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Chapter 1: Clever John

Excerpt from a recorded interview of Judith Schwartz’s Good Luck America
January 2, 2038

JUDITH: Our next guest tonight is a man who needs no introduction, but since I love him so much I’ll give him one anyway. I can truly say that this man is a national treasure. He was born nearly eighty years ago, and in every moment since then he has kept the world highly entertained. He received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2008 and remained a leading advocate for the sciences in all the years since then. He has written over twenty books, and his latest, The Reason for Reason, promises to be yet another captivating look into the lost art of science. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you a man I am truly honored to call a friend… Dr. Richard Alter.

RICHARD: Thanks, Judy, but I wasn’t aware we had met before this, unless you’re counting that moment before the show when you told me to smile back whenever you smiled at me.

JUDITH: Well… Richard, I just consider anyone who’s done as much good for humanity as you have a great friend of mine, whether we’ve met or not.


JUDITH: Dr. Alter, let’s talk about your latest book, The Reason for Reason. I understand that you claim in it that miracles are impossible?

RICHARD: If you had read my book instead of your script, you would know that I never made that claim.

JUDITH: Alright then, what do you say? Where do you stand on the so-called “miracle debate†that split the scientific community apart thirty years ago?

RICHARD: Science is based on observation. I’ve said that for the last three decades and I’ll say it again. When the seemingly inexplicable events that you choose to call miracles began thirty years ago, there was no debate in the scientific community. We observed events in the natural world and attempted to explain them, like we always have. Sometimes we fail, because we don’t have the right theory or the world doesn’t have the right attitude. Regardless, there was no “miracle debate†that ended science, and you know it. We didn’t divide among ourselves. The American public, including you and people like you, abandoned us. We couldn’t explain certain events, and you cut our funding to make sure we never would explain them. That’s why I’ve been reduced to degrading acts like appearing on your show.

JUDITH: I think you’re dodging the question here, Richard, all personal attacks aside. There’s no point to discussing ancient history and, frankly, I can’t be offended by a person like you. Now, give me and the American public a clear answer. Are there or aren’t there such things as miracles? You know, two months ago I saw a bush in my front yard spontaneously burst into flame. When the fire went out after two hours the bush was still whole, intact, and green. What would you call that, if not a miracle?

RICHARD: I would call that a natural event that current understanding of natural laws cannot yet explain.

JUDITH: Let’s not quibble over details, Richard. How can science possibly hope to ever explain any of these things? Does your “quantum mechanic†have the answer, as some scientists have claimed?

RICHARD: That question is so profoundly and fundamentally flawed, I can’t even begin to answer it without sinking to your level.

JUDITH: You can be as condescending as you need to, Richard, but the fact remains that thirty years ago the miracles, or whatever you call them, started happening and they haven’t stopped since. Scientists turned blind eyes towards them when they began, and now you’re the only voice left willing to publicly speak for science. You know that I’m only asking the same questions that every good American would ask if they were talking to you.

RICHARD: I know, Judy, and that’s what worries me about America.


The present (2038)

“You can’t be serious,†said Simon Marshal.

The cashier gave him a fake smile. “Sir, we added this to the menu just last week.â€

“The McManna? And I thought Christmas had done a good enough job of commercializing the Gospel.â€

“I just take people’s orders.†Simon could tell the cashier wasn’t the type to chat with his customers. His body was tense, impatient, his left hand was drumming a beat on his register, and his eyes kept flicking up to a clock on the wall that showed 12:58.

“Alright…†Simon said, leaning in to get a look at the pimpled teen’s name badge “Bart. I’ll have a medium chocolate milkshake, a McChicken, and what the hell, throw in a McManna too.†He paid for it, and as he left the counter, paused to say “Go on your break, Bart. It’s 1:00 now and you look like you can use it.â€

“How’d you know my break was at--?â€

Simon reached into his coat pocket and held up a jet black crucifix, about four inches tall and two across. “I know.â€

The look that passed across the cashier’s face at seeing the symbol of a government diviner was a combination of interest, fear, and dismay. As he struggled to find words, Simon grabbed his food and left to find a seat. Preferably a quiet seat, but now that everyone in the fast food joint knew he was a diviner, he could expect to be left alone. He rarely did anything for merely a single reason.

The McManna turned out to share little more than a name with the biblical food that God had once sent to feed the Israelites. It was a thick, golden-brown wafer that had the Golden Arches proudly stamped in its center. Even after being buttered, it didn’t taste like anything but butter. Its flavor wasn’t nearly enough to justify its five dollar price tag, but superstitiously remembering the fates of Israelites who wasted their manna, Simon ate all of his.

By the time he had demolished his McChicken and started finishing off his shake, a man slid into the seat across from him. He was tall and slim, almost skeletal. Unlike Simon, he wore his crucifix the proper way, on a chain around his neck. He raised an eyebrow at Simon and asked almost plaintively, “McDonald’s?â€

Simon pointed at himself. “Government salary, Tom. You know how it is. Besides, you’re here too, apparently.†That was odd. Tom usually patrolled the other side of Salvation City. There weren’t enough diviners in the city to work in pairs. The police department only had five attached to it, and in a city the size of Salvation, there were far more false miracle workers than there were diviners to expose and punish them.

“I’m not here for the food. Damien told me I could find you here.â€

“You got Damien to talk to you?†He was one of the more reclusive members of the Paranormal Department, spending most of his time patrolling the streets of the city.

“Briefly.†Tom paused for a moment, looking out the window. When he looked back at Simon, his eyes were narrowed. “I’d appreciate your help on a case I’m looking into.â€

“Sure thing,†said Simon, his mouth not missing a beat while his brain wondered what kind of case could possibly make Tom ask another person for help. “What’s the problem?â€

“I don’t know,†Tom replied slowly. “There might not be a problem. I’ve been following rumors about a man who might be responsible for the latest series of crucifixions. You know, the upside down ones. I think it’s time to go see him in person, and I wanted backup a little less substantial than the police but a little more threatening than just me and my charm.â€

Simon thought it over for a few seconds. He had been born shortly after the miracles began thirty years ago and had seen thousands of real and fake ones in the course of his career as a diviner, but he had never learned to become used to the crucifixions. Once in a while they turned out to be real miracles, manifestations of God’s judgment. They struck infrequently, almost haphazardly, but the victims were always found to be guilty of some crime, whether it was molesting their daughters or embezzling government funds. More often than not, though, the killings turned out to be the products of human judgment, not divine intervention. That was when the diviners had to move in.

“How good is your information?†He didn’t want to leave his district just to track down a petty criminal, or worse, an innocent man.

“It’s good.†Tom shifted slightly in his seat.

Simon wondered if he knew that he was narrowing his eyes again. What he thought was, You only do that when you lie, Tom. What he said was, “Alright. Let’s go, then.†Now he wanted to find out where this was going.

“Wait a second,†Tom said as they stood up. “I’m gonna grab a couple of those new wafers. Seeing you eat made me hungry.†He strode over to the counter and spoke to the cashier, recently returned from his break. “Two McMannas. You can give me those ones over there.â€

“Ten fifty-four, please.â€

Tom shook his head. “This one’s on the house,†he said, holding up the cross dangling from his neck. He walked back to the door, where Simon was standing. “Now we can go.†As he opened the door, he stopped to say, “Government salary, Simon. You know how it is.â€

Simon thought about saying something, but decided against it. He glanced at the employees. Most of them were pretending to be unaware of the two diviners, but one was glaring at them. Simon told himself that the world wasn’t perfect, that he had to pick his battles wisely, then turned around and followed Tom to his car.


Twenty years ago

Clutching the pink slip in his right hand, David Abrams stormed out of his office and headed for the elevator. He knocked over a stack of important looking papers on the way there. A happy accident, he thought. He pressed the up arrow, and within seconds the elevator arrived at his floor and opened.

He saw a young, girlish intern in a short skirt, and for a second, he became very self-conscious. He didn’t think of himself as a self-conscious person, but ever since he became leader of his research team, David had gotten used to worrying about his image. Six months ago, they moved all the R&D guys to the fourth floor of the West building, and because of their lab equipment, office space was tight. They moved him to a cubicle, but as he would often reassure himself, he was not a cubicle worker. He looked at the pink slip in his hand.

The words “We regret to inform you†and “severance package†bored themselves into his mind. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that the intern was looking at his pink slip. He put it in his pocket.

An awkward three stops later, David got out at the top floor and started thinking of things to say to his supervisor, Jim Johnston. He thought of a couple one-liners, and with that, he barged into his boss’s office. He did not bother to knock.

“What’s this?†David said, holding up the pink slip. He realized that his thin, wiry frame must not have been very intimidating right now, so he made up for it by narrowing his eyes.

“That, David, is a pink slip†said his boss. “It means you’re laid off.†He shot him a tight-lipped frown, which stretched his tanned, leathery skin across his face. David forgot his one-liners. His boss continued. “David, the corporate world is changing. Ever since the whole miracle thing, tech companies are taking a big hit. You need to understand, we‘ve got a lot of pressure from investors, and with the budget cuts this year…â€

“Cut middle management! Cut the optics guys! Cut some ****ing janitors!â€

“It’s not that simple. Look, I’m just as unhappy about this as you are, but this company is a team, David. And teams have to make sacrifices.â€

“Don’t you dare give me this corporate, bottom-line bull****, Jim. We both know that the quantum computing division is the only goddamn thing keeping this company alive.†Swearing feels good, thought David.

His boss leaned forward in his chair. “Okay, I’ve had enough of your self-righteous arrogance. You are on thin ice, David. Thin ice. You push me any more and that pink slip is going to turn into a red one, and in six weeks they’re going to be repossessing your car. Human Resources has made their decision. Now, if you still want your severance package, I suggest you calm down.â€

“No!†David wanted to say something else but the words escaped him. He saw colleagues watching him from outside the office. Bill Waters, who David had trained two years ago, was holding a cup of coffee, staring at him. David turned to the door, but he wasn’t ready to walk away with his tail between his legs.

“Fire me,†said David. And over his shoulder, David threw the pink slip at his boss, but it stopped inches from his desk, very anticlimactically. As he walked back to the elevator, he noticed that wherever he looked, people looked away. He searched through the sea of faces for Bill’s, but even he was pretending to not know him. David didn’t want to say anything to Bill, but he was hoping for a nod of acknowledgment, or at least eye contact. He got neither so he walked back to the elevator.

Once the doors closed in front of him, he let out a deep breath. He reached out for the fourth floor button, but paused. He pressed the basement button instead. In the garage, he got into his BMW and hoped dearly that they would not repossess it.


Nineteen years ago

Sam Johnston stuck out his hand and said, “It’s a pleasure to finally meet you, Father Jennings.â€

“Please, call me Paul,†the priest replied, taking a sip of his tea.

“Father, what can I do for you today?†Sam asked the question like he genuinely wanted to know the answer, but he didn’t. Sam knew that when you were running for Mayor, nobody talked to you just to chat. Especially if they paid you a visit while you were in your office.

“Sam, I looked at the polls today. Salvation doesn’t seem to think too highly of you.â€

“There are still eight months left. Plenty can happen in eight months,†said Sam.

Father Jennings smiled. “You’re a good man, Sam. I work with a lot of sinners, so I’ve developed a keen eye for this thing. You’re no saint, but I can tell that you are a good man. This is why I have come to you. But this city…they don’t want a good man, you know?†Sam shifted in his seat. “Do you know how old I am?†asked Father Jennings.

Sam was slightly taken aback. “Uh, forty? Fifty?†Sam was lying through his teeth. Father Jennings was short, frail, and looked like he could be someone’s great grandfather. Sam was six feet tall and weighed more than two hundred pounds, and next to Jennings, he looked like a giant.

“I’m fifty-three,†said Father Jennings, with a smirk. “Ten years ago when the first miracles started happening, do you know what I was doing?â€

“I don’t know, Father.â€

“I was bagging groceries over on William’s. I spent the first forty years of my life doing nothing. But when my daughter was healed, something inside me clicked. Do you understand, Sam? Something inside me became better.â€

“Father, I don’t mean to be rude, but why are you telling me this?†Sam asked, trying his best not to sound aggressive.

“I’m telling you this because I am not alone, Sam. The people who you want to represent - the people who you claim you care about - they saw the miracles just like me. And they want to know that you saw them too.â€

“I’m religious, Father, you know that. But politics…It’s no place for God.â€

“Yes, yes, the Senate will chew Him up and spit Him out, I’ve heard that song a million times. But Sam, you’re running on a platform of increasing educational spending and environmental protection. When the people have to choose between you and that buffoon, Knowles, are they going to care that you’ve saved a few trees?†Sam opened his mouth to object, but Father Jennings cut him off, “I know you’ve tried to stay secular, but if you do, your career will be over. How much have you spent on the election so far? Seventy-million? Eighty? You want that all to go to waste?†Sam looked out the window.

“And tell me something Sam, how do you plan to do these people any good if you’re not sitting in office? This isn’t just about you. There are twelve million people in Salvation. They need your help.â€

Sam didn’t like it, but he knew that Father Jennings was right. He thought about what was happening to the city and what it was turning into. When the miracles started, hundreds of people formed cults and some of them committed group suicide. Thousands more quit their jobs and turned to a life of street-preaching. Churches were overflowing with people claiming to believe, and those who didn’t were met with increasing hostility.

Sam thought about the recent string of religiously motivated murders. An atheist teacher was nailed to a cross and left out in the woods to die. But it wasn’t just the believers causing problems. Criminals saw the miracles as an opportunity to profit, using cheap parlor tricks and stage presence to fool believers into giving them money. And a large part of the Muslim population was outraged that droves of people had turned to Christianity.

Then of course, there were atheists and agnostics who criticized the religious turn that the government was taking. It was only a matter of time until they became violent too, Sam thought. Just a couple of months ago, his brother had called him, venting about how one of his Point Tech employees had stormed into his office looking for a fight, right after learning that he was laid off. His brother was so angry, Sam remembered, that he put two security guards at every entrance to the building. Soon those guards would be a necessity, not a precaution.


“Yes, Sam?â€

“What do you want me to do?â€


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Part 2

The present

“What’s this guy’s name again?†asked Simon as he followed Tom into a warehouse. It was getting dark; the sun was sinking past the skyline of Salvation.


“Great,†said Simon. He remembered a recent article he had read in the newspaper. The name John was shared by nearly six percent of the male population between twenty and thirty. Lately, it had even showed some signs of becoming an accepted name for girls, too. “What’s his full name?†Society coped with the overload of Johns by using initials.

“All I know is that he goes by John B.†They were walking through the warehouse now. It was well-lit; Simon could hear a voice speaking loudly at the other end. It seemed that John B., in addition to being a possible serial crucifier, had a night job that also revolved around performing false miracles. Rogue ministers had been able to get away with selling God’s word and pretending to heal people in the past, but the laws were slightly different now that the Church was playing a more active role in the government. Different enough that Peter Popoff, a miracle man from back before there were real miracles, was now spending life in prison. Still, in spite of its recently acquired illegality, being a false prophet was more profitable than ever these days. Maybe it was because of the illegality.

The gathering was relatively small. Apparently John B. hadn’t had enough time to gather a sizable flock yet. There were about forty people of varying ages. Many of them were in wheelchairs. Several were bald from chemotherapy. A few were holding the leashes of guide dogs. All of them were needy.

On a makeshift stage of cardboard boxes a man was pacing in front of them and speaking. He looked about fifty years old. His gray beard was unkempt and his clothes were ragged and stained, but Simon knew that it was probably a carefully calculated look. False prophets tended to fall into two categories: unusually clean or unusually dirty, as if they thought appearing like a Biblical prophet would make them more credible. Simon glanced over at Tom to see what he thought of the guy. Tom had taken his cross off and put it in his jacket pocket, next to his gun. He was pale, and for a moment, looked shocked.

“What’s wrong?â€

Tom composed himself. “Nothing.†Simon raised an eyebrow, and he hastily amended his statement. “Nothing important, anyway.â€

John B. strode across his cardboard stage like a fat, graying god. “Brothers and sisters, you come to me to be healed of your afflictions, but first you must let me heal you of your doubt! A good man once told Jesus Himself, ‘Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.’ Brothers and sisters, I am here to help your unbelief!†He began to walk through the audience to choose a person to perform a miracle on.

Simon leaned over and whispered to Tom. “What do you think he’ll show them? Illusion? Chemical reaction? Healing? Cold read?†Cold reading was a common method psychics used to trick people. The supposed psychic would ask a series of questions to his victim, then cleverly analyze the answers and look for visual clues to provide educated guesses about the victim’s life.

“This looks too small for the magic tricks and science experiments,†said Tom. “You get more of those with a crowd of hundreds. They’re expensive.â€

“Yeah, that’s what I figured too,†replied Simon. “This guy looks new. Hasn’t had enough time to get the money for convincing props. Cold read?â€

“I don’t know,†said Tom slowly, looking at the stage. John B. had chosen a blind man, who was now standing patiently on the stage with his guide dog, waiting for the promised miracle. “It’ll be something small, but unusual. I think a reading’s a little too basic. I think he’s going to show us something new, hoping that its uniqueness will make people overlook the fact that he hasn’t healed a damn thing. He’ll surprise them enough that when they go home they’ll forget that they haven’t been saved.†Tom grimaced for a moment and stopped talking. He looked back at the stage.

John B. was in his element. “Welcome, brother, welcome,†he said warmly, clasping his hands around the blind man’s. “What’s your name?â€

“Curtis,†the man replied in a quavering voice. He was old, Simon noticed, and probably part of the act. Government welfare programs had dried up a while ago, and the elderly got money where they could these days.

“Curtis, how long have you had that dog?†The dog in question was a golden retriever, and it was sitting on its haunches, wagging its tail excitedly.

“About ten years, I guess.â€

John B. smiled. “Did you ever suspect, Curtis, that your dog knows more than it lets on?â€

“Not really. It still doesn’t know where to take a ****.†Some members of the audience laughed, and others frowned.

“Well,†said John B., “it does know more than it seems to. In fact, this dog knows a lot about you, Curtis. It knows your name, just like our father in heaven does. It knows how to guide you, like our brother Jesus does, and we are all blind when we place ourselves next to that guide. And your dog also knows how old you are, Curtis. In fact, it’s even going to tell us how old you are.â€

“Ah,†said Tom, sounding satisfied, and at the same time, sad. Simon looked at him quizzically and he cracked a slight, humorless smile. “You read people. I read books.†Simon shrugged and turned his attention back to the stage, where John B. was explaining that the divinely inspired guide dog would reveal the blind man’s age by tapping its paws.

“Alright, here goes,†the miracle man said. “Let’s start with decades, since none of us really wants to sit here and watch this dog tap its paw seventy times—pardon the guess, sir.†There was a weak laugh from the audience. “How old are you, Curtis?â€


“Okay then, we’re gonna be looking for this dog to tap its paw six times, folks. Once it gets that right we’ll hope this dog can finish it off with seven more taps to prove it wasn’t a fluke.†John B. walked over to the golden retriever and rubbed it behind its ears.

Simon frowned. This was unusual; he had never heard of anything like this before, and it seemed more suited to a circus performer than a false prophet. People came to these gatherings to see healings, to communicate with the dead, to find hope. Not to watch counting pets. Why would John B. choose this trick? What could he be thinking?

The dog lifted a paw into the air and placed it back on the ground. “One,†John B. said.

The audience caught on quickly. By the time the count had reached five, the entire room was chanting the numbers. Immediately after the sixth tap, there was a hushed silence as the crowd wondered if it would mistakenly make a seventh. It didn’t. After pausing for a few seconds, it started over again and did a series of seven taps. Sixty-seven.

Simon looked at Tom and said “You seem to know what the trick is. Obviously, it could just be that the dog was trained to tap its paws in that order, but since that’s so obvious I expect John B. is going to repeat this performance for other members of the audience with different ages. So what’s the trick?â€

Tom looked somber. “Ever heard of Clever Hans?â€


“Not surprising. Happened a couple hundred years ago, in Germany. Hans was a horse that could supposedly count, just like this dog. A commission of scientists was created to discover whether it was true or not.â€


“Most of them were fooled, but a clever researcher found out the truth. He tested the horse without an audience. Hans could supposedly do math problems. The researcher had a person who didn’t know anything about math ask the horse the math questions. It turns out Hans couldn’t count, he was just an unusually perceptive animal.â€

“Oh,†said Simon, catching on. “He was reacting to the audience’s mood.â€

“Right. Did you notice how the audience paused each time after the dog counted to the correct number, wondering if it would go one too far? That’s just one of the cues that it could be picking up on. Dogs have excellent senses of smell; maybe that comes into play in this version of the Clever Hans trick.â€

“That makes sense,†Simon said, but there was still something else that was troubling him. “Why do you think he chose this trick?â€

Tom looked away. “I don’t know,†he said, and for the second time that day, Simon had the impression that he was lying.


Sixteen years ago

Why do they put snooze buttons on alarm clocks? David wondered. It was 8:13, and he had seventeen minutes to get dressed and make it down to the office for the interview. David had been out of work for four years, but working as a team leader for Point Tech paid well.

The wall TV flickered on. “Wake up!†David jumped.

“Jesus Christ, Esther!â€

“Watch your language, Dave. You do realize that you have about sixteen minutes until your life is over, right?

“Esther, I’ve got enough money in my savings account to last me for a long while.â€

“Well, it’s been a long while, hon. And I do believe that you were fired from your last job.†David’s supervisor kept his word. His 160,000 dollar severance check never came, and that would have bought him at least another year. It didn’t matter though. He would get the job.

“Thanks for your support Esther, I’m going to go now.â€

“Wait David-â€

David turned the TV off. He hopped into the shower and kept the water cold to wake up. It was surprisingly biting, though, and David shuddered. He turned the water a little warmer.

Eight minutes later and he was in his electric Honda, speeding to Bell Laboratories on an empty stomach. It was raining, and the water made streaks across the windows. They reminded David how fast he was driving. But being punctual wasn’t his main concern. He had been applying for management positions for the last four years, but he faced rejection after rejection. He knew the reason. The quantum-tech companies that flourished in the 20’s were going bankrupt one by one, so they had been cutting a lot of middle management. David’s pride kept him from applying for a lab grunt position, but he decided it was finally time to take the big step down.

When he arrived at Bell Labs, he straightened his tie and checked his reflection in the lobby window. He tried his best to give a million dollar smile, but he just looked creepy. Instead, he would try to be as professional as possible and impress them with his knowledge of the field.

When he went inside, he was greeted with a polite nod by the receptionist sitting at a half circle desk in the middle of the room. She looked up from her box frame glasses and said, “May I help you?â€

“Yeah, I have an appointment with Dr. Silverman right now, I was wondering…â€

“Elevator’s to your right. Good luck.â€

“Thanks.†David walked into the elevator and noticed how plain it was. Usually, the offices of these tech companies would have marble tiling and glass buttons, but this elevator was more like a service elevator.

As the doors were closing, the receptionist looked at him and said with a wink, “Remember, firm handshake.†David gave a half smile and the elevator started heading for the third floor.

As soon as the doors opened, he saw an office door with the name ‘Dr. Silverman’ printed on the window. It was in silver lettering. How cute, thought David. He knocked on the door twice, and an old man with long gray hair and a beard opened the door. “David Abrams, I presume?â€

“Uh, yes.â€

“Great! I’m Dr. Silverman, come inside. Would you like some coffee?â€

“Yes.†David paused for a moment, and then added, “Please.†It came out a little unnaturally, but Dr. Silverman didn’t seem to notice.

“So let me just pull out your file Mr. Abrams…†He punched in a few keys on his computer and then his eyes widened. “David Abrams?â€


“You worked for Point Tech a few years ago?

“Yes, I did,†said David, trying his best not to swallow.

“I see.†Silverman had been frowning, but his face suddenly snapped back into a smile. Okay! So what’s your job experience like?â€

“Well, I was team leader of the quantum computing division. We worked a lot with using atomic spin to replace byte memory, that sort of thing…â€

“I see, great. Well, your file basically has everything I need to know. So I’ll get back to you on Monday. Okay?â€

“That’s it? I’m done?â€

“Yes, Mr. Abrams. Have a good day.†David was silent. He was expecting the interview to last an hour, but he was done in five minutes. Was his application really that strong? Did Dr. Silverman see something in him that the other interviewers didn’t? Silverman opened the door and made an open palmed gesture to the hallway. David got up and left.

In the car, he tried to piece together the parts of the conversation. Did he offend Silverman? He couldn’t think of anything offensive that he said, but it could’ve just been his attitude. David chuckled. He wasn’t exactly a people person. But he was probably just overreacting; he was tired and hungry, and he had to admit, his resume was pretty impressive. Silverman undoubtedly saw that he was fired, but a lot of people get fired. And David was fired for insubordination, not incompetence.

David stopped at a red light and he heard the patter of heavy rain on the roof of his car. Something still didn’t make sense to him: if Silverman saw that he was fired, why would he want to avoid telling him that? Silverman was hiding something.

Then David realized the truth. How could he have been so stupid? He had been blacklisted and Silverman didn’t have the guts to tell him.


Diabloii.Net Member
Part 3

The present

John B. had come quietly. They had arrested him with little fanfare, after his congregation had left. Loud, public arrests made martyrs. The ride to the Paranormal Department headquarters was quiet. Simon noticed that Tom had barely said a word to the false prophet, besides tersely informing him that because this was a religious crime, he had no Miranda rights. Technically, he still had some protection from the Bill of Rights, but in practice his rights were whatever the diviners said they were.

Sometimes Simon thought that Mayor Johnston had given the diviners too much power when he created their division. It was one of his first acts after his election nearly twenty years ago. The idea of creating a separate government unit responsible for eliminating religiously motivated crimes had proven to be a popular one. Even today, some speculated that that, more than anything, had been responsible for Johnston’s reelection. After the diviners had proven their worth in Salvation the program had spread until it was nearly nationwide.

Mayor Johnston was also responsible, behind the scenes, for creating the now infamous blacklist. The times after the miracles began had been troubled ones, and disgruntled anti-religious figures had contributed to that. The blacklist, by denying them jobs, also denied them money and power. The Church’s influence in government grew stronger, as the voters wanted it to. The Mayor’s ratings had done well.

As they walked into the department headquarters, John B. in tow, Tom turned to Simon and said “I’ve got other work to do. Can you handle the interrogation?â€

Simon was surprised. Tom brought him along as backup to bring in a suspected serial crucifier, and now he had more important things to do? He thought to himself that there was definitely something going on beneath the surface here, but this wasn’t the time to investigate it. Tom was secretive, but he was also trustworthy.

“Yeah, sure,†Simon responded. “Knock yourself out. I’ll let you know what I find.â€

Minutes later, as he sat across the table from John B. in an interrogation room, he had to admit to himself that he hadn’t found out much.

“Let’s try this again,†he said. “What’s your name?†His usual routine when stumped was to go back to the beginning and ask easy questions. Once a person got into the habit of answering easy questions truthfully, they sometimes answered the real ones truthfully as well. It also gave him more time to think.

“John B.†The false prophet leaned back in his chair and managed to look relaxed, despite the fact that the chair was specifically designed to be uncomfortable.

“Where are you from, John?â€

John B. smirked. “Are you planning to use my name often to establish familiarity between us?†His attitude was significantly different now that he wasn’t in front of his congregation. His mannerisms and vocabulary had changed; his voice was even a little deeper.

“Can you blame me, John?†asked Simon, smiling. “It’s a good tactic. I notice you used it yourself, back in that warehouse. You used that man Curtis’ name in practically every sentence you said to him. John.â€

“True.†The man gave him a nod.

“So, John, where are you from?â€

“I drift around. I came to Salvation about a month ago, if that’s what you want to know.â€

The latest string of crucifixions had begun almost two months ago. “Can you prove that?â€

John B. shrugged. “Not really.â€

“Why did you decide to come here?â€

“Pickings were getting slim over in Salt Lake City. The Mormons are solidifying their control too well. They do a better job of putting us out of work than you diviners do.â€

“But why Salvation?â€

He shrugged again. “City of fifteen million people, only five diviners. I checked. You guys are spread thin, and the Mayor recently had to cut the city’s funding for hospitals. Everyone here’s looking for a miracle.â€

None of this was helping Simon much, but it sounded believable. The more he talked to the guy, the more ordinary it all seemed. John B. might be a con man and the possessor of a loose moral code, but he didn’t strike Simon as a killer. He could verify that later. John B. wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while. Even if he wasn’t a killer, the lesser crime of being a false miracle worker could be enough to keep him behind bars for months, if not years.

“John, do you know anything about the latest crucifixions?†Why had Tom’s information led to this man?

“Maybe, but I won’t tell it to you.â€

“If you give us something valuable, we could make your stay in prison shorter. We might even be able to make it more pleasant.â€

“I didn’t say I wouldn’t tell it at all, Inspector Marshal, I said I wouldn’t tell it to you.â€

“Alright, I’ll bite,†said Simon. “Who will you tell it to?â€

“The other guy,†responded John B. “Tom, wasn’t it? Have him interrogate me.â€

For what seemed like the millionth time that day, Simon wondered what was going on. He decided the only way he could find out was by playing along. “Give me a few minutes.â€

John B. gestured graciously at the door. “We have time.â€

The first thing Tom said when Simon found him at his desk was “It’s not him.â€

“What makes you so sure?â€

Tom waved a hand at a stack of photos littering his desk. “These just came in,†he said. “Not an hour old yet. Another crucifixion happened while we had that guy in custody.â€

Simon didn’t look at the pictures; he had already seen more of them than he cared to in the past two months. “An inverted one? It could be a different killer.†He didn’t honestly believe that, but somebody had to be the devil’s advocate.

“No, the guys over at Psych are sure it’s the same one,†said Tom wearily, placing a hand to his forehead and massaging it.

“Even if he’s not the killer, he might know something useful. Our friend in there is asking to talk to you,†said Simon, watching Tom closely for a reaction. What he saw in Tom’s face was a look of grim resignation. “He says he’s got information.â€

“Yeah, I’ll bet he does,†Tom mumbled. He slumped in his chair. “Simon, can I ask you a favor?†Simon was surprised. Tom rarely addressed him by name.

“The first favor you asked me for was to get involved in this investigation,†Simon said. “Am I guessing correctly when I say that your second favor is going to be asking me to forget about it?â€

Tom straightened in his chair, eyes widened. “What makes you think—?â€

“I only look stupid, Tom.â€

“Would you mind?†Tom asked hesitantly.

Simon thought about it. He was naturally inquisitive. As a child, he had always had the habit of taking things apart to see how they worked. He had disassembled his toys and tried to put them back together. He had been one of those kids that touched the stove even when they knew it might hurt them. But he had never burned ants with a magnifying glass. Never torn off a butterfly’s wings to see what would happen to it.

“Just tell me the truth about one thing,†Simon finally answered. “There’s a man sitting in that interrogation room across the hall from us. Is he dangerous?â€

Tom gave a half-hearted laugh. “Not in the normal sense of the word. Not to anyone but me. He’s not a threat, if that’s what you want to know.†Something about the phrase stuck out to Simon, but he couldn’t pinpoint it. He put it aside.

“Alright, Tom,†said Simon. “Your business is your business.†He left the desk, and as he walked away, from the corner of his eye saw Tom staring at the door to the interrogation room with a look of revulsion. Simon resolved to stop thinking about it. Another crucifixion had just happened, and he had a job to do.


“Mayor Johnston, are you sure you want to see this?â€

“Father Jennings and I have been friends since before you were born. Let me in,†said Sam. The young officer turned around and whispered something on his com device. He paused, probably waiting for a reply. When it came, he looked at Sam and nodded. The two of them walked to the Father Jennings’s door and the guards in front of it stepped aside.

Before opening the door, the officer paused and said, “This isn’t going to be pretty. The nature of these crucifixions is…as you can imagine…quite gruesome.†Then the officer handed him a plastic bag.

Sam looked puzzled. “What’s this for?â€

“Just in case.â€

As soon as the officer opened the door, Sam could smell blood. It filled the air so quickly that Sam felt a little dizzy. But he regained his balance and followed the officer down the hall. Aside from the smell, Sam was surprised to see that everything looked normal. Pictures of Father Jennings and his two daughters sat undamaged on the living room table, and all the furniture looked in place. He didn’t see any obvious signs of a struggle.

When they came to the stairs Sam noticed that the officer’s body tensed up. His did too. At the top of the stairs, Sam could see that the master bedroom’s door was slightly ajar. No one had told him where Father Jennings had been murdered, but he knew instinctively it was there. Maybe it was the smell guiding him, but whatever it was, Sam was sure that someone had died there.

The officer walked slowly to the door and Sam followed. He noticed that the officer hadn’t said anything to him since they entered the house. He’s probably more scared than I am, Sam thought. He looked a little young for the job anyway.

Sam was now right behind the officer, looking over his shoulder. The officer pushed the door open and as soon as he did, Sam saw a bright red stain running from the threshold to the center of the bedroom, where it formed a circular pool.

And in the middle of the pool, Sam saw something that would never leave him, no matter how hard he tried to forget it. Father Jennings was crucified upside down. His hands were nailed to ends of the inverted cross. Trails of blood ran down his body from his feet, which were impaled by a thick metal spike, about six inches long. There was a deep gash on Jennings’s stomach, and Sam could see the pink of his intestines. Sam forced himself to look at Jennings’s face, and he saw that his eyes were wide open, more open than they ever looked.

“Are you okay, sir?â€

“I need…†Sam’s mouth was dry. “I need a minute. Do you mind?â€

“Of course not, sir.†The officer left.

Sam sat on the ground and tried to grieve. But he couldn’t. He kept staring at Father Jennings’s twisted visage. The priest’s mouth was wide open, like he spent his last moments screaming in terror, or begging for mercy. Sam stood up to leave, but as he did, he saw something white under Jennings’s tongue. He looked closer, and it was the corner of a piece of paper. He pulled a Kleenex out of his pocket and pulled the note out of Jennings’s mouth. It was small and rolled up.

When he unraveled it, it read, “I am coming for you, Sam.â€


“David? David!â€

“What? Christ, I’m right here!â€

“David, you’re behind schedule. We’ve got a mob out there and you’re on break? I hired you because I believed that you were a dependable employee. A hard worker. Someone that could make this business better. Don’t make me change my mind, David. I’m counting on you.â€

“Sorry! I’m on it.†David unwrapped six McMannas and put a slab of butter on each of them. He threw them in the microwave and they turned a delicious looking golden brown. After they were done, he put them in paper boxes and slid them down a metal tray. Then he diced some lettuce and onions. “Important work indeed,†David mumbled.

Moments like these reminded David of how he had gotten to this point. It was fifteen years ago that he first learned, in the words of Esther, that “his life was flushed down the toilet.†He tried contacting his ex-coworkers from Point Tech, and many of them had met a similar fate. Bill Waters left a tearful message on David’s answering machine four years ago, telling him how his wife left him and how he was living in a run down studio apartment up north. It shouldn’t have, but Bill’s confession made David feel good. There was a time when David considered Bill a friend, maybe even a good friend. Bill hadn’t really done much to jeopardize all of that, but it was a lot of little things that drove them apart. Maybe it wasn’t. David didn’t like to think about it.


“Jesus, what?â€

“David! This is important. We’ve got diviners in here, so pull your pants up and make some McChickens before I fire your ***!†David was silent. If he was ten, maybe five years younger he would have protested. Why didn’t he? Thinking about it made him angry with himself. Why didn’t you say something back? he thought. Why didn’t you at least roll your eyes, David?

He looked over the counter and saw a diviner take some McMannas and leave without paying. David looked at him, and then at the other diviner. And he rolled his eyes. It wasn’t exactly what he wanted, but it would have to do.


Tom walked into the interrogation room and closed the door behind him, making sure that it was locked. John B. waved a hand at the seat across the table from him. “Please. Sit down.†Tom did so without saying anything, knowing that the other man was trying to provoke him. They stared at each other for a few seconds.

The silence was broken when Tom finally said “Should I call you John?â€

“That depends,†said John B. “Should I call you Tom?â€

“I guess these are the names we’ve chosen for ourselves,†Tom responded.

“This isn’t being recorded, is it?â€

“You know I wouldn’t forget to turn the recorder off.â€

“Yes, that’s true,†Tom’s father mused. “You were always good at remembering the little details. It was enormously useful back in the old days. Remember those?â€

“You know I do.â€

“My little mole in the audience. Collecting information on them and feeding it back to me to help with readings. Without you, I wouldn’t have made even half as much as I did. You were a good kid. Obedient.â€

“Thanks,†said Tom. “But if I remember correctly, I ran away.â€

“Yes,†replied John B. “And it hurt me deeply. Business never fully recovered.†He paused for a moment, then gestured at everything around them. “And ultimately, that’s what this is all about. You. Me. A tearful reunion. Money.â€

“Cut the dramatics. How did you find me?â€

Tom’s father went on as if he hadn’t heard him. “Did you like the Clever Hans trick? It used to be your favorite. I did that one just for you, you know.â€

“I realized what was going on for sure once I saw it. The other diviner, Simon, wondered why you would use that trick.â€

John B. smiled. “I could’ve chosen something different if that crowd of cripples was my real target, but for this one, you were my audience, and that was the best one I could find.â€

“How did you know I would be there?â€

“Never trust anonymous tips, Jude.â€

“I thought we had established that my name is Tom now,†he said coldly. “My next question will be the obvious one. What do you want?â€

Again his father ignored him. “You changed your name. I don’t know how you managed to beat the background check for this job, but you were always a resourceful kid. I’m guessing it would be a little damaging to your reputation, and to your career, if word got out about who you really are.â€

“Last time I checked, being exploited is not a crime,†said Tom.

“I wasn’t the only one in the family who enjoyed making money. Don’t fool yourself. You never complained about living in a luxury suite.â€

“Then why did I run away and eventually become a diviner?â€

“You’re like me,†said John B. “You don’t go where your morals take you. You go where the power is.â€

Tom was silent for a moment. “I’ll ask it again. What do you want?â€

“Okay,†John B. said, leaning forward. “Here’s what I want. Imagine you’re part of my congregation. They’ll know soon that I’ve been arrested by diviners. If I remember the law correctly, I could be serving up to five years in prison for this. Imagine their faces when I return to them tomorrow, a free man. And, of course, there’s more.â€

Against his will, Tom began to admire the plan. “You made a prophecy, didn’t you.â€

“You’re damn right I did,†said his father. “That was the miracle, not some counting dog. I told them I would be arrested, and I told them that I would be released without even paying a fine. Can you imagine how much that will solidify my control? The prophet the diviners couldn’t disprove. I’ll be selling miracle drugs before the month is over.†He pointed a finger at Tom. “And this is a team effort, so you’ll need to do your part and make sure I’m not interrupted.â€

“It’s my job now to ‘interrupt’ people like you.â€

“No,†said John B. “That was your old job.â€

“How am I supposed to fool someone like Simon? He’s a human lie detector.â€

“Figure something out,†John B. said, sounding unconcerned. “I think you’re done interrogating me now.†Tom stood up and began to leave the room. “Wait. One more thing.†Tom turned to face him. “Jude,†said his father, “do you have a family of your own now?â€

Tom thought of Audrey, his wife, and his son Timothy. He looked at his father. It seemed like there was genuine interest in his face; the con man was gone, and for that moment he looked like a real father. Suddenly, Tom wanted more than anything to hurt him. “No,†he said shortly, then opened the door and left.


Simon sat in front of his computer and scrolled through the details of Paul Jennings’ life. Seventy-two years old. Five feet, four inches tall; he wouldn’t have put up much of a fight against his killer. Clergyman at the age of forty-four. Most powerful priest in Salvation by fifty. Instrumental in the election of one Sam Johnston to office. Simon frowned. The police files wouldn’t have what he wanted to know. He went to the less reliable, but more useful source: the internet.

It seemed that many people had suspected Jennings of being a sort of power behind the throne. Simon went back to the police database. Yes, Mayor Johnston had often met with Father Jennings. Simon had always thought it was odd that when the priest made one of his views public, it often became a law soon after. He looked for a law that would create enemies.

He stopped when he found the blacklist. It wasn’t official, but everyone knew it existed. It was even available to certain government employees. Diviners had access to it, because people on it were prime suspects for anti-religious crimes. He opened the blacklist for Salvation and looked at the first entry.

“Abrams, David,†he said.


Diabloii.Net Member
By the way, everyone, it's usually not my style to specifically request comments, but I'm making an exception this time. As you can imagine, writing this sucked up a couple weeks of my life. If I'm gonna do the same thing for Chapter 2, I'd like to make sure that there are people interested in there being a Chapter 2. So, if you read it, I'd appreciate feedback of any kind, from anything as simple as "I liked it" to something as complicated of a Marxist critique of paragraph five. Whatever.


Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
I'm interested. I was putting off commenting so I could reread it and pick out specific things I think could be improved. But who knows when I'd get around to that? I'll just say that I'd prefer if you staggered updates in future, rather than make three posts at once. Just a personal preference; easier to stay caught up when the author isn't drowning me in text. Have to say it worked well this time, though, what with all the tie-ins between stories.

And David totally didn't do it.


Diabloii.Net Member
This read very well. (Impressive, really.) You are clearly beyond the point of struggling with the rules of English grammar so I'll focus on the story rather than the writing. One quick criticism before I move on: in some places it felt like too much "telling," if I am using that term correctly. In other words, where the narrator is telling us things that maybe we should be shown or left to figure out for ourselves. I'll try to include an example below.

First off, I was a bit put off by the non-linear format. (Truth in advertising: I am not overly fond of non-linear formats.) Second, the lack of a coherent arc (at least to my perception) began to bother me. I think this was mostly due to my reading this as if it were a short story. Later, as it dawned on me that this was a Chapter 1 rather than a short story, I began to feel a little better about that, but even given the chapter format, I think there is a bit too much going on here. (More truth in advertising: I tend to be a bit of a simpleton when it comes to plots.)

I liked the way you introduced the world, through an interview format. My only comment there would be that it didn't quite work for me in terms of believability. The interpersonal exchange was a bit too false for me, even for a TV interview. But nice idea. I also liked Dr. Alter's presentation of the scientific point of view. Seemed very scientific.

Okay, now for some heavy lifting. As I read it, there are three threads here: David Abrams's history, Sam and Father Jennings's history, and Simon and Tom the diviners in the present. And then there is John B., for whom, I assume, the chapter is titled. I think you set yourself an ambitions goal to introduce all this and then tie it together. The problem, as, I see it, is that you don't quite succeed.

Here's how I see it (and I don't mean at all to imply that I am right, just that this is my perception): the Tom and Simon thread meets up nicely with John B. of the title, and The Sam/Jennings thread meets up with the David thread. But the two don't seem to link up at all--maybe I missed something--but the ending would seem to reflect this hodge-podge. Tom and John together is one of the more powerful scenes in the chapter: father and son, some juicy conflicts, and the end of that scene illuminates the title. I would say bravo at this point.

But then we get a last little segment, which is the where the other two threads meet up. For me, it kind of ruins the ending--maybe that is too harsh--but I get the sense that the ending is a little patched-up. It's like you had two good endings for the chapter and instead of picking one you went with both. Eh. Basically, I guess what I am thinking is that you could save some of this for chapter two. I mean, that's certainly a matter of taste, but it occurs to me that all the David Abrahms and Sam/Jennings stuff could be removed and it would still read as a complete chapter. That must mean something.

Okay, all the usual cavets: as I said above I think the writing is just excellent, and the rest is purely IMHO. Now for an example of the evil "telling" I mentioned above:

On a makeshift stage of cardboard boxes a man was pacing in front of them and speaking. He looked about fifty years old. His gray beard was unkempt and his clothes were ragged and stained, but Simon knew that it was probably a carefully calculated look. False prophets tended to fall into two categories: unusually clean or unusually dirty, as if they thought appearing like a Biblical prophet would make them more credible. Simon glanced over at Tom to see what he thought of the guy. Tom had taken his cross off and put it in his jacket pocket, next to his gun. He was pale, and for a moment, looked shocked.
The first two sentences (before the bold) are nice description. The narrator has to tell us these things because we're not there to see them. The next part is where the narrator dives into some "insider trading" so to speak. It can be hard work to do, but if you could somehow relate the bolded information to us without the outright telling us, it would feel less like sitting in a seminar and more like participating in an adventure. It's a dry versus juicy sort of thing. Readers like to be shown things, and when possible, to figure things out for themselves. (At least I do.)

The sentences after the bolded ones are fine, too, although I think "to see what he thought of the guy" is another bit of telling, which in this case seems unnecessary. I'm not saying the way you did it was wrong or that it is easy to do what I am suggesting, but this paragraph in particular struck me as a little dry, a little factual, and to a lesser extent, a lot of this has a similar feel.

In closing: I only criticize stories this much when I like them. If I've come across as too negative, please believe that it is only because I've left out everything I liked becuase it would take to long to go through it all. Great job and thanks for posting! :thumbsup:

Disco-neck Ted

The Dark Library

Always a pleasure to see your posts here, Secret. This one grabbed me by the eyeballs and forced me to keep reading. Nice.

As Dead says, the mechanics are so well executed as to be almost completely transparent, leaving us free to critique style and content. Very cool.

To be disagreeable for a moment, I MUCH prefer long posts with lotsa content, unlike Snowglare. It is extremely frustrating to stop in and see a fragment that may never be finished, or to be fed insignificant scraps at random intervals, but this is big enough to constitute entertainment in its own right even if the end never materializes.

And the non-linear storytelling is savory: when executed poorly it can be annoying and a huge impediment to understanding what is going on, but that is not the case with this piece. Dead prefers otherwise, but in media res is just so sweet when done well, imho. One spot where this breaks down is in the "present" as David Abrams sees the Diviners leaving McD's despite the rest of the "present" having gone past that point in time. That needs fixing, but the rest is very smooth.

Also fine is the way much of the background is interspersed amongst the current story or sandwiched between bits of dialogue. A brushstroke here and there gives hints at the larger picture of the future world. Much better than huge, indigestible prologues or chunks of exposition. But then, you obviously know that.

Now to the nitty-gritty:

Loved the clever interaction between the announcer and the scientist at the beginning. Commonly, the big-brain dominates, but a quick and glib talking-head should be able to keep pace, and the lady does here. The only downside is that they sound a bit... similar. And that would be the biggest criticism of the entire piece to me: most of the narration, much of the dialogue and the internal thoughts (c.f. "Why do they put snooze buttons on alarm clocks? David wondered.") could all have been put forth by the same character.

This could be merely a perception on my part, or an artifact of style on yours, but that's how it struck me on a first read-through (and no time at the moment for a more careful perusal, alas). Take a look and see what you think.

A few specifics:

He rarely did anything for merely a single reason.

Awkward phrasing, but I can't think of a fix to suggest.

...but superstitiously remembering the fates of Israelites who wasted their manna, Simon ate all of his.

Ha! Amusing, and a good sign that you know exactly how Simon thinks. I'd bag the word 'superstitiously' or move it elsewhere, though. Perhaps he "superstitiously ate" instead of "superstitiously remembering". Er, guess that's a long way to go to say this is a misplaced modifier.

By the time he had demolished his McChicken and started finishing off his shake...

"Started finishing" is something of an oxymoron, so bonus points for that, but it stood out as a bit of ineffective phrasing, imo. On a second read it might not stop me, but it did produce a pause this time. With you it's easy to believe this to be a bit of cleverness, a subtle "look at me write" moment, so if it is there to amuse you, great. Otherwise, you might want to rephrase.

Thanks for putting this out to be read here. I'll check back for updates in a few weeks. More, especially in sizeable chunks, would be greatly appreciated.



Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
Bah! Now my reply is miniscule by comparison. That won't do.

I liked everything Deadcafe didn't. The non-linearity, the gaps to be filled in later, the interview, the "unusually clean, unusually dirty" quote. Ted has a point about the sameness of the dialogue; the characters don't seem terribly distinct. David is angrier than anyone else, Dr. Alter is more indignant... but I'm not sure anyone's developed a voice yet. On the other hand, I'd probably rate Judith and Richard as the two most different, distinct people in the story.

I suppose I wouldn't mind large updates, considering I'm already reading. The important thing is that you continue and complete the story. I think maybe I'm still stuck in the days of RPGs, where you not only needed to read and process all updates, you had to finish your own contribution and fit it into continuity. I still feel rushed to reply when my only role is to comment on what others do. Something like that.

A few things struck me as odd. When Sam Johnston guesses the priest's age, he picks 40 and 50 as generous estimates, yet the priest claims to be 53. With the buildup you gave it, I expected him to be in his seventies at least, as did, apparently, Mr. Johnston. Does he look much older than he is? If so, you'd think Sam would be more surprised by the answer than the question.

When the two diviners leave the McDonald's (good to see we'll still have the golden arches thirty years from now ;p), you mention an employee giving them the evil eye ("one [employee] was glaring at them"). Later, you identify the employee as David Abrams, but now he's rolling his eyes. Glaring fits much better, in my opinion, and eye-rolling seems off for someone who has to be in his forties at least. Though maybe the point was that he's not mature.

Where do you stand on the so-called "miracle debate" that split the scientific community apart thirty years ago?
It's a little known and confusing rule of grammar, but "so-called" and quotation marks are redundant. Both denote questionability, so you only need one. That is to say, it should either be the so-called miracle debate or the "miracle debate."

At times the writing, particularly the dialogue, seems a little too pat. Everything is replied to, including instances like these where one person could've continued while the other was silent:

JUDITH: Well? Richard, I just consider anyone who's done as much good for humanity as you have a great friend of mine, whether we've met or not.

"Can you blame me, John?" asked Simon, smiling. "It's a good tactic. I notice you used it yourself, back in that warehouse. You used that man Curtis' name in practically every sentence you said to him. John."

"True." The man gave him a nod.
I think that's why the dialogue sounds so similar. Everything is reactive, no one dominates. No one has an agenda they're pushing through no matter what, they all stop and respond to what the other person said, even when noted otherwise.

Anyways, I quite like how you're approaching this. The blacklist, the anapocalyptic futurescape. It's not exactly an allegory for the way the Church is gaining power in modern times, but there's a little of that, a little fantasy, a little murder mystery. I'm eager to see what happens next.


Diabloii.Net Member
Thanks for your comments, guys.

Deadcafe, I totally understand where you're coming from on the issue of showing above telling, but I don't think I'm going to change the balance between the two that you see here. There are a few reasons for that. First, I already made a conscious effort in here to keep telling to a necessary minimum. There were a lot of times where I would write a sentence, think about it, then delete it. Like DnT said, I chose to distribute the necessary telling between lines of dialogue whenever possible. There were a ton of little details that I included with no analysis at all, just as little things for readers to notice. For instance, Jennings observes to Sam at one point that there are twelve million people in Salvation, and nineteen years later John tells Simon the population is fifteen million. I also tried to account for inflation whenever mentioning money in the chapter. Many of the names also have reasons behind them, and I meant to hint at the fact that the names of apostles became much more popular after the miracles started. For instance, Bart, the name of the cashier, is short for Bartholomew. So, I do appreciate the need for readers to participate rather than just being given information, but I try to balance it out by just delivering some facts to make the job easier. At some points the telling is also my best way to try to get you inside the head of the character. I don't want people to try to understand Simon by interpreting facial gestures.

I agree with you about the lack of believability in the interview. In fact, that's something that DnT and Snowglare also mentioned. I noticed that whenever I reread this chapter, I would automatically skip reading the beginning. That's because even I thought it lacked realism. It's a problem present in the rest of the chapter too, but I felt it was most visible in the interview.

I also agree with you about the double ending. After rereading, I liked how I finished the scene between Tom and John, and it might have lessened the impact of it to go to a short clip of Simon. I was basically trying to write it like a TV show. That's what the entire chapter was modeled after. That's why it's dominated by dialogue and has a couple subplots. With this double ending I was copying something I've seen done on Lost, my favorite show. What I forgot was that I hate it when Lost has an emotional scene that I like, then shows a ten second suspense-inducing ending right after it. I might have been better off keeping this scene, but switching the order the two endings came in. I'm not sure.

DnT, good to see you're still around, and as sharp as ever. I did notice that all of the characters sound the same. If you'd ever heard me talk in person, then you'd realize that they're all basically copies of me. The sad truth is that I'm just not good at making characters' dialogue distinct from each other. I don't know how other people talk; I only know how I talk, and consequently all of the characters talk like me. I will try to change this in future chapters, but don't expect anything earth shattering. The change will be gradual.

As far as the non-linear storyline goes, I'm somewhat happy that you and Snowglare both liked it, but I hope you guys didn't like it so much that a linear storyline will disappoint. There will be some similar chapters in the future, but some will be purely linear.

On the "he rarely did anything for merely a single reason line." It's funny to me that you pointed this out but couldn't find a fix, because I thought about it for a minute or two after I wrote it and I couldn't either. I thought about "he rarely did anything for a single reason," but of course that and all variations of it have the same problem.

On the phrase "started finishing," it actually was intentional, but I didn't expect anyone to notice.

Snowglare, I think I'm still stuck a little in the days of RPGs too. That reminds me. Funny story. This was actually a multi-author story. Me and my friend were just talking over IM about how much we loved Lost one day, and out of the blue we decided to write a show together. For a while we talked about episodes and all that until eventually I was like "you know, this is really just a story." That's how this story came to be. I wrote all of the Simon/Tom parts plus the interview, and my friend wrote all the Sam/Jennings and David stuff. I was already aware at that point that making distinct dialogue is a weakness of mine, so I was hoping that David and Sam would sound different because I wasn't writing them. For better or worse, though, it seems that they weren't. This is actually the first creative writing my friend has done, and judging from everyone's comments, I guess he did okay.

In part that's why this chapter was so long, unlike anything else that I've written. Unlike anything else, it's also somewhat complete. We were both able to keep interest in it and pressure each other to write, so that was cool. It ended up being about twenty pages long in Word.

That's also why we have that little inconsistency of David glaring at one point and rolling his eyes at the other. I thought we did a pretty good job of making everything fit overall, but we did drop the ball on that part.

I appreciate your insight about why the dialogue is so similar, and I agree with what you said. I'll take that into account when writing Chapter 2.

Again, thanks to everyone who commented, and a preemptive thanks to anyone who's going to.


Diabloii.Net Member
Chapter 2: The Revelation at Hand

Forty-five years ago

David ran and the woman in black followed. His lungs burned from the cold night air, but he pushed himself past the rose bushes and down the orphanage’s slick, concrete steps until he came to the road.

“Don‘t you dare take another step!†said Sister Madeline. David was facing the road, but he did not turn around. “Did you hear me? Not another step!†David could hear Madeline’s heavy breathing behind him. It got louder as she approached him and reached out for his arm. David squatted down and stuck his hand into the gutter. Without words, Madeline yanked David up. She was strong for an old woman, and David did not resist.

“What do you have in your hand?†she snapped. “Show me what you have in your hand.â€
He slowly opened his palm, and on top of his muddy fingers there was a smooth pebble, about the size of a penny. Sister Madeline shook his hand by the wrist, and David dropped it. She tightened her grip and dragged him back up the steps, toward the cafeteria. When she came to the door, she stopped and said, “David, your friends are eating in there right now. They are eating because they are behaving the way they are supposed to.â€

“I’m sorry…†David’s voice was trembling.

“Sorry isn’t good enough. You will spend all night thinking about what you’ve done. You will go to your room and you will not speak to your friends. You will not eat.â€

“I’m sorry, Sister Madeline!†David’s eyes welled up with tears.

“David! Do not interrupt me when I am speaking to you. I am going to try to help you, because God does not give up on anyone. Not even a little coward like you. We are going to finish your punishment tomorrow. And it will be twenty strikes this time. Do you understand me?†David did not respond.

“But as for tonight, you will memorize all of the fifty first Psalm. All of it, by tonight.†David remained silent, so Madeline started walking again, with David in tow. “Since you are acting like an infant, I will treat you like one,†she said. Madeline took him up two flights of stairs. Every few seconds she would pull David closer, or tighten her grip. David did not understand. He was not trying to run. When they arrived at his room, she opened the door and pushed him inside.

“If you leave this room, David, I will find you. And when I do, I will put you in your room and I will lock you in. You will never see your friends again. Do you understand that, David?†He nodded. As she left, Madeline slammed the door behind her.

David sat at his desk and took the Bible out of his drawer. He found the fifty first Psalm and began to read, out loud. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to thy steadfast love; according to thy abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.†He repeated the first line several times, until each word became a picture that he could see in his head. “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.â€

David’s eyelids felt heavy, but he kept reading.

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.â€

He had to reread it several times before he could repeat it without looking, but even then, David could no longer see the pictures in his mind. The words melted together and although David tried to understand them, they were already deformed beyond recognition, and David could find no meaning.

“Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.â€

David looked out the window and saw his friends returning from the cafeteria.

“Thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.â€

He was hungry, but even more than that, he was tired.

“Thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment.â€


The present

"So are you guys going to tell me why I’m here?" asked David.

The tall, and unusually thin man sitting in front of him replied, "Because you killed someone." David looked at his watch and sighed, impatiently.

"Stop checking your watch, David. You don’t need to be anywhere," said another diviner standing in the corner of the room. He did not look like how David thought a diviner should look. He looked like an ordinary person in every respect. David wondered if he might have been undercover. The man cleared his throat. "But before we begin, why don’t you tell us why you think you’re here?"

David looked at both diviners, appraisingly. "I honestly don’t know," he said, smugly. "But you know what I do know, Inspector?" The man in the corner raised an eyebrow. "I know that you guys don’t have a shred of evidence on me."


The tall man sitting down joined in. "Yeah, now I’m intrigued. Tell me more."

David leaned back in his chair. "Sure. It’s really quite simple. You come to my apartment at the crack of dawn, put me in cuffs, and drag me down to the station without even telling me what I’m charged with. There’s only one reason you’d do that. You want me to incriminate myself. You want me to tell you that I couldn‘t have killed so and so because I was eating dinner between the hours of 8 and 12, but then you‘ll ask me how I know that so and so was killed between 8 and 12 in the first place. Nice try, boys, but I think you’ve been watching too much TV."

One of the diviners opened his mouth to say something, but David interrupted him. "And then of course, there’s the fact that I’m sitting here in this chair, and not in a body bag under six feet of dirt. You guys would’ve dispatched me pretty quickly if you had proof that I killed someone."

David smiled and then, feigning surprise, said "Oh, and I almost forgot." David pointed at the tall man, accusingly. "When you dragged me into this room and decided it was time to take off my cuffs, which, might I add, were totally unnecessary, I got a pretty good look at that little cross hanging on your neck. And guess what I saw? On the left side, near the bottom, it’s got your name neatly printed in my favorite font: Times New Roman."

The tall man looked down and started to chuckle. David continued. "So listen, Kingsley. If you or your partner lay a hand on me, the newspapers are going to hear about it tomorrow. I’ve got a lot of friends who are just itching to get some dirt on you guys. So I’d be real careful if I were you. You and your partner." David was now smiling ear to ear.

The diviner sitting down turned to his partner. "He read us like a book, Kingsley. But now that you’ve had your chance to speak, David, I think it’s only fair that I get my chance too. You know, David, we’ve met before."

"Have we?"

"You sound surprised. But you didn’t look surprised this morning, when I arrested you. You did looked scared, but you definitely didn’t look surprised."

"So now you’re calling me a coward?"

"No, I’m calling you a dishonest coward. You recognized me, David. Three days ago, at McDonald’s. My partner ordered the McMannas without paying. Remember?"

"No, I don’t." said David. He noticed that he was beginning to sound defensive. "I usually don’t pay attention to my customers."

"I bet you don‘t," said the diviner. "Too busy dicing lettuce and making McChickens, right?" David did not reply. He knew exactly what they were trying to do. They were attempting to get a rise out of him, so that in a moment of emotional weakness, he might let something slip. He wasn’t going to give them what they wanted.

The tall diviner chimed in. "I’ve got another question for you, David."

"Ask away."

"How do you plan to tell the newspapers about us if you never get out of here?"

"Like I said, you’ve got nothing on me."

"We’re diviners, David. We can keep you here as long as we want." He crossed his arms and gave David an expression letting him know that it was his turn to speak. David said nothing.

After a bit of silence, the diviner reached under his seat and revealed a brief case. "I have something to show you." He opened his brief case and produced a small stack of photos. He placed them on the table one by one. David looked at the first picture and saw an old man, waving at a crowd out of view. The diviner put another picture on the table. David’s eyes widened and he felt the hairs on his arms stand up. "Wait, let me fix that one for you," said the diviner. He flipped the picture around. "Crucified upside down. Seems like someone thought he did something pretty bad."

He put another picture on the desk. It was a close up of Father Jennings’s bare stomach. "This is the lacerated gut of Father Jennings. He was a priest." David’s eyes drifted to the floor.

"Don’t look away," said the other diviner. "David, our records show that you used to work for Point Tech. Your boss was Jim Johnston, right?"


"And you were fired. That’s correct, right, David?"


"Jim Johnston has a brother. His name is Sam Johnston. Most people call him ‘Mayor.’" David wasn’t paying attention. The words seemed far away and irrelevant.

"David, I’m sure you already know this, but just so we’re clear, the Mayor and Father Jennings worked pretty closely together."

"Why should I care?"

"Because they got you fired," said the diviner sitting down. David suddenly felt a lot more alert.

"So I see your people are finally admitting to the blacklist, Kingsley."

"Don’t change the subject," he said. But before he could continue, the other diviner’s phone rang. He flipped it open, and then hastily left. "It’s the governor," he joked. "You’ve been pardoned, Dave."

As the diviner closed the door behind him, David noticed that he was reading a text message from his phone. After a few minutes, he came back in the room and said to the tall man, "I’ve gotta run."

Then he turned to David. "We’ll have to pick this up another time."

"I look forward to it," said David, trying his best to sound pleased.

"Oh, and David, there‘s one more thing," he said. "My partner’s name is Tom. Kingsley is the name of the company that makes the crosses."


Sam Johnston, mayor of the largest city in America, was caught up in a fruitless search for coffee. The machine in his office was out of order. He thought about going to the third floor, where the city planners worked, but couldn’t bring himself to. The office grunts got uncomfortable when the boss was around. He didn’t know any of them, either.

After staring at the “out of order†sign on his coffee machine for a minute and uselessly moving the parts around, Sam walked to his intercom. “Cathy,†he said, pressing it “does anyone around here know how to fix a coffee maker?â€

Cathy’s pleasant, grandmotherly voice came back in a few seconds. “Well…†she said slowly. Sam could imagine her pursing her lips thoughtfully. “Not as far as I know, Sam. Would you like me to walk over to Starbucks and grab some for you?â€

Imagining his sixty year old secretary walking the streets of Salvation to get him caffeine made Sam feel immediately guilty. “No thanks,†he said, quickly thinking of a lie. “I, uh, didn’t really want any, I was just curious.†That wasn’t good enough, he told himself. “I just wanted to know in case I might want some coffee tomorrow,†he added lamely.

The voice on the other end of the line sounded worried. “Sam, are you okay? You sound a little under the weather.â€

“I’m fine, Cathy,†said Sam, inwardly thinking that he was anything but fine. “Don’t mind me, I’ll let you get back to work.†As he lifted his finger off the intercom, he wondered what exactly her work involved. He hadn’t had many appointments in the past few days. He had gone to a few fundraisers, presided over the opening of the new City Chapel and ate at a dinner honoring the police commissioner’s tenth year of service.

Sam leaned back in his leather chair and looked at the ceiling, not really seeing it. He was seeing a slip of paper with six words scribbled on it, its message barely legible through a coating of blood and saliva. I am coming for you, Sam.

He hadn’t been sleeping much since Paul’s death. Adrenaline had lasted him two days and coffee had kept him going since yesterday. Sam was glad there wasn’t a mirror in his office, because he knew he looked like a wreck.

He had spent most of the last three days in his office, pretending to work. Sam was afraid of going home to his wife and teenage daughter. He kept remembering that Paul had been crucified in the master bedroom, and every time he thought of his home, he imagined himself in there, nailed upside down to a cross in the middle of the master bedroom, dripping blood on the carpet. Questions ran through his mind. Jennings’ daughters had moved out of the house years ago, leaving Paul the house’s only occupant, but what would happen to Sam’s family if a killer came for him in the middle of the night? Would there be two crosses in the bedroom?

Sam wondered again why he hadn’t gone to the police.

He knew he wasn’t usually an introspective man, and attempting to become one was hard for him. It wasn’t in Sam’s nature to look at his nature, and he had always known it. Things were instinctively right for him. Some people prided themselves for their ability to question, but Sam valued his ability to have faith in things.

But now, for the first time in a while, his internal compass was broken. Things didn’t seem as clear anymore. Would it have helped to go to the police? He had burned the message after reading it, and a part of him cringed at the action in retrospect. The ink had been blurry from the saliva in Paul’s mouth, but it had been handwritten. Could it have helped the police identify the murderer? What would they think if they knew he had burned it?

It shamed Sam to think that something that petty might have contributed to his decision not to go to the police for help. It wasn’t the only reason, though. As much as Sam hated to admit it, the government of Salvation was riddled with corruption. He had always been able to keep his office free of it, but Sam suspected that other officials were in the Church’s pockets, and he knew that some parts of the police department were practically for rent. He wasn’t proud of it, but that was the way the world worked, and it couldn’t be changed. Not even by a mayor.

At his core, though, Sam knew that all of these were only excuses. The truth was, he admitted to himself, that he was frozen. He was stuck in the killer’s headlights waiting for impact. He didn’t like being introspective, because on those rare occasions when he did look inside himself, something was always missing.

The intercom buzzed. “Sam, there’s someone for you on line two.†Sam leaned forward in his chair and frowned. Cathy had been his secretary for five years, ever since Paul had suggested he fire his old secretary because she was young and pretty enough for the public to believe he might be sleeping with her. Cathy usually told him who was on the phone, rather than simply saying that ‘someone’ had called.

Sam froze for a moment. What if it was the killer? He’d already proven with his message that he enjoyed playing games with his victims.

“Sam?†asked his secretary. Her voice galvanized him.

“Thanks, Cathy,†Sam said, punching a button to take the call. “Hello?â€

“Hello, Mayor Johnston,†said the voice on the other end of the line. “My name is Simon Marshal. I’m an inspector attached to the Paranormal Department. I’d like to talk to you in person, if you have the time.â€

“About what?â€

“I’ve been investigating the recent murder of Father Jennings, Mayor, and I’d like to ask you a few questions.â€

“What?†asked Sam blankly, not making sense of it. “I already talked to the police.â€

“A few minutes of your time is all I’ll need,†said the diviner. He paused, then said significantly, “I also want to review your security arrangements.â€

Sam suddenly felt as if a burden had been lifted off his shoulders. “Come on over,†he said. “I’ll help however I can.â€

“Thank you, Mayor,†the diviner said, and the call ended.

For the first time in three days, Sam felt that he might be moving forward again.

(Continued on page 2)


Diabloii.Net Member
Twenty-seven years ago

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre, the falcon cannot hear the falconer. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world; the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the best lack all convictions, while the worst are full of passionate intensity."

"What is that, Charlie?" asked David.

"The Second Coming," he said, proudly. "It’s a poem."

David rolled his eyes. "English majors."

"I’m majoring in theology."

"What’s the difference? It‘s all creative writing."

Charlie laughed, and continued. "Surely some revelation is at hand. Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The darkness drops again but now I know that twenty centuries of stony sleep were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,†he said, pausing before asking, “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"

"What does that even mean?" asked David.

"Well, a lot of people think these miracles are a sign of God." Charlie laughed again, but this time, David could tell that he wasn‘t joking.

"So you’re admitting that you think they actually are miracles."

"No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that if this is actually God knocking on our door, then people are in for a big surprise."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because, Dave, most people seem to think that God is rewarding us for something, and that’s why all these good things are happening, like people getting healed. But the truth is, every single time that God has ever taken interest in our affairs, it hasn’t been because he’s happy."

David didn’t understand. "So you’re saying in some weird way, God is punishing us?"

"I’m just saying that these probably aren’t miracles. But if they are, then let’s just say this is the calm before the storm."

His words reminded David that it was possible for a person to be intelligent and religious. David and Charlie Blaire had been friends since high school, but David was still reluctant to let him join that night’s mission. He found it odd that a person studying to be a priest would, in any way, rebel against Mayor Easton’s decision to publicly fund the church. But the more he thought about it, the more it made sense. Ever since the miracles started, David had seen hundreds of his peers turn to Christianity, but someone like Charlie would probably react the same way as he had to the whole miracle thing: if all God cared about was faith, why would God try to prove that he existed?

In any case, David and the four other people in the van all had a common goal, and at this point, it hardly mattered to him why they had that goal in the first place. David pulled up next to the McDonald’s right across the street from city hall, and parked his van under a tree.

He turned around and looked at the rear of the van. In addition to seeing his fellow saboteurs, he also saw the items that he had told them all to bring: ski masks, wire cutters, an electric drill, and two sleek gray boxes, known as masts. On the outside, the devices didn’t look like much. They were about the size of a brick, and they had flat white wires coming out of the top and bottom. They were, nevertheless, the most important part of David’s plan.

Like most things in Salvation, almost everything in Mayor Easton’s administration, from the election ballots to the payroll, was run on government issued, encrypted online servers. It would be virtually impossible to hack such sophisticated software, but it would be relatively easy to find a hole in the hardware. That was where the masts came in. David used masts frequently to bypass software glitches and interface with computers on the most basic level possible - assembly language.

Tonight, however, he would be using them for something quite different. He reached into his bag and pulled out a laptop. This was the first time he had broken into a government building, but he didn’t expect a particularly challenging security system.

"Esther. John. Ready?"

They nodded, opened the van’s door, and left. He started the timer on wrist watch.

Ten seconds. He looked at his black duffel bag. Mast. Laptop. Drill. Check. Twenty seconds. Charlie was looking at him, calmly. Clipped to his belt was a pair of industrial size wire cutters. He was holding a mast in his right hand. Check. Thirty seconds.

"Go," said David.

They ran out of the van and David saw that the street lights in the entire block were out. Esther and John made it. David breathed a sigh of relief. He ran toward the lobby doors. A tall barbed-wire fence surrounded the perimeter of the building. On the side of the doorway was a fingerprint and keycard scanner. David took a plastic card out of his pocket. It had a cable running from one of its sides to a port on his computer.

He scanned the card, and then, almost immediately, David heard the doors click open. He and Charlie ran inside. It was darker than David expected, and he found himself wondering why he neglected to bring a flashlight.

"This way," whispered Charlie.

"You don’t have to whisper," said David, a little louder than he normally would have. "The power’s out. No cameras."

"Doesn’t this place have a generator or something?"

"Who do you think I am, Charlie? We cut those too. That doesn’t mean we have time to waste though. So let’s go."

They hurried to the stairwell. When they got to the fourth floor, David stopped and said, "You get out here."

"I know. Who do you think I am?"

David didn’t stop to acknowledge Charlie’s humor. He didn’t need any of that when doing something like this. He walked briskly to the ninth floor, and when he got there, he turned his cell phone on.

"Charlie, are you there?"

"Yeah. I’ve got the mast online. There’s a problem though." David’s heart skipped a beat.


"The computer isn’t responding. I already checked the batteries, the mast is fine."

David‘s mind raced. "Did you check the port? Both cables have to- "

"The ports are fine!"

"Jesus Christ. Okay. Okay. It’s okay, we’ve got time. I swear to God they were working back at the lab." Then David suddenly felt embarrassed. "Is the computer turned on?" There was silence on the other end of the line.

"Sorry." Even over the phone, David knew that Charlie was blushing.

"Remember, Charlie, just push enter, and the virus will do the rest."

"Yeah," Charlie replied. He hung up.

Once David’s breathing returned to normal, he headed for the backup database. The administration kept all of its automation on delocalized servers, but once the virus got to them, it would take months to repair the damage. The only problem was that all the information on the servers was backed up by the storage database.

That would be easy to take care of, though. David didn’t know exactly where it was, but he knew that it was located in a locked office. After going from door to door, he found one that was locked. He took the electric drill out of its case and aligned it with the lock’s cylinder. When he turned it on, he was surprised by how efficient it was. It cut through the lock like butter, and when he was finished, the door slid open.

Inside, David saw the storage computer. It was about two feet wide, and it probably had more processing power than all the computers David had used his entire duration as a graduate student. But as David started to connect the mast to the computer, his cell phone rang. It was Charlie.

"David? We’ve got another problem."

"Power button is on the bottom, man."

"No. You don’t understand." Charlie was whispering again. "There is still a guard here."

"Get out, now."

"I can’t." Charlie’s voice was almost inaudible.


"Because he has a gun. And I think he saw me."

Charlie hung up, and it was the silence that followed that hit David harder than anything Charlie had said. He looked out the window and the night seemed darker than before.


The present

The door closed behind the shorter diviner, leaving David alone with the one he now knew was named Tom. David knew the game the diviners were playing. He felt a distant sensation of humiliation at his mistake, but ruthlessly suppressed it. That was what they wanted. It didn’t matter what the man’s name was. Tom or Kingsley, he was still wrong. David had done a lot of things in his life, but crucifixion wasn’t one of them.

The diviner was smirking. “Is something funny?†David demanded.

“Not much,†Tom said casually. “I just expected a man with an Ivy League education to be a little smarter.â€

More intelligent, David mentally substituted. He did not reply. He would not get angry.

“What, no smart reply?†asked Tom. “When you walked in here, you had a billion of them.†He sat in the seat opposite David and shuffled through the stack of papers. David knew they probably weren’t even about him; it was all just a scare tactic. The diviner stopped suddenly, and looked at David. “You know, Simon and I aren’t really partners.â€

David couldn’t see where he was going. “So what?â€

“So,†said Tom, “we don’t usually work together. Diviners are independent. We have the legal authority to work on our own. This time, I worked with Simon for this interview because he’s a ‘good cop’. I’m sure you’ve heard of that, what with all your vast knowledge about the way things work in this department.†He paused. “So you probably know that now that Simon’s gone, you’re left with the bad cop. That’s me.â€

“Is that supposed to scare me? What are you going to do, punch me a few times? Jab me with that cross?â€

“No,†said Tom. “I’m going to ask you a few questions.†He smiled, a tight, feral smile that made David feel uncomfortable. He wasn’t sure exactly what game they were playing, but the diviner seemed confident about something.

“As you’ve already noticed, I’m going to admit that the blacklist exists,†Tom continued. “Diviners can look at it. It’s surprisingly detailed. Do you know how many people are on Salvation’s blacklist?†He leaned forward expectantly.

“No idea,†said David.

“About a hundred. A surprisingly small number, for a city of this size, with this much history.†David stiffened a little. Why would a diviner tell him this? It had to be classified. They wouldn’t want anyone to know this kind of thing. “So, as you can imagine,†Tom went on, “with only a hundred people on it, it takes a special kind of person to make the blacklist. Of course, that’s what you enjoy hearing, isn’t it? That you’re special. I guess it takes the sting out of making those McChickens.â€

“You’re really pushing my buttons, aren’t you,†said David, giving a laugh that he hoped didn’t sound hollow. The attack on his pride didn’t worry him. What worried him was the knowing look on the other man’s face. Could he know?

The diviner went on as if he hadn’t spoken. “It turns out that one kind of person who makes it on the blacklist is the kind of person that we can’t legally get to in any other way. Sometimes there are people who commit crimes. In the past, when we had a much kinder, more caring judicial system, some of those criminals wouldn’t be convicted. Sometimes there wasn’t enough evidence. Back in the days of trial by jury, a lot of what we call justice was actually chance.†He stopped. “The blacklist corrected that regrettable mistake.†Tom gestured at David. “You know where I’m going with this.â€

“I don’t know what you think you know about me, but whatever it is, it’s wrong,†said David coldly. “I don’t know why I’m on your damn blacklist, but I can tell you one thing. Now that I know about it, the papers are going to know about it too. Let’s see,†he said, pretending to think. “How many people did you say were on it again? About a hundred? You’re name’s Tom, right? Can I get a last name so you don’t have to be an anonymous source?â€

“Wrong answer,†said Tom. “You’re pathetic. I can’t imagine why Charlie was ever friends with you.â€

David was silent. So the diviner did know something. But how much did he know? “Now I know what you’re talking about,†he said. “That incident back in my college days? I was acquitted. I had nothing to do with the murder of that guard.â€

“Like I was saying,†said Tom, “sometimes criminals were put back on the streets because they cared too much about evidence in the old days. And that’s why you’re on the blacklist. You can get out of jail, but you’re never free.â€

“Did you drag me here to make pointless threats and vague insinuations?†asked David. “Because that’s all I’ve heard so far. You don’t have any new evidence linking me to the murder. You want to know how I know that?†He leaned forward. “Because I didn’t do it!†A detached part of him noticed as he leaned forward that Tom’s hand was on his gun, and had probably been like that for the whole interrogation.

“Shut up,†said the diviner. He stopped seeming relaxed, and there was an edge to his voice now. “Listen, Mr. Abrams. I’m not here to uselessly bring back the past. You’re an old, broken man now, whatever you were in your college days. I only mentioned the reason you’re on the blacklist to let you know where we stand. Now it’s your turn to give me information.†He emphasized the next sentence, stressing every word. “What do you know about Charlie Blaire?â€

“What?†asked David, taken aback. Was this some kind of tactic to get him to reveal something related to his own crime? “Why does it matter to you?â€

“It matters,†was all Tom would say. He waited, and David decided to give in, just a little. Talking about college friendships wouldn’t incriminate him in anything.

“Okay,†he said. “Charlie was a good guy—â€

“None of that bull****,†said Tom, waving impatiently. “Tell me about him.â€

“Alright,†said David, still somewhat confused, but thankful that things were at least a little under his control now. “I’ll tell you about Charlie.â€


Diabloii.Net Member
"Mayor Johnston?" Simon held up the cross in his pocket. "We spoke on the phone earlier."

"Of course. Good evening, Inspector Marshal." He stuck out his hand and Simon shook it.

"Listen, Mayor Johnston-â€

"Please, call me Sam."

"Sam, I need to see the message."

"Uh, I’m afraid I don’t understand, Inspector."

Simon sighed. "Sam, I need you to be honest with me. You know that I’m trying to help you. Please, let me see the message."

"Inspector Marshall, I have reason to suspect that the security of my office might be compromised. But as far as this ‘message’ goes -"

Simon felt a sudden surge of contempt for Johnston, but he stifled it. He had been driving across Salvation all day, and he was tired. He was doing everything in his power to keep the Mayor and his family safe and he resented the fact that Johnston still wouldn’t be straight with him. Perhaps even more than that, he resented the fact that Johnston actually thought that he could lie to him and get away with it.

Simon decided it was time to show him the photograph. He didn’t want to resort to this, but Johnston was being stubborn. He fished in his pocket for it, and showed it to Sam.

The picture was of Paul Jennings’s back, with the words "First Kings 22:23" carved in his back. Damien had called Simon that morning because autopsy discovered the verse while they were embalming Jennings’ body. Simon looked it up and the passage read, "Now behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all thy prophets, and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee." When Simon saw it, he knew what had happened. Autopsy didn’t find anything in Jennings’ mouth, but when he looked through his file, he noticed that a young police officer reported that Jennings posthumously had a visitor.

After he gave Sam some time to think about the picture, Simon said, "Your life is probably in danger, Sam. This is not a good time to play games."

Sam had been politely smiling the whole time, but now he was pale and expressionless. Simon knew that he was exhausted, afraid, and more importantly, ready to tell him what he wanted.

"The message…" Sam ran his hands through his hair. "I burned it."

The thought of Sam destroying their only lead angered Simon. There were no fingerprints on Paul Jennings’ body, but it was possible the killer could’ve handwritten the note before hand. How could someone so foolish be Mayor?

"It’s okay," said Simon. "What did the note say?"

Sam looked up at the ceiling, like he was struggling to remember. But Simon knew that Sam was once again thinking about lying to him.

"It said, I am coming for you." Johnston took a deep breath. "Sam," he added.

"Is that it?"

"That’s it."

"Okay, Sam, I realize that your reputation is at stake here, and I promise that I will try my best to distance you from this. But right now, you need to turn this place into a fortress." Simon felt like he was dealing with a child.

"Are any other diviners working on this?" asked Sam.

Simon was glad to see that he was finally taking this seriously. "Yes, one other. Inspector Tom Williams is currently interrogating a potential suspect. He and I have been investigating this case for the past three days."

"Good," said Sam. "Will you try not to involve anyone else?"

Simon was tired of arguing about this. "Alright. How many security officers do you have on staff right now?" Part of Simon was afraid of hearing the answer.


At least he got that right, Simon thought. "How many entrances are there to the building?"

"Uh, nine or ten."

"Which is it, nine or ten?"

"Ten. It’s ten."

"Okay, we need to go down to the station, right now. Your family should come too. Believe me when I say that it is not safe here, or at your home. We think that Paul Jennings is just the most recent addition to a string of politically motivated murders that have occurred in the past six months." Simon paused and searched his vocabulary for a delicate way to put what he was about to say next.

"Sam, in almost every single case, the families of the victims have been attacked as well. We need to go and you need to contact your wife." Simon saw that Sam’s hands were shaking.

Sam pulled a phone out of his pocket and dialed his wife’s number. He had to enter the number several times before he got it right. Simon was not looking forward to Mrs. Johnston’s reaction because he had a feeling that she would panic. He waited for Sam’s call to get through.

When the call finally connected, the electronic ring of Sam’s phone pierced the silence like an arrow.

After the first ring, Sam began to pace around the room.

After the second ring, Sam took a deep breath.

When the answering machine picked up, Sam’s face was completely white. Simon only hesitated a moment before he pulled his car keys out of his pocket and ran for the door.


Earlier that day

Tom was looking through the blacklist. It was more than just a list, of course. The list also contained all the data about why they were on it. He wondered how nobody had managed to make it public after all these years.

At the moment he was looking at the life and crimes of David Abrams, an unmarried McDonald’s worker. David hadn’t always been such a loser; at one point, he had seemed to have a bright future. He had graduated from Princeton, and went on to become a valued employee in the technology industry. Then Mayor Johnston was elected and the blacklist was created. Tom smiled.

He began reading about the offense. Apparently, the gifted college student had decided to become an inept terrorist shortly after the miracles began. Along with five friends, he had tried to infect the city’s computers with a virus.

Tom stopped reading for a second and frowned. How could David have graduated from college and got a respectable job if he had tried to do something like that? He decided that the answers would probably be in the rest of the document, and kept reading.

The attempt failed when a guard who wasn’t scheduled to work that night showed up, thinking it was his shift. He had discovered the criminals, and in the struggle that followed, was murdered. There had been only one set of fingerprints on him, and they belonged to a man called Charlie Blaire.

Tom stopped again and went back to reread it.

The fingerprints belonged to a man called Charlie Blaire.

He skimmed through the rest of the file, not really seeing it. Phrases like “not enough evidence†and “covered his tracks†leapt out at him, but they didn’t have any meaning. Tom had already decided that David would need to be interrogated, immediately. He stood and walked towards the door to the parking lot. He remembered the date of the incident and did a little mental math, just to be certain.

Yes, Charlie Blaire would be fifty-two today.

“Hey, Tom,†someone called out. Tom turned his head and saw it was Simon. He reluctantly stopped walking, but tried to look impatient. It was easy.

“What’s the rush?†asked Simon. “I wanted to ask you what you thought of Keith Grayson.â€

“Sorry,†Tom said. “Can’t talk. I’ve gotta go bring in a different suspect.â€

“Really?†said Simon casually. He had a coffee mug in his hand. He set it down on his desk. “Which one?â€

Tom thought about lying and decided against it. “David Abrams.â€

“Interesting,†said Simon. “He’s the first on the list. I checked him out myself two days ago, right after the crucifixion. He didn’t strike me as suspicious.â€

“He’s on the blacklist,†Tom said tersely. “Isn’t that suspicious enough?†He looked at Simon and tried to use his body language to ask, Are you questioning me?

“Yeah, yeah, you’ve got a point,†Simon responded. “But there’s a hundred people right there with him on the list. What makes him stand out?â€

“I had a hunch,†Tom said, abandoning courtesy and walking for the door.

Simon called after him “I’d like to join you in the interrogation, Tom. I want to see what’s so interesting about this guy for myself.â€

“Suit yourself,†said Tom as he opened the door. He would find a way to get rid of Simon eventually. As he walked to his car, he reviewed the facts again.

Charlie Blaire would be fifty-two today. He had escaped from prison and dropped off the radar after his conviction. The records had stopped there, but Tom could fill in some of the gaps himself. Charlie Blaire had become a father twenty-five years ago. He had never told his son anything about his past. Apparently the murder had woken something in him, because Charlie Blaire pursued a life of crime after it, dragging his son along with him.

Charlie B.


Forty-five years ago

David woke up on his desk with a page of the Bible stuck to his face. He peeled it off and looked at his alarm clock. 7:34. He forgot to set it the night before, but he woke up on time anyway.

Part of him wished he had woken up later. In half an hour, he would have to be in the discipline room with Sister Madeline. David got out of bed, and put on his uniform. It was a school day and he would be missing his first class, penmanship.

He trudged down two flights of stairs and when he came outside, he saw that it had been raining all night. The blacktop around the basketball courts was a dark shade of gray, and David could smell the asphalt. He normally appreciated it, because it reminded him of recess. But today, all David could smell was wet tar, and it smelled terrible.

As he got closer to the orphanage’s main office, he saw the road, about fifty feet away. For a moment, David thought about making a break for it. He looked around and saw that many of the other orphans were outside as well, and that they were headed for their classrooms. There were other nuns around too. David saw Sister Roberts standing near the doorway of her classroom and he saw Sister Berth making sure that nobody hurt themselves on the playground. If he ran, they would see him.

But that wasn’t why David didn’t run. He knew that if he wanted to, that he would run as fast as he could, that he would never stop to rest, and that he would leave forever. He knew that if he ran, no one would be able to stop him.

But David didn’t run. He walked toward the discipline room and when he opened the door, Sister Madeline was waiting for him. David looked around the room and saw that it used to be a classroom. There were only a few desks now, but the chalkboards were still nailed to the back wall.

"Good morning, David. Are you ready?" David nodded. Sister Madeline picked up a ruler that was sitting on the lip of the chalkboard. "I am glad you showed up today," said Sister Madeline.

But David was not trying to please her. He sat down in one of the classroom’s desks and put his hands on top of it, palms down. He looked up at Madeline, and he thought he saw a faint look of disbelief on Madeline’s face when she realized that his eyes were perfectly dry.

"God is pleased with you, David," she said. "He is punishing you because you have sinned, but he knows that you have a penitent heart. That is why after today, he will forgive you." She paused to give David time to think. Then, she said, "Did you memorize the fifty first Psalm?"

"Yes, Sister Madeline," replied David. He was not going to run from her.

"Good," she said. Then she raised the ruler over his right hand, and suddenly, forcefully, like someone trying to swat a fly, she brought it down, striking David across his knuckles. They instantly turned white, but David did not look down. He was looking at Sister Madeline.

She raised the ruler and hit David’s right hand again. His middle knuckle was already raw, and the skin around it began to crack. But David said nothing. He was staring at Sister Madeline.

She brought the ruler up for a third strike, and this time, the edge of the ruler caught David’s skin, and his middle knuckle split open. Blood flowed in between his fingers, but still David said nothing. His gaze could not be broken, because David knew that no matter what Sister Madeline did to him, he would always know that she had been wrong. David did not have a penitent heart and he did not care if God was pleased with him. He was not sorry that he had ran the day before and he would not be sorry if he ran now.

But he didn‘t want to run. Sister Madeline raised the ruler a fourth time, but before she hit his hand, she said, "Remember, David: God is justified in his sentence, and blameless in his judgment."

The words stayed with David, and after each strike, they became louder and clearer to him, even though he knew they meant nothing.


Diabloii.Net Member
Another good read, Mr. Rage. Compared to last chapter, I spent less time feeling disoriented and confused and more time intrigued and interested. (That was a compliment.) I especially liked the flashbacks to David's parochial school past and the interogation scenes. Now I'll get into specifics.

The tall, and unusually thin man sitting in front of him replied, "Because you killed someone." David looked at his watch and sighed, impatiently.
Either that first comma or the following "and" should go, I think. I'd lose the "and."

He placed them on the table one by one. David looked at the first picture and saw an old man, waving at a crowd out of view.
Seems like a statement about facts not in evidence. How does he know what the old man is waving to? (By the way, in this same paragraph, I very much liked the trick that Simon tried to pull on David: putting the picture upside down, hoping, I suppose, that David would unconsciously flip it over, thus revealing his knowledge of the crime.)

- Some of the technology that appears strikes me a dubious. Will phones still have text messaging in 20 years? Perhaps, maybe even probably, but will executives still be using intercoms? Does anybody use intercoms today? It seems like phones and IM have made them completely obsolete. I don't have a solution to the problem of predicting what tech will be around in the future, but I wonder if you need to emphasize it as much as you do. The way some of this reads, I get the feeling that you made a deliberate choice to give it a tech feel. That's a valid choice, but it does place on you the burden of making valid tech choices.

- Sticking with the tech theme for a second, I felt the weakest section was the college-days break-in. I guess these guys never heard of such a thing as an offsite backup. In addition, as a software professional, the idea that they were going to access the system at the assembler level didn't make a lot of sense to me. That might not bother most people, but by the same token, it probably won't impess them much either.

- The characterization of Sam Johnston around the coffee maker was welcome but seemed a little inconsistent in places. For example:

The office grunts got uncomfortable when the boss was around. He didn’t know any of them, either.

Imagining his sixty year old secretary walking the streets of Salvation to get him caffeine made Sam feel immediately guilty.
One seems to reveal arrogance, the other humility. Not an impossible mixture, of course, but it makes him seem like a complex character.

Also, in the same paragraph the secretary refers to Starbucks. For my taste you could use something like "the shop" in place of the proper name from the real world. I know you've already set the precedent of using real names: America, McDonalds, etc., and the McManna was a nice touch, but in general I'm not sure that injecting the occasional reality cameo into this futurist fantasy adds more than it takes away. You're us of Princeton is another example of this real-name dropping.

Sam pulled a phone out of his pocket and dialed his wife’s number. He had to enter the number several times before he got it right.
Another comment about technology: it's hard to believe he wouldn't have his home number on speed-dial, or whatever the 20-years-in-the-future equivalent would be.

Apparently, the gifted college student had decided to become an inept terrorist shortly after the miracles began.
This seems to be misstated, unless Tom fancies himself a comedian of sorts.

- In the section that ends with the sentence, "Charlie B," if what you are trying to do is to begin to reveal that Charlie might be Clever John from chapter 1, then I would say it is unnecessary. I started to get that idea in the preceding paragraph, and the sentence seemed to be a kind of confirmation of it, which took a little of the fun away. Not a big deal, but IMHO, better without it.

He trudged down two flights of stairs and when he came outside, he saw that it had been raining all night.
I think you could lose the comma and the word he after it. Either that or you could balance the comma with another one between "stairs" and "and". But I really think it doesn't need any commas at all.

Then, she said, "Did you memorize the fifty first Psalm?"
Not sure about this, but shouldn't there be a hyphen between fifty and first?

About the ending: it's powerful, if a little ambiguous. Nothing wrong with that, though. Obviously this was a significant ordeal in his life but I get the sense that it's not important that we know exactly how it affected him at this point in the story. For now, it adds depth to David's character and gives the reader another piece of the puzzle to ponder.


Diabloii.Net Member
Sorry for the delay on these, but this is on the first chapter only.

In general, I thought this was well-written, and the plot's got my attention for sure. I didn't mind the non-linearity, personally, though if you're going to switch from it to a more linear format, you may want a stronger reason than just writer's convenience. The only two bits that really felt jagged were, as previously mentioned, the interview and the little bit at the end. For the former, it felt like you rushed it too much for it to be believable; though I haven't really seen that much in terms of that kind of TV shows, it felt too direct and also a bit contrived to me. As for the little bit at the end, I have nothing to say other than what those who have gone before have noted. I'm also on Snowglare's side a little for the length; though it read pretty well when I actually did read it, the need to set aside time for 21 pages of writing in Word plus comments was...daunting.

More specifically, though 0xDEADCAFE brings up a good comment with regard to the telling, truth be told, it didn't bug me too much. This may be worth another once-over for particular sentences that stand out as problematic, but overall, I think the balance between showing and telling works.

In terms of characters, Disco-neck Ted definitely has a point on their "sameness," though it seems somewhat less of an issue given the length so far. I might, though, make one of the characters a bit more distinct from the rest in a rewrite, if you have the time and will to work yourself into a new voice. Personally, I find that a nice, long conversation or two with one or two other people, aside from its own value, can help with this sort of thing.

Anyway, I'd say it's an enjoyable read, and I'll try to get around to the rest as I can. Thanks for posting!


Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
Seems like a statement about facts not in evidence. How does he know what the old man is waving to?
There's a certain way one waves to a crowd. Impersonal, forced. Maybe he got a "crowd wave" vibe from the picture, or details placed it where a crowd would surely be.

0xDEADCAFE said:
Perhaps, maybe even probably, but will executives still be using intercoms? Does anybody use intercoms today?
Anyone who wants to engage in interoffice communications at the press of a button does. Instant messaging is silent, cold, and not necessarily faster - after all, typing speed is one of the things executives pay their secretaries to have. Press a button, speak into the box, receive an answer. Simple and effective.

0xDEADCAFE said:
Another comment about technology: it's hard to believe he wouldn't have his home number on speed-dial, or whatever the 20-years-in-the-future equivalent would be.
It's even harder to believe he would misdial the number "several times." Or it would be if not for the context, which clearly places Sam in a state of high stress. I've been flustered enough to forget my own name before, and I didn't have a loved one in mortal danger.



Diabloii.Net Member
There's a certain way one waves to a crowd. Impersonal, forced. Maybe he got a "crowd wave" vibe from the picture, or details placed it where a crowd would surely be.
That's a good point, and I did indeed picture it as such. What struck me about this was the way the statement seemed to be so unnecessarily definitive about there being a crowd. There are other ways to say this, of course, for example: "...picture of a man waving, as if to a crowd" or "...picture of a man doing a crowd wave..." etc. I just thought the choice here was a little too literal. Secret may well have been picturing a crowd out of view when he wrote this; that doesn't necessarily mean that is the best way to put it to the user. (Admittedly, this is a very minor point. I didn't mean to imply that it was badly written, just that it seemed to be shaded in a peculiar way.)

Anyone who wants to engage in interoffice communications at the press of a button does. Instant messaging is silent, cold, and not necessarily faster - after all, typing speed is one of the things executives pay their secretaries to have. Press a button, speak into the box, receive an answer. Simple and effective.
Well... maybe, maybe not.

It may come down to a difference of experience. Where I work everyone has got an IP phone on their desk with speed dial and a speakerphone. To call a frequently used number requires either: pick up the phone and press one button, or press two buttons (one for speaker and one for the number.) Granted, the old-fashioned intercom's one button efficiency has got that beat, but since you need the phone anyway, does it make sense that, in the future, organizations would purchase both phones and intercoms?

On a side note, I was also struck by the potentially anachronistic portrait of Sam-and-secretary presented here, as in, will the old-fashioned notion of secretaries in general survive another twenty years? Again, using my company as a reference, there are very few secretaries here at all, and the ones that do exist are more like administrative assistants. At the risk of predicting the future, I get the impression that the days of "the boss" pushing a button and having someone, stereotypically a woman, at his instant beck and call are on the wane, regardless of the direction of future technology.

It's even harder to believe he would misdial the number "several times." Or it would be if not for the context, which clearly places Sam in a state of high stress. I've been flustered enough to forget my own name before, and I didn't have a loved one in mortal danger.
Again, you make a good point, one that was not lost on me when I read this. The several-redials bit is an effective way to communicate Sam's agitation, but to my point, I think the degree to which Secret is sprinkling references to the ambient technology throughout the story draws attention to it as an element of the story. For me, although I understood the connotation of the action as evidence of Sam's agitation , I couldn't help being distracted by the question of why, twenty years in the future, he would be dialing at all.

And so to my broader point, the decision to make technology such a noticable part of the story has its liabilities. Which is not to say that Secret shouldn't do it; it has great potential benefits, too. In this instance the specific reference struck me as questionable and as a result took away from my appreciation of the dramatic moment. (But not that much.)

And from a few posts ago:
Bah! Now my reply is miniscule by comparison. That won't do.
Clearly, Snow has size issues. :wink3:



Fan Fiction Forum Moderator
What struck me about this was the way the statement seemed to be so unnecessarily definitive about there being a crowd. There are other ways to say this, of course, for example: "...picture of a man waving, as if to a crowd"
That does sound better. I think you're right about Secret picturing the crowd moreso than David did.

0xDEADCAFE said:
It may come down to a difference of experience. Where I work everyone has got an IP phone on their desk with speed dial and a speakerphone. To call a frequently used number requires either: pick up the phone and press one button, or press two buttons (one for speaker and one for the number.) Granted, the old-fashioned intercom's one button efficiency has got that beat, but since you need the phone anyway, does it make sense that, in the future, organizations would purchase both phones and intercoms?
I had thought of speakerphones - ruling them out because it seemed silly to call someone in the next room, where I imagine the average secretary is - but the way you describe them makes them sound more likely to have usurped the role of the intercom. Certainly Sam would either have both, just the speakerphone, or something more advanced.

0xDEADCAFE said:
And so to my broader point, the decision to make technology such a noticable part of the story has its liabilities. Which is not to say that Secret shouldn't do it; it has great potential benefits, too. In this instance the specific reference struck me as questionable and as a result took away from my appreciation of the dramatic moment. (But not that much.)
I'm pretty sure that's intentional. Going back to the first chapter:

SecretRage said:
there was no "miracle debate" that ended science, and you know it. We didn?t divide among ourselves. The American public, including you and people like you, abandoned us. We couldn?t explain certain events, and you cut our funding to make sure we never would explain them.
Sounds like the idea is that the "age of miracles" slowed scientific, technological, and not coincidentally, societal advancement to a crawl. Things began to move backwards, allowing for atrocities like the blacklist to go unchecked.

0xDEADCAFE said:
Clearly, Snow has size issues. :wink3:
More like content issues. You guys aren't just jabbering, you're actually saying quite a bit, and I feel pressured to keep up. Or at least not lag so far behind.



Diabloii.Net Member
Thanks for the comments, guys.

RK, after reading your post I've decided that I probably won't be switching away from the non-linear format. Originally I had planned on doing it for a few episodes just so that it didn't become like this story's 'gimmick' but apparently nobody views it as a gimmick, so a switch is unnecessary. I like writing it like this, anyway.

As far as length goes, it's still an open question. Each chapter will be roughly twenty pages, 8,000 words, and 7-10 scenes. I can post it in shorter chunks if people would like that, maybe post each chapter in two or three parts. The reason why I haven't done that so far is that I figure people who don't want to read it all at once have the option of just reading part, while people who do want to read it all at once also have that option this way. Anyone else who wants to weigh in on this issue, feel free to.

I was a little surprised to find so much discussion about the picture of Jennings waving to a crowd... I have a feeling that you guys put a lot more thought into reading that sentence than I did in writing it. I was envisioning him at a podium, on a stage or something, waving. I suppose there are also plenty of other ways to have a picture showing a man waving to a crowd.

The level of technology is intentional, as is the use of a secretary. Oh, and yes, the break in part was bull****. At least I never claimed it worked. I'm not a Mission Impossible script writer.

Anyway, Chapter 3: Not to Bring Peace, is about halfway done now, and I expect it to be complete in a few days at most. I could delay posting it longer, or post it in parts, but barring any need for that, it will be up soon.

EDIT: since I'm writing this with a partner, all of the I's except the two in this sentence should technically be we's, but whatever.


Diabloii.Net Member
Chapter 3: Not to Bring Peace

Twenty years ago

“I’m home,†called Simon as he stepped into his house. He was back from school a few hours earlier than usual. Simon loved minimum days.

As he took his shoes off, he waited expectantly to hear an answer from his dad. His mom wouldn’t be home from work until late at night, but his dad was always home, and he always greeted him. Simon smiled. He wondered if there would be cookies.

His smile turned into a frown when his dad hadn’t showed up by the time his shoes were both off. If his dad wasn’t home, then he was out shopping for groceries, which meant that there wouldn’t be anything good to eat, and he wouldn’t be happy when he got back. Simon had hoped that he could convince his father to take him to the park.

He cheered up quickly though, because it was still a minimum day. As he was walking to his room he realized he had to use the bathroom, so he dumped his backpack on the floor and pushed the door open.

His dad was in the bathroom, and Simon immediately began to feel embarrassed. He backed away and started to close the door, but stopped. Something felt wrong; his father hadn’t reacted right. He just stood there, looking at Simon. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t laugh.

He was standing next to the shower. He had hastily closed the curtain when Simon opened the door, but a few of the flimsy plastic rings holding it to the bar were ripped. As the top of the curtain drifted down, Simon remembered how his parents had argued about it. His dad had wanted to buy a new one, but his mom had insisted that they keep it, saying that it was good for at least another couple years. Simon had never been able to understand why they would argue about something so small.

There was a rope tied to the showerhead, and though the curtain was partially blocking his view, Simon suddenly knew that the rope formed a noose.

His dad finally spoke, straining to sound normal. “You’re back from school early today.â€

“We had a minimum day,†said Simon. He didn’t know what else to say. He hesitated. “Dad, what’s going on?â€

His father was silent for a few moments, thinking of what to say. “I—â€

He stopped, but Simon hadn’t interrupted him.

“It’s not…†he said, running his hands through his hair, “it’s not what you think.â€

Simon wanted to believe him. He wanted to believe that his dad was measuring the shower somehow, or that the rope had just appeared there. Simon had seen three or four miracles in his life. It wasn’t impossible. He wanted to believe it. But even then, at eight years old, Simon knew when he was being lied to.

He looked at his father accusingly and couldn’t find anything to say.

His dad sighed. He sagged against the wall. “There are a lot of things that will make sense to you when you’re older, Simon.â€

Simon wasn’t sure if he should say something, and he still couldn’t think of anything. “Why?†he asked, and somehow, his dad understood what he really meant.

“The truth is,†his father said haltingly, “the truth is that this family would be better off without me.â€

Simon found his voice. “That’s not true. It’s just not true.â€

His dad wasn’t looking at him anymore, and he was speaking faster now. The words came out in spurts. “I can’t do anything anymore. I can’t help. I can’t find a job anywhere, no matter how hard I look. Your mom… she’s been the one supporting both of us for the last few years. God knows what she really thinks of me.â€

“None of that matters,†Simon objected, but his dad ignored him. He went on like he needed to say it, and Simon couldn’t understand. He couldn’t understand why he wanted to be useless.

“…and we can’t even replace the damn shower curtain,†he said. Simon had never heard him swear before. “Simon,†said his father, crouching down to look at him in the eyes. “Do you know where I go when you think I’m buying groceries?â€

“No,†said Simon, afraid of what the answer would be.

“I go to an office,†said his dad, biting off each word, “I go to an office and I ask people for money, and they give it to me because I can’t support my family. I go to an office and stand in a line, waiting to get money that’s not mine, and I have to fill out forms. I tell them that I have an eight year old son. I tell them that my wife is working her fingers to the bone at a factory. And I tell them that I can’t make anything right.†He looked down, and there was something ugly and almost triumphant in his face. “Then they give me money. A little, at least.â€

Simon remembered something. “Mom told me to pray for you,†he said, thinking it might help.

His father laughed. “I never wanted you to pray for me, Simon. I never wanted your mother to pray for me. I wanted to be the one who prays for God to help the needy.â€

“God does give help to everyone who needs it,†Simon asserted. “That’s what you used to tell me.â€

His dad shook his head. “He’s too big, Simon. I know that now. Do you understand? He’s too big.â€

Simon didn’t understand, but he nodded his head.

Still shaking his head, his father stood up straight and said “Simon, I want you to go to your room.â€

“I don’t want to leave you here,†said Simon, but he was already backing out of the doorway. He couldn’t disobey, and he knew that if his father demanded that he leave, he would have to.

“Just go,†said his dad, not looking at him anymore. “Go to your room and stay there.â€

Simon tried one last time. “Let’s go to the park, Dad. We can see if there are any quarters in the fountain, and watch people fly their kites.â€

“I am still your father,†he responded quietly, “and I am telling you to go to your room. I’m going to count to three, and you better be in there by the time I finish.â€

Simon wanted to say something to bring him back from the brink. He wanted to say something that would touch him, make him smile, make him laugh without being bitter. Nothing sounded right. Simon wanted to say, “I love you†but knew it would sound fake, and at that moment, he didn’t even know if it was true, or if it would be enough.

After thinking about it, he eventually said “We do need you, Dad.â€

“One,†his dad replied.

Simon left and went to his room, closing the door behind him, as he had always been told to. He couldn’t do anything else. When he got to his room at the end of the hall, he lay down in his bed and listened hard, waiting to hear the bathroom door open. Waiting to hear his father come and find him and tell him that he had changed, that Simon had been able to change him. That Simon had been able to make things right.

He waited a long time, but he never heard the door open.


The present

Tom opened the door. "Alright. You’re free to go."

"That’s it?"

"Just wanted to ask you a few questions."

"Were the handcuffs really necessary then?" asked David, as he massaged his wrists.

"No," said Tom dismissively, "But they wouldn’t have been necessary even if we were actually arresting you."

David started for the door, but then asked, "So why were you quizzing me about Charlie, anyway?"

Tom briefly considered what would happen if he told the truth, and then said, "It’s classified."

"Of course," replied David, facetiously. "Well I’ll be on my way now. And thanks for letting me go. I’ll be sure to let my friends at the paper know how kind you were, Tom."

"Williams," interrupted Tom. "Inspector Tom Williams."

David smiled and then left.

Tom closed the door behind him and then pressed a small green button on the recording device next to the one way mirror. The speakers clicked on and replayed his interrogation of David. Tom listened to all the trivia that he just learned about Charlie B’s life, and tried to commit the information to memory. He was a theology student. He was a quiet person. He spent a lot of time reading and studying. He was single.

Tom didn’t get anything really that important from David, but that wasn’t what he was after. He just wanted to know the details. He just wanted to know a little bit more about Charlie.

About an hour later, near the end of the recording, Tom’s cell phone rang. It was Simon.

"Learn anything new?"

"Tom, I think we may have a situation at the Mayor’s home. Send two squads to his estate, and put roadblocks all over the 110."

Startled by his tone, Tom asked, "Do you want to tell me why?"

"Now’s not a good time. Just do it." Simon hung up.

Tom felt a little bit like he was being given an order, but he knew that if Simon wasn’t going to explain himself, it was probably for a good reason. He ran out of the interrogation room and spoke into an intercom.

"Attention, units one through five. This is Inspector Williams. There is an emergency at Mayor Johnston’s estate. Prepare for an armed confrontation. Units six and seven, set up roadblocks on the 110, north and south. More information later."

He released the talk button and a reply came a few seconds later. "Will you be reporting to the Mayor’s residence, Inspector Williams?"

"Negative, proceed without me." Tom switched the intercom off. He looked outside the window of the interrogation floor and he saw dozens of police officers dressed in military gear running into armored vans. Like clockwork, he thought.

Then, once Tom was satisfied, he took the elevator down to the garage. He hadn’t seen his family in three days and he decided to leave early. He wondered if Audrey and Tim missed him. He wondered if Charlie B. missed his family.

He got in his car and began the long drive home.


Simon turned his siren off and looked at Sam. "I’m going to have to ask you to wait in the car."

Sam did not respond, but Simon knew he was listening. "Can you do that for me?"

"Yes. Of course," said Sam as he stared at the dashboard. Simon opened the car door and got out.

For the whole ride there, Simon had been speeding down the freeway, but Sam managed to look calm and withdrawn the entire time. Simon had been asking him questions about his family and his home. He asked him if he had noticed anything suspicious during the past few weeks. Sam kept his responses short and unhelpful.

Simon knew that Sam was trying his hardest to take his mind off of the situation. He was going to let Simon deal with it.

That didn’t bother him.

Simon had parked his car a block away from Sam’s estate, just in case. Mrs. Johnston was probably taking the kids out for a walk. A stroll around the backyard. He was just going in to make sure that everything was fine. He was just being safe.

That’s why he had called back-up while they were on their way. As Simon hurried to Sam’s house, he considered waiting for them to arrive. But if something was wrong, then he’d have no time to spare.

The front gate was open, but when Simon made his way up to the front door, he found that it was locked. Good news, he thought.

Then Simon thought about it again.

He checked the clip on his handgun. Nine bullets. Then, he turned his attention to the digital lock on the front door. He entered the seven digit password that Sam had told him in the car and the door slid open, silently.

The lights were off and Simon couldn’t see anything but the vague shapes of furniture. A bead of sweat rolled down Simon’s forehead.

His eyes darted back and forth across the living room. Four doors. Spiral wooden staircase. There were too many places for something to go wrong. Too many places to get surprised. Too many places to die. He should wait for back up. No, this was about their safety. Not his.

Simon walked up the stairs to the third floor. He had seen enough crime scenes to know that he needed to go to the master bedroom. Simon put his left hand on the crystal doorknob. With a gun in his right, he opened the door and aimed blindly at the darkness.

The room was empty.

There was a small crack in the blinds and moonlight came through the window, reflecting off the silencer on his pistol. Then, in the glare, something caught Simon’s eye. It was the silhouette of a man, standing a few feet behind him.

Nine bullets, but he would only need one.

Simon spun around and fired a single shot. Simon expected the man to fall to the floor. He expected a dead body in a pool of blood, with a nine millimeter hole through its heart.

But instead, the man winced in pain and then charged at Simon. His shoulder struck Simon square in the gut and his gun fell to the floor. Out of breath, Simon reached for his gun, but the man held his hand down and pinned him to the floor. Simon knew that the man was much stronger than him, so he threw his weight to the side and got out from under the man. He ran for his gun, but the man grabbed his leg and Simon fell to the floor again.

The man then gripped Simon by the throat and waist and hoisted him over his head. Simon grabbed his hand and tried to pry his fingers off of his throat. He touched something wet and slimy. He thought it might have been the man’s fingers digging into his trachea, but it wasn’t. Simon had shot off one of his fingers.

But it wasn’t enough. Simon pushed his fingernails into the man’s hand, but he did not loosen his grip. The man walked out of the bedroom, with Simon overhead, and threw him off the third floor.

Simon felt air rush into his lungs and he could breath again. But his body bounced off of the wooden handrails of the staircase and he felt the bones in his right leg snap. Simon tumbled down the staircase until he broke his fall a few steps below the second floor.

He focused on his breathing. He was wheezing from suffocation and the pain in his leg. Blood was running into his eyes, probably from a cut on his head. The black crucifix that Simon kept in his pocket had fallen out and was sitting next to his head.

He rested on the stairs, broken.

Simon heard the man running down after him. He tried to get up, but his body was a writhing mass of pain, out of his control. The man threw a fist at Simon’s face and connected with his jaw. Simon felt his consciousness slipping.

The man drew his fist back for another punch, but something in Simon helped him shake off his stupor. Maybe it was the thought of two crucified bodies. Or the smell of his own blood. Maybe it was something else.

He grabbed the man’s arm with both hands, and remembering his training, he twisted it as hard as he could. Simon heard a pop and the man winced. He had dislocated his shoulder. Then, Simon elbowed the man in the face and his head hit the floor with enough force to crack the wooden steps.

Simon need to end this quickly. He grabbed the man’s head and twisted with all of his strength. But the man had recovered too quickly. With one hand, he grabbed both of Simon’s and tried to pry them off. With his other hand, he picked up Simon’s crucifix.
The man flipped him on his back and tried to plunged the dull end of the cross into Simon’s eye.

Simon released his hold on the man’s head and caught his fist moments before the crucifix made contact. The tip of the cross brushed against his eyelashes. But whatever had been keeping Simon going was wearing off. His muscles burned and despair was taking over his mind.

The man used both hands and pushed harder on the cross. Simon could no longer stop him. The cross’s blunt tip touched the surface of his eye and then slowly penetrated it. The white jelly of Simon’s eye ran over his left eyebrow and cheek. Simon felt a sharp, hot pain, like there was a fire burning in his eye socket.

He cried out for help, but part of Simon was afraid that there was no one out there to hear him.


Diabloii.Net Member
Ten years ago

“Mom, wait up,†called Simon. His mother either didn’t hear him or didn’t want to answer him. She walked through the graveyard quickly, almost running. Simon jogged ahead and caught up with her. “I’m sure there’s an explanation,†he said soothingly.

“There better be,†she said. Her mouth was set in a grim frown that Simon recognized too well.

“Just don’t freak out, alright?†They had entered the funeral home now. She walked up to the front desk, where a worker dressed in a suit was talking on the phone. He looked at Simon’s mother and gestured toward the seats in the waiting room. She shook her head firmly and stood in front of the desk.

The worker sighed, saying into the phone “I’ll call you right back in a few minutes.†As he hung up, he turned to Simon’s mom. “Can I help you, ma’am?â€

“Where is my husband’s body?†she demanded.

The worker looked flustered to Simon. He tugged his collar and said “I’m not sure I understand, Mrs….?â€

“Marshal,†she said. “My husband’s grave has been here for the last ten years, but it’s not there anymore. I want to know what happened. I demand to know what happened.â€

“Ah, one moment please, Mrs. Marshal,†the man said, turning to a computer in front of him. “What was your husband’s name?â€

“Gregory.†She crossed her arms and waited impatiently as he typed in a few words.

After a few seconds the worker leaned back in his chair and said “Your husband’s coffin was moved to a new location on the grounds two months ago, ma’am. I can take you there now if you’d like.†Simon wondered if he always called it ‘the grounds’ instead of ‘the graveyard.’

“Why was it moved?†she asked. “Why wasn’t I informed?â€

The man was silent for a moment, fidgeting with his tie. “It was just… just a routine policy at the parlor,†he eventually said, sounding more confident as he went along. “Management decided two months ago to create separate locations on the grounds to accommodate the different groups of people residing on them.â€

“What does that mean?†she asked, frowning.

“The, ah, the residents of the grounds have been placed in new locations depending on a set of criteria determined by management,†he said.

Simon didn’t like where this was going, so he spoke to the man for the first time. “You mean that some of the coffins have been separated from the rest. What was this ‘set of criteria’ that they were grouped by?†He knew enough about the world to know that anyone using official vocabulary was trying to hide something.

“I don’t have access to that information at the moment,†the man replied, “but I can put in a request for it.â€

“You must know something,†Simon’s mom interjected.

“Like I said, ma’am, I don’t have access to that information at the moment, but I will certainly put in a request for it.†Simon could tell the worker wouldn’t budge, no matter how much pressure his mom applied. Whatever he knew, he was afraid to say it, and that alone gave Simon a good idea of what was going on. His mom never read the papers, but he did.

“I can take you to the grave’s new location if you’d like,†said the man, looking like it was an offer he sincerely hoped would not be accepted.

“No thanks,†said Simon before his mom could speak. He knew that things would turn into an argument if he didn’t step in now. “Why don’t you just tell us where it is?â€

“Certainly,†the worker responded, looking relieved.

After he gave them directions, Simon turned to his mother and said “You go ahead without me, Mom. I’m gonna use the bathroom. I’ll catch up to you.†She nodded distractedly as she walked out the door.

Once she was out of sight, Simon turned back to the worker and said “Now that she’s gone, I want you to tell me the truth.â€

“I’m not sure I understand what you’re getting at, sir,†the man began, but Simon cut him off.

“I’m not going to sue you, I’m not going to tell my mom, and I’m never going to repeat this, so you don’t need to hide behind your bureaucratic excuses. Just tell me the truth, because I need to know. I need to know why my dad was moved.â€

The worker sighed, and Simon could tell he was becoming sympathetic, but was still on the verge of lying to him. “All you need to do is say yes or no, alright?†Simon asked. “That’s all you have to do. You can even just nod your head or shake it if it makes you feel better.†He leaned forward. “Now tell me, was my dad’s grave moved away from the others because he committed suicide?â€

The man hesitated, then nodded.

“Who made the decision?â€

“It wasn’t the management,†the man said, and Simon could tell that he still didn’t know if he had made the right choice by revealing the truth, but now that he was committed, he was going to cover the company as much as he could. “And it wasn’t aimed at your father in particular. We’ve been receiving more and more complaints over the last decade, and a few months ago we finally received a petition from more than a hundred groups and organizations.â€

“Religious groups?†Simon asked.

“For the most part.â€

“Why?†he asked, even though he already knew. He just wanted to hear it from someone else. He wanted to hear from someone else how unjust the world was.

“There appears to be a growing sentiment among certain groups that, um, individuals that have taken their own lives are…†the man’s voice trailed off.

“Going to Hell,†Simon supplied.


“And they don’t want people who have committed suicide to be laid to rest among their own dead?â€

“No sir,†responded the man. He wouldn’t meet Simon’s eyes.

“Thank you,†said Simon, surprised to find that he truly meant it. “You did the right thing by telling me this.†He began to walk for the door. As he was leaving, the man called out to him, and he stopped. “Yeah?â€

“We aren’t all like that,†he said.

“Yeah, I know,†Simon replied. “We aren’t.†He left to join his mother.

When he found her, she was standing over a granite slab set in the ground that marked the resting place of his father. “There was a cross over his old grave,†she said.

“Maybe it was broken when they moved it,†Simon responded. It was oddly peaceful now, and it was hard for him to stay angry.

Visiting his father’s grave was a comfortable ritual now for both of them. Simon breathed deeply and tried to remember his dad. After ten years, he thought he had managed to suppress the image of the rope around the showerhead as the corner of the curtain drifted down, but now it came back to him. He glanced at his mother. She looked serene, and he wondered what she was remembering.

“Mom?†She looked at him. “Where do you think he went?â€

She smiled, and it was a surprisingly sweet smile. There was no bitterness in it. “Simon, there’s only one place a person like your dad could go.â€

“What about what everyone else says about suicide?†he asked. It had taken a while, but the word wasn’t taboo anymore.

“I think,†she said, “that God is a lot more understanding than those people think.â€

Simon waited for her to say more but she didn’t, and the more he thought about it, the more he realized that she didn’t need to.


The present

Sam couldn’t wait any longer. It had been almost ten minutes and Simon hadn’t come out. He got out of the car.

"Inspector Marshal?" Sam yelled. "Is everything okay?"

There was no response. He pushed the front door open but everything was dark. Sam flipped the light switch and on the second set of stairs, Sam saw a large, heavyset man standing over Simon’s body.

Sam’s heart fell into his stomach. This man had done something to his wife. This man had done something to his daughter.

He sprinted into the kitchen and the man chased after him.

Maybe they were still fine, thought Sam. Maybe Simon got there right before the man could finish the job. Sam grabbed a butcher knife, the kind he used to cut steaks with. Brandishing it with his left hand, he waited in the kitchen for the man to appear.

He did, a little bit later, but his face was covered by a ski mask. The man began to walk slowly toward Sam. Images of Father Jennings’ mutilated body flashed through Simon’s mind.

"You listen to me," said Sam through gritted teeth. "Salvation’s entire police force is on its way. You don’t stand a chance."

"Perhaps," said the man, with a voice muffled under cotton. The man continued to approach him. Despite the fact that Sam was holding a knife and the police were going to show up at any minute, he felt like he

Sam’s palms were sweaty so he had to readjust his grip on the knife. "Tell me…" Sam swallowed. "Tell me where my family is."

"Your daughter’s bedroom." Sam sidled against the kitchen wall, with the knife pointed at the man. As Sam got closer to him, the man backed up and raised his hands in the air.

Sam walked backwards down the main hall, keeping his eyes on the man. The man was watching Sam, but he did not try to come closer. Then, Sam made a blind turn into another hall, which lead to his daughter’s bedroom. His line of sight with the man was broken, but Sam strained his ears to see if he could hear him walking. Sam didn’t hear anything.

After he had walked for twenty or thirty feet, Sam reached behind him and felt around for the handle of the door. The cold metal knob touched his fingertips. Sam opened the door and looked inside.

Sam only stared at the two bloody, wooden crosses for a split second before turning away and collapsing on the ground. He sat with his back propped up against the wall, his eyes fixed on the empty corridor in front of him.

The horror of it all was that Sam saw exactly what he expected, but up until this point, refused to believe.

Sam closed his eyes and squeezed the wooden handle of the knife with both hands. He tried to think about his wife and his child. He searched his mind for a thought to remember them by, something eloquent and important and meaningful. All he could think was, No.
Clenching his eyelids shut, Sam wanted to leave everything behind and bury himself in memories. But already, they seemed like they were no longer his and that he no longer had the right to remember them. In a split second, Sam begged God a thousand times to give him back his wife and child as quickly as he tore them off the face of the Earth.

Sam opened his eyes.

The man was standing in front of him. He stuck out a gloved hand holding a silenced pistol and pointed it at Sam’s head.

The man opened his mouth, and slowly, steadily, almost as if rehearsed, he said, "The fathers shall eat the sons and the sons shall eat their fathers. And I will execute judgments in thy name, and scatter thy remnants into all the winds."

After a moment of silence, Sam looked up at the man. And with a voice like glass, he said, "No."

Sam lunged forward and drove the knife into the man’s foot. He fell back and fired a bullet into the wall. Still crouched on the ground, Sam stabbed the man again, this time in the thigh.

Screaming in pain, the man dropped the pistol and grabbed his leg. While he was distracted, Sam picked up his gun, and without pause, shot the man three times in the chest.

Then, he stood up and spared only a few seconds looking at the man’s body, before he headed for the stairs to help Simon.

When he got there, Simon was still on the ground, but rocking from side to side.

"Inspector Marshal?" Sam called out.


"It’s okay. It’s going to be okay. Simon, I shot him."

Simon coughed and then nodded.

Simon wasn’t unconscious, but from what Sam could tell, he was badly injured. His face was smeared in blood and Simon was covering his left eye with both his hands. Sam sat next to him and tried to think of something to say. The police would be coming any minute now.

"Sam?" said Simon, weakly.

"Yes, Simon?"

"Your family…Are they okay?"

Sam bit his lip. "No," he said, curtly. "I didn’t make it in time."

"I’m sorry."

"I know."

Sam couldn’t think of anything else to say, but he didn’t want to anyway. After a few minutes, he heard the wail of police sirens. Sam ran down the stairs and out the front door. Three police officers rushed to his side and pulled him away from the house.

"On the stairs!" yelled Sam above the noise, "Inspector Marshal is wounded! He’s on the stairs!"

"Copy that, Mr. Johnston," answered an officer, as he led six officers toward the door.

Then, as if his words would make the truth more real, Sam said, "The man who killed my family is in the downstairs hall. He‘s dead." The officer nodded and then disappeared into the house.

The police officers outside led Sam to the back of one of the vans. They put an oxygen mask on his mouth.

"I’m fine," he said as he felt enriched air rush up his nostrils. "It’s the man inside you should be worried about."

"Are you injured, Mr. Johnston?" asked a paramedic.

"I’m fine." The air slowed Sam’s breathing and cleared his mind. He focused his thoughts on saving Simon’s life, but once he saw Simon getting carried out of the house on a stretcher, he realized that there was nothing left to distract him from what had happened. He could try with all his strength to repress it, beat it back, and push it into the farthest corners of his mind, but it would always be there, waiting for him.

Sam looked at his house and saw the officer jogging out of it.

When he neared Sam, the officer took of his helmet. "Sir, we have a problem."

Sam took a deep breath of oxygen and then asked, "Is Inspector Marshal going to be okay?"

"Yes, but the man who you said attacked your family -"

"I shot him. He’s in the hall."

The officer looked at the floor and then back up at Sam. "No he’s not, sir."