“GET ANGRY. We should all be so pissed at the Church of America that we’re willing to break our hands in the metaphorical punching of its metaphorical face.” —Harpreet Janda, fugitive
The predicted Rapture by Pastor Frick’s Church of America has come and gone, and three thousand Believers are now missing or dead. Seventeen-year-old Vivian Apple and her best friend, Harpreet, are revolutionaries, determined to expose the Church’s diabolical power grab . . . and to locate Viv’s missing heartthrob, Peter Ivey. This fast-paced, entertaining sequel to Vivian Apple at the End of the World challenges readers to consider how to live with integrity in a disintegrating world.
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Katie Coyle grew up in Fair Haven, New Jersey, and has an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. Her short fiction has appeared in One Story, The Southeast Review, Cobalt, and Critical Quarterly.
“It was right here,” Harp says.
We’re standing a couple of blocks uphill from my half sister Winnie’s apartment in San Francisco, staring at an empty space of curb. A space with no car parked in it. It’s early afternoon, and the sky is an unsettling red, like the inside of a blood orange. Harp steps off the sidewalk, moving her hands carefully around the general area where the roof of the car should be. Like it’s simply invisible. Like it’s still a tangible object in front of us.
“Viv.” My best friend turns to me. “I swear—this is where I left it.”
A year ago, before Harp and I were friends, when we were just girls who lived in the same neighborhood, one of us timid and aggressively well-behaved (me), the other a whirling dervish of schemes and creative combinations of expletives (her), I might have suspected Harp to be playing an unnecessarily cruel prank on me. But we’re coming off the longest night of our lives. We haven’t showered, we’re tired and frightened, and anyway, Harp has a wild look in her eye, so sharp I can’t look directly at it.
“Maybe it’s another block up.” I scan the stretch of road leading up the hill, looking for the little black sedan that has carried us so far. If I believed in some kind of god right now, I’d pray for Harp to be mistaken. “All these buildings look the same to me.”
Harp shakes her head and points to the house behind me. There’s a handmade sign propped up in the first-floor window: FRICK IS A PRICK.
“I remember seeing that when I got out of the car,” she says. “I laughed for a solid five minutes. Why did we never think of it before? The rhyme. So simple, so powerful.”
I try to stay calm. But the car is all we have. With it, we’re revolutionaries. If it were here, we’d drive back over the Golden Gate Bridge into the forests of Point Reyes, where Prophet Beaton Frick’s secret Church of America compound lies, to find two things: (1) Peter Ivey, the bluest-eyed boy I’ve ever met, whom we left behind when we escaped; and (2) evidence of the thing we now know to be true: there was no Rapture. The world is not ending, at least not in September, as predicted. The disappearances, the fear and panic, the families torn apart—all of it was engineered by the Church of America Corporation. Because they could do it. Because they could make money off it. Once we had evidence, we’d expose them. And then? There’d be no Church. My life wouldn’t go back to normal—it’s changed too much—but it isn’t hard to believe the lives of others would. With the car, we are the most dangerous teenage girls in America.
But the car’s not here. If we’ve lost it, we’ve lost everything: suitcases, clothes, most of our money, my diary, Harp’s Xanax. My only pictures of my parents—I want them badly now; I want the picture of my dad. It’s taken three thousand miles to get to this point, and along the way I’ve lost everything I’ve ever owned, and most of the people I’ve loved. The adrenaline I’ve been running on since last night fades, and with it, the pain in my hand—the hand I might’ve broken on the face of Frick—throbs harder. I feel the pinprick of a headache forming between my eyebrows.
“You didn’t park here,” I tell Harp. “You parked somewhere else. You saw the sign while you were walking.”
Harp looks confused. “Are you . . . trying to hypnotize me?”
“You didn’t park here!” I mean to sound confident, but my voice comes out shrill. “We’ll do a loop around the block. You just thought you parked here. You didn’t park here.”
She nods uncertainly, and the two of us spring back in the direction of Winnie’s apartment. Harp chews the inside of her cheek. I try to calm myself with rationality—what are the odds our car could have been stolen? What are the odds that since this time yesterday, I could have learned the truth about the Rapture, confirmed that my parents were dead, abandoned in the woods the closest thing I’ve ever had to a boyfriend, learned that actually my mother is not dead and has just been chilling in the Bay Area with the half sister I only recently found out about, decided to leave said alive mother in favor of taking down the Church of America alongside my equally pissed and confused best friend, and had my car stolen? What kind of vengeful Old Testament shit is this?
Harp is several paces ahead, but she stops to gape at me. I don’t understand why until I hear myself—I’m rooted where I stand, laughing in a gasping, hysterical way, tears streaming down my face. I taste the salt in them. It’s not funny, the way Harp looks at me, but for some reason that makes me laugh harder. She takes a tentative step toward me.
“Oh shit, dude,” she whispers. “Is this it? Have you finally gone bonkers on me?”
I shake my head. I can’t breathe. I want to say, My dad. I want to say, Peter. But I can’t calm down, and if I say their names, it will only get worse. Harp’s expression softens, and I can’t look at her, because I know she understands. If Harp understands, it’s real—I’m not imagining this pain—and if it’s real, I’m never going to stop feeling this way. I’m going to hurt this much forever. I tip my head back. I start to feel dizzy, like I’ve taken a half step outside my body. I have a brief, delirious moment of understanding: This is how I die. Not proudly, not fighting for the things I believe in, but of a panic attack in an unfamiliar city while Harp looks on helplessly.
“I’m really, really sorry about this,” I hear her say from somewhere far away.
Then—screaming pain. Everything goes white. I open my eyes. I’m on my knees on the sidewalk, and Harp has my injured hand in hers. She barely touches it now, but I know a second ago she squeezed it. She has a fierce look in her eyes, like she’s ready to do it again.
“No, no, no,” I gasp. I pull my hand from hers. “I’m okay. I’m okay.”
Harp leans down and hugs me. Even in my post-hysterics state, I’m surprised and weirdly touched by her willingness to publicly display affection for me.
“I know how it feels, Viv.” Her voice is rough in my ear, and I hold tighter to her. It’s only been a few months since Harp’s brother, Raj, was murdered by Believers, and if Harp’s Raptured parents escaped the fate of my father, we have no idea where they might be. “If we’re going to survive it, we have to feel it. Even when we think it’ll wreck us. We’ll lean on each other. You won’t let it wreck me and I won’t let it wreck you. I’ll be right here, and I’ll pull you out of it when you need to be pulled out. Okay?”
I nod. My eyes still stream tears, but I can breathe easier. “Harp?”
“Next time, please don’t literally pull me out by my broken fucking hand, okay?”
Harp pulls back so I can see her grin. “No guarantees, Apple. When I have to pull you out, I’m just going to grab whatever’s closest.”
The park across from Winnie’s apartment is sloping and green; it spans three city blocks. Harp and I climb to its topmost point, where a bench faces the wide expanse of grass. Beyond are rooftops and, in the foggy distance, the spires of the city. We take a moment to breathe. The car is gone. We got tricked somehow, driving through San Francisco this morning—everything was so vibrant, so unlike the huge swaths of Church-dominated country we’d been traveling through. We convinced ourselves we were safe. But of course even a city apparently free of the Church of America contains its own dangers: flaky mothers, startling tidal waves of grief, and—hidden in plain sight—your average everyday run-of-the-mill car thieves.
“What’s up with the sky?” Harp asks.
I tip back my head. It looks like sunset, but I don’t think it can be that late. We have no way of knowing the exact time, though. We’ve been relying on the car’s clock and Peter’s phone, which was still in his pocket when we left him.
“I have no idea. Pollution, maybe? It doesn’t look natural. Like you said before”—I remember what Harp told me, not an hour ago—“the apocalypse is coming. Maybe not anytime soon, but it’s definitely coming.”
We sit that way a while, staring up, trying not to feel discouraged by the magnitude of the task ahead of us. Afternoon fades into evening, and even as the crimson sky looms more ominously overhead, a powerful, winter-cold wind bears down on us. Still dressed for summer, Harp and I get up to walk and warm ourselves.
“On the bright side,” Harp notes, observing the neighborhood around us, “this seems like a popular city to be homeless in!”
Now that we’re actually seeing San Francisco up close, it’s less of a Non-Believer utopia than I initially believed. Winnie’s neighborhood seems active and trendy—the blocks Harp and I walk are lined with antique stores, restaurants with puns for names, cheese shops, quaint bakeries. Young men and women bustle past, wearing casual clothes that seem secretly expensive: pre-ripped jeans and thick-framed glasses, tweed blazers. They smoke electronic cigarettes and all seem vaguely tipsy. But the sidewalks are also jammed with a miserable, huddled mass, wrapped in sleeping bags to ward off the evening chill; they’re unwashed, unshaven. Adults, children, dogs. There are so many—it feels like there are two for every hip young San Franciscan we see. It’s not like I’ve never seen homeless people before—Pittsburgh had them, of course, and New York, too—but there’s something wrenching about these people. Maybe it’s just the disparity between these hungry masses and the happy hipsters we see wandering in and out of upscale taco joints.
A furious gust of cold wind makes Harp shudder, and she nods at the coffee shop we’re about to pass. “Let’s check this out.”
Inside are high ceilings and white walls covered in ugly oil paintings of naked women, overlaid with text from the Book of Frick: SHE SHALL BE BURNT WITH FIRE. I think the art’s meant to be ironic, but remembering the foreboding statues outside Frick’s compound—Peter’s father, Adam Taggart, burning a group of women alive—I can’t find much humor in it. Everyone here is hunched over a laptop. According to a chalkboard hanging from the ceiling, the cheapest option is plain black coffee for eight dollars.
“There’s no way we can afford this!” I catch the eye of the bespectacled barista and see her skeptical assessment of my torn jeans, my messy hair, the broken hand I’m cradling.
“I know,” Harp says, guiltily fishing a ten-dollar bill from her pocket. “But I was freezing out there—and it’s not like we have anywhere to go.”
She orders a drink and we wedge ourselves at a table next to an older man reading the news on his laptop. We pass the coffee back and forth, taking tiny sips. I’ve never liked the taste, and it seems especially bitter right now.
“The first thing we need to do is get to Peter,” I say. “Hopefully he managed to get his dad and”—I hesitate to say the name Frick, aware of the man at the next table—“his dad’s boss to safety. Once we have them, making the truth public will be easy.”
Harp stares deep into the coffee and doesn’t speak the reservations I can tell she has.
“At the very least,” I continue, “we need to figure out what the corporation has planned for the next Rapture, and what they have planned for the apocalypse. They’re clearly willing to kill to make their myths seem true.”
“We should figure out who the Three Angels actually are,” Harp notes. “If we knew, we might understand better what they want to accomplish.”
I nod, remembering the people who appeared on the screen in Frick’s compound, dressed as angels, ordering him to do their bidding. Two men: one bald and a little pudgy, the other thin with light-gray eyes. One severe-looking blond woman. We assume they work for the corporation, but we don’t know their names or positions. Harp clears her throat.
“I know this isn’t an ideal solution—” she begins.
But I shake my head. “I’m not going to Winnie’s.”
“Viv, I get it, I do. You did a big dramatic walkout on your mom and you don’t want to come crawling back three hours later. But we don’t have a ton of options here. If we’re going to do this, we’ll need a car. We’ll need a place to sleep tonight.”
“No, Harp. I made a choice.” She sighs in exasperation and looks away, but I continue. “I won’t be the person I used to be, and I don’t trust myself not to revert back to her when my mother’s around. I want to move forward, okay? There has to be somewhere else. A shelter, maybe. Somewhere we can rest without getting caught in the ongoing implosion of my family.”
Harp doesn’t reply. Her attention has wandered to the screen of the man beside us. I’m about to make a crack about her undiagnosed attention deficit disorder when I realize her expression has gone twisted and scared.
She glances at me. “That’s a great deal they have right now.” Her voice is broad and loud. “Buy one caramel macchiato, get a thousand Twitter followers free. What a bargain!”
A group of girls to our left goes quiet, then they leap to their feet. On our right, the man abandons his laptop to storm the counter, along with the occupants of nearby tables. Others, sensing a trend, get up and form a line, much to the alarm of the barista.
“Shhh!” She grabs the abandoned laptop, spinning it so I can see the screen.
The Church of America’s news feed is dominated by an enormous headline written in blood-red type, surrounded by animations of enraged-looking angels tossing 3-D thunderbolts at the viewer to underscore the seriousness of the situation:
ENEMIES TO SALVATION: IMMORAL AND DANGEROUS
CHURCH OFFERS REWARD OF $1 MILLION PLUS GUARANTEED SALVATION TO ANYONE WITH INFORMATION ON WHEREABOUTS
THOSE FOUND AIDING OR ABETTING THESE FELONS WILL FACE SEVERE JUDGMENT WHEN THE APOCALYPSE COMES
I’ve never seen the Church target anyone this aggressively; all the enemies of their early days—liberal politicians, gay pop stars, feminist scholars—they’d simply undermine on the feed and sue into oblivion when the targets fought back. But this sounds like they want someone captured, like they want someone handed over. This headline makes the Church seem like the law. I feel an uneasy prickling at the nape of my neck, because I’m beginning to understand what I’ll see when Harp scrolls down.
The picture is grainy black-and-white, magnified from the security feed in Beaton Frick’s compound, but you can recognize us easily: a short Indian girl with messy dark hair, a taller white one with bangs in her eyes. Harp and me. Our faces. We’re unmistakable.
And we’re everywhere.
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