Holy Ghost Engineering
Hi there! I’m not dead, just busy. My brother and I are hard at work on a computer game for which I am writing the code and script. I’ll try to post stories more frequently in the coming months, but by no means weekly. Expect screenshots of our project to be posted here as our work progresses, and, now, an odd day in the life of Dumuzid the Shepherd:
Holy Ghost Engineering
A six year old boy and a sixteen year old girl walked down the cracked sidewalk twenty miles from their midtown apartment.
The girl was named Angie. “How about those,” she said, pointing at a wilted tuft of yellow flowers growing from a crack in the sidewalk.
The boy was called Dumuzid, a name his dead mothers had given him. “No,” he said. “But thank you for the suggestion.”
Angie was more caramel than black, but that didn’t help her prospects much, and her orangey-red mop of hair was an oddity that only harmed the first impressions she made.
Dumuzid was blacker than her, and small for his age. His birth mother had been an addict who’d died before he could speak. She’d sold him to his real mothers, and he’d had a happy, if slightly unusual upbringing, but then they’d died too. He was only six, but the shine in his unblinking eyes and the quiet smile on his lips told a story of the blood he’d seen.
“Those are perfect,” he said. He knelt on the sidewalk and carefully plucked a bunch of Asters growing up next to a burnt-out redbrick storefront. “Mama likes this color.”
They continued down the street, and the redbrick derelicts were replaced by a tall white wall topped with wrought-iron spikes.
They passed under an iron arch and into the lower-middle-income cemetery where Angie’s mom, Billy, had put Dumuzid’s mothers. They walked to the twenty-sixth row and past eight graves.
Here lies Elizabeth Miller and Berylanne McClintock. Best friends and business partners. They are now one with the chaos that births us all.
The inscription had been a stipulation of Elizabeth’s will. The funeral home director had been initially unwilling. He hadn’t understood what Dumuzid’s mothers had meant by chaos. The man had seemed existentially offended, but Billy had yelled the right words and backed him down.
Dumuzid plucked the crabgrass that had sprung up since his last visit and placed the wild flowers he’d picked at the base of the headstone.
“Do you think they’re in heaven?” Angie asked.
“You don’t think so?” Dumuzid said.
“I’m not sure there is such a place.”
They started back toward the entrance.
Dumuzid felt like telling her, people don’t go somewhere if there isn’t a place to go to, and that good things come in inordinate frequency to good people. Dumuzid believed in the thousands of years of faith in an afterlife far more than he believed in the few hundred years of faith in nothing, but former zealots, of which Angie was one, were always the hardest to convince. Also, the cemetery hadn’t been their original destination. Angie had gone out to see a friend about a movie, and Dumuzid had asked to swing by on the way home. Starting a petty argument after she’d gone out of her way seemed like poor taste.
A black sedan pulled up to the sidewalk as they passed back under the iron arch. Dumuzid watched the smile spread on Angie’s lips as a white man in a suit climbed out of the sedan.
Dumuzid had never so much as jaywalked, and Angie’s mom, Billy, was a sergeant with the police, but his skin still crawled around cops.
“Hey there,” the man said.
“Hi, Johnny,” Angie said. They smiled at each other like they might have hugged if Dumuzid hadn’t been there.
“Hello, sir,” Dumuzid said, remembering his mothers’ advice about showing necessary politeness to authority figures.
“This Dumuzid, then?” the man asked.
“I am, sir.”
“The king of earth and of heaven?”
“That’s what my mothers called me.”
“This is Johnny,” Angie said. “He used to be a friend of mom’s.”
She climbed into the passenger side of Johnny’s sedan while Dumuzid rode in the back, behind a black wire grate. The ride home Johnny gave them was less circuitous than the subway would have provided.
He dropped them off at the curb, giving Angie a smile and Dumuzid a wink. Dumuzid wasn’t sure of the appropriate response to a wink. Winking back seemed possible, but he didn’t wink, ever. He nodded.
Johnny lulled off into the afternoon traffic as Dumuzid and Angie entered the very colorful apartment building where they lived.
“It would be better if you didn’t talk about meeting Johnny, to mom,” Angie said as they stepped up onto the red tile of the third floor of their building. “I think they used to date, Johnny and mom. She doesn’t like him anymore.”
“I say very little to Ms. Seward,” Dumuzid said.
“Yeah, you don’t say much to anybody,” she said. She smiled down at him as she turned the key in the canary-yellow door to their apartment.
The smell of canned pasta sauce and dry basil hit them like a wave. Billy wasn’t much of a cook.
“Mom?” Angie said from the doorway.
“Shit!” Billy said.
Angie had been looking toward the kitchen, but Billy tumbled out of the hallway to the bedrooms. She was wearing a miss-buttoned blouse over her milk-chocolate skin. Her ruddy-brown hair bounced as she dashed across the black and white hued minimalism of their living-room and past them to the kitchen.
“It’s burnt!” She yelled back toward the hall as a different white man named John emerged, his pearly white skin quickly concealed as he buttoned his shirt.
Johnathan, Angie’s step-dad and Billy’s ex-husband, Johnathan knew how to cook. Sushi and curries, stews and grilled things coated in creole sauces, he’d even taught Dumuzid a few recipes, but Billy could only cook pasta, and that dubiously.
“Ah…. Angie,” Johnathan said, freezing as he noticed them still standing in the doorway. “And Dumuzid…. Billy and I, we–”
“I got a night off, so I’m making dinner,” Billy said, peeking out of the kitchen and shooting needles at him with her eyes.
The sauce was indeed burnt, beyond edibility. Johnathan threw together egg fu yung with the bean sprouts he grew on the windowsill and eggs from the chickens that lived on the roof.
After dinner, they all gathered on the couch. On family nights Billy usually sat on one end of the couch with Johnathan on the other. The kids usually sat in the middle, but that night Billy and Johnathan sat together, and Dumuzid sat in the hollow in the cushions Johnathan usually occupied.
Angie popped a tape in the VCR.
“What’re we watching?” Billy asked.
“Agnes of God,” Angie said.
Billy gave her a look like she’d thought Angie’s out to tea with Jesus phase had passed.
The trailers played. They didn’t seem to go together, like maybe whoever had been responsible for their selection hadn’t understood the movie that was about to follow.
It started out like a courtroom drama, but soon enough it was all convent all the time.
Dumuzid had never appreciated dove imagery. White had always been a color of decadence, a mockery of the radiance human eyes could never see, and doves had always seemed to him indistinguishable from small pigeons.
Dumuzid woke up. He couldn’t remember having fallen asleep, and now he was lying on something wet and soft and scratchy at the same time.
He remembered a postcard Berylanne had kept in her curio case. Elizabeth had once gone away on business to Japan, and that was the postcard she’d sent home. The back had read, Business concluded. I might be home before you get this. The front had been a photo of mount Fuji, reproduced in small inky blotches.
As he lay on that beach, what towered above him wasn’t a mountain. It was a wave, still and black, and so tall it seemed to merge with the sky. It was waiting to crash down on him.
There were people there with him. They must have been there all along, but the wave had distracted him. They weren’t wearing swimsuits.
There were women in strange armor with helmets that looked like conch-shells, and men in loincloths, and other men wearing uniforms, possibly military, but nothing like what the movies showed them wearing in Vietnam.
There was a young woman wearing a kool-aid-green sundress and a hot-pink windbreaker. She was standing in the frozen ocean foam, frozen in time rather than by temperature. She had flip-flops on her pale feet, appropriate for the beach at least.
She was facing the huge wave, holding a broken bottle in her hand. Next to her in the foam, stood an average looking man gripping a fire-axe.
The two of them slowly turned, their eyes landing on Dumuzid.
Dumuzid glanced behind him at the empty sand that rolled on for miles and turned back to find the pair still staring at him. The girl whispered something to the man. He nodded, and she gave Dumuzid a smile that made him shiver.
“You made it,” a voice said as the pair turned back to face the wave.
Dumuzid turned around again, and where there had been white sand there was now a woman in a lavender dress. And it wasn’t sand beneath him anymore, but the cool sensation of his mother’s lap.
“That doesn’t explain why we’re here,” Elizabeth said, sitting on the sand next to them.
“Maybe we’re his spirit guide, or guides,” Berylanne suggested.
“Mama,” Dumuzid said.
“Hello, darling,” Berylanne said.
Salt water rolled down Dumuzid’s cheeks as Elizabeth watched him. “Hush, Dumuzid,” she said. “We don’t have time.”
He knew that must be true. Whether this was a dream or something stranger, both dreams and visions sent by God are so very brief.
The tears refused to stop, so Dumuzid turned inward. He sent himself to the quiet place Elizabeth had taught him to enter.
He’d never before had a clear image of that place in his mind, but he realized now he’d always been coming here. His feet had always been in the sand and the wave had always been looming over him.
“Why am I here, Mother?” he asked as his cheeks began to dry.
“This is the first place,” Elizabeth said.
“Where things started, and where they’ll start to end. Like an assembly line,” Berylanne said.
Elizabeth picked up a handful of sand and let it slip through her fingers. “This was once the bedrock on which the kingdom of heaven was built.”
“This is where you will make your home,” Berylanne said, “but now you need to wake up.”
Something caught Dumuzid’s eye. The girl in green and pink readied her bottle and the man raised his axe overhead.
There was something under the still water, something dark and moving.
“Wake up!” Elizabeth screamed.
Dumuzid’s eyes opened. He saw the ceiling fan in his bedroom and Angie standing over him in the dark.
“You were crying,” she said.
“I need to go,” Dumuzid said. Crawling out from under his covers, he found himself in the Spider-Man pajamas Johnathan had gotten for him. He took them off and left them folded on top of the hamper. He found the suit Johnathan bought him for church.
“Where to?” Angie asked as he dressed
“You don’t believe in heaven,” Dumuzid said, “but do you believe in the flood?”
“Of course,” Angie said. “The waters are always rising.”
Dressed, and very presentable, he walked out into the dark hallway as quietly as he could in his polished loafers.
He stopped in front of the hall-closet where Johnathan kept his gardening supplies. The shovel was too large for him to carry, but the handle of the trowel fit nicely in his pocket.
He left, closing the canary-yellow door behind him.
The night was dark, barely held back by the flickering street lights, and acting on what might easily have been a dream was seeming less and less logical.
He felt a warm hand on his shoulder as cool fingers intertwined with his.
“Where will you go?” Elizabeth asked.
“…A temple can be built anywhere, but it has to be built around a shrine,” Dumuzid said, showing her the trowel from his pocket. “A shrine needs an object of worship.”
“…He’s going to worship us,” Berylanne said.
“His awe is directed,” Elizabeth said. “That’s all that matters.”
“…I’m really happy to see you again,” he said, and Elizabeth smiled at him.
“Me too,” Berylanne said.