Things were going so well. So very, very well. Then it came. The call from hell.
The chilling ring tone made her skin erupt in goose bumps.
She crossed her spindly legs into a knot and picked up the receiver.
"Ms. Liar speaking."
"Deep Croak from Empty Cistern." His voice, dry as a withered fig tree, made her want to choke.
She swallowed hard. "On line, Wart Face. What's down?"
"The pits, of course."
"Do the math, Adder. Do the math."
The tremble in his voice sent shivers up her hour glass. Her forehead was burning up. This couldn't be good news.
It was worse than she imagined.
City Invincible had been leveled to the ground, its Offense gates burned with fire, its "no contest" walls in ruins, its houses razed, and every jail destroyed. All that remained of the town were a few piles of rusted iron, busted chains, and smashed mirrors (which spelled at least seven times seventy years of bad luck for her, the queen).
She felt her spinnerets go numb. "And the prisoners?"
"Escaped. Thousands of them. Walked right through the walls. Just like HIM." His voice cracked. "How could you let this happen?"
Her head was pounding. "Oh, for ach-in' Achan! What are you blaming ME for?"
"Let's see," croaked he. "How do I loathe thee? Let me count the fighting men, starting with that Esther Prayer-and-Fasting Regiment that roused the sleeping giant. Gagged Hay Man on his own choke weed. Shush Land will never be the same."
"So? Not my fault."
"Oh, no? Then who, pray tell, failed to slay the child, O mighty ruler of Praise Land? Who failed to stop Pharez from breaching her criticism schism with the help of his Joint-and-Marrow Rightly Divided Word Brigade? Who let our enemies kill a thousand grumbling ghouls using nothing but the jawbone of Balaam's donkey?"
"Hey, can I help it if I was tied up at the time? It happens to the worst of us."
"Tied up, eh? So that's how they slipped past you." His words lashed her cheeks like pinpricks.
"Who slipped past me?" she asked, itching to scratch his tongue out.
"Oh, just four of Samaria's nastiest, most flea-bitten lepers, that's who. Snuck right through the city gates, straight into OUR camp. Which, they discovered, had been abandoned. Imagine that!"
"Ben Hate-Dad's fault, and you know it. He and that miserable oinker Hazy Eel couldn't guard a stronghold to save their lives. If I could get hold of them, I'd wring their..." She felt a sneeze coming on. "Ah... ah...!"
"The point is, you blew it. And now the news is spreading like wildfire: 'He's alive, and active, and doing the same things today He did two thousand years ago.' Oh, how I hate those words! Though you've got to admit it's a catchy message. All it takes is a germ of mustard seed..."
She couldn't hold back. "Ah choo!"
"Curse you. Anyhow, I've never seen a more contagious faith since Paul and Silas. And do you want to know the worst part?"
"No," she honked. "Don't tell me..."
"It's working through love. Faith is working through love."
"I told you not to tell me that!"
"Too bad. I just did. Truth hurts. Get over it."
"Oh be quiet, fool, and let me think. There must be a way to stop this epidemic. Let's see. There's caterwaul caterpillars, Sad Sea yeast, Fair-Is-What-You-See leaven... rotting frogs, dissected Egyptian style. We could even inject His church body with the same virus that killed Elisha. We've done it before and it worked. Ah, those were the days!"
"But the dead ones that hit the prophet's bones came to life again - stronger, healthier, and more resistant to our Discouragement Disease than ever before."
He took the words right out of her mouth.
Might as well have cut her claws off.
Contagious faith. What a way to ruin her day!
"You know, for a spider you sure do have a strange name," he added.
"Same to you, snake!" She slammed down the receiver and uncrossed her legs. Her eyes grew wide.
White. They were white. Her legs were white. Just like snow. Just like leprosy.
It gave her an idea.
Midnight was approaching, and with it a pale horse, swift but pricy, like the cost of a black plague.
Thirty pieces of silver ought to do it.
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