Here's an excerpt from my book. The 'I' in this book is a guy named Josh Miller, a grad student from New York who goes on vacation to some unnamed tropical location to escape his life in the Big Apple. Due to a series of events that lay low his spirit, he runs into the wilderness surrounding the resort town and hears about a prize a man would give everything to possess.
Along the way to finding the prize, he encounters a strange man who appears hideous to the naked eye, but has some strange qualities that make him appear wondrous at others. This excerpt begins right after he sees some of those wondrous qualities more clearly. So remarkable does his companion seem that the urge to praise him wells up in his heart which he can no longer contain....
....When the agony of holding my tongue proved too great, I opened my mouth, ready to sing, to cry, to shout out my joy at the mere presence of George.
Before a sound could escape my lips, though, a shadow passed over my heart. No, it was more an absence of light, as if a thick darkness through which light could not pass had wrapped itself around my very soul. Though the blackness appeared more to wrap around my heart than to infiltrate it, it squeezed tight as if to show what I could do. I gasped, or tried to, but only a faint, hoarse sound emerged. My hands plunged to my pinch the flesh surrounding my chest as if to wrest the darkness from it, but it had no more effect than mere hand waving had on dispersing the obscurity of night. In the grips of agony oh so different from the one that had possessed me moments before, I looked again at George in the hope that he could save me from this terrible torment.
Yet, when my eyes fixed on his face, a new reality presented itself to my mind. Though my companion still smiled, yellow teeth, teeth cracked and chipped in places, merely discolored with bits of eggs and deer between them in others, appeared to my sight now. His face, so radiant it almost shone forth like the sun moments before, now sat lumpy and blunt, with week old stubble growing in unevenly, in my field of vision. Pimples dotted his face in random places, yellow and white pustules ready to burst, and a black growth that looked alarmingly like melanoma dotted his left cheek.
His hand, which had provided such comfort to my tormented soul only moment ago, now lay heavy on my shoulder blade, a vise ready to close and crush the soft bone beneath. I breathed in sharply, alarmed at the damage such a man could do to me, when his stench slammed into my nostrils. It sent waves of nausea flowing through my innards, as if the skunk and the maker of the stink bomb had conspired together to create a foulness so oppressive that it might wipe out all other life forms on the planet.
In a moment, I knew that what I had seen before had been some grand delusion, created by mind my mind out of its desperate loneliness. The true George I saw now and the sight made me shudder. I drew back unconsciously, shrugging the great paw off my shoulder and pinching my nose shut. Still, my eyes remained on George, as if transfixed by his terrific hideousness.
His smiled had disappeared and a deep sigh echoed from his chest. “Josh, Josh,” he said wearily, “when are you going to trust what you see with your true eyes? In whom would you place your trust, the one who has proven himself worthy or the enemy that attacks you now? Whom do you trust, Josh?”
When I made no move to speak, but continued to frown at him, George sighed again, this time with frustration. “Josh,” he said, a touch of irritation sharpening his tone, “listen. I could say a word and the thing that troubles you would leave. Do you believe that?”
I didn’t say a word, but I felt the darkness tremble within me. It seemed to quiver and it almost seemed as if a crack had appeared in the dark cocoon that had enveloped my heart. To my surprise, I could now look at George’s face without unease heaving to and fro in my stomach.
When I didn’t reply, though, George continued. “Yes, I could,” he affirmed. “But unless you open your eyes and ears to what you see and witness, you will forever be susceptible to its control. I have been sent as your guide, Josh, the only way you can arrive at that prize you so desperately need. Unless you put your trust in me, nothing else matters, not your life in New York nor even your physical life here.”
Each word punched through the darkness, tearing a hole in the blanket it had wrapped around my soul. I knew not why that was so for most of the words George spoke I did not understand. Individually, I grasped the meanings, but when combined together, my companion might as well have been speaking Swahili. I felt like a tourist who studies a foreign language dictionary and learns a bunch of words and phrases, but can’t understand when a waiter simply asks him for a glass of water. In the same way, if I opened my mouth, I felt sure I’d say some outlandish, like a order a hot, steaming toad to drink instead of the Coke I wanted.
Not wanting to embarrass myself, I kept my mouth shut and tried vainly to grasp the meaning of what George said. Try as I might, the words squiggled around in my head, writhing to and fro without coming to rest in a discernible pattern. Just when I thought the concepts would line up in just the proper order, some popped out and wormed over to another place so that the whole effect was like a scrambled sentence; the words that composed it would form something meaningful in the correct alignment, but had been mixed together in random fashion until the whole of it drove the mind mad with the effort to comprehend.
Only a sense of the meaning floated to my brain, a perception that supported one I had earlier, but did nothing to set my mind at ease. George spoke of a world vastly different than the one I had grown up in, a world populated by enemies unseen that plagued the mind and tormented the soul, determined to prevent a person from reaching a prize that escaped description. The only way to this mysterious prize was through a big, ugly man who could, in fact, appear majestically beautiful at times, yet the epitome of hideousness at others. He wore Bermuda shorts, bathed in blood and dirt, yet spoke like Socrates, full of wisdom and knowledge, and knew things that no man should know.
While I could grasp that much, the ultimate meaning of what I sensed escaped me. It was like a philosopher’s scrawls; I might be able to discern their intent well enough to pass a course on them, but the impact of the ideas on my life fell flat. I stared at George to probe more deeply this mystery, but saw him no more clearly than before.
As I continued to peer at my companion, though, I oddly saw the darkness that surrounded my inner parts with greater clarity. While I could not see into the darkness itself, I could sense what emanated from it. Though weakened, the barricade on my soul broken down, the blackness felt alive, pulsing; with each pulse, a wave of hatred and revulsion swept through my body. I shuddered at the sensation and wondered why I had ever let this dark cloud ever alter my perceptions or thoughts. George’s appearance improved to my sight by contrast, and I looked with relief on his countenance, which no longer looked vile, but benign.
This, too, perplexed me beyond measure. I rubbed my temples away as if to soothe the torment from my mind. It did no good. The world I experienced at the moment flew so far from the world I knew that I felt a stranger in a strange land, a man totally devoid of knowledge of its habits and customs. The world I knew so well had vanished; a world of concrete and steel, logic and scientific reasoning; of people, crass and crude, noble and honest, but people, those whom I could reach out and touch, speak to and understand; of gray, hazy distinctions between right and wrong where criminals were celebrated on film but denounced in the courts; a place where good and evil had at best been replaced with right and wrong, yet at other times with appropriate and inappropriate; and where people strove not for unknown prizes, but for the very well known glory of money, power, prestige, and even love and acceptance.
All of that had been replaced with something very different, a world unseen, where even the very real person before me appeared as if through a veil, through which I could only see hazy outlines, but not get a true sense of the man behind the covering. Even those glimpses I caught proved contradictory in nature and a part of me, one which I hesitated to even admit to myself, realized that these glimpses arose from combating forces in this new world in which I found myself. Good and evil, terms almost scoffed at for their simplicity in the world I knew, battled each other here, but the battleground seemed far less distinct than in those fantasy books I had read while growing up, with orcs, goblins, and evil magicians, fighting the forces of good in very real, tangible fashion.
Instead, the war in this world seemed to be fought, dare I say, in my own mind. It all made me want to scream, especially because the most prominent force for good, it seemed, sat before me, but at times he seemed the very picture of evil; or, at least, a grave threat to myself. My perceptions, the great 5 senses I had come to know and trust, had proven markedly unreliable. If I could not trust my own eyes, ears, and nose, what could I trust?
Nothing in the world I had known prepared for this moment, not even those great ‘unseens’ of the scientific world, the neutron, proton, and electron and their smaller components which comprised the larger. I could never see such as those, yet trusted in their existence. But, that particular unseen world had been approved by the community in which I lived and did not invade my brain except in the most literal sense.
By contrast, this particular struggle I endured invaded not simply my brain, but my mind, as well. It touched on something ephemeral, and was, in fact, beyond our normal sense of touch itself. My psychological training came back to me and instructed me that what I experienced lay beyond the bounds of normality. It seemed like paranoid schizophrenia, this fear of enemies I could not touch with battles fought for control of my mind.
Yet, even if true, the very fact that I realized the coming insanity spoke of a semblance of reason left to me. I shook my head repeatedly, struggling to cope with the idea that I might be going crazy, yet pondering the things I sensed now might itself drive me batty. I could not contemplate it much longer, but must find another way to cope, I thought.
At length, I halted the motion of my head and looked at George. None of the revulsion, nor of the awe, remained. I saw him, as I thought, in real living color. The imperfections that spotted his face no longer compelled me to revulsion, nor did the kindness that hallmarked his countenance drive me to praise. It appeared as if now, in light of the revelations I had received, I could see him for who he is. What darkness remained around my heart had faded almost to nothing and I smiled inwardly, glad that my reasoning had led to this happy balance.
I could handle George as he was, even if the whole quest I undertook was a bit odd. But, again, I struggled to explain what seemed unexplainable at first glance. He’s my guide through a strange at the end of which lay some sort of pot of gold, I told myself. People did use guides through strange lands and could not, in fact, survive without those guides. All those supposed enemies just wanted the prize for themselves, I was sure. At least, that’s what I told myself. In my desperate need for sanity, the explanation actually sounded reasonable.
For his part, George, who had sat utterly still while I warred with my mind, frowned, a sharp downturn of his mouth making clear his disgust with something. He rose to his feet and told me, “We leave now. Just remember, Josh, that not everything you see appears to your eyes as it really is, nor is everything that actually exists apparent to your eyes. If you want to limit what you see to what your mind tells you could be, you’ll miss much that truly is.” With that, he grabbed the hiking pack and began to march up the mountain path, leaving me with little choice but to follow, as usual.
copyright 2005, John Okulski
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