Jonathan knew the words that would come from the tall pale man who walked with what he thought, was too much caution.
A wisp of smoke meandered until a tendril irritated an eye and Jonathan waved an open hand through the haze with a guarded sigh and stood, leaving the tepid vinyl couch to some other as he made his way to meet this man, halfway.
He prepared, expecting the worst. He didn't want to listen to this stranger. His words would bring nothing.
Watching the man approach with surgical mask pulled down around his neck, Jonathan suddenly recognized the words clearly standing out over the face of the Surgeon, well before they would be spoken.
Not those, anything, say anything, but not this. Please God; please don't let him say those words.
Not those that he knew would cut deep into his heart; tearing, mutilating, slicing away like a wayward scalpel to remove the only decent part of his life.
Jonathan worked to steady his thoughts and tried to listen when reality began to strip away layers of his soul. His mind was numb as he watched the Doctor's thick lips move to throw words into the grotesque silence and Jonathan's soul tumbled with the voice into dark and unequivocal depths while his heart pushed his blood to pound through his veins, raising them as evident, hardened structures over his body.
Why have you cursed me? Why have you taken the only thing I have left?
Jonathan was unaware of the hand cupping his elbow as he stepped back, knee's weak, legs wobbling. Another step, a loss of breath, and his mind felt lighter, detached from his surroundings. His spine moved up against a pale creamed wall, then scraping the wall as he collapsed.
I can't believe this is happening.
The pain came, different, physical. Not large and consuming, but small and sharp. A searing, blazing sterile pin pricking his temple. A split instant before its stab, Jonathan thought he heard laughter. Grimacing, raising both palms, he pressed his hands hard against his temples and pressed his eyes shut, fighting to deny what he had heard, to turn the tide of his pain. In a strange, transient thought, Jonathan was thankful for the pain that displaced the words he did not want in his mind nor the knife in his heart.
Sooo much pain.
Jonathan paid no attention to a charcoal burned filter mutely held between two fingers. Dying embers blistered flesh in pale comparison to his anguish and suffering.
Here among these sterilized, hallowed halls, somewhere between the pain of his misbegotten heart and the searing of his mind, Jonathan understood that God had decreed nothing more, nothing less than a useless, agonizing existence.
"Every single fucking day." Jonathan hid his words in a sob that rhymed with a heaving chest.
What sin have I committed to be punished for?
Control, that single thing of value in every waking moment was seeping away. Each loud thump of his heart pumped out waves of pain and suffering. Yet there existed among his torture, a strange and resilient silence.
An irony that spoke of this place where humanity comes to die, that those who leave, do so with quiet solitude. Perhaps with only a rasp gurgle or phlegm filled cough to mark their passing as they leave behind an isolated footprint, an impression of a life to be judged, a silent footstep from one world to another.
Ironic, that here in this place, suffering is evidenced by those who are left behind. It is their cries who overwhelm the sounds which echo down the length of quiet halls from isolated little cubicles filled to capacity with human suffering.
Jonathan's lightness of thought started to cloud over, sending him into the only relief possible. That river of dark swirling water finally began to encroach and he offered no resistance. That water held currents that carried away one's strength to live and its banks were insurmountable, and it had found a path to follow.
Jonathan's last thoughts were of his son, of how he had been taken, severed from his life without mercy, without preparation.
And the dark waters became deeper, darker, stronger and engulfing.
Acutely beautiful, the morning was graced with sweet, moist grass washed in a bright sun. Beautiful Spring-Summer, that twilight just before one season wanes and the other crests, when trees shed sleep and Geese bellow home their arrival. Such days are meant for humanity to awake refreshed, absolved of yesterday's guilt. The days are a gift of renewal, a death of the old, and a chance for amends.
Jonathan carried all his yesterdays as a stone filled sack slung from his shoulders, forward. Today would be no different. When he opened a blurred eye, grunting in disgust at the brightness, he lazily flopped a forearm over his eyes and rolled his tongue around to moisten his mouth that was layered with a thick brush of cotton. Exhaling a slow controlled breath, the stench moved his thoughts to distant, blurred memories of the night before.
Jonathan lifted his arm just enough to filter the light in and immediately closed his eyes. There was an inherent effort to penetrate the shroud, which dimmed last night's events, but he realized any attempt to do so was useless and shoved the instinct aside, accepting he would never remember.
That was what he wanted, to forget.
Working both eyes open and listlessly adjusting to the sun's onslaught, he stirred by lifting his head up off the bed.
A throbbing started to radiate up from the nape of his neck, a familiar rhythm of ebbs and tides that had played out over the past weeks. The pain existed, but no longer with enough strength to prevent him from setting on the edge of the bed, enough though, that he still needed to support his head in his hands.
He needed and fought disparately to control the nausea that swelled. The acidic taste which boiled in the nauseate ocean was crawling up along the back of his throat. Jonathan tried to push it down with his thoughts and then physically fought the sourness by tightening throat and stomach muscles.
A palm slid off his face and he cupped it over his mouth. A chill rippled through him, catching him off guard. With a quick shudder, a rash flooded out over a field of standing hair along the length of his arms. Stomach muscles twisted like a rag being rung and his thought to run and find a sink, a toilet, anything, was useless.
His body convulsed, lurching him off the bed. Neck muscles tightened as his bare knees and one elbow turned red from the pressure of meeting stiff dirty carpet. Heaving, his stomach found nothing for its muscles to grab hold of and send along their way except only a spittleâ€s worth of yellow pale liquid.
Rolling over onto his back, Jonathan brushed his head against the chipped corner of a badly painted chest of drawers. He needed to stretch out his feet, but couldn't. Instead, he lay with his knees raised, his feet slid just under the bed, his hands limp over his chest where they followed the deep rise and heft of his lungs.
Again, this time with intent, Jonathan worked out a sigh. This time of relief as his tainted breath whistled out through parched and dry lips.
Water! He needed a drink, something cold and smooth. Raising his head slightly, he wondered where his clothes were.
"You o.k?" was unexpected as the rasp voice drifted down from above on the bed, a voice that carried its own weight of burden and harshness of life.
Offset in its frame, with paint scales falling freely from rotting wood, the cheap lightweight screen door was slammed back against its stops by an effective and taunt spring with a loud 'thwack'. The clear sharp noise crawled swiftly up Jonathan's back and he instinctively tightened his shoulder blades before relaxing them by the time he had moved off the front stoop.
The smells of the morning; dew heavy in air, cut grass, rich aromas of scented freshness were all hidden behind a stench of whiskey, where underneath Jonathan could taste the odor of stale beer licking at the back of his tongue.
He had no memory of eating last night, but he must have tried too. Over the heavy denim shirt, which clung to loosely, bowed shoulders, a large stain was growing putrid and Jonathan realized why there had been nothing left in his stomach.
He moved silently along a sidewalk where grass and weed sprouted between each joint in tight little clumps. Light-brown hills of dirt were scattered along the walk, making for a game as he swiped a tennis shoe over one, leveling the mound and spraying the walk in a sprinkling of sand, than watching as the ants went scurrying.
Time crept into his thoughts and he unconsciously bought up his wrist to glance at a bare arm. He remembered faintly, that it was either yesterday or the day before when he had sold his wedding present for twenty bucks. A hundred thirty dollar Seiko had paid for what was left of some misbegotten evening.
Another step, more ants sent running, another thought. This time unwanted. He pushed the intrusion aside to find it had a life of its own. So he lived with the thought, wondering why even in the throes of pleasure, he still felt pain. Why was it that as long slender fingers were being ran through his dark hair to stop and play, curling a strand around a finger, she could not run a strand of empathy through his soul? How did his being evade capture so easily? Why could no one understand? Where were all those who said they cared? Was there no truth even in pleasure?
Questions! Jonathan spat them out, away, paying little attention and started to grow irritated when they remained, refusing to go back into the dark place where they belonged.
Behind him in his wake lived a ramshackle house with a woman he cared to never know. All he carried with him was an agony that he had awakened with, that which he had had the previous morning and all the mornings before that. A pain that cried out, telling no one but his own soul, that he alone suffered. That others merely grieved then went along their path, while he remained behind.
Pockmarked and washed with exposed aggregate, Jonathan meandered past cut lawns, fenced yards and sloping driveways. Burdened with a belly full of self indulged pity, he paid no attention to the lives he traveled by.
Deep, reaching up from hidden depths, the single thought lashed out into his soul; twisting, gnarling and molding his thoughts to a desired end. Jonathan fought its intrusion, and was desperately trying to shove the truth back into the depths, but it would not stay.
Prodding and threading, the idea worked completely free of the darkness to reside in the light of consciousness, settling in a gray area where it floated freely and would not leave, forging a path into Jonathan’s thought.
Jonathan was unprepared and placed an open palm over his heart to listen; to assure himself. A thin film of moisture creased his upper brow just under his hairline and he rubbed it dry with the back of his hand. The thought stopped him, and for the first time a glimmer of what he had done, was evident.
Bringing no peace of mind nor calm of emotion, the realization bought agony, cruel and justified. The truth was searing as it cut what was left of Jonathan’s heart, forcing him to his knees.
The abrasive aggregate caught his denim pants, ripping them to expose the skin of his right knee that tore open in a long gash as scrapped the concrete. Jonathan cared less as the blood flowed out to wind itself through a crack in the walk.
Both hands dangled, useless at his side as he thrust his face skyward and cried out.
"What have I done...." was a whispered echo of his anguish and Jonathan drove a sobbing face into his palms.
He knew at least one truth now. And he bore that truth with great passion. Of all things, he had not mourned for his child, but for himself. His cries had not been, 'Why my son?' but only shallow repetitions of 'Why me?... Why have I been chosen to suffer like this?'.
Sitting in Hell upon his throne, Satan smiled in the comfort of darkness as his whisper tightened, finalizing his prey.
Satan knew truth served many purposes, including that of serving pain to blind one to other, much more subtle, yet just as important truths. Truth was a double edged blade, Satan held close to the human's throat.
Jonathan’s realization spiraled into hate. He had never been one to hate nor anger carelessly and freely, without provocation. This hate though, was different. He could feel it, cold and isolated, growing, and knew he couldn't stop it.
Old, petrified, capable of remaining silent over eons of generations until braking free with a singular purpose, to consume. It was a hate of what he had done, of the truth and it drove him further into the grasp of the demon.
Hate born as a consuming fire to burn whole forests where souls dwell among evergreens, obliterating everything except that one thing which cares for nothing else.
Fear of life, fear of self and all things attached to his miserable existence and then in turn, feeding hate. Companions to fill a void great as any depth.
The understanding of who he was echoed from the dark place in his conscience. Jonathan searched for balance and strength, for some justification for his actions and found nothing. Instead, he grasped for an elusive deep breath to calm his thoughts and strapped his burden to his soul. Taking a small step without an intended direction, he apishly traveled along heaving and heavily worn pavement without a rhythm common to most people's gait.
Cars slowed, their owners and occupants purposely taking the time from their morning rush to stare at a dispossessed drunkard. And the sun worked to climb higher upon Jonathanâ€s back.
Working itself into the material, the warmth of the sun carried a sense of comfort. A sense of a chance to relax and Jonathan rotated his shoulders, trying to exorcise the ache and stiffness which were home in his muscles. It was a vague attempt to think of other things, to occupy his desperation with the inane.
The stonework rose above sun lit tree tops catching his attention, pushing other thoughts aside. Drawing closer, watching the steeple thrust skyward, another thought began to form and play itself out. A meandering little thought which somehow managed to work its way among the current of emotions which were flooding over him as he lifted a heavy head upward with a tilt of his chin.
He heard only his breath in the silence of the morning as that thought started to grow and take control. Purpose was born of need and want, a question to be spewed from chapped lips and cotton washed tongue.
Where better then to ask "Why?". Where other place to go to call God down from the Heavens? So that his soul too, could be cursed.
Jonathan hesitated, almost fearing to step upon the property as if to do so would insure the remainder of his life would be one of sorrow. Fighting that thought with the assumption it could be no worse, that no one thing could drive his being to the depths he now inhabited, he stepped into a sea of uncomfortable grass. Leaving the walk behind, Jonathan studied the stone and concrete while making his way toward where she rose upwards from the center square of a large park that was ringed by a stand of oaks, elms and spruces.
Hewed by hand and laid with mortar mixed with mortal sweat, the church was old. Ivy crept up her sides as she arched and swept above her neighborhood, watching over those consigned to her care. Her steeple, a crossed needle, glinted in the sunlight; a signature of her caretaker who supported the foundation upon which she was built.
Her stonework, formed of vaults and arches along with dozens of long narrow windows were defined by stained leaded glass, speaking of age and grace, of a time when God was innocent.
Her entry was raised, set intentionally up so that those who desired her comfort must first work the twelve stone steps. Not ordinary steps leading to everyday places but steps which spanned twenty feet in length and a full two feet of tread, marking the height of rise, negligible. Upon completion of the twelve steps, a vast desert of concrete waited. A place for those to congregate before and after their business here.
Then finally the doors.
Entry into the womb of God was defined by double sets of large, foreboding dark doors. Each with raised heavy stiles and rails offset by golden brass kick plates and hardware.
Undeniable, Jonathan felt the impression of strength and justified its meaning as just that, an impression. Pulling upon a single door, there was a hint of surprise at how easily the large wooded door swung out.
A single quick throb of a temple was his notice that his heart had started to beat quicker when he walked through to stand in a filtered patch of sunlight. Noticing two large archways opposite the spacious entry, Jonathan worked a temple, massaging skin with fore and middle finger as he stopped under an arch to look out over a sea of pews arranged in angled rows about the Nave.
Muscles tightened. Individual vessels constricted, forcing his blood to flow quicker through veins which started to stand out in brilliant purple trails about his forehead. Lifting his head, gulping for a breath, Jonathan felt a quiet strangeness bought on by the particles of dust that were illuminated in daggered shafts of sunlight which flowed down from the high arched windows.
Jonathan stifled his search for a breath and moved along a aisle bordered by pews. A waft of his rank breath caught him off guard. Enough so, that he momentarily turned his head to one side. Bringing his sight back straight down the aisle, he stared at the carved figure of Christ that hung in perpetual crucifixion against a multicolored Reredos that ran from ceiling to floor.
He was bothered that it looked so...perfect. A twinge of disgust lingered. What right was there for perfection when it was allowed to only those who kneeled in worship to this God? To this hacked idol suspended in mid air, born upon the suffering of those like himself?
Breaching the Chancel, one step, two, then skipping the third marble tread, Jonathanâ€s breathing fell labored and his blood simmered where he stood staring past the candelabrums. He cursed, and it's foul echo flailed uselessly among the high nooks and crannies, fading in the whoosh and drone of ceiling fans.
Clarity was beginning to dissolve as his body ached and his blood thundered through his veins. For a moment, he tried to fight the weakness and then lost strength to do so as his will dissolved.
The steps he took toward the suspended figure were unremembered, remnants to be consigned to a dream yet to come. Reaching out above his head to touch a polished sole, he brushed his fingertips over the wood's length. Doing so bought no comfort, no soothing of his soul. Only his anger tightened like a noose of fine wire about his mind. Vaguely, Jonathan was aware his hand started to tremble.
Jonathan again resisted the turmoil, the anger and the weakness, which was continually growing. He grabbed the foot for support as his legs wavered, and couldn't hold on as his hand slid off and he wavered, then crumpled to his knees, chest still heaving and stomach cramping.
With what passion he had left, Jonathan formed a fist and raised the clenched hand up over his head and then feebly bought it down to slap against the stone floor. It was an attempt to divert his emotional pain along another course. Once more, Jonathan struck out against the floor, this time harder.
A long drawn out moan of obscenities accompanied the next blow of his fist, filling the church in muffled sounds as the bone in Jonathanâ€s small finger broke. The pain of broken bone was a mite compared to the pain of his soul and once more, his hand impacted the floor, sending the bone protruding just above a creased knuckle.
Jonathan lifted his sodden and heavy head up of the floor and wildly stared at the figure of crucified Christ.
He's laughing at me.
Jonathan stared silently, unsure where the thought had came from.
Then slammed his forehead against the Alter floor.
He remained conscience, just enough that he felt his face lose the sense of touch and just enough that he understood the blood which pooled outside his nostrils, was his own.
A disassociated heart beat unevenly, yet forcefully, bursting more vessels as Jonathanâ€s sight dimmed to a speckling of dark spackled dots.
Of all the wonders as he started his decent, his pain remained unequaled.
You can set from any given vantage point to watch day slowly dwindle into night. It is not a quick, consuming process in the scheme of things, happening slow enough to give time to those who need, or want to enjoy the sight.
Not all things are slow in coming about.
Jonathan fluttered his eyes. A comforting breeze washed over his body and the realization he was naked caused immediate confusion.
Jonathan sat up folding his arms against his chest, looking for a sign of his clothes, then for an indication of where he was. A telltale mark of how he came to be in this place. None existed.
His nakedness was embarrassing and he pulled both knees up under his chin and tightened his arms against his chest.
"How in the hell did I get here?" Jonathanâ€s words were smooth, a stream of smoke trailing a decent wind.
Gathering a sense of order, a sense of priorities, understanding he was lost and naked, Jonathan continued his search for a bearing, anything that would give a sense of direction or hint at a course of travel.
Across the meadow, perhaps a mile off, a forest with evident greens and browns bordered the field on all sides. Jonathan started to stand, hoping to find a road, a path; thinking there must be at least trampled path to call out he had came a certain way.
There was none.
Another breeze played with his long black hair, affirming his nakedness. More than being lost, his loss of clothing stayed with him, eating his sensibilities, then depositing them as shame. Jonathan wanted to set his embarrassment aside, and tried to concentrate on finding a way out of the field.
Shielding his eyes with an open palm, Jonathan looked to the sun to find it near overhead. "Shi..."
Shuffling his feet, minutely conscience of the coolness of grass against bare skin, another breeze brushed up against him and he froze for a second before jerking his head around to look behind him.
He had thought he heard his name, faint, and hidden in the wind.
A shake of the head told the truth. There was nobody. Bringing his shoulders in line with the rest of his body, he caught a small structure off to his right. Focusing his attention, there was a question of how he had missed the rocks, but dismissed the concern as he started to walk in their direction.
He took a step and bore down on a sharp edged rock. Another curse, and he took his next step with caution. After a dozen steps, another pause, this time as the breeze 'whooshed', as if trying purposefully to hide the sound of rippling water.
Jonathan was sure he heard water lapping against rock. If the stones marked a pool, he guessed there should be a trail, at least a worn path of sorts, to follow.
Reaching the near edge of the rocks, Jonathan searched the circumference, hesitated, and spat out a disgustive "damn" before walking the perimeter, coursing his eyes over the grass, looking for signs of travel.
Half the distance round, he paused again, and stared toward the sky while folding his arms over his chest in a display of loss.
Toward the tree line, a low lying cloud was creeping in, shrouding treetops in a fine mist.
"Great...," was a simple utterance in reference to the gray underbelly of the light cloud, Now it's going to rain.
Jonathan turned his attention to the pool, noticing the water rippling at the inner sides of the stones that were darker then their opposite sides which lie in the grass.
The water's clarity held his thoughts, and he started to believe that all this was nothing more than a dream. Vivid, full of cool breezes, green grass, spring fresh and soft; but all still a dream.
Squinting, trying to see as far into the depths as he could, he thought the water might continue forever, and then questioned when he noticed there were no sides.
Just free flowing water, as if somebody had came along and delicately laid down a carpet of grass with this hole cut in it, to allow the smell and sight of clear water underneath.
A small pebble disrupted the water's surface, its repeated concentric waves breaking Jonathanâ€s mesmerization.
Lifting his attention to the direction where he had guessed the pebble had been thrown, Jonathan instinctively moved both hands to cover his nakedness.
The man stood there with brown hair falling down upon a buttoned white shirt which was tucked into a pair of old faded jeans.
Struggling to explain his presence, a dozen different excuses lighted and Jonathan couldn't settle on one, and instead desperately hoped the man would say something which he could at least try to answer with a shred of intelligence.
Did he smile? Jonathan thought the man had, and was about to ask what he thought to be amusing.
"There's a tendency for most to be upset when rocks," the man was saying as he bent down on a knee, "start to rain down upon our heads..." as he tossed another pebble into the pond.
Jonathan watched the stone disappear into the water, wondering how far it needed to drop before settling.
"So!" the stranger was brushing off a grass stain, "What are you thinking about...?" he finished and looked to Jonathan as the last syllable fell quietly out of his mouth.
"Thinking...?" Jonathan raised an eyebrow to the absurdity of the question.
"Uh huh" accompanied a slight nod.
Jonathan stopped to think, feeling a sudden heaviness in both legs, like a dream that was symbolic of one's inability to move ahead or to let go.
"Aren't you more interested in why I'm standing here butt naked in the middle of your field?"
"No, your nakedness is the last of your concerns, all I want to know right now is what your thinking." came softly from the man as Jonathan watched him start to walk around the stones. Jonathan remained still, frustration mounting as the atmosphere turned to take on the air of a surreal dream.
"What the hell-" Jonathan said, having to stop mid-sentence, unsure if the words which came out were his own. They seemed to be hollow, an echo in his mind.
"Do you think this place is real, John? Touch me." Jonathan lifted his attention from his own distant thoughts to see the man standing taller than him. "Touch me and tell me if I'm real." was a demand spoken not in harshness, but with an abrupt calmness, followed by a silence which spoke of authority.
A hand grasped his, bringing warmth to his mind, order to a slipping reality as he heard, "You feel me. Now know that I am as real as any who come under cover of darkness...As real and full of life as the grass which sooths bare and naked souls, human. Remember and never forget for the long dark night is upon us all."
Disorder and confusion returned with the slipping freedom of the man's grasp as a overbearing light exploded from somewhere far up and behind the man to fill the blue sky. Needing to shut out the assault, Jonathan swept the back of his hand over his eyes and stumbled, losing his balance.
" There lies ahead a long and dangerous path," Jonathan fought against the heaviness of his soul while trying to pinpoint where the words were coming from, "and for much of the distance we will be of little help."
The words were blown over his senses in the heat of the light which washed over his face; a blind man drowning in an ocean he could not see.
And then the words were gone with the light.
His own breath echoed heavily in his mind as he finally realized he had sunk to his knees beside the pond. Another breeze slapped him as he cupped a palm and dipped into the water to splash his face.
It fell from the sky with an intended mark, sharply until splattering along the nape of Jonathanâ€s neck.
Feeling the single raindrop, Jonathan was overwhelmed with a driving coldness and moved to wipe the wetness off the back of his neck. With his hand still to his nape, he peered skyward, to the cloud which had let loose the rain.
Jonathan was awestruck by the total darkness which lived in the cloud and there was a quick inherent feeling to seek shelter as a thin reed of lightening worked itself through the dark underbelly.
Attempting to stand, his knees wobbled and he reached out to thin air for support, then noticed the bright red splotch which was spread over his hand.
The question was a beginning of disjointed thought as an abrupt string of pain shot through the fingers in his one hand. So much so, the coming storm was forgotten as the discomfort forced him to curl his hand as an arthritic, holding it in the cup of his good hand.
Jonathan groaned, and forced himself to look at his hand.
A bone protruded up above a knuckle and he questioned his reality. There was a memory here, but it was faint, overwhelmed by the agony of his hand and he started to sob in the loss of things he thought he once could touch and smell.
A low and heavy rumbling sounded through the cloud when another line of pain started to twist and tighten. This time just above the bridge of his nose.
Another bright red drop fell, hitting him coldly on the cheek, and then another as the wind picked up, driving cold despair deep into the soul of a man whose journey to save far more then his own soul, was only beginning.
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