Fosters Night By Paul deParrie

Chapter 8

           Foster awoke stiffly. He had to carefully bring himself to a seated position and massage his legs into a semi-limber condition before he could stand and begin to dress himself.

           The air in the room was stale, so Foster opened the shutter and took a deep breath of the tangy air that wafted into his cell. Foster looked at the box in the corner where his laundry lay and made a mental note to take care of it today as soon as he had taken breakfast.

           Outside the room he could hear the growing then fading tones of conversation between Russ and Cathy Kiley, who lived a few cells down, as they passed in the corridor on their way to the dining hall. He did not hear their boy, Lizard.

           Perhaps he is still sleeping, Foster thought.

           Theirs was one of the few families that still lived here in the main compound. Most families lived inside the other two hills.

           The stiffness left his frame as he moved about his cell and finally stepped out into the corridor. The tunnels were nearly empty but Foster did not notice as he shuffled down the hall.

           Walking into the dining area, he looked up to see a large crowd gathered all facing him. Lizard, jumping up and down in the front tier, called, "Surprise!"

           Above all their heads was a banner reading, Happy Birthday, Foster, shook his head and remembered. A chorus joined in singing the traditional song and the Old Man, who stood in front by a table, indicated a large, brightly wrapped box.

           "I. . . I," Foster stuttered.

           The Old Man approached and clasped Foster's hand. Foster had yet to become comfortable with the greeting hug and kiss so common in the community.

           "We have a special surprise for you, Foster, so we thought it would be appropriate to make a special celebration," the Old Man said.

           At a loss for words, Foster sat heavily at the table and began to unwrap the box. First, he carefully peeled the layer of paper, then he cut the tape on the box lid and opened it. A smell of familiarity hit him first but his mind refused to identify it. He pulled out the wads of crumpled newspapers and beneath was a brown, embossed cover.

           "My stamp collection," he breathed at a whisper. Lifting the first book out, he could see that all of his albums had been neatly packed within. "But how?" he asked beneath the sound of applause from the assembled community. "How?"

           "I'm afraid I couldn't give you all the details -- I don't know them myself -- but somebody knew somebody who knew somebody who works in the probate," the Old Man replied.


           "They've declared you officially dead, remember?" the Old Man informed him. "I suppose they are glad to be rid of a potentially damaging sort like yourself."

           "A hiking accident, they said. But everyone who knows me, knows I've never gone for that sort of stuff."

           "True enough but very few people knew you. It was the best way for them to cover their search for you and explain their inability to find you right away."

           Foster rose to his feet before the smiling group. "I don't know how I can thank you for this. I just don't know what to say."

           After those words men and women began to come to shake his hand and wish him well. "God bless you," they would say, "We've been praying for you."

           When the well-wishers ceased, Foster took the albums to his cell and lovingly opened and paged through each. To watch him, one would think he was renewing an old friendship. Tears stood a the corners of his eyes. The only thing that could have pleased him more that being reunited with his collection would have been the return of Mara. But that is beyond the power of the community -- or anyone else , he thought to himself.

           Hours passed as he pored over the volumes and recounted to himself many of the accompanying memories that each stamp represented in his mind.

*      *      *

           It had been hard to find a job for Sears. He had not "remembered" what he had done for a living and had secretly figured out that it wouldn't matter much anyhow.

           It would be like a buggy-whip maker in my time, he thought to himself.

           Eventually, he took to working in the shop where books were preserved. He stated as clean-up and worked his way into various machine operations. What he saw only confirmed his belief that he had indeed traveled in time. Many of the volumes had copyright dates later than his own time.

           As he cut through a sheet of Plexiglass, Jones came up to him.

           "Can you take a break?" he asked.

           "Just let me finish this one case," Sears answered as he pressed the sheet through the saw. Moments later, he was through and shut off the machine.

"I would like to talk to you, Sears," said Jones, "but I would like it to be private. Care for a walk outside?"

           "Swell," said Jones.

           Jones noted the archaic term and, though concealing any reaction, he added it to the sum of his theory about the mysterious man.

           The two headed toward the exit from the Hive, chatting amiably about nonessentials. Once outside and clear of other community members, Jones took a more serious tone.

           "I have a theory," he said scratching his head with the affectation of a country boy. "It's a theory about you and where you come from and who you are."

           Sears' eyebrows raised visibly and he took on a look of curiosity.

           "You've got my attention, Jones," he said. "I'd be interested in knowing those answers myself."

           Jones grinned and squinted toward the afternoon sun. "Oh, I think you know already, Sears. I think you know but you're not telling."

           "OK, shoot!" Sears said.

           "Well, it may be just my weird mind, but I think you're some sort of time traveler -- a man from the past, as it were," Jones ventured.

           "Time travel? From the past? That's pretty weird, Jones."

           "Yeah, I thought so too when it first occurred to me," he replied. "But then I started adding little things up. It's all circumstantial, but I think I could make a good case. Your clothes, your slang, a lot of little things give you away. I don't know how you managed it, but I'd guess you were a man from somewhere in the 1950s or 60s."

           Sears looked narrowly at Jones. "And so, are you the only one with this theory?"

           "Far as I know," said Jones. "I don't think anyone else has seriously considered such a theory. It's not the first thing to come to most people's minds -- time travel. And, I haven't told anyone because I think I know why you have kept quiet."

           Well, supposing it's true -- what you say -- why would I have kept quiet?" Sears inquired.

           "Paradoxes," Jones returned. "There could be time paradoxes. Listen, I don't think you would stay here deliberately -- if I'm right, that is -- so their must be some problem with your return. Maybe you can't go backwards in time, I don't know. But if my guess is right, I'd like to help you out."

           "Help me out?"

           "Yeah, help you get back to your time, if that's possible."

           "And what about this?" Sears said pointing to the anklet.

           "I figure I can deal with that when the time comes," said Jones. " I just need to know if I'm right."

           "Lets climb to the top of the hill," Sears said.

*      *      *

           "That is a real key piece of Western literature," the librarian said handing Foster the common copy of Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. "I think you'll enjoy it. The young man goes off toward his goal -- the big city -- and has many adventures along the way. That theme has been copied in both religious and secular novels since that time. Robinson Crusoe is an example -- but then so is Catcher in the Rye. Philosophically, they are worlds apart, but the basic story lines are the descendant of Bunyan's work."

           Foster inspected the cover of the hardbound book. "I've heard a lot about it since I've been here," he answered. "I'm told it is difficult reading."

           "I wouldn't really call it difficult in any real sense," the librarian replied. "It is just difficult for the undisciplined minds of modern America."

           "How do you mean?"

           A light went on in the librarian's eyes. It was evident he had studied this and formulated a theory -- a theory that he had now been invited to expound. Foster, a trained listener by profession, recognized the gleam and prepared to take mental notes.

           "I believe that rational thought has been on the decline for centuries starting with a slight variation and curving to the present plunge. One of the chief indicators is people's loss of the art of apologetics -- the ability to defend their own beliefs. Pilgrim's Progress demonstrates what used to be more common back then -- a point by point debate of many Scriptural doctrines in an objection/answer format. It would not have been difficult reading for those who saw the early editions because they were used to reading such debates without the fictional story in the backdrop . The entertainment value was secondary. In fact, until the mid- to late-1800s, Pilgrim's Progress was standard fare in grammar school. It served the multiple purposes of increasing reading skills, teaching doctrine, and teaching rational debate."

           "But wasn't the language of the book archaic by that time -- I mean, all the thees and thous?" Foster queried.

           "Several things," the librarian said. "Children were expected to overcome minor hurdles like that. Aside from the use of 'th' instead of 's' in verb structures and the substitution of 'thee' and 'thou' for singular and plural 'you' there is very little difference. These kids read from King James Bibles and Shakespeare without abridgments. It was nothing that others could not do -- even today -- with a little discipline. But now even reading does not make sense. No phonetic rules -- no sense!"

           Foster scratched his chin. "I've long felt that teaching kids to read without teaching phonics was like having someone play football without having learned the rules."

           "That's right," the librarian said. "But it also influences our ability to make sense in our thinking processes. If someone believes that h-o-r-s-e can be read 'pony' as they teach in sight reading, then it is much simpler for people to be inexact in their philosophical dealings. One of the amazing things about Pilgrim's Progress is the exact nature of the thinking that the central character displays in his defense of Christian doctrine. But that requires a willingness to accept exact definitions of terms and the discipline to understand complex sentences. Today, most people get lost if a sentence contains more than eight or ten words."

Foreshortened Thoughts
           Modern Americans are addicted to speed. They want fast -- fast -- fast pain relief. The want fast food. They want instant replay. They even want their truth fast. Thus the fascination with slogans with the "ring of truth."
           No laborious process of thought, here. No rational debate. Their attention span is too short to listen to reasoned argument. But things were not always so.
           For example, on October 16 1854, in Peoria, Illinois, [during the Lincoln-Douglas Debates] Douglas delivered a three-hour address to which Lincoln was to respond . . .
           "What kind of audience was this? Who were these people who could so cheerfully accommodate themselves to seven hours of oratory? . . .
           For one thing, [the audience's] attention span would obviously have been extraordinary by current standards. Is there any audience of Americans today who could endure seven hours of talk? or five? or three? Especially without pictures of any kind?"26
           Besides the attention span itself, there is also a diminished capacity to both use and understand lengthy or complex sentences. Another example from the Lincoln-Douglas Debates, Lincoln made the following sentence in his rebuttal to Douglas's speech.
           "It will readily occur to you that I cannot, in half an hour, notice all the things that so able a man as Judge Douglas can say in an hour and a half; and I hope, therefore, if there be anything he has said upon which you would like to hear something from me, but which I omit to comment upon, you will bear in mind that it would be expecting an impossibility for me to cover his whole ground."27
           Can you imagine a modern officeholder even being able to construct such a sentence at all -- much less extemporaneously? Can you imagine the voters being willing to listen to it?

26 Amusing Ourselves to Death, pp. 44-45

27 Ibid., p. 46

           "You think, then, that the inability to construct language, impaired people's ability to think clearly?" Foster asked.

           "Sure," the librarian said as he placed some books in the return cart. "Cultures with imprecise language can only go so far. But worse than that is the laziness of a people who have a precise language available and who refuse to learn to use it. They are especially doomed."

           "I can see the problem is more the laziness than the lack of language precision," Foster replied. "Many of the greatest ideas are the simplest to express. If there is one thing that I have picked up from the Bible, it is that."

           The librarian made a face of mock surprise.

           "The Bible! Oh, my! We aren't getting radical are we?"

           "I had never actually read it before. I just took my impressions from what I'd heard around me -- and it wasn't very good. I guess I'm surprised at the accumulation of good sense and simple, progressive philosophy that I've found in it. In fact, I'm beginning to see the Old Man's point when he says that the progress of Western man was a product of Biblical teachings put into action. I always felt that it was an evolutionary process where mankind was improving continually and new ideas developed to make society more humane. But the ideas weren't new at all, and man wasn't improving naturally but by choice of his own will.

           "What is more amazing to me is that the other philosophical systems I have studied would not lead to the same results."

The Shaper of Thing
s            When I was a child, a popular book was making the circuit in U.S. colleges which, unfortunately, was not widely heeded. The book, written by Richard Weaver in 1948, was called, Ideas Have Consequences.
           The title alone was an education, if one thought it through. But America was in the midst of changing ideas at the time and few wanted to look very deeply at the consequences of the hedonistic idea that was rapidly replacing an older American idea.Ideas shape life and society. If one believes, as older America did, that men were created in the image of God, then the idea -- and one hopes, the activity -- of human equality and inalienable rights is a natural adjunct.
           Murder, theft, and other crimes became evident evils under this proposal. The ultimate and equal value laid the foundation for equal justice, the presumption of innocence, the jury system, and innumerable other thoroughly Western systems. This belief founded the Declaration and the Constitution. Even the unbelievers of the time believed in that equality of man.
           However, if one believes that the value of people is based on their productivity, intelligence, beauty, race, or any variable at all, then the doors are wide for abuse.
           An old pagan belief stated, "Doing no harm, do what you will," which all sounds wonderful if there is a social prohibition against murder, stealing, lying, and other wrongs. But the idea itself does not speak to these issues. In fact, the ultimate arbiter of what constitutes "doing harm" is the individual -- or the strongest individual in the tribe or nation. The very reason the Aztecs slaughtered 20-50,000 people per year on their altars is that someone had decided that this not only was "doing no harm" but doing a positive good.
           There was no inherent argument from that placid sounding pagan slogan.Oriental philosophies, like the European pagan ones, had no standard of right and wrong.
           In Western culture, however, one may attempt to justify murders but the fifth commandment always stood to counter any excuse. Ultimately, the disparity between the Biblical idea and all the pagan ideas was that the Bible imposed arbitrary and rigid prohibitions that -- according to its own view -- flowed from God and were thus unchangeable.

           "One of the things that has helped me to connect Biblical ideas with their natural outworking was Abandon All Hope," Foster said. "I was really surprised by the book. It was all the things it was accused of being -- but with a twist. It was not motivated by hate, as was reported. From a Biblical perspective, I think the author was motivated by tears. He placed the lion's share of the blame on Christians who did not practice their faith rather than on some secular humanist plot. I can see a lot of truth in that. Even Jesus, whom I have been reading about, had more trouble with the religious people than with the pagans. Of course they killed Him ! Who knows what became of this guy."

           "You mean you don't know?" the librarian asked, his face in open surprise.

           "Know? Not really. I heard about him being kidnapped or jailed or killed in New York, but I don't know if anyone actually knows . . ."

           The librarian grinned at Foster who had stopped speaking when he saw the expression.

           The librarian said, "The Old Man."

           "The Old Man? You mean our Old Man?"

           "Sure. Our Old Man," the librarian answered. "He wrote Abandon All Hope. Claims it was on the order of a revelation from God. At the time, even he did not believe it was as hopeless for Western civilization as what was in the book. But he felt compelled to publish it. The heat he got for it finally convinced him that the West -- especially the U.S. -- was finished in its present form. He bounced around for five years being dogged by everybody from the FBI, who thought he was a violent revolutionary, to the IRS, who thought he was hoarding millions without paying taxes. Even the phone company had a file on him. Most of that time he was just waiting for Armageddon. About a year before he discovered the treasure, he lit upon this idea of preserving the culture. But he needed to be convinced that it was worth doing. I think the discovery of the treasure was the final indicator."

"But why didn't he say . . . Why didn't he tell me?" Foster asked.

"The Old Man isn't like that. It's just like him to work his fingers to the bone and turn and make some assistant feel like he is the key to the entire operation. I imagine he has told you how important your work is and when, he goes away, you felt like the whole work of the community was your doing, right?"

           Foster had to agree. The Old Man had that effect on him.

           "Have to confess that is true. He makes me feel that the single most important volumes in the vault will be my books."

           "Makes you feel appreciated. And it's not put on either, he really sees our work as crucial."

           Foster took the copy of Pilgrim's Progress under his arm and left the library. Slowly, he trudged the inclined tunnel toward his quarters. When he arrived, the sun was beaming directly into his window to his bed. Taking advantage of the natural light, Foster propped himself up on his cot and began to read.

           "As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on a certain place where was a den, and laid me down in that place to sleep; and as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold I saw a man clothed with rags . . .'Whither must I flee,' he asked Evangelist.Evangelist pointed his finger over a very wide field. 'Do you see yonder wicker gate?'"

           Foster's eyelids drooped. He no longer knew whether he was reading or dreaming.

*      *      *

           The turbulent current swelled against the river's banks. Frothing, white formed around submerged rocks in the torrent as rain, driven nearly horizontally by powerful gusts of wind, spattered icily against the side of his face.

           On the opposite bank men and women called to him but their words were whipped away long before they reached him. Among the group, Foster thought he could make out the Old Man. Oddly, the group seemed to be standing in a calm, sunny place which was still visible through the wet blasts that now soaked him to the skin.

           Foster was still trying to make out their desperate message when he heard a familiar sound from behind -- a sound that rose above the fierce gale and the roaring river -- a sound that raised an unnamed terror in his heart. He knew what it was before he turned, yet he was compelled to turn.

           Behind him was a wind-blown forest with a deep tangle of underbrush which parted into a path running straight up the shallow bank on to the hill behind. Speeding up this path was the android dog again, slavering through its bear trap jaws. The mechanical growl froze Foster's muscles. His only hope, it appeared, was to fling himself into the rushing torrent and try to swim against the swift current and howling blow to the safety of the other side. Foster could not decide which fate was worse.

           His mouth opened to cry out for help from the group on the other side just as the robotic entity leaped toward his throat.A gust of wind froze him to the spot.

Foster's eyes opened from the dream to see his shutter still wide -- but darkness beyond. There was a chilly breeze blowing through the opening and his copy of Pilgrim's Progress lay splayed on the floor.

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