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American Atheist: #1

by Nelly 

Posted: 16 January 2005
Word Count: 2244
Summary: After having this read by a friend it has been pointed out that the story could be offensive to religious groups. In which case I can assure you that this is not my intention, this is a work of fiction set in an imaginary world turned upside down. I do not mean to be offensive. American Atheist is a coming of age story with superheroes. It still needs work but then don’t they all.
Related Works: American Atheist: #2 • 

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Unita awoke to find her bed shaking in the dark. It trembled violently and moved across the floor. Dust fell from the rafters, into her hair and mouth. She went to scream, but abruptly the bed stopped.

Rubbing at her eyes, she cautiously took in her surroundings. The heavily shuttered windows left all unfocused and dark. The creak of timber betrayed the cooling of the farm, but there was nothing else, no sight or sound to hint at strangeness.

The night was as calm as a windless lake.

A sound like thunder and the bed shifted an inch to the right. A glass on the bedside cabinet tipped, spilling water. The lampshade rocked gently, as if caught in a passing wind and the wardrobe door creaked slowly open.

She realised it was coming from outside - beyond the window. Taking some measure of comfort there was nothing in the room that could harm her, she slid out from between the sheets and crossed her room barefoot. She still wore her school uniform, now itchy from the sweat of a deep sleep.

The windows in the farm were shuttered after dark, locked down tight, so not even the slightest flicker of light could escape. Unita had the key, but she still hesitated before using it.

She checked her room one last time, looking for any light source coming from the hall, but all remained as it had been. Taking the brass key from where it rested upon the windowsill, she turned it in the lock. Once it made a satisfying click, she lifted back the shutter and peered out into the night.

All was swathed in shadow, the land a shapeless black mass of vague contour and unfathomable depth.

She waited with her hands pressed against the glass.

Far in the distance, a soft flash of yellow appeared. The glass window vibrated as the noise caught up to her - a distant roar of an explosion.

A moment later, a second flash of colour, then a third, tiny plumes of fire cut through the veil of night in a vivid moment of destruction.

Flickers of dull white shot into the sky, tracing lines that ran across the horizon. Understanding slowly dawned.

They were bombing the city. The Vatican’s Nightime Flyers had reached New York.


Close by a siren started up, its plaintive cry a warning to stay inside. Unita heard movement on the stairs, the dim light of the hallway flashed through the gap of the bedroom door. Quickly she closed the shutters.

The voice of her mother called softly from outside, “Are you awake darling?”

“Just a moment Mamma,” she hurried back to her bed and climbed inside.

The door opened and her mother Ashanti, entered the room; she stood hesitating on the threshold, fumbling for the light switch. “Have you been sleeping since school?” she asked.

“Yes Mamma, but the siren woke me.”

Ashanti found the switch and the amber glow of the overhead light chased the shadows from the room. “Me too,” she said with a smile.

“The man on the news said they would never reach the city, and that was only yesterday,” Unita failed to conceal the mounting fear in her voice.

Ashanti came over and sat on the edge of the bed, she looked tired and her eyes strayed across the room nervously. She wore her night-dress with a shawl around her shoulders and her hair tied back in a bun. Her face was bathed in a light sheen of sweat and when she spoke her voice was jittery, breaking often. “You know Unita, they can get things wrong, even with the best of intentions, the Church can slip through our shields.“ She looked down to her hands that shook uncontrollably and tears welled up into her eyes.

Unita had never seen her mother like this before. It made her feel worse, the fear becoming an oppressive, tangible thing. She fidgeted and felt an overwhelming urge to pee.

Ashanti glanced at her and smiled weakly. She clenched her hands into fists and took a long, deep breath. “It doesn’t matter though and you want to know why?”

Unita nodded.

“Because we’re going to win.” It was a statement of fact, backed up by a look of extreme confidence. “And also,” she added with a sly wink, “we have the American Atheist.”

Ashanti looked at the one poster in Unita’s room.

It depicted a mound of dead bodies. All the corpses wore purple robes, marking each as a Church Cardinal. The American Atheist stood proudly over them; his strong hands held the Stars and Stripes, the pole of which dug down deep into the mass of cadavers. He was clad in tight blue leather, which stretched around every muscle, leaving nothing to the imagination - a perfect superman.

Unita’s mother looked at the superhero with undisguised adoration. “He’ll get us through this. He won’t let us down,” she murmured.

“What about his sidekick?” Unita asked, “what about Iron Maiden?” She pointed to the background of the poster, where a sensuous carved suit of golden armour, in the likeness of a woman floated in the sky.

“Of course Iron Maiden will help American Atheist,” Ashanti said, in a matter of fact way, “help take the fight all the way to the Pope himself.”

“She can do a lot of things you know?” Unita pushed. “She has amazing weapons designed into the armour, all types of things…” She stopped talking when she realised Ashanti still gazed at the poster, her mouth slightly ajar. “Mamma, you’re not listening!” She shouted the words to get the older woman’s attention; even then Ashanti had to drag her gaze away.

Several thunderous crashes shook the room and their banter stopped short.

Ashanti swallowed hard. “Right young lady, I want you to come below until the bombing is over. We may be miles from New York, but I’m not taking any chances, so downstairs with me and I’ll see about getting you something to eat. Don’t forget the live broadcast from Attention America tonight, you won’t want to miss that.”

Unita had forgotten about the live broadcast, the first of its type to be tried. The kids at school were saying the news channel were setting it up with Iron Maiden, utilising technology newly invented for that purpose. She desperately wanted to see it.

The room shook again, the explosions much nearer.

“Downstairs this instant,” Ashanti said jumping from the bed, this time Unita felt compelled to obey.


The farmhouse was composed completely of solid white stone, with thick dark beams of wood that supported the ceiling. It was here Unita and Ashanti spent their time. A well-stocked kitchen led onto a smaller living area, and a large dominating fireplace provided warmth for the entire lower level. A single black and white television sat high up on the wall, dominating the lounge like a great eye, unblinking and constantly watching.

The far away sounds of war continued, with a heavy beat of the anti-aircraft guns and the cymbal crash of exploding bombs. The two women sat huddled together, listening to the cacophony of noise, waiting for the all clear to sound.

At half past the hour, a great blast shook the house, causing dust to fall from the rafters.

“Far closer than the city,” Unita whispered.

Ashanti moaned and bit down deep on her lower lip.

Ten minutes later, the siren’s mournful cry swept across the night. Unita fell back in her chair, feeling the tension ease from her body, to be replaced by a strange sense of euphoria. The Church had missed them both, they got to live, a while longer at least.

She didn’t know how much of this she could take

Ashanti opened a downstairs window, explaining it was good to smell the night air, but Unita suspected it had more to do with feeling faint than any nightly scent.

Unita caught sight of her reflection in the glass. She looked and felt the schoolgirl that she saw. Her hair she normally wore long and tied back, although now it fell loosely across her shoulders. She could make out the delicate curve of her breasts. The thin brown form of her figure. She was fast becoming a woman, but still felt the child.

She looked away from her reflection and instead towards the television. It only displayed the Atheist symbol of atomic energy; the black lines of the atom slowly rotated if she stared hard enough at the image. This was the test signal ready for the start of transmission.

Her excitement grew; a live broadcast featuring the American Atheist and Iron Maiden. It was too good to be true. Imagining the pair in real life left Unita feeling hot, she dabbed at her forehead with the sleeve of her blouse.

Ashanti entered the room carrying a tray of biscuits and two steaming mugs of coffee. Despite the rations they were forced to endure - a necessary side effect of the war - Ashanti would always make an exception for special news broadcasts, like the one they were going to see tonight.

Unita picked up a biscuit, nibbling at the edge. “Do you think we will see Iron Maiden?” she asked.

“Oh sweetness, of course we will. Iron Maiden is never far from the Atheist’s side now is she?”

“I suppose not,” Unita said feeling her excitement grow.

“They say once the American Atheist wins the war for us, he’ll marry Iron Maiden,” Ashanti continued, “it will be the decent thing to do. He does lead by example.” She sounded disappointed.

Unita also felt a sudden dip in her excitement at the thought of Iron Maiden walking down the isle.

She imagined the sensual golden suit in a white wedding dress walking towards the American Atheist who stood there splendid in his tux, his blue mask still concealing his features. She didn’t like the fantasy and took a large chunk from the biscuit while watching the wedding dress go up in flames.

“Mamma. Why does he wear a mask?” she said thoughtfully.

“Because he’s a superhero,” came the stock reply.

“Yes, but why hide who he truly is?” Unita wiped the crumbs from her blouse and looked expectantly at Ashanti.

“Because,” she took a deep breath, “the mask represents anonymity, and in that anonymity, the face of the average worker. He could be anybody we care to imagine, anyone at all.” She ended on a dreamy note, looking back at the television.

“No one around here I’ll bet,” Unita said.

“Yes, but Iron Maiden also wears a facemask, what does she have to hide?” An edge crept into Ashanti’s voice, Unita realised she had pushed on too much of a tender subject.

“Um . . . nothing, but it’s different for her, the armour protects from the evil weapons of the Cardinals, she has to wear a mask or they would aim for her face.”

After a long silence in which neither woman spoke, Ashanti said. “Mrs Johnson from No 59, the one with the five cats, or is it four? I think it’s four, the fat one died recently, buried him in her back garden as I recall. Anyway, her son Ernie, you remember the one who wanted to be an actor before they called him up?” She glanced over quizzically, but Unita shrugged her shoulders with indifference.

“Never mind,” she continued with barely a pause for breath. “He wrote to her last week saying the American Atheist joined his unit. Can you imagine that, having a superhero on your team, Mrs Johnson must be pleased.”

“Did he say if Iron Maiden was with him,” Unita asked too eagerly.

Ashanti scowled. “Yes, Iron Maiden’s also there, keeping up the good cheer.”

She was about to continue when a heavy banging resounded throughout the house.

“The front door?” Unita said.

“But who would be knocking now?”

Ashanti looked nervous and Unita felt a stab of fear. Neither made a move to answer, sitting in muted silence, paralysed by indecision.

The banging came again.

Perhaps it was a neighbour, come to watch the broadcast, or a Cardinal shot down seeking hostages, to bargain his release back to Rome!

“I’m scared,” Unita whispered.

Ashanti reached out and held her hand. “You don’t have to be scared of men and their flying machines,” she said with a brave smile.

A face appeared at the open window, both of them practically leapt from their seats.

“For goodness sake Ashanti, it’s me Nonfather Fletcher, open the backdoor I’ve got Bobby with me.”

Upon the mention of Bobby’s name, Unita’s heart sank.

Girls of Unita’s age already had a string of boyfriends, but Unita felt differently, all the boys she met did nothing for her, in any sense that mattered. Bobby was charming and persistent, so when the final school bell rang, he gave his usual advances and she had reluctantly agreed.

What followed was vulgar and coarse: Bobby’s hands touching, tugging, fumbling over zips with a pained expression. There was none of the love she had come to expect, none of the gentle exploration she wanted. It all became too much, she had fled, leaving Bobby red-faced with his trousers around his ankles, erection in hand.

She hadn’t seen him since. Unita realised she was holding her breath and let it back out with a whistle.

“See, nothing to worry about,” Ashanti laughed and answered the door.

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Comments by other Members

Zigeroon at 09:58 on 17 January 2005  Report this post


Fantastic idea and lots of things going on to develop the story. Just one or two things:-

'But her shoes she had placed neatly by the door.' doesn't seem to relate to anything as it is written? Is it an indication of her normal tidy mind?

When describing the mother. 'She wore her favourite white cotton dressing gown, which she looked relaxed in as the evening wore on.' Seems to be a mixture of how her mother feels and moving time on, although we revert to the present in the next sentence. Just needs a tweak I think.

'Growing up far too quickly for her liking.' Is an odd way for Unita, as a schoolgirl, to think unless it potentially relates to her lack of a father? Is he the superhero?

'Unita 'still' had been very young.' Doesn't need the 'still' for it to make sense.

'Mrs johnson, from Nr59, who lives down the road...'I don't think you need 'who lives down the road', the reference to Nr 59 implies that her house is in the same street.

Looking forward to Part II


Nelly at 11:22 on 17 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Andrew,

Cheers for taking the time with the piece. I'll edit the bits you mention and I'm glad you enjoyed it.


Jim Beard at 20:39 on 18 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Neil

Great twist on the good vs evil battle. I liked the way that you build the tension as the bombing gets closer to Unita’s neighbourhood and then relaxed it just enough to make the knock on the door grip the reader. One minor point that will, no doubt be explained as the plot develops:

I was wondering why a superhero would join a unit when he clearly is the one that all are looking up to to save the day. I thought that it might have been the other way around in that the neighbour’s son would join up with superhero’s team.

There is a slight typo in window still, should it be sill? I found the sentence about the mothers banding together of her eyebrows, etc unnecessary and could be simply described as a scowl which you say she does shortly after.

I look forward to further reading.



Nelly at 21:20 on 18 January 2005  Report this post
Hello Jim,

Thanks for taking the time to read through and respond.

The story does explain in the next section why the American Atheist has joined Ernie's unit. All part of that plot devolpment thing.

I'll edit the typo and take another look at the mother and see what I can come up with.



Becca at 18:32 on 20 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Neil,
The situation your two characters are in must be a frightening one even if they don't think their farmhouse will be bombed, I thought. And as an overall observation on it I thought that there are a couple of ways you could up the tension that wouldn't take a lot of work. The first would be to try and remove quite a lot of the exposition in it and show it rather than tell it in dialogue maybe. An example would be 'In an unprecedented move..' Then along similar lines a story gets slowed down a lot if too much attention is paid to every move the characters make as in 'Unita picked up a biscuit...'
There's a detailed description of the farmhouse, I wondered if this will fit into the second part, or if it was just there, - and how it helps the story if it was.
I wasn't sure if this was part of a novel or a long short story, but the situation you are dealing with is an interesting one. I liked the observations about light and dark, it made the scene atmospheric.

Nelly at 18:50 on 20 January 2005  Report this post
Hi Becca,

It's a long short story that I'm working my way through.

The description of the farmhouse is not essential to the plot I was as you guessed just setting the scene so I'll look back through.

The other points are quite valid and I'll have a good edit and see what I can do.

Thanks for taking the time to read through and respond to this.



J1mbo at 17:29 on 08 February 2005  Report this post
I thought this was very good. I'll definitely be checking out part two when I get a bit of time. Great original idea, and the world has already been created and primed for me by the end of ch.1.

Nelly at 19:48 on 08 February 2005  Report this post
Cheers J1mbo,

Reading back through this myself I've noticed a number of mistakes which I'll sort out later. I've never been happy with the beginning and I'm currently reworking the intro whilst writing up the next section. Anyway I'm glad you like it but I suspect that the final piece might be very different from the first draft.


J1mbo at 01:05 on 07 March 2005  Report this post

I thought I'd return the favour. Really like this story. Looking forward to reading ch.2. But this time I though I'd try make a comment that might constitute feedback you can use. I've been extremely pedantic (or is it technical?), so if this is too much then send me a mail. I think the story itself is very original and interesting, as are the characters. I do think you need to go through it again and cut out anything that isn't needed.
Right, here goes...

In the summary friend is spelt freind, and don't is spelt dont. This might put writewords members etc... off from reading it in the first place.

At first I found it strange she found it hard to focus on the room, as the eyes of a person who has just woken up are in the perfect condition to see in the dark. I think, from the story though, that it is pitch dark (is that the right term?) and this is right. So I'm incorrect, but I though I'd mention it because it came to mind in the first place, and therefore it might occur to a potential reader because the fact that the room is so dark is made apparent after the 'unfocused' mention.

''so it came as some suprise when her' bed suddenly moved.' Reader will pick up that the noise and movement are sudden. 'Thoom' should come just before this as well, I think.

Comma needed after 'in the room that could harm her.' Full stop after 'barefoot.'

''Now' the Klaxon...' - could just be 'The Klaxon...'
Full stop needed after 'wailing cry.'

Comma after Unita - 'Unita, are you awake darling?'
same after 'Yes Mamma.'

Full stop after 'edge of the bed'.
Full stop after 'light sheen of sweat.'

Would Unita fidget 'often' in these passing moments, or would she just 'fidget.'

Her mother glanced at her and managed a weak smile - This sentence could be made more active if she 'smiled weakly' instead of 'managed a weak smile.'

I've used 'turned' a lot for actions, and I found that most of the time it's not needed.
eg. 'turned to look at the one poster in Unita's room.' This could be 'looked at the one poster in Unita's room.'

'Onto' is, I think, two words, and I'm not even sure you need it. 'Strong hands held the stars and stripes...'
'the mass of cadavers'- what mass of cadavers? As we are seeing this for the first time, it might read better as 'a mass of cadavers.'

It might also be good if you swap 'He was' from before 'a perfect man' to the preceding sentence. ''He was' clad in tight blue leather.'

I don't think you need 'She murmured' after 'He won't let us down.'

We know her mother is an 'older woman.' It might be better to just say 'her' or her name.

We know it's a command at the end of the first section. The line 'Downstairs this instant' conveys both this, and the fact that Unita will obey her.

'...most of their time, a well stocked kitchen.' Full stop needed after 'time.' Comma needed after 'smaller living area.'

'...her feeling faint' could be 'feeling faint.'

Comma needed after 'normally long and tied back'.

Full stop needed before 'it was almost too good to be true.'

Comma needed before 'talking and acting,' 'maybe even fighting,' and 'left Unita a little hot' possibly even starting a new sentenct after 'little hot'.

Watch out for over-use of 'that'. I don't think it should ever be used if it's not needed.
eg. 'despite the rations that they were forced to endure,' it could be 'despite the rations they were forced to endure.'

Do you need 'of course' before 'they say that once the American...'
or the 'but' in 'but no one around here, I'll bet.'

'Bobby was charming...' This sentence needs work.

'She 'had not' seen him since' might read better as 'she 'hadn't' seen him since.' Anywhere you can do this is always easier on the eye.

Comma needed after 'see' in last sentance.
Would she 'move' to answer the door, or would she just answer the door?

Anyway, I'm knackered now, and hope this is not too much. If it is let me know, and I'll make a more general criticism of No. 2. I really like the story, and the internal and political undertones. Hope the fight is over USA as this reflects today very much. If USA is the 'atheist state' I will take some convincing.


Nelly at 08:38 on 07 March 2005  Report this post

You're not being to pedantic, this is precisely what I want when others critique my work. Otherwise how am I going to get any better?

All your points seem very valid and I'll edit them in the next few days.

As I've previously said the opening chapter has always been the hardest one for me to write, I've never found it gripping enough and worked through several rewrites but I am still not entirely convinced.

Those pesky 'thats', I thought I had eliminated all of them.

'Turn' has been something of a stumbling block as well, I'll check through the other sections , I'm sure its one of my favourite words.

Thanks for reading through again.


Account Closed at 11:45 on 20 January 2006  Report this post
Hi Nelly

Sorry I’m a bit late coming to this. I thought the opening to this was cool, really grabbing my attention and sucking me into the story. I like the way you convey the fact your character here is still in school by using the uniform – a great example of show don’t tell.

Picky point: outside –beyond. There is a missing space here. I noticed there is a missing space in all the places after you use the hyphen.

Vatican’s Nightime Flyers? Oh wow! I love a bit of controversy and a touch of religion, so I was gripped by this point Nelly. I’m also a big fan of superheroes, and it’s great to see someone doing something different and edgy with them. One point though: the Atheist symbol of atomic energy; the black lines of the atom slowly rotated if she stared hard enough at the image.

There is actually a DC superhero known as ‘the Atom’ who you may or may not be familiar with. He isn’t all that popular, but his symbol is also the same as the one you mention. Probably only apparent to a fanboy like me, but thought I should mention it. I like the sound of Iron Maiden.

I agree with Becca that you could increase the tension here with a blitz-style bombing - maybe loosen a few rafters to give a real sense of impending danger?

The dialogue is spot on, and there is a sense of a brilliant story building here. I loved the way you used Ashanti and Unita’s dialogue to illustrate the background of the story.

Good stuff!


Nelly at 22:49 on 20 January 2006  Report this post
Cheers for taking the time to reading through.

I'm also a big comic book fan, more Marvel than DC, I am aware of the Atom though, but sadly prefer Ant-man. No getting round the symbol I'm afraid, but with symbols they can mean different things to different people, but I like the superhero connection. The early part of this story is centred on the superhero and I aim to go back to it later on for full circle closure. This was originally written with a graphic novel in mind, but the idea has spiralled and blossomed into something more. In the early chapters I wanted to create a kind of Saturday morning cinema feel to it, like one might get in the 50's - Flash Gordon style. The title also is supposed have a comic book feel to it. I'm glad that some of it is working.

It is in need of a major rewrite and when I've finished with the overall book, I'll take it offline and give it a dammed good beating.



Account Closed at 12:04 on 21 January 2006  Report this post

You succeed wonderfully in catching that graphic novel element, because when I was reading it, that's what I visualised. Great to find another graphics fan, though admitedly, I am more knowledgeable on DC.


Alexshaw at 02:56 on 27 February 2006  Report this post

Great stuff. I can see it all happening in the pages of a graphic novel easily. It is extremely evocative and similar in style to Straczynski's Rising Stars / Supreme Power and also contains elements similar in tone to the work of Warren Ellis. If you knew how much I adore these writer you would see this is praise indeed from me.

It also posesses a 50's cold war styling that paints a very visual story, setting a familiar tone with characters we have seen elsewhere dragged into a topsy-turvy world of twisted characterisation.

I hope to God that something so guaranteed to upset so many people has a chance to be published, if only so that it can be banned and burned by irony-free right-wingers.

It is also a very intriguing central character for this kind of story, I will be reading every other chapter to see where it goes.

One can only hope for a titanic showdown pitching American Atheist and Iron Maiden against Captain Transubstantiation and his sidekick Altar-Boy.


Additional: Are you THE Neil Buchanan (Of Art Attack)?

Nelly at 10:46 on 27 February 2006  Report this post
That made me laugh. Cheers Alexshaw for looking through. I've read some of Ellis' work with the ultimate series, haven’t seen Straczynski's Rising Stars though. Is that the same Straczynski of Bab 5?

No, not the same Neil Buchanan. I'm the amateur writer with loving family and normal(ish) day job, the other is just a git. Not that I’m jealous.

Alexshaw at 18:52 on 27 February 2006  Report this post
Yes J. Michael Straczynski did create B5. I would have said with his unusual name, it would be unlikely to be another JMS but you have already disproved my point.

Hope I can give a slightly more serious viewpoint for the later chapters.


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