Minn Ramsey spoke to God every day of her life. But it was only after blessed Preacher Martin came to town that God spoke back. And not just to her. To nearly every resident of Mountain Hide, usually on a Tuesday. It was a miracle, to be sure, given on account of their faith. It had to be. Because there was nothing else.
The town was nestled in a crook in the mountains of West Virginia, and while it started as little more than a backwoods dugout for moonshiners, it blossomed after the coal mine opened. But luck wasn’t on the community’s side, and some time after Prohibition ended the coal ran out and there wasn’t much of a reason for anyone to stay all the way up there, miles from anywhere, with hardly a decent road to the place. Decades passed and folks moved on until there were only enough tithing families to support a single church and only enough deposits for a single savings and loan. By then, everybody knew everybody else by their first names, and it seemed like a sin to leave, even though most wanted to.
But all that changed after Preacher Martin came. He didn’t seem like much at first—bald up top, a little soft in the middle, with a round nose and a pair of eyebrows that didn’t line up straight. And sometimes his voice seemed a bit off, like a record player running a tad slow. But otherwise he was the same as anyone. There wasn’t even a hint as to the miracle he carried in his heart.
Minn knew that’s how Preacher Martin was. Humble.
First thing he did was meet with each and every one of his parishioners—in private so it was more comfortable. He sat them down in his office in front of a big camera, almost like a projector, and when it snapped a picture of you there was a sound like a shutter run backward, and you could see stars in the lens. Preacher Martin took everyone’s picture that way, even the folks who weren’t regular church goers, and he wrote down everyone’s names so he could memorize them all later. He talked to folks about prayer and the Bible, about the town, about their job, their likes and dislikes, even their hopes and dreams. He was such a nice man.
But not long after he arrived, everybody got to see that Preacher Martin was more than just humble. He was blessed of God. And not like those false tent-pole healers that ran through Deerlick every spring.
When Brandon Federline, 26, was carrying on with a high school girl, just 15, God knew it, and He told Preacher Martin, who asked Brandon to come up before the whole congregation—practically the whole town—and confess his sin publicly so he could be forgiven.
Of course, Brandon wouldn’t admit it at first, not something shameful like that, criminal even. But as soon as he figured the truth—that God really was watching and that He had told Preacher Martin things only Brandon and the young lady could know—well, Brandon felt the presence of the Holy Spirit. He broke down right there and dropped to his knees. He brought Jesus into his heart and begged for forgiveness.
There were lots of tears and hugs and more praising God that day than any Minn could remember. And it wasn’t about Brandon. Minn knew lots of folks were still angry about that. It was the bigger truth. Preacher Martin was blessed. He hadn’t been in town two months and already he’d battled a secret sin in their very midst. Real sin. Born of the Devil. And he won.
And that was just the beginning. Every time someone found themselves dancing, or giving in to the temptations of the flesh, Preacher Martin would stop by, or ask them to come up to the front of the church, and he’d stroke his comb-over gently and everyone could see he had God in him. He cured people of the weed and got divorced couples to reconcile. And every Tuesday he rode through the town and delivered a personal message from God.
He even got Minn the job at Gelid Cold Storage. She only applied because God had told her to, but she didn’t like it there. She liked it better down at the bank. But God put Jaslynn Summers there, and not long after, the little bank got a big new client and millions of dollars moving through all the time, or something like that, and suddenly there was money around town. Roads that had been rotting Minn’s whole life got fixed, including the winding snake that led down the mountain. The town hall—still the original from 1924—got a new whitewash. Gelid Refrigeration Services, Inc. bought the vacant coal mine and moved in. And for the first time in a long time, things started looking up for the people of Mountain Hide.
That’s how Minn knew it was all for the best, even her job. God knew what was best for everyone. It was her place to follow His plan, even when it didn’t hardly make no sense.
Like with the deliveries. They were always at night, which seemed odd. It’s hard to see in the mountains at night. But then Minn figured it probably didn’t make a difference since everything was automated anyway. Gelid was a fancy outfit, and they had built the cold storage unit right into the mine. The company had installed brackets all along the walls of the long central shaft that ran to the lower level, all of it long since flooded with ice-cold water. It was a constant -2.3 degrees Celsius all year round, or so the computers told her, but the dissolved minerals kept the water from freezing solid. It was a natural, all-weather, fault-free freezer.
When a delivery came—which was rare—it always came off the back of a truck, and it was always the same kind of oblong metal container, like something NASA would make. The delivery guys would open the big steel door to the mine and leave the container on the yellow-and-black painted concrete pad with the blue-striped girders arching overhead, keeping the mountain at bay. The men didn’t hardly pay any attention to Minn. She guessed they were told not to.
Every now and then she’d wave, or she’d catch a glimpse of the red robotic crane in the ceiling, moored to the rock as it swung down like the hand of God and lifted the oblong container and mounted it on the appropriate numbered bracket deep in the dark water. The robot didn’t need to see, so there were no lights down there. It was silent and spooky, like one of those sensory deprivation chambers Minn had seen on Discovery TV, with nothing but the occasional drip of condensation.
And when it came time for a pick-up, the crane would get orders through the Internet. It would find the right numbered bracket, remove the container, and deposit it on the pad, cold and dripping. Later that night, the delivery company would come—it was always the same one—and a plain white semi would back into the lot. Men would hop out and remove the container and haul it away. Minn never knew where they were going or what was inside. She’d even signed some papers that said she wasn’t allowed to talk about it with anyone, which was silly. There was nothing to tell.
Minn’s job, if you could call it that, was to hang around and answer the phone that never rang and make sure there were no problems, and occasionally reboot the computers that monitored and controlled everything. Preacher Martin said it was to give Minn time to study so she could get her GED like she’d told him she’d wanted, but Minn never felt like studying, and she’d only told Preacher Martin that—in his office, that day he took her picture—because it seemed like the thing someone without a high school degree was supposed to say when asked about their “long term goals.”
In truth, Minn didn’t do much of anything, and some days she felt like she was only there for show, to make it look like there was more going on at Gelid than there really was.
But that was silly, she chided herself. God had told her to apply for the job, and He was looking out for her, she knew. He told Preacher Martin things about her no one could know. Things she did in private. Things no one else ever saw. Preacher Martin said it was okay as long as she wasn’t married, but Minn knew there wasn’t much chance of that. Not in Mountain Hide.
Sometimes she thought about leaving. She asked Preacher Martin if she could maybe get a different job, one where she made enough to save for a move, but God said it wasn’t time yet. He needed her where she was, and even though maybe it didn’t seem important, He had a plan. And it was extra super important—Preacher Martin always reminded her in that funny voice of his—that she never, ever go down into the mine. He even made her swear to it on his Bible, the big heavy one that zippered up around the sides and never left his hands. And that was fine with her. She didn’t like it down there anyway.
At the end of every shift, Minn walked across the lot from the temporary trailer that housed her office and strung the silver chain with the padlock around the links of the fence, lost in thought.
Minn felt something cold and hard being pressed to the back of her head. Was that a gun?
She heard a click.
It was. Minn froze. “I don’t have any money.” That was certainly true.
Minn did as she was told. A gaunt man in jeans and leather pushed her aside and pulled out the chain. It dropped on the asphalt. He had a shaved head. There was a tattoo on the side.
Minn didn’t need to see his face, or the tattoo. She’d recognized his voice right away. So she kept her eyes down. It was Jerrad. Shawna’s boyfriend. And right then Minn knew she’d done something completely horrible. Her face twisted like she might cry.
“I’m sorry,” she breathed softly. Only it wasn’t meant for Shawna’s boyfriend. It was meant for God.
More men appeared as the sun set behind the mountain. One of them, a plump, bald man with a white head like the moon, grabbed Minn’s arm and pulled her into the gravel lot behind Jerrad. The fancy stitched name on his leather jacket said Colt. She was pulled past the trailer and shoved toward to the console, sort of like an ATM, built into the wall next to the large steel door that sealed the mine. It was painted the same color gray as the mountain rocks that surrounded it.
Minn knew she was in trouble. She didn’t raise her eyes from the pebble-strewn asphalt. She pressed her arms to her side and hunched her shoulders. She wasn’t very big to begin with, barely 5’2”, but she wanted to shrink even smaller and slink away. Like a weasel.
Shawna’s boyfriend put the revolver to her head and Minn shook.
“I said open it.”
Jerrad Harbingen wasn’t from Mountain Hide. He was from Deerlick, down along the river, and he was a bad man. He ran with a motorcycle gang. Minn could only assume the other fellas were them. There were at least two more men behind her, judging from the sound of gravel crunching under boots. They all had guns. They were antsy. She could tell they were in a hurry. They looked around nervously. They were robbing the place. And Minn knew why.
God had told her not to talk about her job, not even to other folks in town. She’d signed papers and even swore on Preacher Martin’s heavy Bible. But she couldn’t help it. Her high school friend Shawna Bilken was making twice Minn’s salary working at a little boutique down in Deerlick. Minn had to listen to her brag all weekend about her job and her new boyfriend, Jerrad. He wasn’t much of a catch, what with being convicted of assault and all, but still, he was kinda cute—skinny with a bunch of tattoos, like a rock star. It wasn’t fair. And it wasn’t fair Minn had to be all alone up in the mine while Jaslynn Summers smiled and chatted with everyone and got to look pretty and wear lipstick down at the bank.
So maybe Minn talked up her job a little bit. Maybe she made it seem like a bigger deal than it was. The big robotic crane. The night deliveries. The secrecy. The oblong containers with the funny symbol on the side.
Like she was a spy.
But Minn had spoken out of vanity, and now bad things were happening.
Jerrad pushed the gun harder. “Open it!”
from Episode Four of THE MINUS FACTION, a serial novel about superhuman abilities and how not to use them.