CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and THIRTEEN
Somewhere in time
Nelson Semaines had no idea what day it was or even how long he’d been here. He’d even lost track of where “here” might be.
He’d stopped trying to figure it out.
It felt like he’d been away from home for longer than grad school or internship and residency combined or forever. He’d been here forever.
Jacques d’Molay, the last publicly known Grand Master of the Templars, and his weapons’ master, Peddra, Nelson’s grandfather’s great-grandfather or something like that, had taken him to every single battle or skirmish the Templars had fought in. He’d watched the Templars bully and beat “the enemy” into submission.
Nelson had come to loath these men.
They had joyous sex with other men, but killed homosexuals in the name of God. They raped the women of their enemies, all the while believing in the pure love of their wives and, of course, the Virgin Mary. Even though they, like Nelson, had dark hair, dark eyes, and various shades of suntan skin, they loathe anyone whose skin wasn’t white.
They hated Muslim people. They hated Buddhists. They hated people of Jewish faith. They hated all of the people who celebrated earth based religions almost as much as they hated people who believed in the Greek and Roman Gods.
They didn’t hate all people, though.
They only hated anyone who wasn’t like some idealized version of them.
When they weren’t spouting racist, xenophobic, homophobic, or other disgusting rhetoric, they were blabbing on and on about the fact that they were the chosen ones.
Nelson stayed out of the fighting, the fucking, and the most of the fray.
He stayed busy working.
He kept their clothing clean and their swords sharp. After he’d hunted, slayed, cooked dinner and fed them, he was left alone to clean up the meal, bank the fire, set up their tents and beds, he finally had time to himself. He took long cold baths in the stone tub in the lowest level of what he thought was Castle Preferrada. Truth be told, all of these Templar Castles looked basically the same.
He lay in the cold water and longed for Blane. He ached to see Mack and Wyn. He missed Heather and her better half, Hedone, like a broken tooth. Much to his surprise, he even missed Tres Sierra. He worried about his desperately sick father. He missed his work family.
He missed his life and the person he was in that life.
He loved being a doctor. He loved working in forensic science with Ava O’Malley and their team. He loved his house and the promise of what it would become. He loved his modern life and the freedom of hot running water, clean sheets, and modern conveniences like deodorant.
More than anything, he missed himself. He was becoming unrecognizable to himself. Day after long wretched day, everything that he’d been was fading away leaving only emptiness in its place.
He stayed in the bath long after it felt good. He only got out when his fingers were blue and he shook with cold. He wrapped himself in a clean animal fur and crept to his bed roll.
He slept like the dead. No dreams. No visions. Just the black relief of sleep.
He woke up when Peddra shook his shoulder. His work started the moment he awakened.
At this point, it was such a routine that he didn’t notice the passage of time. During the day, he never had time to think about anything other than what he needed to accomplish next.
Some days, he hoped that he would be killed on the battlefield or possible die of overwork.
Somehow, he managed to live on day after long, horrible day.
Lately, he was pretty sure that he was losing his mind.
In the last day or so, he’d started to see a mostly naked woman walking around the lower levels of the Castle. Last night, when he round the corner to the stone bath, he caught a glimpse of her standing in the water. She had tan colored skin, round hips, and small breasts. She seemed to be coming to or coming from the bath. When he spoke, she disappeared.
He was certain that she was some kind of hallucination borne out of his desperate loneliness and this horrible hallow feeling inside.
When he turned the corner tonight, she was standing in the middle of the bath.
“Hello?” Nelson whispered.
Sunday night — 9:59 p.m.
“Okay,” Aden Norsen said as he stepped out in front of the large gathering of employees who owned a part of Lipson Construction. He held the microphone to the cloth mask over his mouth and nose. “I just got off the phone with the governor.”
The talking, whispering, and general conversation stopped. Aden looked out into the audience. Over the last year or so, Celia Marlowe Lipson’s weird and diverse company had become more and more segregated on racial lines. There was a section filled with mostly white people. Most of the black men were standing at the back of the auditorium while black women were intermixed with the people whose ancestors hailed from Latin America — either five years ago or a hundred.
There had been a big fight at the door over wearing facial masks. Delphie, Jill, Heather, Tanesha, and Sandy had franticly sewed a mountain of masks. Through sheer force of will, they got everyone inside the auditorium with a mask on.
“According to the governor, we are designated ‘essential,’” Aden said.
The entire auditorium broke into loud cheers and claps. Aden raised his hands to try to get people’s attention. Tres stuck his fingers under his mask to make a loud whistle. People fell silent again.
“He said that we are only ‘essential’ on the projects we are doing for the state,” Aden said.
People started yelling. Aden looked out to see rage roil over as employees fought against each other for the first time since the company’s creation. The Site Managers stood up to help get people to settle down.
“Listen, it’s late,” Sam Lipson said, stepping forward. His voice was louder than any mask could contain.“Give us a chance to get through everything we know before you start yelling.”
He wielded his status as the founder like a club. It took a while, but eventually everyone was nodding in agreement.
“Good,” Sam said. “Aden?”
“Tres?” Aden nodded to Tres Sierra, their CFO.
Tres took the microphone from Aden.
“We have three sites that are already in progress,” Tres said. “We have two others that are fully funded but the funds not released. We asked the governor and he agreed that he would work to release those funds. We’ve won another three bids but they haven’t been budgeted yet. They were for next year or possibly the following year. The governor said that there was a lot of competition for money not already allocated. With unknown costs of the pandemic, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to start. Unlikely is not impossible, so we’ll see. The state has a lot of expenses in getting the hospitals up and running — PPE and the like, ventilators, you know.”
“Tell them what that means?” Sam asked. “These men and women are afraid for their jobs! You have to tell them what that means.”
“What does that mean?” Tres asked. “Without getting too far into it, it means that tomorrow, we have to close fifteen sites and work three.”
He looked out to see if anyone would respond.
“Jake, Blane, and Sam have agreed to pitch in to get the other two sites up and running when the funds are released,” Tres said. “But, we need to do things the way we usually do. We need to get our people out to the sites to determine what we need, to set up our systems, before we can get started. It won’t be easy or fast.”
He looked out at the crowd. The employee-owners looked angry and more than a little scared.
“We’ve come up with two of solutions,” Tres said. “We need to pick one.”
He looked out at the employees and then glanced at Aden. Aden gave him a nod.
“Okay, the first is to lay off all of the people we no longer need,” Tres said.
The crowd erupted with rage. It took Sam, Aden, Blane, Tres, and Jacob to get the crowd to settle down. Every time people seemed calm, someone would erupt with rage and the entire crowd of men and women were yelling again.
“This is exhausting,” Jacob said to things had settled to a dull roar. “Among us. . .”
He pointed to Aden, Blane, Sam, Tres, and himself.
“We have enough stock to make the decisions necessary for our next step,” Jacob said. “We are dedicated to have you be full owners. Full ownership means that you make the hard decisions. But we didn’t sign up for this bull shit. If you cannot stay calm, we will make a decision without you.”
The employee owners became almost too quiet. Everyone knew that Jacob Marlowe always said exactly what he meant. They were just afraid and lashing out with anger. He knew this too, so he waited a moment to give everyone a chance to breathe before turning to Tres.
“Go ahead,” Jacob said.
“Our other option is a kind of rotating job share,” Tres said. “it’s Jake’s idea, so I figured that he should tell us. Jake?”
Jacob walked to the front.
“Here’s how it would work,” Jacob said. “We can handle all of our current staff by a type of job share. This means that people would work three-twelve hour shifts and then the next group would step in. We checked our current roster and we have nearly equal numbers in every job group. This allows us to have plumbing share with other plumbers. The road crew would share with other road crew. Digging, same thing. This goes for office staff as well. We will all work thirty-six hours over three days and take only three days pay for it.”
“What about health insurance?” a woman yelled from the back.
“My sister, Valerie, has spoken to the insurance company,” Jacob said. He pointed toward the door where his movie star sister was leaning against the wall. “She and her husband, Mike, have put up over a million dollars to secure health insurance for all employees and their families. Everyone. No matter what. So your wife can continue her cancer treatments, Jen, even if we have to lay you off.”
“What about schools?” someone near the front asked. “Most of the schools are closed.”
“As you may know, the Marlowe School is funded out of a trust set up by my mother,” Jacob said. “We don’t get state funds. Every employee pays into the fund at about 1% of their paychecks. We will stop your potion of the payment while we are on this schedule. As long as it’s safe, we’ll keep the school open from the fund every employee has put in.”
“He’s asking if it will stay open,” a Site Manager asked as he stood.
“We’re not sure how we will do it,” Jacob said. “But we’ll do what we can. If we need to move outside, we’ll move outside. If we need masks, we’ll get it done. We’re not the people who stand around negotiating. We get things done. That will apply here as well.”
Jacob nodded to Aden.
“It’s up for a vote,” Aden said. “When you came in, each of you were given a sheet of paper with the number ‘1’ and the number ‘2’ on it. Pick which you want and bring it up to the front.”
“What are they again?” a woman asked near the middle.
“Number one is to lay off about half of the company,” Aden said. “Number two is to job share for as long as it takes until we’re able to finish the construction contracts.”
Blane went through the audience with a large cardboard box. He set it in the middle of the aisle.
“We’ll give you fifteen minutes,” Jacob said. “Don’t you dare take that mask off Jethro!”
“It itches,” a man’s voice said from the back.
“So does my butt,” Jacob said. “You don’t see me taking my pants off, do you?”
“Fifteen minutes,” Aden said. “Then we have to get home to our families.”
Somewhere in time
The woman turned to look at him. For a long moment, they locked eyes. As if she were embarrassed, she looked down. She slid into the water.
“Do you mind if I join you?” Nelson asked. “I won’t. . . I mean. . .”
“Please,” she said. “I’ve taken the liberty to turn on the warm water.”
“How?” Nelson asked. “Are you a demon?”
“A demon?” she laughed.
He smiled because of her laugh and because this ghost creature seemed so real, so normal.
“The water is warmed by the hot spring.” She gestured to an area he’d never noticed before. “I removed the block on the drain.”
“Has that always been there?” Nelson asked.
She looked at him and then at where the warm water came in. Her eyebrows went up and down as if to wonder what he was asking.
“I’m sorry, I’ve never seen it,” Nelson said. “I usually take cold baths.”
“That sounds lovely,” she said mildly.
He smiled. He pulled off the thick leather under armor. Unbuckled his sword belt. Sitting down, he took off his sandals. He noticed that she was looking at him when he pulled off his wool tunic.
“What?” he asked.
“You don’t have servants?” she asked.
“I. . .” Nelson started.
“Would you like mine to assist you?” the woman asked.
Two young girls stepped from the shadows. Using his hands, he indicated for them to stop.
“I am all right,” he said. “In my time, people do these things for themselves.”
“Why?” she asked.
He was about to launch into some kind of explanation when he saw that she wasn’t listening. Her back was to him. He slipped into the warm water. To his surprise, the water smelled of lavender and something lovely. The simple luxury of the warm water and scent brought tears to his eyes.
“Why did you stop talking?” she asked.
“You weren’t listening,” he said.
“So?” she said, with mild reproach.
Smiling, he slipped under the fragrant warm water. He felt his grim slid off his scalp. When he came up, he saw that she was still there.
And, she was still watching him.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Anything you’d like it to be,” she said.
He laughed. When she looked offended, he laughed harder. He wasn’t even sure why he was laughing. He just couldn’t stop. Tears felt down his face.
She appeared in front of him. She grabbed his shoulders and shook him.
“Stop,” she whispered.
When he began to sob, she pulled him to her. He wept on her shoulder like a child. His mother had died when his was an infant. He’d always loved men. Outside of Heather or one of his work friend’s hugs, he’d never been held by a woman. Her kindness brought up his most desperate grief. When he thought he’d never stop crying, the feeling disappeared. She kissed his cheek and floated away from him.
“Who are you?” he whispered in a hoarse voice.
“I believe that I am your grandmother and then some,” she said with a soft smile. “I did not believe it until I saw your face. We could be twins.”
He looked into her face and for the first time saw his own. She gave him an ironic smile.
“Please, let me introduce myself,” she said. “I am Bathsheba.”
Shocked, Nelson stopped moving.
“Wife of Uriah,” she said. “Mother of Soloman, among others. Consort to King David. You are my child by my first husband, Uriah, the warrior. He was. . .”
She gave him a soft smile.
“You don’t want to hear about ancient history,” Bathsheba said. “Know that your ancestors love you.”
“Why have you come?” Nelson asked. “How have you come?”
“I was invited here by my daughter, your mother,” Bathsheba said. “She has a mother’s right to be by your side. She could not attend, so she asked me to slip in here. I have tried for. . . a long time.”
Bathsheba looked around.
“This is a wretched place,” she said. “How can you stand it?”
“I can’t,” Nelson said.
“It’s time for you to return home,” Bathsheba said.
“How?” Nelson asked, tears falling down his face.
“Remind me,” Bathsheba said. “Who is the Grandmaster?”
“Jacques d’Molay,” Nelson said.
“Jacques d’Molay is long dead,” Bathsheba said. “Dust. He was loathed in life and left here in death.”
“I am on a quest!” Nelson asked.
Bathsheba rolled her eyes.
“Men,” Bathsheba said. “I said to my husband, ‘I will not do this! You are my husband, my love.’ He said, ‘He is my King, my friend. It’s my honor.’ His King and friend had him murdered leaving me to. . .”
Bathsheba stopped speaking. She gave an angry shake of her head. Nelson blinked.
“Please,” Nelson said. “I am exhausted and desperate. Speak plainly.”
“You are the Grandmaster of the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon.” Bathsheba raised her eyebrow at him. “You are my descendant. They are dust.”
“How?” Nelson asked.
“Decide that you’re done with this. . .” Bathsheba said.
“My father’s life is in the balance!” Nelson’s voice rose with desperation. “I need to. . .”
“Go home, my son,” Bathsheba said. “Gather your strength. Draw from mine, your mother’s, all of your ancestors. Only then will you get where you need to be. You are dying here.”
She leaned forward and kissed his cheek.
“You are so loved,” she whispered and disappeared.
He closed his eyes and felt himself drifting.
When he opened his eyes, he was lying in the grass in front of the crazy house they called “The Castle.”
“Oh my God,” a young man’s voice said. Feet ran over pavement in his direction. “It’s Nelson. Go! Get Heather! Get Blane!”
The young man dropped next to him.
“Uncle Nelson?” the young man asked.
Nelson was looking into the face of Nash Norsen. He was too shocked to respond.
“Come on,” Nash said. “Slowly. He’s bruised all over. Bleeding. Badly. Noelle — call 911!”
“I did,” Noelle Norsen said. “They said they were coming.”
Realizing he was likely naked, Nelson looked down. He was wearing his mideval Templar costume.
He heard running. He felt strong hands under his armpits lifting him to standing. He felt a wave of pain and passed out. He was carried inside.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
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