Selena-Chapter 1

Selena ran a hand over her stomach as she prepared for the day. Still not showing. There was a bump forming there, but it was hidden easily in the folds of her work shirt. She breathed just a little easier, knowing that she would not be caught this day. It was coming, the moment when she would show too obviously to be concealed, when her sins would be made plain to the world. It might be a week or a month, but it wouldn’t be much longer than that.

Selena took a shuddering breath as a tear rolled down her cheek. God’s punishment might be slow to arrive, but it was certain. A foregone conclusion. She would be put out of the Temple Compound, left to fend for herself and her child in the streets, no better than a mongrel. And it would only be what she deserved.

The sound of laughter filled the women’s quarters and Selena hastily moved away her hand. She took up a brush and worked it through her hair, hoping that her reddened eyes wouldn’t betray her tears.

It was Emma and Jolie who entered, giggling as they ran to the baths. Emma saw Selena and clapped her hands, running the length of the room to grab at Selena’s shoulder. “Have you heard, Sister Selena? It’s wonderful, isn’t it?”

“What’s happening, Emma?” she asked, feeling the laughter well up within her. The girls’ combined enthusiasm was infectious.

At least…until Emma told her the news. Then there was no mirth to be found.  “The Prophet has announced another round of Sealings. Some have said that all the girls who’ve had their bleeding will be given to their husbands for all time and eternity.”

Selena felt panicked tears threatening to break loose. “That is wonderful, Sisters. Do you have any idea to whom you might be Sealed?” For time and all eternity. And here she sat, perhaps already called to serve as wife, and already marked impure. She thought her smile might crack if she had to force it any longer.

“We have no idea,” said Jolie. “But could you imagine, being joined with the one of the Prophet’s councilors? Or maybe the Prophet himself is looking for another wife.”

Selena couldn’t bring herself to be excited about the prospect of being married to a man three times her age, or having nine sister-wives. But she would do it, if the Lord willed it. Not that any of that would happen once the truth about her was known.

Her face hurt, but she held the smile. “Well in any case, get ready for the day,” Selena said. “Put your shoulder to the wheel.” The words were hollow in her ears.

*          *          *

She worked the morning in the lower lot. She liked it here, near the Temple itself. On the south wall of the Temple was a picture etched in stone, a fa├žade showing Christ appearing to the Nephites. Above that stretched the Temple’s spires, made of latticed bands of gold. They gleamed in the sunlight, although the southeast spire had collapsed during the rioting. Most of the east side of the building was scorched black, but even that only served to display the pure white of the rest of the building.

She would stare up at the Temple, the House of the Lord, and it would somehow make everything better. Serenity filled her. “Holiness to the Lord, the House of the Lord.” Looking up at His house, she thought she could withstand whatever judgment might come.

It was with her hands wrist deep in the soft earth, as she dug furrows for the planting, as sweat dripped from her face and back screamed out for relief, that the despair of her situation set in. She would not even have food to eat, out there. In the lands where the madmen ruled, where the warlords battled over the dead city of Oakland, where men burned and raped and stole for fun, who killed on a whim. There was safety in the Temple Compound. There would be no finely cultivated fields, no Law of Consecration to ensure there was enough for everyone. There was only lawlessness and murder beyond the walls of the Temple.

Others were there as well, women and children along with the elderly men, all with their hands dug into the earth. They were laughing, sharing in their fellowship. It seemed she was the only one not joining in their songs and reverie, their hymns and their speculations about who would be sealed to whom. But then…none of them were thinking about what would happen when judgment came. She simply couldn’t bring herself to join in as she thought about excommunication and being put out of Zion, or being made to pay a price in blood. That’s what happened to adulterers. But…but hers hadn’t been adultery. It had been fornication. Which, she reminded herself, was answered with death in the Old Testament.

Selena wondered if perhaps they would let her stay among them until the child was born. Didn’t they believe that men should be punished for their own sins, not for the sins of Adam? And that meant that they shouldn’t exile her child as well.

Only her.

But the thought of being separated from her baby made her heart leap into her throat. She swallowed hard and instinctively put a protective hand to her navel.

“Are you feeling well, Sister Selena?” It was Jolie, watching her with wide eyes and a smile on her face. It was too easy to see that smile become a judgmental smirk if Jolie found out the truth.

“I’m all right. A little stomach ache is all.” Oh, would that that were the truth.

There was a shout heard, coming from the hill towards the Temple. “Brothers and Sisters, we must take up arms!” called a man, his voice mostly lost in the distance. Even still, Selena rose from the ground in an instant, and the others did as well. Many bowed or lowered their heads as the man scrambled down the hill, still shouting. His scrawny form and his bald scalp marked him out. It was Stephen Lambert, First Councilor to the Prophet, and anything that had him worked up was a concern to the whole of Zion. Even more the fact that he was holding a rifle in his hand made this a thing of true concern. “Brothers and Sisters, retrieve your weapons and come to north gate. There are outsiders!”

*          *          *

There were perhaps fifty beyond the walls. They were a sad sight, arrayed in their brown and filthy rags, some of them covered in blood that had dried almost black. Children were there as well, clutching to their parents and hiding their faces, just as dirty and ragged as the adults. A few were mere babes, held in their mother’s arms. This was no war party spread before them.

Selena held her rifle awkwardly, unsure of the feel of it. Most of the young men were out scouting today, but there were still a few men near the front of the gate. She was only here for support, really, but it didn’t make the rifle sit any easier in her hands. A mechanism designed for killing.

“Who are you to turn us away?” demanded a man from the outside. His voice carried over the crowd and the confidence in that voice, the certainty, made it plain that he was their leader.

“This is our Temple and no one else is allowed!” replied Stephen Lambert. He did it with a rifle in his hand but it didn’t compare to the man on the outside of the fence.

“Since when have the Mormons turned away the needy? Since when have they turned their backs on women and children?”

There was only silence. No one really had an answer for that. Not when the scriptures told them that they were there to help others, that that was the very reason for the Relief Society. What relief were they offering now, by holding the gates against the world, by separating themselves out and closing off all contact?

But those were thoughts that you didn’t speak aloud, not even in small groups. To question the Prophet was to question God himself. How often had she heard the statement made, “When the Prophet Speaks, the thinking has been done.”

As if in response, she heard the spread of mutters and gasps. It was only that, only the spread of murmurs, but she knew what it meant, and she followed the collective gaze of the gathered faithful. From the direction of the Temple came a man. He was tall, even bowed by age as he was, even grasping a cane. His hair was white, along with his beard, both of them growing long and wild. His face was turned upward, his eyes fierce. Ephraim Taylor, the Prophet.

The crowd parted for him, bowing as he passed. As he neared, they quieted. Even the people outside of the gates had fallen silent. The Prophet stood before the gate, and the outside leader seemed almost…beaten down by the very presence of the Prophet. As well he should.

“And what’s all this about?” he asked. His swept his view over the faithful and the outsiders both, and there was fire in his blue eyes. They gleamed with the heat of it. “Let’s have it.”

The outside leader stepped forward, wrapping his hands around the iron bars of the gate. They creaked as he pushed his weight forward, but they only budged an inch. “We want in,” he said, less loud, but still certain, his voice still stretching to include everyone. “We’re dying out there, and you sit with your god and your temple, with more than enough for all of you and all of us.”

Ephraim nodded, his lips pursed. “Indeed, we do. But I would ask you what makes you more worthy of entry than any other? What sets you apart from the world? If we let in you and yours, what will we do with the next group to come? And let me assure you that will always be others. And what to do in lean years. Should we put you out because there is no longer enough to sustain us and you?”

The outsider hit the gate with his fists. “You’re turning away women and children! Can you really do that? Do you think your god will forgive you?”

“I know He will,” said Ephraim.

“Why not convert us. Make us Mormons and then we can be one of you,” there was bitterness now, showing through the anger. Certainly the outsider had known this would never work. But he’d still felt the need to try.

Ephraim Taylor shrugged. “The time of the harvest is past. The scriptures make this plain. Jacob, Chapter 5. And the good will I preserve unto myself, and the bad will I cast away into its own place. And then cometh the season and the end; and my vineyard will I cause to be burned with fire.

“But—”

“Matthew Chapter 13. Gather ye together the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.”

“Stop—”

“Always the Lord speaks of the missionary effort and then the fire to come when the work is completed and his people gathered in. The work closed a hundred years ago, when fire fell from the sky. You and yours had your chance. Now the judgment is upon you. The people of Christ were called out from among the thieves and the whores, the murderers. They have been preserved here to wait for His coming. And you have no place here.”

The outsider pulled at the gates once more, and once more it barely gave notice to his efforts. “At least take the children. They never asked for this. They deserve a place of refuge.”

Selena saw the face of a little girl. Tears were streaked through her dirty cheeks. Cheeks that were chubby, along with her tiny fists. Her hair was matted with blood, but it was blond beneath that. Even through the gates and the crowds, Selena could see the tremble of her lips, the way her eyes were on the verge of tears. They couldn’t possibly turn away the children. Not them, not the innocents.

“I have already told you to leave. I now command you in the name of Christ, depart.”

For a moment, the world stood still, as Prophet stared down outsider. It was already done, though. They’d been commanded to leave, and there would be no going back when the Prophet spoke in the name of Christ.

Ephraim sighed, his shoulders suddenly slumping. The weight of his mantle, bearing him down. He turned to Lambert. “If they refuse to leave by the count of three, shoot them.” He moved into the crowd, away from the line of gunmen and their already lifted weapons.

Stephen Lambert stepped forward, looking unsure. Selena could see the way his scalp was beaded with sweat. She thought this had to stop, that they couldn’t possibly do as they were commanded this time. This had to be the breaking point. Yet she found her rifle lifted, along with all the others. Her finger was on the trigger, her hands still clumsy and trembling. But she had done it, just as everyone else had.

She had obeyed.

“One,” said Lambert, his voice shaking, his head gleaming under the sunlight that felt suddenly harsh, oppressive.

“You wouldn’t,” said the outsider. Those gathered behind him had begun to back up, to move away from the opening in the wall. But, to their eternal credit, they didn’t run.

“Two.” Selena couldn’t see Lambert’s face, but she could imagine that it was pleading, begging the outsider to leave. Or perhaps Lambert was praying not to drink this bitter cup.

“I will not be moved.” The outsider stood his ground, his hands still on the gate.

Lambert hesitated, unable to go on. He began the word, but faltered and the noise just became a shudder. He couldn’t do it, and that meant that they wouldn’t have to—

Ephraim’s voice cut through the crowd, certain as ever, clear as a trumpet’s call. “Three. Fire.”

And they did.

They unleashed a hail of bullets. The sound rang in Selena’s ears and she found that she was screaming through the shattering cacophony of gunfire, her own finger held down and her own muzzle issuing round after round amid flashes of flame. Her eyes were streaming tears, but not enough to hide the scene. It would never be enough to block it out. The outsider was cut down in a red mist. It seemed he was hit by a hundred rounds at once and he fell forward, his hands still on the iron bars of the gates.

It only lasted ten seconds, but that was long enough. Too long, in fact. Bodies littered the street beyond the compound. Any survivors had already vanished. She didn’t see the little girl, with her small hands, her tear-streaked cheeks. Selena prayed that the girl had gotten away. The outsider’s grip hadn’t failed him. Even in death, even with his face pressed into the ground, his hands were still gripping the gates.

Ephraim stepped forward once more, right to the edge of the gate. With the tip of his cane, he pushed away the outsider’s fingers.

Selena tasted vomit as she pried her own fingers from the trigger of the rifle.                     

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed your writing style throughout the story, especially in the beginning. The tension that you established in the first few paragraphs (with Selena running her hand over her stomach) made me want to keep reading.

    ReplyDelete