Fall From Grace

2.

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Bill awoke in foggy haze. During that first nanosecond of consciousness, his brain accomplished quite a bit. First of all, he’d realized that he’d made it somehow. The last thing he remembered was a cacophony of alarms, screams and the screeches of grinding metal. It was nothing coherent. Judging by an acute feeling of nausea and dizziness, Bill figured he’d suffered a concussion at some point.

The next few nanoseconds were less optimistic. First of all, he was in total darkness. He couldn’t see the hand in front of his face. That meant one of two things. Either the plane went down in the night or he was far enough below sea level so that light couldn’t reach him. He was hoping for the first option.

By the time a full second had passed, the situation became even more bleak when he realized he was in water…and naked.

Fuck me. I must’ve blacked out when we hit the water.

Immediately, the adrenaline kicked in. Bill began swimming to the surface as fast as he could. The man hadn’t swam in decades and he flailed like a lunatic. Then a truly terrifying thought occurred to him. Because all he could see was blackness, there was no way to know which direction the surface was. His visibility started out at nil and wasn’t improving. A Great White could’ve been a foot in front of his face and he wouldn’t have known about it.

For all I know, I’m just heading further to the bottom. I’m probably going to be eaten by some undiscovered sea monster or giant squid.

The mental image of some massive leviathan or kraken circling around him sent chills down his spine. After a few more seconds of frantic strokes, Bill came across another bleak epiphany. He was no longer breathing. He wasn’t holding his breath, nor did he feel an urge to breathe.

Is this a dream? This is one fucked up dream. Jesus Christ. God is NOT good right now.

Bill clung to the idea that is his current state was just the product of his hyperactive subconscious. He closed his eyes (a trivial action considering he was bathed in darkness) and told himself he’d wake up eventually. This was a bizarre nightmare. Nothing more. He felt like Dorothy chanting “There’s no place like home.”

Bill floated in the liquid void for another hour in breathless darkness while he waited to wake back up; maybe in a hospital or maybe in the Eagle. Maybe this was a dream within a dream and the whole goddamn crash memory never even happened.

Yup. That’s what happened. The old meta-dream. It’d be nice if Hope were with me in this dream within a dream. Maybe she’d let me have her. Maybe she’d get bored of just floating around and fuck me out of sheer boredom. After the subconscious panic I’ve had to endure, I think I deserve some ass.

More time passed. One hour turned into three hours. Bill lost track of the actual time. Once a full day passed, he felt like he’d been in the black void for more than ten years. His confidence in his dream within a dream hypothesis started to fade. The memory of light was gone. For all he knew, he’d gone blind while he waded through the endless ocean of time.

Bill felt his sanity start to chip away. He started playing the highlights of his past in his head to ward off psychosis. He started from the beginning, but his childhood and adolescence were rancid mixtures of familial dysfunction and physical abuse; he’d always preferred to press the fast forward button when his mind went back to that time. So, he continued down Memory Lane.

The road to spiritual prosperity wasn’t intentional. He was a self-made man; started out as a used car salesmen in northern Mississippi. That’s where he honed his sales pitch, where he learned how people wanted to be spoken to. At 35, he moved to Atlanta and continued to refine his craft. A more diverse, urban environment expanded his abilities and taught the future pastor how to effectively communicate with many different types of people. He learned how to read them and then tell them what they wanted to hear. He knew how to create a void in peoples’ lives and then provide the product that could fill it.

After a few years pushing used cars in Atlanta, Bill met a single mother that he found…enticing: big hair, big tits and a Georgia twang. She invited him to church with her and, since he thought it would help him seal the deal, he obliged.  As a Mississippi native, Bill made a few stops in churches here and there when he was growing up, but he was by no means a devout believer. The service that she brought him to was a rowdy Pentecostal service. Every hand was raised in the air. Folks of all ages and sexes spoke in tongues. There were no snakes, though.

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Bill thought it was a shit show; creepier than a video he’d seen of a San Francisco Black Mass. By the time the preacher took the podium, Bill was beginning to doubt whether or not his date was worth suffering through the cultish nightmare. But when the preacher began his sermon, Bill had a watershed moment. The guy was a born salesman; contemporary, but also nostalgic. He was full of charisma and his sermon had just enough substance for his blue collar congregation to feel as of they had learned something, but not so much that they felt confused or bored. He had the audience in the palm of his hand. Bill had never seen anyone with that much power in his life. I bet he could get these people to hand over their life savings. Bill thought. That’s when the light bulb turned on in his head. He could do this. He could do this and make a fucking killing. Bill already had most of the requisite skill set; all he needed was to sound like he’d read the Bible and didn’t enjoy watching two All-American ladies scissor one another until the sun came up. So, Bill ditched the mother and her bastard child and pursued his dream of spiritual swindling.

He started off with tent revival get-togethers, which is where he met his wife, Jill,  and grew from there. When gigs turned into pastorships, he needed legitimacy but didn’t have any college. Fortunately, he found a school that had a “straight to Doctorate” expedited program. Living Christian University, gave him credit for seventy-five percent of his doctorate based on his “applicable life experiences.” That worked out great for Bill. Banging call girls and vulnerable single-moms in hotel rooms and ministry offices was definitely preferable to a hermeneutics dissertation. LCU was a diploma mill, but that didn’t matter. In his business, image was all that mattered. When he was balls-deep in some lost woman that he was “spiritually counseling” or a hired hand, he always relished when she called him by his rightful prefix. Jill didn’t find out about any of his pre-Globe Changer indiscretions. When he found Hope and made it big time with the ministry, he found a sly attorney with a knack for fixing non-disclosure agreements, which ensured no one would ever find out.

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Then came the Eagle. Bill told his congregation that his wealth was more evidence that showed he was adored by God for his virtue. They ate it up and collectively paid sixty million dollars for the jet. From nothing, he had grown into one of the most widely syndicated televangelists in America. The good Lord had rewarded him for being a faithful disciple, with lots of dollar signs.

The mental film of his life was over. Bill didn’t know how long it had taken to play through it, but it was longer than he’d care for. He was running out of ways to salvage his sanity. He began to fantasize about killing himself. Not in reality, but in this recess of his consciousness. Perhaps that would wake him. Ending it all was better than this perpetual state of life without any stimuli. Drowning obviously came to mind, but he hadn’t breathed in God-knew how long, so that was out. He tried to hit himself but with the water’s resistance prevented him from doing any serious damage. Hoping to find a sharp rock or a carnivorous beast to devour him, Bill swam every which way, but encountered nothing. He was in a vacuum.

How long will this bullshit dream last? How do I die if I don’t need to breath?

Bill expected his skin to decay from the moisture, but it didn’t. Pruny and moist, but never rotten, his outer shell was remarkably resilient to the wear and tear of the deep.

Eons passed or seemed to passed. Bill played mind games. He played more movies in his head and delved deeper into the archives of his memory. He re-lived, in vivid detail, his romantic indiscretions and sexual experiments that lawyers and business partners helped to keep secret. Ejaculating into the void was the only pleasure he could muster. But after a while, he could no longer excite his flesh to rise. Replaying the same sexual fantasies or memories over and over dulled their titillation. He was losing the ability to feel anything.

Finally, Bill could bear no more. The sensory deprivation was too insufferable. With no other alternative, he resolved to scratch himself out of the slumber, however long it might take: bleeding to death one tiny bit at a time. If he couldn’t bleed to death, he hoped he might be able to contract some kind of fatal dream infection. If that didn’t work, he’d reach underneath his rib cage and pull his heart right out. That was in his power. If that didn’t wake him up the fuck up, then nothing would. He just didn’t the have vision to realize it before. But he did now. Rev. Dr. William Hilton, the man who bled God for sixty million dollars, would surely find a way to escape this silent ocean of hell.

Bill scratched at his chest and stomach as furiously as he could. His nails were just a tad longer than when had trimmed them a couple days before the flight, so they weren’t as effective as he’d envisioned. That didn’t stop him though. He scratched and scratched and scratched; all the while he screamed at the top of his lungs. All of a sudden, Bill stopped. Something came into his awareness. Light.

He noticed it out of the corner of his eye. He couldn’t believe his eyes still worked. The sense of sight had been forgotten and relegated to the annals of memory. Bill forgot about his attempt at dream suicide and swam with the fury of an angry God toward the light. As he neared the object, he realized it wasn’t a light. It was a school of jellyfish. Red jellyfish. They seemed to be multiplying like bacteria. Each stroke toward them brought more into Bill’s view. One minute, there was only one. Twenty seconds later, Bill was surrounded by a universe of jellyfish. Gracefully wafting through the water by gentle propulsions, they moved slowly. Their fluorescent light illuminated his body for the first time in his dark eternal night.

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He’d clawed up his stomach and chest a good bit, but everything else looked in order. While he was examining himself, the jellyfish began to move, quickly. The school seemed to be caught by some current that circumvented Bill’s body. Feeling like a coronary was coming on, he tried as hard as he could to follow them. He would have rather blown the male flight attendant that the agency stuck him with than have to spend another second in total blackness. Despite his efforts, the jellyfishes’ speed was too much for Bill.

They rocketed ahead, whether it was towards the abyss or the surface, he didn’t know. His fears of abandonment were warranted. The last few dots of red were flurrying past him. There was a silver lining, however. There were other lights emanating from the space ahead of him. Their light blue glow was less ominous than the jellyfish, but far more titanic in size. The lights formed a circle, which made Bill think that a giant ring was about to engulf him. It looked cosmically massive; he thought it looked like a blue outline of the sun from Mercury. Bill watched in awe, but that quickly turned to horror. A roar erupted from the ocean floor; part lion, part blue whale, part blast furnace. He felt an eruption of bubbles rise up and touch his face after the sound assailed his ears. The perpetual vertigo was over. Bill was now certain he was staring down into the abyss.

deep water

Whatever the blue bottom dwellers were, they were faster swimmers than their gelatinous counterparts. The multitude of blue flashes coalesced together into something terrifying. It became clear that whatever was rocketing towards him wasn’t a collection of organisms. It was one organism, one giant blue titan. The leviathan was impossibly big, mythically huge. Bill that that it was wider than an airport runway. The monster’s anatomy wasn’t complex: a fin on top, a tail and two fins on the sides. While the immense scale of those features was terrifying in and of itself, it was its aperture that made Bill fear for his own destruction for the first time since he woke up in darkness. The space inside the ring wasn’t just water. It was the beast’s mouth; a mouth that could engulf the plane he’d worked so hard to get. Out of the gaping mouth came another volcanic roar.

The beast’s cry was so-volcanic that the sound waves hit his body and pushed him upward. It was almost upon him; he could see the anatomy within the mouth. There were no razor-sharp teeth like a shark; no baleen sifters like a whale. It seemed to just be an abyss within an abyss, but a closer look betrayed more details. Dozens of undulating holes the size of eighties-era satellite dishes lined the mouth’s circumference. Like a rectum forcing out shit, they flexed and relaxed in disturbing motion. Preparing to pounce, three-pronged tongues snaked out of the peripheral orifices  Bill had ten seconds until the monster consumed him. The tongues shot out from the mouth and wrapped around Bill, leaving no skin bare. The force their squeezes exerted dwarfed anacondas. The only flesh not covered was his eyes. The mouth engulfed them and the tongues sucked their prey deep into the stomach of the beast. He closed his eyes and was in darkness once again. He continued to sink into the darkness of the leviathan’s belly. When his descent finally ended, Bill finally lost consciousness. But not for long.