Fear (inspired by pboy)

Fear is at the core of all cowardice,
Be it on honor’s field or in the pew,
Death seen as that which must be avoided,
No matter the true cost in human souls.

Fear is at the core of all that controls,
Power is beholding to its tight grasp,
It keeps the rabble marching in close ranks,
Toward whatever goal shadows have in store.

Fear is what robs us of the joy of chance,
To dream, experiment and take a dare,
Playing it safe rather than being bold,
Bleeding life’s rich colors all into gray.

Fear demands of us a higher purpose,
Not simple lives in harmony and peace,
Must be more than a cosmic accident,
Can be no meaning that we alone create.

Fear demands that we always feel it’s late,
Rushing about to avoid some judgement,
Never stop to savor the here and now,
Miss today chasing empty promises.

Fear most often generates the cold hate,
That serves the shadow’s aims and purposes,
Filling their pockets with silver and gold,
And the cheap coffins of the innocent.

Fear is at the core of every failure,
Of every person less their potential,
Of melancholy nostalgic laments,
Pining after all that they might have been.

Fear limits the heights to which we may soar,
Smothers our curiosity and thought,
If there is a true spiritual realm,
It must be beyond these walls of our fear.


Acts of Contrition

“You don’t have to do this.”

He waited a couple of particularly pregnant moments before adding, “You still have a choice.”

The man they called the Architect stood with his back to me. He turned and in his eyes I saw the the most profound sadness I’d ever seen. I stood ten feet away, the ersatz pen, in my left hand, holding a small quantity of thallium. I hesitated a few seconds before responding.

“It’s too late for me to make any other choice. I really wish there were.”

He sighed deeply and lowered his shoulders in resignation.

“Ok, then. Let’s just get this over with shall we.”

I’ve gotten a bit ahead of myself here. I should tell you some of my backstory. I’m an expert in wet work. That’s one of the macabre labels we apply to the blacker human vocations. More accurately, I kill people for the government. Bad people. Or at least my handlers always told me that. I suppose it’s a useful sham particularly for newbies getting acclimated to taking lives. But at some point it stops mattering. You just do it. Kind of like a gun. “Trained assassins don’t kill people - their controllers do.” Or something like that.

I had killed twenty people.

The Architect was to be number twenty-one.


I’d been recruited in college. Taken some government aptitude tests that had been followed by a visit from a recruiter. Lots more tests, then a visit by the person who turned out to be my first handler. Government service had not been my career objective but they assured me I wasn’t destined for boring office work.

It seemed that my aptitude was in a more active role. Didn’t know it yet at the time, but I was being groomed. I still attended classes and did pretty much the same stuff I’d always done.

I’d even fallen in love. Anne. We shared some classes and began to find ways to simply run into one another around campus. She’d come to smile and laugh a little too much at my lame jokes and I’d become a little too gallant for it to be simple courtesy. We even studied together a few times. Saved each other seats in class. Had some lunches. Talked small talk. Found excuses to brush our hands against the other’s. The usual fits and starts of attraction.

I could go on about our awkward courtship rituals but it’s enough to say that in the end, I was convinced that she was the one. The only. I was sure she felt the same.

Unfortunately, I had two suitors. One delightful and naive young woman, and one cynical but profoundly well trained operative who wielded a knowledge of the psychology of somewhat disenfranchised young men like a samurai would a katana. Anne told me what she thought I wanted to hear - he told me what I wanted and needed to hear. She was making it up as she went along. He was following a well-tuned script that had been proven time and again. It was an unfair contest from the start.

And so that fateful day had come. I’d arranged to meet her in the park the day after graduation. It was to be the start of a true relationship - I hoped. My handler had other plans. He told me to meet him at an off campus location. I remember sitting on that bench, debating with myself whether to blow off the handler’s appointment or Anne. Despite their clearly superior methodology, it was a far closer thing than they would have hoped. Her smile made up for a lot of technique. But in the end, the money they had spent refining their schtick payed off. I’d figured I could catch up with her later. So I met with the handler. I left for my training immediately after. Spirited away is more apt. Convinced that this was my destiny. My ego expertly stroked by masters. I never saw Anne again. Never spoke to her. Never saw the red eyes she’d worn back to the dorm to finish packing for the rest of her life. I somewhat egotistically assumed she would be scarred for life. It was my life’s first true regret. Not the last by any measure.

Mostly they kept me too busy to be remorseful. I’ll spare you the details of my indoctrination and training. In the end I had proven most resourceful and had a natural talent for the work. A useful tool for sticky occasions where politics, law, or due process were inconvenient. My baptism had come soon after. One of my former classmates who washed out of the program was deemed an unacceptable risk. My skillful handling of the problem had been my doctoral assignment of sorts. Don’t get the impression that I was some sort of James Bond. Far from it. I looked average. I was of average build. Average height. Average weight. I did not stick out in any crowd. That was the point. The best camouflage for an assassin is to appear average. Being nondescript is stealth. It allows you to blend into the crowd. Makes it easier to close on your target and to escape when the job is done.

By the time I came to a point in my journey where I could understand the means by which I’d been selected and groomed for this life, I was way past the point where such insight mattered. Yes, the agency had manipulated and molded me into a killer, but with a resume that is blank save a string of killings, I had few options other than flipping burgers. That didn’t appeal to me much. Plus, I suspected that my employer’s retirement plans were fairly limited.

And so after 20 confirmed kills I had been assigned to the Architect’s case. I was supposed to transition into the role of handler, but the Architect was a special case, they said. One last field assignment.

To be honest I hadn’t really studied why the agency wanted him out of the way, only his habits and background to better know my intended prey. His back story is really pretty fascinating but I’m not the one to do it justice. Particularly the part about how he acquired that nickname. Besides, how he came to be who he was isn’t all that important to my story. Just a few details, though. Apparently he had been a fairly intelligent and reasonably successful guy before that fateful day when he sacrificed himself for that kid at the crosswalk. But nothing particularly special. Been in a coma for weeks. I’d seen the security camera tape of the incident. The look on his face as he dove for the kid was of peaceful resignation. Like he knew he was going to die but was ok with it. No fear, no remorse. Simply to act for the benefit of a stranger’s child. Not something I could relate to.

Who or what came back from the coma was different all together, so they said. There were theories but it wasn’t something people in government said out loud. Only in whispers. Cults had grown up around him but he never seemed to take any part in them. Or even acknowledge their existence. Truth be told, he wasn’t known for paying much attention to anybody. He went his own way with what appeared to be total ambivalence to the rest of the world. Nor did he seem to care whether people liked what he had to say on those few occasions when he opened his mouth in public. He was the most dangerous of sorts. Someone with no fear who speaks truth to power. I guessed that’s what somebody important didn’t like. But as I said before, by this point the why didn’t matter much to me; only the how and when. And the clean get away part was pretty important too of course.

Despite his disregard, he had quite a following. The indifferent Messiah. That was a new one. He wrote no books, made no prophecies, preached no sermons, offered no comfort, asked for no money. And yet many were drawn to him. Some, a very few ,claimed to have been changed by him. Actually, that’s not entirely true. None of them ever claimed anything. It was just that they lived their lives very differently than before they’d met him. It was [as] if they’d seen something that made everything else pale in comparison. But none ever shared what that might be.

I made it to his compound in the Wallowa Mountains of Eastern Oregon with an appropriate cover. It’s an interesting story, but one for another time perhaps. Though probably not. For reasons that hopefully will become obvious, my past exploits aren’t something I’m particularly interested in reliving.

The Architect lived in a small house on a hill separated from a collection of rustic structures built by previous visitors. Some plain barracks were the only accommodations. Camping wasn’t allowed. A 4 mile foot path was the only connection to civilization. The path led to a road about 5 miles from a small town.

Pilgrims would drift to this place in small numbers. At some point a critical mass of new visitors would congregate and then the Architect would show up. When he finally came to the dining hall to speak to us, he was brief and direct. What he said was a complete surprise to his audience, including me.

“Most, if not all of you, are about to be deeply disappointed. Many of you come here expecting me to fix your problems or because you’re running away from something. I have nothing to offer you. I’m not here to grant absolution or teach you the meaning of life. I’m not seeking acolytes. I can’t teach you anything nor will I lift a finger to try. You are free to stay, free to leave. I could not possibly care less. If you stay, then kindly stay out of my way and be respectful of this place. In the unlikely event that even one of you reaches any level of my conscious attention, I’ll let you know. Oh, and if you have to smoke, then collect your butts because the world is not your ash tray. “

He left without further comment. Future faithful were going to have to do some heavy editing to make his words poetic enough for a holy book. Probably not the first time that had been necessary.

About 2/3 of the pilgrims left in the first 2 days after his sermon on the mount. These were the usual types out for a quick fix of karma and not interested in anything that really required effort on their part. If it didn’t come in a convenient wrapper or was microwaveable, then it was too much trouble. You know the type, always searching for a diet pill in preference to exercise. The Architect wasn’t dispensing. So off they went in search of an easy answer or a more accommodating guru.

The ones that stayed became involved in one of the little communal projects that grew up in the shadow of the Architect’s house on the ridge. He was true to his word. He seemed to take no measure of any of these efforts. I would have to be really patient to get close enough to dose him with the thallium in my special pen. Death was assured as was time for a reasonable get away.

I worked in the gardens most days. It’s surprising how there’s something about working with dirt that makes you clean. Clears the mind. I hadn’t gardened in years but I’d had a landscape job in high school. I kept at it for a week and put in a good day’s work. One day the Architect walked by and called out to me.

“You. Come with me.”

He was already walking away. I did of course. Follow him I mean. This might bring an opportunity to get close to the man. Close enough at least.

He walked us over to a barren and discolored stretch of soil that wasn’t producing at all. There was a big patch of oil on it that soaked into the ground from one of his less respectful visitors.

“Fix it.”

Before I could say anything he was away. Oh well, it was a start. I looked over that patch and after careful consideration of my options, only one made any sense. It wasn’t a pleasant one. I’d have to dig up the contaminated soil and replace it. No other way to make this area growable again. Took me the better part of a week to dig it out and replace the soil with amendments. As I was putting the finishing touches on the grade he returned.

“Hmmm. What’d you do with the contaminated soil?” was all he asked.

I’d hauled it over to a waste area. Figured that would work for now.

“So you didn’t really fix it as much as pass it off to the next guy. Typical.”

In my work as in many jobs, candor is the best approach whenever possible. Less to remember and it makes the target more relaxed.

“There are some things that can’t really be fixed.”

He shrugged, smiled a bit, and walked away. Without turning he said to me, “You say that like a man who knows.”

Yeah. That is something I knew all too well.

He stopped a second. “Ever think of burning it out? The oil?”

I hadn’t.

“Just as well. Make a bigger mess probably. Best to not spill it in the first place, eh?”

I wasn’t sure why but it felt as if he’d seen right through me from the way he’d said that. That was the first time in my life that I had ever felt a twinge of real fear. Who in the hell was this guy really? Nervous fear is not a good mental state for an assassin. I decided to stay away from my target for a few days to get my bearings. Less likely to make a mistake. Shouldn’t have been hard considering how infrequently he was about.

I worked in a more secluded section of the gardens for a few days. It was off behind a copse of trees and I was alone with my thoughts. On the third day after my strange encounter with the man and for the first time in a very long time I was startled. His question was the first inclination I’d had that he was near. I hadn’t sensed his approach. I thought that I must be losing it.

”Have you figured out yet why you’re here?” He asked but I couldn’t help but imagine that he actually knew the truth. I considered my options. It wasn’t elegant but I did have a shovel and we were alone. One look in his eyes and I abandoned that plan. It wasn’t fear that made me reconsider. It was a sense of futility. That’s the closest thing I can describe to how I felt. As if anything I tried wouldn’t matter in the least. Except to me. My survival seemed at stake, not his. His eyes were like a tiger’s. You know the look. A top predator that doesn’t move fast because there is really no need. Now I had some inclination as to why the agency was so set on getting rid of him. They were scared of him. People who live for secrets can’t abide someone who sees through their bullshit with such ease.

I wasn’t about to try and bullshit him either. He might not read minds but I was certain to my core that he could detect most lies.

“I really don’t know to be honest.” Confusion seemed the best defense at this point. He looked at me for an uncomfortable time. Great sad eyes. But that wasn’t all. In there somewhere, was something dispassionate deciding whether I was on the menu for lunch. At least that’s how it felt.

“No, you don’t do you. Not yet at least. For your sake I hope you don’t figure it out. Probably better to live with the regrets you can fathom.”

What the hell did that mean!?

He backed away three steps eyes on mine before turning away. So much for me getting back on an even keel.

That night I suppose you could say I had the start of an epiphany. I kept dreaming about Anne and the life I’d pissed away. I dreamt of Him. When I awoke I had doubts where none had been before. For several days I was engrossed in a reassessment of my life. My choices. I couldn’t control it no matter how I tried. And I tried pretty hard. I walked in the afternoon and whenever I would look up at that ridge, he was standing there. Faces long dead by my hand haunted my dreams. That had never happened before.

One night, a levy broke. The one in my chest that held back the guilt and regret of an evil life. I had done evil. No, it was far worse. I was evil. I’d avoided admitting that to myself for a long time. Yes they had trained me, but obviously had detected the dark flaw that made it possible for me to do these things. And now I was afraid. It wasn’t the life I’d imagined for myself. My head was filled with the images of the things I had done and the people I had hurt. Had wronged. I cried for the first time in as long as I could remember. No one in the barracks acted as if they noticed. It felt like anguish then. Only because I didn’t, as yet, know the true meaning of the word. I was a beast. A monster. I’d never been one for soul searching and what was most surprising was that I did appear to have one. A rotten, guilt ridden soul. After several more days of self discovery, I began to consider an alternative. I became determined to try to make up for what I’d done. If that was even possible. I considered several alternatives but in the end they all seemed to fall short and I hadn’t a clue as to how to proceed. But I knew who might.

In the morning I found him attending to some roses.

“Do you think it is possible to atone for one’s sins?”

It seemed as if he really looked at me for the very first time. I could tell that I finally had his full attention. Still, he took his time in answering.

“Yes.” I had expected a little more of an explanation but he just went back to his roses.

After a time he added, “But there’s a big catch. A huge one. The cost is proportional to the sins.”

Another round of pruning before he added, “Past a certain point most would simply choose to live with the sin. It’s easier.”

As was often the case with his cryptic responses, I had no sure clue what that meant.

“But, it is possible?”

Two more careful angled cuts to remove errant growth before he spoke again.

“Yes it is. If one is truly contrite. Unfortunately, I find that few ever are. Narcissism and contrition don’t co-habitate all that well in the same body. Why do you ask?”

I didn’t know where to start. Or even if I should. Admitting what I am to another would make it real. Then he dropped the bombshell. He set the pruners on the ground.

“Ok, enough of the zen crap. I’m not your yogi. In your case, true empathy for your victims is the only way. All of them, not just the ones you care to recall or the ones who died directly by your hand.”

I slipped back and stumbled. He turned and faced me full, but did not advance. He put his hands in his pockets. It was a posture intended to defuse my screaming anxiety. It helped enough that I refrained from going for him.

His voice softened. “Of course I know who and what you are. What you’ve done. Why they sent you. If you want to feel better about yourself go see a priest and get absolution. That’s what they’re payed for.”

“I don’t want to feel better about myself! I want to make up for what I’ve done.”

To hear it spoken it came out sounding trite and melodramatic. “Maybe I do want to feel better, or at least different.” The last part came out almost as a whisper. I did know that I wanted this dread to go away.

“Turn yourself in to the police.”

“That wouldn’t change what I did.”

“No, but at least it would be a limited and socially acceptable form of contrition. Better than any of the half-assed solutions you’ve considered up to now.”

I tried to imagine what he had in mind that was worse than prison.

“True empathy is far worse than a cage.”

I wasn’t used to anyone being in my head and I can’t say I liked it much.

“You want me to fix it for you. Assuming I could convince myself to give a tinker’s damn, what makes you think I can?”

Good question, but I knew somehow that he could. If it pleased him to do so.

“No, I don’t want you to fix it for me. Fix it for them. Or help me fix it.” I poured out my soul for the first time in my life. He listened without a word. To be honest he looked bored.

“It is possible to atone but the cost is beyond your imagining. Go home and join a monastery. Or just join the Catholic Church and take confession.”

“Please. Can you help me? Will you?”

“You think this guilt that’s eating you up is bad. It’s nothing compared to traveling the road to true salvation, my friend. You will not like where it ends. Of that I’m sure. Some sins change the world. Yours did. That can’t be fixed. Only redirected. When the time comes, you’ll most likely just revert to your old habits and any effort would be wasted.”

I didn’t say another word. I stood with pleading eyes waiting for his decision. He picked his shears up again and returned to his work. I waited silently. He finished trimming the bush.

After a while he cleared his throat and said, “Ok then. I’ll be your Virgil. Though god only knows why. It’s not like you deserve to feel better. But that’s the rub dear boy - you will not feel better - ever.”

“Any punishment you think is fitting is fine by me.” (That was more than a bit of hyperbole.)

He laughed bitterly. “Right... What a load of crap. But this is your party not mine. I don’t ‘do’ punishment. Not my job. I’ll set you on your path, that’s all. In time you’ll have to make a choice. That choice will determine whether you’ve learned anything. You probably won’t. In the end it’ll still likely be all about you. Your suffering, your guilt, your pain.”

I tried to argue that it was all about making amends, but he wasn’t buying.

“Tell me, if you weren’t feeling consumed by guilt right now would you give a damn?”

In a moment of supreme honesty I admitted that I had no idea.

“Fair enough. At least that’s honest. If you don’t change your mind, be at my house at 5 a.m.. Otherwise I don’t want to find you here after that. Are we clear?”

I nodded.

He paused long enough to allow his laser beam glare to cook my face one more time. As he turned away he tried one more time, “Do yourself a favor and go home.”

I’d recovered enough to counter. “You know what they say. You can never go home.”

He reeled and for a moment I worried that I had gone too far.

“Listen smart ass, you have no idea how true that is. If you stay - you’ll learn. “ With that he left.


Which leads me back to where I started my story. Here I was, standing a few feet from - I had and still have no real idea who or what he is. I had not taken his advise to forget the whole thing.

“You don’t have to do this. You really have a choice.”

“It’s too late for me to make any other choice. I really wish there were.”

“Ok, then. Let’s just get on with this shall we.”

I laid the injector on his desk and sat in the chair he offered me.

I couldn’t help one last professional question and pointed to the injector. “Would that have worked?”

His eyes looked slightly amused but there was no other response to be had.

“What happens now?” I asked, expecting some sort of ritual or segway. There was none. It had already started.


It would take years to describe in detail what happened next. That’s because it took years. Decades and more. I got to live each of the lives I had ended. I got to live each of the lives they would have lead had we not crossed paths. I got to live the lives of those left behind. The lives of everyone who loved them. Then live the lives they would have lead if my prey had lived. I lived the lives of children unborn because I had killed one of their parents. I felt their loves, hopes, dreams, and fears. I felt the life drain away as a shadow of me killed them. The pain, the anger, the helplessness and then darkness. I felt the void hundreds of times. I’d wake up in a new body and the cycle would repeat. For each of the twenty interwoven sets of victims. Totally aware and completely unable to change any of it. Not even allowed the respite of insanity to help the years pass. I’ll spare you the details.

Then it got worse.

I woke up in my own body, but not quite. Sitting on a bench in a park near a banner about graduation. In this reality, I had chosen to stay and wait for Anne. I saw her coming toward me smiling.

I leapt up and ran to her. Asked if it was ok to kiss her. It was.

I watched as a version of me lived a life with her. We founded a family. I saw each of them grow in her belly and be born. My two children. A boy and a girl. I held them and nurtured them as I had wanted to be. I watched them become every parent’s hope - they became better than me in every way. Two better human beings never lived, though I’m not terribly objective in that regard. I experienced triumph and tragedy but always Anne was by my side. It was the best of lives. We struggled financially at times but made it through together. I was always proud to be her husband. Right to the end. I was the love of her life and she mine.

Unfortunately, this cycle ended too. Somehow the end of this one was far more painful than any of the violent deaths I’d experienced before.

Up to now. I’d suffered as none before me. Then it got worse.

I found myself in the body of a man walking along a flower lined lane. I was there but not. I could see and feel what he felt, but not affect it in any way. Merely to experience as he did. I didn’t recognize this guy. The scene was off and I couldn’t recall how I was related to him. But, ahead was a familiar face. Anne. It was Anne. She’d dropped some papers and was trying to grab them before a breeze scattered them. And not drop some more. It wasn’t working. This guy rushed to her aid. The gallant knight. Yeah right. Their eyes met during this retrieval effort and I saw something that chilled my heart. There was chemistry in that short glance and slight smile. Equal to that which we had shared both long ago and during my last circle of hell.

It’s a hard thing to have your nose rubbed in your lack of specialness. We all like to think we are irreplaceable. But the truth is that we are about as impactful as spitting in the ocean. We imagine that all our ex’s secretly pine away for us because we are the love of their life. That any apparent happiness is just an elaborate sham to hide a broken heart. It sucks to be forced to admit that there are other equal ‘loves of their lives’ waiting in the wings of fate. It wasn’t hard to figure out what this circle held. I’d get to see Anne’s life unfold as it had in the real world. As it had after I stood her up in the park. I was experiencing the life she’d actually lead.

Seventeen years of it. Day by day watching their love unfold. Watching them build a fantastic life together. Feeling his faithful love of her and seeing her love for him through his eyes. Little things shared that in aggregate spoke of a life well lived. Three fantastic kids born and raised together. He was a good man. A decent man. Loving husband and father. That was hard. But harder was the fact that she loved him as no other. It was not a ruse to hide a broken heart. She was as happy now as she had been with me. There was no void in her heart that only I could fill.

Seventeen years and 12 days came the denouement. She was looking at some old college pictures with her kids and husband when they happened upon one with me in it. I was off in the corner of the frame. Her friend had snapped it the day I had asked her to meet me in the park.

“Who’s the stiff?” asked one of her kids.

It took her a moment to place me. In that moment, I suffered longer than my combined journey to date. It hit me. My existence was not part of her consciousness in the real world.

“Oh my, I remember now. He was a guy in a couple of my classes and I’d thought he was kind of hot (her kids rolled their eyes...). Tried to get get together but it never seemed to click. We were supposed to go out after graduation but he stood me up and I never saw him again. Very strange. Oh, but do you kids know who that is? “

Pointing to another figure in the frame, she launched into a discussion of one of her friends with whom she still socialized. I was nothing but a trivial footnote to a fading snapshot. No distant glance or remorse of a love lost. Just how replaceable I was had been made abundantly clear. I achieved yet another low point in my existence. Unfortunately, it had a short run as champion.
I awoke with a start and found myself sitting on a park bench. It took me a few moments to get my bearings. The banner! The commons! I was right back at the start. I was back at school after graduation. I was sitting on that bench waiting for her. I don’t know how, but I knew this time it was for real. I wasn’t an observer. This was me! Somehow I had been granted a second chance. I could live my life over again and not make the same mistakes. I had seen what could be. I had never known what the word joy meant until then. The years of suffering were worth it! This feeling lasted ten seconds at most.

It was at that exact moment that I realized the actual cost of absolution. At least for me. The decades of suffering were the set up for the choice I had to make. When I would decide whether forgiveness was warranted. My choice hadn’t been made years before when I’d decided to follow this path. It was now. I started to cry uncontrollably once it sank in. That was when I learned the definition of anguish. The moment I lost everything for the last time.

My act of contrition was a simple choice. I could wait here and erase years of interwoven history pursuing the joy that was mine for the taking. She was on her way here. She would love me for all her days. I knew that. Had seen that. All I had to do was wait. Or, I could repeat my mistakes and keep my appointment with the recruiter.

Or I could, do what was necessary. The third path. A life leading to oblivion by conscious choice. If I pursued a life with her, then the lovely world and children she created with that other guy, would never even exist. More innocents would be punished forever for my sins. We all know that our choices change the world, but that’s not the same as actually knowing how. Seeing the faces that populate alternate futures guided by your own hand. My punishment was to be a god required to make a choice about how the future would unfold. I hadn’t stopped being a killer. I just had a choice as to who died and and a complete understanding of the consequences of my choice. Two would have to die. Worse. Two will have never existed at all. In a just world Anne and the kids were forever denied me.

Nor could I ever find another to replace her. My line would end with me. Any choice I made now would change the future for somebody else. I could never marry and no one would bear my children. My violence had robbed me of the privilege of ever being a father. The final victims were those two incredible kids that she and I would have created together. They were the cost. That life was the payment. Justice demanded that this not be a second chance. Just an epilogue to a life of violence.

The Architect came up behind me and put a firm hand on my younger shoulder. Don’t know why, but it was no surprise to see him here in the past. Only now did I understand the sorrow in his eyes from so very long ago. He’d been right. I had no idea where this path would really lead. Some sins can never be fixed - only redirected.

“Was it worth it?” He asked.

The best I could muster was a soft croak and a pained little grin. I had no voice. He nodded and walked away. He stopped a few paces away and turned.

“You coming?” he asked.

I was surprised but I got up and started to follow him.

In a few minutes I was able to whisper again.

“So that’s what you thought was necessary?”

He looked at me with a knowing glance which for the first time showed kindness. “No...” His voice softened. “ No, that’s what you thought was necessary. We all script our own hell. It’s the only way to get it right, I’m afraid.”

I supposed that was true.

“Where to?”

He shrugged and we walked away from that place.

“It’s not like you have anywhere else to go now, is it.”

We shared a black-humored laugh and continued on.

“Who in the bloody hell are you really? “

“Good question. Not important.”

In a few minutes she would arrive and wait for awhile. Then walk away toward a bright future with a man who had no demons to slay and no mortal sins to expunge. To a future worthy of her with a love of her life.

As for me, my plan is to take it day by day. I’ve seen the beast inside me and that’s not something I would recommend to you. I will die alone, unloved. To be forgotten by time. This invisible life is my spiritual rehab. I get up each morning, look in the mirror and swear, “Today I will not give in to the beast.”


Food for Thought

Since most politicians these days are professionals - i.e., they aren't qualified to be much else, why not regulate them like every other professional - have a Board of Political Aspirants. They would have to pay fees (the only time many of them would actually pay for anything I suspect), and most importantly, have to take a licensing exam. It could be as simple as racing a rat around a maze for cheese but even that standard would seem to be a reform...


A Curiosity

Hmmm. Pliny's been out of pocket traveling on business. An interesting observation. I flew into Reagan International Airport in DC recently. Planes on approach to Reagan have to weave and dodge along the Potomac to avoid restricted airspace. It's a wild ride and not my favorite. But it is conveniently located at the seat of power. Curiously, the airport positioned seconds from the Pentagon, the White House, and the US Capitol Building, across the river from the Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument, has no invasive body X-ray scanners. They have a lot of other security procedures but no X-rays. Now if you fly out of Ft Wayne Indiana's little regional airport they just about do a body cavity search but not in our Nation's Capitol. Congressmen, lobbyist's, businessmen of all types fly out of that airport daily for business and politics. What does that say?


A New Word is Born?

Mrs Pliny may have created a great new word. Last night while I was in the basement, I heard a very familiar crinkling sound coming from the kitchen. I knew the sound immediately. It was the sound of a Chips Ahoy package being fooled with. As these said Chips Ahoy were in my private cookie stash to escape the ravages of the teen hoards, I was alert at once. I called up, "what are you doing?" Mrs Pliny came down with mouth engorged with chocolaty contraband and said, "You knew what I was up to so your question is nothing more than an askusation...


Inflationary Cosmology

His was a simple universe. The rules were not complicated and the variety of matter was limited. His tools for assessing the limits of existence were few. Detailed knowledge would have to wait until better means of sampling the environment could be developed. For now his needs were few and the universe provided for them in abundance.

The universe consisted of two elements: the firmament and the sky. The firmament was flat and it was dangerous to wander too close to its edges since it was a long way down. There were amazing shapes in the sky. Particularly at night. He never tired of watching their dance across the heavens. With time he began to notice that there was a strange consistency about their movement and how they interacted. It was if something mysterious was holding them together in some way. He longed to reach out and touch them but they were beyond his reach and he feared they always would be. These shapes danced against the fixed background of changeless clouds and stars that marked the furthest reach of the universe.

Other shapes moved in the sky but they also seemed to extend to the firmament. They weren’t permanent like the other elements of sky either. These blinked in and out of existence as if by magic. Was it magic or did they have access to other dimensions of reality? Such are the things an emerging intelligence ponders in an early universe. He began to imagine faces on some of these shapes and that their movements were neither fixed like the wondrous shapes of the night sky nor completely random. Were these the gods of this universe? Where they the ones who had created this place? He had no way of knowing because only darkness had preceded his journey into light.

Everything seemed new and crisp. Only a few of the shapes had any flavor of antiquity to them. Some more than others. He imagined that they may have preceded the creation of this universe. They seemed older and the measure of his senses suggested that this was true.

The early universe was a noisy place. Full of light, sound, vibrations, and energies that were beyond his control. He was surrounded by noise. Immersed in it. At first it was a crass soup. But then he began to recognize that the noise presented in different ways and that shapes within the universe were its mysterious origins. Some of the elements within the universe gave off characteristic signals. For a long time is was just natural static to him. But with time, hidden within the static of the universe, there seemed to be some type of structure. The more he pondered it the more convinced he was of its existence. It wasn’t just that the elements of the universe were randomly spewing energy into the spaces between the firmament and the sky, but that there was a point to it all. A point suggested intelligent origins. Oh how he longed to make contact with the architects of this universe.

His theories about both the origins and structure of the universe solidified with each day. In particular he pondered the nature of the middle beings - that was his name for them. The ones that bridged his link to the firmament with the wonders of sky. Were there three layers of being? His, forever limited to the firmament, these beings of the middle who spanned between the land and the sky, and those forever above in the sky itself. Were the middle beings the messengers of the gods who were ill disposed to making direct contact with those like himself? Come to think of it, there were none others like him. There were many among the middle and the sky people, but he seemed the only one of his kind. That seemed sad and hard to imagine. Or could it be more wonderous! Were the sky people spirits of those like himself that had achieved a greater level of being? That had to be it. He might well achieve a level of existence like theirs. Able to use magic to travel far and wide or access portals to other realities that were beyond those familiar to him. The strength of his mythology grew.

He could not recall exactly when but at some point he sensed that the middle beings were attempting to communicate with him. For the most part, his efforts at communication had not altered their behaviors much other than they seemed to have a basic benevolence because they did congregate when he expressed displeasure or pain. But he became aware that some of the cosmic background noise was directional and might contain information. Information suggested intelligence. And intelligence enough to stretch to the sky itself seemed far greater than his own. Could they teach him and even if the wanted to, could he learn from them? It seemed unlikely considering the amount of information that could be contained in the nonrandom parts he was detecting. Far more than he could hope to process. Nevertheless, he had to try. Again and again he tried but nothing seemed to alter the basic physics of their responses. Had he misjudged or were his attempts too trivial to be noticed by gods. It was impossible at this point to tell the difference. He continued to study and then made a breakthrough. He noticed that while most of the patterns exchanged between the two gods were interchangeable there appeared to be a very few that were directional! Directional communication might provide the primer to understanding the root forms of communication if it really wasn’t a natural phenomenon. Perhaps this asymmetry represented the existence of defined personages amongst the gods. He collected and collated the data. He crafted and tested means of reproducing the asymmetrical data elements. When he was ready, the smaller of the two most common gods appeared overhead. He prepared to transmit the test pattern. In mere moments he would know if his theory was correct. Would it be enough to grab the attention of a god? He would soon see.

He was unaware that this act would affect the boundaries of the universe. And it was about to experience a major inflationary burst.

He transmitted his simple test message.