Chapter 15 Yuri: Frustration Mounts

Thomas, Bull and Cedric the seraph stood back and looked at their day’s work. A brand new, spacious wooden cabin now stood on the mountain side. It was shrouded by trees, yet had a clear view of the community below.

“The Hermitage,” declared Bull.

“Sort of,” chuckled Thomas. “Somewhere to be alone, ponder, pray and rest. It’s a way of being that none of the men have ever experienced, but hopefully they might try when they see our example.”

“What’s the situation down there?” enquired Cedric, who had been helping them with the heavy lifting.

“They’re beginning to get organised. They soon realised that fighting was achieving nothing, and they were getting frustrated that nobody was coming out on ‘top’,” replied Bull.

“They picked the first committee last month. Names out of a hat. The majority are willing to give anything a try just to get some semblance of normality,” continued Thomas. “It’s dawned on most of them that this is their new reality. They want to eat better and get on with making a life here. And they know it takes organisation for that to happen.”

“They were all leading criminal gangs in the Previous Age, weren’t they?” asked Cedric.

“Yes, so they know the importance of being organised, though this time it won’t be for crime. It’ll be for harvesting crops, processing grain, baking bread, fetching and distributing water,” said Bull.

Thomas smiled. “Jesus knew the right mix of personalities to put together. He knew their aggression was likely to burn out once they realised it didn’t achieve anything. These are tough but pragmatic types. They understand the importance of teamwork.”

Cedric nodded. “There are some communities that are only a handful of people, but whatever their size, the personality mix is always arranged by Jesus so that each person has the best opportunity to mature. People begin to see themselves more clearly when they see their attitudes from the Previous Age mirrored in others. My seraph brothers and sisters are always on hand to step in if necessary, but we usually find that people either begin relating better or they withdraw into a highly solitary existence. But even if they cut themselves off from others, God can use their flashbacks and memories to shine his loving light on what they need to address.”

“We’ve certainly seen how important the right composition of people is in all the communities here,” said Thomas. “And I can’t think of anyone apart from Jesus who would be able to get it so right!”


Yuri arrived at the field where he had been sent by the committee. Owl was already there.

“You’re late,” he said without looking at Yuri.

“And?” growled Yuri, defensively.

“You know the only difference between chaos and order is commitment to a plan.”

“Alright, alright,” mumbled Yuri, as he began to attack the ground with a hoe. “I’m here now.”

Scattered over the field were several men digging up root vegetables. Their rather unkempt appearance and mud-splattered clothes made them look more like peasants than former gang masters. Some of the men relished the physical labour and feeling the strength in their new bodies being put to good use gave them a sense of oneness with the earth. Others, like Yuri, struggled to get used to a committee telling them what to do.

By the end of the day the men had brought in several large wheelbarrows full of turnips, parsnips, potatoes and carrots to the warehouse that stood on the edge of the settlement. There the crops would be sorted into various storerooms, with some being sent directly to the kitchen department. It was not unusual for the men to attempt to take the best items from the harvest back to their dwellings, with each vegetable smuggled out representing something of a victory over the committee.

Most evenings the men would gather in the central square, where food would be served, card games would be played and songs sung, often those they remembered from the Previous Age.

This evening Owl was sitting with three other men around one of the tables dealing out a hand of cards.

“You’ve stacked them in your favour,” said one of the men, leaning over his drink.

Owl looked over the table at him. “No, Raul. You should know by now I am no cheat.”

Gripes such as these could sometimes end up in an argument.

Raul clenched his jaw and sniffed indignantly.

“Come on, let’s just play the game,” urged Owl. “If you have a complaint, bring it up at the committee.”

One of the other players groaned.

“Committees, arguments, work and pissy weak beer. Day after day. The same people and the same place. I’m bored as hell.”

“Nothing ever happens,” added the other player in the circle. “If Jesus thinks this is how to punish us, maybe he’s not as stupid as he seemed.”

“Look on the bright side,” said Owl, shuffling the deck again. “We’ve stopped brawling. Hard work and discipline are the only way that things are going to get better.”

“Fighting became boring. It didn’t get us anywhere. And now everything is boring!”

“But there is order,” said Owl, bluntly. “We may have taken a while to settle into this, but look – we all know what we have to do. Most of us work hard, and then we get a decent meal and a game of cards.”

“What about them?” asked one of the men, motioning with his head towards Thomas and Bull, who were sitting motionless with eyes closed and legs crossed in the shade of a tree at the edge of the square. They had been doing this for several months now, and after drawing some incredulous comments and insults, the other men had become used to seeing them meditate twice a day. Some had even been up to visit the Hermitage and had begun learning about prayer, contemplation and listening to Ruach.

“They’re just lazy,” snapped Owl, though he knew it was a lie.

“No Owl, they’re not,” said another of the card players. “You know they work as hard as any of us in the fields.”

“Well, what do they think they are achieving just sitting there? It’s pathetic.” Owl angrily shuffled the deck once again.


“Stan is still refusing to do his shift in the fields and is now in solitary confinement,” reported Yuri to Owl the next day. “It’s a clear case of insubordination.”

Owl pursed his lips. The way that Yuri seemed to enjoy punishing people bothered him.

“We can afford to keep him in for a good while,” continued Yuri. “We have to make him see that disobeying the committee won’t be tolerated. I still think we should hurt him properly.”

“Well, we could starve him,” Owl suggested, trying to find a compromise. “We know he won’t die, but he will become hungry and thirsty and that can be his punishment.”

“I say we hurt him properly,” insisted Yuri.

“And what would that achieve, Yuri?”

“I always laid down the law and no one crossed me in my organisation. But now, if we beat him up, we know he’ll just recover. We’ve seen how bodies just heal themselves in this place. But we can still inflict pain. Place his knees in a vice and tighten it every so often. That will teach him to obey orders,” Yuri replied without emotion.

“No. For now, we will keep him in solitary but deprive him of food and water,” Owl commanded. He was glad to have the opportunity to rein in Yuri’s sadistic streak, but he was interested to see what would happen to New Earth bodies under such conditions.


Yuri slid open the wooden slat that formed a peep-hole in the prison door. In the dank darkness he could make out the figure of a man lying on the ground.

“Get up!” Yuri ordered.

Stan slowly stood up and smiled.

“Day 39.” Yuri turned to Owl standing next to him. “Stan is physically just as healthy as when we put him in there.”

The two men stood next to the prison hut, discussing their options.

“I’m beginning to wonder whether we should keep him locked up at all. All we’re doing is making work for ourselves and the others guarding him,” said Owl.

“Letting him out would set a bad example. The others will complain when he continues to refuse to work his shifts and maybe they’ll decide to stop working too. You can’t afford to look soft as a leader so you know what I’d do. A few hours of agony and he’d soon be begging you to let him work in the fields.”

“There is another option,” said Owl. “We could banish him from the community, take him somewhere else and insist he doesn’t come back. I’ll need to run that past the rest of the committee but I can’t imagine any objections.”

“Ok. That’s one way to get rid of him,” agreed Yuri, “If they agree, we’ll meet here tomorrow morning and take him to another community.”

Next morning Yuri and Owl bound the prisoner’s hands behind his back and forced him to walk with them away from the community. After several hours, they came to the banks of a stream, which looked like a good place to rest, when they were suddenly confronted by a winged creature that towered over them more than double their height. 

Although Owl had arrived at the community on Cedric’s back, there was no longer anything approachable or friendly in the seraph’s eyes. Instead they seemed to glow with anger. He could pin all three men to the ground with one taloned foot if he so wished, and they knew it.

Dust flew into the air as Cedric took one step forward. Owl closed his eyes, anticipating violence, but Yuri stood his ground and glared at the creature.

“You can have your fistfights and lash out at each other from time to time, but no one gets to leave the community,” boomed Cedric with a voice like thunder. “And you, Yuri, must know once and for all that no one gets to torture or inflict constant pain on any living thing here on the New Earth.”

“So this is where God finally intervenes?” scoffed Yuri.

“I am not God,” roared the seraph. “I act on the boundaries that Jesus has set. Nothing on the New Earth is without its boundaries.”

Cedric reached out his paw towards Stan, who hesitatingly stepped forward.

“Turn around,” Cedric commanded.

Stan obeyed, and the rope that bound his hands fell to the ground, sliced through at one stroke by the seraph.

“Give this man food and water,” Cedric ordered.

After hastily giving Stan some of the supplies they had brought with them on their journey, Owl summoned up the courage to speak.

“But what about our freewill?”

“Freewill is yours, but always within boundaries,” replied the seraph.

“Where were those boundaries in the Previous Age?” retorted Yuri. “I never came across any.”

“Death was the ultimate boundary,” said Cedric. “The worst you could do in the Previous Age was to take another person’s life, but that just sent them here. People can’t die here on the New Earth, but neither can anyone escape the process they need to experience.”

“So have I understood this correctly? The likes of you will stop us every time we overstep the boundaries?” asked Owl.

“Yes, we see and hear it all. Do you think God is unaware of what you are doing? Do you think you are abandoned here? You are not. You are here to learn the futility of your violent ways.”

 “What’s to stop them shutting me away again?” asked Stan, swallowing down a mouthful of bread.

“Nothing, but I will ensure that they do not torture you and that you all stay in the community,” boomed Cedric.

With that, the seraph spread his huge wings and ascended into the sky, leaving the three men in the swirling clouds of dust created by his wingbeats.


A few days later Owl walked past several dwellings as he made his way to the square. Glancing through windows, he was surprised to see some of the men sitting or kneeling on their floors, eyes closed. This troubled him. It reminded him of what had happened in the years after Thomas and his group had arrived at his community of survivors in the Previous Age. Owl had prided himself in creating and looking after that enclave of refugees from the Great Suffering, and it was there that he had witnessed his regime of law and order succumb to what he considered to be the weakness of friendship and care.

Passing by another dwelling, through the curtains he saw a man sitting quietly, eyes closed, with the trace of a smile on his face.

Owl pushed open the door to the dwelling and the man leapt to his feet in surprise.

“Committee inspection! What do you think you’re doing?” demanded Owl.

“Get out of my hut!” the man yelled angrily, pushing Owl in the chest and trying to shut the door.

“You were meditating, weren’t you?” shouted Owl.

“What if I was?” the man said, blocking his doorway with his body.

“Make sure you’re at the next meeting and you’ll find out,” Owl replied, a plan forming in his mind as he continued on his way to meet Yuri.


“Yuri, we’ve been through all this before,” Owl said with exasperation.

“But do you really think we’ve tried everything?” asked Yuri, frustrated. “There must be more we can do!”

“Sit down, and listen to me,” instructed Owl. “We have tried violence, but physical bodies just heal quickly here. We have tried starvation, but people don’t need food and water to live. We have tried solitary confinement, but that doesn’t change people. There doesn’t seem to be any way that we can control or force our will on other people here.”

“So what do you suggest?” asked Yuri in frustration. “We just let them make us look foolish?”

“No, we can’t allow that,” replied Owl. “Give me more time and I will think of something.”

Yuri clenched his jaw. He felt a familiar hot anger erupt like flames inside his chest.

“For fuck’s sake!” he yelled as he jumped up, throwing a chair across the food hall with a clatter. He stormed out, shoving tables and chairs as he went. He cursed over and over under his breath until he was outside. Raising his eyes in the bright daylight, he saw a thin whisp of smoke rising from Thomas and Bull’s cabin, just visible through the trees on the steep hillside.


Bull heard the snap of twigs outside the cabin.

“Someone’s here,” he said, shooting a glance at Thomas, who was sanding down an axe handle.

The door was already open and a moment later Yuri appeared, filling the frame. He was breathing heavily, not from the hike, but from his anger.

“You two need to tell me how I can get out of here… you need to tell me now!”

Bull stood up and motioned toward a chair, but Yuri didn’t move. Thomas put down the axe handle and sandpaper.

“What’s going on?” he asked calmly.

“I hate this place and everyone here,” barked Yuri. “I’m sick of it all. I want to destroy the whole place and wring everyone’s neck!”

Thomas filled a cup with apple juice.

“Come and have a drink with us?”

Yuri ignored the invitation and remained standing.

“Nothing works here. You can’t make people do what’s required,” Yuri exclaimed.

“What’s the problem?” Bull asked.

“Stan still refuses to do his shifts. He won’t cooperate with the rota set up by the committee.”

“What have you tried?” asked Thomas.

“Everything. We’ve beaten him black and blue, starved him and shut him in solitary. Nothing changes his mind.”

“Have you tried compassion? Have you spent time with him and attempted to discover why he is not obeying?” asked Bull.

“That’s so pathetic!” Yuri sneered. “I want to kick your heads in. Both of you. But if I do, you’ll be fine. Nothing works here. Nothing is the way it should be.”

Yuri began furiously punching the wooden door frame and soon blood was running down his knuckles. He paused and looked at his hand, which stopped bleeding almost immediately. He stared as within a silent minute the skin had repaired itself and was just as before. He stood there, his shoulders still heaving, but slower now.

“What are you thinking, Yuri?” asked Bull.

Yuri turned and looked at him in silence. A moment later he was gone.


The next evening saw the weekly gathering in the square. Some of the men appeared to be in particularly good humour, laughing and joking with each other.

“Why so happy?” Yuri leaned over and asked the man sitting next to him.

“You’ll find out when supper is served after the meeting. Make sure to try the chilli sauce. I reckon we’ve perfected it.”

Yuri folded his arms and looked away, making a show of his disinterest.

Owl stood up and clapped his hands three times to signal the start of the meeting.

“It’s time to draw names for the next committee, but before we do that, I think it’s right to recognise the progress that’s been made these last few months. We are beginning to reap the rewards of hard work and discipline and we need to keep heading in the right direction. However, one thing concerns me. I’ve noticed that some of you have started aping Thomas and Bull and their so-called ‘meditation’. I reckon it’s best called time-wasting and daydreaming. I hereby put forward a motion to ban any such practices, and I call on everyone who wants to preserve the gains we’ve made to support me.”

A murmur of discontent rippled across the gathering. Picking up on it, Owl doubled down.

“So you think you’re like Buddha now? You’re all enlightened, are you?”

The man Owl had confronted the previous evening stood up.

“Look, don’t knock what you haven’t tried. You need to loosen up, Owl. Live and let live!”

The man sitting next to Yuri stood up.

“I know it seems crazy, but a few of us have been working on a chilli sauce to liven up our meals, and it was only after one of us meditated that we knew what we needed to do. You can judge for yourself at supper this evening. It’s not the nonsense you think it is, Owl. It’s a way of thinking more clearly and focusing on what is good.”

Owl shook his head and surveyed the gathering with a look of undisguised contempt.

“Fine! It’s your choice. Do what you like. I’m done with the committee anyway.”

He sat down with his arms folded tightly over his chest.

Someone stepped forward with a wooden box covered in black cloth with a slit in the top, reached into it and began to call out the names for the next committee.