There’s a church I pass by sometimes (I am not a member), and at night there is always a bright blue light coming from the lobby that gives it an otherworldly appearance (or maybe just a New Worldly one.) I wondered if this was an intentional effect, and “Interview with the Blue Neon God” grew from that simple observation.
Here’s the blurb:
What would you expect if you were to talk to God?
A novice reporter is sent after a story that could be a career-maker – or something more.
And here’s this week’s excerpt:
It shouldn’t be so hard to find God.
The House of the Blue Neon God was seen on the outskirts of a town in the Midwest recently. I’d be more specific, but it wouldn’t do you or me any good – you could go out to check my story, but you’d find nothing, just a field with the grass so high, it looked like nothing else had ever been there. You’d be better off following him by rumor. Don’t waste your time on the coasts – he’ll be in flyover country, the kind of nowhere that any high-profile journalist would have worked his way out of. The kind of place no one who wants to be known would bother with, unless their editor sent them.
Editor Mark Hughes, EDITOR was on the phone, sitting behind a cluttered desk, and he never looked up when I came in. Windows looked out on the floor in every direction, and he swiveled around in his chair to watch everything as he talked. I sat in a chair in front of his desk and waited for a chance to speak.
“That’s the best you can give me? How hard can it be to find a big blue dome?
“Yeah? Well I don’t care if no one wants to talk except the crazies. I thought you said you were a reporter. Dig around!
“Don’t whine to me about spending three weeks out there. It’s not my job to get the story. Or yours either – you might as well stay there and find yourself a job. You’re fired!”
He slammed the phone down with a clang, then stood and turned agitatedly as he had scoped all the windows until he faced me.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Jack Granger, sir.”
“You don’t work here, do you?”
“No, but I’d like to,”
“Oh, an applicant,” he said.
He sat down and held his hand out toward me.
“Let’s see what you’ve got,” he said.
I handed him my interview folder. He whipped past my resume so fast I wasn’t sure if he read anything, except that he muttered “Good school.” I could have printed it on recycled paper and it wouldn’t have mattered. I saw his eyes move side to side on my samples from college, and he was done. Four years of college in less than a minute.
“Looks like you can write, but I have plenty of writers. Don’t need you,” he said.
Oh, come on, I was thinking. I already flunked out at The Register. What would Sam do?
“I can replace that guy you just fired,” I said.
“Who?” he asked puzzled.
“The one on the phone,” I said, and when there still wasn’t any recognition on his face I said, “Who couldn’t find the blue dome.”
“Oh, him. He didn’t even work for me – he was doing it free-lance, like the one before him,” he said.
“Well, you get what you pay for,” I said.
I worried I was being too pushy as soon as I said it, but he kept talking.
“I don’t have any money to throw at this one, just an old owner thinking about his mortality and wants answers, but he forgets I have a paper to run on chicken-scratch,” he said.
“What’s it about? The dome, I mean.”
“Rumors fit for a tabloid, about a glowing dome that shows up places, and the Blue Neon God,” he said. He studied me and asked. “Do you know Nebraska? Wyoming?”
“Sure, I’ve been there,” I said. I hoped Omaha and the family trip to Yellowstone when I was twelve counted.
“I couldn’t care less about this god stuff, but I’d like to get the owner off my back. You know how some people cling to religion when they’re near the end,” he said. “You find this Blue Neon God for me and interview him, and you have a job.”
“Free-lance?” I asked to make sure I understood.
“It’s a deal, James.”
“Jack Granger,” I said.
“Find him, Granger. Don’t disappoint me,” he said.
How hard could it be? Sure, this had waste-of-time written all over it. With all the important things going on in the world – terrorism and nukes, riots and wars, he sends me on a wild goose chase to find some freaky new age preacher. I thought once I had my degree I’d get to cover things like the war and make a difference. I would have turned down the job, but I’m not even on the ladder yet. I had my foot in the door, but I could as easily wind up with bruised and broken toes if I didn’t pull this off, and then I’d probably be forever labeled a freelancer. That may work for some has-been like Rather when he’s ready to hang things up, but not for someone like me who hasn’t been yet. Beggars can’t be choosers though.
I went home and pulled things together for the trip. Mom and Dad were happy for me when I told them I was going west to cover a story for the paper, a little bit less happy when they found out I wasn’t getting paid – yet.
“Dad, this is part of those dues you told me I had to pay,” I said, and that stopped their complaining for the night.
Next morning, Mom made sure I had a good breakfast and packed me a cooler with some waters and a couple of sandwiches. I loaded up my old Prius and hit the road.
Mr. Hughes had told me his last report had put the Blue Neon God in Kimball, Nebraska; it was an all-day drive from Des Moines, and I pulled into town after dark for my first chance to test out my investigative skills.
The dome had been there a couple of nights earlier, just outside the Big Mamou on US Highway 30. All that was there was a vacant lot with a handful of homeless camped out on the spot, and trash-can fires to stave off the late autumn cold. Not the most likely sources – half of them were passed out, and the rest didn’t seem to be completely there – the usual mix of people with self-medicated or under-medicated issues. I thought I might see if I had better luck with the people in Big Mamou when one of the bums gained some focus and looked me right in the eyes. He was wearing camos like my brother might have, and that struck me the wrong way. He couldn’t have served with Sam – he looked as old as Methuselah.
“Jack Granger,” he said in a deep baritone that had an echo to it – odd, out in the open like we were, “You seek the Blue Neon God.”
“How do you know my name?” I asked him.
He pointed at the press ID hanging on a lanyard around my neck – I’d wrangled it from Phyllis when I made my deal to go after the story. Then he held out his open hand. I dug out a ten and pressed it into his hand.
“You’ll find him in Glenrock,” he intoned.
“How can you know?” I asked.
He raised his arm unsteadily and tapped his forehead.
“I know,” he said. “He told me.”
Great, he hears voices, too, I thought.
Apparently, he wasn’t the only one who heard voices – I asked two of the others camping out there and for ten dollars each they told me the same thing. Glenrock, Wyoming. This investigating was getting expensive, so I decided not to ask more of them.
I ate dinner at the Big Mamou – more money – and tried asking the people there, but that didn’t work out. They were all pretty much normal looking townsfolk, but they all reacted with a mixture of laughing it off and looking around uneasily, like they might know something but they didn’t want to be the first to admit it. I suspect that none of them wanted to be labeled as unstable as the people camped outside were.
Mom called to check on me while I was eating.
“Are you having a good dinner?” she asked.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to send you some money?”
“No, Mom, I’m fine. I can pay my own way.”
Google said it was a half-day to Glenrock, so I planned to stay at the Days Inn, but that was going to be near a hundred dollars. I didn’t know how long I would be searching, but the reporter I’d replaced had spent three weeks looking, so I decided to sleep in my car instead. I was glad Mom made me bring a blanket. I still woke up shivering, but who was I to complain? It was nothing compared to whatever Sam was going through in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or wherever they’d sent him this time.
I headed out I-80 to Cheyenne, stopped for a Quarter Pounder, and then north on 25 and took the business loop into Glenrock by noon. There was a cluster of local eateries in the center of town. I stopped in at The Paisley Shawl, The Four Aces, and Rusty’s Knotty Pine and asked after the blue dome. I got a lot of the same vibe from the regulars I’d gotten in Kimball – people knew something, but they would rather not say, so I tried a different tack. I drove around town until I found a couple of people who looked like they had taken up residence in a parking lot with everything they owned, and another twenty dollars let me know that the Blue Neon God had been just west of town a couple of nights ago, but it was gone now. Try Columbus, Montana – he said he’d be there.
Another five and a half hours on the road in no man’s land and I made it to Columbus by dark. I didn’t bother with respectable people this time – I went directly to the homeless, and I had my information a lot faster; that was good, but not good enough – he’d been on a wedge of land between their dinky municipal airport and the Yellowstone River, but I’d missed him by a couple of days again. He’d gone back to Wyoming. To Thermopolis.
I developed a pattern: drive on into the next town, look for some homeless people, and I’d find out where exactly the Blue Neon God had been, as well as his next location. I figured out that I didn’t need to pay for the information; if I was patient, I could find someone – a clearer-eyed person – who was glad to talk about him. How his house – this blue dome – would appear, and he’d see the people who needed to see him, and then move on. It was just as well that I wasn’t having to pay for the information; I was running low on cash. I almost gave in a couple of times when Mom offered to send money, but I had some pride. I lied to her, told her I was good, that the paper had decided to cover some of the costs, and I was getting really good rates at the motels. I never told her I was sleeping in my car and eating out of cans. Sam would have been proud of how doggedly I was going after this. He’d rib me if I ever gave any signs of quitting, but not this time.
Even so, fifteen days into this I was getting resentful. I would reach town after town just a day late, and I felt like the Blue Neon God was toying with me, always just out of reach. There were a couple of times when we should have passed each other on the same stretch of road between where he’d been and where he was going, but I never caught up. I was about ready to throw the towel in, no matter what kind of ribbing Sam would give me.
I was eating a burger in Rawlins Wyoming when I got the call.
“Jack, his body will be home day after tomorrow,” Dad said.
That couldn’t be – nothing could stop Sam Granger. But Dad sounded beat down – very un-Dad.
“Can you put Mom on the phone?”
“Not right now – she’s not up to it,” Dad said, and the line was quiet for a while before he said. “It would be best if you were here.”
“Sure, Dad. On my way.”
It didn’t matter what Sam would say, it was time to quit. Of course, he also would have told me I had a duty to Mom and Dad, and I’d darn-well better head home or he’d give me hell. But I had to clear my head before I started driving, so I walked around downtown to collect myself.
“Damn it, this isn’t right. Why did he have to die?” I muttered.
There was a woman sitting on the sidewalk in a battered wool coat, leaning against a lamppost, all her attention on scratching the head of a tabby cat she had bundled in her coat.
“Your answer is in Sidney,” she said.
“What did you say?”
“Sidney. Nebraska. He’s waiting for you there,” she said.
Yeah, sure he is, I thought.
I’d been chasing after the Blue Neon God all this time, and, now that I was giving up – now he was going to let me catch up? Well, Sidney was on the way home, so we’d just see about that.
I hit the road and spent the next four hours going through Sam’s funeral in my mind I saw my mother, just sitting there in front of his casket, not seeing anything. Dad wouldn’t be much better; he and Sam had always been close. They needed him, damnit – we all did. What kind of God could let this happen?
Will Jack find his answers in Sidney? “Interview with the Blue Neon God” is a short speculative fiction, available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
“Interview with the Blue Neon God” is also included in the collection Goddesses, Sleep with the Snowmen, and Other Fantasies. (The next ten people who purchase the collection on Smashwords with coupon code NQ72T will receive a 67% discount – that’s only 99-cents for TEN stories – such a deal!):
Swordsmaster – my first novel (which only took me forty-some years to write) is ready for reading.
Fate is neither something to run away from, nor something to run towards.
The first bright-eye to be seen on the mountain in living memory, Sandrik didn’t want anyone to think of him as they did the ominous Aurae of legend, so he had worked hard to keep his special abilities hidden. But there was more to Sandrik than even he knew. Now that it was time for him to enter the ancient ruins of Taernfeld and be declared a man, what other changes might he be forced into?
Swordsmaster is available at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
(there is also a paperback on Amazon at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1691904910 )
William Mangieri’s writing, including Cats of War II (a collection of his Herc Tom, Champion of the Empire series), can be found at several online retailers, including, but not limited to:
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