Monday, September 01, 2014

A quiz for my readers . . .

Hi Readers,

I'll be getting back to Hubbs, Sid, Mary Sue and the rest of the crew next week, but I was curious about a statistical development. Just going over my stats this morning and am absolutely fascinated by my popularity in Turkey (again)! Welcome back my Anantolian friends! I saw you were reading in the hundreds a few months ago. What has you all so fascinated by L. Ron Hubbard? Not much of a cult presence in Turkey from what I can tell. Do drop me a line a let me know what the draw is, won't you? And Ukraine! So much going on in your lovely country. Terribly sorry about the madman Putin threatening your sovereignty, but thrilled you're reading my little tale. Or is it just that there are OSA servers located in Ankara and Kiev? Who can say?

In any case, whoever you are, I hope you're enjoying the story so far. And for non-OSA readers, do comment more. This fledgeling writer can use the feedback. The story is not set in stone and is edited on a regular basis for clarity and especially grammar fails. And for any litigious or fatwah declaring types, let this serve as notice that this story is a fantasy. Fiction. Fake. 'Tis all from my fevered imagination and while inspired by a mixture of myth, real people and events, it is not meant to be a factual accounting of anyone alive, dead or in between. Capice?

Cheers,

Artoo

Sunday, August 24, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 21, "We Build A World From Broken Pieces"

  It's strange how some events don't quite turn out as we expect them to. Even slam-dunk, carved in granite, the-sun-will-come-out-tomorrow things can go awry. It's stranger still when, just before the moment itself, in that last fraction of a second, you know it's all going to go haywire. 

  So it was for L. Ron Hubbard, his cheeks wet with tears, supine in surrender to his third wife's repetitive accusation, when he heard the sweet sound of the key in the door. There it was, that feeling of "oh, shit," but it wasn't an "oh, shit" he could put his finger on, just a sudden, awful knowledge that things were somehow about to go south.

  In that moment of change, several things happened. Two small dogs burst through the barely open door, charging over the recumbent Hubbard, painfully crushing his left testicle in the process. Their goal? Their beloved mistress, Mary Sue, who staggered back, gasping in a lungful of air as though she just surfaced from a long dive. 

  "Vixie . . . and Tzu! Where? How? My babies, my babies . . ." she repeated as she slid down the wall for the second time that day, only this time it was in an ecstasy of recognition. The dogs were beside themselves licking her face, whining and yipping with joy.

  The next, nearly simultaneous event was Hubbard realizing exactly who it was who'd opened that door. "Fucking goddamn hell" he muttered to himself. 

  "There you are you sonofabitch!" Polly said, filled with rage at the sight of the man who had so abused her and her children.

  Ron was frantically kicking backwards across the slick, institutional linoleum, in hopes of protecting his one untrampled ball, which he was certain would now be in jeopardy from the charging Polly and Sara. Then there were . . . Mormons. More goddamn Mormons! Of course, they'd be at the bottom of this kind of mayhem.

  Mary Sue, who had indeed been deep in a loop, sat back in shock, taking stock of the surreal cast of characters before her. There was her husband, for whom her feelings were both powerful and ambivalent. Then there were her two predecessors, one was, by her husband's account, a needy, nagging harridan who tormented Ron and tried to poison his children against him, and the other, a golddigger and a slut who hoodwinked him into claiming paternity of a child she had with Jack Parsons. She recognized them from pictures in their Guardians Office files, but strangely, they were both about 35 and dressed like it was the '60s. Then there were two young men in white shirts. Were they policemen . . . or waiters? Everything was so strange.

  "Ron? Ron! What the hell is going on here? How did they get here?" she shot a withering glance at Hubbard who was rising slowly against the far wall. "And you two! I know all about you two! What were you doing with my babies!?" she said clutching the writhing dogs to her bosom.

  "That explains the dogs!" Sara said, trying to hold Polly back from doing god knows what to Hubbard. "Polly! The dogs! That's how we found him . . . and her, that's Mary Sue, they're her dogs!"

  Polly looked Mary Sue from head to toe and said, "Well, aren't we just pretty picture then, the three little wifeys, all in a row."

  Sara interjected, "Say, what did you mean by that 'I know all about you two' crack? I can only imagine what that asshole told you." Now it was Polly holding Sara back.

  "Now, now, can't we all just get along here? We have so much in common . . . me, for instance!" said Hubbard hoping to defuse a tense moment with some jocularity, but he was utterly ignored.

  "Mary Sue, we're on your side. That poor excuse of a man left you to rot in prison for a crime he planned! Why do you think you're in this place? It's a jail! My god, I read that he never even wrote you a letter!" said Sara with great emotion.

  Hubbard cringed and he looked around to see if he might slip out past the Mormons.

  "Prison?" Mary Sue said as if in a daze. Her face had lost all its color. She pulled the dogs close to her again. "I remember the trials, the appeals . . . prison" she looked at Hubbard with a lost expression. "Ron, you never even wrote me a letter . . ." she said rising, her once crisp dress whites now filthy with dust and dog hair. "I, I . . . believed in you. I trusted you. You said we were clearing the planet. I went to prison, Ron. You just . . . hid." 

  You could have heard the proverbial pin drop. Nobody moved.

    "Now, you just said it yourself Mary Sue, I was clearing the planet . . . WE were clearing the planet . . . you and I . . . together. But, I had to stay out of prison, to keep the research going." Hubbard said.

  "Are we exterior?" Mary Sue asked suddenly. "Am I finally exterior?" 

  "Uh, yes, Yes we're all exterior! That proves I was right, doesn't it? Here we all are in Target 2!" he said, going with the flow.

  "I don't feel exterior. Are these doll bodies? Where are we really? This all seems pretty solid to me. Don't you think it's pretty solid?" Mary Sue walked around touching the walls and doors as she asked this.

  "He doesn't know any more than we do Mary Sue. Look at him, bloviating and lying as usual. You can always tell when he's on one of his rolls, just making shit up on the fly. Only difference now, is I think I can actually hear the cogs turning" said Sara. "Listen. Don't you hear them Polly? Clickety clack! Clickety clack! 'I was, uh,  walking a zorpdog on Mars the other day . . .'" she said puffing herself up to do her best Hubbard imitation.

  For the first time in decades, Mary Sue Hubbard laughed out loud. 

  Mary Sue turned to Sara with a look of dawning awareness, "No! It was the Van Allen Belt! It was the Van Allen Belt, wasn't it Ron? Or was it Venus? You were always going exterior, weren't you? I tried for hundreds and hundreds of hours and you always said it was my own fault that I couldn't. I was CI or out ethics. But you! You were always off inspecting some implant station or Marcabian Ice Cream parlour!" Mary Sue was having her 'aha' moment. "It nagged at me Ron. My god, how it nagged at me. I told you once I thought you were making it all up as you went along. I actually fell for your excuses and explanations. Your stupid Wall of Fire! How could I have been so stupid?"

  "But Mary Sue, we're dead! Look at them! They're only in their thirties, but they're dead as doornails! We all are, but we're talking here in Target 2! I was right all along!" Hubbard bellowed.

  "This proves nothing. We could be in the Christian, or the Muslim heaven. Or, maybe it's hell!" She grew thoughtful and walked over to Ron, who backed away from her approach. "I suppose this could all be happening in my brain. Maybe I'm lying in a hospital somewhere, in a coma. That could be true, couldn't it?" she said looking at Polly and Sara as though they were some kind of museum display.

  "Um, no Mrs. Hubbard, we're not in heaven, at least not that our Prophet has been able to tell. We are all technically dead" said the taller of the two men in the white shirts. "The Prophet says that he thinks we're in a place, a reality where leaders of humanity go. I'm sorry, let me introduce myself. I am Elder Cooper, Orbel Cooper and this is Elder Chalmers. We're with The Prophet Joseph Smith. We've been sent to retrieve Mr. Hubbard."

  "Joseph Smith? The Mormon Joseph Smith?" Mary Sue looked puzzled.

  "They're all here Mary Sue. Oh, I've met Jesus, Mohammed and The Buddha. Hell, the Buddha and I are old pals. I call him Sid. And we met Joan of Arc and Chairman Mao and, well, some . . . uh, others . . ." Hubbard said, trailing off not wanting to bring up Quentin or Nibs.

  "Jesus? You met Jesus of Nazareth? Well, I certainly hope he never read any of . . ." 

  Hubbard cut her off, "Oh, very funny. Very funny. As a matter of fact, he did know about me. He did. He said I was right though, that he was just a man after all and that we were all in this together and suchlike. He gave me a smoke!" Ron looked nervous.

  Mary Sue had a puzzled expression, "So, Orville . . ."

  "That's Orbel, with a b."

  "Sorry, this is all very confusing for me. Why am I here? I'm no leader." said Mary Sue.

  "Well, you could be here to interact with Mr. Hubbard, to free yourself from your connection to him, but we think you might be here on your own merit. You have a small but loyal following to this day. Time will tell. You don't need a lot of followers to be here, just ask Mr. Hubbard." said Orbel gesturing toward a now glowering Ron.

  "What are you so upset about?" queried Mary Sue.

  "Oh, it's just a little joke at my expense that everyone seems to think is terribly funny." Hubbard said defensively.

  Polly turned her back on Hubbard and addressed his current wife. "Mary Sue, I hope you'll understand that we didn't mean to upset you, we were told that we had to find Ron, to free ourselves. We've been in a sort of netherworld since we each died. I've been 'living' in what looked like Philadelphia since 1963 and Sara here died in 1997 and had a house nearby, though we both just met today. Joseph Smith told Sara that we were living in a sort of 'waiting room.' Honestly, it's all new to us, too."

  "But Vixie and Tzu. How did you find them?"

  "Well, they were sort of the key to our finding you . . . literally. We were wondering who these dogs were, and why they showed up in the same exact way, both running out in the middle of the street and causing accidents. Vixie ran in front of Polly's car this morning and Tzu darted out in front of us on our way here. The coincidence was just too much. As you spend more time here, you'll see that there are no accidents in this reality. They were obviously attracted to us since we were looking for Hubbard and you were with him. It all just sort of fell together. What did you call it Orbel? Inter . . . something?" asked Sara.

  ". . . sectionality. Intersectionality. It's a force here. People come here to free themselves from intense and negative attachments to the leaders that dwell here. Intersectionality makes things happen. We don't exactly know how. It has to do with intention" Orbel explained.

  "So people who died will be trying to find Ron for some kind of release? A release to where? Aren't we already dead?" asked Mary Sue with a look of concern. 

  "Just those with an axe to grind, so to speak. Those hurt or negatively affected by Mr. Hubbard or his ideas" said Orbel.

  Mary Sue looked at Ron with an expression of concern which morphed into a sudden, impish grin, "Oh my, Ron, you're going to be a very busy boy."

  Everyone looked at Hubbard for one uncomfortable moment.

 "Well, what do we do now?" asked Sara. "Aren't we supposed to disappear or something now that we've seen him?"

  "Not necessarily" said a voice from the outer hallway. 

  A handsome man wearing khaki slacks and a white polo shirt walked in through the open door and extended his hand to Sara, "I am Joseph Smith, Sara. So wonderful to meet you in person. Our little mission was quite the success! And you must be Polly. Also a great pleasure." Then he noticed Mary Sue standing there, and a look of wonder came over his face. "And can this be Mary Sue Hubbard?" Mary Sue Nodded. "Oh, my dear, please call me Joe, so very happy to make your acquaintance" and then with a deadpan aside to Hubbard, "you're still in one piece, for now" a wink followed. 

  Sara shook the Prophet's hand, in awe of coming face to face with history in such a solid way. "So you're Joseph Smith? Really? Do you know Jesus too? Well, of course you would, wouldn't you? I'm sorry, that was stupid of me . . ."

  Joseph looked pained and said "No, not as stupid as you might think" there was an uncomfortable pause and then, "it's complicated." He took Mary Sue by the arm and started walking together toward the door, "You must have a lot of questions and while I don't have all the answers, I do have some. Are these little fellows yours?" he said pointing to the dogs dancing around her feet. Mary Sue nodded. "Oh, aren't they just darling . . . "

 "Hey, I thought you came for me!" said Hubbard with a hurt look.

  "It really is always all about you, isn't it? Well Ron, your wife has just come out of her loop, and if she will accept the invitation, will be our guest for a while at Mountain Meadows. Now, I didn't forget you. I had my boys drop off a tire for your disabled car. Your messengers are waiting just over there" said the Prophet as they all emerged into the afternoon sun. The two messengers waved enthusiastically to Hubbard from the old, silver Cadillac.

  "So Joe, Polly and I aren't going to disappear or go free?" said Sara, nervously. 

  "Evidently, you'e not done here for some reason, but this ought to help you feel a bit more free" Joe said gesturing toward a flawless, metallic aquamarine, '66 Thunderbird convertible. "You'll find your luggage in the trunk. Drive around, explore the universe a bit. The keys are in the ignition."

  "How did you know?" Said Sara beaming at the Mormon.

  "How did he know, what?" asked Polly.

  Sara looked expectantly at Joe who answered "a little fishy told me."

  Polly looked more confused than ever.

  "The car, it's from a movie that I really loved. Let's just say it was about two women who woke up from living as chess pieces in men's games" said Sara with welling eyes.

  "Did it have a happy ending?" asked Polly.

  "After a fashion, and besides, we've already got that part down pat. Let's hit the road, old girl and I'll tell you the story!"

  Joe stood there with Mary Sue on his arm and said, "Well put Sara. In Hubbard's game, you were just pieces to move about the board, all three of you. Now, you're not only the players, you'll making the rules in ways you could never begin to imagine before. You're not done here yet. This is a fascinating place, you never know who you're going to run into out there. If you need help, you'll get it."

  Mary Sue looked overwhelmed. "So, I'm going with you?" she asked Joe. "That sounds good. Wait a minute though." She walked over to Sara and Polly. "I know I said that I knew who you were, but I've a feeling I've probably been wrong about an awful lot of things. I may not know you, but I think I know what you've been through, some of it at my bidding. This is all so strange, so very strange. I hope maybe someday we'll meet again."

  Sara and Polly each took one of Mary Sue's hands. "It's a deal. You get your bearings. We'll see you around" said Sara.

  "Thanks again for taking good care of my babies, they mean the world to me." And with that Joe helped Mary Sue and the dogs into the back of his Escalade and they drove off with Elders Cooper and Chalmers bringing up the rear.

  Hubbard just stood in the doorway, looking dejected, trying to get his flyaway hair under control as Sara and Polly cruised slowly past, getting a feel for big T-bird. 

  "He's fatter than I remember" said Sara.

  "Really? He looks about the same to me . . . like a walking lie" said Polly looking back over her shoulder as they drove out the first set of gates into the unknown.


  Hubbard stood there feeling sorry for himself until he remembered that there were fresh Kools in the Brougham. He gestured for the girls to bring the car around to him. When it arrived before him, the taller Messenger got out and opened the door for him. As he settled in, Cigarette Girl handed him a Kool, he lit it himself, and the menthol and nicotine smoothed out his nerves and the world was back to a reasonable level of comfort. They'd reach R6 City by nightfall and then he'd read what was in those folders he'd stacked up in his room, and get to the bottom of all this nonsense.

•••

  When the Mk Ultra VIII Eternal Energy Cell™ was being marketed by the Voltar-Invay Consortium on Marcab VII, they were called to the carpet for their extravagant claim of "eternal" by the MBBB, who watched out for the best interest of some 850 billion citizens of the Confederation. It turned out they were really old Mk VIIs that been over produced a few decades before and sat in a storage orbital ever since. They just slapped some new cladding and graphics on them and hoped nobody would be the wiser. I guess things haven't really changed that much in the last 75 million years.

  Before he was sentenced by the Court of the Imperium on the litigant world of Tremant Prime for commercial fraud, Mirx Invay, CEO of the embattled energy cell Consortium was quoted as saying "Oh, come on your honor, so it's not technically 'eternal.'  The franxxing things should be good for 75 million years. That's certainly as good at eternal, isn't it?" The judge agreed with that point and like so many wealthy citizens, Invay got off with a slap on what would pass for a wrist had he been a vertebrate.

•••

  Meanwhile, in a certain Electronic Mountain Trap . . .

Sunday, August 17, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 20 "Over And Under The Rainbow"

  "You never even wrote me a letter."

  In his brief time since waking from his loop, he'd faced some intense people from his past, but this one was too much. Hubbard just turned and headed back down the long hallway of the prison. He didn't even say a word to the woman who'd taken what was undoubtedly the biggest of the many bullets life had sent his way. Like he'd always justified to himself, she had 'pulled it in.' She was out ethics. That's all there was to it. As the last great hope for planetary clearing, as mankind's bestie, he owed it to himself to KSW, and especially to keep himself out of prison.

  He knew he should've never set foot in this place. Now the hall felt like it was closing in around him. He reached the end of the hallway but the door that he'd come through was now locked.

  He turned around and there she was again, in her dress whites, not five feet away from him. Her face wore the same sad, disappointed expression she would get whenever he'd fucked up royally and she'd had to make excuses for him when they were alive.

  "You never even wrote me a letter" she said stoically.

  "I don't have to put up with this" Hubbard muttered as he brushed past her trying to find another way out of the cell block. Only the long hallway now seemed shorter by half, and there was Mary Sue at the other end of it. How the hell was she doing that, anyway?

  "You never even wrote me a letter." This time she said it holding the Scientology Justice Manual up in front of him.

  "So, what are you going to do Mary Sue, hit me with my own book? Lock me up? Beat me?" Hubbard sneered.

  "You never even wrote me a letter" she said again, with that expression that ate into his empty core.

  "Shut up woman! Shut the hell up! What the fuck do you know about what I went through after you went to prison? I may have been on my last legs, but I know that you only served a goddamn year! Do you have any idea what you and your GO fuck-ups did to me? I had the big plan and the tech in place to safepoint the whole fucking government and you ruined it! I had to spend the rest of my life in hiding! And because of you, that little shit Miscavige got into power and now he's destroyed my legacy! Didn't write to you . . . why the fuck would I you stupid bitch!?"

  "You never even wrote me a letter."

  They were like armor piercing rounds, her simple words. Every time they hit, they dug a bit deeper. He knew he couldn't take too many more direct hits. Soon he'd feel something, and well, that was just not going to happen. He grabbed the large binder of the Justice Manual from her hands, closed his eyes and swung it directly at her head. He had to silence her. 

   He got nothing but air.

  From behind him now, "You never even wrote me a letter."

  What the fuck? How was she doing that? In a blind rage he dropped the manual and lunged at her throat pinning her against the cinder block wall. He squeezed as hard as he could. She didn't even put up a fight. He finally let go and Mary Sue's lifeless body slid slowly to the floor.

  He backed away from her, beet red, gasping for air. She lay there, open eyes staring lifelessly at the fluorescent overhead lights. He shut his eyes. Now he'd really done it. He couldn't stand to look at her corpse.

  "She shouldn't . . . have said . . . that . . . to me. She just shouldn't have said that . . ." he was still panting heavily.

  "You never even wrote me a letter" he heard from his left. 

  There she was again! Just as he had first seen her. He looked back to where she'd slid down the wall, but she was gone. How was she doing this? Why was she doing this to him? Why was she being so . . . selfish?

  "HELP! Let me out of here, goddammit!" he yelled with manic intensity. He pounded on the cell block door. He couldn't breathe. Everything was closing in on him. "Where are my messengers?Get me out of here you fucking little bitches! You're all in treason!" he yelled so loudly his voice cracked. 

  "You never even wrote me a letter" came the words, now barely a whisper from his wife's lips, so close they brushed his right ear.

  He spun around and pushed her back, "So goddamn what!? So I didn't fucking write you a fucking letter! What, am I supposed to do, get down on my hands and knees and beg your forgiveness because you spent one fucking year in the clink? I'll bet you spent the rest of your life spending my money!"

  "You never even wrote me . . ."

  "A FUCKING LETTER! Yes, yes, I know! Shut up! Shut up! Shut UP!" The hallway seemed to be contracting now, so that it had become a cell itself. He was trapped. With her. 

  "You never even wrote me a letter." This was hell. Plain and simple. Hell. 

  "Okay, okay. I give up. I'm, uh, sorry I never wrote to you. I was ashamed of what I did and I just couldn't face you after your selfless act" he added with a theatrical bow. "Isn't that better? See how sorry I am?" he tried looking friendly and happy, but instead of a smile it was more of the kind of grimace one gets when straining on the toilet.

  She said her line again.

  "God, I need a cigarette! I need a fucking cigarette!" he patted himself down to see if he had any on him. He remembered his manifesting the lighter and the Cadillac this morning. "Okay, calm down. Calm down old boy. Use command intention. Breathe." 

  Mary Sue repeated her plaintive line yet again.

  "Okay, okay, I can do this." He he tried to breathe and quiet down. With great, studied nonchalance he said "now, where's my key to this door?"

  He waited a second or two, then patted down his pockets. Nothing. He listened at the door. Nobody coming. He was trapped.

••• 

  The huge Escalade in which the missionaries picked them up was beyond the most luxurious vehicle Polly had ever imagined. Both she and Sara had their own large, leather chairs in the back. Amazingly, they also had their own little televisions set into the seatbacks in front of them. They cruised in isolated silence. Things had come quite a long way since 1963. Vixie was dozing on top of Sara's coat in yet a third row of seats.

  "So boys, do you know where we're going?" asked Sara.

  "No, not really." The squeaky clean young man in the passenger seat chirped cheerily.

  "Well, how exactly are we supposed to find Hubbard?" said Polly with a note of concern.

  "Don't worry ladies, intersectionality will find him. Just relax and enjoy the ride."

  Just as the the missionary in the passenger seat said those words, two things happened, the driver let out a splendid obscenity, followed by a sudden spin that left the huge SUV in the opposite lane, facing the direction they'd just come from.

  After checking to see if Vixie was okay, Sara spun back around and said "What the hell was that all about, I thought we were going to flip over!"

  "Golly, I'm so sorry ladies, I really am. There was a little dog! I hope I didn't hit him." The driver was gripping the wheel tightly and deep-breathing to compose himself.

  Sara and Polly looked at each other with stunned disbelief. Another dog in the road incident?

  "Well, pull off the road, we don't want to get hit either" said Polly.

  Once they pulled over the two missionaries set about the grim task of checking on the dog.

  "That's just too weird, Polly. A dog runs out in front of us and we almost run off the road . . . lightning striking twice?" said Sara.

   In the distance the ladies heard, "Here he is! He's okay!" It was the driver talking. "Come here little guy . . ."

   Sara and Polly strained to see through the heavily tinted glass of the Escalade. They could just make out that the boys were returning with the dog. When they arrived at the car Vixie started barking, wagging her stub of a tail excitedly. Sara lowered the window to have a look at the latest wandering canine.

  "He's kinda dirty. Maybe we should leave him here" said the taller of the two missionaries.

  "Not on your life. You hand him to me and we'll worry about the rest." The new dog was a soiled, bedraggled little thing. It had a collar that was strikingly similar to Vixie's with a little brass plaque on it that said 'Tzu.' But more intriguing than that coincidence, was the key hanging where a license would normally dangle. Odd, that.

"How about it girl? Shall we bring Tzu along?" Sara said to Vixie, as if she could understand every word. Vixie let out one solitary bark.

  "Look, she's wagging her stump!" said Polly. "I think she likes him . . . or her. Hard to tell with all that hair."

  "Well, whatever this dog is, something tells me that it and this key, are all part of the puzzle we're in the middle of."

  "Alright boys, drive on!" said Polly. And with that the big Cadillac roared off into the night and out of the universe that Polly and Sara had known as home.

•••

  How long had it been? Hours? Days? It didn't matter, it was the closest thing to hell Hubbard could imagine. Mary Sue, who had been so bright and intelligent in her life was reduced to this . . . broken record of recrimination. At least they didn't have to go to the bathroom. That was about the only good thing Hubbard could think of at the time. None of his command intention seemed to be working. His Messengers were nowhere to be found and nobody was showing up to let him out of this cramped space. 

  All he wanted was for this woman to shut up about the goddamn letter he never wrote. Wouldn't someone come rescue him? Anyone? Nibs? That crazy Perón woman? And where was Sid? He always knew what to do. Ron didn't have the little Apple phone on him, it was just beyond the perimeter fence in the Cadillac . . . with his smokes. Smokes! Oh, god, why did he think of smokes! He craved nicotine worse than wanting to get out of this place. Where were his newfound, godlike powers when he really needed them?

•••

The Diamond White Escalade emerged into the universe next door. The missionaries knew that they'd end up wherever intersectionality took them. With these two women on board, the draw to Hubbard would be powerful, so they just drove calmly through the wooded hills they found themselves in once they'd crossed The Bridge. It was a muggy day, the air felt heavy as though it might storm at any moment. The sun was just up and they could make out a leaden gray sky above the bright green of the hardwood forest. The roads were still damp from a recent downpour. 

  Their passengers were asleep in the back, a dog on each lap when they came upon two young, scantily clad women standing by an old, silver luxury car. They blocked the roadway, waving their arms above their heads. The missionaries brought the SUV to a smooth halt and looked at each other, blushing.

  The dogs both went crazy, startling Polly and Sara out of a sound sleep.

  "What the hell's that all about?" said Sara trying to blink the sleep from her eyes.

  "Your guess is as good as mine" replied an equally groggy Polly.

  "Uh, ladies, we have a problem" said the driver. "I think these girls need some help. Looks like they broke down."

  "On their way to a strip club from the looks of it . . . " said Sara under her breath. That set Polly to laughing.  

  "Now, now, Sara. We were all young once." said Polly smiling knowingly.

  "Alright! Vixie! Tzu! Hush up! Be good dogs." Polly got the dogs calmed down as the two almost identical, young Amazons approached the driver's window.

  "Can I help you ladies?" said the clearly flustered missionary.

  "Our . . . grandfather is missing." said the taller of the two.

  "Oh, yes, our poor grandfather! We got a flat, and he wandered away from the car the other night, and we've been looking for him. Did you see an older man walking about out here?" said the younger girl craning her neck to get a look inside the Escalade.

  The dogs growled menacingly at the girls despite Sara and Polly's attempts to soothe them.

  "I guess they don't like hookers" muttered Sara, just loud enough for Polly to elbow her in the ribs.

  "Well, maybe we can help you girls find your poor grand-dad" said Polly, lowering her window. The girls came to peer in and recoiled at the sight of the growling dogs. 

  "Oh, don't be afraid of them, they're really quite sweet when you get to know them" Polly assured them. "What are you names, girls?"

  The scantily clad twins looked at each other for a moment too long and then said in unison "Sally!"

 "No, I mean she's, we're . . . I'm Sally and she's . . . uh, . . . Cindy! She's Cindy. We are Sally and Cindy . . . Smith!"

  "Are you sisters?" asked Sara.

  "Yes. We're sisters. The Smith Sisters. Can you help us find our grandfather?" they asked in unison.

   "Uh, sure. What say we help the Smith sisters find ol' gramps?" said Sara drily.

  "Are you sisters?" the taller of the two asked with her head cocked to the side, Vixie style.

  "After a fashion," said Polly.

  "Oh" said the girl blankly.

   There was an uncomfortable pause in the conversation as the twins stared blankly at Polly and Sara. "Well! That old man ain't gonna find himself, now is he?" said Sara in her best hillbilly voice. The two missionaries looked back at the ladies with no small amount of alarm.

  "What is it boys?" Sara asked.

  The missionaries both looked sideways toward the twins.

   "Well, put the windows up!" Sara hissed miming a window crank.

  "We'll be right with you girls!" said Polly as she and the boys raised their windows. 

  "Now, what's with those faces you two? What's the problem?" said Sara.

  "Uh, well, um, those aren't really normal girls" said the driver.

  "No shit Sherlock! What are they, then?" sniped Sara.

  "They're like us. They're caretakers. We're not really people, I mean we were never really, alive people. We come with the territory to serve our masters." said the missionary in the passenger seat.

  Sara and Polly seemed stunned. "You mean you're robots or something?" asked Sara. She was trying not to look too freaked out.

  "No, no, we're . . . manifestations of following. It's hard to explain."

  "Try me" said Polly looking down her nose in disbelief.

  "Everyone in this reality has a following, was a leader of some kind. In our case, we appear as Mormon Missionaries to serve The Prophet. It's what we do."

  "Uh huh" said Sara, drawing out the 'huh.' "So who exactly are these two following, Hugh Hefner?"

  "We don't know. We've never seen them before. But I don't think they're looking for their grandfather" the driver said with dead seriousness.

  Sara and Polly exchanged eye rolls. "Could it be that they're looking for Hubbard? Is that why we've run across them? Isn't that how things work over here with that intersectionality thing you keep telling us about?"

  "Possibly, we must call the Prophet for more instructions."

  With that the driver pulled out a small tablet and tapped at its surface. He held it to his face and spoke. "Sir, this is Orbel . . ."

  "Wait! You have names?!" interrupted Sara.
  
  The missionary called Orbel grimaced and mimed the international symbol for 'pipe down' with his free hand. "Yes, sir, we're here sir . . . looks like the American mid-Atlantic area . . . yes . . . daytime . . . yes, and I think we've encountered some other caretakers. We think they could be the target's."

  Polly and Sara mouthed 'targets' to each other in unison. The as yet unnamed missionary glowered at them.

  Orbel continued, "Yes sir. I will sir. No, we did encounter a small dog in the road. No. No, sir. It's with us now. Uh huh. Yes. I will, sir. Goodbye." Orbel pressed the surface of the tablet again, and turned to face the women in the back seat.

  "Yes, we do have names, but it just never came up in conversation, sorry about that. Yes, I'm Orbel and this is CalDean, but you can call him Cal. We will help you find Mr. Hubbard. The Prophet has instructed us to do as these girls wish. They may very well be Hubbard's caretakers, they're not to be trusted." said Orbel gravely.

  "So, what do we do now?" asked Polly.

  "Take these leashes and put them on the dogs, we'll bring them along as they may have a part to play in this as well. Anything can be a clue or a sign."

  "Like my fish?" said Sara.

  "Yes, like your fish . . . whatever that means" said CalDean.

  "It's a long story, let's get on with this, shall we?" Sara said as they exited the back seat. They stretched out a bit and got right to business, asking the girls what had happened and where they had looked for their missing pater familias so far.

  After a long confusing tale, they figured that the girls had investigated the direction that they'd been driving in rather thoroughly, but hadn't gone beyond the back end of their disabled Brougham. So the whole search party set off along the tall fence capped with barbed wire that ran along the road until they came to a series of open gates. The dogs were growing more agitated as they went further inside the compound, a series of a dozen long concrete buildings.

  "I say we let them go, Polly. They're itching to find something out there" said Sara.

  The 'Smith' girls looked horrified that these snarling curs would be free to attack them.

    "Don't worry girls, like I said, once you get to know them, they're really quite sweet." And with that Sara and Polly unleashed the dogs who took off like a shot toward the first bunker-like structure. They all jogged along behind the dogs, all of them except the twins who remained frozen in fear.

•••

   Tears. Tears were very likely next on Ron's agenda as he lay in a heap in the corner. He had been reduced to a seething mass of frustration, anger, nicotine addiction and just plain petulance. Mary Sue would simply not shut up. There was no silencing her. Nothing worked. "Someone save me" he mumbled to himself as he stewed in his self-pity. "Please, someone save me . . . anyone. Anyone!" He began to blubber softly to himself, as the hunger for nicotine clawed at him like Mary Sue's accusing litany. And then he heard it . . . it sounded like scratching at the door. He heard it again. Yes! Yes! Someone was out there. And then the most blessed, most glorious sound of all, the sound of a key in the lock. He was saved.

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 19 "Sisters"

  Had she dozed off? She'd been having chest pains and arrythmia again, and sometimes the meds made her a bit woozy, but this was off the charts.

  It was dark overhead, but toward her feet she could see a soft light. She seemed to be outside, yes, it was dusk and the fireflies were out . . . or were they? They were awfully big for lightning bugs. Maybe her oxygen line had fallen out. Yes, that was what it was. She felt for the clip in her nose, it was gone. No wonder she was seeing things. Yes, her poor brain was clearly starved for oxygen. She reached down her chest to find it, but it wasn't there. What was there startled her. She felt a pair of unfamiliar, firm, small breasts. And wait a minute . . . this was not her body, not by a long shot, and what the hell had happened to her stomach? With growing bewilderment, she held her hands in front of her face, only these were small and delicate, with long nails. There were beautiful filigree rings on the third and fourth fingers on each hand that danced before her eyes.

  This was crazy. It had to be the drugs, or maybe her chronic lack of lung capacity. She had to try to get up and find that hose.

  Getting up was a little too easy. After months of struggling to do the simplest things, Denise Brennan sat up with no difficulty whatsoever, unless you consider hitting her head on the low tangle of roots above her as difficult. That was when she saw the ephemeral silhouette, and heard the words "Welcome home sister, welcome to the Fae." That was when she knew that everything had really changed.

•••

  Sara put the kettle on while Polly took off her wet things and donned the robe that Sara left for her in the downstairs bathroom. The corgi watched Sara's every move. "You little beggar, I'll bet you're hungry . . ." she wondered if it was male or female. It was wearing a collar with an engraved plate bearing what she assumed was its name. Dog and collar were both so dirty that she decided to run some warm water in the laundry room sink to bathe the poor, filthy thing. Sara unbuckled the collar while the dog made every attempt it could to lick her face. It was very sweet and affectionate.

  "Well, let's see who you are, dirty doggy" she said. The dog looked at her so intelligently that she half expected it to answer her. The sink was filling, and she ran the dirt-caked collar under the warm stream from the faucet.

  "Alright then . . . Vixie" the dog cocked its head to one side in recognition. "Is that your name? Are you Vixie?" the Corgi was practically dancing with excitement at this point. "Well, I guess you are, then, aren't you, girl?" The dog's name must be short for 'Vixen,' Sara thought. Vixie had jumped up and was standing on her back legs against the cabinet where the sink was filling, she clearly wanted a bath.

  "Alright Vixie, let's get you clean." And with that the dog allowed herself to be gathered up and placed in the warm water in the washbasin.

  The kettle began to whistle and Polly chimed in from the kitchen, "where do you keep your tea, Sara?"

  "In the second largest canister on the counter, to the right of the sink." The dog was loving the soapy rubdown she was getting, she was clearly used to being groomed regularly.

  "So, did you figure out who our little friend is?" said Polly as she poured hot water into the yellow teapot on the counter.

  "Her name is Vixie, and she's a very sweet girl! Somebody must miss her terribly." Sara was rinsing the last of the soap from the dog's thick coat. She grabbed a towel off the linen shelf and scooped the dripping dog up in a single motion. The dog was writhing in ecstasy, wrapped in the fluffy towel.

  "What do you take in your tea, Sara?" asked Polly from the kitchen.

  "Black is perfect" came the answer. Sara came in from the laundry room with the wiggling corgi peering out from the towel.

  "Well, she certainly seems happy now" Polly said, "have a seat and I'll bring the tea over to you."

  "Thanks. You know, I really meant it when I said how much your kind words helped me through a crazy time. That's why I said we were going to look for you. I wanted to find you because you believed me when hardly anybody else would" Sara was drying off the writhing Vixie who was playfully biting at her through the towel.

  "I felt awful for you. Ron had cheated on me so many times by then that I really had no malice toward you. I just worried that he'd treat you badly" said Polly over the rim of her cup.

  "Oh, he did alright. Did you ever hear? Did you read about it in the papers? The kidnapping? The time he dragged me out into the desert in my nightgown and tried to have me committed?" the dog was now splayed out on its back as Sara dried its belly with another towel.

  "Certainly I did. I read about the divorce and how the bastard stole Alexis from you. I had all the clippings in a book. My poor husband, John, he tried to understand, but really, who'd believe half the stories we could tell?" A sad look passed between them. Polly went on, "The nerve of that man never ceases to amaze me. Honestly, once he was out of my life I tried to pretend he'd never existed. It was easy for me, but not for my children. Poor Nibs was drawn to his father like a moth to a flame. We've not spoken since my passing . . . or his. After John joined me here in, well, wherever we are now, I prayed that Nibs would find me someday. I saw that he passed too young, broken by his father's cult. Wherever he is, I hope he's alright, he was a gentle soul, Ron just ran roughshod over the poor boy. Whenever he was actually around, that is." Polly's demeanor had hardened talking about Ron.

  "You had a daughter, too, Katherine was it? Is she still back there or has she joined us here?" asked Sara.

  "My sweet Katherine May appeared at our door a few years ago, she was 74 when she died. I mean I've been here 51 years now, it's hard to believe sometimes. Almost dreamlike. She's lived with us since then. She seems so lost at times, like she's not all here." Polly stared out the window as she recalled being reunited with her daughter.

  "Polly, you just said 'dreamlike,' and I've realized lately that I've felt this way ever since I can remember, like I wasn't quite myself, until I got that phone call, and thought of you, that is" Sara set her tea down and looked intently at Polly.

  "That's right. You said you were going to look for me. And, well, here I am. Now that you mention it, it's odd, but I feel so much more . . . myself now, talking to you . . . like this." Polly held up her cup and joked "Say, what's in this stuff?"

  "No, no, you're right, this is exactly what was coming to my mind after I hung up with the Mormon guy, like I was awake after years of sleep. I don't think I ever explained exactly what happened . . ." Sara excitedly filled Polly in on her strange conversation with Joseph Smith. She finished with "and everything just happened so fast after that, I was just thinking about how leaving my safe life here was kind of bracing and then there you were, dripping wet with our little friend in hand. Strange. But then, so many things here are."

  "You know, I hadn't thought of Ron since Katherine showed up a few years ago. I'd seen some things about him in the news . . . but, honestly, I can't really remember when. I think I read Nibs' obituary when he passed. It's odd, I don't remember the details. So, maybe we really are together for some reason since Ron came out of this loop thing the Mormon told you about." Polly said with a dawning awareness.

  "Maybe we've been in loops all these years, biding our time until we can confront Ron in that other universe? Sort of spooky, don't you think?" Sara was clutching the dog close to her now, like a baby.

  "More like exciting! You said these 'missionaries' are coming to pick you up?" asked Polly.

  "I guess so, I thought you were them when you knocked on the door." The dog was now licking her face excitedly.

  "Well, I'm coming along, I'm not going to miss our chance to confront that bastard together." Polly was clutching her spoon like a gavel, banging her fist on the table for emphasis.

  With that, Vixie began to bark excitedly.

  "It looks like we'll be a threesome, then" laughed Sara.

•••

Denise struggled to take in her surroundings and the implications of them. She was flooded with elation and grief in equal measure. Was she dead? Was she truly of The Fae? Could it be that there really was such a storybook world?

  "Sister, there is such a storybook world. A world among worlds, among worlds. Stories within stories. I cannot explain other than that." said the radiant woman at the foot of the mossy bed in which Denise awoke. Her words were like music and gold.

  "But, this place, this body" then she remembered, "oh, my family! My beautiful, little granddaughter! All my friends . . ." the tears came in waves.

  "It's the way of all worlds dear sister. The cycles are immutable. Some long. Some just a flash, but everything comes and goes. All these worlds. Everything." The soft greenish aura of the young woman had turned to a deep purple, almost ultraviolet as she looked down compassionately as Denise struggled with this unreal reality.

  "All these feelings . . . this place. It's all so much to take in. And you! You're so beautiful. Am I beautiful now?" Denise asked stroking her long, slender legs.

  The glowing woman laughed, "Oh, my dear sister, you never really saw that you were always beautiful. Now come, rise up with me and let me tell you the story, inside of the story, inside of the story . . ."

•••

  Sara was now packed and ready to leave for who knows where. Vixie was watching her every move so as not to be left out of anything. "Polly, are you sure you don't need for us to stop by your car to get anything?"

  "No, I just think I should call John. I hope I can get through." Then she stopped suddenly. What was her telephone number? She couldn't for the life of her remember it. "I . . . I can't remember my phone number." She looked panicked. "I can't even remember how to get to my house! I know we lived in Philadelphia . . . I think." Her afterlife here, everything seemed to be fading away. A tear streamed down her cheek.

  "Oh, Polly. What's happening to us? I can hardly remember yesterday at this point!" She walked over and took Polly's hand.

  "I don't know, Sara. I just don't know. But, I'm not afraid. I'm just not. I mean, we're dead godammit . . ." with that they both started to laugh. Vixie jumped off her chair and stood up on Sara's leg, whining softly.

  "Well, don't you start too!" she said picking up the Corgi.

  Just then, there was a knock at the door.

  Their laughing stopped and the two women looked at each other with a serious demeanor.

  "Something tells me our ride's here, Polly"

  "Something tells me you're right, Sara."

  Sara took one last look around at this house that had been such a peaceful haven. She felt no regrets.

  It was time to move on.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 18 "A Place Where Nothing Ever Happens"

  Sara was sitting in her favorite chair, finishing a crossword puzzle when the call came. A steady, summer rain was falling and through the open patio doors, the world smelled of green and loam. Like so many occurrences in this pleasant place, the call followed a premonition. The Amherst Bulletin crossword puzzle she was working was called 'Sounds Fishy,' and the clue 'helpless' led her to think 'flounder,' but instead she automatically wrote 'Hubbard' with an exclamation point. These kinds of things happened quite often, so she was hardly shocked when she heard the news from the stranger on the phone. It wasn't like when you were alive and had those coincidences where you'd think of someone and then they'd call, but nothing would come of it. No, in this place, these sorts of things always meant something.

  She wondered who this Joe Smith was when he first introduced himself. Sara had no idea that there was another reality sitting cheek to jowl with hers, let alone one filled to the brim with more popes and prophets, baghwans and bishops, muftis and movie stars, cardinals and conmen than you could shake a stick at. She had always assumed there would be an afterlife since her mother was a spiritualist, and Sara had delved into black magick through her relationship with Jack Parsons, from whose bed Hubbard had lured her. It just hadn't turned out quite the way she imagined it would. Though very pleasant and calm, day-to-day existence here felt sort of subdued and muffled.

  "Joseph Smith. I was the prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints? You know . . . the Mormons?" Joe wasn't getting anywhere, she was silent on the other end of the line.

  "Oh, right, yes . . . Mormons" she said drawing out the first 'o' in Mormon. There was another long pause, then she blurted out "Is this about Ron Hubbard by any chance?"

  Smith was a bit shocked, "Well, as a matter of fact, uh, why yes. Yes it is. How did you know?"

  "A fish told me. Are you the ones who don't do blood transfusions?" asked Sara earnestly.

  "A fish told . . . I . . . well, uh, no. No, you're thinking of the Jehovah's Witnesses, they're a bit weird like that" Joe finished.

  "I always got you people confused with them. Sorry, but between Hubbard and Jack, my taste for exotic religious experiences soured a bit" she said dryly.

  Smith went on, "Well, I am calling about Hubbard. He's finally emerged from his loop and I'm sure that sooner or later, you'll be drawn to him for release."

  "Loop? Release? Release from what?" she had no idea what he was talking about.

  "How long have you been . . . you know . . ." Joe stammered.

  "Look, if you mean dead, then just say dead" Sara was getting annoyed by this guy. "And what do you mean by 'loop?'" she queried.

  Joe continued, "On certain rare occasions, when one arrives, uh, here, or where you are, one might not be quite ready to face one's deeds in life and one goes into a repetitive, protective sort of trance."

"Oh, one does, does one?" said Sara theatrically. "Well, that explain's precisely nothing. We didn't exactly get a manual when we woke up dead, you know."

  "Sara, haven't you noticed that there are some people who just seem to be stuck in a loop of sorts, always doing the same thing over and over again?"

  She thought about it for a moment then said, "Oh, you mean like Miss Huntoon down the street. She just walks to the gate and calls for some lost child, over and over again. She doesn't seem to even see any of the rest of us."

  "Well, there you go! She probably did something awful when she was alive and can't face it. Sounds like a classic loop in action. In any case, I could use your help in finding Hubbard and since you were affected by him so negatively, it should be a cinch to find him using your pull. May I send some missionaries to collect you?" he asked.

  "My pull? I doubt I'd have any pull with him. I despise the man, and last I checked, the feeling was mutual. Please be clear, Mr. Smith. What are you saying?" This man was proving to be quite vexing.

  "Pull isn't something you have, it's something you feel, something that guides you. What I'm saying is that I need to find Hubbard and, whether you know it or not, so do you." the man sounded deadly earnest.

  "Alright, so let's say I do go with your missionaries, how will that help you find him?" her curiosity was piqued now.

  "It's called intersectionality, here. And when I say 'here,' I mean the reality where I am. I'm assuming things work more or less the same way where you are. You're in an adjacent reality, a sort of cosmic waiting room." Explaining this was always a challenge.

  "Cosmic waiting room? Might I ask exactly what it is that I'm to wait for?"

  "Well, those of us here where I am, we were all leaders of some sort. Cults, religions, theatre, politics. The common thread we all share is that each and every one of us had followers in life. We're trapped here basically, cut off from all the adjacent realities. We have caretakers who can travel between dimensions and help facilitate your transition." This was always the complicated part. "We believe that your reality serves as a waystation for those who need to intersect with some of our denizens."

  "Wait a second, my 'transition' to what, or should I say 'where?'"

  "You see, when you've been affected by one of us over here in a powerful way you need to interact with them to set you free." His tone was concerned and kind.

  "Free from what? I'm already dead, what's left after that?"

  "We don't know. I'd love to tell you there's something wonderful, but we think it just might be oblivion or nonexistence. To be honest, after a few hundred years, you'll pine for it. Trust me."

  Sara had to think about that one. She had been dead for some 17 years at this point, and her time here had been wonderfully restful. Reading, gardening, painting and cooking filled out her days. Her house was lovely, with a view of Mt. Holyoke and the woods that came right up to her cottage garden. At first she had missed her husband Miles. She thought that surely they'd be together once he passed on, but he never did show up. She was 73 when she went and surely Miles would be in his nineties by now. She figured that it wasn't impossible for him to still be alive, but doubt always gnawed. Eventually, she moved on with her afterlife, made friends, dated a few men. They would talk about their situations, but that's all it ever amounted to. Talk. It was as though nobody really cared what the truth about their reality was. Now here was someone who was claiming to be in another afterlife, and a prophet to boot. It was all too tempting to ignore.

  "You know what, mister? I think I may just take you up on your offer, but there's going to be a catch."

  Joe wasn't expecting this answer, especially the whole catch part, but it was better than a cold 'no.' "Very well then, what is this catch then?"

  "I want to bring a friend along. Someone who reached out to me once, when I was down and out. Someone who understands. We're sort of sisters who never actually met. If anyone has a dog in this fight it's her."

  "And this would be?" Joseph asked tentatively.

  "Margaret Hubbard, Ron's first wife. Polly, think she liked to be called. The bastard really put it to her for years. She passed sometime in the '60s. I owe this to her." For the first time in 17 years Sara felt truly present, as though she'd awakened from a trance. She knew one thing for sure, Smith was right about there being a pull, and she felt it as sure as her own pulse. She had to find Polly. 

  "How do we do it?" asked Sara.

  "Leave that to me, I'll find your friend. I'll send the boys to collect you at once. Thank you Mrs. Hollister, thank you so very much. Goodbye for now." With that the line went to a dial tone and she hung up her phone.

  She looked around her tidy, perfect little cottage, only now, it didn't look as comforting and soothing as it used to. It seemed confining and more than a little smothering. She wondered if she should pack a bag. Would things still just show up when she needed them in this other reality? Were the rules the same? Her mind was flooded with possible scenarios, and not all of them were pretty. She turned on the television, but got only static. The same with the radio. Was it the storm? No. The rain was retreating to the northeast and the sun was sparkling on the droplets in her garden. Just then, she heard a knock at the door. It had been only minutes since she hung up the phone. How could they have arrived so quickly?

  Sara opened her front door, not to Mormon missionaries, but to Polly Hubbard's warm smile. She was soaking wet and clutching a shivering Corgi.

  "I'm awfully sorry to bother you, but I was driving back to Philadelphia and this little fellow ran out in front of me. I swerved to get out of the way and ended up in a ditch. and I wondered if I could use your phone for some help?" said the first Mrs. Hubbard.

  "Polly! It's me. Sara Hollister . . . I mean Northrup . . . you know, Hubbard! Your letter meant so much to me and I always wanted to thank you for it, but . . . well, the thing is I was just talking about you to the Mormon guy." This clearly wasn't registering from the blank look on Polly's face. "I know this must sound crazy, but we were just about to go looking for you."

  "You're Sara Northrup?" Polly was stunned.

  "Yes! I'm Sara Northrup, Alexis' mother. I got a call from Joseph Smith, he's in some other dimension . . . I know it sounds nuts, but he said I had to go to find Hubbard over there, that he was out of some kind of loop and finding him would free me from something and I told him I wouldn't do it without you. Look, I hardly know how to explain this to myself, come in, you two are soaked! I'll put some tea on and try to explain . . ."


Sunday, July 06, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 17 "Temporal Trouble in Paradise"

  "Brigham? Did you put the potato salad away?" yelled the founder of the LDS church. Joseph Smith was wearing his red, white and blue barbecue apron, and trying to scrub away the sooty remains of Jack Parson's terrifying firework display from the patio area. Their July Fourth parties were legend in these parts.

  "What do you think? You think I want us to throw up for a week like Fourth of July, 1956? That was fun" came the gruff reply from the open kitchen doors.

  Nº. 49 Isaiah Way didn't usually stand out from the thousands of other mini-mansions that made up the stucco metastases that was Mountain Meadows. But, for the last week it had been festooned with red, white and blue bunting, and a huge, inflatable reproduction of the Declaration of Independence had stood puffed up on the front lawn. Missionaries had been scuttling about, cleaning and bringing in loads of food from the Costco just off the Zion Parkway in anticipation of the crowd to come.

  Of course, Joe had the missionaries to clean up for him, but they never really did it right. Besides, he was full of nervous energy and cleaning always helped. Even though it was always a big production, he always felt a bit happier to have their home filled with so many people, even if they weren't blood family.

  "Did you see what happened to that clown Hubbard? He's finally surfaced!" growled Brigham. He was looking the news on his iPad and making sandwiches from some party leftovers.

  "What can't you get down from the cupboard?" yelled Smith from the back yard.

  "I said Hubbard goddammit! Hubbard! Did you see what happened to him?" Brigham said with no small amount of exasperation. They had been together 24 hours a day for the last two weeks planning the party. He needed some time away. Maybe he could join Fred Remington and Gertie Stein at Fred's lodge near Yellowstone for some hunting and a few shots of whiskey this summer. He loved Joe, but sometimes . . .

  "Oh, goodness, I was wondering what happened to him. Does he seem to be getting anywhere with his progression?" yelled Joe from the deck.

  "Not from the looks of it" said Brigham, taking a huge bite of his ham and cheese sandwich. "I guess he's been running into some fairly irate characters since we sent him off with Mo. The followers are tough to deal with, but it's always the family that stabs the hardest."

  "Are you talking with your mouth full again? I can hardly understand you. And sit up straight when you eat, you know you get indigestion otherwise" said Joe primly, as he entered the kitchen carrying the the last few stray glasses from the yard.

  Brigham just sat there, in mid-bite, fuming. His light complexion reddened to match the bloody curse on his skin. Joseph was just about to say something else when Brigham snapped, "Well, if you'd actually listen to what I'm saying maybe I wouldn't have to repeat every goddamn word!"

  The bustling missionaries scattered like cockroaches exposed to light.

  "Is it so wrong that I try to maintain a few scraps of civilization around here? We're dead, but we're not savages! I try to keep a nice home for you . . ." Joe's lip was quivering.

  "Oh, fuck, here come the waterworks. I gotta get the hell out of here. Here's your fucking sandwich!" He pushed the plate across the island toward Joe, spun around and barked for his missionaries. "Darcel! Azer! We're outta here . . . now!"

  The two young men appeared from the hallway and waited nervously by the front door. When he reached the entry, Brigham turned back to Joe. "I was trying to tell you about how yer boyfriend Hubbard was doing, but you're at me! You're always at me! It's my manners, or my drinking, or my smoking, or I'm tracking in dirt! Leave me alone, Joe! Just leave me the fuck alone! Go find Hubbard! He probably likes that kind of hell!" And with that, he pushed his minions out the front door and slammed it behind him.

  Joe could hear the garage door opening, then the house shook with the rumble of the exhaust from Joe's H1. He always took the Hummer when he was angry. Joe listened as the huge SUV roared off for parts unknown. "Manners! The man has no manners!" he said to himself, as he compulsively cleaned the dust from the wainscoting in the hallway. "He'll be back after a few days of living like a savage . . . he always comes back." He composed himself as he walked back to the kitchen, saying to whichever missionaries remained in hiding, "Come out, come out, wherever you are! It's alright now, the show's over boys! Get back to work, and remember, that bunting needs to be rolled, not folded!"

  Joe looked at the sandwich sitting on the counter. Brig had decorated it with a tiny American flag on a toothpick. He could be so sweet. He wiped a tear from his cheek. Joe hated it when they fought. It was probably his own fault . . . again. Maybe he was too controlling after all, but the coarseness, how despised the coarseness . . . and the dirt . . . on his nice carpets. He looked at his phone sitting on the granite countertop and thought about calling Brigham to apologize. But, next to the phone was Brigham's iPad, still open to the story about Hubbard's abduction by his eldest son. The image was dramatic! Joe loved gossip and this was too good to ignore. He pushed the fracas to the back burner of his mind, then sat down to read the article and eat the sandwich Brig had made for him.

  This particular story was harrowing, and a bit thrilling if he was to be honest. Revenge, fire, monsters and ultimately the transcendence of the wronged. Oh, the first encounters with those that one had wronged could be potent and transformative. On the other hand, they could lock one even more firmly into delusion. That was always painful. Ron would learn . . . eventually. And what of Sid? It had been months of waiting. What happened to him in that fiery abduction? The pictures showed an awful scene. Just as he was thinking this, there was a chirping from his phone. Unsurprisingly, it was Sid. That's how things worked in this place. He picked up the phone. "Well, Mr. Lokavid, I was just thinking about you!" he said knowingly. "How are you doing?"

  "To be honest, I've had better weeks, I assume you've seen the news?" he said in his perfectly lilting voice.

  "Mmm hmmm, yes, I certainly did! And what a rowdydow that was, and right after seeing Jess? Does he know what happened to you? I'm sure he's concerned not hearing from you and all." There was a twinge of bitterness when he mentioned Jess. The man he'd built an empire for wouldn't so much as give him the time of day. He hoped Sid couldn't sense that. Joe continued, "so, my friend, how can I help?"

  "To be perfectly honest, I don't really remember everything that happened yet. Things don't seem to be lining up. I've read some reports, and the last one had Hubbard heading back to R6 City. I have no idea why." Sid paused and added "He's a tough nut to crack. There are a lot of people who want a piece of him right now."

  "Well, Sid, intersectionality being what it is, he could be anywhere. We'll just have to see how the winds blow. Is there anything we can do?" Joe really wanted in on this. He wasn't so sure Sid was up to the task.

  "Hard to say, Joe. What does Brigham think?" Sid waited for the reply, but there was silence. "Joe, is everything alright? Did you two have another row?"

    "It's okay . . . really. It was just one of our silly quarrels. The usual. He's off to drink or shoot something or wrestle a buffalo. He always comes back." Joseph tried to sound confident and breezy about the whole thing.

  "Disharmony is so unpleasant, but so much of the fabric of our lives is woven from it, no?" Sid said wearily. "And speaking of our lives, what is the date, anyway? How long was I out?" Regeneration could wreak havoc with timelines.

  "It's July fifth. You missed our party. Why?" said Joe.

  Four months. He'd been out for four months. "Oh, dear. Temporal dislocation." Sid said uncomfortably.

  "Really? How exciting! When are you?" asked Joe.

  "It should be March 19 or 20, or so I thought." Sid had been through this with a few of his "deaths" and this sort of thing could be so messy.

  In a reality in which things could grind on with a deadly dull sameness, Joe was always thrilled when something unusual occurred, "Oh, my goodness. Well, when is Hubbard? Did he get pulled along with you?"

  "Well, there is precedent for that sort of thing, Hubbard and I have been in the flow as it were. I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if from his perspective, he's still just a week into this reality. I won't know until I find him however. I hate to cut this short, but I really must do a bit more research and see if I can find Hubbard. You see what you can do on your end and call me if you find out anything. I do hope things work out with Brig. They always seem to. Cheers, my friend." And with that, the Buddha from five months ago ended the call.

  'Who to call? Who to call . . .' thought Joe. He punched the button on his phone to summon Siri.

  "What can I help you with, Joe?" asked the cybernetic voice.

  "Call Mo, mobile."

  "Calling Abu al-Qasim Muhammad Ibn Abd Allah Ibn Abd al-Muttalib, mobile." said the voice, utterly mangling Mo's full name.

  The call went directly to voicemail. Mo was probably on the line with Sid. That would figure. The two of them were always enviably close. Of course, they were two of the big players here. He was small potatoes in comparison. Joe didn't want to seem too desperate or needy, so he thought about who else he might call that had connections to this case. Maybe his best bet was to find someone whose rage and intersectional proximity to Hubbard would take them right to him. He pulled his copy of Barefaced Messiah out of the bookshelf and opened it to one of the many post-its sticking out of it.

  He summoned Siri one more time. "Call Sara Northrup Hollister, home," he said with an ever-so-slightly wicked smile.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

LRH: The Target 2 Chronicles, Chapter 16, "On The Seventh Day"

  Ron thought that if he was going to keep running into his own fictional characters, he'd really rather have them be adventurers like Ol' Doc Methuselah or Johnny Goodboy Tyler, not these two fawning monuments to the man he never was. Tom Esterbrook was the name he'd given an academic author he created to review his own books, glowingly, of course. He was really glad Sid wasn't here to raise one of his judgemental eyebrows.

  "What should we do next, sir?" Esterbrook asked, looking about anxiously.

  "Let the man breathe, egghead!" snapped Snake. "Go make yourself useful. See if you can find some shelter, it'll be night soon." Snake took of his bomber jacket and pulled out a tin of tobacco, stuffing some some into his cheek as he surveyed the situation.

  "I . . . I'm afraid that I really don't know where we are, Commander Thompson. I'm not too sure how I even got here, to be perfectly frank." While the thing known as Esterbrook was fully sentient, he had no memories of anything beyond a few hours before, when he had found himself among the group of Commodores Messengers looking for Snake. "Maybe some of these girls might be a better choice?" he offered pleadingly.

  "Fercrissakes, grow a spine!" Snake barked at the tweedy gentleman, who looked like he might burst into tears at any moment. "Oh, never mind." Snake spit some tobacco in disgust and turned away from Esterbrook. "Girls!" Snake barked to the messengers attending to Hubbard. "You! The tall drink of water, yeah, you honey." The tallest CM peeled away from their master to huddle with Thompson who was kneeling with a stick. He drew a map in the dirt, "Alright babe, you take two girls with you and head this way, send the other two in this direction, and see if you can find some shelter, or at least some dry burnable wood. We'll need some warmth come sundown." 

  "Yes sir! I'm on it!" The Messenger took two girls aside, they met for a minute or so and then began to fan out in search of supplies or cover.  

  Snake turned toward Hubbard, who was still surrounded by a wall of white hotpants and halter tops. "Lemme through ladies, lemme through!" The messengers parted obediently. He kneeled next to the supine Hubbard whose head rested in the lap of a Messenger. "What's it gonna be, Commodore? What are your orders, sir? You've gotten out of tougher scrapes before."

  Hubbard had been receiving what he assumed were touch assists from his messengers. Unlike the touch assists he'd received in life, these were actually doing something, delivering zings of electricity into his body. He felt much better than he had just a half an hour ago when he was pulled from the crumbling compound that lay smoking in the distance. For a brief moment, he let the bitter irony sink in that Scientology seemed to actually work here in this strange reality, but then again, everything he'd ever made up, no matter how ridiculous, seemed capable of coming to life here. He sat up with the help of a messenger. And speaking of things he'd made up, Snake still gave him the creeps, but he figured he'd better make the best of things. For a fictional character, the guy really got things done.

  "So, what's the situation, Commander?" Hubbard asked with a tone of theatrical gravity.

  "The enemy is nowhere to be seen and the castle is in flames. The car is a total loss and we have no food or shelter. We're in a field surrounded by forests on three sides with a stream and low hills on the other. It could be a cold one tonight." Snake ended the report by putting another pinch of tobacco into his mouth. He proffered the tin to Hubbard.

  "Uh, no thanks, Snake. You have any of the smokeable kind?" The Commodore was getting to his feet, he felt better than he had all week.

  "I think you have some in your boiler suit, sir." Thompson gestured toward the breast pocket of Hubbard's tattered, gray overalls.

  Sure enough, he could feel an unopened pack of Kools in his pocket, but, of course, no matches. He looked toward the burning wreckage of his son's citadel. He was thinking that he could walk over and get a light there. But, just as he was thinking this, another large section of the smoldering structure collapsed. He would need another plan. Ron held the cigarette at arms length, but remembered what happened last time he tried this. He would do it differently this time. The Commodore concentrated on lighting it, but nothing happened. 'Relax old boy, use command intention' he thought to himself. He let his arm down, held the cigarette as if he were smoking it, and said "light," with a casual air.

  With that, one of his messengers stepped forward with an elegant, silver lighter and lit his Kool.

  "Well, that worked pretty nicely." He took several deep drags and let the menthol saturate his lungs. With the instant comfort provided by the cigarette, his mind cleared and he found another idea was hatching. He concentrated for a moment, then relaxed and said with nonchalance, "where's my car?"

  The CMs froze in place for an instant, followed by a buzz of activity as the girls passed looks between themselves, almost like they were calculating. Then, they parted to reveal a 1975 Cadillac Fleetwood Brougham lumbering across the field with a messenger at the wheel. She wore a white chauffeur's uniform.

  "Well, that's more like it, don't you think?" Hubbard muttered, mostly to himself. He walked up to the car as the gaggle of nearly identical girls vied to be The One to open the door. "Ladies, ladies. No need to fight over me," Hubbard said grinning widely. The winner opened the back door of the silver car and Hubbard snugged down into an interior overflowing with burgundy velour. "Ah, she's just like I remember her." The huge Cadillac was exactly like the first car he bought for United Churches of Florida, and it remained one of his favorites.

  "Well?" he looked expectantly at the young woman who opened the door. She looked at him curiously. "Close the fucking door already!" 'Is she deaf or stupid?' he wondered to himself. Esterbrook looked gobsmacked, wearing a 'what about me?' expression.

  Once the door was shut, he lowered the window and gestured to one of his messengers. "You! The one with my smokes. Get in front. Come on! Let's go, chop, chop!" He wanted to put as much distance between him and his two golems as possible and everyone seemed to be dawdling. The young woman slid into the front passenger seat as Hubbard said "Driver! Window! Now!" His window slid closed immediately.

  "Alright, Leadfoot Lucy, let's get the hell out of here. Take me back to my hotel, the one I woke up in last week, I have some papers to go through." And with that, the chauffeur slid the gear lever into D, and launched the big Caddy back across the meadow toward the road that had once led to Nibs' fortress. He thought about looking back on the odd group waving goodbye in the field, but thought better of it. "They're not even real." he said.

  "Oh, I am so honored to have even been in his presence. What a humanitarian—a towering genius." gushed Tom Esterbrook as he watched the car making its way to the access road. He was sorry to not have been included in the great man's plans, but after all, he was just a lowly scribe and he knew it. What he didn't know is that he was about to turn off, forever. He popped out of existence, as did the remaining CMs, one by one. That left Commander Thompson alone in the meadow, hands on his hips, looking around with a satisfied expression. "My work here is done" he said with noble grit. "The great man is safe. I suppose I'll be disappearing, too." But he didn't. There were evidently other intersections for him to explore. There was a man coming toward him waving. The rather animated gentleman was walking from the direction of the burning ruin. At first, Snake couldn't quite make out who it was, then he noticed the cigar and black spectacles. A smiled spread across his face in recognition, knowing that he was in for quite the stimulating conversation. If nothing else, Sigmund always had the best cigars.

  The silver Cadillac wafted along the road as it wound its way through the heavily forested foothills of . . . well, wherever they were. The sun had set behind the towering hardwood forest and the sky was a beautiful, deepening violet. "So, driver . . . do you know where we're going?" Ron asked stubbing out his cigarette in the ashtray. Cigarette girl was already dispensing his next, pre-lit Kool over the seatback.

  "Yes sir!" she replied crislpy. "We're going to The Bulgravia Arms Hotel in R6 City. We should be there in a few hours, sir."

  "Right, right, but where is that?" he said taking a drag off his latest smoke. "Where are we? I think I was in Pennsylvania yesterday, so where am I now?" Ron asked, in genuine confusion. If he was going to get the hang of this place, he'd have to learn all of Sid's tricks.

  "It's hard to explain, sir. It involves local hyper-duality and eleven-dimensional, intersectional quantum 'branes. The physics is quite daunting" the driver said trying not to sound condescending.

  "Try me. You know, I was quite the physicist at one time . . ." as usual, when referring to his imagined expertise, the smugness was palpable.

  "Well, sir, I'll try" said the driver. She then launched into an exquisitely detailed explanation of what she called multidimensional, poly-quantum, dual-field physics, complete with elaborate formulae that seemed to involve more Greek letters than numbers. After about ten minutes of being totally baffled, Hubbard put his hand on her shoulder, "Thank you dear, thank you. That's, um, uh, very interesting. Good to get caught up on the latest stuff. I see what you're getting at there. Yes, yes, the quantum foam coalescing and so on, and the uncertainty. Yes. Very interesting, indeed." There was a pregnant silence. Finally he said. "How about you turn on the hi-fi and we have some nice music?" He'd had absolutely no idea what what the driver had been talking about and hoped she couldn't read his mind like the others had. The Messengers did seem very loyal after all, but they might be sniggering behind his back. He'd have to keep an eye on them.

  Then Cigarette Girl said "The radio? You want music? I'll get it". She rummaged around in the glove compartment for a bit, then turned up the volume. There was music alright, but it was horrible. A sort of thumping, dissonant jazz that sounded like it was recorded at the bottom of a very large barrel.

  After a few bars he barked "Turn it off! Good God, what the hell is that supposed to be? Whatever it is, it's not music."

  "Uh, well, that's . . . you, sir" said Cigarette Girl timidly. "There was a tape of your album in the glove box. I thought you'd want to hear it." She ejected the 8-track and handed it to Hubbard.

  "Let me see that . . ." he said snatching the tape from Cigarette girl. 'Apollo Stars' it said on the huge cartridge. God, it was his music after all. "Oh, right, well I was just kidding, you know. We had quite a time out there on the old Apollo, quite a time. We were very avant garde. Very modern, and so forth . . ." he said unconvincingly. An old saying ran through his head, 'The gods punish us with answered prayers.'

  They rode on in silence for an hour or so when he felt an odd vibration on his thigh. It felt a bit like the touch assists he'd been given by the girls back in the meadow. There it was again. It was something in  the zippered pocket on his thigh. It was the phone that Alisa had given him. How did it get there? He pulled it out of the pocket. It had stopped buzzing, but there was a box that had 'Missed Call' written in it. He remembered about the thing inside the phone, Surry or whatever its name was. He remembered how Alisa had taught him to summon the thing and held down the only button on the otherwise featureless face of the phone. There was a chime.

  "What can I help you with?" asked Siri.

  "Uh, hi there, this is . . ."

  "Ron Hubbard. Yes, I know who you are. What can I help you with?" the phone queried.

  He thought she sounded slightly annoyed with him.

  "Well, I, um, let's see, someone called me just now?" he was flustered.

  "That was a call from an unknown number, there was no message" the disembodied woman said in her vaguely nordic accent. She seemed to put the wrong emphasis on most syllables. Strange.

  "Oh, so, no message from Sid?" he asked hopefully.

  "S. G. Lokavid is offline, would you like to leave him a message?" said the phone.

  "Uh, sure, okay." she made him really nervous, like he was doing something wrong.

  "Okay, leave your message at the tone." There was a silence then a beep.

  "Well, uh, Sid this is Ron Hubbard and I was, uh, wondering if you were . . . well, what are you doing? Is everything okay? Will I be seeing you sometime soon? Okay then, uh . . . bye now." Was he supposed to press a button or something. He hit the only real button again and the screen went blank.

  The messenger in the front seat was watching him. She whipped around when she realized he saw her staring. "Oh, don't worry about it. I don't know how the goddamn thing works either."

  She smiled sheepishly and they rode on in silence for a while. "A fresh Kool, sir?" she asked proffering a cigarette.

  "Don't mind if I do".

  She lit the cigarette in her mouth and passed it back to Hubbard who made a sour face. The girl looked mortified. "Oh, I'm so sorry Commodore. I don't know what I was thinking." She lowered the window and threw the offending smoke out, a tiny, brief meteor in the gloaming. She handed him a fresh cigarette and he used his cigarette lighter in the armrest to light it himself. She looked miserable.

  "Oh, don't worry about it" he said. "Just don't let it happen again." He winked jovially. He was back in a good mood again, the feelings that constantly battled in his head were quiet now. He stretched out in the backseat and smoked in a moment of relative contentment. When he felt expansive and important, he loved to spin tales, and so, he told the girls stories. Stories about his past, his barnstorming, his years at George Washington and his time in China. He even threw in some past lives and exteriorized explorations of space for good measure. He must have been talking for two hours straight, when suddenly there was an explosion from the right front of the car and the tire began to deflate. The chauffeur pulled over skillfully, bringing the listing luxury car to a stop. They were still in the woods, but it was less hilly and a bit more open. There were fireflies darting about among the trees, lending the scene a magical quality. What wasn't so magical was the high, chain link fence with razor wire along the top of it running with the road as far as he could see.

  The chauffeur and her lieutenant got out of the car to appraise the damage. Hubbard lowered the window, the night was muggy and humid. The girls headed around to the back of the car and popped the trunk open. He could hear them rummaging with tools and the spare tire. What was taking so long? Couldn't they get on with it?

  Annoyed that he hadn't thought of it earlier, he figured he'd try some more of his newfound powers. "Wait a minute girls. I've got this, I think." He concentrated on the tire being inflated and whole then, in his best conjuring voice, said "repair." He closed his eyes and waited a few seconds, then stuck his head out the window and yelled for the girls to check the tire.

  The driver came back to the window and said, "Nope, still flat Commodore. We'll get the tire changed in a jiffy. You just relax."

  He sat back and sulked. Why didn't his powers work the same way all the time? He stubbed out one Kool and lit another, as Cigarette Girl had given him the pack upon exiting the car. After a few minutes the driver returned to the window, her face had fallen. "I'm so sorry Commodore, but the spare is flat, too." 

  He tried his newfound power over MEST a few more times before giving up in disgust. "What the hell good is this voodoo if you can't use it all the time?" he raged, "Goddammit!" He was exasperated and tired.

  Cigarette Girl tried to sound positive, "Well, this fence must belong to something, we'll follow it up a ways and see what we find, you stay here in the car, sir. And lock the doors." 

'Some hero you are' Hubbard thought to himself as he watched the scantily dressed Messengers slowly vanish into the night from the safety of his velour cocoon.


  He sat there for what seemed like an eternity. It was probably only an hour or so, but it made him nervous to be out there alone. He pulled out the phone, maybe the Surrey thing would keep him company. He pushed the button, but nothing happened. It wouldn't even light up. "Battery must be dead" he said to the night. Well, at least the doors were locked, so he settled into the heavily draped fabric and eventually dozed off.

  Hubbard awoke with first light. The windows were all steamed up. He wiped the condensation away. He could see quite a ways down the road in both directions. No sign of the girls. He had an odd thought, he still couldn't get used to never having to take a piss. That was such a morning ritual. He actually missed it. Such a strange place, this was. He was stiff from sleeping in the seat, and thought he'd better get out and have a look around, maybe he'd have more success in the light of day.

  The sky was threatening rain, but still, it was pleasant enough, balmy and humid. The girls had walked in the direction they had driving when the flat happened, so he figured that wasn't the best way to go. He decided to follow the fence back the way they had come. Maybe they'd been so enmeshed in his sagas that they missed some landmark in the dark. He'd been walking for about fifteen minutes, when he came to a gate in the fence. It was quite large with stone and brick pillars. There was a brick guardhouse and the gate was wide open. Nobody was there, but at least there was civilization. There was another inner fence with barbed wire along the top of it and groups of brick buildings in a large compound. These gates were also wide open. Was this a military base? There were no signs on the buildings, just numbers.

  "Hello! Is anybody around?" he called. Nothing. The wind was picking up now, there was the crack of thunder in the distance. He thought he'd better get inside. He tried the door of the nearest building. It was open. He headed inside past a lobby with a thick, security glass window. Nobody home. He turned around to leave, but now the door was locked. He'd have to find another way out. There was another door to the right of the window which was open, but it made him nervous. It led further in the building. He stepped into the next room and there was a sight that made his blood run cold. It was sliding iron bars. This was a cell block. This was a prison. There was another loud thunderclap and he could hear the rain start to come down.

  This place gave him the fulll-on creeps. Something was up. This all meant something, but he couldn't remember what. What he did remember was terror of confinement. Hubbard had gone to great lengths to avoid incarceration in his lifetime. His last ten years on earth were more or less spent in hiding. He thought of the poor bastards locked up in tiny cells like he'd seen in the movies, but this wasn't quite like that. It was more like a dormitory or a hospital ward. No bars on the cells, just metal doors. The rooms were empty, but immaculate. Someone had to have been cleaning them. He looked down the long, broad hallway. All the doors were open. He heard nothing. Saw no one. He had to find a way out, so just kept walking down the hall. It was nothing but room after empty room. As he walked, his sense of foreboding faded with each vacant chamber. 

  Just as he was feeling more relaxed, there she was. She was sitting in a metal chair, at a metal table, wearing her Sea Org dress whites, reading a very dog-eared HCO Manual of Justice. She looked up over the book with the saddest expression Ron had ever seen.

  "You never even wrote me a letter," said Mary Sue Hubbard.