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?

 

Advertisements

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?

 

The Presumption of Darkness Part 6

Here is the Sixth chapter of my latest WIP.

You really need to read Part 1 , Part 2 , Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 for this chapter to make sense.

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 2,400 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 12 minutes

Part 6

Cassie

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.

Read Part 7 here

 

Sometime I Miss You

Names, names, names…

My writer fried Teresa recently posted about her name change. It’s pretty timely, as I have just changed my pen name. I used to go by the name Eric Keys and I wrote some brutal horror porn. Based on the reviews on Goodreads, I’d say I did a good job. I’m not recommending you look them up, but it’s hard for me not to express some pride in the accomplishment.

It was an angry period of my life. Almost all the stories were rooted in my anger. The one exception was an almost romantic piece called For the Glory which was about an unlikely love affair between a Jewish Dom and a White supremacist Sub.

Most of my anger was about God and the church. It was strange, because I still thought of the world in Christian terms. Even at my most belligerently skeptical, I managed to somehow exude an unwitting respect for the very God I was attacking. The more brutal my fiction became, the more I keenly felt His absence.

My anger took on a momentum, though. My vision was clouded by despair. I’m not saying there is such a thing as demons, but I felt like I was caught up in a struggle against darkness. And I was losing…

I was working on a sequel to one of my first eBooks. The original was called Grace & Blood and the sequel – never published – was the last horror porn I ever wrote. It was a sort of goodbye to the genre. The hero was a man used to killing. He was good at it and he enjoyed it, but he came face to face with an evil even greater than himself. At the end of the book he faces a decision – give in to the power that both frightened and fascinated him or walk away. He made his choice and I realized, I could not make the same choice, but that was what I was doing with each story – making his choice over and over.

I’ve got nothing against horror, but the spirit in which I was writing those stories was not a healthy one. I felt like the titular empathetic sadist from this post by Jodi Perkins. I pushed my characters deeper and deeper into a depravity which both titillated and sickened me. It was not a healthy place.

So, now, I feel like I need to take a step back and to think differently about how I approach horror. Yes, I am still a horror writer, but now I want to write from a place of unity as I explore all these paradoxes. I’m currently revising a ghost story about the movements in my soul which have changed me from a writer of brutal horror porn to something else… I hope it will still bring some chills but I want them to reflect my spiritual maturation. At least, I hope it is a maturation. It’s a change, that’s for sure.

I do miss Eric sometimes. And some of the friends he formed. I’m not seeking out many of his old friends. Some of them would probably rather not hear from him. Some of them wouldn’t mind. If you’re an old friend of his, drop me a line using the info on my contact page. But if you don’t want to, hey, I’ll understand. Eric could be kind of a jerk! Maybe you’re better off without him! But Thomas, hopefully, isn’t such a bad guy.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. How has you writing changed over the years? How have you changed over the years?

The Christian who Couldn’t Believe

Paradoxes…

I spoke about this briefly the other day. I’ve entered a state of life where it seems that paradox is the rule instead of the exception. I’m not sure how I ended up here, but here is where I am.

The biggest paradox I’ve been dealing with today is the paradox of how I can label myself a Christian when I do not even believe He is real?

Part of it is that I see my act of faith as throwing my lot in with His program, aligning myself with His agenda to promote His kingdom where the first is last and the servant is greater than the master. I’ve always been fascinated by His words and I have made a commitment to follow those words as best as His grace enables me.

That doesn’t seem so bad, right? A lot of people align themselves with some plan or idea inspired by someone long dead and buried. But I’m in a worse plight. You see, Jesus talks to me. Seriously, I don’t believe in Him and yet He has this annoying way of showing up in my brain and telling me all sorts of crazy things about how much He loves me. And I love Him.

He shows up and things change: anger drops away, tension lifts, fear dissipates.

I long for Him. He used to show up in visions when I locked myself in my room wanting nothing bu death. He showed up bloody and glory and stirred up my soul to want the infinite, covering me with His blood, dancing His bloody dance through me.

So, there’s my paradox for the day – I love this man whose existence seems so unlikely. He laughs at me when I try to dismiss Him. He knows He has my heart, what use does He have for my brain?

Why fiction? Why the Blood?

Why fiction?

For some people this isn’t even a sensible question. For some people story is something they live, breathe and eat. Sadly, I’ve been blessed/cursed with a philosopher’s temperament. I questions things – perhaps too much. I’ve seen the damage story can do as well as the heights of ecstasy it can bring. Story is dangerous. In the hands of the demagogue it can fan the fires of hatred. And in the hand of the dreamer, it can lull the soul to a sickly sleep.

Still… Still, I crave story. But I have to question it. So, I spin theories… Well, theory is probably too grandiose a word. Perhaps a better word would be idea. I can’t help but have ideas about writing. It’s part of my character. In the past my motivating idea was story as dance between author and audience. I have to admit I stole this idea from Thomas Ligotti. It was and is a good one. It motivated many of the stories I wrote under my old pen name.

But I’m in a new phase of life and I need a new motivating idea for my writing. For now, I use story as a way to examine the paradox of problems. Different genres of writing express certain ideas and modes of thinking more naturally than others, at least, in the hands of certain people.

For me, story allows me to explore problems without an eye toward explaining them or showing their solution. I want to bring the problem – especially the paradoxes that lie at the root of so many of our deepest problems – without giving the impression that I understand these problems any more than my readers. In other words, I see story as an expression of solidarity.

We face the paradoxes every day and try to hide. I’ve run from so many of these… the first becomes last, seeking life is seeking death, the savior nailed to the cross, ecstasy hidden in blood.