This Present Darkness: Chapter 12

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When I first wrote these recaps, it was at this point in reading the book that I actually read the back jacket on the two book collection I had. When I redid them for this, I put that at the beginning of the story (seen here in the first entry if you would like to go back), because that made sense, but this is my reaction to reading it partway through.

So I feel like that’s important because it kind-of answers some of my questions, like is this supposed to be taken deadly seriously or is it for entertainment purposes to an extent? And I guess I knew the answer to that but it’s nice that they laid it out for you. Also I feel that I would love to see some of this “heart-stopping action” or possibly “believable characters” that they are referring to. Do you think we’ll get to any of that soon? Let’s see if chapter 12 is the lucky one.

Chapter 12 begins by telling us that the trees are all leafy in a new a new growth, summery green sort-of way. I found this confusing because I typically associate new growth green with spring and not summer but I imagine that is different in different parts of the country, maybe? I am giving him the benefit of the doubt there anyway.

Sandy is sitting out with the Shawn the Wonder Boy looking at all the beautiful things. Apparently this is her favorite place on campus. Wonder Boy notes how he loves the way the universe all fits together but doesn’t mention god so I figured he must be bad. He explains this as that the tree grew to give them shade and they sit under it and eat and give the birds food who live in the tree. This seems like the worst circle of life ever.

But good ol’ Sandy is fascinated. “On the surface it seemed very simple, almost storybookish (1 – that is not a word and 2 – I think the word you’re looking for is stupid), but part of her was so thirsty for some kind of peace.” She asks what happens if the universe doesn’t fit together and he laughs at her and says it always does but sometimes people just don’t realize it, silly people.

He explains that the problems she’s having with her folks have to do with everyone’s minds not being tuned in properly, like “an FM station on your radio” (not like an AM station?). Apparently since everyone isn’t tuned in to the same peace and love and all that, everyone is sad and angry at each other. So obviously he is evil. The universe is harmonious and perfect, if you don’t know that you are out of touch with reality so it sucks to be youuuuuu.

Sandy says, in a way that makes no sense whatsoever, “But that’s what gets me! My folks and I are supposed to be Christians and loving each other and close to God and everything, but all we ever do is argue about who’s right and who’s wrong.” Yes, Sandy. That was a thing that made sense as a response to what he just said. Please continue your nonsense games, this is fun. This is one of those things where Christians make up a conversation that no one has ever had.

Wonder Boy explains that he’s been there too and he could only solve it by realizing he couldn’t change anyone but himself (have you ever noticed that the only people who accidentally give good advice in this book are the people working for Satan?). He follows that by a lot of weird nonsense about how once you’re in tune with the universe, quirks in other people won’t bother you and how once you see how reality actually is you’ll realize God is everywhere and in everything and you can’t contain Him. I’m surprised Peretti didn’t have him refer to God as female but maybe that was too much.

Sandy wishes she could actually find God and Shawn assures her that we’re all part of him so that’s super easy. We’re all part of the same energy, etc. Sandy blinks a lot and says something about that being a bit foreign, that she is from “the old Judeo-Christian school of thought.” He is all pretentious, which is literally his only setting, and is like “So all you’ve ever learned is religion, right?” She agrees and he points out that all religions are limited and she says he sounds like Langstrat and he reminds her of the story of the blind men and the elephant and how important that is for truth.

He asks her if she’s into Plato (really? So we’re not supposed to teach our kids PLATO either?) and she says she feels like she didn’t really understand him and he tells her that he was all about enlightenment and reality and blah, blah, blah. She is not at all sure she will be able to understand it or get into it and he says “You don’t get into it, Sandy. It’s already in you. Think about that for a minute.” Okay, obnoxious boy. She says she doesn’t feel anything and he tells her it’s because she’s not tuned in! Isn’t that always the way? It’s not actually dissimilar to how if you don’t feel anything from God, it’s probably because you’re not listening.

Whatever. He tells her to focus on all of nature and asks her if she’s ever felt kinship with it or talked to a houseplant and tells her what she’s experiencing is her connection with everything and the more she focuses the more she feels something and for the first time in months she feels a sense of something like peace. And she wants more of it. And just behind her is the demon Deception, creepily combing her hair and whispering in her ear.

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

So Tal and his troops are hanging out in the tiny church. They’re all excited about their minor victory and also their are more of them! There were 23 and now there are 47! This will make it even easier for them to hide! Although I guess it doesn’t really matter since Rafar knows they’re there now. I am not the only one who always thinks Jafar when I see that name, right? I mean, the movie of Aladdin didn’t come out until after this book was published so it’s not his fault but it’s just a thing. Anyway. There’s a new angel named Scion who is a redhead with freckles from the British Isles. I… just yeah. He talks with an accent. I will not replicate it and honestly I suspect he won’t be around for long, or that Peretti won’t keep the accent if he is.

He is giving Tal a list of people they will be bringing in. Lost sheep or something. People they will be leading towards the church, I guess? Or leading to pray? Leading to pray, that’s what they’re doing. This is such a weird fucking system. They can’t do anything without prayer-cover but they can motivate people to pray. It’s so circular. Also there are a lot of friends and relatives ready for prayer but Tal doesn’t want to send away warriors for long and apparently burdening people can take a while (can we talk again about how awesome God is?) and he says to “instead have messengers carry word to the watchcarers over these people’s towns and cities, and let the watchcarers see that these people are burdened with prayer for their loved ones here.” So off they go. Seriously, are there no angels that aren’t warriors? Demons have a whole hierarchy.

Guilo tells Tal he digs his plan and Tal says yeah, it’s pretty sweet so far and Guilo wants to know if he thinks Rafar knows he’s here and Tal says dude, we’ve known each other for a million years, we basically know each other’s thoughts, he could literally just look at some swords that demons dropped and know that I exist in his presence. It’s almost like we’re lovers separated by time and space. He’s never going to attack me now because he’s waiting for me to come make sweet love to him – I mean, he’s waiting for his big plan to come into affect, whatever it is. Sigh. I just like imagining the angels talk in this more interesting way. Also I keep writing demons instead of angels, which I’m sure is a freudian slip of some kind. Also they totally know Complacency has been banished, although how they would know that I have no idea and Tal is super excited that Marshall has gotten all feisty. He would like Guilo to surround Marshall with soldiers because he’s going to need them and he tells him he still can’t use his sword.

**********

So Marshall calls Bernice and tells, not asks, her to be at work at 7 because they have work to do. They’re digging up old articles by hand, which is hilarious and sad and remember how awful the world was before the internet? Me neither. But these people do.

So they talk a little about the molestation thing. The 12 year old girl says he did molest her but Bernice clearly doesn’t believe it. The paper didn’t print anything about it obviously since he was running it. If the girl said he did it, this leaves us with the possibility that 1) he did it, 2) she was lying for funsies, as girls so often do, or 3) she was brainwashed into believing she had been molested, and in two out of three of these cases she is far more of a victim here than fucking Ted whatshisface. However, no one seems to give much of a shit about her. Apparently Ted was arraigned before a district judge or something and they struck a deal and he left town a few days later. You know. Like how the law usually works.

They quickly move on from that subject, that Bernice apparently doesn’t know much about (okay, seriously, everyone in this town talks about everything, the goddamn GROCERY STORE OWNER was suspicious because he wouldn’t give the full story on what happened to the last guy, I refuse to believe she hasn’t heard all the gory details on this. I refuse to believe Marshall hadn’t heard all the details on this. You cannot pick and choose when people talk, Peretti. You just can’t.), to a series of articles that I guess made some important people, like Eugene Baylor whose name sounds vaguely familiar and I’m sure we’ve run into him but…. anyway. He was very upset about these articles. Basically there was a call for an audit of funds at the college? The college dean said there might a mishandling of funds and he wanted an audit and they were like “that could take a million years, what if we just didn’t do that, you stupid, stupid man?” Apparently the fight got really brutal. Because when you are doing everything on the up and up with money, what you want to do is viciously attack anyone who tries to make you prove it. That’s how you look innocent.

So the college dean was fired (seriously, this town has had like 50% turnover in the last year) and it was reported that Whitmore could be millions in arrears (maybe they should stop having classes that are unlisted and possibly unpaid for) and… such. So I guess there’s money behind this story and Marshall is super excited because this makes it an actual story instead of his insane vendetta and it’s always nice when life works in your favor that way.

Marshall had dropped a piece and Bernice notices and asks him what it is and says she doesn’t want pieces all out of order and why did he fold it up and he gets all awkward and finally admits it was an article about her sister. She says she has a copy at home and that he may as well know the whole story now. Marshall’s response to this is to sigh and say “You started this, remember that.” Which is an insane response to someone telling you that they’re going to tell you about their sister’s horrible death which they believe to be murder.

So apparently they found her at 19 in a dorm room, entirely naked and “very dead” with her throat slashed. No sign of a struggle and no witnesses. That is an… unlikely way to kill yourself? But not impossible. But I feel like forensically speaking it should be really easy to figure out the angle on that sort of thing.

Okay, so then this whole thing takes what I feel like is a really weird and uncomfortable feeling twist and I can’t tell if we are also supposed to feel that way but I felt gross about it. So Bernice is really upset, Marshall is shocked by how vulnerable she is and how he has never seen her this way, she’s crying, telling him how she checked everything after she died, looked through everything, tried to track down her old roommate but she’d left and she couldn’t remember her name (which is the most insane thing I have ever heard of because surely the college would have that on record) and finally decided to just hang around here. And then…. okay, I’m just going to put it all in.

Marshall put his arm around her shoulders. “Well, listen. I’ll help you out, any way I can. You don’t have to carry this whole thing by yourself.
She relaxed a bit, leaning into him just enough to acknowledge his embracing arm. “I don’t want to bother you.”
“You’re not bothering me. Listen, as soon as you’re ready, we can go over it, recheck everything. There might still be some leads somewhere.”
Bernice shook her two fists and whimpered, “If I could just be more objective about it!”
Marshall gave her a gentle, comforting chuckle and a friendly squeeze. “Well, maybe I can handle that end of it. You’re doing a good job, Bernie. Just hang in there.”

She was a nice kid, Marshall though, and as far as he could remember, this was the first time he’d ever touched her.

That is the end of the chapter. And I feel weird and gross about it and somehow that whole scene ended up feeling like he was grooming her somehow and it’s weird because he’s seemed obnoxious and very possibly verbally abusive before but this is the first time he has seemed predatory and it felt very out of nowhere and I do not understand where Peretti is going with this, because I felt like if this was temptation we’d have a demon in the background. It’s not like he’s usually subtle. I don’t know. It just made my skin crawl.

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