In hearing a ghost, dead some four hundred years, refer to a secret sin of his, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat heard enough. He hightailed it out of there and didn’t even stop to share with the Puritan preacher a brief fare thee well. Nor did he explore the rest of the quiet tombstones of the cemetery. The project of confronting the dead, which he had so avidly began in the ancient churchyard, was now abandoned to this new development.
From what I understood of the Reverend Pierson’s warnings, uttered in difficult and archaic, if lurid, prose, was that he, the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, was damned. He had committed some horrible sin, which he, in his seemingly thorough exposition to the Therapist Emeritus, had omitted. This sin, like a gaping wound on his soul, left him open to infection by demons. These demons were using specters of the dead to get to him and would somehow involve him in a bitter revenge on the worthy inhabitants of Kenilworth. The town had been founded a few centuries ago, brief in the lifespan of demons, to wrest the land away from Satan.
This warning apparently made quite an impact on the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, even though he shared little of the Reverend Pierson’s theology about demons and damnation and none of his prejudices about Native Americans.
I wanted to call after the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat and get him to think and listen to reason, but I was trying to stay inconspicuous. I wanted to say, wait a minute, the Reverend Pierson was a ghost, right? He’s a ghost, warning you about ghosts; saying that Satan took on the forms of ghosts just to fool you. What if the ghostly apparition of the Reverend Abraham Pierson, the first rector of Yale College, was really Satan? Wouldn’t that be a double feint, worthy of the Prince of Darkness? Think of the chutzpah it would take for the Devil to play the specter of a respected, historically significant preacher and dress in purity, piety, and a Pilgrim costume. What balls it would take for Satan to denounce himself and his own evil, just to work some additional mischief on the unsuspecting town of Kenilworth. The only one who could pull that off would be Lucifer, himself.
Indeed, a case could be made that the Puritans, their hands bloody from the English Civil War, were, themselves, Satan’s legions, landed on the beach at Kenilworth, to claim an innocent Eden for the Devil. The original inhabitants, already decimated by disease carried by previous Europeans, had abandoned their village, allowing the monstrous minions to move in. You could argue that the ones who tell you the most about God are the enemies of God. The ones who complain the most about the Devil are, like corporations that pick your pocket while they say they’re saving you money, themselves, double agents, just trying to throw you off. We moderns, post 9/11, may understand this better than most. Not everyone who claims God as their own is a citizen in good standing of the Kingdom of Heaven. We get that; but, it doesn’t mean we aren’t confused.
For the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat, it was enough that the ghost could refer to a secret sin. This was the trump card the preacher played. At that moment, standing alone in the ancient burial ground, I, S. Harry Zade, the narrator of this story, did not know what this secret sin might be that the Weather Beaten Man carried around with him, under his cowboy hat. You can be assured that you will know as soon as I do. A storyteller cannot reveal a secret sin in a story in act three, without telling you what it is by act five; or, sooner, depending on the exigencies of the plot. Even though the longer you read, the longer I live, I would never waste your time, dear reader, with extraneous details.
The notion that a secret sin could result in his being haunted by ghosts led by the Prince of Darkness was an idea that even the Therapist Emeritus could share, even though she wouldn’t say it the same way. She would substitute the phrase disavowed impulse for sin, hallucinations for ghosts, repressed for secret, contribute for result, emanating for led, and have his own unconscious psyche doing the emanating, rather than the Prince of Darkness providing the leadership. Replace any famous Puritan Preacher with the modern equivalent and you get a therapist emeritus. Take any dire warnings of eternal damnation and four hundred years later they are transformed into clinical formulations. Take the fact that a secret sin could result in his being haunted by ghosts led by the Prince of Darkness could so easily be transposed into repressed disavowed impulses contributing to hallucinations emanating from his own unconscious psyche, and you can see that nothing ever changes, it seldom gets better, but you can dress it up however you like to follow the prevailing fashion.
What was the secret sin, or repressed disavowed impulse, of the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat? Have we seen any clues in the things he has said? Is there anything about his manner that might lead you to believe he was a monster? I have, myself, gone over his story as it has been presented thus far and seen no sign of it, except for the possibility that there being no sign, is, itself, a sign. It shouldn’t be too hard to believe that any secret sin might result in the person developing a counterbalancing, compensating characteristic; a proud man acting humble, a lustful one respecting women, a glutton of human flesh becoming vegetarian. We so often take steps counter to our initial impulses that it might be good if we all had a secret sin, if only so that we would act against it.
Still, despite the advantages, no one should ever wish to have a secret sin of their own, for it leaves them vulnerable to extortion by supernatural beings. I could see how worked up the Weather Beaten Man in a Cowboy Hat was to have it alluded to, much less revealed. I could see this, even though the night was pitch black and I couldn’t see my glasses, much less my hand, in front of my face. Having a secret is worse than having a zit on your nose. You must keep it concealed continuously and monitor its ripeness for the moment you can pop it and release its oozing contents on the bathroom mirror. When that secret is a sin, it offers a secret pleasure, to be sure, but its puss is of the toxic kind that splatters, spreads, and clogs all your pores.
I should take this occasion now to confess to you a secret sin of my own. Pop my own zit, if you will, among friends. I don’t do this to relieve my conscience, for I have no conscience. My author never supplied me with one. Nor do I do it to avoid extortion by ghosts. I stood nearby while the Reverend Abraham Pierson spoke. I knew he knew I was there; ghosts have a way of knowing such things that mortals overlook; but I had no fears he would call me out. My secret sin is of a species that a Puritan preacher would never comprehend. In fact, in the whole graveyard, there would not be more than one or two dead people who could rise up out of their graves, point their finger and accuse me. I have a thoroughly modern sin, a secret that I could freely tell because most would not grasp. A sin that even the most puritan could never dream of.
You may have wondered how I know so much about the characters that frequent the Epiphany Cafe. It’s true that I have good hearing. It’s true that many of them divulge their most private thoughts to the Therapist Emeritus. It’s true I sit within earshot and it’s true that she pays little attention to their privacy and protects their confidentiality with no more than the potted plant she sits behind. It’s also true that, as a fictional character, I can be unobtrusive and given no more heed than a potted plant. All this is true, but I have other means at my disposal to learn their stories.
It’s like this. People come to the Epiphany Cafe to use the Wi-Fi that the owners have so generously provided. There’s a password, however, and it keeps changing. The patrons have to buy something at the counter and remember to ask the barista what it is. They inevitably forget it, or can’t spell it, and then there is a line to endure before they can ask her, or him, again. I’ve provided Wi-Fi with my phone under the name of Get Your Epiphany Now. Everyone thinks the network belongs to the cafe. It requires no password. Then, when I’ve got the patrons hooked in my network, I hack into their data. Ingenious, huh?
No one would never suspect me for doing so. I look like a tweedy English professor of a certain age. You might peg me as a Luddite, not a hacker; but my activities are a secret, and secrets, as I have said, engender compensatory concealments. Even though I don’t look like a hacker, I am one, nonetheless. I don’t look like a fictional character, either; but I am one, anyway.
I must hasten to say that I have stolen no money, identities this way. I could have hijacked their bank accounts, credit cards, and direct deposits, but I’m not interested in money. Fictional characters have no use for money. We need stories. I do this to feed my, and your, never satisfied appetite for stories. You should thank me for it, not judge me, for it is you, in the end, who benefits. Therefore, I don’t feel at all guilty about it. You can feel guilty if you’d like, but keep on reading, for marvelous things will soon occur.