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 Post subject: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2017 3:38 pm 
Star B
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A Great and Dreadful Day
A Novel in Seven Parts

by Robert B. Oberson

“And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes
under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this…
before the coming of the
Great and Dreadful Day of the Lord.”

--The Book of Malachi, 4:3-5


“Whatever God commands is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. . .”

--Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith






PART ONE: The Conversion of Samuel Younger

“When our individual interests and prospects do not seem worth living for,
we are in desperate need for something apart from us to live for.
All forms of dedication, devotion, loyalty and self-surrender
are in essence a desperate clinging to something which
might give worth and meaning to our futile, spoiled lives.”


--Eric Hoffer, The True Believer




- ONE -


It began with a knock on the door.

First, a gentle series of raps, and then a slower, more deliberate and insistent thudding. It was a small miracle that he’d heard it at all above the sound of the hot running water. His hands were red and heat-bitten and slightly wrinkled so that the tattoos on his knuckles looked smudged, and as he noticed the knocking, he moved more quickly, setting the final plate into the slot on the drainboard and scooping the flatware up and into the compartment beside the plates. There hadn’t been many dishes: a few coffee cups from the past few days, some plates, a saucepan, an aluminum bowl that he sometimes used for an ashtray. There was the cast iron skillet, but he would have to take care of that later. He hung up the towel on the refrigerator handle, and ambled into the front room just as the knocking commenced again.

He opened the door to an almost blinding wintery brightness, and there on the step, bundled up against the cold, stood two young men, just barely out of high school by the look of them. Their well-scrubbed faces were open and kind, yet guarded. They seemed like salesmen, with their neat haircuts and leather satchels. An air of professionalism and courtesy hung about them.

“Good morning, Mr. Younger,” said the one on the left. He was the taller of the two, with dark hair and slightly slanted brown eyes. He had freckles that ran across the bridge of his nose. “Or—it’s Sam, right? Is it okay if I call you Sam?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Sam glanced down and noticed the shining black nametags on each of the boys’ breast pockets. It all seemed familiar somehow, but Sam couldn’t place it. The young man with the dark hair went on: “We’re from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we were wondering if we could talk to you for a little while about a really special book.”

Sam stared out beyond the two young men. It was cold and blasted outside. Lonely. The winter winds had torn the dry and shriveled brown leaves from the trees, and the landscape—the dead lawns, the gravel paths, the desert shrubs—had been anointed with a thin patina of frost. He looked back to the faces of the two missionaries, and thought about shutting the door on them—he was used to throwing people out, after all. These two young men were smiling, though, and eager to please. Waiting for him to answer. Did he want to chat? Did he want to know more about their faith? At heart, it didn’t matter one way or the other. He could just as easily be staring at his toe, or reading the paper. He turned his head and glanced backwards over his shoulder at the front room: second-hand TV, tattered sofa, shiny black coffee table with magazines neatly arranged in the corner, bookshelf crowded with unread books. “Well,” he said. “Sure. Why not?”
“Oh, thank you,” said the dark-haired one.

Sam opened the door wide and gestured for them to sit on the couch.

“Boy, it sure is cold out there,” said the other one. He was pudgy, with reddened cheeks, and he had very dark blond hair. There was a slight pain, a freight of concern, in his expression.

“So,” said Samuel Younger, settling into his armchair across from them. “You guys are Mormons.”

“Well. . . Yeah, but that’s really just a nickname that was given to us a long time ago. Really, we prefer LDS.”

“LDS?”

“Latter-day Saints.”

Sam nodded and looked at their nametags. “I see you’re looking at our nametags,” said the dark-haired one. “I’m Elder Miller, and this is Elder Cummings.”

“Elder?” They were both younger than Sam.

The two missionaries laughed. “Oh, believe me,” said Elder Miller, “we get that all the time. It’s actually a designation in the priesthood.”

“Okay.” But of course he didn’t see. It was almost as if these young men were speaking some wholly new and different language: LDS; Elder; Priesthood—and they seemed so at ease with all of it: they sat calmly, leaning forward slightly, with their hands folded in their laps, gazing about the room, taking everything in. There had been a time when Sam would have hated them, but at the moment they looked so happy, eager to share their message, and anxious to please. They looked at peace.

“Wow, this sure is a nice house,” said Elder Miller. “Nice and cozy. Is it yours?”

“Yeah, it’s mine.”

“Just you? You live here by yourself?”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “It’s just me.”

“That’s impressive. A guy like you with his own house already. It’s kind of surprising that you went straight for the house, rather than living in an apartment and saving up for until you got married. I assume you want to get married and have a family one day.” It was difficult to tell if Elder Miller was casting judgment or not. “So,” he continued, “my introductions kinda got sidetracked a little. As I said, I’m Elder Miller and this here is Elder Cummings. I grew up in Provo, Utah. I come from a big family. I’m the fourth of seven kids. I always knew that I would serve a mission, since it’s kind of a tradition in my family, and plus, I believe in the message of the gospel.” He gave a nudge to his partner, and Elder Cummings began.

“Well, I’m from Scottsdale, Arizona. My mom converted to the Church when I was pretty little, so I don’t have quite the same traditional stuff going on as Elder Miller here. But, I love the gospel, and I pretty much always knew that I would serve a mission, too.” He seemed to be sweating slightly. “Also,” he raised a plump arm and pointed, “I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve got what looks like a really nice chess set up there.”

Sam followed the line of Elder Cummings’s arm up to the chess set perch at the top of the bookshelf. “Oh, that? Yeah, I haven’t had any reason to haul it down in quite a while. Just haven’t had anyone over to play. I work nights, so you know how it goes.”

“Well, we sure would love to play a couple games with you some time,” said Elder Miller, smiling. He had very white, very straight teeth.

“I’ll have to think about that,” said Sam.

“So, what do you do for a living?” Elder Miller went on. “Are you in school?”

“No. No more school for me. I hated school,” said Sam. “Well, let me check that—it’s not so much that I hated the subject matter. I just didn’t like the atmosphere, I guess.”

“Huh, yeah, I know what you mean.” Elder Cummings was wiping a plump palm on the leg of his slacks.

“But to answer your question,” Sam said, “I tend bar at this place in Reno.” He watched their reactions carefully and wondered if he should say anything more. He knew little about religion generally, and even less about Mormons specifically. He’d sometimes seen young missionaries just like these pedaling their bikes around town back when he was growing up, and had wondered what they were up to, with their crisp white shirts, bike helmets, and skinny black ties, but his curiosity—at least at that time—ended there.

“I bet that’s an interesting job,” said Elder Miller. “I bet you get to meet some real interesting people out there. You probably get to see a whole other side of humanity.”

“Well…” said Sam, thinking about this, “I guess that’s one way of putting it.”

Both of the missionaries chuckled—plump Elder Cummings in particular.

“Okay, maybe not!” said Elder Miller. “But then again, I bet they’re at least interesting.”

“Fair enough.”

Elder Miller nodded his wolfish head. He seemed pleased to find a point of agreement. “So what about your family?” he asked. “In the Church, family is really important to us.”

“I guess that’s why you guys have so many kids?”

The missionary’s face was still friendly, but the question sobered him up a bit: “Well, yeah! Yeah, to an extent that’s exactly right. But we’ll get to that later. As you were saying?”

Sam felt mildly uncomfortable, as if he was being very gingerly prodded and examined—interviewed, even. But he went on: “Well, I’ve got a sister. She lives back home, near Sacramento. Both my parents are dead, though.”

“Boy, I’m sorry to hear that,” said Elder Miller, and Elder Cummings, beside him, was once again wiping his palms on the thighs of his trousers. “I know how important my mom and dad are to me, so I can really feel for you there.”

“It’s all right,” said Sam, holding up a big hand.

“They must not have been very old,” said Miller.

“My dad died when I was 18. A car accident. My mom died of cancer about five years back.” He said this in a way that was mostly emotionless, and with a slight smirk—the product of having repeated it more times than he wanted to.

Elder Miller knitted his fingers together and continued to nod with concern.

“Well, my dad died when I was pretty little,” said Elder Cummings, glancing over at Miller, as if for permission to speak. “He had a stroke, and it was pretty sudden. And so I know how rough that kind of thing can be. The message we want to bring to you, though, is that you can be reunited with your loved ones again one day.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis and lowered his chin a bit.

Elder Miller, nodding more emphatically now, smiled in consolation. “Can I ask you something?” he said, inching forward. “Would you mind if we said a prayer?”

It caught him completely off guard. What would they do if he said no? “Sure, I guess so,” he said. They knelt down, right there on the carpet, and crossed their arms across their chests, with their hands tucked into the crooks of their elbows. Their heads were bowed and their eyes were closed. It was unclear to Sam whether he was meant to imitate them, or whether this was some kind of display for his benefit, or what. There was a time, not terribly long ago, well before the deaths and the thing in Davis had transpired and long before he’d ended up in this house in Lahontan, when he would have laughed at them and called them pussies or gay-wads and told them to get the ____ off of his property. It’s what his dad, and probably his mother would have done in his place. But things were different now, and so he sat there dumbstruck in his chair, half embarrassed for them and half frozen with fascination.

“Dear Father in Heaven,” Elder Miller began. “We want to thank you for this beautiful day, and for the opportunity you’ve given us to speak with Mr. Younger today. We ask thee this day to give us clarity of mind and tongue, so that we might share the truth of the gospel with him, and so that he might feel the spirit. We ask that ye might open his heart and bless him with an open mind so that he might hear our lessons and learn why we’ve traveled all this way out to see him. We ask these things humbly in the name of thy son Jesus Christ, amen.”

Elder Cummings also said, “Amen,” and Sam almost said it, too. The two missionaries climbed back to their feet and went back to their spots on the sofa. “Thank you for giving us permission to pray with you,” said Elder Miller, and then he smiled: “So,” he said, slapping his hands on his knees, “I bet that you’re ready for us to get to the point. There is a reason we’re here after all, and that reason is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with you.”

Sam scarcely knew what to say. “You’re not going to ask me to buy something at the end of this, are you? A bible or something? Cause if that’s the case, I’m not interested.”

“No, not at all!” said Elder Miller.

“It’s really not the case,” said Cummings. “Both of us are paying our own way to be here. The Church doesn’t pay for us to be missionaries. We pay for our missions out of our own pockets because we believe in what we’re doing.”

“You’re ____ me, right?” said Sam. He said this partly to gauge their reaction to his language, but it didn’t seem to rattle them.

“Absolutely not,” said Elder Cummings. “All of our missionaries in our Church are volunteers. Anyways.”

“Well, anyways,” said Elder Miller, coughing into his fist and regaining his general sense of seriousness, “as I mentioned, there are a few important things we’d really like to share with you on this day.” He lifted his briefcase off the ground and snapped it open. From within, he took out a photo and held it out for Sam, who took it. “What you’re looking at there,” said Elder Miller, “is a picture of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

Samuel Younger looked down into the image. In it, a wavy-haired man with an aqualine nose knelt in a grassy, wooded area. He was wearing clothes from some earlier era, and he was using his forearm to shield his eyes from the intense white light cast by a pair of bearded men who were floating angelically nearby. The light seemed to be emanating from the men’s radiantly white and flowing clothes, and it was clear that the kneeling man was quite frightened. It looked surreal—so much so that Sam felt a chill pass through his body.

“You see,” Elder Miller went on, “we believe that Joseph Smith restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth after a period of apostasy. Joseph was responsible for restoring the one true church on the face of the earth.”

“I don’t understand. What’s ‘apostasy’?” He looked back down at the picture, at the impossible whiteness of the two figures’ clothing.

“Well,” said Elder Cummings, clearing his throat and looking very timid. “Do you believe in God?”

Sam settled back in his chair. “I don’t know,” he said. He thought about it. “I mean, all of this ____ had to come from somewhere, right?” He gestured around the room with his arm, towards the wide world that lay beyond the walls. “I guess I’d like to think that I’m living my life for some worthwhile reason, even if I don’t necessarily have a ____’ clue of what that is, exactly.”

“Oh, sure,” said Elder Miller. “We’re here to tell you that Heavenly Father loves each and every one of us.”

“Unlike some other religions,” said Elder Cummings, “we don’t believe that people are just ‘creations’ of a God. We believe that God is genuinely the father of each and every one of us. All of us are his children, both in body and in spirit.” He looked mildly pained. “So, what that means is that even you and I are brothers, in a sense. All of us are related in that way—we’re all children of God, and our Heavenly Father loves us so much.”

Sam nodded. It was difficult to follow what they were saying, and he was somewhat bothered by the touchy-feely nature of what they were saying, but he kept listening.

Elder Miller reached up and adjusted the slightly off-kilter knot on his skinny black tie. “The gospel, as it was revealed to Joseph Smith, is designed to bless families. Did you know that if you live a righteous life, and follow the teachings of the gospel, you can be with your loved ones again in heaven?” His eyes sparkled, the wet on them catching the wan light cast by the gooseneck lamp on the side table.

“No, I didn’t know that,” he said.

The two missionaries both nodded gravely and sat up straighter. “I’d like to bear my testimony to you right now,” Elder Miller said, pointing at him, “that I know in my heart these things are true. I know these things with a surety, clearer and more powerful than I’ve ever known anything in my life.” He was clutching his fist against his chest, and a tremor had come into his voice. It made Sam feel embarrassed to see this young missionary exposing his emotions so nakedly.

“These truths are pretty amazing,” said Elder Cummings, smiling tightly, his lips stretched against his large teeth, his hands knitted together in his lap. “I really agree with Elder Miller. Even though I haven’t been a member of the Church my entire life, I’ve never come across anything as good as the gospel. And plus, the Church is just plain neat.”

Samuel Younger could only nod: what was it with these two guys? The more he listened to them, the harder it was to hate them. There was a brief caesura as Elder Miller regained his composure, and Elder Cummings looked over at him, waiting for him to retake the reins of the conversation. Sam looked again at the picture of Joseph Smith.

“So,” Miller said at last. “You’ve said that you believe in God, or that you think you might. Do you also understand that Jesus died for our sins?”

As he sat there staring at these two young men, Samuel Younger began to feel very strange and uncomfortable. His natural impulse—and he knew this—would be to dismiss and ridicule these young missionaries. But he also knew where his natural impulses had led him to this point, and so he suppressed them.

“Jesus died on the cross, in order to atone for our sins,” Elder Miller went on, leaning forward, his hands clutched together. “The pain was so great that he bled from his pores.”

“But in addition to that,” interjected Elder Cummings, “The Savior left us with a lot of important teachings, like about families, and the priesthood. He set up the Church and taught the gospel, so that anyone who has faith, and who repents, gets baptized, and fulfills their callings on Earth, will receive eternal salvation.”

“That means you get to live forever,” said Elder Miller.

“Is that necessarily a good thing?”

Everyone chuckled.

“After Jesus died,” said Elder Cummings, “the world fell into apostasy. The priesthood was lost. Until Joseph Smith came along, that is.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, looking down again at the kneeling man. “Tell me about Joseph Smith.”

The two missionaries seemed to bounce in their seats.

“I really love the story of Joseph Smith,” said Elder Miller. “What’s so amazing is that he was just a boy, and yet Heavenly Father chose him to restore the priesthood to the earth.”

“How did this happen?”

“Good question.” Elder Miller licked his lips and went on. “When he was a teenager, Joseph Smith began to get curious about religion. He went to all the churches in his area, listening to the sermons, and trying to find the truth. And yet, something seemed wrong each time. Many of the pastors of these churches seemed greedy or corrupt, or else something just plain didn’t feel right. So, feeling discouraged, Joseph went out into the woods to pray one night, and that’s when God appeared to him.” Elder Miller paused and leaned forward. “Now, can you just picture this? A blinding light appeared before him, and God’s voice rang out, telling Joseph that none of the churches was true. It would be up to Joseph to restore the Lord’s true church to the Earth. This would be his special mission in life.

“Later,” Elder Miller said, “Joseph was given the keys of the priesthood in order to begin the restoration of the church. But he did something else, too.” He reached into his briefcase and brought out a black, leather-bound book, which he passed across to Sam. “At another time, Joseph was visited by an angel named Moroni.”

Sam stared back at the missionary and he turned the book over in its hands, looking up and searching for the slightest hint of guile, deception, or delusion in the missionaries, but he found none. The story—this insane, supernatural narrative—was something that Elder Miller really and truly believed.

Miller went on: “Moroni told Joseph about a treasure that was hidden nearby in a hill called Cumorah. He led Joseph to this location, and had him move a heavy stone. And there, buried in the hillside, were a set of gold plates, covered in strange writing.”

The room had grown very still. It was so quiet that Sam could practically hear the missionaries breathing. It felt cold, too, and the air seemed heavy.

“The angel Moroni gave Joseph the tools to translate the plates, and the result of that translation is the Book of Mormon, which you are holding right now.”

Sam flipped open the cover of the book and felt the thin, parchment-like pages. Glancing at the text, he saw that it read rather like the Bible, or what little he knew of the Bible. “So, where are the gold plates? Do you guys have them on display in Salt Lake City or something?” he asked.

“When the translation was complete,” Elder Cummings said, rather abruptly, “Moroni took the plates back to heaven, since they were no longer needed.”

“It really is a miracle that we have the Book of Mormon today,” said Elder Miller. “Just think of it: Joseph was a farm boy with very little education. He didn’t have much access to books, and so it really is amazing that he was able to translate this book. It’s evidence of its divine nature, if you ask me.”

“Yes,” added Elder Cummings, “there’s no way he could have written it on his own.”

“In fact,” said Elder Miller, smilingly, “we’d like to urge you to read it for yourself. It tells the story of Christ’s visit to America, following his resurrection.”

Sam frowned. “Christ came to America?”

“Yes, he did,” said Elder Cummings, nodding. “There was a whole, vast civilization here. You’ll have to read the Book of Mormon for yourself. That copy is yours to keep.”

The two young missionaries sat perched at the edge of the sofa like a pair of beaming, luminescent twins.

“How are you feeling about all of this?” asked Elder Miller.

Sam looked up. “Well, I don’t know. I feel confused, I guess.”

The two missionaries chuckled. “That’s normal,” said Elder Cummings.

“Do you feel anything else?”

He shifted in his seat, and let out a sigh. “I don’t know. I feel . . . Strange. Confused, and yet lighter somehow.”

The missionaries’ faces lit up: “That’s great!” said Elder Miller. “That lightness—that’s the spirit you’re feeling. You see, when we’re righteous, the Holy Ghost lifts us up and blesses us. Makes us feel good. Like, for me, I usually will get this warm sensation in my chest.” He rapped his fingers on his sternum.

“Okay.”

“What I’m saying is, that’s the spirit that you’re feeling. It’s telling you that what we’ve said today is right and true.”

“Huh.”

“Anyways, as Elder Cummings said, we’d like you to accept that Book of Mormon as our gift to you,” said Elder Miller. “That is a complimentary copy for you to keep, and to read.”

“Well, thanks,” said Sam. “I don’t think I can remember the last time anyone gave me something for free.”

The two missionaries smiled. “If it’s okay,” said Elder Cummings, “we’d like to come visit you again. Would that be all right?”

“I guess so. I’m not really doing much of anything. So far as I know, anyhow.”

“So, could we come see you this same time in a couple of days?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. Terrific.” Elder Cummings nodded his big, blond head and smiled.

“I have just one more thing to ask,” said Elder Miller. “If you could do me a huge favor?”

“Sure.”

“Towards the back of the Book of Mormon, in the book called Moroni—just like the angel who appeared to Joseph Smith—there’s a promise. This is one of the most important promises that anyone ever made. If you look at Moroni 10, verses 3 through 5, you’ll see that God makes a promise to each of us. It says:
I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Elder Miller smiled and leaned forward. The righteous, emotional tremor had returned to his voice once again. The air around him was very still, and as he spoke, his voice became a low whisper, rasping past his lips and out into the room like the flutter of wings:

“All we ask of you, Mr. Younger, is that you read the Book of Mormon, and pray about it. That’s it, really. Just pray about it. Ask God. Find out for yourself, whether what we have said today is true.”


Next week: Chapter 2....

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2017 9:09 pm 
Hermit
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I'd forgotten about how truly awful and disingenuous the first discussion is. A timely reminder. I hope Samuel burns their book and tells them not to come back, but something tells me that's not going to happen.

thanks Bob!


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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2017 11:36 pm 
Teacher
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Nice touch censoring the swears.

Aside from that, the scene feels pretty brutally real.

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2017 7:46 am 
Star B

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Excellent. Can't wait to enjoy some more Bobberson :)


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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2017 2:43 pm 
God
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I served a bit over 20 years in the Army. No sweat.

Chapter One got me all anxious and skittish. This is bringing back crazy feelings from my mission. Heh.

- Doc


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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2017 3:32 pm 
God
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Doctor CamNC4Me wrote:
I served a bit over 20 years in the Army. No sweat.

Chapter One got me all anxious and skittish. This is bringing back crazy feelings from my mission. Heh.

- Doc


I was wondering if I was the only one. I never served (thank you for yours though) but have seen my fair share of crazy stuff with no problems, but this definitely fired up the anxiety. A well written piece by someone who has obviously gone through this too.

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2017 6:51 pm 
Hermit
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I just looked up the Crown Burger logo to make sure there is five points. lol.


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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Thu Jan 05, 2017 12:22 pm 
God
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Quote:
And plus, the Church is just plain neat


Bob B. O. has the missionary lingo down pat. This line reminded me of John Dehlin's list of reasons to stay in the church, one of which was "the hymns rock!" :rolleyes:

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Fri Jan 06, 2017 2:37 pm 
Star B
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- TWO -

That evening, before heading in to work, Sam began to read the Book of Mormon. It told of a family living in Jerusalem during troubled times, and of a valiant son named Nephi, who was commanded by God to cut the head off of a ruthless criminal lord. The story was rich in dreams, and loyalty, and duty, and courage. And the style, Sam thought, seemed remarkably like the Bible’s—it was as if this story picked up where the Bible had left off. It was, at base, a story about faith, and the willingness to take risks. Young Nephi and his family were forced to leave their homeland, and were guided across the seas by a strange spherical compass which operated according to their faith and devotion.

There was other material at the front of the book. The introduction stated that the book had been written by “many ancient prophets,” and it made the even more audacious claim that the American Indians had descended from a group of travelers who’d come from Jerusalem. Sam was fairly certain that he’d learned in school or National Geographic or elsewhere that the Indians were ancestors of people who’d crossed over from Asia. After the introduction was a series of statements attesting that people had seen the golden plates upon which the book had been written. The testimonies had an older, more archaic tone, and Sam wondered why they’d been included. Something didn’t seem quite right about the fact that so many of the witnesses appeared to be related, especially the Whitmers and the Smiths, the latter of whom Sam assumed were relations of Joseph Smith, the prophet the missionaries had spoken of—the wavy-haired, kneeling man from the image. It made him wonder momentarily if the whole thing was a con.

But it was getting late and as Sam sat holding the book, he remembered what the missionaries had asked him, he tried hard to concentrate on how he felt. There was calmness, yes. But had it come as a result of his reading? The missionaries had urged him to pray, but he didn’t really know how to do that. He had never before in his life said a prayer. Was he supposed to get down on his knees, like the missionaries had done? Or would it be sufficient to ask God directly from this spot in the chair? He felt silly and embarrassed, but after a few moments, he shut his eyes and knitted his hands together.

“Tell me if it’s true,” he whispered. “I want to know. . . if it’s real. Please tell me, God.”

He sat there with his eyes sealed shut, listening to nothing in particular. There was a rushing in his ears, and he heard a gust of wind showering the side of his little house with dust. Beyond that, he could hear the low, wailing howl of the wind. The gust was spiraling down out of the Sierra and across the low mountains and hills in the valleys. It cried out, pained almost, as it moved ever more deeply into the Great Basin.

Sam re-opened his eyes and looked around: empty fireplace, bookshelf, coffee table, green sofa, second-hand TV set, round woven throw rug. On one shelf of the bookcase was a picture frame that he’d turned face-down some time ago. He put his hands on the armrests and hoisted himself out of the chair, and then he went over to the bookcase and righted the over-turned frame. It was a picture of him and his sister and parents, taken during a Thanksgiving holiday some years ago, and everyone’s faces were warm and aglow. Sam remembered sitting for this picture. His father had camera with a timer on it, and since he’d been drinking (of course), he had messed up twice, dashing back and forth from camera to family, muttering about the “stupid ____ thing” before he got it to successfully snap a photo with everything in place. It seemed so long ago, and Sam felt himself being dragged back into a place he didn’t want to go. He turned away and moved into the kitchen.

He still had an hour before he needed to be at work and so he filled the teakettle with water and set it on the stove over high heat. He got a mug out of the cupboard and the canister of coffee and he spooned some grounds into the mug. Someone had told him once that working the night shift took years off a person’s life, which originally had been the reason he’d chosen to work nights. The steam warbled out of the kettle, and Sam poured the hot water onto the coffee grounds. As it steeped, he lit a cigarette and turned to the window above the sink and looked out at the night. The window was spotted with dust and other filth, but he was nonetheless able to see clouds rushing past the half-face of the moon, and a spattering of stars amidst the blank patches in the cloudcover. Though lonesome, this was a good house to be in. Far away from everything. He fixed himself a bowl of Cheerios and then he carried his bowl and cup back into the living room and clicked on the TV to the late-night news. They were talking the problems in Kuwait, and then there was a pointless tidbit about M.C. Hammer’s newest hit. It was tiresome. He got out of his chair and switched the channel over to an infomercial, and as he returned to his chair, he shut off all the lights, and sipped the rest of his coffee in the dark save for the pale blue light of the TV, until it was time to go to work.

He pulled on his old bomber jacket and went outside to start the car so it could warm up for a while. The icy nighttime air was dry and brittle, and his breath streamed out of his mouth and nose in long gouts. He followed the deserted roads lining the edge of the subdivision, and made his way over to the I-80 on-ramp. Above, in the midnight sky, the stars shimmered distantly, and Sam thought again about the missionaries and the Book of Mormon. He drove on and on, through the canyon lining the Truckee River, until he saw the beady, shimmering lights of Sparks and Reno. He followed the freeway up into the central, grimy part of the city and to the Wells exit, and made his way over to The Ember.

A few years back, after he’d gotten out of jail, Sam had bounced around the Sacramento area for a while, picking up odd construction and janitorial jobs until Mike Bartolo, an old, goateed stoner friend from high school, bumped into him in a gas station in Auburn. Mike said that he was getting an apartment in Reno, and he asked Sam if he was interested in splitting the rent. There was a job available, too, as a bouncer in a titty bar; Mike was banging one of the girls that worked there, and that connection, coupled with Sam’s size meant that it would probably be no problem to hook him up with a job. And so Sam agreed.

He spent the first couple of months picking up a slim paycheck (which was fine, since he still had some money left over after his parents died) and getting to know the dancers, and The Ember’s owner—a soft-spoken, soft-fleshed man named Sid. Sid encouraged Sam to learn how to tend the bar:

“There’s more money in it, and I dun like this asshole. He’s a drunk,” said Sid, in his whispery, foreign-sounding voice as he hooked his thumb in the direction of Vic, the current night-shift bartender. “You go to the barman school, and I put you behind the bar,” Sid told him, and so Sam enrolled in Mixology School, where he learned to pour whiskey sours, vodka Collinses, Manhattans, and sidecars. Growing up, Sam had always hated school, but this wasn’t the same. From his tats, Sam could tell that the instructor, a guy named Tradd Simonson, had done time. But there was something about the movement of the liquids from bottle to glass, the strange alchemy when a drink came together, and the juvenile pyromaniac’s thrill at lighting a shot of 151 on fire, that Sam liked. It was tolerable, in any case, and it was better than sitting around at home all day, watching the crappy daytime lineup on TV, or smoking Mike’s seemingly neverending supply of mind-scramblingly potent Mendocino-sourced weed.

Immediately after he got his diploma, Sid fired Vic and put Sam behind the bar. It was around this time that Mike’s stripper girlfriend, Shasta, began pestering him to move in with her, and he felt that he couldn’t put it off any longer. So, Sam would have to either pay the entire rent for the apartment, or find a new place to live. Ever since his release from jail, he’d felt like he needed an anchor. The sense of feeling adrift is what had landed him in the can in the first place, he thought. So, with his bartender gig bringing in a decent if unremarkable salary (he had a penchant for collecting generous tips), and with the money from his mom in his savings account, Sam had decided to look for a house. The places in Reno all seemed too big and overpriced, though, and when one of the dancers told him to look in Lahontan, a little town out in the desert 45 miles east of Reno, Sam did as she suggested. It didn’t take him long to find a little ranch-style house in subdivision at the northeast end of town, and he moved in immediately.

“Why the hell do you want to live out in the sticks?” Mike had asked him.

“I don’t know. Why not? Maybe I’ll settle down and have a family.”

Mike and Shasta both laughed and rolled their eyes, but Sam was happy with his decision. He liked the peace and quiet and vastness that went along with living at the edge of the desert. He even liked the angry winds that always seemed to be blowing across the valley. In general, he was happy, but as time wore on he began to grow weary of working at The Ember. Each night when he got off work he felt like he was coated in an invisible layer of smoke and human grime.
And this was the feeling he anticipated, and that he tried to stave off, as he stood puffing on a final pre-work cigarette in the neon pink light cast by the sign atop the building. It was a sign that had been ordered up by Sid back when the place was converted into a club out of an old Carrows’ restaurant—it glowed a bright, lipstick pink, with the words “the ember” written in cursive lowercase letters, and with what Sam had always supposed to be an actual ember shaped out of neon tubing, but which looked more like a meteor, or a pimento-stuffed olive, or a misshapen female breast. Sam tossed his spent cigarette into a grey drift of snow and pushed open the door of the club.

Inside, business was pretty slow. Sam let Dave the daytime bartender finish dealing with the remains of the daytime drunks and Happy Hour cheapskates while he went about wiping down the bar, slicing up citrus fruit, and pouring fresh ice into the bin beneath the counter. On stage, Gretchen, one of the older dancers, was finishing up her routine, and as Sam set about polishing some of the highball glasses that had just come out of the dishwasher, Misty came over and sat on one of the stools.

“Hey, you.” She had taken off her coat and stashed it in the back room, but she still had a wool scarf slung around her neck. Her shoulders were bare and sparkly from the glitter lotion that she sometimes used. Sam thought it made her skin look like fish scales.

“How’s it going?” he said.

“You know, the usual.” She leaned forward to rest her chin in her palm, and she fiddled with a red cocktail straw.

Sam laughed. “Well, I guess it’s pointless to ask whether that’s a good or a bad thing.”

Misty laughed, too. She’d begun working in the club about 6 months ago after moving from Boise. At first, Sam had figured that ‘Misty’ was a stage name, but it turned out to be the name on her birth certificate. She was a thin girl with muscular legs, gorgeously thick, honey-blond hair, and a boob job that had been paid for by some poor, lovesick nerd back in Boise. When Sam began seeing her on a semi-regular basis, he always halfway expected this nerd—which is what Misty always called him—to show up. “You’d just beat him up for me,” she would say, and she was probably right. In fact, Sam and Misty had first hit things off.

“You look like you could be a lot of trouble,” she had said to him once after he tossed out a customer who’d gotten too frisky during a lap dance. He knew exactly what she meant.

They started seeing each other a few days after that, when she invited him to breakfast, which essentially translated into a post-night-shift stop at the 24-hour Denny’s for a Grand Slam, a couple of hours before the sun came up. It was pleasant, and they both agreed to do it again, and they did. Sam kept waiting for some piece of baggage to turn up: a drug habit, an estranged kid, a crazy ex-boyfriend (other than the nerd), but Misty seemed more or less sane. He knew, too, about all the problems associated with the mixture of dating and work. Would Sid have a problem with this sort of thing? When he found out, he gave them his blessing: “That Mitsy’s a nice goyle,” he had whispered, and then he coughed into a red silk handkerchief. So, Sam and Misty became, more or less, a couple. Their relationship seemed to be based primarily on the fact that they both saw the rest of the world in the same weary and guarded way, and that they needed a sexual release now and then. If anyone would have asked him, Sam would have said that the relationship wasn’t serious. He had no idea if Misty felt the same way, and he wasn’t about to ask.

Behind the bar, Sam got a highball glass and filled it with ice and seltzer water and he put a lime wedge in it before setting it down on a cocktail napkin in front of Misty.

“Thanks,” she said. She took a sip and smiled and Sam noticed a smudge of lipstick clinging to the front of her tooth. He curled up his own lip and pointed for her and she used her tongue to clean it off. “Is it gone?”

“Yeah.”

He went back to his duties, making sure that Dave had cleared the register, and when he drifted back towards Misty’s spot at the bar, she said, “You know, you should come over to my place tonight.”

“What, you want to do breakfast?”

“Not necessarily. Just come over. Would you?”

“Yeah, okay. I could do that.”

“I could use the company.”

“Sure.”

She kept watching him, and he could feel her gaze on his back. He looked up at her and smiled once, but he could sense that something wasn’t quite right. After a while, she took her drink and left in order to get ready for her set.

The night progressed uneventfully. For a midweek winter night, there was a decent crowd. Sam poured drinks, counted his tips, refreshed the ice supply, cut new citrus, and listened to sob stories from the dancers with nothing better to do. Lana T. was in a custody dispute with her ex; Trina R. was concerned that she’d caught something from a client; Delilah P. was two months behind on her rent and starting to freak out big-time. It was the usual litany of complaints. At around 11:00, Sid turned up to make his rounds, patting all the girls on their bottoms and kissing them on the cheek, nodding to regular customers, and ordering up his standard Chambord and 7-Up. On stage, Francesca, in a gauzy teddy-and-g-string ensemble, was moving languidly around the pole, lit by the dim, parti-colored lights lining the stage. All along the walls of the bar, up near the ceiling, were strings of large-bulbed blue Christmas lights, and they made all the customers look frozen.

Just then, Trina R., who had just finished up a lap dance at the booth in the corner, came over and asked for a bottle of Pabst. Per Sid, each girl was allowed one drink per shift. Under no circumstances was anyone to perform or work while drunk. The Ember was a classy joint, he said. Not like that ____ Green Iris, which was two blocks further down the street. The Iris’s owner was a schwul, Sid said, with no taste for female beauty. He reached up and draped his arm across Trina R.’s delicate shoulders and nodded for Sam to top off his Chambord and 7-Up.

After he meandered off, Sam noticed that Trina was looking cautiously at a man at the end of the bar.

“Is something wrong?” Sam asked. Up on the stage, Misty, with a black bowtie, white lace gloves, and a shiny pair of black panties, had begun her routine.

“Yeah,” said Trina R. “That guy over there.”

“What about him?”

“I don’t know, Sam, but he is seriously creeping me out. Like, I am getting a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach just looking at him.”

“Did he say anything to you?”

She took a drink of her beer and said, “He just said ‘Hello,’ but I am telling you, Sam: something isn’t right.”

He frowned and glanced over at the man and when he looked back at Trina R., he saw that she had broken out in a sweat.

“You know you have nothing to worry about, right? As long as I’m working, he’s not going to do anything. I won’t let him.”

She nodded and stared off into the distance.

“You want me to go have a word with him?”

Her eyes flickered wetly and she nodded, and then she took her bottle of beer and retreated to the back of the club.

When the man first sat down at the bar some twenty minutes ago, Sam had poured him two fingers of Wild Turkey, neat, but apart from that he hadn’t paid him any attention. Now he went over to get a better look. The man had smooth, absolutely lineless brown skin and a high, creaseless forehead. His oil-black hair was pulled back in a pony tail that rested on the jacket of his well-tailored, pin-striped, olive green three-piece suit. He even had a gold watch chain that dangled in an arc across his stomach. Sam had seen pictures of people in National Geographic, Indians from Peru or something, who had the same tone of skin and shape of face as this man. And yet, he didn’t seem out of place. He seemed neither to belong nor to stand out. If Trina hadn’t said anything, Sam probably never would have noticed him, even though, looking closer, it was clear that he should have.

“Can I help you?” Sam asked.

“No, I’m perfectly fine,” said the man. “I noticed that the young lady seemed to have a problem of some kind. I hope she’s all right.”

“I think she’ll be all right. Did you say something inappropriate to her? Because I’m not going to stand for any ____.”

“I said nothing of the sort.” He smiled. “We always seem to have a knack for encountering trouble.”

“Who the hell’s ‘We’?”

The man just went on smiling. “No matter what we do, trouble always seems to find us, or we seem to find it. So, we’ll just pay our tab and be on our way.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a leather coin purse of some kind. He undid the clasp and took out two five dollar bills and laid them on the bar, smoothing them out very carefully and deliberately.

“Look,” Sam began.

“There’s no need for any apologies.” He held up a palm. “We completely understand. These things happen.” He got to his feet and took a trench coat off the stool beside his own, and he turned and left.

As Sam cleared away his leftover drink, he noticed there were no fingerprints or lip marks on the glass. Misty, who had finished her set, slid into Trina’s old spot and said, “Hey, who was that guy? I saw him earlier.”

“I don’t know,” said Sam. “Some guy who kept referring to himself as ‘we’.”

Misty laughed. “That’s weird. Was he British or something?”

“I don’t know. He had a little bit of an accent, but I couldn’t tell you what it was.”

“Well, he was skeevy-looking. I’m glad he left.”


Once the shift was over, and after the floor had been swept and all the glasses and barkeeping materials had been put away, Sam and Misty, who’d hung around, waiting for him to finish cleaning up, went out into the deep and bitter-cold night and locked up The Ember. A cloudcover had moved in during the hours they’d been inside, and its underside, illuminated by the lights of downtown Reno, was the color of a rotten peach: a grey and muted orange. They got into Misty’s Toyota and drove to her apartment, which was in a complex near Meadowood Mall. As she drove, Misty took Sam’s hand and slid it between her legs.

“Your fingers are cold,” she said. “Like ice cubes.”

They parked the car and clamored up the stairs and as soon as they were inside, Misty was tearing at his clothes and kissing at him with desperate, almost ravenous urgency.

“Jesus! Just one second,” he said, nudging her away. “I gotta take a leak first.”

He went and did his business, and then he found her lying on the bed, naked, on her stomach, so that he could see the nest-like, rose-thorn tattoo on her lower back. He moved over to the side of the bed and let her undo his belt and slide down his pants, and then he peeled off his shirt, lay down on the bed, and let her climb on top.

She was wild, as she typically was, but when it was over, she wanted to nestle in close to his side. He leaned down and poked his nose into her hair. It was a combination of AquaNet, sweat, shampoo, and stale tobacco smoke. “Do I stink?” she said.

“No, not really. You just smell like you’ve been working, that’s all.”

“I’ll get up and get in the shower in a second. I just want to lay here for now.”

“That’s fine.”

They stayed there for a while, not saying anything. Sam thought about getting up to get a cigarette.

“Are you thinking about anything?” she said.

“No. Not really. Why?”

“Just asking. I just wonder what goes on in your head sometimes.”

He laughed a little. “Yeah, me too. Maybe too much. Maybe not enough.”

“You poor guy.”

“Actually I was thinking about earlier today. I wasn’t doing anything particular, wasn’t expecting anybody over or anything, and then there’s this knock at the door. I open it up and it’s these two missionaries. These Mormon missionaries.”

Misty breathed in and out in long, slow, smooth waves. She didn’t stir.

“I let them in and they told me all about their church, about how God appeared to this guy Joseph Smith. They said that Jesus came to America. They gave me a free copy of The Book of Mormon.”

“I’m surprised that you let them in. I would have just shut the door on them.”

“Normally, that’s what I would have done, too. But I let them in for some reason.”

“You know, there’s a lot of Mormons where I’m from. A bunch of the guys I went to high school with went off on Mormon missions. A bunch of stuck up, judgmental pieces of ____.”

“These two missionaries didn’t seem stuck-up to me.”

“I’m just telling you what my own personal experience was,” she said.

“All right then.”

She laid there a moment longer and then sat up and stretched. “You’re not seriously thinking about turning Mormon, are you?”

“No, that’s not what I said. Jesus. I guess this is what I get for telling you what I was thinking about.”

“Yeah, right,” she said. “You’re gonna go and get all religious on me. You’re going to start going to church, and you’re going to turn all uptight. You’re going to be Little Sammy Boy, with your little cute haircut, all squeaky clean. Yep. That’s sounds like just your cup of tea.” She put her hand in his lap and gave him a gentle squeeze.

“Come on,” he said, grinning. And then: “Don’t you ever thought about that kind of stuff?”

“What stuff? Church?”

“You know—God, heaven, hell, that sort of thing.”

She shrugged. “I dunno. I always figured that life was too short to be worried about that ____. Religious people are boring.” She had shifted over to the opposite side of the bed and now she lit two cigarettes and passed one to Sam.

He took a drag and decided not to tell her that he’d agreed to meet with the missionaries a second time.

“They’re judgmental, too,” she said, and he didn’t see any point in arguing.

“Is this really all there is?” He drew a circle in the air with his cigarette.

“What do you mean by ‘this’?” she said. “Me? Us?”

“No, I mean more than that. But it doesn’t matter. I should of just kept my ____’ mouth shut.”

“Jesus Christ, you’re a judgmental prick already.”

He pushed himself up into a sitting position and settled back against the pillow. “I’m not judging you. I’m just saying that I wish there were a little more to whatever it is we’re doing here.”

She took the cigarette out of her mouth and leaned down, her breasts large and immobile near his face, and touched his arm. “Well I am happy,” she said. “Maybe if you put a little more effort into me and you, things would seem a little more important to you.”

He stared at her. A red splotchiness was developing along the sides of her neck. “You’re probably right,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t mean that. You’re just saying that so I won’t be mad.”

“No, really. I mean it. Come here.” He scooted closer and looped his arm around her and pulled her in close. “I don’t mean anything.”

“I know you don’t,” she said, and she kissed him on the cheek and away. “I’m going to go take a shower,” she said.

“Okay. Maybe I’ll fix us something to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

He watched her naked buttocks as she walked away. She was beautiful, it was true, and he did genuinely care about her on some level, but as he lay there finishing his cigarette, he wondered how much of a future they had together. And then he thought again of the missionaries and what they’d told him. About how very different their lives must be from his own. Of course Misty hated them: at heart she would always be a party girl. Sure she would settle down at some point, whether by choice or as a matter of course, but Sam suspected that she would never be interested in contemplating the sorts of things he’d been thinking about. And so he lay there, blowing smoke out of his lungs and watching it swirl like mist around the bell-shaped ceiling light. His hands and arms, he noticed, were covered in tiny sparkles which had rubbed off of Misty’s skin.


In the next installment: the missionaries return....

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 10:53 am 
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I went to college in Reno and love reading a story set in places I know. I lived in an apartment near Meadowood Mall right before I got married and then moved to a place just off Wells Ave.

Can't wait to see where the story goes!

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 11:36 am 
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Bob,

Why don't you publish? I'd straight up by anything by you on Kindle/Amazon, whatever. You're an author, my friend.

- Doc


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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2017 10:58 am 
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- THREE -


When Sam drove back from Misty’s apartment in Reno, his truck began to make a strange knocking noise, and when he tried later to start it, the engine wouldn’t turn over. He wound up having to call Misty to take him to work. The next day he had Mike come down to try and give him a jump, and then the two of them tinkered under the hood until they gave up and decided that it would have to go to the shop. So, Sam was essentially marooned in his house at the edge of town. Misty offered to let him stay at her place, but he told her that he needed a little space, and though she sighed in exasperation, she told him she understood and that the offer still stood. He didn’t care, though. More and more, his mind was occupied with thoughts about Mormonism, and so he was anticipating the missionaries’ next visit.

Their second arrival happened in precisely the same way it had happened before: they knocked, Sam answered, and there they stood, wearing what seemed to be the very same clothes: suit jackets, ties, white shirts, and shining black nametags. Parked a bit off in the distance were two bicycles.

“Come on in, guys.” He said, and they both enthusiastically shook his hand.

He was glad to see them. Since they’d last visited, he’d made several more attempts at praying, and he continued to spend time reading the Book of Mormon. He tried to devote at least half an hour every day to making his way through the often dense text. Every time he read it, he felt a sense of calmness, almost like he was floating. Though he didn’t understand everything the book said—its archaic language and strange names often seemed foreign to him—throughout all the reading, Sam felt unaccountably that there was at base something fundamentally true about the Book of Mormon. He couldn’t explain how or why he felt this way.

The two young Elders walked into the living room and sat down.

“It’s so good to see you again, Mr. Younger,” said Elder Miller.

“It’s great to see you guys, too. And you can just call me Sam.”

“Okay, Sam.”

They sat down on the couch, both cradling their scriptures in their laps. “Well,” said Elder Miller, “Do you mind if we open up with a prayer?”

“Go for it,” said Sam. He watched them both with extra care this time in order to see how they did it. They folded their arms across their chests and shut their eyes and lowered their heads till their chins were resting on their chests. Elder Miller seemed to have moved into a state of deeper concentration, and his voice took on a more sonorous tone.

“Dear Father in Heaven,” he began, “we come before thee this afternoon to thank thee for all that thou hast given us. We thank thee for leading us to Sam, and we’re so grateful for his kindness in allowing us into his home. Father, we pray that we will have a clearness of thinking this afternoon and that our hearts will be open to the spirit. We pray that thou will bless us with the power to discern that which is truthful, and that which is false, and we pray that Brother Younger’s heart will be open to the promptings of the spirit. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”

“Amen,” chimed Elder Cummings, and Sam added one as well.

The two missionaries both looked up at him and smiled.

“So,” said Elder Cummings, his smile spread wide on his chubby face, “have you been reading the Book of Mormon?”

“I have.”

“It’s really something, isn’t it?”

He thought about that. “Yeah, it is,” he said at last. “And I never thought I’d be saying something like that. Back when I was—” he was about to say, “in prison,” but he caught himself. “Back when I used to hear these guys carrying on about the Jesus, or the Lord’s word, or the Bible, or any of that stuff, I always thought they were crazy.”

The two Elders glanced briefly at each other and smiled, passing along some kind of private acknowledgment. “Well,” said Elder Miller. “Last time we told you some of the basics about the Church, and so we’d like to continue with that discussion.”

“Okay.”

“Today we want to talk about our Heavenly Father’s plan of salvation.” He knitted his fingers together and leaned forward and rested his forearms on his knees. “Each of us has the chance to move beyond this world,” said Elder Miller, staring out at him intently. “You see, part of the plan is that each of us has to live a mortal life as a kind of test. But we’re all promised eternal life. This is the result of Jesus having died for all of us. Does that make sense?”

Sam nodded, and Elder Miller went on: “We still have to work and fulfill the terms of Heavenly Father’s plan in order to achieve exaltation, though. We believe in being saved through ordinances.”

Elder Cummings was nodding, and he added, “There are three degrees of heaven. Each of them is pretty great—greater than life on earth, but only the truly righteous and obedient will make it to the highest kingdom.”

“That’s the Celestial Kingdom.”

“What are the other kingdoms?” Sam asked.

“The Telestial and the Terrestrial Kingdoms. The Celestial Kingdom is the very highest degree of glory. The Terrestrial Kingdom is for people who have lived righteously, but who didn’t fulfill all the terms of God’s plan. And the Telestial Kingdom is for those who committed bad sins, like murder.”

“Oh, okay.” Sam frowned. Did this mean that he would be relegated to the lowest kingdom? “I think I understand what you’re saying.”

“Don’t worry! I mean, I’m sure you haven’t murdered anyone, right?”

“No, no. No murder here,” he said.

“Well, then, you’re fine! And besides, if you were to get baptized into the Church, all of your sins would be washed away. It’s like a totally new start.”

“Huh. Okay. I got to admit that this is a little confusing.”

“It’s okay. You don’t have to understand every last little thing at this point,” said Elder Miller. “The main thing is: Do you understand what happens to us after we die?”

“As I understand it, we go to some kind of afterlife.”

“That’s right,” said Elder Cummings. He was pointing at Sam and nodding his head, like a teacher expressing approval for a student. “That’s exactly right.”

“The important thing to remember is that, if you’re righteous, you’ll be resurrected, just like Jesus was, and your spirit will be reunited with an eternal, glorified version of your body.” Elder Miller glanced up into one of the corners of the room. “You know,” he said, touching himself over his heart, “it always really gets to me, to think about Jesus’ sacrifice for us.” The familiar tremor came into his voice: “Sorry,” he said. “I just get kind of emotional about it, it’s just so wonderful. He died, so that we could live on after death, and that’s just…”

“It’s amazing, is what it is,” said Elder Cummings. “What you need to know, Sam, is that there are some obstacles in the way of achieving Heavenly Father’s plan.” A cold shimmer came over his face. “Basically, it all comes down to something pretty simple. What it comes down to is a battle between good and evil. Each of us has our own free agency, and so we can choose to do good or evil. And that’s basically what our mortal lives are about. You see, we’re being tested by Heavenly Father. He’s testing us to see how we’ll act. Each of us is given a certain set of challenges, in order to see how we’ll react, and in order to see whether we choose to do good or evil. And the thing is, all of us will sin,” said Elder Cummings. He had a bit of a double chin which was emphasized as he leaned forward. There was a very slight darkness beneath his eyes, and his voice had lowered to a soft hum. “We can’t help it. We’re human beings, after all, and none of us is perfect. At least not in this life. But, we can be forgiven for our sins if we repent. Heavenly Father will forgive us for our mistakes. It was Jesus’ sacrifice for us that allows this to happen.”

“I’m still confused,” said Sam, shaking his head. “Some parts of this I get. Jesus died on the cross so that we can all have eternal life. Is that right?”

“Yeah—that’s right. You’ve got it,” said Elder Miller.

“And each of us will receive eternal life, no matter what.”

“Yeah, you’ve got it.”

“So, why do we need to worry about sin, then?”

Elder Miller grinned. “Boy, Sam, if only every investigator was so on top of these basic gospel principles as you.” He and Cummings chuckled.

Sam smiled at this, though he didn’t know why. It seemed almost like they were laughing at him.

“The answer,” Miller continued, “goes back to what we said earlier about exaltation, and the different levels of heaven. Plus, you’ll just plain be happier if you keep the commandments. I know that I always feel a little bit lighter in my step when I do the right things. Heavenly Father blesses us when we’re obedient to his will. If you sin, you’re just going to bring misery down on yourself. You’ll feel guilty. You’ll feel depressed. You’ll feel alone. But if you genuinely ask Heavenly Father to forgive you for your sins, you’ll be forgiven. The main goal, in achieving eternal exaltation, is to live your life following the example of Jesus.”

“But obviously, none of us can live as good a life as Jesus lived. So, that’s why we have repentance.”

“This is an absolutely a key part of the gospel,” said Elder Miller. “One of the most important things. Reading the scriptures, keeping the Sabbath holy, obeying the Word of Wisdom, all those things are important, key parts of the gospel, too. But the main point we’re trying to get acrost to you is about repentance.”

“What’s the Word of Wisdom?”

Elder Cummings tilted his head to the side, his lips curling at the corner of his mouth. “The Word of Wisdom is kind of a general guideline that was given to Joseph Smith by revelation. Basically, it just tells you to avoid unhealthy substances, like tobacco and caffeine.”

“Do you drink tea or coffee or use tobacco?” asked Elder Miller, smirking slightly.

“Yeah, of course I do. And I’ve smoked since I was a kid, though to tell you the truth, I’ve been thinking a lot about quitting lately. But coffee? Is that really forbidden in the Mormon Church?”

“In the LDS Church,” Elder Miller corrected. “And yeah, that’s really something you’d want to try and give up. But we can work on it!”

“It’s basically just good, healthy advice,” added Elder Cummings. “All that stuff is bad for you. The caffeine can’t be good for your heart. I’ve known people who drank too much coffee and they said it felt like their heart was going to explode out of their chest!” He had tucked his hand beneath the left lapel of his jacket, and his eyes were wide.

Sam laughed. “Well, okay,” he said, “I guess Heavenly Father probably knows better than I do.” It tasted strange coming out of his mouth, saying “Heavenly Father.”

“Yes! That’s exactly right,” said Elder Miller. “In the end, each of us has to make sacrifices. It’s all part of Heavenly Father’s plan. We each have to face our own set of challenges.”

“That makes sense.”

Elder Miller shrugged his shoulders a bit, and looked over at Cummings. Then he turned his thin, rather wolfish face back to Sam and said, “Well, there’s just one thing more to cover for today. We actually touched on it a bit before. And that’s baptism.” He coughed into his fist, and then he went on. “What I’d like to do is to invite you to think about getting baptized and becoming a member of the Church. We’d like you to continue praying and reading the Book of Mormon, and to consider getting baptized.”

“Tell me more about how it works,” said Sam.

“Well, in order to fulfill Heavenly Father’s plan, there are certain ordinances—certain ceremonies—that have to be performed. These things have to happen, and they have to be done by someone with the right authority. Among these ordinances is baptism by immersion, and what this does is it washes away all your sins. You get a totally clean slate after that.”

“Normally,” interrupted Elder Cummings, “what happens, if you’re a member of the Church, is that you get baptized when you’re eight years old. But, the main point is that everyone has to be baptized in order to achieve true exaltation. This is an important step in bringing us closer to Heavenly Father. It’s part of his plan.”

“And this is what inducts you into the Church?” asked Sam. “After you get baptized, you’re officially a member of the LDS Church?”

“Yep, that’s right.”

“I see.” He thought about all of it for a moment, and it was clear they were waiting for him to respond. “Well, I’m not sure if I’m ready for that quite yet,” he said.

Elder Miller held up his hands: “Oh, no, no! We don’t want you to feel rushed at all. This is an important decision, after all. One of the most important decisions you’ll ever make in your life.”

Sam could not detect any irony in Elder Miller’s expression.

“We definitely don’t want to you agree to get baptized until you’re ready.”

“All right,” said Sam. “I kind of wanted to get further along in this first anyways.” He tapped the Book of Mormon which was sitting on the table beside him.

“That’s great,” said Elder Miller. He coughed into his fist again and cleared his throat. “In the meantime,” he said, “we’d like to invite you to come to church with us this Sunday. Would that be all right?”

“Yeah, that’d be terrific. I’d like to learn more about all of this,” he said. “You guys might need to give me a ride, though.”

“I’m sure we can arrange that,” they said, and they stood up to depart. Elder Miller held out his hand: “Well, thanks again—so much—Brother Younger. Keep on reading that Book of Mormon, and keep praying about it, and we’ll be back to see you on Sunday morning, at 9 o’clock.”

“Sounds good,” said Sam, and he shook both their hands and they were out the door. Through the curtained window beside the door, he watched them go. Miller gave Cummings a playful shove as they made their way down the dirt path. When he had been their age, he had been smoking marijuana, drinking beer, listening to heavy metal cassette tapes, getting into fights, and wishing that his life was something other than it was. Things had scarcely changed since then, and he found himself wishing that his life was more like theirs: clean, polished, earnest, and with clear direction. Looking forward to a clean and honest future, with a pretty wife and three or four children. He watched them climb on their bicycles and pedal away, and then he let the curtain fall.

There was little to do. He could watch television, but didn’t much feel like it, and so he wandered into the kitchen, where he saw the coffee pot and remembered what they’d said about the Word of Wisdom and having to give up caffeine and cigarettes. Sam wondered how hard it would be and considered throwing all of it away on the spot. He stood looking over at the trash can near the sink, wishing in a sense that he could peel off his skin and throw it away, too. He felt half-born, like he was moving out of some stale womb and into a new state of being. It was like straddling a doorjamb. At least, he thought, Sunday wasn’t very far off.

He went back into the living room and sat down in his chair and began reading the Book of Mormon. After a few minutes he found that he wasn’t retaining anything, and he felt almost as if he were about to nod off. In the background he could hear the electric hum of the refrigerator, and then, almost imperceptibly, he heard a very small, quiet, childlike voice: Get down on your knees and ask if it’s true. At first he wondered if it has simply been in his head, though it clearly wasn’t the normal voice that narrated his thoughts. It was something else. He set the Book of Mormon down on the end table and he got down on his knees, closed his eyes, folded his hands in his lap, and he began to pray.

“I just want to know if it’s true,” he said softly. “Just tell me whether it’s true or not.” He opened his eyes and sat there, drawing in long, measured breaths. His body was swaying almost imperceptibly and he was aware of the warmth of his own clasped hands. Everything was still, and he looked around the living room. It looked exactly the same as it always did, with everything in its usual place, and as Sam knelt there on the carpet, with his shoulders stooped forward and his neck bowed slightly, something came over him. It was something that he would never be able to explain—not in his entire life—and he would never forget it. Without warning, a tidal wave of sensation came crashing over him, and he began to cry. Not to sob, or to wail in grief or pain, but to weep: the tears poured from his eyes and ran down his cheeks. He felt as if he was being torn apart by emotion—by joy and by a tremendous sense of wonder. What’s wrong with you? he asked, and he laughed at himself, at what he imagined he looked like: a big, hulking, tattooed man kneeling on the shaggy brown carpet of his living room, crying for no apparent reason. He unlaced his hands and held them up and looked at them, and they were shaking. He let them fall back to the floor and he realized that the missionaries had been right. They had told him the truth. He’d done as they asked, and his prayers had been answered.

He used the sleeve of his t-shirt to dry the tears on his face, and he climbed to his feet to go get a Kleenex so he could blow his nose. He felt both drained and elated. He went into the bathroom and looked at his face in the mirror. His eyes were reddened from crying and his cheeks were flushed. Under any other circumstance, he would have said that he looked pathetic. He couldn’t remember the last time he had cried, and yet he didn’t quite feel ashamed about this. He felt instead as if a light had entered his body, and more than anything he wanted to protect the sense of completeness it gave him. Standing there staring into the mirror, his eyes were drawn to the edge of the tattoo that showed beneath the edge of his shirtsleeve, and he began to edge his way back to the world. It wouldn’t be much longer before he would have to get ready for work, and he didn’t want to go. It would be yet another night of drunks, strippers’ melodrama, cigarette stink, and the general desperation of people who had given up on life.

“What should I do?” he asked. He half expected the small voice to return and tell him, but it didn’t, and it didn’t need to. He knew with a special, sacred clarity that he no longer wanted the life that he’d been living: he was through with his job at the strip club, he was through with cigarettes, with alcohol and drugs, with tattoos, and with Misty. All of it would have to go. During his time in prison, the counselors had often spoke of turning over a new leaf, of setting different kinds of goals, and of creating new opportunities, and Sam had always dismissed this advice. Now things were different, though. He now saw that there could be change, provided that a person simply had faith. He made up his mind that, the next time he saw them, he would tell the missionaries that he wanted to be baptized.

In spite of all his excitement, though, there was a small part of his mind that urged him to be more cautious, but he filed this away for some other time. What if they refused to allow a person like him into the Church? But now wasn’t the time to think about such things. Now was the time to start over, and to make a real and legitimate change, once and for all.


Next: a difficult confrontation....

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Tue Jan 17, 2017 10:15 am 
Star B
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- FOUR -

That night, Misty did not show up for her shift at The Ember. When Sid came around to ask about her, Sam shrugged his shoulders.

“I don’t know where she is,” he said. “I haven’t seen or heard from her in a couple of days.”

“You two have a fight or something?” asked Sid, coughing into his red silk handkerchief.

Sam again shrugged his shoulders, and went back to tending the bar. It was a slow night. He had managed to hitch a ride into work with Delilah P., who also lived in Lahontan, over in the tree streets subdivision near the elementary school. On the ride out, she explained every last character detail and plot twist in some soap opera that she watched compulsively. The only thing that was striking about her account was the apparent level of earnestness she had invested in the show. It was as if she didn’t understand that the people were fictional characters; she seemed to think that their lives and dramas were worthy of legitimate sympathy and respect. Then again, Sam knew (he had slept with her a couple of times a while back) that she had a deep, almost alarming sensitive streak, so it really wasn’t that much of a surprise.

At the club, he kept pouring fingers of Black Velvet for a low-grade alcoholic regular who worked as a slot machine repairman at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. Later, Sam got to take a break from serving beer and straight-up hard stuff when he shook martinis for a hippie-looking couple who said they were from Oregon. The night took on a woozy, fogged-over quality, and Sam felt agitated by his nicotine cravings, but he put his head down and did his best to ignore the gnawing. He kept drinking cranberry juice, since he’d heard that it helped to flush out the system.

At around midnight, Trina R. came teetering over on her heels with a dour look on her almost clownishly made-up face. Sam had never understood why she caked it on so heavily. She was a little worn and weathered underneath all of it, but at base, without the façade, she looked like the sturdy country girl she once had been. She sat down on a bar stool and waited for Sam to come over.

“Misty needs you to get in touch with her,” she said, leaning in.

“Why? What’s up?”

“I don’t want to say too much here, you know? Like, it’s just not the right place to be talking about this kind of thing? But I talked to Sid, and so he knows why she’s out. You just need to go and talk to her.”

“Okay, I will. Did she say for me to stop by her place tonight?”

“No, she needs to rest up tonight. Just call her tomorrow and talk to her. Okay?”

“Well, Jesus, is she okay? Is something wrong with her?”

Trina R.’s eyes shot back and forth and she nodded her head in the direction of a couple of patrons: Not here.

“All right,” he said. “I can get a ride over there tonight if I have to.”

“It’ll be okay if you just get in touch with her tomorrow.”

Trina smiled at him and patted him on the hand, and then she asked him for a lime and soda water, and he moved away to make it, wondering what on earth was going on. Misty had once admitted that she had attempted suicide when she was younger, and Sam hoped that this wasn’t a redux of that. And it had to be something along those lines, otherwise Trina would have simply told him what was up.

The next day when he got up at around 1:00, Sam called Misty, but she didn’t answer. He went about his routine, showering and having breakfast, and he cheated and smoked a cigarette. Then he tried calling her again, and she answered. Her voice was hoarse and she sounded drunk or drugged, which was more or less what Sam had been expecting.

“Hey, you,” she said.

“Hi.” He listened for a moment, wondering what to say. “Missed you at work last night.”

“Yeah, I know. I had a long day and was feeling kind of sick. I feel better today, though. Hungry. Can you come and get me and take me to breakfast?”

“Yeah, I can do that. I’ll have to go get my car out of the shop, though. Can’t you maybe drive out here? We could go to McGregor's.”

“I don’t really feel like driving,” she said. It sounded like she might start crying.

“Well, all right. I can call around and see if someone can drive me over to the shop. Otherwise I guess I could just walk.”

“Would you? I just really—” her voice cracked. “I just really need to see you.”

“Do you not want to tell me what’s up? Trina said you needed to talk to me.”

“Not over the phone,” she said.

“All right. I guess I’ll be over there ASAP. Give me an hour or so.”

“Okay.”

They hung up and Sam stood there wondering what new drama Misty was about to unveil, though by now he had a guess, and it wasn’t pretty. He called over to the shop, to check on his truck, and the mechanic told him that it was ready to go. They’d replaced the alternator and he could pick it up any time before 5:00. He picked up the phone again and dialed the number of Kevin, a guy he’d met by way of Mike. He wanted to know if Kevin, who owed him a favor after he’d helped him move into an apartment near the new golf course, could give him a lift. Nobody answered, though, so Sam pulled on his coat, got his wallet and keys, and headed out the door.

Outside, it was cold and dry, and the sky was a light shade of bluish grey. Sam walked down the quiet street in his neighborhood, past the little houses with their dead lawns and spidery, leafless trees. At the edge of the subdivision was an empty irrigation ditch. Sam slipped a little on the muddy slope as he crossed. There was a gusty, intermittent wind that was blowing down out of the mountains, and it numbed his nose and cheeks. Sam stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat, and he went through an empty, sagebrush-strewn field, and he stepped through the railroad tracks that ran parallel to Main Street, and then he walked the rest of the way along the road, down to the repair shop. His truck was sitting parked right alongside the main garage. He went into the office and paid with a check. The guy behind the counter was young—maybe 19 or 20. He was wearing a chewed-up ballcap with some kind of rodeo logo on it, and he had on a big, silver belt buckle. Sam thanked him when he handed over the keys.

He turned on the radio as he drove to Reno, watching the light play off the red and purple walls of the canyon beside the road. He really wanted to smoke a cigarette, but he fought off the urge. When he came around the bend into Sparks, the sun was shining down in distinct columns of light that broke through the thin clouds. Sam could actually see the beams of light as they shone down on the city.

When he arrived at Misty’s apartment, he knocked on the door and waited. He wondered if she was taking a nap, and then she opened the door. She had obviously just gotten out of the shower and was struggling to pull herself together. Her eyes were bloodshot, and her hair, tied back in a bulky pony tail, was still wet. She was wearing jeans and a Wolf Pack sweatshirt. She had on no makeup. She seemed to sag as she stood there in front of him, and he shut the door and held out his arms and she fell into them.

“Oh, I missed you,” she said.

“Hey, there,” he said, cupping the back of her damp head as she snuggled her face into his chest. “Jesus,” he said. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she said. “I’m just glad to see you. And I’m freaking starving. Can we go to Denny’s?”

“Yeah, sure. No problem,” he said. He waited for her to lock the door of her apartment and then they went down to the truck. As they drove, she asked a series of rapid-fire questions: about work last night, about his truck, about the latest news, about the weather. It was as if she was trying to keep her mind occupied, or else she wanted to prevent him from asking any questions, and so he didn’t. Instead he went ahead and told her that he’d met with the missionaries again, and that he’d agreed to attend church with them this Sunday. When he said this, Misty went silent and stared out the passenger-side window.

“Is there something wrong with that?” he asked. “I was halfway thinking that maybe you might like to go, too.”

“No,” she said after a while. “You go on ahead. If you want to become a Mormon, if that’s what’s going to make you happy, you go right ahead and do it. I won’t stop you.”

They pulled into the Denny’s parking lot and Sam noticed Misty wince slightly as she hopped out of the truck. He went around to help her and to make sure she didn’t slip on any ice.

Inside, the waitress tried to sit them at a central table, but Misty insisted that they be given a booth near the back corner. Sam took off his coat and tossed it on the seat and watched Misty ease herself gingerly into the booth, and then he sat and looked at the menu.

“Do you think I should get breakfast, or a burger?” Misty said.

“I think you should get whatever is going to make you feel better.”

“Anything will make me feel better,” she muttered. “God, I’m starving.”

The waitress came back and they put in their orders and when Sam looked across the table at Misty, he thought she looked pale and ghost-like.

“So, what is it that appeals to you about the Mormon Church?” she said.

He wondered if he should tell her about what had happened to him yesterday after the missionaries had left, but he knew she wouldn’t understand. In fact, the likelihood was that she would laugh at him and think that he was stupid and weak for breaking down like that.

“Well, I don’t know,” he began. “The missionaries, for one thing. I kind of wish I’d done something like that when I was that age—something with direction, you know?”

“What, robbing people and sleeping around isn’t a real direction?” she was grinning behind her straw.

“Ha ha. Very funny,” he said. “But seriously, I just think it would give me some more direction in my life. And there’s something else, too.”

“What? That God came and talked to you?”

Just then, the waitress came with their plates of food, and they both immediately dug in. Misty cut up her pancake with her fork and sluiced it with butter and syrup.

“Mmmm. So good,” she said.

After a couple of minutes, Sam tried to pick the conversation back up: “Do you really want to know?”

“Do I really want to know what? Whether God came and talked to you?” She laughed, and there was something nervous and shaky about her mannerisms.

“No, that’s not what I meant,” he said. “But, it doesn’t matter. I’m going to go to church this Sunday, and keep looking into it. If I decide it’s not for me, then so be it. But I’m keeping an open mind about it and that’s that.” He dipped a fry into ketchup and ate it. “So, now it’s your turn,” he said.

She wiped her mouth with her napkin, and with an air that seemed almost defiant, she glanced up towards the pebbly, grease-and-smoke-stained ceiling and said, “I had an abortion.” Her eyes settled on him and watched for his reaction.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” said Misty, a half smile on her face.

“I don’t know what to say,” he said.

“Tsshhh. Well, that’s pretty ____ fitting, isn’t it?” She lowered her voice, as if she were trying to do an impression of a dumb jock: “I doh know whut to say. Really? Seriously, Sam? Is that all you’ve got for me here?”

“Well, what the hell do you want me to say? You just drop a ____ bomb on me like that. I mean, why didn’t you tell me?”

“Tell you what?”

“What do you mean, “Tell you what?” Why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant? Furthermore, how did you even get pregnant in the first place? I mean, what the ____, are you not getting your shots anymore? What the hell?”

“Oh, yeah, sure: just try and lay all the blame on me. It’s not like you had any control over your dick or anything, is it?”

“Jesus Christ, Misty! The least you could’ve done was ____ told me!”

“You would have just tried to talk me out of it.”

“Yeah, no ____ I would’ve tried to talk you out of it, what do you expect? My God, Misty, what kind of a….”

“What kind of a what? Go ahead, Sam, Mr. Big Man. Go ahead and say it. Go ahead and say exactly what you think I am, Mr. Big Old Meathead tough guy. Grow a pair of balls and say it.”

“I never should have drove out here. Hell, I never should of—”

“Oh, that’s right. Now look at you, you little ____.” She was still half smiling, sitting comfortably self-possessed now across the table, coiled up like a cobra.

“That’s e-nough,” said Sam. He was practically growling, and in a brief moment of clarity, he realized that they’d raised their voices by one too many decibels. Out of the corner, a guy with a fat gut, a yellow collared shirt, a loosened tie, a grey mustache and a grey comb-over was striding over. He tugged on the legs of his slacks so that he could squat down beside the table.

“Look, folks, this is a family establishment,” he said,” and so I’m either gonna have to ask you to keep it down and keep it PG, or else I’m going to have to throw you two outta here.”

Sam shot back: “Piss off, would you?”

The manager, whose brown nametag said, “Rick,” laid his hand on Sam’s shoulder, and that was the end of it. He grabbed Rick by the wrist and twisted his arm around. Then he laid his hand upside Rick’s face and shoved the man backwards into a nearby table, knocking over a glass of ice water. There were gasps from other diners, and the silverware and syrup holders on the table rattled.

From back near the counter, someone was saying, “Call the cops. Just go call the cops.” Off in a separate corner, a child was crying. Sam stood over Rick, who was holding his arm up to shield face. The guy’s shirt was soaked through from the ice water and his pink flesh showed through the wet fabric. Sam again felt a hand on his shoulder and he spun around to face Misty.

“You stay away from me. I don’t want anything to do with you. You hear me? Nothing. Don’t call me, don’t talk to me, don’t look at me. You leave me the hell alone.” She recoiled from him, shrinking away, and he felt bad as he watched her sinking backwards. He grabbed his coat off the booth seat, and hustled for the door. Near the cash register, a couple of the cooks, still wearing their aprons, had come out to see what was going on, but they backed away as soon as they saw him. Even in his anger, there was a part of him that felt badly about leaving Misty to find her own way home, but he’d had more than enough of her games and manipulation. He turned the key in the ignition and drove off.

When he arrived home, some forty-five minutes later, he was still angry. Ever since he had been a teenager, he’d had a penchant for getting entangled with messed-up women, and a part of him still wondered whether or not Misty had been telling the whole truth. Only Misty knew for sure what was going on, and she would never cough up a real answer—that was the point. With her, as with so many of the women in Sam’s life over the years, the point was simply to set up one escapade after the next. Sometimes the outbursts were silly, sometimes they were intensely worrisome. Sam felt rung out and exhausted, and he had the evil sensation of actually feeling that, if Misty had been telling the truth, he was glad, since it meant that he didn’t have to deal with her anymore. Except at work. There would be no way to avoid her at the club. Maybe he could talk Sid into firing her.

He stared dumbly at the television set, and his eyes drifted down to the Book of Mormon that was on the endtable. He picked it up and thumbed through it, and considered asking God what he should do. That’s what the missionaries would have advised him to do, isn’t it? He set the book aside and knelt down on the floor and prayed, and as the words escaped his lips, he felt his anger subsiding, and before long, a sense of calmness radiated through his body. Once more, it seemed, he had been given a clear message about what to do. He felt like he had purpose and direction.

The next day, he put in his two weeks notice at the club.


....Next time: On surviving a car crash....

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Last edited by Bob Bobberson on Sun Jan 22, 2017 12:46 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 10:33 am 
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Friendly tip: If you follow Brother Oberson on the Twitter, he gives you insights and updates on his great and dreadful work.

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 12:44 pm 
Star B
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- FIVE -

SCENE ONE

Near midnight, along Highway 93, just north of Pioche, beside the Utah border. Very cold, with a piercing banshee of a wind blowing down out of the Schell Creek range. A green Ford pickup, its high beams glaring, weaves drunkenly across the dotted center dividing line, and then over onto the shoulder. Behind the wheel sits Frank Woodburn.

FRANK [to no one in particular]:
Blacker than a hatful of assholes out there. Wouldn’t want to be walkin out in that stuff. [He burps loudly and wipes at his nose with the back of his hand. It’s clear that he’s been drinking.]

There are tiny, icy flakes of snow that come rushing in towards the windshield. They swarm like insects in the light of the high beams, and Frank is entranced by the sight. He leans forward, squinting into the cold night. In the corner of his vision he sees a WELL-DRESSED MAN walking in the middle of the road.

FRANK [flailing at the steering wheel]: Oh my God!

There is a loud, sickening THWOMP as the Well Dressed Man’s body strikes the front of the truck and he goes flying up the hood and into the windshield, which immediately crumples into a spider-webbed mess. The truck’s tires SQUEAL as Frank slams on the brakes. When the truck comes to a stop, Frank sits there panting. Now that the windshield has been cracked, Frank’s breath is visible in the form of steamy gouts that come out of his nose and mouth.

FRANK: Jesus, what did I do? Oh, lord, oh, lord….

He takes a flashlight from the glove compartment and climbs out of the truck and goes around to get a better look at the Well-Dressed Man, who is lying askew on the pavement. Frank kneels down beside the man, who is wearing a navy blue peacoat, and beneath that, an olive-green three-piece suit.

FRANK: Hey, buddy? Can you hear me? Are you alive? Christ, what in the hell was you doing out here just walkin? At this time a night?

He pulls off his glove and feels on the man’s neck, and then he leans his head down to listen for breathing noises.

FRANK: Hey in there! Can you here me? You’re hurt, but I ain’t gonna just leave you here to freeze to death. So, I’ll get you on over to the clinic.

He gets his arms underneath the Well-Dressed Man’s body and lifts him up.

FRANK: Dang, buddy—you’re as light as a feather!

Frank manages to get the man into the bed of the pickup, and he covers him with a tarp. Then he climbs back into the truck and drives off. He fails to notice that there is no sign of blood, either on his truck or on the pavement.


SCENE TWO

Inside the 24-hour medical clinic—a glowing, fluorescently lit place, smelling of ammonia and medicine, with shiny, well-polished linoleum floors. In the office sits DR. WHITMAN who, like Frank Woodburn, is also drunk at this hour, though in his own mind, this does not prevent Dr. Whitman from being a good physician. He has the radio on, tuned to an AM talk radio station broadcasting out of Los Angeles. Tonight it is a Science Fiction radio program from the 1940s.

DR. WHITMAN [in his mind]: How often does a doctor really need a fully clear mind to deal with the one-in-a-thousand medical problems that befall the robust and healthy citizens of Pioche? Not very often, probably. It only takes so much mental clarity to operate a stethoscope and sphygmomanometer, only so much open-eyed attention to administer a B-vitamin shot. So, each day at 6:00 on the dot (only real alcoholics start drinking any earlier), the first gin and tonic. Pouring from the pebbled bottle of Seagram’s into one of the three tumblers in the bottom drawer of the desk office, put away two cocktails per hour at the most. Normally close up shop at 1 o’clock, head home to sleep it off, and re-open the office at 9 a.m. If anyone needs me in between those hours, it’s generally known that I will need to be dragged out of bed. In twenty-five years of practice here in Lincoln County, it has happened less than a dozen times. Tough cases just wind up getting re-routed to Vegas or St. George anyhow.

There is a tapping noise, and Dr. Whitman puts his tumbler down and twists the volume knob on the radio. He climbs to his feet and wanders down the main hall of the clinic and sees FRANK WOODBURN rapping at the glass. The doctor goes and unlocks the door.

DR. WHITMAN: Frank? What’s the deal? You need a bed to crash on?

FRANK: Well, I didn’t know what to do, Dr. Whitman—I just didn’t know what to do, whether to go get the Sheriff, or to come and see you. What I figured was that the best thing was to come here. Your place is closer, anyways.

Whitman looks Frank up and down: faded blue denim overalls, workboots, puffy thermal vest, orange cap. There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with him, so Dr. Whitman glances at the truck.

DR. WHITMAN: What did you do Frank?

FRANK: I just didn’t see ‘im until it was too late. He was walking right down the ____’ middle of the highway, you know? Who does that? I think maybe he’s an Indian, maybe, or a bum, maybe. I didn’t even see him until it was too late. But he ain’t dead. I checked on that before I brought him over.

DR. WHITMAN: Jesus, Frank—you moved him? You should never move an injured person. For Christ’s sakes. That’s basic first aid, my man.

Dr. Whitman gets his stethoscope out of his coat pocket and he and Frank head out into the cold. They make their way around to the back of the pickup, where the Well-Dressed Man is lying. With the tarp covering him, he looks like a dead body. Dr. Whitman hops up into the bed and begins inspecting the man.

DR. WHITMAN: Well, he’s breathing. There doesn’t seem to be any major breaks or anything, at least not as far as I can tell. How fast were you going when you hit him?

FRANK: Probably about 55. Maybe 60. I don’t know.

DR. WHITMAN: Well, that’s impossible, Frank. Just look at this guy’s clothes. They would have been all torn up if you’d hit him going that fast. For Christ’s sake, Frank, how drunk are you?

FRANK: Well, I do admit that my odometer has been ____ up as of late. But like I said, I don’t know.

DR. WHITMAN: Frank? You run on into the clinic and head just down the hall on the right, okay? There’s a gurney down there, and I want you to go get it. We need to get this guy on in and run some x-rays on him and such.

FRANK: You got it, doc.

Dr. Whitman continues to kneel beside the Well-Dressed Man, listening as best he can with his stethoscope. As he waits, a frigid wind tears down through Lake Valley, blowing the little flakes of ice into Whitman’s thinning hair.

FRANK [wheeling the gurney]: Here you go, doc.

DR. WHITMAN: Okay, come around here. You get his legs, okay? Real gentle now. One…Two…Three!

They get the man onto the gurney and wheel him into the clinic. Inside, the lights gleam off yellow linoleum floors, and the wheels squeak as they turn. Dr. Whitman rolls the man into the x-ray room and flips on the lights. Behind him, Frank hovers in the doorway.

FRANK: I ain’t seen him around here before. Like I said, I think he’s an Indian. A hitchhiker, maybe.

DR. WHITMAN: He doesn’t really look like an Indian. Or a bum. I don’t know any bums as well-dressed as this guy.

Dr. Whtiman leans in to get a closer look at the man beneath the lights. The man’s face is so lacking in markings and so unmottled that it is difficult to tell what age he is, though the doctor figures that he must be in his thirties or thereabouts. The man’s hair is long and feathery and black. Dr. Whitman uses his thumb to lift up the man’s eyelid, and with the small flashlight from his pocket, he looks into the eye. The doctor blinks and crinkles his eyes in frustration: the man’s iris is so black that Whitman can’t make out the border of the pupil.

DR. WHITMAN: That’s a new one for me. Hey, Frank? Get me the pair of scissors from that drawer there, would you, please?

Frank brings over the scissors and hands them to Dr. Whitman, who pushes aside the Well-Dressed Man’s peacoat, undoes his suit vest, and uses the scissors to cut open his shirt.

DR. WHITMAN: Well, I’ll be damned. Look at that. Those look like surgical scars.

He holds the scissors in his right hand and he and Frank stare down at the man’s naked chest. Where his nipples ought to be are two marks: The one on the left shaped like a ‘V,’ and the one on the right like an ‘L.’

FRANK: Is that supposed to be his initials or something?

DR. WHITMAN: Your guess is as good as mine. And hey, look here. Did he have his belly button sewn shut? What the hell is this? You see this, Frank?

FRANK: Maybe it’s some kinda plastic surgery? I guess maybe he didn’t like the way his belly button looked.

Whitman reaches down to run his finger across the raised ridge of the man’s navel.

DR. WHITMAN: Maybe his daddy just cut the umbilical cord a little too close, or something like that.

They stand there looking at it, and then the well-dressed man’s stomach CONTRACTS sharply. The stranger’s eyes snap open, and he sits up, looking frantically around the room. Dr. Whitman jumps backwards and Frank lumbers sideways to the doorway

DR. WHITMAN [holding up his hand]: Take it easy! You’re all right. In fact, you should probably lie back down—

The man blinks, staring at Frank and Dr. Whitman with his unnaturally black, doll-like eyes. He pulls together the cut edges of his shirt and he buttons up his vest and suit jacket.

THE WELL-DRESSED MAN: What have you done to my shirt? Was that really necessary?

DR. WHITMAN: Well, I was only trying to do the examination. And I think that you probably ought to lie down. Let me take a couple of x-rays to make sure nothing’s broken.

THE WELL-DRESSED MAN: I don’t think that will be necessary. [He reaches into his inner jacket pocket and produces a long, pouch-like wallet.] Do I owe you anything? Either of you?

FRANK: Hell no, you don’t owe me ____.

DR. WHITMAN: Really, I’m speechless. I’m amazed that you can move like that.

FRANK: Yeah, you oughtta get a look at my truck.

THE WELL-DRESSED MAN [pointing his finger at Frank]: You ought to drive more carefully. Or, better yet, you need to not drive drunk. You’re liable to kill somebody.

DR. WHITMAN: Do you have a name?

THE WELL-DRESSED MAN [looking up at the ceiling for a moment]: Bob Smith. Pleased to meet you.

They shake hands.

BOB SMITH [smiling, and gesturing for Frank to step aside]: Now, would you mind getting out of my way? I’ve got an appointment in Salt Lake City and I have to be moving along.

DR. WHITMAN: Really, I think you need to stay here.

BOB SMITH: You’ve done more than enough already, doctor. And if I were you, I wouldn’t try to stop me. Good evening now, gentlemen.

He ties the belt of his peacoat shut as Frank steps out of his way. They hear Bob Smith’s shoes squeaking on the linoleum as he leaves. Frank and Dr. Whitman stand there for some time, unsure of what to do.

FRANK: Do you think I should of offered him a ride?

DR. WHITMAN [scratching his head]: Did we just see a ghost?

The sound of the CLOCK on the wall ticks in the silence.

FRANK: I don’t believe in such things as ghosts, Dr. Whitman.

DR. WHITMAN: Do you believe in medical treatment? Because I could use a dose of some medicine right now. In medical terminology it’s known as Ginicus Et Tonicus.

He straightens up his white lab coat and leaves the examination room, with Frank following. Just before the door closes, Frank’s hand slips back into the room and extinguishes the light.

Next: Sam goes to Sacrament Meeting...

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 3:51 pm 
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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Sun Jan 22, 2017 4:13 pm 
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Juggler Vain wrote:
Friendly tip: If you follow Brother Oberson on the Twitter, he gives you insights and updates on his great and dreadful work.

Done.

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2017 10:32 am 
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- SIX -

Sunday. Samuel Younger sat in his living room, wearing a grey collared shirt and a pair of dark, army green, multi-pocketed, rather baggy pants. This was an outfit he’d debated over for some time that morning, as he had virtually no idea what people wore to church on Sundays. Or, rather, he had some vague, Leave it to Beaver-esque notion of how people dressed, but the image was so far removed from the reality of his life that he was unwilling even to attempt it. Plus, his wardrobe was pretty limited. Just as he finished up adjusting his tie, a knock sounded at the door. He went and opened it up to find the missionaries—Elders Cummings and Miller—all bundled up against the cold, waiting for him. Elder Miller was wearing a pair of brown earmuffs, which made his head look even more narrow.

“Hi, guys,” said Sam. “You ready to go?”

“We sure are,” said Elder Miller.

Looking past them, Sam noticed that they’d brought a car. Then, looking closer, he saw that a man was sitting in the front seat. He shut the door behind him, and, exhaling gouts of white breath into the brittle air, he followed the two missionaries over to the hulking blue Buick Le Sabre. As they neared, the man, who had a silver crew cut and horn-rimmed glassed, climbed out of the car. He tugged his hand out of a black leather glove and extended it to Sam.

“Hi, there, Brother Younger. I’m Chuck Gladden, the Bishop of the ward here in town. It’s so wonderful to meet you. These two elders have had such great things to say about you.”

“It’s good to meet you, too,” said Sam.

“Well, we should get going. Wouldn’t be right for the Bishop to be late for sacrament meeting!”

Elder Miller went around to the passenger’s side and held down the seat so that he and Elder Cummings could climb into the back. The car was warm and cozy inside; Bishop Gladden had been running the heater on full-blast.

“Well, we’re just thrilled to have you attend church with us,” he said.

“Boy, we sure are,” chimed Elder Miller.

“Will this be your first time at a sacrament meeting?”

“Yeah, it is,” said Sam. He glanced briefly over at the Bishop’s smooth, closely shaven cheek, and then he turned back to the road. “Hey, thanks for driving clear out here to pick me up,” he said. “You didn’t have to do that. I could have driven myself.”

“Oh, it’s no problem at all. Fellowship is a part of what the Church is all about.”

They drove on, past on the bleak and blasted sage desert until they came into the main part of town. Sam had only been dimly aware that there was an LDS Church meetinghouse in town at all; he’d half wondered if they would be heading to Reno. Bishop Gladden turned off of Main Street, past an insurance office and the little area that housed Howard’s Diner, and towards the park, and then into the parking lot of the church.

The building itself was made of craggy, cream-colored bricks. There was a tall, spike-like steeple on the roof, though there was no cross that Sam could see. And yet, Mormons were Christians, right? Yes; obviously they were. In the Book of Mormon, Sam has learned, Christ appeared to the native peoples of America.

There were only a few cars here and there, and so Bishop Gladden took a spot very near the main, glassed double doors. He shut off the car and everyone climbed climb out. The chill air felt crystalline and glassy, and the morning sunshine had a clear brightness to it. Everything felt cleaner somehow. Sam followed Bishop Gladden into the building as Elder Cummings held the door for him.

Inside, there was an antiseptic aroma to the foyer, but what Sam noticed above all was the music—organ music—which came drifting around the corner. Underfoot, the orange and brown carpet was hard; in one corner was a plain, dark-brown upholstered chair. A man in a navy blue suit was sitting in it, using a phone which hung on the wall nearby. On the pebbly white walls hung pictures of Jesus and, Sam recognized, Joseph Smith. In another corner was a large, potted fern. A few people were milling about, chatting and gradually inching their way towards the other end of the room.

“This way,” said Bishop Gladden. “Let’s head on into the chapel. Sacrament meeting is about to start.”

Sam followed him through the foyer, feeling the gaze of the other church attendees as he walked. Some of them were clearly glancing at his clothes. One woman, a middle-aged lady with curly gray hair, gave him a smile mixed with skeptical curiosity. “Welcome. We’re glad you could join us,” she said.

“Thank you.”

They rounded the corner and passed through a set of opened, heavy wooden doors, and into the chapel. The main room, echoing with effervescent organ music, had a very high, vaulted ceiling. There were three rows of wooden, cushioned pews which ran down the center and along either side of the chapel. About half of the seating had been filled with men, women and children, all of whom were dressed nicely, with the women in dresses and the men in slacks, white shirts, ties, and suit jackets. All of them were more conservatively dressed than Sam, and he felt slightly dirty or out of place. As he sat there, he kept wanting to cover the tattoos on his knuckles with his hand, and to pull the somewhat longish hair away from his neck.

“Well,” said Bishop Gladden, “It’s showtime for me.” He smiled, revealing a slightly yellow set of squarish teeth. “These two elders will keep you company,” he said, and then he turned and walked up the aisle to the front of the room. Sam took a seat near the back, next to Elders Cummings and Miller.

At the front of the chapel was a raised area, anchored by a central podium with a microphone. There were five rows of very comfortable-looking, padded folding seats which resembled box seats at a baseball stadium. There were a few people sitting up there, including a pair of middle-aged, slightly overweight men in nice-looking suits. To the left of the raised area was the organ, and to the right was a piano. Sam watched the organist, a very thin, pale, blond haired man with thick glasses. Playing the organ was clearly a whole-body affair: the man operated the keys with his hands and at the same time he used his feet to manipulate pedals somewhere down below. The song wound to a close, and then Bishop Gladden, who had stopped briefly to say a few words to the two men in suits, turned and took his position behind the podium.

“Good morning, my dear brothers and sisters,” he began. “We’ll begin with a hymn, ‘We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet,’ which is hymn number 19, and after that, Sister Connie Jergens will offer us an opening prayer.” He gave a wan smile and returned to his seat. Off to the side, a heavyset woman with very long, and somewhat unkempt-looking grayish blond hair stood up in front of a music stand. The organist played a few bars to get the tempo down, and then the chorister raised her baton, and the congregation leapt to life in song. All manner of people were singing in unison, old and young, man and woman, and the sound of their collective voices made up a rich chorus.

Sam noticed the two Elders beside him take a thick, dark green, hardbound book from a slot in the back of the pew in front of them, and flip over to the hymn in question. There was an extra copy of the hymnal and Elder Miller urged Sam to follow along. The hymn in question, “We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet,” was rejoiceful, a celebration of the light and guidance brought forth by the prophet. Sam assumed that it was referring to Joseph Smith, though there was a line that mentioned “these latter days,” which made him think twice. When the hymn was over, he leaned over and asked Elder Miller about it.

“Was that about Joseph Smith?”

“Hold on a sec,” said Elder Miller.

A grave hush had come over the congregation, and Sam recognized it as the stillness that always seemed to precede a moment of prayer. A round, somewhat stout woman with white, spiky hair, had moved to the podium. She crossed her arms over her big chest, lowered her head, and began to pray into the microphone. Sam crossed his arms and bowed his head as well, and he focused his feelings inwardly as he listened to her speak. This woman—Sister Jergens—asked that the Lord bless everyone with an open heart, and a spirit of forgiveness, and she requested that all in the congregation be uplifted by the day’s worship. She concluded the prayer, as was always the case, by saying, “In the name of thy son, Jesus Christ, Amen!” The congregation replied in unison: “Amen!”

“In answer to your question,” Elder Miller whispered. “It could be about Joseph Smith, but I think most people would think that it’s referring to President Baylor.”

Sam frowned. “Who’s President Baylor?”

“He’s the president and prophet of the Church. The Church always has a prophet, because we believe in continuing revelation.”

Sam nodded, though he was a bit confused. Of course, it made sense that someone would be running the Church. This President Baylor was probably similar to the Pope. It had just never occurred to Sam that this man would be considered a prophet. This, he decided, was just one more sign that he still had more to learn.

Up front, a nervous, carbuncular teen-aged boy had begun to speak. He was telling about the importance of staying true to the Word of Wisdom. Alcohol and tobacco were bad for you, he said, and so is caffeine. He noted that he felt better about himself—proud even—that he’d never had a sip of caffeinated cola in his life. Then, he told a story involving the Prophet Joseph Smith, or rather, he read aloud the story.

In it, Joseph was suffering from some very painful malady in his leg. There was something very wrong, it turned out, with his shin bone. He was just a young boy at the time, and his illness greatly worried his family. A doctor was summoned, and it was determined that a piece of bone would have to be cut out. This would have been horrible and painful in any era, but to make matters worse, Joseph was living in a time before anesthesia. The only thing he could have done to dull the pain was drink alcohol. So, Joseph was offered a sip of brandy in order to help him endure the operation. But Joseph, being filled with faith in the Lord, refused to do this. He didn’t want the liquor to touch his lips.

This story, the teenaged speaker went on, showed how courageous the Prophet was. “Probably none of us will ever have to make that kind of a choice,” he said, “but knowing how brave Joseph was sure does make it easier for me to keep the Word of Wisdom.” He concluded his talk by saying, “I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!” The congregation answered him in unison.

During the talk, Sam gazed about the chapel. It was all quite plain. There weren’t any decorations or adornments of any kind: no stained glass, no crosses, no candelabras or anything ostentatious. It was simple and functional. The people all seemed happy. A couple of times, mothers with babies stood up and left the chapel, presumably to nurse or change their infants. Sam could smell a toasty, cereal-based food of some kind, and he noticed that some of the younger kids were eating Cheerios out of plastic baggies. Across the aisle, one older man had dozed off, and his head had flopped lazily to the side. His wife, sitting beside him, paid him no mind.

Up front, Bishop Gladden was dictating the course of the service once again. There would be another hymn, followed by the passing of the sacrament, he said, then another talk, a closing hymn, and a closing prayer. It all seemed rather long and drawn out, but then again, Sam realized that he felt very calm, and very much at peace. He felt a soothing kind of drowsiness, in fact.

As the congregation soared with song once again, Sam followed along in the hymnal. This time, the song, hymn number 193, was called “I Stand All Amazed.” It was about the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross. One line read, “I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,” and reading this while hearing the music gave Sam a small frisson of recognition and sadness. It was, he thought, the one of the most beautiful pieces of music he had ever heard, and the sensations he’d felt the other day began to rush back at him. The chorister signaled for the singing of the second verse, and as she did so, Sam realized that the center of attention in the chapel had shifted over to a small, alter-like area just below the organ. Earlier, he’d noticed this alter as it was draped in pure white cloth. Now, a pair of teenage boys in white shirts and skinny black ties were tearing up pieces of what looked like plain white Wonderbread and placing it into silver, handled trays. On the pew nearest to them sat a row of similarly dressed teen age boys.

“What are they doing?” he asked Elder Miller, once the singing had stopped.

“That’s the sacrament,” said Elder Miller. “The young guys in the priesthood prepare and pass it each Sunday. Those guys sitting on the bench are the deacons. You get ordained a deacon when you turn twelve. When you turn fourteen, you get ordained a teacher, and at sixteen, a priest. As a priest, you’re allowed to bless the sacrament, and so that’s what those two guys are doing. They’re going to say the blessing in just a second here.”

“Oh, I see.” More riddles and nuances. It was striking to Sam that these boys—and they were really just children—could be endowed with the power of the holy priesthood, which as he understood it, was God’s divine power on Earth. Did they have extra powers of perception? Were they more spiritually in-tune; more sensitive?

The hymn wound to a close, and once again, a low stillness came over the chapel. Somewhere up near the altar, a microphone cackled to life, and one of the young men began reciting a prayer into it:

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this bread to the souls of all those who partake of it; that they may eat in remembrance of the body of thy Son, and witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they are willing to take upon them the name of thy Son, and always remember him, and keep his commandments which he has given them, that they may always have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

The congregation replied, “Amen,” and the boys in white shirts spread out to pass the silver trays of bread amongst the people. One of them went quickly up the steps in order to deliver a bit of bread to Bishop Gladden, and to the few other people seated up behind the pulpit. Down amongst the congregation, the sacrament passers operated in pairs, with one teenager sending the tray down the pew, and another waiting to collect it at the end.

“So,” whispered Sam to Elder Miller, “am I supposed to take this?”

“No, no. You’re really supposed to only take it after you’ve been baptized, since it’s a means of renewing your covenants.”

“Oh, okay,” he said. He had seen some of the young children partaking of the bread, and yet, as he recalled, children weren’t baptized until the age of eight. Perhaps they let the rules slide in the case of kids? In any case, it didn’t matter. Sam had felt slightly nervous about the prospect of eating the bread. It seemed rather like he would be making some kind of commitment that he didn’t fully understand.

The two boys came to his aisle, and the shining silver tray made its way down the pew. Sam could smell the torn pieces of bread. He took the tray by the handle, and found that it was remarkably light in his hand. His mouth watered a bit as he handed it to the two missionaries, each of whom popped a fluffy bit of the sacramental bread into their mouths. All of the young men—the deacons—collected the trays and formed a line, and they returned to the alter near the front of the chapel. They stood there with hands behind their backs as the two priests moved the white cloth to reveal and new set of silver trays, and then they bowed their heads, and once again the quietude of prayer filled the room.

O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee, in the name of thy Son, Jesus Christ, to bless and sanctify this water to the souls of all those who drink of it, that they may do it in remembrance of the blood of thy Son, which was shed for them; that they may witness unto thee, O God, the Eternal Father, that they do always remember him, that they may have his Spirit to be with them. Amen.

The deacons spread out across the chapel in order to distribute the sacramental water to the congregation. The trays for the water were more elaborate, Sam noticed, with compartments that held the tiny plastic cups of water, and tubes to dispose of the empty cups as well.

When the passing of the sacrament was finished, with the trays returned to the altar and re-blanketed with the clean white cloth, the boys fanned out to sit with their families, and Bishop Gladden commandeered the podium once again. He announced another speaker, gave the name of the closing hymn, and stated the name of the person who would give the final prayer.

The speaker, a man in his late thirties with a very stiff, slicked-over hairstyle, was named Brother Wells. His talk dealt with tithing. It was interesting, Sam thought, that no collection plate had been passed around. He learned in the talk that tithing was essential, and that contributions to the LDS Church were considered one of the cornerstones of good membership. The speaker, Brother Wells, told about the widow’s mite—the sacrifice made by the poorest of the poor, and he noted that, no matter what, one should always pay tithing first. The Lord would always bless those who did. No one would ever be forced to endure something that he or she couldn’t handle, especially if tithing had been paid first. “This money really isn’t ours,” Brother Wells observed. “It’s the Savior that blesses us with this money to begin with, and so we should have no problem returning to Him that which is rightfully His.”

He wrapped up his talk with a story about a family living in late 19th century Utah during a time of famine. It was in the dead of winter, the harvest had been very meager, and this family feared that they might starve if they didn’t spend their meager savings on wheat and other necessities. The mother of the family wept at the thought of her young children going hungry, and yet when she prayed, Heavenly Father, through the power of the Holy Ghost, helped her to remember the importance of tithing. So, with what little money they had, they made sure to pay, and they carried on as best they could. Not more than a few days after they gave the payment to the Bishop, a large crate arrived on their doorstep. Inside this crate were flour, molasses, bacon, and all kinds of supplies and foodstuffs. It was more than enough to get them through the winter. There was no note, nor any identifying marker of any kind on the crate, and the family never learned who placed it on their doorstep. In the end, they were left to conclude that it had been a miracle.

Brother Wells concluded with the standard, “I say these things to you in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen!”

Sam glanced down at his watch and saw that an hour had gone by. It had been nice, he thought. There was a genuine feeling of peace and spirituality, and both of the little presentations had been pleasant and uplifting—stories about endurance and courage, and general reminders that, even when life is difficult, there remains a brightness at the end of the tunnel. Additionally, there was a part of Sam that wished that he’d been able to experience the sacrament. He wondered if ingesting the bread and water would have made him feel any differently.

Once more, the chorister, plump and flush in the face, swaying slightly in her purple, floral-print dress, had taken her spot behind the music stand. She led the congregation in a rousing singing of “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel.” For the second verse, beginning to feel a bit overcome with the spirit, Sam decided to sing along. Seeing him do this, both the two missionaries and the other people in the aisle beamed happily. Their smiles bolstered him, and for the first time in a very long while, Sam felt as if he was a part of something. Aside from the two Elders, and to a certain extent Bishop Gladden, he didn’t know any of these people. And yet, as he sang, he felt at one with them. It was right, it was completely fitting, that these folks called each other “Brother” and “Sister,” for that was precisely how, in that moment, he felt about all of them.


...Next time: A transformation....

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Thu Feb 02, 2017 4:42 pm 
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- SEVEN -

After sacrament meeting, Bishop Gladden came down from the dais and met up with a slightly severe-looking woman who turned out to be his wife. He spoke with her for a moment, pointed in Sam’s direction, and then ushered her over.

“Sam, I’d like you to meet Barbara, my wife.”

“Nice to meet you,” he said.

“Oh, it’s so wonderful. We’re so glad you could come and enjoy sacrament meeting with us.”

“And there’s something else,” said Bishop Gladden. “We were wondering if you and the missionaries would like to join us for dinner tomorrow night.”

“Sure, that sounds great,” he said. The missionaries seemed pleased by this, too, and Elder Cummings gently clapped Sam on the back.

The rest of the morning consisted of more meetings and lessons. Following sacrament meeting, he had accompanied the two elders to a class on gospel doctrine. Although much of the material was over his head, he did gather that the lesson was principally about stressing the importance of the Book of Mormon. The instructor—a bald man with a goatee and wire-frame glasses—had drawn a circle on the board, and had explained the Book of Mormon represented a kind of enclosure and roundabout in life.

“Although it is a very, very old book,” he said, “it is still applicable to our lives today. The meaning in this, and the lessons about life—these are universal truths.” As he said this he held the book up, brandishing it like a hammer.

After gospel doctrine class, the men and women separated. The women, he was told, were going to attend something called Relief Society, whereas the men went to the priesthood session. In essence, it was another Sunday school lesson. This time around, the teacher emphasized the importance of looking after one’s physical health. This was another facet of Mormonism which Sam found intriguing: the emphasis on the body. There was plenty of spirituality, a concern over one’s soul, and one’s connection with the next life, but Mormons believed very strongly in physicality as well, which he appreciated. In fact, he was feeling very positive about everything he was encountering. It was as if he was beginning to better understand the reasons why he’d been so overcome after praying the other day. It was like a veil had been parted, and he was now peering into some seldom-seen valley.


Once everything was over, Sam took a moment to collect his bearings, and it occurred to him that, all in all, the sacrament meeting, coupled with the gospel doctrine class and the priesthood session, Sam had been in church for three hours. It was a long time to be in church, and yet the time had gone by quickly. Everything seemed to click. He felt intrinsically that he belonged in this place. Although there was still so much more to learn, he was looking forward to doing it. Plus, as he would realize later, the experience of sitting in church had helped to purge away the memories and bad vibes that had been left over from his fight with Misty.

After the service, he hung around with the Elders Miller and Cummings as they waited for Bishop Gladden to wrap up a few matters of business. The three of them stood in the foyer as people trickled out of the church. Several people came up and introduced themselves to him, including a bespectacled, very blue-eyed, rather chubby blond man named Raymond, who looked at him quizzically, perhaps with a bit of bafflement. He was also introduced to Ariel Jergens—the spiky-haired woman who had given the opening prayer in sacrament meeting. Those were the only two people he remembered by name, but he must have been introduced to at least two dozen different members. All of them had in common a genuine kindness and forthrightness. Most of them had a pleasant sense of humor, and seemed pleased at his interest in the LDS Church.

Once Bishop Gladden had concluded his duties, they all headed out to the Le Sabre, and drove eastwards, through town and out into the desert outskirts, back to Sam’s house. During the drive, the Bishop asked Sam if he’d given much thought to baptism.

“A little,” said Sam.

“Well,” the Bishop continued, “you just keep on thinking it over. The missionaries still need to give you a couple more of the lessons, but at some point, we’re going to want you to seriously consider getting baptized.”

“Okay.”

“Have you been reading the Book of Mormon?”

“I’m about a third of the way through it.”

“And?”

Sam gazed out the window, off towards the grey horizon in the east. “I don’t know,” he said. “I get a strange feeling when I’m reading it. I wonder if I’m understanding it correctly.”

“That’s the Spirit that you’re feeling.” The Bishop smiled broadly and nodded his head. “Yeah, it is a pretty special book. We owe Joseph Smith a lot of credit for restoring it to us.”

Everyone was quiet during the remainder of the drive home. When they arrived at Sam’s house, everyone shook hands, and the missionaries agreed to return on Tuesday in order to teach the third lesson. As he watched Bishop Gladden’s car stir up a cape of dust, Sam felt restless, and felt a ping of loneliness once again. And for whatever reason, his mind flickered back to the first meeting he’d had with the missionaries, and he thought about his dead mother. They had said that if he was righteous, and if he followed the teachings of the Church, he could be reunited with her. He stood there in the crisp winter air, thinking for a moment longer, and then he went back inside, and stirred about in the house, watching TV, fixing himself something to eat, and then reading the Book of Mormon clear until nightfall. Then he took a break and resumed his voracious reading one more time before praying and falling asleep.

When he woke up the next morning, he was lying on his back, with his arms spread out on either side of him, as if he was trying to make a snow angel in the sheets. He didn’t recall any dreams; he merely knew that he felt cleaner somehow. He got up, made himself breakfast, and set about getting his day in order. He took a shower and shaved and got dressed and he looked in the phone book for the number of a doctor who might be able to help remove his tattoos. A couple of the ones on his arm (the four signs of the compass and a hammer and sickle) had been done in prison by a mohawked guy named Pigeon, and Sam also had (ironically) a cross on his left breast, along with the letters P Y D Y across his left knuckles. When he found the number of a doctor that seemed promising, he called, but the answering machine picked up. The office wasn’t open on Mondays.

With nothing more to do till work time, Sam pulled on his coat and grabbed his keys and drove into Reno. He found a Supercuts in a strip mall off Pyramid. Inside, an apple-shaped woman with towering, dirty-blonde bangs draped a clean towel around his neck and led him off to the sinks. He lay back, looking up at the fluorescent lights as she ran warm water over his head and through his hair. He closed his eyes while she used the shampoo and massaged her fingertips into his scalp. When she was done, she led him over to the chair and draped a flimsy cape-like cloth across his chest and shoulders.

“So, cupcake, how do you want it?”

“Short,” he said.

“You want me to take all this off?” she said. She was holding a substantial chuck of hair near his neck.

“All of it,” he said. “Nice and clean.”

“You goin into the service or something?”

“No. I’m just tired of looking shabby.”

“Okay, big guy. You got it.” And she set to work, pinching lengths of his hair between her fingers and scissoring big chunks of it away. Before long, Sam’s stomach and lap were covered in a blanket of shorn hair. When she was done with the scissors, the woman used a pair of electric clippers to trim his sideburns, and the back of his neck. “You wanted it blocked off back here, right?”

“Yeah, sure, I guess so.”

She used a blowdryer to clean off the stray bits of hair and she got some mousse from a bottle and ran it through his newly cut hair. “How do you usually do it?”

“Could you put a part in it right here, and comb it sort of off to the side?”

“Sure.” She used her fingers and then she spritzed the entire thing with Aqua Net. “You sure do clean up nice,” she said, and she rotated the chair so that Sam could see his reflection.

His image jolted him a bit, but not in a bad way. He thought that he looked a lot younger; the last time he’d worn his hair this way he’d been a teenager.

“Is it okay?” asked the woman, whose name was Jessica.

“Yeah,” he said. “It looks great. Just what I was hoping for. Thank you.”

“I’m so glad,” she said.

He paid her and gave her a generous tip, and then he went back out into the cold and drove to Meadowood Mall. He went into JC Penny’s and made his way over to the men’s section and he began to look at suit jackets. He lifted up the sleeve of a navy blue blazer and felt the fabric. Then a man in a rumpled white collared shirt and loosened yellow-and-red tie came over to help him. “We’re having a buy two get one free special,” he said. “Is there anything in particular you were looking for?”

“No, not really,” said Sam. “Just a basic suit. You know—every man needs at least one nice suit, right?”

The man said that he agreed, and he suggested that Sam might be interested in a charcoal, navy blue, and perhaps a gray or a brown suit.

“A guy like you would be able to pull off a brown suit,” he said. They took the suits off the racks and carried them back to the dressing room for Sam to try on. He closed the slatted door and took off his pants and shirt and stood there looking at himself in the mirror. In the past few months, he’d let himself go somewhat. He looked pale and lumpy and his body looked a little older than it actually was, though his face, with the new haircut, still looked youthful and full of vigor. But the tattoos, the tattoos… They would have to go.


He tried on the suits one by one, stepping out each time to look in the large, tripartite mirror at the end of the dressing room hall. The sales clerk had brought him a white collared shirt, a belt, and a couple of ties to look at alongside the suits. Each time he emerged from the dressing room, the clerk commented on how sharp and dapper the suits made him look. “You just need a tiny bit of tailoring on the hem and here on the jacket,” he said. In the end, Sam decided to take all four of them—including both the grey and the brown suits, the belt, and the three ties. Because of this, the clerk gave him a 50% discount on the fourth suit. As he was ringing up the purchase, the clerk asked him if he had appropriate shoes, and Sam shook his head.

“Well, then, just head right over there and ask for Roger. He’ll get you everything you need.” He smiled enthusiastically and shook Sam’s hand.

After Sam had bought two pairs of dress shoes (one black and one brown), along with four pairs of dress socks, he went to a phone booth and tried calling a different tattoo-removal doctor. This time, the call went through, and Sam made an appointment to see Dr. Zamora later in the week. He carried his purchases back to the car and drove home.

The rest of the afternoon Sam spent reading the Book of Mormon. By this time he’d read about halfway through the text, and he was deeply immersed in the story of the warring Lamanites and Nephites. It was strange: Nephi, the protagonist in the beginning of the book had started one of the races, and Nephi’s brother Laman was the progenitor of the second race (the Lamanites), who had been given a darker skin color by God. As Sam understood it, the events recorded in the Book of Mormon were actual events that had happened long ago in America’s history. Though he was confused on that point; was this ‘America,’ as in the United States? Or ‘America’ as in Latin America? He wondered if the account in the Book of Mormon actually had more to do with the Aztecs and the Mayans.

When night rolled around, Sam prepared for work and drove out to the Ember. Immediately, the girls began giving him grief about his new haircut. “Well, look at the little boy,” said Trina R. “You look like a little kid,” said Francesca. It wasn’t entirely clear whether they liked it or not. Sid, at least, tried to be kind: he spread his arms wide and then clapped his hands together in front of his face. “Sam, why you cut the hair? You look like a goddam Wall Street investor or something. Es good, though. Good for your new changes and what have you. We gonna miss you when you’re gone.” He had Sam make him his de rigueur Chambord and 7-Up and then he left to go pat all the girls on their rears.

It was inevitable that Misty would turn up, of course, though she arrived some two hours after she was scheduled to be on stage. When she looked at Sam, her eyes flickering wetly in the dim light, her mouth was a hard, angry red slash across her face. She scuttled off to find Sid, and then she came to sit at the bar.

“What’s with the haircut?” she asked.

He didn’t say anything.

“Oh, what,” she said, “you giving me the silent treatment?”

He shrugged.

“I ought to kick your ass right here on the spot, Sam, for what you did to me the other day.” She waited a beat. “You don’t just up and leave someone like that, Sam.”

Finally, he turned to face her. He set his hands on the bar and leaned in: “What do you want, Misty?”

She just stared back at him, her eyes darting back and forth. She had been in her usual mocking mood a second ago, but it all signs of it were gone. “Just give me a ginger ale,” she said, and he moved away to make it. When he set the glass down in front of her, she stirred at the ice with the tiny black straw, and she picked out the lime wedge and sucked on it. “For what it’s worth, I forgive you, you big asshole. I know I shouldn’t. I know how bad you are for me, but I forgive you.”

“That’s great, Misty.”

“Don’t be a smart-ass with me. Don’t pull that ____. I’m trying to talk to you.”

“I don’t really care. And I need to get back to work. Why don’t you finish your drink and go see if that guy over there wants a lap dance?”

“Really?” she said. “I mean, look at me here. I’m trying, Sam. I’m doing my best not to be a bitch, and look—I’m sorry for dropping that bomb on you the other day, but what was I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “If you’d been straight-up with me to begin with, I could have helped you. But now everything’s over and done with and as far as I’m concerned, it no longer has anything to do with me. Sue me if you want or whatever, but I’d prefer if you just left me the hell alone.”

“Would you please just give me a second chance?”

“Second chance at what? It’s not like we ever had anything real going on. I already put my two weeks in, and after that, I’m done with this whole scene. No more drinking, no more tattoos, no more ____ around.” He noticed that she’d taken out a pack of cigarettes: “No more smoking, either.”

She lit up, and Sam could see that her mood had undergone yet another shift. Now she looked amused and haughty, and she was blowing out gouts of smoke in little gusts—gusts of snide laughter. “You really are trying to turn into a Mormon, aren’t you?”

“So what if I am?”

“That’s why you got that haircut, isn’t it?”

“I just wanted a change. That’s all.”

“Oh, Sam.” She laughed, and though he knew that it shouldn’t bother him, it did. “It’s a cult, you know. You’re going to wind up brainwashed, married to some dumpy, ugly, fat Mormon girl who won’t suck your cock. Is that really what you want?”

“It’s not a cult,” he said. “And what I really want is for you to leave me alone.”

The amusement drained from her face and she snorted through her nose. “Fine then, Sam. That’s just ____ fine. And ____ you,” she hissed, and she turned and left.

Misty did her remaining three sets that night, but she didn’t show up the next night nor the night after that. Sam overheard Delilah P. saying something about her being sick, but Sam didn’t inquire into it any further. His remaining stint at the Ember was uneventful. The girls all kissed him on the cheek on his last night, and Sid winked as he slipped him a slightly damp envelope filled with five one-hundred dollar bills: “From me and the girls.” On the back, in pencil, he’d written, “Good luck to you my friend.” Sam shook Sid’s hand, and went out the door, and that was that. He never returned to the Ember. Some years later, he heard that the building had been destroyed in a fire, and that the police suspected that some kind of insurance fraud was the motive, but apart from that, the Ember and everyone who had been a part of it became a distant memory.


...Next time: Mormon folklore...

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Tue Feb 07, 2017 5:31 pm 
Star B
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Joined: Thu Apr 14, 2011 12:39 pm
Posts: 110
- EIGHT -

It was the darndest thing. It just goes to show you that you can’t ever judge a person. What happened was that we were comin out of Ely. Yeah—just a couple of miles out, and yep, you’re right, we had been over to see the Lehman Caves. What? Oh, yes, it was amazing! All those rock formations and everything, all in different shapes. It kinda looks the way that wax from a melted candle looks once it dries. You know how that looks, right? And then in the caves, the ranger turns off the light at one point, and it is pitch black. It’s so dark! And it’s scary, because you just don’t ever come across dark like that. Even if you’re away from development and things at night, like if you’re camping, or if you’re out in the wilderness, you still have light from the stars or the moon. But this was even darker than that. It’s like being in a tomb.

Anyways. So, it was me and Linda and she had Whitney and Carmen with her, and we’re about half an hour out of Ely, and the right front tire blows. Yes: you could actually hear it go out. And yes, it really scared me! It sounds a little like a gunshot, actually. I’m lucky that I didn’t crash! So I get the car over on to the shoulder and at this point I’m wondering what we should do. I’ve never changed a tire in my life, and even if I knew how to do it, I don’t know that I could. What? Yes, he showed me how one time but I forgot. Anyways. There we are, me and Linda and those two little kids. There is no traffic on the road, and there’s no phone booth except clear back in Ely. We don’t know what to do, and I am starting to panic a little bit. What’ll we do if it gets dark? Because it gets really cold at night out there during that time of year. We could just wait and hope that someone comes along to help, or we could've started to walk, I guess, but like I said, Linda had those two little kids, and they wouldn’t have been able to walk clear back to Ely.

So Linda says, “Why don’t we say a prayer?” We all folded our arms and bowed our heads and asked Heavenly Father to help us. To watch out for us and protect us. Just as we said, “Amen,” I heard this rapping on the window, and I about lost it. It scared me half to death, but I look up and here is this man, motioning for me to roll down the window. Me and Linda look at each other and we don’t know what to do. I mean, what if this guy has a gun or something? So I roll down the window just a crack and say, “What do you want?”

And it was weird. He must've been a mute or something because he just pointed. He was pointing and nodding in the direction of the flat tire, and little Carmen says, “I think he wants to help us!” So, we sit tight in the car with all the doors locked, and I popped the trunk and that man went back there and got the jack and started changing the tire. Can you believe that? He never said a word. We just sat there in the car, watching him. He put on the spare, and put the old, flat tire into the trunk. Then he knocked on the window and waved to us, and I drove off.

No, no, I didn’t offer him a ride.

Come to think of it, you’re right. I never thanked him, either. Well, if I ever see him again. What’s that? Oh, he was kind of an Indian-looking man. Maybe a Mexican, I don’t know. He had long hair and tan skin. I guess I was so scared that I didn’t get that good of a look.

But there’s a lesson in all of it. It just goes to show that you can never tell about people. And it’s like me and Linda told to Whitney and Carmen afterwards: Heavenly Father really does answer your prayers. We said that prayer, and then that man showed up, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was kind of a small little miracle that it happened. We could have been stranded out there if it hadn’t been for that man! That’s why you always have to follow the teachings of the Church. It just goes to show you that our Father in Heaven really does answers prayers. It goes to show you that the Church really is true.




...Next time: Jello salad....

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1
PostPosted: Sun Feb 12, 2017 11:41 am 
Star B
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- NINE -

Bishop Chuck Gladden lived at the end of a cul-de-sac in a subdivision in the southwestern part of town, near the irrigation canal by Country Drive. The house looked like it was still being built; there was exposed, black tarpaper covered in chicken wire on part of the roof, and although there was a tidy, three-foot-high brick wall lining the property and a smooth concrete driveway leading up to the garage door, there was no grass, gravel, or any other kind of landscaping in the yard. It was just hard, muddy-looking clay.

When Sam arrived for dinner, both the Bishop and Sister Gladden met him at the front door. Behind the two of them lurked a pair of towheaded children. “We’re so glad you made it,” said Barbara Gladden, and the Bishop patted him on the shoulder and pumped his hand. They led him inside. There was some kind of rock and fountain installation in the foyer, and Barbara’s flats clicked on the smooth tile floor. Along the wall were hooks for coats and hats and a little shelf for shoes.
“We take our shoes off in the house,” Barbara said, “because the carpet’s new.” Her hair was cut close to her head, and she had a dry, steely gaze, even when she smiled. At her side, the Bishop was rolling his eyes.

“Oh, okay,” said Sam, and he slipped off his tennis shoes and set them on the rack. The Gladdens showed him around the house: the five bedrooms (a well-furnished guest room with a desk and a sofa-bed; three bedrooms for the Gladdens’ six children—“Six?” “Yes, six. Jarod, Jonas, Heather, Susie, Levi, and Charles, Jr.”—and a large master bedroom with a canopied, four-poster bed that had a floral print comforter on it and a lacy bedskirt. Then he was shown the bathrooms, which were marvelously clean and sparkling. “I wanted to put a urinal in here, but she wouldn’t let me,” said the Bishop. “Would you want to clean that?” was her response. On the walls throughout the house were frames filled with pictures, both of the Gladdens and their extended family, and of things that Sam assumed were related to Mormonism in some way—pictures of Jesus, of older men in dark suits, and of various, elaborate-looking buildings. One of these looked like a castle, and in the image, a much-younger Barbara and Chuck Gladden, wearing their wedding clothes, with Barbara clutching a bouquet, were kissing on a pedestal outside the looming building.

“Yep,” said the Bishop when he noticed Sam looking. “That’s us after we got married in the Salt Lake temple.”

“Oh,” said Sam.

They showed him the spacious kitchen, with its big, six-burner stove, double ovens, and large refrigerator. It was filled with warm smells: garlic, tomato sauce, bread. “I hope you like spaghetti,” said Barbara. “Don’t worry, I do,” said Sam. Then they took him into the living room, where he found three of the older Gladden children, along with Elders Miller and Cummings. They were all gathered in front of the TV, playing a game on the SuperNES.

“Oh! Brother Younger!” said Elder Miller, looking up from his game. He was sitting crosslegged on the floor, clad as usual in his short-sleeved white shirt, tie, and dark slacks. He handed off the controller to one of the Gladden kids and stood up to shake Sam’s hand. Elder Cummings did the same.

“Well,” said the Bishop. “Why don’t you make yourself comfortable while Barbara and I finish getting supper on the table?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Sam.

He took a seat in one of the recliners and sat watching as the two oldest Gladden kids—a boy and a girl, probably around 14 and 12—played the video game while the other child and the two missionaries watched intently. Sam had owned one of the old, regular Nintendos back when they first came out several years ago, but he’d never developed that much interest in it. A couple of his friends in high school had gotten really into the games but he’d always seen it as being kind of a waste of time. The missionaries, he noticed, were so wrapped up in what was happening on the screen (the game involved some kind of hand-to-hand combat among the characters) that they barely acknowledged his presence.

“I take it you guys don’t get to play video games very much,” Sam said.

Elder Miller looked over at him: “Huh? Wha? Oh, yeah. Only if it’s at someone’s house and we’re invited,” he said.

“Yeah, things are pretty strict while you’re on your mission,” said Elder Cummings. “It all depends on your mission president. Some missions you’re not even supposed to read the newspaper. Like I said, it just depends on how the mission president is.”

“Do you mean the bishop?” Neither of them was looking at him as they answered.

Miller didn’t seem to understand; Cummings went on: “No, the bishop just oversees the local ward. The local congregation, like what you saw at church on Sunday. The mission president is a separate calling.”

“Yeah,” added Elder Miller. “He’s a totally separate person.”

“Oh.”

The missionaries settled back into their zombie-like fixation on the game. On the table beside Sam’s recliner were a lamp and a thick book that had a dark, pebbly, leathery cover similar to the Book of Mormon he’d been given. He picked it up and looked at the spine: Holy Bible – Book of Mormon – Doctrine & Covenants – Pearl of Great Price. Did this mean there were additional scriptures in addition to the Bible and the Book of Mormon? He flipped through the pages and found that they looked more or less the same: very thin, delicate pages with text divided up into brief verses and chapters. In the Pearl of Great Price section he came across a set of drawings that looked like Egyptian hieroglyphics. There was a pair of human figures doing something near an altar of some kind. Sam didn’t understand what it meant. The caption mentioned something about a facsimile, and it puzzled him. He closed the book and set it back down on the table and folded his hands in his lap.

It wasn’t but a few more minutes before Chuck Gladden poked his head around the corner and called everyone to the table for dinner. Sam got up and followed the kids and the missionaries into the dining room, where the table was piled with food. There was a big bowl filled with buttered spaghetti noodles and a separate bowl filled with meat-and-tomato sauce. There were two baskets filled with garlic bread, a giant, clear bowl of salad and three plastic bottles with different kinds of salad dressing. There was a bowl of what looked like canned green beans and a Pyrex baking dish filled with something that looked like whipped-cream-covered green Jello. Everyone piled into the chairs around the tables.

“Did you guys wash your hands?” said Barbara to the two youngest kids, and they nodded.

“Okay, everyone. I’ll go ahead and say the blessing,” said Bishop Gladden. “Dear Father in Heaven, we ask thee to bless this food so that it will nourish and strengthen our bodies. We are grateful to thee that thou has given us such delicious things to eat. We’re thankful, too, dear Lord, that Brother Younger is joining us tonight at our table, and we pray that he enjoys the time he spends with our family tonight, and that the Spirit will be with him. We say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”

“Amen!”

With that, everyone, notably the two missionaries, began piling food onto their plates. As the bowls made their way around the table, Sam helped himself to servings of each of the items, including the strange, green Jello casserole thing. The Bishop stood and poured milk into everyone’s glasses. The noise of the dining room progressed: it had begun with the prayer, and its intimate quietude, to the bustle of plates being laden with food, to the moist sound of chewing and eating, until at last Barbara began to speak.

“So, are you from this area originally, Sam?”

“No,” he said, wiping his mouth with his napkin. “I actually grew up in a town over near Sacramento. It’s called Auburn,” he said.

“I think I’ve driven through there a few times,” said the Bishop.

“What do your folks do?” Barbara asked. The two missionaries looked uncomfortable.

“Well, nothing anymore, since they’re both dead. But when they were alive, my father was a long-haul trucker, and my mom was an RN.”

“Oh, I see,” said Barbara. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“Yeah, I have a sister. She lives down in San Diego. I don’t really see or talk to her that much, though.”

“Huh.”

“And what do you do for a living, Brother Younger?” asked the Bishop.

Sam drew in a deep breath. “Well, I’m actually between jobs right now. I put in my two weeks notice at this—” he was looking at the two younger children “at this club where I was working. I’m ready to move on to something else.”

“A clean slate,” said the Bishop.

“Yeah, exactly.”

Heather, the older Gladden daughter, a girl with reddish blond hair, sparse acne, and braces, pointed across the table at Sam’s knuckles. “Is that a tattoo?” she asked.

He reflexively covered it with his hand. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Back during my wild youth.”

“Can I see it?” said Heather.

“Yeah, sure.” He held his hand out for her to see.

“Are those letters? What does it stand for?”

“Nothing in particular. It’s nothing special.”

“You just got random letters on your hand for no reason?”

“I guess you could say that,” he said. Everyone was staring at him. “Like I said, I got that during a kind of wild time in my life.” He looked around and waited a moment for people to return to eating. Luckily, the missionaries didn’t miss a beat, as they were now helping themselves to seconds. “I guess you guys don’t get tattoos in the Mormo—I mean LDS Church?”

The Bishop blinked his eyes slowly and shook his head. “Nope,” he said. “The body is a temple.”

“I think your tattoos are cool,” said Heather, and her eyes were darting back and forth from Sam’s knuckles to his face. It made him uncomfortable and he looked away. Barbara Gladden’s jaw muscles were tensing, like she was gritting her teeth.

“To tell you the truth,” said Sam, “I’ve got a doctor’s appointment later in the week to look into getting them removed.”

“Why would you want to do that?” said Heather.

“You shut up now,” said Barbara, and Heather set her face in a pout.

“It’s like I said, it’s just something left over from a part of my life that I’m not all that proud of. I just think I’d be happier without the old tats.”

“I’ve heard that it’s super painful to get them removed, like they have to burn them off or something.” This was Jonas, the eldest son.

“I guess I’ll have to let you know,” said Sam.

“Any-how,” said Barbara, her tone rising. “My husband and these two young Elders here have said that you’ve been giving some thought to joining the Church. Of taking the next step and getting baptized.”

Once again, all eyes were on him: “Yeah, it’s true. I’ve been thinking about it.”

“That’s right,” said Elder Miller. “He’s been meeting with us, taking the discussions, and reading the Book of Mormon and praying about it.” He gestured pointingly towards the other end of the table. “Uh, could you please pass the Italian dressing? Thanks.”

“I haven’t quite made up my mind yet, but… Something just seems right and true about it.”

Every last head at the table smiled and nodded with approval.

“There is so much to love about the Church,” said Barbara. “For me personally, it just gives me such a sense of peace and certainty. I just don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have a priesthood holder to lead our family.” She and the Bishop and clutched hands atop the table.

“And we owe our beautiful family to the teachings of the Church,” said the Bishop. “Just look at these smiling, shining faces. We truly are lucky that our Heavenly Father sent these precious children down to us.”

Sam didn’t quite know what to say to this. So he just shrugged and agreed, “You really do have a nice family,” he said.

Levi, the second youngest, piped up and added in his two cents: “Yeah, and we get to play games and have family home evening and everything!”

Everyone chuckled.

“The point we’re trying to make to you, Sam, is that we wouldn’t have the lives that we do if it weren’t for the Church. It fills our whole house and all of our lives with love, and with the guidance of the priesthood and the Spirit. And, so, as the Bishop, I just hope you keep that in mind.”

“I’ll be sure to do that,” he said.

Sam went back to his plate, but he silently agreed with everything that Bishop Gladden had said. He, too, wanted what they had: the nice house, the close family. Sam’s own family had been fractured, with his parents constantly at work, or bickering during the times when they were all together. And then they each got sick one after the other and he watched them waste away into living corpses. The Gladdens, on the other hand, seemed like they would go on being a family into the next lifetime. At the very least, they all believed that this is what would happen.



After dinner, Sam helped Barbara and Heather clear the table until Barbara shooed him away. In the living room, Elder Miller told him stories about an old mission companion who’d had a terrible B.O. problem. “He would stink right as soon as he got out of the shower. It was like that kid Pig Pen from Charlie Brown, with all the dust floating around him. It was like that. I know it’s mean, but we all called him that—Elder Pig Pen. Not to his face or anything, but it was a nickname. I don’t know what it was, or if it was a disease or whatever, but he just stunk.” A bit later, Heather and Barbara brought out dishes of ice cream for dessert. As they finished, Heather sat down at the piano and played songs for all of them. Some were strictly instrumental, but others were songs that everyone but Sam seemed familiar with, and so they sang along. One had something to do with popcorn that was growing on apricot trees. “Spring has brought me such a nice surprise,” went one of the lyrics.

When Heather had finished, she set her hands in her lap and smiled while everyone clapped. “Such a good job,” said Barbara. “It sure was, it sure was,” added Elder Cummings.

The three youngest Gladden children—Susie, Levi, and Charlie—began arguing over which game they would play on the SuperNES, and whose turn it would be. “Knock it off you three,” said the Bishop. “I don’t think there needs to be any of that right now. You guys put those video games away. You guys get down a board game that everyone can play.”

“Do you guys have Pictionary?” asked Elder Miller.

“Yeah, we do,” said Jonas, all gangly and lurpy in his jeans and his Weber State T-shirt as he got up to get it down from the closet.

“Sam, could I have a word with you?” said the Bishop, and he took Sam aside and led him back to a room that apparently served as an office. Inside was a big, heavy desk and a bookshelf filled with a variety of books, many of which, as far as Sam could tell, were Church-related. There was also a framed diploma, though he couldn’t make out what it was for. “Have a seat, young man,” the Bishop said, and Sam sat down in the chair opposite the desk. “I couldn’t help but think about what you said earlier about putting in your two-weeks notice at your job. Now, I approve of your decision. I don’t think that any respectable person should be working at a place like that. And we don’t need to get into all the piddling details, but I think we both know what kind of a place you were talking about. The point is that I can see that you’re serious about turning your life around, and I just have a feeling about you. What I wanted to ask you was this. I don’t know what kind of new work you’ve got lined up for yourself, but I wanted to go ahead and offer to call my first counselor, Glen, who owns a contracting business here in town. He does framework and roofing and that sort of thing, and I know he has a lot of turnover. But for his regular, long-term guys, I know he offers real fair wages and benefits. So, if you’re committed and interested, I can go ahead and give him a call.”

Sam felt something like shock. “That would be pretty fantastic,” he said. “And I have a little bit of construction experience. I did some framing work back home a few years ago.”

“Even better,” said the Bishop, and he picked up the phone and dialed. As it rang, he pressed the button for the speaker phone.

“Hello?”

“Hello there, Glen?”

“Yeah, sure. This is Glen.”

“It’s Bishop Gladden.”

“Oh, hey, Chuck. What’s going on?”

“Nothing much old buddy. I got you on speaker phone here.”

“All right.”

“I’m sitting here with Brother Younger. You know him, right? He’s that big guy that the missionaries have been giving the lessons to. That investigator I told you was coming over for dinner.”

“Oh, yeah. Sure, sure.”

“Well, Glen, I’m calling you because I think he’s interested in the spot that opened up on your crew. Isn’t that right, Brother Younger?”

“Yeah, definitely,” said Sam.

“And he’s got experience doing frame work,” said Bishop Gladden.

“Well, that’s just terrific,” said Glen. “How soon can you start?”

“How about Monday?”

“Great! I’ll see you then,” and with that, the Bishop picked up the phone and spun in his chair and said a few more words to his first counselor: “Okay. Yeah, good. Thanks a lot, Glen. Yeah, yeah. Thursdee night. Sure. Okay, you too, good bye.”

Sam sat there, practically reeling. A part of him wondered if the Bishop wanted something from him. Was this a way of pressuring him into getting baptized? And if it was, so what? Especially given the fact that he would apparently at the very least be getting a good job out of it?

“Well, if you want it, it looks like you got the job,” said the Bishop.

“I don’t know what to say.”

“How about ‘Thank you’?”

“Oh, yeah—thanks. Thank you very much. It’s just weird, you know, to have someone just up and offer you a job out of nowhere.”

“You don’t have to take it if you don’t want to!”

“No, no—I didn’t mean to imply that I didn’t want it. It’s just, you know—the generosity. I guess I’m not used to it, is all.”

“Well, Sam, that’s what we’re all about,” he said, and it wasn’t clear whether he was referring to himself and his “first counselor,” to his family, or to Mormons in general. But, as Sam was coming to realize, it wasn’t altogether clear where the three groups ended and began. It was as if they were all interlocking parts of something larger.

The Bishop took a pad of paper and a pen from his desk and wrote down the directions to Glen’s office. “Or,” he said, “you can just talk to him in church on Sunday,” he said with a wink. Sam just smiled.

They got up and went back into the living room, where everyone was deeply enmeshed in a boisterous game of Pictionary. Heather was trying unsuccessfully to get her sister Susie to guess the word, “Contagious.” After the timer ran out, Elder Cummings offered his sympathies: “Ooh, wow. That was a tough one.”

Sam and the Bishop stood off near the little alcove by the foyer. “Well, everyone,” said Bishop Gladden, I think Brother Younger is going to head off.

“It was really nice meeting all of you,” said Sam. The two missionaries got to their feet and shuffled over in their dress socks. Barbara Gladden came over, too.

“So,” said Elder Miller, “can we meet with you in a couple of days to give you the next discussion? Would that be all right?”

“Yeah, that sounds fine.” Then he shook everybody’s hands.

“It was so good to have you over,” said Barbara. “Hopefully you’ll come again.” She turned to the children in the living room: “Everyone tell Brother Younger goodbye!”

“Goodbye!”

“I’ll see you again soon,” said Bishop Gladden, and he firmly shook Sam’s hand a final time.

He went out and got in his truck and the Bishop and his wife watched from the front steps. As he drove home, Sam thought about what he’d just seen, and what had just happened to him. There was something about it that was unreal. Everyone seemed just a tiny bit too happy, as if they were all clinging to some invisible force that allowed them to maintain the Leave it to Beaver façade, and yet it didn’t quite see inauthentic. And what might the invisible force be? Their faith? Maybe, Sam thought, there was nothing unreal or strange about it at all, and he was just letting his cynicism get the better of him. Maybe his own sense of rightness and reality was flawed in some way. After all, he was the one who’d done time. He was the one who’d spent a decent chunk of his life smoking dope, drinking, and working in a strip club.

When he got home, he hung up his coat and went into the bathroom and brushed his teeth. Then he sat in his easy chair and read the Book of Mormon for an hour, after which he said a prayer, asking once again for confirmation as to the truthfulness of the LDS Church. Like a subdued echo of his earlier experience, he felt a warm sensation in his chest and his lips began to tremble, though he didn’t shed any tears. He just felt good. He felt right, and he felt good, as if the world was beginning to turn in his favor.

He got up from where he’d been kneeling on the floor. For whatever reason, he noticed an old glass ashtray peeking out from an open cupboard below the end table. He bent down and picked it up and went to drop it in the trash. It was hard, solid, and heavy in his hand as he carried it to the trashcan in the kitchen, and he would always remember how it felt. It was one of those strange, unaccountable details—the sort of thing he would have surely forgotten if not for the fact that, later that night, as he lay in bed, he made up his mind to be baptized, and to formally join the LDS Church.


...Next time: the final chapter of Part 1 - Sam makes a decisive move....

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