Paradise Lost - Pages 1 - 2
A clan is tucked away in a hollow in the Shenandoah Wilderness, Virginia, known as the Skyline Clan. It is there that Jeremiah Fletcher plies his trade as an arrow maker. Jeremiah loves his craft so much; he has taken it to the point of an art form.
In the Wolf Ridge Clan, found a little farther south, is a man named Flint Knapper. He collects used glass bottles and jars from former dumpsites located near the forgotten foundations of long-abandoned dwelling sites in his area. He then melts the scrap glass in a kiln and pours the molten glass into clay molds to form the basic shapes needed to fashion arrowheads and spear points.
Once the glass has cooled, Flint breaks open the molds exposing the raw arrowheads and spear tips to their new life for the first time. Then he begins the knapping process, slowly chipping shallow flakes of glass to form razor-sharp, serrated edges.
Together, Flint Knapper's finely hewn glass tips and Jeremiah Fletcher's exquisitely fashioned shafts and fletching combine into an article of true craftsmanship. In fact, Jeremiah's arrows are of such superior quality that his name has become synonymous with the objects he produces. More often than not, the term "Fletcher" is heard among the brethren to describe his products.
Meanwhile, in Palmerton, Pennsylvania, Bill approaches his bathroom mirror with some trepidation. The officer knows he looks terrible, so he is prepared for the worst, which is precisely what the man gets as he gazes at his reflection. The constable's handsome, rugged looks have disappeared under four days of facial growth. His face looks drawn and tired, and dark circles frame his usual iron gaze with rings of torment. His short-cropped hair is now long enough to touch the tops of his ears since he hasn't had a haircut in almost two months. Bill can see he is in sad shape, and the worst part is, he has no plans to change.
On the seventh week of a six-week leave of absence, Bill is battling a deep, ruthless depression from within the very core of his existence. He has been spending just about every waking moment trying to come up with an angle that will get his wife, Sheila, released from the clutches of the "System." Bill has let his appearance slip into a shabby mass of wretchedness. At least his two children, Jill and Jeffery, are well cared for by his parents, who are retired and live just outside of Lehighton. They are watching them temporarily until Bill can manage to organize his life better.
It has been five months since the slaying of his close friend, John Phillips, and the arrest of his beloved wife, Sheila. The Department of Homeland Security has taken them away, John to an undisclosed hospital under heavy guard, and Sheila to a re-education center at Fort Indiantown Gap. There seems to be no sense of closure for him since he couldn't say goodbye to John, and he has limited access to his wife. Except for a brief visit on Christmas Day and a short half-hour phone call every other month, Bill remains utterly cut off from the love of his life.
The decorated constable has been trying to pull as many strings as he knows how in his endeavor to gain Sheila's release. Though each time, he encounters unrelenting resistance. The most significant hurdle Bill must deal with is communication. There is no phone number he can call and try to reason with a human being on the other end. Every contact has to be through the US Postal Service, and it usually .takes three to four weeks to get his queries answered.
Paradise Lost - Pages 3 - 4
It is now April, and the first deadline for being "chipped" has come and gone. June tenth is now the final deadline, and anyone not chipped will face incarceration in violation of existing law and forced into labor camps disguised as re-education centers. Many homeless people have been rounded up, "chipped," and put back on the street, and individuals who refuse the “devise” go to re-education centers for training. Those who show signs of mental illness end up in the new state sanitarium at Fort Indiantown Gap.
A dark veil of depression is now falling heavily on Bill's life. Without his lovely wife at his side, Bill feels incomplete, and he feels as if there is no sense of stability. His life doesn't make any sense, and there is the feeling that it is coming apart at the seams. Bill can only envision a dark road ahead of him that empties into an expanding black hole to nowhere. He is tired, and there is no reason for him to go on.
Finally, dragging himself away from the mirror, Bill lumbers into the bedroom to the end of his bed, where he pointlessly stands. Running his fingers through his untidy hair, Bill lets his mind run through memories of happier times. Times when he and Sheila would have friends over for parties and the cookouts; those awesome cookouts where Bill was such a magnificent host. Bill’s superior hosting skills often had won him the honor of being Master of Ceremonies at many of the events and functions held by the police department in town.
Bill thinks of the closeness of his family and how, on holidays, the kids excitedly invaded their bedroom on Christmas and Easter—frantically waking him and Sheila to let them know that Santa or the Easter bunny had been there. Bill imagines Sheila laying across the bed in her lengthy, red silk nightgown, beckoning him to come and lay down beside her. There he could feel all his problems dissolve into total obscurity.
In a moment of weakness, tears of pain and despair begin to trickle down Bill's cheeks while a hopeless sensation of despondency envelopes the grieving husband. He feels himself slipping into the dismal abyss that despair and desperation quarry for its disciples. That seemingly bottomless pit that only promises dejection and misery where escape is all but impossible appears to offer but one way out. The flow of tears increases to a point where Bill begins sobbing uncontrollably. His emotional pain is excruciating and too unbearable to hold inside any longer. The man needs a release. The clutches of gloom have tightened their grip and are inexorably squeezing the very breath from his lungs. Bill feels himself hyperventilating as he comes to the fateful conclusion that there is but one way out of his misery. The lawman resolves himself to the only solution he believes will end his suffering.
Bill stands up, moves to Sheila's side of the bed, and sits down again blankly, staring down at his knees. As he sits there enveloped in his moment of despair and weakness, Bill Teller reaches into the nightstand and initiates the combination to his wife's gun safe. Retrieving her Sig Sauer P238, the officer studies it momentarily, contemplating his next move. Bill then cocks the hammer back and presses the barrel firmly against his temple while squeezing his eyes shut as he prepares for the impact to come.
Then he pulls the trigger.
Five thirty comes early in the morning at Indiantown Gap. Sheila Teller throws off her covers and sits on the edge of her bed, clearing her head as she mentally shakes off last evening's slumber. She grabs a hairbrush from the locker next to her bunk and begins brushing her hair, thinking about the tasks and duties she must perform for the day.
The gray metal locker is the same as all the others in the barracks, about twenty-two inches wide and five feet high with a door where Sheila can lock her possessions with a standard-issue combination lock.
The free-standing locker is divided into three compartments. The left third is a full-length section for hanging longer garments, and the right two-thirds is a series of shelves for storing folded clothing, etc.
About midway down on the right is two drawers where Sheila keeps her hand lotion, toothbrush, shampoo, and other personal items. The upper drawer is somewhat shallower than the lower one, and she keeps her stationary, pens, and other writing utensils in there. Below the drawers are more shelves where Sheila stores her towels and extra
Paradise Lost - Pages 5 - 6
bedding, and finally, the woman keeps her shoes on the floor of the locker. There is one locker for every bed in the barracks, and there are twenty beds in the barracks.
Sheila finishes brushing her hair and quickly pins it back. She only has forty-five minutes to get ready for her day, starting at six-fifteen in the local cafeteria, where she has breakfast every weekday morning. After her morning meal, Sheila must report for duty at the loading dock by seven. If she delays or deviates from her schedule, she will earn penalty points. When enough points accumulate, it can result in a loss of privileges or even severe penalties in extreme circumstances.
Sheila quickly runs into the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face before rushing off to stand in the line building at the mess hall. Outside, the detainee meets a woman she has befriended from another barracks who drives the forklift at the loading dock where she works. Both women are class four "students," which means that their infractions are minor, and they have received the minimum sentence with the least amount of restrictions which includes five years of "re-education." That means four ten-hour days of labor and one six-hour day of "education" with weekends off.
However, most people in Sheila's situation haven't fallen for the System's terminology. They understand that "re-education" is, in reality, just a mask for political indoctrination.
The woman Sheila runs into at the mess hall is Wilma Howard. A slim, pale, mere wisp of a human being. Her sunken eyes seem dull and devoid of life, like there is no soul within her. Her face, drawn and darkly circled around her eyes after years of addiction to methamphetamine. Her dark brown shoulder-length hair is flat and straight and cut just above her eyebrows in definitive bangs. Wilma's expressionless face is gaunt and deep furrows entrench her appearance giving her an aged look. And even though she is only thirty-two years old, her years of addiction have made her look like she is in her sixties.
"Morning," Wilma says drearily in her monotone voice, as her lifestyle has wholly drained her of any emotion she may have ever once had.
"Good Morning, Wilma!" Sheila replies perkily.
"Oh God, girl! Do you have to be so bubbly this early in the morning?" Wilma complains sarcastically.
Sheila, who is standing next to Wilma on her right, puts her right hand on Wilma's shoulder, and leaning in carefully, she whispers into her ear. "I can't help it. This is how God has made me."
Then pulling back, she says, smiling widely, "You're gonna have to take that up with Him."
Wilma manages a smile and a groan as she looks down at the floor to avoid eye contact with Sheila. After a short pause, she finally lifts her head and speaks up. "Sheila, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
"Why no, not at all, Wilma" Sheila quickly responds.
"I was talking with my counselor last Friday," Wilma begins, "and he told me that I have an addictive personality. And that my meth addiction is how I choose to feed it. Now, for the rest of my life, I will always be a meth addict. Even if I never do meth, ever again."
"But you," Wilma continues. "You're here because you had your chip removed from your hand. All you have to do is get another chip, and you can walk out of here in a couple of weeks."
"Why don't you just get a chip and get out of here? Why put yourself through all this?"
“Well, Wilma," Sheila says, "That's a good question, but the answer is kind of complicated."
As the doors to the mess hall open and the line begins to shuffle along, Sheila witnesses to Wilma. They talk all through breakfast, and Sheila answers Wilma's questions to the best of her ability.
Even after they finished their meal, the women speak on their way to their assigned workstations at the loading dock. As they are walking, Sheila tells Wilma all about her faith, the miracle of Biblical prophecy, and why she can't accept a chip. When they finally get to the building where they work, Wilma breaks away and heads toward the motor pool where the forklifts reside since she is, after all, a forklift operator.
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