Here is yet another Wister Town story wherein evil comes home with news from a whistle blower. Larger evil takes the form of an expensive, modern-day cult grown outside the borders of this small Midwestern hellhole…
The phone rings and rings until I cross the bullpen at the office of the Wister Evening Times – a meager newspaper delivered with subscribers’ mail every weekday afternoon to the good citizens of Wister Town. Wister Town is actually a small city in Southern Wisconsin – ten thousand people and full of insignificance. Nothing happens here, almost nothing happens here, and we newspaper reporters, all two of us, often stretch High School sports articles with nonsense about cheese so that there are no blank sections in the typical, seventy-five cents, four-page editions. Expecting the same as everyday, I don’t rush to my desk and pick-up my phone. Usually, folks hang-up and call-back when stymied by an unanswered call – that or they abandon their effort entirely. I hope that. Yet the phone never stops ringing.
This time isn’t a scenario in which the caller gives-up and tries again. Nor does someone else call and now wait next for an answer. No, my phone never stops ringing. The clunky, black corded machine keeps perfect, mechanical rhythm. My footsteps across the linoleum covered concrete floor accompanies its song with a stumbling, human thump. Whomever calls now wants their singular message heard.
“You shouldn’t have broken the answering machine,” Sally Fowdyson tells me. The healthy middle-aged, concealed-gray brunette woman is the second reporter.
I’m the owner of our hometown paper. Our Internet doesn’t work either. Sally blames me for breaking our modem but she knows that isn’t true. Because I own everything in our tiny news writing monopoly, she says everything broken is my fault. I ignore her teasing and return to business. I answer my determined caller.
“Wister Evening Times,” I say before the receiver gets near my chin. Nearer my mouth, the receiver clearly delivers “Jason speaking.”
My decidedly male caller asks “Mr. Grentz?”
He says “You’re the editor.”
“Part-time,” I tell him. Despite dedicating maybe a couple hours every week to real editing, I confess and say “Well, I’m the only editor.”
He says “I used to live in Wister Town. It’s safe.”
“From who?” I ask chuckling. Most folks born in Wister Town move away right after graduation. Few call home and none are so paranoid. This worried prodigal son tells me “Ignorechs.”
I’ve heard of the unfortunately named religion. It’s a twentieth century cult whom sell their workbooks for a heck of lot more money than a year subscription for our paper. It’s a religious scam – a modernized Prosperity theology based on sham science fiction. “Fiction,” I say to myself. Then I mumble “Bad science fiction.”
My caller hears me and replies “Yep.”
There’s a nasal twang in his voice and I know the man is originally a local. A big urban environment has deadened his Midwest accent and this squeak slips through – probably occassionally and because of laziness. Despite recognizing the familiar noise, I’m instantly suspicious and proceed with caution. Our paranoia isn’t contagious. It’s bred in the corn and soy fields surrounding a little insular community. Growing-up in Southern Wisconsin, we’ve both been fed the stuff. Overcoming myself, I’m frank and ask my caller “What’s this about? Who are you?”
“I shouldn’t say,” he tells me.
I’m not surprised and say “Then why did you call this paper?”
He grumbles “I was getting to that. I just don’t want to say who I am.”
“An anonymous lead?”
I tell him “Anonymous applies to our readers. I’d rather know who I’m talking with.”
“Is that necessary?”
I’m a dick and investigate and I express my limits. “I like to know my sources. Nothing gets printed without that little stipulation.”
My caller pauses. His ticks and heavy breaths suggest he’s thinking, coming to terms or arrangements with himself. Eventually, the man overcomes his personal dilemma. He says “Tom Bikenstegger – you won’t print that, right?”
“No,” I say. “Well, it depends what you have for me.”
“Ignorechs,” he says. “It’s dangerous, especially for me right now.”
“You’re not selling books, are you Mr. Bikenstegger?” I hopefully joke.
“No,” he says and his voice quivers. “No, no…”
“Alrigthy, what can I do for you?” I assume his call has something to do with the world-wide spiritual organization Ignorechs. So that I’m certain, I ask him “They have their headquarters in Los Angeles, right?”
“Yeah,” he says without the pop at the end of his affirmation.
Dissuaded by the subject and smelling the Springtime manure of a marketing proposal, I tell Mr. Bikenstegger forthright “I’m not interested in Ignorechs. I’m sure there are a few suckers in Wister Town spending all their retirement money on that junk, but this paper is not going to perpetuate that nonsense.”
“You shouldn’t,” my caller agrees. “Not now.”
Mr. Bikenstegger then stalls. I assume he expects something from me, but I’m thinking. He’s gotten me curious. Although, he’s foolish to expect anything about a science fiction cult will appear in my small town paper – the kinda-related shit that happened at the Rathskeller restaurant was enough for me and all of this community. All the same, I’m curious. I don’t hang up and say “Okay.”
A little more time passes before I’m any more compliant. “What’s this about Ignorechs?”
Patient the whole time, Mr. Bikenstegger apparently uses the delay in our staggered conversation and excites himself. The man practically shouts.
“Come to the Ranch.”
“The Ranch? I’ve heard about that. Is that what Ignorechs call their headquarters? Everyone names their compounds the Ranch – Charlies Manson to Jim Jones.”
“No,” Mr. Bikenstegger says. He tells me “The Ranch is just outside Los Angeles, off the Angeles Crest highway.”
“I’m not going to Los Angeles,” I tell the man. “But what’s there?”
Agitated, Mr. Bikenstegger tells me “Daniel Miscarriage.”
“He’s the leader of Ignorechs. All you have to do is look him in his eyes. You’ll see. They’ve changed. He’s changed.”
“I hope for the better,” I reply sounding conceited. I recognize the disdain in my own voice.
Mr. Bikenstegger tells me “No, Zippo is here on Earth.”
“Zippo?” I ask imagining generations of cartoon characters with the name. Most characters are the same. They change with age and never wrinkle their cellophane.
“Zippo is why we’re here. He created mankind and he was imprisoned under a mountain on another planet.”
Here I interrupt. “Mr. Bikenstegger, I don’t think anyone here in Wister Town wants to know anything about an alien god. Our one is enough for everyone.”
My assertion is not so firm. I then ask, tongue-in-cheek, “What did Zippo do wrong? Is he being punished because of all his mistakes with humankind?”
“No, he’s here on Earth. He’s escaped.”
“And what did he do wrong?”
“He’s like Hitler, sir,” Mr. Bikenstegger strongly insists. More excited, he cries “This whole world is Auschwitz. He was gonna kill-off the human race.”
“I suppose he has the right,” I tell my insane caller. “Our God did flood us once.”
“That wasn’t Zippo,” Bikenstegger says on reflex.
I reply “I didn’t think so.”
“So who pulled us out of the ovens? The Americans?”
“We’re still there,” the mad man declares. “The difference is Zippo has been reincarnated. He escaped after he killed himself.”
“That’s convenient,” I suppose aloud.
Sensing my disbelief, Mr. Bikenstegger tells me “We’re all reincarnated. That’s how life works.”
“Maybe for Hindus and Scientologists…”
“All of us,” says Mr. Bikenstegger. “We’re immortal and that’s how it works. Zippo was never suppose to die. He’s been on the planet Boloks for seventy-five million years and he was suppose to stay there.”
“Seventy-five million years,” I contemplate within the deranged exchange. “I can understand why he finally got around to giving-up-the-ghost.”
“An electric battery kept him alive,” Mr. Bikenstegger explains unbidden.
“I’m sure,” I say, myself giving-up. “Still, seventy-five million years is an awfully long time. Those cells had to have drained sometime.”
Upset, Mr. Bikenstegger confronts me. “You don’t understand. Zippo is now reincarnated here on Earth. He’s been reincarnated as Daniel Miscarriage, the leader of Ignorechs.”
Suppressing my laughter the best I’m able, and allowing my voice to shake, I tell my un-medicated caller “I hope he’s enjoying sunny California.”
“You have to see,” Mr. Bikenstegger says. He’s distraught and his voice scrambles up in pitch.
“I don’t think so,” I say when I disagree with this crazy fellow.
Mr. Bikenstegger begs. “Please, people need to know. We need a safe place where all untainted humankind can muster an army. You have to tell people so Zippo doesn’t kill us and change the human race into a communism of gut-monkeys.”
“Belly-what?” I ask with creative license. I’m sure Mr. Bikenstegger understands what I mean. I have no clue what he’s talking about.
“That’s secret knowledge,” Bikenstegger tells me. “It costs three hundred thousand dollars, but I’ll tell you for free when you get to Los Angeles.”
“Is that a discount? An incentive?” I ask completely uninterested. I’m honest and tell the disturbed caller “No, thank you. It was nice to speak with you, Mr. Bikenstegger. Maybe you can call the newspaper in Darlington – the Journal.”
“Maybe, I don’t know…” he says as I lower the archaic receiver back into its cradle. The man shouts so I hear his words clearly until our call succinctly ends.
Laughing, I gaze at my co-reporter Sally Fowdyson. Too polite to eavesdrop, the curious woman sits quietly at her secondhand, steel schoolteacher desk. She asks me “What’s so funny?”
“Zippo’s coming to town,” I answer.
She asks “The clown?”
“No, our god.” Amusing myself, I burst again. My voice is staggered when I tell Sally “The god of the Ignorechs.”
“Dear Jesus,” she replies and immediately lifts her purse from an open desk drawer. She fumbles and blanches all the while. Noticing her frantic movement, I ask “Whats the matter?”
She tells me “Zippo will kill us all.”
The woman pulls a handgun from her beige handbag. The fact she carries a .38 Cobra is okay – she’s got a concealed weapon permit, thanks to our governor, Scott Walker, and I allow firearms in the office. I’ve got one. I just don’t understand why she pulls out her own.
“What’s going on?” I ask the woman.
Tears form in her eyes. Before she places the weapon beneath her chin and pulls the trigger – pummeling my own eardrums – she demands of me “Tell everyone.”