(Age Sixteen – Name of cult - Miller Clan)
“I don’t want to go,” Rosie whispers miserably as we watch the truck come up the drive.
“Sorry, kiddo.” I brush my fingers gently over her hair and immediately hate that it’s caught in a tight braid. I can’t stop from pulling a disgusted face as my eyes run over my baby sister. I hate that she has to wear the stupid blue dress and that she has to wear her hair in a tight braid. I hate that she only gets to be a kid two weeks out of a month, and the other two weeks she lives in fear of the cult.
Rosie is only thirteen. She shouldn’t have any worries. She should be able to wear pretty things and play with her friends. She should be free to be a kid.
I hate the cult and that we have to go to there. Rosie has to work in the kitchen while I have to clean all the gardens. I feel like it’s all they use us for - cheap, manual labor.
We weren’t born into the cult, not like all the other kids there. Mom got this crazy idea to join them when I was a twelve-year-old boy. Rosie was only nine back then. I still remember how carefree Rosie was. She was a bubbly kid once, but it all changed. Slowly, she started to lose her sparkle and she smiled less and less.
Where Dad would work on his truck on a Sunday morning, Mom would drag us to church with her. Before anyone knew what was happening, she got sucked into the cult. When that fake Prophet, Elijah, said that we all had to move to the property he secured for his followers, it was too late for Dad to try and change Mom’s mind.
Mom and Dad got divorced the same year, and then Mom moved to the tiny house the cult gave her.
We are still trying to get used to our parents living in two separate houses, never mind how a cult operates. It’s been hard on both of us, but especially on Rosie.
Rosie slips her tiny hand into mine and I give it a squeeze.
“We’re going to be okay. It’s just for one week, and then we’ll be back home with Dad.”
“Why do we have to go?” She looks up at me with the biggest green eyes. I hate seeing Rosie so upset.
“Just three more years and you’ll be sixteen. Then we won’t have to go anymore.”
Rosie’s shoulders slump in defeat.
“Three years feel like forever,” she whispers as her bottom lip starts to quiver.
I slip an arm around her shoulders and draw her into my side.
Going to visit Mom is so much harder for Rosie. The cult looks down on women. They’re not even allowed to use their own names. All the single girls are called daughters. The married ones are called sisters. The elderly women are called mothers. They aren’t allowed pretty things. Everyone has the same hairstyle, long hair that’s to be braided at all times. Come summer or winter, they all wear the same plain blue dresses that cover every inch of their bodies. They have to sleep on hard floors, because the beds are to be kept pure and holy for the men.
The cult believes that all women are sinners. They have to repent daily for their sins if they want to go to heaven.
We don’t have a choice but to go visit Mom. At least we get to stay with Dad every other week. Dad always showers us with love and attention.
But then the week comes to an end and we have to go back to the stupid cult. We’re forced to live two totally different lives and it’s confusing to Rosie.
Dad tried to fight the system, but he never won. The best he could do was to get joint custody. It didn’t matter that we wanted to stay with Dad all the time.
At the age of sixteen, I don’t have to go with Mom anymore, but I keep going for Rosie. I can’t let her be there all by herself. Those perverted men are circling her like vultures.
She just turned thirteen last month – the ripe age to be courted, according to the law of the cult.
I don’t pay much attention to their teachings. I don’t want to give them a foot in the door.
Dad comes out onto the porch and sighs heavily as the truck stops in front of the house.
“Just switch off,” he says. He always tells us this. I think that deep down, Dad is scared that we’ll join the cult. “Don’t let them get to you. Look after Rosie, Liam.”
There are deep lines etched into Dad’s face. It’s hard for him to let us go.
“Yes, Sir,” I say with determination.
Prophet Elijah is a self-proclaimed god and his followers believe all his lies.
Personally, I think some of the men just pretend to believe in him. I think those men are only there for the sex. They can have many wives. The older I become, the more I realize that the cult is only an excuse to oppress women and use them for sex. It’s nothing more than a sick craze. I hear them all talk while I work in the gardens. People think I’m not a threat, just because I’m quiet. I’ve heard how the men talk about the girls and it’s sickening.
“Just one more week,” I whisper as I hold Rosie closer to my side. It’s my duty to keep her safe.
I take a deep breath and then I turn to Dad. “Seven days.”
His sad eyes meet mine and I see the tears shimmer in them. It’s hard for him to let us go. This is so unfair.
“I’ll see you both in seven days.”
I’m sitting in front of the bathroom while Rosie is taking a quick bath.
I stare at the watermarks on the ceiling, dreading the dance we have to go to.
The door to the bathroom opens and Rosie comes out. She’s dressed in the stupid blue dress. Her lips are blue from the cold and it makes anger explode in my chest.
I quickly get up and take hold of her, hugging her tightly to my chest. I rub her back, trying to get some warmth into her body.
The women aren’t allowed any luxuries. No hot water, nothing that can be seen as a comfort.
They have to be punished in this life so they may enter heaven’s gates. It’s stupid, and these people are all crazy for believing that crap.
“Let’s go,” Mark snaps. I’ve never seen the man smile, and he especially looks upset every time he has to look at me. I’m the son of an outsider and that has to be a thorn in his side.
Mom is Mark’s fifth wife. I still don’t understand how Mom could give up being Dad’s only wife just to become one of many to a man who doesn’t seem to care much about her.
Because Mom hasn’t given any children to Mark, she’s been given the smallest house. It’s only got one bedroom. Rosie and I sleep on the floor in the living room when we come over. There’s just one couch and we can’t both fit on it. That’s also the reason we have to work all day long. We have to pay for the food we eat. Rosie works in the kitchen from six in the morning until nine at night, tending to whoever might need something, unless she’s at the church repenting.
I, on the other hand, make sure to take my time weeding and cutting grass. If I finish early, they’ll just give me more work. I have to carry all the trash to the big dumpster by the gate on a daily basis and then clean the ones located all over the property.
I take comfort in the fact that Rosie isn’t alone during the day. Most of the young girls work in the kitchen. They have to all learn how to be the perfect wife so they can be a blessing to their future husbands.
I don’t know any of the other kids. The girls are taught to view boys as snakes until the day of their marriage. I’m just glad that Rosie isn’t alone during the day.
Mark never arrives at a dance or a service with one of his wives, unless there’s a reason.
I scowl at him as he leers at Rosie.
I make sure to take Rosie’s hand and pull her shivering body behind mine.
As we walk out of the house, Mom falls into step behind Mark.
I take in the slender frame of Mom and once again wonder where it all went so horribly wrong. There’s nothing left of the Mom I grew up loving and that’s so sad. I can’t even mourn her because she’s still alive.
As we near the hall where the dance is being held, Mark stops to greet Allen. They call each other brothers and sisters – one huge fucked up family.
They both look at Rosie and it makes me walk faster.
We walk into the hall and I keep going until we reach the far corner, away from the tables where the food and drinks are.
“I’m scared,” Rosie whispers as she comes to stand half behind me. We both know what’s coming. They’re going to try and court Rosie tonight. Things are going to get ugly. I can just feel it in my gut.
“Just stay with me,” I tell her. I scowl at every person who dares to look in our direction so they’ll know to not even try.
It’s going to be a long night and I’m already tired.
The music starts and I watch as old men dance with little girls. Everything about it is wrong and it makes me feel sick. I swallow down the hatred that’s making my breaths come hard and fast. Every muscle in my body is wound tight.
The first dance comes to an end and I watch with overwhelming disgust as an old man grins greedily at the little girl standing closest to us. She looks to be a few years younger than Rosie. I’m sure it’s one of the girls that work at the kitchen with Rosie.
The old man takes the little girl’s arm and pulls her into a dancing stance. She smiles with quivering lips and dances with the old man. She has no choice – none of them do.
When the song ends, the old man lets go of the little girl, and then he looks in our direction. I grind my teeth, challenging him with a dark look.
The leader of the cult, Prophet Elijah, comes into the hall and everybody smiles as they watch him with reverence. I can’t believe he’s fooled so many people.
Mark comes to stand near us and he gives me a disapproving look. He can go to hell, for all I care.
I’m surprised when Elijah comes over to us. He holds his hand out to me and patiently waits for me to take it. The others see it as a great honor to talk with Elijah, but not me.
“Brother Liam, how are you?”
I ignore his hand and grind out, “I’m not your brother.”
Elijah nods and then he watches me with a somber look.
“You would’ve made a fine contribution to the brotherhood. You’re a hard worker. It’s such a pity.”
I just snort in contempt.
Elijah gives me a sharp look that means nothing good for me. He walks over to the small podium and clears his throat. It’s all it takes for everyone to keep quiet. I’m just glad he’s done talking with me.
He starts to drone on and on about the importance of the brotherhood and then his eyes fall on Rosie and he says, “It’s an honor for a woman to be chosen by a brother. By being a sweet and dutiful wife, she is a blessing to her family.”
I pull Rosie totally behind me and almost growl at Elijah. His mind tricks won’t work on us.
I just keep scowling at everyone and praying that the night will come to an end. I’m so relieved when we get to go back to Mom’s house that it makes me feel emotional and exhausted. My stomach is burning from all the tension.
Once we’re standing in the sparsely furnished living room, I rub the back of my neck.
“You okay?” I ask Rosie.
She drops her chin to her chest and her shoulders droop. She refuses to make eye contact with me.
“I …” She swallows hard and then just shakes her head. “I just want to be alone for a while. I’m going to go for a walk.”
Mark comes into the house with Mom following right behind him. His eyes burn over me and then he looks at Rosie with the same sharp look.
“You’re a disgrace to the brotherhood. By refusing us, you have proclaimed yourself as a sinner before all. You’re to leave the property. You’re banned.”
Anger flares hot through me. We’ll walk home if we have to, but I’m tired of these people’s crazy ways.
“That’s just fine by me!” I shout back at Mark. “Come on, Rosie.”
As we start to head to the door, Mark says, “Only you, Liam. As a daughter of the brotherhood, Rosie stays. She’ll be married to Brother Scott tomorrow and won’t be my problem any longer. As a sinner, you are not to have any contact with her or your mother. They are no longer your family. It’s a choice you made when you chose the ways of the outside.”
My mouth drops open and for a stupid moment, I just stare at the man.
Rosie’s face pales and her eyes well with tears. Fear and hopelessness make her look even younger and more vulnerable than ever.
“I won’t! I’d rather die a thousand deaths before I let that old man touch me!” Rosie shouts before she takes off running out the front door.
I stare Mark down as I hiss, “Over my dead body will I leave my baby sister here. You’re all sick. She’s a minor. A little girl! I’m taking my sister and we’re leaving. My dad won’t let you get away with this.” Even as I say the words, I know there’s nothing Dad can do. The cult pays the law officials to turn a blind eye to what’s happening here.
I rush out the door to go after Rosie, but I’m stopped dead in my tracks by all the men gathered in front of the house.
Damn, it’s the holy squad - a bunch of men that act as security for the cult.
One of the men steps right up to me and shoves hard at my chest. I take a few stumbling steps back and try to look for a way around them. I don’t have time to fight my way out of this mess. I have to get to Rosie. The nervous tension I’ve been feeling all night long starts to ache, making my stomach feel like nothing more than a hard lump of coal.
The man that shoved me sneers, “Leave our holy ground, sinner.”
“I’ll leave as soon as I have my sister,” I growl. I will not leave without Rosie.
“You have no family here!” Mark says from the doorway and I can see Mom cowering behind him.
“You’re going to let them do this? You’re our mother! You’re supposed to protect us,” I shout at Mom. I can’t believe this is the same woman who read us bedtime stories when we were toddlers.
Mark moves to the side so I can clearly see Mom.
She rubs her hands nervously together and her eyes drop shamefully to the ground. Whether it’s shame for failing her children or shame because we refuse to join her crazy cult, I’ll never know.
“Why couldn’t you accept the ways of the brotherhood? You’re breaking my heart by shunning us,” she whispers submissively.
Her words hit hard. She actually blames me?
I shake my head, not sure how to process any of this. The lump of coal in my stomach sinks into my bones, making my whole body feel heavy with disappointment and frustration.
The holy squad moves in on me and I dart to the side so I can try and pass them. One of them grabs at my arm and I blindly swing a punch at him. My fist slams into the side of his face, and in that moment, I’m thankful for all the garden work I was forced to do. It helped me build muscle. I manage to yank free just as a scream echoes over the property.
Everyone freezes and a wave of shock ripples over my body. What the hell was that? I start to run in the direction the scream came from. Fear starts to claw its way up my legs, making every step feel heavy.
The church comes into view. People are rushing into the building and I quickly follow. I hope Rosie is here so I can just take her and leave this fucked up place.
As I near the front doors to the huge, white building, I hear a little girl’s hysterical crying, but I know it’s not Rosie’s. Rosie has always been a silent crier.
I rush inside, wanting to see if Rosie is here. I need to get her out of here.
“Come down, daughter,” Elijah says, and for the first time I hear panic in his voice. “Don’t damn your soul with this vile act.”
I look up and my blood instantly runs cold. My heartbeat slows down until I feel every heavy pound against my ribs.
Then the hurt comes. It’s filled with devastation and it slams into me with the force of a thousand blows.
A raw cry tears from my throat, and my body moves on its own, because my mind is in too much shock to think clearly.
Rosie’s body is still swaying but no one is making an effort to help her, to try and save her. They are all focused on the remaining girl still standing with the rope around her neck. There’s another girl hanging next to Rosie, but I’m too focused on my sister to care about the others.
I grab Rosie’s legs and push her body up in an attempt to stop the rope from strangling her. Another raw cry is torn from somewhere deep inside me.
“Rosie! I’ve got you. Hold on. I’ll get you down.” I push her body higher and that’s when the first wave of desperation slams into my gut. It makes despair rip through my sanity until it feels as if all hope is lost.
The light dims around me. Darkness creeps in along the edges of my vision. Sorrow fills every crevice of my body.
“Help me!” I scream at the people around us. “Someone cut the rope! Don’t just fucking stand there! Help me!”
Everyone ignores me as they all watch Elijah talk the remaining girl down from the balcony where Rosie’s body is hanging from.
I cling to Rosie’s legs with all my might, holding her up so the rope won’t strangle her.
Finally, the other girl removes the rope from around her neck and men rush forward to cut the ropes loose. Rosie’s body slumps into me and I quickly lay her down. I rush to untie the rope from her neck and only once I’ve yanked it over her head, do I look at her.
Her lips are blue against her pale face. There’s a harsh burn mark around her neck from where the rope strangled her.
I don’t know how to feel for a pulse, or how to give CPR. I look up at the adults around us, hoping one of them will help us, but they all just stare at me with morbid faces, some even glaring at us with disapproval.
I place my hand over Rosie’s mouth, hoping that I’ll feel a burst of warm breath, but there’s nothing.
A man takes a step closer to us and it makes me grab Rosie to my chest. “Don’t you dare touch her!” I glare at everyone, wishing I could kill them all with just a look. “It’s all your fault. You’re a bunch of fucking monsters!”
Mark pushes through the crowd, his lips pulling down in disgust.
“We need to place the bodies outside the property. Sinners aren’t allowed on holy ground,” Elijah says.
I know what that means. I might be sixteen and grief-stricken, but I know what that means. They are just going to dump them outside the gates.
I stumble to my feet with Rosie in my arms. The dead weight of her body makes my arms burn.
The people give way as I start to walk with shaky legs. I carry my sister off the property and even though we pass through the gates, I keep walking.
I need to get Rosie home.
I just need to get home.
Tears stream down my cheeks as I carry the body of my baby sister back to our father.
What haunts me most is not the fact that I failed to protect my baby sister – but what horrors she must’ve gone through to be forced over the edge. What really happened to Rosie to make her take her own life? What did they do to break her?
I refuse to believe that Rosie was weak. I refuse to believe that she took her own life because of what Mark said.
With every passing day we stayed on that property, Rosie turned more into herself. She would never talk to me about it, but I could see that the cult was getting to her. I just never thought it was so bad that she would commit suicide.
It haunts me every single second.
I hate the cult with a raging passion. I want revenge for Rosie.
Thoughts of vengeance keep me going in the days following Rosie’s death.
(Age fourteen - Name of cult – Order of The Promised Land)
There have been talks of Outsiders coming to the compound. Prophet David says it’s so they can see that we live a holy life, so they’ll let us live in peace.
I’ve had my doubts about The Order for a long time now, but now that Outsiders are coming, it’s solidifying the feelings of doubt and frustration. Prophet David never felt the need to defend our way against Outsiders before, and it’s worrying that he doesn’t have such a tight hold over everything anymore.
It’s always been us and them. Only the Unblemished Brothers get to leave the compound. They say that they protect us from the evil outside the gates. That’s why I don’t understand how Prophet David can allow The Outsiders to come here now.
When you look closely at him, you can see the fear in Prophet David’s eyes. I think he’s losing control of The Order he created and that scares him.
I’m scared of what’s coming. I can feel it in the air – the tension, the fear, the suppressed panic.
“We give thanks for Prophet David.”
Everyone repeats Brother Jacob’s words. We do this four more times as all the Unblemished Brothers take turns to honor Prophet David, and then they form a line behind the podium.
All the women kneel while the men remain standing. This is to show that we’re not worthy of standing in the presence of Prophet David. The Temple is also the one place The Outsiders aren’t allowed to come into.
They arrived yesterday and have been talking to many people. They have been recording our way of life.
They call themselves journalists. Prophet David thinks they are evil, here to test our faith.
Prophet David takes his place behind the podium and then his eyes slowly trail over all his followers.
“I’ve had a revelation from the Divine One,” he calls out with an almost frenzied eagerness to his voice. It’s a total change from the almost depressed look he’s had the past few weeks. His eyes are wide and a feverish smile envelops his face.
“I’m so excited! I can barely contain myself. My fellow believers, Brother William is to take his ninth wife.” He keeps quiet for a few heartbeats, letting the suspense build as his words sink in.
We’ve been led to believe that Prophet David talks with God, that he’s a direct descendant of Jesus Christ. I’m not so sure that the voice in his head is actually God’s. I’m starting to think it’s only Prophet David’s inflated ego.
I’ve come to realize that he loves being at the center of everything. He’s nothing more than a power hungry mad man.
“Mila has been chosen. This news is sacred and not to be shared with The Immoral that have come to seek our destruction.”
My heart stutters with shock. I knew this day was coming, just not so soon. I was hoping I’d be gone before things got this bad. I’m to be married to Brother William.
I keep my head low so no one will be able to see the absolute horror that I’m unable to hide.
Panicked thoughts start to whirl through my mind. Have I waited too long? I have to run! I have to think of a way to get out today. How will I survive? What’s on the outside of the compound? Will I be better off on the outside, or are things as bad as everyone says?
I remember when Chasidee ran away. It didn’t take them long to find her. If I remember correctly, it only took the Unblemished Brothers two weeks to track her down. They brought her back and she was shackled to the ground in the middle of the compound and then flogged three times a day for seven days.
Since then I’ve been afraid of leaving. What if I run and they find me? What kind of horrible punishment will they think out for me then?
I see how Chasidee is still suffering. She’s had four children since but they’ve taken them from her, saying that she’s not fit to raise children of The Order.
My throat is so dry that every time I swallow, it hurts. A heavy, hollow pain forms in my heart, making me feel nauseous. I feel trapped. I want to escape so badly, but the fear of being found and punished is almost crippling.
If I follow the way of The Order I’ll be blessed. I’ll go to The Promised Land.
The words are nothing more than a habit. As soon as they pop into my head, I suppress the urge to murmur them. It’s hard to break away from the ritual if you’re surrounded by it every single day.
It’s all I’ve known, ever since I can remember.
Every day of my life, I’m reminded that I’m nothing more than a Daughter of Sin. I’m bad, shameful – nothing but a whore, and I’ll only get to The Promised Land by the mercy and forgiveness of Prophet David.
Deep down I’m scared. I try to suppress the fear and swallow the panic that’s welling up in my chest.
Be sweet. Be dutiful. Don’t let any of them see that your faith is dwindling.
I take a deep breath in and let it out slowly. I fight for composure while all I want to do is run away from this madness.
This is the way of The Order and I don’t dare show any of them that I’m questioning it.
Quietly, I make my way to the store house. I can feel the suppressed excitement pulsing all around me. A wedding means a celebration.
Am I the only one to think that it’s total madness? This can’t be life. I’m only fourteen. I’m not ready to be a wife.
Prophet David instructed us to go on with our daily duties and that the wedding will take place this Saturday.
Five days. That’s all the time I have left.
It feels as if I’m slowly suffocating from all the anxiety swirling inside me. The most primal part of me just wants to run, but the conditioned part is too scared to go against The Order.
The fear of what this day will bring eats away at my insides. I’m not ready to be someone’s wife, especially not to Brother William. He’s a cruel man who loves to punish us for anything.
I remember the day Everly got married. It was four years ago. She was thirteen and Brother Gary had been courting her for a few months. She had the prettiest face I’ve ever seen. Happiness always shone from her eyes and laughter always bubbled over her lips. We used to be best friends.
But then she got married. After her wedding night she changed. She hardly ever smiled.
We used to work together in the store house, Everly and myself. That’s when I first saw the bruises. Everly showed me how Brother Gary had belted the back of her thighs because she wasn’t sweetly enough when one of the Unblemished Brothers came to mate with her. She had to be ready and willing at all times to receive the seed of any of the Unblemished Brothers. They were holy and it was an honor.
She was cursed for her body not accepting the seed and bearing a baby.
After that day she told me all the horrors of being married. It wasn’t at all like we’ve been told. We were taught that marriage was holy, that by being a dutiful wife you were securing your place, as well as that of your family, in The Promised Land.
We weren’t told that you’re beaten on a regular basis. No one told us that the Unblemished Brothers could have intercourse with you at any time so they could spread their seed.
Back then, the beatings happened behind closed doors but that, too, has changed. Now the Unblemished Brothers can beat any woman in public if we’re caught doing something they think is sinful. They say it’s to keep the other women from sinning. It’s to keep us all on the narrow path.
I don’t believe in the way of The Order anymore. I don’t believe it’s right to beat women, to treat them worse than cattle.
I watch as the people live their lives here at the compound, but I can’t bring myself to believe as they do. I’m not one of them.
I want to believe that there is beauty out there. I want to believe that there is more to life than being this robot.
I would leave if only I knew where to go, what to do. I don’t know what the world is like outside the compound. For all I know, things are the same all over and I’m the only one who thinks it’s wrong.
I’ve been hoping things will change, but deep down I’ve always known it’s an empty hope. To everyone else here, this is normal. I’m the odd one out.
Everly finally had a child, and since then she stopped working at the store house with me. Now I work with two of my half-sisters, Lauren and Jessica. They’re both younger than me. Even though we’re family, we look nothing alike - where I have dark brown hair and grey eyes, they have light complexions and green eyes. None of us look like our father.
I only have one full blood sister who just turned seven. I’ve been holding out for her. But I can’t marry Brother William, not even for Claire.
My half-sisters tend to the front counter while I’m in charge of keeping the books updated. I have to make sure that every purchase is debited on the follower’s account.
We all get paid an income for the work we do here at the compound. Whatever we take from the store house is taken from our income. Sometimes I think it’s a miracle that they don’t charge us for the air we breathe.
I take a seat at the counter and stare at all the journals.
I’ll have to go for a fitting with the seamstress later today to have a wedding dress made. It’s the only time we get to wear something other than the awful blue dresses. Just the thought alone makes fear slither down my spine.
I can’t bring myself to work. I hear my half-sisters whispering in front, excitement in their voices.
I can feel every minute painfully slipping away from me.
Just before noon, I bolt to my feet, my breaths exploding from my dry lips.
I can’t go through with it. I can’t marry a monster. I’m too scared.
Panic floods my body and I start to tremble.
Desperately, I look around me for a reason to leave the store house and spot the half full trash bag. That’s perfect!
I empty all the trashcans and then take hold of the now fuller bag. I walk by the counter where my half-sisters are elatedly talking about the upcoming wedding that will be a blessing to our family. They don’t even notice as I leave the store house.
I walk by groups of women and children and I can hear the exhilaration in their voices. Everyone is caught up in Prophet David’s madness.
As I near the dumpsters, my heart starts to beat faster. My fingers dig into the plastic as my nerves wind tightly with fear.
I haven’t thought it through. Five seconds ago, it wasn’t even a thought to just walk out of the compound.
But that’s all I can think of doing now … escaping the arranged marriage to Brother William.
One step at a time gets me closer to the gate – closer to leaving the compound.
I reach the dumpsters and suck in a desperate breath to calm myself a little. My eyes dart to the gate. It’s the only entrance and exit to the compound.
My whole body starts to tremble with tension as I slowly lift the lid to the dumpster and throw the bag inside.
After lowering the lid again, I wipe my hands on the rough material of my dress. It doesn’t do anything to remove the sweat as my nerves start to get the better of me.
I swallow hard and take a tentative step towards the gate. If I run, I can make it.
My heart leaps to my throat, thumping wildly. Startled, I swing around and watch with wide eyes as Brother William comes toward me. A dark frown makes his bushy eyebrows hang low over his eyes.
I swallow hard, tamping down on the fear. Brother William is the younger brother to Prophet David – that makes him my uncle.
They are going to force me to marry my uncle.
Nausea pushes up my throat and panic floods my veins.
“Do you have something to repent?” His voice is a dark rumble, promising only punishment for those who dare cross him.
There is nothing I can do but to nod. Slowly, I lower myself to the ground, kneeling in front of him. I keep my eyes downcast as the trembling in my body gets worse.
“Repent,” he commands.
Again I swallow the fear down and then I whisper, “Forgive me for being tardy. I have to work faster. Slothfulness is a sin and I need to be punished.”
The church bell tolls and my head snaps up with relief. It’s praise time.
Brother William gives me a last look of warning before he walks toward the church without giving me forgiveness. He must really hate that The Outsiders are here. He loves to inflict physical punishment on anyone, and since The Outsiders came, he’s been holding back.
I uncurl my stiff fingers from where they’re clutching at the sand, and then slowly force my body up.
Tears sting the back of my eyes and my breaths become choppy.
My eyes dart over the compound grounds and I watch as everyone hurries to the church so they can praise Prophet David.
My eyes land on The Outsiders where they are busy loading the last of their things. They were only given one day to look around.
I start to walk towards them and my eyes lock on one of the women. She has thick, wild curls that surround her face. She wears pants, just like the men.
When I get close to their van, she looks up and then smiles.
“Hello,” she whispers.
I try to form a greeting on my lips but all that comes out is, “Help.”
The smile drops from her face. “Do you want to leave?”
I can’t form any more words and nod, praying I’m doing the right thing.
I glance over my shoulder to see if I’m being watched. If they catch me now, I’ll be in so much trouble.
Anxiety spikes in my heart and I take a step away from The Outsider. I still have time to run to the church.
Wildly, my eyes swing back to the woman and all I see is compassion on her face. It feels like her eyes are begging me to be strong, encouraging me to take this step.
I take a few deep breaths and then walk to the van. It’s now or never. I have to do this or I will regret it for the rest of my miserable life. Even if they catch me, at least I’ll be able to say I tried.
“We’re leaving right now! Quickly, before they’re done with church,” the woman suddenly says and then she pulls me to the van. I climb inside and try to ignore the overwhelming panic rushing through me.
She shoves me down and whispers, “Stay down until we’re a safe distance away. Don’t worry. I’ll help you.”
“Cathy!” one of the men hisses at her. “You can’t just take a kid!”
“I can and I will! Only the three of us know about it. You turn a blind eye and let me save at least one person from this hell hole.”
“It’s all on you. I see nothing and I know nothing,” he snaps.
I’m just relieved when the engine starts up and the van moves. I pinch my eyes closed and cover my ears. I’m so scared that I’ll hear the alarm ring over the grounds. I’m scared that someone will stop the van and find me here.
I’m so scared it’s making me feel ill.
But no one stops us.
There are no alarm bells.
I keep my ears covered and my eyes closed.
Am I doing the right thing?
I’ll come back for Claire. I can’t save both of us right now, but I swear I will find my way on the outside. I’ll come back for Claire as soon as I manage to make it out there.
I’m doing the right thing. I’ll come back for Claire.
I’m doing the right thing.
I chant the words as I enter the outside world for the first time in my life.