The Eight

 

Two circles appear in the western sky at dawn.

 

 It was the strangest sight Jenny had ever known. She was proud that she was the first to see it. “Come see! See what’s in the sky!” she called to her family as she danced away from her window, out of her room, down the stairs and into the yard.

 

“It looks like an eight!” Jenny said. Crimson in color to most eyes, although its cause and purpose were unknown.

 

As if in a dream, Jenny and her family walked down the long path from their home towards the town, their eyes fixed to the sky. “What is it?” was all they could seem to ask each other. Through the noise they could not hear Dr. Tanner speaking to a gathering crowd at Mason Corner. If they had they might have found the answers they sought, but all they could hear coming from Second Street was Freemont. “Come see! See what’s in the sky!” Freemont called. “We shall commemorate this day! Place your order for your very own Real de Ocho collector’s coin! Place your order for your very own infinity charm! These items and more are hand crafted by the universe’s finest jewelers! Come, see what we have for you on this historical morning!”

 

As Jenny and her family walked by the burgeoning marketplace she got a good look at the items that Freemont had fastidiously arranged on the long tables. She knew he was calling out to them but the words sounded wrong to her. She could not help but notice the Eight reflecting off of the numerous shiny objects laid about. Medallions with snaking triple sixes and wobbly eights, and words she did not know. There was a darkness in Freemont’s eyes. Opportunism was obliterating his soul but she was too young to understand it (and she did not know how to help him anyhow).  

 

The day had an extraordinary feel to it that was lost on no-one. Jenny was lifted by emotion as she danced away from the marketplace and into a garden not far away. Folks were passing through, each one struck by wonder, except for Kim who was pacing with pad and paper in hand.

 

Kim felt a pang of terror as the noise from the crowd began to escalate. She wanted to run but she had nowhere to go. Folks from the town were heavily celebrating and she wanted none of it (as she wanted all of it). She held very little hope, and she was burdened by overwhelming fear, until she noticed Jenny dancing. She sat down on the garden bench and the exhaustion began to leave her. “What do you think it means?” Kim called to Jenny. “I have some ideas” Jenny responded as she danced away from Kim, although what Kim thought she heard was “it’s all too clear”. Kim focused on the Eight, sketched it on her pad and began her list.

 

Jenny followed her family out of the garden towards the town green via the adjacent lot that housed the Hypersphere Facility. “Clear the area!” shouted Ellard as the group approached. He was beginning to sweat under his heavy gear and the pressure of the Eight emblazoned upon the Western Sky. “I said clear the area” he repeated.

 

Ellard was the lone guard in the lot, he was nearing the end of the Third Shift and was one of the few that had seen the crowds multiply within the hour. Worry began to set in as the townsfolk seemed directionless. Ellard tried to dismiss the infinite ramblings of the crowd “What are they really looking for out here?” he thought. He had been one of the officers handpicked by Freemont to guard the Hypersphere but wasn’t it his duty to protect the peace? Years of hypothetical training fueled his paranoia as the crowds got louder, car horns shrieked and firecrackers rang out. Some folks spilled through the hedges at the lots edge, others climbed through the fence. A window broke behind him and shouts echoed off the walls.

 

At the far corner of the lot closest to the intersection of Second and Garfield was a makeshift infirmary. The tent was crooked and an old door laid atop two sawhorses as a patient table. Denise was dressing the wounds from a boy who had been injured by the crowd on Second Street. His father and mother mumbled quietly through their tears.  When she finished with the boy she began corralling the injured to follow her to the Old Library on Main St. She spoke to Jenny who had been looking on silently. “Are you okay little girl?” Denise asked. “Everything is going to be all right. I can help these people if I can get them out of here. The hospital is too far, communications are down, but we are going to make it to safety I promise you.” Denise added.  

 

Making their way out of the lot proved difficult however. Both Second Street and Garfield were nearly impassable for the injured. The merchants had opened the south gate and were hustling their tables and merchandise into the lot in an effort for more space. Throngs of revelers crashed through the gates behind them. Freemont was now selling what he had left not far from where the infirmary stood.

 

“Fine citizens! Stay calm!” shouted Freemont. “We have equalizers and elixirs aplenty! Be patient and we will see to all of your needs. We have it all!” But he did not have what the people really needed. There was no wisdom here. All it amounted to was a strange mix of unbridled consumerism driven by fear. The people wanted answers, and barring that, they seemed to desire blood. The merchants haggled and shouted while they took in fistfuls of cash. The Eight grew brighter and the mood intensified.

 

Freemont was not satisfied and began to bargain with an official for a helicopter to take him and some of the important people up into the sky to see the Eight (and to survey the surrounding land which he had been quietly acquiring). He clapped his hands together as the deal was struck. He had already sold all of his weapons, cameras and liquor and had commanded his underlings to liquidate what remained of his trinkets and souvenirs. His eyes had grown wider as the morning progressed and his appetite had grown with the eating. “The Eight!” he exclaimed. “I shall go into the air on your behalf and get a closer look!” He looked through Denise as she made a final plea for supplies. He looked past Jenny and her family as they begged the merchants to let the wounded pass through. He dismissed Ellard with a fat envelope.     

 

          A momentary lull descended upon the mob after Freemont and some companions left for the heliport. The western fence had been brought down moments before by the horde (leaving the concrete stage on Garfield open to a more or less 360 degree view). “Don’t go anywhere you can’t bring your God!” shouted Les. He had taken to the barren stage to preach his misgivings. He had bandied his ideas for decades now to anyone who would listen but it was today that he found his first captive audience.

 

                        “We have been warned in plain view by two connected rings,

                        It heralds the coming of the Eighth King!

                        Our science has failed us, our morals have fled,

                        The end days have come with the rise of the dead,

                        It may be too little, it may be too late,

                        But repent now and submit to your heavenly fate

                        We’re not lambs to the slaughter or fare for their feast

                        Stand with us and fight the demons and the beast"

           

              All around was spectacle. The streets had become dangerous. The mob was unruly. The voices of reason were drowned out by the foolish, the paranoid, and the carpers. At a forty-five degree angle west of the stage was the school built at the foot of the mountain. Folks were streaming into the lecture hall as word was buzzing through the crowd about a possible answer.

 

            “Perhaps we are beginning to see contact” said Dr. Tanner. “The figure in the sky could mean many things. It could be a natural phenomenon, a government or industrial hologram designed for some yet unknown purpose or perhaps, just perhaps, it is an infinity symbol or…..or an Eight. “Fool” screamed a merchant amongst the audience. Others heckled and interrupted shouting obscenities and insults. “Some of us are beginning to believe the Eight is a symbolic message” continued Tanner in a nervous tone. “Look at this Fano diagram! Look at this E8 Lattice! Perhaps this is a signal that string theory is correct. Perhaps we need to look at this in 8, 10 or 26 dimensions. Maybe, just maybe, the answer lies in the Eight!”

 

            Tanner quickly sketched equations and diagrams on the dry erase board as she spoke. It went well over the heads of just about everyone. Some nodded in agreement as others bellowed and moaned. There was a moment when many seemed to slowly breathe in at once, taking it all in and then letting the worry dissipate with a collective exhale. You could feel it in the hall. But that open door of perception would quickly slam shut when one special fool with a megaphone shouted “Not true!” above the din. All eyes turned to Les who had wandered down the side aisle towards the back of the hall as quickly as he had wandered in. “Liar!” called another. The audience was divided. The moment had passed. Tanner left the stage by the back exit and down a long, dim corridor.

 

She felt a rush of relief when she stepped out from the corridor into the open air. Tanner found herself walking through the Buddhist Temple grounds that crept up the base of the mountain. She was surprised to see Les, Jenny and some others there too.  A number of Monks sat quietly by the stream. All but Tom. “Vows of silence for this bunch” he said. Tom then closed his eyes and lifted his face into a patch of sunlight that ran through the trees. The gentle breeze equaled Tom’s look of calm and absorption.

 

“You few seem to be on a quest for wisdom. Perhaps you aim to find it by examining the Eight. To be sure, at the Mountain’s peak you might find your body closer but tread carefully. If you take the left path you will reach the peak more quickly but you might only find delusion. Go back and you’ll find hatred and greed. And so you must go right. Right view, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness and concentration.

 

            “I do not know with certainty what this thing is but I have heard your sentiment and I will consider it along with all else. However you must know that I am compelled to see it a little closer through the scope at the peak and I must press on” said Dr. Tanner with a renewed calm. Tom nodded at Tanner and turned towards Les who seemed to have found a harmony in the moment (however fleeting it would be). “Have you heard me?” Tom called to the rest of the group. “I heard only a riddle” said Les. Jenny thought for a moment and smiled at Tom. “Yes. The Eight is important” responded Jenny. “I see you hear what I know”.   

 

Jenny and her family took the right path which circled eastward round the base of the mountain and led them toward home.  The family busied themselves in their house as Jenny stayed outside looking at the Eight. She wanted nothing more than to stay where she was but it wasn’t meant to be. They have been called down to the school by promises.

 

Freemont had returned and now stood at the base of the path. He motioned towards Jenny’s house. “The family up there refuses to sell me the land that I need to build my new facility so I bought all of the land that surrounds them. They do not understand who runs this town but they will learn, one way or the other. Every man has his price to be sure. Every woman has her secrets. Every child has their dreams. They may believe their choices are to either bend or break. But we merchants know how to spin ones dreams into our profit.  The dawn has ushered in a new world. Those who don’t look out will be bought or sold.”

 

Good Freemont. Keeper of Capitalism. A man who’s house alone was worth $16,777,216.00 before the dawn. A man who had seen his total worth grow beyond calculation in a single day. He was a man of enterprise. He had dealings all over and under. He was a man whose honor was bestowed upon him by made up awards at banquets and galas. A man who was applauded for cutting corners, leveraging debt, and paying as little tax as possible. A man with friends in every pocket and foes in every scandal.  

  

If only he could sell them on their dreams. That was the plan he sought. But what could he market to one specific family? He suddenly felt blinded by The Eight but he would not let his disillusion betray his confidence in public. “Get the surveying gear to the property line” he barked at the surveyor. “Get my lawyer on the line and ask him about the liens and follow up with the Commissioner about the Eminent Domain issue” he said to his assistant. The tactics he employed often worked eventually but he was naturally impatient and too accustomed to moving mountains with the edge of his hand. Aggravated and antsy he sped from the path without an explanation, cut through the masses, and headed toward the Lecture Hall.

 

   “When I was a kid we used to go to church every Sunday” said Tanner. We’d sit for an hour and listen to the mass. We’d go through the motions and look the part. We’d feel equal parts guilt and equal parts relief when comparing our lives to the actions of the biblical heroes. And when it was over we’d listen to the adults talk amongst themselves and everyone would be making fun of the singer. Imagine that, an hour of intense reflection in which everyone nods in agreement, in which many seemed to connect to the message, all forgotten when outside the walls of the sanctuary and out into the open. And so right then and there I decided I needed to look elsewhere for the answers to my questions. There are no concrete answers in religion for me. You may have your faith. I fail to see how it impacts the grand equation we have set forth today.”

 

“So what do we know of this force, this object, this apparition in the sky? How do we know it is real? We know that we all see something that was not there previously. We know that it is real because we can see it. We believe that it is a message for us to discern. And so we must attempt to discern it. We have assembled a team to go into the Hypersphere. A number of us together have theorized that there is something hiding in the fourth dimension which we must find. It is like a maze which we must navigate to get to The Eight. But we must first go through the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th dimensions.

 

Tanner and her team gathered up their documents, laptops and instruments and headed out of the Lecture Hall. A few in the crowd voiced objections but the bulk of the listeners dispersed with them and fell in among the mob that occupied the streets. Les was speaking through a megaphone from the Garfield stage to the rabble. “I was just told that the flawed scientists intend to extend their experiments in the Hypersphere!”

            “It is now certain that their egos blind,

            The white coats experiment on humankind,

            The particles collide, the tunnels sing,

            To the evil tune of the Eighth King,

            The Hypersphere good Freemont built,

            Must be smashed to stones and silt,

            The State has come, on us they turn,

            We shall fight back then watch it burn.”

                       

Jenny was whisked away in her father’s arms. She would not remember all of what happened exactly. She would remember bits and flashes like the eerie glow of the Eight and how the colors within it seemed to change and how the trails of light would briefly remain. She felt like she was dreaming. She would always dance in her dreams.

 

They circled back by taking a left onto Second Street but the path home was blocked and so they retreated down Flatbush Ave. in the opposite direction. Several blocks later they circled right on Pine Drive heading west towards Mountain Rd. When they came upon Kim sitting on a swing in JJ Byrne Park she was talking to no-one. “I finished my list” she said aloud. “I was in the darkness, existing, but I was not alive. Trying to drown fears that can breathe under water. I know what I must face now, for better or worse.”

 

Jenny’s family had stopped as they were deciding which route was the safest and were surprised to find Kim there alone, with a complete sense of calm as chaos was descending all around. “Come this way” said Kim to them. “Right here down Mountain Road is the Sedgwick Building. There is an entrance there to a labyrinth of tunnels below. I know those that run under Mountain View Drive & Carlton Road but I have heard there is one that leads to the Heliport. Come and follow me!”

 

They followed Kim down a long tunnel that curved under the corner of Mountain and Second. They followed the tunnel until they came to a door with a keypad and a sign that read “No Admittance – Danger”. The closed door was for the best since the fire from the Hypersphere would have spread that far anyway. They quickly continued on until they came upon a door that opened to a flight of stairs and left them out at Mason Corner, back where they had begun.    

 

Ellard was shouting at a scattering crowd “Get down on the ground! Hands behind your back and down on the ground!” His effort was useless. Those with any sense left were simply trying to get back to their homes, the rest had gone plain mad. Some of the mob was looting, others destroying, and fights were breaking out all around. Ellard was hit with some rocks and must have fired his weapon. He didn’t know exactly how it happened, the only thing he clearly remembered was that the sky began to darken and the Eight was fading slowly with it. He stood over Denise with his hands on his head whispering “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry”.

 

A group of people had come around to help take Denise away. “Clear the path” yelled Ellard to Freemont’s men. “Get your equipment off the path”. It was the only thing he could do now. The group walked together up the same path that led to Jenny’s home. The strange company included Jenny, Freemont, Kim, Ellard, Dr. Tanner, Les and Tom.  

 

The madness around them was starting to dissipate. The waning Eight had lost most of its luster and with it went the mania. “How could it be?” they asked each other. They were all at a loss. Each one of them had seen Denise remain calm through the storm. They had witnessed her help complete strangers when most others were in hysterics throughout the day. It was said that Denise had led the wounded and frightened into safety at the old library because the hospital had been overrun. She had come back out to find a missing child at a parent’s request when it happened.

 

“You may brighten this dark hour with positive thoughts” spoke Tom to the group. “Your thoughts will travel to Denise as she is being reborn. Make them positive ones. Be happy that Denise lived a pure life. Hers was not one of attachment to material possessions or shallow endeavors. She spent and gave her life to help others without being asked and without reservation. She chose her own path.”

 

“She saved the lives of many today and she calmed many and more fears. Her suffering is at an end and I believe that the energy of her soul has been released into the cosmos” said Dr. Tanner. “Let us pray” added Les.

 

Jenny danced away, a slow sad dance. The Eight was almost gone now but she took one last look. She spun into her house, happy to be home, thankful to be safe. She looked at the faces of her family and smiled back at them despite the events of the day. She closed her eyes. She made her wish and was happy to know that it would come true and she blew out her candles as the Eight disappeared.

 

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