by M.D. Joyce
Triangular banners, red and white, flap violently in the electric wind. Pavilions surround the lonely prairie hill before me with its lonely windmill on top, churning recklessly under this stormy sky. My eyes smart from the sleet or maybe from the realization that my three year crusade is over. Three years of solving the problem the police failed to. Three years of tracking the bastards that had taken my daughter, Mary, away from my wife – no, my ex-wife now – and from me.
I push my way through the crowd with their grey cloaks, brown leather boots, and Plymouth Rock hats, standing nearly a foot tall on their head and hiding all but their chins. They seem so out of place in this carnivalesque camp they’ve created for themselves–like black and white celluloid actors moving across a high-definition color canvass. It disgusts me, looking at them. This technophobic religious cult that refer to themselves as the Colony with their wispy sideburns and patchy unshaven faces. But I look no different, hidden beneath this damn blanket of a coat. Taking the vow was the only hope of ever finding the truth.
I spot the tent with the yellow flag on top of it by the base of the hill. That’s where the young woman on the phone told me to meet her. She’s only a little older than Mary should be now and says she can help. I know I haven’t passed her yet, because I haven’t seen a single female among the scores of people walking around. I catch myself subconsciously gripping the heavy pipe-wrench tucked inside my belt – a relic from a happier time when I had a job as a plumber and a wife who wasn’t in a ward and a little girl who yelled “Gross, dad, stop!” when I blew sloppy raspberries on her bellybutton. We always called her our little star, because she had a dark red, splotchy birthmark on her face–but when she puffed up her cheeks it stretched and looked just like a five-pointed star. She could barely keep her cheeks like that, because every time she did she’d fall into hysterics with giggles.
The ease at which all the colonists interact is unnerving me. It’s almost clockwork, the way one opens a tent flap to exit right as another enters with his hands full. They shouldn’t be this comfortable gathering in these large numbers, should they? They live in isolated farmsteads of only a dozen or so. Today’s a special case, a holy day for them: “the birthing” is what the young woman called it. The entire Colony is celebrating some sort of female pubescent rite of passage. Celebrating a phase of life they denied my ex-wife and I experiencing with Mary. They make me sick.
Pushing through the wet flaps of the yellow-flag tent makes me see the unexpected. What did I expect? Certainly not this. The canvass of the tent seems to be covering some sort of entrance into the base of the hill that the windmill rests on. Barrels and crates and metal wires crackling electric blue leading to smoking glass bottles frosting green. She was there all right. Right in the center, obscured from view. Surrounded by three men with three absurd hats with wide brims.
“I came to see her. You three weren’t part of the bargain.”
“Her name is Matriarch Evelyn,” burped a nervous man with spectacles.
“We are here to take you…” a hawkish man says.
“…to complete your vows, James,” a thick tall man finishes.
Spectacles points at me, “Soldier Hamilton, take him.”
The big guy approaches me and the closer he comes the bigger he gets.
“Come with…” the hawkish man says.
“…us,” Soldier Hamilton says, hand on my shoulder.
Sure, I’ll come and I’ll show them some vows of my own.
The walk down the tunnels is silent and strange – other men scuttle through the crisscrossing pathways all around us performing their mysterious tasks. Above us as we walk are thick metal wires pinned to the dirt ceiling. The further inside the hill, the thicker the coils become and the sharper and louder the flashes of blue electricity are; creating a haze within the tunnel from the smoking damp earth. Between an opening I glimpse two of the colonists carrying an unconscious man.
When we get to the center of the hill the tunnels open up into a massive vaulted space that reminds me of some old-world cathedral. Crafted wood sitting among the dirt and stone and the roar of the giant windmill directly above us making it hard to hear footsteps. Warrior Hamilton and the spectacled man who they call Architect Milton are already moving from behind me to prepare some sick wooden table with metal clamps on it. The hawkish man in front of me is wide open. In a synaptic second the three foot, 20-pound pipe-wrench is out of my belt and with a singlehanded swing I connect with the back of the man’s head.
The skull fragments like a hardboiled egg. No! Too easy! Too easy! I watch in shock as the brain falls out like an overripe fruit. Still connected to the spine it rolls onto his shoulder and hangs there, swinging on his cloak as he falls to the ground–a yolk of red, wet membrane.
Warrior Hamilton scuffles and grabs me but all I see now is the headless man with the brain in the dirt and in the brain it’s shiny, shiny, with glinting dark metal wires flashing blue like the wires on the ceiling. The musty smell of Hamilton is overwhelming as he pushes me onto the table and forces my head into the vise. They close it so tightly, the vise pushing in forces a deafening pressure. I can barely move as they strap my arms and legs in and I feel oil being poured onto my head and the sharp alcoholic sting of a straight edge razor shaving off my hair above my right ear and I guess I can still move my head a little, because when I twitch uncontrollably I feel the skin peel up with my hair. He presses harder and my skin shreds like a pulpy wet paper towel and I can’t hear anything but my own screams and I can’t see anything but Mary.
As the pain subsides I hear Architect Milton ordering others to help him. A press of shapes surrounds me and the table – more heads with hats, and one with a bonnet, almost blocking out the flashing vault of the ceiling. They strap something to my head against the shaved part and I let out a yelp. I hear a crank and a clicking sound and a long live wire lowers down from the ceiling until it stops right above me. The end is frayed like a broken shoelace and I can almost make out the individual lines of electricity jumping between the frays; frays that are as thick as wire hangers.
Two men begin pushing a bar back and forth. The metal pressing against my head starts to move! I let out a silent scream. It’s a drill-bit. It’s going to cut through my head. The pain is unspeakable, it forces its way into my skull as they push back and forth, the pressure increases and I can’t open my eyes all the way–as if they’re being forced closed. I flit in and out of consciousness until finally the pressure relents even though the vise hasn’t and I feel air, cold air inside of my skull. A strange sensation, painless, but like a needle entering my brain. Flashes of orange horses outlined in blue appear before my open eyes and I see her, finally, I see Mary. She’s there, looking down at me with the orange horses trying to puff her cheeks but can’t for laughing and I try to speak her name, but I can’t for crying. I start to yell it, why, why can’t I say Mary?
Architect Milton reaches above the table with the plumber on it and, with a cowhide gloved hand, grabs a handful of the frayed electrical wires. Snip. He gives confused glances towards Matriarch Evelyn, now standing beside him and trying to extend her wet cheeks between sobs. He takes the cut wires, still smoking in his hand, and looks into the hole in the plumber’s skull. He leans in carefully and begins to press the smoking wires into the bloody white tissue.
“Marmatachy!” the man on the table barks.
He inserts another wire.
Architect Milton steps back and opens his mouth “The procedure,” he says.
“…has gone…” Soldier Hamilton continues.
“…as planned,” Worker James completes, supine on the table.