| "I KNOW God better than anyone. I know the suffering he inflicts on us isn't in aid of teaching us a lesson. He’s done schooling us. The Old Testament God tried to put the scare into us. The New One, He’s trying to reason with us; trying to plead with us, appeal to our conscience. I don’t know what that leaves us with now, but He's sure as hell gone beyond teaching us anything. Maybe He’s crazy, or maybe He’s just finished, like a kid grown bored with its pet, tired of the thing’s willful ignorance and impudence; its failure to learn tricks. Now He inflicts pain, if only for His own tired amusement. No lesson...no need to look for one."
He sat back then, with a self-satisfied air and an unlit cigarette hanging from his lower lip.
They sat together at the outskirts of the interminable, dark gray steel and stone tangle of the city's manufacturing concern, that joyless heart of the dawning Industrial Age. Distant sounds of screaming headsaws, the rumble of logging wheels. The occasional whiff of burnt coal oil or creosote. Boy couldn't remember when or why exactly he'd agreed to first walk with the old man, down to the grassy patch at the end of the unpaved and dead-ended street. Down to where he'd set up the tattered, weather-beaten card table and the uncomfortable straight-backed chairs. As if in preparation for this. Countless lunches spent listening to this withered pedant blathering about his God. Picking bits of tobacco from his teeth, asking rhetorical questions of Boy and talking over his answers. Boy supposed that, given his options, there were worse places he could be spending his time. But the old man did go on. Boy tried to ignore him, focusing his hearing on the sound of the river some yards distant. He imagined words in the faint, throaty mutter of the passing water. Concentrating, he often thought he heard something that he recognized; a voice, not unfamiliar.
After some time of sorting between the old man’s chatter and the murmur of the water, it occurred to Boy that he required to piss. He mumbled something by way of excusing himself from the eternal and one-sided debate, and strolled down the slight incline toward the river. The old man continued talking, heedless of his departure.
It hadn't rained for the past week, so the bank was fairly solid underfoot. The going was still somewhat treacherous, as there were arms of dead trees, shapeless, rusted metal debris and other flotsam washed up all around the shore. He picked his way carefully along, until he found an ideal spot -- a muddy little peninsula that stood just above the rushing current. He liked to relieve himself out in the open, to feel the cold night air tickle him. It was a peace rarely known, and even then only all too brief.
He grew hypnotized by the water, breathing deeply in the quiet, inexorable flow. Pondering something beyond his understanding, and yet somehow familiar. The wordless discourse, the language older than man’s knowing, the speaker that required no audience. It made him think of death, but the thought was somehow comforting. It reminded him of a peace he hadn't known since the warmth and dark of the womb. Of a sleep without dreams, never-ending.
As he shook off, he noticed something drifting upriver. Something floating in deliberate, centrifugal movements, strangely dancelike; heavy enough that it drifted slower than the water which carried it. The strange, phantom shape took some time to approach where he stood, all the while remaining frustratingly obscure and half-submerged in the dim moonlight. He heard the old man calling his name from somewhere behind and far away. As this thing – in its slow, delicate transit – finally came near enough to see, swung toward him in the current as if by design or providence, he pitched forward onto his knees. He dug his hands into the cold, wet earth and vomited between them. It loosed a sound from deep inside him, something ugly and elemental that communicated what words could not. He spoke this guttural mantra into the mud. He did not then notice the appearance upriver of several other forms, similar in size and shape to the first, moving in identically unhurried circles.