Erotic Dancer

(This week I've been looking through the writing I discarded when I did the second draft of Indian Shadow, and putting some of them back up on Shuffle Play.)

Father Roland found a mysterious symbol of the Fool Who Denied God in his Heart on a playing card dealt to him by Bergamo, after he'd agreed to have his fortune told. "What does it mean?" Roland asked, but Bergamo said it probably means something different to whoever's looking at it. That didn't satisfy Father Roland, and he became obsessed with this particular manifestation of the Fool.

"Does it mean he doesn't believe? What does it mean to deny in your heart? Is it a kind of visceral rejection? Or do you think it's just not making a space where God can come in? Like a guest room. Or could it be that God is in your heart and you refuse to believe it?"

"I don't know," Bergamo said.

"Well, use your head," Father Roland suggested petulantly. "We have to think."

"Be my guest," Bergamo said, which Father Roland heard as, "Go ahead and think."

Father Roland did think. He began to think all the time, about the Fool Who Denied God in His Heart, and the more he thought about it, the more he investigated it, the more significance the symbol took on for him, and the more of what used to be his future it took up. He found Medieval drawings of this fool, and always on his face there was the empty idiocy of denial. He found it in Psalms, and he found it in older books, harder to translate.

The image of the Fool would twist and struggle in his mind when he walked through the foothills around Ash Fork, building on his reputation as the Mad Priest. What obsessed him the most was the question of whether he had denied God in his heart and was just seeing his reflection in the playing card. This became complicated when Bergamo suggested, "Don't you think if there's a part of you thinking that, that part's already done that?"

This made Father Roland pale with worry, especially because he'd choked somebody to death with the rope from his priest's robe. The robe did morph back into a priest's garment after the temporary insanity episode. In Ash Fork, somebody on the street in a bath robe is a manifestation of madness, especially a bathrobe flapping open. He began to study the idea of whether it's okay for the mind to deny God, because that is a legitimate proposition to explore, so long as you don't deny God in your heart. "What do you think?" he asked Bergamo.

"It depends on what I think about," he said. Father Roland blanched and moved off again, studying the problem from different angles.

One afternoon he was walking in the Mesquites and all around him there was hot sunshine and the buzzing of insects. It was still enough he could hear his footsteps. Little clouds of dust came up from where he stepped. The ground was powdery dry. He stopped and listened. This was Darlene's private place, or at least she thought it was. She had built a fire pit in a sheltered grove, and she danced naked around it every morning. It was her morning prayer.

There were at least three vantage points from which Darlene's privacy could be breached, three observation points into her sacred space. Father Roland was looking from the North, Bergamo was looking from the West, and Indian Shadow was looking from the East, three voyeurs around the lost gospel, reading it in translation.

As Father Roland watched he had a sudden flashback to the moment when his heart changed, when all the denied evil flooded out from where he'd denied it. His conscious faculty shut down because that was too confusing to follow at a rational level. He dropped to his knees. He felt the sunshine on his face and he heard the insects singing. He opened his eyes and saw Darlene leap like the flames were leaping out of the fire, and change color the same as they did, her flesh reflecting blue and orange and yellow.

When he got back to his feet he felt like something had happened, but there was also an empty feeling, because he was sure, now, he'd had his peak peak experience during the gunfight. He'd transcended his character's limitations, according to witnesses who saw him walk on air. He'd been fearless and deadly, finally bringing his dreams of magical control to life in the form of a homicidal maniac. It had been one hell of a day, but now he was starting to get the punch line. It was like he was part of the moon landing. Nothing else in life is ever going to be as good as that. It's all downhill after the day when you become a Saint.

Father Roland did become a saint. Everybody remembered his walking above the surface of the street and they remembered he walked into town and destroyed the enemy with his bare hands and a length of rope. That he transformed into a homicidal maniac and simultaneously committed indecent exposure and murder was explored only by "alternative historians," most of them leftist intellectuals. After he was dead, Father Roland was remembered as a fearless animal man, the Father of the Father. He was often depicted as having a beard, though Father Roland was always clean shaven.

And before he died, Father Roland finally solved his riddle when he heard a Sufi story, about the Sufi who knocked on the gates of heaven and when asked who was there said, "It's me." He was sent away and he came back when he thought he was ready, again saying, "It's me." He was sent away again, and in his old age he came back to the gates of heaven. "Who is it?" he was asked, and this time he said, "It never was about me, was it? It was you."

In his last hours, when he was attended by Jules himself, he said, "It never was about me, was it?" It was a rhetorical question. The gates had already opened and he never looked back.

From the West, Bergamo watched Darlene's dance around the fire. He didn't reflect. He just let the dance appear on the retinas of his eyes with objective precision. It was what he was trying to tell the newspaper reporter. He couldn't reflect when it was time to act. Later on he could reflect, and he could tell the story of how the ground got hot under his feet when The Gunfighter was coming up like a volcano blowing.

While he didn't drop to his knees, Bergamo was feeling a great sadness when he watched the dance around the morning fire. It was the longing to go back over the Great Divide, back to the other side of the mountain, where there's no death. "Oh to live on Sugar Mountain, with the barkers and the colored balloons." Not only was he not ever going back home, he was never going back to the earth again. It was getting too hot, too crazy, and too violent for intelligent life. Everybody was moving underground, and living a virtual life on the network.

Here he was, watching Darlene again, and over there was Indian Shadow, watching her from his point of view, and there was Father Roland, watching from the mesquites. They were watching her because she was ultimately unobtainable, the container that holds all the projected fantasy of the men who watch from the shadows. The projections filled her up and made her dance with Sufic abandon and the fire blazed up with renewed interest.

Indian Shadow was beginning to feel like ... Shadow. The fire would flame up he'd feel it dispel some of his substance, so that bits and pieces of him would dematerialize into the patterns created by the sun shining through the branches of the trees. He was insubstantial, and he wanted Darlene to make him real by giving him children before he disappeared. Before he knew what he was doing he had left the cover of the shadows and walked into the glade. Darlene didn't stop dancing right away. When she did she asked him if he knew what he wanted with her. He said he was sure of what he wanted.

It was ten months later when the twins were born in Ash Fork, dark Indian males, like their father, and two years later there followed a little girl with pale while skin and fiery red hair, like her mother’s. Her name was Summer,. She was ten years old when Indian Shadow and Darlene were struck by a dematerializing field in one of the bombardments of Ash Fork by the Dina.

The Dina couldn't be killed unless its physical body was found and destroyed, just as Jules couldn't be killed unless his physical body was found and destroyed. The munitions were the projections of the Dina, and even the riders who were killed, even the center, strangled in a religious ritual, shrank back into the mind of the Dina, changed form, and probed outward again, searching for Jules. Huge rewards were offered to anyone who betrayed his hiding place. But nobody had collected the reward.

After awhile Jules realized that they would forever be trying to eliminate him, but that if they actually eliminated him billions of dollars in investment money would shift to some other priority. What they wanted was to make a constant, unsuccessful effort to find him and kill him. The only effective weapon they'd developed to actually wound him was the dematerializing field.

The DMFs were frontal assaults on Jules' memory systems. He could route around the damage but it took some time because of thermal delay. Temperatures had to be reset. And there would be a moment when he did not remember. In the assault that took out Darlene and Indian Shadow the DMF scrambled the logic and effectively erased their references. Losing references is death in Ash Fork, because existence is referential.

The settling of Ash Fork in the shadow of the Dina, with incursions on the border, interference with trade and abductions of citizens, moved forward. Jules was quickly extending his range by forming a network of iconic allies around himself. The beautification of Father Roland gave him the archetype of the Saint, and there was a small but vocal group demanding Ash Fork be renamed St. Roland, but it never gained enough support to make the shift. Bergamo gradually shed more of his human form, and moved to the realm of an American deity in the iconic image of Gunfighter.

Summer was a special case. She was in love with Bergamo from the first time she saw him, even though Indian Shadow explained to her that Bergamo was iconic, and beyond the reach of ordinary emotion. "That's like being in love with Jules," he said. "Or like being in love with a poem."

"I like that," she said, "being in love with a poem."

Because she was a favorite of Jules, he gave her iconic status so that she could be Begamo's equal, and they were married at St. Roland's by Jules himself. Nobody had seen him for years, and nobody knew quite how he was evolving. When he was an infant he'd been a miniature man. But he was matured now. He might look like anybody. As the people showed up at the town square they looked around expectantly. A street singer took the stage. He performed the rituals, sang, “Summertime,” and then he disappeared back into deep cover.

Posted: Thu - December 4, 2008 at 03:29 PM