Trigger warning: Discussion of prison rape
We last left off with Book!Merikay in jail, having “church” with the other prisoners.
Can I just say that if I were trying to convince a bunch of religious people to convert to a state religion, I wouldn’t lock them up together? If I were an evil person trying to persecute Christians, I’d make damn sure that every single woman ended up in the same cell as a murderer. See how quickly they all convert. I feel like putting all the Adventists in the same cell together is a rookie mistake.
Ahem. Sorry, back to the text.
All day long, the little flock prays and sings. They pepper Merikay with questions, though we never get to hear exactly what those questions are, nor do we get to hear the answers. Book!Merikay says this is because she wasn’t able to tell them much, which is fair enough, but Teenage!Merikay’s strong point seems to be dialogue, so it would be better if we were shown this conversation rather than being told.
I get that this “book” was written in 2 days for a Bible class, but by the time it got published, there was time for loads of editing to happen that didn’t. That’s not Merikay’s fault, so we will merely note it and move on.
We are told that one of the prisoners was the pastor of a small church. A member of his congregation betrayed him.
His face shone as he told of how the men had tried to shoot him, but the guns wouldn’t go off.
Adventists also think this is a thing that’s going to happen.
Tom was the man who had smiled when I entered. He called me “little one” and made me feel right at home.
Tom calls her a pet name from the moment he meets her, and is so charismatic and charming that people feel at ease around him in seconds. All of which are classic signs that this person is Not To Be Trusted.
And yes, I do expect teenage!Merikay to know that, because when I was 17, you’d better damn well believe *I* knew that.
He was different in some way from the others, more friendly or something. No one knew anything about him, and he didn’t mention his background. He had been there 6 days.
Mysterious stranger calls you pet names that are more appropriate for 5 year olds, is charismatic and overly friendly, shadowy and mysterious background.
Ladies, this is a man you should run from.
Though I guess you can’t, in a prison cell.
Spoiler alert: Tom is Merikay’s guardian angel. I know that Teenage!Merikay is writing him as such, but, and this is part really isn’t her fault, she fails. Merikay fails to portray Tom as not creepy because she is a teenager and probably doesn’t have as good of an understanding of the dynamic of abusers and victims.
We get more descriptions of the cell mates, but as we never see them again, I’m skipping that part.
Merikay asks if they ever get fed.
“Oh, yes,” Tom smiled. “Once in a while they give us something.”
I grimaced. Oh well, I thought. You’ve been on diets before, Merikay. This shouldn’t be anything new for you.
I didn’t catch this when I was 17, and looking back, I am surprised that nobody else did either. I hesitate to speculate on this too much, but… if I read that, and I was Teenage!Merikay’s teacher, I would be having a talk with her. This probably is one of those cases where teenage writing is teenage writing. Teenage!Merikay probably doesn’t understand the difference between “diet” and “starvation diet.”
Teenage!Merikay probably wasn’t making a reference to an actual eating disorder… but this part does make me wonder exactly what kind of diets this poor child has been on.
I began to think about my past life. I knew that I must be a saint because of the treatment I was getting, and yet I didn’t see how I could be when I had been so bad.
I’m not sure if this is an Adventist thing or a Christianity thing, but you often hear people talk about how “bad” they were before they found Jesus. Even teenagers who have been raised their whole lives on Planet Adventist and were good kids are encouraged to find something “big and bad” to confess to.
So, for those of you who are wondering what Teenage!Merikay could possibly have done that would be bad enough to keep her out of heaven… the answer could be quite harmless. Adventists believe that no sin is too small to send you to eternal damnation.
I don’t know anything about Teenage!Merikay (and in some ways, I don’t care.) I’m not going to speculate too much on whether she has done something actually bad.
All I will say is that I feel a certain amount of pity for teenage!Merikay. Teenage!Merikay probably felt that she was so bad… honestly, she was probably a good kid who made a few mistakes. Like all teenagers everywhere. She was probably normal. But normal isn’t the goal with Adventists. Perfection is. And when you compare yourself against perfect, you wind up looking horribly horribly bad.
Book!Merikay goes on for a bit about how she’s not sure if she’s Christ like enough.
I was so afraid that I had forgotten to confess some sin.
Most mainstream Christians, as far as I understand, would reassure you that this is what the blood of Christ is for. Jesus died for you not just so that you could be forgiven for sin you remembered, but for sin you didn’t. It’s up for debate as to whether that’s biblical or not, but these people really believe that you will go to hell and burn if you forget to confess that you stole a candy bar at age 5 and then forgot about it.
And that’s just not a god I could worship, even when I was a Christian.
Book!Merikay turns from worrying about herself to worrying about her family.
Tom came over and sat down beside me. “Don’t get so discouraged, Little One. We can’t know everything right now.” His voice was soft and full of compassion.
How could he know how I felt?
At this point, when my bible teacher read this to the class, I was banging my head against the desk wondering why Book!Merikay hadn’t figured out he was her guardian angel. He was reading her mind, dammit, of course he wasn’t an ordinary man!
Now that I am no longer 17/18, I realize that this all sounds… pretty vague. Yes, he’s addressing exactly the fears she has, but he does so in a way that what he’s saying could apply to anything. I don’t think teenage!Me was really aware of how vague adults can be about things and still sound specific. Perhaps teenage!Merikay was, I don’t know.
He touched my shoulder, where the pain of that morning’s treatment was still quite noticeable. “You’re a good soldier,” he smiled again. His smile made me feel good all over. “And you’re a perfect princess.” He walked to the other side of the cell.
How could he do that? How could he know about my being a princess? A strange fear crept over me as I tried to figure out just what kind of a person Tom was.
A creepy rapist, run!
Then he turned and smiled, and I knew he was just a wonderful, wonderful Christian man.
Man with a mysterious past who calls you pet names, doesn’t seems to know what you are thinking, and when you turn to look at him, suddenly, you are sure he’s just a nice Christian man.
This works. This works really well…. in horror novels. When describing the villain.
This accidental characterization of Tom as extremely creepy probably has a lot to do with Merikay’s youth. It can be extremely tricky to write about supernatural beings in a way that doesn’t come across as creepy.
As an teenager, I thought this part made the entire book unreadable. As an adult, yeah, it’s cringe inducing, but I can move on and not let it hamper my enjoyment of the story.
If Merikay had handed me this story to critique, I would have told her to be less heavy handed with Tom. One scene with him “reading her mind” and her wondering who he is is enough. We don’t need 5 paragraphs.
Also, I probably would have told her to cut this particular paragraph. It makes Tom look extremely…. not angelic. Like he’s creepy. More like an evil angel.
I also have an issue with what this says about God. Book!Merikay has clearly figured it out. But then she turns to look at Tom and…. it’s gone. This suggests that Tom is actively concealing himself. He is actively preventing her from figuring out the truth. And don’t we call that lying?
The guards shove more prisoners into the cell, one of whom is a little girl.
The Little girl, Judy, was scared. She cried and wanted her parents, but Tom soon had her smiling.
The guard comes by to give them some soup, then reminds them that there’s only 4 more hours till the death decree goes out.
The guard then tells the little flock that their families are going to be persecuted because of them.
As a kid, I always wondered about this. We weren’t supposed to lie to the men with guns when they asked if we were Christians, but what if the gun wasn’t pointed at you? what if it was pointed at someone else? “Reject Christ, or your friend gets killed.” What were we supposed to do then? I waited and waited for my teachers, pastors, and parents to address this. They never did. In my ten year old mind, I came to the conclusion that God just wouldn’t let that happen. I decided to pretend that I’d never had the question in the first place.
Teenage!Merikay, in this story, introduces that very moral dilemma that ten year old me wondered about. She brings it up, but then doesn’t really address it. Is it ok to lie to the Sunday Police if it means you save lives?
Teenage!Merikay wouldn’t have seen this as a moral dilemma, because the adults around her didn’t see it as one. The adults in my life kind of had the attitude of “if the person being shot is a Christian, they will go to heaven when Jesus comes. If the person is not a Christian and will not go to heaven, that’s their own fault.”
If Teenage!Merikay also had this attitude, we can extend a little forgiveness. We also need to keep in mind that Merikay was writing this for her bible teacher. To express a different idea than what she was taught would have Consequences.
The guard is still talking to the inmates.
“And besides, what gives you the idea that you are so almighty holy? Look, everybody else goes along with this law.
Everyone. The Muslims, the Jews? Well, they caved, because we all know they don’t actually believe what they say they believe. A teenager in 1961 without access to the internet would probably have no reason to doubt this.
Just who do you think you are to say ‘No’ to God?” He shook his head in disgust. “People like you are crazy. When an animal is crazy, it is shot.”
I don’t know much about animals, but I do know a bit about “crazy” humans. When a human has a mental illness (which is what I assume is meant by “Crazy.”) they are not killed. Even by the 1960s we were not that kind of society. Sure, therapy wasn’t the greatest back then, but we still had it. We send “crazy” humans to professionals who can help them. We don’t kill them. Jeez. Teenage!Merikay would have known this.
More prisoners are shoved into the cell, and they inform the little flock that “many mobs are out scouring the streets for sabbath keepers.” Because Sabbath keepers are identifiable just by looking at them, of course.
I tried to sleep, but every 10 or 15 minutes a loud buzzer would sound. Tom told me it was to keep us awake.
Sleep deprivation is a recognized form of torture. Points to Teenage!Merikay for recognizing and using it. Tom tells her that they are trying to break down her will by giving her extreme insomnia.
Here’s a question I’d like to see addressed: If you make the choice to reject Christ when you are literally out of your mind from lack of sleep and starvation, can you really be held accountable for that choice? Can you be held accountable for choices that you are not in your right mind when you make? Especially if you are not the one who made the choice to be mentally incapable of making those choices?
Tom tells Book!Merikay to learn to sleep very deeply for ten to 15 minutes at a time, and I wonder how possible that is. Someone with more knowledge will have to weigh in on that for me. I’m inclined to give Teenage!Merikay a bit of a pass, since internet wasn’t a thing yet, and the library probably wasn’t open on the weekends. At least, our boarding school library wasn’t.
Book!Merikay tells us that she had always wondered what would happen to children of Sabbath keepers at this time. Since Judy is in the cell with her, Merikay has her answer. The children of sabbath keepers will suffer along with everyone else.
I….give teenage!Merikay credit for putting her characters through some shit. I will give teenage!me points for being a bit more humane with my ideas of what exactly will happen to the children. In the story I wrote when I was 16-17ish, I had them put into foster homes and orphanages, to be raised in the new religion. It’s a tossup as to which would be closer to reality.
I’ll stop here for now. Next time, things get really interesting. I actually do give Merikay credit. She’s not afraid to put her characters, even the author insert character, through some shit. Even if she doesn’t resolve these ethical conflicts, she at least brings them up.
These factors alone already make this book way better than other End Times SDA novels I’ve read.
And then stay tuned, because I might decide to start on our next book a bit early. Especially if I don’t manage to register for classes by the deadline.