Note: this story is not related to the Journal of a Cartographer story. I am posting this story on May 3, 2007 because I am unable to post a usual entry. Have fun with it!


Not that Kind of God

When God Shane saw the man, he had the distinct impression that here was an opportunity to gain a follower and double the number of people that prayed to him.

The man lay sleeping in the corner in the tiny cave, if it could be called that. It was really nothing more than a crack in a mound of red rocks of the desert. But at least the shade felt cool, even at mid-day. The man wore denim pants, torn and frayed around the ankles, held up by suspenders, and a shredded cotton shirt, probably once white, but now red like the dirt of the countryside. A wide-brimmed, brown leather hat lay in the dirt next to him. His right holster was empty, but his left sported a grimy revolver.

“Hello?” Emmaline said.

He didn’t stir.

Shane waited, ready to protect his wife if needs be.

“Hello?” A little louder.

The man sat up with a start, reaching for his gun and saying, “Who’s there?”

Before he had the gun out, she help up a hand. “You won’t need that.”

He stopped with the firearm half out.

“Not against a poor old woman like me.”

“Who are you?” he said. He squinted at her, and moved his head from side to side, trying to get a better look at her. Shane could see him fine, from the light entering the cave, but he would be looking into the light; she would just be a dark shape in a dress and bonnet against the brightness.

“Just a traveler,” she said. “What are you doing here?”

“Hiding.”

“Why is that?”

“They killed my brother. I ran. They chased. My horse died, but I got away, and hid here.”

And what a wretched place Shane found “here”. It reeked of feces and urine, just like the unshaven man. He couldn’t have been more than thirty.

“Why did they kill your brother?” asked Emmaline.

“He was mayor. He was elected by the townsfolk. A couple of them didn’t like him.”

“Why not?” she asked.

The man shrugged where he lay. “Dunno. Wanted someone else to be mayor, I suppose.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Couple days. Five or six. Don’t dare go out. They’re probably still looking for me.”

“There’s no one out there. What’s your name?”

“Garret, ma’am.”

“You should come out, Garret. I have food and water, if you want it.” She held out a hand. He looked at it for a moment with narrow eyes, then clasped it and she pulled him to his feet.

He followed her down the steep hillside, stepping deftly over the rocks and short weeds. The man followed her slowly, nearly tripping or slipping every few steps. Shane followed behind and above him.

“I’ve never seen a dress like that!” Garret said

“It’s old,” Emmaline said. She didn’t turn, but ran a hand down the front of her dress, smoothed the green velvet.

Of course Gareth wouldn’t have seen a dress like that. It had gone out of style over a sixty years before, but Emmaline insisted on wearing it. She loved the white lace bib on her breast, and the white lace cuffs. Shane had told her once that if she would dress in the new styles, they would have better luck getting followers, but she’d responded that if someone worshiped him because of how she looked, they didn’t want that person for a follower.

In a few minutes they reached the covered wagon and oxen on what passed for a road—really nothing more than two trails of hardened dirt, and every now and then ruts. A pioneer trail, no doubt. She went to the back of the wagon, rummaged around for a moment, and then withdrew a loaf of bread and a canteen of water. She turned to him, and held out the sustenance.

He reached, but stopped as he got a first look at her face. “You’re old!”

Shane’s first reaction was to smite the man, to make his heart explode as punishment for talking to his wife like that. But he suppressed the urge. Using that much power would drain him, leave him exceedingly weak.

“I thought you were young, from your voice. You pulled me up so easy, and walked down that hill like you were eighteen. But you’re old!”

She did not respond to his observation. “Take it,” she said, waving the canteen at him. “But do not drink or eat it until you have blessed it.”

He gave her another long look, and then took the canteen and loaf. With a grunt he stepped back to a rock, and sat in the shade of the wagon. He several long swigs, and then a bite of bread. With a grimace, he said, “Not very good.”

“You should have blessed it,” she said.

“Blessed it,” he mocked. “And what god would hear my prayer? All the gods are dead.”

“You’re right that most gods are dead,” she said. “But my God is not. He will bless your bread.”

He laughed, mouth wide and full of bread and crooked yellow teeth. “And what is your god’s name, old lady?”

“Shane.”

He belly laughed this time. “What kind of name is that?”

“Give me a piece of that bread,” she said, stepping to him and holding out her hand.

He grew sober very quickly. “You’re taking it back? You can’t have it.”

It was her turn to laugh. “You couldn’t stop me. I am ten times stronger than you.” She stepped closer and put her fists on her hips. He slid further back on the rock, looking up at her with wide eyes. “Give me a piece, and I will show you the power of the God Shane.”

He tore off a small piece of bread and handed it to her. She dropped to her knees, holding the bread high over her head. “Dear God!” she cried. “Oh great Shane, my God! Hear my cry and bless this food, that it will be savory and nourishing, and replenish the soul and body of this man!”

Even as she said the words, Shane could feel himself becoming stronger. Power fused into his intangible being. The ability to do, to act and influence, came into him. Not much—it was only one simple, short prayer, after all—but enough power to grant the prayer.

So he answered the prayer. He focused the inexplicable power created by the prayer—and then some, just for good measure—on the tiny piece of bread. He poured flavor and nutrients into it. He had no idea how he did it, only know that because he was a god he could do it. To this day it mystified him, just as it had the first time a prayer had been offered to him, centuries before, when he had crossed the threshold from mortal being to godhood.

“Here,” Emmaline said, holding the bread out to Garret. “Eat this now.”

Brow furrowed, eyes doubtful, he took the bread and popped it into his mouth. His eyes widened and he chewed it quickly. A smidgen of weariness left the corner of his eyes. “How did you do that?”

“A simple payer.”

He shook his head. “The gods are dead. You switched the bread.”

“Try it yourself,” she said.

“I don’t believe!”

“You can!” She crawled close to him, and clutched his hands. “You can believe! If you but desire, you can believe, and you can worship a living god!”

“I want to believe,” he said. His voice wavered. “Will he answer my prayers?”

“If you pray with true desire, he will answer!”

He fell forward to his knees, and held up the rest of the loaf, as she had done with the piece. “Dear God Shane! If you are God, and if you are there and hear my cry! I beg you to bless this bread! May it restore my strength and health!”

 A weak prayer, certainly, one made with not much faith. But faith nonetheless. And Shane could see the benefit of answering it. This man had a brother who had been mayor. A powerful person in a town. If this man could be converted, his faith could convert others. This could be the break God and Emmaline had been looking for.

He answered the prayer, using more power than the prayer had generated.

Garret ate the bread as he wept and murmured softly, “Thank you, dear God Shane! I believe in you and your power!”

 

Later that afternoon, Emmaline asked, “What happened in West Falls?”

Garret was quiet for a few moments as he looked north, out over the desert sage brush. He sat on her right hand at the front of the covered wagon. They bounced as they drove along the road. “My brother was mayor. Elected only three months ago. The opposition could not stomach that their leader wasn’t elected, so they killed him. Chased me off. I imagine they’ve put their own person on charge, now.”

“What do you propose to do?”

“I was the deputy. Now that my brother is dead, I am the rightful mayor.”

The story seemed odd to Shane. If most of the people had chosen Garret’s brother as mayor, how could the minority get away with such a coup?

“Your badge?” Emmaline asked

He plucked at a tear in his shirt. “It tore off when I was running. A branch or something, I guess.”

“You have one empty holster. Where is your other revolver?”

“Lost it in the scramble to get away. You don’t spend a lot of time looking for things you drop in the dark, when you’ve got twenty men on horses after you.”

She nodded, and they rode in silence for a time. The two oxen groaned and grunted as they pulled the wagon up a hill. A quiet wind blew. The air smelled dry.

“Do you think that Shane can help you in your quest for vengeance?” Emmaline said eventually.

“If he is a just god, then yes.”

“He is a just and kind god. He is not like the other gods were—selfish and wicked.”

“Why did those gods go away?”

“They didn’t go away. People forsook them, and they died, one by one.”

“Then how did Shane not die?” Garret asked.

She did not respond for a moment. “He always had me.”

Indeed he had always had her. When all other followers had left him, had stopped believing in him—with good cause—she had always continued praying. He touched her heart ever so slightly with peace and comfort; she deserved that from him.

“That was during the Time of Destruction?”

She nodded.

“That was so long ago. My grandfather has told me about that. You were alive, then?”

“Yes.”

“You look younger than him. How old are you?”

She took her eyes from the ruts and the oxen’s backs, and looked at him with narrow eyes. “Your grandfather is still alive?”

“Only barely.”

“What is his name?”

“David.”

She looked at him for another moment, then turned back to her driving. She snapped the reigns. “You must pray always. The more you pray, the stronger Shane becomes.”

“How is that?”

“That’s why the gods died. People stopped praying. They lost power. When the last person praying to any particular god died, that god died.”

“The gods—that is, Shane, needs us? That’s very . . . interesting.”

Shane didn’t like the way Garret asked that question. The tone made it clear that Garret felt he could use this to his advantage. But how and why? What was going on in the man’ head? Until now, Shane had no reason not to trust him. But now he wondered. He longed for the days when he could peek into the hearts and minds of men, and know their intents and desires. Hopefully soon he would have enough power, if Garret was able to convert others.

“It’s not interesting,” Emmaline said. “It’s vital to you. If you want God to have power to answer your prayers, you must pray to him. And you cannot expect him to answer every prayer. Different requests take different amounts of power—some require more effort than others. When you need answers the most, you must have prayed enough, and given him enough power, that he is able to answer if he sees fit.”

Shane knew that she did not know how true her words were. In fact, it was vital to a god’s success that he answer and act on only a small amount of prayers. The people that prayed in thanksgiving, rarely asking anything, had always been the people he had loved and needed the most. They gave power, but rarely asked to have it used in their behalf—those were the kinds of followers he needed.

“How do I know if I have given enough power?”

“You cannot know. That is why it is better to pray hard and pray often. Aloud or in your mind—it doesn’t matter. Give him power, then trust him, trust his judgment in when he answers prayers and when he doesn’t. He will not answer every request, either. He has seen fit to deny many of my prayers.”

Power seeped into Shane. Someone was praying—one of the two—in their minds. He could not hear such prayers. Not yet. But soon.

“How many days until we reach West Falls?” Emmaline asked.

“Four,” Garret said.

“You can gain much favor in God’s eyes in four days, Garret. Pray hard. Pray often.”

###

Several miles out from West Falls they veered off of the road and traveled for some time. From the top of a tree-covered hill, they looked down on the town as the sun set in yellow and red over the Western mountains. The town sat at edge of a forest that gradually crept up the foothills of the mountains, and into a canyon. The town was larger than Shane remembered it, with more buildings and streets.

As it grew dark, the full moon rose from the eastern horizon. When the last traces of sunlight had faded, Garret said, “You wait here, Emmailane. I’ll go in and get the people we need.” He leaned against a tree, watching the lights in the town.

“I don’t understand all this secrecy,” she said. Shane had put it into her heart to say that, and watched anxiously for Garret’s reactions. “If the majority of the people voted you and your brother in, what’s the secrecy about? Shouldn’t most people be willing to help you?”

“It doesn’t work like that in West Falls,” Garret said.

“How does it work?”

He turned to look at her in the dim moonlight. “You just have to trust me. The enemy has many spies and allies. What we are doing will have to be done in the dark, in secret. In the morning, Shane willing, the town will awaken to the leaders they elected.”

She did not respond.

“You wait here. I’ll be back with others. We’ll be strong—but it won’t hurt to have God on our side. We’ll all offer up prayers, and make Shane powerful enough to ensure our victory.” He stepped out of the trees, into the moonlight, looked up at the stars, and began to jog toward the town.

Shane lingered there for a moment, between Emmaline and Garret. He wanted to follow Garret, but he had not left her for decades. He’d always been by her side, protecting her and ensuring that she was safe. Both of their lives depended on it.

He looked at her face in the moonlight. He remembered when she had been young. Her skin had been soft, her features delicate and striking. No longer. Nevertheless, he found her more beautiful than ever, because he knew her to the very center. For many years he’d had access to her most private thoughts, to the most inner reaches of her soul. No one else had ever been like her. Many pretended. On the outside they appeared kind and thoughtful and loving. Some even meant it sometimes. But no one else had been like that to the core.

“Go ahead,” she said. Anyone watching might have thought she was talking to the air. “I understand how important this opportunity is. I will be fine without you. If I am not here when you get back, look in the mountains, by the Crystal Springs.”

He touched her heart with gratitude, caring, and love—four days ago he would not have been able to do something quite like that—and then turned to follow Garret.

He caught up with Garret in just a few moments, and followed as the man jogged through the hills and sagebrush. He made a wide circle around the city, to the forest behind, and then slowed to a walk. He moved carefully from tree to tree, occasionally tripping over a rock or tree root. Before long, he came to the rear of a street of shoddy wooden houses. A few homes had small corrals behind them, with horses asleep or milling around.

For several long minutes he stood, half hidden behind a tree, and watched the houses. Yellow bars of light shown through cracks in some houses’ shutters. No noise came from any building. Not a person stirred.

Eventually he darted forward, crouching, to the nearest house. Like the others, it stood several feet off the ground, on stilts. Once they were close, Shane could hear people talking inside. Garret reached up over his head and tapped quietly on the shutters in a quick rhythm, then repeated the pattern. The voices fell silent. Heavy footsteps from inside. Latches moving and the shutters shaking before opening a crack. Shane positioned himself so he could see the outline of a person’s head against the yellow light.

“Who’s there?” A woman’s voice.

“Only the united survive,” Garret replied.

The woman gasped and moved back, blocking most of the light. She hissed something to someone inside, and then leaned back to the window.

“How do they survive?”

“By the blood of their enemies,” Garret said.

The shutters flew open. Lights sprayed out. A rope ladder fell out of the window. Garret leapt up it, and in a moment was inside the house. One room. A bed in one corner, a table and chairs in the middle. A pot-belly stove against one wall. Other miscellaneous clutter scatter around. The woman, dressed in a blue dress, embraced Garret, and two men sat at the table. They had unshaven faces, shaggy heads, and dirty denim overalls. Each had a wide-brimmed hat and a pair of revolvers in front of him on the table.

“You’re back!” the woman cried in a whisper as she let go of him.

“I am back for vengeance!” Garret hissed. He looked at the men. “How many were killed.”

“Only four,” one of them said. “We don’t think they know who the rest of us are.”

“Then we have another twenty-two,” Garret said. “How many enemies?”

“There can’t be any more than twenty,” the other man said. “If we strike first we can take them down.”

Garret nodded. His lips disappeared in a thin smile. “And I have brought help.”

Their eyes narrowed and they leaned forward.

“Four days ago I learned that not all of the gods died. One remains, yet. He is a just god, and will aid us if we worship him in faith.”

“That’s crazy!” the woman said.

Garret shook his head. “No. He’s a true god. I have felt his power. If we pray to him in faith, he will become powerful, and aid us in our just cause. My brother and others have been murdered, and we have been removed from the offices that rightfully belong to us. He will aid us.”

Shane knew that Garret was being completely honest with his companions. His words made power flow into the God, just as prayers did; Garret truly believed in Shane and his ability and willingness to obtain vengeance. Only, Shane’s doubts continued to grow. All of the secrecy and sneaking around did not inspire confidence.

“With the help of the Great God Shane, we will kill them all,” Garret said. “Every last one. Do you believe me, my friends? Do you believe me that Shane can aid us?”

A sudden fire burned in the eyes of those listening to Garret, and they nodded anxiously.

“Very well,” he said. “Meet me in the grove in three hours. There we will pray to our God, and plan our revenge. I will gather the others.” He turned, opened the shutters, and leapt out into the night.

Shane followed him as he darted back into the forest, and then made his way around the city, to the rear of another part of town. Again he approached a house cautiously, and gave the same tap that he had given at the other house.

A gravelly man’s voice on the other side asked, “Who’s there?”

“Only the united survive.”

A moment’s pause, and then, “How do they survive?”

“By the blood of their enemies,” Garret said.

As at the previous shack, the window opened, followed by a short rope ladder. The two men inside expressed awe and joy that Garret was back, and he told them the same things he’d told the others. The exchange was almost identical, except one of the men said with a toothy grin, “I can’t wait to put a bullet into that traitor’s head.”

The next house went the same way, except one of the three women—probably all whores, based on their clothes—said, “I knew our secret ways would triumph in the end!”

After the fourth house, where someone mentioned the name Ryan and placed some weight and importance on killing that person, Shane had seen enough. He knew he could not help these people and be at peace with himself. So much secrecy and delight in revenge and bloodshed did not please him. It fact, it was his obligation to fight such wickedness. He let Shane continue on, and hurried back through the now silent and dark town. Out across the foothills he sped. The sagebrush glowed white in the moonlight, and swayed in a brisk wind.  The trees rustled as he came to them, and found Emmaline sitting in the dark with her back against a tree. She held a rifle in her lap

He wasted no time in impressing her that she needed to get up and leave. A week ago he could not have touched her so strongly, but Garret’s prayers had made him that much stronger.

“I understand,” she said, immediately rising and starting toward the road. Then, she repeated what he had instructed her to do. “We cannot help Garret; in fact, we must foil his designs. I must go into town and find a man named Ryan, and warn him.” He touched mind with confirmation.

It took her some time to reach the road. She was still a mile outside of town when a man on horseback came up behind her. His horse huffed and his spurs jingled as he pulled up next to her. The guns at his hips shone silver in the moonlight.

Shane prepared himself to defend her if necessary.

“What’s a lady doing out here so late at night?” he said. His voice drawled amiably, and he leaned on the pommel of his saddle.

“I am must get into town,” she said. She did not slow her pace. “I must find Ryan.”

“The sheriff?”

She nodded.

“Well, I can take you to him, if you want. Good man, that sheriff. A right bit better than that last scoundrel we had ‘protecting’ the people.” He jumped down from his horse and made as if to help her up. “Here—you ride.”

“Can your horse carry both of us?”

“I figure he can. He’s a good—”

“We need to hurry.” In a quick, fluid movement she mounted the horse, and held her hand out to him.

“What are you doing?”

“There’s not time to waste. Get up.”

“Well, that wouldn’t be proper—me riding behind a woman.”

“Get up!”

The man jumped at the sternness in her voice, grabbed her hand, and sat behind her. But before he’d settled in, she snapped the reigns. The horse started into a gallop. He teetered for a moment, tried to catch his balance by reaching around here, and then did a flip backwards off of the horse. With a thud, he landed on his stomach in a cloud of dust.

She reigned the horse in and turned. “Damn it, man. You’re not making this easy. Ryan is in danger! Where can I find him?”

The man looked confused. “He’s probably at his house.”

“Where is that?”

“House 110 on Main Street.”

She pulled the horse around and kicked its flanks. As the steed started to run, she looked over her shoulder. “Meet me there as soon as you can!”

The horse was a good one. In the moonlight it didn’t take long to reach the town. A sign on the empty road indicated that she was already on Main Street. She raced past the two-story wooden buildings, looking at the numbers, until the she came to the fifth one on the right. House 110.

She dismounted and tied the horse in front of the house. As she headed for the door, power surged into Shane—more than he’d felt in decades. The ability to act, to effect change, became a part of his shapeless being. His godly powers increased. He could feel the ability to do things he couldn’t do before—and one of those powers was to hear prayers from a distance. Voices filled his consciousness. Twenty or twenty-five of them, praying to him in faith, asking that he bless them and support them in their quest for vengeance.

Garret’s secret combination had gathered.

Shane blocked the voices out of his consciousness, and focused on Emmaline; she was always his priority, and now he suddenly had power to protect her. With the power given to him by Garret and his followers, he could do much for her. All she needed to do was ask. She pound on the door.

After another minute of receiving a beating, the door opened to a man holding a shotgun. “What do you want?” he asked. He wore nothing but his long-johns.

“Ryan?” Emmaline said.

“Yes. Who—”

“You’re in danger!” she said, pushing her way past him into the house’s parlor. “You, your family, and anyone close to you.”

“What’s going on?” said a woman. She stood in a doorway on the other side of the room.

“I have no idea,” Ryan said. He closed the door, and the moonlight in the room dimmed. Only rays coming through a front window provide any luminance.

“Garret is back,” Emmaline said. “He and his people have gathered and are preparing to come after you and yours.”

“What is going on here?” said a man, from far behind the woman in the doorway. He held a candle before him as he stumbled through the room, using a cane.

“How do you know Garret is back?” Ryan asked.

“We came with him here. We didn’t know who or what he was until not long ago. We came to warn you.”

“We?” Ryan said. “I only see you.”

The light from the candle danced into the room as the man stepped past the woman. He wore a white nightgown and cap. He was bald, and his face was wrinkled. “I said, what’s going on here!”

Emmaline turned to look at him, and with a start he dropped the candle. It went out as it hit the floor. He said, “You!”

“What’s going on?” the woman said.

“You’ve got to leave,” Emmaline said.

“You know her?” Ryan said to the old man.

He nodded in the dimness. “I knew her many years ago. At least, I knew someone who looked like her. It’s not possible that she’s still alive. She can only be a descendant.”

“No,” Emmaline said. “It was me you knew . . . David.”

Ryan, the old man, and the woman each gasped. They stared in silence for a moment, and then burst into a flurry of excited words.

“Who are you!” Ryan said.

“How can this be?” David said.

“Will someone please tell me what’s going on?” the woman said.

Power continued to flow into Shane. He could feel the prayers coming nearer, and impressed Emmaline with increased urgency.

“Garret is coming!” she said. The others fell silent. “Right now! Your time is running out!”

“Lady,” Ryan said, “I don’t know who you are. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’ll believe you for now. You owe us some serious explanations when we have a chance.”

“Get your people,” Emmaline said. “Meet me at Crystal Springs. It is safe, there.”

“Crystal Springs!” David said. “No one has called that for decades! It is you!”

She turned back to David, and grabbed his arms. “Shane still lives, boy. Pray to him, and he will do his best to save you!”

“Shane forsook me! The gods are dead!”

“Look into the past! Who forsook who? Think hard about it, and meet us at the Springs.” She released him, and bolted out of the door.

The moon floated high in the sky. As she untied the horse, a voice called from the direction she’d come, from the edge of town.

“Hey! Get back here with my horse!”

She ignored it, and headed for the opposite side of the town.

# # #

Three hours later, in the deepest hours of the night, the people came. Eighteen of them, not counting children. There were at least nine of those, although Shane couldn’t be sure because of the bundles the women carried.

Emmaline sat on a rock next to a small pool. Tree branches above shut out the moonlight, but a tiny fire burned in front of Emmaline, on the bank of the tiny stream that flowed out of the pool and down the hill. Ten feet behind her, on the opposite side of the pool, water trickled down rocks that reached as high as the yellow light shone.

Ryan, leading the group and still carrying the shotgun—but now also wearing a hat and a duster—stepped up to her. “Now, explain yourself. How did you know they were coming?”

She told them about how she’d come across Garret, and traveled with him to the city.

“How did you know about his secret band, and that he planned to kill us?”

“God revealed it to me,” she said. Her voice contained no apology or hesitance.

“God Shane is dead!” said David, who stood next to Ryan. “You lie!”

“Then how am I alive?” she said. “Explain how a woman who was old when you were a child is still alive. You are—what? Ninety years old?”

Everyone looked at him. “Ninety-three.”

“Shane has preserved me, just as he can preserve all of you, if you believe in him and pray for his aid.”

Ryan shook his head. “You are a mystery to me, woman. You talk crazy—the gods are dead. I don’t believe a thing you’ve said. If anything, I would say you are with Garret.” There was murmured consent from the group behind him.

Anger bubbled in Shane. What an ingrate the man was!

“Husband!” the woman next to him said. She was the same one that had been in his house earlier. “She saved our lives, and you treat her this way!”

Ryan looked at his wife, shook his head, and turned to the group. “We’ll rest here tonight. Sleep if you can. The men and I will plan for the morning, when we will go back to town and take care of Garret and his gang once and for all.”

His wife watched him step away, into the trees, with most of the group following him. Only she and the old man stayed back. She moved close to Emmaline.

“Forgive my husband,” she said. “He is . . . a hard man. Untrusting.”

“If you love him, you will pray to God Shane in faith. He can save your husband.”

The woman looked at Emmaline for a few moments. Shane wished he could peer into her mind, see what she thought and what it would take to convert her. That power was distant from him. First he would need enough power that he could look into the hearts of his followers; knowing the thoughts of infidels required much more power.

She shook her head. “My father said the gods died. I have known no gods in my day. I don’t know if I can believe you.” She turned and walked into the trees, after the rest.

David approached cautiously, leaning on his cane and giving her a sidelong, narrow look. He made as if to speak several times, but no sound came out. The firelight flickered on his face.

“If you want to save them, you must convince them to pray to Shane.”

“How can I convince them, if I do not believe myself?”

The words saddened Shane. He remembered David, just as he remembered all of those who had ever followed him. He’d been a sincere boy. A trouble-maker, by nature, but generally good.

“You believed once.”

“Bah. Decades ago—most of my life ago. When you lived here. I did not believe by the time you left. You must have been the last.”

“I am the last.”

“Why have you returned?”

“Is it wrong for a person to want to come home?”

“Shane used to protect this city. It prospered under his care. Then he forsook us. Now there is only bloodshed and evil here. The town has shrunk to nearly nothing. A tenth of the people live here as before. Most of the buildings are empty. There is no reason for you to be here.”

“The people prospered, and they forgot Shane in their wealth. We have returned to reclaim the city for him.”

“Bah! You say he can help my son and his people?”

 Your son and his people?”

“Ryan. Ryan is my son!”

“Ryan is your son? Then Garret—.”

“—is my grandson. Ryan’s son.”

She paused for a moment, pursing her lips. “Shane cannot help unless he is given power to help. He must be prayed to. He cannot help unless you ask him too. Only then can help.”

“And he will help my son and his people?”

“He helps the just and righteous.”

David shook his head. “He is right. You must be crazy.”

“Convince them to petition Shane.”

He made a clicking sound with his tongue, and then turned and hobbled away on his cane. As he stepped outside of the firelight, the darkness consumed him.

Emmaline sighed. “What will we do, Shane?” she whispered. “What will we do?”

Shane did not know. They had come here hoping to gain followers—and it had worked. But the followers—who now occupied the city—had black hearts. As Emmaline had waited for Ryan at the Springs, Shane had gained increased power from Garret and his people, enough that he could now see deeply into their hearts. By praying to him, they had given him the power to look into their souls. The first thing he’d learned is that the elections whereby Garret and his brother had gained leadership were rigged. Beyond that, he saw only darkness and hatred for Ryan and his group. He could not find any definite reason for the hatred, only a vague feeling of being cheated and lied to, but he could not be sure that those feelings were not imagined, created by the intense hatred.

He only knew that he had to oppose Garret; such evil souls should not rule the town Shane had called home when he was yet mortal. And hinder Garret he could—all it took was someone praying against them. He could not act without someone asking him to; he was bound by the mortals that worshiped him. So, Emmaline could pray against Garret, give Shane the power to act. And he would influence her to do so, as a last resort. But it would do no good. If he answered her prayers, it would build no faith in anyone but her. He needed someone else to pray to him to defeat Garret. Only then could he gain more followers.

He touched Emmaline’s heart with comfort and peace. It would work out. Somehow he would make it work out.

“Thank you,” she said, and then settled down to get some sleep.

Throughout the night, Shane continued to receive power from Garret and his people. He occasionally gave them feelings of confidence and reassurance, despite the fact that he had no intention to help them. Quite simply, it increased their faith and prayers in him, and gave him more power to use against them when the time came. He even planted into Garret’s mind the idea that he should confront Ryan and his people in the morning, in the open street.

By morning, Shane felt more powerful than he had felt since the Time of Destruction.

###

After a basic breakfast, Ryan gathered most of his people around him and explained his plan.

“I’ve had enough of Garret and his wicked companions. I think we all have. We’ve got to eradicate them all—rid the town of them for good. Only then can we move on, and help our town progress. We will hunt them all down, and kill them all.”

“You won’t succeed without help,” Emmaline said. She sat on the same rock as the night before, behind the group. “God Shane can ensure your victory.”

“We don’t need the help of a dead god,” Ryan said. “We thank you for saving us last night. Your work is done. Now, kindly leave us alone.”

“You are outnumbered,” she said. Shane impressed her to say the next sentence. “They are expecting you. I can tell you what will happen.”

He twisted his mouth at her. “You would prophesy?”

She paused for a moment, listening for guidance from Shane. He gave it to her. “I—.”

“Enough rubbish!” Ryan said. He raised his hand, palm out to her. “Be quiet, woman.”

“Let’s hear her, son,” said David. “I am curious.”

Ryan shook his head and grunted. “Very well, to satisfy your curiosity.”

Emmaline inclined her head at the men, a nod of thanks. Shane guided her words. “They will be waiting for you. Even if you try to circle around town, or come upon them in a surprise manner, they will know where you are, and will meet you in a group. They are confident in victory, and will confront you as a whole. You will even try your rifle on them, before you think they know where you are. You’re a good shot, but it will do you no good, as your rifle will not fire. Any rifle you try to use from cover will fail, but the moment you step out into the open, your guns will work. You will injure one of them—not Garret.”

“You cannot know these things!” Ryan said. “You’re guessing!”

“If that’s what you think—then fine. But this morning will not pass without these things taking place.” Shane would see to that.

“You’re done?” Ryan asked.

She nodded. “You are warned. When these things happen, remember that the servant of God Shane foretold them. Look to him then, and you may yet live.”

He looked at her for a moment. They all did. Ryan, his wife, David, the men, women, and children.

“Very well, here is the plan,” Ryan said, pulling most of their gazes to him. Only his wife and David did not immediately turn to listen to him.

He outlined his idea. One woman would stay behind with the children, the rest would go with him; Ryan wanted David to stay, too, but the old man objected fervently. Ryan acknowledged the danger of entering the town, and told them that because of it they would try to sneak up on Garret and his followers—whether they were in a group, or one-by-one. Their goal was to kill as many as they could without them ever knowing what was going on. Even the women would be armed, and expected to take shots as necessary.

Once they all understood the plan, he led them off into the forest. Emmaline followed, talking to those who would listen, trying to convince them to pray to Shane. It didn’t take long for Ryan to demand her silence or absence.

After about an hour of walking, when the group was still a mile out of town, a scout returned with news that Garret and his people had gathered and now waited at the forest’s edge. After a moment of consulting with a few others, Ryan led them away from the road, and circled around to the south side of town. They moved slowly, only after scouts had ensured the way was safe. The forest air was silent and cool in the angled morning sunlight.

When they were a few hundred yards away from the edge of the forest, a scout returned, saying that Garret and his people had moved to meet them there. Ryan gave Emmaline a stern look, and led them back the way they’d come. North, across the road to the northern side of town. The scout returned a third time, with the news that did not surprise anyone. With a little help, David kept up surprisingly well through all of the walking.

“You must be helping them!” Ryan said to Emmaline. “You are communicating with them somehow.”

She shook her head and raised her hands with a shrug. “I am not helping them.”

Indeed, she was not. But Shane had kept influencing Garret, led him to intercept Ryan and his group each time they changed directions.

“Very well,” Ryan said. “We’ll try one more thing.”

By the time he led them in a wide circle around the entire perimeter of the town, to the entrance Emmaline had used the night before, it was past noon. Sure enough, the scout came back saying that Garret and his people had moved to that side of the town.

“Did they see you?” Ryan said.

“No,” the scout said.

“Very well.” He scowled at Emmaline. “Let’s move forward, slowly.”

They moved slowly through the trees. After a few hundred yards, they crept down into a deep ravine, and started up the other side. About twenty feet from the lip, about half-way up, Ryan motioned for the others to stay back as he crawled forward with the scout. Emmaline tried to follow, but he motioned at her angrily. Shane impressed her to back down, and Ryan moved back up the other side of the gulch. Lying on the ground, he peeked over the edge. Shane watched from over his shoulder.

About a hundred yards away, Garret and his twenty-three companions stood in several rows at the mouth of the town. They milled about aimlessly, talking and laughing with one another. All of them were armed.

Ryan cursed. He scrambled back down the gulch. “Everyone come up here. Stop at the top, without being seen. Get down, and take aim. After my shot goes off, you can take your shots. We should be able to take several of them down without their knowing we’re here. The rest of you, stay behind us, but be ready.”

In a few minutes they all lay lined up at the top of the gulch, where the trees ended. They pointed their guns at the town, took aim. Emmaline stood a quarter of the way down the ravine, half-hiding behind a tree. David stood behind a tree twenty feet to one side, a tight grip on his rifle.

Ryan looked to each of his sides, ensuring that everyone was ready. Then he looked back at Emmaline. “Watch this.” He turned forward, pulled back the rifle’s hammer, took and held a deep breath. Closing one eye, he took aim. All around, the forest was quiet; they could hear the faint talking of Garret’s gang.

Ryan pulled the trigger. The hammer shot forward. With his power, Shane stopped it right before it reached at the place of contact. No bullet fired.

“What the hell?” Ryan said.

“It didn’t fire,” David said from behind. “Just like she said.”

Ryan looked back at him with tight lips, then turned to the man next to him. “Give me that.” He snatched the rifle away, took aim, and pulled the trigger. Again the mechanism worked, but no bullet came out. Nothing.

“Damn it! Give me yours!” He took the rifle from the man on his other side, took a quick aim, and squeezed.

Emmaline laughed quietly from behind him, as the others with him whispered in amazement. He looked back at her, clenching and unclenching his jaws.

“How could you guess those things right?” he demanded.

“It wasn’t guessing.”

“Shane help us,” whispered his wife. A slight bit of power came into Shane—her words had been sincere. She had meant them. Her heart and mind opened to him. What he saw troubled him, but he could not spend time there.

“You think she is a prophetess?” Ryan said to her. He clenched his teeth. “You think she foresaw the future? She didn’t! She could not have! Watch!” He leapt up, over the edge of the ridge, and out of the trees. He brought the rifle—the same one that had failed a moment before—to his shoulder, took aim, and fired.

Shane focused his power on the bullet, and guided its course through the air. The aim had been true; it would have hit Garret in the head. But Shane altered its path over and down, so that it passed by his shoulder and hit the man behind him in the arm. The man spun as he fell. The group sprung into action, looking for the source of the bullet.

“There!” one of Garret’s women shouted, pointing to Ryan. Her companions raised their guns. Ryan jumped back into the trees, down over the lip of the gulch. Bullets whizzed by, whirring as they ricocheted off rocks or the trees.

“Pray to Shane!” Emmaline said. “If you want to live! Pray to God Shane!”

Prayers flowed into Shane as gunfire erupted all around him. Even as men pulled the trigger, they asked in their minds for Shane to guide their aim. Women prayed aloud and silently for protection of their husbands. And as they did, their minds and intentions opened to him. Shane immediately knew them. He understood them. And his initial elation turned to dread.

They did not deserve to live. Their hearts were as black and evil as Garret’s and his gang members’. They had killed and tortured, murdered and raped just as often as Garret had; the hatred directed toward them was completely justified because of their many secret and open crimes. They lusted after vengeance, desired blood, delighted in the pain of others.

For a moment Shane was tempted to take a side. He so wanted the ability to act, to effect change because of increased power. He’d had that during the past days, since Garret had started praying to him. He could keep it by using his newfound power. He did not have to become a near-dead god again. All he had to do was answer the prayers of one side of the conflict.

“Got her!” Ryan hissed under his breath as a woman fell dead in the distance. Others scrambled for cover in and around buildings, firing their weapons as best they could

Shane watched the firefight for a moment, and knew he could not help any of them. He was not the kind of god to help people such as these. His hope that he could end this day with more followers perished. He knew that none of them should live. And because of their faith in and prayers to him, he could give them their just rewards. He would end this day as he had started the week—with only one follower.

“Dear God Shane!” came a silent prayer—this one from David. His first in decades. “Just let them all die!”

Shane paused in stunned inaction. Such a sincere prayer he had not received from any of these West Falls people. He looked at David, into his soul. Here—finally—was a person without evil in his heart. He knew of his son’s wickedness, of his followers’ evil deeds. He understood their nature, and truly wanted nothing to do with it.

“If you are a just god—let them all die!” came another silent prayer.

Joy surged in Shane. Perhaps he could gain one follower!

He returned his focus to the battle. To his godly mind, the scene was a chaotic grid of criss-crossing bullets, most of them racing to pierce trees or kick up dust. He applied his godly mind and powers to the projectiles, and was able to simultaneously affect the paths of all the bullets in the air. He made them curve and bend unnaturally. Around the corners of buildings. Down the lip of the gulch. Glass shattered in the buildings. Bullets struck targets they would have otherwise missed, and found people impossible to find with straight lines. Every bullet proved fatal.

The next round of shots were fewer, but he controlled them in the same manner. In a matter of seconds, all of them had died but three—Garret, David, and Emmaline. Garret stood half behind an open door in the first building of the town, firing a pistol at the trees as if it could effectively hit anything at that distance; he had no idea he was the last. In fact, peering into his heart, Shane saw that he did not care. Blind rage prevented him from hearing that only his gun fired. After he pulled the trigger that discharged the final bullet, Shane used a good bit of his rapidly diminishing power to slow the lead in its course, and then returned it to its owner at twice its fastest speed. Garret fell to the floor in a heap.

The air smelled of gunpowder. Emmaline sat at the bottom of the ravine with her back to a tree, her knees at her chest, and he arm bowed down and protected with her arms. At the sudden silence, she lifted her head. Shane used the last bit of his power to reveal everything that had transpired in the last thirty seconds. Her eyes brightened with understanding. She jumped to her feet, and looked to David. He sat with his back to a tree, clutching his rifle to his chest, barrel up past his ear. She climbed up the gulch, stepping over the bodies of several men and women, and knelt before him. His lips quivered as he looked at her with wide eyes.

“You see,” she said, motioning at the corpses. “Shane is not dead. He has answered your prayer.”

His lips moved without making a sound for a few seconds. Then, in a hoarse voice, he managed, “Garret?”

“He has perished, along with his followers.”

David relaxed. Tension drained from his face. His shoulders rose slightly, as if a weight had been lifted off of them. He sighed heavily.

“I understand that there are few people left in the city,” Emmaline said. “Now that the wickedness is purged, we can begin to rebuild the town. It can become as it once was.”

He smiled at her, and took her hand to stand. In his mind, he prayed, “Thank you, God Shane.”

Shane returned the prayer with a blessing on David’s head.

END

 
 
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