Naked and burning in the sun, Pain walks out into the desert and lets the sand burn his feet. He lets the rage burn his heart and wonders why he should be here. So many terrible things happened on God’s watch. How can he even start to think about working it all out? When the sun is blocked from his vision, he looks up to see a massive statue made of salt in the image of Char.
At its feet sit puddles of blood. He looks at the plaque on the base and shakes his head at the word, “Envy.”
“Wrath. Not Envy.”
“Yes, wrath, but why? Why the wrath? He is a weak man. He fears all other men. He flinches when he walks past them and his great fear is being caught by one. He envies their strength and their confidence, and that brings out wrath, or fear, or any other kind of emotion. He does not date women for their looks or personality, but for their weak children. The longest relationships have been with women with shy sons, women who will watch as he bullies their child so that that boy never grows up to be stronger than him.
“Char makes weak men by attacking them when they are young. The reason he attacked you is because he was envious of strong men, and never wanted to have to face your strength.”
“So this is my idol? This is my false idol? This man right here, that had broken me but now fears me, is the one I worship?”
“How do you describe yourself? Do you describe yourself as the man that can do anything? Or the man that is the leader? The fount of wisdom? Do you describe yourself like this? Or when you talk to people, do you describe yourself as Char’s victim?”
Pain had nothing to say to that, so he kept walking. He moved forward, kicking at the sand dunes and fighting his way over hills until he saw a figure in the sand. He went to find it and saw Adam’s teddy bear.
“Victor Bear,” Pain said. He held it up and looked at it, smacking the grit away. “I hated you. I hated Adam for getting you. You caused me so much pain. I have never really gotten over the way he treated Vikker because of you.
“And to this day I hold a grudge against Adam for it. I can only see him grabbing Vikker by the legs and hitting him against the floor.” Pain starts to cry. “It was not just Victor, it was everything. He got the happy childhood. He got to raise my kids. He got to be married to my wife. He got the writing career. Adam gets everything, and the rest of us have to work so he can get it.”
“And so you hate him for it?”
“No, I don’t hate Adam. I just want everyone to know that I am just as vital and just as powerful as him. I fought hard to get where I am today and I earned a place at the table.”
“You said you need everyone to know. Everyone. Is that true, do you need everyone to know?”
“No, I just need Adam to know that.”
He looks at the bear, knowing that Adam already knows what he needs him to know. And Pain digs with his hands in the burning sand. When he has a hole dug, he buries Victor Bear in that hole. He gently pulls the sand over Victor and walks away.
When he reaches God, he sees Him as Shadow sitting on a bench.
Shade sits and feels the burn of the cold bench through his pants.
He stands. “I don’t want to sit here,” Pain says. He is looking up now. He is three years old.
“Please sit. Come and talk, Pain. I need you to see what happened. I need you to see how Char got there and what happened to you.” God looks up with Shadow’s smile, and Pain would follow that smile anywhere.
He grabs the rungs of the seat and pulls himself up.
“It was so cold,” Pain says.
“Why were you there?”
“Because I was fat,” Pain says.
“Come on, we already dealt with this,” God says. “Why were you there?”
“Because I was plump, and Char wanted to break me,” Pain says.
“He told your mother what?”
“That in the morning we were going jogging. He wanted to work the fat off of me,” Pain says. “She told him I was too young, but he would not break his idea. I asked what jogging was and they wouldn’t tell me. In the morning, I was put in sweat pants and sweat shirt and taken in the car to the park. It was ice cold. He started jogging. But I was three and I had to sprint to keep up with him. I was exhausted almost immediately. Asked for breaks over and over again, and finally he told me to sit on this park bench until he was done running.”
“It was ice cold, and when I got home I was frozen. Rose screamed and yelled at Char. Got me in a bed under covers and I started crying. He got pissed—”
“And he came to beat you. That was when your mind broke for the first time. That was when you started your life. He came out of that room with blood on his hands.”
“Yeah, Rose took me and Less to grandma and grandpa’s house and said she was leaving Char because he was too violent with me. Of course they talked her out of it and we ended up back with Char.”
“You had the entire mess all over again,” God says. “And who do you blame for that?”
“Not you. I want to. It’s easier, but then the shovel, and then I do start to blame you,” Pain said.
“Tell me about the shovel,” God says.
“Well, he beat me with that snow shovel and I was terrified. He stood over me screaming at me and I cowered on the ground. He turned and stormed away, and I looked across the yard and a neighbor stood in the backyard next to his. Big guy. Just stood there and watched.
“Well I had snow boots on and one came off while I was trying to crawl away. The sock got wet and my foot was frozen. I had to hop to the door and up the steps on one foot holding a snow-filled boot. Then I tried to walk in the house but the door was locked.” Pain looks at his feet. “And I had to stand there on one foot wailing and begging to come back in while this guy stood in the middle of his yard and did nothing.”
Pain shook his head and pointed at God. “I do blame you for that.”
“For letting that guy stand there and do nothing.”
“I put him out there to stop Char. But I can’t physically move his body for him. I can’t force him to act. He was the only person I had to get in the way. He went out there to deal with his Doberman Pinchers and he watched it all. I urged him to step in.”
“Char was terrified of that guy.”
“Yes, he was,” God said. “And I tried to make him go, but it was his choice. I don’t know why he didn’t help you. But he never forgot it, and he is haunted by it every day.”
Shade gripped the bench with both hands and nodded. “No one can make me do anything I don’t want to do either.”
God with Shadow’s body looked at Shade. “Can I have a hug?” God said. “I have wanted one from you since you were three.”
This chapter is from Reality of the Unreal Mind, Vol. 3: The Keep.