Small Worlds Part 185

Reverend Jeremy Howard pulled himself up, risking another glance out the window. Billy and Sally were still out there, heads closed together, having a whispered conversation. Whatever they were talking about it, it didn’t seem to be going well, not based off of the way Sally was gesturing towards the building that held the refugees or the firm shakes to Billy’s head.

“We’re going to die, aren’t we?” Someone said inside.

The Reverend turned to face the speaker. It was Nelly, sitting with her knees curled up to her chin, the shotgun resting across it. “We’re going to die,” she repeated. “We survived the goddamn mummies and the goddamn Antichrist and now we’re going to die to whatever these things are.”

It wasn’t her words that scared the Reverend. Nelly had always been prone to complaining. No, what scared the Reverend was the dull, flat tone. This wasn’t Nelly griping, this wasn’t even Nelly scared. This was Nelly utterly resigned to what was going to happen. Looking around the room, the Reverend saw more of that in the eyes of the huddled mass in the police station. Not fear, not anger, just a hollow look to their eyes. These people had been through hell, and had hit the limit of what the human spirit could endure.

“No, we won’t,” Jeremy said, his voice firm. Those hollow eyes all turned towards him.

“How can you say that, Reverend?” Nelly asked. The Reverend had hoped her voice would pick back up some of that fire at being contradicted, but it was still lifeless. “They’re picking us off that their leisure. We’re…we’re cows, Reverend. They’re keeping us alive because they’re not hungry yet.”

“Better die than become one of those things,” a voice said from the back of the room. There were nods around. The Reverend focused his eyes on the speaker.

“I’m not going to say you’re wrong, John, but you make it sound like there are only those two options.”

“What else can we do? We can’t fight those things, Reverend. We can’t even hit them.”

“We can have faith,” The Reverend said, his voice firm.

“Faith?” Nelly snorted in disbelief. “How can you talk about faith right now? We’ve had faith, Reverend. Lord knows how much faith I had. And look what it brought us!”

“We’re still alive,” The Reverend said.

“So, what?” Nelly snapped, and the Reverend felt relief in the face of her anger. At least she was caring. “You’re trying to say the people who died out there didn’t have strong enough faith? You’re blaming them?”

He shook his head. “No, Nelly,” he said softly. “I’d never dare suggest that. The Lord may be omnipotent, but he does not shield us so directly. We were granted free will, and that means men and women may choose evil.”

“These aren’t men and women!” Nelly stood up now, her eyes blazing. “These are monsters, Reverend. They’re supernatural creatures, they’re demons. They’re beyond us!”

“The Lord works-” Jeremy started to say, and Nelly cut him off with a harsh laugh.

“I swear to God, Reverend, if you say ‘in mysterious ways,’ I’ll shoot you myself.”

Jeremy shook his head. “No. You know I hate that line. It’s a preacher giving up on trying to explain, trying to mollify when no other words will do. The Lord’s ways may be mysterious to us mere men and women, but what I was going to say was that the Lord works through good men and women. The Lord works through our strength, our determination, our faith.”

“So, what are you suggesting? We go out there, guns blazing, and hope because we’re faithful a bunch of demon cat monsters that used to be our friends run away.”

Jeremy shook his head. “We can’t do that. What we do is we hold out, and we trust the Lord to provide the means of our salvation.”

“And what form do you expect this salvation to take? A chior of angles with holy swords? A bunch of knights in shining armor? A goddamn bolt from Heaven?”

“The last time we faced a supernatural threat, the Lord provided.”

That got a stir from the entire crowd. “You’re telling me that you expect the Lord to save us through a false god? Through the damn Antichrist?” Nelly asked.

Jeremy gave her a wide smile. “He did so before. Maybe not Ryan again. Maybe Athena this time. Or that friend of theirs, Crystal. Or maybe it will be another one of these false gods. Perhaps it will be a choir of angels with holy swords.”

The Reverend began to pace, the way he did when he was on the pulpit. “We may live in a time of horrors, unimaginable horrors. But we also live in a time of miracles. The ‘gods’ were men and women, once. The Lord absolutely can still work through their actions, even though they claim to be things they should not. And I don’t believe he’s the Antichrist. I don’t believe any of them are. If any of them were, I believe Enki was the most likely one, and he’s dead now.”

The Reverend began to lock eyes with some of them in turn. “John, when the mummies began to swarm our town, you were up in the bell tower on that old radio of yours, letting people know where the safe zones were. Nelly, you were right there with me. Jim, you held one of those things off with a carving knife and a frying pan. Karen, don’t think I didn’t hear about what you did with that chainsaw, that was mighty impressive and mighty stupid. We were able to hold off long enough for the Lord to send us help.”

“Well, they’re not here,” Nelly said firmly. “I’m not too keen on waiting around for the…for whatever they are to show up and save us. I don’t believe they were sent by the Lord, Reverend. I think we got lucky they showed up for the mummies, and didn’t show up for us. I think if we wait for the Lord to send help, we’re all going to die.”

The Lord helps those who help themselves, the Reverend thought, but didn’t say. He didn’t want to give Nelly the answer. He wanted her to say it herself. “Then what would you rather do?”

“Damnit, Reverend, I don’t know. But I know I’m not going to sit around and wait to die.”

Nods were going around the room, and the Reverend had to hide a smile. The fire was back in their stomachs. They weren’t waiting to die anymore.

He didn’t know if he believed the Lord would sent those false gods to save them. He didn’t know if there was any help coming. But he knew these people had hope again.

For now, that would be enough.

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Strange Cosmology Part 107 – Epilogue

Gunkanjima Island had once housed the greatest population density in the world. Off the coast of Nagasaki,  the island had housed coal mines for most of the early twentieth century, and had been home to thousands of people on its only sixteen acres of land.

Then the coal had run out, and the island had been abandoned.

That was why Bast had come here. There weren’t supposed to be any humans on the island.

Bast couldn’t fathom why an abandoned and collapsing coal town would become a tourist destination.

“No, please, don’t!” the man screamed, holding up his hands. He was young, and prior to this moment, had his full life ahead of him.

Emphasis on had, Bast thought as her hand slammed down and shoved through the man’s chest with the sickening crunch of bone. She pulled the arm back, letting the man slump bonelessly to the ground, the man’s beating heart still in her grasp. She raised the organ to her lips bit into it like it was a pulsating apple. “As far as last words go, I’ve heard better,” Bast said as she finished off her meal.

“You do like playing with your food,” Vlad said, stepping out from behind the wall. Blood caked his lips and chin. “When I was as young as you, I certainly did.”

Bast ignored the barb. “Was that the last of them?”

“There’s one more your pet monster is hounding right now. Then that will be the last of them. Cassandra ate herself sick, by the way. You should encourage your underlings to exercise some restraint.”

“Please, spare me the lecture,” Bast said, stepping out of the room and into the courtyard. “There weren’t supposed to be people here,” she said as she stared up at the apartment buildings that dotted the island, vines winding up the walls.

“I’ve learned that if people can manage to stand in a place for a full day without immediately dying, they’ll spend time there.” Vlad chuckled to himself, “and if they cannot, they’ll find a way to stand there. We’re a tenacious species.”

Bast shrugged. She hadn’t warmed up to Vlad in the past few days. He was a useful tool, and she was certain he felt the same way. He was just better at idle chatter. “We can’t use this island,” Bast said, shaking her head.

Vlad growled at that. “What do you mean, we can’t use it? It’s perfect. So what if we had to eat a few tourists to clear it out? God’s Blood, Bast, there’s a mine right under the town we can use on top of the facilities we can repair! And now you want to abandoned it?” Vlad kicked the body of the tourist Bast had just killed. “Look, he’s Korean, not even Japanese! No one’s going to realize where he died.”

“You really don’t understand the modern world,” Cassandra said, approaching the two gods. She was wiping her mouth as she did. Bast made a mental note to ask Cassandra if she had been a fastidious eater in her past life, too, or if that was a habit that had been picked up more recently. You certainly weren’t a clean eater a few days ago.

Vlad scowled at her. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“The tour guide would have logged this tour, digitally. Maybe with the government, or may just in his books. The people who he took with him would have used credit or debit cards, leaving a record of who they were with. The harbor will note the boat didn’t return. A rescue party will probably be here in twelve hours, with a plane flying overhead even sooner,” Cassandra finished and looked at Bast, who nodded approval. Cassandra flushed at the gesture.

Before Vlad could respond, there was a sickening howl as Bridges’s found his prey and snapped the poor bastard in half.

Vlad dismissed the interruption. “The more food for us. We can face down an army if need be.”

“The whole point was to not, however,” Bast said firmly. “No. This place is no good to  us.”

Vlad growled wordlessly. “Then where do you suggest we go? We need a place with existing infrastructure, easily defensible, no humans that someone might look for – do you have such a place in mind?”

“We’ll figure something out,” Bast said. “There’s other places on our list.”

“No,” Vlad said with a snarl. “We’ve taken long enough. Next time is the last time. If we have to slaughter a thousand humans to hold it, so be it. We’re never going to find the perfect place, and there is still a ticking clock.”

“If the next place is inhabited, we’ll come back here,” Bast said firmly. “It’s the closest to what we’re looking for we’ve found, and the heat should have died down by then.”

Vlad glanced up at the sun and scowled. “The heat is precisely what I’m concerned about, Bast.”

“We’re almost done,” Bast said. “What about the others? Would they want us to take needless risks this close to the end of it?”

Vlad sighed. “Very well. But,” he held up a finger, “No more attempts. The location is hardly this important. If our next location ends up being a dead end, I’m going to tell the others you’re stalling.”

It was Bast’s turn to scowl. Her position was tenuous. Such an accusation could completely undermine her, see her cut out of the process. She glances at Cassandra. See us cut out of the process, Bast amended. “I assure you, Vlad, our next stop will be our last.”

Vlad gave her a curt nod and stalked back to his nanoverse.

“How can you be certain of that?” Cassandra asked, in the quavering tones she always used when questioning Bast.

Bast shrugged as the door to Vlad’s nanoverse closed. “Because he was right. I have been stalling.”

Cassandra gaped at her. “Why?”

“Because there’s too many things unaccounted for. We still don’t know where Athena, Ishtar, and that little shit vanished to. We still don’t know who’s side half the gods are going to come down on. I was using this as a pretext to buy myself time to get answers.”

“Did it work?” Cassandra asked.

“Oh yes,” Bast said, her eyes sparkling. “I know exactly what our next move is going to be. Come, Cassandra. We have work to do.”

And what a glorious thing it will be, Bast thought as they stepped into her nanoverse.


 

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