|The end of Satan.
Evan looked across the fire lit living room at Doc Steffax. “Come on, Doc. Psychology is one thing. Call it the science of human behavior, but you're a professional writer just like I am. I mean, you guys come across like an elite group of scientific prophets with all your tiresome pages on the perfect people who are going to live in the wonderful societies that you will construct.”
Doc frowned as he turned his stern features from the window and the hail rattling against it. “My written work is based on repeatable experiments. I don't approve of popular guesswork. Man is his behavior only. The inner self and personal identity most of you fiction-writer types value - these are only illusory center points for organizing and directing human behavior.”
Evan's boyish face grew intense in the flickering light. “My brain ticks in the human way. I study behavior through an experiment called life, and I reflect on it through another experiment called fiction. People are sensual, they love pleasure, Doc. That's the nature of things and you're missing it. The self is an electric point of ecstasy - we live to feel life. The explosion of images, sounds and ideas we take in from art, literature, movies and so on - it's a sensual thing just as much as sex and drugs. We're addicted to life and to our own creations. We are what we enjoy. Even writing is a sensual experience, because writing is making the language of thought into pleasurable images.”
Doc's armchair creaked as he leaned forward. “If you're on about literature you must know I favor pure and responsible literature that reinforces society's values. Modern writers are involved in everything except healthy storytelling. You people have jumped in over your heads, and only to come out with the sad belief that we're all junkies being shuffled about in a meaningless machine world. The benign big-brother state that is your new devil isn't really so bad at all.”
“Yeah,” Evan said, creasing his large blue eyes. “Here I thought we'd died and become irrelevant like the poets, but you say we're messing with everything but healthy storytelling. It's easier when you're lost like the poets. You can live in fantasy like the old prophet up the road. Say, I just had a thought. Maybe it'll give you self-perspective. The eyes of the world are on us now. What do they see? They see two cottages and a log cabin on a snowy mountain. I own the first cottage because I'm evil Evan Marsen and I'm writing a novel that's sure to further the corruption of the younger generation. Up in the cabin there's the crazy old prophet, an evil throwback with a weirdview instead of a worldview . . . but now the evilest music begins as they get a close-up of you, Doc. That's because even though you think you're a savior of mankind, there are many people who think you're the most dangerous guy alive - the man who sold the planet a powerful new science of behavior modification that will eventually erase the human spirit.”
Doc Steffax remained as cool as stone. “You're addicted to emotional behavior -- you like to dig nasty reactions out of people. I can live without the eyes of the world. I don't want any negative influence on my thinking. I'm working on a difficult paper.”
“Well, so far I sure haven't been able to influence you. Must be because I'm a lightweight author of fiction. Watch out for the old prophet, Doc. He might move you to spiritualism. Say, it could be that the old goat is writing a masterpiece of prophetic poetry right now. Something in a new Biblical style that'll make him remembered when we're long forgotten.”
Doc Steffax swallowed some strong whiskey-laced coffee and took on a placid look. “I've decided to go with you tomorrow, to visit the prophet. He should be an interesting character. Not a logical person, but a remarkable one I can examine further.”
“Suit yourself, Doc,” Evan said. “I hope you like strong home-made moonshine and a gloomy future - the old angel-possessed devil never carries any good news. He's more of an end-of-the-world prophet.”
The north wind boxed the topsof the evergreens on the southern slope of Decker’s Mountain, but the shaking was only a paper tiger beating a circle above what had been a clear, cold day on the ground. The sun was beginning to set, and it was pouring tinted light through mottled bands of clouds on the horizon. Doc Steffax turned his gaze from the cabin window and the south. He felt small, as though he were a child. The bigger magic of the mountain towered over his logic, and for a moment he considered the possibility of a glory greater than behaviorism.
Evan's long blond hair shone with the light of sunset. His eyes were liquid like the sky. He listened calmly as the old prophet spoke. The prophet's dark brown eyes twinkled like the eyes of a younger man. A spirit seemed to be smiling behind his coarse gray hair and leathery face. “Here is the prophecy. Every wrong road to wisdom will be traveled. You,” he said, pointing to Evan,” say we are what we enjoy. Doc Steffax says we are what we do, but in no case do we have what is called an inner self as it is an illusion. Rather than answer your trick questions directly I will illustrate. When you belong to another, what does he own? He owns what you do, he owns what you enjoy, and he holds your soul in chains. But he doesn't own what you think. He can't fully own that without being you. Is it a simple illusion your master cannot be? I think not. So the real question is not what you are … rather it is - To whom do you belong? I have answered your question with a question, which is fitting because if our inner being is illusion, then so are all questions and answers. On Evan's other point I have a straightforward answer. I don't live to feel and enjoy the images of prophecy or images of anything else. I prophesy because I live.”
“I don't know exactly what you mean,” Doc said. “Do you think we belong to supernatural spirits and gain reality through them?”
The prophet turned his gaze from the fireplace and gave Doc a look of disbelief, and then he dropped his bony body on a small rug and sat cross-legged. He took a necklace of painted bones from around his neck and stared ahead stonily as he held it in his palms. “In clear ice I see your future. On a bitter night Satan celebrates as the north wind. He rushes over a glacial land. The moon is full above, by the fire below the child of the one has become the baby of the other. Fate tests three men by confession. In hope of deliverance, they will confess to Satan. Doom comes with the calling of his name.”
The snow coating the lake was likea fine blue powder in the soft twilight. Evan smiled elflike. “I see a vision, Doc. You know who I see in it? I see our old prophet. He's placing his magic bones in a drawer and taking out his reading spectacles, and he's chuckling. He's laughing at us and what a couple of dopes we are to be taken in by his witch-doctor routine.”
“I suppose so,” Doc said. “When it comes to witch doctors, picking out a fake is difficult. That's because the real articles are also quacks. I got to hear a prophecy anyway, so that's my money's worth. For now, it's back to the books and my paper. I've no more time for entertainment. I'll be seeing you Saturday. I hope you won't be feeling argumentative.”
As the winter days blew toward Saturdaya deep, ruffled blanket of snow thickened over the mountain and lake. On Friday, the south wind returned from oblivion and began a melt that smoothed to ice with Saturday morning's hail. By Saturday evening the north wind was howling like a wolf as it beat its paws along beneath the rising full moon.
Evan's thoughts were drifting as he gazed out the cottage window and listened to the wind tearing across the moon-bright sheets of glare ice. “I wanted to be isolated, Doc, but if I'd known the North Pole was shifting south I would've stayed inToronto.” He remained at the window, hypnotized by the frozen world outside, then, as he was about to turn away, he saw headlights flashing, down on the county road. “A beat-up pickup is pulling in, Doc. I bet it's someone on the wrong road to Boonfield Crossing, like always.”
The lights of the pickup switched off and a young long-haired man got out in the moonlight. There were a couple of things about him Evan didn't like - the desperate look on his face and the speed at which he slid across the ice to the door.
When the door burst open and the man stepped in holding a Glock pistol, Evan was sure he didn't like him.
. . .Evan decided he’d better do what he was told and began to tie Doc's wrists and legs to the chair. Doc stared straight ahead at the blunt barrel of the handgun and the young man holding it. He studied the man carefully, noting his long stringy hair, thin lips and icy blue eyes. Searching his thoughts, Doc tried to find the right psychology for the situation, but there was none - he felt like the powerless victim he was.
Evan smiled sweetly. “Come on, Danny. You say you've read my work. If so you know I'm not the sort who would turn people in.”
Danny's street-hard face remained sullen. “I set out to commit the perfect crime. It won't be perfect if there are witnesses who can say I was in this neck of the woods. And famous witnesses at that. Serves you right anyway, Evan. My shrink says my depraved and callous attitude was helped along by your books.”
Seeing an opportunity to seize control of the situation Doc loosed his clenched teeth and spoke. “Your psychiatrist is correct, Danny. But just like Evan helped you warp your mind I have the power to help you heal it. You say you've committed a crime, we'll take your word for it, but I don't believe in jail terms for people who aren't responsible for what they do. I can treat you in secret and really make you an acceptable person.”
A log popped in the fireplace and Danny grinned evilly. “I am a better person, Doc. I'm a graduate of one your behavior modification schools. My shrink was against the treatment. He hates you more than he does Evan. Before the modification, I was a serial rapist. Now I dispose of my victims. It was modification with a big M.”
“How do you like that, Doc?” Evan said, amazed. “He's more your baby than mine.”
Doc's face switched from gray to red. “Can't you shut up just for once, Evan!”
Danny held up his left hand as a command for silence. “You see why my crime is perfect. It's because the cops will never suspect me. I'm an angel who was made holy by divine Doc Steffax. I am a bit confused, though. Evan says I'm your baby, and you say Evan warped me. It's funny because I remember saying I raped because Satan was in me. One thing for sure is that I'm not responsible. We all agree on that. And if I find out who is responsible - it's curtains for him. How about you, Evan? You know Doc, and Satan is a character in your novel Fall to Paradise. Which one of you is responsible for my crimes?”
Evan felt like he was looking down at himself from above. “Satan is responsible,” he said quietly.
“Satan,” Danny said, his pupils dilating and his hands shaking. “How about you, Doc - is it Satan?”
Doc remembered the prophecy and its mention of Satan, but he wasn't capable of believing in anything supernatural. Danny looked crazed enough to be tricked, so he decided to try it. “Yes, Danny, Satan is responsible. Satan is inside your head. You will have to shoot him to get him out.”
Danny's hands shook again, and then he fired. The Glock cracked four times, and the bullets struck Evan and Doc. “Now no witnesses will see me kill Satan,” Danny said. “Satan, I always knew it was you.”
The north wind howled then died down just after Danny pulled the trigger on Satan.
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