“Lies! Lies! Lies!” It took all Sara Wright could muster just to sit through her Pastor’s sermon to the end. Her head reeled with anger and frustration. She just wanted him to finish so she could leave. But she had to keep up appearances, had to sit there pretending that she didn’t want to scream out loud.
All her life, Sara attended church each Sunday. It was her parent’s church, her siblings church, and the church of many of her closest friends. She knew everyone and everyone knew her. This place of love and beauty had all changed for her now. After so many years of faith, she hung on by a thread, her spiritual heart barely beating. Never at rest, she regretted having ever become a Christian. She blamed God for the terror that had now struck her life.
Some part of Sara still remembered the taste of God’s mercy, but it was a distant, fading memory. When she smiled she gave herself away. It was the smile of someone hurting for reasons too difficult to explain. She held onto her wounded faith with scarred hands, wondering if the day would ever come when Jesus would set her free. So much trouble. So much pain. “Where is God? He’s right here, but I can’t see him. He’s all around, speaking in the wind, but I can’t hear him. I am to him a cold burden he has grown tired of, cast aside to fend for myself, torn apart by spiritual enemies.”
Dan could hardly remember his name any more. It felt like years since sleep held any restorative value for him. His hands were jittery. Tears welled up in his eyes frequently, without warning, his emotions so on edge that he could no longer restrain them. His wife and children acted as if they hardly knew him. He was a stranger in their midst. Not at all the big and powerful man he’d been all his life.
Something strange had happened to him. The confidence he once held fell away in an instant, as if a sword had dropped from heaven, struck him down and divided his heart and mind. He stumbled just formulating simple thoughts. Fear gripped his bones. Nightmares filled his sleep. Even while awake he trembled at closing his eyes. Each time he worried what his imagination might conjur up next to melt his soul.
Considered a casualty of the epidemic, they’d sent him to numerous psychologists, but he just could not explain what was happening. It didn’t make sense to him either. He wasn’t insane, that was clear from his profile. The doctors engaged him at length, but all he could really say was that he felt something. It was attacking him, but he couldn’t say what it was. Maybe it was the illness. He felt sick every day.
Medical tests revealed he had developed a heart murmer. It was clear that stress was taking a terrible toll on his body, but a physical cause didn’t show up. The investigators continue to think there must be a psychological root to the issue, but can’t explain why Dan had been fine up until about four months ago.
“Marcus, you know those white people are just crazy! You stay away from them!”
“Yeah… but… (sigh) I don’t know. These are good people, Angie. And not all of them are white. Tricia got sick too. So did that Chinese guy, David Wu.”
“That’s because they were listening to those white people!”
“Look, Angie, they were all just trying to help the community. They built the gym. They paid for scholarships. They even went to the city and gave kids shoes, coats, and school supplies. They were making a difference.”
“Well if they were so good, why are they so crazy now?”
“I don’t know. But it made a difference.”
“I just don’t want you to get sick with them, honey.”
Marcus held and kissed his worried wife. He knew how hard it was for her to see him go off to work every day. He’d been on the fringe of the group that got sick. He had no idea how things had come to this. Sure, people went a little overboard with that whole book thing, but it wasn’t a cult. They just got motivated to change their lives and their community. Some had bubbled up to the top as leaders proposing projects. People got really involved. Then something just went wrong. Who knows… maybe it would all still turn out to be a virus they didn’t recognize, or some new bug, or maybe a reaction to something they’d all eaten. Who knows. All he knew was the he was still standing… but he wanted to be as far away from that book as he could get.
Will Taylor liked where he was at Capstone Printing. Ian was a great boss. Tom and Raj made everyone in the company feel like family. He had friends and activities with them. His web programming skills were put to good use. Life was good. Then things started happening.
He noticed that people who were good friends for years would suddenly post inappropriate comments towards each other on the company “Metadata” intranet message board. He’d editted some of them out quickly to save people’s jobs. They were stepping over the line, revealing obvious personal secrets, digging at religious issues that might upset some people, and risking legal consequences. He tried sending private emails to the offenders about it, warning them that if Jenna saw these things she’d have a fit and asking them to please stop.
He was just trying to help and protect them, but before he knew it he suddenly had enemies. They stopped posting messages on Metadata, but the tension just seemed to grow. He was caught in the middle of some kind of underground fight. People that were friendly now treated him like he was against them and needed to be punished. It all came to a head when he arrived in the office one morning to find someone had taken a picture of his son in a gymnastics class and wrote “Gay” on it with a highlighter. That ticked him off.
He brought the picture to Ian Powell, his manager. Ian just downplayed it, like it was not worth getting upset about. He got so mad he just walked out the door. He didn’t even resign. He just never came back.
Will knew about the epidemic. He felt guilty for giving up so easily on his job there. Deep in his heart he knew there were good people there. And now he wondered if what he’d seen was some kind of strange side effect of the sickness. He was embarrassed for leaving the way he did, especially in view of his friendships in the company. Some had called him about his leaving, but he held back the details and just told them he felt he needed a new direction. He didn’t think he could ever come back. And he certainly didn’t want to get sick himself. “The investigators must be getting closer to identifying the cause now. Maybe when the dust clears this will make more sense and I can talk to people.”
Will picked up some donuts to bring to his new office. He had a meeting with marketing first thing, to discuss improvements to the shopping cart handling on the website. As he pulled into the parking lot his cell phone started to buzz in his pocket. He looked at the number. “Area code 301… not sure where that is.”