On the tenth of April, Our Heavenly Father sent a tornado that wiped out practically the whole town of Rosewood. Every family lost their home. The Murphys, Engels, Hillyers, Rathbuns, Randalls, Wyatts. Everybody. The grocery and the hardware store were smashed to pieces. The post office, the school, and the fire station—all gone too.
The only buildings left standing were the church, the armory, and my house. My house, praise the Lord, with me in it.
Back when my family first built our house, somebody, maybe Mama or Mama Lynn, hung Brother Mack’s portrait on the dining room wall and right beneath it, the Ten Commandments. The way Brother Mack’s picture set on top of the Commandments made it look like they’d fallen right of his mouth, neatly chiseled on stone tablets and framed in black and gold. I know God wrote them, everybody knows that. But whenever I looked at them, I thought maybe Brother Mack wrote them too. It’s hard to explain how that could be true—but that’s the mystery of God and His anointed, and you have to have faith.
Of all the commandments, I’ve personally always liked Number One the best: THOU SHALT HAVE NO OTHER GODS BEFORE ME. What it means is, if you want to be saved, you have to believe in both of them—Our Heavenly Father and his earthly Prophet—from the very beginning, from the moment you draw your first breath as a little, bitty baby. By the time I was born, Brother Mack had been Prophet for like forty years, so that wasn’t a problem for me.
One night at supper, though, I did have a thought. Brother Mack was the anointed one who heard the Word of the Lord, and we weren’t to have any God before him. But what about after? What about when the time came for him to leave us? He hadn’t said anything about what was going happen then. He hadn’t given the Word of the Lord for who got what house, who got married to who, or really any of the most important things.
Brother Mack was the true, anointed Prophet—I won’t deny that. But Our Heavenly Father hadn’t seen fit to warn him about the tornado, and the man hadn’t prepared one bit for what all happened afterwards, so I think that says it all.
There were at least 180 people hurt in the storm. Broken bones, smashed noses, collapsed lungs, sheets of skin peeled back so people look like slabs of raw meat. Several even lost arms or legs. It was so bad our clinic couldn’t handle it, and they had to send them to the hospital the next town over.
Praise the Lord, though, only two people were killed: Brother Mack and the second Hillyer girl—the one whose hair was always loose. She was supposed to get married to the cross-eyed Ashby boy two years ago. (Oh yeah, the Ashby’s house caught fire from a gas leak. Burned all the way down to the ground.) Something happened with that wedding, I’m not sure. The elders know.
If people knew where we found Brother Mack and the second Hillyer girl, they’d jump to all kinds of conclusions. But they’d be wrong. When it comes to God’s anointed, you can’t go around pointing fingers. Only a few can understand what it’s like to carry such a heavy mantle. And not that this has anything to do with it, but if anybody deserved to get slung into a detention pond it was the fourth Hillyer girl. Delee. The slut that told Jordan she would do certain things to him.
Anyways, I have to admit the second Hillyer girl got one thing right and that was her hair, so now I wear mine loose all the time. After my shower, when I’m alone in my room, and undressed, I let fall down my back. I run my fingers through it, all the way through it. It covers my whole back, and the feel of it brushing over the crest of my bottom gives me gooseflesh.
When I’m out, I see the way every man’s eyes run over the length of it, then look away. I will never cut it; my hair is my gift, and it sets me apart. It’s not my strength, my strength is in the Lord, but it is a symbol. Every other girl has a braid, but not me.
Alone at home, I study myself in Mama’s pearl handled mirror. My eyes have every color in them, if you look close, if the light hits them just right. Every single color that eyes can have. There’s this thing I do where I stare at myself for a really long time, and eventually my face starts to look like someone else’s.
I haven’t told anybody but I see other things when I look in that mirror. I hear them too. Whispers of knowledge and secret things. I keep the mirror in my room now. Mama doesn’t care. She left it when the elders made them move out.
I could describe the tornado but really it was no different than one of the dozens or so twisters we get through here. Alabama’s the best state in the union, but we do attract our share of storms, especially in Rosewood. It’s like Our Heavenly Father knows we can take the purging and not falter, a solid oak with deep roots. The number one most important thing is that this tornado was allowed by Our Heavenly Father; that’s how we know it was HIS WILL.
About three-quarters of the town was hiding at the armory during the storm, because they’d been running drills. Well, most people were at the armory. Not me. I stayed home because I felt sick. Jordan stopped by to check on me but he only stayed a few minutes, and then he left for the armory. (And if anybody says he wasn’t at the armory for most of the night, then they’re lying. Some people like to say things but they don’t know. I am pure, everybody knows.)
The next morning, I ran through the streets in my pajamas, screaming for somebody, anybody. I finally found Daddy standing at the edge of the detention pond behind the church. It was full of all sorts of stuff: cars, tree trunks, gas grills, hot water heaters, and two bodies. The bodies were naked, and I didn’t recognize them at first. But then I saw their faces. It was Brother Mack and the second Hillyer girl. They were facing each other, impaled by a metal post from the chain link fence, pushed together like two pieces of chicken on a kebab.
Daddy said, “Help me,” and together we each took one end of the pole and dragged them out. He sent me on a hunt for spare clothes, and by the time I got back, they were both lying face down on the ground, each with two, neat, matching holes in their backs. We dressed them, and Daddy dragged Brother Mack around the other side of the church. After that he told me to go wait at the house.
On my way home, I saw something wedged in the groove of a stop sign post. A cell phone. When I powered it up, a whole bunch of texts flashed on the screen. Most of them were from Brother Mack but there were others too. I clicked on one from Mordecai Wyatt. It was a picture (I’m not saying of what), and there were a few from a number with no name.
Your hair is prettier than an angel’s, the first one said.
You’re the sweetest girl in the world.
I think of you at night.
At the bottom of the screen, I read the answer: just promise that you’ll stick by me that you’ll always be my closest friend closer than you are to her.
I turned it off and put the phone in my pocket. Cell phones aren't allowed in Rosewood.
I waited at the house for a couple of hours—I guess that was when they were rounding up all the injured and figuring out the whole hospital thing. I fell asleep on the sofa in the family room, and when I woke up, the room was full of men. Mama, Lynn, Elaine, Doreen and Naomi weren’t anywhere in sight; neither were the kids. I sat up. It took me a second or two to realize that every man in town, even Jordan, had been watching me while I slept.
Daddy whispered for me to go get dressed. When I came back down, he told me to sit. Then he announced to everybody in the room that the storm had passed over our house just like the Angel of Death had passed over the Israelites in Egypt, and God had seen fit to spare me. It was because of my purity, and it was a sign as well. He said something about Brother Mack and the second Hillyer girl then, I don’t remember what, and he told them he and all the elders had decided unanimously that I was to be the new Prophet.
I can’t say that I was surprised. Daddy’s always said I was his little general.
During Daddy’s speech, Jordan’s eyes were jumping around the room, bouncing off things. Well, not things, so much as people. His dad, mine, Mordecai Wyatt. After that, he looked at the floor. I thought about the cell phone hidden under the cushions of the couch. It belonged to the second Hillyer girl, I’d figured out that much. I wasn’t stupid.
I stared at Jordan until he looked back at me. He straightened right up then, you better believe it, and something squeezed my heart. I turned my head away, and told myself to think of something nice. Something besides Jordan and the second Hillyer girl and those texts.
First, I thought of this: they would take the pictures of me like they did with Brother Mack—the ones everybody hangs in their houses. I could go to Walmart and buy makeup for the pictures. I thought some other things too. Like, for instance, how somebody ought to tell Mordecai Wyatt’s wives about a certain disgusting picture he sent someone.
“Lydia,” Daddy said then. “We wait on you for the word of the Lord.”
The men stared at me with shiny eyes and gaping mouths, like a pack of hungry dogs. I wondered how many of them had a phone in his pocket at that very moment. I sure would like to know. But God would speak to me about that, I knew. In His perfect timing
I cleared my throat and waited. They waited right along with me and even leaned forward a little bit. I swept my eyes over them all, and it felt so beautiful and clean and organized, like the harmony of a hymn.
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” I said. “Or after.”
I hardly recognized my own voice—it was as soft as a cat’s purr. I checked on Jordan. He had begun to sink into the floor, to turn to rubble, like the houses and the buildings along the streets in town. He was becoming just like old Rosewood, nothing but dust and blood and ground up glass. I felt sad about it, in a way, but really okay too.
“I’d like to speak to the fourth Hillyer girl,” I said. “The Lord has a word for her.”