Within a month of the Gordon verdict another sensational murder landed on my desk. A local man had stabbed his wife to death while visiting friends, then fled the scene. An hour later he confronted a policeman in the street, the bloody murder weapon in one hand, a severed animal head in the other, chanting, "I am God--six, six, six. I am God--six, six, six."
After taking the case I visited the accused in jail and found him to be a shy, gentle, bewildered young man. His name was Tommy, and he spoke so quietly I often had to ask him to repeat what he'd said. I saw fear, confusion, and what I thought was honesty in his eyes. The psychiatric evaluations would later conclude that Tommy was legally insane. The man I talked to that day, however, was not.
Our private investigator found nothing in Tommy's past to explain the brutal murder. He had no prior run-ins with the law, not even a speeding ticket. His bosses and co-workers at the Fostoria Glass factory spoke of a dependable worker who kept to himself and never gave anyone a hard time.
Recently, however, there had been a change in Tommyís life. Nate, a co-worker of Tommy's, was involved in a fundamental Christian sect so strict and severe that many in town considered it a cult. Several months before, Nate had started preaching to Tommy about God, Satan, and the battle being waged on Earth for the souls of men.
Mainly to appease Nate, Tommy started attending services in the small storefront that served as their church. Gradually, however, he came to believe in what he heard there. He had long felt himself surrounded by negative forces, he said, and now that he had a name for his oppressor, he felt Satan's presence everywhere. He even had the church pastor come to his home to perform an exorcism of the evil spirits that he said were denying him sleep and destroying his peace of mind.
Tommy grew more agitated by the day. People at work noticed he had become moody and irritable, and showed little interest in anything but his church. He moved his wife and six-year old son out of their bedrooms, where he perceived the Devil had gained his strongest foothold, and made everyone sleep in the living room. He phoned other church members constantly, especially Nate, at all hours of the night.
The night of the murder Tommy was unable to shake a feeling of suffocating evil. All night he paced and prayed while his wife and son tried to sleep on their mattresses in the living room. At four a.m. he called Nate. Nate tried to calm him, but Tommy became even more agitated, then announced he was coming over, and hung up.
At Nate's house Tommy paced the floor, jabbering almost incoherently while his wife looked on with sleepy eyes. Tommy's son, still in pajamas, sat on the couch clutching a stuffed animal. Occasionally Nate's children peeked out of their bedrooms, only to be hurried back to bed by their father.
Finally, things settled down. Tommy's son fell asleep on the couch. Tommy laid on the floor with his head in his wife's lap, his wife gently stroking his hair and speaking soothingly, trying to lull him to sleep like he was a child. Nate said later that he was going to let a few more calm minutes pass, then try to convince Tommy to return home.
But Tommy opened his eyes and saw Nate's two cats--one white, one black--perched on either arm of the couch. Between them was his young son, breathing rhythmically in sleep. As Tommy later told the examining psychiatrist, the forces he had been wrestling with for so long were now right in front of him. The white cat was God, the black cat, Satan, and they were battling for the soul of his sleeping son that lay between them. At that moment, Tommy said, he knew without doubt that his mission on Earth was to rid the world of evil. He jumped to his feet and before Nate could react, pulled out his electrician's knife and beheaded the black cat. His wife screamed.
Tommy then turned to her, and with a dazed, determined look, started pushing his wife ahead of him into Nate's bedroom. Nate, who outweighed Tommy by almost a hundred pounds, jumped on him, but Tommy arched his back and, as Nate later said, "threw me off like I was an insect." Inside the bedroom, Tommy locked the door and stabbed his wife until his arm was tired, then took off through the streets of Moundsville, a bloody knife in one hand, the head of the black cat in the other.
The whole case was bewildering to me. That night in the kitchen I told Rose about it. "The crime just does not fit the man," I said.
"Entities," Rose said, "plain and simple. I keep telling you people there's tigers in the jungle. It's only vanity that allows man to believe there's nobody here but him."
"How come nobody ever sees them?" I asked.
"There's a lot of things scientists can't see, but they still accept their existence because of their effects. Force fields, electricity, viruses. It's the same way with entities. You rarely see 'em, but their effects are manifest."
"Loss of energy, mainly. 'Matter is neither created nor destroyed.' In passion, whether it's sex or bloodlust, there's a tremendous amount of energy generated, then it disappears when the passions are surfeited. That energy has to go somewhere. Whatever it is that drives us to indulge in these things gets the payoff from the act--whether its lust or anger or murder--in the form of energy."
Al, who worked at the Moundsville penitentiary as a counselor, joined in with a number of case histories of cons who had murdered or raped at the urging of distinct voices. Rose nodded, and added a few accounts he had heard of.
"Are these entities evil?" I asked.
"Not necessarily," Rose replied. "When you walk through the woods you've got to watch out for ticks. Ticks aren't evil--they just want a meal. I, for one, don't want to give it to them."
I started to ask a question, but Rose kept talking.
"Man is incredibly fatheaded. He believes he's in control, but the truth is he's just a robot in a dream--a puppet whose strings are pulled by intelligences he can't see."
"Both good and bad intelligences?" Al asked.
"Good or bad to what? These forces are just trying to survive like everything else. A farmer keeps cows, feeds them, takes care of them, maybe even names 'em. Then he steals their milk and slaughters their children. Does that make the farmer good or bad? Or is he just a parasite like everything else?
"Still," he went on, "there are some forces that seem to be interested in our spiritual aspirations, forces that could be called 'good.' I know I had help. I never would have been able to create the conditions necessary for my Experience in a million years. I believe that a person who makes a sincere commitment to find his God at any cost will attract protection. That protection may put you through hell, but if you keep your nose clean you'll land on your feet."
"But where do these entities come from?" I asked.
Rose spread his arms. "Where does any of this illusion come from?"
The official diagnosis of Tommy's mental state was psycho-babble at its most ludicrous: "...an hysterical homosexual panic resulting in a severe episode of non-repeatable, temporary schizophrenia." Tommy was judged mentally incompetent to stand trial and my responsibilities towards him ended.
Even though I resisted the idea of unseen entities being the instigators of Tommy's actions, by this time in my relationship with Rose the mystical and occult did not frighten me as much as it once did. Living with Rose gave me a direct, experiential feel that something lay beyond our vision, that this dimension was not the only game in town. Still, it was difficult for me to believe that spooks and spirits could control our thoughts and run our lives. While the psychological professionals obviously had no sensible theory for what had overcome Tommy, Rose's explanation remained too far-fetched for my tastes.
Then came the Labor Day TAT meeting. Four times a year--on the weekends closest to April 15th, July 4th, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving--group members from around the country congregated at Roseís farm. These gatherings were the official meetings of the Truth and Transmission (TAT) Society, but only a couple of hours each weekend were devoted to anything resembling group business. The rest of the time was spent catching up with old friends and just generally letting the mood and atmosphere reorder your life and renew your commitment to the real work. For many it was their only chance to meet and talk with Rose, and even those of us who lived in the area still ended up with a new appreciation of him, watching him function as teacher to anyone and everyone who wanted to talk or listen.
On TAT weekends Rose slept very little. He stayed up as long as the night owls wanted to talk, then he'd awake again before dawn to be available for the early risers. One of the new people asked him about this.
"After my Experience I had to invent a reason to live," he said. "I chose teaching. Now it's my only excuse for sticking around this madhouse."
That particular TAT meeting was especially enjoyable for me, both as a break from the office and a chance to visit with old friends, many of whom I hadn't seen in years. I got so caught up in telling and hearing stories I was almost disappointed when Al stepped onto the porch and announced there was to be a rapport sitting.
Everyone chattered nervously as they filed into the newly built farmhouse wing. Rose was already seated and we all tried to appear nonchalant as we selected and moved chairs in an effort to be "well positioned." This consisted, roughly, of being across from people you felt affinity with, away from people who drained your energy, and close--but not too close--to Rose. The new room was fairly large, but the thirty or so people that filed in made it difficult to be very choosy about your location. I was not particularly pleased with where I ended up. Rose was almost obscured from my view, and I was a lot closer to Luke than I would have liked.
Luke was a short, soft-spoken man with piercing black eyes. He came to the Pittsburgh group about the same time I did, then moved to Washington D.C. shortly before I took off on the Chautauqua circuit. We shared a certain superficial camaraderie from our early days in the group together, and I always enjoyed seeing him at TAT meetings. But for the last couple years I had become increasingly uncomfortable around him for some reason, and as the last of the chair shuffling faded into silence I experienced a distinct physical uneasiness being near him for the rapport sitting. I attributed this to my general disappointment with my position in the room, and tried to ignore it. As I looked over at him, however, I noticed that he seemed nervous and agitated to a degree far beyond the restless anticipation that most of us felt at the beginning of a sitting.
Gradually, the various side conversations faded until only Rose was talking. He continued for several minutes, wisecracking in a quiet, almost soothing voice. Then he cleared his throat and remained silent. A few minutes later the silence deepened. The sound current in my ears became louder and changed in pitch. The air thickened and was filled with transparent motion.
Rose sat with his eyes closed, his head turning slowly as he "looked" at each of us through his eyelids. He had told us many times that only with his eyes closed could he see during rapport, and that this helped him know the minds of those present. As I watched, his brow would occasionally furrow, or he would recoil as if surprised, but always his face returned to the same state of impersonal, effortless concentration.
Then, without warning, he got up from his chair and stood before the young woman seated to his right, lightly placing his muscular right hand directly on top of her head. The girl's closed eyelids fluttered for a moment, then tears began to flow. Rose said a few quiet words to her but remained for no more than a minute before moving on to the boy in the next chair and placing a hand on his head in the same manner.
"What are you doing," the boy said after a few moments. He had met Rose for the first time that morning.
"Feeling your thoughts," Rose said quietly.
Fear and expectation filled the room as Rose made his rounds. As he did I gradually became conscious of a new sound that was slowly increasing in volume. I looked to my left and caught sight of Luke. His head was shaking in small quick vibrations and he was making rumbling noises in his throat that sounded like the low growl of an angry animal.
Others had also become conscious of Luke, but were trying to ignore him. After a few more minutes, however, that became impossible, as his growls became louder and his tremors grew more noticeable. Rose never looked in his direction, but continued to calmly and purposefully make his way from head to head as if each person he stopped in front of was the only person in the room. By the time Rose finally stood only a chair away from him, Luke's body moved and sounded like a snarling dog.
Cold chills shot through me, and probably everyone else. Only the complete calm on Rose's face kept the growing sense of panic from overtaking the room. Rose still did not look at Luke, nor did he hurry with the girl next to him, even though she was visibly frightened and had moved to the farthest edge of her seat. When he was done, Rose smiled at her then stepped in front of Luke.
Ignoring the growls and lunges Rose placed his hand directly on Luke's head in a manner no different than he had with the others. Unmoved by the snapping jaws a few inches below his hand, he stood impassively looking into Luke's eyes.
"A man's body is his castle!" Rose said in a sudden loud voice that caught me off guard and sent chills through me. "You have no right to be here! Leave this man!" he said sternly. Then he jerked his hand into a fist and ripped it from Luke's gyrating head. Luke let out a sharp howl of anguish, then his head dropped to his chest and he sat like that for a long time, sweating and exhausted.
I, too, was shaking. I closed my eyes and tried to replay what I saw--or thought I saw--when Rose jerked his hand away. Was it my heightened, anxious state feeding visions to my mind? Was it his quick motion leaving a trail of hand images in the air that gave the illusion of substance? Or did I see what my body was telling me I saw--a vaporous, terrifying being that emerged and vanished in the same instant.
Luke kept to himself the rest of the weekend, but before leaving he asked Mister Rose if he could speak to him alone. Rose said, "Sure, sure," as he always does, and the two of them took a long walk around the farm. No one saw much of Luke after that TAT meeting.
Back in Benwood, life went on as before. The exorcist was still our landlord, keeping order in his crowded house, raising hell when someone placed a pot too close to his papers or typewriter. Life with Rose was a truly inexplicable mixture of the magical and the mundane. Most of the time, especially in the rare moments when I was at peace with myself, I knew how lucky I was and gave thanks to whatever was responsible for bringing me to Benwood.
But other thoughts and urges were beginning to creep into my mind. As the law practice became a bigger part of my life, the pull of the outside world became stronger in other ways as well. I found myself first musing, then wondering, then finally dreaming about what I was missing by living in Rose's house. Sometimes the urge to leave became so strong I even began to wonder if "other voices" were speaking to me.
Autumn was a particularly difficult time of year. The approaching winter invariably brought on that same longing for warmth, security, and affection that had overtaken me so strongly on my first visit to Benwood, a longing for the very things that seemed in such short supply there.
As the days grew shorter I spent longer hours at the office in order to avoid returning to Benwood. I began to wonder if I could take another winter with Rose, stuck inside his stark house with no privacy or comfort, getting up in the middle of the night to feed the wood stove we'd moved into the kitchen, sleeping in a crowded room that rarely got above forty degrees from December to March.
The November TAT meeting that year proved especially depressing for me. People came to the farm, joked and talked, then returned to their comfortable lives and homes. For the first time since leaving Pittsburgh after law school, I wished that I could go with them.
I had gotten into the habit of working on Saturdays, mostly as an escape from the weekend tedium of Benwood, and on the Saturday before Christmas I sat alone in my office and stared out the window for a long time, lost again in a familiar mood. The air was full of thick, gently falling snowflakes. Christmas lights were on in the Courthouse across the street. Children with sleds and shoppers with packages passed by my window. I thought of childhood snowball battles with my brothers. I remembered the snowy night at college when the telephone rang and my cousin told me my father was dead. I wondered what my mother would fix me for dinner if I was home. Fighting depression, I put away a few things in my desk, then locked up. Even Benwood was preferable to sitting alone in my sterile office.
The school parking lot was uncharacteristically empty. Only Rose's van was parked there, two inches of fresh snow on the roof and hood. I walked slowly up the snow covered steps and walkway, trying to gain control of my mood before facing Rose and my housemates. I kicked the snow off my shoes and went in. Rose was sitting alone at the kitchen table, glancing through a paperback book.
"Ho. What's it look like out there?" He sounded genuinely glad to see me.
"Coming down pretty good. Streets are getting bad. Where is everybody?"
"At a movie," he said with a mixture of humor and disgust. "It was Al's idea, so it's probably some war movie where the English charge the blockhouse and everybody gets gloriously killed." Rose was always chiding Al for his dramatic way of tackling every problem like he was a general going into battle.
I sat down at the table. Usually I went upstairs to change clothes when I first got home, but I suddenly realized it had been weeks since I'd been alone with Rose. Tonight he seemed especially warm and sociable.
"What are you reading?" I asked.
"Oh, some silly book that came to the Pyramid Press." Rose had adopted that press name to publish The Albigen Papers, and occasionally unsolicited books were sent in for review or possible publication.
"What's it about?"
"Heaven, and wonderful beings of light that help little old ladies across the street." Rose grimaced like he had a bad taste in his mouth and I erupted into laughter.
"There are such things, of course," he went on, "but whoever wrote this book doesn't have a clue about them."
"You mean like guardian angels?"
"Sure, you can call them that. I've always felt that something was watching out for me. When I think back on it, sometimes my whole life seems like a miracle."
"Do you think everyone has a guardian angel?" I was intrigued.
"Yes, I think so. I sure felt I was being watched over as a kid, and Iím nobody special. When you think of all the ways a kid can get ground up, there's no way so many could survive into adulthood without some unseen help."
"What about the ones that do get ground up?"
"That's necessary to keep the other parents on their toes."
We both chuckled then stayed silent for a moment. In the midst of my recent thoughts and speculations about what life away from Benwood would be like, I'd also been thinking about the other side of the coin, about the people I knew who had no spiritual interest and were already living a "normal" life. In the past year alone many of my friends and family members had been struggling through divorces or career setbacks, or were seeing therapists for a variety of modern miseries.
"I feel that overall I've been very lucky," I said. "Even blessed. I look at some of the events in my life and I sense some sort of guiding hand. But then I wonder if it isn't just vanity to think this. I mean, who am I to have some angel or spirit or whatever keep an eye on me, while so many other people seem so unlucky and miserable?"
Rose rocked thoughtfully in the swivel chair. "Not everybody has the same type of protection. I believe that each person has a guardian thatís commensurate with their level of being."
"What do you mean?"
"Just that. For instance, there's only one thing I ever wanted in life--to find out who I was--and thatís where I got my luck. But you take my brother Joe. There was a guy who lived purely on the instinctive level, and that's the level he had help on.
"He was absolutely fearless, so he was always getting himself into jams. It's literally a miracle he never got tore up. He had something looking out for him, too, even though he could be a real despicable character when he took a notion.
"Joe drove trucks for a living, and sometimes he'd ask me to go on a run with him if he thought things might get sticky. One time we pulled into a plant where some of the workers were on strike. There was a lot of grumbling because we were delivering supplies when these union guys wanted to shut the place down.
"Joe had me wait in the cab with a gun at the ready while he started unloading the trailer. There were a lot of angry men milling around and I was trying to keep my eye on all of them at the same time. All of a sudden I saw something out of the corner of my eye and when I turned I saw a brick flying right towards the back of Joe's head. Before I could even shout a warning, Joe ducked and the brick flew right on past him. If he hadn't ducked that brick would have caved his head in for sure.
"After we'd cleared out of there I asked him how he did it. There was no way he could have seen it coming. He told me he heard a voice inside his head say, 'Duck!,' so he did. That's what saved his life."
"Where do they come from, these guardians, or whatever."
"Hard to tell," he said, leaning back in his chair. "In the seminary they told us there were actually angels, you know, chubby little cherubs. One group I looked into out west believed they were relatives who had gotten attached to us when we were kids, and when they die they're still concerned about us and stick around to give us a hand."
The last possibility struck a responsive chord. "You know it's funny you should say that. I was just thinking about my father tonight. I was never interested in philosophy. But then after my father died I met you, and things started falling into place to put me here. Is it possible that..."
Rose shook his head. "I know youíd like to think that," he said quietly. "But, no, your father is not your guardian angel. He's aware of what you're doing, perhaps, but his concerns are elsewhere now. He's not the one looking after you."