2.24 The Great Leap Upwards

This post is an update on a previous story about an organization called ‘The Great Leap Forwards’. You can read the first story: 2.9 The Leap Years. I caught up with my bruised and beaten friend Tony at a rehab centre for alcohol and substance abuse. The facility will remain anonymous. By the publication date of the original story, Louis, the founder of the organization The Great Leap forward, was arrested after WikiLeaks released information containing his illegal activities. After a formal investigation, all charges were dropped except for tax evasion. Louis owed the government an undisclosed sum, quite a large amount, but one he easily paid through his various benefactors. His believers and followers were some of the most powerful people in the world, including many well known Hollywood actors. For obvious reasons, they were what could be considered ‘silent contributers’ to the cause.

A free man, Louis began building his organization once again. He set out on a worldwide tour, finding even more individuals born on February 29th of a leap year. People of all ages and different cultures welcomed his tour bus wherever it stopped. The arrest was not a set back, but seemed to garner an even more devoted following. As they say in the advertising business, any promotion is good promotion.

Tony and Jane quietly ran their coffee shop in the east end of the city. They tried to move on with their lives, tried to stop looking over shoulders. The operative word was ‘tried’. The story of Louis and The Great Leap Forward went on relentlessly for months and months. The odd news reporter tracked Tony and Jane down, wanting statements, wanting a piece of them.

Louis started appearing on talk radio and on television. The movement was heading towards a tipping point. The tipping point would be the end of all days. He decided to borrow a narrative from certain religions, the story of The Rapture. Of course, he manipulated and construed the story into one that suited his own needs. The Rapture included only the Christians and revolved around the return of Jesus Christ. Louis coined his ‘Rapture’ The Great Leap Upwards. Louis ‘predicted’ that on May 21, 2011 at 6:00pm EST, the world would end, leaving behind (naturally) those whose birthday landed on a leap day (his followers). The concept was perfect and resulted in a huge boost in donations.

Tony and Jane were home one night watching television. Flipping channels, they came across Louis on a talk show. He was explaining The Great Leap Upwards. Something triggered inside of Tony’s brain. Usually, he would immediately change the channel if he saw Louis’s face or switch the station if he heard his voice. Louis had a way of making the listener feel as though he spoke directly to them. Tony was transported back to their first meeting and the comfort he felt within that community.

“Guy’s crazy,” Jane said. “Can’t believe people still go along with him.”

“Mmhm,” Tony said.

Louis continued to align himself with greater and more powerful people. And the money rolled in. He advertised The Great Leap Upwards on billboards and it was written about in every major newspaper across the world. Many regarded him as a side show, and others called him the next L. Ron Hubbard. The attention only attracted more followers, even fabricated birth certificates. People would laugh an uncomfortable laugh but think, could it be true?

Tony pulled away from Jane. Secretly, he poured over every piece of media containing Louis’s proglamations. Tried to see the flaws in his arguments, couldn’t locate the flaws. Tony reached out, contacted Louis’s handlers. Tony lied to Jane, said he was going camping with some buddies, met with Louis himself. Tony apologized, said he wanted back into the organization. Louis forgave him, but instructed Tony he would have to liquidate all his assests and hand the money over to the organization. He would have to break off his relationship with Jane, who Louis viewed as an interloper, someone who has lost the faith. A non-believer. Louis convinced him the end was near anyways, that none of these material things did mattered. Tony would be saved through his service to The Great Leap Upwards.

Bank accounts were emptied. The coffee shop sold. Jane fought him along the way, tried to talk sense into him. Louis told Tony she was tainted. Tony transferred the money, all savings, all assets, everything. Jane tried to reach Tony, but he was beyond helping. Again, the important word through all this was ‘tried’.

Louis continued his world tour spreading the word about The Great Leap Upwards. Television commercials in twenty different languages. Infomercials selling end of the world kits. Public service announcements. Tony became his right hand man, an example of conversion, or re-conversion. He gave impassioned speeches about his life before and after and how his involvement with the organization provided meaning to his life. But all along, he could not specifically pinpoint what that meaning was, just that it was there.

The tour concluded in New York City on May 21, 2011. An all-day festival with three stages and over fifteen musical performances. At 5:55pm EST, a hush came over the crowd as Louis, alone, took centre stage. He did not say a word. At 6:01pm, the crowd grew restless. At 6:10pm, boo’s ensued. At 6:15pm, all the lights on the grounds went out except for a spotlight focused on Louis. He went into a trance, physically girating around the stage, eyes pushed back into his head. Luckily, he had a microphone in his hand. He brought the microphone up to his mouth and said, “October 21, 2011.” Dropped the microphone, causing ear-piercing feedback. Collapsed on the stage.

Tony rushed to Louis’s side. The spotlight clicked off, leaving the grounds in darkness. Louis popped his eyes open, looked right at Tony, smiled and winked. When others arrived, Louis acted like he was physically unable to get up. His followers carried him off stage.

Alone, staring out into the darkness, Tony looked at the gathered people. The truth of The Great Leap Upwards unleashed on Tony. The reason he couldn’t locate the meaning of The Great Leap Upwards was because there wasn’t any. He walked off the stage and away, for a second time, from the organization. He had no money, Jane refused his calls. An old problem resurfaced: He started drinking. He would be in a bar, and the television in the corner would show the most recent interview with Louis. He would be explaining how his calculations were off, that on stage he had a vision and the vision revised the date to October 21, 2011. In a drunken stooper, Tony tried to tell people the truth about The Great Leap Upwards. That it was all an elaborate hoax. Nobody listened, nobody cared. Soon, it didn’t matter if anyone listened, because for the next five months, whether The Great Leap Upwards happened or not, Tony planned to be drunk.

Passed out in an alleyway outside a bar, beaten up, beaten down. He awoke in a hospital, but not just any hospital, the rehab facility where I met him. Jane loved him and wanted him back in her life. Wanted to move on, once again, from Louis and his followers. She tracked him down at the bar, found him beaten up behind the garbage cans.

Tony only has a few more weeks in rehab and he will attempt to rebuild his life with Jane. The Great Leap Upwards will occurr on October 21, 2011, which means at the time of this publication, we only have about five months left before the next end of the world.

Look for ongoing updates on this story in future entries.