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The Final Exodus
The crackling of the flames coming from across the street sent a jolt through my body. My family had waited until it was too late to leave this town. Father had tried, but the government had his head by the time he said the name, ‘Jesus’. My mother emerged from her room, holding what I assumed to be bibles. My two sisters, Ramone and Ezra, followed behind her; they had abandoned the faith. And I almost had, too, as the youngest and most exposed to mainstream culture. Something gave me hope to keep trusting in God, though.
My mom grabbed my face, saying, “We’ll talk about this later, but right now, we need to get out of here.” But it’s too late, I wanted to say. The T.A.O. (or the Totalitarian Atheist Organization) had already started mass executions of those who believed in God or a god, including burning, lynching, and decapitation. If you gave up your beliefs, you were off the hook. And I wasn’t about to do that. We all huddled up in the computer room to wait for the T.A.O. to clear up. Even from the inside, we could hear the screeches of the children as the bombs exploded, smell the burnt flesh of the congregation still worshipping while burning, see the bodies losing their strength, giving up their fight.
I grabbed all of our wooden cross necklaces from the computer desk -- even if Ramone and Ezra didn’t believe anymore -- and put it over our necks. I touched the wedge of sapphire in the middle. Ramone and Ezra didn’t bother taking theirs off. As a finale to show their supremacy, members of the T.A.O. climbed atop the roof of the church, dismantled the cross, and dropped the pieces into the fire below. “We need to go.” I looked into the frightened eyes of my mother. I grabbed the bag, whatever it was filled with, and led my family into the garage. We piled into the blue Lexus when we heard shouts. “No God or get out.” They shouted. Any other day, I would have mercy, but this was my family, and I’d put myself on the line before them. I tightened my grip on the wheel until my knuckles turned white. My mom jumped as the engine came to life. I grabbed the stick shift and moved it to Drive. I looked back to my sisters, saying, “This might be a bit unorthodox.” They pushed against the seats as the car ripped through the aluminum garage door and bodies of the protestors smacked against the windshield, some going under the car.
“Prisca, we have to save the people who are still-”
“Christ!” Ramone shouted. My mother gave her a pensive glance until she understood why she had said it: the T.A.O. had moved on to breaking into people’s houses. Finding any form of religion gave them the legal authority to arrest the members. We saw it with our own eyes; people put in handcuffs for a belief, their religious texts being set ablaze by a group of people who had hatred of anything metaphysical.
“It can’t be helped.” Ezra said. “We need to go somewhere safe, somewhere where we won’t be pursued by the T.A.O.”
“The T.A.O. has millions of recruits. They’re everywhere, but they’re more prominent in America right now. We can move somewhere temporarily, but eventually, they’ll find us. I know you and Ramone aren’t Christians, but we need to stay in this together.” I said.
We witnessed many more accounts of unfair arrests by the time we arrived at the airport. Many families had decided to flee America in order to escape the T.A.O. We could barely navigate through the amount of cars in the car lot.
“Mom, we’re going to have to leave the bibles in the car.” Ramone said.
“No, we need to keep them.” I said.
“How come?” Ezra asked. “Why can’t we just renounce our Christianity and avoid being killed?”
“As Matthew 10:33 says, ‘but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.’” My mother said.
I knew we’d never get into our blue Lexus again, so I stopped the car in the middle of the car lot and parked. When we got out of the car, Ramone said, “Careful not to accidentally say Jesus in the airport, the alarm might sound.” I bet Ramone would be happy to get rid of me; she’d have one less person to tell her about Jesus all day. Cautiously, I tucked the necklace into my sweater.
When we walked into the Cimaroon airport, we were greeted by glowing hexagonal machines that acted as humans. Slim triangular structures held up the ceilings that looked like the inside of an umbrella. Compared to the size of the buildings, the people looked like clusters of ants as they were led to their flights. I was relieved when we walked through the body scanner and it didn’t realize our necklaces. Ramone and Ezra had left theirs in the car. Next to the scanner was a Qylatron machine, the first one I had seen.
“Please place your items inside.” The Qylatron said. A hexagonal door at the bottom opened up. My mother put the bag inside. The lights on the side of the door flashed red. A man with frayed hair and a blue vest came up to us.
“So, you’ve come to spread Jesus? That’s nice, but y’all are under arrest.”
“But we’re not even Christians.” Ramone said, grabbing Ezra and stepping aside from the rest of us. A small wooden tray with four handcuffs on it protruded from the hexagonal door. While putting the handcuffs on our wrists, the man said, “I don’t care if you two aren’t. You’re traveling with them,” he pointed to my mother and I, “and they’re Christians.”
It was morning by the time we got out of the airport. The man escorted us to his white Dodge car.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Mitchell. I’m the top officer for the T.A.O. We don’t believe in execution at the prison. We just wait for the inmates to denounce their religion, then we set them free.” The air suddenly cooled when we arrived at the prison. Large fences guarded the dirty beige, four story building with a pediment at the top. Mitchell led us through the roach-infested hallways lined with delirious patients. Some cursing at the air, others digging into their skin. On the second floor we were greeted by the peace-makers, so sweet that they sickened me. Unlike the inmates downstairs, they were allowed to have a person in the cell with them. Our cell was the fifth one to the left on the third floor -- or should I say mine. Mitchell threw me into the cell, taking my mother and two sisters to another floor. A man with dark brown shaggy hair was crouched over his bed, diligently studying the bible, his hand enclosed around a necklace. He turned to face me.