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A Man Dies Peacefully (novel)

 

He was the savior, he was the devil.

He ordered the execution of millions.

 

 

Prologue

A child’s scream will soon break the soft forest quiet. Running with a skip to her step just ahead of her mother and father Alexa Mystic is burdened with curiosity to see where a small orange and blue butterfly will eventually land. Giggling with pleasure she runs with that quick sprint that only natures youngest creatures have mastered, vainly trying to wrap her hands on the flower like insect. Faster and faster she goes, flying over budded wild flowers and  deftly weaving between hidden branches.

With simple smiles on their faces Alexa’s parents enjoy the sight of their only child playing. Finding time to leave the city to enjoy nature’s graces in such a large national park is a rarity that everyone can enjoy and Alexa’s parents are thankful they have made this magic day happen.

Under blue skies and green leaves the day hearkens back to a more ancient time. Was the world ever like this, where the simple touch of the soft ground was enough to feel connected to a larger world? The echoing laughter of Alexa and the radiating good cheer of her parents make for a portrait of perfect family life that would be recognized throughout all history and throughout all cultures: the family united together in the face of a difficult world.

However, darkness threatens. The sky stays blue, Alexa’s giggles still fill the air and her mother and father continue chatting with unspoiled pleasure, yet, bubbling below the surface is a patient dread. Statistical anomalies happen every day and today the malicious cloud of chance has gloomed to twilight this sunny day.

In the underbrush a monster watches Alexa from a careful hiding place. He watches her play, she is still following the bright butterfly. With an animal instinct natural to every predator when they see weak prey fall within their reach, the monster is waiting, ready to capture Alexa and to devour her shining halo of youthful innocence until it is something he owns, something that he will rip away from her in such a manner that she will never have again. Two more monsters join the first and their silent whispers hatch a simple plan. Finally when Alexa wanders just a little too far away from the warm nest of her parents’ sight unknown cold hands quickly cover her mouth, grab her small body and carry her away. The butterfly follows the fleeing foursome for a few seconds, the only one in ear shot to hear the concerned shouts of Alexa’s parents when they discover that their child is missing.

Not far away from where Alexa Mystic’s parents are being seized with panic, Theodore Shadow is in a secluded valley contently collecting herbs. For such a dark reality to be happening in such close proximity the peaceful serenity of the beautiful valley seems unnatural. Steep pine laden hills surround a tiny stream fed lake that looks as if it has been designed by a creators hand to flawlessly reflect perfect blue skies. On the lakes shore sits the tiniest of cottages with an organized herb garden where Theodore is currently working in. There is a feeling that this valley is not so much a part of the broader natural world as it is an exclusion from it, an escape, a place where the world does not enter and from where Theo does not leave.

There is a steady quiet ruffled only by the bubbling of the stream and Theo’s practiced motions in the garden. Perhaps he is humming quietly, Theo does not know if the music he hears is just in his mind or if he is verbally projecting it, so used to only his own solitary presence that he doesn’t differentiate between the external and internal. He is the valley and the valley is him.

Theodore has spent much of his life in this valley. Where others feel a need to stamp as heavy a footprint on earth as possible in the hope of being remembered and in the hope of avoiding the horror of disappearing into dust, Theo is very different. All he wants is to be away from the world, simply absorbing the beauty of life and hurting nothing. He does not want to touch the world in even the slightest way for fear of spoiling it, for even his best intentions could by accident or weakness scar the perfect world. However, today the peaceful equilibrium which he has created for himself is going to be battered by a gale of external forces beyond his control.

While plucking a nearly perfect sprig of rosemary Theodore Shadow hears a quickly muffled scream. This is Theodore’s own part of the world and he understands the area with the same clarity that he understand his own mind. Never before has there been a cry like the one he just heard. And, that cry, it was quickly muffled. Theo calmly places his gardening tools on the ground while his mind is suddenly accelerating, trying to put the pieces of whatever is happening together. A muffled cry. He has been separated from the world for so long but there is no possibility that a muffled cry means anything other than someone is in trouble. Does he help? His feet carry him towards where the sound of the cry came from without his brain making a decision on whether or not to help. Perhaps some of mankind’s instincts are always stronger than our will over them.

Striding confidently along a path that only he can see Theodore leaves the hidden seclusion of his valley carrying only a stout wooden walking staff. When was the last time he left the valley? He doesn’t really remember. Now that he leaves it’s possible to see just how hidden the valley truly is, unless someone was looking for it they would never have any idea that a man has made his life just a short ways away. A lifetime in his valley has naturally attuned Theo to any foreign disturbances and he soon finds a recent trample from around where the scream came from.

As he follows the torn underbrush he first sees the ugly stain of the fleeing group before spotting their sprinting shapes in the distance. Theo silently follows behind them. Soon the group stops and Theodore is able to find a hidden vantage point to view them from. There are three men carrying a young girl. The young girl was the one who screamed and now she is on the ground, her eyes bulging in terror and her small frame shivering. The men are arguing above her. Theodore knows of men like this, they’re a part of the reason he keeps his valley so well hidden. They are the sort of men who have fallen through the cracks of the plinth of civilization. People who some mixture of drugs, debauchery, a weak constitution or simple bad luck turned into monsters. People who society has turned their back on and people who then turned their backs on society. The forest is full of people like this, those who go into the city at night to hunt for drugs and food then come back to their lair in the daytime to hide from the world of light. The way they live isn’t so different from that of Theo, however, their motivations couldn’t be more different.

The three men are arguing with increasing vehemence. Each man wants something different to happen with little Alexa Mystic, whose ears are just old enough to understand every word they shout above her head. One man, drunk on the lust of opportunity, thinks they should take what nature has given them to fill those needs that a desperate man always has. Just looking at her tiny frame is making the man salivate with unquenched desire and the other men are looming large to keep him away from Alexa. The second man wants to hide her and hold her for a ransom. This could be their ticket to money, he argues, they could finally live large: think of all the hits they could get: think of living outside of this god awful forest. The other men leer at this idea, mockingly saying, “Yeah, sure, we’ll just write a ransom letter, deliver it to her parents and keep the little girl in a nice little cell. How do you do a kidnapping for ransom? All this is going to accomplish is getting us caught. Foolish idea!” The final man is the edgiest, eyes darting every which way and his body quivering with the same humming intensity as tiny Alexa’s. He just wants to kill her, dump the body and get away from here. He is in a panic, crying that they are going to get caught and killed. Why did they ever catch her in the first place? What a stupid idea.

In a split second Theo throws away a lifetime of belief. He does not think he should have an effect on others’ lives. He does not believe he should exist outside of his valley. He does not believe in performing actions with unknown causality. These are the defining principals of his life. Yet, there is a suffering child in front of him, he can see her eyes, she is suffering. Is she staring at him? Is she in her mind begging him for help? Theo just reacts. There is no thinking involved, there is just a sudden fluid movement with a strength and grace honed from living in tune with nature. With his walking staff twirling he enters into a sudden melee with the three men. With a sharp crack that caves in the first man’s skull, the rapist, the other two men are made aware of Theo’s presence. By the time the two men are past the shock of their friend lying on the ground with a lopsided skull Theo has already knocked unconscious the second man, the kidnapper. The third man is more wily though with a knife quickly sprouting from his hand and in a blurred motion he throws it at Theo where it is now suddenly sticking from the wood of Theo’s walking staff: an unlucky shot. He starts to run but Theo is faster and like a descending hawk he pummels the final man, the wannabe child killer, in the back of the skull with an unambiguous force. In just a few split seconds the three men are finished, not even moaning. They are all either unconscious or worse.

Theo’s brain has still not become conscious, it is still in reaction mode. Slowly, as the adrenaline animal that conquered him appreciates that there is no more danger, his rationale returns. A life of moral rectitude blasphemed against. This is not who he is. He will have to deal with ramifications of this at a different time, because right now there is a crying girl in front of him. He softly whispers to her, “Please, I won’t hurt you, don’t worry, everything is going to be fine.” He can see her eyes glued to the end of his staff which is stained crimson. He puts the staff down into thick grass and steps away from Alexa. He crouches down on one knee and soothingly whispers, “Please, everything is going to be ok, everything is going to be ok, I promise. Are your parents nearby, do you want to go find your parents?” She nods plaintively. “Do you want to walk, or would you like me to carry you?” She whispers in a broken voice without looking Theo in the eyes, “I can walk.” She pulls herself up from where she was huddled on the ground and dusts herself off. She doesn’t stop looking at the ground. Theo asks her if she knows where her parents are and he asks her if she’s hurt. All she tells him are some incoherent mumbles.

He can find her parents and he will of course bring her to them, but first he wants to stop at his valley and change his clothes. His current robe is covered in blood. He feels sick. He needs to be strong. There will be time later to deal with his mental anguish, to deal with his sorrow. He walks silently with Alexa striding a safe distance behind him. They come to Theo’s valley and for the first time Alexa looks at her surroundings instead of just the ground. “It’s so beautiful here,” she says with an emotion other than fear in her voice. “Thank-you, this is my home,” Theo replies. “You live here just by yourself?” Alexa asks with more than a hint of normal childlike curiosity. Pleased that it seems like Alexa is calming down, that maybe she will be ok, he stares her in the eye as an equal and gives more of himself away to her than he was planning to. He tells her, “I’ve lived here for more years than I know. This is my home and this is the entire world to me. Here, in this little valley with its stream and my cottage there is peace, there is nothing but peace. In this place nothing bad can happen. Do you understand?” Alexa looks up at Theo and solidly meets his eyes, she looks into the eyes of a man in a way  she never had before and suddenly in the heart of her soul there blooms  a feeling of peace, security and yes, yes, meaning. Feelings that the little girl has never felt before, feelings that are not understood but absorbed into her budding consciousness like a dry sponge being plunged in water. “Yes, I understand,” she says, her eyes unbreaking from his. In silence their eye contact remains for some moments, a conduit of human connection passing between them. “Good, you are safe. Let me change my clothes, then we will go and find your parents,” Theo says, unsure how to handle the sudden sea change in this little girl. “My name is Alexa Mystic,” Alexa suddenly blurts out, then quickly she looks at her feet, somehow embarrassed. “My name is Theodore Shadow. It’s wonderful to meet you Alexa,” Theo says. He is sincere.

After changing clothes Theo brings Alexa out of the valley and together they quickly find her parents who are in the beginning stages of panic, though still unsure if perhaps Alexa has just wandered off too instead of of something more dark having happened. Perhaps what seemed like such a long time to Alexa and Theodore was really just a brief moment, a sudden flash of light which can illuminate a life in a way that forever changes ones perception but lasts just a hint of a temporal moment. Theodore tells Alexa’s parents what has happened but they do not hear his words, no, they are just horrified that some strange man has brought their daughter out of the brush and besides, who the hell is he anyway? Alexa’s father picks her up and without saying a courteous word to Theodore Shadow begins to walk with his wife quickly away from this strange and scary world filled with its strange and scary men. Theodore Shadow stands there, alone, while over her father’s shoulder Alexa looks back at him, eyes locked on her savior, eyes as a window to a heart that doesn’t understand what it is feeling but knowing that in some fundamental way everything is different.

 

Descent/Ascent

Chapter 1

In the beginning, there was a lie. It was not a big lie, it was not a small lie, it was a simple lie to convey a complex truth. All over the world different lies were being told, but they were always being told for exactly the same reasons. Maybe in one place there was a questioning young man asking a local elder about the purpose of life after struggling through a hard day on the farm. Maybe in another places there was an exhausted grandmother seeking to quiet the incessant curiosity of a young grandchild wanting to know why he shouldn’t steal. All these individual people endlessly throughout history were told lies. The lie was told with love, the lie was told to make a meaningless and complex world seem beautiful and simple, yet, a lie is always a lie.

Of course for much of history the world was a place where each lie was allowed to flourish in its own isolated village. In each village everyone would believe the same lie and as time passed it would be forgotten that the lie was indeed a lie. These lies would evolve from mouth to mouth and generation to generation to become beautiful crafts, true works of art dazzling in their artifice. In a society that had so little the lies would became a type of treasure, a way for an evolved creature in a primitive era to understand the world. Eventually, the lie would be taken for granted as a fact of life and perhaps the village was so small that there was no space for belief and disbelief, there could only be belief and ostracism.

Time can pass and pass and pass. In a world without clocks where a man does the same work as his father and grandfather, life is measured in terms of generations instead of minutes and seconds. There would be a type of peace, as all of the villages’ efforts would be to conquer the war of barest survival and the villagers would have the lie to comfort them in those few brief moments when they might question something other than the whereabouts of their next meal. Yet, time does pass. Each son masters his father’s art just a little better. What before was a two day job can, after endless generations, becomes a one day job. Perhaps even the struggle for existence is something that is made easier with the passage of time. Perhaps, soon, there is more time to think about things other than the barest struggle for existence.

Things become different. From isolated pin pricks civilization separated from each other by the impenetrable darkness of a world still lost in an animal past, gradually a web of interacting societies is woven. Each village realizes that they are not alone and this is a wonderful and terrible revelation. Many tribes needed their isolation. Raised in terror of everything outside their own sanctuary the outsider was nothing but a threat. Many villages were destroyed to make sure other villages could survive. For a long time it was not the fear of man eaters that would set fear in a brave mans chest, it was the fear of his brother man.

Again, time can pass and pass and pass. Little moments may happen where some villages humanize each other. Maybe a man becomes separated from his tribe and is saved by those from another village. Maybe two young ones, those who are not old enough to fear the foreign like they are taught, maybe they fall in love and, then for reasons of similar love their own families embrace their new foreign relatives. Time is a salve and what may be very messy from day to day can be a smooth gradient going from generation to generation. Soon, a culture begins to sprout that is larger than the village. Survival of the fittest makes an natural selection, since those villages with more members and more land there can have power and greater safety.

However, as civilization begins to take its first hesitant footsteps towards fraternity, what of the lie? While perhaps life has ceased to have the endless fear of those ancient villages surrounded by darkness, life is still a series of hard and endless tasks. Free time exists as an afterthought and when it is gratefully found it is used to have a rare carefree laugh or to enjoy a lover’s embrace: there is still need for the lie to make a meaningless and complex world seem beautiful and simple. Sometimes the different lies can join together simply, perhaps the different lies can be added together and are even more powerful than they were in isolation since they reinforce each other. Sometimes the different lies fit together with great difficulty and those beliefs that have been carried in the hearts of a man’s ancestors since the beginning of time become something worth fighting for, something worth dying for. Fortunately, the world is still a young place, war may be a terrible thing but there is no entrenched history to be a constant reminder of the terror inflicted by others in the deep past. Enemies will always exist but by and large society will continue to grow and mature. War, of course, will come and go and disasters will happen, yet, the end result is a steady chart towards the brightness of civilization and away from the isolation of pinpricks in the dark.

As society evolves and advances, the lie begins to face its first true hurdle. A written history has emerged. Different advanced societies have developed independently from each other using the mantra of their own lie. The days of the lie being a relatively simple cultural structure are long gone and now is the beginning of a long terror. Good lies will evolve to form mechanisms to become powerful viruses. There is no truth but this one specific lie, people will be told. If you do not believe in this lie then you are evil. Others in other places will be told about a different lie. People will be taught that if they deviate from the lie then no one will love them. People will be taught that you are only allowed to live within the glow of the lie if you work tirelessly and endlessly to work for the lies supremacy. Soon, there are very few lies and each one has become an all consuming fever to its followers. It is an ever evolving virus that can constantly mutate and soon maintain the existence of the lie has mutated into the reason of being for much of society rather than the lie existing to make society more livable. The tool has become a whip and the freedom that the lie was designed to allow has become the law that all the worlds peoples are enslaved under. Sometimes, there may be a strike against the armor of the lie, perhaps some prophet comes believing he has discovered the original lie for the first time instead of the thousandth and that he must share it with the world, perhaps there is a new lie that fights with the current lie. Yet, the greatest lies are so powerful that they will adapt to any challenge and become stronger from the battle.

The beating of war drums will fill the air and an existential struggle takes a firm route that eventually is simply a fabric of life. There is total and complete dedication to these separate lies and for what seems to perhaps be forever is defined by wars attempting to allow one lies supremacy over the world. Greater and greater tools are constructed to destroy the other lies, tools that were unfathomable in an earlier time but made possible by the endless devotion to perpetrating the lie. These great advancements were designed for the purpose of terror and destruction yet are also by accident able to aid in the illumination of a more advanced civilization. Eventually the educated class begins to grow and grow as the backbone of societies march forward. The time to sit and try to truly understand the nature of the lie goes from being a rarity to an integral part of society that is found by more and more. The necessity of the lie disappears for many and its disappearance is a revelation: they have discovered the way the world truly is, they have risen above the original lie and they believe they have found a truth. At the same point the war over the different lies becomes ever more radicalized with the use of  ever greater technologies of destruction and eventually there is a critical mass. A time arises when the lies destruction becomes so horrific and logic of the lies fallacy becomes so overwhelming that the entire world is suddenly without the lie and is at peace.

Many proclaim the absence of any lie as the perfect state for humanity. The world is without haze and now we can stare into the dark ethers of the night and confront the true nature of reality. Mankind now can look to understanding the enormity of the heavens and the microscopic wonder of natures building blocks without the contaminating filter of the lie. As the building blocks that make up the universe are understood many proclaim this quest is the answer to the meaning of life. Yet, with the eradication of the lie there is a society brought full circle. What about those original reasons for the lie: to make a meaningless and complex world seem beautiful and simple? Mankind quickly realized the ability to travel to outer space and how to split an atom but the simple question of finding beauty and meaning in the world was made more and more difficult as the end of the lie made so abundantly clear that there was no beauty or lack of beauty in the world, there was just the way things were and horribly there was no meaning in the way things were, there was just life followed by death.

The world is now a place where every question is answered explicitly and there are no longer any lies; but, ingrained within that fabric of humanity that originally stitched together the lie there becomes a spiritual despondency. Perhaps there is a need in the soul for something more than the cold truths of reality, perhaps those same reasons the original lie was told never disappeared. Perhaps the world has gone full circle and here, at a time where there is no lie and each person is again their own individualistic pin prick separated from the rest of the world is the perfect fallow ground for the lie to again catch fire and spread from heart to heart.

In this world it is time to start following Alexa Mystic.

The phones are vibrating, flashing and one is even ringing. Noise reverberates with a pounding that becomes almost musical, like the countless employees answering the endless phones are with a cacophonic elegance keeping time with the orchestra of day to day work. Row on row of cubicles fill a hanger like room the length of a football pitch with a roof that is just  low enough to make the entire atmosphere fairly subterranean. Everyone is hysterically  working on some task. All these people are busy about something, every second imbued with an intensity that says, ‘out of my way, I’m busy.’ It’s hard to say whether all these squawking workers are actually occupied or if they are just maniacally attempting to give the aura of intense work for all those cameras dotting that imposingly low ceiling. Inescapably this is a place of work: the people are here with a purpose, being paid to do that purpose and are always aware that if they deviate from that purpose then the purpose will be taken away from them and what then? Whorehouses, poverty, drugs and perhaps even living with their family again. The end of the world.

Alexa Mystic is one of these frenetic employees stuffed into a cubicle.  With one hand drumming her phone headset, another hand skillfully manipulating a computer and a mouth that is talking at a speed that must be breaking some record, Alexa is in her element. “Theproblemwithyourserverisahardwareproblemfollowingcode1104.3andIwillconnectyoutoaservicemanthatcanhelpyouThankYouandHaveagreatday/click/thankyouforwaitingIseefromyourdiagnoticsthat……” Hours on end she is in the zone, in a sweeping flow that carries her entire cognizance along for the ride. There is no time for boredom. There are always more callers then Alexa and her fellow employees can deal with and there is always some metric saying that they are incompliant, there is always a pressure breathing down even the best employees neck that they are not doing their job well enough, that everything they have made for themselves in this life is just waiting to be taken away.

More calls, more ringing, more answers given. There is a followed pattern. There is an art, if it is possible to have art without passion. If a movement is beautiful is that enough to make it something special? There is a practiced elegance in Alexa. In watching her without knowing the first thing about her it’s easy to say that this young woman is someone who takes whatever it is that she does very seriously. Slightly curled hair pulled back away from her face revealing an always furled brow. When she is working, Alexa exists solitarily in her own world where. Here, as she flies from task to task, her guard down and we can witness her honestly.

It is now time for a scheduled break. With a shake of her head Alexa takes off her headset, blinks a few times as if she has been in a daze or a doze and wanders out of the cubicle area. She opens an exit door that leads to a sea of concrete that seems to touch every horizon. Alexa is not alone in the chance to get a quick whiff of real fresh air. A few of her fellow employees talk to each other, maybe forming plans on what they want to buy this weekend, or arguing whether the newest gadget really will change the world or is instead a dud like that gadget that was supposed to change the world from last week that turned out  to be just a harder to work can opener. However, most people are not talking with each other, instead most people are staring into their portable computer screens, madly trying to digest all of the days’ information during one short fifteen minute break. Messages are sent to friends. Stories are read, absorbed, commented on and shared. Each person is in their own isolated bubble, some of them even communicating directly with the person next to them, maybe sending them a picture of a new pair of shoes that is a must have, the information jumping to an orbiting satellite before lighting a notification ticker on that silent friends computer just a few short feet away.

Alexa is searching for a new recipe in one browser window. First she discovers this week’s highest rated recipe then she reads various reviews on the recipe from various sources until finally she then exports the list to her local super market with the arrival time one hour before her projected cooking start time. ‘A job well done,’ she thinks to herself. In the other browser window she is reading news from all of her favorite commentators that passively reinforce the beliefs she already holds, making her with an innocent amount of smugness gaze at the people around her, judging them her inferiors, even as with a similar narcissism they stare at her with thinly veiled superiority as well. A fleeting thought like a twittering bird flies through everyone’s mind: how could anyone think anything, do these people really have no logic whatsoever? She shares an article with people similar to herself and feels like she has done her part to spread the good word of truth to all these people around her. She checks her clock and there is thirty seconds to get back to her cubicle, plug in, and start working on the rest of her shift. Perfect timing.

En masse, as if a thirty second warning was bellowed from a high tower, all the employees on break shuffle back to their work. As one they put their head sets back on as  another group of employees take theirs off to commence their own break. There is an elegance to all of this, this wasteless efficiency that is a hallmark of the natural world. Just as a school of fish can work thoughtlessly as a conjoined mass, the employees seem to be naturally in tune, not individuals when they are working, simply one aspect of a greater beast. Such a stark juxtaposition to the hyper individuality of each of them on their break.

Harder work and faster. Faster work and harder. The day carries on for Alexa Mystic. This one call is forwarded to here, that next call is forwarded to there, this other call can be handled by Alexa herself. Onwards and onwards. Most calls are automatically dealt with by an advanced robotic system but for some problems it is always more cost effective to have someone with a human dynamism deal with it, a dynamism that many of Alexa’s coworkers lose along with their jobs under the unending strain of work. With a silently gyrating beat all the workers are dancing with the phones together accomplishing what has be accident become their mission in life: exceptional customer service. Then with a palpable crescendo the day is done. All the employees disappear from the cubicle floor and are so quickly replaced by a new shift that if a casual observer was to have blinked when the change happened they would be hard pressed to say anything had changed. The phones would still ring and there would always be someone there to answer them. It is the phones that are the constant, people like Alexa might come and go but there will always be the phones.

Walking like little children in straight single file Alexa and her co-workers march in individual isolation from the call center to the subway station. What city is this? Faceless and grey concrete conquers every direction. The workers walk past the parked cars, some have vehicles but a vehicle isn’t a status symbol any more so why bother? Still, the massive highways that crisscross the concrete desert provide the only splash of color to the scene as their white headlights and red tail lights illuminate the evening as they blur past at an extraordinary velocity.

For many the time between work and the subway station is the worst time of day, the time when they can’t concentrate properly on their computer since they have to be partially aware of where they are headed. Some try to walk and browse online, others make phone calls while most just try to walk as quickly as they can to cross this wasteful void. Alexa, however, is not miserable like the others during this part of her commute. She does not know when it started but for as long as she can remember the time between the walk from work to the subway station and vice versa has been her favorite time of the day. At work she must always be thinking about her clients, at home she must always work to absorb the digital information that endlessly buffets her. However, on the walk, there is nothing to do but walk. Sure, for some, the unstructured time is just a waste of what could be productive minutes, but for Alexa , it’s  a time when her mind can think about nothing and, strangely, it seems to be the only time when she thinks about anything worthwhile.

Today her eyes are looking at this procession of people trudging to the subway with the same curiosity that she has kept even after years of repetition. She is not seeing this humdrum image as if it is perennially novel, nor is she looking at this cold utilitarian space that surrounds her with any love, rather, it is her world she is enthralled by: if her eyes are condemned to seeing this sameness every day then why not enjoy the scene? She witnesses similar single file lines sprouting from many of the other unlovely buildings and soon they begin converging together like tributaries of a river until there is a deluge of grey workers flooding the subway station. Everyone is going home. There is only work and home. There used to be an idea that since people could be plugged in at all times then there would be no need to go into the office anymore, however, that idea never went very far, not as long as the number crunchers keep reaffirming that the most productive employees aren’t the ones who work from home but rather the ones that can be kept plugged in for longer hours at work. Home is less of a necessity when all those things you would do at home can be accomplished with more breaks at work. Maybe employees used to hate this new reality but now it is just the norm of the work force, the price that has to be paid for a paycheck. The days when the suffering poor could work for pennies to subsidize the extravagant lifestyles of the rich, are long gone, now there is a global equilibrium with very few poor, very few rich and the vast majority treading water in the subsistence trap that is the struggling middle class. Society has evolved to what many academics think of as perfect efficiency, with workers dividing their time to between producing sellable services and then consuming other people’s produced services. The inputs equal the outputs and Alexa is one of those many cogs working to maintain this machines harmony. Of course these aren’t the thoughts that are streaming through Alexa’s mind right now, no, what dominates her mind right now is an unknown sorrow, a sorrow shared by all those around her that no one knows weighs on their shoulders since everyone’s shoulders are buckling under the same weight: passion has died in order to create this economic utopia and the forge that creates beauty has been extinguished in the heart of man, replaced with ten hour work shifts to have the disposable money to pay for other workers own ten hour work shifts.

As she enters the subway station Alexa streams through the kiosks with her open eyes still glowing with an unrivalled vivacity. She sees the large flag of the United States of America streaming next to the flag of the United Global Republic. She sees a face she stream past that is half remembered from childhood. She moves forward and down, forward again then left and finally she is on the train, lucky even: she’s nabbed herself a seat. Now, she turns on her computer and feels a superficial relief in her mind and a more complex emotion deep in her heart. She begins avidly working to catch up on her digital life. There has been a confirmation that the food she ordered on her break would arrive on time, some friends have commented on her posts and agree with her opinions. Alexa reads all the news posts she subscribes to, their content unimportant though their uniform viewpoint is somehow disconcerting. Every person on the subway is again in the individual world of their computer, there is no talking and no casual glances, instead there is an atmosphere that to even acknowledge one another as existing would be a break in social decorum. The way the computer has integrated itself in such a personal manner makes it more personal to obtrude on someone when they are in their digital world since it is the embodiment of their most personal self. On the train an unacknowledged loneliness prevails.

Alexa reads the news. The President of the United Global Republic, Samael Hollow, gave a well received speech on the continued need for restricted personal mobility. A new type of freak from the devastated former Pakistan is being paraded as a breakthrough in advancing cancer resistant cells. Dozens and dozens of stories fly in front of Alexa’s eyes. No longer are these eyes alive as they were when she was walking, now she does not look around at the characters on the subway, she is not curious about what’s on the other side of the window when the subway is elevated and she is not carrying a mental monologue with herself. All she is doing is absorbing for the sake of the absorption itself. The train carries on with passengers coming and going, no one making any movement except for the ratatat of clacking keyboards and the sudden dissipation from the subway at their stop. Alexa station comes and she is now home. She cooks dinner with the ingredients she ordered on her break and is pleased with the result. She spends the evening on her computer. Darkest night closes in and Alexa reads a few last stories before passing out in her bed, mentally exhausted with not a thought crossing her mind in between reading the last bit of news and entering into a dreamless sleep.

Days in and days out Alexa Mystic goes to work then goes home in an airless routine punctuated only by her commute in-between. Of course she stays in contact with friends but with a job so mentally fatiguing and the constant stress that dominates life most social contact is just casual interaction that takes place solely online. Alexa is fine with this routine since it is much the same for everyone else, and it can’t be wrong if no else complains. Sure, she always seems to be about two steps behind in what she’d like to be doing and much of her online time is researching perfect vacations, but her day to day reality is static and that is just the way things are. Until of course the weekend rolls around.

The weekends are special days, so special that the government has mandated rolling weekends with different companies getting different days for their employees to be free from work, this way there is always the perfect blend between people shopping and people servicing the shoppers. In the United Global Republic it is considered laughable to believe in a god or an afterlife, just as it is considered sinful to keep any money hoarded in savings rather than watering the economy in circulation. The result is that the act of shopping has been elevated into a pseudo religion. A man or a woman is not respected unless they spend absolutely as much as they possibly can, otherwise they are accused of cheating the economy.

Meeting with friends at a subway stop that is so similar to the one by her call center, Alexa is ready to shop. Chatting gaily about the things they have researched online they stream through yet another concrete ocean and into the shopping mall. The shopping mall is beyond gargantuan: it dominates the skyline and demands the attention of any passerby. Previously it was thought that perhaps malls would become irrelevant as the digital world took over, this hypothesis turned out to be naïve though since true shopping isn’t about time, instead it’s about being seen in the act of buying. The cathedrals of the United Global Republic, shopping malls are the closest thing that the Republic has to a beating heart. This specific mall is a writhing anthill of shoppers where even the unpopular stores are brimming with customers while the hottest stores charge an admission just to enter. Alexa and her friends make a B-line to their favorite clothing store.

Ad executives have conquered the fickle shopping habits of the physical world by mimicking the cellular structure of the digital world. In a world where it is never necessary to confront a different opinion since every person is trapped in their own digital echo chamber each separated island of opinion becomes its own microcosm of culture which can then be converted into a captive consumer market. All those articles that Alexa constantly reads are also read by her friends, or else they wouldn’t be her friends. Percolated throughout every article are subtle advertisements which produce a construed  image that certain items are essential to own. These target audiences are so specific that the government is able to auction off exclusive advertising rights to corporations. This is a win for the corporation since they get a substantial number of people who will buy anything they sell and a win for the government since they don’t get the freneticism of uncontrolled capitalism.

In a shoe store Alexa runs her fingers reverently over the stitching on a pair of stilettos. They are exactly like the pair her favorite talk show host wears and her heart flutters with excitement. The price tag is ludicrous, yet, the shoes are beautiful. Alexa can feel herself confidently walking along the subway platform with all of the other commuters eyes riveted to her feet, making them respect Alexa since any woman so well dressed must be someone special. A sales lady asks Alexa if she’d like to try them on and she decides why not, it’s only a small fee to test them. And she was right: the shoes are gorgeous! The saleslady explains to Alexa the payment plan that stretches over thirty six months and, on an impulse, she decides to buy them: she needs these shoes. Everyone has debt since without debt it is considered to be blaspheming against the need to keep purchasing and keeping the economy moving. The norm is to have more debt than you can pay in your lifetime so that their children have the constant pressure to work as much as they can from an early age. Alexa leaves the store with her friends jealously complimenting her on her new shoes while each makes sure that Alexa notices their own extravagant purchases. After the mall Alexa and her friends promise to meet again the next weekend and then everyone goes home to admire their purchases, catch up on the news and get ready for work the next day.

This is the life that Alexa lives, so similar to all those around her. While everyone cycles between the perfect pleasure of shopping and their controlled misery at work, the bigger question of personal happiness isn’t something that arises. Quite simply this is the way a life is, this is how people all over the world live their lives and that’s that. Perhaps there are some bubbles of discontent but with each person so plugged into their own personal sphere of opinion these bubbles never rise to the surface. On some days the uniform grayness of the subway is broken by extra riot police, a time or two there is even a controlled arrest with some unlucky soul being carted away, except these things are never worth worrying about since they always befall people who aren’t as well informed as Alexa. They are paying the penalty for their ignorance.

In fact Alexa would be catatonically content with her life if she could just keep out of her mind the consuming haunting of the eyes of Theodore Shadow, the man who saved her when she was a young child. Those eyes stirred an emotion in her heart that she has not felt sincen and its lingering residue contaminates her serenity. In the days following her attack and rescue she’d begged her parents to let her go and meet the man from the park so that she could thank him again and again and again, however, they always said no. Maybe her parents could tell that she wasn’t just interested in thanking him, that there was something in him that Alexa wanted to understand and as her parents they decided that any lesson learned from a deluded man squatting isn’t the sort of lesson they wanted their child to absorb. After many months of begging to see him Alexa’s interest had gradually tapered off while that feeling  of his eyes locking with hers never let go of her heart.

Perhaps this is why Alexa’s favorite part of the day is the walk between work and the subway. It is only here, when her brain is not being leeched by a thousand different petty and immediate concerns, that she can lean mentally back and simply enjoy that feeling that the man in the park brings to her. Does she think consciously of the man? Does she know that her walk is so was because she is enjoying the memory of the emotion transferred from his eyes? She would probably not mindfully acknowledge the man, however, sometimes she does pause in the middle of whatever it is she is doing and ask herself about Theodore Shadow, the man who owns nothing, doesn’t work and is at peace.

Life carries on to the steady martial beat of work and not work for Alexa Mystic. How long it goes on like this is hard to tell, so easily one day Alexa might look in a mirror and discover that she has become an old lady, the years of her life having silently fallen one by one until the tree of her life is left leafless. However, the arc of Alexa’s life is not going to follow this normal trajectory. Perhaps Alexa is lucky, then again perhaps there is something special to her, perhaps she is just one of those people that outlier opportunities seem to gravitate towards. Soon Alexa’s life  is going to break from the norm.

Still, for the moment, life merely keeps flowing forward for for Alexa. Work, not work and those small spaces in between. In her dreams and during those brief spurts of light when her mind is free to wander, there may be a sudden sense of disjointedness, as if she is close to a revelation that her current path is not where true meaning transverses. “What is this life for, who am I and what are the points of all these retrograde days?” whispers a deep voice lumbering through her id, almost imperceptible in the background of her consciousness. Always there is the power of Theodore Shadow’s stare burning into her soul with Alexa still ignorant of its meaning. However, these times of clairvoyance are only in the shadows of her mind and are never brought to light. The question of whether she is happy or unhappy never crosses her conscious mind. One must wonder if a person is in a cage but they never acknowledge the bars if they truly are in a cage. What if they are indoctrinated to not look for the bars, what if the bars are right in front of their face but they have been taught to love the bars, what if they actually do love the bars? Alexa’s life goes on. Young girl to old woman, old woman to young girl, it is all the same.

Except  for Alexa it’s not all the same. One day when she is no longer a young girl but still in the bloom of youth something happens which turns on a revealing light into those dark shadowed spots of her mind. The day happens like this. She is walking from the subway to her work, her mind quietly humming with the peaceful feeling of Theodore Shadow when suddenly a body flies from the roof of a towering building, flies towards the sky for just a moment and then is conquered by gravity to lands at Alexa’s feet. She is stunned. A few of the other people around her are stunned as well, while others take pictures or simply walk around the body with barely a glance over their computer screen. The accepted logic for suicides is that they happen to foolish people with weak minds. Alexa has never witnessed anything like this before. Here, at her feet, is a body. She watched him fall through the air in front of her, that split second when the air went from being empty to being filled by the falling man to then being empty again with an silent man at her feet. Is the man dead? He must be dead. Alexa is in shock, immobile, standing as still as the body lies. Soon, just a few moments after the event, there is just Alexa and the body, all the other witnesses have carried on to work. Here she is alone with the body. A siren’s drone gradually approaches but it is not here yet. It is still just Alexa and the body. She has not moved since it fell. Her mind has not formalized a coherent thought though there seems to be a scream reverberating through the walls of her mind. Her eyes have not looked away from the corpse. He is so obviously dead. There is no life in this man, the body is broken. Not disfigured or grotesque but so clearly broken in a way that will never let life illuminate again. Should she try to administer first aid? The thought quickly flashes through her mind but she is in shock, she is not in control. What is the appropriate procedure for a situation like this? First aid wouldn’t do anything anyway, the man is dead, dead as a door nail, dead as dead can be. Alexa’s eyes are fixated, not even staring at the man but staring at a small sign pinned to the back of his shirt, something that is not quite a suicide note, but then, well what is it? Written in plain blue pen are the words, ‘Another attempt to fly.’ These words bite into Alexa. The dead man was trying to rise and fly and he failed. What do the words mean? Like a chemical reaction Alexa mentally transforms into a new state, instantly deciding that this fallen deity must have been trying to break through the expectations of his surrounding world by attempting something deemed impossible. He did not even have any flying mechanism, he was simply personifying a metaphor. Did he jump just for Alexa? Is there some kind of destiny in the world? Is it possible that all the actions both good and terrible that happen later in this story cannot be avoided or altered in anyway? Did the man just exist to fall and jolt Alexa Mystic out of ignorance? Another attempt to fly. What does it mean? Alexa keeps staring at the words, burning them into her mind, burning them into her heart. Another attempt to fly. Another attempt to fly. The air was empty, then for a brief second it was filled, then it was empty again with a prostrate corpse at her feet. She is in shock.

The medics arrive. They ask Alexa some trivial questions, can immediately see that she’s in shock and they give her a dose of some medicine that gets her moving again. Without knowing when she is now no longer looking at the body. Now, like in a dream, she is completing her walk to work. Her mind is empty. She walks into the call center and her boss is neither angry nor is he sympathetic. He has already heard that a suicide happened in front of Alexa and with a light grab of her elbow he asks if she’s ok as he guides her gently towards her terminal. It’s time for her to get to work, he gently implies, she has a job to do.

Perched on her chair and answering phones, Alexa does her job. She is on autopilot, isn’t everyone on autopilot after a calamity? She transfers one call to this department, another call to another department. She manages the required amount of cheerfulness in her voice. She professionally performs her job. Inside her mind, however, something has snapped. A switch has been flicked, some catalysts have begun and an epiphany has been revealed: there is no going back. A door has been opened and as of yet there is no saying where that door will lead, there is just the truth she has gone through it and there is no going back. There is a screaming in some of the hollows in her mind, then, there is also a beautiful singing that was not there before. Everything is different.

Life goes on for Alexa Mystic. She goes to work. She shops. Yet everything is different. Every moment since the man landed at her feet has been different. She goes to work and her mind is not there. She shops and her mind is not there. All those hours when before she would do nothing but stay on top of the news stories have now been corrupted. She tries to read, she tries to absorb the stream of news, yet, it all means nothing. She is frustrated, feeling like her mind is an engine that is refusing to start: if it just had a little more gas, she thinks, a little more oomph, then everything could go back to normal. Alexa cannot shake those ghoulish words from her mind, ‘another attempt to fly.’ They are the first screaming thought that wakes her in the morning and they are the last thing she thinks of before drifting into a fitful sleep. The words staccato melody unceasingly reverberates through her mind. Another attempt to fly. Alexa has modified it unconsciously in her mind to become ‘another failed attempt to fly.’

Alexa has tried hard to find out more information about the man who died at her feet. Even finding a name is impossible though. She searches and searches for details but she doesn’t know how to look for anything outside of those specific spheres of knowledge that she is limited to by her past habits. Frustratingly there seems to be a vernacular to each online sub culture that is an effective barrier to entry. There is no report of a suicide in any of the mainstream news sources but this is hardly indicative of something malicious like a cover up, a suicide is simply not news.

What does it mean to fly? What does it mean to attempt to fly? Why would someone want to fly? Alexa is fixated by these thoughts at work and her benchmarks are slipping, tongues are wagging behind her back and management has taken a nefarious notice of Alexa’s decreasing performance. Alexa still goes out to have fun with her friends, except, it is not really fun for her anymore. She doesn’t really care about anything they say or anything they do. Some days she leaves the mall without even buying a single thing. Her friends tongues are wagging along with her employers, talking behind her back those things that they would never say to her face. Everyone knows that Alexa witnessed a suicide but they fail to understand why this is a big bloody deal for her, what good will come from her selfish despondency, because on the course she is charting she is going to end up like ‘him.’ People are doing that very thing that for a long time was the greatest fear in Alexa’s life: they are judging her. Eyes that follow her everywhere are filled with  more and more with contempt. She doesn’t even notice. ‘Another failed attempt to fly’ is the only thing in the world that she perceives.

There is always this new juxtaposition echoing through her mind: both a screaming and a singing with the eyes of Theodore Shadow looming in the ether. For whatever reason the eyes of Theodore Shadow have not left Alexa’s mind in the weeks or months since she first saw the body fall from the sky. With half her mind subconsciously thinking of what it means to fly, the other half is ambiguously providing an answer in the form of Theodore Shadow’s eyes. Where before she had those small lovely moments on her walk between work and the subway to bathe in a higher emotion she didn’t understand, now she is constantly in that frame of mind . Theodore writhes to the forefront of the entire writhing war happening in her mind, he becomes something that she actively thinks about instead of silently gestating about. Who was this man, living in a forest away from all others in a way so different from all others? He is not what a man should be. He is the embodiment of what young children are taught to strive to be better than. He is a waste, a mongrel. Yet his eyes. There was an emotion in them that she never understood yet now all she wants to do is gaze in them again, just one more time, and maybe all the world will suddenly make sense. She appreciates the irrationality of this thought even while she comes to believe its truth more and more. Alexa feels assured that those eyes belong to a man who knows the answer of what it means to fly. Perhaps, even, Theodore Shadow is one of those who attempted to fly and didn’t fail, who flew to the heavens instead of striking the ground dead. His eyes hold the key.

Time is passing except time is not such a meaningful variable for Alexa Mystic any more. The goals that used to motivate her: more money, more business success, more envious coworkers, they have all turned to ash, their pleasure burnt and blown away so purely that there is not even a residue left on her tongue, there is just a simple emptiness. Work is a problem, she knows she is just barely treading water since for a long while now the whispers have turned into shouts. Everyone agrees that it’s just a matter of time until the ultimate punishment occurs and Alexa is fired. On the other hand weekend shopping is not a problem anymore since Alexa has stopped talking to her friends and they have stopped talking to her, the general consensus being that she was always a bit off and she always liked them more than they liked her. Now, all of Alexa’s free time is spent as it was before in keeping up with the news but her searching is no longer motivated by a voracious appetite to understand the world perfectly. Now she dredges through the online reservoir simply because it is the only thing she knows how to do in the vacuum of her free time. Her mind has become sharper, yet, since it has always existed within such set parameters her present liberated  consciousness is like a blind woman suddenly able to see for the first time: how can she be expected to comprehend the sights of the world with no previous frame of reference?

One day Alexa wakes up to go to work. She feels haggard and empty, not even the anguish of a hangover to give her some sense of substance. She gets on the subway to go to work with the voracious beat of the dead man coupled with Theodore Shadow’s eyes pounding a harsh coda through her skull. For a long time now Alexa has been feeling that there is an answer to all the questions infecting her mind, that the answers are so close, that they are just on the other side of a mental door but this door has been kept locked. She has not been able to unlock the door and now and is becoming broken by the effort. She sometimes enviously thinks of the dead man and begins to understand the allure of such an extreme action, a doomed attempt to ascend higher than the torture of the normal world, an attempt that is absolutely going to fail and is absolutely meaningless, yet, is still better than doing nothing at all, is still better than madly scratching at a door which she has never been taught how to open, never even taught that there was a door to look for.

On this day, so alike to its barren predecessors, something finally snaps. Alexa is on the subway and she simply doesn’t get off at her stop. She surprises herself, this is not a conscious act. However, she did not forget that it was her stop. She looked up, saw her station’s sign and simply remained immobile. She is sitting now, looking out the window. Why did she miss her stop? Perhaps, she wonders, the better question is why should she make her stop at all? Life will be there forever at her stop. She will become an old woman going to this stop, there is safety in this stop, a life where the map is already drawn. Maybe, maybe. Maybe she has just realized that even more important than living life is finding a meaning for the living of life. Maybe, here, at this exact moment, she finally decides to take a plunge, to jump off a cliff whose bottom is shrouded in mist yet bears the hope of leading to a promised land. Alexa does not believe in an afterlife. She believes in no god. She decides right now to believe in something. She decides that she is going to try to live a life where she answers the question of what it is to fly. She decides that she is going to walk away from everything she knows, even though everyone else may judge her, because this is her one life. She decides that answering the question of what it is to fly is larger than anything else in her life. Maybe, just maybe, this is something that will give her life meaning again. She is going to try to fly. She is horrified, scared and excited.

Alexa has stayed on the subway as it has come and gone past her stop many times. Time has disappeared. She is going to try to fly. She doesn’t think about finding a high building, she doesn’t think about finding some escape from the living of life. This is not the type of flying she is consumed by. Instead, she decides to go and find Theodore Shadow.

 

Chapter 2

One clear and sunny day while lying under a favorite apple tree Theodore Shadow is enjoying a few clouds drifting across the blue sky. He doesn’t sort them into any shapes, he doesn’t even really see them so much as he allows their formless allure to silently trigger memories that he is thoughtlessly reveling in. What day is it that this day reminds him of so? Does today remind him of just yesterday when he paused to look at a radiant sky for some brief moments or does it remind him of years ago of one of those forgotten days when his heart was so full with beauty and it seemed like the blue sky was waltzing through the valley with him, a charming dance partner to nature’s graceful song. “How lovely the weather is today,” he thinks to himself. “How soft this grass is today,” he thinks to himself. “How wonderful the sky is today,” he thinks to himself. The day is good and he is enjoying it. All of the chores he completes everyday to keep his little valley running smoothly are complete is not a thing for Theo to do in the world other then enjoying the day.

While on most days Theo is able to enjoy his solitude in uninterrupted peace, today his ears prick up as he hears an approaching noise. For the first few moments that he hears this noise he just assumes it is some squirrel carrying too heavy of a load, or maybe a weakened branch finally collapsing under its own weight, yet, as the noise continues and becomes closer and louder, Theo is forced to conclude that this is not one of the normal noises of his valley. With only himself as the sole citizen of this little patch of land for at least enough years for Alexa Mystic to grow from a young girl to an adult Theo has become attuned to what is normal and what is abnormal in his valley and, annoyingly, this new noise is simply not normal.

Just a little bit cranky, Theo pulls himself up from his gentle grass bed. His mind does not worry about the noise, his valley is too well hidden for some opportunistic criminal to stumble in. Rather, he thinks that maybe the noise is that annoying deer that has been causing him nothing but grief these last few months. Certainly not nature’s smartest creature, Theo grudgingly has come to think that this particular buffoon of an animal has become addicted to the  feast of small flowers that surround Theo’s cottage. This would be the fifth time the deer has come to the valley in the last few months and what makes these intrusions especially frustrating is that while the deer is adept at finding Theo’s well hidden paths it seems like the dumb doe is unable to find her own way out. Typically Theo has to spend a solid hour gradually cajoling the animal towards a natural exit.

As Theo saunters ill humouredly towards the noise he catches a quick glimpse of a young woman trampling through the brush towards him. He knows it is Alexa Mystic. He doesn’t know how he knows when all he saw was a flitting glance, but he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is Alexa Mystic coming towards him and suddenly the blue sky that he was just admiring is darkened by the clouds of foreshadowing. Theo pauses his walk in mid stride. He doesn’t know what to think, his brain suddenly feels like an out of tune radio screaming meaningless static at him, there is no clear direction forward. With a quick about turn Theo goes back to his previous seat underneath the apple tree and sits down.

Of course Theo has not forgotten about Alexa Mystic. While Theo does occasionally come into some contact with other people, perhaps when he is foraging or going for a nature walk, there has never been a meeting like his with Alexa. Just thinking of her now all these years later and he can still feel the vibrating fear radiating from her small frame as the criminals bartered away her future above her head. Theo can still remember the mental horror that forced him to act without thought and free that frightened little creature. Well, Theo thinks, it seems like it’s time to handle the penalties of his intervention because they’re walking towards him right now.

Rather inappropriate words are flying left, right and center through Alexa’s mind. A life of office work and browsing online doesn’t exactly prepare someone for a brush with nature and the park where Theo’s valley is hidden is a long ways away from the domesticity of a city park. With one hand Alexa is vainly trying to push snapping tree branches away from her face while with her other hand she has her computer held tightly. On the computer screen is a satellite map showing both her current location and the locaton where she is sure Theodore Shadow’s valley is, yet, she is quickly losing confidence in her technology. Alexa scoured satellite images of maps for hours and hours and confident that there is only one tiny pond fed by a tiny stream in the park that roughly meets with Alexa’s memory of the valley’s location. The map is showing the valley being just a little farther ahead but it seems like every half hidden rock and interlocking branch has a silent agreement with Theo to keep out any intruder. She is so close though, just a little bit farther. Just as long as her map is right…

For a second she thinks she sees a glimpse into the valley with Theo himself standing there staring at her, except, it is such an ethereal flash that it is surely a play of the light. Just a little bit farther, she thinks to herself with a mixture of hope and pessimism, then she will be in the valley. She dressed this morning thinking that Theo would appreciate a simple and understated elegance, however now her chic costume is rumpled and ruined. Whatever. Just get through to the other side, just a little bit farther… and, then, without even realizing it she is free of all the branches with the force of her movement fairly shooting her into the valley. Her brain is not ready for this moment yet, she is still thinking about getting to the valley not what she will do once she is in the valley. Here it is though, just as she remembers it. There, the little cottage, there, the little stream, there, the little lake and, there, with a mildly bemused face sitting below a wonderful apple tree is Theodore Shadow.

A long moment of silence reigns. Theo and Alexa gaze at each other, eyes locked for what seems like a long time but may in fact be a very short. The gaze means different things to each of them. For Alexa, Theo’s iridescent eyes are just as she remembered, wonderfully like she remembered, frightfully like she remembered. She has gone searching for something, for some intangible idea, and with Theo here in front of her she is more sure than ever that this idea she is chasing does actually exist. Perhaps it would have been easier if the idea didn’t exist, except now that she is so sure that it does, what does she do? For Theo, he is caught off guard by the solemnity of Alexa’s presence. So much of his life is spent solitarily in the comfortable surroundings of the valley: it is strange to see someone approach his humble home with something that approaches reverence.

“Hello Alexa,” Theo says. “Hello Theo,” Alexa says. There is another silence. “Welcome back Alexa.” “Thank-you Theo.” Neither of them are really saying anything, they are both simply still  staring at each other, maybe letting their bodies communicate in some higher language, maybe both genuinely unsure of what to say. Finally, Theo apologizes to Alexa for his lack of manners, explaining that he doesn’t have guests very often and then he invites her to be welcome in his valley. Alexa thanks him courteously and when Theo asks with a hint of awkwardness if Alexa would like a glass of tea she thankfully accepts. Theo is obviously not entirely sure what to do and Alexa is not really providing any signal. A nice cup of tea seems like the appropriate solution to their initial awkwardness.

Theo leads Alexa into his little cottage, shows her to a seat at a rustic wooden table and he  begins to make small talk while he prepares their tea. Grabbing some tea leaves that he tells Alexa with a small note of pride that he grew himself, Theo begins to ramble with words that do nothing but fill the empty air. He is trying hard to remember the forgotten art of hosting is feeling the rust in voice. Smiling softly, Alexa says nothing, passively watching Theo as he bustles around the kitchen.

Finally, the tea is ready and Theo pours Alexa and himself a glass. “Well Alexa,” he says, “I feel like you haven’t come all this way to my home just for a cup of tea. I’m genuinely pleased to see you here but if there is something that I can do for you now would be the perfect time to tell me.” Alexa doesn’t respond for a moment, trying with a physical exertion to formulate the right words for her mouth but unable to find anything that matches the feeling in her mind. “Do you remember that day so long ago, when I was a small girl and you saved me from those men?” she asks Theo. “Of course,” Theo replies. “Why is it that you live out here, all by yourself?” Alexa asks disconnectedly. Perhaps the question is slightly rude and there is a weird disjointedness in the way Alexa is asking him questions, nonetheless Theo can see that she is trying hard to reach an understanding of something, something that she is trying to communicate to him, something personal, he is willing to be patient with her. Theo speaks slowly to her, “Alexa, I’ve lived here for many years, but I haven’t always lived here. I used to have another life, but that other life wasn’t one that I was fulfilled by. I felt I wanted something more, a different type of life. I spent a lot of time thinking about what this different life might look like, then I planned for it for a long time, until finally, one day, I was brave and broke from the life I had. I broke absolutely from it. And, well, here I am. This isn’t exactly the life I expected, yet, it is the life which I am now sure that I want to live.” Alexa nods absentmindedly then tells him, “You know, Mr. Shadow, Theo… I don’t know you very well. I don’t know you at all. Except, do you know that almost every day since you saved me, years and years ago, I have thought about you constantly? There was something in you that I still don’t know how to describe, yet just the idea of you here living by yourself, living so simply has been like a window into another world which I didn’t want to have to look through yet found it impossible to turn away. I think I would have been happier if I hadn’t met you. It was as if you let a little bit of light into my life that one time we met, just enough light so that I could see how dark everything else was and if you hadn’t done that, I would have never known that I am missing something fundamental. However, you were there, always somewhere out there in the world, existing in opposition to the life I was expected to live. One day, awhile ago while I was walking to work, a man jumped from the top of a tall building and landed at my feet, dead. A suicide. He landed right at me feet. Every time I shut my eyes I see that split second when he was filling the air falling in front of my eyes, he was perfectly silent and falling so fast. On his back he had attached a note  that said, ‘Another attempt to fly,’ just those small words, nothing more. Yet these words, they’ve eaten me alive. If you are a window that had let in a hint of light, then these four words are a carnivorous plant that has eaten my peace from the inside. And it feeds on the light from your window, the two ideas of yourself and this suicide are somehow connected within my brain.” Alexa is talking faster and faster. “I’m saying this wrong, this isn’t meaning anything but it’s the words that are springing to my lips, the closest I can get to honestly saying what this means to me. Another attempt to fly. I hate it. Do you know what my life is like, what the life is like for all of the people that I know, all of the people that I have ever met? Maybe you do know, maybe this is the reason you came and found your little valley. All my life is just a daydream, meaningless. There is no reason for anything. I feel like someone tricked me into thinking that my life has meaning when it doesn’t, it means nothing, not a single thing to anyone. I’m just a placid flower growing and growing that will one day wilt and not even have the satisfaction of knowing if I was beautiful. What am I talking about? Please be patient.” Theo nods as Alexa suddenly stops speaking to make sure he is listening.

After taking a deep breath Alexa is about to speak again then abruptly pauses. Theo asks her is she’s all right and she nods. She continues, “I guess, what I’m trying to say is I’m unhappy, desperately unhappy. I don’t blame you for it, you’re not at fault in the slightest except I really do think that if you hadn’t entered my life I would be a happier person. I would be at peace with the world around me and would never have known that a more meaningful life could exist. Now, I’m just spiritually exhausted. All my friends do is talk about how great they think their lives are  except I am becoming more and more sure that all this static talk they fill the air with means nothing, that it’s nothing but a disguise to hide the fact that passion is dead, that passion has been killed by a system that is not bad, it is just without meaning. There is no real reason to do anything in my life. The things I look forward to are artificial: product launches and news stories, hype created just for the sake of having something to unite people together, yet, in the vacuum of our own complete irrelevance it actually works: like a fire on dead grass we become enflamed because our hearts are yearning for something, for anything. I think of your eyes all the time. Don’t laugh, please, I beg you. When I was a child I saw something in your eyes, a peace and a passion. I haven’t seen that same pure emotion again in all the years of my life until I came back here and saw it again in you today. It is still there, after all this time. To have passion! What is it you are so passionate about? What is it that can give you meaning and not be a lie? Is it just some trick? Is it in fact a lie and you have just deluded yourself? What gives you the right to have the most precious gift in the world when all the rest of us are left in a desert not even knowing that we should beg for rain?” Alexa is looking at Theo forcefully, even angrily, then she checks herself, “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be attacking you like this. You represent something to me and it is not your fault, I’m not even sure the attributes I associate with you are real, even how could they be when I don’t know you. Life is just so hard for me. I look into the tunnel of the future and in this dark expanse of time ahead of me I don’t have anything to look forward to. I’m looking for an answer when the life I am supposed to live doesn’t provide any. Maybe I’ll get married but I don’t think that answers anything, I think it’s just a way out, an agreement between two people to say to each other, ‘if you exist for me, then I’ll exist for you.’ It’s just another lie, maybe it is a  beautiful lie, maybe it even works to give life the illusion of meaning, nevertheless it’s still a lie. It is the same lie with children except even more empty: to create people just so that another creature depends on me, just to force me to exist by existing for someone else. I only see lies. Why do I wake up in the morning? What is it I that accomplish of meaning in my life? Why would I want to produce what society tells me is worthwhile to produce if it has no existential meaning for me or for society? Nothing has any meaning. I’m talking nonsense. I wish I could make you understand. I can feel you despising me, what else could you do after seeing all this weakness in me. Please, tell me that you don’t despise me. I came here to find out the secret of your eyes and all I’ve done is made you despise me.” Alexa is looking at Theo with fear, trying to think back on all that she has said and can’t remember any of the words that she has just rained down in Theo’s small cottage. Has she made a fool of herself? What she wants to say is so simple in her mind, she is sure it is so simple, yet agonizingly the words just won’t come out. She trembles in a way she has not trembled since that day when she first met Theo.

Smiling gently Theo tells Alexa, “Of course I don’t despise you. While I admit that I am confused by much of what you are saying, I’m also so used to being by myself that maybe I’m just not very good at listening to other people anymore. The fact is that it is wonderful to hear your words. How can you be so worried about being without passion when every word you speak is loaded with it. I understand you are searching for something important to you, sadly, I tell you that I don’t think you will find what you are looking for here. I think you are looking for something big, some elegant answer to the most impenetrable mysteries of the world. You want something like a new god or a deeper reason for being. I don’t have anything like that to offer you. You say my eyes are filled with peace and passion and I would hope that you are right. I feel that my heart is brimming with such a love for the world and I believe this love for the world gives me the gifts of peace and passion. But, and I am sorry Alexa there has to be a ‘but,’  while you are thinking the world is so meaningless and yearn for more, I came from the opposite perspective in my quest for this little valley. My problem was that I thought the world was so overloaded with beauty and meaning that it was too much for me to comprehend. I couldn’t believe I was spending my life building a career and working so hard to tread water in a conventional life when there was so much perfection around me already. ‘What a wonderful world’ was the only thought I had on my mind for so long coupled with that the feeling that I was squandering what had been given to me. In the end I thought that if everything was already so perfect then why was I working so hard to get to a different point: I should simply find a way to enjoy the perfect present as much as I could. So I found my little valley where I’ve been true to my beliefs and things have been good for me here. But. While you are searching for something all encompassing, I revel in the small: an entire day spent doing nothing but watching the stream bubble into the pond, the wonderful feeling of pulling a ripe tomato off of a vine, listening to the music of never silent nature. These things don’t have any meaning in the world in the way you have described what you are looking for. With a  world so large and so full of beauty to be able to simply live and touch some small part of existence is wonderful. I feel that in a universe that can produce stars, trees and atoms there needs to be some external force that does nothing but appreciate all this grandeur. A star will never know the majesty of its flame, a tree will never know the intricate shadows it casts and an atom will never be aware of the crucial part of a complex puzzle it fills. However, man witnesses. If nature is some sublime symphony then perhaps man is the only audience. For me the problem isn’t wanting something more, rather, it’s the fact that instead of appreciating the wonder of the universe we do the very worst thing we could possibly do: we ignore it. We stick our head into the sand and waste our brief flash of existence with desk jobs filled by responsibilities for things we don’t care about and our only reward is a flux of worry and stress. Beauty is everywhere. I don’t think this is what you want from me, this assertion that there is no reason for anything, that in my opinion the only necessary responsibility in life is to be devoted to seeing beauty. That can be the purpose of life. Except that is not what people want, we take this eternal beauty for granted just because it is always here, we are never without it. There has to be secrets, our hearts cry. There has to be more, our brain posits. This is all I have in my life, the only real belief I have. I will die and be nothing. There will be no sign of my passing. And I will have seen beauty.” Theo hasn’t formalized his thoughts in such a way for so many years and saying them aloud has him feeling quite embarrassed. It’s a strange thing to try to capture ones most sensitive beliefs and then corrupt them by putting their pure truths into imperfect into language. Theo thinks to himself that Alexa must think him a wasted man living a wasted life. If only I could share with her how happy my life has been, if only I could share with her how much meaning the world fills me with every day.

Alexa does feel an understanding of him though, or at least she experiences something strong in her heart as Theo speaks. These are not the words she expected to hear from Theo, then, she didn’t really have any expectations of what he would say.  She is quiet and contemplative, even in her own mind there is a simple blankness. She has not formed an opinion yet, instead she is absorbing and composting. Subconsciously she is processing what Theo has said. A part of her thinks what Theo fears, that maybe this stupid man lives in ignorance with the promise of his eyes nothing but a lie. Yet, another part of her feels revelation, as if that little bit of light that Theo provided her with when she was a child is now finally allowed to illuminate the entirety of her mind. Here is an answer to the question of meaning that she has been grappling with for so long. Is it the right answer? Can there be more than one right answer?

With her mind again going blank Alexa gazes quietly at Theo. There is a hint of awkwardness as Theo feels perhaps he has given away more of himself than he should have. Then, Alexa looks him straight in the eyes, those eyes that were the catalyst for all these things that are happening and that are going to happen by the end of this story, and she says, “Can I stay here with you in the valley? Please. Can I learn from you how to see the beauty in everything?”

Theo does not respond. Alexa keeps staring at him. Theo still does not respond. Alexa’s heart is racing, she did not mean to ask him if she could stay with him, though, maybe that was silently conquering in the back of her mind, why else did she come here than? Is this what she really wants? Her mind does not know if this is right but her heart has already decided. Better to leave a place that has tainted water for an unknown land than to slowly die of thirst in the known. Theo still does not respond. Alexa continues to stare at him. Theo’s thoughts are hidden even to himself, a well deep into his soul where nothing rises from. Without meeting Alexa’s gaze he finally says quietly, “You understand how significant of a request this is, don’t you?” Alexa nods. “You’re still going to ask me this though?” Theo says. Alexa nods. Again, there is silence.

After more silence Theo finally looks up to meet Alexa’s crystal stare and says forcefully, “Alexa, I am very happy that you came here today. It’s been a wonderful thing to see you again. Hearing the passion in your voice makes me so happy, it seems like you have become an adult who knows her own mind. This is something rare and beautiful. I am so sorry that you are having these existential doubts. I understand your sorrow and I wish there was something I could do, I really do, nevertheless you can’t stay here, that cannot be an option. If I thought there was an answer for you here I would let you stay, except that cannot be. I’m sure that the only thing your living here would accomplish is the destruction of this valley’s equilibrium which would leave you without even the knowledge of this solace since surely this dream you imbue as my reality will perish with the same force that brought your man down from the sky. We cannot fly here together.” Alexa at this point tries to interrupt Theo but he stops her with a curt gesture of his hand, “Please, I’m not saying this out of narcissism or selfishness. Please, listen to me. One of my key beliefs that transforms this valley into a personal Eden is the fact that I don’t exist beyond myself. Like I said before, when I die I will leave nothing, no trace: I will have had no effect on the world. Even this valley will quickly crumble the walls of my cottage and take back those things I borrowed from her. This isn’t a sad fact, instead it is for me it is a joyful paean. It is my belief that the more a person exists outside the confines of their own individual world the less able they are to live in a world of revelation. Here I can control my own life. If I make a choice in my life and there is a penalty to pay then the only person who pays it is me. I can deal with that punishment. What I can’t deal with is affecting anybody’s life outside of my own where I can’t control the repercussions absolutely. If you were to stay here then what if I was to make you miserable? What if you were to be filled with an emotion that I don’t understand? The serenity of this valley can’t be tempered by all these possibilities that I can’t control. I can’t allow all the potential uncontrollable causality that letting you into my valley would initiate. I can’t accept that I may hurt you even if all I want to do is help you, I can’t accept the fact that I may make you miserable even if there is the chance I could help you find bliss. I don’t want to have an effect. I don’t want to affect your or anyone else’s life. Does that make me a bad man? Possibly, maybe even definitely. But it is the way I’ve chosen to live my life, it is the life to which I’ve become dedicated to, it is the life to which I’ve become devoted to. To affect nothing, to leave no ripples, to simply be a watcher of the world and nothing more. Can you please, please understand this? While I don’t want to hurt you I’m sorrowfully not willing to sacrifice the defining characteristic of my life to help you understand something that we’re both not sure I can show you.” As the words stop coming from Theo’s mouth he stops looking into Alexa’s eyes. The strength that radiated from his voice seems to drain from his body and he slouches forward, a man who doesn’t like what he has done but feels it was nonetheless necessary.

With a juxtaposing simplicity to Theo’s meandering logic, Alexa says simply, “I’m sorry Theo, unfortunately if your logic is to not have an effect on the world then it is too late. You saved me. If you didn’t want to interact with the world, you shouldn’t have saved me. However, you did save me and I am so, so thankful. Yet, you speak of unknown repercussions that you are afraid to deal with: my being here is one of these repercussions for your actions in the past. I’m going to ask again to stay with you. I’m going to say that you have a duty to let me stay here and a duty to do your best to share with me the beauty that you see in the world. Otherwise it’s even worse than if you’d just let me be taken and destroyed by those men, since you will have saved me for a life of misery when you have it in your power to make my life better. Will I destroy your sanctuary here? I hope not and will try not to. That’s not the question though, it is too late for this question, if I destroy your valley then it is just a part of the causality of your original decision to save me. You saved me and by your logic all other questions are simply dominoes. You have to let me stay here.” Alexa cries a little in her heart knowing that she is taking from a man who has done her nothing but good, knowing that she is taking from a man who has never taken anything from anyone. Regardless she desperately wants to know the secret of the valley and she say anything to make Theo let her stay with him.

For a moment anger flashes through Theo’s eyes, how dare someone have the impudence to intentionally affect his life when all he has sought to do is affect no one else. Then, she is right, he did affect her life, he did change the arc of her entire history. He knew at the time that saving her was contrary to his beliefs and that if he was strong he would not have helped her, yet, his human heart got the better of him and he simply reacted in saving her. This is the result and he must pay for his intransience. “So be it,” he says, “Welcome.” Strangely there is no anger in him, indeed it seems like that same fallible human heart that led him to this perdition is radiating satisfaction. Theo finds himself almost cracking a smile.

 

Chapter 3

Life is not as it was before for Theodore Shadow and Alexa Mystic. The atmosphere of the valley is undeniably different. Where before the only sounds were of the bubbling stream, the singing birds and the light step of Theo’s feet, now there is always the murmur of voices and the shuffle of additional feet. While the way that Alexa Mystic pressured Theo to let her stay with him was strong armed both of them quickly find an equilibrium with each other in the valley. Theo has accepted Alexa without bitterness and Alexa is giving the full essence of her spirit in trying to understand Theo’s way of life.

Of course while some things are easier than they could have been, that does not mean that there is no difficulty for Theo and Alexa. In the back of Theo’s mind is the realization that his actions are leading him into becoming something false. He knows that he has bartered away a piece of the foundation of his life and he’s not sure how the rest will hold after becoming so wantonly weakened. What does it mean that he has tampered with the external world and  where will this lead? For Alexa, the difficulties are more concrete: she was a city girl with a desk job, now, she lives in an isolated valley as a squatter in a park. For her job, she quit. For her parents, she lied. Much of the her chores in the valley consist of tasks she has never had to perform before. The conveniences of modern life have cut out many rungs from the ladder of natural life Alexa is like a babe learning how to swim after being thrown helpless into the water. Growing her own food, dealing without electricity and unplugged from the internet, these are not small changes. Luckily for both Alexa and Theodore with a mixture of patience and what turns out to be natural chemistry both their metamorphosis are quite pleasant.

Soon after Alexa arrives in the valley Theo makes clear to her that he does not believe he can physically teach her his beliefs. There is no intellectual complexity in them, really nothing beyond what he had already told her on that first day: that there is beauty everywhere and the purpose of life is to appreciate that beauty. However just saying the words does not make them real and just thinking the beliefs does not make them a paradigm to base life around. If Alexa is going to appreciate the elegance of the logic in the same way that Theo has then she must live in the valley in a way that will make her see the wonder of life. It is not Theo who will teach her, it is the relationship she will build with the valley that will unlock the door to living a resonant life.

For the first few days and weeks after Alexa arrives she is a shadow to Theo. As he goes through the garden she follows him. If he is picking fruits and vegetables, she helps him as best she can while trying to absorb the quiet instructions that Theo gives her. It is like this that you can tell a tomato is perfect to pick. This weed needs to be kept away from the potatoes. Little things like this may seem simple to learn but there is such an endless multitude of them that Alexa is constantly feeling overwhelmed. She wants to learn though and is hungry to adapt to this new life in front of her. She feels that she is on a journey somewhere meaningful and while others might look down on her for leaving a career and the world she has known to be a farmer’s assistant, Alexa feels overwhelmingly confident that this is the right choice.

As time progresses Alexa becomes more and more capable in maintaining the valley. Often Theo and she work alongside each other in absolute quiet with, words seeming unessential. After working for a call center Alexa revels in the harmony of silence. For the first few days the silence seemed strange, as if an interruption to the constant flow of noise meant that there was an emptiness, a vacancy that needed to be filled with noise. Soon Alexa began to appreciate the quiet. She learn that there are many different types of quiet with each one just as dense and wondrous as disparate types of music.

In the evening Theo and Alexa sit under the majestic apple tree. Often the moon reflects off the pond and illuminates the entire valley. On nights like this Theo and Alexa don’t talk, instead they just sit quietly absorbed in their own thoughts. Alexa’s mind is opening up more and more the longer she stays in the valley. She comes to feel like an engine that for so long was rusted and immobile, yet after a jumpstart is now beginning to run smoother and faster. She never realized that she could be such a fantastic companion to herself. Where before to try to  make herself better she was always plugged in to online feeds and married to the hustle of work, now, she realizes that all those things she used to believe were making her better were actually doing the opposite. She comes to believe that attempting to absorb the entire worlds knowledge is meaningless if you don’t actually apply any personal perspective to it. Knowledge is a tool and for so long all she cared about was the sharpening of that tool instead of using it to cut anything. Here, in the valley, Alexa does nothing but apply meaning to everything, she does nothing but cut with her mind into the greatest problems that have been mystifying her. In her many quiet moments she lets her mind wander. One moment she reflects on her earliest memories and revels in who she was. In another moment she analyzes all those micro nudge decisions of her life that brought her along the many forking paths to here in the valley. Strangely, as she wonders about her past life that was so miserable that she had to flee from it, she conclude that in fact it was quite a lovely life as well and she was just so out of tune with the natural flow of her own being that she didn’t even notice its graces.

On evenings when there is no moon and the only light is an endless blanket of stars Theo and Alexa sit beneath the apple tree and in the total darkness talk to each other. How they began this routine neither of them know, yet it becomes a ritual that lasts as long as they are both in the valley together. With both their backs against the tree and their eyes in shadows, they whisper to each other, so quietly, both of them worrying about breaking the magic of the black night. The very moonless night, just a few days after her arrives, Alexa breaks the silence for the first time, whispering to Theo, “Can you forgive me for forcing myself into your life like this?” Theo whispers back, “Some things are out of my control and I think that you were right, that you staying here with me is one of those things.” Theo stops talking and again the silence dominates, then, it is his turn to break the silence, “It was wrong of me to try and turn you away, to try and deny my responsibility to you. Maybe there is a grey area between enjoying the world in solitude and having someone else to share it with. It has been nice to have you here with me, it has been really nice. I just don’t know how things will end now. Things are out of my control, even so, with you here helping me we will both try as hard as we can together to beat any challenge that my mistakes might fling on us.” Alexa seems pleased with this response.

These dark evenings become a favorite time for both Alexa and Theodore. It is here that Theo will talk and talk, always just about small things, yet these small things begin to build into a peaceful paradigm in Alexa’s soul. Theo talks not only about beauty but also the need for beauty, about how he feels that society is like a pendulum swinging between radical extremes of belief and disbelief, yet, never seems to gravitate toward the natural inbetween of unflinching acceptance of the world simply as it is with neither belief nor disbelief dominating. Alexa listens to him and for a long time would unfalteringly acquiesce to his opinions, yet, soon she begins to assert her own perspective. She is always respectful but is now unafraid to challenge what he says. Instead of being disgruntled, Theo loves it when she argues with him, saying “All these thoughts have only ever existed in my head. I’ve based my life around them and believed in them absolutely, yet, who is to say if they are true? Maybe I need to have faith in myself to be able to accept your challenges to my beliefs and, if you give a persuasive argument, perhaps there is need for me to change my own views. As long as there is no divergence from the core idea that everything in the world is beautiful and the duty of a person is to appreciate that beauty then I can accept there are many ways to interpret these building blocks. I only live the way that makes most sense to me personally.” Alexa comes to trust herself more and more because she is feeling more and more at peace with the world. She isn’t arguing with Theo because she thinks he is wrong, rather, she is increasingly finding her own nuanced version of nirvana and her arguments are just a way to describe her own peace filled conclusions as perfectly to Theo as she can.

Over time real differences form between how Alexa and Theo interpret their beliefs, though neither of them give these conflictions much weight. It is Theo’s belief that the purest way to appreciate the world’s beauty is in a solitary state, each person needing to be their own isolated universe absorbing the magic of life on their own individual terms. If, however, something external happens that makes isolation impossible, something like Theo saving Alexa, then one has a duty to try and rectify the deviation as forcefully as possible to try and make to make it so that the believer can once again be independent with the other external people being as little affected as possible. Alexa thinks this viewpoint is funny since her remaining in the valley proves that Theo must believe in this idea more ideologically than realistically, or otherwise shouldn’t Theo pack her off? This criticism is something that Theo thinks deeply about since superficially Alexa’s argument is right, however, on a deeper level Theo knows that having her in the valley is ultimately the correct choice for both of then, it is not a weakness of his belief, rather, the logic for Alexa staying here is a fundamental part of his belief that he just can’t express yet. This is something that he thinks about often, he wants to clarify this not just for Alexa but for himself also.

As for Alexa beliefs, she doesn’t believe it is necessarily essential to remain in complete isolation and she certainly doesn’t believe in avoiding external ripples at any cost. She thinks that beauty is something that should be shared with as large an audience as possible, that instead of avoiding ripples they should be fighting to create a tidal wave, sweeping away the hollow normal beliefs with their far more poignant belief in beauty. Alexa vocally asserts that the way Theo thinks isn’t about stopping ripples but rather about hoarding beauty. Perhaps a person might begin the journey of beauty alone and if no one joins them there is no problem. However, if as Theo believes that the meaning of life is the appreciation of universal beauty, then there must be an obligation to make that beauty widely known, to propagate the wonders of reality to all those blind people who would be able to see the majestic real colors of existence if they only had a gentle nudge, if they just had guidance. Perhaps most people don’t even know to open their eyes: they have never been told that their eyes are shut.

These opposing views don’t perturb the sanguine amity between Alexa and Theodore though. They enjoy debating yet their different viewpoints make no difference since for the things that really matter, they are both in complete harmony with each other. At this moment in both of their lives, where they are is where they want to be and this is a jubilant fact. Under the black sky of one of their talks Alexa whispers in Theo’s ear, “I want you to know that I’m happy,” and she lightly puts her hand onto his. Theo whispers back, “I want you to know I’m glad that you came” and closes his hand around hers.

In this way time passes in the valley, a life of radiant wonder where every day there is the feeling that life is the way it should be. The question simmers below the surface of whether this tranquility is sustainable, however this question is so deeply ingrained in both Alexa and Theodore’s individual psyches that they do not feel the need to talk about it. Why destroy the moment when the future cannot be predicted, the precious present’s fundamental fragility is what makes every day so holy and it needs to be appreciated like a crisp sunny day when winter is descending. There is a feeling in both their hearts that they are living a perfect life and that it is a gift, a gift that needs to be enjoyed. Then again, there are many ways to live a perfect life and perhaps not all of them are made equally.

 

Chapter 4

Theo and Alexa are not alone as refugees escaping from a world that doesn’t fit them. There are many who throughout history have shown the bravery to stand in the face of the world’s condemnation and leave the aquarium they were taught was the ocean. For most this new and sudden freedom is overwhelming and like a fish out of water they are unable to breathe in their new world. Then for others living without the respect and camaraderie of their loved ones and being separated from a system which they don’t love but rely on ruins and potential happiness they might experience in their new life. They are forced to come crawling back to their past society, now loving what they used to despise since they have been burned by the purifying fire of the alternative. However, like Alexa and Theodore, many who have the bravery to seek will eventually find what they are looking for. Life has no universal formula and if a person is willing to have the audacity to try to construct a life that fits their own personal image of meaning instead of being contorted into a generic reproduction of antiquated values, then there is a natural reward: the world will make more sense. While the number of seekers is small in any age, they are always nearby, always experimenting with a new way to live a life. Often these seekers do nothing but rediscover the lost work of their spiritual forefathers, but this is not ignoble, it is beautiful, since these spiritual explorers will spend the rest of their days living in a world that is more true to themselves. The happiness these pioneers find are not shared since they are unable to adequately divulge their epiphanies to others. Their revelations are like magical elixirs discovered on unconnected islands, something worthy of worship but impossible to spread. Often, there is no desire to share what has been found, humanity’s natural tendency to horde precious treasure being so strong, then, even if there is a wish to spread it, the progenitors are snuffed out, the world being unkind to deviants. There is always a system in place which doesn’t tolerate competition. However, sometimes, as will happen with Alexa and Theo, life happens in such a way where a tiny island of individual light has a rare opportunity to take on the ocean of habitual belief. Factors rarely align for these paradigm shifts to challenge the norm and even rarer does a new idea conquer the leviathan of normal thought, yet, in the great unpredictable pool of the world where there are so many variables anything can be possible and sometimes the impossible becomes inevitable.

One step at a time. Right now, Alexa and Theo are living day in and day out withing their simple routine. Every day becomes static, just another in a litany of a peaceful sequence of days. Alexa has mentally migrated from the incessant stress and demand of a modern lifestyle to something more organic, a life where every day may seem so similar to the one before it, yet like a tree in a forest growing inch by imperceptible inch, it eventually and unconsciously transforms into something mammoth. Both Theo and Alexa are afraid to admit their hope that this is how life will go on forever.

While Theodore remains a complete hermit in the valley, not leaving except when it is absolutely necessary and keeping no ties with anyone in the broader world, Alexa keeps in contact with her parents. Yes, she has lied to them of what is happening in her life but she still loves them. They gave her a life and tried their hardest to make it special. It is not their fault that they couldn’t provide Alexa with something which they themselves never experienced or thought to look for.

After a certain amount of time spent living in the valley, Alexa believes it is time to tell her parents the truth of what is happening in her life. Lying to those you love is something that weighs on one’s spirit and Alexa is feeling both more confident in justifying her new life to her parents, as well as increasingly guilty in maintaining her charade. Alexa tells Theo of her intentions and he believes that if she feels it is important to inform her parents about her life in the valley then she should talk to them.

The meeting with her parents is uncomfortable. Alexa has no idea  what to expect. Would they belittle her, would they despise her, or would they understand? Over dinner while seated at her parents’ dining room table she calmly explains to them the entire chronology of what has been happening in her life. She tells them she had not been happy working at the call center and that she did not feel like she was living a meaningful. She tells them of how the suicide she witnessed shocked her, how before she had never really thought about what a beautiful life looked like since she was so locked into each repetitive day. Then, after suicide, she was jolted out of her sleepwalking. The suicide made her realize she wanted more out of her life, and as she began to look for more she began to understand just how little her present life was offering her. She asked her parents if they remembered Theodore Shadow, the man who rescued her as a young child. They said they remembered him and are both becoming increasingly grim as they realize that this sit down with their daughter is leading somewhere difficult. Alexa tells her parents that Theo has haunted her ever since he saved her: always brooding below the surface of her life was the tempest of that quick glimpse he offered into a different life that was full of peace and contentment. She starkly tells her parents that she is living with Theo now, that every night she falls asleep to a bubbling brook in the valley  and that it is everything she could have hoped for. Every day she wakes up feeling like she is fulfilling what it is to be a human being and every night she goes to sleep at peace. All there is in the world of the valley is beauty and the appreciation of beauty. This is all there is in Alexa’s world now and it is wonderful.

There is a long silence after Alexa stops speaking to her parents. Both her mother and her father are clearly surprised by what they have just heard. When had their little girl been suffering so much, flutters through their thoughts, she certainly never seemed to be suffering. Is she judging them as parents burns through their confused minds. What is the right way to think about this? Finally, Alexa’s father begins talking, “I don’t accept this. Alexa, I don’t know what this man has told but he is clearly manipulating you. I remember when we met him I thought that he was a freak, that’s why your mother and I tried to keep you from him. I thought we were successful, now I know I should have tried harder. Haven’t your mother and I taught you anything? You don’t run away from your problems, you fix them. I understand that maybe work  was challenging but just to run away and live in some commune? Really, honey, you think this is going to last? You think you can become an old woman living with nothing? I can’t believe you’re doing this. Don’t you see that you’re ruining all those things that you’ve spent your life building?” Alexa’s mother is silent, not nodding but not disagreeing with her husband. Alexa responds to her father, “Dad, I’m sorry, I don’t see things the way you see them. To me life is about searching for something greater than this rat race we condemn ourselves to. There is no getting ahead, there is just treading water and always gasping for every breath. There’s no belief in anything. The new meaning of life is nothing more than trying to be the prettiest flower in the garden with the result being a concrete capitalism where the entirety of a person’s life is spent creating as much capital as possible and the entirety of free time is spent consuming that capital in as  conspicuous a manner as possible. Life is about getting ahead? There is no getting ahead. There are no longer divides between the rich world and the poor world: the poor have caught up but cannot pass the rich. The whole world pounds at the door of the future with the same hand and the door does not open. Now, rather than the rich eating the subsidized fruits that the slavish poor they can only get the outputs that are equal to their inputs which means that as hard as we work we can’t satisfy our needs because we’re used to more. The world is about endless toil to finance an insatiable hunger. For me, this is a world that gives no happiness: I want more. I still don’t know if what Theo and I are doing is the best way forward but it has given my life more meaning than working for the sake of working. I didn’t ask to be born into a society where I’m indebted from birth till the day I die. I won’t pay for the roads even if I use them, I won’t be caged in an office even if they call it optional, this is not the way I will live my life. I think the secret I learned from Theo is that there are no chains manacling my hands to the life I am expected to live. No matter how much of a secret this may be to most people the truth is there are no chains, it is our choice and only our choice if we want to remain in the dreamless coma we call normal life. I realize you may disagree with me, still, I hope that you can try to understand that I believe in what I’m doing and that even if you disagree with me you can still love and accept me. I want your respect and approval, I want your love. In spite of that I will not sacrifice my one and only life  to placate the two of you. No matter how much your refuting may hurt me, life is too precious to make you happy at the expense of my happiness. Can you try to understand that I’m happy now and truly believe I will be happy tomorrow as well?” Paralyzed, Alexa’s father stares at Alexa with cold eyes and a sad mind wondering where has his little girl gone. She is talking nonsense. He flaps his mouth a few times but in the face of deconstructing so much garbage he feels overwhelmed. Can this really be the way that she feels about the world? It’s not as bad as all that, is it? He says, “Oh.” then  shuts his mouth, not sure what he should be thinking.

Now it is Alexa’s mother’s turn to talk and she contemplatively leans forward. “Darling,” she says, “You are my daughter and no matter what I will love you. You’re saying a lot of things here and I worry that maybe this Theodore has tricked you, or even worse maybe he has brain washed you. Bad people exist in the world Alexa, I know you know this, but I am your mother and I will always be afraid of the world for you. On the other hand you are so passionate and I can feel how happy you are. It’s wonderful to see you so happy, all I want is for you to be happy. When I was young, I remember someone telling me that everyone is in a cage, everyone always has been in a cage. That all of the rebellions, all of the wars and all of the revolutions that stain our history have come from people trying to escape this cage while others try to keep the lock on the cage bolted. The person who was telling me this was saying that the cage we are in right now is the most beautiful cage to ever exist. It is a cage whose bars we can’t even see, a cage that is so brilliantly designed that we who are its prisoners  don’t even to think to look forits bars. Does that make it any less of a cage, not knowing you are trapped? I don’t know. I know that I’ve made peace with my life and would wish the same peace for you. Yet, true happiness, may be one of those things in our cage that we’ve been tricked not to look for. Cynicism says something intangible like happiness is a fools game to chase while pessimism says that if we look for happiness we won’t find it. Yet, the world is full of mystery. Maybe you’ve found the bars that we never thought to look for, maybe you’ve even found a way past those bars. I don’t know. All I care about is your happiness.” Alexa’s mother pauses for a second, collects her thoughts, then says “I think your father and I need to meet this man who has such a deep influence on you and see for ourselves who he really is. We need to meet Theodore Shadow”

“Well, Mr. Shadow,” Alexa’s father starts, “My little girl is telling me that you have been filling her ears with many, many different ideas. I’m an open minded man so I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt that you don’t intentionally mean to be harmful. However, I want you to tell my wife and myself some of the things you’re telling our daughter so that we can decide for ourselves if you are taking advantage of her.” Theo is glumly thinking how on earth did he let Alexa talk him into this meeting? This young girl is having too much of a sway over him. Here he is though, sitting in Alexa’s parents living room with a cup of tea in one hand and Alexa’s father sitting directly in front of him across a solid oak table. Alexa is to his left and her mother is to his right. Why does he need to be here? How has it happened that he cares about Alexa to the point where he’s willing to do something like leave his valley for this awkward meeting just to please her. So be it,  he is here.

What is the best way for Theo to answer Alexa’s father’s questions? With Alexa, it has been so easy since she hasn’t been asking for explanations, rather she has just spent time in the atmosphere of the valley and the valley has done all of the explaining. If only Alexa’s parents could spend real time there, away from the deafening noise of their preconceived notions, then  they could see those other things that life has to offer. That’s not an option here. “Sir,” Theo starts, “I want you to firstly understand that I have not been indoctrinating your daughter as you are insinuating. She sought me,  I did not recruit her. I sincerely tell you that it is a very subdued companionship we have with each other. There is little in the way of conventional teaching, she sits at no desk and I give no lectures. She was searching for something which I have not given to her, instead, she has found it in the same place that did. What do I personally believe? Your daughter and I disagree about many of our beliefs. She is strong willed, intelligent and I value her opinion. I trust that if she wants to have a divergent opinion than myself, she has strong grounding for it and I do not try to change her mind. The only core belief I have, which I know is Alexa’s core belief, is that the world is beautiful and that the meaning of life is to appreciate that beauty. In our little valley that is what we do. That is all there is for me and from what I’ve heard from your daughter that’s all there is for her too. I know so small a concept may seem an insignificant theory to base a life around, yet it has provided me with happiness and I hope has brought your daughter happiness.” Theo leans back and sips his tea.

Alexa’s father waves his hand in a dismissive gesture as if everything Theo thinks is just a light layer of dust that needs to be brushed aside without a second thought. “Look here Shadow,” he grumbles, leaning forward in his chair, “This is all great for you. Go write a text book on this or something and I hope all the world goes and loves beauty or whatever it is you want. But you can’t brainwash my little girl with this fluff. We live in a modern society, with taxes, financial obligations, laws and penalties. The society I live in that’s based in the real world says if you don’t work, then the government punishes you for being a weight on the system. What will they do to the two of you? It’s common knowledge that if you want to enjoy the privileges of modern society then you have to contribute your fair share. There’s no two ways around it.  Is your plan to hide out in your valley and hope the government never notices you? You’ll both end up in work camps even more miserable than whatever drub it was you thought was misery before. You’re living in a state of delusion and this is unacceptable.” Alexa’s mother is nodding silently as Alexa’s father speaks. Some ideas are nice in theory but this is the real world.

“Sir,” Theo calmly says, “I made a decision a long time ago that I wasn’t going to sacrifice my life for anything other than what is honest in my heart. I certainly am not going to sacrifice my life for whatever the state specifies a profitable life looks like. You tell me that I have brainwashed your daughter, well, it’s my belief that she has broken free from society’s brainwashing. We live in a world where, as you say, there are obligations to society. I tell you that this is slavery. Let me tell you the story of my life. It’s a story that I haven’t told Alexa because it wasn’t important for her to know, however, I think it will make you understand my position better.”

“Before the nuclear war between Pakistan and India and the subsequent creation of the United Global Republic, I was a teenager living with my mother and father who were well known artists. Life was comfortable and normal, we were not well off nor were we poor, what we were was content. Looking back, however, I think the seeds of what society has become were already planted all those years ago. In school I was told I could be anything when I grew up, anything at all in the world. My school teachers really believed this and I believed it too. What I didn’t understand then was that already our perception of the potential in life was already so limited. When I was a young boy I told my career counselor that I wanted to be an artist like my parents. He flatly told me, no, that I could not be an artist. He said it was his job to set me up for a career and there are no careers as artists. I told him my parents were artists and he told me the world changes. I had to tell my career counselor that I wanted to be something else, some other career that could be anything in the world as long as it fit their strict definition of ‘anything.’ I could not say artist, nor could I say philosopher, or father, or dreamer. In the end I said I wanted to be a lawyer because, well, I had to say something didn’t I? I went through school training to be a lawyer and while it didn’t excite me, it didn’t bore me either. I believed, as all those around me believed, that the metrics of success were quantifiable, that if I made this much money, drove this type of car and went to this type of country club, I would be considered successful and since success is the prerequisite for happiness then I would be happy. I was on course in follow along this narrow path. Perhaps one day I might have cracked like Alexa and realized that success isn’t a prerequisite for happiness, that for many people, the unending pursuit of happiness is the curse that keeps happiness at bay. On the other hand, there is no certainty that I would have had the same clairvoyance as your daughter to see the cracks in our system and I may have continued running on the treadmill of my career believing that this endless running nowhere was the meaning of life.”

“Then, of course, Pakistan dissolved. Those grey men who take advantage of chaos were able to launch a nuclear attack on India and India responded in kind. Millions died and two of the world’s great countries smoldered while the rest of the world teetered on the verge of anarchy. Under the Treaty of New York the United Nations was voted unanimously to morph into the United Global Republic with a monopoly on military power and a pre-eminence all other departments. The world was saved from annihilation and the result is where we are today. I support the United Global Republic, I think they were the only route to salvation from what would have been complete oblivion.”

“However, while I respect the UGR for saving the world, I abhor it for what it has done to the world’s people. As the globes only power, the UGR has obsessessed with economic fairness and equality, good things in concept, yet so hard to maintain in a the tumultuous real world. The world is as Alexa says, as you yourself say sir, a place where we have to produce our entire lives just to try to cover the costs of our existence. We are slaves, not working for some master but instead endlessly toiling under the mountain of our own debt to society. My parents, the artists, were left adrift after it was mandated that everyone must work in a career that benefits society in a measurable way. There was not enough time in a day for them to go to work, perform their mandatory shopping and still create art. I watched as their passion bled out of them. For a while both my parents took a stand against this new order, they painted for every day in a month and the canvasses they created were remarkable, filled with a raw primal energy searching frantically for an escape with the canvas offering no solutions. It was the last time they might have been happy. Their employers saw that they weren’t getting peak output from my parents and alerted the government of their intransience. Nothing physical befell my parents, their hands were not broken and they weren’t forced through some propaganda campaign. No, they were just given pills to take every day and suddenly they didn’t paint and were better employees. I never knew my parents again after they started their mandatory medication, they became living ghosts.”

“By this time I’d become a successful lawyer, though I was still nowhere near successful enough to fulfill my insatiable urge. That’s the real brain washing in the world, this idea that there’s never enough, this idea that we always need more. We take what we have achieved, those things that we sweat and bleed for, then throw them away always looking to the next step, the next hit from the drug of success. Life was fine for me. I worked hard and I played hard, buying fully into projecting a flashy, globetrotting persona. I felt that I was everything that a man was supposed to be and knew that I was everything the government wanted me to be. Then, when my parents became those submissive shells of the wonderful people who raised me I had a moment of clarity. The way they were was all the government wanted from anybody, just drones that check every tick box of how a good worker acts. The government is not callous because of malevolence, instead it is callous because the government is not concerned about the individual, it only cares about the health of the entire system. My parents were now doing everything that was considered ‘right’ but I found myself depressed at the thought of who they had become. I couldn’t see them anymore. They were worse than dead since they were blaspheming to every ideal that they held true and could do nothing about it.”

“Shortly after this I decided that I needed more from life. I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish this, but I knew that the only paths open to me were to either become a humanoid robot like my parents or to break free from society a become honest to myself. I wanted to break free. I researched what my choices were and I decided that I had to be hidden from the government or else the government would catch me and do to me what they had done to my parents. I discovered my valley after studying the area from satellites and decided that this was where I could be free, that this is where I could be free. I transformed my valley into a self sustainable ecosystem using skills learned from the internet. Soon I had totally escaped from the world. I disappeared. I did not flee society as an ascetic but rather as a refugee, fleeing the world for my sanity’s survival. However, once I was in my valley, my mind gradually opened up from the cold concrete parking lot of the UGR world into the vibrant garden of my own imagination. It was after I had been in the valley for many years that I came to believe the purpose of life was to appreciate beauty and that this beauty is everywhere. This is who I am today and it is what I absolutely believe in. Sir, I do believe this lifestyle is sustainable. I believe it may be the only sustainable life there is, since to stay under the creativity deprivation regime of the United Global Republic is to suffer death like a flower without enough light, to decay until one is just a husk deprived of life with no desire to strive toward the sun anymore.”

Alexa’s father doesn’t say anything back to Theo so it falls to Alexa’s mother to reply. “Thank you Mr. Shadow,” she says, “We appreciate the fact that you have come here to meet us and that you have been so honest with us. I think you have left us both with a lot to think about. However, I am sure my husband and I are more comfortable now with where Alexa is in her life than we were before you arrived. Again, thank you for coming.” Alexa’s father nods in agreement with his wife but his mind is not present in the room. Theo and Alexa leave together soon after.

After meeting with Alexa’s parents there is an awkwardness between Theo and Alexa. Theo feels that Alexa is submitting him to death by paper cuts through an endless surfeit of micro changes to who he is. Life is such a delicate equation and he worries that Alexa is becoming an added weight will ultimately confine him in the darkness of the clouds away from the sun’s revelation. She is important to him, but there must be a tipping point where his affection for her is no longer enough to counterbalance this weight added by her. Alexa knows she has pushed Theo into a sphere that he is uncomfortable with, however, she is so sure of the righteousness of both their lives and the moral need to shout about it from the roof top rather than hide it in the valley that perhaps it is necessary to push Theo somewhere he is uncomfortable. Perhaps there are bigger forces at work than just Theo and herself and they both must bow to its supremacy.

Life goes on in the valley. While both Alexa and Theo feel that a change is descending upon them there is a calmness for the present. Perhaps they are both trying to leech some of the essence out of the valley knowing that soon things will swerve out of their control. There are still  quiet days in the valley with their nights spent together under the apple tree, both of them thinking in their minds that they don’t wants anything to change while knowing that it will. Some critical point has passed: Theo has put too much of himself out into the world. He dispassionately wonders if he should not have saved Alexa, he wonders if he should not have let her stay with him in the valley and he definitely wonders if should not have talked to her parents. What is it he believes in now? He cannot believe any longer in those words that spring to his lips, that a person should stay as isolated as possible, since he has not followed these words mantra. Could Alexa be right, is he hoarding beauty, is it selfish to live such a beautiful life when so many others are in a spiritual wasteland? Who is he to declare the misery of these unknown souls as a fact, can’t everyone be different, who is he to say what a good life looks like and what a bad life looks like, he is no seer. Then, on the other hand, what if it is up to him? What if instead of fastidiously avoiding ripples because of a fear of making the world a worse place, what he is really doing is keeping an essential voice silent? What if there is a chance that his ripples could lead to a positive change, that there is a light he has in his heart which could make all these lifeless flowers bloom into a garden? Could his isolation be robbing the world of this light? Who is he to say which is true? How can he know if he will be the destroyer of peace or the savior of a better world? All he ever wanted in his life was what he had in his valley and for so long he has had it. Does the world have to change? If he has now saved Alexa twice doesn’t this mean that for all his moral pedantics he has already made his choice for how he lives in the world? He has decided to try to change the world for the better and everything is defined by that action no matter how much he might mentally drag his feet. Alexa was a catalyst that changed everything and now there is no choice but to follow through towards the destiny he is falling into.

The calm of the valley is broken by a hurricane. One day, much like the first and second time Alexa appeared in the valley, Theo hears an unnatural noise. He knows it is no deer, he knows it is no young girl looking to find him, he knows it is no younger girl in peril. It is the noise of change coming. Alexa notices the noise too and asks Theo what he thinks it is and with a laugh Theo tells her they will find out soon enough. Without acknowledging it Alexa and Theo both realize that whatever this noise turns out to be will lead to the end of the valley. They sit together below the apple tree waiting for whatever it is that is coming through the forest. Finally, out of the brush, appears first Alexa’s mother, then her father, then five others. They come quietly without speaking and approach the apple tree, from under which Theodore and Alexa stand to greet them. “Welcome,” Theodore says. “Theodore Shadow,” Alexa’s mother says, “We have come because we would like to learn how to appreciate beauty in the same way that Alexa has. We have come because we listened to your words and they made us see our lives through a lens that we have never used before and we are unable to stop using now. We have all come, my husband, myself and these close friends of ours, because we agree with you that there has to be something more to life than what we have been living. We have come to learn from you what that something more might look like.” Alexa looks shell shocked. Yes, this is what she’d wanted but now in the moment it doesn’t feel right. Seeing all these people clutter the floor of the valley makes her nauseous. How can all these people learn the lessons of the valley, the valley cannot teach so many. “So be it,” Theo says, “Welcome.” His eyes are black.

With hearts filled with revelation Alexa’s parents and their friends depart from the valley. Theo has just finished humbly speaking to the visitors in his valley and without meaning to he has delivered his first sermon. He has never done something like this before but he speaks with an assured and persuasive passion. Alexa watches in wonder at the sudden metamorphosis of her teacher. Here ,for the first time, is the spark she has dreamed about trying to create fire. Her parents and the other students listen in rapture, any cynicism fading away as the verity of Theo’s words open specters in their minds and sectors in their hearts that they were unaware existed. The world is a different place. They all depart after Theo has finished talking, knowing without asking that to stay in the valley would be impossible. The valley cannot teach so many. Instead Theo has taken on his shoulders the heavy mantle of being the translator of what the valley has taught him.

After everyone has left and it is just Alexa and Theo in the valley, Theo visibly deflates. He refuses to look at Alexa. Alexa tells him confidently, still infused with the rush of the first sermon, that, “You know this is right. That this is the only way forward for both of us.” Theo says nothing and goes for a walk through the valley away from Alexa with the only thing on his mind being merciful nothingness. He knows what has happened, Alexa is right, this is the only way forward. He listens to the birds merrily chirping, he breathes in the crisp, sweet air and his eyes absorb the only place in the entire world he calls home. His mind is empty but at peace. He arrives back at the cottage late at night while Alexa is asleep and he begins to settle firewood and kindling around the cottage. There is no ambiguity in what he plans, if this is to be the only way forward then he will commit absolutely to it. There will be no going back.

With his task complete and the cottage transformed into a pyre waiting for that first spark of fire that will commence the destruction of the entire world Theo has made for himself, he wakes Alexa up. “I’ve thought a long time about why I let you stay with me in this valley,” he whispers in her ear as she drifts out of sleep, “I think that we were both wrong on how to live a life based around beauty. You thought that a person has a duty to spread beauty. I thought that a person should remain at personal peace, that a person shouldn’t spread out beyond themselves. You were wrong, a person shouldn’t spread beauty, it can lead to disaster. I was wrong, a person can’t stay by themselves, a person can never be isolated from the world, it’s not in the nature of man. The universe does not give us this luxury of isolation and will punish us for the attempt. All there is in the world now is to try to make sure that the world is a better place for our being an active part of it, that if in our hearts there is an idea that is more powerful than the present paradigm then let us be the new paradigm and may the entire world shift to us. May we be as strong as we can be and as honest as we can be so that the power of our ideas can honestly test and challenge the normal system. May we put a crisis into the beating heart of the world with our ideas and breach the wall of the normal man. The world may become a disaster through us. We will fight for revolution and all the dire potential that word imbues: this will be the cost of spreading beauty. We must rise above our present enemy, the complacency that enthralls man, for complacency will surely fight back. We have to be better than our new enemies, for surely our ideas will open the door to a torrent of other idealists and opportunists who will become our rivals. We will have to be better than everything. We will have to be better than ourselves. I want the sum of my life to be about appreciating the beauty that is everywhere. I want my life to be a total plus for the world, I cannot accept my being a negative villain. I will try for the rest of my life to make the world more beautiful and to make more people appreciate this beauty. This be the my life from herein, this will be the war of my life. So be it. Pack all your things, I am going to burn this cottage to the ground. I’m going to burn the entire valley to the ground. Pack your things, you are getting what you wanted, it is time to spread beauty and may the world forgive what we will have to do to create a better world.” Theo walks out leaving a wide eyed Alexa Mystic staring at his darkened frame as he ghosts out of the door.

A spark of light then smoke begins to delicately drift a few tendrils into the cottage. Reacting quickly, Alexa gets out of bed, packs her bags and stumbles outside. Soon, the cottage is an inferno. She walks over to the apple tree under which Theo is sitting, a bag already packed. They don’t say anything as they watch the place they both love the most in the world collapse in a fiery agony. It has been a dry season in the valley and soon the flames begin licking the grass, biting into the trees and rising towards the empty black sky to eat the edible night. The peace and serenity that were once the only light that illuminated the valley is being blown out in one last nova. Without turning away from the fire Theo tells Alexa, “You of course remember those three men who attacked you when you were a child? When I defended you I acted in passion, I acted without thinking and I acted without knowing my own strength. I killed them all. There, that day, with you watching, I killed those three men. It was an accident, the men were monsters, still, who am I to be the arbitrator of life and death. I’ve never looked back on that day with regret, killing them was the cost of keeping you safe. The world is not a fair place. If the cost to save you was three lives what will be the cost to save the world?” Theo begins walking into the blackness, away from the fire and towards somewhere that neither of them are sure of. Alexa follows him, looking at him as a man that she created, a man different than the one she met all those years ago as a child and she wonders who this man will turn out to be.

 

Chapter 5

At the front of Alexa’s parent’s living room Theo surveys a crowded room. Everyone is silent with all eyes riveted to Theo who stands in front of them all. He has just finished giving a speech that he has now given over a dozen times. After each recital it is always like this: complete and total silence. Alexa sits to his side on a chair. She is separated from the crowd and looks at him with a smile. It was a wonderful speech she thinks, something that crystallizes the lessons of the valley with clarity and grace.

It has been two weeks now since the valley burned. The journey from the blaze to Alexa’s parent’s home was a somber and grim affair for Alexa and Theo. They did not say a word to each other the entire way. Theo silently absorbed the path he had decided to stop avoiding, while Alexa silently comprehended for the first time what the actual arc of the path she had pushed Theo towards would look like. Theo walked in front with Alexa always following behind him. If he is to be a prophet of beauty then Alexa is his first disciple. Upon reaching Alexa’s parents house in the early hours of the morning, they were welcomed with open arms, both her parents now becoming their first converts. After Theo’s speech in the valley Alexa’s parents and their guests left in the spirit of revelation. A new voice has been added to the world, the world is becoming a different place on the smallest of scales.

Strange, how a movement is born. Did anyone sit down to plan what is happening? The first lecture was a unique experience for Theodore. Alexa and her parents brought to their apartment the guests who’d accompanied them to the valley as well as a few additional friends and just sat expectantly waiting for Theo to say words that would they were hoping would change their lives. He had never been a public speaker. Insecurity wracked his mind. How could he say anything that has meaning to these people? Doubts and bitterness nibbled at the periphery of his confidence, yet, it was all noise, all on the periphery. He was at peace. This was what he had decided to do and if he failed it would not be because he was weak or a poor speaker, it would be because others rejected him and his ideas. He fought through the walls of his own existence and said the simple words that came to his mind and it was the exact speech that every witness needed to here, each of them letting it enter into their hearts in their own way. This speech evolved into the token speech which he would stump time and time again. Yes, he would change subtle things, yes, he would always speak with any who wanted to talk in more depth. By and large, however, his beliefs were simple and only needed a simple speech to describe them with great power. The speech is like a conduit that blooms in a person’s mind like an honest conversation with themselves, one they wish they had heard already yet takes Theo’s words to unlock the potent truth. People do not need to read a bible or study for years, they just need to absorb the few words from this speech and then decide if they feel the words in their own heart and if they  do, what does that mean? Soon, a real movement is formed. Still in its fragile embryonic stage where the most whispering of breezes might change its course, it is something that is taking a physical shape that is projected into the world.

Is Theo happy with what is happening? He is unsure. He is trying to say words as honestly as possible and these words seem to have an effect on people. That is the goal, he thinks, but his mind is confused. This new world is a different place then the one he remembers and he comes to rely on Alexa’s perception of who he should be more and more. So many people are unhappy, he thinks, and these people around him think that he holds the key to their happiness. It would be such a wonderful thing for him to provide the unhappy the gift of happiness. Theo feels very far away from his valley, he believes in everything he says and he believes in everything he does but then he also believes that things are spinning out of his control. All he can do is slowly scale the treacherous mountain that has been presented before him and tackle every loose grip and slippery stone with a total faith in himself and his ability to ascend to the invisible summit.

Soon some followers of Theo are inspired enough to escape their regular lives within the United Global Republic. The first person like this is a young man, John Mahmed. The only son of Alexa’s mother’s best friend, he comes to the meetings with a vibrant fervor and a growing fire in his eyes. Yes, he cries to himself, the world has so much more to offer me than it has given, yes, he cries to himself, the words that Theo speaks ring true in my heart: I want to live a life filled with beauty. John works as a laborer in a robot factory where endlessly he wheels a cart of half finished components from bin to bin. It is a position that lacks any meaning to him other than its paycheck. He knows he could more efficiently be replaced by one of the very robots the factory builds, except that John’s labor is cheaper. Even before he’d heard of Theodore Shadow John was dissatisfied, now, Theo’s words give him an avenue to battle his dissatisfaction. He wishes to absolutely commit to Theo’s beliefs in the same way that Theo himself and Alexa have.

John comes to Alexa and Theo to tell them that he doesn’t want to go to his work anymore. Every time he has gone to work since Theo has opened his eyes to the brightness of the world has been like going to a dark cave away the light that Theo has given him. What can he do? He is willing to work but the work must have meaning. Theo talks with his congregation and It turns out that most people have a similar problem to John Mahmed. It is a problem that Theo and Alexa of course understand themselves since it is the same problem that made them flee for the sanctity of the valley in the first place. Yet, the valley is ash now and even if it wasn’t it could never support so many people. Even more, managing a dozen people is such a different enterprise then managing just one or two. The government would never let a group separate from society, would they? The actual legal definitions of what the government will and will not tolerate are kept intentionally vague with citizens expected to err on the side of caution.

Luck, this time at least, is with Theo and his followers. One member of Theo’s congregation comes up with an ideal solution: he has a secluded farm just outside the city which he inherited years ago but never maintained. There, everyone agrees, they should be able to learn the lessons of the valley as well as be able to be self sufficient. For the moment, while they are all invisible to the government, this is a perfect solution. Theo, Alexa, John Mahmed and a large portion of the ever growing congregation go together to live at the farm.

Soon the farm loses its atmosphere of abandonment and gains the feeling of a happy village. John and the others learn how to farm, and though they are no natural farmers with the help of the technological advances in farming techniques soon they produce enough food to keep everyone fed. Much as it was for Alexa, among the newcomers there is no in horror of the dramatic shift in their daily lives, rather, there is a shared ecstasy. Here, on this farm, the promise of Theo’s teachings begins to be put into practice. With a monastic dedication everyone works for the common good while individually discovering a personal bliss. Theo works alongside everyone else and as he woks he teaches the lessons of cultivation and finding peace in the toil of the ground. With a spiritual purity alike to any monk from any religion throughout history, the converts of the farm are discovering their own Zen in the toil and touching of mother nature.

Here, on the farm, Theo again finds peace. He feels that what Alexa has been telling him is starting to bear fruit. All these people are becoming more and more content with their place in the world and his words are what has made this possible. Of course Theo knows that he is just one factor, that it took factors beyond him to make this present possible. Alexa had to convince him, her parents had to tell their friends and then the people who came to hear him had to trust his words. Even more, there needed to be a general dissatisfaction with life and the bravery to combat it. Yet, Theo thinks to himself, he has been essential to this movement. If he had never left his solitude then these people would have continued to drown from the deluge of the nothingness that engulfed them. What a wonderful thing to have affected, Theo thinks to himself with a secret smugness. What a wonderful thing to be a part of. How this will all end Theo is still unsure about. His mind still radiates fear that he could be leading all of these people into an unknown darkness. Nevertheless, for the moment Theo feels like Alexa did the right thing to push him out of his narrow confines. There could be a light on that dark horizon and it is coming closer because of his words.

Unlike the valley the farm is not isolated from the world. While the farm itself feels like a sanctuary away from all the rest of the world, the area that surrounds it feels like a leech infested lake. A road leads right up to the gate of the farm and just beyond the sights of this gate is a small village that houses a few hundred normal citizens of the United Global Republic. The village is a rude place, where its inhabitants work as low level labor for the most grueling tasks in the huge mechanized farms that dominate the countryside. Liquor and drugs take the sting out of the hard hand of humanity they have been dealt, yet, it also takes away most of their decency as well. Theo’s farm is something of a joke for some of the villagers, while for others it something that they don’t understand and hate because of their perplexity. Either way the villagers want to make Theo’s followers on the farm suffer.

One day, as John Mahmed is walking through the village back to the farm, a few drunken men begin mocking him, shouting, “Go trust your cult, believe in something ridiculous.” The words become more harsh and the fire that John is always filled with burns to the surface. With the unthinking passion of youth he shouts back to the drunken men, “All your life you do nothing. Born to a mother and a father who did nothing. Toil, break your back, live a pitiful life and pretend you love it, laugh at me, you know that you wake up every morning hating your life and hating yourself. You could be like us on the farm but you’ve killed yourself, you’ve had the weight of the world on your shoulders and instead of even trying to lift it you just lie down and let it sit on your chest. You couldn’t be bothered to try to live a beautiful life. You’re all just wastes of humanity, devolving back into apes as the world feasts on your mindless labor and all you take out of it is an endless hangover.” The mocking men stop laughing, “You don’t say things like that to a man like me,” says one. The men cluster around John Mahmed, shouting and waving wildly. Who throws the first punch is hard to tell, it could have even been John Mahmed, however, of course John is no match for several men and once the blows start falling they rain on him endlessly.

Soon, John is on the ground and alone, his face a ruined canvas with the bright fire of his eyes clouded by tears. Perhaps he is younger than he says. Word spreads to the farm that one of their own has been beaten by the villagers and quickly a party leaves to discover what has happened. Alexa is the one who finds John lying where he fell, barely conscious and contorted with agony. His eyes light up and clear at the sight of her and instinctively Alexa grabs him in a maternal embrace that must be agonizing for John, yet, is just what he needs. The farmers carry him back to the farm while Alexa comfortingly holds his hand.

Sitting at John’s bedside Alexa gazes peacefully at the now bandage wrapped young man. He tries so hard to speak to Alexa but the words come out as nothing but a mumble. What is he saying? She brings her ears to the very tip of his lips, so close to a kiss, and now understand his words: “Why did they do this to me? Why did they do this to me?” With her hand clasping his Alexa looks deeply into John’s eyes, “There will always be people in the world who think that your ideas are wrong. Everyone is scared of something different and what you have become is something that is so scary to most people because you’re everything that they have been too weak to become. You have let beauty embrace your heart and there is nothing anyone can do to take it away from you. These men could feel your contentment and hated you for it. They hated you for having what they do not. How can they accept that, these weak men? They couldn’t and when you broke them down by being who you are, they tried to break you down by the only means they have, their fists. But we know, don’t we, that fists can’t break you? While you have the beauty of the world in your heart nothing can break you. They could do this a hundred times and you would not be broken. Even you must let them beat you. You have to trust the walls of your heart rather than the walls of your body and no matter how much someone tries to break you, you have to be greater than them because your belief must be greater than anything they can do to you.” John lets a few tears trickle down his cheeks, mumbling, “I told them that they were nothing. I started the fight. I told them that they are nothing…” With a quiet force Alexa interrupts John, “Perhaps you are not innocent, that does not mean that what those men did to  you is right. You have paid a dear, dear price. Yet, you will be fine soon. You will learn from your mistake and will become stronger for it. Let the men mock you, be who you are no matter if the entire world tells you that you are wrong, trust your heart. If you cannot trust your own heart then no matter what else you are, you will be lost.” John cracks a very mild smile accompanied with a faint acquiescence head nod, then promptly fades into sleep. Alexa walks out of the room wondering if she believes in her own words. What is a person to do when attacked? She is sure that violence is not the answer, but how is letting a person be a victim a solution? She is unsure and her mind is troubled.

After leaving John’s room Alexa goes to talk with Theo. He is alone staring deeply into a blank wall. Alexa sits down beside him and looks at the wall as well, trying to see what it is about the wall that has captivated him. She sees nothing. Theo unresponsive, not seeming to even notice that Alexa is sitting there next to him. He continues to stare at the blank wall. Suddenly yet quietly he says, “Do you know I used to believe that doing nothing but starting at a blank wall might be a beautiful life? That if man’s purpose is to witness the symphony of the universe, than witnessing some piece of blank wall should be as meaningful as anything else in the world. The infinite beauty of the world is in this wall. Yet, I look at this wall now and it holds nothing for me. I try to feel the peace in my heart and I only feel turmoil. I’ve heard about young John Mahmed. I’ve heard what has happened to him in the village. My words brought this on him. How could those wild beast prey after a young innocent? How could they break a young innocent with their fists? How have my words led this to happen?” Alexa quickly says, “The world is better for your words. Suffering is terrible but there will always be suffering when you try to change the world. Of course a man wants to drag down another if he sees him flying above him. If a man cannot rise above the clouds to see the sun for himself the best he can do is keep others in the darkness as well.” “There will always be suffering?” asks Theo. Alexa without blinking says “Yes, there will always be suffering. There needs to be suffering. If there isn’t some form of suffering then the goal isn’t ambitious enough. It takes suffering to know the real world.” “Alexa,” Theo says, “I don’t think I’m ready to say that there will always be suffering.” He stands up and walks out quickly. He is walking towards the village. After a moment of confusion Alexa quickly follows him.

Theo walks into the heart of the village and begins asking every person he sees who it was that beat up the young boy from his farm. His demeanor is not angry, rather, he exudes a gritty determination: he will be answered and he will be answered now. A spectacle begins circling around Theo as the villagers wonder what he will do. Finally, the three men who beat John Mahmed approach Theo, looming over him with towering menace. Alexa sees the men approach Theo and with fear in her heart sprints back to the village to get help. All the villagers stop what they are doing to form a rough spectators circle around Theodore and the three men. The leader of the three men barks at Theo with a malignant rudeness, “We put that arrogant dog in his place. He yapped at us and he needed a lesson. We gave him that lesson and he should count it as a favor. Now who are you?” Theo looks at the man, a goliath who reeks of alcohol, and tells him, “My name is Theodore Shadow. All the people who live at the farm came because of my words. They trusted that through me they would see the world as a better place. Now, men like you have come and hurt one of those who believe in my words While I can accept your mocking and I can accept your disdain, I cannot accept infringement of our freedom, I certainly cannot accept you attacking my members.” The three men look unimpressed. “Well,” says the leader, “That’s all well and good. Words don’t cost me anything so feel free to say whatever you want. But, what are you going to do if I just spit in your face and tell you that there’s not a thing you can do to make me do what you want me to do. What are you going to do but say more words? If I decide to knock every one of your cult members to the ground like that little loser from earlier today, what are you going to do? More words? Go ahead, enjoy your broken teeth because that will be the only result. Are you going to go the authorities? Yeah? Sure, all these people, they have licenses to be here? Of course not, you’re all here illegally. So, you know what, maybe I’m going to get in the habit of picking on you freaks. Maybe just the presence of you freaks offends me. And what are you going to do about it? I know what weak men who hide behind words do: nothing. You’ll say more words and they will mean nothing. There’s not a single thing your words can do.” The sneering leader is pleased with himself and his two friends guffaw with him as the crowd of villagers openly laughs at Theo.

There is a palpable dispassion in Theo’s eyes, a coldness that has never been there before. Alexa and many others from the farm arrive and there is a momentary limbo. They hear the three large men speak to Theo and they quiver in fear. They see the future in a flash, their punishment for chasing passion. They know they will be grinded down to dust, like so many movements before them they are to be a bright spark stomped under the heavy boot of the status quo. Yet, things do not happen the way anyone expects them to happen. Theo does not back down and fade away as every person is expecting: he is not broken. He seems to grow bigger, he seems to attract all the energy of the crowd and embodies both the fear and the hope in each and every person.

He begins without thunder in his voice, except somehow every word still has the presence of a shout, “What can I do? What can we do? What can anyone do when faced with oppression? Before today I never wanted to think about this question, yet, today in my heart I know I now have the answer. What will we do? We will conquer you, we will destroy you. If you will be the hand that seeks to beat us down then we will rise up and if a hand seeks to keep us down then we will rip that hand from its body. We will not be kept down. If you will muffle our voice then we will shout louder, if you will try to silence us then we will try to silence you and may the greater force win. The world is not in equilibrium, this is no natural state, the world is in crisis whether it knows it or not. The world has stopped feeding mankind what it needs most in its heart, sadly yet beautifully it is time for a new world order. It will be like a chemical reaction, that requires the necessary heat to take us to a better equilibrium. This heat may contain destruction and terror,  but so be it, what doom comes is for a world made more free. We will survive, we will flourish, or we will be sacrificed in the attempt to survive and flourish. We will project our voice into the ears of the world and either they will rise with us and destroy the world as it is, or the world will rise up and destroy us. The world has come to a junction and in the suffocating vacuum of the United Global Republic there is only one path that leads forward: to cast aside the trapping walls the United Global Republic so that the individual can live a free life full of beauty. I feel that I am right. I am sure that I am right. The passion that illuminates my heart now tells me I am right. What truth is there in your hearts? There is nothing, no convictions, you just go steadily forward because forward is the only direction you have ever known and the only direction you’ve ever sought to know. Well curses on your forward, it leads nowhere I want to go. So, instead, I will fight. You try to threaten us? You? I would rather you come and join us, I want the entire world to join us. The world is such a marvel and even though you hate me, I still wish you could appreciate it. My hand is not closed in a fist, it is always open, yet, you come here and beat one of my followers, you come here only with a fist. If this is all you bring then without vengeance I will bring the fire of the world down on to you. I will have your village razed to the ground, I will have you controlled and corralled, whether that’s in a prison or an underground box is no different to me. We will come without the mercy of humanity because our fight is bigger than humanity, our fight is for the future of humanity. I will be the bad man if that is what the world needs from me. I will be a lightning rod, I will take the world’s sins on my shoulders and order the necessary dark actions  so that others can reach the promise land free from sin. Call me devil, for I will be the devil. But I am not a evil, I am simply the fire of change and I will burn the old brush so that the dead land of the human soul can be rejuvenated. So, my friends or my enemies, I tell you, I will fight you in a manner more terrible than a hurricane. But it hurts my heart, for there is no terror in me, no wrath, I wish you to follow me, I wish you to see the world with the same wondrous light that is being illuminated for the others here at my farm. So I tell you the only question you should be asking is if you will try to stand stomp on this spark I have created, in which case I will fight you with all the force in the world, or, hopefully, will you stare at the beauty of the spark and try to understand the light it projects? Will you try to help us build this fragile spark into a blaze that serves to lighten the entire world? Think hard. Your choices have consequences.” There is silence and then there is silence and then there is more silence. The three men dissipate, disappearing anonymously into the circle of farmers and villagers. Now there is just Theodore Shadow standing in the middle of the masses, starkly visible to all, his humble frame the only thing anyone is looking at. Then, someone anonymous, perhaps a villager or perhaps a farmer, it makes no difference, yells, “Bring us to the light! We are with you.” And with a sudden thunder the collected ensemble burst into a cheer for Theo. Yes, here is a man who not only delivers words of wisdom directly to the heart, here is a man who will actually fight for them. He will protect them from their enemies and not leave them as lambs to be slaughtered. He will conquer the world in the image of truth. Hurray for Theo, hurray for Theo they all cheer. Today he has become something more than a man.

Alexa looks upon the scene without cheering, face aghast, wondering how anyone could believe there is any truth in Theo’s words. There must be another way to spread truth than with the cudgel of violence. There has to be another way. No other way enters her mind, yet, there must be another way.

Quickly the village becomes an extension of the farm. Where before there was belligerence and bullying now the streets of the village are filled with tranquility and introspection. The three men who savaged John Mahmed humbled, attempting to accept the new normal of the village even if they are unsure  if they agree with what is happening. The only world they have ever known is the village and if the other villagers have decided that the way forward is under the theory of Theodore Shadow, then that is what they want to be a part of. Some men and women decide to leave the village, not trusting this strange new path. They leave with bitterness, their arguments against Theo falling on the deaf ears of the majority. Change has come to the village and it has scarred everyone, change is never easy and change is never painless. Everyone feels the fundamental truth in Theo’s words: the status quo is in crisis. Sides are going to quickly form and which side each person is on is going to have real causality. There can be no bystanders, while Theo’s movement is small, the spark it represents will either rise into an inferno or be stamped viciously out.

While everyone’s hearts are weighed down with the heaviness of knowing that they are on the vanguard of the world being torn apart, there is also a universal acceptance, even a love for the entropy that is accelerating and accelerating. Now, finally, there is meaning in their life, now, finally, each and every person can truly exist.

 

Chapter 6

A real movement is forming. Theo’s movement is now bigger than the valley, the farm or the village. There are many men and women who have never met Theodore Shadow but believe in  the things he says. There are many others who come to hear him speak as he travels secretly from city to city. What Theo and Alexa have created is not something that is on the tip of most people’s tongue, but there is the hope that soon it will be.

As things become grander, they also become more difficult. If the greatest hardship in the world is decline, then the next greatest is growth. Alexa and Theo hear rumors of men whom they have never heard of beating other men into an inch of their lives who then quote Theo as their inspiration. Were the attacks justified, or is there confusion among Theo’s followers? As John Mahmed recovers Theo sadly accepts as necessary those difficult, often violent, actions that occur under the banner of his name. Alexa does not find this easy, every story that crosses her ears cuts a festering wound in the deepest part of her heart.

Beneath the ecstasy of their recent successes there are arguments brewing that will soon rise to the surface. Theo feels a terror at the quickness things are moving, yet, he worries that if they are to have any effect on the world they will have to move even faster than they are. If Theo and Alexa can just find a way to perfectly communicate their peaceful vision with the world, then all will follow them, however, their current strategy of Theo giving speeches and relying on word of mouth is only effective to a point.

The most challenging dilemma for Theo and his followers is to not become one small group among many others that are all clamoring for attention. The world is full of fringe movements bubbling through the status quo of society that dissipate without ever changing anything. While Theodore’s followers are devout and fully believe in the cause they are a part of, belief may not be enough. Theo is becoming increasingly more certain that the only way for the world to achieve his hope of being better for his disruption is to enact a complete paradigm shift. To remain as one group among many that are all fighting within the confines of the United Global Republic means they will never have the necessary mass to be heard above all others. Theo fears that soon his followers will be picked like apples from a tree by the government and disciplined for their intransigency. They will remain weak as long as they are confined to the battle field as it has been laid before them. This is unacceptable.

Unfortunately, in a world with so much noise it is nearly impossible to be heard. The din of endless newsfeeds shouting instant stories that disappear as soon as they are reported means it is infeasible for a nuanced argument to gain any traction among the public. Even more, most people exist in isolatedecho chambers much as Alexa did before she witnessed the suicide. When a person listens to views that only reinforce their own judgment of the world it is a daunting feat to make them see anything outside their narrow scope.

There is some news media coverage of Theo and his followers. The local news close to the village and farm does a small feature on what is happening in their backyard. However, the depict Theo as a beggar instead of a messiah and conclude that his beliefs are best sellable to the public as a joke. Even this brief spurt of bad publicity disappears quickly enough, Theo is left with nothing but the name that the media labels him and his followers with: the Mystic Revolutionaries. The name is said with biting sarcasm but it sticks with Theo and his followers. The Mystics.

There has to be something to stop the Mystic Revolution from fading away with nothing but a whimper. There needs to be some catalyst which has the ability to give the Mystics critical mass to explode onto the global scene and guide them through a political world that is littered with landmines. The media disregards the Mystic’s as deluded people who aren’t practical, they can’t see that the world is the way that the world is and a few moaning miscreants aren’t going to change a thing. This casual disdain is a result of the Mystic’s weak starting point: they are easy to brush away like an insignificant fly even if that fly is carrying a great truth. Yet, if there was more momentum behind the movement and the insignificant fly was to morph into something that could not be brushed aside, something that had the power to grip onto a person and demand that they listen to the Mystic’s words, then there could be a real chance that the world would be transformed. How to get the world to the point where everyone has to consciously address Mysticism consumes Theo’s conscious and unconscious mind.

For the moment, however, these questions can be put off. The numbers of the Mystics is small, yet, still growing at a satisfying clip that gives the feeling of a movement on the upswing. Most of the Mystics are recent converts who are still reveling in their new found ecstasy instead of thinking about the future. Perhaps there is some silent concern for what this future will look like, but it is like the concern a child has for the unknown where they just trust their parents to take care of everything. However, dark clouds are on the horizon. Rumors are spreading in whispers that the government is starting to take notice of the Mystics. Could the government clamp down on them already? Theo and Alexa know that the future is going to be challenging, they will need more than just determination, skill and hard work, they will need luck as well.

 

Asymptote

Chapter 7

Theo is giving another speech. The small crowd don’t just listen to his words with their ears, they to let the entire mind, body and soul swim through their essence. Here again is the same speech that Theo first gave to Alexa’s parents, now, he has given it countless times. Every time he gives the speech the crowd loves it even more. Every time he gives this speech there are a few new faces in the crowd looking on with freshly found fervor. Words can change a life. The Mystic movement is growing ear by ear. Anyone who listens to Theo, whether they travelled half way across the country or just happened to stumble into one of his sermons, leaves with changed perspective on life. All it takes is an open mind that is willing to give Theo’s words an honest listen. Unfortunately, this type of diffusions happens at a snail’s pace. How can a movement grow ear by ear in a world of billions? While on this particular night Theo puts all of his passion into speaking, there have been some recent speeches where he has been unable to perfectly channel his contagious words. How can a man recite the same words over and over again, yet still infuse them with honest passion again and again? The Mystic movement needs a path forward other than just speech after  isolated speech and Theo knows this.

For tonight, however, there is just Theo and his words. Tonight he still speaks them with fiery gusto, tonight the words still create a conduit into his soul. The words are broader than those simple axioms he shared with Alexa in the valley. It is easy to say that the world should just be about beauty and the appreciation of beauty, while it is much harder to formalize in a person’s heart what such a world will look like without being absorbed by the nurturing atmosphere of the valley. Now, Theo is doing what for so long he feared the most: he is directly telling men and women what he thinks the right way to live a life looks like. He projects only those feeling that live in his own heart, yet, it seems that these feelings are locked away in many other hearts as well, it is the missing piece to the puzzle that completes the picture. Theo is unsure whether these are the right words for him to be speaking, however, many of those listening cannot imagine any other words coming out of Theo’s mouth. To his listeners , the words are perfect. These are the words which act as a key to unlock their mind, reinvigorating a stalled soul by bringing new color to a starved palette.

Theo speaks: Why do we live as lies? Why aren’t we living honestly? Why are we ignoring those things that call after our hearts, that chase our waki      1`ng minds, whose spirit lives in the closed garden of our structured self perception. Why are we convinced that dreams belong just to idle fantasy? Truth is our only reality, yet, we give it away willingly to benevolent thieves. We allow the false imposition of someone else’s dreams since we do not trust our own hearts to guide us and we do not trust our own definition of happiness to sate us. We grovel to the whims of reality. We walk in a straight line that was set for us without any question of climbing the vistas surround us on every side, without any question of stopping, stopping and wondering at all these things we pass. We walk in a straight  line which we have locked our footprints into as if we were on train tracks because we are scared of how big the world is. We are too lazy to chase our own reality. How dare we? How dare we squander precious life? Self honesty in every moment: it is the only thing worth chasing, the only thing worth trying for and we flee from it. We must immolate ourselves to a deity greater then judgmental eyes. We must tear down our masters, even if they love us. We must be more than the objects of others love: we must be true to ourselves.

We must fight against these preconceived notions we believe in as much as we believen in oxygen and gravity. We must fight this abstract direction of forever forward that we are whipped towards. There is another way to live life, there has to be another way to live life, a life of freedom must exist. There can still be magic. There is still love in the world. Atom to tree to moon to constellation, the world is here for us to wonder at. Change the course. Find something more personally meaningful than forever forward. Look for the promised fruits of an afterlife in a re-enchanted reality. Look for heaven in the present, with every prayer for beauty answered with a blink of your eyes. Pray inside the temple of your consciousness. Pray like this: I will not suffer under the pursuit of happiness, benevolent temptress: I renounce. Yes, I will leave perfect happiness as a fallacy, like perfect love and perfect art. Instead I will chase nirvana. And if nirvana finally deigns to see me, insignificant little me, I will let her in. Jesus, Allah, Buddha, nature: she is all the same and heavenly, she will satisfy. I exist. I exist. I exist.

Life has given us this eternal feeling of fantasy, this never knowing if we are lost in a dream or just never brave enough to truly wake up. This never knowing how to make peace with life’s decay with that same dignity of a bright flower fading and falling in autumn. We must be more than ourselves. We must be greater than our limitations. We must wake from our dream even if we are lost in the present. We must wake from our dream even if it is our ruin. Only then can we see the real world. Only then can we cast aside seconds, those boxes trapping perception, as one casts aside miles on a walk. Then we can this only of our journey, long or short is not a meaningful variable. Forward or backwards or left or right, it makes no difference. With infinity as a measure there is just forever and what you make of it.

Oh, dreary, that we have learned the wrong lesson from Icarus. Man doomed to fear the heat  of the sun when the true enemy is frigid reality. All of us who never attempted flight, of all of us who never knew the slightest hint of the suns warm rays, of all of us who never rose above the closest clouds, never caring if there were vistas worth flying towards, never caring if there were things worth being burned over. Our fear the sun has doomed us so that we never inhabit mans true nature: the need to feel something honest, to again be enraptured with the passion of youth, to again confront the wonders of life as if for the first time. Here we are past the turmoil of becoming who we were meant to be, here we are a completed human being: we are capable of doing anything without the knowledge of what that anything should be. We fear our strengths and are slaves to our weaknesses. We lie to ourselves and trick ourselves into taking the easy route when the hard route is the true path. Each time we compromise our honesty we self mutilate our spiritual perfection. Now we are all somewhere, yet, we lied to ourselves when we said this was our goal, this present moment of right here right now is dead of meaning as we gaze at the endless summit of the high peak we should have climbed. We should know that an honest life just gets steeper going forward, it will kill us in the end. And this is how life should be. Perhaps happiness is better than perfection, perhaps ignorance is better than shades of grey, perhaps gentle lies are better than the oft promised nirvana of truth, perhaps lies are better than truth. Why should we break ourselves on a door that will not open? Our minds logic overpowers our hearts truth. We are lost in lies when the only truth is to be honest to our hearts.

Children of men, we must arise! We must be better than our own self deception. I ask you to express a true revocation of fear. Be stronger, be strong enough! To want to be outwardly perfect, yes, it is human. Yet, you must cast this temptation aside. You must embrace the hurled chants of sinner. May the hurled stones strike your flesh. Suffering is nothing to be true to yourself. To be true to your heart. To attain inner perfection and live with honesty. Let us climb the mountain. May we measure it with our eyes and prepare to the most trivial detail our ascension. We will conquer this challenge, we will be stronger for the experience. May we talk and talk and talk. We will have the perfect map, then, we will arrive at the mountain and she will tower over us, higher than heaven. Our plans will all have been for nothing, the map will not help us succeed, no plan can ever capture reality. All we have is the ability to push ourselves and believe that we are able. The challenges of life are not puzzles, they tests of the soul. Sometimes, as we stand at the bottom of the pit of our self doubts we wonder if it is possible to succeed. Sometimes, we have risen past our fantasies and we still wonder if it is possible to succeed. Those brave souls who conquer the challenges that seem so easy from a kitchen table, they do not think the challenge will be easy. They know more than anyone that it is achieve their dream is beyond them yet, they achieve them anyway. And if they can’t? Exhaustion rising always, ambition tempered by sleep, daydreams failing not by laziness, rather, by our best simply not being enough. The rock is too heavy. What if we spent a lifetime trying to lift the rock, what if we were to train every day and the only thing in the world were ourselves and the rock, yet, still we never move it a hair. Is that a good life to live? At least we would have tried at something honest. To try and perhaps fail is the mark of a brave man. To try and perhaps be mocked is the mark of a brave man. To try to carve at inner perfection with the imperfect tools of the world is the mark of a brave man. There is no way to create that perfect monolith that lives in your mind yet, you must try anyway. Do not be afraid. Create your imperfection. In an imperfect world, an imperfect attempt at chasing perfection may be the closest we have to perfection and an honest attempt at obeying the truth in your heart may be the closest thing to a perfect life in an imperfect world.

Finally, endlessly, may we truly chat. One on one, mano a mano. May I tell you what I think, letting myself listen to that subtle spirit that lives forever in my chest, that feeling deep inside my which will forever be my guide to the world. I will say to you what beauties the world is full of. Their overwhelming multitude we are not prepared to understand. Watch life. Everywhere. Truly. Yet, can one really see every blooming flower, so close, every flitting smile on some young passing girl’s face whose lovely progenitor disappears after a meeting of the eyes, never to re-enter your mind. We can never understand the world completely, we can never fully understand anything completely. We are swimming through the seas of life and we’re just struggling to stay afloat. Does it have to be like this? May we challenge this status quo. May we fight like men, men still in our prime, gifted with the same natural virtues of all our forbearers. May we add to the litany of our ancestors and betters, may we create something, even if it is flawed. May we rise to the top of the peaks which we idolize, fantasize and weep for. May we go there, to that place that lays in our most secret dreams and may we lay a thin sprinkling of dust. We will add nothing meaningful, yet, it is the same amount added as those brave souls before us. May we serve the future. May we give future generations a fresh layer to stand on, imperceptibly higher than that which came before it, yet, still a higher vantage point. And if all this fails to sate, a thin excuse for a noble life, at least our effort will not be in vain. Perhaps that light dusting will help make the hill into a mountain which will raise our descendants to that fantastic revelation, that nirvana all dreams are made of, where they will finally be lifted from the darkness and for the first time, the very first time, see that ethereal light of truth in all her glory.

 

After the speech there is silence. Always, after the speech there is silence. Theo usually gives his speeches outside in natural light just as the evening begins to descend and twilight fades to blackest night. As Theo finishes his words, it is just each individual man and woman isolated with their own thoughts in the darkness. Do the words have any power in themselves? Is there anything being said that is not obvious? Even worse, are not many of the ideas stale, half formed emotions that for much of history have either been cast aside or advanced to a more sophisticated nuance by more noble adherents? Such is the gaping wound in the quest for a meaningful life, that for the spiritually starved people in the United Global Republic any small amount of celestial salve seems infinitely precious, for in the darkest room even the weakest light may be blinding. The spiritual starvation of the everyman is kindling for any idea that promises something spiritually deeper. The Mystics have real opportunity to conquer the hearts and minds of any person that genuinely hears Theo’s words.

The problem is getting all those potential ears to listen to Theo. A solution hasn’t shown itself to Theo or Alexa yet, but, from the back of the crowd after Theo’s speech the solution decides to come to them. As Theo prepares to leave the natural amphitheatre where he was speaking there are shouts from the back of the crowd and a sudden violence rampages through those assembled. “Stop. Be calm.” says Theo and all listen to him. “What is happening here, why has everyone suddenly become wild?” Theo asks. Walking quickly to the epicenter of the frenzy Theo sees an older man who is being physically restrained.  Mystic followers grip every part of his body and over his mouth a shirt has been crudely stuffed. Yet, he still carries a dignitas. Theo asks the crowd, “Who is this man? Why are you all treating a man with such savagery when all he wants to do is listen?” A large man humbly approaches Theodore, his hat nervously twitching between his hands, “Master Shadow,” he says is an uncertain voice, “You don’t understand. This isn’t a normal man who has come to innocently listen to your speech. This only purpose this man is here for is to spread evil into the Mystic Movement. He is a bad man. He’s one of the most preeminent and feared leaders of the United Global Republic. He is the chief strategist for Samael Hollow, the President of the United Global Republic. It is said that it was just him and Samael Hollow who gave birth to the United Global Republic and led it to where it is today. His name is Noam Prince and he’s a monster. He has manipulated the entire world with his cruel tricks and underhanded deviousness. He treats entire countries like chess pieces on a board that he is sure he controls. If he is here listening to you speak, then it must be because he wants to destroy us from the inside out. If somehow we have this opportunity to capture him and neutralize him before he has caused real damage then I feel sure we need to take this chance to eliminate him as a threat. Let us imprison him. Let us put him in a dungeon and if we happen to forget where the key is, then all the better. This man is a monster, nothing more. No matter what sweet or helpful guise he might present himself under it will not change who he is under all of his deceptions. He will be the downfall to any who oppose him and he is just as treacherous to his friends. Please, Master Shadow, let us take Noam Prince away, let us put him under a rock which he will never rise from. He must have come here today with one purpose: to be the scourge of our movement, let us not let him be victorious.” Theo stares at Noam thoughtfully. “Why are you here, Noam Prince?” Theo asks. Noam Prince’s gag is forcefully removed from his mouth yet he still retains his poise of stateliness, that attitude implying that it is he who is in control of the situation, no matter how it might look from the outside. Noam Prince speaks, “You are of course Theodore Shadow. I have heard of you from many different tongues. Yes, I came here to see you. Yes, I came here not with open ears willing to feast on the sweet honey of your words, your words are not for me. Instead I came here to take measure of you, Mr. Shadow, and to see what all the words being said about you actually amount to. You must know that many words spoken about you are negative, indeed in many circles you are a joke. Yet, you are just what I was hoping you would be. Of course all these men around us are going to tell you I am the enemy, I even empathize with their fear, however, I am no enemy. I have come here to offer friendship. I have come here to ask you to let me join you, to let me take part in your movement and make use of the considerable skills I’ve spent a lifetime honing. I don’t ask you to say yes or no to me now. What I do ask is that you don’t cast me away until you have listened to my words and hear from my own lips what it is I offer you and what it is I believe you can offer me.” Many of the men holding Noam are trying to drag him away, shouting that Theo should not listen to this man, that his words are poison. Theo stares at him, trying to take measure of what this unexpected occurrence means. He decides that any man warranting such a strong outpour of emotion deserves a fair hearing, besides, he is curious to what Noam has to say. With Alexa by his side and Noam being forcefully escorted behind them, they go to a private room to listen to what Noam Prince has to say.

In a small ante room away from prying eyes and curious ears, Noam Prince sits at a small card table across from Theodore Shadow and Alexa Mystic. No one is saying anything and eventually it comes to a point where Noam decides to take the initiative. “Well,” he starts with a suddenness that crackles in the broken silence, “I think what you should both know about me is that I am not a selfish man, I am not an angry man and I am not a lazy man. I believe myself to be passionate. I believe myself to be good. No matter what you may have heard about me, no matter what notions you may come to have about me in this next little while as I talk, I hope you can keep these things in your mind. I believe in what I am saying. I believe I am not a liar and I am not a phony. Is that appropriate?” Both Theo and Alexa nod.

Noam sits back in his chair, looks Alexa in the eye, then turns to meet Theo’s eyes before pausing to gather his thoughts. Confidently sitting in his chair, he has the demeanor of a man who is used to being listened to. With a personality that unconsciously conquers a room, a fact that actually frustrates Noam, he keeps an air of constant humility about himself. He does not want to dominate others, it is just a part of who he is. He starts talking, “Mr. Shadow and Ms. Mystic. Your names are phenomenal, almost humorous in their perfection: Alexa Mystic of the Mystic revolution and Theodore Shadow, of, well, now what does that mean? Interesting, isn’t it. I don’t believe in destiny, yet, it seems that destiny may exist in me whether I choose to believe in it or not. I beg you both for patience, I beg that you let me tell you who I am and why I am here taking up your time. I am convinced that if you give me an honest hearing then you will at least say this time has not been wasted.”

“Do either of you know who I am? I am sorry if it sounds arrogant to ask such an obtuse question. I have just been in the public eye for so long that this certain amount of notoriety I have makes it difficult to win on introductions. Either a person has never heard of me, in which case it seems like I’m a narcissist who expects to be respected since people they’ve heard of have decided I’m worth being respected. Then, on the other hand, there are the people who do know of me and have already committed to their preconceived notion. They do not listen to me, they listen to their expectations of me, seeing me as a walking embodiment of countless rumors that whether true or false are out of my control. For both of you, whether you have heard of me or not, I would ask you to ignore everything about me except what I say to you today, since anything else is beside the point. Rather, what I would like both of you to think about while I speak is that the only thing that lives in my heart is a sincere desire to make life better for as many people as I can. This is what motivates me, this is what has motivated me to do many things that I think are beautiful even if they are also controversial.2 I see in the two of you a way forward, a way to make the world a more wonderful place for its peoples.”

“For me to describe my reasoning in coming here tonight I need to first go backwards and explain to you my history. I need for you to look at the sphere of my life without the tainted lens of the vileness that swirls around me because I have never tried to control my image, I am not a political figure. It is not my job to be liked, that is for others, instead it is my job to use those gifts that come naturally to me which I have spent a lifetime honing and use them in service to the world. I take this duty very seriously. It has become my life’s mission to understand humanity, to see what the power of evolution has made such a rude organism rise into and to attempt to harness the potential of this organism. Man has been gifted by consciousness, what does this mean? This gift of consciousness changes everything, it means that humanity is on a fundamentally different lever than every other organism in the world. We study the natural world to understand man but there is no true parallel to man in the natural world, consciousness changes everything. What we have done with this gift has too often been rude, man has not been an enlightened creature. Instead we have taken this gift from the universe and have used it as savages, designing ever more elaborate hunting and ever more elaborate brutality. Society has been constructed with the idea that if men are going to be beastly then there needs to be strong masochist checks and balances to keep these beautiful monsters restrained. This necessary repression is the defining characteristic of society throughout time, this repression is such a vivid truth in the world we inhabit today and, I would posit to you, I believe that the time for this repression is over. It is time for man to use these millennia of culture that we’re a product of to do something better with this gift of consciousness.”

“Of course this is no original idea. This is what you’re trying to achieve with your ‘Mystic Revolution,’ isn’t it? A world where man actually sees the beauty of the world, isn’t this the same as being free of repression so that one can see the real world? There must be thousands of similar ideas throughout history, similar desires to move mankind forward. Doesn’t everyone have a dream of utopia? Yet, there is a reason that acting on these dreams is so rare. Surely in the back of your minds you’ve felt that aching insecurity of doubt, that question of what if you are wrong, what if there is a more pure direction to lead the world forwards and it’s not the one you support? What if all you’re doing is spouting lies and you don’t even know it? Of course, this could be true and I could be a charlatan too. Maybe everyone is a liar, all this intellect we apply so graciously to ourselves just some sinister joke. Maybe, then again, maybe not.”

“Let me get back to who I am, I’ve digressed and I apologize. So who am I? Well, there’s been three stages to my life and each affects my potential relationship with the two of you in a different way. The first me was one of the world’s top political strategists. There is some innate ability in my mind to look at a problem and find a solution and through fate or folly I brought this skill into the political world where it allowed me to flourish. I chose politics partially for the money, more important to me was the prestige. I got a rush from all these important people, the people who run the world, begging for favors from me. It was a rush. I thought of myself as an artist. I remember as a young man, just when I was getting my first start, seeing three men arguing vehemently. It was some ridiculous drunken bar fight from back when people still believed in different gods and were taught from birth that their god was the only right one. These men were sloppily arguing about their different religious views, each declaring the others as being hypocrites without seeing their own hypocrisy. How do three men with such different beliefs even find themselves in a bar together? Avoiding dissenting viewpoints is no modern trick and I suppose this bar fight was during that special in between era  when technology hadn’t forced us into insular bubbles yet the world was still globalized enough to breach distance and culture. They were amazing times, when the entire multitude of humanity was on show to each other. Yet, as with these three men, it was also an era where there would always be someone to argue against what a person most deeply believes, since no view point can hide from the glaring light of the internet and the interconnected world. I suppose this internecine arguing must have been what was happening at this bar. Anyway, these three men were arguing and arguing. I was sitting at a table not too far away with some friends and out of the corner of my eye I kept watching these men argue. I even tuned out my friends as much as possible to be able to hear them better. It was fantastically interesting, watching these men who were well educated and bridling with passion, yet, who all might as well have been speaking different languages for how different their common senses worked. The conversation ebbed and flowed. The men were not  listening to each other, rather, they were just waiting for an open space of breath to insert their own opinions. The political analyst in me was reveling in this, it was like an example from a textbook, men trying to convince each other where there could be no compromise or middle ground. Finally, one man’s temper boiled over and he striked one of the other fellows. It was so sudden and brutal that the stricken man simply picks himself up and left the bar. However, what happened next was the most interesting thing to me, something that has stuck with me all these years later. The third man continues talking as if the man he was talking to hadn’t just violently lashed out at his friend. The aggressive man was obviously feeling embarrassed by his anger and in the end found himself agreeing with the third man. Those same arguments which before seemed so unconvincing, he now begins to passionately agree with, brushing aside his own earlier arguments as if they hadn’t ever defined him as a person. His own shame made him see the world differently. So what we had here were three men with three different viewpoints enter a bar together, yet, leaving the bar was another story. One man left the bar beaten but true to his beliefs, another man became violent and the shame of that violence made him compromise his beliefs and the third man actually won the argument without lifting a finger. I thought this scene was horrible and wonderful. Horrible because it made me feel that men don’t believe in anything, they just believe what they are indoctrinated to believe and this can change with new indoctrination and new manipulation. I suppose this was an epiphany for me: people will believe anything; their faith is an illusion. The job of a political strategist was not to sell ideas, it was to manipulate the public so they would without even knowing it they would come to support their ideas of their own, supposed, freewill. I took this emotion back to work with me and it was this belief which led to my success. I couldn’t care less whether something was a truth or a lie, reality or fantasy, all I cared about was the challenge in bending people, to see if there were underlying limits in what a person would believe or if mentally we are nothing more than a ball of clay. It was wonderful fun. I would even work with some extremist candidates, people you might call evil, just as a test of my trade. This is where my dark reputation comes from, I am even sure that I deserve it, I helped monsters be put in positions of power where they could do monstrous things. Yet, I was young and felt I was an artist. I didn’t see my work as anything other than filling a blank canvas and I idolized myself to be among the great artists in history. I felt  that I was like a sword smith, using all my powers and all my skills to forge a dangerous weapon, there is no use for a sword except to cause death. Yet, a sword can be so beautiful, so powerful. What is some future war when you are at the forge?

This was the first stage of my life. A stage that I know I should regret, yet, the skills that it provided me with are unparalleled in the world. Perhaps it was here that I sold my underlying perception of a black and white world filled with good and evil for something more nuanced. I feasted on the forbidden fruit of the world and it has scorched my soul. I sincerely hope that all the sacrifices I’ve made in my life after this immoral period creates some type of atonement. Perhaps there is a need for those of us who have committed sins, perhaps in the battle for mans future we cannot afford to leave any skills untapped or any weapons unused. I am no martyr, I am no ideologue, but I hope that in the grand  scheme of things, I am more than what has been labeled like a chain around my neck. Cannot the good outweigh the bad?”

“Of course, this was just the first stage of my life that bears on the two of you. The second stage of my life has a certain parallel to both your own journeys. I have heard the stories of how you both recoiled away from society in dissatisfied with what life had sucked out of you. I think I can honestly empathize with this, even though I was never as strong as either of you. No, I did not revolt from the world from my own free will and have often wondered if things had been different if I ever would have found such bravery, if  I had not been jostled from my perch would I have ever smelled the feces that my perch was built upon? What’s the difference if I chose my freedom or had it forced upon me? No, my freedom fell into my lap,  initiated by the catalyst of the Nuclear Incident Between Pakistan and India. What a terrible time that was, I feel that there has been an event like it in all of history and I feel that it will be the ultimate test of humanity to keep such a cataclysm from happening again. Looking back it all feels dreamlike. Before the nuclear incident the world was in an era where bad things only happened in dark, faraway corners of the world. Bad things would never happen in the bright light of a normal day, bad things would never happen to me or my loved ones. The world might have a few psychopaths to fill up the evening news but the new normal was stability and safety. Then, out of nowhere, all those impossible dominoes started to fall. Religious hardliners wiping out the Pakistan high command, that terrible vacuum of power when India tried to secure the Pakistani nuclear arsenal and instead of securing it made the paranoid Pakistani army launch all of their warheads. You don’t realize how quickly the world can change. I was at work when I saw the news, I was the first one in my office to hear. Pakistan had rained down over a hundred nuclear warheads across all of India, millions and millions were dead. I was so cold, I remember thinking that I needed to absorb such terror, yet, it didn’t affect me. There were no tears in my eyes or sadness in my heart. I calmly told the news to everyboydy else in my office then I had my lunch like normal. I returned from lunch to hear that India had retaliated against Pakistan and that the long and the short of it was that Pakistan just didn’t really exist anymore. I was in such a fog, ‘What does any of this mean,’ I remember thinking. I remember thinking of that moral question: would you rather lose one of your own fingers or ;et a million people die that you will never meet? I found that I was pinching myself through my pocket as hard as I could in some misguided solidarity with those that were not dead but dying at that very moment. Here I was at work where everything seemed so normal. The elevator music kept playing and the air conditioners kept humming, How could the world be so different in a place I had clients in, a place that I had travelled to? I suppose I was in shock. The atmosphere was surreal with the mainstream news media swarming with noisy coverage and the streets were full  of wandering employees who had abandoned work without even questioning whether work was cancelled for the day or not. The updating news was frenetic, a great anarchy seemed to be on the horizon as the world’s great powers seemed to be in panic mode and panic is never what you want between nuclear powers suffering an existential crisis. It felt like it might be one of those days where if you have a family you would go home to lie all together on a bed in a basement, holding each other and waiting to see if there would be a tomorrow. I had no family, I just had my career. My phone was ringing incessantly, but what could anyone want from me on a day like this? Some of my clients would want to take advantage of the chaos to further their own political star, others would want to go into damage control. Wherever there is money and power involved there will be people ready to take advantage, no matter how morbid the situation. I suppose that was the business I was in. However, for myself, I was shaken. I was out of it. I didn’t answer any calls. I don’t remember  what went through my mind. Perhaps I was secretly glad I wasn’t involved politically with any of the movers and shakers in India or Pakistan? Maybe. The only thing I am sure I felt  was this overwhelming sense of mental degradation. I thought of those three men arguing, the ones that I told you about, I thought about how a person could be made to believe in anything. How is it that in a world where a man can make another man believe anything we’d let ourselves come to live in a world where men could still drop bombs on each other. Weren’t we smarter than that? Weren’t we more compassionate for our brother man?”

“With that thought firmly on my mind, Samael Hollow couldn’t have picked a better moment to ask for my help. At the time, Samael Hollow was one of the most influential men in the world, a prominent power broker who had the knack of inspiring passion. He was a career politician who had risen from the nothingness of poverty into a position where he was able to  affect the world and he took the responsibility very seriously. He and I did not get along. Whereas I believed people could be made to believe in anything, he really seemed to believe in something. Personally, I thought he was just an intellectual welterweight who had made the mistake of drinking his own Kool-Aid. He thought that I was some type of cannibal who hollowed out democracy just for the sport of it. We did not come into contact often before the NIPI and when we did, there was always a tension in the room. However, on this day, with bombs dropping and the world on the edge of Armageddon, anything was possible. I was unsurprised when Samael Hollow and his security detail suddenly surrounded me as I left my New York office. I had never respected him much, yet, here in the middle of so much madness he radiated confidence. You could feel that this man had a plan, that all these pieces that seemed shattered could be mended back together and he knew how to do it. He talked to me quickly, as if a clock was ticking, he said ‘Noam Prince, I need you. We have a window of just a few hours to implement a diplomatic solution to what will otherwise devolve into a new world war. I have a plan, which in my opinion is the only viable solution to halt this apocalypse. I don’t have the time to sell this plan to the world. I need you to sell it for me, right now, immediately. If you do this, I will give you anything you want, any amount of money, any prestigious position: anything. If you take this job the world will bow at your feet if that is what you wish and I will be the first to kiss them. Please, I beg you, I beg you from all depths of my heartL will you help me?’ I was stunned to see this man who passionately hated me suddenly coming to me like this? ‘Well, how do I know if your plan is benevolent?’ I clumsily asked. Samael seemed taken aback by this question and rudely told me, ‘Please, has this ever stopped you before? You know me, you don’t like me, this truth is fine, not everyone has to like each other, yet, you must also know that I believe in what I am doing. I am a global patriot, I am a martyr. Simply put, there is nothing in my heart except an honest desire to try to save the world while through whatever strange twist of fate there is a chance I might actually have the power to save it. Again, I ask you humbly, I beg you, will you help?’, Well, right then, at that moment, something changed in my. I said yes to Samael and got into the car with him. The plan he described to me was audacious in the extreme. Samael was telling me that at that moment all of the world’s militaries were on their highest alert and it would take just the smallest of situations to set off a defensive retaliatory strike that would assure the destruction of most of the world. Samael was so calm while he said these words which spelled the end of the world. I suppose to it was no revelation, of course the world was on a precipice, this is why the air was so cold and there was an empty expression on everyone’s face. Even if we didn’t consciously acknowledge the fear that gripped us, our hearts still knew the truth and were waiting with a silent scream for the end to fall.”

“Since the news erupted, Samael was the only person Id seen who seemed confident that this nightmare would not descend. He had already strong armed the United Nations into holding an emergency session within the hour. All the world leaders were aware of this session , this was the last civilian parlay before the generals acted out their war games with their tempting red buttons. The world’s wild leaders would wait to see what Samael had to say then, after that, no one knew what would happen. Samael believed that if the world would just hold a steady nerve until the meeting then all those walking ghosts on the streets could wake tomorrow to a bright day, different than the one they went to sleep to but still imbued with the promise of the future. My job, of course, was to sell to all those confused citizens whatever words were to come out of Samael’s mouth when he spoke at the United Nations. He told me that I had to trust him and strangely enough I did. A man with a plan versus a man with no plan like myself isn’t much of a choice. Still though, I felt like he was worth giving my trust to. We arrived at the United Nations and it was pandemonium, armed to the teeth like some third world embassy in a warzone, swarming with normally reserved diplomats running down halls like young birds that have fallen from the nest too young. They were not prepared for this. Samael Hollow strode directly into the general assembly amid an  order for all to assemble and he simply began talking. Perhaps you’ve seen some recording of this speech and felt its power, though no recording can do Samael justice. It was the most extraordinary thing I’ve beheld in my entire life. Samael was a man, nothing but a man, who was taking the fragile destiny of the entire world in fallibly human hands and he does not drop this precious cargo. Instead he  carries the fate of the world so carefully and so firmly to safety. Samael did not ask the assembly what their opinions were, he did not ask for opinions, he simply told them the honest truth of what needed to be done. He believed in what he said and perhaps against all my own cynicism, his sense of belief was not something that could be manipulated or corrupted. His self  belief was something that could not be swayed and it was this passionate belief in himself which brought together the United Nations General Assembly unanimously behind his command. The consensus decided on was unprecedented in its scope and scale. No longer was the world going to be divided into the sovereign nation states with all their pettiness and irrationality. In a world where a single bomb can kill millions billions and decisions happen at the flick of a button there is no room for the fickleness of man or the hostility of nations. Now, the world was going to come together under a new global superstate, the United Global Republic, which was to be a global hegemon. It would have a monopoly on military force and a pre-eminence on global affairs that would make it the only government in the world with any power. On that day the draft of the Treaty of New York was signed by each and every one of the collected members of the United Nations. Where constitutional laws were broken, the treaty was signed under emergency powers or signed temporarily with heavy clauses on the fallout of withdrawal. The world was not going to be playing the amateur games of medieval states any longer and the Treaty of New York signaled the dawn of a new phase in the evolution of civilization. In that room, the United Global Republic which defines the world today came into existence. In that room, every military in the world was put under the power a single authority and peace was forcibly restored. The world had stumbled at the precipice of an abyss but had not fallen and while many powerful people in that room would come to regret their decision to devolve authority, they would regret it from the safe bastion of a world that was no longer on the brink. Those men and women in that room saved the world, I have no doubt about  that. I also have no doubt that events would have played very differently without Samael Hollow. After the Treaty of New York was put into effect and Samael was elected president of the United Global Republic it was a surprise to no one. He was the man the world wanted to lead them.”

“My job began the second Samael stopped talking. The world’s population had gone through a day where in which they woke up to normalcy, had lunch to the news of nuclear war and went to sleep to the discovery that their countries were no longer sovereign. This was a lot of change. Of course it was my job to do the selling and I thought It was going to be a tough sell. After Samael’s speech, he told me to do whatever I had to do, no matter what part of my soul I had to sell, to make the world accept the idea of the United Global Republic as quickly as possible. If people could abruptly be persuaded to accept the UGR as an unshakeable reality, then the UGR would have enough time to firm its grip on power. Samael wanted things to happen fast, he feared that the natural fickleness of people would make them fight the idea of the UGR as soon as their fear subsided so we had to make full use of this wave of fear and euphoria that we rode. So that’s exactly what I did. I demonized any voice of dissent against the UGR and I labeled cautious or confused citizens who couldn’t keep pace with the blitzkrieg changes as radicals that wanted to watch the world burn. In the end, however, it was not such a hard sell for me to make to the people of the world. For a moment, in the heart of every man and every woman, there was the palpable realization that the end of the world had arrived; there was a tacit acceptance that whatever it was that reversed the seeming unstoppable causality towards annihilation was something to be accepted, no matter the consequences.”

“This was the second of my life. Here I was a man who worked with so much personal alacrity to help save the world. Samael became someone who I respected, admired and still to this day consider a friend. He truly is remarkable, someone with an antennae deep inside his mind which receives this brilliant frequency that we are all deaf to. He sees into the true heart of man and knows how to use the levers of the physical world to cage the twisted beast locked inside that is always striving to burst free. I kept my job of controlling public opinion for many years and while my techniques were still not chivalrous this was the time in my life when I felt, that for the first time, I was working towards the greater good. Isn’t there honor in that, no matter how deeply buried? I was working to keep the world at peace and I was working towards a cause that I felt was greater than myself. Perhaps, I thought, this work Samael and I did  could usher in a brighter chapter of mankind. I felt that if before I was an artist, now I was painting my masterpiece.”

“Yet, and there always is a ‘yet,’ this idealism of mine began to dissolve over time. The UGR was created under the duress of war and we operated using a cold calculus, more concerned with saving humanity than creating a utopia. Now the world has morphed into a place where peace reigns and we warriors have been becoming a type of dinosaur that doesn’t fit in the modern world. The majority of the citizens of the United Global Republic have either forgotten their fear or are to young to have know its augur in the first place. Society’s present structure, developed by Samael and I, is now inhabited by an occupant whom we never predicted or expected: the normal man, that everyday creature who has no heavier load on his mind than his own personal problems. For this everyday man I felt that the world Samael and I created was a prison. When I brought my concerns to Samael, he agreed with me. He said that of course the United Global Republic is a prison, how could a creature with such potential killing power as this normal man ever be trusted in a truly open society? ‘Read the pages of any history textbook,’ Samael told me, ‘And you can read about what man has done with an open society.’ For awhile I could continue working with Samael, I could continue agreeing that stability was the ultimate goal and feel a satisfaction that if a cage was necessary then at least our cage was the most altruistic one which had ever been built, so perfect that most people had no idea that they were even in a cage.”

“Over time, as I watched the world operate within the new paradigm of the United Global Republic, I became disillusioned. Oh, don’t get me wrong, there was no malfeasance in our practices, in fact it is my opinion that the UGR simply exacerbated the cancer that already lived in society before the NIPI, perhaps the world would have evolved to this present broken state regardless. However, as a man who had now dedicated his life to helping his fellow man, this cage I had helped construct was becoming a greater and greater burden to bear. There is a saying from an early Christian Gnostic that ‘Everyone is intoxicated but no one is thirsty.’ I felt that this was the society we had abetted the formation of, that while we controlled the tiller, the ship of the world had sailed to a place where the two holies of the human mind had been expunged. The world of the United Global Republic is a place where god is dead and a place where passion is dead.  Perhaps the ark of humanity would have sailed  to this emptiness anyway, yet, it is my hands that were on the tiller when we arrived here and I feel an overwhelming sense of dismal responsibility.”

“Too often we are afraid to confront the history of mankind even though it’s arc defines the problems of our current present. Human beings believe we are so advanced, yet, just a few thousand years ago, a blink of the eye in the history of the world, man was just another primitive animal. The world does not change so fast, and that beast that we were is still who we are beneath these superficial civilized trappings. We are still defined by the endless struggle of providing food and shelter. Our minds are still trapped worrying about winter and war. We work with the same logic of primal animals: we just want to survive. Yet, even though are brains are the same, the world is now very different, since millennia ago life began to become easier for man. He no longer needed to fear the world the same way his ancestors did, the struggle for food was not so dominating.  However, instead of enjoying a respite in a world made less difficult, he was still worked to the bone. Man had been enslaved by his ambitious brothers who realized they could take the surplus of another man’s hard work and hoard it for themselves. For the working slave toiling for their fellow mans riches was not the same powerful incentive as working for his own survival so the slave master needed new incentives for making the slave work. For awhile brutality seemed like a solution, yet, a man can only be beaten so much before his spirit breaks and he is broken, unable to lift a single finger in support of anyone, even himself.”

“Luckily for the powerful man, forced bondage was not his only choice in subordinating his vulnerable fellows. Religion had flourished in society as a means of simplifying the questions of existence and every person had let some god or other have a  home in their heart to help answer those unanswerable questions. The answers that religions gave were initially elegant simplifications of the true answers of the universe, where even if a man did not completely understand the truths he could still trust in the emotion around them. This gift of trust would turn out to be a mistake, for wherever there is trust, there is someone who will take advantage of that trust for their own benefit and this is exactly what happened with religion. Those most deeply held beliefs were bastardized through corruption, manipulation and simple ignorance to the point where they drastically deviated from their original mission of simplifying the complex world and instead became a more powerful link in the chain of enslavement. There is black comedy in the belief that if you work selflessly in this life, then you will receive greater rewards in the next life. Additionally, because of the nature of belief, if a person wanted to be free of the breaking religion, they would be  banished away from everyone they love and doomed to endless torment in the  afterlife. What a terribly effective form of blackmail! Its powerful results defined the better part of history, with men working short, nasty and brutish lives devoid of any real pleasure while they would pray and trust that their reward would come in another life.”

“Man has always been cursed by the gift of intelligence and naturally this innate inquisitiveness eventually caught up to the lie at the heart of these bastardized religions. Science deconstructed metaphors and these metaphors lack of reality was surprisingly a surprise to many adherents of the faith. Religion, in the sense of being a simplification of a complex world, died out and any religion that failed to rise to the impossible bar of science was declared a hoax. How could a religion be as grounded as science when science is designed to unravel the endless answers of the world in a never ending quest of digging and religion is designed to offer simple answers to that impossible quest?”

“Ultimately, religion was completely cast aside as a hoax, resulting in the destruction of the great linking thread of shared beliefs that united man with his fellows. Terrible things have happened when a person is allowed to live in his own individual microcosm without any connection to those who believe something different. A person would just believe exactly what suited them and would feel empowered by their belief that they were the masters of their own destiny, even though they were the  same creatures that not so long ago quivered in the night at all those things they didn’t understand. Even worse for mankind, their traditional reward scheme had been expunged. There is no heaven and no hell, yet, there is still the necessary  demand that each man works endlessly throughout his whole life to keep society moving forward. There is supposed to be an equality, each individual struggling together, except how can so many billionaires roam the street while most normal men spend their lives in daily toil if the world is supposed to be equal?

“Now, if religion is dead, what tool is there to keep all these human cogs in the vast machine of labor working to their peak capacity? Well, without religion, all we are able to motivate our citizens with are meaningless rewards like green stickers and candy if you’re a child, statues and promotions, if you’re an adult. For many this is perfect since world remains  wondrous for them as long as they can merrily whirl away as a cog in a machine without wondering at a higher meaning. The new incentive structure of society targets this willful mindlessness, with the new maxim of society being not to work for the whip and not to work for a god, but to work for the greatest possible utility, work your fingers to the bone, work for every hour of the day and we will give you a pat on the head, we will convince you that a pat on the head is what you were chasing.”

“Perhaps this type of society could carry on, no more malicious than those that preceded it, except for the fact that under the United Global Republic a few key things have shifted and it is my belief that these small changes will cause the entire structure to come toppling down. My logic is this: before the United Global Republic there was inequality in the world. The poor worked to be like the rich and the rich enjoyed a handsomely subsidized lifestyle on the backs of the poor. This inequality worked as motivation, either to cast aside poverty to become rich or to tirelessly work to maintain wealth in fear of poverty. Now, in a united world where the poor have caught up with the rich, there is no hunger to become richer, since the work involved is impossible, then, there is no benefit to simply remaining rich since  everyone is already at the same level of wealth. Being rich becomes invisible because everyone is rich. This should be a wonderful thing, except, to the status hungry masses, it is terrible. There is no escape being average. The causality is that society is becoming brittler and brittler. There is less incentive to work if there is less reward for work.

“It is my belief that this lack of a proper reward mechanism will be the downfall of the United Global Republic. In my mind there are two paths to resolve this dilemma: either a man could work in proportion to the little he actually needs to do to maintain a satisfactory lifestyle, or, a new reward needs to be found to make the worker hungry again. I brought my conclusions to Samael and he thought seriously about this situation and agreed entirely with my logic. Despite the two of us seeing eye to eye on the problem, we  came to a very different conclusions for the solution. It is his perspective that we cannot let people work less as this would be the downfall of modern civilization. Neither can we change the reward system, since that would allow too much of a  chance for a new, more dangerous society to emerge. No, what Samael thought the world needed was simply a new bag of carrots and sticks to keep people hungry to work. His solutions were simple. An example is the way a person always has debt hanging like a noose around their neck, making it feel like a person is always close to drowning, always just struggling to stay above water. Certainly with so much pressure there is never time to think about anything else other than battling this leviathan. Then, of course, this debt can be inherited between generations and between family member so that if anyone does decide tp break free will be harming their loved ones. Other things that Samael implemented were those who did not shop the minimum amount would be treated as a criminal, anyone who disagreed with the governments sentiment would be demonized as lazy or a loser, then anyone who agreed with the government and worked the way a person is expected to work would be glorified and rewarded. Even the strongest person is vulnerable to propaganda and Samael reconfigured the education system to be concerned with one thing and one thing alone: to make schools that are factories of ideal citizens. Fashion and tastes could be manipulated so that being classified as an attractive member of society would involve owning trinkets and baubles which are ludicrously priced but still absolutely essential to own. Samael seemed to have a brilliant answer for how to keep society controlled, yet, his ideas horrified me. He is still a warrior, he is still fighting for the survival of mankind and he is still willing to accept heavy sacrifices to assure the success of his plans. He saw society as a computer which can create brilliant things, an intricate system that could operate in harmony as long as each person performed  their function. Yet, a man must be more than a byte. A man must be more than a simple on or off switch and it is now my belief that society has two dark choices to make at this junction which I am sure is upon us. One direction, the direction of complacency, will lead us to where evolution will remove the accidental gift of consciousness from humanity and we will  in fact become bytes or cogs. Perhaps consciousness is nothing but an accident from nature and she is working on taking it back from us, that if we let our guard down, we will be pushed back to the animals we so recently evolved from. Then, the other direction, that of rebellion, would lead to the total collapse of our current system. This is the direction I think you Mystics are a part of, that you feel that life is not applying any meaning and if this festers and expands the results will be uncontrollable.

“I have sacrificed a significant part of my life towards the establishment of the UGR. I am nothing, just another man, yet, I want my sacrifice to be for something. Recently, I abandoned Samael Hollow and he accepted my leaving him with a sadness and an understanding. I have made a new commitment, a commitment that Samael does not know about. I will now work for the controlled downfall of the United Global Republic. It is now my duty to instigate the collapse of our current system so the unavoidable destruction can happen as peacefully as possible, allowing the next paradigm that society will be defined under to form in virgin soil and become more perfect than its flawed predecessors. This is the third part of my life which affects the two of you, the part of my life where I believe we can be of service to each other. Currently, I am a man doing that which is most horrifying: I am staring into the endless void of the empty human soul and seeing truth. I have made it my duty to find something to fill that void. I believe that Samael was right, man must be made to work, yet, it does not have to be work without meaning. Life does not have to be consumed by being a slave to a whip, or by the religious pursuit of an afterlife. Life can and should be used to make the world a better place. I want you, Theodore Shadow and you, Alexa Mystic to be the new flags of this world that I dream of. I want your beliefs that the world should be about appreciating beauty and about seeing beauty everywhere to be the new lens that all other things in the world are seen through. We can make it so that instead of the manipulated pursuit of happiness, there will be a puritanical pursuit to make perfect beauty. We can create a society around these ideas. Instead of being a cog or a byte, each person will be an individual light of passion, where we do not work together in frenetic series but rather in fraternal parallel. In this world a job would not be about the monotony of division of labor, instead it would be about being as passionate and creative as possible. The world will work together in search for an individual brightness that will work in communion to enlighten the world. Each person will be free to live their life in an honest and dignified manner while building towards a greater whole. The world will become like the sun with each person building their own raging fire and together we will illuminate the universe.”

“Naturally, the path to make this dream a reality will be challenging. While it is my belief that our current society is in crisis, it will not topple today. No, we cannot wait for it to topple of its own volition for then the damage would be uncontrolled, like a weakened building that lasts today but could collapse tomorrow with all inside. Rather, we need a self made controlled demolition. We will have to be the terror of the world, burning the underbrush to purify our path, so that there will be less terror later. It is my wish that it was not this way, but it is this way, this war is the path to peace. I tell you with great seriousness that the things which will be demanded from us, if we decide to work together, will turn us into demons. We will be tainted inside the depths of our own souls for the things we will be forced to do, we will have to take the pain of the world and lay it on our own shoulders. We will have to be the bad men to save the world from worse men. The way your current movement operates will fail. You are small and you ask your converts to live within the old structure of society while their hearts crave a new medium. Your converts will eventually wither away, struck down by the perpetual force of the UGR or by the steady deterioration of your adherents beliefs as everyday they hope to see a new sun rise but are greeted by the dark night of normalcy. We need cannot continue to operate as dissidents inside the world of the United Global Republic, instead, we need to eliminate the United Global Republic entirely. We need to be the new paradigm for society and there can only ever be one paradigm.”

“So I have come here to talk to you both with seriousness. You did not invite me here and you can tell me to leave right now without there being any strife from me. What your followers condemn me of, trying to destroy your movement, that is of no interest to me. If you turn me away I will just continue with my search for  a cause to use as my vehicle of paradigm shift. I am not begging you, I am asking you to be partners with me. I can turn your Mystic Movement into a wildfire that will spread across the globe, this is a promise, I have the capabilities. The greater question is whether you will both have the fortitude to remain committed to the steps required to destroy the UGR and replace it with Mysticism? Will you be willing to sacrifice your own souls to bring the souls of the world to that promise land from where you have drunk? It is not a casual choice, you should think deeply about it. For now, however, I think I should leave and go to another room. I believe the two of you need time to think about my offer. I am sure you are aware though that time is something we do not have much of, there is a finite window of opportunity where we can use your cause as the catalyst that will change the world and if we miss that window, it will be closed to us forever.”

Noam Prince stops talking and stands up, preparing to leave the room. He has the look of an athlete who has just finished an event and is exhausted by the exertion yet pleased with the result. He believes that he translated the colors of his mind into honest words which convey his beliefs to Theo and Alexa. He also believes that they must agree with his assessment. As Noam is about to leave the room, Theo asks him, “Noam Prince, do you believe in the Mystic Movement in your heart?” Noam looks back over his shoulder as he continues moving towards the door and says, “No, I don’t believe in anything. But that is not my fault, nor a condemnation of your beliefs. Again, faith is an illusion and a person can be made to believe anything. I come from a system which raised me to believe in nothing and the door to my heart is now fused shut by decades of cynicism. My hope is that the words we spread together will mean that the next generation will believe in something. I can bury my true belief that everything we do in life is meaningless and put on an utterly convincing façade to convert others to your cause. People need to believe in something and together we will make them believe in something that is worth believing in.” As Noam walks out and shuts the door, there is silence between Theo and Alexa, each of them lost in their own thoughts.

Finally, Theodore breaks the silence. “Well?” He asks. Alexa says nothing, then, “I have heard of Noam Prince, he is described like a wizard or a warlock. Now, I can see why. He speaks at a level deeper than I have ever experienced and I worry that it may be deeper than I can go. If we allow him to join us, if we use him, I fear that my intelligence may will be inadequate to work at Noam’s depths and that I may drown. Yet, now that he has spoken these words, I cannot forget them, they ring with the bell of truth. Perhaps he is a gift to us, the tool through which the world hears our beliefs. On the other hand, he could be a fatal curse to us. Perhaps the fire he says we need will get out of control and engulf us all. Theo, I don’t know what is right. Perhaps there is no right answer.” There is silence again. Theo never asked for such weighty decisions to be placed upon his shoulders, all he ever wanted to do was quietly appreciate the beauty of the world. How can it have  fallen to him to have power over the destinies of so many? How can he ever accept the verity of his heart if he listens to the calculating disbeliever Noam Prince? Yet, what if he doesn’t listen to the realpolitik of Noam Prince? “We will use him,” Theo says, “And if we never have another peaceful night may it be because the future we strive towards is brighter than the darkness we are about to descend into.” Alexa leave to bring Noam Prince back into the room. Theo sits by himself at the small table. For the first time in what seems like such a long time he is truly by himself. He notices that his hands are shaking and quickly clasps them together to stop their quiver. He waits for Noam Prince and Alexa Mystic to return so that they can begin planning for the end of the present world.

Chapter 8

Noam immerses himself into the Mystic Movement immediately. For Theo and Alexa, nothing tangible has changed while everything feels fundamentally different. If before the Mystic Movement was like a man standing on a soap box crying for attention with passer bys walking by without a second glance, now it seems like the Mystics have leapfrogged into becoming something overwhelming, something impossible to ignore and something demanding an answer.

It was not an innocent process to bring the world to this point. Noam was adamant that he would not affect Theo’s message and he was as good as his word. However, in this real world of sinners and miscreants it is not the good that rise to the top but the twisted and Noam believes so strongly in what he is doing that there is no deviance he doesn’t consider. The only thing that matters are results and results are exactly what he achieves.

Perhaps what makes puppet masters like Noam Prince so fearsome is their showing of how easy it is to manipulate us common folk. What is free will when all the internal judgments we use to decide between right and wrong are formed by others with an agenda? What is right and what is wrong when a rapist can be made into a model of morality  and a savior is nailed to a tree for blasphemy? Perhaps Noam is right, that faith is an illusion, that these zealous maxims that people so freely live and die for are nothing but fantasies, enslavement without a whip. Perhaps if one is to consider Noam a monster, then all those other manipulators who have been glorified throughout history need to be thrown off their pedestals as well. Every righteous cause has its necessary sins. Yet, being behind the scenes means that Theo and Alexa can feel the cold tentacles stretching out to the marionettes and grabbing onto our friends, lovers and brothers, making them dance to Noam’s tune even if these same people are telling when they say they are free.

Giving credence to his claims of artistry, Noam works like a dancer or a painter. He operates gracefully: a subtle movement towards demonization here, an extra splash of enforced passion there. Is there something in Noam that truly does make him gifted in this dark field? Is he really just some deviation from the normal? Noam is inventive. Yes, he uses the stock tools of his trade as a base, but he always adds a certain extra something which is the difference between being grounded and flying. He makes people aware of They and Mysticism. Much like a product launch, he develops the Mystic Movement into something where there are insiders who believe in Theo and the outsiders who are not yet believers. Noam uses the tool of humiliation to make the outsiders want to become insiders. He uses the segregated social media bubbles  to play each micro targeted segment individually, painting for them a specific picture that they cannot help but love, while in their isolation no one sees that Noam uses paints different pictures for different people, the individual only ever sees their own tailor made propaganda. When those walls aren’t high enough and some sharp people begin to ask difficult questions, then, Noam casts the specter of unknown evil. Fear breeds in the background. With great veracity rumors spread of torture camps, corruption and attempts on Theo’s life, always with the whispered root of the United Global Republic. A quiet whisper can often be more effective than the loudest shout, much like fishing you have to let your prey hook themselves. Just as effectively Noam makes each individual question themselves, so that they do not trust their own mind. Then, when someone feels a questions of faith or common sense, they discipline themselves, they think that they are stupid, that they don’t see the big picture, that they are sinning.

Ultimately, Noam’s job was less difficult than one would think, made easier by a world waiting for a spark. In a cold routine of normalcy without meaning every heart is an open door waiting for something bigger and brighter to fill that aching void each person fights so hard to never acknowledge. ‘Here is finally something to give my life meaning,’ is the longing cry in everyone’s secret heart, and there is a powerful self deception able to ignore any negative signals so long as our void is kept secret. People believe in something because they want to believe in something, not because there is something worth believing in. Perhaps this was the ultimate failure of the UGR, it never could understand this irrational hunger.

Of course, the world has evolved since Machiavelli, Muhammad and Goebbels. Where many of Noam’s techniques are the same as his predecessors, the plugged in nature of modern life creates an entirely new art of the possible. What took the great religions of history generations and generations to diffuse can now happen in a day with the right skill set and Noam has that skill set. Progress is about momentum. While the great movements of the past were built by a slow momentum much like a drop of ink slowly diffusing through still water, the internet can allow for a sudden change, like a spontaneous chemical reaction. Noam constructs the Mystic Movement into a replicating virus that conquers its host then uses it to spread the virus. While in prior eras transmission was linear, accomplished by fielding armies and indoctrinating impressionable children generation by generation, now transmission is exponential, with an interlinked web of media, belief, action and passion created out of thin air. What historically took centuries takes Noam hours. The world shifts instantly  from ignorance of the Mystic Movement to universal knowledge, that hyper active spotlight of public awareness suddenly focused on what before was nothing but darkness. The question that Theo and Alexa dreamed of being on every tongue, whether to accept or not accept Mysticism, is not just on every lips but entrenched in every heart, at least, until the spotlight shifts.

Now, since Noam began to play puppet master with public emotions, the first critical objective has been achieved. There are now followers of Theodore Shadow in every corner of the world. The huge numbers overwhelm, the world has never known an event like this, the media are left speechless. Things have shifted so swiftly that there is universal discomfit with what is happening, the grounded world suddenly seems unstable. This feeling of increasing entropotic chaos adds to the aura of romance which very much throws a smoky mystique over Mysticism. The Mystic followers’ feel like they are in those long ago times of romance, where there is room for both surprise and wonder. For the first time in many people’s lives they feel like they are in a story with an unknown end and it this sense of unsurety is like a drug. Can it really be this easy to convince billions to devote themselves to a cause? Why shouldn’t it be?

However, gaining followers is the easy part. Everyone likes to pick up a cause while it has its moment in the sun, whether it’s an underdog sports team beating the champions or some bright faced politician promising vague change, there is a natural urge to jump on a bandwagon. This sudden momentum can also prove dangerous, using all of its fuel in one bright flash, leaving it dimmed and forgotten in the wake of the next bright flash, the next romantic allure. What people like in a new passion is its facelessness, letting it represent something personal, no matter the truth. Whether it’s a man falling in love with a quiet girl who he builds into an angel, or the faithless in adulation of new a preacher who promises to deliver a new gospel, as soon as the initial mystery dissipates, the romance of the moment disappears. What Noam has done is extraordinary, he has made the Mystic Movement shine a great light into every room in the world and for a moment everyone is blinded by that light. However, as soon as the blinded masses become adjusted to the light the typical nature of man will supersede the moment of passion, replace it with the typical nature of man, filled arguing, individuality and disillusion.

Time is not on the side of the Mystics. Noam, Theo and Alexa have created a great wave that can obliterate the old world order in its path, yet, immense destruction will come from this tsunami. Noam tells Theodore and Alexa that in order to take advantage of their window of opportunity, they need to be brutal. His plan is simple, right as their wave of influence is at its zenith they will issue a universal order of instant revolt against the United Global Republic. This would be the advent of a terrible war, yet, a war that would be much shorter with less violence than any alternative. War is necessary for the new world to emerge, the only choice the Mystic’s have is over the form of war.

Alexa, Theo and Noam are at a table discussing Noam’s idea.  Alexa is speaking openly, “I understand what you are saying, I understand there is a window of opportunity here which we must take. That here, at this exact time while everyone is excited by the Mystic Movement, we need to use this passion to push us to critical mass. I also agree with you that the fervor many of these people have will dissipate like snow in the sun given time. Yet, how can you so freely come to the conclusion that violence and war are the only ways forward? Why can’t we use this powerful position we’ve found ourselves in to apply pressure to the United Global Republic? Why can’t we at least attempt to bargain? Sadly, I don’t believe that many of our converts are true believers, I think many are just excited like children with a new toy, while many others are just followers. How can a person so quickly become devoted to a cause? They do not know their own hearts, and how can we ask these people to go to war for us, to die for us, when they don’t know their own hearts? What I know for sure is that the majority of these people do not want war. Sure, they may be mongering with the anticipation  of the unknown, yet, do you really think any of these people want to die for Mysticism? Can we expect them to die for something that they don’t understand?” Noam responds to Alexa, saying, “You are right. Many of these followers are here just for today and there will be some flashy idea tomorrow that will carry them away. This is why we must act now, this is why we must act overwhelmingly, we only have one shot, we only have one opportunity. The effectiveness and the velocity with which we have captured so much support will not happen again for us, it won’t happen again for anyone. Others will try, but this playbook has been written now and it will never have the  same novelty again, and novelty is critical when you are trying to excite a mind. This is our one chance. You want to negotiate with the UGR and I respect this suggestion. However, every moment that we negotiating with them is a moment that we will not have back, another moment for our followers to become distracted and disappear like ash on a breeze. We need to be better than human weaknesses, we need to acknowledge these weaknesses and outsmart them. I don’t want war, I am no monger. What I want is to forcefully push humanity through a door which shuts with a bang behind them. I want there to be no going back, so that the only choice is to go to the future we have designed. If people are able to second guess themselves and keep one foot in each warring world there will be endless civil war as each person wavers not fully committed. If we act with a vicious abruptness there will be less violence. I am not suggesting war, though war may be a fallout, no, what I am suggesting is taking steps to have as little violence as possible while acknowledging that a certain amount of violence is unavoidable. If we issue an order to attack every aspect of the UGR all together then the war could be over by that same evening. Theo, you have accepted that violence is acceptable if necessary. What was your quote from the speech you gave the day we first met? You said that, ‘We will come without mercy because our fight is bigger than humanity, it is for the future of humanity. I will be the bad man if it is what the world needs,’ Well the world needs for us to come without mercy, the world needs us to be the bad men. When a man is drowning in the ocean you do not swim at half speed to reach him, you swim as fast as you can, you give every ounce of energy you have because you may only have one chance to save him. Perhaps there was no rush, perhaps there were less exerting ways to save him. However, what if you didn’t save the man? What if he drowns and you didn’t try your hardest to save him, could you live with that? Perhaps even if you had fully committed the man still would have drowned, then, on the other hand, you may have saved him. The spirit of humanity is drowning and we must fully commit in order to save it. Theo, will you give me the order to plan for our moment of revolution?” Theo looks to Alexa, then back to Noam, “I cannot give an order for so much violence. Alexa, you are against this and I trust your judgment. This is not what I want. Is our cause worth so much horror? I don’t know. I believe in living a beautiful life, yet, to tear down the world and instigate war? How is this my choice to make? I am just a single man, this decision is bigger than myself.” Alexa nods. Noam is agitated but still in control, he tells Theo, “When I offered you my services I emphasized to you that it would not be my skills that would fail our movement, it would be your inability to bridge the divide between your fragile human morals and the greatness of our goal. You are not a weak man, do not give into this weakness. Do not say yes or no to me, just don’t say anything and I will take this as assent. I will do everything. The words you have preached that are being repeated around the world are the only thing that I needed from you. It’s enough for you to be a figurehead, you don’t have to be involved, you don’t need to get your hands dirty, you can retire quietly and fade away. You can leave the difficult decisions for others to make. Just say nothing and I will do everything. However, and I don’t want this to be a threat, you don’t have the power to say ‘no.’ You can be with me or you can go home and try to find a new valley or whatever it is that you want, what you cannot do is tell me ‘no.’ I will do what I deem necessary, with or without your approval. This is the right course, and I will not let your moment of weakness derail us from the track to our goal.” Theo is beaten. He looks at Noam, eyes brimming with rage, then, his eyes return to their normal thoughtfulness. He says, “You are a good man, Noam Prince. I believe in you. I believe in the righteousness of your heart and I believe in the staggering potential of your mind. I have played a critical role in bringing the world to this point and I will not back down now, I will shoulder my burden even if it breaks me. We will work together to make this fight as peaceful as possible, we will work together to keep a steady hand on the tiller so that the Mystic Movement travels to the safe port we have plotted for it to go. You are right, we have already left our last port and now is not the time to argue, it is time to master these open seas. You have my order for revolution to happen. Alexa, will you join Noam and myself?” Alexa does not look at Noam and she does not look at Theo, her face is firmly staring at the table as she says clearly, “I will join both of you. I will hate myself for this. So be it.” At no point do the three of them talk about what is wrong with the United Global Republic, at no point do they talk about the merits of the Mystic Movement. The time for talk is over.

 

Chapter 9

Theo’s call for revolution goes global in an instant. An SMS to every phone, an email in every inbox, every online video replaced with his speech, every television channel suddenly playing nothing but Theo. Noam made Theo inescapable in an unprecedented manner. Anyone who is plugged in is immediately made aware of Theo’s speech and everyone is plugged in.

Theo does not speak from his heart, he speaks the words that Noam told him need to be said. However, just because the words aren’t from Theo’s heart doesn’t mean that are with the  appearance of passion. After so giving so many speeches Theo has mastered the craft and he delivers Noam’s words with fire and magic. Perhaps he doesn’t believe in the words that he says but he will not be the weak link in Noam’s plan. The way forward is fragile and there is no room for mistakes.

What are the contents of this speech? It is not flowery or long, it is basic and to the point. Staring straight and unflinchingly into the camera Theo says, “My brothers and sisters,  I have difficult news to share with you. After much though I’ve realized that our metamorphosis from caged slave in the United Global Republic to free Mystic is impossible on the path we currently tread. Currently, we confront the UGR as a fair opponent, except, we enter into an unfair fight, where if we are to fight on the UGR’s terms then we will lose, since they are endlessly more powerful than us. Instead, we must think more like the inventive David in taking down this gargantuan Goliath. We must acknowledge our strengths of belief, interconnectedness and moment and use them like a hammer against our adversary before they leech from us the nectar of our belief and our potential. Today, at this very moment, we must become more than brothers in spirit, we must become brothers in arms. We must attack, yes, attack, the United Global Republic in all its guises as surely as they are right now attacking us through manipulation and propaganda. My dearest hope is that we can attack them with the weapon of peace, that our universal brotherhood will open its arms to those confused underlings who call us enemy and that they will not fight us but join us, that the war I now proclaim will be over this very day. However, our cause is worth fighting for. We must be steadfast in our determination to overthrow the United Global Republic, this is a necessary fight. We cannot be beholden to idealism in an un-idealistic world. So fight we will, since that is the only way to win in this rigged game that the United Global Republic is trying to bait us with. We will blow away the dark clouds of the United Global Republic so that the buds of our movement will have the sunlight to bloom. At this very moment battle plans are being posted online that will guide us through a new generation of war, where we will not be wild animals but agents of peace. So, my brothers, unite! Our enemy has no borders and no passion. We do not need to invade and we do not need to defend, all we need to do is take away the support that the UGR has wrongly assumed the world will provide them with and they will wither away like a puddle in the desert. Let us act not with vengeance but with a terrible desire for peace and may we act in a manner so that we never have to act again.” The message is released and the battle plans are distributed.

The world is unsure how to react to Theodore Shadow’s speech. It has been generations since the last total war. In the modern world, war is carried out  by orbiting satellites in proxy states with guided bombs dropped on specific subjects. Battlefields are far away in places in places that are hard  to pronounce. To walk down the street and proclaim this street for the Mystics? Is that really all that it takes? Well, that does not seem so hard. Is this really war, is there suffering associated with this? If that is all it takes to exert power, then why not become powerful? The world has forgotten the dangerous allure that the horrors of war hide behind.

Most people feel a general ambivalence towards both the status quo of the UGR and the new world of the Mystics. This silent majority just wants for no one to get on their way so that they can carry on with their daily life. However, it is the loudest voices that are the most clearly heard and there are enough passionate Mystics to form a rigid backbone of support that gives shape to the entire cause. These zealots listen to Theo’s speech with joy and excitement, reveling that they have a chance to play a pivotal role in momentous times. Already young men are visualizing themselves in future textbooks as the heroes of a just war. The romanticism of dealing in death and destruction that modernity believed it had thankfully extinguished is suddenly reignited. These naive would be killers are going to make the difference for the Mystics since the United Global Republic has no equivalent reservoir of passion. The storied role the UGR had in staving off mankind’s collapse during the NIPI was a bureaucratic achievement which does not excite passion, instead, it is something children fall asleep to in school. There is no passion for the UGR since there is no division: there is no cause to rally behind since there is no enemy to hate. Without passion, how can the UGR beat the passionate Mystics? It is not an easy question.

This uprising is unlike anything that has ever happened before it. As soon as Theo’s words dissipate into the ether supporters are already taking to the streets. Plans are distributed digitally then acted on instantly. The plans are simple, messages to meet in front of City Hall or encircle a police station, the tactics are more reminiscent of schoolyard games then the forgotten battlefields of history. With a blink of the eye the streets become a writhing carpet of Mystics. There is a carnival atmosphere to all of this, as if everyone is reveling in the worlds largest block party instead of being an active agent in revolution. Cold hearts which have been deadened by the mendacity of adulthood become unfrozen in the warm rays of the new and the wondrous. This is not war, this is not revolution, this is that image of global togetherness that has been long dreamed for and always impossible. Yet, here it is. Noam’s plan is simple, not based in blood lust and destruction of the state, but instead in overwhelming numbers and occupation. The questions of what to do with this occupation can happen on another day when the world belongs to the Mystics. The revolutionaries are satisfied with this vagueness since it lets them dream of a utopian reality, with excited conversations already buzzing about next generation constitutions, new forms of democracy and more meaningful indices for measuring quality of life.

How can it be that the world rises together so peacefully? The world is different than the one that hosted the bloody revolutions of the past. There used to be divisions of distance, culture and language that would provide that gray of uncertainty where war was its most satanic. Now, in the global village, there is no distance between places and there are no walls in our understanding. Religion is dead. The UGR’s soullessness is slipped off like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon as it senses the arrival of summer. Noam constructs a brief unity between the entire breadth of humanity and in a world defined by deadlock a shared sense of purpose is a power to behold. Can this collective harmony last? Of course not, it does not need to last, it just needs to last past Noam’s point of no return.  There is a sense in the air that Noam’s plan is working as his acceptance of shock and awe measures bear quickly ripening fruit. The dawn of a new paradigm may arise this very day. Finally, the evolution of the bestial nature of man may be catching up to its brightest ideals. Here is faith in humanity put into practice. The universal feeling resonating on this virgin day is the wonder at the possible, here a species so drenched in bloodshed and animosity shedding the constrictive shell of its past with a shrug, perhaps mankind finally has matured. Perhaps, in the bottom of these jubilant hearts, there is a shadow cast by the brightness of this day, a whispering feeling that things will not be as easy as this moment promises. There must be those who benefited from the past regime who will fight to keep their privileges. Then, more darkly, this sensitive house of cards that Noam has built has reached such impossible heights that even the softest tempest could cause the entire whole to collapse. Perhaps the brightness of the day is blinding instead of illuminating. However, for these few moments, such fears are cast aside in favor of jubilation as a peaceful revolution promises a new beginning.

Things could have worked out. The world could have remained imbued with the grace of this new beginning, the dice of fate could have landed in a way that would have affirmed this new found faith in man. Unfortunately, truly unfortunately, the dice are not going to land this way.  Just as celebrations dominate every street, just as the lower authorities of the UGR swear fealty to the Mystic Revolution, just as the castle of the United Global Republic seems breached, Samael Hollow takes to the global stage. How right Noam Prince was that the playbook he invented for this revolution would be stolen quickly. Just hours after he magnified Theo’s voice around the world the United Global Republic uses the very same techniques to magnify Samael Hollow’s voice. Never underestimate your enemies. One’s enemies are not evil, they are not even malicious, instead they are passionate and capable and as Samael Hollow’s voice booms around the world his sincerity and righteousness douse the Mystic’s celebration like a bucket of cold water. If only our enemies fit those cynical stereotypes we try to box them into, if only the evil men were actually evil. Samael Hollow is a good man, who feels good tearing down a good man down?

So, alas, the carnival is punctured by Samael Hollow. What truths were considered self evident are now gathering a specter of doubt and the righteousness that infused the Mystic Revolution is suddenly corrupted. Samael speaks with conviction, he speaks from his heart and he speaks from an opposing viewpoint which tragically has merit as well. If only he hadn’t spoken. If only this once, the voice of opposition had self censored itself for the welfare of universal humanity. Id only this once there could have been the selflessness to let an enemy win instead of deciding to fight the enemy. Samael speaks like this: “Woe is the reality that we have so quickly fallen into. Woe for the heart of man, that for an instant in time there has been true peace and man’s first instinct is to tear this peaceful world down, this peaceful world that was built on the back of millennia of suffering. You, citizens, who have lost the fear of war, lost that constant aching in your heart that those you love are in peril and will be in peril. How dare you. You give up a society that gives you what is beyond your forefathers wildest dreams because you are bored, because you say it doesn’t invigorate your spirit! How dare you. Sorrow for the man or woman who believes that the destruction of a world as painstakingly created as our own is virtuous, simply because superficial annoyances have caught your attention for a moment. Is this not infantile, to reject the whole world because in a pique of crankiness you you make a laundry list of small frustrations? We are a democracy, think of all the things we have solved together. How dare you so quickly reject our normal democratic process because of some bright shiny new idea walking past! Ahh, you have heard the honeyed tongue of the world’s puppet masters and have allowed them to cast their spell on you. I know these men you idolize and I I know the passion and goodness that lives in their hearts. Yet, I tell you truthfully that much as you cannot expect a dog to understand physics, you cannot expect man to fully understand the world. When these so called prophets and geniuses tell you that they have created a perfect society, I tell you they put you on a sinking ship. It is beyond the scope of man to imagine every possible outcome yet this is exactly what they claim with this pre-made society ready to wrap around the globe. Look what these men promise you. A re-enchanted reality? Look where enchanted reality brought the world with its millennia of religious wars. What else do these men promise you? Passion and beauty in everything? They declare that the United Global Republic has robbed the world of passion and beauty. There is nuance is what the truth is, we did act to temper the passion of man with a dilution of beauty being a necessary fatality, yet, we did not do this without good reason. We intentionally chilled the fiery heart of man because this uncontrollable inferno we falsely trust has always burned mankind’s achievements back into ash. This animalistic heart is always ready to rise to the surface to cannibalize the purity of logic with its irrational emotion. Look at the results of where these decisions of the United Global Republic has brought us. There is peace in the world. There is peace in the world. There is peace in the world. Before today, before this Mystic Revolution, we could look towards the future and see peace extending to the horizon. When has mankind ever been so blessed? You crave something to believe in but you cannot believe in peace? Ahh, you sorry children, you ask to live in a world better than the one you find yourself yet you have no concept of what suffering truly looks like. You take the perfect world you find yourselves blessed to live in for granted because you have never known anything different. You ask for something that your heart screams is true, yet, in fact that feeling in your heart is just another lie, another cruel trick in a cruel world. This world here, this world around us right now, defined by nothing more romantic then hard work and the pursuit of a dignified life, this world of the United Global Republic is the only real truth. What you want is a lie, you want the Garden of Eden, yet, you never understood the truth of this parable. You want to stick your heads in the ground like an ostrich and lie to yourself that now there is real meaning in life because reality doesn’t offer the same bright colors as fantasy. Perhaps you can convince yourself that there is truth in your lies, after all, your puppet masters are skilled and a believable lie is something that even the strongest person may fall victim to. Then, there are  many people in the world asking to be lied to, frantically searching for a lie called truth to comfort them from the cold real truths of the world. Perhaps these lies might provide a moment of bliss, except then what happens after these few fateful days? What happens if you discover the Garden of Eden and it is everything that you hoped for, yet, time spreads its merciless march forward and weakens the lie as time weakens everything? Eventually, just as with the Garden of Eden, man feels the need  to eat the fruit of forbidden tree of knowledge and the lie crashes in on itself, bliss dissipating, kicking mankind back into the wilderness of unprotected truth. Mankind  would be brought full circle, forced to go through the sufferings of our past again. This does not have to happen, you look for a new dawn when we are in the early morning of that very utopia you dream about. We have escaped the cyclical nightmare of our past. Yes, we need to fine tune this new society of ours, however, we must agree that this new society is bringing us to where we need to go. A real Garden of Eden does not exist, any naïve perfection will always be built on a lie. So lie in your hearts if you want, I understand that the real world can be a cold place, but do not sacrifice the peace of the United Global Republic like it is something to be taken for granted. Do not take all the gifts the world has showered on you just to rebel out of boredom. Petulant children, acting out when you have been given the world just because you seek the glory and romance of war and danger. How dare you! We have taken away evil, we have taken away your enemies and what do you do? You make those who love you into your enemies. We took away the simplistic satisfaction of having someone to demonize and what do you do? You fabricate your own demons. Do not do this. Be better than your weaknesses. Do not allow your dreams for a better life to devolve into impossible fantasy. Do not squander the fruit of millennia of  suffering for this shiny temptation. We can work together to make the world more satisfying than it is today, but we cannot reject reality. We have built a house and what we need to do is add love to this house, yet, all you suggest is burning this house to the ground. Do not do this. It is winter outside and the house does its main job of keeping everyone warm. Do not destroy the house of the United Global Republic. Do not do this. Do not do this. Reject these false idols of Mysticism, reject Theodore Shadow, reject his pure voice Alexa Mystic and reject the puppet master Noam Prince. Think of what you are destroying before the fire truly starts, for one day soon you may be crying with remorse and it will be your children and your children’s children who will have to pay for your apocalyptic moment of whimsy. Do not do this” The palpable silence after Samael Hollows voice stops booming butchers the sense of innocence that permeated the Mystic Revolution. The revolution will not be over tonight, it has not even started. The only thing certain in this dust where that hopeful house of cards has now fallen is that the carnival atmosphere is over.

Noam Prince has of course predicted a strong thematic repulsion by the United Global Republic and he does not see this speech by Samael Hollow as particularly worrisome. In fact, the pedantic tone which Samael used for much of the speech is perfect fodder for caricaturing Samael as out of touch and there are already fabricated viral attacks weakening Samael’s speech. Yes, a defensive volley has rained down on the Mystics but it does not seem a fatal counterattack. Samael’s words are like clouds obstructing sunshine, the day is a little  less dazzling but brightness still shines through.

The revolution’s momentum is slowed but still steadily forward.  Passionate supporters of the Mystic Movement have successfully implanted themselves in critical strangleholds throughout society and the actionless vacuum left by the United Global Republic yawns loudly. It is still the same day as Theodore Shadow’s speech and Noam Prince feels that either the revolution will succeed during this first day or it will take years to succeed. Man has walked through the door of no return into a society in Theodore and Noam’s image and all that needs to happen now is for the door to be shut. Samael rebutted strongly but words will not be enough to counteract the boots on the ground of the Mystics. A deliberative body like the United Global Republic has its quick decision making prowess atrophied and Noam is sure that it will be unable to keep this door from shutting. The carnival atmosphere among the Mystics is gone, yet, the reasons they were celebrating still resounds. Men are now questioning which future they want, that of Samael’s or that of Theo’s, while every moment they deliberate they are allowing Noam to make the decision for them.

There is the decision at the Mystic’s high command to proclaim victory. The United Global Republic has proven toothless and has not taken any concrete action against the  Mystics. A victory speech would cement the Mystic’s position by proclaiming  themselves the dominating authority, then assuming that the UGR will be too weak to challenge them. Let the people tonight cheer for the winning side and let them have sweet dreams for tomorrow.

In a crowd of thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, Theodore and Alexa with a small coterie of faithful supporters begin marching towards a grand stage. The air is saturated with cheers of excitement as everyone feels the weight of watching history unfold. The noise deafens anything that Theo and Alexa might say to each other, yet looking at each other they know that they share the same thought, that the risks they have taken have been worthwhile. Look, their eyes cry with joy to each other, this is beyond anything that they ever dreamed of. Noam Prince was right and Noam Prince is right. Today everyone is a winner, even Samael Hollow who is not malicious but simply confused and will for sure join the Mystics when he sees how right the Mystics are. If he could be standing among the Mystics during this celebration he would understand that the Mystic Movement is the next step on the ladder that he himself has been climbing. However, the potential of the moment has blinded Theo, Alexa and Noam to reality. Samael Hollow is emphatically not with the Mystics as they celebrate, instead he has flowing through his mind all those things that the Mystics assumed he would never think of. The headless chicken mentality that has been dominating the leadership of the United Global Republic on this difficult day has finally crystallized into a clear choice: to fight or not to fight. Samael Hollow sits in an empty room after he has given the order that they will fight. The vote was split and his vote was decisive. He nurses a strong drink while wishing that this never ending day will turn out to be just a nightmare. How can so much work disappear so quickly? It is like wood burning in a fire, that fuel that took decades to grow disappearing in a flash of heat, and the stronger the wood the greater the inferno. Perhaps the stronger we build something the more cataclysmic its fall, and the United Global Republic was made very strong. On this night Samael wishes he had done things differently so that this tapestry he created would not be unraveling, yet, he is not sure what things he would have done differently. He always tried his hardest. He always did the right thing.

In a crowd of thousands, hundreds of thousands, probably millions, Theo and his entourage continue walking towards the dais to announce victory. What battle have they won? What is it that Mystic’s actually control? They control the crowd. For this one moment they control the crowd in every city in the world and that should be enough. Let everything else come after, let all the hard decisions come after, let all the hard work come after, just let the door of their victory firmly be sealed and everything will work out. The UGR has proven itself toothless, why not risk moving quickly when the UGR has not offered any resistance? Scenes like this are rare throughout history, where there is a contagious euphoria that inhabits everyone. The crowd is watching heroes and gods, mortals who will be worshipped forever in a way that their physical presence can only suggest. Many will say that Theodore Shadow and Alexa Mystic walk  hand in hand, fused into one by the promise of their dream being fulfilled.

The missiles hit silently. A war declared. Samael Hollow and the United Global Republic have decided so late and so resoundingly that they will not be beaten down without a fight. The missiles strike soundlessly, screaming through the air faster than any words Theo or Samael might ever say, the real force of nature that dominates the world. Samael’s knows when a light shift from red to green on his desk. Theo and Alexa know when they are blinded by an irradiating light. The dais where they were headed is of course obliterated. They don’t know this yet. All they see is light, all they feel is heat, then as they lie on the ground they hear the shrieking report of the missile already flown into their midst. All of them should be dust, disintegrated, nothing. The dais was targeted, yet, luckily or unluckily depending on one’s perspective, the United Global Republic has lost just enough of its war making capabilities to make real mistakes and let there be no doubt that Theo and Alexa surviving is nothing but a mistake.

The crowd is in shock and in shambles. Panicked men, screaming women and crying children are streaming in every direction, fleeing the carnage. It is too early for the stench of death. This was supposed to be a celebration. The United Global Republic is not supposed to be the sort of power that bombs its own citizens. How does this happen? With a firmer bang than Noam Prince ever hoped for the door slams shut on going back to the way things were. Now, there is the stark foreshadowing of a unavoidable war against an enemy far more brutal than was ever feared. In a hollow dream Theodore Shadow finds himself walking through a warzone, his mind detached from reality. Now he is truly arm in arm with Alexa Mystic as together they search for safety. His heart is weeping and his brain is screaming. How could it all have fallen this way? How could he have  let it all fall this way? A real war has begun.

 

Chapter 10

After the first missiles strike normal life quickly devolves. What seemed would be over in a day leeches into nameless days, weeks and months. The United Global Republic has a total supremacy of the air, swarming the skies with prowling drones, yet, this gives them no winning edge. The UGR has forgotten how to fight on the street and it’s soldiers don’t have the stomach for closeness that street fighting entails. For an ideological struggle that is diffuse and without boundaries any street can be a new front. It’s impossible to determine the boundaries between  porous areas of control, let alone what targets to bomb, when your only machinery is in the sky. The result is a hot war where neither side wins or loses, indeed neither side even knows what winning or losing would look like. This is a war where the chain of communication between leaders and followers is non-existent on both sides and anarchy prevails.

Barbaric words drift into Theo’s ears, aging him years by the day. The words are a symptom of a dark cloud that hangs over him, darkening the entire sky of his mind. The mountain of disastrous fate has crushed Theo yet he still walks because there is nothing he can do but to continue forward. Battles rage in the streets, street by street, street by street. Children playing as men are being mowed down by vicious weapons that should never exist. Fevered cries for pity mix with the animal noises of the dying and neither life or death comes fast enough to bring any relief. Death is some dark dream which  leaves hole torn bodies conscious just long enough to appreciate that they will never smell another morning dew.  Street by street, door by door, room by room, men ravage men, women ravage women. Those that pleaded for clemency are lined up and shot with a brutal whimsy, as if it was nothing.

Theodore cannot bear the horrors being committed against his followers. Even worse he cannot bear to hear of the barbarisms committed to his enemies under the banner of his name. In this lightless war where the cloak of night gives the primitive in man a wild space to unleash, allegiances mean nothing, causation means nothing, belief means nothing. There is only butchering. There are only those who are trying to kill you while you try to kill them first. Wouldn’t every one of these innocent murderers go home if they could? Desolately, this is a war for homes, a civil insurgency where when someone perishes their family is ripped out of  house and brutalized in a way which spoils faith in humanity. All the violence bleeds together, a symphony of the endless ratatat of gunfire, screams echoing emptily and worst of all patches of silence, where, for a moment, a killer might catch sight of himself in a broken pane of glass and for a moment comprehend his own monstrosity, then accepts his evil since it is better to be a killer than to be killed, it is better to be a monster than to let a monstrous reality engulf those you love. Fear courses through the veins of everyone. Fear is everywhere. If only there could be a few moments of peace so all these tortured souls could, for a moment, look to the earthy holiness of the ground, curl in its warm confines and hug themselves, begging for a mother who would still love them if they knew the truth, beg for the feeling of being loved in any form. No one wants to be a killer. How can any lost ghoul deal with their own eternal sins? Truly, an honest man judges himself the harshest and the truth is that most men are honest.  Truly, man is born good and dies evil and it’s never just their fault for what goodness has been lost along the way. Many times a life is corrupted by nothing more than pure and simple tragedy. Mankind is a lost species simply trying to be found. This is where so much tragedy arises, we search for answers where all we really want is an answer to find us, all we really want is a kind truth to embrace us like a gentle hug lovingly remembered from childhood.

Can all the words contaminating Theo’s ears be true? The war has devolved into chaos so quickly, separating truth from a lie is a fools game. While missiles rain from the UGR in the early days of this civil war, they lost their effectiveness as the Mystics easily mastered anti-missile defenses. Of course that doesn’t stop the missiles attempting to puncture the black night sky, the darkness alight with bursts of fluorescence, each flash a false hope of a rising sun. Sometimes a missile threads through the Mystic’s defenses, puncturing the ground with a tremulous earthquake, making each person in this haunted zone pause for a moment to see if they are still among the living. The missiles are just an elegant distraction, like tinsel on a Christmas tree. Most of the war is fought on brutally personal terms. Each city is its own theater, each family its own army, and the luck of a moment means as much in the arc of life and death than if you are a Mystic or a Republican. The war is forever made up of scenes that break the intense darkness with an illuminating violence that parallels the sudden, unpredictable path of those screaming, starving missiles. Scenes likes this: in one neighborhood for a moment some few fellows gain the upper hand for just enough to prey on a school where families are hiding in terror. These vultures round up the shaking muddled mass in the gymnasium and quickly open fire in a way that leaves a straight line of crimson like a macabre tattoo perfectly at chest height tarnishing the crumbling brick. The floor is now littered with writhing bodies. No one even cares to put these people out of their misery as the murderers dissipate towards the next massacre, the only witnesses to the deaths being the soldiers who live in this area returning home after having committed their own acts of madness, now witnessing their woe flower into a wrath that is too human. The only thing lusting in their mind is that dark  demon which lets a good man hack at children with a machetes to save bullets, that insidious logic which allows a good man to throw wailing women into the air intake of a fortified apartment building, hoping that the atrophying corpse will poison those huddled inside. During war, it is always night time. Even if the sun is shining, it is still forever night. Such is the way of a true and total war, a war where you see the man in front of you gunned down while you are in mid conversation, talking about something which you will either never be able to remember or never able to forget. A war where a desperate man, run out of bullets, falls from a window onto your exposed back while you’re trying to steady your nerves with a quickly lit cigarette and this wild man like an animal claws like a vicious animal at your throat, biting at your neck, until you’re able to  shake him off and plow more bullets into his dead flesh than you need to with a shaking revulsion, much like when you stamp a cockroach  with a needless force in childlike fright.

Scenes like these are being painted the world over. Anarchy is the only winning force and a real evil flourishes.  A person might, for a moment, as they catch their breath, realize why the concept of hell was first created: all of these monsters need to be jailed somewhere, all these monsters need to be punished for their crimes. There is no winning or losing in a war like this, there is just waiting to see where the lines are drawn before starting a regular war. Then again, the world has never been in a struggle like this. Safety can be found nowhere in the world, there is no peaceful bastion to flee to. The entire world is at war. No one is uninvolved, the globalized tendrils of technology take on their own barbaric tendencies, carnivorous tentacles wrapping tightly around every good man, distorting them with the lying nectar promising the false glory or heroism in exchange for more barbarity, and with every such man the war begins anew. The sun stays fallen down.

Nevertheless, amid all this ruin, Noam Prince still convinces Theodore Shadow that they must stay truy to their path. They must steel their nerves and try to drive the rebellion as efficiently  as possible through this dark canyon of war towards the brightness at the far end. Noam is sure that all of this savagery is still the purest way to cleanse the world of the United Global Republic and the purest way to provide fallow ground for the flowering of the Mystic Movement. All of Noam’s reassuring words have been said before and they will all be said again. The words’ logic remains  unchallenged by Theodore. This is the path they have chosen and it is not an easy one, it is not the path one would want to choose, but it is the only one leading to that place where they want to go. So be it, says Theo’s mind, though Noam’s logic does little to soothe Theo’s quaking heart.  It is an icy logic to accept causing so much brutality for the United Global Republic to simply disintegrate, leaving nothing but whimpering, scarred souls who would have no alternative but to be embraced into the bosom of Mysticism. Is this really what they are fighting for? Theo tries his hardest to remember that in war, there are not good guys and bad guys, there are only winners and what they do with their victory. This is the path they have chosen. This is the path that the worlds brightest have decided was the best choice, the world is a dynamic place. These people we deify are still fallibly human, they still question in their minds their every decision, they are their own worst critics and often, they are wrong. It is easy to discover why so often the greatest among us abhor themselves. To have the audacity to lay a path and then to suffer watching the path as maybe it leads somewhere terrible, as it maybe leads somewhere wonderful. No one sets out intentionally on a wrong path. It is hard to be brave and it is easy to lose faith in oneself.

These questions eat at the sanity of Noam Prince above all others and it is he whom is most mentally decapitated by the sacking of Manhattan, the capital of the United Global Republic. If history is to last long enough for the struggles of the Mystic Revolution to fade into antiquity and legend, then the sacking of Manhattan will be one of those horribly memorable events where the details are forgotten while the general terror will be imprinted as a ghost story to scare children with. The world’s pre-eminent city put to the torch as if hordes of barbarians still roamed the world. The unruly mob numbers in the hundreds of thousands while the victims are largely unarmed members of those upper echelons of the UGR who thought that the missiles they controlled from the sky were more powerful than any wall, that the war was something separate from their isolated enclave. A man is nothing more than fragile flesh and death can come in many guises.

While to detail every brutality that befalls Manhattan would take a library, it is the shambled murder of Samael Hollow which will have the greatest consequences for this story.

A roaring mob arrives at the gates of parliament. Espousing the merits of peace, the drunken bloodied masses loot, torch and scream as they break into its hallowed halls. As one they move like a  crazed animal. They tear apart whatever they touch as they swarming the remnants of resistance that still hasn’t fled. Did these last protectors perhaps want to die standing their ground, bravely losing their lives for a cause they believe in> Could it be passion which enthuses these enemies of beauty and truth? Let the victors write the history books and the only heroes were those that extinguished the flame of the dangerous United Global Republic. Good prevails.

One of the crazed individuals who didn’t flee is Samael Hollow. Noam Prince assumed they would find him as either a charred remain in some bunker or with a self inflicted bullet blowing out the left side of his skull, but no, he is here in the centre of the maelstrom, calmly waiting with his hands clasped in his office. There is dignity in dying as a warrior just as there is dignity in prevailing justly against a warrior, et, no gun rests in Samael’s hand, no thoughts of a last stand fill his mind. Samael is no warrior, instead he has the bravery to stand uncompromisingly for what he believes in, and if that belief is sinking then like a good captain he will go down with his ship. He is filled with a solemn acceptance of the inevitable while his mind overflows with the bubbling memories of a life lived fully. With his heart racing frantically, he calmly sips what will be the last drink of his life and waits for the horde to descend upon him.

One young and impassioned Mystic, carrying a sac full of painting canvasses crudely ripped from walls, throws open the doors to Samael’s office with gusto. Running inside with the freneticism of a young child let loose in a candy store, he quickly surveys the richness of the room and shouts out to his comrades, “This is a fresh one guys, lots to take.” He begins stuffing a his sac with whatever his hands close upon and does not noticing Samael until his eyes fall on the glinting gold pen just inches from his hand. With widening eyes the young revolutionary slowly raises his eyes up to Samael’s face and with a mouth open in shock stares Samael in the face. Here is the leader of the world, a man larger than life reduced to a pitifully average man, someone you might walk past on the subway. Samael sits in his chair as he casually sips the last dregs of a drink, his mind curiously blank.

As the rebel’s comrades flood the room to take their fair share of any loot they push their sputtering comrade out of the way and are equally stunned by to find Samael Hollow. No words seem appropriate and for a moment there is a reverential pause. This is not just any man they have in front of them. Serenity and awe can only last so long before barbarism and greed again dominate the room and one young man, perhaps younger than the rest, sprints around to the back of Samael’s desk, back hands him forcefully on the side of the head and shouts, “Everybody, everybody, I caught him, he’s mine. I’ve caught Samael Hollow. I have him, I have him.” Without saying a word Samael watches his victors gloat.

These first few men huddle around Samael and his captor. They are taking photos to send to their friends and patting each other on the back with a  sense of euphoria. Soon more and more men huddle into the room to witness Samael’s capture. There are a few softly spoken  words that perhaps  he should be taken to prison but they are lost in the air as ever more and more ever men flood into the room. Soon, the general atmosphere begins to degrade into the mayhem of squabbling school children. The young rebel, who so proudly claimed to have been the one to have caught Samael, is bitterly pushed aside. Small fights break out about who should receive recognition for capturing him. All the while still more people flood into the room. Soon, there are a hundred people inside Samael’s office, then there are two hundred.

Dignity decaying inside an office accustomed to hosting the world’s most powerful, the room is now assuming the lawlessness of an unruly bar.  Samael is being fought over and pushed around as if he was a gold plated trophy instead of a living, breathing human being. Suddenly, he loses the mask of invincibility and withers like a deflating balloon into nothing but a lost old man, somebody’s confused grandfather. Bewilderment darkens his eyes as the whirlwind around him strengthens and tightens like a noose. More pictures of him are taken. More people enter the room. Samael is being touched, moved, groped and accosted. Some of his hair being pulled and a large tuft is pulled cruelly from his head in a bright splash of red blood. He mumbles some words, perhaps even tries to shout, yet he is lost and overwhelmed. Nobody even tries to hear him amid the clamor.

Pushed, dragged and pulled Samael is torn out of his office into the cold light of a bright day. Thousands of wild revolutionaries swarm around him as he becomes the epicenter of the rabid mob that forms in parliaments large courtyard. Those quiet voices of reason trying to take him into custody are drowned in the drunken angry havoc. Words are vehemently screamed at Samael, the cathartic accusation of sins thrown  into the face of the sinner. Samael has done many evil things, callously ordering  the execution of countless men, women and even children in the name of a secure world. Just because Samael believes in the righteousness of his actions does nothing to salve the pain of those his decisions descended upon. Just because Samael is sure that the United Global Republic was an overall force of good for the world doesn’t mean that many did not feel the sting of its imperfections. Here in front of the faceless horde Samael is not a man but a black hole that traps all the pulsing hatred of the crowd. Many accusations that are thrown at him cannot even be true. The crowd is working itself into a stupor of rage and hatred. Finally, someone yells “no” at the same time as another someone briefly puts a bullet through the back of Samael’s head. There is a brief moment of shock and silence. Anger is felt and expressed by some. Yet, the majority go back to pillaging without missing a beat, Samael death except a story to tell their friends. A few men pick up Samael’s peaceless corpse, left splayed where he fell in a pool of his crimson blood, then take him aimlessly in search of someone who would know what to do with the murdered body of a tyrant.

Pictures of Samael’s corpse strung lifelessly between buildings in the heart of Times Square greet Noam Prince as he checks the latest news. How should he react to the news that his enemy and friend has been butchered in cold blood? He stares at the photo for a long time, thinking of nothing. Theodore Shadow comes with Alexa Mystic to ask Noam his opinion on how much Samael’s death weakens the United Global Republic. Theo and Alexa do not want to talk about what is happening in Manhattan, to cry over this would be to cry over every senseless act. At this point they both follow Noam’s advice simply carry on forward. Yet, as they pepper him with questions, Noam is unresponsive, he doesn’t even seem to hear them. His eyes are still raptly glued to the image of Samael dangling in Times Square. A dictator dead, Noam thinks ironically. While Noam knew Samael’s death was a necessary fallout of revolution, he did not want it to happen like this. No matter Samael’s sins, he deserved respect, he deserved dignity, he did not deserve to die ignobly. He did not deserve to die in terror. For all his genius Noam is just a man, and grief strikes him as it would strike anyone. He is shaken, maybe damaged, to his very core.

Noam shudders and is suddenly aware of Theo and Alexa standing over him. He is off kilter, looking at them accusingly as if they had snuck up on him. He is a different man than he was this morning. He seems old where before he was ageless. He seems unsure of himself, where before he embodied confidence. Noam sits in a chair, staring vacantly for one more moment, then asks the two of them to sit with him. He does not say anything for several moments, then begins to speak with a slowly building confidence, “Samael is dead. I had always hoped there would be a way forward in which  he did not have to die, then, I knew that his death would be a necessary step in our progress forward. Death is the norm in the world, a fire which will eat through every tree and we must never forget its power. We need to rethink about where we have come with the Mystic Revolution. We have willingly opened the cage of a crazed beast since this was the only way to break down all the fences that trapped us. The horror we have unleashed is unprecedented. We have created a doom that the world has never known before. If the world were to stay the way it is today we would be rightfully remembered throughout history as the incarnate of evil. Thankfully this tunnel we find ourselves in today is not our end point. Indeed, Samael death is critical nail shutting the door on the beast we have unleashed. His death is a victory which tolls the beginning of the end. Light is now visible in this darkest of night. However, Samael was a man whose wisdom I have trusted for many years even if I often disagreed with him, he was a man who knew the levers of power with an almost supernatural grace and seeing him hanging lifeless without dignity has given  me reason to question the way forward. Where before I thought that the forces we’ve unleashed would enter into our gravity as we became more and more dominant, now, I fear that this madness in Manhattan may be the precursor of a different future than I expected. What if we don’t have the critical mass to capture all these forces into our orbit? What if all these isolated militias and passionate individuals do no congeal together under our winning banner and instead become cannibals, what if instead they turn on us? Samael never predicted his demise, he never truly thought humanity would become so low. Yet, he was the cynical one, the person who knew the  true heart of man and knew that man needed to be caged. In my mind I now feel that these forces we have unleashed have finished the job we asked of them. They have mortally wounded our enemy. Now is the time to think of how to cage this beast we’ve let run free before it devours us as well.” While Theo is listening to Noam, Alexa is becoming agitated, eventually breaking her silence saying, “Wait, stop what you are saying? Am I hearing you right? Noam, you would actually  have us change our plan now? At this late date? How can you go to sleep last night promising us that everything is perfectly on course with this butchering plan we have been following and now you decide to  tell us there is another way and that we must take it? I don’t understand. Because your friend died? Are you in grief? There is no shame in grief, but you must admit when you are in a weakened state. If you are weak now we cannot trust the answers you give. You are the one who has been telling us we must hold our nerve and now you are the one who has lost his nerve?” Noam seems reinvigorated by Alexa’s words, her arguments making him more sure of himself and his answers. He rebuts with warmth, “Only a fool follows a path blindly. I know what I’ve said before and now I tell you that we have reached  a new crossroads which demands new judgment. You should be happy about this, ecstatic even, now we can worry about ending the violence. Isn’t this what you wanted?” Angrily, Alexa tells Noam that of course she wants to end the violence, that he’s arguing in circles, for all his logic how are they supposed to trust a man who doesn’t know his own mind? Theodore silences Alexa with a gentle hand on her shoulder, “Please, we are all friends here. We need to suppress our passions so and make our choices with a clear mind. Noam, I agree with Alexa. This violence which is devouring Manhattan has left us all shaken and I am uncomfortable that you think now, after the violence has happened, violence is no longer necessary. Before we take the drastic step of changing our course, I would hope Noam that you can see yourself dispassionately and acknowledge whether you are biased by mourning. I trust in your mind Noam, but I need to know right now that your mind is pure. Alexa, there is no harm in hearing his words. Perhaps his ideas for this next phase of the Mystic Movement will be something we can all agree upon.” Noam nods, “Thank-You Theo and my apologies Alexa. You know as well as anyone how personally I take this maelstrom of violence and hope. This is the meaning of my life. Yes, my friend is dead, but I know with utter clarity that our cause is greater than Samael and greater than ourselves. I have not forgotten this. My conclusion doesn’t come from my grief, instead, it comes from the epiphany that the violence Samael suffered revealed to me: what does it mean if belief in Mysticism is not a powerful enough unifier to unite the world together? If this is true and the course we have set cannot stop the violence this is a very dangerous reality. I had assumed that the natural gravity of the Mystic Movement would capture all of these disparate puzzle pieces together into a unified solar system, yet, now we must consider that if Mysticism is not strong enough to accomplish this goal ,the result will be endless war and division as the world retribalizes. So if the path we have set will not end the violence, then we need to change the path. We need to modify Mysticism. This will be difficult and contentious, yet, if you both agree with my analysis, it is also necessary. Now I understand that the words you have preached, Theo, have become canon to the Mystics and cannot be changed, nor should they be. The words stand on their own merit and signify a meaning that is now separate from all of us. To try and modify them now would be to shatter the mystique and resonance that these words have formed in the minds of the world. We’ve always known that we would one day need to build a society that expands beyond the bare beliefs of Mysticism, its core tenets of universal beauty and appreciation of beauty, are simply put not a strong enough backbone to flesh a society around. Therefore, what I am suggesting is not to change the top level logic of Mysticism, rather, just to change the low level structure which we haven’t even formalized yet. I feel like there is a sweet spot where we can keep the fundamentals of Mysticism while attaining the necessary gravity to pull the entire world towards us. I’ve thought about what steps we should take. What we need to do is create a controlled monopoly on perceiving beauty. If a person can is allowed to determine themselves what is beautiful, then they will argue with others since it is a subjective perception. Even more, if a person decides for themself what is beautiful, then they have no need for society and they have no need of us. If we let a person choose their own perceptions of beauty then society will crumble, no matter what we do we need to modify Mysticism, we might as well do it now so that the changes will help stop the violence. So what we must do is create a monopoly on beauty. We must make it so the only way to appreciate beauty is through intermediaries directly designated by us. The key points of Mysticism will still reign supreme, that the meaning of life is to appreciate beauty and that beauty is everywhere. Our dignitaries will agree with these precepts, preaching that beauty is everywhere and agreeing with each individual that what they see is beautiful. However, what we will do is plant the seed of doubt into the heart of everyone so that they are not sure if beauty is everywhere, that they are not sure if what they see is truly beautiful. It is this doubt that will become the multiplier of gravity for the Mystic Movement. This doubt is what will make the people of the world need us, this doubt is what will make the people of the world come together unified around our banner, this doubt is what will make us win. Some things will be a bitter pill to swallow, for example if a person claims beauty without the approval of our disciples, that person will need to be punished since anyone who seeks to be separate from formal Mysticism weakens the whole movement. However, once doubt is made the norm, dealing with heretics is no grave problem since the faithful masses will self discipline the unfaithful, every person fearing a person who weakens their own faith. This is what I propose. This is what I deem necessary.” There is silence for a moment, this is a true deviation from the pure form of the world which Theo and Alexa are fighting for and it is hard to absorb what such a shift really means. Theo suggests that Alexa and himself spend a little time thinking about what Noam has said. Yes, time is always slipping away from them, even so a decision as weighty as this deserves real thought.

Later that same night, at the blackest hour, Theodore Shadow treads towards Alexa Mystic’s room. Gently tapping on the door she lets him in. She is still fully clothed, as if she has been expecting him. “Alexa,” Theo solemnly says, “Please, tell me what you think I should do. Events are spiraling out of my control. This choice Noam presented to us tonight is more than I can handle on my own. Such a short time ago it was just me in my valley and having you come stay with me seemed like it was the most important decision I would make in my life. Now, things are so different. Alexa, I know I must take full responsibility for all those atrocities that have happened in my name. There is so much to account for, so much violence, so much suffering, yet, I  cannot stop here. If I stop here then it means that all this suffering will have been in vain since it won’t have led anywhere. I have to make all these broken pieces fit together or else all this suffering was in vain. I will have broken the world. Alexa, you are the one who talked me into letting you stay in my valley and you are the one who convinced me to leave the valley. I don’t hold you accountable, of course I don’t. I acted of my own free will, or at least within the freedom that my prior actions allowed me. Perhaps our perception of what freewill looks like is a fallacy. What I am saying is that I trust your opinion. Alexa, please, I ask you for your advice: how should we handle Noam’s plan? I don’t know what to do, I am lost, I am equipped with a compass in a cave and it does me no good. All my beliefs are so simple, that is what makes them so beautiful. How can something so simple be so  difficult to express? If I could just express myself perfectly, then I am sure everyone in the world would agree in unison with me, everyone would understand. If I could just make everyone understand the truth in my heart the violence would end tomorrow. Alexa, I have tried my best and I cannot try any harder. If I have not succeeded using the beliefs that I have, then I don’t see how I will succeed unless I change my beliefs. Every moment that I dither means more violence. Every moment means suffering and pain. We can’t see it here in our isolated fortress, we can’t feel it here in this warm room, but that shouldn’t make us immune to it. Alexa, if what I have given is not enough, then we need to find a way to make it enough. What do you think of Noam’s plan? What do you think about ritualizing our mysticism in a way that is not true to our hearts but will make the violence stop?” Theo stares at her expectantly, like a small boy waiting for his teacher to tell him the right answer.

Alexa looks deeply into Theo’s heart and sighs. “Theo, I don’t know what I can tell you that will make you happy. All I can do is tell you what’s in my heart even though I know it is not what you want to hear from me. Theo, what is the point in believing in something if you don’t stand by those beliefs? Noam doesn’t care about the Mystic Movement, he doesn’t care about those beliefs which used to be the only force in your heart. Noam could just as easily be supporting some completely different idea than ours and he would be acting just the same as he is with us. We have strayed so far from our original simple beliefs, yet, does this mean the verity of these simple beliefs has changed? Theo, I worry about you. I worry that you have tried to make your heart large enough to take in the entire world and you don’t know your own heart anymore. I worry that you don’t know what you believe in anymore. Do you still believe that the meaning of life is the appreciation of beauty? Do you still believe that this beauty is everywhere? I worry that even if you still know your own heart, that if you keep nobly compromising you will bring us to a place you do not understand and don’t believe in. For all of Noam’s words, he is a hollow man, he is nothing but an empty vessel: you were to be the substance that filled this vessel. What will the world look like if it is built on such a weak base? The war will not end tomorrow. No matter what Noam says, the war will not end tomorrow. Men have become greedy, there are fiefdoms and warlords forming, bitter enmities are being made that will last generations, children will grow up needing to avenge their murdered parents. We have ushered in an era of darkness. We did this because we believed in something, something that I still believe in. What will this war look like if we don’t stand for those things that we believe in? What does it mean if we keep perpetuating this violence when we don’t believe in our hearts the ideals we are fighting for? Theo, I will not advise you yes or no. You have never blamed me for being the catalyst for all these things that have happened to you, still, we both know if you had not rescued me as a little girl then you would still be in your valley, you would still true be to yourself. If you hadn’t saved me maybe this present days violence would not be here, though I don’t think the world would be so different, the pneumatics of the world may have just grabbed other willing figures. The world stands stronger than any individual man no matter how we flatter ourselves. Regardless of how the world would be, if you hadn’t saved me, or if you hadn’t let me stay with you in the valley, or if you hadn’t listened to my advice, then you yourself would not be here. This is something I wear heavily on my conscience. I do not believe in you any more Theodore Shadow. I love you with all my heart as my closest friend, you are the person I respect the most in the world. But I do not believe in you anymore. I will stay with you as long as possible, my guilty conscience means that I want to help you fix the dame we have both caused, but I don’t know how long I can remain with you if you keep following the advice of Noam Prince. I will not tell you what you should do, your heart now speaks a different language than mine. I just hope you listen to what is true inside your heart and that for the sake of all of us and all the world, it is the right choice.” Alexa opens the door for him to leave and just as Theo is walking out the door Alexa embraces him, tears staining his jacket, “I am so sorry Theo. I am so sorry.” He holds the embrace for a moment, then without saying anything, walks out the door.

A few moments later Theo comes to Noam’s room. who also responds to Theo’s knock fully dressed, as if he too has been expecting him. “Noam, I don’t know what to do. Please, give me your advice.” Without missing a breath, Noam takes Theo’s hands, looks straight into his eyes and tells him, “I will tell you what to do. You will listen to me, you will take the advice I gave you today. It is the only way forward Theo, the only way.” Theo nods, pauses for a second, then says, “So be it.” and quickly leaves Noam’s room. Noam returns to his computer where he is nursing a stiff drink, watching again the video of the last moment of Samael’s life. He is lost in shades of sorrow and fear.

 

Chapter 11

The first blasphemers are executed by a  mob, crudely lynched in the dark of night so the first sight that greets innocent early risers is the image of dangling corpses. Theo never asks Noam if these executions were truly spontaneous, as is claimed, or if somehow they were orchestrated to set his plan into motion. Either way, the lynching begins a wave of discontent and fear as a new enemy arises. The shadow of doubt begins to enter into the hearts of the Mystics. Noam’s propaganda machine gets put into high gear. What is good and what is bad, confused Mystic’s are made to wonder, and how does one know which is which? Noam writes speeches for Theo to deliver and he doesn’t even bother reading them ahead of time, he just tries to make them sound authentic and passionate. Maybe he fools the majority. A new order of Mystic police, the Truth Officers, are ordained and are the only valid force of determining what is and isn’t beautiful. Everyone who stands before them are told that what they see is beautiful, while those who don’t come to see the Truth Officers are demonized as narcissistic heathens. By using the effective toolbox which Noam has shown time and time again that he is a master of, it doesn’t take long for Noam’s new precepts seem righteous and normal.

The second batch of blasphemers is  executed by the Truth Officers, who have nobly taken the power of  executioner onto their shoulders claiming the capital punishment of dissenters is the best way to stop mob lynching and make sure that the rule of law is centered around those best positioned to know right from wrong, beautiful from ugly and believer from heretic. With much fanfare and public humiliation, these executions by the Truth Officers begin taking place more and more frequently. To avoid any diffusion of corruption, special prisons are mandated to segregate possible blasphemers away from the general public until their case can be decided. A new and different fear begins to stalk the hearts of any who might question the legitimacy of the Truth Officers. A culture forms where fear begins to live in the heart of even those who accept every word from Truth Officers as gospel. Fear lives in every heart and all begin to condemn those that flout the law, lest they themselves are accused. A cold peace reigns as the hot war fades away in the new dread of the Truth Police.

Theo is sickened by this new culture, he becomes more and more ethereal in his own self perception. Sometimes he thinks a strong wind might carry the disparate pieces of his self into different directions, he feels like now he is dust and ash for what was once solid and full of life. Yet, he carries on, he carries on because Noam’s plan is working. The war has evolved through several new stages. After Samael Hollows death, the United Global Republic fell into a dizzying spiral of decline, with it fragmenting into parts of its territory left bannerless under anarchy, parts taking on some form of the Mystic Movement, and parts becoming power hungry separate states wanting to be their own center of power. For a time, the world becomes feudal, with city states arising and falling, war lords roaming from land to land, rogue groups terrorizing with abandoned military technology and much of the world left in a darkness where only stories of suffering, starvation, rape and death ever illuminate. Noam’s strategy becomes a unifying factor just as he had  claimed: a reason for all these spread out puzzle pieces across the globe to come together. Some of those swearing fealty to the Mystics do so because they feel it is the right thing to do, people wanting the Truth Officers as that existential questioning which  Noam planted in people’s minds takes root. Others, however, bend their knee because the Mystics become increasingly brutal to those who stay outside of their aspiring hegemon. To those who are declared heathen, the Mystic’s condone anything. Labeled as something between a rat and a terrorists that is the reason for the worlds instability, they are the perfect scapegoat for Noam. To the ravenous masses the heretics become less than human, and cruelties and death, like the public executions, become more and more popular. The choice becomes stark, to either remain outside of Noam’s new Mysticism, or to be stamped like a cockroach. It is an easy choice to make. Those few who refuse to bend the knew to the Mystics are left running in fear or cannibalized by zealous Mystics.

Now, the current status of the world is about consolidating these last few pockets of resistance. There are a few ripples of rebellion in this new fabric of society but they are quickly and firmly smoothed out. Noam Prince is ecstatic with the progress that has been made, the Mystics have become hegemonic, there is no force that can challenge its authority. Now, Noam thinks, they can work on building the perfect society. Theo is sickened by everything that has happened but feels that soon the cleansing fires will be over and finally the rebuilding can start and at last he can be a builder instead of a destroyer. Alexa becomes  increasingly more withdrawn, even as the violence dies she is sickened by what they are building in its stead.

One day, when just about the last ripples of resistance have been smoothed out and it seems like the war can  is over, Alexa, Theo and Noam sit together with dozens of others in the command center of the Mystic Movement. A nameless warehouse converted into a high-tech marvel, there is a certain reminiscence of the call centre where Alexa used to work. Everyone is  supernaturally busy, yet doing what, is harder to qualify as the war has been reduced algorithms and graphs running behind the metal casings of mindless computers.

Into this scene of calm professionals working on the art of war walks John Mahmed, the young boy who was beaten so brutally to the horror of Alexa and Theo in those early days of the Mystic Movement. He walks in delirious and rambling, either mad or feverish or both. As he stumbles into the heart of the Mystic Movement, there is a commotion as helpful workers rise from their stations to help him as he teeter totters in every direction. He is given a chair and offered some water but nothing seems to calm his ravings. Alexa, Theo and Noam see the cacophony and come over to see what is happening. Theo and Alexa recognize John Mahmed at once, a face frozen in their minds and they ask him if he is all right. Then, something is triggered in John Mahmed as he sees Theodore Shadow. He pushes away the people encircling him with a feral intensity and points a damning finger at Theodore Shadow, shouting with the cry of a hurt young animal, “Theodore Shadow, I see you. I see you. I thought you would bring me to closer to god. There is no god here. There is no belief here, there is no belief in anything. I don’t know what is here but it is not what you promised. There is no god here. There is no holiness. There is no holiness. You were supposed to be the bridge to something more for all of us and all you have proven to be is the hole we have fallen down, away from what little light we had. There is no god here. There is no good here. There is no belief here.” These words create a vacuum in Theo’s mind, sucking all those things he was just thinking about into some nameless place leaving him to simply stand stunned while those around John Mahmed ripple into a convulsing mass trying to pull back those words John Mahmed has just shouted.

Buried below a writhing mass of flailing bodies the words of John Mahmed can still be heard. It seems nothing can stop his broken screaming, his words echoing  from every direction. All these workers who moments ago seemed unruffable have now lost their aura of professionalism as they act with a rabid need to end John’s words, these words that can’t be allowed to exist, these words which cannibalize one’s own heart. A storm of violence descends on John Mahmed and quickly the pitch of his shriek is raised from one carrying broken words into one of a hurt child crying for his mother. Alexa, peaceful Alexa, who is held in higher esteem by many than Theo for her unflinching dedication to true Mysticism, this angel suddenly pushes herself through the mob and prostrates herself on top of John Mahmed. All back away. She sits upright, hugging John Mahmed to her chest just as she hugged him when he was injured before. He quivers in fear, he quivers in fever. “This man is not well in the head,” she says, “Are we not better than harming a sick man?” From below her, John Mahmed starts bellowing again and this time from below Alexa’s breast, none come to stop him. He screams and he cries, bawls and mews, “These men came and offered us light, but it is a false light. They thought that the world was lost and that they could save it, they thought that they had a duty to save it. How can the world be lost? It is not the world but mankind that is lost, this aimless species walking through a dimension that we will never understand, a dimension that will always be beyond us. You, Theo, promised that you would make things better, yet, how can you know the real face of the world when you are just one of us, just another lost lonely spirit wandering through a world that wasn’t made with our like in mind. You have destroyed what little shelter we had in this world, you have taken what little we had and razed it. You have sinned at the church you created, you wanted to have no effect because you believed your effect could be damaging. Now, you justify a tsunami where every ripple once upon a time made you shudder. And look at what that tsunami or your creation has done? A layer of sorrow, misery and evil blankets the world and it was your hand that placed there. How could you let this happen? How could you be so weak to let this happen? In every religion there is a devil, even if the devil goes unnamed. The devil always enters whispering sweet words and bearing the hand of friendship. You listened to the devil, Theo, you gave into your greed and your weakness, your unreal dreams that maybe the world could be more than that empty shell that it is and maybe you could play the hero. What did you do, hero, when confronted with the devil? You worshipped him and his sweet words. Noam Prince is the living devil of the Mystic Movement, the man who made you sell your soul and sell all of our futures because you drank his snake oil and believed that a man who doesn’t believe in anything could be the savior your belief needed. Weak and greedy man, I condemn you.” Alexa, still lying on top of John Mahmed, does not know what to do. Noam Prince is grimacing, the words striking him hard, yet, it is Theo, regaining his lost tongue, who finally speaks, “Take this man away, take him away now. He is sick. Do not mistreat him, but take him away.” In a dead silence except for the wordless warbling coming from John Mahmed many of the workers come together, shaken, to drag John out of the room. Just as he is about to pass through the door, he sharply turns around with super human strength, breaking all those hands locked on him, and shouts, “I have seen how the world ends, Theodore Shadow. You came to bring a light to illuminate the world with and instead all you will leave is darkness and shadow. You are the doom that the world has foretold countless times and we forgot to keep watch for. You are the end of the world.” Now, with true violence, a man slams a metal paper weight against the side of John Mahmed’s head, making John crumple with the unnerving speed of gravity as red blood fissures from his head. He is dragged out unconscious, if not dead.

All those left in the control room are frozen. No one moves, no one goes back to work, no one says anything, everyone is just paused where they were when John Mahmed was struck, looking with terror at the bloodied floor. A question suddenly erupts into the hearts of all those gathered, that dark beast of a question that swims so deeply under the surface of our souls, yet whose enormity blocks the entire sun when it arises, sucking like a whirling vortex, any other thought, any other hope, any other dream. The question now contaminating every mind is, “What is it, exactly, that any of us really believe in anymore?” and this questions potential contagion is a mortal threat to the Mystic Movement.

This time during darkest night it is Alexa Mystic’s turn to come to Theodore Shadow’s room. He is the one now waiting, fully clothed, sitting at a desk looking out a window at the starless night sky. A table light is on and all it seems to do is cast shadows. Alexa enters the room without knocking and walks over to stand behind Theodore Shadow as he continues to look out the window. She watches the blackness with him and puts a hand delicately on his shoulder. Without looking at her, he mourns, “Who am I again? I’m not really sure I can remember. Let me say that again. It eats into my heart. Who am I again? Alexa, look at me, please. Who am I? Weren’t you the one who trusted me so much and built me into a monolith? What do I mean? I have stayed true to my heart but I have strayed from the area where I trust my heart. Words leap to my mouth, yet, I am not sure anymore they are the right words. Perhaps someone could say a different argument to me and it would make me realize that everything I have said is just trash, a damaging garbage that needs to be disposed of.”

“The value that I used to hold most dear was that I always stayed true to myself. This meant everything to me. I could stand in opposition to anyone, god or man, and not stray from my true path as long as I listened to my heart. As long as I stayed true to myself, then to hell with anything else. I could listen to other and absorb what they said but I would not bend if I thought I should not bend. I am not that man any more. I don’t know what my new values are. I have bent in ways that I never expected to. We have been at war. I am a careful person, I want to delve into a problem and understand it cumulatively. The details are the thing that matter most to me and the deeper I absorb the details, then the more likely it is that I will trust my decisions since the details are that thing which builds a bridge between my brain and my heart. Yet, here I am, deluged by problems that only I can find a solution to and there is this infernal clock is ticking, demanding an answer before I am ready. Have you noticed this? There is always a clock ticking. How can I listen to myself when the ticking of this clock is the only thing I hear. Now, I have to rush my decisions, now, I do not trust the decisions I make fully, if I had more time then I might make a different decision.”

“Am I a bad man? I really don’t know. Save me the histrionics, don’t defend me out of pity as you see me in this moment of weakness. We both know why you are here tonight, that you are abandoning me, you are leaving, that watching John Mahmed being  struck was the final straw. We both know that this conversation we are having, if it is not the last one between us, is surely going to be one of the last. Don’t console me with words when your actions belie your condemnation of me. Are you right to condemn me? I don’t know. Was I not horrified at what happened to young John Mahmed as well today? Oh Alexa. What if I was not me, not Theodore Shadow, this man on the tip of every tongue? What if instead I could just be a normal everyman, someone in the ranks below a flag whose heart is  bursting with passion and wanting to use that passion make something beautiful? Would I follow myself anymore? Again, I don’t know. Am I bad man? All I wanted to do was good. Every single atom in my existence wants me to do good. The world is in flames and it rests at my feet. Yes, you are right, men like Noam must shoulder some of this mountain of sadness with me, but they are my tools, even if they use me as a tool as well. Ultimately, it all rests on me, it all rests on me. Perhaps I simply was not ready, perhaps I never was going to be ready. You saw some light in me but what if that light was not enough to light the world with? What if all we did together was illuminate these dark shadows in the heart of man? Perhaps these shades should have stayed sheathed in their blackness, perhaps the truth is that in a beautiful world we can’t defy our nature: that man is an evil, evil scourge. Perhaps we should immolate, perhaps we should stick our heads in the ground and pray to a fabricated god, or perhaps Samael was right and we should build a strong wall around the terror of man and hope that it holds. Alexa, what if I am the one who has breached that wall, that all the good I thought I was bringing into the world is nothing but a shattering of that dam of the horror of humanity which was rightfully contained.”

“Alexa. There is pain in my heart. I want to walk away. I want to be back in my valley. I want to be a stone dropping into a pond , leaving no ripple. Sadly, it is too late, the dominoes have already  fallen. So long I have fought to catch up to the dominoes of events and lead them to where I want. So long now I have done nothing but push the dominoes towards away from where I wanted them to. I would walk away, I would disappear. I would take away my deviant influence from the discourse of ideas and hope the world would be better for my removal. Except, I have unleashed such monsters that even my dread voice is now something positive in this seething vacuum of a world falling towards hell. Alexa. There is pain in my heart. Here I am, asking you who I am, yet now I know. I am the bad man, just as Noam claimed I would become and every day I am becoming worse. The fact that there is still only love in my heart means nothing when I am unleashing the end of the world. John Mahmed is right: I am the end of the world. Every good deed I try turns into the ash of evil. Alexa, what do I do? What do I do? You are leaving me and I can’t join you, I would only destroy your own movement, I represent everything that is wrong with Mysticism and whatever you create will be in opposition to me. What can I do but stay my course? What can I do but hope that Noam is right, that through all this darkness there is a bright far side. We are in a dance of death and how could we expect to leave without being grievously wounded? Oh, Alexa, my angel, the only one who knows my heart, can’t you tell me what to do? Can’t you tell me something that takes this mountain off of my shoulders, something that makes sense of this entropy wracking my sanity? Can’t you whisper something in my ear that I haven’t thought of yet that makes things just a little brighter? All I want is for this pitch black midnight in my heart to see a single tendril of dawn, even if it is a dawn that will never come, even if it is a dawn I will not be a part of. Oh, my angel, my wonder, the person who I’ve shared my life with more than anyone, is there no redemption you can find with me? Are you truly leaving when your opinion is the only one that matters to me? Oh, Alexa, please, please, please. Don’t go. Who will I be without you? I cannot give up my current course. Flawed though I am, even though who I am may not be enough, I will still keep trying to find a dawn on the course that I have set, yet, I am so scared of what the world will look like when I am unable to reach for that next step and I fall and the world falls with me. Save me, Alexa. Or at least fall with me. Please. Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go. Don’t go.” He finally looks away from the window and up into Alexa Mystic’s eyes. There is a moment where there is nothing but their eyes speaking a language that no tongue has ever mastered, then Alexa breaks the reverie and stands. Her eyes, now shrouded in gloom, are hiding the possibility of tears which may have sparkled for just an inkling. She moves Theo’s head towards her heart, kisses his tortured face on the forehead, whispers something in his ear and then walks out of the room forever.

Just as night dissolves into morning Alexa Mystic flees from the headquarters of the Mystic Movement. She takes with her some close followers who have quietly sworn allegiance as well as the unconscious but still living body of John Mahmed. They are not harassed as they abandon this modern fortress. Word of what John Mahmed has said to Theo has percolated through the ranks of Mystics with a dread speed, breeding a malign despondency in the ranks of the Mystics. Even though Alexa walks past many guards they don’t seem to notice them . The prostrate figure being carried along with Alexa acts as a type of living artifact, a physical proof to a rumor which one has hoped was a lie. No one at all tries to stop Alexa and her followers, a fact which will drive Noam Prince into an apoplectic fit later on, though it seems the right thing to do right now.

Alexa goes into hiding. Whispers sprout everywhere about where she has gone, but there is nothing more than speculation, for all the high tech capabilities Noam has at his finger tips a person can still disappear. Just because she’s disappeared, however, doesn’t mean that her voice is silenced. Broadcasts of Alexa teaching the Mysticism which lives honestly in her heart and her pure words contaminate the unity of the internal Mystic Movement like a suddenly thick cloud ominously darkening the sky. Again, for all Noam’s wizardry, he can’t stop the dissemination of these broadcasts. Soon, a small but devoted following that calls themselves the ‘True Mystics’ begin secretly following her.

Alexa’s beliefs are similar to Theo’s original brand Mysticism from the very beginning, those first powerful speeches where every spectator in the crowd felt their belief bloom like a flower. She adds nothing new to Theo’s original words, she even asks her followers to pity Theo as a fallen prophet, brought low by a corruptive world. It was not his words that failed him, the words are still full of magic and should be considered as hallowed as when he first said them. Yet, Alexa does change the way that Mysticism is practiced. She condemns the idea of the Truth Officers, saying that everyone is to know for themselves that beauty is everywhere without an intermediary. Alexa also swears her followers to follow Theo’s original mantra of living a life with as small ripples as possible. While she used to argue with Theo about having as small effect in the world as possible, now she has seen just how hard it is to control the ripples and it’s best to make none instead of let just a single stray ripple turn into a destructive wave. She expands on this idea of a small life as well, preaching that a life should be small and contemplative, each perfect person formed like a diamond, compressed effortlessly into something stunning by the vast weight of the world around them. However, the most important clause that Alexa demands from her followers is total abstinence from violence. She avows her followers to let themselves be beaten, broken, bloodied and butchered as long as they stay true to themselves. Better to perish an honest pariah than to compromise a benevolent heart. Soon, much like sand slipping through cupped hands, Theo’s Mystic followers begin trickling away to Alexa’s True Mystics. Now it is only a small stream, but just as Theo and Noam have finally put an end to their enemies and created a hegemon like they had hoped for, Alexa puts the smallest crack in the very root of Mysticism’s foundation and all that is built atop of it gives a painful shudder of foreshadowing.

Noam and Theo are presented with a stark choice in the face of Alexa’s betrayal. While Theo wishes to ignore the True Mystics, hoping that they will be quiet zealots with no interest in the greater world, Noam has no such illusions. He convinces Theo that this rebellion is more serious than even the United Global Republic, since it is not a physical threat, instead it is an existential threat. For Noam, there is no choice except to stamp out the True Mystics with a  vicious suppression before they develop a firm root. There needs to be only one form of Mysticism and that is the form embodied by the society stabilizing tools of the Truth Officers, where society can flourish and citizens remain predictable. For Alexa to break Mysticism’s unity and to imperil the gains that have been so savagely fought for is a personal affront to Noam Prince. He does not understand how she can be so short sighted, how a person crying for peace can toll such a great peal in favor of war. Noam convinces Theo that they must condemn her blind idealism for it is the worst type of poison, wonderful to taste, yet will kill you as surely as a bullet or a bomb. They must obliterate Alexa and her True Mystics before their addictive venom infects and divides the Mystic Movement. New laws are passed: death for those who choose to openly flout the Truth Officers and the accepted form of Mysticism. Death to those who follow Alexa Mystic, death to Alexa Mystic.

 

Chapter 12

What begins as a suppression will be remembered as a civil war. Noam brazenly turns his megalomaniacal  fury onto Alexa and her True Mystics. He is brutal, going to lengths even beyond the violence he condoned against the United Global Republic, as he feels a need to instill a horrid fear into  those entertaining the idea of joining the True Mystics. His fixation is fanned, though he would never admit it,  by his sorrow of Alexa leaving. Noam knows that the Mystics were on the right path, and for Alexa to leave Theo and him makes him act like that of a jilted lover who is balefully destructive of anything his wounded heart touches.

Yet, like some unfathomable force of nature, the more violence the Mystics rain down on the True Mystics only seems to result in making the True Mystics more powerful and more righteous. The Truth Police gain an aura of evil and death that is felt by even the most abiding of Theo’s Mystics, as their actions begin to be described by that rare word ‘evil.’ It is not just dissidents who disappear in the night now, anyone might vanish into the claws of the Truth Police, there being no rhyme or reason to their actions except to make a culture of fear. Many spend fraught nights in their homes waiting to be whisked away to somewhere unknown, somewhere awful. In spite of Noam’s most heavy handed techniques, the isolated drops of dissenters reneging to Alexa’s True Mystics soon grows into a stream, then into a raging river. There is a unity in terror, a brotherhood in fear and a heart can aspire to bravery when backed into a tight corner. In the secret hearts of many, Theo and Noam begin to be looked upon as false prophets with corrupted souls.

As defections rise it’s easier for Noam to find True Mystics to make examples of. He believes that if he is just forceful enough, he will be able to break the heart and spirit of Alexa and her True Mystics, that if he can just shake them from the reverie of the unreal plain where they dwell, then they will see the obvious reality and end their foolishness. Noam knows that violence has the potential to break the spirit of the True Mystics, yet, he aspires to use a less blunt tool. He thinks that if he can break the True Mystics dedication to pacifism, then they will lose their halo of moral superiority and be brought to the gutters of being a normal adversity where Noam is sure he can beat them. It is Noam’s belief that if he is just cruel enough to make a few weak souls strike back with the thoughtless hand of revenge, then it will create an avalanche of causality. A secret sect of Truth Officers is setup to covertly create targeted atrocities which will attempt to break a few catalyst souls. However, despite mothers being crucified as their children watch, despite pregnant wives being violated with machine guns, then shot and despite children being thrown down wells with rocks dropped on top of  them until their screaming stops, there is no violence returned. With every atrocity, the will of the True Mystics grows stronger, with every atrocity the river of defections towards the True Mystics widens. The sacrifices mean something.

As Alexa Mystic comes to wear the spiritual mantle of Theodore Shadow for the True Mystics, John Mahmed becomes the True Mystic’s Noam Prince. He is now no longer fevered or incoherent, rather, that rage that brought his delirium and condemnation has crystallized into a  zealotry focused on destroying Theodore Shadow, Noam Prince and their ruined vision of Mysticism. Just as Noam Prince hopes to break the True Mystics with brutality, John Mahmed hopes to break Theo’s Mystics with horror at the reflection of their own brutality. Silently, away from where Alexa might hear, he convinces devoted fighters to let themselves be sacrificed by publicly letting the Truth Police butcher them, so there can be no hiding for Theo’s followers from their atrocities.

All True Mystics tacitly know about John’s secret orchestrations, most even condone it, yet no one knows Alexa’s thoughts on the cruel sacrifice of her most devout lambs. While some think she may genuinely be ignorant as John Mahmed has become a skillful liar, most give more credence to a rumor that is not backed by anything other than that instinctual feel that it is the truth. The rumor is this: Alexa and Theo were lovers and have always been lovers. Alexa has an absolute faith in Theo, a faith even greater than she has in herself and this is why she supported him over her own personal objections. Now, the rumor says, Alexa and John Mahmed have become lovers. Their closeness in public is unmistakable, whisper many. John supposedly believed that Alexa was simply replacing Theo with himself, and arrogantly assumed that she would believe in him with the same fervor that she believed in Theo, and this is why she would trust him as he sacrificed her followers. One night, though how the rumor could know the details of this seem impossible, John whispered to her that she could call him Theo. Her disgust was immense. “You are no Theodore Shadow,” she said, “You believe in nothing except your rage, there is nothing in your heart but a fire and a sense of your own righteousness. Theo has a belief in something that is greater than mankind, he has a belief that is a thousand times more pure than anything that has ever entered your heart.” John, taken aback, asks her, “Then why did you leave Theo if you believe in him so much?” Alexa sadly lets John embrace her, whispering that, “Theo being right is not worth all of this tragedy. In a world where all are sinners, there is no need for holy men, there is only need for a better liar, a better liar than Theo and a better liar than me. I thought it could be Noam except he was able to create nothing but ash. He turned my Theo into a monster. Now, weak as I am, I will create my own lie, a lie with a bedrock in an abhorrence to violence. A lie where we build upon what Theo should have been. Do as you will as long as you work only for the lie, only for a world made free of violence. I will die for this cause just as surely as those you are secretly hiding from me are dying. At least, unlike Theo, I will die for a lie I believe in.” While there can be no verifying  the rumor, the idea that Alexa herself is ready to sacrifice herself works to steel the heart of the True Mystics in the face of the terrors let loose against them.

A senseless stalemate forms between the Mystics and the True Mystics, something which cannot last any longer than a flash but lasts for this present moment. One side tries to break the other with violence, while the other side accepts the violence to break the morality of the other. This status quo holds because most people are too afraid to leave the semblance of security that Noam and Theo control and are left with a Catch 22 where they are increasingly revolted by the system they are a part of, just as they are increasingly afraid of leaving that system.

There are three ways for this stalemate to break. Either the True Mystics will all be killed, Noam and Theo will run out of adherents and be swallowed in revolution, or the True Mystics will resort to violence and a normal hot war will result. John Mahmed is the one who makes the choice between the three. He decides to plant loyalists inside the heart of the Mystics to try to foment rebellion from the inside. He does this in true secrecy from Alexa, knowing she would condemn this plan . The loyalists will need to viciously try to undermine the United Global Republic with assassinations and terrorism in the hope that it can serve as a conduit that will make allow more people to join the True Mystics. Perhaps John, youthful as he is, is unskilled in the arts of treachery and warfare, and after a failed terrorist attack where Noam Prince tortures the truth out of the perpetrators, he learns the source of their violent orders: John Mahmed and the True Mystics. The dream scenario for Noam Prince has come. Now he can demonize the True Mystics as a violent and dangerous enemy, now, he can use the full force of his military without fear of a moral tipping point.

Quickly, the failed terrorists are publicly paraded and demonized, their anguished confessions creating a cataclysm in the heart of the True Mystics. Most True Mystics are authentic pacifists who are horrified at what John Mahmed has ordered. These True Mystics left Theodore Shadow because of the brutality he had adopted. Now, for their own pure movement to succumb to the same disease turns many True Mystics into exhausted cynics, deigned to a world where there is no chance for their perfect peace to ever flourish. These lost souls fade away, shadows that inhabit the world but leave no mark. Other True Mystics, however, are now listening closely to John Mahmed as he loudly protests the legitimacy of his actions. Much as Noam and Theodore condoned the violence when the deemed it necessary against the goliath of the United Global Republic, now John Mahmed repeats these same arguments against the goliath of Theo’s Mystics. Again, the voice of the devil is listened to as a voice of reason. Since many have suffered cruel personal losses at the hand of Theo’s Mystics and their Truth Police, any justification for legitimate revenge needs only the thinnest evidence to turn these hordes of pacifists into blood thirsty demons and Noam provides this justification. The chess pieces quickly move into a traditional playing arrangement, fighting with the same patterns and logic since time immemorial. War will continue to ravage the land.

Except, of course, for Alexa Mystic. John Mahmed knew she would be in despair over his use of violence. He’d also assumed that she would become one of the lost shadows who would disappear, giving up on her dreams of peace. John loves Alexa in many ways: as a mother, as a lover and as a sister, yet, he feels that to continue to follow her blind idealism would doom the True Mystics to death and nothing more. Her pacifism is suicide and John thinks that there is a tragic nobility in pushing her aside, to use her as a figurehead much as Noam Prince uses Theodore Shadow. However, while Alexa is a pacifist, this does not mean she is weak and there are more ways to fight than just weapons and terror. Just as she slipped out of the Mystic’s High Command, she slips back in and while many saw her leave, no one sees her return. She slips right into the  command center where John Mahmed was struck down amid his delirium, where Noam Prince is currently looming over the room roaring orders. Theodore is in the room too, sitting alone in the shadows with eyes that stare at nothing. Alexa, without disguise and without cunning, walks up behind Noam Prince and simply waits. It is the men talking to Noam Prince who first notice her and their flabbergast enrages Noam Prince before he realizes that an utter silence has fallen on the entire room, replaced by an almost holy reverie. He slowly turns around to where the focus of all eyes are and with a dawning realization sees that that just inches away from him is Alexa Mystic. No words are said, for the first time in perhaps his entire life Noam Prince can’t think of a word to say. Alexa grins sadly, then says, “Hello Noam. I believe you are supposed to arrest me. I believe that my crimes are punishable by execution.” A grim smile alights on Noam’s face for a second before he orders her to be arrested and put into a cell. Victory, in Noam’s mind, is at hand. Now, there is no rallying banner to keep the True Mystics united, now there is only John Mahmed with his violence. The True Mystics will wilt away from John when they discover that Alexa turned herself over to her enemies to be executed rather than give into the violence that John calls for. Yes, victory is at hand, just a hairs breadth away.

For the first time in their entire relationship Noam and Theo shout at each other. Theo does not want Alexa to be executed. Noam says there is no choice, that they have talked about this before, that this is the way things have to be. Theo is caught in the unfair straight jacket of his past decisions and he knows he is trapped, hates that he is trapped. He concedes to Noam Prince, Noam always has an answer for everything. Besides, Theo knows that regardless of what he says, Noam will do as he thinks best. Theo decides to use what little power he has to make Noam concede a small concession: to let Theo be the executioner and let him execute her in a manner he thinks suitable. In disgust, Noam accedes to Theo’s pitiful demand, then he leaves the room to go plan the end of John Mahmed and the  True Mystics. Sitting by himself, always by himself, the fire that animated Theo a few moments ago bleeds away, leaving just that cold non-seeing husk who he is now, living in the shell of that man who used to see nothing but beauty. He decides to stare out the window, again, while he waits for that time when he will take the life of his best friend. Theo mumbles to himself, “Who is responsible for all of this? Is anyone responsible? Are we all responsible? Is the great answer to the horrors of the world that no one wanted them to happen?” From the emptiness, there is no answer.

Thousands watch amid absolute silence. Large eyes and hushed breath all around, today is not a day that anyone looks forward to, today is a day beyond humanity. At a simple desk in the center of an enormous faceless warehouse sits Alexa Mystic. All eyes are focused on her, while her eyes are focused straight ahead. She is utterly emotionless, one might try to spot the hint of a tremor coming from her tiny and fragile frame, but one would look in vain. She is strong, she is calm, she knew where her actions would lead, she knew before she came back to the Mystics that this moment of condemnation would come. The law has spoken, death will come today. All know it, all abhor it, it is simply the way it is. Society is defined by its devotion to the rule of law, if the law has spoken then the law must be followed, no matter how tragic the consequences. The crowded masses are not entirely sorrowful, there is a glimmer of hope that this execution will be a turning point, that with the death of Alexa, there can finally be peace.

This is the Mystic’s first execution of a high profile figure. Many had thought that at the last minute some loophole would be found for Alexa that would punish her with something less final than death. No one wants Alexa’s death, even those who support Alexa’s conviction feel in their secret hearts that they don’t want this to happen. Others openly cry. There is no anger directed towards Theo or Noam, there is a universal understanding that Alexa made her decisions and this is the price that she has to pay. Understanding why Alexa must die doesn’t mean that there cannot be sorrow, and sorrow saturates the air, sorrow makes the air so thick that many are on the verge of choking.

Without any announcement, like a silent wraith, Theodore Shadow, the victor of the Mystic Revolution, is suddenly sitting across from Alexa Mystic. Perhaps everyone was too wrapped up in the deep abyss of Alexa’s clear eyes that it Theo’s sudden arrival just has the appearance of magic, perhaps there were even horns trumpeting Theo’s arrival and simply no one took any notice. It doesn’t make a difference. He is here. How much time has passed? Can it be closer to the time which everyone is waiting for?

Theo is holding Alexa’s hands on the table. This is unexpected, then, no one knows what to expect, perhaps Theo himself does not know what will happen. Everyone assumed a Truth Officer or some hooded executioner would handle the proceeding, but for Theodore Shadow himself to be here adds an even deeper gravitas to the impending sorrow and loss. The rumor from the True Mystics that Alexa and Theo were lovers has reached Theo’s followers as well. He is staring straight into her eyes and his hand is quivering. He is saying words to Alexa that are lost to the crowd but let’s listen anyway. “Alexa,” he says, then stops. His voice quivers more than his hand. “Good morning Theo,” Alexa says with a perfect steadiness, turning the full power of her endless gaze which captivated the entire room onto Theo, “How are you today?” Theo cracks just a faint sliver of a grin, “I’m just terrible. How about you?” Alexa flashes  a real grin, the last smile of her life, “Let me be honest, that was a pretty bad night for me. Today seems a little bit better though.” There is a moment of silence. Finally, with Theo not seeming to be able to pull the words that he needs from the air, Alexa says softly, “Theo, it is time for you to get on with what you have to do.” Their hands are both still clasped.

If only there was a language other than words, words convey nothing of a person’s true emotions. With interlocked hands and locked eyes, they share a truth with each other, but it means nothing to anyone else but them. Theo tightens his grip on her hands and is suddenly a fiery torch of emotion. He says to her, “You don’t have to do this. To hell with everything, to hell with everything I believe in. I don’t care. It’s not worth it. I don’t want this to happen. Let’s just go, I can make it happen. We can go run away, we can find a new valley and it can be like it was. Please. Let’s go, let’s go. I don’t want any of this.” Alexa loosens his hands, while still keeping them clasped, and says in her same calm voice, “Please don’t say this. You are the only hope to save the world from men like John and Noam. I believe in your original vision now more than I ever have, even if you have lost faith in yourself. Even if things have strayed so far away from the way we hoped things would be, I still have a faith in you. We tried, we tried so hard and when I’m gone you must keep trying. You have to be better than you are, you have to rise past the limits of your potential and perfection. Don’t say these words to me, please. I tried to do what I thought was right and I failed. I wanted there to be an end to violence and instead I brought greater violence. I am the same as you, accursed, trying to make the world a better place and only doing evil. You have to be better than this, there is only you, only you in the whole world who can make all of this anguish worthwhile. You must remain true to that delicate world that you can still create. It is a weak house you are building, but maybe in time it can become strong. I cannot allow you to destroy what little you have accomplished, what little we have accomplished together, for my sake. No. You are going to execute me. I am ready. I have made my peace. There is only death and my sliver of hope that my death will in its own small way help you in your struggle to accomplish the true vision in your heart, the vision of the valley.” There is more silence. Theo looks at their clasped hands, then asks her, “Alexa, don’t you still feel a passion for life?” She looks at their embraced hands, enmeshed like lovers limbs, “Yes, I still feel a passion for life, for a little while longer. Do you still feel a passion for life Theo?” There is more silence.

The crowd wonders what Alexa and Theo are talking about. More words are exchanged, thought these words we don’t need to listen to. Let there be privacy at this last moment, perhaps Alexa and Theo were lovers, perhaps they are even in love. Or, perhaps they are just two souls that have shared everything together and the word love is nothing but a simplification of a complex truth. The truth makes no difference, it is too late now. The world is over for both of them, Alexa like a flame thrown into water while Theo like a flame left sputtering on its last few embers. Maybe every man is not enough for his aspirations, humanity not evolved enough to provide those essential things that the human spirit truly needs. Theo asks Alexa how she would like to be executed. Without a single pause, Alexa tells him she wants Theo to take her life by his own hands.

Theo stands up. The collected crowd clusters closer together with the unconscious knowledge that the time of talking is over. Alexa stays seated. She continues to look Theo in the eyes, one last time, until the end until the end. She says something which maybe, “I love you” or maybe, “Forgive me” or maybe it is something completely different. Alexa is strong, she does not break. Theo delicately wraps his hands around her neck to a collective gasp from all those gathered. He strangles her with all his strength. She gurgles, her face turns blue, she does not struggle, all she does is look into Theo’s eyes with her own bulging blinding orbs. Her hands are firmly placed on the table as if she is repressing a bestial urge to claw Theo’s hands away from her neck. He stares down at her, oblivious to everything. He is crying. His tears fall onto her face. Neither of them wipes them away. It is impossible to know if she is crying too as his tears flow down her face.

Alexa topples from the chair. Theo crouches down over her, still choking her, choking her even after she is lifeless, her eyes now empty where before they were full. Alexa Mystic is dead. No one in the crowd understands what has just happened, they are lost in shock. Death is something that happens behind closed doors, except, here in front of an enormous crowd the most powerful man in the world just strangled a beloved woman to death. Absorbing what this means is beyond comprehension, the brain can understands what has happened is what is supposed to happen while the dismayed heart recoils.

Without saying any words or meeting any glances Theo let’s go of Alexa’s neck, stands up and walks out of the building. The crowd recoils from him, giving him all the space that their packed bodies allow. There are no thoughts in his mind, now, Theodore Shadow is truly broken. Is there any way a man can be fixed after something like this? The only emotion left in Theo’s heart is the feeling that he must live up to Alexa’s last wish, that he needs be better than himself, better than his own humanity.. There must be a way to make this hell have a point. He will be better than himself. Alexa will not have died in vain.

The crowd remains in stunned silence before wordlessly filing out of the auditorium. Theodore Shadow will never be the man he was again to those who witnessed this execution, he will only be that man who he is now. Perhaps he is not a bad man, perhaps every decision he has ever made has been the correct decision, perhaps he is simply the embodiment of the truth that some situations are impossible. It makes no difference. A man who does what he has done is a devil and there is nothing else.

Ascent/Descent

Chapter 13

Like a raging storm Noam Prince is wildly tearing through the Mystic high command in search of Theodore Shadow. Wherever he goes, doors shut quickly, conversations end abruptly and people walk in the opposite direction in quivering fear of the anger Noam Prince is vibrating with. Alexa Mystic was just executed by Theodore Shadow’s own hands in front of thousands. It is on television. It’s being broadcast  live this very minute throughout the entire world. Noam is shivering in rage, he is close to convulsions. Where is Theodore Shadow? The command center is quiet as a tomb, no one knows what to do now, the entire world is at a loss for how to react to Alexa’s death. There is a collective chaos, a universal moment where the future is unwritten.

Sitting in front of the same window where Alexa Mystic said goodbye with a kiss on the head, Theodore Shadow once againstares out through the window. This time the day he idly gazes at is bright and sunny, as if to mock the dark ghouls that that have conquered his soul. There is a complete absence in Theo’s mind, he does not have a single thought. He clasps his   hands together on his lap, the same hands that just clutched all of the life from his life partner. There is a fragility in him, as if his subconscious itself has not yet decided the best course forward, with madness, despair, redemption and resolve all equally likely and all equally unlikely. He still thinks of nothing.

Noam Prince blows into Theo’s room like a missile striking its target. He opens the door with a forceful impact that it makes a breeze across the room. He strides lividly  across the room without looking at a single thing, nothing breaks his stride as he converts  the kinetic anger he is thrumming with into words firing from his tongue. His words strike Theo as hard as any punch, “You idiot. You unbelievable idiot. How can you be so stupid? Not even stupid to me, stupid to yourself? How can you be so daft? That girl of yours comes here to try to end this war and as idealistically brainless as she usually is, this time she lucks into actually having a good plan. The war would have been over! The True Mystic’s are nothing without Alexa Mystic. She abandoned them! Now what have you done? You took this suddenly caged beast of the True Mystics and you set it free, now even more ravenous for our blood. They will rally around her death like she was some pure angel who never took a shit in her life. She died for nothing. The war is going to go on ever longer, her worst nightmare scenario. You inept idiot. You let her sacrifice for nothing. You killed your best friend for nothing. You should hate yourself even more than you are capable of. I hope you hate yourself forever, I hope that Satan’s hell of fire and brimstone exists just to keep you suffering and hating yourself. You will forever be remembered with your hands around this phony angel’s neck. You have doomed us, you have doomed the world. Now, the war will be one hundred times worse. Can you not feel the air crackling like lightning? It will strike us all, no one is safe. Our movement is not finished. We will still win except now we will not win for a decade. The True Mystics are not finished. John Mahmed will rally this rabid horde that wants your blood and their wrath will be terrible though not overwhelming, for he will lose many who know that Alexa abandoned John as a traitor. There will be new prophets trying to take from all these broken shards of idealism their own space to pander and preach. There will be new zealots who don’t see the true world yet have tongues that are sweet enough to net the easily swayable like loose butterflies in a net. There will be calculating men who have been searching for an opportunity to slip a knife into the ribs of anyone who has power just to see  what new order rises. This is the end of the world. We will be in darkness forever, or near enough that it will make no difference. This is my fault, all my fault. Why did I choose you as my vessel to conquer the world with? There we of others who would have satisfied my need, there were dozens of others who had better ideas than you. You want to base the world around beauty? Beauty, what does that even mean? You call this beautiful? Do you ever even believe in your own cause or are you the ultimate heathen? I should have put you in a glass cage. I should have put you and that woman in a glass cage and made you into some statue that can be worshiped but can’t talk, can’t ruin the movement with inadequacy and stupidity. You were supposed to be nothing. You are nothing. You are nothing. You are so weak. Too weak to compromise your beliefs when they need to be compromised and too weak to hold firm to your beliefs when you should hold firm. You are only a bridge built half way and it cannot stand. You moan about the fact that you are not bright enough for this world but you never even tried to use what light you had to see if it was enough. Why could you not have accepted your inadequacy and just relied on me to complete the bridge. You have ruined everything. War is coming. You have taken the scepter of victory from our grasp and used it to self inflict a grievous wound. I would abandon you if I could. I would abandon you just to let you rot, but I am tied to you like a man on a sinking ship, dolefully trying to bale the flooding water while the ship’s captain seems to want the vessel to sink. The world is now splintered endlessly. Know the doom you have laid and may it weigh down on you forever.” Detached from any sense of reserve Noam is like a young child punching a wall in fury, wildly gesticulating like a lunatic seizuring in a straight jacket. He storms out of Theodore’s room with that same intensity as he flew into it, returning to baling the sinking ship of Mysticism with a ferocious intensity that harkens the forlorn impossibility of his task.

Turning away from that empty space where Noam was thundering a moment ago, Theodore goes back to looking out the window just as he had been before Noam entered the room. Again, he looks at his murdering hands that as they sit clasped together on his lap. Still, no thoughts flit though his mind, though he did absorb every word that Noam just scourged him with. Every word that Noam just whipped him with will be scarred into his soul for that forever which Noam cursed him to. If his mind is like a color, it continuously sinks into ever deeper blacks.

While staring out the window, an unconscious thought suddenly flutters uninvited through the desert of his mind: it is a beautiful day. For all the happenings in the world of man, the world of nature is enjoying a blissful morning of a burned orange sun with flowers in full bloom, birds twittering magic songs and the air loaded with the scent of fresh cut grass. Not even realizing his own body’s actions, Theo’s subconscious decides to take Theo for a walk through this beautiful day and the towering storm clouds of his mind are dragged dutifully behind.

Walking without thought, walking without mind. The gorgeous day wraps around Theodore like a perfect dream while in his mind a nightmare rages. He walks for an undeterminable amount of time. Some people see him and pale into the shadows, afraid of him, not just a murderer but something worse. As a demon he walks through heaven. In that long ago time when he lived in his  valley this sort of day would have been something Theodore Shadow would have fallen in love with.

The act of walking causes those mental colors that precede actual thought to begin weave a delicate tapestry in his mind. His brain is turning back on. Each emotion he touches is torture. It would be better to turn his mind back off, except the shock of the day is wearing off and that great gift turned curse of consciousness means that thinking cannot be stopped. Like a man awakening from a coma Theo has to adjust to a new world that he did not ask for and doesn’t understand. Alexa dead. Noam’s words. Fruitless war. Hope lost, darkness forever. Alexa dead. Oh to be able to stop this infernal thinking! The temptation of weakness, to stop with a final action this incessant stream of consciousness. To let darkness truly prevail and end his torture, end the destruction he causes the world. Is that still weakness? Could it be strength? Theodore looks at his reflection in a pool of water and wonders. He was a man who spent his entire life trying to do nothing but good, how could so much evil be born from such a pure heart? Since he let Alexa into his life, every step he has taken has gone wrong, yet, he tried so hard. Could there be some god, who through hatred or humor, has cursed Theo? This cannot be the natural order of things. How can good so often lead to bad?

There is a flower at Theo’s feet. His mind focuses on it, on the rich colors of each delicate petal. How can the natural world produce both himself and this perfect flower? Are we not the same, thinks Theo, born to the rich earth, trying nothing but  to reach to the sun? Theo stares at nothing but the flower. The only thing in the world it does is grow towards the sun. It will bend, it will twist, it will turn. It may become ugly, it may stay beautiful, it will become whatever is necessary to grow towards the sun. What a perfect logic. Why hadn’t he been like this flower? Where had he lost the simple logic to follow his purpose in life? While he lived  in the valley, he used to know where his sun was. Now, he has grown away from the light and into a cave, he does not know where the sun is anymore. Theo is devastated with himself, not even able to have matched the fragile purpose of this flower with all of his humanity, all of his physical prowess, all of his consciousness. Perhaps this consciousness is no gift, perhaps it is a curse, or even more a test. A test set by whom? That doesn’t have to be answered, but a test for mankind to determine if, with all of the gifts given to them, are they able to match the simple purpose of nature, the simple purpose of this flower. Theo despairingly knows that he has failed this test. He wants to stomp the flower and in a pique of infantile rage, he raises his boot over it and slams it to the ground and all of a sudden he has tears streaming from his eyes as he weeps for Alexa and for his decision to kill the flower. In blinding tears he lifts his foot and, what wonder, the flower is not dead. Disfigured and in grime but still, its stem is good and its roots are buried deep. The darkness of the world fell on it but it will recover and grow towards the sun again. This flower still knows its purpose, for all that has happened, it still knows its purpose.

There is a flower in Theo’s mind which used to grow towards the sun of inner perfection. He sees this now. It bended, it twisted and it turned. It became ugly. This flower thought it was growing towards the sun but it became lost, it lost the sun. The only thing in the world that it wanted and it lost it. Maybe it was stomped on by the cold boot of fate, or maybe this delicate flower in Theo’s mind lost its purpose because it stopped looking for the true light of perfection  to chase something false, something shiny that pretended to be better than the sun, yet it led Theo’s flower into this black cave. Theo was tricked, but also greedy. However, no matter how lost a man might become, the sun is still there, shining over his head somewhere. The purpose of a life cannot be lost, the darkness may seem eternal but the sun is always there overhead, just waiting for the strongest flowers to break away from the darkness into its warm rays.

There is a wave of revelation in Theo’s mind. The forge that was burned out is suddenly reignited in a dramatic internal combustion. He knows himself again. He knows the path forward. He knows the truth of the world even if it is a hard truth, even if it is an impossible truth. He knows again what he had forgotten, that to head towards truth without compromise is the meaning of his life. Now, Theo can again see himself clearly after being for so long a man that he did not recognize as himself. He now knows that what he has been preaching, that beauty is the meaning of life, is not the meaning of life, the appreciation of beauty was instead the map that led him towards the sun of enlightenment and inner perfection. Yet, this was his map and his map alone. Perhaps there are as many maps as there are people in the world, each person needing to find their own route to self enlightenment. How could he confuse the chisel for the sculpture? How could he worship the chisel and forget that the point of the chisel was to make the sculpture? The way forward is now clear to Theo: to listen to his inner god of true consciousness, that same innate nirvana which lives in a flower telling its petals to grow to reach towards the sun, that same innate nirvana which lives in the sun telling it to burn with heat and light for the flower. The secret knowledge of the universe. Theo finally listens to his real heart and he knows the way forward. He sees a path to the sun, delicate and temporal, yet a real path, a path on which he can perhaps atone for defying nature and work to bring the world  back to its pure course. Perhaps there is a way out of this cave. Theo smiles. He smiles at the memory of Alexa, knowing her bliss if she could share this moment. He smiles knowing that  she does share this moment with him, life not being limited to the simple act of living. Theo smiles in harmony, knowing his true heart again finally, again finally he has the strength to follow his true heart and trust where it leads. Perhaps he cannot give others this revelation, perhaps it was trying to share with others his innermost beliefs that corrupted Theo’s sense of purpose. He was trying to describe revelation rather than attain it. Perhaps the rest of the world will remain lost, belief being a thin blanket that never truly covers anyone, yet, the world will be as it is, each person needing to find their own way to listen to their honest heart, each person needing to discover their own personal faith, each person needing to make their thin blanket of faith be enough. The world is not dark or light, it is not good or bad, it is only as it is, just as mankind is only as it is and all there can be is being true to nature individually. Anything more is not for man.

Theo knows the way forward.

 

Chapter 14

Crossing like a rainbow through the colorless chaos of the Mystic high command, Theodore Shadow flows towards Noam Prince. Many people see him and begin to flee in fear. Yet, just as they are about to disappear, they pause, struck by the radiating sense of peace and confidence Theo wears like a halo. Some see this as the ultimate terror, the final breaking of Theodore Shadow’s mind. How can a man ever find such peace after committing such sins? Others are more thoughtful though, once again seeing the teacher who first opened their minds to a revelation which still pulses through their hearts. They see a light emerging from blackness like a pure sun rising away from a total eclipse.

Theo finds Noam while he is giving whip crack instructions to hustling workers who are swarming in every direction. Noam sees Theodore Shadow and proceeds to disdainfully ignore him, yet, Theo is not dissuaded. Shadowing Noam wherever he walks, Theodore is a silent river of resistance assured that slowly he will break down the stone of Noam’s fury. Finally, in a flash of anger, Noam bursts at Theo, “What do you want, cursed one?” Theo smiles, not a Buddha’s smile but rather an actual jovial smile, as if he feels genuine humor at Noam’s name calling. “You and I need to talk, now would be a good time,” says Theo. “I will never again give you even a minute of my life, Shadow,” retorts Noam. “Then I command it,” says Theo, losing the trace of a smile he had and now channeling a dead seriousness. Noam is about to burst into a tirade about Theodore not even having the ability to command a dog to heel when he catches an unguarded gaze straight into Theo’s eyes. He sees a man whom he does not recognize, a man he has never met, a man unlike anyone he has ever met. Noam nods in assent and follows Theo.

“What do you want?” asks Noam. Theo sits down and gestures Noam to sit as well. Noam hesitates a moment then sits in the chair. During a silent pause Theo stares at Noam, deep into Noam. He begins speaking, “I need you to listen to me with your ears and not your rage. I need you to hear what I say because I offer it not as the broken snake you wished to make me into but rather as that man who once knew the entire universe of his heart and has come to know it again. Noam, you used me as a tool. I respect that. Yet we have both been flawed in our roles with each other, myself not being perfectly suitable for the role you wanted me to play, while you yourself have not been perfect in your mechanizations of me, something that I know you acknowledge since I can see it driving so much of your rage. The world is imperfect, we always acknowledged this intellectually but I think neither of us truly ever understood what dealing with imperfection actually entails. Now, after being through so much, we both have learned  our lessons too late. If only we could do everything over again, we would both be so much better, so much more perfect. Instead, we have come to this point that neither of us wanted to come to. What do we do? You told me that you see no way forward other then attrition. This is a failure of imagination on your part, you have never used me as a tool as fastidiously as you should have, your own weaknesses of being too weak to break me and too weak to let me be myself. Now it is I, the tool, who will have to tell you how I should be used. There is a way to end all of this, there is a way forward. It is to make a new lie, a lie in which we create a scapegoat, load it with all the horrors the world has been filled with and then  sacrifice this scapegoat, leaving the world free of its sins. I need to be that scapegoat, I need to be that sacrifice, I need to have all the worlds sins loaded onto my shoulders. I need to be a lie, an embodiment of that fallacy, evil, so others will not find in their own hearts the terror that has plagued the world and can instead trust the shaky tenet of their own inherent goodness. It can only be me, who has risen so high and now fallen so low. I am the only specter that all the world can be made to acknowledge is the devil. Noam, we need to lie. We need to say that all of the violence that has happened has been because of me. We need to say that I stole the mantle of the true prophet, Alexa Mystic, and used it to mutilate the world to feed the maliciousness of my heart. We need to say that I created all of these divisions between mankind and that the different sides don’t actually hate each other, they were only made to think that they did. We need to make me the gleeful sadist who caused the worst atrocities ever to happen just for my own love of death and hatred of good. This is the way forward. This is the only way forward. You will have me executed. I will die accursed and with me will pass the terror, the history and the division that haunts the world. The world will be able to come together in a fraternity of misguided souls who can unite under the shared experience of being tricked by my deviance. We will rewrite history. We will let my words become words I stole from Alexa, we will make you and John Mahmed into unwilling stooges who were trapped in my web of deceit, we will let all those endless atrocities weighing down the souls of so many that should never be forgiven, be forgiven, and flung onto me so that these everyday monsters can just be normal again. You need to use me as a tool Noam and I need to be used as a tool. Only in this way is there a path forward. Only in this way can I see any hope for my dream of helping to make the world better place being realized. Only in this way do I see some small way to atone for the great evil I have let unfold.  I will be the worst pariah. History will remember me as a monster without parallel and the world will be better for it.” Theodore stops talking and Noam Prince is respectfully quiet, more respectful to Theo than he has ever been.

“I have always looked at you as a false idol, do you know that Theo?” begins Noam, “I saw you as a half filled vessel spouting emptily into the even emptier glasses of the everyman. I watched cynically as the world sang your praises, as if the masses knew what to look for in a leader. To me, you were the imperfect embodiment of an imperfect world, that the simpletons who form the majority of humanity would want to crown one of their own. I have been wrong on so much, Theo. I am an old man who has broken himself, the door that leads to the world I fantasize about will simply not open for me. I just don’t have the key, I have never been beaten yet, here I am, the loser. I have torn myself at this door and it has broken me without me even leaving a scratch. I hear your words, Theodore Shadow, I hear them well. I see you now in a manner I have not seen you in before. I see you now in a manner I didn’t know could exist before. Where before I saw you as a lucky dullard who spoke the simple language of the simple masses, now I see that my perspective has been tainted by my vanity, that I have been unable to speak that simple and elegant language of the universe that you can understand with the simplest of grace. Theo, I have been so wrong. I used you as a tool wrongly, I used Alexa as a tool wrongly, I committed sins that I hate myself for and I condemned you with words that are the same that the judge in my heart condemns me for. You are right, what we have gone through has made us different men. Where before I thought our path forward would be like a mathematical formulae, both rational and empirical, now I know that no equation will ever be equal to the entropic world. Now, we are both paying the price for the error of my ways. I hear your words Theo. I hear them well, yet, I cannot say anything in response to them. In my heart I should be the one sacrificed for my real sins, the greatest of which is destroying you. Yet, my sacrifice would mean nothing, it would just be an empty gesture that would accomplish nothing. I cannot say that you should sacrifice yourself to save the innocence of humanity. How can I let you sacrifice yourself just as you become a man who I look up to? Maybe for the first time I understand worship, perhaps you truly are some type of god. Is this not what the true face of god is like? This look in your eyes is a window in another world. Perhaps there is divinity in the world after all, even if I disavowed the idea of a higher god, this does not mean that a higher god has disavowed the idea of me. Theo, I cannot tell you what to do, to take you away from the world just as you have tamed your curses would be another great rock dragging down on my soul when already I am drowning from the weight of my own malevolence. You want to save all these people, you want to use your sacrifice to make the world a better place? Was that not what we have both been fighting for all this time ? That used to be the highest calling in my heart and now I would tell you I was wrong. Humanity is a scourge that is not worth the slightest gesture to aid. You are a man worth more than the accumulation of humanity, you would sacrifice one good man for the betterment of the undeserving lot and I would tell you that this is a sorry bargain. I would tell you to leave us, to leave me most of all. Let us humble animals cannibalize each other and carry on into the darkness that is the fate of humanity. I am  this is the truth now. Go Theodore Shadow, find another valley, live in Nirvana and never leave. The world will always be the same, people look to the stars expecting magic and revelation, they expect the world to be a better place because they think the world owes them perfection like some undeserved gift. This dreamed for perfection will never happen, the heart of man is too black, humanity is too black and the world is too forever black. Everything is always going to be the same, all we do is change the superficial. I will stay as the blackest of all, I will shepherd  these bloodless sheep into a better enclosure. I have learned so late the lessons of Samael Hollow, but I can work to repair the damage I have wrought. I will rebuild the United Global Republic under an arbitrary Mystic flag, I will eliminate all rivals and I will protect the natural world from this virus that is humanity. I will protect the naïve normal men and women from the evil that lurks in their soul. You must leave. You are better than all of us Theodore.” Noam stops speaking, surprised at the words which just flew from his mouth as if hearing their ideas for the first time just when he spoke them. For a moment he looks as if he wants to catch these words and stuff them back into his mouth, unsure of his own heart. Then, with a shudder, he accepts his heart and firms his resolve.

Theo responds, “Thank-you for your words Noam Prince. You try to disguise your good heart from the world, it is a wonder when I get to see it truly beating. I hear your words and I absorb them, I love them, I am tempted by them and I throw them away and reject them. Do you know when I sat across from Alexa just seconds away from stealing her life with these very  hands, these murderers hands that are chained to my body, she asked me a question I could not answer. She asked me if I still feel a passion for living. I thought the truth was that I had no passion for living, I felt that everything good in me had died. Now, that is not the truth anymore. There is so much passion in me to live, I wish to live forever, I wish to give in to your temptations, to leave this hard world and flee back to the wonder of nature and the wonder of a clear mind. I will not do this. I know my own heart, I know now that no matter what else I do I must remain true to my own heart. I also know that this sacrifice I will make only has any power because I still do feel a love for life. Noam, you must love humanity because humanity is worth loving. Through all of our struggles, we have lost so much, but we must not lose our love of man, no, we must make our love even stronger. We are in a dark place. For too long this darkness conquered my mind and all I wanted was to see the smallest tendril of light, all I wanted was to see the blackness become a little less black so I would know there is still  hope for the world. Now I realize that was a greedy wish. I am not sure if I believe in any god, but I do have a faith in the universe, I believe that there is a meaning in living, I have faith in man and I have faith that mankind serves a purpose. I deviated from my faith because I wanted to find an end to the darkness quickly. Now, I understand that even if it is forever night for the rest of my life, as long as I continue to grow towards where my heart tells me the truth lies then I am serving the meaning of my life, I am working towards that day when we will break free from this suffocating cloud and there will be sunshine on the other side, real sunshine. There are words that I spoke at the sermon where I first met you, words that I now know are more fundamental than I ever understood, since for a long time I just let my heart sing and did not even listen to the words themselves. Perhaps I needed to lose myself completely to know who I truly was. perhaps I needed to fall from perfection to see perfection. The words were like this: ‘May the purpose of our life be to lay a thin sprinkling of dust on the ground, adding almost nothing yet it is the same amount added by those before us. May we serve the future no matter how imperfectly. May we give to the future this fresh layer to stand on, imperceptibly higher, yet still a higher vantage point. And if this fails to sate, a thin excuse for a noble life, our effort will not be in vain. Perhaps that light dusting we laid will be the final critical layer, or close to that critical layer, which will raise our descendants to that fantastic revelation, that nirvana all dreams are made of where they will be lifted from the darkness and for the first time, the very first time, see the ethereal  light of truth in all her glory.’ Noam, we must temper our ambition and lay what thin layer we can. You must regain faith that the world can become a better place and that mankind can become a better species. We must lay what little dust we can and although  it will not be enough, it will help to build the mountain which will one day crack the sky and let humanity stand among the heavens. We can only do so little, but this little is the meaning of our lives. You will sacrifice me Noam and you will learn again to love humanity. You will work for the rest of your life for the smallest of victories. Your life will be sacrificed just as surely as mine will be. Will you help me?” Noam smiles and takes Theo’s hand tenderly, like a young lover where every touch becomes is worthy of worship. He speaks with a reverence, “The world is full of so many who think they are doing good. They help a child and pat themselves on the back, they work for a charity and pat themselves on the back, they ease momentarily someone’s suffering and pat themselves on the back. Were we ever like that? I think we were. We thought we were doing good simply because we felt good. We thought we were making the world a brighter place simply because we made our own world a brighter place. Maybe we did not do any bad, maybe we gave a true helping hand, yet, all we did was not for those we professed to love. No, what we did, we did it for ourselves, we did it to make ourselves feel better, we did it to make ourselves get a better sleep at night in a dark world. Now, we are not like that are we? Now, we know the truth. To truly do good you must suffer terribly, to truly do good you must sacrifice everything you have. It is such a hard cross to bear,  it is no wonder that true benevolence is so rare. Perhaps it is even good that it is so rare, for someone to suffer so terribly for others is in many ways not noble but a tragedy, nobility itself being just another narcissism. It is good, give those innocents their nobility and their sense of goodness, it is better like this. Perhaps to truly create something, one must destroy themselves. This is a fate too heavy for those we profess to love, so let us few knights dedicated to a cause that gets no reward or recognition take upon our shoulders a true suffering, and may we fight for the goodness of humanity. I am yours, Theodore Shadow. I am yours in a way that I have never been for anyone. I worship at the altar of your goodness and am in fear of the weight of it. Your sacrifice will not be in vain. I will use all the tools that I have to destroy you. I will proclaim you as evil, even when I am now sure that there is no greater good in the world than you. I will do this because even if I am not sure now that I love humanity, I will fight for the potential that you see in humanity. I will tear you apart and love you. You will be executed and I remembered as a black cloud of fear over the world forever. Let us talk to John Mahmed and make a peace. Let us go about the work of destroying you.” Both Theo and Noam stand, Noam reluctantly withdrawing his hand from Theo’s. Theo leaves the room with Noam walking behind him.

John Mahmed initially refuses to meet with Theodore and Noam. The flow of time in this story has not always been accurate, where in the real world life is measured in terms of minutes, days and wrinkles, here it is measured in terms of gained experience and John Mahmed has wizened from that young idealistic boy who first entered these pages in the forgotten beginnings of the Mystic Revolution and is now a hardened man. He is preparing for battle  between his solid rump of True Mystics and Theo’s corrupted Mystics and is cynical of his enemies’ intentions for wanting to meet with him. He knows that Noam Prince is a wily and creative nemesis and John senses a plot in anything that Noam touches. However, it is not because of Noam that John does not want to attend any meeting, instead it is because of Theo. Hatred does nothing to describe the very specific emotion which John holds for Theo, it is something far more nuanced. At one time, John Mahmed worshiped Theodore Shadow with the entirety of his youthful passion. Now, Theo is not just a fallen idol but also the murderer of the woman whom John loved. John Mahmed is not like Noam, he is not absent of belief, rather, he is saturated with belief in the Mystic Movement. He worships the words of the early Theodore Shadow while seeing his current incarnation as being a weak man who was tempted by the devil and succumbed to the devils bargain. Perhaps John hates Theo so much because he can see in him how even a good man can fall low, perhaps John is scared that what has happened to Theo could happen to him as well. A teleconference is arranged only if Theo agrees to say nothing and doesn’t look into the camera.

The call begins and Noam immediately feels the fiery zealotry that radiates from John Mahmed. For John there is only belief, he doesn’t care about winning or losing, life or death.. He only cares about maintaining the righteousness of the True Mystics in the face of the depravity of Theo’s Mystics. Yes, John knows he has corrupted the True Mystics from Alexa’s vision, yet, as with any zealot where  power always comes from an ability to trust in their belief no matter the reality, John Mahmed sees himself as blameless. Before this call began, Noam believed that perhaps a real accord could be reached, however, with just a look into the raging eyes of John Mahmed and Noam feels sick to his stomach, this is not the sort of man who knows how to compromise. The call begins with silence as everyone tries read their opponent. Noam sits sanguinely studying John’s face, John sits with a condescending demeanor and Theodore quietly sits behind Noam staring down at the table. Noam begins to talk, “I suppose we can escape the pleasantries, John Mahmed. I do not know you well, I don’t know the type of man you are, I don’t know the type of man you are becoming. What I hope is that there is a desire for peace in your heart, because if there is such a desire I think you will listen to what I have to say and feel realize that there is a rare opportunity, to achieve peace here. First, you must understand that this plan which I’m about to tell you does not come from me, this plan originates entirely from Theodore Shadow. I tell you this even though I know you hate Theo, yet, I understand that at one time you believed in Theo and I want to tell you that this idea comes from that pure part of Theo which you used to worship. Let’s put the facts on the table. Alexa is dead, we executed her. You have a penalty to bear in her death. She came to Theo and myself knowing that she would be executed, she preferred her own death instead of supporting the direction which you were moving the True Mystics towards. We are all guilty of her death and we are all guilty of great sins. If we leave things the way they are now, the world is going to go up in flames. We know that you are preparing for war with us, we know that you will do anything for your belief and we know that you will do anything to destroy myself and Theodore Shadow. I am not agreeing or disagreeing with any of this, I just want to assure that we are all talking the same language. Are we?” John coldly nods and Noam continues, “Good. We are willing to come to you on bended knee in the hope that we can come together to avoid more war, but to actually find a way to move past your hatred and work together to build the society which  Alexa dreamed about. What we want to do is rewrite the Mystic Movement’s history and remove the rotten bits that destroy the whole. We want to expunge Theodore Shadow from Mysticism, we want to turn his name into a curse that mothers use to scare small children with. We will replace him with Alexa as the spiritual foundation of Mysticism and we will keep her memory pure. All of the violence and all of the sins that have smoldered throughout the world since the war began we will lay at the feet of Theo and his declared treachery. We will then bring Theo to trial and have him publicly executed as a criminal who has committed unparalleled crimes against humanity. We want to do this because it will allow the world to have a fresh start where Alexa’s and your  beliefs can flourish. We want to do this because the beliefs that Theo and I hold dear will also be able to flourish. To make this we must unite, we must become one, where even if you continue to hate me, you must be able to work with me. If we do this, we can avoid war and make a world where Mysticism can flower. What are your thoughts?” Noam leans back, not sure if he should feel hopeful or hopeless.

Chewing his lip like a contemplative young child, John Mahmed ponders Noam’s words, “If I could tell you ‘no’, I would. I would tell that you are both a cancer, that no matter your intentions you will keep killing whatever you touch. You both need to be hacked away to save the whole. I will say that I condemn you both as beasts, as monsters, as savage animals. I am not the man that you judge me as. You think I am without compromise just because I do not compromise everything that I hold dear the two of you have. I believe in something and I will work to achieve it without compromise. Yet, your words are not without merit. Alexa’s death feels like a weight around my neck, choking me physically, my lungs unable to breathe a single clean breath since I found out she fled me to sacrifice herself to you. My sins weigh on my heart, yet, I have learned from my trials. I will not become the man that I was descending towards, that man whom Alexa feared I would become. Nor will I become like the two of you. You are correct, I am heading towards total war, but I do not head towards this calamity out of rage, rather I come dispassionately to cleanse the world of its demons. You come here, you who I hate most, and you give me this offer. I am considering what you have said, this very moment my mind is trying to decide how to digest your offer. What should I do, what is the right choice? I see you two as being without redemption but I understand now, after becoming lost myself, how good men can be brought so low. I denounce you both for your debauchery, yet, you did have goodness in you at one time. This does not allow for any forgiveness for your crimes, yet, it does make you both more human. I listen to your words trying to decide if they are manipulative, if these words come from the evil you have wallowed in, or, if there is some unexpected last gasp from that goodness that used to be in your heart. Should I trust you? How can I trust someone like you, Noam, when you twist the entire world to suit yourself no matter the cost? Except, I know that accepting your offer, even if it is flawed, is what Alexa would have wanted. I, like yourselves, have looked vainly for a way to bring the world together rather than tear it apart and nothing has come to mind. It would be a sin to abandon the goodness that I could do with this deal because of your own malignancy. I will be able to accept this alliance on three conditions and if you can accept all of them, then I will work with you Noam Prince as a willing partner. I will be a man that you can trust, a man who will fight for the true mystic precepts and a better world. The first condition is that I alone want to be able to veto key decisions when we are setting up this new world. I will not be unreasonable and I will listen to you well Noam Prince, I may disrespect your humanity but I do respect your mind. Alexa once accused me of being an ocean filled with nothing but empty belief. I want to be better than that. Now, I have adopted Alexa’s beliefs and I want to assure that the society we will create reflects them. The second condition is something you have already suggested, the total tear down and demonization of Theodore Shadow. However, you make this into some tragedy and the concession I want is that you stop spewing these garbage words to me. I don’t care if Theo has now found peace, we demonize him because he deserves to be demonized. He sacrificed his beliefs and brought the world to ruin. Yes, he brought some good, we will make use of that, but a man should be judged on balance and with Theodore Shadow there is no balance. The scale is tipped so lopsidedly that it descends through the ground directly into hell. That is the only way we will talk about Theodore Shadow and that is the only way we will let the world remember him. The third concession is to do with Theo’s execution. A man like this should suffer. He needs to be punished for his crimes, he needs to want to be punished for his crimes. Theodore Shadow saying that he should be executed is the only reason I am listening to you Noam, since it means that Theodore is ready to atone for his sins, it means that he craves the just punishment he knows he deserves. However, a man may say one thing from the comfort of today, then recoil tomorrow when deeds are demanded from words and reality sinks in. Theodore will be executed, that is an absolute. More than that, I want him executed without prestige and without ease. I want him to be executed publicly surrounded by hatred and derision. I want him to be burned at the stake in the hope that the purifying flames will cleanse his soul before he ceases to exist and stops cursing us with his presence. These are my three conditions. If you accept them, then we have a deal. If you can’t accept them, then there will be the war. What are your thoughts? Shadow, you can look at me and answer, I want to hear from your own lips that you accept your doom. Oh, I can feel your heart, so recently filled with nothing but peace, yet, now I have your blood going a little bit don’t I? Aren’t you defensive? Do you not want to tell me that the roads of life are complex and confusing and that in a different world our positions could be reversed? Maybe you are right, sinner, but this is the only world and here you are the fallen one. So, the only words I want you to say is that you accept my concessions and you accept your punishment. I don’t want to hear you say you think your execution will help bring peace, that is not to do with you, I want you to accept your punishment because you feel that you deserve it. Well?” John leans towards the screen, Noam looks at Theo, Theo looks up from the table where his gaze was fixed and into the digital eyes of John Mahmed, “I ask Noam and only Noam if he accepts your concessions because he is the one who will work with you to create a brave new world from the tattered mess I have  made. For you though, to silence the quelling in your heart, you are correct, I feel I deserve death. I don’t look forward to my death, the world is beautiful, yet, I know that for my crimes I need to be punished and I embrace my punishment. Make the punishment as you see fit, it makes no difference to me. May the world be better for all of this. Noam, do you agree to these concessions?” Noam nods. John Mahmed nods, then asks “Well Noam, let’s get to work. What is the way forward?” Noam and John start talking while Theo contributes nothing, hid time is past. Yet, the things that Noam and John talk about are a beautiful music to Theo’s ears, concrete plans to implement the dreams Theo and Alexa fantasized about. Theo says nothing but his eyes absorb the world, spouting that same serenity he’s been defined by since he saw the flower. He is still following the true way forward.

 

Chapter 15

The rumors start as a whisper, but a whisper in the connected era quickly becomes a shout. Noam and Theo agree it’s better for Theo not to know the details of the next stage of the Mystic Revolution, so Theo is usually alone, staring out a window at perfect nature and reveling in the peace that again lives in his mind. He does not follow the cacophony that is circling around him. Vile rumors swirl, backed by incomplete evidence that shifts the public perception of Theodore Shadow. Noam works methodically, stifling the rumors just enough so it seems like they are a secret that’s been let slip. The rumors don’t make any difference in their details, it is only the results that matter, and results is exactly what Noam gets. While Theodore Shadow has fallen from grace and become a figure of horror since the execution of Alexa Mystic, nothing has prepared the public for the revelations that Noam drip feeds the public. It was always assumed that Theo was a fallen angel brought low by a low world. Now, however, the evidence is building and building that Theodore Shadow is no fallen angel, instead he is a some type of despotic psychopath, a man who can only be defined as evil. The things he is accused of are legion, made all the more horrible because of the techniques he used. He used faith instead of violence, coercion instead of anger and manipulation instead of horror. Theodore Shadow is a man whose greatest crime was convincing the whole world that he was the embodiment of good. There is no disgrace in the heart of a man for falling into the honeyed trap of such a demon, there is no disdain for others for falling into the honeyed trap of such a demon. The good people of the world were made the plaything of a psychopath.

However, these epiphanies do note cause disillusionment with Mysticism, instead it reinforces people’s faith. For a time everyone embraced the idea of Mysticism in their deepest heart and since then it has suffered a slow leak of disenchantment as atrocities and war have leeched the virtue from the cause. Now, the root of Mysticism’s tarnishing has been discovered and it was not a flaw in Mysticism, the flaw was manmade. Mysticism can again be embraced purely as the excuse for its debasement has been found and will be exorcised. That wonderful original feeling can flourish again. Perhaps this is why there is not more criticism of the fairy tale Noam constructs, the truth is obvious when it is the truth that a person wants to believe in. Of course Alexa Mystic was the true prophet with Theodore Shadow trapping her like a fly in his web of honeyed lies. Of course all the wars and division, the friends who became monsters and the strangers who seemed full of hate, did what they did on the mechanizations of this diseased man, Theodore Shadow. No person is truly rational, there is always a natural logic to that wants to follow what feels most right, and if this is an easy lie instead of a hard truth then often times the lie will win. Each person had the silent question put to their heart whether they wanted to support the real history of Theodore Shadow with all of its hard truths or, support Noam’s comforting fantasy where the masses were innocent lambs brought to the slaughter. It is not a hard choice to make, and like a changing tide the world en masse abandons Theo. The world shifts quickly and suddenly the world hates, despises and rages at Theodore Shadow. So recently Theo was the most powerful man in the world, so soon he will be destroyed. For now, he sits at his window, gazing out.

With perfect timing Noam Prince and John Mahmed issue a joint statement together. Both of them have cast aside their animosity for each other and have decided to become allies, recognizing that they were both stooges in insidious web that Theodore Shadow had trapped them in. Now, no longer would either of them allow themselves to be Theodore Shadow’s pawns. The light of truth is now burning away the lies of Theodore Shadow, leaving him revealed for the monster whom he truly is. Noam and John admit they unwittingly perpetrated in terrible acts, but they humbly beg pardon of the public, strong men on bended knee for clemency. They promise that they have broken free from Theodore Shadow and will work as public slaves to mend mistakes, starting by tearing down Theodore Shadow and reaffirming the true Mysticism of Alexa Mystic. The world applauds the integrity and bravery of Noam Prince and John Mahmed and an instant coup is launched by Noam Prince with John Mahmed’s support.

Theo is captured while staring out the window. His capture has been planned well in advance since Noam has worried that he might be violently murdered in passion, like Samael Hollow. The elite military unit sent to collect Theo barges into his room and finds him unsurprised by their presence. He asks simply “Is it time?” The commander silently nods, orders him to be chained and he is marched to an invisible prison where he disappears from the prying eyes of the world.

An authentic hatred encircles Theodore Shadow. The sentiment of the common man has shifted from a calm sea into a raging storm. Everything happens so quickly. What would have once been unimaginable in now taken in stride and it becomes easy for the world to condemn Theo. In the blistering plasma of common sentiment there is an insatiable hunger for Theo’s life, the jury in each man’s heart having already spoken. Can anyone ever know their own true heart? There is something in the cannibalistic spirit against Theodore Shadow which reflects each person’s own self hatred, each person’s own self fear. Those deplorable acts committed in the heat of the moment or in the ice of terror during the war are remembered like a fevered dream and have been pushed into some subliminal mental prison where it silently festers, eating at the subconscious id of man. Every man becomes a man when they realize that for all the goodness they imbue, they themselves are capable of those very horrors that they fear, the world being full of nothing but murderers and potential murderers. When a hot war flashes like the one that has consumed the world, the fuel for the global conflagration is this potential in the dark recesses of every man and once that dark cage is opened it is close to impossible to cage the loosed beast again. How can a man ever trust anyone else if they cannot trust themselves? The demonization of Theodore Shadow allows for the dark truth to be veiled again, let the men think that the devil was not in themselves as their quiet heart knows to be the truth, let the men think that the devil is this external lighting rod, Theodore Shadow. All of the smoldering self loathing is suddenly transferred onto Theodore Shadow with a senseless intensity, these newly innocent men acting with the vicious righteousness of the hypocrite. The crowd wants Theo’s blood to be the cleansing balm to calm their own innate blood lust.

Theo’s imminent trial for war crimes, high treason, murder and acts of cruelty is announced. The punishment, if he is declared guilty, is public execution. With great fanfare the public celebrates the progress made in their society where a criminal, no matter how powerful, is not above the law. An atmosphere is produced, similar yet different, to that euphoria when it seemed like the United Global Republic might be vanquished without violence. There is a new dawn for the best traits of the human spirit: hope, dedication, fantasy and belief. In a cell, Theo cannot know that the world he sacrificed his life to help produce is taking root, all he knows is that any seed that has been planted will need the water of his complete sacrifice to finally blossom. The tendrils of daylight he prayed for are not just beginning to bloom, instead there is a lightening of the entire horizon as if dawn is just a moment away, a new society taking its first infant steps. Noam and John have worked together in a partnership which has quickly morphed from one of untrusting allies into one of collaborating artists, both made more complete by the complementing talents of the other. Noam again finds in his heart the desire to build a stable world where the individual can flourish, while John Mahmed again finds his devotion to the true tenets of Mysticism that was the original baptism of his passion. They work together for a society in which money is just a means to an end and financial success is measured by generosity to the less fortunate instead of the collection of status symbols. They work together to build a society where the principle requirement of a job is not an automaton’s ability to endlessly replicate a simple task, instead it to have the artist’s spirit of endless creativity and  nuanced perfection. Finally, mankind is not a slave to technologies revolution. Instead, technology is harnessed as a slave to mankind, morphing each person into something organic and alive built on top of the cold machinery that where they used to imprisoned as a cog. Society has been realigned to provide a path forward where beauty can be felt in every moment and that budding flower in each person’s mind can have the opportunity to grow unobstructed towards the sun of their most innate dreams. Mankind had been on the edge of a knife teetering between the brute animal nature of their distant past and the holy promise of a divine  future and after a perilous flirtation with retrograde, the slow, promising march towards progress can continue. A lie has again been created to shepherd society through the unfathomably complex abysses of the real universe towards the simple sunshine of real and meaningful happiness.

 

Chapter 16

Theo watches his trial with a detached interest. Every day for many days he is taken from his grey holding cell and brought into the imposing chamber of his trial. His greatest pleasure occurs when he first enters the courtroom and just before he is forced into the bulletproof cabinet where he can only see the judge, he glimpses through towering windows an unobstructed view of the lush courtyard gardens, bathed in a just risen sun. This tiny splash of light warms his heart, the only natural light he sees during the entire day. Theo finds as he sits at the front of the chamber, trying to fit that role which Noam has designed for him, that he is always fighting the conscious desire to do nothing but stare out through these unfathomably close windows. Instead, he concentrates on the trial itself. The judge leaves no imprint whatsoever on his mind, he is just a grey entity, a man playing a role designed by Noam as well, whether he knows it or not. He could be replaced daily without Theo or any in the courtroom being any the wiser. The crowd leaves no imprint on Theo either, they are just a tempest at his back filled with familiar faces that are now contorted with hatred for him. As he passes through the throngs on his way in and out of the courtroom he is struck by how successful Noam has been, those who used to love him now sing for his death, and this storm of revulsion gives the trial both its noxious feeling of disease as well as its burgeoning sense of validity. Theo doesn’t really hear any of the words of the trial, knowing that his job is simply to accept his condemnation. Like a young student who learns to sleepwalk through class by studying the teacher instead of the materials, Theo is only concerned with fulfilling the judges and publics expectations of him. When the judge asks whether he did this action or that action, he admits that he did. When the judge asks his specific techniques, he explains with either the truth or a lie, whichever is the real answer the judge wants. When the judge asks why he would commit such a crime, Theo responds with a believable answer coming from a man who has already been declared by the jury in each individual’s heart to be a dervish psychopath.

Day after day of this act and Theo is becoming ever more exhausted, ever more buried under the weight of the cage that is being constructed around him. There is a feeling that each and every sin that has ever been committed in the history of the world is being lain at his feet, none too big or too small and while it may seem ludicrous for any rational person to believe that a single person is capable of so many crimes, there is a collective irrationality from the public now with regards to Theodore Shadow. It seems like the bigger the lie of Theo’s crimes becomes, the more people can individually forgive themselves and forgive those who committed atrocities. Theo’s titanic maliciousness makes everything else seem inconsequential.

However, some of the crimes Theo is being condemned with are not based on phantom facts but are rather the real controversies that have chased his own mind. As these crimes are brought up Theo gives through the same passionless responses for the judge and he gives a convincing answer for his motives. However, these crimes don’t captivate the judge, who seems to be working more for a sense of inexhaustible completion rather than the discovery of any depth. Nor do they captivate the audience, which is far more excited by the more personally hedonistic crimes that have turned the trial into an entertaining soap opera. These personal crimes don’t even externally captivate Theo himself, however, it is not the case that he has no fiery passion to address the true crimes he has been accused of, rather, he knows that for the court he is accused in front of, any attempt to honestly address the rationale of his actions would demand a nuance which would  lead to moral ambiguity while the point of Theo’s trial is completely unambiguous: to condemn him as being completely without morals.

Instead, while Theo’s physical body is patiently absorbing without question the depressing arc of the physical trial, there is a parallel mental trial within his mind. Here, away from the politics and weaknesses of the external world, Theo is attempting with a complete dedication to acquit himself in front of the jury of his own soul. Here the trial is not between life and death, it is about Theo trying to come to peace with the decisions he has made in life, it is about Theo discovering for himself whether he is a good man, or a bad man.

The trial for Theodore Shadow’s soul takes place in the burnt remnants of his valley. There is a mythical fantasy impregnating the air. Even while Theo constructs this setting within his imagination, he feels like it is outside of his control, that anything can happen here. Here, in the valley, there are only two characters in the scene and they are both Theodore Shadow. One is the defendant Theo, unmoving on bended knees in the shadow of the ruined apple tree. The other is the watcher Theo, whose mind we currently ride along with, who sees the valley below as if from an invisible tower. From this high vantage point he can finally see the ruined expanse of his valley in a way that he never experienced in the real world. No wonder he has suffered so much, this valley was the most precious place to him in the world and now in his mind it exists as a blackened wasteland. His symbolic heart lies charred. The valley is like a painting, where every ashen remain seems to have been brushed into scene with an extra poignancy, there is meaning here that is deeper than what just eyes can see. It is the only place that the trial of Theodore Shadow soul could happen in. From his high view point Theo can see how this place that is his heart has been devastated, yet, when he looks up the sky is clear and the sun fills the sky, warming the cold ground below. This valley is dead, but not without hope.

From his lofty perch the watcher Theo see’s his alter ego crouch on the ground, bent submissively in preparation for whatever happens next. There is a type of mist both illuminating and vacuuming a pervasive light whose source is undeterminable. Suddenly, out of the ether, a group of shadowy figures walk single file into the ruined husk that once was Theo’s happy cottage and into the wooden box of a jury stand. Was the stand always there and Theo just never noticed it? The figures slowly come into focus, with each member of the jury also being Theodore Shadow. However, these Theo’s are not present day versions of himself, instead they are different incarnations of who he had been in his past. The first Theo on the jury bench is the youngest, the boy Theo who still hides the fact he plays with dolls. The next is an adolescent Theo who beams like the sun as he looks forward to the promise of the future. After the adolescent is a university student Theo who goes from café to café, talking loudly thinking that his voice deserves to be heard. The first person in the lower row is the high powered lawyer Theo who goes home every night to proudly check his bank account’s steady ascent, feeling as if he understands the world. Below the adolescent Theo is a harrow eyed Theo who has been watching his parents art be leeched from them by government drugs. Second to last is the bright eyed Theodore Shadow who glows with the new found tranquility of his valley. Finally, there is the Theodore Shadow who has let Alexa Mystic inhabit his valley with him and believes that perhaps he has found perfection. The watcher Theo feels tears stream down his cheeks as he is confronted by these disappeared dimensions of his life. With his past so starkly laid out before him, for the first time Theo really wonders what it means that he has no future, that soon the story laid out before him will come to an end and all that he is will disappear, the story never remembered as anything other than Noam’s lies. The defendant Theodore Shadow now raises his eyes to stare straight into the mist, completely ignoring the jury members heavy gazes to fixatedly follow a ghostly shadow emerging from that the impenetrable fog. It is Alexa Mystic, made more beautiful and wise here in Theo’s mental sanctuary than any person of flesh and blood in the real world. She is clothed in judges robes an comes to sit at a grand podium that is lightly levitating over the ash clogged remnants of the little lake.

Suddenly Theo dissipates from his all seeing perch and converges with the melancholic mind of the accused Theo kneeling on the ground in front of Alexa. He gasps with shock as if jumping into very cold water, when he was in the sky it was as if he was separate from his history, a watcher and nothing more. Now again in his body he feels the full weight of his past like a club battering the side of his head. His life is a leviathan, a living breathing organism made up of conflicting patches of light and dark. Currently Theo’s flower of just purpose dominates, and Theo’s surface is at peace, but the hidden depths that Theo has tried to bury are enigmatic. Theo will not be judged on who he is today, he will be judged for who he was when he made the controversial decisions of his past, that past now splayed out before him like the many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Theo realizes that it is the judge and juries  job to put this puzzle together and the image that is revealed will be the verdict.

A silent wind blows gently through the valley and Theo finds himself shivering under the glowering eyes of his past selves. Alexa coldly looks down at Theo in a way she never looked at him in real life. Theo does not understand why his subconscious is constructing the scene in this way but he flows with it, trusting where his mind brings him. He sees Alexa stroke her neck and is repulsed to see black bruises staining her flesh where he strangled her. She clears her throat, making Theo realize that there had not been a single sound in this vacuum within his mind. “Theodore Shadow,” she says, “You stand before a jury of your own conscience and the judge of your only true friend to decide the nature of your humanity. The trial will proceed like this: I will ask you to justify in your own words those times where you compromised your personal sense of good and you will try to convince the past lives or yourself that your decisions were just. Afterwards, you will be handed a sentence which reflects your own internal devising, yet it will be charged with the real belief you now find you are giving this ever deepening daydream. Do you understand?” Theo nods. “Then let us begin.” Alexa says.

Rising from his huddled crouch, Theo stands up straight and waits for Alexa to commence. He feels very cold, unsure if it is fear or something more sinister that is making him shiver. In the back of his mind he is aware of the physical trial arbitrating over his body and he knows he is performing dutifully there, however, his entire mind is centered solely on this mental trial which has become more vivid than reality. Alexa asks her first question, “Theodore Shadow, why did you save me when I was a child? I accuse you of compromising your belief not to have any effect on the world in order to avoid unforeseen negative consequences. Therefore, by your logic, you should not have saved me. Your initial worry has proven sound, as saving me was the first stone that started the avalanche of consequences that has led you here. Why did you save me?” Theo smiles softly at the memory of the sweet young girl with eyes gleaming like twin moons, it feels now like that girl never existed. Theo starts talking while holding that memory of her in his mind, “Honestly Alexa, I have no idea how to answer that question. I could tell you that I don’t know why I saved you that day, or I could equally say that saving you was the only thing in the world I could do. Life happens so fast, we are often just playing catch up to the actions we’ve already committed to. I think that is the biggest lesson I have learned from all of these tragedies, that decisions are often not our own to make, we slaves to the diktat of time with our freewill always being confined into a very specific box. I saved you because my body simply reacted to the monstrous scene in front of my eyes. An innocent young girl just sprouting from infancy with men talking about raping her, about killing her. My mind was thinking about the question you pose to me, about whether I should stay true to my beliefs and not save you, yet, my body just reacted to a young cub in danger. I flew at the men and I killed all three of them. I had never known death before. Certainly I had never killed a man before and all of a sudden, three deaths were burdened on my soul. However, while I say that my mind did not know order my body’s actions, since then my mind has come to decide that my actions were just. It is one thing to hold a belief intellectually and it is another to let that intellectual belief conquer every facet of life. Perhaps it is true that if I had stayed strong and not compromised my belief I would still be in my valley at peace, but the weight of your death would hang from my neck like a tightened noose for all my life. Perhaps that was a sacrifice I should have made, perhaps I was simply weak, but I do not regret saving you. It was the most pure thing I have done in my entire life.” With a feeling of confusion, like he did not answer the question properly, Theo stops talking. Why can’t he speak what his heart truly feels? There is a perfect answer, if only it would flow from his tongue.

Alexa seems neither pleased or displeased with Theo’s first answer and the jury is universally stone faced. “My second question is why you let me stay in your valley, when again you knew it would compromise your beliefs. Why did you do this?” Alexa asks. Theo rebuts, “I could say that I let you stay with me because you forced me to. Except, while you did force my hand I believe now that your logic was sound, I didn’t want to let you stay with me because I didn’t want to affect the world, yet, I had already saved you and changed the course of your life and letting you stay with me was a consequence of that original decision. However, and I never told you this in real life, that is not the whole truth. I wanted you to stay with me because even though my life gave me spiritual satisfaction, it was sorely solitary. Seeing the fire that lived in your eyes seemed like such a wonderful thing to have close, I knew that with you I could share all the wonders of my heart. Again, I was weal. I wanted to have no effect, yet, I was tempted by the idea that here we could  positively affect each other .”

Again, neither pleased or displeased, Alexa accepts his answer with silence and the jury remains stone faced. The questions begin to come faster, “Why did you burn the valley?” Alexa asks. “So that there could be no turning back in weakness from the path I had set before my feet.” Theo replies. “Why did you begin preaching?” Alexa asks. “I’d committed myself to sharing the lessons of the valley and my voice was the only tool I had.” Theo replies. “Why did you threaten the men in the village who injured John Mahmed?” Alexa asks. “I am not a pacifist. I abhor violence, however, some will treat a peaceful nature as weakness. I felt a need to protect those who followed me against those who would do them harm.” Theo replies. “How could you put your trust in Noam Prince even though he has no belief in Mysticism?” Alexa asks. “While Noam Prince has no belief in Mysticism, he convinced me that he has a strong passion for making the world a better place. He also convinced me that we could be vehicles for each other’s goals.” Theo replies.

All of these questions have the feel of a preamble to Theo. These are not the sins that Theo’s heart cries a swansong of sorrow for, nor are they the acts he will be condemned for. Now, the questions become more serious. The harsh demeanor of Alexa softens ever so slightly as she asks him, “Theodore Shadow. How is it you could tolerate violence as a means to an end? How is it you could tolerate terror as a means to an end? How is it you could tolerate killing as a means to an end? How is it that you could compromise your beliefs so many times to make room for ever increasing deviance?” Suddenly Theo feels his heart race. If before the entire scene was devoid of color now suddenly the scene is over saturated, every faceless stone and ashen stump seeming to vividly awaken and become filled with life as Alexa asks these questions. Without moving, Theodore is now facing the jury of his past selves instead of Alexa. The flower that has been filling Theo’s mind with purpose is under attack as his mind deconstructs the questions through the spinning processors of his rationale. He starts speaking shakily in a whisper, “These are the real questions, aren’t they? And, they are the ones I don’t have an answer for… Life didn’t happen as I imagined it would. I always wanted to stay true to my beliefs. I never wanted to cause terror, I never wanted to accept torture. I never wanted death and killing to be committed in my name. Every step of my life has been following the stepping stones of my sense of righteousness and goodness. The world works in such a way that there will always be things outside of one’s control. The world didn’t have to unravel the way it did, did it? Could I not have been the exact same person I have been, having these same weaknesses, making these same calls of judgment and an entirely different situation could have resulted? I wanted to make the world a better place. I fought to make the world a better place. I suffered to make the world a better place. It has been like betting, I kept losing my bets instead of winning and then I’d double down with a bigger bet that I would then lose as well. Should I have walked away? How could I walk away when I had already hurt what I loved and damaged what I had wanted to fix? I should have stopped, I should have learned from my failures, I should have gone back to the roots of my belief and worked to have no effect on the external world. I know all this now with the cursed burden of hindsight. In the moment I could only operate within the confines of the reality I saw in front of me. Yes, I could have backed down, except ever since I saved Alexa all those years ago, backing down has become contaminated, backing down itself is a choice with unknown repercussions. If I had not saved Alexa, she would have died. If I had not let her live in the valley, she would have been forever lost. If I had not burned the valley, we would not have been strong enough to leave it forever. If I had not begun preaching, we would have been robbing an unhappy world of a chance of happiness. If I had not threatened the villagers who had beaten John Mahmed, they would have continued tormenting the Mystics. If I had not trusted Noam Prince, Mysticism would have faded away without a whimper. If I had not tolerated violence, violence would have been used to break the Mystic Movement. If I had not tolerated terror, our enemy who terribly sought to stifle our voice would never have given us the oxygen to be heard. If I had not tolerated death as a tool, our own deaths would have been our undoing. I tried so hard. At every crossroads my soul would weep in anguish at such unholy choices. I never took the easy choice, I never tried to  escape from the burden that had been thrust on me, instead, I always did what I thought would be the best for the world. I was weak, but my weakness was an original sin. I was not weak at every stage of my life, no, I was only weak at the very beginning, I was only weak in saving Alexa and all my strength since then has been unable to bridge the canyon that this one weakness erupted in my life. Life didn’t have to happen like this, the map was not drawn before we started the journey towards this place. Evil did not have to happen. The United Global Republic could have listened to the will of the people. Noam Prince could have been better at peacefully manipulating the world. Those people, the everyman, who we have been fighting to make the world better for, could have been better ambassadors of their own goodness instead of so easily becoming corrupt emissaries of violence and hatred. I sincerely believe if the dice had just rolled differently, there would have been a better outcome. If that is not the truth, then woe to humanity for it means our broken species is unsalvageable, a carnivorous shark that will never be tamed. You can condemn me for the evil that resulted from my actions, but I tell you that you cannot condemn me the action themselves because every one was made with the most holy of intentions. Great evil has befallen on account of those holy intentions and I accept this stone around my neck. However, does being the root of evil make me evil? Can one fault the intentions of a mother bird that pushes her chicks off a branch to teach them how to fly and one crashes to the ground dead? Can one fault the intention of another mother whose children are starving and when she kills the mangy family dog to save her family, the rancid meat kills them all? Can one fault the intention of a starving mother dog that refuses to feed her scrawniest and weakest pup, even though this condemns the pup to death, so that the other pups might have enough food to survive? Terrible results can happen even with the very best intentions. Sometimes terrible results happen in the stead of an even worse result. Terrible things happened in my name, but is it not possible that my intentions were always good? Is it also not possible that the world might be in an even darker place if I had not taken all the actions that I did? There is a society that is taking root in the world right now as we speak which I played a vital part in creating. This new world could be that utopia which was promised. Does that not mean anything? Should a man be measured by his intentions? Should he be measured by the tools he implemented to further those intentions? Or should he be measured by the  end result? I truly don’t know. I trust my intentions. I trust where the world is going. I am cursed by the tools that were used. I ask you to pass judgment on me. I need you to pass judgment on me. Please, just tell me the truth: am I a bad man? Is that, in the end, the truth, that I am simply cursed by a cruel world to do evil? All my rationality and mindfulness are nothing but a self made illusion. I need you to tell me who I truly am.  Perhaps I am simply evil,  perhaps every tyrant has been just like me, a good man who became lost, a good man who is incapable of seeing what true goodness looks like. Tell me the truth so that I know who I am. I will die so soon, that is no terror, but to die without knowing my own self is terrifying.” Theo stops talking, the unnatural light in the valley suddenly dims and where Alexa and the jury were sitting, there is now only emptiness. The jury is deliberating.

Kneeling on the soft ground of the valley floor, Theo waits with a heart of stone for his phantom sentencing. He is also aware that in the propaganda courtroom of reality, the proceedings have finished and in this realm too the jury is deliberating. He does not consciously ignore the external proceedings now, he just cares so much more about the jury’s decision in his mind. Is this what lucid dreaming is like? Can there be such a thing as lucid day dreams? Theo deeply breathes the air of the imagined valley and though there is a thick smell of dank decay underneath, there is still that sweet aroma that greeted him upon awakening for so many years. This is still his valley. After all the ways his world has changed or ceased to exist, he still had this holy room in his mind that he could have gone to at any time. If only he’d known he could escape to this room, perhaps he would have eluded many nights of mental anguish, perhaps he could have even stayed more true to his moral compass, though, as he reflects on his defense to the phantom jury, he gains a sense of confidence is his own actions. No matter what verdict the jury hands him, he now feels a strength in his heart that he acted only with from goodness goodness. Nothing can take that dignity away from him.

Suddenly another character is in the valley with Theo. Sitting in a chair gazing softly with inscrutable eyes at our Theo, is the young juryman Theo who watched his parents lose their art. They stare intently at each other for a few moments. No one else comes forth. Where Alexa’s podium was over the lake, is now just empty sky and where the jury box stood in the wreckage of the cottage, is now nothing but broken stone. Aged Theo waits for young Theo to speak. He takes his time, seeming to try to understand something about his future self, maybe trying to understand how one day he would be this stained man. The aged Theo’s eyes still exude a blistering light and this inescapable vivacity makes young Theo smile so faintly. Perhaps young Theo thinks that the world is a mysterious place. He says, “I have been chosen by the rest of the jury to give you our verdict. Are you ready to hear it?” Aged Theo stands erectly  on his feet for the first time since he arrived in the valley and walks over to his younger self so they are almost nose to nose. They look like father and son. Aged Theo nods. Young Theo begins, “You were a lost man and during this time you tried your best to follow the direction of goodness and your best did not suffice. You became lost, while now you are found again and this is a good thing. Sadly, it does nothing to make up for those things you did while you were lost. I look at you with love and admiration for guiding the world onto the path where it is now headed down, but, your ends don’t justify the means. With love, we the jury condemn you, not out of dislike or hatred but out of compassion for only through this punishment will it be possible for you to feel peace in your heart.. Honestly, you more than anyone know you deserve punishment and we will provide it for you. If there is a hell, you will go to it and suffer wretchedness until the end of time even though your heart is good and the world you are leaving is brighter for having had you in it. The darkness must rest somewhere, else lest it dissipate and be born into the system again. You will be the recipient of this burden. This will be no sacrifice, it will be placed on you as a punishment but your dedication in accepting this punishment will ease the terror of your sins. Know that by accepting here, in your innermost heart, your own declaration of the evil you have committed, you can now cast away the shadow of that evil. You can now accept your transgressions and go back to the peaceful tranquility of marching towards that unreachable tower of goodness which now reverberates in your every heartbeat. Know, also, that here in the most mysterious part of your mind, there is an acknowledgment that all these metaphors you use to perceive the world are insufficient, that the true world is more complex than anything but your subconscious mind can decipher and there is no translating this truth to your conscious mind. However, also know that from the standpoint of the infinite universe, that silent judge which often called god, you are neither good or evil since neither good or evil exist. You are nothing but a complicated organic molecule, a descendant of the first atoms of stardust that descended to earth and became the building blocks of reality. To ask this stardust to confront the questions of existence is beyond its place in the universe, the question is too complex. Sometimes, there can be no avoiding going down a wrong path. Sometimes, all the indicators might suggest that the wrong path is the right path and there is simply no way to dispel this ignorance, mankind being insufficient of a race, a species trapped between the doldrums of the divine and the dog. You’ve erred grievously many times, yet, you should still be commended for trying to take action to bring the world forward. The history of life on earth, and mankind specifically, is not a linear story, yet in the end all species follow the withering path towards extinction. This is the destiny of life, just as each man is born to perish, everything  is made to fade away. Any time spent awakened to the universe is precious, the meaning of life being to absorb whatever singing the universe decides to fill your ears with, no matter how indecipherable it might be. You listened Theodore, and even more, you acted. Progress is always two steps forward and one step back and while it is good to applaud those who move us forward, it is wrong to revile those who move us back. Both forward and backward are part of the same movement, like a pendulum in a clock, with the retrograde just as important as the movement forward. There is no shame in riding the crashing wave since it is critical in the formation of the next wave which brings the water ever closer to the beach. You acted publicly, yet, you were only a figurehead. All humanity was your silent partner, with a figurehead no more or less guilty than anyone else as the tectonic movements of society are greater than any one man. All of humanity is one organism moving together in some intricate dance, with beauty in every step, even if that beauty is indecipherable. In the same way mankind has dispelled the myth that the earth was the center of the universe, so too will mankind dispel the view of mankind as the center of the natural universe. Mankind is everything and nothing, no more or less holy than the most humble of single cell molecules or the most gargantuan of stars. All the pretensions that mankind instill itself with are nothing more than that: pretension. Take this valley, which you both loved and destroyed. You thought you could teach the what you learned from the valley, yet, you never learned the real lessons it ostentatiously shouted. The valley was never yours, just as you never destroyed it. Rain will bring the valley back to its former self. Then, perhaps, it will burn and rise again endlessly throughout the future course of the world. Flowers will grow here again and they will die here again. Everything is transitory, making only the slightest whisper amid the euphonic hymn of existence that fills the ether. To deify a man for doing great deeds is the same as applauding a tree that was fortunate enough to have been planted in a place where it could grow into a towering giant that bears many seeds. What has the tree done worthy of praise? Then, what if some of those seeds carry disease which contaminate the forest? What has the tree done worthy of anger? To revile a man for being destructive is the same as being angry at a spark whose fire engulfs an entire forest. To idolize a man for the act of creation is to worship the new tree that grows in the ground made fertile from the fire. The world will not love or condemn mankind, it cares not. Theo, you are a forest fire and no matter what, flowers will bloom again one day as a result of you and these flowers will hold the same meaning as the destruction you wrought.” With these words, the young Theodore Shadow stops talking and becomes one with the valley, just as the dream world fades away leaving only a fragrant memory. Theodore Shadow awakens back into the courtroom of the real world where his physical sentence is about to be announced.

After the sentencing, Theo is brought outside of the courthouse for the first time since the trial began. Theo has no idea how long the trial lasted, it could have been weeks, months or days. Regardless of the outcome of the trial he is pleased to be outside of that lifeless environment. He knows that all this brief journey will consist of is transit from his cell in the courthouse jail to a new cell in a maximum security prison where he will  await his punishment, yet, he finds himself looking forward to. There are only so many days left, there are only so many experiences left and every one is precious.

The first thing that strikes Theo’s eyes as he exits the courthouse is not his escort of a battalion of soldiers, nor is it the enormous crowd screaming vileness at him from the other side of the security detail. No, the first thing that strikes Theo’s eyes are the dying embers of the sun’s rays slipping downwards into their nighttime slumber, perfectly blinding him with their burning photons. With a grin that will conquer the media as the first sight of the despot, Theodore Shadow, after the courts announcement that he is to be executed by being burned alive, Theo has the simple happiness of a child as he feels the warm rays strike his face for the last time in his life. He stares straight into the fiery brightness of the sun until he feels his retinas beginning to degrade and he luxuriates in this feeling, even if it is an agony, since it is something new. Perhaps he will immolate his eyes first, before the rest of his body is burned, he thinks to himself. Then, he gathers together his senses, knowing that with all the cameras watching he has a duty to maintain the persona of a madman that Noam has designed for him. His security detail puts him into the rear of an armored sedan, to take begin the journey to the prison which he will never leave.

With idle curiosity Theo wonders if this sedan is a subtle gift from Noam Prince, a last chance to see the world. Now, alone from the craziness of the court except for a guard on either side of him, Theo feels like he can simply smile to his heart’s content, doing nothing but enjoying the rapturous world briefly unraveled before him for a few brief moments. Yes, a dour parade of military muscle and hateful eyes follow his vehicle through the streets, but it is as if they are invisible to Theo. He does not even see these trailing ghosts as he focuses on all the scenes that the last embers of the days dying sun reveals. Here, the bright red of a garden full of carnations illuminating more perfectly than any rose. There, down a blockaded road, just for an instance as they pass, Theo glimpese a glistening fountain with children happily splashing in its spray. A thousand times a thousand microscopic scenes flood into Theo’s eyes as if he had both a microscope and a telescope directed in every direction. He sees the world in all its glory. Theo realizes he is on the verge of tears, and this makes him smile all the deeper, knowing that for both the first time and the last time he sees the true world. His rapture is inescapable, even his guards unknowingly see the world more purely than at any time in their life.

The gates of the imposing prison loom ahead. Acting as a horizon plane, the cold brick wall robs the sun from the world and as the last sliver is blackened away, Theo does not wonder, he knows that this will be the last sunset he will ever see. He turns around in his seat while one of his guards raises a hand to stop him, but then thinks better of it. A certain humanity is universal when dealing with the condemned. Looking above all those rabid faces at the meaningful beauty beyond them, Theo feels a deep sense of contentment. This is a better world than the one he first entered. After bringing the world so low and fearing a perennial night for mankind, he himself has helped a new day arise. In every crevice of Theo’s mind, body and soul, his immutable self sings a hope filled hymn for the world that it will quickly leave behind forever. The world is beautiful.

 

Chapter 17

Outside an imposing metal door, two guards stand at attention in complete silence. At each end of the hall are another two guards, equally silent and equally stiff. Past the edge of vision, there are more guards, all silent, all rigid, all weighed down by the importance of their task. There is only one prisoner in this complex, one prisoner for hundreds to be guarding, one prisoner to warrant such a fear, such a fervor. On the other side of the imposing metal door is Theodore Shadow. Video screens track his every movement while monitors litter the fearsome prison like leaves on a tree letting all of the guards see the infamous villain. No one talks. No one gossips. There will be time for that later, after the conclusion of this drama. This end is not here yet, for now there is only dedication, work and silence.

Streaming through consciousness of every guard is a discourse over what these monitors are showing. While the guards watch them with a passivity that masks rapt attention, there is a universal disappointment with what they revealed. In his cell, Theo is not a rabid dog, nor is he spewing curses and damnations. He is not imbuing the madness that the trial revealed in him. While he is condemned beyond doubt, a monster revealed, yet, all he does is sit. For hours and hours on end he sits. His eyes are often  shut though he is not sleeping. His hands stay clasped on his lap. This is an image of a calm man at peace. This never enters into the minds of any of the guards though, so convinced are they by Noam’s media circus that Theodore is an antichrist who tried to incinerate the entire structure of society. Only luck and bravery stopped this man. This man, sitting on the bed, this man who seems so peaceful, this must just be another disguise of his evil, the calmness of a still snake ready to strike at any moment.

Right now, this very minute, Theo is sitting on his bed in his cell. He does not know how long he has been here. Meals arrive at regular interval, though he has never bothered to measure the intervals or even count the meals. Each plate of food is something that puts his palette into rapture, each bland morsel could be the last food he ever eats and he treasures it. He notices the cameras watching him and wonders if Noam Prince would want him to act a certain way. He thinks jokingly to cast some dirty faces at the cameras, then thinks more morosely that he has so far played his act to perfection and it would be nonsense to push the boundaries of his stereotype now. He simply sits. He smiles inwardly at the fact that he can still think jokingly. He smiles at the fact he can still smile.

There is not much to the cell. A bed with a mattress and sheet. A cast metal toilet with a sink built into the frame, unnervingly designed to make suicide impossible. Theo hates the toilet, by removing the option, it now makes suicide permeate the air with its noxious fog horn. Theo never entertains suicide, but he does feels empathy for those many sad souls that slept in this very cell who became so lost that the only option was the one  the toilet makes this room  saturated with. The terrible things that happen when freedom is taken away. Every cell always has a sadness ingrained in its fabric, the memory of all those others who walked the short expanse of exposed concrete, who slept on the bed, who gazed with revulsion at the cast iron suicide stopper. “Did the other men who slept in this bed leave this prison alive?”, wonders Theo.

While the scenario is sad, Theo’s mind is joyous. The end is coming, he knows this to be true, he knows it to be inescapable. So rare is it to know truly that you only have hours left of life. Usually life is something ripped away when you’re not looking, yet for Theo, he gets the opportunity to comprehend the reality of his own demise and instead of being terrified by this epiphany, he thinks it is wonderful. He is afraid to die. His heart palpitates with fear. No matter Theo’s thoughts on the likelihood of there being a higher power, Theo is sure that there is no afterlife. The only thing he is sure of is that he came from dust and he will be dust again. That no matter what this dust might be regenerated into, it is of no concern to his consciousness, for his consciousness will be no more. Theodore Shadow as an entity will cease to exist forever. For all the infinites that come after, there will never again be a Theodore Shadow. This mammoth fear that fills his mind is like a blinding sun radiating over the rest of his consciousness, something that is everywhere but impossible to look straight into. Theo acknowledges his fear, he bows to its supremacy, then moves on to the landscape which the light of the presence of death unveils. He sees his life as if it was a map where he can see all the paths that he has tread down, see the contours of who he was. He sits quietly in his cell, interacting with the canvas of his past that will be the same, except for one addition, as the finished portrait of his life. Like watching a movie, he thinks back on specific memories, wanting to touch all those experiences that were gifted to him through a lifetime of passion. He wants to touch them before they disappear from the fabric of reality. To authentically appreciate one’s own life it would be necessary to relive every single memory. Theo knows he doesn’t have that amount of time, so instead lets his mind choose the memories he delves into, trusting in the leapfrogging of his own emotional interconnectedness to guide him through the most dazzling of his labyrinthine memories.

For Theo, his favorite time in the cell is at night. or at least during those hours of the day when the lights are turned off, leaving the cell in a true blackness, a darkness so pure that there is no difference between eyes being opened or shut, no difference between being awake and fantasizing or asleep and dreaming. There is only memory, there is only nostalgia. There is no hope or dreams, he doesn’t fantasize about escape or imagine what death will be like. He is at peace during these hours, then, he has been at peace since he rediscovered in himself the flower. His season is finishing, he had his time as a seed, he had his time about to bud, he had his time in bloom. Now, he is about to fall, yet, he has laid good seeds, seeds he feels confident will grow into more flowers, more life will come after his death. Isn’t this the purpose of life? He is about to fall and decay and let his body nourish the world, just as his words have fallen away from him and nourish the spirit. May nothing be wasted, may everything have purpose.

Theo’s mind wanders. Days flash by while he remembers the single memory of the first night Alexa talked with him underneath the apple tree, the memory lasting immeasurably longer than the reality as he discovers new layers of meaning in every half remembered scent, every shadow. Like how an author might take a decade to describe a single day, time is only a peripheral detail to memory. Years flash by in a blink. He remembers university with a comforting warmth, then moves on. The memory may rise again later to the surface of his mind, each memory rising and lowering like a pod of whales coming up for air, each memory rising suddenly and unexpectedly with a blast of remembrance before diving again just below his consciousness, ready to rise again at any time.

One night when the lights are off and blackness fills the air, some of Theo’s guards flood into his cell. With military precision, they manipulate the video camera so that it shows a repetitive frame of a fake Theo. Each of the guards wears a mask. Theo watches in shock, he has not seen another human being since the day of his trial and now there’s a writhing mass of humanity surrounding him on every side. Silent hands suddenly lift him from his perch on the bed and in an elegant arc he finds himself suddenly flung onto the floor, his cheek pressed against the cold concrete. A warm and heavy voice whispers into his ear, “You thought you could sit here mocking us after what you have done? You need to feel suffering, you need to feel the pain you’ve inflicted on us.” Theo does not resist as vicious blows begin to rain on him with the frequency of water drops in a hurricane. Kicks and stomping pummel his sides. With total silence Theo accepts his torment, not even feeling the urge to cry out in pain. He has accepted into the very pores of his heart that death could come at any moment and if it deigns to come now, it will be no surprise for Theo. His final thought before a blankness passes over his brain is that he hopes his death at the hands of these nameless conquerors doesn’t inconvenience Noam Prince’s and John Mahmed’s plan. After Theo fades away into unconsciousness the guards continue to savagely beat him until suddenly the lights flash on, revealing the spray of Noam’s blood that has been misted onto almost every surface of the room. Shouts of  anger from newcomers break the torturers away from their bloodthirsty reverie leaving Theo’s broken body lying alone. Breath comes sputtering from his mouth. He is still alive.

Groggily, Theodore reawakens to a voice he recognizes breaking through his disconnected perception of self. Momentarily he feels no pain and wonders if he is dead. Then, he hears the familiar voice of Noam Prince saying, “Nurse, can he hear me?” and an unfamiliar voice answers in the affirmative. A door then opens and closes as the nurse leaves the room. “Theo,” Noam says, “You cannot move right now but you can talk if you want to. The nurse tells me that your injuries do not inhibit speech.” Theo suddenly feels a moment of panic when he discovers the truth of Noam’s words that he cannot move, then he make peace with this reality. What will be, will be. What has happened to him? The reassuring cadence is Noam’s voice calms him as he says to Theo, “You’ve been beaten to the brink of death by some radical guards who have a skewed sense of citizen’s justice. They will not bother you again. I am sorry this has happened to you. I am told that the drugs you have taken make it so you are in no pain. Again, I am truly sorry for what happened to you Theo. This is not the way things should be. John and I have accelerated our plans for your execution. We think it is prudent to let as few people know as possible that you have been injured, since it could create a sense of pity for you and that would be unacceptable. You have performed your part in this opera remarkably Theo. The trial was a success and society is arising out of the ashes of our war with a vivacity that is something to behold, something that is new to the world. It is wonderful Theo. I ask you to remain strong until the very end like we’ve discussed. You will be executed tomorrow. What are your thoughts on this?” Theo opens his mouth to speak just as he has countless times before in his life but the words just come out as gibberish. His mouth doesn’t operate the way he wants it to. He slows his words but is still incoherent. Theo pauses and so slowly says a single word, “Fine.” Noam nods then stands, saying, “John Mahmed is with me as well. This will be the last time we meet, Theodore Shadow. From my heart, I tell you that after all we have been through together, the only feeling I have for you is a supernatural awe. You are a greater man than I am, Theodore Shadow, you are an inspiration for what man can aspire to and what mankind is capable of. You cannot see me but know that here, now in your presence, I bend my knee to you. I will miss you my friend. John, do you have anything to say?” There is a silence then the voice of John Mahmed fills Theo’s ears, “You have done abominable things Theodore Shadow. I believe you are following the only course that has been left to you as a result of your own actions. Know though… know that I do not hate you. You have become a martyr for your own sins and the dedication you have committed to your atonement means something. I don’t believe I could act with your same strength. Good bye, Shadow. If there is such a thing as an afterlife, may it treat you well.” Noam’s voice is heard by Theo for the second last time, “Theo, is there anything we can do for you?” “Yes,” Theo whispers, “No more pain medication. Let me die honestly.” Now Theo hears Noam’s voice for the very last time, “As you wish. Goodbye, Theodore Shadow, goodbye my friend. We will not meet again.” With what might be considered a chuckle, Theo’s mouth spews aimless noise and then Theo says his final spoken word to the world, “Bye.”

The next morning, after a sleepless night, Theodore Shadow waits for the door of his cell to open. He is angry with himself that his night was sleepless, he wasted his last chance to enjoy the oasis of dreamland. Luckily the pain is immense and Theo revels in it. It is like a dream, the misery of his body tuning his mind into a supernatural focus. Theo already knows that death is coming, so the pain means nothing, his body is broken but what is a body when life is about to disappear? The world is not slipping away for Theo any longer, it has already slipped, and no tears or rage can change this truth. The pain is meaningless, simply neural receptors screaming that the body is in peril to a mind which accepts that the body is not just imperiled but dying.

Blackness suddenly shifts to blinding light as the florescent tubes begin their blue burn. Theo does not immediately register this change. His mind is like a computer trying to process a too large task and everything is frozen by the struggle. The last thoughts of his life meander through his mind, spinning beyond his control. Theo wonders if there is any meaning behind the flashing bursts of fantasy and memory that are flitting through his brain at a speed beyond consciousness. Then, he calmly and consciously decides to think about nothing, and just observe with an authentic curiosity whatever is about to happen. Does this all mean something? Is there to be some final revelation, some deeper understanding of the world in this last moment?

Breaking Theo’s peaceful torment is the terror of the door solemnly opening. Army fatigues surround him, faceless like those who tortured him, yet, now there is a fearful reserve emanating from these nameless souls. To take the life of another is a crime to even the most corrupted individual and these guards are not bad, they feel the weight of being a pillar in the bridge leading to Theo’s death. Rushing through the mind of every person in the cell, including Theo, is that if these guards were to not do their job, then there would be no death today. Are these young men and women murderers? Will Theo’s blood on their hands? No, they have been trained to keep a cool mind and not sympathize with Theo, even while their hearts wail in a primal sorrow. These guards hate Theodore Shadow, yet, they are about to participate in something which they will remember for the rest of their lives as a sin. As they stare at Theo there is a silent fraternal empathy, a quiet acknowledgement of the true complexity of a bizarre world.

After a perceptible pause, just the endless time of a single heartbeat, the soldiers do their job and lift Theodore Shadow from his perch on the bed. That he has been beaten is obvious. What is not obvious is whether or not the guards know what actually  happened to him. If they do know, are they sickened by the vagrancy of their fellow guards, or are they proud to be comrades to those who righteously brought the high low? There is no time for these questions. Theo is secured into a wheelchair and is wheeled through the grey complex without passing a single person. Theo has not said anything and will say nothing. His eyes feast on the world. He looks around every corner with a vain hope of seeing sunshine through a window, if only for just a moment. It’s a vain hope. This ugly complex is the last vista he will ever gaze upon and with honesty, he finds it sublime, the last vestiges of the real world. All he hears are the fading notes of a lifelong orchestral requiem which is fading fleetingly  into a perpetual silence.

There is a room where Theodore is wheeled into. It is bizarre. The size of a country church covered with the concrete of a parking garage. It is empty except for Theo, the guards who accompany him, a video camera on a tripod and a carefully arranged pyre of wood. Theo does not feel the pain in his body anymore. His vision dwells not on the wood that spells his doom but rather on the video camera. “So it is to be televised,” he thinks without really thinking about it, “Fine.” With gentleness the guards delicately  lift Theo from his wheelchair into a human sized cocoon of emptiness in the center of the dried wood. “Who made this pyre?” Theo wonders while he’s being positioned within the wood, “How do you find someone who knows the right way to make a pyre like this?” Theo’s mind dwells on the simplicity of the wood. Here, in these cut down trees, are the cadavers of century old monks, a natural witness that towered over a small and personal kingdom in nature. These trees have been cut low so that they can cut Theo low, sacrificed victims to ameliorate Theo’s own sacrifice. Theo feels a deep kinship for this wood, he feels remorse that the trees has to die just to make this pyre.  Then, the guards leave him in place, their removing hands being the last human touch of his life. The pyre is emanating a nostalgic smell of childhood and primal man that hides its potential energy.

With sadness Theo realizes that the guards have left the room. He does not remember his last glimpse of humanity. He sits wondering and waiting for a few seconds that last many lifetimes, then, the faint acrid smell of smoke trickles into his nostrils sending a signal to his brain that absorbs the truth with a grim and silent nod. Theo has jumped from the cliff of life and is midair, for a moment flying, waiting to land in the arms of death. There is no heat yet. There is no pain yet. His mind is so vividly alive. Life is such a fragile gift. How can its fragility ever be fully appreciated until it is wrenched away, never to return? The first tendrils of heat begin to rise from the depths of the wood; it is actually quite pleasant. Theo looks without acrimony into the camera. He does not know how to die. He decides that no matter what, he will not scream. He decides that no matter what, he will not look away from the video camera. He wonders if these are promises that are possible to keep.

Pain begins. Like a fog rolling over a colorful landscape, it soon leaves Theo mind in a haze, suffocating under its heavy presence. The heat begins to wrap around Theo like a winter blanket, becoming hotter and hotter. We are not going to watch Theo here. We are not going to see if he screams, breaking his vow of silence. We’re not going to know if he breaks his gaze from the camera. Death have a certain dignity. Death by fire is a twisting contortion that robs everything of dignity. It is our job to respectfully turn our back and imagine that Theo dies the way he wants to die. While our back is turned, let us ignore the smells and noises of death and instead flow into that garden that still dazzles in the center of Theodore’s mind. May we walk through these familiar paths and for the last time smell the flowers that bloom everywhere, growing not in ordered rows but rather in an organic chaos. A lifetime was given to form this haven. Every smell emanates a memory. Here, the smell of Alexa as a young girl. Here, the smell of the first time she held his hand below the apple tree. Here, the smell of the feel of her neck as he acted with the same magnimity as the roaring fire when he robbed her of life. There are a thousand times a thousand smells in this flowered vale. Every blue skied day having its own separate flower. The field is endless in every direction. It takes a lifetime to live a life but it takes an endless number of lives to appreciate that life. We have but only one. The flowers are beginning to fade, with the fog of death creeping over the memories one by one, forcing their petals to bow to gravity and rain down onto the world. The fire has almost done its job. Flowers will never bloom with these memories again, this field of life that is our protagonist will never live again in all the infinites of time. Yet, the ash becomes a part of that rich dirt which blends with the ingredients of a blessed world to unite together to create new flowers, new Theodore Shadows, new trees and new gardens, different from what came before but still an equal monument to the life of the universe. Perhaps the many lessons that the garden in Theo’s mind had to learn will be absorbed into the new life sprouting from death. Perhaps, in the very building blocks of life are the seeds to a richer world than the one that has passed. As the lights go out, there is the feeling of a curtain falling with many questions still left unanswered, life never being fully explained or understood. All there is, for a moment in the darkness, is a whisper which may just be the silence of death, or maybe it is the last note in the music that was Theodore Shadow, so softly, the words could be anything. We choose to hear Theo say, “I will live forever.”

2011- 2013 Nanaimo, Udaipur, Astam

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