2015 Lit Blitz Finalists

The Fourth Annual Mormon Lit Blitz will run May 18-30. We are pleased to announce this year’s finalists, listed by genre:

Fiction: 

Annaliese Lemmon, “Disability, Death, or Other Circumstance”

Eric Jepson, “Angry Sunbeam”

Julia Jeffery, “Should Have Prayed for a Canoe”

Katherine Cowley, “The Five Year Journal”

Scott Hales, “Child Star”

William Morris, “The Joys of Onsite Apartment Building Management”

Poetry: 

Darlene Young, “Echo of Boy”

Emily Harris Adams, “Faded Garden”

Merrijane Rice, “Mother”

Tyler Chadwick, “Three Meditations on Fatherhood”

Essay: 

Heather Young, “Best Wedding Advice Ever”

Lehua Parker, “Decorating Someone Else’s Service”

 

Thank you to all who submitted to this year’s contest. Please join us on this page to follow the finalists–and cast your vote.

Meeting of the Myths Voting Results

Thanks to all who read the finalists and voted in the “Meeting of the Myths” contest. The results are as follows:

Third Place (tie):

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

“Daughter of a Boto” by Katherine Cowley

Second Place:

“The Trail” by Stephen Carter

First Place:

“Spring Hill” by Luisa Perkins

Congratulations to the winners!

We hope both writers and readers will come back in the spring to join us for the Fourth Annual Mormon Lit Blitz, featuring short Mormon works  and in all genres (1,000 words limit for prose, 30 line limit for poetry, similar reading times expected from comics and other forms) . Our working submission deadline (subject to possible rescheduling) is 15 April 2015, with finalists appearing in May.

We also hope to release an eBook anthology of finalists and semi-finalists from the Third Annual Mormon Lit Blitz around the same time.

For those looking for interesting reading by Mormon writers between now and the spring, we would encourage you to look for other work, online and in print, from our finalists.

-Nicole and James Goldberg, Contest Editors

Meeting of the Myths Voting

We have enjoyed all seven finalists in this year’s Meeting of the Myths contest. But we only have one Grand Prize. Help us decide which piece wins this fall’s contest by emailing a ranking of your three favorite pieces to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com by the end of the day on Saturday, November 29th.

The seven finalists are:

Spring Hill” by Luisa Perkins
A Voice Not Crying in the Wilderness” by Jonathon Penny
The Trail” by Stephen Carter
Where Nothing Lives But Crosses” by Lee Allred
Harmony’s Victory” by Hillary Stirling
Eyelight” by Mark Penny
Daughter of a Boto” by Katherine Cowley

Again: in order to be counted, votes must contain a ranking of the reader’s three favorite pieces and must be emailed to everydaymormonwriter@gmail.com by the end of the day Saturday, November 29th. We also welcome comments and feedback on the contest in vote emails.

For those who are interested, a public discussion of the contest will take place on the Mormon Midrashim blog. We’d love to have you share your thoughts on specific pieces or on the relationships between pieces there.

We also hope you’ll come back in the spring for the Fourth Annual Mormon Lit Blitz. We’re currently planning on a March or April deadline for submissions to that contest, in any genre, with a 1,000 word limit.

-Nicole and James Goldberg, Editors

“Daughter of a Boto” by Katherine Cowley

“Seu pai é um boto,” Ana Luiza’s mother told her. Your father is a boto, a river dolphin. When she was young Ana Luiza would beg her mother to tell the story again and again.

“Era uma linda noite,” her mother would begin.

It was a beautiful night. The stars hung from the sky like flowers from a vine. I was wading in the river when I saw the botos, the dolphins. Some were rose-colored and some were as grey as stone. They slipped above the surface of the water. One of the dolphins swam to where I stood near the banks of the river. I touched the back of the boto and he transformed into the most handsome man I have ever seen. He gave you to me, and then he slipped into the water, turning back into a pink boto as he swam away.

“Did my father have a blowhole on the top of his head, even as a man?” Ana Luiza would ask.

“Yes, but I knew he was one of the encantado—the enchanted ones— so I would not let him wear a hat to cover it.”

“Am I a boto? Can I change into a dolphin?”

Her mother would laugh then, no matter how many times she asked the question. “You are not a boto. And I don’t want you to swim away from me.”

When Ana Luiza was ten years old, she learned about childbearing at school. That it was a matter of human anatomy, not gifts from mythical creatures. She would joke with her friends: “Meu pai é um boto.” My father is a dolphin. And her friends would laugh. Yet every time she looked at the river she searched for the botos, hoping that one would transform into her father.

When Ana Luiza turned twelve, she and her mother moved from the town of Thaumaturgo to the city of Cruzeiro do Sul. As they traveled down the Rio Juruá she saw pink botos several times, but they stayed far away from the boat.

From Cruzeiro do Sul they moved to Manaus. Ana Luiza had never imagined a city so large, yet somehow os missionários found them. She quickly learned that the Elders were not allowed to give or receive beijinhos, the little kisses of greeting and parting. Not long after Ana Luiza and her mother joined A Igreja de Jesus Cristo dos Santos dos Últimos Dias.

Ana Luiza went with the other youth in her ward and performed baptisms for the dead in the Manaus Temple. It was the most beautiful building no mundo inteiro—in the entire world—and she loved the Spirit she felt there. Then in Sunday School she learned about covenants.

“Deus criou o mundo, e criou um plano,” her teacher began.

God created the world, and He created a plan. He sent His Son, the Only Begotten, to live and die for us. Yet to receive the fullness of His blessings we must walk in His path. First is baptism, the gate. Next, the endowment, a gift of learning and power. And finally, the sealing, a temple covenant by which a family can be together not only for this life, but for all eternity.

Ana Luiza had already been baptized, but she knew that she wanted the other covenants, the promises made to God in exchange for promised blessings. At the end of the year Ana Luiza and her mother met with the bishop for tithing settlement. At the end of the meeting he asked if there was anything they needed.

“Bispo,” said Ana Luiza. “I want to be sealed to my mother in the temple.”

The bishop looked down at his desk, and Ana Luiza’s mother looked away.

“I’m sorry,” the bishop finally said. “But you cannot be sealed to just your mother. Children must be sealed to two parents, who are already sealed to each other.”

“But I want us to be a family forever,” said Ana Luiza.

“Perhaps someday I will marry,” said her mother. “And then you can be sealed to me.”

Ana Luiza pinched her lips together, trying not to cry. Perhaps. Perhaps she might someday be sealed to her mother. She did not like perhaps.

When they returned home, Ana Luiza prayed to God. “Querido e Amado Pai Celestial. Please, let me know who my father is, so that I can have an eternal family.”

After her prayer, Ana Luiza approached her mother. “Eu sei que meu pai não é um boto-cor-de-rosa.” I know my father isn’t a pink river dolphin. “Who is he really?”

“Não sei.” I don’t know.

“You must know. Then we can find him and you can marry him and we can be sealed and be together forever. Who is my father?”

Her mother paused, choosing her words. “I lived a very different life then. I knew many men. I really don’t know who your father is. So he is a boto.”

For the first time her mother sounded sad when she said the word boto.

Ana Luiza left the house in a rush, not even giving her mother a kiss farewell. She sat next to the river, dipping her feet in the water. This part of the river was black and dark. It came from the Rio Negro. A little downriver the Rio Negro combined with the Rio Solimões. The Solimões was light, almost the color of sand. When the Negro and the Solimões met they kept their own colors for kilometers before they mixed. No matter how hard she tried, Ana Luiza could not see the lighter water from where she sat. The river was too wide.

Until she met the missionaries, Ana Luiza had never known what a family could be—a mother and father, sealed together for time and eternity, and their children with them. But now that she knew the ideal, she still could not have it. Why couldn’t the missionaries have found her mother years before, before Ana Luiza was even born, so that she could have both a mother and a father? She could imagine what the missionaries would say if she asked them her question. They would say that God had a plan, a perfect plan, and she needed to trust in His timing. They would tell her that if she did her part to live the gospel, she could have faith that God would make everything work out for her good.

Ana Luiza kept her feet in the river for hours. As the sky began to darken, she saw unusual ripples in the water, and flashes of pink and grey. Perhaps it was the botos. She didn’t see nearly as many botos here in Manaus as she had back home. Some people said they were dying out.

Ana Luiza stepped into the river until the dark water reached her waist. A pink dolphin approached her, close enough for her to touch. She tentatively reached out, touching the animal’s skin. At the same instant, something touched her inside: a softness, a warmth in her heart, a quiet reassurance that everything would be right. The dolphin’s skin was soft, like a leather glove placed in water. She held her breath, savoring the moment. She didn’t know anyone who had touched a boto. She considered it a gift: a gift from the river and a gift from God.

For an instant, the boto’s pale pink skin turned brighter, pinker. And then the boto swam away. The pink and grey botos slipped beneath the water. Ana Luiza left the river. As she walked home to her mother she whispered, “Não importa que meu pai da terra é um boto,” It doesn’t matter that my earthly father is a river dolphin. “Eu tenho um Pai Celestial.” I have a Heavenly Father.

“Eyelight” by Mark Penny

“Look, Brother Kayabtaguslen, I appreciate that you were once the local Dream Watcher, but I am now the appointed authority for this community, and any revelation about relocating would come through me in a vision or dream, through a still, small voice, or as a prompting, impression or stream of pure intelligence. I’ve had no such stirrings of the Spirit, so I must assume your impressions are false.

“Thank you for coming to me. I will pray about it. I’ll even fast. No, I won’t go up to the Dream House or use any of your herbs. Fasting should open the channels soon enough.

“Yes, the branch might follow you. But think of your soul. You’d be defying the Lord’s anointed. I’m no Moses or Lehi, but I have been called of God by authority and the laying on of hands. I am the head of this unit of the Church, so important revelations should come through me. The Lord’s house is a house of order. We’re a church of appointed officers, not talented shamans.”

***

Kayabtaguslen left the Brandts’ cave in disgust and dismay. Ever since the Two-legs came panting up the rock trails with their alphabets and books and message of healing from the bites of the Dead-Leaf Crawler, a rope of inaction seemed to wind itself around the tribe. The Dream House was rotting on the Peak, its collection of honored pipes was filling with leaf fibers and dustwrigglers, and its herb gardens were feeding the dreams of treeswingers and skyflappers.

And now all those creatures were leaving the mountain. And coming back. And leaving. And coming back—so many times in the previous moon cycle that not a person in the tribe could ignore it. Something was happening on the Peak and it ought to be investigated. Except that everyone feared the place. Before the Two-legs, it had been sacred, off-limits to all but the Dream Watchers. Now it was unholy, the nest of the Dead-Leaf Crawler, the eternal trap for souls who broke the laws of the Two-legs. This was the lore that had grown up like rootchokers in the truthgarden planted by the Two-legs.

Kayabtaguslen did not fear the Dream House. The Dead-Leaf Crawler did not live in that place of memory—the memory of dreams, including Kayabtaguslen’s Big Dream, the one of two strange creatures struggling over the rocks of the dry stream, their backs heavy with food and books in cunning pouches that closed like stickbulbs and mating dead-leaf crawlers.

But should he go to the Peak to see what troubled the tree and sky people there? In the Big Dream, the Two-legs wore crowns of sunlight, beautiful wreathes that shone golden like the Eye of the Gardener—wreathes of dreamleaf. The meaning was clear: the Gardener had sent the Two-legs. When the pair reached the tribe, smelling of the water that dripped from their hairless foreheads and drenched their woven skins, Kayabtaguslen crowned them with dreamleaf wreathes and settled them in the cave he had prepared for them.

When the male had rested, Kayabtaguslen led him up to the Peak and into the Dream House, and offered him the Great Pipe. The Two-legs declined, a sign of humility—declined all five pipes in turn. Kayabtaguslen brewed strong tea, which the Two-legs sniffed and accepted—until his first sip. Then he widened his eyes and fled—and gradually impressed upon the people that the Peak was a place of the darkness and ignorance the Gardener had sent His messengers to dispel.

The Dream had been clear. The male and female Two-legs, were to be heard and obeyed. Kayabtaguslen, who had dreamed the Last Great Dream, would shun both house and leaf.

The people fasted and prayed as the Two-legs taught them, but no dreams followed. Like dead leaves, the people had lost color and suppleness. They had only their shape. The light of the Gardener came only through the Two-legs now. It fell around the people but did not fall on them, did not glow inside them.

So Kayabtaguslen broke his streamvow and went up to the Dream House, to see what the Peak dwellers feared. He saw that the Peak dwellers ate the dreamleaf, which before had been guarded day and night. If they ate the leaf, they must be having dreams. And the dreams must be scaring them from the Peak. But why did they return? Because they forgot their dreams? Because too long without the leaf, they ceased to dream, and without the dreams they lost their fear?

What should he do now? Tell the Two-legs that the animals dreamed because of the leaf, and that the dreams were of some evil on the mountain? The people would say that the animals were fleeing the Venomous One. That eating the leaf opened their eyes to the evil, but not eating the leaf closed their eyes, and so they saw and fled, but forgot and returned over and over.

The Two-legs did not believe the Dead-Leaf Crawler dwelt on the Peak. But he did believe the dreamleaf was venom.

Kayabtaguslen needed more understanding of the threat the animals sensed. He needed to dream. He needed the leaf.

As he climbed to the Dream House, Kayabtaguslen felt his skin burn and his innards freeze. He felt like dancefruit with a green rind and rotten flesh. (It had been long since he’d eaten dancefruit and truly danced.)

Part of him yearned for the dreamleaf—for the dreams. Part of him felt like a thief, sneaking off to raid a garden of forbidden fruit. The Two-legs would not be pleased, would regard him with watery eyes. The people would exclude him from their councils and make him a proverb to their broods. His past-wives and their broods would look on him with shame. The tribe would cease to call him the Last Dream Watcher and begin to call him the First Vow Breaker. His place in the lore of the tribe would be as confused as the feelings in his flesh.

But the Peak dwellers fear came from a dream, which came from the leaf, which came from the Gardener. Fasting and praying were slow openings to the Stoneplacer. The danger might fall before the Two-legs dreamed of it. Kayabtaguslen would know the danger in a single glance of the Eye.

The Two-legs had refused all the pipes but accepted the tea. As tea, the leaf would be less sinful.

And quicker. Smoke took preparation. No leaves had been prepared in three years. Preparation would take days.

With fresh leaves, the dream might be weak and clouded. Kayabtaguslen rubbed up a small, smokeless fire to dry a rack of leaves over. Again, not best, but the First Fire that parched inevitably…also parched slowly. He put out a rack for the Skyfire in case there was time and the dream was deep or misty, but he wasted no eyelight waiting on the Eye.

The tea was weak and tasted of green. The Two-legs said the green was given by the suneaters in the leaves. Maybe. But the sun was faint when the leaves had not been dried to crack out the light. And other leaves were also green, but did not give dreams. Kayabtaguslen did not think greenness gave the dreams.

A shadow struck the mountain, engulfed the Peak. He brewed more leaves. The mountain shook. But what shadow could shake the mountain? A mighty storm? Such storms were rare, and even the mightiest had never stirred the great stones.

The Eye was passing into its descent. After dark, the tribe would seek Kayabtaguslen near the caves and lean-tos. Then they would divide into the woods. Finally, they would think of the Peak. He must complete the dream before then.

The leaves on the rack were not fully dry, but he rolled one into a wad, tapped the Small Pipe free of fibers and wrigglers, and worked the wad into the pipe. It would not burn cleanly, but it would burn and he would dream more clearly. He lit the wad in the fire and breathed deeply in.

The mountain was ablaze. How could a shadow bring flame? Was it stormfire? But the forest was wet, the trees were green, the rivers were full, and the skyrivers were misting as they fell. No stormfire ever told could set the mountain ablaze.

This was a many-layered dream. He might need the Great Pipe. But the Eye would soon reach its bed and if Kayabtaguslen did not return to his cave soon after, the search might turn to the Peak. And he had dreamsmoke to slough—within and without.

He hung up the pipes and slunk from the Peak to the Vowstream. He emerged from the water dripping and heavy and unscented by dreamleaf, throat and cheeks raw from gargling and swishing. On the way home, he chewed stingberries to purge whatever wisps of dreamsmoke might remain in his mouth. Then he chewed sweetberry to cover the smell of purging.

Fires glowed in the caves of his neighbors. Kayabtaguslen hooted his name as he passed each one. At the mouth of his own cave, he beat the shoutstick in the pattern of his name for all the forest to hear. He did this thrice, pausing six breaths between statements. Then he entered his cave.

“You’ve been to the Dream House,” his year-wife signed. All four of the brood were suckling at her teats. One looked up at him. The others were half asleep, lips puckering in weakening bursts. Kayabtaguslen touched all their heads and pressed his snout against his year-wife’s brow. She smelled of cave smoke.

“What did you see?” she signed when he pulled away.

“Danger,” he signed back. “Shadow and fire. I must learn more.”

“Will you use the pipes?”

“I have already smoked the Smallest.”

“Maybe you will dream tonight.”

“Maybe. But the leaves are weak. The water clouds the Eye. I may need the Great Pipe in the end.”

“Well, go to sleep and see what the Gardener tells you if you dream.”

Kayabtaguslen lay by the fire and slept, but all dreams had washed off in the Stream.

***

With the Second Pipe, something burned through the sky. With the Middle Pipe, fire surrounded the Dream House and through the smoke and flames he saw the tribe with torches, watching the Dream House burn.

He woke and heard them coming, loping  through the grass, holding up torches, hooting his name: “Same-father son! Kayabtaguslen! Come out of the Poisoner’s Nest! Remember the Washing in the Stream!”

There were still two pipes to smoke, but there was time for only one. If he smoked only the Fourth, he might not see the end of the dream. If he smoked only the Great Pipe, he might overshoot the dream or miss some crucial layer. He lit the Great Pipe.

A massive object, round and hard as a skipstone, struck the Peak but did not skip. It gushed arcing streams of fire that did not choke on their own smoke. The stump of the mountain burned and burned, and only the skyflappers escaped.

By the stars and the moons, he knew it would come in the next three nights. He hoped not that night.

***

He sat up by his cave fire. His year-wife was suckling their brood.

“What did you see?” she signed.

“I saw a skystone strike the Peak. It smashed half the mountain. The other half it burned. We must leave at once. I will tell the Two-legs and the tribe. Gather our food and the firestones, then flee the mountain. Do not wait for me. Go to the valley and around the Middle Peak. Rocks will fly. Did they burn the Dream House?”

“Almost, but the Two-legs stopped them. Now they are glad. The Poisoner must have his house or he will come into ours.”

“The Gardener will burn it,” the Dream Watcher signed, then raced on all fours to the Two-legs’ cave.

“Harmony’s Victory” by Hillary Stirling

Harmony sat poised and ready on the edge of her seat in the Council Hall, fidgeting with the tablet in her hand. At least one holographic camera would be fixed on her despite the fact that another Councilmember currently had the floor. He droned on, all but predicting the end of the world if they continued on this course–the course she had set.

They had debated this resolution for months now, and it was coming down to a vote today. Harmony had waited for this moment her entire adult life. Finally the Councilman finished speaking. This was her last chance to turn back, to change her mind, to sit down and be quiet like she’d been told to do countless times. Deliberately, she rose and approached the podium before the Head of the Council. “I, Councilwoman Harmony Mock-Ripsom, request permission to address the Body of the Council.”

“Granted,” the Head solemnly declared, though there was a twinkle in his eye. He had to remain officially neutral, but he’d given Harmony quiet, invaluable support for years now.

Harmony took in the encouraging smiles of her supporters, the distrustful glare of Councilwoman Chaudhary (her most vocal critic), and the thoughtful frowns of Councilmen Zhang and Haddad, both of them powerful players and both still undecided. “I salute you, Council Members. You have come from the ancient nations of China and Egypt, the colonies of Mars and Europa – and everywhere in between.”

She felt a distinct impression to set aside her prepared remarks and speak from the heart.  Harmony faltered for half a beat and then turned her tablet over, trusting that prompting.  Gathering her thoughts, she said, “You have heard the dire warnings of our colleagues, and I have to admit they almost moved even me. There is a potential for danger in the course ahead, but what they have failed to address is the danger in not passing this resolution.”

Councilwoman Chaudhary crossed her arms, and Harmony gave her a small smile. “The danger lies in losing ourselves. We tamed our native world and weren’t content with even that, so we colonized the heavens. But now…”  She sadly shook her head. “Now we have grown timid. We have traded away our freedoms one by one. We’ve sold our birthrights for nothing more than empty security.”

Councilman Zhang tilted his head inquisitively, and Harmony pressed the point. “We fought for our moral agency once and it was a great and noble endeavor.” She looked directly at Councilwoman Chaudhary. “Not one of you – not one – can refute that.” Glancing back at Zhang, she continued, “If it isn’t a great and noble thing now, why not? What’s changed that we would back away from that principle?”

She paused as Zhang nodded ever so slightly and then her gaze darted to Haddad. “This regime constitutes the longest dictatorship in the history of our world. Its very existence is an affront to freedom. The arguments I have heard in its support have been focused on fear: fear of the unknown, fear of giving offense, fear of making mistakes. I hope–I sincerely, dearly hope–that is not what we have been reduced to, but the evidence put forth by our colleagues is difficult to deny.”

A freshman Councilman, his face contorted by strong emotion, shouted, “You’re wrong!” as the Head banged his gavel. “We’ve never been more free!”

Leaning forward, Harmony said to the freshman, “Free?  You call us free?” You poor, pathetic sheep. “Our words, our actions, our very thoughts are monitored by Big Brother. You call that free? The entire fruits of our labors are stolen from the hands of the laborer and given to those who don’t work. You call that free? ”

Her gaze raked over the hall, and every eye was riveted on her. “You are the elect, chosen to decide the fate of the whole of humankind. I ask you now to exercise the right that is yours: the right of moral agency. We have been under the sway of the current regime for our entire lifetime. Not one of us has ever breathed a truly free breath. Not one of us has enjoyed the full spectrum of our inalienable rights – rights we have been endowed with by our Creator. With this resolution, we are at a turning point. It is time to act from a place of courage and hope instead of fear or tradition. It is time to choose freedom!”

As she stepped away from the podium, Harmony’s heart thundered in time with the applause that rose around her, but she didn’t let it go to her head. There was still a hard battle to be fought.   She worked tirelessly throughout the day, encouraging her supporters, grappling with the concerns of the fence-sitters, and parrying the last-minute attempts of the opposition to discredit her. She’d tried to live her life in a way that would only enhance her message, so there was nothing which could be used to impeach her motives.

The vote itself was held in a special session later that evening. Harmony’s gut twisted with every vote of “Nay” but in the end, the resolution demanding abdication carried by almost two to one. Again, cheers broke out when the final tally was officially released. She slumped in her seat, stunned that a lifetime of labor had finally borne fruit.

The Council Chamber’s door swung open and in strode a luminescent woman. Harmony sighed with relief–Big Brother wasn’t going to personally step in.

The newcomer approached the podium before the head of the Council. “I, Mary Magdalene, request permission to address the Body of the Council.”

There were several shouts of protest, and the Head had to call the Body to order. Eventually, things settled down enough that he reluctantly said, “Granted.”

“I come on behalf of our King, Jesus Christ, to announce that he accepts the voice of this Council.  Though it pains him, he will step down from his millennial reign as requested.”

Harmony clenched her fist and exclaimed, “Yes!”

“Where Nothing Lives But Crosses” by Lee Allred

Comfort’s in heaven; and we are on the earth,

Where nothing lives but crosses, cares and grief.

—Shakespeare, Richard II, Act 2, Scene 2

The railway car lurched unexpectedly as the clattering train rounded yet another curve on the switchback westward course through the Berkshires of western Massachusetts. The specially chartered train was three days away from its terminus in the deserts of Utah.

Private railcars weren’t all that uncommon even in America, ravaged as it was by the Great Depression. This railcar, however, was uncommon because of the two men who occupied it, conversing with one another, only one was alive.

December’s chill seeped in through the railcar’s windows, a chill hardly offset by the woolen blanket around Nathan Fairchild’s legs or the burbling coffee pot at his side. The Austrian nobleman who accompanied him, recumbent upon a red satin divan, wanted the car’s interior kept cold as a tomb. And so it was.

Raab, as the Austrian styled himself, idly tapped a Turkish cigarette on the back of his hand. The hand was marked by an only partially healed burn mark in the shape of a cross. Raab placed the cigarette in his mouth and lit up. Acrid blue smoke wreathed his head in a tenebrous fog.

Baseborns rarely smoked—and bloodborns all but never—but, then, Raab was hardly one to abide the conventions of either baseborn or blood. If he had, the Krähenhorst, the ancient vampire rookery of Vienna, would not have exiled him here to the New World.

Fairchild took in the scent of the smoke. Iconoclasm was all well and good—vampire society was less a society than a loose grouping of solitary predators—but that iconoclasm had to stay within permissible bounds. Fairchild’s rookery, headquartered in San Francisco, was not altogether certain that Raab would confine himself so. Fairchild had thus been assigned as Raab’s minder rather than as a normal human adjunct.

As if reading his thoughts, the Austrian smiled, baring his fangs ever-so-slightly. “You actually believe you could fell me yourself, human? In Vienna, it sometimes takes an entire pack to bring down even a baseborn such as myself.”

Fairchild poured himself another coffee. Warmth spread through to his fingers as he cradled the mug with both hands. “I’ve heard of your famed Wild Hunts.” He sipped. “Here in America, we tend to do things a little differently.”

“So I was led to believe,” Raab said.

Fairchild’s eyes flicked to the painful burn mark the dockworker’s silver cross necklace had seared into the vampire’s hand. Boston Harbor, and not two minutes off the gangplank of the ocean liner, Raab had insisted on hunting immediately for fresh game. That the first dockworker he’d waylaid into a dark alley turned out to be Irish Catholic…

“What did you expect in Boston?” Fairchild asked.

Raab sniffed. “As if one miserable human city—or even continent—differs from the next.”

Still, once the Austrian had hurled away the offending pendant, he had fed deep and long. The sated vampire would not need to feed again for many days, not until after he’d reached his destination.

The rattle of an eastbound train passing in the opposite direction drowned out further conversation. As the relative quiet of the railcar’s passage down the track returned, Raab blew one last stream of smoke, then stubbed out the remains of his cigarette. He sibilated the desiccated hiss that passed for laughter among his kind.

“Vienna would say that this,” he held up his burnt hand, “only underscores their view that they were right and I was wrong. Faugh.” He looked sharply at Fairchild. “Do you know why those Graubärte exiled me?”

“The High Council doesn’t confide in mere humans.” And if Fairchild limited his information sources to only what he heard directly from the High Council or from his immediate boss, the Judge, he would have been dead long ago. No, Fairchild knew, knew more than Raab did.

Raab steepled his fingers. “Tell me, human. Do you believe in the constructs of Good and Evil?”

Fairchild felt the comforting weight of the tension steel stakes holstered under his brown leather jacket. Oh, yes—he believed in Evil, all right. And the presence of Evil presupposed the existence of Good, though Fairchild had yet to meet it face to face. The closest to Good Fairchild had experienced was the solid chunk of sharpened steel hammered through a vampire’s beating heart.

“Merely the constructs of the human mind,” Raab said, airily waving his fingers, “and yet, have you ever considered why their feeble minds evolved in such a way to possess it?”

“Evolved?”

“But of course. Have you ever heard of any human culture that had not developed some notion of Good and Evil and Gods? One must account for it by evolution or else join in the silly belief that some God actually exists.”

He went on without waiting for an answer. A vampire holding court cares not for a response from livestock. “For all their tools and machines and clever little monkey thumbs, humans are powerless against us—save for this imaginary construct of Good and God and Holiness they fetishize in their odious religious symbols.”

He nursed his burnt hand again. “Good and Evil. Faugh! Merely a chance evolutionary proto-phrenic defensive mechanism that reflects our own psychic abilities back upon ourselves. But would those fools in Vienna listen to me?”

The train clattered down another mile of track before Raab spoke again.

“Seventeen million head of livestock dead from the Kaiser’s foolish Great War,” Raab spat. “And perhaps an order of magnitude more from the Spanische Grippe. Europe’s peasants are disillusioned, doubting in their imaginary God. It would take only a little push using the levers of power the Krähenhorst wields and we could free ourselves from those accursed silver trinkets forever!”

Raab extracted another cigarette from his inlaid silver case. “But no, the old fools aim instead to de-God the elite of human society.” He tapped the cigarette on the back of his hand again. “As if we fed on them —those who would be missed—instead of safely draining the nameless, faceless masses.” He exhaled another long stream of smoke.

Fairchild hid his disgust behind a tightly gripped coffee mug.

The war’s disillusionment on Europe’s populace was already waning, and left to their own devices the common man might recover. Vampires played a longer game.

The disillusioned elites of shattered Europe: the statesmen and the poets, the writers, the artists, the film makers, even the clergy itself—those whose gift and duty was the channeling and dissemination, the control, of thoughts and ideas—were proving fragile reeds in the aftermath of industrialized Armageddon. They were sloughing off the stays and guides of time-tested moralities for the modern hedonisms and glittering raw power the Krähenhorst secretly proffered. The elites would in turn suborn, legislate, and mock into extinction the common man’s convictions of the divine.

Already it had begun in Italy with that strutting stone-jawed oaf and his Blackshirts, and in Germany also, with its little beer hall corporal.

Turning the masses through the elite might take years, might take decades, but the decadence would be permanent. Hadn’t they played the same game with Rome a thousand years before?

Raab’s true crime against his nest was not his rebellion or his alternative plan, but his rash impatience. And it would soon be the death of him. That had been arranged long before Raab set foot on American soil. That is why Stakeholder Nathan Fairchild, sanctioned slayer of those unsuitable to the rookery, had been ordered to lead the unwitting Raab to the killing field.

Raab idly dragged on his cigarette. “Tell me about this new domain of mine.”

“Hunting ground we call them here,” Fairchild corrected.

Raab smiled sardonically. “Ah, yes. I’ve heard of these Americans’ predilection for deluding themselves that they run their own affairs, when the truth is they are nothing but—what is that delicious Americanism?—free range cattle.”

He blew another stream of smoke. “My new…’hunting ground.’ It is what I asked for?”

Fairchild nodded. “Yes. We actually had a vacant territory with a substantially low amount of Kreuzenträger.” The term for cross-wearing humans. “Less than a single percent, in fact.”

Raab smiled as he took another drag on his cigarette. “That low? Good, good.” He hissed again in vampiric mirth. “You Americans really are mongrels, aren’t you? Too debased even for proper shrivenings. I shall enjoy hunting on my new preserve without those verfluchten crosses to vex me.”

Fairchild smiled, too, but only to himself. It never occurred to Raab to ask why such a seemingly prize territory was left permanently vacant. It never occurred to Raab to realize he was being led to his doom.

#

Ten miles north of St. George Utah, Fairchild let his Model A truck coast to a stop. A dusting of early April snow glinted in the Saturday morning sun. By noon it’d be soaked into the red sandstone dirt.

Grabbing a three-pound sledge hammer, he got out of the truck.

The door of the rancher’s cabin was ajar, just as the frightened rancher who’d told Fairchild his story had left it. It hadn’t been difficult to track down. Not difficult at all.

The rancher had left his radio on. Fairchild could hear the scratchy sounds of the KSL station out of Salt Lake City. Its fifty thousand watts of broadcasting power was enough to carry down here in the southeast corner of the state. They were broadcasting some annual meeting the Mormons held in their holy Tabernacle.

Fairchild crunched up the gravel trail to the cabin. He made no attempt at stealth. He could smell the vampire now; what’s more, he could smell the blood of jack rabbits and mule deer upon its breath.

Animal blood held only an illusion of sustenance for a vampire. A vampire attempting to subsist solely on animal blood would slowly starve, the lack of human blood not only killing him but slowly driving him mad the way mercury-laden fish would a human.

But what other option had Raab in his new domain, but to scavenge from the four-footed beasts? For he could not feed on its people.

Over the radio the Mormon preacher was slowly, methodically answering a common question asked by the outside world: why didn’t Mormon wear crosses?

Raab lay huddled, shaking in a corner of the cabin, too weak, too maddened, too feral to even recognize Fairchild or the danger the stakeholder presented to Raab. Raab’s swollen mouth gabbled in pain and insanity.

Every inch of the vampire’s naked body was burned and scarred with the same burns a cross would make. He must have tried to feed a dozen times before he realized the truth, the trap he’d been lured into.

As much out of pity as duty, Fairchild hammered a steel stake through Raab’s heart. In its convulsions, the heat of the vampire’s over taxed super-oxygenated blood—the same blood that gave a vampire its power—consumed the vampire in a gout of flame.

Fairchild dropped the hammer and turned back for his truck.

The radio preacher concluded: “Just as we Mormons worship neither a dead nor dying God, we do not connote our faith in Him through the symbol of His death. What symbol, then, do Mormons use? None, for no earthly emblem, sigil, or token could possibly suffice. Rather, our very lives—our very beings—can and must become that symbol, a living symbol, a living testimony of the Living God.”

Raab had tried to feed in the heart of Mormondom, where almost every living person was a cross and held its power.

A land where nothing lives but crosses.

“The Trail” by Stephen Carter

The world was divided into three.

Three shards of sagebrush and sky.

That’s how it looked to Emma as she blinked through the thick wooden wagon spokes next to her head. She winced at the odor of ox droppings and then looked to her left where Matthew, Gloria, and Juliette were sleeping as children do. She said a prayer and rolled from under the wagon into the thin light of dawn.

She had not slept well. No one had. Mother had been groaning and calling out all night. She could hardly walk anymore. They had fallen further and further behind the wagon train until the rear leader only showed up every other day to urge them on.

“Emma.”

She turned to see her father’s wan face peering out of the covered wagon.

“Take care of the oxen and make sure the children have breakfast,” he said. “Then you need to run ahead and fetch Sister Fallon.”

The sun was already high—its heat sending trickles of sweat down Emma’s back—before she could set off. As she approached the wagon, she heard her mother’s voice through the canvas.

“I’m going,” Emma whispered into the dimness.

“Quickly, Emma.”

Her mother’s voice frightened her.

Emma ran.

The wagon trail contorted in front of her like arthritic handwriting, stumbling through washes, jolting around boulders, bumping up and down rises. It had no plan but west. No scheme but forward.

Emma wondered: if she could fly, if she could look down upon this trail as a hawk, would these marks mean anything? Would the quivering tracks resolve into words, a sentence? A story?

Was the story already written?

Was she only the reader?

Her feet, bare and calloused, tapped out an ellipsis stretching from her mother’s labor bed. She ran hard at first, hoping that black figures would sprout from the horizon and grow into the company she was pursuing.

Finally she found the remains of a large campfire, the earth around it trodden and packed, a circle of wagon tracks surrounding it. She stopped and ran her fingers through the ashes.

Cold.

She had only crossed a single day’s wagon travel. How many more lay ahead?

She faced west again and ran with the sun.

But her throat was raw from the constant rush of her breath, her eyes prickly from the dust. And soon small black spots began jumping in front of the landscape. She realized that the water barrel was far behind and that no creek was nearby.

Her lips cracked and her tongue dried. The black spots grew. O Lord My God, she prayed, Give me strength for my mother’s sake. Guide my way.

Twilight was coming on. Emma was alone. She saw no fires ahead, heard no oxen lowing or wheels rumbling. She had to press on.

And she did.

Until the blackness filled her eyes completely, and the ground felt her impact.

Something called out to her—something like a young woman’s voice. A coyote?

O Lord, she prayed, Help me!

The stars, unreadable, illuminated the landscape. And all its prowling creatures.

###

The world was divided into three.

Three shards of sagebrush and sky.

Emma blinked sleepily between the thick wooden wheel spokes next to her head. She winced at the odor of ox droppings.

Then her eyes opened wide.

She scrambled out from under the wagon. “Sister Fallon! Sister Fallon!” she cried.

She looked around frantically for a few seconds until she realized that she was standing next to her family’s wagon, Father peering at her from the canvas covering.

“Is Mother all right?” she blurted. “The baby?”

“If the baby were here, you’d know it,” Father said. “Get the oxen fed and make sure everyone has breakfast. Then run on ahead and fetch Sister Fallon.”

Emma stared at him.

“Unless you know how to deliver a baby.”

She hesitated a moment. “Alright,” she said. “But I’m taking your water skin with me.”

Animals and children sated, Emma rushed by the wagon, water skin in hand.

“Quickly, Emma.”

Emma ran.

The trail stumbled in front of her like the tracks of a wounded animal, hobbling through washes, limping around boulders, dragging up and down rises. It had no goal but far. No plan but gone.

She wished she were a hunter reading this trail: discerning her prey, inhaling its scent. She wanted the trail to resolve into words, a sentence. A story propelled by her own movement—the expansion and contraction of her lungs, the arc and kick of her legs, the thrust and pull of her arms—rippling into the world, conjuring an ending.

But instead, her feet touched upon the earth one at a time, leaving only a long, inscrutable cypher. A repeating code spooling out behind her.

She came upon a campsite. But she did not stop. It did not matter how the ashes felt or how fresh the droppings were. It only mattered how much earth she could push behind her.

Her mouth stayed wet, her lips moist, her eyes clear. But the sun began to dip, rolling toward the horizon. And soon, the sky opened its million eyes.

Emma thought she heard a cry. Something like a young woman’s voice.

And then she remembered the reason you light a fire. The reason you stay with the company. The reason you don’t step into the night.

Were those legs galloping behind her? Senses extrapolating her from air and earth? Hunger?

She saw ghosts in the corner of her vision. Heard echoes at the edge of her breath. Felt rhythms syncopating with her feet.

O Lord My God, she prayed, Protect me.

The stars, unreadable, illuminated the landscape. And all its preying creatures.

###

The world was divided into three.

Three shards of sagebrush and sky.

Emma’s eyes snapped open, her lungs drawing a frantic breath. She rolled from under the wagon and scrambled to her feet. Mother lay on her side beneath the canvas amid the crates and furniture, huge belly pushing her dress outward. Father sat up in surprise.

“I need your bowie knife,” Emma hissed.

He blinked at her a few times, then rummaged around and finally handed the object to her. “Careful,” he said.

Emma grabbed the water skin, filled it, and was running before the sun broke the horizon.

The trail was pressed into the earth like lines in a human palm. Creases formed by the clench of an infant’s fist, by the wires of ancestral weight, by the crossing of prophetic stars. The washes were dips between tendons, the boulders were knuckles, the rises hidden bones.

Emma wondered: if her heartbeat never came to rest, if she could run for a hundred years, what would she see when she looked back? Would her path turn out to be a mere point? The end of a long, straight line? Would she finally be far enough away to see the trail resolve into a word, a sentence? Or would it merely be one long, undeviating story pulled along lifeless behind her—an accident, an afterthought.

She passed a campsite. Eyes clear. Breath smooth. Throat moist.

The sun slowly disappeared.

Then Emma heard a cry. Something like a young woman’s voice.

Or a . . .

Emma stopped.

Her trail would not be a single line.

She turned toward the cry.

A girl about Emma’s age was sitting on a large rock, her hands pressed to her face, shoulders shaking.

Behind her, a lanky body crept upon the earth with the patience of rust, the certainty of shadow.

Emma curled her fingers around the knife’s handle, drew a deep breath, and released a scream: one edged with the blood of two nights, infected with the premature silence of an infant, hallowed by ten thousand strides.

Both the girl and her stalker turned in the same instant.

The shadowy body crouched lower to the ground and growled, its triangular head snapping from girl to girl.

“Move in a circle toward me!” Emma shouted. “But don’t take your eyes off it!”

The girl moved slowly, step by step, around the figure, arms out, breath labored.

Suddenly, the devilled form lunged at the girl, but Emma screamed with a rage that punched a hole in the twilight. She whipped the knife out and slashed at the air.

The thing froze, its eyes trained on her. The girl sidled a few more steps until she and Emma were only a yard apart.

“Where’s camp?” Emma hissed.

The girl pointed to an area beyond the slinking figure. Emma looked toward it, but saw nothing but dim horizon.

I don’t know how much good this knife is going to do,” Emma said. “If we had a fire . . .”

At this, the girl reached into a pocket secreted in her dress and pulled out a black rectangle about the size of a folded handkerchief.

Emma saw her push a small circle at the bottom of the rectangle. And then the luminous face of a boy appeared on its surface. Emma stared.

“I’m totally breaking up with him,” muttered the girl. “So not worth it.”

Then she swiped her finger across his upper lip. A series of colorful symbols appeared and the girl tapped one of them.

A fire sprang to life on the rectangle’s glassy surface.

“Careful,” Emma gasped.

The girl turned the object around and shone it toward the lurker. It backed away slowly until Emma jumped forward with one last cry.

The shadow turned and plummeted into the night.

The two girls watched the creature’s lupine gait and then turned toward one another.

“Which company are you from?” Emma asked.

“Umm, the only one,” said the girl.

Emma got excited. “Is Sister Fallon there?”

“Who?”

“The midwife.”

“Uh . . . sorry.”

“Do you know how to deliver an infant?” Emma persisted.

The girl’s eyes grew huge. “NO!” she said, “Gross!”

“Do you know anyone who does?”

The girl held up her luminous stone and used its light to look Emma over for a moment, taking in her bare feet, her worn dress, her dirt-streaked face.

“Are you from this trek?” she asked.

“Please,” Emma begged.

The girl furrowed her brow, and then hesitantly tapped another symbol. “How do you deliver a baby?” she said.

The rectangle changed and revealed some small blue words: “How to Deliver a Baby (with pictures)—wikihow.com”

The girl tapped them and they turned purple. After a few seconds, the rectangle changed again and big black words appeared: “How to Deliver a Baby (with pictures).”

The girl moved the words upward by drawing her fingertip up the shining field. A color drawing of a pregnant woman lying on a bed appeared below the words.

The girl offered the object to Emma who reached out for it, her heart beating even more quickly than when she had been running.

She read the words. She studied the pictures. Then she touched the surface and moved the words up to reveal more. This was truly a miracle. Like the smooth stones the Brother of Jared brought to the Lord, or the seer stone Joseph used to translate the Book of Mormon.

Emma turned to the girl. “Who are you?” she asked in awe.

“Sandra,” said the girl, “My great-great-great grandmother was actually born on this trail. What’s yours?”

And then her body winked out.

Emma was alone.

Emma followed her own footprints back toward the wagon, the light of the stone guiding her way. Toward her mother. Toward the baby she would deliver.

She ran down the middle of the two thin inscriptions that stretched for thousands of miles in either direction. If she had the right eyes, the right lens, the right light, would she decipher a word, a sentence, a story in them?

Or would she see two? Parallel but yoked. Distinct but coupled. A veil pulled taut between them.

Sometimes tearing just a little.

The stars, unreadable, illuminated the landscape.

And all its newest creatures.

“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.”