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Marcus Woodward
Author: Nathaniel Slattery
Posted: 7th of Mary, Year of Our Lord 2024
The cover of the original

This is the first chapter in my rewrite of Marcus Woodward, my first published novel, which I destroyed for sins.

  1. March 1st, 2342

Marcus Woodward awoke gently, like a man pretending to sleep, his eyes closed but his reason fully activated, and then his eyes coming open to find darkness that was impersonal to the light of his eyes.

He did not have that habit of holy men in true religion. He did not wake up praying in the way our Lord teaches, but he did wake up speaking to God.

“Why did I have this dream again?” he said like a man to a friend with which he had grown familiar and, perhaps, contemptuous.

There was not an answer for him, at least not in the nature of the dream, but that did not stop him from listening to one. Words in his mind came up and drifted away, nonsensical, in various tones and hues, all male. He listened to them with what he called discernment. He was sure that many of them were from his own confused imagination, of the rest, he was not sure if they were good or evil spirits. He had read the passage of St. John and, as was the wont of his nation, taken it literally.

“Is Jesus Lord?” he said quietly and without enthusiasm, for the tactic had long since worn out.

Many times he had said to himself within earshot of God that it was a difficult thing to speak to Him, and there was no good way to know if He gave an answer. In the earlier years, only two or three past, it had been fairly easy. For reason by itself said simply that God heard everything, and if faith provided the addendum that He was good, then He ought to answer those that sought Him, since they were seeking good. But that logic ran only so far without additional addendums from faith, and Marcus distrusted everything he came up with himself.

It was an unfortunate thing he had only himself. He had gained his own father, but that was not much help, times and seasons being what they were, and corruption being thorough. He had retained some slight friendships, and of these one was consistent enough of an object for obedience but spoke little, and his name was Mr. Benjamin Fleischman. And like all within his position with some semblance of the virtue of humility available to him, Mr. Fleischman delved little into the depths into which Marcus, by misfortune, was always falling.

Already, the intellect was running faster than the spirit, and so Marcus turned to flick on a light. It illuminated an hotel room in all the garish and useless ostentation appropriate to it, and a slight act of misguided piety which Marcus knew provided a modern translation of the Bible inside the drawer below the light.

He stared at the handle of that drawer, wondering to himself how far he should pursue his thoughts and dreams. For the dream which he had was a poignant one. It certainly transmitted to him little hope that his soul had improved over the years since last he had the dream, clear in his memory, in the year of our Lord 2339. But also it communicated the idea that he was doing no less than he could do, and if progress was indiscernible in the field of mud, what of it? The perspective of Heaven would show him what he needed when the time came.

He shook his head and did not open the drawer. He rose from bed and looked around him. He consulted his habits and disciplines. He went to the impracticable desk of the hotel room, where laid his notebook, his electronics, and other recurrences of the morning. He sat for a moment, took some vitamin pills and some tist pills, drank water, decided not to touch his electronics, looked upon his notebook, read what he had written regarding the history of the Concordance, thought to write, and did not.

Perhaps fifteen minutes went by before he stood and determined to break his fast. He spent some minimal time dressing, just above casual, combed his hair, and then went to the door.

The hallway was lit by fluorescent lights powered from the cheapest receivers, with their distinctive flicker whenever some object or wind got between the great dish somewhere on the building and the transmitter at the power plant. There was a long line of red doors studding a yellow wall and numbered. He walked down the hallway.

He did not get far before a door swung open on him.

Marcus carried with him an overburdened soul full of requests which he was not sure God would hear. His relatives, his brothers, his friends, and those he admired, were all walking with a firm step towards damnation. And how hard a thing damnation was to achieve in the religion which he knew. With this, he was deeply perplexed, and indeed he had gained his father by his own death, but the waves of those falling into fire seemed to increase daily regardless.

And so he had reached a certain conclusion: If he were to just forget his own requests and instead have a view to what God gave him to do, then perhaps near the end all would be given him, or rather, this precious pearl could be sold to buy all that he knew from out of bondage.

Thus it was in the mysterious workings of God at the marrow of a land set up against the Second Commandment, and as Marcus was bumped by the opening door at that cookie-cutter hotel, he met a man who had black skin and overalls and a face dirty already before the work of the day had begun.

By habit and training, Marcus smiled. “Hello.”

“Oh, sorry,” the man said. “I didn’t see you.”

“That’s fine. Are you heading to breakfast?”

“I am.”

“Me too,” Marcus said. Then he walked, and the man joined him.

At the same breakfast table, they had sat together, eating bagels, talking about their duties and states in life, and then politics, and finally religion. Near the beginning, Marcus had asked many questions to prime the pump, and near the end, after the painstaking work of prompting his soul to the interest of a stranger, he was now making statements. The man he had met simply listened.

Marcus had brought in C.S. Lewis, who was his prime resource in the day. Having studied the man, he had regurgitated with ample additions of his own a basic logical reasoning on the existence of God, beginning from the existence of good and evil, proved by the rules of society and some suggestive leaps. From there, he had progressed through the scanty moral law to the depravity of all men, and now was approaching that climactic event, the crux and center of all history, which in the unique position of these two men and their nations, had occurred on a totally separate and alien world.

“Now what if you took all the evils ever occurred,” Marcus said, “and laid it all at the feet of one Man. What would He deserve?”

The man sitting across from him said essentially the word “death”, but he incorporated a vulgarity.

“Slow and painful death!” Marcus said. “And that’s exactly what God did. He took all of it and died the slowest and most painful death imaginable.”

Now this last was said in hyperbole without sincerity of heart, because Marcus had not been schooled on the Passion of our Lord, did not know much of it and had actually seen depicted in literature, media, and his own imaginings, much more severe sufferings than he had ever been prompted to imagine undergone by Christ. For Marcus had a great capacity for imagining suffering, given him by God exclusively for meditation on the Passion, and yet had never done so, because he did not know that he should. Instead, he fancied that he knew worse sufferings than Christ had known. This created a sort of illogical gap in his mind, which he could not resolve and so ignored.

The man across from him was solemn. Marcus thudded his fist down on the table in triumph, and half a bagel fell to the floor. “That’s Christ!” he said.

The man nodded. He said, “So do you go to church around here?”

“I haven’t found one, yet,” Marcus said.

“I don’t like to go myself. Those people are all hypocrites.”

“I can understand that,” Marcus said. And it was all he said, because he was equally unschooled on the meanings of the Third Commandment, which he had diligently sought out and been unable to find. And if he did find them, what use would it be to him? Which congregation available to him would fulfill that commandment, which is numbered well before the prohibitions on murder and theft? “Well, if I find one, I’ll let you know.”

The man nodded. He looked up and gave a simple smile, not without warmth, though heavy in burdens. Marcus acknowledged that they had spent too long at the breakfast table; the man might be late for work. Therefore, he exchanged phone numbers with the man, and then they parted each other’s company forever.

Marcus considered putting off the labors of the day. He felt as if this interaction may have been the full purpose of it for him. At that moment, he was perfectly satisfied with his relationship with the world and with God. But he knew that soon he would feel guilty again.

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