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?

 

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Faithfulness and the loss of faith

I know it won’t come as a surprise to you, but my current WIP is a deeply personal piece. I’m trying to use it to come to some kind of cohesion of the various threads of my life. And, at the same time, I’m trying to make it something people will like to read. One of the big themes of Resumption of Darkness is that both Sam and Cassie are having a sort of worldview crisis. Before the tragedy that forms the backdrop of the story takes place – well, at least, before they met Eric, the instigator – they are quite comfortable in their Christian worldview. After they a pulled into Eric’s orbit, everything starts to fall apart. Then, during their trip to the rainforest, their worldviews implode.

Seven years later, they still haven’t put the pieces together.

In fact, their story mirrors mine. (I know, a big surprise! An author writes a story that has an autobiographical element!) There was an Eric of sorts, and a Sam and a Cassie. They are at once people separate from me – more or less – and they are also aspects of me.

Emotionally, I am still haunted by Eric. He’s about as dead as any ghost and yet, at times, he seems more real to me than most of the people I interact with on a daily basis.

Spiritually, I am torn between the way Sammy is responding to the crumbling of his faith and Cassie’s reaction. Sammy is slowly descending into pessimism. Cassie is trying to reconfigure her faith into something that isn’t so closely tied to the triumphalism she had before her Latin America tour

As I have been processing this, a friend sent me this link from another disillusioned Christian. The essay shows his path through intellectual disillusionment to the renewed worldview he has on the other side.

Here is a tidbit that I have found helpful:

People who doubt can have great faith because faith is something you do, not something you think. In fact, the greater your doubt the more heroic your faith.

I learned that it doesn’t matter in the least that I be convinced of God’s existence. Whether or not God exists is none of my business, really. What do I know of existence? I don’t even know how the VCR works.

I am trying to pray as he prays the following:

God, I don’t have great faith, but I can be faithful. My belief in you may be seasonal, but my faithfulness will not. I will follow in the way of Christ. I will act as though my life and the lives of others matter. I will love.
I have no greater gift to offer than my life. Take it.

My faith doesn’t need to be tied to the existence of some supernatural entity, nor does it need to be tied to that question Cassie asked: Was the tomb empty that first Easter Sunday? Instead, my faith can be a form of faithfulness to this picture of Jesus – the teacher who hung out with tax collectors and sinners. As Eric says, maybe he’d even like a monster like me.

I don’t know about tomorrow, but for today, I am betting my life on the belief that trying to live a life that Jesus would be proud of is a good way to live. Tomorrow… Who knows? Maybe I’ll make my home in the infinite grayness of a universe without meaning. Or maybe I’ll take another swing at following Jesus. I’m better off not worrying about tomorrow. Tomorrow has enough trouble to keep itself busy.

Anyway, sorry for the long, over-personal post. I hope to have Chapter 8 of Presumption of Darkness out soon. In the meantime, you can re-read it starting with Chapter 1.

As always, I’m eager to hear your thoughts.

People of faith, what do you think is the role of belief? And what do you think is the role of faithfulness?

People without faith, what are the principles by which you guide your life? What pictures drive you?

Writers, what role does writing play in the way you ask questions about who you are and what your life means?

Readers, what pictures renew you?

 

The Presumption of Darkness Part 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 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

Sometime I Miss You

Names, names, names…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Christian who Couldn’t Believe

Paradoxes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why fiction? Why the Blood?

Why fiction?

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

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

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

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

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