By the time I was 40 I’d been through pretty much every sort of therapy available on planet Earth. There had been the obvious ones, like cognitive therapy, behavioral therapy and psychoanalysis. But my attempts at self-repair went deeper. I’d also done acceptance therapy, art therapy, group psychotherapy and even eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy. Don’t ask me about that one. When it came to therapy, I’d seen it all.
But none of it had fixed me.
In my desperation, I’d gone beyond the psychological world. I’d become a drug user, switching from Oxy to heroin and even, when I really wanted to mess with my world view, to acid.
But none of it worked.
I was a broken man. I was unfixable.
It wasn’t hard for me to understand why. My parents had been psychotic religious fundamentalists who read the Bible literally. And not just the Christian Bible, but the Hebrew one. They rejected evolution. They rejected science. They resisted the modern world. They dreamed of casting stones upon sinners. They spoke about when they would destroy the rebellious city, or what they’d do to the false prophet. Heck, they even named me Enoch, after the man who walked with G-d and never died.
When I was very young, I was a part of it. I was a part of it all. But I didn’t live up to my name. I began to see cracks early on. They kept me separate from the world, cut me off from it. But I learned nonetheless. I’d always had a bit of a rebellious streak and I knew exactly the kinds of things they didn’t accept. I actually read Charles Darwin, his book secretly hidden in my pillow. I hid lots of books there, wrapped in the warm smell of cotton. I learned about democracy and freedom of speech and the benefits of a society with the free exchange of ideas – a melting pot of thought that bubbled up and rewarded the best mankind had to offer.
But my parents found the Darwin. They found all the books. And they didn’t spare the rod. Their love of me was contingent on my embrace of their world. And so, gradually, they began to push me away. But then I grew up a bit more, and became the one thing they couldn’t accept. That was the first therapy I underwent. They arranged it. I went voluntarily. I wanted to fix myself. But I couldn’t.
And so, they rejected me, totally.
I was an abomination to them.
The real problem was that I was an abomination to myself. I know it makes no sense. I didn’t agree with their ideas. I argued with them. I pushed back against them. But my arguments were intellectual. In my soul, I knew my parents were right. I knew I shouldn’t have a place in the world.
I guess, in that way, the beatings had done their job. My parents had gotten into me so effectively that I couldn’t begin to love myself. Like many junkies I became a great philosopher. Sometimes I wonder if perhaps the philosophy is the cause of our addictions, instead of the other way around. Perhaps we’re all broken by the distance between what we believe and what we feel.
No matter the cause, I was a broken man and there was nothing I could do to fix myself.
And then, the world ended.
It had been one Wednesday evening in the middle of winter. I’d been taking a break from rehab and was going through a brief period of ‘alternative living arrangements’. In other words, I was high and homeless. But I wasn’t stupid. I’d never been stupid.
I lived in Kansas City. If you don’t know Kansas City, it gets cold in winter. Deadly cold. Actually living on the streets would be a death sentence. I wasn’t suicidal, yet. But Kansas City has an underground area called SubTropolis. It has roads and warehouses and even little factories. There, the temperatures stay within a very comfortable range all year round. Get in there and you can stay safe, like a bear in hibernation.
Of course, getting in isn’t easy. The place is a bit like Fort Knox, with huge doors buried in the sides of the hill it is under. There are very limited opportunities for homeless ingress. But I had a friend, from my Drug Addicts Anonymous group, who loaned me a pass. And so, every night, I’d drive my old beater of a car into the side of the hill, park it in some empty corner and go to sleep. Every night, I was miserable. Almost every night, I was high. But I was never stupid. And so I was never cold.
Then, one Wednesday night, I woke up feeling like there wasn’t enough air. It wasn’t that all the air was gone, it was that a whole lot of it seemed to be. I sat up and rolled down my window, expecting more air to rush into the car. Instead, more air seemed to rush out of the car. I had no idea what was going on and so I turned on the car and drove to the entrance. The car was certainly running rough, like it didn’t have enough air either. Nonetheless, I waved my pass in front of the reader and with a rush of air the huge gate opened.
I expected to see the bright lights of a truck yard surrounded by a dark forest. Instead what I saw was fire. Everything was on fire. I could smell charcoal and sulfur filling the air. And then I glanced towards the sky and saw fireballs descending from it. They were striking the city, like it was a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah. They were laying waste the world around me.
I just sat in my car, stunned. And then I waved my pass again, closed the gates, and drove back to my parking spot.
I was low on oxygen. I was weak and I was scared. The world was on fire and I needed to survive.
I didn’t realize it then, but that was the first time in my adult life that I wasn’t miserably depressed.
I wasn’t the only survivor. People had been working underground, in SubTropolis, that night. Some had been in cellars when the fires rained down. Others just got lucky, running to the underground city as the sky around them opened up.
We never really knew what had happened. What we did know was that everything we could see had been eliminated. Farms. Stores. Homes. Everything. The sun itself had been erased beyond the darkness of the smoke.
And I had been reborn.
But I was unique among the survivors. Most of them had simply been working the overnight shift in the underground warehouses; packing and moving boxes. Others had been driving through the night, for one reason or another. As the fires came, they rushed to SubTroplis. I’m sure not all of them made it. Still others had simply been up late, playing games in cellars when the end of the world came.
They were people, good, bad and indifferent. They weren’t special in any way. I was. Between my itinerant jobs and my auto-didactic education, I knew something about pretty much everything. I knew rudimentary first aid, some basics about water treatment, a bit about construction. And, because of my self-loathing, I was the one who knew better than most how to talk people through pain and fear. I was the one they came to for counseling, and they all needed counseling.
Most importantly, I had a vision. I wanted to see the world reborn. It was a world that didn’t need me when it had been humming along. But now, I knew it was a world that couldn’t survive without me. This was why I couldn’t let it die.
It wasn’t long before I became the leader of SubTropolis.
The rain of fire passed within a day. The blazes within a few weeks. But the darkness didn’t go. We didn’t see the sun for months. We sent out search parties. We gathered supplies from the remains of houses. We filtered the dirty waters of the Missouri river, as best we could. We suffered terribly. Not just from hunger or injury, but from simple sickness. Heart attacks were left untreated; there was nothing we could do. We had almost no medication and what we did have we could only use in the most rudimentary ways. None of us were doctors.
As the sun began to be revealed – which we didn’t know would happen – we began to plan a farm. There were young men and women, who had been working in the warehouse, who had grown up on farms. We didn’t have combines or complex statistical analysis of crop placement. But we had some basic know-how and we had some seeds buried among the SubTropolis food storage warehouses.
But with farming, and the reproduction of plants, there came another need. We needed another generation of people. Very few children had survived. They hadn’t been out in the middle of the night. They hadn’t been working in cellars or underground caverns. Children had almost been erased from our world. And so, they became a part of our vision. As in so many disaster movies, reproduction became core to our understanding of survival.
The idea of children gave us hope. And so, in the face of despair, we kept going. Our little city, populated with stragglers, refused to die.
I Chausiku Mwangi, have heard the voice of Moloch. He spoke to me last night from among the clouds of darkness. The clouds of fire that gathered at the height of the noonday sun. Moloch spoke, casting his voice from the heavens. And, once again, he demanded our fealty.
I quavered in fear before him. He has attacked our world. He has cast us under his shadow. And he has done so because we have rebelled against him.
Moloch demands our sacrifice. He demands our humility. He demands our fealty. He demands our trust.
Humanity must come together – all of humanity – and we must dedicate our future to Moloch. We must dedicate it so that Moloch does not take it. We must dedicate it so that the darkness can be lifted, so that the crops can return and so that our lives may be restored.
I Chausiku Mwangi, have heard the voice of Moloch. Men tried to stop his voice. They tried to drug me into unawareness, into a world of silence. They tried to lock out the prophecies of Moloch. But they could not succeed. I spoke of Moloch. I spoke of the destruction. But they did not hear. And so, they were not warned.
But now, now that the destruction I prophesied has come, the voice of Moloch shines through. Now, they remember my warnings. Now, they heed my voice.
It is I, Chausiku Mwangi, who hears the voice of the Dark King. It is I who spreads his words throughout our world. It is I who have given life and voice to the other prophets of this King. Together, we share our vision. Together, we know what Moloch demands.
It is only through sacrifice, only through dedication, that Moloch will relent.
It is only by showing we can give up all that humankind will survive.
We weep, filled with sadness. But there is hope too. There is joy in sacrifice. There is joy in purification.
This is the word of Moloch. May his word be spread.
We planted our first crops as the sun began to appear from behind the blanket of smoke. The earth smelled burnt, but it held the promise of future life. We planted our first crops and we celebrated the first of our pregnancies. I was like a tribal leader. There was no voting, no selection. I was simply the one who made the decisions and others respected me.
We began to hear from survivors further afield. There were towns here and there. In what used to be Kansas City there were survivors in the sub-basements of the airport and downtown. Because of the size and resources of SubTropolis, we grew to encompass these places. They came under my rule.
But we heard of other settlements, further afield. The old underground Strategic Oil Reserves in Louisana and Texas were settled. They offered immense and invaluable stockpiles of oil and gas. Others had food. Some had banks of seeds. And yet others offered pockets of skilled people.
We began to reach out to them. One survivor made ham radios. We sent trucks out, to the settlements we could find. And we brought his radios with us.
We were forming a community of communities. We were building a new reality. And SubTropolis, with its simple scale and variety of goods, had become a nexus for a new world.
But it was a new world that was only a seed. It was not yet a reality.
I am an apostle of Chausiku Mwangi. We have suffered the vengeance of Moloch. We must sacrifice to him. Only then will he relent. I have seen the sacrifice. I have seen the dedications. I, myself, have dedicated my eldest son to the alien god. And I have seen the coming of light. There are those who deny the blessings of Moloch, but we remove them. They can not be allowed to survive. They anger Moloch.
They anger Moloch even as the sun returns and his anger abates.
The fires have passed. Moloch is blessing our efforts.
This is why I have traveled so far, carrying the prophecies of Chausiku Mwangi to the remnants of mankind. They, the notebooks inscribed in the hand of Chausiku Mwangi himself, are my most precious belongings. They are my gift to mankind. I am carrying them even across the immense seas. Despite the danger, I must carry this prophecy to all corners of the earth.
There are those who challenge us, but they can not be allowed to survive.
We have dedicated too much to spurn the blessings of the Dark King.
The first harvest is almost upon us. The smell of life fills our little crack of land, resisting the death that still surrounds us. It is then that the radios began to fill with a new vision. From far and near, the crackle of strange prophecies came over the airwaves. They claimed that the darkness was brought on by an alien power. They called it a god. They called it Moloch.
And they claimed that Moloch demanded the sacrifice of children.
But I could not believe them. How could we build a future without children?
They claimed that we must show our trust and faith, and that only then would we be blessed.
But I heard only the insanity of my parents.
They claimed the children who went up in the flames would be granted ever-lasting life.
But I knew we must build our own future, in this life.
What other path can there be?
I heard these voices, crackling over the radios. And then they spoke of a ritual. It was being planned only a few hundred miles away. And all were welcome.
I went. I went to see if it was real.
I had to know.
And it was. I saw the horrors of Moloch. There were masses of people there. And I saw a crazy light in the eyes of some of the men and women. I spoke to them. And I learned that they were the ones who had already given a child to the Dark King. And I saw others filled with fear. Fear of what I wasn’t sure. But they were fearful, nonetheless.
And then, I saw the sacrifices.
The first to go were not children. They were mostly men and women, although a few children were among them. I asked who they were, these sacrifices. And one of the crazy-eyed men told me. They were heretics. They were resistors. They were not good enough for the fire.
They were not good enough to be lifted into the heavens as a smoke offering to the god of fire.
Instead, they would be stoned.
And they were.
And then I saw the children. There was a line of eight precious children. But their faces were not the faces of innocence. I could see their fear, but I could see something else. They were resolute, like I had been in as a child. They believed in Moloch and the everlasting gift of fire. They had more certainty than even the parents who were offering to the Dark King.
The children walked, one after another, into the fire. They screamed. They cried out. But they walked. And I could smell the burning of their flesh. And as I watched, their parents were transformed. They went from mournful and frightened to joyous. I knew then that they had to be joyous. They had no other options. They had given everything. To turn from joy would be to embrace their own destruction.
I asked one of the crazy-eyed men how the worship of Moloch had come to this place. He spoke of the prophecies that filled the airwaves. And then he spoke of a notebook, written by a prophet and brought by an apostle of that faraway man. The apostle had shared Moloch’s anger at humanity, and his joy upon our sacrifices. That apostle spoke with such overwhelming belief. He had cried out in joy when he described his own sacrifice, and the freedom it had bought him. He described how a weight had been removed, knowing that he had dedicated all to Moloch.
And others had come to follow him. He brought meaning and worth to what had been simple destruction. And, of course the sun, poking even more through the thinning haze of smoke, demonstrated the blessings he offered.
I asked that crazy-eyed man what kind of G-d would demand the sacrifice of children. And then he began to cry out. He pointed at me. And he shouted that I was a heretic. And so I fled. I ran to my truck and I fled.
I fled back to SubTropolis. And as I listened to the radio, I realized the evil had surrounded us. I had seen it. It was real. And it was coming close to our little collection of towns.
And so, I collected our radios. I censored our communications. I throttled the supply of oil. No one could travel without my permission. No one could speak to the outside without my okay.
I believed in an open culture. I believed in the exchange of ideas. Nonetheless, I created a wall around my people.
And I preached. I took to my own radio and preached creation and life and children. I demanded that those around us embrace life. I demanded that my own people represent life. I even condemned my own actions and preferences. I knew I had to live an example. An example in which even the symbolism of squandered potential had to be resisted. An example in which life was held up in order to counteract a world that had been overcome by death.
But despite all I had done, Moloch came to us as surely as Darwin had come to me. The prophets of the Dark King could allow no other eventuality. They came to what used to be downtown Kansas City. They came to my domain. A woman ran from there. She fled to us. And she told us what was happening.
And, with our radios, we heard a new broadcast. From within our little domain. Moloch had infected my people.
And now, I’m standing outside the grid of old streets that used to be downtown. My men carry guns and gleaming, but chipped, machetes.
I, the lover of freedom and democracy and the open exchange of ideas, am about to condemn this little town. I am about to kill the men and women and even the rare children – because they have become the willing sacrifices to Moloch.
The smell of sulfur still permeates the air.
This morning, I had expected to have second thoughts. I had expected to challenge my own decision. I had expected to awaken from the horror. But now I know that some ideas are necessary for the strength and development of a society. Just as the bacteria in the gut compete and evolve and thus eventually better serve the host, some ideas require balance and argument to flourish. But some ideas are a cancer. They cannot be argued with. They cannot be integrated. They must simply be destroyed.
That is why I am about to kill in the name of life.
My men look to me.
And, just then, the old verses I learned as a child run through me.
Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death; the people of the land shall stone him with stones. (Lev 18)
If there arise in the midst of thee a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams–and he give thee a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spoke unto thee–saying: ‘Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them’… that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death… (Dev 13: 2-6)
If thou shalt hear tell concerning one of thy cities, which the LORD thy God giveth thee to dwell there, saying: ‘Certain base fellows are gone out from the midst of thee, and have drawn away the inhabitants of their city, saying: Let us go and serve other gods, which ye have not known’; then shalt thou inquire, and make search, and ask diligently; and, behold, if it be truth, and the thing certain, that such abomination is wrought in the midst of thee; thou shalt surely smite the inhabitants of that city with the edge of the sword, destroying it utterly, and all that is therein and the cattle thereof, with the edge of the sword. (Dev 13: 13-16)
I realize, in that instant, that I have become just like my parents. How can I justify this? How can I embrace their darkness.
It is in that moment, that another verse comes to my mind.
See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil, in that I command thee this day to love the LORD thy God, to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments and His statutes and His ordinances; then thou shalt live and multiply, and the LORD thy God shall bless thee in the land… (Dev 30)
And I know, with certainty, that my people must survive.
I must stand for life, even if it means others must be condemned to death.
I must kill so that the world does not succumb to the powers of Moloch.
My mind is untroubled ,and my soul unburdened, as I nod to my men.
I give them the order to proceed.
I am no longer a broken man.
In the Torah Reading of Re’eh, we read about the means the Torah uses to protect the people against incompatible ideals and symbolism. This story discusses those same ideas. And in order to challenge both myself and you, the reader, I chose to highlight the commandment to destroy the heretical city.
The question of course is what measures are justified today, in the world we currently live in, to protect the ideas of life and the preservation of potential. This story doesn’t come packaged with answers, but perhaps it can raise a few questions.
If you enjoyed the story, share it and be sure to comment on it. This is a difficult story, so even if you didn’t like it – but found it challenging – share it and comment on your own reaction.
It is much appreciated.
Joseph Cox lives in Modiin, Israel and is the author of City on the Heights, a thriller about finding hope in war.