Augustus and the Whisper (II/?)

“A Most Particular Darkness”

Augustus shuffled away from the bar after his rousing discussion of the inefficiencies of nineteenth-century whaling came to an abrupt end.

It truly never even began.

Frankie figured that a drunk jawing on about whales and scrimshaws would drive off the few customers who were left, so he told Augustus it was closing time. 

It was no matter.

Augustus hadn’t contemplated the practicality of whaling enough to form a strong opinion.

Up until a few moments ago, he was set on putting his house up for sale and heading straight to California to dig around for gold. And then he started to think about whaling and its big ideas, and all the golden opportunities it could bring.

But he needed to compress, and slow down a bit. No need to head off to the shores of Nantucket, at least without a clear sense of direction.

So he rose from his bar stool and headed out the front door, finishing off his pint before he stumbled out into the night. 

From outside, he noticed the bar closer resembled a shack than some sort of mediocre example of brick and mortar twenty-first century architecture. It was isolated, off the beaten path, and shoddily built with aluminum siding. 

I’m aware that “off the beaten path” was one of Augustus’ favorite phrases. He didn’t say it too much.

But he liked the phrase whenever he came across it.

*

He heard a voice, not a whisper, but a loud and drunken voice, calling his name from inside the shack.

He turned around and looked back at his watering hole.

A fairly large sign that read “Frankie’s” in illuminated letters hung above his head. The “F” was out and it now read “Rankie’s”. 

“Augustus!” called the voice, again. The door swung open and out stumbled Hal, struggling to put on his jacket.

“Hal?” 

“It’s late—or early, I guess. Too early to be walking alone.”

“You live toward my place?”

“Yes, close by.”

Augustus didn’t know exactly where Hal lived, but figured it couldn’t be too far away, or else Hal would end up being the one walking home alone when he probably shouldn’t.

There’s so many things to worry about these days. It’s not like it had been back when Augustus was a kid, after all.

Now there were gangs and mass murderers and pedophiles, and they were all out there somewhere in the dark. Maybe they weren’t in this particular darkness, but they were out there somewhere. 

And that’s a fact.

Maybe I’m being presumptuous again, but many humans seemed to believe it was better when all anyone had to fear was mutual destruction by angry old white men.  

I try to understand.   

*

But off into the darkness the odd couple marched, with only the occasional automobile headlight lighting their way.

Home wasn’t all too far away and the sidewalk would lead them right to Augustus’ doorstep.  

“Frankie’s a good guy, ain’t he?” spouted Augustus.

His words abruptly broke the serene silence of their drunken trek.

“Oh, yes. I think,” responded Hal. 

“I think, too,” said Augustus. “Doesn’t seem to say much, though.”

“Seems to speak when he wants you gone,” countered Hal.

“The nerve of that guy,” said Augustus, as he shook his head and focused harder on the ground beneath his feet. 

“How much further?”

“Not much. Just around this bend.”

The road took a hard left turn ahead, and Turnabee Place was just beyond. 

*

Aside:

On the night the odd couple left Frankie’s and walked back home, Augustus was indeed correct in calling it Turnabee Place. But later, he will rename his street Whirling Place.

He renamed it because he could.

And it’s undoubtedly more fitting, and I credit Augustus in this particular matter.

But that’s all the jumping ahead I care to do right now.  

*

“Turnabee Place is my street,” said Augustus.

“Ah.” 

“What’s a Turnabee anyways?”

The odd couple continued to stumble onward, while nothing of note occurred, except for Hal’s insistent tying of Augustus’ shoes. 

That was odd even by the odd couple’s standards. 

But they were to the driveway, now, and they pushed their way through the overgrown trees and bushes. He would have to trim the jungle eventually, and his mailbox needed some fresh paint, too.

Might as well start tomorrow.

It’s funny the way things seem to go, if you’re not in on the joke.

*

Hal left Augustus, laces securely knotted, at the front door.

“I believe you can take it from here, my friend,” said Hal.

He’s done it many times before, after all. 

Hal left him almost unnoticeably, until Augustus fumbled his key as he took it from his jacket pocket, and dropped it off the porch. Hal turned to help him look for it, but Augustus waved him on. 

“I got it. I got it. I’ll see you later. Okay?” 

“Yeah—later, Augustus,” said Hal, as he walked away from the house and down the driveway, and back out into the dark.

Again, Augustus hoped he didn’t live too far away, but I’m aware Hal Holloway did not, in fact, live nearby.

Augustus picked the keys out of the bushes below the porch, and turned back toward the front door.

He inserted the key, turned the handle, kicked the bottom of the door twice, smacked the door thirteen inches above the knob with his left fist, making sure that his index finger’s knuckle made contact first, and proceeded to walk inside.

As Hal figured, he had indeed done this before.

*   

The Sweetbriar residence wasn’t much of anything; not now at least. It was his mother’s before she bit the dust on Christmas Eve’s eve. 

Poor thing. 

He had no job, so he had to sell most of the furniture and china in order to pay for all the pale ales, even when they seemed to always come right back up. 

I wish I could’ve given Augustus a tip or two about proper money management, because he never seemed to get his money’s worth.

But it was a three-bedroom, two-floor brick home, unlike the aluminum siding of the bar he frequented too often. Augustus didn’t deserve this much and he knew it—just liked to forget it. 

He eventually undressed and fell on to his bed, falling asleep quickly and soundly, with no voice whispering to him to tell him to go away.

He wouldn’t hear the whisper if it tried.

At times like these, Augustus was at peace, if only momentarily. 

But could he sense the significance of this humdrum peace? I’m not the one to ask, but if I had to guess I’d think he understood.

Somehow, someway.

And I’d think that was good enough for him. I’d think that he loved the way his mind was at ease when he slept, and all his troubles relieved, if only for the night.  

He likely appreciated the short break from the outside world, and all its chaos, and decisions, and responsibility, and madness.

But I could be wrong. 

On Water Falling

If he stuck to the bank he could’ve taken the river to its end, all the way to where the water falls. It was a wide river, but he was a fairly inexperienced sea man. 

That’s what he called himself—a sea man. 

Alas, the salt was still far and few between, other than the copious amount of sweat that spilled into the river on all-too-sunny days. 

Days like today.

But Theodore George didn’t mind the sweat too much. It was better than all the inconveniences of before, and the pitfalls of his fellow Homo sapiens, and their possessive and all-too-short-sighted ways. 

A species of self-gratifying nincompoops.  

And this was back when Theodore went by “Theo”. Not because he preferred it, but because he still had a loving family that was collectively convinced that “Theo” was inherently superior to his God-given “Theodore”. 

But now he could set things right—many, many, things. 

He was sailing down the river because he shunned his fellow Homo sapiens, and all their insane ideas, and even though their end had not yet come, he knew it had to be soon. 

*

There wasn’t any one reason Theodore George had to stick to the bank of the river (a river whose name he didn’t know, and never would bother to learn). 

Instead, there were many reasons he preferred to stay close to shore. 

He was lucky to score a twenty-sixty on an eye exam, so it was awfully dangerous for him to wander too far away, especially when he figured the river was currently miles wide.

So he would use the trees to guide his ancient, rickety fishing boat along. 

And he was woefully aware of his inexperience as a sea man, so he trusted his ignorance, and was afraid to get caught too far off shore. If he drifted towards the middle, he might never make it to where the water falls.

The currents would wind him north and south, east and west, in the dark of night, and even though this isn’t the void of space, it was still a kind of void, and Theodore just couldn’t take that chance. 

Directionality was fairly important to a partially blind man. 

But the trees were there to guide him, and keep him company, as they’ve guided many other Homo sapiens in the far past. He had undiagnosed attention-deficit disorder, after all, and needed to focus on something other than the monotony of the still, murky water. 

The trees helped him pass the time away, and he thanked those trees. 

He would say things like, “Thank you, Mr. Umber,” and, “Thank you, Mrs. Penny,” and on and on until he thanked all the trees he thought were worth thanking. 

Theodore was of the opinion that not all trees were worth thanking. 

Only the trees that went above and beyond (or at least above-er and beyond-er) than a not-worth-thanking tree happened to go.

Oh, Theodore!

*

But he didn’t just stick to the bank because of his poor eyesight and undiagnosed attention-deficit disorder.

He also was convinced a German U-Boat was on his tail. 

*

How an early twentieth-century German U-Boat could be in slow pursuit of a middle-aged man named Theodore George is beyond comprehension for any reasonable Homo sapien.  

“But they’re all unreasonable,” explained Theodore to Mr. Umber the Third as he slowly drifted toward him. “And you, sir, can understand me. Your father and grandfather sure enough did. Trees are willing to be reasoned with. They’ve been around a lot longer than all these Homo sapiens, so they’ve seen a few more things.” 

Theodore didn’t believe humanity deserved the formal title of “wise”. 

“Let me tell you why the Germans are after me, Mr. Umber the Third. May I call you ‘Tre’? I had a cousin who was a third, and he let me call him ‘Tre’,” said Theodore. 

Mr. Umber the Third said nothing, because he was a tree, and always would be. 

“Tre, the Germans weren’t always in high pursuit of me and my own. I believe it’s happenstance, actually, as I noticed a large wake miles back—days back even. And this was after I crashed into something that seemed large and metal. And I would’ve thought it was a sunken ship, long forgotten, as most would’ve thought. 

“But I saw the periscope, and some would’ve thought that perhaps it was a muffler, from a sunken truck, also long forgotten. But I saw the light bend off the glass lens, and a dark, brown eye stare right back at me as I did all I could not to fall out of this rickety boat. The sailor was looking right at me, right into my eyes. Then, the periscope submerged, and I bobbed up and down until I regained my sense of balance and direction, until the waves quieted, and everything was still again.

“They didn’t just leave me, though. They’ve been following along, as their periscope gives them away. Maybe I’m a liability? Or maybe they’re interested to see if I can take this to the very end.

“You can ask your grandfather about all of the ordeal, Tre, if you don’t believe me. Go ahead and ask him about the German eye-ball, because he witnessed it just the same,” said Theodore. 

In fact, Mr. Umber the Third didn’t know his “grandfather” at all.

Theodore was being presumptuous, and didn’t properly understand trees. He was no more related to his grandfather than Theodore was related to the Roosevelts. 

But what can you do about a partially-blind man drifting down a river? 

Hope for the best, thought the trees. 

*

Mr. Umber the Third was long gone, now. 

Theodore believed he had just passed Mr. Umber the Nineteenth, but he honestly forgot, and there was no way to double check himself. While Theodore had the proper imagination to enjoy an enthralling conversation with trees, he was unable to come up with original names. 

Blame it on his upbringing, as most often did.  

He kept an accurate count of the fake-muffler sightings, however. He was up to eight separate occasions since his talk with Tre, and he was almost to the point where the water falls. 

Did the Germans want to see if he had the kahunas to go off the edge? 

“Why else would they be following me? Surely they have a map, and know it’s ahead,” said Theodore, talking in the direction of any tree that cared to listen. 

But the trees refused to respond.

“Kids these days,” said Theodore, shaking his head. “I remember your father’s father’s father. He would have given a lonely man some company—a man with nowhere to go. When the world had crumbled, or surely would sooner or later, I chose to be a little different. 

“I chose to be preemptive. Yes—your father’s father’s father would’ve given me his ear, because there’s not much else you trees can do for me. But you can listen, and he certainly would have. 

“No doubt about it.”

*

But now, the distant roar of the falling water pierced the silence. The noise grew louder and louder until it was all that Theodore could hear, and all that he could stand to hear. Just a few short moments ago he found solace in the sound of the wind rustling the Autumn leaves. 

But those days were gone. 

He had kahunas, he knew, but he wasn’t sure how large they actually were. But there was no turning back—not anymore. Because as he turned his head and glanced over his shoulder, he watched the fake-muffler surface. 

His rickety fishing boat turned over from the incoming waves, and Theodore held on to the edge as he was slammed half-way into the river. He held on with an iron grip, if only to finally see the water fall. 

Just to join the water. 

But the waves receded and the river momentarily calmed, and Theodore pulled himself back inside the boat. He was soaked, but couldn’t care less. 

All he cared about was the monstrous German U-Boat towering over him, and the man who climbed out of the hatch and stood looking down at him.

The man said, as Theodore stared up at him in wonder, “How goes it young Theodore? Hope we didn’t give you too much of a spill.”

“How do you know my name?” he asked. 

“How could we not know your name? You’re the riverboat captain, the tree-man, and most importantly, you’re the man to soon be kaput if you don’t come aboard. The falling water is finally upon us.”

“But how do you know all this?”

“Come aboard and find out. But hurry!” said the strange man, as he pointed down river. Theodore turned his head around once more and saw the water falling off the edge. 

It seemed to Theodore that the Earth came to a complete end up ahead, and to fall off that edge with the water would be to fall into nothing—into the deep void of beyond.

And, in that moment, he didn’t think he had big enough kahunas anymore.  

So he carefully pulled himself out of the rickety fishing boat, took the strange man’s hand, and delved down into the German U-Boat.

The trees were happy they were alone once again.

*

“I’m glad you chose this path, Theodore,” whispered the strange man as they stood in the dark corridor below the hatch.      

A single light bulb hung on the metal wall. It flickered softly, illuminating the man’s rough, worn face.

Theodore couldn’t look past the man’s nostrils, opening and closing in an almost cartoonish way as he pronounced each word.

“I don’t see what other path I could’ve chosen, and what is your name anyways? You seem to know me and mine an awful lot,” responded Theodore, nervously grasping at the cold ladder below the hatch. 

“You’re speaking to Captain Archibald, my friend,” the Captain said, nostrils opening and closing word-by-word. 

“And Captain Archibald was afraid you’d choose the other path—the path you were wishing to take ever since you secretly set off,” said a voice from behind the captain. 

A figure stepped out of the shadows, and into the light the bulb so poorly produced.  

Theodore wasn’t one for the finer things of life, but he preferred his light bulbs completely operational. He had to admit that Homo sapiens’ improvement of artificial light over the last half of the twentieth-century was one thing they might have been good for.  

“Hello, Mr. Umber,” said the Captain. 

“Mr. Umber?” asked Theodore in complete bewilderment. 

“The very same, Theo. We were afraid you’d actually make it to where the water falls. Nobody wanted you to fall along with all them gallons of water. Not in something barely better than a glorified raft, at least,” said Mr. Umber.

“But you’re a tree,” said Theodore. 

Mr. Umber frowned, and the Captain patter him on the shoulder.

“I’ll let you take it from here,” said the Captain. “I’ll be down below.” 

Mr. Umber nodded as Captain Archibald disappeared down the corridor, and into the dark and all that lay beyond. 

“Do you not remember who I truly am, Theo? Do you not remember Mr. Umber, the first of his name, as you used to so often say?” 

*

“I’m not sure,” admitted Theodore. 

“I bet you’ve been naming them trees. You’ve been naming these damn trees for so long, you’ve forgotten the original. You’ve forgotten me! How could you have forgotten me, Theo?”

Theodore’s big Homo sapien brain was working awfully hard now, attempting to remember Mr. Umber, the first of his name.

He remembered his conversation with Tre, and Tre’s complete indifference for his grandfather. He remembered Mr. Umber, the first of his name, was the first to see the fake-muffler. 

“You aren’t a tree,” said Theodore. 

His big brain was on to something. 

“No, I’m not a tree, and I never was,” said Mr. Umber. “Theo, I am your father. And you left us months ago. You thought all that we planned to do was insane, and that causing the end of humanity was something we should avoid. But remember, humans are short-sighted and inherently self-gratifying! That’s what you thought! 

“We should all be like the trees, living together in balance and harmony. Living together in silent satisfaction, in communal acceptance of fellow man, and the capability to live and die peacefully. We were going to wait out the undoing of it all together. You and me, and the Captain, and your sister, Penny, and all the others in our little community who felt the same way. 

“You used to be so reasonable, Theo. Ever since we jacked this German U-Boat and set off down this damn river,” said Umber George as he took his son and held him tight against his chest.

*

Theodore’s tears fell and fell because of the sudden rush of regret and guilt. 

Only minutes ago, he was so close to the edge of his world. He was so close to falling along with the water, and becoming one, and leaving all that he had done wrong behind. 

He blamed most on his upbringing, even the parts about not doing enough to save all the other Homo sapiens. Because even though he might be annoyed by them from time to time, he knew in his heart they were better than trees. 

Or at least he was fairly certain.  

He wished he had twenty-twenty vision, because maybe he could’ve seen things a little more clearly. 

But his father whispered into his ear, “You abandoned ship, but you’re finally back where you belong.”

And the German U-Boat fell off the water’s edge and lifted off into the void.

The Death-Moment (Part One)

All I ever wanted was the comfort and simplicity I rightly deserved. I’d grown accustomed to my habits and personal preferences, and I wanted everything to stay the same. Perhaps my placid satisfaction was my undoing.   

Perhaps not. 

Nevertheless, I was kept out of the loop of my future endeavors. And it was quite a big loop, most would agree, even all the kids who played everyday on their Hot Wheels track. 

After I would settle down for bed, after I stopped watching re-runs of Ancient Aliens, and closed my eyes to sleep, I would dream of aging. I know, it’d be easy to label me unusual for dreaming of coming closer to death. 

But most people dream of death in their own way. 

I wanted to be an ornery man complaining about the latest generation’s gall to be a little different. I wanted to give customer service an unreasonably hard time. 

I’ve done my time, and all I wanted was a little respect. 

Yet, as I answered my front door on the morning of Christmas Eve’s eve, I was greeted by an animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer. And as I stared into the cold, empty eyes of the electronically resurrected killer, I crossed my fingers and toes, desperately hoping I would fare alright. I was a middle-aged man and middle-aged men usually weren’t killed serially. 

They often inclined on doing the serial killing themselves. 

I won’t bore you with all the numerous, minute details about the surreal encounter, because it’s actually not important how I died. At least, in regard to the gruesome details and such. I’d rather forget them myself.  

What’s more important is what happened after.

But I can give you a little more:

The animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer, who showed up on my doorstep in Louisville, Kentucky, was part of Bud’s Famous Killers. Bud Gibbly was the owner of an extravagant collection of the world’s most famous serial killers, which traveled from town to town during the summer months. Bud was actually an extremely, insignificant man, and he might’ve known it, too.  

It’s not far-fetched to say that creating a gang of robotic serial killers was the only noteworthy act Bud ever did. 

But that single, noteworthy act was a doozy.

So, the animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer escaped from Bud’s gang, and, after wandering Frankfurt Avenue and Bardstown Road for hours and possibly attaining some slight sense of consciousness and freedom, found his way to my home. 

We peered into each other’s eyes. 

And then he killed me. 

And then he ate me. 

Officially, Leland Lewis was declared deceased at 9:34 AM, dead under unusual circumstances. All the police found were a couple organs that didn’t interest the killer, a few of my ugliest fingers, and half an ear in the flowerless pot next to the front door. The killer was probably a little upset, or as upset as a robot can get, that he wasn’t able to keep two intact ears.

My ears, I’ve been told, were the best feature about me. 

But the pieces of me that remained at the scene of the crime were enough to confirm my death, since it’s pretty difficult to live without a brain—no matter if it’s right or left. 

There are some things we all tend to agree upon, after all.       

And since he was an animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer, it’s possible that my bits and pieces could still be around, jangling around inside of his metallic shell, wherever the killer robot might happen to be. 

Because no one knows. 

So, if what’s left of my family wants to have a proper burial, and honor the man they both despised and loathed, they might want to hire an investigator. Or at least watch a lot of Forensic Files and give it a go themselves.

But that’s a lot of effort.

They’ll settle on cremating what they retrieved at the scene of the crime, instead of risking getting eaten alive, too. And I don’t blame them. 

Jeffrey Dahmer is, once again, at large.

*

Leland died but wasn’t gone for long. He took a moment to cool down (he got quite sweaty in his death-moment), and was carried out of the sleeping den and into the office of Dr. Wise-Man with relative ease. 

Sometimes the sacks twist and turn when you touch them for the first time. It’s always an inconvenience to the endlessly busy schedules of the Reckoners, as they’re informally called, and all too often an unruly sack is sent back indefinitely if it’s too unruly. 

But Leland didn’t have a bit of unimportance on his flesh anymore, and an ordinary Reckoner would overlook a bit of his unruliness, all because of the odd animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer incident.

The odds of another Jeffrey Dahmer attack after he had his death-moment decades before, were incalculable.  

Anomalies, like in Leland’s case, require an incident report. Usually the reports are bland and stale, but every once in a while there’s a fresh, wide-eyed Reckoner that likes to spice them up a bit—shoot for creative non-fiction and such. 

Leland’s incident report was summarized by Helen Sleep-No-More:

The deceased, Leland Lewis, came to a tragic, and unusual, end on the morning of December 23rd, 2018. Jeffrey Dahmer showed up on his doorstep. Yes, the same Jeffrey Dahmer that tested the people years and years ago. But this Jeffrey Dahmer was an even colder, calculated killer.

And I write this not in evaluation of the ethical deterioration of a twisted man’s soul! Our old Jeffrey indeed was a little warmer and had a few less 0’s and 1’s than the one that visited Leland. He was animatronic, and for some odd reason my fellow Reckoners and I are unable to find out how he found his way to Leland’s doorstep, or why he was around at all! 

Something odd is afoot. 

—Helen Sleep-No-More, Reckoner 3621 

Helen’s father was a historian and mother was a cartoonist. 

But, as Leland slouched in the cushioned chair in front of the desk of Dr. Wise-Man, he twitched and moaned, as most of the fresh sacks do after their death-moment. He opened his eyes slowly, and then suddenly, after a wad of the morning newspaper thudded against his brow in an attempt by Dr. Wise-Man to accelerate the process. 

Leland never noticed the article describing his death-moment on the front page of the wad of newspaper. The public was quite interested in an otherwise uninteresting process. 

*

“Leland,” a voice said. It was faint, as if far, far away. “Leland, I am Dr. Wise-Man. Wake up, son.”

I opened my eyes and gazed at the man sitting across from me. He was clean-shaven, and wore a black suit. Obviously he wasn’t God—or a god—he was too boring. Or maybe he wasn’t boring enough?

He wasn’t old, either. He couldn’t even have his AARP card yet. 

And everyone knows God is an old man and has a big beard, and He definitely doesn’t work in an office. Maybe from home, but never in a bland office building.  

Hmph. 

And as I was about to open my mouth to respond to this strange man claiming to be some sort of doctor, he held up his finger, and said, “Before you ask me, ‘Where am I?’, or, ‘Wasn’t I killed by an animatronic Jeffrey Dahmer?’, let me speak for a moment, please.” 

His speech bordered on the monotone, with brief interruptions of pitch fluctuations, as if purposely breaking his unstrained speech in conscience recognition of its monotony. 

“You’re sitting in an office on the 177th floor, Leland,” he said, pointing to the window. “Do you not want to hear what a man, who occupies a floor as high off the ground as this, would have to say?”

I nodded. 

“You’re obviously confused. Your last moment on Earth, your death-moment as we call it, you found yourself being stabbed and eaten—alive, at first—by a robot killer. It was quite painful, I know. We hope that the pain is at least partially forgotten. Not everyone is unlucky enough to go through that, so we’re especially sorry about it. But we, sadly, can’t take all the pain away. Memories are easy to tinker with, but exceptionally strong emotions prove more difficult. But we do our best.”

He wasn’t making much sense. I wondered who he meant by “we”, and I was getting progressively sweatier the more confused I got. 

But he went on as if he read my thoughts. 

We are the Reckoners. We take the fresh sacks, like yourself, and acclimate them to society. It’s odd and frightening for a while, but in time they get used to it. We all have to get used to it,” he said. “Go ahead, speak, ask me your question.”

“But where am I?” I asked. 

I was proud of myself for even getting those four measly words out. 

“Well, Leland,” Dr. Wise-Man responded, “you’re on Earth. Not the one you’re used to, but the real one. You’re finally out of our simulation.”

And that’s when I fainted. 

*

Perhaps Dr. Wise-Man was too blunt when he dropped the simulated bomb on Leland, but fainting was common for fresh sacks, and almost expected with those that had undergone a death-moment as unusual and startling as Leland’s. 

So, as the black curtain closed over Leland’s eyes, Dr. Wise-Man buzzed for the receptionist to come retrieve him and take him to the cooling-off zone a hundred floors down. It was all procedure, and Leland wouldn’t be of much use in explaining his death-moment anomaly, anyhow.

That was the doctor’s job. At least it was up to him to relegate the work to his underlings. 

He had read Helen Sleep-No-More’s brief report, but since his first meeting with Leland had ended so abruptly, he’d need her for a more substantial discussion. And no doubt Helen had been continuously at work, determined to discover the cause of the abnormal death-moment. 

She was top of her class, after all. Her life, before she died and woke again, was that of a workaholic, always pursuing a career that would lead her nowhere. But she always maintained an everlasting passion for her tedious work.  

Helen was an auditor, and a good one, too. 

“Dr. Wise-Man,” said Deborah. 

“Ah, Deborah, I was about to tell you to call Helen for me. I need to speak to her.”

“Actually, doctor,” Deborah said, “that’s why I called. Helen’s out here waiting for you. She said you need to come with her. She has something to show you.”

“Well, alright,” answered Dr. Wise-Man. 

He rose out of his seat to meet Helen in the lobby. Usually, his underlings came to him, and he would decide if he were to leave his office on the 177th floor or not. But he appreciated Helen’s initiative, so long as it brings about results and doesn’t waste valuable time. That’s what the first life was for. 

The second life is for getting things done. 

“Ah, Helen,” he said, shaking her hand, “have you gotten any closer to solving this little riddle?”

“Actually, I have, sir,” said Helen. 

“So what’s the problem?” 

“It might be easier if I just show you. All my work is down in the Maintenance Room.” 

Dr. Wise-Man was particularly frustrated he had to leave his office. Again, he was on the 177th floor. But he agreed to accompany Helen down to the Maintenance Room in order to see what she’d discovered about Leland’s mysterious incident. 

He turned to Deborah, and said, “Make sure Leland gets to cooling safely. He’ll likely be out for awhile.” 

Deborah smile and nodded, and Dr. Wise-Man followed Helen to the Maintenance Room, eagerly awaiting her results. 

*

I opened my eyes and saw a lot of people who looked as messed up as myself. We were all laying in chambers, and, as far as I could tell, I was the only one conscience.

The room was large, and we faced each other in the form of a circle, with some sort of elaborate console in the middle. 

I remembered the look on the doctor’s face as he said “simulation”, and I remembered the loss of blood to my head, and I remembered the darkness. 

Apparently I wasn’t in Heaven, or Hell, or a dream. Apparently I was finally in the real world. And I knew it had to be true, and couldn’t be a ridiculous dream, because all I ever dreamed about was getting older. 

Now I’m wondering if that will ever happen. 

But then I heard a door swing open, and listened quietly as the footsteps came closer. I remained still and closed my eyes, and the footsteps ceased. 

I heard someone fumbling with buttons on the elaborate console, and then I started to move.

The chamber I was restrained in lifted completely out of the ground and glided towards the middle of the room, towards the mysterious figure operating the controls. 

And then I opened my eyes to see a woman undoing the straps that restrained my arms and legs. She jumped, obviously not expecting my quick recovery. 

“You’re awake,” she said, still undoing my straps. 

“Too awake,” I said, still drowsy. 

“You’ll get used to it. But you have to come with me now.”

“Why the hurry?”

“Because they’ll be after you,” she said. “And they’ll be after me.”

“All I did was die,” I said, as she finished undoing the straps.

I tried to stand, but my legs collapsed, and she caught me before I fell. 

“You did much more than that, Leland,” she responded. 

“Who are you?”

“Helen Sleep-No-More. Reckoner 3621,” said Helen. She held out her hand and I shook it. “Now we better get out of here before the doctor wakes up.”

“Doctor Wise-Man?” I asked. 

“The same—are you coming?” 

“Yes.” 

She held out her hand, and I took it, and we ran out the door. We ran far away from the Cooling-Off Zone, and the Maintenance Room, and the 177th floor, and all the fresh sacks, and Doctor Wise-Man. 

For now. 

    

  

 

Prophet

I can’t seem to wrap my mind around the idea of being born with six toes. Are there just a couple miniature toes, or is the sixth toe a completely separate appendage?

Nonetheless, I don’t believe I’ll ever get my answer.

Unless one of these guards happen to have six toes, or know someone who might.

“Mr. Guard,” I said, “How many toes do you have?”

But Mr. Guard didn’t care about what I had to say, because he didn’t even bother to look at me. 

Maybe he didn’t have any ears. I can’t tell, after all, on account of his helmet. 

I can’t wrap my mind around that possibility either. Would there be useless holes where his ears used to be, or would excess skin cover the holes and the delicate little ear drums hiding inside? 

I’ll likely never learn about extra toes and missing ears.

The only items my captors allow me to have is pen and paper. I can’t read any books because they’re afraid I might learn something. I’ve decided to just write the books myself, and maybe I’ll learn something that way. 

That’ll show them.

So, future reader, you’re subject to me and I’m subject to you. Don’t pity me too much. There’s a lot of people worth pitying, and I shouldn’t be labeled as one. But why should you care about what I got to say, if I’m not worth your pity?

Because my name is Jeremiah, and I used to be a prophet. 

*

I wasn’t a very good prophet. I wasn’t able to keep myself from getting captured, after all. The moment they came and took me, and told me I knew too much, I knew I was done. 

And no matter what anybody tries to tell you, even if it comes from a zealot, the most important responsibility of a prophet is to keep prophetizing.  

It does no good to be locked up in a nine foot by twelve foot cell, especially when all your prophetizing will go unnoticed. Not even Mr. Guard and Mr. Other Guard care about my prophetizing. I tried it on them when I first came here, but they refused to look at me, as always. 

Nothing can be done about men with no ears.   

But do you think people will care about me?

Remember, I wasn’t a very good prophet. They can find a better one to latch onto, and I honestly hope they do. I’m rooting for them, for everyone. I might be a little too biased in my prophetizing, now.

And what is a prophet if he is no longer unbiased?   

So I give up the title of prophet. I’m not going to try to predict anything else. I’m just going to sit back and tell a story, an interesting story, and let you do the prophetizing for yourself. 

I’m out of the game. 

Goodbye to everyone, even the zealots. 

*

Hello, again, even the zealots. 

This tale, straight from the mind of Jeremiah, begins with a bang.

More specifically, a big bang. 

But not the big bang (scientific theory or television show). 

The bang was the sound of a cannon, and I happened to shoot out of that same cannon in front of a crowd of all my wildest zealots. I was shot out of the cannon because I claimed that only the chosen few could perform the feat. 

My wildest zealots believed me because I showed them videos of people dying by canon balls. And an ordinary man, like myself, was obviously not as hard as a cannon ball. I let them all feel an authentic cannon ball to prove it, and then I let them feel me. If I were to be blasted out of a cannon, I would explode upon impact, because an ordinary man, like myself, was soft and breakable, which was quite the opposite of a cannon ball. 

And they believed it. 

It was important that I convinced my zealots that I was one of the chosen few. I wanted money, and lots of it. They were willing to give it to me for letting them in on a few secrets, so who’s really to blame here? 

After I successfully landed, and dusted myself off somewhat theatrically, I went to collect donations from my most devoted zealots. The craziest ones always had the most to give. Perhaps that’s what made them crazy in the first place, or maybe they gave because they were crazy. 

I’ll never know, I guess. 

But I earned a lot for the cannon blast, enough to cover my expenses and give me a healthy cut three times over. After I got done thanking all my zealots, and wishing them luck in the second coming, and all that jazz, I was taken aside by an older gentlewoman wanting to take me out for brunch. Judging by her appearance, I assumed it wouldn’t be anything fast-casual either. Maybe a little more upscale. 

A brunch worthy of a prophet. 

I couldn’t say no, a prophet must indulge his most devout zealots, after all. So I agreed that I’d meet her tomorrow for omelets and mimosas.

She was most delighted, I remember. 

*

The place we met was indeed upscale. It was in the city, far away from where I shot out of a cannon only the day before. I was relieved no one seemed to recognize me, perhaps because I traded my famous brown shawl for a blue bowtie. 

There’s nothing worse than being forced to prophetize when you don’t feel like prophetizing. 

And all I wanted was omelets and mimosas, after all. 

The gentlewoman had already arrived, and had chosen a small table in the far corner of the fine establishment. I walked over to her and smiled, shaking her hand softly. 

“Good day,” I said. 

“Thank you so much for coming, Jeremiah,” said the gentlewoman, with a little added warmness to my name.

“A fine morning to contemplate the divine,” I said, lifting my hands in praise. “It is known that when two lorcas meet, the clouds fear to conceal them. The Sun must shine to show the world that there is still beauty. And I see no clouds today.” 

I folded my arms and nodded my head in reverence, but the gentlewoman waved me off.

“You can cut the act around me, Jeremiah. I’m not one of your zealots. And I’m not one of your lorcas,” she said. 

She motioned for the waitress to take our drink order. 

“I’d like a Bloody Mary,” she said. “And you, Jeremiah?”

The waitress looked at me waiting for my order. I was still in shock of the gentlewoman’s lack of faith, as true as it might be. 

“Mimosa,” I said. 

The waitress walked away and the gentlewoman turned her attention back to me. 

“I’ll get to the point, now, Jeremiah. I’ve asked you to come to brunch in order to get your advice.”

“Advice on what?”

“On how you convince people that you know what you’re talking about.”

“It’s because I do,” I said, lying. “It’s because I speak the word of our lords—the Mind, the Body, the Spirit. The three bring unity, and when united, allow those who believe to survive the second coming.”

“I heard all that yesterday, Jeremiah. But how do you do it? How can you convince your followers that what you say is the word of your lord? They’re not stupid—not all of them, at least. They’re rich and poor, comfortable and desperate. I want to be able to do that, too. For more practical means, of course.” 

Remember, I’m not a very good prophet, and I never thought of myself as a very good prophet. I would’ve been a very good prophet if I was able to know what I was doing right and wrong. 

I, honestly, was just doing, and some people seemed to like it. 

But that wouldn’t satisfy the gentlewoman, so I said, “Everyone is desperate, whether they’re provided for or not. Even you.”

She looked at me curiously, likely trying to figure out if this was more prophetizing, or if I was actually giving her advice on the tricks of my trade. I couldn’t even tell you want I meant by it, because I wanted to move past the subject altogether. 

I just wanted my damn mimosa. 

“Jeremiah,” said the gentlewoman, as the waitress finally brought us our drinks, “I’ll let you in on a little secret. I work for a little group made up of all kinds of people—rich and poor, black and white, smart and dumb. It’s called the United States of America. Don’t act so surprised, I’m not that important. Just a lowly government servant. But I’ve asked you here for brunch because I believe, along with some of my closest associates, that we could use all the advice we could get.

“We could use a prophet. We could use you, Jeremiah.”

*

The waitress came again and I asked for my omelet. I was surprised I was even able to get that one word out, but I did. 

I was very confused, and when a not very good prophet is very confused it can cause problems. 

So I said, “Is this a joke?”

“No.”

“Honestly, I’m not even a very good prophet. Surely there are better prophets out there.”

“None so gifted as you. Truly,” she said, waving me off before I could interrupt her. “You put on the act without believing what you’re saying is true. But there’s no malfeasance behind it. You just want people to listen to you, and make a living.”

“It is a humble living,” I admitted. 

“We’ve been following your congregation and stunts for awhile now. As far as we can tell, you give them what they want, and what you give them doesn’t end up doing any harm. You reassure people without painstaking effort. So how do you do it?”

“Well, why should I tell you?”

“Because fuck the Russians,” said the gentlewoman. 

“What?”

She smirked, “I’m just messing with you, Jeremiah. I don’t know, do you care about patriotism?”

“What use are patriots in the After?”

“Money?”

I perked up then, and not just because I finally got my omelet. I always found ways to make more money, which was perhaps the best part of being a prophet.

That and meeting new faces, each and everyday. 

But I wasn’t one for material pleasures, honestly, which was perhaps the closest I got to following my own prophetizing. 

I just liked to look at all the faces. 

“Perhaps that would do. What do you want to know?” I asked, before I took a bite into my perfectly cooked omelet. 

*

I told her all kinds of things. I told her about what people really wanted to hear. I told her about what kinds of people would listen the best. I told her about what kinds of people would act on what they heard the best. 

I told her many, many things.

Everything a not very good prophet could ever hope of knowing. The tricks of my trade were tricky no more, not to her. 

And she took it all in while sipping on her Bloody Mary. She let me have the olive, which was nice of her. I added it to my omelet for a little extra zest. 

“Thank you again, Jeremiah,” she said. 

We shook hands one final time and left the fine establishment, going on our separate paths. I would go back to following the lords, and preparing for the second coming and the After, and looking for more members of my lorca. 

At least I would act as if I was. 

I would not know what path she went back to for some time. 

But then one night, after I got back home from a rousing sermon on the possibility of entering the After by adhering to a purely ketogenic diet, I noticed a familiar face on my television. 

It was the gentlewoman, and she was arguing with other gentlemen and gentlewomen.

She seemed to know what she was saying, and people seemed to believe what she was arguing. 

Then, a month later, I saw her name on the back of bumpers of some of my wildest zealots. I was mostly upset because I had never gotten the money she promised, but apparently she had the money to make bumper stickers.

Another month later, she was the President of the United States of America.

And then I stopped being a prophet anymore.