For fans of Philip K. Dick’s The Man In the High Castle and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
A BLOODLESS RELIGIOUS COUP turns the American dream into an American nightmare where dissenters are jailed. Religious right-wingers rule the land, and those who resist the oppressive theocracy are forced into reeducation camps until they repent or disappear. A young Jewish-Gentile couple desperately navigates the tyrannical new regime by remaining invisible. But after a coworker outs Seth Ginsberg for secretly practicing Judaism, the rising political aide and his feisty wife are left with menacing options, trapped between soul-crushing internment in a Savior Camp or a rugged race for the Mexican border. This timely dystopian thriller will keep readers turning pages and leave them afraid, angry, and thoughtful about America in the 21st Century.
2019 Georgia Author of the Year Awards Nominee for First Novel.
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"Saved Through Faith." The words were hand-carved into a mahogany sign with a gleaming walnut stain. Fit for a Vacation Bible School, it hung above the entrance gate to a remote outpost. The camp sat on a flat plain surrounded by electric barbed wire fencing, and snipers in concrete guard towers. Just inside the gates was a flagpole with a New Glory American flag — the United States of America flag with a white cross instead of stars. The flagpole was dwarfed by a giant cross made of white steel beams, mud splattered at its base.
A military helicopter landed in the empty parking lot between the entrance gate and the train tracks that ran parallel to the camp. Missioner Grace Lim jogged from the gate to greet Federal Deacon Freeman Wingard as he departed the aircraft.
"Welcome to Camp Glorious Rebirth, sir," Missioner Lim shouted over the blender whine of the helicopter blades. "Sorry it couldn't have been under better conditions."
Wingard removed his suit jacket and draped it over his arm. Sweat stuck his shirt to his back. He hadn't expected the summer heatwaves to reach the Rocky Mountains, and he wondered how Missioner Lim managed to appear cool while wearing her standard-issue Hedge Protection blue windbreaker over a dress shirt and tie.
There were no campers or counselors in sight, only missioners and camp guards. Bright colored murals of Biblical scenes filled with people and animals that looked like they had been flattened by a steamroller were painted on the sides of the barracks. The vanilla scent of nearby Ponderosa pines was almost completely obliterated by the stench of rotting vegetables.
The camp guard stationed outside the men's barracks shouldered his rifle and saluted Wingard. After he returned the salute, Wingard gazed at the majestic mountain range beyond the camp walls before entering the barracks alone. The stifling heat was like climbing into an oven. Wingard mopped his forehead with a handkerchief. Walking between two rows of cots, his footsteps echoed off the walls. The smell of death grew stronger as he approached the end of the row.
Wingard swiped at the flies buzzing around his head. At his feet was a pool of blood. Its iron tang stung the back of his throat. Above him hung the dead man, his neck broken by a noose made from a twisted bedsheet. The foul odor from his emptied bowels made Wingard gag and he covered his mouth with his handkerchief.
The suicide victim was former congressman, Chip Randall. His body was rail-thin. Chip had loved good food and had always been twenty to thirty pounds overweight. Wingard used to tease him by poking his bloated belly and inquiring as to when the baby was due.
It was too much. He needed fresh air. Wingard stumbled to the window, but it was nailed shut. The heat squeezed him like a vise. He returned to the body. Though never the athletic type, Chip had climbed up to the crossbeam over his cot. Hanging apparently wasn't enough for him. Blood trailed from his gouged wrists to the puddle on the floor. A few remaining drops dripped off his fingertips. Wingard spotted a bloody nail on the ground next to Chip's cot.
On the crossbeam next to the noose, Chip had written, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.' John 1:8," using his finger as his pen and his blood as his ink. Wingard stared at his best friend's bloated face. He used his handkerchief to wipe away his tears.CHAPTER 2
ANNOUNCER: A blessed morning to you all. It's 8:30 a.m. and you're listening to NCR, National Christian Radio. Now the news.
U.S. armed forces have toppled the Muslim government in Somalia. This is the latest victory in Operation Ultimate Crusade. A White House spokesman reports that American humanitarian forces have begun to baptize the Somali people and estimates that the entire population will be saved within a year.
Popular singer and actress Bobbi Sue Sunshine has turned down an offer to play a non-believer in the hit TV series Jesus Loves Me, Don'tcha Know. Bobbi Sue said her faith in Jesus is too strong for her to portray a non-believer, even though the producers of the show promised to have her character accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior by mid-season.
The New England Blessed have accused the San Francisco Crusaders of praying after the game started. This is in violation of league rules, which states that the two teams may only ask for our Savior's guidance before the opening kickoff when both teams pray in unison, so as to avoid either team gaining an unfair advantage.
Former Congressman Chip Randall has died at the age of sixty-four. Randall was the one of the authors of the CHRIST Act. Randall rose to national attention when, while introducing the CHRIST Act on the floor of the House of Representatives, he said these words.
CONGRESSMAN RANDALL: Mr. President, tear down this wall between church and state.
ANNOUNCER: As of yet, there has been no official White House statement about former U.S. Congressman Chip Randall's passing.
Coming up, The Pauly Pilgrim Show. His guest today is Federal Deacon Freeman Wingard. But first, these messages.
COMMERCIAL VOICE TALENT: It's the question no one wants to ask. Is there a loved one in your family who has lost their way? Do they challenge Jesus's plan for this great country of ours? Have they openly spoken out against the wisdom of our anointed leaders to guide us to the greater glory?
All is not lost.
A short stay at a Savior Camp may be just what that loved one needs to regain the ecstasy of Christ in their heart. As the good book says, "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. James 4:7."
The Savior Camps are not just for lapsed Christians and those afflicted with the disease of homosexuality. They also cure drug addicts, adulterers, Satan worshippers, and Liberals.
Is your faith in God strong enough to report a morally lost family member to the police, your local federal clergyman, or an official member of the National Church of Christ?
Turn in that backslider. Someday he'll thank you.
ANNOUNCER: And now the show hosted by the man some have called the fourteenth apostle — Pauly Pilgrim!
PAULY PILGRIM: A blessed good morning and welcome to the Pauly Pilgrim Show, I am your host Pauly Pilgrim. My guest today is a true man of God, Federal Deacon Freeman Wingard. He oversees the Department of Hedge Protection, which keeps our nation secure from the many threats we face both physically and spiritually. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us Deacon.
DEACON WINGARD: I feel blessed to be here, Pauly.
PILGRIM: The CHIRST Act, an acronym for Christian Households Rising in Support of Truth, declared Christianity as the official religion of the United States of America. This Sunday, a grateful nation will celebrate its tenth anniversary. Can you believe it's already been ten years since it passed?
WINGARD: It's amazing how far we've come in the last decade, but the CHRIST Act was only a symbolic gesture. The Twenty- Eighth Amendment, which repealed part of the First Amendment, made it possible for Congress to establish the National Church of Christ. That, for me, was the official beginning of The Greatest Awakening.
PILGRIM: It has been nothing short of miraculous to see how the country blossomed once the American people allowed the Lord Jesus to be their Commander-in-Chief. As I used to say, once you put Jesus in charge, everything else will fall into place.
WINGARD: I'm sorry, but there's something I need to talk about. As you've probably heard, Chip Randall, the author of the CHRIST Act, died this past Sunday.
PILGRIM: Yes. A tragic loss.
WINGARD: He was one of my dearest friends. We worked closely together when we both were in the House. We had our disagreements. He was more associated with the New Apostolic Reformation in their quest for Christians to claim the seven mountains of culture. I was more of a Christian Reconstructionist. I wanted to see Biblical law replace human law. But we both understood that Christians are biblically mandated to control all earthly institutions until the second coming of Christ.
PILGRIM: Which is why the CHRIST Act was so important.
WINGARD: I agree. But over time, Chip came to believe that the CHRIST Act was a mistake. He said he had opened a Pandora's Box and now the entire country was cursed by what he had unleashed. That's why he was sent to a Savior Camp. With thoughts like that, he needed to be saved. I think it's important that the public knows how Chip died.
PILGRIM: He had a history of heart trouble. It's not official, but I heard that Jesus called him home by stopping his heart.
WINGARD: Chip Randall didn't have a heart attack. He hanged himself.
PILGRIM: But — but ... Deacon. White House sources. Sunday's celebration.
WINGARD: I went to the camp. I saw for myself. Chip died at his own hand.
PILGRIM: Do you realize what you're doing? You're tarnishing the reputation of an American hero.
WINGARD: I respectfully disagree. Chip may have eternally separated himself from God, but I still love him. The best way I can honor this great man is by telling the truth.
PILGRIM: Well, I can see my producer waving at me, which means it's time for a commercial break. Deacon, I don't want to keep you away from your busy schedule any longer. Thank you for joining us today. When we come back, I'll reveal the government's latest predictions of when we can expect the Second Coming. Don't go away, your summer vacation plans may depend on this report.CHAPTER 3
The late-afternoon sun cast long shadows. The streets were nearly deserted. Despite the depressed state of the Bethesda, Maryland business community, Seth Ginsberg wasn't worried about being mugged. Theft was a Big Ten offense that carried mandatory life imprisonment, and it was legal for anyone to carry a concealed weapon anywhere the Good Lord told them to carry it. Whether it was God or guns that had reduced the crime rate, Seth had lost count of the number of times he'd heard TV pundits argue over which firearm Jesus would have preferred. He carried an unloaded gun in the range bag slung over his shoulder.
Seth came to a cluster of chain restaurants and gas stations. The Second Amendment Shooting Range was on the next block. Putting his foot on a fire hydrant, he pretended to tie his shoelace as a car drove by. The car pulled into a Boston Market parking lot. Seth took out his phone and removed the battery.
He resumed walking toward the shooting range, but then turned left into an office-building complex. "Space available" signs filled the windows. Lawns were choked with weeds, and weeds poked through cracks in the sidewalk. Seth's echoing footsteps reminded him of last-man-on-earth movies.
Once he was deep into the office park, he slipped between two buildings and zigzagged his way through a maze of side streets designed for when maintenance crews still went about their business out of sight of upper management. Moving as quickly as he could without breaking out into a run, he eventually came to a loading dock and sat on the steps.
Sweat trickled down his back as he caught his breath. He listened. At first, he heard nothing, but then he could make out the hum of the generators feeding the empty structures, the distant rumble of traffic, and the occasional bird singing.
Satisfied he was alone Seth tried to open the door even though he knew it was locked and would set off a silent alarm. He stared at the security camera mounted in the corner of the loading dock door until he heard a distinct click. He opened the door and entered the building.
Inside, the room was dark and smelled of diesel fuel and mildew. A flashlight shone in his face, and Seth held up a hand to shield his eyes. The flashlight blinked off and the overhead lights flickered on. A pudgy man in dark slacks and a dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up stood in a doorway at the other end of the room.
"Hey, Howard," Seth said.
"Did you see the game on Saturday?"
"I'm sorry to say I did. All that crap about the Blessed losing because the Crusaders prayed after kickoff? Please. As long as the Blessed keep Binkowski as their starting quarterback, they don't have a prayer of winning."
Once Seth crossed the room, Howard turned off the overhead lights and used his flashlight to guide them to a service elevator deep inside the dark office building. Howard picked a key from a crowded key ring and put it into the control panel. The doors opened. Seth stepped inside alone and pressed a button.
Red exit signs provided the only light on the seventh floor. Dim as it was, it was illuminated enough for Seth to find his way to a conference room. Sand covered the floor, a tradition handed down from the crypto-Jews during the Spanish Inquisition, who put sand on the floor to muffle the sound of their feet. There were no windows since the room had once been used for video presentations. Rows of seats faced a long table. On the table were stacks of prayer books, a cardboard box filled with yarmulkes, and a portable ark. Inside the plain cabinet was a Torah, the congregation's most precious item.
People milled about and talked quietly among themselves. Rabbi Leah, a tall woman with piercing blue eyes and long frizzy gray hair, broke away from a couple and approached Seth.
"Where were you last week?" she said. "For two nights we didn't have enough for a minyan."
Rabbi Leah was the respected spiritual leader of this secret synagogue, but there were times when she could be a pill. Seth did a quick head count and counted twenty including himself and Rabbi Leah, twice as many as necessary for a minyan.
"Last week there were too many people on the street," Seth said. "I had to bail and go to target practice. I was lucky to make it in today." He set his range bag in a chair, pried open a false bottom, and pulled out his blue velvet tallis bag.
"I'm sorry," Rabbi Leah said. "Whenever anybody doesn't show up, I always think the worst."
Along with praying to a shared deity, a religious congregation was a family. But since they worshipped in secret, congregants went by their first names only. Seth knew nothing about the other members. If he passed one of them on the street, he pretended he didn't know them.
Seth noticed that Sam and Esther weren't here. He remembered how strange it had been when Esther was pregnant. Normally, people gushed over a pregnant woman, but none of the congregants had even acknowledged her swollen belly. Then one day Esther wasn't pregnant. No one asked her if she'd had a boy or a girl. And now, she and Sam were missing. Seth felt guilty for snapping at Rabbi Leah. She was worried about him, just as she was worried about all of them.
"I'm sure Sam and Esther are fine," Seth said.
Rabbi Leah's eyes widened. Seth wondered if he'd said too much. She turned away from him, went to the long table, and stood next to the Torah ark.
"It's after sundown," Leah said. "We should begin the service. Grab a siddur. I have yarmulkes for anyone who doesn't already have their own."
People lined up to take a prayer book, and the men each selected a black skull cap from the cardboard box.
Seth unzipped his tallis bag. He took out his yarmulke and placed it on his head. He then took out his prayer shawl, held it up, and quietly recited the prayer embroidered along the collar band. He kissed both ends of the prayer before swinging the tallis over his shoulders like a cape.
Rabbi Leah led the service. She sang softly. At times, Seth had to strain to hear her. The building was in the middle of an empty office complex, the room was too high for anyone on the street to hear, and there were no windows, but still the fear of discovery hung in the air. Rabbi Leah ended the service with a prayer that everyone in the congregation be safe and in good health.
As a safety measure to avoid detection, congregants left the building at fifteen-minute intervals, either alone or in pairs.
Rabbi Leah approached Seth while he was folding his tallis. "Do you mind waiting toward the back of the line tonight?" she asked. "I was hoping we could talk."
"Sure," Seth said. He stuffed his folded tallis and yarmulke into his velvet bag.
They sat in the front row facing the ark.
"I wanted to apologize again for the way I spoke to you earlier," Rabbi Leah said. Seth started to comment, but she waved him off. "I know how dangerous it is to come here."
"I'm no braver than any other member of the congregation," Seth said.
A couple interrupted their conversation to say goodnight. Rabbi Leah stood and gave each one a hug.
Rabbi Leah was older than Seth by at least ten years. He admired her long, regal nose, olive complexion, and generous hips. She was the type of woman his mother had wanted him to marry instead of the Catholic girl now waiting for him at home.
The couple left, and Rabbi Leah turned her attention back to Seth.
"There's something I've been meaning to ask you," she said. "Don't worry. I ask all the congregants this question."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "American Judas"
Copyright © 2018 Mickey Dubrow.
Excerpted by permission of Southern Fried Karma, LLC.
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