With courage born of gathering strength, the creek fills, begins to swell within its rocky banks and quickens to its springtime pace – now pooling behind a granite face – now surging up and over in carefree aqueous frolic – leaping and pirouetting from boulder to boulder down the labyrinthine canyon course, throwing its watery weight against unyielding stone and scouring clay and gravel as it goes, the creek is born a torrent of irresistible urgency, toppling trees which had safely stood for decades, and picking up along the way rocks and timbers of ever increasing proportions to hurl against each new barrier in its path – shattering what will shatter and grinding down all that will not.
Conversing with the moon was a novel experience for Onie, but, not yet fully awake, he saw nothing unusual in that – even though he clearly saw that the moon had its face on upside down.
“I gotta piss like a racehorse.” he replied in the hope that urinal indulgence would prove to be an interesting subject for discussion to someone as widely traveled as the moon. “And my head hurts.”
“Yeah, I know. I beaned you with a mud ball. It was the only way I could get you to wake up.”
Onie gingerly raised his fingers to the center of his pain. Sure enough, the mud ball still clung there, squarely in the center of his forehead. “Shit-oh-dear, that smarts.”
“You gotta get out of there, Onie. The creek has been rising all night, and it won’t be long before the water will come pouring in this window.”
“Okay, but I gotta piss first. Where’s the bathroom?”
“There ain’t no bathroom down there. You know that. You have to get Hjalmar to let you out. Where the hell you think you are, anyway?”
Now, that was an interesting question. Where the hell was he? He certainly wasn’t at home. There weren’t any pictures on the wall, and no wall paper either. The only furniture in the room was the cot he sat on. His own bed at home was bigger and smelled a hell of a lot better, and the last time he was in it Merrilee was asleep beside him. And then he saw the bars in the trap door over his head.
Slowly reality intruded into his consciousness, and he remembered the horrible truth. “I’m in jail again.” he said.
“Damned right.’ the moon agreed. “What’d they charge you with?”
“Same as usual.”
“Rape again, huh.”
“Yeah, same old shit. Why does everything happen to me?
Of course, the mayor was outraged. It was rape – pure and simple – kidnapping and rape. And he stormed into the jailhouse, to have the chief arrested. There was one small problem with this plan.
“Who’s going to arrest me?” the chief asked.
“Hjalmar, arrest this man.” The mayor demanded.
“I don’t have the authority to arrest him – unless he’s been incapacitated.” Hjalmar argued.
“And on what grounds am I to be arrested, may I ask?” asked the chief.
“Rape, of course.” The mayor replied.
“Rape isn’t on the books. It’s not a crime in Hallelujah. Only jaywalking, sidewalk spitting and Drunkenindian roaming.”
“Then I’ll make a citizen’s arrest on the charge of jaywalking.”
“Okay,” the chief replied. “Then I will determine the amount of the fine, which will then be paid to me for my services.”
“Well, kidnapping is a federal crime. I’ll make a citizen’s arrest and have Hjalmar hold you for the F. B. I.”
“It’s only a federal case if it involves crossing the state line.
“No, by God! You are a rapist, and rape is always a crime.
“Not in Hallelujah, it ain’t, only jaywalking, sidewalk spitting and Drunkenindian roaming.”
“So, what you’re telling me is that there are no serious crimes here – that kidnapping and rape are not crimes – that even murder isn’t a crime here?”
“Nope. Just jaywalking, sidewalk . . .”
At this point, the mayor withdrew from his coat pocket a .45 caliber double-barreled Derringer and settled the matter in true western style. When he was sure that the chief was truly and sincerely dead, he turned to Hjalmer, “I believe the chief has been incapacitated. You probably have the authority now to arrest me for jaywalking.”
Cecil Grundy was not good at fractions or long division; he forgot the multiplication tables as soon as he’d received his report card and been passed along to the fourth grade, but he could carry the one when he added a column of figures and he could subtract. He could write his own name – printing or in cursive – and he could read well enough to know when he was eating corn flakes for breakfast and not the rat poison. And Cecil Grundy knew all there was to know about farming.
More importantly he knew what he knew, and that’s all there was to that.
Though beginning inauspiciously, the years since his discharge had been kind to Mitby Sather. On his way from Fort Chaffee, Arkansas to his home in South Carolina, he had misread his road map and had thus chanced quite by accident upon the community of Hallelujah, Idaho. And it was certainly the height of serendipity that his ‘39 Buick chose that very hamlet in which to run out of oil and perish in a cloud of blue smoke.
The community had welcomed Sergeant First Class Sather, Ret. as a war hero and a kindred spirit, and in the span of five short years he had risen from a part-time position as short order cook at the Sanitary Cafe to the highest elective office in the village. But, in his heart, he remained a soldier, and, even now, his military training dictated his daily regimen. Each morning he rose at precisely 4:30 A.M. and, after ceremoniously raising the flag over the court house, he would treat himself to a five mile march before breakfast. “Old soldiers never die;” he would repeat for the benefit of those who never tired of hearing it, “they just flail away.”
Leona B. Grundy loved children: the Bobbsey Twins, Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy, Anne Shirley, Wendy Darling and Dorothy Gale; she loved them all. That was why she had become a teacher, after all; the children in her books were always so well-behaved – nothing at all like the little monsters in her fifth grade class. She wearied of sending them up to the principal’s office for chastisement; the principal didn’t believe in corporal punishment. And she was certain that the notes to their parents that she sent home with them never actually reached the parents. There were the parent teacher conferences, of course, but they amounted to little more than unpaid overtime for her, since the parents never came to these conferences. But she was determined to love her charges as much as she loved the children in her books and, if she occasionally struck them on their sweet little heads with a geography book, or pinched them purple when they misbehaved, it was only her way of molding them into the sort of children who would be deserving of her boundless affection.
Long and lanky Obediah Twine enjoyed an enviable position in the community of Hallelujah, Idaho. Not only had he married into a lucrative family business, namely The Church of the Flowing Blood of Christ, but he had been appointed chief administrative officer of that organization. Actually, as there had been no one to object, he had appointed himself to the position. Furthermore, as chief administrative officer, he had then appointed himself Bishop of the Western Diocese of the Church of the Flowing Blood of Christ. As it happened, there was no Eastern Diocese or, for that matter, no Northern or Southern Diocese, but plans for expansion constantly occupied the fertile mind of Bishop Obediah Twine. Secretly, he thought of himself as, not merely bishop, but Practically-Pope Obediah the First of the soon-to-be World-Wide Church of the Flowing Blood of Christ. He needed now only an opportunity to demonstrate his reverence, humility and devotion. He needed something – he had to do something – perform some miracle or something – that would really make God sit up and take notice.
Hammers missed their nails; nails hit the wrong targets, and saws cut where no cut had been intended. Ladders got moved, stranding workers at uncomfortable elevations; scaffolds suddenly gave way with people on them and more people under them. On three different occasions, one section collapsed, bringing down another section for good measure. Limbs were broken, and digits went suddenly missing. Two people lost eyes – fortunately only one apiece. One man lost a nose – unfortunately, the only one he had. Folks tried to cheer the poor fellow up but, along about the fifth time someone remarked that he didn’t smell so good anymore, he stopped laughing at the joke, and they concluded the man had lost his sense of humor, as well.
The people all had wy ya kins, spirit guides; they acquired their guides when, at the age of six or seven, they journeyed alone into the mountains, carrying neither food nor water nor weapon of any kind. After a few days, when they grew weary and weak from hunger and dehydration, their spirit guides would appear to them, give them their names and lead the way back to the encampment. From that day forward, their wy ya kins would guide them at crucial junctures throughout their lives. But they must never reveal to others what spirit it was that led them, lest they leave themselves vulnerable to an enemy with a stronger wy ya kin.
However, during the ceremonial dances, when the guides enter the bodies of the participants and lead them in the ritual, one familiar with the nature of spirits would be able to the identity the wy ya kins through signs and gestures peculiar to each spirit. Most of the people in the Spirit Lake Band, Kiyiyah observed, had weak and timid spirits: the muskrat or the wood chuck or the mule deer. A few had larger and more bold spirits: the wapiti or the weasel. Several had the cunning and deceptive fox spirit. But only one, besides Kiyiyah himself, had a truly magnificent wy ya kin – and that one was a woman, the tiwata a-t of the band.
Mrs. Molly Herkimer knew very well that she was a widow, though she couldn’t say just when or how she had become a widow. She clearly remembered being a married woman. That was the easy part; a woman never forgets her wedding day. It’s what came afterward, that she was a bit foggy about. She remembered the man himself – well, not what he looked like, and she didn’t seem to have a picture of him – but she did remember how they had saved up their money to buy the Sanitary Café on Hallelujah Boulevard. He had worked two jobs and she had taken in laundry. Then, after they bought the café, he had done the cooking while she waited tables, and they had enjoyed a comfortable living – for a while, at least.
But then she had begun to think about making even more money – investing and expanding the business – doing take-out and deliveries, and things like that. And somehow, while she was busy making plans, he must have passed away, because one day she looked around to find that she was waiting tables and doing the cooking, too. But, try as she might, she couldn’t remember how he had died – or when. She had expected to be asked – after all, she had been well known as a married woman in the town – and she supposed she really ought to have an answer when someone asked how her husband was or how he had died or something. But nobody ever asked, and eventually she forgot even his name. All she knew was that, once upon a time, she had been a married woman, and then she wasn’t, and she was alright with that.
Under her mother’s tutelage, she began working on a long straight seam – lining it up and carefully feeding the material into the jaws of the mechanical beast – first turning by hand the wheel that activated the needle, and then very gingerly rocking forward in the saddle and pressing down on the treadle with her toes. The needle slowly rose and fell, while the jaws drew the material into its maw and passed it out the back side, firmly – if not expertly – stitched together. Rocking back and pressing down on the treadle with her heels continued the spinning of the wheel, the rise and fall of the needle and the munching of the metallic jaws of the beast. In this fashion, she completed the stitching of the seam. Then her mother showed her how to turn the material, with the needle at its lowest point, so she could run a second stitch alongside the first, thereby securing the seam against all manner of childhood misfortunes.
It was during this second stitching of that long seam, that young Birdie had her first vision.
The sewing machine had been centrally placed on an inside wall of the parlor, overhung by a large reproduction of a painting of Christ on the cross. And it was purely by coincidence of the color – which exactly matched the crimson material over which she labored – that Birdie’s eyes were drawn to the bleeding wounds of the Christ figure. As she rocked back and forth in the saddle, as she pressed down on the treadle first with toes and then with heels, as the wheel spun and the needle rose and fell and the jaws rhythmically drew the material in and cast it out the back, before her very eyes, fresh blood began to flow from Christ’s wounds, running down the wall to pool on her work surface, enveloping her fingers and hands in its crimson warmth. At the same time, an almost unbearably exquisite sensation burgeoned in her loins and swelled in her belly. Coursing through her vascular and nervous systems, it spread throughout her body. Seemingly hypnotized, she was unable to avert her gaze from the gory scene. And as she approached the climax of her vision her eyes glazed over. She was shaken to her very soul.
Merrilee Mattson had expected to be issued a uniform when she became a Red Cross volunteer; she thought that was only fair. What’s the point of volunteering, after all, if you don’t even get to wear a uniform? Volunteers in the military get uniforms; even Civil Defense wardens get that silly looking Jungle Jim hat. But what do Red Cross volunteers get? Nada! Zip! Zilch is what they get. And, damn it all, it’s just not right.
So she had taken her complaint straight to the top . . . to Saint Birdie Twine. And, after listening again for a couple hours how the sainted lady was suffering in silence, Merrilee got her uniform.
Merrilee now believed that she looked just swell in her new crimson uniform – which very much resembled the red satin dress that Snowbird Elizabeth Culpepper had worn during her ill-fated pony ride many years earlier – but which bore no indication of the organization for which she had volunteered. She had remedied that oversight, however, with a trip across the bridge to the Second Coming Second-Hand Furnishings and Re-Wearable Finery Store, where she purchased a pre-owned World War I U. S. Navy nurse’s blue cape and cap, with a Red Cross symbol already in place, above which she embroidered the declaration, Volunteer.
Take that Clara Barton!
"Holy shit!” Onie jumped up from his bunk where he had been sitting cross-legged to keep his feet out of the water. The flood level had reached the window sill and water was beginning to poor into his cell. “Hey, Hjalmar, we got a problem down here.”
He could hear steps overhead, as Hjalmar, who had been dozing at his desk, dragged his lanky body over to the trap door. Hjalmar was not particularly fond of the erect position; he preferred the sitting, but the prone position, he’d always felt, was his personal favorite. He had been putting off an assignment that had come from His Honor, the mayor, himself. He had been ordered to polish the brass on the volunteer fire brigade’s fire cart, which – as they had no firehouse – was stored in the jail, and he welcomed any diversion that might provide him an excuse for avoiding the task.
“What’s your problem there, Onie?” he called down between the bars. “You had your breakfast, and it ain’t nowheres near lunch time yet.”
“Well, scroonch yourself down and take a look. We got water pouring in through the window. It’s already a foot deep, and its rising fast.”
Hjalmar got down on his hands and knees and stuck his head down between the bars. Sure enough, they had themselves a miniature Niagara going on down there.
“You stay right there, Onie, while I phone the mayor; he’ll know what to do.”
“Now damn it, Hjalmar, you know the mayor won’t be in his office this time-a-day. He’s got nothing for him to do there, and he only goes to his office for his afternoon siesta. And even then he takes the phone off the hook so he won’t be disturbed.”
“Well, I gotta try; he’s the mayor, you see. Who else is gonna know what to do?”
“Me, Goddamnit! I know what to do. You gotta let me outta here.”
“Now, Onie, you know I can’t do that. I don’t have no authority to turn you loose, not without the mayor says so or Merrilee comes in an’ drops the charges. You just stay calm while I try to call the mayor.”
Even though the water continued to recede – it was now only knee deep – the hem of Merrilee’s skirt had got wet. She looked around at the other people and noticed that some of the men had rolled up their pant-legs. For a fleeting moment, she wished that she had been born a man and that she could just roll up her pant-legs. But then she remembered Onie, and she thought about how a change of her gender would tend to redefine their relationship.
Miss Sympathy Gayle, on the other hand, simply lifted the hem of her skirt and began tucking it up inside the leg openings in her panties.
Merrilee watched her friend rearranging her garments. She stood back and surveyed the situation, then walked around to view it from all angles, and finally she lifted her own skirt and tucked the hem into her panties. It didn’t reveal too much of her intimate anatomy, and it wasn’t at all uncomfortable, except that she wished she had tucked it up before it had got all wet. The hem of her U. S. Navy nurse’s cape she simply draped over her shoulders.
Soon all of the women on the street had tucked their skirt hems up into their knickers, and some of the men – those who hadn’t rolled up their pant legs – may have wished that they had been born women.
The bridge had held, but it now sat somewhat askew. It had been knocked a bit downstream at the far end, and the water swept completely over the road bed in places. Though the situation may have given a strong man pause, danger did not deter Mrs. Molly Herkimer. She set her course resolutely across that rickety bridge, dragging her old red Radio Flyer behind her and counting on the weight of the silver in her wagon to steady and brace her amid the swirling waters.
And, she nearly made it.
Merrilee didn’t remember exactly when or how Miss Sympathy had become her best friend. She reflected that, as a child, she had thought the woman quite pretty, with such a warm smile and friendly air. And, in high school, whenever she had gone with the gang for ice cream at the Sanitary Café, she always used to hope that Miss Sympathy would be working and would wait on them, and she always left a nickel tip when she had it. She had refused even to listen to all those rumors making the rounds. Then, after she got married, and Onie went off to work that first day leaving her all alone in their little blue bungalow, Miss Sympathy – not any of the former friends of her own age – but Miss Sympathy Gayle had been the first to visit her – to welcome her into the world of adultery.
No! That wasn’t the right word. She hadn’t intended to think that. What she had meant to think was that, before, she had been a child and later a teenager, and then suddenly she was an adult and she wasn’t quite prepared – didn’t know exactly how to behave. Miss Sympathy had made her feel welcome – as though she truly belonged in the grown-up world of adultery.
Damn! There she’d gone and thought that thought again. Maybe she’d just better stop thinking altogether.
The now well-fed bishop stepped out onto the sidewalk of Hallelujah Boulevard and surveyed the scene around him. The water was clearly receding; soon everything would be back to normal, and he would have missed an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the townsfolk his remarkable faith and rectitude, and to make God sit up and take notice. If only he hadn’t been up in the hills performing his missionarying rituals at the height of the crisis. But, then, he had understood the importance of missionarying when he accepted his bishopric; that would always be his cross to bear, so to speak, and he hoped that God would take that into consideration, papacy-wise.
“Hjalmar, this is Saint Birdie Twine. I’ve been worried that your rapist might be colluding with the Drunkenindians to break him out of jail. Would you mind checking the cell to see if he’s still in custody?”
“I don’t have to check, ma’am. I turned him loose a couple hours ago.”
“You did what?” Saint Birdie dropped the receiver into her cereal bowl, but continued speaking into the mouthpiece while she retrieved it. “You turned out that vicious criminal to run wild among the decent folks of this town? That man has been found guilty of rape eight times already so far this year. What on earth were you thinking?”
“Aw, Onie ain’t vicious, Ma’am, an’ he ain’t been found guilty on none o’ them charges.”
“Only ‘cause you let him out on a technicality. Shame on you, Hjalmar Kelliher, shame on you!”
“The charges was dropped, Ma’am. I had to let him go.”
“And now he’s out there doing goodness only knows what to the decent womenfolk in this town.”
“Fact is he was sleepin’ like a baby when I let him go.”
“Sure, that’s what they want you to think – ‘til you let ‘em go. Then, as soon as they’re out of site, they go around raping and murdering decent folks.”
Damned difficult to swim when you’re wearing jump boots, but then it’s not easy to maintain your military quick time march when you’re in water nearly up to your chin either. The honorable Mayor Mitby Sather employed the old jungle fighter technique of combined breaststroke and long buoyancy-assisted strides through the water to negotiate the flooded streets on his way to Hallelujah Boulevard.
His honor had never actually done any jungle fighting – there just wasn’t that much opportunity for jungle fighting while he had been serving his country with distinction in the Fort Bragg consolidated mess hall during the war. But he had done his research; he had seen the John Wayne movies and read all the G.I. Joe comic books. Whatever would be educational when it comes to the subject of jungle fighting tactics, he’d researched it.
If his calculations were correct, Miss Sympathy Gayle and Merrilee Mattson would begin serving soup and sandwiches at the Red Cross Rescue Kiosk any time now, and it was imperative that he arrive early to prevent the freeloaders – and we all know who they are – from gobbling up all the sandwiches before the rest of the folks get their rightful share. His commanding presence would be needed.
He was making good time down Drunkenindian Avenue, but he was experiencing some difficulty maintaining his course. The breaststroke tends to be less efficient when the swimmer has a swagger stick in one hand, and the first citizen of Hallelujah, Idaho tended to drift off course to the larboard side. To make matters worse, his liner-lorn helmet kept sliding down over his eyes, so he would have to stop every so often to get his bearings and make the appropriate course correction. And just who in hell would name a perfectly good thoroughfare Drunkenindian Avenue anyway? The village’s founding fathers, that’s who! No doubt they felt they should honor the original inhabitants of the territory in some way, but there were alleys available for that purpose – as far as he knew, none of the alleys had been named. The streets – especially the primary streets of the town – should be reserved for honoring its prominent citizens. Well, thankfully, most of the founding fathers had died off by now, and the few that remained had gone funny in the head. As soon as he got himself elected governor or senator or president, or something, he’d have to see about renaming it Mitby Sather Street. Mitby Sather Street – now there was a street name to be proud of; it had a certain ring to it.
Damn! He’d drifted off course again.
But, finally, she could hold it no longer. She laid down the book and made her way out of the classroom and down the hall to the girls’ room. It took a lot longer than she had supposed it would, because, though the water was definitely receding, it was still up to her belly – even standing – and before she reached her destination she really had to pucker up to avoid peeing herself. She didn’t even bother checking to make sure the seat was down, as she normally would have; she hoisted her skirt, dropped her panties and squatted just as the first warm drops escaped her sphincter. It felt so good to finally relieve the pressure in her bladder that she lingered longer than she really needed to, savoring the moment, even though – because the commodes in the elementary school girls’ room were necessarily low to the floor – the water came nearly to her chin. And she very nearly forgot to wash her hands, which turned out to be rather difficult, because the sink was under water and she had to grope for the faucet.
His Honor, Mayor Mitby Sather boosted himself up onto the stage. Regrettably, when they had built the opera house – he was pretty sure it was the opera house this month – they had neglected to provide access steps to the stage, but the buoyancy of the receding waters assisted his ascent in a thoroughly brilliant maneuver that might have proved awkward for a man of lesser abilities. He bounced up to bring his belly over the rim of the stage, then leaning forward until his chin pressed into the rough-sawn pine and pivoting with his belly button as the fulcrum, he brought his left leg up onto the apron and, while rolling, he threw his right leg up and over until he lay on his back on the stage. Congratulations would be premature, however as he was forced to repeat the maneuver, after diving to retrieve his liner-lorn helmet which had fallen into the water during the rolling and leg-throwing phase of the operation.
Not all folks were as tall as the bishop. All around him people trod water in the firm belief they could last until the flood receded enough that they would be able to touch bottom. Others, already beginning to tire, swam for what they hoped would be higher ground. The problem was no one knew exactly which way to go to find higher ground, and – one by one – they were being swept up by the current and carried away, still hoping they were headed toward high ground.
Frankly, the bishop didn’t know exactly which way to go to find higher ground either, but he did know the direction from which the Sanitary Café beckoned to his appetite, and he set out high stepping his way toward supper. Each time he came to a cross street, where he would have to step off the curb, he had to take a deep breath and hold it until he got to the other side. The eight inch difference between the sidewalk and the street meant that the water level now reached his eyebrows, and – with the weight of Molly Herkimer’s satchel serving to anchor him – his old Bowler hat, which he had so many years before wagered against the hand of Snowbird Elizabeth Culpepper, was all that remained above water until he could reach the other side and step up onto the farther curb.
He was no longer aware of the passage of time, but it was dark out and the full moon was high in the sky when he was suddenly jolted awake. Something was moving toward him from just outside the grove in which he lay. He could make out movement, but not form. As it entered the grove, it didn’t detour around the trees, but seemed to flow through them not as a solid, or even a liquid being. It was made of other stuff entirely – not matter – possibly not even energy. Was it, perhaps, dream-stuff?
The only conclusion that the logical mind of Molly Herkimer’s husband could draw, was that he was dreaming. And, with that conclusion, all his fear vanished, and he watched the approach of the thing with a bemused interest. He could see now that this being had human form, but at times it had more than two legs, even more than one head. Moreover, it was neither male nor female, or rather it was a blend of both genders. The creature approached and sat itself down, cross legged at the foot of the make-shift bed. Then, as he watched, it assumed the identity of Onie Mattson – well, it had certain female organs but it wore Onie Mattson’s face and it was Onie Mattson’s voice that spoke to him.
“I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to return the favor you did for me not long ago but, as you see, now I have come to warn you as you warned me.” As the creature spoke, Miss Sympathy Gayle’s head emerged from its right shoulder and wrapped her lips around Onie’s ear, while much lower on the creature’s anatomy, the head of Merrilee Mattson emerged and began flickering her tongue in the creature’s navel.
“They won’t be coming for you, Motsqueh” the creature said with Onie’s voice. “They know where you are, and they know why you are here – even if you don’t know yourself – but they will not come to rescue you. Only I – that is we – may help you now.”
Kiyiyah sits in his sacred place and looks out over the lake that now remembers its name. What before he alone could see is now visible to all his people, and its resources are available to harvest. Fish are plentiful and eager to nibble at the fanciful lures that Peopeo fashions from the devils’ old snoose can lids, muscle shells and feathers, and ducks now nest in large numbers along its banks. The children dive in its clear waters for crayfish and muscles. And next spring young cattails will provide additional variety to their diet. Things are returning to the way they were before the devils came.
The terrible stench that, at first, had hung over the waters has now dissipated, and the silt has settled to the bottom. Sixty feet of water now covers the Spirit Lake Mother Lode concealing it from greedy white eyes. The people, who have now forsaken the devils’ way of walking, are busily constructing the larger canoes they will need to access all parts of the lake – except, of course, that deep hole, at the far end of the valley, which had swallowed up the devils and their encampment. Evil still lurks in that hole, and Kiyiyah has cautioned his people to avoid it.