The Country/The Country

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5. "Nothing Is Sacred'

The weather intervened, interrupting his feud with the dogs.

Cold rain, occasional hail. The weather was more and more like that these days, Keel mused; the seasons increasingly mixed up. The storms stronger. The weather pattern changes more abrupt. Keel kept indoors, planned an early supper. He would take his book, a large tome about an ancient general and a war between two factions of a divided nation, to bed.

The day after that, with the weather improved, he allowed himself to take a slightly different route to the town square. Once again the message on the church message board had been tampered with. A tainted campaign, he thought, and a tampered sign.

He saw the words in a different way this time. Surely, the original outrage had been discovered by the church, and the letters rearranged to some more spiritual, or at least civil, use. Yet the provocateur had struck again, restoring his work -- “Kill the Pig!” -- though some of the spaces between the letters were different, wider. Was this the work of a single hand? Keel asked himself. ‘Graffiti Prophet’? Has he heard of such a figure, read about him somewhere? Or just dreamed him up. But there was no signing, no tagging, here. Just a few bare words.

An invitation to murder. A command? An appeal?

A portent... A kind of seduction? A subornation?

Seeing the message formulated a second time also suggested the possibility of a team at work. A group, an underground. A campaign pursuing a dangerous, extra-legal strategy. It was like putting a classified ad in a news-sheet: Dangerous Party Needed. No Questions Asked.

If he saw it, others were seeing it too.

On his way back through the square he walked on the opposite side of the street, his senses tingling. The presence of the message, the words he knew without looking were still there, heightened his sensory awareness. He fought the urge to examine his surroundings with every step. Was anyone else passing by, anyone lingering outside a store, at the bus stop, or in a car? There were always cars parked in the square! If you desired to watch what was happening in the square, you sat in your car without much likelihood of attracting attention. Were ‘they’ (the mysterious message-placers) watching to see if anyone showed interest in their advertisement? If anyone might be looking about for a way to apply?

Keel risked a glance across the street. Though he could not clearly read the words on the message board from that distance, he could tell from the pattern, those three short letter-groupings, space between them. No one was reading it. No one passing by.

He could not tell if any other eyes were trained on the sign.

He walked home a different way to avoid the Dormands’ dogs (and his own guilty conscience).

The next morning, as stories began to appear in the morning news-sheets reminding citizens that the Voting Days would soon be coming to Monro, he armed himself for the confrontation on Pike Street.

Keel did not possess anything like a weapon. But his eyes scanned sidewalk, the yards, the houses he passed, alert for the possibility. Another stone? Or a fallen branch this time. A discarded toy? Even plastic, he noted, handling a toy in the General Merchandise could be made hard these days. A child’s bat; would that do?

In this state of unease his thoughts kept drifting back to the terrible imperative on the church message board, and the irrational suspicion that his own thoughts were being articulated

-- publicly -- there. Why would anybody post a message on a church front? Who vandalizes a church, even if the violation, a re-arranging letters on a sign, could be easily be erased and the worlds put back to their former, harmless shape.

Nothing is sacred.

The words appeared in his thoughts, almost as if they had been put there by someone else.

But wasn’t that part of the message? Nothing is sacred, now that Mr. Pig is gaining control of the country. You think a little graffiti is bad? Wait till you see what happens when this guy, and his army of thugs, get rolling.

Still there was no sense of public awareness, was there? That people were waking to the danger? If such a thing as a national conscience existed, it had not stirred. That was the absurdity, the senselessness, of the way people lived, wasn’t it? Keel reflected. Something was coming, everybody knew it, and still everybody carried on their lives as if their way of life would never be challenged. As if they themselves would live forever.

Keel stopped looking for a rock or a piece of wood to pick up. What good would it do? Was he planning to defend himself from the pigglies with a stick in his hand? Besides --has he forgotten? -- the Dormands’ house, the house of his enemies, had unbreakable windows.

On the news, that night, the remote camera delivered what, judging by the correspondent’s fraught expression, was judged shocking news. The local news station that -- incredibly. yet routinely -- occupied a full 24-hour schedule with breakdowns, bad moments, vehicular collisions, tragic accidents or various kinds, amateurish criminals, and the lowest common denominator observations and ‘chat’ available from gleaning regional events had apparently sent a location crew to the site of the old church in Independence Square and was transmitting an image of its message board.

Somehow, Keel was surprised to see, the station had ‘got the story.’

Nothing alarming appeared on that board now. A new message, this week’s message, was declaring that the theme of Sunday’s service, at the usual time, to be presided over by the parish’s own minister: “The Kingdom of God lies Within You.”

“But that’s not what this message board said,” interjected a voice from beyond the screen, “when Mrs. [Bridg? Keel didn’t recognize the name] passed by here last Saturday evening. According to Mrs. [name again; probably garbled] when she walked past the church the message board was stating something she found highly disturbing.”

The camera swung abruptly from the board to the upper body image of a blonde woman of middle years wearing a fashionable dark cloth coat. This must be Name. The microphone and the hands and a bit of the head of the ubiquitous on-location journalist also appeared in the shot, and now the camera shifted to catch the profile of the reporter’s features, a not very tall man with a youthful-looking brush cut and a slightly frantic determination to keep smiling.

“Was it, Mrs. Bridgler-er --?” Brief hesitation.

Camera on her. Hint of surprise on local woman’s features.

“No, it wasn’t.” Spoken rapidly, as if to make up for the awkward pause.

“Tell us what you saw there.”

“Well.. the board... said..” Words slow now, as if remembering this advice to conceal nervousness. “Something that was...”

Search for more words; abandon search.

“Well not very nice. It said ‘Kill Mr. Pig.’”

A silence. As of letting the distressing encounter sink in.

“That was all? That was the whole message?”

“Uh-huhm.”

“And what did you do?”

“I reported it to the police.”

“Thank you.”

Moving the microphone away from name’s face.

Omitting attempting the name again.

The camera obediently cut away to show us, instead of Mrs. Unpronounceable, the open-faced correspondent, hair trimmed neatly above the ears, standing bravely outdoors in the unmediated night.

Viewers may draw their own conclusion, his report seemed to say: Having seen something, she said something.

“That’s the story here, in Independence Square,” the reporter concluded. “A disturbing message, Darlen, to be found written outside a church.”

Darlen, in the studio, shots quick-cutting now, was prompt with her own observation. “That is disturbing, Chucker. Any response from the police yet?”

“Uh.” Blank look. Not expecting this? “They say they’re looking into it.”

“Thanks, Chucker.”

In the studio, the camera remains on Darlen.

“So that’s the story tonight, from a quiet neighborhood in Monro. A disturbing statement to find on a church in Independence Square.”

The briefest of hesitations.

“‘Kill Mr. Pig,’” she recites, with a slight shake of the head, wings of dressed waves settling back over her ears, like obedient doves.

Her co-anchor, a guy (though he has seen him a thousand times, Keel cannot tell you his name) launches into a promo for the next story. The fire somewhere else.

But Darlen, surprisingly, interrupts him. “Sorry, Jax. but I think we’re hearing something more. Back from Independence Square again... Where that disturbing message was just found.”

Back to the square?

Keel, about to click off, enough screen time for one night, arrest his thumb. More graffiti?

A few seconds later, some slightly frantic ad-libbed stalling by Darlen, the screen does go back to location. But that location is different. The face and voice on the camera do not belong to ‘Chucker,’ the nicely coiffed little fellow Keel saw moments ago outside the church.

This time a woman is holding the mike.

“Mally,” the anchor says, “what’s happening there?”

She points the mike, the camera follows her gesture, zooms in.

It’s night. But the light is sufficient to show a house on a residential sheet.

“We’re here at the house on Pike Street where the incident took place.”

Pike Street? Keel goes rigid.

“...a disturbance... of some sort. Police are calling it vandalism.”.

The camera zooms into the shadows. The image takes a few seconds to sort itself out in Keel’s consciousness. A window.

A broken window.

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