message in a bottle
Reading Time: 7 minutes (Charlotte Noelle.)
Reading Time: 7 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Lately, we’ve been reading and reviewing Frank Peretti’s 1986 novel This Present Darkness. To say the very least, this book’s a slow burn! But now that we’re past the halfway mark, things are finally picking up steam. In today’s installment, the evil villains spring into action. This time, they target not the heroes of the book, but some fairly minor players. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the way that incompetent villains send a message.

message in a bottle
(Charlotte Noelle.)

(Please click here to find the master list of previous This Present Darkness discussions. Also, any page numbers cited come from the 2003 paperback edition of the book. Quotes come from the book or other noted sources, unless I let you know otherwise.)

Chapter 25 Synopsis.

This one’s just awful in every way.

As her boss Marshall Hogan instructed her, Bernice Krueger pays a visit to Kevin Weed. Since he’s not at work nor at the tavern he frequents, she decides to visit him at his home. She tells Carmen, the office secretary, to pass on a message to Marshall Hogan, that she’s “gone out to check on a source,” then leaves the office.

Kevin’s home is a total wreck. As with the other two houses (Ted Harmel’s and Eldon Strachan’s), whoever wrecked it also left a really bad threat spray-painted on the wall.

While she’s there, someone jumps her and attacks her, beating her to within an inch of her life — and then just leaves. Somehow, she’s rescued and hospitalized.

Meanwhile, the cops from Windsor (a town very near Ashton and where Strachan lives) interrogate Marshall Hogan. The corrupt police chief from back home in Ashton, Alf Brummel, interrupts by phone. He informs Marshall of Bernice’s attack. Then, he orders the Windsor police to release Marshall and asks him to come to a meeting at 3pm.

someone missed some important screenwriting classes

Bernice’s attacker flees to Ashton. It turns out to be Bobby Corsi, the wayward son of Dan and Jean Corsi. Angels hem him in around Hank Busche and Andy Forsythe. These men halfway exorcise him (not a typo) and hustle him to their church.

After his release, Marshall visits Bernice in the hospital. She has time to tell him what she saw. The two theorize again that their office phones are bugged — and they finally wonder just whose side Carmen is really on. Marshall heads off to his meeting — and he is big mad, y’all.

Oh, and I’m not sure where to put this bit, so it might as well go here: almost the first thing Bernice tells Marshall is that her attacker didn’t rape her, only beat her almost to death. His response: “Thank God!” When she elaborates a bit further about the sheer brutality of the attack, he tells her, “Aren’t you satisfied?” It is really gross.

Police Procedure, Briefly.

I’m no expert, but I seriously doubt a single aspect of police procedure looks anything like what Frank Peretti describes here. It’s like everything Peretti learned about law enforcement, he learned from Andy Griffith.

(Hey, I said “Briefly.”)

Marshall Hogan’s Man-Pain.

Obviously, all of this earthly havoc was wreaked by the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW).

But the only real reasoning I can see for it is the over-simplistic, black-and-white thinking of evangelicalism. Bad guys do bad things for no real reason, just cuz it’s bad and they’re bad. There was no reason whatsoever for them to attack any of their victims (Kevin Weed, the Strachans, Ted Harmel), much less to hassle Marshall or beat up Bernice. As we’re about to see in the next chapter, all they’ve done is set themselves back and open themselves up to needless risk.

Similarly, the only reason I can see for Bernice’s attack is to amp Marshall up for his meeting with Alf Brummel. The Cabal’s guy sure didn’t attack Marshall, after all. Instead, he attacked Bernice, the much easier target, who only works for Marshall. The Cabal stymied her own quest for justice long ago (as far as they know). She’s a nobody, as far as they should care. Attacking her will only anger Marshall — which is exactly what happens.

Also: As ridiculously, galactically stupid as it was for Marshall to send Bernice off to check on Kevin after seeing Ted Harmel and his home’s destruction, however/of course, he doesn’t apologize to her.

Sending a Message, Yahweh-Style.

During their short conversation at the hospital, Bernice tells Marshall that she thinks “they’re” (meaning the Cabal) sending the reporters a message.

I can’t imagine what the message would be, though.

“Stop investigating this thing” might be the obvious message to send, but this is the dumbest way imaginable to send it. Hospitalizing a reporter just tells all the journalists involved that there’s a big serious story going on there somewhere. They might not even know what it is yet, but they know it’s there — because the attackers just defended something.

More to the point, they defended it with over-the-top violence.

It is downright incompetent.

But that’s sorta how Yahweh operates in general, isn’t it? Incompetently.

To listen to Christians, their god delights in sending them vague, impossible-to-decipher messages that look exactly like no message at all or just some little odd occurrence somewhere. It’s up to them to play conspiracy-theorist to unravel what it all might mean.

If I were in charge of the CSWWSW, I’d make everything look as boring and aboveboard as humanly possible. And if I sent any messages to my enemies, I’d be a lot more clear about it.

The Evil News Network.

Incidentally, Marshall Hogan still hasn’t done a thing about the office’s apparently-bugged phones. (I say apparently because I don’t think Frank Peretti has actually clarified this point.) It should have become his #1 priority the moment he found out it was possible. However, during the hospital conversation with Bernice we learn he hasn’t pursued that angle at all.

Further, Bernice mentions that the office secretary (and aspiring pastor-seducer) Carmen knew where she was going.

But that’s not true at all.

I just double-checked both phone conversations in the past two chapters. At no point did anybody in the office say Kevin Weed’s name or where they were heading. All Bernice told Carmen as she left was that she was checking on “a source.” The only time Kevin’s name ever got mentioned is by the person calling the office, not by the person in the office receiving the call. Unless Carmen was listening in using her own phone, she should have had no idea where Bernice was going.

Bernice and Marshall also suspect that Alf Brummel and the Windsor chief of police are in cahoots, but in the last chapter we saw Marshall decide he’d rather contact and then get arrested by Windsor police for the opposite reason. Bernice also thinks that the two police chiefs knew she’d be at Kevin’s place alone, but that’s kind of a stretch unless she also thinks that the police themselves have bugged the office’s phones.

And if that’s happened, then these two have some way bigger fish to fry than the Cabal.

A 180 in the Culture Wars.

Attacks on journalists do happen — often by governments and powerful authoritarians that really don’t like snoopy journalists prying into their affairs.

Boy, ain’t it surreal to imagine a time when evangelicals sympathized with and maybe even felt outraged on behalf of journalists in their stories, instead of seeing them as enemies!

Though Bernice and Marshall aren’t actually evangelicals (yet), they act and think exactly like evangelicals. And though their enemies are, as far as they know, just people and not invisible boogeymen, the story considers them to be demonic in power, reach, and scope.

The villains are just everywhere and they see everything. No matter what the heroes do, the Cabal members seem to be one step ahead of them. In numbers, the pair are vastly outmatched. They can’t talk to anybody without the villains finding out, nor go anywhere without being detected.

In fact, the villains only slip up when the plot demands that they do so — as we saw in the hotel gala.

They’ve Gotta Work on Those Communication Skills.

Count on this above all.

The evangelicals who read and loved this book back in the 1980s and 1990s saw themselves as Bernice and Marshall: plucky heroes facing the serried forces of ultimate evil in a showdown for the fate of the whole world, all while the force of ultimate good faffs about somewhere else and his harried foot-soldiers do their best to actually get stuff done.

Those ultimate forces are just surprisingly bad at sending messages, is all — on both sides of that fight.

these villains send a silly message
also itty bitty living space

Like I dunno, y’all, maybe I just expect too much out of gods or something.

I figure if real live gods want to send a message to someone, they should be able to do so in a very clear and easily-discerned way. I get why Christians worship a god with such abysmal message-sending skills; it’s the only way they can reconcile false beliefs with true reality. But you’d think that in their books at least they’d be able to present a different picture.

Today, Lord Snow Presides over puppy-kicking villains with the worst communication skills ever.

NEXT UP: We mambo our way into the Endtimes!

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Lord Snow Presides is our off-topic weekly chat series. Lord Snow presides over a suggested topic for the day, but feel free to chime in with anything on your mind. We especially welcome pet pictures! The series was named for Lord Snow, my sweet white boycat who died in 2018. He knew a lot more than he ever let on.


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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...