Being new there Tim sat at an empty table like a survivor washed onto an island in a sea of festivities asking himself why he bothered going to this church picnic in the first place. He watched children play on inflated structures, but he was far too old for that, and he saw groups conversing, but he was far too shy to introduce himself.
Eventually two elderly women, both widows, along with a husband and wife sat down at his table. The widows spoke of their husbands who were now with the Lord and they all spoke of their activities and the work of their children and children’s children and listened to Tim struggle to pick the right words that avoided topics like where his wife and child were or reveal for scrutiny the questionable paths he followed with his career and choices of entertainment over the years. The husband, who met his wife in high school and had been with her now for over sixty years, invited Tim to a men’s group on Thursday which Tim, although unsure of what he was getting himself into, agreed to attend.
By the time the picnic was over Tim was breathing calmly and wondering why he had not realized before that people like this still existed who overflowed with power in their humility of being salt for the world hoping it was not too late for him someday to somehow do the same.
Jerome thought of all the good he’d be able to do if he made the deal.
“You really could do a lot of good with that money,” reaffirmed the lawyer offering him the contract.
With those additional billions Jerome would be able to implement his plans for climate control by reflecting solar radiation back into space, stop genetic entropy by cloning engineered species, medically manipulate the population into an addicted state of happiness, and eliminate any unhappy terrorists who’d try to stop him.
“Just to make sure you understand,” the lawyer continued, “after fifty years my company will acquire your soul, which you’ve admitted doesn’t materially matter to you anyway, and in exchange you will have enough resources to save your planet in any way you’ve a mind to do so.”
Some years later after a good deal of planet-saving had wrecked the planet, Jerome listened to his top scientists explain how they might be able to remove the orbiting sun-reflecting micromirrors they released earlier that year, but it would be more expensive than Jerome had expected.
He then asked them, “Hypothetically, if someone were fool enough to sell his soul to the devil to hire guys like you, is there another way out of the contract than the one you are now proposing and how much would that cost me?”
Considering how nebulous his mind was only a few years ago, Joel knew he was being led by someone beyond what he thought the word “beyond” meant.
Shamefully he admitted he didn’t deserve any of this insight, or help as he sometimes called it, having filled his life with vanity and trouble. Now all he was interested in were questions like How can you feel at home in this world?
When Joel disappeared most of them thought the hunters got him. The hunters got a lot of them. Sometimes they found body parts, but so far nothing turned up that could be linked to Joel giving them hope that whoever or whatever he thought was on his side led him beyond the hell they were living in and wishing they could have gone along even if it meant dying to get there.
Six people wearing their required masks for passenger safety boarded the train heading downtown while Sam watched. He remembered the days when the station was full of people, of which he would have been one, going to work. Today he was waiting for the stopped train to move on so he could cross the tracks and proceed on his walk through the park.
Without realizing it Sam was near the center of a pentagram formed by two points in the station, two on the train and one across the tracks.
The media reports, carefully written days before the coordinated explosions occurred, said that a terrorist group had assumed responsibility but luckily an unusually high number of regular commuters had taken that specific day off. Sam would have described the event as his ticket home if he had known although if he had known he would not have taken his walk there that morning.
James devised a tale where the deep state cabal released their bioweapons which triggered humanity’s genetic degradation which triggered starvation which triggered random violence from terrorist groups such as the Retaliators which triggered dead bodies piled upon dead bodies. That’s when something snapped inside of him making him explore other plots.
He came up with a new character, Tommy, a quite likeable bunny. He wrote that Tommy’s rabbit hole was near Farmer John’s vegetable patch. He brilliantly described Farmer John smiling at Tommy as they lunched together on carrots.
Being pleased with that new plot, James wrote his final words before the Retaliators arrived, “Their tears were wiped away and all the earth lived happily ever after.”
Six months after Brian was hit by the bus, he looked for and found Martha in the Art District Park. He told her that he tossed his pendulum and tarot cards in the trash and stopped doing those “mindless kundalini meditations”. Although this was the first time he spoke to her since his accident and in spite of being aware of her “unfortunate distraction” with George, Brian asked Martha if she would marry him in a real church.
Martha wondered if the “real church” Brian was thinking of was Brother Jeremy’s chapel recalling how they both bullied that pastor mocking him to his face for his “delusions”. She also wondered if Brian expected her to give up her yogic devotions to that unresponsive energy field identified by people like herself as Shakti.
Martha hoped so, and knowing Brian she knew so, and so she answered, “Yes!”
“Authenticity is all that matters,” George asserted to an attractive woman who just bought ten of his paintings and commissioned five more where she would be the model used for the “queen of the dragons”. They would begin work immediately. George told Martha she had to go back to her own apartment to give them space, but he would call her when he got a chance.
Martha saw how the woman’s body filled her dress, how her smile hypnotized, and how those eyes, so recklessly inviting, so wicked, could easily dominate any intimidation George might later try to exert against her manipulations.
Habituated as George was to his authentic selfishness Martha knew he would never call her. Their parting, however, could have been an opportunity for Martha to shift her views and change her ways, but her lack of courage only allowed her to reinforce her humiliation by blaming George for every demon he let in as she walked back to her apartment.
Although Martha was shocked when she heard that Brian died after being hit by a bus, his death saved her from having to explain to him her involvement with George should he ever find out which he wouldn’t now. To her credit, she thought, she had indeed warned Brian many times that he had better get his act together if he wanted to keep her. Besides, she reasoned, George was a serious artist with highly acclaimed paintings of mystically wise dragons and seductive faeries grossing over five figures while Brian by comparison was what exactly?
Martha forgot about Brian until she and George passed the center of the art district and she saw him – Brian! – supposedly dead, but now, bringing a tray of food to guests at a patio table, alive and well, working where he always did. Brian saw her, too, and went back inside.
Later, moving with George through the gallery that displayed his art, a chill came over Martha as she stared deeply into the hate-enflamed eyes on painting after painting and wondered how she could have been so wrong about those dragons.
Brian rented in an upscale artist community, but he was not commercially viable as an artist, so he served tables. In one of the new age stores that littered the area he listened while the shop attendant tapped a Tibetan prayer bowl available for purchase in his price range. It sounded nice and he almost bought it, but then he couldn’t see himself meditating to that stuff and fifty bucks was fifty bucks.
Although Brian didn’t know what happened from the time the bus hit him to the time his heart began beating again, he felt changed. Tourist-trap spirituality with its bowls, crystals and satanic supernaturalism no longer interested him. He hungered for the real thing.