This Present Darkness: Chapter 10

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Guys, guess what? It is FINALLY FRIDAY EVENING. Also, I am almost a quarter of the way through the book. Sigh. Anyway. So we finally get to see this crazy church meeting nonsense.

So, it’s Friday night and Hank can’t get the upcoming meeting off of his mind, which seems pretty normal considering they’re wanting to fire him and also because a sad old man pastor told him that he might die. But also… ugh, ugh, ugh. *deep breath* Okay, here we go. Also, it is “probably to his advantage, considering the young lady sitting across from him in his little corner office of the house. He had asked Mary to stick closely around and act very loving and wifely.” So you know. He has Mary in his counseling appointment with this young woman. He even made sure it was Mary who answered her knock and let her in. And this just enrages me and I just… blah. I’m moving forward. It will certainly get worse.

Whatever. So her name is Carmen, that’s the only name she gives. He doesn’t describe her, he just says she is “quite a case load” and that it was because of “the way she dressed and carried herself” that Hank made sure Mary let her in. So I guess we’re saying she’s a slut. I mean, that’s the only reading I have on that. But he feels probably she is real enough, just “sincerely overdone” whatever the fuck that means.

She is currently telling them both about how she’s been hearing voices and maybe it’s just because she’s really lonely. As a pastor, it would not normally be one’s job to deal with someone hearing voices because, after all, you are not really trained in this field. But of course what if the voices are not psychiatric in nature at all? In fact when she tells him that she’s not crazy, he seems immediately certain that is true. Look, I know that you’ve experienced a lot lately but…. whatever. Also, she’s “searching the ceiling with big, overly innocent blue eyes.” She tells them that the voices talk to her at night when she’s alone. She tells him what they said and “it could have been the perfect script for an obscene phone call.” Obviously we don’t get to read it. 😛

So Mary doesn’t know what to say, which is legitimate because why the fuck is she even there? Hank feels like it sounds kind of familiar “though he still feels cautious about Carmen and her motives” he’s open to the idea that she’s dealing with the same stuff he has been. So wait now. If I’m reading that right, he thinks she’s either dealing with demons like him or else she’s a whore trying to seduce him. Is that also how you are reading it? Not like she might have mental health problems and need help? Of course not. Women are whores.

The phone rings and Mary gets up to answer it and Hank tells her to “hurry back” because lord knows a few minutes with this woman and POWERFUL URGES MIGHT OVERCOME HIM. She reaches out to touch his hand for a moment, asking him if he thinks she’s crazy and he responds with all the grace of a teenage boy. “Uh….” Hank withdrew his hand to scratch a nonexistent itch. “No, Carmen, I’m not – I mean I don’t.” But he asks when she first started hearing them and she says it was when she moved to Ashton after her husband left. Also one of them is Spanish or Italian (same thing), his voice is soothing with an accent and his name is Amano or Amanzo or something and always wants to make love to her. But she thinks the voices started because she was lonely and still is.

At first they introduced themselves as her husband and it sounded like him and he said how much he missed her and wanted to make love to her and it was amazing. Hank feels this is “Incredible.” Yes. It sounds incredibly like she had a psychotic break. But whatever. She stares at him with her giant panda eyes (okay, the description in the book is “big pleading eyes”) and is crying and says that she knew he’d believe her. “I’ve heard about you. They say you’re a very compassionate man and very understanding…” And she touches his hand again so he hits the ceiling like a treed cat (you know what is an awesome way to avoid this? Maybe don’t be sitting so close to her. How is your office set up anyway? Why is your hand so accessible? The arrangement of a counseling office is important) and says they should meet next week if she wants to and she says definitely and he stands up to tell her the session is over for now. “They hadn’t covered much ground, but as far as Hank was concerned, boy was it enough.”

Mary comes into the room and Hank is overwhelmed with relief and I just hate them both so much. Literally they close the door and he leans against it and exclaims “Whew!”

“Hank,” Mary said in a very hushed voice. “I don’t think I like this!”
“She’s… she’s a real hot one, she is.”

So. Fuck you both. He doesn’t know what he thinks of what she said and who was on the phone, Mary? Why it was someone from the Clarion wanting to know if it was Alf Brummel who we “disfellowshipped” from the church! Wait. Disfellowshipped? Is that a word? My spellcheck says it is definitely not. Anyway. “Hank suddenly looked like an inflatable toy that had sprung a leak.” Does that mean he lost his boner?

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

So Bernice is disappointed and says apparently it was touchy because the pastor’s wife seemed weirdly unhappy about some stranger from the newspaper calling to ask about who they had forced out of the church. Marshall has heard talk about the barbershop (seriously?) about how they’re voting the pastor out tonight, seems that their troubles are unrelated. OR ARE THEY? He looks at the list of names Bernice got and mutters something about not being able to get work done with all this stuff unresolved and how much trouble Bernice is and she takes it as a compliment and looks over the flyer on elective courses that Langstrat is teaching. Marshall looks at it too and asks “What in blazes is all this stuff? ‘Introduction to God and Goddess Consciousness and the Craft: the divinity of man, witch, warlock, the Sacred Medicine Wheel, how do spells and rituals work?’ You gotta be kidding!”

Read on, boss!

“Pathways to your Inner Light: meet your own spiritual guides, discover the light within… harmonize your mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual levels of being through hypnosis and meditation…. What?? How to Enjoy the Present by Experiencing Past and Future Lives.” (I love that there are experiencing future lives! Is that a thing? Do people experience their future lives?) Also there was one other called In the Beginning Was the Goddess.

In a SUSPICIOUS THING (and utterly fucking ridiculous thing) none of these courses were advertised in the main catalog or to the rest of the school. Apparently the nosy professor guy gave her the flyer telling her it was “a somewhat exclusive pass-around item among the interested students.” Except that someone still has to PAY for these classes. Financial aid, their parents. Schools don’t just NOT LIST CLASSES. But sure. Whatever. Marshall bemoans that his “little Sandy” is sitting in this woman’s classes. I mean, it seems to me like some of what she’s teaching is whatever (hypnosis and meditation? Sure, whatever) and the rest is just funny but no. DEMONS.

They are super upset that everyone Langstrat is teaching are super important people. Marshal “lets some memory tapes play in his head.” Okay. I guess he was remembering his meeting with Oliver Young. It now all makes sense to him the things that Young was saying. Do you think all new age people know each other and have secret special meetings? So then they’re looking for corroboration and they bring up the former editor of the newspaper. You know, that charming man who molested a child. Or more probably didn’t. Bernice says he denied it. They’re going to call him. Which is great. I’m so excited to hear how he was wronged. *growls*

*******

Mary is finishing the dinner dishes and then goes to the darkened back bedroom to… have crazy sex with her husband! No. Surprise! To kneel down and pray with her husband. Sigh. I really think some sex would have been more helpful before the meeting. Get you all a bit more loose. Brummel was at the church getting everything ready and all upset because the vote didn’t go his way last time and it had better tonight.

Other people we don’t know are arriving. Sam Turner, who is Brummels’ “chief cohort” and John Coleman and his wife Patricia who are apparently good guys. Also we have demons! Lucius is pacing and getting all bent out of shape. Angels are hanging out around the edge of the building. No incidents yet, I guess just because the angels are hanging out. Apparently the Colemans agitate Lucius because they used to be an almost falling apart married couple and then Hank’s bible words changed their life and now they’re all praying and stuff. “Before long they and others like them would be a real threat.” DID YOU HEAR THAT, CHRISTIANS? YOU CAN BE A REAL THREAT.

But apparently with them was a giant angel who was blond and who they had never seen before. They jump in on him and ask him who he is and why they’ve never seen him before. “Chimon of Europe” said nothing. They go all taunty, asking him if he’s deaf and dumb, blah, blah. It’s really boring. “They love this sort of game!” Eventually they draw a scimitar. Do you think that demons ever upgrade to guns? I know that the Bible always presents angels with swords and all but that was the only weaponry they knew at the time. Now it’s a little different. They surround him and then Lucius “with an intense cry” slashes the front of his robe and he doesn’t do anything, just stands there all passive and stuff. Lucius threatens to remove ears and tongue and stuff and he ignores him. But then it is time for the meeting to start and they leave him alone. So that was an incredibly weird and pointless scene. Also, seriously. How are there ANY MIGHTY WARRIORS that they don’t know?

There are 11 angels in the church and I guess they’re okay with that. Mota is here from Polynesia now. Oh good. They talk a bunch about… stuff. I don’t know. Ask where Tal is. I seriously don’t care and I don’t know why we’re focusing on them.

Brummel brings the meeting to order and is sitting there being annoyed that some people are going to fire Hank and some are not and the outcome is unpredictable. He tells everyone he hoped this night would never come and it’s all painful but God has brought them here and they should pray. He is very pious apparently and “appealing to the Lord for grace and mercy in words to bring a tear to the driest eye.” I have never heard a prayer like that but okay then. The angels are sulking because they aren’t getting any strength from his prayer because it’s bullshit. In case Peretti was being too subtle before.

So Brummel tells everyone that the purpose of the meeting is to “openly discuss our feelings regarding Pastor Hank” (could I openly discuss my feelings for Pastor Hank because boy do I have some thoughts on that matter) and I guess to make everyone stop gossiping and backbiting, under the premise that community meetings where we discuss how angry we are at someone totally dissolve any need for gossip. I don’t know. I was always so bad at church politics. Maybe this is really a thing. But I do feel like overall he is making this up because I don’t know of any “normal” church in a small town who is just totally chill with major members in their leadership hooking up with people because if that was true we would live in a very different society indeed.

So the pastor is going to have a chance to talk first and then leave so they can all say whatever they want to. Everyone is going to have three minutes to talk, although they don’t assign a timer person, which I think is just asking for trouble personally. You really need a lot of specifics in something like this.

So Hank gets up and for a really long time just stands there and “looks into the eye of every face.” Have you noticed how I have given you no idea of how many people are here? Yeah, that’s because I don’t have any idea. Are there a hundred people in this church? Fifty? Three hundred? Mostly right now I’m saying that would make a lot of difference in how long it took him to look into the eyes of every face but in general I feel like knowing how big this church actually is would be nice.

“He could see the hardness in some of the faces, but he couldn’t help seeing past that to the pain and bondage these people were under, deluded, led astray by sin, by greed, by bitterness and rebellion. In many other faces he read the pain they were feeling for him; he could tell that some were silently praying for God’s mercy and intervention.” Okay again, seriously? Hank, why are you so awful? Are you seriously just walking in here with the assumption that not one single person could have a valid reason for concerns about you staying here? That the only reason they’re opposed to you must be because you are under sin and bondage? I just want you to think for a moment about what a horrible asshole you are. I know you won’t but I wish you would.

Finally, after “letting a quick prayer course through his thoughts” because we must NEVER FORGET THAT HE IS ALWAYS PRAYING he starts talking. He basically says boring shit about how he has “always counted it a privilege” to do this (for you know, the 12 minutes he’s been doing it) but how even now he knows he must stay true and share the word of god and not defend himself or whatever. So he shares what he has received from god, which is apparently 2 Timothy 4… something. Peretti doesn’t give us the verse and I am going to be honest that I don’t give a shit to look it up.

It’s about being solemnly charged to preach the gospel and rebuke and reprove and stuff (I’m just not going to type it out because I do not care) and then there’s the part about “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” I just… can’t. Hank, I hate you. I would vote you out on your arrogance alone. But you of course would believe that it is because I am hardened of heart.

So he tells them all that that is his calling, it is all that he’s ever cared about. That sometimes he wonders why he has chosen such a hard thing but he knows that he is like Paul and “woe unto him if he doesn’t preach the gospel.” Also he understands that people can totally get upset about the bible… okay, he doesn’t say that. He says that “the truth of God’s Word can become a divider, an irritation, a stone of stumbling. But that’s only because it remains unchanged, uncompromising, and steadfast.” He has not studied as much as he thinks he has studied. Anyway. “To violate the Word of God is only to destroy ourselves, our joy, our peace, our happiness.” So you know, nbd. Also I have not found that to be at all true but obviously I’m blind and confused.

He says he wants to let them know what to expect from him, which is that he’s going to love them no matter what (unless they are whores coming into his office, in which case he will treat them terribly but I guess he thinks that’s loving) and he’ll shepherd and feed them and… I don’t know. He won’t discredit or compromise, there may be times you’ll “feel his shepherd’s crook around your neck, not to judge or malign you, but to help you move in the right direction, to protect you, to heal you.” Which is hilarious coming from one of the most judgmental characters I’ve encountered. Whatever. He’ll stay no matter what and be an asshole till he dies. That is the message of the speech. And if that’s the pastor they want, they should vote for him to stay. And he loves all of them.

He and Mary leave and Triskal and Krioni leave with them. Does Mary not have an angel then? Guess not. Tal still isn’t here.

Now it is the congregation’s turn to talk. Sigh. This is such a long chapter and I was excited for fireworks but actually it is just as boring as an ACTUAL church meeting even with demons present. So Sam Turner, who is a bad guy, comes up and talks about how he is an awesome part of the community and everyone knows him and his wife. And he is upset for his friend Lou. Lou is amazing and donates tons of money and the fact that he even went along with such a disgusting smear on his character just shows what an amazing man he is. He apparently could have sued Hank but he’s just so embarrassed and didn’t want to. We are apparently NOT going to talk about the details. Which is insanely obnoxious. Seriously, if we don’t actually hear what happened I am throwing this book. He calls Hank a “self-righteous, Bible-pounding gossip-monger” which is you know, apt. Says he remembers when the church was like a family and now it’s all his fault that everyone is fighting.

So now I’m a little confused anyway. Was Lou hooking up with someone on the sly? Is he DENYING these charges? Sigh.

Next comes John Coleman, who is the good guy we’ve met. He is shy and quiet, as many good men are. He says he’s terrified to be up here but he has to be because he thinks Hank is amazing and a man of god and that when he and his wife were at a church before it wasn’t meeting their needs and they “were getting hungry; hungry for the Word, for the presence of God.” They were super excited about Hank mentoring them all or something and they know other people feel that way too and everything that happened with Lou wasn’t Hank’s fault, everyone was involved and Hank isn’t trying to hurt anyone.

Then there is the church secretary, who comes up to talk about two things (seriously, are you dying of boredom? I hate church business shit, even when they’re fighting it’s usually tedious). One is that offerings are dropping and the bills are going up. Why the bills are going up, he doesn’t bother explaining, which is weird because I feel like that would be important. What are you guys doing with the money? But he has no doubt that they’re running out of money because everyone is freaking out over this thing and they need to solve it tonight. Secondly he wants everyone to know that Hank was never intended to have this job and he’s convinced this whole thing was a mistake that they made that they can solve tonight.

Apparently this went on for two hours. Which thank all the gods and goddesses we don’t have to hear. Although he does tell us that “nerves got raw, bottoms got numb, backs got sticky, and the opposing views became more and more vehement in their convictions.” Anyway, eventually they decide that they can’t do it anymore (seriously, two HOURS) and they decide it’s time to vote. It’ll be a secret ballot. Yes or no. Yes to keep Hank, no to let him go. The angels are asking if Hank has enough votes and they don’t know. Tal is still missing and they’re super concerned about that and strangely I could not give a damn. There’s some demon/angel glaring and posturing.

Brummel asks representatives from two different “viewpoints” to come up and count. They select John Coleman and the secretary (whose name is Gordon Mayer in case it comes up again). The demons are all eagerly peeking over shoulders and Guilo tries to watch too because it seems only fair and Lucius comes rushing over and tells him to get back in his corner and threatens to cut him open but Guilo scares him away… whatever. There’s a weird interchange I don’t totally understand.

Gordon Mayer was counting first, silently, then handing the ballots to John Coleman. But he stealthily hid a few yea ballots in his palm (what is he, a card shark? Everyone is watching right now). Guilo checked to see how closely the demons were watching, then made a stealthy move himself, touching the back of Mayer’s hand. (he is a giant angel, I doubt anything he does is that stealthy).

A demon saw it and struck Guilo’s hand with bared talons. Guilo jerked his hand away and came infinitely close (is that a correct phrase?) to tearing the demon to shreds but he caught himself and honored Tal’s orders.

“What is your name?” Guilo wanted to know (yes, that’s usually why we ask things).

“Cheating,” the demon answered.

“Cheating,” Guilo rehearsed as he went back to his corner. “Cheating.” 

Okay. Point number one, is Guilo stupid? Did he really just have to REHEARSE the word cheating? And point number two, did the demon Cheating cause that guy to cheat? Or was he just randomly there? There’s no sign that demon touched that guy? But why have him there? Was Guilo touching him going to make him not cheat? Seriously, what the hell just happened?

Apparently by touching his hand, he made the ballots fall out of it and the other guy sees them and notes it and then of course he has to hand them over. They count multiple times but it is the same every time. A tie. So that’s awkward. Brummel gives everyone a short break in case they want to reconsider.

********

As they’re going on break two demons outside see two tiny old ladies, one hobbling on a cane and with help from her friend. One demon says that the one with the cane is “Duster” which is the weirdest thing anyone has said. Apparently she was supposed to be sick and she is but she’s coming anyway and no one had a car for her in this tiny hamlet so she’s walking. I don’t know. Ah, EDITH Duster. I want to just keep calling her Duster. She has many friends, I guess.

The demon of Sickness is preparing to give her a stroke with his sword by slashing arteries in her brain (okay, seriously Peretti I am going to need a chart of what EXACTLY demons can do) but just as he was about to do it the other woman opens the door into his way and his sword hits the door. Which I guess it doesn’t go through even though it’s a pretend spiritual sword because it’s a… church door? He hits her shoulder instead and “it may as well have been made of concrete” and he goes flying. Apparently it is the host of heaven. Somehow. Again. Not really totally clear on what just happened but the angels are chuckling and saying Tal was discreet… so maybe they CAN cloak? I JUST DON’T KNOW.

Apparently maybe her friend was a heavenly warrior who now seems to have disappeared? I am baffled. Oh look. I guess it was. The friend helping her was Tal. Captain of the angelic host. But did SHE know that? Was she even aware she was being helped? I don’t know.

Brummel is freaking out because Langstrat is basically going to castrate him if this goes wrong (although all he’s seeing because this is a Christian book is her “burning eyes”). And now Lou has come in! So now we have Lou and Duster. So it should be a tie again. But they vote. And they count. Everyone watches. They count twice. Brummel announces shakily that “The…. pastor has been retained.” Someone asks what the vote was. Apparently the vote was up by two. For some reason Lou Stanley voted to keep Hank Busche.

OMG THAT WAS THE LONGEST CHAPTER EVER AND I STILL DO NOT KNOW WHAT LOU SUPPOSEDLY DID.

*dies*

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