90 Foot Cross Part 2 From: Variations on the End of the World By: J Samuel Spurlock
First of all, I gotta tell ya. I slept better last night than I have in a very long time. So thanks for that. Despite what I did. You probably want me to tell you more about that, I guess. After everything I had just been through, I started to have a bit of a crisis of conscious. Or maybe a crisis of reality. I don’t know. The whole ordeal stank of divine intervention. I save some lowly life and then years later it saves me? Come on. If there were a preacher left alive in those ruins, he would be using my goddamned story to inspire and uplift. The whole thing disgusted me. I mean here I was on the bank of the Cumberland contemplating my existence moments after deciding to end it. It was too much. I had been brought up in a church and losing my faith was honestly difficult. At least at first. I remember the guilt I used to accumulate in the daily existence of being a teenager. I remember this girl Casey from computer class in high school. She used to flash us for candy. Guess that was high school prostitution at its finest. But I remember collapsing to my knees and begging some dude to please forgive me for enjoying it. I remember being ashamed of acting like a human. Christ, I miss tits. Of everything The Light took from me, I may miss tits the most. Sorry. Sidetracked. At that time in my life I still lived in my hometown of Cookeville Tennessee. It was a few years before I would make my escape to Nashville. This local church, I don’t remember the denomination, got a massive inheritance from one of its’ recently deceased parishioners. They held church meetings and public forums on what to do with the money. It was to the tune of millions and came with a plot of land just off I-40 at the city’s edge. I remember that the leading proposals included an orphanage and a battered women’s shelter. I personally thought the shelter sounded like a solid plan. After all the debate and all the grand plans, you know what this church in Cookeville goddamned Tennessee did? They took the land and built a ninety foot fucking cross on it. Back in the day if you were traveling east on I-40, for two seconds, you would have to see this aluminum monstrosity whether you wanted to or not. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any particular distaste for the image of the cross. Although, if I’m being honest, I don’t think Jesus himself would much care for it. You spend thirty years on this rock trying to make things better for people, they kill you for it, and then remember you by wearing the instrument of your torture around their necks. Honestly, you think fans of Marie Antoinette would honor her with guillotine charms? After the whole ordeal I don’t know why that fucking cross popped up in my head, but it did. And I knew it had to come down. Even if there is a god or ever was, that’s not representative. If the universe has taught me to believe in anything, it’s irony. And nothing screams irony to me more than an atheist felling a ninety foot cross in a post-apocalyptic landscape after being saved by divine intervention. All I had left to do was load my bike in the boat and let the current do the rest. I had gotten the boat by accident. It had just washed up one day and got stuck on the bank like a piece of discarded trash. Like me. I woke up to a rhythmic tap one day to see it bobbing there. Probably another message from god, or the universe, or whatever. It was a small wooden fishing boat. Made for a great shelter in strong storms. There were nights I was certain it would become my coffin and I couldn’t really think of a better way to go. It probably had a motor at some point, but that got lost long before I took possession of the thing. I would have to hope for good currents or the strength to row the bastard when it got calm. I had lost a lot of weight and muscle mass since they moved through. I subsisted mostly on fish and insects, neither of which I ever had much of a taste for. I had chocolate covered crickets once at a county fair, those weren’t bad. Christ on a cracker, do you people have chocolate? If so, I’ll need some, posthaste, as it were. Anyway, it was big enough for myself, the bike, and my fishing pole and not much else. I said farewell to my plastic lean-to, loaded my shit, and cast off like Washington crossing the Delaware. When I was a teenager I was a member of 4-H. I don’t know if y’all have that here, but it’s basically learning to live like an Amish. Anyway, one of my big projects was that I mapped the local tributaries, creeks etc. in my hometown back to their sources. I knew if I stayed alert at the right places, the Cumberland would take me to the Caney Fork which would take me right back home. My own personal journey back to the cross. Pushing off the bank I could see at least fifty red flags waving in the back of my head, but at this point I had straight tunnel vision. The boat creaked in protest as we hit the current, but was kind enough not to take on any water. The first day was as Tom Sawyerish as I had expected. Nothing but mosquitos and dodging driftwood. Do you call river logs “driftwood”? Or is it flotsam? I don’t think it would be flotsam. Flotsam falls off a ship, jetsam is thrown off a ship… What was I talking about? I’m sorry, I haven’t spoken to anyone in a very long time. The boat! I was on about the boat. Between violent river shits and fishing I camped the first night around what used to be Alexandria. It rained something terrible, but I had consigned myself never to be dry again. I tied the boat off, tried unsuccessfully to start a fire, and dined on Tennessee’s finest mystery fish. There was a time that I could tell you every species that swam through every inch of water in that state, but they all seemed changed since The Light. As if the army had been some sort of evolutionary catalyst that changed everything. I’ve caught fish with two tails and I’ve caught fish from that river that were a vibrant blue. Nothing made sense anymore. Mentally, things start to fall apart when fish stop being fish. So there I am, soaked to the skin, shivering, snacking on raw fish, when I see it. On the opposite bank, where the interstate used to run, a dull lavender glow. I untied the boat and tried to row across. This was the most difficult task I had faced thus far, and ended up several hundred yards downstream of the weird light. I walked the distance to see where this alien phenomenon might be coming from. It seemed to be coming from up the bank, on the road. After much stumbling and struggling I reached the blacktop and couldn’t believe my eyes. Across all four lanes of East and Westbound traffic was a wall. A black hulking wall that even dipped down in the median. The glow was coming from somewhere in the middle. As I drew closer the wall began to gain texture, subtly at first, but then deeper holes and abutments. When I finally recognized the first arm sticking out, I was too close to move away. I was indeed standing at a wall, but not one made of brick and mortar, it was built with bodies. Best I could tell, they were all soldiers of The Light. All dead and stacked on top of each other eight feet high. I have to assume that exhaustion and malnutrition possessed my brain at this point. Everything that happened after seems impossible, even by the hand of a god. As my eyes reached the top of the wall, I remember seeing a man sitting on top of it. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget him. He was wearing a grey suit and smoking a cigarette. I don’t know where he got a cigarette. They had been extinct in Nashville for months. But there he was, smoking a cigarette and smiling at me. An unsettling smile. It was the kind of smile that communicated he didn’t want to speak to me, and I shouldn’t speak to him. He took a long drag and then nodded his head toward the purple glow at the center of the wall of bodies. I moved closer and saw the faces of The Light for the first time. Please, understand, as I said, madness must have taken over by this time. The soldiers whose masks had fallen off or been removed weren’t all…I don’t… Fuck it. They weren’t all human. I know how that sounds. But, like I said, not thinking straight. Some of them were people, sure. But a lot of them were very different. From what I could tell from their twisted mass, most of them were humanoid; arms, legs, all that. But some of their faces looked like animals, or insects, or things I had never seen. It slowly dawned on me that these…things hadn’t just fallen this way. This was deliberate. I wondered if the strange man on top of the pile had been responsible; and as I looked up to him he shook his head as if he had heard the thought. Again, he pointed to the purple light glowing from the middle of the wall. The light was shining from the middle of the stacked bodies and shone through them like light through the canopy of a forest. I had to move several arms, legs, and I think antennae out of the way before I saw her. But there she was, shining like a supernova. Shining like destiny. I instantly named her Gerty. When I finally extracted her from the macabre wall, I carried her back to the boat to retrieve my bike. The man in the suit had made his exit. Whoever had built that wall helped me sleep as soundly as one could that night. I was convinced that someone was looking out for my home. Someone had stopped the light. And that made me more determined than ever to complete my mission. I felt justified. Righteous in my duty. The next morning I abandoned the boat. I didn’t tie her to the bank, I just cast her into the river. I felt I wouldn’t need her again. I was on the last leg of my journey, for better or worse. I slung Gerty over my back and mounted my bike. It was hot, but despite the sweat dripping off my forehead, I didn’t feel it at all. The road was, of course, clogged with cars. I tried not to look at the bodies inside. I kept to the shoulder and, at times, had to walk the bike around the cars that had left the pavement. Before the world had stopped, you could see the cross for about a half a mile. There was a curve in the road after which it would appear. At seventy miles per hour, you would see it for half a minute, maybe a little more. On the bike, I stared at its hulking mass for at least twenty minutes. It stared back. It was if it was challenging Gerty and me. Before I had enough time to really have a conversation with the towering bitch I was there. I’m standing at the base of this hill that leads up to the clearing where she stood. It was like standing at the base of an inflated Golgotha. A shady wood leading up what must have been a two hundred foot hike up to the clearing. Despite my convictions, I asked something, anything, in my head if I was wrong. I begged nothing to give me a sign. Just say the word, I’ll call this shit off. All I heard was Gerty whispering to me to get on with it. She was hungry. With Gerty on my back and destruction on my mind, I climbed the hill through the woods. It was littered with The Light. If history survives, I want to know the story that was the Battle of the Cross. It looked epic. I’m not in the greatest shape, but the climb seemed more difficult than it should have been. After my own personal eternity, I broke the tree line and there it was. That damned ninety foot cross. You don’t get the scale from the highway. This thing was huge. It was on the same kind of scale that a building is in a major city. Standing at its’ base and looking up made me dizzy. You could see it swaying slightly with the wind. Or it could have just been the heat and humidity. I was surprised that it didn’t have any support cables. Usually, something that tall and top heavy needed cables to keep it balanced and upright. I guess the builders were counting on the lord. Alive or dead, the builders were about to see how their construction would hold up to Gerty. I didn’t know much about chainsaws. Everything I knew about Gerty was printed on her side. She was a Husqvarna 460 Rancher. 60.3cc 2-Stoke X-torq, gas powered engine of change. She was heavy. I read the side again. “Gas powered”. I hadn’t even considered fuel. She had a plastic tank on her back end with a twist cap. I opened it and looked inside. There was the same amount of fuel in the tank that one might search for inside a big gulp with a straw. I needed a miracle. I pulled the motor’s cord. She started on the first try. Good ol’ Gerty. The chain raced across the blade and I held her above my head like a demented serial killer. “For Nashville!” I screamed for no apparent reason. The chain sparked slightly as it tore into the aluminum. It hummed through the wood inside like butter. A few more inches in and Gerty started to scream like a Banshee. Sparks shot out of both sides of the wound I had inflicted and Gerty stopped. I peeled back some of the aluminum siding to see what had caused the problem. Turns out the church wasn’t as trusting in the lord as I had assumed. The cross was supported at its’ center by a steel pole. “You bitch!” I started kicking the damned thing out of overwhelming frustration. After all the effort and travel and fucking hardship, this damned thing is a fortress. What had been a mission without purpose suddenly became personal. There was no way in hell or any other reality that this damned thing was going to survive. I dropped to my knees. “Help me. Help me, weird dude in the grey suit.” I still don’t know who the dude in the suit was, but I think he may have answered my prayer. I heard a crack of thunder and looked down the hill back into the woods. That purple glow was back. Not in the pile where it had been originally, but in the woods this time. The glow led me to a dead soldier. One of ours, he was dressed in fatigues instead of The Light’s armor. He had a box of some kind next to him with a hose connected to some implement. I pulled it away from him as delicately as I could. There was an instruction label on the other side of it. I had to read the label three times before I really believed it. It read “Plasma Torch. Use extreme caution.” The gauge on the thing was in the red. Surely three miracles in twenty four hours were within the purple man’s abilities. I read the instructions, probably more carefully than I needed to, but I didn’t want to add losing a hand to my day. I flicked the switch and righteous fury blazed from the end of the torch like an archangels sword. I felt like I had taken a break from guarding the garden of Eden to rain holy hell on this towering behemoth. The torch made short work of the steel inside. It gave out as soon as it passed through the other side. The cross groaned slightly, but didn’t move. I stared up at it, dizzy, as it refused to fall. I put my hand on the side of it, took a deep breath, and prepared to push with everything I had. It didn’t take everything I had. It started to fall so easily that I lost my balance and ended up falling on top of the thing. The top crashed into the trees and sent a shudder all the way back down to the base, rattling me off the top of it. I stood up and surveyed my work. The life saved, the miles travelled, and I had prevailed. There was my life’s work. A toppled cross marking the graves of dozens of unknown soldiers. I took some solace in that. Anyway, I hope you can find some too. That’s when you showed up. Two minutes earlier and you could have probably stopped the whole thing. I know I said I was sorry, but I don’t think I am. I also don’t think that was your cross, was it? So, what now? Are you planning to put me up somewhere, or what? You can drop me right back where you found me as far as I care. I’d much rather camp next to the cross than live in it’s shadow.