The storm drifted in from the west, drenching Pittsburgh with an inch and a half of water in twenty minutes. By midnight it had drifted farther east, soaking Harrisburg, and then Lancaster. The road signs on Rt. 287 whipped around like aluminum pie plates and dead tree branches plummeted down into neighborhood yards and stuck ominously in the ground.
By three-thirty the storm had begun taking a slightly northward track, heading toward Morristown, New Jersey, with the leading edge of the front spitting out raw jagged rays of blue-white lightning in every direction.
Ed Calico was sleeping soundly in his second floor apartment in Morristown when the leading edge passed over him. Both bedroom windows were open and the first hint of the storm was a sudden inhaling of the curtains back into the room. A moment later the apartment exhaled them just as abruptly. There was a brilliant flash, followed by a violent clap of thunder. Then the rain came in torrents, roaring, drumming, thundering down upon the roof and onto the street.
Within two seconds, the white plywood night table was soaked, and Ed was up, standing up on the bed in his underwear, swearing, and trying to crank both casement windows shut at the same time. By the time he got them closed, his face was spattered with rain and he dragged himself into the bathroom and tried to towel himself off without waking up any more of his brain than had already awakened.
With wet puffy eyes he peered in the bathroom mirror and he groaned. Then he went back to bed and looked at the alarm clock and groaned again. In an hour and fifty minutes he would have to be up again, bright eyed and bushy tailed and ready to frame out another one of the duplexes over in North Kensington Estates.
Ed lay back and closed his eyes and tried to let the still-spinning flywheel of sleepiness carry him quickly back before he woke up any more. He inhaled slowly and deeply, and exhaled and listened to the rain churning and drumming now in the gutters. The sound seemed to help. It reminded him of the summers at CampWashington and the leaky log cabins with the wooden windows that you propped up with a stick…then slammed shut in the middle of the night…just for the hell of it.
With the wind and the rain pelting against the windows, and the lightning flashing to daylight brilliance every minute or so, he fell back into a deep but rather uneasy sleep. And as he lay there beneath the storm he began to dream.
He dreamed that he was in a cramped New York City elevator, jammed in all the way in the back. It was hot and oppressive and it seemed as if they were going to go up for an eternity. But then they came to an abrupt stop. The doors slid open and even more people pressed into the tiny box and he could feel himself becoming slowly compacted against the back wall of the elevator.
He tried to raise his arms and couldn’t. An obese woman with orange lacquered hair was standing directly in front of him. He could feel some of the strands of her starched plastic hair brushing against his face whenever she turned. She smelled odd. Musky and perfumy and slightly flatulent as if there was something wrong with her. And she was practically squishing him with her broad backside and her huge vinyl pocketbook. He had the horrible feeling that at any moment he was going to explode into a thousand tiny pieces of confetti. He tried to say something. In the dream he opened his mouth to speak, but for some reason he couldn’t seem to make his mouth work.
Then the dream shifted and suddenly everyone was filing out of the elevator into an equally crowded room which seemed to be at the very pinnacle of a skyscraper. He pushed away from the woman with the orange hair and tried to make it to one of the windows…somewhere, anywhere that he could breathe.
The windows were giant, inch-thick two story monsters of what looked like bullet-proof glass, and they gave a pale green cast to everything. He stepped close, but because they were so high up and there was no knee wall, and the streets beneath his feet were so far away, he was frightened to lean against the glass lest it..fall out somehow. And the image of him falling out with the four ton window, down the side of the building, and crashing half a mile below made his skin crawl even in his sleep.
He leaned against the concrete wall and he could hear the tour guide at the other end of the room yelling for everyone to pack in even closer so they could hear him better. And then the guide laughed and began directing people up to the observation deck in a shrill harsh voice that sounded like one of the hawkers down on the boardwalk.
He could feel himself trying to get his breath and calm down… and then someone else pressed in close to him at the window. In the dream he was annoyed, he looked up, thinking it was the same obese woman again coming to press him up against the glass.
And it was a woman… but a very pretty woman, and he smiled, trying to think of something to say. But then he noticed her face. It was soft and sweet and beautiful. But as she looked out the window it changed. It was suddenly petrified with fear and she said nothing but just pointed out the window.
He looked out, and at first he couldn’t see anything…just the tall grey buildings in the mist. But then from out of the mist came a huge grey frothing mountain of water. It was impossible. It couldn’t be there, but it was. And it was rushing toward them, covering the smaller buildings entirely and then flooding up and around and against the taller skyscrapers.
He gazed in horror, unable to look away. At first it looked as if some of them might survive, as the water gushed and roared past. But then, one by one like solitary giants, they began to sway slightly, then shudder from the shock of the watery mountain. And then they began to break up into huge monolithic chunks, themselves the size of large buildings. One pointed top section of a skyscraper broke off clean, and fell noiselessly like an upside down pyramid toward the ground. Only it wasn’t ground anymore. There was no ground. The upside down pyramid crashed into the water below with a splash of such gargantuan proportions that the water flew up a hundred stories and crashed against the other buildings.
He watched in slow motion as the mountain of water came closer, threading its way over and around the lesser buildings and he looked out to see if anything at all was surviving. It wasn’t. There was nothing behind but water. And the grey-green mountain came closer until the building across from them was awash and under attack. It was a huge building, nearly as tall as the EmpireStateBuilding, but much more broad… and for a second or so it looked as if it was going to make it… And he wanted to cheer. Thank God something was going to survive! his mind whispered in the dream. It stood staunchly as the water flooded around it.
But then something far below them collapsed, and the building heaved slightly. And then it began to shudder and sway horribly…sickeningly. He tried to say something to the girl but he couldn’t. He couldn’t even look away. And then the building began to sway more and more until it began to break up.
“Get back!!” he tried to scream, but he couldn’t move. He looked across the street. The entire top of the neighboring building tilted ominously toward them. And then it gave way and began to fall directly toward them. In slow motion he could see it coming and it hit with an awful deafening roar and tore the whole side of the building open. The windows were gone and he could smell the salt water and he could see way down into the grey water below, large splashes where pieces of building were coming down, and thousands of tiny splashes, like frothy pin pricks where the bodies and desks and typewriters and computers were hitting.
He felt dizzy and nauseous and he could feel the floor beginning to sway beneath him. Then oddly, he looked up and with all the people holding on and scrambling away from the edge, he noticed a man sitting strangely cross-legged on what was left of the floor and apparently quite unconcerned about anything that was going on. He was wearing a strange grey hooded robe with peculiar markings and he seemed more concerned with watching him than saving his own life. For one long moment the robed figure held his stare. Then it smiled at him.
When he awoke from the dream, his entire body was damp with sweat and he just lay there for a minute trying to catch his breath. Outside the rain had tapered off to a drizzle. It was dripping with a leisurely cadence inside the tin gutters. He swallowed, his heart was still racing, and looked at the clock. It was five fifteen. He groaned and buried his head back in the pillow.
Over lunch hour Ed Calico stared with equal measures of wonder and nausea at the sandwich he had made. It was a rather oily sardine sandwich made with the last two pieces of raisin bread in the refrigerator. In the rush to get to work on time, the combination of sun-baked raisins and Nordic sardines hadn’t seemed all that nauseating. But now…seeing all those little oily tails hanging down over the raisin crust… Well, it didn’t seem like something that a human being should be eating. His buddy, a tall black muscular man named Jass with a mouth full of huge white corn teeth and a propensity for rather droll humor, watched him suspiciously in between long gulps of chocolate milk.
“Hey there, Ed, you’re not gonna start…playin with your food again are, ya?” Jass asked, half as a question and half as a not-so-subtle warning. But Ed was already deep in concentration pulling one of the tiny dead fish out of his sandwich and examining it with the zeal of a kidney surgeon.
“What is a sardine anyway?” Ed asked with his usual brand of naive child-like sincerity. “I mean, is this a baby…something else?” he asked holding the oily carcass up by the tip of its tail, “or.. can you go out in the ocean and catch a sardine?”
Jass’s face had already begun to contort in mild revulsion. He took another bite of his own sandwich, a Wonder Bread special, spread thickly with peanut butter and drippy strawberry jam. Only now, it was somehow beginning to take on the subtle ambiance of Ed’s sardine abomination. And realizing this he very neatly folded his sandwich in half, put it back in the sack, then twisted it into a small squishy football which he lobbed perfectly into the garbage can. “Man, you could screw up a wet dream,” Jazz groaned. “In fact.. I’m not gonna eat with you anymore.”
Ed looked around the empty room. They were sitting cross-legged, like Indians on a dusty plywood floor inside a geometric forest of 2 by 4 studded walls in the colonial they were framing. Precisely where they were sitting would eventually be a guest bedroom overlooking the Hudson River in a small development that was way too expensive for either of them to live in.
Jazz burped, excused himself, and looked out the window. It was spring and though the air was still brisk and chilly, the sun had made it warm and almost cozy in the rooms that were directly in the sun.
“What do you mean you aren’t gonna eat with me?” Ed asked seriously. “Who the hell else are you gonna eat with? There’s only you and me. How many other carpenters do you see?”
Jass sized him up with a sneer and began chewing on a toothpick. “Hey,” he snapped, trying to sound threatening, “ya know there’s no rule that says I gotta eat with another carpenter. I could eat with the plumbers if I want to or…maybe the electricians. And I bet they’re neater than you, too. All they gotta do is twist a bunch a little wires together,” he grumbled, realizing almost immediately that he’d painted himself into a corner.
“Oh?” Ed’s chin began to stick out in that cocky, annoying little way he had and he craned his neck around ostentatiously. There was no one else in the building to watch the performance. “Is that right?”
Jass looked suddenly bored. He knew what was coming.
“Well… if you’re gonna eat with the plumbers and the electricians, you’re…” And he hesitated just an instant to make sure of his logic. “Well, you’re gonna have to wait a pretty long time, because they don’t even start running pipe and wire till the studs go in.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know,” Jass sighed, and he took to sucking on his teeth, partly to drown out Ed’s droning and partly to dislodge a small chunk of peanut that had gotten wedged. “Well… I can eat by myself too, ya know. Then where’ll you be? You never thought of that, did ya?” said Jass. “Who you gonna gross out then? With all your…dumb-shit sandwiches.”
Ed looked at his sandwich and realized he couldn’t eat it now either. He tucked the lone sardine back in its raisiny bed next to its brothers and then he attempted to duplicate the same shot that Jass had just made.only with substantially less success.
“Oh Jeez man!” Jass howled after the shot. There was a long thin trail of sardine oil that commenced where Ed was sitting and ended in an oily detonation next to the can. “That’s disgusting. When the people come to buy this house…. they’re gonna wonder why the hell the guest bedroom smells like…dead fish!”
“What?” There was something about what Jass just said that triggered Ed’s mind. He tried to figure out what it was. “What’d you just say?”
Jass looked at him blankly. “Say what?”
“Jeez, man, you’re gettin weird.”
Quite suddenly he realized that what he wanted to say was going to go over with about the same enthusiasm as his sardine sandwich. “It just…reminded me of something.” He looked blankly at his friend and his voice trailed off. “It was nothing…Okay? Just a lousy a dream…”
Jass stared at him dead pan. Then a second later he belted out, “I have a dream!” in his best and deepest Martin Luther King voice.
“No…” Ed snapped, suddenly annoyed. “It wasn’t that kind of dream. Besides…it was… Ahhh, you wouldn’t want to hear about it.”
Jass looked at him. “You got that right,” he agreed. Then he stood up and stretched and uncoiled himself like a huge black bear and wandered off back toward the table saw that they’d set up in what was going to be the living room.
An hour later the two of them were carrying in loads of 2 by 4s to frame out the room that was going to overlook the back yard. Ed was in front, steering judiciously through the maze of studs, with Jass bringing up the rear and easily holding his part of the bundle with one long powerful arm. Just before they dropped them all on the floor, Jass looked at Ed. “So… what was it about?”
Ed looked at him blankly.
“Your dream. You said you had a dream. Jesus Christ, Ed, we gotta go through this again?”
“Ohh…” Ed said, trying unsuccessfully to appear focused on the new pile of two by fours. “Actually, you probably really wouldn’t want to…”
Jass’s face hardened and you could tell by the muscles rippling in his now clenched jaw and a slightly glazed expression that Ed had gone too far.
“Okay, you’re right. I’m sorry,” said Ed. “It’s just that…it was weird. I mean…really weird.”
Jass’s eyes brightened. “Ah hah! You mean.. weird, like….kinky? Weird like Patsy Kensit in that movie where she’s doin’ it with her brother?”
“No,” Ed said with a sudden scowl, “it wasn’t like that.” He slipped the hammer out of its leather strap and carefully tapped a 2 by 4 to plumb position on the floor. He toe-nailed it in place with five well placed blows— tap, tap, and then bam bam bam, and looked up. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s just that…I don’t want you to make a joke out of it, okay? It wasn’t funny. It wasn’t that kind of dream. It was…really upsetting.”
Jass held his hand up before him, his eyes twinkling, and having difficulty looking solemn. “Okay, I promise.”
He stared suspiciously at Jass’s face. Then he tapped the top of the stud up to the pencil mark on the ceiling and nailed it fast. “I guess it was a dream…. I mean… It had to be a dream. I was asleep. But it didn’t feel like any dream I’ve ever had before. For one thing, I could smell…salt water and fish… I don’t remember ever smelling before in a dream. And.. I got nauseous in the dream… and when I woke up I was still nauseous which is kind of strange.
Jass cleared his throat, trying to get Ed back on some kind of track.
Ed took a deep breath. “Okay… Okay. Here it is. Last night I dreamed that I was in the city…in New York… and I was on top of this big skyscraper… I think it was the EmpireStateBuilding, but I’m not sure… And the world was coming to an end and somehow I think I was responsible.”
“I wouldn’t worry too much about that one, bro.”
“It’s not that I’m worried about it…” he said more like a whiny kid than a twenty seven year old man. “But, I guess I am,” Ed said, “It’s hard to explain. You had to have been there…”
“Hey man, let me tell you somethin’— I think you gotta get around a little more. Hell, just the other night I dreamed I had my own private harem with all these black chicks all in veils and black panties. Now that was somethin’! And last week I dreamed I could fly just by holdin’ my hands down like this,” he said, waving his hands around at his sides like he was trying to scare squirrels away, “and about a month ago I dreamed that me and Princess Di were goin’ out and…. Well, never mind about that...”
“Look, forget it, okay? I’m sorry I brought up the subject. Next time I’ll just keep the whole thing to myself.”
“You do that,” Jass said softly, grinning at his small white friend.
“Yeah.. Well, I will,” Ed agreed and for the next fifteen minutes Jass Taylor and Ed Calico studded on opposite sides of what was going to be the master bedroom, ignoring each other completely. Eventually Jass looked over and decided to bury the hatchet before the tiff got any bigger. “Okay. So… How’d it end?” he asked with as much sincerity as he could muster.
Ed looked over at him from across the room and blinked, deciding whether he was going to say anything or not. “…It was like a Fellini movie. Mostly because I didn’t understand anything. I was in this elevator going up and up and up. And I was getting squished by a big fat lady who had red hair and smelled funny.”
“That’s the world’s coming to an end.?”
Ed fell silent and began glaring at his hammer.
“Are you gonna let me finish?”
“You go right ahead. I’m all ears.”
Ed looked around for his thermos and poured out a thermos cap full of orange drink. He took a thoughtful sip before he continued. “It was really frightening, Jass. I was up there on top of the EmpireState building, up on the observation deck. And I was standing next to this big plate glass window looking down. It was kind of smoggy but you could see the cars and the people in the street way below. It was like being up in an airplane.”
Jass looked at him. “..and..”
“Okay, well there was this tour going on and I remember the voice of the tour guide. He had a real thick Brooklyn accent. And then there was this woman who was standing next to me at the window and it was almost like we were out in the air. And she looked out…and when she looked back…she looked scared. And I looked out and there was this huge wave coming across town. I mean monstrous. And it was knocking everything over. And it was so realistic. I can still see it. I can even remember the smell. Then this huge building across from us started swaying. And then… right as I’m watching, it starts to break up. It was horrible! I felt like I was gonna throw up… and I could actually see people in the windows. They were screaming and falling down. Then the glass started breaking and people were falling out and disappearing. Then it got worse, because you could see that this whole huge concrete and stone building was gonna hit us. Then it hit and the whole side of the building opened up and… It was horrible. People were screaming and sliding out. And then…right in the middle of all this, I look over and there’s this guy in a…robe or a cape or something. I remember the robe. It was old and grey and the guy’s just sitting there on the floor, just like we’re sitting here now… and he’s just looking at me. He’s not running around or anything…just looking.”
“Lemme get this straight,” Jass interrupted. “The whole friggin’ city is goin’ down and you’re lookin’ at this guy’s cape, and he’s not doin’ anything either. He’s just lookin’ at you. That’s cool. You’re cool, man.”
“Hey c’mon. It was a lousy dream.”
One by one they file from a single stone doorway into the darkened subterranean chamber, somber hooded figures, genuflecting and making their oblations before coming to quiet servitude upon stark wooden pews in a dank stone room. Their hoods are lowered deliberately and all but Bartholomew, the most corpulent of the twelve remain anonymous.
It is quiet, but echoy, with cold stone floors, massive stone squares fully six feet on a side, and stone walls and a vaulted stone ceiling that only suggests itself in the torch light. Each sound, each clearing of the throat, each breath, is amplified and yet distorted somehow, making it sound like the inside of a cathedral. And there is a dankness in the air, air which has not seen the light of day in two thousand years. It is old and musty, but not with the mustiness of bed sheets and linens. It is the more base mustiness, of water flowing over stone, and earth and mortar giving way to water.
Embedded deeply in the walls are oak beams configured in an odd pattern of squares and crosses. On the other side of the pews reside three huge barrels of wine fully three meters in diameter and also embedded almost completely in the wall.
For long minutes there is silence, with only the sound of a distant wind far above them and the ecclesiastic echoes that the twelve apostles make in quietly breathing and shifting their position in the pews.
Then John rises quietly from the first pew and walks to a podium at the front of the room. He is tall and he removes his hood and stands there for a long moment quietly examining a large sheaf of papers before him. Then he looks out at the others. “Yes…” he murmurs almost absentmindedly. “Sorry to keep you waiting. But as you know, it has been fifty years… half a century…” He stops and sighs and looks around. “And I’m afraid your tasks have become… significantly more complicated with the advent of all these new… technological advances.” He looks down at the first sheet in the stack of papers and hesitates. “Consequently, I’m dividing up the tasks this time, not solely by geographic region, but by several rather new categories as well to include… media effect and penetration, oceanic pollution, and ozone depletion.”
He sniffs slightly, thinking, as if he’s weighing something in his mind, and then looks out at the eleven others. “I know this is going to complicate things somewhat… But then, considering the rather...unfortunate circumstances, I don’t think there will be much doubt as to the conclusions you should be arriving at.”
He smiles thinly at the understatement and for a long moment he stares around the silent room as if there might be some question. Then he begins reading slowly from the sheaf of papers.