The Tempter Comes

17) The Narciss



17   The Narciss


A play where we are the only character will have no audience



It had been two weeks since the incident at the factory and Thomas’ foot had been healing nicely. Jocum came by several times and rubbed some ointment on the wound that did wonders. But if Thomas stepped down just the wrong way bolts of pain shot up his leg. It was worse than walking on eggshells; it was like walking on grenades.

Since he naturally walked with a slight hobble Russell was the most sympathetic and helpful. It had been a week since his encounter in the woods and although he still lost sleep over it and at times needed to go some place alone and cry, his meetings with the pastor helped quite a bit. Russell did not tell the pastor the actual details since the pastor would not think Devil but rather drugs. So he told him that a snake in the woods attacked him. But this was enough to elicit words of encouragement.

While the others were able to go out to the park and the chocolate shop Thomas was oftentimes stuck in the house with his foot on a pillow on the coffee table. They offered to hang with him but inevitably the inviting weather would call them outside and with insincere enthusiasm he would scamper them along with his hands to go enjoy the beautiful day.

This particular morning he woke up feeling drained. Because of all of the hammer blows that Thomas had absorbed this summer he was feeling particularly beaten down this day. Noticing that everyone had gone out on errands he chose to go off and sulk.

He snuck out the back of the house and made his way through the less populated parts of town. After about an hour of grumbling and wretchedness he found himself at the edge of the woods. He had come to the place where he had seen Russell disappear into a number of times. He always wondered where it had led. Maybe there was a little shelter or cave that he could hide himself in and curl up and deepen his misery.

He followed the vague path of trampled leaves. After about a half an hour it dawned on him that this might have been the area where Russell had the encounter with the Devil. He tried to coyly glance around as though if anyone were watching him they would be less apt to attack if he did not appear panicked and vulnerable. He did not even want to wipe away the trickles of sweat lest he give himself away. He was so focused on any slight sound or movement around him that he failed to notice the root protruding from the ground. He stepped down on it exactly where his stitches were. He let out with a howl and hopped around on his good foot. The other foot throbbed like someone was hitting it steadily with a hammer. He leaned against a tree with his foot suspended in the air. He would have displayed a good pout if his face was not so twisted in anguish.

After several minutes the pain became more manageable. He spied a four-foot long stick near the tree and hobbled over to it. It was sturdy and would make a good temporary cane. Realizing that he was not in topnotch hiking condition he figured that it would be more prudent to head back home. He leaned on the stick and looked around to get his bearings. Something caught his eye. He leaned forward and squinted. He could see lots of pieces of  different colors poking through the leaves. This was quite perplexing. After everything else that had gone on the last thing that he wanted was another weird occurrence. He leaned against the tree again and listened for any unusual sounds. Hearing nothing he crept closer with the caution of one traversing a minefield. Finally, he could see that they were multitudes of birdhouses. His heart was momentarily uplifted.

“So this is what Russell does out here. It’s quite marvelous.”

He limped around in amazement. Numerous birds were perched in the openings and many flew hastily between the trees. Fat squirrels stared at him from high branches and busily waved their tails and chattered. He spotted a nice rock near a pond and sat down. But seeing no deeper than the initial novelty of the birdhouses he once again fell into a morose.

“My summer has been ruined. I’m really stressed all of the time. I’ve lost a lot of sleep because of those creepy things.” He paused. “I don’t hate life; I just hate my life. In fact, the way things have gone even God must hate me.” “I’s” were flying everywhere with a healthy number of “me’s” making their presence known. The air was thicker with pities and disappointments than with birds.

“Why do I even bother?” he moped.

Suddenly, everything around him was rapidly sucked away in all directions. It was as though he was repelling all of creation: the trees, the sky, even the rock, the pond, and the ground. They all faded into a black distance like trains that had silently rushed away from the central hub of a station in all directions. He jumped to his feet. All around him for 360° was utter darkness. He could not feel the ground beneath him but he was not floating. He could see nothing but himself. There were no stars or shadows; he could hear no rustle of leaves or flapping of birds’ wings. He was engulfed in what seemed to be a black hole.

He yelled out but his cry was swallowed and nothing returned. He spun around but there was not a thing anywhere.

He panicked, “Am I in a coma? Was I in some accident that I can’t remember? Did a branch fall on my head? Maybe there are people standing over me right now and I don’t even know it.”

He flapped his arms. Everything seemed to be working OK. He yelled again and kicked his legs.

“Is this an illusion? Maybe people in comas think that they can still do things when, in reality, they cannot. Maybe it’s like they’re in their own small world and nothing else exists. Maybe someone is even holding my hand and I can’t feel it.”

He stared into the emptiness trying hard to discern even the slightest speck of light. “What if this is it? What if I never recover?”

He began to cry. He thought about how this was just the perfect ending to a miserable summer. He took a couple of steps forward and stopped. He realized that even his cane was gone. He stood there sobbing with his head buried in his hands. Somehow the darkness seemed even thicker. What do you do when the rest of your life consists of nothing other than yourself?

He staggered another couple of steps and then his one foot stopped moving and he fell forward. He put out his hands and felt a terrible sharp pain. Yet still, he could see nothing that stopped him from falling forever. He slowly stood up. His hands were throbbing. He looked at them and saw that they were both scrapped and bleeding, but from what?

He was afraid to move; he did not know what traps laid in this darkness. “Maybe I cut my hand on a needle stuck in my arm from a feeding tube. Or maybe I’m being operated on at this very moment and I cut my hand on the scalpel. Oh, this is terrible. This is so terrible.”

He tentatively crouched and then just sat. But he had no idea what he was sitting on. This world had but one voice, one object, only one of anything and it was all and only him. He became aware of every cell in his body. He could feel his blood as it flowed into the smallest extremities of his fingers and toes. He could hear the acids in his stomach break down the pancakes that he had for breakfast. If he wanted to, he could count the hairs on his head without even moving.

He remembered it said once that when someone is in a coma their hearing is the last sense to go and how that was merciful because it allowed them to hear the words of their loved ones and also gave them one last chance to hear the “Good News of the Gospel.” But seeing how he could not hear anything he must be even beyond that stage.

Then every hair on his body tightened. “Perhaps,” he thought in horror, “I’m not in a coma. Maybe I’ve fallen into a trap of the Devil.” His body slumped even more.

“What to do?” he wondered. “Will I ever wake up? Is all that I have left only what I can remember?”

He started to bury his face into his hands but with his hands bloodied he could not even do that.

After an indeterminable length of time he thought, “So this is how my life ends, fade to black—literally.”

He wondered if his family was standing there, maybe Toni and her mother. “They are probably crying over me and wondering how this could happen to such a good person. But perhaps years have gone by. Perhaps no one bothers to come around anymore. Perhaps I’ve been cast into a nursing home remembered only on my birthday by a staff that barely knows my name. Maybe even right now there is a sagging balloon tied to the foot of my bed. How many birthdays have I had like this?” He tried to picture his room. He figured that it was a large room with three other beds. Probably there were torn-out magazine pictures taped to the walls. Most would be of animals. The rest would be gardens and such. The bulletin board over his bed might have his feeding schedule and, because of the place’s mechanical imprudence, an activities calendar. Most likely there were several birthday cards crudely tacked on top of each other. He probably got flipped from one side to the other like a fried egg at least a couple of times a day to prevent bed sores.

“Ah, the good life,” he thought sarcastically, “no worries about food or school or getting a job. I don’t have to think about others; it’s just me and nothing else.”

He thought about church last Sunday or at least the last Sunday that he was conscious of. The pastor strode up to the podium wearing a cowboy hat, vest, and fake gun belt with two six-shooters. Then with excessive deliberation he removed each item and laid them on a seat next to him. Then he said, “I am no longer going to be the sheriff of this church. You’ve got yer own reckoning to do.” The sermon was on personal accountability and how everyone was responsible for their own choices, thoughts, and actions. Everyone remembered the point.

He got to thinking about how terrifying the summer had been but then also how exciting it was when the four of them got together and talked about what was going on. He wished that he were back there at that time. He thought about his parents and how they would not believe any of it but then that was going to be part of the fun. Would they think that he had lost his mind or was he becoming quite the liar or… or maybe it was simply true. Only he would really know that it was true. Now all that he has to show for the summer was drool on his pillow.

He missed his friends. He wondered if Toni got married and if she had any children by now. “Probably twins,” he surmised. “I bet that she has two wonderful little daughters.”

“I wonder how Russell is doing? And Sarah, she was such a sweetheart. She is probably the head of some company by now. I hope that they are doing well. I may not be able to do much of anything else, but I guess that for the rest of my nothing life I can pray for them.”

Just then he felt something on his shoulder. It startled him. This was the first thing that he had experienced outside of himself since he got hit by the branch or whatever it was that put him in this state. Maybe he was coming out of the coma.

“What?” he cried out. He stood up quickly and turned in a semi-circle. His breathing was rapid. At first everything was still totally dark. But then, as though played in reverse the entire world came rushing back towards him in all directions. With bewilderment he spun all around. The rock came up from underneath and stopped a few feet away from him as did the pond. Trees flew towards him at rocket speed but then stopped on a dime. The ground and sky did the same. He turned wildly and shielded his face with his arms. He thought that he was going to be crushed.

When it all stopped he was still by the birdhouses. Everything looked the same as it did before any of this happened. The only difference was that Russell was standing next to him looking confused and concerned.

“What’s going on here? Are you OK?” Russell asked. “Did you get lost?” Then looking him over he continued, “And what happened to your hands? It wasn’t snakes again, was it?”

Thomas just stared at him with slack jaw.

“You look dazed,” continued Russell. “Maybe you should come over here and sit down and collect yourself. What happened? Did you fall down and knock yourself out or something? I saw you heading into the woods but I was quite a ways away and you know how slow I can be at times. I thought that maybe I’d catch up and show you my birdhouses. I didn’t think that you’d ever seen them before. Then I heard some yells. I thought that maybe there was a fight going on or that…um…you-know-who was back and got you. But it takes me a while to get anywhere especially when the ground is uneven. And I must admit, after what happened to me out here last week, I was a little hesitant to, um, get involved again. By the time I got here you were just staring off into space. I waited for a bit just to make sure that I wasn’t going to spook you and then I put my hand on your shoulder. It was like I shocked you with a cattle prod. So what went on here and why are your hands cut up?”

Thomas was listening but he was still too rattled to talk. He was looking around trying to determine if this was real or if he was imagining it. Then he heard Russell’s voice again.

“Was it the snakes again?”

Thomas looked up and replied slowly, almost mechanically, “no, no, not this time.”

“Then what? If you don’t want to talk right now we can go back. Then you can gather yourself and tell me what happened.”

“OK, let’s do that,” Thomas replied in almost a whisper.

Russell gingerly helped Thomas up and turned him back towards town. Then they limped back. For Russell it was like he was helping his grandmother get from one room to the next. It was a long, silent trip. Finally they reached the Donnelee’s house. Toni and her mother were busy putting away groceries. At the sight of Thomas they rushed over and helped him to the table.

“We wondered where you vanished off to. What happened? You shouldn’t be out on your foot like that. You need to let it heal more.” Mrs. Donnelee said with a high-pitched staccato.

“I found him out in the woods by my birdhouses. He was pretty weirded out,” explained Russell.

“Your birdhouses?” asked Toni rather bewildered.

“Don’t worry about it right now,” answered Russell. “I’ll show you them sometime.”

Thomas finally spoke but in a low, cautious tone. He spoke into the table. “I was feeling sorry for myself so I went out into the woods to mope. I was sitting on a rock when all of a sudden everything went black. I thought that a branch hit me in the head and put me into a coma. I thought that years had gone by and that I was in a nursing home with balloons tied to my feet. I guess that in reality it was really only a few minutes."

At this the other three looked at each other. Thomas gingerly felt all around his head.

“That’s weird, I don’t have any bumps on my head from the branch.” He paused in confusion. “I was yelling and crying and one point I fell down and cut my hands, but I couldn’t see on what. In fact, I couldn’t see anything. I couldn’t hear anything either. Then I felt something touch me and everything came back again. I, I don’t know what happened. Maybe I passed out but I seemed to be conscious the whole time. I don’t know.”

Mrs. Donnelee put her hand on Thomas’ shoulder. “We know what happened.”

Thomas looked up for the first time. The three of them were staring at him.

“It was a Narciss,” she continued.

“A Narciss,” repeated Thomas. “Oh, of course. Now I feel much better.”

She gave him a minor scolding look and then continued. “A Narciss is an invisible entity that, we believe, roams everywhere. It seems to be impervious to walls or trees or anything for that matter. It just passes through things like it is half in our dimension and half in another. It appears to have but one purpose, to seek out those who are firmly and completely focused on themselves usually due to self-pity. Then it engulfs them and sucks them inside, rather amoebae-like.

“Once inside, the person, in a sense, gets his wish; the only world that exists is his own. There is no interference from other people’s needs or opinions, there are no confrontations or annoying conversations. He is always right and whenever he wants an agreeable opinion, he can just give it to himself. It is as though he has climbed into a coffin and pulled the lid on top. He is now safe and perfectly entrenched on the one planet that he craves for the most—the planet of himself. He can think whatever he wants and no one will contradict him. He can do whatever he wants (to a degree) and no one will scold him. It is all rather tidy.”

“But it was horrible,” proclaimed Thomas. “Who would ever want that?”

Mrs. Donnelee answered, “Ah, and that’s the rub. You don’t have to put up with those things that you find disagreeable but neither do you have the good. You will never grow, you will never learn, you will never change. A world with just yourself in it is not only lonely and sterile but also quite colorless and barren. Your world may be just the way that you want it but it is also quite shallow.

“There is a proverb that says, ‘Where no oxen are, the manger is clean, but much increase comes by the strength of the ox.’ If you want your life to be predictable and easy that can be achieved by getting rid of as much as you can including friends and family. But if you want strength then you need to bond and work with others. That may mean a lot of fixing and removing the garbage but in the end it is always worth it. A manager with oxen in it may stink sometimes but the harvest is tenfold richer.”

Thomas said, “But obviously it isn’t too hard to get out. I did.”

“It may be harder than you think. The key is that you must stop thinking only about yourself and start thinking about others, wishing good for them, missing them, wanting to be with them. Some never want to leave. That doesn’t happen often, in fact, it is quite rare, but it does sometimes.”

Thomas again, “What happens then?”

“They lose all contact with reality and so are unable to function at all. They usually get locked up. But those are the extreme cases.”

Thomas, “But what seemed really weird is that Russell could see and hear me but I couldn’t see or hear anything.”

“Except yourself,” remarked Russell.

“Yes, except myself,” he replied sheepishly.

Toni joined in the conversation. “That is because you were still actually in reality even though from your perspective you were on your own lonely, little planet. So everyone who is also in reality, which would be pretty much everyone else, could see you but you could only see yourself.”

“If you remember,” chimed in Russell, “the Narciss is invisible so no one can see it; however, everyone can still see you. But once inside, you are now in its world or, more precisely, your world. It may be invisible from the outside, but from the inside it is a thick darkness.”

Toni added, “That is why you fell. You were still walking in the woods even though you didn’t know it. You must have tripped over a branch or a rock. It’s like walking around in a big paper bag, everything is dark and clumsy but you are still on Earth. And everyone else can see you stumbling about. They may try to warn you about things, but, of course, you don’t listen to any of them even if you could hear them because you are always right. Remember, in the world of the Narciss you are the only one who counts.”

Thomas asked, “So how did I get out?”

“We don’t know,” said Mrs. Donnelee. “What were you thinking about just before Russell tapped you on the shoulder?”

“Um, I was thinking about how everyone was doing and what had happened to each one of you after all these years, or supposed years.”

“Well, there you go,” Toni remarked. “Now you know how you got out. You were already right on the edge. Russell’s tap just made it easier. But if you stayed focused on yourself then he could have slugged you in the head and you would still be in there.”

Thomas thought for a bit. Then he straightened up. “Does everyone around here know about all of these creatures except for me? What else am I going to run into?”

Though a weak, unconvincing grin Toni said, “You really don’t want to know.”

That did not exactly comfort Thomas. Actually he slumped back down.

Russell smiled at Thomas and slapped him on the shoulder. “Well, we’re all in this together. We’ve all survived quite a lot in these last few weeks and yet we’re still together. That has to mean something.”

Thomas looked up at Toni. “You had twins. Two little girls.”

Toni took a startled step back.


That night in a particularly deep sleep, Thomas did not notice the cold tongue slowly skimming the skin of his arm or the unblinking black eyes staring gravely at his every twitch with all of them greedily suckling his fears and anxieties.

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: