The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and
unchanging Tao. The name that can be named is not the enduring and unchanging name.
he man sat alone in the half-darkness. Outlines of furniture, structure, and the vaulted ceiling of his artificial firmament flashed into existence and returned just as quickly to nothingness in the somber, wavering light of candles and the harsh, unforgiving brightness of the flickering television illuminating the space. The primal poetry of John Lee Hooker throbbed through powerful speakers, at once warm and deathly cold, floating like a spectral presence in the smoky gloom as pure candlelight and television false-light cast a shimmer on the amber poison in its glass half empty, not half full. No need to worry, plenty more where that came from.
He had bought the bottle for New Year’s Eve, though most just swilled it rather than savoring it, and thanks to his guests lack of refinement just enough remained.
Just enough for what? The thought elicited a derisive, snorting chuckle causing him to choke on the pleasantly foul smoke rising from the glowing stump of his cigar. His painful, coughing laugh a throaty death rattle as the failing light glinted on the cold, heavy steel lying next to the bottle. Alright, to business.
It had been a day like any other. The sun had risen, the sun had set, his life had ended. Well, that had certainly made the day unique. Ten years providing a beautiful life for a beautiful wife, two kids spoiled beyond all repair to compensate for time away, all for naught and here he was drinking in the dark.
He had often joked about the best way to do it, but no one could have foreseen his dark, irreverent humor spawning the panoply of death that lay before him. The coward’s way: childproof cap already removed, stood inviting next to the whiskey, the cry for attention: razor edge brightly winking a seductive pick me, and finally the coup de grace: laying black and cold, darker than the nighted room in its function. He absently wondered whether the hot gases escaping from the compensator ports of the Glock 19C would burn an interesting design in his flesh as he swallowed his 9mm panacea…cure-all indeed.
Where had it all gone wrong? Ten years ago he was just past twenty-one and fresh back from duty in Japan. The thought softened his face with a sad smile only for a moment, as his eyes glazed over allowing the soul passage back to a happier, blissfully naïve time.
The Marine Corps had been good to him, affirming what his father had taught him about what it meant to be a man. Further gilded by voracious reading of knights and Greek heroes as a youth, how could he possibly not have developed an exaggerated sense of chivalry? He existed to slay the dragons and right the wrongs done by ne’er-do-wells, always with an eye to the safety and virtue of fair, chaste maidens.
Chastity: the ephemeral ideal snapped taut the silver chord, snatching back the soul with great force to crash into the pit of his navel, a wave of weakness surging from his core, powerful as a tsunami forever submerging the reverie and wholesomeness of past joy, like a doomed empire of great beauty and promise.
Perhaps faithfulness was too much to ask in these modern times? For the first time since he stepped upon this path of doom the thought of it gave him pause, and replaced the resigned, mirthless smile of the condemned man with the furrowed brow of confusion and introspective faultfinding.
Was it my fault after all? Had my yearning for a fairytale romance killed any chance of a modern relationship, stained and tainted as it may be by infidelity? Was this farce of a life truly the best that modern coupling had to offer? Who can tell? More importantly, who cares? Remain focused. Let’s get on with this.
The gory mess upstairs had solved all. The darkness took him as he tossed back the last of the whiskey. He did not hear the cut crystal tumbler thud to the floor when the spirits overwhelmed consciousness and robbed his blood dappled fingers of their power to grip as he succumbed to the alcohol-induced abyss.
“Fu—!” In his waking feebleness the man could only manage half a curse. The body reacts before the brain awakens, so he was already rooted in a classic Weaver stance before the hollow click of the Glock’s striker falling on an empty chamber woke his mind. The weapon did not cycle for the expected second shot, so he was left to shake off the dark dregs of unconsciousness with a comically perplexed look on his face, desperately stroking a dead trigger. The dark, smoke-wreathed silhouette not only did not die, but cheerily spoke again.
“At the risk of sounding like a certain cartoon rooster, I say, I do declare you would have left me fricasseed!” The muzzle followed the darkened movements of the shadow as the sable shape grew an arm and reached for the lamp next to the chair, cigarette glowing to light the way.
Cloves, the mind began to function registering detail, his enemy smoked clove cigarettes. The burst of light as the lamp exploded into existence caused him to reflexively pull again at the flaccid switch, muzzle directed center mass, still no satisfying bang or holes punched in the bad guy.
His eyes adjusted, slowly compensating for the angelic halo from the lamp that now lit this impious intruder. The man had an effeminate manner of sitting; legs crossed at the knee like a woman in a skirt, and was immaculately dressed in cream-colored linen. Slight of build with dark, dead eyes belying the smiling face, the stranger regarded his inadvertent host with keen appraisal, showing no fear in the presence of the larger, gun-toting fury before him.
An amused smirk turned up the corner of his guest’s mouth as his southern baritone drawled once again, “Why don’t ya’ll just sit down before you fall down.” Still groggy, the impotent gunman complied, slumping back down to the couch with a thud.
“There, now isn’t that nicer?” The intruder glanced around for an ash tray before extinguishing his cigarette on the arm of the chair and tossing the depleted butt to the floor. In this small moment of distraction, eyes never leaving the intruder, the man racked the slide of the Glock intending to chamber a round and welcome this strange guest properly. To his dismay, the slide locked to the rear exposing an empty chamber and the empty magazine inserted beneath.
“Now where are my manners,” seemingly oblivious to his host’s murderous intent, “I have neglected to introduce myself! My dear mother would be so ashamed at this lapse of etiquette.” The man’s guest reached to retrieve a business card from a small golden case, next to which—in three neat little rows of five—the brassy munitions missing from the Glock’s magazine stood stubby and ashamed like a unit of deserters formed up for parade; hollow point slugs of the rounds looking like the dented helmets of traitors captured unawares and switching sides, the most treacherous sixteenth from the chamber standing alone out front as guide. Judging the distance between them, and his physical readiness to fight, the man’s eyes darted about until the cold, amused stare of his adversary locked him into his seat.
“My god, boy,” the intruder chuckled sweetly, “I do believe you mean to murder me. I hope you aren’t this rude to all your guests. Not satiated from your messy little escapade upstairs? Oh, don’t you worry, boy, I know more than you think and if you’ll just relax yourself and set a spell you just might learn something. How about you read my card while I fix us another drink.” The strange caller rose gracefully from his seat, nonchalantly tossed a calling card to the perilously set coffee table, and made his way over to the sideboard with its crystal decanters.
Democide, Regicide, Deicide
Turner of Worlds
“Democide?” Befuddled, the confused man could do naught but wait for his drink and the anticipated explanation.
“Ah! It’s not just some muscle-y monkey, it has a voice!” The sneering stranger set a half full glass on the far corner of the coffee table taking care not to come too close to the larger man on the sofa as he made his way back to his seat. “Democide is a wonderful term coined by political scientist R. J. Rummel, because the dear fellow felt that genocide just wasn’t doing the job. As a catchall term for government murder it doesn’t fit exactly for me, but it is a lovely word nonetheless. You’re a bourbon man I believe?” Both men sipped their drinks and stared each at the other.
“What is all this? Why are you in my home?” Disregarding the man’s questions, the visitor deftly retrieved a manila file folder from the warm-toned leather valise at his feet.
“John Smith…You can’t be serious is that really your name? My, my, you were even named for this work son. If your dear parents only knew how prophetic that simple, unremarkable moniker was.” Boudreaux glanced briefly up at his host to raise his glass commemorating the dubious honor, then returned to reading the file, crossing his legs in that unmanly manner that John found unnerving.
“Sports in high school. A loner mostly, some friends but not many. Healthy sexual desire, sometimes too healthy, eh sport? Tested very high for intelligence. Moral compass shaped by heroic literature, I’m a fan of the Greeks myself. Early martial arts involvement with training continued through to adult life. Five years USMC directly after high school, noncombat, but distinguished service nonetheless. Married ten years ago, enter children a few years after, and three hours ago you beat your wife and her lover, a former friend and confidant of yours I believe, to death with your bare hands in a fit of jealous rage. That about cover it, sport?”
The shock of the matter of fact distillation of his life and the insignificant treatment of his most recent deeds left John staring at his crimson-tinged hands. How odd that a simple surprise had completely knocked his life out of kilter. He had told her he had to go in to the office for a few hours after dropping the kids off at her parents for the weekend, something he often did since his workplace was in that part of town, and he liked to toil in solitude to catch up on paperwork and clear his head for the weekend.
The demands of his career had been putting strain on the relationship ever since he had left the Corps, in the darker hours he often speculated that the problem wasn’t that he was not home enough, but that he was home too much. He told himself that children were resilient and would understand when they were older, but this time, halfway to his office after dropping them off with their doting grandparents, he turned back towards his own home to attempt to repair the marriage with a dose of that all-important couple time. With the kids away they could finally be alone and talk. Clear the air.
Knowing his wife’s volatile temper, he had purchased roses and prepared himself to take the onslaught with humility before she was spent and he could get a word in edgewise. The roses lay in a scattered mess where they had been dropped in the bedroom doorway; the bodies lay in a tangled mass, broken and shattered bones poking through the skin like thorny stems, dappled with blood spatter like so many crimson petals.
“The moment of clarity, how droll! I swear I never get tired of witnessing that. You all make such unique faces. Similar in most respects, but delightfully diverse in detail. I suppose one could make a study of whether each individual’s particular evil influenced the affect, a sort of face phrenology as it were, but I digress.” The ever more devilish Boudreaux retrieved a matching gold cigarette case from the inner pocket of his jacket, plucked a slim brown stick from its felt-lined interior, lit the tip, and settled back into his chair blowing a lazy, sweetened smoke ring into the space between them. “Now, where were we, my boy?”
“Wha-?” Words failed him again as he struggled to make sense of this new world where men in clean linen suits sit in your chair and speak calmly of life and murder.
“Not much for conversation I see. Well, it’s no wonder she went elsewhere.” Boudreaux cut deep with his calming tones when annoyed, “No matter, this always works best when you sit quietly while I present the crux of the thing.” The voice John was beginning to hate switched from vinegar back to molasses just as quickly as it had gone sour.
“Just like in the movies, we, and I mean that in general as well as in the royal sense, have been watching you. As you may expect we have certain parameters we look for through close monitoring of all manner of standardized testing and the like. You may further presume that upon finding said patterns, we subject the candidates to more in-depth screening. Finally, we watch the remaining nominees for certain traumatic situations and events to crop up in their lives and watch their reactions for the final prerequisites. A very small percentage get the last part right, and now we’ve met.” The devil smiled through the pregnant pause within the portentous, smoke-wreathed silence, obviously allowing a moment to draw conclusions, and waited for John to speak.
“Who’s we?” Finally emerging from the fog, John began to regain his personal power. The quavering, hungover croak he had been encumbered with to this point was now replaced by the command voice he had picked up in the service. The bloody hands were no longer a worry as Boudreaux’s strange power over him began to wane. No need to wash when they may soon be freshly stained again.
“Once again your mental faculties astonish me. We, if you’ll indulge me, are an organization of some influence. Through various techniques of our own we influence present and future events, a sort of gleaning of problematic ideals if you will, to facilitate beneficial outcomes for those who seek out our help. Tell me; are you familiar with the concept of butterfly effect? I’ll take that blank stare as a no. In this sense I must tip my hat to author Ray Bradbury as I favor his use of the term, rather than the more technical notion of sensitive dependence on initial conditions found in chaos theory.”
“In a nutshell, butterfly effect seeks to sum up the aforementioned notion of chaos theory by speculating that major weather systems such as tornadoes and hurricanes in one part of the world could have been caused by something as small as the flap of a butterfly’s wings in some other far off region. I find it quite elegant really.”
“What does all this have to do with me?” He was beginning to tire of this little man’s self-serving soliloquies.
“You, boy, are our newest butterfly. Born of the chaos upstairs, you have burst from your chrysalis as a beautiful creature of God’s own mercy, and more importantly his wrath. You will work for me in whatever capacity I see fit, in return for which we cover up this little debacle, feed and care for you like the prize pig you are, and give you a chance to make a real difference in this world gone mad.” Boudreaux clearly enjoyed the part he played in the exchange. “Here, a bit of a memento to commemorate our time together.”
John saw his name adroitly scrawled on the blank card tossed to him, a child’s sparkly butterfly sticker centered perfectly beneath it, “My children!”
“I’m sorry my Dear John, if you’ll forgive the pun, but you have no children. The whelps you raised for the past few years were sired by that most faithful of friends, whom you left in a pile upstairs with your wife.” The headlights of a vehicle pulling into the driveway swept across the room causing Boudreaux to close his eyes against the burst of illumination, the powerful light filtering through the curtains giving his face a skeletal, malevolent cast. “I am afraid that’s all the time we have for explanation this morning, please empty your pockets onto the table and remove all your clothes.”
“Wha-?” John stood, not to comply with the orders, but to attain a more defensible position. With a sigh, Boudreaux plucked a small automatic pistol from the breast pocket of his jacket, leveled the muzzle at John, and tossed a set of sweats next to where John had been seated on the couch.
“I hate to rush you, but the cleaning crew is here, and anything I don’t take with me gets sanitized. As you must imagine by the nature of our work, they are very thorough. I am sure this is all very traumatic for you, but you must follow my orders if you wish to move forward in the process. There is nothing left here for you but death.” With a gleeful wink and a warming smile Boudreaux’s voice switched seamlessly from stern dictation to warm invitation, “What have you got to lose, son? Take a chance, this goes much deeper than you could ever know, and I promise it is right up your alley. Now put the sweats on and let’s go.”
The disciplined movements of the men entering the house from the garage told John that his guest was right. He complied with the order, leaving every stitch of his clothing, his life, and himself in the happy home turned charnel house.
“Atta’boy, John.” The self-proclaimed Turner of Worlds toasted John with the last of the spirituous liquors and made his exit humming pleasantly to himself. Just another day at the office. He did not deign to glance behind him to see if John would follow, knowing that he would, and he must.