Kent L Johnson

What the hell: I've been told by too many critics that my style for this book is wrong. I need to start all over again. There are many good, funny scenes and the overall story is still on track, but the way I have it organized and told is confusing.


CHAPTER 1
July 27, 2008
Umatilla Army Depot, Umatilla, Oregon

Have you ever heard of Ergot, Glen?”

Yes.”

What can you tell me about it?” James asked.

It's not what happened at the Fiesta.”

I know that, Glen.” James Furly turned on his heels and stared at Glen. “I asked, what can you tell me?”

It's a fungus.” Glen said.

James watched and waited. A minute went by. "Tell me all you know. What is Ergot?”

It's a fungus. Parasitic. It lives on grains. Particularly Rye. Large. Almost the size of a grain of rye. Dark brown. Like most fungi, thrives in years when water and humidity are high,” Glen said.

And what else?”

It contains a heavy alkaloid substance that may create hallucinations.”

Know anything more about it?”

It was thought to cause mass hysteria of entire towns back in the middleages. I think the storming of Frankenstein's castle with pitch forksand torches was based on mass hysteria caused by Ergot.”

Good, Glen. Any more?”

Glen shrugged his shoulders and stared at James.

Did you know that the wildly successful hallucinogen, LSD, Acid, lysergicacid diethylamide, whatever you want to call it, was first made using Ergot?”

No.”

In nineteen thirty-eight to be exact. Synthesized from the alkaloids in Ergot. So why am I going over this with you?” James stopped and looked at Glen, waiting for an expression, a glimmer in his eyes, something.

I'll fill in the background for you.” James continued as he paced back and forth, occasionally glancing at Glen.

Ergot is not the answer we are looking for from you. We know Ergot. Ergot has problems. For instance, instead of hallucinations it can cause paralysis or nerve damage. St. Anthony's Fire or particularly nasty nerve problems with the arms. What Ergot does hold out for us is hope.” James moved his head towards Glen for a moment, then at the tips of his shoes, gazing at the black polished leather against the fluffy white carpet of the home.

Hope?” Glen asked.

Yes, hope, Glen. We look beyond the bad and can perhaps see some good in Ergot. It is believed the Salem Witch Trials were due to the ingestion of Ergot baked into the local bread. This was in 1692. An entire community saw strange happenings and deemed it to be witchcraft. We know now that it wasn't witchcraft. I personally find it amazing people could be brought together to perform trials and kill witches, just from eating contaminated bread.”

James paced more rapidly.

Next came the Great Awakening. At least that's what it was called. It had its origins in New England, 1741. Same thing happened in Russia, 1888. We know the climate data and those years were preceded by wet years. The harvest likely had Ergot.” James emphasized the point by clapping his hands together, then paced faster.

The 'Great Awakening' had the usual nervous disorders Ergot delivers, but also hallucinations on a mass scale, with many people claiming to have talked with God and visited paradise. Of course this pissed the Holy Roman Catholic Church off to no end as heresy. A few people lost their lives because everyone knows that only the Pope can talk to God.”

James pirouetted on his heel and grinned. Glen sat stoically, no expression.

Are you familiar with the Catholic Church?”

I'm not familiar with any Church.”

Okay,” he said, disappointed that Glen did not understand his small attempt at ironic religious humor.

Moving along we come to the Great Fear,” James continued. “A nice title to swing away from the Great Awakening.

The Great Fear happened in France. A grain shortage gripped the countryand there was not enough bread to feed the people. This was still at a time when royalty controlled the land. The grain was being hoarded by regional royal manors. The grain that was left to the peasants was heavily contaminated with Ergot. The bread that the peasants ate caused not Great Fear, but a great deal of courage.

The people rose up and attacked the royal houses to get to the grain stores. It was the French Revolution and the end of Feudalism in France. Ergot changed the history of the world."

Glen stared, expressionless.

Do you understand what I am getting at?”

No,” Glen replied. “I told you, I don't know anything about Ergot.”

It's not about Ergot, it's about changing the world.”

I don't understand.”

Ergot didn't change the world Glen, it was the chemicals inside Ergot that changed the world. Mass hallucinations can be a good thing, given to repressed people in repressed regimes. The ability to rise up with pitchforks and torches against modern weapons is just as powerful today as it was in medieval times.”

I still don't understand.” Glen twitched in his chair, the leather squeaked.

James stopped pacing, turned and looked him in the eye. A bead of sweat ran down his temple. “You did it, Glen. You delivered a hallucinogen to a mass of people, on target. You even managed to exclude most women and virtually all the children. That's what we are talking about. A tactical application.”

But it wasn't Ergot,” Glen said, scooting forward in the chair.

James breathed in hard and let the breath out slowly.

It has nothing to do with Ergot. Psilocybin will work too.”

Oh.” Glen sat back again. “I think I'm starting to understand. You want me to help you produce Psilocybe mushrooms?”

No Glen. We want you to help us, the United States Government, do what you did to those people in Patterson, California.”

But I went to jail for that. Why would you do it to them all over again? I'll admit, I'm not real fond of the foreigners coming into our country and taking our jobs, but that's no reason to feed them Psilocybe again. I mean, I really pissed the town off. I got death threats in jail.”

No Glen, you're not following,” James interjected.

My mom won't even talk to me,” Glen said. “Just cause she's got a Mexican boyfriend. Can I ask you guys to look at his immigration papers?”

Stop. There are a lot worse people out there than Mexicans. There's the whole Middle East.” James walked over to a chair and sat down.

Like Delaware?”

No Glen, like Iran, Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and a host of others, people who don't share our values. People that need to be persuaded that our democratic ways are the best ways.”

Kent L Johnson