An unbelieving prophet named Amos Caster faces apocalypse after a string of apparent child murders leaves the twin cities of Auspicion and Calamity thirsting for blood. Through dreams, visions and memories, Amos searches for hope in the face of pain and desperation.


G od Almighty, how could You forgive me? Despite myself, I have tried and tried again to see it, hundreds of times since I left Calamity in the spring of my youth. I have passed many nights praying that You might open wide as the horizon the eyes of my idolatrous heart. Exhale! Send the faint lights of these memories to me, push them back against the current, please God, closer to me, across the slick black waters of time until at last I can see him, more clearly now than I could even then: Peter Price come riding through the mulberry trees, floating through the dark like an apparition, all proud and handsome atop that white horse he called Self-Reliance.

He would dismount, patting the shoulder of that gelding, showing no signs of having tired during his long day of ministry. He would look at the horse and then at me, smiling as wide as he ever allowed himself, as if our beauty were shared, proof in his mind of some fundamental rightness with the world. The possibility of justice.

On this particular night, I had been writing a letter by the light of the moon when first I heard him approach. In those days, I wrote him letters that often read like a list of wants, prayerless petitions to which he only ever responded in person. I would tell him: I want to love you in the daylight, I want to run away, with you, far from the squalor of it all, from the place they call my home. I want with all desperation to believe the way you do: that God is as plain as the sun. I want your eyes on me the way you look at leaves on autumn mornings, taking them in, remembering. I want my head on your chest, my ear to your heart. Every afternoon and every night until death calls my name.

I wanted these things only a fraction as often as I told him so, and forty times as deeply. But more than that, more than anything I’d written, I wanted to watch his hands, pulled for once from their position in prayer as they grappled for the back of my neck. I wanted to please him, to play whatever part he wanted in the theater of his desires, until I could see his mouth, teeth white like the dust of stars he told me had names (Arcturus, Orion), opening, telling me what he wanted, why he came. He begged me to tell him the things he wanted to hear. He wanted and wanted until at last he had it, breath going slow and quiet until we were left alone with the distant sounds of the orchard: crickets singing, bull frogs loud and bellicose down in the branch.

But it was not yet finished, my letter. His early arrival disrupted my intentions. Fearing he might read what I had written, I ripped apart the pages at once, quick and secret, and shoved the pieces in my mouth, swallowing my sad attempts at supplication before he drew near enough to see. My body straightened, as was its habit, hoping to fashion itself into something he might take pride in, someone of note, something he could want.

So when I told him I dreamed of a girl, a little girl dancing all alone in the meadow across the back fence, I had hoped he would ask with a grin if I was making it up, perhaps to impress him.

But instead he sat up, discarding me in the grass. The sleepy smile there just before was now urgent and serious, almost afraid.

He said: When?

Two nights ago, I said: I went out of the house and saw her kneeling there, arms moving as though kneading dough. And when she stood, I could see her holding seven yellow flowers.

He asked: What color was the dress?

Blue like a robin’s egg.

He only nodded. I could see that if he had been a man disposed to it, he would have gasped.

He stood up and said I should show him.

I laughed and asked him: Show you what? He looked around as though he might find it himself. It was only a dream, I told him.

Come, he insisted. Show me the way.

I took him to the meadow, which looked to be covered in snow, so strong was the moonlight coming down onto it.

Peter walked through it and past it, walking for a long time through the woods beyond, and just when the thought first entered my head to ask about turning around, Peter’s hand snared my wrist, snatched it up like that of a petulant child in the fist of a father. His skin pressed warm into mine.

He said nothing but there was a familiar urgency in his eyes. Look, he mouthed.

Up ahead, set back in those shadowed woods, ground still speckled with glowing patches of white, I could see: a small fire, around which were several small buildings, simple but immaculate.

Two women walked between the houses, each holding a handle of a large bucket that swung between them. After a while, another emerged from the building nearest us with an ax and went toward the far side of the encampment.

I told him again it was nothing.

He shook his head and said there had been a mother. This morning, when first he arrived in Calamity, a woman with a terrible cough told him that two hooded devils, under the curtain of night, had carried her daughter right out the front door, pale hands pressing against her screaming mouth. The girl had been wearing a blue night skirt, ready for sleep.

Peter told me it must have been that same girl I had seen in my vision.

A dream, I corrected him. Not a vision.

We watched in silence until at last he decided we should leave.

His jaw was clenched, his mind churning. And when we drew close to home, I reached out to touch his hand. He didn’t pull away but he didn’t look at me.

I pinched his side, which made him laugh. He pressed his palm to my chest to push me away but I reached out to hold it there.

This heart, he said after a moment. He paused as though thinking what to say.

Is deceitful above all things? I joked. His favorite verse.

And desperately wicked, he said, smiling again in his restrained way.

He touched the back of his fingers to my ear to feel the coolness of my skin, as he did when he was feeling tender. Goodnight Amos, he said at last.

I set to walking home, alone, wishing the whole way I could remember the end of the verse.


M y stomach had soured overnight. The letter felt heavy in there, like a stone. My mother saw me clutching my abdomen, bent over the table, and said: Stop worrying so damn much. I already know! A mother always knows.

She was already drunk, giggling over by the front window. She said: You think I don’t hear you, baby? Sneaking back in before sunrise most every night? Down in the orchard with that boy from Auspicion, rutting like a pair of stags in January?

I pretended not to hear.

Don’t worry, she said. I won’t tell. I’m good at keeping secrets. It’s the Prices who should thank me for that.

I lacked the strength to argue. I was a fool regardless.

My father said nothing. He never said anything except to himself. What happened to him was: He came from bourbon barons, but took to horses at a prodigious age. His family spoke of his future with such beaming confidence one could almost see him atop some chestnut yearling thundering toward the finish. So when word made its way back to his family that their youngest son had dug the toe of his gun into the sawdust of their stables and clenched the other end between his teeth, the Casters found it easier to pretend he had succeeded than admit the awful truth. They sent him way out, on the other side of Calamity, where he would live in a house on a little plot of woods with two horses, a woman and their bastard child.

But my mother wouldn’t marry him, would not even let him see me. This fact was the sole source of his grief, according to the note they found tacked to the stable wall the following morning. The bullet had entered his head but in some terrible miracle failed to exit on the other side, so he remained suspended in a state of semi-dumbness and semi-deafness, doomed to a twilit consciousness the rest of his days.

He developed a habit—some might call it a symptom—of telling himself stories, murmuring half-coherent to himself, making no effort to whisper. So when he stood staring out the back window that cool spring morning, I thought nothing when he started speaking of pigs in that half-lucid state of his, his eyes fluttering as he said: That momma pig had a litter of three. Only three. A miracle.

Each piece of the sentence was no longer than a breath, only loosely tied to the pieces before and after.

He said: Nine, ten, eleven piglets you’d see. But it was just three. All three, they were perfect.

But she didn’t take to them, he said. Didn’t take, a little rough. One of them was dead by morning. They poured whiskey in the water trough. A jug of whiskey to calm her down. Didn’t work. Another piglet, the second, dead as the first, all that red.

There was a smack. I opened my eyes again and saw my mother on the other side of the room, looking bewildered at a bee sitting against the window. She was sitting with her legs folded beside her on the floor.

She laughed as she realized: Oh! It’s on the other side. Her red and tousled hair fanned out from her head, illuminated by the steep slant of late morning light. I wondered how much she had slept.

The brightness of the window caught in my eyes and set the room to spinning again. My blood surged inside my head as though begging for my attention. I closed my eyes as my father carried on.

He said: It was raining. They went out. Saving the last of them. Saving the piglet. Gun was swinging at his feet. He shot her dead between the eyes. The sow, right there in the mud. More red, all that red.

From where I lay, dizzy with my head against the table, I asked after the last piglet, surprising even myself: was she ok?

My father stopped talking and turned to look at me. His eyes, a brown so dark that in certain light they were often confused for black, were open wide with surprise, his mouth a tight line. For a moment, we looked at each other like we had not done in years. He wiped something from the hair on his face. He studied his palm closely, then turned back to the window. I followed his gaze and could see them grazing in the paddock, those twin blue geldings he once called Charm and Consequence.

Years ago, before he tried to drain the memories of my mother from his head, he would call them that. Or so I had heard. But now he stood in silent incomprehension, as though trying hard to remember, to recover a dream that had just escaped him after waking with a start from a very deep sleep.


A hooded figure stood before me speaking low and warbled. A faceless voice cool and urgent as running water. I was leaning forward to listen. Face dipping into the fog of his breath. Seeing suddenly he was gone.

Fast wind, low clouds opening. Blanched skies behind, tornado weather. A gold birdcage dropping through it, swinging like a tassel. A young girl inside it, a shadow, clutching the bars of the cage. Eyes full of a wild will to live. A girl I almost recognized. A girl looking just like me.

I was walking toward the cage as it lowered. I came across a well. The popping and hissing of fire from deep within.

Her frenzied face was lit from below, glowing red. Lowering further. Drawing closer yet to oblivion.

The figure appeared again and pulled a copper goblet from his robe. Bidding her to drink. Black contents spilling over the edge.

Her gasps winding down. Submitting to the calm.

The cage dropping. A hot splash. Streaks of fire arcing and torching houses.

Running home. My mother gathering as much as she could.

Smoke rolling up from the well. Wind stopping, trees going quiet. Distant, enormous splashes coming from the lake. As though trying to cough up some terrible illness. Like some great beast in the throes of death.

My father groaning outside. Saying, horses, my horses.

Bolting. Panicked eyes rolling in their head.


L ate the next morning, my mother sent me into Auspicion. I told her I would head for sausage and whiskey straight away, but I planned first to visit the druggist. Two nights of troubled sleep had done nothing to soothe my unrest. I stopped twice to retch by the road, hoping to free myself at last from the paper I had swallowed in my foolishness and shame. I produced nothing beyond wet, desperate gasps.

By the time I made it to town, the day was warming, the air growing thick and damp, which added to my nausea. I looked up and saw a river of blackbirds streaming above. I continued and watched their shadows swirling around me on the ground.

As I approached the alley that fed the market, I could hear the murmurs of a growing crowd.

The Price mansion had burned. I knew it to be true as soon as I turned up the next street where I could hear the voices echoing: Mrs. Price and her daughter Elizabeth, burned alive with eleven unnamed servants.

Elizabeth had been the youngest, born twelve years after the rest—a miracle (unexpected, like all miracles)—without the use of her legs. And perhaps because of this fact, the eldest Price, Peter, took a special liking to her. While Father Price occupied himself with affairs of the church, Peter taught her to spell, to count, to name the colors. He listened to her nightmares when they woke her. He carried her on his shoulders and walked through morning fog, down by the lake, where Elizabeth shrieked whenever a raft of ducks would take off, splashing into flight. She called it magic, over and over, magic, magic! Her joy flew to the far bank and back despite her brother’s smiling corrections that there was no magic in this world, only miracles like her.

Yet there in the street, the people paid no mind to the dead, so focused were they on the culprit. Their vengeful minds in concurrence: there was no such thing as an accident. Perhaps the child was conceived of another man, they speculated—the girl’s condition being God’s judgement for her fornicative pedigree—a man who had decided to silence the woman who had kept his daughter from him all these years. Perhaps it was a servant boy who set the blaze, as revenge on a cruel master. When one man suggested Father Price set the blaze, another absolved the priest: Father Price could not even recognize cruelty, so unfamiliar was it to him.

It was then I heard for the first time the word cult. A cult had lit the fire as a distraction to kidnap the girl, some were saying.

I asked the man beside me: What cult?

He said as many names as there were people in the crowd: disciples of Bamphomet, alchemistic women, a satanic cult. Haven’t you heard? Our town is presently under siege by a concionem of the cursed who spike the heads of the innocent and boil the bodies for their evening meal!

They increased the stakes, the certainty, with every remark, as though auctioning with glee some secret, wicked truth.

They continued. They said the Price boy might have done it himself.

You liar! I shouted from the back of the crowd. Heads turned to meet me.

They told me: He hadn’t been seen since leaving for Calamity yesterday morning.

But he loved her, I said. More than himself. More than anyone, perhaps, but God.

I could see their eyes going angry. One man shoved me with such force that I almost fell. I stumbled backwards, catching myself at last. He yelled that I should leave. So I did, coward that I am.

I wondered how his people, these hateful gossips, might have begotten sweet Peter, in all his goodness and his grief. I remembered how one day he had come strolling up the wide paths of Calamity to listen to our troubles, believing but not yet knowing how lonely sorrow could be.

Yet what little comfort his efforts afforded us never impressed my mother, always drunk and vocal in her discontent, saying, Someone who can walk even a mile through this twisted world and find himself smiling at the end of it has not one word of advice I care to hear.

And I said to her: Perhaps he chooses to smile.

And my mother said: Well I don’t make a habit of entertaining theatrics. Who does he hope will see him smile? What good does he think it will do?

I stood there in the plaza, alone in the raw anger of my thoughts, my rage a different breed entirely than the blood-lusting men around me. For who can speak ill of a man they do not know? A good man, I insisted in my thoughts, a good man as entitled to his pride as anyone. Entitled to adoration. Entitled to peace.

I wanted to be near to him. This feeling clawed up my throat at once. I wanted to be with him in his misery, to feel his heaves as he wept for his sister. I wanted to write promises with my finger on his back.

I set myself to walking, thinking not of the food and drink for which I’d been sent, nor even the remedy for the dizziness that was again starting to grip me. I was thinking only that maybe he was right. Cult or not, perhaps those women in the woods had taken a girl. Perhaps they had taken another.


I walked all over, flitting from one corner of Auspicion to the next, following the intuitions of men, whispered to me across gates and through shadowed doorways: speculation as to where Peter might be. At last I went north, toward the lake where Peter had told me he went to pray whenever the temple became too crowded for the deep contemplation that brought him closest to God.

The shore of the lake dipped into the water such that it took on the appearance of lips. The whole of it, if viewed from above, might resemble a mouth drawn open in agony.

I found him hunched by the water, a shadow set against the glassy white of the moon. Six tupelos fanned out above him. The moon came through them, too, dappling white on the grass.

I stood in silence, savoring those last few moments in which my intentions and desires were free to slosh about in my heart. When I opened my mouth, there would be no turning back, those shapeless wants having frozen into truths.

Peter looked up. He whispered at length something I could not hear and bowed his body again.

I stepped into the moonlight. All I said was: There you are.

He looked outward. His shadow relaxed. He was no longer praying, but he was listening.

I asked after his memories. I asked which ones he found himself examining, holding up to the light. I knew the way a grieving heart cannot tear its eyes from the past.

He wept. I knelt beside him and tried to comfort him, but my touch did nothing to soften the violent shudders that followed every sob. Every so often he would look up through brimming eyes, up through blossoming branches, whispering words I could not hear. I was grateful to be there. I did not say it.

We were looking out over the water. Youthful and ignorant, I decided to speak, thinking my story useful: Did I ever tell you how I almost died? When I fell into the branch and nearly drowned? My earliest memory: that dark blurry hopelessness, a hand plucking me from the water, laying me down on the bright and coughing banks. I opened my eyes and saw the grass standing straight up.

He said nothing. I could feel a distance between us widening as we knelt, growing like a secret in those long and quiet minutes.

It was my father, I continued. My empty-headed father saved my life and held me, carried me all the way home where I slept for two days. I didn’t know then that he was dead. That remarkable salvation was the last and only time he led the way. Imagine my disappointment once I was old enough to see him for what he was.

The night was cool. I had forgotten my coat.

And so I think I can understand how you feel, I said. Or how you will feel, as time goes by. Having lost someone you hardly had a chance to miss. Walking blind without them, unsure which way to turn.

I could see his attention slipping. So I said: But perhaps that’s my pride. My pride telling me I can understand. There is an evil inside me, after all. I know you have seen it. I have fought it all my life, moreso since loving you, but I can feel it still, like a shadow dancing on the walls against the flame of my will, trying but faltering in the dark, knowing not in which direction lay the Good. I am a hopeless, unhappy person, Peter. You know this. That’s why I love you. I stand small beside a holy man, a man who sees clearly which way to walk, who is shaken not in his faith by such unfortunate—

Peter interrupted.

“All these nights I’ve watched you lying in the grass beside me, wondering why He chose you.”

Unfortunate! He laughed and said: You think you’re the one who’s walking blind in the dark? I couldn’t see it before, but my loving you killed her. I followed my temptations into your orchard. I followed my curiosity. How many times have I thought about that moment? That very first night in your orchard when I still believed I was coming to help you, all sinning and squalid. God never showed me, but I can see now I was lying to myself. I hid the truth from myself, that I was worshiping at the altar of your false promises. I’ve been asking God why He didn’t show me before. Why didn’t He warn me? I didn’t know! I wish I had known! I was tempted! I was tempted by your visions. And I see now it wasn’t as holy as I pretended. I was selfish and impure. I wanted to reach out and touch you as a way of reaching through you. I wanted to feel the pulsing of whatever holy thing God placed inside you. All these nights I’ve watched you lying in the grass beside me, wondering why He chose you. Why would God choose you as His vessel when all my life I have prayed for a gift like yours? A connection like yours. And yet in the face of all my prayers for closeness, for signs, for reassurance, God has kept silent. I’m afraid that speaking it aloud will make it true: I can’t hear Him anymore.

He jammed his finger hard against his chest, tapping twice with fierce desperation and said: The only Spirits left in me are jealousy and rage. I resent myself for growing unfamiliar with the selfless person I have promised God to be. My spirit is corrupted. Instead of praying for forgiveness, I can only tell God how angry I am. You have been given a gift and never once in your life have you uttered a word of gratitude. Have you? You're either stupid or a liar when you call them dreams. These visions are a miracle, Amos. A miracle you insist on being too dumb and delusional to see.

I was crying.

I said: Then why bother with me at all? Why concern yourself with the fate of my soul, as you have claimed all this time? Of course in the beginning, but even more as time went on. You cared what came of me. You wanted me to feel the joy only known to those who draw near to divinity, who press their palms to the warm pulsing gates of heaven. You wanted that for me, do you remember?

His silence was my answer.

Did you mean it, I said. Did you mean it, all those nights when you promised you would pray for me always, pray for my soul so that neither one of us would spend eternity anywhere else but in the arms of each other? Why concern yourself with a nobody like myself? What promise do my hands hold for you that cannot be found more easily and more abundantly from those men in the temple, people trying just as furiously as you to press their ears to the windows of heaven, smudging its panes, hoping to hear even a whisper of the voice of God inside? Why do you care, say something, please, answer me, let loose those answers I can see knocking like animals at the cage doors of your teeth!

You're just like your mother, he said at once, standing. Just the same as your mother: too focused on how miserable and lonely she is. Thinking her sorrow is so unique nobody can know it. She’s looking down into it even now. Weeping into a wishing well.

He went on: So you say I’m a good person, and I would like to believe that’s true. I keep my eyes turned upward. But I am blind as any sinner. My God is a god of patience and of hope, so I will keep looking just as I’ve promised. But it has always been darkness that meets my eyes. Do you know what that’s like? Though there’s a plan, I don't see it. All I see are the pitiful facts of today.

That’s not true! I said: You see more than that, you used to. You believe—

I believe in Him, he said, with every ounce of my anguish, I promise you, but if God had lit my path as bright as you say, if I had known the consequences of our wants, I would have never, never, not even on my final day wandered out. I never—

His words were crushing me. My vision was blinking out, my vertigo returning and washing over me. I steadied myself and decided I would deceive him. It was the only way out, at least as I saw it: They have her.

I said: We don’t have time. Those women in the woods, it is a cult, just as they have said. They have Elizabeth. I saw her in a dream—a vision. I saw them in a vision, just now, carrying her, tied up and screaming across their clearing. I saw it, I promise.

His eyes went wide but his mouth stayed shut, him staring bewildered into the grass beside me, into the shadow of the trees. I had hoped he would forgive me, embrace me, give me a shard of hope, show me the way. For a moment I thought he might kiss me. He looked at me and I hoped.

But all he did was stand. He did not pause before walking past me. He did not even acknowledge me as he went, not the face nor the hands nor the body that had loved him across so many nights.

I turned to watch him take the path toward the temple. Then I went to the grass where Peter had been praying. I knelt, inhaled.

I knew not what to say, so I whispered: Thank you.

I looked up, my mouth tasting like blood, more so with every blink of my unbelieving eyes.


I n the early afternoon of the following day, I heard my mother yell. My stomach had been churning a few moments prior, so I had stopped hauling hay to rest beneath a foster holly. It was late enough in the season that the robins had already picked it clean. I closed my eyes and waited for my nausea to subside.

Lying motionless there on the long stone pew of the anteroom. Listening to the vast quiet outside. Thin ribbons of lavender light through a crack near the ceiling.

Following Peter, not finding him, falling asleep there. Pipe organ weeping up and down the same melody. Highest notes reaching straight up to heaven.

It was cold. I was combing through hanging garments. Lifting a frock coat around my shoulders. The organist persisting.

Between these peaceful memories, as I lay resting, I could feel my pulse in the twine burns on my palms.

Hungry, cold, tired beyond belief. Heading home, empty-handed, braced for reprobation. A man in the plaza, those fiendish gossips surrounding on all sides. Jeering. His brown cloak. Passing through, until pushed and wrangled and chained to the gate. The men saying you kidnapper, you murderer. Beating him red. You child-loving demon. His screams, his mouth, looking up and pleading. A scream that looked like a smile. Cutting his ear off. Holding it like a trophy.

It was then I heard my mother gasping loud across the woods. I shot up and set to running, discarding the bales in the grass behind me.

At the bottom of the hill that sloped down from our house, I drew near enough to see that her scream had been a sharp laugh. My mother and father were there in the paddock. My father holding the lead, Consequence cantering at the other end, my mother holding on as best as her drunk hands could manage.

I realized I had never seen her ride a horse, not in all these years. From a distance, it seemed in miniature, that lovely scene: a panorama of them both, her whooping wild, him spinning in place as she rode, content in their own ways, together, finally, in the reliquary of our woods.

For years I had heard my mother crying at night, more so on warmer nights when my father took to sleeping in the stable. And when I would toe the door open to ask what was wrong she would smile, face wet in the dark.

Her answer came a piece at a time, over so many years: Your father came down from Lexington to party, in between things to do, was always shooting liquor down in the front room of that boarding house tucked away in the hills. I was breezing past one night, down the stairs, past the ruffled dress of Madame Carnation, hoping to step out into the autumn night for some air, to smoke a cigaret, to clear the lonesome scent of sweaty men from my nose when he spotted me. He looked around for some proof it was a dream, that I was a figment. There was a drunken sheen to his eyes. I had seen it often, that lusty look of men, just as suited for the butcher as the brothel. But there was something else in the face of your father, something set, predestiny glistening on his brow.

She said: he came back later in the week, when it was quiet, when his friends weren’t around, and confessed to it all, a story he thought was true and complete, that of his love. He wasn’t sleeping, he said. The past three nights, he’d lain awake, needing to believe that someday he might know me. He was in love! He deluded himself into thinking he loved me, a nobody, way out here on the edge of nowhere. He didn’t know my godforsaken name, yet still made promise after promise I never asked for him to keep. He told me he would rescue me, but never could say what from.

She said: Amos, I have never seen God, but I’ve sure as shit seen the devil, right there in his coffee-brown eyes, so dark they were almost black, staring at me through the pipe smoke of the bar, hungry with thoughts of things yet to pass. And so when the doctor said I’d conceived, I left the boarding house. I took nothing. I went into hiding. Your father was obsessed. He told everyone of his misery, making himself out to be a father, a good one, in search of his missing child. The thought that he would take you from me, yank you back into his money, high society, I would have sooner died. So I stole away to protect you, hiding in the backroom of the tanner’s until you were born. Your father blew down just about every door in Calamity looking for you.

She said: After that, his family was so ashamed of his theatric attempt to die for that whore Penny Calloway that they offered security in exchange for my silence: a nice plot of land down in their woods, some livestock, two horses, a house. What else could I say? What more could I ever need?

Right then, in the paddock, my mother reached both arms toward the sky in drunken ecstasy, which caused her to fall straight backwards into the dirt. It was as though a rope had been tied across her chest the entire time, fixed at one end, drawn taut in a moment. The horse carried on as before as she jerked back and down, the ground knocking breath from her chest. A shock of red hair fell from under her hat.

At once, my father led the horse to a post in the fence where he tied him up. He walked back toward the house. My mother was still rubbing her legs and back in search of the locus of the pain when my father came back, the muzzle of his carbine swinging at his side.

Then it really was a scream. My mother shouting: No.

My father paused with the short metal barrel pressed already to the skull of the horse, right above the eyes. That same dawning realization as before. As though having just awoken from a dream.


T he branches of the trees parted like some magnificent curtain, bent against their nature. Twenty-four figures standing in the meadow. Women as tall as cedars. Pale as birches. Cloaked in churning black vestments under midday sun that glinted with streaks of lilac, saffron, copper. Sparkling and hammering lumber into place. A looming tower growing.

It was almost too tall to see the top. Taller than any kite or spire in Auspicion. One figure standing atop it all. A distant dot. A blot of ink. Reaching up between the sun and me like a thumb at the end of an arm outstretched. The meadow and woods around us drowned in instant dusk.

Something shone silver in her hand. She dropped it. I watched it plummeting toward me. Catching against the tension of the line. Swinging, off-balance. Coming to rest, dead center of the structure’s base. Darker than silver. Pewter. Lead, perhaps.

A figure suddenly stood beside me. Tall, but with a voice small and gentle, like that of a boy. Saying over my shoulder: “the day of the Lord is darkness, and not light.”

The figure on the tower looking almost black as the sky. Nearly invisible inside it.

The boyish voice saying again, quiet, urgent, insistent, closer. “Shall not the day of the Lord be darkness and not light: and obscurity, with no brightness in it?”


I woke in the sun. My stomach turned as soon as the morning light hit my open eyes.

We were in the house. It wasn’t right, but we couldn’t say how. My mother saying: The shadows are changing. Curling into crescents of shrinking light.

The elm tree outside. The window pane between. My finger on the table. The shadows wilting. Everything going dark.

Peter was praying. I wasn’t there but I could see it: Peter praying for God to grant him a blessing for his murderous hopes. Wanting absolution for his sinful vision. The sun disappearing. Peter taking it as a sign. Sprinting as he finished his prayers. Thanking and thanking in sharp bursts. Breath increasingly escaping him. Peter Price come tearing again through the streets of Auspicion. Pursuing with fury whatever demons might dwell in those woods. Flying toward his revenge. Having prayed with such rage that his knuckles shook against each other. Exhaling when he knew his time had come. Standing. Crossing himself. Sprinting to the stable.

My nausea worsened in a moment. I rolled over and emptied my stomach onto the grass at last, pale bits there among so much green. It emptied twice more, nothing in the first, but the second found something catching in my throat.

I reached into my mouth between the retches and pulled from it a damp paper: a corner of the letter I was writing to Peter all those days ago. All I could see were the faint traces of what I had written at the end, my memory seeing it more than my eyes. Not my wants, but my name: All my love, Amos Caster.

I could see it again, I remembered: I had dreamed of the darkness and then the darkness had come. The very next morning, it had come. I knew it had been shown to me.

And now, lying in the road, it was flashing before my eyes, a memory with the weight and sheen of a vision.

I went out of the house and found him by the meadow. Self-Reliance tied to a post in the fence. Peter jumping over it. Throwing his legs like a crusader.

Peter, my lover, my life, going across the meadow. Not knowing I was watching. Watching and wanting to cry out to him.

But I kept quiet. I stalked up behind him through the brush. He was looking up, searching for the clearing. I looked up, too, remembering but not quite seeing the brown thickets of hair. The back of his head. The warm pulsing veins on the back of his hands.

We were peeking through the trees. Those silent women still chopping wood. Peter following the path paved with the dust of my lie.

I wanted to stop him. Wanted to sprint after him. Grab him by the wrist. Touch the warmth of his skin and look into eyes that had been averted long enough.

But I was bound by fear. That he might see me for what I was: an idolator. A chain. A sickness. A liar.

Peter found it at last. Straightening his back. Strolling into the clearing. The hooded heads of two or three shadowed figures turning. Examining. Turning back to their work, indifferent. A saw on a plank. Grit against the grain. Nails fighting hammers in the dark. Those shadowed carpenters toiling on as Peter, my pride and my savior, marched stolid past the neat small rows of building we had spied before. Going straight for the tallest building, twice as tall as the rest. A straw spire thatching up from the wide flat earth-colored building underneath.

I watched him. My stomach filling with dread. I decided to take a chance. To make a choice. To hope for once that I might do the saving. Might make up for the sin. The consequences of my false words just now bearing down upon me.

I rushed toward the building, that central humble thing. Saw Peter nosing open the door with the muzzle of his gun. Stepping inside.

I could see through the window a figure with her hood down. The back of her head smooth and pale. Moon-white hands flickering against the fireplace. Feeding more logs into its mouth. A frameless mirror hanging tilted on the mantle. Peter’s reflection hanging above him. Neither aware of the other.

My mother woke just then, sun behind gleaming red through her hair. I had expected she might burst into sobs, blinking perhaps once or twice before it bore down on her, the weight of all that had happened. I went to her and knelt, running my hand across her back, waiting for the sharp inhales: a gasp for our home, a gasp for my father.

But nothing came. She looked at me. She did not cry. All she did was smile and say: Good morning, my baby.

Nearer to me by the window, a second figure slept on a low flat cot. Peter noticed her too. A moment of trepidation, eyes closing, a deep breath of prayer.

Pulling the long barrel of his weapon from its position at his side. Wheeling around to face the figure lying in the cot, pointing it with mighty vengeance.

Peter shouted: Wake up, O sleeper! Rise from the dead.

I backed away from the window, startled, almost without knowing it. Fearing what should follow.

Both figures stood, facing him, unmoving.

My legs nearly gave out. The world went silent when I saw their eyes: thousands upon thousands of eyes, opening in unison, steely gray all over their heads, their hands, their feet and their faces.

Peter did not move, standing as the two figures moved forward. I noticed the others from the corner of my eyes. They had been indifferent, completing their tasks across the clearing. But now, standing in unison, they turned toward the central building and set to walking. A quick and smooth and gliding gait. Seeming to levitate. Floating steadily. Accelerating in a moment. Like leaves on water, going over the lip of a fall.

Figures streaming past me, paying me no mind as I fled. I could hear the beating of wings, the crunching of wood. Other sounds that faded with distance into my agonal breaths.

Crying as I ran. Gasping and choking. Tears blinding me in the dark woods. My feet carrying me by memory and mercy to the house. My mother standing outside. Looking up at the sky. Hopeless. Desperate. Screaming when she laid eyes on me. Running toward me. Us colliding with a force double what either expected. Lifting us up. Our bodies peeling up from the ground.

My mother embraced me for a time so long I thought she might have fallen asleep on my shoulder. When she pulled away, I could see she remembered nothing. It was new to her, all of it: the road where the night before we had collapsed with exhaustion, the thick row of trees pressing in on us, the horses tied up nearby.

I could see them then: more figures than I had counted in the clearing and in all my dreams combined, flowing over each other like birds or like water. Come charging through the woods, descending on us from their hill. A furious cavalry. A swarm of retribution.

She did not even think to ask how we had gotten there. She looked younger, all traces of pain, regret, self-conceit somehow wiped from her face in the gold wash of morning light.

My father. Sprinting out, away, toward the stable. Galloping back on the one horse, lead of the other in hand. Stopping. Leaping off. Grabbing our hands to help us up. Looking at us both with black eyes peeled so wide he did not even have to say that he loved us.

I was trying not to cry. With what little remained of my might, I fought it: I wanted to press my face to her neck, my hand to her ear. I wanted her to tell me it meant something. With all desperation, I wanted her to tell me we could get it back, could somehow recover the things we had lost.

But instead I chose to smile back, however weak and unconvincing. I said: Good morning, momma.

My mother onto Charm. Myself atop Consequence. Thundering away, down the path and up the road. Away from Auspicion, over the ridge of the valley. Knowing not where we would go. Stealing away into the darkness. Led by blind hope and horses alone.

She knew not what I meant but she nodded all the same when I held her by the wrist and pulled her up from a clump of dandelions she had crushed in sleep beneath the weight of her hip and said: Are you ready to go?

Disappearing into the night. Away from those endless rows of mulberry trees where I used to love him more than I could bear to speak.


A fter that morning I first believed in You, right there in the road with my mother and the sun, we came to a town called Kindling where all the buildings had rabbits painted white over the doors. A kind man with a round shining head gave us a room and asked nothing in return.

And here we have stayed, all these years later. My mother is nearly finished with a painting she began some months ago, a scene I recognize more than she: two figures, both cloaked in black. One has a hood drawn over her head, stars and night behind her, looking up at the other who is blank-faced, basking in light.

As she works, I hope with such fervor that Peter would insist I am praying: that our future here might be filled with slowness, time going by with less force and less fury than before. That I might have the strength to choose what I see, regardless of that which stands around me, in spite of the things I have lost.

I say: God Almighty, would You tell me what it means? All of that which brought me here? Or am I sinning by the very act of asking? Even now, all these years later, as I lie awake, trying with all my might not to curse Your name for showing me things yet to come, I pray with force just as full that You might show me more even still, those holy things I know now grow best in the shadows, my eyes not yet adjusted from the lights of my memory.

I indulge even still in that thrill of believing my life to be happening not in the present but the past, my whole life hurtling by me in reverse. Will ever again I look into a mirror and see myself as anything more than the things I have done? Will ever again I see a horse and not think of all that I have lost? At the end of it all, when I see a white horse come riding down from Calvary, will I think of him or of You?

I find myself looking back, in spite of it all, in spite of myself. A memory shining on the other side of the water. A candle, the sun. The moon behind the trees. I remember it in sin: flocks of birds stippling the trees of the orchards. His breath on my neck. Thinking never again would I be so happy. Thinking: what did I do to deserve so much?

What was I meant to see, God, when as a sleepless child I crept out to find my parents dancing close and slow by the window? I could see them: my father staring out at the yard, dark beneath a new moon. My mother pressing her face into his shoulder, nose wet with tears, smiling like she had not in years. Was it You who caused me not to sleep?

And who was it that plucked me from the branch that very same morning, all those years ago?

I have searched for the Truth in the shadows and the sun, both before me and behind, but tell me God, in my heart and in all these things: who but You can know it?