Here is the fifth chapter of my latest WIP.
Working Title: The Presumption of Darkness
Word Count: 1,800 (approx)
Reading time for average reader: 10 minutes
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?”
“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.”