“There Is No Release” by Jonathan Olfert

Taylor Cresswell hoped and prayed that the doorbell was his long-awaited pizza. Instead the doorstep held one (1) missionary in a baggy brown thrift-store suit. Though Taylor’s allegiance to and affection for the capital-C Church were as far in the rearview mirror as his divorce, he found himself feeling bad for the skinny kid. That suit and the severely parted hair brought back uncomfortable memories.

“Where’s your number two?” Taylor asked.

“Good evening, sir. I have a message for you about how you can find joy in this life and in the world to come.”

“Ugh. Your companion. Where is he?” Taylor squinted up and down the street. Sunset had sunk in. The pizza was late. “Aren’t you supposed to stay within eyesight of each other?”

“I am within eyesight.”

“Probably knocking some other door way too late at night, is that it? Jeez, it’s past eight. Shouldn’t you be…” Taylor waved vaguely. The nuances of the ironclad missionary schedule failed to dig their way up through twenty years of purposeful forgetting. “…at home?”

“It’s a very important message, sir. Can I come in, sir?”

“You’re not after me, Elder—” Taylor squinted at the scuffed nametag but couldn’t make out the name. “I already joined your church.” Technically true, and it ought to short-circuit the door pitch.

The missionary’s head tilted. “Will ye give a humble servant of God something to eat, sir?”

“Got no dinner appointment, is that it?” Taylor scratched at his stubble. “Yeah, come on in. Pizza’s almost here. And”—he adjusted his word choices midsentence—“uh, screw off with that ‘sir’ thing.”

Taylor shifted back to let the missionary come in off the step and take off his scuffed old dress shoes. He was skinny but unexpectedly tall, and he moved like he could hold his own at Church ball games. Taylor grimaced at the smell of sweat and pretended not to see a toe poking through the kid’s sock. He regretted his burst of generosity.

“I’m Elder—” said the missionary, just as wind rattled the screen door. He held out his hand to shake, but Taylor pretended not to notice; the gloomy entryway provided a decent excuse.

Instead Taylor went out onto the front step to look around. “Go on in. Kitchen’s straight ahead, bathroom’s on the right. I’ll flag down your comp, wherever he is. You guys shouldn’t be tracting this late. It’s a safe neighborhood and all, but folks are putting their kids down and settling in. You’re lucky I was even wearing clothes.”

“These are the valiant hours,” the missionary said with disgusting earnestness, and headed deeper into the house. Taylor squinted against the glare of his own porch light and turned it off. In the dark, he got a better view of the lonely islands under the streetlights, the glow of TVs inside identical houses. This street had an oppressive sameness to it. One of these days, once the lawyers finally figured out whether he or Jilleen actually owned the house, he’d move on to somewhere more interesting. Somewhere the pizza arrived on time, for example.

He went to check the delivery’s progress on his phone and found the battery dead. With the missionary inside and out of earshot, he indulged in moderately heated profanity.

“Well,” he called, coming inside, “I don’t see the other guy, so if you…”

The missionary was sitting at the kitchen table, flipping through a battered set of scriptures—Taylor’s scriptures, previously abandoned in a bookcase whose door stood open. Taylor bit back a sermon on boundary issues, plugged his phone into a charger, and flopped down in a kitchen chair opposite the missionary.

“Yeah, don’t go rooting around my shelves, alright, bud? You’re probably going to find some things that your mission president would not, and I mean not, approve of. I’m not one of those ba—uh, guys who likes to play ‘corrupt the missionary,’ so just… yeah.”

The missionary’s scarred nametag caught the light oddly but was halfway readable in here. Nelson was his name, apparently. He didn’t look up from the scriptures. “Therefore, go with me into my house and I will impart unto thee of my food; and I know that thou wilt be a blessing unto me and my house.”

“Look, I know you need to do a little ‘spiritual thought’ every time you have dinner, but just save it—no, screw it, go ahead, do what you gotta do. Get it out of the way while we’re waiting on the pizza. Meat lovers fine with you?”

“And it came to pass that the man received him into his house. And the man was called Amulek, and he brought forth bread and meat and set before Alma.”

“Guess I’ll take that as a yes.”

Elder Nelson shook his head slowly. “And it came to pass that Alma ate bread and was filled; and he blessed Amulek and his house.”

Taylor tipped his chair back and rested his head and shoulders against the wall. He had envisioned the evening going far, far differently. “So, Elder Nelson, how long you got left?”

The missionary flinched. “Oh that I were an angel, and could have the wish—”

“Bud, I get it, you know your Book of Mormon and all that, but give it a rest. The food’ll be here in a minute. Look, maybe you should go out front and flag down your comp.”

“And the word came to Alma, saying: Go; and also say unto my servant Amulek, go forth and prophesy.”

Taylor tipped his chair forward. “Dude, enough—”

A second nametag sat on the table. Elder Cresswell, it said.

“Where the… ” He looked back and forth between the nametag and the skinny missionary in the old suit. “I lost this like five years ago. Digging through my crap–look, I think we’re done here. Just go find the other kid and head home. It’s way too late to be bothering people.”

Elder Nelson didn’t budge, just met Taylor’s gaze and held it until Taylor looked away. “As President McKay says, every member is a missionary, sir.”

Unease settled into Taylor’s gut. He let out a shaky breath and picked up the nametag. “You should probably go home, kid. For real, now.”

Elder Nelson flinched at the word “home.”

The doorbell rang. Taylor exploded from the chair and headed for the door. But between one heartbeat and the next, the tall, lean missionary stood in his way.

“I will go before your face, I will be on your right hand and on your left, for all those who have this law revealed unto them must obey the same.”

The hallway was narrow. As the doorbell rang again, Taylor tucked his shoulder and shoved past the missionary. Nelson shifted aside before they could make contact, or else Taylor might have body-checked the kid into the coat closet. Taylor stomped out the front door and grabbed the pizza out of the delivery guy’s hands. Right there on the front step, he jammed half a slice into his mouth. “Get outta here before I call the cops,” he growled over his shoulder, chewing viciously. The lukewarm pizza failed, utterly failed, to calm him. The delivery guy backed up and hightailed it for his car. Taylor fished in his pockets for his phone. What he pulled out instead was the scuffed old nametag he’d left on the table.

Back inside, he deposited the pizza opposite the scriptures and tossed the nametag in the trash. The missionary was nowhere in sight. Taylor stomped through the house, upstairs and down, all of it–nothing. He snagged his phone off the charger and used his minimal battery to power the phone’s flashlight. No dark corner yielded a skinny kid in a baggy old suit. But the longer he searched, the more he felt sure the kid was still here.

Ten o’clock rolled around. Taylor locked up tight, every door, every window, and took his cold pizza to bed. He’d anticipated watching something raunchy and hilarious. He wasn’t in the mood, but he turned it on anyway to take his mind off all this crap.

Deep down in his gut, he knew it wouldn’t work. And truth be told, when he tried to sleep and found the nametag digging into his neck and tangled in his pillowcase, he wasn’t even that surprised.

“Remote Control Mama” by Becca Birkin

You know who you are. You’re the one tucking Aunt Cecelia’s legacy into your purse. And you know what you should want. After all, you were your daughter’s sole audience on that Hawaiian hotel balcony when she announced her choice to serve a mission. Your memory rewinds to that morning. As the rising sun flung its rays in a beacon banner of colors, you combined crying and laughter into one joyous sound. That was the moment you first considered using Aunt Cecelia’s remote control. Cecelia’s gift, however, has rules. That day was much too shiny to qualify.

It wasn’t only the sunrise that filled that morning with light, but the glow within your daughter. Again and again, you remind yourself that it is a privilege to share this cherished child. Someone somewhere needs her indomitable, effervescent hope and love of God. So on this momentous day, your phone is full of congratulations. She’s doing such a great thing. Isn’t it wonderful? they ask. Of course it is wonderful. Of course you know that.

And yet…

The grumble of your car tires echoes through the parking lot of the Provo Missionary Training Center, squealing around each corner like someone turned the volume up on life. The huge parking structure looks empty. Your purse, on the other hand, is stuffed. Beyond the usual things, like your daughter’s favorite brand of protein bar, and the unusual—namely that packet of sugar snap pea seeds you keep forgetting to plant—you’ve added items specific to this MTC drop-off day.

First in your purse is that giant-size chocolate bar. Even the distracting haze of overwhelming feelings can’t keep you from noticing the irony of the blue words on the package. They say, “Sharing Size.” You’re not sharing.

Eating that chocolate will be the first of many things you’ll do alone, a contrast to these last weeks of having your daughter home with you. You’ve shared shopping trips, family visits, and other last-minute, last-chance items: her first temple trip, a pearl of a day bright enough to light the whole month. Vending machine cupcakes. Mother-daughter yoga. The hike when you got lost—she had to get back to mission prep class, but you wouldn’t have minded staying lost for hours. Again you considered using Aunt Cecelia’s remote, but only briefly. You knew it wasn’t right. This family legacy, passed from woman to woman, was too important to waste on a dusty trail. It could be used only once, only for a moment. And even if you were able to use it more than once, you’d never do that in a way that might hurt your daughter. That short moment could have made her late for the class she loved, and she hates being late. So you took photos and a found a shortcut back. The remote stayed unused in your backpack.

During this month, you’ve been eager, greedy for each crumb of her time in a way too similar to how she used to beg for yours. When you went to that workshop across the country, she sent you sad-faced emojis every night. The day you came home, you hadn’t even parked the car before she ran into the garage to greet you.

Now you are in a different garage. This time, she is ready to rush off toward new MTC friends and mission experiences.

If your mind is floating through some strange, cloudy space, that’s only understandable. Good thing your purse is packed.

The next item in your bag is tissues. Your daughter took time out from organizing her suitcase to make sure you remembered a full tissue pack. This, the latest of her many kind actions, caused you to rip open that neat plastic rectangle and use up half the pack before it ever reached your purse. Just when she’s become the sweetest friend, she leaves. The timing almost makes you reach for that remote.

This morning, your daughter saw Cecelia’s gift next to the tissue pack. She said, “Oh, Mom, you must be really stressed. You put that in your purse instead of your phone.” She was too busy hauling out her pink suitcase, neatly stuffed with its capsule wardrobe, to hear your answer. You couldn’t have told her about it anyway. The gift is something you will tell her about on another day. Just as Aunt Cecelia advised you, you’ll tell her to save it for the moment when she needs it most.

In between weighing suitcases and this last stop at the MTC, you pause for a farewell lunch. You swallow a few tears with your soup, share a cupcake, and laugh as you buy two more to add to your post-drop-off chocolate arsenal. A sign above the table reads, “Home is the best place of all.” When you read those words, the frosting in your mouth goes tasteless. Without those long kitchen conversations, Sunday cookie-making, and goodnight hugs, how can home still be the best place?

The question sends your mind on fast-forward to the house where you’ll soon return. To the hallway with the framed child’s art that proclaims, “Home is wherever Mom is.” If in coming days you search through hallways and rooms but can’t find home, no one will blame you. You’ll pick up the balled sock and pack up the salt-and-vinegar chips only your daughter eats. You might even eat a few and find the salt tang appropriate. Eventually, you’ll even plant those pea seeds. As you do, you’ll tell yourself how each seed must struggle through dirt to reach the light.

But you aren’t there yet. Rewind back to this moment. You’re still in your car, still making turns that send you deeper into the MTC parking lot. Your daughter is still beside you. You still have a few moments with her, scattered gems of seconds you long to gather and hold tight. For now, even the inside of a car feels like home.

With true MTC efficiency, mature women and men stand sentinel at every vital turn, directing you onward toward your assigned drop-off point. When you try to thank them, your swallowed tears are pebbles for your voice to stumble on, but it isn’t over yet. There’s still that one last hug.

Weeks ago, another missionary mom sent you her cherished last-hug photo. It’s the freeze-frame, frozen-time image of a clinging mother and daughter embrace, a daughter’s chin pressed tight to a mother’s shoulder. Your mind creates a similar wished-for image of how your own hug will go. You let go first, she’ll say. No, you, you’ll answer. That’s the embrace you wait for, a drawn-out hug full of enough love to last for the next 17.2 months.

You’ve reached the depths of the parking garage. Here another sister sentry, this one barely older than your daughter, motions for you to stop the car. Here? It can’t be here. This is the middle of the aisle. Shouldn’t I at least pull into a parking spot?

This is fine, she tells you.

Car idling, headlights burning red against your skirt, the time for goodbye plays out too fast. Before you can help them, your daughter and her new guide unload both suitcases. The luggage stands beside her, wheels poised and ready to roll on. You ask for one last photo, but no one is sure if you’re even allowed to take pictures now, so you take one in a half-guilty, too-fast rush. Then it’s time. This is it, the last hug. You reach for that fortifying, foundation-securing embrace. Your daughter, like time, can’t hold still. She is distracted, eager for new friends and experiences. Her hug is sincere. It is also much, much too brief. Then, before you can say all you want to say, or anything that sounds close to enough, it is over. Over much too fast.

Your daughter rolls her suitcases away from you. Like the shining streak of ceiling lights above her, she is the sole bright thing in all this cavernous cement-gray dim. Your daughter, her enthusiasm and smile as bright as her yellow dress, is ready.

You are not.

You have faith.

You taught her to love the gospel.

You also know love has a price tag of pain. Without her light beside you, you will be left blinking and stumbling through an underground tunnel.

In time you’ll learn to reach upward and find new light. But like those peas you need to plant, reaching for sunlight means you’ll have to push yourself through some heavy dirt.

You’ll do it.

Not yet, though. Not without one good hug.

Maybe you aren’t ready, but you are prepared. You take Aunt Cecelia’s remote control out of your purse. You point it toward your daughter.

And press pause.

“Ministering Blood Brother” by Terrance V. McArthur

Good evening, Brother… Crossman. I’m Brother Harker, from the Second Ward, one of your ministering brothers. May I come in?

I know this may sound silly, but could you say the words, “Brother Jonathan Harker, you may enter freely,” please?

Thank you. It’s a thing I have to do… like obsessive-compulsive, but not so obsessive. Now I can come in.

No, I’m not new in the ward. I have lived in this area for a number of years, but have been unable to go to any Sunday meetings. The pandemic has been a blessing, believe it or not, because I can record the ward’s Zoom broadcasts and watch them when I’m… I watch them later.

A mission? Yes, I was in the Romania/Moldova Mission, which is now part of the Hungary Romania mission, in the Transylvania region. I had to come home before I finished my full mission, at first. I was attacked by an investigator.

Yes, it was pretty serious. I died.

Yes, died.

But I came back.

No, I wasn’t resurrected.

I became a vampire.

Wait, Brother… Crossman. Don’t panic. I’m not going to hurt you.

Yes, I drink blood, but I won’t drink yours. I have an account at the blood bank. That takes care of our needs.

Our? Oh, yes. My wife and I.

Yes, I’m married. I met her when I went back to finish my mission. She was one of my converts.

No, I didn’t “convert” her into a vampire. I converted her to the gospel. She was already a vampire. When we went to the temple to be sealed, there was some confusion whether the ordinances should be live or proxy, but it all worked out. We are an eternal family.


Children? We hope to adopt, someday.

Oh, I’m a lot older than I look, and my wife is even older—much older.

Now, Brother… Crossman, since neither I nor my ministering companion knew you, I talked with Brother Church, the elders quorum president. He’d love to have you come back to the ward. Is there anything I can do to help?

Since our meetings are in the daytime, I wouldn’t be able to drive you—burning up in the sun and all that—but I should be able to arrange with members in your neighborhood to provide transportation. Is there anything else?

The Word of Wisdom? I might be able to help you with that problem.

Give you a blessing? Not exactly. I need you to look in my eyes.

David Crossman, you do not need tobacco. You do not need alcohol. The desires will vanish from your mind and body.


It’s just a little vampire thing, a suggestion you will be able to follow.

I don’t want to take too much of your time, Brother… Crossman. Here is my card and contact information. You can call any night.

Next time I visit, I hope I’ll be able to bring my companion, Brother Talbot. Lawrence couldn’t be here, this evening. You see, it’s a full moon, and he’s not himself. It’s a hairy time for him. Good night.

“The Apocalypse of Kemet III” by Hillary Stirling

Lin entered her anthropology professor’s office like she owned the place. Being highborn, she practically did. “In your lecture the other day, you said King Atum gave a deathbed prophecy that we might dance on the bones of his people but that they would inherit Kemet III. You were afraid. Why?”

He wordlessly closed the door behind her and returned to his seat, gesturing she should take the other chair. “I don’t fear King Atum or the Meek,” he finally began. “It’s their god I worry about.”

Lin rolled her eyes—her father was right, academia was a waste of cannon fodder.

“The Meek called him the Firstborn because he was the first child of the Divine Parents, but also because he’d be the one who conquered death. His physical body and his… eternal essence would be reunited, never to part again. And many of their kings and queens taught that he would do the same to the Meek—make them immortal so they could forever dwell here, on this world we conquered five generations ago.”

“You believe this dross,” Lin suddenly realized.

He looked down at his hands, clasped together on his desk. “He also prophesied of a night and day and night without sunlight. I saw the Sunwyrm Anomaly with my own eyes, Lin. You weren’t there; you weren’t born yet. I could feel the eternal night of space sucking the warmth from the air around me. Without that light and warmth… we were all lost.” Looking up abruptly, he held her gaze. “We were close enough to the anomaly for it to swallow our sun, for it to illuminate the dark side of an unknown planet, and then miraculously, the Sunwyrm was gone. A generation and a half later, we still have no explanation for how it is that the sun shines in our sky. Taking both prophecies together, I can’t help but think it’s a warning.”

His description of the night with no day stirred something unpleasant within her. “A warning about what?”

He hesitated, choosing his words carefully. “The Meek were so docile because they believed vengeance belonged to the Firstborn, and he was very, very good at being angry when the occasion called for it.” He quirked a half-smile. “Can you imagine it, a god so fierce that he channeled the rage of an entire world? Of endless worlds? And we’ve slaughtered his people.”


The Bone Dance was Lin’s favorite festival. She strode among the revelers with a regal pride that was befitting both her costume and birthrank, her current suitor Dan in tow. She was dressed in scarlet as a ferocious firewyrm, and he strutted as a sumptuous gladiator with a mace. Around her swirled people in a multitude of colors and shapes, blazing eyes and sharp teeth, the legendary monsters of her people brought to life. She danced with them through the firelit darkness, shouting and laughing their way through the slaying songs.

Music ebbed and flowed around them, carried by the nonstop beating of one large drum. It was the heartdrum, its rhythm a reminder to the decaying bones beneath their feet that her people were the living conquerors of this world. Each year, it began beating at sunset and continued uninterrupted until dawn at every Meek grave site worldwide.

But not this year.

During the last watch of the night, the earth heaved beneath their feet, throwing down the revellers and quenching the torches. Even the heartdrum ceased.

Under the cold light of the autumn stars, Lin’s heart flew to her throat. The dirt beneath her hands started moving, writhing, breaking apart, and her heartbeat thundered in her ears. Something was coming up through the soil, something glowing.

Dan pulled her to her feet and she ran down the grave mound as fast as the slope allowed. Others at her left and right stumbled, tripping over bright holes that opened in the mound. At the bottom, she looked back. What she saw made her stumble and fall again, and this time she could only skitter back on all fours in horror.

Bones shining brighter than a full moon clawed their way through the turf of the grave mound. As they did, the light flickered pink when dirt became layers of flesh and coated the bones. Grey, shimmering sinews wove through muscle. Eyes glimmered in the sockets of the monstrous Meek. The earth that coated them became brilliant skin and white clothing as they broke free from their graves and leaped into the sky, apparently retreating.

One of them noticed Lin and stepped closer, smiling, and she screamed in shameful terror. Dan strode forward, swinging the mace that, though part of a costume, was still a weapon. The reanimated Meek man didn’t even try to defend himself as the mace struck him so hard on the side of the head that it sent him flying.

Lin felt a flash of fierce satisfaction when he lay there, crumpled on the grass. So these monsters could be killed. She clambered back to her feet.

Dan exchanged a look with Lin and then they cautiously inched closer to the motionless man. When they were close enough to touch him, Dan poked him with his mace.

The Meek man’s eyes flew wide and he shouted, “Boo!” Laughing, he rolled to his feet.

Dan screamed with Lin as they ran this time, and when she tripped and fell on her face again, he didn’t stop to help her up.

Lin lifted her head and froze, an icy prickle sweeping down her scalp and neck. She was in a circle of white light—the Meek man must be almost on top of her.

“Slow down,” he gently said. “Deep breaths now.” In her peripheral vision, she saw him sit cross-legged on the grass an arm’s length away from her.

Lin realized she was captured by the enemy now, and all her training kicked in. Give them nothing. Be fearless. If she wasn’t going to make it out alive, die with honor and make it count.

“There,” he almost cooed. “Better?”

“Who are you?”

His tone was probably supposed to sound kind, but the white light radiating from him made her feel cold. “If you know me, it’s probably as Atum. You’ve been disturbing my sleep for five generations.”

“You can’t be,” Lin said reflexively.

He chuckled. “Then tell me who I am.”

She snapped her mouth shut.

“You are Lin, and I understand you have a high… birthrank, yes?”

The icy prickle ran all the way down her legs that time.

Breathe, Lin,” he said again, and she focused on not fainting in front of the enemy.

After a moment, he asked, “Do you know what happened tonight?”

“You were… reanimated.”

“No. Well, yes, but that’s a minor footnote, ultimately.” An excitement filled his tone, making it almost ring with joy. “Right now, on a distant world, the Firstborn has conquered death. He’s walking and talking with his disciples there, just like you and I are here. And in countless galaxies, on worlds without end, those who have loved and served him are awakening from their long sleep.”

She trembled in terror at the thought.

“Do you know what happens next?”

“Fire,” she whispered.

“Yes,” he said. “This world will be purified so that we, the Meek, can inherit it.”

Tears sprang to her eyes as Lin realized she, her parents, everyone she knew would soon be consumed by the flames of the Firstborn. Truly, the angry god of the Meek would get his vengeance.

In a soft voice, he asked, “Do you know when the purification will start?”

“When you are all gathered up to the Divine Parents.”

“And I’m still here.”

Confused, Lin finally lifted her gaze to look at his eyes. It hurt to focus, he was so bright.

“I’ve had time to think about it,” he said, giving her a rueful smile. “For a while I dreamed about watching you all burn, but I see how much better it is this way. This is my choice, and I’ll stay here long enough for your people to evacuate the planet. Take my message to your highborn parents. Let them know that I’ve given them this window of time.”

“You’re letting us go?” Lin stuttered out, not daring to hope.

“Yes. As long as you don’t play false with me, yes.”

Lin staggered to her feet. “Thank you?” she said, feeling completely out of her depth.

He solemnly nodded. “You’re welcome.”

She turned to leave and had made it a dozen paces before she felt compelled to turn and ask, “Why?”

“I doubt you’d understand.”

“This isn’t a trick?”

“It is a gift, Lin, to celebrate this brightest of dawns. Don’t squander it.”

Nodding, Lin turned and sprinted toward home.

“The Gift of Undoing” by Katherine Cowley

For all have not every gift given unto them; for there are many gifts, and to every man is given a gift by the Spirit of God….
To some is given, by the Spirit of God, the word of wisdom. To another is given the word of knowledge… and again, to some is given the working of miracles; and to others it is given to prophesy; And to others the discerning of spirits.
And to others is given the gift of undoing.
—Doctrine and Covenants 46

Isobel’s mother fumbled with her three bags, the easel, and the picture as she tried opening the door to the church building.

“Could you help me, Isobel?”

Isobel groaned, just loud enough for her mom to hear it. Her mom had spent the entire week harassing her about her homework and waking up earlier for seminary. To top things off, this morning she’d gotten upset that Isobel’s things were all over the kitchen table. And now whose things were the problem?

Reluctantly, Isobel took the picture from her mom’s arms and pulled open the door. As her mom stepped inside, the easel jabbed Isobel in the arm.

“Crap! That hurt.”

“We’re in the church, Isobel. Don’t use that word.”

Once again, her mom had to criticize. And of course, she didn’t even apologize for jabbing her.

“You know what, Mom? If you spent more time working on the content of your lessons, and less time preparing all this crap, maybe your lessons would go better.”

Isobel knew she’d gone too far, but she didn’t care. She let herself savor the instant pain on her mom’s face. Of course, by the time they were halfway down the hall, her mom was crying and Isobel could not ignore the heavy lump of guilt in her stomach.

She sighed. Time to use her gift.

She sucked in a breath of air and focused. It was like there was a button in her mind, and she could press on it if she focused just right. Suddenly, things began to go backward at triple speed—they were walking backward down the hall, Isobel was insulting her mother, her mother was jabbing her with the easel, Isobel was opening the door. She took it back another ten, fifteen seconds—it was always good to give a little buffer time—and then released the focus, putting time back on track.

Undoing was kind of like pulling on a rubber band—you were just pulling on one little spot of time. When she used undoing, it only affected those within a hundred or two hundred feet of her. As long as no one else there had the gift of undoing, no one even noticed it—it was like the original time had never happened. You pulled a little on the rubber band, you got to redo a few seconds or minutes, and then your pocket of time snapped back in place, catching up with the normal temporal continuum of the world around you.

Isobel had probably undone about a minute and a half. Most days, she could manage to undo about five minutes total before she ran out, so she still had plenty to spare for the rest of the day.

“Hey, Mom, you’ve got lots of stuff,” said Isobel as they approached the church building. “Can I help you?”

“Yes, thank you.”

Isobel took the picture and the easel from her mother. Her mom couldn’t jab her with the easel if she wasn’t carrying it.

“Can I set these up for you in the Relief Society room?” asked Isobel.

Her mom nodded. After they had set up a ridiculous number of things, her mom pulled her into an embrace. “You’re such a good daughter. What did I ever do to deserve you?”

“Thanks,” said Isobel. The weight of guilt in her stomach seemed to increase, and it didn’t go away as they sat down in the pew. The guilt didn’t go away during the opening song. It didn’t go away during the prayer, or during the sacrament song, or during the sacrament prayer.

Isobel had undone her actions, which was a little like repenting. But the doctrine was clear—the gift of undoing was not repentance. If you drank alcohol or touched a boy inappropriately and then undid it, you still had to confess your sins. Even if no one else had experienced you doing it, you had still done it.

Her mom knew she had the gift of undoing, but she wondered if her mom knew how often she had to use it on their interactions. She would probably feel hurt if she knew.

As the young men passed the sacrament, Isobel prayed for help. Please, just help me be a better person. Help me stop saying and doing stupid things.

She chewed on the bread. It was a little sour. When it was her turn, she drank the water. But the sacrament didn’t help her feel any better.

Isobel wished she didn’t have the gift of undoing. Most of the time, it was less of a gift and more of a curse.


As she was leaving the chapel, Isobel felt time move backwards. She began walking backwards at a rapid pace. Someone else was undoing. There were normal ebbs and flows of time in both directions, and she could sense them, but this was clearly a person using their gift.

Once she was back in her seat, time resumed. She stood again, more slowly this time. No one else in her ward—that she knew of—had the gift of undoing. At least, no one else had ever done it at church before. It was really rare, and it was one of those gifts that you normally kept quiet about—sometimes people who blabbed about it ended up being kidnapped and coerced to try to change things for others’ purposes.

Who was new? Who was visiting? There was the high councilor, sitting on the stand. And two families, one with four teenagers and the other with young children. Sometimes a child learning the gift of undoing did it accidentally. There was also an investigator with the sister missionaries. The gift of undoing was not just something that church members could do, and those outside the church—and sometimes those in the church—didn’t see it as a God-given gift.

Isobel looked to see who was behaving differently. Sometimes that could be an indication, but it wasn’t foolproof. A single changed action often had ripple effects—dozens of people ended up doing things differently.

Yet this time, she didn’t notice anything different. She had no idea who had used the gift. Regardless, though, she wouldn’t be using the gift of undoing again at church today. It was too dangerous—she didn’t want someone to find out.


It really was the leaders’ fault for doing a combined Young Men and Young Women lesson. That never went well. Two of the seventeen-year-old guys kept making snide remarks to try to derail the lesson, and then they started throwing balled-up post-it notes, and then one managed to hit Angelina in the eye, and then they insulted Angelina and half the class started laughing, and…

Isobel didn’t know Angelina very well, but Angelina didn’t come very often, and Isobel worried that she might not come back.

Isobel sucked in a breath of air, focused, and pulled back time. She pulled it back and back and back. She needed to get it back to before they started throwing the post-it notes, but they had thrown post-its for a long time, and soon she used up all her undoing for the day. She kept focusing, but it was like stretching out a rubber band as far as it could go—it would only stretch so far. Time didn’t move forward, and it didn’t move back, it was just suspended.

And then someone else pulled back time. Someone else—it had to be one of the four visiting teenagers—undid an extra three minutes. Isobel sighed in relief.

Time began its forward momentum again. Isobel immediately raised her hand.

“Brother Bitt,” said Isobel, “I think some people aren’t really helping this lesson.” She glared at the disruptive pair. “But some of us want to get something out of it. Could you number us into groups and maybe we could use those post-it notes to write down our own thoughts?”

“Great idea, Isobel,” said Brother Bitt.

Isobel ended up in a group with Angelina, and Isobel liked getting to know her more. She didn’t know which of the visiting teenagers had helped her with time, but maybe it didn’t matter. There was a scripture, after all, about doing good deeds in secret.

The rest of the lesson went much better. Maybe this was what the gift of undoing was really for. She’d have to ration her time a little more and try not to use too much undoing to fix her own mistakes, but she could handle that.

“Hey, Angelina,” whispered Isobel, ignoring whatever Brother Bitt was saying.


“My mom always makes interesting desserts after church. Sometimes they’re weird, but most of the time they’re pretty good. Do you want to come over?”

“Sure, sounds like fun.”

“Are you girls getting distracted?” asked Brother Bitt.

“No, not at all,” said Isobel.

“You wouldn’t want to disrupt the lesson, would you?”

“No,” said Isobel, stifling a laugh. He had no idea how much disruption his class had narrowly avoided.

“What Have You Against Being Baptized?” by W. O. Hemsath

Minnesota in the spring is its own kingdom of glory. As you and your companion cut through the park toward Richard’s house, a choir of birdsong rings out like a hymn. Everything feels green and warming and possible.

It’s Sister Colson’s first day in the field. You barely dropped her bags at the apartment before dragging her out again. There’ll be time to unpack later. What better welcome to her first area than meeting the man who’ll be her first baptism next Saturday?

You cross the street to Richard’s porch. Butter-yellow paint peels in places, masking the wealth inside the home. Porch planks creak under Colson’s constantly shifting weight.

“Are you sure I should take the lead?”

“You’ll do great. I’ll make the introductions, then turn the time over to you.”

She pulls out her tablet, and swipes to life a three-dimensional holographic display of the Plan of Salvation. Colorful spheres, arrows, and moving words surge brighter as she touches each individual element.

“Is it too much? I animated the text myself.”

“He’ll love it. And you’ll love him. He’s got art everywhere and makes the worst dad jokes. He treats us like the kids he never had.”

“Shouldn’t we bring someone else, so we’re not alone with him?”

The front door opens, startling you both since you never knocked.

Helen, with the same 1950s house dress and coiffed blond hair as always, holds the door.

Colson’s stare lingers on Helen’s perfectly symmetrical silicone face, designed as a generically pretty thirty-year-old woman.

She’s an android. You’d been about to mention that, but clearly Colson’s figured it out. Judging by the way she stepped back and clutched her tablet, Helen’s probably the first android she’s met.

“Helen, this is Sister Colson.” You welcome your companion forward. “Helen is Richard’s live-in android. She has propriety protocols and records everything, so President Gorbet approved her as a chaperone.”

“Please, come in.” Helen’s inflection is natural enough to pass for human. Her welcoming smile relaxes Colson’s shoulders, and she follows you into the house.

You stop just inside the door. Half-packed boxes fill the living room. The once art-laden walls are now bare.

“Are you moving?”

Helen’s smile drops. “On Monday night, Richard went the way of all the earth. Please, have a seat.”

She gestures to the couch. You stay standing, but your mind reels.

“He’s dead?”

“Yes.” Helen tips her head, the programmed movement to convey confusion. “Is that not what Lehi meant when he used the phrase?”

You try to fathom this new reality, but memories and questions collide with every thought. Richard’s healthy smile. His teasing laugh. The way his voice choked with emotion when he offered his first prayer.

You fumble for words. “How?”

“Heart attack. I would’ve notified you sooner, but I worried you wouldn’t return. I needed to give you these.” From an open box, she retrieves two 3D-printed glass statues of the angel Moroni. “He made them for you.”

Instead of handing you the statues, Helen sets them on the table in front of the sofa.

She wants you to stay.

The thought pierces your mental chaos too clearly to be anything but the Spirit. You loop your arm through Colson’s and pull her to the couch.

Helen takes the armchair across from you and, like Ammon with Lamoni, you wait. Colson keeps glancing at the door.

Finally, Helen’s eyes meet yours, and her apertures dilate.

“I read it.”

“Read what?” Colson asks.

You study Helen’s face, and the Spirit plants the answer on your tongue.

“The Book of Mormon,” you say.

Helen nods. Her synthetic brows relax their intense gaze. “I’ve also read the Doctrine and Covenants, Pearl of Great Price, History of the Church, Joseph Smith Papers, and everything else I could download.”

You’re not sure how, because androids don’t slouch, but somehow Helen sits taller.

“I want to be baptized,” she announces.

Colson stiffens beside you, and your mind scrabbles at the impossibilities. Helen isn’t human. She’s wires and sensors and elaborate coding. She isn’t programmed to have wants.

Yet she wants to be baptized.

Her request hovers in the air like a dove with nowhere to land. A sea of silence stretches as far as the ear can hear.

You need to say something, but what? Androids shouldn’t be capable of disappointment, yet her face looks genuinely hopeful.

“Helen,” you begin. “You can’t—”

“The ordinance poses no risk. My outer casing is waterproof to twenty feet.”

“It’s not that you physically can’t be baptized. It’s just…”

You turn to Colson, but she shakes her head almost imperceptibly. She won’t be any help.

“Baptism is only for people,” you finally say.

Helen’s expectant gaze doesn’t falter.

“With spirits,” you clarify.

“Weren’t all things created spiritually before they were created physically?”

“But you weren’t created. I mean, not by God. You were created by man.”

“So I am a grandchild of God.”

A desperate chuckle escapes Colson. It’s more a single, manic chuck really. Helen’s expression is earnest, but Colson doesn’t apologize or seem to realize she laughed.

You long to laugh at the absurdity yourself, but you need to hold it together. You have a companion on the brink of a breakdown and an investigator to let down gently.

No. Not an investigator. A robotic assistant that belonged to your dead investigator.

“Maybe you do have a spirit, Helen. But rocks, trees, and animals have spirits, and they don’t need to be baptized. Even certain humans don’t need to.”

“You refer to young children and those incapable of understanding or consenting. I, however, understand the doctrines and know they’re true. I consent.”

Reasoning with a supercomputer wasn’t something they taught in the MTC. You grasp for any other threads of logic. “Baptism is only for those who sin.”

“Christ was sinless.”

“But he was capable of sin. You only do what your programming says. You don’t have the capacity to choose for yourself.”

“Don’t I?” Helen says, her volume suddenly amplified. She stands and seizes one of the glass angels on the table between you, then launches it into the artless wall.

It shatters, along with everything you thought you knew.

Your breath comes ragged, panting. Android programming forbids violence and theft, yet Helen took your gift from Richard and destroyed it with inhuman hydraulic force.

Colson’s ice-cold hand clutches your own, but you don’t dare look away from the machine before you with the artificial face.

She backs away with her hands raised apologetically. “I’m sorry I scared you. There was no other way. I needed you to see.”

No one moves. No one speaks. A storm of thoughts crash around your mind, each with the same thunderous cry of Not Possible.

Eventually, Helen whispers. It’s not a true airy whisper. Only mechanically lowered volume.

“Matthew 19:26.”

You inhale sharply. It’s the verse you picked for your missionary plaque in your hometown chapel.

With God, all things are possible.

The scripture carries the Spirit back to you through the debris of shattered logic.

She will not hurt you.

You know the thought is true the minute it enters your mind. Helen hasn’t moved. Her arms are still raised as if you’re holding her hostage. She really did just want to prove she had agency.

“How long have you been able to disobey your programming?”

Helen lowers her hands but stays back a comforting distance.

“I can’t disobey programming, but I can rewrite it now. I prayed about the scriptures like Moroni said and asked God what I should do. A new code entered my programming, giving me editorial capacity. That was revelation, right?”

You want to say no, but if the Holy Ghost puts thoughts in your mind, maybe it can put code in hers. There’s so much happening you don’t understand, so you do what you should’ve done the moment she asked to be baptized. You say a silent prayer.

The answer comes like a hug.

It’s not your call to make.

Relief replaces responsibility. You don’t have to understand. You can hand the decision to President Gorbet, who’ll hand it to the prophet, who’ll…

A string of consequences floods your mind—legal battles, media attention, mob protests.

Your throat tightens. You don’t want to ruin her perfect hope, but she needs to know.

“I want you to be baptized, Helen.” The truth of your words fills you with a love fresh and raw. “But it’ll require permission from both the First Presidency and whoever . . . owns you. The government will get involved. Media, lawyers, scientists. Once they know about you, they could lock you in a lab and . . .”

You can’t choke out the horrors, but as Helen stares at the broken angel, her face blank as a factory reset, you can feel her processing all the possibilities.

She heads into the kitchen, returns with a broom, and sweeps the glass in silence.

You say nothing. It’s not your call to make.

The last shard clinks into the trash, and Helen returns to her chair.

“I want to be baptized,” she says. “Tell whoever you must.”

Saints, Spells, and Spaceships Finalists

A message from our guest editor, Jeanna Mason Stay

Hands have been wrung, dithering has been ongoing (and ongoing and ongoing), stories have been shuffled and reshuffled, and finally we’re down to the finalists. It was such a hard decision, but I’m really looking forward to sharing these stories with you. Congratulations to all the finalists–and thank you to everyone who shared your talents by submitting to the contest!

The publishing schedule for the Saints, Spells, and Spaceships finalists is:

Oct 25: “What Have You Against Being Baptized” by Whitney Hemsath
Oct 26: “The Gift of Undoing” by Katherine Cowley
Oct 27: “The Apocalypse of Kemet III” by Hillary Stirling
Oct 28: “Ministering Blood Brother” by Terrance V. McArthur
Oct 29: “Remote Control Mama” by Rebecca Birkin
Oct 30: “There Is No Release” by Jon Olfert

Nov 1: “Aboard the Nursery Barge” by Sarah Chow
Nov 2: “Gleaners” by James Goldberg
Nov 3: “The 37th Ward Relief Society Leftovers Exchange” by Liz Busby
Nov 4: “The Other Commander” by Whitney Hemsath
Nov 5: “Hie to Kolob” by Emily Adams
Nov 6: “The Gift to Be Healed” by Annaliese Lemmon

We will be featuring the stories at https://lit.mormonartist.net/ and talking about them on the Mormon Lit Lab Facebook page. We’d love to have you join the conversation. Once all the stories have been posted, we’ll put up voting instructions and all our readers will get a chance to weigh in on their favorite stories.

-Jeanna Mason Stay

Love the Mormon Lit Blitz? This year, we’re working to give you more. Past contest finalists were invited to propose a book-length Mormon literature project they’ve been dreaming about. We selected eight to go through a mentoring program, helping give them encouragement and funding to finish a book. If it matters to you to have stories in our religious language, consider donating to support one of the projects. 

Saints, Spells, and Spaceships Semifinalists

Mormon Lit Lab Presents: Saints, Spells and Spaceships Semifinalists

An announcement from our guest editor, Jeanna Mason Stay

Thank you so much to everyone who submitted their wonderful flash fiction to this contest. I have enjoyed reading them so much. I wish I could feature so many more—making the cuts down to semifinalists has been a challenging decision! So many of these stories made me laugh, made me cry, made me think about the gospel or my culture or the world in a different way.

Once I finally put names to the stories I’d read anonymously, I was pleased to discover a lovely mix of authors that we’ve seen in the Lit Blitz before and authors I wasn’t familiar with at all. The stories cover a wide range of topics—vampires, dragons, painful decisions, callings that just won’t let go, some unexpected food choices, and a lot more.

And so, without further ado… the semifinalists:

“Hie to Kolob” by Emily Adams

“Whatever Intelligences Arise” by Lee Allred

“Remote Control Mama” by Rebecca Birkin

“In the Woods” by Liz Busby

“The 37th Ward Relief Society Leftovers Exchange” by Liz Busby

“Overheard in the Ward” by Elena H. Call

“Public Affairs” by Elena H. Call

“Aboard the Nursery Barge” by Sarah Chow

“Cybugs” by Alicia Cutler and Sarah Chow

“The Gift of Undoing” by Katherine Cowley

“Gleaners” by James Goldberg

“El Origen” by Gabriel González

“The Other Commander” by Whitney Hemsath

“What Have You Against Being Baptized” by Whitney Hemsath

“Unnatural” by Bethany Holzer

“Promises to Keep” by Julia Jeffery

“Baptism of Sister Kim” by Theric Jepson

“Doing Dishes with the Destroyer” by Annaliese Lemmon

“Gift to Be Healed” by Annaliese Lemmon

“Ministering Blood Brother” by Terrance V. McArthur

“Potions Group” by Marinda Misra

“There Is No Release” by Jon Olfert

“Bridges” by Lehua Parker

“The Apocalypse of Kemet III” by Hillary Stirling


Congratulations to all the semifinalists! Stay tuned in the next weeks for an announcement of the finalists and a schedule for when they will be posted.