Beamo’s Gold part 20
Beamo and the outlaws continue philosophizing around the campfire while awaiting Bonehead and Major Kaim’s return.
“What causes those phantasms?” the youngest goon asked. Obvious by his wide eyes this night was the first time he caught a look at one. “I always thought only mentally ill or really sick people hallucinated.”
“They’re nothing,” Tee answered right off before anybody else could speak. “Just echoing refuse from times past. The Kosmos wasn’t made by a craftsman’s hands; what we’re born into is just a sloppy accident. Time breaks down just like anything randomly slapped together wears out and breaks down.”
“So they aren’t spirits of dead people?” the other goon asked.
“I think some of them are,” Little Bit contradicted her half brother. “I remember when I was four, our mom got sick with the first signs of her brain cancer. She couldn’t teach anymore so we moved to the outskirts of Second Metro. Nobody would help us; three years before Beemo’s mom Syla Roamer started slipping silver to our family. We couldn’t come up with the Payday Metro tax anymore. I know she did things with men to keep us fed and save enough to pay the County Tax so we didn’t get kicked out of Crans County all together. We lived in a tarpaper shack Tee and Beemo built from scrap wood. We were there three and a half years right next to the garbage dump used by fifteen thousand people just outside the Second Metro limits.
“My only playmate was a little girl who came down the steep hill almost every day. She had a different accent and her name was strange, O-liv-ee-a. She talked about strange things, asked what ‘cartoons’ I watched on ‘TV.’ Oliv-ee-a always wore a scarf over her face. Other than that she was just like all the other kids. But one more thing, her clothes I thought were deluxe, all kinds of patterns and designs nobody else I ever knew had. Then one day I climbed up the hill to find her cabin. Nothing up there but old foundation ruins like you see different places. She was standing with her back to me without her scarf. When I called her name, she turned slowly to look at me and then I saw her face was half rotted off like that ghost-boy we saw back at the FEMA camp pit tonight.
“I almost screamed but she said, ‘Don’t worry, my mom says it’s all just a dream. Everybody is just having a bad dream.’ That’s why I think we’re all ghosts. We’re all somewhere else dreaming this real. Everybody makes the world real by dreaming it.”
The opposite of Tee, I’ve always been awed at the majesty of stars in the night sky and everything neath it. Little Bit’s story made me wonder if Tee’s poor opinion of the Kosmos had to do with that shabby shack I helped him slap together over by the metro refuse dump where he and his family had to live.
Kensey, Tee’s and Little Bit’s mom, in her youth was the belle of Heights Bluff. Pale, red-haired beauties are rare even behind the Gate. Tee remembered living in a ploosh mansion up there. But after the Big Men’s goons opened up fifty cal machine-guns on those poor citizens just trying to take refuge from the attacking Mutant Angels, Mand Sal started the Bloody Rebellion. The Big Men made sure his family fell far, fell fast, and fell hard. The Sal family fell farther than any other family I could think of. Her story also made me ashamed of my dad again.
“Some say hems ghosts are nothing but demons come to where a bad thing happened,” Hopper Leap said. “Shi goes down somewhere then it opens up a door to the demon world and hems can get through.”
“It’s all kaka,” Tee insisted.
“Phantasms kill people,” I said right back. “I know scavenge men who went against the Source and robbed ancient graves to get jewelry off of skeletons. They all died agonizing deaths. Sometimes right then when they were at it, sometimes a little later. None of them got to enjoy their swag.”
“I say it’s kaka-shi talk,” Tee wouldn’t back down despite just dealing with the Hungry Ghost like it was real.
“If it’s all shi talk then you should go get on your cycle. Head back up to that FEMA camp mass grave and start collecting the gold bands and gold teeth off of those hundreds of thousands of mummys right now. I guarantee there is more gold treasure in that charnel pit we rode past tonight than anywhere else besides the Lost Fort Knox. What are you waiting for, Tee? Mount up, take any fool who wants to die with you. You’ll never make it out of there alive and you know it. An icy, invisible hand will reach inside your chest and freeze your heart. For a generation the Dezret Saints rode past and never touched it and you know how they prize a profit.”
Tee and all the rest stayed silent. Each outlaw mulling over the truth of what I just said. In the flickering campfire light, I watched their shadowed faces twisting and their mouths puckering. They were thinking about it but finally rejected the idea of going for the gold down in that massive pit of death.
It came to me right then, I hated the thought but couldn’t beat it down, that I could get control of the Sawbird Gang from Tee if I put my mind to it. Black-flagging always disgusted me but now this desire for power snuck up on me from somewhere.
“The Mutant Angels believe in a ligion that says your soul is a combination of seven or more demons and you have to placate the dominant demon, give it want it wants as often as you can. It could be like, say, a demon bent on murder, or one bent on torture, or rape, or complete control over vulnerable people, otherwise when you die your dominant demon will rip apart your lesser demons and then your gang a demons won’t get to keep anything stolen from this life.” After I said that Sass Hootie stood up.
“No more. No more demon talk. No more thinking demon thoughts. Yous gonna bait a two-fifty of hem Hungry Ghosts to come down on us. My man, my boo, took hims blood enemy up into the black night to help hims out. Talk ‘bout something else like that. Talk about wat’s true and wat’s right. Wese all here, wese do bad things. But wese still ain’t trash to dump out with the garbage. Ious don’t care where the world come from or wat happens whens wese die. Wese outlaws but wese still gots hearts and minds. Wese’re all worth somethin’!”
First time I heard that outlaw blonde speak without a smile on her round, good-humored face. Sass looked straight at me then to Tee and each of the others one at a time. I gazed over at Little Bit, and she had one big tear tracking down her left cheek. Tee rubbed his face with both hands; somehow even he was moved. Finally Sass sat back down.
I sheathed my Bowie knife. After a long pause I said with a quiet voice: “Yes, Sass, you are right. I stand corrected. Let’s move the versation in another direction. Maybe some of you want to ask me questions.”
“Yous follow the teaching of the Source,” Hopper Leap said. “Wat’ll is that ‘bout? Is that yous ligion?”
“Following the teachings of the Source is more of what’s called a losophy than it is a ligion.” I answered. “My dad Vauk Roamer let me go all the way through the eighth grade of school so that I could learn geometry and trigonometry. He wanted me to have those advanced math skills so that I could calculate out the location of buried vaults and safes. It is a tradition that the eighth grade teachers give you the Source Teachings as a bonus. They said it would help spread tranquility through music. The Teachings say that musical vibrations are the Source of existence, and if you can tap into that music, you find ways to get through hard times and make the best of good times. Some people might compare the Source to God.”
“What is God?” Chuckles asked.
“What Beamo’s talking about is supposed to be a giant invisible mind that runs the Kosmos. It doesn’t exist. It’s a hoax just like the Source is a hoax.” Tee’s far-away eyes told me he was looking inside himself. All the years I knew him I never saw him look so deep inside. “My mom was a teacher and followed the Source and she–we–never got any relief. You need to forget about any superstitions. The only thing real is what we see and hear and touch and smell and taste and feel while we’re alive.”
“Tee is what they call a materialist. He believes that if you can’t cut something up into smaller and smaller pieces that can be put back together in a way to suit him then it doesn’t exist. He is godless, has no faith in anything bigger than himself. Faith in something bigger than yourself that can’t rot is what God is.” I smiled at my pronouncement.
“Wrong, Beamo. Marx is the God I believe in.” Tee grinned back at me. “He’s the God we are all waiting for. Marx is the future.”
“Judging from the history of nations that tried to live out Marx, I would have to say, Marx is the future and always will be!”
“Watch what you say, Beamo,” Tee snapped, miffed at my swipe at his belief. Nobody else but Little Bit caught it because Tee hadn’t indoctrinated most of the Sawbird Gang in Marxism. He didn’t believe they had the education and sophistication to get it. I always thought it kind of weird how these hardcore enemies of people not being equal acted snooty themselves.
“You never would read that book about the Soviet Russians I gave you called Gulag Archipelago. It told how a Marx nation depended on forced labor camps of millions of thralls to keep afloat. ” I shook my head.
Funny, I’m the one who resurrected Marx by giving those ancient books to Tee years ago. Most of the gun safes I dug up and broke open belonged to a category of Mericans called right wing. They almost always stored the Holy Bible. Sometimes they packed away books by a fervid woman author named Ayn Rand. But about one-in-ten gun safes belonged to left wing Mericans who worshiped Karl Marx. The convoluted logic and dictums of this Karl Marx dude’s writing came off cold-blooded to me, but Tee loved it. My ex-best friend only liked the military psych-ops books and those left-winger books.
“The people they put in those prison camps back then were all criminals,” Tee finally said back.
“They were all criminals just like us!” After I said that Tee decided to give it a rest.
“Ious believe everthin’ alive an’ even the water an’ the hills an’ the sky gots hems own spirit in it,” Sass said. “Ious believes in lots of different spirits spread out in nature. Some good, some bad, most a mixture.”
The other backwoods outlaws nodded their heads in agreement with Sass. The two goons didn’t know anything about Marx but seemed to be on Tee’s side concerning the issue of God and didn’t care about nature. Most citizens living in metros and towns practiced a simple ligion based on good people going to heaven and bad people going to hell when they died. Depending on family traditions they might throw in some guardian angels and demon curses into the mix. They didn’t walk around talking about any God putting you anywhere; you just went where you went because you chopped out your own path.
“Sass, you would be considered an animist. You believe there are thousands of separate gods that make up nature.”
“So wat’re yous, Beamo?” Hopper asked.
“I used to be what they call a pantheist,” I said. “It basically says that God is everything in the Kosmos put together. I changed my mind after reading a book called Origin of the Species by a dude named Char-les Dar-win. He figured out that evolution–progress–only happens through cruelty, that too many babies of any particular animal type are born than can vive so only the fittest, those lucky enough to sport the right traits for that particular place and time, makes it. I can’t worship that. Now I believe that God must operate from outside the Kosmos.”
“What did the anchet Mericans believe?” Chuckles asked. “What would they think of us?”
“Now your last question is a really good one, Chuckles.” I let a little surprise leak out of my voice. Chuckles had gone all the way through sixth grade. “The Mericans were a mixed bag. We don’t really know what they even looked like. All their photographs and videos faded out long ago. All we have are just a few engravings and statues. As we scussed before, according to the books on the subject like the Kerner Commission I discovered in an ancient college library vault, they broke down mostly into black and white people back then. In the very same metro they lived in separate neighborhoods, mostly. If you weren’t black or white you still had to pick the side you wanted to live with.
“Our Zark ancestors mostly derived from two different groups, the hillbillies and the latinos. Both were despised by the common Merican citizens. They would probably talk the same about us as they did about our progenitors. They would say that we are violent, fatalistic, prone to mischief and feuding over petty issues. They would claim we are all-around not-sophisticated, basically the kind a people who bring their livestock with them when they move into a metro or town. The ancient Mericans were good at judging other people.”
“But like you said before, our ancestors gots the last laugh ‘cause they still had smarts to grow food,” Chuckles said.
“That’s right, Chuckles. You have a good memory. As I told you all before, our ancestors still had the passed-down knowledge to manage without much tech what they called family farms and ranches up in the Zark Hills. Knowing how to ranch and farm allowed them to vive the bad times. Ninety-nine percent of the Merican population got their supplies from supermarkets that ran out in three days if the big-rigs with the food loads didn’t show up. Hard famine set in for decades after the Slow Pox Plague burned through and the giant corporate farms investment funding dried up.”
The wind through the pine trees kicked up. Mountain gusts blowing through those evergreens sounded like a big voice whispering. Breezes going through our Zark hardwood trees sound a lot more relaxing than that constant manic voice shooting through those pine boughs up in the Shining Mountains.
“So wat ligion did the Mericans ‘lieve in?” Hopper chimed in, now competing for favorite student.
“Like I said, they were a mixed bag.” I paused when the wind blew campfire smoke into my eyes then started back up when it blew a different direction. “I’ll give you the three most popular types the ancient Mericans followed. You tell me which one sounds like it would suit you. One was called Sufi Islam. It said that in order to be obedient to God, your good side has to go to war with your bad side. They called it Jihad.”
“Ious’ll pass on that one.” Hopper rubbed his shaggy head with his hands then tugged on his braided beard. “Ious’ll lose that war.” The other outlaws agreed.
“Another less common ligion was the Hindoos. They believed the purpose of life is like a bank, that you earn Karma, which is kind of like a salary for being a good citizen. If you earn enough Karma in your Kosmic bank account then when you die you get promoted to Nirvana, which is something like heaven. But if you act a slouching shi-head who never says a good word, then when you croak you’ll get demoted down to a dog or a rat. If you are really evil you go all the way down to a shi-eating fly or some other bug.”
“Ious don’t put nothin’ in no banks,” Joro said with a mocking snear. “Ious rob banks!” Most of the outlaws cheered and clapped for Joro.
“Okay, well, you can scratch that one.” I shook my head and continued. “The most popular ligion in ancient Merica was Christianity. Most Merican people worshiped Jes-us from the Holy Bible. In fact, we still have remnants of that in our culture. Our holiday trees that we keep up all year long used to be called Christmas trees back in Merican times. Back then they only put them up around Jes-us’ birthday, which is the darkest part of the winter.”
“Why they worship this Jeez dude?” Chuckles asked.
“Well, the Holy Bible claims Jes-us performed a lot of miracles. He threw down on demons, chased them out of possessed people. He also cured people of horrible diseases that no doctors could handle. One time at a big wedding party he turned water into wine when the host ran out of liquor.”
“How the hell hims turn water into liquor?” Kholo looked down into his now empty cup. “What is a mirrorcull anyway?”
“It’s an event that is not supposed to be able to happen but something from outside the Kosmos makes it happen. Chasing out demons and making water turn into wine are not natural events. Jes-us proclaimed he was God come down in human form. The same God who thought the Kosmos into existence. He came on down into our world to pay off our debt for doing evil so we don’t burn in a Lake of Fire when we die.”
I stood up, stretched and then strolled over to my cycle. I dug out my well-preserved, leather-bound bible from my rightside pannier. I stood next to the campfire in the flickering firelight, translayed for them some of each of the four Gospels.
“That gang that Jeez led called the Disciples, itinit the same Sipels gang that hid out up by Dead Metro?” Joro flipped a stick into the fire. “Hems fishermen, the two cantina brawlers the book calls the ‘Sons of Thunder’, sounds likes that gang. Hems all nuuk poisoned up in there. Hems brains starts bleedin’ in hems skulls an it makes ‘em loco.”
“No, Jes-us led his Disciples back over three thousand years ago. They didn’t have nuuk-poisoned land back then. No cycles or rifles either. They just carried swords and walked or rode donkeys in those times. ” I took the book back to my rightside cycle pannier and packed it next to the Autobiography of Mark Twain book I had been reading off and on. It was now less than two hours to dawn. I was more than ready to lay my head down.
“Hims Jeez was a hardcore hombre.” Hopper Leap loved tough guy stories. “Afta hems Big Men hired the Rome Gang to catchus hims, hems whipped Jeez’s back open with hooked lashes, made Jeez carry that heavy crossbeam ten mile, then nailed hims up on it. Hung there fo hours then Rome boys finally stabbed hims in the side wit a spear. Hems Rome boys took hims down, thought hims was dead, put hims in the cave and sealed it shut with a boulder. A couple two or three days pass while Jeez plays possum. When hims ready, Jeez just rolls that boulder out hims way, steps out an’ hems Rome mugs guarding hims tomb shi’s hems drawers and runs off!” Hopper laughed, not stopping until he tipped his last cup of beer to finish the dregs.
“Wat saze yous, Roamer-man? Yous likes the Jeez dude? Anythin yous gots to do to join up wit that ligion?” Kholo threw his empty wooden cup into the fire then looked back over at me for the answers to his questions.
“Do I look like a dude that will turn down a draft from an hombre who walks into the cantina and buys everyone a round? I’m for teaching Jes-us again, as long as the people doing it don’t get too ambitious about telling me how to live. As to your last question, all you have to do is say in front of everybody that you follow Jes-us. And you should get baptized, which means you get dunked under clean water by a pastor to wash off your old life.” After seeing their puzzled faces, I said, “A pastor is a teacher of Jes-us.”
“It’s the same ligion the Dezret Saints send missonaries out to convert people into,” Tee countered me. “Those are the biggest pests around. I’ll say it again: All ligion is a fraud. The ancient Mericans abandoned ligion at the end when they finally found out it didn’t do anything for them.”
“No, the Dezret Saints ligion is not the same. They worship their own book and a different prophet. That other prophet doesn’t allow people to drink liquor. They quire their men to take four wives and have at least twelve kids. Jes-us said you can only have one wife.” After I said that, I had to rub my face to stay awake. My versation powers were just about shot.
“Wat kinda ligion harness a man to support that many wives and brats?” Hopper Leap shuddered.
“I say that wifes should have all the husbands hems want.” Smooth Sharp gave a languid, smokey look over at the twin brothers Khoro and Joro. The wind blew her dark hair across her oval face so she had to push it away with her hands. “I ain’t had no trouble keeping two boos.”
“Proper womins and mens in town prob-ley have trouble wit yous thinkin’, Smooth,” Sass said with a wide grin.
In the distance a cycle engine buzz grew. Everyone picked up his or her rifle and took up classic saw-blade defensive positions. A Zark off-road cycle with a red headlight snaked down the switchback trail, but who would be on it?
A figure on a cycle swerved around the corner into view. It was Bonehead. He saw our campfire and cut his engine to coast down the trail to save fuel. After he parked, Sass walked up to him. They hugged hard on each other then we heard the goon cycle braking and revving coming down the mountainside trail.
Bonehead started shouting pissed-off curses at the boggymos. The Sawbird Gang lieutenant strutted around like he wanted to go after someone. Sass almost laughed but didn’t. She kept her amused look but didn’t give up trying to calm her boo down.
“What happened up there?” Tee asked. “You get lost?”
“Hems hairy-ass sumbitches took th’cycle a mile up the mountainside inta the timber jus ta keep us from getting it easy. Swear hems knew wese coming back fo it somehow. Phuuker pricks!”
Major Kaim parked his new goon cycle. He dismounted slowly. In the dying campfire light the gaunt man looked wretched; his mouth downturned into what mouths look like right before a scream of agony screeches out.
“What I saw this black night! The core of the entire Kosmos is nothing but a dried-out, rotted persimmon. We’re all just pissants crawling around on the outside where a spittle of life juice is left.” Major Kaim looked around at the outlaw men and women heading out behind bushes to relieve themselves before they turned in. He shouted out, “Don’t die! Whatever you need to do to stay alive, do it!”