This Present Darkness: Chapter 20


So Marshall is heading down a long and windy road to the middle of nowhere, which is always the ideal place to meet child predators. He’s not concerned about that though, because no one in this book seems to have ever once considered the possibility that Ted might actually be a terrible human, so that’s not a relevant point. What is a relevant point apparently, is how worried Marshall is getting about his shock absorbers on his poor Buick. Do people call them shock absorbers? Google is telling me that absorbers isn’t even a word. I’ve only ever heard them called shocks. Well, whatever. It’s a logging road.

Down the long road he goes until he finally sees an old Valiant parked ahead of him. Sometimes this book feels like it was written by my father. I mean, not really but just in the sense of what he notices. I couldn’t tell you what a Valiant looks like if I had a gun to my head. I assume it is one of those old and giant cars? Probably? Harmel gets out and he is all dressed in normal people clothes, outdoor clothes. “Wool shirt, faded jeans, work boots, a wool cap.” You know. Manly, outdoors clothes. He apparently looks very exhausted and very frightened.

He leads Marshall to an off-woods trail and they go hiking up through logs and underbrush and seriously, is he going to kill him? Like I know he’s concerned about people listening in but this seems a little extreme and I’m pretty sure demons can listen in all over the place. Although I guess he doesn’t know about the demons, maybe. Marshall notes that he wishes he hadn’t dressed in a suit and nice shoes as he’s struggling a bit with his new life in the wilderness but he’s not complaining because “he’d recaptured the big fish that got away.” Did you, Marshall? Did you indeed? Because I feel like Harmel is going to do a lot more talking about nothing personally. But you always seem thrilled by the nothing you hear so maybe that will be sufficient for you, I guess.

Harmel finally finds a log that seems to be free of mechanical bugs and makes it very clear to Marshall that this conversation never took place and also straight off the bat goes into what we’ve all been longing to hear. “As far as the molesting of Marla Jarred, Adam Jarred’s girl – that was a bizarre set-up. I don’t know who coached her, or how, but somebody got that girl to say all the right words to the police. I do find it significant that the whole matter was settled so quietly. What I was supposed to have done is a felony; you don’t just settle a thing like that quietly.” What a lovely thought, Ted. Except of course, that the majority of child assault cases never go to trial and we don’t really know anything about the details of this and it is entirely possible that somehow they could have figured out a way to settle it quietly.

But you know what? That’s totally enough for Marshall. He would just like to know how Ted brought all this stuff on himself. I would be mad at him for victim blaming but considering the “victim” I’m not even sure who to be annoyed with at this point.

Ted says that he got too involved, that the whole thing is a secret club where everyone knows everything about everyone else, including what you think and how you feel. They’re working toward a Universal Mind, which I guess we already knew. He clarifies that this is “the concept that sooner or later all the inhabitants of the world will make a giant evolutionary leap and meld into one global brain, one transcending consciousness.” Again, this is hilarious and sounds like crazy people living in the woods, not like a bunch of super rich people but you know, whatever.

Marshall “compares this to what he already knows” and seems a bit surprised that everyone associated with this network subscribes to this hilarious idea. Apparently Langstrat’s “therapy” sessions are really just code word for her bringing you into the Universal Mind, helping you attain altered consciousness and such. Again, I would be annoyed but I’m so amused by the idea of this being therapy that I can’t even get to annoyed. I mean, this is a religion. She’s made her therapy into a network of her religion. Which is… I mean, how did that happen? Did she at one time practice traditional therapy and then decide, nope, people need to all have a single hive mind instead of all these pesky individual minds? Because that seems… I want to say unlikely but that seems hilariously understated.

This is when he starts telling Marshall about Juleen’s magical powers, how she could get into his mind and know his every thought and how he can still sometimes hear her calling to him in his brain. He is very troubled by this. I am very amused by this. How does Juleen keep such a thing straight? Does she know the every thought of all these people? Do the demons give her super-powers to be able to cope with this super power? Does she get tired of all the thoughts of these obnoxious men? Can she hear them all the time or only when she’s actively trying? Is it like that episode of Buffy where she could be overwhelmed by it? I have so many questions. Peretti, of course, does not have questions. The point is only that she owns everyone.

Also, Ted is still wondering about Edie and I… do not remember who Edie was or why we should be wondering about her. Apparently she dropped out of sight? But who was she before she dropped out of sight, do you think? Maybe they’ll give us clues. Apparently they also made a district judge decide not to run and he sold his house and left town. The judge that took care of him (Baker) told Ted his life could be really awful if he didn’t just leave quietly, even though he knew it was a frame-up (is that even a word people use?) and so Ted got out of town. No, he will not tell Marshall too many people’s names because if he tells him too much they’ll be able to trace it back to him. But he should go check the town council and the mayor’s office and do what they’ve been doing, check for replacement people. Board of regents at the college. Obviously a lot of this we already know and I’m so glad we’re repeating it. Look, I get it. Most of the town thinks they’re about to make a giant leap of consciousness. Isn’t that usually when the group suicides start?

Ted would also like him to know that it’s more than physical, he may need to be religious to fight it. This has some kind of spiritual element to it. “They don’t believe in any God – they are God.” I think it’s weird he capitalized both of those versions of god. Anyway. He first got involved with her because he was interested in all the stuff she was documenting. He started doing “counseling” with her himself, looking for a novelty story but once he started… just couldn’t stop. She was photographing his aura and energy field and probing his mind and melding thoughts and it was super sexy. Okay, he doesn’t say that last part but again, it sounds that way. He used to leave his body and go into space and talk to his “instructors” and he knows Marshall won’t believe him and he’s terrified to tell him about the instructors because they will definitely find out about that. He’s not even sure if they’re real,

I mean, you know. They’re demons, obviously. Spirit guides, inner teachers, they appear to you out of nowhere and start talking to you about things and then they gain their own personality and it is not just your imagination anymore. Juleen definitely works for them. Or maybe they work for her. He lost everything over this. He lost his wife because of how Juleen would call him in the middle of the night and he’d just go right over (I cannot imagine why that might have caused conflict). He’d print whatever they wanted him to. Maybe if she had told him to kill himself he even would have. He just doesn’t know. Marshall can’t understand.

But then Marshall remembers how she hypnotized him out of the room and thinks maybe he does. Yes Marshall. I’m sure your single experience of being hypnotized by her makes you completely understand this man’s terror.

But when they found out about the college finances, Ted just had to do something and Juleen freaked out at him and threatened him and he felt like he was being torn apart but he decided he couldn’t be controlled that way anymore and then he was almost, but maybe not totally, shocked when they came after him in the way they did. Also he feels like maybe any information on the real estate deals that have recently been done in the area could show them something important. It just didn’t feel right to him.


Real estate is also feeling wrong to Bernice! She’s just gone to another office and they are closing up shop right in front of her even though they are supposed to be open till 5. He explains they close early on Thursdays, even though their sign clearly says that is not the case and when she presses him, he gets all “cross” with her about it and then she intercepts his son driving away and asks him if they aren’t usually open till 5 and he says that the boss said to go home.

She just wants to look through their microfiche! But she can’t because it’s totally broken. He drives away and she yells angrily after him, asking if Rosemary tipped him off. Seriously, these people are all so stupid. Just claim rights of privacy and refuse to give information. I am really pretty sure you can do that. If they need the information they can probably request it in an official way or whatever but there’s literally no reason I can think of why someone should just be able to walk into a real estate office and say “please show me all your files now.” And that would be way less suspicious than closing your store in the middle of the day.


Ted is looking all grim and upset as he tells Marshall that his life is going to end and they’ll take him out and other dire such warnings. Marshall ignores him and asks about Kaseph and Ted says yes, Juleen worshiped that guy so you should definitely check into him. Also he was looking into buying the college, which for some reason takes Marshall completely by surprise (mostly because he’s an idiot) and Ted tells him to keep looking into it. Also he’s bought like everything around town. Which makes it seem like that’s the answer the real estate mystery right there…? Now he hands Marshall an envelope that contains the notes from the accountant so that’s magical, Marshall is thrilled as a puppy. Apparently Ted just randomly found them, which seems suspicious. Half of the information might be missing but he’s not sure, probably you need an accountant to read the things.

Ted has a theory that Kaseph wants to buy everything in Ashton and maybe the reason the college has been driving itself into bankruptcy is so that ultimately they will have to sell to Kaseph. That is not a great theory but I guess it is a theory, which is more than we can say about anything else so far. Ted feels like Kaseph is maybe even the one taking the money. Maybe he will buy the college with it’s own money. I just… cannot believe someone would not have noticed this. Or would not notice this. Selling a college is surely a huge thing.

Marshall then asks what to me seems like an obvious question which is, why on earth would this guy want to own a tiny town or a whole college or whatever? Ted’s answer is… less than satisfying.

“Hogan, a guy with the power and bucks that guy seems to have could take a town like Ashton and do anything he wanted with it. I think he already has to a great extent.”
“How do you know?”
“Just check it out.”

I loathe all of you.


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