Monday, April 15, 2013

The Dupe God

       Mama - as everyone called her - found The Red Bible in a tree six
days after the storm of '77. By dinner time, word had spread about the
book - and by midnight the president's jeep was sitting in front of
her house. Mama had never met the president before, of course, and had
spent a good portion of her life within the town's borders.  Shortly
after he left, Washington turned the tunnel off.  No way back.  The
town of Cairo was all alone in the world.  After that, Mama walked
beyond the clear-cut line into the forest and disappeared.
        Twenty-nine years and a night passed.  As dawn inevitably transformed
into foggy day, Jeremy sat.  Jeremy was the town's pilot, sitting in
front of his helicopter tossing his hat up in the air and catching it.
 It was a beautiful morning.  According to the Cairo weather station,
the ambient air was a perfect 65 degrees Fahrenheit with occasional
wind gusts well into the 90's.  It was the kind of morning that gave
Jeremy goosebumps, which was odd since he'd never known anything else.
 Older people, like those at the university, called it unnatural.
Jeremy didn't go to the university these days except to watch the
football games or read in the library or on movie night with Linda or
Nikki.  One night both.
        From down the gravel path Jeremy heard the crunching of footsteps.
It was always foggy in Cairo, but on white-out mornings like this you
could always hear someone before you saw them making every meeting a
guessing game.
        "It's me, Jerry," Rob said coughing wetly into his fist.  He was
late, and he looked like he had been drinking, but it was hard to hold
that against Rob since the business with his wife.  As long as he
didn't get air sick, it wasn't Jeremy's concern.  Rob lifted his stack
of clipboards and pads awkwardly with his right hand while his left
attempted to loop his trusty SLR camera around his neck.  Jeremy
almost chuckled, but then a sound cracked their eggshell morning.  It
was the sound they never talked about anymore, but they both stood and
stared into the blanket at the shadow that descended near them.  It
was a fat crow, nearly the size of a vulture.  The tiniest glint from
its eye pierced the fog like a needle or a star as it glared at them.
Bad omen.
        Back when Cairo had been called Jumpsite 9, there had been an
experiment to release wild game into the woods surrounding what was
then affectionately referred to as the drop zone - or DZ.  When Jeremy
was younger he had seen eight-by-ten photos of caged deer lined up all
the way down the straightway leading from the tunnel.  There were
hundreds - maybe more.  He remembered later asking his father if he'd
ever actually see a live deer.  It had been years since the animals
were released.  Years since they disappeared.
        When it was discovered, before it became "The Suburb" and long before
it became "Cairo," Jumpsite 9 had been devoid of animal life.  It was
nothing more than a thick foggy wilderness overrun by trees.  Its
ecology was similar to DC where the other mouth of the tunnel was when
it was turned on, but not completely.
        Other than the people there were now cows, cats, chickens, rats,
bees, flies, fleas, and the town dogs - all living within two miles of
the clear cut DZ.  And if there were animals outside in the
wilderness, no one had seen them.  The exception was, of course, there
were also crows everywhere.  Those scared the shit out of people,
Jeremy included.
        Rob looked away from the ominous crow's jumping dance and examined
his papers.  Jeremy stared at his helicopter's serial number, N-1193.
        "We're charting an area approximately six miles north of the
clear-cut line," Rob said, "Chart cliffs and bluffs, take soil
samples, and note any mineral deposits.  How are we on fuel?"
        "The new batch is persnickety," Jeremy said, "I requisitioned some
methanol from the University's chemistry lab to make it run smoother,
but it will be a few weeks before it's ready."
        Rob stared at Jeremy for a moment, then getting in and putting on his
headset, said,
        "I'm not getting in a death-trap am I?"
        "No," Jeremy said, "It'll work fine when we get above the fog line."
        When the engine started, the crow flew off.  The helicopter lurched
and buckled on its way to thirty knots.  It would ordinarily be
dangerous to fly blind into fog like this, but there was a good mile
clear ahead of them with no obstructions.  Still, Jeremy had never
quite grown comfortable with hurtling into the fog head first.
        They reached thirty knots and gained altitude.  Soon they were above
the fog line.  Once they had risen above the dense mist, they could
see patches here and there where gusts of hot wind had tossed the fog
aside leaving naked treetops to face the morning light.  Inside the
craft within the relative comfort of the noise cancelling headset,
Jeremy relaxed.  The engine regained its predictability at around 800
feet, and the buckling smoothed out.  Nosing down on the collective
slightly, he maneuvered the craft along their projected heading away
from their home at the edge of the wilderness and into what he liked
to call The Void.
        When he was much younger, Jeremy used to sit on the small partition
outside of Cairo Elementary school and wait for his mother to come
pick him up.  During the long moments between school life and home he
would stare meditatively into the fog and wait.  Almost always he
would forget the apprehension of the fog once he saw a familiar face,
but one occasion in particular stuck out in his mind.  As he stared
into the white enigma that surrounded all things in Cairo one
afternoon, he had spotted Robert, back stooped by the burden of bad
news.  Jeremy was alone in the world.
        Of course people died.  That was part of it all.  And it was part of
life long before Cairo was built.  Only now, at the edge of humanity's
furthest venture into what was not time or space, it somehow seemed
more certain.  In Cairo there was an unmistakable distinction between
what was human and what was unexplored.
        In Cairo, the small town beyond the world, there was a frailty to
human existence that extended beyond death.  Bad harvests, illness,
and disagreements were universally recognized as more than just
problems.  They were tests of humanity's very capacity for survival.
It was unmistakable, the human race was more than on trial.  It was
walking on one of two parallel paths.  The slightest course correction
or mistake would mean the difference between the town's people
fulfilling their destinies as colonists to the new world, or dying.
No one back home would know either way.  Whether they lived or died,
they had already been buried back on Earth.
        Exploring was only part of it.  To Jeremy, it seemed futile to waste
their day wandering the sky above the fog when crops back in town
needed so many man-hours to stay alive.  He didn't understand why they
needed so much information about the untamed and empty wild.  There
was nothing to speak of in The Void.  Most townspeople had given up on
it years ago.  It was nothing more than a vast wasteland of mist and
crows and wood.
        And smoke.
        Jeremy shot out his hand and grabbed Rob's wrist,
        "What  the hell is that?"
        Impossibly, there was a long solitary column of smoke rising from the
thick white blanket hugging the ground.  Out here where no one dared
construct anything, fire - the most primordial of mankind's
discoveries, was broadcasting the presence of an intelligence
somewhere in the distance.  Rob was looking between it and his map,
hoping to identify nearby landmarks through the oppressive mist all
around them.  When they drew near, from a hundred feet up, Jeremy's
blood began turning to needle tips in his hands and neck.  There was a
large powdered "H" drawn directly beneath them.  Without a word, as if
acting on impulse, Jeremy lowered the helicopter to the ground.  The H
began to blow away, leaving only a thin layer of white powder on the
        "It looks like it was poured recently," Rob said stepping down from
the passenger side door.  Jeremy considered for a moment if he should
leave the engine running or switch it off.  The buckling in the engine
had returned.  If he left it running it could very well break out here
leaving them both stranded.  He flipped the switch and the propellers
slowly died.  Rob continued his stooped analysis with hands on his
knees, "Looks fresh.  Like the start of a football game. It's like
chalk... or flour."
        As the sound of the helicopter propellers died down, Jeremy had an
uneasy feeling when he stepped onto the blue-green grass and stared
into the fog all around them.  The crows were thick here, and
fearless.  They defied the roaring engine with their presence,
cackling in the fog and staring from treetops with shining doll's
eyes.  And there was another sound - lapping waves.  From the air only
this patch of ground had been visible, but the picture of their
setting was painted further by the sound of water.  Jeremy tried to
determine the source of the sloshing, and as he looked all around he
        "We're on an island."
        "Pretty small island too," Rob said, "That means whoever made this H
must be close."
        The gentle wind shifted, drifting the smell of smoke toward the
helicopter, and they both saw a shy flickering glow in the ivory veil
ahead of them.  Next to the glow, as they stood transfixed, they also
saw a shadow hugging the ground.  It was almost like a figure sitting.
        Rob walked over to Jeremy and clutched the sleeve of his shirt,
        "We're getting out of here."  Jeremy pulled his arm away,
        "If we don't look, we're going to wonder what it was forever."
        "That's okay," Rob said, "We'll wonder.  For God's sake, Jeremy.
This feels wrong."
        It was useless.  Jeremy walked forward and the fog retreated.  That's
when he saw Mama.  She was sitting at the edge of a smoldering
campfire pulling a needle and thread through a small tear in her
checker printed skirt.  Her hair was still trimmed, and her shoes were
only slightly scuffed.  And she was young.  Despite having disappeared
from Cairo some twenty years prior, she had not aged.  Not a day.
        "It's Lucille - - Mama," Rob whispered, "Disappeared twenty years
ago.  Either that or she had a daughter."
        "I know who it is," Jeremy whispered back, "What's she doing here?"
        "Don't know why you two are whispering," she said in a honeysuckle
voice, "I could hear that bird you came in a mile away."
        She looked up and smiled at them.  From behind coke bottle glasses
she watched them approach and sit at the fire.  It wasn't the sort of
monster they had feared lurching out of the fog on cold summer
mornings.  Just a girl with glasses.  A book rested on the log next to
        "You're Lucille Nayfack - the one who disappeared," Jeremy said,
"Twenty years ago after finding that book.  Stuff of ghost stories.
The kids call you Mama."
        "Twenty years?" she said.  She sounded surprised.  She certainly
didn't look like someone who had been living in the wilderness for
twenty years.  Her clothes were well kept aside from a small tear in
the side of her skirt.  Her hair wasn't matted or greasy.  Even her
fingernails were clean.  After a disarming chuckle, the young woman
put up her hands and said, "Alright, then.  Twenty years.  You hungry?
 I could fix us up something."
        They weren't hungry.  Jeremy shook his head slowly, and opened his
mouth to speak.  Rob interrupted him,
        "When I was nineteen years old you were in the graduating class of
the University six years above me.  You bought beer for me on prom
night and loaned me eight bucks for it so I could take my wife."
        "Wife?" she said cocking her head, "You married Molly Wilcox?  Wow!
        "She died a year ago of leukemia.  She was only thirty-seven."
        Mama perked her lips down and back and furrowed her brow with what
was unmistakable genuine concern.  Sadly she nodded her head and
looked into the campfire,
        "I'm sorry to hear about that, Rob.  Really, I am.  You two were so
adorable together.  Made me sick just looking at you both, but Molly
was a sweet girl."
        "S'alright," Rob said, "But what happened to you?"
        Mama casually let the sorrow drain from her voice and her hand
drifted to the book beside her,
        "Found the Lord.  How are things back in town?  I sure do miss everybody."
        "Mama," Jeremy started, then corrected himself, "Lucille, you have to
tell us what happened.  If there's some sort of miracle plant out here
or a food source, the town could use it.  We're not doing that badly
at the moment, but things could still be better.  In the long winters
ahead, whatever helped you survive could help others.  Come with us."
        "I knew you'd ask me," she said, "And I know they closed the tunnel
home.  It must be scary day after day knowing you're trapped in a
world not made for us.  My heart breaks when I think about the
children having to grow up in a world where picture books are the
closest thing to home they'll ever see."
        "We don't know," Jeremy said, "They could turn it on again."
        "Honey," she said staring with melancholy certainty into Jeremy's
eyes, "I'm sorry but they're not turning it on again.  They're not
gonna to go sniffing around other worlds either.  But it's okay.
We're not alone out here."
        "What have you been eating out here all this time?" Jeremy asked.
        "He makes meat for us," she said.  It was like a survey, the way she
answered.  He makes meat for us.  If it hadn't been so out of place,
it would have seemed the most casual thing in the world to say, but
both Rob and Jeremy knew it was impossible.  It was impossible just
like finding her here was impossible.
        A chill ran through Jeremy's spine, and the needle tips returned to
his hands and neck.  It was at that moment he realized there was a
sound shuffling somewhere beyond the mist.  Rob looked as though he
were about to stand up and run in any direction available.  Lucille
reached over and took Jeremy by the hand.  Her hand was warm, and
        "Don't be afraid," he heard her say.  Only her lips weren't moving.
The voice was hers, but it was coming from the mist.  Somehow he saw
her emerge then from the mist as solid and as gentle as she was
sitting next to him.  She was wearing the exact same thing down to the
little details.  Glasses, a ripped skirt, disarming smile.  In her
hands she held a small white bowl.  Her duplicate, standing at the
edge of the mist approached the campfire and said, "This is my body
which was broken for you."
        Another voice from the mist.  Another Lucy was approaching carrying
an ivory white bowl, just large enough to fit in her two cupped hands.
        "This is my blood."
        "We give them freely in the name of our lord."
        More voices were rising in chorus beyond the mist.  There were
dozens, maybe more.  Jeremy stood and Rob sprinted back the way they
came.  He was screaming the way Jeremy had screamed the first night
after his mother's death.  It was a scream of anguished witness to an
unmistakably vast wilderness.  The fog was now very thick - thick
enough that Jeremy couldn't see his feet as they tripped over a log.
He fell and his hands were buried up to the wrist in a small pile of
coke-bottle glasses.  They stared up at him, each shattered and broken
long ago.  Not thinking, he regained his footing and resumed sprinting
at full tilt toward escape as the chorus wailed behind him.  The crowd
was confused.  Despite speaking with one voice, some were wailing now
in an ecstatic frenzy.  Others sounded gentler, soothing.
        "It's too late!" they chided in one shattering voice behind him, "Too late!"
        Too late, he thought.  Had they done something while he sat
distracted?  Had they broken into the helicopter and sabotaged it?
Was he to be trapped on this island as they descended on him?  His
mind made quick work of identifying every conceivable horror that
could await him at the hands of this enigma.  He almost collided with
the helicopter when he reached it.  Rod was already inside frantically
flipping switches.  Jeremy waited for the propeller and then pulled up
on the collective.  The chopper didn't argue this time.  They went
straight up.
        "How could they survive out here this long?  What do they eat?" Rod asked.
        Jeremy didn't answer.  All he could think of was the pile of broken
glasses laying on the ground.
        "Oh god no," Rod said twisting his face in anguish and beating his
hand against the window.  He was staring down into the mist slowly
enveloping the scene beneath them, "What's inside?  What's inside?"
        "What is it?  What do you see?"
        Rod didn't speak.  He didn't have the heart for it.  Down below
amidst a rising chorus of this new god's followers, the ground lurched
and split.  Something was coming out.  The thing that he saw slowly
wrenching itself out of the ground was a helicopter.  Their

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