Lucy whipped the batter. “My arm’s sore!”
“Just a little bit longer, dear,” Mother said. “Until there’s no more clumps.”
A box of cake mix and a can of diet coke mixed together, no egg, no water or oil. That’s not the way it said to do it on the box, but it was the way Mother did it, so today it was the way she got to do it. Her arm hurt. “Look there’s no more clumps can I stop now?”
Mother checked the batter. “Go ahead, pour it in the pan.”
The oven was on, it was hot in the kitchen. Jeremy sat at the counter, elbows akimbo, right knee bracing the back of his psp. Squeals, vrooshing, and incessant techno-industrial background sound made Lucy say, “Turn that down! Go in the living room!” She was perched in front of the oven door, staring through the heat-shielded tinting at the baking pan slowly rising.
“What are you playing anyway?”
“You wouldn’t like it. I’m taking over the world.” Jeremy said, voice cracking.
“Tonight’s going to be Missionary Moc again, this is the last night he’s in town.” Father spoke from the bathroom. “He’s headed back overseas tomorrow morning.”
“So soon?” Mother said. “I couldn’t imagine living in the wild like that.” She was reading a magazine, something about Healthy Living, or Clean Houses, something with lots of ads. “Imagine having to actually hunt things?”
“He’s doing God’s work, there’s a whole community out there and he’s a central part of it all. Met with him at the Men’s Meeting, last night.”
“How’d that go?”
“Oh, you know.” The toilet flushed. “He did okay at the valley, we matched them and then some, the elders were all fine with that. Gave a fine testimonial too, on the efficacy of working hand in hand with the government in the area. They’re connected fairly well as far as security, even.”
The door opened, Jeremy looked up briefly to watch Father step out of the bathroom.
“Mommy! The cake is done!” Lucy rocks back and forth on her heels when she’s excited, now she’s tugging at the front of the oven. “It’s at the top of the pan!”
“Jeremy, put that game away and start getting ready for church. Lucy, I’ll help you with the frosting.” Mother kissed Father on the cheek. “We’ll be ready to go in an hour.”
An hour and a half later they pulled up into the church parking lot.
“Hello friends!” A white-haired, pink faced man squirreled through the crowd and shook Father’s hand. “And how are you little girl?” He rubbed his thumb across Lucy’s chin.
“It’s a great night for God, ain’t that great?”
“I made you a cake! I made it with diet coke!” Lucy said. “Mother helped me frost it.”
“I have heard so much about the struggles the Lord has placed on your path.” Mother said, shaking the man’s hand. “This is our daughter, Lucy.”
“Pleased to meet you Lucy, don’t feel like you gotta give me any money at the love offering later!” Straightening up, the man introduced himself. “I’m Joel M. Moc - no k. Just a c there if you look me up. I’ve got to say I’m happy to see all of you come out on this Sunday evening. See this here’s not just the work of the Lord, it’s a civic service I supply, I provide, I do not believe you have the chance to say no to the Lord’s will, not you fine yes, fine upstanding Christian folk like you!” He paused, winked, and shook Father’s hand one final time. “I left all of the Elders the solution with instructions, and it was a pleasure meeting with you and the other men.”
“Solution?” Mother asked after Missionary Moc started talking to the Freeburg family standing behind them. “What are the Elders discussing?”
“I’ll tell you after the service, but it has to do with the new Eden.” Father replied. “We’re starting our own new Eden right down in the valley next quarter if God has His way.” The family moved through the foyer and into the cavernous congregation hall. “We should sit in front of the sound booth in case I need to jump up and help the guys with the audio visual portion of his presentation.”
The sanctuary was lined with candles and statues of each of the apostles, most of which retained small plaques with bible verses and the apostle’s name. High above the pews, the vaulted ceiling seemed to scatter the light from the inlaid gold filigree worked into the beams that supported the roof. Lucy always found herself staring upward imagining the prayers getting angled together and shot up to God’s ear from the steeple high above.
Tonight the church was fully illuminated, although sometimes they’d have candlelight services and the candelabra on the alter in front of the podium would be filled with twinkling LED lights. Father said they used to use candles, but LEDs worked just as well and weren’t as dangerous. Evening services always started a little late, and tonight was no exception. Jeremy Batesom, the youth pastor, led the congregation in a few songs with his guitar, then Missionary Moc took the lectern and prayed.
“God, we thank you for allowing us to gather here tonight in your honor, that we might spread your light to the darkest, blackest places on this wonderful world you’ve created.” The lights dimmed, a digital projector displayed a windows start-up screen on the projector screen, and Missionary Moc began to speak.
“Let me give you a little bit about my life so far, so you know how I got to where I am. First I was born, okay, and then I grew up.” Polite laughter from the congregation. “I went to school and then on to Miskatonic University, just over five thousand students, four years… do you think I learned a heck of a lot?” Missionary Moc clapped his hands together. “In my four years living in Essex County, Massachusetts?”
“You learned how to drink beer.” Youth pastor Jeremy spoke up from the front pew.
“I learned how to drink beer!” Missionary Moc pointed. “I learned how to chase women.. actually I knew that before I got there, but.. I didn’t learn a whole heck of a lot of anything, when I went to college. I learned most of the wrong things. I was just another hungry ghost who believed that if you couldn’t blind them with brilliance you had to baffle them with bull.
“That’s when I met Doctor Sheffield, actually at that point he was working on his PhD, in the last years of writing his dissertation, and he had already been in contact with the tribe I now work on today, and who I was here raising money for last week. He’s the one, he is the guy who convinced me to pursue a divinity degree there, at MU, and as a result I’m here before you today. Now you may be asking how a biological scientist brought religion into all this, but bear in mind Sheffield is both a medical doctor and a professor, although he is more of a professor in theory now, published and discussed, rather than pestered by students for class time. He is intent on recreating the garden, and the entities that once lived there, the garden of Eden, there in Genesis, as it is written. That’s the true new temple, the only way paved through the bible back to godhood. He has the road-map, he’s finding the way back to the source, where trees grew a different fruit each month, where serpents spoke, flew, and walked on four legs. A tree where fruit granted immortality, and could transmit information - all of this is possible, he says, and our work is making it happen!”
Missionary Moc paused. “Imagine, this perfect place, rebuilt will be the new hanging garden, the new Tower of Babel, the new temple, done right and pleasing this time to the Lord! And we will reap the harvest. We already have, I’ve brought back the precursors here for the new communion for sinners. Just think, about them, these people who have but do not give, who know but don’t show, they don’t tell, they sit silently beside each other and do not preach when they are in the world. You know them, you even work with them. Silence is enslavement to sin, God says, and I say it too.”
An image appeared of the strange looking creatures and tribesmen following them, scraping at fibers hanging down from the animals tails. “Last week a child sought to distract me from the Lord’s message. A child named Sammy, who’s parents haven’t made tithe in three years but who had in his hands a gaming device made from just this kind of rare earth elements, imported from some godless communist regime, a gaming device his parents purchased rather than make tithe. Sammy spoke out asking if these animals really do eat their poop - and they do. They do, but only the first time around, hardly as disturbing as some of the stuff your house cat might cough up on the kitchen floor in your own home. Interrupting me during service just to distract attention from my message wasn’t Sammy’s sin, his sin was much, much deeper than that. I want you to open your bibles to the Old Testament.” Missionary Moc toyed with the remote he held, advancing the slide to a bible verse. “And understand what I mean when I say we were saving evil men from themselves, we are saving sinners from themselves. The government was going to slaughter the tribes in the jungle, those who stood in the way of the industry there, and without Dr. Sheffield’s injections those men would have died, killed by the government’s counter-insurgency force. Instead, they were changed, brought into harmony with this new world we’re building together. We can bring that injection, that salvation to others.
“Turning now to Malachi chapter two, I want you to look at verse three, where the Lord says ‘Lo, I am pushing away before you the seed, And have scattered dung before your faces, Dung of your festivals, And it hath taken you away with it..’ it hath taken you away with it.. Are we allowing our festivals to leave our faces smeared with poop, poop like little Sammy down in the valley producing nothing, their family can afford new phones but do they, does the church itself, the church in the valley, ever reach its tithe mark? You, this, here, the shining Church on the Hill has always gone above and beyond the tithe marks. It’s no different in the emerging churches, the raising of prophets continues and to do that there must be tithe.”
He swung his palm flat against the book, making a slapping sound. “Do you run out of kleenex, toilet paper, and paper towels at the same time? You know it’s true! God works in mysterious ways, he’s the invisible hand and he strokes us at the most intimate levels. When you do not tithe, God cannot repay you with interest! If you don’t invest in God, don’t expect him to invest in you! Stop speculating on Satan’s stocks!
“Deep does God’s invisible hand reach, into the very slipstream of your plastic lives! And you all know it, know it well. You live lives powered by plastics, by lithium, by terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium, and we import all of it from a communist, a godless, godless communist regime over there in China, or we find it in other hostile environments, and we’ve been giving our money to them instead of to God. Admit it, some of you have gone out and paid for an upgrade instead of tithed? How many of you have gone to the movies, or spent your God money on donuts before Sunday School in the church’s cafeteria? I spoke at the Men’s Meeting last night, and we know how many people there are in the valley who don’t make tithe as of the census, and we also know that tithing here on the Hill, while much more reasonably close to the mark, still falls two tenths of one percent below the true income levels in this community. I come here to ask for your love offering, but like Paul I come also to rebuke you. God needs your money! And I’ll tell you how your money can, if you invest in God, bring to fruition the life work of Doctor Sheffield, the new Eden. The Llama-II resource, the perfect animal which creates the rare earth. No longer will your children’s hard-earned chore money go to purchasing plastics and rare earth elements from foreign, Godless regimes… these creatures of the new Eden have a secondary anus which secretes bio-genetically engineered dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium, along with base filaments of gold.”
“These tribes, lost in darkness, have allowed themselves to be confused by the shadows of nature that surround them, they’ve become afraid and overwhelmed by it all, and subscribe to witchcraft and superstition to ward off death, or for success in harvest, in hunting, or to heal disease, even to kill. We all know what a whore witness is, and if you turn to the appendices in your bibles, Mortiis chapter thirteen, where we read ‘..she can’t relate to suffering because she has never suffered–she longs to taste suffering and death, and can’t get enough of it in the form of testimony of others. She is called the witness, she who finds fascination and delight in the destruction of flesh.’ And we know that surrounding her are women who practice witchcraft and magic, who revel in tales of gothic horror, grisly murder, these are shades, specters who seek to tie us down to the things of the world, not things of the Lord. These are the forces aligned against our work with the tribes. And if you turn back to the Old Testament…” Missionary Moc flipped to the middle of his copy on the podium.
Missionary Moc cleared his throat. “Last Bible verse, I promise, then we’re done with the book for a bit, but I want to turn lastly here to Nahum 3:6, ‘And I have cast upon thee abominations, And dishonoured thee, and made thee as a sight.’ We cannot allow sin to continue in a community, and thankfully we no longer need stand by, the Lord has seen fit to provide a new way to change the hearts and minds of others.
“Chance favors a prepared mind God always said, and in the field I’ve found that dictum serves one well.” The slides on the projector showed a smiling white-haired man sitting with a group of children. “Dr. Sheffield knew that the cure was the disease, and it’s only growing worse. Tonight you all will have a chance to contribute to the final love offering before I leave town.” There was more, but Lucy had stopped listening. She thought the children in the photo looked scared, and wondered why.
After the service was over, there was dessert. The cake she had baked and frosted sat on a white table with twenty or so other assorted cakes, pies, and platters of cookies. While the adults stood around and talked the children milled about eating cake, pie, large spoonfuls of ice cream. Video games appeared from pockets, cell phones and text messages, cameras, iPods, other gadgets appearing through the crowd that filled the dining hall in the church basement.
By the time Father rounded Lucy and Jeremy up to lead them back to the car, Lucy felt a little sick from the sweet stuff she’d been eating all night. She dozed in and out of consciousness on the way home, while Father explained to Mother about Dr. Sheffield’s transformational vaccine for sin in the coming new Eden.