All Saints Eve
With the fall came the harvest. Unlike the previous year when the Vespers had suffered torrential rains in the spring, delaying the planting and a drought during mid summer that ruined the corn and several other crops, the year had been almost too bountiful, putting a burden on the pions to get it all harvested and ready for storage or sale.
Amos Six's work went on uninterrupted. The Master had told him that he had to prepare the great hall for All Saints Eve. He spent every waking moment thinking about how he would get the hall ready in time for this single event. The great hall would not be finished for several years yet. It was still in heavy construction with exposed steel girders, no stained glass windows, no seating and without heat for what would be expected to be a winter service. Most of the wiring and electronics that he would install would be temporary--torn down after the Christmas season.
In spite of this, an undercurrent of despair came up from the ranks of the pions. It wasn't spoken, but Amos Six could feel it. Pius One had been gone for over a month on one of his many forays to the Vatican, Mexico City, Alaska, Rio de Janeiro, or Kyoto. Amos Six didn't keep up. As part of their nightly video indoctrination they received reports from the field of his exploration of the religions of the world. While most of the pions didn't see it, it was obvious to Amos Six that Pius One was mixing work with pleasure. While his Holiness always managed to convey a serious view of the universal world that is Catholic, he came off to Amos Six as a playboy on the side as he and his entourage jetted off to one hot spot after another chasing dreams of eternal youth and hedonism. There was always a huge celebration when he returned. He would use his forays in his nightly harangues and his sermons on the Sabbath. The staff was not beneath providing reruns of his most glorious presentations during the extended periods of time that he was away. Amos Six went through the motions in response to these while he noticed that most pions followed fervently his every word as though they had never heard those same words before.
The despair was that, when he got back, his Holiness would be displeased at the progress of the harvest. In other words, heads would roll. But how? Pius One was always accepting new recruits and many were turned away. Even with their hoods, Amos Six saw the faces of new recruits come and go. But where? By now he knew there were several worksites and residences on the campus. The main barracks where he entered was just one. The way pions were shifted around on different work assignments on an almost daily basis made it impossible to determine what was happening to individuals, especially if he couldn't talk to any of them. With each level that he rose in the hierarchy, he was given more responsibility and freedom. He had to make sure to meet the responsibility to move ahead. The freedom was even more dangerous. With all the electronic surveillance and possible snitches among the faithful, he could confide in no one. Hector Two came and went with the frequency of a tightly wound clock. It was impossible and probably very dangerous to try to get under his skin. The Master was more approachable, especially when it came to discussing the architecture and construction of the great cathedral. But that was the only topic the Master discussed. The only topic he was allowed to discuss?
Amos Six picked up bits and pieces here and there and put it all together. It seemed that Pius One over recruited during the spring and summer months to get enough young, strong, eager pions for the planting, tending, and harvesting of the massive volume of products the farmland produced. After the harvest, it was time to cut back. Like all leaders, he had his favorites. However, if the Pius One detected a rebel in the ranks or someone disagreed with his dogma, he was swift to punish. Most punishment consisted of confinement to the stalls or hard, physical work, like quarrying rock, picking stones or splitting wood alone. His Holiness used isolation and loneliness to force his way. It was a form of torture, and a very effective one. Often, a pion was simply banished from the order. At the end of the harvest, the One took stock and decided who was going to remain in the order through the winter. Thus, the significance of All Hollows Eve. At this time, between fall and winter, between life and death, he conjured up the devil to do his deeds. The culling would begin well before that day. But only from Carl's cryptic e-mail could be discerned what the culmination might be.
Those that were banished were those who couldn't take the hard work or keep up the regimen. Some were just plain homesick for their families, girlfriends, or friends. They were given some clothes, a small amount of money, and driven to the Rapids to the bus station where a ticket was bought for them if they weren't from the area. Banishments usually occurred during the first few days after a new recruit arrived and didn't work out or near the end of the harvest season when everyone was pushed to the limit to meet quotas every day. From vantage points in the cathedral, Amos Six occasionally saw them leaving. It was as if the Pius One was purposely creating great turnover so that he could pick the most gullible for his inner circle and spread the word about the difficulty of the order through those that he banished to make it more desirable for young, disenchanted men to aspire to.
Another thing began to creep into Amos Six's understanding was the homosexuality of the order. Throughout the compound there were no women. The monasteries in medieval Europe were all men, true, but in the 21st century it didn't seem to be a prudent policy to have the order consist entirely of men. Even the Catholic priesthood allowed priests to be married, although few women priests were being ordained. Amos Six wondered. Is there a homosexual basis to the whole organization? Hopefully, he would find out soon. For now he could only suspect. No one was talking.
On October 20, Amos Six had constructed enough of the network to enable construction cams of the cathedral's progress to appear on PiusOne.com. Amos Six warned the Master that this could be dangerous because anything that came in view of the cameras would be seen on the Internet and, possibly, recorded. However, the Master chastised him and told him that it was Pius One's wish that the cameras be placed on the Internet so that the faithful could view the progress of the construction. Amos Six carefully placed the cameras so that the viewers could see both the exterior and interior work going on without showing too many people. There were five cameras in all and each picture on the Internet changed every five seconds or so. The faithful could download these pictures in series to get a fast action view of the progress of the building. On October 21, the Master came to Amos Six and told him that his Holiness had seen one fast action series from each of the cameras and was very pleased with their activity and placement. Amos Six breathed a sigh of relief and crossed his fingers. One more thing to get the faithful to cough up money for construction.
Later that day, while Amos Six was checking the servers that stored the camera information for the Internet, he came upon some servers on the network he hadn't seen before. They weren't secured, so he took a look. They appeared to be surveillance files from the barracks. He opened a couple of them and recognized the stalls. There were still pictures and movies. Looking at the movies, he discovered that they were mostly images of an empty room except when someone came in after evening meal and before the lights were out. There was a folder that was labeled "Masturbators". Amos Six opened it, and, to his surprise saw many folders labeled, Matthew One, Matthew Two, Matthew Three, etc. when he opened them, he found that they were short segments of surveillance films that showed the pions in various stages of masturbation. If he followed the trail of one pion, he saw that the images became clearer and more focused as more scenes were added to that person's file. Someone was clearly focusing on the pions' masturbation and making films. He looked for a folder labeled, "Amos Six" and didn't find one. However, when he opened a folder titled, "Mark Three" and began to view the films he was startled to see that after the third film he could clearly see Carl performing for the cam. It appeared that he was getting off on the camera looking at him. So that's how he got in the inner circle, Amos Six said to himself. He noted where he found the server and went back to his work, hoping that they didn't have some way of tracking his access to it. He had no desire to watch guys jerk off. But clearly, somebody did. And the guy behind those surveillance cameras was Pius One.
That last week in October, Pius One's sermons became more focused, more critical of the actions of the pions. Fear ran through the pions so that even their chanting was diminished. As Pius One raised the level of his voice in outrageous indignation, Amos Six often saw pions began to shake on their benches. Some took sick and many couldn't eat. Some couldn't sleep and begged to be discharged in the morning. By that time, most of the cars in the impound area had been sold. Any personal objects that the pions had brought to the order had been auctioned on eBay to the highest bidder. Any money they brought to the order was in the coffers of the Vespers. Some had brought much and left with nothing except a long hot summer of slave labor. It was vicious exploitation of child labor, all under the tax-exempt, above the law, auspices of the Catholic Church. Strangely, this went unnoticed in a nation of turmoil and anarchy. People grabbed onto authority as an anchor in turbulent times. The pions who left added to the mystique of the order. The more difficult to enter and the more authoritarian the Vespers appeared, the more parents, and disillusioned young men, sought to join. Amos Six thought of the rise of Hitler and how the German population bought his line. But he was powerless to do anything. History was repeating itself and he had no voice, only the desire to work his way to the top and stop it.
Amos Six was almost too busy trying to get the great hall in order for All Hallows Eve to pay much attention to the attrition in the ranks, except to find that one helper after another turned up disappeared, and the Master would have to pull someone off the harvest to fill in. It was doubly difficult because most of these young men, while highly skilled with computer games, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets, had absolutely no skills in diagrams, wiring and electronics. He found himself tutoring pions on the basics as they struggled to get everything ready for the service that was going to be held at midnight. A huge wooden cross hewn from old barn timbers had been brought into the great hall and placed on one end. It was placed lying down, with a simple rusty steel rod run through the base on a giant rusty iron mounting hinge enabling the cross to be raised vertically and locked into place. As he worked, out of the corner of his eye, he could see the pions working on it lift it into place vertically, and then let it back down again. The cross was so heavy it took several pions to lift it.
Soon, two identical, but smaller, crosses were brought in and mounted in a similar fashion to the huge cross alongside on both sides. They too, were lifted and tested. It was obvious that they were going to be used in the midnight ceremony. Amos Six's work had been to set up computer-controlled lighting, sound, lasers, fog, and other devices typically used at rock concerts. Fortunately, a team of pions put together to assist him included two former roadies from rock bands who knew just what to do and saved Amos Six a lot of grief. They tested the system about 4:30 p.m. and everything was in working order. Soon after, the chimes sounded for supper, and Amos Six sighed relief and headed off to the dining hall. It was getting dark and there was a distinct chill in the air. A breeze was blowing the last of the leaves from the trees--a typical night for Halloween. Amos Six shrugged the chill off and entered the building. Without heat, it wasn't much warmer inside. Having to wear the heavy brown robe paid off at times like this. As the others filed in, there was also a distinct chill in the room that had nothing to do with temperature. It was that fear again. Amos Six could see it on everyone’s faces--no one was smiling.
The chanting got off to a disturbing cadence. Amos Six detected a tremor in it that was the collective shiver of all the pions present in the room. When the screens came on, Amos Six was surprised to see that Pius One was live and accompanied by other people. He’d never seen that before. There was a pion in a white robe that stood next to him, and two pions in red robes that looked like they were shackled in chains. His Holiness spoke:
"Tonight is the night of All Saints. It is doubly special because I was not here during autumnal equinox when the great change begins. A time between the bounty of summer and the barren of winter that the elders from long before our Roman Catholic tradition recognized as a time of reflection and a time of action. Behold, three pions: The first, on my right hand: so pure, so innocent, so Christ-like. An example before all of what a pion should be. Brother Michael Seven (he patted the shoulder of the white-robed young man next to him in white--who smiled innocently the whole time) has been chosen to represent the Vespers In the Kingdom of Heaven. It is through his sacrifice that we will be saved the bitterness of the winter. Praise be to the Lord, the Holy Spirit, and Mary, Virgin Mother of Jesus!
"On my left hand, two robbers who shall go nameless, blazoned with the scarlet colors of their sin--mortal sin! For they have been found stealing the Lord's bounty for their own avarice. They will feel the sting of the Lord's wrath! They will burn in Hell for eternity!
"Tonight, at precisely 11 p.m. all pions must gather in the great hall of the great cathedral to bear witness to the passing of the season and to renew our commitment to our faith and understanding of why we are here and how we'll face the barrenness of winter until the bounty and growth of spring reappears."
The Pius One raised his hands, the screens grew dark, and the chanting began. Amos Six found it hard to eat his gruel, for he felt that something really evil was about to happen. It grew dark and cold before he returned to his cell. Even with a robe thrown over his wool blanket he was chilled and didn't sleep. What he had done to help make what was going to happen that night bothered him. Before he knew it, he heard bells ring. As close as he was to the cathedral, they rang hollow, as if echoing the hollowness of the night they called, Halloween.
The night had turned sharply colder. The wind howled through the barren trees and stirred up leaves everywhere. Amos Six didn't envy those that had to come some distance to reach the cathedral. Being close and familiar, Amos Six was one of the first to enter the great hall. Two creatures, dressed as harpies with leather-like wings that looked real and teeth that looked like they had been sharpened by his files, escorted everyone to spots on the floor, either brown or yellow depending upon the pions' status. Amos Six found himself in the middle of a mass of brown robes all standing at attention. In the front, closer to the place where the crosses were lying, it was all yellow robes. His vision blocked by so many others, it was hard for him to see fully what was going on. Music, reminiscent of the Phantom of the Opera and Beethoven's Requiem, boomed from the organ. It didn't take long for the entire hall to fill up. Amos Six didn't realize that there were so many pions. Considering the number that had left the compound recently, it was a surprise. But then, like all the others, he had been isolated so he didn't really know how many others there were. With all those bodies in fear, the great hall warmed considerably.
The music died a few seconds before the 11 o'clock hour. The great clock chimed out the 11 chimes and the hall, once again grew silent. All of the pions, standing erect in perfect rows were silent. No one moved an eyelash. Suddenly, a great fog erupted from the right hand corner of the right cross and several figures dressed as evil creatures appeared swarming from the empty opening through the swirling mist like snakes. Behemoths stood on either side, blocking escape, while Harpies, Chimera, Incubus, Succubus, and Griffin swarmed around the edges of the throng, grunting, growling, and wailing like Banshees. A shudder ran through the throng, but no one moved, petrified. The music returned and from within the fog came the Devil. He opened his mouth, and through his fangs let out a bloodcurdling howl that caused the entire assembly to cringe. Even the demons went quiet.
"I am the God of Hellfire! I am Satan, Asmodai, Beelzebub, Lucifer, King of the Underworld, Lord of Death and Destruction! And I have come to claim my sacrifice! Usher them in!"
It was clearly Pius One in a devil's suit. But he was convincing--too convincing! The pions were led in. The first pion was the young lad he is seen on the screen earlier. He was now stripped to his bloody white underwear and his smile was gone. On his head was a wreath of thorn apple thorns and he looked like he had been flogged with a cat of nine tails. His eyes had that faraway look of someone totally traumatized. The other two pions followed closely. They also wore wreaths of thorns and were bloody from head to toe, dressed only in brown pion underwear. They staggered as they walked and wouldn't open their eyes. Amos Six surmised that their eyes may have been put out. He almost gagged at the thought.
Once again, the good pion stood to the Devil’s right, facing him in front of the yellow-robed, pions-in training. The two bad pions stood to the left. Pius One, as the Devil, began to spout Latin, Celtic and Druid phrases that Amos Six barely caught. What he was doing became crystal clear when he took a short whip of many tails and, thrashing the good pion over his right shoulder pronounced him: "Jesus Three."
"All kneel!" The Devil proclaimed in a loud voice. At once, all the pions, including Amos Six, fell to their knees. Once again, the Devil spouted expletives in Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and who knows what other languages. The organ followed his ranting to a crescendo that had every pion and shaking in their boots. Amos Six wasn't. He was thinking--grand theater. Finally, about half past the hour, the Devil took a large silver chalice from one of the creatures and drank heartily from it. When he was through drinking his fill, he poured the rest on the pions kneeling in front of him, splattering it on the yellow throng. It looked to be cow's blood and was very effective. The creatures then took the two bad pions and laid them down on the smaller crosses. The creatures then begin hammering their hands and feet to the cross. The pions must have been drugged because they didn't cry out. A great murmur passed through the pion host as they listened to the hammering. The creatures came and led yellow-robed pions to lift the two crosses high and lock them in place. Finally, they came and got the good pion, Jesus Three, and took him to the largest cross in the middle. Once again they hammered away and the host murmured in pain. This time, brown robed pions were asked to do the heavy lifting. Precisely as the clock struck midnight Jesus Three was raised and locked in place on the 12th beat.
The Devil and his creatures began to howl and scream and danced around the host in a way that scared most of them nearly to death. His ravings and rantings were punctuated by great overtures from the organ, as fireworks burst forth (part of Amos Six's electronics installation), laser beams punctuated the high notes, and fog rolled in to consume them all.
It all ended as abruptly as it began. The fog lifted. The pyrotechnics ended. The organ died. The Devil rose up in front of the huddled, shaking mass and declared, "Now comes the winter! The time of plenty has passed! Get thee to thy beds. This night is over!" There was another crescendo of fireworks that filled the hall with light, noise and smoke as the pions scrambled for the door. Amos Six took his time, looking back over his shoulder to see the three poor boys hanging there, lifeless. Quickly, he blended in with the others leaving so as not to be seen looking back.
Although he threw on two robes, Amos Six was cold and couldn't sleep the rest of the night. The next morning at breakfast he found the pions looked pale and wan, like they had been sick. The morning video was a rerun and standard Pius One dogma. When he arrived at his workstation, the Master told him that he had to begin working on the highlight of the year, the Christmas Vespers. The first work at hand was to dismantle some of the fireworks triggers that he and his crew had installed during the previous week . The great hall was empty and there wasn't any sign of blood or blood stains. The construction camera servers had no record. It was as if it had never happened. The Amos Six knew better. He knew he faced dealing with a vicious madman that would be a strong adversary, and one that may take his life.