It was quiet and somber inside the church. Only the murmuring voice of the minister could be heard. He stood behind the podium, front and center. A large statue of the Savior stood behind the minister, its arms spread wide in a gesture that was supposed to be welcoming. It peered down at all the congregates with sad, stone eyes.
Noah and his family sat near the back, his mother on his left and little sister on his right. His father sat next to his sister, nearest to the aisle. He heaved a sigh, not a word of the minister’s sermon processing in his brain. His little sister’s face was front, but he was pretty sure she had fallen asleep with her eyes open. His mother and father were riveted though, seeking the promised salvation.
The minister droned on. Even though Noah couldn’t quite make out what the minister was saying, he could hazard a guess. It was eternally about damnation and how only living by the rules of the Church that governed them could they be saved. They lived in a damned world, in a damned city, and everyone was a sinner. They might have been chosen by the Church to be allowed into the city’s walls, but that wasn’t because they were saved – it was because the Church saw the opportunity to save their poor souls.
Noah tuned out the minister’s voice and looked around the church. He turned his head only a little so as to remain inconspicuous. His mother or father or both would reprimand him if they didn’t think he was paying attention. His parents bought fully into what the Church said. They lived and breathed the rules of the Church and demanded the same of their children. Noah’s little sister was pretty good about performing her duties and following the rules. Noah, on the other hand, had enough flagellation scars to make even the penitent criminal look like a model citizen. The only reason he wasn’t out on the streets or being held by the Church like a criminal was because his father was a Church Enforcer. That and Noah hadn’t actually done anything big enough to warrant being taken by the Church for guided repentance. It was mostly small things, but things that his parents wouldn’t let him get away with. Spare the rod, spoil the child.
As Noah let his eyes roam around the church, he would pause to gaze at some of the scenes the stained glass windows depicted. The rise of a leader chosen by the Savior. The heathens revolting. The war between what became the Church and the heathens. The Church’s victory. The brimstone to rid the world of those who would oppose the Church. The rise of the world today. There was also one that depicted a wasteland where the nonbelievers would be banished to. It served more as a warning to those who even entertained the thought of turning their backs on the Church. His father had threatened his removal and banishment from the safety of the city on more than one occasion.
During Noah’s study of the wasteland stained glass, the door of the Church opened. It creaked softly and a rush of wind whipped through the open doors, but then a click was heard and the wind stopped. His sister had perked up at the noise and turned in her seat. Before she could get any further around though, their father whispered a reprimand. Noah watched as his sister turned back to face front, a pout on her face. It stayed there for only a minute though as their father leaned down to her to whisper something. Whatever it was, it removed the pout from her face as a blank look took its place, giving nothing away. Noah gave a soft snort. She was probably threatened with flagellation.
Not wanting to get caught like his sister since it wouldn’t be a threat of flagellation, but a promise, Noah watched the aisle from the corner of his eyes. A family of three that Noah didn’t recognize came in looking frazzled. They took the pew across the aisle from Noah’s family and filed in, father, daughter, mother. Although, as Noah watched, he could see the daughter wasn’t frazzled so much as amused. She had a smirk across her face while her mother ushered her to sit down.
The daughter wore all black, like the rest of the congregation, although a flower was pinned to one of her lapels. It was a big yellow flower that stuck out. Her hair was shoulder length and blonde. Unlike the other girls her age, she kept her hair down. It wasn’t something that was against the rules, per say, but the other girls and women kept their hairs up in tight buns. Some thought that wearing their hair down was disrespectful to the Savior. Wearing one’s hair up showed modesty and modesty was an important virtue.
As the sermon went on, Noah kept coming back to the new family, the daughter in particular. Her bemused expression only went away when she was exchanging it for one of obvious boredom. She shifted in her seat and kicked the pews in front of her during her shifting. It was more noise than Noah had ever remembered hearing within the church, outside of the sermon. Noah watched as her parents would nudge and whisper to her, but the daughter would only settle long enough to lull her parents back into security before going about her noise routine. It became a distraction to other parishioners. It even distracted his dad, and, for that, Noah decided he liked the daughter.
After another forty-five minutes passed, the minister began his closing remarks. The stillness of the church let up just a little bit as even the more devout within the congregation became anxious. Sitting for so long was uncomfortable no matter how much one followed the rules. His sister became a ball of barely contained energy as her feet began swinging. His mother brushed off her dress and his father cleared his throat.
Just as the minister ended his sermon, the silence within the church was broken in the most unexpected way: laughter. It burst through the air suddenly and caused more than one person to jump, Noah included. His mouth dropped open and he didn’t even care if his parents yelled at him later, but he twisted his head towards the source of the noise. The daughter sat in the pew, her shoulders shaking and hands pressed to her mouth in an attempt to stifle her laughter. Her mother looked ready to burst into horrified tears while her father looked ready to strip her down to administer flagellation right then and there.
Noah’s father stood from his seat, his Church Enforcer face on. He made his way to the new family and leaned past the mother to speak directly to the daughter. Noah couldn’t hear what was being said, but guessing from his father’s gestures and his knowledge of his father, he was officially calling for repentance. There was a repentance room with a cat-o-nine available for use by anyone. No doubt his father was directing the daughter towards there.
The mother slid from the pew to allow the daughter out. Despite Noah’s father’s presence, the daughter still had an amused smirk on her face. She looked uncaring of the fact that his father was an Enforcer demanding blood payment for the Church. In fact, as she made her way towards the repentance room, guided by his father who had an iron grip on her bicep, she saw Noah watching her and tipped him an amused wink. It slipped by his father who would have undoubtedly hauled Noah out of his seat to pay repentance simply because if he had noticed.
Surprised by the wink, Noah only just managed to contain his surprised laughter. He gave a hard snort which received a withering glare from his sister and a squeeze on his shoulder from his mother.
Yes, he would have to get to know the daughter. They could compare flagellation scars.