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"Praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition."

Dreamed 1993/1/31 by Chris Wayan

Two months before government agents attacked the religious headquarters of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas--a siege whose final assault ended in the deaths of over eighty people, many of them children--two months before, I had a dream. Not about the massacre in Waco. Not exactly.

I'm being guided through a museum of Southwestern folk art. The guide's good: explains "motifs looking abstract are really religious symbols: lightning, birds, sacred mountains." In the Mexican wing, a crowd of painted tin retablos covers a piano. He peels the bright faces off the keyboard (they hiss like cymbals) as he laughs "Time for a little music" and plinks away on the piano, serenading the icons.

He's whimsical and affectionate toward all the skulls and sacrifices and fanged gods in the Mexican wing, but I find them gruesome. Death crowding out the rainbows, watersnakes, dragonflies and hummingbirds of the Ancients. Does the land always have to be paved with warriors and sacrifices? It's not just the Conquistadores; that old Aztecan death cult did just fine, spread all the way up to the Mississippi pyramids without any assist from those charming folks who brought you the Inquisition.

Maybe it's religion in general I don't like. My mind's on religion these days: a new cult messiah has been wandering through the desert states collecting followers. The Voice of God, they call him. I'm not sure what I think. The guy is charismatic on TV all right--a little self-righteous, but then righteousness may be a job requirement. I need to make allowances for my own puritanism about power: I grew up in the sixties, I suspect leaders. So I try to look objectively at the changes in this Messiah's followers. Have they grown from what they were?

And I have to admit the trapped depressed passive people who join the Messiah's cult become motivated, break out of the steeljaw traps of small-town life, chewing a leg off if they must, but getting out, getting on with their lives, taking risks--with their new God to push them. Happier than they were.

I decide to go see him firsthand. I get myself some fake credentials and head for the big convocation to be held this week in a convention center in Salt Lake City.

His caravan wheels into town and floods the place. He's getting big! Insisting on privacy, his own people take over all the staff positions, kicking out the Mormons who own the place. When they complain, the leader points out the Mormons have never opened their main tabernacle to unbelievers. Why should he?

So now the Mormons don't like him. A good sign, a good sign.

But they take over the center so rudely. I realize much of my respect for them came from their courage in breaking the Mormon straitjacket--but I like many Mormons as individuals, they're often such kind and innocent sexist bigots. These cultists are graceless, cynical. Their schemes to raise money include things like gambling, running a still. Against their own precepts! Like old-line Marxists: morality is a bourgeois game. They don't really hold much sacred. Except guns. I've heard the rumors, but here in the Complex, hidden from outsiders, they make no secret of their stockpiling. They keep wavering members in line with them... and they have more than even that requires. Far, far more. I open a dropped suitcase, at random, and find a semi-automatic rifle, disassembled. I try to put it together. The pieces don't click in firmly. Yet I can't see anything else to do. Maybe it is complete. No time--someone's bound to spot me soon.

I go to the doorway, look into the main hall. They're opening big wooden boxes... and handing out weapons for the big day. Nightmare: I shoot hulking cultists with a gun that bleeds--stigmata!


It's now or never. Without even thinking about it, before they notice me in the doorway, I start firing.

I'm deaf from the first shot. The gun punches me, bruising my chest. I don't know guns, what am I doing? Committed now. Already they're scrambling, loading. In slow motion. The gun is wrong, if it's been a second or more since the last shot it fires again, but if I squeeze too fast, it fires... nothing? No. BLOOD. A tiny spurt of warm blood.

I don't understand--a gun with stigmata! The blood seems to affect the cultists, a drop makes them dizzy, they almost faint. But it doesn't stop them. SHOOT damn you!

But the bullets only come if I pace my shots--waiting in fear as they creep toward me, nightmarish. I kill several of the best-armed cultists heading for me, crawling up the hall behind folding chairs. I fire from the doorway, killing and killing, but they're closing in on me, intent on reaching me physically and tearing the gun from my hands, and tearing my hands from my arms, and tearing my arms from their sockets.

And I must fire so deliberately, slowly, to get bullets not blood, for it won't do any good just slowing the two huge men lumbering up to me, their boar-eyes glowing red with hate. Oh God they plan to rip me apart. I hit each of them and they keep looming up--I restrain my terror and hold my fire and shoot them point-blank, and they fall at my feet, dying giants, clawing my legs. When those two fail, the cultists break; they run for it through the doorways on the far side of the hall, scattering, I can hear the cars starting up...

I smashed the gun cult. Hurrah.

What have I done? In the hall of my dying victims, I drop my miraculous bleeding gun.

What have I done?

Someone shows me.

I am...

I am a follower of the Voice of God, the Messiah. I'm on the run. I saw the madman whose gun bleeds like Christ. Never fired a shot at him, just panicked. Ran out of the massacre hall to the cars with the others. We all scattered down the roads out of Salt Lake City like ash from a fire. My heart slowed. I started to think.

I'm a shy man, middle-aged, balding now, never married, never understood women, grew up and lived my whole life in east-central Utah, a little town north of Moab. I just wanted out of the narrow life I had, and the Messiah did pry me loose, and lift me up. But how far? Heaven's like mesas: you climb and climb and reach the top and it's another plain, greener grass maybe, more trees, but the horizon is another line of cliffs. Another wall to climb.

I head west, past the Lake, onto the salt flats, toward the coast six hundred miles beyond. I always wanted to see the sea. And San Francisco. They told me so much, back home, about how bad that place was. All those crazy people doing what they want. Maybe it's time for me to change again. I busted out once--what made me think that was the last time?

In a way I'm relieved to be away from the cult, now. Got so tired of us-against-the world. Could that maniac have been right? Was God on his side? Was it time for me to fly from the nest? He showed a true sign, after all. Stigmata! Yet the Antichrist can work wonders.

I just can't tell. But I joined up 'cause I wanted a life, not to die for the Cause. And I still could be asked to.

You see, our Messiah really was the Voice of God. He talks to us in our minds. Oh, I know what you're thinking! But I mean really talks: relays messages, arranges meetings, gives orders. Direct from God. I'm ignoring him. Keeping silent. Hoping I can jam that broadcast in a loud enough place, far enough away.

I drive nonstop. Somehow I get turned south, in the big-city tangle of freeways. I cross the San Mateo Bridge, and climb the last ridge, and here I am, on some little road thirty miles south of San Francisco, less than a mile now from the Pacific Ocean. I can see the coastal cliffs and Highway One. The sea's different from the Great Salt Lake, it has no islands, no far shore, nothing out to infinity but a few rocks in the dark blue. There are strange spiky bushes in the fields, feathery silver things like props in a Hollywood movie. Someone told me they're artichokes. I've never tasted one of those. An old farm cart crossing the junction, moving slowly. Horse-drawn, with a man and woman walking beside the cart. You'd think they'd have a tractor, this is California. Nice horse though, riding horse, not a farm horse. Funny...

The Voice of God speaks to me. Personally. Dream: I drive off a cliff rather than obey the Voice of God and run over three people.

Found me, Oh God, I'll never be free... Do WHAT?
I don't want to. Knowing it'll do no good, I stall. "I don't know if I can hit all three from this angle," I say to the stale air in my car. I kept the windows closed a thousand miles to keep him out, and look at all the good it did me.

And I'm only a thundred yards away now...

The Voice of God says

No way to weasel. No way out.

I aim my car at the wagon and gun the motor. The roar drowns the Voice of God. I zoom across the junction on the cliff's brink, swerve around the wagon to miss them all, and sail out over the edge. The Pacific vast and blue... The car noses down toward the white sea like soapy laundry, long seconds down the cliff, off the mesa. But worth it. I saved them. Besides, I can't live with a Voice of God in my head, I might do His will. We all get tired. We are God's hands. If my God offends me--I cut off God--

A blur and a slam, and I'm dead.

And awake.

And I wake... proud. Proud I learned, the second time round. God, Government, it doesn't matter. I did the right thing, the hard, right thing...

You don't obey gods like that.

LISTS AND LINKS: I'm Just Not Myself Today - Texas: Waco - psychic dreams - precognition - cults - fanatics - violence - nuts with guns - oops! - stigmata, signs, and miracles - blood - frustration dreams - gods and goddesses - ethics - rescue fantasies - crashes - suicide - giving or sacrificing for others - courage - oracles and divine commands - telepathy and voices in your head - faith and skepticism - Sunshine faces a similar ethical dilemma in Homebound

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