1 Strange Visitations
Fundamentarlia . . . what is it? A ponderer of mysteries however arcane, Doug sat in meditation, the room around him throbbing slightly. He might have opened his eyes and had a more immediate mystery to ponder: why was the room throbbing after all? It is very doubtful that our protagonist for the moment—Doug—would have been able to get very far with this mystery. Certainly, no apparent connection existed between the throbbing of the room and the appearance of a pudgy woman wearing a green and black striped knit dress and boots.
“Doug!” She called.
He heard the voice and wondered, waiting uncertainly.
“Doug, quit pretending you’re meditating,” she said.
Doug opened his eyes. “I wasn’t pretending,” he protested.
“Doug, you must seek Fundamentarlia.”
“How?” Was Doug at all surprised that she should speak to him of the subject of his meditations? Not at all. He knew there were answers, and he sought them patiently.
“Follow the bus, Doug.”
“Well—” she hesitated and began to bite her nails. “Maybe you’re supposed to get on the bus and not follow it . . . I’m kinda not sure.”
“Why a bus?”
“Why not a bus?” She flared up and put her hands on her hips. The dress was not flattering and the whole effect was not altogether what perhaps she might have expected it to be. Doug struggled to keep a straight face. She continued, “How do you think people get around anyway? Do you know that even mythical beings and messengers such as myself all get around regularly on buses?”
“Hadn’t thought of that,” Doug said, reflecting that not only had it never occurred to him, but it didn’t even make sense. He also reflected that perhaps he would not point this out. He didn’t want to hurt her and she seemed pretty harmless if a little touchy. Doug was not too good with touchy women, and he realized this, and was a little proud of the realization.
“So the bus is important, OK?”
Doug hesitated, noticed that she seemed to hesitate on the point of saying something else, and asked, “Any particular kind of bus?”
“Wrong question!” She glared at him and flounced. “Just a bus, OK?”
The room throbbed slightly, and she vanished, leaving Doug to wonder why the room had throbbed slightly.
2 The Coming of the Bus
Next morning Doug rolled out of bed in one swift, former-marine motion. He hit the deck running and in no time flat he was out of the door for a quick fifteen mile run, all uphill. He had gotten of to a good start when the gall bladder kicked in and all the former quite overcame the marine. He stopped at Billy Goat’s Coffee and downed a few. Rejuvenated, he headed home to listen to John Philip Sousa while working on the tulips in his garden. There were only tulips in his garden. Endless beds of tulips, red and yellow and white. Just another day in the life of Doug, and he was enjoying it. Soon he would blog (not that he had a blog, but he read and commented avidly on blogs).
That quiet and sunlight Tuesday morning, the neighborhood had been enjoying the peaceful advance of spring. Suddenly a big, yellow school bus came screeching around the corner on two tires and roared down the street till it came to an abrupt and clamorous halt in front of Doug’s house. Frothing at the mouth, Doc leapt out of the front and several henchmen in dark suits and sunglasses jumped out the back. Two of them followed Doc while the rest of them went to round up the kids for Sunday School, explaining to their bewildered parents that for real believers it was Sunday everyday. The parents were reluctant. The henchmen were coercive. Soon the bus was filled.
In the meantime, Doc had descended on the unwitting Doug, screaming and waving a Bible that matched the color of his suit.
“I’ve seen everything you’ve written!!” Doc screamed, his face contorted into his usual expression. “You need to come to Sunday School and hear some good, hard preaching!”
Doug, being a former marine, knew a dangerous situation when he saw one. He put the moves on Doc, and Doc was sent headfirst over the fence into the neighbor’s yard. The neighbor was one of those loud-music-playing, drunk-conversation-having, prying-into-how-you-have -your-property, unsolicited-advice-giving sort of people and it was with great satisfaction that Doug slung something as loathsome as Doc over into that yard. But the henchmen had arrived, and Doug did not have an excuse that they would buy so they hustled him into the bus. Then they went to rescue Doc and brought the neighbor along to attend Sunday School with them. The neighbor was called Larry and he was wearing a tank top and still clutching a beer. They sat him down with the larger kids. Doc got behind the wheel, hit the gas, put it in gear and let the clutch go. The bus careened recklessly through the streets with Doc barely paying attention as he drove. He kept turning around to lead them all in choruses. Participation was enforced. Larry, who was not at all alienated or amazed by it, participated with great enthusiasm.
Suddenly the bus screeched to a halt. Doc, who had been thinking that Larry would make a good deacon, happened to glance up and saw a rather large kid with small, piggy eyes standing in the way. Knowing the inconveniences that going to court and getting cleared of charges entailed, Doc hit the brakes and hopped out of the bus. He slammed the kid against the front of the bus and asked him, “Are you ready to die?”
“Probably,” The kid replied.
“Ha! Well then, lets take you to Sunday School,” Doc said and chucked the kid into the bus. He landed beside Doug who was handcuffed to a seat near the front.
“Sorry, kid.” Doug said. The fat kid shrugged.
“What’s your name?” the kid asked Doug.
“Doug, I’m a former marine. What is your name?”
“My name is Dull Sodder,” the kid said. It was then that Doug realized he should have kept on running that morning. He shook his head sadly. He was in for it now. He had landed in the middle of the most demented situation ever conceived. They were singing Doc’s favorite, “People need the LOST.” They were on a highway to Fundamentarlia.
Doug looked ahead. The bus was heading toward a dark tunnel. There were flashing neon lights at the entrance that proclaimed “Doc’s Empire.” Then everything went black.
3 The Theme Park
When the bus emerged from the tunnel Doug realized he was still alive and groaned. The bus screeched to a halt before a large building of the architectural variety of supermarkets. It was Doc’s church. The henchmen got everybody off the bus and registered the kids for Daily Sunday School, assigning them to rival teams (the Marauding Pirates or the Serial Killers). Felonious Assault, the youth pastor, also known as Pastor Fel, soon had them all in hand and Larry, with whom he detected an instant spiritual bond, was helping him to pass out empty beer cans so the kids could smash them for Jesus.
How did Jesus get mixed up in all this, Doug wondered.
Doug and also Dull Sodder, who had impressed Doc with his practicality, were ushered into the inner sanctum by some of the ushers, who seemed to know what they were doing and wore very friendly yellow buttons that said “Hi!” Doug was still handcuffed. Dull Sodder complained of hunger. Doc went over to a cabinet and took out a bag of doctrinal puffs which he tossed to Sodder. Sodder sat down behind the desk with his feet up and began munching idly. Doc paced the floor.
“Liberal, compromising, Neo-evangelical hippie,” he swore at Doug. “I’ve seen all the apostate, ecumenical stuff you have written, you low down, communist, compromising friend of the whore of Babylon.”
Doug did not flinch. He knew his situation was desperate. He glanced around the room. There was a large window that looked out on the playground where the kids were taking swings at a piñata of the devil. Even if he could take a run and burst through it, he would have to make it past Pastor Fel and the henchmen. It could never be done. In order to get away he would have to get them to be so repulsed by him that they’d let him go. He would have to sit tight and see what would develop.
“What kind of operation do you have going on here, Doc?” Sodder asked casually.
“Got a solid bus ministry, Sunday school every day, thousands of kids coming forward and smashing beer cans for the Lord. We run through five piñatas of the devil every week. A real solid work without any compromising, apostate, Neo-evangelical low-down tricks. Why?” He said pausing. “Do you have a call to the ministry? We could use more solid men, even if you are a bit young, you can still be use if you lay it all on the altar, you know.”
Sodder munched on another doctrinal puff thoughtfully. “Yeah, I’ve been thinking about laying it all on the altar and going full time. I see that you got solid methodology. And I can tell Pastor Fel is a solid guy.”
“He’s solid all right,” Doc said nodding. “Never reads anything outside of the Bible and westerns.”
The part about the Bible was a lie.
“Yeah,” Sodder said, fingering a doctrinal puff meditatively. “A bit limiting, I’d think. Does he ever want to impact the culture?”
“Can’t say I’ve ever heard him talk about it,” Doc said looking astonished.
“Solid people might get so wrapped up in solid work they might forget to look out into the sands which are white with sinking, you know?”
“You mean the fields which are white unto the harvest?”
“That’s it. It slipped my mind for the moment. Have you ever thought of building something larger?”
“We already got a gymnasium.”
“No, I mean something really big, see, you pastors have such . . . how did that king in the Bible, Beelzebub was it? how did he put it . . . you have faith like mustard. You have faith like mustard you see, and you need to have ketchup and pickles and onions at least, and a hot dog.” Nodding sagely after this astonishing exposition, Sodder paused for effect, then said, “Have you ever thought of building a theme park?”
Doc was astonished. He stood rooted to his place for five minutes. The only sound in the room was of the disappearing of doctrinal puffs. It was the most brilliant idea Doc had ever encountered. It was the hot dog of all ministry ideas. He looked at Dull Sodder almost with reverence. Then he narrowed his eyes cunningly.
“We got to do some fund-raising. I don’t suppose you have any ideas?”
Sodder walked around the desk with a satisfied look. “Lets go look in a phone book to see what kind of connections we can make.” They left the room together.
To his immense relief, Doug was all by himself.
4 Doug Makes a Getaway
After Doc and Sodder left, Doug was able to take off his shoes and socks and (with incredible Marine flexibility, dexterity, and ability) pick the lock of the handcuff behind his back with his feet using an elaborate wire contraption that he found on Doc’s desk. He tried the door to the office; it was locked. He picked it too and decided hed pocket the unintelligible although useful contraption he had found in case he came up against more hindrances. The hallway was silent. He crept down it warily, knowing the building was swarming with henchmen who might assail him at any moment. He went around a corner and found another wider hallway with a gigantic missionary map on the wall. It had little lights built into it to show where all the missionaries were. The lights twinkled in the twilight of the hall. Then Doug noticed that there was another strange light, an eerie and pulsating light coming from under a door opposite the map. It was the youth pastor’s study. A strange hissing and burbling sound leaked out from under the door.
The sound was very intriguing to Doug. But he had to get out of this place before someone started beating him with a KJV or something worse happened to him. Besides, he was among arminians, he could sense, and it made him uncomfortable. With noiseless steps he went past the twinkling map and the youth pastor’s office. Then he heard footsteps coming toward the hallway. They came from the direction in which he wanted to go. The only door was the office.
Rather than hesitate irresolute, Doug decided to duck inside the office. Nobody was there. There was a desk in the office, and also some shelves with a few books but mostly sports paraphernalia. Large posters hung on the wall, sports heros with Bible verses printed on the side and such. The light and noise came from behind a sort of partition. Doug paused inside the door waiting to hear the footsteps pass. He did not care what was in the room; he did not even want to know; he just wanted to get out before it became worse. Unfortunately for Doug, the knob on the door turned.
Doug leapt under the desk with one swift bound. He heard the door open and then close and someone said, “Curse these humans!” Footsteps came around the desk, but they passed along and went toward the partition. Had the person turned he would have seen Doug crouching under the desk. But he did not. Doug realized it was Felonious Assault, the youth pastor, and he watched as the man continued toward the lights taking off his coat and tie. As Assault disappeared around the partition he was removing his shirt, and Doug thought he saw green skin.
This last was more intriguing to Doug than the idea of getting out. He had always suspected there was something different about youth pastors. He was beginning to get an idea, and the idea was making a lot of sense to him. He crept out and climbed onto the desk to look over the partition and see if he could see what was on the other side. Noiselessly he knelt on the desk and then stood up slowly. Over the wall he saw something that made his blood run cold. There was a man-like creature standing beside a contraption that looked a lot like the wire device that Doug had filched from Doc’s study. Only the contraption had tubes instead of wires. Luminous liquids pulsed with rhythmical frequency through the tubes, like a bad sci-fi movie. As Doug watched the green creature, which had Assault’s head, it reached a green hand (without nails, Doug noticed) and tore off its head! But as the head came off Doug noticed that it was only a mask, and a bald, green, and ridiculously narrow cranium was left behind. It rather resembled a football, Doug thought. Then the creature who was Pastor Fell stuck its head into an aperture in the contraption and disappeared entirely, as if sucked into it.
That was all Doug needed to see. He leapt off the desk and was out the door like a man leaving church. He found the exit and shot out into the parking lot, where, fortunately, nobody was around. He jumped into a school bus and it roared to life. He slammed it into gear and blasted out of the compound and through the tunnel before security could be alerted. He was shaking like a leaf.
Afterward, having parked the bus, he sat shaking at Billy Goat’s Coffee, a cup and the whole carafe on the table before him. The employees were eyeing him warily, but they were not jittery people—yet. They left him alone.
Doug had a lot to think about. A lot of the puzzle had come together for him, especially with regard to youth pastors. Suddenly a thought struck him like a jolt of caffeine; he had been so rattled he had not noticed before, not even when he parked the bus and walked off of it: he had never had the key to start the bus. How had it ignited? And how had it turned off?
5 Doug Meets Unk
Doug was just setting down his coffee when all of a sudden an exceedingly muscular person with a lithe grace entered the store and ordered, as was his custom, a triple espresso. With cool domination this person took the drink from the smitten girl who had prepared it and moved cat-like over to where Doug was sitting by the window.
Doug looked up. “You seem vaguely familiar,” he said.
“I am probably familiar to you Doug,” the great man replied, looking at Doug with penetrating intelligence. The man’s hair moved in waves over his cranium as he flexed his brain, nearly shattering his cranium. “I am Unk.”
“Unk! No way!” Doug said.
Unk was used to this reaction by now. He nodded modestly, a little bored, and then continued. “What are you doing here? You aren’t too keen on being in this story, are you Doug?”
Doug squirmed. Now that he knew Unk was one of the characters, he wished he had shown more enthusiasm for staying in it. “I guess I wasn’t really sure what was going on. I . . . I thought that Doc and his pals were arminians.”
“They are arminians, Doug. But that is no reason to fear them,” Unk replied with his characteristic kindliness and firm, quiet strength. “Most people are arminians, naturally. It is a corollary of original sin that I call original arminianism.”
“Wow,” Doug said, “that is a pretty profound insight. I wish I had realized it sooner.” He hesitated a moment and then asked, “maybe if you help me, I can still stay in the story?”
“No Doug, I am afraid that is not going to be possible,” Unk replied gently, his voice resonating with untrammeled strength. “You know that you don’t listen to Bach enough; you’re in over your head.”
Doug sighed. He had been meaning to, but had never gotten around to listening to enough Bach. He had known all along it would someday come back and haunt him and he fervently wished he had not wasted so much time on John Philip Sousa.
“But be of good cheer, Doug,” Unk’s voice, like velvet steel went on. “I think we can perhaps bring you back in sometimes as my sidekick. How would you like that?”
Inexpressible joy and gratitude brought tears to Doug’s eyes as he looked up at Unk. “That would be great, Unk. And I’ll listen to Bach in the meantime. . . . when I come back, can I wear a super suit?”
“Doug, do you realize that if you wore a super suit you’d probably have to shave your beard off?” Unk pointed out with kindly intelligence.
“Oh! I never realized that,” Doug said with astonished dismay.
“How many super-heroes have you seen who have beards?”
“You’re right,” Doug admitted. He had never thought about it, but now that he did, it made sense.
Doug was fumbling with the wire contraption he had taken from Doc’s desk. He ahd been holding it under the table, but now he brought it up and set it on the table. At once, Unk went into an unassailable defensive crouch, swiftly moving the device away from Doug without even spilling his coffee.
“Where did you get that, Doug?”
“From Doc’s desk . . .” Doug said in amazement. “Why? Is it dangerous?”
“Dangerous!” Unk exclaimed, still watching the device with narrowed eyes, “that thing is an Ambiguous Spontaniator from Accounticon. We think the youth pastors brought them when they landed. It is the explanation to a lot of the things that happen in fundamentalist churches.
Doug stared at the device with horrified fascination.
“Have you had anything strange happen to you recently?” Unk asked.
“No . . .” Doug said thinking back over the recent events. “Wait! The bus started all on its own!”
“That bus out in the parking lot?” Unk said whirling.
The bus was still out in the parking lot. But the front was twisted into a snarl of unimaginable hatred. And it had gotten itself close to the front of the store. It was crouching outside of the window, ready to spring upon them.
6 Showdown with the Bus
“Stand back, Doug,” Unk said with calm determination. He realized with his Unerring and Instantaneous Apprehension of Difficult Situations (UIADS, and not many people have it) that the glass in the window was toast. He would have to cross it or wait for the bus to cross it, and he was not going to wait for the bus. In one swift and well practiced motion he took out two ear plugs that were highly sophisticated improvements on the old-fashioned ipod. Using the mental controls he selected the Vivace from Bach’s 2nd Trio sonata in C minor, BWV 526 performed by Helmut Walcha in the organ of the St. Jakobi-Kirche in Lubeck, back on the 23rd of June of 1950. The curious thing about this was that over the sound system in Billy Goat’s Coffee, Doug heard the faint sound of a jaunty hornpipe. Then Unk leapt through the pane of glass and wrestled the bus to the ground, reaching into it and pulling out the whole engine with a quick tug. He set it down in an empty parking space. No more bus ministries for this one, Unk thought with satisfaction.
The bus lay inert on the pavement. People started to crowd around, staring at Unk and at the bus. The Bach was almost finished, but the Ambiguous Spontaniator was just getting started. Suddenly Unk’s ear plugs began to play revivalist invitation music and all his strength left him. He tried to pry them out of his ears, but he was unable even to raise his arms.
Doug stood gaping, holding the last of his coffee, wondering what to do. He decided to finish his coffee. As he turned to find the trash can to throw the cup away, he noticed the AS device still sitting on a table.
I have to get rid of that, he thought. We have to get them all off the planet. And I need to get out of this story until I’ve listened to more Bach.
Doug pocketed the AS device and leapt through the shattered window. As he did, the invitation music ceased and Unk was able to take out the ear plugs.
“We need to get that AS device out of here, Doug.” Unk said.
“We need to get me out of here too,” Doug added. “Isn’t there a way to disable it?”
“No,” Unk said shaking his head. “They are not really mechanical. They’re made out of unk-metal which is virtually indestructible, as I am.”
“If you’re so indestructible,” Doug pointed out, “why did you almost collapse after taking out that bus?”
“The AS device made my plugs play revivalist invitation music!” Unk explained. The fiendishness of it almost overwhelmed Doug; he sat down on the curb abruptly.
Unk continued, “We have to deal with that thing before anything else happens. And with you. Clearly, somebody who starts handling unidentified fundamentalist artifacts so casually isn’t fit to be the protagonist of any story.”
“What are we going to do then?”
Unk took out the plugs again and mentally selected from the French suites the Sarabande from the 4th in E-flat major, BWV 815, performed by Glenn Gould at Eaton’s Auditorium in Toronto back on February 17, 1973, exactly two years before Unk was born. It had always been an auspicious suite.
“Ah!” Unk said as soon as the music began, “I have it!”
7 How Doug Got Out
Doug and Unk were standing in the midst of the wreckage at the parking lot at Billy Goat’s Coffee where the battle of the bus had just taken place (and entered the realm of legend). As you may recall, they still had two dilemmas left to resolve, beside the greater problem of fundamentalism. Unk, thanks to putting on the right kind of music, had arrived at a solution for the problem of the AS device which will be related below. They still had no way to get Doug out of the story, but if you think that all a person needs to do is listen to Bach for 5 minutes in order to resolve all the difficulties of this life, while you are certainly getting very close to something that is irrefutably true and timeless, you are still a little mistaken. Fortunately, there is a way to get Doug out, although whether it will be a relief to Doug or not, remains to be seen. We now resume our story.
With blinding speed Unk darted across the street to The Heartburn French Fry Emporium, seeking a commodity present there in abundance. In three seconds he had emerged from the establishment with a bottle of ketchup which he proceeded to empty all over the AS device. Doug was so astonished he did an involuntary back-flip.
“Unk! Why are you drowning that thing in ketchup? Hadn’t you better use poutine? And do you think it is safe to eat that?” Doug exclaimed.
“No Doug, poutine is not the solution to anything but bad food.” Unk explained. “What I am doing is creating a field of ambiguity containment. It is one of the little known properties of ketchup. Anything placed within a field of ketchup is completely baffled by the substance and spends itself simply trying to figure it out. This is true of french fries, onion rings, macaroni and cheese, olives or normal human beings. It hasn’t been tested on Canadians yet.
“An Ambiguous Spontaneator has to have input from the things around it in order to distort them in unpredictable and unconnected ways. But it just occurred to me, as Glenn Gould was playing, that there is nothing in any way unpredictable that could be done with ketchup. Anything the AS device could come up with has been done already. And you can put ketchup on anything, so there is really no way to disconnect it from anything else. Therefore, I realized, the only way to neutralize the AS device would be to contain it in a field of ketchup. It will not be able to penetrate beyond it. Now I will put the whole thing into a zip-lock bag and send it into outer space.”
It was a brilliant solution. It has already occurred to Unk that perhaps ketchup could be used to deal with a great many other things in fundamentalism, which just goes to show how important it is to listen to Bach.
“I bet it wouldn’t work on Canadians,” Doug said.
“THAT’S IT! Eh?” Said the Royal Canadian mounted policeman who had just ridden up. “You, eh,” he continued, pointing at Doug, “Are out of this story! Eh!”
“But that was the first Canadian thing I said all this time!” Doug protested.
“Do you think we should put some ketchup on him to keep him tame?” Unk asked the policeman.
“No, eh,” the policeman said. “Nor poutine. I’ll just swing him up behind me on the horse, eh, and we’ll get out of the picture.”
And with that the policeman deftly swung Doug up behind him on the horse. The RCMP eh’d one more time, his horse neighed, and they galloped clean out of the Fundamentarlia story, taking Doug to reside in Canada.