June 1st, Year of our Fair Lord 10, Central Jonestown
The first weeks of the trip for Pastor were a sequence of sounds, smells, names, and narratives. Pastor sat up first each morning on the way, his blindfold to one side, sitting erect and listening to the sounds of the world and of his companions. Fred’s sleep was nigh-motionless under a mountain of regular snores. Jill snuffled. Rose champed her teeth and sometimes moaned. The morning routines were likewise observed. As they rose, he’d tie the cloth back on and listen to their goings about. Rose snapped open a map and talked to Fred as the silver coin pinged. Jill stretched and groaned and hurried open some part of their traveling rations for breakfast. Fred zipped and clasped all the bits and pieces of his pack in the same order.
“What do we do if you have a seizure, Pastor?” Fred asked practically one such morning. Fred was direct like that.
Pastor didn’t mind. When you had no visual cues, forwardness helped. “Medicine,” he said, patting his pocket. “In the meantime, keep sharp things away. Don’t let me choke.”
“How?” Jill asked.
Jill’s questions sprung from uneasiness. Like Rose, Pastor noticed, she tried to figure things out herself first.
“Just pay attention.”
She didn’t ask another question, back to figuring things out on her own.
An east wind rode high in the skies day and night, counter to the occasional zephyr, prodding westward. Even on days when the sun was hot and bright, it cast a mental shadow. They steered away where it seemed to lower like a storm.
“So, Pastor, can you tell when the Fair Folk are coming or just when they’re here?” asked Fred.
Fred’s gait ahead was steady. Rose had lengthened her own strides to move ahead and shake open the map. Their path was a winding animal trail, but they were near a highway; Pastor heard the steady rush of fast cars in the distance.
“The last one,” he answered.
“So how do you know to move?” Jill asked from her closer proximity.
Pastor considered his various mental glimpses of Jill’s turning gears. When she was nervous, Jill was a fidgeter, full of extra sound and motion.
He decided to explain. “They have something hunting for them. It goes ahead. It makes a kind of mental noise.”
“So it’s like an invisible animal?” she suggested.
“In a way. It was over Jonestown most recently.”
Up ahead, Fred stopped and Rose folded over the map. The ground smelled earthy here, but less damp than the woods they’d come out of to the south. Birds called and cicadas droned. The cars still passed on the edge of hearing.
Pastor turned his face skyward, trying to sense the heaviness of the darkness drifting above them, riding a high wind from the northeast. They were nearly to Carlotta, where they could get much needed supplies and cool their trail. Carlotta was a tourist attraction in the summer, Fred had explained, not far from the state’s northern border. Lots of faces passing through that no one had reason to recall.
Pastor listened to his inner deep, trying to sense if there was danger in this or protection.
“Okay, I give up,” Jill interrupted. “What do you mean?”
He lost focus. It happened too often: people with eyes thought of silence as a void to be filled. It looked empty, and so it was. It’d taken him practice to learn when it was worth getting upset over.
“I mean…,” he said patiently, facing ahead, waiting for Rose and Fred’s quiet conversation, “I only have an idea. The Fair Folk seem to have something like a collection of emotions hunting for them. It feels like it’s rearranging reality a bit too, pushing its feelings into the air.”
“So is it’s like an aura?”
“It’s something,” he said. “It seems to react to negative emotion most, like some kind of deliberate feedback loop pushing the negative.”
“Like a cancer in the zeitgeist,” said Fred from up front. Pastor could hear the map folding again. Fred added, perhaps at a puzzled look from Jill, “Hegel’s word.”
“I don’t need to remember all your philosophers,” Jill said.
A few things jangled as Fred shrugged.
From what little Rose had told him, Pastor understood that Fred and Jill were not together. He hadn’t been in a serious relationship himself, but their occasional, one-sided arguments felt like Jill was pacing in a trench that Fred had already climbed out of.
Without an answer from Fred, Jill had to refocus. “So what’s it all mean?” she asked.
“It’s groping for something,” Pastor explained.
“Can’t it see?”
Rose shifted her pace to fall back to his side. Pastor took her silence as a cue.
“No,” he concluded. “But things felt like this before the King took over, when they started getting interviews and holding rallies. The thing made them shine and everything else look faded.”
“And it’s back?
“Yes, and that’s not good.”
“Because back then they were paying attention.”