The citizens of the island gathered once again outside the only church any of them had ever seen. No one knew where the church came from, and no one could remember what was on the land before it was built. All anyone could remember was waking up one Tuesday morning and finding a new building on a quiet hillside with a tall steeple that climbed high into the sky.
In fact, no one could even remember making it through an entire service. It seemed they were always interrupted just as the opening prayers were beginning, but even this was hard for anyone in attendance to recall with specificity.
Still, the pews were filled for each service. The people of the island who practiced their faith would flock from the small archipelago to the east, from the deserts to the south, and from the snow-covered mountains to the northwest. Outside of the building, they would greet one another with festive behavior, and before anyone went inside, everyone in attendance would find themselves dancing to songs that only they could hear. It was visual chaos—a parking lot full of adults dancing to their own music—but it wasn’t so different from any other religious service you might see elsewhere.
When the doors opened, the islanders filed into the large sanctuary where they continued to greet one another with strange dances. That’s when a man with blond hair, outfitted in ceremonial robes of brown and red, would approach the pulpit. An observant member of the congregation might even recognize a red necktie wrapped around his right bicep—almost certainly a relic of some past life, but no one ever thought to ask.
“Good morning,” the priest said, and the islanders all moved to their seats.
First, he asked the congregants to pray for those in need, like the Steeles—a family of farmers whose property was raided and razed for the thirteenth time in a month. Another family in a nearby grove had their home pick-axed into nothingness. The island was full of tragedy.
As the priest began the prayers, he was interrupted by theroar of a distant engine followed by a horn loudly blaring through the sky. Members of the congregation felt their eyes widen in vague recognition.
“If I could just have your attention,” the priest started again. “There is nothing to worry about. Let’s just move on to—what’s next?” But he couldn’t remember. This was as far as the service ever progressed.
If any in attendance were willing to remember the futility of their weekly meetings, maybe they could agree to stop. There was something comforting about it, though, even if it was ultimately meaningless. Indeed, even if their prayers were powerless against their impending reset, praying them at least felt proactive.
The priest abandoned the lectern and moved down the center aisle toward the doors in the back of the sanctuary. The others in attendance filed in behind him. Outside, their eyes found that the sky was once again dotted by the small shapes of distant bodies falling sporadically but with purpose from the back of a flying vehicle.
The priest considered what it must be like to fall like that from so high. He wondered if those people had a choice over whether they jumped, but he assumed their plight was as redundant as his own. We’re all just doing the same thing over and over, he thought. Whether we are falling, hoping to be caught or praying, hoping to be heard. We seek comfort in our cycles.
As the first feet touched the ground in a nearby town, the priest’s thoughts were interrupted by distant gunfire.
“We should get back inside,” he started, but it was too late. The members of the congregation panicked, running off in every direction—toward racetracks, summer camps, lighthouses, or drive-in movie theaters. Though they seemed to move in fear, their expressions were blank—like they somehow recognized they had lived it all thousands of times before.
The priest lowered his body to sit on the steps in front of the building. Moments after the parking lot in front of him emptied, the air was filled with a chorus of gunfire, and he knew that the steadfast disciples of his church had been shot. He wept not for them, though. They would be back.
The priest recognized the heavy footsteps of one of the shooters, and he knew his time had come. He closed his eyes, crossed his chest with his hand—a gesture he wasn’t sure meant anything—and prepared, once more, to die. He heard a single shotgun blast ring out, and he was plunged into darkness.
The citizens of the island gathered once again outside the only church any of them had ever seen.
Shane Wilson is an award-winning storyteller. He teaches writing to college students and chases the day with a whiskey and a re-run of The Office. His novels are available wherever books are sold. His latest, The Woman with a Thousand Faces,is forthcoming from GenZ Publishing (2022).