Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Children of the Goats, Part 4

The new kid showed up while Chris was in the middle of the story about the steamshovel.

He told the best stories, Fatima had ever heard. He could remember these amazing ones from before. Stories that didn’t have God or Jesus or anything. People would go do fun stuff that was really fun, and afterwards there wasn’t a lesson to repeat back.

Fatima didn’t stop working, because Hakim would get mad. He was already glaring at the group of kids hanging around Chris. Besides, she could hear just fine if she pulled up buckets of dirt close to where Chris was talking.

This story was about a steamshovel named Mary Ann, and how she dug super fast for her best friend Mike. It was Fatima’s favorite.

Hakim dropped his shovel and walked off. At first Fatima thought he was really mad, then she saw the new boy coming over the hill.

She dropped her bucket and went over to see. Hakim walked fast, and by the time she caught up, Hakim and the new boy were already talking.

“Jonas, right?” Hakim asked. “Your mom’s always making food for the orphans? With lots of boiled cabbage?”

Jonas ducked his head and nodded, staring down at the ground.

“What are you doing here?” Hakim asked. “Why are you digging?” He wasn’t angry, Fatima could tell by his voice. Just confused.

Fatima smiled at the new boy, Jonas. He was a bit smaller than Hakim but bigger than her, and white, with red hair.

“Jenny sent me,” he said.

Hakim rolled his eyes. He didn’t like the whole Jenny-business.

Jonas dug his toe in the dirt. “I want to help. You know,” he pointed at the hole, “dig.”

“Dig for what?”

“Are you snooping or something?” Chris walked up behind Fatima. “A tattletale? Gonna run tell Mommy and Daddy, and score points with Jesus?”

“No.” Jonas shook his head, keeping his eyes on his feet. “I...wanna help,” he mumbled. “Dig.”

“Why?” Hakim asked again. “Why do you want to dig?” He frowned.

“What makes you think we want you help, anyways?” Chris stepped forward.

Hakim put his hand out, stopping Chris. “No, he can stay. If he wants to dig, he can stay.”

“Oh yeah?” Chris asked. He turned to Hakim. “Who put you in charge?”

“You want to be in charge? Go dig your own hole.”

Chris glared. He jerked his hand like he was about to hit Hakim, but stopped. “Fine. But if Jesus-boy tattles, don’t blame me.” He walked off.

“Fine!” Hakim shouted. He turned to Jonas. “What are you waiting for? Go dig!”

It was really annoying how Hakim had longer legs than Fatima. Unfair. She was always running to catch up. Like now, when he saw Jonas walking home. He went way on ahead, really fast. She couldn’t keep up.

Fatima dashed down the road, finally reaching them. They were already talking, and Fatima caught the tail of Hakim’s sentence.

“Maybe I like boiled cabbage,” he said, which was stupid. He hated boiled cabbage, even now, after Jesus made everyone like vegetables. He’d sooner pick leaves off a tree for dinner than eat in the same house as boiled cabbage. Fatima knew. They’d done that once or twice.

Jonas looked straight ahead. “I don’t see why you have to get on me just because I have parents. I mean, why are all of you digging?”

“My mom and dad are in the pit,” Hakim answered. “Just about everyone in my family, except for me and Fatima. They’re in there, and they’re on fire until I dig them out.”

Jonas turned his head and looked at Hakim a moment. His lip wobbled like he was about to cry, but he bit it and kept walking.

No one said anything for a while. It was easier for Fatima to keep up, because Jonas was smaller, and he took slow, trudging steps that kicked up dust.

After a while, Hakim said, “You don’t have to tell me. I’m not gonna make you. You can still come dig if you want. But I really want to know why.”

Jonas. “I had...you remember when everyone was getting burned up in the sun, and no one could go outside?”

Fatima didn’t, but Hakim must have, because he nodded.

“Well,” said Jonas. “I had a big brother. Danny. A teenager. He had a dog, Max. Nobody in my family was Christians, then. One day the sun went weird, and set people on fire. Do you remember that? Everyone had to stay inside.”

Hakim nodded. Fatima didn’t remember it, but she thought she’d had to be inside a lot.

“It was nighttime, and we put cloth and wood over all the windows to keep the light out, and hid in my parent’s bedroom, because it had hardly any windows.”

“We hid in the basement,” Hakim said. “It was dark. Fatima was just a baby. Mommy had a radio. She told me to watch out for spiders and cockroaches, and make sure they didn’t crawl on Fatima.”

“We were supposed to bring the dog in,” Jonas said. “I think I was supposed to. But I forgot, and Mom and Dad were busy, and nobody brought the dog in. Then the sun came up.”

He took a deep breath. His hands balled up into fists. “I heard him out in the yard. Barking, then kind of whimpering. Then...screaming, sort of. Like how he’d yelp when he was hurt, but worse. Horrible. It went on forever. I wanted to got get him. But Dad said no, and Mom wouldn’t let go of me.”

He stopped, and took a few more breaths before speaking again. “Danny was bigger. And fast. He went out after Max. Dad ran out after him, but he must have made it outside before Dad could stop him. I didn’t see. Mom was holding on to me in the bedroom.”

He stopped again, and wiped his eyes with his balled-up hands. “I didn’t see, but I could hear him. Max had just stopped screaming. For just a second, everything was quiet, and I thought Danny had saved Max. But then Danny...started...screaming...” He pressed his hands against his eyes, and took a deep shaky breath.

“Dad came back afterwards. He wouldn’t talk. Mom took one look at him and started crying. I wanted to know where Danny was. Neither one of them would talk. They became Christians just after that. Because God burned Danny up. And I heard he’s still...burning...” He started crying, grinding his fists against his eyes like he was mad at something.

Fatima hung back a moment, then went over and patted him on the elbow. “It’s okay,” she said. “We’ll dig him out. We’ll dig everyone out.”

When they got to Jonas’s house, Hakim waved and led Fatima off. She knew he’d been making it up about the boiled cabbage.

“Listen,” he told her, when they’d gotten a bit away. “Don’t go around telling everyone about what Jonas said.”

“Why not?”

“Because.”

“Because what?”

“Because...” Hakim frowned again, and waved his hand for a bit. “Just because. Don’t. It’s not cool, okay? He didn’t tell everyone. Don’t say anything.”

“Okay.” Fatima nodded. She didn’t see why. If everyone knew about Jonas’s brother, they’d understand. But Hakim knew these things, so she kept her mouth shut.

19 comments:

ako said...

If anyone's wondering, "steamshovel" is an intentional misspelling. Any other typos would just be a mistake.

Jesurgislac said...

Wow.

Brilliant as ever.

Oh god, poor Jonas.

(I wonder which of the Children of the Goats tells the Beatrix Potter canon?)

Ursula L said...

Huzzah! More "Children of the Goats"!

The more you write of these kids, the more I want to know about them - how they've managed to hang on to their humanity while being surrounded by such mindless adults, and how they'll survive when the adults find out what is going on.

Nenya said...

I...wow. That is heartbreaking. I hadn't realized just why they were digging a hole. (Or, actually, why they were called the "children of the goats", but now that I think about it it's obvious--sheep, goats, right.) This is very good.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant! I've so been looking forward to this. Wonderful conversation, wonderful continuation of the story. Thank you so much!

Chet Arthur said...

God, what a horrible place these children live in. The dog reminds me; do they even have pets? Does humanity have any companions in this horrible 'utopia'?

Geds said...

Well, according to LaHaye and Jenkins, there will be vegetarian bears and leopards in the post-Jesusified world. I, for one, don't think that animals deserve the sort of shabby treatment that L&J have reserved for them. So I hope they get their own place and I'll get to go hang out with them...

Stephanie said...

The "Children of the Goats" ones are my favorite. Awesome stories.

Anonymous said...

Thank you! Bring it

Sue Bailey said...

This is so sad.

You know that line in Once in Royal David's City:
Christian children all should be
mild and gentle, good as he

?

I've always HATED it, and the dumb, mechanical obedience it seemed to want. *These* children, on the other hand, are just wonderful.

Dani said...

This is so, so brilliantly sad. Poor Jonas...

Justa said...

God, this is amazing. Please, please tell me there's going to be more.

Anonymous said...

Do more of this!

Jake said...

This is fantastic. I hope you write more!

Riss said...

I really really hope you'll continue this story. I know it's been almost a year... It's not likely, but I'm dying to know what happens next!

Kit said...

You shouldn't have let this go dead. This is amazing. And so far, a couple name changes would make it non-LB universe, so it has widespread apocalypse appeal.

Mink said...

Wow. This is a wonderful story! It's a shame it didn't continue, since I'm very, very intrigued, and want to know what happens when the adults find out... and if they dig any further... and who 'Jenny' is...!

Anonymous said...

So sad you stopped writing this. It was really good.

Anonymous said...

This is brilliant and beautiful and I'd like permission to continue it.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jW5n3k2VgZE