Finding Faith, a short story by N. L. Buckley at Spillwords.com

Finding Faith

Finding Faith

written by: J. L. Wells

 

2 Days After the End of the World

“I was right.”

I had seen a few doomsday prophets in my time at the bureau; a couple of cult leaders, but all of them had spouted such nonsensical predictions or used fear for their own nefarious gains in such ways that I had never once believed one of them could’ve been right.

Isaiah Woodford (known colloquially as The Pathfinder) was just an ordinary lunatic to me, a man using his charisma to revel in the sins he so ardently condemned in his sermons. The full scope of his manipulation and deviancy was on a scale I’d never seen before and yet…

“The Reckoning shall come on the day of Independence. Fire will scorch the land and the worthy shall descend underground to reap the rewards of the new world when God has remade the earth.”

Now here I am, two days after July 4th in an underground bomb shelter that was more like an apartment with the very man himself.

My colleagues and I had had him surrounded, had arrested some of his followers and were about to dismantle the Unity’s Children cult once and for all. Then hell itself rained down upon us.

I don’t know who attacked this country, bombed us but I do know I can’t stop dreaming about that mushroom cloud that lingers behind my eyelids when I close them. I still remember the eerie silence in those seconds before the deafening boom, the absolute terror in my body that froze me to the spot to watch the devastation unfold.

If Isaiah hadn’t physically dragged me in here, I would’ve died because my legs didn’t want to move. But this, is it really any better?

I know why he saved me and it wasn’t for an altruistic reason. I was the only woman on the arresting team, the only woman near him in a half-mile radius. I was his entertainment for the next few years.

Now Isaiah knew I’d rather go back out into the firestorm, would rather find the nearest weapon and just end it rather than being trapped with him. He didn’t get a following the size of a small county by being an idiot, after all. So yesterday I was handcuffed to a pipe, the door to the outside world was passcoded, all the guns and knives and controlled medications hidden and I was given a dose of something that made me drowsy the entire day. He took that opportunity to preach at me, to gloat and set the groundwork for my own personal brainwashing.

“You are here because the Angels told me to spare you,” he’d said. “Do not spit at Heaven’s feet for the gift of life. You have a purpose in the new world. You are special.”
It’s only because I agreed to listen to his prattle that he gave me this pen and paper. I have no doubt he’ll probably find this notebook at some point and use it against me but it’s the only way I can have a chance at sanity.

So here goes.

I’m not special, Isaiah. I know what you’re doing. It won’t work.

I will never be your disciple.
Special Agent Hadley James

***

5 Days After the End of the World

He never leaves me alone unless I’m sleeping and even then I’m sure he comes into the room sometimes. The door is open when I wake up and I always close it.

Tonight I’ll barricade it shut. Who knows what he’s doing when I’m not conscious?

As for what he’s doing when I am conscious, it’s like being in the most intense Sunday School experience of my life. I have no respite from the preaching, no break from the incessant push for me to ‘confess my sins’.

This is all a tactic to make me give up information that he can twist back on me. Cult leader 101.

Next, he’s going to try to appeal to me personally with some tragic story or do acts of service to gain my trust.

Right now Isaiah’s just stopped trying to engage with me about our month-long rivalry before the arrest attempt.

“You were the only one that profiled me correctly. I heard how many interviews with my followers you had done and the lengths you went to to find who I was before the Angels whispered in my ear. We have shared a special connection, much more so than your fellow agents. It was only right it should be us that were chosen for the new world,” he’d rambled. “I know there were times you wanted to put a bullet in my brain but you held back and, deep down, I think you knew I was telling the truth.”

I held back because it would’ve been too much paperwork to explain why I’d killed him and invalidated months of investigative work.

I desperately wanted to though. And still do. The stuff Isaiah had made people do to get his attention, the women he’d preyed upon, the mass grave of his decryers hidden in the mountains…

I’m caught in this constant loop of wanting to rid myself of him but also knowing I will lose my mind being alone in here for however long it takes for the radiation levels to go down. If I let him continue to chip away at me though, I’m not sure what will leave here with him when the time comes.

I know what’s heading my way but I don’t think anyone can prepare for a scenario like this and I’m not sure I’ll be this strong forever against him.

As it stands, I’m keeping my distance from Isaiah as best as I can.

***

3 Weeks After the End of the World

The one thing I never really thought about in my apocalypse scenario daydreams is how I would fare when my period decided to rear its ugly head.

I’d imagined myself leading some kind of Mad Max biker group, maybe starting a roadhouse for survivors, but trying not to bleed all over myself never even entered into the equation. I couldn’t even say it was in my top one hundred thoughts about the end of everything.

I locked myself in the second bathroom the first day and slept in the tub but, when you’re the only other person in a place, it’s hard not to notice the absence. Isaiah definitely noticed and, although I expected him to break down the door, he just sat outside of it and talked to me.

He told me about his late wife, how she used to suffer from terrible pains around this time as well and the ways he would help her.

“Let me in, Hadley,” he’d used his most gentle voice. “Let me help you. It’s not losing to let me help. I know that’s how you view it.”

And he was right, of course. He is very good at studying people and knew I’d been clinging on to my independence tooth and nail like it was an endurance competition.

I lasted two days in that freezing cold bathroom before I caved. At least he didn’t look smug about it when I opened the door.

I accepted his offers of comforts, the secreted menstrual products, the medication, the hidden chocolate and the warm blankets. Isaiah even stopped talking about religion for the next few days, choosing instead to engage with me about movies he’d seen as a child.

It was…nice.

I have to remember who this man is though. I have to remember the trail of dead bodies. I have to remember young Constance who’d been drawn into his web of flattery and lies at the tender age of nineteen.

She’d ended up in that mass grave when she’d dared to try and leave him three years later, the day before the wedding.

Get it together, Hadley. Isaiah is a monster.

***

2 Months After the End of the World

He’s persistent, I’ll give him that.
I’ve been trying to distance myself even more but he takes it as a personal challenge. Wherever I am, he’ll make the excuse to be.

Just as I’d predicted, I’ve gotten more sad stories from his childhood and about the loss of his wife. They’re meant to elicit some oversharing from my side but I don’t give him anything.

I did slip up once to talk about my dog, Monty, and how I hoped someone had looted my house and maybe could’ve taken him with them. Isaiah was delighted at this bit of information and insisted on making us both a meal afterwards.

He’s a terrible cook.

Currently, I’m in the bathroom getting drastically thinner by the second with my head down the bowl.
I swear if he’s done this deliberately to make me depend on him…

And if not, how has he reached the age of forty-one with no idea how to properly make spaghetti and meatballs?

***

5 Months After the End of the World

I’m not sure how much more I can take of this.

I feel like I’m being worn away; that even though I know his tactics, I’m still falling for them anyway. I’m too bored to be able to resist his conversation anymore.

I’ve read every book in this place from cover to cover twice already and there’s no other form of media for me to distract myself with.
The only other things in here are board games and it’s not very stimulating to play those alone. I did try to, even putting on silly voices to pretend I was a different person across the table, but I just sounded like I was losing my mind.

Maybe I am.

I’m thinking of inviting Isaiah to play Monopoly with me. Is this really what I’ve been reduced to?

***

5 Months and One Day-ish After the End of the World

He wiped the floor with me at Monopoly. I’m not playing anymore.

***

8 Months After the End of the World

I cooked dinner for us.

It was just a simple casserole out of the tinned stuff we have in here but Isaiah treated it like a Michelin-starred meal. Compliments, praises and such until I was blushing.

Blushing.

What am I, fifteen?!

What the hell is going on with me?
I even laughed at a pun he made, “You’ve always been arresting”. I really am starved for human contact in this underground coffin.

***

10 Months After the End of the World

I still can’t believe it.
Isaiah sometimes disappears off into the ‘storage room’ to privately pray…or so he told me.

I got extremely restless and stole the key from him when he was sleeping, unlocking the place only to find a radio station that apparently worked. I’d never heard any voices before and then understood why when I saw the soundproofing on the walls, ceiling and floors.

He’d always intended to hide this place for a reason I still don’t know.

Are people alive out there? Is he trying to speak to the rest of Unity’s Children who might have made it into the other bunkers around this town?

Isaiah caught me though. The squawk of an incoming transmission alerted him and I was on the floor faster than I could comprehend.

I’ve never seen him that angry before, not even when I took out his supply depots and gun supplies before the bombs. I genuinely wondered if I was going to be murdered then and there. Just another Constance.

Instead, he asked me why I’d gone looking.

“There are things you are not yet meant to know. The Angels will tell me when the time is right.”

For a man who supposedly hears angels, they could be a little less vague.

Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, that room was hidden from me. Did he plan this? Did he always mean to ‘save’ me or another female non-follower? Was I targeted?

I feel sick.

***

10 Months and 2 Weeks After the End of the World

I got it out of him in the end.

I played nice, I listened avidly to his daily sermon and I even touched his shoulder. I let him believe I was starting to come around and he was so eager to accept that that he spilled everything.

Isaiah had planned to get me in here alone with him ever since the second raid on his third in command’s church.

He was there that day, saw me comforting some of the younger women, squaring up to the men in higher positions even though they told me to get back in dresses and into the kitchen. He was impressed I had held my cool in the face of outdated insults whilst also being capable of great empathy.

“I did not need the Angels to tell me you were special, Hadley. I saw it for myself. They only confirmed it later.”

It was all a ploy. That final standoff was meant to get me just above this bunker and his followers all knew the plan too because they had allegedly prevented my colleagues from rushing after me, even if they died in the process.

I’ve tried to block out a lot about that day but I do remember people screaming my name as Isaiah hauled me down into this tomb. In fact, I remember Deacon, my partner, yanking my hand to get me out of The Pathfinder’s grip but he got bowled over by something. I’m guessing one of the Children.

I’ve just written Pathfinder. I meant Isaiah. No use crossing it out when it’s obvious, I guess.

Isaiah Isaiah Isaiah.

Hadley, you’re not going to call him what his brainwashed minions do.

Anyway, I’ve barricaded myself in the library area for now. I don’t want to speak to him after that outburst. And after the secrets.
I wonder if he’s hiding anything else from me.

***

One Year After the End of the World

I’ve been outmanoeuvred.

I was all ready to cut Isaiah off, to punish him with silence like the very mature adult I am but he beat me to it.

He hasn’t talked to me in nearly two months and it’s driving me crazy. He still acknowledges me with nods and will leave me food but won’t say any words.

Why do I feel like I’m the one being penalised for something he did? This is insane.

I tried to get out of the bunker yesterday and make a run for it. I don’t care if it’s still a radioactive zone out there. Unfortunately, I need a code to do so and my fifty-something guesses didn’t work.

Nine numbers will likely take me a good few months, if not years, to try every combo and that’s only if I can do it without being caught.

***

One Year and One Week After the End of the World

I folded. I talked to him…actually, screamed at him might be more accurate.

I just snapped after he began stirring his coffee obnoxiously loudly. The noise was grating in the silence between us.

I’m not proud of what I said and the word vomit just kept coming out with all the little grievances I had as well as some of the bigger ones. Isaiah suddenly knew every action or phrase that annoyed me and there’s no way he’s just ignored that.

It was embarrassing how I acted and more embarrassing when my legs just gave out and I sat on the floor sobbing like a child. I’ve not done that in years.

Isaiah put his hand on my shoulder, massaging it and told me he was only doing what he thought I wanted. All I had to do was ask and he would’ve stopped his vow of silence a long time ago.

I hate myself right now. I hate him.
If I didn’t know I’d go absolutely insane here on my own, I would kill him but I’m not good at being alone, let alone for years.

He’s won this particular round.

***

One Year and Three Months After the End of the World

More and more the lines are becoming blurred with him.

Isaiah ended up making us a ‘late anniversary’ dinner complete with wine that I have no idea where it came from. I’m still frankly amazed I’ve lasted a year and still retained a sense of self.

That being said, I’m seeking him out for more conversations now and I did pick the Monopoly board back up from where I threw it to the depths of the high shelves.

Probably the biggest victory he’s had over me is when I had a meltdown about the monotony of being in this bunker. Day in and day out all I do is wake up, exercise, eat, read, eat and sleep.

While I was crying on the couch, Isaiah put his arms around me and I let him comfort me. I leaned into it. I full-on cuddled the man for a good hour before I had the wherewithal to disentangle myself.

I would say to myself it won’t happen again but since this is my most honest thoughts…I really liked it. I’m so touch starved that I’ll accept affection from a murderer.

***

One Year and Five Months After the End of the World

More of these meals are happening and I’ve not had food poisoning since that one time.

We sit at the table like a couple. We eat, we share wine and we dispense with Isaiah Woodford – The Pathfinder and Hadley James – Special Agent. There’s no religion, no talk of the investigation, nothing of our former selves and only conversation about happier times.

He’s told me about what his wife was like, the work friends at his labour job before Unity’s Children that were like brothers to him and a snapshot into his life before ‘angels’ started talking to him. In return I’ve given too much honesty back, sharing about my time training for the Bureau, the man I thought was the love of my life who turned out to be hooking up with my best friend and the hopes I’d had that I would’ve been further along in life by now rather than a singleton with a dog.

It wasn’t the plan I had for my early thirties.

“You have faced hardship and conflict, especially in the days we were enemies but it was necessary to bring you to me here and now,” he’d said.

I half expected him to reel off that it was God’s plan or something but he didn’t. Isaiah stuck to his own rule about no Christianity at the table.

On the way to wash the dishes, he squeezed my hand as he passed. I didn’t even flinch away.

It’s becoming normal now to have little touches as we go by one another. I’ve even caught myself resting my hand on his upper arm when I’m chatting away.

I don’t notice it at the time but it hits me a while later.

I think…I think he’s getting in my head.

***

One Year and Eight Months After the End of the World

I’ve messed up. I’ve fucked it all up.

Yesterday I found the wine reserves and there were whisky bottles in there too. It was in a hatch above the gym area.

Naturally, because I have nothing to do in here, I drank and I drank a lot. I drank until I became unstable on my feet, humming songs to myself that will probably be forgotten in years to come.

Isaiah found me dancing and I tried to get him to move with me but he was more concerned about getting me water and into a bed so I could sleep it off. It was a very awkward stumble towards my bedroom and I remember saying something like that I was glad he was helping rather than lecturing.

“Excess can be forgiven, Hadley. Please lie down before you hurt yourself. That’s the last thing I would want,” is what I’m pretty sure he asked of me.

Then my brain, my stupid moronic idiot brain took his concern for real care and I KISSED HIM.

I’m not even talking a peck on the lips, I made out with Isaiah Woodford and the only reason it didn’t go further was that I put my face in the crook of his neck and fell asleep standing up.

I haven’t gone out of my room yet. I’m too afraid to.

I absolutely cannot come back from this. I’ve set the precedent. Even if I hide myself away, Isaiah will know I’ll come crawling back eventually, that in my worst moments I will seek affection from him.

What have I done?

My dear Hadley. I found this notebook and you do not need to be afraid of these feelings. It was only natural that we would grow close whilst we wait for God to renew and give us paradise again.
I will not harm you. I will not push you beyond what you are comfortable with. I only want you to be happy.

Yours always, Isaiah

***

Two Years After the End of the World

Ever since that kiss, Isaiah has been nothing but doting.

It’s like a switch was flipped and he became the perfect man. He knows all the right things to say and probably all from this diary that I’m having to hide in a different spot now.

Do I care anymore? I don’t think I do.

Even though it’s probably not real and just a manipulation, I’ll take it. I’ll take it just to feel something like happiness again. I’m tired of being miserable.

We take turns making dinner, we read to each other and we curl up on the couch together.

What does it matter hanging on to who I was? I don’t even know the scale of the devastation outside. The FBI probably doesn’t exist. Special Agent James is consigned to the history books.

No one’s coming for me. This is my life now. Me and Isaiah and whoever has survived rebuilding a new world.

***

Two Years and One Month After the End of the World

I prayed today.

I’ve not prayed since I was a child and now I’m joining Isaiah. Once a day.

It’s more peaceful than I remember. I don’t say anything but I regurgitate the ending sentiments that he leads me through.

Maybe I should find my faith again. Isaiah was right after all. The world ended and the bombs burned everything above ground. There’s no way the whole forest didn’t go up in flames when it was so dense.

If that’s true, then maybe Isaiah is right about everything else and I am special, that the angels wanted me to live. I was chosen.

***

Two Years, One Month and Two Days After the End of the World

I joined with Isaiah.

That’s what he would say, right? It’s too crass to say ‘slept together’, I think.

I don’t know why I was being so stubborn all these months when I’ve not felt this good in a long time. I didn’t realise how pent up I was, how tense.

We moved the beds into one room and started sleeping next to each other and it just feels right. I barely have nightmares about the bombs anymore.

***

Two Years and Four Months After the Reckoning

I’d forgotten about this diary for a while and so much has happened since my last entry.

I’m Hadley Woodford now.

Isaiah married us, using someone over the radio from Unity’s Children in another bunker to ‘witness’ it. After that happened, he said it was time for me to learn why the room was hidden from me. Some of my former colleagues were still alive and trying to barter with Unity’s Children for more supplies.

“I kept this from you because it was not your destiny to return to them. The Angels whispered to me you would be mine and I am not arrogant enough to defy them,” he told me. “Do you hate me?”

But I can’t hate him and I can’t even imagine going back to my former life. There’s nothing there for me anymore.

My future is with Unity’s Children and I am the future of Unity’s Children.

I’m pregnant, a couple of months along and I’ve never seen Isaiah so happy. He’s always wanted kids and I’m overjoyed that I’ll be able to provide for him.

I’m terrified about giving birth with no access to doctors or a hospital but I know God will watch over me, that the Angels will be at my shoulder. My family is prophesied to rule the new kingdom so I know I will survive.

We will survive.

The Pathfinder, myself and our child.

***

My dear Hadley,

I cannot wait to meet our son or daughter, my love and I am delighted you have found your faith again.
I never thought I would be blessed enough to find true love after my late wife, Grace but then I saw you. At first, I thought you just had a passing resemblance to her but the more you disrupted my followers and cared for the vulnerable, the more I saw you shared so many more qualities than a similar appearance. I knew I had to get you alone, to make you see the divine plan, to make you mine.

Where Constance was Grace’s double, she was petulant, selfish and sinful. You, you have more of my affections than Grace ever did and you are giving me the thing she could not, that I have prayed for the most.

A family.

I love you more than you will ever know. The angels have given me the greatest gift a man can have.
We will rule this kingdom together as we were chosen to do.

Always yours, your husband.

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