THE FOUR A Novel of the New Caliphate
By Thabet J. Ma’oun
This work is registered with the United States Copyright Office © 2008 Thabet J. Ma’oun
As the infidels and crusaders were driven from Muslim lands, even the angels in Heaven rejoiced, and by the grace of God, the new succession of Rightly Guided Caliphs began their holy mission to bring the whole of God’s earth back to its true home in the House of Islam.
From the introduction to “History of the New Caliphate” (©Riyadh Islamic University Press, 2048 edition)
Wayne was trying to avoid more killing. The shaggy-headed teenager muttered as he walked down the street, looking only at the sidewalk in front of him. “Sweet little daisies… sweet little daisies,” he said over and over. As he walked, daffodil buds poked up through the cracks in the sidewalk and unfurled petals of garish purple, blue and yellow. Wayne didn’t know daisies from daffodils. He didn’t care what kind of flowers they were. He just had to get to the bus station without causing any more deaths. He had been warned about the dangers of the memory in an unquiet mind, but he had been certain that his mind was very quiet, calm and focused. He and Kyle had just finished smoking a joint in his room, listening to the pounding strains of techno-metal as a day of skipping school stretched out before them. He shouldn’t have been able to hear the doorbell, but it cut through the Zombiecrotches’ latest hit as if the house were silent. “What the hell?” Wayne said, barely audible even to himself over the music. He rolled off of the beanbag and stopped the song. As stoned as he was, the sudden silence was disorienting, and he took a moment to adjust to the lack of throbbing from the speakers. On the bed behind him, Kyle propped himself up on his elbows and looked at Wayne. “Why’d you do that?” Wayne didn’t answer right away. The effects of the red-haired sinsemilla were amplified by the jarring lack of music. Every detail of his room stood out to him… the sound of his breathing, the settling of his beanbag, the torn corner of his Zombiecrotches
poster, the edge of a hastily-hidden Swank magazine under his bookshelf, and best of all, the thin haze of smoke that still hung in the air. He felt hyper-aware. Intelligent. Damn that weed is good. The doorbell rang again, and Wayne thought how perfect the timing was. “That’s why,” he answered Kyle. He wondered who could be stopping by at 10:45 on a Tuesday morning. His mom would have been at work for at least three hours by now, so anyone who knew her wouldn’t even try to find her at home. And the school didn’t care if Wayne was a no-show once in a while, at least not enough to send someone to the house. He was a senior just five months away from graduating – barely – so they would let him slide by without too much hassle, just to get him off the attendance rolls. Kyle was looking at him through bloodshot, half-closed eyes. “Don’t answer it,” he said. “We’re too baked to talk to anyone.” Then Kyle’s eyes lit up, opening almost all the way. “Hey man, let’s go downstairs and drink some beer!” After a slight pause, he added, “And eat Doritos! Oh shit, I’m starving!” Wayne pushed himself up off the floor and took a deep breath to steady himself as he stood. He was almost six feet tall and skinny, only 150 pounds. He wore a black Tshirt, faded jeans, and was barefoot. The silver rings around his wrist jangled as he threw Kyle a thumbs-up. “Great fucking idea, man,” he said. “We have cheese dip too!” The pair crept downstairs. They didn’t want to alert the potential trouble on the other side of the door that someone was home, having forgotten – or simply not registered – that the stereo had already blown their cover. As Wayne’s foot touched the floor at the bottom of the stairs, the doorbell rang a third time. He froze for a second. He looked at the door and then tiptoed to it and put his eye to the peephole. Behind him,
Kyle jerked his thumb toward the kitchen and whispered, “Man, fuck that… Beer! Doritos!” The man on the porch was grossly distorted by the peephole, but Wayne could see that he was dressed in a dark gray suit with the jacket unbuttoned, a white shirt and a thin black tie. Although his face didn’t look old, his hair was gray and he wore pants hiked up to his bellybutton and held a felt hat that matched the suit. Wayne whispered back at Kyle, “Man, Cary Grant is on my front porch!” He doubled over in stifled giggles at the comparison. Wayne and Kyle had watched “North by Northwest” in a classical literature and film class last semester, and the sole insight they had gleaned was that men in the mid-1900s wore their pants up to their tits. “Good morning to you, Wayne,” the man said, only slightly muffled through the door. Wayne stopped in mid-giggle. For a full 30 seconds, neither of them moved or made a sound, looking straight at each other, and Cary Grant didn’t say anything further. Wayne did not like this one bit. This seemed too much like somebody had been sent from the school to pick him up for truancy, even though the principal had explicitly told him that wouldn’t happen as long as certain conditions were met. “Don’t be an obvious little asshole, Wayne, and I won’t have to fuck up your chances of graduating,” he had said. Wayne thought it was an excellent pact, and had made an effort to skip school only when absolutely necessary. The acquisition of a quarter-ounce of red-haired sinsemilla was one such occasion. A strategy that had often served Wayne well when faced with something annoying or complicated was to ignore it until it went away. He decided this would do just fine. He pointed toward the kitchen, and he and Kyle took two slow, silent steps in
that direction. Cary Grant’s voice stopped them. “By God the munificent, I have something for you, Wayne.” He spoke in a calm, quiet voice that nonetheless carried clearly through the front door. Wayne wasn’t going to fall for that bullshit trick – no promise of gifts was going to prompt him to open the door. From the sounds of it, Cary was some kind of Jehovah’s Witness, or worse yet, a Muzzy, either of which would be worse than getting hauled off to school when he was this stoned. No… beer and Doritos awaited him in the kitchen. Kyle looked back at him with his eyebrows raised in a question. Wayne raised his head slightly to point to the kitchen with his chin and they took another step forward before the Jehovah’s Witness Cary Grant truancy officer spoke again. This time, his voice was quiet, like someone sharing a dark confession with a priest, and yet the door did nothing to muffle it. “Weed…” the stranger began. Both pairs of bloodshot eyes inside the entry hall popped open wide. “Liquor…” Wayne and Kyle both turned their heads to the door. Wayne swallowed hard. “Pussy… and cars, Wayne. By the bee that dances for her sisters, all these things and more I have for you.” *** Wayne continued making his way down East Washington Street. He was cold. He hadn’t had time to put on anything more than a thick sweatshirt before he fled his house, and although it was a warm day for January, he could still see his breath. He’d have to turn onto Sycamore for about a half-block, and then head down East Main Street about a mile until he got to the bus station. He was having trouble keeping his mind on the
flowers. All the blood from earlier in the day kept coming back to him, and sometimes would seep up through the cracks in the sidewalk. He didn’t bother making it go away. As the trail of sometimes bloody daffodils unfolded behind him, he set half his mind to the task of getting to the bus station more quickly. The sickening damage he had caused earlier, and the fact that the cops were aware of it – some of it, anyway – was making him extremely nervous. Add to it that he was an adolescent obviously skipping school, and his motivation for getting out of town quickly approached panic level. With every step he took, he could feel the windows of each house staring at him, a potential busybody in each one. He kept making the flowers, but made them smaller so as not to attract attention. The possibility of being seen was making the skin on the back of his neck crawl. He started stealing glances at windows on either side of the narrow street as he passed them, but every one of them was empty. Nobody home, he thought – or at least, nobody standing at their front windows looking at a street that’s always empty this time of day. Hell, I could probably pop a damn palm tree out of the sidwalk and nobody’d see it until school got out at three o’clock. The lack of prying eyes and his pressing need to put distance between himself and his home town came together suddenly in his mind. He stopped making what he thought were daisies and looked around to make sure nobody was watching. The street was deserted. Yes, he thought. This could work. And why the hell not? What is there to lose? He slowed down to barely a shuffle and hard-thought himself up into the air, the familiar, wonderful coolness filling his head. At first, the sensation of floating was disorienting, and Wayne had to steady himself, like standing up too quickly. The thrill of
being in the air was making him giddy, slightly dizzy, even. But that could also be the lack of ground under his feet. And maybe the weed from earlier. He took a deep breath and looked straight ahead, holding himself steady as he floated slowly forward. He glanced down at his feet and saw that he was just a couple inches above the ground. From a distance, he thought, it probably looked like was still on the ground. Wayne put his hands out from his sides slightly with his palms facing the ground to steady himself, even though it probably made no difference at all to his balance. Feeling as solid and in-control as he could, he hard-thought himself forward a little faster. Just like the killing that morning, it was happening effortlessly. He kept himself going at about the speed of a light jog, but couldn’t help wondering how fast he could safely go. He looked at the end of East Washington Street and sped up. There was still no traffic on East Washington or any of the cross streets before Sycamore. It was approaching 1 p.m., and even on the main streets, traffic was light. He figured all three cop cars in town were back at the scene of the deaths. Even so, Wayne thought he would play it safe and stop before he got to Sycamore Street, since it was a larger thoroughfare. He concentrated on slowing down, and gracefully started walking as he reached the right speed and touched the ground. “Un-fucking-believable!” he said under his breath. He had actually done something for a full two minutes without disastrous consequences. Just as he was starting to think he might be able to handle the memory after all, he heard hysterical screaming from a house behind him. Oh shit, what have I done this time? he thought. He walked toward the corner of East Washington and Sycamore and tried to think back on his quick
flight. He had been so concentrated on flying that he was sure he hadn’t thought of (caused) anything else. He looked behind him to confirm that he hadn’t broken any windows, flattened tires, splintered trees. The street was clear, except for the bloody flowers that started about two blocks behind him. A front door burst open on the side of the street he was walking on and a fat, barefoot woman half-stumbled down the steps to the sidewalk. She was pointing at him with both hands and her eyes were so wide open Wayne thought they looked like they’d burst from her head, and he turned his head away quickly from her to avoid bursting them for her. He looked at a buckeye tree in the treelawn between the sidewalk and the street, making daffodils with eyes gently emerge from the trunk. He concentrated on making more of them as the woman’s hysterical voice came up behind him. “Ohmygod ohmygod ohmygod I SAW you FLYING!!” she shrieked. “I SAW IT!!! Oh sweet Jesus you are an angel, aren’t you!! AREN’T YOU! I KNEW IT!!” Wayne gritted his teeth made all of the daffodils’ eyes blink in unison. “TELL ME!! TELL ME!!” the woman yelled. “Oh please bless me, bless me if you can, if you are an angel you know I need it so much PLEASE bless me.” Wayne waited for there to be a break in her babbling so he could politely ask her to go away, but she wouldn’t stop. She was making him so goddam mad by putting herself in such danger that he made all the daffodil eyes blink randomly – it took more of his concentration. “Go away,” he said through gritted teeth, still staring at the blinking daffodils on the tree trunk and trying to avoid yelling at her. She paid no attention. He was tempted to keep walking and hope she’d go away, but he knew she would follow him all the way to
the bus station, and draw attention to him the whole way. Hell, she’d probably buy a ticket and get on the bus with him. She was now so close that he could smell the strong, flowery perfume she wore. She was so intent on looking at her new-found angel that she didn’t even see the blinking daffodils, and seemed oblivious to the cold. Wayne had to think of a way out of this without killing her. He sidestepped toward Sycamore Street, but she stayed the same distance from him, raving about how much she needed to be blessed, devout but flawed Christian that she was. He shifted his attention to the street and started moving individual pebbles, sticks and other pieces of debris into small piles while he tried to think of a way out of this predicament. He formed neat little piles on the street, and the perfumed lady became more insistent. “Why won’t you talk to me? Can you talk? PLEASE talk to me!! Oh God, please just let me hear your voice!!” she was saying. One of the sticks in the gutter of the street was too big to fit in any of the piles Wayne had started, so as he floated it from the gutter, he had it snap it into four smaller pieces. That’s when the idea flitted across his mind. It was only a brief image, but vivid enough that before his thought “Oh fuck!” could be turned into words, he heard a sickening crack muffled by flesh. The fat lady gasped and he heard her tumble to the ground. He grimaced and shrank away from what he knew he had done, and stole a quick glance at her. She had fallen awkwardly onto the treelawn after her right leg had snapped below the knee and ceased supporting her bulk. She seemed to be so shocked by what had happened that she was paralyzed. Although her leg was sticking out straight in front of her toward Sycamore Street, the bottom of her foot was facing East Washington.
Mouth agape, she stared at the bone sticking out of her ruptured shin and the blood streaming out of it. A whisp of steam floated up through the cold air from the warm flesh around the stump of bone. “Ohmygod” she said in a choked voice, and looked up at Wayne. Wayne knew the next noise out of her mouth would be a scream, and the last thing he needed was a bunch of neighbors calling the cops on him for breaking some lady’s leg. He thought her mouth shut, hard, and she began screaming with her mouth closed. She frantically clawed at her lips and snot sprayed out of her nose in between each muted shriek as she panted in order to try again. Wayne started to panic. He looked down both sides of the street to see if anyone was gaping at the bizarre spectacle through their windows, and saw nobody. As he scanned the houses, he noticed that the fat lady’s door was still open. As fast as the idea came to him, the fat lady, with her broken leg dripping blood, was flung toward the front door. She bounced off of it and he heard the sound of her body hitting the floor inside. He slammed the door. Standing stock still by the daffodil tree, he scanned the street with only his eyes. Nothing. Just the slight rustle of a breeze through the stubborn dead leaves that had refused to let go of their branches in the fall. Despite the chill, he was sweating. He glanced back at the fat lady’s door and saw a small spatter of blood on it. He turned onto Sycamore Street, with Main just a half block away. Wayne was badly shaken, but just a little exhilarated too. After all, he had come out of that run-in without killing the lady, at least not directly. Sure, she might bleed to death just inside her front door, but that’s not nearly as bad as what happened this morning. Really, if you think about it, it’s her own fucking fault for being such a moron
that she wouldn’t even listen to me, Wayne thought. Maybe I should have killed her, though. I mean shit, if she calls an ambulance, she could finger me and the cops would be looking for me. But who’s going to believe some fat dumb bitch who says she saw me fly down the street and that I broke her leg without touching her and then threw her 30 feet into her house with her mouth glued shut? Wayne laughed at the thought of the fat lady being strapped to her hospital bed because the doctors would think she’s a fucking loon. Then he realized that he had turned onto Main Street, and that for the last block, he hadn’t made anything happen at all, not even to distract himself. Maybe I’m getting better at this, he thought. Much better than this morning.
It was strange, Isa thought, that he would be pondering the physics of torture while he limped toward the prison’s exit. Why did the torturers use a bamboo cane to beat the soles of his feet and his palms? Why didn’t they use solid wood? Or a steel bar? Maybe those would leave more marks or break bones, which the interrogators were keen to avoid if the prisoner would be let out later. Or maybe they just liked the loud snapping sound it made when it hit, a prescient exclamation point to the cry of pain that inevitably followed. He forced himself to quit thinking about the beatings, and to focus on what lay ahead… just 50 yards ahead, at the end of the long corridor leading out of the prison.
He gritted his teeth and grunted with each step, gingerly supporting himself with his swollen hands on the rail that ran the length of the hall. He realized with a short laugh that it had been placed along the exit corridor for just this purpose – so that those halfcrippled by torture could leave the prison without help. As the echoing howls of agony from the interior of the prison faded behind him, Isa passed through a stretch of corridor that was silent but for the slow shuffle of his bare feet on the dirty cement floor, punctuated by his grunts and panting. He approached the light of the outside world, and wondered how long he had been in prison… what day it was. His cell had been without light from the outside, and he had slept only when he passed out from the pain. He could never tell if it was seconds, minutes or hours before the interrogators threw water on him to revive him. It was always the same two guards, dressed in the same uniforms, and with the same canes in their hands. They had told Isa that he was the weakest man they had ever had the misfortune to “interview,” and that it was an affront to their skills as interrogators that he had begun blubbering for mercy so quickly when they hung him up by his manacled ankles, before they had even begun using the bamboo. One of the two nameless guards had lowered himself onto one knee to speak to Isa’s head, swinging gently a foot off the floor. “Look,” he said, “when you piss yourself, it’s just going to make it more smelly in here. And it will sting your eyes and run up your nose, too. Just tell us what we want to know, and you’ll be free.” Isa had told them he had no idea what they wanted, and as they yelled their questions at him, he had cried and screamed that he didn’t even know what they were
talking about. He had pissed himself and cried for his mother before he felt the first impact of the bamboo canes. Isa passed through the open doorway to the outside of the prison, squinting in the glaring sunlight of the desert at mid-day. As he hobbled down the dusty street away from the prison, he thanked God for the strength to have endured this trial with fortitude. Isaâ€™s modest home was a 30 minute walk from the prison, in one of Riyadhâ€™s middle-income districts. With his feet and hands next to useless, the walk took him the entire afternoon. It was January, so the sidewalks were not hot enough to burn his tenderized feet. Still, he had had to stop to rest every 15 minutes to recover. Isa had been tempted to hail a taxi to get home, but his desire to give in to the pain and get home quickly was always overshadowed by his knowing that he had picked up a tail soon after leaving the prison. There was no way he could be secretly followed by one man; they could have done it in shifts, using a different tail every half-block, but they didnâ€™t bother. Every time Isa had looked back, the same muscular, bearded man was 20 yards behind him, pretending to examine goods offered by a street merchant, adjusting his flowing head-dress in a store window reflection, or motioning as though he were hailing a taxi. The Guardians of the Straight Path were not subtle, but it was not because they were incompetent. They wanted people to know that they could bring citizens back to the straight path any time, any place. Isa had needed the Guardian to follow him, and to report back that the disheveled, urine-reeking idiot had walked the entire way home, occasionally crying as he rested on the curb, twice begging people for a ride as they stepped into their cars.
He sat in his sparse living room staring past the muted television, one of the few items left from the days when he did not have to worry about how to pay his next electricity bill. He pondered his situation as his feet and hands throbbed. It was disturbing that the Guardians had interrogated him, but he was convinced it was merely one of their random pick-ups, designed more to terrorize the populace and keep people in line rather than to produce actionable intelligence. Isa knew it worked well. Every time somebody was picked up and tortured for a few hours, it was under the guise of trying to root out information about the underground movement and “Infidel” activists. Generally, this was just a pretext. The Guardians knew that every one of these pick-ups sent ripples of fear through the community, preventing people from voicing discontent even to their most trusted neighbors and friends for fear of the Guardians finding out. It also meant that any hint of real subversive behavior would repel ordinary people – those just trying to get on with their lives – like a tear-gas canister in a crowded market. Isa had mapped the pick-ups as best he could, using second-hand information and rumors he overheard. They didn’t correspond to any subversive activity he was aware of; rather, they geographically covered every area of every city in the Arabian Province of the New Caliphate. The net effect was that even husbands and wives were afraid to speak against the Caliphate to each other. Despite his confidence that he was not being targeted as a possible Infidel, being picked up rattled him. For two decades he had been cultivating his image and reputation, and being picked up made him doubt his thoroughness. This was a good thing; he had decided that doubting his thoroughness was the best way to avoid making a fatal mistake.
The call to sunset prayer floated through his windows from the neighborhood mosque. The lyrical, calming chant broke his concentration from the worldly matters that troubled most of his waking hours. He realized that he had been grimacing at the pain in his extremities and furrowing his brow with worry at the same time. As he haltingly got up from his favorite chair, his feet protested that they should be abused so and then be expected to continue working. Isa shuffled to the bathroom and began washing for prayer, concentrating on his ablutions. Focusing his mind on God always put things into perspective. After we’re gone, he knew, the power struggles, injustices, lusts of the flesh… all the frailties of human existence, and the long lives we spent fending them off or giving in to them, would be remembered as a misspent afternoon that everyone took far too seriously. After the sunset prayer, young school students gathered in the cul-de-sac outside his home and recited in unison their lessons for the next day’s classes. This evening they were memorizing passages of The Victory, a glorified account of how the New Caliphate had come into being after the dramatic fall of Infidel regimes throughout the Middle East and Asia. Isa remembered well how the events unfolded, and the version put forth in The Victory never failed to renew his bitterness toward the propagandists of the New Caliphate. “… and the martyrs for the cause of God ascended to the Garden in their hundreds, well-pleased with their Lord, and He with them,” the children intoned. “Their holy work made the Infidel Crusaders cower with fear, and forced them to flee the
Muslim lands they had invaded and fail in their evil mission to strip the true believers of the riches bestowed by God.” As if it had occurred only moments before, Isa involuntarily recalled the daily progression of headlines that coldly portrayed the impending doom represented by the “Liberators,” as the founders of the New Caliphate were now called. Back then, of course, they were called terrorists. Just like the Palestinians who still fought against the Israelis. Just like the Zionist Jews who fought against the British in Palestine back in the 1930s. Just like the American Colonials would have been called during the early stages of the U.S. Revolutionary War. For Isa, a political science and history professor, those headlines heralded revolution coming to what was then Saudi Arabia. That was when he decided he would carefully, methodically ruin his own career, sabotage his marriage, and become wellknown as mentally unstable. Revolutionaries kill academics like him, Isa knew, but ignored crazy people. He had written numerous papers – published in respected, peerreviewed international journals – about the compatibility of Islam and republican forms of government. Toward the end of his short career, in fact, he had published a paper that posited the Prophet Muhammad’s support of democratic forms of government, based on his teachings and corroborated by passages in the Holy Qur’an. This had caught the attention of the authorities, who pressured him through his superiors at the university to cease such subversive, possibly-blasphemous ramblings before it cost him his job, or perhaps more. By then, however, Isa was convinced that things were going to get much worse before they got better in the Islamic world.
By the time the revolution was in full swing, Isa was known, to anyone who cared about such things, as the university professor who had put forth a few radical ideas and then lost his mind. The kids in his neighborhood called him names and made fun of his disheveled appearance. Their parents avoided eye contact with him to avoid having to think up an innocuous response to his effusive greetings or bizarre pronouncements. His new identity served his purposes well, and made him a valuable asset to the Cabal.