Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Magus

The bastard son of a magus, Logan MacGaraidh was born in Aberdeenshire in the seventeenth century. He never knew his actual birthdate. The Old Religion maintained an underground presence despite the Christian overlay.

Logan was raised Catholic, which sublimated the witchcraft of his Pictish ancestors under the pious veer of sacramental priestcraft. Yet the underlying affinity was clear: both were religions of magic potions, incantations, and enchantments. A magus in Catholic vestments. Although Logan was not a devil-worshiper, he inherited the powers of his shadowy father, whom he barely knew. 

Logan adored the wild misty landscape: the lochs, bluffs, rivers, and coastlines. He hiked the length and breadth of Aberdeenshire.

It was a hazardous time to be alive, for Catholic and Covenanter alike. The balance of power shifted shifted, with fatal results for the losing side–and each side lost. 

Raised by his mother's kinfolk, they were massacred while Logan was hiking. When he returned to his hamlet, bodies and burning buildings were left. 

Always something of an outsider, life in his beloved Aberdeenshire became unbearable with all his youthful friends and relatives dead. So he crossed the sea to Connecticut. 

While not exactly tolerant, religious life in Colonial Connecticut wasn't a life-and-death affair. For the first time he was able to consider the Protestant faith with a certain detachment. In seventeenth-century Aberdeenshire, conversion would betray your kith and kin. Religious affiliation was as much more or a statement of clan solidarity and loyalty than doctrinal conviction. But with all his relatives dead, and living in a new land, he no longer had that duty to uphold. 

He never took Catholicism seriously. A camouflaged version of his heathen ancestors. But Colonial Puritans presented a dramatic point of contrast. Reactionary, perhaps, but bracing. 

For the first time he could see more clearly how sorcery fit into a larger narrative. His father represented a mutinous band of fallen men and fallen angels while Christ and his saints represent the winning side. 

He didn't see the need to renounce his powers. All power ultimately derives from God, and he figured that he could use it for good. 

Owi to his natural affinity with the aboriginal heathens, he became a missionary to the Mohegan, Pequot, Nipmuck, and Narragansett tribes. At his first encounter he was attacked by Pequot braves, but he extended a finger to draw a ring of fire around the charging braves. Encircled by the wall of fire, glowing in the twilight, the assailants were subdued, and escorted him to their village. Rumor made him an instant legend among the tribes. 

Yet he was still an outsider. Colonial Connecticut never felt like home. His alienation was less about place than time. He left Scotland because it was too late to feel at home there, after the loss of his kinfolk. And he was now a stranger in a strange land. 

Rather than moving in space, he began to move in time–traveling into the future. He could always make a living as a history teacher, drawing on his firsthand knowledge of the past–although he had to disguise his source of knowledge.

Finally, out of curiosity, he returned to Connecticut in 2020. Apart from a few historic buildings, the populated areas were unrecognizable. He went back to a historic cemetery. 

There he met an archeologist and historian. As luck would have it, Effie had Celtic coloring–emerald eyes and flaming hair–which reminded him of pretty girls he knew from his long-lost homeland. 

She never felt at home in her own century, which is why she became a historian with a personal interest in Colonial America. Which is why she was poking around this cemetery. 

Many of the original graves were covered over, but from the remaining graves Logan could tell where to find the hidden graves. He pointed to a spot of ground, gave names and dates.

Scraping away the layers revealed the forgotten graves and flattened tombstones. She was puzzled by his uncanny knowledge. He also explained how one family was related to another. At first she was incredulous, but as she followed up on his leads in historic records, she received confirmation. 

Eventually he let her in on his secret, which would be unbelievable were it not for his inexplicable knowledge of the past. Not the past in general, but pockets of the past. Deep rather than wide. Provincial but detailed. 

A romance blossomed. Effie asked him if he was homesick for the Aberdeenshire of his youth. Did he ever hanker to return?

He said he no longer felt at home there after all his kinfolk were massacred. It was a ghost town. 

She asked him if he could take her back into the past. Back to the Aberdeenshire, but during a more peaceful time. There they could both start afresh. Make a life together. 

And so they did. They led a quiet life, so as not to unweave the future from whence she came. And when they died, they were buried unto a Celtic cross, to await the resurrection of the body. 

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Was blind but now I see

Jeremy had two kid brothers: Josh and Jesse. Jeremy was normal, but Josh was born blind while Jesse was congenitally deaf. As a result, Josh and Jesse were exceptionally close to Jeremy because he had to compensate for their sensory impairments. He was like Josh's guide dog. Jesse could navigate the world more easily than Josh, but had a harder time communicating with strangers. Josh knew his brothers by scent as well as the sound of their voice and footsteps while Jesse knew his brothers by sight. 

They went everywhere together, did everything together. They might of done that anyway, but their dependence on Jeremy made them inseparable. 

This situation continued into their upper teens. They were deeply involved in the church youth group. In the course of networking they discovered a man with a reputation as a healer, so they contacted him. 

The man said he had no ability to heal on the spot. If someone asked for healing, he prayed to God about that situation. Sometimes he got a sign from God that it was God's will to heal that person. When that happened he laid hands on that person. 

So he prayed about their situation. Months later he contacted the boys and said he had a sign. They got together. He laid hands on Josh and Jesse, restoring their sight and hearing.

The brothers were ecstatic. Each brother was now discovering a new world. In some ways the same world, but they had never been able to experience it by sight or sound before. They knew they were missing out on something. They only knew it by description. Now they found out for themselves.

Jeremy was very excited for his two brothers. However, because his younger brothers were no longer so dependent on their big brother, they began to do more things apart. In fact, they kind of resented having to rely so much on Jeremy over the years, so they relished their newfound freedom to strike out on their own without a handler. 

Jeremy understood, and tried to be sympathetic, but it hurt when he was left behind. In fact, at one point Jesse told him to his face that he didn't need Jeremy anymore. He just wanted to explore the world on his own. When Jeremy as a normal boy with a blind brother and a deaf brother, that made him extraordinary, but now he was demoted to being utterly ordinary. 

Jesse dropped out of church and drifted. Jeremy and Josh lost contact with their brother. 

Josh disapproved of Jesse's ingratitude towards Jeremy. He was thankful that Jesse took up the slack over the years. Although Josh relished the ability to see, and the independence that afforded, yet after he had a chance to do things on his own, he reverted to doing things with Jeremy. There was some adjustment. They were now equals. And that created opportunities to do things together they couldn't enjoy before. Different but better. 

The miraculous healing was a gain, but it carried an unforeseen loss, by breaking up the bond which the three brothers used to share. Jeremy and Josh continued to pray about Jesse, but at the time of writing, he was out of touch and out of reach. Jesse was easier to talk to when he was deaf. Now that he could hear, he wouldn't listen. He was deaf in a different way. Worse than before. Much worse.  

Friday, July 6, 2018

Death of a warlock

-i-

Ethan Mather was captain of the Lacrosse team. Athletic and handsome, with flashing amber eyes like a lion, and a mysterious magnetism. Amber eyes ran in the family. His father and grandfather had them, too. The other boys viewed Ethan with respect, admiration, and fear. It was dangerous to be his friend, but more dangerous not to be. 

He seemed to be able to read minds. And hex people. Not that anyone ever saw him or heard him hex another person, but if you crossed him, bad things happened. Uncanny things. Like the time he caught a classmate making out with one of his girlfriends. Next day the classmate was attacked by a swarm of bees. Hospitalized. Never returned to school. 

-ii-

Ethan was a warlock. That was the secret source of his strange abilities. He could anticipate what players were going to do before they did it. A gift that also helped him win at poker. 

He didn't choose to be a warlock. He was born that way. He came from a long line of warlocks. A lineal descendent of Cotten Mather.

Yes, there really were witches in Salem. They infiltrated the highest reaches of society as mayors, judges, and governors. Their philosophy was to hide in plain sight. Gain civil power to protect themselves.

They infiltrated the church. Became ministers. Succeeded in defanging the spiritual power of the church by turning New England to unitarianism.

Cotten Mather participated in witch trials to deflect attention away from real witches. He targeted Christians. Witches feared Christian prayer. 

Warlocks had preternatural longevity, so they had to feign aging and death, then start a new life elsewhere. 

-iii-

But the benefits were offset by terrible side-effects. Ethan's relatives suffered from depression, insanity, and bouts of murderous rage. Ethan suffered from hellish nightmares. Friendships were fragile. Ethan's kind were unforgiving. They could turn on each other. Joyless power. 

-iv- 

Ethan once had a conversation with a progressive pastor who dismissed the supernaturalism of Scripture as superstition and mythology. Ethan was amused. He wasn't an atheist. He knew, as only the Enemy can know, how true the Bible is. He was more orthodox than most churchgoers. 

He began to tell the minister things the minister had done that no one could possibly know about. The minister became alarmed. 

-v- 

The countryside was haunted by a wolf pack. The devil's familiars. People sometimes spotted the pack in the meadows, at dusk.

One day, Ethan met Jasmine. When Jasmine was cycling at dusk, the pack began to encircle her. 

But Ethan happened to be jogging at the same time. He walked over to the alpha wolf. For a moment, they looked each other in the eye, then the pack took off. Jasmine was relieved, but puzzled by Ethan's inexplicable affinity with wild animals. 

She and Ethan began spending time together. She was pretty, with a winsome personality. A churchgoing girl. Ethan could sense that she was authentic. He ran through many girlfriends, but she was the first girl he fell for. She had something that was missing in his own life. A different kind of mysterious magnetism. 

-vi-

One time she invited him to church. He was profoundly uninterested, but since it was a way of getting closer to her, he agreed.

Only, when he arrived at church, he couldn't go inside. With each step, he developed a raging headache and blisters. So he retreated.  

-vii- 

Ethan was at a crossroads. Would he return to his old life?

He arranged to speak with the pastor on neutral ground. He could sense that the pastor was authentic.

He explained the situation. The pastor said the only solution was to undergo exorcism. If successful, Ethan would be liberated, but lose his occult powers. A tradeoff. 

Ethan finally agreed. Although his powers were advantageous, they didn't make him happy. He felt a yawning darkness inside. He feared damnation. And he wanted to be with Jasmine. 

-viii-

The exorcism was excruciating. Ethan passed out. When he awoke, he didn't remember what had happened, but he felt different. Weaker, but better. The nightmares were gone. His eyes changed color. No longer amber. Now they were just plain brown.

-ix-

Adjusting to normal life was frustrating. Everything had been so easy for him. But now he had to rely on natural ability and hard work. Now he had to experience failure for the first time in life. He was bumped from captain of the Lacrosse team because he lost his edge. Still a good athlete, but nothing extraordinary. 


He and Jasmine married. His newborn son had brown eyes, not amber. Ethan was relieved. The family curse was broken. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Snowblind

-i-

In high school, Eric was an atheist. He exulted in his Nietzschean emancipation. A member of the honor society, Eric's IQ was definitely above average, but well short of brilliant. Yet he viewed himself as a superior being compared to his benighted classmates. He had particular contempt for a special ed student–as well as Josh, an openly Christian classmate. Eric regarded Christianity as a crutch for the weak. He disdained its "slave morality". He used to quote Mark Twain's adage, “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

Although Eric derived momentary satisfaction from looking down on others, and contriving clever putdowns, he felt empty and bitter. That attitude ate away at him.

-ii-

One weekend, some students organized a hike up the mountain. There were two small teams. Josh was in the first team, ahead of the second team, which Eric was in. When they began their ascent at the crack of dawn, it was a clear, chilly day. But further up the trail, it became overcast. At that point Eric removed his sunglasses. About an hour later, Eric's vision became blurry and painful. Despite the cloud cover, unfiltered UV rays from the thin air in combination with reflected light from snow-blanketed hillsides, induced snowblindness. 

The first team reached the summit, then began their descent, crossing paths with the second team, on the way up. By the time his team was approaching the summit, Eric could no longer see well enough to continue. He had to sit down. He told his classmates he was losing his vision. But they left him there while they made it to the summit, to take in the spectacular view. 

On the way back down, they walked past Eric. He was hoping, expecting, counting on one of them to lead him back down the trail, since he couldn't see well enough to navigate the trail on his own. But his classmates were worried that he'd slow them down. They needed to make it back to base camp before sundown, since they couldn't see the trail in the dark and temperatures plummeted after dark. So they left him behind to fend for himself.

Eric cursed them out leaving him behind, to die from exposure, but they quoted back to him one of his fond Nietzschean aphorisms: "The great majority of men have no right to existence, but are a misfortune to higher men."

-iii-

So Eric sat by himself, desperately pondering what to do next. Although he could barely see, he tried to text-message Josh to come rescue him. 

At first he didn't remember Josh's number. Then, for the first time in his life, he prayed. A moment later, he remembered the number. 

He wasn't sure his message was intelligible, since he couldn't see the keypad properly, and he wasn't sure Josh even got the message, because reception was spotty on the trail. In fact, he wasn't sure if he had the right number. 

So he sat by himself in lonely silence and fading light. Fading, not because it was getting dark outside, but because his eyesight was fading. Minutes later, he was totally blind. 

Eric sat there for what seemed like hours. He realized that he was terrified of death. He didn't really believe Twain's adage. All along, he was playacting, having cast himself in a flattering role. He used to love quoting Nietzsche's death-defying maxims, but he only wanted to live dangerously if it wasn't really dangerous. 

So he sat and sobbed. He swore at God, if there was a God, for letting him die on the mountain side. 

-iv-

Having lost hope, and having lost track of time, Eric was surprised and startled when he heard Josh call to him. Josh gave him a hug, and Eric cried. Josh waited for Eric to regain his composure, before putting eyedrops in his sunburned eyes, then winding a bandage around his eyes to keep him from blinking. 

Then Josh took him by the hand and began to lead him down the trail. When the trail was rough, Josh put Eric's arm around his shoulder to guide and steady him. 

It was too late to make base camp before dark, so they had to find a place on the trail, below the timberline, to camp out overnight. Josh gathered wood for a fire. Eric was utterly helpless. Josh fed him rations–spooning the spam out of the tin can with his finger. They snuggled for warmth during the frigid night.

Next day they continued their descent. After arriving at base camp, they spent another day and night in one of the cabins until Eric regained his sight. 

-v-

After that, Josh and Eric were best friends. Eric began to read the Bible, asking Josh questions about the Bible. He attended church with Eric. Befriended the special ed student. In college, Josh suffered a crisis of faith, and it was Eric to prayed for him. 

Decades later, Josh predeceased him. On his deathbed, Eric reflected on his brush with death as a teenager. Once again, he was facing death, yet the contrast made all the difference. 

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Déjà vécu

-i-

When Jayden awoke, he found himself in a hospital room. He didn't remember how he got there. He wasn't in pain. Wasn't injured. Had no surgical incisions. The hospital was eerily quiet. He walked down the hallway, but the hospital was deserted. He went outside, but the streets were deserted. He didn't remember what happened after that.

-ii- 

Jayden found himself hiking with his son Xavier. He didn't remember what happened before then. They were climbing a hill. When they reached the summit, there was a was a mountain range in the distance. They started down the hill, towards a stream. He didn't remember what happened after that.

-iii- 

Jayden found himself on the football field of his old high school. He was coaching a player named Xavier. It was a crisp autumn day, with colorful trees surrounding the field, as well as leaves littering the track. He didn't recall what happened after that.

-iv-

Jayden found himself in a barbershop. He didn't recall how he got there. Ava, a middle-aged beautician, was cutting his hair. He felt like he'd known her for a long time. 

-v-

Jayden found himself at a Thanksgiving meal at his mother's home. His mother Ava was busy in the kitchen, while he was talking to his brother Jordan in the front yard, facing the river. The sun was low on the horizon. He didn't remember driving there.

-vi-

Jayden was driving on the expressway. He didn't recall where the trip began. The expressway was lined with familiar motels and exits he'd seen so many times before along that stretch of highway. He felt that he was heading home, although, as he thought about it, he didn't recollect where home was. He was driving back by force of habit–like he'd done this many times before. In the passenger seat was his wife Debbie. 

-vii-

Jayden woke up in the bedroom of his college dorm. His roommate, Jordan, was seated upright in bed, typing on his laptop. Jordan was his best friend from high school. Jayden was pondering what to do next, but he didn't remember what happened after that. 

-viii-

Jayden found himself sitting in a pizzeria, talking to a pretty waitress named Debbie. He sensed having had this conversation before. He had a foreboding that this would slip away as abruptly as it began. 

-ix-

Jayden found himself sitting in an empty church. One of those churches that's open during weekdays so that people can visit the sanctuary to pray and mediate. He was flipping through the hymnal. 

Jayden couldn't shake the feeling of déjà vécu, like he was trapped inside a recurring dream, or circuit of dreams. Only he never really woke up. Every time, he woke up in the dream rather than waking up from the dream. A merry-go-round of dreams, where he kept reliving the same episodes, in no particular order. He could remember just enough to recall having done it all before, but he couldn't remember when it began–or if it began. He kept meeting the same people–or were they the same people? They had the same names. Same faces. Like a parallel universe. 

What was real? What was happening to him? Was he losing his mind? Or tripping out on LSD? Perhaps he suffered traumatic brain trauma from an accident. This was his delirium, as he frantically struggled to become fully lucid. Like a diver swimming towards the sunlight, but every time he's just about to surface, he sinks back. 

It had been going on for much too long to be a dream. He remembered it happening over and over again. Or did he? Maybe his memories were part of the hallucination–if that's what it was. The fact that he kept encountering the same people suggested that he knew them in the real world–whatever that was. He felt like an amnesiac groping to piece his life together, hoping to tap into some association that would suddenly bring it all back. Maybe in the real world, his body was sedated, with simulated imagery feeding into his mind through a neurointerface. 

He looked again at the hymnal in his hands. He knew this scene would vanish. He'd been there before. He'd been there again, sitting in the same spot, holding the hymnal open to the same page. 

He hadn't been very pious when all this began, assuming it had a beginning. Maybe it was like a Möbius strip, forever circling back on itself, without a starting-point or destination. But in his maddening ordeal, the only thing that kept him centered was the dawning realization that even if nothing else was real, God had to be real. If it was a recurring dream, that existed in God's reality. If it was an acid trip, that existed in God's reality. If it was a parallel universe, that existed in God's reality. If it was a computer simulation, that existed in God's reality. 

Only God could penetrate his experience. God was the only thing outside his experience that was able to reach into his experience. So God was the only realty he could reach from inside the illusion. And only God could connect him to his loved ones, whom he kept meeting and losing, meeting had losing. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Eternal Return

-i-

It had been 50 years since Nick used to see Dominique. At the time he was living on a small ranch just up the street. Dominique’s family used to stable their horses at his parent’s place.

Dominique’s family had a sprawling estate on gently slopping grounds, with orchards, gardens, and a stream–leading down to the shore. The property was bounded on either side by wild ravines, with a lake forming the other boundary. A triangular plot, like a gated garden, but with natural barriers walling or fencing them in.

The property was long-since abandoned. The orchards and gardens a thicket. The ruins of the white stone house overgrown with vines from the neglected grape arbor. The woods tenaciously reclaiming the boathouse, bathhouse, greenhouse, gazebo. The swimming pool caked with dead leaves. The weedy tennis court. Squirrels nesting in the chimenea.

Nick had returned for the funeral. Her funeral. Afterwards he went back to the old estate for a final good-bye.

This was the second funeral he’d attended for her family. The first was for her brother Albert, who died of TB in his teens. Dominique never got over his death. When she inherited the estate, she couldn’t bring herself to either live there or sell it. The physical association was both unbreakable and unbearable. So it fell into a state of decay. A cemetery for a lost brother. For a lost childhood. For a lost future.

-ii-

Nick met Debbie in junior high, just up the hill–on the summit. Dominique attended private school. Debbie was more down-to-earth than Dominique. A middle-class girl who lived in a rambler over on the next hill. Nick would often walk her home after school–then double back to his own house. Sometimes he’d pick up her kid brother at the neighboring grade school, a few blocks away, and walk him home–if she was busy with her figure skating.

Debbie was everything Nick was not. So sweet, gentle, feminine. Features like fine china. And just the right size. When he held her close, her contours fit snuggly into his contours. A perfect matching pair.

So Nick was torn between two girls. Dominique was unobtainable. Indeed, that was part of her charm. It wasn’t social class that kept them apart. In a way, Dominique loved Nick more fiercely than he loved her. He loved her, but he also loved Debbie–whereas she only had a heart for Nick.

He could have been happy with either girl, though happier with Debbie. Debbie was steady.

Yet she remained aloof. By turns affectionate and distant, passionate and diffident. He couldn’t figure her out. Was she just a tease?

She hurt him deeply when he found out that she was having an affair with Jeff, his best friend from high school. They were football teammates in junior high and high school. Nick trusted Jeff implicitly, which turned out to be a mistake. Yet he couldn’t quite blame Jeff for responding to Dominique’s advances. What guy in his right mind wouldn’t jump at the opportunity?

No, he blamed Dominique. Not so much out of anger, but puzzlement. If she loved him wholeheartedly, why didn’t she give herself to him? He was available for the asking.

Mind you, that would force him to choose between Debbie and Dominique. And in hindsight, who’s to say how that would have turned out? Each fork in the road might be equally fulfilling in its own way. The road not taken might be just as good, in a different way. But he could only make a life with one woman.

Dominique knew about Debbie, and Debbie knew about Dominique. When he was with one, he’d sometimes mention the other. He hadn’t made up his mind. Still testing the waters.

Dominique confided to Jeff, who confided to Nick. Dominique loved Nick too much to marry him.

The funeral for Albert had been a grim affair. Not just because it was a funeral. Not just because it was for her only brother. But because it was so hopeless. Dominique’s mother and dad were irreligious. This life was it. When you died, that was the end.

She could never again invest her heart in a man. For she couldn’t bear to bring herself to give herself to what she’d someday give away in death. To lose herself in what she couldn’t keep.

Beginning with Jeff, she carried on affairs with other men. When she felt she was becoming attached to a man, she broke it off and started anew with a stranger. The less she gave, the less she had to lose.

She and Nick continued to correspond all their lives, until she become too ill to write. She traveled the world, never putting down roots–for fear of being uprooted.

She willed the estate to Nick and Debbie, with the proviso that she be buried there, beside her brother Albert.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Eugenix

In 2141, the global climate control system was beginning to fail, due to computer malfunction. The GCCS had been installed in 2103 to forestall natural disasters, filter airborne pathogens, screen out cosmic radiation, and make many hitherto inhospitable regions habitable. A planetary botanical garden with many ecozones and microclimates, as well as urban centers.

While this enhanced the quality of life, one downside is that humans were now so adapted to the GCCS that their immune systems were compromised. Their melanogenetic function was also impaired. Simply put, the human race couldn’t survive without the GCCS.

So the computer needed to be repaired–at all cost. But there was a problem. The man who designed the firewall was dead. He was a polymath, with a side interest in comparative mythology. He designed the firewall as a videogame, combining plants, animals, characters, buildings, landscapes, plot motifs, type scenes, and riddles from the Pentateuch, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, John, and Revelation.

The firewall was part wargame, stealth game, and 4X. Before you could fix the computer, you had to hack the firewall. To hack the firewall, you had to win the videogame.

But this was complicated by the fact that the Commissariat outlawed Christianity in 2117. The Bible was banned.

Classified copies were stored in the archives of the Commissariat, to which only high-ranking commissars had access.

The Commissariat regulated all aspects of social life, beginning with population control. Reprogenetics. Mandatory sterilization. The state awarded one child per couple, from Eugenix.

There was, however, an underground church. Knowledge of Scripture was preserved by word-of-mouth as well as encrypted copies of Scripture. The underground church included Christian hackers who attempted to disable the police-state apparatus.

“Theoterrorists,” as the Commissariat labeled them, were normally executed, but some of them had invaluable computer skills. These few were incarcerated at a supermax facility, where their troubleshooting skills were sometimes tapped.

It was a tight wire act. The hackers were both dangerous, yet indispensable to the state.

When the GCCS began to fail, the Commissariat turned to Peter Neureich for help. Peter was their most brilliant prisoner.

The Commissariat tried to limit his computer access to the GCCS firewall. But once inside, Peter hacked his way into other systems. He deleted the database for the Ministry of State Security. He fried the Eugenix mainframe. And he reprogrammed the GCCS to phase out over three generations, allowing the human race time to readjust.

All this led to a popular uprising. Civilization reverted to indigenous social and religious institutions.