The question, in form and essence, was not of a difficult nature. It consisted of few words, had been stated succinctly and clearly, and, ultimately, warranted no right or wrong answer. Be that as it may, there were, in fact, only two appropriate answers and each bore serious consequences.
The question in application, however, was one of multiple complications. Though, as Jonathon Redimo knew in contemplating the query presented him, it is in the application of consequence to ones own person that difficulties arise in most any intellectual endeavor. He was enough of a scholar to know this. His was a mind filled with the words of Aristotle and Plato, and Shakespeare and Dante, and even Nietzsche and Kierkegaard and a few modernist philosophers who seemed to have done little else than to breed in him a profound sense of cynicism. Like many thinking young people of today his had been an intellectual journey based first in curiosity, or a desire to know, followed by a sort of intellectual dishonesty- knowledge for it’s own sake or, worse yet, for the sake of making good impressions. This resulted in a leaf-like ability to stand firm in a belief. But he never exactly was argued or discouraged out of a point but rather became bored with it and so moved on. His was an intellect of stubborn arrogance and dispassionate infidelity- even in his lack of zeal he lacked zeal.
These men had indeed shaped him; together they molded his worldviews, paradigms which shifted dramatically upon the arrival of the morning tides. Jonathon Redimo bore within himself, deep within himself, much knowledge. But Jonathon Redimo believed in very little of it and he lived for even less. The sad part is, he knew it. He was an acutely self-aware young man. He knew why he was inclined to accept certain theories or maxims and not others; he knew why he made the decisions he did.
But this decision, this answer finally had him stumped. He now was faced with that one idea, that one reality he had put off, that reality he had avoided. He was faced with the safety of his intellect. Jonathon Redimo, it seemed, was faced with death, that one reality too few of his philosopher mentors could explain. He was young and had envisioned death as late in coming, a sort of January snow fall, and so, like a foolish farmer who doesn’t prepare his livestock and crop for a fall storm, he was unprepared and trapped.
Death was as much a mystery to him as was tomorrow’s weather. There was certainly no question in his mind as to the reality of the eventual occurrence of his passing, but rather, it was the scope of any posthumous existence which he couldn’t fathom. So, as he faced this, the greatest moral question ever posed him, he was filled with the unbridled fears begot by an idea whose regions were as yet unfathomable to his intellect. Thus, he was left alone with his emotional responses, his lack of faith apparent and his consistent instability leaving him without a firm foundation of philosophical basis. His inconstancy had finally betrayed him.
He was a collection of metaphorical insights lacking any mirror in reality, un-defendable (or at any rate, undefended) theories and adaptations of hypotheses not his own. And as such, it seemed he was damned.
Presently, Jonathon was standing or floating or, at least, “being” in a room, or what appeared to be a room. It had no defined features, no discernable walls or doors, but it felt like a room; Jonathon felt enclosed, surrounded, bound. It was solitude that bound him, that intimidating sense of alone-ness. It was as if everyone he had ever known- every friend, every relation- had passed away and he was left alone. It was as if he would now have to go on into the fierceness of existence by himself. There would be no one to bear his burdens, to be of some consolation when consolation was needed. And Jonathon Redimo knew that to know solitude is to know evil.
He had no recollection of how he came to be in the place and he had no rational explanation of why he was there: but he was cold and afraid. For the first time, he truly understood that terrifying sensation of being scared of the dark. The fear he felt rushed through him. It breathed in him, it took form in him, it became him. And he, in turn, became it. He had become the personification of horror, of terror. For in this place he was all there was- he soon would take on all the characteristics of the place: evil he had become first for it was evil that most was present.
A harsh, cold chill ran down his back as if someone had brushed a horrid, rigid finger nail across his spine. He cast a glance over his left shoulder and saw nothing and again saw nothing over his right shoulder, but he now knew he was no longer alone. Jonathon shuddered.
Suddenly a small light appeared like the light of a freshly lit match. It glowed in the corner, lighting a small area of the floor like a miniature spotlight- Jonathon cast all his attention upon that place where the two walls met. After a few moments, though they seemed to go for an eternity of time, Jonathon saw, his body frozen in terrified anticipation, a foot enter into the small circle of light. Then another foot appeared, dark and dirty, bare and apparently well-used. Jonathon no longer was alone. But if felt as if he was. How strange a feeling it is to encounter loneliness though another stands before you. Such is how this other made him feel. It was a sense he’d never known.
Soon the light began to move its way up this other’s legs, showing off the muscles and sinew of a well-worked and much-endured body. The light stopped when it arrived at the face, though it was hardly distinguishable as such. The eyes were oddly close together, un-naturally so in fact so that they almost collapsed into each other in the ridge of the nose. The nose itself! Now that was a horrifying sight crooked and bent as it was. Long like Caesar’s nose. Jonathon wondered if it even had the capacity to smell, he thought the smoke might find no passage up the curving caverns of the nostrils. He noticed the sunken cheeks and sharp jaw lines which mirrored the shape of the eyes and nose; they were like two long, deep valleys between cliff sides: on the inside was the nose cliff, on the other the cheeks clearly resembled the sharp, curving walls of a desert cavern. This was a horrible face.
And yet, despite his fear and horror, Jonathon could not look away; he was compelled to look, something was causing him to look on. To his amazement, as he looked he saw this face shift, from the inside out, to something beautiful. This ugly face changed itself to something beautiful. A sharp, jagged jaw line turned strong and proud. The near-Cyclops eyes, as if in optical illusion, spaced themselves apart perfectly. And the detestable nose became straight. Clearly as good a nose as Jonathon had ever seen.
Just then the face broke into a sudden smile. It was almost kind, almost cavalier. Certainly gentle. But, even Jonathon knew, not genuine. That other face, that first face, that pre-metamorphoses face, was too ingrained in his memory. That face had been ugly and evil, this face seemed kindly and good, but Jonathon knew that the two can never truly dwell together. He knew, in his heart of hearts, in his inner-most soul, that this good, this beauty, this change was but a mockery of true good, true beauty, true change. But what good was knowing when he was at the mercy of one so well-equipped to be the mocking fool; when he was so poorly equipped to stand up to such evil imagination?
With a sudden rush of horror Jonathon realized that he too was being asked to change, it seemed it was his fate, for better or for worse. He felt the weight of mockery and change envelope him. It was his dwelling now. It was the room in which he dwelt.
This other then began to speak. His words came fluently and clearly and for a while he spoke and Jonathon listened; and there was power in this other’s voice. Soon the power overwhelmed his capacity to listen, or at least to hear, and he simply sat. The words rushed by as incoherent thoughts but they were embedded within him. He knew him though he never heard them. The one spoke made sure of that.
Time passed. Jonathon sat. And suddenly Jonathon was once more aware of the words being spoken to him. He shuddered at the question presented him in those moments passed. It was a question laced with a challenge, his life hanging in the balance.
Oh why, Jonathon thought to himself, had this Monday been any different than the rest. It hadn’t started so unusually.
And that is where it all changed.
He had parked his car at the University Parking deck and made his way to his first class, classroom C in the building behind the library. However, due to a badly planned marriage of Nietzsche, gin, and 3 am he had slept in and was late for this mornings Philosophy Class and he had darted across a street sans looking both ways. It just so happened that he had jumped from behind a rather large juniper bush and an oncoming vehicle failed to see him in time. Alas, the car struck him and he crumpled beneath metal and horsepower. Thus was his end. Thus was the present. Jonathon realized, in this moment, the humor of the situation. His mother had always told him staying up late would bring him to no good end and his father had suggested the same about reading Nietzsche. This certainly seemed no good end.
Damnable place, thought Jonathon. God surely is dead here.
The other had stopped speaking and was only peering at him, looking intently. The light had long since gone away and now this other’s eyes glowed, much like a cats, their reflection the last remains of the vanished luminescence. And now the eyes began to speak.
They began to speak of judgment, but not because of Jonathon’s past but because of this other’s power. He was the judge, Jonathon the accused and there was no defense, no jury, just plain, cold, consequence. And this other knew for how little Jonathon had lived. He knew Jonathon in all his faults and was judging them, both actor and action, not for what they had been but for what use they could now be. Jonathon knew the deal. It was his answer he could not yet discern. It only took a “yes,” and his life would once more be his own. He was ransomed and he was the ransom.
` “Well!,” bellowed the dark power, “What is your decision? Your life is mine to do with as I please. Should you choose to obey me it just might fit my fancy to allow you to live on. But should you choose otherwise…well, then…I think I need not go into details at present.
Or do I? No, I shouldn’t think I do.
Come, boy, tell me what is your response.?”
“Sir,” began Jonathon, a hint of panic in his voice, “how can I do this thing you ask? I’m not prepared, I have no experience in such things. I have no training. I’m just a student. In fact, I was on my way to a class, a philosophy class, when all this happened. I never did anything that evil…”
“But neither did you do anything that good,” interrupted the interrogator.
“So if I had done more good I wouldn’t be in this place now?”
“If you had done more good I would have been less able to get hold of you.”
“Please. Do not make me do this. I don’t even know this man. Choose someone else. Please. Please.”
“Very well then. I take that as your decision. So be it. You shall now cease to exist.”
Just then the light reappeared and Jonathon saw a hand lift as a witch’s might in the casting of a spell and Jonathon realized such would be his fate.
“No, no. please, no, not yet. I didn’t say I wouldn’t do it. Just explain how I am to go about this….this…thing.”
The light faded and the eyes were once again the only light in the room.
“My boy, the details are arranged, you have only to act. Have faith in this, Jonathon Redimo. You had no faith in life, no faith in good; have faith now in me, in this your second change, a chance at new life. Just do as I will, just do as I would have you do. Just say simple, little yes and all shall be well. And you will live and you will be happy. Isn’t that what you want, Jonathon, to be live on and do so happily?”
Jonathon thought he could see a cold, terrible, grin in those bright eyes. He was not altogether comforted by these words of assurance but, he mused, what choice do he have. He knew his helplessness. He felt it. He was trapped in the clutches of a powerful possession and he would have to die or do as he was told. He had been called by evil, by hate, to pull a trigger, to end the life and work of man he had never met and to whom he was completely indifferent.
Indeed, perhaps this was why he had been chosen. His well-kempt indifference to good rendered him useful to evil for that inner place wherein good ought to have resided and where it ought to have been judged and found worthy was empty. Thus in that absence evil took root. Like weeds in an abandoned garden darkness grew strong in him. And now it was choking him.
That being the case the moral value of either response never occurred to Jonathon; he had lived for nothing, now he would die for living for nothing or in living on he would do so merely as a pawn, which is like ceasing to be. He would be a toy, a tool, a murderer.
For, indeed, he had been asked to murder a man of great moral standing, a man well loved and highly respected. But evil spoke and evil thought it time for him to die. Evil had chosen Jonathon and Jonathon was ransomed, his life truly as relative a commodity as he had once treated it. It’s a funny thing how a man looks at his life when it may be taken from him. He suddenly realizes all the value it inherently possesses, he contemplates the possibilities of it’s endless worth and merit.
He couldn’t do it he decided. Or could he? Just a simple ‘yes.’ One shot. Simple as that. He thought. One life for another. The power of life and death in his own hands. And his own life at that. But he’s a good man, he conceded. But so too could you be, he argued. There was something inside of him arguing, speaking to and for him, a spirit tangled in the vines of his being. Woven in part by fear, in part by all he had failed to become, it tortured, constricted, smothered, killed, caused to kill.
But there was the catch. Even an indifferent man knows that to kill an innocent other is wrong, Jonathon knew the inherent evil in such a deed. But evil is powerful. Soon that inside of him which still fought for good was overcome by shadow. There no longer was an argument, only cold: cold night, cold room, cold truth, cold evil. The two stood opposite each other, the powerful and powerless. It was an unfair interaction.
Jonathon began to shake. He felt his body crumpling and his mind crumbling beneath the weight of a possession dedicated to it’s duty, unhindered, home in it’s own realm- a place void of good, a place which had long ago chosen to cast off from beauty.
The powerless fell to his knees before the powerful. He knew, as he bruised his legs, that to give in was to become no one, it was to lose all personhood and all personality, but the powerless cannot struggle against their own antitheses.
But wait! A spark! It was a memory, a golden thought, a flash of something good. A prayer he once had heard. He heard the words and remembered tears. He remembered healing. Soon more good thoughts came to mind like shooting stars: brilliant gleams in dark skies. He saw a beautiful sunset, a priest helping a homeless man, Christmas gifts, he saw things which, though he never recognized their goodness previously still existed despite his own failings, despite the evil of the moments.
But it was too late. The thoughts were interrupted as the bellowing voice of evil cried in anger:
“Boy, a decision. Your time is come. Do as I say and you shall surely live but deny me my ransom and you shall surely die. The exchange is fair- my will in all my power for your life.”
And here the voice became calm and even soothing. Like a drug it penetrated Jonathon’s thoughts. His fears disappeared.
“You will never remember anything. Do as I say and the deed will be done. Calm yourself. It’s not as big a thing as you think. It’s his time anyway. His lot is forfeited to me so it’s not your concern. What should be your concern is your own fate. Child, be at ease…be at ease…be at ease…say yes…yes…yes…yes…”
The words echoed in Jonathon’s head and he began to be sleepy and as he passed into slumber he nodded his head and closed his eyes. His stillness was his surrender and his submission his ransom. It seemed he would live on. For nothing would he live as for something good he couldn’t bring himself to die. Such would be his damnation, such would be his hell.
Sometime later- though he never knew exactly how long later- Jonathon awoke in his own home unaware the happenings of the previous vision. He had been in the hospital until the night before, or so he assumed. He did remember the car crash and wondered that he was still alive. He thought he was going to die in that split second before the car hit him. But he didn’t, he was, indeed, alive.
He rose from the bed, showered, shaved, and began to dress. Having put on his pants he opened his closet and retrieved a shirt. Blue and red in the patterns of plaid. He buttoned. He reached for his coat but stopped suddenly for behind his brown tweed there rested a gun, its butt covered by a newspaper clipping and a map. He studied the items for a moment and with a shrug wrapped them in the folds of the jacket. He did so as if it was a daily ritual. He went to the kitchen, made coffee and toast, enjoyed them, opened the front door, and through it he walked, slamming it behind him. He walked down his stoop, across the street and caught the bus. It was a normal day. Life went on. For Jonathon Redimo, at any rate.
Today was the day he would pay his ransom, today the deed would be done. One life for another, one evil for a good.