July 01, 2004

"The horror! The horror!"

-Kurtz, Heart of Darkness & Apocalypse Now

"And this also has been one of the dark places of the earth."

-Marlow, Heart of Darkness

My friends and faithful readers, I come before you this evening saddened and deeply troubled. These feelings are undoubtedly due to the events of this past weekend, tragic as they have been.

As difficult as as it may be, however, to recount them all to you as they transpired, I feel that it is necessary that you all understand the gravity and the depth of the terrible fate which has overtaken our comrade, Jonathan Wilson.

Allow me then (with no small amount of trepidation) to begin at the beginning and so proceed until I have laid the entire matter before you.

It has long been a somewhat latent ambition of mine to journey deep into the dark and forbidding wilds of central Texas to engage in a study of the local flora and fauna (like Baptists) and to accrue further knowledge of the geography of the country. When we began, some weeks ago, to receive disturbing reports from our man in the field the certainty of a forthcoming sojourn was clinched.

My supervisor reluctantly commissioned the trip, with explicit instructions regarding various eventualities (everything from encounters with hostile natives to unforseeable difficulties with the transportation) and it was with no small amount of enthusiasm that I faced the adventure ahead.

Leaving in the middle of Friday afternoon, I carefully made my way into the jungle proper, leaving the bare trappings of civilization contained in our own remote outpost of east Texas behind me.

The first portion of the journey was pleasantly uneventful, as I breezed lightly downriver. Thick foliage pressed close on both sides, often reaching over my head towards their brethren standing opposite them, but amidst the densly packed mass of greens and browns it seemed there were none who dared to attempt the crossing. The reason for this became obvious as I occasionally passed the mutilated remains of some of their smaller, furrier relations, the corpses often disfigured beyond my ability to recognize what they once had been. The "highway" is a harsh mistress.

As I traveled, I thought over what I knew of Wilson's record . . . Exemplary scholar, sparkling intellect, immaculately groomed and attired . . . Sterling service record with the LeTourneau University Honors Committee and founding stake in the self-styled "Shadow Council" . . . and that quirky fixation on what he often referred to as "ethics." None of it seemed to add up . . . How could someone like that be showing signs of the state his superiors seemed to suspect that he was in?

After some hours had gone by, I found myself in a somewhat developed area and I docked at what appeared to be the most popular local dining establishment. A prominent, elevated sign announced that I had arrived at "Dairy Queen," and I cautiously tethered my craft and ventured inside. I was greeted, briefly, by half a dozen vacant stares, and I immediately recognized the sort of natives I was dealing with from my studies of the region.

This particular Texan tribe is known formally as "Small Town High School Students," although they often group themselves into subtribes. I had heard that they were best left to themselves unless one was willing to attempt contact with them (being sure to speak in their own tongue). It is one of the many peculiarities of this particular tribe that the language changes regularly on something like a 2-10 year rotation cycle, and is spoken with an odd lilt which cannot be imitated by anyone above a certain age. I, however, was in no mood to make contact at that time at any rate, as I had more pressing business to the south. I ate quickly and resumed my journey.

Before long I noticed a dark mass of clouds gathering in my path, and it was obvious that I was sailing into a dangerous storm which would test my abilities to the very limit.

And it did. To summarize:

The weather started getting rough,
The tiny ship was tossed,
If not for the courage of the fearless crew,
The pickup would be lost, the pickup would be lost.

I could hardly see a thing as the ship was tossed back and forth, slewing wildly from side to side. Blinding columns of white light struck the tree-dotted fields on either side of my small vessel, followed immediately by violent blasts of thunder. I screamed obstreperously right back and forged bravely ahead.

After weathering the storm, I had smooth sailing the rest of the way to Wilson's place of residence. Tethering my craft outside the house, I disembarked and stepped inside. The radio was blaring out the final notes of a folk song of some sort, and I heard the station identify itself as "NPR." I went further in, and there he was.

I almost didn't recognize him, and he certainly didn't seem to recognize me. Huddled under a blanket on the couch, as NPR continued to broadcast its odd assortment of this and that, he was darting wild glances about the room and muttering to himself in French. Approaching cautiously, I could see that he was clutching a collection of Bakhtin's essays to his chest. A review of Fahrenheit 9/11 sat, neglected, on a nearby table next to haphazardly piled movies and textbooks. In fact, his dorm room seemed to have been transplanted in bizarre, jumbled sections to the center of this room. Piles of his possessions rose up like mini-skyscrapers, obscuring the floor. Wilson, seated as he was, couldn't even see all the way across the room.

Of course, I immediately leapt into action, even as his half-crazed eyes flitted in my direction.

"Wilson," I said. "Muslims are people, too."

I saw the glowing embers of intelligible thought brighten ever so slightly somewhere deep inside him, and I was encouraged. Perhaps I was not too late, after all. After a mere half hour of that kind of talk, I had him responding with noncommittal grunts and the occasional monosyllabic answer. Two more hours and we were conversing fluently about the general ignorance with which limited or nonexistent historiographical knowledge is applied to modern political science by the average layperson. Those glowing embers had become a joyfully flickering flame, dancing back in Wilson's head.

As I drifted to sleep early that morning, I congratulated myself on a job well done . . . completely unsuspecting of the impending disaster lurking just around the corner.

By Sunday morning, Wilson was looking quite a bit better, and it seemed to me that we should be able to risk a trip to the First Baptist Church of Bastrop with very little to fear. I'm sorry to say that this proved to be a very clear lapse in judgment on my part.

Everyone seemed to recognize my charge as we entered the building, and greetings were meekly offered from all sides. These simple natives were obviously pleased that Wilson had deigned to walk amongst them, but the slightly crazed look that crept into his gaze at each successive greeting did not escape my notice.

Lost in the Apocrypha during the sermon, I failed to note the waning of the sparks I had so recently stirred to life. A bit more attentive as the Sunday school lesson unfolded, I began to see the depths of my error. Wilson's attitude was quietly benign, his demeanor that of a visiting patron saint. Each time the teacher, (the entire room, even), turned to him for a hint, he answered slowly, but with certainty. They ate up his words and seemed to take a degree of confidence from them . . . but I could see.

They were feeding off of him. His power, having corrupted him, was now being slowly drained away in company with his intellect.

Several eternities later, the lesson was over and I guided Wilson out of the room. We made our way slowly back to his house and he collapsed on the couch after switching on NPR, shakily drawing the blanket around himself. I turned the radio back down and knelt at his side . . .

"Wilson," I said urgently. "C'mon. You can pull out of this. I see it's been rough, but you want to make it back to LeTourneau next semester, right? You don't want to go like this, surely?"

He kept on looking out past me with fiery, longing eyes, with a mingled expression of wistfulness and hate. He made no answer, but I saw a smile, a smile of indefinable meaning, appear on his colourless lips that a moment after twitched convulsively. "Do I not?' he said slowly, gasping, as if the words had been torn out of him by a supernatural power. His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines.

Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror--of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision--he cried out twice, a cry that was no more than a breath:

"The horror! The horror!"

And the light of intelligence died, finally and completely, behind his eyes. I sat like that for awhile . . . I don't know how long . . . until at last I knew that I ought to depart.

I stepped wearily outside and boarded my pickup, guiding it slowly out of Wilson's tributary and onto the winding main drag that would take me home.

The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky--seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.


*clears throat*

*looks around*

Okay, so my visit to Bastrop didn't go down EXACTLY like that, per se. I confess it freely . . . but truth is stranger than fiction, and you'll find that some of the most far-fetched elements of my story actually did take place last weekend.

Had I arrived one week later than I did, everything you just read might actually have taken place. It might be taking place even now, for all I know. Sadly, I now lack the transportation to ascertain for certain that Wilson's intellect remains intact.

We must all continue to hope for the best, and pray that the summer ends sooner rather than later . . .

Posted by Jared at July 1, 2004 02:27 AM | TrackBack