We Are All Of Us Saved
The wind which had been howling across the mesas for days had just up and quit when he came for me. Barefoot and in faded blue jeans, he appeared out of nowhere and never explained how he found me. He was a prophet come in from the wilderness, our salvation, and quite possibly the devil himself.
In a time when most of us would have believed in anything, when we were all just begging for something, some kind of savior, I had faith in nothing. I was spending long days in the desert, searching for aloe plans to vivisect and lay on my arms, which I had been habitually burning with a silver lighter for months. I did appreciate the irony of trying to cure my self-inflicted wounds, like the alcoholic who, in the haze of a hangover, reaches for ibuprophen to cure his pounding head and washes the pills down with vodka. But there in the desert, hunting knife in my hand, I met the Prophet.
The man who would save us all.
Everyone always asks what he said to me that first day, whether it was profound and beautiful or enigmatic. I never told, which probably only lent power to the legend of that first day. They call his first words to me The First Testament and rumors as to the nature of his first words spread like they’d been caught in the vicious autumnal winds.
What he actually said was, “You’ve got plants on your arms.”
The second thing he ever said to me was, “Do you have any water?”
This also would be the second-to-last thing he would ever say to me.
Later, I’d tell myself I was just dumbstruck by his presence in the poisoned desert. I never saw anyone out there, especially not in the heat of the day. I’d convince myself I was just surprised to see another human. But I’m not sure if that’s true—maybe I was already taken by his power, like they say I was. They call me Lady Disciple and The First Disciple and The Blessed Girl. They call me, altogether too often, The Girl Without Shoes.
Because the first thing I ever said to him, as I passed him the canteen of water I kept slung around my hips, was, “Do you want my shoes?”
He was barefoot and I blurted it out before I could stop myself, worried rattlesnakes would find his ankles or he’d step carelessly on razor wire.
His laugh was easy and sweet, the laugh of a man who makes women fall in love with him in the cheap glow of neon bar lights.
“No, no,” he refused. “You keep them.”
But I was insistent. “Please take them. You can’t just walk around out here completely barefoot. I’ll keep my socks. You take the shoes.”
After four more refusals and persuasions, he obliged, and pulled his feet into my hiking boots. For once in my life, I was not embarrassed of my abnormally large shoe size. This would be the only time I would see him wear shoes. The few times he rode in my truck, he smiled when I kicked off my sandals and drove barefoot.
“It helps me feel closer to the car,” I blushed.
He nodded because this, at least, he understood.
When I met him, it had been four years since the bombs, and babies had begun to be born what we took to calling The New Way—without tongues or eyes, just grasping hands and rattling breath. It had been six months since I’d seen a fish and eighteen since I’d heard a cricket, which I never would have thought I’d miss.
“You’re hungry?” I asked.
He was, I could tell. His ribs poked from beneath his dirty white tee shirt. But it was more than that: his eyes were starving. I saw the same look on my own face every morning in the mirror.
“Follow me,” I told him.
And he, with what people would come to call his Infinite Wisdom or sometimes his Most Profound Knowledge, replied, “You’re taking me home.”
He was right. Of course I was.
Eli, he called himself, but only to me.
When I had fed him, when he had told me his named and asked mine, he told me what he was.
“I am a Prophet,” he said. He took a sip of water. “We Are All Of Us Saved.”
I tried not to laugh. Really, in all honesty, I was scared. I had let a crazy person into my home with only my knife in my back pocket for defense. I had given an insane man, a zealot take my shoes. And then I had fed him. I found myself wishing for my mother, who had been dead since the bombs. She had walked into the desert one day and never returned. My only family.
“What religion?” I asked, trying not to be snide and wondering how I was going to get a twenty-something man with a good-looking grin and perfectly crystalline blue eyes out of my home.
He shook his head. “No religion. Just Salvation.”
When he spoke, he had a way of making words sound like they were capitalized. It was a self-assured confidence, and maybe a bit of excitement. It surrounded him. It touched everything.
“That’s nice,” I said because I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I was wondering, I remembered, if I could let this fanatical side of him slide and still sleep with him, which I wanted very much to do.
He grinned. “You don’t Believe,” he told me. “I would have been disappointed if you did, that easily.”
“You gonna convert me, mister?” I asked, suddenly not at all worried about my manners.
He nodded in the same assured and eager way. “I gave you my true name,” he said. “You will be my first disciple. You’ll see.”
“Look,” I replied, “I don’t want to be rude, but I don’t really have time for this. Could you maybe go? I’m… I’m not exactly interested.”
It was the first time I’d lied to him but it certainly wouldn’t be the last. I would lie to him time and time again, from the first time we met to the last.
But he was unfazed. He got up from the rough-hewn kitchen table my father had made before he died in the war.
“It’ll rain tonight,” he promised, “and then there will be a miracle. And you will be my disciple, and you will never tell anyone my true name. We Are All Of Us Saved.”
There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. It hadn’t rained for three months.
I sent him on his way.
Author’s note: this is the first bit of a 30-ish page short story. I would love any notes or critique on the longer work. If you’re interested, please message me.