Sometimes, you do literally have to push forward against evil that pushes you.
But think. Not always.
What is your opponent’s real target? What do you really have to defend against? Sometimes, if someone charges you, head bent in anger, it’s better to step aside, place your hands on their back and gently help them on their way. Sadly, this sometimes results in their falling on their face, ungratefully as well as ungracefully. But that cannot be blamed on you. You were just trying to help, after all.
I recall a similar trick from cowboy shows and such. Someone comes at you and instead of coming at them, you back away, grab their hands and roll backwards, putting both your feet on their torso. As they rock over you, you push your feet out flinging them behind you. I did actually successfully accomplish this a few times as a kid.
Direct confrontation is also useful because it continues to send a signal that there are others out there equally committed to resisting tyranny. But pick battles carefully. You don’t want to pick battles that will splinter your cause or ones that you will lose both tactically and in such a way that you have lost strategic advantage as well.
Remember not to underestimate your adversary. It is not being orchestrated by the Liar-in-Chief. It is likely being orchestrated by ex-KGB/Russian oligarchs and/or American oligarchs who have already compromised a portion of government. They know what they’re doing. They’ve studied our weaknesses for decades. And now they are exploiting them more than ever.
Racism. Misogyny. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Lack of self-discipline. Greed. Shallow Thinking. Impulsivity. Anti-intellectualism. Etc. The litany could go on. America’s always been a work in progress and we’re no-where near perfect. All these weaknesses have their own inevitable costs to our society, with or without help from Moscow. But they can push on those cracks to make them wider. And, they have been, for decades, trying to sabotage our efforts to have our society become more open, freer, fairer, more just, and productive along with a higher quality of life. Now, the sabotage has moved into the all-out push. With Trump, they have a wrecking ball. They will have him wield the power of the Presidency to destroy as much of America as possible before early January.
In the middle of a pandemic, we must work especially hard at keeping the fabric of society from fraying completely. However much you think you are showing your appreciation for others, especially across all boundaries, double it; triple it. We need to see ourselves as having one objective — not being enslaved by a tyrant.
Once absolute rule were to be instantiated, it would be bloody difficult to revert to democracy.
Let’s imagine what this might be like. One of the first moves, of course, will be to claim criminal charges against all of Trumputin’s political opponents. They will all be show trials, of course, using made up evidence. But how will the jury be sure of that? Run their own forensics tests? No, of course not. You see that once the Justice Department becomes the Injustice Department, absolutely no-one is safe.
Imagine. The local police chief takes a shine to your little girl or boy — away they go. What are you going to do about it? Complain? To whom? Going to tell a reporter? What reporter? Oh, you mean the one put in place by the Misadministration? The one who will be quickly replaced and possibly knee-capped if he writes anything critical of the Misadministration? The one who’s boss, the editor, is also on the take and has to approve everything before it’s printed. That one? I don’t think that reporter will have much to say about the kidnapping. Probably left wing terrorists, doncha know?
Or, let’s say you own a local, home-made donut shop. You really do make damned good donuts and everyone in town, and even the surrounding towns knows it too. Especially the cinnamon sugar! For awhile, it looked as though covid might just destroy your business and the nest egg you’d set up. But, in fact, you made a few changes and reassured all your customers and by god if business hasn’t been better than ever! People don’t feel comfortable dining inside a restaurant, but they can call in their order to you, drive by, and pick up nice tasty fresh donuts. Almost like eating out with far less expense and risk of getting sick.
Well, now under the Trumputin dictatorship, it turns out that a friend of a pretty wealthy Russian oligarch has always wanted to retire and run a donut shop. Yours has great reviews so now it’s his. No, you don’t get money for it. Or maybe you did get half a fair price, but you didn’t really want to give it up for any price. One way or another, you are not happy. This isn’t “free enterprise” or “capitalism” or “competition” — no, it isn’t. What did you expect? Trump is the most cowardly person I can think of — he doesn’t want to compete in a fair contest of any kind. It’s not his thing. Even if he could have won 2020 fairly, he wouldn’t do it. Cheating is what gives him pleasure. If won without cheating, half the fun of destroying America would be gone. That’s the nature of his character and eventually that kind of cheating attitude permeates everything like the smell of a skunk. And, by the way, it turns out the that friend of a pretty wealthy Russian oligarch is both a horrible cook and a horrible manager! The donuts are for $hit and none of the employees are happy. But they are not allowed to quit. And the patrons? If anyone asks their opinion, they had damned well better say these donuts make them get down on their knees and thank GOD that the donut shop changed hands. Want to keep complaining? Fine, the gracious government has secured another spot for you to ply your cooking skills up in some Siberian prison camps. Goodbye.
The cancerous corruption that starts at the top, of course, eventually filters down to state governments, local governments, societies, book clubs, bowling leagues. As in Stalin’s Russia, no-one trusts anyone. Kids betray their parents. Parents betray each other. Step out of line, you die. Maybe you die at once. Maybe we sent you to Siberia to die slowly as with ex-cooks who complain. Either way, you die. Either way, by stealing you out of the fabric of your neighborhood, your family, and your network of friends & colleagues, the Trumputin Misadministration has damaged all of those fabrics as well. They have reinforced the message that the only thing you can really count on is a government who will always be there for you. Until you don’t behave exactly and precisely as you’re told to. If you fight, then the entire force of that gigantic faceless stone will be crushed down your face.
And, you will not be able to go to reporter. And you will not be looking for a good lawyer because everyone knows the conclusion of your trial is already pre-determined. And you will not get on social media and complain because nearly all of social media is bot-$hit crazy propaganda supporting the Misadministration.
Oh, and guns? That will, of course, be one of the most ironic parts of this whole debacle. “Guns Rights” advocates, who for millennia (it feels like) have complained that liberals want to take their guns away — will, in fact, have their guns taken away. This will not be done by the left — who didn’t want to do it anyway, but by the dictatorship. Dictatorships really do take guns away. Yeah! That you were right about all along. The part where it all went sideways though was that although the NRA kept spewing the line that a well-armed citizenry kept us from tyranny, in actual practice, the guys in camo who donned their assault rifles did not stand up to actual terrorists or unmarked private militias. It was more fun, apparently, to stand up to unarmed nurses protesting to get needed equipment in order to save lives or to storm the capital building and protest legislators doing their jobs to save lives. Anyway, you won’t have any more right to own a gun than do Russian citizens. Maybe a few special hunting licenses for “special friends” of the Grand Supreme Leader. That’s it.
Everything is so horrible and absolute power is so absolute you probably think — good god, this will never change. Why did I bring children into this world? But things do change. The first major change of the Trumputin Misadministration is very minor wording change. It will be known henceforth in the shorter version — Putin Misadministration. Trump unfortunately had to be temporarily removed from duty to deal with a strange illness. Doctors think it is not COVID19 where the US death toll is now the best in the world. In a recent press conference Trump was able to inform the AmeriKKKan public that “supplemental autopsies” confirmed that the US only had three total COVID19 deaths while the rest (1.5 million) were all part of a liberal hoax. And those three would have been saved if only they had let the Stable Genius Savior puteth his hands upon them and administereth bleach unto them.
After Trump and his co-traitors all die of similar strange diseases within days of each other, Grand Supreme Leader Putin graciously names replacements for various Senators, Judges, and Cabinet Heads. Everyone in Congress is asked to swear a loyalty pledge to Putin. Those who refuse are never heard from again.
Nothing in this grim scenario is inevitable. If enough people wake up soon enough to see what is afoot, the overthrow of America can be avoided. I hope for everyone’s sake that will happen. Even if not, eventually life, creativity, freedom, fairness — these forces will prevail. The philosophy of hate, like cancer in the human body, can only have temporary victory. In the end, fascism is incompatible with life. Like cancer, it will not create anything useful to the whole, and once it kills its host, it too will die.
“Be steadfast in purpose and flexible in tactics.”
Read history, folks.
Totalitarian regimes do this: they divide the citizens agains each other. Trump starts by trying to prevent Muslims from coming to America (unless, of course, they are Muslims from countries where he has financial interests).
Then, he ignores the needs of Puerto Rico and kills 3000 American citizens with his ineptness and attempts to throw the business for rebuilding the infrastructure to a small inexperienced shell company.
Then, he cages kids and tears babies from their mothers because — after all — they are “illegals.” It is NOT illegal to come to the US border and ask for asylum! No-one IS an illegal. A person is a person. If you sped once and got a speeding ticket that doesn’t make you an “illegal” does it?
The above are only a few examples. He has been working to divide Americans against each other ever since he got Putin office. Why? What “leader” does that? Who benefits?
Democrats don’t benefit. Republicans don’t benefit. Independents don’t benefit. POC don’t benefit. White people don’t benefit. Putin benefits!
Trumputin has been trying to divide Americans against each other from day one of the Misadministration. If you let him break the law and ignore the courts when it comes to POC or immigrants or Muslims, you can be 100% sure that they will do the same for you no matter what your color or origin.
Once the rule of law no longer exists, what will prevent them from coming to your house and taking every damned thing they want?
Nothing is the answer. And at that point, if you think you will be safe because you voted for Trump or wear a magic red MAGA hat or have an assault weapon — think again.
Remember: Hitler promised to restore Germany and do wonderful things. What actually happened? Tens of millions of people died — including many Germans. Hitler himself ended up committing suicide. Mussolini was beaten to death by an angry mob as was Caligula two millennia earlier.
Wake up, America!
Putin is having Trump use chemical and biological weapons against America’s own people.
Trump is putting zero energy into getting re-elected. He’s too chicken to ever play by the rules or have a fair fight. Heel Spurs is such a coward that he won’t even fire people face to face. He’s such a coward he can’t even admit to making a mistake. He’s such a coward that he won’t ask women to have sex. He just grabs them. And, if they are 13 and he can beat them up, so much the better.
You will not benefit from a Trump dictatorship. He may give you the illusion that he will. But that’s all it is. An illusion. He’s a con man. There is no substance to him. There is nothing but a desperate, cowardly baby screaming that he must have all the pudding because he wants all the pudding. His GOP enablers have let him get away with bribery, theft, and now murder.
Murder? Surely, that’s an exaggeration, right?
What if you knew a bridge was out and you encouraged someone to drive that bridge and they plunged to their death?
That’s what months of lies and bad modeling has done — needlessly killed tens of thousands of Americans with more on the way.
Before it’s too late.
The Truth Train
She Who Saves Many Lives heard a familiar voice, as though from far away. I am dreaming, she realized. It is Tu-Swift. I wonder what he wants. Oh, of course. He wants me to bring Suze back to life. But I cannot do that. He knows that. Such a lovely dream. I must return. Such peace. So many flowers. There is a field of flowers. Wild roses, pink and white form hedges around the perimeter. And such lovely blue lupins. The happy white daisies. The bright sunflowers. You must see how beautiful it all is, Tu-Swift. But of course, he sees no such thing. His friend just died. I must rise from the dream now and give him my love. It seems so … difficult … to awake. It’s the fever. The red plague. Now Many Paths is talking too. What is she saying though? I must return to the dream. There, everything was easy…and beautiful. Understanding words is hard. Too hard. And understanding the meaning is harder still. And listening to the heart behind the meaning — the hope, the love, the fears — that is harder still. It is nearly time. Nearly time. But I must tell Many Paths something. And I must tell Tu-Swift something as well. Lids are such heavy things to lift. I never noticed that before.
“Hello, Many Paths. Hello, Tu-Swift.” The old shaman sighed and thought: My voice sounds so weak. Just a few hours ago, or possibly a few days ago, I sounded strong. And, look at my old lady’s skin. A covering of tiny red mountains. That is not so pretty.
Tu-Swift bent over her and said, “You’re awake! Good! Suze needs you! Many Paths cannot wake her! She needs a tonic from you or some magic or — I don’t know what! You must save her! Please!”
She Who Saves Many Lives looked at the face of Many Paths. The eyes of Many Paths held the answer that she already knew. She looked back to Tu-Swift. He knew as well. “I am so sorry, Tu-Swift. This red plague is not a good thing for us. Please back away from me. Don’t look at me like that. Of course, I still love you. While I was asleep, I recalled a story my mother told me long ago when I was a child much younger than you. Another plague came and people had to leave our village and go camp by themselves for a full moon. Those who stayed in the village almost all died, like Suze. Those who camped by themselves mostly lived. We must do the same. Stay back from the sick people. Even well people! Or you will get sick too. If two or three of us must talk, we must talk with a fire between us. Now, please, Tu-Swift, do not come close to me again, but you can go and make more of the healing tea for me. Leave it at the threshold and I’ll get it…or Many Paths may bring it to me. She’s just recovered. She won’t get sick again.”
Many Paths looked down at She Who Saves Many Lives and gently murmured, “Rest, Mother. Save your energy.”
The old Shaman smiled and spoke, “Yes, I will, but I may — I may soon join back with the soil from which the Great Tree of Life draws nourishment. There is something you must know. I need to … I had a dream. Perhaps I dreamt of the Forgotten Field of Flowers. Perhaps Not. But it was very beautiful and varied. And, it occurred to me that just as we who are among the Veritas all have something unique to contribute to the tribe, so too the various tribes have learned to adapt to various circumstances and therefore become expert in various things. This is the teaching of The Forgotten Field of Flowers, of course. That teaching is about people who may argue among the Veritas. But why limit it? Why not have all the Tribes come together and learn from each other?”
“Yes, as shown in The Battle of the Three Paths. In small. But are you saying include other tribes, even The ROI and the Z-Lotz? The Z-Lotz are treacherous! They steal children! That’s not even — that’s against life itself. And, they came — they may have brought the disease of red sores intentionally!”
“Yes. You cannot trust them. Not yet. But perhaps they will learn the value of truth from us and they could change. And, perhaps we can learn something from them. It doesn’t mean we have to steal children, or spread disease as they do.”
A silence grew between them. Many Paths held the old shaman’s hand. She could see that the Old One was drifting off to sleep so she held her hand and lay down beside her. Many Paths took deep calming breaths. She herself was not back to her full energy level so she let herself be lulled by the warm day into drowsiness. She listened to the sounds of her people at work outside. So many sick and unnecessarily so. It was hard to feel anything but contempt for the Z-Lotz who had brought them this disease. She wondered about Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes. What if they never returned? Perhaps they had been killed or taken captive. Maybe it was a mistake to even go there. As she usually did when she worried about Shadow Walker, she began to fiddle with the Seventh Ring of Empathy. She turned it this way and that. She put it on her finger and her eyelids grew heavy with sleep.
She glanced over at She Who Saves Many Lives. She could see the many lines in her wrinkled visage. There was history there, Many Paths realized. And in her form was written, not just her personal history, but the history of the people. And in her form was written, not just the history of the Veritas, but the history of all people, for surely they all did form one small branch of the great Tree of Life. Many Paths contemplated this branch. Most of her friends were on this small branch — She Who Saves Many Lives, Shadow Walker, Tu-Swift, Eagle Eyes, Fleet of Foot. But every daisy, every oak, every butterfly, they were all on and constituted that great Tree of Life.
Many Paths listened to the beautiful haunting cooing of a mourning dove from somewhere outside. She wondered whether the dove also realized that they were from the same tree. If we are all of and make up the same tree, was it then possible, as She Who Saves Many Lives had hinted for different tribes to get along? Many Paths closed her eyes and pictured Shadow Walker. Having him away — that was hard — especially when there was no guarantee that he would return. She touched the Seventh Ring of Empath and traced the circle of metal around her finger. It calmed her and made her realize that the Tree itself was safe. So long as people of character like Shadow Walker did what they could, not only for themselves, but also for the Great Tree of Life itself, all would be well. Many Paths smiled. She knew in her heart that her friends would do what they could. Everyone’s path ended in this life. And yet, every path also led to other paths. A stream might dry up — even a lake — but water — water itself was plentiful. The path of paths went on forever. The water circled itself back into life. And the tree of life will be here long outlasting our individual lives, Many Paths realized. But this Tree of Life is not something separate from me, or from Shadow Walker or from Tu-Swift. We are all part of that Tree. In a way, dying was only an illusion. A tree doesn’t die, even in winter. It may lose all its leaves and look dead, but it is only dormant and waiting for another spring. None of us really dies. Still, I prefer him here, warm, in the pleasurable press of a warm live body. I will always have the memory, and there is that vast tree, The Tree of Life. That lasts forever. He is one of my favorite parts though. Yet, I feel as though he is alive. It could be illusion.
Many Paths jerked as her head began to fall with sleep and then she chuckled as an image flickered for a moment behind her eyes — an image of Shadow Walker and Eagle Eyes sitting together on the throne of the Z-Lotz. She shook her head at that silliness then returned her mind back to the challenge that She Who Saves Many Lives had set for her: to bring all the tribes together. Was that possible? Or even desirable? A tree branches ever outwards. The branches don’t try to impale each other with thorns! Yet, Tu-Swift now feels as though he has been impaled. She Who Saves Many Lives is asleep. I will go find Tu-Swift and comfort him. Can the Z-Lotz really have brought this here intentionally? And can I meet with them; dialogue with them if they have? But if I cannot meet with them, are we doomed yet again to war and killing and hatred? Then, her thoughts returned to Tu-Swift. Tu-Swift is alive and hurting. I must go see him. I just need to rest my eyes for a moment, then, I will find him.
Having concluded that, Many Paths fell into a deep sleep.
With space-Alien violence, people all across the world are ri
pped from their worlds and taken to those special beds.
The COVID beds.
And just as in the movie an alien presence is
forced down their throat and in their
Perhaps they wonder whether they
Will get a final say
Departing to those left behind
The wisdom of an old, yet un-befuddled mind.
Of, if befuddled, who’s to say
Whether older wisdom may filter through
To light a little (just a little), our path to a brighter day.
Who are the Speakers for the Dead?
What do they say?
Perhaps they whisper one and all with the self-same silence of the lambs
The lambs led to slaughter from the King-Con Man of the Cowards.
Supported by the most menial of the Blowhards.
If they have no breath,
If no-one speaks before their death,
Who are the Speakers for the Dead?
What do they say?
No-one can say.
That’s kind of the whole point, don’t you see?
Everyone is different.
Everyone learns something different.
Everyone has a piece of the puzzle laid before us growing ever larger till it will overwhelm
And when no-one will dare to grab the helm.
And so these lives go silently
Out of this life and into something else entirely.
Are we learning
Through the burning
And the yearning unfulfilled
All the turning unwilled
That we are all:
Leaves upon the Tree of Life.
The Life of the Tree
Depends upon the health of every Leaf
And every Leaf
Depends upon the Health of the entire Tree.
Is that so hard to see?
That’s it — in its entirety.
Like most trees, humanity
Must be its own gardener,
How can we grow and glow
Without the unspoken words of the many
Dispersed instead of our waiting ears,
The unspoken syllables slide into the bowels of a machine?
And some few recover.
We should be listening carefully to each one.
They are bringing tales from distant lands
Which we hope never to visit ourselves.
Are they, then, the Speakers for the Dead?
And what, prey, do they tell?
Or, shall we let the politicians far and wide
Whose ear-to-ear grins have never faded.
Regardless of thousands of corpses laded.
(They’re playing for the other side)
Shall we let them be
Speakers for the Dead?
No, they will not be Speakers for the Dead.
Because they cannot hear.
Because they cannot see.
Because they cannot feel.
Because they have forgotten that Truth is not “ours” or “theirs.”
Truth belongs to the Tree of Life
Not to one Leaf or Another.
Every single Leaf’s your sis or brother!
Let us sing then; sing together.
Heal the Tree wherever it’s needed.
That’s how forests are reseeded.
Other Poems on the Web
“I’m drunk. Really drunk. No. Not drunk. What the hell’s wrong with me. I still smell alcohol. Car accident! A piece came through my throat! Oh, God! I’m dying! No. Wait. Where the hell is everybody? This can’t be heaven. I must have gone to the other place! Why? Why? What’s that smell? Rotten eggs? I go to church every Sunday, Lord. Well, not every Sunday. What is that beeping? What is in my throat? OH MY GOD! It’s the ALIEN!”
The next time consciousness returned, she heard someone call her name. She tried to answer, but nothing came out. Where am I? What? I can’t talk! I’m in danger! I need to get out of here! Why do they call my name but no-one comes? I like my name. Kids and relatives had tried shortening it to something stupid, but she wouldn’t stand for that.
But now she was in a fog. America couldn’t think straight. She could only seem to make words in her head. They wouldn’t come out of her mouth. At least not properly. She thought, “Who are these strangers who are calling my name? One of them was talking. I should listen. Maybe there will be a clue about what happened to me.”
But she drifted off before she heard a single word.
When America awoke again, some damned foreigner was jabbering at her. Why the hell can’t these people learn proper English like everyone else? Like my daddy talks and I talk and all my friends talk? This man talks like a Chinaman. China? China flu! That’s what happened to me! I caught the stupid China flu! That’s what the President called it. It’s a hoax. Oh, crap! Roger! Roger! Oh, dear, dear Roger. (Now, she remembered). She and Roger had been cheering for the President. That was nice. Why can’t I just go back there?
At the show — the Rally — everyone was on the President’s side! They were all cheering for him. We were cheering for him. Roger was cheering for him. It was fun. We had our hats. So what if they said ‘Made in China’? That was the whole point! We let China get away with too much. The President was fixing that! And he was keeping the China flu away from us! And we didn’t need masks. Who wants to wear a mask? Not me. Not Roger. Where the hell am I? Hospital? Oh, crap, Roger, Roger, Roger. Roger died. Damn it!”
An image flashed into her mind. America and her best high school girlfriends had had cheerleading practice after school. After their practice was over, they had gotten into the habit of sitting in the bleachers and watching the boys do the second half of their football practice. Their team, the Leesville Rebels, had been having a good season. Most of the girls were head over heels in love — or at least in social envy — with the handsome All-State quarterback, Matthew Jackson. Everyone called him ‘Threw Jackson’ — he was a senior and already had scholarship offers from Michigan and MSU. He would be a catch, all right, but he was too cocky and brash for my taste America had thought. She liked Roger — more of a mountain of a man, and a sophomore like her. She didn’t think her parents would approve her dating a Senior, but Threw never asked her. Not exactly.
Nor did anyone else. Not until that fall day when the first hint of scarlet and gold adorned the maples that surrounded the south end of Rebel Field. At the end of practice, the pounding herd of football-spiked boys trotted off to the showers, but Roger veered off, zig-zagging as though he were running an overly elaborate pass pattern, tossed his arms up, faked a catch and came running over to the railing where she stood with her friends. He smiled and his mouthguard made his teeth sparkle in a funny, plastic sort of way. And then, he pointed those giant penetrating eyes right at her.
“Hey there! I’m Roger Williams. From English class. Wanna go to Homecoming with me?”
Even now, she could clearly remember that she had flushed carmine from head to foot. She had swallowed hard, bitten her lip and said, “Yes. Thanks.”
“Great! I gotta go shower now. See ya’ in class!” He had spun on his heel and sprinted off, tossing a bit of cinder behind him. At about ten yards away, he threw his right arm up, jumped in the air and shouted “Touchdown!” And, she admitted to herself for the first time that she actually had loved him from that moment on. Whenever that thought had crossed her mind before, she had dismissed it as the nonsense of a teenage girl. Now, she realized that no — it wasn’t just the fancy of a naive girl. It was literally true. Of course, it doesn’t always happen like that for everyone. She understood that, but it had happened that way for her. She had never told Roger that because it had seemed so stupid. But now — she should tell him but — could no longer. But let’s think of something more pleasant, she thought to herself.
So — indeed, they had gone to the Homecoming Dance, and she relived much of it now in her imagination where the colors splashed brighter and the music sang clearer than she had experienced in many years. And, the kiss. Her first real kiss. That had sealed the deal for the young lady.
She had never really dated anyone else. She had never really been with anyone else either. You couldn’t count…that didn’t count. That never happened! she screamed in her mind. She chanted one of her cheers from all those many years ago:
“PUSH ‘EM BACK, PUSH ‘EM BACK! WAAAAY BACK!”
She still remembered the moves. The girls had had all pushed their butts back and their hands forward for the first two lines and then, done a back walkover for the last cheer, ending by dropping down to a split. Those cheers had seemed hard enough. She couldn’t believe what some of the cheerleaders were doing today. Amazing stuff! But many of those teams had both boy and girl cheerleaders. She never understood that. Cheerleading was for girls. And football was for guys! Didn’t need a stable genius to see that. And, now we can say “Merry Christmas!” again.
After they had been married for decades and long after their kids had gone off on their own, sometimes, when Roger had fallen asleep on the couch watching TV, she would stare at him and wonder how he would react if she had told him that Threw had raped her all those years earlier. Things were good though. Why take a chance. They still loved each other. Why chance it?
“PUSH ‘EM BACK, PUSH ‘EM BACK! WAAAAY BACK!”
Then the darkness closed in and she fell asleep again.
When she awoke, someone was talking to her. A woman this time. It must be a nurse. But she’s calling herself a doctor. They do have woman doctors. I’d prefer a man, she thought to herself.
“Mrs. Williams. I’m Doctor Khoury. I’ll be your new Doctor now.”
America tried to speak, but it seemed impossible. She could only manage an inarticulate moan. Even the moan didn’t sound as though it had come from her. A small writing pad appeared before her. It was blurry. “Where are my glasses?” she wondered.
Doctor Khoury placed a pen in her hand. “Don’t try to talk. Write if you have any questions. You’re on a ventilator. It is hard to talk. And, really, there is no need. Just try to relax and we’ll take care of you. You’re at McClaren. You just relax and we’ll get you over this.”
America tried to write with the pen but her hand shook. It felt heavy. Very, very heavy. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate. She looked at the shaky scrawl and shuddered. It was like an old lady’s writing. Well, she supposed that’s what she was now. An old lady. Without Roger. She kept scrawling: “Dr Wong?”
“Oh, yes. Well Dr. Wong was your doctor, but I am your doctor now. Doctor Khoury.”
Such a pain to write. But she wrote a bit more. “Quit?”
She could hear a bit of exasperation in Doctor Khoury’s sigh. “No, he didn’t quit. He can’t be your doctor any more, so I am. Your insurance is fine. Don’t worry about a thing?”
She knew the answer, but her mind was so befuddled, maybe it wasn’t really true. She wrote again, “Roger?”
“Ah, your husband, Mrs. Williams? I’m — I’m afraid — I’m afraid he didn’t make it. You — I recognize you — you were there — when your husband passed. Do you remember? You came right up to the window and put your hand on the glass. In fact, here it is Monday. If I’m not mistaken he died just a week ago. We’re going to get you through this however. You’ll see. I just wanted to intro myself. I’ve got to go. Someone will be checking on you every few minutes. Nice meeting you, Mrs. Williams.”
“So,” thought America, “it’s really true. I didn’t just imagine it. Poor Roger. I couldn’t even hold his hand. Not really. It’s not the same through glass. We always promised each other we’d be there for each other. But no sign of Andy or Marcel. Maybe they’ll come. At least Andy.
Marcel had been very angry. They had fought about the stupid virus! Marcel had believed all that malarkey that the main stream media was pumping out about … it was terrible the way everyone was piling on the President. He was doing his best. It wasn’t his fault the virus hadn’t gone away in March or April or May. He said it was okay to re-open. And, when Roger had just mentioned that they were going to a rally, Marcel had blown up.
“Are you guys crazy?! Don’t go to a rally and breathe all that infected air!”
It was too bad the liberals were using the pandemic to attack the poor President. He had done everything in his power, hadn’t he? Andy though, he sided with his mom and dad. He had voted for Trump. After all, he was going to fix things. He promised to make America great again. We sure liked his speeches. Well, Roger and I did. What did he say? Mexico! He had pointed out all the things wrong with America. All the people trying to be politically correct. Too many colored people. Too many immigrants had stolen all the American jobs. Where had they put them? China?
When it came to jobs, Roger had been lucky. But it wasn’t just luck! He had worked hard in engineering school and had gotten a damned good job at GM right down the road. But then, just like Trump said, foreigners had eventually stolen his job. And … the union … he unions had struck for higher wages so what did the company do? Of course, they moved the plant to … somewhere … Pontiac. But then, I need to sleep.
God, I need to sleep. Why does everyone hate Trump so much? Why do all these women come and accuse him of rape and groping and stuff? Just let it go. Just let it go. Don’t ruin these men’s lives. What would have happened to Threw? Maybe he wouldn’t have gotten the scholarships. Well, it would have been a scandal. Mostly on me. And Roger? He wouldn’t have liked me any more. Maybe he wouldn’t have exactly blamed me, but …
“PUSH ‘EM BACK! PUSH ‘EM BACK! WAAAAY BACK!”
It usually worked. But this time, I’m too damned tired, she thought. How the hell am I supposed to sleep? Where was Roger anyway? Oh, that’s right. Damn him! Why did he have to die? Why? Smoking? We both tried to quit more than once. Don’t we get credit for that? Anyway, non-smokers die of this too.
Sure they do. Vice-President Pence had said there was no evidence cigarettes caused health problems. He wouldn’t lie. He’s a good Christian. He won’t even go in a room alone with a woman. Why would Trump pick him to drain the swamp if he was a liar? That made no sense. Did he say to drink bleach? He didn’t say that — not really — but I thought that’s what he meant. I thought about trying it. Imagine. Maybe it would have worked. I wish I had some now.
But all those people out to get Trump. The Deep State. Mueller. Even though he was a Republican. And the FBI and the CIA. Jeff Sessions. The military. And the NSA. They are all out to get him. And then — first there wasn’t really a pandemic. It was just a couple of cases. Trump told everybody not to take it seriously. But then the China people lied to him. And, WHO. And, the CDC. He had to fix that. And if — and Europe — and New York City. And all the liberals and homosexuals are out to get him. And the Federal prosecutors. Everyone is in this vast conspiracy. And they even make fun of him for being fat and loving his daughter. And so what if he had his dad pay someone to lie so he could get out of the army? So what? Obama didn’t serve in the military either. Nor Clinton. Nor Bush.
Everybody lies sometimes. Everybody cheats on their taxes. Or on their spouse. What’s the big deal? He can’t really have borrowed money from Russia. That would be stupid. He says he’s a genius. I know I’m not. He said he would sue any school who released his test records. He won’t release his taxes. So? Who cares? I need to sleep. I’ll make myself go to sleep. I’ll make my mind blank.
And she succeeded. For a moment or two. Then, she heard two voices whispering.
“What’s wrong, Dr. Khoury?”
“What’s wrong? Do you know why this woman, Mrs. Williams is in here? Do you know?”
“I know that! I mean why did she get it? She and her husband went to a Trump rally. No masks. No social distancing. Her husband died last week. And now…”
“She might hear you.”
“I doubt it. I don’t even care. I’m sick of these people not wearing masks. And now Dr. Wong is dead. Dead! He worked the whole damned month of May and then the whole damned month of June and now he’s dead! What the hell is wrong with this country? People don’t believe doctors. They don’t believe experts. They only believe Trump! And people are dying. Just because he says he has things under control doesn’t mean he does. He knew about this for months and did nothing and even now, in mid July, he still doesn’t have a national plan for PPE, testing, masks, or contact tracing. It’s been … oh, never mind. I’m just mad about Wong. But he’s the fourth one we’ve lost from this hospital. Who’s next? You? Me? Anyway, who’s next on our list?”
“We are due to take a look at Jonathan Edwards. 35. High BP. Obese. Baptist minister….”
America heard the voices fade away into the distance. She couldn’t even be sure she had heard those voices. They weren’t loud. Not like Trump. Is it possible, she wondered, whether soft voices might speak truth just as well as loud ones? Hadn’t she led cheers and tried to get the Leesville Rebels to scream louder and louder? Why?
She thought, “So many people out to get Trump. Add the doctors and nurses and … who was speaking now? America felt sure she had someone say ‘What if…?’ But who? What if what? Where’s Roger now? Dead. Doctor Khoury thinks we got it at the Trump rally? Why would he tell us not to bother with masks if it was dangerous? That made no sense. Everyone’s lying! Everyone.”
“Or maybe” her heart skipped a beat. “Maybe, it’s just Trump. Trump’s lying!” America felt an electric thrill in her spine. “Who said that?”
America’s eyes flew open. She thought: “That was Roger! That was Roger’s voice! Roger told me! I heard him. But he’s dead. Crap. This lying on my stomach and all these drugs. I want to talk! I want to scream! Roger? Roger? What do you mean? It could be Trump lying? What? Instead of the … instead of everyone else? Trump himself? Well. That’s a horrible thought.”
“PUSH ‘EM BACK! PUSH ‘EM BACK! WAAAAY BACK!”
“That would mean … that would mean … all those people he fired … all those people he hired and then fired … and all the ones … but he wouldn’t have raped a 13 year old girl. Who does that? I was fifteen. That was bad enough! It was horrible. Too horrible to happen!
But it never happened! Never! Why would Trump do that? And why would he lie about the pandemic? All that slander against him! Why would he do Putin favors? And why would Putin care who’s President of America? What possible difference would it make to Putin? He must just like Trump. Just because he was on officer in the KGB doesn’t mean he’s a bad human being. And poisoned his rivals.
Who’s out there staring at me? They’re waving! It’s Andy! Oh, God. He shouldn’t see me like this. He’ll get all worried. What’s that smell!? I can hardly breathe! Why do they have this thing stuck down my throat? It makes no sense! How can it make me breathe better! Hi Andy. I wish I could talk to you. I don’t feel good, Andy.
I never stopped saying ‘Merry Christmas!’ I never stopped saying that. It was a lie. Andy, I don’t feel good.”
That was also a lie. She didn’t just not feel good. She felt terrible. She had never in her life felt so … desperate. So dead. She had to let others know. She had to talk to Andy. Why don’t he come in? Of course, COVID. That’s why. Damn.
“Andy, Andy. I wish I could say ‘goodbye’ in person. I love you. Thanks for the grandkids. Andy, maybe Marcel was right. Maybe — just maybe — it’s Trump himself lying and not the whole rest of the world. I think … I think maybe he’s under foreign influence and killing us on purpose. Wake up, Andy. Wake up! Wake up before it’s too late!”
Andy was no doctor, but he had seen enough Hospital shows on TV to know what flat-lining was. A gang of doctors flew into his mom’s room but an orderly stayed behind to keep Andy away. He said, “YOU stay HERE! We don’t need another one here next month! Geez! What’s wrong with you, man? You don’t even have your mask on right. Look. I’m sorry about your Mom and all that, but Jesus man, what are you thinking? Don’t you know we’re in the middle of a pandemic when your own mother is lying there with it? What’s wrong with you?”
Andy turned and shouted at the thick, nearly soundproof glass: “Mom! Mom! Wake up! Come on America! Wake up!”
Dmitry felt a lump in his throat. His turn was coming next. Even now, after all those months of work, the thumping in his heart might yet make him turn chicken. He couldn’t even hear the idea of his comrade Ilya.
“Dmitry?” He turned toward the facilitator. It proved difficult, but he swallowed that lump in his throat and lunged forward. “I’ve been studying suicidal death cults.” He could hear the sighs and snickers but continued. “At first, it’s easy to dismiss them as groups of crazy people. But that is not accurate. Only the person in charge is typically crazy, in the usual senses of the word. But the people who follow along — even to the death — fall under his spell.”
The Commissar cut him short, “Yes, yes. But what does any of this have to do with … what’s the point of this? How does it help us achieve our objective.”
Dmitry realized that having started, he had the courage to finish. “It’s predictable. It’s controllable. I think we can actually create a death cult.”
Dmitry smiled appreciatively and nodded at his comrades. “I know it sounds crazy, but let’s look at the data.” Dmitry tapped a few keys on his laptop and a correlation matrix appeared. He talked people through it. He then switched to a causal model with associated strength parameters based on his data. “Then, I applied this same model to two new countries in different societies. It works.”
The Commissar nodded. “OK, Dmitry. Nice work. But so what? Our enemy already has death cults popping up from time to time. How is our adding one or two more going to help? Are you saying we can make them into suicide bombers?”
Dmitry saw a chance to ingratiate himself to his Commissar so he took it. “That’s an even better idea but I hadn’t thought of it. What I was talking about was a large scale death cult. There is no theoretical reason to limit a cult to a few score people. The math says that we can … that we can do it with millions. We can get millions of them to commit suicide, but even better, we can get many of them — not quite so many — but likely 100,000 to be suicide fighters. Maybe more. It would take a whole program of historical research to find the relevant instances, Commissar.”
Olga shook her head. She could stand no more. “This is all theory. How the — it’s ridiculous. Only a few very disturbed people would go along with being in a death cult. You’d have to set up a whole infrastructure, institutions, philosophy. It would take decades to grow it to a million people and all along the way, people not in the cult would point out to them,
‘Hey, you! You’re getting involved in a death cult! Is that what you really want to do?’
And, most of them would wake up and realize what would happening.”
“You raise good points Olga, but I am not suggesting we grow a death cult from scratch. I am suggesting we turn a large existing institution — which already has power and money — into a death cult. They have the language, the social media presence, the lists, the talking points.”
The Commissar broke in, “What are you talking about? What institution? The KKK?”
“No, Commissar, I am talking about the Republican Party.”
Silence crept in on titanic tank treads. Just as it had in Hungary. And East Germany. Before the damned Americans had ruined everything.
The gears were turning in the Commissar’s head. A plan, still vague, but forged with the realism that a half century of trying to destroy the Capitalist Dogs, had rendered in delightful deadly detail of doable mis-deeds. He mumbled under his breath, “Holy Mother of God! This might just work!”
The room broke out in a general and quite unruly discussion for a few moments before the Commissar banged on the table. “SILENCE!”
The Commissar continued, “Thank you. Now, this may or may not work but it’s the newest damned idea to come out of this unit in years. No-one talks about this once you leave this room. No exceptions. Not even your lover. Not your mother. Not your two month old. Not even your frigging dog! We’re going to develop this idea and then present it to our glorious President Putin.”
Olga frowned. “But Commissar, forgive me for stating the obvious, but they are not an illiterate people. It’s not like spreading lies used to be in some parts of the Middle East or Southeast Asia. They’re too educated to fall for it.”
Dmitry glanced at the Commissar who seemed to be signaling that Dmitry was on his own with this answer. “Olga, I’m glad you brought this up. It’s an important issue. But this is the beauty of using the Republican Party. They have already spent decades getting the “base” to listen only to their propaganda channel and only read the sources that are approved. So, for example, many of them go along with a whole raft of lies about climate change. In a way, that’s already a death cult! All I am doing is suggesting how we can speed it up. They already deny reality. They already defend unethical behavior among their own. They accept their media sources and I doubt they will even notice when we start pumping out the propaganda.”
Olga shook her head. “Who would we find to lead such a death cult? Some one so desperate that they would be willing to sell the lives of their own citizens? That doesn’t really sound feasible.”
Silence again descended upon the room like barrages of heavy artillery — but without the noise, of course.
Then, Ilya spoke up, “Many of them hate their countrymen with black skin or brown skin or red skin or yellow skin. We’ll pick someone with no ethics and no experience as a success. Someone who has failed at nearly everything he’s ever tried. Someone desperate for attention and adulation. And we can give him that. For that, he’ll lead the death cult. We can have the cult first turn their rage toward others. They will learn to follow that lead, killing mindlessly and with encouragement from their social media and television. Then, we just get them to turn all that anger and killing on themselves. I really think it can be done. Somewhere, in that vast land of greed, there has to be someone who’s a big enough loser to swallow the bait. I really think it can be done.”
“I think so too,” said Dmitry.
“I really think it can be done as well,” said the Commissar.
“I really don’t think we can get millions of Americans to kill themselves,” said Olga.
What do you think, fellow citizen of the planet? What do you think?
And besides, if I wear a life jacket, no one can see that vacant eyed suck expression. Or any of my fake expressions. They’re too hidden by the jacket. Not even Vlad could see. Okay, everyone — put on a — oh, I’m tired. Never mind. Have the staff decide for the people around them whether or not they need a life jacket.
Over the next several days, Shadow Walker’s memory and thinking improved. That proved to be a good thing because otherwise, even though he asked, indeed insisted that Tree Vines tell him in excruciating detail everything he saw from a number of public executions, he himself would have become hopeless. But Veritas were trained from an early age to push away hopelessness and instead to plan. Of course, this did not make them impervious to circumstances. Understanding the reality of one’s circumstances, even if unpleasant, always proved crucial to maximizing one’s chances for survival.
As Shadow Walker and Tree Vines reviewed the latter’s memories of the killings together, Shadow Walker probed for more and more detail. Veritas early memory training, it became clear to them both, proceeded along similar lines and had similar benefits on both sides of the Twin Peaks. Tree Vines had learned more of the Z-Lotz and ROI languages than Shadow Walker. He explained to Shadow Walker that his friend Eagle Eyes, if she had survived, would likely be in prison not too far away. Rumors were that NUT-PI had planned some sort of giant celebration with lots of torture and killing to take his people’s attention away from a rampant plague that was killing scores of people. Apparently, NUT-PI had at first refused to believe there even was a horrible disease among the Z-Lotz, and then he claimed it was only the impure in spirit or those who were disobedient to him or his interpretations of the Great Sky Bear’s law who had anything to fear. Many from among the most devout of the Z-Lotz had also died.
Food and water were scarce. On the one hand, Shadow Walker felt the need to conserve his energy for an escape attempt that might require every ounce of energy. On the other hand, he also needed to keep his bones and muscles strong. So, he exercised for short periods of time, but very vigorously and he encouraged Tree Vines to do the same. The exercises themselves helped them from slipping into a vague and vacant hopelessness. Shadow Walker encouraged the other prisoners to follow suit. At first, only a few joined in, but when the other saw the obvious improvement in mood, they began to join in.
Shadow Walker avoided dwelling on those aspects of his current reality that most distressed him but he did need to note them. Most disconcerting of all were the uncertainty about Eagle Eyes and the fact that his pouch containing his six Rings of Empathy was missing. He assumed someone had stolen it when he had been clubbed on the head. Somehow, playing with the rings always made him feel closer to Many Paths. Now, he had to be satisfied with closing his eyes and imagining he had the rings.
Another disconcerting thing was the weight and discomfort of the large extended collar that hung around his neck and then opened up into a kind of chest covering. It seemed to be made of the same stuff as the strange metal door that he had encountered on his first visit to the Z-Lotz and the sword that he had taken in the burnt forrest. All the prisoners had these strange shiny collars. These collars seemed impossible to remove and each prisoner’s had some of the strange marks that Tu-Swift had begun to decode. Every few hours, Shadow Walker’s mind returned to the idea of somehow using these collars as weapons. They should be useful. They were made of the same strange stuff as the swords … but how could they be used when they were so tightly attached? The puzzle maddened him and Tree Vines shared his intuition about their potential value, but other than trying to smash a guard with the chest plate, they couldn’t work out how to remove the blasted thing in order to use it as an effective weapon.
On sunny mornings, which predominated in the summer, a bright shaft of light streamed into the otherwise dank and cheerless cell. Tree Vines smiled one morning as he sat in this shaft of light and said to Shadow Walker, “Watch this.” At night, a fair number of rats stole into their cell searching for bits of food the prisoners had dropped or overlooked. The prisoners generally shooed them away. Tree Vines used the sun’s reflection off of his metal shirt to chase the rats away. Shadow Walker chuckled appreciatively. “At least, these damned things are good for something.”
One morning about a week after Shadow Walker’s capture, everyone in the cell awoke early because of a great commotion and chatter among the guards. The prisoners could also hear the hum of activity outside. Their only window was too high up to see anything except sky, but they could tell that a great many people seemed to be gathering and chatting excitedly about something. Soon, the prisoners themselves were speculating, mostly in Z-Lotz, about what was up. The door to the prison cell slid open and many warriors entered along with the guards. For a moment, Shadow Walker considered trying to run out the open door, but there were too many warriors and they were too concentrated. They had swords and clubs and their demeanor made it clear that they would brook no nonsense. They strung a long chain through a hole at the back of the collar. The guards held the ends of the chain and ushered the group outside.
They were greeted by a beautiful summer day. They were led over to a long bench. The prisoners needed to squint against the sun which was now high in the sky behind the throne on which NUT-PI sat in his golden crown. Shadow Walker strained to lean forward so he could better look to the left and right. He could see Eagle Eyes! He tried to catch the eye of Tree Vines but with his neck constrained and three people between them, it proved impossible. Shadow Walker caught a glimpse of the man’s face. A worried smile seemed to play over his features like a summer day with racing shadows from passing clouds. Shadow Walker glanced up. There were no clouds today. Only a circling flock of birds high above.
Shadow Walker craned his neck forward and backward trying vainly to whisper to Tree Vines. He saw that the female prisoners had all been outfitted as well with the same metal collars which, in the case of the women and girls, covered their ribs and stomachs but not their breasts. Suddenly, a loud gong sounded and reverberated through the stone walls of the Z-Lotz city. A man with a very loud voice stood next to NUT-PI intoning: “SILENCE! You may cheer when the rape and torture begins. First, let us hear from our great leader. If you talk while he talks, you will miss the entertainment. You will become part of the entertainment.” Everyone fell silent.
NUT-PI stood and a thick fake smile spread across his lips as he spoke. “Thank you so much for your attention. Our great city has suffered a plague brought by strangers to our fair land. Luckily, because of my leadership, we have defeated this enemy as we defeat all enemies — with strength of purpose and fierce loyalty to me and the words of the Great Sky Bear told through me! Now, that we have defeated this plague, it is time for some much deserved entertainment. First, on offer, we have three score young women and girls. I don’t want to spoil the surprise ending but for starters, they will all be brought before me and forced to look at me. I can watch them look at my eyes while they are raped. Then, I can watch the life drain out of them as they are slowly strangled. Or not, as is my fancy. Then, we will do the men as well. But first, they can watch their wives and daughters be raped. Guards, bring them one by one over here for my pleasure. Start with the youngest.”
Despite the threat of death, some of the women began to scream and beg for mercy. One voice rang out above the rest. It was the voice of Eagle Eyes. She was not begging for mercy but singing some weird toneless, loud, and long scream. What was she doing, wondered Shadow Walker. She’ll get herself killed right away! He heard a distant echo of her scream from the … no, it wasn’t really an echo, he realized. The pitch was higher. What — ? Then the motion caught his eyes and they reflexively shot upwards. He saw a score of eagles diving toward NUT-PI. A moment later, he saw them them too. At first, his mouth stood agape, but then, he grabbed his nearby Killing Stick and took aim at them. All at once a host of … bees or butterflies flew around his face. He fired the Killing Stick. So far as Shadow Walker could tell, he missed all the eagles, but several of the nearby Z-Lotz screamed and fell.
Shadow Walker shook his head. He couldn’t believe that someone had trained bees or butterflies to … no, no… he realized suddenly that they were not bees or butterflies. Those are reflections, he said to himself. Eagle Eyes and many of the women were adjusting their shiny collars to reflect the sun into the eyes of NUT-PI so that he couldn’t see clearly. Forgetting the guards warnings, he shouted to Tree Vines. “Focus the reflection of your collar and chest plate onto NUT-PI’s face. Tell the others to do the same!”
At first, a host of reflections scattered around NUT-PI, the gong, and the throne. NUT-PI waved his hands at them as though he were scattering a swarm of bees. Then, a thin and piteous scream emerged from his lips as more and more of the reflections converged on his face. He dropped the Killing Stick as he tore at his eyes and tried to cover his face with his hands. The back of his hands began to burn. The smell of burning flesh seemed to antagonize the eagles who now pecked at the squirming writhing NUT-PI. Blood began to pour from various places. NUT-PI screamed out, “Kill them! Kill them!”
His guards looked at each other, wondering who it was they were supposed to kill. Prisoners? Eagles? The Z-Lotz? No-one wanted to be responsible for misinterpreting an order. They were still wondering what possible order to follow as NUT-PI collapsed and fell silent. The voice of Eagle Eyes rung out loud and clear. “Your King NUT-PI is King no more. He dead. He defeated by messenger from the Great Sky Bear. Shadow Walker! Guards! Unchain new King. Unchain Shadow Walker! Fulfill the great prophesy of Great Sky Bear! He has used the power of the Great Sky Bear to become new king!”
Shadow Walker felt even more confused than when he had been banged on the head and awakened in prison. He squinted and frowned at Eagle Eyes. He vaguely felt the chain being slid out of his collar and the guards did something to unlock it. He had constructed numerous example plans for escape but none of them looked anything like this! Eagle Eyes had her own plan apparently. He walked toward the throne, his mind racing about how to embrace and amplify her plan. A conversation with Cat Eyes sprung into his head. Many of the Z-Lotz did not even believe anything about their religion, but they all acted as though they did. If that were true, maybe he could convince them that he was their new king. No, he corrected himself. He didn’t need to convince them. He only needed to act as though he were king and they would accept it. They had accepted NUT-PI as their ruler — clearly a deranged and cruel leader who cared almost nothing about his own people. He had been a coward at the battle of the three roads and he was a coward in ruling and a coward in death.
Play the part, Shadow Walker told himself. Play the part. Slowly and with as much dignity as he could summon, he strode to the throne. The birds jumped away for a moment as he neared and he noticed among the wreckage of NUT-PI’s finery, the leather pouch which held his Rings of Empathy. He snatched it up. He looked out at his audience of prisoners, ROI, and Z-Lotz. He could see that many were still sick, swaying feverishly and covered with ugly red dots on their faces and hands. This was NUT-PI’s idea of “conquering” the plague? No time for that. People expected him to be leader, so that’s what he needed to be, at least for now. He glanced at Eagle Eyes and allowed the slightest flicker of a smile to cross his face.
Shadow Walker turned to face the crowd. He wished he could speak more fluent ROI or Z-Lotz, but he didn’t. So he used sign language to enhance communication. He forced himself to speak in a strong steady voice.
“Greetings, brave and strong people of the Z-Lotz and ROI. I have bested your king. I am now king. That is your way. Our way. The way of the Great Bear in the Sky. The Great Sky Bear told me to come here. The Great Sky Bear said that the Z-Lotz need new King. Old King did not help you cure your plague. Old King was cruel. Old King hated families. Old King liked killing. Great Sky Bear does not like killing for no reason. Great Bear of the Sky loves you. Great Sky Bear loves all things that swim, fly, and walk. Great Bear of the Sky does not love Killing Sticks. Shadow Walker swallowed hard. He wasn’t sure what would happen if he tried to break the Killing Stick. Perhaps it would kill him first. He considered taking it and throwing it in a lake or burying it, but destroying it immediately would be far more dramatic…and far less safe. He noticed where people had been hurt. The Killing Stick was pointed toward them like a spear or an arrow. So, he made sure that part of the Killing Stick was pointed away from him as he smashed it against the stones behind the throne.
After he did that, he heard a cheer. It was Eagle Eyes. But many joined her cheer. He did not want to lose that energy and have people begin to miss NUT-PI. So, he continued to speak. “I bring you great news from Great Sky Bear. No more are we to steal children. The Great Sky Bear loves families. The Great Sky Bear loves families together, not apart. Release the prisoners! The men had already released themselves, but now the guards released the women and girls as well. It seemed that nearly all prisoners were part of families. Shadow Walker reflected that all of these people had come to the middle of town to watch entertainment, so he’d better provide some and quickly, he reckoned. But what? What?
Three poems about a pandemic:
Tu-Swift busied himself for days walking to the river for water in order to help She Who Saves Many Lives with her ministrations to the many Veritas who had fallen ill. The most recent victim was Suze. Tu-Swift helped her imbibe some of the special healing tea that the elder Shaman prepared. But no matter what, he couldn’t seem to bring the fever down. At one point, as he sat on the ground beside her, holding her hand, and resting, he noticed that his knee was not bothering him. Tu-Swift found this a little surprising because he had been walking so much to help assuage the sick. He wondered whether the walking could actually somehow help mend his knee. He looked over at Suze. He thought about the first time he had ever noticed her. One of the things he found attractive about her, aside from her wonderful scent, was her beautiful smooth skin. Now she smelled of stale sweat and her skin had erupted into a mountain range of red dots. He found it odd that her current state did nothing to diminish her love for her. In fact, he felt closer to her than ever.
Tu-Swift paid no conscious attention to anything beyond Suze. Yet, his experiences kept a part of his mind ever attuned to the outside world. He felt, more than heard, the growing buzz of excitement outside. He pulled open the flap of Suze’s cabin door and saw many of the Veritas pointing and talking excitedly. His eyes followed he pointing and there seemed to be some commotion on the hillside on the border of the Center Place. It was hard to make out faces, but he immediately recognized the garb of Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah. Tu-Swift swallowed hard and his heart began to beat hard. He loved Suze, but he missed Cat Eyes so much! He hadn’t realized till this moment how much he missed her. He forgot about his hurt knee entirely and loped toward the commotion. He spotted Trunk of Tree next — hard to miss his big frame — and he smiled to recognize Fleet of Foot. And, he nodded as he saw Jaccim. What was going on? Why were they shouting at each other? Where was Cat Eyes?
That must be her, he thought, but even as he thought it, he realized, no, she could have changed that much. Now, he began to fear something horrible had happened. He drew even closer. There were guards shouting at Trunk of Tree and he was shouting back.
Tu-Swift stopped and got no closer. Even at his age, he recognized that when there is a shouting match, adding more people, generally doesn’t improve the situation. At last, he began to “get” what was happening. This was indeed the party returning from the attempt to visit the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks, but the Veritas guards here had been told to keep the party away from the central village. Tu-Swift wondered whether his sister, Many Paths had given that order or if it had been She Who Saves Many Lives. Many Paths was fairly well recovered but not quite. Just then, he notice She Who Saves Many Lives stride past him and walk toward the shouting match.
Tu-Swift wondered how such an ancient lady had caught up with him so quickly. He smiled as he recalled his sister remarking on several occasions that it seemed as though She Who Sees Many Lives had an almost magical intuition to know where she was most needed and appear there. So, thought Tu-Swift, this is what she was talking about. He smiled.
As She Who Saves Many Lives approached she shot her right hand out holding her staff and said, “SILENCE!”
And silence ensued. And then, her voice rang out loud and true.
“Now, listen to me. It is I who ordered the guards to stop you here. We welcome you back and we are all eager to learn of your travels. But you must listen! We have a plague here. Many of us are sick! Some have died. Many Paths herself is just now recovering. This sickness covers you with ugly red dots and gives you a high fever. It is just like mold on fruit or the white powder flies on leaves. It goes from one person to another. We don’t know yet whether all of us will get sick or just some of us. It’s possible — not likely but possible — that everyone here will die. In that case, for the people not to die, you must stay away from us for a time. I know you are all eager to see us and as I said, we are just as eager to see you! But you cannot come any closer right now.”
The returning Veritas murmured but they all nodded their heads to signal their understanding — all save Trunk of Tree who bellowed, “I live here! This is my village. It is not up to you, I say with great respect — it is not up to you.”
The strong voice of She Who Saves Many Lives sung out, “You may well wonder where and how this plague came upon us. I will tell you. We had visitors from the Z-Lotz and we believe we got it from them. In fact, we think they did it on purpose. They also gave us a gift of something they call “glass” which has caused grievous wounds and sickness in Stone Chipper and his son, Sees Horses. Now, for the sake of the Great Bear in the Sky, tell us whether there really are Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks. And, now, I see that you have brought the answer with you, if I am not mistaken.”
She Who Saves Many Lives nodded and put her hand out toward Flowing Waters and said in a softer, but still carrying tone, “Welcome sister. I am called She Who Saves Many Lives though I am afraid it is a bit of a misnomer. It is the people themselves who save lives because they learn much, and they help each other out, and when they disagree they talk things out until they agree or make arrangements not to interfere with each other. I can see by your face that you understand me, so you must be from our cousins over the Twin Peaks. I’m sorry we have to keep you away until we stop getting sick over here. Are you kin to Cat Eyes?”
“I understand, She Who Saves Many Lives. I am called by the name “Flowing Waters” because somehow, what I see flows like water out of my fingers and into paintings. I am indeed from the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks as you say. Though we had a legend that you were the Veritas beyond the Twin Peaks.” She smiled and paused.
She Who Saves Many Lives laughed aloud and most of the Veritas joined in. Lion Slayer and Hudah Salah joined in. Jaccim looked from one face to another and could not understand why everyone was laughing.
She Who Saves Many Lives continued, “Trunk of Tree. You were in charge of this expedition and I see that you were successful! Congratulations! Believe me, we want you to come and celebrate as is our way as soon as we possibly can. It would be a fine way to repay your wisdom and courage to give some dread disease that might kill you, right? What would Eagle Eyes think of us all when she returns here. Can you imagine that conversation? She would say, ‘Look, we brought back a killing stick. What of Trunk of Tree? Was he also successful? I want to see him!’ And, then I would say, ‘Oh, yes he was successful. I can show you where his body is buried.’ And then she would say, ‘How did he die?’ And, then, I would say, ‘Oh, yes, well, everyone in the village was deathly ill so we had him come in and catch the disease and die rather than having him keep a safe distance for a time. I hope we did the right thing. He very much wanted to get in the village.’
And, though no-one can predict the future with certainty, I imagine that she would say something like, ‘How stupid!’ and I think she would be correct. And she would be very sad to know you were dead and that rather than dying as a hero in battle fighting to protect your village, instead you died of red pimple disease because you couldn’t be bothered camping at a safe distance. I cannot have that on my head. And, by he way, she wouldn’t just blame me; she would blame the whole of the Veritas. How could a village be so stupid as to let one of her mightiest and bravest warriors needlessly die? And she would be right to blame the whole village. Including you.
Enough of this though, tell us your exciting news. Are all the Veritas on the other side of the Twin Mountains as charming and comely as Flowing Waters and Cat Eyes? And where is Cat Eyes, though I suspect I know. And, how did you get there? We want to hear the whole story, but for now, the essence will do.”
Trunk of Tree tried to organize things in his head. What to say first? Most important, the Veritas. “Yes, there are Veritas — many of them — on the other side of the Twin Peaks. They have no interaction with other tribes except for the predations of the ROI and the Z-Lotz. Cat Eyes — she had hoped to see her parents, but they had left to try to find her and were never heard from again. And… and … oh, yes so she is staying there with her people. I think she really likes the mint tea they serve there. And, we went through a tunnel but not a dirt tunnel. It was more like a … well, I guess what Cat Eyes called a ‘City.’ Smooth. Dark. But lights. Then, we came back.”
She Who Saves Many Lives blinked a few times. “Thank you, Trunk of Tree. This is exciting news you bring, indeed. Again, Congratulations. Anyone else have any observations?”
Fleet of Foot glanced at Trunk of Tree, then added, “The Veritas have a leader named ‘Gentle Talons.’ They had a prophesy for someone such as Cat Eyes to return and bring a great truth. And, as it turns out, she did — exactly that! You see, our cousins over the Mountains had excavated a huge underground pantry. But instead of food for the body in the pantry, this giant pantry — which, it turns out, is called a ‘library’, contains thousands of what they call ‘books.’ They had no idea what those things were! They knew they were filled with marks. But no-one knew what those marks meant. Then, Cat Eyes appeared, and — because of what she and Tu-Swift had discovered, they could begin to decode every one of these books! The books are filled with important knowledge! It was so lucky that Cat Eyes came here — and that she and Tu-Swift were friends! Now, we can all find out so much more about the world. She needs to stay there for now because she is by far the fastest and best decoder they have. And, oh, by the way, Tu-Swift, I have two books for you on training birds. She also wrote a small book just for you personally, but — but — well, I eventually need to see you about it in person.”
Tu-Swift brightened at that. He was glad that Suze was back in the cabin. Then, he realized he would have turned even brighter still and she would have seen it. I need to see her! he thought. I miss Cat Eyes! I could take Suze. I have to wait though till no-one is sick. We don’t want to take our disease to the Veritas on the other side of the Twin Peaks. Imagine! I go see Cat Eyes and get her entire tribe of cousins sick. What a great friend I would be!
It proved frustrating, not only for Trunk of Tree, but for everyone not to be able to clasp hands, hug, and have these information exchanges and congratulations be much more intimate and extended. But, even the sweetest nuts have a hard shell. All of the Veritas knew that. It there were not a hard shell, that might seem more convenient for the moment you are trying to open it. But, of course, a moment more of thought would reveal that the nuts would likely never survive to reach a human hand or a human mouth. Nuts without any such shell would be eaten by the small beast that were out all the time looking for food.
The exchanges lasted until sundown whereupon the returning exploration party made camp on the outskirts. After much dialogue, they decided that the “gift books” would be put some ways from their campsite and left there overnight. Tu-Swift and others would only collect their books tomorrow evening.
Tu-Swift, despite having talked himself hoarse, found his head still swirling with so many additional questions. He went in to check on Suze. He had already decided that he would wait until she was fully recovered before broaching the subject of visiting the … visiting the library. That was the way to put it so that she would want to go. Suze was as exciting as anyone about this writing and reading. Although she needed her rest, he could not keep from her the news about the library! “Suze! Suze! Wake up! I’ve got something amazing to tell you. Suze!”
His voice dropped to a plea. “Suze?”
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