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The Sympathetic Universe Part 18

It was after lunch, but that’s all anyone knew. Even the sun was hidden behind the clouds. For Angel, who was used to making the most of every minute, being unable to check the time felt like a strange kind of purgatory. Irrationally, she almost felt like the very nature of time had been wrested from her control. As far as she knew, years were passing around her. During one very long overcast, a century could escape her without her knowing. One day she would wake up and find she was a hundred and thirty five years old and long dead.

Angel came back from her regular expedition up Mount Endurance. Another combing of the mountain was not likely to find her the cell phone, which was well and lost, but it was something to keep her busy, and even on a dreary day like this it was a pleasant hike. She took her shoes off and put them in her bedroom underneath her bunk.

As she rose to leave, she saw Gabriel at the door. He wore a contrite expression on his bearded face and had a little book in his hand. She said nothing, just tilting her head in inquisitive greeting. Gabriel pulled up his book and said haltingly, “Hello.”

Angel furrowed her brow, “Hello, Gabriel.”

Gabriel nodded and flipped to another page of his book. He squinted at it. “Where is the phone,” he said.

Angel glared. Was he trying to rub her face in it? She lost the phone while rescuing a child if that detail made any difference. A look of alarm crossed Gabriel’s face. He flipped through his little book and after a long pause said, “I know.”

Angel maintained her glare, and added her inquisitive head tilt. Gabriel bit his lip and read again, “I know.” Then he pulled the book open to the previous place he had been saving with his finger, “where is the phone.”

What the fuck was this old puta talking about? How could he possibly know where the phone was? Angel shook her head and moved toward him to exit the room. When he didn’t move, she gestured right with both her hands, signaling for him to let her out. Gabriel stepped to the right and stared at her as she exited the room. Angel stopped in exasperation and glared back at him. “I know where is the phone,” he said again hopelessly.

“Go talk to Eliza,” Angel snapped, and stormed off.

That evening at dinner, over mashed potatoes and deep fried turkey, Eliza said “Gabriel says he knows where the phone is.” Eloy straightened out of his slouch in a violent motion and stared bug-eyed at Gabriel, who, for his part, avoided looking at Eloy at all. Destiny was giggling and thoroughly enjoying herself at the far end of the table smearing mashed potatoes on her face.

Angel rolled her eyes. “And where is that? Let me guess, we just have to think about it hard enough and it will show up in the fridge?” That Eliza seemed to understand how this world worked better than she did drove Angel up the wall. She was confident that technology would not advance enough in a mere 40-something years for Eliza to be personally familiar with either telepathic devices or food synthesis machines.

Eliza narrowed her eyes at Angel, who shook her head again and mumbled “attention-seeking puta” under her breath before returning to her turkey leg. In moments, Eliza was speaking again. “I think between his description and your experience with the area we could find it.”

Angel put her knife down and rubbed her temple. She opened her mouth, then closed it to take another moment to think about what she wanted to say.

Ever the queen of tact, Eliza decided to say more, “I was thinking you in particular would be happy to hear this news, Angel.”

Angel was done taking care of people’s feelings. “Why would I be happy to hear this news, Eliza? A psychotic old man suddenly knows where I lost a cell phone in a place he’s never been to before? Why should that news give me the slightest pleasure? None of this makes any sense. Use your brain, carajo!”

Gabriel turned to Eliza, “Qu’a-t-elle dit?”

Eliza looked for everything like it was Angel now who was talking nonsense. “Elle ne comprend pas comment tu sais ça,” she mumbled to Gabriel, who nodded sagely. Angel tilted her head. Eliza’s look of frustration gave way to one of alarm just like the one Gabriel had worn a few hours earlier. Eloy was sitting back in his chair looking like he was struggling not to laugh.

Suddenly, Eliza backtracked. “I think I got too excited, and I overstated what we knew. What I meant to say… is that Gabriel was looking at the falling leaves and realized that my phone could be covered by leaves…. I’ve been out there and I saw what I think is the area you lost it, so, uh, collectively, we think that we might have an idea of where it could be.”

Angel felt some of the steam go out of her. This made much more sense, she had to admit. With a start, she realized that Eloy was glaring at her now. She looked over to Destiny, who met her eye and grinned through her mashed potato beard. “Turkey,” she said, “gobble gobble.”

“Do you have something to say, Eloy,” Angel growled, “or are you just going to alternate laughing to yourself and leering at me all night?”

Now it was Eloy’s turn to look alarmed. He looked at Eliza and Gabriel, then back at Angel. Collecting himself, he spoke.

“Angel,” Eloy said, “honestly I’m surprised you never figured this out on your own.”

When Eloy didn’t continue, Angel tilted her head again. “Anyway,” Eliza interjected, “maybe we can go right now. I’m sure you’re eager to be able to know what time it is again, Angel.”

“Nobody’s going anywhere,” Angel said through clenched teeth, “Eloy, you’re surprised I never figured what out?”

“Our gods visited us, Angel.” Eliza blurted, “I’m so sorry yours hasn’t visited you yet, but I’m sure she will soon.”

“He,” Angel corrected. Angel’s mouth was on autopilot. Her mind was on double-duty trying to make sense of this news and staving off a barrage of self-recriminations. “Why would my god abandon me?” was a question she knew she could not afford to seek an answer to.

“My god hasn’t visited me either!” Eloy announced with a grimace, “look, Angel, we’re both forsaken! Buddies!”

Angel sneered and exhaled one half of a laugh. She stood. “I’m going to the bathroom.”

Angel walked right past the women’s bathrooms and continued down the hall to the back exit. Her ankle was close to 100% now, and if she sprained it again it would just heal again she told herself, ignoring its own attempts to counsel her otherwise. Once out the door, Angel sprinted to Mount Endurance. She leapt over the half-log staircase, ducked and weaved through the overgrown section of trail. If her god was here, please at least give her what remained of today’s sun.

As Angel ran, she felt the wind blowing, harder than she’d ever felt before. The trees swayed and the howling and rustling of leaves rose to a cacophony. She slowed her pace just enough to maintain her balance. She shivered as she walked, occasionally looking up at the racing clouds.

As Angel approached the rocks where she fell, the world brightened. The clouds finally blew past and let the sun beam down. Immediately the wind died. The sun was high enough in the sky it couldn’t be past late afternoon, despite their having already eaten supper. Angel spat in disgust and was triply hell-bent on getting control of the time again.

A squirrel stood chittering in the center of the boulder trail. It was brown and huge, almost the size of a small cat. Its furry, curved tail hung high above its head. Instead of scampering away, it stood and stared at Angel. Angel approached slowly, and it crawled forward and turned back to look at her again. Angel increased her pace. The squirrel led her to the third gorge and jumped in. Angel peered down and watched the little animal dig through the leaves, brushing them aside until it found what it was looking for.

With a corner of Eliza’s phone exposed, the squirrel scampered away. Angel reached out her arm and could just barely get her thumb and middle finger around the edge. She pulled and the phone came out easily. She did the flicking motion to turn the light on. Nothing happened. She tapped the button on the side, and the phone showed the outline of a battery. “Ha,” Angel laughed aloud even in magical 2019 they still have to deal with dead batteries.

Angel went still as she felt little feet scamper onto her back. Before she could decide whether to look back, the feet climbed up to her shoulder, and whiskers tickled her ear. She heard the voice that she had so desperately missed. “I would never abandon you,” it said, “my darling Angel.”

The feet didn’t scamper away again, they were simply gone. Angel glanced to the left and to the right, up the trail and, with a little effort from her position, down it. She carefully put the phone in her pocket, and she put her face in her hands and sobbed.

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The Sympathetic Universe Part 17

Without the phone, there was no longer any such thing as Eliza time, but that was fine with Gabriel. The sun peeked through the clouds on the horizon, rays of light reaching out into the early morning sky. Gabriel kneeled at the window. He regretted the loss of his Bible upon his transportation, so he focused on repeating verses that he knew by heart. God had particularly encouraged him to know the book of Job, and now he was glad he did.

In the reflection of the window, Gabriel saw the boy. He was trying to communicate again. Ignoring the protestation of his joints, Gabriel turned and squinted at the boy, thinking of how Eliza told him that he thought of himself as the son of God.

To his credit, the boy waited patiently as Gabriel rose and made his way to sit down in his easy chair. Eliza had shown him how to raise the leg rest for his swollen feet. This time the boy at least had a plan to cross the language barrier. He had a sheet of paper and colored pencils, on which he drew a bright yellow cross, colored in with a lazy squiggle. He drew yellow lines pointing out around in a halo. He pointed to the cross and said something.

“God,” Gabriel suggested languidly.

The boy pointed a finger and exclaimed affirmation. “God!”

The boy pulled a black pencil out of a yellow box and drew a stick figure. He pointed to himself. “Eloy.”

Gabriel nodded, growing more fascinated despite himself. Eloy drew another stick figure and whipped out a brown pencil, with which he drew a sloppy blob around the second figure. Presumably a robe. The boy pointed at him.

The next figure stood a head taller than the rest and had some scribbles near the head to give the impression of long hair. “The Spanish Woman,” Gabriel said.

“Angel,” said the boy.

Then the boy drew another two figures, one with a little green dot on the shoulder and another smaller than all the rest. He pointed to the first one. “Eliza” muttered Gabriel, furrowing his brow. Pious pride tangled with personal shame in his mind. The boy pointed to the smallest figure. “The baby,” said Gabriel.

“Destiny” said the boy.

“Yes,” Gabriel nodded.

Eloy nodded and took his black pencil. He drew a line from the cross to each figure. He pulled his pencil back and threw down an X over all the lines. Gabriel felt the same cold sweat break out that he’d been living with for the whole month he’d been here at Camp Virtue. The abrupt disconnection from the divine, more recently compounded by the shame of nearly succumbing to the despair. I insult to injury, rescue by the apparently superior faith of a little girl who had readily admitted she didn’t even belong to a church… it was still a fresh wound on his pride.

“No!” he nearly shouted. From the way the boy jumped, he may have actually shouted. He had to take pride in the piety of the future’s children. It was an admonition to him to be even more faithful. “We cannot allow ourselves to believe that God has abandoned us.” He leapt up. “Like Job, we have the rare opportunity to prove our faith in God’s benevolence and wisdom!”

The boy shrunk from Gabriel, his hands raised in a placating gesture. Here Gabriel was with his second chance, and he was using it to shout at a child who didn’t even speak French.

“No,” Gabriel repeated more quietly, sitting. He beckoned the boy back over. Hesitating, the boy approached and, with an apologetic look, re-emphasized the X separating each of them from God. Gabriel nodded stiffly.

The boy proceeded to draw a blue box underneath Eliza. He added two rectangular doors, a shorter one on top. “Refrigerator,” he said. This magic box that was always cold and produced food was now familiar to Gabriel and he nodded. Underneath the baby, the boy drew a rectangle with two circles and a line extending from the top. Another artifact of the future, the radio.

The boy put a question mark under each device. Gabriel had no idea what the mystery surrounding these objects was supposed to be. He didn’t understand them at all, but Eliza had explained they were commonplace in everyone’s time but his. He shrugged.

The boy tapped his temple with his index finger. He said something more, but Gabriel still didn’t get it. He shook his head.

The boy made an impressive show of keeping his cool. He took a blue pencil and drew new lines from God to each of Eliza and the baby. This was unmistakable. Gabriel had no idea how or why, but the boy was convinced that Eliza and the baby somehow had established new connections with God.

Gabriel reconsidered recent events from this position. How could he be blamed for losing faith in God first when God had selected only him to be abandoned? Could Eliza have used her divine advantage to humiliate him into thinking he was of inferior faith instead of telling him the truth? Gabriel set his jaw. What would it say about him that after a life of sacrifice and dedication his own God so casually left him for someone who had given nothing?

These thoughts were confusing and alien to Gabriel. In eighty years in the monastery he had seen every sort of human injustice, but he had to admit that here eighty years of experience amounted to little. He drew in a breath. “What do you think we should do?”

The boy probably didn’t understand the words, but he went to the paper anyway. He drew three lines halfway to the Spanish woman, himself, and Gabriel. He drew a black line in the way. Something was blocking God from helping them?

The boy drew a question mark. He didn’t know or he wasn’t sure. Gabriel nodded. This was the sort of ambiguity he knew how to work with. “We know there is hope. We bide our time.”

The boy tried to figure out what Gabriel had said for a moment, then shrugged. He stood, gave an awkward nod, and left. He wasn’t more than a few steps away when Gabriel felt a feeling he hadn’t in a month. In an instant, he felt whole and loved. The feeling was electric, and Gabriel was lucky that the boy didn’t turn around at his sudden intake of breath.

The voice from his life on Earth came to him. “I never left you, Son, but you must face this challenge on your own.”

Gabriel was in shock. He could do nothing but mutter prayers under his breath.

“Also, Eliza’s cell phone is in the third crevasse from the beginning of the rock section of the climb. The Spanish woman couldn’t find it because it was buried in a pile of leaves. That is all I can tell you. Be strong.”

The feeling of wholeness lingered before Gabriel knew he was alone again. That night, when he returned to his bunk, he saw two books on his bunk. The first he was delighted to see, was his illuminated bible, bound in leather. The most valuable possession he had ever owned. He opened it to the first page and traced the beautifully wrought I with his finger, following the path of the bright green snake that twined around it. The other book was much smaller, less than half the height and a quarter the thickness. Gabriel wrinkled his nose as the thin, flimsy cover bent and the whole book lifted off the bed when he tried to open it with one hand. It was in English, too. Gabriel was mystified until he saw the smaller French translation underneath the English. Gabriel put the book to his face and, haltingly, read the English: “Talk Like an American: a Traveler’s Guide.”

 

The Sympathetic Universe Part 16

After coming back half-dead from exhaustion and still without Eliza’s phone, Angel’s mood had darkened. Sitting on the green easy chair with her ankle elevated and wrapped in bandages from a first aid kit she’d found in the kitchen, Angel told Gabriel with no small amount of condescension that his “sacrifice” wasn’t virtuous when it only caused trouble for everyone else. He was just being an attention seeking puta.

“On top of that,” Eloy pointed out between mouthfuls of sundried tomato pesto pasta, “stealing people’s ideas is the opposite of virtuous. In my time, it’s called ‘plagiarism,’ and you don’t get any points for it.” Eloy felt sorry for Eliza, who was on double-duty translating everyone’s arguments into French. Even when Destiny told Gabriel her mommy would have put him in time out by now, he calmly informed her that God’s rules were greater even than those of mommies.

In the meantime, Eloy was still wondering about this little girl. Why did Destiny have a two way radio and how did she know how to use it? It didn’t assuage his concerns when he asked her and she said “What’s a wadio?” Angel admitted that she hadn’t seen any two-way radio with Destiny, who eventually admitted that she had left it behind because it kept making “scawy noises.” How had she properly operated a radio that she didn’t even know how to turn off?

Destiny didn’t have the attention span for extended interrogation. When asked where the radio had come from, she started bawling about Mr. Tiger. When asked where she came from, she started bawling about her mommy. When asked if she even knew what decade she was from, she bawled about her mommy and Mr. Tiger.

So, over the next few days Eloy did his best to slowly piece together the story. As Gabriel became thinner and began to spend more and more time sitting unresponsive in the corduroy easy chair, Eloy learned that Destiny’s favorite show was Power Rangers, placing her firmly in the 90’s or later. He learned that Mr. Tiger took the form of a stuffed animal that came to life and talked to her when no one was looking. He still couldn’t figure out what happened on that mountain that let Destiny talk to them.

Angel called a meeting about Gabriel in Eliza and her room. The topic was “Should we force-feed Estupido until he comes to his senses?”

“Estupido” was Angel’s new name for Gabriel, sometimes “Viejo Estupido.”

Angel was in favor, Eliza was against, and Eloy was abstaining, thinking it better not to take a side against either of these women. Destiny was in the common hall with Gabriel, playing with a coloring book from Eliza’s pack that had alarmed Eloy when it said it was for adults, but turned out be full of flowers and abstract patterns that were not inappropriate for Destiny at all.

“I don’t think he likes it here,” Eliza said in Gabriel’s defense, “He doesn’t speak our language; he’s the oldest by forty years; I haven’t seen one meal show up that would be at home where he’s from. Maybe we can figure out how to get the fridge to make something he wants to eat.”

“I have looked that fridge over a few times now,” said Angel, “there’s no knob or anything to adjust to get different food.”

“But maybe it doesn’t work that way,” Eliza said, her tone sounding oddly confident, “Maybe need to think differently. What if it responds to our desires? Maybe we can all… think about Gabriel’s favorite meal and it will show up?”

Angel and Eloy stared at Eliza, who raised her hands. “Look, let’s all just think of the most delicious rice and bean stew that we can imagine. Maybe if we stand by the refrigerator when we do it. It’s nearly lunchtime now.”

So they gathered up Destiny, who was fully on board with Eliza’s “mind reading fridge” scheme, and went to the kitchen. Gabriel was slumped in his chair with his mouth wide open snoring and in no position to be suspicious.

“Ok,” said Eliza, descending to sit cross legged on the kitchen floor, “everyone close your eyes.”

Eloy sat on the counter and closed his eyes.

“Now,” said Eliza, “Imagine you are sitting in front of a wooden bowl in your monastery’s mess hall. The steaming stew in front of you smells of onions, oatmeal, asparagus, and sausage. You dip your spoon in and bring a chunk of sausage to your mouth. It is perfectly spiced pork. You saw the pig slaughtered just today.”

Destiny cried in protest at the image of the slaughtered pig.

“Ok, you didn’t see it slaughtered, but you can tell it’s fresh. Also fresh is the thick slice of barley bread next to it and the whole leg of mutton on a plate besides. You are ready for a feast!”

“You reach out to the pile of roasted turnips and pluck one out. They’re still hot and smell of garlic.”

Eloy peeked and saw Angel’s nose wrinkle at the turnips, but she said nothing.

“The turnip yields easily to your teeth and is packed with juicy flavor. It tastes as if it’s been cooked in the fat from the mutton.”

Eloy had no idea what mutton even was, let alone what it tasted like.

“Ok, everyone,” said Eliza, “just sit with that image for a while.”

Eliza remained silent for a few moments and spoke again. “I am going to open the fridge. Keep thinking of the delicious stew, mutton, bread, and turnips.”

Eloy watched Eliza go to the fridge. She pulled out a red lunch tupperware and, with trepidation, peeled off the top. Eloy couldn’t see what was in the tupperware, but he did see her make a fist pump.

“Everyone,” she announced, “today for lunch we’ll be having turnips, barley bread, and what I believe may be mutton!”

“Ewwww!” Destiny whined.

Eloy watched as Eliza scooped off some turnip and put it in front of Gabriel’s nose. Gabriel sniffed, and opened his eyes. “Qu’est-ce que c’est?”

“Ton déjeuner.”

Gabriel reached out and took the spoon. “D’où est-ce que sa vient?”

“Le réfrigérateur.” Eliza smiled, “Dieu vous aime et… veut que, ah, vous viviez”

Gabriel huffed and gave the spoon back. “Non.”

It took another day of thinking of various medieval dishes, and by the time they had all exhausted taste for ale, barley bread, and mutton, Gabriel was finally convinced that God didn’t want him to fast until he died. He ate all four tupperwares of sausage-tripe stew in one lunch.

It all fit together too easily for Eloy’s liking. It was more than apparent that they were not playing by the rules of their… homes for lack of a better term, but he was beginning to suspect there was more at play.

What were the chances Eliza could have just guessed the nature of the refrigerator? On her first try, no less.

What were the chances that Destiny would just happen to figure out how to operate a two-way radio and then forget?

It might be because of her recent success alone, but Eliza was carrying herself with more confidence lately. She hadn’t patted her shoulder in a while. Eloy had received no hints or visitations at all from his mom that would allow him to accomplish such unlikely feats. Heck, Mom couldn’t even be bothered to stop a hurtling van before putting him in the driver’s seat. Gabriel’s interpretations of his god’s will were so erratic it was more than clear he was not getting any direct channel. Angel had lost Eliza’s phone and nearly killed herself trying to find it again. No divine intervention there. Eloy narrowed his eyes. Trying to intuit the requirements to win this virtue challenge was hard enough on its own. What would he do if Destiny and Eliza were getting help that the rest of them were not?

The Sympathetic Universe Part 15

When light filtered through the windows of the cabin, Eliza began to worry. She stood to do her calisthenics, but when they were done and she had showered off her sweat, the worry came back. When Gabriel came out of his room, sat on one side of the beige loveseat, and asked in French “Eliza, where are the woman and the baby?” she became more worried. Eliza didn’t see any need to get into a fight with Gabriel over his inability or disinterest to learn anyone’s name, so she just shrugged. “I don’t know,” she admitted. She and Gabriel could communicate any concept that could be expressed within the bounds of French I and French II.

Eliza had not slept all night, and struggled to sit up in her overstuffed easy chair. “No sense in waiting on breakfast,” said Gabriel. He stood and moved to the fridge. He came back with no food and a confused look.

Eliza yawned. Seeing that she was not going to ask, Gabriel said, “The meals are four.”

Eliza blinked the fog from her head. She couldn’t believe that Gabriel was complaining about breakfast. “Is that wrong?” she asked after an extended pause.

“We are five,” Gabriel pointed out.

Five was optimistic at this point, Eliza noted with trepidation. “We are three,” she countered.

A look of horror crossed over Gabriel’s face. Eliza didn’t know how to say “as far as I know” so she just shrugged and said “maybe.” Gabriel was not mollified.

“That is not funny,” he said.

“We shouldn’t do anything until everyone is up,” Eliza said, and Gabriel nodded his agreement.

Before Eloy awoke, though, Angel limped into the cabin with a sleeping, dreadlocked child in one arm. “Eliza,” she said, holding Destiny out, “I’m going back for your phone.”

Eliza rushed forward to accept Destiny, and Angel turned and left. Eliza carried Destiny to the empty room and laid her on the bare mattress. She lifted her head and put a pillow underneath. Then she pulled the folded blanket from the end of the bed and draped it over the child. This seemed satisfactory and she returned to the common area.

An hour later, Eloy ambled in, chewing on a piece of french toast from a green tupperware. He sat down in the other easy chair. “Nobody’s eaten breakfast,” he observed, some toast still in his mouth, “do you guys not like french toast?”

“Eloy!” Eliza shouted, causing Eloy to jump, “how many tupperwares were in there?”

“Four,” Eloy said, “there’s always four. What’s your problem?”

Eliza was too tired to keep the condescension out of her voice, “Eloy, how many people are staying at this cabin?”

After a moment’s frustration, understanding dawned on Eloy’s french toast-filled face. “Fuck, Eliza, there’s not enough food!”

Eloy’s gaze became distant. Eliza glared at him as he reached into the tupperware without looking and pulled out another slice of french toast. Then he saw her look and stuffed it back in. He pushed the top back on and rushed back to the kitchen to throw it back in the fridge.

Eloy often looked like he was doing calculations in his head, and when he came back he was doing it again. “Everyone else should eat,” he announced, “I will fast until we have enough food to go around.” He puffed out his chest, inordinately pleased with himself.

Eliza offered him her best “Isn’t that nice,” smile and stood to go to bed. Angel would handle this when she got back.

The sun was high in the sky when Eliza awoke. She couldn’t sleep any more, even though she was hardly any less groggy. She wandered back into the common area to see Eloy rambling about something to Gabriel, who nodded like he always did when he didn’t understand anything that was being said. “How did she know what frequency to set her radio to? How did she even know how to operate a two-way radio?”

Eloy turned when she came in, “Finally, someone who speaks English.”

“Bonjour, Gabriel,” Eliza said, “Comment ça va?”

“Bien merci,” said Gabriel, turning away from Eloy, “et toi?”

“Fatigué” Eliza admitted, “Faim.”

Gabriel laughed, “Va manger.”

“Je vais,” Eliza agreed. She made a point of not looking at Eloy, but she let a grin onto her lips as she walked to the kitchen. He really had walked into that one.

The green breakfast tupperwares were gone, replaced by red lunch tupperwares. Eliza wondered if anyone had actually eaten breakfast, or if all the food besides one slice of french toast had gone completely to waste. She peeled the top off a red container. French fries. Good ones. They were hand cut. She could see the potato skin on some of the edges and big chunks of sea salt. Despite being in the refrigerator they were still hot. She put the tupperware down and washed her hands, then she pushed the fries aside to see what was beneath. A turkey Reuben on seeded rye bread. Eliza’s mouth watered.

The sandwich was cut in two, she noted. It was thick with a generous portion of turkey slathered in thousand island dressing. Even skipping breakfast, she didn’t need to eat the whole thing. Destiny was a little girl, she couldn’t eat that much. She’d seen Gabriel eat. Half the time, he left most of the food untouched. This wasn’t an issue at all.

Eliza brought a plate with half a Reuben and a pile of fries out to the table in the space adjoining the kitchen and common area. The triumphant look on Eloy’s face made her giggle, which perturbed him. “Please enjoy your meal,” he intoned, “I will wait until there is food enough for all.”

Eliza couldn’t keep her attention on Eloy’s ridiculous posturing. Her Reuben was just too good. At first, she thought the french fries needed ketchup, but soon she was appreciating their own inherent salty flavor all the more.

“Oh, man,” Eliza exclaimed, “this is really good. Wow. Do you like Reubens, Eloy?”

“I’m abstaining,” Eloy insisted, “don’t tempt me.”

“You’re missing out,” Eliza cajoled, “this is just half a tupperware. No one needs to go hungry.”

“Oh,” said Eloy.

“The other half is on the counter.”

Eloy stood. He came back from the kitchen with a red tupperware in one hand and an already half-eaten Reuben in the other. “Wow, these are good!”

“Gabriel,” Eliza called, “viens manger! Il y a … uh, beaucoup de … nourriture!”

“Non, merci. Dieu me nourrira.”

Eliza had trouble understanding this. It sounded like he was saying he was going to eat God. “quoi? Tout …” she struggled to think of another way to say that there was plenty of food. “le monde peut manger”

Gabriel struggled to get his point across, “Ah, non, ah, I… ah, not eat food. You eat.”

Eliza looked back at him. “Beaucoup,” she repeated. She pointed at Eloy and her plates and raised one finger, “un … uh, tupperware.”

Gabriel did the sign of the cross and bowed his head. “La vertu exige des sacrifices.”

Eloy put down his french fry, and his face looked calculating again. Then he shook his head, picked it up and popped it into his mouth. Eliza smiled and did the same. She took another fry and looked back at Gabriel. His face was stoic, but he was mumbling prayers under his breath. Eliza took one finger and pushed the fry into her mouth, and biting down, appreciating the crispy, salty crunch. “mmmm,” she groaned closing her eyes, “délicieux.”

The Sympathetic Universe Part 14

Crowded into in the radio room, the group listened with bated breath. Angel stood flagpole-straight, closing her eyes to better hear.

“Destiny,” said Eliza, all professionalism, “where are you?”

Angel was so glad that Eliza at least seemed interested in being competent. It troubled her deeply that between a sullen man-child with the world’s weirdest mommy issues and a doddering old French anachronism the barely-teenager was the most reliable person she had with her in this perhaps literally godforsaken place. She tried to keep it out of her face, but she desperately hoped that Destiny was more responsible than the people she currently was being forced to take care of. Maybe a forty-year-old. She would even take a twenty-something.

Destiny’s high voice came back on the radio. “I’m at…” she paused “end- enduu – Enduuance Peak.”

“C’est un bébé! ” Gabriel exclaimed putting his hand to his chest, “Que se passe-t-il dans cet endroit abandonné!?”

Angel didn’t have to speak French to get the gist. Her heart fell into her stomach. She kept her face straight.

“Destiny,” said Eliza, “are you hurt? Can you follow the trail to camp virtue?”

“I’m ok.” Destiny chirped, “Wheas da twail?”

“I’ll go get her,” Angel interrupted, “Right now. You all stay here. Destiny, this is Angel. I’m coming to get you. You stay near the trail.”

“Coming to get me?” the voice sounded alarmed.

“I’m coming to help you,” Angel corrected, “tell me what’s around you.”

“I don’t know.”

“Come on, sweetie,” Eliza chided, “the more you tell us the more we can help.”

“I don’t know, I don’t know. I don’t know wheah I am. I want to go home. I want Mr. Tiger.” Destiny pronounced it “Tigeah.”

“Where’s Mr. Tiger?”

Angel suspected there was not one person in the room who couldn’t surmise who “Mr. Tiger” might be. Angel saw Eliza reach a hand absently to her shoulder with a lost look on her face. Even Eloy and Gabriel both visibly shrank into themselves. Angel herself felt the empty, clawing feeling of being separated from God. She set her jaw. “Don’t worry about Mr. Tiger now, Destiny. We’re coming to help.”

Destiny was not encouraged. She started to whine. “I want Mr. Tiger. Mr. Tiger, where are you!?”

“We’re not going to get more out of her,” Angel decided, “I have to go.”

“Take my phone,” said Eliza, holding it out. She used her other hand to wipe some wetness that had welled up underneath her eyes. “It, uh, it has a flashlight. Just… flick it forward a couple times,” she demonstrated the gesture and a white light glared out from the phone. Angel accepted the phone. Eliza kept talking as Angel tried to recreate the gesture. “Use her radio to contact us when you find her.”

Angel looked at Eliza, pleased once again to have someone with presence of mind.

Eliza shrunk from Angel’s gaze, “If, uh, if you don’t mind.”

“Thanks,” said Angel curtly, and turned the light off and on a few times.

“I’m going, too,” Eloy blurted. Angel felt her mind go red and whirled at him, but he was already fixing her with a glare of his own. Everyone was looking at them. God, Angel prayed silently, Please send me a vision, tell me what I’m supposed to do. She had been praying long enough she knew how to do it without people reading her face. Angel waited for Eloy to say more. “I’m not going to slow down for you,” She said eventually, “If you get tired or lost you’ll have to find camp on your own.”

Eloy glared all around and donned a distinctly adolescent sneer, “Ditto.”

It was obvious Eloy spent all his time sitting on the couch watching TV, but he kept up with Angel’s brisk walking pace anyway. Angel was grateful that she didn’t actually have to leave him behind and worry about him on top of this little girl lost in the woods.

In moments they saw the trees thin and the big wooden sign rise up. “Endurance Peak.” “Where is she?” Eloy asked, struggling to speak between deep gasping breaths. Angel pointed at the end of the clearing. Wooden logs cut in half made steps leading upward.

“Oh, man!” Eloy’s boyish face was stricken, “how much further do we have to go?”

Angel kept her smile on the inside. “The whole trail is a few hours each way. Mostly climbing over rocks. Hopefully she’ll be on the closer side, but I’m going to go until I find her or reach the end.”

Looking at Eloy’s face, she added, “You don’t have to go anywhere.”

Angel took a sip from her water bottle as she watched Eloy stomp back the way he came. It was paved and nearly straight. He couldn’t possibly fail to get to camp. She turned and moved forward. It could be the days were just long or Eliza time thought it was later than it really should be, but the twilight still shone through the trees even at 7:30. It wouldn’t last much longer, and she didn’t want to trust Eliza’s little magic future rectangle any more than she had to. She couldn’t keep up a sprint for hours, but unencumbered she could go much faster than the pace she had set for Eloy. She took the steps at a jog.

Thirty minutes in, Angel slowed back down to her fast walk. Even with the light from the phone thing she didn’t feel comfortable walking along this trail in the dark. At places the whole path was just big rocks. The walking was still flat, but some of them were far enough apart you had to reach your foot out to get to the other side without falling into the gulch below.

God, please give me a vision. Where is this poor child?

As with every time since she had come here, Angel’s pleas went unanswered. She stumbled on a root and just managed to catch herself and keep from tumbling over. She couldn’t keep feeling sorry for herself. God had abandoned her and that was it. She couldn’t spare the attention while she focused on finding a little girl and not getting a broken leg on the way.

Angel slowed further and shined the light all around her. “Destiny? Destiny!”

The forest’s crickets and frogs made such a racket that it was becoming oppressive. Angel took in a breath. She pulled up Eliza’s phone. 9:14. The going was slower than she had expected in the dark. That was a terrible oversight. She couldn’t afford to be sloppy in this world without a god. “Destiny!” she shouted again.

This was the part of the trail where the rocks grew steeper. Angel put the phone in her pocket and hefted herself onto an enormous slab. “Destiny!” She had passed several places where sign markers said “Endurance Peak,” and she didn’t remember there being many more after. If Destiny had not stayed near the trail, there wouldn’t be much that –

Do not think like that.

Angel pressed on. When she reached the end of the trail, the actual peak of Endurance Peak, she shined the light out into the darkness where just a few days before during the day she had seen a broad vista. All trees, she remembered. No evidence of civilization for miles. No evidence of Destiny. “Destiny!” Angel was beginning to feel as if the crickets were laughing at her. The frogs and birds were mocking her. Again, she failed. She couldn’t save anyone on Earth and she couldn’t save anyone in this twisted Hell. She

Stop.

Slowly, Angel forced herself to turn around. She kept shouting Destiny’s name as she descended, shining her light everywhere she could. She knew the composure had left her, and she sounded as desperate as she felt. Her mind went back to the radio room. The wailing little girl who had lost her god and everything else. She knew that little girl because she was that little girl. Hell if she’d ever let anyone know, but it was true.

Angel had lost her focus. This time when she tripped she didn’t catch herself. She landed hard onto the rock. The phone light spun in the air in front of her before it fell and vanished. Shit. 

Angel ignored the pain flaring in her ankle and scrambled forward to find the phone. No one would help her if it had broken and wouldn’t light up anymore. She would never find it in the black night if that had happened. She felt ahead of her as she crawled. She couldn’t afford to fall into a chasm on top of everything else she had fucked up already.

As she crawled, she thought she heard a sound besides the ever-present crickets and frogs. She lifted her head and closed her eyes. Someone was crying. She considered shouting, but she worried that Destiny might run away instead of towards her. Slowly, not letting the gentle sobs escape her ears, Destiny turned around. She crawled forward, one hand in front of the other, as the weeping grew louder and more distinct. “Mr. Tiger…” she finally heard, “Mr. Tiger… Mr. … Mr. Tig- Tiger…”

Angel crawled forward until the sobbing was right in front of her. She guessed she could reach out and grab Destiny if she needed to.

Angel didn’t shout. “Destiny,” she whispered as quietly as she could.

The crying stopped. Angel held her breath and, ignoring her ankle’s protest, readied herself to pounce if Destiny spooked and tried to run.

“Destiny,” she whispered again.

Destiny began to whine softly, a note of fear entering her voice. No, no, no, this wasn’t good. What could Angel say?

“Destiny, I’m sorry about Mr. Tiger”

“Mr. Tiger.” Destiny agreed, sniffling.

“I lost my Mr. Tiger, too.”

“Uh-huh,” Destiny mumbled. Then after another sob, “Is this Angel?”

Angel steeled herself. She couldn’t start celebrating until they were both safely at the camp.

“This is Angel, Destiny. I’m here to help you get someplace bright and warm. Would you like to come with me?”

The Sympathetic Universe Part 13

Eloy’s watch read 12:15 PM when they saw the sign for Camp Virtue.  Indeed, they shortly crested a hill and saw cabin lights. The triangle roof of the cabin extended forward out from the main building. A trellis extended across the base of the triangle, three beams rising outward, one straight up, one diagonal to each side, creating an image like a starburst. Almost before Angel finished parking the van, Eloy was out and running to the cabin.

Eloy opened the door.  Sitting on the wide, wooden floor was a young girl listening intently to an old man in an easy chair. The girl had hair long enough to cover her ears. It was messy, but somehow in a way that seemed free rather than unkempt. It was brown at the top, fading to blonde at the bottom. The man looked like he was wearing a scratchy brown blanket held together by a rope tied around his waist, and he was speaking loudly and waving his arms. Eloy had trouble understanding what he was saying through his thick beard.

“Regardez!” said the girl, looking in Eloy’s direction. By this time, Angel had caught up with him, and had shoved through in front.

“Ah,” exclaimed the man, “Bienvenue les amis!”

“I don’t speak French,” Eloy muttered to Angel.

“I would be surprised if you did,” Angel replied matter-of-factly.

Angel and Eloy stared at the man, who stared at the girl.

“Good evening!” said the girl. Her accent was metropolitan American with a hint of southern, no trace of french, “where did you come from?”

Eloy stared. Angel jerked her head in their direction, “you tell us, first.”

The girl’s and man’s eyes widened at Angel’s aggression, but it only took a moment “I’m Eliza Cunningham from Carrboro, North Carolina in the year 2019. This is Gabriel. He’s a monk from thirteenth century France.”

“Bonjour, ah,” he looked back at Eliza and stressing each syllable said, “Hello.”

Eliza smiled back and nodded approvingly. Gabriel put out his fist and without missing a beat Eliza pushed hers to his. In unison, they both withdrew, evidently very pleased at their secret handshake.

Eloy had to consciously close his mouth. Eliza was from the future.

“I’m Eloy,” Eloy offered, “I’m from Richmond, Indiana, 2003.” Eliza beamed, but Eloy figured she did that for everyone. All eyes turned to Angel.

“I’m Angel,” she said, “I’m from Detroit, Michigan, 1975”

“Bienvenue!” exclaimed Eliza.

“Bienvenue!” Gabriel agreed.

Eloy did a double-take in Angel’s direction. She didn’t look like she was from 1975 at all.  Maybe it was just that she wasn’t wearing a disco outfit or a huge afro and she wasn’t washed out like an old TV show.

“Is there someone else with you?” Eliza asked.

Eloy started to look behind him, but Angel growled, “There’s no one behind us, Stupid.”

Eliza continued, “There’s another bed is why I ask. Two double rooms and one room with just one bed. Also, there are five chairs here, if you count the loveseat as two. There are five cups in the cupboard, five each of forks, spoons, and knives.”

“The cabin expects five people,” Angel summarized.

“Yes, the cabin or whoever set it up.”

“All right,” said Angel, “you two have special relationships with God, right?”

She thumped her chest, “I get visions,” she pointed at Eloy, “he gets overprotected.”

Eliza patted her shoulder, “I had a physical conscience that took the form of a grasshopper.”

“You had a Jiminy Cricket?” Angel asked, bemused.

“Yep.” Eliza pointed to Gabriel, “He heard God’s voice when he prayed.”

“Does anybody know why we’re here?” Eloy asked, not expecting an answer.

“Virtue,” Eliza said.

“Beyond that, though.”

Eliza shrugged.

The virtuous thing to do, Eloy knew, was to let someone else have a bedroom all to him or herself, so he volunteered to bunk with Gabriel. He wondered if it netted him additional virtue credit when he quietly endured Gabriel’s snoring.

Breakfast the next day was curious. After her morning calisthenics, Eliza showed him how to get it. Just open the fridge around mealtime, and it was there. Usually it needed some microwaving. It was individually portioned. Exactly four packages of food in tupperware, one for each person. Not five, he noted. To Eloy’s delight, the breakfast sausage and eggs tasted like it had been prepared the night before by hand.

Angel held tight to the keys of the van. She pointed out that it wouldn’t do anyone much good if they drove out to look for civilization and ended up out of gas in the middle of the woods. She was impervious to Eloy’s argument that he appeared in the van first and therefore it was rightfully his and he should get the keys.

Eloy synchronized his watch with Eliza’s amazing phone that did everything. She was the best prepared of all of them. Her grasshopper had instructed her to hold onto a bag of useful supplies as tightly as she could before she disappeared and it had worked. She had a charger for her cell phone and the cabin had outlets. She said her phone could even connect to the internet and use satellites to tell you where you were, but there were no nearby cell phone towers, and apparently no satellites either. Eliza said she would love to synchronize to the central world clock, but she couldn’t without internet, so her time was just a guess. Nevertheless, her phone set the standard for the whole camp. They were on Eliza time.

This continued for a week. For lack of anything else to do, Eloy joined Eliza in her calisthenics routine, struggled to learn 13th century French with Gabriel, and did his best to avoid Angel whenever he could. It wasn’t hard, as she spent most of her time exploring the surrounding area in a systematic attempt to find an escape back home, or at least back to civilization.

At precisely six fifty-seven Eliza time each night, the whole group crowded into the radio room to watch Eliza deliver her broadcast for help at seven o’ clock. “This is Eliza Cunningham. I am here with three other people. We are stranded at a place called ‘Camp Virtue’ near Endurance Peak and seek assistance.” Eloy was irritated that Angel didn’t declare Eliza incompetent and take over that task, too. Apparently he was the only person here that merited so little confidence.

One day, after another tense fifteen minutes of listening for a response, Eliza stood to indicate it was time to leave. As Gabriel in the back turned to leave so everyone else could get out, the radio crackled to life.

“Eliza,” the radio said, “Come in Eliza. Eliza, this is Destiny. Over.”

The Sympathetic Universe Part 12

Eloy watched the road wind in front of him. Gray trees fell behind in the twilight. When the van did not turn with the road, Eloy realized he was in the driver’s seat and swerved out of the way of a spruce tree, managing to only hit a low branch, which dislodged with a crack. Thankful no one was hurt, Eloy backed up back onto the road and set the van to park.

Eloy examined the damage to the van. The left light was smashed in. Not something he could hope no one would notice. His heart was still pounding in his chest. Just a moment ago, he was about to go to school. Then God disappeared, then he appeared in a van rolling down a mountain hill and crashed it. All in all, a stressful day. He could still feel God’s absence. What was he supposed to do now? A voice in his head would be much appreciated.

It was completely dark now. The blinking red hazard lights showed him the outlines of his hands and the road and not much else. Eloy got back in and turned his lights on. He was gratified to see that the smashed light still worked even if it looked like hell. He checked the fuel gauge. Full. Eloy chuckled, like this van had just visited a fuel station in the middle of the woods. He sighed and tried to puzzle through what was happening. Nothing left to do but continue down the road. He started the van up.

The absence of God made Eloy on edge. The fact that he couldn’t see more than a few yards in front of him on sheer mountain roads would not normally faze him when everything was planned out so that he would do nothing but learn valuable lessons. Before he appeared here, Boden’s voice was rambling about virtue and about running out of time on “this Earth.” He also said that Eloy’s pet theory about God being his mother was wrong. On the other hand, that’s exactly what his mother told him in person, too, so…

“ok,” said Eloy aloud, “virtue.”

The road continued to wind. It was a climb now. Time passed. Eloy had seen no one else on the road. No cars, no signs, nothing. He tried turning the radio on. Static. He turned the dial through the frequencies. Static everywhere. Eloy grit his teeth and slammed on the dashboard. Everywhere had radio! Where the hell was he!? He turned the dial back the other way. More static, until he reached 171.7. A young woman’s voice. “…za Cunningham. I am stranded in the woods seeking assistance. I do not know my coordinates, but I am at a place called ‘camp virtue’ near Endurance Peak. Please send help.” The transmission ended.

“ok,” Eloy said, “camp virtue.”

Then he shrugged. “Endurance Peak.”

Eloy grimaced and raised his hands in surrender before clapping them back onto the wheel when the road made a sharp right. “Keep driving forward,” he muttered, “I guess.”

Eloy left the radio on. He turned the static down and listened to the noises of the night. Crickets made a continuous symphony. An owl hooted. A clicking noise he couldn’t identify. Another bird? The road went on.

In time, Eloy saw a figure waving at the side of the road. Easy as pie. The virtuous thing to do is help. Score one for Eloy. Eloy pulled the car over and rolled his window down.

“What have you got that smug look on for?” snapped the woman. Her black hair framed her scowling face. She looked old, like, 35 or something.

“Excuse me?” Eloy asked, taken aback, “I could have sworn what you said just now was not ‘thank you for helping me.'”

“The fuck is your problem?” the woman shouted, “you think this is a joke?”

Eloy and the woman stared at each other, and the woman shouted, “Did you crash this!? Are you old enough to drive!? Are you planning to tell me what’s going on!?”

“What’s going on!?” screamed Eloy, not sure whether to be angry or terrified, “I don’t know what’s going on!”

But the woman had reached in the window and unlocked his door. Before he knew it, vice-grip strong hands were hauling him out of the van. He braced for impact with the pavement, but, without giving him a chance to escape, the woman laid him gently on the ground. Then she climbed in the driver’s seat.

“Are you stealing my van?” Eloy stammered, vaguely worried about what would happen if he tried to stand up.

“Hey, fuck you.” the woman jabbed a finger down at him from the van. “How dare you. I was in the middle of a presentation. There were executives in that audience. There were power-brokers in that audience. I was going to show everyone what a woman could do. There were little girls in that audience. What happens when a latina who worked her way up from nowhere starts to tell people who have been told all their lives they’re worth nothing – what happens when she’s just about to tell them they can be something, and then she ceases to exist! What kind of message does that send?”

Eloy had no idea what kind of message that would send. He chanced putting his arms under him and pushing up a bit to look at her. “I disappeared in the bus in front of school,” he offered.

“Don’t lie to me,” the woman did not seem as assured as before.

“I really don’t have anything else but that van. Could I at least sit in the back?”

The woman scowled. “You sit in the front,” she said, “so I can keep my eye on you.”

Eloy had to admit that he had been getting tired of driving. He leaned his seat back and yawned. He checked his watch – it was supposed to be 9:00 AM. The darkness was getting to him.

“Hey, what’s your name?” the woman asked.

Eloy shook the sleep from his head, “Eloy.”

“Hm, so you’re God’s chosen.”

Eloy sat upright, “what?”

The light from the headlights illuminated the outline of the woman’s face. “That’s what Eloy means. ‘God’s chosen'”

“Oh.” Eloy was surprised no one had ever told him what his name meant. “God’s Chosen” seemed a little on-the-nose. “What’s your name?”

The woman shrugged, “Angel.”

The van bumped over a large stick on the road. The radio murmured its quiet static.

“Fuck,” said Eloy, “are we gonna run into Jesus next?”

“That’s my Dad.”

Eloy’s face contorted as he mouthed “what?”

Angel chuckled, her mouth stretched painfully wide across her face.

“God is my mom,” Eloy blurted.

“Fuck you,” Angel managed between heaves of laughter.

“No, really.”

“I just see the future,” Angel said, “It’s like dreams, but they tell me what’s going to happen. The visions always tell me no one will believe me if I tell them what I saw, and they never do.”

Eloy doubled over in his seat. He could barely breathe.

Angel continued, “But seriously, your mom? Jesus is just my dad’s name. It’s a common one.”

“I don’t know.” Eloy kept laughing. He couldn’t exactly say what was so funny. Maybe the night had just got to him.

The van continued on through the darkness.