Saints, Spells, and Spaceships: Audience and Judge’s Choice Awards

A note from Jeanna Mason Stay:

One thing I’ve enjoyed about hosting this contest has been seeing the different ways that readers have responded to these stories. I knew from the outset that not everyone would see the stories the same way I did, but I didn’t know how much I would enjoy seeing other readers’ perspectives (if you missed out, go check out the Mormon Lit Lab Facebook page to see some of the conversations on the various pieces). In a few cases, those comments refocused the way I saw the pieces and added to the depth of my appreciation for them.

But enough about my thoughts! Let’s see what the audience has chosen.

Audience Choice Award

The votes are in. It was a very close race between first and second place, and every story received votes for all four places. With a little spreadsheet magic, votes were tabulated, points were scored, and winners were determined.

And here they are:

4th place: “Hie to Kolob” by Emily Harris Adams
3rd place: “Remote Control Mama” by Becca Birkin
2nd place: “What Have You Against Being Baptized?” by W. O. Hemsath

And the winner is…

1st place: “The 37th Ward Relief Society Leftovers Exchange” by Liz Busby

Judge’s Choice Award

This year’s guest judge, Eric James Stone, read the stories and picked his favorite. And lo and behold, he too has chosen “The 37th Ward Relief Society Leftover Exchange”!

Here’s what Eric had to say about the story:

“What if people’s emotions ended up in the food they made? That little bit of magic allows the characters to literally fulfill the baptismal covenant to ‘mourn with those that mourn.’ But what made this story stand out was the unusual device of a plural protagonist, a ward Relief Society. Far from being a gimmick, the use of a plural protagonist is intricately tied to the theme of the story: ‘So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another’ (Romans 12:5).”


Congratulations to all of our winners! And thank you, readers, for coming along with us on this journey through LDS spec fic. We hope you’ve all enjoyed the contest and will stick around for the Mormon Lit Blitz next year and for our authors’ future publications.


Meet the Authors and Guest Judge

A note from Jeanna Mason Stay:

While I knew and recognized most of the authors who ended up as finalists this year, there were a few names I was unfamiliar with and a few names whose works I had forgotten about and needed to rediscover. I love the things the authors have done for this contest, and I’m looking forward to following their work more closely in the future.

If you’re in the same boat (hopefully not a barge full of nursery-aged children), I hope you’ll take the time to learn more about the authors, check out their other works, and follow them on social media.

Stay tuned tomorrow for an announcement of the winners!

Emily Harris Adams is the mother of three children, a community theater enthusiast, a benevolent people watcher, an avid singer, and a reluctant housekeeper. She also writes in the copious spare time she manically carves out for herself between diaper changes and shower-time arias. Her works have appeared in the New Era, Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought, Leading Edge, Segullah, and, of course, the Mormon Lit Blitz. Emily is also the author of For Those with Empty Arms: a Compassionate Voice for Those Experiencing Infertility. Find her at

Becca Birkin has an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College of Fine Arts along with a dusty law degree. She has taken first prize in many writing competitions, including Grand Prize in the Storymakers First Chapter Contest. She has worked with the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference, taught at the American Night Writers Conference, and has articles in print and online magazines. She enjoys art, chocolate, and travel, and is the happily married wife and mom of four. She is still hoping one of her four will invent that time-pausing remote. You can find her Friend magazine story here and a recent novella here.

Liz Busby is a writer of speculative fiction and creative nonfiction. She also writes book reviews and other literary criticism, particularly about the intersection between Mormonism and science fiction/fantasy, including a recent paper on Mormon themes in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive. Liz recently moved from Bellevue, Washington, back to her home state of Utah, where she lives in Highland with her husband George and their four children. Follow her writing and reading exploits at, on Twitter @lizbusby, or on Facebook.

Sarah Chow is the mom to three small children, whom she believes to be human even though they insist they are a dragon, a cheetah, and a robot. She writes professionally for Cesium, a software company that allows users to create custom 3D maps. Her first writing love is children’s literature, and she has published over thirty stories in the Friend magazine. She does not approve of licking anything but popsicles.

Katherine Cowley is the author of The Secret Life of Miss Mary Bennet and the forthcoming novels The True Confessions of a London Spy and The Lady’s Guide to Death and Deception. She has also published a number of short stories and novellas and is on the board of directors for the Mormon Lit Lab. Her blog, Jane Austen Writing Lessons, was selected by The Write Life as one of the 100 Best Websites for Writers in 2021. She teaches writing classes at Western Michigan University, and lives in Kalamazoo with her husband and three daughters.

James Goldberg’s family is Jewish on one side, Sikh on the other, and Mormon in the middle. A poet, novelist, essayist, playwright, documentary filmmaker, scholar, and translator, he’s become one of the major contributors to Mormon literature in the early 21st century. Goldberg is a co-founder of the Mormon Lit Lab, president of the Association for Mormon Letters, and on the advisory board for the Center for Latter-day Saint Arts. To support his future work as a Mormon literary pioneer, visit Goldberg came of age in Columbus, Ohio. He now lives in American Fork, Utah, with Nicole Wilkes Goldberg and their four long-haired children.

W.O. Hemsath has a BA in screenwriting and loves teaching and presenting at conferences. She has multiple flash fiction and short stories available in anthologies on Amazon and is currently working on longer projects including a YA scifi, an adult fantasy romcom, and some LDS nonfiction. Her secret love, however, is writing song parodies. She is the mother of four boys, currently lives in Minnesota while her husband finishes his PhD program, and dreams of moving back west to be closer to family. Find her at, on Facebook @AuthorWhitneyHemsath, and on Twitter @WhitneyHemsath.

Annaliese (rhymes with pizza) Lemmon likes to eat, play board games, and catch virtual creatures on her phone. In addition to the Mormon Lit Blitz, her fiction has appeared in The ArcanistFlash Fiction Press, and Leading Edge. She also published a cookbook of recipes developed for her son who was allergic to gluten, dairy, and nuts (now he’s outgrown all but the nut allergies). She lives in Arizona with her husband and three children. Learn more at or follow her on twitter @AnnalieseLemmon.

Terrance V. McArthur is a storyteller, puppeteer, magician, and retired librarian, living in California’s San Joaquin Valley (Sanger, east of Fresno) with his wife, daughter, and the cremains of a twenty-one-year-old cat. One of his stories appeared in the Monsters & Mormons anthology.

Jonathan Olfert is a whittler, analyst, Stone Age enthusiast, and occasional writer of speculative fiction. Various stories reside at Hunkered down in the Halifax region, Jon and his partner Jess are attempting to raise three Homo sapiens and one recently blessedly neutered Felis catus.

Hillary Stirling is a paralegal by day and writer by night. She lives in Utah with her husband and two teenage children on a suburban homestead (which also happens to be the home owned by her husband’s parents and by his maternal grandparents). Despite being a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, she’s not a Utah Mormon; she grew up in Michigan and Montana. She loves gardening, singing, and dabbling in politics. She still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up.


Guest Judge:

This contest’s guest judge, who will be awarding a judge’s choice award, is the incredible Eric James Stone.

 Eric James Stone is a past Nebula Award winner, Hugo Award nominee, and Writers of the Future Contest winner. He has twice been a finalist for an Association for Mormon Letters Award, in the short fiction and short fiction collection categories. Over fifty of his stories have been published in venues such as Year’s Best SFAnalog Science Fiction and Fact, and Nature. His debut novel, a science fiction thriller titled Unforgettable, published by Baen Books, has been optioned by Hollywood multiple times. Eric’s life has been filled with a variety of experiences. As the son of an immigrant from Argentina, he grew up bilingual and spent most of his childhood living in Latin America. He also lived for five years in England and became trilingual while serving a two-year mission for his church in Italy. He majored in political science at BYU (where he sang in the Russian Choir for two years) and then got a law degree from Baylor. He did political work in Washington, D.C., for several years before shifting career tracks. He now works as a systems administrator and programmer. Eric lives in Utah with his wife, Darci, who is an award-winning author herself, in addition to being a high school science teacher and programmer. Eric’s website is

Saints, Spells, and Spaceships Voting Instructions

We’ve come to the end of the Saints, Spells, and Spaceships contest entries. We hope you’ve enjoyed this journey through LDS speculative fiction. We hope it has made you laugh, cry, and think. We hope something has touched you and will stay in your heart. We’re still talking about the pieces over at our Facebook page, if you want to get in on the discussion.

But now it’s time to pick your favorite stories and vote for them. You’ve got one week, so get your votes in now!

Voting Instructions

As per tradition, the audience chooses our winner. To vote, read through the pieces and choose your favorite four. Then cast your vote here.

The finalists are:
“What Have You Against Being Baptized” by W. O. Hemsath
“The Gift of Undoing” by Katherine Cowley
“The Apocalypse of Kemet III” by Hillary Stirling
“Ministering Blood Brother” by Terrance V. McArthur
“Remote Control Mama” by Becca Birkin
“There Is No Release” by Jonathan Olfert
“Aboard the Nursery Barge” by Sarah Chow
“Gleaners” by James Goldberg
“The 37th Ward Relief Society Leftovers Exchange” by Liz Busby
“The Other Commander” by W. O. Hemsath
“Hie to Kolob” by Emily Harris Adams
“The Gift to Be Healed” by Annaliese Lemmon

Voting is open from Monday, November 8th, until the end of the day on Saturday, November 13th. The winner of the $100 grand prize will be announced on Wednesday, November 17th. There will also be a guest judge prize awarded on the 17th.

Finally, a few reminders before you go:

Email List
If you want to keep up to date on what the Mormon Lit Lab is doing, please subscribe to our email list. It’s a good way to hear about the next Mormon Lit Blitz, as well as receiving news about our anthologies and other projects.

Book Mentoring Project
We love what people do with 1,500 words. If you enjoy the kind of literature you’ve read in the Mormon Lit Blitz, though, we hope you’ll also consider donating $5, $10, or $20 to support the eight authors currently in our book mentoring program.


“The Gift to Be Healed” by Annaliese Lemmon

With each step, icy shards of pain shoot through my knees and up my spine. My two-year-old Cecily runs ahead of me into the house, then trots back with the TV remote. “Watch Dora?”

Guilt sits heavy in my chest. Her brother started kindergarten only two weeks ago and she’s already settled into this routine after dropping him off. It’s too much screen time. But today the pain is too much for my medicine to alleviate. I don’t have energy to do more than lie down.

“Okay.” I trudge after Cecily and switch on the show.

As I collapse on the couch, our beagle, Link, walks over and nudges my hand. “¿Te duele?” he asks.

I scratch under his chin. “Sí.” Yes, it hurts.

Tomorrow will be better,” he says in Spanish.

I stifle a sigh. I’ve told him that there is no cure for fibromyalgia, but he keeps saying that. I wonder… I was once offered any gift in exchange for my ability to speak to animals. I chose to keep that ability, but to speak in Spanish instead of English to help with my mission in Chile.

Would you be sad,” I ask Link in Spanish, “if I couldn’t talk to you anymore, but was cured?

Link looks up at me. “I would be happy if you’re not in pain anymore.

I can’t stop the tears from welling in my eyes. “Buen chico.”

I just need to find the bird that made the offer again.


The bird had been a black-chinned siskin, native to Chile and Argentina, and likely is no longer alive. I don’t have the money to travel to Chile, but he had come while I was immersed in God’s work. Maybe that will bring him again.

However, the fibromyalgia pain keeps me awake at night. Minutes of conference talks and columns of scripture disappear in the fog of sleep deprivation. I want to serve others, but I can barely grit through my own most necessary chores.

I go outside every day during Cecily’s nap to pray, but often find myself blearily watching Link sniff around the abandoned garden box before remembering my purpose. Later, he’ll update me on the rabbits and deer that wander through our third-acre yard.

Today, as I kneel, a voice speaks, “Hola, Liz.” A black-chinned siskin sits on the branch of a fir tree, bright yellow against the green. “You’ve been looking for me,” he says.

I struggle to my feet. “Sí, I’m ready to exchange my gift.

You have already completed your exchange.

I blink at him. “That doesn’t count. I only asked to change the language.

You don’t make the rules.

I ball my fists, and my knuckles flare with pain. “I need to be healed. Tell me what I must do to be healed.

There is nothing to do. It is not your Father’s will.

My breath comes short, like I’ve been punched in the gut. “That can’t be.” What about all the miracle stories I’ve heard? Why did they get to be healed but not me? “Listen, there’s so much more I could do if I wasn’t in pain. I’m not making memories with my family because I don’t have the strength to get off the couch. I don’t have the energy to cook a meal more complicated than macaroni and cheese. I can’t help my friends when they need someone to watch their kids.” Tears well in my eyes. So many dreams I’ve set aside, not realizing they were dreams until they were beyond my reach.

The siskin’s voice softens. “You’re doing enough.

I shake my head. My husband deserves a full partner, my kids an able mother.

Your burden is not easy, but you have the wisdom to manage it.

Really? I’m barely hanging on day to day.

I must go now.

Wait.” There has to be something I can do to change his mind.

Take care of yourself. Chao.” The siskin launches into the air and disappears into the clouds.

I sink to my knees. My one chance for a cure, and now it’s gone. I blink out a tear as a sob rises in my throat. A part of my mind registers that Link is barking, has been barking for a while, but I don’t hear what he is saying. All I can do is cry.

A tiny paw rests on my knee. I open my eyes a slit. A gray rabbit sits on hind legs, one paw on my knee as its nose twitches towards my face. I stifle my sobs to not scare it. What is it doing here?

A squirrel runs up next to the rabbit. Wings flutter as dark eyed juncos, song sparrows, and American crows settle on the branches. A doe steps out of the foliage. Link follows, tongue happily lolling out, but none of the animals notice he’s there.

They surround me like I’m a Disney princess instead of a broken mother. They speak, voices overlapping. “Esto es difícil.” “You’re not alone.” “You don’t have to do more than you are able.” “Puedes soportar esto.”

I can’t hold back the tears any longer. I want to wrap all my new friends in a hug, but I dare not move. “Gracias,” I manage to whisper.

Cecily’s voice babbles from the baby monitor. With that, the spell breaks. The animals scatter into the woods, except for the rabbit on my knee. “We’re rooting for you,” it says.

Link runs up. “Truce is over. Time to go!

The rabbit gives me one last look, then scampers away with the rest.

I pet Link’s shoulders. “Did you bring them all here?

Link’s tail wags. “Did I do good?

“Sí, it’s just what I needed.” My joints stab as I stand up, but my heart is lighter. It wasn’t the miracle I wanted, but I can endure another day.

“Hie to Kolob” by Emily Harris Adams

Annual Time Passage Unit 23.01956 Excerpt from President Aleki Tuigamala’s address: “At Parting, We Part.”
My dear brothers and sisters, as we close this conference, I am keenly aware of the rumors that have been circulating. I am indeed going to be making an announcement of some moment. Throughout time, God has called his people to flee from places of oppression and of danger. Jared fled from Babel, Moses fled from Egypt, Lehi from Jerusalem, Brigham Young from Missouri.

Brothers and sisters, as the Lord has done so many times before, He is calling us to flee into the wilderness, but never before has the wilderness been so wild and unknown. Today, God is calling on us to leave the world entirely. For the past few decades, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has used tithing money, the proceeds from church-owned investments, and generous donations from members to purchase enough ships and resources to leave this planet in search of the new Promised Land. Our first ship, the Mahonri, will be ready to receive passengers within the next three months. We invite all Saints to get their affairs in order and prepare to join the most massive exodus mankind has ever seen.  But this invitation is not just for the Saints. With our vast resources, in excess of 100 billion (Cu)Bits, we face no impediments to supporting each and every person on the planet. We invite all humanity to join us.

A.T.P.U. 23.01958 News article, “Church of Jesus Christ to Leave Earth.”
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints raised eyebrows last week following an announcement that the entire membership should flee the planet. This news comes not long after an anonymous source leaked information that the church had sold off many of its assets.

Reactions from the membership are mixed, but if the housing markets in Latter-day Saint hotspots are any indication, it seems that many members are taking their leader’s advice to heart.

Detractors from the faith argue that this announcement, coming right on the heels of the catastrophic failure of the Mars 3 colony, proves that the church has crossed the line from an ultra-orthodox religion to a dangerous cult.

Whatever their views, faithful followers and doomsday doubters alike have the same question: what exactly does President Tuigamala think he is running from? Global temperatures are returning to pre-industrial normal, global hunger and poverty are decreasing, and membership of the church has finally reached its long-held goal of becoming the most prominent denomination of Christianity. What does this “prophet” know that the rest of the world doesn’t?

A.T.P.U 23.619 Transcript of the opening monologue for “The Tonight Show Revival.”
Well, there you have it, folks. Here it comes: the Rapture, and just like John the Revelator predicted, it will come without warning. People will just be there one moment and gone the next. Wait, nope. Never mind, the Rapture will apparently be led by rich religious zealots in spaceships. Oh, and they have time to get top dollar from their earthside assets. Yes. Just like the Bible said. So, sell your homes to the sad suckers who stay behind, take your food storage, and for heaven’s sake, don’t forget your Golden Plates.

A.T.P.U 24.02356 Transcript of interview of President Aleki Tuigamala with Eloise Alvarez of International News Radio, 23 days prior to the launch of the Mahonri.
A: President Tuigamala, thank you for joining me this evening.

T: Ms. Alvarez, thank you for having me.

A: President, you’ve got to know that your announcement caused quite a stir.

T: Yes, I knew it would. I was shocked myself when I realized just what it was that God was asking us to do.

A: You say, “Us.” Can you explain that?

T: Yes, Ms. Alvarez. You see, this project has been in development for many years. I was a newly called Apostle when the prophet at the time, President Nguyen, came to the Quorum of the Twelve and told us he received the prompting that mankind would be called to leave its home. After many weeks of thoughtful discussion, research, and prayer, we came to see that yes, God wanted us to leave. After that confirmation, we immediately began preparations to evacuate the whole of humanity.

A: That sounds like an ambitious project.

T: It is, but if you look at our history, we are not afraid of ambitious projects.

A: Yes, true, but your project is more than just ambitious. Many are calling it foolish. As of yet, not a single colonization effort has succeeded. In fact, all have ended in catastrophic, mass-casualty events. This fact alone makes your project seem foolhardy. What makes it almost incomprehensible is that you haven’t even picked a colonization site.

T: When we first began this project, we sent a series of probes out into space. We hoped that before the time to leave came, our probes would be able to direct us to a desirable colonization site, a Promised Land, if you will. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case. A few months ago, I received inspiration that told me now is the time to begin the exodus. My councilors and the Quorum of the Twelve agree that, with such a monumental task, time is of the essence. When Moses left Egypt, he didn’t know where the Promised Land was, or that he would spend the next forty years wandering in the wilderness. He had to act with faith. The Exodus was not easy. We are under no illusions that our own exodus will be easier than his. We’re ready to act with faith as well.

A: But, President, what are you running from?

T: I am becoming increasingly convinced that we’re not running from anything. I think we are running to something.

A: And what is that?

T: God knows, and I trust Him.

A: Well, God be with you.

T: And with you, Ms. Alvarez. If you want it, there is a spot available for you.

A.T.P.U 25.5 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Newsroom.
In the wake of the successful launch of the Mahonri, three additional ships have begun accepting passengers: the Liahona, the Hagoth, and the Legacy. Additional ships will be added as necessary.

A.T.P.U 38 Viral post from user Moroni1045, received 2 years after the launch of the Hagoth.
Anyone else find it ironic that about one third of the church membership has decided not to join the exodus? No? Just me? OK. Carry on.

A.T.P.U 38.00000000001 Reply from Suzanne84 of Boise, Idaho.
Do I find it ironic that two thirds of ‘God’s Chosen,’ have voluntarily cast themselves into outer darkness? Yep. Seems like a bit of a statistical reversal, doesn’t it? Hope you live long enough to see this post.

A.T.P.U 85.111110565 Last known transmission from the Legacy, received 40 years after launch and 30 years after complete radio silence, a private email.
Dear Mom,

It seems so strange that, to you, we left ten years ago. To us, it has only been a few months. I hope that, during this time, you’ve decided to join your own ship. At the very least, I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive us for leaving.

Things are going well for us here. The quarters are smaller than we had on Earth, but the kids are doing great. They argue less and share more. Tom and I feel closer than we ever have. The food is… alright. We’ve made a few friends. Our closest neighbors are actually a Muslim family from South Africa. They are teaching us Afrikaans and we are teaching them English.

We still have no destination, as of yet. The probes, we’re calling them “Doves,” have identified a few planets that look promising. Still, we are relative years away from sending an exploration party.

Occasionally, we hear of people who have changed their minds. There’s even been a petition for a group to take one of the ship’s lifeboats back to Earth. There is supposed to be a meeting of the leadership to address the issue sometime later this week.

I know you’re scared for us, Mom. Sometimes I’m afraid too. We all have our moments up here. Even so, there is a growing sense of peace among most of us on the Legacy. I know we are in the right place.

I don’t know if they will still be sending more ships out by the time you get this. Time dilation is so insane and our ability to send and receive transmissions is so unpredictable. I just wanted you to know that at family prayer tonight, Evelyn prayed that you would join us. Send my love to Dad and Jacob. We would love to hear from you, but understand it might not be possible.

All my love,

“The Other Commander” by W. O. Hemsath

In Florida’s SpaceCorp mission control room, waves of comforting heat rose from Brendan’s mug then disappeared in the air. He sat in the back, alone except for two fellow techs on the bottom tier who monitored all pertinent data for the lunar orbital refueling station. Rows of vacant desks faced a wall of screens with status reports mutely scrolling in the pre-dawn quiet. At their center slept the communication screens, black as the space between stars.

Brendan’s leg bounced restlessly. There was nothing to be nervous about. Mark was fine. All reports from the refueling station said so. The fact his best friend—no, his brother nowhadn’t been present for a live chat since he and Mandy docked over a week ago was coincidental.

Purely coincidental.

A recent photo from Mark and Mandy’s wedding hung crooked on Brendan’s monitor. In the photo, he and Mark boasted tuxes and smiles; his sister Mandy stood between them.

Brendan repositioned the tape on the back of the photo to straighten it and forced his restless leg to still. Mark would be at this morning’s call, laughing about the improbability of everything that had kept him away. They’d joke how with odds like his, they should head to Vegas when he got back.

Brendan straightened the photo again. Mark would be on this call. He had to be.

A door opened, and Sareema climbed the wide stairs to the top tier, never looking from her tablet as she called to the techs below.

“Look alive. They’re back in range any moment, and we only get five minutes before China takes the bandwidth.”

She took her spot a few desks from Brendan. “Your shift’s not until tonight, Maloney. Go home. Sleep. You’re no good to me—or them—exhausted.”

Her tone was kind. For now, it was advice. Not an order.

He stayed seated and raised his mug in salute.

She turned her attention to the techs down by the wall of screens. “Open the call.”

A small feed of Sareema’s face appeared in the top corner of the communication screens. The surrounding panels remained black, waiting for the refueling station to orbit into range.

Brendan’s leg jittered away the moments. Any second Mark would be up there, standing at Mandy’s side, like the made-for-each-other couple they were. All Brendan needed was to hear his best friend’s voice and see his face. Then he’d go home and get all the sleep his worry had stolen. He took a calming sip.

With a chime, the display came alive. Mandy sat, poised and smiling.

And alone.

“Good morning, Commander,” Sareema said. “Will the other Commander Darnell be joining us?”

“No,” his sister said. “Nyugen got some bad news about his family down in Canberra, and Mark spent the night consoling him. He just fell asleep himself. I’d hate to wake him.”

“Of course,” Sareema said. She moved the conversation on.

Brendan lowered his mug. Everything in him sank with it.

Working on repairs. Using the restroom. Running diagnostics. Making dinner. Sleeping in. On their own, each was a reason. But together? They were excuses.

Mark wouldn’t miss a chance to chat. He was the king of every social realm and had a million-dollar laugh he loved to spend. He was the only guy good enough to introduce to your perfect sister, which meant he was the kind of friend who would never disappear into space without so much as a reassuring wave in the background of a call.

Something wasn’t right.

“Wake him,” Brendan said softly.

But Sareema and Mandy kept chatting about something that wasn’t Mark. The two techs down front carried on with business as usual.

Brendan stormed into frame behind Sareema so his sister could see him.

“Wake him!”

His command hushed the control room. Hundreds of thousands of celestial miles away, Mandy fell silent as well. Sareema spun around.

“Take a seat, Maloney, while you still have a station to sit at.”

He stayed fixed on Mandy. “Please. I need to see him.”

Sareema stood, forcing him to meet her gaze. “You need to leave.”

“Not until I know what’s really going on!” His voice trembled. “Why won’t you let me talk to Mark?”

“Let you?” Sareema cocked an eyebrow. “You think we’re doing this on purpose?”

“They docked ten days ago. Even with the bushfires taking out Canberra’s DSN, and LORS on the far side every other hour, there’s still eight calls a day. That’s eighty calls he’s missed. He’s been gone the whole mission!”

“He’s there, and medical read-outs show he’s healthy,” Sareema said. “Things have simply come up.”

“For every call? That doesn’t make you suspicious?”

“Of what?” Sareema asked incredulously. “Do you think he died, and your sister is faking his medical data so we don’t find out?”

On screen, Mandy kept silent as the moon, clearly wounded by the mere idea he might think that of her.

His logic cracked at the sight of her pain.

She was his sister. The person who’d stayed up late with him when they were kids, naming constellations. The one who had coached him on how to ask out his first date. The one who held him as he wept after their dad’s funeral.

“No,” Brendan admitted. “She wouldn’t do that.”

Sareema folded her arms across her chest. “Perhaps you think she has him locked up somewhere because she’s jealous and wants to be the only face any of us see.”

“Of course not, but—”

“Then you tell me. If her reasons don’t make sense, what does? What explains his absence?”

“I don’t know!” Brendan collapsed into Sareema’s chair with the fatigue of a sleepless week. Nothing made sense. Every possibility felt wrong.

After a long moment, Sareema laid a hand on his shoulder. “Go home and sleep.”

It was no longer a request.

Brendan looked to Mandy. Grown, married, and sailing through space, she was the same capable and wise sister he’d known all his life. In her eyes, he could see she loved him as much as ever.

As much as she loved Mark.

“You promise he’s there? He’s okay?”

“Yes. And I promise, he sends his love.” She sighed, eyes heavy with sympathy. “Sometimes the timing really just isn’t right.”

Things still didn’t add up, but no amount of logic could change the fact that Mandy would never do anything to hurt him or Mark. It wasn’t in her nature, and that much Brendan could trust. It was enough to give him hope, and hope would have to be enough to bridge the gap between the truth he had and the questions that remained.

He relinquished Sareema’s chair and did his best to look appeased. The last thing he needed was Mandy worrying about him.

“I’m heading home this weekend,” he said with a small but sincere smile. “Anything you want me to relay?”

Mandy smiled back. “Just tell Mom I said hi.”

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

The tradition began out of boredom and generosity. One sister had made a huge batch of meatballs and wanted to offer them to others. An empty nester still made recipes that served her family of twelve, even though they all lived in different states now. Young mothers needed freezer meals to get through Wednesday soccer practices, and newly married sisters wanted to try out new recipes without having to eat them for weeks.

So on the first Tuesday of the month, we would all meet at the church for a leftovers exchange, swapping casseroles for salads and pastas for desserts. At first, people would make the effort to try to return the Tupperware, but things soon became so mixed up that it was assumed that all plastic and glass containers we owned were communal property.

The first time we realized what was happening was after Sister Johansen’s husband died of cancer. She brought the leftovers from the funeral luncheon to the exchange, and Frances Young went home with some of them. After warming them up the next Thursday, she found herself crying long into the night, though her husband was merely away on a business trip and she didn’t usually miss him particularly.

That one time might have been a fluke, but in the weeks after Suzy Holder got married, everyone who brought home her leftovers found themselves feeling, well, a way they hadn’t felt for many years. Which might have understandably never come to light except that one sister asked for Suzy’s recipe, convinced it was the solution to her troubled marriage.

When we finally pieced together that we all had stored our leftover feelings in our refrigerators along with the milk and the eggs, there was some debate about whether the tradition ought to continue. Didn’t it reveal too much that we’d rather keep private? Was it some sort of witchcraft? Only when Sarah Bascom reminded us that it was our covenant duty to “mourn with those that mourn” did we understand the miracle of the leftovers.

And so the tradition continued and became almost an ordinance for us. People would politely look away whenever sisters placed their labeled containers on the table. It wouldn’t be right to know exactly who brought that container of seven-layer dip laced with resentment for her mother-in-law or the chocolate cake infused with abandonment. A very discreet older sister was called to be the official organizer of the exchange; she sorted all the containers into similar piles: compassion, love, and joy together at one end, more middling emotions like confusion, frustration, and exhaustion in the center, followed by the negative feelings like disgust, fear, and anger. Often there would be a big pile of jealousy and resentment at the end of the buffet.

There had been some grumbling over the years about whether it might not be best to throw all the negative emotions away, but since the purpose was to bear one another’s burdens, it was decided that this would not do. Besides, most of us had been raised in large families and pathologically couldn’t throw away anything edible.

None of us could leave until each leftover was spoken for. It would take two or three rounds through the line before every container found someone to go home with. The negative emotions that were paired with desserts would go quickly, but once a container of green beans labelled “ennui” in a loopy script sat on the table for five minutes with all of us pointedly not noticing it, before one saintly sister finally agreed to take it home if someone else would take the loneliness stir-fry she had picked up earlier.

Afterward we would all go home to eat our feelings—or rather, each other’s feelings. As we heated up the garlic bread, we would consider who among us had caused the betrayal that it was labelled with. We would dip the chocolate chip cookies in milk and bask in gratitude for the safe birth of a grandchild. The tomato soup would slosh in our stomachs and remind us that someone else was worried about her son’s grades. And someone with an irresistible apple pie kept us constantly aware of the numbness she had been feeling for months. With each mouthful, we remembered our sisters and prayed for them in a way we never had before.

And as we nourished our bodies, we found that we became the body of Christ.

“Gleaners” by James Goldberg

It is dark. Tomás is breathing slow, steady. Asleep. Isabel slips out of bed and down to the place on the banks of the Samalá where the gleaners meet.

The night is clear and warm. It’s been dry all July. Hot east winds have shriveled the stalks in the welfare milpas. To think they used to call this the wet season. When the rains do come, they won’t be steady. They will be sudden, violent. They will tear the earth away and wash it down the river. Isabel has watched it happen too many times. Watched the waters choke what parched little plants are left in church gardens. All that work, year after year, for a harvest of dust. Callouses on the hands aren’t enough to keep food in the belly anymore.

That’s why the stake called the gleaners. Because it’s a sin to let children starve.

Tonight they’re going for maize. Over the next hill, there are fields and fields full of it. RenTech crops. None of it feeds anybody: day laborers carry it straight into micro-refineries. All those self-driving cars and air taxis up north won’t power themselves. With oil reserves running low, it’s no surprise that agros turned to places like Guatemala—husks of countries, hit hard by climate change. The rich countries know how to wring every last drop of blood out of a stone.

Once Rosalina arrives, the sisters get going. The fields are ninety minutes away on foot, but they keep hymns in their hearts as they walk and walk, like pioneer children. Even if there was still a truck around to borrow, it’s too risky. Brother Kan is sitting in a jail cell and Isabel’s best guess as to why is that some of the agros put in sensors under the roads to monitor traffic. She can’t figure out how else they’d have found his Toyota so fast. Better to keep light as a deer, carry the food back in simple bags. They spread out when they get close, and they keep off the road, just in case.

The gathering happens in a tense quiet. Move, pick, wait. Keep your head low in case of passing drones. Look out for lights. Listen for boots in the distance. Think of the ward’s kids, home asleep on their mats and in their beds. Move, pick. Move, pick. Sparse and careful. The trick is not to leave any trace big enough to register on their spreadsheets. If they don’t notice anything’s missing, they won’t have reason to bring in more security or lean on police.

Isabel works her way through, row by row. It’s still strange to her how she never sees all the water RenTech bought out the rights to. She knows their water harvesting arrays stretch wide in the hills and that their pumps run deep into the vanishing water table, but the earth between the rows is cracked here, same as anywhere. It’s only near the base of each plant that the soil is soft. Just like the kernels hidden within each ear.

It’s like a miracle, how they manage to coax yields like this out of such a broken land. All the skill that must have gone into designing tiny underground irrigation tubes, figuring out just the right spacing for sensors, programming a computer to optimize outputs so that nothing is wasted. It’s like a miracle. All truth comes from God, so he must’ve given the ideas to all those engineers and scientists.

Why couldn’t he have given them a conscience to go with it? All that ingenuity: they could’ve fed the world. There would be enough and to spare if they just grew the food and ate it.

But enough is never enough. Enough is never. Enough is never. The words ring through her head like a drumbeat as she picks her way down the rows. Sparse and careful. Move, pick, wait. Enough is never. Enough is never. Not when there are shiny new toys to play with. In all the movies, science is gleaming metal. Never full bellies for dark-skinned kids.

Enough. Head low; look out for lights. Listen for boots in the distance. Move and pick. Like Alma in the wilderness, hiding from the searches of the king. She’s heard there were days when you could keep the laws of God and the laws of the land. Now, though, it seems like the laws are just another thing the agros own. Another tool to protect their margins.

When will they have enough? Enough is never. Enough is never. She thinks of her cousin Ernesto, dead of heatstroke on a coffee plantation. The law could have been written to say that workers need shade. Water. Bathrooms. Just as the law once said the poor had a right to glean in any field, before the powers in this world decided that the yield is never enough. Never, never, never.

Enough. She feels the weight in her bag. Her muscles will scream their protest by the time she and the other sisters carry their loads back, but it’s been a good night. That weight isn’t just ears of maize. It’s children who will grow strong. Lucia, Israel. Brisa, Alana, Moroni. She can feel it.

She asks God to bless this food, that it will nourish them, body and soul. Let them grow in the gospel. Let them grow in discernment. Let them learn when enough is enough. The east winds blow drier every year, but a better generation can make even a desert blossom as a rose.

For now, she keeps her head low. Out of sight of any cameras. Isabel and the gleaners slip back to the bishop’s storehouse with their loads of hope, slip back into beds at home. Tomás is asleep. His breathing steady, slow. It is dark still, but soon enough the morning will break.

“Aboard the Nursery Barge” by Sarah Chow

Before the meeting, Aunt Leah stopped by and pinched Gilhah’s cheeks. She said, “Treasure every minute! They grow up so fast.”

Little Gilhah wriggled off my lap and dashed for the lights.

I caught her before she made it far but still found myself face to face with one of Grandpa Lamech’s most disapproving stares.

On my way back with Gilhah, my husband Orihah said, “You’ll miss these days.”


In the meeting, it was decided that it would be most comfortable for everyone if we were organized not by families, but by age group. There was a barge for the high priests, for the matriarchs, for the strong men, for the nursing mothers, for the growing virgins, for the stripling youths, for the older children, and for the youngest children. Ninhur and I were assigned to supervise the youngest children.


Aunt Leah said, “What a privilege to be with those sweet young spirits!”

I said, “I’m happy to share that privilege. You could come along as a chaperone.”

Aunt Leah said, “I couldn’     t decline my duty to serve among the matriarchs.”


Orihah said, “You’re perfect for this opportunity.”

I said, “Anyone could do it. You could do it.”

Orihah said, “No, you have a gift with children. No one could be better.”


Grandpa Lamech said, “I have prepared a schedule of worship and prayer for the high priests’ barge. I am confident you will do the same. ‘A child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.’”

I went to find Ninhur.


Ninhur was cuddling her chubby Noah. Her kisses had smudged the soot that coated his face and legs.

I said, “What’s our plan? I can barely keep these guys entertained with an entire beach to themselves, and I’m supposed to keep them locked up in a barge the size of a dish for who knows how long?”

Ninhur said, “We’ll have so much fun! Children are easier to tend when they’re together.”

I said, “Does Noah need a bath?”

Ninhur said, “Oh, do you think so? I hadn’t noticed.”


While I kept a tight grip on Gilhah’s arm, the prophet placed two lights in our barge, one on each end. He blessed the vessel with a promise that we would have light continually, that no monster of the sea could break us, that no whale could mar us.

I said, “Sea monsters are the least of my worries.”

But I said it under my breath.


As we were loading, the goats refused to go in the barge with the sheep, so Uncle Pagag asked me to take them.

I said, “Sure, I’ve already got a dozen kids in here. What’s a few goats?”

I hadn’t thought about seasick goats. Or goats playing king of the rock on the bedding. Or goats bleating right when I finally settled everyone into a synchronized nap. Or goats flying past when they lost their footing in the big storms, their hoofs casting forked shadows on the ceiling floor in the light of the stones.


We played hunt and find. We counted the clouds. I scrubbed and straightened and disciplined. Ninhur kissed and hugged and sang. We fed the goats and petted the goats and chased the goats. I prepared meals and cleaned up meals and prepared meals and cleaned up meals and prepared meals and cleaned up meals. We huddled together when the waves made the whole vessel shudder, end to end.


All the children were drawn to the lights. Gilhah was the worst, but I caught every single one of them grabbing the stones, poking the stones, licking the stones, hiding the stones. I tried every technique I could think of—from anger to bribes—to keep them from touching the sacred stones, but after a few weeks I mostly pretended to not notice. I only punished the licking.


At every opportunity, I opened the hatch for ventilation. We needed it. But I looked at the sea as little as possible. The firmament above and the firmament below were as dark as wine and stretched as deep and wide as eternity. Fortunately, with so many little things to care for, I was safe from drowning in the fear of it.


On the evening of the attack, our hatch was open and I was just climbing out to toss another basket of waste overboard. The air was overcast but warm, and the other barges were near ours, all their hatches open and many of our cousins up on the hulls, fishing or sewing.

All at once, the sea bubbled up around us and an enormous green shape rose out of the sea and dipped back below. It looked like a portion of a snake, but a snake as big around as the vessel we rode in. The bubbles disappeared, and I was still staring at the spot where it had disappeared, holding my breath, when another great loop of the sea serpent appeared back behind us, rising above the waves and dipping back below.

The strong men and stripling youths were swarming the tops of their barges, looking for the monster of the deep. Another loop of sea serpent rose and fell in the midst of us. When it passed near the young men’s barge, Orihah struck it with a spear and the monster flinched, but the spear didn’t pierce its scaly sides.

While Orihah called the stripling youths to bring up more weapons, another loop of serpent appeared near the young mothers’ barge. I thought we were surrounded by monsters, but the pieces moved together: it was one enormous sea serpent. The young men and grown men were pelting it with stones and spears, but the serpent was impossibly huge. What could their arms do against something so vast?

I heard prayers from the matriarchs and high priests and felt little Gilhah climbing up the ladder beside me. I pulled her close. And felt one of the sacred stones in her hand. “Put that down!” I said. “I shouldn’t have let you touch it. That’s probably why God sent the monster.”

But before I could wrest the stone away, the sea serpent’s head rose directly beside our barge, a hideous gaping jaw of jagged teeth, flaring fins like ears, and inky black eyes for staring into the ocean depths.

I didn’t pray. I probably screamed. I saw spears flying around the monster, but it seemed not to notice.

It stretched its jaws wide and leaned over our vessel.

Gilhah’s hand shot up. As she lifted the stone, it burned with a blinding light, far brighter than it had ever appeared in our barge. The sea serpent reared back with a terrible rasping scream, thrashing its head. Gilhah held out the stone and the serpent dove back into the water.

We waited many long minutes, but it did not reappear.


When we were confident the monster was truly gone, Uncle Pagag led a cheer for Little Gilhah.

Aunt Leah said, “The Lord works his greatest miracles through the purest hearts.”

Grandpa Lamech said “‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies.’”

Orihah said, “Do you want me to take a turn with the children?”

I said, “It doesn’t look safe to move between barges. I’ll stay with the little ones.”

For all the rest of the journey, we saw no more monsters of the deep. And from then on, I let the children handle the stones as much as they liked.

Still no licking, though.