Summer comes to Germfask like a flashflood out of Eden. What had been a give-n-take struggle for dominance between the winter’s artic dome and tropical air trying to stream up from the Gulf finally finds amity beneath the warm sun of late June. The mounds of deep wood snow transpire as wetlands except for a few faint traces of ice chunks in the darkest of places. The apple blossoms, birch buds and bull frogs all burst into full bloom as do the biting black flies and no-see-ems.
Over the span of one week the cold drizzle falling on the old, rusty, tin roof of the Jolly Bar had given way to a sweltering and breezeless stickiness. The wooden doors were propped open with only a screen door (kept in the cellar during the winter) standing guard against the pestilence swarming in from the black bog.
Inside and seated beneath the Casablanca fans were the four original posse members, plus Debra McAmis, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Munising. Debra was a “tough broad,” as Father Randy liked to describe her. She was very confident in the style of some of the Kathy Bates characters, yet with the gentleness that a pastor needs.
Debra was good friends with the father, more so than anyone in the group realized. They had a secret friendship that was intimate, though strictly Platonic. The reason that they kept part of it, iceberg-like, beneath the surface was because people would get the wrong idea. They shared so much together, through e-mails, phone chats and out-of-town trips, that any sensible person would they were hooking up in a different kind of way. But Father Randy truly had a gift. A romantic notion towards Debra had never crossed his mind and certainly not a sexual one. Debra, on the other hand, went through a short-lived crush on the father when they first met, but now she was very content to be his secret best friend.
The previous summer they had traveled across Scandinavia together. Taking great measures to not let anyone know, the Father flew on a puddle hopper from Ste. Saint Marie to Detroit Metro, where he met Debra, who had driven down. They had a wonderful time and acted like school children for the whole month of May, although the Father was then sixty and Debra forty-five. Father Randy took off his collar and they traveled as a couple, Randal and Debbie. They even shared a room but even through all of that their relationship was pure. Debra told her congregation that she was touring Europe. The Father told his parish that he was going to Scandinavia. If anyone said the word “Europe” the Father would quickly correct them . . . “no, just Scandinavia.” Oddly though, in Helsinki they actually did run into the aunt of one of Debra’s church members. She was from Finland originally but lived in Houghton, Michigan. She would not have recognized the lady had she not screamed in the middle of the Kauppatori market, “Pastor Debra! What are you doing here?” Father Randy reached over to the stand with halves of pigs hanging metal hooks and grabbed and apron and put it on and turned his back. The vendors were confused. When the lady finally walked away, Randy and Debra couldn’t stop laughing and ran, dancing through sprinkles of spring rain all the way back to the hotel.
This was not her first time Debra had joined the men but certainly she wasn’t a regular. She usually combined the morning breakfast meeting with a trip south, across the Mackinaw Bridge to Michigan proper. The fact the interesting, out of town guest was coming wasn’t the reason she had made the trip through Germfask that morning, but it certainly was the reason she made sure she didn’t miss the breakfast on her way through. Father Randy had filled her in on all the details via e-mails the previous week.
Once again the local clergy were all seated in advance. They wanted to have the chance to discuss Mr. Landis in private before the man, himself, made an appearance. They had barely started debating if the interview with the stranger was a good thing or a bad thing for the group before he came through the door. As expected, Greg thought it was a good thing, David, of course, had a bad feeling about it.
“Good morning gentlemen, “said Tom with a smile. He had on his usual attire but with a lighter sports jacket than what he previous wore. He turned immediately to Debra and gave his little two fingered salute, “Good morning mam, I don’t think we’ve met.” He reached out her hand to hers.
“Good morning. My name is Debra and I’m an irregular member of this impromptu commission of clergy,” then she laughed.
Tom asked, as he was sitting, “So you are pastor as well?”
“Yes, I’m the senior pastor over at the First Presbyterian Church in Munising. “
To her surprise the stranger pulled open his brief case and immediately started writing on his yellow legal pad. She assumed he was writing down her name and title but for what reason, she had no idea.
Tom looked at the group and smiled again, “Gentlemen . . . oh and lady (smiling at Debra directly across the table) . . . I’ve been thinking a lot since our last meeting. I feel that I haven’t gotten very far in my research and I’m afraid that I will not be able to get much further at this pace. I think the uncertainty, which surrounds my identity and purpose here is creating an atmosphere of distrust in our relationship. I’ve decided to make this morning a morning of disclosure. I hope that I will not regret this. First of all, I must ask all of you to make a pledge to me of confidentiality, in the same way if one of your church people came to you and shared something in great confidence. Is this possible?”
The pastors all looked at each other and discussed it in whispers. David was concerned that the man may reveal criminal intent and then he would be obligated to go to the authorities. So they summarized their conditions. Father Randy spoke for them.
“Tom, we are willing to treat what you say in strict confidentiality unless you share with us criminal behavior or intent to hurt someone, or yourself, in that case we couldn’t keep that kind of information to ourselves.”
The stranger leaned back in his chair and was pondering. This surprised several in the group because it suggested to them that maybe he was engaged in illegal activity.
Tom signed, “Okay. I will have to take my chances with you. My mission is too important to allow it to end here.”
Then they all sat in silence for a few minutes. Sharon arrived with the orders. Tom had not even had the chance to give her his breakfast order but he always ate the same thing, toast, fruit and lots of tomatoes.
As the group started to eat, Tom began speaking again. “The other issue is that I’m quite confident that as I tell you my story that you will think that I’m lying or insane. I promise you that it is neither. As incredible as my story is, it is all true and I will prove it in time. But you must understand the value of this meeting before I can get the information I need.”
Greg spoke up for the first time, “Tom, you have to trust us. We will give you the benefit of the doubt and as clergy, I’m confident that they story that you are about to tell us is no more implausible than stories we hear from our congregations every week.”
Tom smiled, “I’m afraid my story will be more so than any you’ve ever heard.”
David said in an emphatic voice, “Okay, let’s hear it.”
Tom reached back into his briefcase and pulled out his big, floppy Bible. He turned the pages towards the front and then read from Genesis chapter 11. It was about the dwellers of the plain of Shinar and their intent to build a great city and a tower that would reach up to Heaven. Then he read on about how the people’s language was confused and how they were scattered. He read the last sentence over and over very slowly, “From thence the Lord did scatter them abroad upon the face of the earth.”
Then he closed the Bible and said something in another language. It has the throat sounds that make it clear that it was Hebrew or Arabic. Then Tom spoke to the spellbound breakfast club, “The original language of this passage is what I said in the end and it is old Hebrew. The original Hebrew says it a bit differently. A better translation would be, “From thence the Lord did scatter them far away AND on the face of the earth. The translators removed the “and” because it didn’t make sense to them but I will explain that it does.
You see, I am from the tribe called Hans so we are Hanserians. My tribe was the brains behind the great tower. We were the engineers and scientist. The word ‘Hans” means engineer. In the time of Genesis, God was really angry at my forefathers but not for the reasons assumed. It wasn’t because they wanted to build a tower that put people in rival with God as some teach. It is because God, after the great destruction, rebuilt the earth into this wonderful garden. However, the teaching was being passed around was that this earth was inferior to the Heavens. So the people got together and asked my forefathers to develop a plan to build a ramp that they could use to climb out of this earth and into to Heaven.
It was like you would say, God was pissed off. In other words, imagine that you built this wonderful thousand gallon salt water aquarium for your fish. You had corals, caves, plants and many beautiful things. Then one day you come home and find this tunnel coming out of the water and over to your desk. On your desk laid four clown fish grasping for their last breath. They had assumed that life was better outside the wonderful tank, the tank you had made just for them. This is why God was pissed that he confused everyone’s language and scattered them.”
David swallowed his bite of sausage and pointed his fork at Tom, “Okay, what does this have to do with anything?”
“I’m getting to that. Since my clan was the most responsible, the designers of the actual tower, God scattered us . . . (he paused for a moment) . . . off the earth altogether. He took my forefathers to a different planet and that is where we have lived until this day.”
Michael rolled his eyes and sat back in his chair shaking his head. David spoke again, this time after swallowing a gulp of coffee, “It sounds like you are a Mormon off-shoot, one of these UFO cults. What is the name of your group?”
Tom looked sad, “I promise you that we are not Mormon, a cult or into UFOs. As a matter of fact, we are convinced that humans are the only intelligent life in the universe.”
David added, “But didn’t you just say that you are an alien?’
“I am a human. I have the virtual same DNA as you. The roots of my people are in the dirt of earth. We are hajjis, pilgrims . . . visitors on another land. We don’t belong there, we belong here. “
Greg asked, it want seemed like a serious tone, but you never knew with him, “So, are your people coming to take over the earth?”
Tom knowing that Greg’s intentions were mixed at best answered, “No, of course not. We are content to stay on our planet as visitors forever. However, we are coming here to learn about the creator. We have our written history but we haven’t had the scriptures as you have them. We are taking your scriptures back with us and are even studying them, but we still do not understand. We want to learn from you how we are to live. “
Michael asked, “Okay, how do you speak English so well now. Was it a computer chip put into your brain?”
Tom answered, “Let’s be serious here. We learned English just the same way you would learn another language. I’ve been studying English since grade school in preparation for this mission.”
Debra finally spoke, “Grade school? How long have you guys known about us?”
“We’ve always have known about this great place called Earth because it was in our written history. But we only had the means to travel here about a hundred years ago.”
Greg said in great surprise, “A hundred years ago? You’ve been coming here for a hundred years?”
“Not really. We have known how to travel great distances for about a hundred years. But first we had to find Earth and then we started sending probes. We eventually placed our own satellites in Earth’s orbit. Much of what we have learned has come from broadcasts. It wasn’t until about twenty years ago this mission was first planned. We sent scouts to walk among you and then I was chosen, as a scientist, to come and study you and to report back.”
Greg responded, “So we are the apes and you are Jane Goodall?”
Tom replied, “I do know who she is, but this is different. I’m not simply an anthropologist. We are not studying Earth for simply the sake of learning for knowledge’s sake. This is also a spiritual journey. We are bringing your scriptures to our planet and we want to know how we live them out in reality. You have to understand, we have no history, no traditions and no preconceptions from which to draw. We must start from scratch. So there is no good translation to what I am but it is somewhat like a sociologist, psychologist, philosopher and pastor all combined into one . . . if that makes sense?”
David still had a smirk on his face, “Okay space boy, what is your planet and how did you travel here. Let me guess, it was a wormhole?”
“Our planet is called Teyvat, which means ship or ark, like Noah’s ark. When God dispersed us to our planet, he also brought many of our animal friends. Teyvat orbits around and between the binary stars of Alpha Centauri, which is over 4 light years away in the space-time dimension. But I think that is enough for this morning. Now that you know the urgency of my quest, I hope that you will take my questions more seriously.”
David responded, “Now wait a minute chief. You can’t just drop a bomb like that on us and then move on. So who is your leader? I’m confident you must be from California.”
“As I said, I am from Teyvat.”
“Prove it. Can you levitate or make your finger glow.”
Tom looked serious, “Now you are just trying to be funny at my expense. This is no laughing matter. Of course I can’t do those things any more than you can. We are human just like you. There are some subtle differences. For example, our oxygen concentration is 28% compared to Earth’s of 20%. So it took a lot of conditioning and training for me to be able to live here. I still get breathless very easily. Our hemoglobin is about nine grams per deciliter, a lot lower than yours. Our chronovector, or gravity as you would call it is about 67% of Earths, so that took a lot of conditioning as well. Over the past five thousand years our bodies have evolved to a slightly different character reflecting our environment. The Hanserians are taller, thinner and I must add much brighter than the typical Earth human. I’m not saying that to be arrogant, but we were the scientists of the time of Babel. When my clan was taken out of humanity on Earth, the civilization here was set back and we advanced. We are about a thousand years ahead of Earth in our development and science.”
David added, “Then prove that. Solve some advanced science problems right here before our eyes.”
Tom thought for a moment and responded, “I’m not a physicist, plus what I would tell you about physics, you would not understand but I will tell you all some things that I hope would help to convince you that I’m not a crazy person.”
“I’m all ears,” said David with a smirk.
“I will start with you. Getting back to our discussion from last week, I’m confident that you don’t think that Greg is a Christian nor Father Randy, however you are envious of Michael and his faith. The reason of that is that you even doubt your own salvation at times. You doubt your own faith because you have a secret behavior that you feel very guilty about. This behavior happens frequently and each time it happens, you are left doubting your on true conversion.”
Tom’s eyes then moved counterclockwise around the table. “Michael, you are a man who has had a bad relationship with his father. I’m not sure why, but you have pain about that and it still haunts you. I would guess that he was an alcoholic and mistreated you and your mother. That is the very reason you became a pastor because you wanted to make your mother proud, to give her some reward after having suffered so much. Father Randy, there’s many things I can tell you about yourself but I will just mention one. Debra is far dearer friend than anyone here knows. You have some secrets that you kept to yourselves. I’m not sure if this is a romantic relationship or not, but it is very deep and special. I won't say anything more about you Debra, so that brings me to Greg. Mr. Lantis, you are a homosexual and you have never disclosed your homosexuality to these men or to most of your friends. You attended what is considered a conservative seminary by Christians in America and started as a minister in the Southern Baptist church but moved into the Methodist and now the Unitarian Church because the Baptist church made you feel very uncomfortable in your sexual orientation. Is there more I should say? I will add that all I know and have spoken of this morning, I learned from our interactions last week.”
The entire table sat in silence. Finally Father Randy spoke in almost a whisper, “Surely you are a prophet.”
Tom chuckled, “I’m neither prophet nor a mind reader. I didn’t use any ability that you would consider outside the laws of nature. We are a very observant people and we think using logic rather than emotions. Earth humans think and make choices using emotions and logic is tangential to most of their thinking. We see emotions as a gift or the spice of life, not the essences there of.”
Michael spoke for the first time in a while, “Part of me feels like I should be insulted by your comments. Yet, I can tell from your spirit that you didn’t mean what you said cruelly. I’m looking forward to our future discussions. And, if anyone had any doubts, I can just say you hit the nail on the head about my personal life. Even my own wife, Peggy, would not understand me like you do, and we’ve been married for twenty eight years. I've always thought of space aliens as short, green, with big eyes and long fingers, but maybe I was wrong.”
Debra chuckled, "Hey Michael, you just described a frog."
Then the tension broke as the whole table laughed out loud.
The posse adjourned for another week. Debra made it clear that she would definitely be back. Sharon watched the whole meeting from a distance. She whispered to Arnie, “Do you think it would be bad if I put a recorder under that table next week?”
To which he replied, “Woman, have you lost your mind?”