or (b) walk down the hill and sit shivering in your car until tomorrow morning?

You walk down toward your rental.

Every once in a while you stop or even start reversing up the hill again. Could you...? Should you...? No, the idea of a religion selling gas is just too plain crazy! Something's got to be going down that you don't like. You've always been a little wary of religions and cults doing anything too screwy. No, you'll just carry on down, down, down the hill.

You arrive at your rental and get in. The night draws in. You can hear the sounds of others coming down from the cave. They talk. Some laugh. Your hear the sound of other cars starting up. You keep nearly saying, "Could you...? Would you mind...? My car's outta gas and..." but your shyness lets you down. You're almost relieved when they've all gone. 

Now it's just you, the car and the sound of silence. And that awful, awful coldness! You look out the window. You can see the stars. They are very beautiful. You picture people from another world looking up at a star that you're looking at. To them it's their sun. It makes their crops grow. Maybe they worship it. To you it's a tiny dot but you're sharing a moment with those people as they watch the sunrise over their beautiful sea. Sea? Their beautiful farm where they grow things that to you are exotic but which to them are the annoying reason they have to be up so early every day to go to work, harvesting the all. If those folk are people, of course. Perhaps they look like nothing you've seen before down here on Earth? Maybe they have green heads and blue scales?

After a while you can see your breath, the windows steam up and the stars disappear.

You fall asleep, dreaming of people with green heads and blue scales.

Then you wake up and remove the picture of Barbara, your sister, from your waistband. That is why you came. Events have been so hectic recently. Just a week ago you were still at home in Canada, living your ordinary life. Now here you are secretly tracking the people who've kidnapped her. You want to show her picture to some of the cult members, negotiate, give them the Canadian dollars that you have and take your sister home again - no questions asked. The Canadian government will officially deny that they were involved in this deal, even though most of the ransom money is from their coffers. They just want your sister home, safe and sound, just as you do. But they mustn't tell the Americans that they traded with gun-toting radicals. Neither must you.

You think of the frogs in your childhood, of Barbara screaming, of your brother Day, of how cold you are, of green people with blue scales... you are asleep again.

You awake to find yourself surrounded by warmth and love. The sun is almost up. You are in a camp. The car is nowhere to be seen. There is a bowl of fruit next to you. There is a woman wearing golden underwear and with long black hair flowing down her back. She has a band of white animals' teeth around her head. She smiles at you and bids you to eat some fruit.

When you ask where you are she simply says that you are "in the Village" but it is unclear which village or where. She is very kind to you and feeds you fruit and explains the scientific basis behind why eating fruit, nuts and special grasses is so good for you and why eating anything else is so toxic. She explains that the only good drinks are fruit juice, nut milks, wine and best of all water.

You show her the picture of Barbara. She smiles and takes the picture from you.

"You have come for your sister, Banana."

You gently explain that, no, it's Barbara...

"Banana is your sister's new name. Everyone has a fruit name her. Your sister's name from the Depths translated so nicely into a name acceptable to us here in the Village. My name is Mango. I shall take you to Banana when you are feeling ready. You need to get over your exhaustion from the Depths first. Your new name is Grape. This is your date with a radical new world."

She smiles at you and kisses you.

"I shall have another date with you, Grape, very soon. Please don't get up. You're not ready."

You try to get up. She spins back toward you. She whips a gun out of her bra and points it at you.

"Pleased don't get up yet, Grape - you're not ready." She is still smiling and sounds just as gentle and flirty as she did before but you realize that there is to be no messing with these folk.

You drink walnut milk and lie there and look toward the rising sun.

After a while someone comes toward you. He is wearing golden underwear and has a band of teeth around his head. Clearly everyone dresses like that here. He also carries a gun. The sun is behind him so it takes you a while to see who it is. It is your brother, Day. You can't believe it. You are sure that he never used to have long black hair like that.

"Grape? It's me - Date!" he says. "How Banana and I have missed you."

"Day? Where am I?"

"In the Village," says your brother.

"Whose side are you on?" you ask.

"That would be telling. We want information about the Depths. Information. Information. INFORMATION!"

"You won't get it," you say weakly.

"By hook or by crook, we will, Grape."

"Grape? That's not my name!" you cry. "I am not a fruit - I am a free person!"

Day throws back his head and laughs. 

Later you, your sister Barbara and your brother Day are all sitting together. You now wear the same clothing as everyone else. Your hair has been dyed black as well. Luckily for you it was already long otherwise they'd have given you a long black wig until your natural hair grew. Everyone must look the same here. The only difference is that they all have guns apart from you and Barbara. She is clearly as unhappy to be here as you are.

Day, the leader here, addresses everyone.

"We have a week until we take on the Depths. It is foretold that within 20 years our fruitarian and nutty state will take over the whole world and the Depths will cease to exist. Only fruit will be eaten..."

"And nuts," chimes in someone.

Day levels his gun at the person who spoke.

"No, no - I didn't say that you were nuts. I meant the eating of nuts..."

Day lowers his gun and laughs. "I know what you meant, Strawberry. I was just joking. I wasn't going to shoot you. We need to save our bullets for people in the Depths. Within 20 years the Depths will be no more and there will only be the Village. Only then will the world know true peace."

"Only then will the world know true peace," chants everybody.

You can't tell Barbara that Canada's JTF2, with the agreement of the Greek government, are almost certain to work out where this Village is and to storm it if you and your sister are not found within a week. JTF2 (your nation's counter-terrorism unit) will know next week where this Village is if they don't already because it's clearly going to start to attack the outside world (or "the Depths" as the Villagers call it).

You and two siblings probably have a week to go and then that'll be it - finito. And for what? As it happened Barbara was already a vegetarian and you had been considering turning vegan. Never in your wildest dreams did you think about guns and walking about wearing teeth and kidnapping people and launching murderous attacks. All this is actually nuts. Actually genuinely nuts! Nothing to do with the values of ordinary people who avoid eating meat.

You think of Barbara shrieking as frogs descended on her from a tall Canadian tree. You think of Day's ability to disappear as though he'd never been there. Maybe he'll do that next week if things go wrong? Maybe he'll outlive you?

You think about family dinners back home. Nobody got theirselves shot over what they ate. Everyone was so happy back then. You had two loving parents. What on Earth has gotten into Day? How in the world did he get radicalized like that?

Hours later you lie there drinking wine and look toward the setting sun. Maybe light years away on another world someone is sitting in a rental car staring up at it and it looks like a tiny dot to them. "Run away! Run away!" you say to that possible other you. Maybe millions of kilometers away across space the other you has a chance to get some gas from the church, start their rental up and avoid this nightmare that you are now stuck in. Maybe the dangerous folk with blue skin and green scales are right here on Earth.

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The End

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