22 A Matter of ConscienceMature

Pastor Luzak and the others followed the Reverend back along the corridor, then around a corner, where they entered a small, brightly-lit windowless cubicle, containing a desk with a swivel chair, and several folding chairs stacked against the wall.  Domnick, Charlene, Dave and Karen each unfolded a chair and then sat facing the desk, where Reverend MacDougal had seated himself in the swivel chair.

An open computer was on his desk.

"'Pennsylvania'." Reverend MacDougal spoke haltingly.  "Pennsylvania is the name of a land that is supposed to be outside the CityBuilding, where life is supposed to be impossible."

Domnick told him, "Pennsylvania is more than 'supposed'.  It is actual.  The supposed impossibility of life out there is...I'm not sure what the word is.  I could call that belief 'incorrect'.  Life is not only possible outside the City of Manhattan Building.  It is flourishing; as it has always done."

"'As it has always done'?"

Domnick nodded.  "David Krendell and Karen Bennet here are witnesses to that fact."

"Witnesses?"

"And I have more than just their words to back up what I'm telling you."

He, Dave, Karen and Charlene had finally removed their backpacks, placing them on the floor beside their folding chairs.  Domnick reached down, opened his backpack, searched through it, and pulled out a large, thick brown envelope.

He told the Reverend.  "I have photographs."

He reached in the envelope and took out a dozen 5" x 5" full color glossy prints.  Then he came over to the Reverend, and showed them to him.

"Here.  That's the front of my Church in Zabelton, with me standing beside the sign.  That was taken yesterday morning.

"This next photo shows the cornfields outside of town.  That's a farmhouse and barn in the background.  That was also taken yesterday morning.

"Now here you see Dave and Karen standing next to a hovercar, in the parking lot of my brother Henry's motel, just outside of town.  That's his daughter Charlene here, standing beside them.  I'm the one who took the picture.

"This is a picnic barbecue that was held behind the Church the other day.  These people seated at the tables are members of our Congregation, along with a few guests.  You see Dave and Karen there among the guests."

Now Reverend MacDougal asked, "What is that food they are eating?"

Pastor Luzak told him, "That's beef, the meat from cows; pork, the meat from pigs; chicken, and fish meat too.  Then there are many kinds of vegetables.  They're drinking the juice from different kinds of fruits."  

"Just like our ancestors are said to have eaten and drunk?"

"That's right."

Karen said, "That's what Dave and I have been eating and drinking all week Reverend.  I actually caught one of the fish that we ate.  Believe it or not!"

"I believe you."  The man looked at her.  "Many strange things have happened lately, involving you Karen.  I attended the Combat Game, after which you were the dead cheerleader who'd been hanged.  Then you came back to life again, twice."

Charlene gasped.  Then she said, "You were killed?  Then you came back to life?"

Domnick said, "Twice?"

"Yes Pastor."  Karen told him, "It was during my second death, when I heard the Voice of God."

Reverend MacDougal asked, "You heard the Voice of God?"

She nodded.  "He told me, 'Karen arise and choose life, so that you and your children will live and possess the Land, that the Lord has given to you.'"

Pastor Luzak said, "Deuteronomy 30, verse 19."

She went on.  "Then I arose, and I have seen the Land, and I've just spent this entire week out there."

The man behind the desk asked her, "Has the Lord told you anything else?"

"No Reverend.  I have no idea if I'll ever hear anything else from Him again."  She told him, "All I know is that two weeks ago I was an ordinary dead cheerleader hanging at the end of an ordinary rope, and all was right with the world.  Now I'm alive again, and I have no idea what's gonna happen after this."

Pastor Luzak quoted from the Book of Acts.  "'Behold.  The people who have turned the world upside down are here'."

"I hope that's not why you're here."  Reverend MacDougal told them.  "A world turned upside down would be a world in total chaos."

"That's why I'm here."  Domnick told him, "I've been authorized by the Government, outside the CityBuilding, to speak on their behalf, to your Government, in hope of preventing any such chaos."

"You have a Government?"

Charlene said, "What?"

Her uncle said, "Yes we do Reverend MacDougal.  Your question shows that you know absolutely nothing about us.  All we've known about you are rumors and stories that are probably extreme exaggerations, about the goings on here, inside the City of Manhattan Building; so I have many questions.

"Now one question I have is about the eating of human meat."

Reverend MacDougal said, "I was thinking you might.  You've shown me that picture of the members of your congregation, eating all those foods that would be strange to us.  I assume that the Lord has blessed all of you so greatly, that those foods alone are enough for you, and that no human meat is included in your diet."

"That is true.  When I return, I should ask the Congregation, to thank the Lord that we never have to eat each other."

"That's a pity."  Reverend MacDougal told him, "In that photograph, some of your members looked very appetizing."

Charlene told the man, "I can't believe you just said that."

"A pity?"  Pastor Luzak asked, "You're a Christian Pastor, as I am.  Have you no remorse?"

"Remorse for what?  Here inside the City building, that's all we have to eat, and we thank the Lord for every meal."

"I apologize."  The clergyman from Zabelton told him.  "I understand how difficult it must be for you, and for all who are devout, here inside the CityBuilding.  Dave and Karen told these same things to me before we left. 

"The thing is that while we are here, my niece and I want to avoid eating any human meat, so we loaded some packaged meals in our back packs."

"Packaged meals?"

"Yes.  They include some of the foods that you saw in the photograph.  We will be eating them, instead of human meat."

"Some people might take offense at that.  It might look to them, like you're looking down on us."

"I'm sorry.  It's a matter of conscience."

"I understand that."

Domnick went on, "I also realize that our packaged meals will probably run out, long before my business here is completed.  Once that happens, I know that I can go on a fast for a time, but I don't know how long I can hold out."

He looked at Charlene, who sat there fidgeting. 

"And I'm sure that my niece won't hold out as long as I do." 

His niece looked away from everybody.

"Now before that happens, we both want to know the teachings of the Church, inside the City of Manhattan Building, considering this matter.  If we can't avoid engaging in cannibalism, what must we do to make things right with God?"

Reverend MacDougal told him. "The Scripture says in First John, Chapter 1, verses 8 and 9, 'If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness'."

Domnick said, "The Lord purifies us, through our faith in the shed blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; but Jesus died to take away our sins.  Not to make it easier for us to keep them."

"We know that."  Reverend MacDougal explained, "We have accepted Him as Savior and Lord; and have been praying to Him to free us from the curse of cannibalism, which He will do in His own time.  Until then, for as long as we have nothing else to eat, we will continue to thank Him for what we do have; and continue to wait upon the Lord for His cleansing."

"I see." said Pastor Luzak.  "Since my niece and I have come to stay among you for a time, that means that while we are here, we might have to take that same curse upon ourselves."

The girl gasped.

Reverend MacDougal told them both, "Then the Lord will have taught you humility."

"However," Domnick informed him, "we will wait until our packaged meals run out."

No one said anything for a while.  Charlene made a few soft, sobbing noises.

Then Pastor Luzak spoke again.   "Now the reason I've come to you, is that before I can speak to any people in your Government, I'll need someone to introduce me to them.  Dave here tells me that you know people in the Government of the CityBuilding.”

"That's true."  Reverend MacDougal said, "I can make some calls, and arrange for you to meet with people, with whom you can discuss these things."

"Thank you Reverend MacDougal.  Now there is something else. It's a personal matter that I hope you'll be able to help me with."

"That is what we of the Church are here for, Pastor Luzak."

"The problem is that...This is embarrassing.  You see.  I've arrived here, accompanied by my 16-year-old niece.  We need a place to stay, but our money has no value here."  

"I see.  I understand that.  The Lord did say, 'I was a stranger and you took me in.' and He also said, ‘As much as you did it for one of the least of these my brothers, you did it for me.’ 

"This Congregation sponsors a hostel for travelers in need.  It's a few blocks from here.  I can arrange for you and your niece to stay with them, at the Congregation's expense."

Now Dave spoke.  "Just like you did for me and Karen Pastor Luzak."

Karen nodded; so did Domnick.

Now Charlene spoke.  "Do they have microwave ovens at this hostel?"

"Yes.  There's one in every room."

"Good."  She said, "Then we can eat the packaged foods, without anyone giving us trouble."

Then the Pastor from Zabelton told the Pastor of the CityBuildingChurch, "My niece and I thank you for your generosity Reverend MacDougal."

Around four o'clock that afternoon, Pastor Domnick Luzak, and his niece Charlene finally entered their rooms in the hostel.  He was in room 116, which was right beside room 118, where Charlene would be staying.

Once he shut the door, he stood alone in the tiny, windowless cubicle, which had a microwave oven, television and other appliances embedded in the wall across from his bed.  The bathroom was at the opposite end of the room from the front door.  He stood facing the front door, spread his arms out wide and touched both walls at the same time.

At that moment, he heard Charlene cry out from the next room.

"Welcome to Paradise!”

A moment later there was a knock on the door.

"Uncle Domnick!  It's Charlene!"

He slid the door open sideways.  Charlene stood there trembling.

"There's a naked dead woman in the shower stall, in my bathroom!"

Domnick came out of his room, and went into hers to see what she had found.  Then he came back into his own room.

He went to the intercom on his wall, and tapped the button for the esk.

"Hello."  He said, "I want to report a murder in room 118."

He heard a man say, "'Murder'?  That's a strange word; kind of archaic."

"Listen."  Domnick told him, "There is a naked dead woman lying in the shower stall.  It looks like her throat has been slashed."

"Oh yes.  She was a guest in that room last night.  The fellow, who'd checked in with her, checked out this morning, without telling us about it.  We didn't know she was there until the maid found her, when she went to clean the room this morning."

"She was found this morning?  Hasn't anyone called the Police?"

"There's no reason to involve them sir.  The meat patrol has been notified.  I'll put in a call to them again.  They should arrive within a half hour, and the room should be ready for occupancy by 5 o'clock."

Pastor Domnick Luzak told the man, "Thank you."

The intercom clicked off.

"Uncle Domnick."  Charlene asked, "Can I heat up my packaged meal in your microwave oven, and have dinner here with you?"

The End

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