IN THE MOUNTAINS OF FIRE
Dolores J. Nurss
Volume I: Welcome to The Charadoc!
Sunday, March 1, 2708
Far from any church, Alysha leads us at least in a rosary as we march, but I don't expect any day of rest. Alysha announces the mysteries and tells the children what they mean.
The Annunciation, where God called upon our Blessed Mother to break all the rules. (Sunday! God, why did you have to send us the convoy on Sunday!)
The Visitation, where our Blessed Mother promised that the Small shall overthrow the Mighty. (I see the old truck rattle in down there, surrounded by conscripts, forced for the day's duty to wear that cursed ribbon of purple, though they haven't the training, no more than we do, for the business at hand.)
The Nativity, where God favored the stable of the poor over the palaces of the rich. (I can see the tension in their muscles from here, the way they strain their necks this way and that, knowing that we must lurk out here somewhere, they have no idea where. I want to laugh to see it, I want to weep that I should laugh. What threats, what knock in the night, called them from their homes to block me in what I have to do?)
The Presentation, where the prophet and the prophetess saw what God had denied to King Herod and all his murdering troops. (Now! Now! All of us--down the hill! Run! Run! And pray that our Mother of Victories helps us seize that payroll chest before too many of us die.)
Now Jesus at the temple, twelve years old like some of us, teaching his elders a thing or two. (Chaos, gunshots, dodge and duck and hear the screams, the squealing tires as the truck tries evasive action, the shriek of our forces and theirs run over or flung from the back with the torque of its swerves, but we've got it now, we shoot and shoot at the windows till the driver has oh God no face left to stare at me to accuse me God did You have to let it arrive on a SUNDAY!)
We recite the Radiant Mysteries. The Baptism of Our Lord, humbled in the dirty Jordan’s stream before his ragged cousin, no splendid raiment here. (And none of us can say whose bullets made it through the glass.)
The Wedding of Cana, where the best wine came from water, common and despised. (But no time! No time to think, to feel, not yet, the battle still rages around the truck skewed in the middle of the road. Out of ammunition already, we punch! We kick! We knife!)
The Ministry--blessed are the poor! ((A hand half-rips my shirt from me, trying to stop my arm, but I plunge the blade home anyway. A blow sends me tumbling down into the ditch by the road, but I climb back up, dripping scum and mad to fight.)
The Transfiguration: a carpenter’s sublimity, disclosed to fishermen. (I leap onto a big man’s back and hold on as tightly as a flea, he can’t shake me, not till I slit his throat and he drops dead under me. Curses froth from my mouth and I don’t even know why.)
The Last Supper, where God washed their peasant feet. (Even when they shove me to the ground my blade hews feet and maims the enemy!)
Then we move from the Radiant to the Sorrowful Mysteries. We move to Gethsemane, where Jesus sweat blood at the magnitude of oppression's sins, which He soon must bear. ( I claw the hand that grips my throat, I swing my blade and the blood rains hot upon me like all my nightmares spit on me, and I attack the next one between me and the truck. No one gets back behind that driver's seat but one of ours!)
Now Jesus gets whipped like the field-hands do, Hail Mary, full of grace. (Nothing left. They hurt me, I hurt them, I want to hurt, nothing else, nothing, nothing left!)
Now the high and mighty crown Jesus with thorns to mock him. Blessed art thou amongst women, dear peasant Mary, who watches the way all mothers watch under the Roman thumb. (Makhliya has the truck! She grins like a demon, her black hair wild all around her and in her eyes, half-standing to reach the pedals as she runs our enemies down, her crazy face framed in a web of splattered broken glass. Hurray, Makhliya! Take it all the way!)
Now step by step the Way of the Cross, the Via Dolorosa, the Road of Agony, as weary as the soldier's road. Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus Christ. (They shoot out the tires with the last bullets left; it spins crazily out of control, but then she masters it, rattling furiously on the rims, jumping on the rocks like a spring-mad coney, but she loses speed and the enemy runs behind, but we run after them.)
Now comes the Crucifixion, the moment God knew pain, the moment God knew blood, the moment God knew us. (I run past all the others, I jump upon their leader.) Holy Mary, Mother of God! (I bowl him over! I kick and throttle him!) Pray for us sinners. (Then I feel the gun-barrel in my mouth...) Now and at the hour of our death. (Then I...) Hour of our death. (I still feel...) Now and at that hour...(I I I I I!)
On to the Glorious Mysteries. First the Resurrection of the Dead...
Monday, March 2, 2708
(Randy comes in bearing groceries, sets them on my counter, concerned that I haven't bought any for myself lately. I know he feels still more concerned when he sees the rosary in my hand. A cheap thing, resin beads cast onto string, handed out for free on a streetcorner in Rhallunn, by the Daughters of St. Paul for all who ask; they needn't know that I'm not Catholic.
I don't know why I went to Rhallunn. I walked all night around the Great Gulf Road, and then I hitchhiked past the dawn, full of an urgent need to go there, to that corner, to find that clean-faced young nun holding on, with desperate, warm smiles, against the demoralizing force of the place. I had to, mutely, reach out for what she handed me, and mutely leave again. I only now have made it home, and my legs still spasm, my feet still throb. And the odor of Rhallunn still lingers in this room, the decay-laden mud caked thick upon my boots beside the door.
“What's that?” Randy says with forced lightness, though he knows, of course. He waits for me to say what it means to me.
I touch each of the five larger beads in turn. “This is an annunciation, coming our way soon, about our next mission. This one means welcome in a distant land, in a time of crisis. This one will bring blood and labor, and a baby outside of time. This one pierces Woman to the heart. This one conceals a straying adolescent with aspirations to teach his teachers something unforeseen.”
I go back to the first bead and start over, my hands starting to shake. “This one transforms, water and wine and blood, it's all one thing. It also warns of a glitch in a wedding. This one will drench us on the way. This one gives us hard work to heal, once we arrive. This one means going outside, beyond the walls, for a clearer vision. This one brings a feast, and a betrayal.”
Again I start over, moving the beads more frantically. “Here all time overlaps, all sins, all pain—and I don't want it! I don't want to drink from that cup! Here the mocker rules—the laughter just goes on and on, and the suffering. Here the blood finally sheds. Here the burden grows and grows and here...” I gulp. “A death. Several deaths. Not all will hold, but which one’ll break free?”
The rosary drops from my suddenly nerveless fingers, pattering to the floor. “I...I don't know what comes next,” I confess.
He comes over, picks up the rosary, and takes my trembling hands into his own. “I do,” he tells me softly. “The unexpected path. Good where nobody expects it. Mercy and forgiveness, and a way out. You and I, Jake, we don't have to do it all—we can't. We'll have help, whatever comes. It'll all work out, in the end.” And with that he kisses me.)