The sweat vanished from her skin as she sank down into the cool, blue swimming hole. The radio spread a festive mood to the commune members, who were picnicking, sunbathing, and laughing while dropping from the rope swing into the water a few feet away. Everybody got silent, however, when the music was replaced by an automated emergency broadcast network message. Thinking it was just a test, the festivities resumed until the annoying tone switched to a panicked broadcaster’s voice…

(Stories need only touch on this topic in some way to qualify.)

Perfection is not without its challenges. After three years of gains, setbacks, blood, sweat and tears (not hers), she had attained it. Thirteen perfect guests — her children, her disciples and, on occasion, her lovers.

New age magazines were the best place to advertise. She priced high to attract the right people; she hadn’t wanted just anyone. People were willing to spend top dollar to have quiet and (mostly) gentle guidance to reflect. Forty acres in the woods, miles from anywhere. The guests were all picked up and driven, with no sense of how far from civilization they were.

There were two bunkhouses, one for the men and one for the women. It was best to keep them isolated from one another, it staved away the dramas inherent between men and women. They had a shared building for teachings and meals.

Athena, as they knew her, had her own cabin. When the appetite struck her, she would invite a man or a woman for a private teaching. It was not spoken of and those invited to her private quarters left thinking themselves the only one. She understood desires; some people she would hold, others she would reprimand, with a hand, or a belt. Being a traditional woman, for most, it was an afternoon of lovemaking no different than that in millions of other households right now.

The 13 permanent guests had all wound up here by the same channels. A week long retreat, targeted to jaded businessmen, bored divorcees and talentless trust fund babies with Mommy issues. She stroked their egos, led yoga classes and extensive meditation. Like the offering of her body, they were fed enough to sate them but left always wanting more. Revelatory tastes, gone too soon.

To those culled, the week long retreat became a month, a month became a quarter. For the lucky, the quarter eventually became forever. At the cusp of a quarter and forever, she married herself to them in mind and spirit. On the higher plane they would be one.

She ran the colony by herself, her only help a mute chef. The guests handled their own housekeeping. The bunkhouses were inspected every day, with punishment doled out when things weren’t to her liking. People liked order, order was control and her disciples lusted for control. The punishment was rare once they learned the rules.

The recipe for discipline went something like this:

4 am – 6 am: Meditation
6 am – 8 am: Yoga
8 am – 10 am: Chores
10 am – 10:30 am: Meal
10:30 am – 11:30 am – Housekeeping
11:30 am – 1:30 pm – Meditation
1:30 pm – 2:30 pm – Teachings
2:30 pm – 4:00 pm – Exercise
4:30 pm – 5:00 pm – Meal
5:00 pm – 7:00 pm – Yoga
7:00 pm – 8:30 pm – Chores
8:30 pm – 9:00 pm – Meal
9:00 pm – 11:00 pm – Teachings
11:00 pm – Bed

In the dog days of summer, when their spirits flagged, she would reward them with a treat. Athena, the mother, the lover, the life blood. The mute would dole out homemade ice cream or a divinely cool glass of lemonade. The disciples misgivings going the way of the cool treat, to their near empty bellies.

When the air was close and the humidity ran to high double digits, Athena led them to the cool, blue swimming hole with the old rope swing. She was always the first one in. Naked, looking like the goddess she was, she’d swing out wide, plunging in to the cool water. Baptized anew, she would rise, born again.

She played the radio on an ancient boombox, lending a festive air to the revelry.  The blare of the emergency broadcast network intruded. Thinking it was just a test, the party continued.

There was silence as the broadcaster, in a panicked voice said, “This is not a test, nor anything I’m prepared for.” His voice was uneven, “A massive nuclear bomb has been detonated in Australia; we don’t expect there to be any survivors. With current weather conditions, the radiation cloud is expected to overwhelm the United States within a matter of days. Please stand by for word from our President. God bless you all.”

Athena spoke to her 13 disciples. “God has spoken, do not be afraid, this is the sign we have been waiting for. From Revelation 21: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

“It is time.” The lambs followed faithfully to their slaughter. The mute came out, a tray of lemonade, ice tinkling, condensation beading on the glasses. He handed one to Athena, took one for himself and laid the tray out for the rest of the disciples. Speechless, they clinked glasses and drank. One by one they fell, their sweat drying in the breeze.

Fifteen bodies lay down, two rose. “Silly children”, said the mute. “There is no radio reception in the mountains.” Athena replied, “Time to go my love; that was an excellent radio performance by the way. Their accounts have been gutted and the plane awaits. Twenty four hours give or take and the dead shall awaken, thirsty, broke and pissed off.”