Monday, June 23, 2014

What Meaning We Can Find, We Find In Our Hearts

I’m looking out at my very modest backyard as I write this. I see large trees in yards beyond mine, as well as the various plants and flowers that my wife carefully cultivates. It is fully summer now, and all that nature can impart to our little backyard it is providing.
My dog died three weeks ago tonight, just about this time. Some won’t appreciate the bond that humans can have with animals, so if that is you, you might want to move along. But death is death, it leaves the living asking the same questions.
I think of myself as a writer. Sometimes I think a writer cannot fully experience anything until he has written about it. I write about death, among other things. Mainly, I try to write about the meaning of life. I want life to have meaning, feel there MUST be meaning to it. But pretty ideas and philosophies are put to the test when the reality of death is put in front of us and we cannot ignore it.
There is so much I want to say regarding the recent passing of my dog Bella. It may sound as if I am speaking of personal matters, and I am, but I hope to find universal principles from my experience. When someone, or in my case something, who is very close to you dies, there are many thoughts and emotions that flood through a person. Part of it is loyalty: I would do anything for her. Love doesn’t end with the death of the loved one. But I realize there is nothing I can do for her. I could feel guilty, or miserable, but that would do nothing to help her. She is beyond anything I can do for her, and I’m not done loving her yet.
Part of it is pure selfishness on my part. Part of grieving is dealing with being the survivor. That’s when the guilt sets in, when I realize that my grief is as much about me as it is about her. My grief should be directed to her, not at my own feelings. But again, she is gone. Forever.
Forever. The word hits hard on such occasions. Life is about possibilities, it’s about “maybe if I try hard enough” or “well, not this time, but maybe next time”. Humans aren’t made for ruling things out with absolute certainty. We’re born to be optimists, to believe that we can have whatever we want if we are patient, hardworking and believe. So saying goodbye forever is not natural. Maybe humans just delude themselves, maybe it is only in times of loss that we allow ourselves to see the truth. That everything we love can and will be ripped from us in time. Time is a wheel that crushes all before it.
Death is also a milestone, when we look back at the time we’ve known  someone. Fourteen years is a pretty long time, no matter how old you are. As a matter of fact, fourteen years seem more precious to someone who is older. With fewer years to waste, each year becomes more precious. I look back at who I was when I first came home with a little puppy in a cardboard box, think of all the time we spent, of all that has changed in my life in that time. And I see in her passing the passing of all things. Life ticks by us in sections, and here was one big section that is gone forever. One more piece in my collection firmly filed in the past.
I try to write about meaning, but meaning tends to desert us when we experience loss. Meaning doesn’t MEAN anything sometimes, it is an abstract notion that matters little compared to the very tangible losses we experience.
In the end, meaning is not an intellectual but an experiential thing. Reality is too large for us to grasp with our mind. It is only the heart that can truly understand the really big issues of life. I remember being a man in my twenties, visiting an aunt who was dying. I spent the night with another aunt, who was then in her eighties. We spent a good amount of time discussing the meaning of life. She was a good, intelligent woman, but she was about to lose her little sister. She didn’t have any more answers than I did.
Old age will not permit us to understand life and death anymore than youth can. But if a person lives life openly, he will know how it feels. If you leave yourself open to love, pain, and loss, that is as close as you will get to understanding. Do not hide yourself from such things by constructing philosophies or beliefs that seek to explain away what you feel. Feel and do not turn away from the feeling. Embrace whatever feeling you experience, because it as much as anything else is real. Feel, and the experience of it will give you whatever wisdom and understanding is granted to humans.
Shortly before I started writing this, I looked in my backyard and noticed a chipmunk feeding from the hummingbird feeder my wife has by the porch. A few moments later, I looked out the back window to notice a baby bunny sitting in the grass, as well as a bunch of birds bouncing around. I  soon returned to my seat just in time to see a cardinal alighting on our fence. With the myriad flowers, the world truly seemed alive. And it was all in my little backyard, the place that my dog Bella reigned over for over fourteen years. There was something about the abundance of life that was occurring that touched a place in my heart. And I understood. I’m sure it sounds silly to you, but I understood.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Seance from The Sleep Of Reason (Part 2)

Writing this sort of creeped me out, I hope the chills translate to others, as well:

Like a wisp of smoke that turned solid, the bluish presence within the circle slowly took form. Two eyes seemed to exude sadness and knowledge as they stared towards Russell. The figure was tall and thin, his narrow jaw and long nose blossoming into a prominent forehead. Wild waves of hair gathered around the sides of a receding hairline. The figure in the center radiated its blue light so that each of the members holding hands were bathed in the light.
“What secrets are you hoping to discover?” asked the blue apparition, peering down at them. He appeared unnaturally tall, as if he levitated in order to show his rank.
“We are looking for our missing friends,” said Russell. “Have you seen them?”
“You want answers, but answers are worth nothing until they are earned. If you wish to see what we see, then you must walk the path that we have walked.”
“We only wish to find our friends. Will you not help us?”
“Our secrets are our own. If you want answers, you must join us. Trust for trust.”
“We don’t want to join you,” said Doug, “we just want what’s ours. You have no right to keep our friends from us.”
“They came here of their own volition. Like you, they came seeking answers, which we provided them. But answers come with a price, which they have paid. Will you?”
Mindy was tempted to ask what price they would have to pay, what price Dave and Johnny had paid, but Doug spoke again.
“We have not come to bargain with you,” said Doug. His voice projected authority, but Mindy had no idea where it came from, what he could back it up with.
The figure inside the circle did not seem to recognize any authority other than his own. Mindy again became aware of the hands she clung to, felt the security they provided. Maintain the circle and contain the spirit. Although everyone in the circle reflected the blue glow from the presence in the middle. The blue glow seemed to lie now even beyond their circle. She felt the beads that Russell’s grasp pushed into the flesh of her hands, realized they belonged to the man in front of them, that he must be Gregor Soeldner. She feared that he might recognize them as his own, demand them back.
“I do not bargain, I speak truth. The Association has endured because we have not betrayed our secrets. If we let you in, we will not let you out.”
“We have summoned you to tell us what we need to know,” Mindy was pretty sure Doug was bluffing that he had nothing to back up his bluster. “You are contained within the circle we have created. You have no power, you cannot set conditions.”
“Yes, I am contained within your circle,” said Gregor. “But your circle is a small thing. And I am the only one within it.”
Mindy had been staring at Gregor, at the bluish glow of his presence. Now she shifted her gaze to beyond the circle the four members of The Beyond Show formed with their hands. Looking to her right, then left, she noticed beyond the circle the same glow existed outside of the four members. There were many figures outside of the circle, surrounding them, each of them holding hands in the same manner that Mindy and the others were. Each of them shared a gaze of intent that lacked any human element.
She looked at Doug and found him lacking any response. In that moment she knew she’d better gather her courage, that she was the one who had the most to lose. Whatever strength and experience the others had, she was among them and therefore had a part to play. She gazed at Gregor, who as yet had not looked at her, and said, “Perhaps they have us, but we have you. You have been summoned by us, and you will answer to us. You no longer speak from the authority that you did as a man of God, you are but a remnant of a man, a memory that has lingered. You exist to share your message. Speak!”
He looked at her as one who had been discovered, and said, “The answers and the people you seek are below us. If you dare to follow, it is there that you will find your answers.”
The figure of Gregor flickered, as if to say that it was not the thing they should be looking at. The group, still holding hands, turned their gaze outside of the circle, looked at the figures beyond. There were enough to form a full circle around them, even at a distance. But the circle soon dissipated as the figures began to walk single file towards a building to their west. Mindy looked to Doug and the others. Without the need for discussion, the decision was made. It was Russell who spoke for the group, “You are released, Gregor Soeldner.” The light that reflected from each of their faces vanished into blackness as the figure in front of them disappeared.
“Let’s follow them,” said Mindy, her words braver than the feeling in her heart. They trailed after the figures who moved slowly, like a chain gang returning from work. They disappeared through a door that Russell was forced to open for the others. Izzy would have been more than happy to be the last one through the door, but Doug stood behind, as if to guard against a reappearance from Gregor.
They walked upon tiled floors littered with glass, their way well-lit by the glow of the apparitions. There were perhaps fifty of them, most but not all of them dressed similar to Gregor. Some appeared to have been from newer eras, as if even in death The Association was adding to its ranks. There was one who seemed to be a teenager, perhaps one who had come to this place not many years back to drink a few beers and give a scare to his girlfriend. The whole of them shuffled along like zombies, as if their will had abandoned them, or as if they had surrendered themselves to the judgment of The Association, of Gregor Soeldner.
They led them down a flight of stairs, led them through hallways that shone blue in their presence. Great pipes hugged cement walls, vanishing into the darkness where the blue glow did not extend. Mindy walked behind Russell, content to have someone at her back in the darkness.
As Mindy walked she became aware of the terrible silence around her. The glowing apparitions were noiseless as they plodded along cement floors like zombies called by their master. Before she knew it, the smooth cement gave way to a hasher stone flooring, causing her to become more aware of her footsteps that padded softly like ripples on a still pond. The darkness gave opportunity for her mind to imagine hidden dangers, but she found herself preferring it to the blue glow.
There was a tunnel that led off to their right, cloaked in darkness. But at the edge of light emitted by the group, Mindy couldn’t help thinking that for an instant she caught a glimpse of a skeleton.
They were well lost by this point, having taken a large amounts of twists and turns, too many choices of which tunnel to take. As they passed by on offshoot, Mindy heard the sound of movement which she knew was not caused by any of them.
“Did you hear that?” Mindy asked, turning back towards Izzy and Doug.
“Yes,” said Doug. “Try not to think about it. Hopefully, The Association will keep us safe for their own purposes, whatever they may be.”
“It might be Dave!” said Mindy. Russell said he was somewhere in the dark, alone. We’ve got to find out if it’s him.”
“If we get lost in here, we’ll never find our way out. We have to stick with them.”
“I’ll go with her,” said Izzy. “I’ve got a flashlight. We’ll investigate and see what we can find.”
“You’ll get lost,” said Doug.
“We’ll only get lost if they allow us to get lost. I don’t think that will happen. You and Russell go ahead, we’ll catch up.”
Izzy appeared truly brave at that moment, making Mindy wonder if the times he appeared less so to be merely a guise. How could somebody so unknowable become so trustworthy, she thought.
Izzy turned on his flashlight and they headed down the dark tunnel, Russell and Doug still following the blue procession. Mindy found herself relieved when they had distanced themselves enough that she could no longer detect the blue that had so consumed her sight.
The tunnel they entered was rough, crudely dug, and Izzy gazed about with the aid of his flashlight to determine if it was even safe to enter. It looked to be dug into earth or clay rather than rock. They did not have to travel far before reaching the end. The noise was louder now, like the scratching of a rat. Izzy seemed reluctant to lower the beam of his flashlight, preferring ignorance to knowledge. When at last he found the courage to lower it, Mindy saw a figure hunched in the darkness, clawing at the wall in front of him as if he were looking to expand the tunnel he was lost in. It wasn’t Dave, thought Mindy, it couldn’t be him. He had been wearing the blue jacket she had bought for him when he left. This man wore a flannel shirt. And boots, Dave didn’t own boots. This couldn’t be Dave.
Mindy would have been content to let it go at that, allow whoever it was to go about his business. But Izzy realized him for what he was, a fellow human being in need of aid. He called to him, and when that did not work, grabbed him by the shoulder. The man twisted around with speed caused by fear. He stared into the light that Izzy shown at him, and Mindy couldn’t help thinking he flashed them a huge smile. But the edges of that smile were ragged, and in a flash of realization, Mindy realized that his lips were for the better part missing. Even as she looked at him in terror, the man in front of them was busily moving his jaw, attempting to bite at whatever flesh remained in chewing distance. His eyes were wide open despite the pain unexpected light must have caused him. He was alert in the way only great fear can achieve. Unable to look at the massacred mouth, she focused on his eyes, which radiated terror. She could see the pupils shrinking in reaction to the light, at the jaw nervously looking for something to chew.
Mindy screamed. She felt her body shrink towards Izzy, trying instinctually to find shelter in another’s strength. Together, they retreated slowly from the tunnel, Izzy’s flashlight still shining in the face of the man whose fear had caused him to chew his own lips off. Mindy could still the jaw working as the vision faded from her sight.

They had not been separated for long. When they returned to the tunnel they had come from, the glow had disappeared, but they knew which direction they were going. They ran quickly, as much to distance themselves from what they witnessed as to find the others.

Pictures Intended to Inspire

Before Ron Howard, in fact, before the invention of the digital camera, I came up with the idea of taking a bunch of pictures and trying to write a story around what I came up with. I ended up misplacing the pictures from my original experiment and never finished it, but here is another example of the idea in practice. Last year, my wife and I took a little visit to the JFK Prep School, and these are the pictures I took. My wife's pictures I uploaded a couple of posts ago.I think you can tell the difference between our photos as she is looking for a good picture, while I am often looking for the unusual and asking myself "what could this mean?" The end results of this picture taking expedition will be The Sleep Of Reason, the third book in The Amazing Morse series.

One of the first buildings we encountered on the site. Growing up in the suburbs, I was not used to buildings in a state of disrepair. Everything there was new, albeit tacky and without substance.
 Here is the cemetery with the shrine of Ambrose Oschwald and a little chapel behind it.

The grass always grows a little differently over a casket, a reminder that of what lies beneath.

 I was looking for good names for characters. I really had no idea what my book would be about, yet.

 Again, looking for inspiration. There is so much of it to be found if one remains open to it.

 Herein lies Ambrose Oschwald, who led a group of people to the new world in order to follow their religious convictions. He was both a priest and a doctor, and his healing abilities were often called miracles. He was originally buried elsewhere, but it was said that when he was dug up to be brought here, his body was remarkably well preserved.
 The chapel,

 I'm not sure what this is, but it obviously had significance to someone:

 I cannot now recall why we did not walk down this trail. I don't know where it lead. I'll have to take another visit.

 Here's me finding a rope and wondering what it was used for. The answers to such questions lead to interesting stories.
 When I tried to take a photo of the picture, the light from the stained glass tended to get in the way. I tried to use it to good effect.

 Again, just me wondering what the mark on the door meant.

 The tomb of Ambrose Oschwald, with a picture of him above.

 An interesting picture placed upon a gate that separates the tomb of Father Oschwald from visitors. There has been enough vandalism in this place that, sadly, the gate might be necessary.

 There is something about religious art that can at times be grotesque. This is not a judgment on religion, merely an acknowledgement that when religion ruled human thought, all human thought was expressed through religious means.

 There is something about grandeur that is in a state of disrepair that is striking to me. It is hard to imagine that something that took so much effort from so many could be left to chance and the ravages of time.

 Others apparently feel like me. Even more so. They are actively attempting to restore former beauty, whereas I simply comment on things.

 It's nice to see that the damage by vandals on other areas of this site has spared the stained glass windows of the church.

 In my series, The Amazing Morse, the main character is an aspiring magician who ends up working as an estimator for a door hardware company. I feel obliged to add a little information about door hardware in each novel (very little).

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Séance From "The Sleep of Reason"

What's better than a séance in the middle of an abandoned church cemetery on a cold November evening? Here's from my upcoming novel, The Sleep of Reason:

Mindy and Russell parked their car at a designated spot a short distance from the entrance to the JFK Prep grounds as per Doug’s instructions. Doug and Izzy awaited them there, wearing serious expressions that conveyed their concern. Together they walked a short way to the gates of the site that had been the start of the town of St. Nazianz. Over a hundred and fifty years of growth and change had made it something utterly different from what it had started as, but some aspect of the vision remained. From its start as a religious sect seeking a new way of life, it had been taken over by a Catholic order that had used the place as a seminary. And when this had shut down, it became a prep school. But it was decades since it had been used for much of anything at all. Such places lend themselves to the creation of stories and legends.
“We will attempt a séance,” said Doug. More for Mindy’s sake than the others, he explained, “One cannot call a ghost into being. Either it already exists or it does not. The dead have passed on to the undiscovered country, or simply ceased to be. We’ll set aside any theological arguments regarding where we go when we die because, frankly, they have no bearing. As Johnny should have explained to Dave, a ghost is not the spirit of a dead person. It is merely a creation of a psychic trauma, a ball of emotional energy formed in the intensity of a person’s dying moments. Memories may be burned into what we call a ghost. Typically they are rather simplistic creatures, acting out a scene that is significant to someone who was once alive. Occasionally, they can be a rather sophisticated facsimile of the person they were formed from. Obviously, most people do not create ghosts at all when they die. Ghosts are quite rare, the intensity of the event would need to be quite profound.
“Johnny reported to me the events in Manitowoc. He informed me that they had encountered two separate entities resulting from the death of a single person. One was formed of grief at the betrayal of his wife and friend, the other a desire for justice due to the same event. I’m afraid what we have here is a similar dual or even multiple entities formed by an extreme emotional occurrence.
“I’ve been aware of this site, heard rumors and unsubstantiated stories. I knew the potential for trouble existed here, but I had no real cause to pursue the matter. I knew enough about it to warn Johnny to stay away, but perhaps I didn’t know enough about Johnny to appreciate the temptation it would present. But in the end, I will not hold myself accountable for the choices that others have made. We will however deal with this situation as best we can. We have need of the abilities Johnny and Dave possess, and we will not abandon them if there is something we can do. But be warned that there are obvious risks.”
Doug looked around at the others. When Mindy had shown in her gaze her obvious commitment, he turned to look at Izzy, and so did Mindy. She was fairly convinced Izzy had a good heart. If there was anything he might be lacking, it might be courage.In the event in the Apostle Islands, he didn’t appear overly eager to confront such things. But perhaps that too might be an act he put on for her benefit.
“I thought we were here for Bingo,” said Izzy. “Yeah, I’m in. But I’m going to need a vacation after this.”
“Did you get something acceptable?” asked Russell.
Izzy reached into the pocket of his thick flannel jacket to pull out what appeared to be a necklace. He placed it in Russell’s waiting hand.
“A rosary. Where did you find it?”
“Where do you think we found it?” asked Izzy.
“We took them from the hands of Gregor Soeldner,” said Doug.
“You dug up a grave?” said Russell, looking horrified at the idea of holding an item that had been in the clutch of a dead man for over a century.
“It’s not as if we had much choice,” said Doug, “or much time. You said you needed an item that was cherished by one of those in question. Gregor Soeldner was in charge of The Association after the death of Anton Oxner. There’s no guarantee he’s in any way a part of this, but I figured he was our best chance of discovering something. And as far as finding an article or relic from someone, I imagine that something that someone wanted to be buried with must be pretty important to them.”
“What about Oxner? Couldn’t you find anything of his?”
“We thought about it. It turns out he was buried under the altar in the chapel. Izzy couldn’t bring himself to go digging up an alter for such purposes, and I have to say I was uneasy about it myself. Let’s give it a go with this and if it doesn’t work, we’ll go from there.”
“Alright,” said Russell. “Let’s find a proper spot and we’ll do this. Any ideas?”
They eyed the grounds from their spot in the empty space surrounded by buildings.
“I wouldn’t mind doing it indoors, if we could,” said Mindy, feeling the chill of the evening.
“Where?” asked Izzy. “Somehow a church doesn’t seem to be a proper place for a séance. And the other buildings seem a little too new to be related to whatever it is that haunts this place.”
“The cemetery,” said Russell, a degree of authority in his voice. This was an area where his knowledge exceeded the others’ and he needed to assert the fact.
They walked towards the gravestones that cast shadows from a full moon that shown behind them. The chill in the air seemed to cut past Mindy’s clothes, penetrate her skin and take residence in her bones, making her feel older than she was. It felt as if her innermost self was not protected the way she was used to feeling, the soft hidden aspects of her were being exposed to a chilling and unfriendly outside force.
They followed Russell until he reached the center of the graveyard of perhaps two hundred graves. He stood before them and turned, his body blocking the rays of the moon that was sinking towards the horizon. It made him appear like a radiant saint, but the rays were all behind him, his form a blackness within the light. Whatever discomfort he normally showed was missing now: he now appeared as the scientist making sure the elements of his experiment were accounted for.
“Form a circle,” he said. They did, with Russell to Mindy’s left, Doug to her right, Izzy in front of her. I occurred to Mindy at that moment that she really didn’t know these people. Izzy was no longer the joking person he was, Russell had lost his discomfort, even Doug had abandoned his always-on stage persona.
“We’re going to have to hold hands for the duration of the séance. We must maintain the circle throughout the séance, this is most important. For that reason, we might as well sit down, make ourselves comfortable. If one of us were to slip and break the connection, we would be unleashing God knows what on the world.”
There was not much space between graves, so that when they sat down, Mindy realized she must be sitting on top of some long-dead soul. Several graves down she noticed the freshly dug grave from which Izzy and Doug had claimed their relic. When she joined hands with Doug, she could still feel bits of dirt on his hands. She had hoped in vain that the hand that Russell offered her was not the one that gripped the rosary beads. The feeling of the beads that Russell gripped hard against her hand felt to her like teeth ripped from a corpse.
“Now what?” asked Mindy.
“Now we wait for Russell to make a connection to the object in his hand,” said Doug. “And if there is a living entity, or reasonable facsimile of same, perhaps it will provide a link to said entity.”
“You all must be receptive to whatever thoughts my pop into your head,” said Russell, “because perhaps those thoughts will not be your own. If all goes well, we will soon be experiencing a blending of selves, so that we will be very much aware at the same time of things that we are not perceiving with our ordinary senses. We must all be both open to such perceptions and yet retain our personal integrity. This is not a matter of life or death, but a matter of success or failure, as well as just plain good manners. You’ll understand as we go.”
Mindy tried to silence her thoughts, tired to block out the outside world. She was acutely aware of the hands that held hers, that she held. She was both holder and holdee, she though, a link in a chain that was more than the accumulated links.
Gahhh! I’m thinking. I should be emptying my mind of thoughts, allow myself to be receptive. Now I’m thinking of thinking. And the cold ground, I can’t sit like this for long.
She tried to shift herself slightly, all the while being acutely aware of the hands she was holding, realizing that as she held on to them that they held on to her. She was holding hands of people who were probably busy trying to silence their thoughts in order to be open to something outside or inside of them. Four individuals joined together, and she couldn’t help thinking their minds should be no more distant or unreachable than their hands were. And all at once she had the feeling that her consciousness was not in her body but somewhere in the middle of the four of them. No, it wasn’t her consciousness! It was theirs. It was hers, but they were all sharing the same thoughts in the same way that people sitting around a fire were all sharing the same warmth and light. Except that she was the fire. Sort of. It wasn’t really so important to try to explain it as it was to just experience it.
She was aware of her body a few feet away, felt that she could return to it anytime she wished. It wasn’t effort that kept her where she was now, just a state of mind. She only hoped that she would continue holding the others’ hands, detached as she now felt from that body.
And as she looked upon her own body, she now looked upon the others in the same fashion. She felt that she was able to return to any of those as easily as she could her own, that they were just houses that could be entered as easily as opening a door. And it seemed that each house was as empty as her was.
Curious, she attempted to peer into the person that was Doug Slattery, magician, collector, man of wealth. She wondered what lay beneath the artifice and façade he showed to the world.
It shouldn’t have been surprising that she witnessed in him the same trepidation and concern that she felt, being in the same position as she was. But she realized that was only the concerns of the moment. There were great depths of experience and memory there to be delved into. Not thinking of the consequences, she delved in a little deeper.
And there she felt lust. Not merely physical urges but the frustration at withholding from acting upon such urges. And behind the lust and the frustration were deeper emotions, fear of being dislike by someone he had loved, fear of rejection and betrayal. And even beyond that was a deeper fear, a fear of being wrong, of believing he knew who he was and what the world was and the crushing pain it caused him to realize that he had been living in a fantasy world. All these emotions and sensations existed in him at once and were stacked upon each other, showing to her the complexity of a person and the myriad influences working upon even the simplest decisions. And anger welled up in him, akin to the sense of betrayal she had seen. She quickly retreated from the house that Doug’s life force had built about him, sneaking out through a side exit, careful not to slam the door.
She was again in the middle of the circle, again aware of the openness, even vulnerability, of the others. She was not sure what she should be focusing her awareness on, but knew it was Russell who was the driving force behind whatever it was that was going on. She suddenly became quite attuned to him, felt the concentration towards another awareness that allowed him no time to be aware of the others. She tried to align her awareness with his, to see what it was that he saw, aid him in his search. Again she found herself entering the house of another, so to speak, permitted herself to step past set boundaries.
She felt herself quickly swept up as a leaf in a breeze. It was thrilling until the realization of her helplessness set in Her psyche was in the grip of forces more powerful than she’d ever experienced, lifting her to tremendous heights, separating her from the rootedness she was familiar with. But the fear of falling quickly accompanied the thrill, until she dared to look down. She felt herself falling, prepared herself for a drop that would crush her against a rocky bottom.
But there was no bottom. Whatever ground she had been standing on had been swept away, leaving a deep dark pit into which she was speedily descending.
Again, her presence had been detected by the residence of the domain. Russell understood what she was doing, pulled himself back from his search. Within his mind he constructed for her a floor for her to land safely on. But even as her feet reached the ground, she felt herself opening up. Russell was probing into her as she had done to him. She experienced moments of her childhood popping open from long closed boxes. The unwelcome attention of her older brother’s friend, the humiliation of a boyfriend’s betrayal. She felt helpless before Rusell’s probing, couldn’t understand the cruelty of it. And then in an instant he retreated, leaving her psyche to herself.
It was then that she realized what to her felt like an assault was no different than the innocent probing she had been engaging in. She understood now what Russsell had meant when he talked about good manners. Learning proper boundaries was a matter of social etiquette whether or not one was talking about physical space.

She was back in the cold, dark cemetery again, but she still felt as if she were in the middle of the group rather than her own body. Until she looked in between the ring of hands and saw a bluish glow arising from the ground between them. She was then aware that she was back in her body, still holding hands with Russell and Doug. She noticed Doug Squeezing her hand hard and didn’t know why until she realized she was trying to tear away from the circle, trying to get away from whatever it was that was rising in their midst. She forced herself to stillness as best she could, tried to look at the others to gain strength from them. Each of them reflected the bluish light that came from the center of the circle.

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Fictional Trip To The JFK Prep Academy

Here is basically chapter 7 of Sleep Of Reason. It is heavily influenced by a trip I took to the JFK Prep School I visited last summer, but is after all a work of fiction. Pictures of JFK Prep are shown throughout.

 Once trimmed evergreens reached upward but could not reach the height of the building’s three stories. While the large building still appeared in good condition, nearly every window in it had been broken. The driveway wound away to the right and they found themselves in the center of a collection of buildings.

In front of them was a structure rocks that housed within it a statue of some religious figure.

 Beyond that was a field between the buildings, a thin covering of early winter snow shining bright in the otherwise dull November day. To their left was what appeared to have been a dormitory, to their right a church with an impressively large steeple.

 In front of them, beyond the snow-covered clearing, was a cemetery with a quite orderly quantity of tombstones all of a similar size.

 Johnny signaled for Dave to park at the edge of the drive.
“This place was originally founded by Anton Oxner, a Catholic priest who left Germany looking for a place to practice his religion as he saw fit,” said Johnny. “Of course, you pretty much say that for everyone who came to you country, can’t you? Anyway, he came here with some followers after a little disagreement with the powers that be in the Catholic church with the intention of building a communistic community, someplace where nobody owned anything and everybody had to do some kind of manual labor. As a liberation theologist, the story attracted my attention.”
“A liberation what?”
“Liberation theology. I could fill you full of a lot of church doctrine, but basically it’s a movement within the Catholic Church that’s committed to social justice and peace. Of course, such an idea has it detractors. Anyway, these people, they came to be known as The Association, they created a well-functioning community here. And Father Oxner, he was a great healer, both a doctor and—some said—someone who could heal through miracles.”
Johnny’s willingness to believe was something Dave envied, but he was also a little weary of it. He had seen what too much belief could do. It had almost cost Mindy her life.
“What is it with cults and the supernatural?” asked Dave.
“This was not a cult,” said Johnny, a little perturbed. “Anyway, cult is a term the majority use to describe minority groups, groups whose viewpoints never make it into the mainstream. What people call a cult is a group of people who follow an idea without bringing that idea into the collective consciousness. All movements begin as cults, all begin as a single thought in a single person, actually. But what we call ‘cult’ in an intense desire for change that becomes frustrated. The world calls belief systems that have lost ‘cults’. And such frustrated desires for change lead to a spiritual festering of sorts, a coalescing of spiritual energy. So it is only natural that such a gathering of spiritual desiring would produce what people call ‘supernatural’ activities. But that is not what we have here. This was a thriving community.”
“If it was so thriving, what happened to it?”
“Chastity. While certainly an admirable virtue, it can be taken to extremes. But the community that lived here was so successful at it that they eventually died out.”
Johnny exhaled deeply, watched his warm moist breath disappear in the crisp cold of a November Morning.
“From what you’ve said, Oxner died a long time ago. These buildings, even the church, the look to be much more recent,” said Dave. The buildings he was looking at seemed to have been built in the thirties or forties.
“Like anywhere else, time keeps moving on no matter how interesting the history it buries. After The Association, they sold the property to another religious order. In one way or another, it has survived up until perhaps thirty years ago. Even now, there are hopes to re-open the church. And throughout its history there have been reports of unusual events.
“Like what?”
Well, the miraculous healings. In more recent days, ghost sightings. The usual. A nun who committed suicide, the victims of a pedophile priest, a student who was beaten to death by classmates, his body hidden in the attic. Stories made up to frighten others, mostly. But the place has gotten enough notoriety to have its own episode on some haunted places show. People coming in with their odd instruments and special cameras. C’mon, let’s check out the church.”
They walked across the field full of snow and crunchy grass to the church’s side door, which was surprisingly unlocked.

It was lit only by the day’s dismal light diffused through stained glass windows.

 It felt even colder inside, but Dave figured it was just the night air that lingered longer in the brick building.

In the relative darkness, Dave could feel a certain unease rising within him. He knew if they were to encounter anything that fear would tinge his senses so that he would not be able to fully trust them. Fear warped his ability to see things as they truly were, created  barrier between himself and reality. But as he felt a subtle fear creeping into his consciousness, he was also aware of a fleeting revelation that he had been able to observe: most people live their lives in fear, perceive the world around them through a lens of fear, never able to see life for what it was. At least he was aware of the existence of this barrier that fear created. He just needed to remember no to stick too long seeing things from one perspective. It was like first learning to drive: even if you’re afraid, never permit your awareness to be stuck on a single focus. Remember to look in the mirror, in front of you, at the speedometer. Keep with the routine regardless of the fear, and you’ll be okay.
“Ghosts can’t hurt you,” said Johnny. Apparently, Dave’s apprehension had not gone unnoticed. “Ghosts can’t do anything physically to you. The only damage they can do is by getting inside your head. Don’t let that happen.”
“And what if I can’t not let that happen.”
“That way lies only madness. If you give them power over you, they can cause you to hurt yourself, jump out of a window or slash your wrists. That is why you must stay in control.”
“What if I don’t have a choice?” Dave was not so frightened as he was concerned to take every precaution.
“You always have a choice. Remember that. Now snap out of it. We’re in a church, it’s not going to be one of those encounters. We’re talking about a priest, for heaven’s sake.”
Priest or not, Dave felt very uncomfortable. A church in disrepair where one can see one’s breath is a disturbing place to be. One would think God would take some care to its upkeep.
The sun shone through the east windows, giving a glow to the colors and images of the stained glass.

Some saint that he might have recognized had he paid more attention in catechism was pictured in that imprecise and awkward manner that older church art used. The light that filtered through tended to highlight the darkness and shadows it did not touch, leaving the better part of the church shrouded in mystery. The place felt deserted of whatever made it a place for worship:

whatever frail and ineffectual spirits may have filled this place in the past, it was now abandoned and left to other forces. But something still remained of it former spirit: while seemingly none of the windows in the old school had been spared, the windows here were all intact. Whatever damage done to the church had been done by time and weather rather than vandals.

What kept the church from the abuse the school experienced, Dave did not know. Perhaps it was the attitude people had towards churches, perhaps it was some spiritual force or something in the very makeup of the church that protected it, Dave was unsure. And when he thought about it, he was not really interested in knowing. Some things should remain mysteries. Some things are beyond what a human needs to know, should know. He found himself retreating somewhat from the boldness he had felt of late, found himself welcoming somewhat the walls and ruts that had sheltered him the better part of his life. Perhaps it was just being in a church for the first time in a while that brought back memories and attitudes from his childhood, when respect for the world that adults had created was still strong in him. Perhaps it was some remnant of faith that still belonged to him that spoke of trust rather than evidence. But perhaps such a faith was something that locked people into little boxes, kept them praying to little gods. And perhaps faith after all was not clinging to a belief in small things but a conviction that an honest search for truths would not go unanswered.
He looked around towards Johnny and found him kneeling in a pew, his tattooed head bent in reverent prayer.

Dave found himself envying him for having found answers that satisfied him. But he remembered that those who seemed to have found such answers had usually found them through great loss and sacrifice. Dave wasn’t sure if he was willing to go through such ordeals, wasn’t sure if he could survive them. Answers seemed to be provided only after an agonizing process that tested nothing but a person’s ability to endure. Life’s rewards were given only after seemingly endless suffering that changed a person, altered their very essence until they became something quite different than what they would have intended. Dave wanted to forge his own way in life, wanted to become what he wanted to become, not be shaped by an invisible hand. Perhaps in the end it all came down to the same thing. Perhaps our will and desire to be who we are meant to be permits us to endure trials we never would otherwise. It seemed that only in a church could he come to such unsatisfying answers, as though he were trying to fit together two ideas that did not mesh.
Not knowing what to do while his friend prayed, he kneeled in a pew behind Johnnyn and searched his mind for some sort of prayer. Fragments of long unused prayers floated in his mind like flotsam in dirty water. They were individual items, artifacts without purpose. Dave’s yearnings for a higher power had always left him feeling incredibly alone, like an unwanted child. In such times, a feeling of unworthiness crept over him as though it were the only response that might gain approval. He felt himself again willing to abandon any essential part of him for some recognition from God, but he was unsure how to let go.
“So you’re a praying man, too, eh?” said Johnny, done with whatever communion he had been involved in.
“What? Oh, I don’t know. I’m not even sure I know how to pray anymore. When I was a kid, I could say the prayers I was taught, but they never really meant anything to me. Now, I can still recite the words, but it seems that it’s not me that’s saying them, just some pre-recorded message that comes out of some part of myself, some thoughtless action performed by a lower brain function.”
“Aw, you’re just in between places right now. You’re not a spiritual child anymore, but you’re not quite a grownup yet. Sometimes you just have to hold on even when you don’t believe in what you’re holding on to anymore. Sometimes you have to hold on to empty and distant memories, even if it feels like there isn’t any ‘you’ left. I think that’s what faith is all about, doing what you need to do even when the feeling isn’t there anymore.”
“Is that really faith?”
“Well, faith is jumping off a cliff, knowing you’re going to have to fly. Once you’re falling from a cliff, flapping your arms like a madman isn’t really faith, I suppose, it’s just the logical consequence of faith. It’s where the devil waits to tempt us, it’s the forty days and nights spent in the desert. It’s that experience we all must have in our time on earth of what life would be without God. We all have to be tested.”
“Why?” Dave wanted to ask, but remained silent. He didn’t want to sully the greater faith of another with the constant doubting of his own. Part of him was afraid of doing so, afraid to find out that his doubt would prove the stronger. But there was something in The Bible about not putting God to the test. He would have to live with a certain amount of unanswered questions, that was part of faith.
“C’mon, Dave,” said Johnny. “There’s nothing unusual about this church, at any rate. Let’s wander the grounds a little and see what we can find.”
They walked outside the church, making footprints on the light layer of snow that covered the grounds. Moisture was visible in Johnny’s breath, and a hint of steam rose from his bald head. Behind the church was the grouping of white gravestones, uniform and identical.

And yet they seemed to sit like buoys on the ocean, as if they were rising and lowering as the ground seemed to ripple ever so slightly. It must have been some optical illusion caused by the slight snowfall, the breeze, or some unknown source of heat that excited the air molecules. Perhaps it was the cold that caused his eyes to blur up with tears, but as he walked through the path that led down the center of the tombstones, the ground seemed rather unsteady beneath him.
Beyond the rows of gravestones sat a smaller building, hardly larger than a tool shed. Johnny seemed to know where he was going, and Dave had little choice but to follow.

 “This is where Father Oxner was buried,” said Johnny. He opened up the door, waited for Dave to enter. His eyes adjusting to the inner darkness again, Dave found himself within a small chapel with enough pews to seat perhaps a dozen people.
“I thought this was Oxner’s mausoleum,” said Dave.
“I said this is where he is buried,” said Johnny.
“There, under the alter,” said Johnny, using a quiet, reverential tone.
“Why there? Why not a grave next to all the others?”
“Anton Oxner was an important man. He was trained in medicine, but they say his abilities in healing went far beyond anything medicine could perform. His reputation spread far and people were known to visit here from as far away as North Carolina and New York. It was an ability that soon spread to the other brothers here, to a lesser extent. So respected were their healing abilities that the town did not even have a doctor of hospital until after their passing.”
Dave scanned the little chapel, waiting for Johnny to receive whatever information he was searching for.

“There’s nothing here,” said Johnny. “Nothing I can pick up on anyway. You?”
“Me? No, I don’t feel anything.”
“We’ll check out the dormitories, then,” said Johnny, a hint of disappointment in his bearing. “They were built long after Oxner and The Association had all died off. Still, there have been enough reports of ghosts to make it worth a look. Of course the stories could be nothing but bunk. Give somebody a good story, and it’s only natural to add a ghost to it. Then again, if there is some kind of ghostly presence, maybe it results from something that happened after the passing of The Association.”
Again, disappointment seemed to arise in Johnny. As they made their way towards the Dorms, Dave asked, “This isn’t just a visit for curiosity’s sake, is it? What are you looking for?”
“I’m looking for healing. I’m looking for a miracle. Maybe it’s too much to ask, but if miracles do happen, I’m open to one.”
“What’s the matter, John? Asked Dave, quite concerned.
“With me? Nothing’s the matter with me.”
“Then who?”
“And who’s that?”
“She’s the one who did the imagery on me,” Johnny said, looking at Dave as if he were not used to talking about the subject. For a moment, Dave could catch a glimpse of the man behind the tattoos.
“She’s still alive? I’m sorry, I just got the impression—“
That she was no longer with us? You’re not far from the truth. She has advanced ALS, Lou Gerhig’s disease as you Yanks know it. I used to make fun of her when the symptoms started, called her clumsy when she tripped over her own feet. And then she was diagnosed with ALS, and I couldn’t forgive myself for teasing her. But she just kept on smiling, as though it wasn’t going to slow her down. At first I thought she was just in denial about her illness, about how deadly it was. I didn’t find out until later that the smile was one of her symptoms. Uncontrollable smiling. Not the sort of thing you’d think would be associated with an incurably fatal disease.”
Johnny said no more, and Dave would not allow himself to ask any more questions. But this revelation suddenly changed the situation. He had been depending on Johnny’s experience in such matters, but now he wondered if Johnny was emotionally compromised. But there was little time for him to dwell on the matter: they soon arrived at the dormitory. Again, the building appeared structurally sound but was missing many of its windows. A No Trespassing sign was posted prominently on the door of the building, but it did not seem that it was going to effect Johnny.
“Is this a good idea?” asked Dave.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” asked Johnny, opening the door. There were too many doors and too many windows for whomever owned the place to attempt to keep people out with anything other than threats. They entered the darkness, Johnny pulling a flashlight from within his jacket.