Chapter 4: Ari Levin, August 2, Year 1

As usual, breakfast was family time. It was me, my five wives, and eighteen children—one just a few months old—all eating around a huge table. Only the youngest is biologically mine; I had adopted the rest. Parents aren’t supposed to prefer one child over another, but it’s impossible for me not to. You’d expect it to be my own biological progeny, Ari Junior, but that’s not the case. He’s cute enough but all he does is sleep, eat, laugh, cry, and fill his diapers. As of yet, he isn’t all that interesting.

My most amusing child—the one that makes me laugh the most—is Victoria. Although she’s only nine, her personality is so strong that the entire family seems to revolve around her. It helps that she’s extremely bright and unusually pretty. A couple of days ago, she’d sent a letter to Hiram Rockwell asking him to marry her. When his reply came, she read his response letter out loud in front of the family. She hadn’t read the letter beforehand and her voice quivered with excitement.

Everyday refrigerated diesel trucks make the haul on I-15 from New Zion up to Fortress Salt Lake, and back. We send milk, cheese, horses, and in season fresh fruit. They send back fuel, machinery, and ammunition.

Prior to the outbreak, farmers in southern Utah grew apples and cherries. Most of those orchards were still producing. Most domesticated animals, including cattle, were kept in enclosures, and when the zombies rose, these animals couldn’t escape. We were able to save a thousand head of cattle.

Most of the more than thirty thousand wild horses that live on Federal and State lands in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona survived the outbreak. They were too fast and too wary to make easy zombie food. Before the zombies rose, these animals had been almost worthless. Now any form of transport that didn’t require processed fuel was extremely valuable.

Shortly after the outbreak, twenty Paiutes took refuge in New Zion. Now they’re full members of our FLDS community; all of them have converted. They know how to ride and most of them have experience breaking mustangs. They are a godsend. We keep the mares and send the excess stallions up north.

There are close to twenty thousand people in Salt Lake with more survivors moving there every day. They want all the fresh food we can send them. Fortress Salt Lake’s demand for fresh produce is so great that we started milking mares. Most people won’t drink horse milk—it has a peculiar after taste—but horse milk cheese is actually quite good.

Trade between New Zion and Fortress Salt Lake is so important that fortified villages have sprung up along I-15 at Enoch and Fillmore.

The EMP last year destroyed every piece of solid-state electronic equipment that hadn’t been protected by a Faraday cage. The great thing about radio communication is that it was originally developed with vacuum tube technology. Solid-state electronics use micro technology and require a sophisticated industrial process. Vacuum tubes use 1920s-type macro technology—as long as you know how to manipulate glass with a blowtorch, and cut, twist, and solder wires together, you can make basic electronic components.

Every major hospital in the US has a hyperbaric chamber that increases atmospheric pressure to treat persistently non-healing wounds. Before the outbreak, this guy up in Salt Lake used to make a tenuous living crafting really expensive handmade tube amplifiers for hard-core audiophiles. Post-outbreak, his skill and expertise became a strategic asset.

He commandeered the hyperbaric chamber at IMC, attached a portable generator, repaired the pump and changed the direction of flow so that it sucks air out rather than pumps it in, and then built a device that seals prefabricated tubes in the vacuum. He repressurizes the room only to take out the finished vacuum tubes and reload his machine. The demand for his product is so high that he has the room running around the clock.

We’ve built radio repeating towers inside these villages and further up north past Salt Lake into Twin Falls, Idaho. We now have reliable two-way radio communication up and down the I-15 corridor.

Vampires have a fascinating response to radio towers. These towers drive vampires crazy. They can’t seem to help themselves; any vampire within forty miles of one of these towers unthinkingly attacks it. A vampire can jump almost forty feet in the air, so every fortified village and city has sixty foot high walls. These walls have a small electrified metal platform thirty-five feet from the ground. When a vampire lands on one of these platforms, a hundred thousand volt current freezes it in place so a specially designated marksman with a high powered rifle has an easy shot at its head.

Vampires are dangerous, and are very hard to kill. It’s comforting to know that every vampire within forty miles of a radio tower can’t avoid landing on these traps. Radio towers have become extremely popular.

The problem with radio communication for the average citizen is that it isn’t private. Government officials send encrypted messages, but that isn’t an option for regular folk. The delivery trucks also carry mail; First-class mail has become the most popular form of long distance communication.

Victoria is tiny for her age. She’s actually shorter than most six-year-olds. It was clear that Hiram thought she was a couple years younger than she actually was. It was also obvious to me that he wasn’t a pedophile and that he didn’t understand the FLDS.

FLDS women marry young. All my wives, including my currently pregnant eighteen-year-old wife, Janelle, had been previously married. Janelle first got married when she was twelve; all my other wives were married to their first husbands by the time they were fifteen.

Once I became Prophet, I got rid of forced marriages, slavery, and incest—but I didn’t become the FLDS Prophet by picking stupid fights. My followers understand that forced marriages, slavery, and incest are wrong. They absolutely don’t feel the same way about polygamy, or what most non-FLDS would call ‘underage marriage’. These aspects of their culture are integral to how they define themselves.

I wasn’t born FLDS. I became their prophet because I seized an opportunity, and I’m a natural born conman. I know how the average American thinks. Victoria and my wives don’t. They think that it’s perfectly normal for underage girls to marry men who are twenty to fifty years older, with multiple other wives.

The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints split off from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints after Wilford Woodruff issued the 1890 Manifesto outlawing new plural marriages. Since then, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has become a mainstream faith renowned for producing super-uptight, clean shaven, non-drinking, non-smoking, non-cursing, non-divorcing politicians and businessmen.

The one thing the FLDS and the LDS still do have in common is the perception that a man over the age of twenty-five who is still unmarried is an affront to God and a menace to society. The pressure to get married isn’t as strong for the LDS as it is for the FLDS, but it’s still there. The fact that Hiram is twenty-nine and still single especially irritates the FLDS because he is one of the anointed. Darren Jeffries, the Prophet I’d replaced, prophesied that fallen angels would cleanse the Earth and that only the anointed could set them free. The FLDS believes that vampires are these fallen angels and that only God’s chosen ones can kill them.

It’s funny how belief works. You’d think that all the vampires that have been killed in the vampire traps would be clear proof that Jeffries’ prophesy was wrong. After all, it doesn’t take a particularly holy man to hit a stationary target with a .300 magnum from twenty-five yards away. The FLDS now understand Jeffries’ prophesy to mean that only men who’ve slain vampires in hand-to-hand combat are the anointed; firearms and vampire traps don’t count. Based on this interpretation, there are only three known anointed—Hiram Rockwell, Mark Jones, and me. The unfortunate thing about this interpretation is I’m the only FLDS of the three, and I’ve only killed one vampire while Hiram and Mark both have killed two.

The FLDS women are particularly offended that Hiram—a man particularly blessed by God—is still single. It’s bad enough that there aren’t enough men to go around, and worse that one of the best is still unattached.

After Hiram lost his left hand, he’d received medical treatment at my house. My wives helped nurse him back to health. During this time, my wives and children got to know Hiram well; they really liked him.

Victoria, with the support of her five sister-mothers, came to me last week and asked for my permission and approval before she sent a letter to Hiram asking him to marry her when she came of age. It’s a good thing I’m a quick study. My unthinking first reaction was to laugh. Luckily, I had enough situational awareness to pay attention to my wives’ faces as they watched Victoria ask for my blessing—they were dead serious.

My wives had all been married more than once, but they had only been married to prophets. It was obvious that they thought it only fitting that the one unattached anointed should marry the daughter of a prophet. I didn’t let my amusement reach my face. Again, I don’t pick stupid fights—I gave her my permission.

Director Mark Jones and I are two peas in a pod. We’re both natural born liars who were smart enough and smooth enough to end up as leader of our respective communities after the apocalypse. Hiram Rockwell is the real deal. One of my favorite ex-presidents once said, ‘One man with courage makes a majority;’ wherever Hiram goes, he’s the majority.

Mark and I are clever more than brave—we calculate our odds and choose our fights. We always give way when we know we can’t win. We look brave because we almost always think we will win. And we’re skilled enough to almost always be right.

You can kill Hiram Rockwell, you can convince him to follow you, but you can never force him to change his path. He never considers the odds—only what’s right and what’s wrong. He is a dangerous man—that’s my highest compliment—which also explains why I find this situation so funny. If there is a God, He has a great sense of humor. Hiram Rockwell is six feet four inches of rock solid muscle. He is one of the most honorable and masculine men I know, and he is always just a hair away from being raped by women. He has a few rough edges, but otherwise he is the perfect studly mixture of honesty, honor, courage, and masculine purity.

Four months ago, I had six wives. Rachel was a psychopathic bitch who enjoyed torturing people, and who incidentally also wanted to kill me. She was in Colorado City when it was overrun by zombies. I never found her body, not that there were that many bodies left to find. She’s probably dead; I really hope she’s dead. At one point, she tied Hiram down and played with his goodies. There hadn’t been any penetration; Hiram was still a virgin, but it had been close. Now my favorite daughter wanted him.

One of my favorite pastimes is to predict what people will do in a particular situation and then see if I’m right. I predicted that Hiram wouldn’t take Victoria seriously—that he would treat her letter as a childhood crush. I went so far as to guess at the actual words he would use. He would first start off his letter describing how much he’d enjoyed getting to know Victoria while he convalesced in my home.

He’d write that he really liked Victoria but that there was a huge difference in their ages and that she was much too young to thinking about marriage at this time. I knew he wouldn’t actually reject her proposal—he’d assume Victoria would lose interest as she grew older.

It’s a good thing I’m a good actor because my predictions were absolutely spot on. When Victoria finished her letter, she started crying tears of joy and soon all her mothers joined her. Hiram, the poor son-of-a-bitch, didn’t understand that the absence of ‘No’ means ‘Yes.’ He doesn’t know it, but the FLDS now thinks he’s engaged to my daughter. If he’s lucky, he’ll die before she comes of age.

I made another prediction. He’ll be able to put off the marriage until she’s seventeen and then she’ll lose patience, pull down his pants, and take him. The image I had of his face when she took him was painfully funny—all the worse because I couldn’t let it show and because he really, truly doesn’t deserve all the shit that’s coming his way. I made my excuses and left the Prophet’s Tower before I tore something trying to contain my laughter.

I knew that within an hour everyone in New Zion would know about Hiram and Victoria, and that the news would make it back to Fortress Salt Lake by next morning.

I made my way to the radio tower and sent a coded message based on the most heinously boring great book ever written—Moby Dick. Millions of copies of this book were printed and almost none of them have been read. English majors brag about reading Moby Dick like fishermen brag about catching thirty pound lake trout—in both cases, they’re almost always lying. Mark and I both had copies of a rare edition of this book. I sent him a list of numbers that referenced a specific word on a specific page to let him know that Hiram had unwitting betrothed himself to my nine-year-old daughter.

All kidding and laughter aside, Mark needed to know that this engagement has to be handled delicately. My people won’t take it well if they think that Hiram is playing with my daughter’s emotions. I had taken particular care to memorize both Victoria’s letter and Hiram’s response—it was fortunate that both letters were fairly short. I sent him a transcript of both. I suggested he publish them in the newspaper in Salt Lake so the people up there knew exactly what was going on. I told him I’d do the same thing here.

New Zion and Fortress Salt Lake get along fairly well for two societies that had been at war four months ago. But FLDS still think the folk up in Salt Lake are godless heathens, and the good people of Salt Lake think we’re a wacko cult. Publishing these letters would confirm both prejudices.

The people of Salt Lake would understand that Hiram had sent a harmless letter that the wackos down south misunderstood. My people would know that the heathens up north were too godless and morally deprived to understand a betrothal letter, but would also be certain that an anointed man like Hiram would know the truth.

After I sent the message, I snuck out of New Zion before anyone could find me. We now have six thousand souls within our walls. For the most part, my people get along. But there are always problems and concerns that people have to talk to the prophet about.

I’ve never been a religious man. I’m too skeptical to have faith in something I can’t see, hear, feel, or touch. It’s an ironic twist of fate that made me the leader of a religious cult. In some ways it is probably better that I am a non-believer—I don’t have convictions that force me to do stupid things.

I now have sympathy for a God I don’t believe in. If I were Him, I’d hide from my followers too. The people who truly believe in me—who really think they need me to tell them what to do—have no idea how truly irritating they are. I’m sure that if God existed, he’d feel the same.

I try to avoid my followers as much as possible. I don’t give a crap about who wants to get married, which town to scavenge first, or which field should be planted with what. God gave prophets apostles to deal with that kind of petty, boring bullshit. I’ve always been a good judge of character, and I chose honest competent men to be my apostles. To make sure they remain honest, I bugged their homes and offices. I also bugged the homes of the biggest gossips in New Zion. It doesn’t take long to skim through the voice recognition transcripts of what my audio bugs picked up.

Apostle Graydon Miner is young, only nineteen-years-old but he commands our militia. He’s responsible for all military operations outside of New Zion’s borders. The Daniel brothers, Nephi and Landon, are his lieutenants, and they’re even younger than he is. Were he a typical teenager, it could have been a disaster. But he isn’t—he thinks and acts like a thirty-year-old. Our militia is well ordered and disciplined, and runs smoothly under his guidance. Most of our troops are his age or younger, so his relative youth is a non-issue.

Apostle Lavel Sondermann is mayor in all but name, and the other eight apostles are his city council.

I spent most of my adult life in the Middle East. When a normal man makes a mistake, he’s just an idiot. When a Middle Eastern religious or political leader makes a mistake, it means his God or his entire secular philosophy is wrong. You can’t stop from making errors, but you can try to kill, jail, or persecute anyone who points out those errors. Leaders who pretend they don’t make mistakes create cluster fucks—hence the Middle East.

I avoid making any decision unless it’s absolutely necessary. I try as much as possible to limit my personal decrees and commands to religious matters where it’s impossible for me to be proven wrong. I make it clear to everyone in New Zion that God and I have no interest in their daily mundane activities; we’re interested only in the health of their souls—then I make it a point to never be available so they can’t bother me with their spiritual questions.

My apostles may have religious titles, but they have the duties and powers of normal every day political leaders. It’s okay for my apostles to make mistakes; they’re only human. They’re reasonably popular, but they aren’t loved. It’s human nature to love the perfect, mysterious religious leader who never makes mistakes; I’m loved.

Even my wives and children who think they know me best really don’t know the man behind the curtain. I love playing roles, and being the benevolent voice of a loving God is the best role I’d ever had. I also have to admit that having five willing, enthusiastic, and beautiful sexual partners is not an especially bad thing either. I’m surprised at how pleasant it is to have kids who love me.

That being said, to maintain my sanity I have to frequently spend time alone in places where I can drop my role and be myself. I’m a stage magician who became an undercover operative and assassin. When I built my original compound which eventually became New Zion, I built in multiple secret passageways. My people got used to me having ‘powers’ that allow me to know things I couldn’t have heard, and disappear from rooms without using the only available door, hallway, or entrance. One of my passageways leads to a cave outside our walls.

I knew that if I was available, people would be bugging me all day long about Victoria and Hiram’s betrothal. I had enough food and water to take a long saunter around the periphery of the land we control. I set off for a long hike, and I sought out places that have a good sniper’s view of New Zion.

I was taking a break from being prophet, but there was no reason to waste my time doing something useless. We live in a dangerous world filled with zombies, vampires, and humans who mean us harm. I wanted to see if anyone was scouting us.

About five miles into the hike, I saw vampire tracks. I was curious what route it took to our radio tower, so I followed the tracks. The tracks led to a small outcrop about two hundred yards from our outer walls. I expected to see the tracks make a beeline to our radio tower; they didn’t. Vampires have clawed hands and feet, and I saw scratches on the rock that indicated it had crouched in one spot. Then I saw tracks that led to another outcrop that overlooked another part of our fortifications.

This should have been impossible! Vampires can’t resist radio towers! I followed the tracks to another outcrop, and then to another one. The vampire had carefully circled our fortifications. At most, these tracks were a few days old. I had an entire day before it got dark. I had to find out more about this atypical, radio tower-indifferent vampire.

Chapter 5: Mark Jones, November 9, Year 1