Cult

Mary had never been more excited. As she stood in the square at the heart of the compound, hundreds of voices rose around her, the whole of the Family of Stars praising the Lord and offering her their love. Kilo barked and licked her hand as he picked up on the mood of contagious excitement.

“The time has come,” Father Paul said, smiling at her. Thin grey hair fell to either side of his face. Mary didn’t know whether he was really her father. No one in the Family of Stars did and it didn’t matter to any of them. They were all family, all mother, sister, daughter, all children of each other and of god. That was why they didn’t need the world beyond their fields and fences.

“Today is Sister Mary’s love day,” Father Paul said. “Today she comes of age.”

The singing of praise rose to a fever pitch. Mary’s heart pounded in excitement. The look in Father Paul’s eyes raised an unexpected tension, a heightened awareness that soon she would be an adult.

He held out a hand and she took it. Together they walked out of the square, between the houses of the community, and up the hill to the holy altar. Kilo ran around them, yapping and jumping in the long grass.

At the top of the hill was a hollow bowl in the earth that hid an altar from the outside world. As they descended into it, midday sunlight glinted off a steel blade lying on the slab of stained grey stone.

Mary faced Father Paul across the altar.

“Do you remember the story of Abraham and Isaac?” he asked.

Mary nodded eagerly.

“God asked Abraham to prove his love,” she said. “And so he ordered him to sacrifice his son, just as God would do in Jesus. Just as he sacrificed by sending you to us instead of keeping you at his side.”

“Now God asks a sacrifice of you.” Father Paul picked up Kilo. The dog licked his face, then lay calmly as Paul placed him on the altar and stroked his fur. “To prove your love for your family, you must let go of the lesser love for your pet.”

Mary frowned. Kilo panted and looked up at her with wide, eager eyes.

“I have to give Kilo away?” she asked sadly.

“As all others have when they came of age.” Paul handed her the knife. “Kill your childish love and embrace that of adulthood.”

The light shining off the knife stabbed Mary to the heart.

“Why?” she whispered. “Can’t I love Kilo and people too?”

“To love God is to obey him,” Father Paul said. “That love and obedience flows through me as his vessel. Now embrace that love, kill Kilo, and become an adult.”

“I…” Mary took the knife in trembling fingers. She looked at Kilo. He loved her and he would obey her. If she asked him to sit up now, to fetch, to run, he would do it. Dogs obeyed good people as good people obeyed God. She had been taught this her whole life.

Love and obedience.

She brushed the fur around his neck. He let out a happy whimper as she exposed the skin of his throat.

“No.” She dropped the knife. “I won’t do it.”

“What?” Father Paul said.

“Love is kindness,” Mary said. “This is not kind to anyone.”

“Obey me!”

“No!”

The blow came from nowhere. Suddenly she was on the ground, her cheek stinging, Father Paul standing over her.

“Take that knife and kill that dog,” he bellowed. “Prove that you love me!”

“No!” Mary said.

He raised his hand again.

Through her tears, Mary saw a brown blur hit Father Paul, knocking him to the ground. Angry barking mingled with cries of pain as Kilo clawed at the head of the Family of Stars.

Father Paul shook off Kilo and scrambled backwards up the hillside, glaring at them.

Mary stood up.

“Come to me, Kilo,” she said.

With his usual joyful bound, Kilo came to her side. There was blood on his lips as he turned his eyes once more upon Paul.

Mary’s heart hammered. If she went back down the hill to the Family she would be punished. They would take Kilo away. Maybe they would kill him.

They might all be family, but none of them had been there every time she needed the assurance of unquestioning love, of a warm presence beside her in the night, chasing away nightmares and the dread of the darkness. Kilo had.

“We’re leaving,” she announced, telling herself as well as Father Paul. “We’re crossing the wire and never coming back.” She picked up the knife. “This is in case you try to stop us.”

“I would have told you not to kill him in the end,” Father Paul said, blood running between the fingers clutching his cheek. “Just like God and Abraham.”

“I don’t care,” Mary said.

“You think you can defy me?” Father Paul yelled as she left. “That love isn’t about obedience?”

Mary hesitated. That possibility hadn’t even occurred to her.

“No,” she said. “But to you I’m Abraham and to Kilo I’m God. I know which love I’d rather have.”

She turned back as a thought crossed her mind.

“That makes Kilo Abraham, doesn’t it?” She asked. “Kilo, I have a test for you.” She pointed at Paul. “Kill.”

With a savage growl, Kilo went to prove his love.

 

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