EZRA AND IKE GO FISHING
By Tim Wintermute
It was the day after Easter Sunday and Ezra Beeman stood next to the sink in the kitchen of the Prairie Star Community Church in Beulah Junction, Colorado. He was washing and drying the small communion glasses that had been used at Easter Sunday service. They looked like shot glasses and Ezra had observed in his half century as a pastor that most people gulped down the contents like it was whiskey rather than sipping a fine wine. Not that it wasn’t a fine wine or any kind of wine, it was plain old grape juice. After he cleaned and dried each glass he placed it in a slot of a communion tray. Because it was Easter more than the usual number of bodies rose from their Sunday morning slumber to make an appearance, enough to fill more than one tray. That made fifty, which was a miracle considering that two years ago there had been five. After the Covid epidemic hit there had been influx of new people who sought a small town to work from remotely. Beulah Junction’s smallness was an attraction and, ironically or miraculously or both, it was Prairie Star’s bigness with a sanctuary that could seat four hundred that was also attractive to newcomers who were looking for a place where they could come together to worship at a social distance.
“What kind of wine did you serve for the Easter Eucharist?” A familiar voice asked.
Ezra turned to face his friend Iker (Ike) Elizondo, a semi-retired sheep rancher who was his best friend. “We served Welch’s grape juice and I don’t know the vintage.”
“Why don’t you serve wine like we Catholics do? After all, they didn’t drink grape juice at the Last Supper. The wine becomes Christ’s blood some sort of transubstitution…”
“You mean transubstantiation,” Ezra replied. “Unlike Catholics, most Protestants believe its a sign of Christ’s presence. The dictionary definition of sacrament is a sign of divine grace or a symbol of a spiritual reality.”
“Well then fishing must be a sacrament, because my spiritual reality for today is at the end of a reel,” Ike said. “Grabbing Ezra’s fishing pole that was leaning against the wall next to the door. “And you can smite them with this rod of yours.”
“I guess fishing is one sacrament that Catholics and Protestants can agree on,” Ezra laughed.
“I’ve packed lunch for both of us and there’s no grape juice or wine in the cooler only soda pop and beer.”
An hour later, Ike’s twenty year old pick up came to a stop at the end of a dirt road. After removing their fishing gear from the bed of the truck, Ezra and Ike walked along a path through the grama and buffalo grass for five minutes until they arrived at Penitent Point, their fishing spot on the banks of the Purgatoire. Nearby were the roofless adobe ruins of a morada where members of the Penitente brotherhood had once met. There was a stillness to the river, it’s mad rush down from the Sangre de Cristo mountains turned to meditation in the flat prairie of the high plains south of Picketwire Canyonlands.
There should be an ichthyological eschatology, Ezra mused after he and Ike had set down their fishing gear as well as the cooler and the hamper with lunch. After all, the early Christians turned the Greek word for fish, ichthys, into an acrostic jesous christos theiou yios soter, which means Jesus Christ Son of God Savior and used the image of a fish as a symbol of their faith.
“If you ever had an inclination to give a sermon on fishing the Purgatory,” Ike said, calling it by one of the names for the river used by the locals. The other, the Picketwire, was the mangled pronunciation of Purgatoire that the Cowboys saddled it with. “You could practice on the fish.”
“Aren’t we trying to catch them not scare them away?”
“Scaring the hell out of them would be a way they could get into fish heaven. Heck, they’re in Purgatory so they’re already halfway.”
After baiting their hooks with worms that Ike had dug up the day before and placed in a jar inside the cooler wedged between the cans of beer and bottles of pop, they cast their lines into the river. It was still morning and the air was warm, but not yet hot. The sky was a deep blue and if they’d been on the east side they would have seen the Sangre De Cristos range above the Western horizon. In particular the twin peaks that the Indians called Wahatoya meaning “breasts of the world” and the Mexicans called Dos Hermanos. If you combined them you came up with two brothers with breasts. Maybe they were transgender mountains, which was better than the gender less Spanish Peaks that they were labeled on maps. Since they were on the West Bank, Ezra looked at islands of buttes and mesas. They had once been islands in an ocean, but were now in a sea of grass.
“What are you looking at?” Ike asked, interrupting Ezra’s stream of thought.
“Just trying to imagine those buttes and mesas as islands in the inland ocean that was once here and all of the creatures that swam in it.”
“Maybe we should be fishing for fossils,” Ike laughed. “Although we’d have to dig up some fossil worms for bait.”
“What’s that noise?” Ezra asked.
“Sounds like a helicopter,” Ike answered.
They both turned and looked up to see a black helicopter flying toward them.
“Maybe it’s a copter from Fort Carson,” Ezra said.
“That doesn’t look like any Army helicopter I’ve seen,” Ike replied as the helicopter got closer.
“I’ve heard of hunting by helicopter, so maybe they’re coming here to fly fish,” Ike chuckled.
The helicopter descended to a landing fifty yards from them in a swirl of dust. When the rotors stopped and the dust settled a side door opened and three men and a woman got out. All of them wore matching gray hoodies, black baseball caps, blue jeans and white sneakers as well as aviator sunglasses. One of the men carried a large duffel bag. They walked through the settling dust and stopped ten feet from Ike and Ezra. The man in the lead, who looked with his hoodie like a former choir boy dressed as a rapper, asked, “Is this Penitent Point?”
“Yep,” Ike answered.
The man waved his left hand toward the ruin. “What’s that old building without a roof?”
“It was once a morada,” Ezra answered. “A morada is a meeting place for the Penitente’s. It’s been abandoned for years.”
“Who are the Penitentes?”
“They’re a religious brotherhood that meets in secret. During lent they whip themselves with Yucca leaves and parade around lugging crosses on their backs and then on Good Friday some of them get up on the crosses and re-enact the crucifixion.”
“That sounds like some gruesome guy thing,” the woman said with a grimace. She was tall, slim, blond and chisel cheeked.
“Speaking of guys,” Ike said. “I’m Ike Elizondo and when I’m not fishing I raise sheep at a ranch near here.”
“I’m Leno Moskhos,” the man announced.
Surprised, Ike said, “Are you the billionaire who owns Tweetie?”
“And that electric car company electomoto…”
“It’s SpaceZ with a Z not a C.”
“Anyway, you’re going to send people to the moon.”
“To Mars, actually. The Moon’s already been done.”
“And with all that going on you still had time to come here and fish,” Ezra said shaking his head in amazement.
“I haven’t fished since I was a kid,” Leno said.
“Don’t worry, fishing hasn’t changed much,” Ike said. “I have an extra pole you can use.”
“Leno likes things that are disruptive,” the woman said.
“The only thing disruptive about fishing are the fish, especially trout. There’s brown, rainbow and cutthroat in the Purgatory.”
“I don’t have to come here for cutthroats, silicon valley is stocked with them,” Leno said. “But Gazelle here loves rainbows.
“Gazelle is a pretty name?” Ezra said to the woman.
“I chose it myself,” she replied. “I believe we should be free to pick our own name. One that expresses who you really are.”
“It is expressive.”
“Did you choose your last name as well?” Ike asked.
“Gazelle is my only name.”
Ike just nodded in reply and then turned to the other men. “And what do you two guys call yourselves?”
“Jeff Nickel,” the man holding the duffel bag replied.
Ike quickly asked the other guy, “Don’t tell me your last name is Dime?”
“It’s Thekkumparambath,” the guy answered. After seeing Ike’s lips silently trying to repeat the name, he added, “But most people just call me by my first name, Kumar.”
“I’m Ezra Beeman,” Ezra said holding out his right hand.
After everyone shook hands, Ezra asked. “If you don’t mind my asking, why did you come to Penitent Point if you don’t fish?”
“Not at all. I like to be completely transparent.”
“So, everyone can see right through you like the invisible man,” Ike chuckled.
“Don’t mind, Ike,” Ezra said.
“I’m just being disruptive,” Ike said.
Ignoring Ike’s wisecrack, Leno said, “The reason we’re here is because of MGB…”
“An MGB,” Ike interrupted. “I rode in one years ago when some English fellow named Nigel came through. He’d shipped his MGB to New York so he could drive it across America. Really nifty red two seat convertible. It had the steering wheel on the right side because the English drive on the wrong side of the road.” Ike chuckled. “Since Nigel was by himself he picked up hitch hikers so they could tell him when the road ahead was clear for passing and he passed everything. It broke down right outside the gate to my sheep ranch and I towed him to Beulah Crossing, that’s the nearest town. The mechanic at the local garage had a fun time fixing it. After it was running Nigel gave me a ride. It scared the hell out of me and the roads around here are flat and straight so god only knows what happened to Nigel once he got into the mountains since that was where he was headed after he dropped me off.”
“This MGB isn’t a sports car,” Leno said. “It’s an AI chatbot…”
“AI stands for artificial intelligence,” Kumar added quickly. “And a chatbot is a software application that allows a person to interact with computers conversationally as if they were human. In this case the information that is conveyed by the chatbot resides in a network of computers rather than one computer. It’s called the cloud…”
“But enough of the tech jargon,” Leno said impatiently, cutting off Kumar. Simply put, we’re developing an AI chatbot that can access and analyze instantaneously all of the knowledge that’s in the cloud. MGB are the initials for MyGodBot.”
“Leno has trademarked the name, in case you were wondering,” Kumar added.
“What I’m wondering is what Penitent Point has to do with this MGB of yours?” Ike asked.
“We came here for the final test,” Kumar replied. “Because when Leno asked MGB the final question…”
“I call it the ultimate question,” Leno said. “And when I asked it MGB told me I had to come to Purgatory if I wanted the answer.”
“At first we thought it meant Purgatory Ski Resort outside Durango,” Jeff said. “Even though there wouldn’t be any snow for skiing since it’s summer.”
Gazelle added, “Leno was going to buy the place so we’d have it to ourselves…”
“But I already own a ski resort in Wyoming,” Leno said. “And owning two seemed redundant, especially since I don’t have time to ski so I decided to double check with MGB before I went ahead. MGB said that the purgatory it was referring to wasn’t a resort, but a place for penitents. I asked it to give us the name of the place for penitents in purgatory and it responded with Penitente Point on the Purgatoire River.”
“You mean to say that this is where MGB is going to give you the answer?”
“Not just an answer but a revelation.”
“A revelation like Yahweh revealing himself to Moses in the burning bush?” Ezra asked.
“I’ve been to Burning Man,” Gazelle said. “And lots of people revealed themselves, but most of them should have kept their clothes on.”
“Not like that,Gazelle” Leno snapped. “It will be more like Michelangelo’s painting in the Sistine Chapel where God reaches out with a finger from a cloud of angels and touches Adam’s finger.”
“MyGodBot reaching digitally from a cloud of algorithms,” Kumar added.
“That scene in the painting depicted Adam before he was banished from Eden as punishment for committing the original sin of wanting to know as much as god,” Ezra said.
“Ezra’s a reverend,” Ike explained. “He’s the pastor of Prairie Star Community Church in Beulah Junction. You can’t miss it because it has this really tall steeple with a star on top.”
“Our helicopter flew over it on the way out here,” Jeff said. “Good thing it was in the daylight or we might have crashed into it.”
“No, you wouldn’t, because it lights up at night.”
“You know, Leno’s thinking of starting a church called Cybertarianism,” Gazelle said. “And we’re all going to be his disciples.
“What do Cybertarians believe in?” Ezra asked.
“I’m waiting for the revelation from MGB before I decide,” Leno said.
“How are you going to communicate with this MGB thing a ma bot?” Ike asked. “There’s no Internet or cell coverage out here and the danger of wildfires is really high right now so you can’t burn any bushes.”
“No problem,” Kumar answered. “We’ll use a computer with a satellite transmitter that Jeff has in the duffel bag he’s carrying.”
“It will enable me to connect to one of my communication satellites that’s been positioned in a stationary orbit twelve thousand miles overhead,” Leno said. “The satellite will then relay my question to my cloud computer servers in California where MyGodBot will then give me the answer.”
“You mean revelation,” Gazelle reminded him.
“Oh, yeah, the revelation,” Leno replied. He looked at the ruins of the Morada.
“You know, I think it would be cool to have MGB’s revelation inside the ruins over there…”
“You mean the old morada?” Ezra said.
“You said that Penitent Point gets its name from the Penitentes,”
“And this morada place was where they hung out,” Jeff added.
“Hung from a cross not hung out,” Ezra said.
“Whatever,” Jeff replied, picking up the duffel bag and starting to walk toward the ruins.
“We’ll just get back to our fishing and leave you all to your revelation,” Ike said, holding up his pole for emphasis.
“Do you want us to leave so you can have some privacy for your revelation?” Ezra asked. “We can fish farther downstream.”
“Actually, I’d like you to join us,” Leno replied. “It would be good to have some independent observers as witnesses to MyGodBot’s revelation.”
“As long as I don’t have to testify.”
“I didn’t mean testify in a court.”
“I meant testifying in this church that you’re starting,” Ike replied. “If you want someone to testify as to whatever this My GodBot’s revelation is then you should get a Jehovah Witness or something.”
“That’s what we disciples are for,” Gazelle chimed.
“I was thinking more like a post on twiddle, but, it’s up to you. In any case, you’re welcome to observe since as I said before, I want to be completely transparent,” Leno said then walked toward the ruin, followed by Gazelle and Kumar.
Ike nudged Ezra with his elbow and whispered. “Maybe the revelation will make him invisible. Now that’s something I’ve got to see.”
After placing a tarp on the ground, Jeff set up a computer on top of it. When he was finished, Leno sat cross legged in front of the computer screen with a wireless keyboard on his lap. The others sat on either side of him, with Gazelle assuming a lotus position. Ike and Ezra stood in the back next to one of the adobe walls of the former morada. of them sat down cross legged in front of the computer screen with a wireless keyboard on Leno’s lap.
“Before I start,” Leno said. “I’d like to go over what happened when I asked MGB the final question.”
“First, you asked MGB if it could access all of the data in the cloud?” Kumar replied.
“And MGB responded that it could,” Leno said.
“Then you asked if there really was an ultimate truth?”
“And it answered that there was.” Leno said.
“So, then you asked it to analyze all the data in the cloud and tell you what the ultimate truth was?” Jeff said.
“And that’s when MGB said to come to this place and it would reveal the answer,”. Gazelle added.
“Okay,” Leno said. “I guess its time to get the show on the road.”
“You mean the revelation,” Gazelle whispered loudly.
Without replying to Gazelle, Leno took a deep breath then tapped the keys. The screen turned blue and cloud appeared with the words MYGodBot in bold black on it. As Leno typed his text appeared at the bottom of the screen.
“I’m here at Penitent Point as you requested and ready to receive the ultimate revelation.”
The words MyGodBot faded into the cloud and “It’s already revealed” appeared in its place.
Leno quickly typed, “What’s been revealed?”
“You have to figure that out for yourself,” MGB answered.
Leno turned to the others. “What now?”
“Ask to tell you how to figure it out,” Kumar offered.
Leno looked at the screen and typed, “How do I figure it out?”
“Gazelle has her eyes closed and her lips are moving,” Ike whispered to Ezra. “Maybe she’s praying for the answer.”
“Wait, it’s going to answer,” Leno said as the cloud got bigger. Gazelle opened her eyes and as everyone stared at the screen where the cloud was getting bigger until it filled the entire screen.
“TRY FISHING” flashed like a bolt of lightning and the cloud disappeared like a balloon that had popped.
Leno turned and looked at Kumar who shook his head, then Jeff who shrugged, then Gazelle who smiled. Finally, he looked at Ezra and Ike.
“I guess your MyGodBot works in mysterious ways,” Ezra said.
“I still have that extra pole you can use,” Ike added.