*A note on the text: The Salem Dream Mine, which this story takes as its inspiration, is located in the Wasatch Mountains approximately sixty miles south of Salt Lake City. In 1894, a local farmer, John Koyle, was visited by a heavenly messenger "attired in white and radiating intelligence." The messenger guided Koyle in dream to nine caverns beneath the earth filled with gold and treasure, the innumerable wealth of an ancient civilization. The angel told him that, prior to the apocalypse, the United States would suffer an enormous collapse. The gold from the caverns was to sustain the worthy through their trials until the return of Jesus Christ. Koyle immediately set to work. The Dream Mine was incorporated in 1909. Although it has not yet produced any gold, thousands of Koyle's followers eagerly await the day when it will reveal its treasures.
Jesus said, I have cast fire upon the world,
—The Gospel of Thomas
They put me here because I forget things. So they tell me. I never started no fire, but I couldn’t put it out. Because it won’t go out. Not until everything is burnt clean. Jesus ascended unto heaven at the speed of light. He’ll return at that same speed when Moroni blows the trumpet. The twinkling of an eye.
I was in bed when the bearded angels woke me up. It was a vibrating from the core of my body. I called out to Ethra to wake up, but she slept right through. The short one did most of the talking. We are two of the three Nephites of old, he said. Come to clear the way for the Master.
I climbed out of bed and knelt and kissed his feet. My eyes were fire and I was taken up into the heavens and shown on the east the three kingdoms—celestial, terrestrial, telestial—and on the west, outer darkness filled with a third of heaven’s host. Between these I saw the earth covered with a veil as if for a wedding. I witnessed that before the end times, all law shall be run to naught and the earth will be ruled by wicked men, for the world is in sin, and sin shall be returned thereupon.
I visioned a hole opening up unto the depths of the earth and a voice come rolling like the sound of great waters. The angel said: Here in this dream mine we have set in store for you the riches of our forefathers. For in the last days mankind shall be without coinage, and it will be the task of you and your family to lead the righteous east to the garden of Adam-Ondi-Ahman, where the Lord on his return shall set his feet in a circle of fire.
My life’s work, giving shape to that dream. And now that the time has come at last, there’s none to fetch the gold because none has the faith to claim it. Not even my own son, his spirit withered to a husk, dry and barren as that wife of his and her unforgiving womb.
He tells me it’s a test. I’ll win a prize if I pass. I don’t want to get up. I’m already sad about Momma and Dad. Every Sunday night. It’s not fair that they always go. I don’t care that they’re studying on Jonah what got stuck inside the whale because he angered unto the Lord. And the three men who were made to stand in the fire because they loved Him so much. I know about fire. Grampy says it turns rocks to gold. But he caught the brainsick and forgot that he started it in the kitchen. It was all around me while I stood there not knowing where to go and that’s when Jesus touched me. Now Grampy lives in the white building.
Shut up now, Brigham says, pulling me from bed. Come on, you baby.
I ain’t no baby. I’m almost baptized.
Quiet, you. I’ve had enough of your lip. You need to learn your place.
He takes me in front of the wooden box where Momma keeps her special blankets and dishes. He lifts them out and sets them down nice.
Gonna be clean in God’s eyes. Not like you.
Get in there, baldie.
You want Christ, you gotta go through trials first, he says. Gotta learn tribulation.
I already learnt it.
Now get in there.
The dark is close and dusty. I can hear my breath. How long is he going to keep me in here? Keep me in here while he sits on top of the box because he’s mad I told Momma about him. What he was doing with his hand. Touching himself down there, bent over waiting for the fire to come. In my head I see the temple, the golden Moroni playing the trumpet, loveangels flying over the hills in the red morning sky. They are searching me out, calling my name. Come ye and resurrect, they say. The burning moves down my head into my chest arms hands. Too much closeness and circling around me in the dark. I close my eyes and try to vision Him.
Lemme out, I say. I can’t take no more. I’m burning up.
Brigham lifts the lid and stands me up into the light.
Liar, he says. You learn your patience?
I knee him in the privates and run down into the basement. Under the shelves with the fruit jars. We will have to eat the fruit when Jesus comes because He will be busy separating the wheat, and He won’t be happy about it. I hear Brigham stomping down the stairs, yelling my name. Now you made me mad, he says. Someone’s gotta teach you to keep quiet.
But he’s the one needs teaching. He’ll learn that much.
Mom took me to the doctor for my checkup. I knew he was going to touch me down there. On the way there I asked her if we could skip it but she said no, every boy has to do it before he goes to scout camp, and what’s the matter with it anyway? Nothing to be nervous for. But there’s this kid in gym that went for the checkup and the doctor examined him and he got a boner right there in the doctor’s hands. And so the doctor turned him into a gay. Now he waits in front of his gym locker, pretending like he can’t find his towel or something while everyone else showers up. And while we’re showering up he has at himself right there in front of his locker. That’s what I hear anyway. Well. You reap and you sow.
So I get into my paper robe and the nurse comes in and puts on a video about glands and pubic hair. Mom sits there in the corner filing her nails, not saying a dang thing or even looking up. Sometimes I wonder how in the world I was ever made. The doctor comes in and listens to me breathe and looks in my eyes. Then he sits down on a chair and tells me to stand in front of him. He unrobes me and touches my chest and then moves his hand down there and tells me to cough while he presses on me. His hands are cold and dry. No no, I say to myself, no hard-on, no hard-on. I’m no gay.
He asks me a bunch of questions, like where do I like to fish and who is my favorite president. I think maybe I’ve done it so much there’s a secret mark, because he checks me for a long time, then he looks up at me, solemn, and says: You know, Brigham, the scriptures counsel us to be clean and pure before the Lord. This includes all manner of sin. And sexual sin, especially self-abuse, is second only to murder. Just keep that in mind as you continue through your young adulthood.
I see myself sitting in a jail cell wearing one of those orange jackets. I’m thirty-three years old and I can’t stop jacking off. I’m doing it with my cellmate watching. He looks just like me. He starts doing it, too. His mouth is open. I come to the point, and then I just keep going even though there’s nothing left. It gets all red and sore and finally the warden comes in with a shocker hookup. Sorry, he says, attaching it to my head, but this is the only way left for you.
At night I pray to Heavenly Father that He will keep me clean from here on out. I kiss the pictures of Mom and Dad and Chasdidee good night, promise them seven times seven I won’t do it anymore. It doesn’t feel set, so I get out of bed and kneel and put my hand on the Bible and say to the Lord, Dear Lord, please wilt thou forgive me if it is thy will? Now I will obey. Then I do it with the other hand. I get into bed and try not to think of Heather Robinson in her gray gym shorts. I get back out and pray with my hands clasped. I pray out loud and then in my head, just in case. I get back in and imagine the Holy Ghost standing over my bed. He’s guarding me with his helmet and shield. I’m asleep in a strange bed. I wake up and Heather is there, opening her robe. Maybe this will help, she says.
I slap my face. Harder. Stop it, I say. Stop it now. Angels and demons hurtle through the darkness, cloaked from mortal vision, continuing their great war.
In my dream the eleven families stand in a circle guarding the mine entrance against the children of God, saints and sinners intermingled thronging forth, and more coming on. The families give out gold to those worthy of receiving it. Some try to break through into the shaft but are repelled by the hand of God. A mighty earthquake opens up the mountain face, sheathed in gold. The unrighteous are scattered across the valley floor.
I wake and tell Ruth about the dream. She asks what it means, and I tell her Dad is right, what the angels told him is true. The end is coming at last. We need to be prepared like the five virgins. What does this consist of? Pray with a clean heart. No stiffneckedness. Depend on my word as I depend on God’s.
She doesn’t say a thing, only drifts back into sleep. What in the world is wrong with her? It’s been months and she hasn’t laid a hand on me. Not a finger. I close my eyes and imagine her on top of me grunting with desire. Onan spilled his seed on the ground and the Lord put him to death for wickedness. But verily my disobedience falls on the women instead—her womb dried up and the young one set to flame. Maybe if I imagine her hard enough, my seed will spill itself without my touching.
Dear Father in Heaven, please send thy spirit to guide me in my time of need. Take this desire from me. Please let it rest and not find the other source. Or let it be manifest unto my wife that she might realize her calling as caretaker and receptacle.
In the stilldark I go to the sink and wash it from my hands and walk out to the mine to watch the sun rise. The mine’s white granite face firing in the dawn and then paling in the dry heat until noon, when I know Ruth will be out with Lynnda.
I walk home and step into the bedroom to check the tape recorder, and there’s Brigham humping the floor, undies bunched up around his ankles, red face pressed into the Sears catalog. He lifts his head to look at me, sweat and ink on his forehead. And what are you doing? I ask him. You know why you’re named Brigham. After the prophet. No unclean thing can enter the house of God. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: It is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
I take him to the bathroom and wait for him to clean himself up. When he comes out, I take him by the arm and walk him to his bedroom and kneel him by his bed. I tell him: Jesus bled for all mankind, and some of that blood is from you. I kneel with him and pray: Dear Father in Heaven, please send thy spirit to guide thy son Brigham in his time of need. For the natural man truly is an enemy unto God.
I tell LaVerl because it doesn’t matter what I say, it turns to mush in his head. Confessing is talking it out, doesn’t matter who’s listening. Maybe he’s confessing, too. I didn’t start no fire, he tells me. Let me outta this damnhell place. I needs to get back to the mine. The Lord is coming. The fire was in the sink. I tried to piss it out.
I didn’t start no fire neither, I tell him. I didn’t ask for it. Truly in my heart I want to be a daughter of Zion and a housemeet unto the Lord. I want to have babies again. I want to forget this desire in me. After we finished I cried and she held my hand and whispered to me patient and true like I’ve never heard. If only it wasn’t sin. If only. I wanted to whisper back to her. I wanted to tell her, Wherever you go, I will go, where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.
My dream is buried, LaVerl says. In the breast of the earth. The gold is our spirit.
Maybe you can help me, I say. Think back. Relax now. Think of Ethra. You know Ethra. Your wife. Passed on not too long back.
Ethra. Your wife. The mother of my husband. Jube. Your son.
Jube. Think back now. Why did you stay together for so long?
You and Ethra. How did she stay? What with all you’ve been in your life.
He’s still for so long I wonder if he’s died with his eyes open. I put them in the sink, he says. I put the rocks in the sink. From the mine. The blood of the earth. Lord, I called out to Him, I ain’t done nothing but believe in you since you showed me the vision. I am ready. Now I ask you to fire up these rocks and turn them to gold.
But the rocks don’t light. His word. His word is his spirit. The word is God. So I tear the pages from His book and put them atop the rocks and set them going with a match. Let there be light. And the word is God, and the word is with God.
Tears are running down his face. I don’t know she’s there, he says. And then she’s yelling. Fire flashing up the curtains and her trying to pour it out. I am watching God’s word and she is yelling and then the fire licking up her shirt and her hair firing like a candle. What’s happening? she yells. Help me. What’s happening to me? Her flesh is sacrament. A sign to rebuke the disobedient.
I know, I say. You already told me. You told me every day.
It won’t stop, it won’t ever go away, he tells me. Not until He says. Not until everything is brought to its proper place.
Old man, I say. Rest your head. Chasdidee is fine now. She’ll be in the water in two Sundays.
I ain’t talkin about her, he says.
He runs across the soccer field. He makes it to the tall wire fence and starts to climb. They grab his legs, pull him loose, and take him down. One of them sits on his chest and punches him in the mouth. They drag him back across the grass. He screams and shakes. They drop him at the soccer goalpost, painted blue and yellow, the school colors. They start shouting: Pole! Pole!
We gather around to watch, crying out for the pole. Coach Jensen is still inside. I want to turn away but I can’t stop looking. He stands up and they knock him down. They use a coat to tie around him like a straitjacket. I can’t see his face. They lift his body high into the air. He trembles above us, a sea of eyes. They pull his legs apart and run him toward the goalpost. He closes his legs at the last second and they drop him. They pick him up and run him at the post again, pulling his legs apart even wider this time. There is no stopping it for anything. They ram his crotch deep and hard into the post. They wrap his legs around the metal and pump him into it again and again. How do you like it, faggot, someone yells. Monkey see, monkey get. I look at the ground and try to figure: How deep do you need to go to clean out sin? And when you get there, what is left and who are you now? The jacket falls loose, and his arms flail in the air. A pale and demented bird trying to take flight.
I go into the changing room and put on the white clothes. I come out and they’re all sitting there, even Grampy. Momma takes my hand and I sit by her. We sing I Am a Child of God, and Momma is looking at me and crying and singing. I am a child of God, and He has sent me here, has given me an earthly home with parents kind and dear. The bishop stands and says in baptism I will be forgiven and restored anew, and I whisper to Momma, What about my hair? I don’t want it to get wet. We’ll just take it off, she says. I don’t want to take it off, I say. It doesn’t count without hair. Everyone will notice. Don’t worry, she says, touching my cheek. The Lord will grow it back.
The bishop stops talking and Momma reaches over and says okay and I say okay and she takes off my hair and pats my cheek. Dad leads me down into the warm water. I close my eyes and he dips me under. The water burns on my skin where Jesus touched me in the fire. I see Him under the water with me. His clothes are white like mine. His beard is floating in the water.
Dad lifts me out and I feel the clean and the spirit falling on me like a white dove. I go back into the changing room and dry myself and Momma comes in and gives me a big hug and puts my hair back on and says, Don’t forget your wig. I’m so proud of you. I’m so happy. We’re a family. You know what that means. We’re eternal. We go on forever.
When she leaves, I close my eyes and say a prayer and then have a look in the long mirrors. One mirror in front of me and one behind. My reflection going on forever and everything perfect like heaven—all except my face, the one half all myself, the other half gone to who knows where, skin all whitepopple and the one eye broken in my head, like a doll’s eye in a doll’s head, and across my cheek the purple scar like a hand where Jesus touched me in the fire. Grampy swore when he saw it that it was the hand of God come to show us the way.
I don’t know why I bother. There’s never anything on the tape. She probably knows I put the recorder under the bed, and she changes the tape when I’m out. Or maybe she does it in the shower, if women can even do it in the shower. I left the porch door unlocked and came back from the mine when I knew she would be in there. I stood in the dark listening to her, holding my breath and aching so quiet for any kind of sound. Maybe she knew I came back. Or maybe she can keep it quiet.
She even skips family night. The kids standing around with towels on their heads acting out Laman and Lemuel, and I’m Nephi, and they won’t quit asking Where’s Mom? I say, Your guess is as good as mine, even though I know she’s out with Lynnda, holding hands and sharing hurts like holy sacrament. The three of us should have got married, that way nobody would ever need to leave the house.
It will be different when we reach the gold. Of course it will. But no man shall tempt the Lord thy God, and no man can second-guess the day of His coming. The Nephites of old were God’s chosen people, and they too lost hold of the iron rod. So the natives were blotted out, and this land was set apart for a new generation. In the upper rooms of the mine we will have enough wheat to spare the righteous through the endtime famine, and then the earth shall be opened unto us and the nine rooms revealed. Dad was visited by the two Nephites and they took him there. Down to where the gold lay scattered across those nine rooms. Gold ore so rich it looks like the red and white stripes in the American flag, the lines of gold in the white rock. The angel said, This gold will be here for you and your children and your children’s children for all the generations of the earth, and they will never be able to dig it all out. And so the truth of the angel’s words shall be made known unto man. And thus shall the offspring of the sons of Zion gather ’round the archangel Michael, that selfsame Adam who first loosed them from his side.
I tell her I can live without desire. I tell her I will wear the law about my body and hide the rest away where no man can see. I say, My heart is a garden to keep you inside.
Thinking sin is the same as doing, she says.
That’ll have to do.
Don’t leave now, she says. I love you.
Lynnda, I say. I can’t even tell you what. I kiss her mouth. Her dark hair swept back, seaweed mad.
The whale swallowed Jonah but the Lord spat him out. I won’t need to spit. And from my obedience will grow the covenant people. I drive home and walk into the bedroom and lock the door behind me and he wakes up and I tell him, Don’t turn on the light.
Where have you been? he says.
Now I know, I say. I’ve been led by a pillar of fire. Do you have the oil?
The oil, he says.
Of course I do.
Will you put it on me? Set me a blessing?
It needs two with the oil.
Set it on my head. God is with us. He will do the rest.
I sit on the bed and he touches my head with the oil and then he says the words. He waits. Then he puts his hands on my head and he speaks the words, saying Sister Ruth Holden, I set this blessing upon thy head, that thou wilt be restored unto thy full faithfulness and obedience, and shalt serve as caretaker and receptacle unto thy husband, and unto thy house, and unto the house of the Lord, and thou shalt be blessed all thy days, and throughout eternity. And through the power of the priesthood shalt thy loins be cured of their stillness and thy spirit of its decrepitude, and once again shall you be a sowing ground to bring forth the children of Zion, even the very host to lead the gathering of Saints.
I hold him. I try.
I set him back on the bed and brush his face with my fingers until his eyes shut. I take off my clothes and stand there in the darkness, feeling the air on my skin. A knowing sets upon me. I see my true and otherself burnt clean of memory and desire and hope, for the Lord God is the only certainty. I tell him, For thus saith the Lord of hosts: Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land. And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the Lord of hosts.
I want to believe it. I close my eyes and try to imagine a white ladder descending from heaven. I pull back the covers from the bottom of the bed and kiss his feet and climb up through his legs.
Wait, he says. I want to tell you something.
You don’t need to say it.
I kiss him with my mouth until he is ready. My lashing tongue parting the curtains of death, my hair turning white with the knowledge of God.