This Present Darkness: Chapter 9

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Marshall and Kate set three places for dinner that night, apparently as an “act of faith” that Sandy will come home as she always does. First off, this seems more like an act of denial to me than anything else but second off, does Sandy really always come home for Family Dinner? I mean… she’s 18 years old and in college. Doesn’t she have any friends? Anything else to do? I realize we’re all supposed to be living in an idyllic family oriented world here, but there comes a time when the family dinner every single night is no longer a healthy thing and maybe more of a weird thing. You may have reached that time.

They have called everyone they know and no one has seen her. They called the police who have “not been able to turn up anything” which I think is weird because I think what would really have happened is they would have said oh hi. Your daughter is in college. You had a big fight and she took off. She hasn’t been missing 48 hours and if you had ever watched a procedural you would know that’s how long it takes to report a missing person. This is not a crime or even probably something to be worried about. It is definitely not something the police take care of. But apparently in these small towns, life is different and police chase down nothing (ineffectively) and firemen get cats out of trees. Maybe they live in Pleasantville. Anyway. They also called her school to find out if she had been to her classes but no one had called them back to give them a definite answer.

Marshall is moping and Kate tells him to stop torturing himself. He says “I blew it. I’m a wash-out!” in the weird sort of language that just doesn’t make a lot of modern sense to me. Also what does that mean exactly? He’s a… bad parent? That’s true. I don’t know. The wash out phrase is just weird to me. Has he washed out of parenting? Do you get to do that? Kate tells him to stop and he whines that he’s blown it and can’t redo it now and tells him he’s being an idiot and she’ll come back and look how she took like 2 things with her – obviously she didn’t run away for good.

The doorbell rings and makes them jump and Marshall is like “Yeah, go ahead, be the mailman, or a Girl Scout selling cookies, or a Jehovah’s Witness…” Okay, it’s pretty late for the mailman I would imagine if you’re making dinner. And do they have Jehovah’s Witnesses? I sound like I’m being snarky but seriously. It is apparently a tiny town that fits on a pin or something. They have their two churches. Do they have a hall too? Or do Witnesses travel to towns without them? I guess I don’t know how they work. Probably they travel maybe.

It is not any of those things. Instead it is a nervous looking young blond man. It is the man who approached Sandy! He is making me nervous because I can’t figure out if he is a villain or a hero. I assume he must not be a villain if he is not obviously saying evil things but maybe the devil is being tricksy? I mean, he was on the college campus, which we know is an epicenter of evil. He was being kind to her, which I feel like is supposed to be a sign of Christians but in this book… who knows. Anyway. Let’s see if his words make things clearer.

He introduces himself as a junior at the college and a friend of Sandy’s. His name is Shawn Ormsby. Kate is about to invite him in but Marshall wants none of that and instead is just like “Do you know where she is??” Shawn “pauses and answers carefully” that yes, yes he does. Marshall is all in interrogation mode. Well? Well? Shawn is polite instead and asks if he can come in. Kate “holds Marshall’s hand long enough to remind him to control himself.”

I feel like this is super unacceptable. They have no reason to think that Sandy has been injured in any way. Of course they’re worried and upset, I know Marshall blames himself (for the fairly good reason that it is in large part his fault) but there’s absolutely no reason at this point for them to not think she’s fine. Which would be the only scenario in which I could justify him being this complete jerk that he’s being. Or if she was very young. But an 18 year old having been gone for one night after a fight does not warrant this response. Marshall asks him what he’s got and Shawn explains he met her on campus yesterday and Marshall is stunned that she went to school yesterday for some completely inexplicable reason because apparently if their relationship is not going well she must also want to blow off her classes and ruin everything else in her life.

But Shawn explains that while she did go to classes, he actually came upon her while she was all upset and in a tizzy and yes, yes, she’s fine, no physical harm but he is “here on her behalf.” He’s talked to her and heard everything and she really wants to come home but she’s afraid and ashamed. And Marshall asks if it’s because of him and Shawn is like um…. yeah. How do you feel about that? Actually he asks if he can “accept that” and Marshall says yeah, he can, it’s totally all on him and he knows it.

So then Shawn says “Well, that’s what I’m trying (what? What is what he’s trying? I guess to get her home? But it didn’t follow what Marshall just said) in my own weak, limited way, to accomplish. I’m no professional – my major’s geology – but I’d just like to see this family together again.” Who the fuck is this obnoxious kid? I feel like I am so annoyed with him that he must be evil. But then I think based on the logic of these books, I am so annoyed with him that he must be a hero. I occasionally had people try to intervene for me with my parents. When I was in high school. And required to live under their roof. People who were pastors or in training to be pastors. None of them were geology majors weirdly.

So Marshall says he came out of a “pretty bent mold and that he’s really tough to straighten out” and for some reason Kate protests this, which  makes no sense and it’s nice that Marshall is kind of trying even though we all know it’s going to go badly. Anyway. Shawn finally reveals that she’s in the car right now but she was afraid to come in. Marshall asks if it’s because she’s afraid he’ll jump on her and Shawn says yes.

“Well, said Marshall, feeling emotions he really didn’t want anyone to see, “listen, tell her I won’t jump on her, I won’t yell, I won’t accuse, I won’t get sly or nasty, I just… well, I….”

Kate assures Shawn that Marshall loves Sandy and Shawn looks at Marshall and asks if that is true and Marshall says it is. Who the fuck IS this kid? Because oh wait, he doesn’t stop there. He makes Marshall say it out loud to him before he agrees to bring her in. I can’t even… I can’t. What shenanigans will ensue?

We don’t know! We don’t go back to the story this chapter. Sigh.

**************

So back to Bernice. Apparently “the usual postpublication lull around the office gave Bernice the chance she needed to do some hoofing.” This is the most hilarious sentence I’ve ever read. Based on the following words, I guess it has to do with calling Whitmore college and talking to people but I was imagining something way dirtier. Also, who has ever said that?

So she has a lunch appointment and apparently the food isn’t bad on north campus, in case you ever wanted to know. Her appointment is with Ruth Williams, who is a “cheerful middle-aged” professor in economics. Apparently if you’re not pretty you don’t need any physical description. I guess Bernice knows people because of how she spent those few weeks digging high and low for her sister’s maybe killer which I already forgot about because when she decides to be honest with her friend and tell her she has a “question about something unprofessional and distasteful” Ruth’s first question is if it’s about Pat. Who must have been the sister.

So Bernice tells her how she went to jail the other night and when she asks why, all horrified, it “brought the right response” which was a long string of her saying how disgusting and horrified she was. Which I feel like is… I don’t know. I feel like I would want more of a combination of laughter and horror. Given that she doesn’t actually seem to have been harmed or assaulted in any way, it IS kind of a funny story. But it’s cool. Bernice is not funny and Peretti does not believe in jokes about prostitution, real or imagined.

So finally she brings it around to Professor Langstrat. She can tell she doesn’t like her and asks why and Ruth says that she “found her very difficult to relate to” and that it was “next to impossible to start any coherent conversation.” Which actually made me crack up laughing because I was imagining this insane interchange where she kept being like “so do you have family?” “I am only close with the Universal Mind.” “Um. Oh. So. Nice… weather we’re having.” “Tomorrow it is going to rain. It has been foretold.” Or whatever. I bet it was awesome. I’m actually imagining it being kind-of similar to trying to carry on a conversation with Professor Trelawney from Harry Potter, but with more demons. But all she really says about it is that her interests are “esoteric and metaphysical” and that people seem to bore her. Which are obviously the traits you look for when hiring a psychology professor.

She says she has no idea who she hangs out with and she thinks this whole thing is indeed kind of gross and stuff and she doesn’t really want to be involved at all… but she knows this other person in the psychology department who hates Langstrat and loves to gossip and actually she’ll even call him for her. So apparently not being involved means something different to these people.

The professor’s name is Albert Darr and he is a “baby-faced young professor with stylish clothes and a certain penchant for ladies.” Which is another fantastic trait in a professor. So basically he hates Langstrat and practically starts panting when given the chance to badmouth her. He tells her that no, there’s nothing romantic between Langstrat and Brummel, that in fact seeing a psychologist for sessions on a weekly basis is how normal sessions work, you stupid little twat (god, I wish he had said that but he did not, but he did at least say that she saw a lot of people every week and that was normal. He talks in a way that makes you picture him wishing he had a British accent).

Bernice points out that he’s super secretive about it (which no one has ever been secretive about going to a therapist before) and he says that everything Langstrat does is a super secret, something about an Inner Circle and that in fact, the consultations themselves are supposed to be a total secret. No one is supposed to know “no one but the privileged, the powerful, the many special patrons that go to her. That’s the way she is.” WHO LIVES IN THIS TOWN????

He says that her realm of study go beyond what anyone else wants to tamper with. He does not say that it goes beyond what most people find credible and that most people think she is a duck. I think saying someone is a duck is more fun than saying they are a quack and obviously here it just all means ambassador of Satan anyway. Seriously though, he says this as though this is a thing you might say. “Her areas of study go beyond anything the rest of us have had any desire to tamper with: the Source, the Universal Mind, the Ascended Planes….”

Bernice says she has no idea what he’s talking about and he says well, they don’t really either and they’re not sure if she’s actually making breakthroughs or if she’s crazy. Is she… like doing experiments on the college dime? Because you have to document that shit. He says that she gets her ideas from Eastern religions and cults, he feels like her studies have caused her to lose touch with reality. “As a matter of fact, I may even be mocked and maligned among my peers for saying this, but I don’t see Langstrat’s advances in these areas as anything other than foolish, neo-pagan witchcraft. I think she’s desperately confused!” Really? You’re going to be mocked in your science community for thinking that? I… okay.

Bernice says she’s heard she has powers basically and he scoffs and says it’s crazy talk, that she thinks she can read his mind and control him and put spells on him and such. He thinks it’s nonsense and just stays away. He suspects she’s doing rituals of some kind with her circle of people, in keeping with all her occult interests. Oh and then he gives her some names of people who have come to see her. She finds out the former editor of the paper was one of them. That there is a woman named Mrs. Pinkerton who is on the board of regents. Dwight Brandon who owns all the property the college is built on. And Eugene Baylor, a general treasurer and important on the board of regents. Is a board of regents to do with the college? I don’t know. Also Oliver Young. He’s still naming names apparently but the chapter ends at Oliver Young and Bernice being pleased she was right.

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