This alternate history is by Janaya Kizzie. It’s a response to my conversations with the evangelist; you can see my reflections on that conversation in full at the linked dates below.
You know what’s the worst climate anxiety? Heaven and Hell. You end up in the wrong place, there’s no counseling that’s gonna help you.
There was a fluttering bird’s noise, but no birds at all. The evangelist would tell them later to find and fix the tear in the plastic sheeting. The tent spanned whole rooms in the house’s shell, the tear might be anywhere; the evangelist looked up and saw only the patterned veil, and beyond it, the muted haze of the sky.
The sun reached the edge of the evacuees’ camp first; after the floods, no longer in doubt of the Might of Heaven, the people gave the evangelist the most complete house in their camp. It had longest light, shortest dark. Here the dandelions grew wildest.
If you roast dandelion root for long enough it is a memory of coffee; he took a shameful pleasure in the slowness of it, the tactile process of lighting a fire and boiling the water. Preparing for his flock. Altars are false; buildings are false; our bodies too, he reminded himself. When he held the single, chipped tea cup of the root, he felt the heat and remembered hell.
Souls are not false. Heaven and hell are enduring and real. He reminded himself. He entered the Chapel of Memory and observed again the jumble of memories of heaven and hell: tiny plastic toys, buttons, match boxes, bits of rock, bits of wood. A steering wheel, a mask, remnants of plastic bags, candle ends. All the moments lost and redeemed.
The boy’s face, one bright eye, then the other, leaned, blinking slowly into the door way, before the evangelist, smiling, summoned him. This day, this boy waited eagerly for a cup of dandelion root. This boy had never known coffee; nor the hubris that connected continents in neglect of Heaven. He needed guidance in a world where so many things used to be.
The boy laid an insect’s wing on the altar, and the evangelist laid hands on the boy’s crown. Here: the arc of mold over the boy’s shoulder, the doorway and the dark, unfocussed stairs, a familiar sight that invoked the words: “We thank Heaven for this blessing. Our feeble minds cannot comprehend the magnitude of the Kingdom, but in our faults we have been given sight. We are thankful for the blessing of memory, and the realms hidden there.”
“When I was just a baby, my parents took me to an apple orchard. It was big, but I felt like I could see everything. It was warm out. The apples had bees on them,” the smile that had lighted the boy’s face began to fade, and he fit the pain into ritual words: “I saw Heaven then, and did not know it. I remember and repent.”
“There is no doubt now that God is great. The apples were false, the sky, the car you drove in, even your eyes. Man’s ego planted the orchard, and it was washed away by the might of Heaven. Vain men are washed away too. Right to Hell. And–”
The boy’s mother, like the boy, had entered in silence, and peered from the doorway. Without apology, without a word of greeting, she sent the boy away. The evangelist remembered how he met her, only days before the flood cast them out of the city. The streets had been filled with people trying to fight the will of God.
“How would you feel if somebody walked up to you and set you on fire?” he had asked her.
“I’m already on fire,” she had replied.
This was a memory of hell for him. Hell is a place where rage tears you apart. It was not a memory for her, he knew. It was nothing to her at all.
“What is it about children that redeems every situation?” she might have been trying to smile; it was a performed ritual gesture, a courtesy.
A nickel, warm from her hand and jarring in its simultaneous familiarity and uselessness was on the altar, shone beside the bee’s wing.
“Before the flood, I tried to make the city into a place everyone would love. I met people I never would have met, I heard their stories and I helped them when I could, and I showed them how to help themselves, as much as I could. I felt part of a better future. I saw heaven and I didn’t know it. I remember and repent.”
He picked up the nickel–Heaven for her, Hell for him– and turned it over his index finger with the pressure of his thumb. Alone for the moment, he left the chapel and entered his own cloister of memory, a closet lit blue by the sheeting, but burning with red memories of Hell. The nickel was the only shining thing.
“I remember and repent,” it was her earnestness in his mouth.
Weathered hands pulled up the dandelions beside his house. He remembered the sound of an apple core and its seeds rattling in a rusted lunch box, he remembered withered roots that might live again in their Memory. Memories of healthy trees, memories of roots in soil. Somewhere. Some ghost bird’s noise. Briefly, he remembered heaven.