CONJUNCTIONS:53, Fall 2009
His Last Great Gift
THE FIRST REVEALMENT
First, that there is a UNIVERSAL ELECTRICITY.
Second, that this electricity has never been naturally incorporated into minerals or other forms of matter.
Third, that the HUMAN ORGANISM is the most superior, natural, efficient type of mechanism known on the earth.
Fourth, that all merely scientific developments of electricity as a MOTIVE POWER are superficial, and therefore useless or impracticable.
Fifth, that the construction of a mechanism built on the laws of man’s material physiology, and fed by ATMOSPHERIC ELECTRICITY, obtained by absorption and condensation, and not by friction or galvanic action, will constitute a new revelation of scientific and spiritual truths, because the plan is dissimilar to every previous human use of electricity.
This mechanism is to be called the NEW MOTOR, and it is wholly original, a mechanism the likes of which has never before existed on the earth, or in the waters under the earth, or in the air above it.
In the morning, Spear descends the hill into the village below, the several pages of diagrams rolled tight in the crook of his arm. On the way to the meeting hall, he waves hello to friends, to members of his congregation, to strangers he hopes will come and hear him speak sooner or later. He is confident, full of the revealed glory, yet when he reaches the meeting hall, he does not go in.
Spear’s friends and advisers—the fellow reverends and spiritualist newspapermen meeting now inside the hall—have followed him here to Massachusetts because he claimed there was a revelation waiting for them here, and already he knows they will not be disappointed. It is too soon to tell them about the blueprints, to allow them to doubt what the Electricizers have given him. He leaves the meeting hall without entering, wanders the town’s narrow streets instead, waiting to be told what to do next.
It takes all morning, but eventually Rush appears to tell him which men to pick, which men to trust with the knowledge of what will be built in the tiny shed beside the cabin atop the hill.
He chooses two Russian immigrants, Tsesler and Voichenko, who speak no English but understand it well enough. He has seen the big bearded heads of these devoted followers of spiritualism nodding in the back row at fellowship meetings, and he knows they will be able to follow the instructions he has to give them.
After the Russians, he selects a handsome teenager named Randall, known to be hardworking and good with his hands, and James the metalworker, a man who has followed Spear since the split with the church.
He chooses two immigrants, an orphan, and a widower: men in need of a living wage, capable of doing the work, and, most important, with no one close enough to obligate them to share the secrets he plans to show them.
Spear selects no women on the first day, but he knows he will soon. One of the women in his congregation will become his New Mary, and into her will be put this revealed god.
Each WIRE is precious, as sacred as a spiritual verse. Each PLATE of ZINC and COPPER is clothed with symbolized meaning, so that the NEW MOTOR might correspond throughout with the principles and parts involved in the living human organism, in the joining of the MALE and FEMALE. Both the woodwork and the metallic must be extremely accurate and crafted correctly at every level from the very beginning, as any error will destroy the chance for its fruition. Only then shall it become a MATHEMATICALLY ACCURATE BODY, a MESSIAH made of singular, scientific precision instead of biological iterations and guesswork.
Before they begin, Spear gathers his chosen men together around the table in the shed, lays out the scant revealments he’s received so far. He says, This is holy work, and we must endeavor at every step to do exactly what is asked of us, to ensure that we do not waste this one opportunity that is given to us, because it will not come again in our lifetimes.
He says, When God created the world, did he try over and over again until he got it right? Are there castaway worlds littering the cosmos, retarded with fire and ice and failed life thrashing away in the clay?
No, there are not.
When God came to save this world, did he impregnate all of Galilee, hoping that one of those seeds would grow up to be a messiah?
No. What God needs, God makes, and it only takes once.
Come closer. Look at what I have drawn. This is what the Electri- cizers have shown me.
They have revealed to us what he needs, and we must not fail in its construction.
As soon as the work begins, Spear sees the Russians have the talent necessary for the craft at hand. They work together to translate the blueprints into their own language before beginning construction, their brusque natures disguising an admirable attention to detail. At the other end of the shed, James shows Randall how to transform sheets of copper into tiny tubes and wires, teaching him as a master teaches an apprentice.
Spear looks at the tubes the two have produced so far, and he shakes his head. Smaller, he says.
Smaller is impossible, says James.
Have faith, says Spear, and faith will make it so.
James shakes his head but with Randall’s help he creates what Spear has asked for. It takes mere days to build this first machine, and when they are finished, Spear throws everyone out of the shed and padlocks the door. He does not start the machine, nor does he know how to.
He cannot, no matter how hard he tries, even see what it might do.
He thinks, Perhaps this is only the beginning, and he is right. The Electricizers return after midnight, and by morning he’s ready to resume work. He calls back Tsesler and Voichenko and Randall and James and shows them the next blueprint. The new machine will be the size of a grapefruit, and their first machine will be its heart.
Franklin stands beside Spear on the hill, while in the shed behind them the work continues. Spear has the next two stages detailed on paper, locked in the box beneath his desk, and he is no longer concerned about their specifics. Instead, he asks Franklin about this other person, the opposite of himself. He asks Franklin, Who is the New Mary? How am I supposed to know who she will be?
Franklin waves his hand over the whole of High Rock, says, She has already been delivered unto us. You need only to claim her, to take her into your protection.
He says, When the time is right, you will know who to choose.
But the time is now, Spear says. If her pregnancy is to coincide with the creation of the motor, it must start soon.
Franklin nods. Then you must choose, and choose wisely.
On the Sabbath, Franklin stands beside Spear at the pulpit, whispering into Spear’s ears, sending his words out Spear’s mouth. There are tears in Spear’s eyes, brought on by the great hope the Electricizers have given him. The reborn America the New Motor will bring is the most beautiful thing Spear has ever imagined. The abolition of slavery, the suffrage of women and Negroes, the institution of free love and free sex and free everything, the destruction of capitalism, of war and greed—Spear tells his congregation that, with their support, the New Motor will make all these things possible.
Franklin whispers something else, something meant just for Spear. The medium nods, looks out at the congregation. One of these women must be the New Mary, and so Spear waits for Franklin to say a name, hesitating too long when the specter fails to reveal the correct choice. He looks out at all of the women in the audience, searches his heart for their qualifications. He thinks of the first Mary, of what he understands as her beauty, her innocence, her virginity. The girl he selects to replace her must be young, and she must be unmarried.
Spear does not know the women of his congregation well.
He can recognize them by sight, but remembers their names only when he sees them beside their husbands or fathers or brothers.
There is only one he has known for a long time, who he has watched grow from a child into a young woman, all under the tutelage of the spiritualist movement. He has always felt discomfited by the attention he paid her, but now, at last, he sees the reasons for his lingering gazes, his wanting thoughts. From the pulpit, he says her name: Abigail Dermot.
He says, Abigail Dermot, please step forward.
He doesn’t watch her stand, confused, and walk up the aisle. He averts his eyes, both from her and from the front pew, where his wife and children sit.
The thoughts that are in his head he does not want to share with his wife.
He turns to Franklin, but the specter is gone. What he does next, he does on his own.
Among you there will be a NEW MARY, one who has inherited at the outset an unusually sensitive nature, refined by suffering. To her will be revealed the true meaning of the CROSS, as the intersection of heaven and earth, as positive and negative, as both male and female. She will become a MOTHER, but in a new sense: the MARY OF A NEW DISPENSATION. She will feel a maternal feeling toward not just the NEW MOTOR but also to all individuals, who, through her instrumentality, will one day be instructed in the truth of the new philosophy.
After the services are over, he takes Abigail into his office in the meetinghouse and motions for her to sit down before taking his own seat behind the desk. He believes she is sixteen or seventeen, but when he asks, she says, Fifteen, Reverend. She has not looked at him once since he called her up to the front of the congregation, since he told the others that she was the chosen one who would give birth to the revelation they all awaited.
Spear says, Abigail, you are marked now, by God and by his agents and by me. You are special, set apart from the others.
He says, Abigail. Look at me.
She raises her eyes, and he can see how scared she is of what she’s been called to do. He stands and walks around the desk to kneel before her. She smells like lavender, jasmine, the first dust off a fresh blossom. His hands clasped in front of himself, he says, Can you accept what’s being offered to you?
He rises, touches her shoulder, then lifts her chin so that their faces are aligned, so that her blonde hair falls away from her eyes.
He says, It is God who calls you, not me, and it is he you must answer.
But Spear wonders. It is just he and she, alone, and without the Electricizers he can only trust what he himself feels in the hollows of his own imperfect heart.
The MEDIUM is rough, coarse, lacking culture and hospitality, but with the elements deemed essential for the engineering of the NEW MOTOR, for this important branch of labor. At times he must be in the objective position [not in a TRANCE] while at other times he must be erratic, must ignore his family and friends so that he might hear our many voices. Acting upon impulse, this person will be made to say and do things of an extraordinary character. He will not be held accountable for his actions during the MONTHS OF CREATION. Treading on ground so delicate, he cannot be expected to comprehend the purposes aimed at. Do not hold him as a sinner during this time, for all will be forgiven, every secret action necessarily enjoined.
The services of many persons must be secured to the carrying forth of a work so novel, so important. The NEW MOTOR will be the BEACON FIRE, the BLOODRED CROSS, the GENERAL ORDER OF THE NEW DAY. Whatever must be sacrificed must be sacrificed, whatever must be cast aside must be cast aside. Trust the MEDIUM, for through him we speak great speech.
That night, Rush shows Spear the next stages of the New Motor, detailing the flywheel that will have to be cast at great cost. Spear is given ideas, designs, structures, scientific laws and principles, all of which he writes as quickly as he can, his hand moving faster than his mind can follow. When he reads over what he has written, he recognizes that the blueprint he has been given is something that could not have originated from within him. He can barely comprehend it as it is now, fully formed upon the paper, much less conceive how he would have arrived at this grand design without the help of the Electricizers.
Rush says, The motor will cause great floods of spiritual light to descend from the heavens. It will reveal the earth to be a limitless treasure trove of motion, life, and freedom.
Spear dutifully inks the diagram and annotates each of its intricacies, then asks, Did I choose the right girl?
Rush points to the diagram and says, That should be copper, not zinc.
Spear makes the correction, but presses his own issue. She’s only fifteen, from a good family. Surely she’s a virgin.
He says, I have seen her pray, and I believe she is as pure of heart as any in the congregation.
Rush says, We want to reveal more, but only if you can concentrate. It isn’t easy for us to be here. Don’t waste our time.
Spear apologizes, swallows his doubts. He silences his heart and opens his ears. He writes what he needs to write, draws what he needs to draw.
A week later, Spear sends Randall down into the village to fetch Abigail. When the boy returns with the girl, her mother and father also walk beside her. Spear tries to ignore the parents as he takes the girl by the arm, but her father steps around him, blocking the path to the shed.
The father says, Reverend, if God needs my daughter, then so be it. But I want to see where you’re taking her.
Spear shakes his head, keeps his hand on the girl. Says, Mr. Dermot, I assure you that your daughter is safe with me. We go with God.
What is in there that a child would need to see that a man cannot?
You will see it, Mr. Dermot. Everyone will, when the time comes. When my task—your daughter’s task—is complete, then you will see it. But not before.
Spear holds the father’s gaze for a long time. He wants to look at Abigail, to assure her that there is nothing to be afraid of, but he knows it is the father he must convince. Behind them, her mother is crying quietly, her sobs barely louder than the slight wind blowing across the hill. Spear waits with a prayer on his lips, with a call for help reserved farther down his throat. Randall is nearby, and the Russians and the metalworker will come if he calls.
Spear waits, and eventually the father steps aside. Spear breaks his gaze but says nothing, just moves forward with the girl in tow. Out of the corner of his eye, he sees the curtain of his cabin parted, sees his wife’s face obscured by the cheap glass of the window. He does not look more closely, does not acknowledge the expression he knows is there.
Inside the work shed, construction continues as Spear shows Abigail what has been done, what the New Motor is becoming. He explains her role as the New Mary, that she has been chosen to give life to the machine.
He says, I am the architect, but I am no more the father than Joseph was.
He tells her, From this point forward, this is your child, and God’s child.
He says, Do you understand what I am telling you?
The Electricizers are all in the shed, watching him. He looks to them for approval, but their focus is on the machine itself. Inside the shed, the words he says to them never have any effect, never move them to response or reaction.
Work stalls while they wait for supplies to come by train to Randolph, and then overland to High Rock by wagon. For two weeks, Spear has nothing to do but return to the ordinary business of running his congregation, which includes acting as a medium for congregation members who wish to contact their deceased or to seek advice from the spirit world. A woman crosses his palm with coin and he offers her comforting words from her passed husband, then he helps a businessman get advice from an old partner. Normally, Spear has no trouble crossing the veil and coming back with the words the spirits offer him, but something has changed since the arrival of the Electricizers, a condition aggravated since the beginning of construction on the motor. He hears the other spirits as if his ears are filled with cotton or wax, as if there is something in the way of true communication, and the real world seems just as distant, just as difficult to navigate.
By the time the spinster Maud Trenton comes to see him, he can barely see her, can barely hear her when she says, I’m hearing voices, Reverend. Receiving visitations.
She says, Angels have come to me in the night.
Spear shakes his head, sure he’s misunderstood the woman. He feels like a child, trapped in a curtain, unable to jerk himself free. He hasn’t crossed the veil, merely caught himself up in it.
He says, What did you say?
Maud Trenton, in her fifties, with a face pocked by acne scars and a mouth full of the mere memories of teeth, says, I told the angels I was afraid, and the angels told me to come see you.
Jefferson appears behind her, with his sleeves rolled up, wig set aside. His glow is so bright it’s hard for Spear to look directly at the specter, who says, Just tell her that God loves her.
Spear’s eyes roll and blink and try to right themselves. He can feel his pupils dilating, letting more light come streaking in as wide bands of colors splay across his field of vision. He’s firmly on the other side now, closer to what comes next than what is.
Jefferson says, Tell her we’re thankful. Tell her we venerate her and protect her and watch over her. Tell her the whole host is at her service.
Spear is so confused that when he opens his mouth to say Jefferson’s words, nothing comes out. And then the specter is gone, and Spear is freed from his vision, returned to the more substantial world, where Maud sits across from him, her eyes cast downward into her lap, her hands busy worrying a handkerchief to tatters. Suddenly Spear feels tired, too tired to talk to this woman anymore, or to concern himself with her problems.
Spear opens his mouth to say Jefferson’s words, but they won’t come out, and although he knows why, he blames her instead. He says, Woman, I have nothing to say to you. If you feel what you’re doing is wrong—if you’ve come to me for absolution—then go home and pray for yourself, for I have not been granted it to give you.
At dinner that night, Spear’s forehead throbs while his wife and daughters chatter around him, desperate for his attention after his day spent down in the village. He continues to nod and smile, hoping his reaction is appropriate but unable to tell for sure. He can’t hear their words, can’t comprehend their facial expressions, no matter how hard he tries.
He does not try that hard.
What’s in the way is the New Motor. The revealments are coming faster now, and Spear understands that there are many more to come. It will take eight more months to finish the machine, an interminable time to wait, but there is so much to do that Spear is grateful for every remaining second.
The New Motor is ready to be mounted on a special table commissioned specifically for the project, and so Spear brings two carpenters into his expanding crew, each once again hand selected from the men of High Rock. The table is sturdy oak, its thick top carved with several deep, concentric circles designed to surround the growing machine. When the carpenters ask him what the grooves mean, or what they do, Spear shakes his head. Their purpose hasn’t been revealed yet, only their need.
Abigail is now a fixture in the shed, spending every day with the men and the motor. Spear spends part of every morning talking to her, relating scriptures he finds applicable. The girl is an attentive student, listening carefully and asking insightful questions. Spear finds himself wishing his own children were so good at absorbing instruction, and more than once he finds the slow linger of a smile burnt across his cheeks long after he and Abigail have finished speaking.
In the afternoons, he joins the others in the day-to-day work of constructing the machine, but even then he continues to watch her, to notice her. This is how he observes the way she sees Randall, the talented young worker who will have his pick of trades when the time comes. Metalworking, carpentry, even the doing of figures and interpretation of the diagrams come easy to Randall, the boy’s aptitudes speaking well of his deeper, better qualities. Spear has often been impressed with the boy, but now, watching the quick glances and quicker smiles that pass between Randall and Abigail, he knows he’ll have to study him even closer.
He tells himself that it’s not the girl he cares about, but the motor. After she gives birth to his machine, Randall can have her. But not before. Spear is sure that, like Mary, Abigail must be a virgin to bring the motor to life, and he cannot risk Randall ruining that. He decides that he will take the girl home to live with him, just until summer. She will become part of his household, and he himself will keep her safe. Although he trusts all those he surrounds himself with, it is only himself who he can vouch is above reproach.
Spear is no engineer, but he knows enough to understand that the New Motor is different. Where most machines are built in pieces, one component at a time, the motor is being built from the inside out. It is being grown, with the sweat and effort of these great Spiritualist men, all excellent workers, excellent minds. Tsesler and Voichenko especially seem given to the task; their ability to translate the complexities of the diagrams and explanations into their own language is almost uncanny. The others work nearly as hard, including Randall. Despite Spear’s misgivings about the boy, he knows the young man is as dedicated as any other to the completion of their work. Six days a week, for ten or twelve or fourteen hours, they slave together in the forge-heated shed to fulfill the task handed down to them by the Electricizers. By the time the first snowfall covers the hill, the machine has enough moving parts that a once-useless flywheel becomes predictive, turning cogs that foretell the other cogs and gears and pulleys not yet known to Spear. The first gliding panel is set in the innermost groove of the table’s concentric circles, moved all the way around the motor once to ensure that it works the way it is intended to. The panel’s copper face is inscribed with words that Spear does not know, but which he believes are the hidden names of God, revealed now in glory and in grace.
On the day of the fall equinox, the men work and work. When they finish after dark, Spear gathers them all around himself. He is covered in sweat and dirt and grease and grime. They all are, and Spear smiles, prouder than he has ever allowed himself to be.
He looks over his men, and he says, It took a quarter of a million years for God to design our last messiah, and even then, he could only come in our form, created in our image, a fallen man. Our new messiah will take only nine months to build, and when it is done it will show us who our own children will be, what they will become in the new kingdom.
This New Motor, it will be the first of a new race, unfallen and perfect, characterized by a steamwork perfection our world is only now capable of creating. God has shown the Electricizers and they have shown me and I have shown you, and now you are making it so.
The New Motor is his task, but Spear knows that there are others working too, all of them assigned their own tasks somewhere out in America. He knows this because, even on the nights when the others fail to materialize, Franklin comes and takes Spear from his bed and out into the night. The two men walk the empty streets, Spear shivering in his long wool coat and hat and boots, Franklin unaffected by the cold. The specter tells him of other groups sent to help, of other spirits in need of a medium. These other groups are called the Healthfulizers, the Educationalizers, the Agriculturalizers, the Elementizers, the Governmentizers, perhaps others that even Franklin hasn’t yet heard of.
Franklin says, I can’t know everything.
Like you, he says, I am just a vessel.
He puts a cold hand on Spear’s shoulder, causing the medium’s teeth to chatter together hard, too hard. If the specter doesn’t release him soon, Spear worries that he’ll break his molars.
A new age is coming, Franklin says. The garden restored.
He says, Fear not.
He says, Through God, even one such as you might be made ready.
As the motor grows in complexity, Spear begins to lose his temper more and more often, always at home, always behind closed doors. He tells his wife again and again that Abigail is not to work, that she is not to lift a finger, but more than once he comes home to find the girl helping his wife with her own chores.
To his wife, he says, Why is it that you can’t listen to even the simplest of my instructions?
Pointing to Abigail, he says, She’s pregnant, with the growing king of our new world. Why can’t you do what I say, and treat her accordingly?
His wife begins to weep, but her fury is uncooled by the tears streaming down her face. She says, sounding as tired as he’s ever heard, She’s not pregnant, John. The only reason she’s here is that you want her instead of me.
To Abigail, Spear says, Child, return to your room. Then he waits until Abigail has left the room before he strikes his wife across the face with the back of his hand.
He says, Christ forgive me, but you watch your tongue. You either recognize the glory of God or you do not. Only you can choose which it will be, and in the end, you must choose.
By December, there have been sixty-five revealments, and by the end of January there are thirty more. The New Motor is growing larger, taking up the entire table with its array of sliding panels and connecting tubes and gears. Loose bundles of wires dangle from the construct’s innards, waiting for the places where they will connect and give life to extremities that only Spear has seen so far, to other appendages even he can’t yet imagine.
This machine, it does not resemble a man, as Spear once thought it would. What’s worse, it doesn’t resemble anything anyone has seen before, causing the other workers to question him. He does his best to quell their worries, but as the team grows they ask their questions louder and louder, until their concerns leak out of the shed and into the congregation below. The collections that once went to feeding the poor or funding abolitionist trips into the South have for months gone to the motor, and now the congregation’s patience grows thin, especially among those who haven’t seen the motor, who cannot conceive of what it is, what it will be.
Spear counsels patience, counsels faith. From the pulpit, he says, We have been given a great gift, and we must not question it.
But he does. He questions, he doubts. His resolve wavers. He opens his mouth to speak again, but cannot. He hasn’t eaten or changed his clothes in days, and has taken to sleeping in the shed, beneath the copper reflection of the motor. He doesn’t go home to the cabin except to fetch Abigail in the mornings and to take her back home at night.
On the Sabbath, he stumbles at the pulpit, but the Electricizers at his side catch him with their frosty hands and return him to his station.
Spear shivers, wipes the drool off his lip with the back of a shaky hand. He waves his hand, motions for the ushers to pass the collection plate. They hesitate, look to the deacons for confirmation, a gesture that is not lost on Spear, who knows his authority has been questioned, his future dependent on the successful outcome of his great project.
Spear closes his eyes against his congregation’s wavering faith, then says, God blesses you, in this kingdom, and in the one to come. Give freely, for what you have here you will not soon need.
Spear has to stifle a gasp when Maud Trenton comes into his office during the first week of February. She is as pregnant as any woman Spear has ever seen, her belly stressing the seams of her black dress. He can see patches of skin between strained buttons, and for just a moment he desires to reach out and touch her stomach, to feel the heat of the baby inside.
Maud sits, her hands and arms wrapped around the round bulk of her belly. She says, I need your help, Reverend.
With quivering lips, she says, I don’t know where this baby came from, and I don’t know what to do with it.
Spear shudders, trying to imagine who would have impregnated this woman. He realizes it has been weeks since he last saw Maud at services or group meetings. She’s been hiding herself away, keeping her shame a secret. The people in the village may not be ready to accept such a thing, but Spear prides himself on his progressive politics, on the radical nature of his insight. He believes that a woman should be able to make love to whom she wants, that a child can be raised by a village when a family is unavailable. This does not have to be the ruin of this woman, but there must be truth, confession, an accounting.
Spear says, Do you know who the father is?
Maud neither nods nor shakes her head. She makes no motion to the affirmative or the negative. She says, There is no father.
Through the curtain of gray hair falling across her downcast face, she says, I am a virgin.
She looks up and says, I know you know this.
Spear shakes his head. He does not want to believe and so he does not. He says, If you cannot admit your sin, then how can you do penance?
He says, The church can help you, but only if you allow it to. I ask again, Who is the father?
Spear asks and asks, but she refuses to tell the truth, even when he walks around the desk and shakes her by the shoulder. She says nothing, so he sends her away. She will return when she is ready, and when she is ready he will make sure she is taken care of. There is time to save the child, if only she will listen.
At night, Spear wanders the floors of the small cabin, checking and rechecking the doors. He locks Abigail’s door himself each evening, ensuring that she is in her bed, that no one can disturb her, but later he awakens, sure her door is open wide. He rushes out into the hall only to find it locked, just as he left it. These nights, he stands outside her door with his face pressed to the wood, listening to the sounds of her breathing. Sometimes, he dreams he’s been inside the room, that he has said or done something improper, only later he can never remember what. More than once, he wakes up in the morning curled in front of her door, like a guard dog, or else like a penitent, waiting to be forgiven.
The Electricizers fill Spear’s bedroom with more specters than ever before. He can see now some of the others, the older spirits he first intuited, can hear the creaky whisper of their instructions. These are past leaders of men, undead now but still burdened by their great designs, and Spear can sense the revealments these older ghosts once loosed from their spectral tongues: their Towers of Babel, their great arks. His fingers cramp into claws as he struggles to write fast enough to keep up with the hours of instruction he receives, his pen scratching across countless pages. Near dawn, he looks down and for just a moment he sees himself not as a man, not as flesh and blood, but as one of the Electricizers. His freezing, fading muscles ache with iced lightning, shooting jolts of pain through his joints. Spear understands that Franklin and Jefferson and Murray and the rest are merely the latest in a long line of those chosen to lead in both this life and the next, and Spear wonders if he too is being groomed to continue their great works. He looks at Franklin, whose face is only inches away from his own. He sees himself in the specter’s spectacles, sees how wan and wasted he looks.
Spear says, Am I dying?
The ghost shakes his head, suddenly sadder than Spear has ever seen him. Franklin says, There is no such thing as death. Now write.
February and March pass quietly, the work slowing then halting altogether as supplies take longer and longer to reach High Rock through the snow-choked woods. Spear spends the idlest days pacing alone in the snow atop the hill, watching the road from Randolph obsessively. There is so much left to do, and always less time to do it in.
In June, the nine months will be over. The motor must be ready. God waits for no man, and Spear does not want to disappoint.
Spear spends the short winter days in the shed, checking and rechecking the construction of the motor, but the long evenings are another matter. Being trapped in the cabin with his wife and children is unbearable, and being trapped there with Abigail is a torture of another kind. From his chair in the sitting room, he finds his eyes drawn to her flat belly, to the lack of sign or signal. From there he wanders to her covered breasts, and then to the lines of pale skin that escape the neckline of her dress, the hems at the wrists of her long sleeves. He watches her while she plays with his own children on the floor, watches for the kindness and grace he expects to find in his New Mary.
Mostly, what he sees is boredom, the same emotion that has overwhelmed him all winter, trapped by snow and waiting for the coming thaw that feels too far off to count on. While they wait, he expects some sign, something to show her development into what she must become. He knows she will not give birth to the motor, not exactly, but she must give it life somehow.
Spear wishes he could ask the Electricizers, but knows there isn’t any point. Despite their long-winded exposition on every facet of the motor’s construction, they have been silent on the subject of Abigail since he first plucked her from the flock.
Spear decides nothing. He stops touching his wife, stops holding his children. He tells himself he is too tired, too cold. Food tastes like ash, so he stops eating. The Electricizers keep him up all night with their diagrams and their inscriptions and their persistent pushing for speed, for completion.
Jefferson tells Spear that by the end of the month, he will know everything he needs to know to finish the New Motor. The revelation will be complete.
By the end of the month, Spear replies, I will be a ghost. He spits toward the ancient glimmer, sneers.
The specters ignore his sacrilegious doubt. They press him, and when he resists, they press harder, until eventually he goes back to work. He writes the words they speak. He draws the images they describe. He does whatever they ask, but in his worst moments he does it only because he believes that by giving in he might one day reach the moment where they’ll leave him alone.
The PSYCHIC BATTERY must be cylindrical in shape, constructed of lead and filled with two channels of liquid, one containing a copper sulfate and the other zinc. Copper wires will be run from the GRAND REVOLVER into each channel, with great care taken to ensure that none of the wires touch each other as they ascend into the NEW MOTOR. There is a danger of electrocution, of acid burns, of the loss of life and the destruction of the machine. From the moment of CONCEPTION to the moment of BIRTH, always the NEW MOTOR has been in danger, and in these stages there is no safety except for the careful, the diligent, the righteous. When the PSYCHIC BATTERY has been successfully installed, the NEW MOTOR will be complete in one part of its nature, as complete as the MEDIUM alone can make it. Men have done their work, and now it is the women’s turn.
In the morning, the other leaders of the congregation are waiting for Spear when he steps out of the cabin. On his porch are other preachers, mediums, the newspapermen who just months before published articles in support of the project. The men stand in a half circle in front of his house, smoking their pipes and chatting. Their voices drop off into silence as Spear descends the steps from his porch onto the lawn.
One of the preachers speaks, saying, John, this has to stop. Whatever you’re doing in that shed, it’s bankrupting the community.
The newspaperman nods and says, We thought this was a gift from God, that his spirit spoke through you, but now—
He breaks off, looks to the others for support. He says, John, what if what you’re making is an abomination instead of a revelation?
And what about the girl, John? What are you doing with the girl?
The others mutter their assent, close ranks around him. Spear doesn’t move. They aren’t physically threatening him, despite their new proximity. He closes his eyes, and waits a long minute before responding. He holds out his small hands, displays the creases of grease and dirt that for the first time in his life cross his palms.
Spear says, I am a person destitute of creative genius, bereft of scientific knowledge in the fields of magnetism and engineering and electricity. I cannot even accomplish the simplest of handy mechanics. Everything I tell you is true, as I do not have the predisposition to make any suggestions of my own for how this device might function or how to build what we have built.
He says, This gift I bring you, it could not have come from me, but it does come through me.
It comes through me, or not at all.
The men say nothing. They tap their pipe ash into the snow, or shuffle their feet and stare down the hill. There is no sound coming from the shed, even though Spear knows the workers have all arrived by now. They’re listening too, waiting to hear what happens next.
Spear says, Four more months. All I need is four more months. The motor will be alive by the end of June.
He promises, and then he waits for the men to each take his hand and agree, which they eventually do, although it costs him the rest of his credibility, what little is left of the goodwill earned through a lifetime of service. It does not matter that their grips are reluctant, that their eyes flash new warnings. Whatever doubts he might have when he is alone disappear when questioned by others, just as they always have. The Electricizers will not disappoint, nor the god who directs them.
While he’s shaking hands with the last of the men, he hears the cabin door open again. Thinking it’s Abigail coming to join him in the shed, Spear turns around with a smile on his face, then loses it when he sees his wife instead, standing on the porch, holding his oldest child by the hand. Their other child is balanced in the crook of her arm, and all of them are dressed for travel. He looks from his wife to the men in his yard—his friends, until now—and then back again. While the men help Abigail with the two chests she’s packed, Spear stands still and watches without a word. Even when his family stands before him, he has no words.
He blinks, blinks again, then he looks at this woman. He looks at her children. He turns, puts his back to them, waits until they are far enough that they could be anyone’s family before he looks once more.
He watches until they disappear into the town, and then he goes into the shed and begins the day’s work, already much delayed. He sets his valise down on the work table at the back of the shed, unpacks his papers detailing the newest revealments. While the men gather to look at the blueprints, he wanders off to stare at the motor itself. It gleams in the windowless shed, the lamplight reflecting off the copper and zinc, off the multitudes of burnished magnetic spheres. He puts his hand to the inscriptions in the table, runs his fingers down the central shaft, what the Electricizers call the grand revolver. It towers over the table, vaguely forming the shape of a cross. There are holes punctured through the tubing, where more spheres will be hung before the outer casing is cast and installed. It is this casing that he has brought the plans for today.
Spear does not need an explanation from the Electricizers to understand this part. Even he can see that the symbols and patterns upon the panels are the emblematic form of the universe itself. They are the mind of God, the human microcosm, described at last in simple, geometric beauty. He does not explain it to these men who work for him, does not think they need to know everything that he does.
The only person he will explain it to is Abigail, and then only if she asks.
With his family gone back to Boston, the cabin is suddenly too big for Spear and Abigail, with its cavernous cold rooms, but also too small, with no one to mediate or mitigate their bodies and movements. Everywhere Spear goes, he runs into the girl, into her small, supposedly virginal form. Despite her bright inquisitiveness whenever she visits the shed, she is quieter in the cabin, continuing her deference to his status as both a male and a church leader. Abigail keeps her eyes averted and her hands clasped in front of her, preventing her from noticing that in their forced solitude Spear now stares openly at her, trying to will her to look at him, to answer his hungry looks with one of her own, only to punish himself later for his inability to control these thoughts.
By March, he is actively avoiding her within his own home, so much so that he doesn’t notice at first when she begins to show around the belly. The bulge is just a hand’s breadth of flesh, just the start of something greater yet to come.
He is elated when he sees it, but the feeling does not last.
Spear knows he has chosen wrong, has known for months that the Electricizers’ refusal to discuss the girl is his own fault. In the shed, he stops to take in the New Motor, growing ever more massive, more intricate. There is much left to do before June, and now much to pray and atone for as well. He is sorry for his own mistakes, but knows Abigail’s pregnancy is another matter altogether, a sin separate from his own. A sin that must be punished. Spear drags Randall out of the shed by his collar and flings him into the muddy earth. The boy is bigger than he, healthier and stronger, but Spear has the advantage of surprise and it is all he needs. He cannot stop to accuse, to question, must instead keep the boy on the ground, stomping his foot into the teenager’s face and stomach and ribs. The boy cries out his innocence, but Spear keeps at it until he hears the unasked-for confession spray from between the boy’s teeth.
When Randall returns to the shed, Spear will welcome the boy with open arms. He will forgive the boy, and then he will send him to collect Abigail and return her to her father’s home. Let Abigail’s father deal with what she and Randall have done, for Spear has his own child to protect.
Even after Abigail leaves, Spear waits to go to Maud Trenton. He walks down the hill to his offices in the meeting hall, a place he hasn’t been in weeks, and sends one of the deacons to summon her. When she enters his office and closes the door behind her, Spear barely recognizes the woman before him as the one who last visited him.
Her face is clear now, her acne scars disappeared, and the thin gray hair that once hung down her face is now a thick, shining brown, healthy and full. Even her teeth have healed themselves, or else new ones have appeared in her mouth, grown in strong and white. She is shy, but when he catches her gaze, he sees the glory in her eyes, the power of the life that rests in her belly.
Spear says, Forgive me, Mother, for I did not know who you were.
He gets down on his knees before her and presses his head against the folds of her dress. He feels his body shudder but doesn’t recognize the feeling at first, the sadness and shame that accompany his sobs. While he cries, she reaches down and strokes his hair, her touch as soothing as his own mother’s once was. In a lowly voice, he gives thanks that his lack of faith was not enough to doom their project, or to change the truth, now finally revealed to him: This woman is the Mother and he is the Father and together they will bring new life to the world. He reaches down and lifts the hem of her dress, working upward, bunching the starched material in his fists. He exposes her thick legs, her thighs strong like tree stumps but smooth and clean, their smell like soap, like buttermilk and cloves. He keeps pushing her dress up until he holds the material under her enlarged breasts, until he exposes the mountain of her swollen belly, her navel popped out like a thumb. He puts his face against the hot, hard flesh, feels her warmth radiate against his skin. She moans when he opens his mouth and kisses the belly, and he feels himself growing hard, the beginning of an erection that is not sex but glory. Maud’s legs quiver, buck, threaten to collapse, and he lets the fabric of her dress fall over him as he reaches around to support her. He stays like that for a long time, with his face against her belly and his hands clenched around her thighs. He waits until she uncovers him herself, until she takes his weeping face in her hands. She lifts gently, and he follows the movement until he is once again apart from her, standing on his feet.
Maud kisses Spear on the forehead, then crosses herself before turning away, keeping her back to him until Spear leaves her there in his own office. He walks outside into a suddenly hot day, into the warmth of a sun he hasn’t felt in months. He has supplicated himself, has seen the mystery with his own eyes, and he has been blessed by this woman, the one he failed to choose so long ago. It is enough now to put faith in God and in what God has asked of him. It is enough to cast aside all doubts, forever more.
Jefferson wakes Spear with a touch to his shoulder, the specter’s hand like a dagger of ice sliding effortlessly through muscle and bone. Jefferson says, Come. I want to show you what will happen next.
The reverend gets up and follows the spirit outside, where they stand together on the hill and look down at High Rock, at the roads that lead toward Randolph and the railroad and the rest of America.
Jefferson says, Just as the Christ was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, so the New Motor has been built here by the people of High Rock. When it is finished, it must go forth to unite the people, and you with it.
Spear says, But how? It gets bigger every day now. Surely it’s too large to rest on a wagon.
Jefferson shakes his head. He says, Once the machine has been animated, you will disassemble it one more time, and then you will take it to Randolph where you will rebuild it inside a railroad car.
Spear says, The railroad doesn’t go far enough. We’ll never make it across the country that way.
Jefferson ignores him, saying, One day it will, and in the meantime the motor will grow stronger and stronger. You will take our new messiah from town to town, and he will reach out and speak through you to the masses. He will use your mouth and your tongue to relay his words, to bring about the new kingdom that awaits this country. This is why your family was taken from you. This was why we could not allow you to keep the girl, even after the motor was finished.
He says, As much as you have given, there is more that may be asked of you. You must give up everything you have to follow the motor, just as the disciples did before you.
Spears looks at Jefferson, stares at his ghostly, glowing form. He wants to say that there is nothing left to give, that already he is a shell of a man, reduced to a mere vessel, an empty reservoir, but it is too late to protest, too late to go back. Whatever else remains, he does not care enough for himself to refuse any of it.
BIRTH will commence upon the arrival of the NEW MARY, who will arrive pregnant with the energy necessary to bring the machine to life. Through the WOMBOMIC PROCESSES, the NEW MARY will be filled with the THOUGHT CHILD, the necessary intellectual, moral, social, religious, spiritual, and celestial energies that will fill the PSYCHIC BATTERY and give BIRTH to the new age. The BIRTH will be attended by the MEDIUM, who will become more than a male—a FATHER—even as the NEW MARY becomes more than a female—a MOTHER. The womb has had its season of desire. It has had its electrical impartation. The organism of a choice person was acted upon by our LORD and MAKER. The NEW MARY is a person of extraordinary electric power, united in a harmonious, well-balanced physical, mental, and spiritual organism, and when she is brought within the sphere of the NEW MOTOR she will give it life.
The first week of June, Maud Trenton struggles up the hill in the predawn dark, her arms wrapped under the largesse of her belly, supporting the baby inside. She climbs alone, as she has done everything else in her long life, but she also feels watched, as she has since even before the stirring in her body first began. She feels the presence of spirits, of angels, of men who care for her, protect her, keep her safe. When she stumbles to the stony path, it is these angels who give her the strength to rise again, lifting her with hands as warm and soft as they are invisible. The rest of the climb, they hold her by the elbows as she walks, keeping her ankles from twisting, from casting herself again to the ground beneath her feet.
At the top of the hill, both the cabin and the shed are dark and quiet. She looks up into the sky, into the pink dawn obliterating the star-flecked heavens by degrees. She moans, squatting over her knees to wait out the horrible pressure of the next contraction. She wants to go to the cabin first, to wake Reverend Spear, but even a mother as inexperienced as she knows time is short. The angels whisper to her, guide her away from the cabin and toward the shed instead. She must be inside when she gives birth, must be near this new messiah that the reverend has revealed to her.
She tries to open the shed’s wide, sliding door, but can’t. For a moment, she sees the lock clasped around the latch and despairs, but then—after another crushing contraction—she sees that it’s unlocked, as if it never was. The door glides open at her touch, helped along its tracks by her angels. Inside, the room is dark and cool, the dimness softened by the slow sunlight following her inside. At the direction of the angels, she moves to lie down on the floor, to lean her head back on the dusty floorboards, but only after she stares at the machine, at its metallic, crafted magnificence. She does not understand its purpose, but its beauty is undeniable.
There is no midwife to guide her, no husband to comfort her, but Maud needs not these things. The angels are beside her, and with them is her god. It is enough. Her whole life, he has come when she’s called, and it has always been enough.
Spear watches from the cabin windows, waiting for the Electricizers to leave Maud’s side, to come and get him, but they stay with her and envelop her with their light. Eventually, Spear leaves the cabin himself and goes to the shed, where he sits down beside Maud and takes her in his arms, holds her sweating, convulsing body to his. He watches her clenched jaws and closed eyes, watches her legs kick out from her body. He tries to remember the birth of his own children, finds he cannot, then puts his past from his mind. He whispers to Maud, telling her about the great purpose of what she is doing, about the great world she is bringing into being.
At last, he says, Push, and then she does. She spreads her legs, and her womb empties, and afterward Spear and Maud and the Electricizers all wait together, a long moment where Spear feels nothing except for the breath trapped in his lungs, the woman in his arms, the way his heart beats both fast and slow at the same time, as if it might stop at any moment, as if it might go on forever.
The New Motor begins to pulsate subtly, a motion so slight Spear can only see it if he looks at the machine sideways, out of the corner of his eyes. He smiles with a slow, crooked hesitance, nine months of doubt reassured only by this pulsation, by this slight swaying in the hanging magnets of the grand revolver. It is not much, and certainly it is less than he hoped for, but it is something.
Spear hopes—Spear prays—that this is only the beginning, that this infant energy will mature into the great savior he has been promised, that he has promised himself.
Her pregnancy ended, Maud Trenton is light, her body barely skin, barely bones, her cries producing so little water they are barely tears. He lifts her in his arms, carries her gently from the shed into the cabin, where he lays her down on the bed he once shared with his own wife. He waits with her until she falls asleep. It takes a long time, and it takes even longer for Spear to realize that’s she’s not crying in pain, but in frustration. A lifetime of waiting and a near year of effort, and still she is without a child to call her own. Now Spear understands the terror that is the Virgin, the horror that is the name Mary, the new awfulness that he and the Electricizers have made of this woman.
Whatever this thing is she has given birth to, it will never be hers alone.
He whispers apologies, pleas for penance into her dreaming ears, and then he gets up to leave her. He will go down into the village and fetch the doctor, but first he must attend to the motor.
First, he must lock the shed’s doors and be sure that no man crosses that threshold until he is ready, until he can explain what exactly it is that has happened to his machine.
The next morning, he invites the other leaders of the congregation to view the motor, to see the slight pulsation that grows inside it. They listen attentively, but Spear sees the horror on their faces as he tries to point out the movement of the magnets again and again, as he grows frustrated at their inability to see what he sees. They leave at once, and Spear stands at the top of the hill, listening to their voices arguing on the way down the crooked path. By evening, their deliberations are complete, and when the messenger arrives at the cabin with a letter, Spear knows what it says before he reads it. He has been stripped of his position in the church, and of the church’s material support.
Spear locks himself in the shed with the motor, where he watches it pulsate through the night until morning, when there is a knock at the door. He opens the door to find Maud waiting for him. She is beautiful now, transformed by her pregnancy, and she takes him by the hand, saying, This machine is ours to believe in, ours to take to the people.
She says, I have listened to your sermons, and I have heard the words you’ve spoken.
She says, You can’t give up now. I won’t allow it.
Spear nods, straightens himself, and looks back at the machine he’s built. There is life in it, he knows. He looks at Maud’s hand in his. It is just a spark now, but one day it will be a fire, if only he nurtures it.
There is no more money to pay for the things Spear needs—wagons and assistants, supplies for the great journey ahead—and so Spear splits his time between the shed and his desk, between preparing for the disassembly of the motor and writing letters begging for financial support. He writes to New York and Boston and Philadelphia and Washington, asking their spiritualist congregations to trust him, to help fund this new age that is coming.
He writes, The Glory of God is at hand, and soon I will bring it to each and every one of you, if only you will help me in these darkest of hours.
The words he writes are his alone, and he finds himself at a loss to explain the New Motor without the help of the Electricizers. He calls out to them, begs them for assistance.
In his empty office, he cries out, All that you helped me create is crumbling. Why won’t you tell me what to write?
His words are met with silence, as they have been since the birth of the motor. The Electricizers are no longer distinct to him, just blurred specters at the periphery of his vision, fading more every day. Their abandonment is near complete when Maud begins to help him instead, comforting his anxiety and giving him strength with her words. She has not gone down the hill since the day she gave birth, and Spear knows now that this is the reason his family had to leave, that his congregation had to abandon him. Even the Electricizers leaving him—he recognizes it now not as an abandonment but as making room for what was to come next.
Like Mary and Joseph’s flight with the newborn Jesus into Egypt, he and Maud will flee with the New Motor across America, taking it by railroad to town after town after town.
Like Mary, Maud will not love him, only the motor she has birthed.
Like Joseph, he will have to learn to live with this new arrangement, this adjusted set of expectations.
Spear tears up all the letters he’s written so far, then starts new ones, ones infused not with the bitterness he feels but with the hope and inspiration he wants to. Soon, the motor will begin to speak to him, and he must be ready to listen.
It takes a month for the letters to come back, but Spear receives the responses he requires. He runs into the cabin, where Maud awaits him. He says, They’re coming to help us, with money and with men. They’ll be waiting for us in Randolph, ready to assist me in reassembling the motor.
He hesitates, then says, I’ll start tonight. I’ll disassemble the motor, and get it ready for travel, and then I’ll send word to Randolph for a wagon to transport it. The worst is nearly over, and soon our new day will begin.
Maud rises from the dining table and takes Spear in her arms, cradling his head against her shoulder. She does not tell him what the angels have told her about what must happen first, about what has always happened to those who have served God with hearts like his, too full of human weakness, of pride and folly and blinding hubris. She does not tell him about Moses at the border of the promised land, about Jonah in the belly of the whale. She could, but she chooses otherwise, chooses to repay his one-time lack of faith with her own.
Despite his intentions to start immediately, Spear finds that he cannot. Once he’s locked himself in the shed with the New Motor, he is too in awe of its ornate existence, of the shining results of all the months of effort and prophecy that went into its construction. He watches the pulsation of the magnets and tries to understand what they might mean, what message might be hidden in their infant energies. He doesn’t know, but he believes it will be made clear soon, even without the Electricizers’ help.
Spear sits down on the floor of the shed and crosses his legs beneath him, preparing for the first time in many months to go into a trance, to purposefully pierce the shroud between this world and the next. The trance comes easily to him, in all of its usual ways: a prickling of the skin, a slowing of the breath, a blurring of the vision. He stays that way for many hours, listening, and so he does not hear the knock at the door or the raised voices that follow. By the time something does snap him out of his trance—the first ax blow that bursts open the shed door, perhaps—it is far too late to save himself.
All around him are the men of the village, men who were once his friends and swear now that they have come only to help him, to set him free of this thing he’s made. They promise they won’t hurt him, if only he’ll lie still, but he can’t, won’t, not in the face of what they’ve come to do. Held between the arms of the two Russians, he watches, disbelieving, as one of High Rock’s deacons steps to the New Motor, hesitant at first but then emboldened by the encouragement of the others. The deacon reaches up toward the grand revolver and takes hold of one of the magnetic spheres suspended from its crossbeams, and then he rips it away from the motor.
Spear waits for intercession, for an Electricizer or angel to step in and stop the destruction, but none appears. He struggles against his attackers, tries to warn them against what they plan to do, against the wrath of God they call down upon themselves, but they do not listen. Eventually he twists free and attempts to take a step toward the motor, where others have joined the deacon in dismantling the hanging magnets. The Russians stop him, knock him to the ground, fall upon him with fists and boots, and when they tire of striking him they step aside so that others may have their turn. Spear no longer cares for himself, only for his new god, for this mechanical child gifted not just to him and to Maud, but also to all of mankind, if only they would accept it.
By the time Maud arrives in the doorway to the shed, he is already broken, both in body and face and in spirit. The motor is crushed too, ax blows and wrenching hands tearing its intricate parts from their moorings, rendering meaningless the many names of God written in copper and zinc across its components. He cries to her for help, but knows there’s nothing she can do. All around him are the men he once called to himself, who followed him to High Rock and up its steep hill to this shed, where he had meant for them to change their world. He watches the Russians and James the metalworker and the carpenters, all of them striking him or else the machine they themselves built. When they finish, when his teeth and bones are already shattered, he sees Randall, the youth he once admired above all others, and he lowers his head and accepts the vengeance the boy feels he’s owed.
Before the beating ends, Spear lifts his head to look up at Maud, to take in her restored youth and beauty. For the last time, he sees the Electricizers, sees Jefferson and Franklin and Rush and Murray and all the others assembled around her. He cries out to them for protection, for salvation, and when they do not come to his aid he looks past them to Maud, who glows in their light, but also with a light of her own, something he wishes he had seen earlier, when there was still some great glory that might have come of it.