It began as something of a lark. But it was always sincere.
Cole had worked at the drug store for more than five years without conflict. He’d shared the duties of the pharmacy section with Creighton for thirteen months and considered him to be a decent co-worker. Sure, he found Creighton’s daily references to “this blessed day” and “with God’s love” a bit strange, but they were passing utterances, so Cole permitted them to slide by. He could no longer do so when Creighton’s behavior began affecting store patrons.
Cole knew all too well those who worked in a pharmacy encountered a number of unhappy customers on a daily basis. Some became upset over the denial of insurance coverage; others because their physician had not written the prescription they wanted; a few because it took the pharmacists longer to fill their order than they expected; more that than because of the cost of the medications.
Cole didn’t anticipate anything extraordinary when he first observed Creighton’s confrontation with the young woman who sported an angel tattoo on her left wrist. He only left his work station and the pills he was compiling when the exchange grew louder and crossed the five-minute mark – the length of time Cole and Creighton had mutually agreed called for backup assistance.
“Can I help?”
“This guy says he won’t fill my prescription.”
Cole took the prescription. He didn’t see anything unusual about the routine order for birth control pills. Cole looked to Creighton to await the explanation but none came. He observed his co-worker standing in silence, a smug grin ever so visible.
“That’s right, I won’t.”
“It’s against my religion.”
“Always. I’m just now asserting my right to a religious accommodation.”
Cole looked back and forth between the customer, who had wrapped her arms tightly around her body to cover her public nakedness, and his co-worker, standing confidently before the register.
“I’ll take care of this.”
“Praise the Lord.” Creighton left Cole with the woman and proceeded towards the rear of the store.
Had it been a one-time event, Cole would have let the incident pass without a word, but during the days that followed, Creighton refused to accept birth control prescriptions, to retrieve and dispense birth control orders Cole had taken, and to sell birth control products like condoms and sponges. When Cole understood Creighton’s new behavior was permanent, he approached Kaitlyn, the store manager.
Kaitlyn was the fourth manager during Cole’s five years at the store. He was sure she, too, wasn’t long for the job. On her first day, Kaitlyn had greeted Cole with a bright smile and perky playfulness. Her long blond hair teased and styled, she almost appeared ready for a photo shoot. Cole had never seen Kaitlyn look the same way during the half-year that followed.
Kaitlyn ran from Cole the way she ran from most of her reports when he sought to discuss Creighton’s change in behavior. Usually, when cornered, she made some passing reference to Corporate or Legal and asked the employee – especially anyone who was not a teenage cashier – to address the problem as best they could.
Cole didn’t know how to address Creighton’s recent behavior, so he persevered and ultimately caught Kaitlyn after his shift ended. He trapped her in the recesses of the store, in an area inaccessible to the public. Neither muscular nor thick, Cole used his length and considerable wingspan to establish a barrier with his arms and the rows of boxes of merchandise destined for return.
Kaitlyn stomped her feet in protest but failed to demand Cole let her pass, which gave him enough time to explain the situation.
Cole watched Kaitlyn’s facial muscles relax as sympathy replaced pouting. “That’s not right.”
“You should tell him that.”
“I think it should come from you.”
“You’re his manager, not me.”
Cole left the store confident that the matter had been resolved, but Kaitlyn met him at the entrance the next morning to tell him otherwise. She held a letter-sized envelope in her hand, which made it appear as if she were about to serve Cole with a summons. “Corporate said we have to accommodate Creighton.”
“They said he made a request for a religious accommodation. You have to cover for him when the act of dispensing or filling an order would infringe upon his religious beliefs.”
“Corporate said so. They consulted with Legal.”
“What if I’m busy?”
“Figure something out.”
“What if I’m on vacation or sick?”
Cole watched Kaitlyn roll her eyes at him the way his eight-year-old daughter did whenever he said something she considered ridiculous. Cole knew it had been a mistake to mention leave from work. They lived in a world where they enjoyed the benefit of personal leave in theory, and occasionally in practice, but which was never mentioned as an excuse as to why something couldn’t be accomplished.
For the next few weeks, Cole accommodated Creighton’s newly declared religious beliefs as best he could because he’d been directed to do so and because Cole believed in honoring corporate hierarchy despite its flaws. Someday, he knew, or dreamt, he’d leave it behind, but while a part of it, Cole comported with its rules.
But Cole also believed in fairness. He thought it unfair that Creighton had suddenly decided to stop servicing certain customers and that he was required to drop whatever he was doing at that moment – be it filling a prescription, speaking on the phone, or assisting another customer – to relieve his co-worker.
When almost a month had passed, Cole sought justice. He approached Kaitlyn in the back room while she was reviewing time sheets. Purposefully trying to go unnoticed while sitting on a folding chair and using a schoolroom-sized desk.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to sell tobacco products anymore.”
“They’re deadly. And the ones people smoke present health risks to those who don’t. So it’s against my religion.”
Kaitlyn dropped her pen.
“At least I told you in advance. I didn’t just abandon a customer mid-order.”
“I’ll have to call Corporate.”
The wheels of justice may turn slowly but greased corporate machinery can move with great efficiency. Kaitlyn, who now wore white tennis shoes at work every day, actually ran at Cole a half-hour later. She didn’t even pull him away from the customer he was assisting. “Corporate says you’re fired if you refuse to sell tobacco.”
“You’re fired if you don’t sell…”
“I heard you. Why can Creighton refuse to sell certain items but I can’t?”
“Because his is a religious belief and yours isn’t.”
“How do they know?”
“Take it up with Corporate.”
Cole vowed he’d take it up with Corporate, Legal and any other business group once he’d documented his belief system. That night he went home and created a webpage, despite his limited tech proficiency. He called his religion Noisism and recorded the first canons of his faith:
- No one is superior.
- Do as you please as long as you bring no harm to others.
Legal was not impressed. “We checked. You just created the website.” The voice on the other end of the phone was monotone, the humorless side of Corporate, to the extent that was possible.
“So it’s not a sincerely held religious belief.”
“Because it’s new?”
“Among other reasons.”
“If just yesterday I converted to Judaism would you accept my beliefs as sincerely held and religious?”
“We’d have to. If today was Yom Kippur, you could have the day off.”
“So why not Noisism?”
“It’s not a religion.”
“I’ve done some checking. According to the Supreme Court, you’re not supposed to question an individual’s belief system.”
“We can verify that it’s religious. Yours isn’t.”
“What about so-called Christians who point to the Old Testament to justify saying homosexuality is an abomination?”
“You don’t doubt Christianity is a religion, do you?”
“You don’t find any inconsistency with their so-called belief system and the religion’s New Testament teaching to ‘Love thy neighbor?'”
“It’s not Legal’s job to look for inconsistencies. Just sincerity and religion. They meet both of those. You don’t.”
Cole vigorously rubbed the back of his neck. “What can I do?”
“Keep selling tobacco products. They’re extremely profitable.”
Cole continued to sell tobacco and all of the other products his store offered and continued to cover for Creighton whenever required, but in his free time, he codified more of his belief system on Noisism’s website. He chose Tuesday as the religion’s holy day because he considered it the most ignored day of the week. Noisism didn’t require attending weekly services, but Cole thought believers should spend at least part of each week reflecting on life. He also established that the two most solemn days of the year would be the third Tuesday in April and third Tuesday in October.
Cole commenced planning rituals for the days he called Guadium and Pugna. In April, Noisists would watch a video presentation he’d begun to assemble that highlighted the beauty and pleasure of the world. Believers would also go out into the world and observe at least three acts of wonder and joy – one by a human, one by another animal, and a third in nature.
Pugna would be exactly like Guadium, except its video would focus on the fight, destruction and evils that are part of life. Noisists would also have to encounter life’s crueler moments outside the wall of their homes on the third Tuesday in October.
Two weeks before the first Noisist celebration of Guadium, Cole created a Twitter account and sent out his first Tweet on his religion’s behalf:
Guadium is coming April 18. #Noisism
The next day he requested not to have to work on Guadium as a religious accommodation. He expected his request would be denied, but on Friday Kaitlyn slid beside him while he was filling prescriptions.
“Corporate approved it.”
Cole lifted his eyes from the pills on the tablet tray. He wanted to see if his boss was joking. She was smiling – an odd sight – but she appeared sincere. “Yeah, I know.”
Cole wondered if he should make a second request not to sell tobacco products.
“Legal doesn’t think it’s worth the fight. You have to use a personal day but you’ve got a ton on the books.”
Cole nodded. “Thanks.”
Kaitlyn continued to stand beside him, grinning, as if she wanted this rare moment in the workplace to last. “Maybe this place isn’t as bad as it seems.”
Cole thought her words were spoken more to herself than an external audience.
As Guadium grew closer, Cole spent more and more time on the video. He hoped he’d be able to capture the magnificence of the world, the incredibly perfect wonder that was life.
The near-final version had at least one scene from all seven continents; the promise of daybreak; the cheerfulness of brilliant sunshine; the calmness of a light rain in a forest; the peacefulness of sundown over the rhythmic sounds of an ocean; the absolute wonder of thousands of stars against a black backdrop. It showed mother otters holding their babies on their bellies while floating on the water; monkeys cleaning one another in hot springs; kid moose jumping on each other’s backs playfully; human children laughing, running, jumping, skipping; adult humans creating and appreciating art, cooking and enjoying a meal, accomplishing the unbelievable if not impossible – building massive structures, traveling from our home planet, and creating machines greater than ourselves. It depicted humans of all ages providing aid to men, women and children, as well as other life forms, in need and in need of comfort.
During the last bit of editing, Cole debated whether he should include a scene of a couple’s lovemaking and subsequent cuddling. It contained graphic nudity but genuine emotion. Cole ultimately decided it contained a unique expression of human love and joy and therefore needed to be a part of the most beautiful day of Noisism’s year.
Cole awoke naturally on Guadium. With the light of day instead of an alarm. He remained in bed and thought of things he personally enjoyed about life – swimming, music, seeing natural wonders and wonders of human creation, falling in love.
He ate a bowl of cereal and enjoyed a cup of coffee while sitting on the deck of his apartment. He listened to the osprey and blocked out extraneous noise.
He changed into his bathing suit and swam laps in his complex’s pool for almost an hour. He avoided his computer until after he had showered and then only used it to watch the video he’d created for Guadium.
Cole received permission to take his daughter off school grounds for an hour so they could have lunch together. He tried to explain to Emily why the day was special, but the girl with very straight and very blonde hair wanted to talk about how her teacher had praised her computer programming homework. Cole didn’t think either of them understood the other very well but knew his daughter liked the attention and the treats, while he reveled in Emily’s youthful excitement during the hour he would not have had with her but for Guadium.
In the afternoon, Cole went to a local park where Little Leaguers played baseball. He sat by himself in the corner of the bleachers but smiled at the children and their parents. He purchased $20 worth of tickets for the 50/50 raffle. When he won, he donated all of his winnings to the league.
After the fourth inning, Cole went to the part of the park where dog owners frequently walked their pets. He bent down and petted more than a few and watched the dogs wag their tails and sometimes the entire rear half of their bodies. Cole flirted with a woman named Kaycee who accompanied a rescued greyhound.
Kaycee had short brown hair and the wide, muscular shoulders of a man. Cole guessed she’d been a competitive swimmer. She wore running attire and appeared to be more than a few years younger than him, likely in her mid-to-late twenties. He considered asking for her number but didn’t wish to risk rejection on Guadium.
After fifteen minutes filled with smiles, laughs and voices an octave higher than normal, Cole bent down to touch her dog Julia one last time. “You live around here?”
She placed one sneaker on top of the other. “A couple of blocks away.”
“Maybe I’ll run into you some other time.”
“I’m usually here around this time right after work.”
Cole stood. He knew he could have lingered and asked about her job and shared something about his own but concluded they’d been together the right amount of time for the first day.
Kaycee reached out and touched Cole’s arm in an unintentional intentional way. Cole similarly allowed his fingers to drag across her hand before he departed.
After five steps, Cole turned. She was still looking. Cole and Kaycee waved to one another in a manner more common to teenagers. As if neither they nor anyone else had ever felt what they were feeling and not one other person in the world existed at that moment.
Cole went to a local pub where he enjoyed a couple of beers with dinner. He remained long enough to catch the first set of a local band he liked before returning to his two-bedroom apartment.
At home, he called his mother. After they had chatted for twenty minutes, she told him she appreciated the unexpected attention.
He waited until 11:59 to send out his first and only tweet of the day:
Guadium was a huge success! #Noisism
Despite enjoying Guadium more than any single day in a long, long time, Cole sought a respite from Noisism, and especially all of the work he’d undertaken in preparation of Guadium, in the days that followed. He accepted Creighton’s blessings and provided assistance to anyone in need at work. He spent as much time as he could with Emily, eager to hear how an eight-year-old viewed the world.
He deliberately pursued Kaycee and let Kaycee and Julia pursue him. They pretended to stumble upon one another in the park, then used late-day coffee as an excuse to continue conversations. After a few somewhat spontaneous meetings, Cole asked Kaycee on a date. His first since his divorce two years earlier.
The good karma of Guadium continued when he returned to Noisism and Twitter. Cole learned a number of individuals, random names from the Internet, had offered favorable comments about his religion.
One person who used the handle @thecuspjoe and whose account contained the image of a circuit board frequently tweeted about Noisism. Shortly after Guadium, @thecuspjoe wrote:
This is powerful. #Noisism
Do I really have to wait six months for my next religious experience? #TooLongAWait
Finally, somebody gets it. #BestNewReligion
Emboldened, Cole returned to his website and the public display of Noisism. He added the following credos:
- Noisism seeks to save without discriminating.
- Give to others to the extent you can. Giving may be in the form of time, money or support.
Cole enjoyed providing further depth to Noisism but frowned as he studied its website. He recognized that it looked like a holdover from the 1990s – the equivalent of a piece of paper on the Internet. He tried tinkering with the site and looking for guidance online, but gave up after a couple of hours, concluding he was a pharmacist and inventor of a religion, not a techie.
Before going to bed, Cole tweeted:
Further development of the Noisism canon. #DoingMyBest
Cole didn’t return to Twitter for a couple of days. When he did, he saw hardly anyone had commented on the additions, but @thecuspjoe wrote:
Dude, your website needs help. Contact me. #TheCusp
Cole examined The Cusp’s webpage. He learned it was some sort of company specializing in “technology solutions.” Acting against his instinct, Cole called the number listed, and a guy named Joe answered. He had a deep, commanding voice.
“Cool stuff you’re working on but it seems you’re in over your head in certain areas.”
“I know but I don’t have money to put into it right now.”
“I’m not asking.”
“You’re not just drumming up business?”
“Nope. Looking for spiritual guidance. You’re giving me that. Least I can do is help Noisism to the extent I can.”
“You’re located in Kansas City, right?”
“No problemo, I can work remotely.”
Cole paused. He’d imagined a one-man operation.
“Or I could meet up with you wherever you are.”
“It’s not that.”
“You’re in the States, right?”
“Sort of. Florida.”
“I can give you references, if that’s what you’re concerned about.”
“I’m sure you’re good, I just don’t want…”
“I get it. It’s your baby. I’m not looking to take over the content or the process. That’s all you. I just want to help with delivery. It’s just like any business: you only get one chance to make a first impression.”
Cole heard Joe cough loudly even though it was clear he’d tried to do so away from the phone.
“The thing is, I worry about it becoming too slick. All form, no substance.”
“Got ya, Chief. No worries. You tell me how you’d like it to look. We’ll create a beta version you can approve before we go live.”
“I guess it can’t hurt to try.”
“Now you’re talking. With me doing what I do well, you can focus on that content. What’s the fall event called?”
“Pugna, huh? Sounds like we’re in for a fight. Can’t wait to see it.”
“It’ll be like Guadium, only the opposite.”
“I bet it’s going to be intense.”
Despite the offer of assistance from @thecuspjoe, Cole soon discovered he had trouble sleeping. Rather than peace, his religion now brought him a certain level of anxiety.
Cole didn’t process the unknown well. One of the reasons he’d chosen to become a pharmacist was that it was a relatively stress-free occupation that offered him an opportunity to make a decent living while working independently for the most part. No pressure, no worries.
He’d intended Noisism to be an extension of the life he’d created for himself. A religion of one. One in which he was only accountable to himself. He’d never fathomed being a leader of a flock, so he took a sabbatical.
Cole ceased mentioning Noisism at work and stopped promoting it via Twitter while he considered both expansion and destruction, but as his relationship with Kaycee progressed, she informed him her faith was important to her. She wanted to know what he believed in, so Cole felt compelled to show her Noisism’s website.
He stood behind her while she sat on a stool in her one-bedroom apartment and used her laptop. “This?”
“I have a problem with organized religion.”
“That doesn’t mean you start your own. I don’t believe 100% of Methodism, but that doesn’t mean I stop being a Methodist.”
“But religions act like they’re perfect, infallible.”
“It’s all of them.”
“And you’ll be perfect?”
“No. But that’s a good reminder. I need to post that as part of Noisism’s canon.”
“I think religion’s an extension of your being, your family. You accept it, warts and all.”
“I hate it when people claim their faith is the true one and others are inferior. And all the fighting this leads to.”
“Most people don’t want any part of that.”
Cole directed Kaycee to click on the links for Guadium. While she did, he moved next to a sliding glass door that led to her deck. He held a glass of chardonnay in one hand. The other lay atop Julia’s head. The dog stared intently at the yellow and blue birds that flittered beyond its reach, on the other side of the closed door.
Cole adjusted his focus when he heard Kaycee crying. He returned to her side, and she grabbed his hand and placed it on her cheek. “It’s so beautiful, I’ll watch the rest later.”
Cole took control of the mouse. “I need to get your opinion about working with this guy.”
He directed the laptop to The Cusp and relinquished control to Kaycee. She examined the site.
“It looks like a legitimate business.”
“I think so. He directed me to some websites he’s worked on. He does good work.”
“So what’s holding you back?”
“I’m not certain. Not knowing what will happen?”
“Jesus was scared of the unknown.”
“Yeah, and he might have been God.”
“And a man.” Kaycee took Cole’s hand once more. “You’re a really good man. Maybe you’ll be a great one.”
“I never aspired to that.”
“Sometimes it just happens.”
“So you think I should trust him?”
“It looks like he’s just impressed with you. The way I am.”
Joe’s work exceeded Cole’s expectations. True to his word, he left the content intact. He only suggested Cole add a private contact section to the website when Cole called to thank him.
“People can already comment on Twitter.”
“Not in depth. And not without everyone seeing the comment.”
“I guess I view Noisism as an open community.”
“You know it, but some people are still going to be reticent about being public with everything. I got to imagine as a religion, there will be confessions of some sort at some point in time, right, buddy?”
Cole pondered the prospect of a confessional aspect to Noisism.
“We’ll set you up with a brand new email address. You won’t have to monitor it all the time. I can do it and let you know what’s coming in.”
“One other thing.”
“You might want to consider having a webpage where followers can donate to Noisism.”
“People are asking for it. When people believe in something, they want to help it succeed.”
“Sounds like you’d make Noisism really complicated. Interstate commerce. Legal requirements. Tax filings.”
“I know a guy who can help.”
“You know a guy?”
“Two guys actually.”
“You sound like you’re from Jersey, not KC.”
Joe made a noise that sounded like a combination cough and laugh. “I have my own business, remember?”
“Remember, I can’t afford to pay you. Or your guys.”
“Maybe someday you will.”
“This isn’t a money-making enterprise.”
“Right, it’ll be a non-profit. All the better.”
Cole thought @thecuspjoe meant well but had an entirely different vision for Noisism. Cole didn’t want to run a business, though he liked imagining having a pool of money he could devote to good works.
He knew he needed to tell Joe the truth but convinced himself he could avoid the unpleasantness of a confrontation by completing the Pugna video.
Surely @thecuspjoe didn’t understand what Cole intended. Joe wouldn’t find Noisism as comforting after Pugna, and all thoughts of donations to Noisism would disappear once the world saw the dark side of the religion.
Perhaps to ensure this, Cole worked to make the Pugna video even more violent, evil and depraved than he’d originally intended.
Birds snatched turtles seconds after they hatched. A pack of wolves isolated, attacked and slaughtered a young buffalo. Humans bombed cities. People were executed with bullets to the back of their heads. Men, women and children screamed in pain. Earthquakes ripped cities in half. Avalanches buried resorts under snow. Mudslides rushed over and through towns. Tornados lifted cars and homes and tossed them like playthings. Animals moaned in agony. Boys and girls cried in fear. Paramilitary men waterboarded the captured. Sharks ripped seals in half. Rams butted heads with one another for the right to mate. Male bears killed cubs they suspected were not their own. Humans warred with their fellow humans over and over and over again.
Once more, Cole debated whether or not to include a particular scene. This time it depicted a group of men gang-raping a woman. Once more, Cole concluded inclusion of the scene was necessary to capture the full horror of the day devoted to the ugliness of life on earth.
Cole didn’t sleep a minute the night before Pugna. His legs spasmed with the thought of what he was about to unleash. Nine months earlier, in the abstract, a religion whose two holiest days focused on the incredible beauty and absolute horror of life seemed acceptable, but on Pugna Eve, Cole was disgusted by the work he’d created. He knew he hadn’t commissioned the acts. They’d occurred and he’d found them. But he’d made the choice to compile them and produce the video. Did he really have to share it with the world?
Cole stared into the darkness as he lay in bed and debated the premise of his own belief system. Sure, all humans had to live through horrors that were part of life from time to time. And some humans did so far too often. Maybe it was worth reminding everyone about this one day each year. But was it necessary to make them live it when they otherwise didn’t have to?
Cole didn’t know. He wondered how he could lead an organization whose belief system he’d created but nevertheless questioned. In the end, he concluded he’d come this far, he might as well see it through. He posted the video exactly at midnight. He tweeted:
Pugna. The fight that is life. Viewer discretion is advised. For everyone. #AllApologies
Only those truly committed should watch and abide by the callings of the day. #Noisism
Cole desperately wanted to sleep. To shorten the horrific day. But his own terrible images prevented him from nodding off.
At 2:00 a.m., Cole went to the park where he’d first met Kaycee and walked close to the river. There, in the darkness, he listened to what he could not see – an animal of one species (a raccoon perhaps?) cornering, capturing and killing another. Perhaps a feral cat. Tears formed when he heard the victim moan one final time. He would have sworn it sounded exactly like a human wail: what for?
Cole went to work because he didn’t believe he needed to avoid it for Pugna. He imagined many Noisists would find the dark side of the human experience at their place of employment.
Cole observed the all-too-common disagreeable interactions with unpleasant customers and pharmacy patients. A woman called him a racist because he wouldn’t process her clearly forged prescription. An older gentleman yelled at a young employee stocking shelves because he couldn’t find an item a foot to his left.
Cole concluded these behaviors, while totally inappropriate, failed to come close to the horrors of Pugna. He knew he wouldn’t seek out the worst of humankind in person but still believed he needed more. He went to the home where his mother had placed (and Cole had left) his father due to his early onset Alzheimer’s a couple of years earlier.
“Who the fuck are you?” His father’s greeting was fairly consistent if not pleasant.
“It’s me, Dad. Your son. Cole.”
“I wouldn’t give my son such a crappy name.”
“Mom might have picked it.”
“So I must have fucked your Mom?”
Cole smiled through the pain. “At least once, Dad.”
“You got any brothers or sisters?”
“It’s just me.”
“Maybe she wasn’t so hot then. Not like the nurses here. They give me baths, you know.”
“Are you sure I’m your father?”
“That’s what you guys told me all my life.”
“I’m surprised any son of mine would be going bald.”
Cole gingerly felt his forehead while he father yanked on his own thick head of hair. Most days Cole told himself he had a receding hairline. Perhaps Pugna was the right day to be reminded of the truth.
Cole wandered around the nearly barren room. The facility’s representative said the lack of objects and personal effects were for the patient’s safety, but Cole wondered if the rule was put in place so visitors wouldn’t confuse the individual they now observed with the person they’d once known. Maybe it was easier walking away from someone who didn’t remind them of a loved one.
Cole’s father moved towards the door and looked out into the hallway. “Can you take me out of here for a while today?”
“So what good are you?”
Cole’s father wore corduroy pants that were too large for him. Cole wondered if that had always been the case or if his father had lost weight since his arrival. In any case, he didn’t have a belt and had to hold up his pants to keep them from falling to the floor.
Cole’s father took a seat in a plastic-covered chair and sighed deeply. Cole appreciated the moment of silence that followed. A respite from attack.
“You know, this is really unfair.” Cole stared at his father, wondering if he was coming back. If just for a bit. He did that from time to time. “I’m not a criminal. I shouldn’t be treated like one. I don’t do it on purpose.”
Cole’s father tried to lift his heavy head that had fallen into his lap. “Yeah.”
“You’re right, it’s not fair.”
Cole stayed another half-hour. He couldn’t tell if his Dad was there in whole or in part. But he passed the remainder of the time in a pitiful – rather than sexual or violent – state, and Cole realized as much as he disliked his father’s words and deeds these days, it had to be far, far worse to have some understanding that you were doing them during periods of time you couldn’t recall.
Rain pelted Cole when he left the home, but it was past hurricane season and there wasn’t even any thunder or lightning. Nothing close to the fury of which nature was capable, but when the rain increased in intensity, Cole pulled off the highway and got out of his car.
He stood on an overpass watching vehicles splash through puddles below. After five minutes’ observation, he was certain that one of the many drivers who rode at ridiculous speeds given the conditions would spin out. After another five, Cole convinced himself one of them deserved to crash. Five more and Cole found himself hoping someone would do so, so he could say he’d fulfilled the requirements of Pugna.
When five more minutes passed without an accident and Cole found himself almost unable to see the highway below through the ever-increasing rain, he left the overpass and returned to his car. Soaked and dripping from the rain. At the same time, he knew some of the water sliding down his forehead and across his chest was sweat.
Before he started his vehicle, Cole told himself he hadn’t wanted to see anyone injured. He hadn’t even wanted to see a person behind the wheel of a car that crashed. Just the crashing of a car or truck, the machine itself. That would have been enough. That’s what he told himself anyway.
Cole arrived home at 10:45 p.m. His clothes hadn’t dried much during the drive, and his sneakers squished and squeaked as he made his way to his computer. Without changing, Cole turned on the video he had uploaded and watched it. At 11:59, he texted Kaycee:
Cole received the silent treatment from his co-workers on Wednesday. He considered that the least hurtful thing they could have chosen to do.
At a quarter to five, he spied a man in a dark suit at the front of the store speaking with Kaitlyn. She escorted him to Cole. Kaitlyn introduced him as D___. Cole thought she said “Diablo” but presumed he hadn’t heard correctly.
“Want to go to the storeroom?”
Cole knew it wasn’t really a question.
The man in the suit spoke before turning to face Cole. “That’s some religion you got there.”
Cole didn’t know how to respond. It hadn’t occurred to him that he might be fired. He wasn’t sure he’d sue if he were.
“Is that the worst of it?”
“Pugna is the worst day of the year.”
The man turned and nodded. “Do you plan on taking down the video? Until next year anyway?”
“I hadn’t thought about that.”
“I left Guadium’s up.”
“Seems to me it would make more sense philosophically if they were only available one day a year. Wouldn’t you agree?”
“I hadn’t thought ahead.”
“You’re probably right.”
“Legal thinks the same way.”
“You’re not Legal?”
“I’ll take it down when I get home. But people could have downloaded it.”
D___ offered Cole the look normally reserved for those asking for leave.
Cole removed the Pugna video from Noisism’s website but saved it to his hard drive as soon as he got home. He removed Guadian’s too. He avoided Twitter and the comment section of Noisism’s website for a few days. Eventually, Joe texted him:
I told you.
Cole looked at Twitter first. The number of comments floored him. Pugna produced fifty times the number as Guadium. He had no idea so many people even knew what Noisism was.
Finally a religion not afraid to tell it like it is.
The truth hurts. #PoorBaby
Cole decided he needed to cleanse himself. He planned a third holy for Noisism. Cole envisioned a day of public but anonymous confession, sharing and communal understanding. He also contacted @thecuspjoe to commence the process by which Noisism could receive donations to be put to charitable use.
Having concluded he was best suited to developing Noisism’s substance, Cole decided to trust that Joe and his guys knew what they were doing commercially and legally as well as @thecuspjoe did technologically. He anticipated Noisism would operate as a pass-through. Money would come in and he’d put it all to charitable use. But more came in than he expected. Far more.
Every week Joe reported numbers to him. Every week they were larger than the previous ones. In quick order, Cole found himself spending the majority of his free time investigating charitable causes, meeting with their principals, and giving his time, in addition to money, to those he decided to support. Homeless shelters, environmental groups, cancer support groups, foster dog rescue organizations. On a couple of occasions, he saw Kaycee at an event. He knew she’d devoted much of her free time to such causes before they ever met. He chose to give her space and allow her to approach him whenever she wanted. She never did.
Even with Joe handling the business aspects of Noisism, it soon became too much. Cole became concerned he didn’t have enough time to further develop the canon or finalize the confessional holy day, so he texted Joe to complain.
Quit your day job, was the response.
How can I do that?
Do priests work in factories?
I’m not a priest.
Right, you’re closer to the Pope.
Cole stared at Joe’s words for some time. Eventually he texted:
How will I live?
How much do you need?
Cole knew the answer was the same amount – more or less – that he’d been making at the pharmacy, but Joe texted again before Cole had responded:
You’ve earned every cent.
Once he’d resigned from the drug store, Cole worked on behalf of Noisism full-time.
- Humans are far from perfect. As a human construct, religions also always fall short.
In response to questions some Noisists had posted, Cole began providing additional commentary in the form of explanations and examples. Concerning Canon No. 2, Cole provided this Example:
Smoking, whether it be of tobacco, e-cigarettes, or marijuana, violates Noisism’s Canon No. 2 whenever the smoker smokes in proximity of another human being. Compare this to shooting heroin or snorting cocaine, which does not. Noisism does not advocate either of the latter activities because they could lead to violations of Canon No. 2 if a user is unable to control the habit, but smoking demonstrates a more immediate lack of consideration for one’s fellow human beings.
Concerning Canon No. 3:
Noisism supports all cancer research, not a particular form of cancer research such as lung cancer or breast cancer research. No one (form of cancer) is superior.
On January 3, Cole tweeted:
The third holy day is Feb. 1. #Noisism
A day for confessions and understanding called Fateor. #WeAllFallShort
On Noisism’s website, Cole provided additional details about Fateor. He envisioned Noisists gathering in small groups to anonymously write down acts they had committed that they wished to confess. Once all of the confessions had been collected, the groups would read and discuss the acts. He tweeted:
Recommend groups of 4 to 8. Need to give everyone enough time. Online groups possible but recommend meeting with Noisists in close proximity. #Fateor
Report the results right after. #Noisism
Cole called Joe because he hoped they could experience the first Fateor together. His partner coughed loudly before responding.
“I think I’ll do it with my guys.”
“I could fly out, meet the team.”
“I don’t think that would be a good use of Noisism’s resources.”
“Why? Are we losing steam?”
“No, we’re doing great. You should get a raise, in fact.”
“But we want the books to be clean, on the up-and-up.”
“I get that. I can pay my own way.”
“Didn’t you suggest people work with their local groups?”
Cole paused as he realized @thecuspjoe had never pushed back against any of his suggestions before. “I thought that would be convenient for most people, but Noisist leadership should meet sometime and this provides a good excuse for that.”
Joe hacked a deep cough. “Do we really need to keep the smoking example on the website?”
“We have the principle of not harming others. Not sure you have to specifically target smokers.”
“It’s not targeting smokers. It targets the activity. Noisism is always directed at the act – good or bad – not the actor.”
“We’ve been getting more complaints about that provision than any other. From good people.”
“Do you smoke, Joe?”
“What if I do?”
“It might be something to confess at Fateor.”
“Or nothing. Or you don’t. It’s a day for confession and understanding, not judgment.”
“So you say.”
Cole scrolled through the comments sent via Noisism’s website. He verified @thecuspjoe was right. Most smokers were defensive and claimed they created an annoyance at most and that they, in turn, were annoyed by lots of activities committed by their fellow human beings. More than a few sounded threatening. Some accused Noisism of religious tyranny as it sought to control behavior, not unlike the actions of other religions, past and present.
“It keeps membership and donations down.”
Cole stopped his cursor from moving past one particular submission. “Did you read the comment from Jen Arnold?”
Thank you for helping me understand. I’ve tried to quit smoking at least a hundred times. First, for my own health. Then because my family nags me. Also because of the cost. None of these made any difference. I’d stop for a while, then start up again. But you made me look at it a new way. You see, I like to think of myself as a good person. I’m a schoolteacher, and I volunteer all the time. I’m always giving money to charity. I don’t want this terrible habit to make me a lesser person. I decided to try to quit again the day after I read your post. It hasn’t been easy but I haven’t had a cigarette since. Thank you. Jen Arnold.
“Smoking doesn’t make me a bad person.” Joe spoke with great self-assurance.
“I didn’t say it did.”
“Anything else, Boss?”
Cole let go of his mouse. “I’m afraid we’re not communicating effectively on this point.”
“I’ll work on that.”
Joe hung up, and Cole observed he’d received a text from Kaycee.
Would you mind if I joined your group on Fateor?
You’re not a Noisist, Cole responded.
Kaycee immediately fired back another:
Does one have to be?
No, Noisism is always welcoming.
Great. Let me know the time and place when you know.
In the weeks leading up to Fateor, Cole had very little contact with @thecuspjoe or anyone else. He so immersed himself in Noisism’s canons, examples and explanations, he began to forget his other responsibilities.
- There are no miracles. Only unexplained events and events that defy the odds.
Explanation: The dominant religions developed long before the emergence of modern science when humans turned to God to explain what they otherwise could not. Noisism does not need to use “miracles” as the default. It accepts the limitations on human knowledge.
- God has no favorite sons and daughters.
Explanation: Life happens. Some human beings are luckier than others. Some make better choices than others. With billions of combinations at play, individual results may appear strange. Some of those who are helpful to most of their fellow inhabitants on earth suffer more than those human beings who treat other living beings with less kindness. Some who make good choices experience bad results while some of those who do not, get lucky.
- The only fairness in life is the lack of outside influence.
Explanation: The possibility for life was somehow set in motion. Since that time, life has continued to occur, develop and evolve without outside interference that would favor a particular life form or individual life. That hands-off approach ensures a sense of fairness – but certainly not equality – in life on earth (and possibly elsewhere). It does not produce a level playing field but means nothing outside the board tilts it. This limited form of justice could not exist were some Being to provide assistance to a select few while consciously permitting others to suffer.
- An afterlife could make everything alright.
Explanation: An afterlife could rectify all of life’s inequities. An eternal afterlife can readily overcome even the worst any human being, or any other life form, experiences. Time would win the day as even the most horrific and prolonged (by earthly standards) suffering becomes de minimis in the face of an infinite and completely positive experience.
The pounding on his door returned Cole to his pedestrian existence. He observed his cell phone flashing as he went to answer it.
His Ex Stephanie leapt at him through the first crack. “You bastard.”
Cole grabbed her hands after the first blow landed. Not much he could do about her legs. She got Cole cleanly on the shins a couple of times.
“Hush, I said he better be dead or dying and he obviously isn’t.”
“But he looks bad.” Emily opened her eyes wide and reached out to touch Cole. She fell a little short.
“Shoot, did I forget you?”
“Forget, my ass.” Stephanie struggled to break free. She was short and lacking in physical strength but had always been more focused and determined than Cole, harder to stop once she set a course in motion. “You never forget anything. Plus I sent you a thousand texts and calls.”
“What have you been doing, Daddy?”
Cole bumped into a couple of chairs during his retreat. “Working.”
“Working? I thought you retired on the basis of some great financial deal you worked out.”
“I still work, Steph.” Cole caught himself. He wasn’t allowed to call his ex-wife by her shortened name anymore. “In fact, I’ve got something to ask you. Both of you.”
With a table acting as protection, Cole sought to explain the history of Noisism. Stephanie repeatedly interrupted, but Cole kept his focus and asked if they would participate in Fateor with him.
“You invented your own religion? Cool.” Emily tugged on her mother’s long skirt. “I want to go to Daddy’s event.”
“Well, it’s not cool and you’re not going. It’s stupid. Who does such a thing?”
“I know it’s a little strange.”
“You think? You invent a religion and quit your job; you stop picking up your daughter and answering your phone and you say it’s a little strange?” Stephanie snapped her fingers three times. “I got to call what’s-her-name?”
“Who?” Emily asked.
“What’s her name. My lawyer. We’ve got to do something.”
“Now wait a second.” Cole moved toward his Ex while she dialed the number on her cell.
“Wait nothing. You’ve gone off the deep end. Shit, she’s not there.”
Stephanie dashed towards Cole’s computer. “Shit!”
“You’ve got your freakin’ computer password-protected. Just tell it to me.”
“No, fuck that. Just tell me the name of the goddam religion.”
“So I can join, of course, you moron. C’mon, so I can see what strange shit you’re putting up on the web.”
Cole withdrew from his Ex and spoke quietly to the empty half of the room. “It’s called Noisism.”
“Noisism. It means no one is superior.”
“No one is superior? That’s your core belief?” Stephanie took Emily’s hand and moved to the door. “We’ll see about that.”
“It’s my day with my daughter.”
Six individuals Cole didn’t know joined him and Kaycee at the first Fateor. After being rebuffed by @thecuspjoe, Cole learned hundreds of people would have attended the event with Noisism’s founder no matter what sort of travel was entailed. Cole thanked the believers but told them any group larger than eight would be unmanageable.
Cole decided he wanted a group where no one knew the majority of attendees. His consisted of himself and Kaycee; a middle-aged couple and their teenage son; a younger couple; and a senior woman.
Everyone gathered in the back half of a coffee shop. They all sat at a large round table that Cole had specifically sought because he didn’t want anyone to appear to be in the head position.
“I wanted to make sure I’m forgiven for everything.” The man in his late twenties placed a sheet of yellow paper with writing on it before him, somewhat to the center of the group. He was a muscular figure who wore a red flannel shirt.
“This isn’t about being forgiven for anything. I’m not God. None of us are. It’s more about revealing and understanding.”
“What’s the point of confessing our worst if we can’t obtain forgiveness?” The second half of the younger couple was a woman who had large Chinese symbols tattooed on both of her shoulders. These could be seen, along with her black bra, through her sheer blouse. Like her partner, she’d come with a prepared list and placed it before her.
“The act of public disclosure is important in and of itself. I hope we all come away with an understanding about ourselves and each other as human beings.” Cole looked about the entire table. “Maybe things will become clearer as we move through the process.”
“We didn’t prepare lists in advance,” the middle-aged man with designer eyewear said.
“Neither did I,” Cole said.
“Then give us back ours.” The man in the flannel shirt snatched the two sheets of paper with his gigantic hands and crumpled them into one large ball of yellow.
“I think we’re supposed to write items down one by one and have them discussed in turn.” Kaycee was dressed as Cole imagined she did when she went to Methodist services: conservatively in an off-white top and pressed black slacks so as not to make herself the focus of attention.
“That had been my thought, but there isn’t a right or wrong way to go about this.”
“But you’re in charge.” The younger female snuggled into her husband’s body.
“No, I’m…” Cole sighed, hoping to move past the preliminary procedures.
“I didn’t do it that way, but I actually think those guys did it right,” the teenager said. He’d styled his long black hair to completely obscure his left eye. “It will be hard to judge individual acts in isolation. I’d want to see the sum of a person’s sins.”
“It doesn’t sound like we’re supposed to judge the sinner, just the sins,” his father said.
“Or maybe we’re not supposed to judge at all.” The mother ensured no one in the family was at the same place.
“Why don’t we just get started?” Cole handed out pens and booklets of 3″ x 5″ paper and placed a shoebox in the center of the table. He quickly wrote a series of notes in succession on individual slips of paper. He folded each in half and placed them in the shoebox.
After staring for twenty or thirty seconds, the other members of the group imitated Cole, some doing so almost as quickly as if they were in competition. Cole was still adding to the box when he realized everyone else had finished. He paused with his pen in the air, then wrote one last note before stopping.
“We take turns drawing submissions.” Cole shook the box before handing it to Kaycee.
“Should we introduce ourselves first?” she asked.
“No, not until we’re through.”
Kaycee withdrew the first submission and read it to the group: “As a child, I poured water on ant hills and watched the ants swim for their lives.”
“Is that some kind of joke?” The man in the flannel shirt pressed his palms onto the table, then looked around it to see if he could identify the culprit. “That’s not a sin.”
“This isn’t about sins or sinning,” Cole said.
“All life matters. No one is superior.” Most of the group nodded after its eldest member had spoken.
“Yeah, but c’mon.” The man in the flannel shirt laughed to himself. “What’s the next piece of paper going to say? ‘I apologize for not putting the toilet seat down?'”
“What does everyone think about the submission?” Cole asked.
Kaycee straightened herself in her seat. “It says something that the writer would recall that many years later. It demonstrates an awakening of conscience over time. I’m sure the person views the world differently than as a child.”
“I think it shows cruelty.”
“It depends on the person’s age, Mom. It may have been more curiosity.”
“We’re going to be here all night if we beat these little ones to death.” The man in the flannel shirt folded his arms across his chest with impatience.
“Okay, next one.” Cole indicated that Kaycee should pass the box along.
The next few selections covered a range of topics including lying at work and undermining co-workers to get ahead in the corporate world, as well as stealing money from family members to support a drug addiction.
When the box arrived at the teenager, he pulled out a slip of paper quickly, but his excitement faded even before he finally let the words slide out of his mouth. “Had an affair with my husband’s brother.”
The man in the flannel shirt rotated and stared at his wife as if the power of his eyes would force her to confess.
“It would be better to write and read these as ‘cheated on spouse with sibling,'” Cole said. “Also, the point isn’t to identify the submitter.”
“Easy for you to say.” The other married male in the group looked no happier than the first. “I only see two women with wedding rings on here.”
“Others could be married but not wearing a ring,” the oldest member of the group said. “Or could have been married at the time of the offense.”
The teenager began to bounce in his chair. “This is fun.”
Cole clasped his hands and leaned into the center of the table. “The goal of Fateor is to gain an understanding that we all fall short of the way we should want to live.”
“Why?” Kaycee asked.
“Because if there’s an afterlife our lives on earth may be judged, and if that’s the case, I think we’ll all want a lenient judge.”
“Sounds like you have doubts. I’m confident about the way I’ve lived.”
“You’re young, sweetie.” The woman in her forties with freckles and short red hair held out her hand as if she intended to pet Kaycee even though the table separated them. “All the power to you if you can live 40, 50, 60 years without regret. But I’m with our leader. I’m hoping for leniency.”
“I didn’t say I didn’t have regrets.”
“You said you’re confident. Presumably about getting into heaven or some favorable place during an afterlife.” Unlike everyone else, the oldest member of the group had positioned her chair two feet from the table. “But what if God demands perfection? Are you still confident you haven’t done anything that could have offended Him or Her or never will?”
“But there’s got to be some line, right?” the middle-aged married man asked. “Some line we don’t cross. Or some amount of offenses that become intolerable. Otherwise, how can heaven be a reward?”
“Noisism doesn’t consider heaven a reward for having lived a good life. If it exists, it’s the reward for having lived at all.” The other attendees stopped their fidgeting and mumbling. They all focused their silent attention on Cole. “Sure, there could be some sort of accounting. But ultimately all human beings, perhaps life of all forms, have to get there. There can’t be a hell in the afterlife. No human being can ever deserve that fate.”
After a few more selections and quicker discussions, the box made its way to Cole. He picked out a slip and took a moment to read it to himself. He paused before reading a slightly altered version aloud: “I left a good person without explanation because I was scared. I thought the person had a dark side I didn’t want to experience but now realize the person had more strength than I ever will.”
The group was quiet for some time before the most senior member inched closer to the table. “It’s a little hard to transition between these because they vary so much, but I’m not sure the writer here did anything wrong. Most of us make poor decisions in relationships at one time or another. And sometimes we don’t realize this until years later. Maybe he or she should have at least explained their actions, but I can’t be too hard on the person.”
“But it’s like the first example,” Kaycee said, “the writer probably just feels bad about it.”
The young female threw her arms around her husband. “It’s too bad the writer didn’t tell their partner the reason. Maybe he or she can do it now even if a lot of time has passed. But love’s a tough game we all fuck up.”
Cole went home immediately after Fateor. He asked the other attendees to report on the day while he posted new canons on Noisism’s website.
- We all should forgive or none of us will be forgiven
- Humans should never want to be judged by other human beings.
Explanation: We have very temporary lives and experience life through a very limited prism. As such, humans tend to judge members of their species – but not themselves – more harshly than any Being who has seen the entirety of life hopefully will.
- An afterlife cannot include hell.
Explanation: Hell is life on earth. At least some of the time. There cannot be a place of infinite suffering because no human being – and no life form – would merit such treatment. All of the acts of any living being on earth can be explained. The acts of anyone who would subject a life to eternal punishment cannot. Time alone can provide justice, if needed. Surely a supremely intelligent being could temporarily delay the ultimate pristine experience for all or some individuals and require all or some individuals to appreciate the suffering they may have caused other lives to experience during their life on earth.
Cole didn’t have sufficient energy to post an update on Twitter, nor the enthusiasm to learn about the experiences of other Noisists. He lamented what he considered his failure to convey his understanding of Fateor to his fellow believers and the inability to convince them of its merits.
Kaycee called Sunday afternoon while Cole played a board game with his daughter. It rang three times while he debated whether he should answer until Emily told him to pick it up.
“You’ve gone radio silent.”
“I’ve been living with Em off-the-grid.”
“I figured as much.”
“You’re a star.”
“I’m sure I’m a black hole.”
“Mind if I come over?”
“I figured you were with Emily, so I was going to say later tonight, but I’ve missed seeing her too.”
“Kayc.” Cole sighed, then reached out and petted his daughter’s hair. “It’s not good for adults to go in and out of children’s lives.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I was scared. I apologize. I won’t come now if you don’t want. Or even later. But I’d like to see you and Emily whenever you think I can. I won’t run away again. I promise.”
Cole remembered how good Kaycee had been with Emily from the start. How his daughter appeared to relate to her better than to him. Whether that was because they were both female or she was younger, Cole didn’t know. He just knew Kaycee was good for both of them, but he still didn’t think it would be good for her to show up suddenly once more.
“Come by at 9:00.”
Kaycee’s return corresponded with Joe’s disappearance. Cole couldn’t reach his partner, despite frequently calling, texting and emailing him. Two weeks after his last post about Noisism – the day after an apparent successful Fateor in Kansas City – @thecuspjoe deleted his Twitter account.
Cole was surfing the web, looking for job openings for pharmacists and dreaming of returning to something akin to his former quiet life, when the pounding on his door returned. Cole quickly glanced at his phone to make sure he hadn’t forgotten his daughter again. Before he could get to his feet, the door rattling continued, this time accompanied by a booming voice. “FBI, open up.”
Cole paused two feet before the door, his hand extended towards the knob. “Mr. Mission, please open the door.” Cole wondered if the man could see through the barrier between them. And break it down if need be.
A smaller man raced past Cole as soon as the door cracked open, while the larger one, the one who’d surely spoken, put himself directly in front of his vision and held a badge and warrant before his face.
“We have a search warrant.”
Before Cole could ask why, the first agent left the apartment with Cole’s computer under his arm.
“Do you have any other computers in the house?”
Cole took his eyes off the shorter, quicker one and focused on the taller speaker. “No.”
“A cell phone?”
Cole reached into his pocket and held the phone in the air. The agent extended his hand. Cole placed the phone in the palm.
“Am I under arrest?”
“How am I supposed to notify anyone?”
The agent before him flipped the phone over his shoulder blindly. His partner emerged from the larger man’s shadow and caught it without breaking stride as he returned to Cole’s apartment, apparently looking for other property to seize. “Not our problem.”
If Cole had any reservations about the resumption of his relationship with Kaycee, she quickly put them to rest. She allowed him to use her phone and computer and put Cole in touch with a highly respected criminal defense attorney.
“You were either really smart or really lucky.” Cole sat in his lawyer’s office, while Kaycee waited in the lobby. “Most people, even if they weren’t greedy, would have taken a little for themselves or found some lavish indulgence and a way to justify it.”
Cole shrugged his shoulders.
“Last time. I’ve given my word. There’s nothing hidden anywhere?”
“Not by me. By Joe and the others, I have no idea.”
“Oh, I have more than an idea about them. And the FBI does as well. I just want to make sure my reputation will be intact.”
Cole understood reputation was everything to the man whose legal name was Milton R. Smith III but who went by Milt. Neither a stitch of clothing nor strand of hair was ever out of place. He charged a ridiculous sum, but Kaycee had convinced Cole his money would be worthless were he in prison.
“I’ve told you how I spent any money I received.”
“I know, you’re not a monk but you’re more austere than most religious leaders.”
“So what’s going to happen?”
“They want some restitution.”
“For stuff I didn’t take?”
“For some of the money given to the organization that you founded. They’ll be fair. Especially if they get ahold of the other guys.”
“You’re going to have to shut down Noisism.”
“What do you mean shut it down?”
“The website. The Twitter account. Destroy the videos.”
“It’s not a sham.”
“Neither is federal prison.” Milt leaned back in his chair. “You’re responsible, Cole. And they want it stopped.”
Cole twisted in his. “They want me to stop believing what I believe?”
“They want the business of Noisism to stop.”
“Are they going to shut down Catholicism due to priest abuse?” Cole watched Milt clasp his arms behind his head and grin slightly while refusing to take Cole’s bait. “Did they stop the United Way from operating because of financial improprieties?”
“You said you were looking to do less work on behalf of Noisism anyway.”
“Yeah but some people believe. Are they supposed to go searching again?”
Milt placed his feet on the floor and leaned across his desk. “You can put up a fight if you want. It’s your choice. You believe enough to risk going to prison, let’s play it out and see what happens.”
“Why not cut a better deal? Tell them Noisism won’t take any more money.” Cole met his attorney’s eyes and knew that offer had already been made and rejected. “Tell them I’ll pay all the money back over time.”
“You won’t make enough in your lifetime for that to happen.”
Cole had no idea how much money had been given to Noisism but understood his lawyer wasn’t joking. He softened his voice. “Shows you how many people believe.”
“Shows why the feds think they have to make a statement. Hey, you should go home and think about things so I can stop billing.”
Cole promptly sought Kaycee’s input, and she immediately told him to take the plea deal. “I know what’s in your heart. You can write something that explains everything before you have to shut down operations.” She waited for Cole to agree. “Anyway, this might even make the religion stronger. Like when Paul had to fight for Christianity. People will remember what Noisism was about. And the advantage you have is it’ll still exist forever on the Internet.”
Cole knew many others had likely downloaded the videos associated with Guadium and Pugna. What did it matter now if he destroyed the originals?
The government had given him a week to consider the plea. It was still a fortnight until Guadium, but Cole thought he should watch the video one last time.
Within minutes, Cole stopped worrying. He was reminded how good the world was. At least when it was good. He paused it after ten minutes and invited Kaycee to come over to watch the entire thing with him one last time.
Before she arrived, he intended to watch the Pugna video, but he stopped it after only a minute. He didn’t need to see anymore. He knew how bad the world could be as well.
Cole surfed the web while waiting for Kaycee to arrive. He saw a story that indicated Joe had been detained in Mexico. His government was working on a plan to extradite him. Cole considered calling his lawyer to see if this news would make a difference. Perhaps Nosisim could be spared. But the more Cole thought about it, the more unnecessary it seemed. Noisism had served its purpose just as the other religions of the world had, albeit on a much smaller scale. He’d never intended Noisism to become like them anyway.
Cole destroyed the Pugna video, then took down Nosisim’s website before Kaycee arrived. He deleted his Twitter account without any explanation.
He heard the doorbell ring and knew his girlfriend had arrived. Before opening the door, Cole deleted the Guadium video.
Kaycee greeted him with a big smile. He hugged and held her. He led her to the pool area where they sat in recliners in the waning sun.
“So we going to watch it?” she asked after fifteen minutes.
Cole extended his hand and she gave him hers. “There’s no need. Anyway, it no longer exists.” He saw Kaycee squinting as she looked in his direction. “But I can always make another.”
Kevin Finnerty’s stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Blue Lyra Review, Canyon Voices, FICTION on the WEB, The Quotable, The Rain, Party, & Disaster Society, VLP Journal and elsewhere. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and a pug named Shakespeare.