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Автор Марион Айзек

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Isaac Marion

THE LIVING

Dedicated to R’s Rmy

Author’s Note

This book is being published in 2018, but I finished writing it in 2015. There are elements that I wrote as morbid fantasy that have edged uncomfortably close to fact, to the point of feeling obvious or even exploitative. This was never meant to be a “political book.” I wasn’t commenting on specific public figures or current events—those events hadn’t happened yet. I was observing the patterns around me and speculating on where we might end up if we keep following them. But fact is catching up to fiction with alarming speed. I can only hope that the dark parts of this imaginary future aren’t the only ones that come true.

WE

WE ARE NOT BOUND by our bodies. Flesh is an experience we choose to have. From the bright cloud of our vastness we grow fingers to dip in cool water, to run through soft grass, to touch our skin and fur and feathers and somehow, from the sum of our myriad bodies, begin to understand what we are.

We are not bound by time, but we choose to live in it. We evolved consciousness to learn and to know, and for that we must focus. So we sit patiently in the vehicle of the present, traveling toward some unguessable tomorrow.

And we carry the past with us. It trails behind us like bubbles as we rise through the depths of time. It gathers in the books in our Library; it builds like magma beneath our mountain. We read our own books and learn from ourselves. We wait for our moment to erupt.

• • •

Paul Bark is sixteen. His face is pimpled, his mustache is thin, and he and his friend are about to burn down Denver.

“Are you ready?” he asks his friend.

His voice is high, but he has been working on deepening it, and he likes how rich it sounds in this cavernous space—“Hall B,” according to the tattered banner hanging above the stage. The logo on it is illegible, some kind of old-world fan convention, its superhero mascot faded to a gray ghost. The building was gutted long ago, all its windows broken or stolen, its hallways now filling with sand dunes as the wind sweeps the desert inside. It’s hard to picture this place roaring with exuberant life, joyful crowds cheering for imaginary heroes and fictional battles while the real battle raged all around them. Paul can hardly fathom such frivolity. So much passion wasted on made-up nonsense. Civilization deserved its end.

“Everyone’s in position,” he tells his friend, and he likes how serious he sounds, like a grizzled commando in the army of God. “Have you prepared your sermon?”

Brother Atvist doesn’t answer. The pale, lanky teenager sits cross-legged on a pile of broken ceiling tiles, staring down at the walkie in his hand. “Did they listen to yesterday’s?”

“Most of them. We’ve counted sixty-eight trucks heading out of town.”

“That can’t be more than half.” His shaggy dark hair hides his eyes. His flat tone hides his thoughts.

“We’re giving them too much time,” Paul mutters, and spits a wad of phlegm for emphasis. “Once the panic cools off, they remember they have a government and a fire department and they think that makes them safe. They think it can’t happen because it’s never happened before.”

“So we do it anyway? With hundreds of people still in their homes?”

Paul wishes his friend would look up so he could get a read on him. Is this some kind of test of Paul’s commitment? No, that’s not his style. Brother Atvist is a raw nerve, a beating heart exposed to the world, devoid of defenses and guile. It’s why people are drawn to him, and it’s why he needs Paul: to be a rigid container for his delicate dreams. To carry them to their conclusion against the tides of sentimentality.

“They’ll go once we get started,” Paul says. “That phosphorous puts on quite a show.”

His friend finally raises his face, and Paul does not like what he sees there. The most dangerous sin of all: uncertainty.

“How many died in Helena?” he asks Paul.

“None.”

“How many in Boise?”

Paul stiffens his jaw. “Three, but they were—”

“How many will it be here? Nine? Ninety?”

“They were warned!”

Paul’s shout echoes through the hall, scattering the pigeons roosting in the rafters. His face is suddenly red, his fists clenched. “We lit the beacons! We broadcast your prophesy! And God has been warning them them for years! Is it our fault if a few stiff-necked fools won’t listen?”

Brother Atvist slowly shakes his head. But is it a response to Paul’s question or is he slipping further into doubt? All of this was his idea, his epiphany, how can he falter already after just two cities?

Paul’s mind races. What will he do if his friend backs out, or even tries to dismantle the fellowship? Could Paul counter his influence, hold the church on its path? Paul is a good speaker too, a clear and forceful hammer to his friend’s florid oration, and he has always been the connective tissue between idea and action. Would they rally around him the way they did his friend? Brother Atvist insists he is not their leader, that this church has no leader. Their calling is to unmake structure, to erase human lines, to scour the earth for God’s coming, and a hierarchy would be antithetical to this. Brother Atvist repeats this over and over because the Ardents keep forgetting, keep defaulting to the standard model of top-down authority. But didn’t God himself set that model in place? Can people really be expected to live without a strong man telling them how? If Brother Atvist won’t—or can’t—be that man, perhaps it’s time for Pastor Bark to—

Brother Atvist stands up.

It’s a sudden movement, scattering the tiles at his feet, and Paul takes a step back. Paul is not done growing, but he will never be a tall man. He is built like a cornerstone, thick and strong, grounded and unshakeable, while his friend is a soaring pillar, perhaps more easily toppled but undeniably impressive while upright. There’s a fire in his eyes now, and Paul races to read its meaning as Brother Atvist raises his walkie.

“A day ago, we gave you a warning.”

Amplified by loudspeakers at every major intersection, his soft voice sounds immense. Delayed by distance, it reverberates from every direction, not one voice but a chorus, washing over the city in a wave. Paul lets out a sigh, mostly relief but with a trace of something else that he’d rather not acknowledge. He tucks away the thoughts that were starting to swell in his chest.

“But you had plenty of warnings before that. A poisoned planet choking on your apathy. A government festering as you filled it with rot. A culture sustained on conflict, feeding on its own blood, a thousand tiny wars that could never be allowed to end.”

He moves toward the staircase, and Paul follows him.

“And then one day, it all caught up to you. Your government went rabid and turned on you. The ocean you used for your toilet rose up for revenge. Even the earth itself tried to shake off its tormentors, but no matter how many cities it flattened in its convulsions, you kept drilling. No matter how many wars erupted, you kept provoking more, kept raising armies and smashing them together like toys, kept hating and hurting and devouring each other until you finally broke the universe. You reached the very bottom and you drilled right through, and a new kind of death bubbled up to meet you.”

Their boots rattle the rusty metal steps, echoing up and down the stairwell as they ascend toward a distant light.

“This new death was the final warning, but you still didn’t listen. God held up a mirror and said, ‘See what you’ve become!” but you refused to look. So your reflection climbed out of the mirror and ate your children. It ravaged your world and reduced it to a skeleton. But instead of falling to your knees and begging God to save you, you’re building new houses out of the bones.”

Paul smiles. This is a good one. Each sermon has been sharper and hotter than the last. Paul sometimes wishes his friend would skip all the poetic preamble and just get to the point, but he has to remind himself that this is the point: to deliver a message that stings hearts. As satisfying as it is to set the fires, they are only a medium for the message, a bright blazing sign that can’t be ignored. It’s the message that will move the world to repentance. To acceptance. To surrender.

“So in exactly fifteen minutes,” Brother Atvist continues, “we are going to burn those houses down.”

They emerge onto the roof of the convention center and Denver spreads out around them, an endless flatness spiked with a few highrises. It glows the usual sickly orange against the night sky, but it’s dimmer than it should be. A third of the buildings are unlit, abandoned, darkness creeping across the city like a stain as the world unravels.

“But the Lord is not willing that any should perish.”

From up here his voice sounds even bigger, ringing through the streets as the stubborn holdouts gather around the speakers, pacing and squirming with mounting agitation.

“We don’t want to take your lives. We only want to show you that it’s time ...