Fosters Night By Paul deParrie
The rain splattered hard on the picture window at the rear of my rowhouse. The decades-old deck outside stood twenty feet above the actual tiny plot of dirt behind the structure. It was a great place for a panoramic look towards the mountains in the east on clear spring days, but such times as these rendered only a gray sheet of pummeling rain for a view.
The pellet stove kept the living room cheerily warm as I curled up on the divan with a purloined volume of G.K. Chesterton's works that I had secreted from the library. I was developing a taste for literature that was uncommon, but to check it out in the normal fashion would be dangerous. I was certain that Trask still monitored my library usage -- though I did not think he had me followed.
Still, I only visited the Antiques & Collectibles with caution. I had come to know the young man's father, Leon, a thin man with a full, gray beard and a soft -- almost inaudible -- voice. He seemed to be able to both recommend and find books that I needed. Mostly, he just loaned them to me -- which was just as well since I did not want to have an inordinate amount of cash withdrawn from my account and going to one place.
My paranoia had grown immensely. I was wary of my every word and deed for fear that it might get back to Trask. However, I seemed unable to do anything but trust the likes of Leon and his son.
I continued in therapy. Putting on the continuing act of a person recovering from what can only be likened to "oldthink" of 1984 fame was a tough assignment. Psychobabblers can look at the same act -- such as calmness or nervousness -- and interpret them as "positive breakthrough" or "negative repression." It is entirely dependent on how the observer "feels" about you -- you must make yourself likable and responsive to them or your every act will be seen as negative.
I couldn't keep my mind on the Chesterton. It was just too thick to draw me away from the tensions of my daily facade and my restless unease that came from submerged concerns. I felt a walk would be helpful, but I knew that the turmoil was deeper. I was distinctly uncomfortable with my work at the paper because it was necessary for me to craft my words with Trask, in spirit, reading them over my shoulder -- and I hated some of what I had to write. My mind was unsettled on so much of what had formerly been basic assumptions.
I placed a playing card in the Chesterton volume and laid it on the table. A whistle came from my kitchen signifying the presence of boiling water to brew a cup of coffee. I moved toward the stove and lifted the small kettle from the burner and began to pour the water through the grounds in the filter cone. The strong, sappy smell of the brew drew a bland response from my tumultuous mind. As I watched the water slowly drain through the dark powder, I thought, Maybe some lighter reading would help .
Lifting the cup, I turned toward the stairs and went up to what used to be Mara's project room -- now my library. There were still remnants of Mara's projects and my feeble efforts to convert the room to anything like a real library were inadequate. It was more like a book storage than a place to read or write. But the collection itself was becoming extensive. Between what I occasionally pilfered from the library and the volumes I picked up through Leon, the room was beginning to have the look of an intellectual's quarters.
I hope Trask never gets a look at this, I thought. udging by his reaction to Augustine, he would have me declared psychotic.
Naturally, there was nothing illegal about the books -- other than the fact that some were stolen -- but since the extrapolations of a psych were taken as gospel . . . and given my "history". . . well, this room would cinch it.
I sat looking at the disarray of my library while my coffee grew cold. The downpour outside had let up to a steady dribble but my thoughts were still troubled. It was difficult for me to reconcile my reportorial image with the lie I was now living. I had considered early retirement -- as I was near retirement age -- but I knew that Trask would not let go. He would merely transfer the "job" to the less efficient, more intrusive hands of the state's UniMed office. That would never do.
My other option, the long shot idea of disappearing, had shown no promise as yet. I had simply not been able to trace more information on the apocalypse groups without tipping my hand to Trask.
Trask was relentless. His breathing down my neck was almost palpable. The little watchdog, Ridley, darted in and out of the newsroom on rumor collecting assignments for the sharp-eyed, gloating psychologist. I only now paid attention to these little forays. I had seen him in the past but had never given it much thought. Ridley would -- reptile-like -- shed his lab coat and float amiably through the building coaxing the water-cooler crowd to let him glimpse the office dirt. Most people casually cooperated not imagining why he might care -- just as I had not until I became one of his special projects. He never quite told anyone what his job was, he would just say his office was on the fourth floor -- which was Editorial -- and let it go at that. He spoke the truth but the location of his office was a ruse to divide him from taint of the sinister goings-on of the fifth floor.
All of this daily pressure rode my slumped shoulders. I felt trapped in my own home. Again I cast about for some diversion when the thought of Leon's cozy little store hit me.
Suddenly, I felt energized. I raised up from my library chair and began the search for my coat. A rumbling ride on the bus took me to the core area of downtown and beyond. I exited at a transit stop some blocks from Antiques & Collectibles and took a meandering route to the store watching my rear for signs of being followed or watched.
By the time the bell on the door of the shop announced my entry, I had worked up a slight sweat under my overcoat.
The narrow, bearded face nodded a greeting to me from behind the glass case. In the next room I could just see the propped feet of Leon's son.
"Hi," I said.
I had never told Leon any of my situation. Though I had a strange inherent kinship with the man and I trusted him, the opportunity had never come up. I went to the familiar, yet ever-changing, bookshelves and swept my eyes over the titles in search of something new or unexpected. But after a while the unease I had felt at home began to steal back into my consciousness and soon my scan of the shelves was purely mechanical.
"Something troubles you, Mr. Foster," the soft voice declared from behind me.
I was reluctant to say anything. It had been some time -- since before Mara died -- that I had spoken freely with anyone. I retorted with a noncommittal grunt.
"In either event, you look weary," he said.
"Why don't you have a seat in the next room. I can get you some coffee if you like," he added as he guided me to the other room where his son sat reading.
Leon pointed to a large, blue overstuffed chair with a lamp-table beside it and I sat.
Leon nodded to his son and whispered, "Coffee." Then looking at me, he asked, "Do you like anything in it?"
"Black," I said.
Leon perched himself on the edge of a chair beside mine and said, "You seem to be under some strain, Foster. You have since we first met, but it appears to have gotten much worse. Do you suppose a vacation might help? Are you working too much?"
I now realize that he knew better -- that he knew that the trouble was much more than overwork -- but he was leaving the initiative in my hands.
"Vacation?" I responded. "Vacation? No, that would do no good. Besides, where would I go? What would be different anywhere else?"
Leon looked quizzical. The boy quietly entered and set the steaming cup beside me then disappeared.
"And don't suggest drugs, either. I was raised at a time when that was not acceptable -- and I've never shaken that feeling entirely."
Leon raised his eyebrows.
The Real Drug Culture
Human beings often seek escape from daily life. Some escape masks itself as a spiritual search for instant religious experience. Others, more crass, simply want hedonistic pleasure. In either case, drugs have been the wheel-man of that getaway vehicle.
The 1960s introduced the U.S. to the "drug culture" in the form of a vast number of young people rebelling against the status quo and "dropping out" of society. Drugs, here, became the daily communion. But the real drug culture was a later development. As these young grew up, they entered positions of responsibility -- doctors, lawyers, legislators, and voters.
Enforcement of drug laws (as well as the laws themselves) diminished when this hapless generation entered the centers of power. It wasn't until the late 1980s that the mistake was finally seen -- until the conscious reversal of legal tolerance for drug use. The new intolerance, however, was not directed at drug use but drug abuse -- that is, a narrowly defined concept of abuse.
For two decades, Americans became familiar -- via the media -- with a concept of "recreational" drug use. Occasional drunkenness had once been viewed this way. Since alcohol could be used without becoming intoxicated, there was some distinction between it and other drugs. But soon marijuana, then other drugs, began to be labeled recreational.
There was a tolerance for those who could occasionally use drugs and still maintain their relationships to friends, family, and employer. When it became the battle-cry to stop drunk driving, for instance, the implication was strongly made that getting inebriated was acceptable so long as there was a sober "designated driver" available.
This message splashed over to include the other drugs as well.
So long as one did not use drugs "on the job," it was argued, what one did in one's private life was one's own business. Thus sounded the successful argument against drug testing by employers. Taking drugs is acceptable, was the message, if it was privatized.
Though there was probably no conscious conspiracy to inundate our society with this destructive message, it did serve the advantage of the powerful. The effect was much like that of the government-mandated soma in Aldious Huxley's dystopic novel, Brave New World. It was one of the many "opiates of the people" for our modern times.
"Well," I continued, "I just don't see how any of that will change my situation."
I sat back in the chair, picked up the cup, and sipped. In the silence that followed, it occurred to me that Leon had no knowledge about my situation. I had long ago concluded that he could be trusted so I began to lay out the whole mess in sordid detail. For more than an hour I wove my tale to the "hm-m-m" and "mm-hm" of my attentive host.
The boy replenished the dark, rich coffee intermittently and vanished. I told of Mara's lingering death, of my disaffection with the government medical policy and how that led to an awakening to other inequities, how Trask had come into my life, and finally, how I was forced to subdue my true beliefs and feelings to escape more complex and torturous therapies.
Leon sat straighter in his chair when I came to the story of my researches about apocalypse groups.
"You have seriously considered this?" he asked as I explained my hopes for escape.
"Actually," I replied, "I think it is my only way out. Only, I don't know where to start. Most all of the groups I've heard about are very religious -- and I'm not a religious person at all. I don't know if I could be accepted by such a group."
"You have not, because you ask not," Leon said.
"Huh?" I queried.
"Just an old quote," he answered. "I'm not sure if I can help you on this but I suspect that some regular customers of mine are with just such a group. Perhaps I can put out some feelers for you."
"Some of your regular customers?"
"Yes, I have some people who come through who have said they are 'collectors.' They have very specific books they are looking for. Some of what they have said indicates to me that they are hoarding these books -- hoarding them in the same sense as the apocalypse groups you spoke of."
Later, I found out that Leon was shading the truth here. He and his son were a knowing part of the network to supply the vaults. I also became aware that, while the hidden communities had no actual contact with one another, they shared the network. The work was kept quiet even though it was not illegal or even particularly frowned upon -- yet!
It was a common feeling among them that it was best that they did not know each other's whereabouts so that, in the future, none could reveal the location of the other's cache of civilization. The time would come (and soon), they felt, when their work would come under serious scrutiny and attack. Funding sources varied. The Old Man's "accidental" treasure find made him relatively wealthy where another was purely a one or two family effort in some wood accessible only by logging roads and footpaths. Rumor had it that one wealthy recluse -- a former industrialist -- had a private vault on his mountain estate in Oregon.
Most of society viewed the elusive apocalypse groups as mere religious fanatics. And this, in a society that had become ardently opposed to anything religious -- at least, religious in the older sense.
God is a Feeling
Karl Marx once labeled religion as "the opiate of the masses" and certainly this assessment was true of the latter quarter of the 20th century. But where Marx's attack was on traditional religion, the modern religions spawned by the false liberalism of Marxist influenced theology became the "drug of choice" among religious junkies.
Feel-good religions, such as the bastardized Christologies, rampant at this time, preached a pink, blue, and gold Jesus -- meek, mild, effeminate, and, above all, accepting of everyone and everything. The whole purpose of God, in these churches, was to enhance people's self-esteem and personal growth.
Even more traditional churches succumbed to the bumper-sticker, happy-face mentality. The resolution of conflict was to paste a cheezy grin on your face and think positive thoughts. The "Church militant" waging war against evil was a dying ember -- a thing of the past. Most flowed along parallel to the social flow primarily out of fear of losing their tax-exempt status or of differing too widely with popular wisdom.
The people, uneducated even in their own faith, were compelled to accept the word of their leaders or discipline themselves to study. They had few tools and fewer motivations for the latter. Those who studied and believed their faith were regarded as "fringe people" and had little influence in the churches. Those who tried to live their faith in its most radical forms were abandoned by the churches who feared opposition more than their professed God.
"Do you think you could put me in touch with one of these 'collectors?'" I asked.
Leon looked at the floor and a troubled wrinkle crossed his brow.
"I suppose," he answered. "I don't know how they might react though. They might just stop coming to buy books for fear of being exposed. To tell the truth, I look forward to their visits -- we have a lot in common, such as our knowledge of literature."
I did not know how to respond. It looked as though this might become another dead end in my search.
"Maybe I could just leave a card with my address and number -- both home and work -- and they can check me out and contact me when and where they please," I said with a dose of desperation.
Leon agreed. I left the information with him and began the walk home. I had neither bought nor borrowed a book on this day. When I found myself back on the bus, I began to wonder if I had done the right thing.
In fact, I began to wonder if perhaps Leon's shop wasn't just an elaborate trap for unwary social misfits such as I had become.
Could Trask be in on this? I asked myself with rising paranoia.
There was a vague familiarity to the situation that had tugged at my mind for months which just then came to light.
1984, I thought. The old guy in 1984.
A chill hit my spine and I began to sweat. There would be nothing I could do to escape if my suspicion were true. The thought soured my stomach.
"You O.K.?" the driver's voice interrupted my spiraling thoughts. "You look kind of sick. You O.K., mister?"
I nodded and left the bus paying no heed to where it was stopped. The driver waited momentarily, shrugged, and closed the doors. The whine of the propane driven engine raised in pitch and the vehicle pulled away from the curb. With the bus gone, I now had a view of a homeless shelter across the street. It was a place I had been before while working on a series about the sub-culture of the street. The shelter was an official social service but there was an entire underground society that existed unseen in its environs. There were surreptitious transactions for food, clothing, lodging, transportation, and other commodities and services hidden from the taxing eyes of government and normal society.
I crossed the street. I had in mind to find out -- if I could -- about false identification.
Perhaps I need to get out while I can, I thought.
Go To Chapter Eight
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