I never understood physics.
Newton’s cannonball, after being released by Maxwell’s demon, makes certain that Schrödinger’s cat’s definitely dead. Wigner’s friend buries it in the backyard under Newton’s apple tree.
This mnemonic device failed to get me through my online quantum theory course, but I made my own certificate of achievement via Photoshop and framed it. It hung above the family computer until Cleo made me admit I’d lied. I took it to the bar with me and tried impressing The Duke, my favorite barfly.
All that is to say is that I didn’t know atoms from Adam, so when Peter the priest unhorsed me from my borrowed mare and started in on finding proof of Creationism through “Ginny,” his “Mentula Collider,” I did what I always do when I want to seem smart.
“Oh yeah, Mentula, I’ve heard of that. I think I read about it a while back in Wired.”
Peter unwrapped his holy costume and gave me a knowingly mistrustful eyebrow raise.
“You wouldn’t have read about the Mentula Collider. You’re the third person to hear about her.”
“Right. It must’ve been something else.”
“Yes, it must have.” He shivered in a cold I couldn’t feel, as though the white-whiskered deity himself had turned his face to Peter’s reluctance to remain in and of the cloth. Peter replaced the black felt coat and ivory collar in order, I supposed, to hide his sins. “Come on. Let’s see what she’s up to,” Peter the Pew-filler brusqued.
The tunnel was like any other underground tunnel. Rounded at the top with thick and thin pipes lasting its length. The slight odor of the horses faded along with their equine snorts as we made our way away from the obedient pair. Goodbye horses. The corridor smelled softly of sulfur and strongly of disinfectant. I ran my fingertips along the gray paint. My touch found no bubbles, no cracks. A perfect canal empty of surprise.
We walked toward the multi-colored lights, and when we passed them I realized they were strands of Christmas lights heavily wrapped around one of the larger pipes.
The tunnel opened onto a globular, goldbricked room. It was like a set from a Jodorowsky movie but lit as darkly as a Fincher flick. I imagined robotic doves wrapped in robot rat’s tails. Bundles of artificial vermin entwined as hard, shiny balls sleeping in the eaves above. Remember that scene in Brazil where Jonathan Pryce is strapped to a dentist’s chair and in comes Michael Palin in that horrifying infant-mask, presumably to torture Pryce? It was that room. But with the bricks of that famed road leading to and from Emerald City ripped from the magical, Technicolor land and assembled here, surrounding us with sinister yet slumbering intent.
“Don’t date tall girls,” said Peter, disrobing himself down to his characteristic faded denim overalls.
“What is this place exactly?” That one went unanswered. I tried again. “What’s the problem with tall girls?”
“It’s a metaphor,” he said, delicately unsheathing this “Ginny” like it were a prized Hot Rod instead of what it appeared to me to be: an over-sized mechanical donut.
“Meaning look at this collider and don’t ask questions and listen. It’s time for you to shut up and listen.”
I was too frightened to question his rude demand. But it did remind me of Cleo. Her “my way or the highway” mentality. So I looked on the dictate with slight homesickness. Even a scar can be remembered fondly.
“Tirratarratorratarratirratarratum!” was Peter’s excited incantation. The great Peterdini played an imaginary fiddle as the room brightened. At its center I could more clearly see the circle of tubes of various light densities. Some were fogged over with blue critters like tiny extraterrestrial hamsters burrowing back to where they began and beginning again. Others were opaque. All were vibrating like transfixed neon sign-fringes: brinking and spangling a rotation of immutable energies. Somewhere a faucet dripped: a sound apt for a catacomb.
“Well?” Peter asked, putting his cassock back on.
“Whaddya think of her?”
He pulled at his Roman collar. The god of fashion battling the god of comfort all along his neckline.
“What does it do?” I asked.
“She. What does SHE do? Oh Lord, Benji. Ginny’s a particle accelerator which—”
“You’ve lost me.”
“No doubt. Let me put it this way. With a question: Do you believe in God?”
“Right. Few do. And those that do don’t really. They say they do, but the ulterior motives could fill each page of every book of Demetrius of Phaleron’s library.”
Who of what? Seth would know this. He’s the brainiac. I wondered where he was and how much he’d won. Did Tom know about Peter’s project? They were all in on it except for me. A wave of acceptance washed over me. I was in the club. I got to see Peter’s weird thing. But they probably helped build it, too. Well, better late to the party than not invited.
I rested against a cage filled with blue Ikea bags. “Still lost, bro.”
“Nobody likes God.”
“What’s to like?”
Peter the Pious ignored my question and went to a big switchboard. Something out of a B movie with knobs and gizmos and levers and things.
“Men carried me,” Peter began to sing. “‘Pon their shoulders and set me on a hill.”
The machine was sparking now. The air was growing dense. Unbreathable.
“A host of enemies there fastened me.” Peter’s hands were frantic at the control-board. “And then I saw… ”
I tried climbing the wire cage, but it tipped over, spilling Nerf darts all over the goldbricked floor. I was stuck beneath it. The machine was whirring, lights danced, a high sound spun.
I looked up as best as I could to find Peter with his hands held high to an ethereal thing lifting ghostily from his Ginny machine. Ethereal, yes. Terrifying in its honesty. Ironic to a horrifying fault. My fault. Sweet Spanish boomed about the room. Small pet names I’d never understood save one: Muñeca.
“Muñeca,” the thing shushed to that which it held. “Muñeca, no, no. Aquí, aquí.”
“… The Lord!” Peter returned, now naked as a lark, presenting to me that which I could already see.
There they were in full blue form. It was like watching Cameron’s Na’vi. Me? A Hamlet? No. Nothing foretold by wraiths nor spirits.
My open mouth bubbled out a series of ellipses.
“You’ll catch some flies that way, Benji.” Peter relished in my astonishment and loaded a quadruple-barreled Nerf gun.
I didn’t believe my eyes. A year on and I still don’t have the words to describe what I saw. The visage of what? God? Goddesses? I don’t know.
“Joking, of course. There aren’t any flies down here. Can’t risk contamination.”
“Wha-What?” I pried my eyes from the image to respond.
“The world is like an Olive Garden,” Peter remarked all too calmly. “It’s pricy, but you get unlimited bread sticks.”
“Wha-What are ‘bread sticks?’ I d-don’t get the metaphor,” I stuttered out, temporarily separating my confusion from my awe.
“There isn’t one. Breadsticks are great. Manna from heaven and all that.”
“Benji,” Peter began, turning to me with a clothespin holding a safety-pin in place as he pushed it through his cheek, “you won’t bow to what you see?”
Confusion and awe beat their chests and ran away. Only anger remained.
“I’ll never bow to her.”
“I see a waitress at an Olive Garden. What is this ‘her’ you see?”
“Stand up.” A gruff voice and what felt like the barrel of a gun pressed against my neck.
Peter was at a medical tray, the kind you see in horror movies—a place to keep surgical tools. He was dabbing cotton balls in green liquid and touching them to his pierced cheek.
“Won’t say it again,” said the voice that wouldn’t demand I stand up again. I stood.
“Move slowly toward the exit.”
“What exit?” I whispered.
The gun’s barrel pushed me where its holder wanted me to go. We moved in tandem to a hole in the wall.
I turned to Peter for help, trying to ignore the fifteen-foot image of Cleo breastfeeding Celene, and Peter, as quick as greased lightning, was to his gun. There was a thwack against my noggin before a booted foot pushed me down the chute, Nerf darts sticking to the funnel’s interior.
My abductor was behind me as we slid down the slide. I smelled burning hair, and the orange of a bright fire lit our swift path.
I was emptied from the chute into what I was sure was garbage. Casino garbage. The smell is as particular as particular gets. Moonlight poured into the dumpster, making clear the signs of vacationing over-eaters: nacho cheese, stripped bones of Buffalo wings, fiendishly scraped potato skins, all the signs of an ungoverned appetite.
My reflexes remained dull, so I didn’t think to move out of the way of the rapidly slewing kidnapper.
A blow to the head and I was, yet again, rather concussed.
To be continued…
Patrick Benjamin is a writer living near Los Angeles. He lives with his sister and grandmother.