(PART 2, CH. 1)–The Boy Stranger: A free novel (Can you spot the allegory…er, metaphor…er, both?)

HINT:  The primary purpose of this novel is to highlight my philosophical belief that all reality and truth is fundamentally and singularly bound within the physical world.  That beyond the physical, the visceral, and the natural, all other “truth” is abstract, and thus, the driving force of all real morality, as well as our justification before God is our very created selves.  Furthermore, I believe the consciousness to be an inexorable part of the biological, though capable of putting one outside of their own physical existence theoretically, based on quantifiable observations.  Nevertheless, this unique ability of man’s consciousness does NOT change the reality that all that exists and is truth is actual, objective physical “things”, of which man is preeminent…and thus, the material universe IS the source of all spirits and souls.  And of course, as a Christian, I consider God to be the very definition of the perfect, visceral, utterly real IT, or, as He puts it better, I AM.  If He is not physically REAL, by very essence, then what is?  I am not suggesting that GOD is an abstraction, is what I mean to say.  If nothing else, the PERSON of Jesus Christ obviously proves that.  On the contrary, there can in fact be no abstract attribute ascribed to God within his own existential framework.  He is utterly ALL He is and all He thinks and all He does…all of that IS God.  And that is why God is One.

The secondary purpose of this novel is to show the destructive pitfalls which result from seeing reality through the lens of abstract constructs; that is, basing one’s assumption of “truth” (moral or otherwise) on a figment of man’s ability to think OUTSIDE his physical environment.  One one hand, we have the practical, uber here-and-now thinking “Jason”; on the other, his sister, Lucy.  The persistent dreamer, almost to the point of madness. And still to come, Leonard, the “faceless man”…the physical embodiment (as he seems to think) of the all powerful abstraction:  “god”…but not the true God.  No, “god”, but devoid of the boundaries of man’s existential–though certainly no less true–reality…that is, reason, logic, metaphysical and moral consistency.  He, that is Leonard, of course, could thus be consider the symbolism for mystic despotism, or, as John Immel puts is, spiritual tyranny.  And if you consider him thus, you will not be wrong.  That is part of it. 

Er…I also hope the novel is , you know, fun to read and a good story.

And now, on we go, with our heroes, long suffering Credence family:

On the platform were two men in wool pants and white shirts with the sleeves rolled up.  They were standing next to the Credence family’s great trunks discussing and something in loud voices, not paying much attention to anything but their own conversation. The boy sniffed the air and there was just a hint of coldness on it; just an aftertaste of a chill. It was getting on early autumn, and though it was still very warm in Richmond this time of year, it was much cooler in South Dakota.  Here the boy understood that the chill came early and stayed late, and already there was something cold under the surface of the season.

The boy looked at the men standing next to the great trunks and noticed that they were wearing hats.  They did not look like father’s hats, though, but more like the hats that the horse handlers wore back in Richmond.  The boy recognized something familiar in the uncaring, lazy way about these men.

Father gestured toward the great trunks and told the men that he and the family were ready to go.  The men didn’t seem to pay any attention to father, but the boy knew that they must have heard him because they turned and, still talking to themselves, lifted the great trunks into the air and began to walk with them.

Lucy was still smiling as the men loaded the trunks onto the wagon, which was hitched to one white horse, with splashes of gray on its back and near its hooves.  The boy noticed that mother was smiling too, but he thought there was something different about the way she was smiling. There was something not real about mother’s smile.  It was like during the War when the boy would sometimes see certain gray soldiers back in Richmond salute their officers, but he could tell that there was no meaning behind it; or that the meaning had somehow changed.

“Jason, you must come now,” mother said.  “Get on the wagon and stop thinking so much.  Get out of your mind and see this new place around you.  You seem very slow today, and I feel like a cat tugging on a snagged string.”

The boy said, “And I am that string, caught in the splinter of a door.” He smiled.

“You are the string, Jason. Always dragged along this way or that way, by some whim or thought, or another,” mother said.

“And I am a fuse,” Lucy said with a giggle.  “We are both strings, Jason, just not the same kind.”

They all climbed into the wagon and were soon underway.

“Jason,” mother said as they bumped along the dirt road.  “What do you think of South Dakota?”

“Do you think they will like father’s hats?” the boy replied.

“I don’t know what they will think of them.  I don’t know enough about this place, same as you.  Same as Lucy, except she pretends she knows, which is fine because it’s the way she is and it suits her.  But I don’t know. I agree they do not have many hats here like the kind your father wants to sell.  But then, this could be a good thing.  Maybe something of the East out here in the West will suit them.”

“Mother, have you noticed the way their boots are so dirty?” the boy said.  “Where are the cobblestones?”

Mother shrugged.  “It’s just the streets here, Jason.”

“They are just dirt,” he said.

“Oh, you two,” Lucy said.  “I just don’t understand you.  You see only dirty boots and dead cows on tracks and dirty streets.  I saw your face, Jason, when the man was talking about the cows.  Father and I do not see it like this.  We see lovely people who need what we have brought here.  We see that it is bright in South Dakota—at least today it is bright.  And so why should we not think it will be bright every day?  And I know that you see it’s bright, too, Jason, but when you see the brightness all you can think about is the moon and your burning candle by your bed in Richmond.  You loved that burning candle.  Even when all of Richmond was burning down around you, you lit that silly candle, and so I think you are a very strange boy.  So what if they have dirt on their streets and on their boots?  Father has purchased a beautiful ranch house out on the edge of Shadow.  It will probably have dirty floors and a dirty chimney, but does all that dirt mean that it’s not beautiful?”

Mother said, “Lucy, you are my very sweet daughter.  I think it’s indeed bright in South Dakota, but I don’t think it was bright until the cheerful Lucy arrived here.”

The horse looked very uninterested as she pulled the wagon up the very long, very narrow dirt road to the ranch house on the outskirts of Shadow.  There were two men on the wagon sitting on the front bench with father.  Father seemed very impatient, even more impatient than the men, and he was snapping his fingers at his family, who were in the back of the wagon between the trunks.  Father was sitting on the bench, up at the front of the wagon, between the two men who had come along to drive the wagon and to help unload the trunks.

“When we arrive, you must hurry with the trunks, and help these men, and get them unloaded quickly,” Father said.  “You see that these are very busy men and they are in a hurry, so we must also be in a hurry.  This is what you do when you come to a new place.  If you do what you’ve always done, then you are very silly and you should never have bothered leaving the place you came from.”

“Father, if that’s true, then why do you intend to set up your shop here in South Dakota?  Isn’t that what we’ve always done?  The only difference is that we’ll do it here, now.  Something of the East here in the West, as mother said.  What’s wrong with that?” the boy said.

Father replied, “Lucy is right about the hats.  We’ll sell them, but we’ll just have to do it quickly, and catch the people as fast as they are moving.  Things move very quickly in South Dakota.”

Father turned away from the family and said something to the men driving the wagon, but the boy could not hear it.  Father was blinking quickly and his cheeks were twitching.  The horse, on the other hand, hardly ever blinked, and her tail swished lazily as she pulled the wagon with slow and deliberate clomps of her feet.

***

 

The ranch house was low and had a faded, gray-tan hue like the land around it, and was crooked and sagging at the ends.  The boards of the house bowed and curled as half-hearted and bent nails protruded from them.  The windows were closed securely and were colorless and bland and seemed to reflect nothing at all.  The curtains behind them were old and bunched and knotted.

The curtains and the tightly closed windows reminded the boy of an aunt he had back in Richmond who wore her hair in a motionless braid and pursed her wrinkled lips sharply and almost never blinked. As the boy stared at the old ranch house, he thought of this aunt and something that happened to him a long time ago:

When he was nine, the boy walked into a room in the family’s row house in Richmond to find that his aunt was dead.  She was sitting in a chair next to a window, where the afternoon sun fell upon her body, and he stood just a few feet behind her, a little off to the side.  A little while later the boy’s mother walked up behind him and asked him how long he’d been there. The boy couldn’t remember exactly, but it had been quite some time.  There was still sun upon the body of his dead aunt, but the sun was the golden color of a late afternoon at that point, not the bright sun of the morning it had been when he walked in.

When the boy walked into the room it had not taken long for him to discover that his aunt was dead.  But the strange thing was that this fact didn’t seem to have any practical effect on him.  It didn’t keep him from talking to her for a time, and moving the hair gently from her eyes, and placing her tea delicately on the window sill, and reading a little of her favorite book out loud to her, as was his daily custom when she came to stay with the family.  He didn’t do anything particularly different than he normally would have, except that when he was finished with his routine, he went back to standing behind her, a little off to the side.  Perhaps this strange behavior was due  to his youth.  Or perhaps it was that his aunt had always a certain look about her that was the same in death as it was in life.

When mother came in the room she looked at the dead aunt in a way that one would look at a dead bird in the yard.  She told the boy that it was just as well and then quickly made him promise to never tell anyone she said this.

Then she said something about how death has a way of bringing out the personality of someone like this aunt. Then she made the boy promise to never tell anyone she said this, either.

The boy asked mother what she meant by this, and she replied that she meant more than one thing.  She then told him that if he really wanted to understand he needed only to go to the funeral.  So the boy went to the funeral a few days later with the family, and he found out that mother was right.

The preacher gave a speech and said many nice things about this dead aunt, and the boy understood that the things he said just didn’t fit.  The coffin fit, that is to say it fit around her like it had been there all her life.  But the words of the preacher did not make sense to him.  And also his aunt’s eyes were closed and her lips were turned up into a peaceful smile, and this didn’t make sense to the boy either because he had never seen her smile before.

***

The back of the ranch house was set towards the snow covered mountain in the distance.  The snow looked like a noose around the neck of the mountain, and there was a dark, gray curtain of clouds above and behind it that reminded the boy of the hoods they put on men’s heads just before they dropped them through the gallows in Richmond during the War.  The boy shuddered at this thought and drove it from his mind.  He needed to be more like Lucy, he thought.  He’d probably sleep better at night if he were, especially in South Dakota.

The windows of the house reflected no sunlight, and the boy wondered if anything at all could give a reflection way out there by the ranch house.  Did rivers and lakes give off a reflection, or did they just look like big holes in the ground?  He didn’t know of any rivers or lakes nearby, but he supposed that there must be some.  The melting snow from the mountain had to go somewhere.  If it ever melted, that is.  It was much colder there than it was in Richmond this time of year, the boy thought.  Colder in South Dakota and even colder out there in the lonely plains where the ranch house stood.

The land was very flat and hard around the ranch house, for the most part.  At irregular intervals there were crops of brush and some holes in the ground made by some animal or other, and there were three or four trees standing huddled together several meters away that looked to the boy like they had wandered out too far and gotten lost.  There was also a deep well in the front yard that was dry and dusty-looking on the outside.  A bucket hung lifelessly askew from an old rope underneath the small roof of the well housing.

The boy went to the well and put his head down into it.  There was a very strong, unpleasant odor.  For a moment he was afraid that perhaps it was not a well, but a grave.  He jerked his head back in disgust and banged it on the bucket.  It hurt, but he was relieved because the bucket reminded him that, yes, it was a well, not a tomb.  But the smell was still not good, and the boy thought that if he ever fell down into that well he’d die from the smell before he hit the bottom.

Dead bones.  That’s what it smelled like to him.  Dead bones piled high in the blackness.  And he knew very well what that smelled like; he remembered from the war in Richmond.  The bones smelled and they were all the same; blue or gray or black or white, they all smelled the same.  All the skulls were the same skull, and all the legs were the same leg, there was no difference.

Mother said, “Jason, the trunks are unloaded off the wagon, no thanks to you.  Truly you’re a foolish boy, and a dullard, with an imagination as empty as that bucket that you just cracked your head on.  But I don’t blame you completely, for the men moved very fast, as they tend to do here in South Dakota.  I hope that things will not move too fast for us like that all the time, because then where will we be?”

“I’m not sure, mother,” the boy said.  “I suppose nowhere.”

Mother nodded, and looked up at the mountain in the distance.

“Anyway,” she said. “They have left us the wagon and the horse, which will be helpful.”

Father picked up one end of a trunk and began to drag it inside the ranch house

“We should get these inside and unpacked quickly,” he said. “Then we need to unload the hats and go to town and set up our new shop there.  If South Dakota moves quickly, then we better move quickly, as well.  I am much too old and too tired to go any further west, where the ocean is; which is the other place that some men from the East are going.  Anyway, we don’t have the money for that even if we wanted to.”

“The ocean is very far away,” the boy said.  “I don’t even think I could pretend to see the ocean from my bedroom window here, like I could in Richmond.”

Lucy said, “Jason, I fear for you because you’re so dull.  South Dakota is a full half way to the ocean.  It was my dream too, once, to see the ocean at both ends.  But at least I am halfway there.  And that’s how it goes with dreams sometimes.  You are lucky to get them at a half if you can.  You should understand this and not think so much about Richmond.”

Then Lucy turned to father. “Oh, father, it is so lovely here!  So bright and such land!  How I have dreamed of such land!  Land that is a great open and laughing mouth that breaths in and out and sends the cool wind over us to refresh us and not to hinder us. Such wonderful openness and no houses around for our own house to lean upon.  Not like in Richmond.  Can this be anything but freedom?”

Father grunted and jerked the trunk over a loose board near the door.

“Until the war,” he muttered.

“What did you say, Holland?” mother said.

“When the war came, there were no houses for ours to lean on,” father said. “I don’t see much difference here when it comes to that, Lucy.”

The boy looked around and he could not imagine the land laughing, like Lucy had said.  Like the ocean, it was too far for his imagination to reach.  But if it was an open mouth, he thought, it was not laughing.  It was snoring, or worse.  And the only freedom he felt was the kind of freedom one feels when he is lost in the desert.  But then, he was the dull boy, and Lucy was the one mother said was born with all the lightning and imagination.

Yes, he really needed to be more like Lucy, the boy thought.  Lucy saw much.  Much more than anyone else saw, and if this made her happy then he needed to be more like her.  He was so amazed that his sister had such a gift to see so many things, even things that were not even there. She saw laughing. He saw snoring, or worse. He was a dullard and she was lighting, so he decided that he would try to believe her and not listen to his own thoughts so much.

The boy also decided that he needed to be more like father.  He was a boy that thought too much, but father was a man who just did what needed to be done, like move his family from Richmond to South Dakota to sell hats, without thinking much about it.  There were so many people he needed to be like in his family he thought, and he began to wonder why he was even there.  But this was an unpleasant thought, like the noose of snow around the neck of the mountain, and he tried to put it out of his mind.

Mother said, “Children, obey your father and help him get those trunks inside.  Move quickly.  I feel a wind blowing, like a storm is coming.  If the trunks are stuck outside in the rain then they will be ruined, and if they are ruined then the only place we will have to put our things is this house, which I don’t believe is quite big enough.  And be especially careful of the latches and the hinges on the trunks because they are so delicate.”

Lucy skipped towards the front door of the ranch house, patting her brother playfully on the shoulder as she went by.

“Do what mother says, Jason, and help father bring in the trunks.  I am going to pick out my room,” she said, and disappeared inside the house with her braided hair bouncing behind her.

The boy picked up the other great trunk and dragged it towards the door and inside the house.

“Where should I put this trunk, mother?” he asked.

“Anywhere it will fit,” she said.

The boy stood in the doorway with one hand still holding one end of the great trunk and looked around.  It was dim and hard to see, but he could tell that the house was small.  He heard the latches on one of the trunks pop, and then he heard rummaging.  A moment later father began to light some candles and a lantern.

“Suppose it does not fit anywhere, mother,” the boy asked.

“Then force it,” mother said.

“But what about the delicate locks and hinges?”

“Who cares,” mother said. “Break them.  It’s selfish of me to wish them well.  I’m a good wife, Jason.  I have always thought it important to be a good wife ever since my mother taught me this.  I shouldn’t care about those trunks, and you and I should both stop thinking of Richmond.”

“Yes, mother,” the boy said, and went to find a place for the trunk.  He dropped it in the corner, then knelt down and popped the hinges.  He opened the trunk and began to unpack, but then he thought about what mother said, and about his decision to try to be more like Lucy, and he left the trunk and went to look around the house.

He came to a room toward the back of the house and noticed that there was a hole in the roof, large enough for a man to fit through.  It was a jagged hole, and it looked like it had been a weak spot in the wood, and that something heavy had been dropped through it.  It reminded him of the cannonball holes he’d seen in the homes in Richmond.  He looked at the hole curiously for a moment.

“Oh, my!  Jason!”  Lucy said, startling him as she appeared out of thin air behind him. “There is a hole in this roof!  And now I can see the beautiful day outside and the sun coming through.  Now I never even have to look out of the windows, which I have noticed are not so good for looking out of anyway.  What a wonderful place South Dakota is, to have such ways to see the brightness of the sky!”

The boy looked down and saw that there was an erratic stain from the water that had rained in through the hole in the roof and warped and discolored the wood of the floor.  Lucy looked at her brother, and saw that there was no expression on his face. He saw the hole and the stain, and there was nothing more in his face than that.  It was such a blank face, she thought, simply reflecting back what was right in front of him.  Or it was worse, she thought.  He was thinking about Richmond again.

Lucy said, “Oh, Jason.  I see that you’re a very silly boy, and a dullard, with an imagination like a dusty jar.  I don’t know why you are missing Richmond so. Why is it so hard for you to change?  Why can’t you appreciate the freedom we have here?  Are you so used to our row house, with its four walls and floors and roof, and people on all sides of us?  Why can’t you appreciate the freedom we have here in South Dakota, where the walls and roof are unattached, and the neighbors are few?  And what is so wrong with the wind and the rain coming in?”

Lucy began to cry.  Her lips trembled, and she wiped frantically at her eyes.

“I know you have bright memories of your burning candle by your bed, and of Richmond, and I have bright memories, too!” she said.  “But my brightest memory is when the general brought his blue fire to the city!  I was so afraid of the fire reaching our walls because the walls were so thick and tight and I knew that they would burn for a long, long time, and so we would also burn that way!  But I do not fear that here!  Here our walls are thin and the fire will burn them up quickly, if it comes, and so we won’t have to suffer long, not like in Richmond!  And perhaps we might even escape, and if we do there will be no throngs in the streets to block our way!  So don’t you see, Jason, you silly boy, that South Dakota is a good place where everything moves quickly, even the fire.  Now you must go and tell mother about this wonderful hole in your roof!  You will go and tell her of the brightness of the sky and the wind on your face, right in this room!  Go!  Go now!”

She screamed at the boy to leave, but instead of waiting for him to move, she turned and ran from him, sobbing heavily.

After a moment the boy turned and looked one more time at the hole in the roof.  He wondered how many of father’s fancy hats it would take to cover it up.

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