This time Dale took hold of him and sat him down, whispering to him.
Katie’s fingers were icy on his arm and Travis kissed her brow softly to reassure her.
“An unrepentant sinner cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven,” Mary answered in her smirking manner. “But this fort will fall because you have let sin run rampant in its walls.” She pointed abruptly at Bette and Linda who sat nearby. “Lesbians and gays in open displays of affection.” She pointed at Travis and Katie. “Children out of wedlock.”
With a cold look at the Reverend, Mary answered, “Are you really? By a holy man of God?”
“Oh, that is going too far,” Juan said, standing up sharply. Margie was holding tight to his hand and glaring at Mary. “Just because we may not believe as you do-’”
“Catholics worshiping idols and putting them up in a garden for reasons of idolatry,” Mary droned on.
“That is a tribute to those who fell,” Juan shouted. “It’s Jesus’ mother, Mary, for God’s sake.”
“Taking the Lord’s name in vain. Is it no wonder that God has sent down this horde of demons to destroy your fort?”
Around Mary there were confirmations of “amen” and bobbing heads.
Travis felt sick to his stomach and he took a breath to steady his temper.
Voices were now rising in anger and frustration. People were arguing and it was quickly devolving into something very nasty.
“If we die, you die with us,” Ken shouted angrily.
“We must repent and throw out the fornicators, adulterers, idolaters and homosexuals, then God will deliver us.” Mary raised her chin, her confidence impressive, yet terrifying.
And to Travis’ dismay more than thirty people stood up in unison to stand with her.
Horrified silence filled the room after Mary’s words stopped reverberating. Those who stood beside her looked resolute and hard. To Travis’ dismay, the family they had rescued thanks to the Reverend stood with Mary. The young father and mother, who had kept their entire family alive beyond incredible odds, stood with Mary and her cohorts, looking just as angry and firm as she did.
“Look, I don’t agree with gay people or what they do. I think it’s wrong.
Not of God in anyway,” Peggy said loudly. “I think it’s a sin just like you.”
Travis felt Katie’s hand tighten on his and he looked sharply at Peggy, his gut clenching with anger at her betrayal.
“But I don’t believe in putting anyone outside these walls just because we don’t like what they do!” Peggy’s voice trembled with her emotion and her eyes were full of tears. “Death is outside those walls and we’re all safe in here. Even if we don’t all agree on what is right and what is wrong, we all got a right to live!”
“God’s judgment is on this fort. Sin fills its halls with gambling, alcohol, dancing, fornicators, adulterers, homosexuals and false prophets!” Mary looked sharply at the Reverend. “You’re leading them astray!”
“God is a God of love, not hate!” The Reverend rose to his feet. “You have no right to put words of hate in His mouth.”
Mary’s face was full of cold fury. “Jesus will judge you harshly for leading His people astray.”
“Well,” Bill’s big booming voice rang out as he stood up. He adjusted his belt around his beer belly and fastened his eyes on Mary. “As a good Southern Baptist boy, son of a minister, and former summer missionary to Mexico, I gotta say I don’t remember Jesus saying anything about being so damn hateful.”
Katarina stood up abruptly behind Bill, her face as red as her hair. “Bill and I have never had sex! We’re waiting until we get married! You have no right to say that! You don’t even know us! I was raised Baptist, too!”
Nerit rose smoothly from her chair and gently took Katarina’s hand to calm her.
“Harlot,” Mary snapped and her imposing husband behind her added, “I saw them kissing with tongues. Disgusting whore.”
“That is enough,” Travis said loudly into the microphone. It hissed and sputtered for a moment.
Travis felt fiercely angry and his face felt like stone. His eyes were so hot in their sockets he felt as if they would explode into flames. Everything he and the others had fought for was being torn apart.
“You have no right to judge anyone here. Didn’t Jesus say judge not least ye be judged?” His voice was firm and clipped.
Mary lifted her chin a little and her eyes narrowed. “A sinner needs correction.”
“Jesus said to love one another,” someone called out. “He said to love!”
“Lucifer himself used the scripture to his purposes,” Mary hissed.
“Is that where you learned it from?” Ken asked smartly.
There was laughter throughout the room.
“We will not stay and be slaughtered with the sinners!”
It was Kevin. He looked as fierce as Travis felt.
“Then take your followers and leave,” Kevin repeated. “We’re not going to hold you here like the Senator held us hostage. Just go.”
“God has passed judgment on this fort and you must repent,” Mary repeated, but she was losing her fire as more and more people were standing up and voicing their opinions. Some were quoting scripture right back at her, others were just angry.
The small Hindu population sat together in silence, their discomfort clear. A few of the old-timers of the town reached over and patted their shoulders, reassuring them.
“Most of us here would call ourselves Christian,” Eric said abruptly.
“Whether we are Catholic or Protestant, we all believe in the message of Christ. Even those of us here who are not Christian but of other faiths or no faith at all deserve to be loved as Jesus commanded. So if you want to hate, then hate somewhere else. Personally, I am done with you.”
“Your sin will be your downfall,” Mary shrieked. Her eyes seemed too wide and her voice was harsh.
“Then it’s our choice. What is yours?” Travis asked firmly. “Are you staying or going?”
Mary clenched her hands at her side. Around her, the followers that had made their stand with her looked uncertain and looked to her anxiously.
“We will not stay and bear the judgment of the fornicators, idolaters, and pagans.”
“Fine then,” Bill said. “I bet we could give them some supplies and a few vehicles, couldn’t we?”
“I don’t see why not,” Nerit said in her ever so calm voice.
“Any objections?” Travis asked. He felt a little calmer now that most of the fort had sided against the extremists.
No one raised their hand.
“Then we will be leaving immediately,” Mary said firmly.
Her tall, imposing husband nodded his head grimly and motioned to the others to leave. Slowly, the thirty or so people filed out of the room.
“We have seen the enemy,” Eric whispered, moving closer to Travis.
It took a few minutes for things to settle down. Slowly, some sort of calm returned. Juan kissed his kids and moved up to help set up the large maps and plans they had prepared. He looked pale and grim.
Travis returned his gaze to the people staring up at him and took a deep breath. “The fort is about life. It’s about a new beginning. It’s about building a new world out of the old. It’s about not making the same mistakes of the past. We may not always get along or share the same opinions about things like religion or ethics or what have you, but we gotta respect one another or we’re going to rot away at our core and end up destroying everything we have now. And what we got is a chance to fight for what is ours and to keep growing stronger. I am not a perfect man. I am...yeah...a sinner. I fall short of the mark a lot. But I believe in a God that will honor those who work hard to do what is best for everyone. I think He…or She…whatever you believe God is…has been helping us along. I’m not a highly religious man, I admit to that, but I believe in the goodness of the human heart and the integrity of the human spirit. And I think God does, too.”
Tears stung his eyes as he finished and he took a deep breath as applause filled his ears. A few black women shouted, “Preach it!” A few old fogies said, “Amen.”
“So let’s get to planning and doing and let the good Lord lead us on,”
He caught sight of a few women waving their rosaries at him and the Hindu people smiled at him. The lone Muslim gave him a thumbs up and the one person from Mary’s group who had chosen to stay behind gave him a firm, stern nod. Beside him Katie was smiling proudly and he felt himself blushing.
“I’m going to turn this over to Kevin now,” Travis said and stepped back.