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My name was Willa Merciful, though I’ve changed it now.
Born into a doomsday cult, young Willa feels privileged to be one of the special people chosen to survive Judgement Day. She’s part of one big, devoted family living in an isolated commune led by the charismatic Messenger of God, Father Merciful.
But one day, Father Merciful asks his followers to drink special medicine to help them survive Judgement Day. As she is drifting into unconsciousness, Willa sees a hurt little boy asking for help. When Willa wakes, she realises that life on the commune isn’t as safe as she once thought, and not everyone in the family can be trusted…
Messenger can be read as book 3.5 in the Mary Hades series, or enjoyed as a standalone story.
Release date: December 10, 2015
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 246
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I was twelve when it happened.
I felt like the happiest girl in the world back then. My name was Willa Merciful, though I’ve changed it now. I had no idea what was coming. I was too busy feeling sorry for all those people out there who didn’t know God’s love. When we went to prayer, I thought of them all going about their daily lives, and wondered why God hadn’t chosen them. I asked Father Merciful why God had only chosen us to survive Judgement Day. He told me that they were sinners whom Satan would punish. My heart ached for them, but if they refused to reject Satan, what could I do to save them? I had asked Father Merciful that, too. He’d told me to keep spreading the word—to keep giving out the leaflets in the town. My work was important because I was saving lives.
I remember having tears in my eyes. If only I could have saved more. It was Judgement Day and I knew they would all perish while we woke up in Paradise, basking in the glow of God’s smile. I got down on my knees and thanked Father Merciful.
Thank you, I thought. I will take your medicine and praise you for helping us.
Mother Ariel brought me the cup. She brushed the tears from my eyes and stroked my hair. I reached out and touched her hair back. It was soft and strawberry blonde, like mine. She was smiling with her eyes.
“Are you ready, Willa?” she asked me. “Are you ready for the long sleep?”
“I am, Mother,” I replied. Even then I knew that the long sleep meant death, but I wasn’t afraid. We were the chosen ones, you see. We were absolving our sins. We believed that when God saw our sacrifice, he would take us to his home. “Has Brother Jack taken the medicine?”
“Yes, daughter. Don’t worry. We won’t leave him behind.” She held me close. My hair got all tangled up in her colourful dress. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
I knew it would be. She didn’t have to assure me.
She lifted me to my feet and I took her hand. She led me into the communal bedroom where we slept with Brother Jack, his mother Blu, Brother Bram, and the rest of the family. I sat on the bed, drank down the medicine, and lay on top of the blankets. Mother stroked my hair away from my face. Before I shut my eyes, I scanned the room. The others were all lying still. My eyelids drooped as the long sleep took hold.
But I saw something before closing my eyes. I will never forget it. A strange little boy was crouched next to my bed. I frowned, trying to prise open my eyelids so I could figure out who he was. I didn’t recognise him at all. He wasn’t part of the commune. I would have remembered if he’d joined us. He didn’t belong here, but he shouldn’t have to suffer. I remember thinking that he should take the medicine, too. But there was something wrong with his face. It was all cut up. His clothes were in shreds. His eyes were dark and penetrating. Suddenly, I didn’t want to sleep after all.
When is the bad man coming back? I don’t like it here. Can you find my mummy? Wake up. Wake up. My face hurts.
I was awakened by a sensation akin to an electric shock on my skin. I sat upright, and the room spun around me. My head throbbed. Was this it? Was this paradise? It looked a lot like the room at the commune. My hands reached out for Mother Ariel, but instead they passed straight through the torn-up face of the little boy.
“Are you going to help me? I want to go home.” A trickle of blood escaped his lips and travelled down his chin.
I scrambled back from my bed, screaming until my throat hurt. My head throbbed. My heart pounded but I still screamed. The boy started to cry. I fell back, hitting a bedside table, or the side of the bed, or something. And then Mother Ariel ran to me, wobbling across the floor, clutching her head in one hand, the other reaching for me.
“Willa, what is it? Are you hurt? What’s wrong?” she said. She pulled me into her arms.
“Get me away from it.”
“Away from what?” she asked.
I didn’t answer. I turned my head away from the boy and sobbed into Mother Ariel’s chest.
“What is it, sweet one? What did you see?”
I steadied my breathing and waited for the tears to stop. It wasn’t real. It was a nightmare. Did I dare to look? Instead, I whispered to her collarbone, “Are we in paradise?”
Mother Ariel was silent. I decided to lift my chin and open my eyes. She looked at me with eyes that were the same colour as mine. Sometimes we looked into the mirror together and said, “Blue like me, blue like you, blue like the sky, blue like the sea.” It was only a silly rhyme I’d made up when I was little, but we liked it. Her eyes were sad then, and that made them bright like marbles.
“I don’t know. I don’t know what went wrong.”
Slowly, I moved my head towards the strange boy, but he’d gone. Instead, I saw Aunty Blu and Brother Jack. Aunty Blu was singing to herself. She did that a lot. Jack was staring at his fingers as though they weren’t real. On the other side of the room, Brother Bram sat with his hands on his knees, staring at the rest of the room with a smile, as though he knew something we didn’t. Little Brother Alfie and the other children were playing together in a circle. Brother Bram turned an inch to watch them.
A shiver ran down my spine, even in the close warmth of the communal room. The nightmare had been so real that my hands were still shaking. It was the long sleep; that was what had made me dream it. I was afraid of the long sleep, and it had made my mind funny. I hadn’t felt afraid when I took the medicine, but Mother Ariel had told me once that sometimes when we’re scared of one thing it means we’re really scared of something else but don’t want to admit it. Father Merciful had said that all our fears were of the devil. If we weren’t careful, Satan would tempt us away from the path of righteousness.
“Brother Jack, are you okay?” I asked.
Jack tore his eyes away from his fingers. They were foggy and distant. Jack had eyes a little like mine, but a different colour. Sometimes we both looked a bit like Father Merciful when we glanced in the mirror, even though Jack had dark skin and mine is pale. He mostly looked like Aunty Blu, with her tight curly hair, long limbs, and pretty face. Aunty Blu was Father Merciful’s favourite, even though she was never quite right, even before her mind broke. There was a time when she used to scream and shout a lot. Jack told me that she used to whisper horrible things in his ear, about how he was evil and that she hated Father Merciful. He said she wanted to leave, but for some reason she never did.
Then, the rants went away. She stopped screaming and shouting and she started singing instead. It was a relief for all of us, but it was soon clear that she couldn’t do much else. Mother Ariel had to look after Jack because Blu would forget to give him water, or wander off and forget to watch him. Once she left an iron on Jack’s t-shirt and almost burned the place down.
“Did you think it was really going to happen?” he asked. “Did you believe?”
I answered straight away. “Of course. Didn’t you?”
Mother Ariel was busy making her bed and tidying, so Jack came closer. His voice was soft, like he didn’t want anyone to know what he was saying. “Yes, I believed it. I believed and I took the medicine and I waited for the long sleep.”
He said the words like he was amazed that they were true. I tried to figure out what he meant, but the door to the room opened and Father Merciful walked in, followed by Brother Jacob. Mother Ariel stopped her cleaning and bowed her head. I did the same, watching him stride into the room with my chin angled just right so I could see him. He was dressed only in white linen. Father always wore white, which looked strange around our colourful clothes. Sometimes I thought he looked like a dove trapped inside a watercolour painting. His clothes were perfectly ironed and fit him well. Mother Ariel had told me that it was an honour to wash and iron Father Merciful’s clothing, that we should take pride in helping our Messenger be everything he needed to be so he could lead us along the path of righteousness.
His eyes caught mine, and I felt my face flush with heat. He knew I was watching him. He smiled only at me, which felt nice, like I’d shared a private moment with him. I didn’t see much of Father Merciful in the commune. He was usually away speaking with God in his Temple. Sometimes I would close my eyes and think of his face, remembering the bushy grey whiskers and the lines by his eyes. I used to try to find his face in mine, just like I did with Brother Jack. We were all one big family back then. I never look for Father Merciful’s face in mine anymore.
“Children,” Father Merciful said. “I have spent the night talking with God.”
“Praise him,” we mumbled.
“He has plans for us yet. Tonight, as darkness falls, I will speak to you of those plans. There will be a dinner. Sister Ariel, you will be in charge of the preparations for this meal. Gather the sisters and meet in the kitchen. We will eat plenty tonight. Brother Bram, you and the rest of the children will begin preparations for travel. We will be moving after tonight.”
There was a ripple of noise throughout the communal room.
Father Merciful raised his hands. “I will tell you everything at the dinner.”
There was much to do, and it kept us busy all day. The communal room was hot and the air hung heavy, which wasn’t good for my fuzzy head. But I did as Brother Bram told me and packed away our belongings. Jack took the suitcases down from the shelves and passed them around. Alfie and the little children folded the garments with me helping them. Bram took the sheets from the bed and tossed them in a ball ready for the laundry.
“Wash the sheets, Brother Jackal,” Bram said. He smiled in a friendly way, but I stiffened. Jack hated the use of his full name.
I stopped what I was doing, with a purple dress in my hands, and watched as Jack straightened up from his spot by the bed and turned to face Bram. There wasn’t a frown or a grimace on his face, but I could see his anger anyway. He was so still that it looked like he was frozen.
Bram was an attractive boy, five years older than Jack and I, and Father Merciful’s oldest son. He had dark eyes and hair like his mother, Susan, and was taller than everyone except Father Merciful and Brother Jacob. There was something about him that seemed magnetic. People tended to cluster around him. The youngest kids would do anything he said, proud to be running errands for him.
“Gladly, Brother Abraham,” Jack said. He turned on his heel, collected the sheets, and walked out of the room.
When he was gone, I realised I’d been holding my breath.
“You shouldn’t call him that,” I said. “It’s not fair.”
“Father Merciful gave him that name. Gifts from Father Merciful should be appreciated,” Bram replied. The thing I remember most about Bram is his smile. He never stopped smiling. He was always friendly and polite, but he was bossy with it. He was always in everyone’s business, making it his own, and there was nothing he enjoyed more than bossing the younger kids around.
“Yes, but Jack doesn’t like it.” It singled him out. He believed that Father thought he was born evil. I didn’t know why Father had named him Jackal, but I didn’t think Jack was evil at all. He was my friend. My brother.
“Brother Jackal just needs to learn, that’s all,” Bram said.
I went back to helping the children pack. Alfie, who was six and very quiet, had some trouble getting things straight inside the case. I helped him fold up t-shirts and then reached for a red anorak.
“No,” Alfie said. “I want to wear it.”
“Okay, but won’t you be hot?” I asked.
“I’ll be all right. It’s my favourite.” He grinned.
“Well, all right, then, if that’s what you want.” I threw him the anorak and he beamed at me like I’d just given him a gift from the Lord.
We met by the stage—the place Father Merciful liked to talk to us. He was standing there with his hands clasped together, waiting for us to find seats. We were outdoors under the stars, with our stomachs full of soup. The seats were arranged in lines of eight. We were five rows deep. The field was slightly damp, and when I sat down next to Jack, the chair legs sank into the ground.
Our Father held congregation with us at least once a week. We sang, prayed, and then listened to Father Merciful as he told us about God’s plan. The congregations usually ended with us meditating on the path of righteousness. Sometimes he asked other people to go up onto the stage and told us how they had been tempted by Satan, and how they were going to rid themselves of Satan. That night, we started in the same way. We sang, we prayed, and then Father Merciful told us about God’s plan.
“Last night we laid down our heads and waited for the long sleep to come. We expected to wake up in Paradise. But God had other intentions for us. Judgement Day is still coming, and we still walk on the path of righteousness through this Satan-filled world, but God has sent us a very special gift. He has granted us a new home.”
There were gasps throughout the congregation. Jack folded his arms and leaned back in his chair. I glanced across at him to see him frowning. Back then, I couldn’t see why he was upset; not yet, anyway. It was like he had woken up and lost his faith, which frightened me. I remember wondering why he was so upset, and why he wasn’t himself. Now, I feel a fool for not seeing it sooner. Maybe if I had, I might have stopped it happening.
“That’s right, my children. I have found you a new home, with a place for us to worship, and beds for us to sleep in. We will have land to grow food and a roof over our heads. We will leave tomorrow morning. Brother Jacob will come by with a map and instructions on where to go. Pack your belongings, fill your vans, and join with me as I rejoice in our new direction. God has answered our prayers. We are on the path, ready for when Judgement Day comes.”
Father Merciful continued to talk, his voice droning into glossolalia—speaking in tongues. The word of God flowed through him. His eyes rolled back in his head as the language of God spilled from his mouth. But Satan must have been tempting me at that very moment, because all I could think about was this new home. I didn’t want to leave. I’d been born there. I knew the town, and I knew every surrounding field like the back of my hand. I had played hide and seek with Jack and Bram there for years. My head was filled with selfish thoughts that I couldn’t stop. I wanted to stay. And then there was the other niggling thought, the one telling me that things didn’t make sense. Why did we need to leave if Judgement Day was almost upon us?
The soup churned in my stomach after our congregation. Even when Mother Ariel pinched my cheek and told me to cheer up, I could barely even smile. I didn’t like this. And when I looked at Jack, I knew—he didn’t like it either. Something was wrong.
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