhat roughly by the arm, as he would have done with any sinner. After all the effort he had put into this, he didn’t want his emotions to show now. He quickly led her out of the chapel and behind one of the barracks so that he could talk to her in private.

* * *

— What the hell are you doing here ?
— Hi, John. I’m fine, thanks. What about you ?

He ran a trembling hand through his hair, before taking her face between his palms.

— Are you hurt ? Did he harm you ?

His voice betrayed his anguish.

— No, he didn’t. Please, untie me.

He complied without thinking. As soon as her wrists were free, she threw herself on the Baptist to embrace him and bury her face in his neck.

— I missed you so much !

Stunned, he wondered if his hearing was playing tricks on him. He put his arms around her to hold her close.

— Are you in need, my little sinner ?

He had wanted to joke, but he felt she did not smile. On the opposite, she seemed to cling to him as hard as she could, as if to keep herself from cracking.

— What’s the matter ? Talk to me.
— I killed a young man. A Whitetail member.

He pulled away from her embrace to stare at her.

— Did my brother put you up to this ?
— No, he did not. I executed him in cold blood. He didn’t even notice me. I’m a coward and a murderer. Jacob was right.
— Stop it, wrath. You did what you thought was right at the time. You didn’t shoot an innocent man, he was a fighter. And if you were with my brother, then he was an enemy.

He grabbed her face with both hands to wipe away her tears with his thumbs.

— I know what would make you feel better. Come with me.

He took her by the hand and pulled her to his pickup. When the vehicle reached Holland Valley, she finally asked him.

— Where are we going ?
— Lamb of God.

The sky had darkened and a few water droplets were occasionally splashing on the windshield. The little chapel was soon visible. Its stained glasses, lit from within, projected a warm light around it, as some lighthouse guiding the believers. Jerome must be officiating.

To her astonishment, John passed the building without slowing down.

— Aren’t you stopping ?
— We haven’t reached our destination yet.

He parked a few meters away, at the shore. She gave him a questioning look. As an answer, he got off the vehicle and came to open the door to her, holding out a hand that she seized.

* * *

What the hell am I doing here ? Why did I agree to follow him ? Doubts consumed at her now that they were both going deeper into Silver Lake. Night had fallen. When the water level was at their waist, the Baptist let go of her hand. She turned to face him.

— Now what ?
— Lie down in the water.

She gave him an anxious look.

— You tried to drown me the same way a few weeks ago…
— Yes, but things have changed. Now that you’ve said yes, you know you can trust me. Everything I do is for your own good.

Anyway, she had no other choice now that they were both here. No one knew about it and couldn’t help her if it went wrong, and she was unarmed. Fortunately, there was no bliss involved. At least I have my wits about me.

She sighed with apprehension before slipping into the water. The cold bite burned the flesh on her back, and it was even worse when her body submerged further and the water took over her chest and ran down her face. All her muscles tensed and, breathless, she tried to pull herself up, but John held her back.

— Shhhhhh. It’s okay. Just breathe. Look, your face is out of the water. Just a few drops fell on your cheeks.

He put one hand under her neck and the other on wrath. She shivered and could not contain the involuntary shaking and twitching of her contracted body.

— I will hold you back, don’t worry. You will not sink.
— I’m very cold…
— That’s fine. You will relax better.

She didn’t understand what he was getting at. He deserves his sadist nickname.

— Fill your lungs now.

She breathed in quickly and tensely, then felt the Baptist’s hand press hard on her chest to immerse her completely. The water immediately seeped into her sinuses, inflicting an icy burn. She flailed her limbs and tried to grab Seed’s arm to get him to release her. She was suffocating.

The hand behind her neck pulled her to the surface, while the other released its pressure. She sucked in all the air she could possibly breathe in, panicked.

— This is normal. The immersion reflex must kick in. It’ll be better now. You can do this.
— Please, John…
— Do you really want to stop now ? For what reason ?
— I’m afraid…
— You don’t have to be afraid. I’m here. I’m here for you, I won’t let anything happen to you. Trust me.

He gently grabbed her face and tilted it back, so that she was resting on the water again.

— Close your eyes. Breathe slowly and calmly. Relax.

She obeyed. He whispered.

— Are you ready ?
— Yes.

This time, she took a moment to consciously fill her body with oxygen, letting it first enter her lower belly, then her lungs, and finally her shoulders. She opened her eyes to connect with the Baptist. He was staring at her. He smiled at her before slowly pushing her under the surface.

She closed her eyelids and let the water fill her nasal cavities and ears. Despite the cold, she tried to relax her muscles. In the dark silence, she heard a voice that sounded close and distant at the same time.

— Let go. Let go of everything. Feel your pulse slowing down. Let your body relax. Free your mind.

Encouraged by his words, the thought stream that was flooding her mind gradually calmed down. Subtly and slowly, all her muscles relaxed one after the other. John added.

— Think about something nice.

She remembered her arrival in Hope County. Helicopter. Church. Panic. She quickly ran out of air, but Seed didn’t wait for her to suffocate before pulling her up. Surprisingly, she was no longer panicked and calmly released the stale air from her lungs before taking another breath. John whispered.

— That’s fine. Take a breath. It’s almost over.

She was beginning to feel euphoric, as if her senses were heightened. She could now hear her own heartbeat, the wind in the trees, and John’s quiet breathing. She clutched the Baptist. She brushed against the skin and standing hairs on his forearm. He’s cold too. Or is it excitement ?

It felt like her whole body was dissolving. She no longer experienced cold, her numb fingers no longer obeyed her. She let go of John’s soggy shirt sleeve.

— Now I’ll give you your blessing. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. You can do this.

She no longer had any strength to answer. There was no reason for her to do so anyway. She felt good, she almost wanted to sleep. She obeyed and let herself go completely, guided by the Baptist’s hands and voice. He immersed her again, in calm and silence. Memories flooded into her mind. Family garden. Swing.

— May this water cleanse you of your sins…

Kindergarten. First friends. First drunk. John’s words came to her in bits and pieces, without her understanding their meaning.

— …be washed clean of all that blood…

College. Police academy. Killian… wedding.

— …bless you.

Eden’s Gate Chapel. Joseph, the marshal, Whitehorse. John Seed’s blue eyes.

— Can you hear me? Breathe, now.

She painfully opened her eyes. I don’t want to wake up, I’m so good. I haven’t been this relaxed in… so long I can’t remember. Her eyelids closed. Let me sleep.

John patted her face and gently blew on her cheeks, whispering.

— Deputy… Dana… Come back.

She struggled to open her eyes. She was no longer in the water. The Baptist was holding her, sitting on the floor. He had wrapped his coat around her cold, shivering body. She slightly smiled. The one with the little planes.

— How do you feel ?
— How did you get your coat back ?

He smiled. She had come to her senses.

— I told you you didn’t have to give it back to me, that my wardrobe was well-stocked.

He tenderly ran his hand through her soggy hair.

— You did very well, my sinner. I am very happy with you. Joseph will be too.

She seemed to read pride in his eyes. She shyly smiled as he gently placed his lips on her forehead.

— Are you feeling better ?
— Yes, but I’m very cold.

* * *

He lifted her in one motion and carried her to the car. Once inside, John turned the heater to maximum, as well as the heated seats. She rested her head on his shoulder.

— What should we do now ?
— I’m gonna get the confession you came to me for.
— Here ?
— No, I will take you back to the compound. We have a room dedicated to confessions.

The Baptist’s voice didn’t sound as confident as usual.

— What is it, John ?
— Joseph knows about us.
— What ? Did you tell him ?
— No. Actually, he’s not sure, but he has strong doubts. He’s decided I’m not competent to further supervise your atonement. He wants someone else to do it.
— No way ! No one will do anything. I will never atone, I am not and never will be a part of your damn cult !

John moved away from her as far as the vehicle’s interior would allow.

— I can’ t understand you ! You say you don’t want to atone, but you just let me cleanse you, just after you declared, in front of Joseph, that you wanted to confess ! What’s the point ? What are you playing at ? And why did you spare Jacob in the woods, when he was at your mercy ?

She raised her voice.

— For you, John ! I did all this for you, only for you !

Stunned, he stared at her silently. She continued.

— Anyway, since Joseph has doubts, we might as well act before someone confirms them.

He raised an eyebrow.

— I agree to your proposal.
— What are you talking about ?
— Marriage, you idiot.

The Baptist’s heart jumped monumentally in his chest. Still, he restrained himself and remained aloof as he answered.

— Oh, yes, that.

The coldness of his answer struck Dana on the spot. She sharply added.

— Well… it’s only to keep you out of trouble. If you don’t see the need for it anymore, fine.

A battle was raging in Seed’s head. Not to mention the turmoil in his heart. How to deal with the situation ? At no time did he think she would give in to his little whim. And yet she was standing in front of him, agreeing to offer him her freedom forever.

After a few seconds that seemed like an eternity, the oxygen returned to his lungs and his voice came back.

— Deputy, I am a man of my word. When I commit myself, I keep my promises. I never speak in vain. Come with me.

He got out of the vehicle, inviting her to follow him.

— Where are we going?
— To see your old friend Jeffries.
— John, are you crazy ? Remember you tattooed him and then bashed his skull in the day you marked me in his church too ? Do you really think he’ll agree to see you again ? He’s a total freak !
— Why not ? I heard that he recently helped a defector leave Eden’s Gate to join the resistance. If he gave him a pardon, he might as well do it for me !
— Fucking Seed ! Do you know what you’re talking about ??? You put Holland Valley on fire, everyone’s counting on me to fix your mess, and you think you can just walk into church like nothing happened and ask him to marry us ??? Have you been smoking or drinking ? I love your madness.
— I never do. All these substances are forbidden in the community. As well as other things that I have happily crossed the limits of. Come on. Let’s knock on Lamb of God’s door and see what happens.
— You’re even crazier than I thought you’d be, Seed !

When they both entered the church a few minutes later, the pastor thought he would faint. He grabbed his shotgun and pointed it at John.

— What the hell is this, deputy ? What the hell is that creep doing here ?
— Pastor Jerome, let me explain…
— It’s John fucking Seed ! This guy massacred Fall’s End church a few weeks ago, he tattooed you with one of his horrors, did you forget this ? Did Eden’s Gate brainwash you with their bliss shit ?

Seed approached the pastor, pressing his chest against the barrel of his gun.

— Jeffries, I’m sorry to disturb the serenity of your church, but we’re not here today to reminisce about good old days. As the deputy tried to explain to you in vain, we wish to be united before God. I would be grateful if you could perform the ceremony so that we can leave you alone. By the way, I am unarmed. If you want to take me out, feel free to do so.

Jerome, incredulous, cast a desperate look at the policewoman. She shrugged her shoulders but didn’t look terrorized or under any kind of constraint. Under his insistent gaze, she thought it appropriate to intervene.

— Please, Jerome. Accept. As a thanks for my help to the resistance. It is very significant. I’ll explain later.

He decided to comply, stunned by the suddenness and enormity of the situation. He traded his rifle for a Bible.

He began to recite the usual sermon, while watching for any sign from the deputy that might lead him to interrupt what he hoped was a tasteless hoax. She had grabbed Seed’s arm.

— We’re here today to…

John grew impatient.

— Cut it short, Pastor. We don’t care, we don’t need fancy stuff. Just give us the main story.

— … Hem. Well, uh… deputy… I don’t even know your name actually ?

It was now that he realized it, two months after she had arrived in Hope County. She didn’t hold it against him, no one knew her name here.

— Dana. Her name is Dana, Father.

Jeffries stared at Seed in dismay.

— John Seed, will you take for your wife, cherish until death separates you, …Dana ? Do you agree to be eternally faithful to her ?
— Of course, yes.

The pastor paused, once again incredulous. He stared at the policewoman with round eyes, expecting at any moment that Guy Marvel would come in with his camera and shout “Surprise !”. But nothing happened. He continued.

— Dana, will you take for your husband, cherish until death separates you, John Seed ? Do you agree to be eternally faithful to him?
— Come on wrath, say yes…

Seed’s eyes glowed. The Power of Yes…

— Yes.

Jeffries declared them husband and wife. The situation was supernatural.

— You can kiss each other. If you want to, of course.

Seed’s and the deputy’s voices echoed in unison.

— Kisses are for lovers !

They exchanged a knowing look and giggled together. Jerome was once again stunned. What the hell is this ? What are they playing at ? Dana let go of John’s arm to hug the pastor and press a kiss to his cheek.

— Thank you, Pastor Jerome. Please keep this to yourself.

They left the place quietly, leaving Jeffries pensive and stunned.

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