Chapter 2 – The Wedding
Annie returned home well after dark. Mary was in her same spot in the kitchen reading by candlelight. "Finally," she said with a smirk and shake of her head. "I was thinking I might have to go find the sheriff to go out looking for you, but then figured he'd be missing too."
Annie smiled despite herself. "We were talking," she said hesitantly, and then blinked her eyes several times and moved across the room and into the kitchen. "Mary, he asked me to marry him, and I said yes," she blurted out.
Mary nodded slowly. "It's about time," she finally replied. "I like him more already."
"Tomorrow," Annie added quickly.
Now Mary seemed confused. "Tomorrow what?"
"We are to be married tomorrow. At Sunday services."
"Tomorrow?" Mary repeated, trying to wrap her head around the idea. "Aren't we having a town meeting instead of the regular Sunday service?"
"Just before the meeting. He's already spoken to Michael and the Mayor and made the arrangements. We talked it over and decided we didn't want to make it into too big a deal, considering all that's going on, but we also wanted to be with everyone. Michael will lead us in a very simple ceremony and you will be my maid of honor. Then there will be the meeting. We're not sure what we're going to do after that, but decided whatever it is we'd rather do it together."
"Wow," Mary said, at a loss for anything more to say.
"I'm thinking you might be concerned that he's a bit older than I am, but that's really no concern at all. We are very compatible, he and I, and…"
Mary raised her hand to stop Annie and Annie obliged. "Tomorrow," Mary said again. "I won't have time to make you a dress," she added with a sigh.
"We'll just wear our regular Sunday clothes," Annie replied. "We don't want to make it a big deal. There's so much else going on."
"You said that." Mary stood up and placed her hands on Annie's shoulders. "Not a big deal?" she said incredulously. "My sister is getting married. I'm over the moon thrilled for you. It is a big deal." The two of them hugged. As she hugged her sister and contemplated marrying Chris, a fleeting thought of being unworthy of all this happiness passed through her mind, but she quickly pushed it away. She was happy, and she wanted to enjoy that feeling. In fact, Annie felt better and more at peace than she ever remembered.
The whole town was packed into Santa Lucia's small chapel. All the pews were filled, and the back and side walls were lined with those who couldn't find a seat. Annie, Chris, Mary and the Mayor were in the front pew, having arrived early. They had been having a string a sunny weather for the past month and it was another beautiful day. Given the situation, it was too bad they weren't getting any rain. Mary leaned closer to Annie. "Are you nervous?" she asked.
It was her wedding day, and sitting beside her was the man she loved. Annie smiled and shook her head slightly. "No, not at all."
Michael stood up front surveying the crowd. His small flock, as it were. It was still a few minutes before services were to being, but it appeared as if everyone had already arrived. There were quiet murmurings throughout the gathering. He moved over to the ambo and everyone quieted. "I think we'll get started," he said. He placed his Bible on the ambo and opened it. "I'll first read from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 10, verses 6 through 9. 'But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." He closed his Bible and then looked out over the crowed. "Our time together will be a little different today. As you all know, we'll hear from the Mayor concerning our future here in Santa Lucia and formulate our plans. But before the Mayor comes up to speak, there's something else we need to take care of." He now smiled and looked towards the front pew. "I suppose you might be wondering why I chose that particular reading from Mark." He paused and looked out again to the crowd. There were a few whispers, but no one spoke up to answer. Michael didn't allow the suspense to last very long. "It is because, it is my happy duty this morning to marry two of our friends and neighbors, Annie and Chris, before God and before you all. Right now in fact."
There were now a few gasps and shouts, and then applause. Annie, Chris and Mary stood up and moved towards the front while Michael stepped out from behind the ambo and met them at the head of the center aisle just in front of the altar. Annie and Chris stood together holding hands while Mary stood slightly off to the side. When the applause subsided, Michael continued. "The couple requested this be simple, and you all know I'm a fan of brevity." There were a few chuckles and laughter, which was nice considering the hardships they all had been having lately, and the prospects for their future. He turned his attention to Annie and Chris. "Annie and Chris, I have a question to ask each of you in turn." He pivoted slightly to face Chris. "Chris, do you take Annie to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?"
"I do," Chris replied.
Michael pivoted to face Annie. "Annie, do you take Chris to be your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do you part?"
"I do," Annie said and then smiled, lighting up the whole room.
"It is my pleasure then, before God and before all of your friends and neighbors in Santa Lucia to pronounce you husband and wife."
Annie and Chris kissed, not needing to be told. The whole town stood and applauded the couple again. After their kiss, they both moved over and hugged Mary and Michael. The Mayor had also moved over to congratulate the couple, and after a few moments, stepped up to stand behind the ambo. It was time to get down to business. The crowd quieted and everyone returned to their seats, with Michael moving over to sit next to Mary in the seat vacated by the Mayor.
"Now that's a hard act to follow," the Mayor said. There was some subdued laughter, but everyone knew the purpose of the meeting and the hard reality of their situation. What was just moments before happiness for the new couple turned somber. The Mayor sensed the change and frowned. No use trying to sugar coat the facts, so she got right to it. "You all know the situation," she began, "but let me spell it out plainly so we are all clear on the matter. What happened to us a month ago was traumatic for all of us. All our livestock was killed and all our crops were decimated. We salvaged what we could and have rationed our supplies, but to feed our whole town of forty-seven, we're down to just two weeks of food. We've tried to supplement with wild game and forage what we can, but so far that has proved difficult and inadequate. We are deep in the frontier and there have been no coaches visiting our town for the past month with no relief expected. We have no seed corn nor any way to replenish our herds of livestock. What's more, the town's well, our only supply of fresh water, is also going dry. By coincidence, we estimate it too will be gone in roughly two weeks." She scanned the crowd. She had everyone's full attention. "What I propose is we pack up what we can and head east, back to civilization."
"The demons headed east," someone shouted out. It was Ken, one of the ranchers. He had been very vocal lately of not wanting to leave Santa Lucia. He was, in general, a disagreeable sort. "They might be waiting for us in the mountains."
Michael stood up and turned to face the crowd. "Those were no demons," he said. He tapped on the Bible still in his hand. "Demons are spiritual beings. Recall the two demon-possessed people and how Jesus drove those demons from the men and into a heard of pigs. Those creatures we fought were flesh and blood, like us."
"Not like us," someone else interjected. It was the town's doctor, Thomas. He was young with short straw colored hair, a prominent forehead and easy smile. He wasn't smiling now. "They didn't look human."
"If not human, than what?" Michael asked.
Thomas shrugged. "I have no idea," he replied. "Creatures of some sort. Perhaps previously unknown to the world, or not of Earth at all."
"Demons or creatures, it doesn't matter," Ken reiterated, "They were bigger than us, and I don't think any of us want to meet up with them again and be ambushed in the mountains."
"That's why we need to all stick together," the Mayor said calmly. She didn't want the meeting to digress into a shouting match. "For protection, we stay as a group. We all go together and if we meet up with those creatures again, we beat them as we did before."
"There weren't many of them before," Thomas observed. "Even so they killed quite a few of us."
"Or took them away," Ken countered. "We never found the bodies."
"Wild beasts could have carried off the bodies in the night," Michael observed. "We've observed a lot of activity from a distance."
"All of them?" Ken said, not convinced.
"It was nighttime," Chris observed. "They could have come back unobserved to take away their dead, and ours."
"For what purpose?" Amy asked, a taller woman with shoulder length blonde hair. She was one of the shop keepers in town, having come to Santa Lucia after losing her husband and child to influenza years before. No one ventured a guess. It was too gruesome to contemplate.
"If we stay here, they may very well come back," the Mayor replied, trying to get the conversation back on track to the issue at hand. "And in two weeks' time, we'll have no food or water whether we stay or go."
"Those creatures were stronger than us," Amy said. "But not all of us." She glanced nervously in Annie's direction, but her meaning was clear.
The crowd grew quiet. It was hard to argue against the two week deadline. And, they had indeed beat the creatures despite their strength. At least if they headed east, they might reach civilization before the supplies ran out.
"I know a lot of you would like to stay," the Mayor continued, sensing the change in mood. She was a natural leader and understood the argument was already won, but the townsfolk needed a ray of hope. "We're all getting over the trauma of what happened here a month ago, and we all have fond memories of Santa Lucia." She gestured to Annie and Chris. "Some of us are even starting families. I want us all to have a future, and I think our best option is to stay together as a group and head back east. With luck, we could perhaps resupply and return to Santa Lucia in the Spring with new livestock and seed for crops."
"Those creatures were heading more southeast when they retreated," Chris pointed out, "The last we saw them anyway. It could be we simply go a bit northeast and avoid them all together."
"When would we go?" Ken asked, a little deflated. He seemed resigned to the fact that they would have to abandon the town after all.
The Mayor cleared her throat. "We spend today and tomorrow packing all our supplies and what water we can get from the well, and first light on Tuesday, we head out." There were some murmurings amongst the crowd, but no more protests. "Shall we put it to a vote?"
The vote was near unanimous, with only a handful of people choosing not to vote at all. Everyone was given their assignments and moved out to do their jobs. Not everyone was needed in the packing and preparations, however, and so several people, including Chris and Annie, only needed to tend to their personal items.
As they were leaving the chapel, Mary pulled Annie aside. "Michael and I are going to try one last time to track the vultures that circle overhead south of town, so I'll be gone for the rest of the day."
"Also, I packed a bag and will be staying with Amy tonight, so that, ah…"
Annie now understood. "So Chris and I will have the house all to ourselves."
Mary smiled. "It's your wedding night, after all." She narrowed her eyes and leaned in closer to Annie. "Are you now nervous?"
"I guess I hadn't given it much thought," Annie replied. She looked over at Chris who was talking to Michael about something. She almost felt a little guilty for how blessed she was and how good she felt despite the town's predicament and hardships to come. The two become one. With that thought, she was finally ready to dismiss her feelings of unworthiness and doubt. Perhaps she did deserve happiness after all. "Nervous is not quite the word that describes how I feel."