When the bus crossed the city line in Jacksonville, Brian was standing in the aisle. He held firmly onto the back of the seat beside him, bending over so he could see out the front window. The pale of the sun was just beginning to light the morning sky. Brian felt and overwhelming sense of anticipation. This is it, he thought, finally. He looked down at Kathi's soft, sandy hair and the way it fell over Jim's chest. Brian watched the gentle rhythm of their stomachs as they rose and fell in unison. Jim's mouth was wide open, but he was breathing through his nose. Brian could tell by the sound it made.

Brian bent down again and looked eagerly out the front window. "How much longer?" he asked the driver nervously.

"Just a few minutes," the driver said without looking. "Didn't you hear the announcement I just made?"

"No. I guess I must've been thinking of something else," Brian said, bending at the knees and looking out the side window at the shopping mall they were passing. The parking lot was empty.

"What time is it?"

"Listen, you're not even supposed to be standing up while the bus is in motion, so why don't you just relax and go back to your seat."

"I don't have a seat."

"Everyone has a seat. You have to, it's the law."

"What time did you say it was?"

"I didn't, and it's against the law for you to be standing in front of that white line while the bus is in motion, so either sit down or I'll let you off right here."

"Okay, I'm going; but don't you think you could just tell me the time before...."

"It's five past six, now sit down."

Brian made his way slowly back down the aisle, holding on to the backs of the seats as he went. The bus lurched hard to the right, and Brian struggled to hold himself up. When he had regained his balance, he noticed that they were pulling into the terminal. He spun around quickly and hurried back up the aisle. The door was still closed. The driver was writing down something on a clipboard. He raised his head slowly, still looking forward. He turned, carefully lifting his eyes until they met Brian's. Brian looked uncomfortably at him, trying to smile. The driver stared at him for a moment, running his fingers over the back of his crewcut. He shook his head slowly, and then opened the door.

Brian mumbled a quick thank you, and rushed down the steps to freedom. The cool dew of the morning air felt good against his skin, and for the first time in as long as he could remember, he felt himself smiling uncontrollably. The sidewalk was white and wide open out ahead of him, and he let go with a long, tight breath, laughing at his shoulders as they fell forward and down.

"Hey Brian," a voice said breathlessly form behind him. "Wait up. What are you doing?"

Brian stopped dead, still facing the open emptiness of the sidewalk ahead of him.

"What the hell is going on?"

Brian didn't move.

"Hey, look at me," Jim said, grabbing him by the shoulder and pulling him around. "What the hell are you doing? Why didn't you wake us up?"

Brian looked down at the sidewalk.

"What the hell's wrong with you? You can't talk all of a sudden?"

"I can talk, I just don't have anything to say."

"Well, how about starting with where you were going just now?"

"I wasn't going anywhere, I was just taking a walk."

"A walk? Where the hell were you walking to? How did you think we were gonna find you?"

"I don't know, I guess....."

"Yeah, I guess you just didn't think. That's all. Or maybe you did. Maybe you knew exactly what you were doing, and maybe...."

"I wasn't doing anything, I was just going for a walk."

"What's going on?" Kathi asked, walking toward them. She set her bag down on the sidewalk. "Boy that thing's heavy. Is everything okay?" She asked, looking nervously at Brian.

"Everything's fine," Brian said quietly, trying not to look at either of them.

"Yeah, everything's fine," Jim said sarcastically, picking Kathi's bag up off the cement. "So where do these friends of yours live anyway?"

"I don't know, all I have is their phone number."

"Well, let's get to a phone then."

"I'm not going to call them now, it's six o'clock in the morning."

"All right then, let's get something to eat, and then we'll call them."

"Let's put our things in a locker first, I don't feel like lugging that thing around any longer than I have to." "Who's doing the lugging?" Jim said dryly.

"No one asked you to. Give it to me."

"No, I've got it," Jim said, walking back toward the terminal. "We can ask inside if they know of any place that serves a good breakfast."

Jim turned around when he realized that no one was following him. "Are you guys coming or not?"

Neither of them answered. They just started walking slowly along beside him in silence until they were at the terminal. They put their bags in separate lockers and Jim went over to the desk to ask directions. When he returned, Brian and Kathi were still standing in silence.

"The lady at the desk said there's a place over on the other side of the hospital," he said to no one in particular.

Outside, the humidity was gone, and it was easy breathing, but the air was dead and still. Brian listened to the sound their shoes made as they broke the silence of the sidewalk. Everything was clear and clean and neat and quiet. He felt as if they were disturbing something, somehow invading a sacred or spiritual place. His uneasiness grew as they neared the University hospital and he thought of the people inside, pitying them in their pain. That was all he really wanted. Someone to sympathize with him. To feel sorry for him and to pity what he had been through. The pain and the confusion of it all. Everything, all at once as it came to him, pulling at his insides. He had so much compassion for everyone else, but no one understood. No one looked inside.

"Sing unto the lord a new song, for he hath done marvelous things," his brain screamed at him as he walked. Brian noticed that they were building an addition onto the hospital, but the construction site was silent. He wondered why there were no workers, but then he remembered it was still early.

The construction site was big, and closed off with a chain link fence, but the gate was open. Brian stopped in front of its entrance, and put his bag down on the sidewalk. There were two huge foundations beside one another, looming out of the earth. The one on the left was smaller, with only three completed stories, but the one on the right was nearly finished. He could feel the uneasy stillness of their shadows drawing him in. Brian stepped slowly into their coolness, breathing in the damp smell of the earth inside and looking up at the long steel

I-beams. Black and straight, they cut through the cement, rising up into the blueness of the morning. One after another, they pierced the sky, painfully invading its peace. Brian knew that he too was intruding, and that somehow, something was wrong. The ground was dry and dusty crimson beneath his feet.

Brian never even saw Russ as he came up behind him and grabbed him around the neck. He spun Brian around, and it was then that Brian saw Father Landers walking quickly toward them, smiling with fury. Jim and Kathi were behind him, just making their way through the gate, followed by a line of people who's faces Brian couldn't quite make out. They watched as Russ threw Brian violently to the ground. The dust rose up gently over him, and he could not see anything except Father Landers walking into it. Brian looked up at him helplessly, and open mouthed as Father Landers strode blindly forward. When he disappeared for a moment, Brian thought it was because of the dust. He was still waiting for him to reappear when he heard Kathi scream. It was then that he realized that Father Landers had fallen into a drainage ditch that had been covered with small pieces of withered plywood. Slowly, as the cloud cleared, Brian stood up and joined the crowd that was forming around the ditch. It was about ten feet wide, and fifteen feet deep, and full of muddy water at the bottom. Brian tried not to look down, and glanced slowly around him at the faces, letting them slowly come back to him from the bike trip. Russ and Jack and Martha and Jeanine and Teresa and Phil. They were all looking down into the hole beneath them. Brian was still searching the faces when Russ suddenly came toward him again. Brian was too stunned to move, and he held his breath for the pain. He could see the blackness of Russ' eyes as they came toward him, his left hand held high and tight in a fist in the clean morning stillness. Brian closed his eyes and waited. A sharp cracking noise forced them open again, and there was Russ, lying face down in the dirt. Phil stood silently over him, a short white two by four in his big right hand. Brian watched as the blood trickled from the side of Russ' mouth into the dryness of the dirt. Phil nudged him gently in the ribs with his left foot and then rolled him over into the ditch. Brian listened to the dull thud it made as he landed next to Father Landers in the mud. For a moment, it was silent again.

Phil walked methodically, almost mechanically, over to a pile of cement blocks which were stacked nearby. He knelt down, picked up a block in each hand, and walked back over to the ditch. The group listened in silence to the thick, whumping sound of the blocks as Phil carefully dropped them onto the bodies. Without hesitation, he turned, and walked back to the pile of blocks again. Over and over, they listened as the whumping noise became a sharp, breaking sound as the blocks began to pile. Finally, it was over. They stood in a semi circle in the soft grey blue light of the morning, trying to stop the heavy droning of the silence. For one long moment, everything was perfectly still.










Brian sat alone on a long wooden bench and looked out across Osceola Lake. The pine trees behind him whispered softly in the gentle afternoon breeze. The water was clean and bright. He looked at the long, worn, empty bench beside him which had been carved from a tree. It was one of many that formed two long rows with a well-worn dirt path between them leading up from the lake to an old wooden platform. The benches were surrounded by a huge pine grove which had been partially cleared to form an amphitheater of sorts. Brian had read on a small brass plaque on a nearby stone that this was one of many tribal sites used by the Indians for religious ceremonies before the state had turned the land into a National Forest and driven them out.

The pine trees were taller than any that Brian had ever seen. They stood like solemn giants, monuments of their age. Brian found it hard to believe that nearly a month had passed since they left Jacksonville. The time and the places had passed so quickly, town after town, night after night; on and on it went. Still, the money had been good so far, and Jim had promised them another good night. Besides, it was Saturday, and Saturday nights were always the biggest.

Brian turned from the lake and watched the steady flow of activity behind him. Jim and Kathi were standing on top of the old station wagon they had bought, hanging a banner between two huge pine trees. They were getting along just fine, Brian thought. He remembered the day three weeks ago when he had performed their marriage ceremony for them. It was unorthodox, and really had no legal basis, but they looked very happy none the less. Yes, he thought, it had all worked out okay, and everything was fine, although they slept in separate tents. Together, they promoted all of the gatherings, but Jim was in charge of the money. After all, he had done such a good job with it that no one ever really thought to question it. In just one week he announced that they had made enough money to buy a used station wagon, and two weeks after that, he had somehow managed to come up with an almost brand new Cadillac. It had been given to him by a woman who said she had been healed by Brian during one of the gatherings. She said that she had been sterile for seven years and went through the healing line on a Friday night and after Brian had touched her, she felt different. The next day, she went to the doctor and he told her that she was fertile again. That night, she came back, and told Jim that she wanted them to have her Cadillac as a token of her appreciation. Brian didn't think it was right, but she insisted. Besides, her husband had another one anyway. Brian really hadn't been involved all that much though. He didn't even remember touching the woman. Still, she insisted it was a miracle. That was one of the problems, there were so many of them in the healing lines that Brian never really remembered any of it. Jack and Martha kept it all organized though, and along with Phil they all made sure everything was always under control. Teresa and Jeanine were in charge of the food. Jim gave them the money, and they took care of the rest. Phil ate more than anyone else did, but no one ever seemed to notice.

Brian was startled as Teresa came and sat down next to him on the bench.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," she said with an apologetic smile.

"That's okay, I was just somewhere else."

"How are you feeling?"

"Okay I guess."

"Are you ready for another big night?"

"Yeah, I guess so."

"It should be wonderful. It's so beautiful here....."

Brian looked out across the lake again. There were still so many questions in his mind about it all, but there was no one to ask. He had heard the whole story before, from several members of the group, but it still didn't seem quite right. Father Landers had sent Russ after them from New York in a rent-a-car, and the rest of the group had flown to Jacksonville. But how had they known about Jacksonville? No one knew. They had shipped the bikes back to Parson, along with Dr. Chun and Dr. Alpstien and Claire Mooney, all of whom had refused to continue, but what about the others? Why had they gone along with all of it?

"Teresa?" Brian asked. "How did you know we were going to Jacksonville?"

"I didn't. Father Landers did."

"How did he know?"

"I don't know, he just did."

"But how, I mean...."

"Listen Brian, we've all gone over this whole thing, and it's over now. There's nothing you can do about it, and you're just going to hurt yourself if you keep thinking about it."

Brian searched the surface of the lake with watery eyes.

"Listen Brian," Teresa said as she stood up. "You're a very special young man, and God has given you so many great gifts. What you do with them is up to you."

Brian looked up at her for a moment, and then back out at the lake.

"You ever read Matthew, Teresa?"

"Matthew?" She asked with a confused look.

"The gospel. Matthew's."

"Oh, Matthew's gospel," she said in a relieved tone. "Sure, I know it. I read the bible whenever I get a chance."

"Well I've been reading Matthew a lot this past month." He paused, looking down at the pine needles at his feet for a moment before continuing. "Ever read the fifteenth chapter of Matthew?"

"Well, I can't say I recall it offhand, but I'm sure I've read it at one time or another."

"Well, in the fourteenth line of that chapter, you know what it says?"

"No, but I have a feeling you do."

"It says that if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into the ditch."

Teresa looked down on him, and smiled. There was something about her smile that had a gentle, almost motherly feel to it.

"That's true, Brian, but do you know what Matthew says before that?"

Brian's stern gaze was fixed firmly on the water.

"It says that if you have a sheep, and it falls into a pit, you have to lift it out, even if it's the Sabbath day."

Brian remained motionless.

"Don't you see Brian? It's just like the sheep. You have to save it, because it's one of God's creatures."

"But I'm not saving anything."

"Oh, but you are Brian. These people believe in you, and in your visions, and you owe it to them and to God to help them. In that parable about the sheep, Jesus says that a man's life is much more valuable than that of a sheep. Don't you see. You have to."

"I don't see anything."

"No, I think you do. You see it all too well. You must. It's your destiny. God's calling you, and you have to answer."

Brian looked up at her, and stared silently at her for a minute. "That's my answer," he said, turning back toward the

water. "It's the same one he always gives me."

Teresa looked out at the water for a moment, and then back at Brian, but Brian didn't move.

"Well, I guess I should go help Phil and Jeanine gather wood for the bonfire." She said without moving. "Listen Brian, I'm sorry. I don't mean to sound like I've got all the answers. I just want you to know that I care about you, and that ....." she paused for a moment, but Brian still didn't respond. "Don't worry Brian, it'll all work out," she said, touching him gently on the shoulder. Brian was still looking out at the lake as she walked back to join the others. Yes, it will all work out, he thought. Everything will work out just fine here in our little church of the immaculate deception.

The sun was almost gone, but Brian could see that the benches were almost full now. He looked out on the sea of faces and wondered how many people there were. At least three hundred, he thought. Jim usually charged two dollars as an admission fee, and then left baskets on the way out for donations. Between those donations, and the admission, plus the passing of the hat, it would be a good night after all. A very good night.

They went in the usual order. Prayers, then Phil's talk on sin and the need for repentance. Then the hymns, and then Brian. Jim had used some of the money they had made earlier in the month to buy an old organ, and Martha was getting pretty good with it. The only bad thing about it was that it was a real project getting it into the back of the station wagon. Phil usually took care of that though. Jim knew that the organ would help give the hymns more power, which always got the crowds worked up. That was why they always saved Brian for after the hymns.

Brian sat with his eyes closed and listened as they sang the Battle Hymn of the Republic. "His truth is marching on!", the crowd roared for the last time, and Martha continued on the organ, while Jim announced that the healing line would now be formed. Brian took his place at the head of the aisle, and looked down over the long line at the dark water. He listened patiently to a lawyer who wept as he told Brian of his adulteries, and then to an old woman who had been suffering from severe arthritis for twenty two years.

One after another they came. There were too many, but he listened carefully to each and every one of them. He felt he had to. Brian looked down at the middle aged man who now knelt before him. His face was dry and wrinkled, but he couldn't have been more than forty years old. His hair was neatly greased back over the top of his head, and although his sideburns were long, they were immaculately trimmed.

"Get up," Brian said softly to him. The man stood up slowly, shaking slightly as he did.

"I jes know you kin heal me," he said, his watery eyes full and trembling, pleading with Brian's for an answer. "I swear it. It sez in the Bible that if you've got faith e'en smaller 'n a musterd seed you kin git what you want. Well, I want t' git healed, and ah know you kin do it. Ah believe it. Ah'd put mah hand on the Holy Bible an swar to it, and ah believe in the Bible."

"You read your Bible a lot?" Brian asked gently.

The man nodded.

"Ah ain't too smart, but ah do as much as ah kin."

Well then, you won't know what this means, Brian said to himself as he bent down, but maybe you'll figure it out later. He picked up a small flat stone and placed it in the man's hand.

"You ask of me, and I give you this," Brian said, closing the man's fist over the stone. "When you get home, read Matthew, chapter seven, the first twelve verses. Go and learn no more." Brian put his hand gently on the man's shoulder, and looked past his weeping eyes down the line of faces to the water. The sun was gone now, but it was still light. Brian looked up at the sky and exhaled gently. A jet flew down toward the horizon, and then disappeared, almost as if it had flown straight into the earth. Brian let his head fall back, and watched four white seagulls drift over, flying slowly and effortlessly, in a perfect, horizontal line. He smiled softly to himself as they crossed the thin white line the jet had left trailing down in the yellowing sky.

*************************copyright 1985 little people's laundry