We have now reached Part One. 14. of Soul Cages. This is a YA novel with a Gothic streak, which is why it’s PG-13. When we last left off, Marian had finished talking to her friend Nicole before going to bed.
Second edition copyright © 2014 by Lynn Kilmore
Published by Osuna Publishing
This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogue, and locales are either drawn from the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, and locales is entirely coincidental.
Part One. Dreams in the Desert
In the dream I was in the reception area outside the cruise ship dining hall; gold-gilt mirrors covered the pale blue walls. Weeping Jewish men and women stood in a crowd around me.
A waiter threw open the dining hall doors, and stepped back. I entered amidst the crowd. The dining hall was filled with piles and piles and piles of shoes on the blue plush of the carpet. A woman, her hair teased into gray curls, stopped at a waist-high mound of decaying shoes to grab hold of a man’s brown loafer, clutching it to her chest while crying.
The woman said to me, “When you’re young, you think it will last forever. Then the end comes.”
I saw in the mound black patent girls’ shoes, green rain boots, work boots with tar stains, hiking boots, dress shoes, and sneakers.
I wandered among the piles, feeling dazed, and then drawn toward the flickering candles of quiet alcove.
Within the alcove was an elderly Jewish man, in skullcap and business suit, standing next to human-high menorahs with all the candles flaming. He said to me in an Eastern European accent, “Remember the dead,” and handed me a piece of cracker like cardboard, which had on top a thin layer of ashes.
He said, “Eat, and remember the dead, carry it within you.”
I placed it in my mouth, and swallowed it without chewing. It had no taste.
“Marian, wake up!” Dad rattled my locked doorknob.
“All right, all right already,” I called out. My mind felt blurred. I looked for my alarm clock, then realized it was packed away, so I pulled out my cell phone from underneath a pillow. 7:51 a.m.—no time for a run.
The intensity of the dream shook me. I could almost imagine I could hear weeping.
Get a hold of yourself. Talking to Ben triggered that dream.
I dug out jeans and a white blouse, yanked my hair back into my usual ponytail, smeared on a thick layer of cherry lip balm, slathered on skin lotion—the air is so incredibly dry here—and slipped out into the kitchen.
Dad took one look at me and said, “Nope. Go change.”
I glanced at Mom, who was wearing a blue dress, microwaving frozen pancakes. My dresses were hidden deep in one of the boxes. I’d have to waste time digging them out. And then there would be the hassle of wearing pantyhose. “It’ll take too long. We’ll be late for church.”
Dad scowled. “You should have gotten ready last night. You had plenty of time to do so.”
“I passed out instead of unpacking.”
Dad tapped his fork against his plate. “That’s too bad. Go change.” He’d put on a blazer, tie, and slacks.
I retreated to my room, cursing under my breath. I hated wearing dresses and pantyhose, except for dances.
It took too long for my taste, but I finally found a creamy long-sleeve dress with tiny violets. Mom had bought it for me two months ago, despite my protests.
“Time to go,” Dad called out.
I raced for the kitchen, grabbed two pancakes, rolled a sausage into them, and took quick bites.
Henry sat before an empty syrup-coated plate. He was wearing khakis and a button-down shirt, but no tie (ties triggered his gag reflex).
We trooped into the two-car garage, which had one side piled high with boxes. Mom and Dad chatted about unpacking. I asked if I could take Henry for a walk in the afternoon.
“Do it,” Dad said, “the fresh air will do him good.”
Mom opened her mouth as if to object, then closed it, and instead tapped her glossy fingernails on the car window in a tap, tap-tap, tap rhythm.
The drive to First Beginnings took about fifteen minutes. We pulled into the parking lot of a small shopping center gone to seed. Most of the storefronts had empty windows. In the center was a retail space with its windows covered over with white paper decorated with cross paintings.
“They just moved here,” said Mom. “They got too big for their old space.” She pointed eagerly at a sign that hung above the entrance. “Gena said they got the sign up two weeks ago.”
The storefront sign read FIRST BEGINNINGS OF THE GODLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH in gold letters.
The parking lot in front of the church was filling up with cars and trucks. Most of the people, all white, were over forty. Some had children, and one man pulled an oxygen tank on wheels behind him. A tube wound its way up from the tank to his nose.
“That’s Mr. Rickmand,” Mom whispered, pointing at the man with the tank.
To me he looked to be in only middling health, despite his miracle healing.
My doubt must have shown, for Mom added, “He was bed-ridden six months ago. Now the cancer is in remission, and he can go out and drive himself places.”
As we got closer to Mr. Rickmand, I heard his oxygen tank make a hissing noise every couple of seconds, like a balloon being deflated. He held the glass door open with his body so that we could enter.
Inside I found the store shelves had been removed, but there were faint impressions in the linoleum where they had been. The front of the empty space had been filled with polished wooden benches.
I’d guess there were over a hundred people. Mom had said something about the First Beginnings congregation nearly doubling as word of Pastor Andervender’s healing gift got around.
The benches faced a lectern which stood before blue velvet curtains hung across from wall to wall. It reminded me of the stage curtains at East Alexandria High. Certain curtains were closer than others, so people could walk “backstage” easily.
Next to the lectern was an American flag on a pole. A huge silver satin cross had been sewn onto the curtain fabric behind the lectern.
Dad chose a bench close to the exit, despite an usher trying to coax us to sit closer to the lectern—a smart choice in case Henry couldn’t handle the scents or crowd. Henry was wedged between Mom and Dad, while I sat between Mom and an elderly lady with frayed sleeves.
Various strangers came up to greet us, and it did not end until the Andervender family filed in from behind a curtain to take their reserved places in the first row. Luke and Mark were missing. There must be a Sunday school for younger kids. John’s head was down in contemplation, but Matthew looked around and waved at my Mom and Dad. Gena made a tiny wave with a gloved hand as well.
An usher near the lectern made a motion for all to rise. Pastor Andervender came from behind a curtain wearing a black robe and ascended the lectern.
Andervender fiddled with the microphone pinned to his robe, then started a long prayer. Flashbacks of Henry struggling under his hands made it hard for me to listen. My hands trembled, so I squeezed them into fists at my sides.
Then we were allowed to sit. Andervender read various verses from a big leather Bible on the lectern. But all I caught were fragments that floated up to my consciousness like corks bobbing to the surface: kingdom … darkness … weeping … gnashing.
I checked on Henry, to find him zoned out, eyes closed, rocking slightly, his hand covering his nose.
Andervender’s eyes flicked around, studying the faces, and he launched into his sermon. “We have been given the gift of spiritual truth, a truth rejected by the Jews, and lost by many of our Christian brethren. So few grains winnowed from the chaff, and it pains me to see it. I see before me those righteous few who—”
My breaths came faster. I put my hands over my ears, rubbing at my temples so that it would look like I had a headache.
His voice muffled, I watched Andervender’s face contort with breaking waves of pride. Underneath, like oceanic depths under a crust of ice, was abiding anger and fear. He described with relish what hell would do to all the unrighteous ones.
To me it felt as if a sly awareness seeped into the store with each word out of Andervender’s mouth. I looked around in a panic.
There were engrossed faces, tiny nods of agreement. Henry was oblivious. Dad shifted in discomfort, but Mom was drawn in, as well as Matthew and Gena. John looked as if he’d left his body behind to play dutiful pastor’s son while his mind escaped.
I dug my thumbs into my ears, trying to block Andervender out.
Mom poked my elbow and said close to my ear, “Are you all right?”
I shook my head.
So Mom grabbed hold of my arm, helped me to stumble past Henry and Dad, and took me outside.
I placed a hand against the pitted glass window to steady myself as the dizziness faded. The glass vibrated with Andervender’s microphone-enhanced words.
Mom held out a handkerchief. “Are you going to be sick?”
I took deep breaths of the dry fume-scented air. A blaring of horns could be heard from down the street at the intersection. I had to try twice before I could get any words out. “Just dizzy.”
“They say the thin air can sneak up on you. How about we go around to the back door, and get you some juice from the church kitchen?”
“Could we sit in the car for a few minutes? I’d like to put my head between my legs. That would look weird in the kitchen.”
I plodded to the car. Mom put a hand on my shoulder—it felt like having a bird alight there.
After Mom unlocked our car remotely, I fumbled my way into the front passenger seat, pushed it back, and tucked my head close to my knees. Mom got in the driver’s seat to turn on the air conditioning.
With the car doors closed I couldn’t hear Andervender’s voice anymore. The tight coil of my muscles loosened.
Mom said, “Stomach bug?”
“No. Tired, and the thin air.”
Mom tapped the steering wheel. “I know this move has been hard on you and Henry. It’ll take time to adjust.”
There’s an understatement. “Uh-huh.”
I heard Mom relax back into her seat with a squeak of leather.
My breathing was almost back to normal, and the shakes were gone. What the heck am I going to do? I can’t stand Andervender’s voice. The thought of having to spend months, let alone years, listening to Andervender every Sunday brought the quivers back.
“Oh dear, you look green again. You sure you’re not getting the flu?” Mom reached over and opened the glove compartment, taking out a plastic bag. “Here, throw up in this if you need to. Or maybe we should open the car doors. It’s so hot in here even with the air conditioning.”
There was a knock on Mom’s window. I peered up to see Barbara studying us.
Mom lowered her window. “Oh, hi Barbara. I think the thin air has gotten to Marian.”
Barbara said, “Would it help if I brought a cup of water?”
“Oh, could you?” Mom said.
“I’ll be right back.” Barbara disappeared.
I racked my brain for a good excuse to stay in the car. But all the excuses I could think of sounded lame, so unless I could make myself throw up I’d have to go back in.
Barbara brought back a Styrofoam cup filled with water. I drank it in small sips. I saw Barbara point at the gold watch on her wrist.
Mom said, “Marian, I promised to help in the dining area after the service.”
The two women herded me out of the car, and around the side of the shopping center to the back entrance. Barbara reassured Mom that many people had trouble with the thin air the first few weeks in Albuquerque, and that it would pass.
Barbara led us past splotches of broken glass amongst the concrete, and yanked open a steel door. The back entrance opened onto a narrow corridor with one door on either side, and another in front of us. The right door had a glass window embedded with mesh wire, and SUNDAY SCHOOL painted on it. I could hear kids giggling from inside.
The door on the left had a wooden plaque with PASTOR ANDERVENDER’S OFFICE scrolled in gold letters.
Barbara took us through the door at the end of the corridor. I found myself in a makeshift break area curtained off from the sanctuary where the church service was still going on.
Two long tables were against the wall, and on one were carafes of water or orange juice amongst plugged-in urns for coffee or hot water. The other table had Danishes in bakery boxes, and orange and pineapple slices piled high on platters.
There were no walls to block out Andervender’s booming voice as he led the congregation in prayer.
Try to ignore him. Pretend it’s the surf.
“Sit here,” Mom said to me, pulling out a folding chair from one of the scattered dining tables.
I muttered “Thanks” and sank into the chair. The air-conditioned metal chilled the back of my knees.
Barbara double-checked the urns and carafes, while Mom rearranged the paper plates and plastic forks into smaller piles on the food table.
I heard Andervender call out, “Anyone who wishes to ask for God’s healing, please come forward.” The congregation became silent in expectancy. Andervender said the same healing prayer for each person, six in all. I noticed he had none of the fierceness he’d shown with Henry. And not once did he say “affliction” or “spirits.” At the end, there were faint sighs of disappointment. No miracle healings today.
One last prayer, then a roar of “Amen.” The service was over.
************** End of Part One. 14. *****************
Have a great week! L.M.