Monster Behind The Masks

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Chapter 20

Caryssa


The angel that tapped my head when Tyler was a small child stopped appearing. Was it because he thought I no longer needed him? Perhaps my imaginary friend was my child’s Guardian Angel—and he’s flown off to watch over the next little kid?

While sitting in bed sipping coffee, I pondered my spirituality. A glance above my headboard brought my eyes to the small wooden crucifix I bought in the cathedral gift shop fifteen years ago when George and I attended mass at Notre Dame in Paris.

Paris, where we conceived our only child. After praying three years for a miracle, I had come back from Europe pregnant and passionate about world peace—which led to questioning the church and bowing to Buddha in a meditative Yoga pose.

A simple set of wooden rosary beads adorned the crucifix, making a decorative wall hanging. The rosary beads came from the Catholic church where Tyler made his First Holy Communion eight years ago. It dawned on me that was the time when I envisioned an angel tapping me and thought it may have been to guide my only child into becoming a good little Christian.

Climbing out of bed, I stretched and got dressed into dark gray comfy pants paired with an oversized sweatshirt and scarf. I intermittently glanced at my wall cross while applying makeup.

Tears welled as I gently touched the beads that once served as my meditation and prayer, whispering, “Dear Lord, I’ve not lost faith in you. I’ve lost faith in religion, in the Roman Catholic Church—the sinful secrets of Vatican City. It’s become like God’s bankers, an international business; sins for money.”

The tears fell. I couldn’t figure out if I was crying for my reverence or the nostalgic remembrance of Tyler attending religious education which got us to church every Sunday as I did throughout my childhood. Maybe all the above or none of it.

Opening my bedside drawer, I grabbed the Bible I used for the Bible study I did before we went to Paris. I hadn’t touched it since recognizing the violent passages in Tyler’s “Brick Testament” Lego’s Bible book he had picked out himself at age eight, which repulsed me—how could they put such violent text in a children’s book?

I opened my Bible now. What I saw made me smile. It was one of the “Weekending” passages added between scripture:

REFLECT

The hard thing to understand is that faith is the one area in our lives where growing up means we must grow to be more like a child, trusting simply in goodness and complete knowledge of a higher power who has our best interests at heart

-Colleen Townsend Evans

I realized it wasn’t my spirituality I questioned, but religion. Does that higher power have to be the God any man-made religion claims he is—or the God in our own hearts?

Still focused on my crucifix I continued, “I don’t go to church every Sunday because I believe you are within every being. You are everywhere, in a blooming flower, the sound of my son’s laughter, at the peak of a mountaintop. Tell me, Lord, is not the antagonistic ‘us vs them’ thing a sin itself: creator vs creature, Catholicism vs Yoga, nation vs nation, even man vs woman?”

Who are you talking to, mom?”

The sound of Tyler’s voice broke my gabbing to God as I turned in embarrassment to my son. “I’m talking to my cross.” I suddenly felt silly and uncomfortable talking to Jesus in front of my child.

O-kay… well, have fun talking to the wall. I’m off to see friends.”

With that, his mocking words left with him. I had a flashback of Tyler at age six, telling me about the difference between an angel and a person, and for a second, my heart tugged at whether this crazy world already squashed his awe for goodness. No doubt, he and his friends will be glued to their laptops over the next few hours—headphones on, immersed in a violent virtual reality.

Which brought me to the next thing I felt compelled to talk to the wall about, “I fear, Lord, that technology has grown faster than spirituality—especially destructive technology claimed to “save the world.” The God in my heart is not a vengeful God. So, when the Vatican or church claims things like, ’souls are being saved while millions die for God or the church,’ it turns me away from such violent faith toward one of collective consciousness.”

My phone pinged, and I realized Anna was waiting for me down the hill at the Golden Gate Grind. She and Julie were meeting me for coffee.

Dashing out the door, I said one last thing to the air, the wall, to God or whoever was listening, “Forgive me, Lord, if it seems I’ve turned away from you. It is world violence I have forsaken, not you.”


Anna was sitting on a tall bistro chair outside of the café, under a bright orange umbrella. The moon was behind the Golden Gate Bridge this morning, with calm, clear skies. It was one of those early afternoons we could see Alcatraz, the entire city, and the Farallon Islands.

Anna looked the same as she did a decade ago when we first met—a tall willowy figure, light chestnut hair with blond highlights, and big almond eyes set within flawless skin. The only thing showing her age was a couple wispy gray strands of hair at her temples.

She had ordered us each a cortado with decadent dark chocolate truffles. I could hear caffeinated chattering, spoons tapping and the whoosh of espresso machines as I glanced into the cozy, contemporary coffee shop.

She broke into a gushing explanation of a message she received as I approached the bistro, “I got another text from Ava!”

“What’s with the excitement? Isn’t she at your ski cabin—?”

“No! Wow, we haven’t spoken in a while, let me fill you in. She disappeared from our cabin and we didn’t know if she was dead or alive with her father and his war-business cronies after her. Her text simply says, ‘I’m safe.’

“Well, that’s good to hear, where is she?”

Anna was looking at the screen, “She didn’t say. I don’t recognize the cell number and think she was likely supplied with a burner phone.”

“A burner phone?”

Anna tucked her freshly applied lip-gloss into her purse, “A disposable kind nobody can trace. My guess is her uncle Rob helped her escape. I remember her telling me he’s good to her.”

“Wow, I hope that’s true, I can rest peacefully knowing my former boss, who helped me so much through my high-tech career, is not as shady a character as I thought!”

Julie’s voice was a distant murmur overlaid by the ambient hum of the coffee shop. As she neared, the high-pitch of her voice whistled like the wind. “Hello, ladies, good day to be by the Bay!”

And there she was, with blood-red lips that spoke volumes for her high-energy and rebellious flaming red-hair flowing out from beneath the big sunbonnet that adorned her head.

It will be an interesting girl-time coffee date, I thought.

After she settled in and sipped her latte, Julie announced, “Good news! My brother Jackson is doing well. The FBI even gave an excuse—their version of an apology I guess, for the harrowing ordeal they put him though.”

“The nightmare they put your entire family through,” I added.

Julie nodded her head, “Yes, and Agent Flock hasn’t apologized to me about silencing my bird with a bullet. The bureau’s culture of fear and suspicion is cancer! I’m just happy for my brother.”

“How did they apologize?” asked Anna. “Over the phone?”

“No, they went to his house and said, ‘We ask you to accept our deepest apologies on behalf of the FBI.’ The kids heard it as well which gives them hope in the federal system.”

A woman with a yappy white poodle, its fur pulled back into a hot-pink ponytail, came out of the coffee shop. Her face was adorned by three piercings and her hair shaved into a purple Mohawk. She stopped at our table and said, “Excuse me, I don’t mean to sound like I’m eavesdropping, but did you say the FBI apologized for something?”

“Yes, for accusing my brother of being a terrorist,” Julie answered without any hesitation.

The woman clicked her tongue and shook her head, walking away mumbling, “Well I’d never!”

“What the heck was that all about?” pondered Julie.

“Beats me… maybe we should tell her it’s not the FBI we blame so much as the dark money in politics.” I responded.

“Yeah… the same dark money making the FBI go after my innocent baby brother and kill my beloved bird.” Julie slumped deeper into the bistro chair, then covered her face with her hands.

Anna raised her eyebrows, continuing what we thought was a private conversation in the corner of a public café. “So… Agent Flock showed no remorse?”

Julie’s mouth fell open, “Are you kidding me? That woman is locked into her army days. She shoots to kill anything that moves or goes against her orders. It was two guys that had the human decency to say sorry, two ‘gentle giants’ as Amy called them.”

I glanced around The Golden Gate Grind reminded why I’ve always loved this coffee shop, apart from the unbeatable view. The outdoor seating is on a spacious patio surrounded by lush gardens and a fire-pit. I could see into the shop through a glass window to the stone walls covered with work from local artists, the quirky furniture and charming burlap ceiling.

Realizing I had tuned out of the conversation, I focused back on what Julie was saying…

“… they admitted to mistakenly linking his fingerprint to one found near the scene of an actual supposed terrorist attack on the subway.”

Anna held both Julie’s hands in hers, “And their blunder led to your sweet brother being tossed into prison. I’m so sorry they put you through this. But it’s—”

“All over,” Julie finished. She glanced my way and smiled. “Caryssa, I’m sorry for being so defensive when you mentioned it’s connected to our growing surveillance state war economy. You were right. I just… didn’t want to believe my father’s career… I refused to see the connection to the weaponized plague killing our population today…”

She trailed off. “Shh,” I whispered. Now it was me unlacing Julie’s fingers and taking them into my hands. Squeezing them a bit too tightly, her knuckles went white. “You need not apologize about anything, and I’m so happy your family has this whole senseless drama behind them.”

Anna had pulled her chestnut hair back into a messy bun, with wispy strands escaping. She brushed a tendril of hair away from her face. “I wonder… how did they screw up on a fingerprint when everything’s so computerized and accurate?” she pondered.

Julie shrugged her shoulders, “Hell if I know, the digital fingerprint looked like some bad guy’s, I guess.”

A misty breeze came off the Bay, bringing with it the fragrance of coastal sage. It mixed well with our gourmet lattes and chocolate. The modish stereo setup cast jazz and classical through speakers hanging from charming awnings.

I appreciated the sky, one of those moments that take your breath away—brilliant red strands shooting out in a fan from one spot, and then orange comes up and the hills turn to dark cut-outs against it. The air smelled like a campfire, and I was reminded the smoke was not coming from the nearby fire-pit.

The digital revolution always roused my interest. “We’ve come to over-rely on big data with everything in life— none of it precise. My kid has been rendered to a data point with ‘PowerSchool,’ an online app with daily ‘upgrades’ to their grades. Half the time it’s bogus information because the teacher forgot to do data entry.”

“That’s frustrating,” said Anna. “Although, maybe teachers don’t have time to keep up with such crowded classrooms?”

“Either way, it’s not all good for students or teachers. The human touch is disappearing, buried by technology,” I declared. A young man maybe mid-twenties with a serious buzz-cut looked at me through weird eyes as if accusing me of suffering from technophobia.

I don’t know how he heard me surrounded with so many electronics. He toggled between tapping onto his laptop and staring at his smartphone. A Google Glass hung from the side of his head. I noticed him adjusting the volume on his stylish gold-accented earbuds.

But there was something else in his strange eyes. Something I couldn’t place. Pain? Depression? He somehow looked so alone surrounded by all his toys—an empty, haunting expression on his face.

We locked eyes for a moment and I saw into his heart or mind. A past joy or love of life lingered beneath the pain. I was about to turn away when he spoke.

“Hi,” he simply said, his lips trembling.

My heart raced for this youth I’ve never met, his eyes seemingly pleading to me for acceptance. For whatever reason, there was a split second I wanted to hug him. This is someone’s son, I thought. Instead, I responded in as emotionally detached a tone as he had initiated.

“Hello, there.” I hoped I didn’t sound cold or condescending. Should I say more?

Julie repeatedly looked from me to gadget guy. As if to come to my defense or switch the focus back to our girl-time coffee, she said loud enough for him to hear, “Too much technology? — you’re a former Silicon Valley techy! Are you getting all Stone Age on us, Caryss?”

“Oh, come on Jules, I’ve seen your love of the proverbial yellow sticky. You’re like Wilma Flintstone. You even have her red hair,” I joked.

“And you’re Betty Rubble!”

“I see,” I said — not seeing at all. “No, she was a quiet brunette that followed others like a puppy. I’m nothing like her.” I liked today’s feistiness in Julie, a fun version of it I’d never seen.

Anna laughed and said, “Caryssa has a good point when she talks about the technologies of a Sci-Fi reality. I’m half expecting to see a robot barista come by to see if we’d like to refresh our lattes.”

We glanced around as if R2-D2 would make an appearance. Julie piped in, “Well, robotic arms are moving cups around inside the coffee shop, lifting levers and brewing the perfect cup of java for people—”

Shit — I hope my kid gets a chance to have this thing called a job to make some cash for college. The robots are taking over,” I uttered with an uneasy feeling creeping over me. I noticed a cop standing off to the side with his arms crossed in front of him. His kind eyes defied his closed stance. Eyes that seemed to watch for something to happen.

“Have you become anti-technology, Carys? Don’t forget the industry enabled you to buy that house of yours in the hills—”.

Anti-technology? Jules, you make it sound like I think technology is an enemy. It’s just the …”

I had a brain freeze realizing I sound like I’m demonizing my beloved high-tech career. I helped make this a better world—connecting hospitals, people, hearts, didn’t I? “It’s technology as a weapon that concerns me.” Or how it isolates people, I thought sneaking another glance at the guy lost in a virtual world.

We remained silent a moment until I reiterated, “I love technology when it’s used in a constructive way. Our nation being the biggest arms exporter in the world is not a good use of technology, and it’s coming back to haunt us.”

“We’ll all be uploading our brains to computers to survive,” Anna said, breaking the intensity. Ironically, she picked her cell phone up while saying, “speaking of, I want to read to you an email I got from Ava.”

Julie’s eyes went wide. “Wait! Let me get us fresh drinks and a snack first, want the same?”

“I’d prefer a mint iced tea,” I replied while handing Julie money she refused to take.

“I’ve got this round. That drink sounds refreshing, three mint iced teas?” Julie asked. We nodded and continued discussing our techno-crazed humanity.

“I hear you about dehumanizing the world with manipulation of data, but I sure would love a robot to clean my loft,” Anna suggested.

“Oh sure, Rosie the Robot would be nice, but she’s putting the housecleaning business to shame! Heck, there’s lots of good use of Science out there—such as in medicine, environmental engineering, maybe even self-driving cars. It’s the bad use of Science I speak of—”

“Like ‘smart’ bombs and guns?” Anna questioned.

Nodding, I added, “The modern Mad Scientist isn’t Frankenstein creating some monster-human. He’s creating weapons of mass destruction and believing he’s saving the world.”

“Are we saving the world again, Caryssa?” Julie came back with a tray carrying mint iced teas and a bowl of popcorn.

Mmm… this is fantastic!” I exclaimed while chomping a handful of the buttery, crunchy popcorn.

“Now let’s hear that email, this will be like listening to an excerpt from a novel!” Julie commented. “With a bizarre twist coming from this girl—and why is she contacting you all the time?”

“I think she’s leaning on me as a window to the world left behind her.” Anna swiped her phone, then said, “listen to this:

TO: Anna Beauvais

From: Jamie Garcia

Date: October 20, 2018 2:14:33 CST

Subject: Kryptos and Shit

So… I’m done trying to solve Kryptos but I can tell you it’s all about the illusion the CIA has cast over the world. The agency arms, trains and funds terrorism. It’s an allegory to the darkness of history connected to shadow money today.

The third encrypted message of Kryptos is about Tut, the boy-king. He was a teenaged warrior, only nineteen! He tried to escape being controlled by power just like us!

It’s a subliminal message connecting what happened then and now—right down to the Pharaoh’s gilded funeral mask on display as a world-renowned piece of art. Like all soldiers, they turned this child into entertainment for the masses. Like deceptive wreaths decorating graves.

All the gold, jewels, and shiny objects excavated from his tomb were handled with more tender care than the soldiers during the “Great War.” Then the tragic death and discovery of this boy-king made a good story for a publicity show.

Same shit, a different era. The riches in King Tut’s tomb resemble today’s two top problems: Ignorance and greed.

PS: Remember my message on your Picasso painting: “I stand for life against death. I stand for peace against war.”

Jamie Garcia

“Wow, Ava is one pessimistic girl,” insisted Julie.

“Mmm… I’m not sure about that, I see her as one smart girl who can think for herself,” I countered.

“Well, what’s with her identity crisis?” Julie edged us on.

Identity crisis? She’s incognito Jules, using a fake identity and untraceable device to survive.” I blurted. “We live in a world where history, myth, and politics collide. And you know, she just might be onto something. I read that the fourth yet unsolved message of Kryptos reads ’Out of the darkness a gold King Tut.”

“I’ve heard that too,” Anna piped in. “But like all the other encrypted messages, there’s a misspelling. Darkness is spelled ‘darknss.’”

“I thought it read ‘Berlin Clock.’” Julie pondered.

“Maybe both are part of the fourth hidden message at CIA headquarters. After all, it’s known that a sculpture of King Tut’s stepmother, Queen Nefertiti—the Nefertiti Bust, is displayed in Berlin,” Anna informed.

“Oh! And King Tut’s tomb was rumored to have secret rooms with a hidden chamber where the queen’s body was thought to be buried. It’s all still a mystery although some say she’s been found.” I added.

“Whatever… I don’t know about you guys, but it seems the relaxing scene around this swanky café is starting to look a bit apocalyptic,” Julie declared as she glanced out at the Bay.

We turned and watched a ferry boat make its way through the smoky haze toward Alcatraz Island. The sun was bright burnt orange, casting an ominous glow over the water. “I pray for all the people losing their houses and loved ones in these fires across our state,” I whispered. Our nation.

The girls nodded, no words leaving their lips. We decided it was time to head home.

I drove around town doing errands for a few hours, including grabbing groceries from Trader Joe’s. The sun was a glowing red orb in the smoky sky. Later I was lounging on my couch, reading a Steinbeck novel while half listening to the news and sipping Chai Tea. The view from my living room was spectacular as ever, streaks of orange lighting up the sky across the Bay with the city and bridge lights twinkling.

The only thing I heard from the reality TV show our news has become were snippets of another mass shooting I couldn’t tolerate hearing. I picked up the remote to switch it off, and I froze. This couldn’t be real. I covered my ears to block off the words, but it was no use. Fragmented pieces of the story hit me with a wave of nausea:

‘… mass shooting at the Golden Gate Grind… four people killed… heroic local police officer able to quell further damage… the lone gunman is an ex-Marine combat veteran… his motive unclear… ’

The remote dropped from my hand, making a loud crash as it hit the floor. His motive unclear? — how about a built-in motive? I thought. An Orwellian dystopia, our global arms race to nowhere. The money in politics placing swords over the heads of humanity.

Then, in typical media fashion, the image of the suspect flashed before me, giving him fame while the victims fade away. Victims that could have been my friends. Myself.

There, pictured on my TV screen, was the guy that had sat at the table next to us at the café, with the same haunted look on his face. That young man whose life I place before my own.

The empath in me let guilt hit like a ton of bricks. I heard screaming, then recognized it came from me, as my eyes landed on an inspirational plaque on my wall that reads, “Live in the Moment.” At that moment, I wanted to throw my cup at it.


“Do you want me to videotape this, Ava?”

“Sure, Chris, just let me feed pellets to Harmony.” I curved my fingers in another attempt to scratch the wild dove’s neck, but his stiff posture told me he still saw petting as a threat.

Harmony is the name we gave our new forest friend. The low, continuous humming of insects and birds surrounded us. I felt better rested and happier than ever.

“It’s amazing how you could train this wild dove, Ava,” Chris commented.

“This gentle peacemaker will only feed from my hands though, can’t pet him yet.” Chris sent me one of those looks he gave before asking how a dove lover could have done what she did to her own. I killed my own pet doves! Oddly, to show how war hawks kill peace.

I silenced him with a stare, “Are you ready yet?”

Chris switched my burner phone into video mode, and stopped to ask, “Just tell me again, what was the symbolic message you tried to convey?”

“This is the last time I’ll repeat it. I’m trying to forget! The three bloody teardrops under the dove’s eyes resemble being blinded by elusive, forever enemies. Three blood drops on the breasts symbolize removal of a society’s heart.

Chris pressed the record button and said, “Here’s our release hoping to send off love, peace and compassion to heal the world.”

I uplifted my eyes toward the sky. Raising both hands, I released Harmony, his majestic wings flapping—lifting him toward the lush forest canopy.

The End…for now!

Thank you for reading.

T.L. Mumley

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