Bob pulled the curtain across behind him and lowered onto the tiny kneeler. “Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. It has been…” He cocked his head in thought for a moment. “It has been two weeks since my last confession.”
“Bob,” the priest’s voice whispered from the darkness. “I am pleased you have come.”
“Wayne, I don’t know what to think. Aliens landing in Canada, for fuck sake. That’s not right.”
“I know, Bob. This is why we need your help.”
“Remember what we discussed?” The voice waited with no sound other than the intake of breath from both men.
Bob’s mouth fell open as he realized what was being said. “You mean…”
“Yes, Bob, it is time.”
“What about Martha? What about the family?”
“They will be provided for. The Pope, himself, has put out this call.”
Bob’s mind flashed to his high school days with Wayne, long before their paths had veered in different directions. Wayne hearing the call of the Church while Bob went home to work a dying farm.
“The Pope?” Bob asked.
“I believe, Wayne. I am fucking ready.”
“Keep your voice down.”
Bob bent his head forward. “Sorry, Father.”
“When will your men be ready to move?”
“A few hours as I just hafta tell ’em.”
A moments thought brought new silence. “Twenty-five.”
“Excellent work, Bob. You will be rewarded for this. We will meet here in the church at eight. Bring only what you need, but expect to travel. We will have a bus waiting.”
“We will be ready, Wayne,” Bob whispered. “Penance?”
A chuckle from the priest. “Three Hail Mary’s and an Our Father. If we do this, you will never require penance again.”
Bob smiled widely as he stepped out of the confessional and into the white church.
The building was huge, and for the most part, empty. Martha knelt in a pew, hands clasped and head bent.
Bob knelt beside her.
She whispered, “What did he say.”
Crossing himself, Bob answered, “Time to go.”
“Order from the Pope, his-self.”
Martha grinned. “That’s beautiful.”
Bob rushed through his prayers and stood up. “I gotta get the fellas”
As they got in the truck, Martha asked further, “Where will the protest be?”
“I don’t know.” He turned the key and the good gas engine roared to life. “Wayne said there would be a bus.”
The remainder of the ride was an uncomfortable silence. Bob hit the phones hard once home. For two hours he called all the men on his list. Fifteen answered and agreed to be at the church, without question. The other ten he left messages for, and all but one phoned back to confirm. The only call not returned was by Phil Smith, who was currently sitting behind the wheel of his Ford Expedition, dead from a heart attack…his body would not be found until the next day when his wife alerted authorities of his disappearance.
With two hours before he had to leave, Bob took Martha to bed. As usually, he was mechanical in his love-making and, twenty minutes later, he jumped in the shower while Martha used her own hand to get her orgasm without him knowing. By twenty minutes to eight, Martha was driving Bob back to the church.
In the dusk, about twenty men were milling around the parking lot with their wives and girlfriends. Each was giving a goodbye kiss or hug, all expected to be back together in a few days. Each man had a weapon slung over one shoulder and a duffel bag of clothing over the other that had been pre-packed for anticipation of this call coming.
The hiss of air brakes announced the bus coach arriving before it pulled into the church lot. The twenty-five men said their final goodbyes and cues up to climb on to the bus. Quickly, it pulled away stopping at a second church where it filled to capacity of forty-five. The bus left the outskirts of Mobile just as the sun light vanished beyond the horizon.
This evening, this particular activity was happening in most cities all around the United States. Thirty-six hours later, as Bob noted a sign on the highway stating that they were entering the city of Great Falls, Montana, the group on this bus from Mobile had no clue that almost a million pilgrims were already waiting in Great Falls…with millions yet to arrive.