A Complicated Relationship With Faith


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Scene Title A Complicated Relationship With Faith
Synopsis Following a trail of breadcrumbs, Abigail Caliban finds herself back at a house of god.
Date April 8, 2019

Volcanic billows of sooty smog smudge fervent red from horizon to horizon, soiling the night sky shades of blood and sangria that thicken with every meter of ground gained for Greenwich. The smell of wood smoke is warm on the wind, dishearteningly natural in all the wrong ways. Past the smouldering wreckage of an overturned fire truck and intersections rendered navigable only by foot by strategic sinkholes, felled poles and rends ripped violent across blasted concrete, sweltering heat radiates away from the ragged roar and pulse of a fire blazing wildly out of control.

In the heart of New York, Guiding Light is burning.

Somewhere, the wail and scream of wayward sirens suggests invisible help seeking an alternate route in, but there are no whirling blue lights and it's clear that what few uniforms are here have only just arrived on foot, hands to holsters and eyes showing white as their knuckles grasped bare around busy radios. A helicopter churns once low through the smoke and is gone, visible only for the time it takes the ruddy haze all around to roll back in after the tail.

The church is a total loss. Flames wind in draconic pyres through sections of caved in roof, writhing white hot where fresh fuel is readily available against cooler oranges and the black contrast of the battered frame. What little wind there is stirs in unforgiving waves, kicking up clods of incendiary debris that lift and drift like resilient sparks to set adjacent structures ablaze. Shattered glass scattered in wide sprays across superheated concrete reflects the lick of fire through vacant windows from a thousand slivered points of view. It seems like everything is burning, or about to be, and it only gets worse.

Amidst the chaos, the wide set of three stoic lamp posts stationed tall and black along the sidewalk before the skeletal church's scorching heat is host to the real message, here. Three posts and three bodies — one for each: captives hung stiff by the neck from the high curve of metal overhead, heels dangling slack some four or five feet above broken glass and charred rubbish. One double agent to the left, the Law to the right, and positioned squarely between them, a man of God.

Abigail runs up to the church, eyes wide. Her church, Joseph's church, the community's church. The former healer runs forward, taking the moment to get her bearings before unerringly zoning in on where to go, cellphone clutched in hand and messenger bag slung crosswise across her body. This wasn't happening. Joseph would come back to a burnt church. This couldn't happen.

Abigail's steps falter for a moment or two when she comes across the sight of the three people on the light poles. It's enough to send a hammering heart nearly stopping at seeing Joseph, some strange woman and a mangled felix on the pole. The fact that it's three of them strung up with Joseph in the center is not lost on Abigail. Up to the center post Abigail barrels, getting a swiss army knife fished out of her bag. "Someone get a ladder!" She yells, screams even as she comes to the center pole. "Get them down!" How long had they been hanging, had their necks been snapped in the process or did they just choke? The training she's been receiving starts to filter to the front of her mind.

"Get them down! Get them down fast! Now!"

Ten Years Later


NYC Safe Zone

April 8th

4:17 pm

Abigail Caliban has a complicated history with faith.

In the late afternoon hours, the Church of the Ascension in the New York City Safe Zone is a reminder of those complicated relations, with faith, with the edifices thereof. The building is a silhouette of sharp angles, tall lattice-crossed windows, and red painted doors. The grounds of the church are modest things as the building is streetside. A small garden space surrounded by rod iron fences contains a manicured hedge and potted plants containing tall stands of tomato plants and herbs. A tall old man in a red flannel shirt stands inside the rod iron fence enclosure, watering plants.

A sign above the hedge indicates a weekly meeting: Veterans’ Support Group, Thursdays 6pm to 8pm.

Abigail Caliban has a complicated history that involves asking God to heal, and God giving. Of begging God to give it back and the only answer being a woman in a ruined midtown holding an apple and a vine growing up from the broken asphalt.

Of prayers over murderers and saints, the dead and the living. In brothel basements, battlefields and bedsides of time displaced frenchmen or in the streets over a dumb italian on a wet night. In a church, the steps of a church, on sacred ground.

Her faith brought her countless sleepless nights and busy days to which generally, she has never regretted. It has been her cornerstone, even of late when she’s still trying to find her place in everything. She comes to a stop having walked from the bus stop and regards the church that surprisingly, wasn’t that far from where she lives. It’s not the one she goes to, she’s tried a few but has yet to find the one that sticks. The garden that’s starting is regarded, a mental note she should have started her own seedlings earlier when Kasha told her to. Nursing scrubs on, khahki jacket and hair in a braid, pale blue knit scarf around her neck, she has that folded piece of paper in hand and just watches the little pastoral scene happening in the midst of the city.

Messenger bag slung across shoulder, sunglasses up on the top of her head, she looks both ways before stepping off the curb and heading across the street to the church. There’s a polite noise to garner attention to the man tending garden. “Hello? My name is Abigail, I’m looking for a Lisa Bradbury, blonde, little… eccentric and excitable, glasses? She left something on the bus she rode a few days ago, I recalled her saying she tended the grounds here and was hoping to get it back to her in case it’s important.” She offers a smile to the man. “Your tomatoes are looking lovely if I might add. Color me green with envy, I hope mine come out looking that good, what breed are they?”

The old man tending the garden looks up with a languid pace. Up close she can see his features are sunken and frail, his eyes tired, but the light of clarity in them unmistakable. He has to be at least eighty, if not older. “No one by that name here,” he says with a scrub of his hands on his knees, taking off one gardening glove to offer a bare hand out to Abby.

“Martin Pines,” the old man introduces himself, “I’m the only groundskeeper here. Out twice a month t’tend to the hedges. The tomatoes are Mrs. Olson’s t’share with folks who need ‘em. I think they’re Novia,” which is a very specific thing to suppose. Pines looks back to Abby, a gentle smile carrying his apologetic tone. “M’sorry I can’t place your friend. I’ve quite a good memory, I’d remember her. Are you use you’ve got the right church?”

“I’m fairly certain. She said the Church of Ascension. I live on the other side of Williamsburg. She sat on the bus and asked me to sign a book that I was in.” Abigail reaches out, taking up the man hand with a firm grip. “A pleasure to meet you Mister Pines. Abigail Caliban. Novia. Interesting. I’ve some better boys and lemon drops growing. I’ll have to bring some of the produce over when they finally start producing in a few months. Does one's heart good to give where they can.” There’s a glance to the church in the background. “No blonde with a ponytail, looks really tired and strung out, black glasses. Not at all. Even by any other name?”

“No ma’am,” Pines says rather politely, tucking his chilly hand back into his gardening glove. “And I most certainly know who you are, I followed the trials. You’re a very good person, Ms. Caliban… you deserved better, and so did he.”


The moment that sentence comes from Pines and connects with the memory of Robert Caliban, there’s a reflexive reaction of tightness in Abby’s chest; a sense of anxiety and dread, quickly passing but singularly unmistakable as post-traumatic stress. Pines either doesn’t notice, or is polite enough not to comment on it. “It’s a bit strange that she’d tell you here… but I suppose the Lord works in mysterious ways.”

She holds her breath without meaning to. The smile frozen on her face. “Job took what the lord laid before him and made from it what he could. As he did, so do I. I will meet him again when it’s my time. Thank you.” She’ll lay in bed tonight thinking of him now. The rings on her fingers and played with. “It is, but I’m no stranger to strange things.” Not in the least. “Mister Pines, I won’t deter you from your gardening and landscaping. Thank you for taking a moment to answer my question.”

There’s a pause, digging out that piece of paper and holding it out. “Does any of this make any sense to you? Perhaps it’s a place that I don’t recognize. I know Rochester. I have some friends up there. But Berlin Conduit?”

Pines eyes the note, brows creased together, then makes a soft sound in the back of his throat. He reaches out, taking the piece of paper and squinting at it more thoroughly. “I recognize the handwriting… there’s a young woman who comes in here for our veterans’ circle, younger than you,” he says with a brief look up to Abby, then back down to the note. “This is her handwriting. If you don’t mind, I’d much like t’keep this and ask her if she’d misplace it or… I suppose it’s possible she knows this Ms. Bradbury…”

It takes Pines a moment to mull that over, looking from the paper to Abby. “You’re welcome t’come here on Thursday, she’s been comin’ to meetings more regularly lately. Maybe she can help? You’d be welcome t’talk too, or just listen.”

“It might get distracting. It was one thing out in Butte la Rose. But here…” Here she gets recognized more often. She looks to the church, there’s a bit of longing there in the back of her eyes. So little remains of what she knew. “I’d have to see if the sitter can come, I have a daughter. I’m not working at the hospital that night.” Reasons to not, reasons to. Her hand tightens on the strap of her bag. “Tell you what, keep that, in case I can’t make it. I’ll try. I can’t promise that I’ll be able to make it over what with my daughter but, if I can’t, then at least you can give that to the woman and see if she can get it back to Ms Bradbury.” There’s a pause. “May I ask the name of the person you think wrote this?”

“Colette Demsky,” Pines says without any judgement over Abby’s own personal situation, just briskly moving on to the facts requested. “Her father was a detective, I’ve gathered. She fought during the war… took a bit to get her to settle in and share, but the veterans’ circle’s been good for her.”

It’s a name Abby hasn’t heard in a long time.


“Ahh.” There’s a slow nod of her head in recognition. “I know her. She knows me. We…” She has to think. “She’s a good woman. Takes her a bit to come around to things. Headstrong. But she’s good. She always means good too.” Abigail looks to the tomatoes for a few heartbeats then a few more. “More than a few times back then I wanted to bean her over the head with a bible to knock some sense into her.” Then there’s a huffed laugh. “She accused me of not using what God gave me, to do what God wanted it to be done with. She ate those words a few years later when I threw it back at her. Seems she did, do what was expected.” There’s a deep breath. “I’ll make the time to come. Thank you Mister Pines. I’ll be back on Thursday. God bless.”

“Some people don’t change,” Pines warns in as good-natured a way as he can, returning his attention to the tomato plants, “but for those good few who make all the difference, we can be happy in knowing that stability.” Taking a knee, Pines doesn’t offer any blessings back, just retrieves the clippers from his back pocket and prunes some of the old growth off of the tomato plants, affording a quick look over to Abby as she backs out of the fenced in enclosure.

As Abby turns down the street, church at her back, she doesn’t yet realize she’s made a choice that will change the trajectory of her life.

If it was her choice to begin with.

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