The next day I pushed down the little green plastic notch on the bug foggers and muttered my vengeance as I set them out. I was putting down the last fogger in my living room when I tripped. I went down; the fogger went up and in a freak moment passed before my open eyes, giving them one hell of a blast of bug spray. I
my head good on the floor and passed out with the fogger blowing into my bloodied nose. As their hissing filled my ears everything seemed to light up orange and the floor seemed to be turning into slime. If you ever huffed ether in college or glue in middle school you’d know the feeling. I wondered if the cockroaches felt this way as they died. Maybe some cockroach made it once, survived, and went back to the roach club to talk about heaven.
When I came to, I was restrained. I couldn’t open my eyes because of the bandages, and I could not lift my hands because they were tied to the bed, so that I wouldn’t tear off my bandages, but I did not understand my situation. So I jerked strongly against the bed and gave a muffled cry, which my insecticide-soaked nose, mouth, and throat meant as a scream of terror.
Scott answered me, “Don’t I know it, Doc. You know I’ve been in that very bed. It’ll pass; just tell yourself it will pass.”
“Where am I?”
“You are in the Doublesign Minor Emergency Clinic, although I am sure you feel that you had yourself a major emergency. Currently you are tied to the bed, which in my vast experience means they feel you will do harm to yourself or others. Will you do harm to yourself or others, Doc?”
“What’s going on?”
“Doc, you tried to get high on bug juice. I saved you before you flung your consciousness out into the void. I decided that would be a waste, and I might not get my scripts refilled.”
“Scott, I wasn’t trying to get high. Now get me a doctor.”
“I don’t take orders. Now if you would like to make a request . . .”
Before I said anything I listened. I was hoping to hear some sound that told me I was in the tiny six-bed hospital in Doublesign. I wanted to hear an IV machine
or a soda drop out of the soda machine, or Dr. Fresno making his rounds. I didn’t hear anything, and I realized that I could be anywhere. I couldn’t smell anything; my nose was just a mass of burning pain. In fact, I could almost hear its throbs. The pain must have been what woke me. Why didn’t they have me on a morphine drip?
Then the blackness behind my eyes got darker, and I was gone for a while.
When I came to again I called out for a nurse, and one answered. Her guitar-twangy voice soothed my soul; I was indeed in a hospital. Dr. Fresno came in soon after. I found out that I would be here for another two to three weeks. He would take my patients in the meantime. They told me that Scott had rescued me. Impatiently waiting to be my patient, he had walked over to my home after an hour. He kicked open my front door and called the ambulance from Doublesign. He claimed to be a distant cousin.
This proved true. My great-granddad’s second daughter had married into the Scott line. Scott pointed this out to me the next time he visited me.
“Didja ever wonder, Doc, why you’ve got no friends here? It’s ‘cause you and I are kin. I probably shouldn’t have you as my doctor.”
“What do you mean?”
“We have the same great-grandfather. My only blood relative would stand to gain a lot of money if I died. It doesn’t exactly motivate you, hippocratically speaking. Maybe you and I should write out wills to each other. Be more fair-like. I had been intending to leave my wad to the Sloane Art Museum in Doublesign as they have a couple of my sculptures.”
“Scott, I’m not interested in your money.”
“Now that’s a lie, Doc. I may be crazy, but I ain’t stupid. In fact, Doc, you would be surprised at the depth of my art education.”
He spoke truly. I wanted the damn money and spent many blindfolded hours thinking about what drugs would kill him off. When I returned to light, I would no doubt think differently, but you think odd thoughts in the dark.
The next day, or later that night, Scott woke me.
“This is choice, Doc, really choice. You know Fenster?”
“Yes.” I said, having no idea who Fenster was.
“Well, he found something on his land. He was putting a well where an old church was and he found a little metal box. Inside was a small book called
How to Worship God Correctly.
Seems like we’ve all been doing it wrong for years. He drove to the Kinko’s and ran off a few copies and gave them out at the Dairy Queen. Now there’s going to be a town meeting.”
“Did you get a copy?”
“Of course I did. I get me a double-dipped chocolate cone every day about three. I think that soft-serve custard is one of the two best parts of civilization.”
“What’s the other one?”
By this time the bandages were really starting to itch. My hands had been freed days before. It was hard to keep track of the pace of days. Scott came often. As the hospital’s major donor, he could come anytime. For all I knew this conversation took place at six in the evening or four in the morning or noon.
“So how are we supposed to worship God?”
“With megalithic stone circles. Mankind apparently hit the mark with Stonehenge, Nabta Playa, Bagnold’s Circle, or Sentinel Hill in Massachusetts. That’s what God wants.”
“I bet that went over big with the Baptists.”
“You’d think not, but everyone seemed pretty positive about it.”
I didn’t know what to make to this remark. I had never heard of Nabta Playa or Bagnold’s Circle. I wondered if he had taken his meds today. I had asked Dr. Fresno to keep him out of my room, but Fresno said he slipped past the guard. I doubted that anyone would say no to him. I didn’t like being quiet for too long, so I said, “So what do you make of it?”
“I don’t know, Doc. I have never been the religious type. Seems to me God has already made enough calendars with the moon and the sun.”
The twilight came when Dr. Fresno cut away my bandages. The room was dim, and I kept expecting some
moment when they would look at me and see me as a monster. Instead, for a moment I was the one horrified. Something seemed wrong with the angles of the room, as though everything lunged toward me. I put up my hands, and then I felt stupid. Dr. Fresno smiled his half-senile smile. I could see Scott waiting for me in the hall.
Dr. Fresno said, “Richard agreed to drive you home. You can drive tomorrow, but let’s remember our sunglasses, Dr. Huff. Your eyes are fine, and you’ll soon be over any respiratory distress.”
The moon was dark. It had only been two weeks since I had scalded my eyes, fried my brain, and cooked the insides of my lungs. It felt like months or years had gone by. Scott drove me home, and as his old white Chevy pickup turned at the town square I saw my first Stonehenge. The stones stood six or seven feet tall. I asked him to stop. He shrugged and did so. I realized that people were walking around in the middle of the circle. I yelled out to them, but they didn’t yell back.
“They ain’t always friendly, Doc. Just simple country folk.” He laughed all the way to my house. I didn’t get the joke. I was glad to see my SUV in the driveway; maybe I should just drive away tomorrow.
The next day I saw four circles in progress. Two stone. One made of old TVs, which I frankly thought was pretty cool, and one made of cement parking slabs, which I thought was a little tacky. None of my patients had anything to say about the circles and looked at me with raw hatred when I asked. So I let the matter drop. When I drove home I saw six circles.
The next day eight.
Richard Scott dropped by my office. I was glad to see him. Any fantasy I had of doing him in had vanished. I was trying to make up my mind to stay or leave or just call CNN. He just wanted me to re-authorize his twelve prescriptions.
I asked him, “What happened while I was blind up in Doublesign?”
ran the complete text of
How to Worship God Correctly.
In my opinion it caught on.”
“For the love of God, are they all crazy?”
“You’re asking me? I left grad school because I thought my clay was talking to me. Weeks before this they were all worshipping a dead carpenter. I think the movement toward sculpture is healthy.”
“Did you read the
“Sure. I read it every day. That and the
Wall Street Journal.
“And it didn’t fill you with the need to go build Stonehenge a thousand times?”
“I take drugs so that I don’t get messages. See, this one and this one and this one.” He pointed at his list of drugs. “They also keep me from thinking that Mr. TV is telling me something important. I could get you the issues of the
they all went crazy reading, if you would like to see them.”
Part of me wanted to read those articles more than anything; it’s the same part that makes me wonder what goes through a suicide’s mind as he hurtles toward the pavement. But the part of me that manages to brake a car at a red light stopped me. My breathing was rough. I don’t care what Dr. Fresno said, I think I had had lung trauma.
Scott laughed. “You had to struggle with that one, didja? I can feel you, Doc, I can feel you.”
“But these people have jobs.”
“Like what, Doc? Selling crafts to rich Austinites on Market Mondays, farming, drawing SSD? Their jobs can wait a spell if they want to worship the stone circle god.”
“People will see as they drive by.”
“Doc, you can’t see a circle from the highway, and if you could I don’t think there is a nary a word in Texas law against stone circles.”
“Why are they doing this?”
“Dotting i’s and crossing t’s.”
I saw my last patient about three-thirty. I looked up Mr. Fenster in the phone book and drove out to his farm.
There was a big circle in the back. Big Edwards limestone slabs, almost twelve feet high. They didn’t stand too straight. A tall thin bald man wandered among them, fretting. He wore a short-sleeve blue shirt and blue jeans. He looked worried.
Before I could speak he asked me, “Are you good with math? I don’t know if I set this up right.”
“I’m good at solid geometry,” I said. I had no idea why I said this, but like all humans I want to fit in. It is a hard-wired circuit in our amygdala, it makes baboons groom each other.
“What about astronomy?”
“Nope, no good there.”
He looked at the daytime sky as though he could spot something. I tried to figure out how he had set the stones up. This wasn’t done with a simple tractor, and the damage to the ground seemed pretty small. I faintly remembered the guy’s wife. She had been in to see me for rheumatoid arthritis a month ago. I started to tell him that recent findings had shown that Stonehenge wasn’t a calendar, but a gravesite for elite pre-Celts. I decided the phrase “elite pre-Celts” didn’t get said much in rural Texas.
“How’s Mrs. Fenster?” I asked.
“Mildred? She’s gone. Doesn’t hold with this.” He made a vague hand gesture that I took to mean the standing stones.
“You were the one that found the book, weren’t you?”
“Yes, that was my honor. You’d think I’d do a better job.”
“Why does God want so many calendars?”
He snapped out of his daze and gave me the same hateful look I’d seen in my patients’ eyes. “I don’t rightly think it’s our job to question God. Besides, it’s not about calendars. They’re windows like me—you know, Fenster. It’s about salt and ground glass. I’m no good at explaining it, I’m just a cog in the machine.” He pursed his lips and blew out a long sigh. There seemed to be a struggle inside him; I’ve seen it in patients who want to tell me something but are embarrassed or afraid. He had no more he would say to me.
That I didn’t leave Flapjack that night is a sign that the wrong part of me was winning. I might not risk the damnation of reading the
but for the moment I couldn’t leave the scene.
Next morning Scott banged on my door at first light.
“Come out, Doc, you gotta see this.”
tires, was up on cinderblocks.
Scott said, “Somebody wants you to stay. Ever see
The Wicker Man,
you know where that cop gets sacrificed Druid-style?” He laughed his hick butt off and then offered to drive me to my office tomorrow. “The old one is bazillion times better than the remake.”
“I need out of here. Drive me to Dallas,” I said. I shivered because I heard my own fear.
“No can do, Doc, these are my people. I’ve got to live here.”
“Don’t you see they’re all crazy?”
In his best Norman Bates voice he said, “We all go a little mad sometimes.” He continued, “Look, they’re not any crazier than before. Look at your neighbor Jim Cusson across the street there. He used to spend ten hours a day making birdhouses for tourists to buy once a month on Market Mondays. So now he’s put a circle of them for his own self up in his yard. Now I expect his purple martins aren’t into archaeo-astronomy, but hell, I don’t know that tourists were that much into his carving.”
On the way to work I saw twelve circles. My office was full of patients. Bunged-up thumbs, sprained backs, carpal tunnel. Heavy construction was taking its toll. I had never had as many patients. I worked through lunch and even into the night. It was my best day as a doctor ever. There was no guesswork, no subtle readings of signs. Maybe I had left my home city for great-grandfather’s village for a reason. Maybe they needed me. Scott drove me home.
Sleep cleared my mind some. When Scott drove me to work, I asked him to drive me out of here. He just said, “I’m sure that Mildred Fenster asked for the same thing. So just pipe down.”
I didn’t figure out the hint until later. Sometimes I am slow.
At my office the phone was dead and the injured were many. I kept my mouth shut; even when they told me they had pulled down great-granddad’s stones. I would leave tonight and tell the authorities. I tried not to watch the clock all day. I tried not to glare at the endless stream of patients that crossed my door. I tried to act calm. I wanted to tell Scott as he drove me home, but all I could think of was the number of medicines he took. His personality was a leaky sieve, a dribble-glass of self.