“I quit. Three weeks ago,” Druk announces. After almost sixty years of daily grak huffing. Not that anyone was counting. It took a diagnosis of Level 5 Schitzach’s Disorder and the reaming out of a couple valves to deter him. Now he has to stop every few steps to catch his breath and suck pure Vapotal into his lungs through medical-grade tubes. At this rate, they will not make it the three blocks from Dickie’s house to the beach before nightfall.
                    “Nasal cannuter valves,” says Bjorn, reading from a tiny screen projected in the air by his smartglasses. Bjorn’s a retired digital archivist, what used to be called a librarian. “I looked it up—that’s the name of the tubes.”
                    “How does it feel to be . . . clear-headed?” Dickie says to Druk. They hadn’t seen one another for thirty or forty years.
                    Quincy smirks. Then they all chuckle at the question, because forty-five minutes ago they’d each swallowed 500 milligram capsules of pharmaceutical XSD-21. For old time’s sake.
                    “I guess I wouldn’t know,” Druk says.
                    They’re crossing, very slowly, the vast empty parking lot of the Goreman Church that occupies several acres in Dickie’s upscale neighborhood. None of their knees are what they used to be; indeed, Dickie’s are titanium and Teflon. They sit under a lone cypress tree on a bench kindly provided by the absent Goremans. At the top of their spines, they can feel the tingle of the XSD coming on.
                    “Must be hundreds of parking spaces,” says Bjorn.
                    “Hundreds . . . ” says Dickie. He lives around the corner but, until now—hosting his old roommates for their college reunion—he’s never given much thought to the valuable tract of land occupied by the lightly used church just a few Frisbee tosses from the Pacific Ocean, or for that matter to the hyper-accelerating passage of time. Has it really been fifty years since they graduated?
                    Bjorn stands, his former Viking frame now stooped as if nudged forward and pulled down by his long white Gandalf beard, and he begins counting the parking spaces.
                    “One hundred . . . 120 . . . 130 . . . ” says Bjorn, marking them off in the air with a long, wand-like finger.
                    “Goremans, for fuck’s sake!” says Quincy, still the preppy-with-a-potty-mouth.
                    “Or is it Goremen?” says Dickie, a former English teacher, and suddenly they are all back in school, in the quad apartment they shared for two semesters. Dickie’s girlfriend at the time was from Duncan, Idaho, and he and Druk had road-tripped there during the previous summer and visited the famous 150-cubit tall Goreman Temple in nearby Allskate City. Druk immediately dubbed all the clean-shaven, short-haired Goreman men Goremen, and their modestly covered-up women Gorewomen. On the tour they jocularly signed up their absent roommate Quincy (who had briefly been a Religious Studies major) to Learn More about the Church of Bob Goreman of the Genuine Authentic American Yaga (BGGAAY), aka the Goreman Church. And sure enough, just a few weeks later, two buzzcut BGGAAY Gelders rang the buzzer of their campus apartment, one younger Gelder about their own age and one elder Gelder about the age of their parents, wearing identical nondescript suits and skinny ties and black shiny FBI shoes. They lugged briefcases bursting with flyers, a filmstrip projector, and a portable screen. Quincy whimsically welcomed them; Dickie, Druk, and Bjorn disappeared into a back bedroom to huff a couple bowls of primo grak. The elder Gelder pretended to admire the paisley tapestries and blacklight posters in the living room, as the younger Gelder set up the projector and screen. It was the Olde Style filmstrip technology—a roll of 35 mm still images, like illuminated comic book panels, accompanied by a recorded soundtrack on cassette tape. The timed narration and music for each slide ended with a loud and incongruous BEEP! tone, which told the operator to manually advance the film to the next frame. This was state-of-the-art educational AV when their Zoomer Generation had been in elementary and middle school (e.g., Your Changing Body: “You may have noticed hair beginning to grow around your penis or vagina. BEEP!”).

Slide 1. Introduction. Teaser illustration of Bob Goreman discovering the bejeweled Bodacious Manuscript in his Idaho potato field. Goreman clutches a shovel, his face aglow in the radiance emanating from the Manuscript. Dramatic music. Narrator: “When the Moronic Angel appeared to him and instructed farmer Bob Goreman to dig up the Bodacious Manuscript in 1800-something, no one knew that the world was about to discover the Mysterious Interplanetary History of Baba Yaga and behold the True and entirely New Religion. BEEP!”

Slide 2. Illustration showing open pages of the Bodacious Manuscript in foreground closeup, with illegible shimmering text framed by multi-colored jewels. Surrounding the book are cutout faces of (clockwise, from top) the saintly witch Baba Yaga being crowned by Yeshua, the longhaired American Jesus; Bob Goreman, Idaho potato farmer; three caricatured teenage Native women reaching out to Bob Goreman with sly smiles; a crowd of bewildered townfolk. Dramatic music. Narrator: “Here you will learn some of the secrets unearthed by Bob Goreman that fateful day, secrets that quickly became the Pillars of the Church of Bob Goreman of the Genuine Authentic American Yaga. How Yeshua appeared to the Ancient Nez Perce Indians and introduced them to Baba Yaga. How Baba Yaga herself then revealed to All the People the mysteries of Loa Pygmy and Yo Gym Lap . . . Etc. . . . BEEP!”

Slide 3. Illustration of Bob Goreman dictating the contents of the Bodacious Manuscript to a wide-eyed local reporter. Dramatic music. Narrator: “Now in the actual words of Bob Goreman as recorded in his sacred journal . . . [different voice] ‘Behold I was instructed by the Moronic Angel to keep the Bodacious Manuscript away from prying eyes, to secure it within my abode, and thereto commit the Pillars of Baba Yaga to memory, to which task I devoted myself entire for some weeks thenceforth, whereupon I must then, as instructed by the Angel, destroy and dispose of the Shimmering Text such that no Other Mortal might regard it without True Understanding. Thereafter would I seek a Scribe of the People to whom I would regurgitate the Pillars from within the recesses of my mind . . . ‘ etc. etc. BEEP!”

                    The Goreman Gelders had been undeterred by the groans that followed every BEEP!, or the shivering of grak-enhanced suppressed laughter, or the tear-streaked cheeks of their audience. They resolutely completed the 33-slide filmstrip and opened the floor for questions, but hearing none, they quietly packed up their projector and screen, smoothed down their skinny ties and rebuttoned their nondescript suit jackets.
                    “Nice tapestries,” said the younger Gelder, somewhat longingly, as they departed.
                    “The Goremans!” Quincy repeats now, snapping them all back to the present, four men in their 70s an hour after ingesting a combined 2000 milligrams of pharmaceutical XSD-21, on a bench in the parking lot of a BGGAAY church on the California coast.
                    “Five hundred,” announces Bjorn, referring not to the individual dosage of the hallucinogenic caps they’d swallowed but to the number of parking spaces he’d counted. “Almost 500 . . . I get 235 on the surface alone, so with hovercars stacked overhead, that would be 470, full capacity.”
                    “Actually they prefer to be called Genuine Authentic American Yagas,” says Quincy, his authority on religious matters seemingly unabated even after switching his major from Religious Studies to, inexplicably, Classics. He gestures as if to borrow Bjorn’s smartglasses, maybe to verify his understanding of Goremanism, but Quincy seems to have pulled this information directly from his still-prodigious brain matter. Enhancing his ecumenical credibility, he’d ended up becoming, through life’s many twists and turns, an historian for the Ancient and Beneficent Fraternal Order of Bosons and had been anointed a Master Knight Commander of the Secret Quantum Tabernacle—a 39th Degree Boson. Knowing him in college, none of the others would’ve pictured the cynical and ironic Quincy as a Master Boson, grappling with the esoteric mysteries of the subatomic building blocks of the cosmos and their expression in human morals and philosophy.
                    “You . . . had to count them all,” says Druk to Bjorn. He takes a big gulp of Vapotal through the nasal cannuters, as if about to go underwater. Druk, they’ve long recognized, represents their weak-ass claim on diversity. Without him now, they would be just a group of Old White Zoomer Men. True, Druk means binge drinking in Danish, the language of Druk’s northern Euro father. But Druk is also the Thunder Dragon of Tibet and Bhutan, where Druk’s mother was born, giving him his Central Asian eyes, his indigenous-looking cheekbones and olive skin, now parched and wrinkled and stretched taut by a long gray ponytail, so that he looks almost like an aged Yeshua, the American Jesus of Goreman legend. Yeshua the Thunder Dragon.
                    The XSD has begun to make conversation more challenging. But Druk has a tune in his head. “I read the news today,” he says. “Oh boy.”
                    “Count them all,” says Dickie. He’s staring at the backs of his hands, mesmerized by the network of veins, pulsing masses of blue worms. Druk had once told him you could tell a person’s age from the eyes and the hands.
                    “Although no cars were ever there . . .” says Druk.
                    “I had to count them all,” says Bjorn, catching on.
                    “Now-we-know-how-many-parking-spaces-fill-the-Goreman-lot,” sings Druk, and they all chime in, “We’d love to turrrn . . . yoooou . . . onnnnnn!”
                    “You guys are killing me!” says Druk as they high-five—gently, so as not to wrench a shoulder.
                    “Actually, your heart is killing you,” says Dickie, “or else the Schitzach’s Disorder.” He means it lightly, impishly—he’s a retired educator, not a doctor—but it comes out sounding ominous.
                    “We’re all dying,” says Quincy, who’d told them earlier he has Stage 3 Metastructural Pediculosis.
                    “Some faster . . . than others,” says Bjorn, pulling on Gandalf’s beard, and they all spin off into the Land of Pharma.
                    “Did you . . . ” says Dickie.
                    “Was it . . . ” says Druk.
                    “My . . . ” says Bjorn.
                    “I’m . . . ” says Quincy.
                    An hour later, or it might be five minutes later, they can’t tell, a hovercar turns into the lot. The headlights are on, so it must be dusk. Bjorn is still standing, or he is again standing, the others still (or again) on the bench under the cypress tree. It’s the only bench in the parking lot—technically, it’s on the edge of the parking lot—and it faces, across a wide expanse of asphalt, what appears to be the main entrance to the Goreman Church. The car zips by them, about six feet off the ground, leaving streaks of visual and auditory trails for the hallucinating observers, then it slows and circles the lot, settling down into a ground-slot a respectable distance away. After some rustling around, the driver shuts off the electro-humming engine and emerges.
                    “It’s a woman,” whispers Dickie, which they can all see. She only glances in their direction, not close enough to see their averted eyes or dilated pupils, as she makes a beeline for the entrance. Maybe the age of one of Dickie’s or Bjorn’s grown daughters, she’s dressed in the Plain Style, her hair up in a bun, which screams out Goreman—a Goreman woman.
                    “Gorewoman,” says Druk. The initial peak of the XSD has waned enough to allow conversation again, punctuated by sensory special effects.
                    “Only ten years ago were women allowed to become Gelders in the Goreman Church,” says Quincy in his learned-but-annoyed manner. He notes that the traditional practices of Loa Pygmy and Yo Gym Lap—to which they’d been introduced years ago in the Goreman filmstrip, which had failed to mention that these practices were eventually outlawed in every state—had historically relegated women to Second Class or Third Class tickets on the Goreman Train.
                    “Wait a minute . . . how many women do you have in your Quantum Tabernacle, Master Boson?” says Dickie.
                    Quincy sneers but loves to spar with Dickie and the others. “Hardly a fair comparison, since we’re not a religion, and the Bosonic Order was originally a Brotherhood. But did you know that Bob Goreman’s earliest followers were also Bosons? So if you think . . . ”
                    Abruptly, all the church’s outdoor lighting comes on, long parallel rows of yellow-tinted bulbs and cannisters lining the grounds and the roof overhangs. At first it seems to them a giant flying saucer has just landed, or is about to take off.
                    Did the woman turn the lights on? Or maybe they’re on a timer? In any case the atmosphere has transformed. The building was inert and now it’s alive, occupied by the Gorewoman. No longer Men Without Women, the old friends are high but also on alert. They may be intruding. Being watched, monitored. Seemingly for the first time, they notice the building is only one story and has no churchly stained glass, in fact no windows at all. It looks more like a lit-up bunker than a House of Worship.
                    Bjorn consults his smartglasses and it turns out the Goreman satellite churches that proliferated in Western states following the martyrdom of Bob Goreman and deification of Baba Yaga—unlike the massive Temple Headquarters in Allskate City—are built mostly underground, below the surface.
                    “Like icebergs,” says Bjorn.
                    “Trippy,” says Druk, imagining the submerged chambers.
                    “What do you suppose they do down there?” says Dickie, the way he once posed rhetorical questions for dramatic effect in his literature classes.
                    The only visible concessions to churchliness are the spindly twin steeples at one end, like antennae or chimneys rising from a flat, Brutalist concrete mass.
                    “On the surface, it looks like a crematorium,” says Bjorn, sending a chill through them all.
                    “But with twin towers,” says Druk, adding terrorism to the Holocaust. But they know he means “twin bell towers,” which calls forth a different memory, from France half a century earlier, the last time they’d taken psychedelics together. Shortly after the four of them had met at their Semester Abroad in Provence, they all decided to eat Windowpane and visit the Cathedral at Ascalon-sur-douches. It had probably been Quincy’s suggestion. The Ascalon Cathedral took 400 years to complete, an architectural wonder built by generations of Master Bosons (according to Quincy, long before he himself became a Boson) and anonymous stonecutters and laborers. They decided to climb one of its famous symmetrical 150-cubit towers—yes, coincidentally, the same height as the hairline of the Moronic Angel atop the pinnacle of the Goreman Temple in Allskate City.
                    This almost immediately seemed like a bad idea. The circular staircase was dark, dank, cramped, and suffocating, while their windowpaned brains were ready to fly apart at the seams. But they persevered, driven by a drug-fueled notion to ring the bells like Quasimodo at Notre Dame. It would be a religious experience. They would hold their shit together in the tower by counting all the steps to the top. They called out the numbers as they climbed. Whenever someone lost count, which was frequently, they all stopped, and someone else who knew what step he was on counted up or down to that guy, then they resumed. Round and round, up and up they went, mostly looking at their feet, counting, counting. Somehow in this manner they made it to the top of the North Tower, exactly 392 steps. Now-they-knew-how-many-steps-to-climb-atop-the-As-ca-lon . . . I’d love to turrrn youuu . . . Alas, the North belfry was empty—the bells were in the South Tower. But the view! The vista up the Rivière Gaston, from Diomira to Berenice, was a dizzying burst of light and color, sensory overload following the claustrophobic stairwell. The landscape and the cityscapes irrevocably intertwined, a sparkling crazy quilt filled with what they knew were hidden patterns. It was a heavenly vision after all.
                    Going back down went much faster, with no need to count, and the Cathedral proper was almost anticlimactic even as their hallucinations became more intense. The sagging stone floor seemed to roll in waves under their feet, the arches and arcades rippled and breathed. They explored the nave and choir, were drawn like moths to the shimmering stained glass. Then the walls started moving and the whole massive, multi-genre Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance structure became unstable. When the dead cardinals recumbent in their white marble tombs awoke, lifted their heads, and wiggled their toes, the boys high-tailed it out of la cathédrale d’Ascalon.
                    “Gentlemen!” They are wrenched back to the present again by the Goreman woman, the Gorewoman. She has poked her head out the door.
                    What does she want? All the old Zoomer drug paranoia kicks in. Is she a security guard? Will she report them to the sheriff, to the local Goreman Gelders? Maybe the sheriff is a Goreman Gelder.
                    “Excuse me,” she calls. Bjorn, Dickie, Druk, and Quincy look up. They are floating in time. They are all dying, some faster than others. How many years, months, weeks could they count on having left?
                    Maybe she’s a custodian. She wasn’t carrying any cleaning equipment from her hovercar, but surely the wealthy BGGAAY Church would have subterranean closets full of janitorial supplies, along with their other apocalyptic provisions.
                    “Fellows?” she says.
                    Or is she simply a Goreman worshipper—cloaked in the Plain Style, she could be a domestic worker or a venture capitalist, a doctor or a lawyer, a homemaker or a barista—just a member of the congregation entrusted with a key, seeking communion with Baba Yaga and solace from the World of Pain?
                    “Is everything all right?” says the woman.

Richard Holeton is author of the hypertext novel Figurski at Findhorn on Acid, now on the web and recently adapted as a radio play by Re-Imagined Radio, and other widely-exhibited electronic and multimedia literature. His short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, Mississippi Review, ZYZZYVA, F(r)iction, and Litro Magazine, among other journals. His awards include fellowships from MacDowell, the National Endowment for the Arts, Dora Maar House, and the California Arts Council. A former writing teacher and administrator at Stanford University, he lives near Half Moon Bay, California. More information is available at