“A Voice Not Crying in the Wilderness” by Jonathon Penny

From NHotC XIII.24.672-75:

Official Declaration 3: Outbreak Prophecy

Wryly known among LDS survivors as the “Proclamation on the Zombily,” and referred to by historians as the “Outbreak Prophecy,” “Official Declaration 3” originated as an “Official Communication” read from the pulpit on July 15, 2042. Markedly prophetic in its language, and fulfilled within weeks of its publication, OD3 is unique among revelations outside the Doctrine and Covenants, and initiated a watershed of revelations leading to a revision and expansion of the Doctrine and Covenants (2055), including the revelations since received by Presidents Vitelli, Dormer, Mbeke, Suzuki, and Smith, and Official Declarations 3-7. OD3 reads, in part, as follows:

Throughout our history, we have been counseled to ‘lay up in store’ (see Matt. 6:19-20 and 1 Tim 6:19) that which would serve us in times of need, both spiritual and temporal. The First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and all other General Officers of the Church, do now speak with a voice of warning unto the members of this, the Lord’s church, and to their friends and neighbors, wherever they might be, that the time for which we have been prepared for these two hundred and twelve years is now upon us.

Thus sayeth the Lord, ‘Gather in and lay up against hunger and thirst. Trim your lamps against the coming darkness. For behold, a sickness shall soon come upon the bodies of my children, and a famine upon their spirits, and they shall call to me from out of silence and from out of darkness as the Nephites of old did cry unto me in the days of their indenture and again after my crucifixion. And behold, I will hear their cries, and will sanctify their sufferings unto them. And the spirits of them that are afflicted shall be brought home to be judged according to their deeds, and their bodies left to the torments of the adversary of all righteousness until the morning of the Resurrection.’

 In accordance with the voice of the Lord and with His Will, we urge all who hear the words of this Declaration to prepare every needful thing.

 Stake and unit leaders were instructed to ordain all high priests, elders, and mature priests to the office of the Seventy, “as traveling ministers to the Lord’s children wherever they be found during the tribulations prophesied, that all might hear the Lord’s voice in the coming silence” (idem).

An addendum to the third edition of the GHoI II.18 (2027), posted at lds.org five days later, outlined revised worship practices to be implemented with immediate effect: those who speak would do so sotto-voce; hymns would be read silently, not sung; “Amens” would be whispered; all non-essential gatherings would be suspended, including children’s meetings; wards and branches would be divided into “companies of no more than 3 households or 15 persons, whichever is smaller” that “would gather to renew their covenants and testify and nourish each other in isolated and secure places.”

The Outbreak Prophecy and its fulfillment provoked change at the highest levels of Church leadership, as well: President Mario I. Vitelli conferred effectual keys of presidency on each of the other fourteen apostles as individuals rather than as a body, contingent on their requirement, and the Twelve were dispatched in pairs, with their spouses and small security details, to regionally strategic locations, to

 keep a record of the tribulations poured out upon the children of men, and the workings of the adversary in corrupting that life which is most sacred, that he might make all men miserable like unto himself; and to be a light and a witness unto all, whatever their persuasion, that all might see and rejoice at the hand of the Lord, stretched out forever to cover them over and gather them in at the last day. (Vitelli, Mario I. Outbreak Journal. Trans. Roberto Ianucci. New Jerusalem: Salt and Solitude Press, 2070)

 The surviving apostles were to reunite as the crisis abated, assess the condition of the Church, and reconstitute its leadership. The wisdom of this plan became apparent when, in the appointed place and at the appointed time, only three of the fifteen apostles gathered, the rest having fallen to attacks (5), accident/illness/age (4), or delayed viral presentation (3). With the exception of Hashimi Yakamoto’s and Ignacio J. Martin’s journals, which were never recovered, the apostolic records have been compiled by historian Ezekiel Bowman in Called to Exile: Apostolic Writings of the Zombie Period (New Jerusalem: New Jerusalem Digibooks, 2075).

Elder Harold W. Christensen, companion to the acting President of the Twelve, Édouard S. Nwosu, kept the most detailed account, often making observations of more broadly biological, sociological, and philosophical purport than the others. The following excerpts from 2045 offer a summary sketch of religious life during the Outbreak (see Bowman 5.II.iii):

The moaning of a zombie is the only animal thing left in it, and is remarkably similar to the yowling of a cat or the baying of a dog trying to drown out an unpleasant noise. So we assume that what there is of a zombie’s brain is very noisy, but not intelligently engaged. Sensory function is baseline at best: the Vacant[i] have very poor visual, limited olfactory, and obviously severely debilitated tactile senses, as is clear from their behavior at close quarters and their apparent insensibility to pain. [ii] (23 May)

The moaning becomes more frenzied as the Vacant approach a meal, human or animal, especially at night. This tendency appears to have elements of  echolocation, albeit a primitive form without the synaptic intelligence and complex measurement/target assessment afforded bats. [iii]

 Whatever its causes, our understanding that zombies are attracted by sound has made us quiet. Silence pervades most human gatherings. This is helpful to us, as the Fallen are almost never silent, unless their larynxes have been compromised, and even then, zombies often have broken limbs and therefore shuffle or drag or rub awkwardly against obstacles. In short, they are incapable of stealth (if it is appropriate to speak of “capability” at all, as this implies intelligence and will, both of which are lacking completely in the Vacant). So we listen, better than we did before.

Silence has given space to meditation, meditation to consideration, and consideration to kindness in the main. Communication is usually limited to gestures and whispers, and to residual electronic means available at “way-stations” we’ve set up along our usual foraging routes and in fortified safe houses—we have enough engineers left to maintain limited power grids for now, but maintenance has to be conducted in the colder months, so service outages are common. Eventually the servers will go down and we won’t be able to repair them until after we’ve eliminated the Vacant. This will merely deepen the quiet. (3 July)

 The quiet has gentled our natures. Our interactions with the living are characterized by tenderness, respect, and stillness, in stark contrast to our interactions with the Vacant, which are characterized, when they occur, by swift, decisive, economic, and violent dispatch; though these, too, are typically quiet affairs, unless one needs to shout to draw them off from children and the elderly. 

 This means, of course, that we rarely experience unbounded mirth or joy in either play or intimacy. Music is limited. Worship and ritual are confined, staid, inward. To pray or cry or laugh aloud is to invite danger. Such expressions can occur only in the fortifications above the Z-line, which we use during the colder months, though given the cold and our habitual quietude, we rarely take advantage. (18 September)

Though Mormon worship was never particularly boisterous, it is ironic that temples—housing the most sacred of our rituals, and thus having been places of nearly monastic contemplation and virtual silence—have lost something of their peculiarity (despite all being below the Z-line and therefore accessible only during the quietest eight months of the year). This change has come not only because members can so rarely muster in sufficient numbers, and not only because most temples have been converted into way-stations, but also because our Sabbath worship has become more profoundly silent than our temple worship ever was. Our sporadic and precious gatherings, whenever two or three can gather, are punctuated by a cathedral quiet even more profound than that of the temple. (3 November)

 For eight months of the year we forage, moving from encampment to encampment, gathering and replenishing stores, clearing the bodies of the dead, culling the zombie herds the best we can, planting and later harvesting crops. And so, for eight months of the year, we move and speak in virtual silence. Children born on the trail seem to understand this preternaturally, and cry only when we return to our winter quarters: a miraculous grace, we all agree. We minister in silence, anointing and laying on hands, but praying and blessing inwardly.

The upside is that voices are never raised in anger, or even in anguish, below or above the Z-line. And because voices are not raised, or perhaps in addition, tempers rarely flare, and people treat each other with an exquisite egalitarian regard.[iv] Where zombies operate below the level of instinct, with something like compulsion, we runners have learned, it would seem, to accept death and undeath alike as givens in a world setting its own terms, and overlooking our demands on it. So we make no more demands. This is not resignation. We take love as it is, without exaggeration or noise, just as we take fear and worry and loss. We are in the world as the world presents itself to us without apology, given or received. Above all of this we are, it would appear, new creatures: elementally, essentially, irreducibly drossless, polished, efficient, and alive. The world, for now, is made sacred. (24 December)

More indelibly perhaps than even the early persecutions and travails of Church members in Missouri and crossing the Plains, this period has left its mark on Church heritage, in both practice and artifactual richness. This hymn written during the Outbreak is sung every Sabbath in July to commemorate the impact of this period in refining both the faithful and the Faith.

The Body dies, the Spirit flees,


The Body stands upright


Untethered by that righteous spark


Reduced to appetite

 

‘Til Second Death claims e’en that husk


For Resurrection’s Grace.


Pray not for death, but twinkling come


To Heav’n’s illumined Space.

 

For twinkling is a better change


From light to better light: 


Oh, pray for fine and flashing steel!


Oh, flee the shambling night![v]

The hymn is followed by ten minutes of profound and silent reflection.

 

[i] Christensen used a mixed bag of Church-specific and secular vocabulary: “the Vacant” or “the Fallen” when referring to the zombies en masse; more commonly, “walkers” for the infected and “runners” for survivors, “zombies” when referring to small herds or individuals. “Walkers” refers and “runners” alludes ironically to a popular television series from the early twenty-first century (‘The Walking Dead’, AMC, 2010-18).

[ii]The initial hypothesis that zombies were both infected and infectious, and that the “disease” would spread by fluid exchange was soon disproved. Zombies devoured anything they caught, so there was nothing left to infect. Rather, the Outbreak—a now accepted misnomer—targeted specific individuals, for reasons still not clear, with the first cases manifesting in mid-October, 2042, and the generalized “infection” culminating in early March, 2043. The 2058 global census estimates that 54% of the world’s population was killed during the Outbreak, and that roughly 34% “turned.”

[iii] Similar observations were made on “runnerblogs,” including the ironically named runnersweakly.net and ghoulrunnings.net, and the South African site Re:Boks.gov.sa. The Italian site, corrieridellasera@corridori.it, went inactive in 2047.

[iv] Personal crime had, in fact, all but discontinued within two years of the Outbreak, after the typical and anticipated initial lawlessness had abated. This was reported generally from all known regions and continents, and is reflected in nearly every known record kept of the period.

[v]Hardcastle, Wilhelmina. “God Grant me Twinkling,” 2049. Published in Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, rev. ed. Denver, CO: LDSCorp, 2056.

“Spring Hill” by Luisa Perkins

Becca was taking too long.

Emma huddled against the iron fencepost and hugged her knees. The chilly breeze had dried her tears, but her nose was still running. She wiped it with the back of her hand, even though her mom had told her a million times not to. As she watched the sullen autumn sun sink toward the faraway trees lining the bank of the Grand River, she shivered. If Becca didn’t hurry, they’d both get grounded. They wouldn’t get to go apple picking at the Amish orchard that weekend. It wasn’t fair.

“Life’s not fair, girl. You can count on that.”

Emma jolted upright and hit her head on the ice-cold iron of the fence. She and Becca weren’t supposed to be here, but Emma couldn’t run away and leave her little sister behind.

She scowled up at the intruder, trying to look like she had every right to be here. One of the Amish women from over to Jamesport stood looking down at Emma, a half smile on her face.

“What are you doing here?” Emma asked.

“Same as you. Wishing I were in there.” The woman sat down next to Emma on the tired grass. Her dress was a little fancier than the Amish usually wore: dark brown calico instead of black or gray wool. Her hair, too. She sort of looked like Princess Leia, if Leia was a grandma. She had a basket on her arm filled with apples. She set it between them, and the fruit’s rich, spicy smell made Emma’s mouth water.

She scooted away a little, though. She figured she was safe with the Amish, but why was the lady here?

The woman offered her an apple, but Emma shook her head. “I’m not hungry.”

But of course just then her stomach growled. The woman laughed. “Suit yourself.”

Emma craned her neck to look through the fence, trying to see the place where Becca had gone through. Nothing. Over the past year or so, they’d worn the grass down by going under the fence, but that’s not where Becca had disappeared. The place they’d always crossed into Narnia was a few feet past the iron fence, just on the other side of a big spice bush. She turned back to find the old woman looking at her with pity in her eyes.

“I’ll hazard you just had a birthday.”

Now Emma stood up. How did this stranger know so much? What did she want? Emma looked out at the road both ways, but didn’t see any horse-drawn buggy with reflectors nailed to the sides. Jamesport was miles away. How had the woman even gotten here?

When the guards’ golf cart came up the rise, Emma ducked down again, ready to bolt if necessary and come back for Becca later. She double-checked to make sure their bikes were well hidden in their usual spot.

The guards traveled the perimeter of the property at all hours, sometimes taking a break out near Koala Road. They worked for the Latter-day Saints–the same people as owned that ugly brick church in Gallatin. Emma figured they must know what they were guarding here on Spring Hill; it was obvious to her why the Saints had put a fence around it.

She couldn’t tell for sure though; the guards had never given her a chance to ask any questions. They just chased her and her sister off, wanting to keep all the magic for themselves. Except Emma had never actually seen them–or anyone else–inside the fence. Someday when she was older, she was going to march into that church in Gallatin and see what other magic powers those Saints had.

The guards were still a ways off. They wouldn’t see Emma if she stayed low, but Becca had to hurry. Emma looked in at the spice bush again.

“When was the last time you were inside?”

Emma narrowed her eyes at the woman. Maybe she wasn’t Amish at all. Was she a Saint? “Inside the fence?”

“No. Inside.” She gave the word extra emphasis.

“In Narnia?” Emma blurted out, then immediately regretted it.

The woman laughed again. “What kind of outlandish name is that? Why do you call it that?”

Emma looked down at her feet. “S’from a book.” Their dad had read them the whole series last summer when they’d visited him, and both girls had loved it–though their Narnia was very different from the one in the books.

In their Narnia, it was always sort of both Indian summer and spring, with flowers and ripe fruit on the trees at the same time. The animals didn’t talk, but they did let you pet them and feed them. And there weren’t any people at all–unless you counted Obi-Wan.

That wasn’t his real name. Emma and Becca couldn’t pronounce that, so they’d given him a new name, which had seemed to please him. He didn’t talk much, his robes glowed so bright that he was hard to look at straight on, and he never put down his light saber. But somehow, he wasn’t scary.

“Narnia,” the woman repeated to herself. “I suppose it’s no worse than Diahman.”

Emma looked at the old woman. She definitely knew stuff. “When was the last time you were inside?” she asked.

The woman’s wrinkles sagged. “Oh, it’s been a very long time.”

“Were you a kid, like me?”

“No, I was grown and married, with babes of my own. I only went in once, but I’ve never forgotten it.” Her eyes gleamed. “My husband…had a key.”

Emma mulled this over. “We’ve never needed a key to get in.”

“When was your birthday?”

“Yesterday.”

“Eight years old, now, are you?”

Emma nodded.

“Too old. Accountable. You’ll never get in without a key now.”

Emma bit her lip to keep her chin from trembling. She plopped her rear back down on the ground and put her forehead down on her bent knees.

Obi-Wan had hinted at this last Friday–that he might not see her again for a long time. But Emma had hoped that meant maybe he was taking a vacation, or something. She hadn’t wanted to face the idea that Narnia might be closed to her already.

Peter Pevensie had visited Narnia until he was fourteen; Emma had assumed she and Becca had years ahead of them. Years of respite from the extremes of Missouri’s weather; years of feeling special in a magical land they had all to themselves, with no stepfathers or gross school lunches or any of the ugliness of reality. But today, when she hadn’t been able to cross through…

“Where can I get a key?” Emma asked, lifting her head suddenly. “Would your husband let me borrow his?”

The woman didn’t answer for what seemed like a long time. “He’s gone away,” she finally said, and the thin line of her mouth didn’t invite any further questions.

Emma glanced at the spice bush. A few of its leaves had drifted to the ground, making a golden ring around it.

“It won’t do you any good, staring at it.”

Look who’s talking, Emma thought. But that wasn’t nice. “I know,” she said out loud. And she did know; she felt it in the pit of her stomach. “My little sister’s inside.”

“She’s not a kind sister, to go in and leave you behind,” the woman observed.

“No, she just went in to get my coat. I forgot it there on Friday. When I couldn’t get through today, I told her I’d wait out here for her. She promised she’d be quick. My mom’ll kill me if I don’t bring my coat home.” Emma shut her mouth because her words were getting shaky again.

“Ah.” The woman put the basket of apples on her other side and moved over closer to Emma. “What’s your name, girl?”

“Emma.”

The woman looked at her funny. “That’s quite a coincidence.”

Emma rolled her eyes. “I know. Everybody’s named Emma. I don’t know why my mom couldn’t think of something more original. There are three other Emmas in third grade. My teacher says it’s a popular name right now.”

“Popular. Is that a fact.” Humor lit up the woman’s eyes. “My husband used to say that life was one eternal round. I suppose that’s true of fashion as well.”

The guards’ cart was close now, but didn’t sound like it was going to slow down. Emma let out a breath. The two big men with stern, foreign-looking faces had always scared the girls–though they had never kept them from coming back.

The woman looked up when she heard the electric whine of the golf cart. She waved a hand as if fanning away a fly. “Nalu and Lota won’t bother us. They know me well.”

“Oh. Really? I wish we’d met you a long time ago, then.” Emma thought for a moment. “How come we’ve never seen you before? We‘re here a lot.”

The woman chuckled, but didn’t answer. She laughed louder when Emma’s stomach growled again.

“Are you certain you won’t accept an apple? It might quiet your belly’s grumbling until you can get home to your supper.” She held one out again, yellowish-red and fragrant.

Emma gave in, even though her mom would freak out if she knew Emma had taken food from a stranger. She bit into the crisp flesh and sucked in to keep the juice from running down her chin.

“Really good,” she said around the mouthful. The woman gave her a real smile then. She must have been beautiful when she was younger. Emma hoped the lady’s husband would come back soon.

The apple was good–almost as good as Narnian fruit. Emma and Becca had stuffed themselves silly when they’d first started going more than a year ago, when their mom had started letting them ride their bikes to and from school.

They’d learned quickly, though, that they could never bring anything out. Berries, cherries, flowers–they all turned to black mold the minute they came out beside the spice bush.

The sun was down among the trees now. What was keeping Becca?

Finally, the spice bush rustled. Emma scooted around to look as Becca emerged, a few golden leaves getting stuck in her dark, curly hair. “Sorry,” she gasped, crawling under the fence on her stomach, Emma’s coat under her arm. “Obi-Wan asked about you, and I wanted to say goodbye.”

“What do you mean?” Emma asked around the lump in her throat. “Did he kick you out?”

Becca looked to the side and pursed her lips the way she always did when she was about to lie. “Yeah.”

“C’mon. Tell me the truth.”

Becca shook her head and started to cry.

Emma grabbed her sister’s upper arm hard, too anxious to be nice. “C’mon,” she repeated through gritted teeth.

Becca hiccuped and looked up at her sister, grief in her eyes. “You’re too old now,” she admitted finally. “I can come back whenever I want until my birthday–but I told him I wouldn’t come if you weren’t allowed. It’s not fair, and besides, it’s no fun in there without you.” Her lips pursed again.

“Liar,” Emma said, but hugged her little sister tightly. She didn’t care that Becca’s snot was getting all over her shirt, because she was crying a little, too. She lifted her hand to wipe her nose; she still had the old woman’s half-eaten apple in her hand. She looked around, wanting to introduce her sister.

But the woman was gone, basket and all. Not a sign of her on the road. Glancing at the horizon, Emma didn’t have time to wonder how or why she’d left so quickly. She grabbed Becca’s hand and ran down the hill to their bikes.

“Hurry, Beck,” she said as they went. “We can still make it home before dark.”

Meeting of the Myths

In English, the word “myth” is often used to mean “a story which has no basis in fact.” This is unfortunate, since English has no better word than myth to describe “a story which humans use to make meaning out of existence.”

Some myths–in the latter sense–are grounded in fact. Others are not. But all are stories that capture the human imagination, that we return to again and again, because they help our limited minds to glimpse something important and real.

We asked writers to take some of the myths that fill their worlds and mix them together into new stories to give us new chances at insight. If you join us this week, you will read about tribal shamans and world councils, about zombies and vampires and aliens, about the enchanted ones with the blessings and burdens they carry, about Mormon pioneers in 19th century America and modern Brazil–always reading, in the process, about what it means to be a child of God in your journey through a strange and moving earth.

Meeting of the Myths Schedule
This week’s schedule. Poster design courtesy of Katherine Cowley.

When all  seven stories are posted and read, we’ll ask you to rank your favorite three and email your votes to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com. Until then, we hope you enjoy the mystery and the magic of this year’s “Meeting of the Myths” contest.

-Nicole and James Goldberg, Contest Editors

Meeting of the Myths Short Story Contest

Back in July, after counting the final votes in the down-to-the-wire race that closed out the Third Annual Mormon Lit Blitz, Nicole and I got talking about what we should do next. With the Four Centuries of Mormon Stories Contest, we’d brought historical, contemporary realistic, and speculative fiction into conversation with each other. What else could we do to give readers a taste of what Mormon fiction can offer?

There are a lot of things Mormon literature can do, of course, but one that seems particularly important to us is its potential to speak to the multicultural experience all modern Mormons have. Every one of us is part of a strong shared spiritual culture, but also part of a pop culture, a national culture, an educational and professional culture, and so on. We see ourselves in light of our superheroes as well as of our scriptures, are inspired by revolutions as well as by revelations, and learn from professors as well as from prophets. If we define “myths” as the stories we use to make meaning of our lives and of the world around us, today’s Mormons have a vast selection to draw from.  On any given Sunday, there’s probably a primary kid somewhere comparing Satan to Bowser at the same time that a Sunday school teacher is talking about miracles during the 1989 coup attempt in the Philippines.  For the most part, we seem happy to look for God in all our stories.

And writers can help us. They can open up our imaginations ever wider, and in doing so can help us weigh or bring together the diverse insights we get from our many cultures. I love the way Eric Samuelsen weaves together the war in heaven with the early stages of evolution in the first scene of his great play The Plan.  I find myself strangely moved by the way Steven Peck brings out our pioneer legacy with the help of a zombie apocalypse in his short story “The Runners.”  I was moved by the way Heather Marx brought together Sikh  and Mormon heritage in her short story “Brother Singh” and enjoyed playing with Indian poetry and Mormon aspirations in my own short fiction “Singer and Saint: An Interview with Jeevan Sidhu.”

Our challenge for writers this fall is to draw on their many cultures’ myths to make a Mormon story.

Word Count: Up to 2,000 words

Deadline: 31 October 2014

Prize:  $200

Send up to three entries to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com, preferably attached as Word documents or pdfs. Please include author’s contact information in the body of the email, but not in the attachment with the story.

Fine Print: By submitting your work, you grant us non-exclusive rights to publish your story on the web and/or in an eBook anthology. In the case of an eBook anthology, proceeds go to support Mormon literature (including future contests). Previously published stories are acceptable so long as the author retains publication rights. Collaborations are acceptable and count toward all collaborating authors’ three permitted submissions.

2014 Mormon Lit Blitz Winner

Lit Blitz Winner

After counting and recounting votes in a tight race for literary impact, we are pleased to announce this year’s top finalists:

Fourth Place: “The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner

Third Place: “Yahweh: Prologue to the Temple” by Jonathon Penny

Second Place: “Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales

and our Grand Prize winner:

First Place: “Slippery” by Stephen Carter

Thank you again to all who submitted to the contest, who read and shared the finalists, and who emailed in votes. It’s been a lovely time.

Because of the strong submission pool this year, we have decided to compile an eBook anthology of all twenty-four semi-finalists. Watch our Facebook page for details, or email everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com and tell us you want anthology updates.

Next Contest

Can’t wait for the next Lit Blitz? From now through September 30th October 31st, we’ll accept entries for a fall Mix-and-Mash Mythos contest. The rules are simple:

-Entries must be under 2,000 words
-Entries must draw on or sample from Mormon mythos (scriptures, history, hymns, traditions, etc.) AND another mythos (modern pop culture, a scientific model, another culture or religion, etc.)
-All genres are welcome (and bending genres is encouraged). Previously published work is acceptable if the author retains republication rights.
-Works should speak to an audience of religious Latter-day Saints

Send entries to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com, preferably attached as Word documents or pdfs. Please include author’s contact information in the body of the email, but not in the attachment with the story.

Finalists will be selected in October and published in October or November. A cash prize will be awarded to the winner of an audience vote.

2014 Mormon Lit Blitz Voting Instructions

We have enjoyed all twelve finalists. But we only have one Grand Prize. Help us decide which piece wins this year’s Lit Blitz by emailing a ranking of your four favorite pieces to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com by the end of the day on Saturday, July 5th.

The contestants are:

“20/20” by Lindsay Denton
“The Primary Temple Trip” by Laura Hilton Craner
“In Remembrance” by Merrijane Rice
“Curelom Riders” by Annaliese Lemmon
“Slippery” by Stephen Carter
“In a Nutshell” by Doug Staker
“And Through the Woods” by Jennifer Eichelberger
“Thick and Thin” by Vilo Westwood
“Platinum Tears” by Marianne Hales Harding
“Sugar Free” by Emily Debenham
“Living Scriptures” by Scott Hales
“Yahweh: Prologue to the Temple” by Jonathon Penny

Again: in order to be counted, votes must contain a ranking of the reader’s four favorite pieces and must be emailed to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com by the end of the day Saturday, July 5th. We also welcome comments and feedback on the contest in vote emails.

For those who are interested, public discussions of each piece are taking place on the Mormon Midrashim blog. We’d love to have you share your thoughts on specific pieces there.

Yawheh: Prologue to The Temple

By Jonathon Penny

I am, but not obsequious:
no star-eyed worshipper of will.
Defender-of-the-faith at cost,
I am a bleeder-at-the-gills.

This Gospel hits me where I breathe:
It roils the very blood of me;
seasons the very meat and meal
and sets the organs ill at ease.

I am, but not levitical,
no cutter of the hair to cut,
no saline soul mechanical.
I am a why-er of the what.

This Covenant grips me by the groan:
It fells and flings me to the soil
as I were seed so to be thrown;
as I were tiller, tree, and toil.

I am a doubter in the dark,
a wrestler with angelic limbs.
I brook no counterfeiting luck,
but look for heralds of high Him.

This Ordinance wrings me by the nape.
This Cherub bars me from the tree.
This Way bow-bends me to the strait.
This Lord makes mock and mince of me.

I am, though skeptical of bent,
a wearer of the solemn gown–
no rustic git obedient,
no frail finch by breezes blown.

This Image flicks and flutters yet:
at once aggrieves and brings relief;
it faithful fuddles, frowns, and frets;
it holy helps my unbelief.

I am a grasper after Grace.
I am a doer of the word.
I am a yearner after peace.
I am a seeker of the Lord.

This Monarch veils himself in love.
This Sovereign slips the throng and throne.
This Master drudges in the grove
and lordly lives among his own.

Living Scriptures

By Scott Hales

Timothy smiles as he hands a five dollar bill to the teenager behind the window. “Keep the change,” he says. The teenager—a red-headed seventeen-year-old with almost as many piercings on her face as freckles—giggles and gives him a towering vanilla ice cream cone and a stack of brown paper napkins.

“You’re gonna need these on a day like today,” she says. She is referring to the heat, a staple of mid-July days in Palmyra, and Timothy has to remind himself once again how bothersome a blazing sun can be to mortals. It has been almost two millennia since he last felt the sun’s rays on his skin, and he has become unused to feeling a sensation so . . . trivial. At first he had missed it—almost to the point of regretting his decision—but now he understands why he must go without such distractions.

Jeremiah, ever-cryptic in his aphorisms, put it best when they were tending to wounded civilians in India during the Sepoy Rebellion: “Suffering determines the length of a lifespan.” Having died once himself, the victim of a brutal stoning, Timothy knew immediately what his friend meant. The body can only take a certain amount of pain—physical, emotional, spiritual—before it gives up the ghost. Death is the spirit’s rejection of suffering, and no physical body, no matter how strong or righteous, can contain its spirit when pain tips the scales. Had they not been made to withstand the most harrowing conditions of the Fall, they could not fulfill their divinely-appointed mission.

Or eat an extra-large ice cream cone without guilt or threat of a heart attack.

#

Using the last of the napkins to wipe melted ice cream from his hands and lips, Timothy decides to visit Grandin’s printing press for the first time since he’d helped E. B. Grandin—then only a brash kid!—set up shop in the 1820s. So much has changed in Palmyra since then, changes that cause Timothy to remember a Church News article about the most recent renovation of the building: an overhaul of the interior that, by Timothy’s best guess, probably made it almost unrecognizable to those who had known it almost two hundred years ago. Still, Timothy harbors no love for the old interior—Grandin had had no decorative sense—so he doubts he’ll be terribly disappointed by what he’ll find. He is simply looking for a good way to kill a few hours before he needs to be in place to save the life of the actor playing Jesus in the pageant tonight.

Pushing past a contingent of anti-Mormons with loud yellow signs, Timothy takes in the crowd milling outside an LDS bookstore beside the historical site. Tourists all, they move in a kind of chaotic order, juggling strollers, cameras, shopping bags, and sunburns. Their whiteness—or, more accurately, pinkness—shocks him, so used he is to working in parts of the world where pale skin belongs to the minority. He laughs at their insipid legs and comfortable waist-lines—not spitefully, but with the amusement of one who has seen their kind rise and fall with every century. He wishes Jeremiah and Kumen could be there, especially Kumen, who would probably say something like, “And for this we wander!”

Thinking of Kumen, Timothy almost doesn’t hear the eager voice address him. Turning, he sees the tightly grinning face of well-dressed young man sitting at a table with a display of colorful scripture-themed books and DVDs arranged upon it. “Hello, brother,” the young man says. “How would you like a free DVD to share with your family?” Timothy holds up a hand to wave away the offer, but the young man gestures towards an empty seat. “It won’t take more’n two minutes, brother. Hear me out and you get a free DVD.”

“I’ve really got to keep moving,” says Timothy apologetically.

“Let me ask you this,” says the young man. “Are you concerned about the growing wickedness of the world?”

“Of course,” says Timothy.

“And aren’t you worried about the worldiness and immorality on television these days?”

“Television?” The word sounds ridiculous on Timothy’s tongue. As he says it, heinous scenes of barbarous torture and debauchery—memories of darker times of terror and apostasy—flash across his mind. The bloody shadows almost chill him. “No,” he says sharply, “not really.”

The tight smile briefly leaves the young man’s face before two weeks of sales training kick in and he recovers it. Still, Timothy notices a slight tremble surface on the young man’s smooth jaw. He feels slighted, challenged, no doubt feeling as he had as a missionary when people had rejected his invitation to learn more about the Gospel. In the young man’s eyes, now cold with offense, Timothy discerns a weariness, a longing to be somewhere other than a sweltering sidewalk in upstate New York. While Timothy cannot identify with the youth’s desire to sell that which is of no worth, he sympathizes with the weariness. It is what he would feel if he could still feel.

“How much for your DVDs?” Timothy asks.

The young man gives what seems to Timothy to be an unreasonable price.

Reaching for his wallet, Timothy takes the empty seat beside him. “Let’s do this,” he says. “I want you to give a full set of DVDs and books to the next family you talk to. On me.” He pulls a wad of bills from his wallet and hands them to the young man. “Keep the change,” he adds.

The young man counts the bills, speechless. Timothy rises from the chair and replaces his wallet in the back pocket of his cargo shorts. “Make sure it’s a family,” he says to the young man. “I don’t want you giving the DVDs to just anyone.”

“OK,” says the young man.

“And, for the record,” Timothy says, pointing to the flashy image of an ancient prophet on the cover of the nearest DVD, “no self-respecting Nephite would ever dress like that. Not in my day, at least.”

Sugar Free

By Emily Debenham

The sound of cursing was the first thing that Rachel heard as she entered the church. She hesitated and then peered around the corner into a half-dark hallway to see Hunter, the ward executive secretary, struggling with an insulin pump. She’d seen her father checking his on many occasions.

She could hear Hunter muttering numbers, calculating his blood sugar. She’d never seen her dad get so flustered and she thought about offering help. She worried that would only put him in a worse mood, though. Rachel waited in the empty hallway, refusing to leave before she knew he was okay.

Finally, Hunter sorted himself out and headed down the hallway. He didn’t even look back. Rachel had learned his secret without being discovered. She followed after him, winding around until she found the crowded foyer. She let Hunter know she had arrived for her appointment with the bishop.

“Alright,” he said. “Three people are ahead of you, so get comfy. You have a good weekend?”

Rachel pulled a face. “It started out pretty crummy. I sort of failed a physics test on Friday.”

“Oh no!” Hunter looked genuinely distressed for her.

“Yeah,” Rachel tried to make light of it. “I had to make a banana pie to console myself.”

“Not a chocolate girl, then?” he teased.

“I figure if I’m going to make condolence pie it might as well have something healthy in it, you know?”

He emphatically shook his head. “No. I’d go straight for the chocolate, caramel, peanut butter combo and put whipped cream on top.”

Rachel laughed. “That’s your favorite then?”

He nodded and Rachel could see the longing in his eyes and a little sadness. Rachel knew that his diabetes probably really restricted his diet. She and her dad had spent a lot of time perfecting several sugar-free desserts for that very reason.

“So, I used to be a physics TA,” Hunter said. “Come over anytime and I’ll help you study.”

The next week, Rachel decided to take Hunter up on his offer. She mixed up some sugar-free peanut butter and chocolate cupcakes, then tossed her physics book into her bag and hefted it over her shoulder and headed over to find Hunter. She didn’t even have to knock. When she got there, the door was already propped open. She stuck her head into the hallway. “Hello?”

“Hey! Come in,” a voice called.

“Sorry the kitchen smells like smoke,” Hunter said, sitting at the table. “We had a dinner crisis. James and Ted went out for emergency pizza.”

“Oh, well. I just happened to bring cupcakes in exchange for help with my physics homework.”

Hunter’s lips pressed into a thin line. “I’m willing to answer your physics question, but no thanks to the cupcake.”

Rachel smiled. She put a cupcake on the table and pushed it toward him. Hunter sighed and turned his face toward the wall. She heard his stomach growl. Rachel immediately felt guilty. “Hey, it’s sugar free, promise.”

Hunter snapped his face toward her. “Who told you?”

Rachel took a step back. She didn’t expect him to be so irritated with her. “I saw you in the hallway at church with your insulin pump.”

Hunter closed his eyes a moment and took a deep breath. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to snap. It’s just been a long day and I really only found out about the diabetes before the semester started.”

Rachel slipped into the chair across from him. “That sucks. My dad has diabetes. We created this recipe together. He eats it all the time.”

“Okay.” Hunter said. “I need to eat something soon anyway.”

He picked up the cupcake and inspected it, almost reluctantly, and Rachel realized he expected the cupcake to be a flop. He probably equated sugar-free with disgusting. She was excited to see whether he would like it or not. Rachel held back a laugh as Hunter bravely took a bite. He chewed in silence for about three seconds and then his hand came off the table to cover his eyes.

Rachel’s heart constricted with panic. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” He pulled his thumb and fingers together to wipe at his eyes, but when he pulled his hand away his eyes looked wet.

“Are you crying?” Rachel asked.

“It tastes really good,” he said.

It probably wasn’t the best thing to do, but Rachel started laughing.

He glared at her. “Shut up.”

But Rachel could tell he didn’t mean it.

“Can I brag now that my cooking is so good it brings men to tears?”

Hunter laughed, the moisture in his eyes cleared up, and he started to look like his regular old self. “Definitely.”

“Sorry I laughed.”

Hunter shrugged. “It was funny.”

“It hasn’t been easy for you.”

“It’s no fun having doctors and nurses look at you and say you have a chronic illness that’s going to change everything in your life for the rest of your life. I didn’t think I’d ever get to eat something that tasted good again.”

“A young man’s worst nightmare,” Rachel teased.

Rachel finished off her own cupcake and brought out her physics text book. “So, to my question. . . .”

Hunter took the last bite of his cupcake and leaned forward. “Ask away.”

Hunter was really good at explaining things clearly and for the first time all semester, Rachel finally understood her homework. They did a few practice problems until she said. “I think I’ve got this. Thanks.”

Hunter handed the pencil he had borrowed back to Rachel. “No problem. We should do this again. . . . I mean, if you need help.”

Rachel nodded. “I’ll pay you in treats. And maybe sometime we can leave out the physics.”

Hunter smiled. “I was thinking the same thing.”

Platinum Tears

By Marianne Hales Harding

“Polishing gold is pretty easy—you just scrape off the top layer to reveal the shiny metal underneath. This ring is platinum so it’s never going to wear down. You don’t polish platinum. You actually have to fill in the scrapes, which is a lengthy process. And this inscription: it’s very deep. That’ll take forever to fill in. But you need to do it if you’re going to sell it.”

She looked at me sympathetically, not needing to ask why I was selling the men’s wedding band and mercifully avoiding all small talk.

Platinum. Of course I engraved it in platinum.

I held the wide band to the light so I could read the sentiment one last time.

It was how I had signed all my love letters.

It was what I had engraved in the platinum part of my heart, an engraving I have only partially filled in. You heard her—it’s a lengthy process.

I wondered if wiping it off the ring would make it official. Do I now, officially, no longer “remain affectionately” his? Or was that just one more little layer of platinum, filling in the deep etchings in the most private part of my heart?

It didn’t really hit me until I was on to the next errand, standing in the bread aisle at Walmart.

Because it was Walmart, I stood there and openly wept.

There is no shame at Walmart. No judgment for pajama pants or fading tattoos or women once again filling the chips and scratches in their hearts with tears and tears, platinum tears.