restricted access Journey to the Center of the Earth
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8 8 8 8 8 Jerome is in Nebraska to visit his father. His dad lives in a model community located in the middle distance, at the point in the road where you think the line of shadows you see ahead is just about to congeal. At this juncture on this particular highway, you think the murky violet ridge along the horizon may be your first sight of the Rocky Mountains, but you can’t be absolutely sure. Stay here and you’ll never know; drive ten miles and the outline becomes clear. This is where you make the turnoff for Bluemont. Take a sharp right on the two-track road through the foothills and in forty miles you’re there. According to the literature his dad has sent Jerome over the years since he left them, it’s going to be some kind of Jerusalem—We are the future of the world; to Jerome it sounds crazy, but . . . exciting? His dad would never admit this, is firm in his use of the words model community. It isn’t much of a model. The snapshots show a ring of outsized mobile homes beached on cinderblock foundations, an assembly hall that promises more than it seems to deliver and a nineteenth-century house restored and painted like a wedding cake, and as for the rest? Half-finished foundations and a couple of huge, raw places in the earth, as if from excavations hastily filled and incompletely healed. Is this all? Jerome’s dad says that when it’s finished they will all live in contemporary houses with jutting redwood decks and crashing expanses of glass, but this will have to wait. Except for the self-styled mayor and leader of the group, the colonists are all stashed in those trailers, waiting for the town to rise. Their money always seems to be going into something else, but on the phone Jerome’s father is vague about what. If it isn’t the real thing, he thinks, then what’s the point? It’s a strange place for Jerome, but here he is. He has brought this on himself. Mostly he lives a normal life but when he goes home to visit he runs out of things to say. Caught short at Christmas, fresh out of words, he accidentally showed the brochure to his mom: mistake; the clouds around her head turned brown and started to boil. “Lord,” she said, squinting at the pictures as if she expected to find Jerome’s dad walking around in them, this high, “what do you think is going on?” Journey to the Center of the Earth 166 k i t r e e d Who was Jerome to tell her they were getting ready for the end of the world? He should have known she would figure it out: the prose, the strange device on the Bluemont sign. “My God, he’s in a religious sect.” “It’s his life.” “He’s your father,” she said. So his mom has sent him to see about it. Although his folks have been divorced since he was ten, Jerome’s mom can’t stop worrying. “I can’t help it,” she said. “It’s never over with a person, no matter what you tell yourself.” “What do you want me to do?” “I just want you to go.” What is he supposed to do, talk his dad out of this thing he’s joined and bring him back to life as they know it? He doesn’t think so. Is he supposed to be his mom’s advance man, preparing the way? Certainly not. She is with Barry now. They’re getting married in the spring. “So, what?” “A sect,” she said, dispatching him. “I just . . .” She was at a loss. “I just want you to see if he’s all right.” Maybe, Jerome thinks, she wants to find out if he’s being held against his will. He doesn’t think so. The place isn’t jail. It doesn’t have to be. Jerome reasons, perhaps because he was brought up Catholic, that all religion is a captivity, souls held tight against their will. So, hey. It may be what they want. And hey, what if they turn out to be right? A strange, almost sexual undercurrent draws him to this outside possibility. So he is here for his own reasons. Probably he spends too much time trying to make sense of things. The last thing...


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