It’s an old memory. I was in the first congregation I can remember, though not the first I’d attended. This was one meeting among thousands. There was no special reason for it to burrow into my memories, except that it did, because of the unscripted intrusion that struck the audience with silence, dismay, and fear.
Elder Soandso got up to deliver his talk. It started ordinarily; nothing special. I scribbled blue pen on notebook pages, carving out little doors that I could open, behind which I drew the faces of smiling monsters. Brother Soandso droned on for five minutes, his breathing becoming staggered, his face sweating as he veered the talk on an unusual course.
I was too young. Too innocent. But something was wrong. I could feel it in the tension of the way my parents sat.
‘ … so you see, brothers, in my research I’ve uncovered … ‘ his voice droned as I came in and out of paying attention. He used unfamiliar words. One of them may have been Illuminati, but I cannot be sure. I was very young. I do remember the next bit, the thing that got the elders raising to their feet to swamp the platform; hungry birds caving in on a lonesome worm.
‘You have to wake up,’ brother Soanso implored. ‘The organisation is run by Satan and his demons. Don’t you see? You’re following a false prophet!’
I lost sight of Brother Soandso as the elders caved in around him, a wall of bodies and grey suits, of shaking heads and muttered reprimands. Brother Soandso was ushered away, removed from sight, disappeared from view … silenced. And then Brother Soandso ceased to exist.
Within days of Brother Soandso’s outburst, a rumour went out among the flock. From where it had come, who could say? But it had to be the truth, as everybody was saying so, and everybody knew that Witnesses wouldn’t lie. We could trust our brothers and sisters in Jehovah. This fact was most certain, one we knew above all else.
It became common knowledge that Brother Soandso had been rushed to hospital. To behave in such a way, he could only have been very sick. The doctors took scans that revealed a terrible brain tumour, which had deformed his thinking, causing him to become mentally ill. It was said that Satan seized this freely gifted opportunity to infest Brother Soandso while his senses were compromised; to make him a puppet, performing the Devil’s bidding.
The memory became concrete in my uncomprehending mind. It stole a place and burrowed down deep. It told me to remember it when I was a little older, a little wiser. It told me to hold it close. Because one day … I would see.
And now I see.
I’ve had occasion to wonder after Brother Soanso. It didn’t escape my notice that he never returned to the meetings. Neither did his family. There was no funeral, so I could only assume he’d survived whatever procedure was endured. He never returned, even as a drooling, mindless thing to be pitied in a chair until the new system came. It occurred to me that this was strange, since sick and elderly people were always adorned with such regard when they pushed themselves to make it to a meeting. Brother Soandso was forgotten; his family too. They were never spoken of, except for the occasional whispers of, ‘What a pity about old Brother Soandso … ’ and, ‘I wonder whatever became of him?’
Nobody troubled themselves to find out.
Perhaps he’d had a brain tumour. Yes, and perhaps not.
One hundred thousand years later, I stand across dimensions of time and space viewing that carpet smelling world of peach curtains and suffocating yellow bricks, of poisonous voices of servitude. I see them. I see them all. I see it from the infinitesimally diminishingly eternally enlarging perspective of the skeptic’s eye, awake and untired, where whispers once suppressed now scream the truth of Brother Soandso’s journey. He did not have a brain tumour. He had woken up.
As my young mind reeled in horror, the fetid thing that remains today recognises my first encounter with an apostate; an awoken hero of early days. These are the ones who came before us, the ones who found strength before the internet and the tens of thousands of like minds it contains. These ones stood up alone to look wickedness in the eye, without an audience who praised them. Yes, Brother Soandso, wherever, whoever you are, I salute you. Across the void of time, I catch but a glimpse of your lonesome pain. Now, I am just like you, but I don’t have to be so alone. For there are others like us, now, with hands linked. Together we will complete that which you boldly sought to accomplish. For we are stronger, together, and we are more solid than you could’ve ever imagined.
And for those who would seek to divide us, to drive us apart, remember always the solitary plight of those who came before us. Remember how easily Brother Soandso was silenced. Remember how little we could accomplish as solitary bodies. Remember how only, and only ever as many … as all of us, as this great and monstrous tens of thousands of voices screaming together, we will watch the darkest Tower fall.
Let we, the screamers, scream. Let us scream together.