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Coming of Age Suspense Science Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

(Dedicated to the Spirit of Robert Nesta Marley)

 

The onyx-shaded chapel towered to the heavens; the steeple silhouette eclipsed the nearest roadway and beyond. NewFoundBelief Church. Location: Hope Road. Their motto was “Change the way your mind thinks about Religion”. The phrase sang from every billboard within a twenty-mile radius.

 

These folks were proud of their establishment, Bob thought. The church architecture mesmerized the mind. Business appeared lucrative.

 

Bob paused to check for sweat stains under his cream Dune t-shirt. Good to go. The sun sizzled on the pavement. Houston summers smothered the life out of you.

 

Shouldn’t be any cops hanging around church, Bob thought. Bob needed a spot to enjoy his joint peacefully before heading to the library. The librarian promised him the new David Mitchell book would be in today. It was titled Cloud Atlas. Six intertwining stories, reincarnation, and oppression themes. And rumor had it, Mitchell wrote in six different writing styles. Bob was ecstatic. Anything for a reprieve from the chaos at home.

 

Bob recently turned eighteen. He awaited his college acceptance letter in the mail. The goal, to attend an out-of-state school. His parents fought nonstop. Arguing about his younger brother’s behavioral issues, about his mom’s perceived schizophrenia.

 

Bob inhaled his first hit when he noticed two men intently headed in his direction.

“What are you doing on church property, young man? Is that marijuana?”

 

Bob dropped the joint and darted off toward the library. A bum ankle restricted his speed. The two men gained ground on him faster than expected.

 

Thud. Bob’s face planted into the dry, crunchy ground. A mouthful of brittle dead grass got inhaled into his windpipe.

 

“Ptooey”. Bob spit the earth out. “What the hell are you guys doing to me?

The two men wrestled Bob’s arms behind his back. One wore a plain black suit, white dress shirt, and faded black tie, Travis. He was a deputy at NewFoundBelief Church. The other man Pope John, a black cassock with a black zucchetto fitted over his trimmed, white comb-over, his hands cracked and scaly from eczema.

 

“We didn’t have to travel far to find this one,” Travis said to Pope John.

 

“Yeah. Recruits are showing up at our doorstep now,” Pope John said.

 

“Do you know you’re trespassing on church property, numbskull?” Travis said.

 

“I was walking to the library; I wasn’t on your property,” Bob said.

 

“See if he has any more weed on him. He looks like a hoodlum. He needs the Lord.” Pope John said.

 

“Get your hands out of my pocket. I’m going to report you to the cops.” Bob tried to wiggle free, but the grown men’s strength outmatched his teenage muscles.

 

“Are you now?” Travis held up an ounce bag of weed he pulled from Bob’s pocket. “And how are you going to explain this? We have the Sheriff on speed dial. He happens to be a prominent member of this church.”

 

“Let go of me, what do you want?” Bob said.

 

The two men loosened their grip on Bob. “We can turn you in…or…we’ll make a deal with you.”

 

Bob wiped the grass and dirt from his shirt. “What deal?”

 

“Become a member of the church.” The Pope said.

 

“What? That’s it? I’m a member of your church. Now get your hands off me.”

 

“Hold your right hand out,” Travis said.

 

Bob reluctantly pushed his hand toward Travis. Travis revealed a large syringe from his pocket and loaded something inside the tip.

 

“What is this, a black light stamp?” Bob said.

 

“Hold still, this will only sting a bit.”

 

Bob began to resist the tighter Travis’ grip became. “Hold still…it will only take a second.”

 

The Pope pulled his phone out and dialed the Sheriff…ringing, ringing, ringing…

 

“Ok, ok. Get with it already.” Bob said. “What are you tagging me with?”

 

Travis stuck the syringe into Bob’s skin, where his thumb met the back of his hand.

 

“God damn! What’s your problem?” That hurt. Bob rubbed his hand while he examined the tiny silver object under his skin.

 

“Step one of initiation is complete. Next, you come back tomorrow at the same time, and we will complete the process. If you tamper with the microchip, it will alert us. More importantly, it will notify the Sheriff. The microchip is church property. You don’t want to be known as a thief as well as a drug addict, do you? Don’t mention anything to your parents either, you wouldn’t want them to know the kind of trouble you’ve been getting into.” Pope John said.

 

My parents won’t notice anything different about me, Bob thought. His mom and dad were consumed with blaming each other for their failing marriage. Bob went largely unnoticed most days. Walking to the library or reading at the library occupied most of his time. He recalled when his mom pulled a gun on his father and Bob had to run out of his house. The library provided refuge. Books became his escape. 

 

When he arrived at the library, he stumbled across The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Bob found himself wanting to visit the “Cemetery of Forgotten Books”, a place in the novel that housed a sanctuary of rare books. If Bob could live there, he could vanish...along with all his problems.

 

 

 

People lined up outside of the church. Bob walked to the end of the line when he felt someone tug his arm.

 

“Come with us.” The man was wearing a black suit, white shirt, and faded black tie. Travis.

 

Bob followed Travis past the line of devotees. Bob noticed a haziness in the people’s eyes, a soulless disconnect.

 

“We need to validate the microchip’s efficacy. Make sure you haven’t tampered with anything. This way.” Travis said pointing down a long corridor with brown wooden doors every six feet or so.

 

The Pope awaited Travis and Bob inside his chambers. A plethora of prominent figures decorated the office walls. There were photo ops with JFK, Andy Warhol, and Martin Scorsese. Bob saw a photo with the Pope and Bruce Springsteen. There was even one with Anne Rice.

 

“You know all of them?” Bob asked.

 

 “Yes, they’re honorary members of the church. Their donations help fund our mission at the church,” The Pope said.

 

“Which —”

 

“Enough of the small talk, please. Let’s make sure your chip is online, Travis.”

 

“Have you experienced abnormalities with the chip? Grogginess? Nightmares? Perverse thoughts?” The Pope asked.

 

“What? No. Just a lot of itching. And it feels like it is moving around in my skin.”

 

“All is to be expected. So, your mental state is stable you would say?” The Pope said.

 

“Yes. I did dream of a giant bible the other night which I thought odd. It was the size of a grown man. It kept rotating until I walked over and opened it. When I peeked inside, the words leaped off the page and started downloading into my brain.” Bob said.

 

“Perfect. The upload is initiated. This process is simple. You give us six months of your devotion, and after the time window, if you don’t feel the church is for you, you’re free to walk.” Travis said.

 

“Six months? For smoking weed. Feels disproportionate. I didn’t do anything to you. I was minding my own business,” Bob said.

 

“Minding your own business on a property you don’t OWN,” Travis said.

 

Bob stood up and slammed the chair into the Pope’s desk. “This is bullshit! What is the real purpose of this chip? Are all members required to get it?”

 

“It simplifies our congregational mission statement. In the past, church attendees didn’t truly process what religion symbolized. They attended a small percentage annually, but not enough for our message to connect.

 

“And what’s that?” Bob said.

 

“That our Lord is the only gateway to heaven.” The Pope said.

“This chip resolves that. It uploads scripture, sermons, etcetera directly to your cerebral cortex. In an expeditious timeframe, people, and you will reap the benefits of our religion,” The Pope said.

 

“And might I add, another microchip benefit is an automatic twenty percent, pretax deduction of your earnings. Your contribution will be donated directly to the church fund, enabling us to broaden our reach into the world.” Travis said.

 

“Seems a bit excessive if you ask me, why don’t you do it the way you’ve been doing it for the past two thousand years?” Bob said.

 

Bob inched his way toward the chamber door.

 

“We’re using technology to combat…technology. With the advent of the internet, people are becoming more and more distracted. And it is only going to get worse.” The Pope said.

 

“So, you had scientists and engineers develop a hi-tech microchip for a religion?”

“Biologists as well. This chip is twenty to thirty years ahead of its time. DARPA developed technology for the military. We’ve previously worked with DARPA on some social experiments, and they were gracious enough to grant us access to the first-generation chips. There are a few hiccups to deal with, but overall, they’re progressing satisfactorily.” Travis said.

 

“Hiccups, like what?” Bob said.

 

“Well, sometimes informational uploads…become permanently downloaded to your cerebral cortex. To minimize this and other potential side effects, drug use is prohibited. Chemicals and mind-altering substances could compromise your neurotransmitters and disrupt neural connectivity,” Travis said.

 

Bob prodded at the chip, gauging the permanency of its implementation.

 

“With more congregation funding, we can calibrate the microchip to connect us directly to God. This chip is the future of our church,” Pope John said.

 

“Ah, f*ck you. This feels like some bullshit new wave MK Ultra, mind control crap.” Bob said.

 

Bob picked at the protrusion in his hand and tried to loosen the metal scab with his fingernail.

 

“Calm down, it’s a minor sacrifice for a relationship with the Lord.” The Pope said.

 

“I don’t want a relationship with YOUR Lord…I want to leave.”

 

“No one is holding you against your will. We can extract the microchip, but if you breach the agreement, we will also break ours. We know you’re trying to get accepted into Brown University. English major, huh? I would hate for the sheriff to pick you up and you “be in possession” of enough marijuana perceived as intent to distribute. A university as prominent as Brown might have trouble seeing past that infraction.” The Pope said.

 

Bob’s face turned the color of the holy wine. “I don’t sell drugs. What are you talking about?”

 

“Remove the microchip before our six-month agreement is fulfilled and you’ll know what we’re talking about. Do we have an agreement or not?” The Pope said.

 

Bob glared in disgust at the two men as he left the Pope’s chamber, slamming the heavy door behind him.

 

 

 

A few months after the microchip implant, Bob’s parents, Donna and Ernest, began noticing behavioral changes in Bob.

 

“Has Bob urged you to attend church, lately?” Donna said.

 

“He might have mentioned a few times,” Ernest said.

 

“You don’t find that odd? He’s always been an independent thinker. Now he’s converting to organized religion. He even tucks his shirt in now. He’s never done that.” Donna said.

 

“What I find stranger is him pressing me to go to the shooting range, persistently. He doesn’t like guns.” Ernest said.

 

“He doesn’t. His soul is peaceful. He only cares about books and writing. Maybe we should talk to him.”

 

Bob walks out of his room, his midnight blue polo tucked into his khaki pants. “Can one of you give me a ride to the church?” Bob said.

 

“I’m sorry, Bob. I have a meeting in fifteen minutes,” Ernest said.

 

“I can’t either. I am meeting Helen for lunch on the other side of town. I’m sorry, honey.” Donna said.

 

“Is everything ok with you, honey?” His mom asked.

 

“Sure. Why wouldn’t it be?”

 

“You seem preoccupied, more than normal. And the bible thing. It’s not like you. You’ve been quoting scripture lately. There is nothing wrong with religion, it’s just not something you’ve ever cared for.”

 

“Let him find himself, Donna. He’s still young.” Ernest said.

 

“I am. I want to make sure he is ok. You always try to complicate things when I am just checking on our son.” Donna said.

 

“He might need some space, that’s al—”

 

“I need to go meet Helen. I’m late.” Donna said as she grabbed her purse and stormed out the front door.

 

Bob rolled his eyes. He went to his room to grab his backpack. I have one more joint, he remembered. Much needed.

 

 

 

On the way to his weekly consultation, Bob pulled his lighter out and placed the flame on the tip of his joint. “Ahhh.” Bob tilted his head back and exhaled the white smoke and his stress toward the clouds. He found himself at peace again. His thoughts returned but accompanying them was an unfamiliar head throb. His original thoughts were competing with his uploaded, theological thoughts. Bob removed his iPod from his bag, and pressed play. Duppy Conqueror boomed through his headphones. Bob Marley’s lyrivs liberated him. Pure message. Zero obligation to the movement.

 

“Ahhh” Better. What is the church doing to people’s psyches, he wondered? He needed more time to think. Bob detoured from the consultation and took a trip to the library. The librarian said she’d save him a copy of Jonathan Strange and Dr. Norrell. The book was checked out for months, but a copy finally came in. The book was about a period when magic no longer existed until two magicians proved that theory wrong and came along to help England in the Napoleonic Wars.

 

Bob imagined he understood magic. He would change everything in his life. Church consultations wore down his brain. His parents’ arguments made it hard for him to be happy. The library provided his only companionship. He needed change.

 

When he finished at the library, Bob noticed the theological thoughts resurfaced, coincidentally the marijuana faded. What the hell, he thought. “Are these uploads permanent?”

 

Bob’s cell phone rang. “Hello…” Bob answered.

 

“We missed you at today’s consultation. Everything ok?” Travis said.

 

“Yes. I had some things to do.” Bob said.

 

“That’s not part of the agreement. The church comes first until the terms expire.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. I know…I can be by in thirty minutes.”

 

“See you then. Don’t be late. The sheriff is here as well. He needs to speak to you…”

 

Screw these people, Bob thought. He rubbed the silicate glass object in his hand. It was almost fully embedded. Bob tightened the straps on his backpack, took the last hit off his joint and headed to church.

 

 

 

“Deputy, Pope, Sheriff…how are you?” Bob asked.

 

“How are you, Bob?” The sheriff asked.”

 

“Couldn’t be better, honestly. Scripture is downloading. Damn near know it by heart.”

 

“That’s great. We need to talk to you about your no-show today… not only that, you’re in violation of the substance abuse policy. Your chip report shows marijuana use today, is that accurate?” The deputy said.

 

“Yes. Things have been rough at home. I needed a temporary escape to regain my sanity. Is this a problem?” Bob said.

 

“It absolutely is a problem. For one, it’s illegal. Two, it interferes with the neural uploads.” Travis said.

 

“About those, how long did you guys’ upload take for completion?” Bob asked.

 

The three men looked at each other with uncertainty, unsure what to say.

 

“That’s what I thought. I didn’t come here to check in...” Bob unzipped his backpack and rummaged through, feeling for the cold steel. He pulled out his father’s freshly oiled Glock 21 pistol. He immediately pointed it at the sheriff. “Make another move and I kill the deputy…and the pope.

 

Bob forced the three men into the corner of the Pope’s chambers. “Which one of you knows how to remove this?” Bob nodded his head toward his microchip.

 

“That’s the deputy’s job. Bu-, but, we can’t extract it. It’s against church policy.”

 

Bang! Bob shot the sheriff’s leg as the sheriff reached for his state-issued pistol. Bob grabbed the weapon from the sheriff’s holster as the sheriff writhed in pain.

 

“I didn’t want this to happen. I just want this chip out of my hand.” Bob said.

 

The Pope made a pressing motion with his hands. “Bob, o-our agreement with you is not only with us three but with the Lord.”

 

“Now I dictate the policy, numbskull. Extract this from my hand, and fast. Your sheriff needs medical assistance…The quicker the chip is removed, the quicker I call for help on my way out of here.” Bob said.

 

“The extractor is in the Pope’s desk,” Travis said.

 

Bob pressed the gun barrel into the deputy’s temple. “You have three seconds to get what you need. Let’s go.”

 

Travis found the extractor and tried to steady his hands to connect with the microchip. The extractor clamped Bob’s microchip, and immediately popped free, hitting the floor with a clink. Bob reached for the microchip and placed it in his pocket.

 

Bob’s blood trickled onto the deputy, producing a one-tone Jackson Pollock painting on his wrist.

 

“W-we need to call for help, the sheriff is bleeding out,” Travis said.

 

“I’ll call when I walk out of this door. The story when the authorities ask is this, the sheriff accidentally shot himself in the leg while he was adjusting his gun holster. Plain and simple. Self-inflicted wound. From there, we all move on with our lives. If I ever see any of you again, I will expose this church, the microchip nonsense, and your exploitive agenda all over national news.” Bob said.

 

“You’ll pay for this, son,” The Pope said.

 

Bob removed the rounds from the sheriff’s magazine and placed the pistol outside of the door.

 

 “We’ll see.” Bob backed out of the chamber with the gun pointed at the three men before he paused. “One last thing…where is my bag of weed?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




 

 

 

 

 


























July 15, 2023 03:01

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