The holiest hill in all the world is the hallowed Holy Hill of Wisconsin. Upon it stands the famed Shrine of Mary, Mother of God. The twin towers of this cathedral are visible for miles around, and the devout flock there to admire the holiness of the church and the hilliness of the hills. South Milwaukee is sixty minutes away by Skylark.
“You know,” Sam mentioned to Lance one afternoon in July, “I saw this show last night on TV, where they had a coffin at this one church in Europe, and it was solid gold.”
“Such sarcophagi abound in the cellars of all reputable churches,” Chad interrupted. Greg looked up from carving “Falcon” into the desk.
“Well, this coffin was solid gold, and covered in gems.”
“Hey,” Lance said, rubbing his hands together, “where’s the nearest cathedral?”
“There ain’t no cathedrals in America,” Greg said, “closest thing we got is Holy Hill…” It was decided that very moment to make a pilgrimage to Holy Hill, in order to pilfer the solid gold coffins from its basement.
The attack was planned for the upcoming Saturday, and the whole week was spent in busy preparation. Special supplies were procured for the enterprise, including 100 feet of climbing rope (to scale the towers), grappling hooks, extra black adventuring suits, walkie talkies, and levers to separate the gold coffins from their marble pedestals.
At 10pm sharp, Lance, Sam, Chad, Greg, and Jason Hakow piled into Skylark 3, and a heated discussion concerning gas money erupted. Lance and Sam were battling for the privilege of the front seat, and when the bidding had reached $2.20 Sam pulled out. In this way, Lance purchased the passenger seat. But upon arriving at the gas station, Lance insisted that Sam had bluffed when he upped his offer to $2.10 (a thorough search proved that Sam did in fact possess only 82 cents) and that Lance was therefore only required to pay more than Sam was capable, i.e., 83 cents.
“I ain’t payin nothing, cause its my car,” Greg snapped when asked to pitch in, “you’re lucky I don’t charge you for wear and tear, depreciation.” He stopped pumping when the total reached five dollars, and folded his arms, waiting. Just then a great crash was heard from behind a nearby dumpster.
Chad, Lance, and Sam rushed over to find their old friend and schoolmate, Melvin Klutzski, lying in a pile of aluminum cans and newspapers with a grin on his face. He leapt to his feet, and asked with a jolly voice, “What are you guys all dressed up for?”
“We’re goin on an adventure,” Lance said, shaking his head, “what are you doin in this garbage pile?” Melvin looked quizzically at the ground behind him, flung his arms out in his characteristic gesture, and let out a disdainful “pfffffff!”
“I was just comin to pick up some Root Beer and gravy for my mom, she’s sick.”
“Gravy for the throat, you don’t know about that?”
“You got any money, Melvin?” Lance interrupted with a smile.
“I think so,” he said, digging in his pockets. He pulled out some crumpled bills, at least one of which was a twenty.
“Hey, why don’t you come with us,” Chad suggested, “it’s gonna be a great adventure.”
“Sure, why not?” he agreed, and they walked back to the car. Melvin paid for the gas and sat on the hump between Sam and Chad in the back. While waiting for Lance to return from the gas station, Greg turned to the back of the car, and looked scornfully at the chubby Melvin.
“Is it wise to bring this greenhorn?” he asked flatly.
“Sure, sure. Melvin’s fine…brave,” Chad muttered. Greg only shook his head. After a few minutes, Lance returned with a giant brown bag stuffed with snacks and refreshments. They set out.
There was great excitement in the car, as it rumbled out of South Milwaukee and into the wilderness of Wisconsin. Lance chomped on Snicker bars, Doritos, cupcakes, and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, guzzled a Coke and some lime Gatorade. Sam’s stomach growled plaintively from the back. “Hey, Lance,” he asked, “got any Snicker bars left?”
Close to midnight, Skylark 3 reached the top of a hill in the road, and the silhouette of Holy Hill came into view. It stood proudly, its twin spires piercing the night sky, illumined by a full moon. Greg pulled into a gravel driveway at the foot of the hill, and everyone silently crept out of the car. Without words, they knew what was required of them, and they skulked along the path until it began to ascend. Each man followed behind the shadowy figure before him, Greg leading the pilgrimage. The first stretch led along the Path of Saints. At every turn a new saint loomed out of the dark, spooking the adventurers into silence and fear. Finally, they reached the top, and unloaded their gear near the monks’ quarters. A few lights shown, a few crickets creaked, but other than that, all was dark and quiet.
“I’ll go check the front doors,” Sam whispered, “you guys wait here.” Greg put on one of the communicators and handed the other pair to Sam. He quickly disappeared, as the rest of the group waited for word. Melvin shifted his weight from one foot to another, and Lance and Chad cringed, praying that he wouldn’t lose his balance and fall. Several minutes passed slowly.
“Hey,” Melvin said in a loud whisper, “I think they’re closed.”
“No fucking shit, shit for brains!” Greg responded, looking at Melvin scornfully. He then bent his head down, and placed a hand over the earphone of the communicator, listening intently. “The doors are locked…” he reported, “But Sam found an open window. He wants us to meet him under the North spire immediately.” He looked up. “Let’s go,” he said, picking up the rope and one of the packs.
“Hey you guys, I’m just gonna hang out here for awhile, okay?” Melvin asked. Greg thought for a moment.
“Okay, that’s probably best. We’ll leave some of the supplies here, too.”
“Melvin,” Lance began, grabbing him firmly by the shoulder, “don’t move. Don’t make any noise. Just wait, okay?”
“And if anything happens, anything at all, just meet at the car like we planned.”
“Of course, meet at the car. Greg’s car?”
“Yeah, yeah. If anything happens,” Greg repeated, “go to that car.”
“Oh, okay,” Melvin said, looking around, “I’ll see you guys. I’ll be waiting right here.” Greg sighed, and tapped Chad on the shoulder, signaling him to follow. The four of them jumped over the low wall behind which they had sought cover, and ran along the grass toward the spire. When they reached it, Sam whispered from a nearby bush.
“What did you see?” Chad asked in his ear.
“Well, the main doors are locked, but I searched around. Everything’s locked up, except,” he pointed to a window 25 feet above them, “except that window.”
“We can’t get up there!” Lance exclaimed in a muffled shout.
“Sam,” Chad asked seriously, “can you climb it?”
“I don’t know,” he answered, looking up. “I don’t know. I can try.”
“Okay,” Chad said, “do your best and we’ll throw you the rope.” Sam looked around, rubbed the wall and took a few steps back. He then spit on his hands, spread his feet, outstretched his arms, and began to make the motions of giant bipedal spider, bobbing his head up and down. In this way he focused his mind and primed his body. Then, before one could say “Sammy!” he was on the wall, scampering upwards. Just when it seemed gravity would snatch him back down, he reached out and grabbed hold of the window sill. In anxious silence, the earthbound Friends watched as Sam pulled himself up and over the window, an act of acrobatics especially difficult since the window opened outward like a miniature drawbridge. Without a sound, he disappeared inside.
Just then, a scraping was heard from a shack a few feet away, and they froze before realizing that Greg had made the noise. “Hey,” he called, “you think we could use this?” He tugged on the end of a ladder with a smile. In astonished disbelief Chad, Jason, and Lance rushed to Greg’s aid, and quickly set the ladder up against the wall. It barely reached to the window.
Lance was the first up, and when he stood on the top rung, Sam extended his hand and pulled him in. Next went Greg, Chad, and finally, Jason. Inside the cathedral only candles illumined the dark mahogany surfaces. They crept about wide-eyed and agape. Sam set off toward the doors which led to the towering towers; Lance began to search for the entrance to the cellar and the golden sarcophagi; Chad, Jason, and Greg slowly made their way to the far end of the hall. There they encountered a small side chamber, which was also lit up with dozens of candles flickering inside their cylinders of glass. As they entered, Lance and Sam came up, reporting in whispers that all the doors were locked.
Upon entering this sanctuary, which shimmered in soft light, they were instantly struck by what seemed to be an apparition. Above them, swaying gently in the darkness, floated Mother Mary herself, smiling on the visitors. “Take me with you,” she whispered to them. Sam was the first to break the spell, cracking his knuckles and looking up greedily.
“Hey, you guys,” he said, “it’s just a tapestry. Let’s get it.” Immediately, the adventurers set to work, climbing up to the points where she was fastened to the wall, cutting her down, and rolling her into a manageable roll. As they were leaving the side room, and entering into the main pillared hall, they saw a shadow flicker from the choir above. They dropped the tapestry and ran. Chad was the first one at the window, and when he leaned his head out, it began to spin with vertigo. He closed the window and turned to the group:
“The ladder’s gone,” he lied, “we gotta go out the door.” Without giving them a chance to respond, he dashed in the other direction, down a small flight of stairs. They came up behind him quickly.
“Are you sure?” Sam asked.
“This is crazy,” said Lance.
“There’s gotta be an alarm,” Greg added. But Chad was adamant.
“Look, there’s no other way out, besides, why would they put an alarm on a…” with that, he pushed the heavy door open and they were met by the enormous deafening blast of a wailing siren.
Whamp!! Whamp!! Whamp!! Whamp!! Whamp!! Whamp!!
The dazed adventurers fell back on each other in a heap. Then, they struggled to their feet and bolted severally out the door. Sam and Lance disappeared the way they had approached, Greg followed, jumping over the abandoned pack with their supplies. Chad and Jason followed just behind, running at top speed. It is unbelievable just how fast spooked teenagers can run. At a turn in the bend, though, the latter pair came across some trouble. They could not slow down enough to make the turn, and so they crashed into a low railing that at once tripped them and sent them sailing into the brush beyond. Like most railings, this one guarded unwary passers-by from a precipitous drop. Their fall, luckily, was broken by sharp branches and brambles, and they tumbled 50 feet through the rough undergrowth. Finally, they rolled out onto the asphalt, where the road had looped around. Lance, Sam, and Greg came running up, surprised to see the two they had left behind in front of them. Without explaining, they joined ranks and sprinted the remaining distance to the waiting Skylark.
In a flash, they were in and driving away, the alarm still blaring its plaintive SOS into the night. Whamp!! Whamp!! Whamp!! “God,” Chad said with a smile, “that was close.”
“I never heard anything so loud!” Lance exclaimed with a laugh, stripping off his black face mask.
“Let’s just get on that highway and get outa here,” Jason said, “I can still make it home by one.” They drove for five minutes, basking in the feeling of success and adrenaline that coursed through their veins. Then their day turned to night.
“Uh,” Sam said uncomfortably, “you guys…”
“Where’s Melvin?” Greg slammed on the brakes.
“Oh my God!”
“What are we gonna do?” Sam asked desperately.
“Let’s keep going,” Chad said, “we told him to wait at the car and he wasn’t there. If we go back, we’ll all get caught.” They turned around and looked out the rear window. Far off, they could see the Holy Hill grounds, red lights flashing intermittently through the trees. The cops were already there.
“But even if we get home,” Lance said, “Melvin will rat on us. All our stuff’s there — we’ll get caught no matter what.” The Original Friends were stuck in a quagmire almost as sticky as the Factory’s Quickcoal. To abandon a member of the group was not in their nature, but to re-enter a minefield which had just been successfully crossed seemed more than foolhardy. In the end, though, they reluctantly spun the car around and headed back toward the sirens, the flashing lights, the police, and the monks. Skylark 3 sputtered quizzically: he had never before been asked to drive toward such deadly enemies. He certainly must have thought something was amiss.
“It’s okay, boy,” Greg said reassuringly, patting the dashboard, “we know what we’re doin.” He looked back at Chad and shrugged his shoulders, clearly unsure about this plan. After a few minutes, Greg cut the engine and they pulled into a dark cul-de-sac not far from the base of Holy Hill. Chad turned to the group. “Okay, I say we split up. Two of us should go and rescue him, the rest wait here…”
“Yeah. Lance and I should go,” Sam said, “because we’re the fastest.”
“Okay,” Chad said, and looked at his watch. “we’ll give you thirty minutes. If you’re not back by then…”
“You leave,” Sam said firmly. “You leave. If we’re not back in thirty minutes it means we’re caught, and there’s no reason for you guys to suffer. We won’t mention you. You gotta just take off, okay?” They reluctantly agreed, Greg looked up at Holy Hill out the back window — spotlights swept up and down the twin towers.
“Good luck,” he said, as Lance and Sam slipped out of the car and disappeared into the night. They three who remained watched the dashboard clock nervously, praying that their companions would return safe.
Lance and Sam, dressed all in black, slid back across enemy lines and into the compound, which was now crawling with guards and armed monks. They returned along the gravel road, hiding in shadows and straining their eyes for the familiar form of Melvin. When they had been gone for about seven minutes, a sheriff’s car pulled into the access road, shining a spotlight to the left and right.
Lance and Sam instinctively dove into a clump of bushes, and pressed their bodies into the dirt. “Shhhhh,” Lance mouthed to Sam. The car approached, and the crunching gravel seemed to be only inches from their ears. Then the spotlight passed over their heads, millimeters away from them, sweeping along the trees behind. They held their breath. After two or three passes, the car finally turned around and pulled back onto the main road. They sighed relief, jumped to their feet, and ran up the path toward the Church, looking to both sides, hoping to catch a glimpse of Melvin. But they had no luck. Sam looked at his watch, and saw that 27 minutes had passed. He showed Lance, who gave a look of surprise, then nodded in the direction of the car. They sped back and arrived four minutes late.
“No luck?” Jason asked anxiously.
“Nope,” Sam said, catching his breath, “you should’ve left…”
“We wouldn’t have left,” Chad said frankly, “not without you guys.”
“I was about to leave,” Greg said flatly, “now let’s get outa here.”
Do you think it is possible to trick the gods twice in one night? I’ll tell you, it is not!
Minutes later, Skylark 3 was surrounded by four police cars. With blinding flashlights, they approached. Greg rolled down the window. Chad, in the passenger seat, did the same. Two hulking men came up to each of them, and in unison leaned in to begin their interrogations.
“Hello officer,” Greg said calmly.
“Were we speeding?” Chad asked meekly.
“We’ll ask the questions! What are you boys doing out here?”
“We’re on our way to Madison…”
“We’re going to Milwaukee…”
“You know anything about Holy Hill?”
“Yeah, we just passed it…”
“Never heard of it…”
“Why you all dressed in black?”
“We’re going camping…”
“We’re on our way to a costume party…”
“What’s in that pack?”
“Are you telling the truth?”
Just then, when the police were beginning to suspect something, Lance slowly reached down to remove an irritating burr from his sock. The police thought he was going for a weapon, and they quickly opened the back doors, lunged at Lance’s foot, and roughly dragged him from the car. Sam and Jason were likewise pulled from the other side. When they had all the Original Friends on the dark highway, they searched, handcuffed, and threw them into separate squad cars.
The sun was just peeking over the hills when the motorcade arrived back at Holy Hill, carrying its captives. Once there, they unloaded the prisoners and shackled them to several posts which stood to the left and right of the main entrance to the cathedral. The officer in charge, Lt. Beuford Bragg, removed the left shoe from each of the adventurers, and disappeared. When he left, a small group of monks approached, cloaked in the traditional brown cowl.
“My sons,” the leader began, “is it you who have broken into our Holy Shrine of Mother Mary?”
“You mean this man-made pile of bricks?” Sam asked blasphemously.
“What mean you?” asked the Friar, “by ‘man-made’? Don’t you believe in God?”
“Ha!” Lance snapped, “that opiate of the masses? Of course not!”
“How can this be?” Confused whispering spread among the friars.
“Look,” Chad began, “all knowledge comes through the senses, right?”
“Well, I suppose…”
“And if Schopenburger is right about the ontological tautology of our existential dilemma, (and we must admit he is),” the Original Friends nodded knowingly at this truism, “then we are left with the cold and difficult fact of atheism. Even if it weren’t for logical considerations, the belief in a God ought to be abandoned on political, psychological, and social grounds…”
“Good God, he’s right,” exclaimed one of the initiates, throwing off his cloak.
“Hold on just a second,” the head friar began, “what about Kant?” The Original Friends laughed scornfully. Finally, Greg blurt out:
“I’d like to shove a categorical imperative right up Kant’s…”
“Hold on,” Chad interrupted, “let’s look at it rationally…” In this way, the Friars and the Friends became engaged in a learned discussion of the existence of God. But as it was a Sunday morning, and the devout would soon be appearing for the daily sermon, the monks eventually took their leave. Before they left, though, they pronounced a malediction on the Original Friends.
“Fie! Fie! Fie on you all for attempting to remove the Magical Mysterious Super Sacred Most Holy Mother Mary Tapestry!” Then they were left alone.
Soon, though, their peace was broken by a parade of well groomed and well dressed citizens, leading their clean families up the hill to the main church. They had awoken with the sun to make a pilgrimage to Holy Hill. Haughtiness sparkled coldly in their eyes as they passed the Friends, whom they immediately judged to be infidels.
Such an assessment did not require a long leap of faith. They were tired, dirty, filthy, and chained; Chad and Jason had dried blood on their faces from their unfortunate fall through the brambles. In fact, a thorny branch had become entangled in Chad’s hair, circling his head. They each stood with one sock in the mud. On top of all this, their humiliation at being caught manifested itself in savage snarling at the God-fearing Christians walking past them and into the Church. “Mommy,” a little girl asked with fear, “are those sinners?”
“Yes, dear, don’t go too close…”
“Hey lady,” Greg yelled, but she hurried into the church.
“This sucks,” Lance exclaimed. (And in fact, it did.) Finally, everyone was seated inside, and the sermon began. The Original Friends could hear it from their posts.
“My brothers and sisters in righteousness, children of Jesus, good morning to you all! Today we have been given a special blessing by the Lord Jesus. Last night, five heretics, five fallen youth, five followers of Satan, attempted to steal the Most Holy Super Sacred Magical Mysterious Mother Mary Tapestry!” A murmur arose.
“Where are they!” demanded Lawrence Livermore, retired insurance salesman, rising to his feet.
“We’ll burn them!” shouted Miss Abigail Evergreen, the librarian. The Original Friends gulped. The congregation agreed to Abigail’s plan, which they would straight way execute after singing a few psalms. The Original Friends were about to be martyred. Just then, Lt. Bragg returned with the five left shoes, sadly shaking his head.
“Well,” he said to his partner, “we ain’t got nothing on em. The prints match, all right, except that they’re all right feet, and these are left.” He turned to the Original Friends as the final psalm was coming to an end. “Boys, you’re lucky,” he said, “we’re gonna release you right here. Have a good day.” He began to walk down the hill as Abigail Evergreen approached, a tankard of holy gasoline in her arms.
“Wait!” Chad yelled. “Lt. Bragg, wait! We did it!”
“Take us into custody!” Lance pleaded. The sheriff walked slowly back, looking at them suspiciously.
“Can you prove it?”
“Sure,” Greg said, “just take us back to headquarters and we’ll explain everything!”
They were thus herded back into the squad cars, and as they drove off, the crowd piled out of the church, holding torches, and looking about with angry disappointment. Just then, a great crash was heard from a nearby bush, and the last thing the Friends saw was Melvin Klutski coming from the woods, and Abigail Evergreen charging at him.