A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

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_Bob Bobberson
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A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

A Great and Dreadful Day
A Novel in Seven Parts

by Robert B. Oberson

“And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes
under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this…
before the coming of the
Great and Dreadful Day of the Lord.”

--The Book of Malachi, 4:3-5


“Whatever God commands is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire. . .”

--Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith






PART ONE: The Conversion of Samuel Younger

“When our individual interests and prospects do not seem worth living for,
we are in desperate need for something apart from us to live for.
All forms of dedication, devotion, loyalty and self-surrender
are in essence a desperate clinging to something which
might give worth and meaning to our futile, spoiled lives.”


--Eric Hoffer, The True Believer




- ONE -


It began with a knock on the door.

First, a gentle series of raps, and then a slower, more deliberate and insistent thudding. It was a small miracle that he’d heard it at all above the sound of the hot running water. His hands were red and heat-bitten and slightly wrinkled so that the tattoos on his knuckles looked smudged, and as he noticed the knocking, he moved more quickly, setting the final plate into the slot on the drainboard and scooping the flatware up and into the compartment beside the plates. There hadn’t been many dishes: a few coffee cups from the past few days, some plates, a saucepan, an aluminum bowl that he sometimes used for an ashtray. There was the cast iron skillet, but he would have to take care of that later. He hung up the towel on the refrigerator handle, and ambled into the front room just as the knocking commenced again.

He opened the door to an almost blinding wintery brightness, and there on the step, bundled up against the cold, stood two young men, just barely out of high school by the look of them. Their well-scrubbed faces were open and kind, yet guarded. They seemed like salesmen, with their neat haircuts and leather satchels. An air of professionalism and courtesy hung about them.

“Good morning, Mr. Younger,” said the one on the left. He was the taller of the two, with dark hair and slightly slanted brown eyes. He had freckles that ran across the bridge of his nose. “Or—it’s Sam, right? Is it okay if I call you Sam?”

“Yeah, I guess so.” Sam glanced down and noticed the shining black nametags on each of the boys’ breast pockets. It all seemed familiar somehow, but Sam couldn’t place it. The young man with the dark hair went on: “We’re from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we were wondering if we could talk to you for a little while about a really special book.”

Sam stared out beyond the two young men. It was cold and blasted outside. Lonely. The winter winds had torn the dry and shriveled brown leaves from the trees, and the landscape—the dead lawns, the gravel paths, the desert shrubs—had been anointed with a thin patina of frost. He looked back to the faces of the two missionaries, and thought about shutting the door on them—he was used to throwing people out, after all. These two young men were smiling, though, and eager to please. Waiting for him to answer. Did he want to chat? Did he want to know more about their faith? At heart, it didn’t matter one way or the other. He could just as easily be staring at his toe, or reading the paper. He turned his head and glanced backwards over his shoulder at the front room: second-hand TV, tattered sofa, shiny black coffee table with magazines neatly arranged in the corner, bookshelf crowded with unread books. “Well,” he said. “Sure. Why not?”
“Oh, thank you,” said the dark-haired one.

Sam opened the door wide and gestured for them to sit on the couch.

“Boy, it sure is cold out there,” said the other one. He was pudgy, with reddened cheeks, and he had very dark blond hair. There was a slight pain, a freight of concern, in his expression.

“So,” said Samuel Younger, settling into his armchair across from them. “You guys are Mormons.”

“Well. . . Yeah, but that’s really just a nickname that was given to us a long time ago. Really, we prefer LDS.”

“LDS?”

“Latter-day Saints.”

Sam nodded and looked at their nametags. “I see you’re looking at our nametags,” said the dark-haired one. “I’m Elder Miller, and this is Elder Cummings.”

“Elder?” They were both younger than Sam.

The two missionaries laughed. “Oh, believe me,” said Elder Miller, “we get that all the time. It’s actually a designation in the priesthood.”

“Okay.” But of course he didn’t see. It was almost as if these young men were speaking some wholly new and different language: LDS; Elder; Priesthood—and they seemed so at ease with all of it: they sat calmly, leaning forward slightly, with their hands folded in their laps, gazing about the room, taking everything in. There had been a time when Sam would have hated them, but at the moment they looked so happy, eager to share their message, and anxious to please. They looked at peace.

“Wow, this sure is a nice house,” said Elder Miller. “Nice and cozy. Is it yours?”

“Yeah, it’s mine.”

“Just you? You live here by yourself?”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “It’s just me.”

“That’s impressive. A guy like you with his own house already. It’s kind of surprising that you went straight for the house, rather than living in an apartment and saving up for until you got married. I assume you want to get married and have a family one day.” It was difficult to tell if Elder Miller was casting judgment or not. “So,” he continued, “my introductions kinda got sidetracked a little. As I said, I’m Elder Miller and this here is Elder Cummings. I grew up in Provo, Utah. I come from a big family. I’m the fourth of seven kids. I always knew that I would serve a mission, since it’s kind of a tradition in my family, and plus, I believe in the message of the gospel.” He gave a nudge to his partner, and Elder Cummings began.

“Well, I’m from Scottsdale, Arizona. My mom converted to the Church when I was pretty little, so I don’t have quite the same traditional stuff going on as Elder Miller here. But, I love the gospel, and I pretty much always knew that I would serve a mission, too.” He seemed to be sweating slightly. “Also,” he raised a plump arm and pointed, “I couldn’t help but notice that you’ve got what looks like a really nice chess set up there.”

Sam followed the line of Elder Cummings’s arm up to the chess set perch at the top of the bookshelf. “Oh, that? Yeah, I haven’t had any reason to haul it down in quite a while. Just haven’t had anyone over to play. I work nights, so you know how it goes.”

“Well, we sure would love to play a couple games with you some time,” said Elder Miller, smiling. He had very white, very straight teeth.

“I’ll have to think about that,” said Sam.

“So, what do you do for a living?” Elder Miller went on. “Are you in school?”

“No. No more school for me. I hated school,” said Sam. “Well, let me check that—it’s not so much that I hated the subject matter. I just didn’t like the atmosphere, I guess.”

“Huh, yeah, I know what you mean.” Elder Cummings was wiping a plump palm on the leg of his slacks.

“But to answer your question,” Sam said, “I tend bar at this place in Reno.” He watched their reactions carefully and wondered if he should say anything more. He knew little about religion generally, and even less about Mormons specifically. He’d sometimes seen young missionaries just like these pedaling their bikes around town back when he was growing up, and had wondered what they were up to, with their crisp white shirts, bike helmets, and skinny black ties, but his curiosity—at least at that time—ended there.

“I bet that’s an interesting job,” said Elder Miller. “I bet you get to meet some real interesting people out there. You probably get to see a whole other side of humanity.”

“Well…” said Sam, thinking about this, “I guess that’s one way of putting it.”

Both of the missionaries chuckled—plump Elder Cummings in particular.

“Okay, maybe not!” said Elder Miller. “But then again, I bet they’re at least interesting.”

“Fair enough.”

Elder Miller nodded his wolfish head. He seemed pleased to find a point of agreement. “So what about your family?” he asked. “In the Church, family is really important to us.”

“I guess that’s why you guys have so many kids?”

The missionary’s face was still friendly, but the question sobered him up a bit: “Well, yeah! Yeah, to an extent that’s exactly right. But we’ll get to that later. As you were saying?”

Sam felt mildly uncomfortable, as if he was being very gingerly prodded and examined—interviewed, even. But he went on: “Well, I’ve got a sister. She lives back home, near Sacramento. Both my parents are dead, though.”

“Boy, I’m sorry to hear that,” said Elder Miller, and Elder Cummings, beside him, was once again wiping his palms on the thighs of his trousers. “I know how important my mom and dad are to me, so I can really feel for you there.”

“It’s all right,” said Sam, holding up a big hand.

“They must not have been very old,” said Miller.

“My dad died when I was 18. A car accident. My mom died of cancer about five years back.” He said this in a way that was mostly emotionless, and with a slight smirk—the product of having repeated it more times than he wanted to.

Elder Miller knitted his fingers together and continued to nod with concern.

“Well, my dad died when I was pretty little,” said Elder Cummings, glancing over at Miller, as if for permission to speak. “He had a stroke, and it was pretty sudden. And so I know how rough that kind of thing can be. The message we want to bring to you, though, is that you can be reunited with your loved ones again one day.” He raised his eyebrows for emphasis and lowered his chin a bit.

Elder Miller, nodding more emphatically now, smiled in consolation. “Can I ask you something?” he said, inching forward. “Would you mind if we said a prayer?”

It caught him completely off guard. What would they do if he said no? “Sure, I guess so,” he said. They knelt down, right there on the carpet, and crossed their arms across their chests, with their hands tucked into the crooks of their elbows. Their heads were bowed and their eyes were closed. It was unclear to Sam whether he was meant to imitate them, or whether this was some kind of display for his benefit, or what. There was a time, not terribly long ago, well before the deaths and the thing in Davis had transpired and long before he’d ended up in this house in Lahontan, when he would have laughed at them and called them pussies or gay-wads and told them to get the “F” off of his property. It’s what his dad, and probably his mother would have done in his place. But things were different now, and so he sat there dumbstruck in his chair, half embarrassed for them and half frozen with fascination.

“Dear Father in Heaven,” Elder Miller began. “We want to thank you for this beautiful day, and for the opportunity you’ve given us to speak with Mr. Younger today. We ask thee this day to give us clarity of mind and tongue, so that we might share the truth of the gospel with him, and so that he might feel the spirit. We ask that ye might open his heart and bless him with an open mind so that he might hear our lessons and learn why we’ve traveled all this way out to see him. We ask these things humbly in the name of thy son Jesus Christ, amen.”

Elder Cummings also said, “Amen,” and Sam almost said it, too. The two missionaries climbed back to their feet and went back to their spots on the sofa. “Thank you for giving us permission to pray with you,” said Elder Miller, and then he smiled: “So,” he said, slapping his hands on his knees, “I bet that you’re ready for us to get to the point. There is a reason we’re here after all, and that reason is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with you.”

Sam scarcely knew what to say. “You’re not going to ask me to buy something at the end of this, are you? A bible or something? Cause if that’s the case, I’m not interested.”

“No, not at all!” said Elder Miller.

“It’s really not the case,” said Cummings. “Both of us are paying our own way to be here. The Church doesn’t pay for us to be missionaries. We pay for our missions out of our own pockets because we believe in what we’re doing.”

“You’re shitting me, right?” said Sam. He said this partly to gauge their reaction to his language, but it didn’t seem to rattle them.

“Absolutely not,” said Elder Cummings. “All of our missionaries in our Church are volunteers. Anyways.”

“Well, anyways,” said Elder Miller, coughing into his fist and regaining his general sense of seriousness, “as I mentioned, there are a few important things we’d really like to share with you on this day.” He lifted his briefcase off the ground and snapped it open. From within, he took out a photo and held it out for Sam, who took it. “What you’re looking at there,” said Elder Miller, “is a picture of the Prophet Joseph Smith.”

Samuel Younger looked down into the image. In it, a wavy-haired man with an aqualine nose knelt in a grassy, wooded area. He was wearing clothes from some earlier era, and he was using his forearm to shield his eyes from the intense white light cast by a pair of bearded men who were floating angelically nearby. The light seemed to be emanating from the men’s radiantly white and flowing clothes, and it was clear that the kneeling man was quite frightened. It looked surreal—so much so that Sam felt a chill pass through his body.

“You see,” Elder Miller went on, “we believe that Joseph Smith restored the gospel of Jesus Christ to the earth after a period of apostasy. Joseph was responsible for restoring the one true church on the face of the earth.”

“I don’t understand. What’s ‘apostasy’?” He looked back down at the picture, at the impossible whiteness of the two figures’ clothing.

“Well,” said Elder Cummings, clearing his throat and looking very timid. “Do you believe in God?”

Sam settled back in his chair. “I don’t know,” he said. He thought about it. “I mean, all of this crap had to come from somewhere, right?” He gestured around the room with his arm, towards the wide world that lay beyond the walls. “I guess I’d like to think that I’m living my life for some worthwhile reason, even if I don’t necessarily have a fuckin’ clue of what that is, exactly.”

“Oh, sure,” said Elder Miller. “We’re here to tell you that Heavenly Father loves each and every one of us.”

“Unlike some other religions,” said Elder Cummings, “we don’t believe that people are just ‘creations’ of a God. We believe that God is genuinely the father of each and every one of us. All of us are his children, both in body and in spirit.” He looked mildly pained. “So, what that means is that even you and I are brothers, in a sense. All of us are related in that way—we’re all children of God, and our Heavenly Father loves us so much.”

Sam nodded. It was difficult to follow what they were saying, and he was somewhat bothered by the touchy-feely nature of what they were saying, but he kept listening.

Elder Miller reached up and adjusted the slightly off-kilter knot on his skinny black tie. “The gospel, as it was revealed to Joseph Smith, is designed to bless families. Did you know that if you live a righteous life, and follow the teachings of the gospel, you can be with your loved ones again in heaven?” His eyes sparkled, the wet on them catching the wan light cast by the gooseneck lamp on the side table.

“No, I didn’t know that,” he said.

The two missionaries both nodded gravely and sat up straighter. “I’d like to bear my testimony to you right now,” Elder Miller said, pointing at him, “that I know in my heart these things are true. I know these things with a surety, clearer and more powerful than I’ve ever known anything in my life.” He was clutching his fist against his chest, and a tremor had come into his voice. It made Sam feel embarrassed to see this young missionary exposing his emotions so nakedly.

“These truths are pretty amazing,” said Elder Cummings, smiling tightly, his lips stretched against his large teeth, his hands knitted together in his lap. “I really agree with Elder Miller. Even though I haven’t been a member of the Church my entire life, I’ve never come across anything as good as the gospel. And plus, the Church is just plain neat.”

Samuel Younger could only nod: what was it with these two guys? The more he listened to them, the harder it was to hate them. There was a brief caesura as Elder Miller regained his composure, and Elder Cummings looked over at him, waiting for him to retake the reins of the conversation. Sam looked again at the picture of Joseph Smith.

“So,” Miller said at last. “You’ve said that you believe in God, or that you think you might. Do you also understand that Jesus died for our sins?”

As he sat there staring at these two young men, Samuel Younger began to feel very strange and uncomfortable. His natural impulse—and he knew this—would be to dismiss and ridicule these young missionaries. But he also knew where his natural impulses had led him to this point, and so he suppressed them.

“Jesus died on the cross, in order to atone for our sins,” Elder Miller went on, leaning forward, his hands clutched together. “The pain was so great that he bled from his pores.”

“But in addition to that,” interjected Elder Cummings, “The Savior left us with a lot of important teachings, like about families, and the priesthood. He set up the Church and taught the gospel, so that anyone who has faith, and who repents, gets baptized, and fulfills their callings on Earth, will receive eternal salvation.”

“That means you get to live forever,” said Elder Miller.

“Is that necessarily a good thing?”

Everyone chuckled.

“After Jesus died,” said Elder Cummings, “the world fell into apostasy. The priesthood was lost. Until Joseph Smith came along, that is.”

“Yeah,” Sam said, looking down again at the kneeling man. “Tell me about Joseph Smith.”

The two missionaries seemed to bounce in their seats.

“I really love the story of Joseph Smith,” said Elder Miller. “What’s so amazing is that he was just a boy, and yet Heavenly Father chose him to restore the priesthood to the earth.”

“How did this happen?”

“Good question.” Elder Miller licked his lips and went on. “When he was a teenager, Joseph Smith began to get curious about religion. He went to all the churches in his area, listening to the sermons, and trying to find the truth. And yet, something seemed wrong each time. Many of the pastors of these churches seemed greedy or corrupt, or else something just plain didn’t feel right. So, feeling discouraged, Joseph went out into the woods to pray one night, and that’s when God appeared to him.” Elder Miller paused and leaned forward. “Now, can you just picture this? A blinding light appeared before him, and God’s voice rang out, telling Joseph that none of the churches was true. It would be up to Joseph to restore the Lord’s true church to the Earth. This would be his special mission in life.

“Later,” Elder Miller said, “Joseph was given the keys of the priesthood in order to begin the restoration of the church. But he did something else, too.” He reached into his briefcase and brought out a black, leather-bound book, which he passed across to Sam. “At another time, Joseph was visited by an angel named Moroni.”

Sam stared back at the missionary and he turned the book over in its hands, looking up and searching for the slightest hint of guile, deception, or delusion in the missionaries, but he found none. The story—this insane, supernatural narrative—was something that Elder Miller really and truly believed.

Miller went on: “Moroni told Joseph about a treasure that was hidden nearby in a hill called Cumorah. He led Joseph to this location, and had him move a heavy stone. And there, buried in the hillside, were a set of gold plates, covered in strange writing.”

The room had grown very still. It was so quiet that Sam could practically hear the missionaries breathing. It felt cold, too, and the air seemed heavy.

“The angel Moroni gave Joseph the tools to translate the plates, and the result of that translation is the Book of Mormon, which you are holding right now.”

Sam flipped open the cover of the book and felt the thin, parchment-like pages. Glancing at the text, he saw that it read rather like the Bible, or what little he knew of the Bible. “So, where are the gold plates? Do you guys have them on display in Salt Lake City or something?” he asked.

“When the translation was complete,” Elder Cummings said, rather abruptly, “Moroni took the plates back to heaven, since they were no longer needed.”

“It really is a miracle that we have the Book of Mormon today,” said Elder Miller. “Just think of it: Joseph was a farm boy with very little education. He didn’t have much access to books, and so it really is amazing that he was able to translate this book. It’s evidence of its divine nature, if you ask me.”

“Yes,” added Elder Cummings, “there’s no way he could have written it on his own.”

“In fact,” said Elder Miller, smilingly, “we’d like to urge you to read it for yourself. It tells the story of Christ’s visit to America, following his resurrection.”

Sam frowned. “Christ came to America?”

“Yes, he did,” said Elder Cummings, nodding. “There was a whole, vast civilization here. You’ll have to read the Book of Mormon for yourself. That copy is yours to keep.”

The two young missionaries sat perched at the edge of the sofa like a pair of beaming, luminescent twins.

“How are you feeling about all of this?” asked Elder Miller.

Sam looked up. “Well, I don’t know. I feel confused, I guess.”

The two missionaries chuckled. “That’s normal,” said Elder Cummings.

“Do you feel anything else?”

He shifted in his seat, and let out a sigh. “I don’t know. I feel . . . Strange. Confused, and yet lighter somehow.”

The missionaries’ faces lit up: “That’s great!” said Elder Miller. “That lightness—that’s the spirit you’re feeling. You see, when we’re righteous, the Holy Ghost lifts us up and blesses us. Makes us feel good. Like, for me, I usually will get this warm sensation in my chest.” He rapped his fingers on his sternum.

“Okay.”

“What I’m saying is, that’s the spirit that you’re feeling. It’s telling you that what we’ve said today is right and true.”

“Huh.”

“Anyways, as Elder Cummings said, we’d like you to accept that Book of Mormon as our gift to you,” said Elder Miller. “That is a complimentary copy for you to keep, and to read.”

“Well, thanks,” said Sam. “I don’t think I can remember the last time anyone gave me something for free.”

The two missionaries smiled. “If it’s okay,” said Elder Cummings, “we’d like to come visit you again. Would that be all right?”

“I guess so. I’m not really doing much of anything. So far as I know, anyhow.”

“So, could we come see you this same time in a couple of days?”

“Sure.”

“Okay. Terrific.” Elder Cummings nodded his big, blond head and smiled.

“I have just one more thing to ask,” said Elder Miller. “If you could do me a huge favor?”

“Sure.”

“Towards the back of the Book of Mormon, in the book called Moroni—just like the angel who appeared to Joseph Smith—there’s a promise. This is one of the most important promises that anyone ever made. If you look at Moroni 10, verses 3 through 5, you’ll see that God makes a promise to each of us. It says:
I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

Elder Miller smiled and leaned forward. The righteous, emotional tremor had returned to his voice once again. The air around him was very still, and as he spoke, his voice became a low whisper, rasping past his lips and out into the room like the flutter of wings:

“All we ask of you, Mr. Younger, is that you read the Book of Mormon, and pray about it. That’s it, really. Just pray about it. Ask God. Find out for yourself, whether what we have said today is true.”


Next week: Chapter 2....
_Gadianton
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _Gadianton »

I'd forgotten about how truly awful and disingenuous the first discussion is. A timely reminder. I hope Samuel burns their book and tells them not to come back, but something tells me that's not going to happen.

thanks Bob!
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.
_Juggler Vain
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _Juggler Vain »

Nice touch censoring the swears.

Aside from that, the scene feels pretty brutally real.
Spice up your Sunday School lessons with Intellectual Preserve.
_annie
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _annie »

Excellent. Can't wait to enjoy some more Bobberson :)
_Doctor CamNC4Me
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _Doctor CamNC4Me »

I served a bit over 20 years in the Army. No sweat.

Chapter One got me all anxious and skittish. This is bringing back crazy feelings from my mission. Heh.

- Doc
In the face of madness, rationality has no power - Xiao Wang, US historiographer, 2287 AD.

Every record...falsified, every book rewritten...every statue...has been renamed or torn down, every date...altered...the process is continuing...minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Ideology is always right.
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _Xenophon »

Doctor CamNC4Me wrote:I served a bit over 20 years in the Army. No sweat.

Chapter One got me all anxious and skittish. This is bringing back crazy feelings from my mission. Heh.

- Doc


I was wondering if I was the only one. I never served (thank you for yours though) but have seen my fair share of crazy stuff with no problems, but this definitely fired up the anxiety. A well written piece by someone who has obviously gone through this too.
"If you consider what are called the virtues in mankind, you will find their growth is assisted by education and cultivation." -Xenophon of Athens
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _Gadianton »

I just looked up the Crown Burger logo to make sure there is five points. lol.
Lou Midgley 08/20/2020: "...meat wad," and "cockroach" are pithy descriptions of human beings used by gemli? They were not fashioned by Professor Peterson.

LM 11/23/2018: one can explain away the soul of human beings...as...a Meat Unit, to use Professor Peterson's clever derogatory description of gemli's ideology.
_Equality
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _Equality »

And plus, the Church is just plain neat


Bob B. O. has the missionary lingo down pat. This line reminded me of John Dehlin's list of reasons to stay in the church, one of which was "the hymns rock!" :rolleyes:
"The Church is authoritarian, tribal, provincial, and founded on a loosely biblical racist frontier sex cult."--Juggler Vain
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_Bob Bobberson
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _Bob Bobberson »

- TWO -

That evening, before heading in to work, Sam began to read the Book of Mormon. It told of a family living in Jerusalem during troubled times, and of a valiant son named Nephi, who was commanded by God to cut the head off of a ruthless criminal lord. The story was rich in dreams, and loyalty, and duty, and courage. And the style, Sam thought, seemed remarkably like the Bible’s—it was as if this story picked up where the Bible had left off. It was, at base, a story about faith, and the willingness to take risks. Young Nephi and his family were forced to leave their homeland, and were guided across the seas by a strange spherical compass which operated according to their faith and devotion.

There was other material at the front of the book. The introduction stated that the book had been written by “many ancient prophets,” and it made the even more audacious claim that the American Indians had descended from a group of travelers who’d come from Jerusalem. Sam was fairly certain that he’d learned in school or National Geographic or elsewhere that the Indians were ancestors of people who’d crossed over from Asia. After the introduction was a series of statements attesting that people had seen the golden plates upon which the book had been written. The testimonies had an older, more archaic tone, and Sam wondered why they’d been included. Something didn’t seem quite right about the fact that so many of the witnesses appeared to be related, especially the Whitmers and the Smiths, the latter of whom Sam assumed were relations of Joseph Smith, the prophet the missionaries had spoken of—the wavy-haired, kneeling man from the image. It made him wonder momentarily if the whole thing was a con.

But it was getting late and as Sam sat holding the book, he remembered what the missionaries had asked him, he tried hard to concentrate on how he felt. There was calmness, yes. But had it come as a result of his reading? The missionaries had urged him to pray, but he didn’t really know how to do that. He had never before in his life said a prayer. Was he supposed to get down on his knees, like the missionaries had done? Or would it be sufficient to ask God directly from this spot in the chair? He felt silly and embarrassed, but after a few moments, he shut his eyes and knitted his hands together.

“Tell me if it’s true,” he whispered. “I want to know. . . if it’s real. Please tell me, God.”

He sat there with his eyes sealed shut, listening to nothing in particular. There was a rushing in his ears, and he heard a gust of wind showering the side of his little house with dust. Beyond that, he could hear the low, wailing howl of the wind. The gust was spiraling down out of the Sierra and across the low mountains and hills in the valleys. It cried out, pained almost, as it moved ever more deeply into the Great Basin.

Sam re-opened his eyes and looked around: empty fireplace, bookshelf, coffee table, green sofa, second-hand TV set, round woven throw rug. On one shelf of the bookcase was a picture frame that he’d turned face-down some time ago. He put his hands on the armrests and hoisted himself out of the chair, and then he went over to the bookcase and righted the over-turned frame. It was a picture of him and his sister and parents, taken during a Thanksgiving holiday some years ago, and everyone’s faces were warm and aglow. Sam remembered sitting for this picture. His father had camera with a timer on it, and since he’d been drinking (of course), he had messed up twice, dashing back and forth from camera to family, muttering about the “stupid damned thing” before he got it to successfully snap a photo with everything in place. It seemed so long ago, and Sam felt himself being dragged back into a place he didn’t want to go. He turned away and moved into the kitchen.

He still had an hour before he needed to be at work and so he filled the teakettle with water and set it on the stove over high heat. He got a mug out of the cupboard and the canister of coffee and he spooned some grounds into the mug. Someone had told him once that working the night shift took years off a person’s life, which originally had been the reason he’d chosen to work nights. The steam warbled out of the kettle, and Sam poured the hot water onto the coffee grounds. As it steeped, he lit a cigarette and turned to the window above the sink and looked out at the night. The window was spotted with dust and other filth, but he was nonetheless able to see clouds rushing past the half-face of the moon, and a spattering of stars amidst the blank patches in the cloudcover. Though lonesome, this was a good house to be in. Far away from everything. He fixed himself a bowl of Cheerios and then he carried his bowl and cup back into the living room and clicked on the TV to the late-night news. They were talking the problems in Kuwait, and then there was a pointless tidbit about M.C. Hammer’s newest hit. It was tiresome. He got out of his chair and switched the channel over to an infomercial, and as he returned to his chair, he shut off all the lights, and sipped the rest of his coffee in the dark save for the pale blue light of the TV, until it was time to go to work.

He pulled on his old bomber jacket and went outside to start the car so it could warm up for a while. The icy nighttime air was dry and brittle, and his breath streamed out of his mouth and nose in long gouts. He followed the deserted roads lining the edge of the subdivision, and made his way over to the I-80 on-ramp. Above, in the midnight sky, the stars shimmered distantly, and Sam thought again about the missionaries and the Book of Mormon. He drove on and on, through the canyon lining the Truckee River, until he saw the beady, shimmering lights of Sparks and Reno. He followed the freeway up into the central, grimy part of the city and to the Wells exit, and made his way over to The Ember.

A few years back, after he’d gotten out of jail, Sam had bounced around the Sacramento area for a while, picking up odd construction and janitorial jobs until Mike Bartolo, an old, goateed stoner friend from high school, bumped into him in a gas station in Auburn. Mike said that he was getting an apartment in Reno, and he asked Sam if he was interested in splitting the rent. There was a job available, too, as a bouncer in a titty bar; Mike was banging one of the girls that worked there, and that connection, coupled with Sam’s size meant that it would probably be no problem to hook him up with a job. And so Sam agreed.

He spent the first couple of months picking up a slim paycheck (which was fine, since he still had some money left over after his parents died) and getting to know the dancers, and The Ember’s owner—a soft-spoken, soft-fleshed man named Sid. Sid encouraged Sam to learn how to tend the bar:

“There’s more money in it, and I dun like this asshole. He’s a drunk,” said Sid, in his whispery, foreign-sounding voice as he hooked his thumb in the direction of Vic, the current night-shift bartender. “You go to the barman school, and I put you behind the bar,” Sid told him, and so Sam enrolled in Mixology School, where he learned to pour whiskey sours, vodka Collinses, Manhattans, and sidecars. Growing up, Sam had always hated school, but this wasn’t the same. From his tats, Sam could tell that the instructor, a guy named Tradd Simonson, had done time. But there was something about the movement of the liquids from bottle to glass, the strange alchemy when a drink came together, and the juvenile pyromaniac’s thrill at lighting a shot of 151 on fire, that Sam liked. It was tolerable, in any case, and it was better than sitting around at home all day, watching the crappy daytime lineup on TV, or smoking Mike’s seemingly neverending supply of mind-scramblingly potent Mendocino-sourced weed.

Immediately after he got his diploma, Sid fired Vic and put Sam behind the bar. It was around this time that Mike’s stripper girlfriend, Shasta, began pestering him to move in with her, and he felt that he couldn’t put it off any longer. So, Sam would have to either pay the entire rent for the apartment, or find a new place to live. Ever since his release from jail, he’d felt like he needed an anchor. The sense of feeling adrift is what had landed him in the can in the first place, he thought. So, with his bartender gig bringing in a decent if unremarkable salary (he had a penchant for collecting generous tips), and with the money from his mom in his savings account, Sam had decided to look for a house. The places in Reno all seemed too big and overpriced, though, and when one of the dancers told him to look in Lahontan, a little town out in the desert 45 miles east of Reno, Sam did as she suggested. It didn’t take him long to find a little ranch-style house in subdivision at the northeast end of town, and he moved in immediately.

“Why the hell do you want to live out in the sticks?” Mike had asked him.

“I don’t know. Why not? Maybe I’ll settle down and have a family.”

Mike and Shasta both laughed and rolled their eyes, but Sam was happy with his decision. He liked the peace and quiet and vastness that went along with living at the edge of the desert. He even liked the angry winds that always seemed to be blowing across the valley. In general, he was happy, but as time wore on he began to grow weary of working at The Ember. Each night when he got off work he felt like he was coated in an invisible layer of smoke and human grime.
And this was the feeling he anticipated, and that he tried to stave off, as he stood puffing on a final pre-work cigarette in the neon pink light cast by the sign atop the building. It was a sign that had been ordered up by Sid back when the place was converted into a club out of an old Carrows’ restaurant—it glowed a bright, lipstick pink, with the words “the ember” written in cursive lowercase letters, and with what Sam had always supposed to be an actual ember shaped out of neon tubing, but which looked more like a meteor, or a pimento-stuffed olive, or a misshapen female breast. Sam tossed his spent cigarette into a grey drift of snow and pushed open the door of the club.

Inside, business was pretty slow. Sam let Dave the daytime bartender finish dealing with the remains of the daytime drunks and Happy Hour cheapskates while he went about wiping down the bar, slicing up citrus fruit, and pouring fresh ice into the bin beneath the counter. On stage, Gretchen, one of the older dancers, was finishing up her routine, and as Sam set about polishing some of the highball glasses that had just come out of the dishwasher, Misty came over and sat on one of the stools.

“Hey, you.” She had taken off her coat and stashed it in the back room, but she still had a wool scarf slung around her neck. Her shoulders were bare and sparkly from the glitter lotion that she sometimes used. Sam thought it made her skin look like fish scales.

“How’s it going?” he said.

“You know, the usual.” She leaned forward to rest her chin in her palm, and she fiddled with a red cocktail straw.

Sam laughed. “Well, I guess it’s pointless to ask whether that’s a good or a bad thing.”

Misty laughed, too. She’d begun working in the club about 6 months ago after moving from Boise. At first, Sam had figured that ‘Misty’ was a stage name, but it turned out to be the name on her birth certificate. She was a thin girl with muscular legs, gorgeously thick, honey-blond hair, and a boob job that had been paid for by some poor, lovesick nerd back in Boise. When Sam began seeing her on a semi-regular basis, he always halfway expected this nerd—which is what Misty always called him—to show up. “You’d just beat him up for me,” she would say, and she was probably right. In fact, Sam and Misty had first hit things off.

“You look like you could be a lot of trouble,” she had said to him once after he tossed out a customer who’d gotten too frisky during a lap dance. He knew exactly what she meant.

They started seeing each other a few days after that, when she invited him to breakfast, which essentially translated into a post-night-shift stop at the 24-hour Denny’s for a Grand Slam, a couple of hours before the sun came up. It was pleasant, and they both agreed to do it again, and they did. Sam kept waiting for some piece of baggage to turn up: a drug habit, an estranged kid, a crazy ex-boyfriend (other than the nerd), but Misty seemed more or less sane. He knew, too, about all the problems associated with the mixture of dating and work. Would Sid have a problem with this sort of thing? When he found out, he gave them his blessing: “That Mitsy’s a nice goyle,” he had whispered, and then he coughed into a red silk handkerchief. So, Sam and Misty became, more or less, a couple. Their relationship seemed to be based primarily on the fact that they both saw the rest of the world in the same weary and guarded way, and that they needed a sexual release now and then. If anyone would have asked him, Sam would have said that the relationship wasn’t serious. He had no idea if Misty felt the same way, and he wasn’t about to ask.

Behind the bar, Sam got a highball glass and filled it with ice and seltzer water and he put a lime wedge in it before setting it down on a cocktail napkin in front of Misty.

“Thanks,” she said. She took a sip and smiled and Sam noticed a smudge of lipstick clinging to the front of her tooth. He curled up his own lip and pointed for her and she used her tongue to clean it off. “Is it gone?”

“Yeah.”

He went back to his duties, making sure that Dave had cleared the register, and when he drifted back towards Misty’s spot at the bar, she said, “You know, you should come over to my place tonight.”

“What, you want to do breakfast?”

“Not necessarily. Just come over. Would you?”

“Yeah, okay. I could do that.”

“I could use the company.”

“Sure.”

She kept watching him, and he could feel her gaze on his back. He looked up at her and smiled once, but he could sense that something wasn’t quite right. After a while, she took her drink and left in order to get ready for her set.

The night progressed uneventfully. For a midweek winter night, there was a decent crowd. Sam poured drinks, counted his tips, refreshed the ice supply, cut new citrus, and listened to sob stories from the dancers with nothing better to do. Lana T. was in a custody dispute with her ex; Trina R. was concerned that she’d caught something from a client; Delilah P. was two months behind on her rent and starting to freak out big-time. It was the usual litany of complaints. At around 11:00, Sid turned up to make his rounds, patting all the girls on their bottoms and kissing them on the cheek, nodding to regular customers, and ordering up his standard Chambord and 7-Up. On stage, Francesca, in a gauzy teddy-and-g-string ensemble, was moving languidly around the pole, lit by the dim, parti-colored lights lining the stage. All along the walls of the bar, up near the ceiling, were strings of large-bulbed blue Christmas lights, and they made all the customers look frozen.

Just then, Trina R., who had just finished up a lap dance at the booth in the corner, came over and asked for a bottle of Pabst. Per Sid, each girl was allowed one drink per shift. Under no circumstances was anyone to perform or work while drunk. The Ember was a classy joint, he said. Not like that shithole Green Iris, which was two blocks further down the street. The Iris’s owner was a schwul, Sid said, with no taste for female beauty. He reached up and draped his arm across Trina R.’s delicate shoulders and nodded for Sam to top off his Chambord and 7-Up.

After he meandered off, Sam noticed that Trina was looking cautiously at a man at the end of the bar.

“Is something wrong?” Sam asked. Up on the stage, Misty, with a black bowtie, white lace gloves, and a shiny pair of black panties, had begun her routine.

“Yeah,” said Trina R. “That guy over there.”

“What about him?”

“I don’t know, Sam, but he is seriously creeping me out. Like, I am getting a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach just looking at him.”

“Did he say anything to you?”

She took a drink of her beer and said, “He just said ‘Hello,’ but I am telling you, Sam: something isn’t right.”

He frowned and glanced over at the man and when he looked back at Trina R., he saw that she had broken out in a sweat.

“You know you have nothing to worry about, right? As long as I’m working, he’s not going to do anything. I won’t let him.”

She nodded and stared off into the distance.

“You want me to go have a word with him?”

Her eyes flickered wetly and she nodded, and then she took her bottle of beer and retreated to the back of the club.

When the man first sat down at the bar some twenty minutes ago, Sam had poured him two fingers of Wild Turkey, neat, but apart from that he hadn’t paid him any attention. Now he went over to get a better look. The man had smooth, absolutely lineless brown skin and a high, creaseless forehead. His oil-black hair was pulled back in a pony tail that rested on the jacket of his well-tailored, pin-striped, olive green three-piece suit. He even had a gold watch chain that dangled in an arc across his stomach. Sam had seen pictures of people in National Geographic, Indians from Peru or something, who had the same tone of skin and shape of face as this man. And yet, he didn’t seem out of place. He seemed neither to belong nor to stand out. If Trina hadn’t said anything, Sam probably never would have noticed him, even though, looking closer, it was clear that he should have.

“Can I help you?” Sam asked.

“No, I’m perfectly fine,” said the man. “I noticed that the young lady seemed to have a problem of some kind. I hope she’s all right.”

“I think she’ll be all right. Did you say something inappropriate to her? Because I’m not going to stand for any crap.”

“I said nothing of the sort.” He smiled. “We always seem to have a knack for encountering trouble.”

“Who the hell’s ‘We’?”

The man just went on smiling. “No matter what we do, trouble always seems to find us, or we seem to find it. So, we’ll just pay our tab and be on our way.” He reached into his jacket and pulled out a leather coin purse of some kind. He undid the clasp and took out two five dollar bills and laid them on the bar, smoothing them out very carefully and deliberately.

“Look,” Sam began.

“There’s no need for any apologies.” He held up a palm. “We completely understand. These things happen.” He got to his feet and took a trench coat off the stool beside his own, and he turned and left.

As Sam cleared away his leftover drink, he noticed there were no fingerprints or lip marks on the glass. Misty, who had finished her set, slid into Trina’s old spot and said, “Hey, who was that guy? I saw him earlier.”

“I don’t know,” said Sam. “Some guy who kept referring to himself as ‘we’.”

Misty laughed. “That’s weird. Was he British or something?”

“I don’t know. He had a little bit of an accent, but I couldn’t tell you what it was.”

“Well, he was skeevy-looking. I’m glad he left.”


Once the shift was over, and after the floor had been swept and all the glasses and barkeeping materials had been put away, Sam and Misty, who’d hung around, waiting for him to finish cleaning up, went out into the deep and bitter-cold night and locked up The Ember. A cloudcover had moved in during the hours they’d been inside, and its underside, illuminated by the lights of downtown Reno, was the color of a rotten peach: a grey and muted orange. They got into Misty’s Toyota and drove to her apartment, which was in a complex near Meadowood Mall. As she drove, Misty took Sam’s hand and slid it between her legs.

“Your fingers are cold,” she said. “Like ice cubes.”

They parked the car and clamored up the stairs and as soon as they were inside, Misty was tearing at his clothes and kissing at him with desperate, almost ravenous urgency.

“Jesus! Just one second,” he said, nudging her away. “I gotta take a leak first.”

He went and did his business, and then he found her lying on the bed, naked, on her stomach, so that he could see the nest-like, rose-thorn tattoo on her lower back. He moved over to the side of the bed and let her undo his belt and slide down his pants, and then he peeled off his shirt, lay down on the bed, and let her climb on top.

She was wild, as she typically was, but when it was over, she wanted to nestle in close to his side. He leaned down and poked his nose into her hair. It was a combination of AquaNet, sweat, shampoo, and stale tobacco smoke. “Do I stink?” she said.

“No, not really. You just smell like you’ve been working, that’s all.”

“I’ll get up and get in the shower in a second. I just want to lay here for now.”

“That’s fine.”

They stayed there for a while, not saying anything. Sam thought about getting up to get a cigarette.

“Are you thinking about anything?” she said.

“No. Not really. Why?”

“Just asking. I just wonder what goes on in your head sometimes.”

He laughed a little. “Yeah, me too. Maybe too much. Maybe not enough.”

“You poor guy.”

“Actually I was thinking about earlier today. I wasn’t doing anything particular, wasn’t expecting anybody over or anything, and then there’s this knock at the door. I open it up and it’s these two missionaries. These Mormon missionaries.”

Misty breathed in and out in long, slow, smooth waves. She didn’t stir.

“I let them in and they told me all about their church, about how God appeared to this guy Joseph Smith. They said that Jesus came to America. They gave me a free copy of The Book of Mormon.”

“I’m surprised that you let them in. I would have just shut the door on them.”

“Normally, that’s what I would have done, too. But I let them in for some reason.”

“You know, there’s a lot of Mormons where I’m from. A bunch of the guys I went to high school with went off on Mormon missions. A bunch of stuck up, judgmental pieces of crap.”

“These two missionaries didn’t seem stuck-up to me.”

“I’m just telling you what my own personal experience was,” she said.

“All right then.”

She laid there a moment longer and then sat up and stretched. “You’re not seriously thinking about turning Mormon, are you?”

“No, that’s not what I said. Jesus. I guess this is what I get for telling you what I was thinking about.”

“Yeah, right,” she said. “You’re gonna go and get all religious on me. You’re going to start going to church, and you’re going to turn all uptight. You’re going to be Little Sammy Boy, with your little cute haircut, all squeaky clean. Yep. That’s sounds like just your cup of tea.” She put her hand in his lap and gave him a gentle squeeze.

“Come on,” he said, grinning. And then: “Don’t you ever thought about that kind of stuff?”

“What stuff? Church?”

“You know—God, heaven, hell, that sort of thing.”

She shrugged. “I dunno. I always figured that life was too short to be worried about that crap. Religious people are boring.” She had shifted over to the opposite side of the bed and now she lit two cigarettes and passed one to Sam.

He took a drag and decided not to tell her that he’d agreed to meet with the missionaries a second time.

“They’re judgmental, too,” she said, and he didn’t see any point in arguing.

“Is this really all there is?” He drew a circle in the air with his cigarette.

“What do you mean by ‘this’?” she said. “Me? Us?”

“No, I mean more than that. But it doesn’t matter. I should of just kept my fuckin’ mouth shut.”

“Jesus Christ, you’re a judgmental prick already.”

He pushed himself up into a sitting position and settled back against the pillow. “I’m not judging you. I’m just saying that I wish there were a little more to whatever it is we’re doing here.”

She took the cigarette out of her mouth and leaned down, her breasts large and immobile near his face, and touched his arm. “Well I am happy,” she said. “Maybe if you put a little more effort into me and you, things would seem a little more important to you.”

He stared at her. A red splotchiness was developing along the sides of her neck. “You’re probably right,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

“You don’t mean that. You’re just saying that so I won’t be mad.”

“No, really. I mean it. Come here.” He scooted closer and looped his arm around her and pulled her in close. “I don’t mean anything.”

“I know you don’t,” she said, and she kissed him on the cheek and away. “I’m going to go take a shower,” she said.

“Okay. Maybe I’ll fix us something to eat.”

“I’m not hungry.”

He watched her naked buttocks as she walked away. She was beautiful, it was true, and he did genuinely care about her on some level, but as he lay there finishing his cigarette, he wondered how much of a future they had together. And then he thought again of the missionaries and what they’d told him. About how very different their lives must be from his own. Of course Misty hated them: at heart she would always be a party girl. Sure she would settle down at some point, whether by choice or as a matter of course, but Sam suspected that she would never be interested in contemplating the sorts of things he’d been thinking about. And so he lay there, blowing smoke out of his lungs and watching it swirl like mist around the bell-shaped ceiling light. His hands and arms, he noticed, were covered in tiny sparkles which had rubbed off of Misty’s skin.


In the next installment: the missionaries return....
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Re: A Great and Dreadful Day - Part 1

Post by _fetchface »

I went to college in Reno and love reading a story set in places I know. I lived in an apartment near Meadowood Mall right before I got married and then moved to a place just off Wells Ave.

Can't wait to see where the story goes!
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My Blog: http://untanglingmybrain.blogspot.com/
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