Sunday, April 24, 2011

Truthenasia: The Truth - Part 3 of 4

The Stumbling Block's

Part 3: The Truth 

“My guest today is a long-time evangelist pastor who recently came out as openly gay. He is the author of Jesus Didn’t Say Anything which hit the stands earlier this year in May. Please welcome Finnian Michaels. Good to have you hear, reverend.”
      “Oh thank you. As you probably know, reverend status was immediately stripped from me after the announcement. So just call my what my friends call me.”
      “Finnian?” Ken asked with his eyebrow cocked, giving that smirk that always drove me to my knees. Literally. By the looks of it, Finnian wasn’t exactly turned off by it either.
      “Well actually, faggot bastard, but Finnian will do too.” The two shared a chuckle.
      “Now you aren’t taking the Christmark.”
      “Oh hell no,” he practically shouted. “This is probably the silliest false-start in the history of apocalyptic false starts, and the bible doesn’t even say anything about the saved people taking a mark at all.”
      “That’s what we were discussing yesterday…”
      Handling lighting keeps me in the background where I could see many things that the stars could not. That meant while Ken was unaware of it, I could clearly see a pair of military servicemen enter and stand guard by the exit of the studio. I know nothing of military uniforms, so I couldn’t even tell you what branch, let alone guess at their rank.
      Tina in production gave several of us, including me, a look of question. We all gave the same shrugs, like we were on some silent opening to the Brady Bunch, and kept about our jobs.
      “…for whatever reason, I am wondering if the IMF might see the chaos caused here and consider recalling the BITES program all together,” Finnian said. “But that would imply the IMF had a conscience, and we already know that to be misguided.”
      “But you said you are ambivalent. Why?”
      “Well, even though they’re all in a crazed panic, have you noticed how quiet and calm the streets are? And how incredibly happy everybody is? It’s like they’re finally embracing the very serenity that their religion was supposed to bring on the world in the first place.”
      “But at the threat of death and judgment.”
      “I know. It isn’t a pretty fact. But I have one of their marks here, and I have to say, it is a well crafted thing.”
      “I keep wondering why people can’t just draw a cross on their own forehead and be done with it. Wal-Mart distribution?”
      “Well, a few are, but not many. I agree. It’s like commercialization can’t permeate enough of our sacred institutions. But I understand that this thing, see if you can’t zoom in on this.” The camera did so. “I’m told it is made of a special material resistant to water, and that once attached to the skin, it simply stays until removed by either some sort of special substance—”
      “So in a sense, if I’ve decided I don’t want to be saved, I’d be like, have you got any turpentine?
      This made the reverend laugh.
      “Or fingernail polish remover, yeah. So what I really want to know is, how did they design, manufacture, and distribute so many of these things so quickly? I’m understanding that they’re made in the billions and that distribution has reached at least one billion already.”
      “That is insane. Up till now only McDonald’s could make that kind of claim.”
      “Billions served? Yeah.”
      “But what if it’s real, Finnian? What if this really is it, and those who don’t have this mark are left behind in a horrid tribulation time, or hell? Have you considered taking the mark in case of it?”
      “No, I’m not going to. I know quite a few Christians who have decided not to in fact.”
      “Really? Because I know a great deal of non-Christians who are taking it just in case.”
      “Well… besides, I decided long ago that this notion of what gets one into heaven or hell is not decided by the right religion at all, but by what’s in the heart. I could not go to heaven and feel okay with how many were suffering in some eternal hell. If God really does work that way, I’d rather go to hell than spend time with a god like that.”
      “Wow,” Ken was taken aback. “Those are some risky words for a believer.”
      “For a fundamentalist believer, yes. I’m not one. It was the only thing that made me brave enough to come out of the closet as a gay man, in fact. Strangely enough, walking out of the non-fundie closet was more difficult than out of the gay one.”
      Ken stopped for a moment, making Finnian and several of us uncomfortable.
      “Right,” he finally said. “You know something, I want to do something,” he said as he stood and left camera sight. Rod pointed his camera so that it followed him backstage. He put a hand up to the camera man first. “Just stay pointed that way for now.” Rod did so.        Ken was approaching me.
      “What are you doing?” I mouthed silently.
      “Let’s step out of our own closet, he whispered, not so silently.”
      I was immediately frightened, of course. The thought about how religious fervor might drive people into an anti-gay frenzy was something on both our minds. But I could see something strangely daring in his eyes. It inspired me. I liked the way it felt. I would have to imagine it was something similar to what John Hancock must’ve felt when he signed his name so largely on the Declaration.
      I stepped out with him, for the first time, in front of the cameras.
      “Just for a moment anyway. Everyone, this is Ken. Finnian?”
      The reverend nodded, unsure of what to do.
      “I don’t know why,” Ken said to the camera. “It surely isn’t for shame. In fact, I am proud of my relationship with Dennis here. We have been together for seven years. In fact he does the lighting for us here at Butting Heads. I don’t know… just seemed the right thing to do. I am a gay man as well.” Ken put a very warm hand around me and gave me a short, but delicious kiss on the screen.
      “Wow!” Finnian beamed. “I didn’t know I was going to be here for something as wonderful as this!”
      I nodded to Reverend Michaels and then to the camera, and then returned off camera to my station. Where I obviously didn’t need to be, especially on a show such as this. There really isn’t much one needs to do, other than watch carefully to make sure lights aren’t in anybody’s eyes directly, or making anybody look like shit.
      The servicemen were staring intently on their watch. Apparently it had reached some particularly important moment because one made an announcement:
      “This show is off the air!”
      It left us all stunned. The switches were all switched off. The lights were all darkened. A military seize fell upon us so quickly that we were all on the road home before we even knew anything happened.
      I got home and pulled up every website I could to see if I could find some more information about the mass of suicides all over the country, but suddenly every account seemed to have vanished overnight. I checked the paper to see the obituary, or any mention of Mr. Barron, but found nothing. I stepped away to knock on her door and see if she was doing okay, and found the entire home deserted.
      I didn’t know what was going on, but I knew I did not like it at all.
During the time since the announcement of the BITES program, it wasn’t as though there were much in the way of television viewing anyway. But of those who were watching, Butting Heads pretty much had less than a tenth of a share in ratings anyway. This was hardly reason to completely remove it from the air by military raid, but it was obvious that nobody was going to miss the program.
      Ken and I flipped through every station, on television and radio, and even through every favorite website we could find. Absolutely every form of media had become terribly filtered. Just as there were very few of us daring not to take the Christmark, there were a miniscule percent of people inquisitive enough to question why the media had been seized. For the most part, nobody noticed at all.
      Programming had not really resumed. The same people on the same shows were blabbing away, but not about any of the same topics. It was as though every one of them had morphed themselves into TBN. I never thought I’d see the day that Geraldo Rivera would tell me about the importance of accepting Jesus into my heart, or as he put it, that empty hole in your life you try so hard to fill with meaningless pleasures. I mocked at the screen that there wasn’t room in my hole because it was so full of all of Al Capone’s old shit. Ken nearly sprayed coffee through his nose.
      We couldn’t stomach it but for small doses. For the most part, we left the television on mute, so that if something important happened we could see it, but wouldn’t have to be bothered with the ridiculous speeches any more than necessary. We spent most of our time just playing cards, fucking, or watching old movies on DVD. Some Like it Hot is always more enjoyable in the arms of a warm lover.
      Through the movie we’d glance over occasionally at the smaller muted screen to see Larry King no doubt telling us to take the Christmark or burn in hell. But I noticed the words on the screen were more serious.
      “Pause that!” I said suddenly. Jack Lemmon’s dress froze in the most peculiar position a second later. I turned the small screen’s mute off.
      “…said this about the mass of suicides that have hit around the world. And I’ll quote him. He said, ‘In all cases of these apparent suicides not a single bullet had been found. The assumption that they were gunshot inflicted fails to take into account that not even guns are found on the scenes. But one common feature is that the people are usually found in various states of undress and in the act of lovemaking.’ What do you make of that, Mr. Moss?”
      “Moss?” Ken shouted. Indeed, I hadn’t noticed Lindon on the set either.
      “Larry,” Moss answered, “Revelation tells us that at one point only those who have not defiled themselves with women would be taken up into heaven. It also says that at another point people will beg for death but be unable to die. There are going to be a lot of situations that will seem bizarre. In this case, since the Christmarks have been taken by so many, it seems that the act of sex is a violation of the mark itself. If you take the Christmark, you are making your body a sanctuary of righteousness, and it is not fitting to defile that through the sin of lustful actions.”
      “Good thing we didn’t take one,” Ken joked. But I did not find this funny right now. In fact, nothing was funny right now. The only thing in my mind was that Mrs. Barron was in her nightgown, and I was told Mr. Barron was completely naked when his body was found. I understood her hysteria now. They were making love when… what?
      “So you’re saying people are dying while making love?” Larry King asked.
      “It would seem that the Lord strikes them dead for iniquity, yes.”
      “What the fuck?” Ken shouted. He clearly got it now too.
      Before the episode was over, Lindon helped Larry King install a Christmark onto his own forehead, and the two of them celebrated King’s newfound salvation. Larry seemed to be doing it just in case, and looked as though he were ready to take it off the second the director yelled cut.
      Strange as it may seem, this sign of exploding heads while making love scared me. I was beginning to worry that, if there indeed was something as powerful as this going on with this mark, might any of the rest of the legend be true?
      It was a scary question to ask. One that would make many resisters think twice before the end of it all, and make many of them also to decide take the mark just in case. I couldn’t believe I was even thinking about it, but I actually wanted to talk with Lindon Moss.
      It was a conversation destined to go horribly wrong.

I had no knowledge about the broadcast I missed on my way over to Moss’ church ministry. I had turned off the radio after hearing the story that must’ve preceded its break-in, and that story was of Larry King’s lawsuit against the makers of the Christmark. It seemed he was incapable of taking the damned thing off of his head.
      So the decision of taking it was final? And again, I wondered if it were supernaturally so, or if it were manufactured in such a way. But how would someone as pathetic as Wal-Mart manufacture so many billions of these marks in such a way in such a short time.
      I was being incredibly naïve and blind, I’ll completely admit.
      It had me so stirred in my brain that I simply had to shut the radio off. Whatever story I missed, it stirred the population into a strange panic. Nobody acted violently, but the panic was there nonetheless. It was a polite panic. This struck me as oddly as the name of the band, Quiet Riot. In a sense, it was a quiet riot as well. Perhaps finding out they can’t remove their marks scared them? But that simply wasn’t it.
      I arrived and was greeted by a very serene nun and shown to Lindon’s quarters, where he was already in a discussion with two other parishioners. Both of them were obviously gay. I don’t have very good gaydar. I didn’t need it for these two. They couldn’t have hidden their gayness from a dead Superman behind a lead wall. Yet clearly the two of them were graduates or higher-up helpers, because Lindon spoke to them as though they had authority, and as though he had expectations of their service.
      I waited as they discussed the patients in their ministry, and the progress or lack thereof that each exhibited. They knew of my presence. Clearly I was not as important as their conversation.
      “Anyway, take care of that,” Lindon said with finality. “Mr. Garriott, long time no see.”
      “Lindon,” I nodded.
      “Around here they call me Pastor Moss.”
      “And around here they never knew you as the ex-roommate who used to screw whole lines of guys. I’m not one of those people around here,” I said to him, smirking to show that I was there as a friend, and barely that.
      “Yes,” he said, eyeing me with a strange disdain, but also, with question.
      “Forgive me,” I said. “It’s been a strange week and I’m not exactly the most polite person right now.”
      “Quite right,” he said. It was strange hearing him speak like that. That sounded like something a British person would say. Not a silly college fag as I’d known him.
      “I don’t actually know why I’m here.” I sat reluctantly. “I’m hoping to figure that out in this conversation. It’s not to take the mark or become like one of you. But I do think it’s to try to understand better, if that’s at all possible.”
      He reclined, the disdain not disappearing but deepening.
      “Dennis, I simply don’t know what to tell you. You’re either one of us, or you’re not.”
      I was uncomfortable. The two boys were still in the room. I say boys, though they clearly were well into their 20s. They were both ideal for gay porn, yet here they were staring me down and working to religious badger others like them.
      “Could we talk alone?”
      “No,” Lindon said without even a millisecond’s hesitation. “I’d rather they stay if that’s alright with you. This is Bradley, and this is Alan. Bradley and Alan, this is a roommate from my college days, Dennis Garriott. Who is also a struggler, but who’s never come to Christ as the rest of us here have.”
      The two of them nodded at him, but eyed me suspiciously. I had absolutely no reason to question the meaning of struggler, as I’m sure you probably have no reason to either. Obviously a man who thinks he’s gay, as Lindon always put it.
      “I tried,” I told them. “I simply could make no sense of it all.”
      “You don’t make sense and then jump, Dennis. You jump and then it makes sense.”
      “I jumped!” I stood up. “I did the whole thing, and it still did not make sense, Lindon. I still had questions, you still had no answers.”
      “No,” he said. “You still wanted your sin.”
      “Oh knock it off!” I stepped away.
      “Demons. They always come out angrily.”
      I took a breath and realized that my anger would be interpreted as such. I got myself under control. Even I couldn’t really explain why this arrogant snub angered me as much as it did, but I am damned certain it has nothing to do with demons.
      “Demons,” I repeated. “How convenient. Everything is the devil or demons. Can’t give you any evidence to the contrary of your belief because it’s the devil or demons. So let’s get it out of the way. Yes, I like my sin, if that’s what being a human being with urges and desires is. And I’m proud of that fact. You won’t get any dodging from me of that fact. I’m a proud gay man. I’m sickened by your religion’s judgment against us.”
      “Then you are sickened by God,” he said.
      “No. I’m sickened by you.”
      He stared at me for a glowing second. The other two grilled me for some time, but I stood my ground. I’d never been this bold with him before. Finally he asked the two to leave. They grinned at him. He grinned back. It was a gesture I didn’t understand then.
      “My,” he said. “You have changed.” He smiled and motioned to me to follow him out of another door into a rotunda. I hesitated.
      “Changed into what?” I asked.
      “More sure of yourself.”
      “You mean more damned?”
      “Sure. But at least not lukewarm as before.”
      I rolled my eyes and followed. Everything was a biblical reference with him. Because of that, everything he meant came out in a couple of familiar words, if you understood the reference. I was damned, but at least I was hot instead lukewarm.
      He guided me to his private study. It smelled of something familiar. I didn’t dare say what. I didn’t even dare think it, considering he’s supposed to be a holy man in a holy sanctuary.
      “Close the door, please.” I did. He sat like some kind of comic strip villain, clasping his fingers together. “Sit.” I did.
      What followed was a bizarre starting contest. One where he lost.
      “Jesus kid,” he said, looking at his shoes. “You finally grew up.”
      I was confused. “What?”
      “I couldn’t stand your self-loathing and your sniveling before.” He finally looked up at me. Nothing in his gaze was the same. His forehead clearly throbbed under his Christmark, for it kept dancing strangely. He was my old hot-tempered roommate again.
      “What the hell is going on?”
      “That is a question whose answer you do not want.”
      I’m not sure what shocked me to silence most: his sudden words, which sounded so much more filled with conviction than any of his religious babble; or his stare. Either of the two, or even their combination, couldn’t prepare me for the moment when Senator Simon Kramer, my other old roommate, stepped into the office.
      “Lindon, I have to make—”
      The three of us stood in one solitary room again, for the first time in years. There was no camaraderie now, however. The awkwardness stung my eyes.
      “What are you doing here?” I finaly asked Simon.
      No answer was forthcoming.
      “What the fuck is going on?” I shouted at the top of my lungs.
      On the wall my eyes scanned the bulletin board, with newspaper and magazine articles posted. Each of them seemed to be only a combination of two things. On the left were articles about the high suicide rate of Exile’s patients, each found with self-inflicted bullet wounds. On the right, articles of sexual encounters that ended in death due to the Christmark.
      “What in the fuck?” I said.
      “Dennis,” Simon began.
      “Simon, I’ll get with you in a moment. Could you?”
      Simon eyed him angrily, as though to suggest I couldn’t be trusted to get away, or even live. What my eyes were showing me still didn’t make any sense, but I could feel the wrongness of it all.
      “You’ve been—”
      “Simon!” Lindon snapped. Kramer finally left.
      “What? You’ve been what?” I was babbling to find an answer to this.
      “We’ve been,” Lindon said, as though that was the end of the discussion. “And it’s done. What exactly did you expect?”         
      “Expect?” I realize now how lame it is that I would repeat words I didn’t even understand, as though I fully understood. The mind doesn’t function well in moments of surprise. I still wasn’t sure what I was being surprised by. To be honest, I was doing whatever it took to buy time and not pass out from confusion, afraid I’d wake up in one of Lindon’s chambers to cure gayness, if at all. That was murder I saw in his eyes after all.
      “The world is overpopulated and insane. Nobody cares. Either they think God told them to overpopulate it all and hate fags like you and me, or they’re too occupied with sex and video games and working for expensive cars to give a shit. Do you think humanity was ever going to come around?”
      I could barely bear to look him directly into his eyes, but I did so with the bravest face I could muster. This was the real Lindon Moss. There was no wondering why he dodged every question up until now. You could see it in his glare. He despised what he was pretending to be all this time.
      “Why are you pretending to be… what you hate?”
      His face relaxed into a grin, with a slight rolling of the eyes. “Ah,” he said. “You still don’t really get it. You may not be the sharpest knife in the block, but at least you’re not the same pathetic virgin boy I knew. Listen to me, and heed what I tell you.”
      I gazed again at the bulletin board. Then at the door Kramer had entered.
      Lindon approached me, and I backed away from him as quickly as I could. I fumbled with the doorknob to his quarters and rushed out quickly. He persisted, not as though he wanted to catch me, but as though he were going that way anyway.
      And all the while, he spoke.
      “You may think what we’re doing is wrong,” he said, almost in rhythm to his step. “You’re even right, I’m sure.” He said this as I finally got through the door. “But I don’t care. I’ll do what I have to do, even damn my soul if I have to, to save this world from the most worthless species ever to exist. And you don’t have time to make a damned bit of difference now, little weasel boy.”
      I made haste toward the sanctuary doors. He stopped. Something made me stop too, to see what he’d say next.
      “Don’t take the Christmark. Whatever you do.”
      And with that he turned and left.

I had to get home. I rushed. I was halfway there before it even occurred to me that I might need to know what the news was saying, and switched on the radio.
      “—from the roof of the building. We can see its construction clearly. It is without a doubt an affront to Jerusalem and the entire Judeo-Christian religion.”
      “Can you see what it’s a statue of?” the male anchor asked the female reporter.
      “Walt, I’m pretty sure that it is a dragon-like creature. It stands considerably taller than the Dome of the Rock.”
      “And you said it was a seven-headed dragon too, is that correct?”
      I had no idea what the hell they were talking about.
      “Thank you, Karen. I have biblical expert, Carson Meredith, in the studio with me. How are you doing?”
      “Fine, Walt,” a southern voice answered. “I’m going to tell you nothing different from countless other voices across the country and probably around the globe. What you are seeing constructed so suddenly in Jerusalem at the temple is nothing more than what the prophet Daniel called the abomination that causes desolation. For the millions who have taken, or will take, the mark of the beast, they will be forced to worship this dragon and the government that it respresents.”
      “Does this have anything to do with the discovery in the bible code that they were discussing earlier this morning?”
      “It’s hitting us all so fast, but I’m going to have to assume so. The statue that Daniel predicted comes before the reign of the evil one. And the bible code discovery predicts that the rapturing of the true believers occurs tonight at sundown.”
      I nearly drove off the road in shock. I pulled over to listen.
      “—that what will follow tonight is an expansion of time called the tribulation, which is a term for the threshing of wheat to separate the wheat from the chaff. What this means is that we’re about to enter a time of severe testing for those who have not chosen to believe, but the rest of us will be spared before—”
      I clicked the radio off, got out, ran into the middle of the road, and screamed bloody murder. I don’t remember what I shouted. I don’t remember if it were merely a stream of profanities, an inquiry of what was going on, or something about or toward God himself. I only remember that the explosion of my rage shook the few remaining cobwebs from my mind.
      What was coming was a sham. One that Lindon Moss helped create.
      A whole bunch of people were about to die.

Usually in movies there’s a suspenseful rush to get somewhere on time in moments of severity, but today traffic was nonexistent. In fact it felt less like a severe situation and more like I’d decided to take a pleasure drive in the middle of nowhere.
      But the speed, the panic, and the fact I was driving through city streets, made the beautiful day a movie-esque horror moment even if the scenery was wrong for it. There should’ve been zombies rushing to eat brains, asteroids falling from the sky, lightning and thunder and flaming hail hurling toward the earth.
      There was sunlight and people shouting happily everywhere.
      It felt positively schizophrenic.
      I had to rush home. I had to tell Ken. I had to tell him everything and see if he thought it sounded nuts. I had to ask him if he’d go on television and tell the world. I still didn’t know what this bible code was supposed to be, but sundown was not far at all.
      I got there in record time and rushed in. I was not greeted by the loving arms of a husband. I was greeted by the clicking sound of a gun, pointed not at me but at Ken.
      Two thugs had forced him to take the Christmark.
      “Dennis?” he panicked. “What’s going on?”
      “What is going on?” I asked them. Then I recognized them as Bradley and Alan, both looking severe. “You?”
      “Yes. Us. And you stumbled in unexpectedly.” I don’t remember which was Bradley or which was Alan, but I also did not care. They were threatening the man I loved, so to me they were both asshole.
      “Take that off of him!”
      The two of them chuckled at my demand. “It will come off if you do what we tell you. If you both do what we tell you.”
      I’d felt like the world was going insane before. Now I felt it had started having seizures.
      The other one spoke then, sounding casual and nonchalant. “So long as you get the idea. Countown is on for sundown. Your sugardaddy here will die. We’re the only ones who know how to take this off,” he said, prodding Ken on the mark with the tip of his gun, “and unless you do what we say, we won’t. I’ll just be putting this gun away then.”
      “Yeah, you won’t need it.”
      The two of them sounded so confident that I wanted to fire several bullets into their kneecaps just for starters.
      “This is really starting to feel like a really bad Bogart movie,” Ken said then. It actually baffled me for a second, until I realized he was right. These two children seemed to fancy themselves bad guys from a film. They laid on the acting quite thick.
      “Let’s go, girls,” Alan led the way.
      “Where the fuck are we going?” Ken asked, looking terrified.
      “Your studio. Let me guess,” Bradley motioned to me. “You were thinking of going there and warning people about the mark. Right?”
      To be honest, I think mostly I was just wanting to hide from it all with my husband and let the madness wash over. I was going to ask if he’d go on the station, but I think I’d rather he tell me no. But would that mean letting billions die? I hadn’t yet faced the fact that I had really resigned myself to letting billions of people die. I hadn’t thought of it at all.
      “I don’t know. I don’t even know that I care.”
      “What the fuck is going on?” Ken shouted again. The sound echoed in the hall.
      “The people dying. In both the sex cases and the kids in your little ministry. These things are set to kill people, aren’t they?” I asked them, mostly for Ken to hear. I pretty much had that one figured out.
      “He’s catching on, Alan.”
      “I do believe he is.”