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American Atheist: #4

by Nelly 

Posted: 13 February 2005
Word Count: 4743
Summary: American Atheist contains scenes that may be offensive to certain religious groups. The story so far: America has embraced Atheism as a powerful philosophy to replace the God of Catholicism. The Vatican's Nightime Flyers have bombed the city of New York. A special live news documentary of the American Atheist, America’s real life superhero ended with his death.

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Unita watched from her room until Nonfather Fletcher collected Bobby and left. Bobby limped as he walked, holding his private parts tenderly as if they might break. Unita felt satisfied he wouldn’t bother her again after tonight.

She had never experienced hate before, it was new to her, but now she hated Bobby with all her heart. It was the only emotion she felt she had left to give.

Her room now seemed drab; the red paint on the walls once so vibrant was dull and lacklustre, her clothes all folded neatly on shelves were boring and normal, her collection of shoes childish and vain.

What had she been thinking by collecting all those shoes? Unita strode over and kicked them into a corner. Not satisfied she swept aside the shelves, throwing jumpers and shirts across the room. She threw open drawers and spilled out their contents, jewellery books and magazines all tumbling one after another onto the floor.

The American Atheist was dead and the world would never be the same.

Slowly she walked over to his poster. He was the past and it was time to move on. Delicately she took hold of an edge and tore it in half. It left on the wall just the background with Iron Maiden floating in the sky.

Iron Maiden still lived!

That beautiful golden woman, what would she do now? Unita reached out and touched the poster, its soft glossy feel strangely calming upon her nerves. The Iron Maiden would be devastated. This had to be the greatest loss of them all. Unita staggered back to the bed feeling stunned.

That poor woman, what must she be thinking, what must she be going through?

She felt a small awakening of pleasure at the idea of Iron Maiden still being alive, a touch of warmth easing into the empty void of her heart. Iron Maiden was now America’s only superhero, but Unita felt she was more than up for the job.

Closing her eyes she imagined the Iron Maiden flying through the sky; her golden armour reflecting the suns rays so she shone with a powerful radiance. Iron Maiden would rise up through the clouds with one slender golden arm thrust out before her. Upon her armoured shoulders she now bore the weight of the free world, mankind’s destiny, his hopes and dreams.

Iron Maiden would fight for the people; she would protect the weak and the needy. Uphold the truth of Atheism.

Unita imagined Iron Maiden rescuing a sinking boat caught in turbulent waters, the sculpted muscles of her armour powering the ship to safety. Then foiling a group of bank robbers as they fled the scene of the crime. The armour was crafted so well, it looked like skin, with a slender waist and curved hips; it was a thing of beauty.

Unita wondered what she might look like beneath. Would she be blonde or brunette, black or white, young or old?

“We must embrace our diversity.” Unita whispered the words of the American Atheist. They seemed to have special meaning, as if he had been talking directly to her.

It wouldn’t matter if Iron Maiden were any of those things or none at all; she would be beautiful no matter what. Unita let out a faint sigh of contentment and smiled.

A tear in the quilt of America needed to be stitched.

Someone else needed to step up and fill the Atheist’s shoes, why not herself? The more she thought about it the more it made sense. She took Atheism as least as serious as any Nonfather did; she loved America and was proud to be part of it.

Yes, why not? She would become a superhero.


The next day it rained. The sun became lost within the murky depths of oppressive clouds and a wind picked up, howling through the farm like some lost ghost, rattling doorframes and whistling down chimney pots. Despite the foul weather Unita got up at the usual time, it was after all a Sunday and this meant Nonchurch. Attendance was compulsory within a ten-mile radius and despite the unprecedented events of last night today was to be no exception.

Unita discovered she didn’t really mind once she was washed and dressed. The gatherings always helped her settle any problems in the past and she decided they should help her now as well. Ashanti seemed to think along the same lines. She was downstairs before Unita wearing her best blue Sunday dress, smearing copious amounts of jam onto toast and between mouthfuls telling Unita to hurry up and eat some of her own.

From a distance she seemed perfectly fine, the tragic events of last night all but forgotten, but Unita knew better. She understood Ashanti’s breezy approach to the morning was all just an act and a flimsy one at that. If she looked too hard she would soon begin to see the cracks.

They both ate in silence listening to the insistent pounding of rain upon the glass windows and scrape of the knife as it ran across toast. Unita watched Ashanti dully, as she would dip the knife first into the butter, and with great theatrical flare, run it vigorously along the toast. Next came the jam, one large dollop, which received the same brutal treatment as the butter. It was neatly but firmly cut into four individual slices. Ashanti inspected each slice and once they passed at whatever silent checklist she had composed, each slice was rammed into her mouth as if someone might take it from her.

By the time she got to the last quarter Unita had seen enough. “I’m going out,” she said stiffly.

Ashanti looked surprised. “But what about Nonchurch?”

“I’ll hear the bells before first speech and I won’t stray far.”

“But it’s raining, you’ll catch your death.”

“No I won’t and if it pleases you I’ll take the umbrella.” Without waiting for a reply she left the breakfast table and went out through the front door in a rush, eager to be away from the house, if only for an hour.


Unita stood in the gloom of the day and felt the rain upon her face and neck, each drop sending a shiver down her spine. It seemed the world was crying for her, as she had no tears left to give, opening up with all its heart and washing the world clean.

At the end of the yard she jumped an old battered fence and came out onto the road. It was a single black stretch of tarmac that ran into town in one direction and in the other, onwards until it hit the highway and eventually New York.

She paused, unsure of which direction to take, allowing the rain to soak through into her clothes. It seemed for a moment that she stood on a crossroad of life. One direction led back to the safety of the village and the other into the world, into adventure and danger. Just the type of thing she would need if she were to remain true to her promise of becoming a superhero. There was the sudden sound of a car coming from the highway, and Unita quickly made her decision. She ran across the road, and slid down the muddy embankment on the opposite side, finding cover in the leafy branches of a thick copse of trees.

Unita watched as the car passed - a pale cream Buick Roadmaster - its windshield wipers working frantically against the rain. The car vanished from sight and she listened to the retreating sound of its engine until that too faded into the background.

The woods on this side of the fence she knew well, they fanned out over a good ten miles and parts were covered in swamp. Unita had promised she wouldn’t stray far and followed the trail by the embankment instead, stopping once to pick up a stick and swing it lazily in her hands.

As was her way, she let her mind drift, daydreaming of training as a superhero. She would have to be fit and strong, smarter than anyone in school, perhaps several schools if she was going to stand any chance at all. When ready she would find Iron Maiden and show off her new skills, never doubting the superhero would choose her to replace the American Atheist. She went with the fantasy and allowed time to slip idly by.

The rains eased off, and the sun put in a brief appearance from behind dark clouds, making puddles and leaves glisten.

Unita stopped her wandering to watch the sight for a while and as she did so Bobby stepped onto the road.

She ducked down low, hoping he hadn’t seen her. From her vantage point she could see him standing on the far edge of the tarmac, carrying a rucksack over one shoulder. He looked up and down the road several times, as if unsure of whether to cross.

Unita desperately wanted him to go back. She hadn’t planned on being near the boy again, last night’s encounter still raw in her mind. Bobby crossed over towards the embankment and Unita tried to make herself as small as possible, but knew if Bobby were to continue, he would soon find her hiding place.

Just as it seemed he would come down right on top of where she hid, Bobby veered off left. He knelt for a short while searching the road nervously and she realised Bobby was also hiding. Her revulsion of seeing him again changed to curiosity. Now suddenly interested she watched as he shifted the rucksack to a more comfortable position and headed into the woods, away from the village and the Nonchurch.

Curiosity getting the better of her, Unita decided to follow. She had taken less than two steps when the bells of the Nonchurch rang out from behind them both. Echoing down from the nearby hills, signalling the start of the Speeches.

Bobby spun around sharply and Unita froze in place, but it was too late, he had seen her.

“You!” he said, his eyes widening in fear. “What are you doing here?”

Seeing no point in hiding anymore she stood up and folded her arms across her chest. “Taking a walk like I always do before Nonchurch starts, not that it’s any of your concern.” She paused and looked at the rucksack, it bulged and obviously wore heavy on Bobby’s arm.

“What are you doing anyway?” She asked.

“None of your concern either,” Bobby shot back.

“Won’t you be needed to help Nonfather Fletcher?” she said after a moment’s consideration.

“I’m not going.” Some of Booby’s former arrogance returned with the faintest of smirks.

Unita was shocked, “ You have to,” she blurted, “it’s the law.”

“No one can make me and unless you feel like trying it seems I’m not going today.” He turned his head to one side making a mock imitation of listening to the chiming bells. “Now if I was you Unita, I would hurry along because you don’t want to be late, now do you?” He turned back round and headed further into the woods, leaving Unita standing there mouth open. She didn’t know what to say and wondered why she was even trying. Let him get into trouble with the Nonfather, she was glad he would. She might even tell him herself after the Speeches.

She thought about shouting after him, but choose not to when she realised he might relent and come to the Nonchurch after all. No, she would tell the Nonfather, and Bobby would be in deep trouble. Perhaps she could salvage something from this day after all.

Unita ran back towards town, when she came to the road she saw the sun was still shinning and the rain clouds had drifted further south, down towards the woods.

She found she was grinning from ear to ear and quickened her pace.


The Nonchurch sat upon Democritus hill looking east towards the village of Woolston. The original domed building rose over forty feet and could be seen from anywhere in the valley, a reassuring reminder of the people’s faith in Atheism. It had been constructed in the late eighteenth century and added to over the years, so much of its original character was now lost. The Nonchurch held onto its thin narrow windows and the back of the building was still composed of the original blocks. Four stone passageways were later added to the centre, each one looping out on itself so they all formed a helix and represented the more modern version of the Atheist symbol.

As Unita approached she thought the building looked tired, sprawled out across the hill in a slump. The bells stopped ringing and the last people were stepping inside. Unita caught an anxious glance from Ashanti before she disappeared from sight.

Running the last dozen meters Unita wedged her foot in the door just before it shut. The seat usher tutted in annoyance. Unita signed her name, took a Book of Words and hurried inside.

Rather than go straight into the middle, which would have caused everyone to notice her lateness, Unita took a side corridor and walked along it’s spiral, coming out into the main building. Slightly to the far right and thus out of sight from most of their prying eyes. The corridor was cool as she walked and daylight shone in through the windows in thin dusty strips.

She could hear the murmur of voices and the movement of the pews as the gathering settled themselves, before a hushed silence, as no doubt Nonfather Fletcher took to the podium.

She made the main building just as he began to speak, pushing her way through a sizeable crowd to stand near to one of the supporting pillars. Carved upon it south facing side was an image of Jean Meslier one of the founders of the Nonchurch. Written beneath were the words.

‘Newton's infinite space, Meslier believed, was the only eternal reality: nothing but matter existed’.

The image seemed to be staring at her disapprovingly; Unita quickly adverted her eyes and looked up instead to the Nonfather.

The Nonfather had made some attempt to control his unruly hair. A comb had been dragged through and a large amount of grease applied to keep it in place. The end result being the top was stuck tight to the scalp and the sides looked as if they might be making a break for freedom. Unita would have laughed if not for the seriousness of the Nonfather’s expression. He leant over the podium and shouted out to the assembled crowds.

“I will not stand here this day and fly in the face of our faith. I will not stand here and tell you about the life of the American Atheist and those good troopers we saw die last night.”

There was a faint cry from somewhere near the front and Unita could see Mrs Johnson being helped back to her seat.

“I will not insult their memories by cheapening their deaths. Like the closing of a chapter we must now move on. We must focus on the living. We will not dwell on those who are forever lost to us.” He stopped and managed a grim smile.

“It’s difficult though is it not? Accepting death as the end has always been a bitter pill to take. Would it be safer to believe in something more? Easier to give control to an imaginary God so we can hide behind its illusory façade?” He held his hands up and shrugged. “ Well we could do that, but the end result would be one of deceiving yourself and others. The pain you all feel now would be put off for another day. Never forget it’s a healing pain. It hurts now but it will heal and you will all go on and be the stronger for it.”

Nonfather Fletcher looked down at the podium as if in contemplation. “In this time of our weakness we should look to the false trappings of religion and remember this.” He looked back up with a burning certainty in his eyes. “There is no loving father and immortal soul we are but a product of nature. Composed of cells, carbon based life forms; no more able to ascend to heaven than the city of New York or this building we all find ourselves huddled within. No one knows anymore about an afterlife than you or I. Religion is a trapping of vice.”

He allowed those words to sink in before he added.

“Remember if you wish to share your pain, the garden of memories will always be there for you.”

He waited for a respectful minute, in which time his eyes swept the room, stopping briefly on Unita.

Unita realised he never missed a thing.

“If you would all like to rise now and look to page one hundred and one in the book of Words, we will begin with the first of the Speeches.”

Those who sat rose expectantly to their feet and a communal rustle of pages echoed across the chamber. Unita didn’t have to bother turning to page one hundred and one; she knew the song by heart.

“All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the world.
A message good we want to tell; it is with hope we may rejoice.
For Lords and Gods we have no need; unaided nature did us make;
With nature's help ourselves we feed, and by ourselves our own minds make.
In natures truth we give our praise; approach with joy all lands unto;
Praise and respect nature always, for it is proper so to do.
For all our knowledge gained is good; our method is forever sure;
By truth at all times firmly stood, and shall from age to age endure.” *

Once the speech had finished Nonfather Fletcher returned to the podium.

“Please lower your heads and pray.” He asked solemnly. “Just think for a moment about what you want out of life, what each and everyone of you would like to accomplish this day or another. It could be a short-term goal or long-term. It may be your Aunt Varoshka needs help moving, it may be you need a new car. Think hard about what you want, try to visualise what you see, and now call out your name and ask for those things to be delivered. Do it now my friends, empower what can be yours.”

Those near to Unita started to say their names, some loud others softly. Unita focused on becoming a superhero, imagined the Atheist costume and the feel of the blue leather. She intently visualised the Iron Maiden choosing her out of a crowd of hundreds and she called her own name softly. As she did so a warm feeling of expectance flushed through her body, leaving Unita feeling alive and refreshed.

“Who here has felt the healing powers of their mind?” Nonfather Fletcher called out.

A number of hands shot up into the air.

“Yes you Brother Simon.” Nonfather Fletcher pointed down towards a tall man holding a small child.

“I did. I saw. Only last week I heard a voice telling me to go home, to leave work and go straight away."

“And did you Brother Simon?” Nonfather Fletcher bellowed.

“Yes I did. I went home and I found the gas was still on, it just caught light to the kitchen side as I entered. If I hadn’t been there the whole house would have burnt to the ground.”

“The power of the mind,” Nonfather Fletcher called out triumphantly.

“Who else has felt this power, who else amongst us has had their prayers answered?”

“I have Nonfather,” a woman called out. Slightly overweight with curled black hair she struggled forward to the front.

“Yes my sister, tell us all of your dreams.”

“I preyed for my Mikhail to give me a sign he was still alive. I tried to reach out and let him know he was never far from my thoughts.”

“And what happened sister Carlene, how did you answer your own prayers?”

“Three days later Mikhail sent a letter saying he had been lying in his bunk thinking of home, when he suddenly had a warm feeling and knew he needed to write to me.”

“Yes!” Nonfather Fletcher called out. “Yes that’s what I’m talking about, that’s what I mean.”

“Who do we pray to?” He shouted.

As one the crowd responded, “Ourselves.”

“And who responds?”

“We do,” the crowd called back.

Unita was lost in the passion, she felt as if there was some kind of nervous energy moving back and forth between the people, allowing her to feel uplifted and happy. For a while she forgot about Bobby and lost herself in the moment listening, sometimes dancing as each person stepped forward in turn and told of the healing powers of themselves.


Later there were tea and cakes served in the west corridor also known as Voltaire’s run. Every twenty feet stone seats were carved into small alcoves and here groups formed to discuss the week’s events and catch up with friends. The mood was still sufficiently sombre. The Nonfather moved back and forth adding what insights he could manage. Unita waited at a respectable distance until he left one group, unwilling to chance being drawn into any discussion. She hadn’t seen her mother yet.

He stopped for a second near to a carving of Francios Voltaire and wiped at some dust from its shoulders and head, written underneath the bust were the words.

‘If we believe absurdities, we shall commit atrocities.’

Unita seized her chance and approached. “Nonfather,” she began, but he cut her off.

“Not truly an Atheist.”

“Sorry?” Unita didn’t understand, “who’s not?”

Nonfather Fletcher looked down at her. “Don’t they teach you kids anything at school these days? Francios Marie Arouet Voltaire was not a true Atheist, but who was he not an true Atheist to?”

The unexpected question knocked Unita back a step. She knew if she didn’t answer the question correctly she would risk the displeasure of the Nonfather. Something she was prepared to do in Bobby’s case, but was an altogether different matter if his ire was to be directed towards her.

She thought quickly, dragging up memories of school history classes. “Um…Voltaire was not an true Atheist to himself. He was a Deist.” She prayed to herself that this was the right answer.

The Nonfather’s face broke into a smile. “Well done Unita, so something is getting through at school. Yes that’s right, Voltaire still professed as believing in God, but took up the mantra of the Deist and for a man of his time said some heretical things against the Church. It’s a common belief he wouldn’t make the final jump to Atheism for fear of his own life, a decision which has the same ramifications to this day.” He sighed, “still at least we can now acknowledge those values and honour them here in the Run. Now what’s so urgent that you have come to seek me out?”

“It’s about Bobby,” she said hesitatingly. “I know where he was today.”

The Nonfather adopted a pained expression and calmly took her arm. “Walk with me please?” he asked and led her past the discussion groups and further into Voltaire’s run. She noticed Ashanti briefly, but she was to engaged in deep conversation to see the pair go by.

As they walked they passed a number of paintings of Voltaire through periods of his life. These were interspersed with comments the French playwright had said, carved in stone so they might endure throughout the years.

“Explain to me why Unita, the Nonchurch of Atheism has a corridor devoted to a Deist?” the Nonfather asked.

Unita knew the answer, but still felt puzzled he had asked. “Deism does not follow the trappings of organised religion. It’s a belief in nature as empowered by a god combined with a disbelief in the false prophets, and the false scripture of the so called holy books such as the Bible, the Quran, the Book of Mormon.”

“Yes,” Nonfather Fletcher pursued. “But why make a corridor devoted to another form of free-thought?”

Unita wasn’t sure, the more she thought about it the more it seemed like courting the enemy.

“I don’t know Nonfather,” she finally admitted.

“I’ve already told you the answer but you weren’t listening,” he chided. “Voltaire could not be true to himself so we shall be true to him. Deism are our allies in the war of religion, we understand much can be learnt from their views, indeed much is shared with the Nonchurch of Atheism. We could assume many things after his death but we will not convert his life. Instead we shall honour it.” He stopped walking and faced Unita. “Voltaire lived true to his life, if not to who he was.” He paused, searching for the right words to continue and Unita felt the point of the conversation emerging.

“Bobby is the same. He has of late had…doubts about life, questions he needs to find the answers to himself. Alas he won’t come to the Nonchurch because he associates everything about the Nonchurch with myself. Like any boy his age, he needs to find his own two feet and this it would appear, is the problem.”

This wasn’t going the way Unita had planned at all. “Are you not angry?” she asked.

His dark eyes narrowed. “Do you want me to be?”

Unita couldn’t answer.

“That’s why you’re here, isn’t it. Not through any sense of loyalty to the Nonchurch, but because you, in your spite, wanted to run and tell tales on my son.” Although his voice remained level, an edge had crept into it. “Are you really so naive to think there is not a single thing, which does not take place in my village that I am unaware. Were you so stupid as to not think I wouldn’t know my own son was not in attendance at my own Speeches?”

Unita backed away.

“Wait…that’s not what I meant…”

“Enough of your lies,” his voice cracked and began to rise. “I know everything Unita, Bobby has told me all, the fumbling in the school and your advances last night.”

“Wait that’s not true, Bobby came onto me.”

In a sudden fit of rage the Nonfather drew himself up to his full height and brought his hand back behind his head. Unita automatically cringed.

“When will the lies end, when will you take responsibility for your own actions, when will you be true to yourself.” His last words came out more of a shout and spittle flew from his mouth.

Unita closed her eyes and expected to be beaten. She had seen a number of the boys take a beating before in years past, but never a girl. She tensed and readied herself, but the blow never came. She risked looking up, and saw the Nonfather had slumped into an alcove.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered, but he waved her into silence.

“Think on this today, I will not lay a hand on you, you have not given me any cause before and this will lead you in good stead.” He managed a smile and extended his arms.

“Come here. Come on I won’t hurt you.”

Reluctantly she approached; Nonfather Fletcher gathered her up into his arms and hugged her tightly to him.

“You are still a child,” he whispered, “and one must expect these things, you are forgiven.” He let her go and she wiped a tear from her eye.

“I want you to go now and find Bobby, this will be your punishment. Find him and bring him back to my house where he may receive some of his own.”

“What will you do to him? Unita asked.

Nonfather Fletcher looked away for a moment as if in contemplation.

“What I have to,” he said finally.

Unita didn’t need any other reason to stay. She fled further up the Voltaire’s Run and took the far door back out of the Nonchurch.

Outside the clouds gathered once more and a chill permeated the air.

She collapsed near to the west wall where a carving of Friedrich Nietzsche covered in grey mould lay with a broken nose. Beneath were written the words

‘There is no God.’


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Comments by other Members

paul53 [for I am he] at 12:24 on 22 February 2005  Report this post
9 days without comment?
I can see by the general flow and layout of the story why you are group host. There is a time-served professionalism in this piece that we probably all aspire to.
Unfortunately, the basic premise of atheistic religion does not grab me. I think we have it already, though its proponents shout vociferously about their particular god to hide the fact.

Nelly at 15:13 on 22 February 2005  Report this post
Hi paul53,

Cheers for reading through much appreciated.

I chose to become group host because the science fiction group seemed to be lacking from any kind of cohesiveness. I figured that if at least one person was committing on others work then that that might inspire others to do the same.

There are quite a number of better stories than my own in the group but thanks for the high praise anyway.

I've had very little reaction to the atheist story line so I'm assuming that most people probably share your view.

The trouble is I cant stop writing about it...


paul53 [for I am he] at 20:39 on 22 February 2005  Report this post
"I can't stop writing about it..."
You lucky devil. Go for it as long as it lasts. I felt like that 13 years ago when a story I was writing began to take over and rush off in unexpected directions, and all I had to do was keep up with it. Nowadays it isn't so much writer's block as my having nothing new to say.

SF is particularly difficult as we have supposedly had its golden age, with most of the "what if" sceneraios already tackled.

The other problem - and this to all in the group - is lack of time to go over the large amount of group material parked in the archive. Having recently entered this group I have been presented with uploaded works many chapters into the story. This is akin to entering a cinema halfway through the film, and while one can still judge certain aspects of the show [style, composition, layout, flow, etc.] one cannot pretend to have been drawn into the ongoing flow as one should.
I really don't know the best way to approach this [hence no comments left for half the group] and even if I comment on, say, someone's chapter 8, I might just be repeating what someone else said 6 months ago about chapter 2. Perhaps this should be an issue raised in the forum.

Nelly at 19:12 on 24 February 2005  Report this post
Time is a problem that's true. I can’t speak for anyone else but I can say a good place to start would be to simply jump in on any new works from the date that you joined. Picking up new stories along the way and commenting on the merits of individual chapters. Unless of course a particular story grabs your attention sufficiently to read back through earlier chapters.

I've also heard that we have apparently had our golden age but I'm not convinced. The works of Harry Turtledove (World War in the balance) and Peter F. Hamilton ( The Reality Dysfunction) making for good cases for modern Sci Fi.


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