MARANATHA lifemates

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					MARANATHA
A Novel by Brendan McGuigan




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   2.16.2000

90374 Words

  Draft One




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Preface to the First Draft:



         A few words regarding this first draft of my novel. It is, in the purest sense of the phrase, a first

draft. Aside from some minor editing that Mark and I did months ago on the first two chapters, it has not

been touched at all. I spell-checked it once; but all grammatical errors, syntax errors and continuity errors

are still there, as fresh as the day they were born.

         If you're reading this, and notice something wrong, feel free to mark it (though preferably subtly in

pencil, in case I don't agree with your assessment of the error); likewise, if you feel like penciling in a

comment (either positive or negative) in a margin, go right ahead. This draft is meant to be marked up. I'll

take up the butcher knife in a month or two and do my own hard editing, but having input and feedback

from everyone who's read it in the meantime can't hurt.

         I hope you enjoy it, I truly do. And, for bonus points, try and spot the subtle "impossible"

character in the book and identify him. Also, there are some things I wrote near the beginning (weird stuff,

like John missing a finger) that later have absolutely no bearing on the story. I put these in as I was writing

because I didn't want to take the time (and ruin the spontaneity) to write out anything resembling an outline.

So these little "quirks" are there in case I had decided I wanted to do something with them. Who knows,

maybe John was going to be a weird cult member bent on taking over the world. But, another day, another

plot. These little loose-ends will be snipped off once I edit, so I don't want you flipping out trying to figure

out why the hell John had a Celtic-cross tattooed on his hand.

         That's about it. It's been a long process, and I'm a little under a year late (I believe the deadline for

this thing was May '99). Not bad for me. Not bad at all. I can't seem to stop writing this foreword, for

some reason. Go figure. I'm going to stop now. Really. Seriously. This is me stopping.




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Chapter I: How I Found Jesus


          I don't know my parents; let's start off like that, a good Dickens introduction. Assuming the

Sisters told me the truth, and I've learned nuns are up there on trustworthiness, I was found in the still water

off the Bay, right behind the monastery. They saw it as sort of Moses-esque, and besides, they were nuns,

so they took me in.

          I've lived with them ever since, and it's really been pretty good so far. I mean, maybe a bit too

much prayer, and the whole black and white color scheme probably warped my fashion sense, but still,

most kids don't have it so good. In fact, I never really had a good reason to question my fortune - not until

last Easter. It still wasn't a great reason, but it's what I've got.

          Easter's my christening, by the way, which is about as close as I ever came to a real birthday. I was

christened Chris Paul Deos in 1979, when I was about two years old, which would have made me around

22 when I began to question my faith.

          The monastery was an old building from the Spanish days of California, one of the first ever built

in San Francisco, and it showed. Though it wasn't falling apart or anything as picturesque as that. About

twenty nuns lived there, but there were ten Fathers too, so it wasn't really a nunnery. Father Bartholomew, a

Northern Californian in his mid-forties, supposedly had the final word on everything, but it was the

Matriarch, Sister Beth, who really ran things. I swear, Father Bartholomew couldn't have lasted one minute

without her. She did everything.

          So there we were on my twenty-second birthday, Easter - that's the celebration of the resurrection

of our Lord Jesus Christ - and I was fishing in the little trout pond in the courtyard. I never kept anything I

caught, but I liked sitting there, out in the grass, just letting the sun warm me up, and feeling that jerk on

my line. It's really exciting, fighting against another animal. I don't know why. It's like letting some basic

instinct take over, man against nature, something very Hemmingway like that.

          Anyway, old Beth had been running around just like a bat out of hell all day, from one end of the

monastery to the other: setting up decorations, organizing the choir, yelling at Sisters and Brothers left and

right to get them to help out. I wasn't required to help on Easter, since it's my birthday and all, but I always

tried to lend a hand anyway, because Beth was a really nice old girl, once you got over the fact that she ran
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everything.

         So I was fishing, and I noticed Sister Beth trying to climb up the side of the main building to get to

a big statue of Jesus. Every year she scrambles up there to hang a little basket of Easter eggs. I never liked

that basket up there. Something about it just made me really sad. Usually in statues you see Jesus looking

inspired, or loving, or very peaceful, but in this statue he just looks really confused, like he doesn't quite

understand what he's doing way up there above our entryway. And then we'd go and hang this basket of

Easter eggs on his wrist, like he was one of the six-year-olds we have in the afternoon, searching for eggs

under bushes and up in trees. But it was tradition, and she was going to do it, so I decided to help her, just

because it was sad to see this old lady trying to climb up the carved stone vines like a little boy.

         "Sister Beth!" I shouted, "Do you need any help with that?"

         She looked down from her perch, six feet up the wall. She was breathing pretty heavily, and I

could tell she was glad I had offered.

         "Thank you, Chris. I know it's your birthday, but the Lord knows I'm not as young in body as I

once was, no matter how young I remain in spirit."

         She watched with appreciation as I scrambled deftly up the wall, pausing on the ledge about ten

feet up, where the statue was perched. I remembered how I used to climb up there a lot when I was really

young, when I'd feel sad about not having my parents around. I'd climb up and just sit there with Jesus, and

tell him what was going on, and how he probably understood, since he never got to see his real father

either. So anyway, I hung the little basket over his wrist, and gave him a kiss on the forehead. Then I

scrambled back down to stand next to Sister Beth and look at my handiwork.

         She smiled at me, and seemed about to thank me, when someone called her.

         "Beth! Come over here and tell me what you think of this."

         She shot me a quick smile, and rushed over to where Sister Madelline was stitching gold weave on

the choir robes.

         Rather than go back to my fishing, I decided to take a walk. The short burst of energy I'd expended

during my climb had felt good, and I wanted to do something a little more athletic. I decided to go to a little

Irish pub, Dooley's, that I sometimes went to when I felt like getting away from the monastery. It wasn't so

much that I wanted to leave, but the pub was a good 20 or 30 blocks away, and if I didn't take a bus, it was


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exactly the sort of exercise I wanted. Besides, there was a little pocket of Irishmen who lived near the pub,

and always put on quite a streetside bash during Easter.

         It was a pretty uneventful trip. Lots of people out, on their way to church, taking their kids to look

for eggs in the park. There was a homeless guy sitting outside the pub, who asked me for some change. I

just took him inside with me, and told him I'd buy him a couple of drinks. He seemed pleased, and I figured

that was all he had wanted the cash for anyway.

         When I walked into the pub, I was immediately glad I had come. It was packed, and the air was

full of smoke, in defiance of city and state ordinances. But filling the air even more than the smoke was the

feeling of welcome. Laughter rang out from every table, and as soon as it died down another good-natured

barb would set the room aroar again. Over to one side, two old-timers were playing a game of darts; each

time one of them hit the bulls-eye, the other would walk up to the board and study it with incredulity,

taking a good five minutes before grudgingly admitting the bulls-eye was hit, albeit by a lucky shot.

         "Hey there, Boyo! It's been a long time since we saw you 'round here! It's your birthday isn't it?

Lemme buy ya a beer!" I recognized the voice of old Vincent Castellini, the bartender, and probably the

only non-Irishman in the pub.

         I went over to the bar, and grabbed a stool near the two dart players. "Hey, thanks Vinnie; the

place sure is doing great," I said, eyeing my mug of green ale with some trepidation. For a moment I

thought Vinnie had been drawn into the health frenzy which was seizing San Fran, and taken to mixing

wheat-grass with his beer. Seeing Vinnie's expectant look, I shrugged and took a sip. It tasted no different

than any other pint of ale, and I chuckled with relief.

         "Yeah, the Micks always turn out in force on the holidays. I used to only dye the beer for St.

Patty's, but it's gotten so popular I do it every damned holiday. Who knows, maybe I'll write O'Tooles and

suggest they make a green brand of ale."

         Having made an appearance, he went down to the other end of the bar to tend to some stout

Irishmen who were nursing a few pints between them. I remembered the homeless man I'd promised a

drink, and turned to ask him what he wanted, but I saw he already had a pint, and was talking to a strange

looking man. Definitely out of place in the bar, the guy looked like he was playing a few cards short of a

deck, and I figured he was an acquaintance of the homeless man. He wasn't Irish. He looked more Middle


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Eastern than anything else. His clothing was something I would have expected to see on one of the friars

who sometimes visit our monastery. A long robe of untreated muslin, and bare feet were all he wore, and

even in San Francisco, he stood out.

         Curious as to whom he might be, I scooted over a few stools so I was sitting next to him and the

homeless man.

         "Hi there," I said, extending a hand, "The name's Chris. I haven't seen you around here before; do

you live in SF?"

         "I'm living, and I happen to be in this city. I suppose it's as good a place to call home as any, but I

wouldn't say I feel any heartfelt attachment to it. Nor would I say I've spent a great majority of my life here.

I'm a wanderer of sorts, and wound up here by chance, more than anything else."

         I noticed, as he was talking, that he was staring at the cross I wore around my neck. It was a

present from one of the Sisters on my previous birthday, and I wore it proudly. It was the oldest cross I'd

ever seen, dating from the 5th century, and I treated it like a sort of amulet.

         "Well, if you ever need anything, just let me know. I live over at the Blessed Virgin Monastery;

we're always happy to help travelers, especially those of the faith." I said, smiling at him. Something about

this odd man attracted me, and I was curious to learn more about his life. In retrospect, I wish to God I

hadn't, but we all make mistakes, and God willing, even this one will have a happy ending.

         "Actually, I'm not 'of the faith,' as you put it. But the offer is appreciated. I have a lot to tell you,

Chris, a lot to teach you. Your friend here has been telling me of your kind offer. That bodes well for the

future. Tell me, what do you plan to do with your life?" His odd smile made me feel slightly

uncomfortable, and I had a strange suspicion that he had known my name before I told it to him.

         The question was one which I'd been getting a lot lately. To tell you the truth, I didn't really know.

The monastery was good to me, and I had tossed around the idea of enlisting in the priesthood. Something

about that seemed wrong for me though. I don't know, maybe it was the clothes. Maybe it was the fact that

I couldn't go out drinking on Easter. Maybe it was the fact I'd have to remain celibate. I wasn't sure I

wanted to remain a virgin forever. Maybe it was just an itching to go out and see the world before I

committed myself to something as serious as a life of servitude. I mean, Christ, I had hardly been outside of

San Francisco. The Sisters were starting to get on my case about it, and I'd come up with a pretty good line


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for them.

           I went to college, did I mention that? I didn't really think it was important, but maybe it is. After

going to school in the monastery all my life, I applied to Saint Mary's, mainly because it was close, and got

a degree and everything. In philosophy. Which sounds like the kind of degree you get if you don't know

what else to get. But I really liked philosophy. The whole contemplation of the human condition and stuff

was right up my alley. I graduated early, on account of being tutored privately, and by really smart Sisters

and all.

           So now here I was, with my degree in philosophy, and I'd come up with this routine I did for the

Sisters, or the Brothers, or whoever asked me where I was going. I decided I may as well use that now:

           "Well, I have my BA in philosophy, and everyone the whole time I was doing it kept telling me it

was worthless, and I wouldn't find a job or anything," I began. And this part was true. It was kind of funny

how opposed people were to you getting a degree in philosophy, even the teachers. "But I figure, I'm going

to start up a sort of home business. Something people can come to, or call up, or whatever, and ask really

deep questions, or whatever, and I'll help them break it down, and help them sort out their personal

philosophies. Sort of a Dial-an-Answer thing."

           Usually people look at me quizzically at this point, and decide to say something encouraging,

which always ends with "...but don't get your hopes up." Then they mutter something about how San

Francisco can't really support anyone else trying to give people the answers. Which is bullshit. Everyone in

this damn city wants answers, and no one's gotten it right yet, so I may as well give it a shot. Anyway, this

guy didn't respond normally. He just smiled at me, looking almost proud of my crazy scheme. He was a

weird guy, no doubt about it.

           "So you're going to help people establish belief systems? That's interesting. That's what I do." He

chuckled a little and ordered another drink.

           I was taken aback a bit. I'd always meant my little spiel as kind of a joke, even though people took

it seriously, and I guess I took it sort of seriously too. Although I couldn't find answers for myself, I figured

I might have better luck providing them for others. I looked at this guy closely, trying to figure out whether

or not he was joking about doing the same thing - you know, trying to mess with me for messing with him.

After a moment's scrutiny I decided he was on the level. I guess I just put it down to coincidence at the


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time. I mean, I have the weirdest luck.

            Take this time last year, for example. It was a real San Francisco day, all dismal and foggy. The

fog had rolled in off the Bay two days before, and was just sitting there, like it was waiting for something to

happen. Whenever it's like that, I like to go on drives through the city, and play Pink Floyd, and just watch

all the people moving through the fog, kind of surreal-like. I was out driving near the Tenderloin, and I

decided to go grab a bite to eat at this "American Cuisine" restaurant I know. I parked my car in a green

zone, and killed the engine, right at the beginning of "Time," which is one of my favorite songs to listen to

in the fog. Anyway, I walked in and sat down and started looking at the menu, and suddenly I noticed the

song they were playing, and it was "Time," and I just couldn't get over it, so I ordered a burger and wolfed

it down and left as quickly as I could.

            Coincidences like that are always happening to me, so I guess I didn't think too much about this

guy saying he did the same thing I was going to do. Or that I pretended I was going to do, anyway. I just

kind of nodded, like I met people every day who made it their business to structure peoples' belief systems,

and I ordered another beer.

            "Oh, that's great. Maybe you could give me some pointers or something. Help me get established."

I said, wondering whether he'd refuse or say yes.

            He said yes. He told me that it wasn't something to mess around with, and that he needed some

time to work out a lesson plan for me. He told me he'd meet me at the monastery in a week; then he got up

and left. After he had walked out, I turned to the homeless man.

            "So, we never really got properly introduced. My name's Chris, what's yours?" I said casually, just

trying to make small talk.

            He looked at me sort of wildly, then I guess he remembered who I was and answered, "My name's

Larry. Mind if I take you up on that offer?"

            I chuckled and ordered him another beer, then reached over in front of another guy who was just

spacing out staring at the wall, and grabbed some pretzels from in front of him. I offered a few to Larry,

and decided to try to find something out about this guy who was going to teach me some pointers on a job I

wasn't really planning on doing. "So, who was that guy, some friend of yours or something?" I asked

politely.


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         "That? That was Jesus." He answered, sipping his beer slowly and staring at my cross with a level

gaze. "Or so he told me." With that, he began eating some pretzels and drinking his beer, humming

something under his breath.

         I sighed sadly. I'd had a lot of experience with this type; they often came to the monastery, trying

to report a sighting, or claiming divinity themselves. The Sisters and Brothers were always really nice

about it, calming them down, taking them to Mass, applauding their efforts at remaining ever vigil for the

Second Coming, but also informing them that they had word from above that the time wasn't quite yet.

         "Jesus, eh?" I asked, stalling while I figured out whether I wanted to deal with this or not. I cleared

my throat, "Jesus. Hmm. Well. Do you mean the Jesus? Son of God? The Lord Jesus Christ?" Christ, I

sounded like a fool. It was just as good I decided not to be a priest; I couldn't talk about religious matters

worth a damn.

         "What do you think, Chris? Do yu think Christ walks among us, raising the dead and preparing the

Kingdom of Heaven?" He bent in close and continued in a conspiritorial whisper, "I doubt it. More likely

just some crazy. If I were you, I'd have nothing to do with him." He gave me a strange, piercing look, and

went back to sipping his drink.

         I was boggled, who the hell named themselves Jesus anyway? Some sort of psychotic religious

fanatic, that's who. Some psychotic religious fanatic I'd invited to my home to lecture me on belief systems.

Man, the Sisters were going to kill me. They didn't really mind the crazies who stumbled in, but they

couldn't stand the ones who thought they were really working on a higher level, and refused to be talked

down. I wouldn't say they hated them; those women weren't really capable of that emotion, but they sure

didn't care for them to be around the monastery. I remember once, a little family of Jehova's Witnesses

came a-knock-knock-knockin' at our door. I mean, for chrissake, what kind of brains is that? Knocking at a

friggin' monastery. So Brother Mathis, who's the head cook, opened the door, and the whole darn family

just barged on in, like they owned the place. Boy, did they freeze when they saw how many of us there

were in there. They must have been expecting it was just Brother Mathis, and maybe one or two other

people. But they had caught us in the middle of Doubt Circle, which is where anyone who has doubts about

the faith, or the monastery, or anything else that's bothering them, brings them up, and other people agree

or disagree, and we all just have a grand old time. So there were about 30 of us there, most of the Sisters


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and Brothers looking austere in their dual-toned garb. But these JW's had balls of steel; they sat down and

started talking about this and that, and pulled out some Watchtowers, and passed around Knowledge Which

Leads to Eternal Life.

           It started out all right, with the Sisters and Brothers being very receptive, and listening politely.

Probably because it was Doubt Circle, and we were all in that mindset. But then, one of the JW's, a young

buck, he starts spouting off about how the Trinity is the most absurd idea ever conceived, and how it's sheer

blasphemy, and how Christ was grand and all, but surely not God himself. Well, that did it. Sister Francine,

this real colossus of a Sister, stands up and sort of bellows, "Get out of our house!" and just starts shooing

them all out, and they're falling over themselves trying to run out of the way of this 250 pound bellowing

penguin.

           And now I'd invited some guy over to teach me how to shape people's belief systems, which was

okay, because the Sisters and the Brothers were supportive of my helping people understand what reality

was, since that's basically what they did. Only this guy called himself Jesus, and dressed up like a Biblical

character, and probably thought people should kiss his hands, or that he could change water into wine, or

something like that. If there's one thing I do really well in this world, it's make huge mistakes. It seems the

harder I try to do something really well, the worse I mess it up. I guess I could stop trying, and maybe

everything would be all right, but I can't let myself do that.

           Well, I had at least a week, until the proverbial shit hit the fan, and today was my birthday, so I

tried not to let it get to me, just to forget about it all. I had another beer, and sat back and watched the dart

players. They had been drinking the whole time I was there, and their game was getting worse and worse,

to the point that people who were sitting at tables near the game had gotten up and moved. Now they

seemed to be having some sort of an argument over whose turn it was, and suddenly one of the guys, an old

Irishman who must've been at least seventy, just up and punches the other guy. Right under the chin like,

and the other guy just goes down. I started to get kind of worried about him, but the whole pub just roared

out in laughter, and I decided it must be something that happened often.

           Someone got up, went to the guy on the floor and gave him a shot of whiskey, and that seemed to

do the trick. He stood up, slapped his friend on the back and they started playing again. I shook my head in

wonder. I don't understand the mentality of some people. Here his friend had almost knocked him cold, and


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a minute later he was back playing darts, as though nothing had happened. I mean, I've always been taught

to turn the other cheek, and all that jazz, but even if I didn't hit him back, you sure wouldn't find me playing

games with him a minute later. I looked over to see how Larry was taking the whole scene, but he seemed

to shrug it off like everyone else in the bar.

         I finished my drink, slapped a twenty on the bar and got up. I figured I should probably go back to

the monastery to try to help the Sisters and Brothers hide some of the eggs for the kids who'd be by around

noon. I glanced up at a clock and noticed it was already eleven. I probably wouldn't make it in time to be of

much use, but at least I could make the effort.

         As I stepped out into the foggy late morning, I paused a moment to let the condensation play over

my face. I absolutely adored this weather; it left me with the impression of living underwater, always nice

and cool. I stuck my tongue out and let some water build on it before retracting it and savoring the rich

flavor. Oh sure, there was pollution in the city, but I didn't really mind, and you couldn't taste it in the fog

anyway. As I resumed my trek, I noticed someone pacing up and down the sidewalk with a large picket

sign reading, in dark black letters, "The End Is Nigh!" I chuckled inwardly. I'd been wondering how long it

would take for the doomsday prophets to creep out of the woodwork, what with the millennium

approaching and all. I didn't really think much of it, since most of the reports I've read say Christ was born

in 3 or 4 BC anyway, which would have made the apocalypse back in '97. The whole "Y2K Crisis" doesn't

really frighten me much either. I don't know much about computers, but it seems absurd to assume that

some little glitch like the date could really wreak the havoc everybody keeps going on about.

         So I started hoofing it back towards the monastery, and spent about twenty minutes watching this

huge Easter parade going on, with people dressed up as rabbits, and this really intense float with Christ

rising out of a grave. It kind of gave me the chills; resurrection always does that. Finally I tore myself away

and walked the remaining five blocks to the monastery.

         Kids and their parents were just starting to arrive, and I figured it was too late for me to help out,

so I headed over to the dormitories, which is where most of us hang out when a big event is going on.

There were only two Brothers there, Brother Raphael and Brother Jebadia, so I said "Hi," grabbed a coat,

and went out into the main field. Sister Beth was standing in front of the big fountain in the middle of the

field, telling the forty or so kids assembled there the rules. It was the same every year: no stealing other


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people's eggs, no breaking the eggs on purpose, and no eating them raw. Each egg was a different color,

and the different colors were worth different prizes at the end. Not great prizes, but fun for the kids. Things

like chocolate, lollipops, little noise makers, stuff like that.

         When she was done reciting the rules she broke into this happy smile, and told them they could

start. Then she walked over to me. "Chris? Do you have a moment? I'd like to speak with you," she said,

leading me to one side of the field.

         "Yes, Sister?" I asked, slightly confused. I figured maybe it was something about my birthday

celebration, or some way I could help out with the kids. But I had this nagging feeling that it was

something more serious, and part of me was afraid that I would be asked to leave the monastery. After all, I

was getting older, and it was fairly apparent I wasn't going to commit myself to the religious life.

         "Chris, I received word from Rome today. Orders all around the country have. It's something quite

serious, and I haven't yet announced it to the others, as it's supposed to be a day of rejoicing. I feel

obligated to tell you, however." She had a worried look on her face, and I was beginning to get perplexed. I

hadn't ever heard of Rome contacting our monastery, and even if they did, I couldn't see what it would have

to do with me.

         "The Pope has made an Infallible Proclamation; the Ecclesiastical Council has voiced their

support," She said, staring levelly at me. I was flabbergasted, the Pope had made very few proclamations in

the history of the Church, although much of what he said was considered by many to be at least partially

infallible. What could have been so important that God would see fit to contact us?

         "The Proclamation is regarding the fate of mankind, come January 1st, 2000. The Apocalypse will

come. The Second Coming is now upon us, and life on Earth shall soon be over. I've told you because

you're so young. Myself and the others have been awaiting this day. This is what we've lived for. But you

haven't yet committed yourself to the Church, and I understand you may be full of fear. There will no doubt

be rioting when the Proclamation is made public, but I want you to keep faith, and know that we are all

bound for a better place." She smiled and gave me a strong hug. "Chris, the monastery is going to close.

Myself and the other Sisters will be accompanying the Brothers on missions of faith. We will use the next

year to try to spread the Word of God to as many of His children as we may."

         She gave a little smile at this point, and winked at me. "Kind of like what you were planning to do,


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isn't it? We'll be traveling, trying to help people sort out what they believe, hopefully leading them towards

the Word. We've been saving some of the money we make each year, and we have almost twenty thousand

dollars to give you, to support you while you find your calling."

         I was completely stunned. I couldn't have been more surprised if someone had walked up to me

and told me everyone I'd ever known had actually been made of paper. Maybe that's not weird enough, but

you know what I mean. I just couldn't have been more surprised. And here was Beth, having just told me

quite calmly that the world was going to end in eight months, and she believed it; I mean, you could tell she

believed it, and she's smiling happily, like she just told me she got me a puppy for my birthday.

         I doubt you can put yourself in my shoes. Hell, I can hardly put myself in my shoes. I was

Catholic, I really was. I didn't just do the lipservice, and maybe I used Christ's name in vain too often, but

for chrissake, I believed in him, that he died for me, all that jazz. And part of that was believing in the

Pope. I mean, not just believing in him, you'd have to be pretty far out to disbelieve in some guy who made

frequent appearances in a little car. But I believed he was the mouthpiece of God sometimes, when he

wasn't dealing with trivial issues. When he said a proclamation was infallible, it was. So here's someone I

believe is the voice of God, telling me I have eight months to live, and I don't want to believe it. Nobody

wants to believe it. At least, not unless you've got ultimate faith. Because here was Beth, grinning down on

me like she was waiting for me to name my puppy, and she obviously didn't mind believing it, because she

knew she was going to Heaven. I figured I was, but I wasn't so sure I really believed in Heaven. I know that

sounds like a weird thing for a good Catholic boy to say, but I kind of believe in reincarnation. Don't just

shrug it off, and think to yourself how crazy I must be to be a Catholic who believes in reincarnation. Let

me tell you why.

         Back when I was around eight years old, and being tutored by the Sisters in my math and spelling

and history and all, there were a few other kids being tutored too. Mostly nieces and nephews of the Sisters

or Brothers. And there was this one girl I remember, her name was Isabella, and she was eight years old

too. And I swear to God, I loved her. And there wasn't anything sexual about it, because for chrissake, I

was only eight years old. But I loved her, and that's true. She left the next year, and I swear, it was like my

heart broke. It literally felt like part of my soul just kind of crumpled up and left me for good. I still can't

remember a lot of my childhood around when she was there, because it's all really painful, and I guess I've


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kind of blocked it. I saw her again just last year, because she came back to visit her aunt, who's Sister Clara.

And we talked, and she still remembered me, even though she had forgotten everyone else. And I

remembered her, and still loved her like you wouldn't believe. But she lived in Arizona, so it wasn't like

anything could happen. Not to mention I was seeing a girl at the time.

         So you might be saying to yourself, "Gee, this is sweet, but what does it have to do with

reincarnation?" and I guess I should probably tell you, since that's why I started the whole thing. When I

first met her, I had this really strong feeling that I had known her before. I don't mean just a feeling of deja

vu. I had this intense sense of knowing that I'd been with her before. And I had dreams about her, of us

being together, in a different time, and we looked different, but it was still us somehow. And I wrote poetry

about the life we once had, and the Sisters were really shocked, and wondered how I knew about so much,

because I had these really profound insights into life, or something like that. And when I saw her again, the

same feeling came to me, like we were in those old movies, and were soulmates or something. But more

than soulmates, because we'd been with each other over and over, and that's why it was so sad.

         I don't know, it probably sounds like I'm waxing romantic to you, and you'll just shrug it off, but

really, it was such an intense feeling, so I have no doubt about reincarnation. I know I've been here before,

and I know I'll be here again. So the idea of Heaven is really shocking to me, since it kind of doesn't allow

for reincarnation. But I've come up with this complex system, where sometimes you go to Heaven, and

sometimes you come back.

         Sister Beth was still standing there, waiting for my answer, and a little kid, who couldn't have been

much older than six or seven came scuttling up to me, and dug around under this bush that was near me,

and pulled out a bright blue egg, and had this big old grin on his face. He held it up for me to see, and said

with this kind of lisp, "See Mister, I found one of the blue ones! They're the best out of all of them!" Then

he put it back in his basket and went running off looking for more eggs. And for no real reason, I started

bawling like a little baby.

         Sister Beth took me in her arms then, and cradled me, like I really was a baby, and brought me

inside to my dormitory, and read to me from the Bible, and I drifted off to sleep, forgetting completely

about any sort of proclamations, any men who called themselves Jesus, and even about my own birthday.




                                                                                                              15
Chapter II: A Discordant Encounter


          I woke up around six or seven when everyone came back to the dormitories to clean up and get

dressed for dinner. Easter dinner is a great occasion at the monastery; we always have this enormous feast,

and usually some visiting guests who give a short speech; then we do a little celebration for my birthday.

It's really fun, and I get to sit at the head of the table, opposite Brother Bartholomew.

          For a moment I was wont to shrug the whole day off as a dream, but I'm a fairly down to earth

kind of guy, so I just sat in bed trying to sort out my mind. I mean, Christ, the end of life on the planet? I

just couldn't believe it, no matter who said it. I didn't care if the heavens parted and the voice of God

boomed out. It was too intense a notion to work into my idea of reality. How can you accept something like

the end of the world? It made the earlier oddities of my day pale in comparison. I mean, I could meet some

crazy guy called Jesus almost any day of the week in SF, but it's a fairly rare occasion for the world to end.

          I lay in bed for about ten minutes, my mind going in circles. I kept trying to convince myself that

the world wasn't going to end, but that I was still a good devout Catholic. That maybe the message had

gotten garbled en route from the Vatican. That maybe the Pope meant the world was going to bend, or rend,

or something else. After lying there for a while getting nowhere, Brother Theodore came over and shook

me a little.

          "Chris, it's almost dinnertime. You need to get ready, bud. We're having a big dinner for you

tonight, and a really special guest, some Cardinal or something, from LA, is giving a 'terribly important

speech.'" With that, he slipped on his shoes and started towards the door.

          "Ted. Wait," I called to him. He paused and looked back, "Ted, do you believe the Pope is always

right with his Infallible Proclamations? I mean, couldn't he misinterpret what God says?"

          He chuckled a little and shook his head, then kept going out the door. I sighed and slid out of bed.

I dressed quickly and combed my hair neatly. To tell the truth, I felt okay. I'm not sure if it was because it

was my birthday, or because I was in denial, or because I actually did believe in Heaven subconsciously, or

what, but I felt fine once I got dressed. I walked over to the dining hall with a spring in my step, but was

stopped short by a figure sitting on the edge of the fountain, who’s head was covered by a cowl, seemingly

meditating on the steady gush of water coming from an amphorae held by a small stone cherubim. The
                                                                                                                 16
shape didn't strike me as being any of the Brothers from the monastery, and the garb definitely wasn't our

standard issue. I crept up softly behind him, trying to make out who it could be.

         "Greetings Chris. We meet again," said a strange voice. I recognized it vaguely, but something

about the intonation didn't seem to fit how I felt the voice should sound. There was some distinct quality

about the way he spoke, which brought up a memory from my past. "I thought I'd come by tonight. I felt

you might be in need of some guidance." I stepped closer to get a good look at his face, and was surprised

at who I saw.

         It was the man from the bar who apparently called himself Jesus, and whom I had invited to the

monastery. He had arrived, but one week early. I was shocked, and filled with consternation. This was not a

good time for him to have made an appearance. Dinner was beginning, and I needed to be there on time,

and without a madman following me.

         "Uh, yeah. That'd be great, but I thought we had decided on a week from today," I said, trying to

sound casual.

         He stood at this, walked over to me and placed his hands on my shoulders. He stared into my eyes,

a deep stare, which pierced me to my soul. Sure, it's cliche, but if you've ever had it happen to you, you

know there is no other way to describe it. His blue eyes honestly read me like an open book; I knew there

was absolutely nothing that was hidden from him at that moment. The fear that thought inspired in me kept

me transfixed, mouth gaping.

         "I know of the Pope's proclamation. I felt it might be causing you some difficulty, and I feel I can

aid you in coping with the confusion you're feeling. I like you, Chris; you have a good soul. Now sit back

down, and let's talk." I found myself sitting down without even thinking, and relating my entire belief

system. How I believed in reincarnation, how I believed in Heaven, and everything else that came to mind.

         He sat silent for a while after I had finished, and then gave me a smile, patting me reassuringly on

my back. "I think you're making too much of this, Chris. Why, before the Church was fully established,

many Christians believed in reincarnation. Joseph of Aramathea himself worked alongside the druids of

Britain, integrating their truths with the truth of Christ. I've even heard some Christians who say Christ

himself was a proponent of reincarnation. Although," he added, with a wink, "I wouldn't bring that up at

dinner. It doesn't seem to go over well with most Catholics.


                                                                                                             17
         "My point, Chris, is that just because you've been reincarnated before doesn't mean there isn't a

Heaven. Your ideas seem sound, if slightly heretical. Perhaps most are sent to Heaven or Hell, and the

chosen few are on earth over and over so they can do God's will. In that case, think of the Apocalypse as

God's reward for a job well done over many lifetimes. Finally, you'll go to heaven, with all the honor

you've earned over the course of aeons."

         He smiled at me, and patted me on the back again. I guess what he said made some sort of sense,

but more as something to think about than something to believe in. Belief for me isn't necessarily

something that is terribly logical. I mean, most things I believe don't make a lot of sense. At least, they

make the same amount of sense as lots of things I don't believe. Belief for me is more something that's

useful to believe, or, more honestly, something that's been taught to me over and over. I guess I just believe

what I'm around all the time. I'm very easily influenced.

         I heard a Sister ring the bell for dinner, and snapped out of the trancelike state I had been in. Here

I was sitting with this guy who called himself Jesus, and I had no idea what to do with him. He seemed

rather intelligent, but already some of the things he'd said were bordering on heresy. I've never really told

my belief in reincarnation to many people before, but I confessed it once, and the penance the Priest

required of me was horrendous. So I assumed reincarnation wasn't an idea the Church endorsed, no matter

what 'Jesus' told me.

         "I'm sorry, sir, but I have to go eat now, and I don't know that you'll be welc-" I began, but was cut

off by Sister Beth, who was rushing towards us, holding her habit off the ground to avoid getting it dirty.

She arrived fairly out of breath.

         "Chris. There you are. You must hurry, dear, dinner starts shortly, and our guest still hasn't

arrived." She said, stopping abruptly when she saw my new acquaintance sitting with me. "Oh, your

Eminence. I wasn't aware you were here. We will be beginning dinner shortly, and are awaiting your arrival

eagerly." She blushed furiously and rushed back into the dining hall.

         "Your Eminence?" I inquired, quirking an eyebrow. I studied the strange man, trying to

understand how he could have garnered such a title from Beth. Perhaps he just bore a resemblance to one of

the many holy men Beth knew. Yet she had seemed as though she had been expecting him.

         "Ah. Indeed. Cardinal John Montaigne at your service. I thought perhaps I should inform you at


                                                                                                              18
the pub. But after the whole business of me not being of the faith, I decided it would be more confusing

than it was worth."

         The sun had reached that point at sunset when the entire world takes on an almost otherworldly

quality, and I was having trouble believing that this man, whom I had earlier seen sipping ale in a pub, was

anyone respectable. Much less a Cardinal. I shrugged off the issue for the moment, and paused to watch the

sun complete its journey below the skyline. As the last bit of its crown slid below the ocean, I thought I

glimpsed great shapes soaring in front and around the glowing sphere. The next moment the sun was gone,

however, and I saw no trace of the shapes.

         I stood and stretched, deciding for the moment to ignore this Cardinal, to live my birthday up to

the fullest, and to go join the feast being held in the honor of Christ's Resurrection, and in some small part,

of my birth. Walking back, I was aware of John walking alongside me. I continued to ignore him, and we

walked in silence to the door. When we got there he turned to me.

         "Chris. Things are changing. The balance of power is shifting in the world, and it will soon

become imperative that you choose your side. We will speak later of these things and more, but I shall need

to know where you stand."

          All the Brothers and Sisters were already seated, along with a local Bishop, and three people I

didn't recognize. There was an inordinate amount of sidetalk going on when we walked in, but it quickly

ceased as we, or I suppose I should probably say John, was noticed. It kind of irked me, having some guy

just barge on in and take all my glory. After all, it was my birthday. And even if that wasn't acknowledged,

you'd think the Resurrection of Christ would take precedence over some down-dressing Cardinal. But I

suppose the world works in whatever ways it chooses, and it chose not to pay attention to me at that

particular moment. So I slid over to my seat at the head of the table. As I was sitting down, Beth beckoned

me to a seat next to her. I walked over and bent close so I could hear her over the murmurs which were

beginning again.

         "I'm sorry Chris, I know it's your birthday, but could you sit here tonight? The Cardinal is a very

important man in the Church today, and will be crucial in helping myself and the other Sisters and Brothers

get integrated into the missionary projects. There's a good boy," she said as I sat down next to her, slightly

put out, "And we'll let you sit at the head tomorrow night."


                                                                                                             19
         I sighed, and was about to say something cuttingly sarcastic, when John waved his hands for

silence. It was incredible how quickly the room hushed. You could've heard a pin drop. I mean, if the floor

were harder. It's a nice soft wood, and a pin probably wouldn't even make a sound hitting it. But you get the

point. Given a stone floor or something, you definitely could've heard a pin drop. So I didn't say anything

cuttingly sarcastic. At least, not out loud. I just glared at John, in a very cuttingly sarcastic way.

         "Friends," he began, his eyes sweeping over the assembled clergy, "we are here today to celebrate

the glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It was on this day that the true majesty of God was

shown to the world, that mankind was gloriously reborn." He paused for a moment, took a sip of water and

continued.

         "This solemn occasion is made even more momentous by news from Rome. It has been decreed by

God that the Judgment Day is soon to come. The Apocalypse is upon us, at the Millennium, as so many

predicted." This was greeted by a cacophony of questions, confused murmuring, outright denials, and

general pandemonium. With a wave of his hands, John silenced the room again.

         "However, let us not forget in light of this momentous news, that we have one here who is

celebrating the day of his baptism. The day that he, like the Lord Jesus Christ, was reborn to the world."

         Beth took over from there, and led the entire room in a loud round of Happy Birthday. I felt

myself blushing furiously, and was relieved when John called the room to silence once more, this time to

say grace.

         "Dear Lord," he began, and we all bowed our heads and closed our eyes. "We thank You for

having sent Your one true Son unto us, that we may once again live in the light of Your favor."

         I took a moment to glance around the room through half-slitted eyes. The impatience everyone

was feeling was terribly apparent. The most devout of Sisters were shuffling their feet nervously, and I

almost burst out laughing when my roving eyes reached Brother Bartholomew who was rapping his fingers

on the tabletop at about a thousand miles an hour.

         "We thank You for our time on this earth, and we prepare with grace to meet the end. We shall

endeavor our best to bring as many of Your children into the beauty of Your light before our end. May You

grant us the wisdom to know just how far to go. Amen." A chorus of amens ran around the table, and then

the multitude began speaking again. Questions flew across the table: who knew, and when? Why was not


                                                                                                             20
the entire monastery informed as soon as the information became available? When would the monastery

close? For all knew that it was not a matter of if, but when; knew that the romantic missionary age so many

had thought ended, had begun anew, with a fresh vigor instilled by a fast approaching deadline.

         John, for his part, seemed to be taking the entire thing with a sort of humored grace. As the pace of

questions aimed towards him grew, so too did his stream of witty retorts. I don't think he gave one straight

answer in the ten minutes of chaos which ensued after grace. Finally the food began coming, and the

questions trickled off to small pockets of conversation among friends. The oddest thing to me was that,

instead of fear and doubt, the general mood of the night seemed to be one of hope, and a sort of realized

elation. For many of those seated at the table, this news was more than they ever could have dreamed for. It

was what many had hoped for when they joined the Church, yet never truly expected.

         The three guests whom I hadn't recognized seemed to be having their own conversation at one end

of the table, which at times reached a fervored pitch. Though curious as to who they were, enough

information had already been thrust at me that day to dissuade me from seeking out any more. Good Sister

Beth, however, seemed to have decided on her own that I was dying to know who they were.

         "You see those three men talking in a huddle over there, Chris?" She said, nodding towards the

three men I had been contemplating. I nodded my agreement, and she continued, "The tall one, that's Rabbi

Issacs, he represents the Jewish community in San Francisco. The one in the black jacket, that's Pasteur

Huckle, he's a Southern Baptist minister from the Third Baptist Church. And the one who looks very out of

place, that's the Honorable Father Jordon, he's a big figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day

Saints, but I'm not sure exactly what he does. They all asked to come, that they might speak with Cardinal

Montaigne. This Proclamation has all the faiths riled up, though how they learned about it so early is

beyond me."

         Like I said, I wasn't terribly interested in who they were, because I already had so much on my

mind, but as I contemplated whether or not to go outside and get some fresh air, I noticed a strange woman

seated at the table opposite me. Her demeanor was very unobtrusive, but something about her drew my

gaze. She was dressed like a common street kid, and couldn't have been much more than twenty-five.

Brown hair, brown eyes; all in all fairly unremarkable. Still, there was something about her, not romantic or

anything, just something interesting.


                                                                                                            21
         "Sister, who's that girl over there?" I asked Sister Beth, who had resumed her conversation with

the Brother next to her. She followed my gaze and smiled.

         "That's a woman from somewhere down in the Haight, representing a new religion. Discord or

something. We decided to humor her, since one of the guests we were expecting canceled at the last

minute. You should talk to her, Chris; I think you might like her." With that she leapt back into her

conversation, leaving me to my own pursuits.

         Dinner was more or less over at this point, so I didn't feel too bad getting up and making my way

over to the young woman. I got to her and she smiled up at me; a self-assured smile. Not the kind of smile I

would have expected from a girl her age--heck, my age--who had been dumped into a dinner with about

forty religious-type people. I mean, I'd spent my entire life at dinners like this, and they still weirded me

out. It showed some sort of character that she could look up at me, so calm.

         "Hey, my name's Chris. I live at the monastery. It's getting kind of stuffy in here, and I'm sort of

bored; I thought maybe you'd like to see the rest of the grounds." As soon as the words were out of my

mouth, I realized just how much they sounded like some sort of come-on line. I quickly tried to explain,

"Ack, I realize that sounded a little forward, but I don't mean it like that at all. I mean, don't worry, I'm not

interested."

         As soon as I'd said that, I realized I'd made even more of an ass of myself. I'd basically just said

she was unappealing, and she wasn't, I mean, not really. I just didn't think of her that way, that was all.

Maybe once I knew her better, but at this rate it didn't seem like I'd have much of a chance left. I sighed,

and resolved to try plowing through.

         "Okay, that didn't quite come out right. You're a fine looking girl, but I don't know you at all. I'd

like to get to know you now, but not because I'm looking for anybody; I'm not, really. I'm just looking at

you as a potential friend, or acquaintance, or someone who might just have something interesting to say." I

took a deep breath, waiting to see her response.

         She smiled and stood, holding out her hand for me to shake. "The name's Jane, and after a

wonderful performance like that, I really owe you a walk, don't I?" I walked with her over to the door,

feeling like a complete ass, but glad she wasn't going to make a big deal about my incompetence in

conversation.


                                                                                                                22
         As we were exiting, I caught John's gaze. He was resolutely trying to answer some questions from

the Brothers and Sisters, but when he saw me looking at him, he gave me a wink, and pointed to the clock,

then mimed out ten-thirty. It was nine-thirty then, and I figured he just wanted to meet with me to talk. An

hour was plenty of time to walk. Especially since I really wasn't interested in this girl. I was just bored, and

needed to clear my head, and she seemed nice enough, and around my age, which always helps.

         So we walked outside, and it was basically silent. I mean, you could hear the city sounds, but they

were muffled by the walls, and it was nice, almost like we were camping. I went camping once, during my

college years. There's some forest around Moraga, which is where St. Mary's is, and even though it's near a

road and all, you still get the feeling like you're really roughing it out in nature.

         Some friends and I went out, and it was a really big deal. We spent a week buying supplies,

planning it out, and learning survival skills. Then we actually got out there, and it was easy. It didn't rain,

there weren't any bears, we just cooked our chili over the fire and ate raw Ramen. But let me tell you, if we

had actually gone out into the wilderness, and lost all our supplies, and gotten captured by a hostile tribe or

something, we would have been set. We got really into it. I remember Jack, who was my roommate, and

just about my best friend in the whole world; he spent almost the entire week learning to make just about

every type of trap you can imagine. He could make pitfalls, he could make those looping traps that catch

your feet, he could make anything, and after just one week of study. It always amazed me how Jack's mind

worked. He was an engineering major, and I swear, he was all slated to be the best of the best. His mind

was just that sharp.

         Katherine came with us too. She was Jack's girl at the time, and a really good friend of mine. I had

introduced them, because she was into engineering too. She was never as good as him though, and I think

that's part of the reason they broke up. It's pretty hard to stay around someone who's so much better at your

chosen field than you, and I think it just sort of drove her crazy. I remember she started to learn to make

traps with Jack, but gave up quickly. Like I say, it was probably because his skill so outstripped her own.

But she did learn how to skin animals, and gut them, and cook them up into tasty little dishes. Not that it

did much good on our trip. We basically lived on Ramen and chili, but like I say, if we had needed the

skills, we had them.

         That trip was the last big "event" we ever engaged in together. I saw him after that for classes and


                                                                                                              23
all, and then I didn't see him anymore. It was the weirdest thing, and I still get really angry about it to this

day. There we all were, five days from graduation, all excited, all full of joy and apprehension. And me and

Heather, who was another good friend of mine, only she was in philosophy like me, we came back to my

dorm to hang out, and maybe watch a movie or something. We opened the door and Jack was there, only

not really, it was just his body. Heather started screaming, and I just closed the door and walked away. I got

my diploma in the mail, because I didn't attend the ceremony. I went home on the bus that day, and didn't

leave the monastery for a while. I'm not sure I understand why things like that happen. One of my friends,

who knew Jack really well before he went to college, said that he had always expected something like that

to happen. I don't know, I would have felt a lot better if there had seemed to be some purpose, some deep

message, some protest to the cutting of virgin old growth in Slovenia, some deep symbolism in his clothes,

anything. But all there was was him, just sitting there, blood staining his neck, no real expression on his

face. Not joy, not anguish, just a loss for words. That's what really bugged me. I don't mind people dying

for bad causes, as long as they're dying for a cause. Jack didn't die for a cause. He just died because he was

sick of living, sick of trying, sick of plodding through the daily monotony of life.

         I must've gotten a depressed look on my face, because when I snapped back to reality, Jane was

looking at me with a worried expression. "Are you all right, Chris?" She asked, and there was real concern

in her voice, even though she'd only known me for about twenty minutes, and it was really sweet, that

someone could show concern like that so quickly, so I tried to look happier.

         "Yeah, I'm fine, I was just thinking about a friend of mine, from during my college years. I went to

St. Mary's for a few years. Got a degree in philosophy. How about you, go to college?" I tried to act

interested, to be polite, and to tell you the truth, it wasn't very difficult. She had the nicest brown eyes, kind

and gentle.

         "I did the college thing. SF City, for about a year. Then I got into other things. I was looking to

major in theology, but hey, why bother learning textbook information when I can be out in the real world

gathering it, dig?"

         I understood, all right. I was looking to be a theology major myself, but I went with classical

philosophy instead. You should have seen the look on my RA's face when I told him I was switching my

major from theology. He looked like I had just told him I had a cure for cancer or something. He had a big


                                                                                                               24
grin on his face, patted me on the back, and congratulated me for the wise move. Then he asked what I was

switching to. You've never seen a man's smile disappear so quickly. He let out a big sigh that characterized

our weekly meetings, and painstakingly tried to explain precisely how useless a philosophy degree was. I

nodded at the right times, smiled occasionally, and gave other positive signs, but I'm sure he knew I

wouldn't switch. I love the way men's minds work. In particular, I love the way they deal with God. But I

didn't want to listen to thousands of lectures on the Judeo-Christian faiths, so I decided to study the classics,

and hopefully learn a little something from them. Which I did. Not that my RA wasn't right. There still

aren't any jobs available for me, but hey, I'm wiser, and that's what matters, right?

         "Man, I hear you." I replied, "I was into theology for a bit, but like you say, it's more of an active

participatory field than anything else, at least in my mind. And hey, I live in a monastery, so it's not like

sources of good information are hard to come by."

         She chuckled at that, and rewarded my attempt at humor with a good natured smile. I really did

like this girl. Not romantically though, but I know that's what everyone's going to think. You're wrong,

though; it really wasn't like that. I've always been good at having female friends without there being any

weird sexual tension between us or anything. Sometimes people think I'm gay because most of my friends

are females, and because I dress nicely, and all that. I'm pretty sure I'm not. Gay that is. I mean, I've thought

about it, but it just doesn't appeal to me. That's not to say I care if other people are; I see it as their choice. I

mean, I guess they'll go to Hell and all, but most of the gay friends I've had have been really nice, and

clean, and well-mannered. Not all of them of course, but still, it's not like any group is all one thing.

         "So, what denomination exactly are you?" I asked.

         She gave me a little wink, and sort of half shrugged, "I'm not really Christian exactly. I'm

Discordian. You know, Hail Eris, Hail Discordia?"

         I knew something about Discordians. It was hard to live in San Francisco without hearing about

them on occasion, or knowing a couple. Back in college I'd known some fairly well, and gotten into some

pretty warped discussions with them. It comes across almost as a joke, which I guess in some sense it is, a

mockery of organized religion, a sort of self-deprecating belief system. But on the other hand, the two

Discordians I'd known really did believe it, or at least, believed the underlying principles. This girl looked

like she could be Discordian. She had that defiant air, but with a touch of elegance and intelligence.


                                                                                                                  25
          "Yeah, I've known a few Discordians in my life. Not that I've ever really understood the religion at

all, but I think that might be part of the point. Do you actually believe in all the weird stuff that goes with

it? Or is it more of a mind game for you?" I was trying not to offend her, but also trying to figure out what

she saw in this slightly juvenile cult.

          "I believe in it. Or, I believe in a Goddess, and I believe in compassion towards others, and in the

spreading of Chaos. That's basically all being Discordian means. All the rest is just part of the last aspect:

spreading Chaos. Order is so banal, so cold and uncaring. Chaos is so obviously the higher order: infinite

possibilities, ever-changing, it's beautiful in its disorder." When she talked about these beliefs of hers, her

eyes lit up, she took on the posturing of a preacher on stage, taken by the Spirit. I found myself accepting

what she was saying, not on the basis of any cohesive logic, but because her voice was so beautiful, her

gesticulations so commanding, and her presence almost awing.

          I think she must have seen a change in the way I was looking at her, because she started laughing.

"Hey now, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound like I was on a pulpit or anything, but sometimes I get slightly

emotional. It's a survival trait when it comes to Discordia. You'd be surprised how many people attack it

out of hand as being a joke."

          I chuckled, but it was slightly forced. She really did have me under her sway, and I knew it. I don't

know what it was about her, but for some reason my mind was racing at about ten thousand miles an hour,

trying to come up with the right thing to say, trying to justify my suddenly falling for her, trying to come up

with any sort of explanation for what was happening to me. I figured since I couldn't really come up with

anything meaningful to say, I should probably stick to basic small talk, something I couldn't mess up very

easily.

          "So, what brought you to the dinner tonight? Why are the Discordians, or maybe just you,

interested in what Cardinal Montaigne has to say?" I figured that was fairly safe ground, and I was curious

what had brought this girl into contact with me.

          "I'm not really sure why I'm here, to tell you the truth," she said, and I felt myself calming down

slightly. Something about her voice now was matter of fact, and while I still felt something odd for her, it

was at least in check. "I live down on the Haight, in a Discordian commune with some friends of mine. A

Discordian with connections told us we might want to check out the scene here tonight. He said something


                                                                                                              26
big was going down in the Catholic world, something we should hear. We didn't think we could all make it

in, so we took a vote, and decided I'd come down.

         "I'm still not exactly sure what went on in there. I gather that guy is some big shot," here she gave

a small smile which I couldn't quite understand, "so I guess he's probably talking the truth, but you guys

don't actually believe the world's going to end, do you? I mean, I don't know if you've seen the Pope lately,

but I sure wouldn't be taking Doomsday forecasts from a senile old man who putters from country to

country in a little bullet-proof glass cage on wheels." She blushed slightly, and continued hurriedly, "No

offense intended, of course. I suppose he's as good a mouthpiece of God as anyone else, it just seems like a

rather radical statement to be taking at face value."

         I smiled inwardly. These were precisely the doubts I had been voicing to myself earlier. It was

nice to have someone else who could confirm them, even if she wasn't Catholic. I suppose most non-

Catholics would actually react the same way she did, but at the time it seemed like I had found someone

who finally shared my opinions.

         "I know what you mean. I try to believe it - I really do - because that's how I've been brought up,

believing in the Pope and all." I said, trying to let her know she hadn't offended me at all. "But it's hard. It's

not the kind of thing you want to believe, you know? It's not the thought of death that disturbs me. I can

handle that. But the whole world ending, that's just too much to bear."

         She flicked her hair back and smiled at me, starting to speak, when a voice interrupted her from

near the dining hall door. We'd been walking and talking almost an hour, wandering aimlessly around the

monastery, and now were back where we had begun.

         "Chris? It's John. I'd like to speak with you whenever you're ready. I'll be inside." I had completely

forgotten I was supposed to talk with John, but the conversation I'd been having with Jane had been so

enjoyable that the time had flown by.

         "Do you need to leave, Chris? I'd better let you go talk with him. He seems like a much more

interesting person than me." I started to deny that he was even a millionth as interesting as her, but she cut

me off with a little laugh, "I'm just kidding. But you'd best speak with him. I rather doubt he's used to being

kept waiting."

         I wanted to tell her that any Cardinal who dressed like a monk and spent his time in bars was


                                                                                                               27
probably used to just about anything, but I figured I probably should go talk with John anyway. I spent a

minute trying to come up with a clever way to get Jane's phone number, and as I was about to invite her to

one of our weekly dinners, she spoke.

         "Oh, Chris, before you go, we should get together sometime and talk some more. I've had a really

nice night. I'll give you my address; just come on down and ask for Jane." She gave me a hug around my

neck, one of those big Northern Californian hugs, the kind most people wouldn't give even if they'd known

someone for years, but that Northern Californians felt comfortable giving to complete strangers.

         "Hey, I had a great night too. I mean, aside from finding out the world is going to end and all."

This earned a grin from her, "I'll stop by in a couple of days; maybe we could go to lunch somewhere or

something."

         As I walked back towards the dining room I realized she hadn't given me her address. I turned

around quickly, looking for her, but she was already gone. I ran out to the street and looked around

frantically, but to no avail. I swear to God, I almost broke down sobbing right then and there. Things like

that always happen to me. Every time life starts going good for me, something has to go majorly wrong. I

walked back to the dining room, glum and forlorn, my dismay at the Apocalypse greatly overshadowed by

the feeling of loss I was now experiencing.




                                                                                                              28
Chapter III: The Fall of John


         "Why the long face, Chris?" John asked. "I told you not to worry. In the end this whole thing will

pan out. Now come here; we need to talk."

         I tried to act somewhat more cheerful, but it was difficult. All I could think about was the fact that

I'd lost the address of a wonderful girl. I resolved then and there that I would go down to the Haight and

knock on every damn door until I found the commune she lived in.

         "I noticed you met Jane. You'll definitely be seeing more of her; she's part of what I want to talk to

you about." I must have perked up at that, because he chuckled, "I thought that might get a rise out of you,

but don't let yourself get completely preoccupied with her. No matter what goes on between you on a

personal level, we still hope you'll be working together professionally as well."

         He led me through the dining hall, into an ante-chamber used for small-talk before and after

dinner. It was empty at the time, but there were two glasses of wine, and he sat, offering one to me. I sat

down and sipped at the wine, noting with appreciation that the red velvet chairs had finally been

reupholstered. It was good to have small things like that in order. It helped me keep some faith in my

contained little world. And if there was anything I needed at that moment, it was some sort of anchor, since

everything I had ever known seemed to be slipping away. I was slightly curious as to who he'd meant by

"we," and why Jane and I would be working together, but at the time I was still convinced that everything

would be easier if I didn't ask any questions, that perhaps all this craziness would somehow pass me by. In

retrospect, I probably should have taken an active interest in the forces gathering around me, but, as the old

axiom goes, hindsight is 20/20.

         We both sat for a while, just sipping our wine, a nice Cabernet Sauvignon, one of those things the

monastery kept moderately well-stocked. It was nice sitting in silence, not trying to impress anyone, not

trying to gather any information, not trying to do anything. I really think I could have been one of those

people content just to live, just to plod through their lives, ignoring things that were too traumatizing,

focusing on my own happiness, belonging to the Rotary club, taking up meditation, and just living my life

for the sake of living. Unfortunately, the world doesn't seem to let people live like that, and I'm not sure it

would be best if we all did. I'm just saying sometimes I wish circumstances had allowed me to take that
                                                                                                              29
easy route.

         "Until one week ago, I was a cardinal of the glorious Holy Roman Catholic Church," John said

sardonically. "Then the Pope decided to declare that the Judgment Day was coming. An Ecclesiastical

Council was called, and decided that the Pope couldn't afford to make such a momentous claim without the

support of the entire Council of Bishops and Cardinals. There were only two of us present who understood

what implications the Pope's idiotic declaration might have if the Millennium came and went without any

sort of apocalypse. For voicing our doubts, we were charged with heresy, excommunicated from the

Church, and stripped of all privilege. The Church, in its magnificent wisdom, decided to keep our

excommunication under wraps, and attempted to pay us for our silence about the Pope's forthcoming

announcement in mid-May."

         He sighed, took a deep breath and a deeper draught of wine, then continued. "I decided to fly

directly from Rome to San Francisco, where I had friends who would be interested in the decision and my

unique slant on the coming madness. My companion in exile was following a similar plan, fleeing to a

group of friends in Texas. There was some sort of mix-up, and the flight I had booked turned out to be full.

I agreed to take an alternate flight through London. When I finally arrived in San Francisco, I was

exhausted, and horrified to find the entire airport in chaos. It seemed a plane had experienced difficulties

while landing, and crashed into a fueling car. I was even more shocked to learn that this was the very plane

I was meant to have been on. I saw right away what was happening. The Church wished the decision kept

quiet, and was willing to take any means necessary to make sure it was."

         I was flabbergasted. I'd never thought the Church capable of such underhanded tactics. To tell the

truth, I'd never really thought the Church capable of any tactics. I'd always thought of it more as a large

paternal organization for the rest of humanity than as a political entity. I guess it was naive to think that

such a powerful institution had survived for so long knowing nothing of the espionage and dirty

maneuverings needed to keep even the smallest bureaucracy afloat. I looked stunned, I'm sure. I don't hide

my emotions very well. I suppose that's part of why they chose me to play the part I played. Innocent

acceptance isn't found terribly often, and I can say, without any hint of egoism, that I had just the right

blend of innocence and pragmatism necessary for the role which was to head my way. John smiled; I

suppose to reassure me, to try to dull my shock, but something about his smile scared me. I couldn't at that


                                                                                                                30
moment in time imagine talking of a plot against my life and then smiling; it wasn't in me, I would have

been terrified.

         "Needless to say, my companion was killed in a similar accident when he arrived in Texas. I had

no idea what to do, so I fled into the city, lost my identity, blended with the locals, met with my

companions and began to lay the groundwork for what I'm now doing."

         I was curious as to what exactly he was doing, and tact was something I reserved for times when I

was feeling comfortable, in my element, and this was definitely not one of those times.

         "And what exactly is it you think you're doing?"

         "I'm spreading word of the proclamation, of course. I refuse to let the Church stifle it for the next

two months while they pay off people in the correct places, and eliminate any ne'er-do-wells within the

organization who might speak up against them when it becomes public. I've been talking to the heads of all

the Catholic organizations in the City, and also to many of those who aren't Catholic, or even necessarily

Christian. I plan on letting this get public long before the Church has time to set up the entire scheme, and

then I plan on sitting back and watching them react. I've already been charged with heresy. Sabotage of a

Church proclamation isn't something that worries me at this point."

         It was then that something occurred to me, something that had been building as I listened to the

entire story; something that, truth be told, I very much wanted to believe. His outrageous claims of a

Church plot against him, the way he dressed-down, the fact that he had been in a pub that day instead of

rallying his "forces," a myriad of small things all fit together into one prime computation.

         "So the Sisters found out about the proclamation from you?" I asked, partially hoping he would

give confirmation, partially hoping he would deny my suspicions.

         "Yes. I am the only living person who knows what is going on. Perhaps they even think me dead,

which might grant me more time to spread this truth so far and wide that nothing they do to me can stop it

from being revealed before the time they appoint." He was quite emphatic, but while he hadn't confirmed

my fears, he hadn't denied them either.

         "But, you just said you didn't think the proclamation was a good idea, so why are you trying to

spread it now?"

         John looked thoughtful for a moment, then said, "I think that now is not the time to discuss that


                                                                                                             31
particular point, Chris."

           "John, do you perhaps have any identification on you?" I asked, staring him in the eyes. Praying

that he did, while concurrently wishing he didn't, that all this might be the bad dream I had hoped it to be.

           "Why, no. As I said, I lost my identity when I arrived in San Francisco. I meant that literally. It

was a necessary precaution, just in case they-" He stopped midway through his sentence, the direction my

questions were leading suddenly becoming apparent to him. "Chris, I know what you're thinking, and

you're wrong. Of all the people on Earth who need to believe me right now, you are the most important."

He ignored my snort of derision, which, while perhaps not socially appropriate was certainly justified. I

was just some guy with a worthless degree. "Listen, Chris, the Pope has made this claim. He has made it in

God's name. I don't understand it, and to tell you the truth I don't care to. Perhaps he believes it. We all

have our moments of weakness."

           He stopped for a moment, looking thoughtful. He began to speak, closed his mouth and reached

instead for his glass of wine, which was running dangerously low. "Chris, what I'm about to tell you would

get me in the deepest trouble. I'd be accused of fraud, heresy and worse, but, luckily for us both, I already

have been, so I have nothing to lose. Hopefully this will help you realize the extreme trust I put in you. I am

not a Catholic."

           I hardly found this surprising, since it was what I had suspected, that he was merely some bum off

the street, or a crazy with delusions of grandeur, or perhaps a seminary student who never made it to the

priesthood, and held a grudge, come to spread panic and chaos throughout our fair monastery. John seemed

not to notice my lack of surprise however, because he continued immediately.

           "I know, quite a surprise, isn't it? One of my rank being an infidel. But alas, it's true. I suppose I

believed in the beginning, when I first joined seminary, but that faith quickly diminished. Not in God, mind

you. Faith in God is one of the few things that gave me strength to carry on the charade as long as I did; but

I lost faith in the Church. How an organization as atrociously run and obviously crooked has gathered such

devout followers boggles my imagination. How these followers can continue perpetuating the same

crooked and hypocritical system while still believing with all their being in the basic tenants is yet another

mystery.

           "So I'm not Catholic, but I am religious. I'm a "Spy in the House of the Lord" to paraphrase Anais


                                                                                                                    32
Nin. I am a double-agent, though for whom, I'm not quite sure. For God, I think; but then again, I may be

just a poor deluded human. I am convinced of my own fallibility, if of nothing else. Most especially my

fallibility when it comes to matters of ego. I joined up with a group of renegade religious freaks known as

the Discordians a few years back, and I've kept in close contact ever since. Not that I'm one of them, mind

you. God, no. Far too chaotic and silly for my tastes, but they serve their purpose, and definitely make good

conversationalists. This proclamation is actually just what we've all been hoping for; something which, if

handled correctly, can rock the world's faith in the Catholic Church once and for all. The more they're

forced to commit, the harder they fall when their prediction proves false. Do you follow?"

         This man was completely nuts, I followed that much. A conspiracy buff of the highest order, with

delusions of destroying the most powerful religious body in the world. Definitely a bitter old man done

some bad turn at the hand of the Church, or at the hand of something he perceived as being an extension of

the Church. But I wasn't in the habit of annoying psychopaths, so I decided to play along, then go break the

news to Sister Beth, as much as I feared it might break some of the Brothers' and Sisters' hearts.

         I tried to sound convincing when I said I did indeed follow, and listened to his plan to create a new

religion, a new branch of Christianity, and yet more than a branch, a successor to the old Christian beliefs, a

religion built on the ruins of Catholicism, and yet founded with two aeons of experience to learn from. A

religion which would be compatible with all other religions, creeds and belief systems. I nodded at the

appropriate times, and agreed indeed to meet him at the commune of his Discordian friends, including Jane

(Oh Jane, for whom I would have put up with the ravings of lunatics for weeks on end). I even remembered

to get the address from him, so all seemed in order when I led him out the door.

         It wasn't that his ideas didn't have appealing aspects. They did, but I'd taken some psychology

courses at college. I knew about schizophrenia, and recognized the incredible intelligence most paranoid

schizophrenics possessed. I knew the danger of accepting their complex delusions as true just because they

seemed slightly plausible. Still, I toyed with the idea that maybe he was telling the truth, that maybe great

things were in the works and I was in the wings waiting to be used. I was eager. I guess that's why I mulled

over the possibility. I was at an awkward phase in my life, ready to do something important, something I

could feel proud telling my grandchildren about, something which would leave an indelible mark on

mankind. Christ knows, being a new Messiah would fit the bill, but that was delusion. I had to keep


                                                                                                            33
reminding myself of that, not granting the eager butterflies entrance to my stomach.

          I couldn't very well do anything about it that night though, so I went back to my dormitory and

tried to get some sleep. I slept fitfully, to say the least, and the next day was so busy with cleaning up after

Easter and the Easter Monday service and all, that I didn't really have a whole lot of chances to worry about

anything. Later that evening though, I resolved not to let my fantasies get away with me, and set about

trying to explain to myself why there was no way the world could be ending, why this man had obviously

been a lunatic, and why I should still go see Jane anyway.

          The best way I could accomplish my goal, of course, was to explain logically to someone else why

it was impossible. Ideas always seem much more rational when you're patiently explaining them to some

ignorant person. So I settled myself and went off in search of Sister Beth. She should know that the

Cardinal wasn't all he claimed to be, no matter how much it would hurt her.

          I couldn't find her anywhere in the monastary, and was about to give up my search when I thought

to check the old chapel which had been used for public mass when the place had still been open to

worshippers. It was an unremarkable chapel, except for one thing.

          The Crucifix behind the altar was more powerfully stirring than any I have seen in my subsequent

travels. Whoever carved that wood truly could feel the pain and joy Christ the man must have felt during

his time on earth. His spread form, and upturned face made me want to cry out one single word: "Why?"

And yet, at the same time, it filled me with such a sense of rightness, such a sense of overwhelming joy, it

made me want to weep. It was not as though I were looking into the face of the Son of God, crucified for

the sins of man. It was more like looking into the face of the most loving human being ever to walk the

earth, crucified not for, but by, the sins of man, his eyes filled with the utter forgiveness that the Church is

ostensibly based upon; not necessarily an understanding, but an acknowledgment. I belabor the point, I'm

sure, but walk to San Francisco, find that monastery, enter the chapel, and look upon the face of the Lord

without letting a tear drop. I guarantee you that you will not, such is the grace evidenced in that cold

marble.

          As I approached, Sister Beth lifted her head from prayer and turned her eyes to me. They were

radiating with an almost divine light, a happiness I couldn't understand, and perhaps never will; a happiness

which came from the knowledge that what she was doing was right, unarguably correct in every way.


                                                                                                               34
          "Chris. I had hoped you would come find me. You spoke with the Cardinal last night, I assume?

He seems to have taken quite an interest in you. I've had word from Rome. Our Cardinal isn't exactly who

he claims to be." She smiled and beckoned me to sit next to her, which I did.

          "I know, Sister," I replied, grateful that she too had learned there was no Cardinal Montaigne, and

had most likely extrapolated the rest. "I had my suspicions, and my conversation with the man confirmed

them. No man who speaks the ideas that man speaks could have ever made it into the Church, much less to

the station of Cardinal. And after all, in retrospect, the entire proposition of Judgment Day being right

around the corner, and the Church just now realizing it... well, it seems a little farfetched, don't you agree?"

          "Excuse me, Chris? We must be speaking on slightly different wavelengths. I've spoken with the

Vatican, and it seems the Cardinal, or should I say, ex-Cardinal, was heard speaking heresy of the highest

order. He was excommunicated from the Church, and sent to America where, apparently, he has family. I

understand he agreed to bring news of the decision to us anyway, though why the Church trusted one out of

the grace of God with such an important task is beyond me. Indeed, it seems it slipped his mind to inform

us that this decision was not to be made public, and I have been praying as to the proper course to take

breaking this news to those guests present last night who were not of the faith. It is an odd situation. I've

known the good Cardinal much of my life, and he has never struck me as the sort who would be found

guilty of heresy. God knows, I wouldn't expect it of any Bishop, much less a Cardinal. But I suppose I can

see how some of what he has to say could get misconstrued; he always had his own ideas about the Church

and the True Teachings, not all of which agree with the Doctrine, but nonetheless, some of which may have

merit."

          She blushed and covered her mouth, "Oh dear, I'll be accused of heresy myself if I keep this up,

won't I?"

          I was aghast. I had no idea what to make of anything anymore. First incredible circumstances

offered themselves to me, I coped as best I could and ignored the rest; then I found that all of these

incredible circumstances were doctored up by a madman who offered even more incredible circumstances

as evidence, so I could forget about all the insanity; and now I had found that not only were the original

circumstances true, but that in all likelihood so were those which had recently been revealed to me. Dear

God, either this was a dream or I was truly losing my mind.


                                                                                                                35
         "Sister? Are you sure it was the Vatican you spoke to? Are we positive this proclamation was

indeed made? I'm not sure I could handle learning once more that I was misled."

         "It was indeed the Church, Chris, have no doubt of that. The Day of Judgment is at hand, and the

Lord has let His true servants know, that they might lead others into His light. I spoke with the Holy Father

in Rome Himself, and he assured me there was no mistake. It is a glorious day for us all, Chris, and we will

all be leaving tomorrow to begin spreading the word of God."

         "Tomorrow?!!" I was shocked; this was all moving far too quickly and chaotically. It didn't make

any sense, God damnit. My life wasn't supposed to be falling apart, not then, not when I was still trying to

work some serious things out. I needed a ground base, I needed sanity, I needed the monastery, damnit.

         "Why yes, Chris, there is no time to lose. Each day we delay could be hundreds of souls lost; you

must see the urgency of this mission. It supercedes all else; we are speaking of the final chance for

salvation for billions of people." She was so zealous it was frightening, spittle was forming around the

edges of her mouth, she looked like a woman possessed by a demon.

         "Um, of course I see, Sister. I was just... surprised you were waiting until tomorrow. Why not

leave today? Just think how many more souls could be saved in running out the door this very second!"

         For a moment I thought she was going to accuse me of being sarcastic, but she seemed to miss my

incredulous tone completely, and she was so caught up in her excitement that she must have felt I was

sharing her fervor.

         "An excellent query, Chris, and an option I myself already considered. But I feel it would be rash

to rush too quickly into something this important. While haste is a necessity, so is preparation, and it will

take a night to get business settled up and pack. You were our biggest worry," she hurried to correct herself.

"Not that you're a worry, but we were all very worried about what you would do when you left. Luckily

John said he had already found a place you could stay and given you the address. I can't tell you what a

relief it was to know you were taken care of."

         She smiled at me with real motherly love, and I realized that I was really going to miss her. I

mean, I was going to miss the monastery, and the other Sisters and Brothers, not to mention the semblence

of sanity in my life I was apparently leaving behind, but more than anything, I was going to miss Sister

Beth. During my life we had always had a good mother-son relationship, but without so many of the


                                                                                                            36
problems which plague real mothers and their true children. Beth knew how to deal with people; she was a

nun. She knew what to do when I would throw fits, she knew what to do when I wouldn't eat my

vegetables, she just knew what to do anytime anything came up. And I never felt forced, or tricked, or

patronized; I just felt loved. I think most of the Brothers and Sisters at the monastery felt the same way

about her. Many of them had joined the Church because of problems in their own home life. They saw it as

a great big family, which in a sense, it is. Especially at the monastery. And Beth was an extended mother to

our extended family. But she was more than that to me.

         When I finally spoke, I was on the verge of tears. "Beth. I mean, Sister, I just need to tell you... I

really appreciate that you've looked after me for so long. I just don't know what would have happened if

you hadn't taken me in. Sometimes... sometimes I just sit in bed at night and cry, and think how much I

wish my mother hadn't abandoned me, that she had kept me, and that I was part of a normal family."

         Beth got up and walked over to me, stroking my hair and whispering "There, there," over and

over.

         "But when I think about it, I think I'm the luckiest kid alive. I think God must have been steering

that basket to you, because he knew how much love you had in your heart. I'm confused right now, Beth. I

don't understand what's going on, I don't understand why John cares about me, I don't want you to leave, I

don't want this perfect life to end, I don't want my life to end. I don't want to die, Beth, I don't want to die."

I broke down sobbing in her arms while she cradled me, for the second time in as many days, like a baby.

         "We all get frightened, Chris; we all get scared. Death is not an easy thing to cope with, but you

need to realize how little it matters in the grand scheme of things. The end is just a pessimist's way of

saying the beginning. I can't make you believe in Heaven, Chris; it's a choice everyone makes for

themselves. But believe in yourself, believe in that light within you, think how strong that light is; how

could a light that strong be put out so easily? I certainly don't think it could, and I know you don't think so

either. You're not afraid of death, you're afraid of change. I'm sorry, Chris, I can't stop the change; no one

can. Change is the hardest thing in life to cope with, but at the same time it's what makes life so precious.

         "Monotony is easy. Day in, day out cycles can seem like the happiest times in our lives. But where

there's no growth the soul becomes stagnant. Time flies by, Chris, that's true, but is that what you want?

Only through the intense emotions which accompany change can we feel how precious each second of life


                                                                                                                37
is, only through having something painfully ripped from our grasp can we truly know how much we cared

about that one thing. And memories never die, Chris, not even in Heaven, especially not in Heaven. Now

come on, the others will be waiting, this is our last meal together, and Brother Mathias has prepared a great

feast."

          I pulled myself together enough to look up at her and smile. Wiping my eyes I stood and

straightened out my clothes, which had gotten rumpled from sitting on the chapel floor. I watched Sister

Beth hurry out to set up the final preparations for dinner, and as she left I thought of how self-assured she

was. How confident she was in what she said. It was so odd to me that anyone could know themselves to be

right. I'd never decided anything that I held more than a casual attachment to, no idea that I was inexorably

bound to. I accepted things like gravity, calculus and taxes because it was convenient to do so, but I wasn't

confident that there was any higher level of truth to them. I was always in awe of people like Sister Beth for

that reason; slightly jealous, I suppose. It must be nice to be able to have faith in something higher than

yourself. I mean, I believe in God and all, but even now, after all that's happened, I can only say I believe in

Him, I can't say He definitely exists.

          Anyway, after all that had happened to me that day and the day before, I was understandably late

for dinner. I spent a long time in the shower, just thinking about what had happened, letting the hot water

splash against my back, almost burning, but not quite. I do a lot of my best thinking in the shower. There's

something about a shower that stimulates my mind; it makes me feel really alive. I think I could spend

entire days in a shower and not mind, just do everything I have to do inside that little 4x4 cubicle, an

infinite supply of hot water at my disposal. Most people are bath people, I think. Most people I've known

anyway. I mean, they take showers for the most part, but just because they're faster and easier, not out of

any sort of preference. You ask them which they prefer, and they'll say a bath hands down. Bath people are

stranger than us few shower folk, they handle their baths like rituals. It's a huge deal for them, taking a

bath, and well it should be, with the amount of time the things take. They have their special soaps, and

essences, and they run the water while they're talking to you about something, but you can tell that their

mind isn't on the conversation at all, that it's whizzing about, calculating how much water is in the tub,

when they should turn it off, whether it will be the right temperature. I'm not a bath person at all; they just

don't do it for me. I don't really mind them, it's just that I feel so stagnant in a bath; it's like taking a Jacuzzi,


                                                                                                                   38
but without the movement of the jets, or like being in a pool and not swimming.

         So I had spent entirely too long in the shower, and then while I was getting dressed I came upon a

picture of a girl I dated for a while in college, who I really liked, and I started thinking how if everyone was

right she'd be dead in a few months, and something about that made me start crying again, even though I

didn't believe it, and even though this girl was nowhere near as close to me as some other people. So then I

had to wash my face again, and my eyes were still all blotchy and puffed up, and you could tell I'd been

crying. But I went out to the dining hall anyway, because I was already late for dinner, and because I

figured no one would mind, since I thought it was really understandable and all.

         When I got there everyone was already seated, but no one had started, which made me feel really

good, but at the same time kind of bad, since I had kept them all waiting. I sat down and right away Sister

Beth started saying grace.

         "Dear Lord, this is our last meal together under the roof You granted us 36 years ago in Your

infinite wisdom. We thank You for those 36 years, for the joy You have brought us and helped us to bring

to the world. We pray that we will have the grace to continue spreading Your word until the last moment.

Amen."

         We all chorused our amens around the table, and then the lids were lifted from the large platters on

the table. We all ooh-ed and aah-ed as marvel after marvel was revealed to us. There was a large, freshly

caught and filleted rainbow trout, soaked in butter and garnished with watercress from the pond. There

were huge tossed salads with vegetables grown in our own gardens and dressing made by Sister Agnes. The

center of the table was adorned by a suckling pig that was absolutely to die for, which must have taken a lot

of cunning on the part of Brother Mathais to fit into our small brick oven. Our bowls were filled with fresh

onion and leek soup which filled the air with its rich aroma. I dug in immediately, famished after a long day

of hard physical labor, and a night of rather shocking revelations, or I suppose I should say, re-revelations.

         Brother Frederick, one of the older Brothers, noticed how quickly I was shoveling down my food

and reached over to put his hand on my shoulder. "Slow down there, Chris, you'll give yourself indigestion.

Take your time and enjoy these last days on Earth before you go to join the Kingdom of Heaven."

         I hurried to gulp down the food in my mouth, making a lie of the words leaving my mouth, "I'm

not eating that quickly, Brother Frederick. And trust me, if you'd had to load those chests of vestments into


                                                                                                             39
the van, you'd be eating fast too."

          He gave a good-natured chuckle and then turned to Sister Beth. "Sister? Are the Sacred Things

safe in the van tonight? Might we have not waited until tomorrow to move them?"

          Beth stopped her fork midway to her mouth and turned slightly to face Brother Frederick, "It will

be fine, Brother. I thought we would want to move them today, while we had the strong arms of Chris to

aid us, as I'm fairly certain he won't be wanting to wake up at five o'clock to load the vans before Brother

Roberts brings the luggage to the airport. And how could God's Holy Articles be stolen without His will?

What will be will be, and sitting here worrying about it accomplishes nothing save letting Brother Mathais'

delicious fish grow cold."

          Of course, that was why we had been loading the vestments into the van. I hadn't even made the

connection between leaving the monastery and packing the vestments. As far as I could remember they had

never been outside the chapel before that day. It was odd, that movement of the vestments set a mark of

finality on the business for me; it made the move real. Like a child who won't believe he's left his lifetime

residence for a new home until his nightlight has been placed next to his bed. Something inside me had

refused to believe that everything in my life was leaving. I had thought about it, certainly. I had stressed

about it, cried about it, and bemoaned it, but I had never once truly accepted it. I hadn't believed something

so dramatic could happen to me. I think I was more willing to believe the Apocalypse was nigh than I was

to believe my own personal world was ending.

          But there it was; something clicked, fell into place, and that, as they say, was that. I finished my

meal, had a delicious ollalaberry tart for dessert, and went back to my dormitory. I stayed up until two in

the morning playing poker with some of the Brothers, then I went to sleep, content for the first time in days.

Not happy, certainly not that. Everything was changing, everything was going to become something else,

morph into something new, unknown and potentially wonderful. The next day I was going to go find the

girl of my dreams, meet her deranged cult friends, and perhaps move in with them. And then, who knew,

the world was my oyster, and I had finally stopped bemoaning the hard shell and begun searching for

pearls.




                                                                                                                 40
Chapter IV: The Haight-Ashbury Religious Academy


         I woke up early the next day, but not early enough to help out with the packing. By the time I got

out of bed and dressed, most of the people had left. It was odd walking around the grounds, since

everything had already been taken away. All the small details that make up one's idea of their world, were

missing. The spot above the fireplace, which for as long as I could remember had been adorned with a great

oaken shield, was now bare, and all that remained was a dark spot left from lack of sunlight.

         I spent about half an hour wandering through empty rooms, entranced by the new acoustics the

sudden exodus had created. There was something eerie about hearing my footsteps echo off the cold stones.

As I made my way through the rectory, taking one last glance before heading out, I noticed a figure

hunched over a Bible. I walked up and recognized the shape as that of Brother Christopher, the youngest

brother in the monastery, and a good friend of mine. The fact that we were almost the same age (he was 25)

and shared the same name helped foster our friendship, but what had really sealed it was an odd twist of

fate that had happened when he first came to the monastery two years before.

         I had been visiting from college, and was staying in the dormitories where I always stayed when I

came back. I was sitting on my bed, reading a book by one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegurt, for my

Modern American Literature class. I was in the middle of the book, and in comes a young kid, around 23

years old. Sister Beth had told me to expect a new arrival, so I wasn't terribly surprised. I got up and shook

his hand, introduced myself, and we got to talking. It turned out he had just taken a writing workshop with

Vonnegurt, which was something I'd been wanting to do as long as I can remember. So we started talking

about his work, and then about other authors, and he just liked every author I did. It was incredible, it was

like meeting my twin. I was really weirded out when his name turned out to be the same as mine. Luckily

we ceased being identical past that point, but we still had enough in common that we became fast friends.

Now that I think about it, I guess the fact that we share similar taste in literature might not seem like an odd

twist of fate to anyone else, but it's what I have to work with.

         Well, since we were friends, and I hadn't even said good-bye to him yet, and since he was just

sitting there, I went over to him and tapped him on the shoulder. He lifted his face up and looked at me, and

I was shocked to see his eyes were blotchy from crying.
                                                                                                             41
         "Hey Christopher, what's the matter?" I asked, putting my hand on his shoulder.

         "I'm not going with the others." He sobbed, "I just can't do it. I'm scared Chris. I don't know if I

really believe strongly enough. I don't think I'm right for this."

         He wiped his eyes on the cuff of his shirt and stood up. "I'm going home Chris. I was never cut out

to be a priest. I don't know what the hell I was thinking. God doesn't want children passing His teaching

out, he wants adults, people who know what they believe themselves, people who have what it takes."

         I couldn't believe I was hearing this, Christopher had always seemed like one of the most devout

people I'd known. He never brought up doubts in Doubt Circle, he never questioned his belief, and he threw

himself into the service of the Lord willingly, with his full spirit. But I guess in some ways it made sense. I

certainly couldn't have coped with joining the Order as early in life as he had, it was too momentous a

decision to make without proper life experience. But somehow he'd always seemed a lot older than me,

more than just two years even, like a full-fledged priest, in his late forties, full of self-confidence and

wisdom. And now here he was, like a little boy, talking about going home.

         "Maybe you should give it a try Christopher. I think you're being too hard on yourself. I've seen

the way you read the mass, I've seen you when you talk about God, I know you love Him and care about

Him, and want to help others find Him, and that's all that's truly important. You can be the most eloquent

speaker in the world, and if you don't have passion, nothing you say will convince any but a handful of

gullible sods."

         I walked with him to the archway leading out to the driveway. It looked as barren as the rest of the

monastery. The ten or eleven cars which usually lived along the side of that road were reduced to a pitiful

two. My old Honda, looking sad and beat-up in the pale morning light, and Christopher's classic Porshe, a

picture of another age, when sturdy, rugged automobiles were a sign of common sense.

         "I'll think about it Chris, but I don't think I'm cut out for it. I'm tired," He gave a weak laugh,

"After two years I'm fatigued. It's not a lack of faith, it's a lack of energy. It all seems so... pointless

somehow. Yesterday I learned the world was ending, and I didn't feel a thing. Not excitement, not despair,

nothing but a dull resignation. I'm sorry, I'm not cut out for this. I might have the faith, I might have the

devotion of the spirit, but my body is weak, I can't do it."

         He put his hat on and opened his car door. We stood there awkwardly for a moment, not quite


                                                                                                                42
knowing whether to shake hands or hug, but he broke the moment by just reaching out and grabbing me,

and holding me tightly.

         "I'll miss you Chris. More than anything, I'll miss you. Take care of yourself. There's something

about you... something, special." With that he hopped into his car and drove off, stopping once before he

reached the end of the driveway, I assume to take a last look at the place he had called home, the place

which would now call him a failure each time he drove by.

         So that was that. Everyone was gone, everything was gone, it was ended. A chapter of my life

which I had enjoyed immensely. It wasn't anything to write home about, true enough, it was nothing but

daily routine, mixed with a few moments of excitement. Not like the things that happen to characters in the

books I read, not like the events portrayed in all my favorite movies. No, as a book my life would be a

failure. If, for example, my life had been a book, at that moment something would have happened which

would have sealed my destiny forever in stone, something which would shake the very firmament.

         But all that happened was that a lone bus drove by, the wind whistled through a nearby copse of

trees, and I stood, looking at the abandoned fortress which had been the stage on which my life had been

set. I waited a moment more, hoping for something to happen, some sign as to where to go, but nothing

happened. I waited a moment longer, and still to no avail. Finally I strode towards my car, a heaviness

settling upon my shoulders which was entirely out of place at such an early hour.

         I started my car with some difficulty, and drove away from the monastery, promising myself I

wouldn't look back. Halfway down the driveway I did, and cursed myself for doing so as tears welled up in

my eyes. I drove the next eighteen blocks through a saline fog, narrowly avoiding an accident more than a

few times. By the time I reached the Haight my grief had made its way from behind my eyes into my

stomach, where it remained, somewhat hidden for the next few days.

         I parked behind an old beat-up VW Bug, a remnant of the old Haight Ashbury, that meeting place

for the longhaired, free-loving children of the 60s. Remnants like these were all that were left anymore. It

was still a Mecca for those who associated with the confused youth of another era, but these days you were

just as likely to find methamphetamines as you were to find LSD, just as likely to run into a bandanna-

wearing gang member as you were to run into a tie-dye wearing hippie. The movement had lost its naiveté,

and with its fall, so to had the various capitals of its ideals fallen.


                                                                                                             43
         Not that I didn't like the neighborhood, I was a huge fan of the CD stores, I got much of my

clothing at the thrift-stores, and there was nowhere in the city for ice-cream quite like Ben & Jerry's on the

corner of Haight and Ashbury. But every time I visited the district, I couldn't help but wishing I'd been

alive during its heyday, couldn't help wishing I'd been able to fight for a dream, no matter how unworkable,

no matter how misguided.

         These thoughts ran through my head as I searched for the address on the slip of paper John had

given me, and so it was with a feeling of obligation that accepted some propaganda from a disheveled

street-weirdo. His small hand-printed leaflet was a cry to the "good people of the world" to rise up against

the oppressive forces of government, big business and organized religion. It was a cry for help from a

generation of people who felt as though they had been cheated of that which they had given the best years

of their life for. A feeble beating of fists against the chest of an establishment which was unfairly more

prosperous than they themselves.

         He looked at me and smiled, "Power to the people brother."

         It was sad somehow, seeing this old burnout standing there trying to convince himself that

everything wrong with his life would somehow get better if the people joined him in his angst. I saw myself

standing on a street-corner, years from then, passing out pamphlets to passing youth and expecting them to

understand why I needed their compassion. It was then I promised that I would never let myself end up as a

pathetic old wretch, that I would fight against hopelessness, and that I would never be a part of an

imaginary movement, accompanied by a lone few others.

         I left the man standing, continuing his business, and I walked down the street a little ways,

checking each door for the three numbers that would signify the presence of my dearest Jane. Finally I

came to an old apartment building, a dappled grey coat of paint covering it, worn in parts so one could

vaguely see a patch of orange here and there, shining through the grey like the sun peaking its head out

from behind a thick bank of clouds. There on the large wrought-iron door was the number I'd been

searching for, 348. I walked up the six stairs, took a deep breath and rapped quickly on the door.

         I waited a moment before knocking again, and almost immediately after this second burst the door

swung open and a tall old man stood before me. His hair was stringy and grey, his face was lined with

wrinkles running deep from both laughter and smiles, he wore a faded Grateful Dead T-shirt, and his feet


                                                                                                             44
were bare.

           "Hey man, you must be Chris. Like, come on in, we've heard so much about you." He gestured

inside, and I stepped through the door, noting the faint odor of marijuana seeping from a nearby door. "It's

really groovy to meet you, we've heard lots from Johnny and Jane. Come on man, I'll go introduce you to

your new roomies. I'm Stan, by the way, Stan the Man, anything you need in the way of medicinal aids,

come to me."

           He led me down the hall, and I counted six rooms branching out. When we reached the end of the

hallway and entered a large living room, I noticed Jane immediately, sitting full-lotus on a big beanbag

chair, half of the small Styrofoam beads inside the chair, half of them littering the floor. Also sitting in the

room, and also full lotus, were three other people, a young man of twenty and two girls who looked in their

late teens. I didn't want to disturb them, so I tapped Stan on the back, and beckoned him back down the

hallway.

           "It's OK," I whispered into his ear, "I don't want to disturb their meditation."

           "Hey man," He responded, in a voice that would have woken the dead, "It's all good. Chaos,

brother. Chaos is what we do. If you're going to live here, you're going to have to get used to losing some

of that privacy the man has you so convinced you need. We're all family here. Hell, we're more than family,

we're spiritual brothers and sisters, and together we fight the army of Greyface and his vicious disciples,

banality, boredom, and order."

           His speech had broken those assembled in the living room out of their trance, and one of them, the

younger of the two girls, stood up and cracked her neck.

           "Sure Stanley," She said sarcastically, "Just so long as spreading chaos doesn't include waking you

up during the middle of the night, right?"

           "That was different man," He said defensively, "I need my sleep so I can better fight the good

fight during my waking hours. And anyway, waking up to a cold bucket of water just isn't cool, it's just not

cool. Anyway, you're distracting me, I came to introduce the newest member of our little family, this is

Chris, he's the guy Jane's been talking about."

           The other girl stood, walked over to me and studied me intently, "He's a little scrawny, but I guess

he'll do. And if Johnny likes him, I can't really argue, can I?"


                                                                                                              45
           I didn't really know what to say to that, so I just stood there, feeling quite self-conscious, and not

really sure what was expected of me.

           "Oh leave him alone Moreen," Said Jane, and her eyes met mine and she smiled, and suddenly I

didn't feel self-conscious at all, "He's all right. And he's helping us, it's not like we're doing him any

favors."

           I was confused, but I had grown rather accustomed to that in the past few days, so I held my

tongue, and expected everything to be answered in due time. Which it was. I was led around the rest of the

apartment, introduced to the other six inhabitants, and then shown my room, which was a nice little place,

with a comfortable bed, a dresser and some books. I glanced over the titles quickly, and was surprised to

find some of my favorites. For some reason I had expected lots of leftist books, but instead what I got was a

good cross-section of contemporary political, religious and philosophical thought.

           I sat on the edge of my bed and unpacked my meager few belongings. Other than a few pairs of

clothes, all I had that I felt justified bringing with me were a few books, a picture of my friends and I from

college, my diploma, a brass figurine of Christ healing the lepers, and my Bible. When I was done with that

I sighed, clasped my hands on my lap, and waited for someone to come get me and tell me what was going

on. I've always spent much of my time waiting for other people to come get me. I'm not sure if it's a bad

thing, sometimes it feels that way. I think maybe if I spent more time seeking answers, I'd get more of the

excitement I always dream about. On the other hand, the excitement I've been through so far hasn't been

something I'm sure I like, so maybe it's best I never sought out more.

           I'm sorry if my thoughts are hard to follow. They're even harder for me to formulate. I really wish

I could express what I'm feeling eloquently, but the truth of the matter is I don't usually know exactly what

I'm feeling. My feelings vacillate a lot, and they do it even more when I'm talking to someone. I guess what

I need to be able to do is to go back in time after I've worked my way through a thought, and then get rid of

all the talking out-loud that I used to get there, so that all that's left is the final product. That would be nice.

           After a while of just sitting there, I pulled a book off the shelf that I'd never read before. It was

something about the last few monarchies on Earth, some rather dry work, a graduate thesis no doubt. I had

finally gotten interested in it, after about thirty pages or so, when someone knocked on my door. I dog-

eared the book instinctively, realized it wasn't mine, and quickly unfolded the page.


                                                                                                                   46
         "Come in," I called, setting the book down next to me.

         The door opened and John walked in, dressed in a suit, not too shabby, but definitely no Armani.

He closed the door behind him, pulled a crate from against the wall, and sat opposite me.

         "Hello Chris. I'm glad you could make it. I trust you're satisfied with your accommodations?"

         I nodded and started to speak, but he cut me off, "Good. You are no doubt curious as to why

you're here. I shall tell you. You're here because great things are in the works. God has shown Himself to

me, and has told me what I must do to prepare the world for his coming." He held up his hand, "I know you

may think me mad. That is something we are going to have to work through, but not right this minute. The

days of the Catholic Church are numbered, and the void it will leave must be filled. I propose we fill that

void with a new teaching which will unify mankind in one glorious instant to prepare him for the Second

Coming of Christ."

         I didn't think he was crazy. I think you at least should know that. Maybe I should have, but

something about the way he talked, the way his eyes lit up when he spoke of God. Something made me

believe in him, and even though I didn't understand most of what he meant, I understood that I was being

asked to participate in a potentially Earth-shaking event. And I was ready. I had been waiting my entire life

for something to happen to me. Not searching it out like some do, but just sitting, biding my time, secure in

some subliminal surety that I did have a great destiny in store.

         "You are here to be taught. Do not let their appearances deceive you. This group of teenagers, old

men and crazies know more about the construct of religion than any council of bishops."

         I broke in before he could go any further, "Where are you going to be John? I was kind of under

the impression you were going to be teaching me. You've grabbed me away, and now you're going to just

leave me?"

         I was rather put out, because to tell you the truth, I had sort of been hoping that John would be

teaching me personally. It wasn't that I didn't like the people living in this weird commune, some of them

even seemed like the sort of people I could get to be really close friends with, it was just that I hate thinking

one thing only to find out something else is happening. I like to go into each situation with a fairly good

idea how it's going to turn out, and I had been expecting John to stay and teach me.

         "I need to leave Chris. There are things which need doing. I need to prepare the world for your


                                                                                                              47
coming." Here he paused a moment and stared at me levelly. My curiosity was almost running away with

me. What the heck did he mean my coming? But I bit my tongue. I would be damned if I'd let him see just

how crazy he was making me. When it became apparent I wasn't going to speak, he continued, "You will

be our prophet Chris, the one who will lead the peoples of the Earth into a glorious new age. In the next

seven months, you will learn everything there is to know about social psychology, historical religious

models, the governments of the world, how to read people's moods, how to speak with ease in front of

millions, what to say, when to say it, and every other conceivable pursuit necessary for the role you will be

playing."

         So that was it. That was why they had brought me here. That was why a cardinal had revoked the

Church. That was why everything in my life was going to hell. Of course. It made perfect sense. I didn't

even bother getting worked up over it, didn't go through the hassle of acting surprised, or asking him what

the hell he thought he was doing. I just nodded, shrugged my shoulders, and decided to play it out.

         That's what Jack used to say whenever life would deal him a crummy hand, which it did a lot.

He'd just smile and say, "Oh well, I'll just have to play it out." That's how I made it through each day after

he killed himself, I'd wake up in the morning and want to die, and just remind myself to play it out.

Eventually I didn't have to remind myself anymore, and his death was just another item for conversation.

         So I played it out. I really did, all the way through to the end. And I think I've been a fairly good

sport about it, all things considered. This was when it really started, my decision to go with it. Before this

point, it had all been things people were doing to me, without my consent or aid. Now I had revoked that

apathy for responsibility. I had finally chosen to play some part in my own destiny, and I had chosen to join

this ragged band of burnt-out hippies, young girls and ex-Cardinals, and I knew I'd stick with them, no

matter what came along.

         I reached out and clasped John's hand, "I am here entrusting my future to you John. I would ask

that you give it some care, it's the most valuable commodity I own."

         He smiled at me and shook his head, "No man can entrust his future to another, but only to the

bosom of God. See that you look after yourself, and I will see that God looks after you. I must leave now. It

may be many months before we speak again, so I wish you the best of luck. Remember the immortal words

of the Bard himself, "To thine own self be true, and it shall follow, as night does day, thou canst not lie to


                                                                                                             48
any man. (ref?)" This is more than simple prose Chris, they are words which will stead you much in the

time to come."

         With that he stood and left my room, without even a good-bye. I sat for a moment, pondering what

he had told me, then picked up the book I had been reading and commenced my plodding.



                                               *       *        *



         It was almost three hours later that I realized I had hardly spoken with Jane, which was ostensibly

the reason I had originally let myself get talked into coming in the first place. So I put down the book I'd

been reading, which was actually proving to be quite interesting, and left the safe confines of my room to

search my new home.

         I first made my way back to the living room, hoping she would still be in there, perhaps back in

meditation. Unfortunately, she wasn't there, but a fellow commune-dweller was, standing on his head and

resonating with a deep, guttural "Ohm." I didn't want to interrupt what he was doing, and was about to

leave the room when he flipped upright, opened his eyes and grinned at me.

         "Hiya, Chris was it? The name's Julian." He said, holding out his hand, "Don't worry, I don't bite.

What you just saw is about as weird as I get, though I'm afraid I can't say the same thing about the rest of

us. I just got back from Nepal, and I've been doing some of the exercises I learned over there. They may

look silly, but they really help to clear the mind."

         I wasn't about to argue, and nodded slightly, but apparently he felt I wasn't emphatic enough in my

agreement, so he rushed over to me, "Don't believe me, eh? Come on, give it a shot, you'll see. Try it up

against the wall at first. All you have to do is flip up and hold yourself with your hands."

         I fell over the first few times I tried to get onto my hands, but eventually I made it. And there I

was, standing on my head, feeling like a total ass, and yet filled with some sense of pride at having made it.

         "All right," He continued, "Now take a deep breath through your nose, and feel the air as it passes

through your nostrils. That's right. Now let it out slowly and very vocally, let all the energy in your

abdomen come out as sound."

         As I stood there on my hands, breathing in and out deeply, letting my body resonate as it saw fit, I


                                                                                                               49
began to feel more and more relaxed. I let the tensions that had accumulated my entire life slowly fall

away. I felt as though a great light were beaming out through my skin, felt as though it must be almost

blinding for Julian to see from the outside. I felt as though nothing could ever draw me out of this zenlike

state, that I would remain within Nirvana for the rest of my days.

         "Woah Chris, what the heck are you doing?" I was pulled away from my path of enlightenment by

Jill's lilting voice. It surprised me so much I lost my balance and went toppling head over heels. I was

blushing furiously as she came over to me and helped me to my feet, "Sorry, I didn't mean to distract you.

You just looked so peaceful, I thought maybe you were dead."

         I smiled at her, to show her that I could see the humor in the situation. Not that I really could see

anything funny about my present predicament, but she and Julian obviously could, and I didn't want to

appear to be pompous.

         "Yeah, well, Julian was trying to make me understand why he was standing on his head.

Something about clearing the mind. Sorry Jules, but I didn't really get anything, except a little light

headed." I smiled at him, then cursed myself for lying. I don't know why I couldn't just tell him that he had

been right and I was curious to see any more positions he might have learned.

         "No prob Chris, I guess it's not meant for everyone. But for me... well, it really helps me with my

work." He said, then flipped onto his hands and resumed his meditation.

         "What does he do?" I asked Jane, trying to avoid any real subject.

         "He sells pot on the street. And don't ask me how this helps him sell. Not that I have anything

against Yoga, it definitely has its place. I'm just not sure this is it." She smiled meaningfully at me, but her

meaning completely eluded me.

         "Uh, yeah, well. So I guess I'm staying here for a few months. Learning, or something like that. So

what are you going to teach me?" I asked, honestly curious.

         She gazed at me for a moment, as if trying to determine whether I had asked more than I had

seemed to, then apparently decided I hadn't and answered, "I'm going to teach you what religion means to

people. Not what they say it means, not what its tenants profess it means, but what deep seated needs it

plays off of. That's what I'm going to teach you. And more, if the opportunity arises."

         I already knew what religion meant to people, but I didn't want to ruin her job description, so I


                                                                                                              50
held my tongue. From my observations, which have been fairly extensive in the realm of religion, the faith

means one of a few things, depending on the person believing. In some people, faith is merely a cop out, a

diffusement of responsibility. With rules and regulations lain out for them to follow, and strict protocol for

punishment should these rules and regulations be breached, ethical decisions can become rather automated.

These people tend to believe their faith fiercely when they're defending it to other people, but are experts

when it comes to justifying stretching, bending and breaking these stone-cast rules. For some, faith is an

outlet for all their restrained passions. The romantics of the world, who need to believe in something with

such vengeance that they would die, lie or kill for it. These people are the type who have themselves truly

convinced they believe, and will fight anyone tooth and nail who says otherwise. Then there are those for

whom religion is merely something they were taught they needed, these are the Sunday Christians, those

who were born into a society so infused with religion that to be without one of your own is akin to not

owning a car. These will defend their faith if the group present has a majority of fellow believers, but if it

appears the tide is against them they will drop their beliefs and scurry away quickly.

         And most importantly to me, are those who truly believe. Who have seen God present in some

aspect of His creation, or have spoken with Him directly. I long considered myself among this last group,

though it was perhaps egotistical of me to do so. During her course of instruction, I noticed Jane omitted

this portion of the populace, and when I brought it up she laughed derisively at me.

         "The group you're talking about is most likely the largest, and at the same time smallest group of

all." She said, and when I asked her what she meant by that enigmatic statement, she continued, "This

group is comprised of all people, but only from their own perspective. All believers hold that they are the

true believers, and that it is those others who are putting on airs for purely selfish reasons."

         This was the first of my lessons in humility, many more of which would follow during the next

seven months. From Randolph, the middle-aged IRS clerk, living in the commune while his wife was in

prison, I learned the histories of each prophet and messiah-figure from time innumerable. I was instilled

with a horrendous sense of insignificance after each lesson. Here I was, already twenty-three, and without a

follower or religious text to boast of. From Moreen, the young Brooklyn native, and Thai chef extrodinaire,

I learned Latin, Greek and French. I've never been good with languages, but with her tutelage, accompanied

by fine-tasting bribes at the right times, I managed to speak each passably.


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          It was exciting living and learning in the commune. It was a welcome change, both from the stress

of classes at college and the dull monotony of monastic life. While I still spent much of my time engaged in

the pursuit of knowledge, it was without any hard teachers, the stress of grades, or overflowing classes.

Each tutor was involved with me on a one-to-one level, and each was so passionate about his or her chosen

subject that I was quickly struck with the same enthusiasm.

          While life at the monastery had been full of love, and no day had truly been empty, there had

definitely been something missing. Now that I was in an alternate situation, I could finally tell what that

missing factor had been. It had been the respect of other people. In the monastery, I was looked upon as

somehow different from everyone else, because of my lack of commitment to the Church. It was never

conscious, I'm sure, and certainly never malicious, but it cropped up in small ways. An occasional

patronizing gesture made by one of the Sisters, a jealous glance as I was excused from Easter vigil to go to

bed, even the very attire I wore seemed to set me apart as a black sheep.

          But there I was, in a commune, accepted as a brother, and even looked up to in some respects. I

still saw an occasional jealous glance as I went off with Moreen for a lesson, or a pitying sigh when I failed

to grasp some dreadfully easy concept, but for the most part everyone seemed to treat me as an equal, or

better.

          It was during one of my conversations with Beth that I found out why everyone seemed to hold

me somewhat aloof. It seemed that the commune was not truly a communal effort by everyone in all

respects. With most communes, the land, building, food and supplies are paid for by a group effort, in

which money is raised and spread evenly. In this commune however, the basic costs were covered, and

each member was hand-selected.

          I was, needless to say, curious as to who was doing all this work, and to what end. Beth was happy

to explain. And so the story of the Haight-Ashbury Religious Academy was told to me.

          "In early 1995," She began, "The first members of the HARA were contacted by a mysterious

personage. He refused to meet any of us original six in person, and we communicated via mail for the first

year of this commune's existence. We were specially chosen, it was explained to us, for various skills and

easy going temperaments we held. He was starting an Academy, whose sole purpose would be to teach a

set curriculum over a set period of time. This service would be required of us but one time, for which we


                                                                                                              52
would be paid generously. When we finally did meet our benefactor, we were happy to realize he was not

just some eccentric millionaire, gathering private tutors for his spoiled son."

         "He was in fact a man just like any other, dressed in casual dress and speaking with naught but a

slightly affected air. He introduced himself as Johnny, and our relationship grew. Over the next four years

more 'teachers' were added to the original staff, and we were encouraged to do as we pleased, so long as

some of our time was devoted to improving our knowledge of the sphere of expertise for which we were

chosen. You can imagine how curious we were as to who we were being primed to teach, and so it was

with quite a bit of trepidation that I went to the monastery at Johnny's bidding, to meet the future student.

I'm glad it was you Chris."

         I learned a lot about Cardinal Montaigne during those seven months too. He wrote me only twice

during the entire stint, but I saw him on the news occasionally, and it seemed as though great things were,

indeed, in the works.

         And so the months rolled by, with me meeting with my tutors when I had time, studying on my

own, and generally living it up. It had to end at some point, I knew that the entire time, and nearing the end

I was beginning to count the days that I would be able to put some of my vast repository of knowledge to

use.




                                                                                                            53
Chapter V:


         It was a cold night, and I was rushing through the streets, towards the resturaunt where I had kept

my dearest Jane waiting. Again. I didn't try to be late all the time, I really didn't, and I think she knew that

on some level, but another part of her saw it as an intentional slap in the face. I cursed myself under my

breath for letting the time slip away so fast. I wouldn't have minded so much if it had been for a good

reason, but I had been debating with Randolph as to whether or not the human condition was predisposed

towards suffering. Pretentious self-indulgent drivel for the most part, and I had let it distract me from

finally being on time to a date with the most wonderful woman in the world.

         I pushed the door open fiercely, brushed past the Maitre'D, and strode towards the table Jane was

seated at. She said nothing as I sat down, just smiled at me. I would have preferred if she had made some

bitchy comment, or glared icily at me, or something like that, but instead all she did was look at me, in a

way that let me know she was disappointed in me, but not in the least bit surprised. Finally I decided I had

to say something.

         "I'm sorry." I said plainly. I had long since learned that excuses were just that, and not to use them

whenever possible. Granted, I had learned it in the context of addressing a world population, but I had also

decided it applied just as much to interpersonal relations.

         "Apology noted." She said coolly, but offsetting that with her winning smile. "Now let's order, I'm

starving."

         I smiled, and for the time being at least my guilt was absolved by her warmth. I was so very happy

to even be with her, that all faults within the Universe, including my own, seemed to melt away when I was

in her presence. Not that I thought it was perfect or anything, I had long since grown out of childish beliefs

in abstract ideals like perfection. No, I realized it had downsides, and there would be pitfalls, and it would

perhaps end. But I also realized that none of this mattered at that particular moment in time, so I just let

happiness run its course.

         We picked up our menus and I looked mine over quickly, more for the sake of doing it than to see

what I wanted. This was an old favorite of ours, a high-class Chinese restaurant we'd been going to for the

past five months, and we knew the menu basically by heart. But still, it felt good to glance it over, make
                                                                                                               54
sure nothing about it had changed, that we were still safe and secure when it came to the food we ordered.

God knew, everything else changed so damned quickly.

         After a moment we placed our menus down and our favorite waiter, a teen named Alex, came over

to take our order.

         "And what will you two be having this evening?" He asked, formalized words in a ritual played

out numerous times.

         "Well, it all looks so good..." I began, playing my part in a ceremony which had developed

spontaneously, and was now acted out for the benefit of some unknown being. "But I think I'm going to

have to try the Mongolian Beef, is it any good?"

         "An excellent choice sir, it's one of the finest on the menu." He responded. Then asked, "And for

the lady?"

         "I'll have the Kung-Pao Chicken," Jane said, a look of vague distaste in her eyes. She hated this

game, but once when she had tried to stray from the script, Alex had seemed so hurt, and acted so cold the

next few times we had come, that she now reluctantly played along.

         "Also an excellent choice Madame. And may I suggest some Hot and Sour Soup tonight? It's quite

delectable." He said, to which we of course acquiesced. His part played out, Alex approached his next

table, not even bothering to place the order with the kitchen, it having been placed the moment we stepped

in the door.

         Jane and I just sat at the table for a while, not talking, not moving, not really doing anything. She

having come from a background of intensive meditation, she was content to do this most times, no matter

who she was with. I being madly in love with her, was content to do it anytime I was with her. Eventually,

however, she broke the silence.

         "John wrote today Chris." She said, letting the statement fall onto the table and lie there,

untouched.

         I waited a bit, and when it became apparent that this was all she would offer, I spoke, "Well? What

did he say? Is he coming back? Am I ready?" It was all I could do not to leap up, rush over and shake her.

This was what I had been waiting for. I was so primed, so eager to serve the purpose I had been prepared

for. I was to be a figure for people to follow, and they would follow me, I knew they would.


                                                                                                             55
         "He told us to make sure you were ready to leave, to enter the real world. He thinks the time is

almost near for you to make your appearance. I guess he's getting ready to prepare the world, because he

told us to keep a close eye on the news."

         This was all the information I could get out of her about the letter that night, and whether or not

John said more I do not know, but when we got back to the commune later, the television was on, and

everyone was gathered in the living room watching.

         John was there on the screen, prowling back and forth on a stage, like a caged lion, glaring out

towards what must have been over a hundred thousand people, all screaming and yelling, and being held

back by a thick line of police.

         "What the hell is going on?" I said, breaking the trance everyone had fallen into watching the

scene.

         "It's Johnny, he's called all sorts of Christian leaders together, he challenged them to prove

themselves worthy of God!" Stan said, more agitated than I'd ever seen him before. "No one knows what he

has planned, but you should have seen his challenge, it was nasty. He more or less called them liars, said

they were leading their followers away from the light of God, and that he was paving the way for a new

prophet. Well that rang a few bells!"

         "You're not kidding, especially since a bunch of people thought he was dead! Apparently there

was a big shootout in a hotel he was staying in, and he was listed among those who didn't survive." Moreen

said, then hushed us all to silence as John walked in front of the microphone in the center of the stage.

         "None of your so called leaders have appeared today!" He said, the microphone magnifying his

voice ten-fold. "And do you know why? Because they realize their time is through! They are part of a

covenant which has ended. I come to bring you the one who shall bring a final covenant! Together we will

prepare the world for the Kingdom of God!"

         The assembled crowd was going wild at this point. Three-quarters of them were screaming

obscenities, threats, or just shaking their heads quietly. The other fourth of them were shouting joyous cries

of "Hallelujah!" and "The time has come!"

         I was astounded. I hadn't heard of any challenge, hadn't known anything like this was going to

happen, hadn't really known what to expect. I didn't stay to watch the rest of John's speech. I don't know


                                                                                                               56
why, it just seemed rather absurd to me. This wasn't the way I wanted it to be done, wasn't how I felt it

needed to be done.

         What he was doing seemed childish to me, just a little boy screaming for attention, making a

ruckus until he got what he wanted. That wasn't what we were working for. At least, that wasn't what I had

gathered from my training sessions. I had reached the conclusion we were working towards a world

spirituality. An ethical coda that would work free of dogmatic rules and regulations, something everyone

could fall back upon, not because "God said so," but because it was the right thing to do.

         But what John was doing made a mockery of all those lofty ideals I had formulated within the past

seven months. Made me wonder if perhaps he was just some crazy old man, some psychotic ex-cardinal

who felt he had to take his retribution out upon the world that had wronged him.

         And yet, there had been people cheering. People who really were getting something out of his

maniacal rantings. Perhaps he knew what he was doing. Perhaps he knew how to make people care, I

certainly didn't. And if what they cared about in the end were noble things, maybe that would justify all this

insanity. I certainly didn't mind my life being shot to hell by it all, I didn't value my individuality enough

for that, but I didn't like the idea of millions of people being worked into a homicidal fervor for the sake of

these ideals, if they weren't truly noble.

         So I sat in my room for the rest of the night, and occasionally heard group gasps or cheers coming

from the living room. It went on for what seemed like hours, and probably was, before finally I heard doors

opening and closing, the noises which signified bedtime in our house. So cautiously I opened my door and

crept back to the living-room. Sitting on the couch were only two people, Jane and Randolph, and they

seemed to be having a lively conversation about what they had just witnessed.

         "...Crazy I tell you. All he's going to succeed in doing in angering the Church and its followers.

We're talking about the people we expect to join us! Why infuriate them so much? He was obviously

goading them, the way he kept mocking their beliefs. He called them infantile, for chrissake!" Randolphe

was very worked up over the whole matter, but he calmed down a bit when he saw me, "Hey Chris, we're

just talking about the broadcast. I think John's off his rocker with this one."

         "And I keep trying to tell you, he knows what he's doing." Jane interjected, "He's getting them

passionate. We need to make a world movement in a few months, we need passion and lots of it. Anger is


                                                                                                                 57
the most surefire way to work up that much passion in such a short period of time. Though I admit, I'm

curious to see whether or not he'll be able to reign it all in."

         I looked at her with some respect. That did make sense in a way. Getting people that worked up

about something had a funny way of flipping around and making them the strongest supporters.

         "Not to mention," I added, a new idea springing to mind, "We're not expecting everyone to join us,

and having a good opposition is the best way to have strong followers. Just look at Christ, he may not have

had very many followers in the beginning, but those he had were fiercely devoted -- they had to be just to

survive! And then, less than a hundred years after he was gone, those same fierce believers had spread his

word throughout the known world."

         Randolph nodded, "Perhaps. But we're not living in the time of Christ. Granted, the Romans were

tough, but the people we've got now can be even tougher. If he makes enemies in the wrong places, we're

doomed."

         I smiled, the past months had made me much more confident in my beliefs, and it was difficult for

me to be swayed easily, "Doom, my friend, is a staple of all religions. Doom brings more hope than the

greatest of prophets. People rebel against the idea of doom, and fight it with such veracity that nothing can

stand in their way. The worst doom can do is force us underground, make us gather our strength. Perhaps

he does indeed know what he's doing."

         Randolph shrugged, "Maybe. I don't know, but I've learned that whether I agree with him or not,

John will do whatever he chooses to do. So I'll just accept it and hope it works out for the best. Besides, it's

almost Christmas, I should give him the benefit of the doubt, if just to stay in the holiday spirit."

         I had almost forgotten Christmas was right around the corner. We hadn't been doing any of the

intense preparation we usually did in the monastery, so the days hadn't seemed to have any special

significance. I was curious to see how the holiday was celebrated here, with such a variety of people, all

with different religious views. I loved Christmas. Not for the presents, and not for the holiness, but because

of the rituals that went along with it. Something about Midnight Mass sent shivers through my spine. It was

the ceremonies which accompanied Christmas that truly made me appreciate the majesty of the Church. I

hoped I could talk at least one or two people from this commune to accompany me to Mass, especially

Jane.


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         Although, to tell the truth, I wasn't sure how a Mass would be anymore. About eight days ago, the

Pope had finally made his proclamation public, had let everyone know that, according to the Church

anyway, the world was going to end.



                                              *        *         *



         I still remember where I was. There were five of us, out at a restaurant getting seafood, when

someone came running into the room.

         "Did you hear?!!" He fairly shouted to everyone assembled inside, "The world's going to end! The

Pope just said so!"

         He seemed so comic and out of place, standing there, panting heavily, his arms outstretched, while

all around him people in the middle of their dinners just stared.

         "So what?" Someone finally piped up, "I'm not Catholic."

         There was a murmur of agreement from around the room, and the man just stood there, his eyes

darting back and forth over the tables like a crazed convict looking for somewhere to run. Finally his eyes

landed on me, and on the cross around my neck.

         "You? Don't you care? You must care?" He asked frantically, as though finding at least one person

who had the same feelings would somehow alleviate the distress he was experiencing.

         "Me? I guess so," I responded. "But I've known about it for a while now."

         This seemed to be too much for him, and he turned and fled out of the room, leaving a somewhat

stunned restaurant full of people to go back to eating their shrimp and lobster. For my part, I thought about

going after him to console him, but figured that would just be fighting a losing battle, and turned back to

my calamari.

         The reaction Stateside was fairly unimpressive overall actually. A few groups got worked up about

it, but there aren't as many followers of Christ in this country as there used to be, and for the most part the

Christian element of this country is Prot, and they didn't seem to care a whit what the Pope said.

         Most of Europe reacted the same way, and of course, so did most of Asia. In fact, I'd say there

wasn't too much of a hullabaloo in any of the first world countries, and whatever ruckus there was got


                                                                                                              59
controlled by the government to the point where it was just some people meeting and having a rally.

         But the third world countries were a different story. The day after the proclamation was aired, we

got more news through our various media. This news was much less pleasant, and caused much more of a

disturbance. Nearly all of the lower-class, starving peasants in South America, who until then had been

content to grind along, or rather be ground down, to support those of us around the world who depended on

products manufactured in their various countries, all of these long neglected working men and women,

Catholic men and women, decided enough was enough.

         If the end was coming, they seemed to be thinking, why not go out in a blaze of glory? And so

they did. Within days the riots has spread to other third-world countries, even those not of the faith. Africa

soon became a sea of capitulating nations, one regime lasting less than a day before another would seize

power. Now it appeared as though south-east Asia would soon fall into the same trend. People were

becoming scared. And for good reason, without this enormous labor pool, prices would rise, economies

would change dramatically and unpredictably, terrible, terrible things would happen to the happy sedate

lives we had all become accustomed to living.

         But that managed to live in the back of my mind, and, I think, in the back of the minds of most

Americans. Part of this was the media. They did a good job at covering over the sheer seriousness of the

situation, at showing token glimpses into the carnage and destruction, but giving the overall impression that

things were as they should be back on the homeward front. And we bought it. We bought it because we had

been trained to. We bought it because it was so easy to buy. We bought it because we desperately wanted

to.



                                              *        *        *



          And now here we were, eight days later, arguing over whether what John did was right. We

obviously didn't believe the world was going to end. If we did, we wouldn't be rationally discussing how

this entire thing would work out when the Millennium came and went without event. Or maybe we would.

Humans, of all creatures on this Earth, deal with panic and grief in the strangest ways. It is quite

conceivable, in my mind, that we could have believed it with a vengeance, and yet still plodded about our


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daily routine, affirming with every smile and nod, with every statement and question, that life in the

universe was exactly as we had planned it to be.

         So there we were, just standing in our living room, the three of us looking at one another,

wondering what to say next. Just standing there, either believing the world was going to end, or thinking it

was all just a load of hogwash, I can't really tell you what the others felt, and I certainly don't know what I

felt at the time. But my faith in John had been somewhat restored, brought back to the shaky plateau it had

hovered near ever since I met him. This life I had chosen for myself seemed so much less sure than the life

I had lived before, so much more prone to drastic changes and confusing turns of events.

         I liked it. In fact, I loved it. You might say it was exactly what I had needed to thrive. The

estrangement from the rest of humanity, living my life in an isolated bubble, it helped me feel important.

And then the sudden changes took my self- importance, and my feelings of assurance, and threw them all

about, leaving me in a heap on the floor wondering which way was up. The net effect was to slowly build

my self-esteem, to help me feel that I could tackle any hardship sent my way, that I could take the world on

if I needed to. And actually, that was more or less what I needed to do.

         "Hey Randolph," I asked, "What if this whole thing doesn't work? What if no one accepts me, and

I just end up getting laughed at?"

         Randolph smiled at me, "You're just now thinking about that? Good God, you must have a lot of

confidence in either yourself or John. We've all be wondering the same damn thing ever since we learned

why we were here."

         Jane cut in before Randolph could continue, "The odds are against us Chris, you must realize that.

It's not like people just accept any prophet who comes prancing into their lives. And we're not even talking

about setting up a 'minor' religion like Mormonism. We're talking about a world religion, we figure for this

to work, we need a good 80% of the globe following us."

         I sat down, thinking about how difficult this would be. I doubted eighty-percent of the world was

even religious, and even though our system didn't really pivot on a religious element, it sure seemed to me

like it was somewhat necessary.

         Truth be told, I hadn't really let myself seriously consider what would happen if it didn't all go

according to plan. It just seemed like so much wasted effort it we failed. Not so much my effort, which had


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been minimal, but the thousands of hours put in by everyone else at the commune, their loss of control over

their lives, and even John's sacrifice of his position as Cardinal.

         We seemed so destined to succeed. Everything had been so easy and fallen right into place, like it

was all scripted out for us by someone else. I couldn't really imagine that any Greater Power would be so

cruel as to lead us along all this way and then dash our hopes right when we were on the brink of success.

         And gosh darn-it, I sure felt ready. I knew I could do it. I knew that if I was only allowed a chance

to speak to the people, that they would respond and accept me as their mentor. I might not have known

everything there was to know about the way to true happiness, but I could sure as hell see a lot of problems,

and I had some pretty good ideas as to how to go about fixing them.

         "What will we do if we fail?" Randolph began again, "We won't. If we don't succeed on our first

attempt, we'll try again. If you don't work out as the figurehead, then you can join us in the ranks, and we'll

find someone else. We will succeed in this, we've given too much not to."

         I was somewhat taken aback. Find someone else? As if it would be my fault if our attempt didn't

succeed? Nevermind the fact that it would be silly to have me try to be a prophet again if the public rejected

me, but what about my feelings? I needed to succeed in this, and I didn't know that I appreciated being

talked about as though I might not.

         And to tell the truth, if I didn't succeed, I wasn't sure I wanted them to. God damnit, the show

would not go on without me. I was the key player, and it would stay that way, come hell or high-water. I

was planning to struggle against an unrelenting public with the rest of my little clan, and now Randolph

was telling me they would cast me off at the first sign of trouble? Set me aside in favor of a newer, brighter,

shinier toy?

         "What? How? But, I thought-" I stammered, furious at the prospect of being taken out of the

spotlight.

         "I'm sorry Chris, but you must understand this is bigger than any of us." Jane said, looking slightly

confused as to why I was so put out. "It's not as though we're important in the grand scheme of things, we're

here to save humanity from its own failings. This is no small task, and if some of us get crushed or left

behind in our attempt to do so, well, so be it, they'll have to cope."

         I started to protest, to mention that I was what the entire operation pivoted on. It wasn't them who


                                                                                                             62
were preparing to face an angry, bitter world. They were doing work, yes, granted, I could not be here if it

weren't for them, but they weren't the ones being sent out naked to the wolves. I was scared to death,

terrified of what society would do to one who called himself a prophet come to bring them together.

         People don't want to be brought together, that's the main thing that frightens me. It's like trying to

force the same poles of two incredibly large magnets towards one another, one of them is bound to shoot

out and hit you. Except I was trying to bring thousands of polar beliefs together, and I knew at least one of

them would fly out and crack my jaw. And I wanted to be recognized for it. I wanted everyone, at least

within my own commune, damnit, to look at me and applaud. To turn to one another and whisper, "There

goes a brave man," as I stepped out into the crowds of bloodthirsty savages. I didn't want them to turn to

one another and shrug and say, "Ah well, there're always more where he came from."

         But Jane cut my protest off before I could finish, "Yes Chris, more important than all of us. Even

you." She smiled at me, trying to soften the blow, but it was no good. An attack to a man's ego like that, it

isn't something a smile can just make go away, no matter how nice a smile it is.

         I mumbled something about being sleepy and wandered off to my room. I was angry, I was

disappointed, and I was embarrassed that I was feeling so sorry for myself. On one level I knew I shouldn't

have built myself up so much, and made myself feel so important, but on another level I felt like I was

somewhat validated in feeling so proud. I mean, I'd worked my butt of for the past few months, reading

until all hours of the night, paying rapt attention to subjects that really bored the heck out of me, and really

working at making sure I understood everything fully.

         Sure, maybe they could find someone else to do it. But I didn't think they'd be able to find anyone

else who would do it with so few complaints, who would throw themselves so fully into the task without

grudge or grumbling. I sat down on my bed and stared at my feet for a minute, marveling at the way toes

always seemed just right for a certain person. I knew my toes would look terrible on anyone but me, and I

was sure anyone else's toes wouldn't look good on me. It was just one of those small things, you know?

One of those things that really lets you know there is a grand design to the universe, that there must be

some Creator up there looking out for all of us.

         This is part of my problem with trying to convince people they need religion. I sit down and start

having conversations with a lot of really intelligent Atheists, and we always end with some question on the


                                                                                                              63
table that's more or less asking, "But why should there be a God? What proof do we have?" And I bust out

with something like the fact that our toes seem so specifically designed for our bodies, and they just stare at

me as though I've lost my mind. Then someone pipes something in about evolution, and genes, and how of

course our toes look like they do, and I get really angry, and tear my shoes off, and start waving my feet

back and forth, asking them how evolution could account for those feet.

         Needless to say, I don't usually have a second discussion about the existence of God with most

people. But it is the small things like this that impress me to the point where I believe there must be a God.

Keep your Grand Canyon, keep your exact charge of an electron, keep your millions of galaxies; all I need

to rest easily at night are my toes, the fact that duck-billed platipi exist, and rainbows.

         I heard a knock on the door. That broke me out of the trance I'd been in, and I looked up from my

feet.

         "Come in," I said, and the door swung open.

         Stan was standing there, looking in at me and smiling. He was the new kid in the commune, and

I'd grown rather fond of him within the last couple of months. He was twenty-six, and had just gotten out of

college, where apparently he had done a lot of work with monkeys, or something. Anyway, he was here to

teach me a little bit about the psychology of humans (or primates in general, I suppose), and had done a

fairly good job in the relatively short time he'd had. He was a Southern Baptist, which was nice, because up

until then I had been the only Christian in the bunch, though I suppose I couldn't really call myself Catholic

at that point. We didn't talk about religion much, except in reference to psychology, but it was still nice just

knowing that I had someone who shared that with me.

         "Hey there Chris," He said, stepping inside, "Sorry to bother you, I know it's late and all, but I just

wanted to say I'm really impressed by what you're doing here. I can't believe how much you've picked up in

the nine weeks I've worked with you, pretty soon you'll be teaching me."

         He smiled at this and walked over to me, "I know you haven't really fulfilled everyone's

expectations yet, but I just wanted to let you know that you've really astounded me. And I figure, hey,

everyone can use a little compliment now and then, right?"

         I nodded, not sure what exactly to say. This was another one of those things that made me think

about God. I mean, here I'd been, for the last ten minutes or so feeling sorry for myself, and wishing


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someone would appreciate what I was doing, and then, as if on cue, someone comes and tells me they do

appreciate what I've been doing. That's just great. It's beyond a coincidence, it's just syncronicity or

something.

         Stan just stood there for a minute, shuffling uncomfortably. I knew how he felt. I loved giving

compliments to people, because it was such an easy way to make someone happy, and let them know you

cared, but I never knew what to do afterwards. And I'm sure it didn't help that I wasn't good at accepting

compliments at all. I mean, they made me feel good and all, but I just didn't know how to react. It seemed

to trite to just say, "Thanks," and then forget about the whole thing. I always felt like I should give a

compliment in return or something, but on the other hand, when people did that to me, I always felt like

they were devaluing my own compliment.

         "Yeah, thanks. I couldn't do it without you guys though. You especially, you've been doing a

wonderful job of teaching, better than any teacher I had in college." I said.

         He shuffled his feet a little more restlessly at that, "Yeah, thanks. Well, I'm going to head out and

let you get some shut-eye. Hey, don't forget, you should have skimmed through the DSM-IV before

tomorrow, I'd like to discuss classification with you."

         With that, he turned and left me to sit and wonder how I was going to "skim" six-thousand pages

of dense information.

         I drifted off to sleep about ten minutes and four pages later.




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Chapter VI:


         It was four o'clock in the morning when I was rudely awakened by a pair of hands shaking me

violently. I rolled over in bed and opened my eyes to see John standing there smiling broadly.

         "Hello Chris." He said, "I think we should talk."

         I jumped out of bed quickly, getting dressed while John stood there. A lot of things were running

through my mind at that moment. I hadn't seen this man for the past few months of my life, had heard from

him rarely, and had seen him on national television only a few hours earlier. I wasn't sure I agreed with

everything he was doing, but I had more or less relinquished complete control of my life to him. And I still

trusted him. No matter what kind of crack-pot hijinks he was up to on television, here he was smiling down

on me, and I knew he took his responsibility for me seriously.

         When I was done dressing, he led me outside quietly and into a small, nondescript car. We drove

in relative silence for a few minutes, then he spoke.

         "Has the commune been treating you well?" He asked.

         "Well, yeah, I guess." I answered, not sure what exactly to say. I'd been enjoying myself there

immensely, but I wasn't sure whether or not I was learning as much as I should have been. It seemed like I

had an awful lot to learn, and while the atmosphere made learning much more enjoyable, I wasn't sure it

was as intensive as it could have been.

         "It seems a bit easy going," I said, "I feel like I should be studying twenty hours a day or

something."

         "And burn yourself out completely? Wind up hating everything about religion?" He asked,

cracking a smile. "I think not. I designed this program to be as intensive as I felt it could be, while still

fostering your intrinsic love of religion."

         "Well, I suppose it worked then. I do love religion. I'm ready to go. I think I can do some good,

save some lives, make people happier." I smiled. Now was the point where John told me I'd be taking over

soon, have to be talking in front of millions of people. Did I think I could handle it? Did I have what it

would take? Was I ready to take this enormous burden upon myself, for which everyone would respect me

immensely? John decided not to take that tack. Instead he surprised me.
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         "I don't think you're ready." He said, taking a turn on to a street lined with nice houses.

         I waited for him to elaborate, but he just drove on in silence, and I studied the road with intense

scrutiny, as though within its dark surface lay the secret of my incompetence, as though my faults were all

there, just waiting for me to detect them. I found nothing. Eventually I tired of the endless dividing lines,

and glanced up from my reverie.

         "Why not?" I asked, breaking the silence just as it was becoming unbearable.

         "You still see it as your quest." He said, without taking his eyes off of the road. "It's not. It's not

my quest either. We're acting upon God's will to bring mankind together, not to inflate our own egos."

         For the second time in one night, my own ego suffered a harsh blow. What was wrong with these

people? Didn't they think I understood it was more important than me? I just wanted to be recognized for

what I was putting into it. I didn't want a statue in my name or anything, just a little sign of thanks.

         "I know that John. It's not my quest, I get it; I'm doing it for a higher good, I see that, I just want to

get to do it." I was frustrated and slightly confused. Had he trained me all this time just to reject me at the

last moment? That hardly seemed fair, and hardly seemed like something John would do.

         He didn't respond. His social graces seemed to have suffered in his absence. This time I was

determined to make him break the silence. I was resolute. And so we drove in silence.

         It seemed like an eternity had passed when we finally stopped in front of a small graveyard. I had

no idea where in the city we were, but the neighborhood looked clean and safe. I sat in my seat, waiting for

an explanation as to why we had come. It was no surprise when an explanation was lacking. So I opened

my door and walked out, towards the gate of the cemetery, which surprisingly was open. I heard John's

door open and close, and his footsteps follow me slowly.

         "John, cut the crap okay, just tell me what's wrong and why we're here." I burst out suddenly, sick

of waiting in silence, "I'm starting to realize that no one thinks I'm cut out for this, and too self-centered,

and all that bullshit, so should I just go home and forget about this, or what?" I didn't really register the fact

that I had no home outside John's little collective, but it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

         "Come here Chris," John said, ignoring my outburst, and walking towards a small headstone,

weathered and crumbling.

         I followed him and sat in front of the stone, trying to make out the words etched on it. John bowed


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his head in prayer, and I sat silently, wondering who's grave John had led me to at four am. When it

appeared he was done, I spoke again, this time more calmly.

         "If you honestly don't think I can do it, tell me, and I'll go. But I want to know why you bothered

training me at all, if you were going to cast me off at the first sign of trouble." I was tired of being jerked

around all the time, and just wanted a straight answer, "I don't see how you can't use me. We have to do this

now, we've worked so hard, and we're so close."

         John sighed and closed his eyes. He looked hurt by my words, but to tell you the truth, I didn't

really care. Him and his little minions had gotten me excited, made me think we were actually going to

accomplish something meaningful with our lives, and then, suddenly pulled it all out from under me, and

chided me for being to egotistical.

         "Do you know the difference between us Chris?" He asked, opening his eyes and looking into

mine.

         I shook my head.

         "We're both trying to change the world," He said, "But you're actually convinced we're going to

succeed." With that he sighed again, and looked back at the grave.

         I was flabbergasted. Of course I thought we were going to succeed. Why the hell would we be

trying if we had no hope? I had noticed people had treated it like something we could fail in, and of course

we could fail, but it wasn't that big of a possibility. I mean, we had faith on our side, we had right on our

side, we had God on our side for Christ's sake! And John, of all the people I'd have expected to believe in it

one-hundred percent, he was telling me he didn't think we could do it?

         "Well then... why..." I stammered, "Why are you doing all of this? The Cardinalship, the heresy,

the commune, me, all of it, why?"

         He smiled.

         "There's an old Arabian story," He began, "About a little sparrow who learned one day that the sky

was falling. So he lay on his back in the middle of the road with his feet in the air. Eventually, one of the

king's guards came riding up and asked him, 'Little sparrow, there's work to be done. Why are you laying

on your back in the road?' To which the sparrow responded, 'The sky is falling, and I am holding it up.' The

soldier laughed and laughed, and when he was done laughing he finally asked, 'You really think you can


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hold up the sky with your tiny legs?' To which the sparrow responded, 'We do what we can.' We do what

we can Chris. I may not succeed. In fact, I probably won't. But God knows the world needs it. So I try."

         I was at a loss for words. I honestly was. There was absolutely nothing I could say which could

follow such a statement. What was I supposed to do? Give up hope? Call it quits? Say, 'thanks for the

education guys, I'll be moving on now'? Nope. That wasn't my style, not at all. I was going to do it, whether

or not they thought it was possible. I was going to save the world, and prove them all wrong.

         John nudged me slightly, "You see this grave?" He asked, and I nodded, "The man buried here

was named Frederick Montgomery Scott, and he lived in San Francisco for fifty-three years. Do you know

what he did?"

         I shook my head again. I had never heard the name before.

         "He worked his ass off day and night, year in and year out, trying to stop the expansion of San

Francisco, to stop the building of large, unstable structures. A rather mediocre task from a rather mediocre

man. And he never succeeded. People kept moving to the city, and they kept expanding it. He died on this

night, in 1906, after watching the city he loved get leveled by a great earthquake. Do you know what his

last words were?"

         I shook my head again. What was the point of this history lesson? Would this knowledge prove

useful in my campaign to bringing peace to the world?

         "'Ha.' That's all he said. Just one word. It was well documented. My grandfather was there. I grew

up with that story. I come here every year. No particular reason. He's not a famous man, not terribly

important. But I want him to know, at least one person remembers his struggle."

         With that, John rose and walked back to the car. I jumped to my feet and quickly dusted myself

off. I joined John in the front of his car, staring through the black night at the far too quiet scene of the

graveyard.

         "John?" I asked hesitantly. When he didn't say anything, I just spoke. "I want you to know

something. I'm not sure what's going on. I don't understand why no one but me believes we really have a

shot at doing this thing, but I trust you. I really do. If you want me to quit, then I will. But I'm willing to do

this thing, no matter what we're up against."

         I couldn't tell in the darkness of the car, but I thought I saw him smile at that. He started the car


                                                                                                                 69
then, and turned on the radio. There was some trite pop music on, and it was a nice counter-point to the

mood of the night.

         "Would you like to go to Denny's Chris? I haven't eaten in almost two days. I'm starving."

         I nodded, and we drove away to Denny's with our radio blaring. I was confused as heck, but I had

meant what I said, and if John thought it was necessary to drive me totally insane, then so be it, that's what

it would have to be. I hardly noticed when the car stopped, in front of that blaringly bright paragon of the

24 hour dining experience.

         I had a friend in college from the east coast, and when he came over the thing that surprised him

the most were our Denny's. According to him, it was pretty hard to find a Denny's on the east coast, that

particular sub-culture having been routed by the infinitely more popular International House of Pancakes

and Duncan Donuts. Worlds of difference between the two regions of our nation. That and freeways. Those

were the two things he was most impressed by. Not our luxurious forests, nor our new-age demeanor. No, it

took a change in restaurant preference and toll-roads to blow his mind. He was an American.

         So we both went inside and were seated, and pored over our menus intently, and ordered our food,

and sat there waiting for it to come. And for a while we were just two average Joe's, hanging out in a diner,

waiting for our pancakes. Our dilemmas were a world away right then. And I saw the wisdom in giving up

right then. In going on to live my ordinary life, with my dinners at Denny's, going bowling on Friday

nights, taking the wife and kids to the park on the weekends, church on Sundays. And I mentioned that to

John, and he just grinned at me, and explained that no one had an ordinary life. That everyone's life was full

of pain, and suffering, and dilemmas to work their way through. And I believed him. At the time anyway.

Now I know it's bullshit, and that some of us our just going to have harder lives than others, and there isn't

a damn thing we can do about it. Which is fine.

         Our food finally came, and as I dug into my scrambled eggs, I tried to make conversation. "So

what have you been up to John? I just saw you on the news tonight. That was pretty intense. You think it

worked?"

         John spoke through a bite of sausage, "It certainly appeared that way. They were infuriated by the

end of my little speech. It went exquisitely. After the cameras went off, the crowd tried to mob me on my

way back to my car, and some of the few in the audience who supported me wound up shielding me with


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their bodies. A heroic display. Passion, anger and selflessness, the trinity of any upstart religion. Some of

those men in the crowd, they had the look in their eyes. Fiery, searing; they didn't know me, but they were

willing to die for the few words I had given them.

         "Just imagine what they'll do for you Chris. They'll throw themselves in front of moving cars by

the time we're done with them. They'll give you every possession they own, and thank you for cleansing

them." His eyes were glowing, "And take it you will. Not for yourself or us, but to burn. We'll create such a

yearning, such a feeling of depravity in our followers, they'll be drooling for the chance to take their anger

out on someone. And we'll give them their target. Government. Big business. The Church. We'll wield a

weapon of such ferocity nothing will stop us."

         I was left with a bit of pancake in my agape mouth. Sometimes John spoke like a man possessed,

and this was definitely one of those times. The way he spoke you would have thought we were starting a

jihad, not a peaceful rebellion. I didn't want the blood of anyone on my hands, and I let John know that, to

which he chuckled.

         "Blood will be the least of your worries by the time this is over. We're going to change the world

Chris, it will not be a pretty sight. You'll do what you need to do, I know you will." He forked another piece

of sausage and continued, "Everything has its price, you know that. I'm not sure what the price of our

religion will be, but it could very well be great. We present you to the world in a little over a week. It will

be a difficult time, but you'll do great."

         He smiled at me, and I wondered if he'd forgotten that less than an hour ago he had told me I

wasn't ready. And in the interim I'd spoken perhaps ten words. Had these ten words been enough to

convince him he was wrong, that I was in fact ready to tackle the world? Or had he just realized that he

really did need me - couldn't do this without me - and needed to encourage me so I'd stay on track?

         "Thanks John," I said, "I know I won't let you down. I won't let any of you down. We're going to

change the world. I can feel it. We have God on our side, and we're going to turn this place upside-down!"

         We finished our meal in a peaceful silence. Not the hard, cold, demanding silence which had

permeated our talks earlier that night, but a silence full of surety, pregnant with the knowledge that we had

agreed on a course of action and were ready to go full-speed ahead. When we were done, we paid our bill,

left a sizable tip and got back in the car. We pulled up to the commune at about 6am. Too early for me to be


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able to get about starting my day, but too late to really fall back to sleep. I figured I'd stay up and talk with

John for a while, but he had other ideas.

           "Good-bye Chris. It was nice speaking with you, but I've got to keep moving and preparing for our

big day." He said as I got out of the car.

           "Don't you even want to spend a day here John?" I asked, "Rest, sleep, talk to the others?"

           He smiled, "It sounds nice, but I'm afraid sleep and socializing aren't luxuries I can afford right

now. It's okay, soon I'll finish this last rush, and the majority of stress will be in your hands. So you'd better

get as much rest as you can in while you have the time."

           With that he sped off down the street, to God knows where, and I was left standing in front of my

home, shaking my head in bewilderment. That man never ceased to amaze me. I turned around and opened

the door, trying to be quiet so as not to wake anyone up.

           As I walked through the door, I realized my attempt was in vain. Three people were up, and

standing near the door, waiting for me. Jane looked up as I entered, a frantic look in her eyes.

           "Are you okay Chris? What happened? Where did you go?" She asked, her words tumbling out

rapidly.

           "I'm find Jane," I responded, smiling, "John just stopped by and took me away to have a little talk

about... things."

           Everyone present went rushing out the door at that point, looking around, I assume for John,

before giving up and coming back inside. Jane no longer looked worried, now she looked rather perturbed.

           "You shouldn't have just left like that Chris. You should have let us know where you were going.

Next time wake someone up and tell them. We've been fretting about you for the last hour. We worry about

you, you know."

           I blushed, slightly embarrassed over all the attention I was getting. Then I thought of something.

"Wait a minute," I began, "How did you know I was gone? It's 6am for God's sake!"

           Now it was Jane's turn to look embarrassed as Randolph pounced upon the question. "Jane

discovered your absence while on a completely innocent late-night journey to your room, right Jane?" He

grinned, nudging her.

           "Shush Randy," Jane said, laughing through her nervousness, "I just wanted to make sure he was


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okay, after the excitement of last night."

         "Thanks, that was sweet." I said, wondering why she was so worried about me. It's not like I hadn't

gone out on late night walks before, and she certainly hadn't been worried about me then. She knew I

needed to get out some nights; heck, sometimes she came with me.

         "Yeah, don't mention it. And tell sometime next time, please?" She said. She seemed distracted,

like her mind was on something else.

         Moreen yawned at this point, "Well, I don't know about you guys, but I'm getting back to bed. Still

a good five hours until I need to be up."

         Randolph looked over at her, vexed, "And I suppose I'll be heading to work. Some of us do in fact

go out while the sun is still in the sky you know."

         Moreen waved her hand in a gesture of dismissal and stumbled back towards her bedroom, her

eyes already shut by the time she reached her door. I started back toward room as well, figuring I'd get a

little more sleep before starting my day. Jane followed me, waiting until I had closed the door behind us to

speak.

         "Chris, we need to talk." She said. And I, ignorant savage that I was, didn't recognize the doom

those five words foretold.

         "Sure," I answered, sitting down at the foot of my bed, and patting the space beside me.

         She took my proffered seat, and took a deep breath. "I think it's time we ended thing thing we've

been doing for the past few months."

         I was confused. "What thing?" I asked, scanning my mind for what she could possibly mean.

         "You know. This thing," She said, pointing to herself and me, "You. Me. Us."

         "Oh. That thing." I responded, a bit dazed. Thing? This 'thing' we'd been doing? I was in love with

her, and here she was calling our relationship, which I felt was as close as mortal man could ever get to

Heaven on Earth, a "thing," and casually dismissing it.

         "But..." I began, not sure exactly what to say. "Why? I thought you were happy."

         "I am happy Chris, it's just that I don't know if this is the right thing for us right now. What with

our professional relationship and all."

         "But I love you Jane. And I thought you loved me." I said, totally shocked as to how she could be


                                                                                                                 73
breaking off what we had. "But I guess I was wrong. I really wish you'd have let me known earlier on,

before we, I mean, before I..."

          "Before you what Chris? We haven't done anything."

          "Before I surrendered myself to you. Heart and soul."

          She rolled her eyes at that.

          "Oh please, let's not get too corny." Her eyes softened a little. "I'm sorry Chris. I do love you, it's

just that-"

          "Well then why are you doing this? Love is all that matters. Don't you realize that? The rest can all

be changed, it can all adapt, what matters is that at the base of it all, we love one another."

          "But I'm in love with someone else." She said.



                                               *         *        *



          That hit me like a slap in the face. I sat there for a minute, not daring to speak, knowing I'd break

down in tears if I did. So we sat, as I'd been doing so often lately, in silence. Finally, when I felt I had

regained control of my emotions, I dared to speak.

          "But I thought you loved me," I said, almost spitting the last word out.

          "I do Chris. Dearly." She said, sending me that smile, which could break my resolve any time, that

smile, which I was now wishing I'd never met.

          "Well then how can you love someone else? Love is a two way street, not a freeway. When you

love someone, you're making a commitment to them." I was stammering, on the verge of tears, "I mean,

how can you love someone else? I can't. I love you Jane. Don't you see? I love you."

          She sat there awkwardly, and I could tell she wasn't sure what she was expected to do. She started

to reach out, to cradle me, but stopped herself. I wasn't sure what I wanted from her. To tell me she was

kidding, I guess. To let me know it had all been a joke, and that of course she only loved me, and how

could I be so silly as to believe her. But she didn't. When she did speak, it wasn't what I wanted to hear.

          "I just do, okay Chris? I didn't choose for it to happen. And I don't love you any less. I'm not like

you Chris, I don't have these same ideals of love." She said, looking at me sadly, "I have ideals, don't get


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me wrong, and they're equally as lofty as yours, they're just different. I just don't need this kind of

relationship right now, okay Chris?"

         I looked at her, unsure as to what she meant.

         "What kind of relationship? We can change it. I can change. Just say you love me, just only love

me." I was on the verge of hysteria then, and realized I was liable to do something drastic if she didn't give

me the answer I wanted.

         "A relationship unburdened by all of this co-dependent crap. One where I'm free to love whoever I

choose, because my partner is confident enough in my love for him. A relationship where it's not about

seeing one another constantly, but about truly enjoying every second we do spend together." She said,

speaking rationally, but sounded so irrational to my ears, "Not a relationship which pivots on our societal

idea of love, on this spoon-fed bullshit which always proves a disappointment. It's not love they talk about,

it's passion. Dying for people, killing for people, hearing fireworks when they enter a room, swooning

when they smile, set yourself by these and you're just asking for eventual heartbreak.

         "Passion always ends in pain. We've learned that, haven't we Chris? And its counterpart: Pain

breeds passion. I don't want that in my personal life for God's sake! I want love - real love - I want to be

able to talk about anything with my partner, and be confident they won't be jealous, won't feel resentful or

slighted. I want to be able to talk about love with them. Not only about past experiences, but about present

ones as well. About doubts I might be having, about new flames I might have met. I don't want to be

limited in the love I give! Don't you see! I want freedom! What we have is stifling. Yes, I love you. Yes, I

care about you. But no, I am not willing to throw my freedom away for it. Not because I don't care enough

about you, but because I care too much. Because I realize that if I do suppress my urges, if I do stay

ultimately faithful, not only in body but in spirit as well, then thirty years from now, I might wake up one

morning resenting you from the depths of my soul. And one morning, thirty years from now, you might feel

the same way, even though you don't realize it now. You might feel as though you squandered your life

away on me, without making sure it really was the right choice. And I can't live with that, Chris."

         "Don't make this my thing Jane," I said, feeling confused, abandoned and hurt. "If you have to do

this, then fine. Do it. Whatever. But I do not think I'm the one here with a problem. You can view love as

this petty little trifle you pass from one person to the next, no more valuable to you than a commodity, but I


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will continue holding it in esteem above all else. I do love you, and to me, that means cherishing you above

all others. It means turning a blind eye to other's charms if necessary, because I know in my heart that no

other could truly compete with you, only jeopardize what we have. You say I'll regret it in thirty years? No.

I won't. Because I love you. But you might, you very well could. I don't know what you feel for me, but I'm

damned sure it isn't love, not if you can toss it off so non-chalantly."

         "Petty little trifle?" She said, and now I could tell she was angry. And I was glad. "Did you hear

one thing I said? Did you hear any of it? Love is the most sacred and holy thing in my life. You have your

God, well love is my God. I don't care what happens in my life. I don't care what freedoms I lose. But I

cannot lose the ability to love. To love without guilt, to love without fear, to love anyone I need to love.

And you, you sit here and tell me that means I don't love you? Well I do. But you can't see that. You just

can't accept that I can still love you while loving other people. And that's why we can't do this any more.

That's why this has to end. I wish I could make you understand, but I can't. I know I can't. I'm sorry."

         And with that, she stood and walked from my room. Leaving me alone, with a thousand things I

wanted to say. And I screamed and beat my fists against my pillow. And I wept. No loud bawling, but a

quiet, choked weeping. I felt as though every fiber of my being had turned against me, as though God

himself had left me out to die.

         And I curled up there on my bed, and went to sleep, not caring if I ever did wake up. I woke up a

few hours later, feeling like something had crawled inside me and died. At first I was confused as to why

my head was at the foot of the bed, and why the pillow was soaked and salty. But it came back to me rather

quickly, and my stomach contracted tightly, forcing me to groan.

         The door cracked open, and Julian peeked his head inside.

         "Hey Chris," He said, and I hated him for his happy tone. "Me and some friends are going to see

Shakespeare in the Park, you want to join us?"

         And I almost shouted at him "No!" and yelled at him to close the door. But I didn't. I hated my

life, I hated people, I hated everything, but I was going to have to cope. I was going to have to play it out.

So I got up, washed my face, and met him outside in front of the building. He had two friends with him,

one who had visited the commune before, and who I subsequently knew, A youngish guy who reminded

me a lot of Christopher from back at the monastery, and a girl in her twenties, wearing a tie-died T-shirt,


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and looking generally happy.

         "Have you met Claude?" Julian asked, and I nodded.

         "Yeah, we met about a month ago, he came for dinner, remember?"

         "Right. I had forgotten. But you don't know Margarite, do you?"

         I shook my head. I wasn't really in the mood for meeting new people, and I wished we could just

get on with it and get to the Shakespeare.

         "Margarite, Christopher. Christopher, Margarite." He moved in confidingly to Margarite, "Chris

has had a tough day today, go easy on him."

         I glared at Julian. "Shouldn't we get going?" I said, anxious to leave.

         "Sure. Let's go," said Claude, leading us to his car, a fairly new Toyota.

         We all piled in and he drove us to the park, where we piled out and began strolling towards the

stage. I looked around me, feeling slightly out of place on such a beautiful day in such a wonderful

atmosphere. I felt like I should have been deep in some nether-realm, the scent of sulfur and brimstone

permeating the air. Tortured screams would have fit much more with my mood than the jovial laughter of

children, which rung out all around us.

         Nonetheless, I was in the park, and it was a glorious day. So I decided to try and forget about what

had happened a mere three hours earlier, and focus instead on the flowers, and the grass, and hopefully on

some good theater.

         The play they presented was Two Gentlemen of Verona, and it was a good performance. I've

always been a really huge Shakespeare fan. He's like, one of my all time favorite play-writes, and not just

because it's hip to like him. I'd never seen Two Gentlemen performed before, but I'd read it a few times,

and always really liked the story.

         So I got into it, and forgot about Jane for two hours anyway. I sat there on the grass, hanging out

with some pretty nice people, and sucked into a theatrical world for a brief period of time. I smiled to

myself when Proteus professed his love for Julia, then a few mere scenes later cursed him for being a cheat,

and me for ever believing his love was ever pure. Damn Silvia and her wily ways! Luring Proteus away

from his true love! And then later, as Julia quickly forgave all his sins, accepting him back into her arms. I

felt like I was going to be sick. Had she no dignity? A mere moment after discovering his treachery, and


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with a word she was once again his faithful lap-dog. Disgust! I knew I would never run back to a false love

so quickly.

          That sounded like foreshadowing, but it wasn't. I swear. I wouldn't play such tricks on you.

          And after the show, Julian brought us back to meet the director, who was a friend of his from the

Arts Institute. She was a nice woman in her late thirties, and very sprightly and full of energy. Julian

introduced us, and then went off with his friends to talk with someone none of them had seen for a while.

          "So you're the boy Julian's teaching, are you? You seem rather old, but I never really did

understand the entire tutoring thing he was doing. So, what did you think of the performance? It wasn't our

best day, but it definitely had its moments, wouldn't you agree?" She asked, an expectant smile on her face.

          "Yeah, it was good. Definitely on a par with most of the other high-end mainstream Shakespeare

I've seen."

          She frowned slightly, "Mainstream? Well, I mean, certainly many performances of Shakespeare

are similar, but that's because they're by the same author. You can't expect huge differences in the same

script. We have our own touches we added. Like that dance interlude between the acts, that was an original

composition by Julia."

          "No, it was good. Don't get me wrong. It's just that..." I paused, not really wanting to offend her. I

had my own ideas of what Shakespeare should be, and this performance didn't truly live up to those lofty

ideals.

          "Please. Continue. I've heard my share of criticism before, and trust me, if you leave me like this

and I go home mulling over ever possible thing which could have been wrong, I'll cancel the show before

tomorrow!" She chuckled to herself, and gave me a friendly smile.

          "Well, everyone did a good job acting and all," I began, "But there was something missing. It was

like they didn't really understand what was going on. And by that, I don't mean they didn't understand what

the words meant, which is the problem with a lot of amateur Shakespeare, because they obviously did know

what they were saying. It's just that, there was something wrong about it."

          I paused for a moment, trying to put my finger on what had been wrong.

          "I know what it was," I said, formulating my thoughts carefully, yet still managing to get them

jumbled before they left my mouth, "It's like the actors didn't see the relevance in what they were doing.


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They didn't, in fact, I'm willing to state that as a truth. They were performing the Shakespeare fine, and

understanding what they were saying, and getting the nuance perfect, but that was all they were doing, was

performing. They weren't trying to convey a message, that was the problem, they were doing Shakespeare.

They were like people who read old writing, like Beowulf, and really enjoy it. But if you really get down to

what they got out of it, it was enjoyment, it was an appreciation of the meter, or of the odd use of language,

or some nuance of articulation, but not the meaning, not the core of the work.

         "Your actors were like that. Most Shakespeare actors are like that. They're doing Shakespeare to

entertain. Great. Wonderful. Kudos to them, I was entertained. But what I see as the pinnacle of theater, as

the very best it can strive to be, is something that evokes thought in the audience, something that makes

them stop for a moment a question their beliefs. Does Shakespeare have the potential to do that? Heck yes

he does. Did this performance do that? I'm afraid not. It really didn't. And it's not something you can

remedy with a bit of direction, it has to do with the fundamental understanding of the work, and more than

that, with the fundamental appreciation of the work. I don't know, I probably sound like I'm just some

idealist ranting and raving about Shakespeare, but really, to me, that's what he is. In his time, I know he

made people question their beliefs, even while catering to the enjoyment of those in the pit, and I know he

still has the potential to do that today, but I don't see much of it. What I see is performances done to

entertain, or done because they're Shakespeare. Even Hamlet, Hamlet for God's sake, is rarely done with

enough emotion. It's there, because it couldn't help but be, not with a script like that, but you can still tell,

that everyone in the productions, they're not there to get across the single agony of human existence, they're

there for one reason: to do Hamlet."

         I sighed, she stared at me. I shuffled nervously.

         "Sorry. It's not your play in particular-" I began.

         "No, it's quite all right." She said, and gave me a very gentle smile. "Quite all right."




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Chapter VII: The Clock Struck Twelve


          It was Christmas eve and I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. I'd been waiting for the

past four days to be able to once more experience the thrill of the Highest Holy Mass. I remember when I

was young, all of the other children I played with thought I was a strange little boy, because while they

would wait eagerly for Christmas day, when they'd be set free to tear through their presents, seeing what

small material goods "Father Christmas" had seen fit to dole out to them that year, I would wait in quiet

suspense for the night preceding their glory-day, and the Mass which accompanied it.

          We had absolutely the most gorgeous Mass at our monastery, and I would literally count the days,

beginning in early November, until that night. The candles, the incense, the booming voices, getting to stay

up late, and the hymns, oh the sweet hymns. How beautiful they sounded to my young ears. Truly the glory

of God lived in those voices, raised to the sky. Young women, high sopranos blaring out in joy, and old

men, their rough voices taking on a deep baritone as they released their passion through their lips. I don't

want to be crass, not around such a glorious occasion, but at times it bordered on a near sexual ecstasy

which I reaped from my experiences at Midnight Mass.

          And now it was here, a trifling seven hours away. And I had no one to see it with. I had brought it

up non-chalantly at dinner for the past couple of nights, hoping that someone would express interest in

joining me on my outing, but no one seemed particularly thrilled with the prospect. I had hoped especially

that Jane would voice some pleasure at the idea of accompanying me, but she had stayed quite silent.

          I was sitting in my room at the time, eagerly running through the familiar ritual in my mind. This

was my first year to a Mass outside of the monastery. A mass of any sort, actually. I wasn't sure exactly

how it had happened, but in the time since I had moved to the commune, my attendance to Church had

been lax, to say the least.

          I looked up as my door opened, and Moreen peeked her head in my room.

          "Hey Chris, mind if we talk for a minute?" She said, entering and sitting on my bed before I could

answer.

          "Sure," I mumbled, though it was already too late.

          "So. Here's the deal Chris," Moreen said, taking a deep breath. "You need to lay off Jane for a bit.
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She's not having a really easy time with this whole thing either, and the fact that you're just being a hard-ass

about it doesn't help at all."

         "What?" I asked. I was stunned. The nerve of her. "Oh, she's having a hard time with it, is she?

She's not handling the fact that she broke up with me very well, is that it? And I'm supposed to be nice to

her? To console her and let her know that it's okay, that I don't mind, that it will all work out? No luck

Moreen. She hurt me. Bad. And I'm not going to hold myself in check right now to protect her."

         "That's what you call love, is it?" She asked bitingly, and I felt a pang of remorse for having said

all of that, "Yes, that's all fine and dandy. You love her as long as she loves you back, right? You're willing

to be gentle with her if she's willing to put out for you, is that it?"

         I blushed, "Moreen, we never..."

         "Whatever Chris. The fact of it is, you say you love her, but you're still putting yourself before her.

Are you suddenly not in love with her anymore? Or is it just not worth your precious energy to make her

feel happy if you're having a hard time."

         "It's not that," I said, "It's just that..."

         I wasn't sure what to say. She had a point. I had been fairly hard on Jane since we had broken up,

but it seemed only fair. After all, she hurt me, I wasn't going to go sugar-coating everything for her benefit.

But I guess I should have. I guess that's what love is. But it was so hard. I sighed.

         "Okay. You win." I said, wondering how I was going to do this, "I'll try. I really will."

         She smiled at me, "Good. She does like you Chris. Hell, she loves you, and I don't think losing

you as a friend is going to make her happy. And," She added with a smile, "Somehow I doubt it will make

you happy either."

         "I know, I know. You win, okay?" I said, glad on some level that she'd come and talked to me. I

hadn't really felt that good about being so mean to Jane, but it had been the easiest thing to do. It had made

me feel like I was exacting some revenge on her for hurting me like she had. And that felt good, no matter

how misguided it was. But now that I was on speaking terms with them again, maybe they'd come to the

mass with me!

         "Oh, by the way Moreen, I was wondering... that is, if you two aren't too busy later..." I

stammered, "I thought maybe we could all..."


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         "Yes Chris, we'll go with you to your precious Mass. A few of us had already decided to join you,

but we wanted to watch you sweat it out for a bit. You're quite amusing you know." With that, she gave me

a wink and left me to sit alone in my room.

         They'd already decided? Of course they had. How typical. How juvenile. How typically juvenile.

Sometimes I couldn't believe the group of people John had chosen to teach me. It was like he'd walked out

on the street and picked the first random immature brats he'd run across. Of course, I guess the same could

be said for how he chose me, so maybe I should be quiet about the whole thing.

         That night was the next step towards this who ordeal actually becoming real to me. The first was

when Beth had told me of the proclamation. The next was when I had learned of Montaigne's identity. The

third was when I moved to the commune. The fourth was when John had contacted me a week prior. And

this was the next to the last. After Christmas Eve, I knew that there were so many people who believed the

Church's proclamation, and that when the Church was found failing, there would be so many people in a

limbo of faith.

         That was when we had to strike. I knew it, John knew it, and everyone in the commune knew it. If

we gave the Church even three days to re-organize, they'd have a plausible sounding explanation for the

masses, and our gateway would close for God knew how long. It was exciting, but I was worried about how

I'd wind up doing in front of all of those people. So far it had all been in John's hands, and if anything went

wrong, I knew it was his fault, not mine.

         Soon it would be my turn to enter the spotlight, and even though John would be running things

backstage, as it were, if I screwed up, I would really only have myself to blame. That was scary. I'd never

been entrusted with anything really important before. Except once in college, when I was put in charge of

our Yearbook. But I totally blew that, and the pictures didn't get sent off to the company until eight days

after the deadline, so we wound up just making pathetic photocopied proxies of our original design. And

that wasn't even really important.

         So we all met around nine o'clock, to go out to dinner, take a walk in the park, and then head over

to St. John's Cathedral to watch the Mass. 'All' being Jane, Moreen, Randolph, Stanley, Julian and myself.

We piled into Stanley's old Volkswagen van, complete with painted flowers, and drove off towards

Bernicio's pizzeria.


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         We got there, went in and took a large table by the window. There weren't many people present,

which was surprising, even though it was late, because I always assumed everyone went out to eat on

Christmas, and were up late already. We ordered three large pizzas, in descending order of interest, first a

large meatlover's pizza, with Canadian bacon, sausage, pepperoni and salami; then, a vegetarian for Moreen

and Julian; and lastly a wholly vegan pizza, for Jane and Stanley, crazy as they were.

         I could never understand why people become vegetarians. I tried it once, and it just didn't work for

me. I just love meat way too much. And I understand that it's not very nice to kill an animal just to give me

a tasty treat, and I also understand that all sorts of really sick things happen to those animals in order for

them to get to where I can eat them. And that sucks. But I can't really help it, and the best I can do is stop

eating meat, which sucks even more. I'm not going to say that even if I stopped, they'd still kill the animals,

because yes, I did take a year of Econ., and I do understand the whole supply and demand thing.

         But still, you have to admit that it sure seems like we were meant to eat meat. I mean, here I am

with these pointy teeth, and some really good grinders, it would be a shame to put them to waste by not

exercising them every once in a while. The best argument I've heard for vegetarians, which actually

managed to convert me for about three weeks, was that the amount of grazing land needed to make a pound

of beef could feed a person for a year, or something insane like that.

         And there are lots of starving people in the world, and it would be really nice if we could feed

them all instead of just feeding some of us meat. But, and I say this in all honesty, I really believe that even

if we cleared up all of that land from cattle, it still wouldn't be used to feed everyone. I don't know what

we'd use it for instead, but I think if someone could find any use that would make it more profitable than

virtually giving away grain, they'd use it for that rather than feed people. It's sick, but I really think it's true.

         What we'd need would be someone regulating the land, making sure it could only be used to grow

grain. But that would be really uncapitalistic, or at least not at all laissez-faire, so I don't think it would ever

happen. Maybe if we all became Hindi or something, then we wouldn't eat beef anyway, and that'd clear up

the land. But like I say, it'd still probably become a huge amusement park, or a really big parking lot, or

something incredibly useful like that.

         We were all sitting in silence, just soaking up the atmosphere, listening to "I'm Dreaming of a

White Christmas" on the radio, and having a generally gala time. Finally Randolph, who's the real party


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animal of the bunch (that's sarcasm), suggested we play a game. No one had any cards, so he suggested we

all wish for what we'd like for Christmas. This was a huge hit.

         "No way Randy," Said Julian, "Don't be an idiot."

         "What?" Asked Randolph, looking confused, "It's a good idea. I used to do it with my wife every

year. You really get to find out what people care about. The only thing is, you have to all agree not to attack

someone's wish as selfish, because you need a feeling of security to foster honesty."

         "No way," Said Moreen, "If we're playing this damn game, we're going to do it right. If someone

says something stupid, you jump all over them, you make them defend it to the end, and then you jump all

over them some more. And we'll all just have to trust one another to be honest and not wuss out."

         "Fine then," Randolph replied, glaring at Moreen, "Maybe you should start then, little miss

bravery."

         "Okay. I wish for peace on Earth and good will towards men." Randolph was about to comment

when she grinned and continued, "Just kidding. To hell with the Earth, I just want good will with men."

         "How very altruistic of you," Jane commented wryly, "I'll go next. I want joy in the hearts of all

men this coming year, and I want our quest towards bettering mankind's existence to succeed."

         "Hear hear!" Said Julian, raising his glass high.

         We all joined in, and I felt a sense of camaraderie with the group that I hadn't felt before. Before

they'd been my teachers, and I'd been their student, and while that didn't mean I was lower than them, in

fact, in many ways I had been higher, it also meant our quests were slightly different. I was the one who

was going to lead the group, we all knew that, and it was unsure what was going to become of the rest of

them once the religion took off. Would they fade into obscurity, melting into the background like so many

great teachers in the past, or would they stand beside me throughout the coming trials, defending me from

scorn? It was unknown, only John could tell us, and so far he hadn't offered any hint, and no one had gotten

the gumption up to ask him.

         "Well, I guess it's my turn now," Julian mumbled. Pausing for a moment, staring into his glass in

silence. Finally he spoke, in a quiet voice, "I want us to all come out of this safely. Chris especially."

         I blushed as everyone nodded their silent agreement. It was a touching sentiment, if rather

foreboding. The clockwise order we'd apparently decided to follow now dictated it my turn to speak, so I


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started to open my mouth, then stopped. What did I want? It was a hard question. My immediate impulse

was for our goal to succeed, a few seconds after that came the idea of safety, then the knee-jerk reaction of

wanting Jane back. But were any of these what I would truly wish for, if I had but one opportunity? I wasn't

sure.

         And that's when it hit me, what I needed more than anything at that moment.

         "I wish I knew what to do next," I said. Hoping with all my might that some God above would

hear my plea and inform me somehow of what the heck I was doing down here. It seemed like I was

stumbling around blindly, poking at this thing and that in the dark, following some vague voice far off in

the distance which sounded like John's. It was confusing, and I wanted someone to turn the light on, if just

for a moment, to let me get my bearings. I wanted a chance to look around, and see where the path was

leading me, towards what end.

         "Well I can answer that," Said a voice from behind me. I looked back to see our waiter

approaching us with a hot pan, "Dig in!" He said, placing the platter in front of me.

         I chuckled and began carefully cutting a piece of pizza, burning my fingers on the scathing cheese.

I looked up at Stanley, who was about to speak.

         "Hey man, I just want everyone to take a good look around, see how groovy things are, and chill

out. People need to relax a little, and enjoy life for what it is." Having finished, he reached towards the next

pizza being delivered, "Now cut me a piece of that, and let me get a little bit of enjoyment."

         We all laughed. For a minute the sound of clinking was all that could be heard as we cut slices off

here and there, passing plates over one another to reach a piece dangling precariously from another person's

hand. Finally, once everyone had some food in front of them, and had commenced eating, Randolph spoke.

         "Well, that just leaves me." He said, swallowing down some cheese. "And maybe you'll all think

I'm a total prick for saying this, and self-centered and all, but all I really want, at this very moment, is to

finish this job, go home to my wife, and live my life out in peace."

         Jane looked up, "She got out?" She asked, referring to the fact that Randy's wife had been in the

State Penitentiary for two years on a charge of arson.

         "Yeah," Answered Randolph, "Just last week. Haven't got a chance to see her, what with this last

minute cramming and all, but I talked to her on the phone. She's at her mom's house down in Palo Alto."


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         "Man Randy," Julian said, through a mouthful of pizza, "You should have mentioned it, one of us

would have taken over your lessons for a couple of days while you went to see her."

         "Yeah, no one thinks you're greedy for wanting that," Said Moreen, "I think in some ways, what

we all want is for this whole mess to be over so we can go home and finish our lives."

         "I know, it's just that I feel like I'm betraying the group," He said, "Like I'm not giving my all, that

I'm just biding my time until I can leave."

         He sighed, and I spoke up, "Randy, let me tell you something. If you ever need to leave, just let

me know. No one will hold it against you, you've done as much as any of us, heck, a whole lot more than

me, and you deserve a break. Seriously guy, just let me know."

         He smiled, and we all went back to our eating. The rest of the dinner went by rather quickly, with

a few words spoken here or there, but everyone concentrating mostly on filling their stomachs. We were all

looking forward to going to the park, seeing the big Christmas tree, and maybe some theater going on.

         When the bill came, we paid it quickly and got up to leave. As we were walking out of the

restaurant, an old man sitting outside looked up at me. His face was weathered, and his clothes were worn

out to the point that it seemed silly for him to be wearing them.

         "Spare a buck mister?" He asked, "It being Christmas and all?"

         Something about him was familiar, so I pulled out my wallet and took out a five dollar bill,

kneeling down to hand it to him.

         "Thanks a lot sir," He said, and as I got up to go, he added, "And good luck."

         We all piled back into the van, and drove over to the park, everyone talking about how pretty the

city was under the light cover of snow which had fallen when we were in the restaurant.

         There were a lot of people out that night, wandering through the park, listening to the carolers,

dancing in the light fall of snow, or just standing and looking at the Christmas tree. We all split up as soon

as we arrived, Randolph and Julian running off to look for theater, Moreen and Stan going to listen to

carolers. That left me and Jane alone. Which was weird. But not completely bad.

         We stood there, just staring at the gigantic Christmas tree, all lit up and sparkly. We stood there,

with a hundred other gawkers, in complete awe of this seeming paradox. The very pinnacle of nature,

mixed with such an outlandish and garish display of technology. It was odd.


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         Capitalism setting it's mark on the Holy Days. It was odd. Chocolate eggs, I mean, who thought of

that? That's for a different holiday of course, but still, the point is the same. I couldn't understand why big

business felt so threatened by days meant to foster love amongst men and joy in the soul. Maybe it was

because people had a tendency to stay home and socialize with their families on these days, rather then go

out and shop until they dropped. So they had to introduce something false, something phony into the entire

deal, make people feel like they were somehow breaking God's law if they didn't buy tacky presents for all

of their acquaintances.

         Of course, I suppose the Church felt threatened by the old Holy Days as well, which is why she

felt it was necessary to add her own touches to them. This was just the next step, the new religion of money

and science coming to add its own touches to make the holidays its own. Because people wouldn't give up

their holidays, they'd never do that. But they'll accept changes, take the minor shifts which completely alter

the meaning, but leave the day itself intact.

         It's the feeling of ceremony, of some special occasion, that's what people lust after. Not the

trappings, those are all just PR bullshit whipped up by the pagans, or by the Church, or by Hallmark. What

the people care about is that they have an excuse to engage in the activities which aren't explicitly stated,

but are understood to be a necessary part nonetheless: drinking, relaxing, partying, and having a generally

good time.

         Jane looked over at me, "What are you thinking about?" She asked.

         "Nothing." I said uncomfortably. I had forgotten she was there. "Just letting my mind wander."

         "Oh." She said, then moved a little closer to me, "Look at them all."

         I looked at the people around the tree. They were all engaged in their own little worlds. Some were

couples snuggling up against one another, I felt a pang of jealousy at that, others were families, the mothers

looking exhausted while trying to herd her children together, some were business men, just passing through

on their way home from the office, looking up at the tree with pride, knowing that in some way, what they'd

been slaving for that day had helped make all of this possible. They were just normal people.

         "What about them?" I asked, not sure why she found them so fascinating.

         "Have you seen How the Grinch Stole Christmas?" She asked, and I nodded. "You know how in

the end, after the Grinch has stolen the tree, all of the little people of Oomphville, or whatever, are all just


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standing in a circle around where the tree used to be, just singing happily, like nothing was missing?"

         I nodded again. I loved that movie. I used to make the Sisters rent it for me every Christmas when

I was young, even though I wasn't often allowed to watch movies.

         "Well, I was just sitting here thinking," She said, "If someone came here and stole this tree, and

stole all of the trappings that went with the holiday. People would care. They wouldn't still sit around

singing, they'd be pissed off."

         I grinned, this was what I loved about Jane, she always had such weird ideas.

         "Seriously! We'd have the National Guard after the Grinch's sorry ass," She said, getting riled up,

"Peopled be out in the streets with their hand-guns, pissed off and ready to kill. It's not like the holiday

exists independently of the trappings. These days, the holiday is the trappings."

         I knew what she meant, since it was kind of what I'd been thinking about. But still, I don't know

that people would take it to the extremes she was talking about. People might be angry and all, but they'd

still celebrate the holiday, and still have a good time.

         "Sure, sure, little miss cynic, maybe that's how it would be." I said, "But maybe there are people

who still care about the holiday. We're going to a Mass tonight, you don't think the people there actually

believe in the true meaning of the day?"

         "Nope." She said flatly, "They care about performing their little ritual, eating their little cracker,

and sleeping snugly at night, confident in the knowledge that they've done their duty to God."

         I rolled my eyes.

         "Wait until you see the service at least, before you pass judgment, would you?" I asked, nudging

her.

         "Fine. But I've been to Church before. I know what it's like." She said, turning away, "I'm not

trying to attack your faith or anything Chris, but it just doesn't do it for me."

         I was about to say that I didn't mind, when she turned back to me.

         "Speaking of which, how exactly is this still your faith? I mean, we're about to go out and destroy

the Church. That's what we're trying to do Chris. Completely discredit them and build a new religion on

their ashes. And you're still a member of that Church?"

         I was slightly taken aback. Of course I'd thought about the hypocrisy which was present in the fact


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that I claimed to be Catholic, but didn't accept the Pope's word, and was trying to use it against him. But I

hadn't thought about it much. In fact, I'd given it one brief thought in passing, then decided it was too

difficult, and tucked it away into a reclusive corner of my mind.

         "Well," I began, trying to figure out if there was any way I could justify what I was saying, "I'm

not sure."

         Boy, that was lame. Another victory in the battle of wits! Once again I proved myself completely

inept at any sort of retort.

         "Right. Well, you may just want to put some thought into it." She said, turning away again, "After

all, we're going to be fairly committed after New Years."

         "Not that commitment means anything to you." I said. Or at least, that's what I wanted to say.

Instead I just nodded my agreement to her back as she walked away.



                                              *         *        *



         We arrived at the church a little bit early to avoid the rush of people we assumed would be

accompanying what was ostensibly the final high Holy Mass ever.

         We didn't arrive early enough. When we drove up we saw a line which wrapped around the block.

         "Good God. This is bigger than the line we had for Starwars!" Remarked Julian, as the rest of us

just stared, mouths agape.

         "Wow. What should we do Chris?" Randolph asked, peering over his seat to look at me.

         "I don't know," I replied, "Just park I guess, we'll figure out a way to get in."

         The nearest parking we could find was six blocks away, and that was just because we found

someone sitting outside their driveway holding a sign offering parking. We paid them twenty-bucks to use

their space for the night, and commenced the hike over to the church.

         When we finally got back, the line had grown substantially. I wasn't sure how all of these people

were going to fit inside the medium-sized building, and if they all weren't, how we were going to be part of

the elite few who were allowed in.

         Luckily, God has a way of looking out for some of us when we're in trouble, and before we'd


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passed the first thirty people in line, someone reached out and grabbed me. It was Sister Gabreline, the

music instructor at the monastery, and a really good friend of mine.

         "Chris! It's you! What are you doing here?" She asked, smiling at me.

         It was good to see someone from the 'old days'. It brought me back to those simpler times, when

all I ever had to worry about was... well, nothing really. I had come a long way since then, and even

though it was nice realizing I might be part of something important, it was still sort of sad to look back on

all the happy times I was leaving behind.

         "I brought some friends to see the service tonight. But it looks like we might not be able to make it

in." I sighed, "Oh well. What are you doing back Sister? I thought you had gone with the others to spread

the Word."

         "Yes, we did, far and wide." She smiled, "But we decided to come back to the monastery for the

End Days. I'm so looking forward to this, aren't you? I can't wait for you to meet my uncle Mac, you two

would have gotten along so well."

         "Is he coming to spend time with you?" I asked.

         "No, no. He passed on almost ten years ago. But when the final resurrection comes, we will all be

present, to bask in the glory of God."

         "Oh. Well then," I stammered, fairly taken aback. There were some things about the final days that

threw me a bit, "I'll be glad to meet him. Thank you Sister, but we'd best get to the end of the line now."

         She had just reached the door, and was smiling at the man standing there.

         "Oh no Chris, you and your friends are welcome to join me and the other Sisters. Come, follow

me."

         With that she walked inside, and the rest of us followed her, feeling rather awkward, but glad

nonetheless. We chose a pew and all sat down there, craning out heads left and right to look at the other

people present.

         Eventually, the Mass started. And it was glorious. As wonderful as I had remembered them, but

with so many more people, which added an entirely new element to it. The passion in the room was at an

all-time high, no doubt as a result of the coming end, and instead of the hostile energy I kept expecting, no

matter how often I saw otherwise, the feeling was one of anticipation and glee.


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         Finally, the Priest leading the service turned to the issue that was occupying the minds of so many

in the church: the end.

         "Brothers and Sisters in Christ, tonight is a very special Mass. Not only do we celebrate the birth

of our lord Christ Jesus, but we celebrate the coming Parousia. Matthew 24:11 tells us that "Many false

prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow

cold.": We have seen many of our fold turn away from God. But we have seen our Church flourish

nonetheless! We have had our trials and tribulations, and we have overcome them! And now God comes to

bring us our end reward!

         "In the coming days there will be much fear, but we must remain strong! Matthew also tells us that

it is those who persevere to the end that will be saved. It seems so easy now, to give up and wait for the end

to arrive. But our work on this Earth is not yet through! Only those who have accepted Christ will get

salvation on the last day, and think how many there are who are not yet saved! So go out to your loved ones

not yet in the fold, and save their souls. Do it for them, do it for yourself, do it for God.

         "Our Church has fought a war since its conception; a war against the powers of darkness, a war to

bring all of mankind into God's light. This is not a war which will be won not by violence, but by

persuasion alone. Glory be to God!"

         The Mass continued in that general vein for another few hours, and finally drew to a close. It was

stunning. The ritual and ceremony which had preceded the lecture had served to elevate my consciousness,

so that when the Priest finally began his verbal crusade, every hair on my body was standing at attention,

waiting to hear what he had to say.

         It was weird, I knew I didn't believe the end was actually coming, but his words made me want to

go out and begin converting. I guess in a sense we were both trying to do the same thing: Show men the

glory of God. Only he thought he had a time limit, and I didn't.

         We all got up once the Priest finished his sermon, and those of us baptized took the Eucharist. I

walked back to the others, the sour taste of wine in my mouth. Everyone looked rather awed, or at least

shocked, by the service. I didn't really blame them. Near the end the Priest delivering the sermon had gotten

quite zealous, and at times I felt the urge the leap to my feet and shout my approval.

         "So," I said, shuffling my feet, "What did you think?"


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         "Damn." Said Julian. "That was... intense."

         "To say the least." Added Randolph.

         "Yeah," I said, smiling, "Well, it's not usually quite that hard-core. I think the whole 'end of the

world' thing might have something to do with it."

         "Gee, ya think?" Jane said, grinning at me. "Let's get out of here before they notice we didn't take

Communion and try to lynch us."

         "Or even worse," Added Moreen, grinning, "Convert us."

         We walked outside, and saw most of the people who hadn't been able to fit inside the church,

sitting on the steps, talking amongst themselves. I heard someone say something to me, but couldn't

understand what they said, or where they were. A few seconds later, I heard the same phrase repeated, this

time by a man sitting on the sidewalk. It was aimed at the woman sitting next to him, but I stepped closer to

him anyway.

         "Excuse me," I said, "Not to intrude, but what was that you just said?"

         "Marana tha." Said the man, looking up at me, "Our Lord, come. I was explaining some of what

was probably said at the sermon tonight."

         "Ah," I replied, "Thank you, I had thought you were talking to me."

         He gave me an odd look, then went back to the conversation he had been having with the woman.

We continued down the steps, and noticed a gathering of people holding pickets which read things like,

"Catholics Go Home!" and, "Your End Causes Our End!" Curious as to what was going on, I approached

one of the sign-holders.

         "Pardon," I said, "But what are you all doing here?"

         "You're bloody 'end' has the world in chaos, in case you didn't notice!" The man fairly spat at me

in a thick English accent, "People all over the place, killin' each other, pillaging stores, overthrowing

government. It's sheer madness! If we'd wanted your opinions, we'dve asked for it!"

         With that, he turned away from me and continued his protest. I shook my head and plodded on. I

didn't quite see how a repeal of the edict could change anything this late into the game. I figured it was just

another case of people with far too much time on their hands, and far too much pent up anger, trying to vent

it on some cause. I had a feeling we'd be seeing these same people opposing us once we declared our aims.


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         We eventually did make it back to the car, which was where we had parked it, with all its hubcaps

and everything. We piled it, fairly well worn out, it being three am, and ready to go to bed. I doubt any of

us were even consciously aware of the fact that the next day was Christmas, all we were really aware of

was that we were exhausted, and we needed to get our rest before the New Year.

         When we got home, I made straight for bed, but Jane stopped me before I could open my door.

She stood in silence for a minute, as if trying to get her nerve up to say something.

         "Chris," she began, and I waited expectantly. "I think it was a mistake to break up. I... I miss being

with you. I wanted to hold you when we were at the park, and I couldn't. It's just not worth it."

         I was flabbergasted. What was I to say? She had broken my heart, would I let her back into my life

that easily, without making her beg, or plead, or even apologize? Yes. Yes I would. Yes, I undoubtably

would do so. I hung my arms around her neck, giving her a tight hug.

         "I love you Jane," I said, so happy I could hardly contain myself. First a wonderful Midnight

Mass, and now this, the one real problem in my life, remedied. My Christmas wish had come true! Or was

that my wish? I couldn't remember at the moment, but it sure seemed synchronous.

         "I love you too Chris," she said, and I detected a heaviness in her voice. Ah well, it was most

likely that she was just very tired.

         "Get some sleep Jane, we have a big week ahead of us." I said, and kissed her goodnight.

         I fairly pranced into my bedroom, visions of sugarplums dancing in my head. Life was such a

fickle creature, dealing me a rotten hand, then suddenly turning it back on itself, and making what I had

once had seem all the sweeter. Perhaps it was good these things were taken away from me briefly, it helped

me to realize how truly precious they were.




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Chapter VIII:


          It was New Year's Eve, and we were all on pins and needles waiting for John to arrive and tell us

what the heck was going on. We had received a telephone message from him earlier in the day, saying that

he'd be showing up at the commune sometime that night to finally give us the entire scoop on what we were

going to be doing.

          I was sitting upstairs, as crowds of people flocked through the city, preparing for the festivities of

the evening. I couldn't help but thinking how silly we would look to anyone not of our culture. Gathering

on a totally arbitrary day, letting ourselves "loose" by engaging in set customs that never change, year in

and year out. Leftover remnants of a time when the human spirit was freer than today; pretending that these

ideals were still a part of our consciousness.

          I was interrupted from my thoughts by Jane, who had come and sat next to me, staring out of the

window.

          "Look at them all, it's incredible isn't it?" She asked.

          I nodded.

          "It happens every New Year's. Not this much, of course, but still, it never ceases to amaze me. For

one night everyone gives over completely to pleasure. That's all the night is about, they don't try to add any

spirituality to it, for once they just put their motives up front: to have fun. The only day that comes close to

it is Carnival, and that's not celebrated everywhere."

          "It's not the same either." I remarked distractedly, I was still paying attention to the hundreds of

people dancing in the street.

          "How so?" Jane asked, and I turned my attention away from the festivities.

          "Carnival has a spiritual aspect. Or at least it did. It's the weekend before <ref? Lent?>. When it

began, it was in response to this severe period of fasting and abstinence. It was the last big fling before

committing yourself completely to Chastity, to the glory of God.

          "It's changed now of course. But the energy is still there. Not in the screaming frat boys, come

only to see naked flesh, but in the true devotees. Two worlds, one of near-ascension, one of base-animal

instinct at its worst, meshing to the point where they're indistinguishable to the casual observer."
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         She stared at me.

         "Have you ever been?"

         "No." I shook my head, "I haven't. But I know that's what it is. And as far as I know, New Years is

made up only of the latter. Pure base instinct. Lust, carnal embrace, liquor, completely and utter depravity.

Maybe it cleans them out for the new year itself, letting them live in their constrained universes for another

365 days, but it in no way approaches the utter sanctimony of Carnival."

         "Ah." She gave a wistful sigh, "I went to Carnival once, when I had just turned 18. It was an

experience beyond all others. I was on the outside, no doubt of that, but I caught glimpses of the inner

sanctum. It was awe-inspiring."

         "Unlike this, right?" I waved my hand towards the throngs on our street.

         "I don't know," she said, "There's something to be said for giving in to primal urges, letting our

spirits run free. Letting ourselves live for pleasure."

         "We always live for pleasure," I said, smiling, "The difference is we rarely acknowledge it. Every

choice we make, whether conscious or unconscious, is made as a result of calculating the pleasure we'll

gain against the pain we'll encounter as a result."

         "What an awful way of looking at it. You don't think we ever do things solely for other people's

benefit? There's no altruism in your little universe?"

         "Unfortunately not. Often, people will do acts of kindness and appear to receive no reward for it,

that is, they'll gain no physical embodiment of reward. But inside, they'll be congratulating themselves on a

job well done, they'll be able to live more at ease with themselves, secure in the knowledge that they've

helped a fellow human."

         "What a cynical way of viewing the world! Are you saying all of what we're doing, me and you

and John and everyone else, is solely for our own benefit?"

         "No, that's not what I'm saying." I shook my head, "What I'm saying is that it's more for our

benefit than it is for the benefit of the world. We wouldn't be gaining anything if we weren't helping others,

because we wouldn't get that self-satisfaction we need. There's nothing wrong with it, I'm not putting it

down, I'm just trying to point out what's going on: We are creatures of pleasure.

         "Everything we do, every small nuance in our life, is working towards ever more pleasure. Not a


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mindless, soul-less fulfilling of carnal desires, but a deep-seated satisfaction. Some get that pleasure

through helping others, some get it through sex, and some get it through setting themselves free and

expressing everything they need to express."

         "But isn't it better to help others?" She asked, "I mean, better than just going around looking for

sex. There must be some sort of hierarchy to the entire thing. Otherwise what's the point, why aren't I out

there, living it up?"

         "Because that wouldn't make you happy. Are some pleasures intrinsically better than others? I'm

not sure. But I think some are better in the eyes of God. My Church says that Lust is a sin, and by lust they

mean a desire for 'inordinate amounts of sexual pleasure.' An ambiguous term at best, and something I

would say can never exist. God gave us the propensity to feel sexual pleasure for a reason, and I refuse to

accept that this reason was to tempt us away from His light.

         "I look at life as nothing more than a vessel towards joy. God is joy. Anything which brings me

closer to this end, without compromising the capabilities of others towards this end, can be nothing but

good. When we take over, certain views are going to have to change, and this is one of them. It is unhealthy

and wrong for the human psyche to live in a state of eternal fear towards its own urges. I am a student of

God. I am a student of Love. I am a student of Sex."

         "But Chris, you've never... I mean, at least not with me." She blushed, something I had rarely seen

her do, "I assumed you were still... chaste."

         "I am." I smiled, "But that doesn't stop me from being a student. I see sex all around me, every

day. It is the driving force behind all human behavior. That's not an original thought, but it's one I subscribe

to. Not in the Freudian sense, that it is the root of all our fears and troubles, but in the sense that sex is the

ultimate embodiment of the passionate drives we as human beings experience. Sex is not causal, it is

inevitable. An end light, through which we as human beings can transcend for brief periods of time and

become one with the Ultimate."

         "We were talking about a hierarchy of pleasure in the eyes of God..."

         "Right. I was getting there. In fact, I was there. This passion, this is the ultimate Good. It doesn't

need to be fulfilled through sexuality, it can also be fulfilled through artistic expression, a commune with

nature, and even through total abstinence from these pleasures of the flesh."


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           She quirked an eyebrow.

           "Yes. It is not so much the discharge of these energies, but the conscious acknowledgment of

them. The easiest way to do this is to fulfill their end, to experience them to their fullest through action, but

an equally, if not more, powerful way to realize them is through locking them up. Not locking them up and

throwing away the key, never to notice them again, but locking them up and watching them pulse within

you, feeling their pent up energies growing inside of you."

           "Are you saying there's nothing to be said for a Middle Way? What you're talking about are

extremes, a way of living that is intense, granted, but short-lived."

           "I'm no Buddhist Jane. You know that. There are four main traditions I know of when it comes to

dealing with human passions. One is the tradition the Judeo-Christian faiths are based on: Chastity. An

abstinence which ranges from committing yourself to the marriage bed alone, to pledging complete and

total purity. Another is the <ref? Greek guys who did everything?> tradition, letting one's passions rule

one's life entirely. Both of these can lead to depravity if overindulged, or engaged in for the wrong reasons.

Chastity without acknowledgment of passion leads to pent-up sexual rage, which takes its toll on even the

most devout soul. Overindulgence of the senses for purely carnal pleasure, without appreciating the

ascendant nature of the pleasure, can lead to a degradation of spirit, a disregard for the fundamental values

of life.

           "Another way of looking at it is found predominantly in the east. Here we find your 'middle way',

an attempt to equally balance all forces in our lives to achieve a transcendent state. An acknowledgment

that both abstinence and indulgence are equally important, but only if used in moderation. And the counter-

point to that, the tradition we find in the old Druidic religion of pre-Christian Europe. An acknowledgment

of the opposing forces, the abstinence and indulgence, but not a push towards balance, rather, a push

towards eternal chaos. It's hard to see the difference at first, especially so enamored as we in California are

with the Yin-Yang eternity view of the universe, but they are as polar as night and day. This constant

pushing towards balance, the Druids would say, is nothing but a push towards stagnation. The natural state

of the universe, perhaps, but certainly a soul-less state."

           "None of those views fit yours though Chris."

           "Mine is a mesh of all, except this middle way you speak of. There are those who would say I'm


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misrepresenting it. That I obviously don't understand it if I think it's a bad thing. But I do understand it, and

to me, it has no soul. I love my passions, I love the extremes that rend the flesh or make it fat with atrophy.

And I think this is the true way towards enlightenment. Perhaps these masters of Nothing were truly

enlightened, but it's not the way I would choose to live my life."

            "Maybe we should tone these ideas down a bit, before going public with them, eh Chris?" She

said, cracking a smile.

            "Maybe. Or maybe people need a shock, need someone to tell them it's okay for once to indulge

their desires to the extreme."

            "Dangerous ground," she remarked, shaking her head, "Indulgence has an odd way of turning

violent when it meets resistance."

            "There will be rules, of course," I noted, "No one would accept us if we didn't have absurd tenets

they had to follow. But the rules won't destroy any sense of sensual freedom they may have, merely limit

them by the only thing that should matter: others. The greatest good is not in achieving joy for oneself, but

fostering it in another. Only then can the joy truly be made your own."

            The door swung open, and Julian popped his head in.

            "John's here!" He shouted, then went running to the next room to inform its inhabitants.

            "Well then, I suppose we'd better go meet him." Jane said, standing.

            "I guess we'd better." I said, full of anxiety.

            This was it. It was happening at last. All these months of preparation, for tomorrow. And John was

going to tell us what was going on. We'd finally be let out of the darkness we'd been hiding it, find out what

it was all going towards. Of course, we knew some things. We were making a religion, for one. And trying

to save the world, for two. But we weren't sure of any of the details. Did we have supporters? Did we have

a plan? Were we just going to walk out on to the street and start screaming some stuff, hoping people

listened?

            I hoped not. I tried to act casual, strolling down the hallway into the living room, like I didn't

really care if John was there or not, and just wanted to grab a pop from the fridge.

            No one else was trying to do that. They were all crowded around John, who was sitting on the

couch. They were shooting questions at him so quickly I was surprised he could even understand what was


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being said. But he seemed to, and replied calmly to each one in turn.

         "Where are we doing it?" Julian asked.

         "We have a sound-stage prepared downtown. We'll be broadcasting live from there." John

answered.

         "Who will be there?" Asked Moreen.

         "One hundred delegates from various religions, nations and businesses. Seventy various media

representatives - Television, radio and paper. And us."

         "When? When are we doing it?" I asked, breaking in.

         "Chris. I trust you're well." John said, smiling at me. "We'll be going over at 7am to set up, and the

broadcast will begin at 9. I'm assured it will be repeated throughout the day."

         "Jesus." I said, "What do I need to do? What will I need to know? I'm not ready. I can't do this."

         "Take a deep breath Chris. Sit down." John said, patting a spot on the couch next to him. "You'll

do just fine. I've prepared notes for you to look over tonight, and you'll have a tele-prompter. We'll only be

taking questions for twenty minutes, and I'm fairly confident you can handle that on your own. You have,

after all, been well taught."

         There was a cheer from everyone in the room, and then Randolph spoke up.

         "Let's celebrate! We need something to take our minds off of this, I'll go pick up something and

make dinner for us all."

         John nodded his agreement, and Randolph went to go buy supplies at the local store. I wasn't sure

I really wanted my mind taken off of anything at the moment, and felt I should probably be locked in my

room studying my notes, but everyone hassled me and eventually convinced me that letting loose a little

was the best thing for me.

         "But first," John said, "Let me run over a few more things. Give you some small details."

         I sat down, and everyone else went into the kitchen or their own rooms, to give us some privacy.



organizations won't actually be dissolved, and these members will undoubtedly be excommunicated. But

the point is that they are high ranking officials, and their word will lend quite a lot of prestige to our cause."

         He sighed.


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         "It wasn't easy gathering all of these people together. And I've had to make quite a few

concessions to get them here, but it will be worth it. We have representatives from every major religion on

the face of the planet, all ready to acknowledge you as unanimous prophet of the new Church. It is a

glorious thing we do Chris, and we can only pray to God it works."

         "Wait, what sort of concessions?" I asked, wondering how much of this religion would be dictated

to me, and how much I would be allowed to develop from my own wisdom.

         "Small things, basic tenets from their own religions they wanted kept for the new Church. Mostly

obvious things, basic commandments, thou shalt not kill, steal, rape, pillage, and on and on. A few

cosmological criteria, which we'll have to work at incorporating together."

         "Such as...?" I asked, letting my voice trail off.

         "Small things. God as ultimate creator of the Universe. An abolishment of the idea of Hell, which

came, oddly enough, from representatives from the Vatican."

         No more hell? What an odd concept. It seemed like such a central point to the general cosmology.

No symmetry, not if there was still Heaven. There was merely Heaven and... nothing? It had merit, no

doubt about that. It made us seem less like we were trying to frighten people into believing, and more like

we were actually trying to save their souls.

         "And a member of the Bah'aii Church suggested something rather interesting, which I thought you

might appreciate," John smiled at me, "A view of the after-life which incorporates an idealized world, or

heaven, a reincarnate approach, and a total diffusement into the Whole. Rather complex to explain right

now, but it sounds quite good when you hear it out."

         I smiled. Finally, someone who saw the merit in both a reincarnation and a heaven. It was a good

idea, in my mind. It allowed for those who wanted to stop the trials of living a wonderful goal to strive for,

while leaving the option open for those who were fairly sure they enjoyed life on Earth, no matter what the

alternatives.

         "Well, I think we can live with all of that. What do they think of Good and Evil? Still incarnate?" I

asked.

         It had always been one of my biggest pet peeves with Christianity. Satan seemed like such a cop-

out. As though we did wrong not because of bad values, but because some sinister dark force was


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attempting to pull us away from the light of God. I could accept it on a metaphorical level; the snake which

dwelt within each of us, that side which concerned itself more with wanton destruction than with reverence

and joy, but to actually give it a name, create a mythos around it, and use it as a validation for the sins of

the world, that was going to far for me.

         "No one said anything about that. But I've done away with it in my rough outline. It seemed a bit

excessive. Taking metaphor rather literally. You can look over the notes now if you'd like, to prepare you

for tomorrow."

         I nodded, and took the proffered cards he handed me.

         "Thanks John," I said, going back to my room to mull over the cards.

         Most of the ideas were fairly straight forward. We kept the whole golden rule idea, do unto others

as you would have them do unto you. It was a good standard tenet. Obvious to most, yet still easily ignored.

He talked about murder, and oddly enough, gave extenuating circumstances under which is was justified. I

wasn't sure that was such a good idea, but not having a loophole had never stopped people in the past from

killing, maybe this would at least serve to make our religious jihad not appear too hypocritical.

         John had also written something which shocked me at first, but made more and more sense as I

thought about it. Faith in God was not necessary to reaching Heaven. It was a good idea, basing a religion

not on the belief in a Divine, but in the following of a moral coda. It almost made it a non-religion, but we

still had the spiritual aspect, it just wasn't required. That had the potential to earn us many more converts,

those who felt a universal system of morals was needed, but didn't want to bog it down with such a personal

belief as that of God.

         There were environmental tenets, which had been my idea in one of our few correspondences. I

thought the Earth should play a fundamental part in our new religion. As I saw it, God had made us wards

of the Earth, and so it was our duty to take care of it. And we had surely failed in that regard. But if we had

people behind us, perhaps we could make a real difference. No small leap, as had been made by the various

environmental groups for the past fifty years, but a monumental turn-around, as only fanatic devotion could

inspire. I had been pessimistic about the state of affairs, and was fairly confident we'd destroy the Earth

ourselves, without God's help. It just seemed like we were racing against the clock, and at our current rate,

didn't really have a prayer of turning back all of our destruction.


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         Not that I was worried about the Earth for its own sake. It would rejuvenate itself, no matter what

we did to it. But I viewed Nature as a sort of high-art, and every unique aspect of it we destroyed was

equivalent to tearing down the Sistine Chapel. And something about making a species go extinct... it

seemed really wrong. I mean, I know species have been going extinct for millions of years, and we haven't

even come close to the extinction level of some of the big ones, like the KT, but still, just the idea that we

wield our power and totally eradicate one of God's creations. It seems too close to playing the big guy

ourselves, and I don't like doing that.

         So we had these environmental ideas, which I thought would probably earn us a lot more support

from the new-age sector. I thought it was something people could really unite behind, and I wanted it to be

the main focus of our religion. John thought it would turn big businesses against us, since in many ways

we'd be attacking their practices as against God. And here they were, working off of that Calvinist work

ethic. "Be judged in Heaven not merely by the possessions of your soul, but by your worldly possessions as

well." That was not a good thing to tell an eager young country with boundless natural resources. So they'd

done just that, justifying their endless greed through some piece of drivel meant to have come from God's

mouth. And now we'd be taking it away from them, and turning the force of a world-class religion against

them.

         But I didn't care if they hated us. In fact, in a way I wanted them to persecute us. Let them try,

we'd destroy them utterly once they showed themselves to be enemies of our God. Assuming we had

followers, of course. If we didn't... well, it wouldn't make much of a difference anyway. I doubted any

corporations would care if some upstart religion with five members decreed that their practices were evil.

But we would have followers. I knew we would. We would take the world by storm, it was so ready for us,

so ripe for a new messianic figure to take the reigns and lead it to a better time.

         God I was excited. It was going to be incredible. I put the rest of the notes aside; plenty of time to

look at them later. I knew what was in them anyway, for the most part, and what I didn't know I could

improvise. John was just going to have to accept that from this point on the religion was as much mine as

his, if not more so. I knew enough about what he wanted us to do; the different approaches needed to draw

as many innocents into our fold as we could, to lull everyone into a sense of false security, through which

we could control the masses. And I knew what I needed to do; reawaken the feeling of divinity in man, let


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him know that his place was next to his God, no matter what he called Him, how he worshipped Him, or

even whether he believed in Him.

           It was the warmth within each man's soul, the joy that radiated out from a soul that believed, that

was what I was trying to rekindle. And I knew I could. I had the passion, I had the training, and I had the

backing. If the other religions were going to pass their thrones to me, then I would truly have the power to

unite mankind in one glorious destiny. And that felt great.

           There was a knocking on my door.

           "Come in," I said, still lost in my thoughts.

           Julian opened the door and peered inside.

           "We're going to loosen up, remember Chris? Let this wait for a little bit, right now we're going to

celebrate. Just think, all of this work, finally culminating in your appearance tomorrow! Randy's started a

big meal, come join us at the table."

           I sighed and got up. I did want to celebrate, but I would have preferred to have done it in my own

way, rather then in a group setting with everyone jabbering on and on about what a glorious occasion it

was. I already knew it was a glorious occasion, I just wanted some time to myself to relish the thought in

silence.

           But they wanted me with them, and I was part of a group, and had to work with them as much as I

could. So I tried to put on a happy face, and act like I wanted to hang out with them all. And we sat around

the table, talking about how exciting it was going to be, and how we were finally going to get a chance to

make a difference, and how come tomorrow nothing would ever be the same again, not among us and not

in the world as a whole.

           One thing I noticed, was that no one really realized what was going on. Not even myself, I think.

We were super excited, and happy about the idea of getting to do what we'd been training to do, but the

monumental nature of what we were doing didn't really sink in. Not then, and for some of us, not ever. It

always seemed like a kind of game, just taking it one step at a time, following instructions as we received

them. Never really understanding in our hearts that what we were doing was quite possibly the largest

undertaking in the history of man. No joke.

           But we definitely knew something was up, you could tell my the energy in all of us. We were


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anxious. I think it mostly came from fear, on some level we understood that what we were doing was

incredibly dangerous. That there would be those who would take it as a personal affront to that which they

held most dear: God. And they would try and stop us by whatever means they had at their disposal; for

some that would mean writing nasty articles in newspapers, for others it would mean turning their nation's

arsenal on us. So there was a chance we'd be killed. But I think we were all willing to die for this cause. In

fact, for me at least, it would have been my ideal ending, because it would have taken all of the

responsibility off of my shoulders, but I would have died happy in the knowledge that I had martyred

myself for a great cause.

         "We're finally doing it." Randolph said, smiling. "I can't believe it. I guess I never really thought

we'd get this far, I always thought we'd burn out, or quit before we made it."

         Julian grinned, "I knew we'd do it. John wouldn't have let us quit. He'd have tied us up and forced

us to finish if we wanted to quit."

         "I surely would have." John said, chuckling, "But there was no danger of any of you quitting or

failing me. I chose you well. I could not have asked for a better group of people to share my vision. Truly."

         Everyone at the table beamed with pride at these words, and I realized that was one of the things

that made John so perfect for this: he had the charisma. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to mold people's

emotions the same way he could, but I'd have to try if I was going to make this thing work. I think the way

I ended up succeeding was less through the persuasion of surety, that John used, and more through an

innocence I managed to keep. You might think that the fact I see my innocence means it's not as strong, but

in truth, I only see it in retrospect. At the time I was pretty sure I was a man of the world, and knew about

most things.

         But I didn't. And I think people picked up on that quickly, and it made their defenses go down.

And I did have a way of manipulating people, but it was almost a natural reflex, that neither I, nor the

people I was changing, noticed. I think John saw that right away, and maybe it was this, more than anything

else, that led him to choose me. Or maybe God had a hand in it, maybe my part in the grand scheme was

pre-ordained, and John was merely a pawn.

         But I'm getting ahead of myself. We were wrapping up dinner, and I felt comfortable slipping

away to go back to my room and prepare for the next day.


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           I got there, pulled out my note-cards, shuffled through them aimlessly for a moment and then set

them back on my bedside table. I found it hard to concentrate. I knew I had what it took to gather followers,

I really did, but for some reason I was finding it hard to latch on to that belief at the moment. I stood up and

walked in front of my mirror.

           I looked at myself, trying to determine whether or not I would follow someone who looked like

me. I wasn't a terribly imposing figure, truth be told. I guess you don't know what I looked like yet, but I'll

have to break that mystique at some point, it may as well be now.

           I was about six feet tall, with plain blue eyes, and scraggly brown hair. I wasn't impressive

physically in any way. Just a normal guy, trying to make my way in the world, and trying to get the world

to follow me. I wasn't fat, I wasn't thin, I wasn't particularly muscular, nor was I scrawny. I was the picture

of normalcy. I had always wished someone would point something odd out about me, tell me I had

"haunting eyes," something like that. But no one ever did. Maybe it was good, the fact that I was

unassuming. Maybe it helped people feel at ease around me, made them feel I wasn't so different from

them. Just some normal guy they could all relate with.

           But it sure didn't feel that way the night before the big day. It felt like I was some completely

boring person, trying to convince the world I was their new Messiah. And it felt like I was going to be a

failure.

           John opened the door and came in without knocking.

           "Hi Chris. Looking for a shard of God within your form?" He asked.

           I looked back, surprised.

           "Er. I suppose so."

           "Don't bother. You won't find it." He sighed, and sat down on the edge of my bed, "I've been

looking in myself every day for the past thirty years. It's not the sort of thing you can spot in a mirror. You

have to look inside for it."

           "But I want others to be able to see it," I protested.

           "They can. I could. I saw it the first time I met you. I knew I had come to San Francisco for a

reason, but didn't know what it was until I saw you. I was wandering around, aimless, just waiting for God

to give me a sign. And instead, he gave me you."


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         I sighed, "But how do you know others will be able to spot what you saw? What if all they see is

some crazy kid, too young to know anything about their troubles, standing on a stage trying to tell them

how it is. There's nothing special about me, nothing that distinguishes me from any of the crackpots on the

street ranting and raving about their own philosophies."

         "Sure there is." John said, "There's me. We're not standing on the street dressed in rags. We're not

even on local television, with glittery jumpsuits and a choir. We have a cast of some of the largest figures

in religion backing us up. And you do have something special, that I think everyone can see. I know Jane

sees it, and I know everyone else here saw it the moment you stepped into their lives. They didn't know

what to expect, but they've told me they couldn't have hoped for someone better than you."

         "I don't know. It just seems like I should have more stage presence, or a booming voice, or

something that makes me noticeable as a key figure."

         John shook his head. "We don't want you to stand out. This is going to be the Everyman's religion,

and we need you to be the Everyman. You'll be the guy everyone can relate to, the guy they can always

trust. They won't know what hit them. They'll be living their lives, so used to the filth and squalor and

deprivation of their souls, and then they'll wake up one day, and there you'll be. And their lives will be

changed. Everything will change."

         With that, John got up and walked out of my room, closing my door quietly behind him. I lay

down on my bed, picked up the note-cards and tried to focus on them. I fell asleep before I'd read half of

them. I'm not sure why, I didn't feel tired, but I must have been exhausted. A deep exhaustion, from all of

the events of the day. After six months of relative peace, everything had begun in full stride.

         And that's how it had to be.




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Chapter IX:


            It was six am when I woke up. For a moment I wasn't sure where I was, I thought I was living in

the monastery. I looked around for the faces of familiar brothers, but all I saw was the sparse decoration of

my room in the commune. I panicked for a minute, terror started rushing at me, and adrenaline pumped into

my veins. Then I remembered where I was. My heart-rate slowed, my muscles unknotted, and I began to

relax. Then I remembered what the day was. It was too much for my poor body to take, and I passed out in

bed.

            Randolph woke me up about half an hour later, shaking me frantically in bed. When I opened my

eyes, a big grin appeared on his face.

            "Thank God man," He said, visibly relieved, "I thought you were dead or something. That would

not be the way to start this thing out."

            I tried to laugh, but the sound got caught in my throat. What the hell was I doing here? I was no

god damned leader, and the people were going to figure that out, and they were going to hate me. And

worse than that, I was going to fail all of the people that I cared so much about. I couldn't bear to think

about it.

            "I'm going to go get ready, you'd best follow my example," He looked over at the note cards which

I'd let fall on to the ground the night before, "And I suggest reading the rest of those before the big show."

            With that, he got up and left me to my own insanities. I ranted and raved for about ten minutes,

then decided it was time to pull myself together. Reaching over to pick up the note cards, I felt a wave of

nausea, but surpressed it, and settled down to finishing reading.

            Twenty minutes later I was storming into the guest room where John was staying.

            "What's the meaning of this?" I asked angrily, shoving a note-card in his startled face.

            He had been doing some sort of meditative exercise, and I realized I probably should have

knocked. But it was just so awful, John trying to slip these blasphemous views into our new religion.

            "Abortion." He said, after regaining his composure.

            "And we," I paused to look down at my card, "'See nothing wrong with the act of an early abortive

procedure, if used as a last resort, once all other options have been exhausted.'? This is bullshit John. This is
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complete and total-"

         "What?" He said, looking at me challengingly, "Blasphemy? Chris, listen: We're making a new

religion here. We're not a Catholic order, we're not even Christians. You need to let go of whatever

teachings have been drilled into you since you were a child, and start thinking for yourself for a change."

         "But to condone murder John!" I said, fully riled up. I was not going to let this get in, no matter

what the bastard thought he was doing, I knew he was trying to let a practice in which repelled the very

nature of God within me.

         "Please Chris," He said patiently, "Step back from your emotions for a moment, and take a look at

how absurd you appear. We're setting up social order, and society dictates freedom of choice. We cannot

tout these outmoded beliefs as our new moral code."

         "Social order John?" I said, hardly believing what I was hearing, "At what cost? Moral

responsibility? God's Law, John? I am not going to get up on that stage and announce to the world that it is

now perfectly acceptable to terminate the life of one of God's children."

         John sighed deeply, "Chris, I can't make you do anything, but I wish you'd look at this from a

more objective point of view. You have the gall to call it God's will. How dare you? What do you know of

the true heart of God, Chris? You know what you've been fed by your faith, and that's all. And I will not let

you make such a biased value judgment for the rest of mankind, not when what we're professing here is an

escape from the old biases."

         "But to take away a life John, are you really willing to have that burden on your shoulders?"

         "If it means saving a child a life of suffering, yes. If it means protecting a family from being

broken by an unwanted baby, yes. If it means allowing humans to make a decision based on their own

heart, yes."

         "Suffering? Now you profess to play God. No man has the right to end a life, no matter what sort

of suffering he sees or feels. God's Mercy may not seem just to us, but it is, His Justice is the greatest we

shall ever see. He would never ask us more than that which He already has suffered. What is our suffering

compared to His?"

         "Chris," John said, patiently, as though lecturing a small child, "Man lives for joy, not for pain.

We cannot espouse a philosophy of endurance. We offer the ultimate relief, a blessing in His arms, we


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cannot condemn those who would try and spare a being the agony of a spiritually devoid life."

         "Yes we can John," I said, knowing with all my heart that I was right, "We can and we must. We

cannot condone euthanasia, we cannot condone suicide, and we cannot condone abortion. All murder is

wrong, and it is most foul when done under the banner of alleviating suffering. It is a ploy of the Dark One

to make us feel as though we cannot endure pain.

         "The inevitable grasping for lost Eden. We wish perfection, and when we fall short, we wish

release. But God does not wish us to run from His trials, he wishes us to stand strong, and suffer a lifetime

if necessary, that we may know His joy. What is a lifetime of pain to an eternity of joy, John?"

         "Your mind won't be changed then." John said, shaking his head sadly, "Therefore I must entreat

you to make no statement regarding the issue. If you will not condone it, then for God's sake, please do not

destroy us by condemning it."

         "You would have me stay silent then?" I asked, a touch of bitterness in my voice, "Sit aside and

turn my eyes while murder is committed in my name?"

         He just sat there, looking up at me, his eyes begging me to say yes.

         "Fine," I almost spat out, "I'll do it. But may God have mercy on this religion if all of our beliefs

are compromised for the sake of Public Relations."

         With that, I turned on my heel and stormed out of the room, slamming the door loudly behind me.

There were people standing in the hall, staring at me in silence, and I glared back at them.

         "What?" I asked loudly, daring any of them to accuse me. Daring them to challenge my holy

righteousness, to bring down the fire of my belief. But none of them did. They just stood there, looking at

me, not moving, not speaking, just gazing at me like I was a creature in a zoo, on display for them.

         "You self-righteous, closed-minded, arrogant-" Jane began, before Julian pulled her away into the

living room.

         I was stunned. Self-righteous? When all I cared about was the glory of God. Closed-minded?

Because I had my belief, and held it with a surety which frightened her. Arrogant? Because I somehow

dared to challenge the all-mighty majesty of John. The anger in her eyes, the scathing cold she shot at me

as she was led down the hallway, that did more to me than anything John ever could have said.

         And so, for a moment, I re-evaluated my view. And come up with the same answer. I could not


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justify the murder of a human being. I could not view an abortion as a preventative measure. I was for

contraceptives for Christ's sake, how liberal did they want me to be? I understood that the child might be

born into a family that didn't love it, that it might live without enough food, without shelter, that it might

die on the streets in the cold.

         But at least it had dignity. And people would laugh at that, I'm sure. "What dignity is there to be

had dying on the streets in the cold?" They would ask. And I would answer, dignity in the eyes of God.

More dignity than there was to be had being slain before you had a chance to view the majesty of the Lord.

More dignity than there was in being killed by salt, or drained through a vacuum.

         The dignity to be able to approach the Throne of God in Heaven, and say unto Him, "Yes Lord, I

saw your Earth. I suffered much pain there, but I beheld your works. It was not easy, God, as dying on the

cross was not easy for you. I felt the pain you felt in watching your only begotten son suffer, and I come

here with that knowledge, ready to accept you into my heart."

         But it didn't matter. I was going to let the issue lie, though my heart grieved to do so. I had told

John I would stay silent, and I would honor my word. Later, perhaps, I would make a statement, once we

were established, once the threat of non-acceptance was only a memory from the distant past. Until then, I

would wait.

         I went back to my room, showered and got dressed. I had wanted to dress very nicely for the

occasion, but John had said I should dress up only as much as I would to go out to dinner. We were not

trying to impress them with my apparel, he said, but to win them with our truth. So I put on a pair of decent

slacks, wishing I'd remembered to have them pressed, and I put on a dress-shirt, that nonetheless had a

couple of holes in it. When I was ready, I went out to the living-room, hoping everyone had put off the

abortion issue, at least for the time being.

         It seemed they had, and the mood in the air was one of general excitement and anticipation. We'd

been waiting a long time for this, they more than I, and now that the day was finally upon us, it seemed like

we hadn't had nearly enough time.

         As we were all chatting about what was likely to happen, and who was going to be there watching

us, and what countries it was going to be aired in, John walked into the room. We all quieted down

immediately.


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         "Here we are." He said, looking at us proudly, "We're about to make history. So, without any

fancy words or trite speeches: let's get on with it."

         And with that, we got into our cars, and headed off towards our destinies.



                                               *        *       *



         There was special parking reserved for us out front of the building, and I felt rather honored when

I stepped out a mere stones throw from the door, when I had seen important looking men walking from

blocks away.

         There were a lot of people there. At first I found it hard to comprehend just how many there really

were. It was like being outside of the Oscars or the Grammy's, except the people didn't really know who

they were there to see. That was obvious by the total lack of response our arrival received. No one had any

reason to recognize any of us, except for John, and he was hidden under a trench-coat, and hemmed in

tightly between us.

         So the throngs of people continued staring for their glitzy religious princes, while we strolled to

the door. As we approached, I noticed a security guard talking to a group of five or six ragged looking men

and women. He seemed to be getting angry, and was gesticulating wildly, obviously indicating that they

should be leaving. I recognized one of the men. He was the man I had seen outside of the restaurant, and

the nagging feeling that I knew him from somewhere else was still there.

         We showed our passes to the guards, and they smiled and waved us through.

         "By the way," I said over my shoulder, pointing at the knot of vagrants, "They're with us."

         The guard shrugged and passed the small group through. I noticed the man shoot a grin in my

direction before joining his friends to find the best seats. I smiled to myself. I wasn't sure where I knew

him, or who he was, but he had a good look around him, and I was happy to have him there to watch me.

         John led us all back behind the stage, where there were a many men in various ceremonial garb,

and a few skittering between them wearing headsets and uniformly black apparel. For a moment, I felt like

we were backstage at a circus, or some sort of strange experimental theater, and I began to imagine us

going on stage performing Shakespeare or Stoppard.


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         This little fantasy evaporated quickly, as John called the back room to silence.

         "Gentlemen, ladies," He nodded around, "This is Chris."

         There was complete silence for a moment, and I felt a hundred pairs of eyes staring at me intently.

They were studying me, with such a deep scrutiny that for a moment I though I would vanish as soon as

they looked away. These were not normal men and women who were boring through me, but the most

devout of God's chosen followers.

         With an audible group exhalation, a decision seemed to be reached, and it appeared to be in my

favor. The speaking continued, the little groups returning to themselves. But I was now quite aware that

this was no show, and I was the center of our rather large endeavor.

         I'm not sure how long we waited back there, I suppose for about two hours, but it seemed like both

an eternity and an instant to me. Sitting by myself in a corner, having alienated even my dear Jane earlier

that morning, I felt as though time were passing by me like a thick gel. Voices and faces were ever present,

but still meaningless to my ears and eyes. And a moment later, John was approaching me smiling.

         "Here we go Chris," he said, patting me on the back, "Take a deep breath and give it what you've

got. Remember, we're right."

         With that he strode out from behind the curtain and on to the large, very empty, stage. I stayed

behind until my cue, watching him speak on one of the many viewing monitors available for us backstage.

         "Once every hundred years," John began, "There comes a movement so powerful that it shakes the

foundations of society. And once every thousand, there comes a man so powerful he moves the soul of

humanity. I come to bring you such a movement, and such a man.

         "Call him a prophet, call him a Messiah, call him a boy. Whatever you call him, know that he has

been ordained by the Lord on high to lead our world into a new era. We have felt suffering, we have felt

misery, we have felt despair; all of our own creation. Groups have sprung up to buffer us from our fate, but

they too have grown despondent, and so turned to corruption. I bring you the one who will cleanse the

Earth that we may rejoice once again in the splendor of living.

         "There is nothing I can say which he cannot say better, so I will leave you to him," his voice

changed tone, down from the preacher's persona he had put on, "He will say what he has to say, and then

answer some questions. Be easy on the boy, it's not easy being God's mouthpiece."


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         I caught a wry smile on his face as he turned and walked off stage, patting me on the arm as he

passed me. That was my cue. I was supposed to go out there and explain to the world that they should trust

me above all others. And here I was, a shivering little boy who had no idea what was really going on. I was

supposed to go out there, but I was rooted to the ground where I stood, unable to move.

         "Go get 'em, Chris," I heard Jane say from behind me. And suddenly it was okay. Not in some

corn-ball romantic way, it just was. I knew I could go out and talk to them. And if they didn't want to listen,

then they didn't have to, and that was that. And if they wanted to kill me, well, then I supposed they could

do that too.

         I walked out, blinded for a moment by the bright lights glaring down on me. As my eyes adjusted,

I began to see the vague outlines of people out in the audience. Not faces, as anyone who's ever been on

stage is well aware, but definitely other human beings. And I wasn't scared. Not in the least. I knew what I

had to do, and I did it.

         "I don't know my parents," I began, "I was found in the water by a group of Franciscan Sisters,

who raised me as their own, and as a blessing from God. Since my youngest days, God is all I have known,

and all I have cared to know."

         I swallowed, unsure what to say.

         "I have lived in this world for 23 years, and have seen many of its evils. But I am certain they are

neither the evils of the world, nor the evils of God. In fact, I am certain they are not evils at all, merely

misunderstandings. Thousands of years ago groups of wandering nomads worshipped their totems and the

seasons, later the Babylonians worshipped their pantheon, and the Greeks theirs, and the Egyptians theirs.

Then came the One God of the Hebrews, and the One God of the Muslims, and finally the One God of the

Christians. There were elephant headed Gods, and Gods which were nothing but coins, and those

Goddesses which ripped men apart to satisfy their rage, and those Goddesses who lay with men to teach

them of the world. We have seen cults masquerading as religion, and we have religions masquerading as

cults. We have seen laws which tell us not to kill be used as the justification for Holy Wars resulting in the

deaths of millions.

         "We have seen peoples exterminated in the name of our Gods. We have seen the Earth raped in the

name of our Gods. And we have seen our souls shrivel and grow thirsty for the true meaning in the name of


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our Gods.

            "Two thousand years ago a man came to bring a New Covenant. His voice was heard, and altered,

and bastardized, and has brought us to this." I waved my hands around me, "In such ways have many

prophets been abused throughout the ages. I come to right these wrongs. I come to bring a Final Covenant.

I come to lead you to a glorious new age of Man."

            There was a silence in the chamber. I was disappointed. I don't know what I expected to happen,

but silence definitely wasn't the ideal I was shooting for. Luckily, the silence didn't last long. As one body

the audience rose to its feet in applause. Not the timid clapping of a curtain call at an opera, nor the racous

anarchy of a metal concert, they applauded because they were moved. I don't understand why, even to this

day. My words weren't that powerful, shouldn't have stirred their souls as much as they did.

            They finished, as if on cue, and sat back down in their seats, gazing expectantly at me. I smiled

down at them all. They were accepting me, they really were. Perhaps this crazy scheme of ours would

work. Perhaps Providence was in fact on our side.

            "Now then," I said, trying to settle into normalcy, to let them know I was just one of the guys, "If

there are any questions, I'd be happy to try and answer them."

            An old man in the front row, definitely a dignitary of a government or religion stood slowly. His

clothes had the casual elegance of a Don at an Oxford college, and his self-assurance was the sort that two

days before would have made me a cowering wreck. But now I was full of the confidence that the Lord was

backing me.

            "Why are you leading this religion?" He asked, simply, without pretense or accusation, then sat

down again.

            "An excellent question." I responded, thinking to myself. Why was I leading the religion?

"Because I was chosen to do so. Each man has a destiny in the eyes of God, and he does what is required of

him towards that destiny. I was marked to lead mankind for a short time, and I will do so to the best of my

ability."

            I saw him nod slightly. I wish I had more to say, more justification for my role in the religion, but

really there wasn't much I could point to. What was I expected to tell them? That I had met a crazy old

nutcase in a pub, and he had decided I was going to be the figurehead for his new mission? But that wasn't


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it, really. John had already known he was looking for me then, I was sure of it. Something had told him

where to find me, even if he didn't quite realize it.

         A middle-aged woman, with a child at her side, stood up.

         "So," She said awkwardly, obviously less used to public speaking then the old man, "Who can join

this new religion? There a list of things you have to be or something?"

         I smiled. I was on familiar ground now. These were the types of questions we had expected them

to ask me, so I was well prepared to answer them.

         "The One Faith is open to everyone. We don't care what race you are, what religion you may have

subscribed to before, whether you're rich or poor, or challenged in any way. And here's where we get a little

different. We don't care if you believe in God or not." I smiled at the murmur in the audience, "We would,

of course prefer you bathed in His light, but we won't force it upon you. The important thing in His eyes is

not whether you worship Him, but whether you live a good and just life."

         I gave them a moment to digest that. "Whatever you want to call your God is fine with the One

Faith. There is a truth which is as old as man: that all Gods are One God, and that all Goddesses are One

Goddess. There is talk in the Old Testament of the worshipping of false Gods, and this has caused more

strife and pain than I can count.

         "But I tell you this: They were not speaking of the same God under different auspices and

appearances, they were speaking of those things which masquerade as God. And somehow, in the heat of

persecuting other fellow believers who chose to change a name here, and alter a minor tenet there, many

professed believers have fallen under the sway of one of many false Gods.

         "The God of the age, it has been said, is Science. And this is truer then the first humorous

statement lets on. We have let ourselves be ruled by vague terms such as progress and advancement, let

ourselves be told what is right, and what ends these means are justifying. And if this idol of Technology

told us to sacrifice our children, saying it would save the world from a horrific plague, and if it coated it

with enough 'ritual' and 'ceremony', and hid its true meaning under a thick layer of techno-babble, then

many of us would do it.

         "And that has got to change. There is nothing wrong with science, nor progress, nor advancement.

But at the cost of ethics, and morals, and justice, we cannot allow them to continue. The scientists are not to


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blame, I don't want you leaving here with that on your mind. There is no blame here, only need for

change."

           "What about money?" One of the scraggly looking men I'd let in earlier shouted, "Sure seems like

some people treat that like a God!"

           I smiled, "Money as well. And this 'standard of living' we all tout, allowing our forests to be

sacked, our rivers to be fouled, and our air to be charred. This, above all, will be the hardest of the changes.

We won't be moving back into the woods, but we will see price increases, we will see a scarcity of products

while the market adjusts to our new demands. But we cannot destroy the Lord's creation for one of our

own, no matter how much society has taught us to value it."

           I stood, looking down at them. They had been responsive thus far, with a few affirmative shouts,

and a general consensus of nodding. I wasn't sure they realized exactly how much I meant their standard

would drop, once all of our Laws were enforced, but I was certain they wouldn't be happy about it.

Nonetheless, that was a time off in the future, and for the here and now I had to answer questions.

           A young man near the back of the auditorium stood up, shouting to make his voice heard.

           "You've told us it's going to be hard, you've told us we're going to hate it, so why should we join?

What's in it for us."

           Ah. The big questions. What's in it for us. I didn't have much of an answer ready, even though I

expected the question from the beginning. There just wasn't a whole lot I could say, weren't any absolutely

stupendous reasons they should join, much as was the case with them following me.

           "The great American question," I began, wishing I hadn't started that way, "What do we get out of

it? For starters, a cleaner Earth. But while that sounds great on a mental level, I'm sure it doesn't quite

satisfy your question. You'll get peace. I don't think many people understand how important that is. We, as

a nation, and most of our world, live in constant fear and stress. Part of it is a day-to-day fear, the ever-

present danger of being mugged on the streets, or killed as a result of senseless violence. We will alleviate

this fear in two ways. Firstly, we will campaign diligently to restore meaning to the lives of our vast

majority which finds life deprived of all sense. It is this hopelessness, this struggling in the dark, which

leads so many to a life of crime, fighting against something they cannot understand.

           "And the second way, well, the second way is what religion is all about: fear of death. The two


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main 'purposes' of religion, if you will, are to explain why we are here, and to explain what happens to us

when we die. So many that should be fully confident in their faith, be it of heaven, or reincarnation, or what

have you, are not. Are just as full of senseless fear as the rest of us. Why? Partly because it is the nature of

the animal. But the animal nature can be changed by the essence of God within us all. And when this fails,

it is because the religion is full of too many flaws, too many loopholes for the believer to truly believe

anything.

         "Though parts may resonate, if even one aspect seems to absurd to be true, it casts all other aspects

in shadow. And that being so, it is hard to reap comfort from the assurances in an afterlife. I tell you this:

there is an afterlife. I have seen it in visions from God, and it is spectacular beyond human imaginings. But

you will learn about this later, if you wish. For now, be assured, we will explain why this afterlife exists,

and you will be filled with confidence in it."

         I paused, for a moment I had lost my train of thought, visions of my imagined afterlife filtering

through my head. Then I remembered, fear and stress.

         "The other side of fear we face, is much less selfish. We fear not only the survival of ourselves,

but the survival of the species. This is the fundamental drive for all life, and humans are certainly no

exception. Every day we are faced, albeit indirectly, with the prospect of all out war, which has the

potential to destroy human life on the planet. This fear was not so great before the early part of the century,

but with the advent of atomics, what was once a far-off nightmare became a plausible reality.

         "How will we solve this greater fear? With the consent of the people. We will turn our Church into

a power the likes of which has rarely been seen. And we will do it in the name of love and compassion. We

will find a way to disarm this planet, I guarantee it."

         I wasn't sure what led me to make such an outlandish claim. I was fairly certain we could never do

that, no matter how much power we had. Even if we did manage to disarm most of the nations on the

world, we would have no way of knowing whether they were continuing to hide weapons, or whether some

rogue country would see that as the opportunity to strike. While the balance now held among the nations of

the world between total destruction and nuclear peace was shaky, it was, nonetheless, a balance.

         "So why join?" I said, wrapping up my answer, "Join to free yourself from fear. Join to make a

planet worth raising children in. Join to add your strength to a mighty sword of Peace. We're not anarchists,


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we're not going to overthrow governments, but we are going to see that change is made, to better mankind."

         The same old man in the distinguished garb stood again, I waited expectantly for his question. He

took a moment before speaking, gazing around him at the throngs of people, lost in contemplation of

something.

         "I assume there are rules," He said in an almost bored voice, "Some sort of guidelines by which

we are expected to adhere. Please, if you would, tell us a selection."

         "Certainly," I said, clearing my throat as he sat down, "Many which bear no repeating, they should

be so second nature. No unprovoked violence with malicious intent, be it mental, verbal or physical. No

theft of property recognized by a consensus as belonging to an individual. No blatant disregard for the

welfare of mankind as a whole. No treating human beings as anything less than that, children of God. And

on, and on. It is not a horrendously long list, nor is it legal in its language, but it is lengthy enough to

address all key points, and assertive enough so as to allow no misinterpretations or exploitation of

loopholes."

         I started to turn towards a woman near the side who was getting up, I assumed to ask a question,

but the old man spoke before I moved far.

         "You said earlier our lifestyles would degenerate." I winced at that word, the connotations weren't

very positive, "How so? How will these 'laws' of yours cause prices to increase?"

         "As I said, I scarcely touched on the tenets in full. There will be complete copies available for any

who want them. But for this, I will give a more lengthy answer. In some instances, it will be as a result of

the Fourth Rule of One: We must treat all humans with the dignity and honor they deserve as fellow

children of God. As this includes exploitive wages, no matter what country one happens to be in, well, you

can see how that would cause prices to rise."

         I paused as I thought of something, "However, you can see also how this would provide incentive

for the businesses to bring their work back into the United States, something people have been steadily

complaining about since the exodus began. We must also consider those companies which see mass-

pollution, dangerous waste management, clear-cutting virgin old-growth, and all of the other atrocities

committed for the sake of profit. None of these actions can be viewed as beneficial to mankind as a whole.

In fact, it could easily be said they are quite detrimental to our well-being. In some instances it could be


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considered an unprovoked attack towards another human being, and while perhaps not malicious as-such, it

is still thoughtlessness to such an extreme it becomes sin."

         "You do then," He asked, "Retain the idea of sin?"

         "We do. There is but one sin, and all of our 'laws' are attempts to see that it is not committed. The

sin is that of not loving your fellow man. Of not respecting either him or God enough to care for him. This

sin can become hard to see at times, and so we have drawn outlines, which may change as the times dictate,

but nonetheless can act as a guiding light for those in darkness."

         Seemingly satisfied, he finally sat down. I was glad, he had begun to make me nervous, standing

and staring at me. When it was apparent he wasn't going to stand again, the woman to the side finally

spoke.

         "Hello sir," She said, in a timid voice, "My name is Rosanna, and I've been Prebyterian my entire

life. I like what you're saying, I agree with it, but I don't see how I can just drop my faith."

         She sat down, shooting me an apologetic look, as though she were sorry she had bothered me with

such a trivial affair as her doubts. But I was glad she had brought it up, it was a good question that deserved

an answer, and a perfect segue into the next phase of the night.

         "You're not dropping your faith Rosanna, don't worry. We worship the same God, that's what I'm

trying to get across. Retain your God, retain your belief, retain your Christ. All we ask is that you look

around you, see how the world has become, and accept that this was not the vision of peace Christ had in

mind. Realize that the free will God gave man has been used to twist his words, and that it is time his words

were reshaped. I'm not coming to tell you the basis for your belief is wrong, but that some of the teachings

you have received may be in error.

         "So many problems could be solved if we all learned to live together, don't you think Rosanna? An

almost fourth grade idealism, you may think, but there is truly no reason it can't be done. For the longest

time, one of the greatest barriers towards this goal has been that which professes to strive towards is:

religion itself. Now we will break down these barriers, and unite ourselves under one banner.

         "There are other men and women here tonight, waiting backstage, who would like to talk to you as

well. Many of them will be familiar to you all, many of them will be new faces. They are all men and

women of God, by whatever name they hail him, or her," I added with a smile, "And they would like to


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give their support to the One Faith. They have joined our ranks, not revoking their old beliefs, but accepting

that the time for change is at hand."

         And so they came out on stage, and gave small speeches, each one amounting to the same thing.

They made a declaration for their religious branch as a whole, saying it was dissolved, and that all members

of their faith were called towards the One Faith with open arms.

         All in all it took about three hours, but it wasn't nearly as boring as it may sound. These were all

good speakers we had, and the subject was an immensely powerful one. At times I felt like I was going to

weep, and I was sure those in the audience were moved.

         I didn't hear all of what was said, but I heard enough to realize that our religion was going to be a

success. John had gotten so many high-ranking people there that day that there was no way we could fail.

There were heads of small cultish religions, and heads of worldwide churches with memberships in the

hundreds of millions. And mixed in with them were dignitaries from other nations, offering their support to

our cause. It was almost a fusion of politics and religion, but the spiritual aspect definitely held sway.

         When everyone was done talking, I wandered backstage, where my friends rushed me, patting me

on the back, congratulating me, asking me how I felt. I was too dazed to say anything, and so I did the only

thing I could do, I smiled and took in their friendly attentions. And so our religion began, and so it

prospered, and so it spread.




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Chapter X:


         It was a cold February morning, and I woke up feeling in good spirits. The previous night I had

met with Sister Beth, who had come to the Central Church as a petitioner, hoping to join the higher order of

converts who spread the Word throughout the world. I had been surprised at first, since after the first week

of our existence most converts had been sent through one of the lesser offices, and I was rarely troubled

with such things.

         But I was glad she had made her way to my door. It had been a long time since I last saw her, and

while I didn't have much free time to reflect on her and others from my past, when I did glance into that

void, it was her face which most often met me there. She had smiled at me, as though not knowing exactly

what to say, then had greeted me formally, not as an old student, but as her new leader.

         It put me off for a moment. I wasn't sure how to react to good old Sister Beth calling me sir, and

Blessed One (a damnable title which had originated on the streets, not from our press order). I reminded her

of our mutual past, and of the many occasions she scolded me, and told her that I would prefer it if she

called me Chris.

         So she did, and after that we got on fine. I put her in charge of a division of converts which were

going to Asia Minor to spread the word. I knew she would lead them well, although most of them weren't

really religious types, but technology, press (we abhorred the word propaganda), and political experts. She

had something in her eyes which made her easy to trust, and something in her voice that let you know her

trust would not be taken advantage of.

         We had stayed up late chatting, and it was five o'clock before I finished my daily paperwork and

got to bed, only to be awoken again at seven by my Handler. Getting two hours of sleep was something

which at one point would have bothered me, and made me an incomparable grouch for the rest of the day,

but I had been taking lessons from a yogi who had joined our cause, and I was finding that sleep was more

and more of a luxury, and less and less of something I physically needed. Of course I needed some on

occasion, to release my pent up hallucinations, but I found that two hours was not a bad night's rest.

         I ate my toast and jam at a leisurely pace, making some quick notes on a scratch piece of paper. I

needed to get yogi Papagi to teach his techniques to more people. I was surprised they had existed for so
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long without being utilized by the population at large. Granted, they took a large amount of mental control,

as well as a command of your body, but it wasn't something people couldn't learn, given time and devotion.

Nonetheless, I suppose it was in our best interests that as of yet the information hadn't been made publicly

available; it would be yet another tangible benefit people could attribute to our faith.

         I had a meeting in a couple of hours with a delegate from Uruguay, who was interested in

declaring the One Faith as the national religion, and wanted to know my take on it, and whether we would

be willing to offer financial support to the cause. I wasn't sure how I felt about a "national religion" as such.

It seemed like it could easily turn our peaceful, fully consentual belief system into a rigorously enforced

martial order. I didn't think our PR department would go for that, and I didn't think I particularly cared for

it.

         But I had said I would speak with him, and if he proved to be convincing enough, I might just

send him a group of our people to oversee its implementation, and give him a sizable donation to make

some churches.

         Money was something we had foreseen as being a big problem, but it was the one thing we really

shouldn't have worried about. I don't know what it is about new religions that draw out the big spenders,

but we sure got a few big ones. Maybe it's the fact that they have so terribly much money, and still aren't

happy, and are just looking for things which promise to make them happy, no matter the cost. Whatever the

reason, within five days of my speech, we had donations pouring in which were in the eight and nine digit

range. We also had those in the one and two digit range, and we usually sent some sort of reciprocation for

these. We didn't want to refuse the money, since we knew in many cases it was a decision they made, and

one of the only things they could do to profess their faith, but we also didn't want to take anyone's food

money for the week. So we sent them plane-tickets, and candles, and food, and anything else we could

think of that we could reasonably affix the name of the One Faith to.

         I spent the two hours prior to my meeting doing various necessary, yet boring, tasks. Wandering

from the different rooms which served as offices in our Church. All of the faces were familiar, most having

been taken directly from the commune. Randolph was running our finances, his wife living with him in the

fair sized apartment the Church supplied. Moreen handled some of the local publicity, and, having found

that she had a knack for writing, was working on a new, more colorful, edition of the Sourcebook.


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Everyone who had been present at the inception of the idea was still involved, and happy to be so. We had

gathered a few new recruits in our upper-echelon as well. Stanley Moklos, a Hungarian immigrant who had

served in the military during the Cold War, and was now serving as tactical advisor to our Disarmament

Committee, which had yet to make its bold move of telling the governments of the world what to do.

         I paused in thought for a minute as I gazed in on Stanley hunched over some papers. I wasn't sure

when we were going to confront the governments, but I knew it was going to be a turning point. Whether

they decided to play along for the time being, decided to actually disarm, or just laughed in our faces was

such an unknown at present. Much of it depended on the power, or appearance of power, we presented. I

hadn't gotten the newest recruitment numbers, but at last check we were fast approaching the 500 million

mark. We had hoped to be at one billion by the end of February, and at this rate it looked as though it might

be a possibility. If so, then would be the time to make our declaration. A fifth of the world's population was

no meager backing to threaten the governments with.

         What I was mostly worried about was that they would choose to play along, and continue

acquiescing on the surface, while doing nothing tangible. I wasn't sure how we'd react to that particular tact,

and I was sure at least one government would attempt it. I was sure many of our hundreds of millions of

followers would be willing to strike if we ordered to; but giving that order would undermine our moral

foundation too much for my liking. We didn't want the superpowers as our enemies, if we could help it. But

on the other hand, we couldn't show any sort of weakness, not this early in the game. We had to make it

perfectly clear that when we told the government to do something, and backed it up with copious

justification, they needed to do it.

         Our voice was not merely the voice of God, it was also the voice of the people. For once, people

were feeling as though they belonged to an organization large enough to challenge long held beliefs

grounded in obvious stupidity. Without any fear of seeming a part of some degenerate faction, such as the

demonized Communists, people could challenge their own government's policies. So long had the laws of

state, even in supposedly solely secular governments, been directly shaped by the laws of religion, that it

was not unreasonable to expect the governments to change in accordance with the new religion. And no

longer would religion justify such things as mass destruction and exploitation, now it would defend the

Earth and her people against such injustice.


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         In some ways I hoped they would outwardly deny our requests, giving the people a reason to feel

persecuted and unfairly represented. In many countries, long used to being under the yoke of their

oppressive governments, nothing would happen. But in first world nations, where the thought that the

people could directly alter the government was a strong one, we would see protesting on a mass scale. And

it would lend our cause so much credence it would be next to impossible for anyone to stomp us out.

         But all that would need to wait. We weren't yet powerful enough, though our ranks had been

growing at an incredible rate. I had to talk with this head of state, and decide whether or not I wanted to set

a precedent for us supporting governments which wished to marry our religion. It could lend us so much

power, but at the same time it could set us up for so much public attack.

         All of this was running through my head as I made my way to my main greeting chamber, where

Julio Hernandez was probably already waiting for me. I had never met him before, but some of the

atrocities his government was responsible for were enough for me to paint a sinister picture. I imagined a

small dark man, with a black curly mustache, greasy hair, expensive tailored suits, and a silky voice that

promised a cruel spirit.

         What I got was fairly removed from that image. My first thought when I opened the door was: Has

he sent his valet in to explain something to me? The man sitting on the large couch was tall, well-built,

extremely fair-skinned, and his long blond hair framed a face full of laugh wrinkles. His eyes glittered as

they met mine, and seemed to promise a soul with great facilities for joy.

         "Ah, Senor Cruz. It is good to meet you at last. I have heard so many good things about you." He

stood and walked over to me, extending his hand.

         He had a firm handshake. The handshake of a man who has had to deal with many important

people during his life, and has learned that his grip can make the difference between being treated like an

equal and being treated as an inferior. I never developed a firm handshake, I preferred to be perceived as

weak in body to my adversaries and friends alike. It led them to believe I was weak in mind as well, and

often they would leave themselves open as a result. At times I felt like I was scheming more than was right

for a leader of a faith to do, but it was necessary to our survival.

         "Thank you Mr. Hernandez. I'm happy you could make it up here to speak about this. I hate

discussing matters such as these over the telephone."


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         "I understand entirely. It is difficult to know who hears you over a phone. Being here we felt could

help us get our message across more adequately."

         "Please then, sit back down, and let's discuss." I said, smiling and sitting on the large chair I

usually used, facing the couch.

         "Yes. Let us not dally more than is necessary on pleasant talk, but get directly down to business."

He said, sitting on the couch.

         "I understand that Uruguay is interested in claiming the One Faith as the national religion."

         "Yes. Many of us have found the Faith most rewarding in our personal experiences, and would

like to see that this is led into the lives of our fellow countrymen."

         "You must realize, Mr. Hernandez, that I am slightly skeptical as to whether the Faith would be

freely available to people without being forced upon them."

         His face reddened, and for a moment I thought he would stand and leave. Luckily he didn't. I felt

he was unjustified even in reddening; he had come here to discuss, and I was openly stating my doubts and

reservations.

         "You insinuate that we will use violence to push it on our people?" He said, a slight trace of anger

in his voice.

         "I only say that the possibility must be recognized. Much has occurred in your section of the world

which the Faith cannot condone in any way. We preach a total acceptance of all humans, and a respect for

all aspects of their lives. If someone chooses not to join the Faith, we want it very clear that they are to be

respected as such, and allowed to practice their own religion."

         "Even if their religion has as its foundation a hatred of yours?" He asked, looking me levelly in the

eyes.

         I was surprised. I hadn't heard anything of religions which were opposing us so directly. There

were of course a few groups devoted to discrediting us. Mostly Christians who felt as though the One Faith

was the work of the anti-Christ, and not the work of God. While I had to admit that it could be perceived

that way, especially in light of certain biblical passages, I also thought it was rather juvenile of them to drag

their feet and kick and scream just because they were no longer the ruling power in the world.

         "Yes Senor," he said, "The Catholics of the End have grown rather militant in my section of the


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world. They burn crosses in front of the Faith's churches, which usually inhabit their old buildings, and

even go so far as to kidnap some of our most faithful countrymen. It is an unpleasant situation."

         "And you hope," I said, beginning to get an idea what he wanted, "That by adopting the Faith as

the national religion, and putting the force of the military behind it, you can stop these 'Catholics of the

End', who I'm sure have been a headache for the government lately."

         "The thought had crossed our mind," He said, cautiously, "That by pronouncing the Faith as the

religion of the country, we might drive fear into the hearts of these trouble-makers, and cause them to end

their campaign of violence."

         "Certainly not then." I said, my mind made up. "I will not allow our Faith to be used as an excuse

for you to eliminate ruffians. If they see our cause as a great evil, I pity them, but they must be allowed to

freedom to express themselves. If you were to destroy them, backed by our name, they would become

martyrs overnight, and all we have worked for in the past months could be lost. I won't stand for it."

         "If your Eminence would please reconsider-" He began, before I cut him off.

         "I said no, and that is final. If you decide you'd like to adopt the Faith solely for the good of the

people, and not as a strong-arm maneuver, then perhaps we will have more to talk about."

         His face beamed, and he opened his mouth to speak.

         "That does not mean," I said quickly, "That paying lipservice to peace while quietly using it as an

excuse to butcher will be acceptable. Your nation has become 85% devout, Mr. Hernandez, and I rather

doubt the other 15% would be able to suppress a rebellion, if it came under orders of the Church. We are a

body of peace, but we will use all means at our disposal to retain that peace."

         "Then surely your Eminence understands our position." He pleaded.

         "Certainly I do." I said, smiling at him, "But I believe you are misguided. When I said we would

use all means at our disposal, I meant all peaceful means. Violence is not within our grasp, nor should it be

within yours. You need to find a more peaceful way of dealing with these rebels, or accept them as they are

and hope they turn to the light eventually."

         He sighed. "If there is nothing more then, Senor Cruz, I will be going. I have others to speak to

before I leave your country. It saddens me greatly to leave without the blessing of the Church, but I will

bring what you have said to those I report to, and we will discuss it."


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         I smiled.

         "Then perhaps soon we will both rejoice at a compromise." I said, "And if I can ever be of more

assistance, you need but call and I will offer what I may."

         He got up to leave, and walked towards the door. I followed him, and offered a brief prayer for

him, laying my hand on his forehead. He walked out, smiling triumphantly, about what, I don't know. I

closed the door and sat back down on the couch heavily.

         Had I made the right decision? I had no real way of knowing. It was so hard to tell what the

consequences would be. Either they would try to resolve the conflict peacefully, respecting my wishes, and

the wishes of the Faith, or they would ignore me completely. The smile he had had on his faith threw me.

He must have known something I didn't, and that bothered me. I prided myself on keeping up to date on

everything.

         I sighed to myself. I needed a break from all this. I needed to get away from it for the day, and just

go off and do something peaceful. In a burst of inspiration I decided to walk over to O'Tooles and see how

<ref?> was doing with the place. Maybe I could give some publicity, or something that would pay him

back for all of the nice things he'd done for me.

         As I walked past Jane's room, I poked my head in for a minute to have her look into why Julio

Hernandez had been smiling. She was working on her computer, and didn't notice me come in. I stood

behind her for a moment, admiring the way the light reflected off of her brown hair. She was so beautiful,

and I was so lucky to have her as my own.

         Not that she was solely mine. We'd discussed it, and decided that since I wasn't willing to commit

myself to a life of the flesh, and she wasn't willing to do without, she should be free to see others whenever

she wanted. She said she still loved me, and part of me believed her, but it was difficult at times.

         I tried to act as though nothing had changed, to respect her wishes, but the truth was something

had changed. I couldn't help but imagining her in someone else's arms, saying the same things she said to

me to them. She was very discreet about it, and tried not to rub my face in it at all, but on occasion I saw

her leaving the Central Church on the arm of some stranger, laughing and smiling at him. And I knew he

was someone she was seeing.

         It wasn't like she just picked them up at bars, slept with them and then dropped them. Which was


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good, I suppose. But in some ways that would have been preferable. At least that way I could be fairly

certain there was no emotional attachment to them. But as it was, well, I knew there was an attachment.

And even if it didn't rival that which she felt for me, it still existed, and I couldn't help but feeling as though

her love for me was somehow cheapened.

         But I lived with it, and that was that. Because otherwise she'd leave me again. And I couldn't

handle that. Not so early. I didn't care that we didn't "do anything", what we had meant more to me than

anything else in my world, this religion included.

         I cleared my throat to get her attention. She turned around and smiled when she saw me.

         "Hi Chris. How'd that meeting go?" She asked, getting up and coming over to me.

         "It went fairly well, I wanted to talk to you about it." I said, giving her a quick kiss. "When he left,

he had a strange look on his face. I had told him no, incidentally, like we figured I'd have to. They wanted

us so that they could justify putting some terrorists down."

         "That makes sense," She said, chewing her lip in thought. "A strange look? And you figure they

might have something up their sleeve? I'll check into it. What are you up to right now?"

         "I thought I might go on a walk, and try and clear my mind. It's been a rough few days, and Beth

reminded me of some things I miss. I want to go down to a pub I used to hang out at before I moved to the

commune."

         "That'll be good for you," She said, smiling at me. "I'll be in late tonight, so don't wait up."

         I flinched inwardly. She was going out with one of her men, I was sure of it. But she noticed my

twitch, and grinned at me.

         "I'm going out to see a play, with Moreen. And that's all." She gave me a quick kiss and sat back

down, turning again to her work.

         I closed the door quietly and kept walking, nodding at everyone I passed, trading a few bits of

information with those who stopped to talk. Once I hit the main lobby I had many more people to wade

through. Petitioners who were absolutely stunned to see me in the flesh. People who had come from around

the world were visiting the Central Church as though there were some special significance to the circa-

1950s office-complex we'd set up shop in. Granted, we did have a large service every night, but there were

definitely better in other sectors of the city. Our "Church" was really more of a headquarters, and rather


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spiritually devoid of anything which should have proved interesting to tourists.

         Nonetheless, they showed up in droves every morning, poring over the original manuscripts of our

works, bowing in prayer before the various iconic statues placed in small alcoves around the building, and

doing what they were doing now: mobbing those associated with the hierarchy of the religion.

         I smiled graciously, offered a few words of wisdom, and blessed those who wished it. It was weird

being a religious figure to these people. I wasn't sure I was comfortable with it entirely, but it was starting

to grow on me. I had absolutely no problem with the large scale productions, when I got in front of huge

audiences and told them whatever they were slated to hear. But when I was in a one-on-one situation, with

these people who looked at me as their one source of hope in a universe that had let them down, that was

hard.

         So I rushed out as quickly as I could do without appearing rude, and started walking over to

O'Tooles. I had hardly walked a block when I heard a sound from behind me, felt a sharp pain on my head,

and the world went black.



                                          *         *        *



         I don't know how long I was out, but when I came to the sun was low in the sky, and the small

room I was in was growing dark. I tried to get up, but found myself tied to a chair. It was a shoddy job, and

I probably could have gotten out of the ropes, if I had had any time to myself. But as soon as I began

wriggling about, a man's voice came from behind me.

         "Hoy! He's moving, come on in guys."

         It was not a pleasant voice, and I was not looking forward to seeing the face which accompanied

it. My first thought was that they were working for Julio, but I quickly dismissed that thought as jumping to

conclusions. I heard a door open, and the sound of a television drifted through for a minute, before the door

closed again.

         "Right then, I guess we'd best talk to him." A new voice announced.

         I heard footsteps, and then saw my captors. There were three of them that I could see, and none of

them fell outside of my stereotype of an uneducated savage. They were all slightly overweight, large bellies


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hanging over their belts, stains covering their wifebeaters and jeans. Their faces were chubby and almost

mindless. But they all smiled when they saw me.

         "Well lookie who's woken up," Said the tallest of them, "If it ain't Mr. Christ himself."

         "Shush up now Jerry," Said the shortest of the three, the man who had called the others into the

room.

         "Aw Phil, he didn't mean nothing by it. You said we'd get to have some fun with him before we

had to do the deed." Said the third, and I felt a knot constrict in my throat. "The deed" did not sound like

something I particularly wanted done to me.

         Phil, who I assumed to be the leader of the group, ignored his cohort, and turned his attention to

me.

         "So you're Chris, right?" He said, a sneer on his face.

         I nodded. It wasn't worth lying to them. I was sure they knew damn well who they'd kidnapped,

and I didn't want to aggravate them by trying to cover up.

         "You stupid bastard," He said, "You really think you can take us Christians on without getting

burnt? We're not gonna sit by and let you tear down our country with your Pinko crap, we're gonna make

sure you pay, and give a little message to all your buddies."

         "Yeah!" Chimed in Jerry, eager to get back in favor with his leader, "We're gonna carve you up

like a Thanksgiving turkey and send your head back to them on a plate."

         I smiled at the image of my head being served on a plate, and for a moment fancied it would

continue speaking and utter curses on them. But my fancy quickly dissolved as I digested what was being

said. These must have been some of the anti-Faith ruffians Julio was talking about, except these were in

America, and felt like they needed some vengeance.

         I didn't let their poor grammar or disheveled appearance fool me. I'd played the ignorant savage

too often to believe that they were really as dumb as they pretended to be. For one, they'd caught me, and

although it wasn't terrifically difficult, it nonetheless took some planning.

         "Do what you will to me," I said with a false air of bravado, "The Faith will live on."

         Phil let out a snort of derision and kicked at me.

         "You really believe that brother? You die, the people ain't got nothing to look to anymore. Can't


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just whip up another leader that quick, no one'll accept it. It'll give us the time we need to unbrainwash all

the folks you've gotten to."

           "But why?" I asked, "It's not as though we're opposed to your beliefs. We support a diversity of-"

           My speech was cut short by the third man, whose name I had yet to learn, punching me abruptly in

the gut.

           "You shut up, and speak only when you're spoken to." He said, punching me again for good

measure.

           I decided to keep my quiet while they said what they had to say. They must have spouted off for at

least an hour, telling me why what I was doing was against God and America, and how they reckoned I had

been paid by some foreign Commie Satanists to trick the people into following me to Hell.

           At times it was hard not to laugh at them, they were so absurd. They were perfect caricatures of

bible-thumping, inbred hicks. But I never did quite burst out laughing, mainly because I realized they were

planning on killing me, and for all my bravado, it scared the hell out of me.

           I realized that while our Faith was helping millions of people to confront their fear of death, and

eventually overcome it, for me it was having the opposite effect. Being "behind the scenes" as it were was

making me an incontestable cynic, and I found my faith in both God and the afterlife dwindling more and

more as the days went on. And I compensated for that by acting more and more convinced, which helped

more and more people become converted. I was doing good for the world, but my own universe was

suffering immensely.

           And now I was faced with the prospect of immanent death. The odds of someone locating me were

rather low, and I had a feeling these men wouldn't waste their time for much longer. So I nodded at their

accusations, remaining silent while trying to convey a message of understanding.

           And they beat on me for a while, until I ceased to really notice the pain. I was bleeding from my

nose, and it felt as though I might be bleeding inside. My jaw was hurting immensely, and I had a hard time

breathing from the repeated punches to my abdomen. But I held on, and tried to retain what I imagined was

a brave Messianic disposition throughout the entire ordeal.

           Eventually they tired of their sport, and threw me down the stairs into the basement, mumbling

something about having to wait for their boss to arrive before they could finish me. Though short lived, the


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trip down the stairs was one of the more painful experiences of my life. After blacking out for a moment, I

regained consciousness and took quick stock of myself.

         I was still tied to the chair, though it was broken in parts. But not nearly as broken as I was. I

could feel at least two ribs had split and were poking painfully towards my insides. My head was bleeding

profusely, and kept threatening to force me to black out again. I think my arm may have been sprained, or

perhaps even dislocated, but the entire thing was numb, so I wasn't in much of a situation to tell. I lay there,

weeping quietly to myself, in the dark, for almost twenty minutes.

         Then I felt something. It's almost impossible for me to describe it, but it was like being tickled on

the inside with light. Every pore of my being was filled with light, and I was surprised when I opened my

eyes and couldn't see anything. The fact that the room was still dark, with all of the light I felt radiating

from my body, was something I found hard to explain.

         The light began lulling me to sleep, and I drifted into such a slumber as has never been matched in

my life. It was as though my mind were taken past the clouds to the very gates of Heaven. It was the sort of

sleep one never wishes to leave, but I was rudely awakened when the door at the top of the stairs opened,

and I heard heavy boots come crashing down.

         I knew I was done for, and I wished he had let me drift further into the hallucination that pain had

brought on, and let me die in that state. Then again, I suppose that wouldn't have fulfilled their purposes. So

I gritted my teeth, and resolved at least not to see me flinch when he picked me up and made the pain start

anew.

         I was in for a shock. Instead of reacting with glee to seeing my mangled form, his face fell in

astonishment. Which surprised me. I would have expected him to realize the state I'd be in after the fall,

and be steeled against whatever horrible sight might face his eyes.

         "Holy shit." He said, turning around, "Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit."

         He bolted up the stairs and back out the door. I lay in stunned silence. Whatever I had been

expecting from him, this certainly wasn't it. I smiled to myself, imagining the anger on his boss' face when

he was dragged down to the basement because his underling had a weak stomach. It was a small

consolation, but it helped.

         All three men came bolting down the stairs a second later, and the two who hadn't already seen me


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stood there with their jaws hanging open. In spite of myself, I began laughing. These men, who I had

assumed knew what they were doing, were acting like a few rank amateurs. They began backing off in fear

when I started laughing, which just made me laugh harder.

         "What's the matter?" I asked, understanding that they were probably weirded out by the fact that

the mass of blood on their floor didn't seem to feel his pain, "Never seen a man fall down a flight of stairs

before and laugh it off? Maybe you don't realize, I'm Chris Paul Deos, the Blessed One of the One True

Faith. I can take anything you can dish out at me, and spit it back in your faces. I have the Lord on my

side."

         Phil crossed himself and rushed over to help me up.

         "Holy God, you've got to forgive us. We didn't realize..." He stammered, fumbling while trying to

untie my knots. "Please, we'll do anything. You have to understand, we were just trying to serve God's

interests. We're with you now, you've got to forgive us..."

         He was repeating himself, falling over himself with apologies. His two henchmen were just

standing there, still dumbfounded, apparently by the idea that I could still talk and laugh the whole thing

off.

         Once I was untied, I decided to try to get to my feet. It seemed my legs were still in good shape,

because I managed to lift myself and walk fairly steadily up the stairs. Once at the top, I blessed each of the

men in turn, thinking it best not to get them angry when I was so close to escaping. Then I walked outside

and looked around.

         I was downtown a ways, but knew generally where the Central Church was in relation to my

location. I hailed a cab, and carefully got inside, eyeing the cabby to see his response to my condition. He

was one of those that had seen it all, and he seemed to just shrug it off. I was glad, I'd been through a lot,

and walking all the way home in my condition was not a thought I relished.

         When I reached the Church, I made my way up to my room as stealthily as I could, thinking it best

to spare everyone having to worry about me until I had cleaned myself up as best as I could. After that, who

knew what we would do. On some level I realized that I should be angry with the men, since they had

beaten me up and cursed me. But I couldn't really hold them fully accountable. I'm not setting I let them off

the hook because they were products of their society, or anything silly like that, just that I could see where


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they were coming from, and wasn't sure I had the right to judge them.

         But John might see it otherwise. He would want to make a public example of them, so that the

world would see it wasn't all right to mess with us. That we had bite to back up our bite. I'd have to talk to

him about it. Maybe we could see to it that they were to be publicly punished, but that I would intercede at

the last moment. That could do wonderful things for my image as a man of peace. And it would save those

poor boys. John might be able to be talked into it.

         I flipped on the television, to see if anything was on. I was reluctant to go to the bathroom and

gaze on what must have happened to my face. I hated blood, and I hated it even more when it was my own.

         There was a man pacing back and forth on the screen, almost frothing at the mouth. He reminded

me a lot of John, that night not so long ago, when he had announced to the world that he had come to

present me.

         "-Utter degradation! He tells us to forget everything which has made this country and Christianity

so great! I tell you this, the Lord says, in the Good Book, that there will be false prophets, and one will take

charge of them, and guide many of His people away towards the darkness. Can you not see that this Chris,

he is your false prophet?"

         So it had begun in earnest now. John had always said once the opposition got organized and got

some good PR going, we'd have to work doubly hard. And now they were. The man was a definite leader.

Full of charisma and charm, and a fiery presence that made you believe him. I sighed and walked to the

bathroom, leaving the set on. I needed to get cleaned up and go tell John about this man.

         "I tell you there will be a rain of fire, and only those who have fought the temptation of easy

blessings will be saved. He offers you security, and safety, and happiness. But at what cost? At the cost of

turning your back on your country and your God!"

         I turned the tap and let the water run for a while to get warm, then soaked a washcloth in it.

         "What has he done to prove anything to us? He has said some fancy words, with his speech-

writers behind him. He has gained the consent of some old men in costumes. But has he done anything to

prove that we should follow him?"

         I took the washcloth to my face and wiped off... nothing. I did a double-take, looking at my

reflection in the mirror. My face was fine, there were no bruises, was no blood, no fractures. For the first


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time since I had passed out, I noticed my arm. It was completely normal. I prodded myself in the ribs. All

was as it should be. I stared back at my reflection.

         "No! He has shown us nothing!"

         I smiled at my reflection, pristine and unharmed, suddenly realizing why it was the men had

appeared so astounded.

         A soft mat broke my fall as I crumpled to the floor unconscious.




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Chapter XI:


         I heard the news early that morning, after I'd sat down for breakfast. Samuel D. Mortazor, the

leader of the Anti-Faith League, had died of a heart-attack in the hospital at 4 in the morning. The doctors

reported that he left the world quite peacefully, and at grace with God.

         It had been nearly two months since his first appearance on prime-time television, and since then

he had been nothing but a thorn in my side. Nonetheless, I felt a deep sense of loss at his death. He had

been a worthy adversary, and had surely believed what he was fighting for as much as we did.

         Maybe more, I thought with a twinge of bitterness. As the days wore on, it seemed more and more

like we were sugar-coating our religion, and warping tenets to better serve those who followed us. Or better

appease them, I suppose would be a more apt description. I was starting to get fed up with the way John

would turn on a dime if it seemed public sentiment was turning against us. It didn't seem like he cared

about our ideals anymore, he just cared about getting everyone under our banner.

         Granted, so far it was working. We had hit two billion members, more than any other Church

before us, and we were still rising. But the factions against us were also rising. Or uniting, to be more

precise. It was looking as though there would be a confrontation between our two factions, and while we

were assured victory in a physical contest, I didn't want it to come to that, and wasn't sure we'd survive such

a victory.

         I didn't understand why people wouldn't just give up and join our religion. We weren't asking them

to give anything up, not really, just asking them to become more open-minded. But apparently that was

asking too much. Apparently they saw letting other people exist with their own beliefs as some sort of

cardinal sin, and were resolved to stomp out any vestiges of open-mindedness left on Earth.

         I wondered how they'd react to losing Samuel. He had been the pivotal axis on which all of their

actions maneuvered. He was almost my anti-thesis. Except while I had John backing me up, and supporting

me, he had no one. He was doing what he was doing on his own, without any real assistance. Of course he

relied on his members to lend power to his claims, but the claims were made solely by him. I scowled

inwardly. He didn't have to double-check every decision of his with someone else. He didn't have to take

orders from someone else. He said what he believed was right, and that was final.
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         Of course, it hadn't gotten him very far. Now he was dead. And his funeral was in two days. He

had been a San Franciscan, so it was going to be in the city, only about four blocks from our Church. One

of the old remnants of the old religions which refused to give in. It was funny, how they banded together to

fight off us, when all we wanted was for them to band together. The Church he would be buried in was

used for both Christian and Jewish services, and I was sure there would be representatives from every

hang-on religion left.

         They all grouped together to fight us for the right not to group together. It was an irony which

none of them could appreciate, and which didn't really help alleviate the problems they were causing.

Things would be so much easier if they would just accept the inevitable, and let us go about our business.

Many people in our faith were frightened to profess their membership, and I wasn't sure I could blame

them.

         It wasn't so bad here, in San Francisco, since we served as the headquarters for the religion. But in

some of the other countries, especially in the first world, the situation had gotten out of control. And it

didn't help that we issued an edict denying any of our members to retaliate in any way. Which effectively

stalled the governments from officially intervening. Of course they still arrested terrorists caught in the act,

but we never gave them the sign of approval for a full-scale war, and in fact made it rather clear that if they

chose to take that route, the consequences would be dire.

         The third world had been where we were expecting trouble, and there was some, in the beginning.

But about a month and a half ago, the Pope had finally officially abdicated his throne, and passed on the

Chair of Peter to me. I almost quit then and there. It didn't seem right that I should suddenly be the Pope. I

had been raised to think of him as a direct conduit to God, and I certainly didn't feel that way. But

eventually John convinced me it was the best thing for everyone, and I resigned myself to just doing as

good a job as I could do.

         Without Rome to look to, the last constituents of the Catholic faith in South America gave up and

either joined the Faith or at least left our members in peace. But in Europe the tensions continued heating,

and groups began making concentrated attacks on our Churches and Speakers. I hated it, hearing about

people dying in my name. It kept me up nights, nightmares of their tortured faces, screaming at me from

the pits of Hell. But I got over it, and Samuel kept up his campaign of violence, though his name was never


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attached to any of the acts themselves.

         And now he was gone. And I should have felt happy about that on some level. Since I was sure it

meant that the attacks against us would cool down a bit. But I was sad he was gone. In some ways, having

something to fight had only made us stronger. Persecution was a good tool for making people feel closer

together, and I feared that without an outside threat, there might begin to be dissension within our own

ranks.

         That would be a real pain. The last thing we needed at this point was some sort of Protestant

movement against one of our decrees. Although, knowing John, he'd probably just capitulate and give in to

whatever their demands happened to be. Damnit but I wished he'd let me do what I wanted, instead of

forcing me to do what was for "the good of the Faith." How the hell did he know? I was the Prophet for

God's sake, not him.

         I looked up from the document I had been reading. It was some sort of proposal for a new

Cathedral in San Francisco, something visiting devotees could come visit to be awed by our majesty. I

hadn't really absorbed any of the information, my mind had been so occupied with thinking of Samuel's

death.

         I made a decision then. I'm not sure if it was Divinely inspired. Or if it was because I was so angry

at John, and wanted to do something he'd be angry about. Or if it was just because I was feeling bored, and

needed to do something out of the ordinary. But I decided to go to Samuel's funeral. I thought I owed him

at least that much. He had been a worthy adversary, and had believed with a passion I could only hope to

one day hold.

         Having made my decision, I chose not to dawdle about, waiting for something to convince me not

to go. I got up, put on my jacket and proceeded walking downstairs. Before I could leave the building,

however, I was stopped by Brother Phil, one of my earlier captors, who had joined the Faith after my

"miracle" (which I had kept under wraps, and which I had told the new brothers to do as well).

         "Where are you going Eminence?" He asked, his eyes cast down at my feet. I never could

convince him to treat me like a human being. He was so awe-struck by what he had seen, and so grateful

that I was giving him a second chance, that he couldn't think of me as anything less than God incarnate.

         For my part, I had shrugged off what had happened to me. It was some sort of group hallucination


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as far as I was concerned, and letting it become anything else would do nothing but give me an inflated ego

and ruin all we had worked for. Still, it was tempting to believe that God had sent me a sign, trying to show

me that I was in fact his chosen one.

         "I'm going to Samuel's funeral, if you must know." I answered, slightly peevish at having been

caught while trying to sneak away.

         "Do you think that's safe your Grace? There are those there who might wish you not to return."

Here he blushed, he having some idea as to what sort of people would wish that. "I think you should

consult your advisors before going, perhaps bring a guard with you."

         Before I could object, he turned around and called for Randolph and Jane. I sighed and buried my

head in my hands. It was unlikely that I'd get out of here now without hearing a long lecture about why I

shouldn't go, and I'd probably be forced to take company along as well. Why couldn't they just leave me

be? The last time I'd been kidnapped I'd handled it just fine, and I was fairly confident I'd have no troubles

if it happened again.

         Jane and Randolph had a totally different opinion, as I knew they would.

         "No. You're not going, and that's final." Jane said when she heard me out.

         "But I need to pay my respects. He was a good man, he was-"

         "He was a self-righteous bastard who was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, and I

can't say I'm particularly sorry he's gone." She fumed, "And I will not let you put your life in danger for the

sake of entertaining some heroic pedestal you've placed that murderer on."

         I was going, and I think she knew that. So I was surprised that she was protesting so strongly.

Maybe she just needed to do so in order to remove her own responsibility. That way, even if I did die, she

could at least console herself with the fact that she had told me I couldn't go. It was stupid logic, but I'd

used much in the same vein myself, so I couldn't blame her for trying.

         Randolph was much more understanding.

         "Hey, you want to go, you go." He said, smiling at me, "You're the big man, and no matter what

we think, you'll do as you want. But I've got to ask you, as a personal favor, to let someone come with you

and keep an eye out?"

         Jane grumbled over that, but I knew she'd let it slide. So we hit a compromise. I'd take Brother


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Phil with me, and he'd watch out for me. He'd also keep a cel-phone on him, so that if anything started

going wrong, he could call back to the Church and get help. He knew a lot of the people who would be

their anyway, having been a higher-up in their organization.

          I almost mentioned the fact that the people there were more likely to react negatively to Phil, a

traitor in their midst, than they were to react to me. But I figured it would be fine if they spent some of their

energy bad-mouthing him, he was strong and could hold his own. And maybe it would distract him from

me, giving me the freedom to move around and do as I chose.

          Phil was eager to serve me in such a prestigious manner, and I hoped that meant he'd take my

orders seriously. We left the Church immediately, pausing only for Phil to pick up a small sap. "Just in

case," he said.

          There was quite a gathering outside of the building the funeral was being held in. Most of the

people were well dressed, and obviously upper-class. The Anti-Faith League had always tended to attract

the socially elite, more than the socially despondent (who were prospering immensely from our Faith). The

building itself was one of the old Catholic Cathedrals. High-vaulted ceilings, gorgeous stained glass, and a

large crucifix which reminded me of my old days at the monastery.

          We got in through the front without being recognized, and for that I was grateful. I was prepared

to put up with trouble, if I had to, but it would be so much easier to be allowed to watch the mass and pay

my respects in peace.

          There were a few notable faces present, priests and rabbis from the old days, come to pay their

respects to the man that had banded them together to fight what they perceived to be an encroaching evil. I

really couldn't help but be impressed by the strength they had. What we were offering them was the chance

to stop being persecuted, and they were denying it, so sure they were that their beliefs were correct.

          I paused in thought for a moment. Maybe they didn't like no longer being persecuted. Maybe part

of what they enjoyed was the thrill of battles waged on the pulpit. Maybe part of what disturbed them about

the One Faith was that they would no longer have the chance to die for their beliefs. But whatever their

reasons, they made quite an impression standing in a row at the front of the room, dressed in the full garb of

their faiths.

          The man who had been Bishop of the Diocese before the Church gave its power to us was there,


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and I was fairly certain he would be leading the Requiem. My suspicion was confirmed a few minutes after

we arrived, as he stepped up and hushed the room.

         He was fully vested in his pontificals, and quite a sight to behold, there on the dais, looking down

at us all. His eyes flickered over everyone in the Cathedral, and I was sure he spotted me for who I was, but

chose not to say anything about it. I had actually known him before the entire affair; he came to the

monastery on occasion, and I was surprised when I had found he was a leading member of the AFL. But I

supposed that he had his beliefs, just as I had mine, and did what he needed to do to support them.

         Before giving the Absolution, he delivered an extemore panegyric which stirred my soul, and

reminded me what I had loved about the Catholic Church. So much of the ceremony and language was so

very beautiful. We had our services of course, at the Churches, but they weren't the same. Somehow, in the

midst of trying to please everyone, we wound up with quite a mediocre service. On occasion it raised

something in me, made me feel as though I were basking in God's light, but those occasions were few and

far between. More often then not, I found myself dozing off during the Readings. It was hard to attach any

sort of spiritual significance to something we had spent weeks writing, arguing amongst ourselves at to

what would bring people under our sway.

          I turned my attention back to the Bishop, who was beginning the Requiem Aeternum.

         "Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine. Et lux perpetua luceat eis. Te decet hynums, Deus, in Sion,

Et tibi reddetur..." He virtually sung.

         I let my mind wander while he intoned the mass, flitting away to a more peaceful time in my life,

when these Latin masses had made up a large part of my universe. I spoke Latin, of course, even more than

the Latin Vulgarius I was required to learn at the monastery, and the meaning of the Requiem was not lost

on me. It was not without a sense of humor that I listened to the Dies Irae, with its visions of Apoloclypse. I

found it amusing that even after a fairly major false-alarm, they were still waiting for the end. Not that there

hadn't been false alarms before, but none this major.

         A short time later, the Bishop completed his oration.

         "...quando coeli movendi sunt et terra. Amen." He said, and we all chorused an Amen together.

         I smiled at that. All of these various faiths respecting one-another's beliefs, even to the point of

joining in a final offering of prayer. I couldn't get over the fact that they were succeeding in what we were


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attempting, in an effort to destroy us. The irony was almost more poignant than I could bear.

         There was a line of people moving to view the body, and I joined it as inconspicuously as I could.

Most people just crossed themselves and moved on past the corpse as quickly as they could, but some

touched it on the forehead, and some even kissed it.

         I remembered the first time I had been brought to a funeral. It was when I was only about six years

old, and I was terrified of the body laying up there. The Sisters had brought me to look at it, and pay my

last respects. I almost screamed when I saw that face, so white and pale, sitting there far too serenely.

         It reminded me of my own mortality, I guess, and I shied away from that thought like a cat from

water. I think that's the real point of an open-casket funeral. A sort of initiation to the world of death. There

were some kids at Samuel's funeral who looked as though this were their first, and I felt pity for them.

         Eventually it was our turn to approach the coffin, and we still hadn't been recognized. I sighed

with some relief. It was good that we'd be allowed to do this entire fiasco without raising a ruckus.

         I looked down on Samuel's face with compassion. It was a friendly face, no matter how

vehemently it may have spouted off propaganda against me during its life. The eyelids didn't seem like they

wanted to be down over the eyes, and I had to resist an urge to reach down and lift them.

         Next to me, Phil was staring at the face with a look of disgust. He had known Samuel as his boss,

and had been ordered by him to kill me. Nothing could seem like a higher offense than that to Phil, not after

what he'd been through. He protected and cared for me like I was his God, and not nearly his leader. It was

disturbing at times, but it certainly could be useful.

         When I looked back down at the face, I was filled with a truly deep sense of loss. It was hard to

believe that this man, who had been such a staple of my life for the past couple of months, was now gone

forever. I bent over to kiss the forehead and offer my blessings.

         As my lips touched his skin, I felt the same tickling sensation within me that I had experienced the

night in Phil's basement. This time however, I was sure that those around me were aware of it. I could

actually see the light radiating from my face, and knew that it must be almost blinding to everyone else in

the Cathedral. The Bishop, who was a few feet away from me, lept back and crossed himself.

         "Kyrie, eleison!" He shouted in Latin, looking towards the crucifix on the wall.

         At first I thought he was just reacting to the light pouring out of me, but then I realized that the


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body beneath my lips was beginning to move. Samuel sat upright in his coffin, and amidst all the screams

and sounds of unconscious forms hitting the floor, I heard him utter one word, "maranatha."

         I turned to look at the scene this was causing, and was surprised to see that everyone was

considerably calmer than I would have expected. After the initial screams, and the culling of the weak

through fainting, those remaining were now kneeling in prayer or looking up at me with upraised eyes.

         The light about me was still there, though less brilliant than before, and I couldn't think of

anything to say. I wasn't sure what exactly to make of the present situation. I didn't think I was a Messiah or

anything, but I could no longer deny that some rather odd things were going on, and seemed to be revolving

around me.

         So I did the only thing that I could think of. I raised my arms above my head and began a formal

blessing of those assembled before me. By the time I had finished they were all kneeling prostate, and

occasionally I could hear a cry of "Christe, eleison!" Samuel smiled at me, stepped out of his coffin, and

approached the dais from which the Bishop had earlier spoken.

         "In the past I have said things which reflected poorly on the character of this man," He said, in a

loud, booming voice, "I withdraw these statements. Every one. This is not a man, but the Son of Man, and

he truly comes to bring us Salvation."

         The looks on the faces of those standing and sitting in front of us were heart-breaking. The joy

they held was so immense, and so vibrant, that I was almost brought to tears myself. As it was, the bishop

began weeping openly from where he stood to one side.

         These were people who had tried so hard not to believe that their salvation had come. Had tried so

hard to hold on to their antiquated notions of what that salvation should look like. And now, the very man

who had led them for so long in their struggle, he was telling them it was okay to believe. He was telling

them that it was perfectly acceptable to see the fallibility of their old notions, and to accept only the majesty

now evident before them.

         Of course, it was a dead man who was telling them this, and that helped too, I think. They could

have called it the work of the Devil, if they had so chosen. But I think they all knew it was by God's hand

that they saw this miracle. The light encompassing me should have been enough to convince anyone.

Lucifer could imitate many things, that was true, but never this light. This light was so honest, so simple, so


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very truly the light of God.

          Not knowing what else to do, I put my arms down and began walking out of the Cathedral, back

towards my Church, I suppose. On the way I touched those laying prostate before me who I felt needed it,

and they would inevitably leap to their feet shouting praise of some miraculous deed. I suppose they were

miracles I performed then, but I was too stunned to realize it.

          Samuel followed close behind me, a large smile on his face at all times. And a little ways behind

him walked Phil, casually. He had known I would do something like this, his walk seemed to say, he had

never doubted that I was truly the One, and that anything a human mind could conceive of, I was capable of

doing.

          But I hadn't known. I hadn't been sure at all, and my mind was having rather a difficult time

digesting the fact that what I had just done, as far as I could tell, was nothing short of a bona-fide miracle.

So I did what any rational human being would do under the circumstances. I passed out. And when I came

to a moment later, with both Samuel and Phil standing over me, I did the next obvious move: I went to a

coffee-shop.

          It seemed like a good thing to do. Somewhere to go where I hopefully wouldn't be recognized, and

could just sit down, sip at a cup of coffee, and think about what had happened. I was so lost in my own

thoughts that I almost walked into the coffee-shop without pausing to gaze at the spectacle outside.

          There was a man dressed in a business suit standing in the street outside, taking huge handfuls of

quarters from his pocket and flinging them up in the air as high as he could. They seemed to fly almost in

slow-motion as they glittered gracefully in the sun, flipping end over end and finally showering down upon

the street and the cluster of kids gathered there. The kids would then rush around frantically, scooping up

quarters as quickly as they could. They never got violent; never pushed or shoved or clawed or bit, like an

adult might have done. They took it in good cheer, having a good time with it.

          And once they had gotten all of the quarters, so that there were none left littering the street, the

man would take a new handful and repeat the spectacle. I stood in front of the door, grasping the handle,

and watched him complete this cycle at least ten times. I estimated he threw at least two-hundred dollars

worth of quarters in the air, before finally taking his leave of the street, brushing past me and taking a table

inside.


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         I broke from my stunned stillness, which had momentarily distracted me from my own problems

(or blessings, if you'd like to get literal), and stepped inside. Curious as to what had driven this man to do

such a thing, I approached his table.

         "Excuse me, do you mind if we join you?" I said. Normally I would have felt odd asking someone

I didn't know whether I could sit at their table, but everywhere else in the cafe was occupied, and he had sat

down at a four-person booth.

         "Not a problem Chris, you and you friends are welcome to join me." He said, scooting over.

         I sat down before I realized that he had known my name. I did a double-take, and recognized him

as the man I had seen outside of the restaurant on Christmas Eve. Nonetheless, that didn't explain how he

knew my name.

         "Do I know you?" I asked suspiciously, before remembering that I was in fact a world-wide

celebrity, and the odds of any given person knowing who I was were rather high.

         "We met almost a year ago, on Easter, in small pub cross-town. You offered to buy me a drink."

         Of course. That was where I knew him from. He had been that man so long ago (or it certainly

seemed so long ago), the one who had first introduced me to John. I wasn't sure whether to curse him or

bless him for that introduction, but it was rather odd to meet him after all this time.

         "And again, on Christmas?" I asked, making sure that it was him I had seen that night as well.

         "Yes, that was the last night of my unemployed period, actually." He said, smiling.

         "So we see, by the fancy duds." Said Phil, suspiciously eyeing the man in the manner with which

he eyed everyone who talked to me, "Never caught the name. Mine's Phil."

         "Larry." Replied our friend, "Pleased to meet you."

         I introduced Samuel, who was still with us, and remaining rather silent. I didn't think I could

exactly blame him, after the sort of thing he'd just been through, but I was worried Larry might get the

wrong idea.

         "Don't mind Samuel," I said nonchalantly, "He's just risen from the dead."

         "Yeah." Replied Larry, "I've been there before."

         We chuckled politely, then took a moment to pore over out menus before the waitress came to take

our orders. I just asked for a cup of coffee, to try and settle my nerves after the excitement of the morning.


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          "Heard a lot about you lately Chris," said Larry, "You've been in the news and all. What with the

Faith."

          "Yeah. You a devotee?" I asked, not so much because I cared, but more because I was curious. A

good portion of the planet were now members, but I had found that in this country the percentage was fairly

small, to the point where a lot of the people I met hadn't heard a whole lot about me.

          "Not yet." He said grinning at me, "But maybe you can change that. I have some questions, maybe

you have some answers."

          "Maybe I do." I said, smiling. Often people just wanted me to explain some small aspect of the

Faith to them, help them work out a dilemma they were having meshing it into their own personal

philosophy.

          "I need to know why the hell we're here." He said with a straight face.

          "Oh. Meaning of life, eh? Nothing too tough?" I said sarcastically. This was the other thing people

wanted. The answer to one of the great mysteries of life. Usually if I just talked to them about it for a while

though, they figured out what they needed to figure out, and came around. Besides, I had some ideas of my

own what life was about.

          "That's right, nothing too tough." He said, smiling knowingly. "I just want to know why I'm here,

and what I'm supposed to be doing."

          "Well, I guess you're supposed to be happy." I said, thinking that he already looked rather happy

and content.

          "That's all? Why would we be put on the earth just to be happy?" He asked, not incredulously, just

questioningly.

          "Well, I guess not just to be happy, but to spread joy. That is the true purpose of a life, to bring as

much joy into the lives of others as you possibly can."

          "I tried that once. For quite a while. It seemed I always managed to do as much evil as I did good,

no matter how hard I tried. So I gave up." He sighed.

          "And became a bum?" I asked, curious as to how he had managed to go so quickly from a

complete bum to someone who was obviously making a healthy living.

          "No, that was much," He smiled, "Much later. After trying to spread joy, I decided to give up on


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other people and work only for myself."

         "Hedonism." I nodded.

         "Yes. That worked for quite a while, I was lost in the pleasures of the flesh for years. It would

have lasted forever, but one day I woke up and made the mistake of looking around me. The devastation

which had gripped the world was immense, and I could no longer in good conscience ignore it. And now I

can't seem to bring myself back to a purist's life of hedonism."

         I nodded. It was a similar predicament to that in which I kept finding myself. I wanted to leave all

of the crap I'd taken on behind, and go live a normal, ordinary life. But I couldn't do it, because it seemed

like it was just running away and leaving the world on its own. And I knew the world had problems, and I

had a shot at fixing them. But it didn't stop it from sucking.

         "So then you decided to give up completely and become a bum?" I asked, wondering how to him

that managed to seem like it was helping the world at all.

         "No no, I tried to save the world again. A few times actually. But eventually I grew despondent,

and decided to take a break for a little while. Try and learn something about the people I was trying to save.

So I gave up all of my earthly possessions, and began living in the streets, where I could view all aspects of

life."

         I looked him over again. He had certainly lived a full life for his age. He didn't look much older

than fifty, and it was a well-preserved fifty at that. He still had the spark of life in him that so many people

in our world seemed to lose early on. It made me happy.

         "But eventually I learned all I really could learn on the streets. And part of what I learned was that

the easiest way to change things isn't just with faith, it's with money as well."

         I nodded in agreement. We had learned that lesson in the Faith too, and so far it was working out

well. While it was nice to believe that one could change the world through force of belief alone, in reality a

whole lot of money helped immensely. Buying advertising to get your word out, printing materials to help

people learn more about you, greasing pockets in the right places, these were all activities which were

essential to our cause at least, and which would not be possible without the financial backing we were

receiving.

         "So you just went out and got a great job? That easily?" I was slightly skeptical. He hadn't seemed


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like a terribly impressive person when I had met him. Just your standard run of the mill drunk.

          "Yeah. I've had a bit of experience in a few fields. And I'm good with people. It wasn't very

difficult to get a job. It's keeping my sanity that I'm finding more difficult. You'd be surprised how it taxes

one, having to go to the same damned job every day."

          I wasn't very surprised. I never wanted to go to my "office", but I had to do it not for financial

reasons, but because of a moral obligation I had incurred as soon as I accepted John's proposal.

          "So Chris, I'm afraid I can't accept that all it's about is spreading joy. Why would God keep us here

for so very long if all we needed to do was spread joy? Shouldn't there be some higher good?"

          "A higher good? I think not. God is love, so by spreading love and joy you're spreading God. And

if you think that's corny... well, eventually you'll see the light."

          I swear he almost laughed at that, and it bothered me that I couldn't figure out why. A lot of things

about Larry bothered me. He had one of those faces that you're almost positive you've seen before, in some

famous context, but you know that's not possible. And he had such a casual demeanor. He was so damned

self-assured. More so than anyone I knew, even John. His eyes always seemed like they were mocking you.

Not in a cruel way, but in a way that said he'd seen so many people try what you were trying, and they had

all failed.

          "Anyway, I'm sorry if I haven't been able to convince you, but you've at least helped distract me

for a while. I guess I'll be making my way back to the Church."

          "Give my regards to John, would you?" He said, smiling and reaching over to take the bill.

          That gave me pause for thought. I had forgotten how he had acted when I first met him, but upon

his mention of John I recalled his strange behavior. He had, quite enigmatically, proclaimed that John held

himself to be Jesus. It had caused me a considerable amount of grief and worry at the time, but I had

forgotten about it, and never mentioned it to John.

          "Actually, one last thing, before we leave," I said, sitting back down. "When we first met, you

really weirded me out when you said John was Christ. What was up with that? Were you just trying to mess

with me, or what?"

          He grinned. "I was mistaken, that's all. I had been looking for a long time, and when I saw John, I

thought he was the one I was looking for. I asked him, and he didn't really give me a straight answer, so I


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assumed he really was, and was hiding it. Given the circumstances, the mistake was kind of ironic."

         "How so?" I asked, curious as to whether he was a little bit crazy, or still trying to mess with me.

         "Well..." he began, then stopped. "Oh, nevermind. I don't want to dissolve my cloak of mystery

that quickly. I'll get the bill. It was nice chatting, I'm sure we'll see each other again."

         I sighed and shook my head. I had a feeling that if he didn't want to talk about it, he wouldn't, and

that was that. So I got up and started walking over to the door, Phil right behind me. I was almost outside

before I noticed Samuel was still at the table. He and Larry were sitting in silence, smiling at one another.

         "Samuel," I said, rather awkwardly. I had just brought him back to life, and before that we had

been enemies. I wasn't sure what to say. "Er, would you like to come back to the Church with us?"

         "No thank you Chris," He said, his eyes never moving from Larry's, "I have a feeling we have a lot

to talk about, Larry and I."

         I shrugged and left. I didn't have time to deal with Samuel, first I needed to deal with John. He was

out of town for about a week, over in Europe, so I had some time at least to come up with a good excuse.




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Chapter XII:


         I was going to the meeting room on the top level of our Church, and my stomach was on end. John

had gotten back that day, and so far we hadn't seen one another, but he wanted to talk to me about what had

happened, or that's what the note that had been delivered to me twenty minutes ago said.

         I was about to walk through the final door into the room, but it sounded like their was some sort of

heated argument going on inside, so I paused by the door to eavesdrop on what was being said. At one

point in my life I would have felt bad about doing something like this, but I had become accustomed to

using counter-espionage techniques like this out of hand.

         "...What made you think you could do something like this?" I could hear John yelling, and I

guessed it was regarding my 'miracle', "We can't go around performing miracles. Not yet. We don't have

the backing, and we don't have the information. And if we were going to do it, I'd want to be included in

the preparation, do you understand?"

         "But John, we didn't-" It was Randolph's voice, and he sounded as confused as I was.

         "Didn't what, Randolph? Didn't think? Of course you didn't think. You people never think. Can't I

even leave you alone for one week without everything going to hell? Have you seen the reports that are out

about this? I have. They're incredible. People are insisting he was glowing - no matter how you contrived to

do that - and that you could feel God with him."

         "Well, isn't that a good thing?" Jane asked, and her voice had that slightly peevish tone that I knew

meant she thought the person she was talking to was out of their right mind.

         "Oh sure," John fumed, "It's good now. But what happens when someone decides to put a negative

spin on it? What happens when our enemies decide it could just have easily been the work of Satan? We're

not trying to pass Chris off as the Messiah for God's sake! We're passing him off as a Saint, or prophet at

best."

         There was a pause.

         "Have any saints ever resurrected people?"

         There was a longer pause.

         "Well, no," Julian's voice admitted, "But there have been some rather incredible instances of
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healing. And the light isn't totally out of the realm of possibility."

         "Nonetheless, what he did will be touted as Christlike, there's no doubt about that." Sighed John,

"Honestly, what did you people think you were doing? We have to take our time with this, we're at a very

crucial juncture. We can't afford to lose public support yet. In a year, yes, we can do what we want, but

right now we have to make sure to cater to the people. And I don't think they're willing to accept a

resurrection yet."

         I felt like I had to come to my friends' defense at that point, so I walked into the room loudly, to

alert everyone as to my presence.

         "It wasn't their fault John." I said flatly, staring him in the eyes.

         "No? I suppose you did the entire thing on your own then, eh? Without alerting anyone, or getting

assistance from anyone? Somehow I doubt that Chris."

         "It's true John, we didn't know anything about it," Randolph piped in, "We caught him trying to

go, and insisted Phil accompany him, we assumed that's what you'd want."

         "They're right John. I didn't ask anyone for help. I just knew I had to go see him, wish him luck in

the afterlife. And once I was there, I had to go look at his body. And once I was looking at him, I wanted to

kiss his forehead, as a sort of blessing. And when I kissed him, well, there was the light, and he just sat up.

I really don't know what went on."

         John stayed sitting in his chair, as still as a rock, his eyes locked with mine. It was a minute before

he spoke.

         "You... didn't..." He stammered, "I mean... you really didn't set it up?"

         I shook my head, and he followed suit, shaking his disbelievingly.

         "Chris, I've never known you to lie to me, in all the time we've known one another. But honestly,

how do you expect me to accept this?" He asked, a sad look in his eyes. I could tell he wanted me to tell

him I was kidding, and that it had all been a setup. But like he said, I had never lied to him, and I couldn't

do it now, no matter how much easier it would make the present situation be acceptable to him.

         "I don't know John. I hardly believe it most of the time. But ask everyone you know, you'll find

that I didn't ask anyone for help. Phil was there, he saw it. Hell, he saw me months ago, when I was beaten

and fell, and then was okay."


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         "Chris, he and I have already talked about that. I don't mind him spreading these things around,

they help our image, but I certainly hope you don't believe it too." He looked chidingly at me now, as

though telling a child that his invisible friend couldn't truly exist.

         "It happened to me John. I know it did. And this happened too. And I didn't fake anything. I just

bent over, and kissed his head, and then he woke up."

         "Maybe he was unconscious, or in a coma, or something. There must be an explanation for it." He

said, still shaking his head in disbelief.

         "The AFL certainly doesn't think so John," Jane piped in, "They have death records from the

hospital. They have seven doctors who testify that there is no possible way Samuel was still alive. You

should be glad. Most of the leaders of the league were at the funeral, and they all joined the Faith the next

day. We've taken out their leadership entirely, all with a kiss."

         "Whatever it was, I don't want it happening again, is that understood Chris?" He said, looking over

at me hopefully. I think he was beginning to realize that a lot of the power was in my hands now, and I

think it was scaring him.

         He had his very set idea of how the entire thing should be progressing: he wanted to save mankind

politically. And I had my idea of how it should be going: I wanted to save the souls of mankind. It was a

difficult time for us, and I wasn't sure how we'd cope with it. I wanted to say okay, to assure him that I'd

never do anything like it again, not without his consent. But I didn't think I could make that promise. I had

had no idea of knowing that my trip to the funeral would turn into such an event, and I had no way of

predicting whether another incident would crop up unforeseen.

         So I shook my head, and John let out a heavy sigh, and we adjourned for the day. And things were

very odd between us for the next week.



                                               *         *          *



         "No, I assure you, there was no set procedure I used. No focusing, or aparati. It was an accident.

Yes. Good-bye." I sighed and hung up the phone on yet another disgruntled scientist.

         Organizations had been contacting me for almost four days now, and I was starting to get used to


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their rather formulaic line of questioning. They all began by identifying themselves and all of the

prestigious awards their group held. Then they'd ask me if I'd be willing to share the secret of my procedure

to them. Then they'd offer to pay me. Then they'd offer to pay me more. Then they'd get rather angry and

begin spouting off a line of moral crap at me, trying to convince me I needed to give them the secret or

remain an evil person. Then they went back to trying to sweet talk me. Then they asked me if I really

thought they'd believe it was magic. And finally they yelled at me and hung up.

         I didn't understand why no one could just accept it as a miracle. I didn't see what was so difficult

about believing God occasionally intervened. I had found it difficult to accept at first, but I was getting over

that, and trying to recognize that God had in fact decided to use me as a vessel for His word. But people

were insisting I was fooling them, trying to keep the greatest secret in the history of man from them.

         And they were not taking it very well. With almost anything else I could have done, I think it

would have gone differently. I think people would have been almost willing to accept that it was a miracle.

But this was immortality we were talking about, and they weren't willing to accept it was something that

would never be in their hands.

         Ever since the Fall, mankind had been yearning for the ability to live forever. It was one of those

things that kept people up at night, their minds running around in circles, trying to understand how the

wonderful gift of life they were given could be so easily taken away. And I had no answers for them. If I

had known how I had brought Samuel back to life, I probably would have shared the knowledge with the

public. Granted, it might not have been the best thing for mankind. But I couldn't stand watching people

suffer, no matter what the alternatives.

         It was akin to what I imagined scientists must have gone through mentally when developing cures

for all sorts of diseases. It would be apparent to those among them with enough foresight that the resulting

increase in population would cause problems. But how could you sit by and watch people die of horrible

diseases, knowing that you had the knowledge to save them.

         And death was the ultimate horrible disease. That which every human was afflicted with upon

their birth. I sighed. Maybe I should submit to their laboratory tests. Maybe there was something special

about me that they could pinpoint, and use to help other people.

         But that seemed too weird. Almost sacrilegious, to take a gift which had obviously come from


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God's hands, and subject it to the cold and callous knife of science. It was what they wanted, yes, and

perhaps it would benefit mankind, yes, but I wasn't willing to accept that God wanted me to do it. And

besides, I was so confused about the whole thing anyway, it wasn't like I could just give them their

answers.



                                                *      *         *



           "Have you seen this Chris?" John asked, thrusting a paper into my face.

           I sighed. I had seen the paper earlier that day when Jane brought it to me. It was not good news.

The public really had turned. They were angry at me, and the worst part was, I couldn't blame them

entirely. I had told them I was coming to bring them new hope, and a new destiny. And then I brought

someone back to life, and their dreams of eternal life suddenly flared brighter than ever. Most of them had

spent their entire lives trying to surpress those dreams, but I had shown them it was acceptable to wish for

immortality, since it could finally be granted.

           And then I took that away from them. I told them I couldn't show them how to live forever, that

their dreams really were unattainable. They were like the small child, who when faced with a magician

pulling a quarter out of his ear, wants to be shown how to do it himself, to become wealthy beyond his

wildest imaginings. But this little kid was pissed, and had the weight of billions behind him.

           "Tell them how to do it Chris," John said, putting the paper down, "You know you need to. It's the

only way we can save ourselves. I understand your reluctance, but there really isn't any other choice."

           It was a battle we'd been having for some time now. He calmly explained why I had to tell them. I

calmly explained why I couldn't. He, less calmly, explained that I needed to tell them. I calmly explained

why I couldn't. He shouted threats at me, claimed I was trying to destroy the Faith, and made me swear to

tell them. I calmly explained why I couldn't.

           "I can't John. You know that." I calmly explained.

           "And why not?" He asked, "And don't feed me the line about how you didn't know what you were

doing. You knew something. That man was dead, and now he's alive. You don't pull off something like that

by accident Chris."


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         "It wasn't an accident John," I sighed, "It was God's will. And I can't invoke it when I choose.

Miracles aren't something you just decide to do, and then do. At least, I don't think they are." I paused for a

moment. I seemed to remember hearing somewhere that this was more or less exactly what miracles were.

But that wasn't the point, at least not the really important

one.

         "Well you need to tell them something." John said, "Which is why I've arranged for a press-

conference today."

         I stared at him, dumbfounded. I had been refusing press-conferences for over a week, because I

didn't know what to tell people. And now John had taken it upon himself to arrange one for me? How very

typical. I didn't bother getting worked up about it, didn't bother yelling at him. I just shrugged my

shoulders.

         "What time?" I asked, looking at my watch, as though I were a busy man, with much more

important things to do that day than speak to millions of curious followers of mine.

         "Six." He said, staring at me levelly, in a way I was sure meant he expected me to explode.

         So I nodded, "Not a problem." I said, and got up and walked out the door, and down the hallway

towards Jane's office, ignoring John resolutely.

         When I got there, I paused. She wanted me to tell the world how I had done it too. I could tell. She

never said as much, but I knew she thought what everyone else thought: that I had some secret I was

refusing to share. In her case, she thought I was with-holding it out of some benevolence. Not wanting to

destroy mankind by trying to save it. Some garbage like that.

         But nonetheless, she was the closest thing to a confidant I had these days. We weren't lovers, but

we were friends. More than friends I suppose, we were life-mates of a sort. And I needed someone to talk

to. Someone who could at least pretend to understand that I wasn't lying, that I had no idea how I'd worked

a major miracle, and that people suddenly becoming totally insane and spiteful towards me wasn't going to

change that.

         I rapped loudly on the door.

         "Come in." Jane answered, and I could tell she wasn't in a terribly good mood. But I opened the

door anyway, and strode in resolutely.


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         Her desk was in its standard condition. Papers lay strewn about, in certain places forming towers

which bent perilously to the side. The surfaces of every item in the room were covered in post-its, various,

completely illegible, notes written hastily on them. Jane herself was sitting at her desk, staring furiously at

her computer.

         "Hi Chris." She said, gesturing me over to her. I stepped over a pile of newspapers and walked to

the side of her chair. Her screen was frozen, and it looked as though it intended to stay that way.

         "What's the matter?" I asked, figuring we could sort her problem out and then get to mine.

         "It's crashed. And I had just written a rather long press-release." She looked up at me, grinning

suddenly, "I don't suppose you could resurrect it?"

         I glared at her in mock anger, "No problem." I said, chanting nonsense syllables and waving my

hands about in the air. "Has that fixed it?"

         She sighed. "I'm afraid not. Alas, not all things were meant to live. It was a rather dreadful piece

of writing, and I suppose the computer knew that better than I. It gives me a good excuse to leave, anyway.

Let's go get a cup of coffee or something, I haven't slept in ages." 2784

         I started to suggest sleep as a better alternative to coffee, but held my tongue. She was a grown

woman, and knew her own limits. If she really could stay up days at a time and not suffer for it, then that

was her own business. It was hard for me to suppress the mothering instinct I had towards her, but she

made it abundantly clear that doting over her was not the way to win her heart.

         So I put on a happy face, opened the door for her, and followed down the hallway, pausing only to

put on the heavy coat I wore whenever I traveled outside. It was a cold day, and we walked briskly to

Morning Sunrise, a coffee shop a couple of blocks away. It wasn't overly crowded when we got there,

which was good, because large groups of people always made me nervous.

         We got a small table outside, and ordered two coffees. That was one thing I liked about Jane. She

was the only other human-being I knew anymore who ordered plain coffee. The waiter used to look at her

strangely, ask her what blend she wanted, or whether she wanted flavoring added. He didn't do that

anymore. He kept an incredibly serious and deferential look on his face as he scribbled her request down on

his pad. Jane wasn't the sort of person you crossed more than a couple of times.

         Which is why I sat in silence while she sipped her coffee. I wouldn't get any sort of sympathy out


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of her if I demanded it. She would speak when she was ready, on her own terms. And I knew her well

enough to know that she would console me as much as any person could; for no matter how brutal she

could be when the situation demanded it, she had a kind, loving heart.

         Finally she set her coffee cup down and looked at me intently. I couldn't help but fall into one of

my wistful romantic moments for a brief instant. Her eyes were so clear, so radiant. I felt it would be so

easy to forget all of my worries and just live in the light of her eyes, spend an eternity trading secret

whispers by the light of dawn. But the moment passed, as it always did, and I was brought back to reality. I

tried to conceal the look of pain that these snaps always brought to my face, but I knew she'd notice. She

always noticed.

         "Chris, you can't let them get you down." She said, reaching over to place her hand on top of mine.

"They don't understand. None of us understand. You must see why they come on so strong. They can't

imagine anything more important than avoiding death."

         I shook my head. "That's just it. I accept that they don't understand I didn't do it on purpose. That's

fine, it seems ludicrous even to me. But I don't see why avoiding death has so much importance to them.

For God's sake, they're claiming to be members of our Faith! By all rights they should be thrilled that

someday they'll get to die. Either they've lived a good life, and will ascend to Heaven, or they haven't

accomplished their mission, and will come back, to experience the joys of youth once more. Who would

trade that in for years of infirmity in a world that no longer has the propensity to inspire wonder in them?"

         "Faith is a strange thing Chris." Jane said, nodding. "Even the most faithful may have reservations.

Just as bravery is acting in the face of your fear, so is faith acting in the face of your doubts. And it can

never be totally constant. Everyone suffers periods where their doubt becomes too strong for them to

overpower, and it takes control for a brief time. And in this case, well, the entire thing snowballed out of

proportion. As soon as a few people began publicly voicing doubts, others began seeing that perhaps their

doubt had validity after all."

         "So what's your advice then?" I asked pleadingly, looking her in the eyes, "Should I just wait it

out? Assume that their faith will return, and they'll finally leave me alone."

         She shook her head. "I'm not sure what you need to do. I wish you really did know how you

performed this miracle," I saw her give me a fleetingly hopeful glance, as though she expected me to finally


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break down and tell her how I did it. "But, if you can't tell them that..."

         I waited as she closed her eyes. Her brow was scrunched up tightly, in the position I knew

indicated she was thinking deeply.

         "Lie to them." She stated flatly, before turning back to her coffee. "Just make up something

professional sounding, let them perform tests on you, or whatever they need to do. When science fails them

in utilizing the 'secrets' you tell them, maybe they'll turn back to the Faith."

         It was a terrible idea. And one I knew I could never do. But it made a lot of sense. All they wanted

was an answer; they didn't necessarily care if it worked or not. They wanted a shadow of the grail to

appear, something to reinspire them in their quest. But I didn't want to do that. I didn't want to set that bait

up for them. If I could have gone back, I would have stopped myself from touching <ref?> and bringing

him back. For I wanted my followers to be free of dead-ended dreams; I wanted them to find peace in

knowledge of God and the circle of rebirth I preached, not in some medical miracle leading them all

towards longer lifespans.

         What did it matter how long they lived, really? I wondered at the fact that it mattered to them

whether their bodies existed a hundred years or five thousand. Couldn't they see that if they were so

obsessed with extending their lives beyond their natural limit, they would never be content to die? And that

eventually the physical universe would have to end, taking them with it, undying bodies or no. Why

couldn't they be content with the time they had, learn to cherish every second as a blessing, and find that

one-ness that comes from accepting God fully?3846

         "I can't lie to them." I shook my head sadly, "You should know that."

         She sighed. "I do know that. But it would make this a lot easier. I don't claim to understand what's

going on Chris, but I see that it causes you suffering. And... that hurts me. I wish you could live a happy,

normal life. I wish that we could live a normal life. But you can't. And since you can't, I can't. It's how it's

going to have to be, and you need to stop running from it."

         I looked at her, the sadness in her eyes reflected in my own. I started realizing then how hard this

whole thing must be for her. We were very much in love, even if our relationship was out of the ordinary.

She might look to others to fulfill what I saw as animal urges, but she looked only to me to truly complete

her. And I knew how much it would hurt me to watch her go through suffering, and to realize that she must


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be going through that same exact process, that changed me a little bit. I wouldn't say I became less honest

in my feelings then, just that I tried not to dwell on my misery more than I felt was necessary.

         She sighed again, and I realized how much older she seemed these days than she had when I first

met her. Her body hadn't gotten worse, but every move she made seemed somewhat forced, as though it

were a chore to do anything. The passion I had seen in her eyes those months when I studied with her,

seemed to have taken a prolonged vacation. Life seemed like work to her, and that hurt me a lot.

         "I have to be going Chris, I need to rewrite that press-release and sort some things for the forum

tonight." She lay a ten dollar bill on the table as she got up, "I know this is hard for you right now, but just

hang in there, it will work itself out eventually. Remember, we have right on our side."

         She left then, and I was left alone in silence with my thoughts. And a cup of coffee. I sipped at it

slowly, taking in the scene around me. My company outside of the cafe was mostly upper-middle class

business men and women, having a late lunch of a cappuccino. There were two men and a woman, all well

dressed, sitting at the table behind me, and I let my attention fall on what they were saying.

         "Listen, I mean, I'm not saying it's not great what's happening and all," One of the men started,

"It's just that, I have a wife and a kid too, and they're used to certain things. And when I come home one

day and tell them that we'll not be going to France this summer, because my stock has dropped, well, it

hurts me."

         "But that's not what the Faith is trying to do Malcolm," The woman cut in, "They're not trying to

make business grind to a halt, they're just trying to do something to help the world. It's not like it's there

fault that all of the businesses we've invested in have been using inhumane work-ethics to make all of their

money. The stocks should rise again once all of this works itself out, and hopefully some people who were

suffering won't be in the end."

         "That's just the thing though," Malcolm continued, "Is that, sure, in ten or twenty years maybe my

stock will be worth what it was five months ago, but what about in the meantime? I have to tell my son he

can't go to college because the bottom dropped out of the market, for the sake of some people he's never

met? It's not right. I mean, I know suffering isn't right either, and I want those people to be happy just as

much as the next guy, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my son's future for that."

         "And what about that guy? The Chris one everyone's always talking about? Have you guys ever


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seen him?" Said the second man, and there was something in his voice that disturbed me. "I remember

seeing one of his shows, a little bit before the whole incident with <ref?>, and he struck me as... I don't

know, really fake. Like he was there more because he had to be, and less because he really cared about

anyone."

           "It sure as hell is a great way to make money, you've got to give him that," Malcolm remarked,

"Have you seen the new Church they built? That guy must be living like a king. And he's probably selling

the secret of how to bring bodies back to life, you can bet that's worth a pretty penny."

           "I don't know," The woman said dubiously, "I heard he wasn't releasing the secret. There's been a

lot of stuff in the news about that recently. How all sorts of schools and institutions have offered him

money, or whatever, and he just keeps denying them. Saying he doesn't know how he did it, or some such."

           "Sure," Snorted the second man, "It's a great line, and I don't know that I blame him. I mean, why

give away the secret when he can go selling the service to the highest bidder? I'm a good religious man, and

I have no real fears about death, but you better believe I'd pay a pretty penny to make sure I wasn't going to

die. I mean, I want to see my kid grow up, and see how the company does, and what have you. I'm in no

hurry to leave, that's for sure."

           "It's like I was saying," Malcolm began again, "It's not that I don't think what they're doing is

great. I just think there must be better ways to do it. And I'm not sure I really trust the leader. It doesn't

seem right to have some guy leading you, who isn't even willing to help people who are dying, just because

he wants to be able to make a few bucks off of the richer ones. That doesn't seem in accord with everything

else they're supposed to be about."

           I sat there, aghast, and listened to the conversation play itself out. This was the way the common

people were thinking about me? About the Faith? They saw it as a big sham to make me money, and cheat

their kids out of college? It wasn't good, hearing public sentiment that turned against me; it made me

wonder if we were going to come out of this thing all right. If people were already ignoring what I was

preaching, and I was still alive, who knew how they'd twist it once I was gone. It certainly didn't bode well.

           And so it was with a heavy heart that I finished the last of my coffee and headed back to the

Church, just a couple of hours before I was expected to do a press-conference, and deal with a lot of sharp

people asking me questions I was meant not to be able to answer.


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                                                 *        *         *



            I wasn't nervous, even though everyone seemed to be conspiring to make me that way. John gave

me some sort of a "pep" talk before I walked in to the press-room, and as far as I could tell he was telling

me that if I made a single mistake, we'd be destroyed forever. And then he told me not to feel under any

pressure.

            Jane caught me in the hall a little bit before John, and said she had tried to sort out any journalists

that she thought would be too rough on me, but some still slipped in, and now it was too late. She treated

me as though I was going to my execution, and so it wasn't with heart exactly soaring that I met John.

            But anyway, now I was standing in front of my small podium, looking over a room of about eighty

journalists, all totally silent. This was more disturbing to me than anything anyone could have said. I'd been

to many press-conferences before, and never had I been in one where there wasn't the constant whirring of

video-cameras, clicking of shutters and murmured tones between journalists. They were assembled before

me like they were there to watch me die. Or at least, that's the impression I got, though I'm sure it was

exaggerated.

            I stood before them, and nothing ran through my mind but images of horrible deaths. An

enormous mob carrying torches to Frankensteins manor; a troop of men following a cross up the road to

Cavalry; a lone gunman sniping a great fighter for justice. And always in those pictures, there were the

hordes of those expectantly watching. Curious vultures, hoping to glean a little bit of meaning about the

universe from the look of pain on the face of the sacrificial lamb.

            "Welcome." I said, taking a deep breath and trying to put disturbing images out of my mind.

"Thank you all for being here on such short notice."

            Still no one made a sound. I stared out over them, begging them silently to move, to whisper

excitedly, to do anything to break the almost painful quiet. But they just stood there, looking back. Their

faces didn't fit the mood of the room. They didn't look particularly in awe, or put out, or eager to know

what was going to be said. They looked like they always looked. The unthinking lens of the vulture masses.

            I squared my shoulders and picked up the notes Jane had prepared for me, determined not to let


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these fools bother me.

           "Three weeks ago, I performed a miracle."

           Still no response. I set the notes aside.

           "Since that time, there has been no end to the questions I have received from various parties. Many

have petitioned me merely to swear to resurrect them when their time comes, but others wish for me to

divulge the secret of my actions. And so, I will do so."

           Finally a ripple moved through the crowd. It started quietly at first, subtle whispers among

comrades, but soon it escalated into various reporters shouting questions at me. Or rather, one question.

What was the secret?

           "The secret is this:" I said, and this time the silence which swept the room was not uncomfortable,

but one of my own devising. "God's will."

           There was a clamor from the crowd. They were used to being toyed with by those they reported;

but they were unused to having a personal interest in the matter at hand. They were used to being aloof,

removed from the everyday worries of normal men and women. But this, this was a subject which had

touched their own lives. They had come here to report, but also to witness themselves what I would say.



                                                 *      *        *



           That was really the beginning of the end. After that night nothing about the Faith was the same.

We had been probably the fastest growing success story in the history of man, and we were equally as short

lived. I thought we had lost public support already, but I was wrong. After that press-conference, we really

lost it.

           The businesses we had hurt so much with our moral codes took the opportunity to destroy us. We

thought we had made them a thing of the past; it was foolish of us to think we could get rid of them so

easily. They had been biding their time, and when they saw the chance, they struck instantly. Enormous

campaigns against us began. My demonization.

           Worshipping was outlawed, and while at one point we would have been thrilled for the chance to

create a few martyrs and strengthen our cause, in our present situation we were hardly strong enough to


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stay alive, much less exploit it.

         And through it all, John blamed me. We still worked together, him smuggling me from place to

place to speak to small groups of our followers, but I could tell he thought it was all my doing. He never

truly believed I wasn't holding out on him; keeping some incredible secret hidden to play a part in my own

agenda. And when we finally made our way to Switzerland, as political refugees, he stayed behind.

         He said he was trying to reconcile our differences with the corporations which were defeating us,

but I suspected rather he was trying to lay a new groundwork, one without the critically weak corner-stone:

me.




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Chapter XIII:


         The air was crisp, and my lungs stung when I took a deep breath. But I was becoming used to the

weather in Viso, the small town in southern Switzerland where we had been living now for two weeks. I

was walking outside in my garden, or what I called my garden. It was actually Hilde's garden, but since we

were now living in her cottage, and I had taken over watering and weeding it, I considered it my own.

         The plants had just come into bloom when we arrived, and I never ceased marveling over how

exquisitely beautiful they all were. I had never realized how much I needed a garden, until I had finally

gotten one. Somehow, when I was with all of that new life, I felt infinitely better about myself. I no longer

felt a need to do anything except continue living. It was a concept I'd had presented to me before, but one I

had never truly accepted until now.

         When I was living in the city, surrounded only by things with purpose, I found it hard to believe

that anything could exist solely for the sake of existing. But now, everything I saw around me seemed

merely to be part of creation. Even my cottage seemed rather surprised to now be lived in; as though it had

existed for years without realizing it could possibly be put to this use.

         And so I began to understand that I too could exist as I was, to let those around me take what they

would. And I became a happier person for it I think. I didn't stop doing things, I just stopped doing things

for the sole sake of other people. I began doing that which my heart led me to believe was the right way of

action, and the joy I spread seemed to increase exponentially the more I let my soul guide me.

         If I'm starting to sound a bit new-age here, it's not completely by accident. Somehow, in the midst

of their clawing capitalist race to achieve enlightenment, they've gathered a few decent concepts along the

way. What they've missed is the key concept, that one need not only forget the false teachings they've

received in the past about the right way of life, one must forget the teachings that led them to that belief as

well. Any time we hold on to a concept, we destroy it.

         I smiled, considering a lily which was growing on its own by the edge of the garden. It was

perfect, both in shape and texture. Without a blemish anywhere on its white petals, it opened itself to the

light which radiated from above, completely trusting and at ease with its world. I longed to have such

confidence in the universe around me. I wished I could look towards the sky all day and smile in peace, full
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of wonder at the beauty of creation, and at one with my role in the endless performance called life.

         "Damnit Chris, there you are," Randolph's voice shattered my reverie and I jumped to my feet.

"John's looking everywhere for you. He's in one of his moods again, you'd better go see him."

         I sighed as Randolph directed me to the mid-sized villa down the road which we had been using as

a combination base of operations and teaching hall. John had been in one of his moods for the past few

weeks, and it took all of my power of will to keep from snapping out at him and telling him to take his

entire religion and stuff it.

         I was happier in those two weeks than I had been in my entire life, including the years at the

monastery where I had felt such joy. Then I had known wonder and excitement, but always with the

shadow looming over me of one day having to decide on a path for myself, to somehow make those who

had looked after me proud. Now I was content to be present in the normal splendor of creation. Basking in

the sun on the grass, swimming in the icy stream, teaching those who came to me what I knew one or two

hours a day.

         But John was not content. He was constantly behind me, scolding me for wasting precious time,

correcting me on my interpretation of this tenet or that, and underneath it all, the real source of his

discomfort, he hinted that now was the time for me to finally reveal to the world how I had pulled the little

resurrection trick.

         I had actually consented to meet with a few scientists from Denmark, who were interested in

talking to me about what happened on that fateful day, which to me seemed not nearly as important as

everyone else seemed to believe it was. At first I had denied them out of hand, but they persisted and

finally convinced me. They had a different tack than the others I had spoken to, and I appreciated it much

more. They were religious men, two of them actually members of the Faith. They believed it was a Miracle,

from the hand of God, but they further believed that the purpose of the miracle was to give man the

opportunity to learn its secret and unlock the greatest gift of all time: eternal life.

         I wasn't convinced as to its status as greatest gift of all time, but I decided that they deserved their

chance, and if God willed it to be so, then it would be. Part of it was personal: They mentioned nothing

about the rigorous testing of blood and body which all other organizations had brought up. All they said

was they wanted to talk, and I was entirely willing to do that.


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         I smiled at Johan, a boy of fourteen who had been attending workshops with me for almost a

week. He was playing in the pond near the villa, and for a moment I was reminded of my own time at the

monastery, and felt that I did miss it. Not the specific location, but the feeling toward life I had at that age.

The sense of wonder still lingering from childhood. The ability to look at everything with fresh eyes, to

discount wisdom given from others if I so chose. It had been hard to grow up, to leave behind those

feelings of innocence. But I was trying to get them back again, and it felt good.

         I walked into the main room of the villa, nodding a greeting to those who were sitting within.

There were around twenty people, some who had arrived that day, some who had been here nearly as long

as we had. All in all there were two hundred people living in the general area and coming to Randolph,

Jane, John, and myself for guidance. They were from all areas of the world, and from all walks of life. Most

of them were here to learn directly from me, to become missionaries of a sort, and return to their homes to

teach those around them.

         It was a much more pleasant environment than that I had been living in during my time in the city.

Much more care was given to true interaction between me and the followers of the Faith, and there was no

slanting of my words to better appease some sort of general mass. I said what I felt was right; I spoke from

my heart, and I had no media crews standing by to twist my every word against me.

         But while I was thriving, John was floundering. He had devoted a lifetime to learning how to

manipulate the system we had left. His skills were honed towards being able to turn their own propaganda

machine against them. And here, he was just another man, and he couldn't learn to bask in that like I did.

         I walked through the main room and into the small chamber he used as his office. It was cluttered

with boxes of documents, and paper-clippings were tacked up on the walls, but nothing was out of place,

and I was certain John could find anything you asked within a matter of seconds.

         He was sitting at his desk, hastily writing something down. He refused to use a computer for any

of his work, and for that I did respect him. Both he and I sent anything we needed typed to Jane, and

similarly anything we needed from a computer we got through her. His script was flowing and eloquent,

and would have been more at home coming from the hand of some Elizabethan author, in contrast mine

was tight and illegible to all but Jane and myself.

         "You wanted to see me?" I said, announcing myself.


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         He glanced up briefly, "Yes, yes Chris. Come in, please. Sit, I need to finish this letter, then we

can speak."

         I sat down and waited for him to finish his writing. I was slightly put out that he had interrupted

my perfectly peaceful day, and now didn't even have the decency to pay attention to me. It was some sort of

subtle show of power on his part, I was sure. Keeping me waiting to show that he was still the man in

charge, and that he had the power to ruin my day if he so chose.

         "Thank you for coming on such short notice," He said, putting his pen down and smiling at me, "I

just wanted to talk to you about your meeting with the men from the Hampshire Society."

         I looked up at him. I wasn't aware that he had known about my meeting with the scientists. I

supposed it would please him, and I was correct.

         "I'm quite pleased that you've finally decided to consent to let them examine you Chris. It will help

our image more than you can possibly imagine. While business may be able to turn the people against us

while they already fear and suspect us of holding out on them, they will no longer have that edge once you

give them your secret." His eyes blazed fiercely, "And this time we will make sure they won't have another

opportunity to destroy us. It was a mistake to protect them before, and had I known they would so quickly

pounce on us, I would never have done it."

         I sighed and shook my head. This was exactly the way John had begun thinking about our entire

operation, and it was beginning to worry me. He was viewing our entire crusade as some sort of a mission

which could not be allowed to fail. He was putting all of his child-hood fantasies into action; him against a

hostile world, trying to save them for their own good. He didn't understand that if they didn't want to be

saved, there was nothing we could do about it. It wasn't us against them, it was just us.

         "I've agreed to meet them, yes. But I haven't done it out of any feelings of obligation to those who

once called themselves my followers. I've done it because they seemed like very bright, and compassionate

men, who appealed to me with their honesty and willingness to accept the possibility of Divine

intervention. If you think you'll be able to use this as a cause to rally all of your masses behind us again, I

have a feeling you'll be sadly mistaken. People don't deny true faith at the drop of a hat, and I'm no longer

willing to cater to your wishes."

         His face dropped immediately. He looked stunned, and I felt a flash of compassion. I had always


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been moderately docile with John, and he couldn't be expected to cope well with me suddenly switching

my entire attitude.

         "You have to understand John," I said consolingly, "It's not about us anymore. I don't want to

sound cliché, but it's about principle. We tried your approach; playing to the crowds, giving them what they

wanted, and slipping our small bits of wisdom in whenever we could. It didn't work. At the slightest lurch

in the system they reacted like spoiled brats, renouncing everything we stand for. Now we're going to try

things my way. Those who wish to hear what I have to say can come to us, and I'll teach them. It won't

have the immediate, taking the world by storm effect that you seem to crave so much, but it will build a

solid foundation."

         He pounded his hand on the table, jarring some papers. "No Chris, that's not the way we need to

do this thing. Thousands of religions have worked that way, and not one of them has made a sizable dent on

humanity. We're not trying to change a group of people, we're trying to rework the system as a whole from

the inside out. Don't you see?" His eyes pleaded with me, "All we'll accomplish by doing things your way

is creating a small faction of followers who will be persecuted by the hundreds of groups who've come

before us. We don't need to toss another religion on to the pyre of society, we need to envelop them all in

one grand sweeping gesture!"

         I shook my head again. "It's impossible John. Change is never revolution. All revolution ever

accomplishes is weakening society. True change happens on a personal level. One-on-one conversations

between a teacher and a student. Anything less will stick only superficially, it will never be truly absorbed

by anyone."

         "Whatever your feelings on the matter Chris, I'm still quite happy you're meeting with scientists at

last. I don't think you understand how important the entire issue has been to the public, even those who do

have true faith in our cause. It's confusing to them - to us - that you refuse to explain what went on. It's as

though you're hiding something, and that's not conducive to trust."

         We were back at the heart of the issue; the fact that John himself felt betrayed. I don't know if he

ever thought I had a special connection with God, or if he just figured I would be as good a person as any.

He must have had some idea in the beginning, because he was obviously looking for me specifically. And

he may have even kept that idea throughout the foundation of the Faith; but I think once I began going


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against his agenda, he must have decided he had made a mistake in his judgment. I don't think he could

accept that perhaps he was no longer the closest to God.

         Not that I was necessarily sure I was either, just that I knew that some of the things he said were

wrong. And I knew the way God would want us to go about doing things. And I couldn't accept that lying

to these people, coddling them like infants for the rest of their lives, was the way to show them the true

beauty of the Truth.

         "Well, I'm glad I can make you happy then John." I said, sighing and getting up, "I'll tell them

everything I know, and hopefully we can leave all of this trivial business behind us and move on to some

real issues. Like getting you out in the garden with me, to actually experience life, rather than staying

cooped up in your office trying to teach other people happiness - something you certainly don't experience

enough anymore to make you an expert. I'll be pruning if you need to talk to me again."

         "One last thing Chris," John said, and I stopped my hand on the doorknob, "We have a new visitor

who wanted to meet you. He was one of our major supporters in China. He's staying in Moreen's room for

as long as he's here. I should warn you, some of his mannerisms can seem slightly odd, but he was a student

of Zen for nearly thirty years and has picked up some of their eccentricities when it comes to conversation."

         I chuckled to myself as I let myself out of the room. I was sure John had had a difficult time

talking to a Zen Buddhist. His way of living life - organizing every aspect, and living far ahead in the future

he was trying to create - would clash almost totally with most concepts of Zen. Not that I was much better -

my ideas of Ego and soul were very strong, and the thought of letting go of them for the sake of personal

enlightenment was a hard one to swallow.

         Still, it would be interesting to meet a Zen monk in person. I had read a lot of Tchict Nhat Hanh

during my time at the commune, and much of what he had said resonated with me at a deep level. Many of

the underlying principles of the Faith were culled from my meager understanding of Zen precepts, and I

was eager to see how a real student of Zen had integrated our Faith teachings into his own beliefs.

         Before I visited this man however, I wanted to see Jane. I had grown accustomed to seeing her

many times a day, and our relationship was growing with the closeness this fostered. She had been

spending a lot of time with me out in the garden, and we talked for hours about everything we wanted out

of life. Our hopes, our fears, all of that bullshit.


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         I set off to find her, asking everyone I came across if they'd seen her. I was amazed by how much

differently I was treated here than I had been in the Church. Here, people treated me with respect,

sometimes bordering on reverence, but never treated me like someone to be feared, or someone who

needed to be won over. It was an open-minded group; a group of those who were discontent with the world

as it was, and were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice to change it. Not to start a revolution, or spend

every waking hour as part of some passionate cause - no, they were willing to take the hardest step towards

bettering the world: fixing themselves. We taught that the world was merely a reflection of the people in it,

and that of all of these people, only one was susceptible to direct change by you, and that was yourself. If

others were to ever change, it would be through observing one's own shining example, not through reading

propaganda, or being lectured to.

         I hardly noticed that I was walking towards Moreen's cottage, on the far end of our land, until I

was almost there. It was a cute little stone building, probably two or three hundred years old, and covered

from top to bottom with crawling ivy. It was a magical place, and Moreen had made it clear from the

moment we set foot on our new home that it would be hers. It must have taken quite an effort on John's part

to get her to let this monk stay in her beloved dwelling.

         Moreen was sitting out on a moss-covered rock in front of the house, reading a small book, and

smiling to herself occasionally. As I approached she set the book down and stood to give me a hug.

         "Hi Chris," She said, beaming, "You here to see Pao Tsing I take it? He's a great guy, all sorts of

good things to say. I've learned more in the past day then... well, then I had in a long time."

         "Yeah," I said, curious at how happy she was. Moreen wasn't a glum person usually, but this sort

of joy was definitely out of the ordinary. "Actually, I was looking for Jane first, but I wound up here."

         She nodded, sitting back down on her rock. "Jane was here earlier, and went off to go think for a

while. She said she'd meet you a little bit before dark back at your place."

         With that she went back to her reading, and I opened the door to her cottage. It was dark inside,

and incense made the air slightly smoky. It was still light enough for me to see the figure of who I imagined

must be Pao Tsing, sitting in a lotus position in meditation, looking for all the world like the cover of a

main-stream book on Buddhism.

         "Welcome Blessed One," he said suddenly, opening his eyes and looking at me. His eyes are


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difficult to describe; they were like the eyes of a child, and seemed quite out of place in his old and

wrinkled face. For a moment I had an unreasonable fear that he would reject me for some reason, and cast

me out of his presence, but it passed, and his eyes seemed to accept me.

           "You don't need to call me that," I said, my eyes drawn inexplicably to the floor, "It's just some

silly title the followers of the Faith were using for a while. I hate it."

           "Good." He smiled and gestured for me to sit next to him. "Renouncing blessedness is a good first

step. Tell me what else you have learned."

           I sat on a pillow next to him, and got into a full-lotus position, with a bit of difficulty. It had been a

long time since I'd meditated, and even longer since I'd done any sort of yoga; I was quite out of shape.

Then I set my mind to trying to think of what I'd 'learned' since my journey from the monastery had begun.

It was difficult, so much about me had changed.

           "I've learned... a lot." I said, unsure what he wanted me to say.

           "If you cannot tell me what you've learned, then you have learned nothing." He said flatly.

           "Well," I said, determined to make it clear that I'd learned a lot, "I've learned that people are only

willing to follow you as long as you give them what they want. And that what they think they want isn't

really what they need."

           "And what do they need?" He asked, staring at me intently.

           "Well, they need to live their lives for God. They need to stop worrying about when it's going to

end, and pay more attention to how it's going to go until then. I tried to show them how to live correctly,

how to live in peace with themselves and with their environment, but at the first chance they threw all of

my teachings away and turned against me."

           "Your mistake was that you failed to show them the way of right living, you merely told it to

them. Next time you must show them the beauty of your way, then nothing will change their mind."

           I shook my head, "You don't understand. I really did try to show it to them. They just felt

betrayed, they thought I was holding out on them, keeping a secret I had to myself. They don't understand

that it wasn't me, it was something beyond me."

           He looked at me sharply, and I had the impression that if he had had a stick, he would have hit me

with it.


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         "Nothing is beyond you. This is your true mistake. You are keeping secrets, not only from them,

but from yourself as well. The Divine is present in ourselves more than anything. No matter what you did,

be certain it was you doing it, and not some exterior force."

         I felt like screaming. "Well then how do I do it? How can I satisfy them? I want to, you know. I'm

not doing this on purpose. Every part of me wishes I could satisfy their demands, so that they could find out

it wasn't what they truly wished. But no matter how hard I think about it, there's nothing I can remember

doing; nothing to give me a clue as to how I accomplished this 'miracle'. I've consented to meet with their

scientists, I'm going to let them do what they need to do. I'm trying, for God's sake!"

         "Then perhaps what you need is to cease trying." He said, and I couldn't help but think how

damned cliché that sounded. "Until you're at peace with yourself, there is no way you will ever be a leader.

You may be an icon, but never a leader."

         He returned to silence, and I thought about what he had said. It was true, I wasn't really ready to

lead people towards anything. I had succumbed to John's will, and become the figurehead for his cause, but

I couldn't show people how they should live, because quite honestly, I hadn't made peace with the ideas in

my own life.

         I loved the things I was teaching, I really did. I wanted their to be a God looking over my life, and

I wanted him to care about what mankind was doing as a whole, and I wanted to have a distinct and

immortal self, but I wasn't sure I truly believed any of it. I believed it superficially, and ninety percent of

the time I could fool myself into thinking I had no doubt, but sometimes, at night, it would dawn on me

how circumstantial my evidence was. I would get a gnawing inside me that would eat away everything my

ideals were based on. It was a demon inside me, that never gave me peace for more than a few days.

         "But how can I ever be sure?" I asked him pleadingly, "How can I know that what I believe is

right. Or that I have a chance of ever knowing what's right."

         "How do you wish to live?" He asked me.

         "I want to live a good life, spreading joy to those around me. Because I think joy is the most

important thing in the eyes of God. But I can't be sure. What if I'm just wasting my time? What if I'm not

doing anything I'm supposed to be doing? What if there is no point?" I was on the verge of hysteria, but his

cool gaze settled me slightly.


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         "Then who cares?" He said levelly. "If you cannot know, then you must choose the reality you

desire. If what you desire is to spread joy for the benefit of a creator, then do so. For it is not joy which is

the ultimate good, it is truth to one's self. If you are wrong, then you are wrong, and there is nothing you

can do about it, and no way you can discover your error. Never stop striving for truth, but accept that each

truth you reach is truth for you. In this way you will avoid stagnation, while at the same time remaining

able to let go of your past. This is how you reach freedom."

         I sighed. It was wonderful rhetoric, and if I allowed it to, it would set my mind at ease for a period

of time, but some night not far from now my doubts would creep back in, and none of these soothing words

would help to alleviate them. But I nodded and smiled; no one would be able to end these doubts, and at

least he was trying.

         "You don't see it." He said, smiling. "Do not lie. You cannot accept the truth in my words. This is

not bad, it merely means you are not yet enlightened." He winked at me, "Neither am I. There are times

when I laugh at myself for the pretty words I spout, but these times are fewer and fewer. They are only

words, and words can do but a little to soothe the pain of living, but the true ointment is in what lies behind

the words: the knowledge that some day the words will be enough. Some day you will be able to choose

happiness over misery, and until then, you repeat the words to remind yourself that the day is not far off."

         I found myself smiling. He seemed so confident; and I knew so many others followed his beliefs,

and many of them professed to truly be free of pain. But I wasn't sure I wanted to follow their path, which

to me was a path of death. Freedom from pain was a wonderful ideal, but if it was at the expense of my

Ego, my sense of self, then I wasn't sure it was a prize I ever wanted to earn. But he hadn't mentioned any

sort of oblivion, nor any sort of freedom of self; all he had mentioned was an honesty to myself, and that

was something I was entirely willing to strive towards.

         I had many questions I would have asked him; many things in my life I would have begged him to

help me fix, but before I could ask anything, he put up his hand as if to silence me, and cocked his head to

one side. After a moment he spoke.

         "Your questions are your own Chris," He said, as though having read my thoughts, "And your path

yours alone to walk. In truth, I am the student, and you the teacher. But you are the greatest sort of teachers,

that which does not see himself for such. Like the child, full of wonder and innocent questions, yet always


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seeing directly to the heart of the matter, in this manner do you view your world. I am old, and my

questions bear the weight of my years with them. Nothing I teach will ever be truly pure, for I teach from a

sense of knowledge, not from the wisdom of not-knowing."

         I wasn't sure what he was saying exactly, but I understood that he didn't want me to ask him any

questions. It was understandably, I suppose. I liked my students to think on each conversation we had

before coming back with a host of questions, since they usually answered most of them themselves.

         I could use some time to mull over what we'd discussed, figure out if it really would help me in

my life, or if I needed more. And I needed to see Jane, to talk to her. It was strange, he had said very few

words, but it felt as though he had taught me as much as the last few months, if only I could find the

wisdom in his words.

         I got up and stretched, thanking him for his time, and inviting him to come speak at the main hall

if he wanted, or to come garden with me anytime. As I was walking out of the door he stopped me.

         "One last thing Chris," He said from his lotus, "Zen is not a way of teaching, or a way of thinking,

or even a way of living. Zen is just living."



                                                *      *        *



         I was still trying to figure out what Pao Tsing had meant by his definition of Zen, when Roland

came to get me for my meeting with the Hampshire Society. I'm not sure what I was expecting in them, but

I was certainly surprised.

         There were three men, in their mid-twenties, wearing casual clothes, and looking quite at home in

the small one room building we'd given them. When I walked into the room, they didn't stand or suddenly

stop what they were doing, instead they acknowledged me briefly, then put all of their focus back where it

had been, on something the smallest of them was doing.

         I grinned at the childishness of them, huddled around him, peeking eager to get a better view, and

I soon found myself hunched over to watch his experiment. He was watching a small group of ants,

marching resolutely in a line, along the pheromone trail a previous ant had lain. The youngest of these

"scientists" was carting them around on a small piece of paper, watching the way the ants reacted when


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placed far away from the trail. And the three of them were oohing and ahhing as though it were the most

incredible thing they'd ever seen.

         Eventually they must have bored, and decided it was time they got around to doing what they had

come there to do. There seemed to be a brief pause while they struggled to remember exactly what that

was, and then one of them spoke.

         "Hi Chris," He said, proffering his hand, "My name's Omar, this is Sven," He gestured to the small

one who had been playing with the ants, "And this is Nathaniel," The tallest one bowed his head slightly

towards me.

         "We're glad you consented to meet with us Chris," said Nathaniel, "I didn't think you would. Your

reluctance has become quite famous in our circles."

         "Your circles," Interjected Sven, "I wouldn't run with those people if they paid me."

         "They do." Chided Omar, then turned back to me. "But we don't blame you for not wanting to talk

to them."

         "Bunch of stiff coats," Said Sven, "They made their rules, and now they have the audacity to live

by them."

         "No ability to see beauty, you see." Sighed Omar heavily.

         "Some of them." Said Nathaniel, "There are many who do it for the beauty, and nothing else. But

in this instance, I must grant you, everyone does seem rather pre-occupied with the immediate benefits, and

ignoring the greater implications."

         I was confused. "Greater implications?" I asked quizzically.

         "Yes, greater." Said Nathaniel, "Surely you don't think we all want to live forever? Heavens no,

just imagine how dreadfully boring it would become. But as far as we know, that is, as far as modern

biology is concerned, what you've done is totally and utterly impossible. Life was gone from that body. The

very essence of what science can pin down, that is, the electrical currents in the brain, were extinguished.

The fact that you somehow jump-started it, well..."

         "To us, it implies a soul, you see." Said Omar, "And that's a rather difficult concept for science to

swallow. Of course, it would be part of the physical universe, none of this dualism nonsense."

         "Complete drivel, dontcha know." Nodded Sven, "Imagine, a world that isn't dictated by physical


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laws, hence cannot be affected by the physical universe or affect it. Well then, there isn't much point, is

there? Not if it can't affect anything."

          "Call it a mind then. Less spiritual connotations." Said Omar.

          "No, no. Call it a soul," Said Nathaniel, "Let them deal with it if they need to. A soul has much

more poetry, much more majesty. Mind is better than brain I suppose, at least it transcends the corporeal

form, but it's still a far cry from soul."

          "Guys?" I interjected quickly, before anyone could cut me off, "What do you want from me,

exactly? You seem to have the right idea, and I'm willing to help you as much as I feel I can."

          "Oh, you know," Said Omar, "Standard things. Blood-pressure, temperature, say ah, that sort of

stuff."

          "And we'd like to hook you up to that." Said Sven casually, pointing to a medium sized machine in

one corner.

          "And what exactly is that?" I asked nervously. It seemed to be large grey box, with a few tubes

sticking out, and a display screen.

          "Checks for levels of what Nathaniel calls spiritual resonance." Said Omar chuckling, "But the rest

of us just call strange magnetic fields. It's nothing scary, we just strap you in. No poking, no sticking tubes

places they should be stuck. Quite simple, much nicer than your average trip to the doctor."

          And it was. I consented, they strapped me in, they ran the machine. They clapped excitedly at the

readouts, and then they thanked me and gave me a glass of apple-juice and a cookie.

          "So what exactly do you find out from the readout?" I asked, gnawing on my cookie contentedly.

          "Lots of numbers," Said Sven with a sagely nod, "Neither of us really understand what they mean,

just that higher is good. Nathaniel has all sorts of formulae, which we're assured tell him something. And so

far it's been fairly effective sorting out the thousands of con-men claiming to perform para-normal feats

from the five or so who actually do. Saves us all sorts of time and energy trying to figure out how they

tricked us."

          "Not that we don't believe you," Omar said quickly, "It gives other information too. This is just a

first step; something to tell us if there's a chance we could find more information as to how you did what

you did."


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            I nodded, "Well, it's been fun. As long as your requests stay at this level, I'm entirely willing to co-

operate."




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Chapter XIV:


            It was almost dark by the time I finished dealing with the three slightly mad scientists, and I felt I

needed to see Jane. I found her back at our cottage, sitting quietly, viewing a gorgeous sunset which was

just beginning. I sat down next to her, trying to be undisturbing, and joined her in watching the sun.

            We sat there for about half an hour, in total silence, enjoying the change in lighting and the clouds

rolling in overhead. Once the last bit of the sun had slipped below the horizon, Jane spoke.

            "Did you talk to Pao Tsing, Chris?" She asked, her voice quiet and subdued.

            I nodded, moving closer to her.

            "He had a lot to say to me," She continued, "He told me I was going to leave soon, and that I

needed to make peace with myself before my journey ended."

            I glanced up, surprised. He had told her she was going to leave the Faith? It hardly made sense. I

couldn't see her abandoning us now, just when I really needed her.

            "I've been out in the forest all day, meditating and thinking." She said, "Trying to come to terms

with the fact that my time may be out. It's difficult for me. I feel as though there is so much left to do."

            "Well then stay," I said, "You don't have to leave if you don't want to. I understand Pao Tsing has

a powerful presence, but there's no way he can predict the future. Maybe he was saying what he thought he

saw, that you were ready to move on from the Faith, but he's not necessarily correct. You decide your own

destiny."

            "He didn't mean I was leaving the Faith Chris," She said, clutching my hand tightly, "He meant I

was leaving this world. And I believe him. He seemed so sad to be telling me, but so sure of it. He has no

reason to lie to me, and I don't think he would have said it if he wasn't completely sure of his vision."

            I felt my throat clench. Jane, leaving the world? It was hardly possible. I needed her beside me. I

couldn't do any of the things God required of me without her by my side to keep me going. I had lived for

most of my life un-afraid of death, secure in the knowledge that God would keep me around until my

purpose was fulfilled. And I naturally assumed this would hold true for Jane as well; after all, how could I

live if she wasn't here?

            "He's wrong." I murmured, "He can't be right. I'd know if you were going to go. Something would
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have told me. I'll bring you back if you die. I can do that. I won't let you leave me yet, I still need you. I

don't think your work is done here yet."

         She looked at me sadly, "I've thought a lot today, more than I have in many months, and I've come

to grips with the life I've lived. I'm young, but I've done so much, and loved so much, and spread so much

joy. There is not one single aspect of my life I would change. None of the hurts, none of the 'mistakes'; I

wouldn't trade in any experience I've had. It's hard for me to die, but in some ways it's the test of faith I've

needed. I've lived the past years of my life devoted to a system I only partially believed in. I never knew

whether I had a soul, or whether it was immortal, or whether God was looking out for me. I do now.

         "It seems like a fog which has covered me my entire life was lifted today. I was presented with the

immediate fact of my mortality. Not in a vague, abstract form, as it is present everyday, nor even in the

slightly more real form it takes when a loved one passes on; no, today I was faced with a complete surety

that my life had reached its end."

         I was crying, but I hardly noticed.

         "I won't let you leave," I said through sobs, "Do you hear me? You can die as much as you want,

I'll bring you back. I'm not willing to do this without you, don't you see that? It's not that life isn't worth

living without you, it's that there isn't really a life without you. I don't want to sound romantic and

sentimental for God's sake, but you are the second part of me. Everything I've ever been, and everything I

ever will be, was for you, was because of you."

         She cradled my head as I continued weeping, and stroked my hair softly.

         "I know it's hard Chris, hard to see me go, hard to let go, but you have to understand, it's my time.

I'll always be with you, you know that. Everytime you need to talk to me, you can just imagine a time when

we lay in one another's arms. That's all the discussion you'll need. We had true love, you know that, don't

you? One instant of true love is comparable to a lifetime of anything else. One instant is a universe in and

of itself. Don't be so limited by the way you think of time, it's just a habit you've been forced to accept.

         "It will hurt when I leave you. I know. I'm sorry. But as long as you remember the joy we had, the

pain will always be less than the pleasure. You can't fall into the trap of wishing for more moments with

me, you have to love and cherish the moments we had. And someday, we will be reunited. In another

lifetime, or in a world without form, we'll know one another again, and we'll have experiences together


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which will make those we've had in these bodies pale in comparison."

         I hurt more at that moment than I ever had in my lifetime, and more than I ever would again. What

she asked of me was the hardest thing she could have. She wasn't even gone from me, yet I was killing

every moment we had had together with my grief. And she was asking me to live in joy, rather than

wallowing in pity and pain. I've never been sure what it is which causes us, as humans, to cling to the idea

of hurt so much, but it is definitely a deep-seated desire.

         "If you leave now Jane, then I'll follow you shortly." I said, drying my tears fiercely. "I don't care

if it's the right thing to do - I will come after you. There isn't anything else for me down here. John has

destroyed everything I thought we could accomplish, and made it clear that he's not willing to stop until

every last remnant of good is gone. Those who I once called family now look to me with devotion in their

eyes; I can't walk down the streets without having someone fall prostate before me. You kept me going,

you kept it all worth doing, no matter how pointless, but if you're not here, then I really do have nothing

left."

         "You won't kill yourself Chris," She said, shaking her head, "I know you better than that. You do

believe in some things, and desecrating this gift of life you've been given is not something you'd ever do.

You're acting as though you're trying to talk me out of suicide or something; let me tell you, this is not my

decision. I will stay on this Earth as long as I can. I love my life. I love the sunsets, I love the grass, I love

good conversation, I love a nice glass of port, I love you holding me in your arms. But my end is near, not

by my hand, but by the hand of something beyond us; and I refuse to fight it. I have made peace with

everything in my life but you, which is why I'm telling you all of this. I need you to understand that I love

you. I need you to have a chance to say good-bye. I need you to be able to carry on once my form is no

longer with you."

         "I would do anything for you Jane," I said, clutching her close to me, "But I don't know if I can do

that."

         "Sure you can Chris," She said smiling, "It's easy. You just wake up, and remind yourself to get

out of bed every morning. And eventually, you'll stop needing a reminder, and be able to move on. I'm not

asking you to forget me; I'm not even asking you to surpress your grief. I'm just pleading with you not to let

your grief ruin your life. That's no way to pay your respects to me."


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         She stood before I could respond.

         "I'm going to go now Chris." She grinned at my worried look, "I don't think I'm going to die yet,

I'm just going down to see Moreen and tell her a few things. I'll see you later tonight, back at the main hall

for Pao Tsing's guided meditation."

         With that she walked away, and out of my life forever.



                                               *         *        *



         I was at the main hall at seven, talking with all of our students, but hardly there at all. My mind

was in an endless loop, repeating the conversation between Jane and I. It was hard to accept that our time

together on the earth was going to end. Everything I said, trying to teach the tenets of our Faith, carrying on

small talk with my friends, everything was overshadowed by a deep feeling of dread I felt.

         When Jane didn't show up, I knew what had happened. I knew it before Christian came running

into the hall crying, shouting. I didn't run with the rest to see what had happened. I collapsed on the ground,

rocking back and forth.

         And there was no one to hold me. No one to wipe away my tears and tell me it would all work out

in the end. It was just me, for the first time in my life, truly alone. I don't know that I will ever have the

words to describe what happened to me at that moment. I could say my life was shattered; I could say that

every fiber of my being cried out to be dead, but nothing would ever truly convey the feeling of loss I felt.

         When everyone returned half an hour later, somber and pale, I was in the same position on the

floor, weeping softly to myself. I know people tried to explain to me what had happened, and tried to

console me, and help me to my feet, but nothing anyone said penetrated the cloud that had settled on me.

It's amazing how very real and absorbing pain can be. Everything I believed told me that this loss was

merely transitory, and that I would be reunited with my dearest Jane in such an infinitesimal period of time

as to make it hardly matter.

         But at that moment, nothing I believed or knew meant anything. Nothing anyone said could have

touched me. No other questions, or doubts, or emotions I felt in my life seemed to matter. All there was

was the one glaring fact of my loss. God could have stepped into the room at that moment, and proclaimed


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anything - even that Jane was back - and I would have stayed in my ball. Nothing could have possibly

broken me from it other than her voice.

         And it was then that I realized I could have her back. That I held in my hands the power to bring

her into my life once more. That I didn't need to depend on belief, or put my hopes into other people or

beings. I could breath life into her myself, and she would stand with me once more, and we would laugh at

my folly for forgetting - after repeating the fact mere hours ago.

         I moved as if through a fog, people trying to make some sort of contact with me, as I walked

resolutely through the crowds of friends and followers. I didn't see their faces, and didn't register them as

anything more than a short term obstacle in my quest to find Jane's body and bring her back to me.

         I walked out of the building, and let my heart lead me, down the path to Moreen's cottage. When I

got there, there was a small cluster of people, most of whom I recognized, and they were all buzzing

excitedly, but I didn't notice. I stormed through them, and stopped short. There was nothing in their midst -

the body of my love was missing. I glared about frantically, sure that they had taken her away already to

bury.

         "Where is she?" I said, and though my voice was low, it carried well, and a silence passed over

those present.

         "She's... she's dead Chris." Said one of my younger disciples, Robyn.

         "I know that," I spat, "What happened to the body?"

         "Some men came and took it, to get it prepared for burial." She said, looking slightly confused.

"They said John had sent them."

         "Who were they? Where did they take her?" I said, growing more nervous. I knew that I didn't

need to be in a hurry. That it would be at least a day before they buried her, and that I would have my

chance before then. But nonetheless, I was beginning to feel a sense of panic at not having her body where

I expected it.

         "The scientists who were here talking to you; they took the body somewhere. I don't know where."

She looked at me sadly, "I'm sorry Chris. I wish I could help you more. I know this must be hard, but I

don't know anything else."

         I shook my head distractedly and hurried off to find John. He wasn't at the hall, where I expected


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him to be, and I just had to put up with more of my students attempting to be consoling. I wished they

could see that I had everything under control, and had no reason to be sad, if only they would leave me

alone long enough to sort the situation out. But they couldn't. In their frame of reference, death was final,

and even their messiah couldn't change that. No matter if he already had, they accepted that on a cerebral

level only, not at all within their hearts.

         When I finally did find John, it was out in my garden, crying to himself and beating the ground

with his fists. He looked so out of place in nature, that I wondered if he truly ever would be at home in the

world. Even prostate as he was, opening himself up fully, he still looked as though he needed to be behind a

desk, in a room as shut off from the outside as was possible.

         "John," I said softly, putting my hand on his shoulder, "It's okay."

         He looked up at me, his eyes streaked with tears, his face fallen. He looked, for the first time I had

ever seen him, defeated.

         "She's gone Chris." He said, "How can you say it's okay? She did so much for us. She was such a

wonderful person. Do you know..." He paused, "Sometimes I thought maybe she was the one who should

be running this, and not me. Her mind worked so well with all of it, made the perfect decision without even

pausing for a moment. And now she's left. And you hate me. Now, we truly will fail."

         And he fell back to the ground sobbing. I had no idea what to say. I'd never seen him so broken up

about anything, and the fact that he felt so strongly towards Jane made me reconsider some of the harsher

thoughts I'd had towards him. Though it could be that he was grieving the fall of his cause which he

thought would come from her loss. But he was a friend, and a fellow human being, and so I reached out and

consoled him, and held him, and it was a while before I even remembered why I had come.

         "But John," I said suddenly, "Don't you understand, she hasn't left us. Not for good."

         He looked up at me strangely, "Yes, yes Chris, I know, she'll always be with us in spirit, and for

that I am grateful. But it is still difficult, even for a man my age, to see the joy in this fact when so much

pain is staring me in the face."

         "No John," I said shaking my head, "Sentimental spiritual crap aside, she hasn't left us. I can bring

her back. I'm sure I can. I may not be able to tell people how I do it, but I can definitely do it if the belief is

strong enough. I'll pin God's arm until he lets me do this miracle damnit, I need her."


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           He looked dazed for a moment, as if not sure how to respond to such a strange proclamation.

Finally he spoke, looking me directly in the eyes.

           "Then do it Chris. For God's sake, do it. We need her like we've never needed anyone."

           "I certainly plan on it John," I said, filled with that strange sense of urgency again, "But I need to

know where you told them to bring the body."

           He looked back at me with a blank expression on his face, and I felt a lead weight settle in my

stomach.

           "I didn't tell them to bring her body anywhere," He said slowly, each word carefully enunciated, "I

came here as soon as I heard. I haven't talked to anyone Chris."

           "You did. They said you did." My breathing was slightly faster now, and though I kept telling

myself there was nothing to worry about, my stomach was tied in knots. "Think back John, it wasn't long

ago. Where did you tell them to bring the body?"

           He lept up so suddenly I almost fell over, "Damnit Chris, I'm telling you, I didn't tell them

anything. I don't even know who it is I'm supposed to have talked to. I assumed they'd leave it there, and

we'd deal with it later. I was in no state to think about anything."

           So that was that. He wasn't lying, I could tell that right away. He was far too panic-stricken to be

fooling me. You can fake many things in this world, but the look of terror he had in his eyes was

undoubtedly honest. I turned around and began walking away. If he didn't know where her body was, then

he was of no use to me at the moment.

           "Chris? Where are you going? I'm not lying to you, what are you doing?"

           I continued walking away. I was heading to the house where the scientists had been staying. I was

going to find out if they'd taken the body, and if they had, I was going to get it back from them. My plan

was simple, but it hit a slight hitch when I arrived at their cottage. They weren't there. All of their things

were gone and they weren't there.

           It took a moment for me to fully register what was going on. As far as I had known, they were

staying another few days, but this obviously wasn't the case. And that didn't make me feel light and tingly

inside. I stood in their doorway, just staring at the empty room for a while, and was shocked back to reality

when John tapped me on the shoulder.


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         "They're gone Chris," He said, and I turned around to see his face was white and he was clutching

a piece of paper. "They left this. It's... not good."

         A letter? They left me a letter about abducting my dead girlfriend's body? I couldn't help but

asking myself when my life turned into a bad soap opera. I grabbed it from him and read it quickly. It was

well-written, full of cute witticisms and sharp, biting remarks. And it told me where to find Jane's body,

and that I could resurrect her if I cared to. And that I'd be monitored with every scientific apparatus

available while I did it. And then they apologized for taking such a hard approach, but pointed out how

obstinate I seemed to be about not cooperating.

         I let out a deep breath. John looked at me expectantly.

         "Are you going to do it Chris?" He asked, excitement fairly bubbling over. He was like a happy

puppy, all traces of worry for Jane gone in the light of me finally doing what I was supposed to be doing:

placating the masses for him.

         "No." I said flatly, my lip involuntarily curling in a grimace. "I'm not going to do anything for

those bastards - for you bastards. Jane told me not to, and I'm listening to her. For once in my god damned

life I'm going to do the right thing, rather than be prodded around by you bastards. You dirty, lying,

cheating, manipulative, evil bastards."

         I was starting to sob, and had to resist the urge to beat my fists against John's face, looking

pathetic and forlorn there in the moonlight.

         "Chris, listen very carefully," He said, staring me in the eyes, "You have to do this. I don't care

about you giving your secret away anymore, but you need to bring Jane back. We really do need her.

Without her, this whole thing will finally fall apart."

         "Good!" I spat through my tears, "Maybe someone will build something worthwhile on the ruins

of this pathetic little excuse for a religion you've created. They certainly couldn't do any worse."

         "Damnit Chris, you're always acting so high and mighty, and I take it, I listen to you, I accept your

petty insults quietly, but I'm not going to right now. This is too important for you to ruin with your over-

developed sense of self-importance. You're like a little baby, kicking and screaming every time you have to

take medicine you don't find particularly pleasant. Well guess what Chris? I don't find any of this pleasant

either. This is not how I wanted my life to turn out. I was perfectly satisfied being an influential man in the


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most powerful organization on Earth.

         "But things change Chris. Sometimes we have to do things for reasons other than ourselves.

Sometimes we have to follow a larger scheme, no matter how wrong they may seem to us. I know we want

to stick to our guns all the time, and go down fighting in a blaze of glory, but we will accomplish absolutely

nothing in that way. We have to compromise until we can afford not to."

         I stared at him hard, and for the first time in our relationship, something approaching disgust

entered my eyes. It's strange that in many ways, those who try to do good but don't try fully are somehow

worse than those who set out to do wrong. There's something so pathetic and sniveling about a man

fighting for ideals he believes in, who then sets those ideals on the backburner for the sake of achieving

short term fixes. We were trying to make a full paradigm shift, and that needed to be done in one fell

swoop, not by careful baby steps, always second guessing ourselves.

         "I think our work together is done John," I said, turning around. "There have been some very

important things we've shared, and it is incredibly sad to me that we can't work together, but we're not

working for the same things. I want mankind to transcend itself John, at any cost, and you... well, you just

want a different sort of prison for our souls."

         He said things as I walked away, but I don't really remember what they were. Protestations of a

sort, I'm sure, but no apologies. If he had admitted that he may have been misguided, if he had even

entertained the possibility that we needed to follow our own path, then I would have come back, I would

have worked with him fully. But he didn't. He tried, I know he did honestly try, but it wasn't enough at that

point.

         So I just kept walking, back to my cottage, over to my bed, and under the covers. And I slept until

late the next day, which was sunny and cheerful.



                                              *       *        *



         When I woke up I was full of the joy of being alive. But before I got out of bed I remembered

Jane, and the knowledge of her death hit me like a cement truck. And for about half an hour I lay in bed,

unwilling to move, unwilling to breath, unwilling to do anything at all. Then I remembered something, and


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I reminded myself to get out of bed. And I reminded myself to put one foot in front of the other. And before

too long, I was moving around without having to constantly remind myself to breath.

          I took a shower, and headed over to the main hall, ready for final good-byes with John. I wasn't

sure where I would go, now that I'd lost the one place I could really call home. I tossed around the idea of

going to live with some Zen masters in China or Tibet, or maybe joining a Catholic monastery, assuming

such a thing still existed.

          But when I got to the hall, Randolph stopped me before I could find John.

          "Chris, have you heard?" He asked, and though he was wearing black, I had a feeling he wasn't

asking me about Jane.

          "Heard what? I've been asleep all morning."

          "John left around eight. Right after breakfast. He stood up and announced to everyone that he and

you would no longer be collaborating. He said God had seen fit to make you a madman, and he was no

longer willing to associate himself with you. He told us those who stayed would have a front row ticket to

go down in flames." He grinned, "A few people cheered at that."

          I was stunned for a moment, then shrugged. I had expected to be the one leaving, but it made more

sense for him to go. Most of the people I'd surrounded myself with here were more in tune with my

thinking. John would be much happier back in New York with those who viewed the Faith as a political

vessel.

          "Well, I'm glad you all decided to stay," I said, smiling, "Things will change a bit, I think. Slow

down a little, definitely. And the focus will be redirected."

          "We didn't all decide to stay," He said, his face getting serious, "A few of the newer students have

left. But those of us who were here in the beginning are going to stay until the end. Until you say it's over."

          "Wonderful." I said, not really sure it was. Fanaticism was great in moderation, but I was

frightened what it could do if it turned against me again. "Well, there's no use moping around I suppose.

Wherever she is, Jane will want us to get ourselves sorted out. Call everyone together for a meeting at one,

I'd like to get some things straight."

          He grinned at me, "It's two-thirty Chris, how about if I make the meeting at four?"

          I nodded, smiling, "That sounds great Randolph." He turned to walk away, "Oh, and Randolph.


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Thanks for sticking with me."

         He grinned again, then hurried off to let those who were still here know about the meeting.

         I sat down in a large armchair, trying to get a grip on what was going on. It was a futile exercise I

never quite learned to stop doing, and it helped me feel a bit more confident, whether or not I ever actually

did get in control of the situation. The entire thing had taken on a bit of a militant feel, and I wasn't sure

whether or not that was a good thing.

         One of the things I had always resented about the way John felt things needed to be run was his

constant push towards moving faster and faster. I didn't think it was healthy, and definitely not something

we should be setting as an example. But now the entire operation seemed to be picking up pace. I felt like

we were on the defensive now. I knew it wasn't likely that John would just forget about me entirely. I had

crossed his line, and he would see me as an enemy.

         My mind wandered for a long time sitting there, trying to come up with some way to do what I

wanted to do without compromising my ideals. It wasn't fair for me to run off to a monastery somewhere

and abandoned those who really did believe in me. I needed to give them some sort of guidance, show them

some sort of a path. But not the political, short-term path that John had led us down.

         When four o' clock came, I was thoroughly convinced that there was no way I could lead these

people any better than John had. But I stood from my chair anyway, cracked my back, and headed into our

conference room.

         There were twenty or so people there. The seven from the commune, the three we had picked up

once we got our Church, two people who'd been here when we had arrived, and ten or eleven students

who'd been there anywhere from a week to a month.

         I took a place near the front of the table, where I could see everyone, and smiled at them all.

         "So, John's left." I said, trying to sound confident and self-assured. "And he's left us in the lurch,

as it were. We're political outcasts, exiled from the world we knew by those who are threatened by what we

teach. And we are hideously outnumbered."

         I paused, took a sip of water from the glass that someone had thoughtfully placed on the table near

me.

         "If this was war, as John was so fond of saying it was, then we would be lost. We have no chance


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of defeating so many people." I smiled again, "Luckily, this is not a battle. We are not fighting mankind, we

are embracing them. We are mankind, each and every one of us. In the eyes of God, man does no wrong

except in failing to be true to himself.

         "We will strive to teach, and we will strive to learn. We will present ourselves to those who hate

us, and we will let them take us if they will. John put the emphasis on getting our message out through the

right channels, through having it filtered into mass-society. Our new emphasis will be on the message itself.

If the only way we can get it out untainted is to speak to blank walls, then so be it. Our goal is no longer to

take the world by storm, but to let the world know we're here when they're ready."

         I looked them all over. We were a ragged band, I have to say that. Few in the room were over

thirty, and many of them hadn't showered in days. We resembled a squadron of troops kept on forced

march for weeks, in all ways but one, our eyes had a vigor in them that soldiers' never do. It wasn't the

passionate fury of battle, or the resolved strength of a long march, it was the vibrant light of a six-year old

opening Christmas presents. Every person in that room knew that whatever happened to us in the months to

come would not be pleasant, but they also knew that what we were going to do now was more pure, and

more honest, than anything any of us had ever done before.

         "I think you all know that this is not going to be fun." I said, staring each of them in the eyes one

by one, "We will be persecuted more now than we have before. Much of the protection we were afforded

was due to John's political manipulations. You should all know, I am not willing to make concessions in

our Faith for the support of any organization. If anyone wants to leave, you can do so anytime. In fact, I

encourage you to go if you are no longer having fun, or question what we're working towards."

         I felt like a fake, standing there, trying to make them believe how great what we were doing was,

when I wasn't even sure I wanted to be doing it. I was sticking with it out of a sense of duty and obligation,

which I knew wasn't right. But at the same time, I just couldn't abandon it all for an easier life.

         "I guess I've said what I need to say. I'm truly glad for those of you who have stayed with me."

         With that I sat down, and we all waited in silence, though none of us knew what for. After a fairly

long period of time had passed, Julian stood up.

         "I'd just like to say," He said, and I could hear his voice quivering, "That it has been an honor and

a privilege to work with every one of you. I have learned more, and gained more, in my time with this


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group of people, than in the rest of my life combined. No matter what happens, I will stay with the Faith

until the end, however horrible it may be."

         And he sat, brushing tears from his eyes. Before long, Christian stood.

         "I haven't been here long," He boomed, "But I've seen enough. I don't even know everything you

preach, but I know this: Anything you put your assurance behind Chris, I'll follow it, no questions asked.

And if they come for me, then they can have me. I won't fight them, but I won't go quietly either. Every

thug I see, I'll tell him the truth of the Faith. Every honcho I'm brought before, I'll let him know where the

reality is. And when they're locking me in prison, I'll kiss my warden, and let him know I forgive him."

         And so it went, for almost an hour. Everyone in that room stood, and pledged themselves to our

cause. I hadn't planned for anything like it, but I loved it. Some of what they said didn't ring right, but the

looks in their eyes, and the tone of their voice, made everything okay. There was so much compassion, so

much love, and so much strength in that room, that I started to think maybe we could take on the world.




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Chapter XV: The End


         It's odd; this is the end, and yet to me it feels like the beginning. I feel like I should be starting off

by telling you about my childhood; relating to you the trials and tribulations that came with being the

Messiah figure for a world religion. But I suppose you already know that.

         You've watched it with me, this farce that was my attempt at changing the world. I'm sure you

laughed when I laughed, and probably cried when I cried. I tried to lay myself open bare to you, let you see

what I actually thought and felt, in the hopes that perhaps not everything I did would be in vain. And now

we're almost done, but you'll have to bear with me a little bit longer. Hear this last chapter in my religious

life.

         It was a month since John had left, and things had been tense around our new home. We continued

the classes, me teaching the highest truth I knew at the time, like I always did. It had become a custom to

all eat dinner together nightly; there were so few of us, and we all needed as much comfort as we could get.

         It was Friday night, and we were having fish. Two new disciples had arrived that day from the

south of France, and so far they were a true joy to have around. They didn't seem to care in the least that

those who followed the Faith were now being persecuted again, and were proud to be a part of our table.

         "It truly is a blessing to be here," One of them, whose name was Henri, began in Grace, "We are

thankful for our friends of the Faith in this world, and for the protection of the One who is greater than all

of us. The trials which are now upon us are accepted gladly as tests and learning experiences, and we look

forward to triumphing and coming out better people."

         He sat once again, and we all bowed our heads in a silent Amen. I liked the boy; he had a surety

about his faith which outstripped even my own. Everything to him was a wonderful opportunity to grow

and expand, every new hurdle just another step towards the infinite Being.

         When he first approached me about joining our group, I had warned him that we were in no small

amount of danger as a body, and associating himself with us could bring him in the line of fire. He had just

laughed and said that this was his next test, and he was eager to glean all he could from it. There had been

such fire in his eyes, such a lust for life and openness to the wonder of the universe, that I had gladly

embraced him within our fold.
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         When he had arrived earlier that day, he had not been alone. He introduced the young boy with

him as his brother, Philip. Their parents had left them, he had calmly explained, to continue their journey

on another level, and he was his brother's keeper. While hesitant to bring such a youth in any sort of danger,

Henri had stayed resolute, and I doubted that even the callous forces we were dealing with would harm

such an innocent.

         In many ways, I was beginning to doubt my earlier assumption that a devastating ending was in

store for us. While practitioners of the Faith were once again being persecuted, there had been no overt

move made towards us, and it was starting to occur to me that perhaps they realized we didn't want any sort

of confrontation.

         John had not, as I had expected, resurfaced in the outside world with his more devout followers.

He had not appeared at all, in fact, and I think part of my remaining unease was due to this strange

occurrence. It did not sit well for him to have vanished after fighting so hard for what he wanted.

         The men from the Hampshire Society had contacted me, requesting kindly that I come subject

myself to their experiments. It was all I could do not to scream insults at them over the phone, but I

managed to merely keep my voice tight and level and calmly explain that I would at one point have

considered, but after their obvious disregard for the sanctity of anything, I was now prepared to rip them

limb from limb if they so much as set foot anywhere within my line of sight. They didn't attempt any

further contact.

         I was snapped out of my reverie by the arrival of our meal. Large steaming plates of delicious

smelling dishes, one thing we certainly weren't doing was starving. Exquisitely prepared vegetarian

wonders from our own kitchen; I took a moment to reflect once more on how very blessed I was to have

such an extraordinary group of people with me.

         Dinner was as marvelous on my palate as it had smelled wafting through the room, and by the

time the food was gone I was thoroughly sated. It was a life of simple pleasures I lived now, and I was

content to have it continue as such for the rest of my mortal days.

         After the dishes were cleared, Henri found me in the sitting room, and sat quietly next to me. I

smiled at him, and we continued to sit in silence for some time. Finally, he spoke.

         "It is good to be here Chris." He said, in his peculiar accent.


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         I nodded, "It is always a joy to have life-minded souls around us. Life has been good here, of late,

and I can only pray it will continue to be so."

         He shook his head, "It will get difficult again dear Chris, more so than you can imagine. But with

the trial shall come new understanding, new hope. We will march towards our destiny."

         "And what might that be?" I asked skeptically. Who was he to predict our future? He'd been here

less than a day. Granted, the odds were certainly in favor of a full-scale persecution, but he had no place

setting it down like absolute truth.

         "I never profess to understand what the purpose is Chris, I only work to keep in alignment with it.

My daily purposes are enough for now. As a rock would not try to understand the goals and dreams of a

man, so I stick to my basic understanding, until the day I evolve to my next level."

         "You have a lot of faith Henri, did you know that? More so than even myself. You speak of

patience, and an acceptance of temporary ignorance. I've long wanted to live my life that way, but my brain

always shatters the illusion."

         He smiled. "Rather, the brain always comes up with its own illusions, and you choose to accept

them, yes Chris?"

         "I certainly would choose otherwise if I could. But logic tells me-"

         "Logic Chris? Logic tells me I must be right. Logic tells me that there must be a purpose, for

something as extraordinary as what we experience could not be illusory in the strictest sense. And it could

not just be chance.

         "Your view of science tells you these things are pipedreams. We now base our view of reality on

an experimental paradigm, which science tells us is more real, more concrete than the experiential

paradigm our ancestors accepted. So tell me Chris, where is your experimental proof of consciousness?

What do you have to justify the fact that there is in fact a you?"

         I shifted in my seat. "Well... I think, therefore I am?" I said sheepishly.

         "No. I think, therefore I am. But where does that leave you, Chris? What do you have to prove

yourself, other than your own experiential data? Insubstantial data, I should say, by the view of the universe

you are letting yourself be pinned into. Religion is experience, and that is it. You have less faith than any of

us Chris, but you have less need of it. You have experienced religion first-hand. Don't try and explain it all


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away with your so-called 'rational' mind. Love it; cherish it; embrace it as the part of the great destiny

which you are meant to fulfill."

         Empty words again. Like those Pao Tsing had spoken. They worked on the surface, they clicked

with me, but in the end they would be swept away in a cloud of brain activity. Categorized as well-thought

evasions of the truth, but not recognized as truth.

         "I will Henri, don't worry. I love what we're doing here. I love what we stand for. And that's what

really matters. They can try and break us, but I don't think they'll succeed; it is hard to destroy so much

love."

         He got up and patted me on the shoulder. "That's the attitude Chris, recognize it as growth. And

our deaths, if it comes to that? Growing pains. Nothing more than growing pains." He grinned and set off to

his quarters, whistling some vaguely familiar French tune as he went.



                                              *        *         *



         It was one in the morning, and I was still up, wandering aimlessly around our compound,

something gnawing on the edge of my mind. It was none of the usual fears or doubts, not a particular lack

of faith, it was something I had never experienced before, and couldn't readily identify. A premonition of

some kind was trying to make its way into my mind; but I wasn't ready to accept what it wanted to tell me.

         I was sitting outside, on a soft patch of grass, gazing up at the moon. Ever since I was a little boy I

had been fascinated with that white orb hanging in the sky. Female religions always seemed wiser choosing

this beautiful symbol as their Goddess, as opposed to the blaring, scorching heat of the sun.

         "Beautiful, isn't it?" A deep voice shocked me out of my reverie. I turned around quickly, and was

surprised to see Larry standing behind me, and even more surprising, Samuel was situated next to him.

         I scrambled to my feet and gave each of them a hearty embrace. I had been waiting for them,

somehow; and after my initial shock at seeing them, I realized it was precisely why I had been staying up

so late. I wasn't sure what part Larry was supposed to be playing in my life, but he had a habit of showing

up everywhere I went, and the fact that he hadn't tracked me down to Switzerland yet had been making me

worry for his safety. And I had a certain attachment to Samuel, he being the first man I brought back from


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the dead and all.

          "How are you guys doing?" I said, eager to find out what they'd been up to since I last saw them;

and what they knew of how the Faith was doing in the outside world. All of the information we got was

through the Associated Press, and while their record for unbiased reporting was exemplary by certain

standards, we felt that some of their information might have been slightly leaning towards pacifying the

cultural elite who were opposed to us.

          "Much better, now that we see you." Larry said, clapping me on the back, "We'd heard some foul

rumors, and needed to see you with our own eyes."

          "What sort of rumors?"

          "Well, John keeps popping up briefly, then vanishing again. We tried to keep track of him, once

we found out he left you, but when he disappears, he really disappears; we were only able to meet with him

a few times, when he wanted to see us. And then we heard from a Cardinal of the Faith that you had been

kidnapped. And what with your virtually complete media silence over here, we had no reason to doubt it.

The Press probably wouldn't have mentioned it if you did disappear; not if there was a reason for them to

stay silent."

          "So," Continued Samuel, "We got on a plane, and flew out here. Things were getting a bit rough in

the city anyway. I've been put through a lot of tests already, and to tell you the truth, I don't particularly

care for all of the attention. And it was starting to get less and less positive. They weren't finding anything

out through me, and thought I had some sort of a link to you, and wanted me to use it."

          "So John has appeared at least? That's good, I guess. We haven't seen any trace of him since the

day he left us, which was rather disconcerting. Mostly what we've seen are the anti-Faith rallies, which

seem to be even worse than those you led, Samuel," I nodded towards him. I didn't blame him for what he

had done, he was one of us now, and I was sure he had acted in the best manner for what he knew. "We're

having a hard time of it, it seems. I feel like I should go back to the States and rally our people together, try

and cool down the persecution."

          I let out a heavy sigh. I really didn't want to go back into the spotlight. I was enjoying my life of

semi-solitude here, teaching those who wanted to learn, being free to spend my days in contemplation and

peaceful pursuits, rather than the frantic pace John had gotten us all accustomed to when we were in San


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Francisco.

         "We're willing to follow you Chris, you know that, but I strongly doubt you'd be as well received

in the States as you expect. I rather doubt you'd even make it off of the plane." Samuel said, giving me a

serious look.

         "I think you're probably exaggerating slightly," I responded, giving Samuel a reassuring smile,

"They wouldn't be quite so silly as to take me out, especially if we announced I was leaving before hand.

People may not like us, but they're not going to tolerate a blatant assassination of me."

         He shook his head, "I'm not going to argue with you Chris, I'm just warning you: If you do decide

to go, take as many precautions as you possibly can." He put his hand on my shoulder, "We are with you,

and we're not afraid. But we lost you once already to angry mobs, we're not going to have it happen again."

         So they didn't want me to go into hiding again where they couldn't get in touch with me, that was

reasonable. Though it hadn't really been angry mobs that had driven me away, more the general feeling of

maliciousness I sensed every time I talked to someone not of the Faith. It wasn't healthy for me to be

surrounded by that sort of energy.

         "Fair enough," I conceded, "I'll be careful, and this time I won't let myself be scared off by a few

nay-sayers. So we'll go back to the States. We don't need a church this time, we'll preach wherever we can.

If the tide turns against us again, we'll go into hiding briefly, then show up somewhere else and continue

preaching. We'll teach people, not only the tenets of the Faith, but how to spread the Word. John tried

taking the world through a mainstream barrage, we'll try attacking it from underneath. We'll spread our

beliefs like wildfire. This is religion, for God's sake, and we're offering the most open-minded, loving, no

down-sided religion this world has ever seen."

         I was pumped up and raring to go. Certainly this life had agreed with me, but wasn't it just a little

bit boring? What could I accomplish, holed up in my little Ivory Tower? And where was the challenge;

where were the conflicts and dire straits

needed to make life worth living?

         "Maybe they need a down-side, Chris," Larry interceded, "Maybe perfection isn't something that

fits into religion. People want to punish themselves - need to feel they're exacting some sort of penance for

their sins. You give them everything, but instead of telling them what they're doing that's making them


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unhappy, and what near meaningless ritual they can perform to remedy it, you tell them that they're not

doing anything wrong except being unhappy, and that all they need to do is start being happy."

         "It's Buddhism without the meditation, Chris, and it's just too much responsibility for most people

to take." Samuel agreed. "This persecution is the best thing that ever happened to your little religion. Makes

people feel like they're working for their salvation."

         I let out a deep sigh. "That shouldn't be necessary though. More suffering certainly isn't the

answer. I wish I knew how to get it across to them. It seems so obvious to me."

         Samuel smiled gently at me, "Then why haven't you lived your life that way, Chris? You've

suffered more than any of us throughout this entire ordeal."

         "I've suffered because I've been forced to watch the ideals I believe in be turned into regurgitated

versions of every bad religious idea since the dawn of man. I've suffered because I've watched the people I

cared about get destroyed by my own bumbling mistakes. I've suffered because nothing turned out the way

it should have, and as a result, the pain my followers are experiencing now is greater than anything before

my 'salvation' came their way."

         "Nonetheless Chris," Samuel said, "You've let yourself suffer, rather than following your own

advice. Do you think most people don't have reasons for their pain as valid as your own? They do. The trick

isn't to not suffer when you're not faced with negative circumstances, the trick is to not suffer no matter

what you're faced with. Why choose pain over pleasure Chris? No matter what's going on in your life, will

crying over it and letting your heart get shred to bits ever help more than accepting the loss and doing

something to remedy it? I'm not talking about completely shutting off emotion and becoming a cold-hearted

human being; I'm just talking about investing your energy into spreading joy, rather than misery."

         "You're right, of course Samuel. But I'm working at it. I don't spend all of my energy hating a

philosophy to bring me happiness. I don't persecute, torture and kill those who are trying to live their lives

that way, and open the rest of the world's eyes to their own mistakes. If I'm not succeeding, at least I'm not

burdening the rest of the world with my failure. And I have succeeded to some extent. I've managed to

choose joy over suffering on many occasions where I would have lived in anguish before."

         "I know you have Chris. You've done better than many could ever dream of, especially given the

circumstances this life has thrown your way. We have faith in you Chris, that's why we came here. It is


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good to be in your presence. I don't believe you fully understand the energy you have, but it feeds everyone

around you."

         "We came for one other reason as well, Chris." Larry said, "We mentioned that we'd seen John a

few times, and that his faction had been contacting us trying to get in touch with you. Well, we made a deal

with them; they said they'd try and cool some of the more radical persecution of our followers, and we said

we'd come find you and try to convince you to meet with John."

         "So," Continued Samuel, "Here we are. Trying to convince you. But if you want to say no, then do

so, and we'll return to them secure in the knowledge that we tried our hardest to sway you."

         So John wanted to meet with me. It was a dangerous proposition; I wasn't sure how much he could

be trusted. It was hard to tell how much of the violence against our sect was his own doing; some sort of

reverse-psychology on his part to band the Faith ever tighter, and then bring a new savior, one he could

better control, in to stop the persecution.

         There was the possibility that he wanted to try and bring a unification back to the Faith, and

perhaps accept some of my views on how the organization needed to run. But there was also the possibility

that he viewed me as a dangerous ace in the hole, and wanted nothing more than to defuse me - with

whatever means it took.

          "What the hell," I said, shrugging, "The worst he can do is kill me, and that'll help our cause to no

end, right?"

         "Maybe..." Larry said, sounding rather unsure, "But on the other hand, once you're out of the

picture, he may just twist everything you've ever stood for, and your name will be used to justify even more

suffering and bigotry. I don't trust him, Chris. He's too smart for his own good, and he thinks solely with his

mind and never with his heart."

         "Perhaps." I nodded, "Which is why you all must protect yourselves if anything happens to me. It

will be your job to preserve the truth in my teachings. There are others, mostly here, who are ready to teach

others the way of the Faith. I have not expected to live very long, Larry, and I've used these past weeks to

prepare others to take my place."

         "It won't be the same, Chris," Larry said, "We may be able to fight John, but we won't be able to

spread the Word. Not like you've been doing it. When you talk to people, you touch something deep inside


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of them. How can any of us be expected to do that?"

         I smiled at him. "It's not me that does it Larry. After all of this time, you, of all people, should

know that. It's the Word itself."

         "But I watched it get mangled last time Chris! I'm not sure I'm willing to sit by patiently and watch

it all go to hell again. You have no idea what it's been like..."

         "I'm sure it's been difficult Larry, but you can do it. That's why I chose you. I have to leave, I'm

sure you realize that, but I need someone to watch over it. You have no idea how important it is."

         It's hard to explain what I meant. I wasn't sure I understood it on any sort of conscious level, I just

knew that it was important I say what was coming into my mind. I had many vague suspicions as to who

Larry actually was, and why he seemed to have taken such an interest in me, but most of these ideas hinged

on some absurd proposition, so my logical mind quickly shut them out.

         Larry sighed and shook his head. "I'll do my best to serve Heaven, just as I always have. You

know that Chris, I'm sure. But I would ask you not to meet with John. I don't trust him, and I can't see

anything good coming of this visit."

         "One way or another, it will happen, Larry. I have to let them make the decision, I can't let them

choose correctly by default. If he wants to hurt me, so be it. But if he realizes what he's doing, and acts to

correct it... well then, glorious day for all of us."

         I shook my head to Larry's continued protests, and headed back to my room. It was nearing dawn,

and I had a long day ahead of me.



                                                *       *           *



         Stepping off of the plane, I was filled with an immediate sense of forboding. I put it into check,

reminding myself that I was here assuming the worst, and therefore nothing should be able to phase me. If

he wanted to butcher me while everyone I cared about was flogged unmercifully, then I was willing to see

that happen. And if he wanted to calmly and rationally discuss our positions and try to come to an

agreement which would better mankind as a whole, well then, I'd be pleasantly surprised.

         Two men were standing in front of a black car, looking for all the world like two government


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spooks, except for the small mooned cross which was the symbol of the Faith on a chain around their

necks. The taller of them beckoned me towards him when I disembarked. When I reached the car he

opened a back door an waited, without speaking, for me to get inside the car.

         Once we had started driving, I attempted to start up conversation.

         "So, you're followers of the Faith, are you?" I asked, smiling in the rear-view mirror at the driver.

         "Yes, Blessed One, we've been devout since John found us and saved us from a life of sin and

degradation. We were living in filth, working for the evil mechanization of the drug world. We killed as

easily as we breathed. It was a horrible life"

         Big surprise, I thought to myself. "Well, I'm glad you've been rescued from that life. Those who

realize the error of their ways and attempt to remedy them are truly blessed."

         "We are still repenting, Blessed One." Said the smaller one sitting in the passenger seat, "It will be

many years of Holy work before we are truly worthy to speak to one of your position. We are still tainted."

         "Nonsense!" I exclaimed, "Menial labor as repentance is pointless if you already have accepted

that your lifestyle was sin, and have changed it. If you need the reminder, and working helps keep you on

the right path, then by all means, carry on. But if you're just doing it because of some antiquated notions of

salvation, then by all means, cast those absurd ideas out of your mind."

         "Yes Blessed One," He responded, but I heard the lack of sincerity in his voice. John had

indoctrinated his inner circle with a cultish fanaticism to himself, so that even I, whom they superficially

revered and paid honors to, could say nothing which went against his teachings.

         We sat in silence the rest of the drive, about half an hour. When the car finally pulled to a halt, I

found myself in front of a small Victorian house, with a well manicured lawn, and an <John's car, ref?> in

the driveway.

         I was led inside, and into a small, comfortable room. I took a seat in a plush chair across from

John, who was looking older, and more haggard, but still with that same willingness to fight burning behind

his eyes. At a nod from John, my companions turned and walked out of the room without speaking a word,

closing the door softly behind them.

         "It's good to see you, Chris." John said, forcing a smile at me, "We'd heard a lot of rumors about

you. I assumed they were all lies, but one never knows."


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         I nodded, "The same goes for you John. You disappeared quite completely from our radar.

Terrifying, if you must know. A bit too spy vs. spy for my liking."

         "I haven't been completely hidden, but I also haven't been much in the mainstream media. I've

been doing some negotiations, preparing to bring the Faith back to it's prior status; with a few changes, of

course. Loyalty will become a stressed point. The betrayal of the world at large is still quite fresh in my

mind, and I rather doubt I will allow it to happen again. My mistake was too much trust; I let the reins slip

too much, and they took advantage. Never again." He shook his head slowly, "Never again."

         "And why call me here, John? I think we've said everything we have to say to one another. Your

views are not mine, you know that. I see that you're doing what you feel is right, but I cannot condone it,

and I will continue to preach my own views of the Faith."

         John sighed, "I can't allow you to do that Chris, you must see that. I have interests to protect, and

so many of the things you're screaming about go against those interests. Yes, in a perfect world we would

fight for certain things, but right now it's more important that we survive."

         It was my turn to shake my head. "No John, what's important is that we don't preach lies. If we

claim to be the voice of Truth, then we have to at least stick to our own truths. Otherwise, what do have we

to offer that every other religion coming before us didn't have? We'll be just as hypocritical as those we've

disparaged; just as corrupt as those we sought to replace. I wish you could see."

         "And I wish you could see, Chris. And understand, that what I'm going to do, it isn't for me. It isn't

out of spite or hate. It's because it's what they need to see. Those who despise you, and those who love you

both. It will create the power we need to come back from the ashes." He looked straight at me, and I could

see tears starting to form in his eyes, "Don't you see Chris? I didn't want it to end up like this. You were the

one, I knew that, and I still do. But this is the way it has to go. This is what they want. I cannot deny them

that, not this late into the game. You were like a son to me, Chris. I would have done anything for you.

Anything but betray the people whom I've lived for."

         I bowed my head. So he was going to kill me. He wasn't quite coming out and saying it, but it was

obvious what he meant. I was fine with it. I had known it was an option when I came here, and I wasn't

going to begrudge him his decision. He was doing what he felt was necessary. His life had led him to this

point, just as it had led me, and if he wasn't strong enough to choose the other side of this cusp, then I


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would have to accept it, and love him for it.

         "Now, John?" I asked, meeting his gaze, "Are you going to call your thugs in now and have them

do it, or are you going to have them bring me far away and do it, out of your sight? I'm ready when you are

John."

         "Chris, it's not like that." He said, tears openly flowing now, "It's not some dirty little

assassination. Everyone will know. The people are calling for your blood, and I'm going to give it to them,

to show them the mistake they've made. They'll understand once you're dead. They'll see what they've

killed; they'll have no other choice but to repent. It will all be for the good, can't you see that?"

         "So I'm going to be your message, one way or another, is that it John? I wouldn't be a voluntary

mouthpiece, so you'll use me to exemplify the so-called 'virtues' you want people to cultivate? Self-

loathing, pity, hatred. Great things to instill in people John, you'll save the world."

         I didn't talk anymore after that. And eventually he got the idea and stopped trying to goad me into

speaking. A public execution. What a fate. I don't think I ever could have guessed it would come to that,

back in the beginning. Or maybe I would have. I was probably more in touch with my fate before John

filled my head with other notions. I think I began more with the idea that it would end in a crucifixion. And

that was all this was.

         John wasted no time in leading me to the place which would be my final stand on Earth. It was a

shabby room, hardly larger than a closet. There would be no companionship for me at my Cavalry; the

other crosses were bare, an empty chair, and empty couch. Cameras lined the walls, taking the place of

screaming mobs. My two drivers were my Legionaries, tying me to my chair, setting up the apparatus

which would inject a painless dosage of poison into my bloodstream.

         And John whispered into my ear what he wanted me to say to the cameras as I died, and I nearly

laughed out loud; he fancied himself a director, and this was his greatest movie. But his script had ethos,

and forgiveness was something I could dish out, even to those who were killing me.

         His henchmen left, and John was left in the empty room, staring at me with tears welling from his

eyes.

         "If you can Chris, save yourself. I will have tried, and we will fight it together. It's only a poison,

what can poison do to you, if you have done what you say you have done?"


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         And I smiled at him. "Where's my kiss John? The cock has not yet crowed."

         He hid his face in his hands and rushed out of the room, leaving me alone with seven video-

cameras, and millions of eager viewers.

         I turned to the dead glass lenses and smiled my largest smile. I could feel the injection beginning,

the first dose numbing my body. It was time. Time for me to utter forgiveness to those watching; time to set

John's revolution rolling once more. But the numbness was setting in, and I was seeing light. I was aware of

the cameras as one is aware of props in a dream. Linearity was a hard thing to hold on to; my perceptions

were growing, changing so quickly. Time stopped and yet whisked by, fluid.

         I became, for the first time in my life, aware of the truth in what I believed; in what I said. Not

merely what I had preached in the Faith, but what I had believed my entire life. And things I had not

believed as well. The infinite expanse of reality was spread open in my mind, and yet was so tolerable and

finite that it was hard to conceive of. Opposing beliefs fused into a single truth; purity and sin mixed to

make perfection; love and hatred showed themselves as one coin; and my face, and the faces of my captors

and the faces of my friends, and the faces of everyone, melted together and became the face of the One.

         My smile faded slowly, my eyes glazing, but not before I remembered to speak. I wanted to

forgive them, but they couldn't be forgiven. Not for denying themselves reality. So I gave them the only

thing I could; I gave them truth.

         "You don't know what you're missing." And with that my head slumped forward, and I went fully

into the truth which was within me, and had been freed.




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Description: MARANATHA lifemates