• Ancient Paths

Into the Darkness, Into the Night

by DT Richards

The evening had faded into inky, humid blackness, the kind that defines rural summer nights. The headlights of the Dean Marley's Dodge Dart, as he drove the other Dean, Dean Kagan, home, limned the surface of the road, the line of rough wooden fences on either side. Yet the murk beyond the lights remained unassailable.


"Give your life to Jesus, Dean," he was saying. "God is waiting for you." He stared straight ahead as he talked, and sat straight in his seat, so that his eyes remained hidden above where the instrument lights of the Dart could reach.


Dean Kagan, the other Dean, slouched a little lower in the passenger seat. He, like Dean Marley, was thin and wiry, but tonight his young frame lay slack with exhaustion. His tie hung loosely around his neck and the top button of his white shirt was undone. An afterglow of perspiration flushed his face, and flooded the car with a warm, but sour smell. On his knees rested a small, worn Bible.


"He can sweep away all your troubles." Dean Marley enunciated his words clearly. A stolid, unshakeable sense of unexamined certainty, of judgement sealed and delivered, underpinned them. "But God won't help you if you don't let him be the king of your life first."


Dean Kagan turned his face away, toward the window, until his cheek almost touched its dim companion in it. His eyes were dark ovals in the reflection, punctuated only by the rare flash of a farmhouse light.


Dean Marley stopped talking. The dull chatter of loosely packed backroad macadam under the Dart's tires, punctuated randomly by the pop of the occasional flying stone, filled the interior of the car like a chorus. He tugged at his collar: Pastor Warren, not he, had been the preacher that night, and it would have been improper to loosen his tie.


Ahead of them lay a low set of hills, marking the end of the plateau. Soon the road would start curving and they would reach Dean Kagan's farm.


"You've been coming for more than a month now, Dean," he said. "Jesus is waiting for you. He's waiting for you to make that first step. What is there in this world worth hanging on to? Why don't you give your heart to him?"


"It's not that I don't want to," Dean Kagan said, his voice weak but unyielding. "I just don't know that it's right."


"Just turn to him, his yoke is easy and his burden light," Dean Marley said. He caught himself--had he said that already? There had been so many times like this, with the road hypnotically swallowing his journey, that he sometimes felt as if the words were being said not him but by some automatic tape. Some of those who had heard those words were now part of the little assembly in the clapboard shack on Ninth Concession, but unaccountably of them many had passed into the black night.


*


They had mounted the third rise. Soon the road would start to curve, and he would be home. Dean Kagan clutched at his Bible in a sudden reflex action, the kind of action frogs make when electricity has been applied to their nerves. He could feel the book hot under his palm, as if all the heat from that sweltering country church had gathered in it.


All evening he had been struggling with some force, some kind of obloquy spilling out from the pastor's words and from the way the congregation looked at him. It didn't speak to him the way the plaintive music did; he couldn't tell if it were from God or man.


Soon he would be alone in the farmhouse with his terrors and fears. Then would come a different kind of struggle: the struggle with his own soul.


He stole a glance at Dean Marley beside him. He resented sharing his name with the man. It made him feel as if he were a wax figure, teetering on the rim of a bubbling pot. If he jumped in, there would be two of them, but then one, and then... none at all.