This Present Darkness: Chapter 16

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The angels Nathan and Armoth are flying high following a car. Which is lame because why aren’t they riding on the car? That’s the only fun thing he’s come up with in these entire books and here they’re just flying along, being boring. Sigh. Anyway. The car is a Buick. In case that might matter to anyone. I can’t imagine why it would.

The angels are not feeling awesome about things because Marshall and his “good looking young reporter” are apparently very tempting for demons. So an affair is on the way? Look, I have a rant coming about some things involving Marshall and Bernice but I’m going to hold off on that for now because I am certain I am going to have many more opportunities that will present themselves. I totally trust him for this. This is in fact the only thing I have trust in Peretti for.

Now then. They are hunting down the dean, Elder Strachan, who was driven out because of his attempts to hunt down the millions of dollars which was disappearing from the college, which still seems kind-of insane to me? I don’t know. Also, this is millions of dollars in mid-80’s money, which I realize isn’t so long ago but it is time ago and I imagine it makes a difference. I am all for believing in serious corruption and the possibility of conspiracies. It is just straining my suspension of disbelief (which let’s be honest, was already in tatters here) that millions of dollars is vanishing without notice in this small college. At least I assume it’s small. Can I mention that we have no idea how big of a college this actually is?

ANYWAY. Back to the dean. So when they drive up to his house, they… okay, I’m just putting it in.

Former college dean Eldon Strachan lived on a quaint and unpretentious ten-acre farm an hour away from Ashton. He was not farming the place, just living there, and as Marshall and Bernice drove up the love gravel driveway they could tell his interests extended no further than the immediate yard of the white farmhouse. The lawn was small and manicured, the fruit trees pruned and bearing, the flower beds soft with freshly turned and weeded soil. Some chickens meandered about, pecking and scratching. A collie greeted their approach with furious barking. 

“Wow, a normal human being to interview for once,” said Marshall.

I… okay, first off, how on earth could you possibly assume from seeing that he had a nice lawn that his interests do not extend beyond the nice lawn? That is so crazy that it is actually offensive. He was the dean of a college for heaven’s sake. Can we just go out on a limb and say that he has an inner life beyond chickens and yard maintenance? Following that, is just this gross and weird concept that a “normal person” is a person that lives on a farm, has a dog and a white picket fence, matches this small town values bullshit they’ve constructed. Which is particularly bizarre coming from Marshall, who is supposedly from the city. Or a city. We don’t know where Bernice is from (surprise, we don’t know anything about Bernice except her sister is dead!) but it seems unlikely she would be on Marshall’s side in this.

Strachan’s dog’s is named Lady. Strachan himself is healthy and white haired and you can tell he gets a lot of exercise. Firm handshake. His wife is named Doris and she brings them a million cakes and goodies and things. They have obligatory conversation about things including the “neighbor’s wandering cow” because they “know they have to” which frankly seems insane to me because Marshall has never shown any aptitude for realistically recognizing the pulse of a situation but whatever. Also, have you ever had an innate sense that it’s necessary for you to converse about a wandering cow? If so, please tell me all about it right away.

Finally Strachan is like “yeah, I suppose things in Ashton aren’t quite this nice.” And Marshall apologizes for having to drag them into it and Strachan muses about whether leaving was the right thing. The new dean may have been part of the inner circle thing, probably was. Strachan didn’t fit in very well. So he apparently began to suspect money problems when things were happening like bills were being paid late and payroll was behind. Which seems like the kind of thing that a lot of people would be upset about, not just a dean. If there is one thing that immediately gets people enraged, it is being behind on their paychecks (and rightly so!). He started asking about it, asked an independent accountant to look into it. Tragically the independent accountant is dead. No records written down.

He has considered trying to pursue this elsewhere but without proof there’s nothing he can do. I guess maybe that’s true although it still seems like a thing that they didn’t hide that well. So the accountant found “monies from grants and tuitions were being reinvested at an alarming rate, but apparently there were no dividends or returns of any kind from whatever the investments were, as if the money had been poured down a bottomless well somewhere. The figures had been juggled to cover it up, accounts payable had been staggered so that other accounts could be dipped into to pay those due..” Apparently it was a mess worth “at least” millions.

I know nothing about accounting. Numbers make me run away in fear, I promise. But this seems impossible to me. At the very least, it seems obvious this will all crumble in on itself any minute, it’s not a thing that can just keep going. And yet apparently this had been happening for years, and there were absolutely no clues where it was going. Maybe this was… more possible before the internet? I seriously don’t understand. He literally uses the phrase “somewhere out there was a money-hungry monster gobbling up all the college’s assets.”

I have not the faintest idea where they’re going with this. Are demons stealing the money? Are they using it to fund demon schemes? Do demons need funding now? Or are the Inner Circle using it to fund really lame New Age seminars? I can see that not being a money-maker. Really, from what he’s saying it sounds like people were just pocketing the money but they never say that or imply it. I don’t know.

Marshall points out that it seems a little odd that the people in charge of the college would want to financially destroy the college (unless some people are just taking a lot of money and are then going to vanish to a country with no extradition?) and he’s baffled and says the college is heading for bankruptcy and there’s just no explanation for any of it. So I’m glad someone is as confused as me.

Then they ask about Professor Langstrat. Strachan responds that “She was always a definite influence and mentor, to be sure, but…. I don’t think she’s the ultimate center of things. It seemed to me that she had a lot to do with controlling the group while someone higher up had a lot to do with controlling her. I think – I think she’s answering to someone, some unseen authority.” Why does he think that? We have no idea. That seems like a weird thing to come up with off the top of your head if you haven’t seen what we’ve seen BUT SURE.

Apparently the other things that he knows about her include that she graduated from UCLA, she’s taught other places before this but has been on faculty for at least 6 years. She was always super into the eastern religion stuff. She was into “some kind of neo-pagan religious group in California.” He never knew until a couple of years ago that she taught her beliefs in class or that they were spreading to students and even faculty. Well, yeah. That makes sense. Because why would a psychology teacher teach strictly new age mysticism? That literally makes no sense. Even at Fairhaven that would make no sense. We have a class studying Shamanism at Fairhaven but that would still make no sense.

Whatever. He lists a lot of people who got sucked into this religious stuff. A bunch of people were replaced and were replaced by people who loved demons, apparently. The Humanities department, the Philosophy department (just the entire thing of both of them apparently) then some of the others were from the biology and pre-med programs. Most of them were new.

They ask him how many of these people have come on staff since Professor Langstrat joined and he counted and it was A HUGE MAJORITY and he is “visibly shaken” and says that he was obviously concerned that he was constantly losing teachers like a tree losing leaves in fall but he never considered it might be an insane evil plot and they were all coming to follow a witch. Even though there did seem to be a common thread of how they all talked the same and acted the same and were weirdly like pod people, but he thought it was a phase (and maybe we’re all on the wrong track and it’s aliens. Maybe Satan turns you into an alien).

He looked up from the list with a new awareness in his eyes. “So it was more than that. Our campus was invaded and our faculty displaced by a – a madness!” 

I have nothing to say to that because it is insane but I thought it needed to be seen. Marshall remembers how his daughter pointed out that everyone was acting weird and ALSO how his wife said that his DAUGHTER was starting to act weird…. but then he snaps right out of that and asks about the exciting weird classes Langstrat teaches about Spirit Guides and Past and Future Lives (he doesn’t mention that one again but it’s still my favorite).

Strachan’s explanation for this is that it was part of an “alternative education program, purely a voluntary thing (as is a lot of college…) for any interested students, paid for by special traditions. I just thought it was a study of folklore, myths, traditions….”

It is hilarious that he thought that since the class titles are not subtle. But basically they are now blaming these classes for somehow having bewitched the students and the staff and the REGENTS. There has been a lot of them running away too, out of twelve positions, five have abruptly left in the last year and a half. Hence why voting him out was unanimous. He gives them their names. Some of them have died, a bunch of them left town with no information. Again, the world before the internet seems impossible to navigate. They bring up Ted Harmel again and he says that yes, he was in but then he tried to back out but he knew too much and when they couldn’t control him anymore and he was friends with Strachan “they arranged to defame him and chase him out of town with that ridiculous scandal.” Oh, that one about the sexual assault of a twelve-year-old child? Seriously, every time this gets brought up, I feel sick inside but it just keeps coming.

I guess initially he thought it was science of the human mind or something. Sure. Whatever. Torn between two loyalties, chose to print the truth about financial problems, step over the line. Bernice suddenly “recalls” him saying that they were trying to control him and dictate what he printed, which is brushed right over but seems like a completely bizarre thing for her to not have remembered earlier.

So they talk more about how shockingly and frighteningly strong this thing is and WHO KNOWS how many more people in Ashton have just disappeared and Marshall remembers poor Joe, the grocery store owner we’ve never met but keep hearing about. Strachan asks what they’ll do with the info and Marshall says he has no idea, which makes sense because it is totally not a story. Like what is he going to print? “College being taken over by cult. Faculty and students hypnotized and bewitched. Also money missing in literally unbelievable amounts.” Strachan warns him, reminds him of Ted (PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT TED) and Marshall asks him if they still hang out. They do. They’re fishing buddies. He begs him to call and ask him if he’ll please really actually talk to him. Dammit. Sigh. Strachan will consider it.

He warns them some dire bullshit that it’s “possible for them to lose everything if they take one wrong move or wrong step” and to be careful and whatever.

*******

At the Clarion office, Tom the man whose job is no longer relevant (paste up man), is putting ads and things together when someone came in the front door and sadly the boss and the only reporter are out tracking down something they won’t talk about so that leaves him to answer. Tom comes up and this extremely beautiful woman is there, neatly dressed. He wishes he was young again. Then there’s a… well, I think he thinks he’s being clever.

She’s read the ad for secretary and she wants to apply.
It had to be an angel, Tom thought. “Boy if you can cut it, let me tell you, there’s sure a job to be had around here!”
“Well, I’m ready to start,” she said with a bright smile.
Tom made sure his hand was clean enough and then extended it. “Tom McBride, paste-up man and general worrier.”
She shook his hand firmly and said her name, “Carmen.”
“Pleased to meet you, Carmen. Uh… Carmen who?”
She laughed at her lapse of mind and said, “Oh, Carmen Fraser. I get so used to just going by my first name.”
Tom swung the little gate open at the end of the counter and Carmen followed him into the office area.
“Let me show you what the devil’s going on here,” he said.

See what he did there? Devil and angel? And it’s Carmen. Who is “neatly dressed” so either Hank’s standards for whore garb were completely insane (totally possible) or the demons have cleaned her up a bit before her application. Will they also stop talking to her so she can do her job? Can demons possess someone and make them a cheerful and productive member of society for a while? Because like… that doesn’t seem biblical, even for a scheme. I always think of it more like in Being John Malkovich, fighting for control of the person puppet.

So whatever. Office has been infested by Lust demon’s pet woman and now I guess things will really start getting even grosser. I assume. Also, although I felt unhappy about all the jumping around sometimes, I have to say that an entire chapter being just on one storyline was worse. I prefer switching.

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