Children throughout the Shur desert, Chosen and UnChosen alike, attend mandatory lessons in the same classrooms. The Church does not discriminate. There is no segregation among these people. This Saturday afternoon, the plump supplemental school teacher tells eight year old boys and girls “Our two social classes are united against bloodthirsty heathens. You do remember who they are, right? superstitious animals who destroy our cities. Evil.”
Chosen and UnChosen children alike are educated about this singular threat to the oasis parishes in which they cower. Today, a full class in the unguarded city of Gomorrah learns from a Chosen teacher “A marked difference between the composition of Church parishes is simply geographical – a majority of Chosen people live inside walled cities such as our capitol, Khetam.”
She tells them “Descendants of UnChosen workman, those men who physically built the defensive barrier, are also permitted to live behind the protection of the Wall.”
Ms. Mendel worships. “Praise the Church and its wisdom. How else would we have water?”
Benedict Ishkott thinks over the question. Deeper, the boy contemplates the unclassified information Ms. Mendel has imparted.
“Hell with that,” he says to himself inside. As quietly, Ben whispers “I wish I was Chosen.”
Inflected with equivalent disdain, the boy asks his teacher aloud “Where do heathens get water?”
Ms. Mendel laughs. “Silly, they drink blood.”
Ben stutters “But...”
Before the kid recovers his sensibility, the plump teacher comments. “I'll tell all you children something the Church doesn't talk about anymore.”
“Is is illegal?” asks a little girl. Her name is Tamara.
Ms. Mendel says “No, this was before visual media was banned.”
“What?” the whole of the pubescent kids wonder together. The question feels as would an ocean wave all these children will never feel roll over even one.
Their teacher replies “Printed materials – book, magazines. Television and movies.”
The examples Ms. Mendel provide are as ephemeral as unseen seas. Any nostalgia reflected in the faces of these children is merely a pining recollection inherited from their parents. A whole generation has passed since the ban had been enacted.
Difficult still, Ben queries concerning the restrictions the Church levied upon communication – all that remains is radio broadcast military bulletins and Church doctrines. “Why?”
Ms. Mendel knows what the boy is curious about. “Images are subversive, Ben. And there was that discovery of background cosmic radiation. The Church will allow no avenue into the world. The Chosen will dictate when the Mortal God will be allowed to join his creation.”
“What were you gonna tell us about, Ms. Mendel?” demands a precocious little boy.
Ms. Mendel gives the kid respect he obviously lacks for his genetic superiors. Judah Ismael here is UnChosen, but his father has money. The Ismael family commands crime all throughout Gomorrah. This power makes each of them equivalent any priest in the Church beside the pontiff. The Chosen school teacher defers to the kid's unquestionable might.
“I was going to tell you children about Lazy the Pig.”
Judah says “Go on.”
The woman clears her throat and actually presses out a frown with the palm of her hand. “Okay, all of you know how heathens lay siege to walled cities, right?”
After a breath, Ms. Mendel adds “All right, this is about a cartoon.”
“Huh?” Judah grunts. Other kids copy his response.
Ms. Mendel insists “Let me explain, this is the origin of a cartoon called Lazy the Pig. This story is in the Bible. I can petition the Church and read it to you directly. They'll give me permission, I'm sure.”
“No,” all the kids groan.
Empowered, Ms. Mendel tells her class “This happened long after the crucifixion.”
The woman inhales, holds her breath then says “This happened about 420 AD.”
She is still stingy with her air and claims “But Masada isn't very far from here.”
A story accompanies her exhalation.
“I don't think any of you children have heard about the Siege of Masada but I know your parents know what happened. Masada was built on a steep hill – a mesa, really. And there was a wall around that. Well, heathens slaughtered its division of the Chosen military – for what it was in those times – and the enemy breached the wall. But they couldn't get into the city itself.”
Judah insists “What about the pig?”
Ben wonders “Where did Masada get water?”
Ms. Mendel is quick and snaps “Lazy is why the siege came to an end. The heathens lost and the Chosen prevailed. The UnChosen did nothing to help even then.”
The woman's outburst has no impact on the little Ismael. The boy decides he sits quietly and waits for a more complete answer. His passive demeanor prompts the teacher and Ms. Mendel continues her story.
“Heathens surrounded Masada forty months. Thank the wisdom of the Church, the Chosen had stored provisions for just that long. Food, water – they had livestock, too, but in the end the animals became diseased.”
Tamara wonders “Did the UnChosen of Masada die?”
“A few, some.”
Ben asks the teacher “What about Chosen?”
“No,” Ms. Mendel attests with a smile. “There was a miracle.”
“The Chosen are never helpless, even when we're starved and locked behind walls. Our power manifested that day.”
“What happened?” Tamara asks but the teacher already speaks. The girl boggles at what she hears.
“The Chosen didn't die and the heathens were running out of food, too. The enemy didn't have stores like the Chosen of Masada but they did bring their women. The heathen impregnated their wives, aborted their babies then ate the dead fetuses. Some of them were still alive.”
Giggles and gasps divide the class.
“In the end, all either side could do is taunt each other. Heathens did something else that isn't in the Chosen Bible, it might be in their book...”
“Their clay tablets, their mud pies,” Judah chuckles.
Ms. Mendel laughs with the boy. “If they ever learned to write.”
The woman returns to her story. “The Chosen of Masada eviscerated a sick pig – they tore out the animal's guts because heathens have this strange idea that heaven is located in the intestines. Then the people of Masada erected the disemboweled carcass upon a cross. The beams of that cross were arranged the same as the one used when we crucified the Mortal God.”
“Were the heathens pissed?” inquires a disturbingly attentive Ismael.
“No,” confesses Ms. Mendel. “So the Chosen catapulted the dead animal into the heathen army.”
Judah laughs so loud that Ms. Mendel must stop talking until the boy needs air. The woman thinks what comes next will help the kid split his side open. When his echo is done, she tells more.
“At first, nothing happened. The heathens were too afraid and wouldn't touch it. Then the pig came to life.”
A tumult of laughter deafens the giggling class. Nobody hears Ben ask “Without its guts?”
Ms. Mendel yells above the noise “And the heathens ran away.”
The class quiets enough and the teacher summarizes a sermon. “The children of Masada – not one older than any of you kids – children shouted after the retreating army. They screamed.”
“There's your Living God. His name is Lazarus. Lazy the Pig.”
“All the Chosen and the UnChosen who survived laughed because the heathen ran from their god. That's where the cartoon came from,” she tells her class.
Chuckling, she concludes this day's lesson. “Heathens say their Living God will return and destroy us. We point and laugh at their pig. We used to, on TV.”
“What about the Mortal God,” Ben asks the woman. “Aren't the Chosen and heathen gods the same?”
Ms. Mendel promises the boy “No gods are getting into our cities. Chosen lock their doors.”
Like this story? Read Matthew Sawyer's goddamn Pazuzu Trilogy. All of it. The epic languishes.