Find out what happens next!
By Jennifer A. Middleton
Chapter One: Cast From Paradise
Intolerable. She’d heard that word uttered and sometimes used by adults to describe her when they thought that she wasn’t listening. The very word sat heavy in the air and even heavier in the soul. Intolerable meaning unable to be endured.
It was among the last words Innocence had learned.
Illicit knowledge gained by looking it up in the great blacked-out dictionary that was stored on the podium shelf underneath the Great Book because it had been decreed that no text should be above the Great Book both figuratively as well as literally.
Once lost in thought, she’d placed the worn dictionary on top of the Great Book, only momentarily, in order to avoid dropping the papers she held that threatened to tumble out of her already overflowing hands. Realizing her transgression, Innocence dropped everything, papers fluttering to the ground forgotten, and pushed the dictionary aside. It fell to the floor amid the papers with a heavy thud. Without further thought, she searched the Great Book for any signs of damage.
None. I escaped this time, Innocence thought as she carefully picked up the dictionary and scattered papers, placing everything back in order, all the while glancing about to make sure that no one was witness to the event.
That night in the midst of a violent storm, a branch broke, crashing through Master Asher’s front room in a hail of broken glass and splintered wood, striking his companion, Mistress Prudence, breaking her arm before coming to rest against the fireplace mantle and cracking one of the hearthstones clean in two. An inquest was immediately convened to determine the cause. There was always a cause.
It was quite a sight to see, Mistress Prudence on one side of the room laying on an worn couch, her feet propped up with her broken arm carefully laid out as the doctor, who himself had been roused from his sleep, tended to her. Only a few feet away, the Elders had gathered in a growing fever, admonishing anyone who had done wrong, who might have even thought wrong, who had incurred the wrath of God, to step forward, confess, repent, and receive their punishment.
At first everyone was silent, searching their memories for any possible transgressions, real or imaginary. Then, slowly, one by one, the sinners began to step forward.
“I coveted Mrs. Goody’s apple tart recipe.”
“I smiled during afternoon service.”
The first transgressions were minor, trivial at most, but as confession fever took hold, the crimes grew wilder in nature, more grandiose in their supposed severity. Each one tried to outdo the other as proof God had chosen them for a special singular punishment. It wasn’t often that God looked down upon his Community, his sinners and picked one out, even if it was for a punishment. To be noticed even for a transgression was better than believing that one had been ignored by God.
“I stole milk from a community cow.”
“I looked longingly at another member’s wife.”
Confession fever had almost reached the desired pitch, and Innocence was about to confess, as surely her transgression was the worst of all. “I—”
“I dropped the Good Book.” Master Able jumped to his feet, speaking up, and instantly, the room fell silent. Only the crack of the fire in the fireplace could be heard.
"And when did this happen?” Allegations of this nature had to be inspected; they could not simply be taken at face value. “Precisely please.”
Master Able glanced wildly about casting for the right answer. “About the third hour.”
“And which one?”
“The one in the records room,” Master Able answered, looking sufficiently ashamed.
Innocence’s mind reeled. Was he be mistaken? She had been there in the records room all afternoon and had been the only one in there the entire time. Although to speak up and say something would be admitting her own guilt, which wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, she thought. Was he lying? In a way, that didn’t matter because Innocence felt that she had to speak up, not necessarily to clear his name but in order to claim what was rightfully her transgression, her punishment.
“I—” she repeated again louder as she tried to push herself to the front of the group. “I—”
The Elders spoke as one. “We court rule that this is Master Able’s transgression and so it shall be his punishment in the eyes of the Lord. Remove him to the cells until such time as the Lord sees fit to reveal a punishment.”
The drama over the rest of the gathered community filed out while trading hushed comments, but Innocence found she could not move. Looking up from his now settled patient, the doctor asked, “What is it?”
“Master Able lied,” Innocence blurted out.
The doctor busied himself with checking on his patient. He was a doctor and not an Elder and such matters were beyond his training. He glanced over his shoulder. “And how would you know that?” he inquired.
“Because…” She was on the verge of telling him everything when clear as day she remembered pushing the closed sign aside to enter the library earlier that day. The only way she knew Able wasn’t in the library was because she was, a transgression still minor and hardly worth the punishment, even though to say it would be admitting—
“Well?” the doctor prompted her. “How do you know Master Able lied?”
“I was outside of the library studying—the Good Book,” she added in for effect, her lies were really beginning to pile up. “And I never saw him go in.” It was a small lie and inside versus outside seemed really trivial in the grand scheme of things, but still Innocence looked up at the tree for any signs of loose tree branches. A puff of rainy wind blew her long hair away from her teenaged face. In the Community all the females had long hair, long dresses, long downcast gazes anything and everything to remind them that this Community with its sturdy stone buildings and Pruirian surroundings was not to be gazed and wondered upon. This was a world meant for study and contemplation, not theirs to live in but existing only to build a more perfect future.
“The entire time?” the doctor probed as he wrapped a piece of old frayed fabric around Mistress Prudence’s arm to act as a sling.
“Most of it,” Innocence attempted to cushion the lie. She was beginning to doubt how much she wanted this transgression.
“It’s simple then. He must have gone in when you weren’t there. Okay, Mistress Prudence, you try and rest now and I’ll be by in the morning to check on you.” The doctor stood up to leave but stopped on his way out the door to regard Innocence.
He wasn’t supposed to interfere, but how could one live in the Community day in and day out and not become even slightly involved? Besides, he could just ignore it in his report.
“Look, wanting to protect Able is a noble thing, but he alone must answer for his transgressions as you must answer for yours. Remember, ‘Render unto Ceaser what is Ceaser’s.’ Now, run along to your bed. May you find the peace and answers that you seek.”
As he watched Innocence melt into the corner of the room trying to disappear he wondered if he had done the wrong thing by speaking to her, but what’s done was done and so he shrugged his shoulders and returned to his work. The doctor had come to loathe his nightly reports with their tedium, and tonights would be different, though not in a good way. He hastily packed his old-fashioned medical bag and disappeared into the night, leaving a slightly confused Innocence standing in the cold living room with the rain pouring in the hole in the ceiling. She often had a feeling that the doctor was different in some way she could not explain.
She didn’t want to walk with the doctor to listen to his endless prattling, so Innocence made herself busy righting the room, picking up leaves and such before she, too, stepped into the cool night air, drinking in the stars carpeting the black sky. Her path had no light, but she didn’t need any.
Innocence took her time savoring these brief few moments alone. Ordinarily, being out after the last bells had sounded was a punishable offence: One hundred verses copied from the Good Book was the usual punishment, one that Innocence knew well; but tonight, given all that had happened, the extenuating circumstances, she would be forgiven as long as she maintained the most direct course from the houses to the dorms.
The path was made of course gravel that crunched underneath her feet. Through the thin soles of her shoes, she could feel its rough texture, and it made her feel alive. The crystalline structures imbedded within the rocky pavement made the path glitter like a carpet of diamonds. Innocence had never seen a diamond, didn’t even know what one was, but she did know the delightful feeling that rose within her as she walked along the diamond carpet, a soft smile playing upon her lips. The path edges abruptly bordered the meticulously maintained lawns that stretched off in either direction.
Lawns were strictly for gazing upon unless one had express permission from one of the senior clergy. Innocence had no such permission and looked down to find her foot had stepped right on the edge of the grass. Just a fraction of an inch. Acting deliberately, she carefully picked up the offending foot and ever so carefully planted it firmly on the grass. She left it there as she slowly looked around, listening for any evidence that her transgression her been discovered. All was silent as she slowly lifted the offending foot and set it back down on the path. As Innocence resumed her walk towards the dorms, all she could think was that if the very dome itself should crack and fall on them tomorrow, it would all be due to her transgression.
Although her late arrival was excused as the educational opportunity was not to be missed, still, Innocence was careful to be quiet in her entrance. Tonight, Master Pennythrift was at the front desk guarding the entrance, though from who, Innocence didn’t know.
“Good evening, Master Pennythrift,” Innocence greeted him.
“Present please,” he said with barely concealed boredom, not even bothering to look up. Dutifully, Innocence placed her hand on the scanner and after a moment heard the soft reassuring beep. “Out late again,” Pennythrift observed, looking at her scan log on the screen.
“You seem to go to a lot of those,” Pennythrift commented.
“Always educational,” Innocence commented, confused as he seemed to be hinting at something her mind couldn’t quite grasp. Perhaps he had a point she was tired after too many late-night transgressions. “Good to go?” she asked while adding in a not totally fake yawn to further suggest how tired she actually was.