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Two Canadian atheists go on a cross-country speaking tour of American Bible Colleges, and oh god, they end up committing all sorts of blasphemies.
In The Road Trip Dialogues, the prequel, Rev and Dylan are charged with blasphemy for adding “‘Blessed are they that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stone.’ Psalms 137:9” to a Right-to-Life billboard just outside Algonquin Park. As a result of a well-publicized court trial, the American Atheist Consortium offers an all-expenses-paid speaking tour of American Bible Colleges. Guess what happens.
The Blasphemy Tour - where philosophy essay meets stand-up.
Available in print and various e-formats.
from The Blasphemy Tour, Jass Richards (Magenta, 2012 – available in print and various eformats June 2012 via online stores) http://www.jassrichards.com
Rev slowed as they approached the border at Fort Erie and chose a car lane that had virtually no line-up. Carefully manoeuvring into the narrow lane, which was marked by concrete dividers on either side and a huge concrete pillar on the driver’s side—whose function intrigued, and absolutely eluded, her—she pulled up snug behind the car in front of her.
Almost instantly a voice boomed out over the speaker. “BACK UP YOUR VEHICLE!!” Simultaneously, a border guard appeared out of nowhere and walked briskly toward their car, making forceful ‘back up’ signs with his hands.
“BACK UP YOUR VEHICLE NOW!!” The voice commanded.
“All right, all right,” she grumbled, puzzled by their urgency, and put the car into reverse. She grabbed onto the back of Dylan’s seat for leverage, turned to look behind, and started to back up.
“Rev!” Dylan said almost immediately. But too late.
She heard the clunk. Then the clatter. And when she turned to face the front again, she saw that the rear view mirror on her door was gone, clipped by the concrete pillar. So that’s what it was for.
She mumbled something as she opened her door to retrieve it.
“REMAIN IN YOUR CAR!!”
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” she ignored the command. It was just a rear view mirror and it was sitting right there.
“DO NOT EXIT YOUR VEHICLE!!”
She exited the vehicle. More or less.
“Shit,” she muttered.
Dylan didn’t dare glance over—he was staring straight ahead in disbelief, exclaiming with full Irish, “Bloody hell—” Besides, he knew what had happened. “Please tell me you fell out, you’re on the ground, and you’re going to stay there,” he managed to say.
“Yes, yes, and—” she tried to stretch her legs, but apparently her knees were doing their very best imitation of concrete—“don’t have any choice. I hate this growing old—” she growled.
“Yes, well, we can commiserate about the tragedy of being over forty later. Perhaps when we turn sixty. Because at the moment we’re surrounded by half a dozen border guards. All of whom are seriously armed.”
“What?” she popped her head up.
“Men with guns!” Dylan shouted.
“Oh.” She ducked back down.
“PUT YOUR HANDS WHERE WE CAN SEE THEM!!”
Dylan raised his hands.
Rev also raised her hands. Her head hit the pavement. “Shit!”
Dylan winced. “Are you—still conscious?”
“Yes. Unfortunately. I really—”
“—used to have abs. I know.”
“STEP OUT AND AWAY FROM THE VEHICLE.”
Dylan did as he was told.
“STEP AWAY FROM THE VEHICLE!” The voice repeated.
“Just give her—” he looked over at her—“an hour.”
“Oh shut up.”
Two of the three guards who had been aiming at Dylan swivelled to Rev.
“She was talking to me,” Dylan said quickly. “Rev?” He was afraid to look directly at her in case that looked like they were colluding to—do something.
“M’AM, KEEP YOUR HANDS RAISED, STAND UP, AND STEP AWAY FROM THE VEHICLE!!”
She grunted. And cursed again.
“He called you ‘m’am’,” Dylan said out of the side of his mouth. “That should give you—motivation.”
Although the Chief Officer had, spread out in front of him, their passports, birth certificates, drivers’ licenses, and DBR cards (Dylan’s homemade DO BLOODY RESUSCITATE!! cards), he still asked.
“Names?” His pen was poised over the lengthy, and sadly empty, form in front of him.
Rev told him.
“And where is that exactly?”
“A bit northwest of Sudbury. Near the border between Ontario and—Montreal,” she said with a straight face.
Dylan quickly looked away to hide the grin.
“And Penticton?” The officer looked at Dylan.
It was too easy. “Same general area,” he replied, pursing his lips.
In the year since Rev and Dylan had quite by chance reconnected, some twenty years after they’d gone through teacher’s college together, he had introduced her to life as a housesitter. As a result, they divided their time between her cabin on a lake in a forest (a bit northwest of Sudbury) (near Montreal) and Paris, Portland, Peru, or wherever else he could get a housesit. (Penticton was simply where most of his stuff happened to be in storage; long ago when he had applied for a driver’s license, having a fixed address seemed like a good idea, and nobody, apparently, had checked to determine whether the address he’d given was actually residential, so using it a few years later when he applied for a passport seemed—wise.) In fact, the speaking tour they were at that moment starting so eventfully followed a mishmash route determined by the engagements arranged by Phil, their contact at the Consortium, and Dylan’s housesitting arrangements.
“Phone number?” The officer continued.
“Oh, I don’t have a phone.”
He looked up at her.
“No one north of Toronto has phones yet.”
Dylan snickered and quickly looked away again.
“So how can we reach you?”
“Well the mail comes through. Once the lake thaws. In August.”
Dylan was shaking ever so slightly.
“‘Course, the dogsleds run all year. Though the polar bears killed half of ‘em last year. One even came right into my igloo.”
A guffaw turned into a cough.
“I see. And what is the purpose of your travel to the U.S.?”
“Um, we’re on a speaking tour,” Dylan thought he’d better take over.
“This speaking tour. Is it a paid tour?”
“That is how you’re going to be supporting yourself while here?”
“And so you have work visas?”
“Oh. Um—we’re being paid an honorarium that is, I believe, exempt from—”
“Who’s sponsoring this speaking tour?”
“The American Atheist Consortium.”
The Chief Officer looked up from the lengthy form then. And one of the other border guards, having heard that part, walked over.
“Hey, I remember you two,” he said. “You were charged with, what was it? Blasphemy! For what you wrote on that Right-to-Life billboard.”
“Yeah, but we weren’t convicted,” Rev spoke up.
“Yes, we were,” Dylan said, turning to her. How could she have forgotten? Of the two of them, she was the more worried about it. Being, of the two of them, the more formally employed. He just then noticed her glare.
“Oh yeah,” Rev remembered, turning back to the Chief. “But we got a suspended sentence. The conviction was just—”
Dylan stepped in again. After all, he was the one who’d just royally blown it by announcing they’d been convicted. Though of course it was easy enough to check. As it no doubt would be. Now. He turned to the Chief, “The conviction provided a platform for the judge to make headlines, and history, by showing that The Bible is itself blasphemous, since what we had written on the anti-abortion billboard was from The Bible.”
“‘Blessed are they that bash their babies brains out’,” the officer volunteered. “Or something like that,” he added, when his superior gave him a scathing look.
“This speaking tour,” the Chief Officer continued the interview. “What exactly are you going to be speaking about?”
“Well, I’m not sure it’s any of your business,” Rev chafed. “What?” she said to Dylan when he poked her. “He can’t detain us just because we intend make good use of the freedom of speech while we’re here. In your fine country,” she added belatedly, turning back to the Chief. But then couldn’t help further adding, “The one that gives such warm, fuzzy welcomes.”
The officer put down his pen. And struggled for control. “You have to understand that post 9/11, we’re just a bit more concerned about who gets into our country.”
“I understand that. What I don’t understand is how exiting one’s car increases the threat level.”
“Well as long as you’re inside your vehicle, you’re contained,” he explained. “Obviously you’re less able to put our lives in danger.”
“That would be true if I’d planned to come at you with a knife. Or a piano wire.”
The officer, and Dylan, looked at her curiously.
“But if I’d put a bomb in the car—”
Dylan noticeably slumped in his chair. The officer picked up the phone.
“—and was willing to give my life to Allah to get at the 72,000 virgins…what?”
So as they sat in the designated quasi-secure area, watching a team of Michelin men carefully unpack their car and set each item some distance away, in another designated quasi-secure area, Dylan idly commented, “It’s 72 virgins, not 72,000.”
“Someone’s been doing research for our book,” Rev looked over at him, smiling happily.
As soon as the trial was over, they’d been approached not only by the representative of the American Atheist Consortium suggesting a speaking tour, but also by a representative of a major publishing company offering a book contract. Which both delighted and annoyed Rev. Delighted, because she’d spent the last twenty years writing, and despite thousands of queries to agents and publishers, had not been able to get a single book published. And annoyed, because she’d spent the last twenty years writing, and despite thousands of queries to agents and publishers, had not been able to get a single book published.
“Well, the hadiths say 72,” he qualified. “The Qur’an itself doesn’t actually mention a number.”
“What are the hadiths? The Biblical form of the hads?”
“No,” he grinned, “they’re sort of like addendums to the Qur’an.”
“Hm. I’ve never understood the appeal of virgins anyway. I mean, wouldn’t you want a woman with experience, someone who knows—”
“A woman who knows?” Dylan shuddered theatrically.