COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE

fiction

Papa Justify speaks:

I am a hoodoo priest of sorts. If you want to summon the spirits, I can help. In fact, I’m probably the only one you’ll ever meet who can actually deliver the goods. Everyone else who claims to be a hoodoo priest is usually simply an unemployed alcoholic, and they are legion.

Predicting the future is simply a matter of seeing correctly, and most people are capable of doing so with the proper instruction and encouragement. Many are afraid to go down that path, because they’d rather avoid the responsibility of knowing. They’d rather pretend to be helpless in the face of coming events.

The fact remains that we all know what’s coming, but are frightened or lazy enough to pretend we don’t. It comes as a feeling, a taste, a smell, a vision, sometimes as a sound. We are not alone. We are surrounded by spirits who are doing their best to contact us and guide us if we consent to be guided.

Those of us who wish to go it alone are free to do so. The Spirits are not jealous regarding their domain. Think of them as real estate agents. If you can sell your house at a good price on your own, by all means do so. If you can’t, give them a call.

There are many more spirits than most practioners will acknowledge. I am personally acquainted with forty-one, and suspect there are ten times than number who are yet beyond my ken. Each spirit has an area of expertise. In this way they are like craftsmen. A good plumber can recommend you to a good electrician.

What’s Next?

I live in Chiang Mai, Thailand. We’re about eighty miles east of the Myanmar (Burma) border. At the moment, the Burmese army is doing their best to kill civilians, especially those from other ethnic groups than the ones that form the upper crust and the military. These ethnic groups, many of whom speak a different language than their tormenters are running for the Thai border.

Infection rates for Covid are high among certain populations, because Burma is a poor country (unless you’re a military officer) and their healthcare structure is primitive. Even here in relatively prosperous Thailand, vaccination hasn’t really started. The Covid vaccination rate is less than one percent.

So if tens of thousands of infected Burmese people rush across the 1200 mile lightly or unguarded border, we could face a lockdown much more oppressive than the ones we’ve already endured.

GET THEE BEHIND ME!

When the devil makes you do it, it really hurts. In the short term, not so much, but in the long term, the grief in interminable. It gets worse over time.

That’s why I’ve taken to exposing Satan and all his minions whenever I can, which is most of the time seeing as I’m unemployed and on disability.

I’m so sick of grief! Are you? Maybe some people haven’t yet suffered enough, but I sure have. My dues have been paid and then some. So I am now under no obligation to languish in remorse or bathe in sorrow. I have been washed in the blood of the Lamb!

One cannot simply eliminate temptation from one’s life. Wrestling with the devil will get you nowhere but sweaty and smelling like brimstone. You can’t win that wrestling match and he can’t defeat you, because you have God on your side, even though you don’t act like it most of the time. Victory is ours! Why don’t we feel good about that?

Because we are led astray by sin. We are trapped by multiple snares. It will only be when this life is over that we can see clearly, for now we see as if we had some kind of goop in our eyes.

If Satan won’t get behind us, how are we supposed to advance? With him blocking our field of vision, all we can see are the snares of sin. Unless you look at it closely, a trap usually doesn’t look like one. It looks like something normal and common, or like nothing at all.

Devious intent emits no obvious warning signs. No odor, no sound, no visual hint that someone who hopes to benefit from your downfall has targeted you. You can’t even look down and see the glow of a laser sighting device dancing over your clothes. It would be convenient and easy to assume that evil does not exist, that everyone in your ken has your best interests at heart. But that’s simply not the case. Not by a long shot.

But why have I been targeted while my more devious and sinful peers have not? Did their mothers pray for their offspring with more fervor than did mine? More novenas, implorations to the Blessed Mother for intervention?

Maybe I should be proud that the Father of Lies has noticed me at all, much less chosen to recruit me in his cause. Did I come to his attention because of my essential goodness or its opposite? Have I displayed a talent for malevolence or is it something that is merely latent in me, but noticeable to those proficient in the Dark Arts?

I’ve always wanted to excel at something, but evil has never been on the list. I once had a roommate in college who was very strange and might have made a better candidate for “Handmaid of Satan” than I. She enjoyed being alone to an asburd degree. Most people if left alone for a day would find something to do with the time. Not her. This was before cellphones, but if you took a young woman of today and locked her in a room, she would immediately take out her phone and start scrolling or texting and taking selfies. This lady preferred to do nothing at all. We had an old clock that ticked away in a solemn way one doesn’t hear often nowadays. The ticks echoed through the still room. She sat absolutely still, often with her eyes closed, not moving, barely breathing, and seemed quite content. I figured she was either mentally ill or posessed by evil spirits. I never found out which was true because at the end of the semester she moved away and I never saw her again.

It occurred to me later that maybe she wasn’t even enrolled as a student. She could have been a trans-dimensional being who just need a place to hang out for a while.

Or maybe she was just a strange and possibly mentally ill college girl a long time ago, and I’m still making too big a deal about all of it. After all, I was no Boy Scout at the time. I was doing my best to ape the hippies I read about, Timothy Leary, etc. My use of psychedelics was routine. I’m just lucky I emerged relatively unscathed. In every college town I lived in, you would come across one guy walking barefoot in the winter, his long hair matted, fingernails black, accompanied by a dog he had adopted, and either rummaging through trash or asking for spare change. Someone would always tell me “that’s Crazy Bob. He used to be an English major, but then he took too much acid.”

There but for the grace of God go I.

Fun and Games

The women were sitting on my bed when I checked into the room. They didn’t seem terribly interested in talking to me, which was fine, because I was tired from my trip and just wanted to relax. Maybe they came with the room. I was too fatigued to care.

At first I assumed they were twin sisters, because they were dressed alike, pretty in the same way and about the same age. But then I realized they didn’t even speak the same language. Neither spoke a language I could identify. I decided this was one of those dilemmas that would turn out best if simply left alone. I didn’t cause it, I couldn’t cure it.

I took a shower and came out of the bathroom wearing a the complimentary plush bath robe that came with this VIP room. By then the two women had stopped sitting on the bed and were playing chess on an elegant mahogany table near the window. The view of the city below was astounding. The women seemed so wrapped up in their game they didn’t notice it, or me, for that matter. However, I noticed what seemed like a mob of people running down the street in front of our hotel. You could see tanks and trucks coming at the mob from the other direction. Flames.

When I turned on the TV all the channels showed the same thing: an announcement reading Peace and Unity. Patriotic music. Later, I would find the conference I had come here to attend had been cancelled. The Prime Minister was in hiding. The army was in charge. I should prepare for frequent power outages. Food and water may temporarily be in short supply. Stay tuned for further developments.

Twilight came and I must have fallen asleep. When I woke in the middle of the night, the two women had already left. In the morning, there was man sitting at the same table at which the women had played chess. He was eating breakfast.

“Sleep well?” he asked, as I sat up.

“Fine. Who are you?”

“The name is Joseph Jameson. I’m here to make you an offer you probably won’t want to refuse. Care for breakfast?”

I didn’t feel like asking who was paying for our meals, though I had the sinking suspicion I would ultimately be the one to pay for room service upon checkout. But when would that be, anyway, now that martial law had most likely been declared?

“We need a caucasian expert to talk on television. Do you have a doctorate?”

“I spent a couple of sememsters in a community college in Iowa,” I replied.

“We’ll refer to you as Doctor anyway. We need to assure the populace that everything is under control.”

“Is it?”

“Sure. Someone is in charge. That’s all they need to know. Just remember to downwardly inflect your voice at the end of each utterance to imply certainty. These are facts, not opinions. You’re not looking for approval or reinforcement.”

“And after that?”

“We’ll confer with the Ministers of Environment and Interior. They’re hiding in the basement of the Palace of Democracy. We need to give them some talking points. We’ll be traveling with a retinue of beautiful young women. In this country that’s important, it shows that you’re somebody important.”

“And then what?”

“And then we pay you several thousand dollars for your time and ask you to be available again if needed. We don’t know how long this period of uncertainty will last.”

There was a car waiting in front of the hotel, with the two beautiful women who had been sitting on my bed when I arrived and three more, very pretty younger women. Here I found they are called “pretties” and are valued only for their looks and youth. They were demure and shy, but made sure to sit as close to me as possible wherever we were, because that was their job.

The man who had negotiated with me drove, but before he took the wheel he donned a chauffeur’s cap and leather driving gloves. I guess here if you want to be taken seriously you have to look the part.

At the TV station I sat in front of a green screen while the man and woman who interviewed me sat in folding chairs in front of me. I glanced at the monitor and saw that through electronic wizardry it seemed if we were sitting in front of a lush, tropical forest, with a swimming pool off to one side. I repeated the lines that I had been coached to say, “This was nothing out of the ordinary, just the routine growing pains of newly emerged democracies. Of course other nations sympathized but were not overly concerned. If called upon to help, they would gladly do what they could. The United Nations was on our side. Everyone was on our side.”

Apparently my handlers were pleased with my performance, for on our way to visit the Ministers In Hiding the girls snuggled even closer to me. The general mood was optimistic. A few bombs and sirens going off at random intervals failed to spoil the mood. Much.

When we found him, the Minister of Health was in the basement, hiding behind a copy machine. He didn’t seem much like a Minister, and was dressed in dirty coveralls, looking very much like a janitor at the end of a hard day. It soon occurred to me that his appearance was deliberate.

“What do they want from me?” he pleaded, looking at me imploringly. I feigned compassion as best I could.

“It’s not about you. They want democracy,” I assured him.

“We tried that before. It didn’t work. My people are not ready for demoracy. They want a strong leader, someone to believe in.”

“Where is the Prime Minister?”

“I wish I knew. I would punch him in the nose.”

Another voice joined us, coming from a nearby closet. “He’s not at fault. It’s the Army. You know that as well as I do.”

Another man stepped out. My guide introduced him as the Minister of the Interior. I expected him to talk about politics or the state of the nation, but he had only one thing on his mind. “Please, get me out of here. I’ll do anything.”

We offered to let him ride in the trunk of the car, hidden under some blankets. He managed to climb in unnoticed, and even though we stopped for drinks and didn’t invite him along, he wasn’t resentful. We dropped him off at the bus station, and he shook my hand warmly. “Maybe I’ll see you in Chicago someday. Or Omaha. I have a brother in law in Omaha.”

We took the girls to an enormous apartment building that ran along the river. They smiled and said something in their language, and I smiled back and waved. That was it. Then the driver took me to the airport and paid me more money than I’d made for one day’s work in my entire life. I hoped to hear from him again, but he never called.

THANKS FOR STOPPING BY

You’ll have to make special provisions for me. I’m not myself anymore. Something’s missing, something important. Maybe I’ve had a stroke, or a brain tumor. It’s probably too late to do anything about it, so I’m not going to waste time and money seeking professional help. I wouldn’t follow their advice anyway. I don’t trust doctors.

Oh sure, I trust them to cover their asses regarding liability by ordering a bunch of expensive, invasive, sometimes painful tests that would get to the bottom of nothing. No, I’ll go this one alone. But if you want to talk with me, I could sure use the company, as my world has gotten pretty small ever since I stopped being able to remember my name.

Didn’t we know each other thirty years ago? Weren’t you the Director of the Institute for Advanced Research and I was your star faculty member, the one who almost won the Nobel Prize but lost out to Dick Cheney and HR Haldeman? It all seems so familiar, yet vague, like a half-forgotten dream. You used to wear pink three-piece suits. On clothing-optional days I would show up for work in the nude, but then so did at least half the staff.

But oh those parties we used to have! The times we’d stay up all night around a campfire on the beach, boiling crabs and occasional house pets. By dawn we’d be coming out of our blackouts, unable to remember what we had done or said the night before. Those who had cuts requiring stitches, or broken bones had to wait for the ambulance, but the rest of us could stagger or crawl back to our vehicles. Yes, those were the days!

Now most of our old friends are dead or institutionalized. That’s what happens when you party that hard for that long. Me, I just got lucky I guess. Of course the fact that I became a celibate monk for almost a decade slowed down the progression in me. Well, to be honest, not really. When it came back after all those years of abstinence it came back with a vengence.

I woke up in a jail cell in Brazil. Brazil! How did I get there? Believe me, it cost me plenty to get out of that one. I’m still paying back the family members and old friends who intervened. Although I speak no Portuguese, the pictures the police showed me of what I did to that young woman haunt me yet. For a while I used the “because I don’t remember it, it must not have happened” defense, but in the time since that unfortunate incident, I’ve had a few blackouts, some of which lasted days. Can you believe I came to on top of a Ferris Wheel in San Antonio? My clothes were all sticky. Fortunately, it wasn’t blood, but pancake syrup.

Endure and thrive

THANKS FOR STOPPING BY

You’ll have to make special provisions for me. I’m not myself anymore. Something’s missing, something important. Maybe I’ve had a stroke, or a brain tumor. It’s probably too late to do anything about it, so I’m not going to waste time and money seeking professional help. I wouldn’t follow their advice anyway. I don’t trust doctors.

Oh sure, I trust them to cover their asses regarding liability by ordering a bunch of expensive, invasive, sometimes painful tests that would get to the bottom of nothing. No, I’ll go this one alone. But if you want to talk with me, I could sure use the company, as my world has gotten pretty small ever since I stopped being able to remember my name.

Didn’t we know each other thirty years ago? Weren’t you the Director of the Institute for Advanced Research and I was your star faculty…

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Raw Talent

Bloom where you’re planted

If you were born with a surfeit of talent in one area, then you’re obligated to develop that facility to the best of your ability. You can’t just hang out and slide by. You need to apply yourself daily. Your talent was a gift, and you owe it to the rest of us to use it.

Of course, it your talent is for torturing animals or compulsive lying, then that previous statement doesn’t apply. It would be better for you to keep a low profile. No reason to break a sweat.

Some of us were born to lead, to make great changes for the better, while others were put here to hang out. Remember, for every leader there needs to be a group of followers. Sometimes that group can grow very large. Think of Trump or Hitler.

You’ve Finally Arrived

Notice to Recipient: You’ve Finally Arrived

All your struggles have ended. You efforts have paid off. Finally, after long last, you have received the rewards you so long deserved.

It only gets better after this. The pleasant surprises keep coming. Just when you think delight can’t get any more delightful, it does. Hoo boy!

You want to share the good news with friends and family, but then you remember that they might not have it so good, and you don’t want them to feel envy. There are too many of them for you to intervene in each of their lives and make them better. No, they’re going to have to find their own way, the same way you did, after all these years of wrong turns and outright stagnation.

No reason to focus on the negative or even remember painful parts of your past. That’s all behind you now! Forgive and forget!

The hardest forgetting you’ll have to do is to not dwell on the past. Your past mistakes can haunt you. Forgiving yourself will be out of the question if you dare dwell on them. Yes, you’ve squandered opportunities, let people down, been dishonest, acted like an addict. Let it go. Start fresh.

There’s a word for you! “Fresh.” Air that isn’t stale is “fresh.” Nobody’s breathed it before. A natural breeze has brought it your way. It might possibly be part of the “winds of change.” An atmosphere of hope.

But you can’t enjoy that breeze if you’re still repeating the same old routine. Tired routines are enacted in a sealed chamber, in dim light, often in secrecy. Open the door to that room and stride outside. Anything’s better than what you’ve done before. Any air is fresher than what you’ll find down there.

People like to think they’re more adventurous than they really are. They loudly lament boredom, but secretely crave routine. They want the comfort of the familiar spiced randomly with the unexpected. Not too much suprise, but just enough to keep things interesting.

And so it was in this mindset that Recipient-of-Notice Sherry left her house with the vague intention of looking for a job. Any kind of job, so long as it wasn’t demanding or laborious. The word “labor” gave her the creeps. She had the distinction of having been fired from every job she had ever held. Usually, this would happen at her thirty-day review. Bosses were diplomatic about it, often saying things like “it’s apparent that your talents lie elsewhere.”

Truth be told, she had no talents, at least not obvious ones. She was more of a customer than a content-producer. If you gave her money to spend, she could manage that, but her ability to earn money was quite limited. Almost zero.

She had once been engaged to be married, but they never got around to setting a date. His lack of enthusiasm grew as time passed, mirrored by her own. “Oh well,” sighed her mother “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Huh” said Sherry, who was watching television.

“You and Brad were not destined to be together,” said Mom.

“Who’s Brad” Sherry, asked.

Sherry was rarely fully engaged by anything, even of her own invention. She was always acutely aware of how arbitrary all choices ultimately proved, how rarely anything really important ever came about. In an earlier era, one would have calleld her “jaded.”

Her mother Marge didn’t know what to make of her. She kept hoping the girl would catch fire and take a genuine interest in something or someone. After all, the girl was approaching thirty. No longer a teen or a college student. Youth could no longer be used an an excuse for non-performance.

You’ve Arrived!

(fiction)

Notice to Recipient: You’ve Finally Arrived

All your struggles have ended. You efforts have paid off. Finally, after long last, you have received the rewards you so long deserved.

It only gets better after this. The pleasant surprises keep coming. Just when you think delight can’t get any more delightful, it does. Hoo boy!

You want to share the good news with friends and family, but then you remember that they might not have it so good, and you don’t want them to feel envy. There are too many of them for you to intervene in each of their lives and make them better. No, they’re going to have to find their own way, the same way you did, after all these years of wrong turns and outright stagnation.

No reason to focus on the negative or even remember painful parts of your past. That’s all behind you now! Forgive and forget!

The hardest forgetting you’ll have to do is to not dwell on the past. Your past mistakes can haunt you. Forgiving yourself will be out of the question if you dare dwell on them. Yes, you’ve squandered opportunities, let people down, been dishonest, acted like an addict. Let it go. Start fresh.

There’s a word for you! “Fresh.” Air that isn’t stale is “fresh.” Nobody’s breathed it before. A natural breeze has brought it your way. It might possibly be part of the “winds of change.” An atmosphere of hope.

But you can’t enjoy that breeze if you’re still repeating the same old routine. Tired routines are enacted in a sealed chamber, in dim light, often in secrecy. Open the door to that room and stride outside. Anything’s better than what you’ve done before. Any air is fresher than what you’ll find down there.

People like to think they’re more adventurous than they really are. They loudly lament boredom, but secretely crave routine. They want the comfort of the familiar spiced randomly with the unexpected. Not too much suprise, but just enough to keep things interesting.

And so it was in this mindset that Recipient-of-Notice Sherry left her house with the vague intention of looking for a job. Any kind of job, so long as it wasn’t demanding or laborious. The word “labor” gave her the creeps. She had the distinction of having been fired from every job she had ever held. Usually, this would happen at her thirty-day review. Bosses were diplomatic about it, often saying things like “it’s apparent that your talents lie elsewhere.”

Truth be told, she had no talents, at least not obvious ones. She was more of a customer than a content-producer. If you gave her money to spend, she could manage that, but her ability to earn money was quite limited. Almost zero.

She had once been engaged to be married, but they never got around to setting a date. His lack of enthusiasm grew as time passed, mirrored by her own. “Oh well,” sighed her mother “I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”

“Huh” said Sherry, who was watching television.

“You and Brad were not destined to be together,” said Mom.

“Who’s Brad” Sherry, asked.

Sherry was rarely fully engaged by anything, even of her own invention. She was always acutely aware of how arbitrary all choices ultimately proved, how rarely anything really important ever came about. In an earlier era, one would have calleld her “jaded.”

Her mother Marge didn’t know what to make of her. She kept hoping the girl would catch fire and take a genuine interest in something or someone. After all, the girl was approaching thirty. No longer a teen or a college student. Youth could no longer be used an an excuse for non-performance.

Lucky Me

I’ve been alive for a very long time, and this shows no signs of coming to an end any time soon. Who knows, I might live to be a hundred. Hopefully, I’ll discover some kind of medicine or supplement that makes my remaining tenure more pleasant that I’ve been used to as of late. Lately, I ache all over and everything seems too hard. I make no plans, because bringing them to completion would just be exhausting.

Has all this life experience made me wise? Good question. Compared to some I’m always been clever, but as for wisdom, no. I’m just lucky to have survived. I remember in high school learning that there were special hospitals for boys who had broken their necks by diving into shallow water. They were paralyzed from the neck down and would be until they mercifully passed away from some unrelated condition. “That could have been me,” I thought.

In my crowd we had the usual number of young men who drove their motorcycles into trees at high speed. I went to my share of funerals. I witnessed many a grieving parent.

Eventually, with my youngest son, I became that parent.

There are many experiences that are common to some which I have not yet sampled. I’ve never been to prison. I’ve never killed anyone, nor have I been shot or stabbed. I know among certain populations those are common experiences, but they weren’t for me, and for that I am grateful.