Visions Through a Glass, Darkly
by David I. Aboulafia
Genre: Psychological Horror
"VISIONS THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY" has won the READERS VIEWS 2016 LITERARY AWARD (Best Adult Fiction - Classics)
the 2017 GLOBAL EBOOKS AWARD (Bronze - Horror Category)
and was a FINALIST in the
2016 FORWARD REVIEWS EDITOR'S CHOICE AWARDS (Horror Category)
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It was strange, to be sure, unusual, even unique. But it was his taste, I imagined; hell, I thought he would like it. That he used a piece of it to murder himself I never took personally. Maybe it was because I thought that, in his own way, he was trying to say something to me. Not a bad something; not a sinister message of any kind. It was like a nod of his head, an acknowledgment that he shared a connection with me.
I don’t think this conclusion so strange. That he would have said anything at all to me of any substance, any time, after a certain point in his life would have been special. That he chose the instrument of his death as a small means by which to communicate was better than nothing. He must have tried other ways to do so over the years, but I don’t remember too many attempts. I never gave him many opportunities in the first place.
It was hard for him to express himself to others. When he did speak to me – I mean really speak to me – well, I just wasn’t listening.
As much as I really did care for him, maybe I wasn’t interested in what he had to say. I was always so selfish and self-consumed by my projects and problems. Maybe I just thought we were communicating in other ways, easier ways, ways that didn’t require words. Maybe I thought everything important had already been said, or didn’t need to be.
I just don’t know.
Anyway, by the way, Dad was a meticulous carpenter and a gifted woodworker, possessed with a natural talent that provided him significant joy throughout his life and that often produced remarkable results. We used to say, my brother and I, that he could build a Boeing 747 with a stone knife and three scraps of wood.
He used this skill to fabricate the means of his demise, securing a decorative oak support he had constructed with some care directly into two wall studs so that it would sustain his weight. He hung the support a mere five feet off the floor; he did not avail himself of the traditional step stool or chair as a launching point. I imagine that in his condition he didn’t trust himself to climb furniture. It had been necessary for him to bend his knees throughout the process in order to complete the job.
I try not to dwell on the perfect horror of this. I try not to imagine the suffering he endured in the exquisite silence and loneliness of his last moments on this earth, nor to speculate as to what thoughts, if any, raced through his dying brain, or even why he had done himself exactly as he had. I do sometimes marvel at the discipline that was required for him to accomplish the task.
There was no question he had been highly motivated. I have neglected to mention that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. He sought medical care infrequently and he was too far gone at the time of his diagnosis for any effective treatment to be rendered. My sense is that he knew he was sick long before this, and finally went to the doctor out of curiosity alone, merely to confirm what he already knew.
It was true he hadn’t been feeling well for a while. He seemed to have lost a few pounds, and he looked more tired than usual, but other than that he didn’t appear to be suffering any overt symptoms of disease. He called me one day and asked me to come with him to the doctor’s office. That was unusual; hell, that he had called me in the first place was a downright phenomenon.
I thought he just wanted to hang out, I guess. But the Wave blew formless whispers into my ear from the moment I picked up the receiver that day.
I guess I wasn’t listening even to myself.
To my surprise, the trip was to a specialist and not his regular doctor. To my further surprise I learned he had been to this specialist on several recent occasions.
He was escorted into the physician’s office, not his examination room. No nurse or attendant hesitated as I accompanied him.
My father looked up and smiled gently as the physician entered his office, closing the door quietly behind him. I looked from the doctor, to my father, and back to the doctor again. The doctor’s demeanor said it all. So did Dad’s. Apparently, I was the only one who was going to be surprised.
So much for super powers. No supernatural deity waltzed out of any parallel dimension that day to tap me on the shoulder and kindly tip me off to what was going to be the biggest shock of my life and by the fucking way have you brought your valium with you today Ricky-Boy?
in essence, Dad was given two choices: First, he could writhe in agony for weeks or even months, wasting away gradually until he died, and as a bonus
he could slowly crush the souls and sensibilities of those friends and relatives as could be convinced to witness his end, all of us victims of a pious society so civilized that it will mercifully avoid a dying animal’s suffering with a momentary injection but insist that another animal, blessed with a brain slightly largely and the ability to perfectly comprehend his demise in advance, bear personal witness to his own agonizing end as the purported condition of his birthright.
His second choice was to dope himself up until he became a vegetable. Little pain would accompany this alternative; except at the very end, of course.
Then, God, or the Devil, or Death or the World, or the Truth or the Random, or Krishna or Gaia, or whatever the fuck it is that is responsible for all this shit in the first place would make itself known in such a way as to open his eyes so fucking wide that he would have no choice but to see.
There would be no eloquent last words, no final goodbyes. And, following all of this, he would also be dead.
A red pepper, I believe it was. Or was it a fruit? Did they say he could be a fruit? Perhaps it was a banana. Dad always liked bananas. Consistent with his rather strange culinary tastes, he used to mix one inch pieces (always sliced with a plastic knife) into a green salad and combine that with Spanish rice. None of us knew precisely why he did this, except that this had been his favorite meal as a kid. I wondered who had thought up this kind of dish, just as I once wondered what thoughts went through the mind of the man who ate the very first squid.
Extreme hunger, and limited choice, I imagine. Extreme hunger for something drives us all. Limited choice just drives us harder.
Eventually, he decided he did not want to become any category of produce. The way he explained his view was that he was given a choice between dying as a human being and dying as something else, and had simply selected the former. To him, it was the only logical choice.
It didn’t seem quite so logical after the excruciating misery of the first few weeks, as he lived with the practical results of his reasoning. So, always one to admit when he was wrong, Dad quickly altered his decision, availing himself of a third option the doctors had neglected to mention.
I visited him every day, at first, as he slowly passed; why, I’m not quite sure. Maybe there was something I wanted to say. Maybe there was something I needed to hear from him. But I never said much and never heard much of anything from him, except low groans accompanied by the soft rustling of bed sheets.
Even these wordless exchanges didn’t last very long. One night, in the small hours of the morning, he simply left the hospital. That he was able to gather the strength to remove himself from his bed was remarkable. That he made it home unassisted and undetected was nothing short of magical.
There was a nurse’s station on his floor. A security guard was posted at the elevator on the ground floor, and a manned receptionist’s desk was situated just before the hospital’s main entrance. He was haggard, terminally ill, and unimaginably weak, and for any exit he might have chosen he had to pass someone. He never bothered to dress in street clothes; I’m not sure he even had any in his room. It’s not as if anyone ever expected him to leave that place. Except in a box.
Notwithstanding, he escaped from the facility unnoticed and traveled a mile to his house in his hospital bedclothes, which is how I found him in the closet.
Yes: how I found him.
Maybe it was magic. Dad always had a knack of making shit happen, you know? For a guy who was basically quiet, humble and unassuming, he had this way of forming ideas in his mind and then imagining them into existence. That was how he explained his success in the world. He said you had to imagine stuff in your head before you could make it real. He said that everything that we see, and hear, and do, and know, and touch, are just the end products of ideas that were in the mind of someone or something, somewhere at sometime. The universe itself, he believed, was nothing more than an idea conceived in the mind of a divine spirit, the ultimate consequence of a God’s imagination. This was not an original precept, he was always careful to mention, but it was a true one.
Is it conceivable that he wished his way out of the hospital, then? Is it rational to believe that a dying, bedridden man might breach the confines of our physics using the force of his mind? And do what? Make himself invisible and walk on currents of air? Disassemble his molecules like some Star Trek character and beam himself into a clothes closet? And for what purpose? To murder himself?
I guess to believe all this you’d have to believe in magic.
I appeared at the family home in Westchester at 3:00 a.m. that morning, using my little-worn key to let myself in. That I already knew precisely where he was might appear to some as sorcery, too, particularly if they were to consider that I had to walk through Dad’s spirit – posted like a guard dog outside of the closet – to retrieve his body.
He seemed to be trying to say something to me, but I walked right through him, just as if he wasn’t there at all.
I guess I wasn’t listening to him even then.
In any event, to me, there was no real magic to any of it. That even an ordinary man can summon forces within himself that appear superhuman or other-worldly, I have come to believe. That there are spheres of existence other than this ball of dirt, water and rock we currently exist on has been made clear. That some of us decide to come back after we pass from this earthly domain, and somehow violate the inter-dimensional levies of whatever place we have been situated in, I understand. That there exist inexplicable forces in this world, most of them wholly beyond the ken of the common man, I get.
I, after all, am Richard Goodman. Without regard to my oh-so-human form, I am inimitable. Although I breathe, and feel, and cry, and bleed, nevertheless, in all of this world I am unique; the only one of my kind.
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I look down.
Blood. My hands are covered in blood.
The clock ticks again. It is 5:54 a.m.
Oh yes; I remember now…
In four minutes, I will be dead."
So begins Visions Through a Glass, Darkly, my attempt to create something completely different in the genre of psychological horror.
Although this tale of suspense, terror and other-worldly events is fictional, many of its characters existed in one form or another. Some of the events described – even those supernatural – actually occurred. The school described in the novel was quite real.
This is unusual, complex literary fiction and designed to be unconventional. In all honesty, it should carry a warning label. The novel starts slowly, lulling you with back story then grabbing you by the throat. It may disappoint an impatient reader looking for a quick fix or a formulaic approach. At times, the story line may seem to be just a background for the real tale: the horror in the mind of the main character, Richard Goodman.
But there is a story, of course, and it centers on Mr. Goodman, an administrator for a school that instructs disabled people in the art of watchmaking. There is a stark glimpse not only into the Lilliputian world of the watchmaker, but also into the lives of people with physical disabilities.
Goodman can be described as a psychic being driven mad by his own inimitable gifts over which he has no control. Demons come to him at night and invade his nightmares. The dead may stop over to pay him a visit at any time, but each time conveying a message that something or someone believes he must hear.
But Goodman is to acquire one more unique ability, along with a terrifying prophecy delivered by a Coney Island fortune teller that he has less than three days to live.
As the clock of his life counts down, a still greater threat emerges: An uncanny assassin who will destroy everyone he knows and loves. Unless he can discover who the killer is. And stop him in time.
Richard Goodman is a conflicted character, as so many of the characters in this novel are. He is tortured not only by the result of his unique abilities, but by the memory of an event that occurred when he was nine, and by his failure to reconcile with a father who committed suicide. He believes his life is a runaway freight train he is not in control of. But at the same time he holds out hope. A part of him believes that he can control his destiny and that a higher power may be watching over him.
Ultimately, Visions Through a Glass, Darkly is a parable with intense philosophies to relate. Nonetheless, I don’t suggest all the answers, and as to many things, I leave a blank space for the readers to fill in for themselves. As such, this novel may mean different things to different people and it was intended to be perceived that way.
It was my wish that some of this would scare just about anyone and that I might write words capable of bringing the hardest hearts to tears. By writing Visions I tried to convey what, to me, is the essence, the center, the core of true horror: To be alone.
I hope you find that Visions contains a passage or two like nothing you’ve ever read. I hope you find that some of it is beautifully written. I believe in the power of ideas and of words and I will try to make them beautiful when I can. Maybe this is because I also believe that their power to reach us lies in their beauty.
One more thing… As to the ending of this novel – as you may find in the ones to follow – nothing is as it appears to be.
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