By Martin Krafft
I say it’s a pretty good life for a kid - no school and not really having to do my workbook either. I say it’s a pretty good life for all of us - out here on the ranch, no jobs, no school, no traffic, no Muslins. Rosie don’t care for it much, but I don’t count her, ‘cause she’s a teenager, and she wouldn’t be happy with anything. She’s always hogging the phone and telling her friends how much she’d rather be back in Georgia. But the rest of us, even Marianne, like it out here. Marianne’s all grown-up and she likes it enough to have hauled her best friend, Hannah, out here. For a while I thought they were dating, ‘cause I’d seen them kissing a few times, but Mama says they’re just friends. Hannah’s fine by me either way, ‘cause she showed me how to gut a quail.
I got more important things to worry about, like my superheroes. I’d say Atom Bomb’s the best I’ve made yet, because he can destroy the most, and also, his costume is the best. It’s black and silver with electrons swirling all over.
“That don’t look like a workbook,” Mama says, leaning over my drawing.
“Already done my workbook.” Now I know if Mama were to catch me lying straight to her face, that would be a spanking, but she don’t ever look in the workbook to see whether it’s done or not.
Given that Mama already says I’m a genius, I don’t much see the point in learning how to read. I would try a little harder if reading seemed to be something useful. But the only book we got around is the Bible, and if I want to know what the Bible’s got to say, all I gotta do is ask Mama.
After marking the last few electrons, I wait until Mama’s busy scrubbing the stove then grab my gun and slip outside. I almost make a clean getaway, but Lucy and Sugar bark wanting to come along.
“I better see that workbook tonight,” Mama yells, but I’m already out the door and running.
Mama says we’re the chosen people, and I’ll go along with that, ‘cause how many kids get to walk around the desert carrying their own gun? You might think I’m just playing, but I’m also protecting the ranch. Way Papa talks, he says I might have to use that gun one day to defend the family. I still haven’t figured out why exactly the Muslins or the government are coming to get us, but when they do I’ll be ready. Nobody knows this desert better than me. Maybe Martin, but he’s crazy. He lives all by himself in his truck eating raw potatoes, and Mama says he was spying on Hannah and Marianne, so she don’t want him around no more, which is too bad, because he used to tell me stories about all the countries he’d been to.
Now a gun ain’t the only weapon I got. Also, bow and arrow, hatchet, bowie knife, and a whole bunch of sticks that I’ve sharpened. And I aim to be skilled enough to defend the family with any of them, though I’m not sure how useful the sticks would be, depending on what kind of weapons the Muslins got.
I got a right not to be work working, ‘cause I’m busy protecting, but Marianne and Rosie, they’re just lazy as can be. Which stands out all the more ‘cause Papa spends all day out in the fields, and Hannah most of the time too. During our late-night chess games, Papa told me Marianne’s lazy ‘cause she was living in a city. I pointed out that this is the first time Hannah lived anywhere but a city, and she’s a hard worker. Instead of answering, he put me in check mate. What makes it worse, Papa says, is that Marianne almost got famous, which messes with your values even more than city life. She almost made it big time as a country singer, got runner-up on this reality show country battle. And she is a pretty fine singer. Close your eyes and you just might be floating, ‘cause you don’t need your whole body no more, all you need is ears.
But since she moved out here she don’t sing no more. Says she got burned doing it and lost the fun in it. Now for fun Marianne plays Red Dead Redemption on the XBox, where you go around the desert shooting things. Don’t make no sense to me why she’s messing with that game when she got a whole, real desert she could be messing with. But if she’s gonna play, she might as well give me a turn every once in a while. Mama don’t put up with no funny business, and she asks Papa, “Jerry, how come you don’t put them to work?” He says, “They gotta figure that out for theyselves.” He might be waiting a while.
As far as I’m concerned, we could go on living out here forever. I don’t mind the beans and rice for dinner most nights. There’s jalapeños in the garden and four types of hot sauce to liven it up: Frank’s, Texas Pete, Louisiana, and Sriracha. The beans make Marianne fart like a monster from hell, but after a while you just get used to the smell. Mama tells her to quit, but that just seems to make Marianne do it more.
Tonight, Marianne’s farting away, but there’s not much I can do about it because we’re playing Ticket to Ride, and if I want to play I gotta put up with the smell. Marianne’s got that half-smile like she knows she’s winning but doesn’t want to show off too much, at least not ’til she’s won. She cuts off one of Hannah’s train routes and Hannah grabs her in a headlock, almost knocking the whole table over. After Marianne cuts off one of Mama’s routes, Mama pushes the table away from her, knocking over a bunch of the trains, stands up, and says, “I can’t play no more. This game’s rigged.”
Papa declares Marianne the winner, though the game ain’t over yet, and we watch Worms 2, even Rosie, which is about the only time she’s not playing with the phone, but only because she can’t see the TV from the phone chair, the one spot that gets reception.
Then one day the man who calls hisself the Prophet shows up. He rolls up in his truck, a big shiny truck that won’t stay shiny long out here in the desert. He’s a man wears short shorts that show off the most muscular thighs I’ve ever seen, with a long pony tail and a big old Bible in his hands, even bigger than ours.
“My name’s Mike, but if you’re people of God, you can call me Prophet.” He says he’s thinking about buying the ranch from Peter, the big Ukrainian man who we’re working the land for and who Papa doesn’t like very much ‘cause every time he shows up he spends the whole day telling Papa how to run the place. Papa don’t like nobody but God telling him what to do – and maybe sometimes Mama.
“That’s a pretty nice Bible you got,” Mama says, and that’s all he needs, he pulls up a chair on the porch and starts asking Mama and Papa about God and all that. The Prophet listens and nods his head like he’s hearing the smartest things he ever heard anyone say.
They have such a good time talking - after listening for a little at first, Prophet does most of the talking - that Mama invites him to stay for dinner. By that time, Tucker, Marianne, and Hannah have come to listen.
“I can tell that you people are chosen too. We chosen ones, we can tell who’s who. That’s another one of the blessings God gives us. God has blessed me with great wealth and prosperity, and in return, I help the chosen people get back to the Holy Land.
“Jerusalem?” Mama asks, awe in her voice.
“I could see about trying to get y’all out there too.”
I never seen Mama look so happy.
“That’s where the chosen people gotta go for the end times,”
Hannah says, and everyone nods their agreement, except Rosie, who’s back to the phone chair.
At dinner, we all crowd around the table. I’m wiggling around the chair and Mama snaps, “He’s gonna think you were raised in a barn.”
“I like barns,” I say.
“Feet on the floor!”
For prayer, the Prophet reads about a place called Sodom and Gomorrah getting all blast to bits, and it goes on and on, my stomach all rumbly. Now I’m expecting Lot to get what’s coming to him after he offers up his daughters to the townspeople, but no, he’s the only one who gets saved, him and his wife and daughters, but that don’t do the wife much good ‘cause she gets turned to salt anyway.
“What happened to the kids in Sodom?” I can’t help asking.
“They got kilt,” says Mama.
“That’s right,” says the Prophet, smiling.
“That don’t seem right,” I say.
“Of course it’s right,” Mama explains, “‘cause God did it.”
“Ain’t that murder?”
“God doesn’t murder,” Hannah jumps in.
“What do you call when God kill someone then?”
“Murders only when someone bad kills someone,” the Prophet says. “Anything God does is good.”
I ain’t sure how I feel about that, but raining down sulphur like God did - that’s a good idea for a super power.
“That was one tasty meal,” says the Prophet after dinner. Now, I wouldn’t go calling beans and rice tasty. But once he says it, Mama starts to blush. Instead of getting jealous, Papa just lets out that quick little grin, like he knows this guy ain’t nothing really to be afraid of.
“He’s gonna get us to Jerusalem,” Mama says real quiet to Papa as we’re walking to the fire pit.
Papa whips the fire into being, throws a few mesquite logs on it, and we all sit back and stare at the flames. I look up and see the mix of smoke and stars all swirling together. The bugs are out chirping in full force.
“You got any beer around here?” the Prophet asks. Papa goes to get one.
The Prophet drinks it down, not in one gulp, but a bunch of quick sips, then asks for another. Papa drinks one beer a night - drinks it slow - and I’m sure he don’t take too well to anyone else shooting through his supply. But the Prophet don’t stop until he’s had four of Papa’s beers. In the firelight, it’s hard to tell what exactly’s going on, but it looks like after relieving himself in the yard, the Prophet plants himself down next to Marianne and maybe even puts a hand out on her knee. She just gets up and sits down next to Hannah. And not right away, but a little later I see Hannah and Marianne take each other’s hands, which ain’t too uncommon for them.
“Anyone I take to the Promised Land, now,” the Prophet declares, “they gotta be good and ready for it.”
“Sounds right to me,” says Mama.
“That means they have to have cast out their sinful ways,” he says, looking at Hannah and Marianne with his chin all up high in the air like he’s king of the desert. He don’t know if anyone were to be king of the desert, it would be Papa, or maybe Jesus. I guess there could be two kings, but not this guy.
“That’s why we came out here,” Mama says.
“Sin works in devious ways. Sometimes, it’ll be sitting right in front of your nose, and you tell yourself it’s not a sin. But God knows.”
“Sure enough,” says Mama. “You looking for anybody else to take to the Promised Land? I feel like we been preparing for this. We’re ready. We’ve tried to cast out the sin.”
“It’s not easy to cast out the sin. That’s where I come in. I can lead people to the Promised Land.”
“We’re ready for you to lead us.”
“You got to take some time to think about what you’re doing, and if you’re really ready to receive the word. There are rules that God has laid out that can’t be broken. Rules about how people are supposed to interact with each other. And ways they aren’t. Ways that are an abomination to God’s word.”
I ain’t sure what an abomination is, but it sounds like a good name for a super villain. Prophet keeps looking at Hannah as he’s talking like he’s looking for a fight. I expect her to tackle the Prophet, maybe throw him into the fire, but she ain’t saying anything. Back when we lived in Georgia I seen Hannah get in fights over softball games where she gave out black eyes and busted noses. But now she’s looking like God Hisself’s about to strike her down.
Trying not to hiccup, the Prophet gets into his truck.
“I’ll be in touch. Think about what I said.”
He drives off, almost hitting a saguaro on his way out.
“He didn’t even give us his number,” Mama grumbles. “Guess we’ll just have to wait for him to come back.”
Next morning, I’m making my rounds when I come across Mama and Papa hunched over the Bible for their morning reading. They too wrapped up in what they thinking about to notice me.
“I always knew,” Mama says, “but I didn’t want to admit it.”
“I always knew,” Papa says, “but I didn’t care.”
“But you gotta care,” Mama says. “It’s their souls. It’s an abomernation.”
“Well, we been living all this time getting along pretty well.”
“So how do we know God don’t want us to live like this? Seems like we got a lot of blessings already. God wouldn’ta done that if they was really sinning.”
“End of the world’s coming. We wanna be out here or we wanna be in the Promised Land with the chosen people? With believers?”
“We’re believers out here too.”
“You ever wonder what it would be like if we weren’t the chosen people?” Mama asks.
“It might be pretty good for a while.”
Mama blinks, blinks, then shudders. “There’s only one way to sort it out,” she says, and they start reading in whispers to each other, which is good ‘cause I was getting bored of what they was saying anyway.
“What’s an abomernation?” I ask at dinner.
“We don’t need to talk about that,” Papa says. “It just ain’t good.”
With a sour look on his face, like he drank a whole jar of pickle juice in one go, he turns to Marianne.
“How much work you do today?”
“I picked up some trash,” Marianne says.
“I don’t know. Good amount.”
“Well, tomorrow, you’re gonna get a real day’s work in.”
“None of the kids do anything,” says Marianne. Just like her to bring us into it.
“I’m not a kid,” says Rosie.
“Everybody’s going to work tomorrow.”
Next morning, Papa tells me to pull weeds out of the garden. I pretend that I’m Atom Bomb and the weeds are Muslins come to get us. I’d say it’s worth it - all of us working - just to see Rosie’s face without the phone, like she got bit by a rattler or something.
I thought us doing a good day’s work would have Mama and Papa back to normal, but that night Papa says he’s too tired to play chess. I say come on and he says ok, but he’s so distracted I beat him no problem. I’ve beat him only once before, and he looked at me all proud after. This time, he don’t even notice that the game’s over.
Breakfast time, Papa says he’s going up to the top of the mountain. He don’t bring nothing with him except for the Bible. I certainly would not want to climb through all those cacti and everything with that big old book in hand, but Papa, he’s stubborn like the rest of us.
Hannah and Marianne are still sitting outside their tent drinking coffee. I sneak up real close, but all I hear is Hannah say, “We got our souls to worry about,” before I step on a branch and they whip around and tell me to git.
Not often that I ask Rosie for any kind of help, but there she is tapping away at her phone, and I ask if she knows what’s wrong.
“Marianne’s a dyke,” she says.
“What’s a dyke?”
“Someone who likes women.”
“Papa likes Mama. Is he a dyke?”
“A woman who likes women.”
“So Hannah’s a dyke too?”
“Yeah, but that’s ok because Hannah ain’t Mama’s daughter.”
“What’s wrong with dykes?”
“They go to hell.”
“‘Cause you need to shut up and quit bothering me.”
She lunges, but I’m too quick. This is a lot to think about, ‘cause I ain’t never thought about anyone but Muslins and the government going to hell.
With Papa on the mountain, there’s no need to do any work, so I shoot my arrows and hit one bullseye but miss entirely with the next few arrows. I go up to Mama and ask, “Why do dykes go to hell?”
“Don’t use that word,” Mama says.
“Is it true?”
“Only God knows who goes to hell, but it’s true they’re sinning.”
“What are they doing?”
“Don’t be worrying yourself none about that, Tylin. All you gotta know is that it ain’t right.”
How does Mama expect me to ever grow up if she always treating me like a kid? Like when she covers my eyes anytime there’s somebody necked in a film. She’ll lunge at me to make sure I don’t see nothing. Back when we used to watch tapes not DVD’s, Papa even scraped the naked bits off the tape so that no one could ever see them again. I still caught a couple peeks, despite Mama’s best efforts, and sure boobs are nice but I don’t see what the big deal is all about.
It’s not ’til late afternoon that Papa comes down from the mountain. Hannah and Marianne sitting on the steps, waiting, and he goes up to them.
“Y’all can’t stay if you’re gonna stay lovers.” Papa, he’s got a tear in his eye as he says this. I ain’t never seen Papa cry, not even when Grandpa died. I didn’t ever know what dyke was before, but now that Rosie said the word I remember back to when we were still in Georgia and Uncle Jim said it and Papa said don’t you ever call my daughter that again.
Without a word, Hannah and Marianne go to their tent and start packing up. They don’t even wait for dinner before taking off down the dirt road in their old, barely working Chevy.
That night, we play a game like normal, but it ain’t no fun without having Marianne to yell at ‘cause she’s farting, or Hannah to put Marianne in a headlock when Marianne’s winning. In the middle of the game, Mama says, “I’m too tired. Movie time.”
The one good thing about Hannah and Marianne leaving is that I get to lie down on the couch where the two of them used to sit.
We don’t play games hardly at all no more. Maybe once or twice a week. It would be ok if we had some more movies to watch, but I already done seen all of them at least three times.
I get to play Red Dead Redemption now, and I will say, it can be just as much fun going around the desert. The good thing about it is that you get to shoot people, not just rabbits. Now before you go thinking I’m some kinda crazy person, I ain’t about to go shooting any real people unless they’re threatening the family. Maybe if the Prophet comes back I’d shoot him with the BB gun, though Mama would whup me for a week straight. We ain’t heard nothing from him anyway, and Mama’s stopped talking about him, not wanting to get her hopes up. I’ve started drawing him for a supervillain. I call him Abomination, and he’s a dyke, and he shoots fire at all the kids in Sodom.
It’s been two weeks since Hannah and Marianne got back. Car didn’t make it with them. They called and said they were in Tucson and wanted to come back, so Jerry up and left and drove all the way there to pick them up and bring them home. When they returned, they had a long talk with Mama and Papa. I tried to sneak inside to hear but Mama saw and kicked me out.
All I heard was Hannah saying, “We gonna go to heaven, and that’s that. Sure, we love each other still, but we can love each other in the right way, ‘cause that’s what heaven takes.”
They musta worked something out because everyone seems happy now.
The most important thing, Hannah says, over and over again, at breakfast, at lunch, at dinner, is your relationship with God. Not just to the rest of us, but as if reminding herself. At night I sneak out behind their tent. Before I used to hear all kinds of grunts from in there, but now all I hear is the sound of talking, and they’re talking about what they think heaven is going to be like.