An old long-limbed man in a white starched shirt and black pants stood out among the camo-clad worshipers.

His white hair flung back, “…and alas, Babylon SHALL fall and the serpents’ heads SHALL be crushed; the iniquitous shall feel HIS almiiiighty wrath! We shall be His instrument against Satan’s legions; we shall smash the wicked princes of this world with the power of the Loooooord!”

Choruses of “Hallelujah!” rang out shaking the timbers of the backwoods barn revival.

“We shall overcome! As we have overcome the peddlers of poisons! We shall overcome the sellers of usury, lust, and gluttony.”

The old man, Reverend Cain, clasped his Bible to his chest. “Hear me now: we have lost many in our fight against the Dealer and the Whore. But their deaths were not in vain. Every day, we wax stronger in our faith, our faith in our ordained Constitution and our faith as that of the Founding Fathers. Our cause is righteous! Can I get an amen!”



“Amen, brothers!”

Over two hundred times.

One man, new to the group, belted out an “AMEN!” Something foreign to his Moron upbringing.

He hoped it was convincing.

For David, alias Brother Jeremiah, felt his stomach turn at these “Walmart People.” It was his first meeting. His accent Quantico coached. His legend was tight.

A prodigal son of a dead father left behind in Needham Alabama, a hick nobody, found Jesus in the Army (really a Navy veteran, officer not enlisted), and vouched for by a super security-conscious Q cell back home.

A cell the Bureau had started and staffed.

It had taken two years, but as of two months ago, he was brought into the confidence of the Hillbilly Emancipation and Liberation League.

A thought rang through his head. In West Virginia, I have to remember: don’t mix up the drawl and the twang.

He moved, slow, through the crowd towards Reverend Cain.

There are probably a good dozen heavy hitters in here: ex-Marine combat vets, current reservists, local and state cops.

In the past couple of years, a number of drug traffickers, suppliers, and big time dealers were disappearing or ending up dead in “accidents.”

Suddenly, an area spanning from Arkansas to the Ohio River and down to Northern Georgia had become an unfortunate place for H, meth, and pill pushers.

Kevin Shosky, a big time drug mover, had an unfortunate accident where the overnight cabin he was sleeping in burned down.

Juan Gigamo, biggest meth cooker in Western Tennessee, had an unfortunate road accident where his Cadillac Escalade crashed through a guard rail and sailed 300 feet into the night and down an embankment.

Small town pill pushers disappear into the night.

Skills that are signatures of black bag and counter insurgency operators working for a highly disciplined organization. Even the money is gone. Like whoever disposed of these people were on to the possibility of dealing in DEA marked bills. Too much when local drug busts AND drug overdoses are down all over Appalachia.

David recognized the faces of several local and state cops in the crowd.

And was glad for his diminutive frame and soft chin being out of keeping for law enforcement.

Wait! Over there, did that guy sneak a glance at me?

Then they whooped it up more in the holler as the summer night wind carried over the Appalachians.

Stomping and clapping as Reverend Cain delivered another jeremiad.


Something big was in the works.

David/Brother Jeremiah smiled inwardly. “And this will be a legendary career-making op. Bring down these insurrectionists and save the democracy.”

“Brother Jeremiah! Brother Jeremiah!” a woman called him at the head of the gathering.

Ahead in torchlight, she stood, face aged prematurely, hard lines drawn all over her countenance, gray-streaked red hair.

I’d still fuck her, he thought.

Big man, big badge, big op, big shit, going to make the big bust.

Sister Joanna cried, “Brothers and sisters, we have a new member, a new Maccabee joining up tonight with us. Welcome, welcome y’all, Brother Jeremiah from Alabama’s Sons of Freedom and Liberty.”

Brother Jeremiah stepped forward, ready for anything.

Anything, that is, until he saw what Sister Joanna held out in two hands.

Bigger in the flesh, he saw the writhing forms of two five-foot-long timber rattlesnakes.

The room went silent.

The dried bone hiss of the snake’s rattles hummed in the air.

Reverend Kane cried out, “Do you have faith, son? Is the LORD in your heart?”

Brother Jeremiah didn’t hesitate: “He is! The Lord is with me.”

“Then take them! Fear not the serpent; take them and prove your worth before God,” Reverend Cain bellowed.

Heart fluttering in his chest, Brother Jeremiah stepped forward into Sister Joanna’s grasp. She extended the serpents to him; he grabbed their coiling bodies and held on as she let go.

The snakes coiled and uncoiled in his hands.

Shit, got to stay calm, if I stay calm they won’t bite me. What the fuck am I supposed to do? Show them?

Brother Jeremiah held the rattlers out and above his head.

Languid, the snakes held their peace.

Who is that man? Was he the one shadowing me earlier?

A face peered from among the crowd, a face Brother Jeremiah had never seen before. Under an old-fashioned cowl, it peered out at him. The eyes caught and held Brother Jeremiah. Then he knew it didn’t matter anymore; all his plans for the op where meaningless.

Yellow irises bored into him from beneath the cowl, eyes set in a sallow, hairless face. Long, hard teeth flashed him a smile from a too-large, thin-lipped mouth.

In the quiet, the demonic monk spoke to him, “You thought this was your operation, All deals are off. This is my operation and I won’t let you fuck it up.”

No one noticed the man.

No one heard his words.

No one except David alias Brother Jeremiah.

Something smacked his face, then his hands and arms.

The spell broken, Brother Jeremiah’s attention swung to the two rattlesnakes he held.

They were biting the shit out of him.

He tried to let go, but his hands only clenched harder.

Impassive, the assembly looked on.

Reverend Cain and Sister Joanna looked down at Brother Jeremiah.

The cowled man, unnoticed, stood over him.

Fire spread through Brother Jeremiah’s face and chest. He held up his hand and saw the skin changing to a mottled purple.

Bleeding into his lungs, Brother Jeremiah asked the cowled man, “What do you want?”

Reverend Cain, thinking the question was addressed to him, said, “Nothing from the unworthy.”

Brother Jeremiah called out, “God, it hurts! Call me an ambulance!” He forced his arms down to reach his phone.

His fingers were as plump as sausages and just as responsive.

The cowled man knelt and leaned in over Brother Jeremiah. “To watch; I always find the concept of death interesting. So close, but to only fall into the ultimate failure. Right, David?”

“How do…how do you known my name?”

Face shrouded from the light, his yellow irises stood out glowing, the cowled man whispered into Brother Jeremiah’s ear, “You don’t have much time; those snakes, my emissaries upon this earth, loaded you with all their venom. Right now, your nervous system is shutting down, your muscles and blood vessels are dissolving—”

Brother Jeremiah coughed and vomited blood.

“—as you can see now. There is very little I don’t know about you. I know you were hoping after this case broke, you and Benny were planning on buying a nice condo in Prince George County. I know you gave your first serious girlfriend herpes; I know your first dog was named ‘Buddy,’ just like in all those stupid kids’ movies. I know you because I like to know all about the souls I am to possess for all eternity.”

Brother Jeremiah gasped through bloodstained teeth, eyes dim, searching the growing cloud of darkness surrounding their owner.

“It is strange. You creatures all know that this is the one thing you will have to face. Yet so few are ready for it. Especially in your profession.”

Hypovolemic shock set in as Brother Jeremiah’s blood supply leaked into his lungs and intramuscular spaces.

The cowled man smiled. “Almost. No more rectal ramming for you. Kind of a shame. I was hoping your guardian angel would be here so I could mock him. Especially how you have to still stroke off every night to twink porn…”

David jerked alert.

“…but I guess even he stopped giving a shit about you. A real shame; there were those last days of high school where we were in heavy contention.”

David sat up and demanded, “FBI, motherfuckers! I don’t know what game you’re playing, but give it up! My office is up to date on my whereabouts.”

The cowled man laughed at him. “Look around, David.”

David looked around and saw the Hillbilly Emancipation and Liberation League standing in a circle, talking among themselves, pointing at something on the floor.

“Look close, David, and for the first time truly see.”

David studied closer until he could see the assembly looking at his bloated and bleeding corpse.

“Who are you?” David asked the cowled man.

“Foedus, the tempter, the accuser, the guilter, the shamer. I helped you accept the delights of the flesh and the pleasures of arrogance. I was with you when you came into this world. Your own personal devil.”

Foedus yanked David to his feet. “Let’s go; we have an appointment to keep, and then I take up with another.”

“Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, Jesus!”

Foedus slapped David in the face. “A bit late for that. We’re getting this over. Then I am off to shadow your sister’s unborn child.”

David peered over his shoulder as he was dragged to that dark tunnel.

Across the distance, he saw H.E.L.L. chattering over his corpse.

“Told youse he’s a fed.”

“Yep. The LORD has saved us again.”

“Look, the snakes are a coiled up on his breast.”

“Dump him in the pigs’ pen. Pull his teeth first.”

The last thing David saw on this Earth was a Walmart person jamming pliers into his lifeless mouth.