Obedience peered through the chain link fence. It was something she had done many times before, but this time, it was different.
This time, she was on the outside, looking in.
Inside the compound, Isaac's People, her people, went about their daily tasks, each in their place, each a carefully positioned cogwheel in the Great Plan.
They looked so content. Of course, they were the obedient ones, while Obedience, despite her name, had always struggled doing what she was told. She'd never been content to harvest the vegetables or care for the children or any of the other menial tasks that were the lot of Isaac's People.
Well, Isaac's women, anyway.
She was the only one who didn't want to be there, the only one who doubted, the only one who wanted, needed to escape. She had to be. No one else ever said a word against Isaac's ways.
Fear gripped her heart. What was she doing? How could she leave everything, everyone she knew to do. . .what exactly? She didn't have a plan, she barely had an idea, but here she was, on the wrong side of the fence.
It was too late now. No one was allowed to leave the compound, and there would be no mercy shown if she tried to return. Either they would exile her, and she'd be in the same boat anyway, or they'd lock her in the temple basement until she saw the light, the harshest punishment, reserved for the worst crime: Disobedience.
The sneaky thing about disobedience was that it could strike at any time. You could stray from the way without ever realizing you'd made a wrong turn, oblivious until that moment you were brought before Isaac and his advisors for a judgement you had no idea was coming.
Intent didn't matter--if you disobeyed, the outcome was always the same.
And Obedience couldn't pretend that this was accidental.
Obedience wiped a tear from her face and turned away. She had less than two hours before her absence was noticed. Ever since Helpfulness had been given to Valor in marriage, Obedience had been left to muck out the pigs all on her own, a task reserved for the most troublesome of Isaac's People.
The one advantage was that she was left all alone.
Scaling the fence had been hard. She'd almost lost her nerve. But it was done now, and there was no turning back.
She walked cautiously through woods that had always been only a few yards from her home but that she had never been allowed to visit. She knew that the road lay somewhere through the trees, but other than a vague direction, she didn't really know the way.
Voices. Her blood froze in her veins. She ducked behind an enormous tree and held her breath.
". . .new wife, Valor?"
"Oh, you know. Young and scared, but she does what she's told."
"Good." That was Isaac's voice.
The road must have been closer than Obedience realized. Isaac and his advisors were the only five people permitted to leave the compound, which they did about once a week (on foot as Isaac's Way prohibited the use of motorized vehicles and the last of the horses had died two winters ago).
Obedience closed her ears as the men joked in grating voices about Helpfulness, saying the sorts of things that she had spent a lifetime pretending not to hear.
The voices faded quickly. Wherever they were going, they were in a hurry to get there. She eased her way around the tree, took the final few steps towards the road, and peered down it.
In the distance were five burly men, taking up all the space the narrow road provided, marching towards their destination.
Just ahead of them, Obedience saw The Town.
She'd had no idea it was that close. It was always spoken of as a distant place of evil, somewhere that she should be glad she would never have to visit. She could see buildings, even cars moving in the distance.
It was to this nest of sin that Isaac and the others were heading, completely unburdened by the dangers they were sure to face.
The idea in Obedience's mind grew a little bigger.
Keeping to the tree line, in case they turned, she tracked the men to the edge of town. From the safety of the woods, she saw them enter a low building with windows too dark to see through and a bright, garish light shining above it that declared it to be The Rock Bar.
Bar. Bars were places where alcohol was consumed. Bars were forbidden.
Obedience moved closer, stopping suddenly when the door opened. Two women emerged, wearing trousers and laughing happily. Obedience froze. Sinners! What would they do. . .
One of the woman spotted her, her brow furrowing for a moment at the sight of Obedience's clothes, but then she smiled and waved before she and her friend went on their way.
For villains who had just emerged from a bar, they didn't look particularly demonic.
So, Obedience went in.
Her eyes took a moment to adjust to the dim light and she realized too late that she would be perfectly framed, perfectly visible to anyone inside without being able to see them in turn.
Her eyes made sense of the scene just in time to see Valor disappearing down a flight of stairs, at the back of queue of men.
Obedience counted to twenty under her breath and then, head lowered to avoiding seeing things she should not see, she followed.
The room was large. It took many steps to cross to the door at the top of the staircase that was slowly swinging shut. She expected at any moment that one of the few strangers huddled in the corners would demand who she was, why she was there, but no one said a thing.
She caught the door just before it closed all the way and slipped down the stairs to a barely lit corridor at the end of which she could just see Isaac's distinct profile was entering another door. If he had chosen that moment to look up, he would have seen Obedience, standing there plain as day.
But he didn't.
Instead, he stepped inside, allowing the door to close behind him.
Obedience didn't know what she was doing, but whatever it was, she was beginning to think that it was meant to be.
She hurried down the corridor, passing the door. Now if it opened, it would shield her from view.
The corridor ended in a solid wall, boxes piled haphazardly on the ground and atop rickety shelves, a disordered array of cleaning supplies and beer bottles and other bits and pieces needed, Obedience assumed, to run a bar.
"Just a moment, love!" a woman's voice called.
The door at the top of the stairs opened.
Obedience ducked behind the boxes, letting the shadows hide her.
The woman, who was wearing a short skirt with a shirt that revealed all of her arms and most of her chest, walked down the corridor, taking a deep breath at the second door before opening it and calling in. "Can I get you anything, then?" in a sharp, terse voice.
Obedience's eyes widened. For a woman to talk to Isaac in that tone of voice was the greatest sacrilege, but she didn't seem to be afraid, just very, very irritated.
"Fuck off!" Valor again, always one to shout. Laughter erupted from the room, as if it were the funniest thing they'd ever heard.
The woman slammed the door, or tried to--it was heavy with a weight system that made it close slowly.
"Fucking assholes," she muttered. "I hope you suffocate in that windowless hellhole."
Despite her clear and unapologetic anger, the woman somehow didn't seem to be affected by Valor's harsh words. As she marched back up the corridor it was with the same confidence and certainty as when she had arrived, as if the leaders of the People hadn't just laughed at her.
It was mind-blowing.
Obedience straightened carefully. She surveyed the mess around her.
Isaac said that His People always had to be prepared to use the tools at their disposal.
She picked up a bottle of foul smelling spirits.
She knew all about alcohol. They told you about it in mouth-foaming, angry detail so that you'd know exactly why it was worth avoiding.
Alcohol was flammable. But that didn't matter if there was nothing to--
Her eyes landed on a box of matches.
It truly was meant to be.
She gathered two cleaning rags, the ones most thickly drenched in cleaning chemicals. She stuffed them into two bottle necks.
She lit them.
She stepped towards the door, pulled it open, propping it open with her foot, and threw the bottles in. One landed on a pile of empty boxes, setting them alight in an instant.
The other hit Isaac full in the chest.
"I said I would never marry you," Obedience said to the screaming man.
Before anyone could react, she moved her foot and leaned all her weight against the door. It closed with a dull thud.
There was a key in the lock. She turned it an instant before the first thump shook the door.
"Let us out!" someone yelled, but the door was too thick and the voice too muffled for her to know who it was. She took a step back, her head tilted thoughtfully on one side.
A few tendrils of smoke began to snake out from beneath the door, so she grabbed the remaining rags and stuffed them into the gap.
Then, she turned and walked calmly up the stairs. She imagined that she was the woman in the short skirt and tiny top, confident and sure.
She slid back into the bar. It had filled a little in the time she'd been gone, and it was getting nosier. No one was paying her any attention and so far no one had noticed her crime.
This door also had a key.
She locked it, dropping both keys into her apron where they clinked dully against each other.
"Can anyone smell smoke?" someone asked, but she didn't react. It had nothing to do with her, not anymore.
She crossed the bar, head held high, and stepped out into the darkening street.
"What now, Obedience?" she asked herself, a smile rippling across her face unbidden.
She looked back the way she came, the taller compound buildings just visible above the trees. She pulled her laced headpiece from her head, tossing it to the ground.
Then, she turned away from the only home she'd ever known and walked into the night.