The Waiter at the Altar

originally published American Atheist Magazine 1998

For nearly five years I have brooded a ghastly and horrifying secret. A secret so dark and blasphemous, it blurs the edges of my consciousness and tinges my every thought with stark blue terror. When I sleep, it haunts my being and stains my nightmares the dripping, blood red of madness. And now it seems my unwholesome labors have brought forth a dreadful and appalling issue.

Would that it were my madness and my tale the ravings of a madman, for what sacrifice one soul when the true salvation of the world sways in the balance. But the secret is not mine, nor is the madness, but the terror is mine, for I know from where the madness comes.

Till the summer of ’89, I lived a quiet and relatively normal life, good friends in the somewhat safety of suburbia. All that changed one night when for some unknown reason, I fainted dead away in a Chinese restaurant and awoke six hours later on a hospital gurney.

My body flamed a hot and painful crimson and my digits swelled fat like sausages. A fever beyond the ministrations of modern medicine inflamed my brain for three days then finally broke in a sweat drenched hospital bed. Dr. Foster, my physician, claimed a medical miracle. But I must wonder, for soon after I began seeing visions.

Strange images and impressions, well beyond the scope of my then somewhat limited imagination, dominated my nocturnal memories. At times within my dream worlds, entities, benevolent and kind, glowed warmly near my spirit, imparting wisdom and knowledge. They stirred my imagination and urged me to learn and grow. At other times, my visitors felt evil and malignant, darkly horrifying as they sucked at my soul and siphoned away my spiritual energies.

Cleaving to my upbringing, I naturally assumed the former as emissaries of my likewise kind and benevolent deity, cosmic counselors from the most enlightened, regardless the contemporary alias. And as for the evil and malignant, merely spawn of the most evil and malignant, whatever its name.

Though technology remained my major, I took the following years to heed my advisors and sidetracked my studies deeply into spiritual endeavors. As to not limit my perceptions or limit my mind, I stopped not at the current interpretation of the One Word, God is everything, the world is nothing, honor among… Instead I continued my explorations into the forbidden realms.

I forayed through eastern philosophy and studied Buddha and Tao and Confucius. I delved into the martial arts and the Book of Five Rings. Enlightenment is god. We are everything. We are nothing. Honor is all.

I saw the visions of Einstein, at least a small glimmer. And I climbed Tesla’s tower, a part way to the heavens. Energy is everything. Energy is always. Energy is all.

I read science fiction and horror. And I consulted soothsayers and fortunetellers and diviners.

In my scholarly travels, I even stumbled upon a copy of Lovecraft’s fabled and fantastic Necronomicon. It was a pocket paperback that read like a game of Dungeons and Dragons. I do not believe it was real.

It was then, when I thought my search ended and my curiosity fully sated, that I came full circle and discovered a cult most ancient and mysterious, and seemingly at my own doorstep the whole time. With their numbers, they could hardly remain secret. Yet the motives for their madness lay shrouded in misty legend and cryptic revelations. And it seems I alone within the realms of normalcy saw the ends to their means.

As this realization filtered through my brain, the nature of my dreams altered drastically. A force I could neither combat nor comprehend dragged me into a hoary, nether world choked with darkness, degradation and death. A shadowy realm between sleep and awakedness from which I feared I might never return.

At first these scenes appeared without depth or definition, a uniform dull and dreary gray. But upon closer examination I found myself in an enormous grotto. Thin pale, light seemed to filter in from somewhere….everywhere, and a damp, unhealthy mist clung feverishly to everything.

Row upon row of cheerless stone pews marched determinedly across the expanse of the limestone floor. The walls of the cavern were carved in a basi-relief with images so large I could hardly discern them. Up near the ceiling, frozen in time forever, grim and mythical creatures stared silent sentry upon the monotony of it all.

A multitude of beings, mostly human in form, populated this dreary realm. Shallow, two-dimensional creatures, who though winged, shambled listlessly upon sandal-shodden feet. They remained ‘earth-bound’, not it seemed because they could not soar spiritually, for spirits they were. They refused to soar for they had willingly allowed their souls shackled by the same dull grayness that permeated their entire existence.

Then my visions would abruptly transform. And I witnessed multitudes of faithful supplicants who chanted and prayed in a language that I could understand, but the ideas of which they spoke, I could not comprehend. I felt an unfounded terror at these seemingly innocent sights.

The participants all appeared quite normal in every respect, but for two small, yet monstrously significant characteristics. The eyes of all among them effused a frighteningly fanatical light. And though they spoke of loving, compassionate, brotherhood, my instinctive dream-self sensed the exclusivity of their intent.

Inspired by a seemingly endless procession of charismatic, high priests, these unruly mobs went forth to seek out infidels, those who believed not or exactly, whom they could hate and terrorize and even murder. Their ultimate plan, a frenzied bedlam ushering the destruction of the world.

My horror consumed me at these ghastly scenes rerun night after night in my dreams. I feared for my life and even my soul. I was one whom they could hate and terrorize and even murder, for I believed not exactly.

To me this all seemed summoned from the dark Gothic horror of a Lovecraft story. Tales of ancient cults that called upon Azaroth or Cthulhu or any number of mythical Ancient Ones who dwelt in the heavens and dominated the universe. Jealous and vengeful deities who when properly appeased, descended to earth wreaking death and destruction in their wake. Only then would They gather Their most faithful, those lucky
enough to have survived the initial devastation, for pilgrimage to the unknown dimensions of space and time.

To prove my sanity or lack there of, I deemed it necessary to put this entire ghastly and terrifying compulsion as far from my mind as possible, if in fact I possessed the necessary strength. Time proved, I did not.

Unlike Lovecraft’s protagonists who seldom found it necessary to labor, yet always crept upon some loathsome and shadowy conclusion just before sinking into a questionable sanity, I on the other hand, did have to work and found I could no more. But of necessity, I visited my shrink three times a week.

“Dr. Williams,” I raved, “this is not some fantastic Lovecraftian tale summoned from the depths of my darkly inspired imagination. It seems so real. It’s happening here and now. I know it is.”

In a moment of compassionate weakness, doubtless inspired by my rapidly
deteriorating physical and mental health, she prescribed a potion to suspend my dreams and alleviate my madness. For a few short weeks, I rejoiced in my nocturnal liberations. I began working at home, and family and friends remarked of my improved vitality. Unfortunately, it was not fated to remain so.

As if thwarted in their nightly invasions, my malignant visions resurrected from my nightmares and over-spilled into my waking hours. In the real world, in the streets and on the video, I witness the gathered masses of faithful supplicants chanting and praying. And in seeming ignorance to the words of their own Ultimate Wise One, above all love ye one another, the charismatic high priests inspired their most faithful minions to hate and persecute and even murder the infidels, those who believeth not or exactly. Their every deed and action they offer as sacrifice to their vengeful god. The god who when appropriately appeased will open the seals of the time-space continuum and initiate the ultimate destruction of our world.
The end.

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