1. THE STAKE.
It was a bright cold day in April, but not too chilly to attend the burning at the stake.
To the south, a bank of clouds pressed close to Wall Street and grazed the top of Freedom Tower. Its slender height connected the concrete of Manhattan to the oblivion of the sky; the glass spire at the top sparkled like a clean knife thrust into the belly of heaven.
Even after more than twenty years it was still impossible for native New Yorkers of a certain age to look at this building and not be reminded of why it was there; what it had replaced; and the ashes in which it stood. Adam White counted himself among them. Somewhere under that glass-clad tombstone lay his portion of 9/11 pain: a handful of dust: the remaindered atoms of the snuffed-out love of his life.
To the north, Central Park’s Great Lawn lay unnaturally empty. Police commanded the entrances to the park. People were lining up there, eager to attend the torching of the fiend. As one of the invited VIPs, Adam went to the head of the line, his eye passing over a newspaper in a vending machine: “Satanic Rituals Alleged in New Daycare Case.” A tabloid had another take: “Satan Raped Me.”
At the east end of the Lawn stood a circular stage, built not of wood, but of solid red brick. From a distance it looked like a spot of dried blood on the cultivated expanse of grass.
In the center of the stage stood an upright wooden pole, somewhat thicker and shorter than a flagpole -- the focus of a second grief even larger than the one piercing the cloud formation at the southern tip of the island.
This pole, painted bright red and only fifteen feet high, was packed with more meaning than the skyscraper five miles to its south. It stood for the death of only one man -- the fiend -- but his approaching end measured the deaths of hundreds of thousands caused by him in the year of the Great Attack, some decades after the shock of 9/11.
A stepladder stood beside the pole, almost quaint in its domesticity. Piles of wood were stacked around the stage: kindling, sticks, branches, cut wood. The pages of neatly bound newspapers chattered softly in the breeze.
Twenty thousand chairs – green like the grass – rippled out from the stage in concentricities of plastic, waiting for the audience to enjoy a spectacle more unique than anything on Off-Off Broadway.
As he walked through the VIP entrance to the seating area, Adam White saw a number of people he knew only from images in the media.
The CEO of the giant Sunday Fox Media Corporation.
The Gospel singer with the Number One single, “The Body of Christ.”
The eight-year-old boy who knew all of Scripture by heart and could quote from it at will, and had received a presidential Medal of Freedom for this feat.
The blogger, Christian Controversy, whose website was rumored to be the origin of most of the rumors about all the evangelists who’d become big media celebrities, bigger than any film star had ever been (the new rumor was that the penis of Pat Robertson, the deceased patron saint of evangelists, was missing).
And in a huddle, the latest generation of the Bush dynasty, one of whom was already being bruited as the next president of America’s new Jesusland, following in the tradition of Bush 41 and Bush 43, although Bush 41 was nothing more than a footnote, unlike Bush 43, the Rock, the Resolute, the Foundation, the man whose faith-based presidency had pioneered the path for all that was to follow in the years afterwards, the John the Baptist of the new Jesusland, the harbinger of the Men of the Gospel.
Adam White spotted a young usher and fished for his ticket. He wondered to what degree today’s burning event would answer the numb sorrow inside him. He had yet to find a sword of forgiveness broad and sharp enough to sever the implacable comfort of his still fresh though decades-old 9/11 rage.
The overcast sky drenched the park in a dull, dank, damp stillness. Anticipation stalked the air. The world was ready to sweat.
Drops of blood, Adam hoped.
2. THE BODY.
Was this a body any man could want?
Was this a question any self-respecting Christian should ask?
Of course it was. She was God’s vessel. He had chosen this body to bear children. And He had decreed the wanting of men to be the cause: he made men’s retinas connect to their loins like strings -- their eyes, plucked by the sight of female breasts, bottoms and thighs, reverberated in the singing of their sex organs.
What did she have in the way of pertinent fleshliness to make the centers of men stand to attention?
How sexy was her body? Did it have the power to drive men up the wall, crazed with lust, eager to abandon all scruple in a mad quest to possess her?
It was not a question she’d thought to ask herself in years. But today was different. Her thirty-fifth birthday. Past the halfway mark. She possessed a limited number of eggs (how many exactly?) of which she had shed more than half. Her glass was half-empty.
That was why she stood, naked as in the hour of birth, in front of a mirror – studying herself with the same scientific detachment she exercised to observe the ebb and flow of desire in one of her sexually disturbed patients. She’d even gone to the trouble of putting a thick book on top of her bathroom scale so she could stand high enough to view her body from top to toe. A matter of personal science -- objectifying herself to look at her body through men’s eyes. The male gaze.
This was an opportunity to see what had happened to her body through the years -- from when she was pre-menstrual and flat-chested, to when her breasts sprouted and new tufts of hair thickened between her legs, to now. Also, a point from which to glance at the years ahead – the time of physical decline, to when her pubes turned gray with age and her vagina dried up.
Lest the thought depress her, she gave herself a mischievous wink.
Her breasts. Still remarkably firm. Inviting, in the argot of romance books from her teenage reading. Anyone who didn’t know her might think she was the sensuous type – some experienced voluptuary, ripe and dangerous. A classic femme fatale as familiar with the arts of love as Einstein was with the secrets of the universe.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Eve Trent was as strait-laced a character as any devout Beloved. Her breasts might say she carried a lifetime of sexual lore at her fingertips. But when she opened her mouth, the authentically socialized Eve was heard. Proper and well-mannered. The refined lady. Churched. A veritable bride of Christ.
Eve weighed her breasts in her hands, scientifically, two lumps of flesh bemythed by the chimera of suckling so beloved by infants and so marked in the fantasies of men. She asked herself that on-the-nose question again – was this a body any man would want?
Her breasts answered for her. Yes, they said, it was.
Her belly. No longer as flat as a young girl’s, but on the other hand, no more rounded than it should be. Another yes.
Her Caesarean. “We’ll give you an extra small bikini cut,” the young doctor had said. Tears pinched Eve’s eyes. She thought of the birth of her daughter, the child who had lived just long enough to break her mother’s heart. Eve swallowed against the constriction of her throat, anxious to help her psyche land from a too-steep descent on any available strip of equanimity.
To distract herself, she checked her hips. Fleshy. Yet no flab. Another yes.
Her thighs. A minimum of cellulite. She liked long walks. Yes again.
Out of a possible ten, she’d give herself a solid seven point five. If she were a man, she’d have a sex fantasy or two about herself. Like jumping naked out of a cake. Or making out in the back of a cab. Or having sex in an elevator.
She blushed again.
Sex was a funny thing, really. Two bodies rub-rub-a-dubbing against each other: and from this sprouted not only most of literature and art and silly things like pop songs, but also life itself.
Then another question jumped into her mind. This body of hers – had it really lived? Or had her mind, so full of religion and science, diverted her body from its earthly entailments, and made her waste this precious gift from God?
Now the tears returned again. She should’ve had a child by now. A living one. And a husband. She could not call herself a fully-fledged woman. The people she knew professionally, especially the rebuffed men, suspected her of apostasy. If she aspired to be equal to men – now there was a Non-Sanctioned Notion -- it was imperative to be accessorized with a husband and child first. Were it not for the importance of her job, she might have come under investigation by the Bureau of Behavior Management already.
Not that her job would protect her much longer. She had to do something. At her age, and in this society, a single woman was an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.
3. THE FLAMES OF HELL.
It might have been the setting for a friendly open-air barbecue. But instead of a grill, something else drew the gaze of thousands of windows in the buildings overlooking Central Park: the untoward presence of chains and manacles glinting in the dull light on the stage built in the middle of the Great Lawn.
These instruments, which stamped the stage with the anticipation of a play (Miller’s The Crucible or Shaw’s St. Joan) had the power of physical metaphor: an intrusion of medieval concentration into modernity – droppings out of another dimension, as if time itself had swept across the city and left this eerie pile of metal from a former age in its wake.
Adam looked at the stage. Here was to take place an event not to be missed, for those fortunate enough to be invited or to live in New York. The media had been trumpeting the whole business for months.
“Flames of Hell to Consume Anti-Christ.”
“Taste of Hereafter for Ultimate Transgressor.”
“The Burning Moment Is Here.”
“Barbecue Terrorist’s Day Comes.”
An epochal event in American history. The first such occasion since the Salem Witch trials.
And a new era in law enforcement. There was a novel statute on the books, freshly acknowledged by the Supreme Court, and a new act of utmost evil: A Crime Against God and His Nation, which carried a punishment beyond the merely capital.
Adam White touched his favorite gray scarf in a gesture he had, as if needing the feel of its woolliness to reassure his hand of its existence. He was ushered to his seat by a young man in a suit and tie. One thing that one could say for the Reformation: young people looked a whole lot neater than before.
Adam was not sure why he had taken up the invitation. He could’ve watched on TV or over the Internet, as the entire nation was encouraged to do.
In fact, more than encouraged: enjoined. A month ago, during Total Connectivity Week, all TV sets and computers had been equipped with heat sensors that could register a bodily presence -- or its absence.
As it now said at the bottom of every TV and computer screen: “The eye of God is upon you.”
If a TV set or computer was turned on to a mandatory program, but did not register the presence of body heat, that site could be targeted. The next day a Patriot Unit might come around with questions. And the option of a fine was not always available.
Naturally one could buy body heaters on the black market (“enjoy the freedom to be elsewhere”), but the authorities were drawing up a new amendment to the Patriot Act that was going to mandate video cameras on all TV and computer screens. These tiny cameras, now in production, would be able to take images of viewers – or their absence. The images would be fed into the Total Awareness Database, and those Beloveds who were not watching would immediately be fingered.
The young usher came to Adam’s row and pointed at a seat in the middle. He looked at Adam with raw devotion.
“I’ve read all your books, sir. They changed my life.”
Adam thanked him. He wondered if the young man would become a student of his. Another young mind he could set alight with his desire for revenge. The young had to be forged in the smithy of an appropriate and immense hatred. There were enemies out there, some far, some as close as a neighbor. Terrorists. Adam reached the middle of the row, looked questioningly at the young usher, received his blessing, and sat down in his assigned seat, ready for the arrival of the fiend.
4. FORGOTTEN SKIN.
Eve focused her attention on her skin.
She looked past the slogan on her mirror -- no mirror was sold without this slogan, which had to be engraved across the top, the full width, so it would always register, no matter how often one looked.
SODOMY CAUSES TERRORISM.
Sodomy was the foremost sin in Jesusland, the most heinous, worse than murder. God had punished Sodom and Gomorrah back in Biblical times with total destruction because of this sin, and He had punished America with the Great Attack and the death of hundreds and thousands for this same sin.
There were a few bumps and valleys on her skin. But it was still smooth. This was the real her – Eve Trent in all her nakedness. The “her” nobody but the men in her life had ever seen. The naked body that, disguised in clothes, carried her to her clinic every day, walked her down the aisle at the supermarket every week, and remained faithful to the church for the past fifteen years.
Now she looked down – at the patch of fluffy hair between her legs. On an impulse, she did something unusual. She put her hands between her legs and spread the folds down there, like the women did in those pictures she saw on websites linked to the ones her patients showed her.
Here was the body she’d forgotten for the last three years. The part that was unused.
Eve blushed again. And wondered again why she should feel shame about herself, a good Christian woman who, in the course of her professional practice, had to look at pictures of intimate body parts every day.
She stared at her face. Strong bones. One’s face started out so soft, and got harder with time; those with strong bones survived the gloom of aesthetic deterioration.
Little parchment wrinkles: they didn’t bite too deep yet, but still signaled an unmistakable cast of permanence.
Thirty-five was a long time.
She inspected her eyes, always her best feature. They still shone with something. The hint of a tease, perhaps? It was hard to tell. She didn’t feel like a tease. She didn’t feel there was anything inside her wanting to tease anything out there.
Had the neglect of her body caused her to lose her sense of mischief about all things physical? Even if her body was still attractive, could her mind use that attraction? Did it have that spark that could light a fire in men’s hearts, minds and loins? Would she, for example, be able to catch the wandering eye of one of the philandering evangelists that Christian Controversy was always blogging about? Could she still be a flower to the bee? Still lure men with a passable come-hither?
Eve turned away from the mirror.
What kind of a life had she lived so far?
A few moments of humdrum ecstasy. The birth of her daughter, for example. But those moments were rare.
Sometimes she thought she was capable of great floods of feeling, but then she suppressed the thought. More than anything else, after everything that had happened that summer, she wanted calm. The serenity of steady purpose. And that was what she got, reflected in a body that looked like one big comfort zone. No scars besides the discreet Caesarean. No traumas. No dents. Not even a sign of major disappointment, despite the hankering for her dead daughter.
Was this a body that had really lived? The questioned returned to haunt her. Yes, she and Ezra had had a marriage. He had been her best friend, her loyal pal. A provider. A bulwark. But her security had come at a price: the non-fulfillment of a longing that she’d tried to slake for a few months after her divorce with a number of men – madly -- as madly as she adored her Savior the Lord. Then intermittently. Then she stopped. Corked her longing. Laid it down to gather dust like bottled wine in a cellar. No more men.
For three years now she’d shielded her yearning under the many details of her obligations to her patients. She tried to keep its stirring underfoot, a child standing on a secret.
But the need was there, prowling somewhere out of sight, rodent-like, behind the pulpit she looked at every Sunday, down in the well of her psyche where she was afraid to look. A longing with the power to swoop her into big convention-defying acts. She could not name that yearning – she didn’t want to – but it was ready to jump out.
What was this ache, so persistent and stubborn? Eve Trent would never have guessed it, but this longing was nothing less than the most banal yet powerful ache of all – the absurd ache of life itself.
She stood lost in self-contemplation. She looked past her church, past her Savior, past Reverend Redburn’s steaming sermons in the pulpit, past her reading group’s Bible study, past her Prayer Circle, past the power of worship to infuse her soul and direct her energy. Her gaze was so averted, so deep into herself, that at first she didn’t notice the tears streaming down her cheeks again.
5. WAITING FOR THE FIEND.
From the second row of the VIP section, Adam turned and looked behind him. He saw a sea of expectant faces under a bewildering explosion of fancy hats.
If the Reformation had a fashion statement, it was the hat. A woman was her hat: the crown of her existence, the apogee of her creativity, the sun of her being, her celebration of being chosen by the Lord above.
No woman was allowed in public without a hat. It was as strict a Dress Law as the Scarlet A for single mothers and lipstick for V-dolls.
The Hat Awards Season was upon them, and new creations sprouted like flowers in spring. Last season hats had gone small and intricate. This season they promised to be big and spectacular. Fronds, tendrils and sticking-out tentacles signaled a major new trend.
Adam got invited to special public events such as this one since he had founded the first chair of Creationism at Columbia University. As an academic pioneer of the Reformation, his days of brightest celebrity were over – oh, those heady days of the first inroads of the Reformation -- but his name was still well known.
A man in an orange robe mounted the stage.
The crowd grew silent. He was the Official Hiss Master.
Had the program been changed? Were they about to start?
No. An effigy of the fiend – the Transgressor -- was carried on to the stage by four youths. They were going to have a rehearsal hiss in anticipation of the appearance of the actual Transgressor. The Department of Reformation Events Planning was leaving nothing to chance. They saw this audience as a company of actors in a great television drama: their disciplined actions, smooth performance, and unified spirit would be an example to the world of the transformative unity of the Beloveds of America’s new Republic of Christ.
There was a disturbance at the end of the row and Adam looked to his left. A Beloved of the female gender was making her way towards him down the line of seats. There was only one untaken seat: next to him.
He turned away. He did not look again until he heard the creak of the seat to his left. He turned to his new neighbor and nodded formally. No smile. Not that there was a law against it. It was a matter of taste. The expression of emotion outside the institutionalized emotions of events was characteristic of foreigners and manual laborers. Information workers such as he and the people sitting in the VIP seats were rather above that. Some magazines had called it the New Formalism.
No smile from her either. A nod. She had blue eyes and fair hair. He could usually tell blond when it was colored, as the new fashion demanded, but in her case he was not sure. Her eyebrows weren’t dark, and her skin was very white, but he was not sure, and he was not sure why he was not sure.
Her cheekbones were affectingly high in the approved fashion, and her lips were full and red.
He supposed she could be regarded as very beautiful.
6. THE GAME OF LOVE.
Darn it, woman, you’re crying. Get a grip. You’re not the crying kind. You’re too proper. Too devout. Too scientific.
Eve willed herself to stop. Then she blotted the tears away, and applied a few eye-drops to clear the red.
Why had she been crying? Because of three years of abstinence?
She shook her head. Why complain about it now? Her libido had sublimated itself into her profession. She was curing her patients and leaving herself unhealed. By trying to harness the unruly libidos of her patients into fixed, acceptable ways, she had dulled her own.
Lord, may I beg Your forgiveness?
Maybe this is what my birthday is about. I must take my God-given libido and dedicate it to a higher purpose. Outside myself.
My friend Rachel has been badgering me about putting a profile on the dating website ForTheLoveOfChrist.com, and meeting men again. “You’re not getting any younger, Eve. Do you want to go through life childless?”
Rachel had even written her a profile. The two of them giggled about it.
But Rachel was right. Today was the day she would lay her profile at the feet of the Lord on His site, for men to see and respond to.
Today was the day she would enter the world of men again, and play the game of flirtation and sex and intimacy and tenderness.
The game of love. The game that men never quite learned how to play, but that every woman devoted herself to studying from the moment she recognized the difference between the sexes.
The game that she, Eve Trent, was born to play. She had the mind and body for it: now all she needed was the heart.
At the ripe age of thirty-five, it was time.
7. WOMEN’S BODIES.
Adam noted the Beloved’s clothes. She was wearing black with a touch of red at the throat. Her hat was stylish without being vulgar or extravagant: gray with a smudge of rough red at the top, as if the light of the Lord had scalded it with an almighty glare.
Her face was expressionless, but Adam noticed that her body harbored the tension of a scarcely contained anguish.
He knew women’s bodies. He could read their moods there, where no one else could easily read. There was one aspect of The Approved Life that he did not scrupulously follow: his attitude to women. He went out of his way to sleep with them. He followed a frowned-upon Animal Instinct. He was a sexual outlaw. He did not, for example, follow one of the slogans of the Reformation: FELLATIO AND CUNNILINGUS PUT THE DEVIL’S TONGUE IN YOUR MOUTH. In fact, he made it his business, and a very satisfying one at that, to win his partners over to these practices. His behavior was Non-Sanctioned, but many women were willing to go along with his behavior, and he took his chances. He suspected that the sanction against these modes of sex was more honored in the breach than the observation.
He was secretive about it, but if anyone were to seriously check his Total Awareness Data Account, they might notice an unapproved number of linkages to Dating Sites. So far, no application of his had been blocked. He was in a higher Behavior Echelon than the usual Mature Single Dater, and allowed more dates than other men because of his early courage in reforming intellectual thought, but sometimes he could not believe how much scope he had been granted. Of course, he would never know how much until he advanced to the next Behavior Echelon. Behavior Management did not let you know what you were allowed under one Echelon until you arrived at the next level.
He wondered if he should use one of his Approved Questions now. He noticed the beautiful Beloved’s breast displacement and found himself asking away.
Really, his Animal Instinct was out of control. He ought to see about checking himself into a Behavior Management Control Course.
“Excuse me for asking, but what’s the matter?” he asked. “Are you worried about what we’re going to see?”
He hoped she would count this as one enquiry instead of two.
She hissed at him.
The Hiss Master was waving his arms on a circle; Adam began to hiss along with the female Beloved.
The hiss of the audience followed the Hiss Master’s hands. He lowered his right hand, down, down, till it brushed the stage. The hissing went lower and lower, until it was as whispery as a breeze across grass, even though it emanated from twenty thousand throats. Then the Hiss Master signaled one half of the audience to take a deep breath, while the others kept hissing, and when that half had drawn breath, he signaled the other half to draw breath, so the two halves could join together for the final hiss. He sculpted the rising hiss out of the air, raising his hand higher and higher. The hissing grew louder and louder, singeing the atmosphere like the foul breath of twenty-thousand serpents, a ferocious sound from the depths of hell itself, swooping the throng into a crescendo of pure emotion: fear, hate, contempt, a banishment of the hissed-at object to the outer edges of human incompatibility. Adam felt the sound enter his marrow. They hissed as one, seethed as one, despised as one, rejected as one: spat out the cancer between tongue and palate like the foreign succubus that the object of their flaming hate was.
With a single jab of his hand, the Hiss Master cut off the hiss at its height. The spectators sat still, bonded by the communal sound and its sudden absence. They were ready. They had hissed at the effigy, and they were now ready to hiss at the fiend himself. The silence lasted for a long, long moment, and then the audience turned to each other and started chatting, excited by their satisfying expression of disgust.
Adam repeated his question to the female Beloved. One was allowed Three Repeats.
“You seem inordinately tense, what’s the matter?” he asked. He thought his tone struck just the right balance of empathy and neutrality.
“I am thirty-five years old. I am childless. My husband went missing in action in the North Korean Liberation. I am born-again, disease-free, and have had one minor cosmetic surgery. I cure homosexuals for a living. My likes are: pop music from the nineteen sixties, novels from the nineteenth century, walks by the beach, and dinner by candlelight. My favorite book in the Bible is the Song of Solomon. I am a good cook. I own a house in the country and a horse. I am great at foot-bathing and body-anointing. I hate cats.”
Her profile was a nice mix of general and particular information. He was sure he could adjust his profile on ForTheLoveOfChrist.com so that Behavior Management would make the connection.
8. SOMETHING UNPREDICTABLE.
Eve looked in the mirror and smiled at her resolve about meeting men again. She was going to smile at them, laugh at their jokes, and watch their confidence about possessing her rise to the surface.
I should do something else, she thought, something physical and unpredictable, to mark this day. I should celebrate this occasion with something besides seeing Rachel for my birthday dinner. Something personal and out of the ordinary. Something to launch myself forward into the new game with my flag flying, to add will and optimism to my purpose.
Heavens. A thought uncurled itself inside her, like a butterfly waking from a chrysalis. My oh my, was this something the Lord would countenance? Why not? Didn’t He create this body? Didn’t He take joy in His creation?
Eve slipped her bra off the towel rack, lifted it high over her head, and dropped it ceremoniously on the bathroom floor. Excellent. Here was the physical act that would mark her thirty-fifth birthday along with her profile on ForTheLoveOfChrist.com. Her eccentricity for the day: a small yelp of resistance into the urban ease of her life.
At the age of thirty-five, for the first time in her life, she wouldn’t wear a bra.
Watch out, world. I am Eve Trent, rebel woman. I too can indulge in slightly risky behavior. I too can fly free into the future. I too can go against myself.
Up to a point, anyway.
9. ANIMAL INSTINCT.
It was a peculiar leftover from the days of random dating that it was left to the man to adjust his profile in the Date Access Total Entry database.
On the other hand, it was a Non-Sanctioned Act for a woman to give out her profile after one question. This Beloved seated beside him was a risk-taker. The challenge of danger emanated from her like a strong scent. No one had ever trotted out her profile to him so prematurely. And, considering that she was breaking all the rules, so matter-of-factly. She may be that rare phenomenon: a unique Beloved.
He decided he knew four things about her, the combination of which was already unique. She was beautiful, dangerous, reckless, and strong -- despite being mysteriously upset.
He wondered what had the power to upset so rare a blend of qualities. He looked at her warily, and noticed her breast displacement again. He struggled with his Animal Instinct, then rested his hands in his crotch to cover his erection.
How could he control his Animal Instinct? It made him different from other men, who took their pleasure from females regardless. He had surplus Animal Instinct: enough to pleasure females as well as himself. He had discovered they could enjoy sex, to their own surprise. It made them feel terribly guilty, obviously, since female Beloveds were not supposed to enjoy sex, but it also made them pleasure him back, partly out of gratitude, mostly to assuage their guilt. His Animal Instinct entangled females in Non-Sanctioned Behavior. He had to do something to control it. If he couldn’t, he would surely, like all the others, end up in prison.
10. BRALESS IN GAZA.
She was glad she was leaving her bra behind. She needed to feel reckless. It was the only way to launch herself into the world of men again. She needed a spur, because the world of men was not all wine and roses.
Far from it.
She was about to be challenged as a Female.
So she was looking forward to the sex, but not so much to the love thing.
Sex is easy, love is hard, she thought.
And when you think about it, love is how men controlled women. Love makes women cling to men, and be faithful to them. But men are never faithful to women. Just look at the evangelists, who according to Christian Controversy, never practiced what they preached.
She was about to enter that world again, and face the humiliation of entering it. It was all very well to want to be equal to men (her own little Non-Sanctioned Notion) but once you met one of them, face to face, with all that this implied -- sex, love, marriage, children -- you stood man-to-man against one man, and his social obligation to rule over you, as ordained by the protocols of the Bureau of Behavior Management.
The game of love was not between you and the next appropriate man you met: it was between you and the entire world of men, which in the new Jesusland, had been placed over the world of women -- and over you.
The game of love was not only a game, but also a fight.
11. A SATANIC BEAUTY.
The Hiss Master led them in a song. Then Reverend Redburn delivered an impassioned sermon. Next, on a screen to their left, a short documentary was shown about the Transgressor’s misdeeds. There was a lot of hissing, especially during the death-row interview. What made it worse was that the Transgressor was male-animal handsome. His satanic words fell from angelic lips.
Someone had had the foresight to subtitle the interview; otherwise it would have been impossible to know what the Transgressor was saying through all the hissing.
A convoy of three black cars drove up to the stage. A number of burly men stepped out of the front and back cars. They opened the back door of the car in the middle. A figure stepped out covered from head to toe in black, like an infidel Muslim female. The figure was led on to the stage. All eyes were on the black-clad apparition. Then the long robe was lifted, and there stood the Transgressor, his good-looking features gleaming in the setting sun.
He was dressed in a simple smock over simple pants. Dark blue.
He smiled with white, even teeth -- a smile that might have been deemed sweetly innocent under normal circumstances, but now seemed all the more evil for its sweetness.
Adam’s hate was a flame, leaping from his chest into his face. He wanted to reach out and strangle the Transgressor with his own hands. Watch the face distend, the skin turn blue, the eyes bulge, the tongue protrude, the last breath escape the foul lungs.
Intense hissing inspirited the crowd, like a bow tying all individual emotions together. The Transgressor had a satanic beauty, an evil charm, and hissing was the only way to fend off his morbid charisma.
They should have dyed his hair black, Adam thought. Now he looks too much like us. Maybe that was the point. None of us should think of ourselves as outside the reach of the stake.
The burly men led the Transgressor to the center of the stage. His hands were manacled. He complied with alacrity, as if he were looking forward to what was to come.
There had been much debate about whether the Transgressor should be allowed to say something in his last seconds on earth. In the end Reformation Events had decided that they could not forgo the drama of a final word from him. It was a risk, though. They could hardly vet what he was going to say. And it would not look good if they gagged him in mid-sentence. Anyway, who was going to decide whether anything he said was appropriate? It was one of those things Reformation Events could not control, like an actor going on too long at the Biblical Oscars. But they were sure that his words would be regarded as very evil by all concerned, so it was safe in terms of the Truth is Power Protocols.
Slowly the Transgressor was hoisted into the air, until he hung six feet off the ground, where his feet found a ledge to stand on. Using the stepladder, the men ran a chain around his body until he was securely fastened to the stake.
Beautiful youths of both genders began to stack wood under his feet, crumpling up newspaper for the bottom lining, kindling next, then twigs, and then long logs which rested against his legs. More wood followed, till only his neck and head were visible above the pyramid.
Then a microphone was lifted to his lips on a boom.
The Transgressor had taken a great interest in the stacking of the wood; now he looked out at the audience. He smiled again. Adam saw the many heads in front of him lean forward. Nobody hissed. They wanted to hear what the Transgressor had to say.
12. RACHEL IN THE WORLD OF MEN.
I must steel myself for the fight of love, thought Eve. It’s all very well to discard my bra, but underneath its absence I must strap on a hard metal of the mind to protect myself. I must wear body armor forged of the most impenetrable wariness.
Just look what was happening to her best friend in the world of men. Rachel had fallen in love with a man, who promised her marriage. So Rachel had slept with Simon, which was admittedly against the protocols of the Bureau of Behavior Management under the Dating Contract that Rachel had signed with him.
But then, when Rachel had fallen pregnant, and it was Simon’s bounden duty to marry her, he had left her for a granddaughter of Pat Robertson, because this marriage would be advantageous to his own career as an evangelist, even though there were all those rumors about her grandfather’s penis.
Simon was a man. This gave him the right to walk away from a promise to a Female.
And now Rachel was in big trouble. She could not abort the child, because Simon knew about it – not that she would, she would never do anything as criminal as that – but now she might be reclassified from her status as a Beloved to a Scarlet, and lose all her privileges as a Beloved.
The hearing was tomorrow. Eve had volunteered (over Rachel’s protestations – “I don’t want to make trouble for you, too”) to be a character witness for Rachel in front of the Patriot Board.
It was unthinkable that her best friend could be reclassified. If she were, that would make their friendship illegal. Friendships between Beloveds and Scarlets were Non-Sanctioned.
She would never be able to talk to Rachel, her best friend, again. A big light would go out in her life.
Everything depended on tomorrow’s hearing. She would have to fight like a Joan of Arc. She would have to deliver a speech that convinced the Patriot Board that Rachel was -- despite all the evidence against her -- a veritable candidate for sainthood.
I’ll tell the Board how Rachel is as good a Christian woman as ever existed. How she dedicates her life to saving homosexuals from their evil lifestyle. How she has taught Sunday school all her adult life. How she fell in love with a poor evangelist, and paid his way through college by working two jobs, and how he cruelly betrayed her once he was qualified.
I’ll tell them. They won’t be able to reclassify Rachel after my testimony. This will be my first fight in the world of men, and I’ll win it.
13. THE TRANSGRESSOR SPEAKS.
“Dearly Beloveds,” the Transgressor began, and there was an involuntary spasm of hisses, caught by the hissers in their throats in their anxiety to hear him. He waited until they were quiet again.
“Beloveds,” he smiled, “whatever you’ve been told, where I go I do not expect to find seventy-two virgins. Nor do I expect to find scaly devils with pitchforks. I expect to find nothing. Poof, I will be gone. But my legacy will endure.
“You, however, will leave nothing. You are here because you follow. You follow blindly because you are manufactured. You are cheese out of which has been processed the original bite of cheese. You will never know the tang, the quirks, the real taste of life -- how sharp and exhilarating it is.
“You are sheep and I am a wolf. I am not a copy, like you are copies of each other. I am singular. I am authentic. I am monstrous. I am your nightmare.
“You are prey. You will always be prey, because that is the only thing that blind, helpless, dumb sheep like you are good for.
“I am happy to be a monster. I am happy that my intervention in your dumb lives has caused you such pain; that my act has forced you tighter into your own extremity; that it has made you accept harsher laws that curb the little freedom you think you have; that it has made you more of what you are: sheep.
“I am happy that my act has increased your blindness. Maybe, when your blindness is squeezed to utter darkness, you will have a chance of seeing the light.
“Not everybody lives like you. The rest of humanity outside our borders, across the ocean, does not live blindly like you do. They can see.
“You’ve chosen a way of life that is closer to sub-human than human. You’ve subjected yourself to a man-made God who is nothing but a prison for your minds. A God that makes all of you as one, and therefore controllable and dumb.
“Who can stand against that God?
“Only the wolf. The one who knows: that the only good God is a dead God.”
It was amazing that Homeland Events would allow the Transgressor to deliver this barrage of Non-Sanctioned Notions, thought Adam. They probably reasoned that he was condemning himself with his own words.
“I am a lone wolf, but there are wolves who live in gangs. Over you stands such a gang. Your elite. They program you by programming all your media, they distract you with the idea of God, they’ve chosen all your needs and desires for you.
“You think they’re your caretakers, but they are bloodsuckers. There have always been wolves to rule sheep -- priests, capitalists, warlords, aristocrats, corporate chieftains -- and they’ve always had sheep to serve them.
“However, not all of you are processed. There are exceptions like me, living inside this country, inside this city. They could be your friend, your lover, your family, your co-worker, the person sitting next to you. The wolves live among you, my pretty sheep. Beware of your neighborhood wolf.
“One day all the other wolves, the ones who are not your rulers, will band together and rise against you. An underground of wolves, as strong as your overlord gang of wolves, will overthrow your overlords. They fear us. Call us transgressors, an axis of evil, fiends and monsters, but we are the ones who will one day set you free.”
The Transgressor stopped, looked at the sky, and looked back.
“Listen, my pretty sheep. I know that each of you has the potential to become a wolf like me, instead of a wolf like those who rule you. Because I was once a sheep myself, I know that something dissatisfied lives in you. It is the small spark in you that feels unprocessed. It feels that you’ve been missing something important all your life.
“What you’re missing is the freedom of the wolf to break out of the prison you call God. What you’re missing is your inner wolf.
“If there is one among you who feels that the hissing of the Hiss Master grates your throat, you know what I am talking about.
“To you I speak. Wolf to wolf, I must warn you that it’s not easy being a wolf. But it is better than being prey.
“So let your wolf grow. Water your wolf. Answer the challenge. Do you have the power to be a wolf?”
The Transgressor chuckled. “Probably not. You prefer comfort to freedom.”
The Transgressor laughed again. “Sleep, my brave new sheep. Until the next calamity.”
One of the men flung a torch into the wood. A piece of newspaper caught fire. The Transgressor sniffed.
“Oops,” the Transgressor said. He smiled mischievously.
“Time to go. To become ashes.”
He chuckled. “Out of my ashes will rise the next disaster.”
He raised his hand and waved.
“Bye-bye, sheep. Bye from me. And say hi to your inner wolf.”
He smiled, his teeth dazzling in the flames.