After the Fall there was a man known as The Prophet. He was a small thin man. His face was covered in burns and scabs and he wrapped himself up in bandages to hide his visage from the people he preached to as he crossed the forsaken Earth.
Before the Fall he had been a librarian. A librarian called Spencer Potts. Once the Fall occurred though he forgot about his life as Potts and took on the role of The Prophet. Walking barefoot on blistered feet so calloused with wear that they were as strong as leather he went from settlement to settlement spreading his teachings. His teachings were contained in a small black notebook. As his library had burnt he had collected scraps of pages from a certain book, stuffing them into his pockets as his skin cracked and parted under the heavy gaze of the flames.
When he had awoken and escaped from the hospital he had taken these pages and examined the broken phrases upon them. He put them together with absolute care, knowing that a divine hand guided his work. Sometimes when he was gripped with doubt he wished that he could remember the teachings in their pure form and he wailed against fate and circumstance and he would suffer a fitful sleep beset with nightmares of fire and overdue Harry Potter books.
When he awoke he would admonish himself for his doubts. Then he would read from his book and know that the path he walked was a righteous one and even though he was beset with unease and doubt it was the path he was meant to walk.
Onyx was a settlement built near to a mine. It was populated with rough men and rougher women. The Prophet came into town at dawn and stood in the town square.
He cleared his throat and called out, ‘People of Onyx,’ when he spoke his lips cracked and bled but he paid it no heed. ‘I have teachings for you. I have wisdom.’ And he called this out constantly until a crowd formed. Some were miners preparing to go to work while others had just finished and were passing through the square to grab a meal before bed.
He waited until they surrounded him and then he held up his bandaged hands for silence.
‘You don’t know me but wherever I go they call me The Prophet,’ he looked around the crowd. ‘I think you all need to be saved.’
‘Saved from what?’ Called out a miner. ‘Are you gonna save us from the Raiders? From disease? Cave-ins?’
‘From yourselves,’ said The Prophet. He opened the black notebook. ‘A bird in the hand spoils the broth. Do you understand that? Loose lips launched a thousand ships. Do you not see?’ He held up the notebook. ‘Here are answers! Here is the truth! We must be keen as the dodo or we shall be as dead as mustard!’
After an hour of this the crowd began nodding as he spoke and calling out encouragement.
‘Preach on, preach on!’
The Prophet flicked through the pages, ‘Idle hands are worth a thousand words.’
‘Wait, wait, wait.’ A woman in a dirty summer dress and big black boots stepped forward. ‘This isn’t right.’
The Prophet pointed at her, ‘Heretic! Unbeliever!’
The crowd turned as one to look at the woman.
‘My name’s Rook. You all know me. You know I know the difference between shit and shinola. And this man here,’ she pointed a long finger at The Prophet. ‘This so-called Prophet is talking some of that old-fashioned bullshit.’
The crowd turned to The Prophet.
He smiled revealing a set of black teeth set in rotting gums framed by a shining pair of bloody lips. ‘Every settlement I go to I hear this. Always the devil is there, and as they say the devil is the opium of the people.’
‘What does that mean?’ Said Rook, ‘What does anything you’ve said mean?’
‘It means you hope to corrupt these good people with your talk of swill and wisdom. They don’t need to know the difference they just to need to have faith.’
A man called out from the crowd, ‘Tell it!’
Rook pointed to the man who had called out, ‘You, Bishop, why are you getting hypnotized by this bandaged idiot?’
Bishop took his hat off and held it in his hands, ‘Well, Rook, sometimes a man needs to know that life can get better.’
‘But he’s not telling you that. He’s telling you literally nothing.’
The Prophet stepped forward and pointed with his thumb at Rook, ‘It is true then.’
Rook turned on him and balled her hands into fists, ‘What?’
The Prophet opened a page and read from it, ‘A woman needs chalk and cheese best served cold.’
The crowd laughed.
Rook shook her head, ‘That means nothing.’
The Prophet held up his hands, ‘I feel a healing coming on.’
‘What?’ said Rook.
The Prophet pointed at Rook, ‘Take the girl.’
Rook realized what was happening too late and she was suddenly surrounded by burly miners with massive hands and empty expressions.
‘She must be healed of her disbelief, she must be cleansed.’ The Prophet pointed to an empty patch in the square. ‘The best cleanser I find is the purifying light of the flame.’
Strong hands grabbed Room and lifted her off her feet.
Others began building a small pyre in the empty space using trash and scrap wood.
‘What the hell?’ Rook tried to kick her legs free but she was held too tight. ‘He only spoke for an hour! How has he got so much of a hold on you? Are you that devoid of entertainment?’
The pyre was built quickly and it was Bishop himself who poured gasoline upon the wood.
‘Listen to me! This is insane!’
Bishop lit the fire and it burned brightly in the morning light.
Two men took Rook’s arms and two took her legs and they swung her back and forth like a pendulum in front of the fire.
The prophet read from the book. ‘Early to bed and early to rise makes a man let slip the dogs of war.’
Bishop turned to the men, ‘On three.’
‘Hell hath no fury like babes and sucklings.’
‘Don’t do this, this is crazy, you know me!’
‘A fool and his money would smell as sweet.’
‘No, no, no, no.’
‘A dog is the mother of invention.’
Rook arced through the air and into the center of the pyre, smashing through the poorly made structure and hitting the concrete beneath with a red thud. The pyre collapsed upon her prone body and she didn’t make a single sound.
The townsfolk stared into the flames for a while and then turned to the The Prophet.
He opened the book and began to recite from it, ‘The early bird doesn’t know what the right hand is doing. Every cloud is forever. A fool and his money gathers no moss. Keep your nose between the lines. Cut off your nose until the fat lady sings…’
He read and read and read and behind his crowd the pyre burnt higher and higher, its flames reflected in his dark eyes.