Spiritual fiction

A short list of fantasy / science fiction / speculative fiction where faith is a major element.

Bowker, Richard – Forbidden Sanctuary
Cogswell, Theodore – Spock, Messiah!
Del Rey, Lester – The Eleventh Commandment
Easton, M. Coleman – Iskiir
Elgin, Suzette Haden – Star Anchored, Star Angered
Farmer, Philip Jose – The Stone God Awakens
Foster, Alan Dean – Cyber Way
Grabien, Deborah – Plainsong
Kemelman, Harry – Friday the Rabbi Slept Late
L’Engle, Madeleine – The Wrinkle in Time series

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The Visitors part 10

The disappearances didn’t cause the electricity system to fail. That happened about two years after. Plenty of other bits of what they thought of as civilization had started to disintegrate years before. The disappearances just furthered things along.

So many people had gone off the grid by homesteading that it all finally fell apart, like a gyroscope wobbling to a stop. Without enough people paying for electricity, there simply wasn’t enough money coming in to repair the substations.

The upper management did what upper management has done since there were managers. They laid off all the actual workers, and then stayed on until the bitter end, collecting a paycheck but not doing anything. They didn’t know how.

The end came faster that way, because the people who knew how to do the work were gone. What is the point of managers if they can’t manage to figure out how to do anything themselves? Being able to write up schedules and delegate is a pointless exercise when you don’t have any warm bodies to do the dirty work.

Homesteaders were motivated by fear that the authorities were going to take everything away from them. They figured they can’t take away what they don’t have. Perhaps people also just longed for the good old days, forgetting that if the good old days were so good they would’ve kept them.

There wasn’t a central education system anymore, either. Pretty much the same amount of people who had been homesteading had also been homeschooling. They felt like they could do things better themselves. They didn’t want to give away their power to someone they didn’t know.

This feeling of mistrust of authority had gone on for a long time, in part fueled by repeated warnings of an impending apocalypse. Whether it was brought on by zombies or Jesus or the final battle of the Vikings, people were worried. They turtled in, stocking up supplies and shoring up their defenses.

The times to stretch out and trust were over.

It didn’t make sense how a six-month supply of canned vegetables and tuna was going to help if the world fell apart. It seemed like it would simply delay the inevitable impending slow death. Plus, it might attract unwanted visitors. You know, the ones who didn’t get sucked up in the rapture, or had saved up any food.

One thing it meant was that people who weren’t experts were now in charge of their own lives. Simply being a parent did not qualify them to teach their children. Why they thought that they could do better than someone with a Master’s degree in education made no sense. But they were allowed to do it.

The government thought of it as self selection. They thought of it like this – if you give them enough rope, they will hang themselves. All the educated people will be able to rule over the home-schooled, or the newest fad, “un-schooling”, where the child directs his learning. Who ever thought up that idea? Like a child is going to want to learn how to do anything other than play. They’ll never learn how to read or do math because they won’t know they need it.

The city-zens still paid taxes, so their money still went to the education system their children didn’t participate in it. The government made more money and spent less. It was genius. The city-zens thought they’d gotten out, but in reality they were still buying in.

Similarly, what makes an accountant or a mechanic think he’s suddenly a farmer? Sure, with homesteading he’ll know exactly what goes into his food. He’ll know whether there are pesticides or not. But when his crop fails because he didn’t rotate his crops or add enough phosphorus he’ll be starving and just as clueless.

It was a perfect mess, a confluence of confusion.

Those who were left, who’d survived the crumbling of civilization, were those who knew enough to band together. The lone wolves, the dread pirates of the times faded out, forgotten and forlorn. Those who learned how to share what they had, be it cucumbers or Calculus, they made it.

Of course, they couldn’t be obvious about it. Banding together was forbidden for any group larger than 20 was seen as a threat. The mass protests of the early 21st century had taught the government that. People would suddenly appear in the city streets, banners and drums at the ready, faces obscured and mouths open, shouting slogans in unison. They were flash mobs, no doubt, but they weren’t dancing to a pop tune. They were marching, and marching against austerity, against, authority, or just against.

Sometimes they didn’t even know what they were marching or drumming or shouting against. They just did it, and their numbers stopped traffic and started the government thinking. Any group that was larger than 20 got shut down, no debating, no questions asked. Shut down with water cannon or tear gas or drones. Shut down, shut out, shut off.

The Visitors had to be subtle when they got together, but get together they must, and did. With no social media to communicate their meetings in advance, they hid messages in magazine ads, scrawled slogans in graffiti. Those who knew the code knew it all.

It was time to meet. Now, to find the place.

The Visitors, part 9

Mickey was doodling. If he felt like being fancy about it, he’d say he was sketching, but doodling was more honest, and more fun. People expect something from you if you are sketching. Doodling is for yourself. Nobody has to see it.

He didn’t know how other Visitors could document their Walks by just writing about them. How could they recognize similar places again? Without cameras, drawing on pen and paper seemed the next most logical solution.

There were still cameras these days, just no film. Film hadn’t been made along with many other things in many years. It just wasn’t seen as necessary. So many non-essential things were simply just not produced anymore. What with there being no electricity, and over half the workforce gone, only what was really needed was made these days.

There was still a lot of stuff around, anyway. It wasn’t like anybody was really hurting for material possessions.

Nothing material disappeared when the people did. Even their clothes stayed when they went. Wherever they went, they arrived there the same way they arrived here when they were born. Sky clad, his older sister would say. She didn’t tell him much more about that. Younger brothers can get so embarrassed. It wasn’t worth teasing him. They had enough to worry about.

Mickey went back to his doodling of the last Room, and how he got there. He didn’t care much for words on paper anyway. A pen and paper were made for drawing, to his mind. You saw so much more when you drew it anyway. Much better than writing it down. Of course, sometimes there wasn’t a lot of time to draw at all.

He’d fallen, stumbling into this Room while escaping from the last one. Another warehouse. This was the sixth one in a row. Maybe it meant something? He, Rob and Julia had decided a month ago to look for coincidences, knowing there was no such thing. While they all referred to the Divine by different names, they all knew that coincidences were how (it/she/he) got their attention.

Coincidences were like the annoying alert signal the weather radio used to blare out – “Pay attention!” it would scream in its plaintive warble that went on too long. “What follows next is the real stuff. Your life may depend on it” it was saying. There wasn’t a radio now, but the message was the same.

“Okay so I’m in a warehouse. What is there to see? What am I supposed to notice?” Mickey mused to himself, knowing he was part of the Divine. Talking to himself was really talking with (it/her/him).

The world had slowly adapted to the idea that the Divine wasn’t a He, or even a She. The Divine just was. Somehow, the word “It” wasn’t really seen as polite or respectful though, so somebody had come up with this unusual way of referring to The One, the Creator, etc. After all, who needs gender for someOne that doesn’t have a body or a need to reproduce? The Divine is eternal, and complete. It is us who need mates.

That got Mickey thinking about his girlfriend. Not like Visitors had much time for settling down. Maybe when this mystery was sussed out. Maybe. Life had been put on hold for so long.

The Visitors, part 8

Rob was starting to come to the same conclusion. The connection had to do with thread of some sort. He always wondered later, after Julia and he had compared their notes, if they were able to read each other’s minds. They were forever finishing each other’s sentences. He would often notice she would start talking about the very thing he was contemplating. Apart or together, they seemed to be on the same wavelength.

Perhaps it was something even bigger than psychic phenomena. Maybe the answer was that there was in fact a Creator who was giving them clues and nudges in the right direction. Maybe instead of being connected with each other, they were connected with the One that created it all.

Rob had never really been much of a believer, not like his Gran. Fortunately you don’t actually have to believe in God to be Jewish. He was starting to become a believer now. It was about the only thing left he had to believe in.

It came to him while he was writing. He, like many other Visitors, had a journal of all the places he been. Sure there were some random locations, but the thing that seemed to come out the most was that the towns with the most Rooms were also the towns that had a suburb named something like “Rayon City”. Rob knew from his travels before the disappearances that there were at least three such Rayon Cities in Tennessee. He suspected there were more throughout the country. He needed to know more information.

There had to be a reason for this repetition. His Gran always said that patterns weren’t accidents. “Random is natural, my boy,” she always said. “Patterns are a sign. It pays to read ’em.”

So now he needed to read up on these signs.

Normally he would look it up on the Internet but the Internet didn’t exist anymore, what with the electricity being gone. Time to walk to the library. Every town worth calling itself a town had one. It was one of the few places you could trust for information these days.

————

After about an hour of reading, he learned that Rayon cities were the cities created by the DuPont plants. The plants seemed to have sprung up overnight and the builders were farsighted enough to realize that it would benefit them to build housing for their workers close to the plant at the same time. This insured that their workers would not have a long drive to get to their job site.

That sounded all well and good, but it also ensured that the workers were indebted to their employer for more than just a paycheck. Their employer was also their landlord. Sure, they had a choice of living wherever they wanted. They didn’t have to live in “Rayon City”. But the deal seemed too good to pass up. No money down. And a certain amount deducted every month from their paycheck.

But what does this have to do with anything?

Maybe when he got back with the others, they’d have the other pieces of this puzzle. It was like creating a jigsaw when you’ve lost the box. Not only are you not sure if you have all the pieces, you certainly don’t have the picture. It was hard to know if what they were putting together was right.

While walking to the library, he recognized this town from his previous Walks. He consulted his journal. Two more Doors and he should be back to a stable Room. He’d wait there for them.

The Visitors, part 7

Julia walked until she found a library. The only people who went into libraries these days were the homeless and the curious. Some people used the library as a place to hide from the real world. This has always been true, but even more so now in these lawless days.

There was law, of a sort. There were police officers, and judges, and lawyers. Not as many as there were before the disappearances, sure. And not a one of them Visitors. All Quality, or so old they weren’t really either. So the scales weren’t balanced. Not like they ever were for the weaker members of society.

Libraries were a bit like holy ground. Everybody understood deep in their bones that the libraries were safe for everybody. The really questionable people didn’t go into libraries anymore. There was no longer any electricity. That had gone out about two years after the disappearances. With no electricity, there was no reason to check out DVDs. The shaky people had to find another way to feed their addiction to unreality. Reading, even fiction, was too active a way to spend their time.

Julia walked up the sunlit marble staircase to the third floor landing. There was a long low bench there that looked perfect for a nap. No librarians were around to wake her now. The bench was wide and padded with gold velour upholstery. It was meant for either waiting on the landing to catch your breath or for waiting for other members of your party to catch up with you.

These days, Julia decided she was going to use it to catch up on sleep, or perhaps just to daydream. Sometimes her best ideas he came to her when she was “thinking sideways” as she called it. It was like the best ideas were elusive wild animals that had to be snuck up on, rather than approached straight on. She needed some of those wild animals now.

What was the connection? What was the reason for the disappearances? Why did it affect just the parents of a certain age? It just didn’t make sense. Maybe there was some connection with that and the sudden ability of the Visitors to go on their Walks. Surely that wasn’t just a nice bonus. Being able to travel like that was fun, make no mistake about it. But did it have a purpose? Was it related to the disappearances? Did the solution come with the problem?

Julia was raised to think that there was order and purpose to the ‘verse. It helped her, anchored her in a world that often seemed storm-swept. It helped her especially now, when nothing made sense at all.

Think. What are the connections? Julia always thought best when she was daydreaming or writing. The two were the same to her. One looked passive and one looked active, but deep down they were both ways to connect to the Source. She could learn more from writing in her journal than she ever could from asking someone else. That was always a waste of time. They always put their own two bits in, and often those coins were counterfeit.

She pulled out a pencil and her trusty pad of paper from her canvas messenger bag and started to write. She wrote a little bit about her day to start with. The real writing, the real knowing, would come a little later. It always does. But you can’t just jump in. You have to warm up. It had taken her years to learn this. So she started with the usual – places she’d been, Doors and Rooms she’d visited. She might want to make a map later. Not like it could be a usual flat map. Maybe if she could make one that was like a Moebius strip?

Now was the time to ask the question, when the daydreaming and creating had started. All the answers came from the questions.

“What is the connection between the disappearances?” she scribbled on the lined notebook paper. She wrote for a few paragraphs and nothing helpful came. Maybe it would make sense later. She often reread her journals months later to see if there was anything she missed. She was rarely disappointed.

Trouble is, she needed an answer now. She didn’t have time to wait months. This had already gone on too long. She started writing the words that came to her, hoping that something would jump out. Sometimes writing synonyms helped.

Connection. Fiber. Webs. String.

The image of spools of thread, huge reels of it, kept coming to her. The connection had something to do with string, with binding. This seemed too easy. The thing that tied it all together was literally something that ties stuff together?

She wrote a little more, and nothing else came to her. This had to be it. But what did it mean?

The Visitors part 6

“Ha! What do we have here?”

Julia woke with a start. A beautiful man was staring at her. This wasn’t good for many reasons.

For starters, it meant that her plan to rest and then escape quietly had fallen to pieces. Secondly, any strange man was a danger. But thirdly, a beautiful man was even more dangerous.

Julia’s Gran had taught her to always look for a boyfriend who was beautiful but didn’t know it. Many guys who were beautiful knew it, and thus had a very high sense of entitlement. Little did they realize that often the only thing they had going for them was their looks. They were often incompetent in every other area because they hadn’t needed to develop any part of their inner self. The exterior was all that mattered, because it is what got them attention.

When these beautiful men started to get older their looks started to go and so did their confidence. They tended to make up for it by being complete jerks to everyone around them. They treated everyone as lesser than them.

The fact that this man was Quality made it all the worse. He had two strikes against him, although he sure didn’t think of it that way. He was dangerous and didn’t even know it.

Being able to size people up like this was critical to a Visitor. Gran had taught her well for this life, even though she never meant to. Julia had a good idea how to act around him in a way that would keep her safe. Maybe even away from the authorities too.

She could tell this man had an undeservedly high opinion of himself, and she was going to have to tread very carefully. Not like she was treading at all right now. She didn’t exactly have her back up against the wall but it was just as bad. She was still in the bed and a little entangled in the sheets. Hopefully because of this he wouldn’t see her as a threat. But more importantly, she hoped that he wouldn’t feel the need to be threatening at all. You never knew with these kinds of encounters. Julia hadn’t had a lot of them, but any unintentional run-in with Quality was one too many.

He was about average height, less than 6 feet tall. His hair was salt-and-pepper. To be honest, it was more salt than pepper. He had it pulled back into a ponytail. This let her know even more about him. Her Gran always said “Any man who thought he was something was really nothing.”

She said a quiet prayer to her Gran right now to know what to do.

She didn’t have much time to finish her prayer before the man decided for her. He grabbed her by one ankle and dragged her out of the bed.

“Get out of here! This isn’t your home! The Lady is coming home soon, you hear?”

Her breath was knocked out of her when she landed on the floor. So much for plush carpets – they didn’t soften the blow one bit. Scrambling, she grabbed the spare dress she’d taken from the last room and ran headlong out of the bedroom and downstairs. She headed for the front door rather than try to find the servant’s entrance.

It was locked. Of course. Because that would keep out Visitors. Don’t these people know anything?

Fumbling with the latch and the deadbolt, she was out, nearly tripping over the stone statue of a lion next to the immaculately trimmed shrubbery. Must be nice to have that much money and time. Oh wait – they didn’t. It was all stolen.

She tried not to be bitter about how unfair it all was. And they accused Visitors of being thieves! Time to move on. This kind of thinking would just keep her distracted, and she needed to keep her wits about her. She was in foreign territory.

Julia had time to think about that encounter on her walk away from the home. She was walking, not running. Running would call too much attention to her. She was dressed well enough, having taken some sensible shoes from the closet in the last Room. She could play the part, now she was dressed like it. Walking would clear her mind and help her blend in.

Quality walked their neighborhoods. For exercise maybe? Maybe to see their neighbors? Maybe as part of a patrol? Nobody ever knew about them. The Visitors watched and studied them like the threats they were. These people had suddenly gone up in status but not in brains. They didn’t make much sense to anybody, least of all themselves.

He’d been worried about the Lady. That was odd. Julia wondered about that. Another case where the relationship was unequal? Sometimes the couple was just posing as a couple. Sometimes they didn’t know each other well and had decided to occupy an abandoned house together, as uneasy roommates. Sometimes it worked out. Sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes the houses were big enough that they could live together there and not ever see each other. That seemed to work out well.

Julia kept walking towards the city. There’d be no opportunity to find another Door in the suburbs. It wasn’t like she could just knock on some stranger’s door and ask to use their inter-dimensional portal.

If they had one. If they knew they had one.

Come to think of it, how did that last Lady know where the Door was? Was she a Visitor, posing as Quality? Or had other Visitors come through there?

That was a question for another day.

Now, to find a municipal building or a store – some place she was allowed to walk in unquestioned. She had to get back to Rob and Mickey. There was time yet, but in this life you had to make the best use of the time you had. You never knew what was going to happen next on the Walks.

The Visitors, part five

Julia had to squeeze through the cabinet doors to get to the Door. The marquetry panels on the cabinet’s front were beautiful, but they didn’t shine like Doors usually did. She was afraid that maybe she had read the lady wrong, maybe this was a set up. She had little time to wonder. The Lord, if he was one, might catch on quick to her ruse and come upstairs soon. She’d be sure to go to the authorities this time.

Trust, Julia thought. Try harder. Relax. Being tense won’t help.

Taking a breath in, she shifted her head so that the sunlight caught the back of the cabinet. Then she saw it. The rainbow shimmer that meant she’d found the pot of gold she been searching for. A little push and her hand went through the wood, like the wood was as insubstantial, as shifting, as the veil of a waterfall. She didn’t have time to admire this effect so she shoved the rest of herself through, taking a dress that was hanging in the cabinet as an afterthought.

It wasn’t stealing, really. The lady had given her the dressing robe. If she’d known of Julia’s need, she surely would have given her a change of clothes as well.

Not like the Quality were any better. They were thieves, all of them. Well, most of them. Most of the Quality had taken over the suddenly empty houses a decade back. They had gotten bolder and bolder, going from condos to ranchers, then to mansions and villas. Nobody could afford those big houses anymore, so they took them. It was like robbery but without a gun.

At first they were timid about it. “We’ll just keep the place up for the owners until they come back.” some said, like they were housesitting. Like they were related. Like anyone was around to care. The police had better things to worry about, what were left of them, that is. The disappearances had hit all classes, occupations, all races. Everything was up in the air and up for grabs, so the quality grabbed, and grabbed hard.

Julia was on the other side and in yet another large house. Unusual. But things had been so odd lately that unusual was becoming the usual.

She was in a closet this time, so she had time to listen. No voices. Good. Perhaps the Lord or Lady were out. Who knew what they did when they were out? It certainly wasn’t work.

Slowly pushing open the door of the closet, she peered out into a baby blue bedroom. Deep shag carpet tickled her toes. Sheer lace curtains softened some of the light. So she was in the same time zone as the last Room, judging by the light.

No clocks worked anymore, none that needed batteries that is, so looking at the sun’s angle had been adopted by Visitors who cared about such things as time. It helped if you had somewhere you had to be. You could see how off you were at least. It was better than nothing.

The Quality, well, they could use old-fashioned windup clocks, if they bothered. Most didn’t need to know what time it was anyway. They slept until they were done, ate when they wanted, and stayed up as late as they liked. They were a lot like children. Or college kids.

Julia thought about taking a nap on the queen-sized bed in front of her. It looked inviting, with its layers of comforters and pillows. There were so many pillows she knew that this had to be a guest bedroom. No real person would remove all those pillows every night to sleep, would they? That would be insane.

Maybe if she curled up sort of amongst the pillows she’d be overlooked if the new tenants (she couldn’t think of them as owners) came back. She’d forgotten how long it had been since she had slept more than an hour at a time. Things were starting to look shimmery, and not just Doors.

It was early enough in the day it was worth the risk. After all, her luck had gotten her this far, it was sure to continue. The house was big enough that they probably never even came in this room anyway.