by J. P. Flores
Table of Contents|
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
An hour had passed and, despite Peter’s objections, Mara had poked her head into the room four times reporting the same thing: Mud was standing still in the middle of the room with his eyes shut.
“How long do we wait?” Rinaldi asked.
“It’s been two thousand years; I think we can give him a little more time,” Peter said.
Mara was nervous and pacing; something was disturbing her. When her phone rang, she welcomed the distraction. It was Arty, one of her security men.
“You ready?” he said.
“Our daily GPS check.”
“I know where he is,” Mara said.
Arty sighed. “What does my boss, Mara, always say? What good is protocol if you don’t follow it?”
“All right, I just love it when somebody uses my own words against me. Go ahead, run it.”
“Okay, entering coordinates now... That’s weird.”
“Every time I run a drill,” Arty said, “the coordinates automatically populate the search bar.”
“It was clear this time. Hold on I’ll re-enter them. I’ve got them in a separate folder.”
“That’s weird,” Arty said. “Why is Horace going into the GPS folder? I set up a history.”
“Horace?” Mara asked. She ended her call with Arty and punched in Horace’s code.
“Yeah, boss,” Horace said.
“Were you in the security file?”
“Did you go into the security files?” Mara repeated.
“Anytime!” she said making no attempt to mask her anger when Horace didn’t respond right away. “What the hell is going on, Horace?”
“I was just doing some checking,”
“You don’t do checking. Where are you right now?”
It was then that Mara detected the new sound in the air. She had heard it once before while deployed in Afghanistan. When her brain labelled the sound as a military grade drone, she didn’t even have time to gasp.
In an instant the building that Mud was in deflagrated into fire, metal and cinder. Mara felt the concussion and the solid punch of searing heat as orange flame filled with bits of metal wood and concrete pieces obliterated everything around her, engulfing the building in an instant.
Her last breath brought searing heat into her lungs, burning her from the inside out.
* * *
The candles in the prayer hall flickered again, yet Elder Tak felt no breeze. He sensed a change in the air and got to his feet just as Brother Phan walked through the entry arch.
“A visitor,” he said and then turned and walked out.
Tak walked to the salon where his visitor waited.
“Why have you come here?” Tak said.
“I have some questions that only you can answer,” Mara said.
Tak folded his arms underneath his loose cloak sleeves and remained standing. He nodded to her.
“Why am I here?”
“I don’t understand,” Tak said.
“Where is Mud?” she said.
“Why do you think he’s here?”
“Because I’m here,” she said, her voice quivering with emotion, “and I was at the building. I felt the explosion and the searing heat and then there was nothing. I awoke in my apartment. The news reported a terrible gas leak that blew up half of a residential block. Finding human remains was next to impossible. But I was there! I know I was! And there could only be one explanation!”
Tak stared at her.
“I don’t know how involved you were at the beginning or even if you even know the full story about where Mud came from,” she said. She felt herself stammering and stopped and took a slow, deep breath.
“Is he here?” she asked.
“I knew of your experiment and of your hopes,” Tak said. He motioned for her to sit and called for Brother Phan to bring tea and offered some to Mara.
“Peter came to me and spoke of his quest. I agreed to raise the boy,” Tak said, “‘free of influences, Peter emphasized. I did as well as I could.
“I assigned Venerable Uncle Sanshi to guide the boy during his early years. But he was an elderly man and a strict disciplinarian. He was quick with corporal punishment for discipline even with someone so young as three. It was not uncommon to hear the swift crack of Venerable Uncle’s switch. Most of us felt it during our early years as well.
“But the boy protested his discipline constantly, and he was as stubborn as Venerable Uncle was strict. Mud didn’t like being told what to do.
“He was given the chickens to care for, and one particular day after Mud had been again deprived of his dinner for some failure, the chickens were found dead in the coop, torn apart as if wolves had gotten through the fence. But it wasn’t a wolf, because none of the chickens had been taken.
“He denied it, of course, and the brothers said Mud never had an opportunity to sneak out to the coop to vent his anger on the animals.
“But I suspected, and I waited. Perhaps I waited too long. One month later the boy was being disciplined once again, forced to kneel on a bed of rocks. ‘Discipline now,’ Venerable Uncle used to say, ‘control later.’ But Mud would not have it. When Venerable Uncle brought out the bamboo cane for punishment, the boy lashed out.”
“He struck the old man?”
“He made a fist and he held it out and with a look of confidence he shouted, ‘Die’. He screamed it over and over until the old man clutched at his chest and collapsed. He was dead.
“We were all in shock. Even Mud’s face reflected surprise and fear.”
“But you said he was an old man,” Mara said. “It was not coincidence?”
“It wasn’t the death of the man that was the shock.” Tak sipped his tea and stared at the wall as if deciding whether or not to go on with his story.
“Elder Tak,” Mara said, “if it wasn’t his death that was a shock, then what was?”
He just looked at her and sipped his tea.
“Elder Tak, are you all right?”
He smiled. “I’m being told,” he said, “to stop talking.”
“By me,” Mud said, walking out from the shadows.
“I prefer to finish the story myself, since it all came back to me in that room,” Mud said, “thanks to Peter and his great sacrifice.”
“How did you get here?”
“Mara, it’s my turn to ask the questions. But first, yes, I killed the old man. I hated him. He was mean and unjust, and I wanted him dead, and I squeezed his heart to make it stop. He drove me to great bouts of anger. I didn’t kill the chickens, but somehow I made them kill each other with the hate I felt at the time.
“I later found that I could make a bird drop from the sky mid-flight just by watching it from afar and willing it. It made me feel strong. I wondered then if I could look down on the village and kill anyone I chose with just a thought. I kept my secret from the monks. I feared what would happen if they found out.
“When I struck down Venerable Uncle, Elder Tak pleaded with me to bring the old man back to life. It was something I had never considered before. I could kill, but could I conquer death as well? Isn’t this the focal point of what your Jesus did?
“I stood over Venerable Uncle. I closed my eyes and willed for him to rise. When I opened them, I found myself somewhere else, standing before a well. The old man and the monastery around me were gone. When I walked up to the well, I knew that it was the pit of oblivion.
“I looked down, and my mind became filled with thoughts and images of things I had never seen or done before. There was an explosion of fire and blood. I saw armies of men hacking each other with swords. I caught glimpses of myself doing things I had never done.
“I saw myself up on a cross being stabbed with spears and then I was in a village with a weapon in my hand, a rifle, and nothing else on my mind except the urge to kill. I saw myself dying from starvation as a child and then I sensed myself withering away from old age.
“And then Venerable Uncle appeared, standing before me, a look of horror on his face. I reached up and touched him and suddenly I was back in the monastery. Venerable Uncle started to cough, and he sat up and when our eyes met, my legs collapsed and I fell unconscious.
“When I awoke I had no recollection of the incident. Although I had brought back Venerable Uncle from the dead, that, too, had become a forgotten memory. I was a clean slate and Elder Tak took over my care.
“I submitted to his gentle upbringing. He raised me to be kind and subservient, and I knew nothing else.
“He saw hope in me so he changed the story when he related it to Peter, but he watched me closely for any sign that I would remember what I could do and who I was.”
“Elder Tak,” Mara said, “how can you accept this? You know what he is capable of.”
Elder Tak just looked at her, maintaining his slight smile.
“He is not Elder Tak,” Mud said, “but he has been with me since I was brought here. He watched me from the woods. He didn’t know if I was his enemy or his ally.”
“Why do you allow him to remain here?” Mara asked.
“Because I’m not sure yet which one he is.”
“I only know who I am not. I am not Jesus, but my power to kill greatly distresses me. I want to use it, but Elder Tak taught me to be kind. There is a great conflict within me. Part of me wants to be good and part of wants to dominate. I don’t know which will win over the other. I told you I feared this, and now the fear is real. Will you help me?”
She glanced at Elder Tak.
“He will not harm you as long as I am here,” Mud said.
“Why did you spare me and not the others,” she asked.
“It wasn’t a conscious thought when the bomb struck, and I wasn’t really aware that you had been saved.”
“What if I turn away?” she said.
“Is that your decision?”
“Peter created a god with no soul,” Mara said. “A god without a conscience is a monster.”
“Then be my conscience, Mara. Keep me right. Even now I feel the pull of power. I need you.”
“Do you understand, Mud, by the fact that you stand here with this power, it proves that Jesus was real.”
“It proves Jesus was different, maybe just an aberration, a mutant. And maybe what Rinaldi said was true. I am the return he promised.”
“Or you are the Antichrist, the false god who will fool the world.”
“Yes,” Mud said calmly, “perhaps that. I don’t know. Will you stay? You will have anything you wish.”
Mara looked deep into his eyes for any sign of deception or for any indication that he knew the secret she kept, even from Peter. The secret for which she had been recruited right out of the military before she had become a police officer.
The secret that Mud was not the only living experiment in creating a god.
“I’ll stay,” she said.
Copyright © 2015 by J. P. Flores