Hi and welcome back! The showdown at Ashton continues today in Frank Peretti’s novel This Present Darkness. In this installment, we learn the final fate of Bernice’s sister Pat. Today, Lord Snow Presides over the ghastly fate of Pat Krueger — a fate that sounds all too evangelical.
(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 35 Synopsis.
Bernice Krueger (the reporter character) meets with Susan Jacobson — who, remember, did not actually die. Among other things, Susan confirms that yes, her boss Alexander Kaseph is totally planning to buy out the town of Ashton for the Cabal of Satanic Wiccans (or Wiccan Satanists, Whatevs) (CSWWSW). That very much includes the town’s one and only college.
Apparently Bernice only suspected that takeover, but now it’s confirmed. In fact, the very next day Kaseph plans to seal the takeover deal in a big meeting with the owners of the college! Susan also reveals that Kaseph has done this same thing many times in many other small towns around the world: turned them into another iteration of “Sacred City of the Universal Mind.”
In addition, Susan tells her what really happened to her sister, Pat Krueger. It is not what we (meaning, we heathens) thought. At all. Susan gives Bernice her sister’s diary, the reading of which sends Bernice into a tailspin.
In the jail cell, Marshall Hogan gets really upset about losing his wife. Hank Busche, his cellmate, swoops in for the Jesus kill.
Meanwhile, the Remnant prays super-hard-lots — especially Edith Duster. Their prayers bring in angels galore — all sneaking into town to avoid the notice of the demons also rapidly filling the town.
The Strongman demon finally fully possesses Alexander Kaseph during a meditation session, then declares “The time has come!”
Presumably, the buildup has ended. Now, the book’s finale can officially begin.
The Gun on the Wall Wasn’t Loaded After All.
All through this book, almost from its beginning, we’ve been hearing about the unfortunate death of Pat Krueger. It’s given as the reason why Bernice is even in Ashton in the first place.
Oh sure, all the cops and investigators quickly decided Pat Krueger had died by suicide. Bernice never believed that notion for a second. Oh sure, they’d closed the case very quickly after seeing the locked dorm room. But all along, Bernice knew there had to be something else: some nefarious other agent behind it all. She knew her sister, and her sister wouldn’t have done that. No way, no how!
So Bernice came to Ashton ready to scrap and fight over the matter. She interviewed people, asked questions, made a pest of herself. So far, she hasn’t come up with anything solid.
Not until now.
Now, she finally knows exactly what happened. Her sister wrote it all down. She told the whole story in that diary.
And here’s the answer, y’all.
Here’s what happened:
Her sister, um, died by suicide.
Evil spirits led Pat Krueger to that fatal decision.
See, Bernice’s sister had gotten involved with some weirdo called Thomas at college. This guy had begun to order Pat around like whoa, even dictating where she’d eat lunch. He even peeled her away from all her friends!
(Cuz obviously, none of us has ever encountered an evangelical Christian guy who delighted in utterly controlling his female partner and isolating her from her support network, right? Nope, not ever! Has to be evangelicals’ out-group doing that!)
Though initially Susan just thought Thomas was “some male chauvinist type,” she soon saw the truth once she read that diary. In it, Pat Krueger writes about how she spiraled into worse and worse delusions — all encouraged by Thomas.
Eventually, this guy convinced her that once she died, they could be together on a higher plane of existence.
The Identity of Thomas.
Susan really doubts Thomas was actually human. In fact, she thinks he was a demon. She explains thusly (p. 314):
“Some things you’re just going to have to accept for now,” Susan replied with a sigh.” [Now for some blahblah about spirits in various ideologies.]
“What?” [Bernice asked.]
“Hey, listen, whatever description or definition fits, whatever shape, whatever form it takes to win a person’s confidence and appeal to his vanity, that’s the form they take. And they tell the deluded seeker of truth whatever he or she wants to hear until they finally have that person in their complete control.”
“Like a con game, in other words.”
“It’s all a con game: Eastern meditation, witchcraft, divination, Science of Mind, psychic healing, holistic education–oh, the list goes on and on–it’s all the same thing, nothing but a ruse to take over people’s minds and spirits, even their bodies.”
Bernice reviewed memory after memory of their investigation, and Susan’s claims fell right into place.
So after some initial reluctance, Bernice buys into the idea as well. That’s clearly much easier than believing what actually happened.
It’s an absolutely heartbreaking scene. Susan flat-out preys upon another person’s suffering and needs to sell them woo. In character, this predation differs not at all from what Hank does to Marshall in the jail cell. Or what Jim Bakker does on every episode of his awful talk show.
(Also, I can’t help but mention here: when Frank Peretti was a little boy, he suffered from a very disfiguring congenital defect. His dad took him to a big name in the faith-healing racket, but oddly the boy’s deformity did not clear up by magic. Surgery did the trick much later.)
Now for Reality.
In March, an Idaho man from a small town (Emmett) drove to another small town (Horseshoe Bend). He had no connections whatsoever to anybody there. He parked his car, got his gun out of the car, and walked around ranting about the end of the world. Eventually, he shot up the home of a family whose only offense was answering their door when he knocked on it. That family lost their child to this violence.
Do we need to guess what gave this guy the idea that the world was ending?
We often find strong religious faith in women who murder their own children. As this UConn article relates, religiosity gives these women a framework for their delusions — and may encourage them as perfectly acceptable signs of fervor.
I can look back at my own past and immediately know that Christianity produced way more wackjobs in my own personal experience than New Age and pagan religions ever did. Sure, I knew some wackjobs in paganism (here are some of them that I met). I’d never claim otherwise. Every movement has some weirdos in it.
But pound for pound, nothing could beat Christianity. They didn’t ignore their weirdos. As long as the weirdness fit into their parameters for hardcoreness, wackjobs can find encouragement from their church groups and social-media friends.
Meanwhile, the one time I almost succumbed to fanatical thinking, after my mom died and my area got hit by a terrible storm right afterward, I got reined in immediately and unequivocally by my peers in Hellenismos (Greek paganism). No, the gods had not sent a storm just to tell me my mom was all right in the afterlife. And they were right.
Irresponsible Projection As Usual.
Long ago, I met one of the creators of a role-playing game about mages and wizardry that was very popular in the 90s and 00s. This amusingly-named fellow told me some downright scary stories of the delusional people who kept writing him to beg him to mentor them in the REAL TRUE Majyckul Powah. By then, the game had been out for a while. Because of those wackjobs, it has long carried a seriously-worded disclaimer regarding the nature of the game as a Happy Pretendy Fun Time Game and not a reflection of reality in any way.
Here’s a very similar disclaimer:
But this game developer’s wackjobs ignored that disclaimer. They just knew this guy could teach them how to cast real live spells and talk to real live spirits.
So y’all, Frank Peretti had to have known some wackjobs and weirdos with serious delusions about demons. In small-town Washington State, where he grew up and where his daddy pastored, there’s no way he didn’t.
Nor can we forget that self-harm exists aplenty among TRUE CHRISTIANS™ as well. Christians’ belief system does nothing whatsoever to help people with their mental-health needs — unless they belong to flavors that recognize and accept real therapy for these problems. Those flavors allow members to go outside the belief system when reality comes a-knockin’. But many flavors do not.
The Only Correct Delusion is MY Delusion: The Problem of Wingnuts.
Of course, delusions in Christians’ minds are always absolutely what they think they are: angels or demons, helping or harming them as required for the delusional belief to work. Everybody else’s delusions are obviously fake. Demons cause these other people’s delusions to steal their souls and firmly embed them in false religions.
And yet to an outsider, both look exactly the same and operate along very similar lines.
It’s only when a Christian gets way too out of hand — caught red-handed doing something drastically off-limits — that the other Christians tut-tut about them having succumbed to demons pretending to be their god or his angels.
But the difference here involves only a few degrees of being off-kilter. Once Christians swallow down the idea of invisible beings who can meddle in human affairs, they prove themselves ripe for the plucking for any conjob who wants to sell them variations on that theme.
They’ve already decided to ignore their critical thinking skills in this one key area. Once anyone passes that Rubicon, all it’ll take for them to dive deeper into delusional beliefs is a con artist who can pitch their idea in just the right way for that mark to accept.
Chekhov’s Gun Wasn’t Loaded After All.
In writing, Chekhov’s gun comes from an idea that Anton Chekhov developed:
“Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
But here, the gun turned out to be a shaggy dog story. We got built up from the beginning to expect Pat Krueger’s death to be a murder, not a suicide. However, when we finally find out what happened it turns out that the police investigation was perfectly correct. Pat died by suicide. A demon might have goaded her into it, but in the end her death was not a murder at all in the sense that Bernice suspected.
I read this book many, many years ago. I remembered almost none of it when I decided to begin reviewing it for Lord Snow Presides. So I certainly didn’t remember this revelation. And thus, no words exist to describe how much more disgusted I am with Frank Peretti now.
I bet he thought this diary thing PROVED YES PROVED that Pat Krueger was totally murdered, like physically murdered by another person. Bernice was right! OMG! Murder!
It is just such an offensive plot reveal on every level. In a normal book this would be fine. It’d even be remarkable. But here, demons get presented as literal murderers, not as forces goading someone to self-harm. Bernice takes this all as being correct in her suspicions.
Okay, So A Ghost Killed Pat Krueger. Now What?
In real life, someone who goads another person to the point of self-harm can be prosecuted under criminal law. If nothing else, a victim or the victim’s family can likely bring a civil suit against such a person. Decades ago, a bunch of therapists with a mental-health hospital, Spring Shadows Glen, found itself on the wrong side of exactly such a lawsuit. (My friend Big Dave wasn’t involved in that lawsuit, to my knowledge, but that’s where his parents sent him for deprogramming during the Satanic Panic.)
But Thomas isn’t a person. In fact, Susan asserts here that he’s a malevolent spirit — a demon — who took human form to destroy Pat Krueger for reasons unknown.
How the hell is Bernice supposed to deal with this news? Go to the (presumably now-un-corrupted) police after the big finale to tell them that a demon got her sister to die by suicide? Tell them to go find Thomas on whatever plane of existence he calls home and arrest him? Get a Ghostbusters-style ghost trap to contain him, then release him on the witness stand for his defense?
The mind boggles at the new ramifications Thomas’ court case alone would require the United States legal system to develop overnight. And fundies fret about the legal ramifications involved in allowing polyamorous marriage!
The Dumbest Plot Development Yet.
I just don’t think Frank Peretti thought this one out, that’s all. He needed us to hate the CSWWSW completely and utterly. The death of Pat Krueger needed to be 100% their active fault. And I guess even he realized that having a spirit/ghost/whatever actively murder her would be a step too far.
It doesn’t even make sense from a narrative perspective for Thomas to want Pat dead. She could have done so much more for their group alive. With no chance of her becoming a TRUE CHRISTIAN™, with her utterly ensorcelled by Thomas’ wiles, she could have made a great operative. She might even have gotten Bernice involved with the Cabal!
But no, instead here we are, and now Bernice has extra reason to want to bring down the CSWWSW.
Today, Lord Snow Presides over a plot reveal for Pat Krueger that makes no sense at all, isn’t necessary, and actively works against the storyteller’s craft — but which fits perfectly into the mass delusion that storyteller helped Christians refine during the Satanic Panic.
NEXT UP: What it finally took for Jerry Falwell, Jr. to topple from power — at least for now.
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