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Authors: Robert Kroese

Mercury Falls

BOOK: Mercury Falls
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Mercury Falls
 
A NOVEL BY ROBERT KROESE
 

 

The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

This novel was originally published in a slightly different form from St. Culain Press in 2009.

 

Text copyright © 2010 Robert Kroese
All rights reserved

 

No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

 

Published by AmazonEncore
P.O. Box 400818
Las Vegas, NV 89140

 

ISBN: 978-1-935597-15-5

 

For Julia, the angel looking
over my shoulder.

 

With thanks to Teri Ahlstrom, Joel Bezaire,
Neva Cheatwood, Jim deJonge, Jocelyn Pihlaja,
and John Sellers for their unwavering
support and invaluable assistance.

 
CONTENTS
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
PROLOGUE
 

To Your Holiness, the High Council of the Seraphim,

 

 

Greetings from your humble servant, Ederatz,

Cherub First Class,

Order of the Mundane Observation Corps

 

 

The first thing you'll notice about this report is that it's written in English. I have to apologize for that; after a few millennia on Earth I'm a little rusty in High Seraphic. Also, while the language of the angels is incontrovertibly more melodious than any earth-bound tongue, it lacks a number of words which are central to the telling of a story of such epic grandeur, such as
linoleum
,
ping-pon
g, and
dickweed
.

I have abandoned the anapestic tetrameter form traditionally used for these reports, as it is surprisingly difficult to adapt to English. I got as far as:

White balls bouncing in the house of the one

And the corners of linoleum are peeling in the sun

 

I think this couplet has a certain epic feel to it, but on the downside it took me three weeks to write. In addition, I'm afraid this account has a bit more moral ambiguity than is really suited for the traditional form. I know, I'm supposed to clear up the gray areas and present things in black and white, but you'd be amazed at how complicated things have gotten here recently. In fact, it's hard to even know what bits to include in the story. Who's the main character? What's the point of the story? Could it be adapted into a TV movie? Your guess is as good as mine. Although it is true that HBO has expressed some interest.

Until now relations between Heaven and the Mundane Plane have been a one-way street. To us it was all about following the all-important Schedule of Plagues, Announcements, and Miracles. We made little adjustments here and there to keep history moving in the right direction, but we never actually got involved in what was going on. I'm sure you're familiar with the motto of the Mundane Observation Corps:
Eternally Objective
. I always took this motto very seriously. Many of my fellow cherubim tend, in fact, to be objective to the point of downright hostility.

Mercury was not, of course, an agent of the MOC. Mercury got his hands dirty on countless occasions. But in a way the motto applies even more to angels in his position. It was understood that whatever he did, he was expected above all not to
care
. I suppose you could see his actions as the logical consequence of that philosophy.

On the other hand, what do I know? You're the ones making the important decisions. I suppose you have agents trying to track down Mercury as you're reading this, and you probably have a pretty good idea of what you're going to do when—or if—you find him. Or maybe you're reading this with an open mind, hoping to find the answers to all the big questions. What was he trying to accomplish? On whose authority was he acting? Did he really build a snowman the height of a three-story building? And of course, what you need in order to answer those questions is a completely objective account of events.

Too bad I can't give you one.

As you know, the Mundane Observation Corps has access to a staggering amount of information; our agents are everywhere, recording anything of interest that happens on the Mundane Plane. This information is, however, useless unless it is framed in some kind of coherent narrative. In the past, the frame has been provided for us; the MOC has always been able to rely on the inexorable unfolding of the Divine Plan.

Like it or not, however, the events of this story have broken this frame. I've had to create my own frame, based on my own understanding of events. Your frame is sure to be different. I guess that's the one thing I'd like you to keep in mind as you read this. This report isn't just a book full of facts for you to absorb. As you read it, you're inevitably going to try to incorporate it into your own frame.

Good luck figuring it all out.

But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

Matthew 24:36 (King James Version)

 

The results of this study indicate that the month of September of the year 1994 is to be the time for the end of history. . .Look, let's put it this way. My wife came to me and said we needed new linoleum in the kitchen. I told her that we should hold off on the effort and the expense of doing it until October or November of 1994.

The Reverend Harold Camping, in 1991

 

What if everything is an illusion and nothing exists? In that case, I definitely overpaid for my carpet.

Woody Allen

 
ONE
 

The Apocalypse has a way of fouling up one's plans. To its credit, humanity has done its best to anticipate the End of Days, but lacking any basis for a reliable timetable, they've jumped the gun on more than a few occasions. The Apocalypse's stubborn refusal to arrive on schedule has caused no end of trouble for the people who have volunteered to announce its arrival. Those waiting at the metaphorical arrival gate for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are forced to eat a lot of metaphorical crow. And pay for a lot of metaphorical flooring.

As you'll recall from some of the early reports produced by our organization, Saint Clement I was one of the first to predict an imminent Apocalypse, around 90 AD. He went around for several years telling the masses that the end was near. The masses responded by making him into a boat anchor. Once he was out of the way, they were free to replace their old linoleum.

A Roman priest and theologian once used the dimensions of Noah's ark to predict that Christ would return in 500 AD. When 500 ended with a whimper rather than a bang, he was forced to admit it was time to retile his foyer.

Later Christian scholars argued that Christ would wait for the odometer to flip before returning in glory. Never mind that they were using the wrong year for Christ's birth; if it were up to them, there would have been a massive run on flooring materials at the beginning of the second millennium. The Great Linoleum Shortage of 1001 AD was forestalled only by the near universal inability to read a calendar.

Pope Innocent III was convinced that the Apocalypse would arrive on the 666
th
anniversary of the birth of Islam. The pope's regard for Mohammed notwithstanding, the mountain failed to arrive. He gave in and replaced the wood flooring in the Vatican with ceramic tile.

In 1669, the Old Believers in Russia barely avoided an expensive flooring upgrade by immolating themselves. This was before the days of zero-interest financing.

The Jehovah's Witnesses nearly single-handedly prompted the rationing of flooring materials at various points in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with Apocalypses scheduled for 1891, 1914, 1915, 1918, 1920, 1925, 1941, 1975, and 1994.

After two thousand years of this, most people had grown a little jaded regarding the prospect of an imminent Armageddon. Predictions of The End became so common by the dawn of the third millennium that homeowners no longer thought twice about installing new flooring weeks or even days before a scheduled Apocalypse.

So it was not for lack of warning that Christine Temetri, an otherwise intelligent young woman who had recently purchased a nine-hundred-square-foot condo in Glendale, California, made the astoundingly ill-advised decision to have new linoleum installed in her breakfast nook only days before the Apocalypse was scheduled to start. Her decision was, if anything, the result of an overwhelming surfeit of warnings.

The latest of these warnings came from one Reverend Jonas Bitters, First Prophet of the Church of the Bridegroom. Jonas Bitters was a former recreational vehicle salesman who had, through a combination of spurious scriptural exegesis, excessive reliance on Google's automated Hebrew-to-English translation service, and mathematical errors that could have been caught by a bright third grader, happened upon a date for the End of Days that was within a hair of being accurate. When one considers that most eschatological timetables were off by decades—if not centuries or even millennia—Bitters was so close to the correct date that speculation has arisen in certain corners of Heaven as to whether he was somehow guided in his feverish stacking of errors by the Almighty Himself. Advocates of this theory point to the fact that if Bitters had not forgotten to carry the one in a certain equation, he would have been dead-on. Skeptics point out that if he had correctly counted the number of letters in YHWH, he would have been off by another eighty years.

The fact is that in cosmological terms, Jonas Bitters was about as close to dead-on as one could possibly hope for. Unfortunately for him, human beings tend not to think in cosmological terms—especially when those human beings have been standing on a plateau twenty miles outside of Elko, Nevada, for eight hours. Even Christine Temetri, who had the foresight to bring a lawn chair, a down jacket, a penlight, a book of expert-level crossword puzzles, and the lowest of expectations, was getting antsy about the amount of nothing that was happening. She did, however, have to give up some begrudging admiration for Jonas Bitters, whose enthusiasm remained undiminished in the wee morning hours.

The First Prophet stood some twenty yards from Christine, surveying the culmination of his life's work. Ten girls, ranging in age from thirteen to seventeen, stood before him, wearing only frilly polyester bridesmaid dresses of matching sea-foam green, shivering in the early morning desert cold. Each of them held an old-fashioned kerosene camping lamp.

On a plateau a few feet below the crest of the ridge stood maybe four dozen people, yawning and hugging themselves, trying to stay alert for the big event. The ten girls on the ridge, whose limbs were turning a shade of blue that clashed with the sea-foam polyester, had no such problem. Prophet Jonas had allowed them to wear jackets until four a.m., but as the promised event neared, he insisted that they be seen in all their wedding finery. As a result, the girls now possessed the sort of mental clarity that can only arise from a combination of certainty of one's divine purpose and impending hypothermia.

Carly, the oldest and most developed of the ten, began to jump up and down in an effort to stave off the cold, which had the effect of waking up most of the men in the audience. "Carly, stop that!" barked a dour woman at the front of the crowd, presumably Carly's mother. "Be dignified!"

Being dignified, unfortunately, was an option that was not available to the ten girls, who had the bad luck to be born to parents who were members of the Church of the Bridegroom. On the other hand, one could argue that at least three of them wouldn't exist if it weren't for the church, being as they were the biological daughters of Prophet Jonas—a fact unknown to anyone in the church except for Prophet Jonas, who had his suspicions about a couple of them. One positive consequence of Prophet Jonas's uncertainty in this matter was that despite the fact that he was an incorrigible philanderer, he had not as yet had sex with any of the girls. His self-control in this matter may also have been bolstered by the fact that he needed ten virgins from within the church to complete his Divine Mission, and thanks to his need to offer "counseling sessions" to any new female members of the church, there wasn't much of a margin of error.

Prophet Jonas checked his watch. It said 5:17 a.m. It was almost time. According to the
Angler's Almanac
(the only book that Prophet Jonas relied on outside of the King James Bible), the sun would rise precisely at 5:44 a.m. Even now, the first dim glow of morning was appearing in the east. In point of fact, he had expected the Bridegroom to arrive at midnight, as indicated in the Good Book, but he had been prepared for the contingency that the Guest of Honor might dawdle a bit longer in the Heavenly Foyer. Still, He would appear before dawn, that much was certain. Prophet Jonas cleared his throat and spoke.

"How y'all doin'?" he shouted at the crowd.

Murmurs of attempted cheerfulness arose from the crowd, whose members had expected the evening's festivities to climax more than five hours earlier. Most of them hadn't thought to bring folding chairs or breakfast.

"I said, 'HOW Y'ALL DOIN'!'" Prophet Jonas barked.
1

Louder, but even less convincing, murmurs of attempted cheerfulness. Clearly those gathered in the predawn desert cold just wanted to go home. At this point it didn't much matter to them if home was on Jesus's spaceship or back in the trailer park in Carson City.

As for Christine Temetri, her lack of enthusiasm stemmed not from her disbelief, nor even from her disgust with a transparent, philandering fundamentalist
2
nut job like Jonas Bitters. Her lack of enthusiasm was, rather, a result of boredom, pure and simple. Christine was bored because she knew what was going to happen at sunrise: the sun would come up. That's what always happened at sunrise. She had been through this routine a dozen times before, and never had anything remarkable happened at sunrise other than an eight-hundred-and-sixty-five-thousand-mile-wide ball of nuclear fusion coming into view above the horizon.

For Christine, 5:44 a.m. was (if the
Angler's Almanac
was to be believed, and she had no reason to doubt it) the time when she could pack up her lawn chair, throw it into the trunk of her rental car, and drive to Salt Lake City, where she would catch the 10:25 flight back to Los Angeles. Once back home, she would sleep for a few hours, then try to assemble her notes, such as they were, into a five-hundred-word article in time for the
Banner
's deadline. Then, if the past few weeks' editions were any indication, the
Banner
's owner and publisher, Harry Giddings, would trim the article down to a pithy caption below one of Christine's amateur shots of the girls in their bridesmaid dresses, something like:

Long wait anticlimactic for "ten virgins."

 

Well worth a plane ride from LA to Salt Lake City plus a four-hour drive to and from the middle of nowhere. Christine yawned, trying to remember that she should be happy that she at least had a job—and a job doing ostensibly what she wanted to do: write.

Before going to work for the
Banner
, Christine had been a marginally employed substitute English teacher with dreams of being a freelance writer. Unfortunately, no one seemed particularly interested in her ruminations on life in eastern Oregon—that is, until she took it upon herself to write a piece on an apocalyptic cult near her home. She had intended to expose the group as a front for polygamy and tax evasion, but she found the cultists so pathetic and deluded that she was unable even to feign journalistic objectivity.

What she had originally intended as a scathing expose therefore turned into a facetiously deadpan news story, pretending to give the cult's pronouncements (number seven: women are forbidden to wear denim) serious consideration. She had submitted the story on a whim to the
Banner
, then a fledgling evangelical monthly. To her surprise, the
Banner
's staff loved the story and published it without alteration as a straight news piece. When the issue came out, her article proved to be so popular that the
Banner
decided to start a regular feature on fringe figures obsessed with the Apocalypse (cleverly named "End Notes"), and she was immediately asked for more. She rode a serendipitous wave of interest in the Apocalypse into a full-time job; nearly a year ago she had moved to Glendale, not far from the
Banner
's LA headquarters, but she had spent most of the last three years bouncing between interviews with ersatz prophets of varying degrees of sanity. During that time the
Banner
had become a semi-respectable news magazine, and she had developed an ambiguous but mutually beneficial relationship with the
Banner
's owner and publisher, Harry Giddings.
Time
might still not fear God, but it certainly feared the
Banner
.

So here she sat, at 5:19 in the morning, waiting for the sunrise or the Second Coming, whichever came first. As she was about to nod off in her lawn chair, she was startled by a sudden outburst from Prophet Jonas.

"FANTASTIC!" howled Jonas. "The time we have been waiting for is upon us!"

Intermittent clapping and the occasional cheer nearly drowned out the sound of the Ten Virgins' teeth chattering.

"The Bridegroom will be here any moment!" declared Prophet Jonas. "Are you ready?"

Muted cheers.

"I said, 'ARE YOU READY?'"

Muted cheers and some whistling.

"Brothers and sisters," said Jonas, more quietly, "allow me to read from the Sacred Texts." He opened a well-worn paperback to a page marked by a bookmark. "Elko, Nevada," he read solemnly. "Forty degrees, forty-nine minutes, fifty-seven seconds north; one hundred and fifteen degrees, forty-five minutes, forty-four seconds west. April twenty-ninth. Sunrise: five forty-four a.m."

"Brothers and sisters," he continued, winking almost imperceptibly at one of the more attractive sisters in the front row, "it is now five twenty a.m. We are assured by calculations based on the inerrant Word of God that the Bridegroom will arrive before dawn on this very day." He set the
Angler's Almanac
down on the makeshift podium that had been constructed at the last minute out of three fruit crates and picked up a heavier, leather-bound book, opening it to read:

 

 

"Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.

"And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.

"They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:

"But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.

"While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.

"At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'

"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'

"'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'

"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

"Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'

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