Is Horror the Genre of Hope?

A twitter friend of mine wrote a blog post arguing that horror is the genre of hope.

Is this true? At first, I was pretty sure his definition applied to a significant portion of the horror genre, but not the whole thing. But as I read and considered the article, his case became more compelling. One potion in particular stood out to me.

Collings writes:

Besides, even in stories where evil appears to triumph, the reality is anything but. Because the moment after “the end” happens, the reader proves those two words to be a lie. The reader closes the book. The reader turns off the Kindle. The story is done, but the reader… the reader does not end. For the reader has survived. The reader will continue and, hopefully, continue forward stronger.

I think Collings has an important insight, but it proves his point only given certain presuppositions. Before I discuss the presupposition he makes, I want to take a step back and discuss the nature of presuppositions.

I’ve been struggling with my faith a great deal as many of you know or have inferred from my story The Presumption of Darkness.

As part of this struggle, I’ve been studying a particular discipline called Presuppositional Apologetics. Briefly described, it is a field of study that attempts to show the rationality of the Christian faith by showing that all other world-views are based on certain basic axioms or presuppositions that lead to contradictions. Once this is shown, the apologist then explains how the Christian world-view is internally consistent – e.g., it is based on presuppositions that do not lead to contradictions.

Now, I’m not convinced that this is true, but it is certainly a lot more convincing than so-called classical apologetics.

(For those of you who are curious about how such an approach to showing the rationality of the Christian faith would play out in practice, you can listen to this debate between a presuppositional apologist and an atheist. The atheist doesn’t come out looking so good, but I think this is mostly due to his surprise at the approach that the Christian takes to the issue. And that is the problem with using live debates as a way of seeking truth. Often someone looks like they won not because their arguments are the strongest but because they have the element of surprise or they have superior debate skills, etc. A much more interesting, deeper, but lengthier exchange on the merits of the presuppositional approach can be found here.)

Anyway, Collings point jumped out at me because it seemed so similar to the type of thinking I found during my research into Presuppositional Apologetics. Is the reader of horror presupposing that goodness can and will win the day? Is that the only way to explain how we can go on after reading bleak reports about our place in the world and our destiny?

Well, maybe. Maybe if we really believed the bleak world view of Thomas Ligotti or Laird Barron, we’d find the only way out to be suicide. If there is no hope, what point is there in living? So, I think Collings would write, clearly we do believe in hope. And reading horror strengthens this hope since we show the lie of pessimism by putting down the book and going on with our lives. Every time we read a pessimistic book and continue living, we are proving that we don’t believe in pessimism.

But I also think that there may be another explanation. I think Collings is right on the money if we presuppose that people make their decisions based on beliefs, etc., which can, potentially, be brought into consciousness and reasoned about. But is this the case? Is it possible that we aren’t rational animals who are motivated by beliefs and thoughts? Maybe we are motivated by deep drives for, perhaps, survival. Or maybe we are just machines designed to propagate the species as a whole. Or maybe we are totally at the whims of early childhood traumas.

Honestly, I have no idea if any of these alternatives make sense. But I do see them as at least viable alternatives – research projects to be thought through and held up against the view that we are “belief driven creatures.”

And this also shows a weakness in Presuppositional Apologetics. The whole field of study is based on the presupposition that we are, to some extent, “belief driven creatures.”

Are we? What sayest thou, reader? Are we motivated by beliefs or deep drives or something else? Is horror a genre of hope? Is there any reason not to kill ourselves? If suicide is too hard to do given our deep drives, should we at least stop having children so that we slowly die out?

 

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The Presumption of Darkness – Part 10

Here’s the link to read from the beginning Part 1

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 1,100 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 5 minutes

Part 10

Sammy

Cassie, I know this might be hard to believe, but it wasn’t a dream. I stared at my beating heart floating in that toilet for 10 minutes trying to wake myself up.

Abby started knocking at the door. “Hey, are you okay in there?”

“I… I don’t think so,” I said.

She opened the door and walked in and stared into the toilet with me. I tried to speak for a bit, but nothing came out. It just kept on beating, Cassie.

Abby looked at me and then back at the toilet.

I looked at her and then back at the toilet.

Then Abby said, “For years I thought you were heartless. It looks like I was right.”

“What should I do?” I asked.

“Men,” she said with a resigned shrug. She pulled my hear out of the toilet and rinsed it thoroughly in the sink. Then she wrapped it in paper towels and walked off.

“Where are you going?” I asked as I followed her out of the bedroom.

“I’m taking care of everything, just like always.”

She walked into the kitchen with speed and steadiness I hadn’t seen since she got sick.

She opened a cabinet and pulled out a Tupperware bowl, stuffed my heart in it and put it in the fridge like it was a leftover roast.

“Abby, should I call a doctor?” I asked.

“Are you kidding? What are you going to tell them? Do you really want to pull all that shit down on us? I’m going back to bed.”

And she did. I sat there in the kitchen a while, afraid to open the fridge.

She hasn’t left the bedroom for three days, Cassie. She had been getting better, I think. She had gone into the office twice that week. I guess finding her husband’s heart floating in the toilet sort of took the wind out of her.

I go in there sometimes, and if she’s awake, she’ll look at me and open her mouth like she’s going to say something, and then she’ll just give up, like the effort is too much for her, and go back to staring at the ceiling. She’s given up reading, even.

Why am I doing this to her, Cassie? What is wrong with me? Abby is beautiful, smart, forgiving… And yet, you are the only one I see.

Eric’s been coming around. He’s been taking me to a diner. I have no idea where it is. This is like one of those places that barely exists anymore. It’s always late at night, and I have no idea how he gets me there – the same way he took me to see you, I suspect.

This place is lifted right out of a movie, complete with patrons from central casting.

Eric always looks normal when we’re there. He isn’t cobbled together from bits of putrefying flesh. He seems almost like he did when we were on our grand tour… Except he looks older, meaner.

“Everyone here has made Our Dark Friend their god,” he whispered to me the first time we went. “They may not know it. They may not have used those words. But they did.”

We sat down at a small table – the kind that just sort of comes out of the wall. The waitress bought us two steaming cups of coffee.

“Do they look depressed?” he asked me.

They didn’t. Mostly they were laughing and talking and having a grand ol’ time.

“Hey, Frankie,” Eric called out to an older fellow as he came in the door. “Join us, will ya?”

Frankie sat down. “Eric,” he said as he nodded toward him.

“Frankie, this is my friend, Sam. He’s trying to decide if he wants to join our crowd.”

Frankie smiled at me. “You’re holding out for better options, huh?” he said.

I didn’t say anything. I mean, what could I say? The other options all seem to be retreating away from me.

“Some churchy friend of yours thinks they know somehin’ ’bout life, yeah?” he asked.

Cassie, I guess you’re my churchy friend. I guess. If you can call sleeping with Mary Magdalene then letting me fuck you in the ass being churchy.

“Sorta,” was all I said.

“Let me tell you something, Sam. I’m just telling you what I see. You gotta figure this one out yourself. Anyway, I was in your shoes. My daughter died of cancer when she was 14. It was really slow. Horrible. It was painful, humiliating, and long. The whole 9 yards. Then Eric comes and finds me and brought me here. Here I have freedom. We have a freedom here you won’t find in any church.”

What if he’s right, Cassie? If the emptiness is all that’s real, then we don’t have to struggle. We can just let all of it slip away.

Cassie, I’m still trying, holding out somehow for your world. But, I want so bad to give in to Eric and Our Dark friend. Then I could come and see you again – my body, your body – together.

Eric teases me sometimes. Sometimes I see you… with no body to touch you. Your beauty would tear the breath from my lungs if they had come with me. I sometimes forget how beautiful you are, but then I see you. I feel like a phantom. My senses are twisted. I only see you. I know there are other people in the house. I see you acting like you are interacting with Nick and Lisa… But I don’t see them I only see you. It’s so strange looking at you talk and gesture like there are other people in the house, but I only see you.

Do you hear me, Cassie? Does it bother you that you are haunted by a heartless ethereal non-being? Are these messages getting through?

Does it even matter? Even if you never get this… even if you do get this but never respond… Those moments when I see you and know that you love me, even if you can never feel me… Those moments make me think I can hold Our Dark Friend at bay one more day.

But most of the time I’m at the diner. Eric keeps pulling me back there. I think of the Tom Waits song about a diner… Maybe even this diner. His words haunt me:

I'm a refugee from a disconcerted affair
As the lead pipe morning falls
And the waitress calls

<– Back to Chapter 9

 

I’ve been 86ed from your scheme

Nothing inspires my writing like pain. Pain is the caffeine to my writer-soul. And that is why I am already drafting the outline to Chapter 10 of The Presumption of Darkness.

It’s not just personal pain, although there is a ton of that. (You’re the only one I see, Precious.)

I got shook up good by the Pittsburgh shootings. I’m probably the worst Jew you’ve ever met. I feel more at home in a Charismatic Evangelical church than I’d feel in even the most liberal of synagogues. And yet, I am probably Jewish enough that Robert Gregory Bowers wouldn’t have thought twice about putting a bullet in my head.

And The Proud Boys, and Patriot Prayer, and Florida Man… These people wouldn’t have spared me.

So, this year I voted against roving gangs of right wing thugs. And don’t tell me the Republican Party has nothing to do with this. All their dog whistling is coming home to roost. It’s easy to keep the populace in terror. All you have to do is blow that dog whistle a few times and you keep all the dirty blood off your hands.

Anyway, the race here in Texas is turning into a nail biter.

I’m fucked up over it. Just like I’m fucked up over bad news received by a Twitter DM.

I’m trying to put this high-grade pain and anxiety into the next chapter of PoD. Sammy is cast adrift, missing his heart… And he winds up in a diner.

As the Tom Waits song goes, he and I have:

been 86ed from your scheme

I’m in a melodramatic nocturnal scene

Sammy and I can both say:

I’m a refugee from a disconcerted affair

As the lead pipe morning falls

And the waitress calls

Anyway, what gives y’all the motivation to write? Fame and fortune? A message to share? Some mysterious impulse you can’t explain?

 

 

The Presumption of Darkness – Part 9

Here’s the link to read from the beginning Part 1

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 2,300 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 12 minutes

Part 9

Sammy

I don’t know if you will get this message, my precious Cassie, but I have to try. Every day I think of driving out to California, dragging you to my truck – peacefully or kicking and screaming, it matters not – and heading to the mountains so we can watch the world burn together.

Abby has gotten worse. She works still, but mostly from her bed. And she reads and reads. The other day she called me, her voice faint. I thought I had imagined it but went into the bedroom to make sure.

She was propped up against the headboard, pale as a ghost. As soon as I walked through the door she started to read to me:

Though the fig tree does not blossom,
    and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
    and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
    and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
    I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength;
    he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
    and makes me tread upon the heights.

“One of the minor prophets, I think,” I said.

“Habakkuk, chapter 3.” She closed her bible and stared at me.

What do you want from me, Abby? “I’ve been cheating on you, and now you’re dying. Are you sure you want to keep on praising the Lord?”

She sighed. “Sammy, you sound just like Job’s wife. You want me to curse God and die? And why, exactly? So you can be free to ruin Cassie’s marriage? I didn’t lose you to the jungle for years and then nurse you back to sanity to let you start destroying everyone around you. I will not go quite that gently.”

I turned around and left. What is left for me to say?


Do you really think I could have saved Eric? I don’t see what I could have done. I saw his death. Our Dark Friend tore him to shreds. When the world is too quiet, I sometimes still hear his screams. I don’t know why anyone would think there is anything I could have done. But if I could have saved him… It’s almost too horrible for me to consider.

If I could put him to rest now, I would. He has become even eviler.

You ask if you are still my young damsel, and yet you are pushing me away. If I told you about the gaping wound you’ve left in my chest, would it stop you? Or, more to the point, should it stop you? Will you even hear me if I tell you?

Why didn’t I tell you I was Jewish… I was a different person before I met Eric. He trashed anything that was left of that good Jewish boy. He even trashed the Christian in me. Now, I’m just a debauched psychic stalker. I’m your debauched psychic stalker.

Does that scare you or thrill you? I could be on Interstate 20, right now. Less than a days drive if I drink enough coffee. I just had my pickup serviced, so I think it can make it there. Maybe I’m even closer… Interstate 10… Perhaps you don’t know how much time you have.

Maybe distance doesn’t matter. Perhaps you can’t shut me out, as much as you try. Or maybe you could, but you won’t. We live in a world of visions now. What rules should restrict us? What laws can bind us? Can a visionary ever live by rules?

But our visions are so different, Cassie.

Your visions are populated with people, it must be comforting. I spend more and more of my days in that grayness. The thing is, it isn’t empty. I mean, yes, it’s empty, but there is texture, for lack of a better word. There is emptier emptiness spread throughout this spaceless emptiness. It strains grammar, I know, but that’s the reality.

You are the only thing that keeps me here. I sometimes wonder if Our Dark Friend really is our friend. I mean, we call him that: Our Dark Friend. Why? Because he asked us to? Because that’s what Eric calls him? Or, do we know, on some only semi-conscious level, that he is our friend?

The Magdelene says I still have the chance to choose life. But do I really? And what is this life?

How can we trust her? How can we know she is right? Or that my dead rabbi is right? Even if Jesus himself were to appear to you… How can we know that Jesus and his gang are any more real than anything else floating in the void? Maybe the void is the only thing that’s real, and we are just eruptions – pockets of emptiness that are slightly less empty than pure emptiness.

I’m starting to think in circles.

Am I choosing death? Or am I choosing freedom?

Why do I find it so hard to believe that there are forces for good appearing to you? Yet I find it so easy to believe in Eric and Our Dark Friend?

I can’t say what’s true anymore. Is the greyness true? Is life full of miracles? All I know is that I want you.

And it’s time to act. You’re pulling away… I can’t take that. Whatever it is we have, to say no to it, to pretend we want what we don’t want…what sense does that make?


Eric showed up today. His eyes smiling even though his mouth was just a thin line. His skin is green, and he smells deader than dead, and yet his eyes, Cassie. They have a sort of moist alertness to them. I want to gouge them form their sockets.

Instead, I ask him, “Could I have saved you?”

“Saved me from what, enlightenment?” he chuckled slightly.

“Is that what you call it? Floating in emptiness?”

“There is power, there, Sammy. What if I gave you a present?”

“What could you give me but grief and death?” I ask.

But before he could answer. I was there. I was in your dining room. Your blouse was hung over the chair, covered in what looked like enchilada sauce. I could hear you in the kitchen, scrubbing away at some mess, cursing under your breath. Despite the inanities, I almost fell over, hearing your voice in person. Hell, I probably would have melted into a puddle to listen to you read a shopping list.

Your voice is just like I remember it. It was always so full of life and joy, even when we would speak of dark things. And yet, it matched you so perfectly.

I picked up your stained blouse and held it close to my face. The smell of your skin mixed with the pepper in whatever it was you were cooking made me dizzy. I rubbed it against my face, wanting to drown in your scent.

I walked into the kitchen. You heard my steps, turned as you saw me and backed up against the refrigerator.

God, how did you get such a fantastic body?

One of your long, tan legs, so well displayed in your denim cutoffs, pressed up against the fridge like you were prepared to push off of it and lunge at the intruder. Your long blonde hair pouring out in waves. Your bra barely containing those delicious breasts of yours, with a little blue bow in the middle, like it was gift wrapping for me to tear into.

“Sammie?” you asked. I could barely hear you like there was no air left in your longs.

“Cassie?”

“Are you really here?” you asked.

“I think so.”

Your mouth dropped open, but no words came out. I grabbed you, one hand on your neck, the other buried in your hair. I pulled you in for a kiss.

Damn, woman, kissing you made me feel like there could be some color left in the world. It was like the first day of Fall after a never-ending summer of scorching heat.

I broke off the kiss and stared into your eyes. Your pupils were dilated. I could feel you trembling in my arms.

“Are you scared?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“No.”

I kissed you again, and this time you thrust your hips forward, grinding against me. I began to kiss your neck, and you started to sigh. I buried my head in your thick hair as you clawed at my back.

“Sammy,” you sighed, over and over as I pressed my face into your cleavage.

I pushed you off of me and turned you, gently bending you until your face was on the kitchen counter. You shook your beautiful ass at me.

I yanked your shorts down and then smacked you, hard. You moaned, just like you always did when we were on our drunken tour of Latin America.

“Did you miss me?” I asked.

“Oh, fuck, yes, Sammie.”

I worked my fingers into you, through your panties. You started to pant as I felt your wetness. “I can tell,” I said.

My cock was straining against my jeans. I couldn’t take it any longer. I unzipped and pushed my hardness against you.

You fingers started to work your clit. You were panting like an animal. Like my animal.

“Do you want me inside you?” I asked.

“Yes, please fuck me, Sammie.”

I pushed into you. I was merciless, pounding you as fast and as hard as I could.

Soon you were making those moans that were so familiar… That I hadn’t heard in so long. Listening to you cum was like some tonic for me, pushing me to push you harder and harder.

When your climax finally subsided, I pulled down your sopping wet panties and positioned the head of my cock at the tight little pucker of your asshole.

“Do you want me like old times?” I asked.

“Fuck me in the ass, Sammie. Fuck me like you used to. Fuck me hard like I’m just your little fuck toy.”

I pushed into your ass, and you yelped. You banged one fist on the counter while your other hand worked your clit. I heard you sob over and over. The sobs soon turned to that particular moan you always gave just before you came.

“Sammie!” you screamed as you came and then I did, too. I felt years of pent-up desire explode in your tight little ass. Your sphincter clenched down on me as my cock spasmed, shooting bolt after bolt of my cum into you.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” we both chanted until I was drained.


We snuggled on the kitchen floor, listening to the ceiling fan whir. Thoughts streamed through my head, but none of them stayed long enough to be cogent.

You began to quietly sing that old Bette Midler song:  The Rose.

I felt a rush of memory wash over me. It was like that song unlocked some buried part of me. It seemed so incongruous – this sentimental old song mixed with the violent, illicit passion we had just shared. But somehow, coming from you, it fits perfectly. The song was so you and know it was a part of me.

Then you became silent for who knows how long. At last, you said “How did you do this? Just appear here? What are we going to do, Sammy? You’re like a wolf. You hunt me down and tear me apart. And yet…part of me wanted to push you away, and yet another part of me wanted you to own me completely.”

“And yet, you surround me, Cassie. You are inescapable. You are so deep inside me, you could rip me apart from the inside.”

We kissed, gently and nervously like school kids.

And then, as mysteriously as I arrived in your house, I was back home.


Eric was still there, grinning at me.

“What if you had the power to do that, whenever you wanted?” he asked.

“And what do you want in return?”

“Let Our Dark Friend be your god. Think it over.” Eric disappeared, mercifully.

And then I got your message, beamed into my head like they always are.

Dear, Sammy…

What happened today? Was it real? Or was it just another vision? Were you really here?

After you left, Nick and Lisa came home. I don’t even know where they were. But they must have been having some fun Daddy-Daughter time because they were goofy

Lisa began trying to teach Nick how to dance. I could never get him to dance with me. Part of me felt I should be jealous that he would do it for her and not me, but it was too damn cute. It was so sweet: that big man and my little girl, laughing and just being silly.

But all I could think of was you. Sammy, I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think I need you to stay away. I don’t know if I can tune out your messages, but I will try. But please, just… Just be away from me for a while. I have this whole life here and as flawed as it is, it’s real. I’m not saying you’ll never hear from me again, I’m not naive about my own limits. But give me a chance to be here in the real world for a while.


I suddenly felt terribly hungry for a brief second. And then my stomach turned into red-hot lava. I ran to the bathroom and began to gag, something huge was pushing itself out of my throat, and in a sudden wretched spasm, I felt it pass through my mouth, on fire. I wiped the sweat off my brow and saw my beating heart floating in a pool of bile in my toilet, blood spurting through the arteries, soaking the floor and walls.

Eric’s laughter seemed to fill the house.

I don’t know if you will get this message, Cassie. I feel like I’m on the verge of doing something crazy. If I do, know that I love you. You are my precious young damsel. You always will be. I don’t care how insane that sounds.

<–Back to Chapter 8On to Chapter 10 –>

Word I never meant to say – #1

The Mountain Goats – Jeff Davis County Blues (from All Hail West Texas)

 

I told myself not to use the L word, even though I loved you. I had an elaborate justification to avoid it. It seemed really plausible.

But I also told myself: If the L word is going to be used, I will be the first to use it.

And you stole that from me.

And then, you were gone.

Fucking hell…

I miss you.

I love you.

I’m sorry.


I may not be around much for a while. Reality has this way of sneaking up on us and biting us in the ass. I’m trying to get in touch with reality – to make friends with reality. I’m not sure such a thing is possible.

Those of you who are into praying or similar practices, please say a few for me.

 

 

Apollyon

Wonderful, sensual words from dancewithtricksters

Dances with Tricksters

More shitty erotica from college. Everybody wants to bang Satan!

I’ve entered a kind of paralysis; limbs frozen as shots of liquid terror race through my veins.  The darkness clamps down like a straitjacket, suffocating and restraining me, while a banshee wind rattles the rotten wood of the decrepit mansion.  Nana’s still snoring, deaf to the howling storm outside, and I know I am alone, the only conscious being for miles around.

He’s staring through the rain-dappled window with serpent eyes, crimson skin slick with water.  Ebony hair hangs in a tangled mat as he breathes black fog across my window. He smirks, tracing letters in the vaporous sheet:

“Come Out, Helice.”

My legs, moon pale, slide out from under the downy comforter against my will.  They lead me the cold stone floor, and like Frankenstein’s monster I stumble out of my room, blindly following the dark corridor of the…

View original post 2,441 more words

Still not dead

Yeah, I’m still not dead. I had to kind of drop out of the blogosphere due to:

  • The kids starting school
  • Things getting hectic at work
  • Family illness
  • Getting serious about revising The Mice Waiting, Wailing

I know it’s pretty bad timing because I started following some really great blogs! (I’m looking at you, Murder Tramp Birthday, Little Luna, Lady Lazarus, and Blind Zany Girl.) Hopefully, I’ll get through this lickity split and be able to catch up on all your posts that I missed.

The Presumption of Darkness Part 9 has been outlined. I’m excited about it, but so far, I can’t really estimate when it will be available. Maybe now’s a good time to go back and read – or re-read – the piece from the beginning.

That’s all for now, I think. Hopefully, I’ll have a more substantive post soon.

 

Gillian Welch “Tennessee”

Precious one,

I think this may be one of my favorite songs

There is something so sensual about this song. I imagine you and I slow dancing at some shack in the woods that doubles as a dance hall where they serve bootleg liquor till the sun comes up.

She didn’t mean to be so bad. Sure she had a little bad in her

they threw me out of Sunday school when I was nine

And the sisters said I did just as I pleased

She wants to be good. She tries. But sometimes trying isn’t enough. How do you want what you don’t want? Or, how do you not want what you want?

Even so I try to be a good girl

It’s only what I want that makes me weak

Still there was a reckoning

I had no desire to be a child of sin

Then you went and pressed your whiskers to my cheek

Does this story sound familiar?

But of all the little ways I’ve found to hurt myself

Well you might be my favorite one of all

Sometimes you have to push someone away when they’ve gone too far.

Why can’t I go and live the life of Riley?

Why can’t I go back home to apple pie?

Cause your affront to my virtue was a touch too much

But you left a little twinkle in my eye

Tell me I’m your favorite way to hurt yourself.

Tell me I left a twinkle in your eye

I miss you, precious one.

 

The Presumption of Darkness – Part 8

Here’s the link to read from the beginning Part 1

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 3,100 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 16 minutes

Part 8

Cassie

It wasn’t a dream. I know that. I was jogging – in broad daylight, down a perfectly normal road that I’ve jogged down dozens if not scores of times – and then suddenly I was back in the jungle. The rain was coming down hard just like when we were there, listening to Eric scream as he was torn apart.

I ran, Sammy, just like I did before. The branches and vines tearing at me as if they were just extra limbs that Our Dark Friend could use to tease me, to let me know that I only escaped because he willed me to survive.

But this time it was different than all those years ago. This time those tendrils of blackness shot out of the cave, blocking out what little sun was penetrating the tree cover, surrounding me. I’m going to die, I thought. And I thought of you, Sammy. Not my husband, my daughter, or my sister. I thought of you, you bastard.

But I kept running, despite the hopelessness.

And then I saw him.

He was just sitting at a kitchen table – my kitchen table – in the middle of the jungle. He was clearly Jewish. He had a yarmulke and a beard – not one of those crazy ultra-orthodox beards. It was quite neatly trimmed. I remember, despite my imminent demise, being taken aback by the range of colors in his yarmulke. I remember trying to bring to mind anything I might have learned about color symbolism in my Jewish history classes. Was he making a statement? Or did he just like color?

He waved at me, lit cigarette in hand as I nearly dashed past him. “Miss? Miss? Please sit down,” he said.

Something in his voice radiated safety. So, I sat down.

And we were no longer in the jungle. My kitchen table was now safely back in my kitchen along with this strange semite. I was still wearing my jogging clothes, and the A/C was making my sweat evaporate, giving me chills.

“Who are you?” I picked up a cup of tea that had been placed on my kitchen table. For me, I guess.

“I’m Sammy’s rabbi.”

“Uh, huh…” I said. What I wanted to say was: what the fuck are you talking about? I tried to focus on drinking my tea and not letting my thoughts run wild.

“Well, I used to be. I’m dead now. I’m a ghost, just like Eric. And I’m here to talk to you about Jesus.”

“Uh, huh…” I felt kind of dumb saying that again, but I had nothing.

“Oh, I see. I forgot. Sammy probably never told you he was born Jewish, right? His family wasn’t observant. But some of the older relatives insisted he have a bar mitzvah, so his parents sent him to me. He was a good kid. Really smart, but plagued in the way intellectuals are plagued. You know how it is.”

I nodded. You were always tortured, that’s for sure.

“Anyway, everyone makes choices. Everyone hits these places where they have to make a decision. Sammy made a choice, and it haunted him. You know some people – the most painful things, the most defining things are the things they never talk about. This is true for Sammy. He was faced with a choice. He fell in love with the prose poems you call the gospels. He turned his back on his heritage, and that was one of the most painful things he ever did. So, of course, I should have guessed he would never speak of it unless forced.

“And, I suppose, I am forced. Sammy made a choice, and he provoked me to a choice. He read those strange documents you theologians call gospels. Sammy kept tripping up, getting distracted from his studies. So, I read them, too. And something extraordinary happened all the way back then to Peter, John, and the others. Something that is hard to explain. It was something that seemed to me at the time to either be a violation of the laws of human nature or a violation of the laws of biology. Sammy and I made a choice – we were forced to. Most people choose what is easiest for them. For me, it was easier to believe that some combination of a messianic furor, PTSD, and bereavement hallucinations led Peter and his friends to die for a crazy dream. For some reason I don’t understand, Sammy made the other choice. He decided that the disciples saw Jesus risen from the dead.”

I could tell from the way he took a long breath that he was about to launch into some lengthy exposition about history and the human condition. “This is all very interesting, but what are you doing here?” I asked.

He shrugged. “Well, you know Abigail, right? She has afflicted her soul. She has put down every impulse to hate you and prayed to love you. And she has prayed for your blessing. Well, when you pray like that, things happen. I’m the answer to her prayers. I’m probably not the answer she would have chosen. I’m not the answer I would have chosen, either. I barely know the Sammy you know. I see some seeds of the Sammy I knew have borne fruit in the Sammy you know. But still, he really is a stranger to me.”

“Can I ask you a question? What is the afterlife like?”

“You theologians. I always hated theology. I wanted to help people’s souls, not their minds. And that’s why I’m here. I’ve come to help you with your heart, but your curiosity can’t be restrained, yes? Let’s put it this way, it is fascinating. And it is really different from what I expected, but exactly like I should have expected if I had been thinking more clearly.

“Anyway, I’ve been telling you about choices. You have a choice right now. Do you believe that the eternal grayness is real? Or do you believe life is full of meaning and miracle? You have to make this choice. But there are ramifications. Just like the ramifications of Sammy’s choice.”

He took a drag from his cigarette and then a sip of tea and said, “Jesus was a good Jew. You have to understand that.”

“Didn’t he say he and the father were one? That sounds like blasphemy according to a Jewish worldview.”

“Right, right. That one… Again, such love for the fourth gospel. Yes, he did say that, but what he meant was that his purposes were the same as HaShem’s. And what were those purposes? To push the Torah deep into the hearts of HaShem’s people.”

“It didn’t work, did it?”

“No, Cassie. It didn’t work. He got co-opted. The church got tangled up in empire and traded the moral high-ground for the sword.”

“The tomb wasn’t empty?” Why is this question so important to me?

“I’ve no idea, Cassie. It hardly matters”. Then he stubbed out his cigarette. “These are the things that killed me,” he said while eyeing the still smoldering cigarette butt closely. “You should have seen me on my deathbed. I didn’t look anything like this. People kept being obviously shocked at my appearance when they would visit me in the hospital. It was hardly comforting having people gasp and gape at me as I was dying.

“Listen, this is the important part. Don’t throw away your marriage, Cassie. Find a way to treasure what you have with Sammy if you must. But draw hard boundaries. Please, his better self knows to leave you alone. Don’t let his Yetzer Hara ruin you.”

And with that, he was gone, and I was alone in my dining room. His cigarette stubbed out in an ashtray. Which was weird as Nick and I quit smoking years ago. I looked at the ashtray, it was from the Omni Parker House in Boston. The stubbed cigarette was still warm, Sammy.

I almost called you. I almost risked the call being intercepted by Abigail. I almost called but thought better of it.

I opened the door to Lisa’s bedroom. She had gone out. I didn’t even know if it was morning or afternoon. My sense of time has been so out of whack since you came back into my life and brought these horrible apparitions with you. I picked up the framed family picture she kept on her dresser. Nick looked so happy to have her and me in his life at that moment. Does he still feel that way? I wondered.

Lisa is so beautiful, Sammy. Part of me wants to introduce you two – two of the most important people in my life – but can I trust you with her? I know how dark you can get. We’re both selfish, aren’t we? But Eric’s hooks were deeper in you. And how would I explain who you were to her? How could I ever explain you?

And Nick… He had another one of those awful headaches. I guess it was last night, but, like I said, I don’t trust my sense of time. He deserves better than me. Well, sometimes I think he deserves better than you. Let’s face it, Sammy… You’re an asshole. You sweep back into my life, after I’ve tried to repair things with Nick… And you just mess with my head.

I know I should hate you. I know I should tell Nick. I know I should shut down this weird… link… we have and just let you rot there in that vast grayness you have found such comfort it. And yet…

And yet, I would rather be there with you than be here with these people who really love me. People who actually know me and love me, I should add.

Do you know me, Sammy? Do I know you?

I know Nick. I know he’d try to break your neck if he knew you were still kicking around. I know Lisa would probably develop a mad, school girl crush on you. I know them. Sometimes I think I know Abby better than you and I’ve only spoken with her once in my life. But she has no shields, Sammy. She’s just herself.

Why didn’t you tell me you were Jewish? I mean, not that it matters… But the story of your conversion… That was a big part of your life. What does it all mean?

Shower… I need a shower. I pulled myself up, my legs aching from the crazy sprinting through the jungle and headed to the bathroom.

I started the shower and began to wash myself. And then…

I sometimes feel like my life has turned into a cheap novel. One thing after another. And then, and then, and then…

It was like the shower stall elongated itself. The rear wall seemed to pull off into an impossible distance until I could no longer even see it. It just faded away into shadows.

Out of the shadows, she came. The Magdalene sauntered out like she owned the place. And honestly, if she had asked for the deed to my house, I don’t think I could have held it back from her. Her silky robes slid off her as if strategically, yet gently, pulled by unseen hands. My eyes lingered on each curve, on her lips, on her delightful, hard nipples.

I don’t even know how to describe her body. It was so unlike anything I would have thought. It was so real looking – no surgery, no hundreds of crunches – just real, honest woman. And yet, for all the slight imperfections, she was more beautiful than any woman I had ever seen in life, movie, or dream.

“Don’t listen to these little men. You know. You know the love of my Savior. Don’t listen to the others.” She moved closer to me, like a vast, deadly wave – yet so slowly.

“Spending oneself, giving oneself over, sliding into ecstasy that abolishes the boundaries between you and Him… Isn’t that all you ever wanted? No rituals, no dogma, just the bliss of being swept away in The Lover’s arms…

“Don’t listen to the little men with little dreams. Even the ones who are back from the dead. Even the ones who cannot die. They are not the path. They try to reach The Lover with their minds. They hurl themselves at Him again and again, and they fail. They will do anything to avoid me, but My Lover, The Lover has set me as the guard over His heart.

“My Lover has so much desire for all these beautiful monsters that seem to gravitate into your life. I know you are in touch with Samuel. I don’t understand the connection you have with him. My Lover has not seen fit to explain it. But you must tell Samuel that there is still time for him. The path of life and the path of death is open to him. He still has the chance to choose life.

“My Lover is eager to welcome Samuel. And He has given me a gift for you. I need you to listen carefully, Precious Cassie. Samuel is such a changeable being. It’s not entirely his fault, as he has been caught up in a war he doesn’t even see is going on. But trust in this, Cassie. You will always be that young damsel that he read poetry to.

“And I have a harder message, too. Samuel could have saved Eric, but he knew that Eric would never stop haunting you. Unfortunately, Samuel didn’t know that death doesn’t always stop monsters like Eric.

“I tried so hard to reach your friend Eric, but he spurned me. He could never see past sex as an indulgence and a weapon. For all his talk about transcendence, he was still a puritan at heart. He didn’t understand that sex is a doorway.

“There is still time to for you reach Sammy…”

And then she put her hand on my cheek. I could have melted right then. Her hand moved to my neck and pulled me, gently yet firmly. Our lips touched and parted, and I felt her tongue reach out to mine. It was like electricity pounding at my brain.

Her other hand began to caress my back. I pushed my self into her, buried my face in her beautiful chest. She sighed and pressed my face into her cleavage.

She led me by the hand to the bedroom…

The orgasm, Sammy, was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It wasn’t just sex. I felt like a part of my heart opened up. Physically, not metaphorically. I felt like something in the actual physical organ of my heart changed and radiated a new warmth to the rest of my body. I rode that warmth into sleep.

I woke up exhausted physically and emotionally. But still, there was this strange heat in my chest. It wasn’t disturbing. It was quite pleasant and peaceful.

It was dark, so I thought I had slept the whole day away. But then I noticed something about the darkness. It seemed to have a totality to it that 21st Century life never really affords. There’s always something blinking or some little status light or something with an LED clock… Some light somewhere… Not here, not now.

I knew Our Dark Friend was there with me. Of course, I couldn’t see him. Or, instead, I think, all I could see was him. He was the darkness itself. I was inside of him. I felt him invading my lungs, pushing his way down my throat, in my ears, into my sex and even my anus. I mean, I didn’t actually feel him but knew he was seeping into me from every angle. I wanted to cry and gag and thrash around till he went away, but I knew it would do no good.

“Don’t believe that little tart. The Magdalene has an inflated view of her role in things. I’ve shown you the end of all things. I’ve shown you that cold, immense emptiness. Little rebels like The Magdalene and her Jesus cannot stop this. Remember, Genesis chapter 1. I was there before your pitiful gods… darkness over the deep. I let them play their games for a while. I let them fashion you disgusting creatures out of dirt and mud – out of my being. But I will take it back, and they will collapse into the infinite nothing from which they came.”

The light started to seep in. Our Dark Friend seemed to be pulling himself back. “And now, a lesson,” he said.

The darkness vanished, but instead of being in my house, I was back on that subway platform. It had been a while since I had dreamed about that day. Was it a dream? The line between dream and life seems to have broken down. Sometimes I wake from these dreams and find myself cooking dinner, or at my office grading papers.

But yes, I was back on that subway platform. Back when I thought you were dead. I watched her life slip away, that poor girl. But this time it was unlike any dream I had ever had of this trauma. I could see her life flash before my eyes. All the things left unsaid. All the promises left unfulfilled. All the days she should have had. Our Dark Bastard gave me a gift, he showed me all that the world had lost at that moment. I had a front-row seat. I hated him. I knew those images were burned into my brain.

“I could make this all go away,” he said. “Just let go. Let yourself drift. Let me be your god.”

How did you know I was dreaming this? Why are you in my dreams, Sammy? Why do you haunt me? You scare me, but I’m glad you are there. I don’t know how you knew – maybe Eric whispered it in your ear – but yes, yes, I held her. I still cry sometimes when I think of her.

And is it true? Could you have saved Eric? How? Is there still some hope that you could put him to rest? Will Our Dark Friend leave us alone if Eric really, truly dies?

And are you choosing death? Do you really want to let Our Dark Friend win?

Am I really still that young damsel?

 

Clcik here for Part 9

 

Faithfulness and the loss of faith

I know it won’t come as a surprise to you, but my current WIP is a deeply personal piece. I’m trying to use it to come to some kind of cohesion of the various threads of my life. And, at the same time, I’m trying to make it something people will like to read. One of the big themes of Resumption of Darkness is that both Sam and Cassie are having a sort of worldview crisis. Before the tragedy that forms the backdrop of the story takes place – well, at least, before they met Eric, the instigator – they are quite comfortable in their Christian worldview. After they a pulled into Eric’s orbit, everything starts to fall apart. Then, during their trip to the rainforest, their worldviews implode.

Seven years later, they still haven’t put the pieces together.

In fact, their story mirrors mine. (I know, a big surprise! An author writes a story that has an autobiographical element!) There was an Eric of sorts, and a Sam and a Cassie. They are at once people separate from me – more or less – and they are also aspects of me.

Emotionally, I am still haunted by Eric. He’s about as dead as any ghost and yet, at times, he seems more real to me than most of the people I interact with on a daily basis.

Spiritually, I am torn between the way Sammy is responding to the crumbling of his faith and Cassie’s reaction. Sammy is slowly descending into pessimism. Cassie is trying to reconfigure her faith into something that isn’t so closely tied to the triumphalism she had before her Latin America tour

As I have been processing this, a friend sent me this link from another disillusioned Christian. The essay shows his path through intellectual disillusionment to the renewed worldview he has on the other side.

Here is a tidbit that I have found helpful:

People who doubt can have great faith because faith is something you do, not something you think. In fact, the greater your doubt the more heroic your faith.

I learned that it doesn’t matter in the least that I be convinced of God’s existence. Whether or not God exists is none of my business, really. What do I know of existence? I don’t even know how the VCR works.

I am trying to pray as he prays the following:

God, I don’t have great faith, but I can be faithful. My belief in you may be seasonal, but my faithfulness will not. I will follow in the way of Christ. I will act as though my life and the lives of others matter. I will love.
I have no greater gift to offer than my life. Take it.

My faith doesn’t need to be tied to the existence of some supernatural entity, nor does it need to be tied to that question Cassie asked: Was the tomb empty that first Easter Sunday? Instead, my faith can be a form of faithfulness to this picture of Jesus – the teacher who hung out with tax collectors and sinners. As Eric says, maybe he’d even like a monster like me.

I don’t know about tomorrow, but for today, I am betting my life on the belief that trying to live a life that Jesus would be proud of is a good way to live. Tomorrow… Who knows? Maybe I’ll make my home in the infinite grayness of a universe without meaning. Or maybe I’ll take another swing at following Jesus. I’m better off not worrying about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough trouble to keep itself busy.

Anyway, sorry for the long, over-personal post. I hope to have Chapter 8 of Presumption of Darkness out soon. In the meantime, you can re-read it starting with Chapter 1.

As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

People of faith, what do you think is the role of belief? And what do you think is the role of faithfulness?

People without faith, what are the principles by which you guide your life? What pictures drive you?

Writers, what role does writing play in the way you ask questions about who you are and what your life means?

Readers, what pictures renew you?