CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-SIX
“Did you see that?” Jacob asked.
He pointed to something in the distance.
“What?” Mike asked.
Delphie squinted at Jacob. They were standing in the main Castle kitchen.
“It’s Chapter ‘666’,” Jacob said. “You know — the mark of the beast.”
“I thought that was 616,” Mike said. “You know, if you translate the Greek into Latin and then Hebrew and. . .”
Jacob and Delphie gawked at Mike.
“What?” Mike asked.
“How could you possibly know that?” Jacob asked.
“Hey, I’m not an idiot,” Mike said.
“No one said you were,” Delphie said. “We’re curious. How you learned this information?”
“Oh,” Mike said, tapping his chin. “How do I know that?”
Mike thought for a moment before shaking his head.
“When I was held in the caves, you know, in Afghanistan?” Mike asked.
“You were held in caves in Afghanistan?” Jacob asked, sarcastically.
“Now you’re just being rude,” Mike said with an exaggerated sniff.
“Sorry, I couldn’t resist,” Jacob said. “You were saying?”
“One gentleman was from somewhere. . .” Mike said. “Israel? Egypt? I’m not sure. Ethiopia. That’s it. He was from Ethiopia. Looking at mineral contracts. Got picked up and. . .”
“Anyway, he went bonkers,” Mike said. “The pressure was too much for him. He started ranting about the end days. This was a particular thread that he went on and on about. If you translate the Greek into Hebrew, you get ‘666.’ If you translate the other way, you get ‘616.’”
Mike looked from Delphie to Jacob. He nodded at their baffled looks.
“Anyway, it was his rant,” Mike said. “I didn’t realize I’d paid so much attention to what he was saying. I guess it just kind of got in.”
Delphie opened her mouth to say something.
“Oh, and they found a parchment that clearly said ‘616’ on it,” Mike said. “Or at least that’s what the head of the group that held us said. He and the head of the people holding us argued about it for days.”
“Before you ask, he died,” Mike said. “I’m not actually sure how or where. I either don’t remember or I don’t know. He was just gone. Poof.”
Delphie and Jacob watched Mike for a long moment to see if he was done talking. He gave them a slight grin.
“What do you want to do?” Jacob asked.
“About what?” Delphie asked. “Mike’s friend?”
“He wasn’t really a friend,” Mike said. “He was just someone who was there.”
“The ‘666’ thing,” Jacob said.
“I think we just move on,” Delphie said.
“Move on?” Mike asked.
“We leave those who believe to believe what they will,” Delphie said. “We’re living our lives. What matters to us is what we believe.”
“Do you believe?” Jacob asked.
“In what?” Delphie asked.
“The whole ‘666’ thing,” Mike said.
“Oh,” Delphie said. “In order to believe in the ‘666’ thing, as you say, I’d have to believe that there was a Devil waiting to judge us, torture us for eternity — all of that.”
Jacob and Mike watched Delphie closely.
“And?” Jacob asked, finally.
Delphie gave him a tired nod.
“There was a culture called the Minoans,” Delphie said. “They built an entire culture from the island of Crete, in the Mediterranean. They developed about 3500 BC, you know, the same time that Neith hotep and Narmer were combining Lower and Upper Egypt and the beginning of the Pharaohs in Egypt. Anyway, the Minoans were an amazing culture — art, culture, great food, indoor plumbing. . .”
“Indoor plumbing?” Jacob asked.
“Both for waste and for water delivery to every home,” Delphie said with a nod. “Just think of it. For thousands of years, people just poured their waste onto the streets of London or Paris when in 3000 BC, there was already indoor plumbing.”
“Mind blown,” Mike said, softly.
“The Minoans disappeared around 1000 BC,” Delphie said with a nod. “It was a big mystery. ‘Where did they go?’ ‘How did this great civilization fall?’”
“Like the Anasazi,” Mike said. “You know, Meza Verde in Southwest Colorado?”
“Sort of,” Delphie said. “But we do know that the Anasazi wandered off to join the Pueblo people. The climate changed and they were pushed them out of their mud cliff homes.”
“How do you know this?” Mike asked.
“When I worked at the store? You know, pre-Covid? I had a client who was a geneticist,” Delphie said. “This is her work. It’s pretty fascinating. I was able to help her figure out where to focus.”
“I wonder how she’s doing,” Delphie said. She turned on the electric kettle for tea.
“You were telling us about the Minoans?” Jacob asked.
“Oh, right,” Delphie said. “Devil, burning in hell. . . So, this great civilization was wiped out by a huge volcanic explosion on a nearby island — Theta, it was called. It’s called ‘Santorini’ now. It’s only 62 miles away from Crete. Anyway, it’s a huge caldera with three or four active volcanos and it all blew. It was a ‘7’ on the volcanic explosion scale. 8 is the maximum. A ‘7’ is considered a ‘Super-Colossal’ explosion. In other words, it would have the effect of many, many nuclear bombs.”
Delphie made the sound “Pequew” and gestured with her hands as if there was an explosion.
“The lava, smoke, fire, and of course, the eventual tsunami, destroyed the Minoans,” Delphie said with a nod. “My ancestral knowledge tells me that this idea of a ‘Devil’ and ‘burning in hell’ come from the destruction of the Minoans. You see, everyone in the Mediterranean would have been affected by this explosion and. . .”
Delphie took a breath for emphasis.
“The end of this amazing culture,” Delphie said. “The Minoans had trade routes all through the Mediterranean. One day, they are buying and sell. One day, they are gone in fire and water.”
“Very biblical,” Delphie said. “Very ‘burn in hell.’ Don’t you think?”
“So, the Devil is a Minoan?” Jacob asked.
“The Devil is an ancestral memory of the destruction of a peak civilization,” Delphie said. “So is his fire and all of that.”
Delphie looked at Jacob and at Mike.
“Clear as mud?” Delphie asked.
Jacob and Mike nodded.
“Think of it this way,” Delphie said. “The genetics of the Minoans are very similar to the genetics now found in modern-day Europe. Inside of every European — which is also a lot of us — there’s a genetic memory of this huge explosion of fire, ash, brimstone, pumice. . . followed by a tsunami. We make stories of the things we remember. The Devil, his fire and all of that, are a pretty good story.”
“But not true?” Mike asked.
“Of course not,” Delphie said. “How self-absorbed do we have to be to believe that all of our actions are monitored by someone who wants to torture us for infinity? What did he do before we crawled out of Africa? I mean, really — did he keep ‘bad’ dinosaurs or soft shelled organisms or. . .”
Delphie shrugged and walked off. Mike looked at Jacob and he shrugged.
“What do you want to do?” Mike asked.
“Let’s just move on,” Jacob said. “We’ll end Chapter 666 with this conversation and move on. Certainly, there’s plenty going on. Who’s going to care?”
“Do you think we should tell the others?” Mike asked.
“I don’t know why,” Jacob said. He put his hand on Mike’s shoulder. “Let it go. No one cares about the chapter number.”
“Then why are we moving on?” Mike asked. “We could. . . I don’t know, make an entire play. We have teenagers and. . .”
“You know what — you’re right,” Mike said with a nod.
“Finally,” Jacob said.
“I don’t know why I’m arguing,” Mike said. “I never pay any attention to the Chapter number. I’m just here — living my life, you know?”
“My point,” Jacob said.
“Cereal?” Mike asked.
“I wanted to look up the stuff that Delphie was talking about,” Jacob said. “You know, the Minoans. Did you know what she meant by Narmer and. . . what was the name?”
“Neith hotep,” Mike said. “Nope, I’ve never heard of them.”
“First Pharoahs,” Jacob said. “That’s what she said. It never occurred to me that there weren’t Pharaohs in Egypt. You know? Weren’t there always Pharaohs in Egypt? I guess not.”
“How about this — I’ll pour, and you can look it up,” Mike said. “Read it to me and I’ll learn, too.”
“Good thinking,” Jacob said with a grin.
They spent the next hour reading about the Minoans and eating cereal. After two bowls of cereal, they got up and got back to their own lives.
And that was the end of this weird Chapter 666.
CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and SIXTY-SEVEN
Seven weeks later
Monday early morning — 5:15 a.m.
As they always did after Harvest Weekend, the weeks began to blur together. They had their first snow. Jacob and Blane were teaching the teenagers, including Noelle, how to shovel snow. The children were actually enjoying being school — masks and all. All parents were back at work. Valerie and Mike and their children had returned to Los Angeles for the People’s Choice Awards.
This morning, the employee owners of Lipson Construction were called into a video call before the sites officially opened. The men and women who turned on the equipment were following along by telephone.
“Okay,” Jacob said.
Jacob’s face was in profile.
“The camera is. . .” Aden said, pointing to the webcam on his computer.
Aden, Jacob, Tres, and Sam were in the offices of Lipson Construction.
“Thanks,” Jacob said, turning to the camera. “Good morning everyone!”
Turning to Aden, he asked, “Are they all here?”
“Okay,” Jacob said. “I just got off the telephone with the governor. Because we are essential workers, he is willing to let us vaccinate our entire crew including the non-owners.”
No one said anything. Jacob squinted into the camera.
“Is the audio on?” Jacob asked.
“What do we know about these vaccines?” a woman asked. “I’ve heard some really creepy stuff about them.”
“We know that they are safe based on the trials,” Aden said. “Thousands of people have taken them and the vaccine appears to have worked really well.”
“How do you know?” a man asked.
“I read the scientific paper,” Aden said with a nod. “You can too. We’ll send it around to you.”
“What you might not know. . .” Tres’s head appeared sideways. “. . . is that thousands of the vaccine have been given out in other countries already. The vaccination project is worldwide.”
“Isn’t the technology new?” a younger man asked.
“New to us,” Jacob said. “They’ve been working on it for decades — three, I think. Our friend Tanesha talked to the scientist who invented the technology. The science is sound.”
“And it works!” Sam’s voice could be heard in the room.
“Dad, why don’t you take my place?” Jacob asked.
Jacob moved away from the camera so that Sam could be seen.
“Delphie and I have been in a vaccine trial,” Sam said. “We are both well. I had some side effects after getting my vaccine, but Delphie didn’t have any. They thought maybe I had side effects because I’d already been so sick with Covid.”
Sam gave a sincere nod to the camera.
“I know that people are saying that this is sickness is not a big deal,” Sam said. “But I’ll tell you — I nearly died. I’m in great health. Outside of being older, I don’t fit into any category of pre-existing conditions. If Jake hadn’t seen me fall, I would be dead. If I hadn’t been able to get treatment, I’d be dead. And even with all of the help — acupuncture, all of your prayers and support, medications, hospital stays, everything — I still have effects from the virus. You don’t want to get this thing. Trust me.”
Sam stepped away from the camera.
“It looks like the vaccine is going to be two doses — one initial dose and then another four weeks later,” Jacob said. “Most of us have the Hep B vaccine so we know what this is all about.”
Most heads nodded up and down.
“Tres?” Jacob nodded to Tres Sierra.
“Here’s the thing,” Tres said. “Sam was in the hospital for almost a month. He needed treatment for an addition two months. While the insurance paid for everything, it was expensive. Really expensive.”
“If we all get vaccinated, we’re all protected,” Aden said. “If we aren’t all vaccinated, then we’re all at risk.”
“Why is that?” a man asked.
“Because the virus is airborne,” Jacob said. “You breathe it in.”
“If we get the vaccine, can we take off these horrible masks?” a woman asked.
“Hopefully,” Jacob said. “It depends on what happens to the virus.”
“What’s that mean?” another man asked.
“Viruses are living things,” Jacob said. “I think of them like bindweed. If you spray for bindweed, you may kill it where you’re spraying but. . .”
“It’s going to pop up somewhere else,” a woman said with a laugh.
A short lived laugh went through the crowd.
“Our friend Tanesha says that the virus can mutate,” Jacob said. “That means that it can get easier to catch and it could become more deadly.”
“Just awful,” Sam said.
“You are owners now,” Tres said. “You need to know that if a bunch of us get the virus, we can easily bankrupt our insurance plan. That will mean larger premiums in the future. The bottom line is this: without the vaccine, this virus has the potential to bankrupt the entire company.”
Tres let the silence linger and then said, “Let me say that again — this virus has the potential to bankrupt the entire company.”
“What do we do?” Jerry Siegle asked.
“We get the vaccine,” Bambi said. “We all agree here and now that we’re all going to get the vaccine.”
“What if we don’t want to?” a woman asked. “I heard that the vaccine was made from dead babies.”
The woman shivered.
“Then we’ll buy out your shares,” Sam said. “We’re in the ground, people. We deal with the world of excrement and pee.”
“And?” someone asked.
“The virus can be spread by feces and pee,” Aden said. “Our masks and social distancing has protected us so far. There’s no way to know what will happen next year.”
“I want to know what Delphie says,” an older woman said. “She’s never been wrong. Not in my experience. She was right about the masks, hand washing, and social distance. Hell, my grands go to the Marlowe School and she set up the schedule and the cleaning and everything that’s keeping our kids safe. What does Delphie say about this whole thing?”
“She says that we’re just at the beginning of this pandemic,” Aden said. “Those who take care by getting the vaccine, wearing masks, washing their hands, social distancing — they will survive it. But we need to remember that the flu that killed so many people in 1918 is still around. We just call it ‘Influenza A’ and get it in our yearly flu vaccine.”
“Our best chance at surviving — as a company and as individuals — is by taking the vaccine,” Jacob said. “Delphie was very clear.”
No one said anything for a long time.
“Fuck it,” one of the new site managers said. “I’ve got three kids. My wife’s working online now. Maybe some of you can afford to be sick, but we can’t afford for me to be sick. And, I know that I can quit. But I get a really good private school for my kids for pennies, childcare for the baby, and free healthcare for the whole family.”
“Good healthcare, too,” a woman said. “I don’t know anyone who’s been denied something they need.”
“I even got a check for the profits this year,” he said. “Because-a Jake. If he tells me I need to take a vaccine? I don’t give a shit what anyone else says; I’m going to pick a shoulder and get the vaccine. I expect everyone who works on my team to do the same — especially if your choice is a vaccine or a new job.”
“Here! Here!” D’Shawn and Pete said in unison.
“I move that all Lipson employees are vaccinated,” Bambi said.
“Or they leave,” the newest owner said. “Hey, I may have only been here a year, but I know a good thing when I’ve got it. My friends aren’t working. My best friend from the last place has had to foreclose on his house. But, I’m here working like it’s normal time, not pandemic time. My family is safe. My kids are in school. So, Jake tells me I need a vaccine, I’m going to ask for one for my wife and my kids.”
“We haven’t received authorization for partners and wives, yet,” Jacob said. “But I’ll make a point of asking.”
“Get Val to ask,” a woman who’d worked at Lipson since nearly the beginning. “Doesn’t she have the voice?”
Jake gave her a vague look.
“She’s in LA,” Aden said. “People’s Choice Awards.”
“There are telephones there,” Bambi said.
“Let’s vote on this first,” Jacob said. “You vote by raising your hand. It’s a button on the bottom.”
“All those in favor of a mandatory vaccine policy for all Lipson Construction owners and employees, raise your hand,” Aden said.
“Nearly everyone has pressed the ‘raise hand’ button,” Aden said. “We’ve marked down those who have not. Sam will circle back with you to see what you’d like to do.”
“Thank you everyone,” Jacob said. “I think we’ll get the vaccine in a week or two. I’ll let you know. We’ll set up clinics at the site to make sure that everyone gets a shot.”
“I have to tell you that we’re very lucky to have the vaccine,” Tres said. “Jake’s worked tirelessly to make sure that everyone stays safe and alive in this pandemic. So far, we’ve had no cases — except for Sam and a couple of others early on. We just have to stay the course and we’ll survive the pandemic.”
“A few construction companies have closed,” Jerry said.
“Exactly,” Tres said.
“Thank you for coming!” Jacob said. “We’ll be in touch!”
The call ended. Aden, Jacob, Tres, and Sam just looked at each other for a long minute.
“What do you think?” Aden asked.
“I think it went really well,” Sam said.
“There were a bunch of people who didn’t vote for the vaccine,” Aden said.
“Two of them are immunocompromised,” Tres said.
“Organ transplants,” Jacob said.
“The rest are probably in a similar boat,” Sam said. “We won’t know until we talk to them.”
“I wonder if Tanesha would talk to them,” Jacob said.
“Good thinking,” Tres said. “I’ll call her.”
Jacob nodded to Tres.
“Good work everyone,” Jacob said. “This pandemic has not been easy. We’ve made it so far. I’m proud of all of us.”
“I’m proud of us too,” Aden said. “You think we’ll make it through this?”
“I do,” Sam said, before Jacob could answer. “I really do.”
The men looked at each other for a long moment.
“Did you know that there was like two feet of brimstone that smothered everything. . .” Jacob started.
“Are you still talking about the Minoans?” Tres asked with a groan.
Jacob nodded and everyone laughed.
Denver Cereal continues next week...
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.