What happens when you meet a man who claims to be the Devil?
"You can't do it," said a young journalist of The Colonial Pioneer, his words
desperate, his face displaying his wish to be somewhere else entirely. The intern was not short, and not tall. He was not handsome or regal. Nor was he ugly. He had an unmemorable face. He stood in front of the head Editor, Jeremy, and pleaded with him.
Jeremy looked indifferent, as though he would like also to be somewhere else. "Do what?" he asked, not looking up from his computer.
The journalist shoved a paper on to Jeremy's desk. "This! You can't do this!"
Jeremy picked it up and glanced over it. "Ah, yes this. The interview with that scientist. Is this what you're so upset with?"
"Yes, yes it is! We can't print it, it just cannot be done, it is a piece that belongs in the trash! It needs to be burned!" The interns words were not outraged, but pitiful and pleading.
Jeremy looked him over. "What's your name?"
"Jack Wilson. Please sir, reconsider."
"I thought I gave orders for this to be the priority of the Sunday paper?"
"You did. That's the problem. It will outrage the public!"
The intern made a sound that came out like a whimper. "Please. This essay by Devin Rockwell is about his goal of proving that the idea of organized religion and God-worship in general is bullshit."
"And nothing! In this city there is a large religious following. Many of the people that read our paper have some sort of belief in God. Circulation of this paper will drop by half!" The intern no longer had any sort of confidence in his voice. He was a man grasping at straws and knowing he was doing nothing but digging his own grave with a spoon.
"Listen... Mr. Wilson..." Jeremy began patiently. "What is it to me if we stir up a little controversy? It will be good for them to read something different. As for you, I seriously suggest that you shut up before you lose your job. This article will be printed because I said so and because I have the power to put it into print, not because it's what they want to hear, and. Now if you will be so kind as to..." Jeremy let the sentence trail off as he motioned towards the exit. The young journalist slouched out with one insolent glance back; as he left the office he slammed the door, causing Jeremy to flinch.
He muttered "God-damn this job" to himself, and then he picked up his office phone. He punched the button that put his secretary on with him. "Yes, Emily, could you find me an available and competent journalist to write a brief bio on Devin Rockwell... Yes, yes, of course... the Sunday Special... Also could you possibly put Mr. Wilson on the black list... yeah, only put him on petty stories for awhile.... No don't fire him, just yet...Thank you Emily, thanks a lot."
He hung up the phone and sat there, his face cradled on the palms of his hands. He took of his glasses and rubbed at his eyes, as though that could wipe away the weariness. Day-in-day-out it was like this; this treacherous fight of the fittest. Jeremy looked at his clock and saw that it was 12:00 and time for a lunch break. He grabbed his coat and left his office. He waved off anyone who tried to speak to him; during his break Jeremy did not like to be disturbed.
When Jeremy walked out the front entrance of The Colonial Pioneer he was hit with a blast of afternoon heat. He blinked once and carried on, his steps sure and purposeful. He was a man who was afraid of no one, and people could tell by his face. Even though his hair was brown and neatly combed and his face calm and poised-- his eyes were rebellious, and said "why the fuck would I care?" People gave him space, and tended to cross the street to another sidewalk when they saw him coming. It was a reaction Jeremy got from many people, and did not really mind.
Jeremy dropped into the Rising Phoenix Cafe. The Rising Phoenix was small, and occupied mainly by a horde of rectangular tables decorated by yellow tablecloths and vulgar looking statues of The Legendary Phoenix. The wall to the right was covered by a huge mural of a phoenix, with beak open, and claws ready to tear into something, a ferocious looking bird that constantly made Jeremy wonder...The Phoenix did after all stand for eternal life, so why did it look so vicious?
. Jeremy sat in the back of the carefully ordered diner. After a few minutes a tall blond woman walked in after him and sat down at Jeremy's table. He smiled, as he did only when she was around. "How are we today, Rose?"
"I hate that name. Hate it, hate it, hate it..." she said, smiling, and relaxing in her chair. Her hair was long and wild, entwined around her shoulders; regal in its texture and golden streaked color. She wore a simple white shirt and jeans, as she did everyday she came to the cafe. Her curves were elegant, and stressed when she walked. Her face was smooth and pale; her eyes a fierce green.
"Didn't you hate it more when I called you just 'kid'? And what should I call you?"
"I think it's being presumptuous that you should call me anything at all... I think it's presumptuous for you even to talk to me," Rose said with a laugh.
"Always with your over sized ego!" Jeremy said. "Now, to business." Jeremy pulled out the essay Devin the scientist/psychologist had written. He handed it to Rose, letting it slip out of his thin, strong fingers.
Rose took it and read it. When she finished it she sat back and laughed, her mouth carved into the most beautiful shape Jeremy had ever seen. "Monstrous of him isn't it? Trying to disprove God."
"I thought you were an atheist?" Jeremy asked, amused.
"I am! That's just it! I am not an atheist because I don't believe in God, but because I don't believe in thanking some one else for everything good I do... as do many theists."
"Well, then why do you call it monstrous?"
"Because God can't be disproved! And to say that you can disprove God is like saying you yourself are better then any God that there ever could be in the world. And that is above every one. Even my ego is below that. This Devin Rockwell must be quite a person, and full of himself too! And besides, you can't prove a negative." Rose laughed again finishing her thought.
"I'm printing it in the newspaper on Sunday," Jeremy said.
"Good luck with being stoned and hung from the church steeple. Are you trying to ruin your life in this city?" Rose asked.
"I'm not avoiding it, if that's what you mean," Jeremy answered. Then he glanced at his watch. "You know what, we've wasted my whole lunch talking. I have to go. Will I see you tonight?"
"Certainly," she said, a smirk on her face, looking at him from under her eyelashes. Rose and Jeremy walked back to his office, and she ran off to do errands with a quick wave over her shoulder.
When he got back, Jeremy stood in the doorway of his office; his eyes scanned it, looking at the mundanely pale walls, the desk against the huge window, the certificates on the wall that meant nothing, the murky brown rug. Jeremy asked himself what this life meant to him. The answer was like a death sentence in its mood and clarity: "Nothing. This life means nothing to me."
When he thought that, another voice bit back, "If it means nothing to you, then why don't you leave?"
Jeremy moved across the room, his long legs taking graceful strides, arms at his side. He sat down at his desk and went back to his work as editor-- chopping at words, slashing sentences and paragraphs with his blue permanent marker-- knowing that the work was the only way to keep from exhaustion, as ironic as it seemed. It was only when he wasn't working that Jeremy became tired with the world.
After an hour of working a man burst into his room. "Jeremy!" he yelled in a thick, congested voice. He wore a black trench coat that covered his short and pudgy body.
"What is it?" Jeremy said to his boss, the publisher, Mr. Red.
Mr. Red was not actually his name, but it was close enough, and it was what everyone called him.
"Oh don't say that to me! Don't you dare. You know what it is, as well as I do! I just saw what you plan to put into the newspaper. Now are you going to try to say that you don't know how people are going to react to that?"
"Then what is the point of that article?"
"It has truth to it," Jeremy said, unworried and indifferent in his tone of voice. His face gave nothing away as it glanced over Mr. Red.
"Did you even read this? Listen to this Jeremy; this is one of the worst parts: 'the mind of man has enough confusing data that is proven going into his head, it doesn't need the unproven and completely ridiculous theories of one church or another.' Oh here's another. " Mr. Red had the article before him and he was reading of parts. "'All that the existence of God does is mock the existence of man. It says that man can do nothing, that man is useless and worthless, as long as there is a higher power controlling him. The Christian church especially degrades the worth of life of earth by presenting a perfect harmonious gathering after death in heaven, where only those who have been saved are admitted.'" Mr. Red looked up from the paper. "I won't lie. Yes, there is some truth to this. But where me and you and Mr. Rockwell see truth the public sees scandal and blasphemy."
"Mr. Red," Jeremy said slowly. "Your point is taken. But It's not like it's the newspaper itself saying those things. We're only reporting news. I'll write an editorial explaining that The Colonial Pioneer doesn't hold the views expressed in the article. The editorial will be right next to Mr Devin Rockwell's interview. OK?"
Mr. Red calmed. "I suppose that would solve most problems. But why?"
"Why are you printing this? You never mentioned being an atheist before."
"I'm not an atheist. I've just come to dislike religion. I won't say God doesn't exist, but people worshiping him sure has caused a lot of trouble. And that's putting the bullshit aside," Jeremy said.
"Well... Whatever." Mr. Red paused for a half-second. Fine print it. But if our circulation drops you're dead... this newspaper is dead... we can't take a blow like that." Mr. Red left as quickly and as rudely as he had come, slamming the door as he left.
When Mr. Red, left the room was quiet. Jeremy went back to his work as though he had been uninterrupted. He went on in his steady way of doing work, like an internal clock was monitoring his pace. Tomorrow was Sunday; he expected much from the day. Maybe he would be able to actually meet Mr. Rockwell, or maybe not. Mr. Rockwell seemed like such an interesting person on the phone.
That night Jeremy lay in bed next to Rose, her chin placed on his chest. He stroked her hair. He tried to avoid her pragmatic stare, and her vicious green eyes. The silk sheet was pushed to the edge of the bed, entwined on Jeremy's feet.
Rose stroked his chest with soothing hands. Her elegant body was curled up under Jeremy's arm. Jeremy spoke softly, his cheek on hers. "Do you think I've reached the end of my career?" he asked.
"That article certainly isn't going to help. But I wouldn't worry if I were you."
"Why do you say that?"
"Men like you can't be destroyed."
"I hope you're right, Rose," Jeremy said, and placed his face into the pillow.
"Atheists have a tendency to be right."
"I don't think you'd hear a born-again Christian saying that," Jeremy said, and smiled; that rare smile that did not come from ridicule or some fake motive. A smile that touched the eyes and lit up the face.
"Don't listen to them. They're too busy being born again to see that their heads are up their asses." Rose smiled back.
"When did you become an atheist?" Jeremy asked.
"I've told you before; when I was sick and tired of thanking some one else for everything good I ever did."
"I mean what age?"
"I was 13. I was going to a Baptist church. Some one said that I must be blessed child to be so smart. God must love me. I told that person to go fuck himself. He told my mom; I got in a lot of trouble. But I learned something."
"I don't have to thank anyone anymore. I don't have to give my life to some one I don't know," Rose said.
"Your the most cynical person I've ever met in my life," Jeremy said and smiled, not insulting or complementing, only stating a true fact that he had noticed. He pulled Rose into his arms, feeling her skin against his, like the finest silk. He kissed her neck and stroked her back, running his hand along her face.
The next day Jeremy woke up. His bed was empty, and a note from Rose was on the desk. It said "If life gives you lemons, chuck those fucking lemons right back where they came from." Below that there was a cute smiley with the words "I'll be at work today, doing some lemon chucking. Guess we'll meet up in the next life?". Jeremy smiled and put the note in his pocket. So like Rose to leave at 4:00 in the morning and leave a joke as an answer to Jeremy's questions of why she had left and where she was going.
Jeremy moved on to the living room. The shutters were closed, and he opened them. The light that streamed in mocked him. It had a synthetic quality about it that touched every part of the room.
Jeremy walked into the kitchen. He fixed a rushed breakfast, threw on a suit and left his apartment for work.
Walking the streets of the city, staring out at the bright colors and vibrant stores, Jeremy muttered to himself, "Why the hell does this city have to be so damn happy all the time? " His hair was uncombed and disheveled. He didn't care. No one would mention it; besides it was Sunday, and everyone had more important things to deal with.
The casual happiness of last night had dissolved by the time Jeremy had entered his office and thrown his brief case on the desk. It was a sort of morbid agreement he had made with his work: "OK, you kill me slowly, and let me tell myself that I'm living the life I want. Keep me from the facts."
Jeremy wasn't usually one to ignore facts; his guard was slipping, and he was gradually seeing that this world was not what he wanted. "But at least I can have a little fun," he muttered to himself as he sat down.
He picked up his office phone and dialed Mr. Rockwell's number. He asked him if he could possibly have a meeting with him.
"You're the news reporter?"
"Well, what... I mean why do want an appointment? I gave you the interview."
"I want to meet you. You sound like an interesting person. Also, I might want to conduct further articles on you," Jeremy said. "Devout atheists fascinate me."
Mr. Rockwell laughed. "I'd have to agree. Well, I guess I have time around eleven tomorrow. By the way, you printed my article today right?"
"Tell me how the public takes it," Mr. Rockwell said.
"Okay. Tomorrow at 11 in the Phoenix Cafe."
Mr. Rockwell agreed and Jeremy hung up. He sighed. The office phone began to ring. Jeremy picked it up.
"Jeremy... Jeremy!! What did you do, and why? Why the hell, that's what I want to know! You know religion is a touchy subject, so why did you go and let that be front page material? We just got an anonymous call saying that this whole newspaper is going to go to hell. What do you have to say for yourself?" Emily clattered on, her voice filled with a neurotic, high-pitched quality.
"Emily," Jeremy said calmly.
"If I'm going to Hell, I better enjoy my time on Earth. Now please. You don't have to pay such a mind to complaints. And please, don't complain to me of complaints. If the church is going to lynch me, well, what the fuck, I'm lynched."
Emily mumbled something.
Emily cleared her throat. "The church owns this town," she said softly.
"God-damn it, then."
"Yes, I suppose He will."
"Don't get self-righteous on me, Em. Yes, I have considered saving my soul. Then I unconsidered it. I'm just not the type."
"God loves all."
"Please. Shut up. Let's drop the subject, dearest. You're my secretary, not my family preacher." Jeremy hung up, and went back to his editing work.
"God-damn religion", he said to himself. He considered the irony of the sentence, and laughed at it. I should share that one with Emily. Somehow I don't think she'll get a kick out of it.
By 11 'o' clock on Monday complaints were piled up withJeremy's secretary, Emily; Em herself had a sullen look on her face. When Jeremy passed by her desk on his way home around five o clock, she gave him an insolent glance and said, "Mr. Wilson quit today."
Jeremy looked back at her, and turned half way around. "Good. I didn't have to fire him. Makes life so much easier when people know when to give up."
Emily grimaced. Her short blond hair bounced as she shook her head. "The wicked shall prosper," she muttered, but Jeremy did not hear. He was already out the door and striding toward his the Phoenix Cafe to meet Mr. Rockwell.
When he got to the Phoenix, Mr. Rockwell was already there. He was a tall, thin man. His face was angular, his skin tanned. His hair was black and he had bangs covering his blue eyes. He wore a pair of jeans and a casual shirt. Jeremy smiled. "It's good to finally meet you."
Rockwell nodded and motioned for Jeremy to sit down. When Jeremy took a table, Rockwell sat across from him. "Thank you. Pleasure's mine. I've got time. What did you want to talk about?" he said, his voice lucid and easy, flowing, as though he was a person very used to talking.
"Well, I just wanted to know how exactly you expect to prove there is no God."
"Did I say I was going to do that?"
"Yes. In your article."
"Oh....um....yes. I remember now. In the article. Yes. I wonder, how I'm going to do that too."
"You mean you don't know how to prove there is no God?"
"The only person who could prove there is no God is God himself, and that doesn't make much sense, now does it?"
Jeremy shook his head. "Then what's the point of the article?"
"What if God only exists if you believe him?"
"That doesn't make sense."
"Do you believe in God?'
"Yes. I don't see why, but for some reason I still do. I don't go to church though. I don't believe in organized religion."
"Why?" Mr. Rockwell asked, leaning forward.
Jeremy looked away from the eyes that were like probes moving across him. He didn't tell the truth. He said "Because if your going to worship a god it should be something personal. Not something shared with 200 other people."
Mr. Rockwell nodded. "You don't have to tell me why. I know that's a lie. Hey, no one tells the truth the first time I ask them that question. But anyway this was supposed to be a session for me to be questioned. Not you."
"What's the reason for your atheism?"
"What makes you think I'm an atheist?"
"Your article! For God's sake will you stop bringing me around in circles!" Jeremy lowered his voice. "All I want is a few answers."
Mr. Rockwell smiled. "I'm not an atheist or a theist."
"But you have to either not believe in God, or believe in Him!! And in the article you said that you were going to prove there was no God!"
"What if there was a tree."
"There's a tree, and a magician comes along. The magician knows the tree's weakness, and if he knows the weakness of it he can make it disappear from the earth."
"What does that have to do with what I'm saying?"
"Nothing. Everything. There is an idea among the people. The idea of a God. The idea may exist, or it may not. What if I was like the magician and I could make the idea disappear?"
"There would be no more religion."
"Exactly. The idea of religion these days is the idea of Bible banging other people. The idea of religion is the idea of making others feel like they're sinning every time they enjoy something. The idea of religion is the idea of making people feel worse about dying; because no longer is dying just death, but it is eternal hell. Or if your saved, eternal sunshine and happiness. What if I made religion disappear?"
"I don't know."
"I do. If there was no religion, there would be no fear of the devil. There would be no Devil. Because there is no God, so there is no Devil; the two go together. And They would be non-existent," Rockwell said.
"You know what; if you're going to be talking senseless shit, then this interview is over..."
"Is it now?" Devin said coolly. "Then I'll be going now." Devin stood up added "It was nice to meet you Jeremy, but I have places to go and people to see... I'm too busy these days for press conferences and meetings with out of whack editors. When you're ready to talk to me, I'll be the least of your problems." He then walked out of the cafe, leaving Jeremy to sit there wondering what it was that had happened. And what had Rockwell meant by the last sentence? And who was this man anyway, this eccentric who said he could prove there was no God, and yet wasn't an atheist or a theist? What was he after? Everyone was after something; a man without an ambition is a man with a purpose in life. Jeremy walked out of the cafe his lips pulled down in a puzzled frown, his eyes studying the ground, his hands swinging nervously at his sides. He rambled slowly back to his office and sat down.
He thought "Why did I imagine that I had found a man of purpose? Mr. Rockwell is just as puzzled as every one else." He scooped up some papers that were lying on his desk, and he shuffled them into a crude pile. He began scrolling down them. They were complaints about the Sunday special. One said "I thought the Colonial Pioneer was a respectful rag. I have been proved wrong by your article by Devin Rockwell. He cannot prove that God doesn't exist, because there is a God. Mr. Rockwell should consider saving his soul because he's going to go to hell and it truly saddens me..." Another said "Devin Rockwell is an arrogant queer. Quit publishing his stuff. There IS a God. God is the opposite of the Devil. I know that, because I'm going to hell. I'll see Mr. Rockwell there." The comments varied in words and character, but the message was the same: there IS a God.
Jeremy laughed when he read the part that said "Devin Rockwell is an arrogant queer." He put the papers to the side after reading a few. The humor of the moment dissipated and Jeremy placed his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes as though he could wipe away the weariness.
But he couldn't, now could he? With this world around him, telling him that he could never make it big, and why would he want to make it big anyway? In this country controlled by the media... In this town controlled by the church. Among these people he had no respect for. What was the point? How could he ever make himself respect these people if he couldn't even respect himself? How could he
go on, without a break? How could he think that this world was anything but purgatory?
Jeremy shrugged his shoulders at these questions and went back to his work, not grudgingly, only with a sort of belated thanks for that which took him away from the world.
"He doesn't exist," Rose said from over the phone.
"Who?" Jeremy asked.
"Dr. Rockwell. He was never born. At least, not in any civilized country in this world. He doesn't have a scientist's license; he didn't graduate from any college in any civilized country... He's never worked anywhere in America, Canada, Europe or Australia. He's never paid a penny of taxes to America, Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe, South Africa , Japan, China or Australia. Mr. Devin Rockwell the scientist does not exist," Rose said.
"Maybe that not his real name."
"Its a possibility. But still.... Don't you think there's something odd about the whole thing?" Rose asked.
"Well yes, but you don't have to get so dramatic it."
"I'm a CIA agent. What do you expect?"
Jeremy sighed. "I have to go, Rose. Listen, if you want to have a talk with him, then fine. I'll get a hold of him."
"Sure. That would satisfy me..." Rose said.
"Will I see you tonight?"
"If you insist on it," she said in a mocking tone of drudging acceptance.
Jeremy laughed. "I love you too," and hung up.
The next day Jeremy called Mr. Rockwell's number to set up an appointment for Rose. The number was disconnected. Jeremy found the address at which the scientist had been staying, and drove there. He practically ran up the stairs. He knocked on the door, and received no answer.
Jeremy walked over to the apartment office, and asked the manager if Mr. Rockwell was still living there. The manager shook his head. "Mr. Rockwell disappeared last night. Just like that. Didn't pay the rent. Didn't stop to say where he was going. Didn't leave a note. No one knows where he is, and I doubt anyone cares, anyway." Jeremy nodded and left. So he goes and disappears, huh?
Jeremy called Rose that night. "I give up... You were right. I don't know who the fuck this Mr. Rockwell is, but he's no respectable scientist."
Rose laughed. "He disappeared, didn't he? Right out of thin air? Leaving no paper trail?"
"Yes, I suppose so. He's gone. Left last night. I tried to make an appointment for you with him, but it was too late. His phone was disconnected, his apartment abandoned. There's no way to find him."
"It's OK. I suppose it can't be helped. Though I would like to know who he is. I mean... Come on, a man just appearing and disappearing leaving questions and false 'scientific' articles? It only happens in psychological thrillers. "
"You should have heard the conversation I had with him at the cafe. The things he said. None of it makes sense." Jeremy repeated what Mr. Rockwell had said at The Rising Phoenix.
"Maybe he thinks he's God or something," Rose suggested.
"He said he's neither a theist or an atheist; if he thought he was God, then he wouldn't believe in himself or not believe in himself, he would just BE, " Rose said.
"No, if he had some odd notion that he was God he wouldn't be writing atheist articles about why religion is bullshit," Jeremy said.
"Whatever you think... still, there are a lot of loons out there who think shit like that. You know, that they're God or the Devil. Loons, all of them. Don't let it get to you."
"But it's just that..." Jeremy hesitated.
"What?" Rose asked, her voice edged with exsasperation.
"Well, Mr. Rockwell didn't seem like that. He didn't seem like he was talking a bunch of BS. I felt confused, as though I was a two year old talking to a scholar about quantum physics," Jeremy said.
Rose sighed. "You know I don't believe in God."
"I'm not asking you to.... I never would. It's just that there's something about him..."
"Some mysteries are never meant to be uncovered, and are best left to the shadows."
"You're the last person I expected to hear a sentence like that from."
"Doesn't that magnify how serious I am? Jeremy, listen to me. Leave it alone."
"OK," Jeremy muttered. "I've got to go Rose. See you tonight."
"Good night, Jeremy," Rose said softly.
Jeremy hung up the phone and reclined back in his leather chair. He brushed the
hair out of his eyes with nimble fingers. He looked stiff in his chair, as though he could never relax-- he constantly looked on the edge, his eyes piercing and staring.... at what? Even Jeremy didn't know sometimes. Lounging on his couch, Jeremy thought, so what if Mr. Rockwell was a fake? All the better for those who didn't like his article... The thought left him in disgust. Jeremy closed his eyes and dozed off into a restless dream.
Check out part two!!!