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Sick and Sin or:
The Second Failed Baptism of Miss Marybeth Prowse

by J. (Channing) Wells
J. (Channing) Wells -- all rights reserved
 

You know, the funny thing is is that, left to my own devices, I could take or leave the whole ocean business.

Hosses ain't accustomed to the water. W'enever I say that (yes, I'm occasionally going to be writing this in a faint approximation of my own goddamn accent, please go off and fuck yourself) I get this picture of the Spaniards or whoever the hell carting their lovely horses over on the Santa Maria, (students of history who now raise hands in protest, please follow the previous group) off to show the Indians so that they could make some more horses for themselves and subsequently go off and get bit parts in John Wayne movies. All well and good, but what about those damn horses while they were aboard ship? Probably pretty pissed off. Hosses don't like water, not the deep stuff, I would figure. I don't know shit about horses, so I'm just going out on a limb saying that. In fact, intellectually, I think that's wrong, but, ya know, I'd really, really like to believe that this darkness that clouds around me is some SCAB-Species Specific thing, my "animal brain" reacting badly to being out here on the open ocean, on the deck of a research vessel, just far enough out into the Atlantic to do what we have to do today. Because if it were just my Big Red Mare side acting up, of course, I could use it as a handy-dandy vacuum-packed excuse for the way that I feel, today.

"Bacteria!" Says Anne, her eyes gleaming like pot-coals.

"Mm hm." I say.

"Bacteria! Algae tubeworm geothermal Vent sulphur Fish!"

"Mm hm." I say.

"Water! Dive snorkel ship! Cameras! Seafloor Biotic Mass sand silt gravel Mapping!"

"Mm hm." I say.

Sometimes, I just have to let the technospeak flow on by. Just nod the old head, Mm hm, w'tever you say, sweetbuns. She knows I can't follow her when she talks like this. She's doing this for herself, of course. She's as nervous as all hell, and damn, she has a right to be. All that sheyit she's had to swallow from the lowbrow pig-eyed, squid-faced Navy bastards who've put Anne through Hell and back...

"Almost... Crayfish-like! But... not!"

"Crayfish-like, hum."

"Yes!"

"Neat." I say. Anne sits there, eyes glowing, watching as they lower her damned submarine into the water. It's that thing that's taking her away from me. Sure, she'll be back, for her two-week breaks every two months. Hon, if you're looking for constant contact, don't let your lesbian lovers grow up to be research submarine pilots. Let 'em be doctors an' lawyers an' such. Don't let 'em sign on for two years of the damndest shit-whole male-dominated training that man has ever devised. Man likes to keep his toys to himself. Man doesn't like to let women-folks like Sweetbuns play with 'em. And the biggest little toy in existence in the field of Sub-Marine Research is the Proteus.

"Proteus! Top-of-The-Line! New Technology! Deep Sonar Array! Cryotic Low-Dissipation Telemetry! Satellite Hookup!"

You'd think she was off fucking this guy Proteus. But Proteus ain't a guy; It's a submarine, the submarine. Time was, the Alvin was the bill of fare. Nautical perfection, she was, if Anne is to be believed. New trench to explore? Send the Alvin! New little squiggly tube-worms to take Dark FMV of? Send the Alvin! It slices, it dices, it makes the goddamn shoestring potatoes that drive the Chilluns wild. Trouble is that one day, good old Alvin got sent out on one mission too many; in exchanging the crew, somebody accidentally flooded the compartment or something, and Alvin sank, unmanned, uncrewed, into the dark, fluid depths, never to be seen by daylight again. Just a mistake. Ten thousand possible mistakes to be made, every single goddamn dive. Anne assures me that the crew was never in any danger. I said, "They better'nt have been."

So. They could have dredged the damn thing up. But the old girl was finally starting to feel her age, after half-a-century (or more) of dedicated use. When the budget folks finally stopped punching their calculators it was finally, finally decided to lay the thing to rest in its deep, wet grave and start anew from scratch. The result: The Proteus.

A Greek Sea-God, or so my classics profs told me. That's the reason they chose it, of course.

The irony completely escaped them that "Proteus" was also one of the ancient world's Master Shapeshifters, if you believe the myths.

The irony completely escaped them, for the simple reason that they did not yet know about Hannah "Anne, Please" Merle, a.k.a. "Sweetbuns", Young Hopeful Oceanographer, WOMAN, card-carrying Outed Lesbian, formerly a member of a presumed-extinct Marsupial Predatory race, now something half-homid and wholly human. Oh, and she's got cute stripes on her butt. She's had her shape shifted around quite a fucking bit; so have some others ah'us, of course. The fact that she does not have perfect bodily control in continuing to shift her shape around is one of some potential concern to her and her naval cohorts.

"Look at this thing!" She says, motioning at her tail with a moroseness that can only be coming from her continuing bouts with nerves here on the edge of her ultimate triumph. I, by contrast, am feeling more at ease; we're back to a topic that I feel comfortable with, that being, commenting on Anne's anatomy. She has cute anatomy.

"We hardly have room enough in there for ourselves, much less this thing!" She continues.

"Your tail's one a' the cutest parts of you." I comment.

"Yes..." She says, petulantly. "But it's too big! They didn't build the Proteus with 'morphic humans in mind."

In fact, they almost kept her from diving because of that tail. Apparently, the cabin of that thing is so goddamn small that anything taking up extra space is frowned upon.

But that wasn't the real reason, of course. The real reason is that to become certified to operate the damn thing, she had to become the civilian equivalent of a Navy Submarine Captain. Which meant dealing with the goddamn male-dominated research community of Woods Hole.

Yes, I'm bitter. When your girlfriend comes crying to you night after night following display after display of misogynistic bigotry, you tend to get soured on the whole concept pretty quickly. I was on the verge of hauling her out of the goddamn Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute half-a-dozen times. But she insisted. She needed to do this. Needed it. And her eyes became beatific pot-coals again and those damn pot-coals wormed 'emselves into my big, barreled red-horse-haired chest and melted my old Dutch-Oven-Black Cynic's heart into Silly Putty, trademark.

So we buckled down for the whole, long ride. Her, all tragic an' forlorn, Me, ready to kick peoples' collective Navy Asses, day in an' out.

And this, after years of training, is the result. Anne's first real, live all-by-herself-all-grown-up dive in the driver's seat of that thing. At the Controls.

I am so fucking proud of her, and I say that without a single molecule of my traditional Southern-Belle Pissy Angst.

Anne squeezes my hand. "I love you." She says. She snipey-grins at me. I horsey-grin at her. I squeeze her hand. It's like a palindrome.

We watch as the hoist carrying the Proteus lets her into the water. She's a busy-looking creature, not possessed of the sleek, porpoiselike shape that we normally associate with the concept of "submarine." Every inch of her frame is packed with this doohickey or that thingamabob, giving her a cluttered, friendly appearance, even on the outside, the whole somewhat reminding me of a frantically businesslike but nonetheless hospitable housewife. It's a comforting sight in an otherwise moody landscape. For some reason--known to everyone on this mothership save little old me--they let the sub go first, and then Anne and her two accompanying passengers hop in the water after it. This isn't a real mission, of course. More like a last, formal runthrough of the entire procedure before Anne Darling goes off around the fucking world, away from Massachusetts, away from everything that is and represents me, off running errands for the Oceanographic community of the entire Western Hemisphere.

She'll be back up and with me in just slightly over two hours. But I know, and she knows, that once she makes that dive, it means, essentially, that my time with her goes on short rationing.

Two months. No contact.

Then, two weeks of vacation. Hassled and hussled, mostly submerged in dealing with the daily paperwork and bustle that the world itself requires. Hopefully, some sex. But not a whole lot. There is no rest for the driven, and Dearest Anne is so driven she could almost've come offa the General Motors main factory floor.

Hopefully, some sex. Did I mention that?

Then... back away. For two more whole months.

Repeat. For Years.

I love her.

If I loved her any less, 'ah don't think I would put up with it, feisty bitch that I am.

Anne's all prepared. She's got her wetsuit on an' everything. I have (ahem) demanded this moment with her before the single most important achievement of her life. "They" gave me the exasperated looks that "They" always give me. Fuck them, fuck them all. I know who matters to me.

The deep, black water laps and touches the rough, lionfish-esque shell of the Proteus.

Soon, Anne will follow her into that deep, black water.

Down, way down into the darkness.

Down in the dark that has claimed, into its alien, heartless depths, the Alvin, and the Lusitania, and the Titanic and the fucking Pequod while we're at it.

Down into the darkness.

Shit. I don't believe this. I'm about to cry. I never cry.

I don't fucking believe this. I don't. I don't.

And when she comes up...

Well. What happens to her is what happens to everyone who gets ducked under water, into the chaotic blackness of the Deep. She dies. And when she comes up, she will be borne anew. My love. Captain of the Proteus. One of only a medium-sized roomful of individuals ever to be certified to operate a sub of her class.

And only the third woman.

And the very first goddamn SCAB.

I'm so fucking proud of her.

Everyone who goes down into the water comes up reborn.

But some of us just can't even get to the point of starting. Like Ginger, good ol' Ginger, for example. A.K.A. good ol' Marybeth Prowse, the sturdy, blonde-haired blue-eyed woman that I used to be before I became, simply, "that one big horse-chick."

Marybeth Prowse. It's been a long time since anyone's used that, exclusively, to describe me.

I find myself wondering exactly how and where it started. Not with SCABS, certainly. The virus was just a catalyst. The seeds had been planted much, much earlier. I wonder...

Ohno. Shit. Here I go again.

I don't. I can't. I mustn't...


Amy died, I believe. This is how it starts.

She died. Let these words fall like heavy machine-tools in the tin box of your mind. Shake them, shake 'em hard. And hear the sounds that they make.

Hear 'at? Dull. Dull, black sounds. They aren't even words, when you come right down to it. They don't even mean anything. They can't. They just can not.

I don't believe it. I mean this in the most literal of all senses.

She died.

Death is not a reality to a high-school Sophomore. It cannot be. One cannot be chatting amiably to someone after First Period Band and then have them, less than twenty-four hours later, cease to be. It is NOT FUCKING POSSIBLE.

I do not even cry. Because it never happened.

On the event of the death of my best friend in the whole wide world, Momma called me in sick for the rest of the week. Momma always thinks of that sort of thing. Nobody at the school gave her any shit, either. Nobody gives Momma no shit. C'ept maybe Pappa, a'course, but nobody else does. Not any of us kids, of course, but also, not anyone from the school. Not anyone from the Government even. The family lore is particularly fond of the time that Momma feisted her way out of a Tax Audit. Two hours in the parlor with Momma, and Momma wasn't showing them any receipts, either. She was feisting. I'll be damned (sorry) if the folks from the Government didn't leave looking even a little bit ashamed of themselves for having bothered Momma at all. Momma sticks up for us. She always does.

It isn't even possible that Amy is dead.

I can't even start to let the word "suicide" enter my head. Of course, that's what it was. But it wasn't. Because she's not even dead. Thoughts swirl, and never reach resolution. I can not believe that she's gone.

This is why we have religion, of course. Partially. To ease the pain of things being dead. To allow us to resolve this state of chaos, bring things back into proper order. Our heads aren't strong enough, most of the time, to accept the notion of nonexistence. She's gotta be alive... somewhere.

I find it almost humorous in a way that my prissy, intellectual spirit that has (quietly, internally) bucked the Church throughout my entire free-thinking life is now huddling back to it, bawling and sobbing.

There are words in those sobs, of course. I will do anything for You. I am sorry for the times that I mocked You, accused You, fought Your authority. I'll come to services better. I'll listen really hard during the homily. I'll pray, damn it, I'll pray hard. An hour a day. Two hours a day. I'll do anything you need.

Just tell me she's not dead.

Amy. Amy Amy Amy. Maybe if I say her name enough. Amy Amy Amy Amy. It's all a misunderstanding anyway. She's not dead.

She didn't commit sui--

Oops, there's that word that can't be there.

Amy Amy Amy Amy. I know, empirically, that she is not dead. It is quite out of the question. Of course she was sick. But it wasn't bad sick. She was even at school, just a little congestion. We joked about it. How hard it was to play the clarinet properly when your nose was all plugged up with snot. We laughed, for God's sake. First period. Band. People who make snot jokes in first period don't collapse in Seventh period, their insides torn to bloody shreds, vomiting up bits of themselves, hacking and spitting to the floor shards of flesh that no longer belong. Pretty young girls-- no, young women, because we are, practically adult an' everything, young women don't thrash around on the rough, utilitarian carpeting of room 209 growing a ragged, broken pelt of animal fur before the gaping mouths and shocked eyes of their Social Studies class. Women, proper women, young, attractive, popular women with good school records and scads of extracurriculars to their name don't do that sort of thing.

She... ran. Away. Clawing everything, everyone in her path. Straight from the campus, a beeline, in fact, right back to her home. She was an arrow, a compass point, a vector focused on that medicine chest in her parents' upstairs bathroom. There were no obstacles for her mad run. No one could even keep pace.

The school called her parents, naturally, when every effort to restrain Amy herself failed. They, in turn, rushed home from the city as soon as they could. No one even thought to call an ambulance, pre-emptorily, in the turmoil. No one, I think, thought that she would go so far, so quickly, without any warning. Time of death: 3:36 P.M. Her parents were not there when she died. Amy missed her beloved softball practice that evening.

This sort of thing doesn't happen. I know, factually, that it can not.

Temporarily Snot-nosed Amy. Beautiful, wonderful, giggly sleep-over Amy. The one woman who could best me at the clarinet. The only woman who ever challenged my primacy at the piano.

Amy, who quietly, for the very first time, at lunch period (chicken patties), less than four hours from her death, idly snuffling into Kleenices, in one of the closed, quiet practice-rooms of the Band Hall, admitted to me, alone, that, very possibly, she thought that she wasn't "attracted" to men, in fact, very possibly, the opposite.

"'You're not attracted to men, in fact, very possibly the opposite?' What, you're... repulsed by them?"

"No." She says, quietly, staring at me.

Silence.

A nervous giggle. The L-word hangs heavy in the air, unrealized, unspoken.

"Jay-sus." I say, our sudden tension breeding more giggling.

It was about to go farther, but unfortunately, that's where it ended, because Jordy barged into the room in that way that he habitually does, and then it was only five minutes to the bell, and shit, I forgot to do my Algebra paper, and oh well, wasn't this quite a racy and scandalous topic to bring up, and we'll have plenty of time to discuss it at lunch tomorrow...

Tomorrow where I would have told her, in shyness and giggling, that I, me, very possibly, might speculate about considering that I felt the very same way...

Over the hours, Amy begins to be more firmly dead in my mind. And my prayers grow more fervent.

Please. I know she's dead. I just don't want her to be gone.


Hours upon hours later, my Momma is again in my room. I am crying to her, telling her, talking to her, expressing, stressing, venting, bawling, wetting her shoulder with my tears. Everything comes out. Everything... excepting, of course, that last lunchroom talk...

(I was the first one... she didn't tell anyone else...)

(Nobody else has to have their memory of her spoiled...)

"It's not your fault." She's saying. "Hon, I know you feel like there maybe was something you could've done, if you had just said one word differently, or been at a different place, or... well, I don't know, you probably come up with a lot of stuff in your brain. I'm gonna tell you, Mary, hon, that although it hurts, maybe, to say so, there wasn't nothing you could've been 'spected to do."

(I haven't told anyone at all...)

I cry some more. She holds me tight. Momma.

She's silent for a long time. Momma always knows when to be silent. When to just let me cry some.

"I know you're feeling lost and scared right now, Mary. And I want to ease your mind, and tell you that nothing like this is ever gonna happen to any of your friends any more. Prolly you're wondering now, if your friend Amy wasn't constant, couldn't be trusted, who of 'em can be, right?"

I nod, still sobbing.

"I wish I could tell you that, Mary. But if you're wondering who, out of everybody, everyone, can be trusted, lemme tell you, you got someone right at hand who's never gonna leave you, always gonna be there for you, and when and if you turn away, they's always gonna be ready to take you back home."

"You?" I murmur, through my tears, confusedly.

She just smiles, until, a few seconds later, I realize my mistake and signal my realization by nodding.

"I been praying, Momma." I say.

"Good." She says. "When you need answers, there's no better place to look."

I nod, still weepy-eyed. And for one, final moment, I am suffused with my Momma's love. The umbilical cord is still there. I am truly at peace, and I thank God for bringing me to that peace, God acting directly through my Momma.

And then.

"I only wish your friend Amy would've had enough sense in her head to do that."

There is something odd about the tone that makes me raise my head.

"Mary, promise me that if God ever seeks to correct you in your sin that you won't... do that."

"What?" I say, muzzily, almost childishly, roused from an afternoon nap.

"If God ever tries to demonstrate your sin to you by opening your eyes with an infirmity of that kind, please, see it as a loving act on the part of God. Not as a punishment. God wants to see us repent from our sins, freely, all by our lonesomes, but sometimes, we require a little reminder of how much, really, we rely on Him. And it is through his love that he gives us these corrections, just as it is through your own father's love that he corrects you."

I blink at my tears, which have suddenly become greasy, like cold oil. A small crack opens in my stomach.

"What... sin?" But I know. Oh God, I know...

She smiles, sadly at me.

"I don't know, Marybeth. Maybe, possibly, only Amy could have put a name to her sin. Maybe she tried to deny the Godlessness of her behavior, even to herself, and maybe, God, in his love, tried to remind her of her duties by visiting that affliction upon her. Maybe she held her sin close to herself. Marybeth, please, again, don't blame yourself. You probably didn't even know. In fact," she smiles, "I know you, of all people, would have corrected her if you had known of her sin. So don't you worry there."

The crack widens to a cleft. Then a pit. Which grows, and grows. Momma presses on, urgently, compassionately. The words just pour out of her. She means them in love. She believes in the love of her words. But in my wide-eyed despair, they clot in my stomach like stale pastry.

"Amy took the fool's way out." Says Momma. "She saw only horror in the loving act of God, horror at a thought of a life fighting off the ignorance of the beast that had come into her. What she didn't understand was that the ignorance of the beast was already in her, in her sin. God was simply making it manifest in her body. And in His doing so, she was faced with the shame of whatever sin it was that God sought to root out in her."

Momma shakes her head sadly, and continues with her diatribe. This is hardly even a Momma I recognize; she's talking like she never talks for anything else. "Instead of turning to God for help, she sinned again in the taking of her own life, angrily trying to wrest control back from God. Such rebellion is not unlike the rebellion that ended up casting Adam and Eve from the Garden, Mary." The words keep coming, and coming, and coming, floodin' out of her with sickly-warm concern, almost like she's up in th' pulpit like Father Hugh on Sundays.

Momma's voice rises, almost in fervor. "Please, please promise me that if God corrects you, for anything, that you will turn back to God instead of culminating your sin and rebellion against God by the taking of your own life."

I just stare at her, wide-eyed.

"Mary?" She asks, quietly.

"I won't." I say, not even whispering.


Naturally, I rather quickly got myself a man.

He was Chris. He was almost as tall as me (no mean feat), a bit stockier than me (ditto) and was possessed of blonde hair (like me), blue eyes (like me), a well-to-do, middle-class, God-Fearing Family (like me) and, of course, a penis. He played football and was mediocre at it in the way that people like him are. He was pleasant, nice, and never had a bad word to say about anyone. I wished, somewhere deep down, that I would have been unable to stand him, but, alas, I could. On the other hand, although I could have cared less about him, it would have taken experimental surgery. But through it all, I was convinced that I was doing the right thing.

I treated him like shit. I treated Chris like shit in the name of doing right by God, I deceived him and cheated him and lied to him, all because it would make me better in the eyes of God. Chris and his goddamn penis. Wasn't his fault, he was born with the damn thing. Everybody loved Chris. Momma loved Chris. Pappa loved Chris. All the swarms of brothers and sisters, all of em, loved Chris. Hell, I loved him too. But not in the way that I tried to convince myself that I had to love him.

To wit: if Chris didn't have a penis, I wouldn't have felt any obligation to be attracted to him at all.

But he did. So I simpered, and saccharined, wondering what was wrong with me that I couldn't open up to Chris, and I looked everywhere and tried to change everything... everything, of course, but that which I had utterly, absolutely, ruled out, completely, nope, nada, out of the question. And my tensions ebbed and swelled and during the swells I abused Chris and he would cry to me and I had to drag up some true, but irrelevant, reason why he had hurt me, and he'd look at me with big puppy-eyes and swear he'd never hurt me again, and so on. It was a farce, but none of us could see that.

I'm happy, in retrospect, that It happened when it did. If not, I might have been well on my way to becoming Missus Christopher Sharpe by now, if not there already. It was probably the best thing to happen in his life. Maybe he's off, happy, in a relationship that suits him more than ours suited me. I wish him well.

It.

It is a time that comes to every one of us SCAB-folks, by definition. Some of us remember our Its. Some of us do not. I have heard of how some individuals, in a comatic or stupefied state throughout the entire process of It awake from their slumbers, dazed and confused, with a tenuous grip on reality because of the inevitable neuronal shuffling that occurs as part and parcel of It. These individuals, suddenly realizing that they also have to cope with a completely new home for their consciousnesses, and being already confused and brain-waggled, sometimes take months, years to return to their proper grip on reality, spending the intervening time in a disoriented, schizophrenic dream-state.

Still, I think I would have preferred to be asleep.

It happened at the worst of all possible times. After one of the inevitable fits that Chris and I always got into. But not just any fit. A fit that had, in its severity, shaken the very fundamentals of my thoughts. I had been trying for years to love Chris. Trying with every bit of psychic muster I could scrape up. Beating with the hammer of my will upon the solid wall that kept me from true, honest love. And I had failed. Again.

It left me questioning.

The L-word was floating around there. Again.

And it wouldn't go away.

I worked, then, the first summer out of graduation, in a resin mill. A sort of embryonic-plastics way-station. "Good" summer job. Mediocre pay. Extremely boring. Every high-school or post-high-school student aspiring towards anything has one of these, so I don't imagine that I need to go into too many specifics on what it was like to work there. Here's the basics. Take chunks of raw plastic, put them in the shredder, watch blandly as the machinery reduces them to a more useful granular form. Repeat, over and over and over and over. Tack a few more overs on there. Got it? Good.

The fit in question between Chris and myself had lasted late into the past evening, far into the hot night. I awoke, dreamy and feverish, my mouth tasting of charcoal.

Lesbian. From the very morning, the word was there, taunting me. It had company. Deceiver. Putter-up-of-falsehoods. Holder, and this was the kicker, of Sinful Desires. Desires that had gotten Amy in Deep Shit with God. Rationally, I had been trying to explain away Amy's death as some drastic coincidence, that it couldn't possibly have been the case that Amy's sudden, violent contraction of SCABS was some sort of divine smack across the backside, just like Pappa used to do with his old leather strop. I didn't want to hate God for what He had, presumably, done to Amy, but the only way I could work around it was to say that it was all a huge unrelated mishmash of events. But I was caught. My relationship with Chris was souring, in my own belly, more and more, every day. My own guilt about lying to Chris, every new day that I saw him, was gnawing at the hard calcium of my spine like a rat chewing on a salt-block. And yet, to ease Chris's mind would be to profess rebellion against God. And so, I had come to the realization that I would just, in the future, have to try harder to love Chris. As though if I were to try hard enough, someday, I would get a breakthrough.

Momma thought I looked a little ill at the breakfast table. Truth tell, I did feel a bit ill. But I had been up real late last night. And I'd been under a lot of stress. Just a little bug. Pass the (rats gnawing at the spine, you are a lesbian, marybeth, no, that's wrong, momma would tell you that it's wrong, everybody knows it's wrong) sugar, please, maybe get some more (you are a sinner, marybeth prowse, for holding these thoughts, for fantasizing about them, for, god save your sick, broken soul, masturbating to them) juice from the fridge, better hurry, thanks for packing my (poor chris, how the hell can i justify hurting him over and over and over and) lunch, whoops, look at the (everybody, sing along with me, damned if you do, damned if you don't...) time, better get to (sinner... sinner... sinner...)

(SINNER... SINNER... SINNER... SINNER...)

...work...

For four hours, eight to twelve, I shredded raw plastic with a wrath that was terrible to behold. I put names onto that which I destroyed, carved imaginary letters upon the blobby hunks of extruded resin before condemning them to be ripped asunder, broken, and decimated. They were my brothers, and my sisters, and Momma, and Pappa, and Chris, and Amy, and...

And when I ran out of all of those, over and over, the only name I could see again and again upon the doomed non-faces of the resin hunks was mine own. Marybeth Prowse. Marybeth Prowse. Sinner. Sinner. Sinner. Marybeth Prowse. Marybeth Prowse. Sinner. Sinner. Sinner.

Torn apart, ripped into non-existence.

By the end of the morning shift, I no longer felt like eating the lunch that my mother had so carefully packed. I was shivering, and nauseous. Someone... I forget who... said that I was looking kind of rough. That maybe I should be calling in sick for the afternoon shift. But the work was the only thing keeping me going, keeping me sane. Without plastic to destroy, I was nothing. And yet, at the same time, I was destroying my own name. Over and over. But it was all that I could do. Over and over and over and over again.

The afternoon shift began.

Thirty-seven minutes in, It began to happen.

My fever skyrocketed, and my brain began thudding. My face flushed with red heat, but all I could feel was cold. Cold, willowy cobwebs, brushed across my face, passing into my brain, rolling my eyes, up and back. I wanted no part of it. I had to work. I had to destroy, to release my anger. Shred. Tear. Destroy. Marybeth Prowse. Sinner. Marybeth Prowse. Sinner.

I gritted my teeth. My hands on the shredding lever were like iron.

It began in my chest. Coiling and cracking my ribs, pushing, tearing. I was dizzy, and nearly falling over, and I was not, of course, at the pinnacle of consciousness. So I couldn't notice.

My face ached. Sinuses flared, clogged with fluid... more so than I had ever felt. So much so that the bones began to ache with the pressure of containing it. And... then... it seemed as though the bones around the sinuses began to yield, somehow, to the feverish humors therein. Sudden cracks burst through my skull like fireworks. Fragile arches of bone were shattered into flinders, new structures replacing them, dripping miasmically from the diseased bone.

My hands remained on the lever. Shredding. More and more. I began to lose the distinction between myself and the plastic. We were both being rent and riven; it, ground into granules by the steel embrace of the shredder, me, torn chest to girth with wet ripping sounds like a fryer chicken.

I think it was at this time that I was noticed by the other workers. I am not certain. I recall... something of a commotion. Presumably, no one wanted to come near me. I was left in a feverish, clear bubble of my factory-floor-mates, and I was being reduced to sharp, bloody shards of myself.

Of course, my clothes were destroyed soon thereafter, seams burst by the process of my change, but by that time, it was just a detail. There was nothing sexual about my form. It was grotesque, half-melted, burning, prickling with patchy reddish horse-hair. Wet, bloody clots of my old hair dropped from my scalp, in damp puddles around me. My toes jerked and cracked, pushed out of my heavy boots, my center digit growing large and ponderous, the others retreating beneath the skin into vestigial pin-bones. My hips hung at an absurd angle, and the crude, obscene nub of a tail began to show.

My hands still clutched the lever. My job was still being done.

The commotion grew around me, to a roar of hysteria. It was drowned out in my head by the turbulent rattle of my skull bones breaking and re-fusing, breaking and re-fusing, my brows becoming heavier, eye sockets twisting to the side with wrenching whines. My new horse's muzzle tore itself into shape. Load after load of resin, screaming against the iron blades, spitting, because of my improper usage, sharp flinders of plastic everywhere. One lodged itself deep within the thick bone of my lateral skull, and to my knowledge, it is still there.

The last things to go were my hands. By the near end of it all, I was a mare, fully and totally, a massive beast comically clinging with woefully out-of-place fingers to the rubber-gripped lever. The feed had stopped, shut down by a panicked employee, and no plastic was even coming into my area. But still, the shredder whined on.

Through my willpower, my hands remained hands for probably five whole more minutes, shredding air, and sound, and nothingness.

Then, they too went to hooves, and at that moment, Marybeth Prowse died a quick, silent death.

I ran, then. I was still bereft of my senses, there was nothing in the world to do but to run, bowling over those still too stunned and shocked to move as I went. Away, down the corridors of the plant, out into sunlight, and the road that followed.

Momma's daughter went to work that day. But she never came back.

Late. Hell, it was already late when I came here. Now it's early. My long-lashed eyelids are drooping pleasantly, and it's a wonder I've even managed to get this far. I yawn, bigly, and haul my big ol' naked body offa the chair. Time to sleep. Goodness knows, tomorrow the owners of this place might come back; or it might be weeks. They didn't leave a note as per that. But the presence of the little card in the bathroom reassures me that all this door-being-left-unlocked business was intentional after all, and furthermore, the SCAB-friendly shampoos in the bathroom suggest that there's no danger of the owners being unpleasantly surprised by the specific nature of their houseguests. No question--whoever this is what owns this place understands how things used to be.

My goofy grin has resolved itself into a small, contented smile, but I am no less satisfied. I have visions of that bedroom with the patchwork quilt that particularly appealed to me, and they're nice visions indeedy.

I am about to indulge those visions, in fact, when I notice the staircase.

It's not an impressive thing. A little, steep, narrow set, half-hidden in a nook in the wall, leading to the hitherto-unseen second floor of the building.

I shouldn't be poking around more than is absolutely necessary. I really shouldn't. But this odd, ramshackle building has yielded more comforting, neat-ass stuff than I can ever remember having seen packed under one roof at any time in my life before, save perhaps at certain large Natural History musea. Just one more room couldn't hurt. Then it's off to bed, for the kind of night's sleep that I've been craving for what feels like ages now.

What the hell.

Still firmly in the buff, I ascend the narrow stairs.


I am struck with the impression of space. The lights here are not on, but I am struck with the impression of space, nonetheless.

The cooling-system is less strong here, lending the faintest hint of a toasty-warmer cast to the air, but the environment is still far from uncomfortable.

Disorientation follows, a bit. I am confused; there is a strange feel, a tickling at the familiar parts of my memory. I am also struck with the impression of oddness, that this room, or rooms like it, aren't usually found here in the general plan of typical schemes-slash-architectures. A moment later, I reassure myself that this building hasn't really followed the traditional lines of design yet; why on earth should it start now?

I am wondering why there is a familiar feel to this place, and I am wondering all the way up to my finding the switch that controls the lights.

I flick it on.

I catch my breath.

My eyes wander around the room, as I stand poised here on this incongruous little stairway. Back behind me is a slightly oversized pair of double doors, probably the traditional means of entry. The carpeting is a neutral, pleasant green. And...

Well. In places like these, one cannot long avoid having ones eyes drawn to the focus of the room. This one is not so gaudy and willful as the one in the church in the town that I used to call my home. It is simple, elegant, bearing more resemblance to a beautiful, hearty-old butcher-block table than to an instrument of worship. An altar. And suspended above it is the Christ-In-Glory.

Everything is still, as still the end of Time.

Of course. In all my hanging around downstairs, in all my soup-eating and book-reading and shower-taking and quilt-dreaming, I had never stepped back to take in the big picture. Why all this... stuff? Why, in the middle of the woods, a big, pieced-together but impeccably maintained building, with the facilities to board more than a dozen persons for a period of less than a weekend or, easily, up to several weeks on end? Why, indeed?

A retreat-hall. A religious thing. I had stumbled across the Christian equivalent of a summer-camp lodge. No one home now, but some benevolent soul had thought to keep the lights on and the doors unlocked. Heedless of potential vandals, thieves, willing to risk property damage on the off chance that some lost soul would, unscheduled and unannounced, barge in through the primeval woods, in need of solace and shelter...

I almost do the whole born-again thing. Right then and there. Collapse, crying, before the altar, under the ceiling-fans mounted in the steepled wooden roof. Dedicate my heart and soul to Mister Jesus H. Fucking Godalmighty Christ on the basis of one beautiful night of soup and showers. I am ready, ready to do it all.

My internal cynic slaps me one good one across the face, then, and starts in on trying to give me a good talking-to. Lissen, "Ginger." These is probably the same kind of folks after all that your parents were. You know what they felt about you. About your beliefs. If you had let the Big L-Word slip in front of them, and then they later had heard from the factory folks what had happened to you at one-oh-seven pee em on that day of It, their little brains would've gone clickaclickaclick and established a direct cause-effect relationship. They woulda' done it for Amy. Why should their own daughter be any more sacred?

A voice responds. The voice of a very, very small girl. God loves me. See what he did for me tonight?

The internal cynic hesitates, briefly, unwilling to smack the little shit as hard as she had previously smacked me.

In that moment, the moment where my cynic has nothing to say, I happen to notice the piano, and I am put in danger of being born again once more.

The piano.

Oh, of everything, let there not be books downstairs, let there not be tinned soup to be heated, let there not be warm quilts on the beds, let there not be showers to indulge in. Let there just be this piano, here, alone, in the dark of the woods. I care not. I am still near to rapture.

Without even being conscious of it, my hooved feet begin shuffling across the carpet, down the aisle between the rows of shallow pews. My cynic is a hundred, hundred thousand miles away.

Gently, I kick the stool out, and seat myself, sliding open the cover in one, slick-varnished motion.

The memories come again, in a long, unbroken flood, starting with Chopin's Waltz in A-Minor, scored for the Pianoforte. And this time, they do not stop.


And then.

When the last, single quiet notes of music have faded, many aeons later. When I have released my last finger from the last key and let up on the sustain pedal with my right hoof. When all is quiet once again.

I am soft inside. And my black-hearted cynic is nowhere to be found.

"God." I whisper. "I... don't know if I'm doing this right."

Nothing but more silence.

I start again, more colloquially. "Y'know, Gawd, for being such an unreasonable and unfair shit as you usually are, you 'parently have at least some basic idea of how girls like me wanna be treated."

The colloquialism sounds hollow, false. I try a third time. "Lemme see if I can put this into words here." I start. "I guess... what I'm wondering here is..."

I swallow.

"Listen, damnit, is this You? Or is all of tonight just the by-product of some batty old priest with an Old South sense of hospitality, or, potentially, Alzheimer's fucking disease? Forgets to lock up the house, goes away for couple'three weeks... I can see that."

The words waft off into the silence. The artistically-cast Christ looks on with immutable expression from above the altar.

Softly, almost pleadingly, now. "Look, just... tell me. Somehow. What I should be taking from all this."

Somehow. Sha. What am I expecting, cherubs to whisper in my ear? I need... something. Something sensible. A chaotic system that God, on the off-chance that he exists, could influence... to send me a sign...

My eyes cast around the room one more time.

They alight.

On a reading-shelf, near the back, along one wall. A little reading stand. Which supports, prominently upon it, The Best of the Best Books, in Gilt Red Hardcover.

That'll do.

Trepidatiously, I walk away from the piano towards the back, and stand before the little shelf. My steps are rigid, military. The air is thick about me, and I might or might not be feeling Destiny in its Approach. I don't care, one way or the other. But I must know.

"God." I say, more formally. "Tonight, just tonight, you have caught me so completely off-guard that I don't even recognize my own actions anymore. I've been up an' down a fucking roller-coaster this week, and I'm loose, and jittery, and flapping around, looking for an anchor, any anchor. I've lost my family, my friends, my home, and, very nearly, my name and my life and my very being."

I take a deep breath.

"Tonight, here in this house, you... have stopped me from losing those last three. The ones that mean the most to who I am."

Another deep breath.

"So you got me snared, you do. You got me beat. All you need to do, right now, is give me one, teeny little sign. If You are there, and You are concerned about everybody worshipin' you, like Father Hugh says you are, you almost got me sold out praisin' You on the goddamn streetcorners. All you need to do is sho'me some of that infallible power of yours. I'm not gonna ask you to take away my sickness or nothin'. Not even anything big. No strain on You whatsoevuh."

I flip open the ponderous Bible, its trimming glittering gold.

I close my eyes. Like I did at the streams in the wilderness.

"I'm gonna flip through this thing." I address the sudden darkness. "An' I'm gonna stop exactly where it feels right to. An' I'm gonna plant mah finger on the page, just exactly where it feels right to."

A tense, electric pause.

"God, all I ask is that the one verse that I point to tell me what it is I need to know."

I can almost imagine that I hear a hum, of gathering Power.

"You ready?" I say. "You only get to do this once."

There is no reply.

My jaw resolute, I grab the gold-leaf pages into my hand and begin fanning them, applying the old poker rationale of card-cutting. Just wherever. As long as it feels right.

There is a page. It feels right. I let the book fall open.

I lift my finger before me, then, and like a dart, I bring it down. It impacts the mass of thin papers with a hollow 'thunk.'

Slowly, feeling the inexorable vertigo of being drawn into a turbulent, forked stream, knowing that the next few seconds will decide your course of sailing for Only-God-Knows-How-Long, but trusting, trusting, Lord help me, Trusting, I open my eyes.

Psalm 52. Verse 5. Right on the dot. No niggling with boundary lines.

God shall likewise destroy you forever.

I recoil. As though I had placed my finger into the mouth of a serpent.

He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place.

My jaw trembles.

And uproot you from the land of the living.

I stand in stunned, shocked silence.

God shall likewise destroy you forever.

With a cry of despair, I slam shut the book and back away. Suddenly nothing is right. Nothing. It's all been a vicious prank. A lie. A goddamn celestial episode of Candid Fucking Camera, all set up to make me suffer. This whole damn night. HE, FUCK HIS BLACK HEART, DID THIS TO ME. Ripped me to pieces with his pet virus, one of the greatest venues for evil ever produced by either Heaven or Earth, slapped together an entirely new corpse for me, the corpse of a beast, a God-Be-Damned BEAST...

I whip around, my mouth still gasping, and gaze full aface to the image of Christ above the altar. I had found it impassive, stolid before. Now I see on its face the sneer that always was there. That I had been too entranced by books and pianos and soup and... SHIT! All of it! Too entranced to even NOTICE that that FUCKER was sitting there GRINNING at me the whole time! JUST WAITING FOR THIS!

I'm being played with. I'm being fucking played with. He enjoys watching me hurt! GOD FUCKING FUCK, HE ENJOYS IT!

I scream, then, and my anger seizes me in its clawed grasp.

With an apoplexic whinny-shriek, my rage burns my body backwards, undoing every lick of progress towards the humanity that once I had. The pain leaves me staggering, torn to flinders again, until I stand, wholly bestial here in this hideous mockery of a shrine to this shit-faced God of Gods.

Fuck him... FUCK HIM!

Frothing and snapping at the air, I do the only thing that I can, that my rage permits me. I kick. Sharp horn hooves, driven by a half-ton of pure muscle, slam into the nearest pew. Its shoddy mountings shear like twigs, and it collapses.

DID YOU SEE THAT, YOU BASTARD? HUH?

My eyes are white with triumph.

Gloriously, I wheel on my front hooves and kick out behind me in another direction. I catch the angle a bit wrong, this time, and it takes two solid, soul-clearing blows to shatter the back of the pew behind me into splinters. It feels good.

Again! And Again!

Not content with hurting me, and hurting me, and hurting me, he decided to give me a few little hours of kindness, just so he could FUCKING hurt me more. I was in DANGER of losing it COMPLETELY! No, fucking NO, that would not DO, for Mister J.S. FUCKING GOD! You can't hurt the mindless! You can't continue their pain!

He's keeping me... alive... so he can hurt me more...

Another strangled whinny-scream, and I break into two strides of full gallop, directly towards the front altar. I rear before it, FUCK your genuflection, you BASTARD!

I kick, until it too is destroyed.

FUCK YOU ALL! FUCK AMY! FUCK MOMMA! FUCK PAPPA! FUCK JESUS, MARY AND FUCKING JOSEPH! FUCK YOU ALL!

A good rear mule-kick sets the suspended Cross swinging as well. But its mountings are too strong for me to break at this angle, and I am thirsty for blood, not pastimes, so I content myself with a couple good hoof-marks just below where it counts. Nearly cackling at that thought, I gallop back to the rear and bring the reading-shelf containing the filthy, gilt-outside rotten-at-the-core Bible crashing down, and I savage and trample the fallen Book with my front hooves. More! MORE!

Whip around. Back to the front.

The piano.

With a thunderbolt, the image of the pristine little girl appears in my mind, the girl that, apparently, I was, when I once was Marybeth Prowse, before I became Ginger the Devil Horse. She stands there with those wide, innocent blue eyes, looking up at me in horror, at what I have become.

I pause, my muscles frozen.

Then I think of Amy, and the little girl is swept away. I trample her, in fact, beneath my hooves. And the destruction begins again.

The piano dies a discordant death. I shatter its rubble even when it is down, for its betrayal, and when one sharp stick of dislodged wire pricks me in the thigh, I exact my revenge by leaving no portion of it unsplintered. There is little left of it but tangled wire and matchsticks when I have spent my wrath at it. I'll show 'em what it's like to be uprooted from the fucking land.

Once the piano is destroyed, there is an exhausted lull as my chest and sides heave. More death, my brain screams. More killing. My body cries out in protest, not for moral obligation, but for sheer weariness. These two factors struggle for primacy.

One more destruction, is the outcome of their debate. I pick my target carefully, but as I have already destroyed everything even remotely liturgical in the room, I am forced to satisfy myself with one, last, good, solid kick to the right-side wall. Perhaps to leave my hoofprints buried in the plaster, a sort of blazen signature. Who was it that destroyed your little place of worship? Why, it was the Devil Horse. Cackle. Cackle. Cackle. Cackle.

Kick.

I hit a water pipe.

There shouldn't be any water lines here. Not in the wall, at least. There aren't even any plumbing fixtures in the immediate area of this desecrated chapel. But a pipe I strike, regardless. A product of the strange and piecemeal architecture of this place, no doubt.

A flood of water flows out.

And continues to flow.

And continues to flow.

I am sprayed, as by a hose, in the first burst of pressure. The licking flames of Ginger the Devil Horse are extinguished in one whiff of smoke.

Ohshit.

I look around at what I have wrought. As I relax, my body unconsciously slips out of my control and returns me, painlessly, to my more familiar two-legged horse-shape.

Ohshit, I remark again. Water flows. Gushing out onto the floor. Soaking into the neutral green splinter-flecked carpeting, turning it an ugly storm-black.

Seeping down. Through the floorboards, I imagine. To the floors be--

THE LIBRARY.

My eyes are wide.

Running now, I leap over the wreckage of the broken rail, and down the narrow steps which first brought me into this room. Wunderful, Gin. You bust a waterpipe in the room die-rectly above the book-room. The usual mix of poise and intellect that yew so consistently de-splay.

Once there, I survey the shelves, then the ceiling. Nothing coming through yet. But that's not a waterproof floor, by any stretch.

I have no idea when the curators of this little place are coming back. Hell, it might be dawn of the next day, by now. I haven't been near a window and my wristwatch is long, long lost.

If they find me here...

I grit my teeth. I clench my jaw.

A decision is made.

I begin moving the books. Away from the onrushing water...

On my third trip the water breaks through... and it is black...

Black... and deep...


The books were all moved away from the area endangered by the broken water pipe. They were found stacked haphazardly on the dining-room table, and then, spilling over to the chairs and the floors as well. A certain Father Daanikker, denomination uncertain, who usually watched over the place, was heartbroken and distraught to the damage done to his facility. I read this in a discarded paper in a bus-station, a day or two later. There was a sort of retreat-thing shed-yu-uld to take place there starting just a few days after I arrived. A bunch of SCAB Children of Christian Families, of course, which, I guess, might have explained the odd choices they made for the complimentary toiletries, just in case. I do not know whether Fr. Daanikker ran the place with the "shit happens to good people" theory of SCABS, or the ever-popular-with-the-Prowse-Family "shit happens to you, and it's your own goddamn fault" theory, and frankly, I don't much want to know. He said that the retreat would still go on, of course. Christians, I have noticed, tend to thrive and prosper when people beat them up and look like they're trying to oppress them. Must be a throwback to the old Roman days, or somethin'.

Apparently, it had been the work of the Humans Firsters, or some related organization. It was "speculated" the retreat-hall had been a target because of the SCAB-supportive event which was to take place there. A carefully-neutral journalistic tone rendered me unable to identify the bias of the author of the newspaper article, but regardless of what he felt about me, and my new-found minority-race, I wanted to go back and shake the fella', saying, look, see, you got it all wrong, I am a goddamn SCAB, it wasn't cause'a race-motivated hatred that the place got busted up.

No, I responded to myself, bitterly. But it was still motivated by hate, nonetheless. And so, it's not like my motivations were somehow more pure.

Fr. Daanikker reportedly had expressed confusion as to why a vandal would go through the trouble of wrecking the chapel but then go through such pains to save the library. Perhaps two individuals, someone had suggested, but then, why didn't the Good Samaritan who rescued the books from water damage seem to make any effort to contact the owners of the building, instead letting the water damage continue by leaving the proprietors to discover it for themselves, several days later? Police were still looking. I was long gone. Moving. Moving.

He was also quoted as having said something to the effect of how maybe they shouldn't leave the place unlocked after hours anymore.

I had never intended to sour their little event. I had never intended to destroy Fr. Daanikker's faith in Southern... or perhaps, Christian... hospitality. But I did, I did both.

God could have stopped it. Surely, He, in his fucking almighty wisdom, could have foreseen what a nutcase like me would do upon reading that verse. Surely He knew.. Surely He could have steered me away from it, while I was still in the darkness of my eyes-closed-ness. Given me some nice, happy-smiley verse like Psalm 23 or one of those "Blessed-art-thou-when-people-beat-the-shit-outta-you's" that the Big J was fond of spouting off. I woulda probably praised Him the miracle of my rebirth from the rooftops. He would've had a hell of a follower in good ol' Ginger.

He didn't want me. For some reason, he didn't want me.

I can't, don't, understand.

But when I think about this too hard, I am reminded of the old joke. Okay, so there's this one guy (there's always 'this one guy'), and there's been this really awful flood, or somethin'. An' he's sittin' there on the roof of his house, all the while the water's gettin' higher and higher. So this rowboat, see, it comes along. And the guy in it sez, "Hey! Dumbfuck! Get off the house and get inna' the boat!" But the guy sez, no, he's gonna trust in God to help 'im out. So the first boat, it rows away. So then there's this motorboat, same deal. Guy still stays. Then there comes this Red Cross Rescue boat, and they try and try to get 'im to come, but he doesn't. Finally, there's this helicopter gonna airlift him off. But no, he's still trustin' in God. So, finally the water sweeps 'im away, and he dies. (I love morbid jokes.) So he's standing up in Cloud City, talkin' to the Divinity 'imself. An' he sez. "God, oh, God, why didn't you help me! I trusted you!" And God takes 'is cigar outta 'is mouth an' sez, "What the hell d'you mean, kid! I sent you (tick off points on fingers) A rowboat, A motorboat, a rescue ship and a Fucking Helicopter!"

You gotta say it in the right ak-sent, or it ain't funny.

Point being, I had a roof over my head, a shower, hot soup, twenty billion books, a piano, and still, I wanted more. More more more. I can just imagine God saying, just like he did to the guy, "Hey, Look, how much you want from me, heah?"

I want it all. You're the goddamn omnipotent one, not me. You tell me. Explain to me the plan. Tell me why you couldn't do just that last, one more thing. Tell me.

You are confused? Asks the big-eyed little girl.

Yes! I scream. I am fucking confused.

The words howl around in my head and die into silence.

Maybe...

It would be worth it...

If...

I were to...

Next time Anne Darling drags me along to that big ol' cathedral that she always goes to...

To maybe...

I can't complete the sentence.

It would cause questions to arise in Anne's mind to see Raw, Sweet-South Sociology Bitch Ginger with her hands folded in front 'a her. Questions I do not have the strength, nor the self-confidence, to answer.

Can you pray, with an outward mockery of bored disdain? Can you keep the same face that you wear into church, day after day of accompanying your lover, the same nonchalant, analytical face, carefully masklike to shed all questions, and yet, somewhere inside of you, deep inside, believe?

Maybe. It's probably not ideal.

But perhaps it's a fair attempt at a start.

Ach. Hell. What the fuck am I thinking. The whole concept of "God" is just way too confusing. He, assuming that He exists at all, stresses me out in a bad way. He hurts me. Causes me pain. I'm better off not believing in Him at all, I think, because then, I don't have to muddle through complicated questions about how both God the one who Hurts and God the one who Heals can exist in the same being. And I don't need any more complications in my life than I already got. It's just... simpler, more sensible, this way.

Anne prepared well for this, her first dive. She prayed about it, for one thing. Sitting there in that big church, pious as all get out. I went with her, like I always do. It's always another lie. I manage to turn every church-trip we take together into a quiet sociology exercise. Without telling her, of course.

The Sociology of Church?

Lemme try and put it to you this way.

Is Amy still alive? I had asked Momma.

They who Believe shall have Life Eternal. She replied.

But what does that Mean? I wanted to scream. What if she died still thinking, believing, that she was a Lesbian?

I phrased it better. So that Amy's shame remained buried with her. If her SCABS was in punishment for a secret sin, what if she died, not having admitted the sinfulness of her act, not confessing it as a sin, indeed, not believing it was a sin at all?

Then it's in Jesus's hands, now. She replied.

Momma Didn't Know.

If I asked my Momma, Momma, If you had the power to give Amy the Life Eternal, would you?

My Momma would have answered, "Yes!" Unequivocally. With no hesitation. Of Course she would, if she had that power.

And yet, when asked what she thought God's opinion on the matter would be, she didn't know.

Why the HELL does mankind insist upon manufacturing deities that are worse than themselves? The Greeks did it. The Romans did it. The Norse did it. And the Christians, lots and lots of Christians (not including Anne, ah'think) believe that their God would actually allow one of his creations to be in eternal torment, or oblivion, with no chance nor hope for salvation, even though they, imperfect mortals that they are, could not fathom nor stomach such a thought.

I don't understand. And my incomprehension makes me angry.

My anger is deeper, and more personal, as well.

I cannot stomach a deity who would allow the travesties that the world wreaks upon its people. Who would permit such things. We say that our deities are omnipotent. But to state that is to admit that God is, personally, responsible for every violation of anything. Because He (hypothetically) could stop it. But He (hypothetically) does not.

I cannot stomach a god who would allow Amy to die. Who would string me along up 'til the last moment, in Father Daanikker's little chapel, on the verge of professing eternal devotion, and then just pull the rug out from under me, leaving me with no choice but to hurt and destroy.

There is one more question I had asked my Momma.

Momma?

Yes. She replied.

Momma, you know what you said about Amy?

Yes. She replied.

Momma, what does it mean if I get SCABS?

Momma Did Not Reply.


Anne is gone from my side, ready to make the plunge into the cold, calm Atlantic waters. We shared one last kiss, horse and Thylacine. I wished her luck. She thanked me.

Anne has faith.

Somehow, damn it all, Anne has faith. She believes. With an innocence born of... something. An innocence born of just sheer innocence, and wonder, and joy, and an optimism for the Human Condition that couldn't even be beat out of her by a crowd of narrow-minded thugs with coin-rolls. She didn't even start out human. And she has everything, everything that I do not.

Anne enters the water. Laughingly, she ducks her face under, and just for the briefest moment, I lose sight of her for the glare of the sun off the ocean.

When my eyes are next able to focus, she is already near the crew port of the Proteus, already touching its beauteous, nubby-projectioned enameled steel skin. She is about to enter, on her way to approaching the pilot's couch, deep in the economical, warm darkness of her cherished submarine. She is almost about to haul herself in, when she turns around once, to look at me standing, alone, on the deck.

She smiles. I wave. She waves. I smile.

My heart's not in it. But I put on a good show.

With one last adjustment, Anne vanishes within.

Then, and only then, comes the true pang of missing her.

Her two passengers, the maximum that the crowded little submersible can hold, quickly vanish within as well. Anne told me that one doesn't need a whit of special training just to ride along. I had wanted to go with her, on this brief, fledgling mission of hers.

It was found that, even in my most human-like guise, I am simply too big a creature to fit in the tiny interior of the Proteus.

I am here, stuck forever on dry land, on these earth-dwelling hooves and this probably-made-up fear of the water. And Anne is off to baptize herself.

The hatch closes.

"Well." Says a grizzled, turtleneck-clad officer standing nearby, just barely within earshot. "Never thought we'd see one of her kind running that ship."

I bite my lip, to keep it from quivering.

"She warn't even born human." Adds another, staring out at the departing submersible. "D'ja know that?"

The first nods. "Ayep. A woman. And not even a natural human one 'a that." He shakes his head in wonderment.

There is silence, but for the waves and the faint noise of the receding engine.

"I'll be damned." He concludes.

And at these words, I finally burst into tears.

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