The fruits of our labour will not ripen in our lifetime. The Father teaches that we do not pray and work for ourselves but for our grandchildren. They will reap what we sow.
I am one of many assigned to work in the orchard, spending long pleasant days among rows of trees. It is more enjoyable work than the stables or the kitchen.
Every season the harvest is full, I pick buckets of rosy apples, sharp green pears, plump apricots. The garden beds grow abundant vegetables and our livestock provides us with meat, eggs, milk and wool.
I watch as the men load the boxes into the truck. They leave very early in the morning for markets in nearby towns to sell our produce. I stare after the truck nervously as it departs down the dusty road. Sometimes they are gone for days at a time. It is dangerous for them to travel amongst the Dead but I know they are strong. They will not be seduced by the evil that lurks beyond the gates of our home.
The first time I glimpsed the Father, I knew that he was what I had been searching for all my life. If you have not known real love I cannot explain it to you. Not emotional sentimentality, but love that nurtures and sustains.
The Father teaches that in a world of lies, we are keepers of the truth. The Father teaches that our faith is a jewel we must guard fiercely against corruption. The Father teaches that this sacred land has been passed down through the lineage since the very beginning. To protect the earth is to protect our faith. We have been drawn here because we are the chosen.
Far beyond the rolling hills of the valley lie the cities of the Dead, seething wastelands of decay and pollution. We call them the Dead because they are deaf to the truth and blind to the spark that governs all creation. With their incessant breeding they are constantly creeping forward, slowly taking more and more, encroaching on our sacred land. We must stand firm against the plague of greed that threatens our way of life. We will not throw the first stone but when the war begins we will fight. I haven’t seen the bunkers myself but the Father assures us we are armed and prepared. We know that one day they will come and we know that we will triumph for we are the chosen.
It began when I was folding the laundry with Catherine.
“Do you ever think of returning?” she asked casually.
A bed sheet floated between us as we held the ends. It rippled like a sail, thin and translucent. I remembered standing beneath a bed sheet as a little girl; my mother and father floated it above me like a parachute. Thin fabric drifted slowly down around me as I crouched, draping me gently, the world cloaked in white haze. I laughed as it was lifted again with a soft rush, ballooning around me. The memory sent a shiver through me. I frowned at Catherine.
“To your home.”
I was stunned. I couldn’t believe she was saying such things.
“This is my home Catherine. This is your home.”
“Well yes, it is now, of course,” she said quickly. “But I mean don’t you ever miss your old home?”
I couldn’t fathom what she meant. I ignored her and quickly finished the folding.
I stormed away in anger but as I glanced out over the beautiful valley I could see, far off in the distance, a dark shadow looming, and I was overcome by terrible fear. It was the army of the Dead, rows and rows of faceless men and women, waiting for the order to march.
I am stranded in the suburb of my childhood. Everything looks the same. Decades have passed but nothing has changed. Anxiety sets in and I begin running past endless identical houses, turning street after street, running deeper into a maze of grey. I am out of breath, I can’t run anymore, I pause to rest.
I jump in surprise and turn around. I have stopped before my parent’s house and there at the front gate stand my mother and father.
My father has his arm around my mother protectively, holding her up as she gazes at me, her eyes pleading with tears.
I woke up in a cold sweat. It was early morning, just before sunrise. I was worried I may have attracted attention but no one else was awake. Across from me lay Catherine, sleeping peacefully in her bed, a picture of innocence.
I got dressed and went for a walk to clear my mind. I walked to the orchard, my favourite place to steal a few minutes alone.
The ground was wet with dew, the air crisp with a thin mist. I stood beneath a large apple tree and looked out over the hills. Glancing down I noticed many apples had fallen from the tree. Over ripe and bruised, wrinkled and turning brown, worm ridden. The sight of it troubled me. We never let anything go to waste.
An orange glow began to fill the valley, a picturesque view, almost too beautiful to be true. On the periphery I caught a glimpse of the creeping shadow, growing stronger with each passing moment.
The bell rang suddenly and I fled in panic. Everyone would be rising and getting ready for breakfast. I hoped no one had noticed I slipped out.
All day I watched Catherine, going about her duties as usual, pretending nothing was wrong. The Father teaches that the signs are there for those who have eyes to see. Walking through the courtyard, I notice weeds had pushed their way through the stones. They were not there the day before. In the library I sat with a closed book in my hands, disturbed by the thick layer of dust that lined the windowsills.
During dinner Catherine ate her soup quietly and avoided meeting my eye.
After the meal I saw her talking to Rebecca, one of the youngest Daughters. They chatted and laughed casually but I read Rebecca’s face when Catherine walked away. The blush of confusion, a fine line of doubt on her forehead; she was preoccupied as she stacked plates away on the shelf.
I understood completely then and knew what I had to do. Catherine could not be permitted to spread her toxic thoughts any longer. They were poisoning our community, creeping like a vine, slowly encompassing and choking everything.
Later that evening I approached the Mother. I found her sitting quietly on the porch. I told her I needed to speak to the Father. She told me that was not possible. I insisted, stressing that it was very important.
“You may discuss your concern with me Daughter,” she said without looking up from her knitting.
I told her everything. It all came tumbling out. She didn’t respond or seem at all interested. Her eyes were on a small group of men as they sat, chanting hymns by the fire. Then she got up and walked into her bedroom, closing the door gently behind her.
That night I couldn’t sleep, tossing and turning as I went over every detail. I was worried. Would the Mother accuse me of gossip?
When they came for her it was still dark outside, several hours before sunrise. I heard them enter the dormitory and I gasped under my sheets, curling up in terror. They walked toward my bed but they turned toward Catherine.
They scooped her up and began to drag her out. She mumbled in her sleep and then she began to shout. Her screams were muffled as they took her away.
Breakfast was had in silence. We knew Catherine was with the Father. We heard the bells that called us to gather. Calmly we tidied things away then filed into the courtyard.
We circled the platform, staring up in fear and awe. The Mother and the Father stood either side of Catherine, her head hung low in shame.
The Father’s face was creased with sadness, the burden of his task apparent, but a beautiful aura of light always surrounds him. I could see the bright blue of his gentle eyes.
“My children,” he began, his voice calm and strong. “Today I grieve. I grieve for the weakness of humankind that has led so many astray. We will be tested but our faith cannot be destroyed. Let your resolve be strengthened. By their own hand the weak and treacherous will perish.”
The Father stepped backward and bowed his head. The Mother was expressionless as she placed the heavy rope around Catherine’s neck. Catherine began to sob quietly, her shoulders shaking.
“This is my home!” a voice shouted, as it cut the tension in the air. A hand clamped my mouth and my brothers and sisters huddled around me. The voice was mine, I realised, and I began to cry, too.
I turned away as it was done, my face buried in my hands. I heard the shocked intake of breath that rippled through the gathering. I heard the creak of wood as Catherine’s body dropped, suspended by the strong beam above.
When I looked back, Catherine’s body hung limp and empty. I watched her feet twitch, then stop.
A perfect stillness permeated everything. The angry tears that rolled down my cheeks become tears of relief. I looked out towards the horizon, saw no sign of the shadow. Everything was as it should be. The shadow had been vanquished and we were safe again, at least for a while longer. Another beautiful day lay ahead, I walked to the orchard to begin my work.
~ Magenta Nero
© Copyright 2015 Magenta Nero. All Rights Reserved.