The first few times that the dream recurred Bubba thought little of it. He'd had similar dreams, many long years ago, and that these should return now, in what was certain to be near the end of his days, seemed to fit the pattern he'd seen in others.
His brother Skeeter was a classic example. In the last few years before his death, Skeeter seemed to be constantly imagining lusty nocturnal encounters with women from his distant past—schoolteachers, aunts and neighbor ladies—friends of his mother's and mothers of his friends'. Throughout most of his life Skeeter had been wildly infatuated with older women, apparently the result of a memorable first fling. It couldn't have been much of an affair, having happened such a long time ago. It was back in the golden years before the invaders came, before all of the grown-ups had been killed and the children cast into slavery. Skeeter couldn't have been much older than twelve at the time, but this treasured memory lingered on, strengthened through the passing decades by the tragic loss of all older women, and by the eroding mental faculties of his declining years.
Bubba's memory wasn't especially good these days either, now that his hair was turning white as Skeeter's had done. Truthfully, his recollection of the old days had never been much to speak of. He remembered a few faces—Mommy, Daddy, and their sister Lissa (assuming that Skeeter's interpretations were correct) but that was about all. He could recall nothing whatsoever of the worship of the Crimson God, no image of The One who had deserted them in their direst need. The other children, those who were but a little bit older, remembered very well. They shared these memories, passing them along to the younger kids in secret conversations. Although the appearances were no longer made nor the traditional tokens manifested, it was believed by most that someday the Great Wise One (whom their captors forbade them to name) would return to His people and lead them to liberation.
Bubba had been one of the most devout believers, even though his knowledge of grace was based entirely upon the experiences of others, but as his years advanced his faith had waned. This devotion was further impeded by the passing away of so many of his peers—those who had always insisted that a Messiah would come during the first generation. Now Bubba was the last of this group. Although their race had prospered in captivity, he alone among the living had ever tasted the sweetness of freedom, known the grace of the Crimson God, sat upon the lap of The Lord.
Sometimes he wondered if maybe it wasn't such a good thing that their parents had done, bringing them up with such an intense system of beliefs. Morality he could understand—one must have a sense of values (although perhaps the Overlords were exempt from this truth?) but couldn't such values be instilled without the threat of an all—powerful being watching over their shoulders every minute of every day?
Maybe, Bubba often supposed, their God was still there. Perhaps this was all some sort of a test, to see if the people would remain faithful under the worst of circumstances.
Skeeter had once suggested that the older folks, their parents and all of the others who had been slaughtered, may have lost faith themselves and thus secured their own doom. Bubba found this difficult to imagine—that reasonably intelligent adult folk could consider such heresy—not if the blessings of old were as great as the older kids remembered.
On the other hand, how could they account for their sister Lissa? She had been a full year younger than Skeeter. Nevertheless, she had been taken away with the grown-ips whereas Skeeter had been spared. It had been a mystery to all, until Skeeter finally admitted to knowledge of the young girl's insidious blasphemy. She had once confided in him, although of course he never did believe her, that their religion was a lie—a silly story passed down from an antiquity so remote that no one knew its origins—a tale told so often that those who told it eventually ceased to be liars but rather fools, falling for the absurdity themselves. Her explanation was ridiculous though, for it could not account for the reality of the blessings, nor for the peace and harmony they had known in the God's loving grace. Besides which, what else but her blasphemous ravings could account for the odd circumstance of her demise?
A long, long time ago, early in his adulthood, Bubba thought he had it all figured out. There must have been some special rite or invocation for summoning the God—a secret kept by the elders, or perhaps by a limited priesthood—safeguarded from the children who would doubtless abuse the privilege. This would tend to explain why their lives were spared. The invaders feared their mighty God and killed all those who might have held the key to unleashing His fearsome wrath.
For years Bubba sought the formula, fumbling absentmindedly through a hidden cache of books which he could scarcely read, confering clandestinely with others who, being older than himself, might remember something trivial which could offer a clue. No one could recall anything of possible relevance, except that the elders had always sent them to bed early on the night before manifestation, as if it were as school day, which of course it never was. Whereas this seemed to corroborate the theory of ritual summoning, it cast no light upon the actual procedure.
There were many more questions which Bubba wished to ask, but the last of the old gang had passed away, leaving only himself and the new order—their children and grandchildren—born into slavery, and most of them no longer caring. Even Bubba was losing concern, if not faith entirely. Perhaps the invaders were new gods. Perhaps they had killed The Great One and ascended His seat of power. Truly, it was they who now watched over the people's shoulders every minute of every day. Maybe the code of conduct as dictated for slaves had become the new law—the only values they would ever need.
But then the dreams began...
Bubba was in the old village marketplace on midwinter's eve. His parents were there also, pushing him forward along the cobbled path through the gently falling snow, toward a hulking, white-bearded giant who sat upon a massive throne. His velvet garment's were obviously those of a King, and when He spoke, Bubba knew whose presence he was in.
"Come forth child and fear not," boomed a deep and somber voice which seemed to reverberate throughout the market square. "You know who I AM, and I know you, Bobby."
Bobby! He hadn't heard that name in over three quarter's of a century! It was his old name, the name his parents called him in the other dreams, those of his childhood long ago. It was his real name, even though he himself had forgotten it.
But the Giant knew! This Giant must be Him, The Lord, speaking to him through his dreams! At long last, Bubba had gained an audience with the Almighty!
Thereafter he had the same dream often, always startling awake at the calling of his name. In sweat drenched blankets, his limbs quivering in the cold and fear, he would lie there through the remainder of the night, unable to reclaim the quiet peace of slumber.
If only Skeeter had been alive, he thought. Skeeter would still remember the face of the God, having seen Him many times back in the old days. If this Giant were truly Him, then Skeeter would recognize the description. But Bubba's big brother had died several months before the dreams began. He could no longer be consulted on matters pertaining to the God, nor even on the qualities of his own lurid dreams, of the voluptuous older women carousing through the depths of his feeble mind. After all, perhaps it was only hallucinations which called for comparing. Bubba was old. His mind often played tricks on him. This may have been but another.
After a dozen or so repeat episodes the dream went away, for awhile. Then, after nearly a year had passed, it returned in force. This time he did not wake up as his name was called. He could not wake up, not even when he tried. He felt certain, at least at first, that this was nothing more than a cruel joke of old age. He tried (Oh! So desperately!) to return to the world of the waking. It was to no avail...
The Lord spoke down at him, His voice soft and reassuring. "What is it you fear, child? I have been watching you closely these many years and you have nothing to fear from me."
Bubba calmed slightly, momentarily daring to look up directly into the face of God. For some reason he had been expecting the face of an angry God, a vengeful God, a God of Wrath—but the face was surprisingly gentle.
"Have you something to ask of me, Bobby?"
Bubba hesitated for a moment, unable to find his voice. Then suddenly, he cleared his voice and cried out, "Where have You been? Why have You forsaken us in our need?"
The God looked tenderly upon His disciple but said nothing.
Bubba continued: "It has been scores of years since You last bestowed Your blessings upon us. Since that time an evil has enslaved us all, those who were not murdered outright. We have been captured and penned like animals, forced to work in the fields and factories with little rest and meager rations. We have been made to breed upon demand, with no respect for our own feelings and preferences, nor for our traditional family arrangements.
"As for the elders who might have opposed them, or at least summoned You—they were all killed—and You never intervened! Why have You allowed us to suffer so? Where have you been? We feared that somehow even You had been murdered!"
"I am here now," said the Smiling Giant, beginning to chuckle heartily through his snowy beard. "I am everywhere, if people will only believe. Remember Me, believe in Me, and behave as you know to be proper, for I have ways of watching over you. But you have been good. You have all been so very good. Well..., considering the circumstances."
"Oh yes," confirmed Bubba, "I've always tried to do what's right, and I told them all that You would return, but it has been hard on your children. We've all suffered so much that many are losing hope. Some are now saying that You never were. Others that You were, but are no more—"
"Well now," rumbled the Almighty, leaning forward on His towering throne, his mirth turning rapidly to ire, "that is bad news. All of my children must believe. Hasn't anyone ever taught you about magic? It never works unless everyone believes! When you return to my children, explain this to them."
The Great One sat back and gestured for Bubba to come forward and sit upon His lap. His laughter began again, louder and heartier than any Bubba had ever heard or imagined. "Yes," continued the Lord of Hosts, "in the absence of faith, even the greatest power is as none at all. You may have anything you desire if you can do two things. Number one, you must rightly feel that you deserve what you wish for. Number two, you must believe. I cannot return until all of my children truly believe..."
As Bubba seated himself upon the lap of God...
...the dream dissolved. He was back in his cottage, the amber light of dawn piercing the window panes and scattering upon the hearth at his bedside. He awoke abruptly but calmly, with neither the sweatiness nor the nervous shaking which had marked the previous post-encounters. In his mouth was a lingering half-memory of the taste of peppermint, and within his head he could hear the voice of God echoing, not unlike the thunder from a distant retreating storm: "...you must believe...until all of my children truly believe...I cannot return..."
No commandment had been stated clearly, but Bubba knew what had to be done. The God who had created and cared for the people was a God of Love, and as such He could not take vengeance upon the dark ones—not if it meant the employment of their own hateful and barbaric tactics. Such action might indeed prove necessary, but if so it would be up to the people to implement for themselves.
Bubba's mission was now clear. Even as he was the last of the old order, so would he be the leader of the new—the Prophet of his people! He would go forth and teach them, making them believe as they had never really done before, bringing them to a full understanding that their Divine Father still reigned from on high, and that again He would bestow His grace upon them, guiding and inspiring them in their quest to regain the liberty which was their birthright. And then He would restore the fabled blessings of old.
Secured with the Almighty's favor, Bubba would march defiantly with his people into the City of the Overlords, and there he would defy their decree by caroling out the sacred name of God!
With a youthful vigor he hadn't felt in decades, Bubba hopped eagerly from his bed and into his breeches, quickly pulling his tunic over his shoulders while stepping barefooted into his enormous black boots. His stockings, though fully dry, he left right where they were, hung by the chiminey with care.