Pour Out the Vials
An exclusive extract from James Miller's forthcoming novel UnAmerican Activities
Quiet at last so I decide to slip from my room and risk a look. I knew Daddy had gone off to an all-night revival. Earlier, Mom was also full of the Holy Spirit as well as another sort of spirit, guzzling vodka from the bottle and calling on the Lord Jesus to do this and that, cleanse our sins and strike down the abortion doctors and evolutionists, all the usual. But she’d been quiet for the last half hour so I figured she must have zonked out by now. I’m right: there she is, sprawled on the sofa, mouth open, snoring away. I scan the area to check to make sure she hasn’t left any cigarettes burning – the last thing we need is her setting fire to the new sofa like she did with the old – then I go over to her laptop.
She’s left it open and, as I suspected, she’s been online reading the NewOathKeepers blogspot again. I squeeze next to her slumbering body and take a look at what Earl’s got to say for himself. He updated the blog a couple of hours ago with new text and a number of embedded videos. It’s risky, doing this: Mom would go ape-shit if she found out I knew about Earl. Her breathing is rather laboured, a sort of ropey wheeze but I don’t think I’m going to disturb her. She’s too far gone.
I start to read:
Fellow Patriots! Below we have a number of video files recovered from a camcorder belonging to Jennifer Fairweather, a student from Cornell University. As far as I understand, Fairweather is part of a scientific research team from Cornell sent to Stanley in North Dakota at the bequest of the oil industry to investigate new sinkholes that may or may not have been caused by extensive fracking in the area. At present the whereabouts of Jennifer Fairweather and other members of the research team remain unknown. The footage is directly connected to events we believe have led to the recent quarantining of the town by the Feds. I was given the footage by one of my contacts at the FBI. He told me they found the camcorder on the outskirts of Stanley. Regular readers will know that for a long time I’ve been suspicious of this so-called ‘fracking’. Are these companies really extracting oil from the earth or is it, in fact, another diabolical strategy by the New World Order to poison and control us all? These events remind us of the importance of our sacred oath and our promise to uphold the Constitution and defend our fellow Americans against the tyranny of unjust laws and the infringement of our freedoms. In this instance the New World Order are going beyond the bounds to threaten us, to threaten our children, our children’s children and everything that makes America a great nation. It seems to me, fellow patriots, that this footage is the strongest evidence yet that the conspiracy involves not only the Federal Government and US Military, but also the state government of North Dakota, Exxon, Chevron Mobile and other corporations involved in oil extraction operations and their Illuminati backers. Watch the footage and judge for yourself. Behold the madness and disease that smites these so-called scientists. It’s like the Book of Revelation says, ‘I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; and there fell a noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image.’ Watch the videos and behold as Revelation is fulfilled. Yea, my friends, patriots and true believers, watch and repent if you have not done so, for a mighty judgement shall fall on us all. My fellow Oath Keepers will be well aware that in my commitment to the truth, I’ve faced many threats. I’ve said it before and let me say again, I’d rather die a free man in the light of the truth than be a slave languishing in darkness! Illuminati might mean light, but the secretive activities of our nefarious leaders cast a long shadow over the so-called free world. Our forefathers stood up against tyranny in defence of liberty – we must follow their example. I have my rifle and my Bible by my side: let them come, I say, let them come. Yours, as ever Earl Landis
The usual fuss and bluster. Some of Earl’s blog is so badly written it’s actually embarrassing. I mean, I figure I could do better and I’m fifteen. I get the sense he’s never really sure what he’s on about. Illuminati, New World Order, Book of Revelation, blah, blah, blah. All the same, I scroll to the first video file, press play and then immediately pause it, forgetting to put my headphones on and worried in case the audio wakes Mom.
I go back to my room and fetch my headphones. As I do so, I hear Mom in my head, as always. ‘Esther,’ she says, ‘it’s like what’s written in the good book. The devil makes work for idle hands so don’t you go concerning yourself with things that’s not your business.’ That’s Mom though, always making stuff up and pretending it’s in the Bible as if that’s going to win the argument. My mom has never even read the whole Bible.
I’ve been stuck at home for so long now I’m going mad with boredom. Nearly a year since Daddy had the ‘incident‘ in Disney World and lost his job, eight months since they pulled me out of school, three months since we went any further than the church which is just eight blocks away. We don’t even go out shopping anymore. Mom gets it all delivered online. Everything out there is ‘corrupt‘ according to her, but I just see a street lined with bungalows identical to the one we live in. Mom goes on about how the neighbourhood has gone ‘downhill‘ and keeps saying we need to move to a more righteous place but I don’t know if we’re ever going anywhere. I worry I might be stuck here for good.
I guess I can at least watch the videos and imagine I’m visiting Dakota. I do remember something in the news a few weeks ago about an outbreak of a mysterious illness up there – Fox got all excited for a day or two that it might be Ebola – but I don’t know what happened to the story. It disappeared, like stories do. Nothing really seems to connect or continue anymore – it’s like things start and things finish and other stuff happens in between and none of it makes sense. I turn on the TV one day and there’ll be a revolution in some country in the Middle East and everybody’s happy about it, the people are taking their freedoms, they want democracy, then a week later I turn on the TV and we’re dropping bombs on the same people we were supporting just before. Or I’ll see that some city mayor or governor is being indicted for fraud or got caught out with crack and paying prostitutes to urinate all over them and the next thing I see they’re on the TV again, running for something or other and everyone’s cheering. I try to pay close attention – what else can I do? But all the connections are broken. Nothing makes sense. There is the law but it doesn’t stand up the same for everyone. Some people murder and go scot-free. Some people get put away for crimes they didn’t even commit. Above that, according to Mom, there’s God’s law but I don’t see God doing much to help anybody, least of all us.
Mom is still out of it. I see she drank most of the bottle. I roll it under the coffee table, where it joins the others. The house is filthy – Mom never does anything, Dad’s always at church, it’s just me. I’ve cleaned up once or twice but right after I finish Mom has the place half back to where it was before. So I lock myself in my room and read history books. No school and Mom has banned my friends from coming over, says they haven’t been ‘saved’. I keep thinking about sneaking out but it’s too far to walk anywhere. ‘Why do you have to ruin my life?’ I whisper at Mom. I know I shouldn’t but sometimes I really do hate her ugly stupid face. A slither of drool escapes from the side of her mouth and trickles down her cheek.
Okay. I take a deep breath, sit down and plug in my headphones.
I start the first video file. It’s hard to work out what’s going on, the camera jerks around before I see a chubby woman who I guess is in her mid-twenties, with glasses and short blonde hair. She checks the camera is working, then sits down on a bed. She’s wearing a fleece and jeans and must be in a hotel room. ‘So we finally made it,’ she says. ‘It’s been a long and tiring day. I’ve never been to the Dakotas before and this is likely to be our last night in civilisation for quite some time. Tomorrow we’re going to the site to look at this.’ She holds up a photograph of a huge black hole, surprisingly even in shape, a black disc against the reddish ground. ‘Sinkholes. Lots of them. Professor Dyer says the largest are more than sixty feet wide, perhaps bigger. How deep it goes, at this stage, nobody knows. Dyer says that dozens of new holes have been reported in the last three weeks alone—’
She’s interrupted when the door to her room opens and a young man appears. ‘Jenny, come and take a look at this.’
Jennifer picks up the camera. There’s a brief interlude as she goes outside. It’s dark but the camera tries to focus on a bright light in the sky that seems to hover for a moment before flaring up and burning out. ‘Oh my God,’ says Jennifer. ‘What an amazing shooting star.’
‘The sky is so clear out here, it’s incredible,’ says another voice. Then the footage cuts out.
That seems to be it for the first video file.
I get up and drink a glass of water. Mom mumbles something in her sleep. ‘Oh shut up Mom,’ I whisper at her, clicking on the second.
In this one Jennifer is sitting close to the camera, wearing a woolly hat pulled right down over her ears. It’s windy – I think she’s in a tent – and it’s difficult to make out what she’s saying. She says something about how hard it was to get there and that the weather is ‘awful’. Then the screen starts to blur and break up with static. Someone else in the tent is speaking to her but I can’t hear a word. The footage ends.
I sort of wonder whether it’s worth continuing with the files. Ever since I discovered Mom was having a secret correspondence with Earl, I’ve been keeping an eye on his blog and it’s mostly just ridiculous conspiracy theories. For example, someone will report that the army is doing an exercise in Texas and send him photos of some tanks on the highway and he’ll start posting about Texas being ‘invaded‘ and ‘occupied’. If anything like this really did happen I reckon he would run a mile but until then I’d say Earl is enjoying his fantasies.
Whatever. I click on the third file.
The camera footage is very wobbly and seems to be looking at a large hole. It pulls back to reveal a number of people standing at the edge. It’s windy and the wind makes it hard to hear what’s going on but I can just about make out several voices, in English and Spanish. The camera turns to a middle-aged guy with a big beard wearing an orange windbreaker. ‘This would appear to be the largest of the holes,’ he’s having to shout. ‘We’re calling it Big Mac for the time being. We are approximately one point five miles north, north-west from the campsite. As you can see—’ the wind drowns him out for a moment, ‘…There are several other sinkholes close to here although we think the others are smaller. What’s surprising is that this is a new hole. It’s not on the recent satellite photos which would suggest it appeared in the last sixty-four hours or so.’ The camera pans around to show a dozen or so individuals, mostly wrapped up against the wind with scarves, hoods and sunglasses. The camera advances close to the edge. Another man, wearing a protective suit and a helmet mounted with a torch and a GoPro camera is strapping himself into a safety harness. Men are preparing to lower him into the hole. The film cuts out.
Okay, I admit I’m intrigued. This is better than Earl’s usual crap. I can see why people are worried about fracking. Carly sent me a video about it on Facebook – showing how they pump tons of chemicals deep into the earth and how it can poison the water supply, even cause earthquakes and if that’s not true, it doesn’t sound good. The funny thing is my parents don’t usually give a damn about these issues. Mom likes to quote Sarah Palin saying God put everything in the earth for us to use. Elsewhere on the blog I’ve seen Earl call global warming a hoax and another attempt by the ‘Illuminati’ to control us and tell us what we can and can’t do. All I know is each year is hotter than the last and every hurricane season more fearsome than the one before.
I watch the next file.
We’re in a larger tent. The guy with the beard is standing at the front, talking. ‘So, team, it looks like “Big Mac” drops about eighty-five feet, the hole remaining remarkably consistent in terms of circumference all the way down to a mound of displaced top soil – again suggesting that it opened up recently. Dr Schaffer’s exploration,’ and he gestures at the guy standing next to him, ‘would suggest there are numerous small crevices and off-shoots leading away from the main vault. Furthermore, the sides of the hole are unusually smooth. I’ve seen plenty of much larger holes than this, but for one to open up so suddenly and for so many to appear in such a short space of time is most peculiar—’ Mom stirs, mumbling and shifting slightly on the sofa, one of her feet pushing against me. ‘Fucking load of shit,’ she mumbles to herself. ‘We wouldn’t expect,’ the professor continues, ‘this type of cover collapse hole to emerge here, not like this and not unless the fracking activities have had a very extreme effect on the water table—’ His voice is drowned out by the wind, which shakes the tent, a continuous and dramatic howling. The camera cuts out.
Okay. Next one.
I can’t see anything. Just darkness and the sound of heavy, anxious breathing. Then a voice – Jennifer – speaking while she seems to be walking about in the dark. ‘What a terrible nightmare,’ she says. ‘At least that awful wind has stopped. Gosh, it’s so dark and quiet. I’ve never had a dream like that before… There were… Thousands of people – slaves, I think – building some sort of huge… I don’t know, like a pyramid or a ziggurat or something in a waste of dust and there was a thing at the top, like an altar, and they kept taking the slaves, kept draining their blood leaving behind a pile of corpses, just empty husks of skin, hollow bodies discarded like old clothes. I had to get up. It freaked me right out. It’s weird out here. I don’t know… I’m not usually like this. And William is being off with me. I’m worried I’ve done something wrong. I guess he’s just preoccupied—’
‘¿Quién es? ¿Qué pasa?’ The voice interrupts her musings.
‘Wait, it’s just me. Jennifer. Is that you Miguel?’
The video cuts out.
I get up to go to the bathroom and wander around the house. I open the front door and stand looking at the street. It’s late and very quiet. I can just imagine Daddy in church, singing and swaying, arms raised, eyes closed, face filled with beatific grace. If only. And wow, it’s so humid, even for Florida, like stepping into a giant sauna. The weatherman keeps saying a storm is coming, but it never does.
The next video file is the most interesting. We seem to be back in a tent and I can hear Jennifer whisper, ‘I guess I shouldn’t be filming this, but look what we found in that hole.’ The camera zooms in on a number of objects that have been placed on a sheet of orange tarpaulin. A dozen or so specimens. Some just fragments varying in size but a couple appear more or less whole. They are a dull, greyish colour although it’s difficult to tell how much of that might be due to dirt. My guess is that they are carved out of stone but then for all I can tell they could be made of plastic or bone. As the camera zooms closer it’s clear that some of the fragments are decorated with fine carvings. Intricate, spider-web patterns are faintly visible on the surface of some of the fragments. The camera pans over the two most intact objects, figurines about the size of a Barbie doll. They are humanoid in shape but with unusually large heads that look as if they end in tentacles, as if the head of an octopus type creature had been grafted onto a humanoid body. Even with the dirt and obvious erosion, the figures look as though they have been expertly crafted and are also covered in finely wrought swirls, waves and parallel lines.
‘What are you doing Jenny?’ says another voice. It’s the guy who interrupted her on the first file.
‘I wanted to get them on film.’
‘William will be furious if he sees you doing this.’
‘Oh come on? This is important.’
‘I know it’s important. That’s why you shouldn’t be recording this for your video diary.’
‘What do you think they are made of?’ I see her hand reaching down to pick one up. ‘They’re really, really heavy.’
‘I know! Put them down. Christ, you shouldn’t touch them. Williams says he’s calling in his friend Professor Coxworth-Grove to have a look. We just have to sit tight ’til then. He’s been saying this might be the most important discovery since Tutankhamun’s tomb.’
‘I think they’re made of metal. Some sort of iron?’
‘It’s weird, I mean, the Native American tribes never had the technology to make this sort of thing.’
Jennifer puts down the figurine. ‘I’m so itchy.. Look.’ The camera jolts about a bit before focusing on her exposed arm, the skin marked with red welts.
‘Me too,’ says the guy, ‘I’m itching like a fucking dog. Schaffer was saying he thinks there might be ticks in the long grass.’
‘Oh great. Like we’re all going to get Lyme disease. Perfect.’
‘You had better turn that off.’
The footage ends.
I admit, those figurines did look really weird.
Next file. The camera is pointing at the ground, but I can hear voices. I recognise the professor, William Dyer, who seems to be having an argument with a man with a Hispanic accent. ‘Listen Rodriguez, you and your crew have been paid to do a job,’ he’s saying. ‘We need you on site.’
‘Señor, I tell you, the men will not work.’
‘What do you mean? You get your lazy goddam Mexican asses—’
‘William,’ Jennifer interrupts, ‘Rodriguez and his men are from Guatemala.’
‘Si, Guatemala señor.’
‘Do I look like I give a damn where you’re from? This might be the most important discovery in the last hundred years of archaeology and you’re refusing to work because… because?’
‘Señor, this is not a good place. You are ill. Your students are ill. This is not a place for man. Some things should be left for God, comprende?’
‘No, you comprende this Rodriguez. You get your men back in that hole and continue with the excavations otherwise I’ll have your ass shipped home before you can say – wait, Jennifer, you’re not filming this are you?’
‘Me? No. Oh, shit, sorry, I left it on.’ The camera cuts out.
Just two files left. A quick check on Mom but she’s snoring away. Okay. The footage in the next is very, very wobbly, as if the person with the camera is running. They’re outside in a dust storm and the air is thick with orange haze. The camera jiggles a bit but then focuses on a figure standing some distance away and he’s – wait, is he… My goodness, yes he is, he’s naked and his skin is red with some sort of rash. Scattered about on the ground are various items of clothing that must have been discarded in haste – as if he ran out into the storm, ripping off his clothes as he went. As the camera gets closer, I can see the man has opened his arms wide to the sky, as if to embrace the wind and the rash – ew, gross – it’s like his skin has been flayed off or turned transparent and… is that? Can I see the blood pumping through his body. Is that...? But then the camera turns around and I can see a number of others, recognisable from earlier footage, all standing in the wind and pulling off their clothes too and their skin is also horribly red, like they’ve been dipped in scalding hot water.. The camera drops to the floor and I can’t see anything, just the sound of the wind and someone shouting something that sounds like ‘Ithooca! Ithooca!’
Right. I’m not sure what to make of that.
One more file left. I’m about to click on it when I hear the sound of a car pulling up. Headlights flash through the closed curtains. I shut the laptop and leap up, running to the window.
Shit! Daddy’s back. The revival must have finished early.
Mom jolts up like she’s been zapped with ten thousand vaults. ‘ESTHER!’ she shouts ‘ESTHER WHERE THE HELL ARE YOU?’
I duck down so she can’t see me and quick as possible crawl along the corridor to my bedroom. I shut the door, kill the lights, dive under the covers and pretend to be asleep.