[I asked via twitter for someone to hand me three random words, around which I was going to produce a short story, just for exercise reasons. Here is what I got:
Gong - Priority - Changeling.]
Cyrus gave up. There was no use in trying to meditate when his mind was still buzzing like a bee hive. Carefully, he got up and brushed the tiny bits of dust from his sandcoloured robe. Just as carefully, he picked his way through the others, sitting in what appeared to be eternal bliss, eyes closed, posture and breathing relaxed. Everybody was doing better than he.
No, he tried to explain to himself patiently, they are not better. This is just a lesson you have to learn. (And with "you" he was of course referring to himself, but even when talking to himself just happened inside his head, he found it difficult to debate with himself, always saying, "No, I am wrong if I think..." or "That was a good perception I made when..." or stuff like that. He felt he had the choice between sounding like a Schizo or sounding like a fairy-hugging freak.)
Not having grown up with the concept of meditating instead of lying on one's knees in the dirt, praying to a revenge-loving God (with a capital G), he had found this concept of a church suspicious at first. He had only come to the gatherings to please his then-girlfriend (who was now his wife) Cynthia. For what he thought to be a sect member, she had always seemed so happy and open-minded and not the least bit uptight. Now, he had thought, what could be so bad about a church that produced this kind of people? Cynthia had never pushed him, but after a few weeks of dating he had been curious enough to accompany her. Everyone had been nice, there had been no secrets, and maybe Cyrus was even a bit disappointed at how very ordinary church service was held. Soon they went to a seminar instead of going surfing on Hawaii, and now here he was - on a sabbath year, fully supported by the community, trying to enhance his understanding not only of the world, but of life and the universe and all.
As far as he could tell, there was no hierarchic structure. Of course, some people had more experience and were the ones who prepared and held the services, but no one made the rules, it seemed to him. Even before he and Cynthia got married, no one had frowned upon them spending their nights together, and no one seemed to mind that they still were without child after more than two years of marriage. Having what they called "a good life" took highest priority in the whole concept of improving oneself and finding one's place in God's creation.
The gong sounded, soft and earthen and aethereal at the same time, and called everyone to dinner. Cyrus thought about changing into everyday clothes, but decided he would go and look for Cynthia instead. She had left him to meditation and said something about giving a lesson for the kids.
The community's children were educated by all of the people together. There were regular school visits and exams and all, but in their free time, they never were left to themselves (exxcept if they really wanted to), and there was always someone to learn or play with them or teach them something about the things that surrounded them. The plants, the animals or the history of the country. Probably Cynthia had shown them how to paint using colours made from fruit, earth and stones. She was good at that kind of thing (and others as well).
The only thing that Cyrus missed was meat. The community lived on vegetarian principles. Today it was lentils, if he remembered correctly. His favourite dish, and he could not deny he felt more healthy than ever. He spotted Cynthia, her red curls fighting the laws of gravity succesfully, and walked over to put his hands on her slender hips. She leaned back at him, and from the corner of his eyes he could see her smile. "Hey, honey, did you have a good day?"
"It was wonderful!" She turned around to face him. "The kids were great!" She took his left hand and almost skipped over to their dining facility.
Most of the people who had gathered here slept in tents. It was warm enough for it all year, and the only buildings around here sheltered the ill, the very young and housed some of the machines they used for field work. The kitchens were also in small huts, and in front of each of them long rows were forming now, each person bringing his or her own dish and cutlery.
While they lined up beside each other, Cynthia went on about how the day had been fun as well as enlightening. But suddenly she stopped in mid-sentence, thought about something for a minute and switched topics. "Did you hear about tonight's service?"
"What about it?"
"Well, they drew the lot, and it's Sammy's turn." She looked down on the ground.
Cyrus took a deep breath. "They found another one?"
Recently, the community had been faced with a large problem. Changelings. That's what they were called. Children that had grown up in the community, beloved and all, who turned out to be... different. Demonic, some people claimed. Spawned by evil beings that came to lie with their women, enter their dreams and their bodies. Something had to be done, and so they had started special services - nu pun intended - to purify the children. During the last three months, eight kids had been put to the rescue procedure. It involved a lot of hot metal, huge quantities of salt water and the strong believe that they were doing God's work.
In a dark corner Cyrus felt doubt rise up through his belly-warming happiness, and he pushed it back. This was not a sect or some dangerous cult. He was sure of it. Nothing prohibited, no one asking for their money. Most of the people he had talked to so far seemed very relaxed and friendly and wise. It probably was only for the children's own good.
He breathed in. Ah, lentils.