[First appeared in Isaac Asimov's Science Fiction Magazine, February 1986]
The Folk of the Fringe (Phantasia Press/Tor, April 1989)
The road began to climb steeply right from the ferry, so the truck couldn't build up any speed. Deaver just kept shifting down, wincing as he listened to the grinding of the gears. Sounded like the transmission was chewing itself to gravel. He'd been nursing it all the way across Nevada, and if the Wendover ferry hadn't carried him these last miles over the Mormon Sea, he would have had a nice long hike. Lucky. It was a good sign. Things were going to go Deaver's way for a while.
The mechanic frowned at him when he rattled in to the loading dock. "You been ridin the clutch, boy?"
Deaver got down from the cab. "Clutch? What's a clutch?"
The mechanic didn't smile. "Couldn't you hear the transmission was shot?"
"I had mechanics all the way across Nevada askin to fix it for me, but I told em I was savin it for you."
The mechanic looked at him like he was crazy. "There ain't no mechanics in Nevada."
If you wasn't dumb as your thumb, thought Deaver, you'd know I was joking. These old Mormons were so straight they couldn't sit down, some of them. But Deaver didn't say anything. Just smiled.
"This truck's gonna stay here a few days," said the mechanic.
Fine with me, thought Deaver. I got plans. "How many days you figure?"
"Take three for now, I'll sign you off."
"My name's Deaver Teague."
"Tell the foreman, he'll write it up." The mechanic lifted the hood to begin the routine checks while the dockboys loaded off the old washing machines and refrigerators and other stuff Deaver had picked up on his trip. Deaver took his mileage reading to the window and the foreman paid him off.
Seven dollars for five days of driving and loading, sleeping in the cab and eating whatever the farmers could spare. It was better than a lot of people lived on, but there wasn't any future in it. Salvage wouldn't go on forever. Someday he'd pick up the last broken-down dishwasher left from the old days, and then he'd be out of a job.
Well, Deaver Teague wasn't going to wait around for that. He knew where the gold was, he'd been planning how to get it for weeks, and if Lehi had got the diving equipment like he promised then tomorrow morning they'd do a little freelance salvage work. If they were lucky they'd come home rich.
Deaver's legs were stiff but he loosened them up pretty quick and broke into an easy, loping run down the corridors of the Salvage Center. He took a flight of stairs two or three steps at a time, bounded down a hall, and when he reached a sign that said SMALL COMPUTER SALVAGE, he pushed off the doorframe and rebounded into the room. "Hey Lehi!" he said. "Hey it's quittin time!"
Lehi McKay paid no attention. He was sitting in front of a TV screen, jerking at a black box he held on his lap.
"You do that and you'll go blind," said Deaver.
"Shut up, carpface." Lehi never took his eyes off the screen. He jabbed at a button on the black box and twisted on the stick that jutted up from it. A colored blob on the screen blew up and split into four smaller blobs.
"I got three days off while they do the transmission on the truck," said Deaver. "So tomorrow's the temple expedition."
Lehi got the last blob off the screen. More blobs appeared.
"That's real fun," said Deaver, "like sweepin the street and then they bring along another troop of horses."
"It's an Atari. From the sixties or seventies or something. Eighties. Old. Can't do much with the pieces, it's only eight-bit stuff. All these years in somebody's attic in Logan, and the sucker still runs."
"Old guys probably didn't even know they had it."
Deaver watched the game. Same thing over and over again. "How much a thing like this use to cost?"
"A lot. Maybe fifteen, twenty bucks."
"Makes you want to barf. And here sits Lehi McKay, toodling his noodle like the old guys use to. All it ever got them was a sore noodle, Lehi. And slag for brains."
"Drown it. I'm trying to concentrate."
The game finally ended. Lehi set the black box up on the workbench, turned off the machine, and stood up.
"You got everything ready to go underwater tomorrow?" asked Deaver.
"That was a good game. Having fun must've took up a lot of their time in the old days. Mom says the kids used to not even be able to get jobs till they was sixteen. It was the law."
"Don't you wish," said Deaver.
"You don't know your tongue from dung, Lehi. You don't know your heart from a fart."
"You want to get us both kicked out of here, talkin like that?"
"I don't have to follow school rules now, I graduated sixth grade, I'm nineteen years old, I been on my own for five years." He pulled his seven dollars out of his pocket, waved them once, stuffed them back in carelessly. "I do OK, and I talk like I want to talk. Think I'm afraid of the bishop?"
"Bishop don't scare me. I don't even go to church except to make Mom happy. It's a bunch of bunny turds."
Lehi laughed, but Deaver could see that he was a little scared to talk like that. Sixteen years old, thought Deaver, he's big and he's smart but he's such a little kid. He don't understand how it's like to be a man. "Rain's comin."
"Rain's always comin. What the hell do you think filled up the lake?" Lehi smirked as he unplugged everything on the workbench.
"I meant Lorraine Wilson."
"I know what you meant. She's got her boat?"
"And she's got a mean set of fenders." Deaver cupped his hands. "Just need a little polishing."
"Why do you always talk dirty? Ever since you started driving salvage, Deaver, you got a gutter mouth. Besides, she's built like a sack."
"She's near fifty, what do you expect?" It occurred to Deaver that Lehi seemed to be stalling. Which probably meant he botched up again as usual. "Can you get the diving stuff?"
"I already got it. You thought I'd screw up." Lehi smirked again.
"You? Screw up? You can be trusted with anything." Deaver started for the door. He could hear Lehi behind him, still shutting a few things off. They got to use a lot of electricity in here. Of course they had to, because they needed computers all the time, and salvage was the only way to get them. But when Deaver saw all that electricity getting used up at once, to him it looked like his own future. All the machines he could ever want, new ones, and all the power they needed. Clothes that nobody else ever wore, his own horse and wagon or even a car. Maybe he'd be the guy who started making cars again. He didn't need stupid blob-smashing games from the past. "That stuff's dead and gone, duck lips, dead and gone."
"What're you talking about?" asked Lehi.
"Dead and gone. All your computer things."
It was enough to set Lehi off, as it always did. Deaver grinned and felt wicked and strong as Lehi babbled along behind him. About how we use the computers more than they ever did in the old days, the computers kept everything going, on and on and on, it was cute, Deaver liked him, the boy was so intense. Like everything was the end of the world. Deaver knew better. The world was dead, it had already ended, so none of it mattered, you could sink all this stuff in the lake.
They came out of the Center and walked along the retaining wall. Far below them was the harbor, a little circle of water in the bottom of a bowl, with Bingham City perched on the lip. They used to have an open-pit copper mine here, but when the water rose they cut a channel to it and now they had a nice harbor on Oquirrh Island in the middle of the Mormon Sea, where the factories could stink up the whole sky and no neighbors ever complained about it.
A lot of other people joined them on the steep dirt road that led down to the harbor. Nobody lived right in Bingham City itself, because it was just a working place, day and night. Shifts in, shifts out. Lehi was a shift boy, lived with his family across the Jordan Strait on Point-of-the-Mountain, which was as rotten a place to live as anybody ever devised, rode the ferry in every day at five in the morning and rode it back every afternoon at four. He was supposed to go to school after that for a couple of hours but Deaver thought that was stupid, he told Lehi that all the time, told him again now. School is too much time and too little of everything, a waste of time.
"I gotta go to school," said Lehi.
"Tell me two plus two, you haven't got two plus two yet?"
"You finished, didn't you?"
"Nobody needs anything after fourth grade." He shoved Lehi a little. Usually Lehi shoved back, but this time no.
"Just try getting a real job without a sixth-grade diploma, OK? And I'm pretty close now." They were at the ferry ship. Lehi got out his pass.
"You with me tomorrow or not?"
Lehi made a face. "I don't know, Deaver. You can get arrested for going around there. It's a dumb thing to do. They say there's real weird things in the old skyscrapers."
"We aren't going in the skyscrapers."
"Even worse in there, Deaver. I don't want to go in there."
"Yeah, the Angel Moroni's probably waiting to jump out and say booga-booga-booga."
"Don't talk about it, Deaver." Deaver was tickling him; Lehi laughed and tried to shy away. "Cut it out, chigger-head. Come on. Besides, the Moroni statue was moved to the Salt Lake Monument up on the mountain. And that has a guard all the time."
"The statue's just gold plate anyway. I'm tellin you those old Mormons hid tons of stuff down in the Temple, just waitin for somebody who isn't scared of the ghost of Bigamy Young to --"
"Shut up, snotsucker, OK? People can hear! Look around, we're not alone!"
It was true of course. Some of the other people were glaring at them. But then, Deaver noticed that older people liked to glare at younger ones. It made the old farts feel better about kicking off. It was like they were saying, OK, I'm dying, but at least you're stupid. So Deaver looked right at a woman who was staring at him and murmured, "OK, I'm stupid, but at least I won't die."
"Deaver, do you always have to say that where they can hear you?"
"In the first place, Deaver, they aren't dying. And in the second place, you're definitely stupid. And in the third place, the ferry's here." Lehi punched Deaver lightly in the stomach.
Deaver bent over in mock agony. "Ay, the laddie's ungrateful, he is, I give him me last croost of bread and this be the thanks I gets."
"Nobody has an accent like that, Deaver!" shouted Lehi. The boat began to pull away.
"Tomorrow at five-thirty!" shouted Deaver.
"You'll never get up at four-thirty, don't give me that, you never get up . . ." But the ferry and the noise of the factories and machines and trucks swallowed up the rest of the insults. Deaver knew them all, anyway. Lehi might be only sixteen, but he was OK. Someday Deaver'd get married but his wife would like Lehi, too. And Lehi'd even get married, and his wife would like Deaver. She'd better, or she'd have to swim home.
He took the trolley home to Fort Douglas and walked to the ancient barracks building where Rain let him stay. It was supposed to be a storage room, but she kept the mops and soap stuff in her place so that there'd be room for a cot. Not much else, but it was on Oquirrh Island without being right there in the stink and the smoke and the noise. He could sleep and that was enough, since most of the time he was out on the truck.
Truth was, his room wasn't home anyway. Home was pretty much Rain's place, a drafty room at the end of the barracks with a dumpy frowzy lady who served him good food and plenty of it. That's where he went now, walked right in and surprised her in the kitchen. She yelled at him for surprising her, yelled at him for being filthy and tracking all over her floor, and let him get a slice of apple before she yelled at him for snitching before supper.
He went around and changed light bulbs in five rooms before supper. The families there were all crammed into two rooms each at the most, and most of them had to share kitchens and eat in shifts. Some of the rooms were nasty places, family warfare held off only as long as it took him to change the light, and sometimes even that truce wasn't observed. Others were doing fine, the place was small but they liked each other. Deaver was pretty sure his family must have been one of the nice ones, because if there'd been any yelling he would have remembered.
Rain and Deaver ate and then turned off all the lights while she played the old record player Deaver had wangled away from Lehi. They really weren't supposed to have it, but they figured as long as they didn't burn any lights it wasn't wasting electricity, and they'd turn it in as soon as anybody asked for it.
In the meantime, Rain had some of the old records from when she was a girl. The songs had strong rhythms, and tonight, like she sometimes did, Rain got up and moved to the music, strange little dances that Deaver didn't understand unless he imagined her as a lithe young girl, pictured her body as it must have been then. It wasn't hard to imagine, it was there in her eyes and her smile all the time, and her movements gave away secrets that years of starchy eating and lack of exercise had disguised.
Then, as always, his thoughts went off to some of the girls he saw from his truck window, driving by the fields where they bent over, hard at work, until they heard the truck and then they stood and waved. Everybody waved at the salvage truck, sometimes it was the only thing with a motor that ever came by, their only contact with the old machines. All the tractors, all the electricity were reserved for the New Soil Lands; the old places were dying. And they turned and waved at the last memories. It made Deaver sad and he hated to be sad, all these people clinging to a past that never existed.
"It never existed," he said aloud.
"Yes it did," Rain whispered. "Girls just wanna have fu-un," she murmured along with the record. "I hated this song when I was a girl. Or maybe it was my mama who hated it."
"You live here then?"
"Indiana," she said. "One of the states, way east."
"Were you a refugee, too?"
"No. We moved here when I was sixteen, seventeen, can't remember. Whenever things got scary in the world, a lot of Mormons moved home. This was always home, no matter what."
The record ended. She turned it off, turned on the lights.
"Got the boat all gassed up?" asked Deaver.
"You don't want to go there," she said.
"If there's gold down there, I want it."
"If there was gold there, Deaver, they would've taken it out before the water covered it. It's not as if nobody got a warning, you know. The Mormon Sea wasn't a flash flood."
"If it isn't down there, what's all the hush-hush about? How come the Lake Patrol keeps people from going there?"
"I don't know, Deaver. Maybe because a lot of people feel like it's a holy place."
Deaver was used to this. Rain never went to church, but she still talked like a Mormon. Most people did, though, when you scratched them the wrong place. Deaver didn't like it when they got religious. "Angels need police protection, is that it?"
"It used to be real important to the Mormons in the old days, Deaver." She sat down on the floor, leaning against the wall under the window.
"Well it's nothin now. They got their other temples, don't they? And they're building the new one in Zarahemla, right?"
"I don't know, Deaver. The one here, it was always the real one. The center." She bent sideways, leaned on her hand, looked down at the floor. "It still is."
Deaver saw she was getting really somber now, really sad. It happened to a lot of people who remembered the old days. Like a disease that never got cured. But Deaver knew the cure. For Rain, anyway. "Is it true they used to kill people in there?"
It worked. She glared at him and the languor left her body. "Is that what you truckers talk about all day?"
Deaver grinned. "There's stories. Cuttin people up if they told where the gold was hid."
"You know Mormons all over the place, now, Deaver, do you really think we'd go cuttin people up for tellin secrets?"
"I don't know. Depends on the secrets, don't it?" He was sitting on his hands, kind of bouncing a little on the couch.
He could see that she was a little mad for real, but didn't want to be. So she'd pretend to be mad for play. She sat up, reached for a pillow to throw at him.
"No! No!" he cried. "Don't cut me up! Don't feed me to the carp!"
The pillow hit him and he pretended elaborately to die.
"Just don't joke about things like that," she said.
"Things like what? You don't believe in the old stuff anymore. Nobody does."
"Jesus was supposed to come again, right? There was atom bombs dropped here and there, and he was supposed to come."
"Prophet said we was too wicked. He wouldn't come cause we loved the things of the world too much."
"Come on, if he was coming he would've come, right?"
"Might still," she said.
"Nobody believes that," said Deaver. "Mormons are just the government, that's all. The bishop gets elected judge in every town, right? The president of the elders is always mayor, it's just the government, just politics, nobody believes it now. Zarahemla's the capital, not the holy city."
He couldn't see her because he was lying flat on his back on the couch. When she didn't answer, he got up and looked for her. She was over by the sink, leaning on the counter. He snuck up behind her to tickle her, but something in her posture changed his mind. When he got close, he saw tears down her cheeks. It was crazy. All these people from the old days got crazy a lot.
"I was just teasin," he said.
"It's just part of the old days. You know how I am about that. Maybe If I remembered, it'd be different. Sometimes I wish I remembered." But it was a lie. He never wished he remembered. He didn't like remembering. Most stuff he couldn't remember even if he wanted to. The earliest thing he could bring to mind was riding on the back of a horse, behind some man who sweated a lot, just riding and riding and riding. And then it was all recent stuff, going to school, getting passed around in people's homes, finally getting busy one year and finishing school and getting a job. He didn't get misty-eyed thinking about any of it, any of those places. Just passing through, that's all he was ever doing, never belonged anywhere until maybe now. He belonged here. "I'm sorry," he said.
"It's fine," she said.
"You still gonna take me there?"
"I said I would, didn't I?"
She sounded just annoyed enough that he knew it was OK to tease her again. "You don't think they'll have the Second Coming while we're there, do you? If you think so, I'll wear my tie."
She smiled, then turned to face him and pushed him away. "Deaver, go to bed."
"I'm gettin up at four-thirty, Rain, and then you're one girl who's gonna have fun."
"I don't think the song was about early morning boat trips."
She was doing the dishes when he left for his little room.
Lehi was waiting at five-thirty, right on schedule. "I can't believe it," he said. "I thought you'd be late."
"Good thing you were ready on time," said Deaver, "cause if you didn't come with us you wouldn't get a cut."
"We aren't going to find any gold, Deaver Teague."
"Then why're you comin with me? Don't give me that stuff, Lehi, you know the future's with Deaver Teague, and you don't want to be left behind. Where's the diving stuff?"
"I didn't bring it home, Deaver. You don't think my mom'd ask questions then?"
"She's always askin questions," said Deaver.
"It's her job," said Rain.
"I don't want anybody askin about everything I do," said Deaver.
"Nobody has to ask," said Rain. "You always tell us whether we want to hear or not."
"If you don't want to hear, you don't have to," said Deaver.
"Don't get touchy," said Rain.
"You guys are both getting wet-headed on me, all of a sudden. Does the temple make you crazy, is that how it works?"
"I don't mind my mom askin me stuff. It's OK."
The ferries ran from Point to Bingham day and night, so they had to go north a ways before cutting west to Oquirrh Island. The smelter and the foundries put orange-bellied smoke clouds into the night sky, and the coal barges were getting offloaded just like in daytime. The coal-dust cloud that was so grimy and black in the day looked like white fog under the floodlights.
"My dad died right there, about this time of day," said Lehi.
"He loaded coal?"
"Yeah. He used to be a car salesman. His job kind of disappeared on him."
"You weren't there, were you?"
"I heard the crash. I was asleep, but it woke me up. And then a lot of shouting and running. We lived on the island back then, always heard stuff from the harbor. He got buried under a ton of coal that fell from fifty feet up."
Deaver didn't know what to say about that.
"You never talk about your folks," said Lehi. "I always remember my dad, but you never talk about your folks."
"He doesn't remember em," Rain said quietly. "They found him out on the plains somewhere. The mobbers got his family, however many there was, he must've hid or something, that's all they can figure."
"Well what was it?" asked Lehi. "Did you hide?"
Deaver didn't feel comfortable talking about it, since he didn't remember anything except what people told him. He knew that other people remembered their childhood, and he didn't like how they always acted so surprised that he didn't. But Lehi was asking, and Deaver knew that you don't keep stuff back from friends. "I guess I did. Or maybe I looked too dumb to kill or somethin." He laughed. "I must've been a real dumb little kid, I didn't even remember my own name. They figure I was five or six years old, most kids know their names, but not me. So the two guys that found me, their names were Teague and Deaver."
"You gotta remember somethin."
"Lehi, I didn't even know how to walk. They tell me I didn't even say a word till I was nine years old. We're talkin about a slow learner here."
"Wow." Lehi was silent for a while. "How come you didn't say anything?"
"Doesn't matter," said Rain. "He makes up for it now, Deaver the talker. Champion talker."
They coasted the island till they got past Magna. Lehi led them to a storage shed that Underwater Salvage had put up at the north end of Oquirrh Island. It was unlocked and full of diving equipment. Lehi's friends had filled some tanks with air. They got two diving outfits and underwater flashlights. Rain wasn't going underwater, so she didn't need anything.
They pulled away from the island, out into the regular shipping lane from Wendover. In that direction, at least, people had sense enough not to travel at night, so there wasn't much traffic. After a little while they were out into open water. That was when Rain stopped the little outboard motor Deaver had scrounged for her and Lehi had fixed. "Time to sweat and slave," said Rain.
Deaver sat on the middle bench, settled the oars into the locks, and began to row.
"Not too fast," Rain said. "You'll give yourself blisters."
A boat that might have been Lake Patrol went by once, but otherwise nobody came near them as they crossed the open stretch. Then the skyscrapers rose up and blocked off large sections of the starry night.
"They say there's people who was never rescued still livin in there," Lehi whispered.
Rain was disdainful. "You think there's anything left in there to keep anybody alive? And the water's still too salty to drink for long."
"Who says they're alive?" whispered Deaver in his most mysterious voice. A couple of years ago, he could have spooked Lehi and made his eyes go wide. Now Lehi just looked disgusted.
"Come on Deaver, I'm not a kid."
It was Deaver who got spooked a little. The big holes where pieces of glass and plastic had fallen off looked like mouths, waiting to suck him in and carry him down under the water, into the city of the drowned. He sometimes dreamed about thousands and thousands of people living under water. Still driving their cars around, going about their business, shopping in stores, going to movies. In his dreams they never did anything bad, just went about their business. But he always woke up sweating and frightened. No reason. Just spooked him. "I think they should blow up these things before they fall down and hurt somebody," said Deaver.
"Maybe it's better to leave em standing," said Rain. "Maybe there's a lot of folks like to remember how tall we once stood."
"What's to remember? They built tall buildings and then they let em take a bath, what's to brag for?"
Deaver was trying to get her to not talk about the old days, but Lehi seemed to like wallowing in it. "You ever here before the water came?"
Rain nodded. "Saw a parade go right down this street. I can't remember if it was Third South or Fourth South. Third I guess. I saw twenty-five horses all riding together. I remember that I thought that was really something. You didn't see many horses in those days."
"I seen too many myself," said Lehi.
"It's the ones I don't see that I hate," said Deaver. "They ought to make em wear diapers."
They rounded a building and looked up a north-south passage between towers. Rain was sitting in the stern and saw it first. "There it is. You can see it. Just the tall spires now."
Deaver rowed them up the passage. There were six spires sticking up out of the water, but the four short ones were under so far that only the pointed roofs were dry. The two tall ones had windows in them, not covered at all. Deaver was disappointed. Wide open like that meant that anybody might have come here. It was all so much less dangerous than he had expected. Maybe Rain was right, and there was nothing there.
They tied the boat to the north side and waited for daylight. "If I knew it'd be so easy," said Deaver, "I could've slept another hour."
"Sleep now," said Rain.
"Maybe I will," said Deaver.
He slid off his bench and sprawled in the bottom of the boat.
He didn't sleep, though. The open window of the steeple was only a few yards away, a deep black surrounded by the starlit gray of the temple granite. It was down there, waiting for him; the future, a chance to get something better for himself and his two friends. Maybe a plot of ground in the south where it was warmer and the snow didn't pile up five feet deep every winter, where it wasn't rain in the sky and lake everywhere else you looked. A place where he could live for a very long time and look back and remember good times with his friends, that was all waiting down under the water.
Of course they hadn't told him about the gold. It was on the road, a little place in Parowan where truckers knew they could stop in because the iron mine kept such crazy shifts that the diners never closed. They even had some coffee there, hot and bitter, because there weren't so many Mormons there and the miners didn't let the bishop push them around. In fact they even called him Judge there instead of Bishop. The other drivers didn't talk to Deaver, of course, they were talking to each other when the one fellow told the story about how the Mormons back in the gold rush days hoarded up all the gold they could get and hid it in the upper rooms of the temple where nobody but the prophet and the twelve apostles could ever go. At first Deaver didn't believe him, except that Bill Horne nodded like he knew it was true, and Cal Silber said you'd never catch him messin with the Mormon Temple, that's a good way to get yourself dead. The way they were talking, scared and quiet, told Deaver that they believed it, that it was true, and he knew something else, too: if anyone was going to get gold, it was him.
Even if it was easy to get here, that didn't mean anything. He knew how Mormons were about the temple. He'd asked around a little, but nobody'd talk about it. And nobody ever went there, either, he asked a lot of people if they ever sailed on out and looked at it, and they all got quiet and shook their heads no or changed the subject. Why should the Lake Patrol guard it, then, if everybody was too scared to go? Everybody but Deaver Teague and his two friends.
"Real pretty," said Rain.
Deaver woke up. The sun was just topping the mountains; it must've been light for some time. He looked where Rain was looking. It was the Moroni tower on top of the mountain above the old capitol, where they'd put the temple statue a few years back. It was bright and shiny, the old guy and his trumpet. But when the Mormons wanted that trumpet to blow, it had just stayed silent and their faith got drowned. Now Deaver knew they only hung on to it for old times' sake. Well, Deaver lived for new times.
Lehi showed him how to use the underwater gear, and they practiced going over the side into the water a couple of times, once without the weight belts and once with. Deaver and Lehi swam like fish, of course - swimming was the main recreation that everybody could do for free. It was different with the mask and the air hose, though.
"Hose tastes like a horse's hoof," Deaver said between dives.
Lehi made sure Deaver's weight belt was on tight. "You're the only guy on Oquirrh Island who knows." Then he tumbled forward off the boat. Deaver went down too straight and the air tank bumped the back of his head a little, but it didn't hurt too much and he didn't drop his light, either.
He swam along the outside of the temple, shining his light on the stones. Lots of underwater plants were rising up the sides of the temple, but it wasn't covered much yet. There was a big metal plaque right in the front of the building, about a third of the way down. THE HOUSE OF THE LORD it said. Deaver pointed it out to Lehi.
When they got up to the boat again, Deaver asked about it. "It looked kind of goldish," he said.
"Used to be another sign there," said Rain. "It was a little different. That one might have been gold. This one's plastic. They made it so the temple would still have a sign, I guess."
"You sure about that?"
"I remember when they did it."
Finally Deaver felt confident enough to go down into the temple. They had to take off their flippers to climb into the steeple window; Rain tossed them up after. In the sunlight there was nothing spooking about the window. They sat there on the sill, water lapping at their feet, and put their fins and tanks on.
Halfway through getting dressed, Lehi stopped. Just sat there.
"I can't do it," he said.
"Nothin to be scared of," said Deaver. "Come on, there's no ghosts or nothin down there."
"I can't," said Lehi.
"Good for you," called Rain from the boat.
Deaver turned to look at her. "What're you talkin about!"
"I don't think you should."
"Then why'd you bring me here?"
"Because you wanted to."
Made no sense.
"It's holy ground, Deaver," said Rain. "Lehi feels it, too. That's why he isn't going down."
Deaver looked at Lehi.
"It just don't feel right," said Lehi.
"It's just stones," said Deaver.
Lehi said nothing. Deaver put on his goggles, took a light, put the breather in his mouth, and jumped.
Turned out the floor was only a foot and a half down. It took him completely by surprise, so he fell over and sat on his butt in eighteen inches of water. Lehi was just as surprised as he was, but then he started laughing, and Deaver laughed, too. Deaver got to his feet and started flapping around, looking for the stairway. He could hardly take a step, his flippers slowed him down so much.
"Walk backward," said Lehi.
"Then how am I supposed to see where I'm going?"
"Stick your face under the water and look, chigger-head."
Deaver stuck his face in the water. Without the reflection of daylight on the surface, he could see fine. There was the stairway.
He got up, looked toward Lehi. Lehi shook his head. He still wasn't going.
"Suit yourself," said Deaver. He backed through the water to the top step. Then he put in his breathing tube and went down.
It wasn't easy to get down the stairs. They're fine when you aren't floating, thought Deaver, but they're a pain when you keep scraping your tanks on the ceiling. Finally he figured out he could grab the railing and pull himself down. The stairs wound around and around. When they ended, a whole bunch of garbage had filled up the bottom of the stairwell, partly blocking the doorway. He swam above the garbage, which looked like scrap metal and chips of wood, and came out into a large room.
His light didn't shine very far through the murky water, so he swam the walls, around and around, high and low. Down here the water was cold, and he swam faster to keep warm. There were rows of arched windows on both sides, with rows of circular windows above them, but they had been covered over with wood on the outside; the only light was from Deaver's flashlight. Finally, though, after a couple of times around the room and across the ceiling, he figured it was just one big room. And except for the garbage all over the floor, it was empty.
Already he felt the deep pain of disappointment. He forced himself to ignore it. After all, it wouldn't be right out here in a big room like this, would it? There had to be a secret treasury.
There were a couple of doors. The small one in the middle of the wall at one end was wide open. Once there must have been stairs leading up to it. Deaver swam over there and shone his light in. Just another room, smaller this time. He found a couple more rooms, but they had all been stripped, right down to the stone. Nothing at all.
He tried examining some of the stones to look for secret doors, but he gave up pretty soon - he couldn't see well enough from the flashlight to find a thin crack even if it was there. Now the disappointment was real. As he swam along, he began to wonder if maybe the truckers hadn't known he was listening. Maybe they made it all up just so someday he'd do this. Some joke, where they wouldn't even see him make a fool of himself.
But no, no, that couldn't be it. They believed it, all right. But he knew now what they didn't know. Whatever the Mormons did here in the old days, there wasn't any gold in the upper rooms now. So much for the future. But what the hell, he told himself, I got here, I saw it, and I'll find something else. No reason not to be cheerful about it.
He didn't fool himself, and there was nobody else down here to fool. It was bitter. He'd spent a lot of years thinking about bars of gold or bags of it. He'd always pictured it hidden behind a curtain. He'd pull on the curtain and it would billow out in the water, and here would be the bags of gold, and he'd just take them out and that would be it. But there weren't any curtains, weren't any hideyholes, there was nothing at all, and if he had a future, he'd have to find it somewhere else.
He swam back to the door leading to the stairway. Now he could see the pile of garbage better, and it occurred to him to wonder how it got there. Every other room was completely empty. The garbage couldn't have been carried in by the water, because the only windows that were open were in the steeple, and they were above the water line. He swam close and picked up a piece. It was metal. They were all metal, except a few stones, and it occurred to him that this might be it after all. If you're hiding a treasure, you don't put it in bags or ingots, you leave it around looking like garbage and people leave it alone.
He gathered up as many of the thin metal pieces as he could carry in one hand and swam carefully up the stairwell. Lehi would have to come down now and help him carry it up; they could make bags out of their shirts to carry lots of it at a time.
He splashed out into the air and then walked backward up the last few steps and across the submerged floor. Lehi was still sitting on the sill, and now Rain was there beside him, her bare feet dangling in the water. When he got there he turned around and held out the metal in his hands. He couldn't see their faces well, because the outside of the facemask was blurry with water and kept catching sunlight.
"You scraped your knee," said Rain.
Deaver handed her his flashlight and now that his hand was free, he could pull his mask off and look at them. They were very serious. He held out the metal pieces toward them. "Look what I found down there."
Lehi took a couple of metal pieces from him. Rain never took her eyes from Deaver's face.
"It's old cans, Deaver," Lehi said quietly.
"No it isn't," said Deaver. But he looked at his fistful of metal sheets and realized it was true. They had been cut down the side and pressed flat, but they were sure enough cans.
"There's writing on it," said Lehi. "It says, Dear Lord heal my girl Jenny please I pray."
Deaver set down his handful on the sill. Then he took one, turned it over, found the writing. "Forgive my adultery I will sin no more."
Lehi read another. "Bring my boy safe from the plains O Lord God."
Each message was scratched with a nail or a piece of glass, the letters crudely formed.
"They used to say prayers all day in the temple, and people would bring in names and they'd say the temple prayers for them," said Rain. "Nobody prays here now, but they still bring the names. On metal so they'll last."
"We shouldn't read these," said Lehi. "We should put them back."
There were hundreds, maybe thousands of those metal prayers down there. People must come here all the time, Deaver realized. The Mormons must have a regular traffic coming here and leaving these things behind. But nobody told me.
"Did you know about this?"
"You brought them here, didn't you."
"Some of them. Over the years."
"You knew what was down there."
She didn't answer.
"She told you not to come," said Lehi.
"You knew about this too?"
"I knew people came, I didn't know what they did."
And suddenly the magnitude of it struck him. Lehi and Rain had both known. All the Mormons knew, then. They all knew, and he had asked again and again, and no one had told him. Not even his friends.
"Why'd you let me come out here?"
"Tried to stop you," said Rain.
"Why didn't you tell me this?"
She looked him in the eye. "Deaver, you would've thought I was givin you the runaround. And you would have laughed at this, if I told you. I thought it was better if you saw it. Then maybe you wouldn't go tellin people how dumb the Mormons are."
"You think I would?" He held up another metal prayer and read it aloud. "Come quickly, Lord Jesus, before I die." He shook it at her. "You think I'd laugh at these people?"
"You laugh at everything, Deaver."
Deaver looked at Lehi. This was something Lehi had never said. Before. Deaver would never laugh at something that was really important. And this was really important to them, to them both.
"This is yours," Deaver said. "All this stuff is yours."
"I never left a prayer here," said Lehi.
But when he said yours he didn't mean just them, just Lehi and Rain. He meant all of them, all the people of the Mormon Sea, all the ones who had known about it but never told him even though he asked again and again. All the people who belonged here. "I came to find something here for me, and you knew all the time it was only your stuff down there."
Lehi and Rain looked at each other, then back at Deaver.
"It isn't ours," said Rain.
"I never been here before," said Lehi.
"It's your stuff." He sat down in the water and began taking off the underwater gear.
"Don't be mad," said Lehi. "I didn't know."
You knew more than you told me. All the time I thought we were friends, but it wasn't true. You two had this place in common with all the other people, but not with me. Everybody but me.
Lehi carefully took the metal sheets to the stairway and dropped them. They sank at once, to drift down and take their place on the pile of supplications.
Lehi rowed them through the skyscrapers to the east of the old city, and then Rain started the motor and they skimmed along the surface of the lake. The Lake Patrol didn't see them, but Deaver knew now that it didn't matter much if they did. The Lake Patrol was mostly Mormons. They undoubtedly knew about the traffic here, and let it happen as long as it was discreet. Probably the only people they stopped were the people who weren't in on it.
All the way back to Magna to return the underwater gear, Deaver sat in the front of the boat, not talking to the others. Where Deaver sat, the bow of the boat seemed to curve under him. The faster they went, the less the boat seemed to touch the water. Just skimming over the surface, never really touching deep; making a few waves, but the water always smoothed out again.
Those two people in the back of the boat, he felt kind of sorry for them. They still lived in the drowned city, they belonged down there, and the fact they couldn't go there broke their hearts. But not Deaver. His city wasn't even built yet. His city was tomorrow.
He'd driven a salvage truck and lived in a closet long enough. Maybe he'd go south into the New Soil Lands. Maybe qualify on a piece of land. Own something, plant in the soil, maybe he'd come to belong there. As for this place, well, he never had belonged here, just like all the foster homes and schools along the way, just one more stop for a year or two or three, he knew that all along. Never did make any friends here, but that's how he wanted it. Wouldn't be right to make friends, cause he'd just move on and disappoint them. Didn't see no good in doing that to people.
on the art and business of science fiction writing.
Over five hours of insight and advice.
Recorded live at Uncle Orson's Writing Class in Greensboro, NC.
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