“I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race [is] not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.”

~*~Ecclesiastes 9:11~*~

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Chapter Thirteen, Part One

          The view of the church was both a comfort and a mystery to Elizabeth.  She, Sandra, Delia, and Morgan were, once again, driving down the street in Sandra’s car.  It was an all-too familiar route to Elizabeth now, having driven down this street more times than she could even remember over the last four months.  Now, here they were again, pulling into the church parking lot, the outer stone wall of the colony visible just beyond Elizabeth’s view.  She wasn’t one hundred percent certain what she was doing here this time—Sandra had called her earlier that afternoon, informing her that she was to go on a youth retreat with the rest of the new Level Twos and their Rose Angels.

            “We’re all gathering at the colony, spending the weekend together—bonding, becoming closer in our beliefs,” Sandra had explained over the phone.

            “Do I have to?” Elizabeth had asked, thinking of all the homework she had to finish before Monday.

            “Yes, you have to.  I’m still concerned about the thoughts you’ve been having about Derek…”

            “That was almost two weeks ago!” Elizabeth had interrupted, but Sandra had talked over her.

            “…about the questions you’ve been asking.  Every new Level Two is required to go to this event, and I highly suggest you stop questioning everything.”

            “I don’t question everything,” Elizabeth had mumbled.  Her comment had gone ignored.

            She didn’t know what the weekend was going to hold.  She had managed to leave the house without argument—she had conveniently forgotten to mention the weekend getaway she was going to was at the colony.  Elizabeth was also fairly certain that her parents had gotten tired of arguing with her about every move she made.  And she was okay with that.

            The other new Level Twos were being shepherded into the church by their Rose Angels at the same time as Sandra and Delia were guiding Elizabeth and Morgan respectively.  No one was carrying a bag larger than a backpack—they had been instructed that they were to pack as little as possible, going along with their beliefs against materialism.  Elizabeth had shoved one denim dress, a nightgown, and a toothbrush into a tote bag.  She had completely forgotten to grab a blanket or pillow, but quickly noticed that no one else in the group had brought one either and felt a little better about this fact.

            Pastor Jeffrey appeared out of seemingly nowhere, and turned to address the group standing in the atrium.  Some of the boys had started settling down on the floor, apparently figuring that this would be where they would be spending the weekend.

            “Don’t get too comfortable, guys,” Pastor Jeffrey announced.  “This isn’t where we will be staying.”

            Elizabeth and Morgan exchanged glances.

            As though he was reading their minds, Pastor Jeffrey continued, “We will be going out to the colony.  One of the residents has kindly allowed us to use his home as the location for our retreat.”

            “It’s not much of a retreat, is it?” Morgan whispered to Elizabeth as they gathered up their few belongings and followed Pastor Jeffrey out of the backdoor of the church, which led to the colony houses.  “I mean, doesn’t the term itself mean to get away?  We’re not really getting away from anyone but our families…and we don’t see them very often anymore anyway, so…” She trailed off when Delia turned around and gave her a dirty look.

             The group made their way silently through the makeshift town, past the small square of grass on which they had performed their secrets ceremony, and finally ended up in front of one of the small cottages.  It was not distinguishable from any of the other surrounding cottages except for a black “35” fixed onto the front.  A middle-aged man with brown hair and wearing a pure white stole came out of the front door and passed a glance over the group standing before him.  His hard glance landed on Elizabeth for several seconds longer than on anyone else in the group.

            Pastor Jeffrey joined the man in front of the cottage and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is Benjamin Karlisle.  He is one of our most beloved members of the Rose family, having been a member since the very beginning of the Children of the Rose.  He is a close friend of Pastor Simon’s, a Level Seven.”

            Benjamin smiled at the group, his glance landing on Elizabeth once more, before he stood aside and allowed them to enter the house.  “Please, come in.”

            Inside, decorations were non-existent.  The walls were a sterile white, the furnishings a dull brown.  Directly inside the door was a small kitchen with a card table sitting in the center, surrounded by hard-backed brown chairs.  The next room was something of a family room, bearing a couch and a chair, a coffee table, and a book shelf displaying a handful of Rose Bibles and a multitude of Rose notebooks.  Elizabeth could just see from the entranceway that the back room was a bedroom.  There were no pictures anywhere, nothing on the walls except for a wooden cross in each room, and the colorlessness of the house was almost painful.

            Pastor Jeffrey pushed past the members of the group and helped Benjamin pull a trunk out from the bedroom.  He opened it and turned to the group.  “You will now put all of your belongings, save for your Bible, notebook, and a writing utensil into this trunk.  It will be locked away in the bedroom for the remainder of the weekend.”

            “What?!” one boy cried from the back of the group.

            “You are retreating from the outsiders,” Pastor Jeffrey explained.  “We want you to separate yourself from everything that may have been provided by outsiders this weekend.  You will wear the clothes on your back and that is all.  You will get your belongings back at the end of the weekend, no need to worry.  This is merely an exercise.  You will also be fasting this weekend, so you may better focus on your religion.”

            There were some quiet groans from around the group, but no one spoke up.  Everyone approached the trunk, dropped in their bag, and returned to the front of the cottage, waiting for further instructions.

            “The retreat begins now,” Pastor Jeffrey announced.  “The only thing you are permitted to consume is water.  When we are not in group prayer or seminar, you will be praying on your own, studying and copying Bible passages, or working on service projects for the colony.  We will sleep as a group—meaning there will be no daytime naps unless the entire group has been given permission.  Do you all understand?”

            The group collectively nodded and mumbled, “Yes, sir.”

            Pastor Jeffrey and Benjamin both gave curt nods and the group sat down on the hard floor, bowing their heads and clasping hands as Pastor Jeffrey intoned, “Dear God, hear our prayers.”

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