THE PARISH – CHAPTER FIFTEEN

January 1, 0100

The Parish

Zebulon is a small, bald man, every inch of his exposed skin is marred by interlocking tattoos, my interrogator, whose name I learned is Xavier, a terrifyingly thin women called Sia, and a bulky man who doesn’t talk, stand around the room.

Enoch, Oscar and I are in an anxious, stiff line by the door. We all nod in unison when Zebulon says “So you’ve decided to join us.”
“What? Cat got your tongue?” He cackles. His comrades smirk. “No, sir.” We say, Enoch’s voice booming with an almost laughable enthusiasm. “Glad at least one of ya’s excited.” Zebulon says, coming around from his desk.

Enormous framed portraits of what I assume are governmental or political leaders, and maps with push pins and highlighted routes, adorn the stone walls.

Zebulon points at Enoch. “You were in charge of Sector one in Incarceration. Yes? Death-row, as the kids are calling it now-a-days.” Zebulon grins. “Never the less, impressive. And you; Oscar, you were a standard Curate in the prison. Assisted with executions and arresting individuals. But you didn’t like it, did you?”
Oscar shakes his head.

“And lastly, Hitha, the condemned. The one who started all this.”
“I didn’t mean to start anything.” I snap.
“I doesn’t matter. You did, and now you have to live with it.” He comes close to me, close enough that I can feel his cloyingly sweet breath on my face, see the protruding scars beneath the mosaic of ink. He holds out his hand for me to shake. “Very pleased to meet you, Miss Key to Freedom.” I clasp his cold palm.

“Sir?” Oscar says.
“Yes?”
“What do you mean, Key to Freedom?”

“The people of the Parish are rallying in her name. The girl from the slums who killed the Priest.”
“I haven’t killed anyone.” I protest.
“Ah, but you see that’s where you’re wrong. Maybe you didn’t do it intentionally, but it was his death that happened in place of yours. And worse yet, the deed itself was committed by his holy creatures.”

I don’t say anything. Rather Oscar asks for me. “But how is she ‘Key to Freedom?’” Oscar demands.
“The Parish citizens believe in her as their righteous savior now that the Priest is dead. They’ll do whatever she says. She can make them do whatever she wants. Bring down the successor to the Parish, destroy his influence and turn the state into whatever she pleases. And if we could harness that capability, use it very specifically, we could turn the Parish into an Atheist state.” Zebulon illustrates his explanation with his rainbow hands.

“So this is just a power hungry scheme to take over the world? Is that it?” Oscar demands, disregarding Zebulon’s authority, in a sudden flurry of anger.

“Yes, but for the right reasons. We’re going to fix the world once we’ve controlled it. We don’t want submission, we want culture and expression and religious freedom. Another renaissance, if you will.” Zebulon says.

‘Fix the world’ lingers in my ears with disturbing resonance.
“And you plan on getting there with violence?” Oscar asks, face flushing red with disbelief.
“There’s no other way, dear boy. The people want us in charge, and in order to do that we have to eliminate a few … unwilling participants. That’s just the way things work.” He shrugs.

“What if I don’t consent?” I ask, my brow knitting. “What if I don’t want to be the Key to Freedom?”
“Then you’re free to leave. But tell me, what would you rather, be eaten alive by the unconsecrated of some dead city, or be found by some Satanist and used as a blood sacrifice, or fix the world?”

EMMA IRVINE

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