This is a Wonderfully imaginative story by my Friend Steve Bartok.
He gave me permission to post it where I would, so long as he got credit.
The New Darkness
The chimes sang their metal song in the distance, a lonely voice in a sea of silence.
An old wooden chair, originally meant to be under shelter, sat beside the chimes. Wind, rain & sun all fought each other valiantly on this battlefield, insignificant to all but the combatants. Wind blew dust & dirt onto the chair while rain washed it off. Rain rotted away the wood until the sun dried it off. The sun dried the wood so that it would crack until the wind blew clouds in front of the sun to shade the chair.
No one sat at the chimes today. Nature was forced to push one chime into another through rain or wind.
Instead, everyone gathered at the hall. They had heard that a birth was imminent. Events would prove them right.
Distance masked the cries of a newborn infant. It masked the cries of joy from the townspeople in celebration. It masked the whispered hopes amongst others that the child would be "The One."
As the celebration lasted into the night, no one could hear the chimes way off in the distance. Nature had fallen silent, the wind ceasing to blow.
Tomorrow, the chimes would be manned as they always were. Life would go on as usual.
Some hoped, though, that tonight would spell the beginning of the end of their normalcy. Their very survival would depend on it.
"Paper, paper, wooden cloth,
Crinkle, crinkle, will you talk?
Shelter, shelter, go you there,
Stored away with loving care."
--- Children's rhyme, unknown origin
Edward was a big boy. He didn't need "the ropes" to guide him. He knew where the chimes were all by himself.
Edward asked Robbie if he wanted to help him ring the chimes for today. Robbie's parents told Edward that Robbie was helping his sister make more rope. Edward would just have to ring the chimes alone.
So Edward walked to the chimes & wiped off the chair before he sat down on it. Like all young boys, he was careless with his energy, swatting at the chimes as though it were a pinata. Edward remembered what his father told him about the chimes...
"Edward," his father said, "Ringing the chimes is a big responsibility. Only good little boys & girls get to ring the chimes. Remember, people can only hear the chimes if they ring so make sure you keep ringing them. That's the only way people will know that we're here & we like visitors."
Edward liked ringing the chimes because making rope was hard. Robbie's parents were one of three families in the settlement that made rope. Robbie tried to explain to Edward how to make rope but Edward couldn't comprehend it. Worse still, Edward had no idea how to tie knots. Robbie's sister, Gina, already knew how to tie knots in rope.
Edward followed the pattern that his father taught him - Ring the chimes for a little while & then listen. Ring the chimes for a little while & listen. Repeat until you heard a response. Edward knew what he was supposed to listen for but had never actually heard it for himself. His biggest fear was that a visitor would walk right past the settlement without Edward even knowing about it, so Edward listened as carefully as he could.
Normally, Edward wouldn't even be at the chimes so often as he had been in the past few months. Usually, a grown-up would be sitting at the chimes.
However, Edward's father was helping out the family of the newborn. In fact, many of the families were helping out the family of the newborn. That meant a lot of the older children (like Edward) were filling in for the grown-ups at these more 'menial' jobs.
As Edward rang the chimes, he hummed a little rhyme to himself. Anything to pass the time.
Edward was again at the chimes today. His enthusiasm for smacking the chimes, though, had diminished since he had first been introduced to the task so many months ago.
For school, he needed to know how to tie knots. With a piece of rope given to him by the teacher, he practiced tying various knots into the rope. Occasionally, he would ring the chimes.
Then, Edward heard it.
A faint whistle.
The whistle wasn't coming from the settlement... It was coming from the metal road. It was coming from the metal road!
Edward dropped his piece of rope in excitement & began ringing the chimes madly. After ten seconds, he silenced the chimes & listened. After a moment of silence, he heard two toots of a whistle.
The whistle had heard him. The whistle had heard HIM!
"Mail car is coming! Mail car is coming!" Edward's young voice excitingly screamed in the direction of the settlement.
Edward, his breathing rapid, his pulse racing, banged on the chimes as never before.
His father would be so proud! He finally heard the mail car coming & the mail car heard him... They heard his chiming!
Edward, banging away energetically on the chimes, felt like a grown-up. He had done a grown-up thing & now HE would be the first to talk to the mailmen! He would be representing his settlement!
As the whistles grew louder, he envisioned telling the mailmen everything that had happened in the settlement since they last visited. He'd tell them about the new building they had raised... Of all the rope that they had made (including the new rope fence at the back of the settlement)... He'd show them all of the knots he had learned...
Edward would even tell them about the child that was born awhile back who co...
Edward stopped dead cold, the chimes swaying from momentum. He swallowed hard & felt his bottom for a moment, remembering the whipping he had received from his father.
No one was to mention the child. No one was to say a thing, under penalty of banishment.
The whistle blew louder & louder. Edward, more sober, banged on the chimes.
"We should kill the child," Malcolm confessed in confidence to the Town Elder, "We should kill her before God punishes us for our leniency."
"Kill the child?" The Town Elder asked rhetorically, "And to what do we owe this decision?"
"The Scriptures have made it clear that we are to suffer for one thousand years & not one day sooner!" Malcolm insisted, "This child is a test from God, a test of our obedience to His Will."
"I am aware of what the Scriptures say," The Elder said slowly, choosing his words, "And I thank you for reminding me of them. You say that this child is a test from God on our obedience. Has it said as such in the Scriptures as well?"
"No," Malcolm said hesitantly, "A teacher does not reveal the answers to a test while it is being taken by the pupil."
The Elder smirked at Malcolm's choice of words, replying, "Does a test not hold the potential for temptation?"
"It does," Malcolm answered, "In the form of cheating."
"Is temptation not another form of punishment?" The Elder asked.
"I... am confused, my Elder," Malcolm confessed.
"You claim that the Scriptures are specific in our punishment," the Elder stated, "Yet mentions neither a test, a test of which hold the potential for our further punishment in the temptation of sparing a child in our obedience of being punished."
"As I am sure you know," the Elder continued, "There are others who interpret the Scriptures differently. To them, this child is a blessing from God that we have suffered enough for our ancestor's sins."
"Their interpretations," Malcolm humbly admitted, "Are their own but their actions will reflect on all of us, not just them. If they are wrong..."
"If they are wrong," the Elder repeated, commenting, "How quickly our Scriptures go from specifics to conjectures."
The Elder sighed, saying, "As Town Elder, I am forced to be ambivalent to how the Scriptures should be interpreted. Clearly, there appears to be room for great variation on how the Scriptures tells us to treat this child."
"God gives direction," Malcolm answered, "But does not dictate. However, the lack of specification should not be interpreted as leniency should we stray from His path."
"Your counsel is most appreciated," the Elder stated, "I shall take your words no differently then any others who have spoken before. My decision shall require time & I ask of you forgiveness if my decision is not as immediate as you would appreciate."
"Your guidence is always welcome, My Elder," Malcolm replied, placing his right hand over his heart in a symbolic gesture.
"Our conversation has ended," the Elder declared, "Go forth about your affairs."
As soon as the Elder heard Malcolm leave, the Elder sat down in the nearest chair & sighed deeply.
The child was now walking & she knew... She knew what she was! She knew she was different!
The Elder knew that a decision would have to be rendered soon. They could not continue to keep quiet about the child. Already, visitors & the mailmen who traveled to their settlement suspected that something was amiss. The tenseness in their voices, the awkward changes in conversation... Deceit was a suit that fit Man poorly & fit the people in the settlement even worse.
The time for deceit was over.
"The Elder is not fit to make these types of decisions," Gregory declared softly to the child's mother, Megan.
"We can not supersede our Elder," Megan replied, "All law is based on compliance. Without compliance, we are nothing more then animals."
"A dog can be obedient through fear & punishment as easily as kindness & reward," Gregory argued.
"My child is The One," Megan stubbornly persisted, declaring, "The one who will bring light to the darkness. It has already been proven."
"Yes," Gregory answered, "Those who believe that the Scriptures should be interpreted... Verbatim, think that your child is temptation, a test on our leniency to forgive our debt to the Lord."
"Madness!" Megan blurted out, feeling Gregory's hands on her shoulders as she continued, "What cruel God would give..."
"It matters not," Gregory interrupted, gaining Megan's attention, "Fanaticism breeds its own chaos. Turning away from reality does not mean that it no longer exists. There are people here, in our own settlement, that wish to kill the child... Your child."
Megan remained silent, then pulled away from Gregory. Gregory could hear Megan's stifled sobbing.
"What..." Megan tried to say through her sobs, "What should be done to protect her?"
Gregory paused before answering, finally saying, "Abandonment."
"Of her?!" Megan said incredulously.
"With her," Gregory corrected, pausing. With a long, deep sigh, adding, "With us. Together."
The silence seemed to stretch forever. Megan walked over to Gregory & slapped him. Gregory threw up his hands to block a second slap & managed to grab both of her wrists after a momentary struggle.
"I'm sorry," he confessed, "You are right in your refusal of me. I... I couldn't help myself. We are all married until death but..."
Megan felt Gregory let go of her wrists, her arms dangling by her side.
"I miss Kate. Every day," Gregory confided, walking away & stopping at the door, "I cursed God for months for taking her away from me. Cursed the Scriptures for being married to a dead wife, born into a crippled world forever whining about it's past. You changed all that. Your laughter. Your voice. You make me forget the thousand years of punishment inflicted upon us."
Gregory opened the door to leave, opening his mouth for one last apologetic good-bye when he felt himself yanked away by a force greater then he thought a woman could generate.
Megan wrapped her arms around Gregory, confessing in sobs, "God has taken so much from me, Gregory. My husband, my anonymity... I love my daughter but curse my life because of it. We hide from the mailmen. we hide from visitors. I have done everything He has asked me to & where has it led? To be killed? For her to be killed? What cruel Shepherd brings the flock to the butcher? Can't at least one sheep be spared? Can't...?"
Megan continued to sob for over a minute, until finally saying, "I love you."
Neither of them knew that a verdict had already been rendered as to the fate of the child... Made not by the Elder.
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