Tuesday, 13 December 2022 00:00

Parish 2: Off the Books

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Photo of Kolob Arch Photo of Kolob Arch National Park Service

A Whateley Academy Omake

Parish 2: Off the Books

by

null0trooper

If you think this is bad, you should see the other guy.


Fr. Geoffrey Bouchard's office, Omaha, Nebraska

Brother Geoffrey could not have sprained his ankle at a worse time. Even had his charges been little angels (they weren't), as Scoutmaster for the Archdiocese-sponsored troop, he couldn't afford to be slowed down. His week worsened when he tried unsuccessfully to confirm campsite reservations for the boys to visit Zion Canyon. Another, less faithful man might think Providence was working against him and the Scouts. Yet, he persevered.

"What do you mean our site reservation was bumped?"

"Yes. We could stay offsite at a local campground, but I don't know of any... Dancing Sidewinder Campground, you said? Sorry. Sidewinder Creek Campground. Never heard of it."

"A five-mile technical hike from the closest trailhead? I guess that explains the rates, but we're a Boy Scout troop, not the 82nd Airborne."

"They do? Huh. Okay, who do I need to contact for campsite reservations and guides?"

"Thank you, sir. A, um, blessed day to you too."

"Sounds like today's been a bad one for the mortal schemes o' mice and men, doesn't it?"

The speaker's London pub-crawling accent was wildly out of place here. Brother Geoffrey looked up. Slouching against the doorjamb, the man behind it was a shave and a haircut past disreputable. Geoffrey hoped the man hadn't mugged a colleague for the roman-collared shirt. Changing times.

"Name's Jonathan. You?"

Geoffrey stood up to shake the proffered hand, "Brother Geoffrey Bouchard. To what do we owe the pleasure? I don't think I've heard of any new postings. Please, sit."

"Thank you. This is more of a 'see what help they need' assignment from the Holy See. Someone's worried about your Boy Scouts."

"Why? Membership isn't what it was back when I was that age, but... No! You can't tell me that something like that is going on!"

Jonathan leaned forward, capturing Geoffrey's eyes in his.

"You tell me, mate. My question had been how you planned to keep up with the sprogs with a gimpy ankle? However, if you do have suspicions of that nature, I am all ears."

"What? Now you're just screwing with me, Jonathan. Or is that shirt from a joke shop?"

"Could be." Jonathan handed an identification card from his wallet to the priest. "Care to look for the Bad Dragon logo?" The gesture revealed a distinctive rose and thorns tattoo on the man's left wrist.

"Fr. Jonathan C. Stambull, EE."

Brother Geoffrey numbly returned the card.

Equestris Ecclesiae

What in Heaven's name would bring the attention of a Knight of the Church to Nebraska?

Jonathan slouched in his chair like someone who would usually have a cigarette or a bottle of gin in hand by now. He said, "Could be worse, you know. Rome could have sent the noobie, but I hear she's busy regrowing her skeleton."


Dalton Meier.

Dalton Williams 'Dalt' Meier (like John Mayer, the singer, but not lame) didn't mind taking the city bus home after troop meetings. He was vaguely aware that folks didn't approve of the BSA keeping out gays while allowing mutants, but being none of those things, he didn't see how that applied to him. That being so, he could afford to ignore the stares. Turning out either way had to suck, right? Anyway, school was out for summer! Even better, the summer camping trip was back on! He'd have to get with Joey to work out a good meal plan. Otherwise, Steve or Billy would have them eating hotdogs that had gotten dodgy from floating in the melted cooler water, maybe peanut butter, and stale buns or something. Ketchup wasn't a real vegetable! Heathens. What was the deal with the new British priest, anyway? Dalt would have bet the man had at least two flasks on him, not just for holy water! As Mom would say, he seemed the type.

Before too long, the bus rolled up to his stop. Dalt swung his backpack back over his shoulder and walked out into the warm summer night, filing his camping plans away for after dinner. Unlike in the movies, everything was sure to turn out more or less as it was supposed to. There was good and evil – everybody knew that – but rain on a camping trip was about the most excitement folks like him ever got to see, this far from the coasts and all that. If supervillains saw Nebraska as just another flyover state, that was fine by him!

Dalt could smell Mom's homemade pizza well before he got it to the front doorstep. He smiled at the savory proof of everything being right with the world.


Several days earlier,
Office of the Knight Commander, Rome.

Truth to tell, Brother Jonathan Stambull could use a pack of silk cuts and a stiff drink, even knowing exactly how that turned out. Had the Knight Commander flipped his lid or what?

"Could you run that by me again? For a moment there, I could've sworn you said I'm meant to go play daddy daycare to a bunch of Boy Scouts out in the great fuck-all of America's wild west."

Cardinal Fitz-Hugh wouldn't have put it quite that way. Except, the message had recommended Jonathan in no uncertain terms, which was usually a dire sign for all involved.

"More or less. I'm confident that the Omaha Archdiocese would like their sons back at the end of the trip. Preferably speaking, they'd be returning in the condition one might normally expect after a week spent outdoors."

"Why not send Laz? His people used to be all about making the desert bloom again, or some such shite."

"I'm afraid he's on assignment. So is Arturo."

"Has anyone considered letting the sprogs down gently?"

"Jonathan, a pack of were-snakes were run out of the area by a snake cult. Now, a group of innocents – even if they are packing knives and hatchets – is being redirected to a remote location rumored to be used for midsummer rituals. However, with the exception of marriage, the Latter-day Saints aren't fond of midsummer rituals. Does that sound like business as usual?"

"It sounds like a right proper party, except for no booze, no fags, and no birds."

"We have an in via this group that doesn't raise suspicion, so long as we limit ourselves to one Knight. That might not be the case with any others. As it is, we've been given notice that whoever goes may need to improvise." The Knight Commander handed over a small box.

Jonathan scowled at the object, "You cannot expect me to tap a child! Hasn't bloody near everything that's happened with Sister Petra been bad enough!"

"I'd say she's done quite well for herself."

"She shouldn't've been in a place to have to, and you know it."

"Would you prefer someone else to do the dirty work?"

"No. Damn you."


Monday, June 18, 2007,
On the westbound trail Actually, U.S. Interstate 80 out of Omaha, NE.

Weird how, except for the extra traffic around Lincoln, it didn't look like they'd hardly gone anywhere. Dalt figured one field of corn, soybeans, or sorghum, greenly baking in the sun, looked pretty much like any other. And, what with his father working in commodities, he'd had plenty of experience with fields of green. Crossing the Platte River, south of Grand Island, his stomach reminded him that breakfast had been hours ago. Heck, by the time they pulled off into Kearney, even Brother Jonathan looked hungry. That, or maybe nauseous, once he saw the choice of places to hit for lunch. Dalt's father had often said, Fast, cheap, or good: you only get two. Dalt wasn't so picky, but he reckoned his Dad was on the money with that.

Westbound from Kearney, the trees got more and more scarce and the Great Plains stayed ever so flatly flat. Joey, sitting next to Dalt in the van, wasn't the only guy who was out like a light. He was just the only one dead to the world on Dalt's shoulder. He must have fallen asleep too, because the next thing Dalt knew, Brother Jonathan was pulling off at the mile marker 159 rest stop. The land here was browner and more wide open. They'd mentioned the Sand Hills in school, and there were hills and sand here — but not much else. Just more Nebraska. Between the hot summer sun, nothing on the radio anyone liked, and greasy meat in teenaged stomachs, that was the last anyone remembered for a solid couple of hours. Soon, the van was pulling off the highway again, waking Dalt (and Joey, who was still using Dalt's shoulder for a pillow) with a start. He stretched as best he could and yawned. Where were they?

Brother Geoffrey called back, "For those of you passengers just now rejoining us, we've been crossing the High Plains of Colorado for the past hour and a half. Get out, stretch your legs, and make sure you drink water, so you don't dehydrate on us. Tonight we'll be finding out who remembered to pack some warm clothing."

"No drifters, mate?"

"Don't start, Jonathan."

"What about bed warmers? I know a bird, lives not far from the campsite. Goes by Little Bessie, charges by the hour."

"Impressionable youth, Jonathan."

Not much further westbound from there, you could see shadows that looked like mountains if you squinted. Out past Denver and Golden, they stopped for a while at Lookout Mountain. Buffalo Bill's grave was okay, but from up where they were, Dalt could practically see the whole way they'd come or close to it! Then, it was back in the van, again, for the few more miles until they reached their campsite. It should have been just a few more miles, but with all the curves and switchbacks (with too few guardrails between the two-lane road and too much empty space), they barely beat nightfall. The campground was far enough outside of Black Hawk to discourage "going off in search of firewood". Yes, the signs did say "casino", and no, there was no chance of going inside one. Brother Jonathan even took the van out for a "supply run" to "prevent temptation"!

Brother Geoffrey wasn't sure he believed that, but he didn't complain.

Somehow, Colorado hadn't gotten the notice that it was summer already! It was fifty frickin' degrees outside when Steve got everyone up. Dalt later heard that Steve had wanted to blow reveille each morning, but he'd caved to threats of disembowelment. As it was, Dalt was sure no one got a lot of sleep, just from the work of breathing while they adjusted to the altitude. Joey was on his third hit off his inhaler (Dalt counted them.) Aside from those hiccups, everyone wolfed down their breakfast of coffee, milk, bacon, eggs, and/or pancakes. Out and about in the clear mountain air, the troop was away from home and (mostly) on their own for real. Adventure must be just around the corner!


Tuesday,
Still on the road.

At least they got to see some of Black Hawk on the way back out. The buildings weren't all dusty and dingy clapboard, like small towns ended up out on the Plains. Instead, they had brickwork on stone foundations. Peaked roofs mixed together in frontier and European styles. Brother Geoffrey said something about kitsch, but it was still new to Dalt. There were mountains everywhere!

Dalt had only thought they were in the mountains before. The real deal was getting higher and snowier the further west they went on the Interstate. The van had a rough time getting up the road until they went through the first tunnel they'd seen on the trip. All you could tell from the road before was that the engine strained more and more as they went up and up. After the tunnel, Brother Geoffrey decided he needed a break, so they pulled off at the next stop. Dalt overheard someone say that they'd crossed the Continental Divide. That must have been the problem for the van. After another hour of mountains, the scenery opened up to dry hills. The first time they crossed the Colorado River, it wasn't much bigger than the Platte had been! At the next rest stop, which was on the Colorado's bank, some of the guys took pictures to show off back home.

Where before, the highway had stayed close to one famous river or another, soon they were looking at miles of flat dry scrub stretching from the road to more and more distant flattened mountains. Some of the closer ones were bacon-color striped, like in the Westerns. Going by the road signs, some were real mesas.

Colorado had had nothing on Utah when it came to desert mesas and being very, very dry. It was like they were driving through their own movie set! At each stop, Brother Jonathan kept an eye out for something. He said anyone could gawk at the scenery like a 'bloody tourist'. He was on the lookout for vultures with a taste for Englishmen. Weird guy. But then, didn't you have to be kind of weird to take vows of chastity and poverty? When they got back into hill country, the land was covered in scrub instead of trees. Dalt was pretty sure that that didn't make Utah 'almost as inbred as Scotland, but with better weather.' So much for high adventure, right?

They stopped for a quick supply run in Cedar City because Joey managed to forget sunblock. Three guesses how he'd figured that out! Dalt decided to get more of that and some aloe because his best friend could be a ditz. Ray Sullivan was quiet the entire time until they got back to the van. Dalt caught him humming in the seat behind him.

"One of these things is not like the other. One of these things just doesn't belong."

"What's Sesame Street got to do with us?" Dix asked.

"Ever notice how it's always the token minority who bites it in the movies? Well, how many other Black people do you see around here?"

Holy hockey sticks, he was right!

"Guys, you're all wrong," claimed Steve Capra from the front seat. "As senior patrol leader, I say it's Brother Jonathan. I just know he's going to be the first one to find trouble instead of us because I pay attention to things."

The reasons he was SPL had more to do with him being seventeen. He was active lately because he was between girlfriends, but no one wanted to say so.


Evening in San Canaan.

All things considered, the food was good, and there was plenty of it. Yet, Dalt couldn't recall seeing much farmland on the way here. He'd feel real guilty if it turned out that folks would be going short on account of pulling out all the stops just for them. Sure, the Scouts and their leaders were guests, but...

"If anything's too spicy for you, you could speak up, " Mason prompted. "It's not like we'd. Ow! What was that for?"

Mason's brother, Jason, said, "It wasn't for what you'd done but what you were fixing to say."

"How'd you know?"

"Mase, I know you. That's all I need to."

Dalt spoke up, "No. The food's fine! Not too spicy at all!"

It was still kind of creepy the way the guy had picked up on his mood. Now, Mason'd be the last person he'd admit anything to, even if his tongue burned off.

"Then eat up! You won't have it so good on the camp-out." Mrs. Thea winked at Jason for saying that. But maybe it wasn't a conspiracy or anything. As long as Dix turned up alive and well in the morning, that is.


Nilsson-Garnett Home.

One thing led to another, and soon, Dalton Meier and Joey MacAlister, were shuttled off to spend the night at Mrs. Nilsson's and Miss Garnett's home. They only had to keep track of Mase and Jase, Demi and Petey and Ellie, what with Heck Nilsson being off at school. Nothing confusing about that at all. They were all doomed.

"So, " Joey said, "Why do all the houses look like they're laid out the same?"

Miss Garnett explained that it was easier on all involved to get one floor plan past code enforcement.

"The houses are all jointly owned by the community, mostly to give the children a stable home life. Otherwise, why waste an entire house on a lone couple? Most places just ends up with everyone isolated from their whole selves and alienated from their neighbors."

Mrs. Nilsson added, "As if the word even applies."

That must have satisfied Joey, because he didn't ask anything else all the way over to the house. Different strokes for different folks.

Mrs. Nilsson laid out the sleeping arrangements while their kids went about lighting lamps and taking care of other chores.

"Dalton, you and Joey will be bunking with the boys. Do make sure they help with tidying up and setting out linens. You don't want to be catching your death of cold."

It was kind of chilly now that the sun'd been down for some hours.

Mason added, "Yeah, you're probably used to sweating more than you think. In desert air, you end up chilled and dehydrated before you know it."

Petey nodded solemnly before clambering up to one of the top bunks. His expression left no doubt that, in his eight-year-old expertise, no one else could manage making a bed up correctly. On the other side of the room, Mason and Jason were pulling gear, tools, dirty boots, etc., from "Hector's bunk, but he's not here." In that moment, Dalton just knew where his younger brother Drew's lacrosse gear was: dumped on his bed, still grass-stained and wet. Man, once that habit got set, there'd be no fixing it.

"If Petey's taking the top bunk there," Mason started to say.

"I wouldn't be cleaning it up if I weren't. We do have guests."

"Well, I guess that settles that. Dalt, I reckon you should take Petey's bunk. Joey? You got bottom bunk here."

Five went into four with someone left out in the cold, didn't it?

Joey'd worked out the same math. He asked, "Um... Which of you two is going where?"

Jason shrugged. "Me'n Mase'll take the top bunk. There's always been room for the two of us, even if someone hogs the pillow."

"I do not."

"You might be selling, but I ain't buying none of that, Mase."

Come to think of it, sharing a bunk was probably less of a (literal) pain in the neck than passing out on the guy sitting next to you was. Tomorrow night would be tents and sleeping bags, and that had to be better.


Wednesday.

Nilsson-Garnett Home.

Dalt didn't know what he was expecting, but it probably wasn't supposed to be happening at sunup. Somehow, everyone managed to clean up without running out of hot water. Solar heated! Speaking of heat, he was pretty sure that it was for the best that he hadn't had to double up with Joey. For one thing, there was the whole asthma thing. For the other, Dalt had a suspicion that he could be coming down with something not meant to be shared. All he had to do was gut it out until they reached the campsite. If he didn't feel better, he could take things easy there. Wasn't that what they did in the old days?

Before long, the troop's gear was all packed up on real, live donkeys. Brock Abernathy was practically over the moon over being allowed to lead one. Dalton was less sure about that. Like just about any other farm animals, donkeys weren't as cute up close. Anyway, the whole group was taking a dusty old trail that could have been there for years or decades, at least. Adventure!

Sidewinder Creek Campground.

What.

A.

Dump.

There had to be city dumps with better amenities. After the campground supervisor thanked the local guys for clearing extra space so the out-of-state troop would have a good pick of sites, just about everyone felt like a heel for not being more enthusiastic. That is, except for Brock, who looked ready to hug anything live and furry. There weren't any furry cactuses, were there? Dalt suspected that he and Brother Jonathan had different reasons to ask the same question. Adults were weird sometimes.

Having extra space soon came in handy. A person might think they're ready for midday sun... But when that sun crossed the zenith blasting desert slot canyon with heat, the midwest boys came to understand why their neighbors one site over had doubled up on the canvas for their dining area. It kept some ground cool enough to break out some midday siesta bedding. By the time everyone was rested and rehydrated, the western walls of the canyon were in shadow, glowing in rich desert colors by reflected light from the opposite walls. Before, if anyone would've told him a hostile pile of rock and scrub brush could be so beautiful, Dalton would've called them a liar.

"Take a good look, kid. Some people live and die, never seeing the world like this. Give the bastards in power half a chance, and you'll never see it again."

Huh.

That speech would have sounded better without a smoker's cough.

Just saying.


Thursday,
Sidewinder Creek Campground.

Dalton woke up feeling more thirsty than he'd ever been in his whole life. Some of the others were drinking their canteens dry too, so it could just be from all the dry air. He skipped the bacon. There was something unsettling about the way the strips of deliciousness swum in boiling hot grease. He couldn't recall seeing any monster movies with boiled snakes, but, yeah. Morning breakfast pancakes washed down with lots of kool-aid mostly settled his stomach for the clean-up afterward.

Wasn't Mexican tummy meant to be something you got in another country?

One of the guys yelled out to him, "Hey, Dalt! Hurry up! We're heading out!"

Zion awaited, in all her adventurous glory. But, getting sick to his stomach or the runs on a hike would be Bad Adventure. Dammit.

"Um, how about I stick around here, maybe round up some wood for tonight's fire?"

Billy shook his head at Dalt's criminal lack of enthusiasm but left and came back.

"If you're feeling bad, you should just come out and tell us. Whatever. Since Brother Jonathan's staying too, Geoffrey says you can go look for your wood. Just don't go setting it all on fire before we get back."

"Why would I do that?"

"Remember that time with the bonfire..."

"How was I to know it was all super-dry?"

"Just, don't."

"Why's Jonathan staying?"

"He says that if God wanted him to cross a desert, he wouldn't have been born in England."

"Really?"

"Fucked if I know, but he can keep you out of trouble. And no messing with my stuff!"

Right. Who hides a girly mag in his sleeping bag? How much wood would we need for a really good fire?


Everyone got back from the hike hot, tired, sunburned, scratched up, and cactus-bit. Meanwhile, Dalt had managed a decent woodpile and only three trips to pray to the campsite's porcelain god. For some reason, river water helped, so he kept his canteen close by and left the packed sandwiches where they were set out. After lunch, taking a siesta was a great idea! Just a few minutes turned into a couple of hours...

Everyone else was still dead to the world when Dalt came back from another trip to the river. Weren't siestas supposed to end? Time to go find Brother Jonathan and see what he thought about the messed-up schedule.

Surprise! He was awake and coming back to camp. "Brother Jonathan!"

Oops. He wasn't alone.

Dalton recovered his manners and said, "and, um, Mase? Hello. Er, not to alarm anyone, but... Would you mind if Brother Jonathan and I talk privately about something that's come up?"

Mase looked like he'd bitten something sour, saying, "I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that not a creature is stirring back at your camp?"

"Yeah. Pretty much everyone's overheated and crashed from the hike earlier. How'd you know?"

"It seems to be something in the water. By the way, you look like you got way too much sun. Didn't nobody ever tell you guys about sunscreen and hats? When was the last time you took a piss?"

Jerk. Like he needed a reminder from a guy hardly older than him.

Jonathan said, "Mason does have a point. Your face is too bloody red by a mile."

"I wasn't feeling good, so I volunteered to go gather some deadwood instead of going on the hike."

"Would that be from the brush pile left over from cleaning things up the other day? Long walk. Not."

Bite me, Mase.

"How was I supposed to know that?"

"How the blazes were you blind enough to miss it?

"Goodwin, since you need to wash out your canteen, and Dalton needs to cool off pronto, why don't you two buddy up and get that taken care of while I look into the prank."

"Prank?"

"It could still turn out to be that simple."

To be honest, Dalt wouldn't mind pranking that smirk off Mason Goodwin's face, Scout Law or not.


They were hardly out of sight from the camp, but Dalton was getting winded. That was new. Embarrassing as Hell, too.

"Hold up, man, I need to take a breather."

Mason stared at him like he'd grown two heads.

"Fine. But if I come across a shallow enough spot in the river, you are going in. Even if I have to hold you up."

"It's, it's not sunstroke!"

"If you'd earned your first aid badge fair and square, you'd know you're the last person I'd be listening to on the subject."

"Di'n't cheat."


As God was his witness, there was no way Dalton Meier was going to tell his parents about being carried to the river and dumped in. Dad might understand, but Mom would be upset. Drew would never, ever let him live it down. That Mason had been the one to do it, while he was "tripping balls", was going to be Forever Top Secret.

Things went crazy after that. The only thing that made sense was someone helping him change clothes and tucking him into a tent. It couldn't be his tent. The cheap aftershave lingering on the sleeping bag and the inside-out clothes he was sweating in smelled like Mason Goodwin. Supposedly, if that didn't throw those unknown things (he wasn't sure he believed in faery tracking bomber weasels) off his scent, whatever was in that brew Brother Jonathan made him drink probably would.

See? Crazy.

Vomiting in a sleeping bag doesn't improve things. Not the first round, not the second. Somehow, he fell into a deep sleep before distant screams got too loud.


Lodges of the Spirit People

Dalt came to at the bottom of a proper canyon. Sheer walls of banded red and tan sediment loomed over skirts of similar stone sprinkled with dark green piñon and juniper. Out in the middle of empty space, two spires of banded rock reached for the starry midnight sky. How he could see all this at night made little sense, but he could, so he did.

"What am I supposed to do now?"

A green-haired Native boy pointed to the taller of the rock spires. "You climb to the top and ask to be rewoven. You do that or you fall apart. Simple."

Dalt looked down. The yarn he was made of was unraveling like a worn-out Raggedy Andy doll. He probably shouldn't wait too long to do the thing.

Arriving at the base of the rock spire, he found a rope hanging down, white in the moonlight. The other kid was nowhere to be seen, but he could have had something else to tend to. Nothing else to do but to do it, so he started climbing the longest, highest climbing wall he'd ever come across.

He'd been climbing long enough to see the rock's shadow rotate around its base when he noticed something new. One of the loose yarns had gotten snagged down at the bottom. If he went back down, there might not be time enough to try again. He didn't want Brother Geoffrey to have to mail a pile of loose yarn to his parents! He shook some of the stiffness out of each shoulder and went back to climbing and thinking. There wasn't much else to do. Besides: what are 'parents'?

The next time he stopped for a breather, the shadows had moved around more. All he could remember was that he needed to follow the rope he was climbing. It looked more like yarn than the stretched-out yarn that blew about in the breeze under the stars. Except, his was dyed already by things he'd done and things he was yet to do. A person might knit a person-suit from all that. Maybe that's what the figure below him was doing?

His third stop was at a white rock ledge dancing with shadows cast by stars a fingertip away in the low moonlight. All his yarn was used up, but he took the time to wind up the skein he'd been hanging from. It was so light it hardly weighed more than a feather. At the end of it was his own rope. How clever!

"Come, come, child. I was asked to expect you," said a four-armed woman dressed in a black dress with silver and turquoise on her belt and all around her neck. Her hair was black as the night around them, twisted and pinned up like royalty. Her four feet touched earth. "This would have been easier with one of Kolowisi's children, maybe even your coyote brother — now there's a lean and hungry one! Never mind. By the time I'm finished, the Hungry Ones wouldn't even recognize you if you stood on their feet.

In no time, the weaver woman was busy at her loom.

"First, you should have sturdy blue trousers. Your people do like stripes, so I'll make the shirt red and black. You'll look good in that with a white undershirt underneath. Shoes... we'll keep your boots. Don't want to lose your sense of duty! The valley's heart will be hidden in the conchas on your belt. Only a medicine person can see it for what it is, and only I can take it back. Don't go testing that. Mind you, if one of them comes around complaining, tell them your grandmother made it for you. As for the rest, I can't very well overdye the threads and weave them back right without making the wrong folks suspicious. Well? Get dressed! The sun will be up soon."


Friday morning.

Dalt woke up feeling sticky and dirty in ways he didn't have words for. Brother Geoffrey must have heard him because he carefully opened up the tent at arm's length.

"Not a word, son. Our first task is going to be pulling you and that contaminated sleeping bag out of there before bagging up anything else that got vomit, sweat, blood, or other fluids on it."

Ground zero reeked out, "What about me?"

"We have a bucket and a scrub brush for that before you even look at a shower. Joey offered to help." The boy's eyes widened in shock. Geoffrey shook his head. "Your modesty is safe. Mr. Adkinson took point on dragging both troops through the Park for another round of sunburn and sweating out a mass food poisoning. "

"Is that what really happened?"

"No, but it answers questions. You should be concerned about nearly burning out."

"Oh."

Geoffrey waited for Dalton to ask, "Wait. Wasn't there someone else?"

"Mason's sedated with enough of the good stuff to shut up the Sex Pistols. Jonathan and I need to explain to you what you can and can't tell the others."

"But I didn't do anything wrong! Did I?"

"Wrong? No, mate, but last night didn't go as planned for anyone. We'll need you to keep some details confidential — for your own sake and that of the Mother Church."

Brother Geoffrey asked himself how many times Jonathan had had to use that claim to become so cavalier about it. He didn't like the answer. Distracted as he was by the past evening's events, he didn't notice Dalton snatch a crunchy cicada from a bush along the way to the ad-hoc decontamination station.


Monday evening, June 25, 2007,
Omaha, Nebraska.

Jonathan watched the last of the family units pull out into traffic. The Meiers had been forewarned that their oldest son had been through some changes. There would still be some getting used to the extent of those changes.

He said to Brother Geoffrey, "Well now, this did turn out to be a right proper party, except for there being no booze, no fags, and no birds."

"Believe it or not, you were tougher on the boys than I would have expected. It's traditional to let them get away with enough mischief to blow off steam."

"Some of them blew off steam, alright. Dixon might play for both teams, but MacAlister's headed for some disappointment."

Geoffrey shook his head slowly, "Not quite what I meant, but I can run with it. Dalton's completely oblivious to Joseph's interest, but that's also traditional for that age. What's next for you? I don't suppose you'd stick around this old cow town to help raise the next generation up right."

"Nah. I'm all for getting out while the getting is good. Like as not, I'll probably be asked to poke a hornet's nest or two around New England before crossing the pond."

"What about the one we left behind?"

"Old Scratch's unchosen ones are still in the business of putting the deadly into sin. I forwarded whatever my colleagues could dig up on who might've been involved with the attack on their children. Before you object,"

"Given the circumstances, I don't. Our God can be a wrathful one at times."

"Amen to that."


Wednesday morning, June 27, 2007,
Bakersfield, California

"Damn these muscle twitches," Richard Lemoore groused to himself as he walked/dragged a numb leg to the front door. He'd been enduring once-removed magickal envenomation for the past six days since his so-called apprentices botched the ritual meant to empower him. They were so damned lucky to have died already! He fired off a stimulant cantrip to hide his weakened state. The riff-raff would just come back with crowbars and a moving van if they got the idea that they could break in easily! After all these mortal years, he found he could still be shocked by what stood before him.

"Hi, there! My name is Elder Adkinson, and this is my companion, Elder Hardin. We're conducting a survey of your neighborhood regarding belief in the free exercise of religion. If you could lend us a few moments to answer a couple of questions, we'll be out of your hair and on our way."

Without missing a beat, Elder Hardin asked, "For example: Do you pray?"

"Yes. I can certainly say I do." Such fools could never comprehend how he prayed.

"See? Easy as pie. What about the other members of your household: do they pray as well?"

"Sorry, son. It's just me these days." If there were others... Maybe he could still recoup the Essence he'd wasted to impress these smiling vermin.

Breathe in.

Elder Adkinson's face grew sober, "I'm sorry to hear that."

That makes one of us.

Breathe out.

Richard inhaled, paused to say nothing, then sighed, "Not at all. It's a small sacrifice compared to so many others. I'm sure you two must feel so hot, standing in the stuffy outside all the time." He watched for one or both to fall in step with his controlled breathing. "Don't you think you'd feel more comfortable if you came inside?"

Adkinson's eyes were already glassy, "We certainly don't want to inconvenience you!"

"It's no bother. Do come inside, Mister Adkins..."

"That'd be Adkinson, sir."

"So it is! You must forgive an old man's memory. Never quite where you left it. A cool glass of tea would do you two a world of good, don't you think, and then we can discuss any other questions you have. You aren't due back until much later, aren't you?"

Hardin replied, "No, I mean, yes, sir. We often don't get back until quite late."

Maybe they could all pray? Ancient Glycon might even relent on his Dick's aching bones.

"Pray tell. Well, come along, boys!"

Breathe in, breathe out. Follow my lead, children.

Richard added, "Trust me. I'm sure you're finding that a few minutes off your feet could change your entire day."


Adkinson stared at the handcuffed body thrashing at the end of a barely-snug noose.

"How about it — do you think that our friend's prayers are being heard?"

"All the way to his destination. How long do we wait to call in the welfare check?"

"Have to give it long enough for the spider venom to take hold. The cause of death almost always goes down as accidental suicide. Once investigators get a good look at this guy's playroom and telephone records, it ought to get interesting."

Hardin asked, "Take hold? Oh. So that's why he's cuffed with his hands in front of him. How'd we get a line on a lethal aphrodisiac, anyway?"

"Hector's girlfriend and her sister are spider clan. His brother, Mase, practically lives at the intersection of Fuck Around and Find Out."

"Should I even ask?"

"Let's just say that someone might be coming down with a taste for bondage."

"Lord below, I don't know how those two women manage those children. I don't want to know, either."


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Additional Info

  • Story Arc: One Knight of Sin
  • Number in Arc: 2
  • In-universe Timestamp: Monday, 04 June 2007
Read 901 times Last modified on Tuesday, 13 December 2022 06:00
null0trooper

Whatever it is that I am definitely innocent of, I can explain.

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