“Hello!” I said as I approached the bench.
The man’s eyes shot up with a start looking up over the thing he held in his hand. “Are you talking to me?” He asked. He looked tired and agitated despite the placid mask of emotionless empty the rest of his face conveyed. I felt my insides lurch, instantly regretting the interaction. I had to keep going so I kept smiling until he smiled back. There was no way he could be like all the rest. If he was, there was no hope. Finally, he did smile and I felt my stomach fall. His smile was exactly like the ones I’d left behind. Fake. False. I felt my heart racing a bit in my chest.
everything in this world is for show. the worst part is there’s no way to know..
“Yes sir.” I said, still smiling. I tried twirling one of my braids. See sir? I am a harmless young girl. Please just help me! “there is nobody else here.”
His smile faltered for a moment, growing a bit uneasy from the paranoia that circled him like a swarm of mosquitos. It didn’t matter because I had to do this. I only had this one chance and there was no one else around. It had to be this man. This disagreeable, age-spotted and horrible, awful-mustached man.
“How do I get to Bradenville?”
He pointed to indicate that I needed to keep going the direction I’d been headed. I knew I couldn’t do it on foot, I was sure that Mother and Auntie Alice would find me before I made it.
“No, I mean, my feet are bleeding and I cannot walk anymore. It hurts. How does one utilize the omnibus transport?”
“The wha?” The man looked very confused.
“This! This omnibus transport. How does it work? No that’s not right. What’s it called again? The omni– the bus! How does this bus work?”
Mother and Auntie Alice weren’t always terrible. At least I didn’t think so. None of the Brothers and Sisters did. We loved them and we loved The Oasis. Living there with them was far better than living in the hateful world outside. It was safe there.
Most of us that grew up there had no other frame of reference. Myself included. I was born within the warm walls of Eden. I didn’t know what was beyond them except for what I’d been told. Even now that I’ve left the compound, I’m still not sure. I find myself encountering a curiouser and curiouser world with each step I take, and I wonder if I should have left home at all.
In the mornings in Eden, adults 14 and older wake at 0430 hours. This is when you shower and dress and tend to your personal time. Beds must be made and teeth must be brushed. The wisteria must be burned each morning. We do not use sage. I’ve learned in my classes with Auntie Alice that some people outside believe it can protect them. This has been proven in our teachings to be false. The dried flowers of wisteria should be placed in the burning bowl and be allowed to naturally extinguish itself. This takes mostly just 5 minutes. You must read the passages that correspond to ordinary time from your Great Book. You have an hour to complete. You need to do these things…but also you want to do them.
After the personal chores come community duties. When on kitchen rotation, you leave your bunk and cross the yard in the early warming light and grace of 0500. Here you will help Mother prep for the day’s meals. This could be anything from peeling an entire sack of potatoes, helping her remove a slab of beef or whole pig from the deep freezer, chopping onions or boiling the massive pot of soup bones for stock. Anything that Mother asks, you will do and you’ll be glad for the opportunity because you are here to serve the family. Really you will be glad. It’s not uncommon and is in fact encouraged for you to sing happy songs, and rejoice in ululations. If your happiness is pure in the work, the spirit may embrace you and speak in its own words from your mouth. The kitchen is an exciting job rotation and I can’t explain it fully without doing it a great injustice. Once you’ve helped create the nourishment for all of Eden, you will understand. Until then, these are just words. We are spiritually full by virtue of living in The Oasis, but you can never feel more connected to the community than when you’ve ensured the fulfillment of their bodies. There is great pride in the work no matter what the job, and all of us know that. I always liked the kitchen best.
At 0600, they wake the children and ready them for class. This includes all children between the ages of 2 and 13. The 13 year olds are responsible for ensuring the younger Saved are prepared for the day ahead. They have one hour to ensure their own needs are met and the herbs burned and the passages are read in the children’s dorm. It’s quite a task in-and-of itself. The children are fed breakfast in this time. Everyone over 12 must take the 15 minutes allotted here to kneel in quiet reflection. If you are over 12, you will not have breakfast.
After you finish the chores that Mother gives you in the kitchen, even if you are 14–nearly 15–like me, you are still expected to cross the grass, now vibrant and wet with sunrise dew, and attend classes with the rest. This begins at 0700 and continues for 4 hours every morning. You are not there to learn the lessons. You’ve already learned these things. You are expected to assist Auntie Alice with teaching. You may have to remove any children who begin crying or making a fuss, as children sometimes do. Auntie Alice doesn’t usually ask you to do the spankings, preferring to be in charge of punishing the rotten boys and girls herself…
Don’t worry, the crop doesn’t hurt them any more than it hurt you at that age. The screaming is just their way of being dramatic and prolonging things. They will learn eventually.
At 1100, you eat lunch. You have exactly 30 minutes to leave the classroom, have your lunch and return. If you are even a moment late Auntie Alice will punish you. It won’t be a silly spanking with the crop like the children get. Not if you are 14 or 15. It will hurt a lot more. You must remember to thank her after she is done correcting you. I’ve only had the cattle prod once. It felt like my teeth were full of electricity for the rest of the day. It was so long ago there isn’t even a scar. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone except for Brother Thomas get it twice. If you don’t learn the first time, you must be pretty dumb or stubborn or both. You will remain in class with the younger children until 1300.
Reserved for leisure and activities, 1300 is the best time of day. You have three hours of each day to yourself. If you’re still in school for lessons, you’ll be expected to do some sort of homework now. Silly things like, find a leaf in the garden with exactly 5 apices or collect the longest blade of grass. Sometimes there are harder tasks like, take your Chiappa out to the edge of the compound grounds. Find and eliminate 3 rodents with no more than one clip. It sounds difficult, but if it takes you more than 10 rounds to kill a few squirrels, you might be neglecting your target practice on your free day, so that’s on you. Auntie Alice will take moles too even though they are not rodents at all. They’re blind and much easier to shoot if you can figure out how to dig them up. Once you’re over 13, Auntie Alice doesn’t ask you to do any silly homework, so this time is open and it’s yours.
Usually, I spent that time climbing the various trees within the compound walls–staying well clear of the edges for some of those kids have awful aim–there, I’d look out at the long, vibrant stalks of vegetables in the garden or stare up at the undulating of the sky as it rippled and swirled like a clear pond. I might read from The Great Book for a time, slowly kissed by the sun filtering down on me through the leaves.
At 1600, it’s time for dinner. There is another free hour after dinner concludes at 1700. 1800 is family time…sing-alongs and bonfires…that sort of thing for two more hours until the sun goes down. 1900 is meds. Everyone takes their Euphorin. If you don’t, you’ll quite possibly die. 1905 is lights out.
I think that’s when this all started. 1900: Meds. I don’t know how, but I think they don’t work anymore. Can that even happen? It was gradual and I didn’t notice the change right away, but the other day, I woke up feeling different than I had all the days before. Something was wrong. Feeling different than you did the day before is an ailment that needs correction, which is why we always follow the rule that everyone knew…
if you feel strange today, do not delay…or if any sibling’s acting off, tell Mother straight away.
I got out of bed, unable to shake the uneasy feelings. I knew I was supposed to tell Mother, but could I? No. Of course not. I couldn’t tell her about this. Brother Thomas told Mother when he was feeling strange the week before and I haven’t seen him since. I urged him to go and tell her. I could tell he was acting funny. He seemed suddenly so quiet. Sullen. I told him if he didn’t tell her, I would have to. It was the rule. I didn’t feel bad when he disappeared. I’ve never had a bad thought in my entire life…so, when he didn’t come back, I didn’t blame myself. I didn’t even care he was gone. I don’t know if I could have felt worried or guilty for his disappearance at the time. Everything continued on. The day went on. The ground still vibrated through my shoes. The trees still hummed their pretty songs. The sky still swirled around and around. I knew something was off when I woke up, because I woke up thinking of Brother Thomas, and for the first time, I felt awful.
Had I never felt this? Perhaps I’d always felt awful and was too numb before to notice?
To make matters worse, I started thinking about the others. People disappeared more and more lately, and strangely none of us raised an eyebrow… We were unconcerned. I thought about all of them for a long time until my stomach churned like it was full of eels and I looked at the clock. It was 0525 and I hadn’t even brushed my hair.
Which is more important? The bed or the hair?! I felt my heart begin to race and my forehead bead with the cold sweat of stress. I wiped it away curiously looking at my hand. That was strange and this nervous, jittery feeling was strange as well.
I had to be in the kitchens to help Mother with the meal prep! She would be waiting and would surely notice if I were late. I ran a comb through my hair, hoping nobody would notice the state of my room before rushing out of the dorms and into the yard…
how many others felt this way?
There wasn’t time to dwell on it. There was work to be done. I managed to collect my wits before opening the kitchen door.
“Good morning, Daughter Jane,” Mother said. The sound of her voice was wrong. It grated me like a chorus of discordant violins. An entire orchestra playing different chords that sent a shiver through me.
“Good morning, Mother.” I replied returning her smile.
“Are you cold dear?”
“No Mother. I’m very well this morning, thank you.”
She led the way to the prep counter where she had her list written out. But it wasn’t in her elegant cursive hand which I knew so well and the pages of her notebook weren’t their usual stark white but stained with errant drips of ink and some other, unfamiliar stain, dark and brown. It seemed to bleed from page to page as she thumbed quickly through.
“Here we are. Let’s see. We’ll be doing a roast tonight so I’ll need you to slice onions and carrots. 15 pounds of each. Before we do anything though, you’ll put away the delivery.”
“Yes Mother,” I said tying my apron strings around my waist and heading off.
When I opened the walk-in to drag the boxes, I expected the walls inside to glow with their polished stainless shine as they always had. What I saw instead was another in a series of unexpected unfamiliarities I would encounter as the day progressed. The cooler was much darker than I expected it to be, although the lone bulb that hung from the ceiling seemed to be working fine. There was a spoiled smell, wet and dark that I couldn’t place in the well circulated air. The vents hummed much louder than the day before and I noticed that each of the shelves and corners were creeping with fingers of black mold. I was sure it hadn’t been there the morning before, but also sure that the growth appeared to have gone unchecked so long it couldn’t have possibly spread there overnight.
Something strange is happening here, I thought, but I must not forget to be myself this morning. I began to sing one of Mother’s favorite songs as I put the stock away and headed to my tasks.
My hour in the kitchen was nearly through when mother stepped to the stove with a massive roasting pan.
“Oh, Daughter Jane, before you go I’ll need you to help me carry out the pig from the back.” Mother wiped at the butcher’s block of her workstation with a pail of gray water and a dirty rag. The countertop was filthy with the memory of old blood.
I followed her past the produce towards the back of the cooler. As she parted the dingy plastic curtain, I nearly forgot myself. It was all I could do to not react.
I wanted to scream. I wanted to vomit or faint. The pig was not a pig at all.
There were no pigs or slabs of beef to be butchered. This room I followed Mother into countless times didn’t have a single bit of livestock. I’d spent so many months and years believing it did. I hadn’t helped her carry any of the things I thought I carried out.
Four bodies hung by their ankles, slowly swaying at the end of the hooks.
She walked over to Brother Thomas. His lips were purple and bruises covered every inch of his bloodless skin. His neck was slit wide causing his head to loll to-and-fro as though it might come loose at any moment. She moved the bucket he’d been hung above away and into a corner. It sloshed heavily with dark liquid. Hefting him by his torso, mother lifted from the hook, turning him so his ankles landed in my waiting hands.
As I wrapped my fingers around his ankles, the feet became hooves and suddenly Brother Thomas was not Brother Thomas at all. I saw a pig as I was meant to. We carried it between us back through the plastic curtain and the cooler was bright, sweet with the air of fresh produce. The stainless gleamed like it bore a recent coat of polish.
Everything was fine as we hoisted
Brother Thomas the pig onto the clean butcher’s block and Mother excused me to class, turning away from me to study the perfect calligraphy, stark against the glowing white of the pages of her notebook full of lists and recipes.
The rest of the day pressed onward like every other and I nearly forgot about my strange hallucination of all the bodies hanging in the meat locker. By 1300, class was released for the day and the air in the open gardens between buildings permeated with the smell of bacon. My mouth was watering, even as I struggled remembering the hallucinations this morning. My lunch break was spent tending to my untidy room and hunger ran out. It wasn’t real anyway. Brother Thomas ran away. He wasn’t dinner. At the time it was a rather tender subject, that I didn’t care much about.
By 1305 I was in my usual spot in the tree thumbing through the pages in The Great Book, reading the passages about absent friends. As absorbed in my reading as I was, I didn’t realize right away when the sky stopped moving. I could feel the change happen before I saw it.
When the gunshot rang out, I felt a shudder run through me, jittering down to my marrow.
there is no reason to fear, for nothing bad may happen here.
That’s strange I thought, I shouldn’t be so startled by a gunshot. Auntie Alice assigned the 9 to 11 year olds homework. The children were always so eager to complete their collections that far end of the yard had been erupting with gunfire for the last five minutes, but something was off about this one. I held my place in the book with my finger and used my other hand to shade my eyes. Little Brother Joey was carrying something to his collection pail, his hand dripping wet with blood.
He dropped the severed finger into the bucket and I watched as he excitedly rejoined the other children shooting squirrels on the edge of the lot. He didn’t seem to understand why his Chiappa wouldn’t fire but I could tell, even at a distance it was jammed. Even if it hadn’t been, the hand he held it with was bleeding profusely and he was missing more than just the one finger he’d collected; just another rodent for the pail. He never seemed to react to any of this. When he couldn’t piece together why the gun wouldn’t fire, he began throwing it at the squirrels instead like a boomerang, missing his targets entirely and laughing all the while.
Eventually Uncle Alex came out from the infirmary to collect him, lifting him easily with one arm.
Nobody else seemed to be aware of any of this. Not the other children, nor the adults busy with their chores. I was the only one aware. And when I looked up at the sky, it wasn’t filled with lime and pink colored swirling clouds, it was a solid blue and the clouds were white. I gasped and let my book fall to the dirt below.
Everything was wrong.
The world had changed around me while I sat in the branches of the old oak. Lackluster and dingy. The vibrant green grasses were as brown and dry as tumbleweeds and the smell of bacon that hung in the smoky air had become a tainted cruelty as I recognized it, once again, for what it truly was: Brother Thomas.
all that we see or seem is but a dream to make you scream
I’d like to say I didn’t eat at dinner. I’d like to have my conscious cleared of that wrongdoing… But I can’t say that. I was too afraid. I thought that everyone would know.
I tried pushing the meat around my plate for a time, but I felt as though everyone’s attention was fixed on me. A fact confirmed in my mind by Sister Candace and Brother Kirk who would not stop staring at me and whispering from the other side of the table.
“Are you well, Sister Jane?” Sister Candace asked with a knowing sneer.
“Yes, quite. And yourself Sister?”
When she began giggling behind her fork, I dined in earnest, choking back my disgust and smiling with every bite. Brother Kirk began whispered laughter as well. He stabbed what was most surely one of Brother Thomas’s eyeballs with the sharp end of his knife. Still, I maintained my composure even as I watched it squish between his teeth like the confit heirloom tomato we were meant to see it as. Milky white liquid drooled down his chin, but still I cleared my entire plate before any of the others and sat with a placid smile painted on my face… anything to conceal my quiet shame.
I spent the free hour between Dinner and Family Time back in my room. I didn’t read from The Book. I didn’t clean. I didn’t change from my daytime wear. It wasn’t required, but most of the Brothers and Sisters did so at this time, preferring something more comfortable to dance in while we worshipped. I sat there trying to clear my mind entirely, reminding myself I needed to be the same plain Jane I always have been. I spent that hour on my bed cross-legged and taking measured breaths to calm myself until someone outside turned the wheel to ring the gathering bell in the yard.
Mother led the singing after supper with one of her old favorites. She gathered us around the singing firepit instead of the Great Hall where we’d been for the past two weeks. The nightly rainstorms had decided to give Eden a reprieve from the violent wind and wet. The night was crisp and breezy. I was the only girl who hadn’t changed from her daytime clothes. The rest of the Sisters skipped and danced around the fire in their worship attire, their bare chests exposed and the hems of their jubilation skirts flowing to their ankles. The cream colored fabric was dirty on the fringes of each and every one from constant contact with their muddy feet as they spun. All of the boys were shirtless and changed into their flowing cotton pants as well. I felt like I’d made a mistake in not changing and decided that if anyone mentioned it to me, I would say my worship skirt was ripped and needed mending or I’d decided to stay in my long sleeved daytime dress because I felt a little chilly. Nobody bothered to ask, but I could feel Sister Candace and Brother Kirk eyeing me every now and again and sniggering about me from the other side of the circle, beyond the flames.
I ignored them. Not changing clothes wasn’t against the rules after all. At first the air tasted sweet. Then Mother’s voice built to a crescendo, cutting through the chilly summer night…
As the thirsty long for water
How my soul it thirsts for thee
Seeking light among the darkness
The solitude of Eden is my only peace
The smell in the air began to shift. It was no longer sweet and crisp as it had been when the hymnal began.
So I shun the night beyond here,
And those outside who don’t believe,
For our Lord, she thirsts for vengeance,
Drinking unbelievers until her thirst is pleased.
The air was no longer quite so sweet. My eyes began to water and my lungs to burn, as a new malodor mingled with the overpowering aroma of smoke, poppy seeds, and bundles of dried wisteria…
Oh, oh Dark Protector
Oh, oh Lord of Wrath and Fire.
We thank you for your favor,
And from thee we do beseech:
Auntie Alice strummed away at her guitar and everyone sang along. Nobody seemed aware of the smell of rot and decay that had begun to linger in the air. It was new and cloying and I felt my stomach churn and lurch.
Smite for us the righteous!
Bring forth your pestilence and pain
And let their ashes fall to Earth.
That we may dance beneath their rain.
Turn them into pillars
of salt and blow what’s left away.
And let their remnants fall to Earth
That they may never grow again.
Oh smite for us the righteous,
That we may dance beneath their rain.
That we may danceeeeeee
Beneath their rainnnnnnn.
At the conclusion, everyone clapped and I stood among them forgetting that I needed to be clapping also, and so joined the rest in applause.
It was nearly bed, and the line had formed at the half-door of the infirmary. The bottom half was closed allowing Auntie Alice and Mother a small workspace the size of a shelf, to place the small paper cups of our daily doses.
I hesitated for a moment in queuing up behind a stocky boy called Brother Brendan. I never had an opinion about him one way or the other before, yet for some reason, while standing in line behind Brother Brendan, I decided that I hated him.
It wasn’t just him though. I hated all of the Brothers and Sisters and Uncle Alex, Auntie Alice and even Mother…
But in this moment, I hated Brother Brendan more than any of them…but why? He was no more significant than any of us were. He was just another Brother in my family. A Brother with a constellation of ugly freckles across his fat neck and glistening, hungry eyes, glancing at the children as they ran for their bunks a bit too longingly…and his smell. The sweat, the dirt and the strange fumes of ammonia radiating from him was almost as bad as what I’d caught a whiff of in the yard.
And then it came to me.
We were younger. We shared a bunk bed in the children’s hall. How had I forgotten the fear I felt watching him ascend the ladder slowly in the dark…ever so quietly…and the ghoulish greedy crawl he made towards me nightly as he reached the apex of the ladder and slithered his way silently across my sheets…how had I forgotten the smell of his dirty fingers as they peeled away the folds of my comforter? How had I forgotten what he’d–
“Niece Jane, are you well?” Auntie Alice smiled. Brother Brendan had taken his turn and gone while my mind drifted in memories. Behind him he left a trail of that reek of mud and piss that still clouded the air around me.
“I think she’ll be fine Sister Alice,” Mother said.
“Y–yes, Auntie.” I stuttered. “I’ll be fine.” No I’d said the wrong thing! “Wha–what I meant to say was that I’m fine. I’m fine now.”
Stupid! Recover! You must recover or they’ll know!
“Nothing a bit of quiet prayer and rest won’t cure. That’s all.” I said. Did they believe it? They had to believe it!
The last in line, only one paper cup remained. I lifted it and was about to turn the cup to my lips when I noticed there were two pills instead of one. The light was dwindling now and as the bonfire died out, what was left of the twilight was slowly being chased from the compound, being replaced by the early darkness of a cloudy night, but I was certain there were two pills. Two.
Since I was young, I’d only ever been given one like everyone else here. One little red pill, each and every single night.
“Mother, I think you’ve made a mistake and given me an extra Euphorin,” I said, pinching one of the two pills from the flimsy paper and holding it out to return to her.
My hand was shaking slightly as she reached out and closed my palm around the extra pill.
“I think you might need to take a second one from now on,” she said softly. Her words were a facsimile of kindness and her smile as she said them did not quite reach her eyes. Her body language was wrong as well, her posture changed. Her shoulders grew wider and began to almost verge on menacing.
I stared back at her blankly and pretended to accept this new arrangement without a moment of hesitation. As I placed the pill in my palm between my lips and tipped the other from the paper cup to my mouth, her tongue snaked its way absentmindedly across the cheap red of her lipstick and when I reached for the small plastic cup of water that waited for me on the ledge of the infirmary half-door her smile twisted upward with an ill sort of glee.
I downed the small cup of water and wished them both pleasant dreams. Turning then, I walked toward my bunk.
Little Brother Joey had been laying in bed behind them still. His entire body was contorted and twisted in agony. He lay there unmoving as though frozen, just past the two of them. The sheets were knotted and like his small hand and arm, they’d been painted haphazardly a rusty color of the brown and red of the blood that had not quite dried. His hand was never bandaged that afternoon. His mouth hung open like the fish in a market and there was something icy about his eyes as they stared at something that I knew was nothing in the corner of the ceiling; nothing because they were cloudy and lifeless and could no longer see at all…but I saw. I saw him there. The screams that echoed in the hollow of my chest stayed right where they belonged and the tears didn’t fall until I’d reached the doorway of my own cabin. I didn’t mention what I’d seen to Auntie or Mother.
I’d noticed the rich mahogany color of Auntie Alice’s hair was gone. She still had hair but it was much thinner than it should have been. The perfectly preened and meticulous styling she was known for was replaced by a ravaged bird’s nest of lackluster, mousy brown, streaked with gray. I didn’t reveal my shock at seeing what she truly looked like with a clear mind for the first time. I couldn’t tell anyone about the things I was seeing.
As I tongued the two pills out from where I’d squirreled them between my cheeks and spit them into my palm, I looked at them better in the light of my cabin. I didn’t tell Mother or Auntie this either, but now I knew for sure. The Euphorins had always been red.
Tonight, they were blue.
I began to scan the shelves in my room. It was more methodical than panicked. Satisfied with the meager inventory, I took the pillow from my bed and slid the pillowcase away…something to carry the things that I intended to bring with me.
I stole glances from my window after lights out. Patiently, I waited for Mother and Auntie Alice to leave the infirmary and head to their respective bungalows, but it seemed to never happen. As I waited in the dark, I gathered my clothes and socks. I ran the length of my belt through the canvas strap of my holster and then clicked the belt around my waist over my dress with the gun positioned at the small of my back. I checked the clip by the dim light of early night that filtered through the windows. I packed an extra clip and two boxes of rounds from my nightstand into the pillowcase.
It should have been an easy decision…but deciding to leave was not an easy choice to make at all. Every time I told myself that I had to do it…I found myself remembering the nature of the horrors the walls of Eden kept us safe from. Auntie, Mother and Uncle told us what was out there. They’d told us all our lives. At times I wondered which reality terrified me more: the one inhabited by the roughly 170 devils I knew, or the one that was filled with a million devils I didn’t?
I told myself the decision had already been made for me, and my hesitation was less about abandoning this place and more about abandoning my faith.
Would my leaving upset Our Lord? Would she smite me the moment I crossed the perimeter?
I didn’t want to die. I might if I stayed. I believed in Our Lord so I decided to bring what I could in the hope that I might escape her wrath. I kept my dried wisteria in an old tin that once held saltines on the shelf. I placed it in the pillowcase and a few books of matches as well.
I kept every light turned off in my cabin to avoid being noticed. I’d already aroused enough suspicion for several lifetimes today alone. Going around, collecting everything I might need, I remembered to pause every few minutes, peeking up from beneath the window’s edge to glance at the infirmary across the yard. Each time, every light in that building still blazed and I could see their shapes still moving inside. They should have left for bed an hour ago. The moon rose high in the sky washing the yard in its pale light. Yet, the glow inside the infirmary remained. I could tell Uncle Alex must have joined them at some point because a third silhouette, much larger than the others, began pacing back and forth behind the drawn curtains.
I’d never really seen that building for what it was until I saw it in that harsh moonlight. The vertical siding planks were mismatched and haphazardly nailed together in random fashion like a mouth filled with too many rows of cracked, rotting teeth. Their coat of ancient whitewash had flaked away like paper as the passage of time, weather, and sunruin had taken its toll. I felt it smiling at me with all of its crooked jagged edges in the dark and I couldn’t remember what it looked like before. Not before when I was younger; but before today. Perhaps it always looked this way, but I’d been rendered so tranquil and oblivious by the Euphorin that I’d never noticed.
I began to feel light-headed. Maybe I’ve never noticed anything strange at all. Perhaps kids had been blowing their fingers off with cheap handguns for my entire life. Perhaps I’d watched it happen a hundred times from the branches of my stupid reading tree and smiled my stupid imperturbable smile…just a lemming jumping from the cliffside like everyone else here. The thought made me feel sick and dizzy.
If the Euphorin had been working earlier today, would I have seen Little Brother Joey’s injury? Would I have seen something very different entirely or blotted what I’d seen from the pages of my mind? I tried to remember if I remembered anything strange and came up with nothing. Was it the same for us all? Did everyone else imagine the rose tinted world I thought we lived in before today? I felt air build in my lungs until it reached choking levels and I began to hyperventilate. As I did, a cloud covered the moon and finally the lights of the infirmary went out.
hold your breath. make a wish. count to three. come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure horrification.
What was really real? What had I imagined? Was I imagining what I was seeing now beyond my window pane? Stepping quickly into the recesses of my cabin, I shrouded myself in a dark corner and watched as Uncle Alex exited the infirmary first with Mother following closely behind. Even with the clouds covering the moon and blotting out its light, I could see the sack slung over Uncle’s shoulder. It was covered with stains. Ruddy and dark, they seemed to glisten and change with the light; sometimes shining like slick, wet, copper and other times as black as ink. The shades and shadows shifted endlessly as the moon broke through the cover of darkness and then hid again behind the clouds. The sack–the bedsheet, I realized now–hung pendulously as something heavy and unmoving swayed slowly to-and-fro inside. It had been wrapped loosely and knotted at the corners. I knew it was the body of young Joey, carried off in the sheets of his deathbed as though he were nothing more than a sack of onions carried in by the driver of the morning produce truck.
Mother gathered the hems of her dark tartan skirts to step over a mud puddle in the yard as she proceeded past Uncle Alex. She unlocked the doors of the kitchen and the two of them disappeared into the darkness that was hidden inside.
The lights were still turned off in the infirmary, but I could feel Auntie Alice’s eyes staring in the direction of my cabin windows. I hadn’t seen her go so I knew that she remained. She was watching me. She couldn’t see me through the shadows where I’d hidden and the same was true for the shadows that were hiding her as well.
Maybe she left and I hadn’t seen? No, no, no…that couldn’t be. They knew. They had to know what I’d planned and hoped to catch me in the act. They would be expecting me to run, and I knew I had to. Each day I didn’t was a day inching closer to the hooks in Mother’s kitchen. I didn’t want that to happen, but strangely, I especially didn’t want my body to provide nourishment to siblings like Sister Candace or Brother Kirk.
I had to find a way to slip out unnoticed. I moved forward, reaching out my hands while creeping slowly in the darkness of my familiar space. My fingers traced the lines where the seams of the boards met; searching blindly for gaps to exploit and finding none.
Then I felt it: one of the floorboards as it shifted beneath my feet while I searched. That plank had been loose for years. I’d forgotten all about it. Digging my fingernails into the cracks, I lifted it by its sides and it came free easily. The board next to it was a different case, but in a little time, I had peeled one plank free and then the next until the space I’d opened was wide enough for me to fit and I lowered myself inside. As I lay in the dirt beneath my room, I reached up to retrieve the boards and cover the opening behind me.
I lurked behind the buildings as quietly as shadows move, staying low and quick–behind shrubbery and tucked beneath low trees.
As I passed beneath the window that belonged to Brother Brendan, I entertained the idea of repaying him for his many unwanted visitations. I could break his window here in the still of night…ever so quietly…I could ghoulishly crawl through and slither towards him in the dark, a piece of jagged window glass clutched in my hand. I could run it across the length of his neck before he even had time to react. It could all happen so quickly…
But the whole idea was folly. I’d never get away with it. Surely, I’d be caught. Everyone would hear the window as it–
Then there was another way…and It would happen just as quickly.
And It would look like an accident…
And it would be just the distraction I needed for my escape.
I reached into the pillowcase and found the book of matches.
the cleansing fires of faith consume the sins of all the world. HER vengeance is a beauty so seldomly beheld.
Though I longed to see, I didn’t stay to watch my judgment against him unfold. I made it over the walls as the fire raged, washing the night behind me in orange light and plumes of acrid smoke to vex the lungs of the family I left behind.
I suppose I’ve done them all a sort of favor. Brother Brendan can’t hurt anyone again and he’ll serve the family the way so many others have before…no need for the giant pots and pans that hang in Mother’s kitchen, nor the giant oven either…just perhaps a little salt.
For the rest of the night, I ran. I ran through trees and forest underbrush. I ran across uneven ground, down steep hills and through the beds of rocky streams. I ran until my legs burned and my heart was pumping corrosive acid but I didn’t stop. I had to put a distance between myself and Eden. I ran for miles and could still see the soft glow of firelight in the darkness where the flames met the open skies.
It felt like hours before I decided I was safe enough to stop running. Still, I didn’t stop moving. Jogging, then slowing to a quick trot through darkness so absolute I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me. Even the moon and the stars were blotted out by the canopy of leaves above.
The night sounds made me shiver. Here and there the sounds of my footfalls through the crunching leaves would be matched with the sounds of something large rustling through the undergrowth, unseen in the blanket of midnight, only moving away at my approach. Owls hooted their mournful calls through the darkness. These noises made for frightful songs as that darkness stretched on for miles and hours.
Suddenly the world began to shift and change around me. The trees began to move. They grew faces from their bark before my eyes. Their mouths grinned wide and their eyes looked unkind. Their lips didn’t move, but I could hear that they were saying things to me. A string of gathered whispers began amassing in my head until those noises joined together in a voice that boomed so loudly it felt like static entering my ears and dancing on every nerve ending beneath my skin. The woods around me began to glow as a pink bioluminescence replaced the chlorophyll in every leaf and blade of grass…something hidden by the blanket of night growled, sharp and close. It sounded as big as a house…
beware the places beyond the wall, for in the darkness nightmares crawl.
Just as quickly as the vision had begun, so quickly did it subside.
I sat down on the ground right where I was and held my head in my hands as I waited for the dizzy feeling to pass. When I stopped feeling fuzzy-headed, I began to walk again.
As I continued, I realized the glow I left behind was back once more and growing ever brighter, though now the flames flickered just ahead…Heartsick, I knew for sure I must have become spun around.
I froze right where I was, for just a moment. Have I run in a circle? I wondered. I couldn’t be here. Not again. Any place but back to this. With the chaos of the distraction I left in my wake, they probably hadn’t even noticed my absence. I put such great distance between myself and Eden and somehow I’d gone the wrong way and come the full trip back. I couldn’t possibly–I ran the same direction the entire time.
But how many of those Euphorin flashbacks have I had?
I resigned myself to my fate and moved slowly forward, admitting my defeat and struggling not to cry.
If I was quick and quiet, perhaps I could creep back into my room unseen?
As I approached, I heard voices in the dark. The strange thing was that there wasn’t screaming or commotion. They were unfamiliar voices carrying on and laughing.
I took off my shoes so I could move more quietly through the blanket of twigs and leaves that littered the ground.
Something stood near the edge of the path and I felt a sense of relief come over me. Something was blocking the path, but it wasn’t the wall of Eden at all.
It was a structure made from a sheer gray fabric. The light of the fire that lay just beyond flickered dimly through it but it was not the fire I’d set. It was much too small for that. I hid behind the cloth hut, crouching to better inspect it in the dim light. It was held rigidly in place by a skeleton framework of support rods and had a zipper that ran down the side, all the way to the ground. Slowly, I peered around the corner of it.
The forest floor around me began to ripple and move like a great sea of shimmering shadow. The fire floated ahead of me and three men I’d never seen before sat adrift in a semicircle with their backs to me. Around their feet discarded cans lay everywhere, strewn haphazardly and spinning with the forest’s discarded leaves as the ground continued to undulate like a tide…
“Well, well…what do we have here?” The voice came from just behind me. It belonged to a fourth man I hadn’t known was there. As he broke the silence that I floated in, the world grew still and I turned to run, thwarted when he grabbed me by my dress and yanked me back.
The man spun me around to face him and I shuddered at what lurked in his eyes. They were piercing green and greedily devouring the shape of my thin form. I watched them trace the curves of my chest… of my hips. Drunkenly, those glassy eyes appraised me with hunger…an expression that, before earlier in the evening, I didn’t realize I knew all too well.
His face hid a dark intent that stirred within me an instinct of visceral terror. They say that when the decision between fight or flight hits you, you just react to it. My reaction to the danger came from someplace within me. I began to mutter a prayer quietly and the world fell away. The moon and the firelight faded as everything around me was devoured, overtaken by dark shadows, until blackness was all that was left.
“Whoa, Skeet! Whadja find?” I could still hear the men as they stood from their seats and approached me, but I was blind to them.
“Aeun haeng s’ae onq ir sazz, saon zes yozz maen sahd.”
Their eager advance slowed, treading noisily through the discarded cans as they grew closer.
“I oz esaeun followha oth I oz xuq o lambas. I oz ir perilas, haeng. I kiwa zeszahm qae ya.”
“What’s she fuckin saying?” One of the men asked.
Another gasped as he drew closer, “Fuck what she’s saying. The fucks wrong with her eyes? They’ve gone all white.”
“Ya think it’s a seizure?”
“Naw. She ain’t shakin. Don’t matter none to me neither way, you know what I mean fellas?”
I heard the sound of a zipper being hastily drawn open.
“Aes haeng, I assistas a zeszahm mined oth k’oya zes hima ir esaeun manas.”
The ground began to rumble like thunder and the darkness in my sight faded. As my vision began to clear the men exchanged horrified glances with each other. The small fire behind them shot up, like a flame fevered by a gas-line, piercing the treetops and sending a circle of bright immolation into the sky.
As the ground shook, I noticed a hole opening at the base of the tent.
The Lord helps those who help themselves first, I thought, I needed to keep the promise of my prayer or I would be unworthy. Undesirable to My Lord. As unworthy and undesirable as these men. If She saw me weak, She would kill them and me along with them.
The great hole yawned open, swallowing up the tent and the earth beneath it.
I reached behind my back.
A pair of long, thin forearms ending in crablike pincers emerged from the ground. The limbs were knotted and bent like the branches of the trees above me. Trees which swayed as though forced by the breath of a hurricane on an otherwise still night as the earth continued to shudder.
More of Her spilled out from the hole: another set of branch-like arms. Her face and its terrible mandible came next, as black as ebony and glistening in the quavering light as the pillar of fire raged. Her jaws split in the middle, bisecting Her face, and I could feel Her devour the air around us and destroy it like a contained explosion as She produced an earsplitting roar. The segments of Her body bent and unbent as She emerged fully from the pit of the earth, Her enormous abdomen following last and spinning in large hypnotic circles behind her. Her form resembled that of a giant carpenter ant, a queen, with Her carapace gleaming in the dark like a polished armor. She flexed Her exoskeleton, stretching Her many limbs and seemed to yawn almost imperceptibly as though She had just woken from a great sleep. Her head turned and Her eyes gleamed as She faced me. Her gaze was as red as blood, the eyes catching and refracting the light of the fire like a set of massive, prismatic rubies.
hesitation, desperation, holding me in isolation. deliver me from meek and weak. transform me into devastation, so i might survive.
It was now, or never. I would not have the Lord view me as weak. I would not have Her view me as She would view these men.
I released my Chiappa from its holster and as the man that continued to hold me gazed at Her horrific beauty in unmoving terror, I brought the barrel of it to his chin and pulled the trigger. His jaw exploded as the bullet tore through him. The top of his head followed in that same moment sending a shower of graymatter, blood, and bone fragments skyward. He slumped to his knees and toppled over.
As though She had been waiting for me to make the first move to liberate myself, She sprang into motion. Two of the men were impaled by Her forearms so quickly, I would have missed it happen if I’d blinked. As the final man turned to run, Her massive head swept down upon him, clutching him in Her powerful jaws and shaking him by his leg like a ragdoll. She swung the man, headlong, into the base of a tree: once, twice, three times and his screams quieted with his unconsciousness.
The rumbling of the earth quieted and the whipping of the trees ceased as though they’d frozen in place; no longer even so much as alighting on the whim of the casual night breeze.
I heard the beating of wings above and saw silhouetted against the pillar of fire a great form swooping down to us in the clearing, moving faster, only to stop abruptly above me and tread the air there. The beat of the impressive wingspan reduced to a delicate flutter as the creature hovered above.
His voice was amplified to an alarming level. So much so that my first instinct was to draw my hands to my head, but I stopped, realizing that the sound did not hurt my ears as it should have:
(Behold!) it said.
“ESAEU HAEAET UDAER L’TA S’AE’S ROZA IZ ‘I OZ!'”
(You look upon She who is called ‘I am.’)
It had been a long time since I learned this language in Auntie Alice’s classroom, but it came flooding back to me in an instant.
“AND SHE LOOKS BACK UPON YOU, MORTAL!” I felt my knees buckle as I fell to the ground in genuflection and his voice softened as he continued.
“I am the one called Nortatem, The Fallen. The Voice Of The Lord. I speak for Her, for to hear Her true voice, your heart would implode and your skull would rupture. You would be reduced to naught but ash. Praisah sabbi glorias!”
“Praisah sabbi glorias.” I wept, but not in fear. I trembled at Her horrible beauty. “Praise Her glory.” I said quietly in English.
The creature hovered lower revealing the magnificent form of the Dark Angel, Nortatem. His aspect was a giant moth made of pure shadow. As he descended, his wings slowed and he touched one large, darkly feathered feeler to the ground before me, and then a second one. His wings, the length of two men laid end to end folded neatly against his back.
“Please, tell Her–”
“You may tell Her yourself,” the giant moth whispered now as he turned toward Her slightly. He raised his hand and his antennae twitched in delight, I couldn’t see his face but I could somehow tell he was smiling, “She is only here to speak with you. Rise, gentle Lamb.”
“With me?” I stood.
“Yes, yes child. You have won favor in Her eyes.”
He laughed at this. It was the darkest and most comforting sound I had ever heard.
“Why do we live only to die? Why do some suffer while others thrive? Why is the sea wet? Why does the Earth never meet the sky? Why ask why? Why does it matter?”
“Forgive me, Dark Lord.” I stammered, “I–I have sinned. I have sinned against you. Against Mother. Against Eden. I felt afraid and I broke the laws and I ran. I killed Brother Brendan. My transgressions are many.”
“She cares not for these matters.” The man between Her mandibles moved his head and began to moan. “It has all been a trial. You are almost through, Daughter Jane.”
“But I ran because…”
“She knows why you have run.” The moth’s wings fluttered slightly behind its back.
“…they were trying to kill me.” I finished.
The shadowy figure of the moth raised his head and erupted in laughter. “Who tried to kill you?” he asked.
“Mother and Auntie and Unc–” I stopped in the midst of my reply. Nobody had actually done anything to me except try to increase my meds. I ran because I had a bad feeling about them and nothing more.
“Your feeling was correct.” Nortatem explained, reading my thoughts. “Your entire life has been a test. Everyone in Eden is being tested. The weak willed will live and worship and be put to work on the compound, as the generation of your elder brothers and sisters have. They will die there. They will be consumed to make the flock stronger. You are different from them because you have slipped their hold. there have been others like you but most do not make it quite this far. You are cunning and resourceful. You live through an escape and in the face of peril you did not turn back. You called out to Her and She has come to offer you a choice.”
At this utterance, Her abdomen coiled forward and a massive stinger emerged like lightning. She thrust it through the face of the man She held by the leg and he screamed.
“She offers you to eat of this man.” The Dark Angel, Nortatem declared. “She does not command this. The choice is yours to make.”
“But…” I said quietly, “but I don’t want to eat anyone. Don’t you see? I loved Brother Thomas and Little Brother Joey. I didn’t just run for myself. What happened to them was wrong. They–they didn’t deserve to die and they were given up as food.”
“Nothing hidden in your heart is hidden from Her watchful eye. Those who died were weak. The weak are meant to fuel the strong, Jane. Love has no place in Her world. It is weakness. Morality is the same. Weakness. The dead are food and you have been eating them your entire life. What difference does it make that these are dead you knew? This is our way and it always has been. She asks that you accept it as so and to shrug your weakness away to better serve her.”
“And if I refuse?” I hesitated in asking, afraid of what might be the answer.
“If you wish, you are free to leave this place.” Nortatem said. His words were kind but foreboding. “There will be no retaliation. You must choose to serve Her fully or turn away from your faith. She will not pursue you should you choose to go, but you must choose quickly. The others are not far off. She will not come to your rescue twice.”
Mother, Auntie and Uncle! I thought. Oh God, how do I know what of any of this is real? Is this all inside my mind?
I had to make a choice. The choices presented were to consume from the corpse She held high or be captured and dragged back to Eden…
The blackness in my vision flickered again, but just for a moment. When the world returned everything was in monochromatic purple. Then yellow. Finally the yellow eroded into blue, before returning to what I assumed was normal. I can’t trust any of this, I realized, then more importantly: Which world do I live in? Which is the truth?
A rock sank into the pit of my gut. I wanted to scream, but not from fear of My Lord–instead at the confusion in my heart. I didn’t fear The Dark God, The Vengeful, Destroyer of Light, Devourer of Peace, and Matriarch of the Demon Hive Below. I didn’t fear Her servant, Nortatem, The Deathhead, The Fallen, Voice of the Nether, The Moonshadow and Ambassador of the Hive Above. I grew up worshipping her. Praisah sabbi glorias! Praise Her Glory! Praisah yaz xaey ir gloriason! Praise them Both in Glory! For my entire life, I begged Her, The One True Mother of Mothers, for wisdom and guidance–to teach me to be strong and strike fear into the heart of the Unbelievers–and just trusted my faith that She could hear me. The one time I called out in earnest, my prayer was answered and I hesitated to fulfill my promises to serve. Why?
sinking slowly through the ground. left is right and up is down.
The Truth was Darkness and Sorrow. The Truth was the world…or so I thought before today, when everything became muddled and unfamiliar. How do I trust what I know when what I see is not to be trusted? How do I trust myself?
“They will be here soon, Daughter Jane.” Nortatem bellowed, “You must choose: consume or by others be consumed.”
I know Mother and the others are real. I realized.
I saw a third option…and I ran…
I told the man at the bus stop everything. I don’t know why I did. It was like I just had to. It felt like holding onto a secret for far too long and then finally letting it out of me. Someone needed to know the trauma I felt yesterday. Have you ever felt like that? I never have before. I shared mostly because he seemed to be listening and I hoped this man would understand…but he didn’t seem to understand much of anything.
He should want to help me on his own. Couldn’t he see that I was a 14 year old girl covered in the blood of those men? Wasn’t I covered in their blood? I looked down at the stains on my dress. There were stains on the pillowcase. I was covered in blood and he just stared across the street, never looking at me except from the corner of his eyes with his jaw clenched. I was covered in my own blood too. My socks were wet with it, having spent all night running through the dark, my feet had begun to bleed a long time ago. All this blood was probably the reason he’d been so reluctant to even speak to me when I first approached.
I found it hard to wrap my mind around the idea that the world was the awful place I’d been told it was, but I hadn’t seen enough of it myself yet to be certain…
As my story continued, his hand rose to his face to stroke the length of his stupid mustache. He kept trying to rub at his eyes next, but sitting on the bench beside him, I pulled his hand away each time. Every time I did that, he gave me this strange look and went back to making faces. His emotions oscillated between terror, incredulity, boredom and finally he returned to his default state of ambivalence. His body language rigid, then irritated, concerned, and back again. It was like he wanted me to go away but didn’t want me to at the same time. I couldn’t. I wanted–needed–him to help me. I needed somebody to help me.
“So what I need is for you to help me get far, far away, you see? Mother’s still out there. Auntie Alice and Uncle Alex too, maybe.” I said, “and you can show me how can’t you? I need to know how it works. How it all works.”
He sat there quietly, considering me. He was quiet for a long time. Then finally his face snapped into alertness and he reached up to his face…
“Stop touching your eye,” I said
The choice was too much to bear, so I ran. I couldn’t make sense of anything I was seeing. As I ran, that black emptiness would return to eat my vision again and again, and each time the void appeared, the world would change.
I saw nighttime, I saw mid-afternoon, and I saw dusk. It was so vivid as it happened, each time the world changed, I had to remind myself it was just the drugs I’d been fed and ingested over my lifetime working their way out of my system. The world couldn’t change in the span of a blink. It was impossible.
I watched the ground turn to flowing clots of superheated magma, and the world would go black. When my vision returned, the magma had hardened and dried into a treeless waste of cracked emptiness. Baron of life, or anything for miles. I knew this wasn’t the true world because as I continued to run, my dress caught on something that wasn’t there and my arm was skinned by a tree I couldn’t see.
Only then did I stop, but mostly it was out of curiosity. I ran my fingers along it’s trunk, feeling the trace of the grooves in the bark. They came away sticky with sap, but the tree wasn’t there. I was looking right through it at a parched desert landscape. My vision flickered back to the nothing of the void and when it returned, I watched the lifecycle of that tree, of the entire forest as the sky unleashed a torrent of rain that I couldn’t feel. I watched as every tree around me sprouted and grew; the span of lifetimes sped across mere moments as the rain fell. Still I never seemed to forget this was all an illusion, searching for clues to ground myself. The only thing I heard was crickets and the distant call of an owl. Even as the storm raged and lightning struck before my very eyes, it went unheard.
The world became prismatic and oozing, the ground quivered like gelatin, but I didn’t feel it. The sky turned navy, then red, then white.
I began moving through the woods again, but more slowly now with my hands stretched out ahead of me, grown terrified of breaking my ankle in a misplaced footfall onto something invisible or walking into some bush with razored thorns that the toxic visions of my addled mind didn’t register.
I felt cold. Not physically, but inside–in my heart–and I began to regret my decision. Not because these woods were dark and full of strange peril as my vision changed it. I didn’t regret running because I was having trouble navigating now. That was a simple byproduct of my situation.
eye has not seen, ear has not heard what The Dark God has ready for those who love HER…
Faith was not about seeing. I realized. It was the path you chose to live by. It was keeping dark secrets hidden in your heart and knowing them to be true, even without evidence. I wished that I could go back, but I was far too lost now.
…And then I wasn’t…
I stood back in the clearing with Nortatem and the Malevolent Grand Matriarch in all of Her glory. I wasn’t sure how I returned, but they must have read the regret in my mind and returned me to them, because suddenly there they were once more.
”Jane Genesis of Eden Hive.” The voice of the shadowed moth returned to my thoughts. It was booming in the space around me without making a sound, ”You have made a decision?”
“Yes, oh yes.” I said quietly. I approached Her and felt her dark elation move around me in the air, empowering me. If it were possible, She would be smiling. I just knew it. I swore that I could see the burning favor of the hells of The Hive Below glisten in Her eyes. Overcome with emotion I began to weep. “May I touch Her?” I asked.
”You are in Her favor and She will allow you to do so, if you wish.” Nortatem said.
I reached out and stroked Her leg. It felt unbearably hot, but did not burn. She lowered her mandibles and with them, the man who She held still in Her grasp. He had not yet died and was whimpering. With Her venom coursing through his blood, he had begun an anaphylactic reaction. His breathing was short and he was bloated to twice his original size. Just before She set his body down, Her abdomen shot out again, injecting him with Her stinger once more and he quieted, growing still.
”Daughter Jane, the Queen of The Hive Below wishes to bestow upon you a great gift.”
“I accept.” I said the words in a daze of ecstasy.
Nortatem chuckled, ”Daughter Jane, the gift has not yet been explained.”
“It doesn’t matter. I will do as She commands. No matter what her wish, it doesn’t matter. I will do it.”
do as SHE willeth is the whole of the law.
”She wishes you to pick the piece of him that will best serve you in the next step of your journey.” Nortatem said. ”Your gift shall depend on what you decide fit to consume.”
I thought for a moment and then decided: “I choose the tongue.”
”Very well. Proceed.”
I did not have any knife with me. The only weapons we’d been given and trained to use in Eden were the handguns. We needed them to defend the compound in the event of apocalypse from one or both of the other groups. We weren’t ever given knives because they wouldn’t work against the FBI or ATF. I never did understand that lesson or what those other religions were–a well aimed stab could probably kill anything. I might have packed a knife if Mother hadn’t been in the kitchen when I left, but probably it wouldn’t have occurred to me.
Unsure of what to do, I decided to trust my instinct and did what seemed logical. With my hands, I pried open the man’s mouth and thrust my fingers inside. His throat was hot and dry. Pinching, I pressed my thumb and index finger against the base of his tongue and pulled it. It stretched out from his mouth like taffy. When it would come no further than a few inches from his lips, I took it into my mouth and bit it free.
taste and see…
I expected it to be chewy and raw, slimy like a slug. Instead it burst between my teeth like a massive grape and was sweet. Like honey.
“The gift of The Tongue is a great one indeed, Jane Genesis.” Nortatem declared. “You will earn a way with words. For anyone who might doubt you, expel your gift upon them and they will doubt no more. It will be easy for you to gain followers.
“Once you have gathered your flock, you shall corrupt your Hive with what flows from you: The Milk of Mothers. It comes forth from the breasts of all of Her Chosen. It shall flow from you, henceforth, and you shall use it to feed your flock. Your own Mother devised a way to shape and harden it. She used it to feed you and countless others. You will feed your children as well and may do so in the same manner if you so choose.”
It all made sense. “The Euphoruum?” I asked, my mouth still full of the Matriarch’s honey.
“Euphorin was what she called it. You can call The Milk whatever you like.” Nortatem said proudly. “Now, rise and go forth Jane Genesis, Removed of Eden. Be quick in your departure. The final trial of eluding your pursuers is not yet won.”
I was changing my dress behind a bush and when I emerged, the man finally spoke again. I made my way back to him, passing the weathered sign that inspired my choice of destination: Bradenville 30mi
“What is happening to–?” He began to ask, but his voice trailed off and by the time I was standing before him again his eyes were glassy and far away. Then he sat there dumbfounded as though waiting for instructions.
“So will you help me?” I asked.
The bus pulled up as he slowly nodded. The world around us quivered delightfully and the sky was filled with rainbow sherbert clouds. All of the trees looked like finger paintings. The road was made of mirrored bricks. It was terrific and terrifying and beautiful.
“Get up, Uncle Alvin.” I told him, “pay my bus fare and we will find a place of our own. You shall help begin my Hive Above. I think we’ll call it ‘Hope.’ Do you like that?” I thought my gift was working. It seemed to be, but not very well… Maybe it got better with practice?
He stood and nodded. As we boarded the bus the blades of grass sprouted tiny hands to wave us goodbye and safe passage on our journey. His hand slowly went to his eye again, where a glob of the venom of my honeyed tongue still remained.
“Stop that! Leave the spit in your eye.” I said. Maybe I wasn’t controlling him right but I’d learn. “Uncle Alvin, I command you! Stop touching your face!”
That seemed to work and he looked at me blankly for a moment, then replied: “Yes, Mother.”