by Kiwi

Part 4

He woke early in the morning, the sun hadn't lifted over the hills yet. Out of the car, he stood stretching his cramped muscles. That was not the most comfortable bed he'd ever slept in, but it was okay.

He peed on the grass, then washed his face and hands in the clear, cold water and sat watching the busy creek.. It was quiet in the valley, very quiet. The dawn chorus was missing. Usually at this time of day he'd be getting the cows in and listening to the birds singing about whatever it was that they sang about. Complaining about being woken up maybe?

He'd always enjoyed the dawn chorus, now there were no birds and no cows to milk either. Depressing thought. He was not going to think about that.

He didn't know that anyway. For all he knew, somewhere along the road he might suddenly come out to where everything was the same as it always was and there were birds and cows and people and everything. He wouldn't know for sure until he got there.

He ate the last of his sandwiches - hard and dry but still edible washed down with juice. Maybe that was it - no more bread - ever! No, he couldn't believe that. That was too big to be true. Everyone at home might still be there. Anyway, flour and salt and stuff was around and somewhere there'd be an instruction book for baking bread.

He could always pray, 'Give us this day our daily bread.' No, wouldn't work. There was no 'us', there was just him.

If there was no bread, shame, but there'd be plenty of other things to eat. Heaps of them. In an empty world there were lots of things that he might die of, but starving was not one of them.

A car crash could get him though. He looked back up the hill where he'd had the near miss. He really had to be careful. Any accident could kill him. There were no doctors or nurses or anyone at all to help him if he was injured.

'Physician heal thyself'. Pity he wasn't a physician then. He didn't even know anything about first-aid. He had to be careful and take it slow when he couldn't see the road ahead. It was time he was going down the road ahead. There was still a long way to go but, all going well, he'd be there late today.

He scouted around and made sure that there was no rubbish around the site. There was no need to really, but he was basically a tidy person and old habits die hard.

It was only just after 7am when he got moving. There was a couple of minutes worry when the car was slow to start and it was a great relief when it finally did.. If it broke down, what was he going to do about it?

Not a lot. He wasn't mechanical at all, he couldn't fix anything. It shouldn't be a huge problem anyway, either there would be someone who could fix it or else there'd be no-one and hundreds of abandonded cars. He could just get another one. No worries.

He was covering the miles quite fast. It was flat(ish) open country he was travelling through now and he could go at a reasonable speed when he could see that the road ahead was clear.

There were farms along the way, all empty and dead-looking. There were still no animals in the fields and there should've been by then. Still no birds anywhere either.

He'd miss the birds. They weren't much good for anything, but they sounded good. They must have some uses though or the Elders wouldn't have brought them all the way from Earth. Like, what uses? Oh, yes. They ate insects, didn't they? Insects and spiders and things.

Bugs had hundreds of babies at a time and the birds ate them and kept the population under control. They'd over-run the world if there were no birds. Just as well there were no insects too then.

Thinking about things helped to pass the time. The radio didn't work, he'd tried the one in the car and it picked-up nothing.

Down a hill, he went into Bethel, a big town spread along both banks of a river. He slowed right down and crawled along through there, sounding the car's horn, over and over.

There was no response and no signs of life anywhere; it didn't look good. Then he saw it - a column of dirty black smoke in the distance to his right.

He turned off the highway and found his way through the maze of suburban streets until he came to the source of the smoke. It was a huge fire, a whole street of houses were aflame. Crackling flames reached high and the pillar of smoke billowed above them.

He got up close, stopped and sounded the horn loud and long, and got out, looking around. If there was anyone at all, anywhere in the town, the fire would've brought them here to check it out. There was no-one.

There was nothing he could do about the fire, even if he had a fire-engine, which he didn't. It would just have to burn itself out. The way it was going, that wouldn't take long. What had started it?

Nobody lit it and it couldn't have been an electrical fault with no power, but there had to be some reason for it? It was a bright sunny day. It could've been something as simple as the sun shining through a magnifying glass. Even a clear-glass bottle of water could do that. Unlikely, but it could! They did that in science class in school one time. Something started it.

He waited, but was only wasting time, no-one was here, so he got back into the car and found his way back to the highway. He was almost out of the other end of the town when it occurred to him that he should get some more petrol and some more food too, while he could.

He stopped on the forecourt of the service station in a small suburban shopping centre. He'd heard, somewhere, that petrol pumps had handles in them so that they could be worked by hand when the power was off. So he unscrewed and removed the panel on the front of a bowser and, sure enough, there was a handle in there.

There was a small padlock on it which he whipped off with his hammer and wrecking bar - easy! He pulled the handle down, lifted it back up and down a couple of times and petrol started dribbling out of the the hose.

He put the hose into the car's tank inlet and pumped until it was full. He put the hose back where it was, closed up the bowser and put his tools back in the boot.

A couple of minutes later, the tools came out again because he needed them to break into the grocer's shop. In there, he collected food that would keep awhile, canned, dried and preserved stuff, and filled a couple of boxes that he put on the back seat of the car, also a box full of bottles of drink, both fruit juices and sugary soda-pop. Fruit juice was healthy, sodas were not but they taste good!

He closed the shop door, sort of, got back in the car and drove away. The town was soon behind him and he'd been going past empty farmland for half an hour when he realised that he hadn't left any IOU's for the stuff he took, or the locks he'd broken.

Oh, well! He wasn't going all the way back. If people ever returned, they'd sort it out then, if not then it didn't matter.

It was not quite 4pm when he spotted his home in the distance, over at the other side of the valley. He stopped and looked. It had only been a couple of days since he left there, it seemed like ages ago.The big communal buildings, small in the distance, stood in the middle of well-tended green pastures and the sun behind him lit them so they glowed like jewels.

There were no jewels there really, they weren't rich, it was just a big home and a hard-working farm. He had no great love for the place but this was his home, it was the only world that he knew. He was born here, grew here and it was all he knew and all that he had.

Or, it was all that he had, now he'd see if he still did. He started again, carried on up the side road, over the bridge and through the wide-open entrance gates. Home.

It was a long, long driveway, winding up to the dwelling places at the foot of the hills. As a boy he'd often stood up there watching cars approaching and he'd wondered if the lay-out of the property was a form of defence. No-one came in here without the community being well aware of their arrival.

Maybe the lay-out was a memory, a hang-over from the first communes back in the bad old days? Many stories were told of how the First-Called were persecuted, shunned and ostracised by the ungodly majority back there on Earth.

Here on New Salem it was the other way around. The ungodly were the minority, but it was a growing minority, maybe even a majority now - a majority of one. Him.

There were no animals in the fields at all, there should have been. The cows, hundreds of them, should be coming in for milking at this time of day. They weren't. The herd of deer were not in the lower paddocks, the flock of ostriches were not in their pens, no pigs, no poultry - nothing!

He drove straight up and stopped outside the main entrance of the Community Hall, got out of the car and looked around. The big dormitory buildings, the kitchens and dining halls, the school and playgrounds, everything was quiet and deserted.

It was like a dream. He'd never, ever seen his home looking so empty. Over 400 people lived, worked, played and prayed here and it was always busy, until now. Where were they? Where had they gone?

He shed a tear, standing there all alone. He wanted his family, he needed them. Why would they go and not take him? Where? His Blood brothers and sisters, his always-tired and hard-working mother, his stern but loving father, his rigid and unbending grandparents. Uncles, Aunties, cousins, Brother, Sisters, all of his huge extended family.

He grinned ruefully, he'd even be happy to see the Elders, any of them. That was a first! He'd learnt long ago to avoid the authority figures as much as possible. Now it seemed like they were avoiding him. They were doing a very good job of it too.

His gaze settled on the Community's airstrip and the big hangar where their three planes were kept. That'd be the perfect way to search all of the country in a hurry, by flying high above it. Could he fly a plane? Not likely. That was ridiculous.

He might've figured out how to drive a car on the empty roads, getting a plane up and off the ground and safely back down again would be impossible He'd be mad to even think about it.

Inside the Community Hall, in the Meeting Room, it was quiet, dark and empty. Up at the front, on the raised platform, he sat in the Senior's chair! He stood at the pulpit, looked up at the tiers of empty seats, slammed the big preaching bible shut and proclaimed, "God has gone. There is no god here!"

He waited, eyes closed, but nothing happened. No lightning bolts struck him and no Elders yelled. Now he knew that he really was all alone. If not, he'd be huge trouble by now.

He could do, or not do, absolutely anything he wanted to. All of his life, that had been a favourite dream. Now he could, but it was not so good, nowhere near as exciting as it should be.

He clutched the sides of the pulpit, screamed the worst words he knew, "Tit-sucking Buggers! Pee off then." He shoved and threw the pulpit down to the floor below the stage and walked out.

The kitchen was similar to the one at the motel, but much bigger. It was just as empty though. The gas stoves were working so he cooked up a feed - scrambled eggs and sausages. As another act of defiance, he took the plate through to sit and eat and the Elders' table in the dining room.

When finished. He drank the milk, which was warm and tasted a bit 'off'. Then he left his dirty dishes and cutlery and walked out. If anyone came back, they'd know that he was there, if they didn't, it didn't matter.

The second dormitory, across the road out at the front, was the one where he'd slept ever since he could remember. Over there, he went down the stairs to the ground-floor where the rooms for his extended blood family were.

Past the Family rooms in the front, where parents, babies and their two youngest children slept, he went to the teenage boys' dormitory at the back. In his own cubicle he sat on his own bed and looked at the familiar surroundings. Home? Not really.

It was just a room, bare and functional. He'd seen better now and if he never saw it again, he wouldn't miss it much. It was the people he missed.

'Oh, yes!' A happy, cheeky thought struck him. There was something that he'd always wanted to do but couldn't - now he could! He could do whatever he liked.

Across the corridor and a couple of doors along he went into another cubicle, a mirror image of his own one. Everything was reversed but otherwise identical, even the bedding was the same. The bedding!

He lifted the covers on the unmade single bed, and inhaled deeply. He ran a hand over the wrinkled bottom sheet. This was his bed, where he slept - Jeroboam!

Jeroboam, a distant cousin, was the source of his problems. He was not the only one, but he was the main one. Blond haired, blue eyed, long legs and smooth, young skin, Jeroboam was simply the most beautiful boy Amos had ever seen and he was very attracted to him in ways that he should not have been.

Even if he was a girl, which he obviously was not, it would still be wrong to have the sinful, lustful thoughts that he did. Those things were for man-woman couples and only after they were properly married. Two boys together? No! It couldn't, that had never happened on New Salem, as far as he knew.

But, that didn't stop him wanting Jeroboam, so bad. He had for years, but he had never dared tell him. Jeroboam was a good boy, not an evil one like Amos. Now it would never happen, he'd gone like everyone had.

Did he love Jeroboam? He wasn't sure. In a way he did, like he loved everyone else, like he was supposed to. But he wanted him, he lusted for him powerfully and he was not supposed to do that!

That was why he'd been sent away to make a solitary, prayerful retreat. He'd confessed some of what he was feeling to a couple of Elders. He didn't mean to, but Elders had ways of getting people to say more than they intended.

Even so, they hadn't learned everything. If they had, the only retreat he'd be making was a permanent one to exile.

Funny, he grinned, now it seemed that everyone except him had been exiled. It wasn't funny at all. He lay down and cried on Jeroboam's pillow, cried for all he'd lost, all that might have been and never was.

Eventually he calmed and pulled himself together. He was just being silly. Jeroboam was no sinner, he was never going to want to do any of that stuff. He was clean, pure and religious, and it was selfish to wish that he was anything else. But he did!

He was so lonely. He'd been lonely all his life, but now was the worst, he was alone and lonely now.

What was he going to do now? He'd come home and there was nothing here. So now? For once, he wished that there were orders to follow, but there weren't. He'd have to make his own decisions. What did he want? People! He wanted people to be with.

He'd search and he'd keep on searching however long it took. There had to be someone somewhere. There had to be!

First things first, he needed somewhere to sleep for the night. Where? Anywhere he chose. His own bed? Maybe. It was all very open in the dormitory, the cubicles had no ceilings and he wouldn't feel very safe and secure there.

Safe from who? He was being silly, but he couldn't help how he felt, he never could, that was how he got in trouble

He could sleep in a Family Room. They were bigger rooms with bigger beds but they still had ceilings. But, did he want to sleep in someone else's bed, especially when he knew the couples who usually slept there? Well, no. It wouldn't be right. Apart from being bigger, Family Rooms were much the same as dormitory cubicles, only separate.

How about the Elders' bedrooms? The Elders had separate quarters up above the Community Buildings. It was said that they had offices, studys and living rooms up there too. He didn't know that for sure, it was just what he'd heard.

No-one but Elders and a few select older ladies were allowed up on the top floor. He'd always wondered what it was like up there, now he could find out. Who was going to stop him?

Back in the Hall, he went upstairs to the second floor where the meeting and teaching rooms were, and then, nervously, up the private stairs to the top floor. He opened the door at the top and all of his childhood illusions were shattered.

Somehow, maybe he'd been told it, he had the idea that the Elders were all simple-living godly men who had spartan quarters where they dedicated their lives to prayer, study and seeking God's guidance for the community. He was so wrong!

Through the door, it was like a palace. There was thick and soft carpet on the floor, framed, real, paintings on the tastefully papered walls and the light fittings were miniature chandeliers, all sparkling in gold and glass.

There was no power going, but still plenty of light from the high-up windows and skylights. Awestruck, amazed, he wandered down the long hallway, peering into rooms on either side.

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