Here is the Sixth chapter of my latest WIP. It will probably shape up to be a short novella. It’s hard to say now. I’m not sure how long I’m going to leave this up. I’ll probably take it down at some point and turn it into an eBook – with a free/pay-what-you-feel version on Smashwords and a pay version on Amazon.
If you like this opening, please leave feedback. It really helps me! And when I pull it down for the eBook version, please consider buying a copy, leaving reviews, etc.
Also, if you like this please consider buying a copy at LeanPub now, or Amazon or Smashwords when they are available. I know some people have reservations about buying stuff over the internet or for various reasons may not be able to, so I’ll try and always have a free version available. But I also believe in authors getting paid for the work.
I made some minor, but important changes to Part 5. You don’t need to re-read to make sense of the plot, but I think it will a lot with the characterization. The changes are in the last section of Part 5.
Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness
Word Count: 2,400 (approx)
Reading time for average reader: 12 minutes
Sammy, I love you, but sometimes I wonder if you are even human. How can you just drop a bomb like that about Abigail in such a nonchalant fashion, like you were just reading the news about some country you’ve never heard of? I know you two had your problems – and I know I was one of them – but really. How could you do that to me?
But what I also mean: I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry. I would leave it at that if it weren’t for… Well, some fearful symmetries between your life and mine for the last few days.
I dreamed about your infinite expanding grayness. And I dreamed about Mary Magdalene, too. I know you and Eric would refuse to identify the woman in Luke chapter 7 as The Magdalene. I bet you can see my look of disdain. The commitment you and Eric show – and have always shown – to textual criticism makes you almost seem like the fundies. Of course, you two were sexier than any Evangelical textual critic I’ve ever met.
Anyway, my dream… I was alone, in the desert, looking form something I had lost. You know how dreams are. I don’t know what it was I had lost, but I knew I had lost something. And I knew it was here in this desert.
Then I saw my daughter, Lisa, in the distance. What is she doing here by herself? It’ll be dark soon, I thought. I started to run toward her. Then I saw snakes surrounding her – huge things – thick, ropey muscled beasts.
I started to scream when something grabbed my ankle and yanked me hard. I was back in the jungle, being pulled into our terrible cave by some thick tentacle of blackness.
I didn’t see Eric or Our Dark Friend. At first, I was thankful. I wasn’t in any pain. There was no horrid, mocking voice… Just… Well… I was floating in the same infinite expanse of grayness that you had described. But I took no comfort in it – cold or otherwise. I screamed for hours even though there was no sound coming from my contorted mouth. My muscles jerked in agony and fear, but I saw no movement in my limbs. I just floated, like a dead woman. My eyes watered but the tears vanished before I felt their hot streaks on my cheeks. Slowly, but surely, I felt my boundaries fading into this expanse.
I hated it. But even my hate seemed to cool after dream-years of floating. Soon I could only hate that I no longer had the power to hate this.
Damn it, Sammy. How could you stand it?
After a lifetime or maybe two, I saw the face of Mary Magdalene, then her hand. She reached out to me. She looked so lovely, so alive. The colors of her face after so much grayness… It was ecstasy to see her. Somehow I touched her hand, and I was with her.
We were sitting in a garden. One of those delightful ones with a decorative pool covered in algae. Large, mysterious shapes swam below the surface. The trees were almost a platonic green. Every other green I see will seem so inferior now.
I was sitting on a small patio couch. It wasn’t like anything I’ve ever seen in someone’s real garden! The cushions were some old, love-worn leather that seemed to shape itself as needed – supporting me hear, yielding to me there.
Mary wore a low cut gown. I’ve got to stop staring, I thought to myself. I’m not a 16-year-old boy! The shape of her breasts, the perfection of her skin. I could have gotten lost in her.
She smiled, and I loved her. I felt myself melting under her delight in me.
“I was like you once,” she said. “Peter and the boys… they had their games that I wasn’t allowed to play. Much like Sammy and Eric, yes? Don’t you feel like a prize they are fighting over?”
She walked toward me, my eyes swaying back and forth to the same rhythm as her hips.
“And yet, for all their fighting and games, My Savior chose me. He could have had any woman in the world for a wife. He could have had everywoman in the world for His wife. And he chose me.”
My heart leaped as she sat next to me. She put her arm around me with a low sigh. She leaned into my ear. My limbs went weak as I felt her hot breath on my face and neck. “Do you know what the Savior has to say to you?” she asked.
“You mean Jesus?” I asked. I’m terrible dense in my dreams, I guess
“Yes,” she said with a dreamy look in her eyes.
I gulped. Was he going to dismiss me like a goat, saying he never knew me? Please, I thought, I’ll do anything! Just don’t make me ever leave this place.
“His words burn in your heart. Can you feel them? All the darkness your Dark Friend had brought you… My Husband speaks in the darkness.”
I don’t know where it came from, but somehow part of my pre-frontal cortex activated. I know it seems silly now, but I remember thinking: This is Mary Magdalene! She was there the first Easter morning if anyone was!
I sputtered, “Was the tomb really empty?”
She pulled her head back almost in shock then laughed a little. “You theologians! Always missing the point. You search the scriptures looking for eternal truths, and you miss The Truth!”
She smiled at me, but not the sensual smile she had before. Now it was the smile of an indulgent Aunt with a child who she realized was much slower than she had thought before. Sure, there was love and kindness in it… but also some pity. “Anyway, it is all quite simple. The tomb was…”
And then I was awake, sitting upright in my bed. Nick was screaming, pacing around the room frantically, his hands clamped on his temples like he was holding his skull together.
“Nick!” I shouted. “Nick! What is it?”
He kept screaming. I jumped up and put my arms around him. “Baby, please tell me what’s wrong!” He buried his face in my neck and began sobbing.
After a while, he pushed himself off and climbed back into bed, looking white and shaking like it was below freezing.
I climbed in next to him and looked at his face, searching for some clue.
“I woke up with a stabbing pain in my head,” he said. “It was like nothing… nothing could have prepared me for that, honey.”
And then he was asleep. Snoring.
I lay down and stared at the ceiling. Then the memory of that dream came back to me. Lisa! Snakes! I remember thinking. I knew it was irrational, but I had to check on her.
I went to her room and found her in her bed with a menagerie of stuffed animals. She made my heart skip a beat. Have you ever seen anything like this, Sammy? She’s got one foot in womanhood and another in childhood. It’s scary and wonderful to behold. I feel no competence for the task she has posed me, but I would die for her in an instant.
The next morning, Nick told me he was staying home as he was having terrible diarrhea. He didn’t mention the stabbing pain or anything. Just the runs.
But what about Eric’s Gedankenexperiment and Abigail’s trip to the doctor? Is Nick dying, too? Should I push him to see someone? Will that even help if Our Dark Friend has put some curse on him?
I called Julia. Maybe I can enlist her in trying to get Nick to see a doctor, I thought. Or maybe we’ll just chat about whatever her boyfriend has been doing to irritate her. Maybe I need some inanity to ground me.
But as I chatted with her, all I could think about was my desire to call you. To ask you: Was the tomb empty? Is there a savior out there? Or are we on our own to fight the Dark Friend? Why have I studied, read and prayed for so long and still I am left wondering if I am alone? What was Mary trying to communicate to me? Why did she say I was missing the point? I know it seems reductionist to try and pin my faith down to a single event on a single Sunday thousands of years ago, but it seems like a pressing issue. Or was it all a dream? Is my faith just a form of poetry? Did the apostles just have abstract “spiritual experiences” or visions? Can I base my life on that?
Sometimes I wish I was more like you. I wish I could find some comfort in that vast grayness that wants to absorb everything that I am… The burden of existing as an ache in this vast grayness sometimes seems like too much for me to bear.
But that wasn’t the last of it. I’m not sure how much of the rest you know.
Abby called me.
I didn’t recognize the number, but my cell phone told me it was from Texas. I could barely breathe as I clicked the answer button and waited to hear your voice – the voice I’ve been longing to hear almost non-stop since I saw you in Boston.
“Hello?” I answered, somehow finding enough oxygen to speak two syllables.
“Cassie? This is Abby,” she said.
“Abby who?” I felt like an idiot pretending
“I know you’re not stupid or my husband wouldn’t be interested in you. I just need to speak my peace, and then I’ll let you go. You will not have him as long as I live. But none of us knows how long that will be, yes? So, I’m just going to give you some context. I refuse to be a non-entity.”
“I… I…” was all that came out.
“Please don’t treat me like I’m stupid either. I have no idea what you know about me, and I hate to throw credentials around. I’m only doing this so you can skip the dance about how to tell how smart I am. I was in the top 2% of my class at MIT in Electrical Engineering. I’m not sure how much you humanities majors know about EE, but this would buy me a huge salary at a number of high profile companies and institutions if I could stand such a life. Please don’t take that as bragging. I just want to save you some time.”
“Of course not,” I said. The thing is, there wasn’t a trace of pride in her voice. She just sounded like she was pressed for time. Of course, now I know that she was. But not because of an upcoming appointment, but a rather more permanent deadline.
“He’s a monster, but don’t even monsters need grace? Besides, I knew what I had signed on for. I took a risk. He was too good to be true. I had no idea how awful he would get. But the more I delved into his awfulness, the more wonderful he seemed. I now know how people can watchManhattan and Chinatown. Those movies used to make me sick. Monsters made them. Then I slowly realized, I had married a monster.
“But that’s not why I stay with him. I stay with him because I refuse to let him destroy himself. When I married him, I committed to do him good and not harm. I am not going to let himself run pell-mell into the maw of hell. As long as I can do anything, I will seek a way to keep his soul safe from the clutches of Satan.”
She paused for a moment, giving me a chance to speak. But what could I say?
Finally, she spoke, “He will never give you a moment’s peace.”
I could hear her smiling when she said that. I know you never give me a moment’s peace and yet I still smile when I think of you. Will you break my heart like you are breaking hers?
Then she went on, “I don’t know why I’m telling you this. I don’t know what you plan to do with your marriage. This world is growing dim to me. Maybe I’m telling you this because I know things. Maybe I hear the whispers from another world more loudly than anyone destined for a long life should. So, if you outlast me… please consider your marriage as something to be cherished. Don’t destroy yourself and him. Don’t listen to his lies about how you two were destined and your marriage to your husband was a mistake. Your marriage license shows you who your real spouse is. Let him come to his senses and find some nice single woman to lavish his affection on.”
She waited again. I still had nothing to say.
“Anyway,” she said, “I’m going to let you go now. I’ve said my peace. Think about what I’ve said.” And she hung up.
What about Nick? Is that monster going to do something to him? And would I tell you about it in such an offhanded fashion as you conveying the imminent death of your wife?
Sammy, Eric is right… I can be so terribly greedy and selfish. I know I should let you go, turn you away, stop responding to your attempts at communication… I should be glad for Nick, Lisa, Julia… I should tell Abby that you are hers and hers alone.
But I can’t go back. Try as I might. You have crawled into my mind and changed me. Eric drilled the hole, but it’s you who filled it. You’re in my brain, and I never want you to leave.
All I want is more of you, Sammy. I want to feel you with my body, not just my mind. But I don’t want to leave a trail of bodies.
Was I better off without you? Some nights I lie awake and wrestle with this question. But, I have to admit. You, you fucked up, twisted jerk… You, Sammy, are my new normal.