Here it is, the next chapter of Chadpocalypse. Moving along with this story, and just finished the outline for Whiteout’s sequel, Downpour. Might share a few chapters as I go through the rewrite in the coming months! For those who aren’t caught up on Chadpocalypse, links to previous chapters are below.
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1:9 Mega Church of the Universe
To say the building they pulled up in front of was an eyesore, would be to make an understatement of biblical proportions. While most of Midway had moved forward into the modern age, with tall buildings made of steel and glass, the Mega Church was the living, breathing embodiment of a 1980s telethon. The massive structure was constructed almost entirely of marble and adorned with various interpretations of cartoonish religious iconography. Its most prominent feature was a large cross that hung just above its entrance and rose high enough in the sky to inspire the neighboring CEOs in their penthouses to faith.
By the time Chad pulled into the thirty-minute parking spot, the car was well on its last legs. It appeared that the hellhound had done far more than just shatter the back window. Chad had not stopped to find out exactly what it was, but the sound of metal on concrete as they had been driving told him it wasn’t good.
“I thought I told you not to wreck this car.” It was the first time the priest had spoken since the attack.
“Ask God for a new one.” Chad stepped out of the car, feeling the need to run rising within him once more. The shaded downtown streets were noticeably cooler than the suburbs. The tall buildings blocked out the sun at its peak, leaving the streets to be dim and humid. Chad felt changed from the experience of witnessing Hell on earth, not devout mind you, but changed. It was as if he were seeing the world through a realistic lens for the first time in his life.
People passed looking oddly at the car and its passengers. Chad tried to give them a ‘shit happens’ smile, but it was half-hearted at best. His current predicament had gone so far beyond ‘shit happens’. Chad was preoccupied, scanning the skies for signs of more demons and trying not to descend into an all-out panic. Every passing glance made him nervous, and the feeling only intensified as the black-clad priest in the wide-brimmed hat stumbled out of the car, looking like something out of the Exorcist. His palms were still shaking as he struggled to walk steadily from a mixture of fear and drink.
“These people are going to tell me to take you to a shelter.”
“Shut up,” snapped the priest. His breath wafted into the hot summer air, fermented, and putrid.
“Jesus, take a mint or we’ll get directed to an AA meeting.”
The priest ignored him and steadied himself on the edge of his car, examining the damage. From the front of the vehicle, things didn’t look so bad. Chad decided to start moving before the priest was able to walk around the back.
Next to the parking spot was a small meter shaped like an old-fashioned donation tin. It read: Parking here is free, but the lord could always use a helping hand. Not wanting to anger the gods any more than he clearly already had, Chad dropped a few coins into the tin. The metallic bottom slid away, and the coins clanked down a long tube. A small drawing of a saint on thin paper popped out of a slot with: ‘Praise be to parking!’ Emblazoned in bold letters.
Chad had never donated to a church, and instantly felt like he had somehow been duped into it. A long flight of steps led up from street level and under the massive cross. Beneath it was an overhang lit by recessed lights, and beyond that, a set of stained glass doors. Stuck in the middle of the stairs was a tall gold statue of the church’s founder with a dedication plaque beneath it.
Chad didn’t recognize the man, but then again, he didn’t pay attention to much about downtown Midway unless it was a happy hour special. He walked up to the sign and read it.
Welcome to the Mega Church of the Universe, a building of faith and prayer for everyone. Spiritual enlightenment is just a few flights of stairs away, and if that’s too much, there’s an elevator at the 5th street entrance. Praise be, and welcome. There was an engraved signature below the message, a fine cursive reading: Chris Schaefer, Grand Priest.
“Seems pretty blasphemous.” Chad looked the gold statue up and down. “Isn’t there something about false idols in the bible?”
“Yes, there is,” admitted the priest. “But the laypeople don’t care much so long as there’s a quick and simple way to ease their spiritual guilt.”
Chad nodded. “So, there’s a lot of priests in there right?”
The priest looked confused. “It is a church, so yes.”
“It’s going to be a little confusing calling you Father all the time.” Drawing the attention of more priests than they intended felt like a consequence Chad wanted to avoid. “You have a name you go by that’s any less biblical?”
The priest sighed, as if sharing his name with Chad was something he would have rather avoided. “Call me Joe,” he said at last.
“Yes, just Joe, now stop with the questions. We need to get off the streets. We should be safe in there, blasphemous as it is.”
Chad thought he saw a smile briefly cross Joe’s lips, but in the same instant, it was gone. “Well, if enlightenment is just up these stairs, then maybe this whole hell on earth thing won’t be as hard as we thought.”
“We should be so lucky.” The priest straightened his hat and walked up the steps.
Chad followed him, and while hating the building’s aesthetic, felt none of the usual reservations about entering a church. To some extent, it didn’t feel like a church at all, and more of just a walking advertisement for faith. That at least he could understand the motivations behind. It was the blind devotion that made him uncomfortable.
When they stepped into the building, chills prickled across Chad’s skin, not from holy power, but from an incredibly strong air conditioning system that likely cost a fortune. Midway in the summer was pretty close to Hell as far as heat went, and most buildings couldn’t afford to fight it. The entryway to the Mega Church was practically an icebox. Adding to the opulence, white marble spread out floor to ceiling before Chad. Long lines of black stone were inlayed in the surface forming intricate patterns. Several television screens hung from a vaulted ceiling, detailing various services that were being held throughout the building. They ranged in price from a cheap $10 sermon, all the way to a $10,000 workshop on obtaining the divine peace of mind, taught by a foreign mystic.
“This is where we’re going to find someone who studies the dark arts?”
“There’s more to it than the glitz and the glamour you see here.” Joe turned to lead Chad up a flight of stairs, but they were accosted by a welcoming man in brightly colored robes and a pointed had. He looked like a technicolor pope, and in his right hand, he held a balanced tray dotted with little white pills.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” said the buoyant priest. His voice rose and fell like it were a passenger on an uncommonly rough, but pleasant sea. Chad thought he looked fresh from a hippie commune, and had no place in the priesthood.
“Not interested,” muttered Joe, waving a hand at the man.
The buoyant priest recoiled slightly, smelling Joe’s breath, and taking offense at his dismissal. “Welcome to the Mega Church of the Universe,” said the priest, hopefully, as if starting again might change the outcome.
“Sorry, we’re here for the Alternative Teachings of God,” said Joe.
The man in the multi-colored robes looked disappointed. “Ah yes, the Alternative Teachings. They’re a good group…” He didn’t sound entirely convinced of it. “But they can be a bit of a downer.” He trailed off, and then remembered the tray in his hand. “Can I interest you in some mescaline?” His eyes brightened as if he had completely forgotten about the tray’s contents until that very moment.
“I’m sorry?” stumbled Chad, suddenly alert. “Aren’t you supposed to be a priest?” Ordinarily he was not in the position of turning down drugs, but there was something about taking them from a priest that just felt wrong.
“You try being one without it.” The priest grabbed one of the little pills delicately between thumb and forefinger, and popped it into his mouth. He gave Chad a knowing wink and proffered the tray to him. “Come on, they won’t bite.”
Chad looked to Joe who was already beginning to shake his head in disapproval.
Joe shrugged. “Not my church, not my rules.”
“It would be rude not to,” Chad said.
“But I’d advise against it, given your current predicament.”
Chad could not think of a better time to have his mind erased by powerful drugs. Their predicament continued to move from bad to worse, and a drug trip would at least stall it. Chad grabbed a pill from the tray and was about to swallow it when he thought better of it. “We’ll make this one for the road.” He smiled at the priest and pocketed the pill.
“Maybe you can bring it to one of our services later.” The priest grinned. “The high priest will bring out the best trip you’ve ever had.” The technicolor priest turned to Joe and offered him the plate. “And how about you?” It was a feeble attempt, as he already knew the answer.
“No, thank you. I’ll stick to prayer and penitence, thanks.”
“You Catholics and your penitence.” The priest shrugged and walked away. As he did so, Chad thought he heard him mutter ‘square’, but couldn’t be entirely sure.
“I would suggest throwing that pill away,” said Joe.
“A wise man never turns down free drugs.”
“A wise man doesn’t bake his brain with chemicals when he’s being pursued by the minions of Hell…”
Chad shrugged. “Seems like as good a time as any.”
The priest looked at Chad as if considering admonishment, but then slackened. “Let’s go find the Alternative Teachings Church. If I remember correctly, they’re on the top floor.” Joe looked around the lobby, spied a sign pointing to an elevator bank and walked over to it.
Chad followed. The elevator bank was made up of a series of gold doors recessed into the marble walls. Above each door was a small, clocklike mechanism showing which floor the elevator was currently on. While Chad thought they were on the first floor, the mechanism clearly showed ten levels below them, as well as an extra thirty above them. “Just how big is this place?”
“Forty stories in total, each hosting its own form of religious expression. It’d be a paragon of tolerance if it wasn’t so focused on making a buck.” Joe pressed the elevator call button and a calming voice said, “While you wait for your carriage, consider making a donation in the box below.” On cue, a donation tin like the one that had been on the parking meter popped out from the wall. “Remember the generosity of god and take it into yourself.”
“Is everything an upsell?” asked Chad, feeling idiotic for putting coins into the machine earlier.
“Like I said, anything to ease the guilt of the masses.”
The donation tin remained extended even as the elevator door began to open. Chad walked into the carriage, trying to ignore it, but feeling its silent judgment.
Joe followed him in, and the doors slid shut behind him.
“Hi there,” beamed an annoyingly pious voice. “Where does your spiritual journey take you today?”
“The Alternative Teachings of God.”
“Super choice!” said the voice. “Going up!”
“Good lord, that’s annoying,” said Chad, feeling the return of his lost headache.
“The lord has nothing to do with it.” Joe straightened his overcoat nervously.
“How well do you know this friend?”
“It’s been a few years…” The priest inhaled deeply. “We haven’t talked much recently.” He said it quickly, as if it held no meaning.
Chad grew suspicious. Joe, like most priests was very clearly hiding something. “Old boyfriend?” he tried. He didn’t think it was true, but if it was, he was going to look like a genius.
Joe stared at Chad in annoyance. “Have you forgotten that I’m a priest?”
“Oh, don’t tell me you’re against homosexuality. So cliché.”
“And you’re the spitting image of tolerance. Priests can’t have relationships you nitwit. Regardless of gender.”
The elevator continued its languid pace upward.
“Alright,” said Chad, a little ashamed. “What is it then?”
The priest took another long breath. “They’ve been a little upset with me ever since…” Joe wrung his hands together.
“Oh, just spit it out.”
“Alright, fine. I excommunicated them for studying the dark arts.”
Chad’s mouth twisted into a sarcastic smile. “Great, he’s definitely going to help us then.”
“It’s certainly a gamble,” admitted Joe. “But let’s hope she will.”
As he said it, the elevator doors sprung open, revealing a massive arcane library, black shelves, and black-clad men and women moving between them. Skulls adorned the walls and torches burned in braziers at odd intervals, bathing the room in alternating firelight and pitch darkness.
“Well, this is welcoming.” Chad felt a sense of unease growing, and was thankful he hadn’t taken the pill. “But, seems like the right place to learn about the apocalypse…”