The Last Ding Dong of Doom
It's a beautiful spring day, the last day of April, actually, and I spend it as I spend all the other days of my most recent life: behind my typewriter, indoors, measuring out my days with coffee spoons and words I've known already, known them all already.
There is no money; no food, either. Today is the forty-first day of my fasting. I have foresworn alcohol, meat, milk; I subsist on bread and water when I can get it.
I'm out of postage. I wait for the morning mail to bring news of a manuscript that I longingly, lovingly nurtured like a sick child until it was ready for the world, and then I coldly and cruelly cast it out on its own. I know not if it is alive or dead. For weeks I've wondered if there were something I should have done to help it survive. Now there is nothing to do but wait.
The writer must teach himself that the basis of all things is to be afraid, said William Faulkner. And teaching himself that, forget it forever, leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old universal truths, lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed: love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice. Until he does so, he labours under a curse.
The doorbell rings and I know fear, for this is either another summons to answer for my debts or a collector come in person to harass me for funds I hardly possess. The bell reminds me of Cain's famous story "The Postman Always Rings Twice." He said the title came to him when, under circumstances similar to mine, he instructed the postman to ring once if delivering bills, twice if there were letters from publishers.
My postman never rings at all. He leaves letters and bills alike in the mailbox for me to find on my own.
Only the sheriff rings my bell. I'm required to sign for the notices he brings: notices to appear in court for one of a dozen overdue debts, or notices of eviction.
I am no longer able to acquire credit, nor have I family left or friends who might help. I know only fear, it seems, and fear has become my only friend.
I fear I will die of hunger if I don't eat soon.
At the door are two young women I've never seen before. They're dressed simply. They wear no makeup. I wonder what they want.
I take a chance and open the door; the women introduce themselves as Sister Sharon and Sister Eilene. They ask to come in. I let them.
I was an only child, I tell them. I never had any sisters.
We're not related, says Eilene, except in the blood of our Lord.
They're missionaries, they tell me. Hellfire and brimstone style missionaries. And their
mission is to save my soul. My soul! I laugh.
It feels good to laugh on an empty stomach. So good I invite the ladies to sit down.
I discover my fear has fled, driven away by insane laughter.
Until then I hadn't realized how uptight fear had made me. Like the condemned man waiting for the axe to fall, I'd already accepted my fate. My creditors had repossessed my car, disconnected my phone, taken my TV and stereo, harassed the hell out of me, and any day now I expected to be kicked out into the cold. I have nothing left to lose except for the elusive soul these lovely ladies wish to save. Should I let them? It'll be fun, I think, to see them try.
They tell me, as they've undoubtedly told so many others before me, stories from their Book:
old stories told and retold a thousand thousand times, stories of love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.
Be not afraid, says Sister Sharon, for we bring the gift of salvation. The blood of the
lamb is spilt in your name. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. God demands sacrifice but he is merciful . . . .
Eat of the flesh and drink of the blood, says Eilene, and be saved.
They continue their sales pitch, but I am no longer listening. I know now that God understands, that he cares, that he really did send these good ladies to save me, that he is merciful after all.
Sisters, I say, you've shown me the way. Will you kneel in prayer with me?
They kneel on the floor, head bowed, eyes closed, hands neatly folded in supplication. They don't see my hands reach for the knife.
Faulkner was, right. I've known fear and now I can forget it, leaving no room in my workshop for anything but the old universal truths.
I find I write much better on a full stomach. I found enough money in Eilene's pocket to pay postage. I'll send this story to a publisher and he'll pay me for it.
Until then, though, I have food enough to sustain me—thanks to Sharon and Eilene. Food for the soul, so to speak.
They were right, too. Just like Faulkner. God demands sacrifice.
Greater love hath no man (or woman) than this, that they should lay down their lives for a friend . . .
A Word From The Author
It is belief in the power of words that makes me a writer.
I write because I have to, not because I've captured the power but because the power has captured me. I have felt it in the Bible—in Genesis, Exodus, Job, Ecclesiastes, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Isaiah, Revelations—in the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Robinson Jeffers, Robert Frost, Goethe. In the novels of Hemingway, Faulkner, Wolfe, Steinbeck. In the stories of Ellison, Bradbury, Joe Haldeman. And in myself, in my very soul, in the clouds that move across the horizon at daybreak or the colors of sunset.
It is the power of the Mages, magic words that one dare not speak without losing one's soul. Forbidden words. Like the real name of God.
What's in a name? Everything!
The power to name names.
All writers are power-mad monomaniacs. That's why I write. Because I'm a power-mad monomaniac.
The more people who read what I write, the more power I gain.
Over a world I can control in no other way. A world hostile in its elements of wind, fire, rain. A world where dust settles (along with cat hair) to cover the carpets of my world, and eventually my bones.
So, if you'd like to read what I've written I would be more than happy to let you (heh, heh).
There is a power in words that not even I, egocentric monomaniac that I am, can understand.
Until it grabs you and carries you away.
And then it's too late.
-----Paul Dale Anderson © 1985 Paul Dale Anderson
The Last Ding Dong of Doom first appeared in The Horror Show Magazine, edited by David B. Silva. It was reprinted in The Devil Made Me Do It