Day 33 - Holly_Gonzalez's The Toad Whisperer

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The Toad Whisperer

by Holly_Gonzalez

Rivet hid behind the backdrop of the clergy stage, watching the frenzied throng through a knothole. Hundreds of worshippers were assembled for the night's Communion. The choir chanted. Drums pounded. Bodies swayed. Sweaty devotion wafted through the meeting hall. All of these poor fucks were baptized followers of the new religion, scavengers and homesteaders searching for purpose in their bleak existence. Soon, the Sacrament would drip from the sacred idol of the Almighty Toad King, a corroded bronze statue of a dancing toad perched on the central dais. Anticipation weighed heavy in the air as everyone waited to see their beloved Reverend.

The head deacon flung his arms high. "Come to the altar. Bow at the webbed feet of salvation. Forty years ago, the Ghrek fleets filled our skies with horror. Cities fell. Rivers flowed red. Land and water were poisoned by weapons of mass destruction. We triumphed over the alien peril, brothers and sisters, but we paid the price for human vanity. Earth has forsaken us. Yet we live, we fight! Kneel and savor the nectar of our King. Thine eyes shall be opened to the divine."

The congregation cheered.

Rivet bit her lip and seethed. The deafening beat and flashing lights of Toadie meetings stirred religious passion for most, but not for her. Tears burned the edges of her eyes. The little Ghrek downstairs didn't deserve to die.

If she proved herself worthy over time—whatever that meant—Slake had promised to baptize Rivet into the congregation. But after what she'd seen here, she didn't want to be in Reverend Slake's insane herd. Someday, she'd find a way to escape. When she found a better place to run to. She was little more than a slave in the church, but being Slake's servant was better than skirting the wastes outside the compound, dodging the Dastard bandit gangs, always starving.

The sound of footsteps startled her. She ducked away from her peephole and pressed herself against the rough-hewn wall. Three men approached. The gaunt silhouette of Reverend Slake lurched from the shadowy corridor, followed by his two bodyguards, Mort and Clash.

"I want the Ghrekling placed into the vessel on time. No delays." Slake's baritone voice commanded obedience. He stepped to the cracked full-length mirror beside the stage door and adjusted his black silk tie.

Mort rubbed his greedy hands together. "This is the biggest congregation yet. And all paid up on tithes. The silo's crammed out with provisions, ammo, and fuel."

Slake dusted off his stovepipe hat and put it on his balding head. "The worshippers expect their share. Send that runt girl down with a coffee bath. On the double. The Sacrament must be plentiful tonight."

Runt, huh? Rivet clenched a fist. She was just a skinny teen, but she certainly wasn't a runt. She'd survived most of her life as an outsider, having lost Mom and Dad in a Dastard raid. The only reason she'd joined the Church of the Almighty Toad King was for shelter and sustenance. She didn't need anybody. And one day, Slake would pay for insulting her.

Slake opened the stage door and entered the meeting room. The muffled roar of the congregation resounded through the floor. Quick as a rat, Rivet scrambled back to the kitchen before Mort caught her eavesdropping again.

***

Coffee was all done and set to cool. Rivet poured the watered-down brew into a plastic jug and grabbed a handful of scullery rags. Only Slake was allowed to drink coffee, since he was the king of his own world. Its main use was as a sponge bath to make the Ghreks extra slimy. Something in the acidity, or so she assumed. Anyone else caught possessing the precious beans would be flogged or shot, depending on the Reverend's mood.

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