Once upon a time a family was hiking in the mountains. There was a Dad named Dan, a Mom named Nancy, their first born Suzy and little boy Bobby. Just the right number and type! They all had clean faces and innocent smiles. They wore clean clothes and when they smiled there was a bright flash of light as the sun glinted off their perfect teeth.
They paused on the trail to enjoy the mountain view, and Dan and Nancy looked at their kids with pride.
"We build 'em good Dad." said Nancy as she nuzzled into Dan.
"We sure do Mom," replied Dan wrapping his arms around her. "We sure do."
"Mah-om!" shouted Bobby, "it's we build them well!"
They all laughed. And while Suzy smiled outwardly, inside she hoped her parents would stop being so damn corny.
Nancy and Dan were firm believers in reason and they taught the kids geography as well as the other sciences. They knew all about erosion, soil deposition, rock building and plate tectonics. And that’s how they liked it. Straight forward and sensible physics to explain the world, unencumbered by hubris, half-truths and self-deception. Everything smelled so good!
As the trail curved around the mountain they were presented with a broad new vista. A valley below ran parallel to their path. On the other side was a chain of mountains like the one they were on. Up ahead another valley joined at 90 degrees to this one, stretching far off into the distance, bordered by tall mountains on both sides.
Dan and Nancy got excited and told the kids that once they hiked a little further, they would have a spectacular view down the long valley.
“Somewhere around that ridge over there.” said Dan.
"It will be a big reward for all the hiking we’ve done!" said Nancy.
“Oh Goody!” said Suzy, and
“Jeepers!” said Bobby.
They redoubled their efforts and made good time. The spot with the big view drew nearer. They climbed a small rise excited to see the other side.
There they beheld a most curious sight. A lone and massive tree clung to the rock, as much twisted root as sprawling trunk. It was almost dead, it’s once prodigious bulk now dried out and silver under the mountain sun. But a few new branches down low still bore green leaves. It’s history of thriving and dying back could be read by the practiced eye. On the rocks below the old giant, it cast enough shadow to foster a thriving community of other small trees, some had grown gnarly and twisted, while others were straight and true.
They paused to cool down in the shade and sip from their canteens.
"So this is the Inner Valley" said Nancy looking at her map. "And that over there is the Outer Valley. One more ridge to go, and we will have an amazing view." Now refreshed they continued on.
But as they came around the final bend they were shocked to see a pavilion, built at the very spot of the good view. The place didn't look like a government funded facility but more of a private enterprise. If there was an entrance fee they would be severely disappointed. Is no place sacred from greed driven people? What is it even doing out here in the wilderness?
The slope was steep above and below it, so the only option was to go inside. They approached with caution, somewhat annoyed that a natural wonder free for everyone had been hijacked by the builders of this structure.
A row of dirty glass doors fronted the building, some hung askew on damaged hinges, while others swayed half open, pushed out by a warm wind from the inside. A sign on the wall read Exit Only. Inside there was a row of money collecting turnstiles and each one had been vandalized. Some of the 3 pronged wheels spun freely while others were missing altogether. The place was dusty and there was an echo of disuse and oblivion. Inside, mirrors on both sides were almost parallel, giving Dan and Nancy a view of hundreds of themselves fading off to infinity. The kids weren't tall enough to see it.
"Odd that turnstiles were positioned at an exit," wondered Dan, "Did people go in through the out door?" Each turnstile had a small plaque riveted onto it.
"They all have their own names!" said Suzy, "Mine says Cosmo ... logical!"
"And mine says Teleological" replied Nancy.
"Mine says more litty." said Bobby.
Dan was looking at the walls, on each a symbol was prominently displayed. One was a Y shape cut out of expensive wood, like a ceremonial sling shot. And the other a graphic of a growing young seedling.
In silence they proceeded down a corridor that curved to one side. The dusty cement floor became a plush carpet kept meticulously clean. Finally they came upon a wide open area where multiple doors led into a large auditorium. Inside, a few people sat scattered among the seats.
They were met by a man with a beaming grin. "Welcome friends, I'm Brother Salmi. How may we help you today? Are you picking up or dropping off?" He turned to grin at the kids.
"We're a family" said Dan.
"And these are our kids." said Nancy. "What is this place?"
"This is the Temple of Juzus, where we build the leaders of tomorrow."
Dan was shocked while the others paid no heed.
A man in ceremonial robes marched forward in an air of authority. He was followed by an entourage of serious young men and women. No doubt the leaders of tomorrow.
"This is Father Orney" said Brother Salmi whose body language had switched to deference.
"So Brother Salmi, what have we here?" Father Orney focused his intense gaze onto the family.
"Picking up or dropping off? How did you get in? What? The old turnstiles!" They all laughed.
"We just want to see the view" said Nancy.
"This temple was formed after the great Asunder," canted Father Orney in a booming voice. "It's a training academy to teach young people the ideals of leadership, obedience and personal holiness. Looking for the view? You're just in time, the sermonary is about to begin, Come, come in, all will be revealed."
He strode past them into the auditorium.
They went in and sat, the kids between the parents.
Father Orney spoke from the podium.
"Juzus in the summer of his purity went to a great enclave. Many tribes had gathered there, the Jezebites, the Anthracites, the Plebiscites and the Ovaltines. His mind was strong and his ideas were pure, while the others became drunk on wine and foolish with false ideals. Their jealousy begat malice and as darkness fell they set upon him and lifted him up onto the crotch of a mighty tree, where he became trapped and unable to move. The bark of the harsh wood cut into his flesh and for 12 days and 12 nights, Juzus bled from the crotch of the boson tree. His only companion was a small sprout, a twig of great gusto and vigor that grew into his body. It was through this Sacred Sprout that Juzus ultimately found salvation."
Dan's jaw dropped, he looked over at Nancy to see if she felt the same, but she was motioning at the kids to calm down and behave.
The curtain pulled back to reveal a life sized statue of a man sitting in the Y shaped trunk of a large tree. An ambiguous expression was on his face, was it, agony, or ecstasy? The curtain came back all the way and finally there was the view down the mountains that they had all been waiting for. But it was incomplete. Panes of glass painted with scenes and figures obscured much of the view. The painting was recent and lacked quality. On the floor of the stage could be seen broken glass pieces of earlier scenes that had been painted with greater skill.
A children's choir shuffled onto the stage, found their marks and began to sing.
Juzus gives me what I need,
From the crotch where he doth bleed,
Loving Him will be my goal,
Thank you Juzus for my whole!
Giving Juzus all I can,
Is what makes me what I am,
take me where no one can see,
loving Juzus come in me!
Dan winced in disbelief, he shot a glance at Nancy to see her reaction. Her head was down as she whispered to Bobby. Dan shook his head.
Father Orney continued. "For 12 days and 12 nights, holey Juzus was gripped by the crotch, as the Sacred Sprout grew deeper. Finally Juzus had lost enough weight that the crotch released him and once again he stood upon firm legs. Upon his haunches he bore the Sign Of Plenty. Are we not holey?"
"Yes, we are." chanted the audience.
Dan had had enough, he took Suzy's hand, stood up and left the auditorium. Nancy and Bobby followed.
"What's up?" asked Nancy.
"Didn't you hear what they said? They sang 'I'm in' not 'Amen'!"
"Are you sure?" she replied, "As if 'Ahh men' is better."
"Don't you see?" Dan continued. "He said the Great Asunder, he must have meant the Papal Expulsion, when the Pope kicked all the pedophiles out of the church. They came here and built this, this," he looked around, "Mockery. This place is like a school for, for ..."
"Comedy?" she suggested. "Yeah I thought so too, with all the puns about bums and stuff. I'm waiting for someone to say assassin, or cockpit, or bumba clot ... Oh well, they're making the leaders of tomorrow!"
“Enjoying the show Friends?” said Brother Salmi, standing right behind them. Dan almost jumped out of his skin.
“Juzus sounds a lot like, ” Dan began.
“They’re quite different friend,” Salmi interrupted.
“Yes, but the name sounds like … ”
“That is unfortunate,” Salmi interrupted again, “but they are different.”
"Is this an offshoot of the Church of ... "
"No Friend," interjected Brother Salmi, "the people of Abraham have turned their backs on the children of Juzus, and not in the good way."
The sound of the kids shouting at each other faded away down a curved hallway. Dan had enough of Brother Salmi and didn't want to lose sight of them in this place so he ran after. Nancy stayed, made some quick excuses then ran after as well.
Bobby saw a door slightly ajar and stepped in, hoping to escape his sister who was really bugging him. Inside was a woman in a white outfit, who turned to look at him. Bobby thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen. She stepped forward smiling, “Have you lost your way little one?” she asked warmly. "I'm Sister Mample."
She bowed towards him with her arms outstretched, her large bosom visible over the top of her drooped outfit. As if drawn in by a winch Bobby approached with eyes wide and was enveloped in the warmest of hugs. Her arms wrapped around him, her large breasts flowed around the sides of his head. His mouth filled with cotton fabric, his nostrils with the natural scent of her sweat.
“Mmmphh” he replied.
"Come child," she said. "We will join the others." Taking his hand she led him into another room.
Suzy ran down the hall and realized Bobby must have gone into one of the rooms. She entered a room and saw a single occupant. A tall nun stood with her back turned, unaware of the small girl. The nun was holding up the front of her skirts and was rubbing some sort of ointment onto the top of her thighs. She sensed Suzie and raised her head, dropped her skirts and wheeled around to confront her.
“What are you doing there child?” her voice was stern yet measured and Suzie felt a strong urge to obey.
“I, was, just looking,” Suzie stammered “for, the way out. My family and I want to, “
The woman interrupted “To see the holy work we do in the name of Juzus? Come my child. We shall visit the other children while they enjoy the sacred commoning.” She embraced little Suzie, turned her around and walked toward the door. Suzie’s nostrils flared as she detected the unmistakable smell of peanut butter. The woman continued, “I’m Sister Yumi, and you are?” Suzie was unable to speak, but finally got out “Sue, san.” She didn't like where this was going.
Sister Yumi led them into a classroom with many other children. They were elated to see her and ran forward to hug her legs and tug at her skirts. “Sister Yummy, Sister Yummy!” they all shouted, soon in unison. The Sister led them into making a sign with their hands and fingers - they pushed their wrists and elbows together while curving their fingers outward, making a bowl shape.
Except for one boy. “Terry!” she barked, “Please make the sign of the crotch!” A red haired boy who had not participated in the mob greeting shouted “No!” and folded his arms, “I don’t WANT to!” “And why not young man!” “Because it HURTS!” “Do you want me to tell Brother Salami?” “I don't care! He's a STINKY!” She pressed her lips together and strode to the blackboard.
There she began the day’s lesson, an introduction to the teachings of Juzus. “When Juzus first entered the wood, his limbs were knotted with pain. He sought to relax himself by sitting on the soft grass beneath a large tree. But the evil Plebistines took hold of him, and forced him down onto the crotch of another tree, one they had selected for their evil purpose. A sapling was at the center that entered the rump of Juzus and from there did he bleed. He tried to escape but could not. So he meditated away the pain, and while bleeding upon the crotch, he became illuminated.”
Dan had lost sight of the kids. Why were all these corridors curved? He paused at a door, and through a tall thin rectangle of glass he saw some young women sitting around. He stepped in to ask if they had seen any kids running by. They all jumped to their feet and began to circle him. He stammered out a few words but saw they were being ignored. He felt like a prey animal surrounded by predators. He turned to leave but was blocked by one who had dropped to her knees.
"Don't you want to make me happy?" she implored with wide eyes and mouth. He tried to step around but another confronted him with her torso. "If you obey me then I'll obey you." she said. This was getting weird. They were acting like basketball players, blocking him but not touching him directly. He scraped one off against the other and the door was within reach. "Wench!" one shouted at another. "Whore!" "Slut!" "Skank!"
Dan used the distraction to dart towards the door. Noticing his motion the women forgot their differences and lunged after him. He was almost through when they gripped his pant leg and wouldn’t let go. He unzipped the fabric leg of his hiking pants. Many hands pulled it away and he was through. Through the window he saw their faces pressed up to the glass, their mouths opening like breathing fish. Even though the door was unlocked they didn't open it. He ran down the hall.
Up ahead he saw Suzy dragging Bobby out of a room. He got to them and held their hands. Farther on a door opened and Nancy stepped out, looking dazed and confused. Together again, they all ran looking for a way out. Behind them they heard shouts of pursuit. A side corridor branched off, it had the bare cement and dusty floor like the one they had come in. They ran that way.
This corridor became choked with junk and old storage boxes. The shouting voices faded, and they realized they were looking for Terry and not them. They calmed down, found their flashlights and moved forward with caution. They were at a dead end.
“This can’t be!” said Dan. “There must be another way out!” Nancy had an intuition and began dragging away piled up boxes, revealing the top of a ladder. It led down to a pit. They climbed down, at the very bottom was a metal port hole of the sort found in submarines, with a raised wheel in the center. They knelt down, grabbed the wheel and all began to turn. It was locked tight at first then slowly began to budge, then spun easily.
They lifted up the hatch and a cool draft of fresh air blew up into their faces. The silence was refreshing. All four of them knelt down to peer into the darkness. They saw nothing. Suzy had a small ceramic head of Juzus that had broken off a statue and she dropped it into the void. Almost immediately it struck something hard and echoed. The drop could only be 7 or 8 feet.
Dan took the lead and dropped through feet first. His hands clung to the edge of the hole and his feet dangled into darkness. He hoped that the sound was not an anomaly and there was a floor beneath him, and not something like a stalagmite. He didn’t want to share the same fate as the Holey Juzus. Resigning himself to his situation he let go.
Almost immediately he landed on solid rock. He tamped around to explore and was relieved to find a flat plane beneath his feet. He called to the others, Nancy lowered Bobby first, then Suzy. Dan carefully lifted them down to the ground. Nancy made a brief glance around her then took the plunge herself, hanging from her hands. Dan’s strong arms gripped her from below as she let go. His hands lingered on her rump for a moment longer than necessary.
“Ahem.” Nancy cleared her throat, as he dropped her down. “Where is your pant leg?” she coolly asked. “Oh yeah” he decided to make a guess. “And where’s your panties?” he flatly stated. She stared at him and turned red. Her hands smoothed down the front of her hiking skirt. Bobby looked back up at the port hole with longing. Did this mean he would never be hugged by Sister Mample again? Suzy slapped at his ribs with the back of her hand and said "Snap out of it you." "No you stop it." he replied.
Above them the port hole fell shut and locked itself. They waited in silence as their eyes became accustomed to the dark. Dan had never been so happy to see the back end of a place.