1 The Raven
Far in the recesses of the Transcendental Arrangement, beyond the hardest left and the most abrupt right, down a staircase of seventy-seven stairs was the little room where Darwing was. There he brooded, gazing out of a little window that looked out on endless night, watching the moon through all of its phases. He: the refutation of philosophers, the umbrage of all heresies, the presuppositionalist.
A knock sounded on the door of Darwing’s room. No other sound; and then the bolt was drawn back with a screech, the door swung, light entered, and before it leapt a shadow.
There he stood: the Janitor Angelicus. He had a robe and sandals. Around his middle was a belt and from it hung a set of keys. The belt, in turn, hung upon bright red suspenders, for it was three sizes too big for the Janitor Angelicus, Lumpenproletariat.
He was the son of a star in the constellation most commonly known as the sow and of a comet whose path was called by charitable heavenly bodies elliptical, and by the more candid, drunkenly erratic. Lumpenproletariat had made an aimless career also, finding his sinecure as the Janitor Angelicus, the custodian of the Transcendental Arrangement. He was also fond of haunting the passageways of universities since days of yore, although in more modern times he had found no need to take pains to conceal himself, being considered a freshman or tenured faculty by his appearance and eccentric habiliment.
Sometimes he would drift into conversation with some of the more sentient of the other haunters of the halls of academe, and was fond of refuting Marx.
“For value,” he would say, “Ought to be measured in more than labor.”
“I like Marx,” the unabashed freshman or the more forthcoming tenured member of the faculty would say. “Not that I’ve read much, but his ideas make a lot of sense. A very original thinker.”
“What of utility?” Lumpenproletariat would ask, and he would lift his eyebrows so gradually they seemed to move infinitely upward, invariably fascinating any interlocutor bold enough to make eye contact. “What of utility?”
Now he stood gazing into the room where he saw Darwing. Black feathers he saw, the onyx beak, and the eye like a small black hole, reflecting nothing and gathering up into itself all light. Even the janitor found it unsettling.
“Here birdie,” Lumpenproletariat called to the unresponsive raven. Alone it mediated, waiting for the moon, as if nothing could intrude upon its utter solitude.
The Janitor Angelicus entered into the room slowly, holding in his hand a folder from the edges of which appeared papers bearing a strong resemblance to newspaper clippings. He walked along the edge of the room, around the bird, toward a table that stood against the opposite wall. He put the folder down, all the while watching the great, black raven in the center of the room.
On the table was an open folder with newspaper clippings scattered about on the table. Lumpenproletariat began to gather the clippings, raking them together with his hand while his head remained turned, watching the motionless raven. Abruptly he became very still, his arm bent in the middle of herding some clippings back toward the open folder. Without turning his head he moved his eyes slightly in the direction of his hand. What followed was an indescribable attempt to move each eye in different directions, to keep one on the raven and simultaneously look at the table.
His head snapped back as he thought he glimpsed a flutter from the raven, but it was still. Lumpenproletariat looked down. Then back at the raven. Then he turned his head quickly toward the table. He managed to catch a glimpse of a nail driven through a clipping before hearing the cry of the bird. It had sprung from the floor and straight at the janitor, endeavoring to deliver a sharp peck at his head. For reasons Lumpenproletariat had never been able to discern, the raven was given to these surprise attacks. It seemed it wanted nothing more than to peck his head, and had managed to do so more than once.
Now they strove together: the huge black raven, beating its midnight wings, its eyes fantastically dull and without expression, its onyx beak flashing with malice and the robed janitor with madly jangling keys, thrusting the bird away with a thick folder, wielding the folder clumsily with two hands, fanning the air. The bird fell back with a derisive cry. The janitor, breathing heavily and leaning back against the table, stared at the bird before he squatted down to pick up the clippings on the floor. He thought a quiet walk in some one or another university would be welcome after this.
When the Janitor Angelicus would bring up the matter of utility in the halls of universities, the conversation might end if the other party snorted or rolled the eyes. But every once in a while, they answered as he hoped:
“Yes, I can’t deny there’s something to be said for utility.”
“And then there is supply and demand,” Lumpenproletariat would continue, “And intrinsic worth.” And here his eyebrows would descend all at once, whether his interlocutor was looking at him or not, and he would fix his gaze upon the freshman or tenured faculty member and ask: “Do you believe in intrinsic worth?”
“I suppose I do . . . I’m not sure.”
“Pearls are not valuable because men dive for them; men dive for pearls because they are valuable.” And here a note of triumph usually. “You see, there is some sort of intrinsic value. But it is mutable, no? For some will pay more when there are less, or less to go around, or more wanted. So we must separate, if you will permit, value from intrinsic worth. Value being in a man’s esteem, but worth being absolute.”
And sometimes they would ask, “How will you know the absolute worth?”
Lumpenproletariat would nod in silence for a while, as if considering. “You will know its worth when you find its place in a system which includes all things.”
“Nobody could know that!” Would be the wry rejoinder.
“Nobody save for God,” he would reply. “And what if God were to whisper to you the worth of the least pebble? What if he would whisper in your ear and tell you the absolute worth of the smallest rock?” And after a due pause he would lean forward and hiss at his interlocutor with great emphasis, “Then you would have a key to the absolute value of all things!”
At this his interlocutor, awed or baffled would usually stare, and then the Janitor Angelicus would whirl and fade into the shadows, and leave on the air the faint jingling of his keys.
The keys jingled now as Lumpenproletariat stood up. He went around to the side of the table so he could gather the clippings and still look at the raven askance, although there had never in his experience been a second attack. The scattered clippings from the old folder were gathered save for the one nailed down. The folder was closed, the one he had borne and used as his weapon was deposited in its place, and the Janitor Angelicus moved around the edge of the room.
He stopped halfway, right before the window, for he had noticed something else. A single black feather lay on the floor, within his reach. He deliberated: it was probably best to ignore it; and yet, a feather, a single feather! What would it be worth? He began to squat in order to reach the feather. As he lowered his body, the raven began to turn to face him. He stopped, and it stopped. He continued; it continued. He was down all the way, and the bird faced him fully, the onyx beak reflecting the light coming in the door. Lumpenproletariat began to stretch out his right hand; the raven began to unfold its wings. Fascinated now, mesmerized by the strange actions of the bird, he continued to stretch out his hand till the bird’s wings were fully extended, the longest feathers brushing the floor. He lowered his fingers and as he felt the feather, the bird cawed, causing him to freeze. Then in one motion he grasped the feather and hurtled himself to the door, pulling it after him as he passed out.
The door slammed and after a few seconds the bolt squeaked home. Inside the room only the darkness, and the moonless night outside the window, and Darwing waiting for the moon.
2 The Accordion
“What is a criten anyway?” The Little Rabbi wanted to know.
“I think it’s a kind of bug,” Unk, who was unpacking his accordion, said. He had just come into possession of it. It was a fine thing, a monument to the ingenuity of human achievement, a capstone of western civilization. He lifted it into the sunlight where it sparkled with musical possibilities. It was magnificent, like a red, rectangular disco ball.
“It’s all downhill from here,” Kat observed.
“Probably,” Unk replied. “ I don’t think our civilization can ever top the invention of the accordion. It’s kind of sad.”
“You know,” the Little Rabbi said in a slow and thoughtful way that made everybody look around, “You could use that to infiltrate Doc’s compound.”
“I would never take this treasure to such a place!” Unk said with indignation.
“It would be a sacrifice,” Kat remarked, turning away for no apparent reason. She headed out of the kitchen and Unk was left there looking at the accordion. The Little Rabbi went back to his comics.
They were waiting for Bud’s friend to build the space ship, so times were slow.
3 Medical Plans
Among other things on the planet Golf, there was a sinister group of people dedicated to perpetrating medical research. Quite accidentally, one day they perfected a machine which by means of undetectable radiation produced in patients an unstoppable aspiration to world domination.
“This is truly and ingeniously medical,” the head of research, Dr. Spigot said.
“Yes. It could even be dangerous,” Dr. Crinkle agreed.
“You know, they’d probably try it on earth,” the bright young assistant, Dr. Principle suggested.
“I bet they would,” Spigot agreed. “We could rig it to be some kind of fancy radiation machine for cancer.”
“They’d go for that.”
“How would we get it to earth?” Dr. Crinkle asked.
“How about asking the sage?”
So it was agreed. They journeyed up the mountain of Hinga Lum Dura and came to the cave at the top, where they performed the ritual, and went inside.
“Get one of those guys from Accounticon to rig it,” the sage advised the doctors who came to ask his advice. “They’re in pretty tight with the temporal powers on earth.”
“Does anybody stand out in particular?” They asked with all due humility.
“Ah,” the sage said, scratching both his armpits at the same time. “Why yes, come to think of it.”
4 A Strange Affliction
Although he admitted it to none, Doc was afflicted. He was being afflicted with things he heard, and nobody else, it seemed, could hear these things.
It had started at home. He was about to say something to Molly, his wife, when he heard a burst of music so loud he looked around startled. Molly had gone on eating her corn pops. Doc had hesitated and returned to reading the Daily Jibe.
It had happened later in a board meeting as Pastor Fel had been explaining the new outreach plan which somehow involved building a medical facility out of the rubble of WDOC. The sound had come out loud and clear, strumming and blaring and unmistakable. But nobody winked or reacted at all. Pastor Fel continued exuding, “Amazing . . . impact . . . so awesome . . . composite.”
At least, Doc thought to himself, Mariachi music makes board meetings more interesting. He had never enjoyed board meetings at which he did not speak. He was startled as he realized that Pastor Fel had been doing a lot of the talking recently, which was quite tedious. How had that come about? And how did it come about that he found Mariachi music interesting? He’d never been a great one for Mariachi music in the past. Nor was it considered solid, that he knew of. Why was he hearing Mariachi music blaring in his head anyway?
After the board meeting he wandered out and along to his office, not at all briskly, as was his custom, but slowly, ruminating, with his head strangely bowed and his gaze on the repugnant heliotrope carpet. Who . . . he began to ask himself, and then realized the carpet had been ordered by Molly—she ordered all the carpets.
Nodding, feeling old, helpless in the face of those who carpeted his kingdom, who talked endlessly to his board, he gripped the door knob. He opened the door and looked, as it were, at the very incarnation of insolence sitting behind his desk. And he saw it with indifference.
“You like doctrinal puffs?” Doc said to Dull Sodder, who was stuffing himself, as usual.
Dull Sodder eyed Doc with the glassy eye as he chewed and swallowed enough of what was in his mouth to be able, (a) to take a breath and (b) to talk around it.
“I like the plain ones, the cheese ones, the cheese and bacon ones, the cool ranch ones, the lemon twist ones . . . everything but the spicy ones. I like a variety of flavors, but I don’t like spicy.”
“I can’t stand Mexican food myself,” Doc observed. He shuddered; in the past he would have said he didn’t hold with Mexican food. What was happening? And why did the thought of a plate of enchiladas bring with it a surge of joy? The mariachi music swelled inside his head like a cloud of dust. He focused on the cactus by the window until it went away.
Where had the cactus come from?
The Little Rabbi was scarfing down enchiladas and tacos and getting rather plump.
“Little bunny’s getting fat again on enchiladas and tacos!” Unk exclaimed.
The The Little Rabbi eyed Unk with disfavor, for he saw the accordion emerging from its case. Wiping the plate clean, the lad sought solace out on the edge of the cliff, near the roar of the ocean.
Unk, convinced of his musical genius, was trying to play a Bach fugue with such success that were he to consider the matter dispassionately, he might have had to acknowledge it were better called The Great Chicken Calamity. And yet, it was under these circumstances he conceived the most ingenious plan.
5 Tumors in the Head
Harold was a neighbor to Larry. He had moved in to Doug’s old house when Doug was delivered up to Canada. Harold had a tumor in his head, but that is not the thing that made him unusual. Oh no! What made Harold unusual was that he was the only human being ever to have been born in the Transcendental Arrangement. Of course, his mother never told him.
Larry looked over the fence and saw his new neighbor swinging a cat around his head by its tail. Not being one to judge, he called out: “Howdy!”
Startled, Harold dropped the cat. They both watched it recover itself and streak away, never to be seen in the neighborhood again.
“Your cat?” Larry asked.
“Naw. Belonged to somebody else.”
Since no other explanation was offered, Larry tried another conversational gambit. “Play cards?”
“Our pastor is preaching against them, want to come hear?”
And so it as they fell into conversation and eventually came around to medical matters.
“Yeah,” Larry said, “I have a tumor in my head as well.”
“Going to do anything about it?”
“Not really. So, want to come to church with me? I can probably get you in with the deacons.”
It was a proposal to which Harold was not at all averse.
So it was agreed, and Harold visited that Sunday, all spiffed out, and in an uncharacteristically absent way, Doc made him a deacon.
“He’s got me worried,” Larry confided afterward, “Seems to be a bit distracted the past couple of weeks.”
“Maybe he’s got a tumor in his head too?”
6 Ploys of Employment
“You want us all to get jobs at this new Mexican restaurant while we wait?”
“That’s right,” Unk said. Kat, the Little Rabbi and C. S. Lewis exchanged glances.
“I have a plan. Besides, Bud needs the help. After his Flameburger shop was shut down by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he was pretty discouraged.”
“Oh, we were all discouraged about that!” Kat said.
“Well, I miss it, and so does Mr. Dracula. The Draculas are going to work at the new place too. Anyway, we could really help Bud to get it going and . . . well, I have a plan.”
“To infiltrate Doc’s compound?” The Little Rabbi asked.
Unk looked uneasy and left the question unanswered. “So here are the applications for you to fill out,” he said.
Again they glanced at each other before taking the forms from Unk.
“I don’t have a social security number,” C. S. Lewis said after a while.
“It would probably be illegal to employ you, so you can just volunteer your services,” Unk said.
“Not get paid?”
“Come on! What do you need money for?”
C. S. Lewis sat gazing at Unk.
“All right. I’ll pay you.”
“I’ll pay you twenty bucks.”
To which C. S. Lewis readily agreed even without having it stipulated exactly how long he was expected to work.
So it came to pass, when the restaurant opened, that every Sunday after the service Doc would bring all the visitors to La Casa de la Llama Ardiente, to thank then for coming to church, to let them talk among themselves, to find out what sort of thing the modern person expected from a religious service, but mostly to satisfy his strange craving for Mexican food.
Had Doc been his old self, he might have noticed the two waiters, one male and one female, working on Sundays were rather pale and resembled no living Mexican. He might also have noticed there were heavy drapes covering the windows so that no daylight entered. But Doc was not his old self, and though Molly did not understand what was happening, she definitely liked the candles.
She had tried bringing up the matter of Doc’s apathy for all but things Mexican with the youth pastor, although he gave her the creeps. He had been rushing around making plans for a youth activity and had been inattentive, so she had given it up. She tried some of the deacons but none of them dared suggest anything to Doc he was not already planning to do. There was only Dull Sodder left to try, but Molly was not that desperate yet. She liked Mexican food, and Doc never had before, so she was enjoying as much of it as she could get, despite the rather strange waiters on weekends.
The proximity of La Casa de la Llama Ardiente to Doc’s compound brought many of the faithful that way. Working during the week, Unk, Kat, The Little Rabbi and CS Lewis were able to gather some demographic information and overhear some very interesting conversations. The Draculas, being irreligious, worked on the weekends, staying up all day.
7 Various Revelations
One day Unk knocked on the door of Bud’s office and opened the door before Bud had answered. As a result, he found Bud fiddling at an instrument panel ingeniously concealed in a closet which Bud usually kept closed and locked.
“Bud,” Unk began, “We’re almost out of avocados. I’m thinking maybe we can send the Little Rabbi out to buy some quickly before the supper . . . what is that?”
Bud looked extremely guilty. He closed the closet in silence. He looked at Unk and then down at the floor. Then he cleared his throat.
“It’s called a criten.”
“I thought a criten was some kind of bug.”
“Well, it is, in a way.”
“What exactly is it?”
“You don’t know?” Bud looked hard at Unk and then said, “Look, lets deal with the avocados and I’ll tell you later.”
Unk forgot about the criten until they were all back home.
“Hey,” he said looking at the Little Rabbi. “You remember you were asking me about a criten a while back?”
“Yeah. Did you find out what it was?”
“No. But where did you come across the word?”
“I was reading a book,” the Little Rabbi said, at which Kat raised her eyebrows. He went over to his stack of comics and searched. He returned with a dog eared copy of the Journal for the Proceedings of the Society for Ulterior Motivation of the University of Golf.
“You read the J.P.S.Umug?” Kat asked.
“Sometimes. Anyway, there was a mention of a criten but no description of it in an article for a device that appears to stimulate people’s brain to aspirations of world domination.”
“That sounds dangerous,” Unk said, taking the journal. “What’s the other device called?” “Plovalis.”
As Unk leafed through the journal a black feather fell out and drifted to the floor.
“That yours?” he asked the Little Rabbi.
“No. I didn’t put it in there. It must have been in there already.” He turned to C. S. Lewis. “Did you put it in there? Was it yours?”
“You gave this journal to him?” Kat asked C. S. Lewis.
“The draftsmanship of those comics he reads is terrible. I thought it would be better for him.”
“Where did you get it?”
“From a chap in the Transcendental Arrangement, a harmless chap with braces and keys.”
8 The Criten
“A criten,” Bud explained, stirring a pot of tortilla soup, “Is a devise much like a Spontaneous Anomalator only the results are predictable. Actually, I think the Spontaneous Anomalators are a sort of perversion of the criten. Anyway, the criten is a marketing device. It is used for advertising and it can target a specific person once you know their DNA.”
“What person are you targeting?”
Bud stirred more slowly, sinking the long spoon to the bottom of the murky brew. He looked away and coughed, and finally answered, “Doc.”
Bud chased a large piece of tomato around with the spoon. He glanced at Unk and then back into the pot. “The criten is making him find all kinds of Mexican things in his life: he hears Mariachi music, he sees cacti in places . . . and . . . he desires Mexican food.”
“Yes. It might interest you to know that Doc has weird DNA.”
“I might have guessed that. How is it weird?”
“They guy who tested it said it was unlike any other. He actually said . . . no, well, obviously he was joking.”
“No, tell me.”
“It was just a joke, probably, but he said for some reason it make him think of cheese.”
“Weird. Do you think he’s an alien?”
“The lab guy? No.”
“No, Doc. Obviously he’s not a cheese.”
Bud eyed Unk strangely. “I’m not sure, actually. I’ve got DNA from Felonious Assault and he’s definitely an alien. Doc has another pattern entirely.”
“Yeah, we already know about pastor Fel; he’s part of the third wave of the youth pastor invasion. So you’re into high-end marketing, eh? How much did that one set you back?”
“Quite a bit, but it is the only one on the planet, and I thought it would be my duty to keep it away from the fundamentalists,” Bud replied, his hands folded piously.
Unk whistled. “Can you imagine if Pastor Fel found out that such a device existed? You might need to hire some guards.”
Bud looked quizzically at Unk, but refrained from saying anything further.
When Unk got home and found out the Little Rabbi had mislaid the J.P.S.Umug, he felt no little consternation. What if it fell into the wrong hands? But then, he thought, why would a youth pastor read a journal?
The Little Rabbi had finished reading the journal, so he was not too worried about it. He turned to his next comic book, taking out the black feather he now used for a marker.
While Unk perfected his secret plan, and the four of them worked for Bud, Bud’s restaurant flourished, the months passed, and the Outreach Hospital was built. It had a special wing dedicated to radiation treatment, in which the sinister Plovalis machine was installed. Of course, Doc ministries also hired a special Hospital Pastor, the Reverend Dull Sodder.
They had a special ceremony to dedicate the Plovalis machine. Doc sat on the side, dreaming of tortillas and guacamole; Pastor Fel preached, Dull Sodder was content to watch, all the deacons were there wearing lab coats, and Dr. Federico Somaro beamed.
Mingling afterward, during the reception, Dr. Somaro found out that nearly all the deacons had tumors in their heads. He rubbed his hands together and exclaimed, “Already we have a full waiting list for the Plovalis!”
Indeed, they were all very eager.
Pastor Fel put up a bit of a fuss. After all, it was supposed to be an outreach. But Dr. Somaro convinced him by pointing out that it would be good to see if the machine, which had never been tested, could actually do what was expected. Dull Sodder, who was standing nearby, gravely pointed out that deacons were more expendable than The Lost.
It was during the week during which the first of the deacons underwent treatment that Bud’s friend in Oregon finished building the ship with the etymological confabulation drive. When Doc arrived at La Casa de la Llama Ardiente after church that Sunday he found it had closed up. He was kind of glad; he did not really feel like Mexican food, not since last Tuesday; he could not stand it. In fact, he realized as he stood in the parking lot, he really did not hold with it at all.