This Present Darkness: Chapter 17

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So, we are now “in a faraway secluded valley, in a little cluster of unlabeled buildings hidden by rocky crags.” I wonder who built these buildings. I mean, it seems like a terrible idea to put them in the middle of this nowhere place and hide them. Unless they’re developing nuclear power or something. I guess it could be that. Probably it’s not that. How do Christians feel about nuclear power? They are okay with it? Anyway. Whatever.

So we are in this office building and there are a lot of people, over 200 people (and I appreciate that because it is one of his few instances of specificity) and they are all different ages and nationalities and they are going through files and talking on phones and typing letters and there are people bringing boxes on handtrucks and it’s very busy. Outside there are MORE boxes being loaded on handtrucks. I mean, this is exciting stuff, you guys. I don’t know how thrilling you find watching a daily office routine but it is definitely my favorite thing. I guess it’s supposed to be more exciting when it’s Evil.

Nearby there is a big house and a woman is standing on the porch watching and she’s tall and slender and she has jet-black hair and… oh yeah! Remember that bizarre beginning paragraph in chapter 3? It must be coming back now. Seriously, what awful pacing this book has. So she is apparently super nervous and freaked out and trying not to look it. She puts on sunglasses and then walks towards the office building. Apparently as she goes people salute her so she is important and this is a place where people salute you. Which is not like.. a lot of places.

So she goes in and everyone salutes her and she smiles at them and then the office manager steps up and bows and says, “Good morning. What does the Maidservant require?” 

The Maidservant smiled and said, “I’d like to run off some copies.”

*blink*

*blink, blink*

Well, that’s not what I imagined the answer to that question being. Also, in more pertinent news, seriously? We’re just going to have her go by The Maidservant? As if that is a thing that anyone would do outside of a kinky roleplay setting? Seriously, what does Frank Peretti imaging happens in the world? Sigh. Anyway. The manager offers to do them for her but no, she would just love to do them herself so the manager will warm up the machine for her. Okay. It is reiterated that everyone bows as she passes.

When the Maidservant is alone in the room, she pulls a small book out of her bag and flips through it until she finds what she’s looking for. And then she copies off a whole bunch of pages. Forty pages actually. Then back to the house she goes. It is apparently a majestic house, soaring ceilings and everything. Not an unpretentious house like our friend the dean. Noooo, this house obviously oozes pretention. After all, he has a woman whose name is Maidservant. She comes in and rewraps the book exactly as she originally got it so you can’t even tell she unwrapped it to begin with. None of this, incidentally, explains why she didn’t write down his request for her to retrieve the book for him back in chapter 2 or whatever. Obviously she wanted the book. Ugh. Also the package is bound with string. Raise your hand for the last time you got a package bound with string. Was that even still a thing in the 80’s? I mean, seriously.

So somewhere else in the house, in his enormous office is a “middle-aged, roundly built man dressed in loose trousers and tunic and sitting Indian fashion on a large cushion.” So evil, obviously. He’s meditating, eyes closed, deep breathing.

The fine furnishings of a man of great prestige and power surrounded him: souvenirs from around the world, such as swords, war clubs, African artifacts, religious relics, and several rather grotesque idols of the East; a battleship of a desk with a built-in computer console (heeheeeeeeeee I can only imagine how huge that would have to be at this time), multilined telephone (TELEPHONE), and an intercom; a long, deep-cushioned couch with matching hand-carved oak chairs and coffee table; hunting trophies of bear, elk, moose and lion.

I… don’t even know what to do with most of that. “Grotesque idols of the East” aside (fuck you, Peretti), it all just sounds really crowded? Like why has no one ever heard of minimalism in these offices? How is he fitting all that stuff everywhere?

Anyway. He knows she’s there without her knocking or opening his eyes and he tells her to come in and put it on his desk and she does and he makes his way out of his trance thing and teases her about having finally found it and she says it got pushed into a corner or whatever. He says he doesn’t know what it is “as if he’s answering a question” and she says she wasn’t wondering. Sigh. It’s obviously supposed to be really ominous but I’m bored and it’s hard to recap because apparently no one has a damn name.

So he tells her that they’re going to move into a beautiful house in Ashton and she tells him she has really weird feelings about it because as he knows she grew up in that town and he tells her it will not be at all the same town as she remembers and then he gives this weird thing about like “On the one hand you have no desire at all for the town, and on the other hand, you sneak off to attend the carnival.” She blushes and says that she was “searching for something from her past, something from which to envision her future.” Who talks this way?

He goes all Rent on her and tells her that there is no past, he is her whole future now and she says yes, yes, she can see that now and he is very glad because their friends were super embarrassed to have to meet her there. She wants to know why he had to come looking for her and drag them along anyway and he plays with a super sharp ceremonial knife and “looking over the edge of the blade at her” tells her that he totally loves her, is in fact one in essence in her (whatever that means) but he doesn’t trust her because she is “a woman given to many conflicting passions.”

Then he comes around the desk where other knives were stuck into the head of a pagan idol and says “You, dear Susan (hey, a name!), share my life, my secrets, my purposes. I have to protect my interests.” He drops the knife into the head of the idol and she tells him she is totally always his and he says of course she is.

I…. look, does Peretti think people talk this way? That this is a scenario that could… happen? Does he think that Satan and his minions work this way? Because holy crap, what drama queens they all are. There are high schoolers way more relaxed than this. Who are these adults who would just behave this way? I cannot begin to buy it. I just can’t. And I’m confused because it seems like he… does?

*******

So high above all of this are angels watching everything. One is the “silver-haired man who had been here before” whoever that was. And one is Tal. Apparently this is where Rafar came before, so this is where the Strongman is hanging out these days.

So they talk a lot about “her” and how they’ve been able to blind the demonic forces around her and near her for now but not for much longer. That she has “learned of the suicide.” Her and Patricia were apparently very close. So I guess Susan must be Patricia’s roommate? Maybe that’s what Bernice said before, I don’t remember. Shame to run away from college only to find yourself shacked up with legions of demons.

So Tal’s next step, according to the “general” (seriously, is this like… Gabriel? Who is this?) is “the Universal Consciousness Society is holding a special fund-raising and promotional dinner in New York for its many cohorts and members in the United Nations.” LOL What a stupid evil sounding name. So Kaseph, who is apparently the evil meditation man, can’t come because of stuff and activities, so he’s sending Susan. Obviously she will have a lot of guards but the will be the only time she’ll be “out from the Strongman’s demonic cover and the Spirit knows she plans to get away and make contact with one remaining friend on the outside, who can in turn contact your newspaperman.” So she’s taking this chance and Tal is supposed to make sure it will work out.

Tal’s first response is to ask if there is “prayer cover in New York.” I literally cannot roll my eyes hard enough. But it’s promised to him. Her friend that she’s contacting is named Kevin Weed, which is hilarious and kind-of awesome. Former boyfriend. Tal is off to go gather some more prayer.

*******

Marshall and Bernice (dammit, we’re back to them again?) are driving around talking about random things and enjoying each other’s company. Marshall grew up Presbyterian and now doesn’t know what he is and Bernice’s parents were Episcopalian and she doesn’t think she was ever anything. Bernice never went to Sunday school, Marshall thinks every kid needs to know something about God, Bernice is like k, but what if God doesn’t exist? And Marshall is like “See? You never went to Sunday School!” Sigh. Is this flirting?

Bernice’s parents are dead and Patricia was her only sibling so she’s all alone in the world. Nathan and Armon are above the car (seriously, did Buick pay per mention in this book because it has come up EVERY TIME) trailing diamond light behind them. So Nathan is excited because he gets to throw his sword into the hood of the car, which he does and it kills the car. Which is exactly what the demons did a few chapters ago. Remind me of how demons and angels are different again? Because I’m getting hazy on the details.

Marshall grumpily pulls into the little gas station and tries to look at it and Bernice excuses herself to go to the restroom. A bunch of guys are trying to get her attention “hey baby” bullshit but nothing lewd because of course you can’t write those things. They’re joking about her and one of them calls one of the other guys “Weed” and she realizes, because that is a fairly unusual name, that it is KEVIN WEED. And after some pushing he remembers who she is and sends his friends away and gets her a Coke.

She asks if he can tell her anything more about Pat’s death but he doesn’t know anything. Then she asks has he seen Susan anytime since and he’s like “wow, this world is so small!” and he says he saw her at the carnival for a minute. Also apparently her name is Susan Jacobson and he doesn’t really know how he felt about seeing her because she just ran off with that other goon anyway, and who cares about her… okay, Kevin. Maybe you could work out your emotional issues another time. She had asked for Weed’s phone number and that was all and he didn’t have a way to contact her.

Then Bernice has a hunch! And she asks him what Susan looked like and he describes her and she gets all freaked out and asks about the boyfriend and he describes him as looking like some wimp from Fat City” and is all bitter that it had to have been his money. Bernice doesn’t really explain why she’s all freaked out but I would guess maybe this is who she saw meeting with the pastor and Brummel? Maybe? I don’t know. Either way. She gives the drunken Kevin her card and tries very hard to get it through his confused brain that if he hears anything from Susan at all, she needs to hear from him immediately.

She goes out to the car and amazingly it starts up again! The service guy has no idea why because he didn’t do anything.

High above the filling station, Nathan soared skyward to join Armoth, his sword retrieved. “Done,” he said.
“And now we’ll see how the captain and Guilo succeed in New York.”
The Buick(!) started out again, and Nathan and Armoth followed behind and above it like two kites on strings.

The image of angels being kites on strings is not quite as good as them riding on top of a car but it is also fun. I will take it. Nothing else in this chapter has been much fun.

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