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

 

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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

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 2

Here is the second chapter of my latest WIP.

*You really need to read Chapter 1 for this chapter to make sense.

Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness
Word Count: 3000 (approx)
Reading time for average reader: 15 minutes

Part 2

Cassie

“Hey, Baby, watcha doin?” I asked.

Lisa looked up from her photocopied handouts. “English extra credit,” she said with a sigh.

My skin crawled ever so slightly. There was a part of me that said let it go. Don’t ask. It’s just some English extra credit assignment. You really don’t need to know these details. But I’ve got this thing, ya know, Sam? It’s a character flaw, I know. You probably never saw this because of the unique nature of our relationship, but I feel compelled to prove myself a good parent. I travel a lot and feel guilty. Hell, that trip we took to Latin America while Lisa was such a little girl…

So, I asked. “What are you doing for extra credit?”

“Oh, Mom, you would not believe it. I thought it would be easy. We were just supposed to read some fairy tales and write a quick analysis. But these stories are gross! This one has a man burning dogs to ashes and then boiling this king and…”

The Bronze Ring, I thought. Collected by Andrew Lang in The Blue Fairy Book. And my mind was off to that horrible place in myself I discovered in that jungle. But I see the story differently. I see a version of the story that is older than Lang’s version. Don’t ask me how I know this. It’s what my Wiccan friends would call Unverified Personal Gnosis, but I know it’s true.

I saw it Sam. The Gardener’s Son finding three dogs, but these are no ordinary dogs. These were creatures straight out of Hell – jaws elongated beyond anything nature could have intended. Teeth that looked like medieval torture devices. Instead of fur, sharp spines that rose and fell with the breath of these hulky creatures. “Take us,” they said over and over. “Use us,” they said.

The Gardener’s Son picked up a bag and the creatures dissolved into a powder that drifted into the bag.

Scene change. The Gardner’s Son has tricked a king from the East into a pot and released the powder from his bag. The evil creatures reconstituted themselves and begin to tear the King from the East apart. But then, the King’s face became Eric’s face. The screams go on and on… long after it seems physically possible. Even after the last bits of Eric have been ingested, the animals opened their mouths and I could hear Eric’s screams continue from deep in the bellies of these beasts.

“Mom!” Lisa shouted. “Mom! You’re doing it again.”

And then I was back. My daughter’s face is pale with a concern that should be alien to a 12 year-old girl.

“Doing what?” I ask. Is she going to fall for my feigned ignorance?

“You went all spacey again.”

“Oh.”

“Dad says you weren’t always like this.”

“Oh.” He’s right. I wasn’t like this until Eric. “Get back to your homework, Baby.”

“Are you still going on your trip?”

“Yeah.”

“Can I come? Dad says it’s going to be like the Sci Fi con we went to last month.”

“Oh, really?” I felt my stomach clench. Something was burning at the back of my throat.

“Yeah, except the Cos Play won’t be as cool. Just middle aged geeks dressed up as Moses or The Virgin Mary.”

The burning in my throat got hotter.

Then my phone buzzed. I picked it up and saw a text message saying my email account had been accessed by an unfamiliar computer. I checked the location and felt my face get hot. The name of the town just happened to be the town Nick’s office was located in.

I got up trying to make my limbs move fluidly, choking back the desire to scream. I walked to the living room and plopped down on the couch.

I started a text to my sister, Julia. I don’t think you ever met her, Sam. You’d like her. But I think you’d be a little scared of her. Of course, I’m thinking of the old you. The pre-Eric you.

Me: Julia, Nick is checking my email without telling me.

Julia: You should leave him.

Me: He’s the father of my child. I can’t just leave him.

Julia: Oh, yeah? Has he been hitting you?

Me: The anger management class helped. He’s really trying. I promised myself if he was going to try then I was going to try.

Julia: Once a bastard, always a bastard.

Me: That’s not fair.

I waited for a response and got none. I drifted to sleep on the couch.

I dreamed of you, Sam. I dreamed we were in that cabin in the woods of North Carolina. I dreamed I was your prisoner. Damn, it was hot, Sam.

I felt a man’s hand jostle my shoulder. I almost, just almost let myself think things too good to be true.

I opened my eyes to see Nick smiling at me with flowers in his hand.

I didn’t bother to hide my disappointment. “What’s with checking my email?”

“Oh,” he said, putting the flowers down on the coffee table.

“That’s all you have to say?”

“Your trips don’t always go well.”

I sat up, eyes burning, cheeks wet. “You’re still angry about what happened seven years ago? Look, I did some terribly stupid things.”

I wiped the tears from my eyes and stared hard into Nick’s eyes. “Nick, I’ve gone on other work trips since then and I didn’t have you spying on me. It’s not like you’ve been a saint. I thought we agreed to just try and move forward.”

“It’s different this time. You’ve been getting that 1000-yard stare more and more. It’s almost like when you just got back from Latin America. You’re gone more than you’re here.”

He was right, Sam. I mentally reviewed my week and there were all these gaps. I felt something in my guts drop as I realized how much of my week was missing.

He put his hand on my face. It felt so big. It wasn’t that long ago that I had been slapped by that big slab of meat. “Cassie,” his eyes locked with mine. “Julia’s worried, too.”

“Maybe it’s not something about this trip or about me at all. Maybe it’s because you’re not supporting me anymore.”

I felt his hand twitch and I flinched.

“What do you mean?” His voice was very even. Too even.

“Do you think I’d look hot in a Virgin Mary costume?”

“Oh,” he said, looking down at the floor.

I smiled at him and lifted his chin. “Look, I don’t want to leave on a bad note. Let’s just let this go and talk again when I get back, ok?”

“Ok, honey.” He got up and walked out of the room. I could barely hear his big feet padding across the floor.

I picked up my cell phone and sent another text to Julia.

Me: Are you trying to play both sides against the middle or something?

Julia: Look, I don’t care much for Nick, but you have been acting weird. All the gals miss you. And you aren’t laughing anymore.

Me: So? I’m just preoccupied. I’m presenting a big paper.

Julia: That might make sense for some people but a Cassie without laughter… unthinkable!

Me: A Cassie without laughter is like an object greater than which nothing can be conceived but which happens to lack existence?

Julia: See? Did you laugh at that? I bet not. And don’t tell me that wasn’t a joke. I don’t have any idea what it means but I can tell it’s the kind of joke that would put yourself in stitches while everyone in the room vainly tried to figure out what it meant.

I tossed the phone over to the end of the couch and began to sob.


I sat down in the conference center lounge with my “complimentary continental breakfast” – a burnt cup off coffee in a Styrofoam cup and a stale doughnut. I pulled out my conference program. The opening ceremony included mostly names I recognized and then there was a break before the first plenary session.

I skipped over the description of the plenary and looked at the breakout sessions of the day. There were a surprising number of sessions about fairy tales. I circled each one. Maybe someone in one of these will have some answers for me.

I looked at the description of the Plenary Session. Who is this Timothy Kolos person? Should I even bother going? Guess I’ll at least read the description. Mystical poetry, huh? My mind drifted back to all those times when you would read me poetry, Sam. It was cute the way you pretended you just wanted my academic opinion. You were cute. And sweet. And you had this strange strength to you. But I’m married and I have a kid! I kept trying to project that to you but it never seemed to penetrate. Men…

Sam, when I saw you on that podium. I was so sure you were dead that for a moment I thought Timothy Kolos was your long lost twin. But once you started reading… Those poems… The very lines, the very intonation you used when you read them to me…

My mind drifted back to the time you finally consummated that tireless, yet unrequited love you had for me. Eric started fucking me before our trip but I kept that hidden from you. I was selfish, I guess. Your undeterred affection hit a deep place in my heart.

Eric had been teasing me with the idea of inviting you into our fucking sessions. I dare not call what we did “making love” or anything even remotely poetic. He was rough… brutal at times – just like his approach to finding the truth about God, nature, the mind… reality itself. He wanted to crack it wide open and have his way with it, just like he wanted to rip me wide open and play with me all day. And I loved it.

At first, I pushed back. “Don’t be a prude, Cassie,” he said. “You’re already an adulterer. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?”

Well, you remember the night. I blush when I remember how shy you were at first. My heart finally melted for you. You kept getting flustered whenever you remembered Eric was with us. I had to take you in my mouth over and over that first night to keep you hard you were so scared.

But the next night… Something came over you. I suspect Eric did some sort of magic, played some sort of head game… I don’t know. He had this way of bringing out the beast in people. However he did it, you were a changed man the next night. You were almost as beastly as Eric, and I loved it. The two of you would trade off most of the night and then, when I thought I would die of pleasure, the two of you would take me at once, attacking every hole you could get hold of. There were a few times on that trip that I was sure I was dying of sensory overload.

Still, even at your roughest, there was always a tenderness underneath it which was almost completely absent in Eric.

I thought about ditching Eric. You were lover enough for me. But if Eric left the equation, would he take his magic with him? That bastard was so deep inside my head. I felt like he was with me even when he wasn’t, whispering blasphemous thoughts in my ear. I knew the same was true for you, too, Sam. Eric was a part of each of us.

And then… Suddenly, I heard Eric’s screams as that thing in the cave pounced on him. I don’t know how I got out of the cave but I was running. The path was slippery form the rain. The whole jungle seemed to tear and rip at me as I ran.

And then I was back in reality, listening to you quote those poems you used to try and express your love for me. I tried to fill in the missing pieces of the conversation you were so clumsily trying to have with me. Were you so sure I’d be there that you wrote that paper just to talk with me?

Of course you were. Of course you did.

But what were you trying to tell me?

As soon as you started to field questions, I left the hall. I ripped up my circled program and got a new one. I started circling a new list of break out sessions with names like: Topics in Textual Transmission or Second Temple Era Synagogue Liturgy or Free will and Determinism in the 19th Century… The more boring and technical the better. I wanted no more passion for a while.

I don’t remember a word that was uttered the rest of the day. I just made my way to the hotel where I was staying and started drinking and typing on my laptop. I guess the drinks clouded my judgment a bit because I started writing an email to you. I found your bio in the conference program and your email address was just sitting there. Well, the email address for Timothy Kolos. Anyway, I was pretty sure you would get the email.

I started typing…

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

And then it was like I could hear you in my hear saying:

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.

And then I wrote:
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?

And the voice in my head replied:

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.

And then I typed:

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

And your voice… I knew it was you said:

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

Then I wrote:

What about your wife?

And your fucking voice, in my head said:

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.

And it went on… A whole dialogue in my head. How did you get in there? Your voice was even more real than Eric’s. What have you become, Sam? What have we become?

But I knew Nick would be checking my email. I knew that’s why you never reached out to me. He was getting better, but I knew that his healing was still in such an early stage. He would beat me, maybe even kill me. And then he would go looking for you.

So, I deleted the draft and closed my computer. I had what I needed anyway. I knew you were alive and I knew somehow we were in contact. I had what I wanted. But along with that came fear. If you were alive, what wasn’t possible?

I went to bed and dreamed… I dreamed of Eric being tortured to death by that thing in the cave.

I woke up to it’s presence. I couldn’t see it, but I knew it was there. It hissed in my ear.

“You were such a delightful frog to boil, Cassie. And Eric… Eric was such a beautiful pawn, wasn’t he?”

“Please,” was all that came out of my mouth in reply.

“Please what? Leave you and Sammy boy alone? Why? Do you think you could ever be ‘life partners’ or some such nonsense? Do you still cling to those dreams of romance?”

And then I was asleep again, dreaming of you, Sam. Dreaming of you coming for me. It started, as it often did, with me jogging in some beautiful, deserted tree lined park. I sensed someone – you, Sam – following me. I caught glimpses of you out of the corner of my eye. Then it became dark. Clouds? An eclipse? The flow of time twisting to your will?

I get so occupied with keeping track of you that I don’t even see your trap. Out of nowhere I am caught up in something and I can’t even see. I find myself in the back of your cargo van, tied up expertly and secured to the floor, mouth gagged.

Then I am in your dungeon, suspended by an intricate system of ropes. You take me in each hole, roughly, brutally. You choke me as I cum. You press your hunting knife against my flesh and give me little nicks and cuts as I cum, over and over.

I am your slave… No, not even your slave. I am lower than that. And I love each moment of it. There is no tenderness left in you and I don’t miss it.

But I sense that horrible thing there in the dark with us.

Samuel, what are we going to do? I love you.

Click here for Part 3

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