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Quietly, we approached his office in a ragtag formation with Cyrus leading the way. On entering the humid sanctum, my limbs shivered with wet electricity.
I sat down in the lawn chair while Sam pulled a giant jug of Almond Beer from a small icebox beside his desk. He dropped into his whicker throne and we all took a drink, except Rhonda.
Sam's eyes sweated as he spoke. "You're too young, child. It's for your own good. Go get a slice of Teapizza or a Coffeeburger from the women's new mess."
Rhonda snarled in disdain. "I ain't one of Aunt Palooka's little caffiene freaks." She grabbed the heavy bottle and took a swig, then spat it out, missing the large spitoon. Handing the decanter back to her uncle, she joined her feathery sister on the floor in front of his desk.
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I took a deep breath and glanced at the banner to our left of the entrance-flap, hanging opposite Old Glory. On the aquamarine background of its gold-trimmed satin, two smaller flags of white and gold, two little purple birds, and one royal blue fowl's head were meticulously embroidered:
Sam claimed it as the banner of his homeland. "The flags and birds of Garden Twola, back on Freedom in the Paradise System."
When I asked where Paradise was, the old salt said that, in time, I would learn.
Then he complimented his nieces' stellar performance. "But girls, please go practice Wednesday's number while I talk with David. Okay?"
They yawned and asked Sam to shed some light on the flaming star that almost burnt through the Big Top. "Nothing magic, girls and guy, just a basic inverted-facet-controlled ceramiccrystal sensing circuit, artifically grown to intraface with my timedrop laser and signal a completely disomorphic Mohla wave - which hasn't come about yet, David R. Daniels."
end page 240
I said that I sort of understood, but I didn't, at all.
Sam petted Cyrus, took another gulp of cold liquor, and said that he had something more tangible to show me. Pulling a rusty-capped pickle jar from under his chair, he beer-burped and set it in front of me.
The girls sat up and Rhonda griped. "Come on, give us a break. Put that nasty thing away before we all throw up."
On the bottom of the jar, a brown, oblong object laid, submerged in murky green gel. Cautiously, I asked what it was. "Is it a pickled cigar?"
Sam guffawed and both girls pleaded for him to behave. So he stowed the jar back under his makeshift thrown and told us to forget about it. "So kill me just 'cause I kept a souvenir, a piece of coral reef that saved my life."
Sticky sister Donna sighed. "Oohh, we always assumed it was somethin' else."
The Crippled Man barked. "Yeah, 'cause you youngsters got dirty minds. What's the world comin' to?" He broke wind big time. "Don't worry kiddies - the air's medicated."
Still snickering, Sam pulled a chrome chain from under his ruffled khaki shirt. It held two tarnished dog tags and a polished key. Leaning forward, he unlocked the center desk drawer and removed a strand of rawhide tied to a foil pouch.
He dangled the pouch in front of me. "David, you ever seen anything like this before?"
When I said that I hadn't, he seemed disappointed, but not surprised. He repeated that something was very wrong, that I should have recognized it, then opened the little foil sachel. A second necklace emerged, a small white egg on a fine gold chain. Rhonda hurried to her uncle's side and fastened the ovular amulet round his hefty neck. While it nested peacefully in the weathered man's ruffled shirt, the entire world somehow seemed serene.
end page 241
Until Sam banged a giant button and cursed his doctors. "Damn their medicated swamp cooler! A man needs fresh air to live in - and certainly to die in." On either side of the room, big bamboo vents flopped opened, pumping cool, dry air onto us.
I picked up the little statue from the floor, set it on the desk, and confessed to Mr. Sam that I'd never been in combat, that two days before I was scheduled for the bush, I got a change of orders. "Ever since, I've wondered how I would have done."
Sam said that I would have done just fine, that I wouldn't have had time to worry about living or dying. "When it comes down to it, a soldier just does it - except for Matt."
Puffing euphorically on another cheap cigar, Mr. Sam confessed that he didn't actually see who raised the flag in the statue. He claimed the pose was struck for a newsreel after the fighting on the mountain was done.
After an easy silence, he told me that his buddy, Mathew Waters, raised what was really the most important flag on Iwo. "It wasn't on top of mighty Sarabachi. It was on a blood-soaked hill of black ash and shattered bones, up north of the beachhead where I parted with my putz."
From his center drawer, Sam gently withdrew a pocket-sized flag wrapped around the handle of a scorched bayonet. He laid it on the desk and carefully unwrapped the dark, bloodstained flag. The old veteran's eyes watered as they looked at a tarnished crucifix and battered dog tag.
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He said they were Matt's things. "That critical day, when Lance Corporal Waters ran out of ammo, rather than use his bayonet to defend himself, he used it to raise this little flag atop the God-forsaken mound - the scatter-brained fool." Carefully, Mr. Sam held the crucifix up to the light and pointed to a piece of burnt skin from Matt's palm. "My Mathew was squeezin' so hard at the moment of truth, I had to dig it from his rigid grip before they sent him home."
Putting on a fresh skullcap, a black yarmulkah, Sam went on to explain how he and Matt often debated whether the moment of mortal transition was like a water-lily floating easily to sea, or like a broom stick shoved into the spokes of a bicycle. "When Mathew's time came, though, he wasn't afraid to find out."
Our little greenhouse stayed quiet as Sam rolled the momentoes up and slid them reverently back into their archival place.
I philosophized. "I think maybe we should all try to raise our own little flag in life."
From a side drawer, Sam took two sheets of drafting vellum and his bloodshot eyes refocused on me. "What did you say, David?"
Still touched by the story of young Waters, I offered that a cloth flag was more fitting than a stone monument, that it waves in the wind for a time, then returns to the elements before moving on. "It's not right that our souls linger too long."
Rhonda reached up to rub my arm and whispered. "Awful poetic for an ex-Marine."
Mr. Sam flattened two ink-drawings on his desk and said there was no such thing as an ex-Marine, or an ex-Jew. "Both are permanent mindsets." He struck a match and told his liberal-minded nieces to listen to me. "David's just liable to teach you something important." Blowing lazy smoke rings, the vet ordered the girls to get ready. "Go clean those feathers off and get ready for the clear hole to Vegas."
end page 243
As the girls lumbered off to the showers, Cyrus whistled and I relaxed. Grinning widely, Mr. Sam said that he saw my eyes twinkle and my mouth water when Donna mentioned the Magic Carpet on the way back to his office. "What would you like to know about my one-of-a-kind blanket?"
I asked what it did. "And how does it work and when will I ride on it?"
Techno-Sam said that first I needed to understand the Magic Carpet's theory of operation so I could fully appreciate and someday emulate it. With a smouldering butt in his left hand, he held one of the drawings in his right and said that he inked it in sickbay, right after VJ Day. He claimed it explained the Universal Theory of Gravitronics upon which his anti-gravity blanket operated.
Drawing a shallow breath, he grimaced and queried. "You're of course familiar with Newton's laws of gravity?"
I nodded. "Sure, Newton said that the force with which objects attract each other is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them."
Sam applauded my knowledge of classical physics. "But now it's time to forget you ever heard the pea-brained, narrow-minded notions." The grizzly guy went on to say that objects didn't attract each other, that it only seemed that way, that gravity wasn't some enigmatic force which emanated from within a mass, any more than light came from within a bright star. "No more than our mind is a product of our brain."
Sam's eyes twinkled for a time. "Gravity, light, consciousness, all forms of force and energy are always there, everywhere. Even mass is always there, but one component of a simmering omnaplasma - an omnasma waiting to be dopplerized into the spectrum of what we sense as reality, material or otherwise."
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I told Sam that I knew early scientists believed in an ether through which light travelled. "But I thought that was an old-fashioned idea."
Sam fluttered his wrinkled lids and the whites of his eyes cleared. "True, Diligent David, a passive ether is passé. But a living, dynamic omnasma exists everywhere. Matter and energy are but two kinds of spinning motons, the building blocks of apparent motion, of everything everywhere."
Finally, he handed over the first drawing.
Sam pointed his glowing ashes at the back of the vellum. "That large circle represents what we consider to be the outer limits of our Universe, our POM."
end page 245
I scanned the page. "You mean the Present Omnizoid of Materialization?"
Sam said that that was right. "And around it, in fivefold dimensions of course, are a seemingly infinite, yet quite discrete quanta of what I call, in the vernacular, 'Gravitronic Guns.' They produce gravitronic waves on the outer boundaries of our awareness and propagate them inward. Of course, in reality, the guns are so-called natural phenomenon. The extra-dimensional shell of the POM is actually an array of motionic funnels emitting an infinite number of sizeless, but randomly spinning, motons - all intertwined."
I cleared my dry throat. "So gravity doesn't come from inside an object?"
Snarling, Sam claimed it was absurd to even consider such a stupid proposition. "Why would TOLA visualize such a cumbersome and redundant system, one in which every quark must act according to the laws of gravitronic physics? Matter doesn't generate gravity - any more than brain tissue generates thought."
He reiterated that mass simply disturbed the gravitronic field of motons which were always there, in the same way that a bright star or burning match simply disrupted the electromagnetic field that was always there, shifting it into the visual spectrum. "Our reality is simply all that which falls within our obvious sensory spectrum, a dimensionally limited outline of a very small, but ever so essential, microcosm of the entire HU (Holographic Universe)."
According to the sketch, an object was normally pushed on equally from all directions by the motionic funnels Sam termed plasma-flux guns. However, when another object was anywhere near, each object blocked part of that force from reaching the other; thus they appeared to attract each other. "But they're actually being pushed together."
end page 246
Nodding, Sam tossed his ripe ashes into the spitoon and slid a second drawing in front of me. He said that it was the flow plan of what his St. Louis nieces called a Magic Blanket. "It's actually a Gravitronic Modulator Shield that generates plasma-flux in a way quite similar to how the funnel guns around our Omnizoid might operate if Gola had concieved them in only three dimensions, and within current limits of human consruction."
I squinted with disbelief. "You're telling me this blanket actually pushes itself off the ground??"
He beamed brightly. "Itself - and absolutely anything on it."
As I scrutinized, Sam explained how concentric circles of PVC tubing were molded in the shape shown, then filled with a special mixture of superconductive ceramic gas and silver vapor.
end page 247
When I told him that I thought superconductors only worked at absolute zero, he reiterated, quite simply, that I was an idiot.
Spitting a sliver of cellophane on the clay floor, he explained how the superconductive mixture was pumped through repeated stages of expansion and compression by simple electromagnetic coils, cross-wired in series.
I was awed and silent.
Sam cocked his head and stroked his adam's apple. "So, nudnik, now do you understand?"
Rhonda's wet voice reprieved me. "Sure David understands. He's smart, just like me and Donna."
Donna agreed. "That's right boys, so why not knock off the tech-rap, now that you've impressed each other. Throw us the oil so we can get ready for Methuselah."
Mr. Sam selected two plastic bottles from an overhead shelf and tossed them simultaneously, one over each of the shower curtains.
I asked Sam who this Methuselah was that Rhonda was getting ready for. "I thought you were going to get out your Magic Carpet.
He told me to fall out, that we'd fly later, that Methuselah was the timewell with the moonbeam, actually an externally modulated clear hole. "Methuselah's our entrance to the ultimate holosensual experience." Mr. Sam started to sound like a team of used car salesmen. "My special place is much more than visual. It's a cerebral event which stimulates every cell of ones crania, a self-intimacy few people ever achieve. We'll see, hear, touch, smell, remember, cognize, and precognize things most mortals have never imagined, not even in drug-induced hallucination or flagrant fiction. The creative encounters were unconsciously conceived and orchestrated by the triumphant Ohlaé of Abraham, Moses, Lao-tzu, Buddha, Confucius, Daniel, Aristotle, Archimedes, Mary, John the Baptist, Jesus, Muhammad, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Newton, Dickens, Franklin, Jefferson, Lincoln, Emerson, Clemens, Edison, Einstein, the Wright Brothers, Truman, Churchill, Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Bogart, Hepburn, and Cagney, even neophiles Vonnegut, Serling and Roddenberry. Not to forget, of course, Anne Frank and durable King David."
end page 248
Sam went on to mention how they and many others, saintly or otherwise, either directly or indirectly, had mingled their minds with the Old Gentleman's. "Before his environmental illness, the Old Man gleaned the best souls of their times. For one can only be judged relative to ones times."
"Old Gentleman? Old Man?" I licked my dry lips. "You mean God?"
Sam shook his head. "No, I don't mean God. I mean Ména Menachem, a Twolaen mortal, just like me. Beginning four thousand years ago, he wandered the Fertile Crescent for too many generations to count. Just recently, however, after teaching in St. Louis for a few years, he returned to Israel and suffered an epileptic stroke. He's been catatonic ever since." Suddenly Sam began sobbing. "Oh my Danu, if you only knew how left-brained zealots have perverted the good ideas of right-brained prophets and messengers."
Before I could say I was sorry about Menachem, no matter how old he really was or where he was from, the girls emerged. Wearing white-satin tanksuits and bearing bowls of slick feathers, the twosome dripped with aromatic oil.
Rhonda addressed her uncle. "We afford you and David the lofty honor of soaking our scalps with flaming oil."
Sam snatched two colorful decanters from the shelf and handed me the aquamarine one, plainly labelled: R-22.8. As he uncapped the lavender vial, I noticed how it was labelled: D-18.7. Donna squatted beside her uncle, and Rhonda dropped to her knees in front of me.
end page 249
As I began pumping, Sam cautioned me to spray only 150 ml. When I asked why the bottles were initialled, he said it was because the girls' bodies had different specific gravities, since Rhonda was part Navajo and Donna part Habiru. "I've custom blended the oil so each will come as close as possible to the duplex point of combustive collapse without actually exploding and/or imploding."
The girls weren't paying much attention; they were busy sculpting their sticky feathers into something round.
When Sam finished Donna's lube job, she sighed. "I love the ageless scent of jasmine nectar. Rhonda prefers a more natural smell."
I stopped oiling Rhonda's head at 140ml and she moaned. "I love when fresh frankinscence mingles with the fragrance of a treeless tundra. Don't you, David?"
Handing the prairie-scented concoction back to the over-ripe Mr. Sam, I told his nieces that they both smelled delicious. They jumped up and combed each others hair into single wide waves down the back, tickling the hips. Then they placed crowns of sculpted feathers on their heads.
Suddenly, Queen Donna got serious and told Sam and me that we were hypocrites, always talking about how much we hated war and wished the world would disarm. "But you keep guns hidden everywhere. How can we expect our governments to trust one another enough, if you guys don't even trust your neighbor?"
Sam admitted that she had a good point, and a timely one. He pulled out his pearl-handled .45 and studied it. "I could set an example by throwing it away, but what if my neighbor decides to take advantage of my weakness and blow me away while my guard is down? Then the caring, Gola-knowing folk like myself would perish and the aggressive heathens would endure - until they killed each other off."
end page 250
Rhonda registered her opinion, claiming that the Bill of Rights, even if they had been chiseled into the side of Mt. Rushmore, weren't intended to give people the right to bear arms against one another. "The Fourth Amendment was meant to allow citizens to keep arms in case they were called on to serve in a well-regulated militia to fight off an invading army."
I suggested that too many Americans already had guns to outlaw them.
Sam agreed. "So the only solution lies within ourselves, our Mohla, our collective awareness." Then he said that everybody needed to simultaneously abandon the notion of killing as a viable option.
When I asked how that was possible, Donna adjusted her crown of feathers and explained. "When our Captain completely returns, his mind will be able to help us do it."
I told her that even if her hypothetical captain did have such mental veracity, and if no one assassinated him, how did she know he wouldn't happen to own stock in a munitions factory. "He might decide to encourage the proliferation of firearms instead."
Princess Rhonda levelled her own crown. "Our Captain's Mohla is controlled by Gola."
With that said, Sam unlocked his center drawer again and took out a crisp lithograph - a COSMIC FLOW CHART. While he tried to explain it, though, my mind wandered, wondering whether I would ever, after this wonderful night ended, be in the presence of angels again.
When Sam finished his extracosmic explanation, I indicated that maybe even he could influence his neighbors' minds. "Why not be the first to destroy one of your death instruments?"
end page 251
He scrutinized his lethal weapon some more. "But it's so pretty."
Donna wiped oil drops from her proud forehead. "If hitler had decorated his gas chambers and ovens with gold and ivory, would that have made them any less heinous or murderous?"
Reluctantly, Sam unloaded his chrome piece. He tossed it into the spittoon and clapped in code. Cyrus shot towards the ceiling and we were under way once more. Rhonda and Donna held onto their soft crowns as we fled the office and dashed across the arena. Colorful Cyrus fluttered quietly between his master and myself as we passed Newland's Bowl.
The girls whispered wildy as we crossed the second ring, then clapped loudly as we wove through the maze of go-karts and unicycles that peopled the first ring. Soon, we stood enthusiastically before the bronze orifice of the hybrid well Methuselah.
Both girls said they were ready to dive in, but Sam told them to wait. "I don't think David trusts us."
I edged forward to peer down the electrified pit, but Sam pulled me back. "Don't touch the brass ring. It's hyper-electrified." He tossed a large chunk of clay at the ring and it imploded, turning into a little piece of black gravel. I could hardly believe my tired eyes.
Sam told the girls to go ahead and dive on down. "Jeremiah's got Methuselah's stomach all warmed up and waiting, but I need to talk to Mr. Daniels here."
The girls stepped back several yards, and Donna said to hurry. "We'll be waiting in the artificial omnasma."
As the girls removed their delicate crowns and placed them on the clay a couple feet apart, Sam issued strong orders. "You girls, don't you dare grab the platinum pole like you did last time."
Donna took her younger sister by the hand and they charged the hole in staggered tandem. Their sleek forms dove over the brass ring and disappeared into the visceral light. Twice, the mighty beam pulsed. Twice, ecstatic moans echoed from the shaft as two giant fireballs belched up to the ceiling of the Big Top. Seconds later, a terrific thud sounded and the beam flickered, then grew steady again.
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Resting his heavy hand on my shoulder, Sam described how the thud was the sound of his nieces splashing into the synthetic neutron-plasma of the metaphysical stomach. "It's lightly charged at -45 VDC, but dampens to nothing in a matter of nanoseconds. The girls are just fine." Lifting his cap, he massaged his leathery scalp for a second, then asked if I was afraid of 45 Volts. "You weren't afraid of my .45 automatic."
I explained that I never realized before how much I disliked the idea of getting shocked.
Sam tried to alleviate my fear with techno-talk, but it didn't work, not even when he said that if I experienced a slight sparking at the front of my neck, like a mosquito nibbling at my tonsils, I could grab the platinum pole and it would quit. "David, you'll be evenly illuminated to the verge of your diplosive potential - that point which most closely mimicks death and conception."
I stood in silent contemplation.
Sam handed me a jar of partially hydrogenated grass oil and struggled out of his dinner jacket. "Are you ready, my good man?"
I told him that I wasn't. "I still have an ungodly fear of electricity going through my mind."
Nodding, Sam said that he respected my decision and knew why I felt afraid. "We're already standing within Methuselah's time wrap. In your future, you must be destined to have a bad encounter with electric shock. Sonofabitch!!"
I told him that it was no big deal. "But don't you need some of this green grease?"
end page 253
He said that he didn't. "Not with all this natural blubber." He partially sucked his gut in. "Believe it or not, Motorhead Daniels, I was once in racin' trim like you."
The Crippled Man's alabaster egglace glowed amber as he took the amulet off and set it on his neatly folded jungle tux, between the girls' fragile crowns. He told me that I looked tired. "Ask Palooka to give you the current access code for her guest capsule before she joins us in Vegas. In the morning, check outside the rear hatch and you'll find one of her Swiss-chocolate omelettes with coffeed sour cream."
Cyrus jumped from Sam's velevet cap onto the slippery shoulder of my jacket. Then, for some reason, his proud master pardoned himself. "David, I'm sorry if I offended you with my disrespectful chiding, you naive son of a gun. But I needed to know if you were ready yet." He tickled Cyrus and stared hungrily into my eyes. "Ha-Tikvah, David."
Before I could ask what Ha-Tikvah meant or what I was supposed to not yet be ready for, the old salt turned toward the brass ring. His egg, still on the ground between the Singer Sisters' crowns, burst into brilliant gold starlight.
The stocky veteran charged the pit in candy-striped boxing trunks, grabbed his black skullcap, and leaped in. As he disappeared, he bellowed. "Shallloomm, Daannuuu."
Presently, an awesome ball of white fire volleyed up to the Big Top, flooding the entire arena with bright light. The animals whined and whinnied over in Newland's Bowl. I squinted.
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A light flashed in my eyes as I returned to the present, under a tree in Veteran's Park, Kansas. It was dusk and a Park Ranger was shining his Scout's riot light on me.
His bullhorn growled. "Hey, you under the tree, what are you up to?"
I struggled to my feet and yelled back that I was just resting. He walked over and asked to see my driver's license and registration.
While I got them out, he asked if anything was wrong. He pointed to my cane. "You a veteran of a foreign war or just another homeless gimp?"
I told him that I was neither. "I was just getting some fresh air and doing some thinking."
The ranger warned me that drugs and spirits weren't allowed in the park, then bid me good tidings. Picking up my sports coat, I saw the moon wasn't up yet and wondered whether Sam's moonpit had actually stimulated my precognizance of a then-future event, my crania's unfortunate subjection to Lump's electric meatgrinder.
I drove toward home with one eye in the rearview mirror, but saw no trace of Shitler. Back at P.R.'s place, taking a cold shower in the dark, I wondered if Menachem could possibly be 4000 years old like space-Sam had suggested. Cautiously, I stepped from the slippery tub and dried off, deciding to drop the subject of space aliens and ageless prophets.
From years before, a magazine article at Formington came to mind. Near the end of each fiscal month, when the toilet paper was gone, assorted non-glossy paraprofessional periodicals were made available to us. An article in Institutional Psychiatry-Today and Tomorrow claimed that talking about aliens was a classic symptom of paranoid schizophrenia, not to mention thinking other people could read your mind.
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After dressing by discount candlelight, I drove back north toward Goodtimes Grill in Merriam, feeling pretty good. My visit with Lawyer Leonard furnished hope for financial independence, while resurrected memories of Mr. Sam and his mysterious nieces had rekindled my faith in mankind.
Certainly, God always took care of good souls like them and like Menachem, Judy, and Morningstar, wherever they might be. Straightening Moses out on the center console, I hoped the Lord in Heaven had prepared me for whatever might wait ahead.
end chap 14
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