Friday, December 14, 2012

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Searching for Kolob: take two


I have been working on a little short fiction recently.

At age 14 Hyrum’s father led him to a small bend in a red rock wash filled with stagnant and murky water from a recent rainstorm. It was dusk, 60 degrees, as the two waded into the fowl orange water, naked from the waist up. Hyrum father raised his right hand to a square as Hyrum gripped the left forearm and bicep of his father. “Having been commissioned of Jesus Christ I baptize you in the name of the Father…” Hyrum’s father paused for a moment and took one step back. “And of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
He placed his right hand between Hyrum’s shoulder blades, and Hyrum fell back, into the water, a symbolic representation of death, and rebirth, of being washed clean of sin by the waters of baptism. Hyrum’s father held him beneath the water for a moment, as though he were leaving him to drown beneath the surface of his sins. Then he shifted his legs to bring him up.
After the ordinance, father and son sat side by side atop a ball shaped hunk of red rock. The sun set and a dry desert wind blew from the east.
Hyrum’s father was a wanderer, his face dry and wind struck with white scar skin beneath the eyes and a long tangled beard. Mostly he worked seasonal positions as a laborer for the parks department or forestry service. He walked along back roads with a long slender piece of driftwood in his right hand wearing sandals with faded jeans. In the summer he worked, and in the winter he went south, stopping by his hometown of Alton, UT, and staying until Hyrum’s mother drove him out.
Stars appeared in the sky. Hyrum’s father looked up and said, “Do you know of Kolob.”
Hyrum shook his head.
His father told him it was a star. A very special one. That the beloved Joseph Smith translated The Book of Abraham from an Egyptian scroll he purchased at a mummy exhibition in Ohio. The Profit found the scroll tucked in a sarcophagus.
“No one could read Egyptian at the time, so the Lord, he helped Joseph translate it. The scroll was written by Abraham’s own hand. He described his vision of the universe. Can you believe that? Seeing the universe. It’s wonderful really. Abraham was shown the star closest to the throne of God. It was called Kolob. Do you know what this means?”
Hyrum’s father paused, but Hyrum didn’t say anything. “It means that God is out there, on a planet, just like us. One day near Kolob is like a thousand years on earth.  I think that’s how God created everything in 6 days, and that’s how He lives for eternity. It just feels like eternity to us, but near Kolob, time works different. It’s there,” he said, “In the sky. Don’t let anyone tell you different.”
Hyrum looked up at his father. His beard still held drips of water, face sun hardened and leathery. Side by side, the two stretched out across the rocks, and looked up. A cool wind crept along desert, and Hyrum tucked closer to his father’s warmth. They didn’t speak for a while. Hyrum’s imagination was beaming with thoughts of stars, and planets, and God.
“The lord has to reveal the location of Kolob. It can’t be found otherwise.” Hyrum’s father spoke in a deep soft voice. The kind of voice that exudes wisdom and comfort. A tone that is force full and direct and can only come from someone who has traveled far and wide.
“Have you found it?” asked Hyrum.
“I can’t answer that,” He said. “And it was wrong of you to ask it. The lord entrusts sacred information to those who are ready to receive it. When the time is right. When the person is ready. You need to realize that the lord knows what is best and he works on his own schedule. That’s why he waited to release the book of Mormon. Because that time was right. The world was ready. “
Hyrum was long and lean like his father, and sheepish like his mother. A birthmark the color of weak strawberry milk that reached across his neck. It had a thick round body, and fingers that extended from right to left. Hyrum’s father said the birthmark was an angel wing. He said he lost the other when he fell to Earth. Hyrum reached up to his neck and wondered if he received the birthmark on Kolob.
“Do you think you’re ready?” Hyrum’s father asked.
After a moment of silence Hyrum’s father said, “Focus on the stars. Think about them for a moment. Think about God. Think about the atonement of Christ. Think about the Holy Ghost. Think about Adam and Eve. If you have any reservations, any fears or animosity, push them out. Make your mind as clear as a cloudless day.”
Again they sat in silence. Hyrum worked hard to push it all out. To clear his mind.
“Now look at the stars. Focus on them. You should be able to feel which one is Kolob. You’ll feel warmth in your chest. That feeling… that’s the Lord giving you his witness that something is right.”
Silence. Again, the dry desert wind rolled across the red rock. A coyote yipped in the distance.
“Do you feel anything?” Hyrum’s father asked.
All Hyrum could think about was how badly he wanted to know where Kolob was. He saw it as a way to impress his father. He saw this as an opportunity to show him that he was worthy.
“No,” Hyrum said with shame, regret, and a little anger. “I don’t. I thought, maybe, for a moment. But it was nothing.”
“That’s OK,” his father said. “It’s too bad, but it’s OK. Perhaps now is not the right time.”
The two sat up. Hyrum’s father placed his left arm around his shoulders, and Hyrum placed his right arm around his father’s waist. He could feel the leanness of his father’s body, the roundness of his ribs, and he thought of Eve.
“Get yourself a helpmate,” His father said. “A man needs somebody. Don’t wander the earth alone. A good woman can help you come closer to the Lord. Search for the Lord’s spirit. It’ll tell you if she’s right.”
Hyrum nodded. The two stood, dressed, and trekked across the desert—Hyrum’s father guiding them across red rock while Hyrum looked up at the stars.

The next day, Hyrum’s parents were arguing in the bedroom as Hyrum pulled toilet paper, a small shovel, a tarp, and a change of ratted clothes from his fathers’ small blue canvas travel bag. A copy of The Pearl of Great Price, part of the Mormon cannon was placed at the bottom, and wrapped in a grocery sack. It was a first printing, a valuable book, worth nearly $15,000.
He opened to the Book of Abraham, and in it he found star charts tucked into the pages along with notes scrawled into the margins, a mix of English and Egyptian hieroglyphs. They spoke of constellations, and dates, and the movements of the night sky. Written over one of the pages was a pencil drawing of a solar system, but he didn’t recognize the alignment of the planets. The star in the center seemed much larger than he was used to seeing, and the planets held names of prophets from the Book of Mormon: Nephi, Mormon, Isaac, Enos, and so on. Above the fourth planet from the star was written God’s throne.
Hyrum was studying the drawing when his father opened the bedroom door and entered the living room, naked, his face red and flustered. Behind him, Hyrum could see his mother who was also naked, sprawled across the bed, half covered with a sheet.
 “What do you know of Abraham, and Kolob, and where God resides among the stars?” Hyrum’s father said. He waited for a response. Hyrum wouldn’t make eye contact, and he wouldn’t speak, so his father struck him with the back of his hand. Then he sat on Hyrum’s chest and choked him until he lost consciousness. Before he blacked out, Hyrum can recall his father saying, “You’re not worthy.”

That spring, Hyrum’s father was found face down on a canyon floor somewhere between the Utah and Nevada Border. The Sheriff gave Hyrum his condolences, and told him that his father was carried away by a flash flood while camping in a wash.

The summer after his father’s death, Hyrum sprawled out beneath the stars and thought about his dad’s sandals, how they were made from heavy cracked leather and caked in dirt, sand, and manure, the heels angled to the right like they’d trod many more miles than Hyrum ever would. He thought about his tattered clothing, his beard, and the way he always had the answers to Hyrum’s questions. In death, Hyrum’s father became substantial. Someone who must have searched and pondered and prayed until he unraveled one of the great mysteries— where God resides in the galaxy.
He began searching the stars, looking for Kolob. Perhaps if he found it, he could speak to his father again—maybe even God. Hyrum’s bishop said Kolob’s not a star, but a symbol of Christ. How His power can govern planets. But Hyrum was sick of symbols, and rituals, and faith. He wanted something tangible and real, like his father the prophet. To Hyrum, Kolob was not some simile, or metaphor, or parable, but a reality. A place that could be seen and felt, and if found, would bring him closer to his father.
Members of the church told Hyrum to keep Kolob sacred, but Hyrum knew they wanted it kept secret. Hyrum didn’t talk much, but when he did, he spoke of stars, constellations, and Kolob; often sketching invisible thoughts on table tops with his finger.
Hyrum assumed that he would, one day, view a star and feel overwhelming warmth in his heart. That would be the signal from God, letting him know that he’d found Kolob. He peered through telescopes, and leered over star charts with a flashlight and a white marker, checking off the sections of sky he’d searched. It became his calling. The seasons changed, and so did the stars, but Hyrum never felt the warmth of God while watching the sky.

Two days after high school graduation, Hyrum drove to the headquarters of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City to see the Joseph Smith Egyptian scrolls, fractions of the original Book of Abraham that Joseph Smith translated in 1830. When they refused his request, Hyrum sprinted into the building. He spent two weeks in jail for disorderly conduct.
Outside of those two weeks, all of Hyrum’s 28 years were spent in Alton, where the wind blows sand into the crevices of everything—aging it. His D and L Trucking hat, western style shirt, Lee jeans, and leather-hiking boots, appeared faded, and ragged, and worn. Nothing looked new for long. Hyrum appeared older too. Crow’s feet stretched from the sides of his dry eyes like knots in old lumber, and when he spoke the sound was deep and gravely like sand had nestled into his voice box.
Once, after a long night of searching the sky, he awakened short of breath. He ran to the bathroom mirror, and in the first flash of the bulb, before the room was fully illuminated, his birthmark looked like a hand pinching his airway. Hyrum leaned into the mirror. He tugged at the skin between the collarbone and jaw, scratched it and leaned in closer, gazing at it, his eyes glossy and confused. He wondered if he was fit to find Kolob. Then he thought about what his father said on the day of his baptism, Don’t wander the earth alone.
Hyrum stopped searching the sky, and started searching for someone better equipped to feel God’s warmth. Hyrum had never been with a woman. He’d never felt the fluidity of a flirting conversation, or the surge of confidence grasping a girl’s hand can bring. Girls, like Kolob, were a mystery.
He started in Alton, at the One Man Band. It was a small 50’s themed café with red vinyl stools. On the wall were murals of sock hops and photos of Henry Winkler and James Dean. The cook wore a white collard shirt with a paper hat, and the waitress wore a short white skirt with red sneakers. It was the only place to eat in Alton, and most of his neighbors met at the café. But Hyrum never had, he never felt like he fit in with his neighbors. Didn’t quite understand their manures and he could never tell when they were being serious or pulling his leg. But if he was to find a helpmate, he needed to be around other people. Weeks went by and he never saw a girl that he didn’t know, or she didn’t know about him. Hyrum knew that people called him The Searcher.  That they said he was crazy, like his father. Eyes drifted up, and people snickered, whenever he entered the café. He wondered if this was how people treated his father as he wandered one desert town to another, or Joseph Smith after he translated the Book of Mormon, or Abraham after he warned the residents of Sodom.
Hyrum gave up on Alton, and went south, stopping at other café’s. The first girl he approached was at a Denny’s near Cedar City. She was a waitress in her mid-twenties that held a gypsy like appeal— curly black hair, plump hips, and shimmering mascara eyes with a look of worldliness. He approached her and a rush of anxiety and fear sat squat in his gut, and as he got closer it migrated into his hands and knees. It’s just not right, he told himself, she couldn’t be the one. Every girl after granted him the same numbing anxiety.
He searched for almost a year before he stopped at the Red Rock Café just outside Zion National Park. Cassi was sitting at the bar hunched over a cape codder, elbows on the bar, hunched, a lonely slump curving her back. Hyrum always sat in booths, or at tables, fearful of sitting at the bar. Drinking alcohol was against his faith, and it was his assumption that anyone outside Mormonism, the one true and everlasting gospel, would be unfit to find Kolob. He sat alone at a table and could see his reflection in the mirror above the hard liquor. Cassi saw his reflection, too. She stood and approached him, her stride wobbly and loose on three-inch heels that matched her black V-neck jersey dress. Flat footed, Cassi must have stood about five-two. She was not fat, but broad— hips like a tipped oil drum, wide shoulders, and a flat chest. She had rich brown hair, and a round nose, and as she approached, Hyrum was flooded with a different kind of anxiety, something closer to anticipation.
“You look lonely,” she said, “I’m lonely too.” She pointed at the open chair. Hyrum, unsure of what to do, happened to make the right move; he gave a half twisted grin, his right cheek curling in a wave of skin.
After they exchanged names, Cassi did most of the talking while Hyrum listened and responded with curt yes’s and no’s. There was a comfort in Cassi’s forwardness that granted Hyrum the ability to make eye contact. She said she was traveling with friends, but they were boring, so she decided to get dressed up and go to a bar. She told of her ex-husband, and that she was going back to school to get a degree in Nursing. She spoke of Mormons, and how many there were in Utah. “I don’t go to church.” She said, “I can only think of a few practicing Christians. My parents never even mentioned God. But I will tell you this, I have always known that He exists.” Cassi paused for a moment. The server, a slender man in his mid twenties, brought Cassi another drink. “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was playing overhead.
“You know, you’re a really great listener,” Cassi said. She paused; a slender lock of hair had fallen into her face, so she tucked it back behind her ear. In the silence, Hyrum felt compelled to say something, but he didn’t know what, so he spoke of the only thing he really knew. He told her about the stars. He spoke of the northern hemisphere, the summer triangle, and the Northern Cross, Vega and Denab, and how they map the contours of a woman’s body. As he spoke, he drew invisible lines on the table with his finger.
“I love the stars,” she said. “I was named after a constellation, but my father, he died before he could show it to me. Sometimes I look up at the stars and talk to him. It gives me comfort.” She placed her palm across her chest.
Hyrum nodded and said, “Cassiopeia. It means Queen of Ethiopia. I could show it to you.”
Cassi smiled and Hyrum could feel blood traveling from arteries, to veins, to fingertips. It was something he’d never felt before. The two left the café. Cassi followed Hyrum in her 97 Accord to a scenic overlook near Zion Nation Park, a place Hyrum knew well because of its seclusion and views of the sky. They parked about an hour before dusk and sat next to each other on a large slab-rock bench. In silence, they waited for the stars.
They’d been there 20 min, waiting for nightfall, when Cassi kissed Hyrum. His hands hesitated but then wrapped around her broad waist. She felt softer than silk, or water, or flower petals. She felt softer than anything he’d ever felt. The burning in his heart came again, but stronger. Cassi pulled away, and Hyrum asked if she would marry him. He’d never been so bold, and yet, he knew the time was right.
She stood, drew back her hands, and raised her palms. “Slow down,” she said.
She was about to say something more; she was about to leave; when Hyrum wrapped his arms around her, bear like, fists interlocked between the shoulder blades and the small of her back. He held her close to him, like his father held him the day of his baptism. Cassi screamed, and beat her fist against his back, and neck. She kicked at his shins. Hyrum moved his hands up, gripped Cassi around the neck. She gasped and struggled for air, color slid from her face like water down a drain.
She fell limply to the red rock and Hyrum went to his Blazer, in the storage compartment, he found some nylon rope and a greasy t-shirt he used to wipe the dipstick when checking oil. He bound her hands behind her back and legs at the ankles, and then tied the shirt around her mouth. It was dusk and long black shadows stretched cross the hard rolling Southern, Utah desert. Hyrum placed Cassi into the storage area behind the back seat. He then walked to the front of the Blazer, started it, and let it idle for a while.
One Cassi awoke, he north on Highway 89 between Zion National Park and Glendale. Cassi screamed and struggled in the storage compartment behind the back seat. She banged her head and shoulders against the faux leather covering a spare tire. The t-shirt muffled her screams while saliva darkened the fabric and roused the smell of engine oil.
Hyrum drove for over an hour while listing and waiting. He wanted Cassi to be good, and tired, and receptive. It was late August and the temperature had just begun to dip below 100 degrees. Small stout cactuses transplanted by the department of transportation were nestled between the freeways, an attempt to copy the traditional western desert settings of New Mexico or Arizona. But to the east and west was a more authentic southern Utah view. Dried out dirty green sagebrush and hard uneven sand stone stretched for miles. The sun set with oranges, reds, and yellows, which are only fully complemented by the red rock of Southern, Utah. The night was dark, and to the east, the Rocky Mountains appeared darker.
After screaming, and struggling, and thrashing for sometime, Hyrum could tell that Cassi had little fight left. A forced sluggish rest came over her, and Hyrum wondered if she felt as dry and hollow as he did the weeks after his father’s death. Hyrum looked at her through the rearview mirror. She lay, her back arched, legs tucked, stomach fat rolling in layers, lonely as a slow moving earthworm trapped in rainwater. She looked upward, through the window, to the night sky that appeared motionless, contrasting the movement of the Blazer.
In her exhaustion, bound, gagged, and fearful, Hyrum heard her mumble, and he wondered if Cassi was praying. Once the humming of the wheels and the passing wind were all Hyrum could hear, he told Cassi about clear weekend nights in open fields, watching the sky, and Kolob. 
“My father,” he said, “often spoke of a burning in his chest. Sometimes he called it the Lord’s witness, other times, the Holy Ghost. If something is of the Lord, it can be felt like a burning in your heart. I assumed that one day I would see a star, and feel that burning. But I never have.”
Hyrum paused for a moment. Licked his lips. Gathered his thoughts. He looked through the rearview mirror again. Cassi was motionless. Hyrum hoped she was calm enough to wonder why he was telling this information, and fearful enough to hang on every word. He needed her fear, because in it, she would listen more intently than she ever had.
Somewhere between 11PM and midnight, and Hatch and Cedar City, where the sky was clear and the stars were not obstructed by city lights, Hyrum parked and opened the back of the Blazer. He lifted Cassi beneath the knees and shoulders like she were a child being carried to bed. He then placed her on the small chips of red rock bordering the highway. On her side, with her hands tied behind her back, and her ankles lashed together, she appeared like a slug struggling to maneuver across hard earth. He untied the t-shirt from around her mouth. Hyrum towered above Cassi, and although he was not aware of its effect, his extra height granted her a menacing view.
Gripping her by the shoulders, Hyrum rolled Cassi onto her back. She squirmed as her hands were pinched between her body and the gravel. Her head was arched back, and her knees were in an A shape. Her muscles were rigged, like she was waiting for a blow to come from the side, or for a calloused hand to tear at her blouse. Hyrum stepped back, and stood, and waited, watching her as she watched the stars.
“Do you feel anything?” he asked.



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