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“Ghosts of Utopia”




Chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20




©Ghosts of Utopia

A novel by James Gilbreath

(copyright 1999)


Chapter One


            The lantern light glistened on the black satin hood, which covered the man’s head and his identity. He stood over six feet tall, towering above his bleary-eyed congregation. They sat on the cold floor and listened to their leader preach his twisted, half-truths and enchanting lies. His voice was deep and throaty, another tactic to hide his identity.

            None of the men in the holy place cared who he was or was not. They were there, reaching for Utopia. They were feeling sublime and nothing else mattered. Not homes, friends nor family; not even God. They didn’t need them. All they needed was the man before them. He was omnipotent, a god. And with his help and guidance they would all become gods with their own worlds to create and watch over. This was what the divine one, who stood before them, had said and they believed him. He would not lie. He could not lie. He was god.

            The god of Utopia concealed in the flesh of a mere human being, raised his hand and the men in his congregation looked up at him expectantly, with reverenced awe. The green eyes that looked at them from the measure of ebony were so piercing they could have cut the holes they looked through. A tiny reflection of the lantern seemed to float deep within each green orb.

            A heavy, pungent smoke hung in the still, cool air of the holy place. His people eagerly awaited his words, anticipating the next step toward Utopia. Each man waited. They waited for the words, but mostly they waited for the pipe bowls filled with the brown powder that made the words easy to believe.

            The small, oriental girl stood several feet to the right of the hooded man, her lash-less eyes, unblinking in the heavy smoke. She had a job to do and she did it diligently, so the self-proclaimed Messiah would not hit her. She could make no mistakes. He expected perfection.

            In a deep, wooden bowl, using a small iron bar, six inches long and one inch thick, she crushed the small dark brown bocks into a dark brown powder. She then filled the small pipe bowls with the powder and passed the pipes out one by one to each of the devout, but impatient, men. Everyone was careful not to spill one grain of the precious powder that would take them to Utopia.

            As they lit the pipes, their god spoke. “Let us enter Utopia. It will be ours. Our father, Thomas Moore was the first god of Utopia. He gave us the Great Peace. Even though there are disbelievers all around us, we shall not fall. His staff, it comforts us.

            “You can be like him. Someday you will be gods. You will be omnipresent, all knowing. Enter the tranquility of Utopia. Lay back. Relax. Enjoy the Great Peace.”

            Slick Barger entered the room behind the congregation of Utopia-bound zealots. The hooded head nodded and motioned him to a black curtain against the wall behind the table, where the Oriental girl worked. As the man walked through the semiconscious bodies and behind the curtain completely unnoticed, the green-eyed god continued his bombastic rhetoric.

            “Smoke the pipes of peace and feel the calming confidence. You are in control. There is nothing you cannot do. You have the power of life and death. You are god. You are the god of peace. Enter Utopia.” His voice trailed off.

            He turned and headed for the curtain Slick had disappeared behind. The Oriental girl cowered down before him. As he walked by her, he moved his arm upward with a jerk. The girl flinched at the sudden movement.

            “Don’t ever jump from me.” He shouted as the back of his hand struck the side of her head. She fell backward stumbling over a man’s legs. The crapulous man never even felt her fall on him. It didn’t matter, anyway. He didn’t care about her.

            No one cared about the woman. No one even noticed her. They were in Utopia, at least, for the moment.

            She moved quickly away from the man’s body and cowered against the cold stone wall. Her attacker looked quickly around the holy place and disappeared behind the curtain.

            He motioned to the waiting man, who followed as the hooded man pulled open a hinged bookcase and the two walked through the hidden doorway. They closed the door behind them and lit a candle. The two stood in an underground man-made tunnel. The flickering candle flame made wavering shadows on the dirt walls behind them.

            “Thanks for coming so quickly, Slick.” The hooded man’s voice was no longer disguised.

            “I came as soon as I got your wire. What’s up?”

            “Four or five nights ago, Garland Bately packed up his family and slipped away.”

            “Isn’t he the farmer who owns this land?” Slick motioned with his hand.

            “Owned, my friend, owned.” Both men chuckled.

            “Okay. So you want him back?”

            “No, Slick. I want him dead. He stole some of my opium. We have plenty left, but I can’t let him get away with it, can I?”

            “No, sir, you surely can’t. I guess we’ll have to make an example of him, just in case any of the others might be thinking about stealing.”

            “My thoughts exactly, Slick. Did you bring some of your friends, like I told you?”

            “Yeah, I left them a few miles north of town, waiting for me.”

            “Good. I don’t want them to ever meet me or know who I am.”

            “That, too, but I also got to keep them away from saloons until business is over.”

            “You’ll get paid when the job is done, as usual. Now, go find Mr. Bately and kill him.

            “And his family?”

            “Well, we can’t leave any witnesses. Can we?”

            “No, sir.”

            He put his hand on Slick‘s arm. “You get my opium back. You know what the containers look like that we keep ‘em in, right?”

            Slick nodded his head. “Exactly.”

            “Good. Find it and bring it back. We need it for our friends in there to enter Utopia.” Both men laughed loudly. Nobody in the holy place was going to hear them. And tomorrow none of them would remember, anyway, except the Oriental girl and she was too scared to ever tell.


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