by Walt Staples -
Bishop Cosgrove stared into the mirror as he shaved off his signature split beard. “Tommy, you must understand, I’m not doing this for me, but for all the others.”
Tommy Rathman looked at the man he had followed for the last several years in confusion. “But why, Bishop? Why just disappear? I mean, yeah, the prophecy was wrong, but—“
The leader of His Love Fellowship cut him off. “Tommy! I wasn’t wrong! The prophecy wasn’t wrong!” He swallowed, smiled, and continued, “The calculations were incorrect; that’s all.” He turned back to the mirror. “After all, God’s time isn’t our time.”
“But why should we have to run away?”
Bishop Cosgrove glanced at him, then back to the mirror. “We’re not running away. We’re merely…taking a hiatus.”
“We’re still leaving Avenir. We’re still going out to the ice stations without telling anybody.”
The newly shorn bishop turned and placed his hands on Tommy’s shoulders. “Look. Tommy. It would be devastating to the belief of my flock…our flock, if everyone saw that the faithful had not been assumed into heaven.” He thought for a moment and continued, “Now, probably most have been. It’s just not noticeable in the population because so few follow the true path—my path—our path.”
“But—“ Tommy began to protest.
Bishop Cosgrove released his left shoulder to raise an index finger. “Now, hear me out. For some of us, the time apparently isn’t right. For you and others it may be that more preparation is needed on your part. For me, I’m afraid that I must stay in this realm to continue preparing more to receive their reward, as much as I wish His plan was different and I could leave this world of travail. But, one must make sacrifices and die to oneself if one is to faithfully follow the Spirit.” Bishop Cosgrove dropped his hands and turned brisk as he pulled on a top, “Okay, the ship for Ice Station Zebra departs Lloyd Line’s docking station L2 at 23:00. Now, that’s on deck 18.” Rather than his usual fuschia clericals and collar, he dressed in a nondescript workman’s travel suit. “Be there with only one carryon at least thirty minutes before to go through boarding. Remember, just what you can carry in one piece. Leave everything else behind—in fact, it would be best if nothing looks missing.” He flashed Tommy loving grin. “I’ll see you tonight—remember, 22:30 or so, Lloyd L2.” He left the suite.
Tommy wandered down the main community corridor in a fog. Was this real? Was the prophecy false? Was Bishop Cosgrove a liar? He shied away from the next question in the sequence--is God a lie?
He noticed he was outside a church. The sign read “1st Baptist of Avenir.” On impulse, he went in. The church was empty and quiet. He sat in a pew near the door. What should he do now? He thought about his options. He could be at the docking station tonight and go with Bishop Cosgrove and the others and—what? Live a lie the rest of his life? Try to find a job and put up with the derision of everybody for the rest of his life? Or just end everything and cut his pain short?
A hand was on his shoulder and a friendly voice asked, “Need an ear?”
Tommy turned and found himself facing a man with a gentle smile. After a moment, he recognized the man. He was the enforcer who lived down his residence corridor, Stony Oreman. Instead of his gray uniform, he was dressed casually in a wildly patterned luau shirt. He asked the enforcer, “Is there something wrong, Enforcer?”
Oreman grinned. “Not that I know of. I’m off duty and you don’t appear to be in commission of a crime. No, you just looked like you needed to talk to somebody.”
“Do you go to church here?”
The other shook his head. “No, actually I go to Calvary United Methodist. But this one is closest to my apartment. I come here to think sometimes because it’s usually quiet on weekdays.” The burly enforcer grinned again. “With a wife and five kids, you appreciate quiet sometimes.” He turned serious. “Now, want to talk? I listen pretty good.”
Tommy regarded him for a minute or two. He shrugged--what did it matter? “I think somebody lied to me.”
The enforcer’s expression was mild. “The prophecy?”
“Yeah. You heard?” Tommy looked down in shame as he waited for the laughter.
Stony nodded, “Yeah, it was hard to miss with it splashed over the media for the last couple of months.”
Still looking at the floor, Tommy shook his head. “I just don’t know what to do.”
Stony leaned back and interlaced his fingers in his lap. “Well…basically you pull up your socks and get on with your life.”
Tommy smiled bitterly. “Easy for you to say. You’re not going to be laughed at for the rest of your life.”
Stony put his interlaced hands behind his head and grinned. “What? You’re the first person in history to screw up royally?” He shook his head. “Son, you ain’t the first and you certainly ain’t going to be the last. No, everybody manages to do it at sometime or other. Most of us more than once.” He dropped his hands to the back of the pew on either side of him. “As far as the laughter, yeah, you’re going to have to put up with it for a little while. But pretty soon, people’ll be chasing after the next wonder, and the only ones bringing it up will be the jerks, and like the poor, we’ll have them with us always. The big thing is to learn from your mistakes.” He laughed. “And I must have a doctorate, I’ve made so many.”
Tommy sighed. “I can’t believe the fool I made of myself.”
Stony tipped his head to the side. “Oh, you had a lot of help doing it. So did a lot of others.” He leaned forward. “Look, the trick is to not fall for the same thing twice. If it’s a matter of religion, I’ve found the best thing is to go back and look at the original manual.”
“What? The Bible?”
Stony shrugged. “Whichever one matches your beliefs, Bible, Torah, Bhagavad Gita—whichever. In this case, I think, ‘But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only,’ covers the situation pretty well.”
“He and a bunch of the others are leaving tonight.”
The enforcer smiled. “The Bishop and his coterie? Yeah, we know about them beating feet for the Oort Cloud. They’ve broken no laws that we know of, and the creditors will be taken care of. The Law has no interest in him or his flock.” He looked at his watch. “Well, the wife should have dinner about ready, if the kids let her. Why don’t you come along? There’s an extra chair.”