The Presumption of Darkness Part 7

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

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 1,900 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 10 minutes

Part 7

Sammy

Cassie… I’ve been quiet.

What if Eric is right? What if that vast grayness is all that is real? Then what should stop us from shaking off these shackles – these traditions of men – and running away together, holing up in some cabin in the woods to watch the stars flicker out of existence, one by one, keeping each other warm with our bodies as the earth grows cold?

And yet, I know what you’re thinking: how many dead bodies and ruined lives will we leave in our wake? What if there really is some thickness to life that will keep that vast grayness from having the last word?

Yes, I used to think that was true. I’d have bet my life on it until I got to close to Our Dark Friend. I hate him. I think even Eric hates him. But hasn’t he shared wisdom with us?

Or has he just given me an excuse?

I feel like my body was not designed to withstand such intense longing.

Can you even hear me, Cassie? Or am I already lost in that vast grayness: screaming, screaming, screaming…

Can you hear me? Do you really feel my voice inside your dreams? Maybe even your nightmares? Do you sometimes feel my breath on your neck when no one is around? Do you see my shadow out of the corner of your eye?

I wonder if I am even human anymore. Have I turned entirely into a ghost? Do I merely exist to haunt you? Would I lament such a fate? My ethereal fingers continually in your head… It seems more dream than a nightmare to be such a ghost.

How can I stay quiet?

But reality, normality – such as it is – invades. That is what normalcy has become to me, an intruder to be resisted. But no Molotov cocktails can keep normality at bay for long.

Normality made an incursion the morning after Abby told me she knew about you. I hadn’t seen her all day after her revelation. I wasn’t sure she was even coming home. But I woke up and there she was clicking away on her laptop in the bed next to me.

It was just like nothing had happened. Morning came and went. I kept expecting some kind of blow up or confrontation. Was it all my imagination? Is this how she must have felt when she started to put the pieces together? And what were the parts? How did she discover this?

She left for work without saying goodbye. That was odd, but not unprecedented. I didn’t hear a word from her during the day. Again, unusual, but not unheard of.

Every time an email showed up in my inbox, I cringed. Would it be Abby telling me how much she hated me? Every time my phone buzzed, I jumped. Would it be some agony filled text or voicemail message?

Dread. I wasn’t even really sure why I dreaded Abby’s return, but fear was all I felt.

Abby walked in the door, placed her laptop case on the dining room table and said, “Everything has changed. I tried to pretend it hadn’t because I know I’m supposed to win you over without a word. I can’t do it. Can’t pretend.”

She didn’t wait for a response. She just walked into the bedroom and closed the door behind her.

I cobbled together some dinner for us, but she didn’t come out. So, I drank her share of the wine. I felt relieved. The silent treatment was annoying, but I much preferred it to yelling and the throwing of kitchen tools.

The evening dragged on without a sign of her. I figured I needed to get myself ready for bed. I fully expected to have to sleep in my office, but I went into the bedroom to grab my pillow and toothbrush.

“Listen to this, Sammy,” she said and then read from her thick, study bible:

He drove into my kidneys
    the arrows of his quiver;
I have become the laughingstock of all peoples,
    the object of their taunts all day long.
He has filled me with bitterness;
    he has sated me with wormwood.

He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
    and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
    I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “My endurance has perished;
    so has my hope from the Lord.”

Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
    the wormwood and the gall!
My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.

“Lamentations, I think,” I said. “You stopped too soon, just before the lines about the Lord’s mercy,” I said.

“Which of us needs to know about the Lord’s mercy right now?” she asked.

I felt my stomach drop.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she said, “but you need to hear the truth. Between my physical and emotional health, I can’t just beat around the bush.”

I picked up my pillow and started to head for the bathroom to get my toothbrush.

“You don’t need to go. This is your bed as much as it is mine,” she said.

I stood perfectly still.

She sighed and said, “I’m not going to stab you in the middle of the night. And you can trust me. I’m not the liar here.”

I felt my shoulders tense, and my eyes burn a little. But I kept my mouth shut. What else could I do? She was right.

I changed and brushed my teeth and got into bed. She was on her laptop. The only light in the room came from her screen

“They’re making a Mary Magdalene film. I’m sure it will be terrible. I can tell they are going to trot her out to shore up some political agenda. I hate that, women as prizes. Jesus was so kind to women. That’s why he appeared to Magdalene first event though it meant the gospel would be harder to believe. He didn’t care that women couldn’t even testify in court.”

“That’s a gross oversimplification. Women were allowed to testify when no men were present at the event in question. And if Jesus appeared to Mary first, she’d certainly be allowed to testify that he was alive. I’m not saying 1st-century Jewish culture was egalitarian, but when I hear people pull that tired old argument out… Of course, I can’t blame you for thinking that. A lot of biblical scholars haven’t read the Talmud very closely.”

“Don’t throw your scholarship at me. The point is that Jesus loved women, he cherished them. He didn’t play games with their lives. I want her to be left alone so she can speak for herself. Don’t you think Mary has turned into a #MeToo story? She’s defenseless and being used by any hack who wants her. And she doesn’t even get a share of the profits.”

“Yeah, it’s terrible,” I said, staring at the ceiling. I could barely move, barely hear her voice over my pounding heart.

“Really,” she said, “but aren’t you doing the same thing? Aren’t you playing with Cassie’s heart like she’s some kind of game? And mine, for that matter?”

I kept my eyes fixed on the ceiling, waiting for some appropriate words to come. They didn’t.

“I love you, Sammy,” she said as she closed the lid of her laptop, letting the darkness take over the room.

At some point, I started floating in the expansive, cold grayness. Never has the meaninglessness of the universe given me such comfort.

But the comfort didn’t last long.

Eventually, I started dreaming. I dreamed I was on a subway platform. It was crowded. I saw you on the other end of the platform. I began to run toward you, but my feet moved like they were rooted in tar. The train screeched into the station. I heard the brakes engage harder than usual – sparks jumping. Then I heard the screaming. Suddenly, I was across the platform, looking down on you.

Cassie, I saw you, tears streaming down your face. You were cradling the head of a young woman. Was she hit by the train somehow – in some freak accident? You were talking to her, trying to encourage her to hold on, but even I with my almost non-existent medical knowledge could see the life draining from her face. Her eyes got real cold, full of that grayness that haunts my dreams.

I felt like an intruder, but I couldn’t leave you. How could I leave you to deal with this alone? But I know you couldn’t see me or hear me. I wanted to reach out and touch you, but you I knew you wouldn’t be able to feel me. I just stood there, wishing I could do something. Until…

Until I saw Eric lurking in the crowd, smirking at us.

I turned and ran toward him. I grabbed his shirt and lifted him and pushed him into the wall.

“You think you can hurt me? I wasn’t expecting such a hostile reaction. Especially when you seem to be getting everything you want.” He wasn’t smirking, but he hardly looked afraid. Even though my dream body seemed supernaturally strong, what could I do to a dead man?

“Everything I want? Watching all this suffering? I think you’re playing me for a chump.”

He laughed. His laugh, Cassie, was like a piercing shrill shriek, but at the same time, it had some sort of deep bass that shook me down to my intestines. I thought I would be sick right there from all the vibrations. The walls seemed to shake, and the bricks seemed to loosen, spraying dust and grit. Was the ceiling going to fall down on me? On you?

“You think I am behind all of this? Ask yourself a question, Sammy. What if I am just a conceit? What if I am just an illusion, an excuse for you to reach out to Cassie and ruin her life? Why didn’t you leave her alone? Your sweet Abby is right. You are no better than all those Hollywood scum bags.”

I let go of him. “I’m no better than them,” I said, and then I woke up.

Abby was already awake. I looked at the light coming in through the cracks in the blinds. It was late. Was she going to work today? I was too scared to ask.

“I’ve been researching your old friend, Eric. He was a pretty sick guy, wasn’t he? He wrote some pretty horrifying stuff. He had some fans, too. They posted comments on his blog. It was like some weird little blogger universe. I researched them, looked at their blogs. They all seem so normal except for their infatuation with this sick pervert, Eric. What did you see in him?”

“I don’t know. I thought he could give me something I wanted. I don’t even know what it was.”

“Yes you do, Sammy. Why won’t you tell me?”

I turned over and tried to go back to sleep. The rest of the day made me long for the relief of that ever-expanding grayness.

Listen! Listen! I’m talking to you, Cassie! If this were a play, I’d be the narrator breaking the fourth wall in some egregious way. None of these even matters – not Eric, not Our Dark Friend, not my wife’s illness. It’s all about reaching you and letting you know I still think you’re precious. I miss you. Never forget that.

 

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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

 

The Presumption of Darkness Part 5

Here is the fifth chapter of my latest WIP.

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

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 1,800 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 10 minutes

 

Part 5

Samuel

Cassie… I don’t even know where to begin.

Having you back in my life….

Where to start? Where to start?

Was it like this for God when He set out to make this world? Is that blasphemous? We are in His image, yes? Maybe He tripped over Himself with excitement the day He set out to make the world. Maybe?

I’m getting ahead of myself. Even our brief contact, interrupted by the horrors of “real life” in the “real world,” has given me a renewed sense of purpose.

And yet, Eric is always lurking.

He came to me last night, looking like a stitched together corpse, like some mad Frankenstein’s monster all the more monstrous for being so familiar.

“Sammy, can you see me?”

“I wish I couldn’t, Eric. You look like hell.”

“I feel like hell, Sammy.”

“Well, I saw what that thing did to you.” I tried to force my eyes away from those horrible scars, but they kept coming back.

“It started long before that, Sammy.”

His bloodshot eyes seemed to soften a little. He found a folding chair leaning against the wall and dragged it over and sat right in front of me. “Sammy, have you ever wondered why a dissolute fellow like myself ended up studying theology?”

“A trip down memory lane?” I asked. “What is your game? I’m not playing it.”

“Please, Sammy. We were friends once, weren’t we? Please listen.”

“We were never friends. I was your tool.”

“Please, Sammy. You don’t know what it’s like down here. Please, be merciful. I helped you, didn’t I? Don’t I deserve some sympathy for connecting you with Cassie?”

“Dirty pool.”

“Please don’t be the monster you are accusing me of being. Don’t write me off. I know I was awful, but didn’t you get something from my awfulness?”

“Nothing I want to keep, Eric.”

“Do you really think Cassie would still be in touch with you if she didn’t get some rush from the magic I spun on her? And I know there is a part of you, Sammy, that longs to know what drove Eric the Monster into the quest to know God.”

He put his hand on my knee. His eyes were wet with tears. “Please?”

“Fine,” I said. “It has been a point I’ve wondered about from time to time. Why theology, Eric?”

He leaned back in his chair and took a long, slow breath. “Sammy, I knew from an early age that life needed a broader context to have any meaning. But forget about metaphysical notions… Just think of payoff. Have you ever heard of anyone with ‘chronic pleasure’? But it only takes a few moments to get a list of several people with chronic pain, right?

“And how many times have you heard a story where someone’s life is shattered in a mere moment by a drunk driver or a stray bullet or an ill-timed word, even? I can list a dozen without trying. But how many people do you know whose lives were suddenly and permanently enhanced by such a single, short moment?

“Let’s face it; entropy is winning. Pain is the norm, and the only reason people think life is worth living is that their brains are terrible at evaluating the pleasure to pain ratios and the likelihood of future pleasure versus future pain. Pain always wins, and death has the last laugh.”

I don’t know how it happened, Cassie, but I looked around me, and suddenly I was no longer in my study in the attic, but I was surrounded by a seemingly infinite expanse of grayness. Eric and I, sitting in our chairs, were the only things that were at all observable.

I heard the words, “What’s going on? Am I dreaming?” come out of my mouth. But, honestly, I don’t think my thoughts were coherent enough to decide to utter such a sensible question.

“No, Sammy. You’re just starting to see clearly. This is life: a long stretch of nothing interspersed with this ache we call consciousness.”

He paused and smiled like some cruel college professor. “Unless there is some story that is larger than this life, right? Of course, you know that. You’ve read Ecclesiastes. We have eternity in our hearts, but we drop like flies.”

He absentmindedly pulled on one of those horrid scars as he looked up at the infinite grayness that had replaced the roof of my house. “As a boy who had this clarity, this insight… Well, I ran from this knowledge into religion. But, I was not just a boy. Even then, I was also a monster. Most of the religions I knew offered cold comfort – at best – to monsters like me. Most gods seemed to like good boys and girls. But Jesus… He seemed to have a soft spot for whores and traitors. He might even like a scoundrel like me.

“And the bible could be so much fun at times! Remember the woman with the alabaster flask in Luke 7? I get a woody every time I read that story. And I would have so much fun talking about all the oral sex references in Song of Songs when I would try and corrupt some cute, innocent evangelical chick.

“But what did I find in all my efforts? All I found was that I still hated myself and I was still a monster: no bliss, no transcendence. I just saw my monstrousness more clearly.”

Eric stood up and walked over to me. He put his hands on my shoulder. I tried hard not to recoil. I wasn’t entirely successful. “Not that clarity is such a terrible thing. Do you want to see things clearly, Sammy?”

“Sammy… Our Dark Friend has so much to show you. You can’t escape me. You need me. You are delusional. Do you think Cassie loves you? She just feeds on your obsession. She used to feel guilty, but she stopped. Now, she just wants to lure you into her self-involved narrative. You’re just her plaything, Sammy, boy.

“To think she loves you, to think she could love you, this is like having a Ph.D. in delusion. Do you think you even know her? Do you see how selfish she can be? She feeds off of your idolatry – it gives her life. If you ever tried to love her really, she would hold you in contempt.

“You don’t believe me? Of course, you don’t. That just shows how deep you are in it.

“But what if I could prove it? What if I could take little Abigail out of the way?

“You hesitate… is it because of some quaint ethics or do you hesitate because you’re scared that I’m right?

“But, suppose you didn’t have to choose. Suppose you just came home one day and sweet, sweet Abigail had breathed her last? And suppose you got a tear-stained call – moments later – that Nicholas had shuffled off his mortal coil?

“Would you be sad?

“Mull that one over,” he laughed and vanished. And I was back in my attic study.


Cassie… I won’t lie. Eric’s sick Gedankenexperiment… his thought experiment kept me tossing and turning most of the night. At moments the idea of Abby dying seemed to drag into the deeps of despair. At other moments it seemed to fill me with a transcendent lightness. Most of the time it felt like some prospective nostalgia – simultaneously missing her and celebrating my new found freedom at the same moment.

It must have been almost sunrise when I finally fell asleep. My dreams were all of this eternally expanding grayness. At times I felt like I was floating in it like a sea. At other times I felt like there was no I to float and nowhere to float in. It would be hard to characterize them as nightmares as there was a cold peace to it. But at the same time, the cold was colder than anything I had ever felt.


Judging from the way the light filled the room, I realized I must have slept well into the day. Abby was on the edge of my bed staring at me. I said “Good morning, darling,” but she barely moved.

I waited several seconds before I said, “Honey, what’s wrong?”

“Oh,” she said as she looked down at the crumpled sheets, “I was just wondering if you ever thought about how you’d get along without me.”

She sighed and stood up. “I discovered a lot about myself when you ran off to Latin America. I learned I could make a pretty good living; keep us both comfortable.”

She walked to the end of the bed and turned around and said, “Do you really think you will ever get a tenured track teaching job? Something that will pay more than these adjunct professor gigs you sometimes find that pay less than a fry cook?”

There was no judgment in her voice. She didn’t sound like my parents fuming over me choosing to change majors from Financial Systems to Religious Studies. It was just a question of my expectations. Did I expect ever to have a salary that approached that of a retail clerk at a department store?

“We all have our calling. I’m just glad you’ve found a way to keep us comfortable. You’ve always told me that you wanted to support me in whatever I did. I have to admit, if that’s not the case anymore, I’d be hard-pressed to bring home the bacon,” I said.

“But what if I wasn’t around anymore?” Tears started to well up in her eyes.

“Did something happen?”

She threw a manila folder on the bed. “I went back to Dr. Harding today. The medical assistant was kind enough to give hard copies of all the test results and the doctor’s notes. I read through the packet three times. I called everyone I know who has any biology or medical related degree. I spent hours on the Internet. Doctor’s make mistakes sometimes, but it’s hard for me to hold on to that…”

“What are you saying, Abby?” I knew what she was saying, Cassie, but I needed to hear it.

“I’m dying, Sammie. You’re going to be a widower. Try not to gloat. And don’t go calling Cassie just yet. I’m going to fight for your soul.”

I started to feel dizzy.

“You really thought I didn’t know about her, Sammy? I mean, I don’t know all the details. I have no idea how often you are in touch or when the last time you saw her was. I don’t have enough time to follow you around like a gumshoe from some noir film, but I know enough. Just know, the fight for your soul is not over.”

 

The Presumption of Darkness Part 6

The Presumption of Darkness Part 4

Here is the fourth chapter of my latest WIP.

You really need to read Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3 for this chapter to make sense.

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 1,100 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 10 minutes

Part 4 – Cassie

“You’re not serious. It’s so fucking cold up there.” Nick kept saying it over and over like the only reason I persisted in my plan was that I wasn’t hearing him.

“Look, I’m not saying I’d take the job, but openings for professors of Theology aren’t a dime a dozen. Plus this school doesn’t have some fascist statement of faith where they can just fire me if I write some paper that doesn’t exactly line up with their view point on the Trinity or gay marriage or something.”

“But winter in Boston…” He looked at his shoes again. I hate it when he does that. “I don’t know if I can handle it.”

“Don’t be a wimp, Nick. I need to keep my hand in the game for people to take me seriously. I’ll just be gone a couple of days.”

“Do they even have burritos there?” he asked as I walked into my office and closed the door.

I didn’t really want the job, Sammy. I just needed to get away from Nick and Julia’s crushing worry. They had been hounding me, double teaming me from the moment I got back from the conference. It was more than I could take.

So, I booked the flight. And then I closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths and tried to reach out to you with my mind. Not that I knew what I was doing, I just tried doing something.

I’m going to be at the Parker House hotel in Boston on the 17th. Please, if you can hear me, come. Prove to me that I’m not crazy, that when I felt your voice at the conference that it was really you.

And then I waited.

Then there was a booming voice in my head: Why do you never talk to me, Cassie? Without me, Sammy would never even have had the nerve to kiss you, let alone do all the nasty things he did to you.

I grabbed my ears and felt the words, “Too loud” roll out of my mouth between gasps. I felt like the only thing keeping my head from exploding was the pressure I exerted with my hands.

I looked up, and the light in the room wasn’t right. I wasn’t like that horrible blackness I saw at the conference. Instead of blackness, I felt like there was this space where the light just wasn’t quite hitting. The color seemed dim, and details seemed to fade away. This draining, for lack of a better word, took on the shape of a man.

It wasn’t the shape that the horrible blackness took on. It was a familiar.

“Eric?” I asked.

Sammy, I saw his death again, in my mind, like I have so many times. But instead of running through the jungle when that thing grabbed him, I stayed. I held your hand, and we watch as that thing tore his limbs off and twisted his head. But instead of the screams I am so used to hearing, he laughed. Sammy, Eric laughed!

“Come and see!” he shouted, even though his head had been completely snapped off his body. “It’s wonderful!”


I wasn’t really expecting to see you in the lobby. But when I did, I girded myself. What were you going to do? Drag me by the hair back to North Carolina? Slit my throat in the lobby? Buy me lunch?

Instead, you sat down and reached out for my hand. And I freaked. No other word does my reaction justice. “Don’t touch me.”

Why did I say that, Sammy?

What I wanted to say was: Take me to my room. Show me that I am a woman and not just some challenge, some contest where you see how many times you can make me cum. Show me that you really love me and that there is still tenderness inside you, that it hasn’t all been swallowed up by that thing that killed Eric.

Would things have gone differently that night if you had stayed? Would you have spent the night if I had begged you? Why did I turn you away after you kissed me in the alley? Did you know where you were leading me or did you just happen upon that sexy little alcove?


Things got bad after you left. I guessed which flight you must be on and stayed up all night watching the flight status updates on the airline’s website, wiping tears from my eyes.

“You’ve gone sentimental in the last few years.”

“Eric?”

That weird fading of light I saw back in California was back.

“Sorry about the volume problems last time we chatted. And I can’t be as visually stunning as the thing from the cave. Isn’t that how you think of him? He’s so much more. But surely you’ve suspected as much, yes? All the time you spend reading fairy tales – you must suspect.”

“What’s his name, Eric?”

“You think that will help you? No. It won’t. But I won’t tell you anyway. Let’s just call him Our Dark Friend. He is your friend. Don’t you see that?”

“Why won’t you stay dead, Eric?”

“What’s the fun in that?”

The dullness in the light traveled across the room to the window as if it was admiring the view. “Boston is so lovely. I grew up here. Did you remember that, Cassie?”

Was there something wistful in his voice or was that wishful thinking?

“Sammy boy can never love you the way you want him to. Sammy was too close to Our Dark Friend. And even if he could, you’re polluted, too. If he could love you, you’d grow tired and resentful.”

“Please…”

“I have to go now. I’m still new at this. I’ll see you soon. Maybe next time I will be strong enough to fuck you just how you like it. Even better. I can do all sorts of things that normal humans could never do.”

“Go away, please. If you ever felt anything approaching compassion or friendship toward me, be merciful, Eric.”

“I’m afraid I have no mercy left, beautiful.”

And then he was gone.

Do you love me, Sammy? Are we even capable of love? Or are we running out of mercy, like Eric?

 

Click here for Part 5

The Presumption of Darkness Part 3

Here is the third chapter of my latest WIP.

You really need to read Part 1 and Part 2 for this chapter to make sense.

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness Word Count: 1578 (approx) Reading time for average reader: 10 minutes

 

 

Part 3 – Samuel

Each day the colors of life drained a little more. Sounds became quieter. Everything smelled slightly of bleach.

I would retreat to my office in the attic for hours at a time pretending to work on some paper or something. Abigail gave me my space. Sometimes at night, I would pretend I was asleep and I could sense her just staring at me. What does she know? I would wonder.

She knew about our tryst, Cassie. She stayed with me and I know it hurt her. I know I’m killing her a little every day, Cassie. But what can I do? How can I change when I don’t want to change? How can I learn to want what I don’t want? Where does one even begin to untangle such bonds?


I was sharpening a pile of pencils I didn’t ever expect to use when I felt your voice in my head.

I’m going to be at the Parker House hotel in Boston on the 17th. Please, if you can hear me, come. Prove to me that I’m not crazy.

I felt cold. Am I afraid? Am I losing my mind? Which is scarier – that this was you, Cassie? Or that it wasn’t? And why should I try to prove that you aren’t crazy when I am not even sure about my own sanity?

I knew it was your voice. You had sent me a message. Which means you probably had gotten my message when I watched you typing that email. What the fuck did this mean?

I booked my flight right away. I would arrive early on the 17th and leave late. I began composing excuses to Abigail. A job interview! That’s almost certainly why Cassie is there. So, if she starts digging, she’ll find that some school is really interviewing there. I’ll find out what school Cassie is probably looking at. She’ll be glad at the possibility of more income. Maybe she won’t ask too many questions.

But, of course, she did. You never got to spend much time with her, did you, Cassie? She is sharp. She is strong. I have no idea why she sticks with me.

But what else could I do? What if you sat there all day and then decided that our miraculous connection was just a fantasy? I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I had let this connection of ours slip away…

I suffered through days of Abigail asking me the same questions over and over – in ever so slightly different ways.

You would think that she was nagging, Cassie. By no means. She was so sweet as she asked. And she would accept any answer I gave. But I knew she was gently massaging all the data she was getting, searching for holes and inconsistencies. And I couldn’t blame her.

I knew she knew I was lying. And she did nothing. What could she do? She took her vows so seriously. She would fight for me. But she knew she had to play the long game. She always plays the long game, Cassie.


I expected to have to ask the front desk to call your room, but instead, I saw you sitting in a dark corner of the lobby in one of those overstuffed chairs.

You stared at me, lips parted. You weren’t really expecting me, were you? I thought.

I tried to make my steps measured and nonchalant, but I was shaking. I felt the sweat on my brow. I felt like all the air in the room had vanished. I must have looked like I was having a heart attack and refusing to admit it!

I sat down in a chair that was at a 90-degree angle to yours. I just stared for a few minutes. Your hair was blonde again. I remember how the blonde faded out of your hair while we traveled around on our fuck tour of Latin America. It was so cute seeing your polish disappear. But I guess now that you’re back in civilization, you put the polish back on.

You wore it well, that’s for sure.

Your slick interview suit looked great on you. Was that half a year’s salary? Or did you borrow it? No idea, but it sure showed off your athletic build. The skirt was just long enough to be “interview appropriate” and not a millimeter longer.

I reached out to take your hand and you quaked out a quick, “Please don’t touch me.” Your eyes were moist.

“Of course,” I said. I just wanted to know that you were real. That this wasn’t some dream.

Now what? I wondered.

“I think Eric is still alive,” you said.

“No. It’s not possible. No human being could withstand what he went through. His fucking limbs were yanked off as he screamed. That thing twisted his head completely around as it chewed on him. No. He’s dead as anyone ever has been.”

“Then I’m crazy. And then you aren’t really here because I never sent you that message. And then you’re crazy for thinking you’re talking to me.”

“Well, where does that leave us?” I asked.

“Let’s go for a walk.”

We walked out the door and the first thing was saw was a big, old fashioned church steeple. “Park Street Church,” she said. “The building is probably 200 years old. Lots of history.”

I nodded. We walked over to a large park – Boston Common, I guessed – teaming with people going to lunch, getting on and off the subway or just hanging out on the warm, sunny day.

In the middle of an expanse of pavement stones was a man in a hockey shirt. He was older – maybe in his sixties. He bounced a tennis ball as he read. I recognized it as Simone Weil’s Gravity and Grace

To lose someone: we suffer because the departed, the absent, has become something imaginary and unreal. But our desire for him is not imaginary. We have to go down into ourselves to the abode of the desire which is not imaginary. Hunger: we imagine kinds of food, but the hunger itself is real: we have to fasten on to the hunger. The presence of the dead person is imaginary, but his absence is very real: henceforward it is his way of appearing.

“Interesting choice for a street preacher,” I said.

“This morning he was reading Kierkegaard!” you said with a laugh. “His name is Andy. I overheard him talking with some tourists. He must have an M. Div or something. Maybe he’s self-study, but he’s smart and well read.”

We listened to him expound on Weil, trying to stir up a hunger for God in whoever happened to be listening. Sometimes he would call out questions to people he seemed to know in the crowd. He must have been here all the time to know so many hot dog vendors and beat cops and the other denizens of such a place. He would ask them questions of varying relevance to his text.

He turned towards me. “You there, with the pretty girl.”

I nodded, grinning.

“You’ve seen some dark stuff, haven’t you? I can smell it on you. The darkness. Yeah?”

My grin vanished. “Yeah, I’ve seen some dark stuff.” And then I could see it on him. I could see little specks of darkness clinging to him despite the intensity of the sun beating down on us. Little remnants of something like the thing we saw in that cave. He could smell it on me and I could see it on him.

What has happened to us, Cassie?

“So have I. You know that, right?”

“Yes. I can see it on you.”

“That’s why I know God exists. How else could we know such darkness if we didn’t have the notion of light?” And then with that, he went back to reading and throwing out questions to other folks.

“I think I need a drink,” I said.

“Me, too,” you said. “I know a good place. Dark and cool.”

We started to walk away from Andy and his strange theology seminar.

We made some turns on several weird little streets – the kind you find in old cities. I crammed my hands in my pockets for fear I would grab you.

Then, you looked around, saw we were alone in an alley and you pushed me against the wall and kissed me. Your lips so soft… Our tongues touched lightly.

Then I felt it… The darkness in my stomach, churning… Longing to rise up in me, to pull us both into its domain.

Can’t I have a normal life, Cassie? Must this darkness follow me everywhere?

Then, you pushed me away, tears streaming down your face.

I sighed at the sight. Then I felt a drop of water hit the color of my shirt. Then I felt the tears streaming down my own cheeks.

“You’d better go,” you said. And you were right, Cassie. I walked off my mind feverishly running with previously unthinkable ideas.


I looked out the window into the rapidly darkening sky as the plane pulled me back to North Carolina. The night sky was a sea of black. But somewhere, flying alongside the plane, there was something blacker than that. And it was laughing at me.

Why do I feel like we just played into its hands, Cassie?

I love you now more than ever.

 

Click here for Part 4

 

The Presumption of Darkness – Part 1

Hey, all…

Here is the first 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.

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness
Word Count: 2,400 (approx)
Reading time for average reader: 12 minutes

Part 1

Samuel

Before I even completed my walk to the podium I found you in the audience. You were seventh row back, 5 seats from the right. You recognized me as soon as I made eye contact with you. You managed to suppress the gasp. I could almost see it catch in your throat. Of course, you didn’t know I had changed my name, so I’m sure it was really a surprise. I was not surprised you were there. You always took the social aspect of academic theology just as seriously – if not more so – than all the papers, research, and teaching. Well, at least until our summer traveling around Latin America. Everything changed that Summer. But not so much that you would miss this.

I was a little surprised that my paper was accepted for a plenary session. I had been out of the game for a long time. But the dance came back quickly after I managed to drag my sorry corpse back to the US.

I started reading a felt a little twinge of guilt. You probably thought I was dead, I thought. Or maybe in some loony bin. You wouldn’t have been far off. It took me a week to find my way out of the jungle. Maybe more. I should have died. Then I spent the next seven years finding ways to keep myself drunk in half a dozen different countries. I would dry myself out now and then and make some vague attempt to get myself back to the US but then I’d remember what the three of us saw in the cave and, well, I would find a way to make enough dough to go back to my drinking.

I very consciously avoided looking at you as I read the rest of the paper. I let the dance take over. Once upon a time I engaged in academic theology as a search for truth, but truth seemed so elusive, so damn frustrating, that I let the joy of writing take over. My teachers would often tell me that I was more a poet than a theologian. Some meant this as a criticism, others as praise. Either way, it got me most of the way through graduate school. Well, that and my not-so-secret crush on you. Theology became just a very special sort of poetry to me… Until you and I found ourselves sucked into Eric’s orbit.

Still, it seems to move people. If you had asked me what my paper was about, I’m not sure I could have given you a straight answer. I think the title went something like To God and Back Again:Metaphors of Self-hood in Mystic Poetry I had to admit, my definition of Mystic Poetry was pretty broad. I encoded hints and secret messages designed to reach you – and only you. So, I had to do some rather artificial things in my selection of sources. Many of the messages came from mouths who were nothing like mine and land on ears who were nothing like yours, Precious. Still, I managed to make all the jumble dance. When I can feel the dancing under the surface of my text, I know I have a good paper. Even if, as in this case, I haven’t the foggiest idea what it all means. No one has ever called me out about this, but if they did, I’d probably mutter something about my paper being written in a prophetic mode or some such thing. There is some truth in this. I often feel like my writing is informed by voices and forces outside of myself.

Truth seems more like a person to me than a set of propositions. Truth reveals a bit of herself, but hides more. She gives and takes away.

I answered a few questions after I finish reading the paper. I turned my attention back to your seat and saw you were missing. I felt a twinge of guilt. I didn’t want to hurt you or ambush you, I thought, but what was I supposed to do? Send you an email telling you I was alive? Would you immediately block my account and tell your husband? I’ve gone through too much to get back to you to just let you wash your hands of me that easily.

I stepped down of the stage and exited the lecture hall and looked at my conference schedule and headed for the beak out session I had chosen to sit in on.

I spent most of the rest of the day sitting in on sessions about fairy tales. I was really surprised at how many sessions at a theology conference had some connection to fairy tales. Or, rather, I would have been before I found myself with you and Eric in that blasted cave. Now I know what so many of the fairy tales are really about. No amount of Freudian sexualization, Jungian archetypal or demythologizing will ever sanitize the reading of these little stories ever again. I can sense the darkness underneath them, the darkness that lives in the heart of this planet… maybe in the heart of the universe itself. And I can now sense people who have been close to that darkness.

You can sense the darkness, too, can’t you, Cassie? Are you an unheeded prophetess? Or have you stopped issuing warnings about what we found? Or did you never bother? Didn’t you feel like you owed the world? Or didn’t you feel like you at least owed poor Eric something? What did you tell people when they asked about him? Or me, for that matter?

That night, after the last of the sessions, I headed to the bar at my hotel. It wasn’t the closest one to the conference center, but it was close enough that it was packed with theology geeks. Back before my Latin America tour, it would have been a joy to be there, knowing I was never the weirdest person in the room. But I’ve seen too many things that these people have only speculated about to ever be at peace anymore. I find myself a secluded table and order a whiskey with a beer chaser. I gave the waitress a big tip and made it clear that I’m not driving and that I’ll get even looser with my money if she keeps the drinks coming.

I was barely done with my first order when I saw you typing away on your laptop with you back to me. I saw the familiar Gmail interface on your web browser and you were typing like mad. Somehow, and I knew you were typing an email to me. You found it in the program or on my website or something. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I let me mind reach out to you, hoping I could read your thoughts. I can’t be sure if I succeeded, but I felt like I knew what you were typing – at least parts of it. And I tried to answer your questions as you typed them

Samuel, you bastard. I’ve missed you. Why didn’t you tell me you were alive? So many questions…

I’m sorry, Cassie. I missed you, too. More than you could know. I’m not sure I was alive. I spent so much time trying to blot out my consciousness… Maybe I did die and somehow came back to life.

What happened to you in that cave? Was it the same thing that happened to me? Is Eric really dead, or did he survive somehow, too?

We saw more truth than we knew how to deal with. Eric is dead. I hope for Christ’s sake that he is, anyway. I can’t see how anyone could survive what his body went through. I know his soul went through worse. I hope it’s at peace.

I don’t want to presume that the subtext of your paper was about me, Sam… But… I’ve missed you.

Presume? Why not? Your “presumption” would be entirely correct. Fucking hell, you are precious to me.

What about your wife?

She had every right to leave me when I ran off with you and Eric. But she didn’t. And somehow she had the faith to believe I wasn’t dead. I came back and tried to pick things up where they were… But as much as I love her, each day with her is a living death. Not even a fancy, “bells and whistles” sort of Messiah-complex death, just a dirty, gritty “I die daily” sort of death.

Your bio says you are still in Texas. Do you still hate it?

Yes, Cassie. Too many rich people with big cars and fancy churches.

Your paper is so ambiguous. Do you still have any faith left?

I suppose. I have enough faith for today. I’m not really sure what it is I have faith in anymore. God seems so near for a moment or two, and then my mind goes back to that cave. And you, Cassie? What do you trust in these days?

And then, quite suddenly, and quite… well, it was anything but a surprise… You hit delete instead of send. Did you get my responses? Did my thoughts reach you? I then proceeded to bury myself behind a book and consumed drinks as fast as the waitress could bring them.


That night, in my room, I dreamed of you. I love you, Cassie. I love you and yet, when I dream of you, I don’t dream of making love to you. That thing in the cave polluted everything good in me. My fantasies of you always turn twisted and dark – usually they involve me hunting you down, stalking you, capturing you and whisking you away to my lair, deep in the wooded mountains of North Carolina. There I do horrible things to you, torture you sadistically. You beg for mercy the first few days but after a while, you become as depraved as me, begging me to take you deeper into our little slice of hell.

I woke up and sensed someone in the room. I heard a hissing.

“Samuel,” it said. “What delightful dreams you have.” It had the shape of a man, but none of the details. It was just a blackness deeper than the blackness around it. I was tempted to be relieved that it didn’t have the shape of the beast that tore Eric literally to shreds as he screamed. But as I peered into the darkness I almost missed it’s more obviously hideous shape

“Why are you here? Leave me alone!”

“You don’t mean that, Sammy, my boy. You don’t mean that. What would your pal Eric say? Such an intoxicating fellow, wasn’t he?”

The creature was right. Eric’s twisted fantasies brought out a gravitas in you. You always seemed to think of theology as a lark you could give up any time. It’s not to say you weren’t talented and hardworking, but to you, the social aspect – the classes, the discussions, the conferences – they always seemed as important as the work. But when Eric was around, you couldn’t help but want to pierce the layers of reality.

“He got what he wanted,” said the creature. “He saw the truth. You conjured up something you couldn’t put down, but it was effective magic. For Eric, at least. Oh, the things he saw… You should be jealous.”

“I’m only jealous in that he is dead and I am alive,” I said, sweat pouring down my head.

“Let your mind drift back,” it said


I started to dream again – not the usual surreal, twisted fantasies I usually dream, but an almost photo realistic compression of that last trip we took together. We were supposed to be researching various ways Latin American churches had applied liberation theology to various political and social struggles people were facing. Mostly, we needed an excuse to wander around an alien landscape and get drunk.

I cried in my beer the first night when you and Eric went off by yourselves to make love. I thought about going home that night, but when he invited me to join you the next night… Well, I felt like I was in heaven. We would spend hours playing the game of you – giving you climax after climax as we tried to push ourselves closer and closer to our own edges without going over – trying to one up each other over how long we could go before passing the point of no return.

I think ours was the most debauched church trip in all of history.

After a week, we gave up all pretense of our agenda and just wandered from city to city, country to country, finding new places to get drunk and screw. Sometimes we’d glom on to whatever expat community we’d find. It seemed like every city no matter how small had some expats. They loved to new energy we’d bring to their rather incestuous community. We’d get them to buy us drinks and give us tips on things to see and places to go.

One of them, I would kill him on the spot if I could, suggested a walking tour into the rain forest. He knew just the guide. It would only be a couple of hours – nothing to strenuous the first time. The rain forest can be very dangerous to those who are unfamiliar with it.

It all was going so well. It was so beautiful. Until, somehow, we got separated from our guide. Then a massive rain storm opened up. The cave looked somewhat dry. And that’s where we saw it. Immediately, I knew we were int he presence of something dark and terrible. This was no mere animal. It’s eyes were like space itself.

You ran as soon as the thing dug into Eric. I have no idea why, but I hesitated and watched it dissect him. And then…

It took me a week to find my way out of the jungle. I have no idea how I survived.

Part of me wanted to return home to the states, to Texas. But each night I would dream of that thing in the cave and dream about its eyes… Eyes as vast and dark as space… And all I could do was drink.

Seven years I wandered from place to place running from my dreams. Long enough to be legally dead, I would think. I was spiritually dead, that’s for sure.

I love you, Cassie.

Click here for Part 2

This is the Hour of Lead

I cannot help but think of my favorite poem as I burned down that cabin in the woods where you used to visit me.

After great pain, a formal feeling comes –
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs
   I am flooded with memories of you as I watch my haven burn to the ground along with every memento I have of you. I watch it burn all night and come the morning I feel the truth of Good Old Emily Dickinson’s verse
The Feet, mechanical, go round –
A Wooden way
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought –
Regardless grown,
A Quartz contentment, like a stone
   Truly my feet did mechanical go round as I poke the ashes with a stick, wondering if any of your letters survived.
   I turn my attention to the trees. How dare they watch something so sacred and not pay some price, I thought. I spent the rest of the morning chopping one of them down. A fine old one. I fall down in exhaustion and say, “Let that be an example to you all.”
   I pass out on the floor of the forest and dream of you. I dream of the first time you came to the cabin – blindfolded, handcuffed to the door of my pickup. You gasp as the handcuffs click closed. “What if there’s an accident?”
   I am tempted – for a brief second – to feel disgust toward you. But I know it was just a short time earlier that I was just like you.  Instead of disgust, I think, you need me worse than I thought. “What’s worse? Living a safe lie or dying in the search for the truth?” I ask. You don’t answer. It doesn’t matter. I have the key and you don’t.
   After I wake from my dream of you, I take the only things I own, all stuffed in a hiking pack, and head toward my pickup truck. I drive southwest trying to catch some breeze that will land me somewhere that I won’t think of you too much. I am not hopeful.
   As I drive hour after hour, I mull over some more of the poem.
This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived
   Yes, Emily, this is the hour of lead. I don’t know if I will outlive it.
   After several days of driving I find myself renting an apartment on the outskirts of one of those cities I never dreamed of living in – not so much out of disgust or fear as out of shear alienness. But it will have no traces of you. Just a big city in one of those big states filled with big people and big highways.
   I hate it.
   I fight the temptation to hate you for driving me to this. It is not easy. Lust turns into hate so quickly. But I don’t want my memory of you to be besmirched. So, I fight.
   The landlord doesn’t mind the cash payments. In this neighborhood, cash payments are not unusual. Neither are fake references, I think as I sign the lease.
   I don’t know how long the cash will last. I’m not a big spender, so it might last a long time. If not, I can go back to my wicked ways, I suppose.
   I find some trails nearby. The remind me of the mountains where we dallied. I spend most of my days there. That’s where I first saw them. Their mouths full of sharp teeth. Their hideous, gaunt appendages surrounded in expensive suits. They call my name, but I’m good at hiding. Their eyes speak of hatred and their smiles point toward some torturous domesticity whose secrets are revealed in the strange missives I find at my apartment each night. I burn them, unread.
   I dream of you again. I dream about the third time you came to visit me. By now, you trusted me. Your mistake, I guess. I knew you wouldn’t have put in all those fail safes – all those “If you don’t hear from me” messages you left for people the first two times you came.
   You were tied to the bed posts when I pulled out my knife. I dreamed of its peculiar design – weird cut-outs and such a strange shape. Peculiar, but still deadly, I thought. I dreamed it one night years ago and found it lying on my doorstep the next morning.  Since then, it has been my constant companion in all my misdeeds.
   I press the knife against your naked flesh and instead of inducing fear, it seemed to drive you wild as you bucked against the ropes, you body inflamed by the cool of the steel.

   Would you have run if you knew I was going to kill you? Or would you have been willing to die now that you knew the truth?

But I didn’t kill you. Instead, I show you my scars. Your breath almost stopped when I took off your blindfold. “Where did those scars come from?” you ask.

“I have a special talent for hiding scars,” I say and then I enumerate them. One by one, I tell you each of their stories. I cry, sob like a baby as I got deeper into the list.

The next morning, I let you go. That was the last time I saw you. I miss you. I miss you. I miss you. You saw my scars.

And now they are getting closer to me. I hide in the trees, but I know they eventually will find me. Miss Emily was right.

This is the Hour of Lead –
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow –
First – Chill – then Stupor – then the letting go –

I miss you.