This Present Darkness: Chapter 7

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I am really hoping we get to this ominous Friday night meeting soon. I am hoping the details of the adultery case will be explained more fully so I can decide how much of a jerk Hank is being. (Spoiler: I suspect Hank is being an incredible jerk)

Well. Gdi. It’s only Tuesday morning. That makes Friday night a really long way away. Is it just me or is time moving extremely slowly in these books? Sigh. So the sun is shining and Mary is “beating the daylights out of some bread dough.” As a good woman does. I mean, you know, whatever. I have no problem with women making bread. More power to all the women who make bread. Just in the context of the rest of how women have been portrayed thus far, I feel safe in saying it represents something.

While Mary is taking out her unexplored sexual frustrations (I’m just assuming) on the poor bread dough, Hank finds the number of the former pastor in the church records. Pastor James Farrel. He’s never met him and he only knows the “tasteless and malicious gossip” about him since he left. Is it going to be that he molested a kid? Oh please tell me that it’s going to be that he molested a kid. We all know at this point that pastors (or people) molesting kids are just the devil maligning the names of good men.

He calls and a “tired older man’s voice answered.”

“This is Hank Busche, pastor of the -” he heard Farrel give a drawn-out, knowledgeable sigh, “- Ashton Community Church. I guess you must know who I am.” 

“Yes, Pastor Busche. So how are you?”

How do I answer that, Hank wondered. “Uhh… okay in some respects.” 

“And not okay in other respects,” Farrel offered, completing Hank’s thought.

“Boy, you’ve really been keeping up on things.”

What? What? Was that sarcasm? I don’t understand. If you ask me how I’m doing and I say I am okay in some respects, isn’t it implied that the opposite is true in other respects? I would not assume you’ve been keeping up on news of my life and surroundings? What is he even talking about?

Pastor Farrel says he has not been “actively” keeping up but that he hears from former members from time to time. Also he’s glad he called and how can he help him? Hank says maybe he could just talk to him because he was attacked by a swarm of demons and he’s freaking out a little bit. Okay, he doesn’t say the last part.

Farrel says he hears there’s a congregational meeting on Friday (which makes it seem like he’s paying PRETTY active attention, tbh) and that it’s a vote of confidence (is this a thing churches do? I suppose it depends on the church, they all have their own politics but that just sounds crazy to me) and tells Hank that literally the identical thing happened to him and Brummel, Turner, Mayer, and Stanley (names we mostly don’t know!) were in charge of that too. Hank acts completely shocked by this information, which is kind-of weird because I feel like it is…. obvious? I feel like Brummel has practically told him this. Maybe Hank is not so smart. Or maybe that demon concussed him.

Then he asks if Hank really put Lou Stanley out of the congregation, so I guess Stanley = infamous Lou and I wish these guys would refer to each other by EITHER first or last names, dammit. The pastor asks him how he’s doing and he hesitates and is like… look, I don’t know how to not sound completely insane here but I think maybe Satan is attacking me in a very personal and direct way. Farrel demands to know what he means and Hank apparently cautiously explains what happened.

Then Farrel goes in what seems to me like a weird direction for a pastor, but I guess maybe the point is that they broke him. He asks Hank if he’s sure he belongs there, tells him that he was made pastor completely by accident, that they had a new guy all lined up and it is a total mystery how Hank ever got the job because obviously it was supposed to be this other guy. And he tells him that no matter how the vote comes out, he should start looking for a new position and Hank deflates like a sad balloon.

This is weird to me though because like…. I mean, in this universe, you’ve just been attacked by Satan, you became a pastor at this church and no one seems to understand how, like it is literally impossible that it happened. Surely the only reasonable explanation for that (in this weird not reality) should be God? Right? I mean… right? Anyway. I can’t decide what Farrel’s deal is because I feel like it’s not made clear. It seems obvious he was attacked too, he says it’s “difficult for him to talk about” but says he went through similar things that were “only the beginning.” He says to let them have the church and the town. So maybe he does think God called Hank there and is just saying fuck it, it’s not worth it? Which is like semi-decent advice to me because god is the worst ally but whatever…. Oh, also he tells him that he’ll be shocked if he comes out of this alive.

Look. I don’t think Satan is running around killing pastors in small midwestern towns. Like I feel like that is just not happening. I am not buying. It doesn’t make any sense. It makes at least slightly more sense that he would like disgrace them and toss them out, I guess. That’s a better tactic (although frankly I don’t think they need much help with the disgracing). How does killing them help you? If there’s one thing Satan should know the value of by now, it’s a martyr.

However, Hank also knows the value of a martyr because he is an insufferable 26-year-old who is certain he knows what he’s doing.

Hank had no other answer he could give. “Jim…. I’ll let you know how it turns out. Maybe I’ll win, maybe I won’t come out alive (in which case I do not think you’ll be letting him know how it turns out). But God didn’t tell me I’d come out alive; He just told me to stay and fight. You’ve made one thing clear to me: Satan does want this town. I can’t let him have it.” 

I imagine that we’re supposed to be hearing like inspiring music or something there. Hank replaces the receiver and wants to cry. Hehehe. Receivers. He prays and asks god what to do and stunningly god does not give an immediate answer. He can’t talk to Mary right now because he has too many thoughts and feelings and wives aren’t for that crap.

Then a verse came to his mind: “Arise, and walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee.”

So on go the sneakers and he starts walking. He doesn’t know it but Triskal and Krioni (ugh, these names) are totally hanging out waiting for him. “Hank was not a man of great stature anyway, but between these two giants he looked even smaller. He did, however, appear very, very safe.” Did he? One on each side? Sounds like a prisoner to me. Maybe I’m just being unfair.

They chat with each other about what he’s doing. Apparently Krioni is his own personal angel because he “knows him pretty well by now” and says probably even Hank doesn’t know what he’s doing (yeah, I bet that happens a lot) and that the “Spirit is driving him. He’s giving action to the burden in his heart.” Can you imagine talking to angels? They just seem like the worst. Hank wanders around. Looks at all the bikes and cars and joggers and stuff. He can’t see any demons and blinks to himself about the disparity.

Yes, this was the town he prayed for night and day with deep groanings of the heart because of a burden he couldn’t explain, and now it was taxing his patience, unsettling him.

“Well, are you in trouble or aren’t you, or don’t you even care?” he said aloud.

Nobody listened. No deep, sinister voices answered back with a threat.

But the Spirit of the Lord inside him wouldn’t leave him alone. Pray Hank. Pray for these people. Don’t let them escape your heart. The pain is there, the fear is there, the danger is there.

So help me. I am also experiencing deep groanings of the heart. Also, Hank, do you realize you look like a crazy man on a street corner talking to nothing? Because of how you are?

Whatever. He gets annoyed at demons, doubts demons, talks to demons. Spends some time telling God he’d really like to know that they’d win and that what he’s doing will make a difference this time. Tells Satan to fuck off, that he’s going to be a “thorn in his side till one of us has had enough.”

Then he looks over at the Ashton United Christian Church. “Hank had known some terrific Christians who belonged to that denomination, but this particular bunch in Ashton were different, liberal, even bizarre.” I love how those words together are enough to point out they’re from Satan. Like just throw liberal into the mix and you know something is not right. The antennae go up. Also he’s never been able to get close to Pastor Young. Probably because of how Young is sacrificing virgins behind closed doors or whatever. As he’s watching the church he sees a Buick pull into the parking lot. And although he doesn’t know it, his angels can see that it has two special passengers riding on top “the Arabian and the African, Nathan and Armoth.” Ugh. Whatever. No swords visible, passive, non-combative pose. I think this is Marshall coming to see Pastor Young.

Also, as a sidenote, I don’t really understand this passive, non-combative pose thing. Because like earlier the guy made a really big deal about how these were all of heaven’s mightiest warriors. And he could totally tell. Like you looked at them and you knew who they were. They were famous and mighty. So I know Satan’s minions are a bit dim but surely they might also notice that even though they’re not taking action just yet, the town seems to be crawling with superhero angels? Wouldn’t it make sense to have some little angels out and about and hide the super angels for a while? Like a surprise attack? I mean, the demons would know them too, right? From fighting them and also from at one time probably being buddies with them? Although clearly they’ve all changed a bit since then. Whatever. I just feel like if I’m seeing giant holes in your strategy, you’re in trouble.

***********

So. Marshall is angry. He’s seen Bernice’s fucked up film, he can see that those pictures had fingerprints and scratches and could clearly have been screwed up intentionally by hand. Would that not screw up the whole roll? Ye gods, film cameras. Who remembers? Now it would have just been digital and they would have just deleted them, poof.

So he gets to Ashton church at 12:45 for his 1:00 appointment. Apparently Ashton United (note the difference in names, btw. This is Ashton UNITED church, the little one is Ashton COMMUNITY church, I think there is definitely a thing there) is one of the large and awesome buildings in town, which is also an obvious sign that it’s evil. If you recall, Ashton Community is small and shabby. This one has stained glass and giant doors and is super intimidating and stuff. “Young was a respected minister, the people who attended the church were respected members of the community. Marshal had often thought that respect and status just might be a prerequisite for membership.” So he basically means, money, right? Like… I don’t know why he doesn’t just say money? The only church I have ever been to that felt SUPER like this to me was a church a friend of mine worked at in Chicago. Extremely, extremely wealthy neighborhood, very high class members, one of the primary churches in the “conference.” It was a weird feeling. But come on. It wasn’t about respect and status, it was about the money that bought those things.

Marshall “engaged the big front door in a short Indian arm wrestle and finally got inside.” I don’t… okay. That’s a thing? That’s a thing people say? Anyway. He spends more time talking about how rich the church is and how everything inside is lush and crazy expensive. I am a little curious at how they manage a church like this? How big IS this town? I feel like he can’t decide. Is it a tiny little hamlet full of adorable people? Or is it… not? Because you know. That church in Chicago can support something like that because it is in a super rich neighborhood in Chicago. But why are there so many wealthy people lining up in nowheresville? It can’t be college students, that wouldn’t make sense. This is a town where the newspaper only comes out once a week. You just can’t have it both ways, Peretti.

Whatever. Pastor Young’s office gives him visibility of the pulpit and platform and his entrance each Sunday is a “traditional part of the ceremonies” which cracked me up. Does he do somersaults? Bring candy, crack jokes? Come out with his arms up and incense? What kind of entrance are we talking about here?

Marshall once again gets super nosy and reads the book upside down to see that sure enough, he’s still meeting with Brummel at 2 today. Which I had totally forgotten about but I guess that’s why he wanted to meet with him at 1. That makes it a little less arbitrary. So, let’s meet Pastor Young, shall we?

Young, a large-framed man in his sixties with a roundish face, wire-rimmed glasses, and thin, well-oiled hair (ew), seemed to enjoy his position both in the church and in the community. (MONSTER!) His dark-paneled walls sported many plaques from the community and charitable organizations. Along with those were several framed photographs of him posing with the governor, a few popular evangelists, some authors and a senator. 

Behind his impressive desk Young created a perfect picture of the successful professional. The high-backed chair became a throne, and his own reflection in the desk top made him all the more scenic and impressive, like a mountain reflected in an alpine lake.  

I’m sorry, what? Did you just describe this man as appearing like a mountain reflected in an alpine lake? What? Also, that’s a terrible set-up for a pastor who should hopefully know something about counseling and know the importance of a comfortable space to talk with people. Obviously that’s the point of this scene or whatever, he’s all about himself, I get it, but why are they so bad at this shit? Also, is he like a mini-celebrity? Why is he meeting all of these super important people, unless he’s just chasing autographs? If he’s meeting them because he’s important, why is he in this tiny town? Major pastors tend to take cities.

So he and Marshall start talking, Marshall is super uncomfortable because apparently the pastor has found that the best way to become super pastor is to make people as uncomfortable as possible in his presence. He starts telling him about his daughter leaving and what happened. Young listens to everything and finally asks “you think she has turned her back on your traditional values and that disturbs you?” Marshall insists he’s not deeply religious but Sandy is jumping all over the place (like normal kids will do) and that freaks him out and he’s pretty sure it’s probably wrong because some things are definitely wrong.

“Young rose majestically from his desk…” and he did what now?? I don’t even know. Basically he asks Marshall if he thinks she’s happy and suggests that maybe Marshall doesn’t really understand the path she’s taking in life and suggests that maybe if he actually listened and tried to really understand her she would feel safer in calling home. So you know. Advice straight from Satan himself. We know this because he says that “each person must find his own way, his own truth.” We don’t know why he uses male pronouns when discussing Marshall’s daughter.

Marshall accuses him of having met Professor Langstrat and also of being friends with Alf Brummel because apparently they all spout the same bullshit about getting along and being peaceful and brotherly and he’s suspicious. I have never heard Alf Brummel say that yet, not really, but whatever.

Young says more stuff. “All the questions you’re struggling with, the matters of right and wrong, or what truth is, or our different views of these issues… so many of these things are unknowable, save in the heart. We all feel the truth, like a common heartbeat in each of us. Every human has the natural capacity for good, for love, for expecting and striving for the best interests of himself and his neighbor.”

While I certainly agree with the last part, I feel it does not make much sense with the first part… Marshall does something that he thinks is clever and is like well, if you’re saying that everything is a matter of perception, are you saying my reporter only PERCEIVED she saw you at the festival with Alf Brummel and 3 people? And he’s like I have no idea wtf you’re talking about you crazy man. I wasn’t there. Your logic is not actually logic like you think.

Marshall threatens him with pictures and Young sort-of smiles and is like cool, why don’t you bring those next time and Marshall is pissed. Young says we’ll make another appointment for you but it’s time to go because this has been the fastest and most fun hour ever and as Marshall goes out he runs right into Brummel and weirdly, instead of waiting to see how they talk to each other to fuck over Young (which I feel like would have made the most sense? Like I know he’s AWARE they know each other but… I don’t know) he runs up to Brummel and is a dick and is like “Seeings as you two don’t know each other, let me introduce you!” and then runs out.

Coming up next! Sandy is brainwashed by professors! Hooray!

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