“I don’t want to go to The Crossing.” Rebekah pouted at her father.
It was Friday. What used to be called Spring. Time for crops to poke through the ground, although sickly since The Flash. Sickening, as all crops did these days. The same sickening Ezekiel’s wife had succumbed to. Losing her hair and bleeding at the mouth until she died. Just as both their sons had done before being old enough to walk behind a plough.
Ezekiel shot his daughter a stern look but inside, his heart melted. She was the most precious thing in the world to him. “The Book says, ‘Thou shalt cross the bridge when thou comest to it’,” he told her gently. “And like The Priest says, cross in the spring, reap in the autumn. It’s the way it has always been.”
“I hate it,” she said.
The pair rode on in their crude wooden cart, the horse wearing a leather and bone harness. For since The Flash there was no metal for ordinary folks. Making metal took knowledge. And “Knowledge is death”, The Book said. The Book of Truth the priests read from every Sunday. For verily it was eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge that brought man’s downfall from the Garden. And it was knowledge, including the knowledge of metal-making that created the machines that when ignited by vain men in charge of vain nations caused The Flash. The countless decades of nuclear winter since had reduced them to living in underground hovels, struggling to grow stunted crops under a leaden sky where the sun never shone.
Rebekah was 15 now. Had her first communion. Wore the gold crucifix around her neck that The Priest gave her. That same day The Priest, ancient and wizened, had come to Ezekiel and asked for the girl’s hand in marriage. Which request Ezekiel had flatly refused. He wanted Rebekah to marry for love, as he and her mother had done.
He felt a flush of pride as she expertly reined the horse through the iridescent green waters of Rubicon Creek now, next to a crumbling bridge built by the ancients but twisted and melted by The Flash. They arrived with the rest of the villagers at The Crossing.
The church warden, Good Neighbour Aaron Zee, stood throwing a sledge hammer into the air and catching it, over and over. Its metallic glitter a reminder of the knowledge of evil, the evil of knowledge.
The Priest in his black robe whirled and foamed upon a rough stage. Flecks of spittle flew upon the crowd below. Stopping, he drew out a glittering steel rod from his robe and held it aloft. Pointing one end at the gaping faces he swept it back and forth until it settled, aimed directly at Ezekiel.
“Good Neighbour Eziekiel Cee,” his voice thundered from the pulpit.
Rough, work-hardened hands seized Ezekiel from all directions and bore him aloft. The hands of lifelong friends, neighbours, distant cousins and close siblings.
“Cross him. Cross him. Cross him,” the mob chanted, carrying him to the hallowed ground before the pulpit.
“Nooooooo,” Rebekah screamed, throwing herself upon the wooden crucifix lying on the ground. “Noooo. I already lost my Good Mother and two Good Brothers. You can’t do this.”
“The Good Lord has spoken,” The Priest boomed. “There is no rebirth without death. No resurrection without fall. No new growth without clearing the old. No harvest without planting.”
Ezekiel passed out from the pain as Good Neighbour Aaron hammered the steel spikes through his hands and feet into the crossed beams. Coming to, the pain was excruciating as the mob stood the cross upright. It wasn’t just the nails. The weight of his body hung from his arms and stopped his diaphragm from moving. He couldn’t breathe. Neither in nor out. At least, he thought, it would not take three days for him to die like Good Neighbour Josephat last year. Still, he bucked at the nails, trying to yank his hands and feet free.
As he looked down and saw The Priest with a consoling and possessive arm around Rebekah, he knew one thing. If the Good Lord above had sent His only daughter to Earth 2,218 years ago instead of his son, he sure as Hell would not have stood by up there in Heaven and allowed the mob to crucify her.
And none of this would be happening today.