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FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

The Last Days of Eden
by Alex Baratta

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CHAPTER ONE

March, 1855

Jacob was a prisoner of faith. Such was his monument for which he would be remembered long after he had passed on to be with the Creator. This pleased Jacob though, for he was a man who would gladly die for God rather than live for man. Jacob was imprisoned with the basest of societyís people; those addicted to the evil weed, those who had defiled the marriage bed and those who were afflicted with demons and spent their days in corners, babbling incessantly to the dark lord. Jacob, however, knew that as a religious man he had forfeited all right to judge others. The moment he had found God he had become a new creation, one made clean. Seeing the other prisoners did not, therefore, cause in Jacob a vindictive need to condemn; instead, Jacob had pity on them, knowing that in Godís eyes every man and woman was guilty of sin and deserving of hellfire. But Jacob had been spared the fire by trusting in his maker. Heaven was full of sinners, as Jacob well knew, but sinners who had put their faith in God. The world, however, did not want to hear the Word of God, they did not want the truth and for this reason, Jacob was seen in the worldís eyes as a criminal. To the world, he was not a man of God trying to spread the good news. In their unfocused eyes, he was a threat. Jacob knew that his Lord had been regarded in the same way, though Jacob would not dare to compare himself to one so infinitely greater than he. By Jacobís estimate, he had been imprisoned for several months, though by now he had lost track of time. Time was something Jacob no longer needed anyway. God controlled time.

It was a new morning and like all others, Jacob was looking out on the world from his prison window. His was a small white room with the barest of provisions, consisting of nothing more than a bed, a table and chair and a contraption with which to relieve himself. He was clothed in the garments from which he would never be parted; rough fibered pants, a cotton shirt and a pair of well worn shoes. These were the clothes of the humble, the clothes of the penitent man. A visual reminder of his spiritual creed. The world outside tried in vain to beckon, with its close cropped grassy knolls, fragrant gardens and as far as Jacob could see, mountains in the distance which seemed to promise a world far removed from the prison which was now Jacobís only world.

The world outside, beautiful though its scenery may be and a world that for so many meant freedom, only meant true confinement for Jacob. Jacob did not regard confinement in jail as losing oneís freedom, for those who lose their life for Godís sake will find it; and those who find life in the prison of the unsaved world, will lose it. Jacob knew that at one time in his life the outside world had seemed tempting but now it had lost its grip entirely. At one time for Jacob, the outside world, like all sin, had looked delightful on the surface. But once it had been indulged it turned bitter, wormwood, just as the apple of Eden had, which had also previously looked so alluring to Eve. This was the stuff of Jacobís private sermons in the prison, and Jacob knew that at least two of his fellow prisoners were now brothers, and along with Jacob would be seeing God in paradise. So Jacob knew that he was not a condemned man living on borrowed time at the mercy of the unsaved prisoner keepers; he was a man with the promise of the Promised Land waiting for him after he had finished his Lordís work. Only the Lord can give life and only he can take it, not prison keepers.

But Jacobís mind now began a slow decline as his thoughts gave way to distant memories of a village named Happy Valley, a village where all the residents had chosen to leave, one, two, sometimes three at a time. Some announced their departure; others left in the night. But by September, there was no one left standing. Except Jacob.


CHAPTER TWO

It was January 1854, the year of both the creation and subsequent purging of Happy Valley. Happy Valley had actually been more of an isolated homestead rather than a village and this was especially true after the events of 1854, which had guaranteed that it would never again see another human settlement. From January until September of that year the population of twenty had slowly been reduced, until one man remained. An initial population of only twenty might have seemed farcical to some, even for a United States less than a hundred years old. However, this was not the kind of village that had been born out of gold seeking, wagon train convoys or desperate wanderers. Happy Valley was instead a social experiment of sorts, a pre-Emancipation attempt to bring Americans of all colors and all walks of life together in a religious revival, away from Mammon and worldly distractions. That was the collective hope.

Jacob had arrived with nineteen other people in January to establish this new colony, consisting of people who had willingly turned their backs on society and even on family members who did not share in their spiritual aspirations. Jacob remembered that it was a mild California winter, the kind when the weather was just right, conducive to the start of a spiritual retreat, more so given the recent end of the bloodshed that had been the Mexican-American war. Happy Valley had been established to bring together a group of strangers. For Christians, however, these initial strangers had simply been Ďfriends who had not met.í But people are people and sometimes human nature can be hard to go against. Jealousy. Backbiting. Scorn. It took less than the very first day of settlement to elapse and already one of the villagers, having delivered a concise farewell, departed. By February, another two were gone; by late May, only thirteen villagers were left. And by late August, a total of only eight villagers remained, including Jacob. Jacob regarded this situation, unlike some of the other villagers who remained, with a sense of complete despair.

Jacobís despair was finely entwined with a growing anger. It was anger borne out of a sense of piousness that had been growing since he had found God in a way he had truly never known before arriving at Happy Valley. It was on a breezy night in February that Jacob felt Godís presence in a way as never before. He knew this was real. He knew this was the beginning of an eternal relationship. By March, Jacob had become another man, partly due to his growing religious zeal and devotion to God and also due to his increasing responsibility as village elder. By this time, Jacob saw the spiritual welfare of the remaining villagers as his sole responsibility. He had to guide his flock. Encourage them. But deep down, Jacob knew that as human beings, the villagers had the freedom to choose their paths, even if their paths led out of Happy Valley and into the inevitable destruction that the world offered. A life beyond the quiet contemplation, fellowship and spiritual connection of Happy Valley. A life in the outside world surrounded by evil pleasures, and all of which lay beyond the boundaries of the woods, woods which encircled the grassy prairie that was Happy Valley.

Jacobís recollections of the life that nineteen of his onetime companions departed from were briefly interrupted by a scream of anger from one of the prison guards outside Jacobís cell. The voice belonged to McGregor, a particularly nasty man who was in great need of the Lord. Jacob let the moment pass. McGregor didnít really speak to Jacob much anyway, his only contact being a sharp rap on the door of Jacobís cell, the method of notifying Jacob that food was being served or that a visitor had arrived. Not that Jacob had too many visitors nowadays. After his imprisonment, Jacobís parents had been allowed to visit him every day, which they did for almost an entire month. But they too had abandoned Jacob. They didnít want to hear the truth, a truth involving one God, the need for salvation and to abandon worldly distractions. He told them about these things with the calm of one who knew the truth, but they seemed to grow tired, and finally announced to Jacob that they wouldnít be returning for a long time.

Jacob had no desire to speak with his parents anyway until they came back to him with contrite hearts and hungry souls. Jacob did not know when this would happen but he had to trust that his incessant prayers would get there in the end. Forgiveness was needed first, not just Godís but Jacobís, for, despite his best intentions, Jacob was struggling with his own worldly stubbornness, a stubbornness which found it hard not to judge the likes of the McGregors of the world; a stubbornness which found it even harder not to allow the pride of being a one-time leader for Godís cause take over; and most difficult it seemed was Jacobís inability to reconcile with his parents. His parents had brought him into the world and had loved him, and he them. But the old Jacob, the unsaved, evil, vile Jacob was no longer. But his parents wanted him back again. They seemed to merely tolerate his religious beliefs but Jacob wanted them to share in his experience. Jacob wanted their love for who he was now, not who he had once been. And the person he was now was born on February 18th, 1854, a month after he and a group of others chose to set up camp at a place called Happy Valley. No money, no worldly possessions; just the clothes on their backs, some basic foodstuffs and basic provisions, a Bible for each member of the community and one collective faith, which for too many of the villagers had not lasted very long.

This recollection had caused a sense of unpleasantness that fill Jacobís being, but he decided to nonetheless return to his memories of Happy Valley. He knew that this would ultimately lead him to more sadness but Jacob decided to go forward, confident that perhaps this time he could find answers as to how it all went wrong. Maybe there were answers to be found by returning to Happy Valley yet again.


CHAPTER THREE

August, 1854

Jacob was back in Happy Valley, at a point where he had felt that the final decay of the village had set in and quickened its pace, culminating in Jacob being the last man standing by September of that year. It was morning and Jacob was leading the prayers before the communal breakfast. The other seven villagers had grown accustomed to this. Many were more than happy to allow someone else to make the spiritual decisions for them. When Happy Valley had been established, there were no leaders, just followers. But leaders always emerge and Jacob filled that role. Sat at a long wooden table, which now seemed to engulf the eight people as it had been built for more than twice that number, Jacob began his prayers.

"Lord, as always, I pray that you will help us to keep our minds focused on the spiritual prize that awaits us in eternity. Let us not focus instead on Mammon and by doing so, make money our God. You have said that the love of money is the root of all evil, as are all worldly pleasures. Do not allow such pleasures to entrap us Lord. Today is a new day and we are thankful that we are eight strong. We do not judge those who have chosen to depart for you have given us free will to make our own decisions. Likewise, we must not judge those who, by committing acts of indecency with their mouths or bodies, were forced to depart Happy Valley. But please Lord, keep us all together. Let us not take the easy path and choose to leave. Give us all the strength, moral, emotional and spiritual, to stay where we are, here in Happy Valley doing your will. And please Lord, grant me the added strength to hold the remaining flock together. Please grant me the wisdom to know which is the right path for us all. We thank you for your guidance and for our daily food, nourishment for our bodies. Amen."

A collective amen was heard after which the villagers ate mostly in silence. Jacob sat at the head of the table with his remaining brethren in direct view. To Jacobís immediate left was Elias, a young man of 21 to Jacobís 33 years. It seemed to Jacob that for every step he had taken toward increased spiritual leadership, the more Elias had challenged it. Next To Elias was Lucius, an older black gentleman, the sole remaining villager of color. He seemed to regard Jacob with no particular resentment and neither welcomed nor spurned his leadership qualities. Then there was Melissa, a young girl who seemed all too afraid of life and had become more withdrawn since Ruth, her only true companion, had deserted the village a week earlier. It seemed that Ruthís love for the world was greater than her onetime desire to help Melissa with her personal struggles, struggles that she would not share with Jacob. Melissa sat adjacent to Bess, a middle aged woman who liked to talk with Jacob and share her

views on the direction the village was headed in. Then there was Emily who was about Eliasí age and full of questions, spiritual and otherwise, while Pamela, the oldest member of the village seemed to have an air of being above it all. The youngest member, Joel, sat next to her and to Jacobís right. He was a young boy who had recently finished school and it sometimes seemed to Jacob that perhaps Joel regarded the village as more of a temporary stop in his life until he found out what he really wanted. On the other hand, having made it this far, Joel had as much right as any to claim himself more dedicated than those who had abandoned Happy Valley.

Breakfast later concluded and Jacob sat in his chair as each member returned to their cabin for spiritual reflection and prayer. It was his turn to clean the eating utensils which he began after he was completely alone. Cleaning for eight was not a particularly demanding task, and capable of being done by one person. In the beginning, everything had truly been a communal activity, where an entire village farmed, cooked and cleaned as one. That was mostly gone now.

After the utensils were cleaned and returned to their wooden box by the side of the dining table, Jacob returned to his chair and reflected for that bit longer. Happy Valley now felt like a ghost town, having lost twelve of its original settlers, with their cabins still standing as a reminder of those of little faith, and it seemed to Jacob that one of two outcomes were most likely at this point. The village would eventually be abandoned, as would any future attempts to create another utopian existence. This sometimes seemed all the more likely as there had been no new faces in the village at all to replace those who had left. Not one.

However, there was a second outcome, one for which Jacob prayed day and night. Jacob believed that the village would be replenished. The day would come when the village would see those in need of spiritual nourishment who had been wandering in the wilderness for too long suddenly discover a spiritual oasis in a lush corner of greenery surrounded by trees, with mountains in the distance, acting as a visual promise of protection. Jacob hoped that one day the village would be complete again, just as Job had lost his family only to be given a family of even greater proportions after his pain inflicted by Satan. Moreover, Jacob still had hope that those who had already left, such as Elizabeth, James, Laura, and so many others, would also return. Jacob prayed that they, like the prodigal son, would wake up to the worldly mire that they were now in, and return with contrite hearts to a village always ready to welcome them home. Even the villagers who had been banished would always be welcomed back. With all these new and old villagers to accommodate in the future, the village would have a communal house-building, where everyone would play their part and create new dwellings for all. There would be marriages, babies and children to be raised in the Truth. It was not just a dream for Jacob; it was a dream backed up by faith. A cautious faith.

Jacobís eyes looked up to God, preparing himself for the conversation with the Lord that was to follow, as was customary for all the villagers several times a day during their quiet time. Jacob stood up and walked back to his cabin, one of many that were scattered throughout the village, with a table where they would meet for nutritional sustenance located in the centre of the grassy plain that was Happy Valley.


CHAPTER FOUR

Jacob had entered his cabin and immediately and purposefully walked to his bedside and assumed his familiar position on his knees. His hands clasped and eyes closed, Jacob began to speak with his Lord.

"Lord, this village was started by twenty like-minded people, all united for the purpose of creating a society devoted to you and to each other. A society that was supposed to grow and spread, from a village to a town, even becoming one of the future great cities of this country. But instead, we have been losing each other. Last week Ruth became the twelfth member to leave. The world outside has lost us more than half our population and I sometimes fear that Satan has a stronghold on this village. We started this village to escape from the world and focus on you and your Word. Not on money. Not on goods. Not on clothes. Not on our appearances. Only through our combined efforts will Satan be defeated and our village be replenished. I pray Lord that you will ensure that the remaining eight members of our village stay and in doing so, have their faith renewed. Please strengthen us all to fight against our individual weaknesses. Please give us hope when we need it. Please ensure that the world outside is extinguished in our hearts..."

The other seven villagers were dutifully confined to their own cabins, having mostly finished their prayers but choosing to remain indoors, lying on their beds after a hearty breakfast. Motionless. Had Jacob heard their earlier prayers, perhaps he would not have been displeased.

Elias:

"Lord, please help me to endure until the end. I am trying to be a good person... I am trying to be sociable to all, especially Jacob, but... I want so much to endure to the end. I donít wish to quarrel with Jacob. If he is the leader, help me to accept that. I just do not want to let you or myself down. I want to win the race, just as the Bible says, by keeping my eyes on the prize. I believe that Lord, I trust in you. Please Lord, help me to be sustained. I believe I can make it where others have failed. Help me to win the battle. Please Lord; help me to stay in Happy Valley..."

Lucius:

"Lord, I want to remain here in Happy Valley. I do not wish to take the easy way out as others have done, and as Jacob spoke of this morning. The world outside is all too tempting but let me use the wisdom that my years have given me. Let me withstand the course. Lead me not into temptation Lord, as you know I have been led. No; I have allowed myself to be led. I must take responsibility for my actions and so I do. I have allowed myself to lust and it is burning within me. But so is my desire to remain in Happy Valley and serve the cause. Lord, help me to make the right decision..."

Emily:

"I cannot believe I have made it this far Lord. I have seen people who I thought were much stronger leave this village behind. People who arrived here full of faith and the confidence it inspires. I came Lord... Iím not sure why I came. I needed a spiritual discipline, guidance I suppose. I do not know if I ever had faith in you before. But I do now and I realize that my survival here depends on how much I wish to stay. How much I need to be here. How much I need to spiritually survive. I pray Lord that you will help me to withstand the world that beckons and I want to pray for our leader Jacob. I thought he was too arrogant at first. I didnít think I could trust him and I know the other villagers, some now departed, felt the same. We thought he was a snake in the grass, speaking your name with his mouth but denying you in his heart. But I believe him now and feel he truly wants to help us all... I also need to pray for Joel who has become my friend yet I cannot deny that my feelings extend further. I believe very strongly that he feels the same... or is it all a trap? Can I trust him and any offers of love he may give? Or is he just playing a game and toying with my emotions?"

Pamela:

"Iím the eldest member of the village Lord and as such, I may have created the feeling that Iím superior to the others. Please help me Lord to not create this feeling in others, but help me to win their trust instead. I need them and we need each other. Help me to know, however, who can be trusted and who cannot. Jacob is either the most truly spiritual man on your green earth, or else he is a trickster. If the latter, then help me to be as wise as the serpent but as gentle as a dove, as you speak in your Book..."

Bess:

"Lord, it is not easy to pray for only myself and not consider my fellow man. I therefore pray for us all, that you may help each of us, all united in a common cause, to be helped according to our needs. But I have come to a crossroads Lord, one that requires a road to be taken. I must choose between pleasures of the flesh and needs of the spirit. Lord, you know of that which I speak... Lord, help me to withstand the pressure... help me to stay the course..."

Joel:

"Lord, I think I have already made my decision about where to go next in my life. I thank you Lord with all my heart, as I believe that you have indeed come into my life to inspire my decision. This is real. I want to be with Emily, to spend my life with her. I have no doubt that she would like to take our friendship further but in a wholesome way Lord, not in the lustful ways of the unsaved. I trust her with all of my heart Lord and I hope she trusts me. The question is whether or not she is willing to leave Happy Valley to return to the world with me, for the plans I have are for marriage, and such plans do not include this village. I feel Lord, with all my heart, that the world is not full of unsaved heathen, as Jacob believes. There are many spiritual people Lord who are not called to isolate themselves from the outside; I realize that I might be one of them. I want to devote my life to you Lord and my wife, in that order, the right order. Please help me to know if Emily feels the same, if she is willing to give up Happy Valley for love. What could be more spiritual Lord than sacrificing everything for love?"

Melissa:

Melissa was not praying. She was preparing to leave the village. Physical preparation was unnecessary as she had arrived with very little so there was very little to leave with. Spiritual preparation was also unnecessary, as Melissa had arrived with little faith and was leaving with even less. Mentally, however, she needed time to prepare, to ensure that no one, especially Jacob, was watching. She needed to prepare each of her steps, starting from her cabin door and ending on the other side of the woods that fit snugly round Happy Valley, and back into the world she longed for. She had tried to endure but had failed. She realized now that she had made a mistake. Giving up her family and friends to live in Happy Valley was ludicrous for all involved. Keep your eyes on the prize; the only belief that Melissa and Jacob would perhaps agree on, but the prize had obviously been insufficient for Melissa.

Jacob, however, would never know Melissaís deepest thoughts; for him, Melissa would be another spiritual casualty.

Melissa stepped outside her cabin and gently closed the door. She glanced to her left and right. No one was stirring. If she had been given free will then she would use it. No one would stop her or could make her change her mind. But she nonetheless did not need any interference from Jacob, perhaps the only member of the village who might actually try to stop her departure. Because he seemed to truly care deeper than any other.

Too late now. She moved forward, taking in the last sights of Happy Valley, a village that seemed to have been named for its beauty alone. Less is truly more, thought Melissa to herself, perhaps the only spiritual token she was taking with her back to the outside world. But then again, the village was nothing more than a grassy prairie and cabins, bordered by woods. The site for the village had been chosen precisely because of its simplicity, which was supposed to inspire spiritual reflection and contemplation. For Melissa, it had inspired boredom, anxiety and pain.

Halfway to the woods which were entrance to, and exit from Happy Valley, Melissa became emboldened, believing that the others would somehow envy her bravery at leaving behind Happy Valley. Did they not all secretly want to leave anyway? But were they afraid? Did some truly believe that hellfire and damnation were on the other side of the woods that she was now approaching, inspired by one of Jacobís sermons? She laughed out loud to herself in a moment of disdain for it all. It no longer mattered anymore. As Melissa began to walk on the footpath that snaked its way through the woods, her heart beat with anticipation and only then did she realize what she had given up to become part of the village: her life. Decisions such as hers were the kind from which there would be no going back. This caused no fear for Melissa as her mind was now full of joy, as the life she had abandoned for several months was now on her doorstep. Passing through a clearing, Melissa stepped out of the woods away from Happy Valley and into the familiar territory of the life she had abandoned.


CHAPTER FIVE

Following morning quiet time Jacob had made his way to each of the cabins in turn, just a quick check that all was well and occasionally a means to keep the villagers informed of any changes to the dayís events. Having received no reply when he knocked on the door of Melissaís cabin, he had peered through her window. Seeing the cabin empty, he entered, finding nothing but Melissaís Bible placed on her bed. It suddenly made sense, but all too late. Melissa had not gone outside for a solitary walk. Neither had she taken herself to the latrine. She had left the village. Jacob was suddenly reminded of Melissaís recently withdrawn nature. He knew that Ruthís sudden departure would have an impact on her but had believed that fellowship with her remaining brothers and sisters would sustain her. That is why Happy Valley had been established after all. Jacob closed the door of Melissaís cabin and sat down on the edge of her bed. Outwardly, Jacob was all manner of calm. Inside, he was a man suffering his own private turmoil, the kind that only the spiritual leader of a defiant group of spiritual babes could know.

Once again, Jacob had lost another member of his congregation. Before being seized by emotion, Jacob rose to go outside and, though hardly necessary, began to search for Melissa by scanning the fields. He already knew she was gone, lost to the world. God had told him. And while he felt an overwhelming sense of duty to keep his village together, Jacob also knew that when a personís free will caused them to leave Happy Valley behind, it had to be free will that brought them back. Jacobís daily prayers sought to return the lost to their true home in Happy Valley. At the same time, Jacob was losing patience for those who forgot why they had started this village. People who would perhaps abandon an eternity with the Lord for just one day in the world. Jacob nonetheless continued to make his rounds, circling the perimeter of the cabins. No one was stirring, which brought Jacob a brief sense of satisfaction, believing that perhaps the remainder of his congregation was safely involved with quiet time. Only one member of the family had been lost today.

Jacobís gaze, which had been slowly panning across the landscape, suddenly froze on a spot inside the woods, nothing more than a space between two large trees. By now, Melissa had no doubt long since passed through the woods and was back with the heathen masses. For a moment that was of no concern. Jacob allowed himself to focus instead on what he had seen. He knew his mind had not deceived him. He had seen a human figure, a man, clearly dressed in the garments of the outside; the man had quickly turned away after meeting Jacobís gaze. But Jacob had seen enough to catch a glimpse of a black shirt and black pants, with a flash of gold around his wrist, which caught both the sunís reflection and Jacobís sharp eye. Jacob allowed his momentary shock at seeing the first outsider peering through the woods and into the village subside. For that was all it was Ė one of the unsaved who had come to view Happy Valley.

Jacob briefly admonished himself within the confines of his mind, as he realized that the heathen he had assumed the dark figure to be may well have been a potential recruit for Godís army. A person who did not wish to live on the outside but wished to serve God in a new world. This would be the first new member to join Happy Valley, maybe the beginning of a new intake of the faithful, to replace those with weaker spiritual constitutions. Indeed, maybe the stranger Jacob had seen was not just one of those on the outside, who regarded the members of Happy Valley as lunatics, and wanted to spend a few minutes watching in ridicule from a safe distance. Jacob moved one step forward, suddenly urged from within to go after this man, and bring him into the light...

"Jacob!"

Jacob immediately turned to his left, to see Elias approaching him. Jacob felt that Eliasí look of concern was somehow all too obvious. He met Elias with an equally effective show of concern, though one tinged with genuine sadness for Melissa, whose memory made its presence known again in Jacobís mind. Jacob would share nothing with Elias about what he had seen, about the stranger in black. For now.

"Yes Elias?"

"Brother Jacob, itís Melissa. I saw her leave the village from my cabin. I could see her enter the woods. I wasnít spying on my sister, just gazing out of the window. I had finished my prayers."

Jacob raised his right hand, as one taking an oath, with a reassuring, though weak, smile.

"I trust you Brother Elias. I already sensed she had departed our village. You have now confirmed it. We have lost another member to the world outside."

There was a moment of silence between the two men. They looked deep into each otherís eyes. For them both, this was an opportunity to discover what lay beneath. For Jacob, the same weak smile accompanied his analysis of Elias; for Elias, there was no longer any attempt made at warmth.

"Should we organize a search party Jacob?" asked Elias, with a certain sneer creeping into his voice, or so Jacob thought.

"We started Happy Valley as a village of freedom, not as a group of cultists. Freedom of choice Elias, freedom of choice. We made it an unspoken rule when this village began that we had the choice to leave at will, just as we came here by choice, though I had always believed that we would stay together. But God will not drag people into his kingdom kicking and screaming; he wants volunteers Elias. We are a village of volunteers."

Having finished his speech, Jacob awaited a reply, secretly hoping that Elias would again challenge him, so that Jacob could move one step closer into gaining entrance into Eliasí innermost and perhaps darkest thoughts. Elias obliged his wish.

"Surely Jacob you, as our leader, do not wish to see our ranks depleted as Godís soldiers?" Elias spoke now with a certain affected poignancy, which might have caught those less wealthy in the Spirit off guard.

"Elias, have we ever run back into the world to bring back those who do not wish to remain in our fold? Have I ever established a search party to bring back those who have made it clear they do not wish to remain? We are now left with only seven members. Did not our Lord make it clear that if only two are gathered in his name there he will be? I would rather have a village of seven faithful members than an entire city made up of those who know God with their mouths but not in their hearts. As I said, we are here by choice, not by force. Those who choose to leave must choose to return."

A certain defiance had made itself known in Jacobís voice for which he would later chide himself, as he wished to remain even in temperament at all times, just as a spiritual leader should, and not give in to anger inspired by the defiant. Though the words of Elias had taken on a certain poignancy, considering that maybe the man in black could be a potential member of the Happy Valley flock.

"Please forgive me Brother Jacob," Elias began, with an evenness of voice, "but I believe that you have become a tad too zealous in your outlook. We are all here to worship the Lord and fellowship with each other but is there not room in your heart for those weaker than ourselves? Does not our Lord command us to rescue the lost?"

Jacob summoned together all his strength in order to combat the threat growing from this man and perhaps the man in black was indeed nothing more than a wicked, gawking heathen.

"The world outside is a place to which I will never return. I will be the last man here if necessary. I pray for my lost brethren but I will not defile myself to try to bring them back. The world outside has no meaning for me anymore Elias and I pray this is true for you also. There can be no overzealousness for the kingdom."

All at once Elias knew that Jacob would not be moved. This both disturbed and angered him. While Jacob was again beginning to feel that Elias was not to be trusted, Elias could not claim to be as sure of exactly who Jacob was; Elias did not know. Was this self-appointed leader a liar, who wished to fool everybody? Or was Jacob a nineteenth century evangelist in a frenzy of spiritual awakening that Elias had never seen before? Elias now made up his mind to finally ask the others for clues to the true identity of this man. The man who seemingly wished to lead others to the kingdom of Jacob.

Jacob suddenly interrupted Eliasí plotting with a call to gather the others together for an assembly.


CHAPTER SIX

The assembly of seven gathered around the dining table, Jacob began a task that he had become all too familiar with. The task being to announce to the villagers that another member had departed. This was one of the many duties that a village leader had: to simultaneously announce a loved one had been lost and offer comfort to those who remained.

"Brothers and sisters, you may already know why we are here; why I would interrupt your quiet time. We have lost our Melissa."

Eliasí ears pricked up in preparation for the speech that was to follow. He briefly scanned the faces of the others, those seemingly less spiritually endowed than Jacob. But like Jacob himself, their faces revealed a pious sadness and for Joel and Emily, genuine shock.

"I could feel Melissaís sense of loss after Sister Ruth left the village several days ago. But Melissa made the mistake of putting her faith in a person, not in God. Only the Lord can help us stay the course; it is in him that we must put all our hope, trust and faith. And once we decide to leave the village it will be harder to return, for the outside world, ruled by Satan, has a powerful pull on our lives. Did we not all once live in the world, both with our minds and bodies? We know how tempting it can be. But we have been made clean with the power of the Spirit. We must continue on. Brethren, I beseech you, as does the Lord, to stay where you are. Continue the good fight, do not give in now. Rely on each other, for only as a group will we survive. There are no individuals here, we are a family. And as a family, we must help each other."

With each sentence there had been a growing crescendo of passion, desperation and anger. For the villagers, save for Elias, Jacobís leadership was tolerated, if not wholeheartedly accepted and it seemed to Elias that it was complacency, a desire to not take on added responsibility, that caused the villagers to let Jacob have his way. A collective apathy even. But not for Elias. As Jacob led the villagers in a discussion, in which all were invited to share their thoughts and feelings, Elias once again scanned the facial landscape. The faces of the other villagers, outwardly humble and meek, might just betray their true identities in an unguarded moment, thus revealing any resentment toward their leader. It was for this reason that Elias had taken to facial scanning but truly, only a chance to meet privately to discuss Jacob with the others might reveal more. It seemed from the expressions on the faces of the others, that no one harbored any bitterness toward Jacob. Perhaps, however, there truly was bitterness toward Jacob within their hearts; bitterness, which, unlike that of Elias, was more cleverly hidden. It was getting harder and harder for Elias, and no doubt everyone in the village, to know just who their true brothers and sisters were. Who were the real people within, lurking behind the faces, the smiles, the occasional tears and the sometimes forced piousness? It was only after a villager departed from Happy Valley that their true selves were finally revealed. Only after a villager had departed could those who remained finally discover the truth. And the truth was that those who left the village for any reason were those who lacked faith. Those who left the village were those who didnít believe. Those who left the village were those who no longer believed in the prize. But until people departed Happy Valley, no one would ever be able to know who was who. And for Elias, desperately in need of a likeminded ally, he suddenly found his chance. He saw on the face of Lucius what appeared to be a look of scorn directed toward Jacob, who by now was leading the congregation in a closing prayer, for which the eyes of Elias and Lucius had defiantly remained wide open. Maybe Elias had found a fellow non-conformist, a villager who had also perhaps tired of this man named Jacob.

Meanwhile, the man in black had not strayed too far. He was still in the woods watching the villagers, crouched down and hidden among some bushes. And he could hear every word the villagers spoke. Clearly. An amazing feat for one who was more than a hundred feet away from the table around which the villagers were gathered.


CHAPTER SEVEN

Following the assembly, the villagers had resumed their daily schedule, which consisted of afternoon farming, preceded daily by Morning Prayer and devotion and followed by Evening Prayer and devotion. Elias, Jacob, Pamela and Lucius tended the fields, ensuring that a plentiful supply of grain, now only needed to feed seven people, was laid down and the soil adequately fertilized. Meanwhile, Bess, Joel and Emily were feeding the animals, consisting of ten cows, a dozen sheep and three horses, all of which roamed free in expansive yet separate fields, adjacent to where the villagers themselves lived.

Jacob had taken his place at the far end of a trench in the soil that he was raking, with Pamela planting seeds further down and Elias and Lucius together at the opposite end. Elias had wanted it that way. Lucius was digging with a rusty trowel; Elias was scattering some seed. Providing enough food for a village that was becoming progressively smaller was not difficult, however. Elias crouched down to come face to face with Lucius who was hunched over, as if in prayer, when in reality he was continuing with his ritualistic digging; such was his task for today, and all done for the glory of God. Elias was first to break the silence, believing that Lucius would not have done so.

"Brother Lucius, can I ask you something?"

"Of course," he replied, with an affable drawl.

"It concerns our leader Jacob."

Lucius looked up while continuing his tool work. His face displayed curiosity, not concern. Elias did not wait for Lucius to speak again, having seen in his eyes enough reassurance that he could proceed with his questioning.

"I spoke with Jacob this morning, just after Sister Melissa had left the village. Following this latest departure, it seems as if Jacob has developed a certain coldness, as if he has no concern for those he determines as being weak in faith. I feel, however, that we should do more for those who have lost their faith. Our hearts must stay warm for each other, not just for God."

Lucius finally ceased his activity with the trowel and, raising his upper body to rest his large weathered hands on his legs, he spoke. This hadnít escaped the watchful eye of Jacob, while Elias patiently waited for an answer, one that he hoped would signal the degree of Luciusí allegiance to a leader Elias had already declared unfit.

"I can see your point Brother Elias but I can also see Jacobís side in all of this. I believe that Brother Jacob truly is a man who is concerned for us all and our well-being. Having seen more than half the village disappear, I feel that he now believes a stronger mind is perhaps needed, one stemming from love, and one that causes Jacob to focus more on those who still remain, not on those who have chosen to leave. Perhaps this has made you feel a degree of coldness in Brother Jacob."

This was not the answer that Elias had wanted to hear. Elias would have to probe deeper.

"Granted Lucius, but I fear that Jacob has forgotten that this was a village built on democracy, not the rule of one. Have you not at least questioned Jacobís motives for leading us? I personally believe that he leads for his own glory, not for the Lordís."

Lucius seemed intrigued by the conversation, implied by the non-committal strokes he made at the earth with his trowel, as if to signal that the communal gardening activity was suddenly of limited interest. But Elias nonetheless felt that Lucius was one who would rather acquiesce than fight.

"To address your concerns Elias, Iím afraid I can be of no help. If you are asking for a mutiny, you will find no support from the rest of us. If you are seeking to displace Jacob as our spiritual leader, that is between the two of you alone. If, however, you want to know how we feel about Brother Jacob, then we have already had that discussion."

Eliasí face registered a look of hurt that Lucius chose to disregard.

"You see Elias, it was several weeks ago, at a time when Jacob was no more and no less the leader he already is at present. A small group of us gathered, including some of whom are no longer here, and we discussed our thoughts and feelings about everybody, including you. You were not with us for you had volunteered to go to the far end of the village with Jacob to tend to a sick animal."

Elias now felt threatened, as if the entire village, be they for or against Jacob, were certainly against himself. He had miscalculated. His fear now turned to anger, directed at Lucius with a perceptibly raised tone of voice.

"Are you then Lucius the leader of a rebellion within this village? Are you one who wishes to turn brother against brother, sister against sister?"

Eliasí face showed rage. Pamela didnít care none too much at what she perceived as a minor fracas involving a slightly raised voice, but a voice that was careful not to be audible to others. As for Jacob, to any casual observer, he was more involved with the dirty job of laying down manure, which was a job that he felt the leader should do, rather than impose it on other members of the flock. Though he could not hear Elias and Luciusí conversation, he had no doubts that it was somehow directed against him. As such, he was receiving more confirmation that perhaps Elias was indeed not to be trusted, though he gave Lucius the benefit of the spiritual doubt.

All of Eliasí anger, however, was met with a defiant indifference on the part of Lucius, which was signaled by his resumption of his duties with the trowel. Having allowed a few seconds to pass for Elias to calm down, but not too much time which would have further aggravated him, Lucius spoke again.

"Elias, why do you speak so? Have I ever given you reason to anger? We met that evening to simply discuss who Jacob was, a concern you obviously have now. And we wanted to know just what our own true spiritual beliefs were. We took a leap of faith and decided that we would tell the complete truth to each other."

Luciusí genuine warmth in his voice did much to return Elias to a state of calm again.

"You didnít completely trust Jacob then, but why did you exclude me?" Elias asked, now suddenly believing momentarily that perhaps Jacob was his only ally after all, with the remaining five villagers plotting against the two of them.

"Forgive me; forgive us all Elias, but we had committed the sin of prejudging others, and that included you as well as Jacob. That is why we waited until both of you were away. We had always seen the two of you together and felt that you were your own team... your own private spiritual group. This led to a consensual feeling among us at that time that maybe we had to form our own alliance. We came to share and develop our spiritual faith Brother Elias, but despite our best intentions, the world is still in all of us. And that explains feelings of mistrust. Feelings of doubt. It is no excuse but it is a reason."

Lucius felt relief at having shared this information with one of the few villagers who had not known until now about the secret meeting, though secret no more. Relief quickly turned to an intense, though passing fear, as Lucius suddenly questioned the wisdom of sharing this information with a man who it had previously been hidden from. Had he betrayed several other villagers by confiding in just one? But maybe he had found a true brother among Elias. Such was the dilemma of all the villagers.

As for Elias, he now knew of the plank that had been lodged in his eye; having been freed by another, he could see more clearly now. He felt a real sense of gratitude toward Lucius, one that would be awkward to express, however. Instead, there would be an unspoken understanding between the two men and hopefully from this moment on, an understanding between everybody, perhaps even Jacob. Lucius made the next, and final, move for that day.

"Elias, it really is very simple. There are no leaders in Happy Valley because we are all followers. We are all followers because we are all following our God and the same goal. Yes, we work together but we must also tend to ourselves. We must also focus on ourselves without thinking that this is the attitude of the unsaved heathen. Neither you, nor I, nor Jacob wish to go back to the world outside and therefore, we have no choice but to keep counsel with the leader within each and every one of us. If, however, Jacob believes he leads, so be it. Think about yourself Elias from time to time and your own spiritual strategy, and worry less about others. Besides, if Jacob truly has little concern, as you say, for those who have returned to the world, then follow his lead. Let the day worry about itself, Elias."

The conversation was now ended. Lucius resumed his trowel work with a determined ferocity, as if to make up for time lost in conversation. With a sense of accomplishment, Elias stood up and worked his way to a more secluded spot between Lucius and Pamela, yet still warily distant from Jacob, who was still an unknown quantity. Jacob felt that trouble was stirring, or being stirred. As for Elias, he would try to take the advice of Lucius.

Meanwhile, in the relative privacy offered by a shady oak tree near the horse field, Emily and Joel had secretly declared their love for each other, and sealed it with the proverbial kiss. For them, trust was a necessary and wonderful ingredient in their newfound bond.


CHAPTER EIGHT

A tear fell into the mush that passed as afternoon sustenance. Jacob fought back with a wounded sniff and a brusque wipe of his right eye. His memory of Melissa, a sweet, young and very pure maiden, caused Jacob to suddenly be brought back into his present world of a prison cell. Like a bad dream, Jacob knew that he would probably find himself drifting in and out of Happy Valley consciousness. For now, Jacob would finish his food and refresh. But then he would, predictably, return again to Happy Valley. September 1854. A time that didnít seem that long ago. In just under a year, Satan had rid an entire village of what had begun as a colony of the faithful, dedicated and determined to serve the Lord. Instead, they had served their own lusts and earthly desires, with only Jacob left.

The tear he had shed was one borne out of a passing sense of guilt, a feeling that perhaps Jacob had not done enough to rescue his flock. As the proverb says, Ďhe who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly...í perhaps Jacob had not disciplined his followers. Perhaps he should have done more to maintain control, to rule Happy Valley with a stricter hand. Then maybe more villagers would have remained. Yes, it was a village of volunteers but if it is to remain a village, people are needed to populate it.

But Jacob realized that his analysis of his conduct as village leader would always result in an uneasy alliance between two extremes: on the one hand, a religious and deeply spiritual man, determined to keep his faithful flock together which required a firm hand, often in the form of his passionate sermons. Then there was Jacob the man, as sinful and as deserving of hellfire as anyone else and, save for the grace of God, a place he would have spent eternity in. Jacob had a heart, a human heart which was not beyond understanding the temptations and pleasures that the world had to offer. Should he, then, have spent more time with his brothers and sisters, perhaps on an individual level, offering more personal guidance, sharing more of his own struggles with them and asking more questions to discover their own hidden struggles? Maybe then he could have prevented some of the villagers from leaving. Ultimately, however, the question Jacob pondered the most was if he should have run after his lost flock. Should he have gone outside the village in an attempt to find, and bring back, his lost brethren? But he had been so afraid to tread outside into the sinful world that encircled Happy Valley, to which the weaker members of the flock had returned to. Perhaps he had been a coward after all. A man who let fear of the sinful world outside prevent him from returning there, even for the purpose of bringing his lost family back to Happy Valley. Had it been fear of worldly contamination, then, that stopped him from rescuing the others after all?

But there was another possible answer, one found in the Scriptures themselves. Luke 15:4. The Lord had made it clear how the shepherd leaves behind ninety-nine sheep in order to find the one that is missing. But Jacob had never had more than nineteen sheep to tend to; after a few months, half that number remained. But not once did Jacob tend to his missing flock. Not once did he place another in charge and leave to find those who had left his village. If only he could have found just one villager on the outside, then that is one he could have brought back and prevented from going back to their vomit, as the Scriptures also mention. There was indeed much more that Jacob should have done. God had placed him as the village leader and he had clearly abdicated his responsibility. If so, then maybe Jacob was now paying for his sins: the outside world that he was so afraid to set foot in again had been thrust upon him in the form of a worldly jail. Earlier this very morning Jacob had defiantly claimed superiority at the attempt of the unsaved to try and imprison him in a man-made worldly jail. Now, Jacob suddenly felt that his very spirit was imprisoned, for which he could not find an escape. The jail might indeed be a punishment after all, not merely a test of faith. Maybe Jacob deserved to be here. Yes, he would always have his Lord, but his foreseeable days on earth would be spent in a cell, not preaching from a pulpit, or even leading a new spiritual flock. Where was the freedom he had so recently convinced himself that he had in abundance? He had thought that he was a prisoner of faith. Maybe he was just a prisoner.

Jacob realized more than ever now just how much he indeed was guilty of pride. He had truly been more concerned with his role as leader in Happy Valley than his role as Godís servant. Too fearful to have returned to the outside world to bring back the lost sheep, being more focused on himself. Leaders donít act in such a way. Christ was a leader, but a leader who had put himself last in order to save those who followed him. Jacob knew he had not done the same. He had not followed in his Lordís footsteps.

But Jacob could not deny the fear he had felt the closer he got to the woods of Happy Valley, woods that were the entrance into the outside world which for Jacob had meant Satanís lair. It was more than a fear that prevented him from entering the woods. It was an incredibly powerful feeling, telling him that he must not enter, lest he be led by Satan into the world outside. He had even imagined the fiery sword, guarding the woods and preventing entrance into the world outside, a warning against all manner of danger and evil. Had it not been a fiery sword that had prevented Adam and Eve from re-entering Eden? But Eden was a paradise to which people should want to gain admittance. And Happy Valley had been the second chance for Eden.

So again the question returned, stubbornly demanding to be heard. Why had Jacob not returned to the world outside to retrieve the lost villagers? Had it been a selfish fear, haughty pride or indeed divine guidance that had prevented Jacob from leaving the village and going back into the world? Jacob asked these questions to himself and decided that it was a good time to once again return to Happy Valley where he might find the final answer as to why a flawed, but otherwise God-fearing man, would now find himself imprisoned. For even in a sinful and vile world there had to be a greater crime than simply preaching the Word. There had to be another reason as to why Jacob was sitting in a prison cell.


CHAPTER NINE

September, 1854

Joel and Emily were surrounded by well-wishers save one: Jacob. He could not manage much more than a begrudging wish of Ďgood luck,í knowing of course that there was no such thing as luck, good or bad. Earlier that morning, Joel and Emily had announced their plans to marry, a decision which had its origins with their first kiss some weeks earlier. With their decision to marry came their simultaneous decision to return to the world outside Happy Valley. At this moment in the imprisoned Jacobís recollection, Joel and Emily were standing by the dining table, which would now be in use for only five people. The remaining villagers were standing around the two young lovers who were preparing to re-enter the world outside.

"Joel and Emily, you have made even me feel younger. I remember the wonderful times I had with my husband, rest his soul. We are all sad to see you leave, but you will have a beautiful life wherever you go." Pamela spoke this with the warmth of a mother, and Pamela had become a mother to Joel and Emily, as their real mothers had not joined them in the village. A reciprocal hug was exchanged between Pamela and Joel and then Pamela and Emily.

In turn, the couple turned to face Elias, who responded with a hearty handshake for Joel and a brief hug for Emily with a sly smile on his face. To this he added a warning of, "Be careful out there."

Jacob knew that he would have to say something to the couple, as did they. And there was also the shared knowledge that it probably would not be as warm a farewell as the others had already given. Jacobís attention was momentarily diverted to Lucius and Bess, as they themselves seemed to have formed a union of sorts, one that had not gone unnoticed. A growing eagerness to work on the farm together, and a mutual lagging behind when the flock, such as it was, went on occasional spiritual walks together.

By now, Lucius and Bess were in the midst of creating a human ball of warm hugs with Joel and Emily. Jacob could not deny the love that seemed to be all around the group. But why now? Why not more of such openness and warmth in the village before, why now, when two more brethren were preparing to depart? But Jacob could not deny the look of pride on Eliasí face that surely the Lord could see with a spiritual clarity not clouded by worldly vision. That sneer of Elias that seemed to delight in the fact that two more members were departing Happy Valley.

Inevitably, Joel and Emily approached Jacob. They both had hope in their eyes combined with a certain look of trepidation, as if approaching a stern schoolmaster. But it was the role of Jacob the kind father, not Jacob the village leader, who won the day. Accordingly, Jacobís face melted into a smile, without any trace of severity.

"My children, I have made it clear how I wish you to stay in Happy Valley. How I truly want what is best for you, a life without the evil distractions of the world outside. But even I cannot deny your happiness."

Joel and Emily smiled a radiant smile that spurred Jacob on.

"You are adults and clearly you know what is best for you. It is not my place to decide for you. I pray that you will both, however, place God above all else, even each other. He will guide you; let him do so. You will especially need guidance in the outside world."

A spontaneous hug was the coupleís answer. Jacob gave a hug in return, and felt as though it was a spiritual energizer of sorts for all concerned.

"We will, we promise Jacob!" was the reply from Emily, in response to Jacobís plea for the two of them to place God as commander of their lives.

Back in the present moment of 1855, Jacob let the memory fade. He had recollected enough regarding the day Joel and Emily left the village. But that had been a day that saw a total of four villagers leave Happy Valley behind. Joel and Emily had put love for each other first, before the love of serving God in Happy Valley. They had chosen to serve him in the world instead, a challenge much greater than worship within a world designed exclusively for spiritual service. And sometime in the night, Lucius and Bess had chosen to put their lust for each other ahead of everything else. The couple had waited until nightfall, after final prayers, to meet in Bessí cabin. There they indulged their sinful bodies. The rules of Happy Valley did not allow for this and of course never would. The pair, now joined in Godís eyes, would have to be banished according to the rules of Happy Valley, but they were now free to live according to the world, a world devoid of rules.

The banishment had come in the night while others were asleep, even Jacob. The man in black had been the one who had instigated such. This was a man who could see what went on behind closed doors, could hear every word spoken by every villager at all times and perhaps could even read their thoughts, a gift that Elias truly desired to have. As the one who saw and heard all, he was now walking toward the cabin of fornication.

The news of the departure of Lucius and Bess was announced in the morning, by means of a note pinned to the door of Bessí cabin. On the note was a simple statement declaring these words Ė We must leave. A note like so many others left behind by those who departed Happy Valley in secret. Having read the note, Jacob knew that the Holy Spirit, speaking in the disguise of Jacobís instincts, had proven trustworthy again. The reason for the growing interest between Lucius and Bess was now clear. Jacob had no doubt as to why Lucius and Bess had departed, and wasted no time sharing his beliefs with the remaining villagers, at the same time as he admonished the weak.

Three now remained.


CHAPTER TEN

It was the day after love and lust. Pamela, Elias and Jacob were the last remaining of the original flock of Happy Valley, now seated at the table and eating their morning meal, with Jacob at the head, Pamela to his right and Elias to his left. They were trying to enjoy a warily eaten breakfast consisting of bread rolls with Pamelaís homemade jelly, and strong coffee. Of the basic foodstuffs brought to the village in January, much remained, since the village was now in need of food for three, not twenty. Less farming was required and less milk needed collecting in the morning from the cows. Uncomfortable glances were occasionally passed around by the three spiritual siblings, who now felt more isolated than ever. The village was suddenly all too big; it engulfed them. Elias, despite his best efforts, could not stop trying to imagine what Jacob was up to; Pamela still had an air of stoic aloofness to her; Jacob was a man whose spiritual reserves were being depleted on a daily basis. Even he had been tempted by Satan to give up on a leadership role that was becoming increasingly obsolete and to abandon the dream that once united twenty people. But he had managed to only just stand his spiritual ground. So far.

"Brother Jacob, what are your plans for us today?" asked Elias, as he raised his cup of coffee to his mouth.

As if sensing a troubling atmosphere, Pamela immediately looked over to Jacob, seeing how he would react to what she felt was less a question from Elias and more of a challenge. Jacob seemed to take the question at face value, however, with his senses somewhat dulled.

"Brother Elias, I think we should all decide for ourselves. I have tried to guide this village, but not rule it. I always suggested Morning Prayer, not commanded it. I encouraged rotating the various farming chores, not demanded it. I for one plan to spend my quiet time outside my cabin this morning. Iíd like to spend time with God in the nature that he created."

Jacob answered the question with a calm demeanor and no indication that he was in any way perturbed, though he had not looked to Elias as he spoke but to the surrounding woods. This, however, slightly disturbed Elias, causing him to acknowledge Jacobís answer with a purposeful nod of his head and a guarded smile. Jacob in turn gave a brief glance in Eliasí direction. Eliasí previous doubts about Jacob now returned; seeing a man with an intense religious fervor now as a diluted version of his former self was worrying. Was Jacob a master trickster after all? A man who changed his self, or selves, at will, depending on the situation he found himself in? With only the three of them left, this would be easier to find out. Pamela decided to act as peacemaker for a potential storm that was brewing.

"I will clean the cutlery. Then could I accompany you on your walk Brother Jacob?"

"Iíd truly like that. Would you like to join us Elias?" asked a suddenly eager Jacob.

"Yes Jacob. I would."

The three of them began their walk together a short time later. They made their way past the collection of deserted cabins, walking along the grassy floor that led to the animalsí dwellings. Pamela let her thoughts lead her, as she remembered her husband who had died two years earlier. She also thought of her one grandchild, the offspring of her only son, neither of whom was seen much nowadays. She had been a lonely woman for some time, until she entered the village. A woman who did not feel superior to anyone in the village but a woman who was simply enjoying basking in the company of others, which required nothing more than watching the world go by. No active participation was necessary. Her spiritual needs were met by the companionship of the villagers themselves, even if only two others remained. And these two young men, who seemed to be possessed by youthful spirit, were undeniably humorous. Yes, Pamela enjoyed her role as the one who was needed to keep these two remaining whippersnappers in line. But Pamela had been thinking for the past few weeks that perhaps it was getting time for her to leave the village. Time to let youth run this undeniably young personís colony. Let them have it. Pamela chuckled to herself. She had come to Happy Valley not knowing what to expect, except to keep your eyes on the prize, as the Good Book says. Pamela felt she already had her prize; a chance to have met nineteen other wonderful, petty, funny, selfish, spiteful and loving people, some of whom she hoped she would meet again on the outside. New friendships, which had made her realize just how lonely she was before arriving at Happy Valley. This had inspired her to finally want to make a larger effort to see her son and grandchild again, after all this time apart.

As for Elias, he was still trying, predictably, to understand who Jacob was. It was that simple. Was he truly a religious leader, who planned to remain here all alone if need be? Was he the con artist that Elias had thought some of the previous villagers were, sometime rightly, sometime wrongly? Elias had desperately tried to take the earlier advice of Lucius, which involved thinking less of Jacob, and more of himself. At face value, this seemed hardly a fitting spiritual attitude, but Elias had understood. But then, the only prize that the eyes of Lucius had been fixed on was Bess. For the three remaining, who all presumably remembered the true reason as to why they were here, each one, no matter how weak, small or defenseless they might appear, was a potential snake. Some of the people who had come to Happy Valley had proven that they were indeed not to be trusted; people like Caleb, who had been the friendliest member back in the early days, only too happy to ingratiate himself with everyone else. A man who took it upon himself to discover each of the villagerís personalities and characters, in order for him to discover the chinks in their armour and then attack. Caleb had discovered that Sister Abigailís desire to see her teenage daughter, who remained on the outside, was stronger than her desire to remain in Happy Valley. It was shortly after that he then convinced her that her daughter had made contact and was waiting; he badgered her, bullied her and pestered her until she gave in and left the village, never to return.

But then there was Joel, who Elias had thought, though admittedly with a sly respect, was courting Emily only to convince her to leave the village with him, as part of some cunning scheme. No, Elias had been very wrong that time. Joel and Emily were both full of young, genuine, true love. There are some things in life that are more important than others. Love was one of them. So it seemed to Elias that the man he was now walking next to, though at a safe distance, might just be a man at the end of his tether, who, with a gentle push from Elias, might be persuaded to leave the village so that Elias could take his rightful place as the sole ruler. The last man standing. On the other hand, Jacob might indeed be planning his next strategy, one that led to ridding the village of all his enemies, and his current state of spiritual exhaustion was nothing more than a ploy.

But unbeknown to Elias, Jacob was not a con man. He was not a strategist. He was no longer a man part of the world. He was a man of God and for God. He had told that to everyone, but Elias didnít believe him. But Jacob truly wanted to hold his flock of two children together. He was ashamed to admit that he had lost hope that previous members would return to the village, let alone new members arriving from the outside world. But he hoped against hope that the members who remained, a petulant man named Elias and a reserved woman named Pamela, would stay with him and remain a village of three. Jacob knew that he would have to amend his ways, put away any disdain for Elias and start again. Likewise, Jacob knew that just as God had chosen him to be the village leader, others, like Pamela, were chosen for different tasks. No, she did not have much to offer in the ways of conversation. But when had she ever refused to work in the fields, as so many of the others had? When had Pamela ever complained that she was too tired to rise in the morning and help prepare the morning breakfast? When had Pamela ever complained about anything? So many of the villagers, in fact the vast majority, had left precisely because of hard work, early rises and their desire to return to a life without such so-called hardships. Jacob knew he had to summon all his spiritual reserves and he started now, by making a seemingly innocent suggestion.

"Let us sit by that oak tree," Jacob said as he pointed to a proud tree that stood by a fence over to their left.

Somewhat surprised, as the quiet solitude had started to lull Pamela and even Elias into a trancelike state, they turned to look at Brother Jacob, which acted as a silent, though mutual, agreement to his suggestion.

Intrigued, they followed Jacob, and the three of them walked to the base of the tree. They followed Jacobís lead after he sat down, with his knees raised to his chest and secured with his arms which were wrapped around them. Pamela and Elias adopted a more informal repose and sat on either side of him, still maintaining a healthy distance.

"I feel it is time for us to speak our minds. Forgive me but I must speak freely; I ask that you do the same."

"Go on," said Pamela, sensing that Jacob needed encouragement.

Elias had been waiting all too long for this moment; with great anticipation, he hoped he would not be disappointed.

"I came to this village as did you, to seek a better life. A life free from the cares of the world outside, free from the pettiness and evil of man. But living away from the world is not enough. We must draw on the strength of the Lord if we are to serve him. We must put aside pettiness, grievances and all that connects us to the world. Happy Valley is our world now. And I donít want to lose either of you."

Jacob spoke this final sentence as he looked into the eyes of the two sitting on either side of him. Elias looked truly uncomfortable with Jacobís statement, as did Pamela. She then asked a question of her own.

"Brother Jacob, donít you miss the outside world?"

Jacob gave a quick spin of his head to turn and face Pamela with a scowl on his face. Seeing her resulting fear, he quickly mellowed and prepared to give an answer to what he nonetheless perceived had been an offensive question, at least to him.

"Sister Pamela, there are two worlds that you speak of, both of which are inhabited by the unsaved. One is geographical, and can be reached very simply, just like the road to Hades. Go through the woods which separate Happy Valley from such a world, and there you will be. You will have arrived in a world filled with the unsaved, people who have lust in their hearts and plot evil, and who serve only money and the adoration of man. These people are defiled, defiled by the world in which they live. This is a world to which I will never return. This is a world in which I want no part. This is the world created by the unsaved."

Pamela dared to give a brief glance to Elias while Jacob seemed to be in the midst of preparing his discussion of the second outside world. Jacob continued.

"The second world is one that can be inhabited regardless as to oneís geographical location. It is the world where our spiritual self exists. It is the world within us, where our secret desires and wishes are, though not secret from the Lord. The world that reveals how important the Lord is to us, though for some, he does not exist at all. Have we not seen how many of our flock, despite being in a village devoted to the worship of our Lord, were still living in darkness? How earthly lusts still abounded in the hearts of Lucius and Bess, despite being in Godís country?"

Elias seized a chance to probe further.

"Does this mean that people who live in the world outside that you speak of cannot reside in the spiritual world? Must all the saved live in spiritual communities? The Lord does not command his saved to abandon the world; he commands us to be a part of it. Can we not live in the outside world and still be part of Godís saved children?"

Pamela was fearful now. Jacobís answer to the question, however, proved to be both honest yet calm.

"I see your reasoning Elias, and it is reasoning which is not without its own logic. I must take this time to admit that I know I have been regarded as perhaps too zealous in my devotion. But I choose to remain here in Happy Valley, I choose to serve my Lord without any worldly distractions. To live on, and off, this land. To cultivate the soil and grow my own food, which the Lord graciously provides. To live in a simpler time and a simpler world, as Eden once was before the fall. No Elias, I do not, nor can I, judge the saved who choose to live in the world outside, for such are my brethren and we will all meet in Godís kingdom one day. But I feel that those who are saved and choose to live in the outside world are in greater spiritual danger. It is precisely because of the temptations that lurk outside that it is more dangerous. Satan is ruler of the outside world, yet we have seen how even in a holy place such as ours that Satan managed to infiltrate and tempt the flesh. Truly, there is no place on this earth that is completely safe; yet some places, such as our village, are safer. I do not want to be tempted more than I can withstand, and therefore, I will remain in Happy Valley for the remainder of my days. I hope and pray Elias and Pamela that you will remain with me. Donít return to the world outside for as we have seen with seventeen other villagers, it truly is a place of no return."

With this, Jacob finished his sermon, secretly pleased with himself but also filled with a piousness that he wanted to spread to Elias, who he had been suddenly starting to believe for the past few days, though with a sense of guilt, might be plotting to be rid of him. But to what end? Had Elias discovered the remnants of a gold mine and wished to have it to himself? If so, then Satan was truly more powerful then even Jacob had anticipated. Or could it be that Elias was working with Pamela, both sent together by some secret political organization to infiltrate the colony of Happy Valley, in an attempt to prevent the spread of the Gospel? The man in black, the man of the woods! He was part of the nefarious scheme! A man who had previously been nothing more than a flash of black and gold was now a real flesh and blood entity, suddenly interrupting Jacobís thoughts. Jacob knew that he had been right not to share the news with Elias about his sighting of this dark stranger, the day Melissa had left the village. He had trusted the spirit within to guide him then. And guidance was something he needed now more than ever.

Such were thoughts that Jacob reluctantly had to wrestle with, very reluctantly, as every being of his true spirit also wanted to reach out and share his love with his brethren. For where there is pure love, there is no fear. But there was fear in Happy Valley. Jacob could see it on the faces on Elias and Pamela, and had seen it on the faces of the brethren long since departed. And Jacob himself was fearful, despite his self-admonishing to not be so inclined. But there must be a reason to fear, a reason, however, that could not be discovered by probing the remaining villagers for answers, since it was these two people, yes even Pamela, whom Jacob was now in real fear of. Jacob believed that his very life might be in danger. There was a chance, however unlikely, that Elias and Pamela truly wanted to rid themselves, and Happy Valley, of Jacob. The first question was Ďwhyí; and the second question was Ďhowí.

Were they willing to let Satan do it for them, in the form of temptation that even Jacob himself had not reckoned on, as it was blatantly sinful behavior that had caused many of the previous villagers to depart Happy Valley? All the previous villagers, save for Joel and Emily perhaps, had departed primarily because of their desire to return to the sinful world outside, which had destroyed any initial desire to live for God in Happy Valley. But it was clear to Elias and Pamela, or so Jacob hoped, that there was no chance that Jacob would ever be prepared to leave Happy Valley, certainly not of his free will and definitely not due to the spiritual weakness that had claimed the others. It stood to reason, then, that there remained only one way in which Elias and Pamela would be able to rid themselves of Jacob. This caused Jacob to shudder, which he was able to successfully convince the others was due to a sudden breeze, albeit one that only he felt.

"I would like to return to the village grounds, I feel the need for some private time in my cabin," said Jacob as he rose with a purpose.

"We would like to stay here for a while longer Jacob," said Elias, clearly speaking for Pamela also.

With forced smiles all around, Jacob walked back to his cabin, leaving Elias and Pamela to ponder what to do next. Elias now knew that there would be no way to trick Jacob into leaving the village, as he had hoped. Trickery would not work on a man as astute as Jacob. Elias therefore would have to remain in Happy Valley for a long time in order to formulate his next plan. A long time. As for Pamela, she was not aligned with Elias as Jacob had thought, which she now made plain to Elias, but with the gentle grace of an older, and wiser, lady.

"Elias, we both know what the situation is now. I feel this has gone far enough, but there is no way to stop this until it is stopped of its own accord. We all came to Happy Valley in January and now in September, this social experiment to bring people of the faith together has obviously failed. I think we already realized that by the summer. I am leaving Elias, which is what you desire of course and I completely understand. I wish you well as I do Jacob. That is all I can say."

With this, Pamela smiled a broad smile at Elias, a sincere, warm and caring smile, and then rose to depart, in the opposite direction as Jacob, so that she could spend some time with the animals. Elias could only smile in return; words escaped him. Elias had listened to the words of Pamela intently and was relieved to know, though his relief caused a sense of guilt, that he was one step closer to having the village all to himself. This is what he wanted; Pamela did not. As for Jacob, he wanted the village for everyone. It seemed to Elias that Pamelaís wish was the easiest to fulfill. Regarding his own wish, Elias knew it would be difficult, but unlike Jacobís wish, a desire to see a village replenished with the faithful, not impossible.


CHAPTER ELEVEN

Nightfall had arrived at Happy Valley and for the two men who remained, each had his own private anguish. A village established in order to bring together twenty faithful. People whose most basic necessity was to share each otherís problems. To help carry each otherís crosses. But no more. Elias knew that he dared not share with Jacob his secret desires; and Jacob believed that if he told Elias of his own concerns, then perhaps Jacob would not awake to see the light of day. Only Pamela was happily content amidst the turmoil that she regarded as nothing more than childish squabbling among one man who needed to let go of it all and another man who could not let go.

Dinner had been eaten mostly in silence. Following the cleaning of the plates, the three of them prepared for quiet time and subsequent rest. Candles lit, they retreated to their cabins. There were now a surplus of candles and in his cabin with a candle placed next to his bed, Jacob was reminded of some of the activities that had taken place in the early days of Happy Valley, one of which had indeed been candle making. This in turn caused a past memory to reappear, that of a family who had once been part of Happy Valley.

There had been a family of three: the father, John, his wife Rebecca and six-year-old daughter Esther. The memory of this family was now as clear as ever. Jacob remembered that John and his small family were indeed a spiritual unit. They led the village in late night songs, organized games for the afternoon free time and were very close with all. But one day they left the village and Jacob was saddened as he recalled why. Esther had developed a toothache, despite the villagersí diet being free from the kinds of food that would cause such an ailment. No doubt Estherís tooth trouble was a remnant of the diet indulged in on the outside by so many children. That is why they had to leave: there were no dentists to help poor little Esther in the village. Happy Valley had been started with, and by, the faithful. But no one had apparently thought to include those who were skilled in the professions needed for health and well-being. It is precisely because the original twenty inhabitants were so random, in origin, age and background, that there had never been any guarantee that ailments could be treated, even though skills such as carpentry had been fulfilled by others who were no longer. Had the collective desire of the twenty to create a religious village blocked out reason? Had no one thought to include, as Noah did, one of each in this brave new world, such as doctors and dentists?

The family of three had reluctantly left the village behind, in order to seek out comfort for their child from a dentist in the neighboring village, a village on the outside. But why had they not returned? Jacobís sorrow was now marked with guilt for all the judgment he had passed on the villagers who had departed. For most, a desire to live in the world, and not Happy Valley, had been the reason they chose to leave. For others, breaking the rules of the village, such as giving in to pleasures of the flesh, was the reason for their departure, in actuality a dismissal. But for this God-fearing family, Jacob found it hard to believe that the world outside had been sufficient for them to never return to Happy Valley, with a daughter presumably restored back to health. As they were the only married members of the village, they would have no doubt provided a baby brother or sister for Esther, and the first baby born into Happy Valley. What a joyful occasion that would have been! A chance for all the villagers to have a flesh and blood reason to help ensure their commitment to remain in Happy Valley, to collectively raise this young life. But now Happy Valley lay bare; only fear, empty cabins and broken dreams remained, amidst the chilly winds of an autumn night.

Jacob, lying on his bed, decided to remain there as he began his prayers. He would need Godís protection now more than ever, as Satan had finally caught up with him. But if he were to die, better here than in the world, for to Jacob, Happy Valley had to be remembered for what it had once been, not what it had now become.

"Lord, I fear something terrible will occur tonight. You have given me this sense of the future with which to guide myself. For protection. But I cannot do it alone Lord. You must help me. A curse on me if I am wrong, and I pray that I am, but I believe that my brother and sister do not wish me to remain in this village. I had thought that Elias simply wanted me to step down as leader, that he was full of jealous pride. I believe now that he wants to be rid of me altogether, for reasons I can only speculate. And the man in the woods; who is he Lord? Is he part of a hidden scheme pitting me against those who plot evil? My heart tells me unfortunately that this is indeed the case. Did we make the wrong choice in using this site with which to create Happy Valley? Is this ground cursed? Is there undiscovered wealth here after all as I earlier thought, and greed, simple greed, has claimed all of Eliasí and maybe Pamelaís good sense? But is not the pursuit of wealth and notoriety something we are commanded to avoid - both greed and pride? How then could it be that in your village such worldly distractions may exist? I know not Lord. All I do know is that I am not safe. Please be with me Lord, help me to be safe. Please be with Pamela, Elias and the stranger. Lord, grant them wisdom and save them from any scheming before it is too late, and they are claimed by the fire of Hades. Please Lord, protect us and be with us tonight. Amen."

The last word of Jacobís prayer was met by three short raps at the front door of his cabin. Shock and fear combined, with a trace of surprise at the coincidental occurrence of a prayer ending with a late night knock at the door. His right hand flattened against his chest to clutch his heart, Jacob stood up gingerly and slowly approached his front door. He was afraid of walking too slowly, though his current fearful state dictated that he should, as the person standing behind the front door might suddenly, impatiently decide to knock again, but this time much louder. Right now, alone at night in a cabin lit only by a single candle, Jacob prepared himself for the doorís opening.

"Whoís there?" he called, adding a touch of defiance to his voice.

Elias was oblivious to Jacobís growing anxiety, as he was in the midst of attempting to purge his own fears with his prayers to his Lord.

"Lord, please help us all. We are three people with three very different goals. Pamela desires to leave the village and I believe her. I do not think she is saying this to deceive me. As such, please guide her when she returns to the world outside. As for myself Lord, I confess that I want to be alone in this village and create my own colony. I want this all to become mine and as such, achieve the heights of recognition that my brother Jacob already has, only more. I know Lord that these are selfish desires but this is where my heart lies. As for Jacob, he has what he wants already; he has truly found you in a way I do not think I ever could. But he cannot stay here Lord; eventually he will have to leave. I pray Lord that Jacob can truly remain with you and you with him, but please help him to understand that you are with him wherever he goes, even back into the world outside. You are real Lord. You are not tied to any one place, neither is man. Please help Jacob to finally learn this."

Having been ignored a second time in his attempt to discover the identity of the person on the other side of the door, Jacob prepared to open it. He grasped the doorknob tightly, turned it carefully so as to avoid any extraneous noise and then opened it wide and even. Nothing. The chill of a wind entered in but nothing more. A quick glance to the left and right revealed nothing either.

"Jacob!"

The voice clearly belonged to Pamela. Relief to discover the identity of the person who had been on the other side of the door; fear that something horrible could soon follow. The voice had clearly come from around the side of Jacobís cabin. A burning smell and a wisp of smoke from the same direction confirmed this.

"Brother Jacob, Brother Jacob. Please come quickly. Thereís something I want you to see."

The old adage of where there is smoke there is fire rang in Jacobís ears. A deep breath, a few quick paces and Jacob came face to face with a sight that he could not have been prepared for. A sight that was all at once a confirmation of the kind of depravity that Jacob would never forget.

Pamela stood before Jacob. Like an old harlot, she gave Jacob a shameless smile. She would not need words to complete her act of evil. In her right hand, which was hanging limp at her side, was a piece of what the natives called skunk weed, rolled up in paper and from which Pamela had been inhaling its poison. Her left hand was clutching a bottle of alcoholic brew, which she raised up to meet with her wrinkled mouth. She took a deep mouthful of the alcohol, suddenly appearing to be unaware of Jacobís presence. Jacob was a man without words. For once, even he could not think of any spiritual offering that could be used to counteract what he had seen. He did not believe that words, or even prayer, could be of any use to this woman. But Pamela had not finished. Taking a deep lungful of her tobacco, she stepped toward Jacob, now with a giggle, which sounded like the beginnings of lunacy to Jacob. Indeed it must have been.

"Preach me a sermon Brother Jacob!"

"Woman! Have you no shame? How is it that you have stayed here this long in the village, tell me. How did you come across these poisons? You may have fooled the others by disguising your evil intentions but not me!"

Jacobís fury was met with an increasing crescendo of laughter from Pamela, who fell to the ground doubled up with mirth, still clutching her worldly vices in each hand. Jacob wanted to act, to fight the evil he was witnessing. He could do nothing. God had put him in charge but he had not been prepared for this.

"I am not Pamela. She is no longer here," came a voice unlike Pamelaís, a voice more in keeping with a person who had spent a lifetime smoking the poison.

Jacob looked on in horror. He had witnessed a gradual decay of his village. Now, in one instant, he was faced with an evil greater than any of the sin that he had so far seen. Jacob would need all of the power of God, the kind that he had felt in the earlier days of the village, in order to defeat this demon. Pamela began to scream wildly, arms raised to the sky as if her good side was commanding her to call on the Lord. But the demon fought back, with the same gravelly voice and evil tone.

"You wonít destroy me Jacob. Satan now rules this village!"

Jacob was finally moved into action. He rushed forward, grabbing Pamela by her arms. A quick but firm shake from Jacob caused her to relinquish her grip on her poison weed. The bottle stubbornly remained. Jacob took his arms from around Pamela, suddenly imagining the confusion such an image would have on the defiled mind, seeing a pastor holding the arms of one of his female flock in such a manner.

"How did you bring that evil in here? Why? Why did you come here? Indeed Satan himself must have sent you. And do you believe that he is an honest master? Do you think you have gained anything by shaming yourself in this manner?"

Pamela was now roused to defend herself. She was looking into the eyes of a man who she believed was dangerous, more so for not realizing the danger he himself was now in. But the words that Pamela now used were those that Jacob had not heard in a long time, and had tried to forget. Words of blasphemy, words of evil and defilement. The voice was that of Pamelaís but the words were clearly those of Satan. Jacob met the evil of Pamelaís words, which must have been inspired by the devil within, with a forced calm.

"Fight this demon within, Pamela. Fight him. In the name of the Lord, depart from this woman Satan, depart from her body, and depart from this village. Leave us!"

Jacob pulled out his crucifix, which he wore around his neck, from underneath his cloak. Pamela did not flinch, nor did the demon. Instead, she looked at Jacob with scorn. Then pity. Then she spoke in a subdued voice, mentioning things of which Jacob had never heard before. Strange words. Accusatory words. The devil himself accusing Godís servant! Then Pamela, spent, walked away, headed for the world in which the prince of darkness ruled.

"Pamela!"

The voice belonged to Elias, having heard the fracas. He ran to where Jacob now stood. He called again after Pamela but she refused to heed his words. Jacob turned to face Elias, tears running down his face. Elias could think of nothing anymore except the man standing beside him. A man who had been taking up most of his thoughts nowadays. He seized Jacob by the collar of his cloak, while Pamela, void of all energy physical, mental and certainly spiritual, continued to walk, oblivious to everything. This madness. These two men. The world waiting for her outside. And most of all, she was oblivious to this village called Happy Valley.

Elias gripped Jacobís collar tightly, now with both hands, and gave him a decisive shake, with months of pent up frustration, boredom and confusion providing the strength required, though Jacob had no fight left in him now. As if on cue though, Elias abruptly released his grip.

"Have you both been possessed Elias?" Jacob demanded, finding within himself a last remnant of strength, now so close to spiritual collapse.

Elias paused, just enough time to regain full composure. He backed away from Jacob a few inches, then addressed Jacobís question. There was nothing now except the two of them. Pamela had already disappeared into the woods.

"You are the one who is possessed Jacob. In a completely different way than what you might believe."

Jacob chose to listen. He felt that he was finally on the verge of having Elias, the man with so many secrets, tell all. For this he had been waiting for months. But first, Elias had a question.

"Jacob, what happened with Pamela? She told me earlier today she wished to leave, but what happened between the two of you?"

The voice of Elias now displayed a quiet weariness, a tone conducive to encouraging Jacob to answer his question, though Jacob resented what he perceived to be accusation on Eliasí part.

"She had come to my cabin, knocking on the door. I answered but she was not to be found in front of my door. She called to me again from around the side of my cabin. When I went there she had tobacco in a stick, inhaling it, and in her other hand a bottle of alcohol. Strictly forbidden in our society. But there was more - she began to speak in a voice not her own. The voice of a woman possessed. Elias I tell you she is possessed. I should not have let her go. But now sheís back in the world, a servant of Satan."

Once again, Jacob felt that the truth had come to him all too late. Why had he let her escape? If there were anyone in need of spiritual sustenance it was those with demons. But Jacob had stood there and had done nothing. Why had he let another get away? Such questions had shown on his face; Elias recognized that look and continued.

"Do you feel that you are responsible somehow Jacob? That you should have prevented her from leaving the village?"

Jacobís countenance now revealed surprise; if Elias could read his thoughts then there would be no safety anywhere for him. But Jacob continued.

"I have already told you who I am Elias. It is my responsibility as the leader of this village to keep us together and I have failed. We arrived here as twenty and now there are only two of us. In my desire to maintain free will, however, in order to ensure that only the truly faithful remained in this village, I imposed no restrictions save for those that we had already agreed upon as a group when we first met in January. I never saw my role as a dictator, but as a shepherd. I cannot prevent people from leaving but now I wonder if I should..."

"Shut up!" Elias screamed at Jacob, unable to listen anymore. He, like Jacob, was worn out, albeit for different reasons. He could not stay here with Jacob any longer and something inside of him stirred, a voice that he had not heard for a long time. Money had been the chief reason Elias had come to Happy Valley, for there was money to be found in Happy Valley. But now, a newfound pride was emerging. The pride that all men had, one that demanded respect for oneself. A pride that was more important than the money that Happy Valley had hidden inside, money that Jacob truly knew nothing of. If he did, it would be of no concern anyway as his riches were waiting for him in heaven.

Still reeling from the scream of Elias, Jacob nonetheless felt that the time had come when all would be revealed.

"Youíre the one possessed Jacob. You really are. Do you really think youíre our religious leader? Do you really believe you are going to live your life here at Happy Valley?"

"You know that I am Jacob. I am the leader of this village and yes, I will remain here for the rest of my life. Who are you Elias? No doubt you are here for some great wealth? That is why you wish to kill me?"

"So you do remember! You do remember the money!" Elias said, suddenly finding his energy again.

"What money?

"Thatís why we came here in January. All twenty of us, including you! What happened to you? You..."

Several things occurred after this outburst from Elias. First, Elias screamed out again, this time to God, not Jacob, or so it appeared, and then he, like Pamela, retreated to the woods, running back to the world and screaming like a madman. Still in shock, another event took place, one no more than a few seconds following Eliasí departure. This was an event that Jacob felt he had been waiting his entire life for: The Lordís return. Such an event was heralded by a flood of lights that illuminated the entire village. The Lord had kept his promise. Jacob was now in his rightful position, on his knees and with head bowed, although it was not just out of respect for his Lord. He also needed to shield his eyes from the light, so bright was its illumination. He had stayed the course. He had withstood the test, having seen the faithless, possessed and perverse depart the village. He dared not say a word, so in fear was he of the Lordís impending approach. A boom from heaven, just as John the Baptist had heard, was now heard by Jacob, causing him to momentarily lose his balance in the soft earth beneath him. Even the now cynical Elias stopped to look back again before entering the woods, having also heard the voice of God, though he was embittered that the voice was not meant for him. He had lost his reward.

"You are my good and trusted servant! You have stayed the course! Stay there Jacob, I will come to meet with you!"

Jacob trembled at the prospect of meeting his Lord. He wasnít ready! If he couldnít save even one of his flock, how was he deserving of this honor?

The lights suddenly dimmed. A visitor was now approaching Jacob, walking through the woods, from a different direction that Elias was now exiting them. Jacob found that he recognized this man when they finally met a minute or so later. After the man had told Jacob to stand up, it was clear to Jacob that this man was not God. The gold around his wrist, the blackness of his garments Ė the man in the woods. He was the man who had nonetheless brought together twenty strangers to this village so many months earlier. Jacob may have been the leader of Happy Valley, but he was not the creator and he was now thrown into a state of complete and utter confusion. But the manís smiles and boisterous manner ensured that Jacob once again fell to his feet. This time not in reverence but in complete and utter shock. And the exhaustion caused by almost a year spent in Happy Valley.


CHAPTER TWELVE

March, 2015

Steve Ellerton sat in his room in a very secluded mental institution. In his world, however, it was a jail. In his world, he was a prisoner. In his world he was Jacob, the leader of a spiritual community, which he had hoped would, given enough time, have become a city of God. A city designed for worship of God and fellowship of man. But the dream had failed. Jacob was a man living in 1855 California, who had been one of the lucky few Ė though there was no such thing as luck in Jacobís world Ė chosen to be members of Godís community. Jacob had found salvation on that breezy February night back in 1854 and from there had risen to the ranks of village leader, a man dedicated and determined to live his life for God. The reality, however, was something that Jacob could not accept. Those who had tried to explain it to him were seen as the enemies of God, people who were trying to entrap Jacob. But they were all correct.

Jacob was Steve Ellerton, a young man from California, who, along with nineteen others, had been randomly chosen by Harold Land to star in a new reality TV show entitled Happy Valley. It was all quite simple. Have twenty people in the year 2014 give up all worldly possessions and live in Ď1854í in a religious village. In reality, the village was created by Land himself, and lay adjacent to his film studios not too far from Santa Barbara. It was method acting taken to the extreme: become villagers devoted to living for God and the last one standing gets a prize of two million dollars, world fame and inevitably, guest spots on TV shows, including the chance to host Happy Valley II. Give up on all worldly possessions for the chance to be rewarded by an abundance of them.

There could be no swearing, sexual contact (except of course for the sole married couple) and absolutely no reference made to the 20th-century, let alone the 21st-century, such as hot tubs, BMWís or Star Wars. And absolutely, positively could no reference be made to the fact that this was all a show. Such reference had caused Elias, born Dan Culver, to forfeit the game. The only way the contestants could reveal anything at all about their true selves and feelings, albeit indirectly, came during their private prayers. Hence, when Elias told the Lord of his desire to Ďbe alone in this village and have his own colonyí it was merely a disguised way to state that he wanted to win the game.

If contestants left the village, or if they were expelled or even if they had to leave to cure a bad tooth, there was no coming back. Those were the rules. Meanwhile, dozens of hidden cameras, and advanced sonic microphones that hit the market in 2008 were concealed throughout all nooks and crannies of the village that was the reality TV show known as Happy Valley. Such mikes did not need to be pinned to the villagersí clothing, which made the method acting that bit easier. Some mikes had even been placed in the surrounding woods, where Land sometimes watched and listened to the drama unfold with increasing concern for the words of Steve, who was either the next DeNiro or a madman. Or both. Usually, however, Land watched and listened from the comfort of his office on his big screen TV, sipping a grande decaf latté. Meanwhile, millions of viewers got to watch and hear the drama from their homes.

The viewing figures had risen and sometimes fallen (though not much) throughout the year but Landís gamble for the future of reality TV had paid off. Rather than the viewing public turning off their TV sets after the first month of Happy Valley, they continued to watch. Word of mouth spread and indeed, there was never any novelty to wear off for the viewers of Happy Valley. There were even mini-dictionaries for sale which compiled a list of 1850ís American English, just like the one that the villagers themselves had received, so that the viewing public could follow along with the somewhat archaic dialogue. Twenty people, chosen and given their instructions by Land himself, got into character in January 2014. They were given new names, new clothes and were suddenly transported back into 1854. Unfortunately for Steve, getting out of character was not going to be easy, with his parents still mourning the loss of their son. They had sued Land, so that Steve was now in possession of an extra million dollars, to give a grand total of three million, and more notoriety than he could have expected.

By the time the public and villagers alike began to suspect that Steve had truly become Jacob, and was not just a slick hustler/method actor extraordinaire, the viewing public started to take bets as to who would win the contest. More and more started to support Jacob and hate Elias. In any reality TV show, such is usually the case and by this time, ĎJacobí had become a worldwide celebrity. Like the other villagers, Steve had arrived in pursuit of a common goal, to find fame and fortune. To have the adoration of the American public, mostly of the female variety. Steve had come to Happy Valley with the pride that Jacob so strongly opposed, but then Steveís eventual goal had changed to worship of his Lord, having truly found his long lost God.

Upon the final episode of Happy Valley, the dazed, confused and utterly mad Steve Ellerton was taken away to a local hospital, where he was treated for exhaustion. But there was no way to escape the media throng outside that surrounded the hospital, as they had discovered Steveís location only an hour after his arrival. Like a celebrity who has to be secretly whisked away by his entourage out the back door while autograph hunters and hungry photographers waited out front, Steve was smuggled out of the hospital later in the night and taken to his new home of a mental institution where so far he had, miraculously, escaped detection from the media and crazed fans. The fact that no one had found him yet only added to the media frenzy, though there was the rumor that ĎJacobí had founded a new colony hidden deep in the Rockies, while some believed that he had killed himself. Meanwhile, there was another camp who said that Steve Ellerton really was one of the biggest TV frauds ever, and had taken his prize money and was living the high life on a deserted tropical island.

As for the nineteen other contestants, now back with their families and friends, they were bombarded with Steveís picture on magazine covers, surrounded by the Where is Jacob? fanatics, and still heard Steveís name on the news and used as the punch lines of cruel jokes. Meanwhile, the majority of them had already had their share of post-Happy Valley fame, having appeared as a group of nineteen on a few talk shows with some having even given a lecture or two in college media classes. For Joel and Emily, born John and Stacy, they were still experiencing the joys of a fresh marriage, one which indeed included the Lord, while Dan, aka Elias, had long since put the whole matter behind him, feeling nothing for Steve but pity. All in all, the remaining villagers were mostly back to normal, with a few who truly had found religion, whereas most just got back to their husbands, wives, parents and jobs. But none of them wanted to hear any more lunatic ravings now it was all over. And lunacy it had been, right from the start.

These other nineteen contestants had departed the village and arrived back in the real world, consisting of Landís studio lot, security guards and a few fans. Then they were transported back to 2014. A certificate of completion, a signed photograph from Land himself and the return of all worldly possessions were the welcome the departed villagers received as their reintroduction to the real world. But for the lucky few, their five minutes of fame went into overtime. Such was the case with Pamela, real name Susan Horowitz, whose mischievous demonic antics for the camera had ensured her a late night talk show of her very own Ė Late Night with Sue.

What had truly happened back in Happy Valley? Had God really come down and sought to save at least one soul, thus transforming a former lover of money, fame and all worldly pleasures into a true servant? Perhaps. Perhaps Steve was chosen by God to act as a warning for those who would give up their dignity for the pursuit of fame and money, the very things that Jacobís Happy Valley preached against. For now, Steve looked out of his window in a room that had been strategically placed so that it overlooked Godís creations of mountains and fields, and not parking lots or anything that would give too much of a mental jolt to a man who was still living in 1855. The TVís had long since been removed from the adjacent common room, as the sight of himself inside the Ďdevilís boxí had sent Steve into a frenzy just a week after he arrived in the institution, and resulted in his being sent to a padded room for two days. Steve spent most of his days in quiet reflection in his room anyway, only occasionally strolling on the lawn outside in front of his room, which had been carefully fenced off to create his own private section of land that blocked out all memories of 2015. Maybe one day Steve would return but for now, that seemed unlikely. And the last thing he needed was more mental and emotional jolts. It seemed better to let Jacob remain as Jacob, instead of searching for Steve. His parents felt the same and for now had ceased to visit as it had become too painful, and risky, as the media might be out there, waiting to follow them to discover the location of ĎJacobísí dwelling.

As for Harold Land, he was down but not out. He had been banned from creating TV shows for five years but was nonetheless planning his next move, in between fighting his rival, Dean Railis, in the courts. Railis went ahead and tried to start his own version of Happy Valley II, as the public didnít want to wait five more years, but Land was fighting him all the way. The newspapers had a field day, with Harold Lands on Dean and the like making the headlines. But in the real world, thereís no such thing as bad publicity. People wanted to meet Land. But more wanted to meet Jacob. The press still lurked sometimes around the neighborhood where Steveís parents lived; the world still wanted Jacob but Jacob did not want the world. Jacob now had all that Steve had ever wanted: money, fame, albeit infamy, and if he desired, many women who were waiting for either Jacob or Steve to come back into the world outside. But Steve was dead. All men are made new by the Lord, as had been the case with Steve. Steve had been destroyed and was reborn as Jacob. All courtesy of Harold Land, the God of Happy Valley.

And for a man like Jacob, who had previously prided himself on never desiring to return to the world outside, his Lord had come to him just now, and given comfort that would last. Now Jacob could let go of his fears, knowing that even though he was in the world now, in a worldly prison run by worldly people, he at least would always have his Lord. Indeed it had been fear that had kept Jacob from returning to the world to retrieve his lost flock, but certainly not fear of losing a cash prize that Steve, as Jacob, had truly forgotten about back in February of the previous year. It had been fear of the world after all, the world he was now in, away from the intended paradise of Happy Valley that prevented his return into it. During the course of this one day, Jacob had wrestled with anger, guilt and self-pity, but had finally settled on one key truth, a truth that the Lord had just reminded him of. And the truth was that there was no reason for him to fear the world anymore. For no matter where he was, God would be with him. Always. Whether in a religious village, on the high seas, wandering amidst the beautiful mountains outside or in a prison cell, God would watch over Jacob, deliver him not into temptation and protect him from the attacks of Satan. This was a complete change from Jacobís previous beliefs, beliefs he had shared with the demonic pair of Elias and Pamela that day under the oak tree. Jacob now knew that Happy Valley could be anywhere, even in a jail. One question remained though Ė exactly why was being a man of God a crime? Jacob still didnít have an answer to that question. No matter. He had God.

As for Happy Valley the village, it remained as Jacob remembered it. Empty. Except for a few interlopers who managed to sneak in to Ďsee where it all happenedí, no one came close. Perhaps the only remnant of this strange place was the catchphrase which was still buzzing around the world Ė keep your eyes on the prize...

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