Rune Rofke - Glenn Emery

Mice Wars

April 1980

MFT moved out of the center a few weeks ago. The new commander and Carl didn’t really get along. It seems commander felt the atmosphere of the center was too laid-back for MFT, so he moved the MFT operations to a farm on the highway to Terre Haute, near the truck stop. It will probably be more convenient for them anyway, being so close to all the major highways. Commander did let us keep the old MFT van we had been using, so I’m glad about that.

The weather has finally warmed up and the long, dreary winter is over. I feel better emotionally than I’ve felt in years. It’s been a couple months since the Ormes were here, and last I heard the holy terrors were still crisscrossing the country and striking the fear of God into everybody. From time to time brothers and sisters from other parts of the country pass through and spend a day or two. We swap war stories about the Ormes and have a good laugh. But the bottom line is I really got to like the old gal and I was sorry when she left.

The oddest part for me is my spirit has been totally calm. Ever since Mrs. Orme and I had the talk in the pie shop I had expected her spiritual inoculation, if I can call it that, to fade away after she left. But it didn't. So I tried to take full advantage of the renewed energy and clarity. This is probably as close to happy as I can realistically expect. Or to put it another way, I've pretty much quit thinking about W or Texas or what happened.

My body is changing. I’m a little bigger and a little heavier. I look more like a man and less like a kid. I've been working out with the weights and eating well and getting more rest. I’ve settled into a comfortable routine. I don’t miss MFT anymore. I’ve adjusted to center life.

Even my relationship with Carl has improved. I no longer see him as a pompous asshole, but rather a guy not much different from myself who’s wrestling with his own demons. I still don’t think much of his leadership abilities, but at least we’ve become friends.

The turning point was when Carl got a letter from home, from his mother, in California. She told him his father had moved out of the house and was living in a mobile home along the Russian River with some waitress he met at a truck stop. Thirty-eight years of marriage -- swept away in an errant beat of the heart. Carl was devastated by the news. He tried hard not to show it, but it really ate him up. At night when the sisters would go to bed, he and I would sit up and talk.

Until now he’d never said a word about his life before the church. I was shocked as hell at how much we had in common, and I was stunned when he told me he had once been an aspiring rock musician with long hair who had jammed with some semi-famous people in the Bay Area. I had always assumed Carl’s interest was folk music, probably because he sort of looks like Art Garfunkel and knows all that music by heart. I had always admired Carl’s enormous talent as a guitarist, but I never would have guessed he had once been an in-demand player in San Francisco’s psychedelic music scene.

Under the circumstances I told him about my lifelong obsession with the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd, and he was extremely understanding. He said his idols had been Paul Butterfield and Jimi Hendrix. I was absolutely green with envy when he told me he had been to Woodstock, just before he joined the church.

Carl said his dad had always been a bit of a rascal and a free spirit, but he adored him and desperately wanted to go to California to talk some sense into his dad and to comfort his mother. But he said his responsibilities were to Father first, so he refused to go, instead choosing to try to handle the family crisis as best he could by letters and phone calls.

Apparently his dad’s infidelity was short-lived, because about three weeks later his mother wrote that he had come home, realizing he’d made a mistake and begging for forgiveness. His mother said she was still angry and hurt and undecided about taking him back, but Carl was relieved all the same. He seemed confident they would work it out.

Since then we’ve spent a lot more time together, especially playing guitar. I’ve been playing on an old 12-string I found last winter in the storage room and he’s been teaching me. Already I’m getting to where I can play most of the major chords without looking. Sometimes he and I go downtown and play on street corners and then witness to people who gather around to listen. Lately when people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them I'm a writer. I don't know why. The only thing I write is this journal, but for some reason it feels like the most honest answer.

Carl also let me buy an old 35mm camera and an old enlarger at the pawnshop down the street, and then I turned the laundry room in the basement into a crude darkroom. It’s been fun having a little hobby. We also bought a small aquarium and some angel fish for the living room. And I built a table saw out of scrap parts I found in the basement. One day while I was out fundraising a guy in a motor repair shop gave me a small electric motor, and somehow I managed to get the whole thing put together. The first time I turned it on it scared the shit out of me. I couldn’t believe how well it worked. I didn’t really need a table saw -- or a camera or aquarium or 12-string for that matter -- I just needed to make things, to do something with my hands. All my years on MFT, my only creative outlet was this journal.

We still do a fair amount of fundraising and witnessing, and in a few months we’ll begin our 40-day pioneering conditions. I can hardly wait. I just want to go someplace by myself and see what I can do, without having a central figure to answer to. I have no idea where I’ll go, but Carl seems to think we’ll each be sent to Ohio. It doesn’t matter much to me. I just want to get out in the real world for a while.

In the meantime, I keep busy, and derive much of my personal satisfaction, from mundane chores like mowing the grass and painting the outside trim on the house, which badly needs it. For a house of God, it’s kind of shabby. The yellow brick façade and terra cotta roof are fine, but the paint is peeling and the windows need re-glazing. And since these are things well within my expertise, Carl gives me time and money on most days to work on these improvements. I painted the trim and windows white, but I chose a Wedgwood blue to complement the pale yellow brick for the stucco.

On an inspiration, I decided to paint the background of the decorative bas-relief on the front of the house, to make it stand out. I swear to God it actually looks like Wedgwood pottery. It totally transformed the appearance of the house. Even an elderly neighbor from across the street came over to tell me how elegant it looks. He says that’s how it appeared 40 years ago when the house was new.

So much for the exterior. We have a serious rodent problem. At night I can hear mice racing back and forth in the ceiling between the first and second floors. There must be dozens, maybe hundreds of them. The only access is in the closet in the prayer room, where a panel opens to the bathtub pipes in the sisters’ bathroom. I opened it up and put a trap baited with peanut butter in the space and then put the cover back. I wasn’t even down the hall when I heard it snap. I set it again, and again it caught a mouse within moments. I did this several more times, then I ran down to the hardware store and bought several more traps, plus some poison.

For a few days I caught between 25 and 30 mice a day, sometimes even getting two in one trap. Then it tapered off to about a dozen a day, and after two weeks the body count was down to about one or two a day.

As the mice war was winding down, a new brother arrived at our center temporarily. It was a refreshing change to have some male companionship besides Carl. Greg was on MFT like me, though never a captain. He simply fundraised, year in and year out, mostly around Chicago, until his physical health gave out from two much junk food and not enough rest. He’s probably going to go to New York to help start “ocean church,” Father’s new tuna fishing business. I wish I could go, but I doubt that’s in the cards for me.

In the couple weeks he was with us, Greg decided to help me in my restoration projects by tackling the broken tiles in the sisters’ bathtub. Neither of us had done that type of work before, but we figured it couldn’t be that hard. Next thing I knew he had pulled all the old tiles off and cut out the rotten wood, leaving a gaping hole in the wall.

But before he could finish the job, Carl sent him out fundraising for a few days to make the airfare to New York. The delay pissed me off, because now it looked like one more thing to add to my list, and it was turning into a bigger job than we thought. Greg covered up the hole with clear plastic and promised to finish when he returned in a few days.

The next day, while most everyone was out of the center, I was huddled in the prayer room closet checking the mousetraps when I heard the bathroom door close. My heart started pounding. I knew I should leave immediately, but I couldn’t move. A coldness covered me like an icy blanket and I began to shiver. I felt paralyzed. And through the plastic I saw Nina. I had forgotten she was in the house. I watched her undress and get into the shower.

For twenty minutes I trembled at the forbidden sight of her beautiful, smooth skin. Whatever it was that had been shielding me from sexual temptation these past couple months, it was literally being washed down the drain.

When she was done, I quietly left the house. After the intense cold that had enveloped me in the closet, the warm spring air was soothing. I’m not sure how I felt. I knew I should have been guilt-ridden, but I wasn’t. I felt excited and, I don’t know how else to say it, fortunate. I felt like the luckiest guy alive because of a chance encounter that I had no control over.

I decided to walk it off, so I headed over to Butler College, where I spent the rest of the afternoon in the student union. I like it there when I want to hide out because I can blend in easily. I look like just another undergrad. “M*A*S*H” reruns were showing on the projection TV, as they always do at that time of day.

A girl with long blonde hair kept looking at me, but I was too engrossed in reliving the memory of Nina in the shower to pay much attention. All I could think about was hot foamy water cascading over Nina’s gorgeous cunt. 

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