New Year and Role
Pius One called Elijah One while on hiatus in Rio de Janeiro. As a Christmas present to himself, he had bought a jet commuter that he kept in a hangar at Central Wisconsin Airport. This was his first trip with it and his entourage. "Listen, Elijah. I've picked up some great ideas from the people down here who run the Mardi Gras. They really know how to put on a show. I want you to set up a link with them and have them feed you some of the ideas that I have from their productions, K?"
Elijah had no choice but to agree. He knew his days were numbered. The Man continued. "And that hotshot young guy you've got involved there... what's his name? Amos... Amos Six? I want him involved in everything and, while you're at it, why don't you promote him to a brother. Well, at least move him up to Amos Two. I think we eliminated them, didn't we? Well, you take care of it, K? Oh, and by the way, tell Joseph to give those guys back their brown robes. They've learned their lesson. They won't want to see those red robes ever, ever again. Bye."
Elijah One sighed. It was a mixed blessing. He was getting damn tired of being pushed around by Pius One. It was he that had given the One his image--his national and international presence. Without his guidance, Pius One would still just be a meglomaniacal wannabe. It was he, Jonas Barth, when they still only numbered seven, that told Jim Gorski that they should get a license and open a local AM radio station to spread the word. It was he, as Elijah One, who made everything possible so that they now had a worldwide television ministry. It was funny, but he liked Amos Six. There was something about that young man--probably his easy going intelligence--that made him likable, that made him the one that he would like to have succeed him in producing the television ministry.
"Amos, the Man wants us to put on a midnight service for the New Year's celebration that has elements of Mardi Gras--specifically, Mardi Gras in Rio de Janeiro. Shit! How in the hell does he expect us to get that done in five short days? The Man’s gone too far. I used to respect him for what he did for us--poor farm boys from Wisconsin--going nowhere fast on a plane without a pilot. I went from not paying attention to high school, to tech school, to the Army, to alcoholic without giving a thought to my future. When I got back from the Storm I was drinking my way from bar to bar when I happened to run into this charismatic friend from high school, Jim Gorski, who told me that he had a vision. Gorski told me that, if we all worked together and got off the shit we were on, there wasn't nothing that we couldn't do. Hell, I just had that tech school I didn't pay any attention to and a little bit of communication training in the Army and he made me his radio guy right off. The next thing I know, we got a license and were broadcasting every Sunday. Bought a bunch of gospel tunes and started playing those during the week. Before we know it, the money comes rolling in. Old Gorsky, he had to hire an accountant just to keep track of it all--keep us out of the hoosegow--he used to say. Anyway, those were the days, the days when we was just starting out. When everything was on the up and up, and religion looked like a good way to go.
"Well, the way things been going around here lately, it's about time to get out. Time to say adios. Now, don't you go telling anyone what I just said. I checked before I started this to make sure there were no microphones and cameras around us. I like you. You're the best damn assistant I ever had. I'm going to miss you. Your nose is clean. I want it to stay clean. Not like mine--dirty. Oh, if you only knew the things I did for him. But that wouldn't help. The only thing I'm saying is that you are my way out. I feel safe letting you take over. Just make sure you steer clear of all that shit he is in.
"One more thing. After I teach you everything I know about this here religious broadcasting business, he says that he wants to promote you to a brother. All I can tell you about that is that they will come one night and take you to a secret ceremony where they will make you a brother in the brotherhood. As you may have already guessed, it is the brotherhood that runs things around here. All the planning, organizing, initiating, purchasing, accounting, surveillance, and punishment is done by brothers, the second-class. The pions are low class and do all the work or they are expelled, or worse. Like I said, work in the brotherhood is good, much better than the work the pions do, but you have to keep your nose clean and out of the way of the wrath of the One. There is another class. I'd call that first-class. That class is composed of Pius One's inner circle and suck-ups in his entourage. I was a part of that once, but, having no truck with it, he was kind enough to let me stay in the brotherhood. Don't worry, the initiation ain't bad. You should breeze through it. You probably already noticed, that the brotherhood have black fur edging on their robes and wear various crosses ranging from hand carved wood to gold, depending upon their status. You'll get indoctrinated in all that mucky mucky soon enough. Guess we can call you Amos Three from here on out."
Six was puzzled. "Man, that's a lot to get hold of. Like you said, I have been trying to keep my nose clean and to figure out what this brother business was all about. It was obvious to me who the pions were because I have been one. Guess it won’t be too bad to move on. Whatever happened to Amos Four and Five?"
"They were either eliminated or moved on, Three. Pius wanted me to make you, Two. But there still are two Amoses in the brotherhood and I couldn't do that without eliminating one of them. He'll be angry when he hears that I didn't carry out his wish, but, like I said, we go back a long way and he won't harm me for saving those two guys. That's how we promote around here--move that name up until it reaches One. And then it's either in or out. Some guys can't take the in--so they're out. I've been Elijah One since the beginning but it's getting to be a little bit thin. After I leave here, I'm going back to my old name, Jonas Barth. It ain't much, but it's the one my Mom gave me. Any other questions? This is the last time I'm going to talk about it."
"No, I understand... Keep my nose clean. Keep my nose clean."
"Good. Now let's get back to work before this sucker blows up in our faces."
Each day the pressure grew. The feed to Rio de Janeiro sent them a lot of video about costumes and tricks to be performed while parading through the streets or in stage shows. They set about teaching some pions to walk on stilts so they could portray tall men in iridescent yellow and green suits with top hats walking above the pion spectators. Borrowed from the Chinese New Year tradition was the Paper Dragon. The chorus girls had to be effeminate pions with pumped up breasts showing through yards and yards of glitzy fabric with peek-a-boos and feathers abounding. Just sewing the sequins took several days and the make up took several hours to apply.
And then there was the choreography. The use of the choir. The camera angles. The control room setup. The fireworks. It went on and on, until, the last three days, they worked straight through without sleeping. As expected, Pius One and his entourage arrived at 4 p.m. on New Year's Eve. The Man had just enough time to appear at evening Vespers and put his touch on what was to happen at midnight.
"My fellow Vespers. The order has come a long way together. We are growing and prosperous and that is partly why we celebrate the coming of the New Year. I have assembled here, a celebration that will rival the one in New York City, London, and Paris. My purpose is simple. To make sure that all God's followers will choose the right path and not lose themselves in the drunken, secular revelries of the pagans, but instead, join us in a joyous triumph of the Lord over the evils which corrupt the world. I have asked my minions to broadcast our celebration throughout the world so that all of God's followers, regardless of race or national origin will seize upon the moment and help bring in a New Year that is even more glorious and prosperous in the past one. In the name of Mary, Mother of Jesus, and in his holiness, our Lord God, Amen."
Elijah and Amos were trapped in the control room high above the Great Hall, fighting off sleep with strong coffee, as the festivities ramped up from 11:30 p.m. to the ringing of the bells, shining of the star, and fireworks at midnight. It started with the choir singing soft hymns accompanied by dancers like wood nymphs and elves flowing onto the Great Hall floor with mist from a machine. The chorus girls, the stilt dancers, the hula-hoop dancers, the trampoline dancers, and the flying dancers followed in choreographed precision. It was nothing that could not be seen at the Circe du Soleil, but it was being beamed out to, perhaps, three million Christians around the world. At precisely 5 minutes before midnight, Pius One, dressed like the Pope, was carried in on a four-man litter, more like a Roman emperor that a man of God.
A minute later, the massive star made of the finest crystal through which a powerful laser beam of light was directed began to glow, ever so slightly, until it grew into a powerful beacon, throwing light in multitudes of colors out over the frozen white landscape of Central Wisconsin. People reported seeing it as far as fifty miles away on that crystal-clear night. It was all a credit to the hard work of the Master and Elijah's hard-won skills. The Chinese dragon with 40 legs appeared precisely at midnight, accompanied by a thunderous burst of fireworks that rose above the Cathedral reflecting off the snow and the edifice itself in a spectacular display that rivaled that of the Eiffel Tower seven hours earlier. People in Wisconsin Rapids reported that it was a better fireworks show than they had seen on any Fourth of July.
All of this was beamed out in high-density sound and video from multiple camera angles with multiple special effects and loops, repeating over and over again a spectacular climax of the New Year. The choir was singing praises to God in their highest crescendo when it happened. It was enough to bring tears visibly to the close-up cheeks of Pius One's face. About 12:15 a.m. Elijah collapsed in a heap on the floor, unable to fend off sleep anymore. Amos struggled to stay awake until the show closed at 12:30 a.m. After he had turned off the last camera and the last light, he too, found a warm corner and curled up.
The chimes were loud--too loud. Amos struggled from under his deep cloud of sleep to recognize what they were. When he became conscious that he was in the Cathedral and that is why he heard the chimes so loud, he burst from his corner and shook Elijah awake. That done, he raced downstairs and out into the snow, to arrive, leaving wet tracks across the floor, to the table. His heavy breathing was noticeable in the moment of silence waiting for the screen to light up. Predictably, it was Pius One who appeared first.
"Welcome to the first new day of a new year. I am ecstatic that our midnight service reached over two and a half million people. This is the largest following we have ever had. Praise be to the Lord! Praise be... to the Lord! To all of the minions who took part, I thank you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart. The Lord Jesus Christ thanks you and his mother, Mary, thanks you. The world is blessed by what you have done. As a result, I have promoted Amos Two to the brotherhood. Amos Two has been here only a few short months, but in that time has afforded himself exemplary. I don't do this very often. But this is a special case. Amos Two, would you please rise and go to the head of the table for the promotion ceremony."
Amos Six almost didn't respond. He had drifted off into that place where he could hear the voices on the screen but not let them get to him. He had almost drifted back into sleep. And then, like a bolt of lightning, he remembered what Elijah had told him, and stood up so abruptly he almost fell backward over the bench. But, he kept his balance and walked, slowly but determinedly, to the head of the table. There, waiting for him, were two brothers he had not seen before. As he stood there, in the camera, with his face on all the screens. Pius One spoke again. "Pion, with these robes, I appoint thee Amos Two of the brotherhood. To all here present. Please take note." The two brothers removed his robe and replaced it with a new one. Around his neck they hung a wooden cross made from two sticks lashed together by rawhide that hung by a rawhide thong. He was summoned to return to his seat and the chanting began.
They came in the night to move him. These were quarters he had not seen before. Nicely disguised in a grove of trees about a quarter-mile from the Cathedral was a complex of apartments laid out more like a hotel that a monastery. Instead of a stall he received a small room, rather plain, like a dormitory room without the bars and padlock. He had to learn of the hierarchy of this place in order to get along. It was easy. All he had to do was look at the cross of the individual and he would know their position. Those with the gold cross had large apartments with private bathrooms and they have even had television and other amenities. His room still had the camera, well hidden, but easy to spot. True to his vow that he would never do anything abnormal in front of that camera, he tolerated it.
He remembered what Elijah One had said, that there were still two Amoses in the brotherhood. It bothered him that Pius One had named him Amos Two. Had the other Amos been demoted or eliminated? He didn't know and had no way of finding out. The only one he could ask would be Elijah One. But he never saw Elijah One again. He hoped that Elijah had made it out.