Chapter 1: Jerusalem
"Here is my plan," the pastor Matthew said. "Time is short, but our advantage is we know that.
"The first thing we must do is move. We'll be safer in country areas. It is said in Luke 24, 'let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written.' And here the wisdom of the Bible could not be more evident. The fewer people to know of us and report us as Christians, the better chance we have of surviving. We'll have room to farm, room to hide. It may not be enough, but it is our best chance.
"I've already begun making arrangements to sell this church, and I would advise you to do the same. We're going to need anything we can get our hands on, so if you know of other families that have disappeared, add it to our list. Right now we have a short period before the government begins to crack down and persecute Christians, and we need to make the most of it."
He was talking about a commune. The kind of things people think - those are true now, Adalia realized. That's really what's going to happen. There was something exciting about it, having everything be so important, so vital, the idea they'd be fighting against the world. And something frightening. The two tangled together until they were almost indistinguishable.
"The former members of the congregation left their earthly belongings to the faith. I've sent out a few groups already to start moving property from their homes in preparation for sale, and ask for any other able-bodied men to volunteer. We have enough money at the moment to move, but not to survive past then. We need to be off the grid within a year or two. I'm making arrangements to move the church west, to a more rural area. We should be able to buy up houses without a problem - rural areas were hardest hit, and those who remain have already begun moving into the cities. A few smaller communities may be empty within a month or so.
"With the world ending in seven years," he said, "we won't need to worry much about mortgages.
"Now, Joe." He nodded to a man sitting in a front pew. "Joe has offered to help us buy solar panels at a discount, and with an extended loan. This will cut into our finances, but we'll be able to afford, at the least, enough to minimize our dependence on government-controlled electricity, and possibly more depending on how much money people can raise. We'll also need people to run a farm. Once the mark of the beast is implemented, the only food we'll have is what we can grow, and even before then, by buying supplies we'll give away our numbers. It may be inevitable that Christian communities like ours will be attacked by the antichrist, but we don't want to make it easy for him.
"Our other option, distasteful as it may first sound, is the black market. We know it's coming and the rest of the world doesn't, giving us time to buy up important commodities now, while they're still cheap, and barter them later for what we need.
"The antichrist will be a peacemaker. That is all we need to be told to know that guns will likely be banned within a year, and very valuable within three. Those of you who have gun licenses should begin purchasing guns now. Those of you who do not, consider applying.
"Due to the Rapture and chaos, a large number of people have not been confirmed dead. Consider using aliases for the purchases, to conceal the connection with the church."
The pastor paused. "Because," he said abruptly, "there will be great persecution, especially with what I'm about to tell you. The antichrist has shown his face. You may have noticed in these last days a politician who is rising to prominence at the UN, speaking of unity, brotherhood and peace," he said, the words laced with disdain as if the idea itself was all the condemnation needed. "Speaking of equality, of science, of socialism. His name is Nicolae Carpathia, and he will be ruler of this fallen world. He will be our greatest enemy."
"What do we bring?" Noah said when he walked into their home, voice empty.
He was staring over the living room, looking overwhelmed. "What do we bring when we leave?"
"Don't worry about that," Adalia said.
"We're going, though. We're leaving. We can't bring it all with us. I can't lift that much."
"We'll ask guys from the church," she said, remembering the pastor had mentioned them moving things from the houses of the disappeared. "Get everyone to help us. That's what Christians do, isn't it? Help each other. Help everybody." But she felt overwhelmed by the idea. And it would worse for Noah, she was sure. They'd moved a couple times when she was younger, but they'd been there since he was a little kid. He couldn't even remember their last house.
She shook her head. "We aren't leaving yet, anyway. It'll be fun, I bet we'll have a big house, five stories high. The houses are big in the countryside. And we'll get ponies and keep them in one of the downstairs rooms, since we'll have so many."
"Yeah right." But he was smiling.
She thought of the pastor talking about the antichrist. If you've been watching the news... She walked over to the TV, turned it on. Noah went upstairs to his room.
There, sure enough, was the handsome young blond man whose last name she'd already forgotten. He didn't look like an antichrist, she thought. But then, she had thought it was weird how he dominated the news, hadn't she? He had been saying the disappearances were something other than the Rapture, hadn't he? Everyone had loved him, hadn't they?
But she'd barely sat down to watch before a story came on that had nothing to do with him.
"Two old men have appeared at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, proclaiming Jesus Christ is Messiah and referring to each other in names that seem to be biblical, derivatives of Elijah and Moses. Believe it or not, this is normally nothing new. In fact, it's commonplace enough to have its own name - Jerusalem syndrome, where otherwise normal tourists, after spending a few days in the city, begin to develop delusions, start shouting bible verses, and end up marching to the nearest holy site to give the sort of disordered ranting sermons you can hear here."
Indeed, in the background Adalia could hear men shouting, "Jesus is the fulfillment of the word! Repent!"
"Normally, the tourists are noticed and referred for psychiatric treatment by officials before they reach the final stages of the disorder, but in the breakdown and panic after the vanishings, the police can be forgiven for having other things on their minds.
"What's special about these ones, then?
"That they seem to actually be taken seriously. Take a look."
The camera shifted to a high view, as if held over a tall fence. Two men were standing in the midst of a crowd before a massive stone wall. It was huge but primitive seeming, with large tufts of a grassy plant growing between the cracks, a stark contrast to the polish of the tiled plaza in front of it. The camera zoomed in.
Adalia went rigid, falling out of her seat to kneel on the ground. They were - they were -
The man was still talking, but she had no idea what he said. All she could pay attention to were the loud cries of the figures by the wall, "Jesus Christ of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, King
of the Jews, the Chosen one, Ruler of all nations, Word of God, Son of God."
The camera cut away, and she could breathe again. Men, the reporter had said, but those were not men.
"As you can see, Orthodox Jews are falling to their knees in front of the two men and converting on the spot. Officials are worried the hysteria will spread, but the crowd went berserk a few minutes ago when a few men tried to remove the two, and right now they're calling for backup - my God!" The camera cut back to the figures by the wall as another man with a rifle seemed to rush at them - smack into thin air -
- lit on fire.
For an instant his skeleton seemed to stand there, then the grey bones toppled to the ground, breaking apart into powder.
Behind her, Noah screamed.
Chapter 2: Just
So...I should probably mention that this is my primary NaNo project, which means two things:
So...I should probably mention that this is my primary NaNo project, which means two things:
1) There is nothing you can do to make me stop posting chapters on this story.
2) You may, hypothetically, sometimes get chapters that are really, really scattered. Like, say, this one.
Adalia had just finished getting Noah calmed down when the phone rang.
"This is Liz from the Church," a woman's voice began. "You may have seen the appearance of the two Lord's agents on the news. Don't panic. The pastor will be holding an emergency meeting tomorrow at nine AM to discuss what this means. He is currently studying the Word and will address any questions you have tomorrow."
"Who was that?" Noah asked when she hung up.
"Recorded message from the pastor," Adalia told him. "About those - what we saw on TV."
"What are they?"
"He says he's studying the bible and there'll be a meeting tomorrow about it, but that they're agents of the Lord."
"But they - they killed someone!"
"I don't know, I..." Adalia closed her eyes, shook her head, said, "I think he was trying to kill them. It was self-defense, it's not murder if it's self-defense."
She didn't have any answers for him. "I'm sure the pastor will explain tomorrow. He knows more about this than we do."
Technically, she was right.
The meeting took place downstairs, in a huddle of folding chairs.
"In Revelation," Matthew explained, "it is prophesied that there will appear two Witnesses in Jerusalem, who will proclaim the truth of the Lord Jesus. They will shut up the heavens, so that it will not rain for all the time of their prophecy, and they will have the ability to call down plagues at their will, and to anyone who stands against them, fire shall come from their mouths and consume their attacker's flesh.
"It has not rained in Jerusalem since they appeared," he said, and Adalia thought it was odd that he would say this and not, "Their attacker was burned alive." but she thought that perhaps, like her, he didn't want to think of it. Then he said, "They have the covering of God. No one will be able to harm them for the duration of three and a half years, to the midpoint of the tribulation."
"When will that be?" one of the men asked. "Three and a half years from now..."
But Matthews shook his head. "I believe they will be killed exactly midway through the tribulation. Three and a half years in, and then they shall be dead for three and a half days before being resurrected. We can't yet know the exact date, as the countdown to the Glorious Appearing will begin with the signing of the treaty with Israel. I suspect that will be within the next week or so."
"It doesn't start with the Rapture? You're sure?"
"This is Pastor Jason's official timeline," he said.
That was enough.
The vanished pastor was already spoken of with the reverence of a lost prophet. His office was empty. Matthew was the only one who entered his library or touched his papers, which were treated with the amount of care that would have rivaled the handling of a saint's body. No one would argue with what they said.
It wasn't as simply as just following them, however. As Matthew explained it, the late pastor's notes became less detailed and certain the further into the tribulation they went. "It makes sense," he said. "God knew he would be taken, and saw no need to burden him unduly with tragedy he'd escape. The rest will be up to us.
"Scripture teaches that there are many dispensations. Once, for example, the way to God was through the following of the Law, and so books of the bible contain the rules of Law for those of that dispensation. We are in the dispensation of Grace, and different passages apply to us.
"Remember that, although the bible contains the full accounting of history and the future, it is hidden. This protects it from being understood by the enemies of Christianity. Hints of what's to come are throughout the books, but we need to know how to interpret it, and to have the grace of God to guide us. This is how the pastor's books are helpful. We can also find clues among the writings of other Christians. All writing is but an imperfect reflection of God's Word."
He let this settle in, then returned to the topic. "As I was saying, I cannot believe it will be long before the treaty with Israel.
"Already, the antichrist is calling for greater unity among the member states of the UN, greater obedience to the will of the UN. Our ambassador is a Democrat appointee, so it's unlikely he'll do anything to fight this. We'll be lucky if he doesn't insist on being one of the first to go along. He's already come out in support of the census the antichrist is calling for under the guise of looking into the disappearances.
"Once that happens, there will be a crackdown shortly after on churches, as anyone apart from the mystery faith that will be raised up as the one world religion the antichrist supports will be in danger. We do not want to be on their books. One of the few benefits of the Rapture and chaos that followed is that many people are simply listed as missing, such as the precious children God sent to us for protection. If you are not yet confirmed alive, keep your head down. Many of us can simply disappear off of their books. Those less lucky should do their best not to stand out. We must not alert them to our plans."
The pastor spoke for hours, but when Adalia returned home she was jittery and wanting to know more. The news was back to singing the praises of Carpathia, and she quickly abandoned the television to Noah and his videogames. Instead, she took the bible from her bag, sat on the couch, and began to read.
"Adalia," Noah said, interrupting her. "I'm hungry."
"Eat a poptart," she said, not looking up.
"I'm hungry," he repeated.
"So have a poptart."
"Adalia," he said, shaking her shoulder. "Adalia, please, I'm really hungry."
"So eat a poptart."
"You already told me to do that."
"So go do it."
"That was hours ago!" His voice cracked with fear.
Adalia looked up from the bible for the first time.
The windows were dark, the curtains open to expose the dusky blackness of the sky. Her brother looked strung out, like a nervous dog. The bible on her lap was open to the middle, though she'd started at the beginning.
"Oh God, Noah, I'm so sorry," she said, closing it and getting up. She realized she was starving and her throat was painfully dry. She hadn't noticed.
She went into the kitchen and drunk a glass of water, then started on dinner. "If you see that happen ever again," she said to Noah, "even just an hour, interrupt me."
"What did happen?"
"I don't know," she said.
Her strange trance didn't repeat itself again when she tried the bible again the next day, more cautiously. All that came was fatigue, and halfway through a fidgety impatience with reading. She wondered if it was for spurning the gift, but if so, she was glad God seemed to have listened and taken it back from her, and if the price of it was some mild boredom, she'd pay gladly.
All the same, she finally gave up and closed the bible. She paced around the living room several times, not sure what to do. She realized the plants hadn't been watered in days and busied herself with the ones in the dining room, then worked her way through the upstairs rooms to make sure each plant was cared for. She felt better after doing something concrete, however inconsequential. Returning to the living room, she thought of what the pastor had said about the Witnesses and a treaty with Israel, and decided to check the news again.
It was the young blond politician who was the antichrist again, talking about the UN. Even Adalia knew enough about foreign affairs to know that any time the United Nations was brought into a subject as if it mattered, it signified that nothing much was going to happen and she could ignore the whole thing. For the UN to be a comparatively important player in the story, it had to be about total nobodies. She settled on the couch, opening the bible to read and glancing up occasionally to see if there was anything new.
There was more on the nuclear resonance theory, still not making any sense, and of course more scientists praising the politician, Carpathia, as a breath of fresh air for agreeing with them. Adalia wondered if the nonsense theory wasn't actually agreed on by the scientific community the way newscasters described it. Perhaps most scientists hadn't yet found any options they were sure of while the nutcases had thrown all their vocal weight behind this one. Scientific consensus and what people thought everyone agreed about could be very different. And if that was true, she reasoned, it'd make more sense they'd be praising anyone who supported them, because they needed that support to be taken seriously. Science that couldn't get funding from actual scientists turned to the politicians. They were probably hoping for fat public grants to study the phenomena. And there weren't any honest scientists to argue with them, since this was the Rapture, and there wouldn't be any natural explanation for them to find. That was what supernatural meant. The inexplicable, the unexplainable, a breach in the normal workings of reality.
The next story was more frightening. In some areas the police had taken to arresting anyone who'd been involved in abortions, not because they'd committed a crime - though there was legislation on the table in several states to make it exactly that - but in an attempt to prevent their murder. One doctor's house had been burned to the ground, also killing her husband and teenage daughter. Several more had been shot, and others were simply missing. Murdered or vanished, no one knew.
When the segment ended, it switched back to the news anchor, who added that violent crime in general had skyrocketed. Up next, he continued, was a story on a murdered rape victim, who had survived the initial attack only to be lynched when she tried to buy the morning-after pill at a pharmacy. Women were advised that it was still unknown if pregnancy was possible and that, at the moment, they were better off taking the risk.
"In this time of crisis and trauma," the man said, "one can truly understand what Romanian President Carpathia means when he says we have no choice but to come together and work to build a better future. With society coming apart at the seams, drastic measures no longer seem so much drastic as simply common sense."
She got up and turned the television off. She looked back to the bible, lying on the couch, then shook her head. What had the pastor called it? A leading from God? She didn't feel any leading right now. She knew intellectually that she should be reading the bible. What she wanted to do was watch Sakura chant excitedly about penguins, or read some of her old books from when she was in middle school, ones with bright worlds and triumphant characters.
I don't know, she thought. And hadn't the pastor said something else? All fiction was a reflection of the Word of God and there were clues hidden inside.
Perhaps that was what this meant. Perhaps she simply hadn't understood what God was trying to tell her.
She went upstairs to her brother's room, where her old books were stored in the closet bookshelf, and found her dog-eared copy of Wild Magic.
Adalia woke in the dark in her parent's bed, her heart pounding as if she'd had a nightmare and her brother sleeping peacefully next to her.
She'd been dreaming of a spell from the books, a protection spell. They'd made a circle, first of water, then of salt, then of glowing magic fire, chanting all the while. She'd been dreaming of the spell, only it had been used for something else. It had made the children disappear.
And she had thought, that's all it is. Not something inexplicable, impossible, something so far out of human hands they couldn't even touch the furthest edges however high they reached. Only a spell, a thing that happened because of something someone did, a regular part of the world that followed the rules. And in the dream she'd been making plans, thinking, so they've done this and there's a spell to undo it, and she was remembering it as she watched, a spell to call them back -
And she had thought, I'm dreaming, and the shock and horror and wrenching betrayal she'd felt had woke her.
It was the most basic promise, that the world would make sense. Reality had rules. Fantasy had rules. This strange place she'd stumbled into had none.
The Witnesses were still at the Western Wall. After several attempts to remove them had ended in rioting, officials tried to cordon off the area they were in, only for them to somehow appear on the other side. Cameras seemed to have strange problems recording there and would often cut out, leaving how they moved about unknown. Some people claimed the Witnesses vanished and reappeared, others that they were actually many people masquerading as two and that they'd seen replacements moving into position and current Witnesses slipping under the crowd and pulling off their sackcloth to disappear. The people interviewed from the closest ring of the crowd, those who said they'd seen it, came off to Adalia as insane, some staring fixedly forward as if trying to appear normal while missing both their interviewer and the camera with this gaze, speaking stiffly and repetitively as if reciting something they'd made up and decided had to be true. Others were ranting and raving, froth in the corners of their mouthes. The last time a member of the Israeli police force had tried to enter the area, touching the outer fence had burned the fingers from the man's hand. They were planning on declaring the entire length of the wall off limits.
The news told her companies were going bankrupt. Life insurance, for one - they should have been able to stall on claims, requiring a body, but no one had been putting up with it. There were still riots, though it wasn't so bad as in other countries. Regimes had been toppled across Africa and South America, and China had dissolved into a civil war. Even as Carpathia was calling for disarmament, nuclear-equipped countries were hurtling towards World War Three. In places they didn't trust the news, entire classes of people were wiped out. In places they didn't have the news, it was tribes of people being slaughtered down to the last. Survival was determined by whoever cast the first stone.
People without God. Adalia wondered if she would simply have to get used to living in world where people would act like this normally. She'd never really felt the presence of God in her daily life, but looking at the news, she could understand what the others at church meant when they spoke of the effects caused by a lack of it. God was extricating himself from this world in preparation for the next, and this, however horrible, was the new status quo.
And everywhere, people spoke of a young blond politician who was the only one able to save them from it.
Sometime between when she'd last paid attention and now the UN's president or general had stepped down, and everyone, if you believed the news, wanted him to take the position. The man would be giving a response later that day, and the newscaster reported this with a lack of composure that would have embarrassed fourteen year old girls at their first concert. He looked seconds away from bursting into squeals of delight at the thought.
Carpathia would accept, of course.
And then the next day Carpathia had, in all but name.
Adalia listened to it on the radio, feeling her stomach start to knot as what she'd be viewing as a strange spectacle reached an absurd high that flipped it abruptly to horrifying.
They replayed clips of his speech. The opening refusal was reasonable and sane and it was a refusal. He talked about how the United Nations was a paper tiger, unable to fulfill the noble but too lofty goals its founders had meant. It could do little to censer even the most severe abuses nations committed, especially, of course, when the nations committing the crimes and the nations in change of condemning them overlapped - Adalia cringed, knowing exactly who and what he was talking about - how, much as he loved the dream, he had to accept that the organization itself had fallen far, far short, through no fault of its own but short all the same.
How this had turned into them replacing the UN with a new and completely different version Adalia wasn't sure. The only thing she'd heard in the summary of it that made any sort of sense was that they were moving the headquarters to Iraq, which she'd heard suggested a few times before and had an understandable reason given. The rebuilt country was a testament to one of the few times the UN had been (eventually) given the power and money needed, and a success beyond what anyone had dared believe possible, and it made sense that someone who loved the ideals of the UN would see it as a fitting symbolic move to mark their new direction. And they needed to build a new one somewhere after the New York one was blown up by a couple members of a local church. She supposed a new name made sense with all that too. A new organization entirely, though...
The rest of it - it didn't make any sense but as the fulfillment of the prophecies the pastor had spoken of. It was like the early days of America, when the confederation of states had given way to the modern federal government. But they had been a country. The world wasn't a country, couldn't treat America like a state...could it?
There was talk of destroying the world's weapons, or handing them over to the UN-that-wasn't-the-UN for safekeeping. Carpathia was a pacifist. And he spoke passionately of the need to end war, blaming the nuclear missiles in particular for playing a part in the largest loss of life ever to happen, the vanishings. That, Adalia was sure, was the real reason he supported the theory. It fitted with what he already wanted, a dismantling of the nuclear arsenal, a banning of all nuclear weapons.
In some ways, it wasn't so bad. If it meant an end to guns, then at least some good was coming out of it. How much less damage would have happened across the world if the people hadn't had ready access to weapons? If God was withdrawing his grace to leave most of the population lurching about like the criminally insane, the least the sane people could do was take away the sharp objects.
The way it all happened, though, hammered home how different things were. The non-Christian media seemed practically hypnotized by the man, and everyone seemed driven by some strange force toward the next step of prophecy.
It'd all come true, however impossible it sounded.
As if to confirm it, NPR continued on to Israel's agreement to share their formula with the UN and the world, in return for a treaty promising protection.
Israel, which had singlehandedly destroyed the entire Russian army without injury or even attacking. Israel, who had only been attacked in the first place for not sharing that formula. That Israel was signing a treaty.
A seven year treaty.
After church that day, Adalia had intended to wait to speak with the pastor. She was hardly the only one. It seemed like most of the church members had something they wanted to ask or say, and none of it short. Taking a look at the number of the crowd massed around Matthew, she took Noah and left to eat lunch, then drove back. When she returned most of the crowd had left, and she waited for the remaining few to finish. she wondered if she was imposing on the pastor, but the man looked almost manic with excitement.
"I want to help," she told him when it was finally her turn. "I don't want to just wait for what's coming, or be a drain on your resources. I can do something. Scout houses for you maybe, I don't know. Anything."
"I've been thinking about this very issue," Pastor Matthew said. "Doing something like scouting is far too dangerous, of course."
"Haven't you seen the news?" he said kindly. "Well, perhaps it's better if you haven't. Violent crime everywhere. Hardly the time to send a young women out walking alone to look for empty houses."
"Most of the petitioners will be getting normal jobs, for we will, after all, be needing money. However, I think I know something you'd be perfect for. It might be dangerous as well, but it would be a great boon to the cause."
"I'll do anything," she said, and meant it.
"We need a spy."
"A..spy?" she repeated, feeling lost.
"Nothing major, of course," he said quickly. "Just someone to keep tabs on the antichrist. Right now, you see, believers are still safe. The first signs of any change in that will be there, in the antichrist's forces. You can keep the church abreast of developments. Of course," he said, "the instant it looks like you'd be in danger you should leave. I'm not talking about sacrificing you to the cause. And I'm sure that the antichrist will simply begin firing believers long before taking any more punitive action. But it will be a steady job until then, and you'll be the first to know if there's any change in policy and what his plans are. We might need that advantage."
She nodded. "Of course."
When she told him, Noah found the idea exciting. "I wonder what I can do."
"You're going back to school when it starts up again," she told him.
"I don't know if it's going to."
"It will. There are still plenty of kids your age. It's just everyone's scared. Once things calm down, they'll start the schools up again."
"What about you? You're supposed to be in college."
"Going to college is optional. Going to middle school isn't. You'll need to know all that stuff when you grow up."
"I'm not going to," he said. "I'll be your age when Jesus comes back."
She didn't know what to say to that.
Chapter 3: Number
The short story Adalia references is real, but I don't remember the title or author.
The short story Adalia references is real, but I don't remember the title or author.
The speech is almost entirely taken from the book. I wanted to keep the commentary on it toned down, but the universal response from Jewish people when I asked was...well, not positive, and I can't imagine it would be better post-Rapture with two guys at the Western Wall killing Jews while saying Jesus is the messiah. The gratuitous non-English is copy-pasted from the web, so if I got some/all of it wrong, point it out and I'll fix it. Along similar lines, the miracle formula is now named Netssa, a combination of ness, miracle, and neta, plant, or so random internet pages have claimed.
Forever in Hell, thanks for your advice and you're quite right about speeches and sermons needing to be broken up better...but I didn't really do that for the one this chapter, because there's so much going on there already. I will definitely try to follow your advice when I write less chaotic scenes.
Getting a job was easy, she found when she tried the next morning. Just as she had wanted to help her church, it seemed a lot of nonbelievers wanted to help Carpathia. There was already a website up for anyone to apply to, and she heard they really would take anyone and everyone who did. A good thing, with the rest of the economy in shambles. She'd meant to sit down and try to pay the credit card bills on the table, but there was a large READ ME link on the top of every page of the site listing countries that had frozen certain companies and which. As an American, she was advised not to pay credit card bills or loans, that paying utilities was optional during this transition period, and that mortgages could not be collected by banks until a court had reevaluated the home's worth. What in the world? Could he do something like that?
She just hoped it was real, otherwise she'd get in trouble for not paying. It seemed legitimate, even if it was a link labeled in oversized red capital letters. It was hosted on his site, anyway, and assuming the antichrist could accomplish whatever he said he wanted seemed a safe bet.
That was a godsend, though, however it was accomplished. She wouldn't be able to afford to pay the bills for more than a few months at best, unless her job at the antichrist's came with a ludicrous salary.
What salary - what anything - could be ludicrous in a world where the antichrist had just killed every credit card company as one of his opening moves, though? She'd have been less surprised to have been told interns were paid a million a year instead.
She returned to filling out the form. For hours wanted, she was surprised to see an option labeled part time that was basically volunteering whenever she felt like it, without set hours or days. Probably some sort of benefits scam, she thought, but it also seemed the safest option, so she clicked it. If she decided she needed to disappear, it'd take them a while to realize she wasn't reporting in, and it'd let her stay home any time she needed.
After a few minutes, she tried to go to the next page to fill it out and was informed she'd successfully sent her application. It'd never asked her what job she was applying for, she realized. Maybe the option she picked was only for one kind of job. She considered trying to go through again to see if she'd missed something, but she didn't want to accidentally resend an application and look like an idiot. And when she checked her email again a few hours later, she found a reply informing her she'd been accepted and should show up at one of the local branches. She was expecting it to be Boston, but according to the map the closest one was the next town over. How many of these did he have? But maybe she'd just been lucky, or God had made it work out. Perhaps that meant this was what God wanted her to do.
"I'm going out, be back soon," Adalia called.
"Uh-huh," Noah grunted, eyes glued to the television screen as he mashed the controller's buttons.
She got confused along the way, but after a bit of circling she managed to find the right turn and drove up to a nondescript office building. The parking lot was about half full and had an unusually mixed collection of cars, from fifteen year old Hondas with rust eating away the rims and underside to brand-new jaguars. She remembered the car she was using was hardly hers, and no doubt she wasn't the only one to have done so, and of course, given the choice, people would probably have picked the fancier ones. But she'd also driven past burnt out buildings and the mangled remains of horrific car accidents - it would not be unlikely that someone might have lost their car. Or even had it stolen, in the chaos after the vanishings. And so, this, a mishmash of years and care, all making the same pilgrimage to help the man who would save the world and bring about the apocalypse. She parked carefully next to a hummer and walked in.
There was a wide open lobby with an incongruously plain wooden desk sitting on top of the meticulously polished floor to one side of the manicured plant centerpiece, with a young man behind it. "Hi," he said, smiling. "Name?"
"I - I'm Adalia Gottfrey," she said, trying to make sense of this. As he typed that into the laptop, she asked, "Um, was this..." She wasn't sure how to say it. "...like this before?"
"I figured people couldn't be expected to come in and wander around until they found some sign of life, especially since we're only using a couple rooms right now." He gestured at the desk and room at large. "The whole bottom level is designed with this sort of aggressively useless aesthetic. We're mostly using the second and third levels right now, but this is the place where people enter, so here we are."
"So, this wasn't a UN building before?"
"Oh no, just bought by the Global Community. It's your standard poorly designed office building. A lot of companies are dumping property as they contract, so Carpathia wanted them bought up to prevent a market glut. We're trying to keep things stable."
"I thought things weren't that bad yet."
"To be honest...About the only places that are actually stable are the European countries, and that'll change if the economy falls apart. America's doing as well as can be expected, but we think we lost more adults than anywhere else in the first day. At least we're not China. Anyway," he said, eyes flicking to the screen, "you'll probably be put to work as an intern in some department but for now go to the second story and go into the room on the left. Should have a piece of paper with Unassigned written on it taped up on the wall or door. If not, tell them I told them to do that an hour ago."
"Are you guys just taking anyone?"
"Pretty much," he said with a rueful smile. "With companies flailing about like chickens with their heads cut off, someone's got to employ people. Never thought CEOs were all that essential, but live and learn, hey?"
"Live and learn," she repeated. For a second she wondered if she should tell him about Jesus, but there'd be time for that later. Instead she thanked him and headed for the elevator.
The next floor was carpeted in gray. She turned left and took a few steps around the corner in the corridor to see a sheet of paper taped to a door. UNASSIGNED was written in scribbly block letters, like someone wanted to make it thick enough to read from a distance but only had ballpoint pens to work with. There was also the numbers 216 scratched all over it like a border, with small hearts drawn in between them. She opened the door.
"What's with 216?" she asked. "Is it the room number?"
"Nah," said a girl inside, sitting at a table with a collection of other young men and women. "It's the number of the beast, get it?"
Adalia didn't. She shook her head, then said, "Wait, beast, like antichrist?"
"Yeah. Are you Christian too?"
"Cool. I was worried we'd be outnumbered."
"You still are," said the boy next to her. "But aside from not getting your meat pizza, what does it matter?"
"Your immortal souls," she said with a seriousness so intense it was impossible to tell if she actually meant it.
The rest of the table rolled their eyes.
"Um..." Adalia asked, "so...what now?"
"Interview coordination stuff." One of the boys jerked his head toward the cubicals further down. "They take like twenty minutes. Pizza takes like fifteen minutes to arrive, so if we eat fast enough, we can finish it off before Kelly gets out. Take a seat."
Everyone, even her fellow Christian, was in good spirits. And Adalia, after initial surprise, found herself falling into the same mood. Part of it was simply chattering, talking about things other than the upcoming end of the world and the suffering and persecution that would come, but part of it, she thought, was that there was the sense they were going to do something productive, have a purpose.
"Why are you here?" she asked.
"Because of Carpathia, I guess," was the consensus, and then one boy added, "Pay's decent, too. Ten dollars an hour, plus the same amount in Global Communities bills that you can use...somewhere. I guess at the cafeteria."
"Who'd use that much money on cafeteria food?"
"Hey, maybe they'll be offering caviar, I don't know."
Something about it reminded Adalia of a story she'd read. "Half the pay is in their own currency?" she said. "That's - something's wrong."
"It's weird, I guess, but places pay you in stock and discounts and that sort of thing all the time, right?"
She shook her head. "I - it's silly. But there was a story I read, with this time traveler who had to fix things or prevent something bad from happening, where the US had gone into a depression, and there was this big industrialist who was giving everyone a job, and he'd started printing up his own form of money that people could use at any of his stories, everyone was hailing him as a savior, it'd gotten so that other stories had started to take his bills rather than real money, and he was going to end up controlling everything. He was going to become president and then king. Because people would have let him, you see."
It might have had more of an impact if the Christian girl hadn't immediately said, "See, guys! I told you!"
"Yeah, right. A story got written by some guy and so that's considered evidence - oh, what am I arguing, that's always been what you say."
"It's true," the girl insisted. "The Bible is, well, like the Platonic Ideal of a text, so all writing approaches it. And the Bible is prophesy, so you can find prophesy reflected in other writing. Though Christian writers are the only ones you can really rely on, of course."
"But tarot cards, those are evil," said another girl, rolling her eyes.
"That's different. It's fortune-telling." You could have cracked diamonds on her conviction. Adalia wished she could be half so certain of the truth.
The girl being interviewed appeared from among the cubicals, and the Christian girl, next in line headed off.
"So what'll you be doing?" they asked her.
"I will..." she began gravely, "be serving the vital roll...of acquiring and transporting...heated decaffeinated liquids!" She grinned and laughed. "Or something like that. I'm pretty sure they're just classifying most of us as interns."
"Why are they bothering with interviewing people, then?" Adalia asked.
"Apparently they're expecting a lot of turnover? He was kind of vague when I asked. I guess for part-timers and stuff, they want to know who can do what. If they've got five people who can do one thing, but only three of them can do another, it makes sense not to assign all three to the first thing. Or if half of us quit, they'll want to know who to plug into the vacant coffee-gopher slots. Ooh, mushroom pizza!" She snagged a piece and started eating, then sat down. "Hey, what time is it? How much longer until the treaty signing?"
"The treaty signing?" Adalia repeated. "You mean, with Israel? That's today?"
"It was just announced yesterday morning! You can't have a treaty all ready to go like that!"
One of the boys shrugged. "I know what you mean, but that's how it is. Didn't you listen to the news today?"
She shook her head. "I have been, but not today."
"Since Carpathia took over yesterday and the creation of the Global Community, there's been a lot of new announcements. Like the one about bills, you know about that?" She nodded and he continued, "They're dismantling the credit card companies and there's a rumor they're going to kill the rest of the loan industry next."
"What? I read something on his site but...they can't do something like that!"
"Who'll stop them? Half the guys in charge disappeared and half the guys left have either offed themselves or sold everything and run off to build a bunker. And are you really going to get upset if all the stuff you owe just disappears?"
"Well, of course not," Adalia said. "But there's a reason for them." She would have elaborated, but she wasn't really sure on the finer points.
"There's a reason to wipe the slate clean on occasion, too," he argued. "Besides, once that formula gets out, a lot of stuff is going to fall apart one way or another. If people thought Israel producing cheap food was screwing the world's economy, imagine what'll happen once people can feed themselves for nothing more that a dash of Netssa and a bucket of water? And they're making progress on those diesel trees - two years from now, you don't have to buy food or gas. Learn how to weave cotton and you're literally home free. The time to stick to old capitalist ideals is long over. It's adapt or die time now."
"Huh," said one of the boys, ignoring them both. He'd turned on the television. "This is weird. They're saying some guy's bought airtime in the slot before the treaty signing, in Israel."
"Well, try another channel, see if they're reporting on it over there."
"No, wait," interrupted another boy. "He's a rabbi? Maybe he's got something to say about the treaty."
"What if he disagrees with it?" Adalia asked.
"Well, then he does," the boy dismissed. "I'd like to think our rabbis would be smarter than that, though."
"Guys, you could listen to what they're saying it's about if you're so curious."
"The sound is off," he retorted as Adalia quickly looked to the screen to catch a flash of the closed captioning before it disappeared, too fast to make out most of the words.
"The messiah?" Adalia repeated. "Jesus?"
The boys exchanged looks as one said, "Not if he's a rabbi. Maybe he'll be bringing up the question of if the last messiah will appear. I mean, it's got to be a pretty big question about now, considering they're going to rebuild the temple."
"What?" Adalia almost shouted. "What happened? There's a mosque there!"
"You think a rabbi's going to be talking about Jesus but you know about the Dome of the Rock?" The boy shook his head. "And no, they're relocating it."
"There is no way..."
"That's what I'd have said yesterday. There's having good relations with the Muslims and then there's mind controlling the entire populations of several countries at once. I mean - I never thought it'd happen, that's for sure. But Carpathia convinced them somehow."
"Considering how much they benefited from Israel's prosperity, it seems like the least they could do"
"Considering Israel's part in the mess, that seems like the least they could do," said a girl.
"Guys, guys, let's have our death fight over a country none of us have gone to after the show."
"Hey, I've been to Israel," one of the boys argued.
"Still seems kind of weird to bring this up right before the treaty. You think he's messianic?"
"There's no need to jump to insulting conclusions. I mean, rebuilding the temple, that's a pretty big deal."
"Uh, so what'll this be about? Who the messiah is?" Adalia asked. "Like, who the prophecies point to?"
"If the messiah shows up, we're not going to need to be told." At her expression, he added, "Do not start with the Jesus stuff. Hell, Carpathia fulfills more than Jesus, who managed a whopping zero."
"But he didn't do what the last messiah will do. He shows back up to make all Jews know every word of the Law from birth, then we'll consider it."
"Or just writes the full scripture on their hearts in ink." At the glare the girl protested, "What? It's a legitimate reading!"
"So then what'll the rabbi talk about?"
"Just what this means, I guess. You know, the last messiah is supposed to rebuild the temple, or else come about at the same time, or else will come once we build it, so if we're rebuilding it, either he's one of the guys helping or he's going to appear shortly, or they've misinterpreted something."
"Turning the sound on," the boy with the remote said, sounding irritated. "Now perhaps we could try just listening to what the guy says instead of debating what it might be."
A bearded man in full black rabbinical garb was sitting at a desk or counter, with paper in front of him and a standard news backdrop. The whole thing seemed rather plain.
"Pretty blond for a rabbi," one of the boys said.
"Next you'll complain his nose isn't big enough," said a girl. "Besides, he might be a convert."
"That is indeed an even more unlikely possibility," said the boy. "But nah, just think it's odd."
"Good evening," the man was saying to the camera.
"Huh, his voice sounds American. Wonder why he's broadcasting from -"
He introduced himself as Rabbi Tsion ben Judah.
The boys snickered.
"What?" she asked.
"He's basically named Israel son of Judah. Kind of like being named John Christian Smith, only Jewish. And more over the top."
" - have undertaken several years of study on the subject of the messiah. I have come to the conclusion that we may know beyond all shadow of doubt the identity of our messiah -"
"Oh lord," one of the boys groaned, covering his face. "This is messianic bullshit. This is embarrassing. He's going to start talking about prophecies and prerequisites."
" Our Bible has given clear prophecies, prerequisites, and predictions that only one person in the human race could ever fulfill. Follow along with me and see if you come to the same conclusion I have - "
"We should have ordered beer, we could have started a drinking game."
"How did this guy get airtime?"
" - and we shall see whether Messiah is a real person, whether he has already come, or whether he is yet to come."
"Oh man, he thinks we haven't heard this pitch before," one of the other boys said, sounding mortified. "Why isn't he getting cut off?"
"What do you mean? You know who he's talking about? Why would they cut him off?"
"This is Jews for Jesus evangelical boilerplate. They always try to make a big deal about leading up and 'see if you come to the same conclusion'."
"The best part is when you say, 'Ooh! I know! I know! Is it Jesus?' and they get all excited like you're going to convert on the spot. Because it's not like anyone else ever recited the pitch they have on their website. No, it is a big secret we've never heard before."
"Oh, and now he's talking about studying the prophesies."
" - confirming the accuracy of the late Alfred Edersheim -"
"I bet ten bucks that guy's Christian."
"You're on. There's no way he'd tell people he's basing everything off a Christian's writing if he's going to claim this is Jewish. No one's that dumb."
" - Edersheim had postulated that there were four hundred fifty six messianic passages in Scripture -"
"No, that's pretty Christian."
"There are messianic Jews that say that kind of stuff."
"There's a difference?"
" - based on careful study, I believe there are at least one hundred and nine separate and distinct prophecies Messiah must fulfill."
"I've got twenty bucks on 'Evangelical convert to Jews for Jesus', anyone want to take that bet?"
They require a man so unusual and a life so unique that they eliminate all pretenders."
We consulted a mathematician and asked him to calculate the probability of even 20 of the 109 prophecies being fulfilled in one man. He came up with odds of one in one quadrillion, one hundred and twenty-five trillion!"
"No wait, I'll take the bet. That's hard core fundy, not simply Jews for Jesus."
"Despite the billions of people who still populate this planet, you can put a postcard in the mail with just a few distinctions on it, and I will be the only person to receive it. You eliminate much of the world when you send it to Israel. You narrow it more when it comes to Jerusalem. You cut the potential recipients to a tiny fraction when it goes to a certain street, a certain number, a certain apartment. And then, with my first and last name on it, you have singled me out of billions. That, I believe, is what these prophecies of Messiah do. They eliminate, eliminate, eliminate, until only one person could ever fulfill them."
"Why hasn't he gotten cut off yet?"
"It's humiliating. Can't someone hold up some cue card off camera and at least tell him there's already been more than one messiah? Or that there's supposed to be one potential messiah in every generation?"
"Or at least get him to stop using it like it's the guy's name?"
"Hey, you're not even supposed to be proselytizing in Israel. Nothing they do now is going could make him stop looking like an idiot short of cutting the feed."
"Messiah is not limited to just a few identifying marks," the man continued. "We Jews -"
"- have been looking for him, praying for him, longing for him for centuries, and yet we have stopped studying the many identification hallmarks in our Scriptures. We have ignored many and made favorites of others, to the point that we are now looking for a political leader who will right wrongs, bring justice, and promise peace and salvation."
"We don't need salvation!"
Adalia cringed. "How can you not need salvation?"
"By not getting hung up on original sin in the first place."
"And not believing God thinks we're a bunch of worthless scum."
"Or not believing in God period," added a brunette. "That makes things simple fast."
"The very first qualification of Messiah, accepted by our scholars from the beginning, is that he should be born the seed of a woman -"
"No, it's that he be born of the seed of King David!" yelled one of the boys at the TV. "Come on, this is basic!"
"- not the seed of a man like all other human beings. We know now that women do not possess `seed.'"
"Now he's failing biology," said a spike-haired girl. "And history."
"How'd this schlemiel get airtime?"
"The man provides the seed for the woman's egg. And so this must be a supernatural birth, as foretold in Isaiah 7:14, `Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign:"
"Behold!" the boys shouted.
" - the -"
"YOUNG WOMAN!" half of them yelled, the other half shouting, "ALMAH!"
" - virgin -"
" - shall conceive and bear a son, and shall -"
"Wait, so which is it?" Adalia interrupted.
"Young woman. If she was a virgin, they'd have called her a virgin."
"Yeah, not like Hebrew doesn't contain both words."
"Really?" one of the other boys said in mock amazement. "And here I thought it was written up in King Jame's English and we were all reading in Hebrew just to be annoying."
"Our Messiah must be born of a woman and not of a man because he must be righteous. All other humans are born of the seed of their father, and thus the sinful seed of Adam has been passed on to them. Not so with the Messiah, born of a virgin."
"Hebrew, benzona, do you speak it!?"
"Our Messiah must be born of an extremely rare bloodline - "
"I can't believe he hasn't been cut off yet!"
"While he must be born of a woman, that woman must -"
"Maybe they're laughing too hard to cut him off."
"God himself eliminated billions of people from this select bloodline so Messiah's identity would be unmistakable."
"Because God was worried the whole resurrecting everyone who had ever died and ushering them into an everlasting kingdom of peace thing wouldn't tip us off."
"First God eliminated two-thirds of the world's population by choosing Abraham, who was from the line of Shem, one of Noah's three sons. "
"Oh man oh man, he's a young-earth creationist who believes in the flood. Okay, yes, they shouldn't cut him off, this is going to be pure gold. Hey, anyone know which group colonized North America?"
"Why, the magical aquatic Jews, who swam there from the African coast. After all, when you've eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, must be correct. That's science!"
"Of Abraham's two sons, God chose only Isaac, eliminating half of Abraham's progeny," the man said. He had started to glance to the side of the screen, as if something was going on off camera, but he soldiered one with, "One of the two sons of Isaac, Jacob, received the blessing but passed it on to only one of his twelve sons, Judah. That eliminated millions of other sons in Israel." The rabbi continued down the list of men to the heckling of the boys.
"You think this chiam yankel noticed they're all men yet? As in, it doesn't transfer down the female side?"
"Ah, but he totally already had to. If daughters counted, then he wouldn't be able to keep halving and twelving it neatly."
"No, a tembel like this probably never even thought it through. He's just repeating what someone else told him."
" - Messiah will go to Egypt, because the prophet Hosea says that out of Egypt God will call -"
"Is he talking about the entire Jewish population? Because I think he just started talking about the entire Jewish population."
"We are all Messiah!"
"Awesome! I'm going to go get drunk on bottled water!"
"Bottled water? Damn, wouldn't it be cheaper to just buy wine? Go with tap."
"Yeah, just because you're Messiah doesn't mean you get to screw up the environment."
"Well, what good is it then?"
When they quieted, Adalia could make out the sounds of people talking on the television. It sounded like they were trying to be quiet but their voices had started rising. She didn't hear any words she could understand.
"Do you hear that?" she asked.
"I think they're talking about stopping the broadcast," one of the boys said. "It's a bit hard to hear."
The man was shuffling his notes quickly."I may not have much time, so I want to speed through a few more clear prophecies and tell you what conclusion I have drawn. Isaiah and Malachi predict that Messiah will be preceded by a forerunner. The Psalmist said Messiah would be betrayed by a friend. Zechariah said that he would be betrayed for thirty pieces of silver -"
The off-camera voices were getting louder and more insistent, and he kept glancing at them as he spoke. The Jewish boys were quiet aside from occasional snickers.
"What are they saying?" Adalia asked.
"They're saying this meshungina needs to shut up. More politely than that. He probably can't understand it anyway."
"Why aren't they telling him in English?"
"It's an English broadcast, so everyone would understand them if they did that. Off camera they're probably holding up cue cards or something written in English, though, because he's obviously getting the gist of it."
"Wait, not more politely. They just called him a meshungina."
"If I had more time -"
"Ooh, yeah, I'd say he's getting the gist of it. He's nowhere near through his hour."
He was talking faster, as if expecting to be cut off shortly." - I could share with you dozens more prophecies from the Hebrew Scriptures that point to the qualifications of the Messiah. I will broadcast a phone number at the end of this broadcast so you can order all the printed material from our study. The study will convince you that we can be absolutely sure only one person could ever be qualified to be the special Anointed One of Jehovah.
"Let me close by saying that the three years I have invested in searching the sacred writings of Moses and the prophets have been the most rewarding of my life. I expanded my study to books of history and other sacred writings -"
"Why would we care what Hindus said about their gods?"
"Come on, the only sacred writings this tahat ever read was New Testament."
" - including the New Testament of the Gentiles -"
"Finally!" The boys high-fived.
" - combing every record I could find to see if anyone has ever lived up to the messianic qualifications. Was there one born in Bethlehem of a virgin, a descendant of King David, traced back to our father Abraham, who was taken to Egypt, called back to minister in Galilee, preceded by a forerunner, rejected by God's own people, betrayed for thirty pieces of silver, pierced without breaking a bone, buried with the rich, and resurrected?"
"Oh, was there? I wonder who that could possibly be? Because I have no idea who you're talking about schmendrick!"
"According to one of the greatest of all Hebrew prophets, Daniel, there would be exactly 483 years between the decree to rebuild the wall and the city of Jerusalem `in troublesome times' before the Messiah would be cut off for the sins of the people. Exactly 483 years after the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls, Jesus Christ of Nazareth -"
"It's not a damn surname!"
" - rode into the city on a donkey to the rejoicing of the people, just as the prophet Zechariah had predicted: `Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.'"
"Because they totally spoke English back then!"
"Jesus Christ is the Messiah!"
"Jesus the Anointed Messiah is the Messiah? Christ, does he not even know what the word Christ means?"
People had appeared on the set, gesturing at him, and others were starting to shout. "You have to stop," one was saying.
"There can be no other option!"he shouted over them. "I had come to this answer but was afraid to act on it, and I was almost too late. Jesus came to rapture his church, to take them with him to heaven as he said he would. But I have since received him as my Savior. He is coming back in seven years! Be ready! Yeshua ben Yosef, Jesus son of Joseph, is Yeshua Hamashiac! Jesus Christ is the Messiah! Jesus Christ is - "
The screen blanked out.
Chapter 4: Appealing
I won NaNo!
I won NaNo!
I highly recommend Uzumaki, which can be read for free on Onemanga. The early chapters are simply creepy, but the overall feel of the story that develops is something I aim for in this one.
A Higher Authority
EIGHTEEN MONTHS LATER
The Witnesses were worse in person. Glorious, greater, and leaving her feeling like a creature that had lived its whole life in a black cave staring into a brilliant white flame, unable to turn away as it blinded her eyes, seared her worthless face, and burnt her to ash.
They shouldn't have been, though it was a struggle to think of it that way when faced with them. In recorded broadcasts she could see without that horrible blinding grace, two men dressed in loose rough brown cloth, their gnarled, leathery arms and legs like the limbs of an ancient tree, old but all the stronger for it. They'd made her think of a drawing of Larry Niven's protectors, remade to become stronger with age rather than weaker, then she'd put it out of her mind with the feel such thoughts might be blasphemous. But they were still human. When you approached them, people said, they smelled of smoke, a thin acrid scent at first comforting and then crushing as you drew closer.
They were surrounded by a crowd of followers, hovering around them at a distance in nervous worship. From a distance, they looked peaceful. It was said that sometimes people, converted and enthralled, would stand until they collapsed, of exhaustion or heatstroke or thirst. It was said people, once enthralled, would not, that there were those in the crowd who had remained for months.
It was said the Witnesses no longer killed anyone, instead ordering the crowd to tear apart anyone who interrupted them.
It wasn't true, not most of it.
She left Noah at the far edge of the crowd, setting Adnah in his arms, carefully pulling the ten month old's clutching fingers from her shirt, and arranging the two of them so his shadow fell over the baby's slanted eyes and kept out the sun's glare. Then she started through.
A few steps took her past the fringes. Beyond the crowd was thick, so thick the ground was invisible and it was rare to see even space between shoulders, yet it seemed to flow around her even as it pushed against her, and within seconds she had lost all sense of where she was or what direction she was going in. The air was suffocating, dust and sweat and something that might have been smoke tickling the back of her throat.
The Witnesses were not speaking, which might have been why her thoughts were not of scripture but kept spiraling back to the manga Uzumaki, when the survivors clustered in the old row houses, more and more of them piling together, warping and twisting and tangling together until they were no longer anything human. It took us all morning to untangle him, they'd said, pushing a corpse out. She could imagine bodies kept upright by the press of people, flesh warm under the desert sun, limp legs dragged from side to side as the mass moved, could imagine being pushed through the crowd until she was crushed chest to rotten chest, staring into a dessicated face and unable to do anything but pray for the whim of the crowd to move her again...
And then suddenly the press disappeared and she stumbled forward, finding herself on the inner rim of the crowd, one step across the invisible line that marked a respectful distance from the men or angels before them.
They were resting, if angels rested, sitting close to the fence in silence. She caught her balance, tried to forget the weakness in her legs. I am sealed and sanctified, she thought. We are all of us servants of God. They're angels. They wouldn't kill me. Not simply for speaking with them.
God is just, she thought, and felt safer. She wrapped herself in her purpose and she walked toward them.
They stood and faced her, watched her approach, and under their gaze she was stripped bare, clothes, skin, flesh, searched and found wanting, cut apart in search of worthiness and digging deeper and deeper, chipping away at her very bone. What was left?
My soul, she thought, and clung to the that and her question to give her enough strength to take the next step, and the next, until finally she stood before them, trembling.
"Please," she began, because she could not imagine any way of addressing them that did not begin with supplication, and then, "Witnesses," and then, "I'm sorry. Please. I don't understand. Please tell me what I should do."
They opened their mouths.
"Whore! Harlot! You profane this place with your open mouth!"
She was on her knees, she was lying on the ground, her face pressed into the dirt.
"You come here with your head uncovered, as if we would not know your thoughts! It is not for you to speak of justice!" shouted one.
"You come here with your head uncovered, as if you think we would be too distracted to see your sin beneath! It is not for you to appeal past those above you!"
They were going to kill her, she was sure of it. Somehow their tirade was worse.
"God forgives what is repented! God forgives those who ask! You dare stand on the ground, you dare stand in the sun, you dare stand with your sin written across your breast! You are beneath the dust! Arrogant slut! You think to hold yourself apart?
She wasn't even sure what she was saying, just that it was a long string of begging, dirt and grit in her mouth as she tried to press herself lower against the ground, but they only shouted louder.
"It is not your place to ask! It is not your place to question! It is to obey! It is to repent! God forgives what man repents! You have written your sin across your breast, you have held it like a gift!"
"I didn't - I didn't - I didn't - " she begged, and one screamed, "Silence!"
"Peter denied he knew the Lord before man, Peter repented the sin he knew before the Lord. Peter was forgiven. You who would deny before the Lord High God? You who are worthless, you who are saved by his grace though you are undeserving, though you are lower than the dust, though you are below the dirt beneath our feet, you would deny it before the Most High?"
"The Lord is not willing that any should perish!"
"You would deny Him?"
"You would hold yourself above!"
"A wise man sins, a whore does not regret."
Could a soul be carved apart with the rest, sliced to ribbons in search of anything worthy? Pared down, piece by piece, until it was nothing?
"Slut! You ask of God with your mouth and refuse him with your heart! You profane the dirt with your touch!"
There was a burst of shouting somewhere off to the side behind her, then searing heat and screams of agony. Smoke filled her lungs. She couldn't breathe. She didn't dare move.
"I'm sorry I'm sorry please," she choked out, tears running down her face and mingling with the dirt, polluting it.
"Before the Lord God Himself you would lie! Harlot! Whore! You gloried in your wickedness, you held it up with pride, you hugged it to your slut's breast! You prostitute yourself with empty words, comport yourself like a modest queen! God knows the truth of your abominations and filth!"
"You dress yourself in the virgin's white, like it would hide from the Lord the red rot of your thighs? Who are you to question? Harlot! What had you to be taken? Who are you to speak of justice? Think you it is a crime to open a box with the seal already broken?"
"I'm a sinner I'm nothing I'm not deserving I know I'm a sinner I'm worthless," Adalia prayed with her face against the hot ground, ashamed of her voice of her hands remaining atop the pavement as hard as she pressed them down, ashamed the ground would not swallow her, ashamed she was alive, "I'm not righteous not good not deserving not worth anything a sinner forgive me please tell me what to do I'm so sorry I'm so sorry."
"What is repentance to a whore, what is regret? What says she but the basest flattery and lies?"
"I-" she begged.
"Do you declare yourself above the Most High? Would you spit in his face at his forgiveness, tell his servants you have declared your degradation righteousness? God loves the repentant sinner but you love the sin."
She was supposed to - she had to -
To hate -
"Whore! Harlot!" they shouted, condemnations bursting over her, scouring her like sandpaper, and she wanted it over, she wanted to know what to do, she wanted to be good enough, she wanted to live.
She could feel the sin soaking through her flesh and staining her bones and tainting her soul black and worthless, what held her there and justified their words and twisted everything in the world against her, corrupting everything she'd done and everything she wanted and every small spark of good and value in her - he -
She repented with her mouth.
She repented with her heart.
She stood, conscious of her frailty and the weakness of her flesh, her whole body shaking as if she stood in snow rather than the burning heat. The soft skin under her jaw itched and a thin ache lay across her stomach, and she wanted to wrap her arms over it, to curl up into a ball and shield herself from a blow. But there would be no blow. Only obliteration, or not. She stood trembling and wondered what it would be like. In those moments before becoming ash, she'd seen bodies contort and mouths open, even as their lungs filled with flame. It would hurt in those moments. It would hurt, and then hell would be worse, forever.
She just wanted it over.
She wanted to run. She wanted to burrow into the ground. She wanted to rush them and let them burn her to ash.
"It is not for you to speak of justice."
"It is not for you to question."
"It is for you to obey."
"It is for you to submit."
"God is just."
"God is just."
"God is just," she whispered.
"Look upon the enemy of the Lord."
She turned like a puppet. There were ashes on the sandy pavement, and a glint of yellow gold pooled near the edge. It might have been a necklace, or a bracelet. Or both, she'd seen people reaching up as they were consumed, falling down with hands and face melting together, or gold coins in his pocket, it could have been anything, could have been anyone, and she wanted to start laughing or screaming and would have if not for the grip of their orders, but they had not said speak, only stand, only look, and so she stood and they said,
And she walked there and bent down to pick it up. It had cooled somewhat in the time she had spent on her face but there was only so much something could cool under a hot sun and it burned her hand as she held it.
She turned jerkily and walked back to the silent crowd, the sun beating down on her neck and back hard enough to burn.
The crowd absorbed her, pressing against her sides but parting for her as she took step after step forward. When she reached the far edge the compulsion faded and she stopped so suddenly she almost fell. She realized Noah was standing there, terrified and near tears. He was still holding Adnah, his arms starting to tremble.
"Are you okay?" he whispered. "I - I saw fire."
"Somebody else. It was somebody else." He started to hand her Adnah. Without thinking she started to reach for him, then jerked her hands back in horror and screamed, "Don't let him touch me!" She stumbled backward, covering her mouth with dirt and ash coated fingers, then doubled over and threw up on the ground.
Chapter 5: Stupid
Wherein I update this story rather than those that had more votes. Sorry!
Wherein I update this story rather than those that had more votes. Sorry!
You should be able to read The Enigma of Amigara Fault online by googling the title. It's a short manga by the same author as Uzumaki. It'll be a(n admittedly minor) supporting character for a while in this story, so consider checking it out.
Keeping track of a timeline is not exactly a skill of mine, and I may make mistakes. If you notice anything that seems wrong, please mention it.
Four Months Ago
The goats had started shouting from the moment they saw her, Jessie standing with her front hooves against the fence while the babies tried to stick their heads through the gaps.
"Snack time," Adalia said brightly, passing out fallen apples. The babies struggled with them, rolling them about as they struggled to get their tiny mouths around the wide, smooth skin, but their mother crunched them up within a minute. The split cherry tomatoes were handled more equitably.
"How are they?" called Noah, coming over.
Noah peeked over the fence and watched Jessie crunch her way through an unripe pear. "You shouldn't put your hand in. What if you're bitten?"
"They're quite good natured, really."
"Tommy said the big goat bit him."
"People who live in glass houses shouldn't complain when someone throws stones back," Adalia said.
"What does that mean?"
"It means I said they were good natured, not that they forgave jerks." She scratched Jessie's head between the horns.
"Are you going to the library today?"
"Can I come? I'm bored."
She hesitated. "I guess it'll be okay. But no comic books." She adjusted Adnah and his sling.
"Yeah, I know."
Adalia picked up the now empty basket and headed back into the church with it. She climbed down the stairs to the storeroom, averting her eyes from the rifles standing in one corner.
"Zack copied one of the comics, you know," he told her as she collected the various baby bags. "With the scanner. Amigara Fault, that one. It's on his computer now."
"But he was so upset."
"I know," said Noah again.
"Do his parents know?"
"I think so. They've got three of the kids, though." They had been the only Indian couple at the church. "They don't see what's wrong with comics anyway."
"I don't see what's wrong with comics," Adalia said. "But that one...well, you were there, you remember."
They walked in silence until they reached the car. Noah slid into the front seat as she carefully buckled Adnah in.
"I guess it's good, if he's not scared of it any longer."
"I guess," Noah agreed.
They drove in silence for a while.
At the library, Noah hesitated. "I...Lord of the Rings is in the kid's section, right? And stuff."
There was the gulf of things neither of them wanted to mention. Adalia said, "Yeah. I'll look around there too." They walked down the stairs to the lower level, keeping their eyes to the ground.
Seventeen Months Ago
She'd been in the UN for almost a month before she saw the antichrist. She'd stopped in her tracks, breath freezing in her throat, wanting to run and too scared to move.
He was just a man, the antichrist, handsome in a friendly way halfway between a young politician and Hollywood actor. He had short blond hair trimmed just long enough to give the impression of softness, and his skin extruded a healthy glow. On TV he'd often seemed to be almost ringed in a faint golden halo, and Adalia was surprised to find it was present even without the cameras on.
And he stopped and smiled at her like the sun shining through parting clouds. "Adalia Gottfrey, wasn't it?"
"Yes, I, sir, secretary general," she stammered.
And it was funny. He didn't look at her like she was an idiot, which she was, stumbling over a handful of simple words. But it wasn't like he just hadn't noticed, either, the sort of person who says hello for appearances and even hear the response. He looked at her like - like it was good enough, like he understood she was flustered and hadn't been thinking and her train of thought had simply derailed under the strain of switching tracks so suddenly and that he knew exactly what she meant anyway.
And perhaps the strangest part of the whole thing, she confessed later, was that she hadn't wanted to confess to anything. "He's so incredibly nice," she said. "The sort of person you could tell anything to. And you know, the church and all, but I didn't feel guilty or anything."
The woman she was talking to was undoubtedly a much better woman than she was, because her response was the pious, "Well, of course. You're serving God, you don't have any reason to feel guilty."
Adalia realized what she'd almost been saying and backpeddled quickly, before God could drop a thunderbolt. "Oh, no, no no, I don't mean like that. Of course I'm not doing anything wrong. I mean, just feeling bad about not telling the truth. He's the sort of person who believes in you. It's like - you could make up anything and he'd believe it because he really trusts people." And Adalia, whose mind was not so nicely arranged for God, wondered if anyone, ever, had actually lied to him. She wouldn't have. "That's what I meant."
The woman nodded slowly. "But you didn't feel bad."
"Yeah. I felt like...like it was okay, that he wouldn't have minded if he knew, or that I was keeping secrets."
"God was protecting you," the woman said and smiled.
"You think so?"
"Of course. Satan hates Christians. If he'd known you were a Christian, a real Christian, he'd have fired you on the spot."
"Oh," Adalia said, and she realized she hadn't even been thinking about this. "Right."
It hadn't been the only stupid thing she'd done, either. A few days later, when the final preparations for the move were taking place, she'd asked, "How long will we be living in the new church?"
The pastor had shrugged. "It'll depend on how many people we can spare to move things, if there's any trouble getting the housing deeds for some of the buildings, if the neighbors are paying too much attention... It's in God's hands."
"Only I'm supposed to inform the GC of any change in my address unless it's temporary..."
He'd looked at her like she was five years old and an idiot for the age at that. She stared back, running back what she'd just said and trying to figure out what she'd done wrong.
Finally he'd said, "We don't want him to know where we live."
And then later, when she was alone, she thought, But there are lots of churches, the only reason he'd know they were anything different was if the people were acting different, like being scared of saying where they lived, like all of a sudden finding that the mail wasn't delivered any longer. And that was another stupid idea, one she was at least smart enough to keep to herself and not get another crushing look, like they couldn't believe how anyone would even consider it. People were already whispering now that maybe the pastor should send someone else, because she was too weak-willed for the job.
And it was true she didn't hate the man. It was true she thought. (It was true the pastor hadn't said anything more.)
And, really, how could you argue, how could you know? How could you be sure, really, if you were right, if you were a fool, if the words you spoke now had slithered through your ears into your head to be mistaken for your own thoughts as they bounced against your skull?
They were protected, except when they weren't. God was with them, except when he wasn't. They were immune to the devil's voice, except when deceived.
In her dream, there was an angel before her, made up of a soft smoky grey like it had been colored lightly by pencil and lacking features, a solid stick-figure with long arms and legs far taller than she. It was answering every question she asked of it in a kind voice that was parent and friend at once.
It was odd that it was answering questions, because it had told her it was named Watcher, and she wondered which that meant, protector or onlooker, but it said it meant Gregory.
"Are we safe?" she asked desperately. "Are we saved?"
She thought it told her many things, but all she remembered was, Yes, and, Don't be afraid, and, All that has ever mattered is instants and eternity. Once given, it can never be taken.
Chapter 6: Assuming
So hey guys, I'm doing NaNo again. See if you can tell from the chapter!
So hey guys, I'm doing NaNo again. See if you can tell from the chapter!
Adalia's comments on appropriateness are not especially accurate. If you're not paying attention at the time, it's amazing how scattered your recollection can be.
Sixteen Months Ago:
Two of the boys were snickering at the desk across the aisle. She glanced over. "What is it?"
The taller of the two grinned at her. "Didja hear about the new church thing the U - the GC's planning?"
"The multiple religions thing?"
"Multi-faith, you might say," he said. "In fact, they're going to get called that. Multi-faith churches. God, I wish I knew who managed that."
"The name. Multi-faith churches, MF churches for short. Get it?"
"Ha ha," Adalia said flatly after a second. "Doesn't your pastor say swearing's wrong?"
"Well, it's not like we're saying anything. Or even that they're saying anything."
"About their MFing churches," the other boy said, sniggering.
Adalia rolled her eyes.
Seventeen Months Ago:
"Ye-eah," crooned a voice. There was a silent beat.
"I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah," a woman's voice chanted. "I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah. I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah."
"He's coming," said another voice, just on the edge of hearing.
"I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah."
"The king is coming." The voice was louder.
"I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah."
"He's preparing his church!" shouted a man's voice.
The woman's voice was gathering speed. "I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah. I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah."
"He strikes the nations!"
"I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah. I can hear the rhythm of the lion of the tribe of Judah." Suddenly the tone shifted, turned into something closer to real lyrics: "And he's doing a new thing. So we're singing a new song. Because he's doing a new thing. So we're singing a new song. Because he's doing a new thing. So we're singing a new song. Because he's doing a new thing. So we're singing a new song."
Her voice rose. "He's not a baby in a manger anymore. He's not a broken man on a cross. He didn't stay in the grave and he's not staying in heaven forever. He's not a baby in a manger anymore. He's not a broken man on a cross. He didn't stay in the grave and he's not staying in heaven forever.
"Cause he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive -
"People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming," she chanted. Her voice slowed and deepened. "I can hear the rhythm of the lion of Judah. I can hear the rhythm of the lion of Judah. I can hear the rhythm of the lion of Judah. I can hear the rhythm of the lion of Judah. I can hear the rhythm of the lion of Judah. I can hear the rhythm of the lion -" Her voice picked up sharply. "Oh, he's said, he said, I was silent, like a lamb I was silent, but in my silence you thought that I was altogether like you. And I was silent like a lamb, silent like a lamb, and I've been praying, for two thousand years, I've been asking my father for the nations for two thousand years, I've been making intercession, I've been pleading and praying and praying -
"And in my silence you said no he's dead, he's gone, he's not there." And there was a second of silence. Then the singer's voice returned, starting at a whisper:" But know this first, in the latter days, in the latter days, in the latter days, scoffers will come." Another beat. The voice picked up. "Cause I'm about to sha-are - People get ready, Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. And he's doing a new thing. So we're singing a new song. Because he's doing a new thing. So we're singing a new song. Because he's doing a new thing. So we're singing a new song. Because he's doing a new thing. So we're singing a new song: He's not a baby in a manger anymore. He's not a broken man on a cross. He didn't stay in the grave and he's not staying in heaven forever. He's not a baby in a manger anymore. He's not a broken man on a cross. He didn't stay in the grave and he's not staying in heaven forever. Cause he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive, he's alive -
"Yeah. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming." The rhythm changed again. "There are - People walking round with their fingers in their ears, singing daladadadum, I don't want to hear the sound, of the coming king. And there are people walking round with their fingers in their ears, singing daladadadum, I don't want to hear the sound, of the coming king. Oh." The song sped up again. "Are you ready are you ready for this? Are you ready are you ready for this? Are you ready are you ready for this? Are you ready are you ready for this? Are you ready are you ready for this? Are you ready are you ready for this? Are you ready are you ready for this? Are you ready are you ready?Are you ready are you ready?" It slowed slightly, became more forceful again. "People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. People get ready. Jesus is coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming. He's coming .He's coming. Are you ready are you ready are you ready oh god," the singer wailed, "Come make us ready come make us ready come make us ready come make us ready come make us ready come make us ready."
Adalia's shoulders shook. She had covered her face with her hands, overwhelmed with a sense of misery and horror.
"Are you okay? Adalia?" Noah asked.
When she looked up through tears to see the concerned faces, she found herself surprised to find them whole, free of blood and mutilation, with looks of worry rather than agony. "I'm sorry. It must have reminded me of something." She smiled sheepishly, and wiped at her face. The feeling was gone, leaving only a lingering anticipatory anxiety, like she was certain that, eventually, something terrible would jump out at her.
A few days later, Noah said, "They say you get upset because you've got the devil in you." But next Sunday, when the service ended and they went downstairs for coffee and snacks, Maryanne had started to sob uncontrollably at the sight of a plate of chocolate chip cookies.
"My daughter," she had babbled through tears, "My daughter I loved her I love her I had to I had to," but she didn't have any children, and when they could get her to calm down she couldn't explain. It was like she'd woken from a dream, and the details fell away but she still had the transcendent force of the feelings left behind.
And in the whispered speculation of if the woman had an abortion or had given up her baby, Adalia was quite forgotten.
"Um..." Micky tugged at Adalia's sleeve a the library doors slid open. "Where's the children's section?" he whispered, looking anxious and timid.
"It's downstairs. But aren't you about thirteen?"
"Almost is good enough. Why don't you come with us to the young adult section? They have manga."
He looked torn. "Maybe the next time," he said finally.
"Suit yourself." She pointed at the far stair. "The door's right at the bottom. I'll be over there -" She pointed across the room. "- by the manga if you need me, otherwise I'll come get you when it's time to go, okay?"
He nodded and started off for the stairs, while she led the rest of the kids to the comics section. She glanced back as they settled in and saw Micky at the top of the stairs, rail clutched tightly as he took slow, deliberate steps down.
The rest of the group had descended on the wall of comics like a horde of unusually careful locust, trying to paw through the layered mass of trades while treating each one as if it were made of tissue paper.
One girl managed to extract a collection with Teen Titans written boldly across the top and a cover far too busy to make out anything more. She settled down on the floor and began to carefully turn pages. Her expression became perplexed.
Adalia knelt down on the floor to get to the manga, the smaller, chubbier volumes neatly lined up on the bottom shelf.
"But why's Starfire an adult?" the girl complained. "When did her planet blow up? Why's she wearing that?"
"The comics don't have much in common with the show," Adalia said, looking back to her. The girl looked disappointed, and Adalia glanced over the comics wall. She almost grabbed the first Fables collection, then remembered Prince Charming, hesitated, and snagged the first Planetary instead, which she couldn't remember having any sex in. "Here, try this one." It was hard to know what was appropriate. She'd have let Noah read it, but with someone else's kid she wasn't so sure.
Another girl was still standing there, looking overwhelmed. Adalia offered her a Wonder Woman book.
"What's it about?" the girl asked.
"She fights a gorgon."
"Oh." From her expression this hadn't cleared things up, but she started reading.
The rest of them had found things on their own. Adalia's eyes flicked across the titles and she was just in time to yank Empire out of one boy's hands as he started to open it up.
"Don't read this."
"It's not appropriate for you. Anyone. Sorry, but you really don't want to see the first page."
"But...but then if you've read it..."
"She's an adult, duh."
Adalia shook her head. "I wish I hadn't read it. The first page has people being tortured to death, torn apart. And the rest of it, it gets worse than that." The children were staring at her with perfect attention, and she shut up and put the comic book on top of the shelves and out of their reach.
"M- Mom said libraries were full of immorality," said one of the girls, looking more awed by the confirmation than anything.
Adalia sighed. She really hadn't intended it like this. "Libraries have everything, that's all. It's not such a big deal with books. Comics are newer and everyone's still working things out with them."
The children were looking at the comics with new apprehension. "Are there others like that?"
She shook her head. "I've never run into another one like that. Look, if you look at the cover, a lot of them have an age rating. If it says eighteen and up or has a big M on it, you might want to avoid it or ask me or something."
"Mine says thirteen and up. I'm not thirteen, I'm twelve."
"That's fine, ratings are kind of inflated sometimes," Adalia said. "Anyway, remember that we have to get back in an hour, and don't get more than a handful of books each."
Eighteen Months Ago:
The children had new names.
They were born again, Matthews had said. It was the start of a new life. They should dedicate themselves to God with a biblical name.
Adalia had begged off. Noah was already biblical, she'd said, and Matthews had accepted that and said nothing more.
Mostly, the other kids had gone along with it. One girl, though, had not been in the mood to do anything. Her face was flushed and irritable. "My mom said I don't have to do anything you say if I don't want to!" she'd shouted at him suddenly. "My mom said - my mom -" Her voice rises to an unintelligible wail of misery, and she's hustled away by one of the other women.
Noah said she'd ended up picking Ruth, which the pastor hadn't been pleased with, maybe because it was close to her old name, Rebecca. "She said it wasn't that, it was their favorite bible story. So it's okay because she didn't mean to be challenging him that time."
"She wasn't challenging Matthews at all," Adalia corrected. "People just get upset sometimes, and they need to be left alone to calm down. You do," she added pointedly.
"Everybody does, Noah, now and then. It's normal. Little kids do it constantly, adults get better at keeping themselves under control. When you get older, you learn to realize when you should disengage and cool off, and other people learn to let you. It's an easy mistake to make with a bunch of kids, because you probably aren't paying attention to all of them, and often they can't just walk off and calm down. But it's not any kid's fault. Especially right now, I mean..." She trailed off, because it was hard to speak of any one person's loss without being reminded of their own. She spent a lot of time not thinking about it. "And some people deal with things in different ways. Some people get sad, and some people get angry."
Noah mulled over this. "But she said she didn't have to obey Matthews, because her mo-mother said so."
"Well, you don't have to obey the pastor either," Adalia said.
"Oh, come on, Noah. It's not like the poor girl's mother was talking about Matthews in particular. Mom told you the same thing, that you don't have to do what any adult tells you just because they're an adult. She only said Matthews because he'd been the one there when she got upset telling her to do something."
Adalia thought that was the end of it. A few days later, when she came to pick up Noah from Children's Bible Study, the girl was outside the room by the door. The woman standing over her slapped her, the sound ringing down the corridor. "I don't want to ever hear you talk about what your mother said," she hissed furiously. "Your mother's dead and if you don't behave you'll go to hell too. Is that what you want?"
The girl was shaking her head back and forth frantically, crying.
She wasn't Adalia's daughter. Adalia didn't have any authority over her. And standing there, Adalia thought, she wasn't the woman's daughter either. Her mother was dead. She wasn't anyone's daughter.
"Good." The woman grabbed her by the arm and dragged her down the corridor, past where Adalia stood and up the stairs.