Cults are so interesting and any quick Google search about it launches me into a several-hours-long rabbit hole. I swear I learn of another celebrity and/or public figure who was involved in a cult each time. But I’m not here to convince you to join a cult today (or ever)—I’m here to share with you the cover and the prologue to Agnes at the End of the World, a new novel by Kelly McWilliams.
Agnes loves her home of Red Creek—its quiet, sunny mornings, its dusty roads, and its God. There, she cares tirelessly for her young siblings and follows the town’s strict laws. What she doesn’t know is that Red Creek is a cult, controlled by a madman who calls himself a prophet.
Then Agnes meets Danny, an Outsider boy, and begins to question what is and isn’t a sin. Her brother will die without the insulin she barters for once a month, which is considered outlawed. Is she a sinner for saving him? Is her sister a sinner for dreaming about the world beyond Red Creek?
When she decides that escaping with her brother is the last resort, she discovers that a viral pandemic is burning through the Outside population at a terrifying rate. After once living in a world where faith, miracles, and cruelty have long been indistinguishable, Agnes has to choose between saving her family and saving the world.
Now, without further ado, I’ll present to you the rollercoaster of emotions that Kelly McWilliams has so brilliantly crafted.
Once, a girl lived in a double-wide trailer on ranchland, beneath a wide white sky tumbled with clouds. The Prophet, a scowling crow of a man, presided over everyone and everything.
When the girl wasn’t praying or busy with chores, she’d spin in meadows dancing with bees and dandelions, until Father called her name from the porch: “Agnes, back in the house!”
In Agnes’s world, secular music was forbidden, as was tele vision, radio, and all technologies of sin. She wore homemade dresses that draped every inch of skin, though they were far too hot. At twelve, boys and girls were forbidden to play together, and the Prophet called the children little sinners with a sneer.
Nevertheless, Agnes loved her world. Loved the meadow and the rocky canyon and the hawks that screeched overhead, wing ing impossibly high.
One day, the meadow spoke. She was dancing when the hum rose up through the bottoms of her feet and into her small, little- girl bones.
It was like a song. An old song. She pressed her ear to the ground and listened. Rocks pulsed, stones echoed, and clouds, trees, leaves rustled with melody. The girl smiled, her heart full, because God had opened her ears. He’d scratched the earth with His fingernail and revealed a hidden world.
The girl was too young to see the danger in being singled out in a land where the Prophet expected his faithful to march like paper dolls, arm in arm, and all the same.
Perfect obedience produces perfect faith.
In Sunday school, Mrs. King asked the children if they remembered to pray.
“I don’t need to pray,” said Agnes. “Because God is singing, everywhere, all the time.”
Children snickered. Their teacher swiftly crossed the room. She grabbed Agnes’s arm, her face purple with anger, and stretched it across the desk. Then she slammed a Bible’s spine across her knuckles, over and over, until the middle knuckle of her left hand cracked like a nut.
Pain exploded up her arm. She knew better than to scream. The woman bent and poured poison into her ear. “Insolent child. Only the Prophet hears the voice of God. Lie again and I’ll show you real pain.”
That night, hand throbbing and swollen, the girl told herself she didn’t hear the sky singing or the earth humming. That she’d never heard such lovely, evil things.
Perfect obedience produces perfect faith.
Agnes pretended so hard not to hear that one day, she didn’t.
The world went silent, all song snuffed out like a candle flame.
When she returned, hesitant and barefoot, to the bee-spun meadow, she heard nothing.
Nothing at all.
Agnes knows she loves her home of Red Creek—its quiet, sunny mornings, its dusty roads, and its God. There, she cares tirelessly for her younger siblings and follows the town’s strict laws. What she doesn’t know is that Red Creek is a cult, controlled by a madman who calls himself a prophet.
Then Agnes meets Danny, an Outsider boy, and begins to question what is and isn’t a sin. Her younger brother, Ezekiel, will die without the insulin she barters for once a month, even though medicine is considered outlawed. Is she a sinner for saving him? Is her sister, Beth, a sinner for dreaming of the world beyond Red Creek?
As the Prophet grows more dangerous, Agnes realizes she must escape with Ezekiel and leave everyone else, including Beth, behind. But it isn’t safe Outside, either: A viral pandemic is burning through the population at a terrifying rate. As Agnes ventures forth, a mysterious connection grows between her and the Virus. But in a world where faith, miracles, and cruelty have long been indistinguishable, will Agnes be able to choose between saving her family and saving the world?