Had it only been a dream, this place that had been the burial ground for the kings and queens of France for twelve centuries? The shadows cloaking the brick-clad arches of Saint Denis Basilica’s ceiling draped over Annie Trebuchet with a cold deference. Wooden folding chairs were scattered around her in a circle. She clutched her twin daughters tightly. Hundreds of people fumbled over each other, skidding into the chairs. Everyone wanted to get away from the lunatic, but running was pointless. The crime transpiring that Christmas Day in 2045 came without warning. Police waited outside the doors of the cathedral: a wasted effort.
Moonlight refracted through rainbows of glass and pierced the heart of the cathedral. Wanting feverishly to protect them, Annie covered the eyes of Isabelle and Emmanuelle. What else could a mother do? Annie knew there was nothing she could have done to stop the heretic from martyring himself. Nothing could have prevented the killing of her children. If she had fully appreciated the breadth of her situation, Annie would have allowed herself to die with them in France that snowy evening.
Emmanuelle wailed, “Mama. Mama.”
She embraced her children roughly, their screams unbearable, their tears salty on her lips.
“Children, can you hear the music?”
A militant fanatic with an explosive vest fastened to his chest ranted, “Allah Akbar.”
The mahogany-skinned and rawboned convert kicked the altar down. He then backed up four steps and bumped into a row of gilded chairs. Spittle spackled his scraggly beard, and he pushed down the three-foot-tall statue of Christ that had been mounted atop the embroidered satin cloth.
“The incubation of the Hoary virus was a means of expiation,” he said. “Allah has effected the sanitization of the salacious West with severe prejudice.”
“Don’t focus on the man. Look at me,” Annie instructed.
The cold turned Emmanuelle’s cheeks pink. “Mama, I’m scared,” she whimpered.
“I do this for every one of my fallen brothers,” he said. “My sacrifice ensures salvation.”
Isabelle clenched her fists and screamed.
Annie kissed the cranberry rouge of Isabelle’s cheeks. The salty warmth of her tears tasted delicious. She would’ve done anything to extend this moment.
“Don’t look at the bad man.”
Emmanuelle whimpered, “Mommy, I want to go home.”
“Oh, my loves. My sweet, sweet loves. I would do anything to spend another moment with you.”