“It is as difficult to begin a civilization without robbery as it is to maintain it without slaves.”
— Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: The Life of Greece
TRENCHES & BLISS, 2016
I almost sat on top of the blonde who had covered herself with a cream blanket on my sofa. I had forgotten she stayed the night or maybe I didn’t expect her to still be there — either way. Had it not been for her little painted fingertips poking out and brushing against my pant leg, I probably would have sat down on her face. The thought amused me.
She stirred as I was lacing the stiff, brown leather at my feet.
“Don’t you have a home?” I started.
She sat up, disheveled. “Charming.”
“Only when stray cats sleep on my sofa.”
Her eyes stalled like a hurricane with a headache over my dead body; she smiled, unmoved.
“Coffee?” I asked, already up, and turned my back to her cold winds.
“You’ve got gumption, girl; I’ll give you that. How the hell did you find me?”
The apartment was small and modest, however sterile; in contrast, she was like a delicate, silken buttercup one might marvel long enough to pick but could never keep without ruining… or being ruined. I watched her fold the blanket after starting the coffee.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “You saw me; they took me same as you, but then I woke up here.”
She turned to lay eyes on me again. “Oh, at my apartment here. That house just outside of town where we met, that’s my aunt’s place.”
“Ah. You say you ‘woke up’ at your apartment?”
“You don’t remember anything before that?”
“Not really. No.”
Hmph. “Figures,” I smirked.
Could she be that naive?
I peered into her hurricanes for a moment longer.
Yes. Yes, she could be…
“We’re probably in the Dream State,” I answered, eager to see her reaction.
My outburst of laughter disturbed the sterile air like a live wire hitting water. The blonde looked like she got splashed.
“What is funny?” Her high cheek bones reddened.
“It’s nothing. Forget I said it.”
I poured the coffee into two black mugs and handed the girl one. We occupied opposite ends of the indifferent, grey sofa.
“Who were those guys anyway?” she asked, following a gingerly sip.
I tried not to choke on mine. I should have been angry but it was just too perfect; she knew how to phish.
She jumped. “Who’s that?”
“Why would I know?”
I clutched the small knife in my jacket pocket. The leather from my shoes creaked across the marbly floor making the short distance to the door seem far longer. I cracked the door.
A young man, around my age but shorter, and of a sanguine nature, stood grinning like a fool, tennis racket under one arm and ball in his other hand.
No one called me ‘Rich’.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Can I come in?”
“That depends. Who are you?”
“Oh, just a friend of a friend,” he said, trying to peek inside. “Is it a bad time?”
I snorted. What was it with the stupid questions today? This must be the Dream State, I thought: It was the only state in which I appeared smarter than most everyone.
“It’s a bad time to make friends,” I replied.
His face sobered. “Yeah. You’re right. I just thought we might play tennis.”
I laughed. “Another era, pal.”
I tried to close the door but he wedged in a toe.
“Hey, my name’s Bishop,” he said, hastily. “I think we should talk.”
If he’d kept the ridiculous grin I would have kicked him out on his ear, but he hadn’t, and he gave me a look now that made me think he might know something about things.
I nodded and let him in.
“Whose side are you on, Bishop?” I was blunt while rubbing the blunt end of the knife still in my pocket.
He straightened his shoulders a little. The effect was good; it made him at least half an inch taller.
“I’m on the side of truth,” he said nobly with a little shine on his forehead.
The blonde laughed little tintinnabulations. “Whose truth?” she bolded.
I raised my eyebrows to underscore the same question still looking at the strange man.
“Oh, there’s only one, Rich; everything else is a mere mortal’s perspective,” he said with an intriguing calmness. “You used to know that.”
I let go of the knife and sat down in the lavender armchair across from the sofa. I had his angle now. “I see. You’re of the Higher Order then.”
“You’re awfully brazen for an outlaw,” the woman said showing off her incredulous tongue. “I could have you submitted as a science experiment to the T.E.E.M.,” she further flaunted.
“Careful, dear,” I smirked. “You’ll tip your cards.”
Hurricanes stalled over me.
She was fantastic. They knew me well; she kept her composure remarkably well.
“Better a science experiment than a naked soul prancing about as if the Emperor’s clothes were made of real stuff,” Bishop quipped.
“They appear to be one-in-the-same now.”
A micro-aggression passed across his lips like cloud-to-cloud lightening, faintly.
I smiled and turned to the blonde. “I don’t think he’s scared, blondie; this could get ugly.”
“You shouldn’t entertain him,” she snapped.
“You invited yourself, buttercup,” I replied.
Her chin tilted. She left rather quietly for a hurricane, but I knew she’d be back.
The Bishop’s eyes lightened as he took her seat.
I could only be so popular in the Dream State. Who was I? Nobody. But I was enjoying the process immensely so far. The clothes, the setting, and even the people were infinitely posher here.
“So,” my right leg crossed my left knee, “what does the Higher Order want with me now?”
“Rich, this is serious,” his face crinkled. “God wants you back in his army. He wants you back, Rich.”
My eyes focused on the patterns of the floor. Where was my coffee anyway? Coffee table. I leaned forward to grab it and took a swallow of what was now lukewarm.
Funny. I couldn’t recall ever being in ‘God’s army’, only Bliss’…
“I guess I haven’t suffered enough then, eh? Is that what he thinks?” I replied, irritated.
“You know it’s not like that,” his voice softened. “Think of Job… John the Baptist… Peter… We all suffer, Rich; we are all tested.”
“Cain? Esau? Pharaoh? Judas Iscariot? I doubt we’ve read the same Bible,” I snorted. “We’re all tested all right — unless of course we’re just doomed from the start. Maybe I have a bad heart, Bishop.”
“Maybe,” he said. “Do you?”
“Do you have a bad heart?”
I emptied the coffee from my mug into his face. “I believed!” I spat.
He didn’t flinch and I almost felt sorry I’d done it.
“No good ever came of it,” I said to break up the convicting silence of his stare. “From devastation to devastation — that was Paul’s true experience penned by his own hand.”
“That’s not true, Rich, and you know it,” he said pointing at me.
He was half smiling again and I was ready to knock it off of his face again.
“You loved God, Rich. You did,” he shrugged, standing. “I’m just here to remind you.”
“Well, you can get out. Higher Orders don’t mean anything to Totalitaria.”
“I’m already on my way out,” he laughed, opening the door. “But you know I’m right and you know you’re not afraid of Totalitaria — as you call it. Besides, you know all of that’s meaningless except to serve —” he pointed his finger upwards to suggest the Higher Power. “There’s no neutral in a world war, Rich; and there’s always three sides.”
I considered throwing the whole mug at him as he lingered in the doorway.
“I’ll be seeing you,” he closed and left.
He was going to be a bigger pest than the blonde; I was sure of it. But I couldn’t imagine that they’d sent him. It didn’t make any sense.
I was making sense of it all until Bishop...
When I exited the cerebral, paralytic, floor-stare and came to my external senses again, I was tapping my fingertips on the side table, still sitting crossed in the chair. If I was to survive ‘training’, I had to decipher their intentions here in my head. Bishop might as well have been the Higher Power’s handwriting in a foreign language on my palace wall.
“Damn him,” came out quite naturally, but even as I said it, I knew I was the one damned.
It’s funny the things that intersect in life. I was just reading about the writing on the palace walls in Daniel a few nights ago, but I promise that these words were penned years ago — the timeless inspiration pressing in and out of realities at every turn.
This chapter is probably one of my personal favorites… I enjoy it because more of Rich’s dilemma-at-heart is exposed by Bishop; because Bish is based upon someone I once knew and enjoy writing; and because the situation with the blonde and the world come a little more into focus.
To me, Rich’s struggle with belief in a good God is universally felt. (Notice, it is not belief in God that he doubts…) So far as I know, every Christian, at some point, will walk that road… for better or worse. And I’ve seen men take both paths — one choosing unbelief and the other to trust — at the crux of it. Having lingered long upon the question myself in the past, I find it as easy as it is painful to write.
As for the hardboiled and sarcastic types, I might as well confess that Philip Marlowe is probably my favorite fictional character. (My favorite stories, however, would be Jekyll and Hyde by Stevenson, and The Tell-Tale Heart by Poe.) Marlowe, if you don’t know (or have never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie), is a hardboiled detective, often chased by insane dames and damsels in distress, who largely ignores the ones falling all over him to chase the slightly dangerous and also off-putting ladies while crime-solving. Raymond Chandler, the author of the Marlowe character, definitely had a way with words (why I enjoy him), though his evident plot-holes sometimes garner criticism.
Influences certainly matter. There’s one of my lesser-known influencers, picked up during college years.
The mention of the Dream State in this chapter made me think back to that movie Inception (2010). I actually had not considered the likenesses of my Dream State to the dream-sharing of Inception, but… yeah. Not unlike in concept. Just a different premise. I might have to rewatch the movie now…
Take care, friends. Until next time.