This Present Darkness: Chapter 18

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Hank and Mary are super happy at services this morning. And weirdly I’m happy to see them! Just because it’s been two chapter of just Marshall and Bernice and the hosts of heaven and hell pretty much and I’ve been feeling very tired of all that. So you know. Even a new terrible-ness seems better than being stuck in the same place. Mary is playing the piano exceptionally well and they’re both feeling super encouraged and like they know that God is totally going to take care of everything even though horrible spiritual warfare is coming. So I guess that’s nice.

One of the reasons that Hank is so happy is because he is “ministering to an almost entirely new congregation.” Basically everyone who doesn’t like him has left the church, “taking their embittering presence with them” and everyone is much happier now that they’re gone. There’s that pastoral heart of Hank’s again. Always astonishing me with new levels of compassion. On top of that, the angels have sent lots of new people! Some single and some married, which is the only description of people you could ever need. Also Grandma Duster is there, all hearty and “ready for a fight.” The Coleman’s are back. Whatever. I don’t remember who they are. Do we like them? Maybe they spoke for Hank at the Friday night thing? Who can say.

Also Ron Forsythe is there with his parents and his girlfriend, who is described as a “short, very made-up sophomore.” Other than how gross Hank’s view on everything is, how does he know she’s a sophomore exactly? Can Hank just look at a high school girl and figure out their ages spontaneously? That is a gross talent to have, Hank. Sigh. Whatever. Hank is “choking down emotion” at seeing Ron in church because it is a genuine miracle accomplished by God. “He would have shouted hallelujah right there, but he didn’t want to scare the young fellow away; this could be one of those kid-glove cases.” Um. Hank? You cast demons out of this kid a few days ago on a park bench and then preached to him for what I’m sure was an endless amount of time. For whatever reason he did not run for his life, so I doubt he’s bolting now.

So after the first song he decides he needs to directly address what’s going on in front of him in the grossest way he can think of, because if there is one thing that Hank is talented in, it is doing things in the grossest way possible. So he says “Well, I don’t know whether to call all you people visitors or refugees or what.” Sigh. I…. I just hate him so much. You are what is wrong with Christians, Hank. You personally. And your author.

So basically he wants to have everyone go around the room and introduce themselves and get to know each other. We don’t know what they say, which is probably for the best except that god forbid we might get to know any of these people. Oh wait, we probably don’t want to. I imagine they’re all along the same line. The book describes it as “the first roll call of the Remnant.” Sigh.

The angels are watching and keeping out the demons. The demons are not happy about it and Lucius had “carried on a bitter argument with Signa, trying to gain entrance.” I… do not understand how these politics work at all. Because like apparently it’s not just strength? They’re not just fighting for turf every time. Sometimes they’re just arguing it out? But how are they arguing it out? What are the stakes exactly? What is Lucius’s explanation for why he should be in that church? Because I can’t think of a very good one. Apparently Peretti can’t either. Anyway, Lucius (I keep trying to type Luscious) knows better than to push things too far because of ALL THE PRAYING SAINTS so all the demons just hang outside and eavesdrop. A few of them managed to get inside with human hosts and so they just sat “here and there in the congregation, brooding over this horrible development.” Which made me laugh a lot because it just sounded so pouty.

Oh gdi. We do have to hear them introduce themselves. I am not going to go through all this, it’s just a lot of names. “To Hank, it seemed just like the gathering of a special army.” Yeah, okay Hank. Some of them are students at Whitmore, some of them introduce themselves as friends of other people or new in town, one couple “owns the Whatnot Shop on Eighth street” which… what is a Whatnot Shop?? Someone works at a filling station, someone teaches. They’re just normal folks, you know. Finally Ron stands up and introduces himself and his girlfriend Cynthia and almost starts crying and then his parents tell everyone that they gave their hearts to the Lord last night, so I guess that’s nice. Oh, and Ron then says “and we flushed all our drugs down the toilet!” Sigh. The roll call continued. This is the weirdest church service ever.

The demons are super alarmed and tell Lucius that Rafar obviously needs to know this is happening and should they go tell him and he gets all testy and tells him to go do his thing and he’ll tell Rafar himself. They all gather around waiting for an order and he starts shrieking, as demons are want to do and tells them to stop staring at him and go do their shit. And Lucius is like stupid Rafar. He doesn’t need to know shit. If he needs to know shit, he can ASK ME HIMSELF. Which is the way you run successful armies, I think.

*********

Now we’re in New York City, which I guess we were going there with the former roommate and stuff. In the part we’re in, everything is “tailored for the elite” so obviously it is evil. The Grand Ballroom at the Gibson Hotel is reserved for the Universal Consciousness Society, which still cracks me up and sounds like a group of crazy hippies, not like an elite anything. Tal is happy because the general’s information was correct which like… is it often not correct? How often is their information incorrect? I would really think working for an all-knowing creator would come in handy when it came to your strategies but apparently God is cool with letting them figure it out…? I don’t get it.

Tal stalks out the place and finds a place card that says Kaseph Omni Corporation, which I will grant is a pretty great name for a bad guy corporation. They go into the ladies restroom (skeezy) and break a window latch so it can easily be opened and slipped out of. Move a dumpster underneath the window and some garbage cans in handy step fashion next to it. This is kind-of elaborate really. Then they disappear as a ton of different dignitaries and VIP’s with their attached demons begin to show up at the hotel. Apparently all the limos are carrying “a vast cross section of humanity: Orientals, Africans, Europeans, Westerners, Arabians – people of great power, esteem, and dignity from all over the world.” I… what? Oh wait, he is about to explain! “As written in the Scriptures, the kings of the earth,” Tal observed, “being made drunk with the wine of the great harlot’s immorality.”

So apparently Universal Consciousness is the single religion, the great Harlot showing up to fool the world and it’s Babylon being resurrected before the end of the world and that’s why Rafar is coming back and wait a minute is this an end of the world book???? But it can’t be because they’re stopping it. But if it’s not, then why are they quoting end of the world scriptures?

They reminisce with each other about how much fighting Rafar last time sucked and how much they don’t want to do it again. And they look for Susan. And finally find her in a super fancy car. A Lincoln Continental. Does Peretti like cars? Is that a thing of his? I feel like it comes up a lot. So she is guarded closely and is wearing a super gorgeous dress that cascades all down to her feet and Guilo is a bit confused because she doesn’t look like she’s plotting an escape but Tal assures him that the general has yet to err, which makes it all the more confusing as to why he was so pleased earlier that his information was accurate.

So they run into the alley and count all the demons and there are like a hundred and the prayer cover is limited so they’re a little concerned but it’s okay because they’re just leading them on a chase, not an actual defeat thing and they wait and wait and get more tense “like ever tightening springs” and then they finally feel “the prompting of the Spirit” and watch the window and when it’s time the power of God goes coursing through Guilo in what totally seems a little sexy and Guilo goes bursting out and calls them black lizards and tells them he’ll test their mettle and goes hopping around like a crazy person in the sky and Susan jumps out the window and apparently she was wearing jeans under that dress. Does… okay, you can’t really wear a dress like that with jeans underneath it. Not going to work. It is not going to “flow to the ground” in the way that it needs to if she’s wearing jeans. Clothing works according to laws of physics. Sigh. I guess Peretti did not wear a dress or ask his wife about this. The point is that “from the neck up she was still gorgeous; from the neck down she was ready for running down dark alleys.” I mean, she’s also wearing a blouse so maybe it wasn’t under the dress? But where would she hide the clothing? I mean, you carry tiny purses to these types of events. I learn things from watching formal affairs. You definitely don’t carry like… knapsacks. Okay. Letting it go.

So Tal helped her find her way down the alley from the dumpster, which is weird because why did they need to do all of that setting up and then lead her all to it? Whatever. She makes her way down the alley and finds a phone booth. Hehehe. Phone booths! Remember phone booths? God, life was so hard before the internet and cell phones. Dark, dark times. Guilo has successfully diverted all of the demons by jumping around like a magic jumping bean. Susan slams into the phone booth and takes “a pile of coins” from her pocket to make a long distance call. Hehe.

****

So somewhere in between Ashton and that awful place Bernice ran into him at Kevin is sleeping in the exhausted way he probably always does (from all the drinking, I imagine) in a “rundown warehouse refashioned into low-rent apartments.” He is awakened by the phone and it’s Susan and he’s so confused because what the hell is going on and why is his life so suddenly full of this ex-college girlfriend? What happened to Kevin’s college life anyway? Did he not graduate? We don’t care apparently.

Susan tells him there isn’t much time and she needs his help immediately. If he has a pencil he should write it down but obviously he does not have pencil. Who keeps pencils? Anyway. She desperately needs him to contact Bernice Krueger and Kevin is SUPER WEIRDED OUT which makes sense. Honestly I feel like probably they didn’t even need to have Bernice run into him but maybe they just wanted to. He gets all snotty and is like “what about your fancy boyfriend” bullshit but she is like okay obviously my boyfriend is who I’m afraid of, you fucking moron, so maybe it would be really great if you could just help me. Kevin is “nonplussed.” But he asks what he should say and she says to tell Bernice what happened between Susan and him, with Kaseph and everything, which is weird. “Please call my now dead roommate’s sister and tell her all about our personal drama.” Then she says to tell her what Kaseph is up to. Because NO ONE SAYS ANYTHING IN THESE BOOKS.

Kevin is confused, which I relate to. But she says she does not have time to explain. Instead she says to tell Bernice that Kaseph is going to take over the entire town, which is the weirdest thing she has said, and also that Susan has something super important to tell her about Pat. She will try to call her but probably the Clarion phone will be bugged. Kevin points out that she sounds completely insane and wonders (fairly) if she is on drugs. But no. Just call her and tell her everything, tell her that she saw her at the carnival! Tell her everything! TELL ME YOU WILL DO IT. And Kevin is like omg, just chill, yes I will do it, why is my life so fucking weird all of a sudden?

Susan hangs up and runs out of the phone booth with Tal stalking her, trying to hide behind dumpsters. That’s Tal trying to hide behind dumpsters, incidentally. He’s very concerned about being spotted. I guess if the demons see them there it will probably tip them off. Probably especially if they see an important demon like Tal there? I would say maybe that would be an excellent reason for them to have sent someone else but also apparently no one ever recognizes anyone in the angel world so maybe it doesn’t really matter. But oh no! Four more demon sentries have taken the place of the ones scurrying after Guilo! Susan is going to run flat into them without ever knowing it! WHAT TO BE DONE!

Tal dives headfirst through the pavement… okay, letting that go. He is going under the city and bringing forth his giant silver sword. Okay. He just deeply penetrated and pulled out his giant sword. This is not at all sexual. The saints of God are praying and the power of God is coursing through his body. He holds up the sword and a streak of light bursts from the ground and cuts across the street through the alley and into the eyes of all four demons. The demons fall and stumble, blinded, trying to find each other. Did he just spiritually come in their eyes and blind them? Is that what just happened? I… okay.

Tal tries to rush back to help Susan before the demons recover from their weird experience to sound an alarm. The demons are rubbing their eyes clean. Guilo manages to push Susan back inside and keep her from hurting herself. And then both of them fly away, chased by a pack of angry demons. They are chased for hundreds of miles but eventually they give up. Guilo and Tal head back to Ashton.

How fast to demons and angels travel? Why do they have to travel through space as we know it at all? Isn’t that terribly cumbersome? Shouldn’t one of the perks of being part of the spirit world mean maybe not having to do that so much? Sigh.

****

Meanwhile, back in the bathroom Susan….. sigh. She rolls up the legs of her jeans and takes her evening gown down from the hook on the stall and just puts it back on again. The sneakers go in her bag. No fucking clue where the BLOUSE went. Seriously. This is the most insane thing I’ve ever heard of. Also, how are you carrying a purse big enough for sneakers?

A guard outside tells her that they’re waiting for her and she tries to fix herself up so she doesn’t look like she just snuck out a window. She teases the guard a little and “with ladylike dignity” emerges and takes the arm of the escort and goes back to the ballroom to her place at the table. Wearing jeans under her gorgeous gown. Seriously. Jeans. I can’t get past it.

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