This Present Darkness: Chapter 20

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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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This Present Darkness: Chapter 19

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Oh and we’re back to the Clarion offices. Apparently it is becoming super efficient again, primarily because of that awesome demon possessed girl, Carmen. I am still a little stuck on how she goes from having schizophrenic tendencies to being a dream office worker who whips things into shape. She still has the demons (we can safely assume), so does that mean that if they stop actively bothering her she’s basically awesome? Or, alternatively, does that mean that demons are capable of making you crazy efficient and awesome for a while as they prepare to carry out schemes? Neither of these theories fully seem to fit into the world that Frank Peretti has designed but I’m not sure what else to draw from this. I am going to go with what I find more amusing, which is the idea that there is a demon of efficiency.

I mean, here she is, handing Marshall fresh copy and telling him that she’s broken this article down into multiple headings, figuring they could run it in three parts. Much to Marshall’s delight because it’s wonderful she can read Tom’s handwriting. Do the Clarion staff hand all of their articles in handwritten? I know this is before the age of computers and maybe in their tiny, small town offices word processors weren’t really a thing yet (I am going to fully admit that I don’t really understand what good word processors were or how they fit into history but Google tells me that probably they should have been a thing by now) but surely the typewriter was an accepted tool. Even an expected tool for a journalist, one might think? Sigh. Whatever. Also she’s read other things and has gone through the books and balanced all the accounts and is basically awesome and seriously, see my first paragraph because I’m so confused.

Marshall goes to get coffee and is super excited about it and then realizes that it’s because he can have coffee because Carmen had found the cord to the machine. Presumably with the help of demons. He smiles at her as he goes back to his office. Apparently her only request with the job was to have her desk moved to right outside his office door, which delights him because “all he has to do is turn and holler, and she would spring into action to do his bidding.” Because Marshall is gross. But also I think it’s supposed to be like ominous she wants to be outside his door and will probably end up bad. But really isn’t it logical for the office manager to be right outside the door of her super needy paper editor?

Marshall comes back in and here are Bernice and Kevin Weed. Kevin is, as usual, looking very much the worse for wear. I think we’re just supposed to assume that he is either on a bender or coming off of one 100% of the time. Marshall is trying to figure out what he’s telling them and so far he’s figured out that Kevin used to be the… he phrases it as the “male acquaintance” of Susan, which is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, as that it’s not at all the same as boyfriend and makes her sound a little like a call girl or something. Also that Susan was Pat’s roommate. All of which he should have already known from Bernice. So they’re making great progress. As usual, Marshall demonstrating his superior interview skills.

He wants to know why Susan was at the carnival and Kevin says he has no idea but she popped up behind him and he was totally confused because it’s always pretty weird to run into your ex and she got his phone number and now she called. She was scared and it was “wild.” They have managed to tie together that this is the “ghostly looking woman” that Bernice photographed at the carnival, which is a little… I don’t know. Like I feel like they’re doing this weird thing where they’re trying to make her sound both incredibly beautiful and also very creepy looking and it’s coming across weird.

So Bernice mentions there was an older man with her and Kevin says yes, that was Kaseph. Neither of them observe that that is a weird-ass name, which I think is weird because I feel like that is the first thing you think. At the very least I would be asking if that was a first or a last name because I don’t feel like it’s intuitive. Actually I am… not sure if it is a first name or a last name, now that I’m thinking about it.

Oh wait, they’re going to tell us! Last name, apparently. His first name is probably Alexander, it at least starts with an A. Kevin (they keep calling him Weed, but I think that is stupid and gross so I’m going to call him by his actual name) is like yeah, she dumped me for him, sad me, I have no idea what he does but he’s a “real wheeler-dealer.” Apparently he first heard about him when they were at college and he wanted to buy a bunch of property. He sort-of casually mentions that Susan said he was trying to take over the town.

Their response to that is “What town? This one?” which I feel like is maybe supposed to be them (I am honestly not sure who asked the question because it doesn’t say) being freaked out? But to me I feel like it makes more sense as like “why would anyone try to take over this very small town where the paper comes out once a week?” Follow-up question: Who the hell “takes over towns” exactly? Are we living in a feudal society? They don’t ask any of that, of course.

Bernice asks where he’s from and Kevin says he might be from New York, that he is pretty sure he’s a “big city type.” Can I just say that I feel like Susan seriously overestimated the amount of information that Kevin would have to give to these people? I mean, she made it sound like he would have some idea of what he was up to or doing, of like details about him in some capacity but instead he’s fumbling around guessing he might have been from New York and pointing out the fact that he has money, most of which I imagine they could have gathered from a basic fact check once they had his name. Marshall tells Bernice to make a note for him for him to call Al Lemley at Times because if this guy is New York he should know who he is. Why can’t you make a note, Marshall? Is the pencil too doggone heavy for your sad hands?

Finally they ask what else he knows about him and Kevin gets all uncomfortable and says he’s into “weird stuff” and in any other book, with everything they’ve already set up, I feel like this is where it segues into him explaining how he has a BDSM kingdom that he runs but of course he just starts talking about his eastern beliefs which he equates with him being a “witch doctor or a guru or some kind of far-out ooga-booga man.” He apparently got Susan into all that too. It’s like a drug, you know. Once you start meditating, it’s all downhill from there. Oh, and also he and Langstrat were super tight, obviously. They “taught some night classes together.”

The fact that Peretti does not recognize how incredibly pervy all this sounds is semi-hilarious and also baffling. Anyway, so apparently Susan was a star student. Kaseph was like a guest teacher or something, so it’s super appropriate that he took a student as his creepy sex slave but I guess that’s probably the least of his concerns. Kevin would like to express that after going to these classes, Susan became totally insane, in fact she “couldn’t have been on a higher trip with mescaline.” Also he was very upset because he couldn’t talk to her anymore and they were all keeping secrets and he wasn’t part of the super special club and Susan kept telling him he wasn’t enlightened enough. Which, to be fair, dick move, Susan. No one wants to be told they’re not enlightened enough.

Apparently Kaseph was like the big man on campus and Langstrat was his “puppy dog” so that’s probably important, I guess. I can’t imagine why it actually matters but he thinks it does. Oh yeah, Bernice, also Susan totally wanted you to know that she would love to contact you and tell you important information about your dead sister but no I have no idea what, so sorry about opening up those painful wounds for you. And she thinks your phone is bugged. Marshall and Bernice do not know how seriously to take that, which is also hilarious to me since they seem to be battling supervillains of a cartoonish variety and I feel like it would be shocking if their phone was not bugged.

Kevin struggles extremely hard to remember what Pat’s relationship with Susan was (seriously, the way they describe him is just kind-of mean and gross, “one of Weed’s most painful undertakings was trying to remember things” etc. Is he supposed to be a drug addict? Is this just what happens to people in the evil world? I don’t know but I don’t like it). Apparently they were good friends for a long time but you know, it became quite difficult to be friends with Susan once she only wanted to talk about enlightenment and how much everyone else sucked. Apparently Pat actively got in the way somehow, Susan would talk about how she was a problem. They had a huge fight once about how she was brainwashed. Poor Pat. It’s so hard not to tell a brainwashed person they’re brainwashed, even when it’s totally not helpful. And it sucks to lose your friend.

Apparently Pat actually went to see Langstrat a few times and once Kevin saw her on campus and she looked like she hadn’t slept in forever and would barely talk to him. He asked how the investigation was going and she said she’d quit all that and it didn’t matter anymore. Also that apparently she had an instructor or something who was “helping” her and she just kept not wanting to talk so he left her alone. He tells Bernice that no, she did not seem like herself, that if she hadn’t hated all of them so much he would have said she had been brainwashed too, she had the same look as the rest. Also this all happened a little bit before they found her all dead.

Oh, and also (it’s like a Pretty Little Liars episode; remember what else happened on the night of Ali’s murder??) he saw her one more time before she died and he tried to ask about Susan and she started screaming at him like he was mugging her and then she saw it was him and was looking all paranoid like she was being followed. She did say a name, a Thomas. No last name. Acted like he owned her, was following her around a threatening her. She was very schizophrenic about him, “one minute she’d be talking like he was the greatest thing that ever happened to her, and then the next minute she’d be hiding out and saying he was following her.”

I actually feel like Kevin remembers a lot of information and maybe they should not be so mean to him.

Incidentally, at this point Bernice rushes off to find a college roster or something, which is the most insane thing I’ve ever heard considering that she was unable to find the name of her sister’s roommate but she thinks maybe she’ll find a random Thomas on record? I… sure, Bernice. You do you.

Kevin is tired because all this remembering is tiring. But Marshall assures him he’s doing fine and he hesitantly says he doesn’t know if something is important but… but some of the Kaseph bunch also had instructors and no, Pat wanted nothing to do with that group but it was true. Apparently he was in school studying accounting and then Pat killed herself and he got out because he “didn’t want to be next” and his life has been “nothing but hell ever since.” He works for a logging crew. Don’t loggers need a few wits about them sometimes? Like for falling trees and stuff?

He gives Marshall his info and says if he can’t get ahold of him there he can probably find him at the tavern in Baker because that is his life.

Bernice comes in with the roster that she just magically pulled out of somewhere and tells Kevin she wants him to go through it with her in the hopes they’ll find the guy’s name. Meanwhile Marshall has an urgent call.

Hey, it’s Ted! Our favorite child molester! Ted is annoyed but because Strachan talked to him he has decided he will give one interview. Marshall has to meet him in the middle of nowhere tomorrow so that will be terrible. I can’t wait for the horrible things he’ll disclose about how he definitely did not rape children.

Bernice did not find any Thomas, first or last name (I… in the whole school? How small of a school is this and what possible odds are there that that could be true?) and also they discuss how maybe their phone is bugged and they should figure that out. They’ve checked New York phone listings and apparently Kaseph doesn’t list himself, amazingly. They need to check real estate offices for all his big purchases. Also, while they’re at it they are finally going to get to the bottom of that big mystery that has been plaguing us all – who bought Joe’s Market. Also Marshall will call his friend at the Times, which Bernice helpfully reminds him of.

And all this time Carmen sits there, working quietly and pretending to have not heard a single thing. They are the worst secret keepers ever.

*****

So still with our favorite reporters. It had been a tight morning but everything is on schedule. Marshall’s pal will look around for our favorite super-villain. Marshall is heading off for his meeting with Harmel. Bernice tried to find out about Joe’s Market (now called Ashton Mercantile) but no one will tell her anything, all the employees knew nothing and could tell her nothing and the manager wasn’t there and eventually the assistant manager told her to please stop bothering his employees, which seems legit.

The realty offices! Bernice is astonished at what people will pay for a house, which is undoubtedly hilarious but he doesn’t tell us what it is so we can’t date the book that way. Bernice asks the front desk lady if they’ve done any business with super-villains lately and the woman would totally love to help but she’s new and doesn’t know and I think it’s a little bizarre that the immediate answer would not be “we can definitely not give out the names of anyone we do business with or even whether we did business with them because that’s how business works.” Have standards gotten that much better in 30 years? Bernice asks if she can use their microfiche while the secretary goes and finds out from her boss, Rosemary. Google tells me that a microfiche is a kind of microfilm reader. But I had to look it up. Because… obviously.

She looks around and tries to find the right microfiche to put in and finally thinks she may have found the right one to look at when Rosemary comes marching down the hall and tells her that this is not a thing that she can just look at because she does not work there. No, Rosemary does not know who owns Joe’s Market now and those files have not been updated in a while so they wouldn’t know either. No, she has never heard of a super-villain who goes by the name of Kaseph and none of her people have either because she has a super brain and has memorized all of their accounts. No, they do not have a cross-reference file. Is there anything else that she might possibly need?

Bernice was tired of being nice. “Well, Rosemary, even if there was, I’m sure you would not be able or willing to supply it. I’m leaving now, so breathe easy.”

She left hurriedly, feeling very lied to.

Okay seriously, Bernice. Like… people can’t just give you records just because you show up. That’s not how things work! Maybe you could file a request with your local… courthouse or something to find out who purchased the store? Seriously, how did anyone ever get anything done before the internet? The point is that you cannot just march in and expect information to be handed to you and then be hurt because it was not. Stop being stupid.

Tomorrow – Marshall talks to a child molester! I’m sorry. Accused child molester. Sigh.

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.

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.

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.

This Present Darkness: Chapter 15

Standard

Kate is making dinner, as we all know women love to do, when the phone rings. It is Marshall. She is exasperated because he has been calling a lot this week. Now I am… this is all weird to me because considering where we last left Marshall and a new pattern of him coming home late most nights, I feel like in most stories he would be about to have an affair. Or having an affair. That might even be true in real life. But that doesn’t even seem to have come up. Because we know that it’s not true, Kate also doesn’t seem concerned but that is… crazy. Why wouldn’t she be worried about that? It’s not like they have such a spectacular relationship that she could be perfectly secure. Anyway.

She has an exasperating wife talk with Marshall and he tries to defend himself that it’s not as bad as she thinks, he’s totally coming home this time, he’ll just be an hour or so late. Kate is disgusted but decides that since he is never, ever home anymore, she has to say this now. She tells him she is worried about Sandy.

“What’s wrong with her now?”
Oh, she could just punch him for that tone of voice! 

Go Kate! You have just become my favorite main character by having the only logical reaction to another character that we have seen so far. Hooray for you!

She proceeds to tell him that if he would show up once in a while maybe he would notice. She cannot explain what is wrong but Sandy is just not the same and also Kate is afraid about what Shawn is doing to her. Marshall clearly thinks this is insane. She says she can’t talk about it over the phone.

Now Marshall sighed. “All right, all right. We’ll talk about it.”
“When, Marshall?”
“Oh, tonight, when I get home.”
“We can’t talk right in front of them – “
“I mean… oh you know what I mean!” Marshall was tiring of this conversation.
Well, just get home, Marshall, please!”
“All right, all right!”
Marshall hung up the phone with hardly a loving gentleness. For a split second he regretted the act and thought about how it must have made Kate feel, but he forced his thoughts onward to the next, very pressing project: interviewing Professor Juleen Langstrat.

See, if this book were more subtle, I would think maybe the demons were actually doing their job with Marshall. Distracting him from his family and the people he is actually supposed to care about and love by making him obsess over the plot is a semi-decent scheme. Hell, along the way they could throw in some adultery. It’s still gross to me to think of this as something that is like… demons tricking you instead of just humans making poor choices but since that’s the world we’re presented with. But I don’t think that’s true? We haven’t seen any sign that that’s true. Because if it’s not true, then he’s just also a terrible person. That is seeming more likely.

So he dials the phone again and this time she answers the phone because of how she’s not busy hypnotizing anyone. He begins his “interview” by telling her that his daughter has been in some of her classes, because Marshall has zero idea of what professional and personal things are. She is delighted to hear that, I guess pretending she doesn’t know, even though obviously Sandy is a Target. Basically he presses for an interview with her and she keeps putting him off and talking about him contacting TA’s and such and he says maybe they could talk about her super secret college classes and she says some insane thing about how that was “part of an experimental college idea they were trying” making it sound as though it is in the past I guess.

And then Marshall, showing his really fantastic interviewing skills again, is like “So you’re not willing to discuss the very influential people you have among your circle of friends?” as if that would be a normal thing that she might do. She says, in what I feel is a super reasonable response, that she doesn’t understand the question. He starts listing people and she tells him she has no comment and he, as usual, does not seem to understand that people getting angry with him is not always a sign that he’s on the right track (although I suppose in this case it is) but perhaps a sign that he is an asshole.

So then he decides that the only other thing he can ask her about is why she booted him from her class a few weeks ago, which is also insane because, weird hypnotism bullshit aside, a professor completely has a right to decide who they want in their classroom. She really should have gone with that but of course instead she is Evil and insists she doesn’t remember him at all, that he must be mixing her up with someone else. Then she hangs up on him, which is what she should have done ten minutes ago (or possibly when she picked up the phone and wondered to herself how on earth he stalked down her private number).

Marshall comes out into the office and is super upset and angry, apparently his face is very red. Bernice gives him some crap about it and he says he has been “talking to too many temperamental women in one night” which… I can’t. I just can’t. Picture my angry meltdown and a lot of profanity. He tells Bernice about getting Langstrat on the phone for a few seconds but he couldn’t get anything out of her and they’re very frustrated, they make stupid jokes about how no one ever remembers them and they must be invisible

Then she’s going over paperwork and a wad of paper bounces off her head and Marshall is looking very serious like he could not have done it. And then Marshall is doing something and the same wad of paper bounces off of his ear. Somewhere in between there Marshall remembers that Harmel said something about OTHER people having been kicked out of town so I guess they’ll be looking up who else has left this town, which to be honest, seems like it should take them a year. They continue this musing while throwing paper at each other and Marshall says he has to go home to his wife but he and Bernice “finish the war first and then have to clean up before they can go home.” Okay this is… flirting, right? THIS HAS TO BE FLIRTING? Do I not understand anything about the world? I’m so fucking confused right now. I mean, I don’t even necessarily think it has to be in real life but in THESE stories this can’t be innocent? Is this supposed to make us like them? I really don’t understand. Nothing will make sense to me if Marshall doesn’t almost sleep with Bernice.

***********

So Rafar is having a temper tantrum. He’s pacing and tearing apart imaginary enemies with his claws and pounding his fists together. You know, a temper tantrum, but from a demon.

Lucius is just hanging out watching and enjoying himself because obviously Rafar got cut down to size. The great thing about this is that he apparently called a meeting and is now throwing a temper tantrum in front of the demons he called into a meeting. I admit I do not know a lot about leading people (or demons) but this seems like a bad strategy.

Basically Lucius is making fun of Rafar because Triskal didn’t tell him where Tal is. And it just hurt my soul to type all those names in one sentence. Good lord. When he does that, Rafar proves he is obviously wrong by grabbing Lucius by the throat and screaming at him about mocking him.

There’s a lot about how they have to find Tal, no matter what find Tal. Lucius in a not so humble way asks if Rafar is actually going to be able to defeat Tal this time since it didn’t go so well last time. He will, he totally will. Rafar will murder the shit out of Lucius once he does. It’s all very blustery.

Then his big plan is awesome, which is literally to just fly all over the town really openly so that everyone can see him. The angels are confused because angels are stupid but Tal points out that Rafar is trying to draw him out, or else he’s just on a bender. But I don’t think demons are allowed to get drunk or have fun or anything. Just encourage people to. Once again, the angels have intelligence on demons, which is an insane thing that I cannot understand. One of them tells the rest that Rafar has “offered great honors to whatever demon can find Captain Tal and report his whereabouts.” How could he possibly know that? Who is feeding them demon intel? Is GOD feeding them demon intel?

Also, Scion notes that he would have trouble being taunted by someone like Rafar. Seriously? It would be hard for you to not rush out after something like that? I guess that’s why you’re not the man in charge then. Tal calmly explains he’d lose if he fought now. “Not enough prayer cover” and Rafar has all the backing he needs. What do demons get power from? Do they feed off of bad feelings like in some mythologies? Does SIN make them stronger? While I can kind-of see where they get the prayer cover bullshit from, I’m not sure what he’d use for demons. Considering that Peretti has not bothered to provide us with an explanation, I think maybe he is not sure either.

***********

Hank is wandering through the town praying again. He feels certain that God has a very specific purpose for the “jaunt” he’s on. He’s being guarded by Krioni and Triskal and they’ve left reinforcements at the house for Mary. They’re apparently leading Hank someplace, which is why he takes a turn he’s never taken before. Which is hilarious because again, tiniest town supposedly. How often has he walked around it? He stops outside a business he had “only heard bad stories about but could never find.” Was he trying to find the business before? How many seedy places are there in this town? He is amazed that there are so many kids going in and out of it. “Like bees” apparently.

Anyway. It’s called the Cave. It’s… it’s a videogame arcade. This center of evil is a videogame arcade. I wonder if this is where my adolescent hatred of arcades came from. No lights except all of the games and stuff. Apparently kids come here to play games and then do drugs and have the sex and things. It has a “pungent spiritual stench.” Probably other kinds of stenches too if it’s just full of kids doing drugs and having sex constantly. It is also apparently chock full of demons. None of them are super happy to see the angels, especially Triskal, now that he’s been all frisky with them. The angels explain they’re just protecting Hank and the demons all get super upset that Hank is there.

So Hank is praying for the kids and that they can reach them and touch their lives or whatever. And the Angel Seth brings this kid who is… under the INFLUENCE of three demons but not possessed, I guess. Key differences, although the specifics seem a little dodgy to me. But they’re all “clinging to him like leeches” and trying to avoid Seth’s giant sword so they’re making him like stagger back and forth, which is a little awkward and I wonder if he wonders why he is suddenly feeling so drunk? Anyway. His name is Ron. He is not happy.

Hank sees him and totally wants to run away but decides God must want him to meet this kid so he hangs out. Demons are baring swords and shit. Hank introduces himself and Ron’s eyes widen and LO AND BEHOLD he is the drug addled child of the new couple at church. Sigh. Hank says “Well, God bless you Ron, I’m glad to meet you.” Apparently two of the demons on Ron are Divination and Rebellion. One of those makes more sense than the other. Oh, also we have Sorcery. So I guess he’s into the freaky magics along with everyone else around here.

So Hank leads him out to a bench and sits him down and looks into his very “dazed eyes” and wonders where to start. I’m just saying, Hank. This may not be the best time for a sermon.

One of the angels confronts Sorcery and Sorcery “laughs drunkenly” and shrieks “all the time, more and more. He’ll never give it up!” Yeah, okay. You guys are all such fucking drama queens.

So Hank feels a super dark presence just like before in his house and he’s all weirded out that this very young kid (we aren’t really sure… how young?) might have evil spirits in him but then he gets a flash of inspiration and asks Ron if he can pray for him. So Ron is very schizophrenic about it, begging the pastor to pray and then being like no, no, no I don’t want you to, don’t do it (because demons are screaming at him) so Hank takes charge like men do and goes ahead and does that. God is even so kind as to give him the names of the demons so he can order them to go away. Ron is apparently on board. He says things like “Spirit, please go, I’ve had it with you!” Which I imagine is how any teenager would talk to his evil spirits.

Okay but like that was an exorcism and afterwards Ron says they’re OUT so he was possessed then? Not just under the influence of? Sigh. Terminology is confusing.

So Ron is changing into a more normal and nice person right in front of Hank’s eyes and apparently he was just thinking today how he totally needed someone to pray for him because he couldn’t keep going with all the stuff he was doing (and obviously prayer was the pragmatic answer to that). Ron notes that Hank is much younger than he thought (which, yeah, 26 is quite young) and they talk for a long time about a lot of things. “Ron began to notice that no matter what the subject or the issue, Hank had a way of bringing Jesus into it. Ron didn’t mind.. This wasn’t like a phony sales pitch; Hank Busche really believed that Jesus was the answer to everything.” Everyone raise your hands if this sounds like the worst imaginable conversation.

“So, after taking about everything else with Jesus brought into it, Ron let Hank talk about Jesus, just Jesus. It wasn’t dull. Hank could really get excited about Him.” I… Oh, shut up Peretti. Just shut up.

This Present Darkness: Chapter 14

Standard

So Marshall has decided he has to do what he’s been dreading – call that super hot and powerful professor who scares the ever-loving daylights out of him. After all, he totally just told Young he was going to do that and he can’t not do that now because that would make him not just a liar but probably would prove that he is scared (which he definitely is) but he is not going to be scared of a woman. Okay, most of that is subtext but I feel like it’s there. Anyway. He goes through a lot of effort once he makes his decision. He tries a bunch of numbers at the college before finding out that Langstrat isn’t in today and her home number is unlisted. Seriously, this is the least helpful college ever. They never call you back, you apparently have to call multiple numbers just to find out a professor isn’t in… I’m pretty sure you could probably just call the main office at my college to find that out. Or look at the website. OH. Again. The world without internet. What a terrible thing.

But eventually he thinks of that terrible professor who is obsessed with Langstrat and he wonders to himself if maybe that guy would have her home number and would help him out with his stalking mission. So he calls him and leaves a message and the professor calls him back and does have her phone number and is more than happy to give this totally private information to him.

So apparently Christian fiction really is just totally obsessed with phone calls? Slacktivist has noted on basically hundreds of occasions how nothing is ever more exciting in the Left Behind books than when the characters get to make phone calls. And this was literally half a page of him playing phone tag. Phone tag in order to stalk someone. I’m just saying. Is it because of how important phones were before the internet? Is that why this seems weird now? Was phone tag more exciting then? I cannot believe that is true but maybe.

*********

And you know what really sucks about phones? So easy to outsmart them. Because after all of that effort, we go to Juleen Langstrat’s apartment (I am still trying to get over the name Juleen. Does anyone know anyone named Juleen?) and find that “the living room was dimly lit by one small lamp on the mantel. The room was quiet, warm, and comfortable. The shades were drawn to block out distractions, bright light, and any other disturbances.” And you know what else? “The phone was off the hook.” So we just went through all that to…. Okay. I’m taking a deep breath and moving forward.

Because Juleen is hypnotizing Sandy! In the most confusing plot ever! No really, I’m so fucking confused. I honestly have no idea what she’s doing. She does a normal hypnotism thing, listen to the sound of my voice, etc and then she like stretches her hands over her face and tells her that she should release her true self and asks her if she’s feeling her (Juleen’s) energy return to her and Sandy says she does…. and Juleen tells Sandy she feels her body falling away from her and she’s free of her body and that her “life force is expanding” and then she brings her back from the trance.

So… I don’t actually have any idea what that was supposed to be. I don’t really know a lot about hypnotism, it’s something I’m pretty skeptical of in general. But as far as evil plots go, this seems like the most confusing one ever. Is Langstrat draining her life force? Is she a vampire? Can demons help her do that? And if that is what she’s doing then why does Sandy wake up feeling so amazing. Well, I guess it doesn’t say how she feels. Peretti’s imagination doesn’t go that far. All we know is that she says “wow” and that this was Wonder Boy’s idea and she was skeptical but she’s sure glad she did it now. Langstrat tells her to not tell anyone about it because it’s a very personal and intimate experience and it’s important to have other people tell you who you can tell your personal experiences to, as all good psychologists know.

******

It is Friday again and Hank is very concerned about how Mary isn’t here. He does not seem concerned that something may have happened to Mary, but he does seem extremely concerned because that harlot Carmen is coming to the house again and he has “no idea if there may be any spies watching the house, but he could never be sure.” Could he not? Ever be sure? Really? Is that not a thing he could be sure of? Don’t the 20 people left from the church who voted against him have jobs? Or something else to do other than trick him and catch him with this bizarre con? Hank has a weird ego. “Hank’s fearful side could envision all kinds of plots his enemies might be forming against him, such as sending some strange and seductive woman to compromise and ruin him.” I… I cannot imagine what to do with this. It goes back to that disgusting idea that has been brought up in other parts of this book. Men of God who are accused of horrible sexual crimes or misconduct probably didn’t actually do those things, those are just attacks of Satan. It’s really, really disgusting.

So. As he’s sitting there working himself into a tortured man frenzy, there is one thing he does know! “If Carmen didn’t show a genuine responsiveness to the counseling and begin to apply real solutions to a real problem, that would be the end of it as far as he was concerned.” You are such a piece of shit, Hank. You have met her for an hour. A whole fucking hour. But if she doesn’t start applying solutions to problems right fucking now then she is just a whore who needs to get away from your holy self. Obviously this woman is probably a minion of Satan sent to get you because this book is disgusting but I still feel bad for her.

Oh look. She’s at the door. “The way she was dressed made Hank figure he’d better let her in quickly if only to get her out of sight.” I think I just threw up in my mouth. Mary has still not arrived.

******

Mary is at the store and upset about the new owners again. Seriously, can this grocery store really be that important? Apparently they “become secretive” every time she asks about Joe and his family. It is insane to me that this is a plot they keep bringing up.

So after pondering all of that she takes her groceries out to the car and spiritual warfare ensues. SEE, CHRISTIANS? You might just be getting groceries and things of INCREDIBLE IMPORTANCE COULD BE HAPPENING. Sigh. So she all of a sudden feels incredibly depressed and overwhelmed and unhappy, which would actually be really understandable, honestly. I mean, she’s had all this stuff going on lately, the church battles have got to be wearing on her and her husband is so overwhelmed and they presumably never have sex and it’s… it’s a lot.

One of the things that is so awful about this theology and the books like these that teach it is that it teaches you that your emotions are bad and evil and from demons. You feel depressed? That is an evil emotion. You feel overwhelmed, sad, fearful? Those are evil emotions and you need to fight them. Except that doesn’t work. Even if you don’t have clinical or chemical reasons for those feelings, in which case more drastic measures may need to be taken, fighting them and saying they don’t exist or they don’t “come from you” or they are an “attack on you” is a horrible viewpoint and incredibly destructive. Acceptance and love and all that is what is going to be able to allow you to move forward and deal with those feelings in healthy ways, not trying to exorcise them. Sigh. Okay. So that was a tangent and I’m sure it won’t be the first one on this.

So apparently Triskal was attacked from behind and demons are like all on top of him and they’re drooling and smell of sulfur and it’s gross. He’s being held down and he can’t move and he knows Mary is in danger and THEN Rafar picks him up by the scruff of the neck and calls him “little angel” and tells him he should feel lucky to be the first one to see him. So Rafar is like that much bigger than giant Triskal? Huh.

******

Flash over to Hank who has led Carmen into his office. She “sinks back into the chair with a coo and a sigh” and I feel gross about everything. Hank is recording the session because although HE knows he is innocent (oh you are a lot of things, Hank but innocent is certainly not on the list) he wants proof and she tells him she hasn’t heard voices all week and he remembers oh yeah, that’s what we were talking about.

I want to hit him.

*********

Triskal looks at Mary who is putting away her groceries (SO SUSPENSFUL) and Rafar talks more shit for no reason and Mary gets into the car and a demon pierces the hood of her car with his sword… what now? Okay seriously. What can they do? The engine won’t start. There’s a young man in front of the laundromat out there and he’s possessed by several demons apparently and he’s heading towards her car. He’s trying to talk to her and Mary is freaking out and keeping the window closed all but a crack and he’s trying to convince her to open up so he can see what he can do.

******

LOT of flashing back and forth here. Sigh. So Hank feels upset about everything because where is Mary? And again I don’t feel a lot of concern from him about her as much as concern that she’s not here to help him with this mess. But Carmen is making more sense and “seems to be dealing with her problems intelligently and with a genuine desire to change things.” Every time I think he cannot say a worse thing, he says a worse thing. I really don’t know how he does that. It is a magical skill that I wish he did not possess.

So she explains that she’s just stopped listening to the voices and that she’s realized it was just her loneliness talking to her and that he helped her realize that (this is obviously why he thinks she’s being more rational this time around) and then she tells him he’s so strong and she wishes she could be like that and he throws out the “all things through Christ who strengthens me” verse and she asks where his wife is and he tells her grocery shopping and she tells him she is super drawing so much strength from his presence and he has started running circles around the room and getting ready to throw up. But it’s cool, I’m pretty sure I already have like three times now.

*******

Mary is terrified because this guy is harassing her and honestly I don’t understand this at all because she’s at a grocery store in the middle of the day in their lovely tiny town and how is no one seeing what’s happening? Like it isn’t the middle of the night or anything, why is there so much danger, how far from the store was she? I mean, it is totally legit that she is frightened of this man but why haven’t people noticed and intervened from even inside the store?

Also Rafar has his sword up to Triskal’s throat and is demanding that he tell him where the captain is and obviously Triskal is not saying shit. Mary keeps trying the horn but apparently the demon has disabled that too somehow.

*****

“Carmen was still telling Hank how much good this counseling was doing her, how he reminded her of her former husband (the one who ran off and abandoned her? A+), and how she was looking for a man with his qualities. Hank had to put a lid on this stuff.” Even though he is loving every second of it.

So he asks her the first decent thing he has EVER asked her as a counselor, which is basically does she have any other support systems in her life that she can turn to. She basically tells him no, she has casual friendships “at the tavern” (at the what now?) but nothing serious. And then she wants to know if he “thinks she’s attractive.”

I assume this constant flipflopping is supposed to build tension but I am not tense. Well, I am. But for different reasons than he wants.

*******

The guy is now screaming obscenities at Mary and beating on the glass with a giant metal buckle. How is no one seeing this? Are demons blinding people? Also, is the implication here that he is going to sexually assault her? Or are they just trying to scare her into thinking that? Either way, it is disgusting how often they use sexual stuff as a scare tactic in this story.

They’re about to get the doors open, a demon is going to open the lock. Triskal manages to mutter “the brake” and Mary hears it (although the demons can’t understand what he said, weirdly) and has a “flash of inspiration” because the car is parked on an incline. So is she on a… street? Not a parking lot? Why would that be? So it starts rolling faster and the guy’s “efforts to stop the car were becoming too obvious to passersby.” And him banging on the window with a buckle and screaming obscenities was not??? A truck driver slows down and yells at him.

Rafar is super pissed but gives up. He also lets Triskal go, which doesn’t make any sense at all to me but maybe there is a Plan. A demon slashes his back deeply as he flies up. Rafar stomps on his neck and tells him to tell Tal that Rafar is LOOKING FOR HIM. Which I feel like Tal probably already knew. Triskal is all beat up and sad but he still flies after the car. How long does it take angels to heal, I wonder?

*****

Hank lifts Carmen’s hand off of his own and looks into her eyes with “compassion yet firmness” (yeah, whatever helps you sleep at night, hun) and proceeds to tell her that he is glad she’s impressed with all his “masculine qualities” and that he has no doubt a woman of her “particular qualities” will have no trouble finding a good man. But he’s a pastor and a counselor and they can’t continue doing this because it seems to be causing emotional conflict for her.

Which is so gross and frustrating on so many levels because it’s a fucking lie. The real reason they can’t keep doing this is because it’s causing conflict for him. Which you know. He’s not actually trained to do this but therapists do actually deal with clients who fall for them. It’s not uncommon. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stop treatment, although it might. It wouldn’t look like this. Whatever. Carmen is pissed. Hank feels like he has won a battle which is horrific and “from the icy look in Carmen’s eyes, he figured she had lost.”

*****

Mary is still terrified and praying that god will protect her and that guy won’t come after her. The car was slowing down and no one is following that she can see but she is understandably not really that comforted. Triskal is all wobbly and upset but he is only concerned about her. Mary is sobbing and wailing and “jerking her body in attempts to make the car move” which I won’t mock because that seems legit. Triskal puts a hand on her shoulder to help calm her down, which I guess helps a little although all that still seems creepy to me. Then he reaches into the hood of the car and “found whatever it was he was looking for.” What WAS he looking for, Peretti? You’re writing the book, perhaps you could tell me these things.

He manages to convince Mary to try and start it again (seriously, the messing with people’s minds and subtle messages, I know it’s supposed to be all different from demons but objectively it does not seem that different from the demons) and she does and it starts and Triskal rides home on the roof, which is still my favorite image this book has offered me.

Hank jumps up when he hears the car and Carmen says she should go “maybe even out the back door” which I think is supposed to mean she’s trying to imply there’s something to feel ashamed of and that she was horrible but I mostly take to mean that she feels desperately ashamed because she has just been shamed.

So the next section is a little confusing. Hank opens the door and tells Mary he was getting worried and is asking her what’s wrong because she’s crying when suddenly Carmen starts screaming and shrieking and waving her arms as if someone is attacking her. But actually I guess Triskal is attacking Lust who is… possessing her possibly? Many of the things Lust says, she says. Lust keeps telling Triskal to leave him alone, Krioni is trying to hold him back, eventually Carmen echoes Lust and says she was just leaving anyway. She says there’s “a bad energy in this place” (you are not kidding, hun) and goes running out the door. Mary tries to call out after her but Hank stops her because he is Hank.

Krioni starts scolding Triskal because he was here the whole time and Hank was “totally fine” which is disgusting because apparently this is totally fine and there was no need to attack Lust (never mind that poor fucking girl who is literally going crazy)… and then he sees that he’s covered in wounds and is like omg, what happened? And Triskal says he just couldn’t do it again, couldn’t let it happen again. So maybe he has at least temporary angel PTSD.

And Hank asks what on earth is going on and she tells him to stfu and hold her.

Ye gods, that one was long.

This Present Darkness: Chapter 13

Standard

So it’s Sunday morning and our little community church is meeting together. They are all small and fragmented and such but “Hank had to admit the whole atmosphere was more peaceful.” I’m not sure what to do with that. I mean, would it be more peaceful after an almost evenly split vote like that? Maybe if everyone in opposition left? I don’t know, I’m skeptical. Seems to me like this is the sort of thing that people keep talking about. Whatever. We get a list of people who are hanging out in their usual spot, including Duster who is feeling much better. Also some of the “not-so-actives were there for their usual once-a-month drop-in” and Hank makes it a point to give them “special glances” and smiles so they know they are noticed. Okay, I know he’s supposed to be being pastoral here but again, I think he sucks at it. Perhaps it would make more sense to just go up afterwards and chat with them rather than giving them all your seductive glances and shit. Okay special glances, whatever. Also, do people who only show up once a month really want you to notice them? Is that high on their priority list? I know this is a thing that evangelicals believe, that everybody is upset if they don’t get all the greetings but I can assure them that this is not true. Especially those kinds of greetings. And last but not least, it would be super awesome if Hank would stop thinking of people purely in terms of what they do wrong. Like the “not-so-actives” for example. I’m so tired of typing out hyphens.

So Mary plays piano (of course she does) and they’re singing hymns and new folks come in and sit in the back like you do. These are apparently the Forsythes, who I think the angels talked about on the list of people they were gathering. So I guess some people they were literally gathering.

Hank feels unexpectedly joyful this morning and he doesn’t know why. Maybe it’s the new people or the vote or Grandma Duster being okay (I guess she’s Grandma Duster now) or maybe that giant blonde fellow in the back. He must be a football player. Sigh. So right now he can see the angel? Why? So he preaches and he preaches out of Isaiah 55, starting with “Seek the Lord while he may be found” and ending with “and all of the trees of the field will clap their hands.” No, I will not type out the whole thing. There are online Bibles, you can look it up. The point is apparently that Hank loves this section and gets all smiley and excited while he’s explaining it and some people are just staring and obligated but some people are leaning forward and super into it and the blond man even shouts an Amen. Sigh. Hank keeps getting words and figures it must be the anointing of the Spirit. Which is one of those weird things, God giving you words that aren’t your words and you know in most cases that’s a sign of psychosis maybe but in religion it is a sign of favor… it’s an odd thing.

The demons are upset and cringing, trying to cover the ears of the “people they owned.” Okay, so like they do own people and yet there’s no mention of guardian angels in here and nothing in this world makes any sense. Anyway. Hank’s sermon was as “soothing as a buzz saw to them.” I imagine that was true in general. I mean, it works weirdly both ways in this, right? Satan’s minions trying to cover the ears of their charges, God’s minions trying to open their hearts or whatever. It’s supposed to be different because I suppose the holy spirit is working for the angels rather than the angels doing it directly but I feel like it is less different than they think it is.

Also there is a weird little skirmish at the door where the angels refuse to back down when Lucius tries to bring reinforcements, says that they are just full the hell UP with demons and no more and they spit and yell at each other and Lucius stomps off cause he has better things to do and who wants in that stupid church anyway?

So after the sermon the people split with some people running for the door and some people running straight for Hank, which is kind-of a weird image to me but I guess it’s such a small church that maybe that’s doable. He meets the new blood, who are named Andy and June and Andy tells him how amazing that was and they find out about each other. Here is what they find out. Andy owns and runs a lumberyard, June is a legal secretary, and they have a son who is on drugs and needs the Lord. Um. Well, that’s a hell of a 5 minute conversation to have. Also they are newbie Christians themselves.

Then they explain some things that are bizarre and very hard to cope with on several levels. But none of them in the ways they expect. First they say that they left the United Christian church because they were “starving” and they heard about Hank getting in trouble for being so obnoxious with the Bible and they thought, here is a guy we must meet! Second off, there are many hungry people in this town and all the churches have died. But not really died, they’re all still there, just without preaching. They have friends who have dropped out of three or four churches, they name names. They tell Hank that there are many “sheep without a shepherd” (which are basically his number one turn on words) and that the churches around here “don’t preach the gospel.”

Now. I need to… okay. First off. This is one of these things where they are brand new Christians (well, relatively so) who magically know all the correct evangelical phrases for everything. Part of being born again is getting a new vocabulary, I guess. It’s just annoying. Also do they have any NON-Christian friends? Were they friends with them before or did they ditch their others?

More importantly, however. Where did all these other churches come from? This is literally the first time another church has ever been mentioned. Until this moment we had no reason to believe there were more than two churches in this town where the newspaper only comes out twice a week. Who goes to these churches? He makes a point of saying the money is there. Who pays for them? I thought all the money people were going to Young’s church?

Finally, what are the odds in any tiny town of have more than one liberal Christian church? I mean, seriously. Like there’s the UU’s, who haven’t even been mentioned. And maybe like another. But what are the odds of three or four churches in this place not preaching God’s word? And what does that mean anyway? Are they all preaching about saving the whales? Or are they teaching the Bible but it’s not “anointed?” Because I just cannot believe that this town would have more than one actually liberal church in it. Which we still don’t even really know what that means in Young’s case but assuming it is.

Right at this moment Mary walks up and she is very happy and is about to introduce Hank to… why where did he go? He was right here. That big blond man who was sitting in the back? He wanted her to tell Hank “the Lord is with you, keep praying and listening.” Andy asks what on earth they are talking about and they’re like you know, that hulking blond monster man sitting in the back row, right behind you. And then June’s eyes are giant and Andy starts laughing and clapping and almost dancing. Because you know what? They didn’t see anyone there. PRAISE THE LORD!

********

Okay I… just need to type out this first paragraph because it is disgusting and I can’t do it justice.

“Oliver Young was a real showman; he could work an audience right down to each tear or titter and time it so well that they became just so many puppets on a string. He would stand behind the pulpit with incredible dignity and poise, and his words were so well-chosen that whatever he was saying had to be right. The vast congregation (SERIOUSLY, you confusing jackass. How vast can it be???) certainly seemed to think so; they had packed the place out. Many of them were professionals: doctors, teachers, lawyers, self-proclaimed philosophers and poets; a very large segment was from or connected in some way with the college. They took fastidious notes on Young’s message, as if it were a lecture.”

I’m not even sure where to start with this except it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. We didn’t get a rundown of the professions of the people at Ashton Community Church, just a list of names. Presumably they were just “good hardworking folk.” The one man we met had sort-of an upper blue-collar job. Owns and runs a lumber mill. His wife is a legal clerk. Okay money, for sure but they’re not super educated professionals. Not like these people. People who I have to assume, based on this paragraph and based on everything we’ve read so far, have been over-educated, have been sitting for years in those schools that we know are Satan’s strongholds. People who are too smart, value the wrong things. People who take notes on a sermon like it is a lecture. Which is an insane thing to point out in a critical light because… I knew many people who took notes on sermons. I didn’t because frankly who could care that much but a lot of people did. I always remember reading occasionally in places that you shouldn’t take your phone to church, shouldn’t be fact checking things. These were problems. But do you know how many factual errors were in my pastor’s sermons? He once preached, apparently completely sincerely, that Christianity was the fastest growing religion in the world. I stared at him for the longest time and was like that’s a lie. Like the simplest google search will tell you that’s a lie. And I did the simplest google search and it was! A lie! Or just that he couldn’t be bothered to look. Anyway. The point is that the disdain for these people in this paragraph is both disgusting and typical of much of the American Evangelical church and it turns my stomach.

So Marshall is in church being disdainful of everyone in it. He is bored by the sermon and so he’s thinking about all the questions he will ask Young when this nonsense is done.

Young is busy preaching about how there we are all inherently divine because God made us in his own image and again it is insane to me that there would be a church preaching this (much less the implication that it is all the churches) because anywhere I grew up that would be enough for people to at least mutter about picketing. Like it’s a big fucking deal, you don’t just bring new age mumbo jumbo into the church, certainly not that openly.

Sandy and Wonder Boy are in church because Wonder Boy said that he would go to church if Sandy would go with her folks and she agreed and Marshall has to admit that he seems to be having a good influence on her and is able to communicate with her in ways that Marshall cannot (low bar, man, low bar). “Shawn seemed a gentle sort with a real gift for refereeing.” Okay. Sure. Marshall is happy his family is together and in church but he does not feel good about this church and his daughter is one of the note-takers so you know that doesn’t bode well and he knows it would be easier to let everything be but he can’t do that because he is a Reporter. Sigh.

The service ended “punctually at noon” which again seems like a slam to me? I guess because Oliver has planned it all out and there’s no room for God or whatever? But most churches I ever went to ended pretty much at similar times because you know. Daycare and kids needed to eat and people liked their routines and honestly if the sermons ran over 20 minutes or so people got antsy. You want hour sermons you go to someplace like Mars Hill. That is unusual though and even they end at very set times (or did) because they had a ton of services.

So they go talk to Pastor Young and Marshall introduces him to Sandy and he’s so happy to see him and he TOTALLY KNOWS WONDER BOY, has known him since he was a tyke, presumably when he was brainwashing him into creepy submission. Marshall once again starts pushing the professor Langstrat thing once his family walks away, saying something about how his sermon sounds like things she says and it’s so awkward to imagine this because he’s trying to greet people and do his pastor thing and here’s Marshall at his arm being like “But don’t you meet with this evil woman once a week? DON’T YOU? DON’T YOU?” And he’s like heh… cute baby!

Finally Oliver says he must have misunderstood before, he totally knows who that is, yes many of them know her, not a big deal. Marshall pushes on the private sessions thing and Oliver gets annoyed because wtf, Marshall, there are not words for how none of your business this is. He asks him if there’s something specific he wants to know and Marshall insists this is his job and apparently everyone important goes to them so the people of Ashton totally want to know. Marshall, the people of Ashton do not care. He suggests maybe go as Langstrat herself and Marshall assures him he will but he wanted to give him a chance to answer first, to be HONEST.

Young’s voice got a bit strained. “Marshall, if I seem to be elusive it is because what you are trying to pry into is protected by professional ethics. It is privileged information. I simply hoped you would figure that out without my having to tell you.”

Of course there’s no REASON he couldn’t have told him that immediately because “privileged information” is not an embarrassing thing to hide but Marshall obviously doesn’t take this as anything, he backs away for now because Young is “cool, very tough and very slippery.” Marshall, you are the WORST.

******

Oh god, demons.

Okay, We’re going to rush through this because like most of this shit I don’t think it matters. Rafar is going to meet his masters or higher ups somewhere. There’s a giant ugly place with spiritual darkness. It’s in a mountainside. It’s very like… dragon’s cave sounding. There’s hundreds of demons.

When he comes inside he is announced so I guess it’s a palace of some kind. There’s a lot of terrible description of “evil swirling” in the room and the size of the demons all around him and how maybe he could not take them in a fight which we should be very impressed by because he is very big, as we know. So he meets up with The Strongman, which is the absolute worst name we’ve run into yet. It is not his real name because it is forbidden to speak his name. No, really. He’s not Satan but he’s super buddy, buddy with him. He’s gross looking. His hide hangs down. Lots of jewels.

Basically he gets all up in Rafar’s face about everything, Tal is in town and why the fuck hasn’t he taken care of shit and he should know better. Rafar tells him everything is going to be fine, he is totally good with Tal, they are in love and they will work it out. Also he’ll take care of the newspaper man because that’s so easy it barely even requires mentioning and the saints of god are not a concern and neither is the heavenly host and everything is COOL, man. Just chill out. So those were his orders somehow. It wasn’t orders so much as him telling him everything was fine.

Oh, also, in probably “important” news, we discover that The Strongman is confined in this mountain with all these demons somehow for some reason. And until they deal with this problem of Tal and stuff it’s going to stay that way. Is that The Plan? To get another giant demon out of a cave? Whatever. So then Rafar leaves and roars a lot and gets super hurt and angry because they just don’t trust him anymore and ever since that ONE TIME that Tal knocked him into the abyss for a while they make fun of him and won’t let him play reindeer games, but they will totally see when he and Tal work things out forever, they’ll see. He’ll be honorable again. Totally he will.

Also, by work things out, I guess he means that he will “gut Tal and scatter him in shreds and pieces across the sky” because angels and demons have WEIRD kinks. So does that mean angels can be killed? Or is it temporary? Who knows. Maybe we’ll find out someday.

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.

This Present Darkness: Chapter 11

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So, when the vote is announced, apparently there is an explosion of demons that all the angels see. They tell each other that those little rascals are going to wreak havoc on the town tonight but you know. It’s not like they will do anything about that. Just observe. Two votes and one of them was Lou Stanley and “I see the Spirit has been working!” So I guess… whatever. I don’t even know. They escort Duster home and post sentries around her house because of all the chaos that will erupt. I don’t know how much chaos it will really be. Apparently the police are busy with fights and spray painting and cars being stolen, so it doesn’t exactly sound horrific but I just don’t understand anything about their strategy or why it’s totally cool to just stand by and let people get hurt. Except Duster, I guess. I know her name is Edith but I stubbornly will insist on calling her Duster from here on out.

**********

Juleen Langstrat is being tortured. As if she were not already a confusing enough character as far as motivation and such go, we now learn that the demons aren’t even being nice to her, which really doesn’t make any sense at all. There are threatening voices, flames, her head is killing her, she can feel claws, etc. “The Masters were angry!” They keep telling her that she has “failed, failed, failed” or rather that Brummel has and now they’re both going to die for it. She has a knife in her hand maybe or maybe she’s just hallucinating. She wants to kill herself or really she wants to “break loose from the prison of flesh that binds her.’

The phone keeps ringing which brings her back a little but she doesn’t answer it. She’s on her knees on the bedroom floor and her finger is cut and the phone is still ringing. “She called out hello, but it still rang” which cracked me up even though I know it’s not nice to laugh at people having psychotic breaks. Meanwhile, on the other end of the phone, Brummel hangs up, super relieved she didn’t answer and knowing she won’t be happy when she finds out. “Another delay, still another delay in the Plan.” He knows she’ll find out eventually and he can’t avoid that or her.

“He flopped down on his bed and contemplated resigning, escape, suicide.” Okay, so my question here is are the demons the ones pushing the suicidal thoughts on them? Because again, this is a terrible strategy they have going on here. Like what good will it do them if all their main people kill themselves? If anyone should be being pressed to suicide, it should be the GOOD guys, right? Not the villains? I just don’t understand this fancy demon science.

******

And then it’s Saturday morning and we’re with Marshall. He’s struggling cause they still have no secretary and also Kate just came in with groceries. He yells out to Sandy that they need help because “over the years the family had developed a pretty good system of grocery separating, handling and stashing.” I’m not sure what to do with that. It’s the first positive thing we’ve ever heard about their family and it’s extremely difficult to reconcile with everything else we’ve heard. That suddenly they have this movie style tossing of groceries around while Marshall is temporarily not verbally abusing his daughter…? I just don’t get it. Like is the only time they’re ever happy when they have food to put away?

Incidentally the next several paragraphs are filled with obnoxious asides of Kate passing vegetables to him or holding celery or whatever. Marshall asks her how Joe is and apparently Joe is gone. We’re very sad for this Joe. Joe, we knew ye so little. Actually we knew ye not at all. And apparently he sold his store and moved away. How did Marshall make all these friends in no time at all? Is this that small town thing again? Also Kate doesn’t like the new store owner, which is hilarious. Is even the new grocery owner a suspicious character? He wasn’t friendly, I guess. Marshall asked if he knew English, which could have been sarcastic in asking why he didn’t answer all of Kate’s many questions about good ol’ Joe leaving town or could have been racist. I honestly do not know. And also he may have all new people working in the store. Seriously… is the grocery store important?

Sandy says she feels something weird is going on in the town, it’s a feeling she has, she makes a pod person reference but without actually doing that. She says she thinks the town is being invaded by aliens, presumably jokingly. Marshall lets it go.

Everyone wanders back to what they were doing but Marshall has a phone call to make. “Talk about weird aliens invading the town jarred his memory and also his reporter’s nose. Maybe Langstrat wasn’t an alien, but she was certainly weird.” …. really Marshall? I’m beginning to understand why you don’t have that job in the big city anymore. Also, seriously, nothing about these family dynamics or talk about the town make any sense from a family that transplanted a few MONTHS ago from a big city to this tiny ass town and suddenly they know everyone and everything and I just… it doesn’t make sense.

So he calls Ted Harmell, who I thought was the obnoxious and nosy college professor who is obsessed with Langstrat but is actually the former editor of the paper. The conversation made only slightly more sense when I realized that. Marshall is the clumsiest person ever in getting around to what he wants to get around to. They talk about the paper for a while, then they talk about his daughter and her work at the college, then finally he is like ‘so she has this crazy teacher….’ and finally Harmel is like ‘okay, yeah, what exactly do you want to know?’ Marshall wants to know where she’s getting her ideas, I guess and Harmel has a hard time coming up with an answer, which is understandable. I would struggle coming up with an answer too.

“It’s…. uh…. Eastern mysticism, ancient religious craft. She’s just into, you know, meditation, higher consciousness… uh… the oneness of the universe. I don’t know if any of that makes sense to you.” I like how Peretti seriously couldn’t be bothered to find a single person who actually writes about any of this stuff. I mean people do, you know. Write. About all of this stuff. Some of them in crazier ways than others. And you DO know that. Obviously. And yet Peretti who was writing a book involving this could not be bothered to research a damn thing. Sigh. I know that wasn’t the point but it’s obnoxious to me. I suppose it’s better really. Probably don’t want anyone real showing up in a book like this.

So he starts bringing up her regular sessions with people and then finally tells Harmel that they just found out that he has had sessions with her himself.  But Harmel doesn’t deny it. Instead he “sighs through his nose.” I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. He doesn’t understand why it matters, Marshall says he thinks there might be a story here, which is pretty damn thin to put it mildly. “You know what it’s like,” he tells him.

Harmel was struggling, fuming, groping for words. “Yes, I know what it’s like. But you’re wrong this time, you’re really wrong!” Another pause, another struggle. “Oh brother, I wish you hadn’t called me.”

He tells him he still has respect for the profession and he doesn’t want to see him (Marshall) ruined. He can’t talk about it. Forget everything, I know you’re going to ignore me but forget everything. That sort of talk. Hogan asks how he can possibly leave it alone NOW and Harmel is like “You have a wife, a daughter? Think of them. Think of yourself.” It’s all super dramatic. But, you know. It’s just like when Hank called the former pastor. It’s basically just a dare to keep going.

Marshall asks if he’s in trouble and he yells at him to leave it alone and slams down the phone in his ear.

“Leave it alone,” Harmel said. “Leave it alone.”
In a pig’s eye.”

These phrases man. These phrases. I don’t even really understand what it means. I have heard it before but it is so weird and… idk. He’s just such an old man.

******

Oh look. We are now at Duster’s house. She is a wise old matron of the church. She used to be a missionary to China for 30 years. She is in her 80’s and is lonely and loves company. Hank and Mary are visiting her and I guess she’s happy to see even them so she must be really lonely. She is pouring them tea from a very old and charming teapot into equally charming teacups and she is telling them about how God’s purposes aren’t thwarted for long and he figures shit out in his own way, basically. Hank agrees but pretty thinly.

She informs him that he is not a mistake, he is a plan from God and she knows it. Mary explains that Hank is feeling a bit down about the vote, which is pretty appropriate, because if pretty much half of your very tiny church wants you to go, that is not great and you should not feel good about that. But Duster explains that the Lord is forcing a revival and the tide takes time to come around. I love it when the Lord forces himself on people. It’s the best. She explains that nothing could have stopped her from coming last night and she knows she was probably sick because of Satan but she knows that it was the Lord who helped her down the road to church. So she didn’t see Tal/aka little old lady helping her then. Good to know.

They’re all curious about the other vote and surely it couldn’t have been Lou Stanley and she says you may never know but God worked it out either way. Hank points out (in some of his first reasonable insight) that the church will obviously collapse if half of the congregation stops supporting it and why would they support a pastor they didn’t want? Duster explains that it’s okay because she’s dreamed of angels lately and that doesn’t happen often but when it does it is always significant.

Hank ends up telling her about his battle with darkness and she listens closely and tells him she also had an experience the other night. She stood up and got dizzy. Which is a little less dramatic, coming from a woman in her 80’s. But apparently she just never ever gets dizzy except this one other time in China when they visited a medium and she tried to put a curse on them and she had the same dizzy sensation just outside her door.

Then she says that they have to keep praying and fasting because that is what will help and also what the demons keep telling her. She sees them standing behind Hank too. She tells Mary they look just like people but bigger with swords and giant wings. And apparently after this conversation it seemed totally natural to do what they always do and start praising God and praying and thanking him for encouraging them so much. Hank could barely get through all his emotions while he was being thankful. Duster rebukes some spirits.

I feel like prayer never ever came that naturally. Like sometimes it was habit or whatever but it never felt like “oh, this is obviously the only thing we can possibly do in this moment” or whatever. I don’t know.

**********

Sigh. We’re back to the demons. Apparently two swords just fell out of demons hands, right there, right now. Rafar just watched it happen and the demons are freaking out and upset because he may kill them (or whatever they do to demons) but he’s not going to freak out yet because he’s pondering. Seriously, do demons never drop their swords? Do they have supernatural stickiness or magnetism on their hands? Is that a thing? Do angels have that too? Who knows. Somehow from looking at the swords for a while he knows that Tal is here. I cannot imagine how he could know that but he does. It’s pretty magical.

Also he is super pissed about it. He throws the sword several miles away and throws the demon after it. Some of the demons have no idea who he’s talking about, which is literally impossible to believe. Like I still cannot believe that every angel and demon doesn’t probably have some idea who each other is but the idea that they wouldn’t all know who the fucking head of the angelic hosts is is just not at all possible. But some of them are a lot more upset. And someone asks who he is and Rafar freaks out and starts screeching about it for a while.

So at some point he totally loses it and cuts open a rift in space and tells Complacency he’s totally failed at everything and he’s done with his shit and Complacency is terrified but down he goes into the abyss. So hooray for humans! No more complacency for them! How nice! Everyone will be super productive now, I guess. Then Rafar “wipes the rift shut with his sword” (what other super powers do swords have? can any demon sword do this? Is there a cut off point?) and starts yelling and grabbing more demons. Tells them all that Tal knows his shit and respects the power of the Saints of God and they’re all fucking idiots. Tal is responsible for everything.

“All because of this… Tal! This is Tal’s manner. His strength is not in his own sword, but in the saints of God. Somewhere somebody is praying!” Those words brought a chill over the group.

Also they need to keep trying to destroy Hogan in any way that they can. And last but not least, Deception assures Rafar that Sandy is “already in their hands.”