The Gates of Babylon – First Chapter

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    This the opening of the latest book in my series, The Righteous, set in a polygamist enclave in the deserts of Southern Utah. The Gates of Babylon will be released in February. The first three books of the series all hit the Wall Street Journal bestsellers list. If you’re curious, you can see the first book here.

    As clarification, I’m not trying to advocate for or against the religious lifestyle presented here. It’s about an unusual religious community (some good, some evil, some believers, some doubters) that has been preparing for the end of the world for generations. Now it has come. The previous book ended with a militarized USDA taking control of their food supplies and occupying their town.

    Genesis 8:22 – While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease .

    The Gates of Babylon
    by Michael Wallace

    Chapter One
    Jacob Christianson’s wife woke before he could sneak out of the bedroom. Maybe she heard leather creak as he pulled on his boots, or maybe she shifted in her sleep and sensed, in the way wives do, that the other half of the bed was empty. In any event, something changed in her breathing, and he knew she was listening.

    When he finished buttoning his shirt, he rose from the chair and made his way silently to the closet for his sheepskin jacket. She was awake, and she knew that he knew she was awake, but maybe if they kept up the fiction she would let him go in peace. He would walk down the long hallway lined with rooms—rooms filled with children, unmarried half-siblings, and his father’s widows—then slip out the back door without argument. Armed men would be watching the driveway, so instead of the truck, he’d saddle up a horse and ride across the desert to meet the others. Get this ugly business over with and return home by breakfast.

    But instead of making a run for it, Jacob paused at the door, rested his hand on the back of her wheelchair, and waited for her to speak.

    “I assume you have a reason,” Fernie said at last.

    “I always do.”

    “Medical supplies?”

    “Not this time.” When she didn’t respond, he added, “I’ll share if you want me to. But I can tell you how and why and with whom, and it won’t make you worry any less.”

    “I’m going to worry either way,” she said. “I’m going to lie here, wishing my legs would carry me down those stairs so I could be by your side while you did whatever it is you do.”

    Jacob wouldn’t want that in any event. It was bad enough putting his brother and sister in danger, and putting his friends into morally compromising situations, without placing Fernie in physical and moral risk, as well. And what if she told him no, it wasn’t worth it? The time had come to trust in the Lord and not the arm of flesh.

    And what if we’re alone? What if there is no God and we have no help?

    And that was the nightmare, wasn’t it? Every time a patient came into his clinic, he wondered how he would remove an appendix without analgesics, or treat conjunctivitis without antibiotics. Any day now—any day—someone would come in with a strange lump in the armpit or breast and then he’d collide headlong with the near 19th century reality of their situation. How to treat cancer without an oncologist. Because nobody from the church would leave Blister Creek for Salt Lake, knowing she was likely to end up in a refugee camp, unable to return.

    “Who else?” Fernie asked, jarring him from his worries.

    “Steve Krantz. Eliza and David. Sister Miriam. Brother Stephen Paul.”

    “So many.” Fernie sounded surprised. “It’s something big, then.”

    “Bigger than usual,” Jacob admitted. “We’re leaving the valley.”

    “And everyone you’re taking can shoot and kill, so it must be dangerous.”

    “That’s also true.”

    “Don’t forget the people who love you and need you.”

    “What does that mean?” he asked.

    “You can’t worry so much about filling your father’s shoes that you forget you have a wife and four children.”

    “I’ll never fill his shoes, even if I wanted to. And nobody in the church would believe it anyway. They’re too quick to notice my flaws and doubts.”

    So much pressure. As their physical and spiritual leader. As a doctor. A husband and father. He was so busy these days that he barely noticed until it was lifted from his shoulders.

    Last week, during a warm stretch that marked a feeble attempt at an Indian summer during this cold, wet fall, Jacob took the oldest two, Daniel and Leah, into the Ghost Cliffs
    with a map, a compass, and handpicks. It took about an hour to find the fossil bed where his own father had brought him as a boy. They flaked open shale like leaves of a stone book. Between the pages lay the record of an ancient sea, written in fossilized shells and trilobites. Daniel found the skeleton of a sardine-sized fish and Jacob took his son’s thumb and traced it over the fine rib bones. The stone, freshly exposed to the air for the first time in ages, gave off a faint, distinct smell.

    And Jacob was suddenly caught in a moment of nostalgia so deep it was as if his hand were the one being held. As if he were the son, and his father stood behind his shoulder, so tall and strong and knowing everything about everything. Would Daniel and Leah remember this moment some day, and in the same way?

    Thinking about his children, and then about his father, brought a deep ache. “I’m not taking casual risks, you know that.”

    “Come here for a minute,” she said.

    “Fernie,” he began, but thought better of his objections, and made his way back to the bed.

    Fernie shifted her pillows and maneuvered in the bed until she was sitting with her back against the headboard. She groped in the darkness for his hand. “Can we say a prayer before you leave?”

    “I guess so,” he said reluctantly. “If it’s quick. Go ahead, you say it.”

    She squeezed his hand. “Our Dear Heavenly Father,” she began. “We come before thee to ask thy blessing upon thy servant, Brother Jacob. . .”

    As she asked the Lord to watch over his endeavor, Jacob’s mind turned to the practical problems crowding in from all sides—how to get seed for next spring’s harvest, whether to rebuild the old millrace so they could still make flour if the power failed, when and how to recover their grain from the US Department of Agriculture. And what about the road to Panguitch? The Highway Patrol had given up securing it against bandits, and if Blister Creek didn’t do something about it themselves, it would take a major expedition every time they wanted to leave the valley. Did they have enough wood to keep warm this winter?

    His mind snapped back to Fernie’s prayer as her tone changed.

    “. . .and help Jacob to recognize right from wrong.”

    What was that about? Not like he was going out to kill anyone, he only—

    “And build his faith. Wipe away his doubts, and soothe his troubled heart. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

    Wipe away his doubts? As if it were no more than cleaning up a grimy little face. Here, I’ll spit on my thumb and wipe it off. Oh look, here’s another smudge of doubt up here. There, isn’t that better?

    “Thank you,” he said with some effort.

    “Whatever you do tonight,” she said, “do it with love and hope.”

    “As opposed to fear and pessimism?”

    “Yes, that. We know the Lord is on our side, and all we have to do is trust Him always. He has promised to protect His chosen people during the horrors of the Last Days.”

    “Assuming these are the Last Days,” he said. “And assuming that we are the chosen people and not some crazy polygamist cult in the desert.”

    The painfully earnest tone dropped from her voice. “Are you sure those two things are mutually exclusive?”

    As he kissed her goodbye, Jacob felt his wife settling into her faith. The narrative that she wove for herself, the hand of the Lord in all things. She had prayed and now she knew it would turn out fine.

    Love and hope, he thought, as he reached the hallway and felt his way toward the stairs. He was setting out tonight determined to do business with thieves and smugglers. Love and hope? More like desperation.

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