Is Horror the Genre of Hope?

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

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

Collings writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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The Presumption of Darkness – Part 10

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

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 1,100 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 5 minutes

Part 10

Sammy

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

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

“I… I don’t think so,” I said.

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

Abby looked at me and then back at the toilet.

I looked at her and then back at the toilet.

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

“What should I do?” I asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Do they look depressed?” he asked me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sorta,” was all I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<– Back to Chapter 9

 

I’ve been 86ed from your scheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

been 86ed from your scheme

I’m in a melodramatic nocturnal scene

Sammy and I can both say:

I’m a refugee from a disconcerted affair

As the lead pipe morning falls

And the waitress calls

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

 

 

The Presumption of Darkness – Part 9

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

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 2,300 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 12 minutes

Part 9

Sammy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

But our visions are so different, Cassie.

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

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

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

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

I’m starting to think in circles.

Am I choosing death? Or am I choosing freedom?

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God, how did you get such a fantastic body?

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

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

“Cassie?”

“Are you really here?” you asked.

“I think so.”

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

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

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

“Are you scared?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Do you want me to go?”

“No.”

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

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

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

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

“Did you miss me?” I asked.

“Oh, fuck, yes, Sammie.”

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

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

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

“Do you want me inside you?” I asked.

“Yes, please fuck me, Sammie.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

We kissed, gently and nervously like school kids.

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


Eric was still there, grinning at me.

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

“And what do you want in return?”

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

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

Dear, Sammy…

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

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

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

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


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

Eric’s laughter seemed to fill the house.

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

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

The Presumption of Darkness – Part 8

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

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness

Word Count: 3,100 (approx)

Reading time for average reader: 16 minutes

Part 8

Cassie

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

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

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

But I kept running, despite the hopelessness.

And then I saw him.

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m Sammy’s rabbi.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It didn’t work, did it?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She led me by the hand to the bedroom…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I really still that young damsel?

 

Clcik here for Part 9

 

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.

 

Click here for Part 8

Dr. Seuss Challenge and News

I’ve been challenged to write a scary, twisted Seuss-like poem. I’m not sure it’s great poetry, but I figure it’s my modest tribute to one of my favorite poets and illustrators. It also happens to dovetail nicely with a new story I’m outlining. It’s a sequel – of sorts – to The Mice, Waiting, Wailing in that it will bring back Peri. Jack will be there, too, but as of now the outline is too vague for me to have any idea how much of a role he will have.

The poem – or a heavily edited version of it – will play a role in the new story.

Anyway, without further ado, The Ballad of Mathilda:

The Ballad of Mathilda

Everywhere Mathilda goes
She sees some vicious, scary ghost
She sees them when she goes to bed
She sees them when she turns her head
She sees them at the local bar
She seems them tampering with cars
The follow her into the night
The always stay within her sight
She cannot shake them
She cannot take them
Until she becomes one of them
The kids at school all laugh at her
When she jumps
They cannot see the Ugly one with Bumps
One day they will see them
One day they will regret
They way they laughed
At poor Mathilda
Now head of the class

 

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