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Christian Contemporary Fiction

On the morning of the longest day of the year, a fog swept into the Rhine valley and choked off the morning sunlight. Only hints of the rooftops and dim squares of light across the street from Anna’s kitchen window poked through the dark and it felt like Phaeton had died a second time and the sun was in mourning for his son, leaving it to the incendiaries to light the world again. Anna set aside the Kahlua she’d planned to tip into her coffee and drank it black.

     She decided to go for a run. Her body, she told herself, would thank her the next morning, when it would, according to plan, be unable to move. 

     As she wove through Basel backstreets toward the perimeter of the city she re-ordered her day: two mimosas with breakfast with a Bloody Mary before, a White Claw refresher before lunch which would see her finishing off the bottle of champagne and then an alcohol pop as dessert…

     When she entered the woods, her thoughts stopped. The gloom filtered through the tree trunks, the dark silenced the crunch of her feet on the path, only a few scattered songbirds called to the dawn late to come. It was as though Zeus had visited Alcmene’s bed again and was stretching out the night so as not to have to leave. 

     Anna’s legs carried her faster than usual. Only when the crack of a squirrel moving through the understory startled her, did she realize she had forgotten her headphones. Anna always ran with headphones. The cool, dark air prickled her skin. At the first fork she took the path leading to the longer loop. 

     Her body, she told herself, needed to be ready. It was okay to run longer. There would be time for the plan. 

The plan: twenty-one drinks. On June twenty-first of the twenty-first year of the twenty-first century Anna was turning twenty-one. Twenty-one drinks, spread out over the longest day of the year, seemed only proper for such a convergence. 

     Anna was not alone in her project. Social media was full of groups and countdown clocks attended by the words wasted, wrecked, comatose. Finally, this cursed generation, born right before everything went to shit, before 9/11 and Iraq and Afghanistan and the Great Recession and the Tea Party and Newtown and Pulse and Trump and the Pandemic, would be allowed to drown their sorry fates legally. Millennials could go fuck themselves. At least for them social media was, however briefly, a wonderful occurrence and not an obligation they had to navigate. Anna never added her voice to the threads of nihilistic humor—she read to feel less alone.

     In Basel she was alone. Her fellow students in the lab had been able to purchase beer legally with sixteen; everything else with eighteen. They did not understand her. 

     “But you know you can just drink now,” Philip said to her two weeks ago. They were on the roof of the physics building watching the sun go down and grilling steaks. One of the professors had just had a paper accepted to Science and they were celebrating. Anna had told the gathered of her plan for her upcoming birthday while she sipped at her coke. 

     “Yes, but I’ve waited so long,” Anna said. “It would be silly to just, you know, drink now.” 

     “And why is it that you’ve not had any alcohol before?” Philip said. He wore an ironic mustache the caught the setting sun with a tawny glint. 

     “Because I was a God-kid,” she said. 

     A what?   

     This was another reason Anna felt alone in Basel despite it’s old, ornate churches and religious festivals and images of Christ and the saint bestowing their names upon the different quartiers—religion was even more casual than the drinking. People did not give much thought to it either way. 

     Back in Kentucky, God-kid was a label everyone understood. Every high school had God-kids: those boys and girls whose faith was their identity in a community where almost everyone attended a church. They walked the halls together, wore the same bracelets, coordinated when they would don their bright-colored Christian camp t-shirts. They made a show of smiling at everyone. If confronted with LGBTQ+ criticism or by those who got drunk on the weekends—so you think I’m going to hell?—they responded with a Jesus-loves-everyone shrug. 

     Junior year they disappeared for a week in Chrysalis camp somewhere in the Kentucky foothills and returned with eyes wide with the certainty of their blessed immortality.  

    “But Jesus turned water into wine,” Larissa said. Her hair fell in twin braids over her chest that glistened with sweat in the sun. 

     “It wasn’t necessarily alcoholic,” Anna said. “Plus Christ’s truth was not yet manifest.”

     “That doesn’t make sense,” Philip said. 

     “Why would drinking be a sin anyway?” Larissa said. 

     “My body is a temple,” Anna said. “Alcohol is poison.”

     “Sugar is poison,” Larissa said. “Raisins are poison.”

     “Raisins are wine that failed,” Philip said. He was already a bit tipsy. 

     “Those are just things they told us to say,” Anna said. “I’m drinking in two weeks.”

At every fork in the road Anna took the path that looped her farther and farther from the city and her apartment. Weak light sliced through the foliage. She stayed within the embrace of the trees, the older ones wrapping their bark around the slumbering bodies of dryads. 

      It was the myths that did it. Not the physics or the chemistry classes for her major, but the seminar on myth she took to satisfy a general education requirement her freshman year. They just did not sound different enough, these myths. Their cadence the same as all those Bible verses she had memorized. The professor had said something about zero focalization. 

     All those Bible studies had prepared her for direct attack, not indifferent similarity. Not for Dionysus also born from a mortal woman or for Gilgamesh’s flood or Ashmeratu’s return from death. 

     Anna emerged from the forest gloom and began slicing through an unknown field. The sun, higher than expected, had scorched the clouds and burned the blue of the sky pale. Her legs and her arms ached; her lungs burned. She was suddenly slathered in sweat, and she was lost. 

     At the crest of a hill, Basel spread out distant beneath her, the new towers spiking up from the magma of the old roofs. All of it swam in heat of the sun. Anna stopped and the air stood still. The heat intensified. 

     To defeat his enemies, Joshua needed more time and bade the Lord to make the sun and moon stand still. And the Lord complied. Not often in myth are days longer than they should be—it’s the terror of night that is prolonged. 

     For a fleeting moment, Anna thought she would stay there, atop that unknown hill, looking down at the city she did not know, removed from it. She had lost her faith freshman year, but she still went to church every Sunday morning and every Sunday night. She did not want people to know. When her father called on Sunday he asked what the sermon was about and Anna always had an answer. 

     She went to church freshman year and sophomore year and the first semester of her junior year and then she got her study abroad in Basel. Her father found a church and wrote the pastor and he wrote back an ecstatic message about welcoming Anna to their “celebrations.”

     “Isn’t that a relief?” her father said. He kissed her on the top of her head when they said goodbye at the airport. 

     Anna did not go. The pastor wrote her to see how she was getting along, asking if maybe she needed help navigating the city. Her dad had given him her email. She did not write back. Her dad wrote to say that the pastor said she had never shown up at the fellowship. She did not write back. He wrote to say he was worried about her and asked if he needed to come. She knew he wouldn’t come. He did not even have a passport. She did not write back. He wrote to say that he loved her, that her whole family loved her. She did not write back. 

     The semester ended in May, but she’d long ago changed her ticket and signed on a new project over the summer with newly published professor. Anna and Philip and Larissa and some others. She had let her exchanged ticket expire. 

     The heat and hunger drove her from the top of the hill. The path forked at twin entrances to the woods and she chose the darker, cooler path, but it was only a sort of park and Anna found herself run-stumbling down hot, slanted streets in a quartier she had never visited. The houses arched rich and imposing over her. She let momentum carry her to another unknown, but flat part of the city. The streets were a grid that shuddered with heat. The grid collapsed upon itself. At every turned corner there was the expectation of a monster she would not be able to defeat. 

     Everything in the Old Testament came true, they told them at Chrysalis camp. Outside the crickets sang in protest of the evening and the birds feasted upon them. That means everything in the New Testament will come trueJesus is your compass

     Somehow, she came to the train station. The back of the train station. She knew the way back only from the front of station and she didn’t have a mask to pass through. She chose a direction and ran until she saw something familiar, a graffiti tag that riffed on prescription short hand, then she ran to something else familiar, a church with spreading magnolia trees. She ran from familiarity to familiarity, the air growing cooler, the wind picking up, until she arrived at home. 

     Only when turning the key to the building door did she realize she had not taken her pone with her either. 

     The door to her apartment was blocked by bottles of liquor and wine and beer sweating in the humidity. Some of them were empty, some of them were tipped over. There was a note on the door. 

Dear Anna 

A neighbor let us in. We waited, but we have to go. We drank some of it. Sorry!

Happy Birthday,

Philip. 

She unlocked her door and stepped over the bottles. Before she closed the door, she swiped a bottle of white wine from the floor. 

     She was not going to drink twenty-one drinks on her twenty-first birthday on the twenty-first of June of the twenty-first year of the twenty-first century. It was a meaningless convergence of numbers, much of it based on the retroactive dating of man she no longer believed in. 

     When the sun went down, she would open the bottle and drink the whole thing. And then maybe she would drink the champagne in the fridge and the bottle of vodka gleaming next to her sink. 

     First there was wind and then the complaint of the leaves, followed by the groan of the house and then the rain came in sheets. Threads of water connecting sky to land and whipped against the sides of the building. All evidence of the summer sun was gone. 

     On Halloweens, instead of trick-or-treating or visiting haunted houses, Anna and the other God-kids read the passage where, after Jesus’ death the sun was blotted from the sky and the temple curtain was torn asunder and the dead walked from their tombs. They giggled over the first zombies. 

     Do you think they at biblical brains. Maybe they were looking for Lazarus’ house, because I mean, he’s the first zombie. What about that one girl?!

     The joys of fellowship were other people knowing exactly what you were talking about. 

Outside was not a real sunset. On the day Jesus’ died and sun must have returned and the inhabitants of Jerusalem must have blinked at the light and wondered if anything had really happened. 

    Anna would wait for the sun to return and for it to set. She put the white wine in the fridge next to the champagne. The air was thick and she was still sweating, but there was no reason to shower. She had imagined making bad decisions when drunk, she imagined Philip’s ironic mustache, she imagined how it would feel, what would look like against her skin.

     She sat at the kitchen table and stared out the window. The rain was so thick she could hardly see houses across from her. No one and switched on the light, as though they feared offending the sudden dark. 

     The sun broke beneath the clouds and set the rain on fire, and it was the end of the world. Nothing happened. A trick of the light. Anna watched and waited for the quality of light to change, to dim, to disappear. The light did not move. The day stretched on. She knew the day would not end. 

      Some of the assembled bottles in the hallway clanked to the floor. There was a knock at the door. Anna knew who it was. 

June 25, 2021 12:12

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1 comment

Sudhir Menon
08:24 Jul 02, 2021

A well-written story which reveals that the author is a master of imagery. The vivid descriptions of the different elements at various stages of the story, bring to life the experience of the protagonist. Besides, the author's rendering of metaphorical situations based on Greek mythology was invigorating for the overall pace of the story. Hope to read more of the author's work in future. A few typographical errors could be identified and removed.

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