A crowd-sourced novel you can participate in writing.
I opened my eyes.
This doesn’t sound like an unusual thing. It is something people do all the time, every day. The thing is, the last thing I remembered was not going to sleep. It was not even being in bed. The last thing I remembered was sitting next to my wife in her 1992 Chevy Cavalier. It was the night before my 22nd birthday. We had just had a big fight, and we were driving around to try and calm down and work things out before going home.
And then I opened my eyes.
It had been near midnight, and now it was daytime. Morning, I guessed, mid morning. I felt pretty good. Even my back felt good. But, I didn’t know where I was.
I sat up. I was in a room. It was clean, and bright. And, well, old. Not that it was old now, but that the design was old. There was modern equipment in the room, so I had to be in an upscale hospital of some kind. I wracked my brain desperately to try and figure out what had happened, where Tawny was.
A nurse came in, and I turned towards her. My eyes slid off of her… him?… like they were an out of focus movie. Like I was looking through a window covered in grease.
“Hello, Jeremy,” they said, “How are you feeling?”
“Woozy. Confused. Out of it. What happened?” I asked.
“You will be told everything in time. You are safe and healthy.”
“Where am I?”
“This place is called Resurrectorium 1920.”
“Resurrectorium?” I didn’t recognize the word itself, but I got the general meaning. “Am I dead?”
The nurse smiled. I still couldn’t tell if they were male or female. I didn’t really know if it mattered. “You were. You’ve been resurrected. The world as you knew it ended and was remade.”
“Where is my wife? Where is Tawny Christophson?” I demanded.
The nurse shifted, seeming a bit uncomfortable for a moment. “We can talk about that later. For now, just rest. Coming back is stressful. If you need anything, just pick up the phone.” They motioned to the antique phone on the table next to my bed. I had noticed neither before.
Entry 2: Belle gains understanding of her purpose
What I am and what I am meant to do are still not completely clear; there is so much I need to learn and know! It seems daunting, actually. These bits and pieces of knowledge that I understand need to be mine, they float around like bits of paper in the wind. One of the others tells me that is a simile. There is so, so much I do not understand.
I am told that I should record the thoughts and happenings in my existence here. The point is clear: recording these things will help me understand what God intends for me and, I’ve just found out, the other beings in my care. Or in my case, one being.
To be clear, here is what I know:
I am Zoe, a creation of God. Well, we are all creations of God, but for some reason I and the other Zoes are guardians of other creations, the Bios. We are commanded by Him to oversee and help the Bios, and because of this, we have been given capabilities that the Bios do not have. We can go from one place to another more quickly than they, we hear them when they think, we have more understanding of their existence and purpose than they do but are not permitted to come right out and tell them.
This puzzles me. If I’m supposed to help my Bios, then I should be able to give them all the history and information they need to become Zoes themselves. But He has declared that I withhold the totality of what I know. Since He knows all things, and since I don’t know all things, and since He is the Father and I am beloved of him, withholding knowledge from my Bios is what I’ll do. But I continue to be puzzled.
There are other Zoes and we are the same yet different. Some of us know what it is to be Bios, some of us don’t remember, and some of us never knew. Like me. I never knew what it was to live and breathe, to walk on the old Earth, to not know why I existed and what I was.
I do know, however, what my purpose is now. I am to guide and help a Bios that I’ve been assigned to. She, her name is Sarah, was/is someone special to me, and I’m to help her become as I am.
I have absolutely no idea how to do it.
The other Zoes, for the most part, are in the same predicament as I am. We are given to understand, however, that we will be given information—orders, as it were—about how to proceed. In the meantime, we wait for our Bios assignments, wait for the Bios themselves to come into being here.
I am standing in the Resurrectorium, in a room, near a bed. God gave me the understanding that very shortly a Bios will appear, a being that I have some connection to and who I’m supposed to help. I’m finding that my ignorance of how to do this is, well, irritating…I don’t know what God had in mind. I’m also told that when I need to know, I’ll be told.
Impatience. That’s what I’m feeling. God tells me that’s one of the qualities He loves in me; He says it’s curiosity that outruns itself.
My bios is waking up. She is a female, and I find myself wanting to both hold her in my arms and be held by her. I feel love for her, different somehow than the love I have for God. I have love for all, but this is different and it puzzles me.
Those above me, the angels, have taught me carefully about the Bios and the way they think. Their emotions are simple yet complicated; they have six different types of love, although they seem to confuse them. They feel guilty at their transgressions, yet sometimes don’t know it or feel guilty at feeling guilty. There are some who hide their feelings behind pretended joy, behind jokes. I’m still trying to get what a joke is. The angels talked of sarcasm, saying one thing but feeling the opposite, as a kind of joke.
Then there is hate. I do understand hate; the archangels themselves came to explain hate, since it is a part of evil. I understand it, as I do the presence of evil on the Earth that was, but wonder why it still exists. The angels say evil still exists because the Bios can’t seem to let go of it.
I’m pondering the complexity and tones of emotions that Bios can have when my Bios begins to stir.
I call her name with my voice, which I use very seldom. She wakes, and attempts sarcasm; it falls on me and melts instantly away. The angel who gives us our Bios puts in my conscious what my Bios, Sarai, did to cause her earthly body to die.
This I truly do not understand. Sarai, or she actually wants to be called Sarah, sought to give her life away without thought. No, she did think and decided she no longer wanted life. Our Lord and Father gives life and takes it away; Sarah removed herself from life, she threw away His gift.
There are other things that puzzle me, things I want to know but are hidden from me. I’ve asked why I do not know all, and the angels tell me it is God who knows all, not me. Not them, or the archangels, the principalities, the seraphim, the cherubim, or any of the other beings above me.
Sarah is waking. I must care for her and make sure she begins her learning, her journey into what God wants of her.
Sarah is a weak and troubled creature. Her corporal being is like a prison and it demands care, demands it quite selfishly. She must move slowly and needs to fuel her physical being freqently; it becomes tired, and she must rest it. She is a strange entity, full of contradictions.
Full of pain. It surrounds her like smoke. She doesn’t seem aware of it, even though it drives her to move and act in a way that’s doesn’t seem good for her. I realize that she doesn’t know God’s love and that His grace would make the smoke disappear, make the true parts of her shine. I also know she wouldn’t believe me about it if I tried to tell her, at least now.
I give her covering for her body, as she seems to find it uncomfortable to be as I am. She asks so many questions both with her mouth and her soul. I give her a sip of the Waters of Knowledge, which seems to strengthen her. I attempt a joke, using words I find in her thoughts, something about a television show. Her heart eases a little, and I am glad.
We walk toward the place where she will stay, where she will feed and rest in her weakness. She seems to know that her strength is little now, saying that her value is, therefore, little and that she has little significance. I try to reassure her, telling her that her value is great and that she is loved, as I am, by God. There is joy in me as I tell her, a joy I feel when in His Presence.
This message of God’s love for her makes her react in a truly strange way. A wave of fear, of trepidation, comes off her and causes me to become discouraged. Love. She doesn’t understand the true nature of His love. It is simple to me but to her it is a frightening mystery. Something seems to nudge her, to push her away from the mystery I am trying to solve with her.
Her pain is becoming my pain, and I am becoming discouraged. My words to her ears don’t seem to carry the message of God, at least she doesn’t seem to hear. The voice of Our Lord whispers to me, telling me to use a different sense to reach Sarah. A different sense: I am confused.
She is thinking as we walk about our surroundings, how it reminds her of the world she left but is obviously not the same. I want her to feel God’s love, know it is essential, but I don’t think her eyes will open until they are filled with the tears she hasn’t let herself shed.
Day 98: Sarah Finds Truth and Someone Else Who She Had Been Missing
I know Belle is around; I see flashes of her out of the corner of my eye. It’s comforting, knowing she’s somewhere near but discomforting that she hasn’t come face to face with me. Puzzling.
The last almost month has whizzed by, punctuated by casually running into Guy here and there. No, nothing casual about it. We know each other’s routines and deliberately place ourselves to “casually” be in the same place at the same time.
At first I looked forward to these encounters like an addict looks forward to his next fix. Yeah, that’s it. Seeing Guy was an addiction, gave me a jolt of happiness. No, the happiness was the addiction and Guy was the trigger.
I decided that the negative connotations associated with addiction and applied to my friendship with Guy are complete bullshit. One doesn’t become addicted to something essential to one’s health and well-being, like breathing. I came to accept that Guy was part of my existence here and knew that I was part of his.
My daily routine hasn’t changed much; I walk Ed and Beabea in the morning, go to work at the florist, meet Guy for lunch most days, then go home and do some freelance secretarial work or maybe some editing or writing. I walk the dogs again in the evening and usually run into Guy again, well, at least sometimes. We have a quick dinner somewhere, he walks me home, then I read until the wee hours and the cycle begins again. It’s not boring, not really. It’s a comfort knowing just what will happen and when, at least within reason.
Neither of us has made any declarations of love or some other attachment; we don’t need to. It is what it is. I know he likes my company, he knows I like his. We occasionally hold hands or he puts his arm around me while we sit and read or listen to the musicians who pop up here and there around town. Oh, there’s the occasional hug and bumping against each other when we laugh at something, but the agonizing sexuality is absent, the shame of giving myself physically in order to feel wanted.
It’s all casual and easy, no despair or driving need to be something or be somewhere. I do occasionally feel a niggle at the back of my brain that something is missing or should be different, but for some reason it’s always shrouded in fog, closed away from view behind a mental door.
Frankly, I don’t want to open that door. Oh, I can see Guy on the sidewalk, turning the corner with Justice lumbering along by his side. Must be time for evening walkies.
Well, that was awkward. We walked our hounds around the park as usual but Guy was incredibly silent. OK, he doesn’t chatter away normally, but tonight he was markedly quiet. I tried to fill in the silence with non-essentials at first; it was obvious that I was talking to air so I stopped talking entirely. We walked in silence to the drugstore for our traditional evening burger.
He didn’t finish his and instead fed it to his Newfie. What I could eat of my cheeseburger sat in my stomach daring me to digest it. Even the dogs were jumpy; they must have read our body language, and it confused them.
Again in silence he walked me home, Beabea dancing round Justice and Ed. Nothing stops that little goofball.
At my door, Guy took my hand and looked into my face; the sadness or maybe it was longing poured out of him and washed over me.
“Something is coming, Sarah. I don’t understand it, I don’t know what it is, but something is going to grab us and throw us on the ground, make everything hurt.”
I was really frightened, not so much at what was coming but at how profoundly it was affecting him. He patted my hand, then touched my cheek, telling me just how important I was in his life. He said that the change would turn both of us completely around.
I don’t want this to change. I don’t want any change, I just want to go along peacefully, seeing him and walking my dogs.
After he left, the dogs and went inside feeling tired in body and soul. Beabea and Ed found their accustomed sleeping spots, turned around a couple of times and then laid themselves down. Again, I wish I could get some alcohol to numb my brain. Well, anyway, all good things must come to an end sometime, even here after resurrection. Immediately following my morose musings, Belle suddenly appeared right in front of me, not at the corner of my eye.
“How are you feeling right now, Sarah?”
“Confused, sad. I’ve missed you.”
“I’ve missed you. I have something to tell you.”
She went on, saying that she had been watching over me but that she was troubled about our connection, so she stayed away. Something was hanging over her and me, for that matter. It felt almost like a thunderstorm in the distance, threatening but not definite. Frightening.
“Who are you, Sarah? Do you feel loved?”
“By who? Sure, I feel loved.” It suddenly hit me in the gut; I am loved. My dogs love me, as much as dogs can, and I am pretty sure Guy loves me. Loves me in a solid, comfortable, unthreatening way just as I love him.
I love him. I can actually write that and believe in it. I’m literally inundated with the streaming of love around me, and that concept astounds me.
“Who am I, Sarah?” She is sadder than I’ve ever seen her be. I tell her that she’s a Zoe, my guardian Zoe, and that I value her.
“Do you? Do you really, Sarah?”
“Yes, of course I do. I’ve missed you these past few months, truly I have.”
“I’m not who you think I am, Sarah,” she said to me. “I was/am someone you knew in the old world.”
I sat down heavily on my bed. I knew she was familiar but thought it was simply the familiarity of a Bios for a Zoe, totally normal, if you can call our roles in the Hereafter as normal.
“Who, Belle? Who are you?” I suddenly thought that maybe she was my mother, but in my heart knew that couldn’t be. I knew she was someone important; her importance was real but I didn’t know exactly what it was. It felt like something was ripping that beautiful cloak of love away, exposing me to the burning sun without any protection.
I’d never seen a Zoe weep, but tears came down her cheeks with a whisper of aching sadness. Her eyes seemed to get huge, slicked with tears, familiar in a way.
“You would have called me Ruthie.”
The heat of my fear evaporated; cold water flooded me, washed over me. The air stopped in my lungs, my feet and hands went numb. I thought I was passing out; my heart beat hard a couple of times and then seemed to stop.
The world stopped. Time stopped. All was nothingness, and the door in my soul flew open, splintered and disappeared in smoke.
A baby’s smell, warm, sweet, mixed with the copper tang of blood. The empty impression of something in my arms that wasn’t there. A gaping hole I’d hidden away that now demanded to be noticed. The sorrow all came back, running over me, pushing me to the floor.
My daughter whose face I never saw and whose breath I never felt on my cheek. Ruthie. After a while I had begun to doubt that she had ever existed and I denied ever being pregnant, finally believing it myself, at least consciously. A dead child does that when you don’t want to remember, can’t let yourself remember. A part of you becomes unavailable and you forget it ever existed in order to keep your sanity. Or at least that’s what I’d done until that minute.
Belle put her hand on my shoulder, and it seemed solid. A sharp shred of electricity shot from my shoulder to my heart, made my head detach. I could see that her hand was like mine, her eyes the same color as mine.
“Please talk to me, Sarah.” She tried to help me to my feet, but my legs wouldn’t work.
Decades of loss and pain stopped my mouth from words. My insides felt ripped out, but I had to pull something out and say it.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. So sorry.” The last word seemed to echo in the room and return to pound into my head.
“God has forgiven you, Sarah. He knows that you thought you were following the only course you could think of. He is sad that it came to this, but He understands.”
“But do you forgive me, Belle?” In the selfish ignorance of my youth I did something that poisoned me for the rest of my life. I knew it, she knew it, and of course He knew it. I was a murderer, had taken her life before birth because I was selfish.
“I will when you do.”
I know it will be an eternity before I forgive myself.
As I sit my front porch, I can hear my neighbor Ralph mowing his lawn, the slice of the blades rotating across the bar, scrish scrish scrish scrish scrish scrish as he pushes the mower forward, stopping now and again to empty the basket. The smell of fresh cut grass is sweet. I look down the street. Not many lawns. Most of us, Bios and Zoës alike, garden our little footholds on the Earth. I raise flowers in mine, a memorial to Wayne in a way. I took some bulbs and cuttings from his place to remember him by.
I have a job to do and I am not sure where to begin, so I sit on my porch gathering my thoughts and energies, listening to Ralph, who just arrived a few years ago. It’s early summer. The breeze is warm, southerly. A boy bicycles an ice cream cart, bells attached so they ring as boy and cart bounce down my street. Finding no customers, he turns at the corner, passing the letter carrier on her way up my street. Today is a delicious day. Much better to sit on my porch and ponder than scour back issues at the The 1920 Sentinel or records in the basement of the Resurrectorium or the New Harmony town Hall, or search for records in what’s left of New Chennai.
It’s the clouds, puffy and white with flat bottoms, floating above the front warming Region 1920, that bring me back to why I’m here. The clouds remind me that there are no contrails in the sky. The silent flying machines of Region 2021 leave no trails in the sky, and they rarely visit here. This isn’t my front porch on Broad Street. This isn’t the home I shared with Reese, the one where we lived out our old age until I died, crushing him so badly he carried the pain into his resurrection. This home, our home, isn’t in the same world, if by world you take its meaning as the societies and institutions of human of life. That world was swept away.
Things have settled down now in Region 1920, and the Lord has asked me to look into the Rebellion. They never called it that. They thought they were revolutionaries in the best sense of the word, but rebellion is what it was. A coupe by any other name, you see. I’ve been trying to figure out where to begin. I could begin with Reese, I suppose, but that’s tricky because Reese is mine and I’m his. It’ll be hard to untangle that knot. But when it started, we were separated by the fact the Lord had told me not to reveal to Reese who I was. I see now why he ordered that. I didn’t at the time.
I’m having a hard time moving forward with this. It involves exposing a lot of personal feelings — not only mine but everyone involved in the rebellion, maybe even some who weren’t, just to give a full picture of things at the time. There are things that we recall in pieces that we experience as a whole, but sometimes the only way to know them is to look at the pieces. The device 2021 gave me, a sort of tablet, means I really don’t need to go into the basement of the Resurrectorium. The tablet holds all the individual journals and court documents of the time. But I’ll probably spend a lot of time down there, handling the papers instead of pulling things up on this tiny screen. Maybe that’s why I belong in Region 1920. One thing this device can give me that isn’t in the basement is access to some of Jesus’ own observations at the time. I’d love to know how they pulled that one off. It makes the other tech they have seem puny.
Since I’ve been charged with this task, I ought to start with a bit about myself, Helen Amber. I’m Zoë — immortal by the grace of God. Reese was resurrected with the same Bios life he had before he died, and he didn’t recognize me when he woke up. That’s where I think I’ll begin. I’ll include a few other First Day journals because it will give me some perspective on Reese’s resurrection. As for others, Asher’s part in the Rebellion really only took off after Casiel unmade Reese. Wayne came into the picture earlier, but his direction changed —always interesting when compiling a history. And dear Zelda. When I think of her, I sometimes think who the Lord resurrects as Zoë, and who as Bios, is as much strategic as it is how they lived in the world that was.
Not everyone who lives through a revolution is part of the revolution. Some people, like Sarah, live on the sidelines of current events, swept up in more important matters, like love and loss, joy and pain. As an anchor, if you will, a footing in timeless human nature, I think I should include journals from Sarah, and maybe her Zoë Belle. Then there’s Sam, whose son chose to be resurrected with Down’s Syndrome. Sam and his stable kept coming into the picture.
“Start anywhere,” Jesus said when he handed this assignment to me. “It’s your story, not mine.” But he was part of it, all through it in a way since this world is his. It’s like a puzzle I’ve been told to solve. A four hundred year old puzzle.
On the next block I hear Sarah’s dogs barking. She’s come home from the florist where she works. Reese will be home from the Sentinel soon. For the next few months, I’ll be deep into the past, but I think at last I know how to proceed. I’m going to prepare supper. It’s been months since Reese and I ate a meal, and I feel like celebrating.
I don’t want to be here, dammit. The longer I’m here – and I’ve been here a long time – the more I think it’s some kind of hellish afterlife where you pay for your sins by losing everything you thought you wanted, everyone you loved.
I was told this was the great resurrection, when everybody was made whole and no sickness or sadness could persist, and death would have no dominion. Really? That’s not what I’m seeing.
— You’re trying too hard to control it, Joe said. He was sitting in the sunny windowsill of the place I’m trying not to consider my cell. Even if it doesn’t look like a prison, I know I’m in one. –Let go and let the change come.
— I don’t want to wait, dammit. I have a life to get back to. I have clients who need to see me. How the hell am I gonna pay off the mortgage on my condo? What about the lease payments on my car?
–You see anybody around here driving a car? Joe asked. He was chewing on a toothpick, moving it easily from one side of his mouth to the other.
— Not the point, I said. This was my condo, my car, my life. Besides, everything around here seems to be going to you-know-where in a hand basket.
— Lemme show you something. Joe hopped off the windowsill.
–Something like what? I asked. We walked down the road for a while before Joe answered.
— What’s the most important thing to you? he said. Before you died and ended up here. What did you hold the most precious? Now, I want you to think about this, Asher. Joe stopped in front of me so I could see every wrinkle in his old-man face, the hard twinkle of his pale blue eyes.
I didn’t have to think. I already knew. But I didn’t want to tell Joe. It would be embarrassing. He might even laugh at me.
We passed a field of people working, tilling the soil, planting crops or whatever. I don’t know from agriculture. They seemed to be enjoying themselves, although how anybody could enjoy standing out in the hot sun for hours on end, I don’t know. Beats me. Joe stopped in front of the fence separating the field from the road.
— See anybody you know? he asked.
I scanned the little group of people. There was nobody I knew, just two older women busy scraping the ground with hoes, and four young men down on their hands and knees, widening a hole that they’d probably use for planting a tree. They worked quietly, talking to each other now and then in low voices. One of the young men sat back on his heels and took off the straw hat he was wearing against the sun’s head, and fanned himself with it. He gazed at Joe and me, seemingly without interest, until he lurched to his feet and ran to where we were. He’d tossed his hat away and his dark blond hair caught the wind. I knew he would have blue eyes. He would have blue eyes as clear as a prairie sky. I knew he would.
Jamie. I’d just about given up all hope of ever seeing him again.
— Asher. He was panting, out of breath. He bent over and put his hands on his knees.
— In the flesh, kid. I tried hard to sound cheerful. I tried hard not to sound clutching or desperate, while inside I was screaming his name over and over JAMIEJAMIEJAMIEJAMIEJAMIE!
— I’ve been looking for you. He glanced at Joe, then shot a questioning look at me.
— It’s okay, I said. He’s safe.
— Ash. In one fluid movement, he jumped the fence. Oh my God, Ash.
He opened his arms and I went into them.
Resurrectorium 1920-η: Michael Leete Director: Transcript of Interview of Bios Rose Warner by Zoë Michael. Two months post-tornado.
Bios R: “Not again. Not again! God! Not again!” That was all that I could think of when I saw it coming. The last one I saw killed my whole family. Don’t you see? Everybody gone but me. Everything gone. My house, my mom. My little sister just home after being born. I never had a dad. No brothers and sisters but for Betsy. No pets. Mom was allergic. Just the three of us, and I was fine with that. But that tornado took everything. I was in the third grade and my life was never the same.
So when I saw this tornado coming my way I thought “God, how could you? This is supposed to be your Kingdom. How dare you!” Strike me down if you want to, but God in Heaven, you can’t do that to me again.
Zoë M: Did you have so little faith that you feared God would let your family die again?
Bios R: Why not? Why shouldn’t I doubt Him? I was standing there and I saw it, just like when I was a child. I remember that day. It’s..let me see…four hundred and thirty years ago, I think. I’ve been here a while. But I remember. I was ten. But like everyone says, it could’a been yesterday. I sat at my school desk lookin’ out the window as the sky turns gray, then dark blue, then green streaks start showing between the clouds when the lightning lit ’em up, then the sky went black outside.
But the school people, they didn’t know what was coming and let the school out. Trees big around as a summer sausage flopping back and forth like they was weeds. Shingles blowin’ in the air. The bleachers blew over. Little girl standin’ next to me was blowed over and rolled down the sidewalk. I grabbed a sign post. Hand over hand I walked myself down to the ground and lay flat and prayed “Please, God, don’t let this tornado hurt Mommy. Don’t let it hurt my baby sister.” So when I looked up for my deliverance instead of God or an angel that devil tornado came roaring across the farm fields, pelting me with stinging dirt, blowing so I could barely see. Ice cold rain. Big branches knocked down. And it kept getting closer and closer and closer. And I prayed that he take me instead of them. But he took them. He took ’em. And I never prayed again.
I remember when I woke up in that resurrectorium and they said God brought me back to life, and I thought, “Why’d he do that?” I didn’t want anything from him anymore, not since I was ten.
Then he comes and brings another tornado and I thought, “He’s going to take everything away again.”
Zoë M: And did He?
Bios R: Did he what?
Zoë M: Take everything?
Bios R: Yes! My home is gone. My flower shop, gone. All the things I owned in this world, gone. Flattened or blown away. I had photos of my old friends who passed on, became Zoës. They’re not coming back here, are they? So now I got nothin’ to remember ’em by.
Zoë M: What about Slim? He’s back. And Karlie. She’s back. Even your dog Smidge is back. So, the man you love, your daughter, and your dog, all returned to life.
Bios R: But not right away. I waited weeks for Slim, almost two months for Karlie. God help me, I love little Smidge, but you brought her back first.
Zoë M: But they’re all back.
Bios R: But why’d they suffer? Why were they killed in a tornado if that’s not supposed to happen in God’s Kingdom? What about all his promises? No pain in his holy kingdom?
Zoë M: No death.
Bios R: But they died.
Zoë M: They don’t remember it. You know that. You asked them. Tell me, Rose, when you were a little girl, and that tornado took your mom and your sister, did you get them back a short while later?
Bios R: Course not.
Zoë M: But you got to meet them again in the Resurrection, didn’t you?
Bios R: It’s not the same.
Zoë M: Why is that, Bios Rose? Why isn’t it the same?
Bios R: Because they didn’t know me. The me my Mom knew was a little girl. Betsy never knew me before she died. You brought Mom back, but when she saw me last I was ten years old. You say, “Rose, here’s your mama, here’s your baby sister.” But I’m not ten years old anymore. I may look twenty two, but I had sixty more years of living under my belt than that. I was older when I died than my mom was when she died. How do you make that all better?
Zoë M: I don’t.
Bios R: I thought not.
Zoë M: You do.
Bios R: Don’t give me that.
Zoë M: I’m serious, Rose. That’s your real job in this world. The one that matters. Not selling flowers.
The before was nothingness, not out of the lack of the world but due to blindness. I was blind. And deaf. The nothingness came with no sound. Color was beyond black and quiet was beyond silence. I had existence within the nothingness but knew nothing of existence.
A noise came about, and I had no knowledge of noise. It was a roar and I did not understand it. How I heard it, I do not know because I did not understand what it meant to hear.
Then came something I could understand. Pain layered on pain layered on pain. Ripping, burning, then sudden cold. My eyes saw light, but it faded into darkness.
I found I understood the darkness. When I came to realize that I as an entity was in darkness, another light came suddenly and bathed all of me in its warmth and softness. A voice called to me out of the brightness, calling me to understand that I existed and had meaning. It told me of light and love and acceptance. It cradled me in itself and gave me knowledge of my self and of it.
My eyes opened, and I saw love. And God had seen me back. The nothingness no longer existed; it itself was nothing. I would not be in the nothingness again, because the Light had come and it was God. It was love. God’s love.
God said to me:
“My hands have given you shape and being within your mother’s womb. From there you have come to Me, I have called you. I give you understanding so you may learn My will and power. I have given you understanding so you may fulfill My purpose.”
When I heard His words, I felt myself come into the world. I knew I was bound to Him forever and that the burning, tearing pain would never happen again. I felt eager to do what He commanded of me, because I knew He would not ask anything evil of me.
And God spoke to me again:
“You are beautiful in My sight, and I will give you a name so that you will know yourself and others will know you. You are Belle. You are beloved of Me.”
And my first day in the presence of God began.
Life has been one long blank grayness. I’m not happy, I’m not sad, I’m not anything. I can’t sit still and don’t want to move.
Ed and Bea are confused; they lay on the floor unmoving and watch me for hours even if all I do is sit and stare out the window. At night, when I finally lay down on my bed and stare at the ceiling all night, I can hear Ed patter from window to window, back to check on Bea, then check on me, then he lays down for a half hour or so. Then it’s back to pattering back and forth, checking things. I wonder if he’s checking to see if I’m breathing.
If they had any alcohol in this damned place, I’d bring a bottle or three back to this crappy box of a place and drink myself into a stupor. But there are no liquor stores, no bars, not even a section in the local market for wine, much less hard stuff. Oh, there’s the wine for Communion, but it’s been a month exactly since I took the sacrament.
Thirty-one days. Except for going out to get food for the dogs, I’ve been sitting in my habitation box and doing nothing. No journals, no reading. This is my first entry in 31 days. Oh, I lied. I have been staring out of the window and seeing nothing except that night falls occasionally and then day comes.
Being Bios has its drawbacks, chiefly that I still have to do basic maintenance on this meat envelope I walk around in. I washed my hair when it started to itch and go to the bathroom when the need arises. Oh, yes, I did change my clothes a while ago, but I can’t clearly remember when.
The only clear part of my life is what Bea and Ed need: food, occasional assurance that I’m breathing, and walkies. The latter is always at night, if I can manage it. I don’t want daylight, at least, I don’t want to be moving around out there when the sky is light. Bea, the little love, has a bladder the size of a thimble so we end up outside during the day, but we don’t go far. Just far enough to find a patch of grass where she can squat.
I need Belle. She is nowhere to be found, at least, nowhere I care to wander. I try to send a mental message to her, respectfully requesting that she come save me. But like the disjointed, distracted prayers I offer up, I get no answer.
Harry came by a couple of days after I saw him at the restaurant; I didn’t answer my door. He came back the next day, and the next, and then skipped a couple of days. I never answered his knock, although Ed did inform him loudly, at length and in no uncertain terms, that visitors were not welcome. After two or three more visits at odd intervals, he stopped coming to my door.
For the first few times, he would leave something: flowers, a note, more flowers, more notes. Notes and flowers all ended up in a pile by the door where I would kick them. Harry finally got the message and would come empty-handed to knock.
I did see him from my window, always by himself. He’d walk hurried to my door, then leave a short time later at a much slower pace. A couple of times I saw the woman he’d been with following him at a distance, then hiding when he left.
I remember the following and hiding; I’d done a lot of it myself. Actually did enough of it to hone the art to a fine point but never to get sloppy and get caught. His new love, however, didn’t seem to see the nuances; he caught her after a few visits to my door, and they had a pretty loud argument at the end of the sidewalk next to the street. After that, Harry came early in the morning a couple of times, then his visits stopped.
I don’t want to be here. I want to be somewhere else. I want to box up my books, take my dogs, and find another place; it wouldn’t help, I suppose. Even if he didn’t find me and I didn’t run into him, he’d still be in my head.
I want to get out of my head, want to shake the dust out, want to be clean again.
Just writing this journal entry has helped. The clutter in my brain seems to have settled a little, and I feel more like myself. The dogs have noticed; they’re bouncing off the walls, nipping at each other playfully, bumping up against my chair and whining.
I gave up keeping Ed and Bea quiet; they were like little kids on Christmas morning, begging to be let out. The daylight didn’t look as frightening; I felt a little more at ease and even the atmosphere seemed lighter, so we went for a walk.
My ankles felt loose, or maybe it was my legs as a whole, but it felt like I was walking on sponge rubber. Joints, tendons, muscles…something felt out of alignment, weak and wobbly. Even my hands and arms felt weak. It was hard to keep up with Ed and impossible to keep up with Bea, the little minx.
After the debacle with Harry, I stopped talking, not only to other people but to myself. For me, not a good thing. Since I was hiding away anyway, on those rare occasions when I did have to talk, my voice was rusty, squeaky, like an old hinge.
I’ve started talking to myself again. In the old world, it was considered a sign of madness, but even then I talked to myself to work out problems, address people or things that I couldn’t address for some reason. Here, well, I guess it’s a harmless habit. Bea and Ed seem to be happier that I’m talking again.
Belle has been missing in action for, shoot, must be well over a month. I’m getting out and about for a change but haven’t gone back to work yet; they probably think I’ve fallen off the face of the earth.
Ha, I made a funny. As if anyone could fall off the face of this world. I haven’t heard of anyone dying or disappearing permanently, so apparently death is not a run-of-the-mill usually occurrence.
I’d ask around to see if I could find her. Haven’t looked too hard anyway. No, not true. I’ve scanned the groups of people and Zoes on my walks with the dogs and trips to get food, that is, I’ve scanned the increasingly smaller groups of Zoes. Thought I saw her once, or at least a Zoe resembling her. They seem grayer and more like smoke now. I hadn’t noticed that before.
People have no faces to me anymore, generally. I mean, they do have faces, but I don’t see them past a cursory glance to see how many and if they’re male or female. I did focus on one guy walking his Newfie in the park because the dog was trying to play with Bea, much to Ed’s dismay. Oh, he didn’t challenge the far larger dog, but he did grumble a lot. I looked up to say something to the Newfie’s owner who was sitting on a bench, reading. For the first time in weeks, I actually saw the color of his eyes and the cut of his hair.
I compared that cut with the way Harry was wearing his hair the last time I saw him come to knock fruitlessly at my door. Harry came up second in the comparison. Come to think of it, Harry came up short on every criterion I use when I notice someone. I’ve become judgmental, which is normally not a good thing, but now, since I’m just getting back to the world, judgmental means I’m seeing reality again. I can stop the judging once I’m back on my feet. I hope.
Anyway, I said something to the Newfie’s owner about my Ed getting jealous and laughed a little. It sounded sour, uncomfortable, that laugh. The guy must have heard the hollow ringing as well, because he looked up from his book.
“Oh, I said that your Newfie’s attention to my little female is making my other dog jealous.”
The guy glanced at the dogs, then trained his eyes back on my face. He smiled, shyly and a tad crookedly.
“Yeah, you’re right. Funny, huh?”
“Funny yes. In a normal life sort of way.”
“Girl. She’s a girl. Beabea.”
“No, not your dog. My name is Guy, Guy Wellington.”
“Sarah, my name is Sarah. I’m not sure what my last name is now.”
He closed his book and tucked it into a pocket of the vest he was wearing. I’ve never seen a vest with so many pockets.
“You’re not sure what your last name is now? How come?”
“Well,” I lengthened the word to hide the fact that I wasn’t sure how to say what I had to say. “Well, I guess I’m divorced now. At least, I feel like my husband isn’t my husband anymore.”
“Either that or he’s dead, which seems to be incredibly rare.” Guy laughed at his own joke, which I didn’t quite get.
“People can die?” I sat down at the opposite end of the bench rather suddenly. My legs didn’t seem to have any muscles again.
“Haven’t you heard about it? It isn’t really like death, because you come back again, but your body is,” he hesitated, his eyes glancing up and side to side as he tried to come up with the right words, “disintegrated.”
My body suddenly was cold, even though the sunlight was ample.
“Oh, I think they may call it ‘being unmade’ or something like that.”
“How does that happen? Have you seen it happen? Did you know the person who was, um, unmade?”
He held up a hand and chuckled.
“Whoa, hold on. I’ve only hear rumors, and not from dependable sources either.”
My whole understanding of the permanence, the basis of Resurrectorium, was sliding sideways and upside down a little. Perhaps because much of my reality had gotten skewed.
“Hey, don’t fret your pretty head about it, okay?” He scooted closer to me and put a hand on my arm. “It’s probably all rumors anyway.” If being called pretty hadn’t been enough of a jolt, something strange happened.
The contact, skin to skin, was like static electricity. I felt some sort of current run from that point, up my arm, across my shoulder, and flush up my neck to my face. Oh, I’d shaken hands and been touched on the hand or arm or shoulder a lot in this world; people seemed to make physical contact a lot more than in our old lives. But this quivering jump of crackling sensation was totally new, alien.
Guy probably felt it, too, because he snatched his hand back as if he’d been burned. I snapped to my feet and called for my dogs; the air between Guy and me seemed tangible and more like a physical entity.
Physical in a Zoe kind of way. I briefly wondered if there was some sort of connection between this odd feeling and how the Zoes existed. As quickly as the thought occurred to me, it disappeared.
Guy looked up to my face, his mouth a little open, his eyes wide.
“Did you feel that?”
“What?” I busied myself whistling, urging Ed and Bea back to me. I had to get out of there, away from this guy.
“That, well, sparkle? Electricity? Whatever, it made the hair on my neck rise!”
“I don’t know what you mean. Must have been static electricity.” We had to get away, my dogs and I. Right then and there. My head said to run like the wind but my heart kept both feet planted firmly next to the bench.
“No, it wasn’t. Nope. You felt it too; you had to. Your face is pinked.”
“Pinked?” I let out a little chuckle, which surprised me.
“Um, you’re blushing a little. Not bright red, more a warm rosy pink.”
“Oh, like the color in your face?” My muscles eased and the fight-or-flight urge faded.
His hands went to his cheeks, rubbing some invisible something away.
“I don’t blush.” He cleared his throat and rose. “Gotta go.”
Oh, so he felt the need to run away as well. He called out to his Newfie to cover his apparent confusion. I knew exactly how he was feeling.
“Justice, c’mon. Let’s go.”
“Justice?” I wanted him to stay there, to talk to me. The urge was stronger than any other feeling I’d had about people.
“I bought him from a lawyer, well, back on Earth. Thought of calling him habeas corpus but imagine what I’d be yelling at him to come. Hey Corpsy?” His turn to chuckle, a rather rusty and seldom-used sound.
“Sensible, very sensible.” Brief silence.
“So, what’s your male’s name and why Beabea?”
“She’s Beabea, which is short for Bouncing Beatrice. And his name is Ed Wood. After the B-movie director.”
We stood there for a few seconds, not saying anything, looking around at everything except each other, our dogs bumping into us, running away, coming back. My stomach suddenly growled, loud enough for Ed to hear and cock his head.
“Hey, Sarah, want to get something to eat? Anywhere, that is, if you want to.”
It was the same concept I was pondering. How to keep with this guy without being overt about the fact that, strangely, I was drawn to him. If this were Earth, I’d say we were flirting.
“I guess I could eat. Where?”
“There’s a drugstore with a soda fountain not far from here. They make good burgers.”
The greasy, satisfying taste of a well-seasoned burger sparked my stomach, and again a growl issued forth from my midsection
“Sure, I know the place.” Harry’s panicked face flashed briefly in my mind and then was gone. “Yeah, that sounds pretty good, actually.”
“Well then, let’s go. Allons-y, Alonzo.” He hesitantly took my elbow and drew me along willingly.
“Dr. Who? Well, I’ll be wibbly wobbly!” I tried to snicker delicately, but it came out a snort.
We both laughed, comfortably. So off we went, not really touching but occasionally being bumped into each other by a huge dog, a slightly smaller dog, and a little black dog who kept stopping and turning in a circle, then dancing off ahead of the pack.
Dang it, I was happy. I hadn’t remembered happy, but now it seemed familiar. I felt like I’d just found something I’d lost for a very long time and forgotten about, then found again. I had to giggle out loud.
“What?” Guy stopped briefly.
“Oh nothing. Just a thought that popped up.” I came to a halt just ahead of him and turned back to face him.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash coalesce into a vague human form. The face snapped into clarity, and I recognized Belle. She was smiling. Then the image was gone.
“Must have been a good one, then. C’mon, let’s go. I’m starving.” He took my arm again to urge me into motion and then put his arm around my shoulders. Not a oppressive gesture seeking to control, but a gathering into to form a whole.
With the dogs prancing around us, the promise of a greasy hamburger, and his arm warm on my shoulder, the light around us was brighter and I could feel no pain at all.
I held his body in my arms, felt the life draining from it with the blood that was everywhere. On me. In the street. The bullet had passed through Reese, through me. Reese was dead. He had taken the bullet meant for me but that would have hit Paula. I held Reese in my arms. He was dead. I fell to my knees, Reese in my arms. I could feel my pulse, the warmth of the blood in my veins, I was Zoë and no bullet could harm that. Reese wasn’t. Paula wasn’t.
The Sheriff grabbed Edward, who fought to get loose. The Sheriff bulked over Edward but could barely hold him. I saw pure animal rage overtake a man and leave him a snarling animal, and I knew at that instant I had within me the power to destroy Edward, to unmake him like Casiel unmade Reese. All I had to do was focus on Edward and he would die. He was a murderer. I had the right to stop him from harming anyone else. I looked at him, focused my thoughts on him, and then I felt a wave of grace sweep over me. I saw Eddy struggling and was reminded of a boy when I was in grade school having a tantrum while the teacher bulked over him, holding onto him. I let go of my hate. That let me mourn Reese.
Paula sat beside me on the curb and threw an arm around me and we both cried for Reese. I barely knew for a while what was happening. In the back of my mind I knew the people from the interurban had disembarked. The crowd stirred then parted. Edward stopped thrashing. The Sheriff was still holding him when Jesus walked up to them. I knew who he was, but to the Sheriff He put his hand out and touched Edward on the forehead. Edward slumped a bit then stood still, no longer struggling against the Sheriff.
“You can release him now, John,” Jesus said. The Sheriff let go of Edward.
“Do you still think I’m an alien, Edward?” Jesus asked him.
“Maybe,” Edward said. “Maybe this is mind control.”
“Does it feel like your mind is being controlled?”
Edward shook his head ‘no’ with a small wag.
“Walk with me,” Jesus said.
He stopped where I held Reese’s body in my arms.
“Why do you weep, Helen Amber? You know he will return.”
“Because I waited so long for him, Lord.”
“Then wait no longer.” He knelt down, tugging Edward who knelt with him. He placed Edward’s hand over the bloody red hole the bullet had made through Reese’s heart then placed his hand over Edward’s. “Reese,” he said, “hear my voice. Qum.” I felt an electric jolt go through Reese and through me. Reese gasped then a huge shiver ran through his body. Edward pulled back his hand with the most astonished look on his face. Jesus stood up, and then Edward stood. Reese opened his eyes and just said “oh,” then smiled.
“What was that?” Edward shouted. “What just happened?”
“Now you know, Eddy.”
Eddy stared at Reese. Reese blinked once, then coughed. Then he began coughing hard and after a moment he sat up.
“We did that?” Eddy said.
“No, Eddy, Jesus said. “I did that. But I did it through you. That’s the way it was until my Kingdom. What I did was always through others. It was the way the Father wanted it. Small, meek, tender. You never understood that. But you should have, Eddy. Everything you did, everything you wanted to do, you did through others. You organized people to stand up and be proud of their labor. That was a good thing, Eddy. You fought for them, suffered with them. When they won, you won. When they lost, you lost. That was how my Kingdom on earth worked, too, Eddy.”
“Okay, but that world’s done, right? That was the old world, right? Why the crater outside of town, put there by your angel? And why the tornado? Look at what it did. People lost everything they built, all they worked for. Homes, businesses. This is supposed to be your Kingdom. Heaven on earth, right? The endless banquet? Oh, I know. I took my catechism. But there’s still pain in this world, Jesus. Why?”
“Ask yourself what is not like the world you knew? What is missing?”
“You’re not answering my question. Why is there still suffering?”
“I removed one pain, Eddy.”
“Death. I conquered it long ago, but now that victory is lived out. There is no death in my Kingdom. People have lost their greatest fear. In the old world, being fearless toward death was hard to do. I know. But not anymore. That is my gift. My gift is what’s missing.”
“What? What’s missing?”
“What about Mortimer. Ain’t he dead?”
“Mortimer is where he fits better.”
“So that’s it? We don’t die. We live, but we suffer?”
“How much of that suffering did you bring on yourself, Eddy? What was it you showed Reese at the Hardware?”
“It’s not important now.”
“What was it you showed Reese at the Hardware?”
“I’d rather not say.”
“If you want their forgiveness, Eddy, you need to tell the truth.”
“I thought I was supposed to ask your forgiveness.”
“You already have it. What was it you showed Reese at the Hardware?”
Eddy mumbled something. Mumbling wasn’t like Eddy.
“Speak up,” the Sheriff Gosyln said.
“I said a pipe bomb. I was making it for protec… I wanted to scare people with it. I wanted the Zoës out.” Eddy looked around, then hung his head. “Okay, okay. I screwed up. But why punish everyone, Jesus? You still aren’t telling me why there is suffering.”
“Hear me, all of you,” Jesus said. His voice surely carried as far as anyone who had ears to hear and was listening. “What I say, I say to you all. To be human, you need to know all your emotions, and those include loss as well as joy. But the greatest loss, loss to death, you will never know again. What you once had to believe, that I have conquered death, now you know. No other differences are necessary. I have removed every obstacle not of your making. This earth is heaven, if you want it enough.”
“There’s a lot I don’t get about this,” Eddy said. “But I’ll give it a go.”
“It’s all I ever asked of you.”
“So now what?”
“I will tell you that as we walk together,” Jesus said. He reached down a hand to Reese and pulled him to his feet, then he raised me as well. Paula had already gotten up and was clapping, which got the whole crowd clapping. Jesus embraced Reese, then me. “Let’s go Eddy,” he said, and the two of them walked toward Resurrectorium 1920. I never saw Edward again.
Helen Amber did more than speak to people; she brought them back to the newspaper office. We had a newspaper crew. It was like living in a Frank Capra movie. We were printing The Big Announcement. That was our plan: announce a meeting for tomorrow night. Saturday.
A very important meeting will be held in the Eta Regional Hall regarding your future and the future of Region 1920.
Admittedly, it wasn’t a plan. We had no plans for when the meeting started. We were going to wing it. I had already set the type. The few words in the flyer only had to pique curiosity and talk and get a quorum to the Regional Hall. Whether Eddy liked it or not, we would hold the meeting. No matter what Eddy and the Sheriff did to stop or disrupt it, the assembled residents would be witness to one more item on his list of failures to govern.
I felt no personal fear, but I was afraid that failure was still an option. I didn’t imagine God was going to pull a rabbit out of our…hats, which we weren’t wearing. Even if God could not fail in the long run, we could succeed or fail tomorrow night.
We kept away from the front office and blacked out other windows with cardboard. I had enough apprentices to train two sets of printer’s devils that could take twenty minute turns feeding paper into the press and taking it out when printed, keeping the plate inked, and cranking it down onto the paper. It was right out of the nineteenth century, and would have been right at home in an office in Region 1819. But you work with what you have.
The flyers were bundled and we began distributing the first batch.
“Take these to the other cities,” Helen Amber said. “That way the furthest people out will get the most time to read the flyers. Don’t just deliver one to each house. Wake people up. Get them reading the flyers tonight.”
“Do we meet up here after we’ve distributed the flyers?” Wally asked.
“This is the first place they’ll look for us, Helen,” Marnie said.
“Let’s hide in the open,” I said. “We’ll meet back at the Regional Hall. It’s where we wanted to end up in any case.”
And so our counterrevolution got under way. It was getting light out, and the Eta group was told to just drop the flyers off and move on. The locals would have time to discover the flyers and talk about them with neighbors — and deputies. Helen Amber and I stayed behind to clean the press after the last of a thousand flyers left for distribution in Eta itself. I hoped, prayed even, that someone would be free to use the press again soon.
The sun had been up for a while by the time we finished cleaning the press. A few residents were up and out Saturday morning when we left the Newspaper office for the Regional Hall. The back door of the Hall was off an alley, but getting around town and to the alley entrance was going to take luck — or something better.
The bell rang over the office door as we closed it behind us. The street was empty. No one saw us on the way to the Regional Hall building. It was locked.
“I should have expected this,” I said. The door was wood, but too solid to break down. There were no windows in the back to open.
“Now what?” I said, regretting my big idea of “hiding in plain sight” in the Hall.
“Let me try,” Helen Amber said. She put her hand to the lock and either concentrated on it or prayed over it. The door opened. Even with bare feet I could hear our steps in the empty main room.
“It won’t be long now,” I said, and could hear the vacancy of the hall. “People will start arriving. First ours, then the Sheriff and his men — with Eddy — and then, hopefully, everyone else.”
“I’m sure it will work out,” Helen Amber said.
“I think you’d say that even if they haul us off to jail.”
“Yes, I would. Especially after today.”
“Just do your magic on the jailhouse door again?”
“Just do what I am told to do, even if that means… Well, whatever it means.”
“I’m not ready for that yet,” I said. “I don’t want to lose you again.”
“I would think by now you’d realize that you can’t lose me. That you never lost me. I had to hold back because you weren’t ready to let me go. Don’t forget that when you came to the resurrectorium that last time, it wasn’t to find me. You came to find him.”
“I went there to find peace. Shalom, I called it.”
“Same thing, if you think about it.”
I heard the back door open. The first of our messengers was returning. The Sheriff would not be far behind.
“How’d it go?” I asked.
“Hi Wally,” said Helen Amber.”
“Oh, hi,” Wally said. “It went okay. I left fliers everywhere. I even gave one to the two guys standing guard at the Sheriff’s office. They thanked me. Seemed to be a bit high or something.”
“Did you drug them on the way out?” I asked Helen.
“Of course not. Seen anyone else, Wally?”
“One of the other local people went inside someone’s house. Another got into an argument at the bakery, but she left in a little while. They must have made up, ’cause she was smiling and they hugged each other.”
The first of our messengers, the one to Delta, arrived.
“Back so soon?” I asked.
“They let me borrow a horse. It’s out back. I’m going back outside to take it down to the livery, but…”
“I’ll take your mount,” Wally said. “I want to go over there and patch things up with Clarence. Sam would want me to.”
“Thanks,” the rider said. “Well, I wanted to let you two know Delta is coming. Most of the town. The had already deposed their Sheriff and had been trying to figure out what to do next.”
“I’m trying to figure that out, too,” I said.
“We will be fine,” Helen Amber said. “You’ve got to trust that.”
I’ve never been good at that. Trusting even myself was hard. Helen was about the only person I’d ever learned to trust, back in the old life. I suppose that was part of what made it so hard that she wasn’t there when I woke up. Not that she’d broken trust with me by not being there, but that I’d broken trust by not finding her, and they’d broken trust by not getting us together. In reality, it was my lack of trust that was keeping us apart. Amber kept saying ‘trust me’ and I didn’t. It must have hurt her that I wouldn’t trust her. We’ll have to talk about that some day, I’m sure.
Paula showed up. I didn’t see her smile often, so seeing her show up with such a wide and lovely smile was good.
“Wally said you’d stopped at the bakery,” Helen Amber said.
“That I did, and I’m glad of it. You know that Eleanor is good salt of the earth people. I just hadn’t given her a chance to show me. We started off arguing and then it hit me. It had hurt her feelings that I didn’t trust her. I was going on about ‘my bakery this’ and ‘my bakery that’ and she took a cookie and practically shoved it in my face and said ‘you never even tried one of my cookies.’ Well, that shut me up, I can tell you. I ate the cookie, and I have to admit, she’s a better baker than I. When I told her that, she smiled and I saw a tear in her eye and next thing you know we’re both crying and hugging each other and I asked her if I could come back to her bakery and learn from her because she had a gift from God for cookies.”
More and more messengers came in, including a rider from Epsilon. Finally, one of the local messengers brought the news I was dreading. “The Sheriff is coming,” she said.
A few seconds later the front door was unlocked and several deputies walked in armed with clubs, then more with swords and two with muskets of some kind. Then the Sheriff entered. I think from his look around the room there were more of us than he realized.
“You’re all under arrest,” he said. “Disturbing the peace and breaking and entering. For a start. Come along.”
“We’re waiting for the meeting,” Helen Amber said.
“Didn’t you read the flyers?” I asked.
“No, of course I didn’t read your illegal flyers.”
“Then how do you know we’re disturbing the peace?” I asked.
“Don’t get smart with me. Distributing flyers, and from what I hear, waking people up to do it. I got a phone call from the Sheriff of Zetatown, and he told me what was going on there. You’ll be facing charges there, too.”
“When I left Zeta,” one of the messengers said, “he was no longer in office.”
Zeta being the closest town to us, she probably hiked back and just slipped into the hall without announcing her arrival. Her news gave the Sheriff pause, but he recovered his aplomb.
“If that is the case, and I doubt it is, I would add inciting insurrection to the list of charges against you. That is a capital offense. Deputies, take this man to the jail. Her too,” he said pointing at Helen Amber. “And this time do not let her out. The rest of you,” he said shouting, “disperse to your homes to await further charges or be placed under immediate arrest.”
“What should we do, Amber?” Paula asked.
“Please wait here, everyone,” Helen Amber said. “The other towns will be arriving soon. Zeta will be here very soon.”
The Sheriff spoke to two of his deputies with swords who pushed through the crowds to the back door and exited the building closing the door behind them. Helen Amber and I were dragged out, along with Paula, and the doors to the hall were locked behind us. Having everyone locked in the Hall gave me an uneasy feeling.
Eddy arrived in his car.
“This it?” he asked the Sheriff.
“No, I left the rest in there,” he said, “I hear we’re going to have people from the other towns arriving, so I didn’t want to fill the jail with that lot. Besides, that’s more than the jail can hold. And with her here,” he said and pointed to Helen Amber, “they aren’t going anywhere.”
“Hello, Eddy,” I said. “Nice wheels.”
Eddy ignored me. “Where are you taking these three?” he asked the Sheriff.
“To the jail to await trial.”
“Here comes the trolley!” one of the deputies shouted.
“That’ll be the interurban car from Zeta,” Helen Amber said.
“That’s it!” Eddy said. “No time for a trial. I want them out of the way before that trolley gets here. Shoot them.”
“Now, look here, Eddy…” the Sheriff began.
“That’s Governor Edward Lombard, in case you forgot.”
“That’s Sheriff John Mansfield, Governor,” the Sheriff said. “We’ll have a trial. That’s what I am sworn to.”
“And I am sworn to protect this government.”
“It’s a government of the people, isn’t it Governor?” I asked.
“Who asked you? You and your alien Zoë friend have interfered with us for the last time,” Eddy said. He grabbed on of the muskets from a surprised deputy and pointed it at Paula. Time seemed to slow down as I saw him clench his jaw and tighten his grip on the musket. I jumped sideways in front of Paula and felt a punch to my chest. Pain from my chest drowned everything else out, but I could tell I had fallen to the ground. I could hear shouting, felt someone, Helen Amber I think, holding me. But I couldn’t see anything. Then I slipped from her arms and began falling into cold darkness.
“Back so soon?” someone said. I’d heard the voice before.
“I can’t see you.”
“I know. That was your problem all along, Reese. You couldn’t see me, only yourself — and, I grant you, your beloved Helen Amber. That was both your problem and your saving grace. Loving her kept you from loving only yourself.”
“I loved other people.”
That stung. “Sure. My parents. Coworkers. Lots of people.”
“Each of them gave you better than they got. How loving is that?”
That stung even more. “I think I know who you are.”
“You know my voice? You didn’t before.”
“Yes. Your voice is familiar.”
“Who am I?”
“Are you sure?”
“I should know who I am.”
“Then who are you?”
“You should have asked that long ago.”
“How could I?”
“Many others managed over the years. They only had to look around.”
“That’s going to be hard to do now. I can’t see anything.”
“You couldn’t then. You wouldn’t open your eyes. Try now.”
The light was blinding and suddenly very hot. The person I was talking to was outlined by a brilliant light behind him. His coat or cloak was billowing in the wind. His hair, catching the light behind him, glowed like a halo. I couldn’t tell where we were, could only see the light and this one standing in front of it.
“Where am I?”
“What is that light?”
The person I was talking to stepped aside and suddenly the full force of that light fell on me. My skin burnt in an excruciating flash. I tried to look at my arms but I could only look straight ahead, into that burning light. I was sure my eyes would burn out from my head and still the blinding light poured over me. I felt my skin cracking, falling from my cheeks.
Then it was gone, and for a moment I thought I was back in the blackness. I saw a light out of the corner of my eye. As I got nearer, it seemed to be a window. There was a boy there. It was me. I was cheating at a game with my great grandmother, whose cataracts frightened me. I felt guilty for cheating. Even without seeing the cards, I could tell she knew something was off. Maybe a card that had come up once before couldn’t have come up again, as I said it had. She was hurt. I could feel how hurt she was. Then she was asking a teenaged me for help but I said I was busy. The deep disappointment stung.
One by one, I went through all the hurts I caused others, little ones and big ones, the ones that left others hating me. Hating themselves. And all the joys. But on balance, I dealt out more hurt than joy. Sometimes this person, sometimes that. Sometimes I was one age, sometimes another. Each pain I inflicted, I felt. And each joy I gave, I got back. I regretted not creating more joy. Not because it would have reduced the pain for me now. But because I could not go back and touch their lives anymore — those people I could have loved more. The past was fixed. The pain I caused could not be unfelt. When they forgave me, I felt the pain get lighter — mine and theirs. When I was not forgiven, I felt how it hurt them even more, the pain I caused doubling down and being re-suffered — sometimes again and again. We re-suffered it together.
“I’m sorry. I was a fool. I lived with my eyes closed.”
“Then open them.”
“It’s so bright.”
“It has to. You’ve covered yourself with a shell. It needs to fall off.”
I was afraid if it did, I’d burn even worse.
“As long as you cling to it, that shell of pain will hurt. I can’t salve the burns until then. How long will you wait and hold on to that pain?”
“I know you now.”
“Yes. We’ve met before. In the resurrectorium.”
“Before that. Here. I wouldn’t let go then, would I?”
“Not all of it. So I had to send you back the way you came. Naked and alone.”
“How do I let go? My hands are cramped. I can’t open them. Help me.”
He touched my hands. My hands unclenched. The movement broke open the skin like breaking open a burnt crust. I could see the scabs fall from my hands, felt dead flesh fall from all over my body. The skin, if it was skin, from beneath the dead tissue was glowing. The burning light no longer hurt.
“You’re wanted elsewhere. Time to go.”
I wasn’t ready to go. I wanted to stay in the light.
“You’ll always be in the light now. Time to go.”