Chapter 1:

The Gospel of Elm

The Sequence of Kai


"A reading of the Gospel, according to Elm."Bookmark here

It's rare that anything in church grabs my attention. I don't exactly come here to listen, I just like soaking in the atmosphere. Bookmark here

Death is never on the mind under this marble roof. Even at a funeral people only want to think of the next life their loved one will have in heaven. Or hell sometimes when they're not so really loved. Thinking about what others are thinking is a good way to keep the mind unfocused, the ideal state of things when you’ve nothing important to do.Bookmark here

That's how a girl like me has ended up somewhat of a church regular. Whenever Trish isn't home to occupy my mind, I come here to tune out. The word of God is surprisingly good white noise. Bookmark here

I often find myself dozing off during the introductory rites only to be woken by someone asking if I'd like to take part in communion. I've been coming here long enough that they know the answer, but they feel the need to ask me anyway. A polite way of telling me not to disrespect their god with the hope that, one day perhaps, I'll be saved of my apathy, the only sin they know me to bear.Bookmark here

Today was a little different though. Things opened as they always do, with Father Walsh inviting us all to be seated. After that I couldn't settle my mind like I usually do, something just felt…… off. Bookmark here

I tend to feel this way when things involved in my world are about to rear themselves. Let's just say that I'm in the business of hunting monsters. Potential monsters, monsters with potential and everyone in between. These are monsters, not beasts. They plan their acts of violence or kindness, it’s something you can feel in the air if you're a monster too. Bookmark here

That's why, for the first time since the day I originally stumbled in here, I listened to what the priest had to say. It began with the usual crap, the standing, the sitting, the compassion for your fellow man. Recent deaths and a spot of local news where the church was involved, all sorts of drivel. Bookmark here

I was beginning to get a bit paranoid. Or restless. Or both. We haven't had anything to do in months, I haven't even talked to the old man in three weeks. Either someone was coming to get me or I needed to go get someone, that's how it felt. Bookmark here

I had just reassured myself it was all in my head when those words jolted my relaxing mind.Bookmark here

ACCORDING TO ELMBookmark here

That woke me right up. Elm is not a real gospel. Well, not like there are real gospels but this one was especially fake. There's obviously no Elm included in the gospels considered canon but even amongst the Apocryphal Gospels there’s no mention of a name like Elm. Bookmark here

A catholic priest bringing up a seemingly new 5th gospel ought to have the congregation in uproar but they're all drinking it in. It would be helpful to know exactly what he's saying but listening is a bad idea. I've come up against a few who could control others with their words or actions, if I listen, I'd probably have no chance left to figure out what’s going on. Bookmark here

I'll hand it to whoever's responsible, the gospel approach is certainly original.Bookmark here

I spend the rest of the service blocking out the meaning of words before beginning the preliminary steps for my next hunt. After the congregation leaves, I approach Father Walsh.Bookmark here

"Father?"Bookmark here

I catch him while he's returning the church's instruments to their storage out back. He hurriedly straightens his back to cover the doorway with his weak frame. He’s clearly trying to hide something, but tipping him off wouldn’t do, so I try not to look beyond him.Bookmark here

"Oh, is that you Kai?"Bookmark here

He turns around slowly while closing the door behind him. He looks like a kind soul, that’s about all I can say to his character. Hopefully, I never find out anything else about it.Bookmark here

"It's rare to see you stay to the end of a service, have we finally managed to win ourselves a new convert?"Bookmark here

Walsh doesn't mind me staying for this precise reason. He can see the haze around me, people who listen to other’s sins for long enough must develop a sense for it. I think I'm the prime target for his message on days I'm here, his voice seems to raise a couple decibels if I ever arrive mid-way through a service.Bookmark here

"There’s nothing to convert me from Father but that doesn’t mean the extra effort today wasn’t appreciated."Bookmark here

"What do you mean?"Bookmark here

Sincerely confused eyes. To him, there was nothing new about the Gospel of Elm. I thought this might be the case, that's why I chose my words so carefully. These cognition altering types like to plant trigger words in the minds of their victims, if I say the wrong thing to him, blood will be staining the carpet. I'd hate for the good Father to get hurt just because I was careless.Bookmark here

"Don't think I've heard you read from that Gospel before."Bookmark here

"That simply can't be! If you haven't heard the Gospel according to Elm, you have neither heard it according to Luke nor Matthew. The only way not to hear it is to not come to Church!"Bookmark here

"Not sure how I missed it then....."Bookmark here

“Surely you have at least heard of the modern prophet Elm? He’s very popular with your generation, famous on one of those video sites.”Bookmark here

He’s showing his age, if this guy really is famous, there’s only one video hosting site he could be on. Bookmark here

Hang on, there’s something far more important there than Walsh’s internet illiteracy.Bookmark here

“We do modern prophets now?”Bookmark here

“We did modern prophets before, we just haven’t had one in a while.”Bookmark here

“And Rome is on board with him writing a new gospel?”Bookmark here

“The Papacy has always been a little… slow on the uptake with these things. It’s understandable of course, it’s rare anyone outside the Pope finds such a direct connection to God. Bookmark here

I’m certain they’ll come around as I and many others have, you cannot read the Gospel of Elm without feeling the word of God flowing throughout. Even more so perhaps than the Gospels in the middle testament. 2,000 years is a long time to go without reworking your message unto the language of modernity.”Bookmark here

His eyes possess a sort of glossy texture when he talks about this Elm guy, like a child looking on as someone does something they’ve never seen before. The sense of amazement that ought to die out in youth has resurfaced near the grave.Bookmark here

“Do you have another copy?”Bookmark here

"Of Elm’s gospel?"Bookmark here

"Yeah"Bookmark here

"Of course! In fact, we got a shipment of several yesterday, to be distributed amongst the church’s members. Would you like one?"Bookmark here

"Yeah, that'd be great."Bookmark here

"I only ask in return that you light a candle for the departed souls of our parish."Bookmark here

He gestures towards the desk stacked with candles with a knowing grin. You can't light one of these without paying a small fee. He's a sincere priest but also isn't shy about squeezing an extra pound from people to aid the church.Bookmark here

"Alright."Bookmark here

I go to light a candle while he heads into the church’s back rooms. I wonder who died this week. Anyone important? Probably not, I’d know. Maybe I’ll just light a candle for someone I hope will die instead……Bookmark here

While I’m contemplating who I should light the candle for, Walsh returns with a rather heavy looking book that has ‘new testament’ scrawled across it’s black leather cover. He looks at me expectantly, no avoiding this one it seems.Bookmark here

“Yeah, yeah, I’m doing it.”Bookmark here

I put a pound into the mechanism and light my candle. With a slightly more genuine smile than earlier he hands me the gospel.Bookmark here

“God rewards those who do good things. He doesn’t favour those who only think well but don’t act, nor does he punish those who think poorly if they act otherwise.”Bookmark here

“Sure he doesn’t.”Bookmark here

I take the book from Walsh with one hand and tuck it under my arm.Bookmark here

“Thanks for the kind words Father. Who knows? Maybe this’ll be the time they get through to me.”Bookmark here

***
Bookmark here

On my way out, Walsh told me to take good care of the Gospel. I told him I would, he won't remember it existed after I’ve destroyed it. Bookmark here

What I need to do with this book is obvious, I give it to the old man. Bookmark here

Paul Taylor, the poor excuse of a leader for our organization in name only. He isn't the leader in the sense that he's more proactive than myself, Trish or Aaron but because he's older, wealthier and more knowledgeable, even if he may not grace us with more wisdom. Bookmark here

His home isn't too far away from the church, so walking’s no issue. A secluded enough place, the surrounding area filled with trees and bushes to discourage prying eyes. It was built whenever he and the others arrived here. He bought some of the empty land just past the Marina and completed construction seemingly overnight. Bookmark here

I remember at the time overhearing rumours of the eccentric, reclusive millionaire that had decided to call Brighton his home. I didn't pay much attention to them, around that time I stopped going to school and consequently, stopped hearing any rumours. Bookmark here

People were half right about him, he's all recluse, no eccentricity, not the interesting kind anyway.Bookmark here

*click, turn*Bookmark here

I make it to the manor in good time and let myself in.Bookmark here

"Trish?"Bookmark here

No response, she must not be back from college yet. That's good, no reason to get her involved if I don't have to. Bookmark here

Paul's study is right at the back of this place on the bottom floor. I say study and not room only because he does have a bedroom here as well. It doesn't have a bed yet.Bookmark here

*knock knock*Bookmark here

No response, that means I’m free to enter.Bookmark here

Inside it’s the same mess it was the last time I was here. No walls, only bookshelves, plenty of books. A four-piece light hanging from the ceiling with two of the lights broken. A carpet beneath you can tell used to be beige. And in the middle of it all, one wooden desk, half a man as its decor. Books piled up in front of him to form one final line of defence between his mind and unwanted interruptions. Bookmark here

I can hear the scratching of his quill on that small leather book of his. I don’t know why he writes physically, he uses his laptop as a glorified stand for his ink. This is the place you’ll always find Paul, to him ‘outside’ is the rest of the bottom floor, beyond the front door might as well be another dimension.Bookmark here

“What do you want?”Bookmark here

He doesn’t even look up or stop writing, probably isn’t even aware it’s me. If I were here to kill him, he’d keep on writing, reasoning the words he’d write between my opening the door and slitting his throat are more valuable than the possibility of escape.Bookmark here

There’s no point in entering this room for conversation alone, you have to bring something worth discussing. Thankfully, I have just the thing. Bookmark here

“Are you still a man of God, Paul?”Bookmark here

“Aren’t we all?”Bookmark here

“We aren’t all men.”Bookmark here

“But we are all of God.”Bookmark here

I’ve never been able to get a solid grasp on what he really thinks. A true believer would never sound that hollow. He believes in something but whatever it is isn’t God as the faithful know him.Bookmark here

“Then you might be interested to know that God is still putting the finishing touches on his magnum opus.”Bookmark here

“Hmmm?”Bookmark here

This gets him to break eye contact with his page. A raised eyebrow draws his gaze towards me.Bookmark here

“Ah Kai, it’s you. How are things? Are you still getting along with Trish?”Bookmark here

“Yeah, fuck off. Just tell me what this is.”Bookmark here

I hand him the gospel.Bookmark here

“I don’t mean to burst your bubble but the ‘new’ in New Testament is used in a relative sense.”Bookmark here

“Yeah, well this is a new New Testament, the other one fell out of vogue.”Bookmark here

“Well, I was never much for either of the old testaments anyway.”Bookmark here

He reaches over his wall of books to grab it but with the faintest touch of the cover he recoils.Bookmark here

“You already know well enough not to have opened this thing. Where did you find it?”Bookmark here

“Father Walsh was giving a reading of it this morning, everyone seemed so enthralled I decided to snag a copy for myself.”Bookmark here

“Did they seem… off, in any way?”Bookmark here

“No, proceedings were pretty standard. Everyone took it in stride, like they’d been hearing the Gospel of Elm for years.”Bookmark here

He pauses for a second, ink-stained hand covering his face and blotting his greying beard. He’s about to get lost in his own thoughts so I push him for an answer.Bookmark here

“So, any idea what this is or not?”Bookmark here

“Of course I know what this is. It’s the work of a crook who’s clearly now going by Elm……”Bookmark here

“Do you have a profile on him?”Bookmark here

“Naturally.”Bookmark here

This comes as no surprise. Paul is one of the people involved in a game of chance at the table in a world beyond our own. Its rules are complex, seemingly meaningless at times. A game of 5 card draw granting its participants powers that should be beyond human reach. Bookmark here

I’ve never asked Paul exactly what his ability is but a component of it is related to some pretty specific knowledge of players who have bought into the game. If they’re playing, he knows who they are, where they are and what they can do. I don’t know how he knows, he just does. He’s been pretty meticulous about profiling everyone involved, in case they ever become a problem.Bookmark here

“So what do we do about him?”Bookmark here

“There’s nothing to do, he’ll flame himself out eventually, never sticks in one place too long.”Bookmark here

He moves the gospel aside and then grabs his quill. Can’t let him get started on that unless I want to be waiting here for another eternity. I grab his ink before he can get dipping. He looks at me like a child who’s just had his games snatched away.Bookmark here

“Tell me where he is, what he can do and you can have this back.”Bookmark here

“Just leave him be Kai, he’s found himself an audience, he’s not harming people in a way a competent con artist couldn’t.” Bookmark here

“I don’t care who he is or isn’t harming, I don’t want to lose one of the two places I can be somewhat comfortable.”Bookmark here

Paul looks at me for a couple of seconds and then sighs, probably having decided it would be quicker to just give me what I want and hope none of it comes back to him later on. Bookmark here

“John…. Or well Elm has the power to influence thoughts through the words he personally writes, reproductions of his writing don’t house the effect.”Bookmark here

“So what, he got the whole congregation to read his fake gospel?”Bookmark here

“Probably not, easier to just get them reading something telling them to take their pastors word as absolute, then get him to speak on his behalf.”Bookmark here

He rips a blank page out from his little leather book and spreads it out on the desk in front of him. He dips his fingers into the dark ink then forms a fist over the page, as if wringing the ink out of something in his grip. It drips from the underside of his little finger onto the page, jumping up unnaturally every time it hits the paper before running off in all directions to create the image Paul has in his mind. It forms a map of downtown Brighton, a place I’m familiar with, the red-light district.Bookmark here

“This is where he’s been almost every night this week.”Bookmark here

He points at the big dot in the centre of the page.Bookmark here

“Now go do whatever you’re going to do, just try not to burn the city to the ground while you do it.”Bookmark here

He wipes his hand on his shirt before snatching his quill back up and returning to his incessant scratching. No use in trying to show gratitude, he wouldn’t want or hear it. Now it’s time to make a plan.Bookmark here

***
Bookmark here

I sit down in the living room and search the address on my phone. The place is Lees Tavern, I had a feeling that this might’ve been the case but it never hurts to confirm your hunches if you have the time. Bookmark here

Lee’s is popular with a certain type of crowd. If you’re a young girl short on cash, it’s a place to go. A middle-aged man with money to burn? Then it’s the place to go. Bookmark here

Trish works there, it’s where I got to know her. To be clear she works behind the bar, not in front of it, she’s far too innocent for the latter.Bookmark here

I’ll wait here until she and Aaron get back. If she’s working tonight, I can gather intel without raising too many eyebrows.Bookmark here

I’ve got time to kill so I decide to follow up on what Walsh mentioned about Elm’s presence online. Sure enough a search of ‘ELM MODERN PROPHET’ directs me to a channel with a not so modest 5 million subscribers.Bookmark here

It’s modeled as if it’s run by a fan of this guy, with titles like ‘Elm converts sceptic of the gospel’ and ‘Elm, amazing debate with atheist philosopher’, but it’s got a check mark so he must be affiliated some way. Bookmark here

I click on his most viewed video and scroll down to the comments.Bookmark here

This guy saved my life.Bookmark here

I can’t believe I ever doubted the word of God.Bookmark here

Like this comment if you used to be an Atheist.Bookmark here

Elm is the modern prophet!Bookmark here

Almost nothing but messages of support. I scroll down trying to find a dissenter. After a couple of minutes I finally find one.Bookmark here

Looking at this comment section is as close as I’ll ever get to seeing a cult lol.Bookmark here

Instead of the vitriol I was expecting underneath it though, I found an amalgam of messages in unison.Bookmark here

Buy his book, you’ll be convinced.Bookmark here

I thought the same thing until I read his gospel.Bookmark here

You wouldn’t say that if you’d read his work!Bookmark here

They weren’t all written the same way, but they all said the same thing. Bookmark here

Read. Bookmark here

Read his words. Bookmark here

In the about section of his channel I find a link to his website. There’s no way to buy his gospel here it seems but you can buy a very short looking book for the equivalent of about £5. Bookmark here

‘10 steps to finding God when you need him most.’ Only 50 pages or so. If his power really only works on original copies of his books then it makes sense to sell something shorter than a gospel. Bookmark here

I try to buy one but I’m told it’s out of stock. Not too surprising with a sub number as big as his.Bookmark here

*jingle, jingle*Bookmark here

I hear the fumbling of keys and then the click of the lock. I drop my phone on the couch and rush into the hall. Trish is always too engrossed in conversation to get her keys ready before she reaches the door, that’s why I always listen for them.Bookmark here

“….yeah and she was being so bitchy about it too, like, why is it so hard to just submit your part of the project on time??”Bookmark here

She comes through the door, looking over her shoulder to keep sight of Aaron. She always does this, it’s why the floor has been carpeted, the wood underneath has a forehead shaped dent. Bookmark here

“You working tonight?”Bookmark here

I rush the question out before Aaron can try and steer her away from me.Bookmark here

“Huh? Oh Kai, didn’t know you were going to be here. What was that about work?”Bookmark here

“Are you working at Lee’s tonight?”Bookmark here

Aaron gives me a dirty look from behind Trish, I try not to let it show on my face. Bookmark here

“Yeah, I am, why?”Bookmark here

“I want to come with.”Bookmark here

“Now that’s not like you, what do you actually want?”Bookmark here

“I’m serious.”Bookmark here

Trish’s face lights up instantly when it clicks that I’m being (somewhat) sincere. She probably doesn’t care if I have ulterior motives, she’s just happy she’ll have someone to talk to. She’s that type of girl. Bookmark here

She turns to ask Aaron to come too. It hurts a bit knowing that bright smile will be wiped off her face so quickly.Bookmark here

“I’ll be upstairs if you need me.” Bookmark here

His voice is as dry as he can muster, he’s gotten better at hiding that tone of contempt.Bookmark here

Trish is turned away from me but the slight dip in her shoulders conveys what her face otherwise would. Bookmark here

Aaron brushes past her and heads straight upstairs without giving me a second glance. Not a surprise, we don’t talk anymore.Bookmark here

Trish takes that split second she needs to reset herself and turns towards me, cheerful expression painted back on.Bookmark here

“It’s gonna be so much fun! Should be pretty quiet tonight, I’ll call ahead and make sure someone saves you a seat at the bar.”Bookmark here

She looks me up and down quickly. My guess is she’s about to comment on my attire. She’s going to tell me to not wear the hoodie.Bookmark here

“Why don’t you go change and meet me there at like 6.”Bookmark here

“I was planning on going from here with you.”Bookmark here

“Not like that you weren’t.”Bookmark here

“What’s wrong with my clothes?”Bookmark here

“You’re not wearing the hoodie.”Bookmark here

Knew it.Bookmark here

“But I like the hoodie.”Bookmark here

I’m not changing.Bookmark here

“Wear something else or I’m going to pretend you’re not there.”Bookmark here

***
Bookmark here

It takes me a little while to root out some clothes suitable for a place like Lee’s. It’s an outfit I haven’t seen in the mirror in a while, looks like something Trish might wear on a night out if the venue wasn’t too formal. Black tank top, red jacket and some pale blue ripped jeans. I can’t believe I used to wear this.Bookmark here

It’s been a while since I’ve been back to my place. I only come here when I need to shower or change. I don’t sleep and if I’m pretending to it’s always somewhere else nowadays. I ask myself too many questions when I’m back here.Bookmark here

Why am I doing this? If Paul says he’s not dangerous then he’s not, so why bother? Am I just bored? It can’t just be that, there’s things plenty more exciting that can satiate boredom. Bookmark here

Can I convince myself that I’ve finally found my altruistic side? No, I’m sure I don’t care about doing this without collateral damage, it’s not about the people he’s hurting.Bookmark here

It’s about me, I just want the silence. Not just where the church is concerned but this city. Even in such a small way, he’s bringing that damn game back to my doorstep. I don’t think I like that. Even if I’m bored, excitement isn’t the remedy if it’s the wrong kind.Bookmark here

I don’t need to be thinking about this. Even if he’s harmless to us, it doesn’t hurt to find out what his goal is, make sure there isn’t some angle being missed. The greatest dangers often come from places unexpected. Paul should know that from experience…..Bookmark here

It worries me how distant he’s becoming. Maybe I shouldn’t take his info at it’s face anymore. It’s like he doesn’t care, no time to deal with threats that aren’t immediate.Bookmark here

What would’ve happened to Trish if I hadn’t shown up, if she hadn’t taken me in? I guess she has Aaron, not that he’s worth much. Bookmark here

She's made it clear she has no interest, that there was never anything between them but I'm not sure I believe that. Even if it was never official, they never said to each they were a couple, you can't have a boy and a girl live together for as long as they have without something happening.
Bookmark here

This is exactly why I hate this place. I look at the clock, still only 5. Lee’s is a half hour walk…….Bookmark here

I wonder if they ever had sex?
Bookmark here

I’m just going to show up early.Bookmark here

Bookmarked
You can resume reading from this paragraph.