Thursday, September 29, 2011


Jonas lit the candle.

They had been meeting secretly, of course, two floors beneath the city's mangled streets. Since religion was outlawed several decades before the Last War, there were no open churches, and "Christians" were something you read about in storybooks (if you could find one) or laughed at in the old movies (back when there was electricity to power video equipment - most people couldn't remember that far back).

The remnant remained determined, and had developed an active, underground network that helped believers find others within or near their camps. To talk about God publicly was to invite instant execution by the camp's Watchers, the only thing resembling what used to be called police or military. They were pretty much self-appointed, having brutally fought their way to the top of the heap. They were the only "law" that remained, and religion was punishable by death in most camps.

In spite of the Watchers, Christians gathered regularly. They had devised a warning system should there be any danger, but most groups had found relatively safe places.

This night was like most others. They were together, gathered around a single candle, but fear was a fog that hovered heavily, never lifting.

Jonas usually spoke first. He often would tell of the days when Christians could meet in the open, when church meetings could be seen on television and on a thing called the Internet. Back then, everyone owned several Bibles, and the worst that could happen if you mentioned Christ at work was a light reprimand. That was before. He was the only one in the camp who could remember that time. He even had to explain for some what "going to work" meant.

This night, someone wanted to sing a song. There were few songs still intact, as written. Amazing Grace, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, but only the first and last stanzas, usually. There were a couple of tunes that the middle-aged could recall, but the words had been twisted and re-crafted so many ways that they would be unrecognizable to the composers.

"Can you believe," Jonas said, "that there was a time when people chose churches by the kind of music they sang?" Gasps of disbelief, gazes of incredulity.

"'Chose' churches? What do you mean, 'chose?'" a teenager asked, as though he were asking how to fly.

"It's true," Jonas answered. "Churches were everywhere when I was a kid. I remember one couple that told my dad that they were looking for a church that had a pipe organ. Those were hard to find back in the Thirties." Jonas explained what a pipe organ was and why some people thought they were important.

A man spoke up, "Yeah, and when guitars went out of fashion, some of us were pretty upset, too, as I recall. Man, it was crazy then. Of course, after the Last War, well, you all know."

He explained guitars for the kids, but they were more interested in getting back to the street to play before the Watchers made their late rounds.

Someone said, "Well, at least we still have our voices. Let's sing."

"How about 'How Big is our God.'"

The middle-ager frowned. "Isn't it 'How Good is our God?'"

"Either works." Let's just sing and you can say whatever you want."

"Quiet!" Jonas whispered, raising a hand. "I think I hear something."

He blew out the candle.


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