Helen Amber did more than speak to people; she brought them back to the newspaper office. We had a newspaper crew. It was like living in a Frank Capra movie. We were printing The Big Announcement. That was our plan: announce a meeting for tomorrow night. Saturday.
A very important meeting will be held in the Eta Regional Hall regarding your future and the future of Region 1920.
Admittedly, it wasn’t a plan. We had no plans for when the meeting started. We were going to wing it. I had already set the type. The few words in the flyer only had to pique curiosity and talk and get a quorum to the Regional Hall. Whether Eddy liked it or not, we would hold the meeting. No matter what Eddy and the Sheriff did to stop or disrupt it, the assembled residents would be witness to one more item on his list of failures to govern.
I felt no personal fear, but I was afraid that failure was still an option. I didn’t imagine God was going to pull a rabbit out of our…hats, which we weren’t wearing. Even if God could not fail in the long run, we could succeed or fail tomorrow night.
We kept away from the front office and blacked out other windows with cardboard. I had enough apprentices to train two sets of printer’s devils that could take twenty minute turns feeding paper into the press and taking it out when printed, keeping the plate inked, and cranking it down onto the paper. It was right out of the nineteenth century, and would have been right at home in an office in Region 1819. But you work with what you have.
The flyers were bundled and we began distributing the first batch.
“Take these to the other cities,” Helen Amber said. “That way the furthest people out will get the most time to read the flyers. Don’t just deliver one to each house. Wake people up. Get them reading the flyers tonight.”
“Do we meet up here after we’ve distributed the flyers?” Wally asked.
“This is the first place they’ll look for us, Helen,” Marnie said.
“Let’s hide in the open,” I said. “We’ll meet back at the Regional Hall. It’s where we wanted to end up in any case.”
And so our counterrevolution got under way. It was getting light out, and the Eta group was told to just drop the flyers off and move on. The locals would have time to discover the flyers and talk about them with neighbors — and deputies. Helen Amber and I stayed behind to clean the press after the last of a thousand flyers left for distribution in Eta itself. I hoped, prayed even, that someone would be free to use the press again soon.
The sun had been up for a while by the time we finished cleaning the press. A few residents were up and out Saturday morning when we left the Newspaper office for the Regional Hall. The back door of the Hall was off an alley, but getting around town and to the alley entrance was going to take luck — or something better.
The bell rang over the office door as we closed it behind us. The street was empty. No one saw us on the way to the Regional Hall building. It was locked.
“I should have expected this,” I said. The door was wood, but too solid to break down. There were no windows in the back to open.
“Now what?” I said, regretting my big idea of “hiding in plain sight” in the Hall.
“Let me try,” Helen Amber said. She put her hand to the lock and either concentrated on it or prayed over it. The door opened. Even with bare feet I could hear our steps in the empty main room.
“It won’t be long now,” I said, and could hear the vacancy of the hall. “People will start arriving. First ours, then the Sheriff and his men — with Eddy — and then, hopefully, everyone else.”
“I’m sure it will work out,” Helen Amber said.
“I think you’d say that even if they haul us off to jail.”
“Yes, I would. Especially after today.”
“Just do your magic on the jailhouse door again?”
“Just do what I am told to do, even if that means… Well, whatever it means.”
“I’m not ready for that yet,” I said. “I don’t want to lose you again.”
“I would think by now you’d realize that you can’t lose me. That you never lost me. I had to hold back because you weren’t ready to let me go. Don’t forget that when you came to the resurrectorium that last time, it wasn’t to find me. You came to find him.”
“I went there to find peace. Shalom, I called it.”
“Same thing, if you think about it.”
I heard the back door open. The first of our messengers was returning. The Sheriff would not be far behind.
“How’d it go?” I asked.
“Hi Wally,” said Helen Amber.”
“Oh, hi,” Wally said. “It went okay. I left fliers everywhere. I even gave one to the two guys standing guard at the Sheriff’s office. They thanked me. Seemed to be a bit high or something.”
“Did you drug them on the way out?” I asked Helen.
“Of course not. Seen anyone else, Wally?”
“One of the other local people went inside someone’s house. Another got into an argument at the bakery, but she left in a little while. They must have made up, ’cause she was smiling and they hugged each other.”
The first of our messengers, the one to Delta, arrived.
“Back so soon?” I asked.
“They let me borrow a horse. It’s out back. I’m going back outside to take it down to the livery, but…”
“I’ll take your mount,” Wally said. “I want to go over there and patch things up with Clarence. Sam would want me to.”
“Thanks,” the rider said. “Well, I wanted to let you two know Delta is coming. Most of the town. The had already deposed their Sheriff and had been trying to figure out what to do next.”
“I’m trying to figure that out, too,” I said.
“We will be fine,” Helen Amber said. “You’ve got to trust that.”
I’ve never been good at that. Trusting even myself was hard. Helen was about the only person I’d ever learned to trust, back in the old life. I suppose that was part of what made it so hard that she wasn’t there when I woke up. Not that she’d broken trust with me by not being there, but that I’d broken trust by not finding her, and they’d broken trust by not getting us together. In reality, it was my lack of trust that was keeping us apart. Amber kept saying ‘trust me’ and I didn’t. It must have hurt her that I wouldn’t trust her. We’ll have to talk about that some day, I’m sure.
Paula showed up. I didn’t see her smile often, so seeing her show up with such a wide and lovely smile was good.
“Wally said you’d stopped at the bakery,” Helen Amber said.
“That I did, and I’m glad of it. You know that Eleanor is good salt of the earth people. I just hadn’t given her a chance to show me. We started off arguing and then it hit me. It had hurt her feelings that I didn’t trust her. I was going on about ‘my bakery this’ and ‘my bakery that’ and she took a cookie and practically shoved it in my face and said ‘you never even tried one of my cookies.’ Well, that shut me up, I can tell you. I ate the cookie, and I have to admit, she’s a better baker than I. When I told her that, she smiled and I saw a tear in her eye and next thing you know we’re both crying and hugging each other and I asked her if I could come back to her bakery and learn from her because she had a gift from God for cookies.”
More and more messengers came in, including a rider from Epsilon. Finally, one of the local messengers brought the news I was dreading. “The Sheriff is coming,” she said.
A few seconds later the front door was unlocked and several deputies walked in armed with clubs, then more with swords and two with muskets of some kind. Then the Sheriff entered. I think from his look around the room there were more of us than he realized.
“You’re all under arrest,” he said. “Disturbing the peace and breaking and entering. For a start. Come along.”
“We’re waiting for the meeting,” Helen Amber said.
“Didn’t you read the flyers?” I asked.
“No, of course I didn’t read your illegal flyers.”
“Then how do you know we’re disturbing the peace?” I asked.
“Don’t get smart with me. Distributing flyers, and from what I hear, waking people up to do it. I got a phone call from the Sheriff of Zetatown, and he told me what was going on there. You’ll be facing charges there, too.”
“When I left Zeta,” one of the messengers said, “he was no longer in office.”
Zeta being the closest town to us, she probably hiked back and just slipped into the hall without announcing her arrival. Her news gave the Sheriff pause, but he recovered his aplomb.
“If that is the case, and I doubt it is, I would add inciting insurrection to the list of charges against you. That is a capital offense. Deputies, take this man to the jail. Her too,” he said pointing at Helen Amber. “And this time do not let her out. The rest of you,” he said shouting, “disperse to your homes to await further charges or be placed under immediate arrest.”
“What should we do, Amber?” Paula asked.
“Please wait here, everyone,” Helen Amber said. “The other towns will be arriving soon. Zeta will be here very soon.”
The Sheriff spoke to two of his deputies with swords who pushed through the crowds to the back door and exited the building closing the door behind them. Helen Amber and I were dragged out, along with Paula, and the doors to the hall were locked behind us. Having everyone locked in the Hall gave me an uneasy feeling.
Eddy arrived in his car.
“This it?” he asked the Sheriff.
“No, I left the rest in there,” he said, “I hear we’re going to have people from the other towns arriving, so I didn’t want to fill the jail with that lot. Besides, that’s more than the jail can hold. And with her here,” he said and pointed to Helen Amber, “they aren’t going anywhere.”
“Hello, Eddy,” I said. “Nice wheels.”
Eddy ignored me. “Where are you taking these three?” he asked the Sheriff.
“To the jail to await trial.”
“Here comes the trolley!” one of the deputies shouted.
“That’ll be the interurban car from Zeta,” Helen Amber said.
“That’s it!” Eddy said. “No time for a trial. I want them out of the way before that trolley gets here. Shoot them.”
“Now, look here, Eddy…” the Sheriff began.
“That’s Governor Edward Lombard, in case you forgot.”
“That’s Sheriff John Mansfield, Governor,” the Sheriff said. “We’ll have a trial. That’s what I am sworn to.”
“And I am sworn to protect this government.”
“It’s a government of the people, isn’t it Governor?” I asked.
“Who asked you? You and your alien Zoë friend have interfered with us for the last time,” Eddy said. He grabbed on of the muskets from a surprised deputy and pointed it at Paula. Time seemed to slow down as I saw him clench his jaw and tighten his grip on the musket. I jumped sideways in front of Paula and felt a punch to my chest. Pain from my chest drowned everything else out, but I could tell I had fallen to the ground. I could hear shouting, felt someone, Helen Amber I think, holding me. But I couldn’t see anything. Then I slipped from her arms and began falling into cold darkness.
“Back so soon?” someone said. I’d heard the voice before.
“I can’t see you.”
“I know. That was your problem all along, Reese. You couldn’t see me, only yourself — and, I grant you, your beloved Helen Amber. That was both your problem and your saving grace. Loving her kept you from loving only yourself.”
“I loved other people.”
That stung. “Sure. My parents. Coworkers. Lots of people.”
“Each of them gave you better than they got. How loving is that?”
That stung even more. “I think I know who you are.”
“You know my voice? You didn’t before.”
“Yes. Your voice is familiar.”
“Who am I?”
“Are you sure?”
“I should know who I am.”
“Then who are you?”
“You should have asked that long ago.”
“How could I?”
“Many others managed over the years. They only had to look around.”
“That’s going to be hard to do now. I can’t see anything.”
“You couldn’t then. You wouldn’t open your eyes. Try now.”
The light was blinding and suddenly very hot. The person I was talking to was outlined by a brilliant light behind him. His coat or cloak was billowing in the wind. His hair, catching the light behind him, glowed like a halo. I couldn’t tell where we were, could only see the light and this one standing in front of it.
“Where am I?”
“What is that light?”
The person I was talking to stepped aside and suddenly the full force of that light fell on me. My skin burnt in an excruciating flash. I tried to look at my arms but I could only look straight ahead, into that burning light. I was sure my eyes would burn out from my head and still the blinding light poured over me. I felt my skin cracking, falling from my cheeks.
Then it was gone, and for a moment I thought I was back in the blackness. I saw a light out of the corner of my eye. As I got nearer, it seemed to be a window. There was a boy there. It was me. I was cheating at a game with my great grandmother, whose cataracts frightened me. I felt guilty for cheating. Even without seeing the cards, I could tell she knew something was off. Maybe a card that had come up once before couldn’t have come up again, as I said it had. She was hurt. I could feel how hurt she was. Then she was asking a teenaged me for help but I said I was busy. The deep disappointment stung.
One by one, I went through all the hurts I caused others, little ones and big ones, the ones that left others hating me. Hating themselves. And all the joys. But on balance, I dealt out more hurt than joy. Sometimes this person, sometimes that. Sometimes I was one age, sometimes another. Each pain I inflicted, I felt. And each joy I gave, I got back. I regretted not creating more joy. Not because it would have reduced the pain for me now. But because I could not go back and touch their lives anymore — those people I could have loved more. The past was fixed. The pain I caused could not be unfelt. When they forgave me, I felt the pain get lighter — mine and theirs. When I was not forgiven, I felt how it hurt them even more, the pain I caused doubling down and being re-suffered — sometimes again and again. We re-suffered it together.
“I’m sorry. I was a fool. I lived with my eyes closed.”
“Then open them.”
“It’s so bright.”
“It has to. You’ve covered yourself with a shell. It needs to fall off.”
I was afraid if it did, I’d burn even worse.
“As long as you cling to it, that shell of pain will hurt. I can’t salve the burns until then. How long will you wait and hold on to that pain?”
“I know you now.”
“Yes. We’ve met before. In the resurrectorium.”
“Before that. Here. I wouldn’t let go then, would I?”
“Not all of it. So I had to send you back the way you came. Naked and alone.”
“How do I let go? My hands are cramped. I can’t open them. Help me.”
He touched my hands. My hands unclenched. The movement broke open the skin like breaking open a burnt crust. I could see the scabs fall from my hands, felt dead flesh fall from all over my body. The skin, if it was skin, from beneath the dead tissue was glowing. The burning light no longer hurt.
“You’re wanted elsewhere. Time to go.”
I wasn’t ready to go. I wanted to stay in the light.
“You’ll always be in the light now. Time to go.”