The Earth would be cleansed, he said. But he didn't say how.
|"What are you wearing to the Baptism?" Peters asked Jacoby. He had to shout the question, for the crowded tavern was boisterously anticipating the parousia with a lot of drunken singing. "I was going to rent a tux, but if you—"
"Who told you I was going to the Baptism?" Jacoby shouted back. He glared over his shoulder at a man who had jostled him.
Wet worry showed on Peters's brow. "Well, no one. But I assumed—"
"You assumed I'd be there anyway." Sarcasm dripped from Jacoby's words. "You assumed that even after he got me fired for asking a lot of impertinent questions at his last press conference, that Mendeka-Tzaile would give me an invite!"
Peters frowned at the ceiling. With his downturned mouth and staring eyes, he more than ever resembled a frog.
"No one's invited," he replied. "We are summoned, Mendeka-Tzaile says."
"You don't have to be so damned reverent," he snarled. "Even a drama critic"—he looked his former newspaper colleague up and down with scorn—"is allowed to be cynical."
"There will be no drama criticism after the Baptism," he murmured. "When the Gates of Atlantis open to us—"
Jacoby pushed away from the bar in disgust. He thrust his way through the chanting crowd—it was the Prayer of Cleansing, which Mendeka-Tzaile had taught the nation on the third of his broadcasts—and pushed his way outside. The lights of Manhattan blazed around him.
There is neither crime nor pollution beyond the Gates of Atlantis, the shaman had promised. Purity and brotherhood there embrace all.
But will Atlantis have room for taverns and tenements? Jacoby thought as he lit a cigarette. He grimaced: It was the question that got him fired from the Manhattan Morning-Standard. He hadn't meant for it to come out sarcastic; he had genuinely been trying to get Mendeka-Tzaile to put a little physical meat onto a lot very metaphysical bones.
When I am every man's brother, he brooded now, will there be any whiskey we can share in a drink? Will I have any cigarettes for which my brothers can lend me a match? And when they are all my sisters, will there be any woman to share a bump and a grind with?
Jacoby sucked down a lungful of smoke; for a week now, he'd preminisced that he should indulge as many vices as he could before the nation was washed of all its shabby glories and rancid follies.
He flinched from the hand that was laid on his shoulder. "Jacoby," Peters said. "You never liked Mendeka-Tzaile—"
"And I seem to be the only one who didn't!" Jacoby felt a sudden fury engulf him. He shook off his old friend's hand and stalked away.
He didn't stop until he'd caught a cab to the airport, where he bought a ticket for Kansas City.
Ye gods, he thought the next morning—a Sunday—when he found the churches empty. Et tu, my brothers in Christ? At least the prairie Protestants, he had hoped, would be immune to Mendeka-Tzaile's exhortations.
Like a flash flood the man had swept the country, in an inundation so complete that even Jacoby could not quite remember a time when Mendeka-Tzaile had not gripped every imagination. From his first appearance in Boston, he had dominated. There followed the whistle-stop tour of the East, and mass rallies in Chicago, Denver and San Francisco; prayer meetings with captains of industry and the faculties of great universities; speeches to Congress and state legislatures; televised addresses with the President cringing respectfully at his elbow.
And every speech rang with—
The first abode of wisdom and the original home of Mankind was opening her gates again after a century of millennia of dream-wrapped solitude. A Baptism was coming, but none need prepare, for the Gates would draw all in. That day was fast approaching, the day when Mendeka-Tzaile would open the Gates with the great Sea-Horn. Until then there was no work to be done, unless ecstatic anticipation was itself a kind of work.
Maybe I am the only one who doubts, Jacoby thought when he found Kansas City frothing with the same excitement as he'd left back east. Westward across the plains he fled, where he found whole towns sucked dry of inhabitants as all traffic—sedans and station wagons, panel trucks and even tractors—surged east. I suppose there had to be one doubter at least. How odd to be the one who drew the short straw!
He fetched up finally, in an empty little village with the propitious name of Dry Mound. There he broke into a shuttered motel, where he drowsed the hot afternoon away. When night came, he ransacked an abandoned saloon and drank himself into a stupor.
It was with a start that he woke the next morning. Baptism is today, he thought with a rapidly beating heart. But how do I know that? He snapped on the radio, and found the network feeds deliriously reporting that the Horn at last had sounded. Did I hear it in my sleep? Jacoby wondered, Is that what woke me? He crouched by the radio.
The feed from New York was the first to go, followed minutes later by Miami. Philadelphia and Washington vanished next. It is coming, Jacoby thought. But what is "it"?
When Chicago fell silent, Jacoby yanked on his shoes and ran into the street. Intuition pulled him to the church, where he shirked the sanctuary and clambered up the inside of the steeple, to perch and peer out the tiny window at the top.
He gazed eastward, from whence he expected it to come. The sun was riding toward noon before he saw the dark line bob over the horizon.
Jacoby felt oddly calm after he recognized it. Of course, he thought, I should have known.
We all should have known.
So high crested the sea-green wall that it blotted from sight the sun.
Prompt: "The Avenger from Atlantis."