“Release” by Wm Morris was a finalist in the 2012 Four Centuries of Mormon Stories contest. It was originally published online at Everyday Mormon Writer on October 25, 2012.
Davvid Gates took a long walk once a day. This was allowable under the Alternate Forms of Exercise Provision section 23 (conducive to continued mental health) so long as he kept to public thoroughfares and his thought patterns showed no bursts of activity in forbidden zones.
Davvid never consciously planned out his walks. All he knew was that at some point during the day his lymph nodes would begin to throb and would continue to throb until he had made a complete circuit of whatever route he was supposed to travel that particular day. As he walked — usually along well-traveled corridors teeming with citizens — he would occasionally reach out and brush the wall with his fingers or the back of his hand. Sometimes he would feel compelled to turn his head towards someone hurrying by and exhale quickly through his nose.
Normally, citizens were not allowed to wander without a registered destination nor dim their implant’s wayfinding overlay, but his Wellness Advisor had explained that Davvid had been granted this exemption because the State was always willing to be flexible for the sake of well being. He also assured Davvid that he was not the only one who suffered from a mild agoraphobia with traces of OCD and that sometimes citizens responded better to physical activity as a palliative rather than distractive entertainment and/or anti-anxiety drugs.
These walks troubled Davvid. He didn’t know why he engaged in them. He only knew that he felt compelled to do so, and, although he had never and would never admit this to his Advisor, he felt guided on these walks — guided by his lymph nodes, which would pulse uncomfortably the whole time, but would ebb and flow in intensity as he reached intersections, steering him down various corridors and walkways.
What’s more: when Davvid returned from his walks, patches of his skin, especially on his hands, would crackle raw and dry, and he always felt the need to take a long shower followed by a brief nap. His Advisor never asked him to correct this routine, and in turn Davvid never mentioned the trouble with his lymph nodes. He figured that if something was seriously wrong with them, that would come out in a weekly health scan. But other than a cold every so often (and the mild agoraphobia), he was a healthy, normal, productive citizen albeit one who, at 62, was reaching middle age.
One day, Davvid woke up in the middle of his sleeping period. The nodes in his neck and thighs were swollen and throbbing more painfully than he had experienced before. His heart began to race. He tried to calm himself so he wouldn’t trigger a medical alert.
He slowed his breathing, inhaling through his nose and exhaling through his mouth. He did not want to be prodded by a doctor. Not if he could help it. His arms and chest began to itch all over, a more intense version of what he had often experienced after his walks.
Then he gasped as his heart began to pound again and pain rippled across him. The coppery taste of blood spread across his mouth. He gasped and touched his tongue. His finger came away coated only with saliva. He moaned and curled up in his bed. He felt like he was burning up inside, but, oddly, his skin felt cool, and beneath the pain a pleasant warmth spread inside him, radiating out from his chest. An alert chimed in his implant. It directed him to report to a nearby medical facility. Davvid contemplated ignoring it, but knew that he could not. If he delayed too long, Security would soon arrive to help him move along.
A new alert chimed — this one changing the facility he was required to report to. It was farther away and not one that he had ever been to before. If he had to go, at least he could see something new.
Breathing heavily, he lurched out of bed and stumbled in to the corridor. His implant brought up the State’s wayfinding overlay — ghostly blue arrows pointing the direction he was supposed to go. He obeyed them. As he walked, his lymph nodes also throbbed along, seemingly in sync with the arrows.
It was a ten minute walk. Davvid arrived sheened with sweat. The door to the facility auto-opened. He paused, his thoughts a swirl. He tried madly to calm them. But he did not want to go in. He really did not want to go in. He panicked and began to back away from the open door, the arrows flashed madly in his mind, the State directing him to his required destination. His lymph nodes also flared painfully. He gasped and stepped forward. The pain lessened. He entered the door. They settled down to a mild throbbing. This, apparently, was where he was supposed to be.
He followed the arrows down a narrow corridor to an exam room. He entered and sat on the edge of the exam table. The direction came to undress. He stripped off his jumpsuit. His skin itched all over. He scratched at his chest and felt a strange crust there. He looked down. There was a small, neat scab on his left breast just above the nipple. He scratched at it, not wanting the doctor to see it. It peeled easily off, leaving a pale pink patch of new skin behind.
The implant chimed. A doctor entered the room. He was a short, white-haired man with stocky shoulders and wrinkles around his green eyes.
“Well, Citizen Gates,” he said. “You appear to have a fever and an elevated heart rate. Let’s get you checked out.” The doctor scanned him carefully with a handheld, placing it against his forehead and neck and chest. He palpated the swollen nodes on Davvid’s neck and thighs. He made a slight clucking noise with his tongue and left the room. He returned with a larger scanner, which he held in front of Davvid’s chest for several seconds. An alert chimed in Davvid’s head. His medical file was updated to show that he had had a mild heart attack and would be placed on leave for two days. His rations would be changed, and he would now be prohibited from strenuous forms of work.
“I’m sure you’ve seen the change in your status, citizen,” the doctor said, gesturing his left hand in the air. He wore a thin silver band around the second finger. It gleamed in the cold light of the exam room. “How do you feel?”
“Tired and hot,” Davvid said. “I would very much like to just go home, shower and rest.”
“Of course, of course,” said the doctor. “But first let me give you something that will help you rest.”
“Is that allowed?”
The doctor smiled. “I’m given a certain latitude in treatment, citizen. You are free to leave, but if you’ll stay here for just a moment, I will come back with an injection that will help.”
Davvid nodded. “That would be nice,” he said.
“Wonderful. I’ll be right back. Why don’t you lie down?”
Davvid stretched out on the exam table. His muscles ached all over. He couldn’t remember ever feeling so tired.
The exam door opened and slid shut again. The doctor walked over to the table a hypodermic in his hand. “Roll on your side so you are facing me, please,” he said. David complied, the paper crackling as he turned. The doctor leaned over him, gave his bare arm a gentle slap and then slid the needle in. He removed the ring from his finger and touched it to several places on Davvid’s scalp. Davvid felt the buzzing ever-present awareness of the implant fade out.
The doctor quickly kneeled by the side of the table and placed a hand on Davvid’s head. “You are hereby released from service Bishop Davvid Gates. Well done, my brother. The Spirit shall be with you always, but will no longer have access to certain aspects of your physiology. Keep the faith. And get some rest. You will remember none of this consciously, but this knowledge is already sinking in to the spirit that animates your body. Thank you, brother. We love you. The Lord loves you.”
The doctor took his hand from Davvid’s head, clasped his shoulder briefly and then left the room.
Bishop Davvid Gates (recently released) filled with warmth. The blocks in his mind dropped, and for just one brief moment, his mind was filled with light and faith, and he knew — he knew — who he was and how his furtive, subtle service the past six years had blessed the lives of many. He understood now that Zion was fled. Fled inward. Burrowed deep within the body and the brain, deep beyond the reaches of the state. The Holy Ghost acted lymphatically. The Church was born anew each day in thin layers of epithelia, administered pheremotically, the epithelium self-destructing and sloughing off once it has absorbed the messages of faith and comfort.
Davvid saw faces he didn’t know, felt presences he had only communicated with chemically. He felt an expansive, effulgent love for all of the members of his hidden flock, all those who had picked up the chemical traces he had covertly spread on his meandering walks. A gospel preached in pheromones; a ward whose members hid their devotion from each other — and themselves.
He understood now: the scab on his chest, a faint echo of ordinances lost; the taste of blood in his mouth, a sacrament. He understood that this life was not the end. That as stunted as his existence had been — it was still part of the plan. And just for this moment he was fully himself, fully a living soul, a child of his Father and a disciple of the Son, and the tears leaked on to the exam table as it all faded from his memory, as he felt parts of himself shutting down, and the Spirit receded, folding deep back within his mortal shell.
Citizen Gates walked back to his room directed only by the ghostly blue arrows. He walked slowly and stopped from time-to-time as if he was seeking something. He didn’t know what — only that he needed to touch something. At a turn in the corridor, his nostrils flared slightly, and he felt compelled to brush the back of his hand gently against a section of wall. His skin flushed ever so slightly with a comforting warmth, a warmth that he didn’t understand but would be looking for in the future.
About the Author: William Morris is a writer, editor and critic. He is the founder of the Mormon arts and culture blog A Motley Vision and co-editor of the anthology Monsters & Mormons . His short fiction has appeared in Irreantum and Dialogue. For liner notes to “The ReActivator” and “Release,” visit williamhenrymorris.com.*
*Author information as of the publication of this story.