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An artist searches for God so he can paint his portrait in Philip K. Dick’s collaboration with Roger Zelazny.
After World War III, the Servants of Wrath cult deified the mysterious Carlton Lufteufel, creator of the doomsday weapon that wiped out much of humanity. But to worship the man, they need an image of him as a god, and no one has ever seen him. So the high priests send a limbless master painter named Tibor McMasters into the wilderness on a mission to find Lufteufel and ...
An artist searches for God so he can paint his portrait in Philip K. Dick’s collaboration with Roger Zelazny.
After World War III, the Servants of Wrath cult deified the mysterious Carlton Lufteufel, creator of the doomsday weapon that wiped out much of humanity. But to worship the man, they need an image of him as a god, and no one has ever seen him. So the high priests send a limbless master painter named Tibor McMasters into the wilderness on a mission to find Lufteufel and capture his likeness. Unfortunately for Tibor, the nation’s remaining Christians do not want him to succeed and are willing to kill to ensure that the so-called Deus Irae remains hidden. This hallucinatory tale through a nuclear wasteland asks what price the artist must pay for art and tries to figure out just what makes a god.
Here! The black-spotted cow drawing the bicycle cart. In the center of the cart And at the doorway of the sacristy Father Handy glanced against the morning sunlight from Wyoming to the north as if the sun came from that direction, saw the church’s employee, the limbless trunk with knobbed head lolling as if in trip-fantastic to a slow jig as the Holstein cow wallowed forward.
A bad day, Father Handy thought. For he had to declare bad news to Tibor McMasters. Turning, he reentered the church and hid himself; Tibor, on his cart, had not seen him, for Tibor hung in the clutch of within-thoughts and nausea; it always came to this when the artist appeared to begin his work: he was sick at his stomach, and any smell, any sight, even that of his own work, made him cough. And Father Handy wondered about this, the repellency of sense-reception early in the day, as if Tibor, he thought, does not want to be alive again another day.
He himself, the priest; he enjoyed the sun. The smell of hot, large clover from the surrounding pastures of Charlottesville, Utah. The tink-tink of the tags of the cows . . . he sniffed the air as it filled his church and yet — not the sight of Tibor but the awareness of the limbless man’s pain; that caused him worry.
There, behind the altar, the miniscule part of the work which had been accomplished; five years it would take Tibor, but time did not matter in a subject of this sort: through eternity — no, Father Handy thought; not eternity, because this thing is manmade and hence cursed — but for ages, it will be here generations. The other armless, legless persons to arrive later, who would not, could not, genuflect because they lacked the physiological equipment; this was accepted officially.
“Uuuuuuuub,” the Holstein lowed, as Tibor, through his U.S. ICBM extensor system, reined it to a halt in the rear yard of the church, where Father Handy kept his detired, unmoving 1976 Cadillac, within which small lovely chickens, all feathered in gay gold, luminous, because they were Mexican banties, clung nightlong, bespoiling . . . and yet, why not? The dung of handsome birds that roamed in a little flock, led by Herbert G, the rooster who had flung himself up ages ago to confront all his rivals, won out and lived to be followed; a leader of beasts, Father Handy thought moodily. Inborn quality in Herbert G, who, right now, scratched within the succulent garden for bugs. For special mutant fat ones.
He, the priest, hated bugs, too many odd kinds, thrust up overnight from the fal’t . . . so he loved the predators who fed on the chitinous crawlers, loved his flock of — amusing to think of — birds! Not men.
But men arrived, at least on the Holy Day, Tuesday — to differentiate it (purposefully) from the archaic Christian Holy Day, Sunday.
In the hind yard, Tibor detached his cart from the cow. Then, on battery power, the cart rolled up its special wood-plank ramp and into the church; Father Handy felt it within the building, the arrival of the man without limbs, who, retching, fought to control his abridged body so that he could resume work where he had left off at sunset yesterday.
To Ely, his wife, Father Handy said, “Do you have hot coffee for him? Please”
“Yes,” she said, dry, dutiful, small, and withered, as if wetless personally; he disliked her body drabness as he watched her lay out a Melmac cup and saucer, not with love but with the unwarmed devotion of a priest’s wife, therefore a priest’s servant.
“Hi!” Tibor called cheerfully. Always, as if professionally, merry, above his physiological retching and reretching.
“Black,” Father Handy said. “Hot. Right here.” He stood aside so that the cart, which was massive for an indoor construct, could roll on through the corridor and into the church’s kitchen.
“Morning, Mrs. Handy,” Tibor said.
Ely Handy said dustily as she did not face the limbless man, “Good morning, Tibor. Pax be with you and with thy saintly spark.”
“Pax or pox?” Tibor said, and winked at Father Handy.
No answer; the woman puttered. Hate, Father Handy thought, can take marvelous exceeding attenuated forms; he all at once yearned for it direct, open and ripe and directed properly. Not this mere lack of grace, this formality . . . he watched her get milk from the cooler.
Tibor began the difficult task of drinking coffee.
First he needed to make his cart stationary. He locked the simple brake. Then detached the selenoid-controlled relay from the ambulatory circuit and sent power from the liquid-helium battery to the manual circuit. A clean aluminum tubular extension reached out and at its terminal a six-digit gripping mechanism, each unit wired separately back through the surge-gates and to the shoulder muscles of the limbless man, groped for the empty cup; then, as Tibor saw it was still empty, he looked inquiringly.
“On the stove,” Ely said, meaningly smiling.
So the cart’s brake had to be unlocked; Tibor rolled to the stove, relocked the cart’s brake once more via the selenoid selector-relays, and sent his manual grippers to lift the pot The aluminum tubular extensor, armlike, brought the pot up tediously, in a near Parkinson-motion, until, finally, Tibor managed, through all the elaborate ICBM guidance components, to pour coffee into his cup.
Father Handy said, “I won’t join you because I had pyloric spasms last night and when I got up this morning.” He felt irritable, physically. Like you, he thought, I am, although a Complete, having trouble with my body this morning: with glands and hormones. He lit a cigarette, his first of the day, tasted the loose genuine tobacco, puffed, and felt much better; one chemical checked the overproduction of another, and now he seated himself at the table as Tibor, smiling cheerfully still, drank the heated-over coffee without complaint
And yet —
Sometimes physical pain is a precognition of wicked things about to come, Father Handy thought, and in your case; is that it, do you know what I shall — must — tell you today? No choice, because what am I, if not a man-worm who is told; who, on Tuesday, tells, but this is only one day, and just an hour of that day.
“Tibor,” he said, “wie geht es Heute?”
“Es geht mir gut,” Tibor responded instantly.
They mutually loved their recollection and their use of German. It meant Goethe and Heine and Schiller and Kafka and Falada; both men, together, lived for this and on this. Now, since the work would soon come, it was a ritual, bordering on the sacred, a reminder of the after-daylight hours when the painting proved impossible and they could — had to — merely talk. In the semigloom of the kerosene lanterns and the firelight, which was a bad light source; too irregular, and Tibor had complained, in his understating way, of eye fatigue. And that was a dreadful harbinger, because nowhere in the Wyoming-Utah area could a lensman be found; no refractive glasswork had been lately possible, at least as near as Father Handy knew.
It would require a Pilg to get glasses for Tibor, if that became necessary; he blenched from that, because so often the church employee dragooned for a Pilg set off and never returned. And they never even learned why; was it better elsewhere, or worse? It could — or so he had decided from the utterances of the 6 p.m. radio — be that it consisted of both; it depended on the place.
And the world, now, was many places. The connectives had been destroyed. That which had made the once-castigated “uniformity.’*
“‘You understand,’” Father Handy chanted, singsong, from Ruddigore. And at once Tibor ceased drinking his coffee.
“‘I think I do,’” he wailed back, finishing the quotation. “‘That duty, duty must be done,’” he said, then. The coffee cup was set down, an elaborate rejection costing the use of many surge-gates opening and closing.
“‘The rule,’” Father Handy said, “‘applies to everyone.’”
Half to himself, with real bitterness, Tibor said, “‘To shirk the task.’” He turned his head, licked rapidly with his expert tongue, and gazed in deep, prolonged study at the priest. “What is it?”
It is, Father Handy thought, the fact that I am linked; I am part of a network that whips and quivers with the whole chain, shivered from above. And we believe — as you know — that the final motion is given from that Elsewhere that we receive the dim emanations out of, data which we strive honestly to understand and fulfill because we believe — we know — that what it wants is not only strong but correct.
“We’re not slaves,” he said aloud. “We are, after all, servants. We can quit; you can. Even I, if I felt it was right.” But he would never; he had long ago decided, and taken a secret binding oath on it. “Who makes you do your job here?” he said, then.
Tibor said cautiously, “Well, you pay me.”
“But I don’t compel you.”
“I have to eat. That does.”
Father Handy said, “We know this: you can find many jobs, at any place; you could be anywhere working. Despite your — handicap.”
“The Dresden Amen,” Tibor said.
“Eh? What?” He did not understand.
“Sometime,” Tibor said, “when you have the generator reconnected to the electronic organ, I’ll play it for you; you’ll recognize it. The Dresden Amen rises high. It points to an Above. Where you are bullied from.”
“Oh no,” Father Handy protested.
“Oh yes,” Tibor said sardonically, and his pinched face withered with the abuse of his mis-emotion, his conviction. “Even if it’s ‘good,’ a benign power. It still makes you do things. Just tell me this: Do I have to paint out anything I’ve already done? Or does this deal with the over-all mural?”
“With the final composition; what you’ve done is excellent. The color thirty-five-millimeter slides we sent on — they were delighted, those who looked at them; you know, the Church Eltern.”
Reflecting, Tibor said, “Strange. You can still get color film and get it processed. But you can’t get a daily newspaper.”
“Well, there’s the six-o’clock news on the radio,” Father Handy pointed out. “From Salt Lake City.” He waited hopefully. There was no answer; the limbless man drank the coffee silently. “Do you know,” Father Handy said, “what the oldest word in the English language is?”
“No,” Tibor said.
“‘Might,’” Father Handy said. “In the sense of being mighty. It’s Macht in the German. But it goes further back than Teutonic; it goes all the way back to the Hittites.”
“The Hittite word mekkis. ‘Power’” Again he waited hopefully. “‘Did you not chatter? Is this not woman’s way?’” He was quoting from Mozart’s Magic Flute. “‘Man’s way’” he finished, “‘is action.’”
Tibor said, “You’re the one who’s chattering.”
“But you,” Father Handy said, “must act. I had something to tell you.” He reflected. “Oh yes. The sheep.” He had, behind the church in a five-acre pasture, six ewes. “I got a ram late yesterday,” he said, “from Theodore Benton. On loan, for breeding. Benton dumped him off while I was gone. He’s an old ram; he has gray on his muzzle.”
“A dog came and tried to run the flock, that red Irish-setter thing of the Yeats’. You know; it runs my ewes almost daily.”
Interested now, the limbless man turned his head. “Did the ram —”
“Five times the dog approached the flock. Five times, moving very slowly, the ram walked toward the dog, leaving the flock behind. The dog, of course, stopped and stood still when he saw the ram coming toward him, and so the ram halted and pretended; he cropped.” Father Handy smiled as he remembered. “How smart the old fellow was; I saw him crop, but he was watching the dog. The dog growled and barked, and the old fellow cropped on. And then again the dog moved in. But this time the dog ran, he bounded by the ram; he got between the ram and the flock.”
“And the flock bolted.”
“Yes. And the dog — you know how they do, learn to do — cut off one ewe, to run her down; they kill the ewe, then, or maim them, they get them from the belly.” He was silent. “And the ram. He was too old; he couldn’t run and catch up. He turned and watched.”
Both men were then, together, silent
“Can they think?’ Tibor said. “The ram, I mean.”
“I know,” Father Handy said, “what I thought. I went to get my gun. To kill the dog. I had to.”
“If it was me,” Tibor said, “if I was that ram, and I saw that, I saw the dog get by me and run the flock and all I could do was watch —” He hesitated.
“You would wish,” Father Handy said, “that you had already died.”
“So death, as we teach the Servants of Wrath — we teach that it is a solution. Not an adversary, as the Christians taught, as Paul said. You remember their text. ‘Death, where is thy sting? Grave, where is thy victory?’ You see my point.”
Tibor said slowly, “If you can’t do your job, better to be dead. What is the job I have to do?”
In your mural, Father Handy thought, you must create His face.
“Him,” he said. “And as He actually is.”
After a puzzled pause Tibor said, “You mean His exact physical appearance?”
“Not,” Father Handy said, “a subjective interpretation.”
“You have photos? Vid data?”
“They’ve released a few to me. To be shown to you.”
Staring at him, Tibor said, “You mean you have a photo of the Deus Irae?”
“I have a color photo in depth, what before the war they called 3-D. No animated pics, but this will be enough. I think.”
“Let’s see it.” Tibor’s tone was mixed, a compound of amazement and fear and the hostility of an artist hampered, impeded.
Passing into his inner office, Father Handy got the manila folder, came back with it, opened it, brought out the color 3-D photo of the God of Wrath, and held it forth. Tibor’s right manual extensor seized it.
“That’s the God,” Father Handy said presently.
“Yes, you can see.” Tibor nodded. “Those black eyebrows. That interwoven black hair; the eyes . . . I see pain, but he’s smiling.” His extensor abruptly returned the photo. “I can’t paint him from that.”
“Why not?” But Father Handy knew why not The photo did not really catch the god-quality; it was the photo of a man. The god-quality; it could not be recorded by celluloid coated with a silver nitrate. “He was,” he said, “at the time this photo was taken, having a luau in Hawaii. Eating young taro leaves with chicken and octopus. Enjoying himself. See the greed for the food, the lust creating an unnatural expression? He was relaxing on a Sunday afternoon before a speech before the faculty of some university; I forget which. Those happy days in the sixties.”
“If I can’t do my job,” Tibor said, “its your fault.”
“‘A poor workman always blames — ’”
“You’re not a box of tools.” Both manual extensors slapped at the cart. “My tools are here. I don’t blame; I use them. But you — you’re my employer; you’re telling me what to do, but how can I, from that one color shot? Tell me —”
“A Pilg. The Eltern of the Church say that if the photograph is inadequate — and it is, and we know it, all of us — then you must go on a Pilg until you find the Deus Irae, and they’ve sent documents pertaining to that.”
Blinking in surprise, Tibor gaped, then protested, “But my metabattery! Suppose it gives out!”
Father Handy said, “So you do blame your tools.” His voice was carefully controlled, quietly resounding.
At the stove, Ely said, “Fire him.’”
To her, Father Handy said, “I fire no one. A pun. Fire: their hell, the Christians. We don’t have that,” he reminded her. And then to Tibor he said the Great Verse of all the worlds, that which both men understood and yet did not grasp, could not, like Papagano with his net, entangle. He spoke it aloud as a bond holding them together in what they, the Christians, called agape, love. But this was higher than that; this was love and man and beautifulness, the three: a new trinity.
Ich sih die liehte heide in gruner varwe stan.
Dar süln wir alle gehen,
die sumerzit enphahen.
After he said that, Tibor nodded, picked up his coffee cup once more, that difficult, elaborate motion and problem; sipped. The room became still and even Ely, the woman, did not chatter.
Outdoors, the cow which pulled Tibor’s cart groaned huskily, shifted; perhaps, Father Handy thought, it is looking for, hoping for, food. It needs food for the body, we for our mind. Or everyone dies. We must have the mural; he must travel over a thousand miles, and if his cow dies or his battery gives out, then we expire with him; he is not alone in this death.
He wondered if Tibor knew that. If it would help to know. Probably not. So he did not say it; in this world nothing helped.
Posted June 22, 2011
No text was provided for this review.