The Raidedby Richard Burgin
"Do you want to go inside?"
"Excuse me?" Matthews said.
"Are you looking for the conference room?" the man said, barely out of the street lamp's shadow.
"No," Matthews said, though it was cold and already dark and the idea of being inside somewhere suddenly seemed appealing. "What would make you think I am?"
"You're standing near the entrance so I thought you might be trying to figure out how to get in. It could benefit you a great deal."
The man took a couple of steps towards him. He wore his hat in such a way that it was hard to see his face.
Matthews nodded, thinking this is the time to say no and walk away. But the recruiter, as Matthews thought of him, smiled persuasively and to his surprise, took another step or two closer.
"Don't you want to at least have a look?"
He immediately thought it involved women and wondered what he should do. At first he thought he'd say no, but with women you really had to think carefully to know what course to pursue.
"If I just look there's no commitment of any kind, right?"
"Yes, there isn't or yes, there is?" Matthews said, but the recruiter had already turned his back, and to his surprise, Matthews followed behind him, leaving the streets and half lit towers of the city behind. Soon they were in a dark, cavernous room, lit only by what appeared to be a series of strategically placed candles. It was sufficiently dark that at first it was hard to tell who was a man and who was a woman.
Matthews turned toward the recruiter, but he was already walking away, which made Matthews feel both strangely relieved and anxious. There were more people in the room than he'd first realized. In fact, the more he looked, the more people he saw suddenly appearing while the room seemed to expand as well. He saw a middle-aged man with a friendly face and was about to introduce himself when the man suddenly burst out laughing, ostensibly at a joke told by someone else in his circle of people that Matthews hadn't noticed before. Good thing he'd hesitated, Matthews thought, or he would have ruined the joke. There were a few other men in the group. Matthews felt embarrassed and walked past them wondering if there was any alcoholic punch available or perhaps some kind of bar. He couldn't see either at the moment, but the room was so large he couldn't be certain that neither existed. Perhaps he could ask one of the guests.
He felt a hand touch his shoulder and turned to see a woman around his age (late thirties) holding a camera. She was wearing a thick coat of lipstick, but it was too dark to be sure of the color.
"You look lost," she said.
"Is it that obvious?"
She smiled, "Are you looking for a drink?"
"Is it that obvious?" he repeated to be funny and also because he didn't want her to be right two times in a row without some kind of response.
"It really kind of is."
Matthews laughed. "I do have the excuse that I just got here and don't know where to go or even what this is all about," he said, gesturing with his hands.
"No one showed you around?"
"Nope. A guy on the street walked me inside but then disappeared."
"Really? Well, I was going to the Prayer Pool to take some pictures," she said, pointing to her camera. "Want to come see?"
"Sure, lead the way," he said, deciding not to ask her right away about the pool.
She smiled and began walking briskly, just as the recruiter had. I've got to start working out, he said to himself, just to keep up with these people.
"Are you a professional photographer?" he said, half out of breath after climbing a long flight of stairs. He noticed that there were even more people on the second floor than on the first, many of them holding drinks of an oddly bright green color. He looked at the drinks enviously. That's what I should do next, he thought, once I see the opportunity.
"You're going to have to take your shoes off once we enter the pool."
"I wasn't planning to go swimming."
"No one there is swimming. That's not what it's about. It's about meditation and then the initiation ceremony."
"What kind of ceremony? There's certainly an amazing number of people here."
"Initiation into the organization's world," she said, barely able to contain her irritation.
"What world, or world view?"
"Why don't you go into the Prayer Pool and you'll see for yourself. You really don't know anything about this place, do you?"
"A half an hour ago I didn't even know it existed."
"Then it's definitely time for you to know. It's just up ahead and then you'll see. Actually, you'll feel it before you see it."
"Feel it before I see it?"
"That's what Leader Shaw says."
"Who's Leader Shaw? I'm sorry, I'm not familiar."
"He's the leader of our organization. This is a rare chance to see him and I'm blessed to be able to take some pictures of him."
"Are you sure I'm really meant to be invited and that this isn't some kind of mistake?"
"We don't make those kinds of mistakes. Leader Shaw says mistakes are violations of the laws of nature. Look, here's the door."
The door was painted gold with a giant face (Shaw, he assumed) looking out from the painted sky. A crowd of people was now jostling to get in the door, but the photographer, taking his hand, guided him through the entrance.
Before him was a vast area of at least the size of three football fields. Most of it was occupied by an enormous basin filled with turquoise water that only came up to the average bather's knees. After taking his shoes off and rolling up his pants, he walked gingerly into the pool. When he looked around himself, he saw that about a third of the bathers were women. Some of the bathers wore bathing suits, some wore white terrycloth robes and a small percentage were naked. The photographer was taking pictures of all of them as the bathers stood in the warm water while a constant stream of words from several large speakers flooded the room. Looking up, he saw a small man in a gold robe speaking from a distant platform. "There he is," the photographer said excitedly.
He knew the most important thing he had to do was listen to the speech, but because it was so loud and yet free associational in style, that proved to be difficult. He could only hear individual parts and wasn't able to see how they related to a coherent whole.
"You have been lied to all your life," the voice said, "all your life you have been lied to. Some lies, by your former government and the churches that helped keep it in power, were intentional. Others were simply due to their ignorance. Now the era of lying is over. Now we are forming a new world based on truth instead of lies."
An enormous cheer interrupted Shaw, followed by the bell-like sounds of hundreds of glasses clinking, all of which contained the bright green liquid he saw in the guests' drinks when he first got near the golden door.
"In the old, dying world we were raided by lies. Now, one by one, ORR is freeing you from these horrid falsehoods that raided each of us. Instead of the lies of money we offer the truth of shared work. Instead of the lie of the single ego we offer the truth of the group. Instead of the lie of heaven for so-called worthy souls we offer the truth of species identification, the only immorality that really exists. As with all of nature, if our species survives, we survive forever. Then gone will be the fear of death, banished forever from our world." More thunderous applause was followed by the glasses clinking again.
"The dying world tried to pacify you with its endless parade of lethal drugs, its television and its infinity of advertisements. All lies. Now we gather to drink our real truth, the drink of the Raid resisters, the nectar of our species." Shaw held out his glass. "To all the survivors of the global raid of our past, to the new world, to ORR, our drink of truth."
Everyone held out their glasses, and drank as another cheer shook the room.
"Here, brother," a man next to him said, handing him the drink. Afraid to say no, Matthews took it but didn't drink right away. It was odd, but despite his skepticism, he was tempted to drink like the hundreds (thousands?) of others around him. Eventually, he decided to take a few sips as a compromise.
Almost immediately, he felt a surge of power course through him, an exponentially increased awareness of himself and the people around him as well as the clarity of colors, sounds and even the smells of the giant basin-like pool they were all standing in. It's like liquid Ecstasy, he thought (a drug he had tried once at a rave years ago). No, he thought, as he walked out of the pool, this is much stronger.
"Hello from the new world," the photographer said to him. "Our chemists really know what they're doing, don't they?"
"I'll say," he said, aware that what he said was at best banal but not worrying about it as he normally would. Meanwhile, she was looking closely at him, clearly monitoring his reaction.
"Ever felt anything like this before?" she said, smiling as if she already knew the answer.
"That's a pretty powerful drink or drug or whatever it is," he said, though he noticed he already felt substantially less than he did a mere minute ago. So he took another sip.
"No, I meant about Leader Shaw. I think that was his greatest speech ever. The clearest most irrefutable case he's ever made about our need for the replacement world and how we're going to do it."
He nodded, "He certainly has a lot of interesting ideas."
A look closer to anger than mere frustration flashed across her face. A moment later she said, "Well, maybe I'll see you around," and then began walking away from him, camera in hand. He stared after her without moving.
"What's the matter, feller?"
Matthews, who was still watching the woman looked to his left and saw a large, middle-aged man holding a drink. "Excuse me?" Matthews said.
"I said, what's the matter? Is anything wrong?"
"Why do you say that?"
"Cause I was talking to you and you didn't answer.
"Oh. I thought I did."
"No, not as far as I could tell. That's why I thought there might be something bothering you. Also, you looked kind of crushed."
"Really? Well I'm certainly not crushed. Maybe a bit miffed."
"At a moment like this?"
"Well, the thing is I'd just started talking with this very attractive woman and with no explanation she suddenly walked away."
"Sometimes it's better that way."
"When they leave without an explanation?"
"Did you ever think to add up all the time people take out of your life explaining things?"
Matthews laughed. "I hear you," he said. "Right now I could use an explanation for where I could get a drink. I mean a regular drink, not this green one."
"I'll help you find one if I can. My name's Summers."
"Hi, I'm Ray Matthews," he said, as they shook hands. "You know that woman I was talking with, never told me her name."
"That's not right, though it wouldn't have explained anything if you did know it."
"No, I guess not."
"Come on, let's get us some regular drinks," Summers said, laughing.
"I'll buy that," Matthews said, thinking if you had to pay for it, he should, in fact, buy Summers a drink.
"I don't want to sound naïve," Matthews said, "but do you know what all this talk about a new world is really about? Or are you new here like me?"
"I'm new. I'm old but I'm new."
"And did someone on the street just invite you in like they did me?"
"Yes, like you. Some feller just invited me. Maybe it was the same feller that invited you?"
"So what is this then? I don't get it. Anybody try to sell you anything yet?"
"Just the notion that we need a new world. Something I'm not entirely against," he said, laughing.
"I'm sure they'll be trying to get some of our money soon," Matthews said.
"Or else try to convert you to some new religion or other."
"Same thing," Matthews said.
"Maybe this one's trying to do both," Summers said with a laugh.
They had already walked quite a distance and his legs were starting to ache. He'd been on his feet a lot at work today—and he wondered if he should say something about his condition to Summers, but didn't want to seem like a complainer.
At last they reached the bar. It was an extremely long table covered by a white tablecloth. On the table were many plastic cups filled with white wine or beer.
"There was champagne earlier," Summers said, "but I guess it's all gone now."
"So this is gratis? I ask because I was going to buy you a drink."
"No, it's all free, but I appreciate the thought."
They stopped talking for a while as they drank their wine and looked around at the ever expanding number of people.
"This has got to be some kind of fundraiser," Matthews said.
"I have seen a number of donation tables, but right now I'm seeing something prettier than money. I just saw a lovely little something I'm going to introduce myself to. See you around fellah, I wish you good luck."
Once again, I'm deserted, Matthews thought. He finished his drink (his "liquid Ecstasy," as he thought of it, had substantially faded and, in fact, he'd left it behind by the Prayer Pool). He resolved to leave the building but couldn't resist scanning for potential women before he left. There were a plethora of women on the floor but because there were so many it was difficult to concentrate on any one of them to see if they were available, much less to see if he wanted to approach them. It was an exasperating and futile situation and he decided he should simply go home where his television was waiting faithfully for him. My television has become my wife, he thought, though how could he know since he'd never married? The people at the office probably think I'm antisocial, but what did it matter since he was pretty sure he didn't care about any of them. Nor did he approve of what they (and he) did, because what was advertising but institutionalized lying?
He had drifted to his left while he'd been thinking and eventually found an area where there were far fewer people. When he walked still further he found a part of the second floor that was totally abandoned.
"I'm the Christopher Columbus of this section of the floor," he said to himself, hoping to make himself laugh but settling for the snicker it produced. When he looked again he saw some concrete steps that led to a door. He looked around, still saw no one and then gave into his temptation to climb them. Only on the next to last step did he notice that, like most staircases, it led to a door that was part of a small building of some kind, not much bigger than a dugout as far as he could tell.
He was so curious that he wanted to walk right in, but his better judgment prevailed and he decided to knock, quietly at first, but no one answered. Finally, he tried opening the door and incredibly, as if in a dream, it opened. There was a room lit by a blue light with a couch a woman was sitting on, and a tall purple shaded lamp next to it.
"What is it?" she said, in a voice full of alarm.
"I was just curious what this building is…"
"So, you decided to come in?"
"I did knock first, and the door was unlocked."
"That was my mistake. So, are you here about Eric?"
"No," he said. He saw now that she was quite attractive though she was probably five or so years older than him.
"Can you tell me your name?"
"Sorry. It's Ray Matthews but because my last name is kind of like a first name, people usually call me Matthews."
"I would have thought they'd call you Ray. People usually choose whatever is faster. So are you new here?"
"Yes, I've only been here about an hour or so."
"So you just happened to come here by chance?"
"If you mean to this event, I was invited. If you mean to this room, I did discover it by chance."
"And who did you say invited you?"
"A man I met outside on the street," Matthews said, looking down at the floor. It was as if she'd exposed a fundamental weakness of his although he considered her question to be somewhat rude.
She turned to look at him, after he finally raised his head.
"Honestly, I think your best bet would be to leave. That's what I'd do if I were in your shoes. I'm waiting for Eric," she added, as if that explained everything in the world.
He nodded but something in her tone offended his sense of justice.
"Just to understand a little better," he said, "do you own this building? I mean this little building within the much bigger one."
She looked away from him again. "No, I don't. Look, if you want to stay here a little while, it's okay."
"Thank you," Matthews said, feeling a surprising sense of relief. "I really just wanted to get away from the crowd for a few minutes."
"Each one is more hysterical than the one before."
He wasn't sure what she meant so he simply said he felt exhausted and confused.
"I understand," she said, before adding in a mumble, "that's what they count on."
It was odd, he thought, how long it took understanding to arrive and then how suddenly it came.
"Do you want to sit down?" she said, pointing to the couch.
"My name is Star."
He saw now that her dress was a shade of purple that he'd never seen before, and that it matched her lipstick.
"So, I've been having a few drinks, would you like one yourself?"
"A drink would be fine as long as it's not that green one they were serving at the rally."
"God, no. That's for their brainwashing. What you attended was an induction ceremony, which also serves as a rally." She walked to the small refrigerator he hadn't noticed before. It was next to the couch and in the half-light of the room seemed to stand guard like a short, white soldier.
"So, either way, rally or induction ceremony, what is it that ties these people together? What are they seeking in common?"
"That depends on who you support. I follow Eric, our founder and true leader."
"But what exactly is the organization?"
"You really don't know?"
"No, I don't."
"It's called the Organization to Restore the Raided. ORR."
"So the people here are all members?"
"Everyone is either a member or a potential member. Haven't you figured that out, yet? If you hadn't walked away, one of the recruiters would have approached you."
"So, what's the purpose of the organization? I still don't know that."
"Didn't your recruiter hand you a mission statement as well as the latest copy of our newsletter, The ORR Report?"
"He handed me some papers, but I didn't look at them."
"Didn't look at them," she repeated as if she were his translator.
"So is that all you know about the Rabid?" he blurted.
"It's Raided with a 'd.' I hope that was an honest slip of the tongue."
"Of course. I'm not the sarcastic type."
She looked away from him and took another swallow of her drink. "I can tell you the bare bones but nothing else, so don't ask too many questions."
He nodded and promised he wouldn't, then braced himself to finally hear the story.
"So, a little over a year ago, Eric formed ORR, an organization composed of people who were Raid victims to help them with their emotional and psychological issues and to try to get society at large to give them more help and hope for the future. There was no talk then of starting a new world and all their other grandiose nonsense. That was the great betrayal. Well, that's it in a nutshell. That's the bare bones. Now I've really told you much more than I should have. I'm in a dangerous situation and you are, too, just by being here."
"Just your being here, talking to me. I'm essentially in exile here."
"You mean they put you here?"
She looked away again. "Not exactly, I came here by choice to make a statement of protest against Shaw's power grab and how he's subverted the core values of ORR."
He looked at her closely to check for "crazy eyes," but her face and whole bearing seemed sane. How could a place as big as this even exist in the city without his knowing about it, he wondered.
"You look immensely confused," she said. "I know it's a lot to take in. I also know if you ask them what they think of me, many of the members will call me a crazy infidel to discredit Shaw. He's even used my exile to pump up his image as a forgiving altruist for letting me and Eric stay here. You still look skeptical—if you want to wait you can meet Eric yourself. How would you like that? He's the person who can really answer your questions. He knows but unfortunately he isn't here…yet," she added nervously.
"I'd still rather hear something directly from you about what Eric's plan was."
She put her glass down on a table he hadn't noticed before.
"You're not from the media or some rat-like snitch working for Shaw, are you?"
"Definitely not," he said, but it took a few more minutes to convince her. Then he finally asked her what exactly a raid was.
"Eric was raided before there was a word for it," she said in a rush.
"When did it happen?"
"Probably first when he was 11 or 12 years old. You look surprised. Trust me, many children, if not most, have been raided. In Eric's case, it was by insects. At first he thought of them the same as anyone else but one night he saw a silver fish and it saw or sensed him at the same time, from its spot on the kitchen wall just above the sink. I tell you that detail because it repulsed him to realize that the bug must have climbed up the drain and most likely traveled over some of his plates and silverware on its way to the wall.
Eric took off one sneaker as quietly as he could then tiptoed toward the sink counter and swung, but the bug anticipated it by a millisecond and scurried to its right until it settled on the wall above the oven. This time, Eric stayed still and stared at it while the bug appeared to stare back at him. That was the moment when he was first raided because he identified so completely with the bug. It was the moment when he realized that just as he could determine whether the bug lived or died some higher power was doing the same to him. But even more important, he understood that just as the life of that particular silverfish didn't matter to mankind, the ongoing life of the species did. We don't think of an ant or a cockroach as being an individual do we? But as long as their species survives, they are immortal. It's the same way that God regards us. If we identify enough with the species, then we live as long as the species does. By the way, Eric eventually stopped killing bugs and learned to co-exist with them. You see how tender he is. His was a metaphorical kind of raid and from it he created one of our key doctrines, our desperate need for species identification. Eric believes the capacity to see things metaphorically is the key to saving yourself from being permanently raided."
"So being raided is like being obsessed?"
"Eric wouldn't say so. Eric would say when you're obsessed, you think of the same thing over and over—it's like terminal repetition but being raided is a distinct psychological event. Like being struck by emotional lightening. Once you've been raided, you're in a constant state of flight but you're surrounded by it like an ocean on all sides of you. Still, you try to speak or think of it as little as possible. At least that's how it was until Eric formed ORR to directly offer medical and spiritual treatment to all Raid victims regardless of what they could pay. We weren't located in the city then. We were on farmland upstate until Shaw changed all that."
He stared at her. "So, can you be raided by more than one thing?"
"Of course. Eric was raided by other things, too. Unspeakable things."
But when he asked her what they were, she put her hand to her mouth. "I've already told you too much. I can't tell you that," she said in a kind of frantically sustained whisper.
What things are still unspeakable? he wondered. He thought of murder, torture or perhaps incest while she continued to insist it would be a betrayal and implied, that for all she knew, he, Matthews, might be working for Shaw.
"I've never even seen Shaw except from a great distance, which is where I prefer him," he said.
"Look, when he comes back you can ask Eric what questions you want to then, but you mustn't start by asking how he got raided. That's sacred information. You can't understand ORR, yet, okay? You can't fathom Eric's torment or his integrity, his steadfastness in the face of betrayal and violation at every turn of his life."
"I'm sorry," he said softly. She turned her head away and when she spoke again she seemed to be addressing the wall.
"Better you should concentrate on how you were raided."
"I'm not aware that I was."
"Eric believes all people have been raided. You may be too repressed to realize it. How else to think of everything?"
He looked at the back of her head that appeared to be talking to him as if it also contained a mouth.
She told him that he was trying to understand too much, too quickly, again. That it was only because his inner mind realized he had been raided and needed help that he was in such a rush.
"I've spent years, more than years," she said, "and there's lots of things I still don't understand about Eric. There's a phrase Eric is fond of. It says 'The silence of which the universe is made.'"
Matthews nodded, a fruitless gesture he immediately realized, unless she literally did have eyes in the back of her head. It was peculiar, there was nothing really keeping him in this building yet he felt a strange sympathy for Star and a desire to help her way out of proportion to how long he'd actually known her. He wondered if this was something he'd felt before but the process of trying to remember his life soon exhausted him. Anyway, if he'd been that sympathetic before, he probably would have been married by now. He began to review the history of his two most important relationships, then soon after thought of a third.
"You've grown strangely quiet. I said the universe is silent, not that you should be," she said, suddenly turning toward him.
"What do you mean, the universe is silent? I hear noise all the time. I think it's too noisy."
It's silent about how it happened and why."
"We make our own why," he said, pleased with his remark, more than he thought he'd be.
"Eric would say that isn't enough. Eric would say we can't know why unless we know how and we will never know how because our minds aren't built to know."
"You always quote him as if he's some kind of prophet."
"This hurts you?"
He looked down at the floor, noticing a thick oriental rug for the first time.
"I know," he said, "You can quote Eric, and I will quote you."
"Are you trying to be funny?"
*** *** ***
It was an hour later, maybe longer (there were no clocks in her room) when she confessed she'd been raided by Eric. Of course he felt he had to ask her how it happened and how they'd actually met (although he didn't like to hear women telling him that kind of thing). By now, he'd learned to distinguish those things she really wanted to talk about from those she didn't, so he asked her how it had all happened.
She turned to him on the couch and looked directly at him while she spoke.
"Have you ever had a dream?"
"I feel like I'm in one right now."
"No, I mean a dream at night while you're asleep—a dream, dream. Anyway, in the dream you see someone about 100 feet or so in front of you in a kind of field or wild beach and you feel compelled to catch up with them, as if it's the only thing worth doing, like your life depends on it, but no matter how fast you run he's still always ahead of you, back turned to you, so there seems to be no hope that he'll ever see you nor hear you either because when you yelled his name the wind seemed to swallow your words."
"I haven't exactly had that kind of dream, no."
"Well, that's how I dreamed of Eric before I'd even talked to him."
He nodded; he was surprised how much he enjoyed looking at her face while she answered his question and quickly asked her again how they'd met.
"We met at a meditation center in the country," she said. "He was already beginning to devote serious time to the raided and to the center that would eventually treat them. He had a medical background, which came in handy. A couple years in med school, I think."
"But not a business background?" he noted.
"That was Shaw, who began as Eric's assistant, if you can believe it. Anyway, though I didn't have the word for it then I was raided by Eric even before we really spoke. Eventually we became lovers though it was different for me than it was for him. Every time he'd let me I made love with him. A month later, I followed him out of the meditation center and began doing whatever I could think of to help him establish ORR in the East Coast."
He felt a flutter of jealousy as if it were a restless bird inside him but continued listening to her story as he asked her if they'd lived together.
"I always felt that we lived together from the moment I first dreamed of him. How else?"
"So when did you meet Shaw? They must have been close at one point."
"You have to be close when you're starting a new world, don't you? In the beginning I liked Shaw because Eric did. Whenever Shaw came over, I fixed the food that Eric told me Shaw liked. Those times, when Eric would sometimes praise my cooking. I'd feel waves of ecstasy. I must have been a pretty good cook because I worked as a short order cook at a diner in Portland to help support Eric. Also, for a while I drove a cab, too."
This was starting to hurt a bit so he couldn't resist asking what Eric did for a living, since it seemed obvious to him that Eric had exploited her.
"I told you. He was creating ORR. It was too important for him to do anything else. There was no time for him to think about money. He was completely devoted to the center. I cherished every moment he gave to me. You can't expect a man of genius like Eric to have more time than he could give you. I never questioned him when he'd come back late or not at all. I could never fathom a man of his intelligence, so how could I expect him to follow the normal societal rules invented for normal people? I would have done, still would do, anything for him. If he wanted children I'd keep having them till he had enough. If he didn't want any then I'd be sure to never get pregnant."
"Did you have a child with Eric?"
"He didn't think the world was ready for any new people. He was waiting for the Raid Prevention Center to be finished. But one day he told me that he had a dream about having a baby with me and that one day we would. That was the happiest day of my life. But no, it never happened. Because of Shaw the center was never used right. Also, Eric came from a dark home, a dark place. His parents did unspeakable things to him. He had to run away from them and support himself for years. They raided him in a very dark way. So, I never bothered him about children. Still don't, not now, certainly, since the Shaw takeover."
"But what did Shaw do? How did he betray Eric?" Matthews said, leaning forward intently.
"Shaw was in it for the power and money, it could bring him. Power even more than money. I used to think Shaw was raided by the center but he only pretended to be. He was an excellent actor. He used that ability to get even more power for himself. Look around you, look at this dinosaur of a building. It's almost big enough to be a replacement world. Eric never wanted a big building. He never wanted to get into real estate, and professional fund raising, and bidding wars."
"But isn't it useful since they're so many members now?"
"Eric wasn't into land and building acquisitions. He wanted to help people who were raided one person at a time. He didn't want the bombastic induction ceremony that you saw today in the so-called 'Prayer Pool.' He didn't want a staff of so-called doctors who put everyone on drugs to control them, not to mention the green drink, and all to get to their money. It was the sacredness of the soul that Eric devoted himself to. You see the difference?"
"Of course, but why did he keep giving into Shaw?"
He could see tears welling in her eyes and regretted the question, but how could a question like that be taken back?
"Eric had certain vulnerabilities…maybe because of what his family did to him and Shaw was a master of seeing vulnerability in a person and then attacking it like a human piranha. Eric was just so single mindedly focused on helping people that he allowed more and more of the business details to be handled by Shaw. Also, as Eric became more deeply involved with the people he was helping Shaw was concentrating on recruiting and advertising in various media and, of course, on fund raising. To all of the new recruits and in all of the ads on the Internet and TV he passed himself off as the leader of ORR. So, while Eric was healing people, Shaw was becoming a media personality and motivational speaker. Is it surprising that 99 percent of the people think he's their leader?"
He asked her when Eric finally realized this, and she said it was a few months ago when Shaw staged a coup. When he asked her if anyone got physically hurt, she said "No, but it tore Eric's heart out. That's why we live here, in this isolated apartment, if you can even call it that. Really, it's a place where Shaw sends political prisoners."
"So, where's Eric now?"
"He's probably negotiating with Shaw. He's supposed to have a hearing according to the ORR constitution, but Shaw doesn't want a forum where Eric could tell the truth in public even though Shaw's already brainwashed almost all of the Replacement World."
Wait a second, some inner, previously buried voice said to him. She's mad, but at the same time, he felt himself being flooded by an overwhelming sense of her being. He was stunned, but it lasted only a few seconds, like an ocean wave crashing over him. He didn't think she'd even noticed. She was continuing to talk about Eric—how his ideas and vision would never die, and so, in that sense, he was immortal.
He began to pace around the room, no longer thinking about what he'd just felt but instead thinking again that she was mad, that almost everyone in this monstrously misshapen building was and now he was trapped in a room with possibly the maddest person of all. Why had he left the safety of his apartment (So what if he were a little lonely) for this? Why was he so passive that it took only a minimal effort by the recruiter for him to walk into this madhouse of his own volition? How much safer he would have been on the streets of the city, even though it was dark and cold and dangerous, it was still not completely insane like ORR was.
He thought again of the induction ceremony in the Prayer Pool and shivered. Why didn't he demand to leave right then? Was he somehow rendered impotent by the few sips he'd taken of the green drink? Even Star had told him he should go; it was the first thing she said. Yet he'd stayed and listened to her for what seemed like hours.
Then once more, the overwhelming sense of her permeated him, as if he were remembering a loved one who had recently died. Yet she had just gotten up as it to make him stop his pacing. She was just now, in fact, talking to him.
"You need to go. You should have left a long time ago. I tried to tell you before. They could arrest you for conspiring with me to free Eric."
How? he wanted to say. How can I leave? How should I leave?
"But I haven't tried to conspire with you. Why would they think that?"
"Because you've been here."
"How can they even know me?"
"You ever hear of the internet? You speak as if they're rational, just people. They'll smear you among the members and then they'll find a prison for you like they did for me."
She looked down at the floor as if searching for an earring she'd dropped.
"Why isn't Eric here with you?" he said, thinking for the first time that Eric may no longer be alive or was partially her invention. Didn't people at least partially invent all the gods and prophets they believed in?
Again she avoided his eyes. "I told you already. He's negotiating with Shaw. He'll come back. Don't be so skeptical. Do you know how a wave in the ocean sometimes crashes over you?"
He felt himself shudder. "Yes."
"That's the way I think of Eric when he's gone. Eric is like the wave that crashed over me. When the wave's gone I'm still in the water the wave left behind, and I know that if I wait long enough another wave of Eric will come again."
The door opened then and to his amazement he saw the recruiter and Summers.
"You should come with us now," the recruiter said. "The next round of ceremonies is about to begin."
He stared at them, appalled and speechless, as if they might be an hallucination. The recruiter stared straight at him but Summers looked down at the floor guiltily.
"You don't want to miss the opening ceremony, do you?" the recruiter said. "I think you'll find it a transformative experience."
"Can she come with us?" He said, pointing to Star.
"It's not her turn to come."
"I have to wait for someone I'm supposed to meet," she added, with a touch of contempt.
"Maybe later," the recruiter said. Star turned away from him, and he felt oddly weightless as he was ushered out of the room, as if it were a direct consequence of leaving her.
The crowd had increased exponentially again, as if a new, larger city had emerged before them in a matter of minutes. A flash went off in front of his eyes. A few moments later he realized he'd been photographed by the woman he'd futilely flirted with before he first came here, however long ago that was.
"A momentous event awaits you in the Prayer Pool, Mr. Matthews," the recruiter said, tightening his grip on one of his shoulders while Summers held the other, "Shall we go?"
"That's right, feller," Summers said, "look see."
A third man appeared then clutching a bag that could easily be concealing a gun.
"Look, see," Summers said again in a strangely confident voice that seemed to settle the issue.
He thought of Star's childlike face with its ocean-blue eyes. "I'm on my way," he said, beginning to walk with them, as dread and ecstasy collided in his heart.