The ‘mountain of paperwork’ which Douglas had referred to was almost unbelievable. Every time someone had entered the compound, information had been collected on them: their age, their gender, their level of education, skills, previous profession, the area they had come from. It was now up to the Shield King and Reuben alone to sort through all this rough data and categorise it. Once everything was recorded and all was in order, they would be able to assign roles to people and they would be aware of their needs. Deranged as the whole enterprise might be, Reuben could not deny that it was well organised. Lacking computers, however, they had to sort through it by hand. As such, there quite literally was a mountain of paperwork laid out on the tables for these two amateur administrators.
The two of them sat alone in a small office. Outside their private little bureau, they could hear hundreds of footsteps and voices as people were allotted to their new accommodation upstairs by Lily-Jean.
As he filed the papers, Reuben’s mind kept drifting back to the horror of the executions he had seen from the rooftop. The sight of the bodies being tossed into the garbage truck rattled through his mind’s eye without end. He began to picture himself being grabbed by the wrists and ankles and thrown onto the pile. All it would take would be one innocent cough. That was all it would take for them to accuse him of losing faith. His sickness would be proof of his godlessness and there would be no talking his way out of it. He felt himself losing control again, his breath coming more and more strained.
“You ok?” asked the Shield King, abruptly cutting off Reuben’s train of thought. He looked across at Douglas’ right-hand man. He was such a black sheep compared to the others here. He stood out like a sore thumb with his slick haircut and shirt and tie. The man’s oddness disarmed Reuben. This one was not like all the rest he could tell.
“Is it safe?” Reuben asked abruptly of him. “What we’re doing here? We’re letting in people without masks and executing people who do have them?” The Shield King put down his pen and leaned back in his chair with a smirk on his face.
“We’re both still here, aren’t we?” he said with casual smoothness. “Both you and I have chosen to stay. Therefore, it must be safe. Only a lunatic would stay in an unsafe place.” A short silence filled the space between them for a moment and then Fisherman leaned forward and clasped his hands together on the table. “I know you may have your doubts. Going against what the ‘experts’ have advised. But there is a method to what Billy Boy is doin’. The people who are saved by God are also saved from the virus. And we’re only letting the God-fearing through. The infected are not getting in here. Only the infected are wearing the masks you may notice.”
The Shield King’s words caught Reuben off guard. This man was speaking about God only as an abstract concept. The whole philosophy of this compound was just a method to him.
“You don’t believe in anything that your friend says, do you?” asked Reuben cynically.
“No,” he admitted bluntly. “And neither, I suspect, do you. I mean c’mon: ‘Communist Liberals’? That don’t even make sense! But hey, we got guns and we got food so... Amen, I guess. Billy Boy though, he really does believe this shit. He believes he is the Messiah, so don’t you ever talk about this in front of him.”
“So why follow him then?”
“Why? Because he’s my friend. The two of us go way back. We shared so much we’re practically family. Back in school, we were the two smartest guys in class. Billy had a lot on his shoulders. He was from what you might call a white trailer trash family, not much going for them. But him he had brains, and he had a chance to be free of all that. He wanted to help people, wanted to save people’s lives. His heart’s always been in the right place that way. He wanted to become a doctor. But medical school, never mind the fees, the entrance exams for that shit is a killer. He attempted them three times and failed. And that broke him you know. It confirmed for him he was a failure like the rest of his trailer trash family. It was after that he started to go a little funny in the head.”
“Yeah. I was already gone to college at the time but heard later he had a nervous breakdown of sorts. Panic attacks and the like. He came out of it havin’ all sorts of weird ideas. Said he had been told by God in a dream that he was chosen to rid the world of demons and perversions... Billy Boy interpreted that to be the opulent globalist elite of D.C.”
“You didn’t answer my question though, why are you following him? You’re clearly smart, educated, rational. You got out of here and then you came back to partake in this. Why?”
“Me? Yeah, I guess you could say I was a success. Got my college grades and a sweet office job in a law firm. But you know, that world of yesterday, was a stagnant old place. Same old people running the same old show forcin’ everyone into some crazy rat race for material wealth... I came back here to Billy Boy because I knew that stagnant old world was going to end.”
“Knew? Knew how?”
“Shit man. Was no premonition or prophecy to it. All you had to do was turn on the news from maybe 2014 onwards. Any of the news channels. Take your pick. It wouldn’t matter. They all had the same message: the world is fucked. And so I got into prepping here with Billy and Dave and we built this place to wait out the storm... I chose Billy because I saw an opportunity in him.”
“What kind of opportunity?”
“The kind that makes you rise to the top. Chaos is a game of snakes and ladders Reuben. Those on high fall and us here at the bottom have the chance to rise. Chaos is the only real God. The God that Douglas preaches about though, it appeals to people round here. It appeals especially because they’re afraid. Fear is a powerful thing. It was fear of being left behind that kept the old world spinning for so long and then the fear of the virus that suddenly halted everything... do you know that you can kill a sheep just by scaring them shitless? Same goes for people. People are fuckin’ idiots. Here, there, everywhere. Don’t matter if they’re educated or not. They’re all sheep. And like sheep you can just herd ‘em around in the direction you want.”
“And what direction are you planning on taking this flock?” asked Reuben somewhat worrisomely.
“You heard the man’s sermon, didn’t you? God’s Kingdom on Earth. Once the virus is finished, we’re gonna take back the state and reshape it in our own image. Feds are too busy trying to hold the country together to stop us.”
“You really believe that they’ll allow you to do that? That they’ll just let the Holy King take over and leave him in charge?”
“No, not really. But hey, it’s the apocalypse. Gotta make a name for yourself somehow! Elsewise, you’ll just spend it watchin’ same old T.V. repeats.”
“I’m sorry, you’re potentially leading all these people to their deaths, just for your own personal gain?”
“And this is different from the pre-virus world how exactly? You think it makes any difference if they die under this roof or outside it? How many people has the virus killed now? How many have been killed out of fear of the virus? Thousands in this state alone, probably more. My bet is if this whole dream of Billy’s goes to shit and everyone dies... no one will even notice. No one will probably even care. We’re just a drop in the ocean... The world is gone too far now, everyone is past caring about other people, not that they ever cared anyway... In the end, everyone only cares about themselves... People like to indulge in that illusion of self-importance. That their lives matter and have meaning. It’s why the people here love Billy so much. He gives ‘em meaning, makes ‘em feel like they belong, by telling them they’re God’s chosen and what not... Truth is though, is that there’s two types of people in the world. There are sheep and there are shepherds. And if you’re a sheep, then no one gives two fucks about your life and your life doesn’t count for shit. You’re just a number on a spreadsheet. A statistic for the numbers men to sort through on another boring day in the office.”
“And if you’re a shepherd?”
“Figure it out yourself genius. You can guess which of the two I intend to be.”
“But you still haven’t answered my first question. Is any of this safe? Haven’t you considered that you might die in the process of building your ... your kingdom?”
The Shield King shrugged without a care in the world and simply said:
“We all gotta die someday son. No matter what we do, sooner or later, we’re all gonna die.”