“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, January 9, 2013

Chapter Seventeen, Part Three

         Everyone in the sanctuary was shifting uncomfortably.  Pastor Simon was late to worship, which basically never happened, and the whole colony had been instructed to not bring visitors today, which definitely never happened.  No one knew what was going on, but no one dared speak.  They merely shifted, stared around at each other, tried to deduce things for themselves, which was mostly impossible.  Elizabeth, sitting in between Sandra and Aimee, looked around for Derek and finally found him sitting in the front pew next to his Rose Angel, who appeared to have a firm grasp on Derek’s shoulder.  Derek looked utterly defeated…and at the same time as though he still had some life left in him.

            Elizabeth squinted at the back of Derek’s head, remembering the exchange she had overheard between him and his Rose Angel in the atrium.  They had been standing in a corner, Derek with no means of escape and glaring weakly at his companion, who was standing with his arms crossed, looking intimidating.

            “I don’t want to do this.  I just want it to be over,” Derek had muttered.  His voice had been weak, he had sounded as defeated as he had looked.

            “You’re going to do this.  You need to learn what exactly waits you because of your questioning.  The other Roses need to see what becomes of questioning.  You will go in there, you will do as asked, and you will be an example.  And don’t forget that we can overpower you,” the Rose Angel had said angrily.  At that moment, Sandra had seized Elizabeth’s wrist and led her forcefully into the sanctuary.

            Elizabeth was torn out of her thoughts as Pastor Simon came tearing down the center aisle.  He planted himself in the middle of the front of the church, just in front of the altar.  He turned to face the Children, looking incredibly frustrated and bitter.

            “Children, stand and recite Second Thessolonians, chapter three, verse fourteen.”  No one reacted immediately, just continued to stare until he roared, “NOW!”

            The whole congregation stood and recited, “And if a man obey not our words by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.”

            “Thank you,” Pastor Simon said, slightly calmer.  The congregation collectively sat down again before he continued, “We must not allow corrupted Children to affect the rest of the family.  ‘If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of the city, and unto the gate of his place: And they shall say unto the elders of his city, That our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.  And all of the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you.’  Deuteronomy chapter twenty-one, verses eighteen through twenty-one.  While we do not believe in actually stoning to death, we do choose to make an example of rebellious and stubborn Children amongst our family.”  He looked down at the first pew and said, “Derek Anderson.”

            Derek was dragged to his feet by his Rose Angel and marched to the front of the church.  He shuffled his feet the entire way, clearly trying to pull away from his Rose Angel.  There was quite obviously a silent struggle going on between the two of them, but the Rose Angel was winning.  Elizabeth felt Sandra pinch the inside of her elbow, and her Rose Angel mouthed, “Don’t do or say a thing.”

            At the front of the church, Derek was forced to stand facing the congregation, Pastor Simon and his Rose Angel flanking him, the Rose Angel still keeping a firm grip on Derek’s shoulder.  “Will the men, Level Two and above, please come stand center aisle?” Pastor Simon said.  All the eligible men stood and made their way to the center aisle, Pastor Jeffrey in the far back with a large, black candle.  Pastor Simon yanked Derek’s stole off his shoulders and laid it in an ugly metal container.  Derek’s Rose Angel then produced Derek’s old visitor’s stole and laid it in the container as well.  “Expulsion from the Children of the Rose is a serious issue.  It is a symbol of Christian death.  We use fire instead of stones, symbolizing the Expelled to be lost to the Devil himself.”

            At this cue, Pastor Jeffrey passed the black candle to the first man in front of him.  The candle itself traveled down the line of men.  Each man who took it and passed it closer to the front was issuing his unspoken agreement of Derek’s expulsion, signing his soul’s death sentence.  Finally, the candle reached Derek’s Rose Angel, who passed it at last to Pastor Simon, who touched it to the stoles in the container.  The stoles caught quickly and burned to ash in front of the congregation’s eyes.  Derek was forced to hold the container and essentially watch his soul burn.  After several long, tense minutes, the fire burned itself out—the stoles reduced to dark ash.  When this had occurred, the container was yanked out of Derek’s hands and then passed down the line of men toward Pastor Jeffrey.  Each man took a handful of ash as it passed him, and held it in his hands.

            Pastor Simon and Derek’s Rose Angel both grabbed Derek’s shoulders as the pastor said, “To be expelled is worse than death.  No one in the Children of the Rose is permitted to speak to Derek Anderson for any reason—he is now one with the Devil and will immediately lead you down a dangerous path.  Cavorting with this man will lead to your own expulsion.  He is shunned from this family.”  Both men holding Derek opened their hands over Derek’s head, letting the ash rain onto him.  “Derek Anderson, consider yourself damned.”  Derek was pushed toward the center aisle, now flanked by the eligible men, all holding ash as well.  Pastor Simon and Derek’s Rose Angel turned their backs on Derek as he walked down the aisle, ash raining on him from every angle.  By the time he got to the back of the church, he looked like he had just cleaned a chimney.  Pastor Jeffrey grabbed his arm and pushed him out of the church, into the outside world.

            But Elizabeth didn’t see any of this.  As soon as Pastor Simon had declared him shunned, Sandra had forced Elizabeth’s head down, so she was looking at her lap.  Elizabeth followed suit somewhat reluctantly, forcing down Aimee’s head as well.  Every woman in the church did not watch as Derek had made his way out of the church.  They all had merely stared at their hands folded in their laps.  Elizabeth briefly remembered Derek’s words of warning to her—If something should happen to me, don’t cause a scene.  Not unless you’re ready to walk out of this place right now.  She wasn’t ready to walk out, that much she was certain, so she held her tongue.  She couldn’t imagine life outside the Children anymore, and she didn’t have the strength to follow Derek out.  So instead she did as she had done for the last many months, and followed the crowd instead.

            It felt safer here, in the middle of the crowd and being told what to do, than it did anywhere on the outside.  Elizabeth didn’t have it in her to change that.

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