The Ophidians: No one leaves the order.

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Summary

Introducing “The Ophidians.” A new short fiction horror story by Brett Page. Ruth was absolutely sure of three things. First, she was completely and irrevocably in love with Michael, the Ophidian Order of God’s rumored new leader. Second, unwed, pregnant mothers don’t exist in Jubilee. Third, no one leaves the order.

Genre:
Horror / Thriller
Author:
Brett Page
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

“See, I will send venomous snakes among you, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 8:17 (NIV)

No one in Jubilee ever saw such a spectacle as Malachi’s funeral procession as it paraded through Main Street. The horses promenaded over the cobblestones, pulling a wagon displaying the open wood overcoat which adorned the hand-carved ancient symbols of the order. Inside rested the withered body of their lifeless leader, engulfed by rattlesnakes. The serpentine nest overflowed similar to a slow, erupting volcano. The snakes hissed and writhed as they struck at each other. Their rattles, like parched bones tapping together, overshadowed the revelers’ hails to Malachi, who left to meet the Almighty face-to-face. One by one, the snakes fell to the ground then at once picked up by revelers who raised them into the air as an ultimate tribute to the one last chosen.

“Praise to Malachi!” a man shouted as he cajoled a fallen serpent, picked it up and raised it above his head. Overwhelmed with rapture, the man’s body contorted into a violent dance as he followed alongside the wagon.

“Hallelujah!” a woman screamed from the crowded sidewalk. She closed her eyes and touched her forehead with the tips of her fingers in silent supplication as though she were suffering a migraine, then flung her arms into the air in homage. The woman, so consumed at the moment, didn’t realize she elbowed the person standing next to her. The petite wisp of a sixteen-year-old girl retreated into the doorway of Salome’s Eating House to withdraw from the hysteria where she composed herself. In the past, worse things happened to Ruth. She rubbed her cheek with her fingers to ease the sting of the assault, then searched the crowd for Michael.

“Hallelujah! Glory to Malachi!” Ruth called out then averted her eyes to avoid revealing the smug look on her face. She only needed to keep up appearances a while longer. No matter what, they could not discover her lack of enthusiasm.

Contrary to everyone there, Ruth lacked the all-consuming spiritual fervor. She withdrew from dancing in the street, weeping, or throwing her arms in the air praising the cadaverous leader. She reluctantly shouted the occasional “hallelujah” or “glory to Malachi,” but this was only pretend. If anyone discovered her disdain, her devotion to Malachi and the order would come into question, and this could not happen—not this far into Michael’s plan to escape because unwed, pregnant mothers simply don’t exist in Jubilee.

Suddenly, Ruth saw Michael’s blood-red rucksack and jumped out of the doorway to show herself to him. “Michael!” she shouted and waved her arms. “Over here!” At once, Michael waved back at her. He coiled around the fallen serpents as they undulated along the cobblestones, shouted a few “hallelujahs,” and navigated towards Ruth. “Michael! I was so worried!”

“Wait. We can talk inside. I’ve got my mom’s keys.” They forced their way back through the crowd to the entrance of Salome’s Eating House. Michael inserted the key in the lock, unlocked the door, and they rushed inside. “You got your stuff?”

“Yes, as much as I could get in this old pillow cover.”

“We need little. Besides, it’s not like we want to bring anything to remind us of this place.”

In the meantime, Michael locked the door. He slithered towards the back, guiding Ruth to a bleak room behind the kitchen. He took out a match from the box in his pocket and lit a kerosene lamp on the table; then he threw his rucksack onto a bench while Ruth dropped her things on the chair beside her. She swooned as Michael’s long blonde hair glistened in the lamplight. Michael turned to study Ruth’s face with his piercing black eyes until a look of concern came upon him.

“Ruth, what happened to your face?” He brushed her chestnut brown hair away from her cheek exposing a reddish bruise.

“Oh, it’s nothing. Just some woman praising Malachi.”

“Does it hurt much?” Michael brushed the back of his fingers over her cheek.

“Ow.” Ruth winced and immediately Michael pulled his hand away from her face.

“What? What? Did I hurt you?”

“No. No. It’s okay. It’s just a little sore.”

“Oh, my God! The baby! I forgot about the baby! You didn’t get hit in the stomach or anything, did you?” Michael placed his hand on Ruth’s belly, stroking it. “I don’t know what I’d do if something happened to it.”

“It?”

“You know what I mean. He. She. Are you and them okay? I mean ...”

“It’s okay. We’re both okay.” Ruth put her hand on top of his to reassure him. “Have you heard any news from the Prophetess Miriam? Has she finished communing with God and named the new leader?”

“No!” Michael snapped, then instantly redeemed himself. “Silly goose. Why do you care?

“Just curious.”

“Don’t be. All I want you to think about is the wonderful life we will have together, you, me, and the baby.”

Michael pulled Ruth close and kissed her passionately as Ruth recalled the night she conceived, and the epiphany she, Michael, James and Benjamin experienced in Mr. Dathan’s derelict barn. Mr. Dathan owned the farm bordering Jubilee and frequently called the authorities, making futile complaints about the “religious freaks” who lived next to him. So, when he discovered some teenagers from Jubilee were lingering in his barn late at night, he had some fun by seducing them with the ways of the “real” world. With Mr. Dathan’s “guidance,” they discovered an entirely new reality.

*****

Mounds of straw spread throughout the barn substituted for chairs. Ruth and Michael sat quietly next to each other and waited for Benjamin and James to arrive. A single light bulb, hung down from the ceiling by a cord, flickered off and on.

“Damn generator! I just filled that goddamned thing with gas. Now what’s wrong?” Mr. Dathan raged as the generator coughed outside. “I’ll be back in a minute. Have some Jack Daniel’s.”

“Who’s that? Is someone else coming?” Ruth skittishly said.

“No. Jack Daniel’s. The whiskey,” roared Mr. Dathan. “I keep forgetting you people...” he muttered to himself.

“I think he means this.” Michael picked up the whiskey bottle from the top of a bale of straw across from him.

“Oh. Spirits. Yes,” said Ruth.

“Try it. You’ll like it,” grinned Mr. Dathan, then left to tend the generator.

Suddenly, Benjamin and James walked into the barn, saw Michael and Ruth, and came over to greet them. Benjamin was small and delicate for his thirteen years. He’d often been sick as a child, while fifteen-year-old James was Benjamin’s complete opposite. He was almost six feet tall and muscular from all the heavy farm work.

“Hey, apple head!” Michael said to James, referring to his mop of red hair. Benjamin laughed out loud.

“Be quiet, Benjamin! I’m surprised your mommy didn’t see you slink out and whip your little bottom,” said James.

“No, you be quiet!” Benjamin said, giving James a shove.

“Mr. Dathan brought us something special to try,” said Michael and waved the whiskey bottle. Benjamin and James walked over and sat next to Ruth and Michael. Michael took a sip from the bottle and savored it like a connoisseur, then handed it to Ruth, who took a sip.

“It’s good,” said Ruth, then choked a bit. She handed the bottle to James, who took a sip.

“That is good,” said James as his eyes watered.

Benjamin couldn’t wait to try it and grabbed the bottle away from James, “Don’t hog it all! Let me have some!”

“Are you going to tell your mommy if I don’t?”

“Just give me the bottle. I’ll show you.” Benjamin said instantly regretting the huge gulp he took, then hacked for a moment. “You’re right. This is the good stuff.”

“How would you know?”

“I know things.”

“Yeah, like how to change your own diaper.”

“Shut up.”

In due time, Mr. Dathan came back after fixing the generator. He saw the group of teens laughing and enjoying the Jack Daniel’s he provided, and a sinister grin formed upon his face. Mr. Dathan was a piggish man in his early fifties with greasy hair and a pockmarked face. He wiped the grime from the generator onto his overalls and said, “There’s plenty where that came from.”

“That’s great!” Benjamin said. “James is hogging it all.”

“Michael, I don’t think we should do this,” said Ruth, as her body tensed at James and Benjamin’s overindulgence. “I don’t know what would happen if the order found out we were associating with the ‘infra dignatatem’ - those beneath one’s dignity.”

“It’s okay, Ruth. Nobody knows we’re here. Mr. Dathan’s been so kind to us. Besides, we can’t leave until he shows us the surprise he has for us.

“Surprise?” Benjamin said. “I love surprises!”

“Don’t spoil it for us, Ruth,” said James.

“Okay. I’ll stay for the surprise, but then I have to go home,” said Ruth.

“Woo hoo!” Benjamin and James said and continued to fight over the bottle of whiskey.

“That’s my Ruth,” said Michael. He caressed her shoulder with his hand then snatched it back when she pulled away.

Mr. Dathan walked over to a funny-looking box that sat on top of a bale of straw in front of them. It was all glass in the front with two metal rods extending from the top.

“Is that the surprise, Mr. Dathan?” Benjamin asked.

“That it is.”

“What is it?” James said.

“This, my friends, will show you what’s out there.”

“Out where?” Ruth said.

“Why the world, my dear,” said Mr. Dathan. “This box here is a television. Practically every home in the world has at least one. This little box will show you how normal—I mean, how the rest of the world lives.”

“It sounds like sorcery. So much power in one little box,” said Ruth.

“Sorcery?” Benjamin said. “I don’t know about this.”

“Don’t be such a baby,” said James.

“I’m not!” Benjamin returned to his horseplay, grabbed the bottle from James and took another big gulp.

“It’s not sorcery. It’s technology,” said Mr. Dathan. He pressed a button on the front of the box, turning the television on with his greasy finger. Instantly, a picture came on to the screen and Benjamin, James, Ruth, and Michael stared at it mesmerized by what they saw. They watched for hours late into the night until the station stopped broadcasting, and the only thing seen on the screen was a wallpaper of black and gray accompanied by loud white noise. Regrettably, Mr. Dathan couldn’t stay to enjoy the seed he planted and left his young quarry hours earlier. His wife laid down the law, and he had to tend to some trivial matter. He intended to return in the morning, then left them to enjoy themselves.

“Michael, people live like that?” Benjamin said.

“They do,” said James. “You saw it for yourself, didn’t you?”

“Wow! I want to be like them. I want to see things and do things.”

“Don’t be stupid, Benjamin. We can’t leave the order.”

“Why not?”

“Nobody leaves the order,” said Ruth. “We mustn’t speak of such things.”

“Why? Why not? If people knew what the world really was like, they probably would,” said Michael.

“I want to fly in a flying machine,” said Benjamin as he made the sound of a jet engine. He stretched out his arms and pretended to be a plane gliding through the air.

“You can,” said Michael.

“What you’re talking about is heresy,” said James.

“Maybe so, but I saw the way you looked when you saw the ocean,” said Michael. “That’s always been your dream, even before today, hasn’t it? To walk in the sand. To swim in the waves. Maybe, even sail on a ship like the one we saw tonight on the television. The order would never permit you.”

“Yes, but that’s just a dream,” said James and shoved Benjamin over, trying to silence the “engine.”

“A dream that can come true,” said Michael. “We should do it.”

“Do what? You don’t mean to leave?” Ruth said, shifting her weight from side to side.

“That’s exactly what I mean. We can do it. I know we can,” said Michael. “We just need a plan.”

“I’m in,” said Benjamin.

“You’d have to leave your mommy,” said James.

“Exactly,” said Benjamin.

Ruth took a strand of her long chestnut brown hair and started twirling it around her fingers as she often did when she was anxious. “Michael, you turn eighteen this year. You will become one of the Appointed soon, and the elders will come for you to teach you the secrets of the order and what’s expected for your confirmation,” she said. “I fear for you. These plans.”

“Which is why I’ve got to think of something fast. Look. Let me come up with a plan and then you can decide. Okay?” They all agreed.

At that instant, James stood. The effects of the Jack Daniel’s made him sway. He caught his balance and motioned to Benjamin to get up. “Come on, Benjamin. We should get back. It’s late.” Benjamin sat there and continued his flight. He tipped his arms from side to side and glided over the imaginary air currents. “Come On, Benjamin!”

“Okay! Okay!” Benjamin got up. He stood up halfway, then fell over. James grabbed him by the shirt, pulled him to his feet, and led him out toward the barn door. “Come on. Let’s go.”

“Benjamin. James. Think about it. We can talk again as soon as I’ve come up with a plan.” said Michael. “We can do this.”

“Okay. We’ll think about it,” said James, and dragged Benjamin away and out the barn door.

“As soon as they left, Michael turned to look at Ruth, shivering from the cold. He placed one hand on each of her arms and rubbed them up and down to warm her. He stopped, paused for a moment, stared into Ruth’s eyes, then moved in to kiss her crimson lips.

“Michael. What are you doing?” Ruth stopped him, even though that was what she had wanted him to do her entire life.

“I’m sorry, Ruth. You must know how I feel about you. How much I love you. I thought you loved me too.”

“It doesn’t matter what we feel. We mustn’t. You know the elders have chosen someone else for you to marry.”

“Don’t you see, Ruth? That’s my reason for leaving. It’s you, Ruth. I want to leave so we can be together. So I can marry you. I love you. Please say you’ll come with me.”

Ruth couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She loved Michael ever since they were children. It never occurred to her she could ever be his wife. If leaving the order meant she could be with Michael the rest of her life, she decided to take the risk. She hated her life in the order, but accepted her fate. Knowing Michael felt the same way made her heart swell with hope for a life she only dreamed of.

Michael leaned in to kiss her again, but this time Ruth didn’t stop him. “Let me love you, Ruth.” He kissed her gently on the lips.

“I love you, Michael. So much.”

Michael kissed her deeper this time and guided Ruth down onto the straw to make love for the first time as the static from the television crackled in the background.

*****

“It’s getting dark,” said Ruth.

“Yeah, we can go soon,” said Michael. “I’ll grab some food from the storeroom. We’ll need it to last a few days until we can get far enough away from here and find a place to hide out for a while.” Michael left Ruth, picked up his rucksack from the bench, and headed toward the storeroom.

“I’m scared, Michael. Not just for us, but for Benjamin and James too.”

“I know you’re scared, but everything will be all right. Benjamin and James are probably at the meeting place already. Trust me. I wouldn’t want anything to happen to you and the baby.” Michael filled his rucksack with some jars he took off the shelves in front of him.

“I trust you, Michael. It’s just that you turned eighteen today, and the elders are probably out looking for you right now.”

“I know. Don’t worry.” Michael put the rucksack over his shoulders, walked back over to meet Ruth, and kissed her. It’s okay. Trust me. I’ve got it all worked out. Soon we’ll be starting a brand new life together.”

The clock in the center of Jubilee struck midnight and with a haunting, somber tone started counting off the hours. Ruth shuddered and Michael hugged her tight. “Don’t worry. Trust me. We have to go now. Bring me your bag. I’ll carry it for you.” Michael grabbed Ruth’s bag from her then walked over to the table to extinguish the lamp. “Follow me.” He took Ruth by the hand. They left the room and headed into the dining area, where they coiled their way through the dark around the table and chairs to the front door. Michael moved the curtain blocking the window and peeked outside to check to see if anyone still lurked around. “Okay, it looks good. Let’s go.”

Without delay, Michael opened the door and guided Ruth out behind him. Ruth waited as he shut and locked the door. He surveyed the area again, grabbed Ruth by the hand, and led her down the street through the darkness with only the light of the full moon to guide them. They ran from building to building and huddled in each doorway to check that it was safe then ran to the next until they made it to the edge of the village and an open field. Michael grabbed Ruth’s hand hard.

“Ow, Michael. You’re hurting me.” Ruth pulled her hand away.

“Oh. Sorry,” said Michael as he took a deep breath and rolled his eyes.

“Just exactly where are we going, anyway?”

“You’ve never been there before. Don’t worry. Benjamin and James are probably waiting for us there already. We’ll be safe there tonight and then we’ll head out at first light. Come on. We have to go.” Michael took Ruth by the hand and they walked into the field. Suddenly, they heard a noise. “Run!”

In due time, the pair made it across the field to the edge of a wooded area surrounded by a barbed wire fence. They stood there for a moment, looking for a way in. Seeing no other alternative, Michael took off his rucksack and threw it over the fence along with Ruth’s bag and prepared the way for Ruth to cross through first. He put one foot down on the lower strand of barbed wire and lifted the top strand with his hands, making an opening large enough for Ruth to climb through.

“Can you make it through all right?”

“I think so.” Ruth put one leg through first, then her body and then her other leg. She turned around and tried to hold up the wire for Michael, but cut her hand when she went to lift it up.

“Owwww!”

“What happened?”

“I cut my hand on the wire.” Ruth backed away from the fence and shook her hand. “Michael! It hurts! It hurts!”

“Shhhh! Don’t be such a baby.”

Ruth, now wounded in more ways than one, composed herself, “Sorry, Michael.”

“Well, don’t just stand there! Help me get through the fence!”

Ruth trudged over and placed her foot on the bottom strand of wire. She tried to grab hold of the top strand, but the blood on her hand prevented her from getting a firm grip.

“It’s okay. I’ll manage.” Michael lifted the wire up, walked through, and came to the other side.

Ignoring Ruth, he gathered their bags and walked over to her. He paused, took a deep breath, dropped their bags, then grabbed her hand. He inspected the wound, then changed back to the Michael she knew.

“I’m so sorry I snapped at you, Ruth.” Michael gazed into her eyes. “I just got a little scared. Let me see what I can do to fix that hand up, okay?” He removed the rucksack from his shoulders and pulled out a shirt. He tore a strip of cloth off with his teeth, then rapped Ruth’s hand with it. “There. How does it feel?”

“Good.” Michael shut his rucksack and placed it over his shoulders just as they heard voices in the distance. “Come on!” He grabbed Ruth by her sore hand, and they ran into the woods.

“Run!”

“Ow! Michael! My hand! My hand!”

“Shut up and run!”

Eventually, after they curved their way through the trees, they came to what seemed to Ruth to be a dead end. In front of them was a solid rock wall that loomed above them and extended as far as they could see in either direction.

“Michael, where are we?” Ruth tried to catch her breath.

“We’re exactly where we’re supposed to be.”

“What?” Ruth sat on a nearby rock to rest and realized Michael wasn’t holding her bag. “Michael, where’s my bag?”

“I must have forgotten it when we made a run for it. It doesn’t matter. You won’t need it.”

“But I had some clothes to change into and my grandmother’s Bible.”

“I thought you finished with God.” Michael walked over to her, side-winding around some roots.

“Just because I don’t believe in the order anymore doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. Michael, you do still believe in God, don’t you?”

“Of course I do!” Michael averted his eyes. “Ruth, I’m sorry about your bag. Once we start our new life together, I’ll give you everything you need and more, including a brand-new Bible.” He snaked over to meet Ruth and extended his hand. She placed her hands in his and he pulled her up. “Come on. Let’s go. We’re almost there.”

They walked alongside the rock face, creeping over rocks and roots of trees until they arrived at a group of boulders. Michael led Ruth around them, and it was there she saw the entrance to the cavern. He led her inside, and it surprised her to see a line of lit torches along the wall which extended deep inside.

“Benjamin and James must have gotten here already and lit the way for us,” said Michael.

Ruth’s heart beat a little slower after she saw the light. In the distance, she heard sounds like people talking. They hiked deeper down into the cavern careful not to trip on any loose rock as they approached the light at the end. “That must be the main chamber. We’re almost there.”

“I’ll be glad to see Benjamin and James. I can’t wait to see they’re okay.” They continued to walk toward the light, and as they got closer, Ruth heard shouting.

“Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” someone said.

“That doesn’t sound like Benjamin and James,” said Ruth. She let go of Michael’s hand and stopped to listen.

“Oh, they’re probably just celebrating with some of Mr. Dathan’s whiskey.” He took Ruth by the hand again and glided alongside her until they reached the source of the light and the entrance to the main chamber. “Ruth. We made it. We’re here. Soon you’ll be free just like the others.”

I’ll be free? What about you?”

“God has bigger plans for me.”

“Glory to our new leader!” someone shouted. Ruth instantly froze as she heard the resonant sound of dry bones rattling.

“Michael. What’s going on?”

Without warning, Michael wrapped his arms around her, lifted her off the ground and carried her into the cavern.

Ruth kicked and struggled to get away. “Michael! What are you doing?”

“If I’m to be the new leader, I need to cleanse myself of sin.”

Ruth fought hard against him. “Michael! No!” She continued to struggle until Michael walked into the chamber and slammed her to the ground in front of him. Ruth lay there sobbing.

“Bind her and put her with the other sinners!”

Two men ran over to Ruth. One man pushed her onto her belly with his foot, knelt on top of her and tied her hands behind her back. The other walked around to tie her feet. After they subdued Ruth, the men took her by an arm, picked her up off the ground and carried her over to persons similarly bound. It wasn’t until Ruth looked closer she realized she was standing next to Mr. Dathan, James and Benjamin.

“You’ll never get away with this, you freaks!” Mr. Dathan said as James and Benjamin stood there bawling.

​Ruth started to hyperventilate. Her heart raced, and goosebumps formed on her flesh as she wildly scanned her surroundings. Encircling her was the entire village consumed with religious fervor. Some held snakes up above their heads and savagely kicked up their heels, while others brought the snakes close to their faces and leaned in to kiss their triangular heads like a lover. The rest of the crowd convulsed and threw their arms in the air, berating the transgressors.

“Sinners! Sinners! Sinners!”

In the meantime, a middle-aged woman and three teenagers exhibited themselves above everyone on a rock ledge turned into a makeshift stage. On either end stood a man holding a snake raised up in the air presenting it to the crowd in praise. However, it wasn’t until Ruth looked down in front of her that the true horror emerged. Beneath her was a massive, deep abyss filled with a writhing horde of hundreds of rattlers hissing and striking at each other with their fangs as they tried to climb free.

“Michael my son! Come and join the other Appointed. I’m pleased to see you completed the first measure of the Reckoning,” said Salome. “Once you, Nehemiah, Rebecca, and Nicodemus offer the sinners to the Lord, your Confirmation into the Ophidian Order of God will be complete, and you, Michael, will become our new leader as Miriam the Prophetess foretold. Everyone! Take time to gaze upon the sinners brought to judgment by the Appointed.”

Michael glared at Mr. Dathan, Benjamin, James, and Ruth standing bound and trembling before the abyss and smiled at his fellow Appointed as he climbed the rock staircase to meet them.

“Praise God, everyone!” Michael said, and the congregation went into a spiritual frenzy. “Praise God! Glory to Michael!”

“So we have done for a thousand years, the Ophidians acted as God’s instruments by seeking the sinners and bringing them to bear God’s wrath upon them. It is this act—the Reckoning—that shows our love for and devotion to God,” said Salome.

“Amen! Hallelujah! Praise God!” The crowd thrashed and undulated.

“Appointed ones. Are you ready to complete the Reckoning and enter the Ophidian Order of God?” Michael, Nehemiah, Rebecca, and Nicodemus nodded in agreement. “Then go forth and take your places behind the sinner you are offering to bear God’s wrath.”

The teens climbed down the rock staircase and made their way through the nest of revelers. Then each of them took their place behind Mr. Dathan, Benjamin, James, and Ruth respectively.

Immediately, Ruth’s knees buckled, and Michael grabbed her by the back of the shirt to steady her. This can’t be happening, she thought. Michael loves me. He won’t let this happen. Not to me. Not to the baby. “Michael. I thought you loved me? What about our baby—our plans?”

“Quiet, sinner!” Michael tightened his grip.

“See, I will send venomous snakes among you, vipers that cannot be charmed, and they will bite you, declares the Lord!” Salome shouted to the horde. “Begin the Reckoning!”

With that said, Nehemiah pushed Mr. Dathan into the pit. The snakes went into a fury and rattled so loud it almost overshadowed the screams from the spectators.

“No! No! You bastards! Ahhh!” Mr. Dathan screamed as the rattlers laid siege to his bulging frame with their fangs, injecting God’s wrath into him. Ultimately, his cries subsided and his body braided with the serpents and slowly descended beneath them until he vanished.

“Praise God! Amen!” The den of revelers danced and wept with joy.

“I’m sorry!” Benjamin said. “I repent! I didn’t mean to do it! I’ll be good!” But the boy who loved flying machines would never live to fly in one, and Rebecca launched him into the pit.

“Mommy! Mommy! Help me!” The snakes lunged at him, biting his tiny body without mercy.

Ruth cowered as a serpent struck his face and drove its fangs into his cheek. She sobbed as Benjamin suddenly stopped shrieking and saw the fear in his frozen, dead eyes as he commingled with the rattlers and piloted down beneath them until consumed.

“God is good! God is great! Praise to the Lord Almighty!”

In the meantime, James stood next to Ruth with his eyes shut. At first she thought he was praying until she heard, “I can see it. I see the ocean. The waves rolling onto the shore and the water covering my feet. The sand. It’s so warm.”

Nicodemus, eager to please the crowd, wasted no time and cast James into the pit. The snakes thrust upon James, biting him all over and as they did, James continued his dream, “There’s my ship anchored on the horizon. It’s a fine ship...” Suddenly, he stopped talking. His body drowned in a sea of snakes as Ruth watched his mop of red hair descend into the whirlpool along with his dream.

“Rejoice! Rejoice in God’s glory!”

Now it was Ruth’s turn. The nest of spectators stared at her with their cold, dark eyes, then looked to their future leader standing behind her. No longer clinging to the hope Michael would save her, Ruth prayed then saw the look of disgust on Michael’s face. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures...” Michael laughed at Ruth’s petition to God and flung her into the pit with glee. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me...”

In the seconds while Ruth fell, she felt an almighty presence of limitless compassion. Instantly, her fear turned into an all-consuming peace. When she landed among the serpents and they struck at her flesh, she felt no pain—only tremendous love. As the venom spread throughout her body, she looked up at Michael and spoke her last words. “I forgive you, Michael. I forgive you all.” Ruth’s head dropped. Her spiritless body blended with the serpents and undulated down beneath them as they rattled like a viperine choir singing a farewell hymn.

“Amen! Praise God!”

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