Six Ways of Approaching and Interpreting Marxism

Marxism, like many philosophical traditions, is a huge series of concepts and ideas with plenty of complexity and nuance. Too often discussions of Marxism are befuddled and unproductive because people are using the term in different ways than their conversational partner, and so they end up talking past one another. What I want to do here is propose six basic ways of approaching and studying Marxism in an effort to bring some of these complexities and nuances to light, and thereby, hopefully, increase clarity and understanding with regards to discussions of Marx and Marxism. I am motivated to do this because I think Marx, more than ever, offers an essential and important way of orienting oneself to current social, political, and economic events in the pursuit of understanding them fully. However, for a plethora of reasons, there continues to be a stigma attached to Marx and Marxism, and a large reason for this is because so much confusion exists as to what exactly it is; I hope this short essay will clear some of that confusion up.

Here are six general ways of understanding Marxism (in no particular order):

1) As a historical, empirical subject of study: If you were asked, for example, to do a paper on Marx in a college class, you would likely approach him in this  way; as a subject of third-person research or of a biography, in which the historical facts of his life and writings are explicated in as objective a way as possible.

2) As a doctrine: as a core set of ideas. This is done by extracting what one considers to be the central points of Marxism, and molding them into a coherent doctrine that can be subscribed to or refuted. This involves abstracting away from any changes in his thought over time in order to put forward a cohesive net of basic ideas. It is a rational reconstruction of Marx’s thought based on what one believes to be the most important, or most central, aspect of his thought. 

3) As a conceptual revolution: One could view Marx, fundamentally, as starting a *tradition* of thought; as re-conceptualizing capitalism and history, and thereby spawning a philosophical and political tradition. Much like Darwin and Freud re-conceptualized biology and the mind, starting long traditions which expanded on, edited, corrected, and carried forward those basic ideas.

4) As a branching-off: You could study the thought of *the people who called themselves Marxists* throughout history (Lenin, Adorno, Althusser, Gramsci, Debord, Kautsky, Luxemburg, etc.). So Marxism just becomes a loosely connected net of different strains of thought as represented by different thinkers after Marx. In this interpretation, Marxism becomes identical to the thought of historical figures who called themselves Marxist.

5) As a historical application: You could study Marxism merely by studying the ways in which his ideas were put into practice, focusing more on how they operated in the real world (Soviet Union, Cuba, China, etc.) instead of on the ideas themselves or the methodology he proposed. In this interpretation, Marxism most often becomes synonymous with Leninism and Stalinism. Many of Marxism’s opponents take up this interpretation as the ONLY valid interpretation for obvious reasons.

6) As a methodology: as an interpretive lens through which one can make sense of historical and political events and through which one can analyze the economic paradigm. It can be seen as a continuing project of consistently applying the methodology that Marx put forward. Under this view, it matters less what the exact ideas of Marx himself were, and instead focuses on the WAY in which Marx proposed we analyze the world.

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I study Marxism largely via #3 and #6. And insofar as I call myself a Marxist, I mean that I view him as a conceptual revolutionary who put forward an interpretive lens and a methodology (namely historical and dialectical materialism, theory of alienation, the critique of political economy, etc.) that I find particularly useful in analyzing current social, political, historical, and economic events. It is not a dogma or a doctrine to which I blindly adhere, rather its a general approach I take, fully backed up and informed by my own critical thinking, ethical values, and political / historical context. Beyond that basic orientation to Marxism, I also find #4 extremely important. Marx was just a human being, and as such he was wrong about a lot, and many thinkers that came after him took his thought in new and exciting directions, and expanded on his philosophy in such a way that it was improved and updated, and continues to be improved and updated. I place myself in that long tradition of people who studied Marx and his philosophical heirs, and who continue to update Marxism and apply it in new and unique contexts (as Marx himself would have wanted).

But NONE of these ways of interpreting Marxism are completely wrong. All of them are valid ways of studying Marxism, its just a matter of realizing that all these approaches exist and are valid in their own ways, and then being conscious about how you are using the terms involved at any given moment.

Lots of confusion stems from people talking past one another by using different approaches without being clear, in their own minds as well as explicitly, about which one they are using. I’ll often get into arguments with people interpreting Marxism STRICTLY as #5, when I am using it in the ways outlined by #3 and #6. Such discussions are bound to fail because we are literally talking about different things without realizing it, and no constructive dialogue can blossom out of that fundamental miscommunication.

So, whether you are sympathetic to Marxism or are firmly opposed to it, I hope you keep these distinctions in mind going forward, and do your best to articulate them explicitly when engaging in dialogue about Marx and Marxism. It’s not only an intellectual obligation, its also a moral one, because in these times of rapid change, ubiquitous corruption, and constant upheaval, understanding Marx, and what he had to offer, is more important than ever.

To My Fellow Americans, In Regards To The 2016 Election…

… by all means, vote against Trump.

But never forget that Hillary will intensify the very neoliberal economic policies (which essentially favors the interests of international finance capitalism over the interests of working and poor people in any given country) that ultimately gives rise to the reactionary, white nationalist backlash of which Trump is the current figurehead.

Fascism (as we see on the rise in parts of Europe) and it’s slightly more moderate, Americanized version: white nationalism, are a reaction against the economic conditions created by neoliberal policies pushed by the Establishment of both parties in this country. It’s the wrong reaction, to be sure; and it doesn’t understand the causes and effects at play sufficiently enough to solve the problems at hand. But voting for Hillary to defeat this movement, which is currently coalescing behind Trump, is like throwing gasoline on a fire to put it out.

And voting for Trump would be the equivalent of just starting a hundred more fires, of course. Both choices are bad in that fundamental way.

The sophisticated response to neoliberalism, to be sure, is the international and intersectional solidarity, the emphasis on economic and political equality, and the social and cultural progress pushed by the radical Left.

But since that option is unlikely to be taken seriously any time soon, it seems we are in a pretty shitty situation as a country and as a world. There’s not a lot of reason for optimism at the moment. But as long as we are trying; as long as we are standing up for what’s just; as long as we are fighting; and as long as we have each others backs; there is always SOME room for hope and optimism…

In Praise Of Idleness: Valuing Leisure In A Culture Of Accomplishment

I am not an “ambitious” person. I do not desire fame, wealth, or recognition. I do not want to spend 12 hours a day at any job, and I do not want to climb any professional ladders. I do not have a compulsion to achieve a prestigious professional title or to compose a great novel or album for which I will be remembered after I die. My interests are constantly shifting, and as such, I do not doggedly pursue any single thing in such a way that would make me an expert in that field or area of study.

In our culture, which values accomplishments above all else, saying what I have just said is almost taboo. It might even be seen as a clear sign by many that I am lazy. But this is not the case. I go to work everyday, I read multiple books a month, I am an attentive and caring parent, and I keep a very clean home. I am just not wired to seek “success” in the way that our society understands the word. Success, in our society, is synonymous with professional achievements, which in turn is heavily associated with wealth. Wealth is seen as an objective measure by which we analyze whether someone is successful or not. High level politicians with power and influence, highly regarded doctors who get 7 figure salaries, famous musicians who sell out huge venues, and professional athletes who spend hours every week working out; these are the epitome of success in our society. But what about those of us who aren’t wired that way? What about the introverts? What about the people who value leisure and relaxation over accomplishment? What about the people who would rather spend hours everyday building up their relationship with their children, instead of staying late at the office, trying to gain an edge on their coworkers for that promotion opportunity?

Well, I am just such a person.

I like lounging around. I like drinking good beer with even better friends. I like long walks alone in the woods. I like to read books for fun. I like waking up in the morning with nothing to do. I like to meditate. I like love to sleep. I like to go camping. I like to eat good food and then lay down for a nap. I like wrestling with my kids. I like going hunting for Pokémon. I like to drink red wine in a small theater while watching a film.

In short, I like to relax.
I like leisure.

I don’t like deadlines. I don’t like high-pressure situations. I don’t like *having* to do something. I don’t like stress of any sort.

What makes a good life? Well, people are different, and so there are lots of different answers to that question. There are people who think that a good life is one where they accomplished something great. For some people, having a PhD after their name is what drives them. For others, accumulating wealth is what compels them forward. For still others, achieving something that will outlive them is what motivates them. And that’s great! People are all different, and those sorts of motivations are wonderful. We certainly need those sorts of people in the world. But for me, what constitutes a good life is not achievements, but rather relationships. Relationships with my children, with my friends, with my family, and with my community are what motivate me. I don’t want to sacrifice a second of my time, that I could be spending with them, pursuing some professional goal. I want to live humbly, but happily; and for me that means not constantly stressing out about achievements or accolades.

When people on their deathbeds are asked what they wish they would have done differently in life, the majority of them answer that they wish they’d spent more time with their families, they wish they cared less what others, and by extension society at large, thought about them, and they wish they had spent less time at work. I take that to heart.

I won’t be a lawyer or doctor; I wont be a famous musician or artist; I wont win a Super Bowl ring or live in a mansion. I wont be remembered generations after I die. No statues will be made of my likeness, and no buildings will be donned with my name. But I will, hopefully, have the most wonderful relationship possible with my children, I will have friends who love me deeply, and I will have family who never question my priorities or loyalty. Ill have a garden, a humble home, some well-cared for cats, a library stacked with hundreds of books, a fridge full of craft beer, and a life that I can reflect on happily.

On my deathbed, I wont be surrounded with plagues and certificates, but I will be surrounded by people, by relationships fostered and carefully tended to.

In short, the goal of my life is not wealth, fame, or professional achievements.
The goal of my life is love, laughter, and leisure.

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“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
– Henry David Thoreau

Aesthetic Winter Solstice – A Poem

An old man with cold hands reaches out in embrace

and every leaf from every tree falls down right into place

Branches droop depressed under the weight of quiet snow

The river carries chunks of ice that bob in it’s pious flow

a soft violet glow emanates from the moon up above

and its light reflects off the snow: shiny diamond dust

an owl spreads its wings and leaps out of a pine tree

leaving a trace of color against the sky, so bright and so clean

Admittedly, Aesthetic pleasure this intense frightens me

Kantian Sublimity; and I know that I should just get up and leave, but…

but I just… want to stay here… I just. want to. stay here

The Winter of our Discontent – A Poem

Dark indigo snow packed tight on the forest floor

Tracks from an unknown creature are featured to and fro

Frozen branches in dead trees and they creak like old souls

A swirling cosmos that’s vacant, royal blue, and so cold

Black stratus clouds pirouette through the sky; silhouettes bold

Swept up by the wind, like waves that open up and then fold

The moon stands guard: galactic, crooked, gold

The stars are blurry and burnt orange wherever I Van Gogh

 

A chimney in the distance attached to a brick cabin

an old witch with white eyes and red lips like dragons

Sitting by a fire place, fucking with black magic

She looks up at no one, and mumbles something tragic,

She says: “there is no truth. There is no proof;

that you exist, We are accidents. Get over it.”

Then she tilts her head back and laughs

And the camera pans out…

 

There’s a wolf on a mountain, howling at nothing

A Fox eats a rabbit, tears out its bloody stuffing

A hawk swoops down, and snags a rat in its talons

A human starts a fire, wishing someone would see his talents…

Love, Marcus

She really is a wonderful woman. I do not show her the proper appreciation. She works hard to raise our infant son, Soren, while I go out and earn a paycheck.  She also puts up with my assorted mental illnesses, including but not limited to, anxiety, bipolar disorder and manic depression. Entire weeks go by where I am despondent and brooding and impotent. But she is my safety net, even if I can never bring myself to explain just how much I need her and appreciate her.

But it’s another day, and another long drive home during rush hour. I swear this is the worst time of the day for me.  I work in the middle of the city, but live on its edges; making my daily commute to and from work long and unbearable. And since I work the classic 9-5 shift, I am inundated with heavy traffic every time I am in the car.  The smog, the over-population, the honking horns, the panhandlers; it all culminates in a sordid cacophony of sensory irritation and overload.

I do not feel good today, again, but I am determined to make Katherine feel appreciated, so I am stopping by the store on my way home to buy her flowers and write out a card explaining my appreciation. It is always easier to write these things down and hand them over instead of trying to remember what you wanted to say and articulating the message correctly, on the spot. This will take an extra 20 minutes or so, but that is fine, because Katherine thinks I have a meeting after work.  She isn’t expecting me home for a few hours still.  It will be a nice surprise to hand her the flowers and card, take over baby duties (changing diapers, feeding, putting to bed), and let her relax. I figure I could even draw her a bath and make dinner tonight.  I have been so caught up in my latest dreary depressive episode over the past few weeks that I have been exceptionally self-centered.  Mental illness has a way of turning otherwise balanced people into narcissists because we are expending tremendous effort every waking minute of our lives dealing with our own cognitive fall out. The morbid thoughts are circuitous and agonizing. The anxiety is ever-present, and when it does die down, an anxiety concerning its inevitable return keeps the nervous system on edge.  The mood swings are extreme and not connected in any sensible way to external conditions.  All of this piles up and locks us inside ourselves.  Medicines help a little bit, but at the cost of feeling real.  Medication completely levels out the peaks and valleys, and makes me feel like a member of the walking dead. Instead of intense mood swings, I flat line; which in many ways is just as bad, if not uniquely worse.  And when, for want of money for example, I cannot afford the prescription refill, the withdrawals are nightmarish. Therefore, I put myself at the mercy of my disorders and blow, to and fro, in the internal winds of my mind.

But Katherine is innocent, she never signed up for this. When we met I was far more stable, and have only descended into cognitive chaos in recent years. I love her so deeply, and her loyalty to me is profoundly moving; although, again, I have the constant problem of not being able to articulate to her just how much she means to me. She has the stress of a newborn child to deal with as well, and I know I multiply that stress tenfold on a daily basis. Whether it’s on account of a hysterical fit of sadness and anger or a weeks-long despondency where I barely speak to her, let alone show her the affection she deserves.  However, she is my lifeline.  Without her, without my family, I would be nothing and suicide would be inevitable. Even in my darkest moments, I know I can lay my head on her lap and weep, and I know she is taking care of Soren no matter how dysfunctional and disabled I am.  Knowing that I have this nest of a home to collapse into every night truly gives me the only shred of hope and comfort I possess in this world.

So I walk into this beehive of a grocery store to buy her flowers and a card, and my anxiety skyrockets.  I hate people, I hate their meaningless chatter, their shallow desires, and their blindness to what really matters.  But most of all, I hate how they take their mental health for granted.  One of my favorite games to play when I am in a busy public place like this is to try and remember what it was like when I had my mental health.  I try to remember what it was like to be normal; and I end up envying everyone around me. The longer any specific bout of depression or anxiety lasts, the harder it is to remember what it’s like to be healthy. But I garner an odd sort of comfort from trying to remember, and getting stabs of insight into what it’s like to be okay. Lightning flashes of remembrance. It keeps my mind occupied as I pick out the flowers, and buy a cheap card, and stand in this horrific check-out line. My heart is racing, my mind is spinning, and I feel like I might pass out if I have to stand here for another second. But eventually I get to the cashier, put on a brave face, engage in that awkward small talk (“Hello, did you find everything you were looking for?”; “Yes, I did. Thank you.”; “Paper or plastic?”; “Paper, please”; “Okay, here you are. Have a nice night”; “Thank you, you too.”), and finally make it back out to my car, where I scribble the following into the card:

Dear Katherine, I now I am the worst. I am so sorry that I have become what I am. But please know how much I cherish and adore you. Please know that you and Soren mean everything to me, and one day I will be okay again, and we will travel and have guests over for dinner, and go out on the weekends like normal people. In the meantime, I want you to know how much I love you, how much I need you, and how much I appreciate all the work you do to raise our son, and, in a way, to raise me too.  I love you more than I could ever put into words, and I will get better. Just please stick with me.

Love,
Marcus

I put the pen back in my glove box, pull out of my parking space, and head home; happy with myself that I mustered up the emotional fortitude to make the purchase and express my feelings.

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I pull into our driveway, grab the bag with the flowers and the card, and walk inside.  I set my keys down, and hear my son upstairs cooing and gurgling. I walk upstairs, assuming Katherine is with him, turn the corner and walk to our bedroom and open the cracked door all the way.  Katherine is not alone. She is on her back, legs spread out to her sides, and a man that is not me is on top of her, plunging in and out of her body as she moans emphatically. I can only see the man’s hairy back and ass, violently entering my wife; and her face is shielded from mine by his body. The bedding is completely off the bed, leaving only the sheet and one pillow under Katherine’s head.  I notice, between the moist pumps, what I assume to be ejaculate dripping down the crevice of her ass, creeping slowly and viscously over her asshole and then down onto the bed, puddling grotesquely. They have been at it for a while. I glance down at Soren, laying on his back, like his mother, under his playpen, making various infantile sounds; completely unaware of the horror happening all around him.  My wife and the mystery man are so enthralled in the act of betrayal they do not notice me standing there, nauseated and deranged, too stunned to speak or act.

After what feels like 5 minutes, but is probably no more than 30 seconds, I walk out of the room and to the hall closet, reaching up into the top shelf and pulling out the gun that Katherine and I had bought for protection when we purchased our house. I calmly, serenely even, loaded two bullets into the chamber of the gun. I am not even thinking; my mind is Zen quiet. Not a singular linguistic line of dialogue bubbling up into conscious awareness; just dead inward silence. I feel the weight of the firearm in my hand, moving it up and down a couple times in my palm, surprised at how heavy it is.  I cock the gun, flooding the chamber with the first bullet, which makes a satisfying metallic sound. I stalk back into the bedroom, where the nightmare is taking place. I point the gun at the back of the man, and pause for a few seconds, wondering if they will notice me standing there.  They do not. They have no idea what is happening.  I almost feel bad. They are having such a good time, and what I am about to do is going to drag them out of their ecstasy and directly into this nightmare. I press, ever so gently, on the trigger, not enough to fire a shot, but enough to begin that process. Then, with my arm outstretched holding the gun, and without even the slightest tremble in my hand, I drift my aim upwards towards the ceiling and squeeze the trigger, firing a shot into drywall above my head.  A brief snow storm of white debris falls around me.  The man leaps upward, emerging violently out of my wife’s body, and I notice a thin spider-web string of bodily fluid attached to the man’s penis, connecting him still with Katherine’s cunt. They are both sitting up, retreating fearfully back up against the headboard, looking horrified in a way that kind of scares me too for a second.  Soren is frightened and howling hysterically, but I block out his screams; my mind is still wonderfully silent. I see the man’s face now, and notice, dispassionately, that he is the neighbor. Of course he is.  He also has a wife and a child, I know. Of course he does.

I know they are waiting for their bullets, or at least he is waiting for his.  They are deer in headlights, and I prolong the awkward, terrifying silence; pointing the gun again at the man, calmly.  He is as quiet as a mouse, eyes wide and unblinking, and she is pleading with me; empty, desperate words of remorse and supplication.

I say sternly, and rather coolly, “any last words”.  Her begging reaches a higher, more precarious pitch, and he sinks backwards into his body and into his silence, waiting for the death he deserves.

I turn the gun around suddenly and shove it into my own mouth; I make deep, insane eye contact with Katherine, and pull the trigger.  I feel the hot explosion in my mouth and nose, but no pain.
Then nothing.

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The flowers and the card sat neatly in the paper bag by the door. She still deserves the appreciation.

I hope she knows I love her.

The Lighthouse (A short story by Brett de Montaigne)

Jack dropped his backpack full of food, clothes and other assorted necessities with a thump on the old wooden floor boards of the cabin.  A small, thin burst of dust blossomed up and out from the impact of the backpack on the floor; it’s been a long time since anyone visited this tiny cabin, tucked away in the mountains of Washington State.  The one-room cabin is snuggled back in the tree-line about 200 yards away from a cliff with a sheer drop off several hundred feet, culminating downwardly into large, black rocks jagging out of the ocean below. In the area between the tree line and the cliff there is nothing but rocks and short grass and an old abandoned light house that appears to Jack to be one strong gust of wind away from total collapse.  Although, of course, up here the wind blows constantly, so the lighthouse must be significantly sturdier than it appears, Jack thinks to himself.  

He is here alone for a couple of weeks to clear his head and escape the depressing monotonous slog that his life has become.  He knows that he is running away from something, he just hopes it isn’t his Self, because he has had to drag that up here with him.  But determined to live simply for a fortnight, he ventured up here over the course of a full day, driving as far as he could, then leaving his car behind for an hour hike to the summit of this particular cliff: Valiance Peak. The land, and cabin, had been his grandfathers and was subsequently passed down to his father, and then to him upon his father’s untimely death.  He can’t recall his father ever coming up to this cabin, certainly not with Jack at least. So this is the first time he has ever been here, and thanks to an old map his grandfather passed down along with the land and cabin, Jack didn’t get lost on the treacherous and trail-less hike up here.  But now, standing on the small front porch of the cabin, peering out over the cliff and into the eternally blue Pacific Ocean, he felt a small sting of optimism.  Jack hadn’t felt optimistic in a long time.

The sun was setting, darkness descending, and the fog was creeping up over the cliff and towards the tiny cabin perched atop Valiance Peak. Inside, Jack unfurled his sleeping bag onto the floor, lit a few small candles he had brought, slinked into his bag and began reading his copy of Stephen King’s “The Shining” until his eye lids became too heavy to lift and Jack faded off into a dead, dreamless sleep; the book softly falling onto his rhythmic chest.  

One by one the candle’s flames, dancing gently atop their wicks, fizzled out into miniscule puffs of ghostly smoke. The night outside got deeper and blacker as Jack slept a dreamless sleep inside his late grandfather’s cabin.

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Jack suddenly rocketed out of his slumber, sitting up frantically, his heart racing.  The sound that had awoken him was so violent his initial thought was that the cabin was collapsing on top of him. It took a couple of seconds of shaking off the confusion of sleep for him to realize that everything in the cabin was as it should be, at least as far as he could make out in the candle-less dark. He checked his back-lit wrist watch, and it was 3:27am.  The cabin had not collapsed, at least; he knew that much. It was so silent and still now, though, that jack began to think the noise had actually taken place in a dream, or in that bizarre space between deep sleep and wakefulness where you are never quite sure what is real.  In a state of startled bewilderment Jack decided to grab his flashlight from his backpack’s side pocket, and go check the outside of the cabin, thinking perhaps a tree might have fallen on or near the outside of the cabin.  

Still in a state of confusion and with some significant anxiety, Jack turned on his flashlight and staggered out of the front door of the cabin spilling onto the porch where he composed himself with a deep breath and an eye rub in the cool, salty air.  Fog had engulfed Valiance Peak entirely, and even with the flashlight it was hard to see further out than a few feet in front himself.  Jack placed his left hand on the side of the cabin as he stepped off the front porch, shined his light down the side of the building and started walking, dragging his left hand alongside the structure as he investigated. As he walked around the back of the cabin, it became increasingly clear to him that nothing had fallen on it.  Everything was as it should be, both inside and out. He turned the final corner and was back on the porch, more confused now than when he had woken up startled.  His heart rate was back to normal, but he couldn’t come up with a convincing theory to explain the noise to himself.  “What the hell was that” he asked himself out loud as he sat down on the single step that bridged the 10 inch gap from soil to porch. He turned off his flashlight and let his eyes adjust to the foggy darkness.  The moon was up in the sky somewhere, and its light provided enough illumination for Jack to make out the silhouette of the old lighthouse about 150 yards out from the cabin. He looked down at his watch, it was 3:36am. He began to shift his weight with the intention of standing up and heading back inside to try and get some sleep before dawn.  But as he looked up from his watch he felt a sharp sting of fear grip him by the throat and he lost his breath; there was now a solitary figure standing beside the light house. All Jack could see was a silhouette, but it was almost certainly the silhouette of a person, just standing completely still, although jack could not make out which way it was facing.  He was certain it wasn’t there a moment before, when he was observing the light house. A cold, tingling chill crept up Jack’s spine, and scurried up the back of his neck and head, making him shiver slightly. He was frozen; simultaneously too scared to approach, but also too scared to retreat. So he just stood there, stupefied, staring into the fog.  Suddenly, it appeared as if the fog was gradually getting thicker, because Jack had to squint to maintain visual contact with the ghostly figure and the light house. Over the course of a minute or so, the fog became increasingly dense and opaque, and before he could summon up enough logical thought to react appropriately, he could no longer see anything but milky fog lit delicately by dim moonlight somewhere up in the sky.

Jack backed into the cabin, locking the door from the inside.  His mind was racing.  He thought about what weapons he had, and realized he had none, other than some small rusted garden tools in the corner of the cabin that were so weathered and brittle they were useless in the garden, let alone in combat.  He shook off the silly thought. It was ludicrous to think whatever he saw out there was going to charge his cabin and engage him in armed conflict; he needed to calm down and get pass the fear and think rationally about what was happening. Had he even seen something out of the ordinary? Perhaps it was a bush or a large rock out by the lighthouse that he had simply failed to notice before.  Mired in a thick fog, and with his senses being distorted from only recently emerging from deep sleep, it was likely that what he saw was simply a perceptual error on his part. Surely that made far more sense, he thought to himself. His initial reaction now seemed laughable from his new found rational perspective. Jack chuckled to himself and shook his head in slight embarrassment.  He sparked a match and re-lit the handful of candles from earlier, crawled into his still-warm sleeping bag, and slowly fell back into a black and mysterious sleep.

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The next morning, Jack awoke refreshed and feeling good.  He recalled the action from the night before and smiled to himself for being so easily spooked.  He walked out onto the porch and glanced out at the light house by the edge of the cliff.  He saw that there were, indeed, various rocks and little bushes spread out around it.  He felt his theory was vindicated, the fog had merely stretched and distorted these pedestrian natural objects into pseudo-human shadows, and Jack’s imagination did the rest. Plus, he thought to himself, there is no way anyone else could possibly be up here.  There is only one road that leads to this area, and then an arduous hour hike on top of that. Additionally, there is nothing up here except for this small, empty cabin and an old abandoned light house that nobody has used for probably half a century or more. It made Jack feel good to have figured it all out and to trumped primal fear with simple logic. He resolved to eat a small breakfast in the cabin, and then go investigate the light house. He was curious what it looked like up close.

The sun was out and it warmed Jack’s skin as we walked towards the lighthouse. A beautiful ocean breeze was floating up off the Pacific and gently spilling, wave-like, onto and over the cliffs of Valiance Peak, pushing gently against Jack as he approached.

The lighthouse was made of brick, and although it was clearly old, it seemed to have been built well.  The entrance into the lighthouse was guarded by an eroded wooden door that was locked, but which easily gave way when Jack forcefully pushed his shoulder into it.  He wanted to see if he could get to the top and look out over the ocean.  When he walked in, he carefully ascended the spiral staircase, noticing some of the steps had cracked and crumbled to various extents, forcing him to sometimes jump to the next available stair.  The railing was sturdy, though, and the lighthouse wasn’t terribly tall; so it was with relative ease that Jack arrived at the top and gazed out over the sublime ocean stretched out infinitely before him. He turned around and looked back at his cabin from his new perch, admiring its quaintness and feeling truly at ease.  Jack reflected on the fact that he hadn’t felt this content in years, and nodded in internal approval at his decision to come out here alone to relax and get away from the rat race that felt more and more like a maze without an exit each day he participated in it.

After a while, he descended the spiral staircase, emerged from the entrance of the lighthouse, and strolled, satisfied, back across the open landscape to his cabin. “I could get used to this” he thought to himself.

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That night, as constellations crawled across the sky, Jack lit his candles for illumination, and sat down on his sleeping bag to read more of the novel he had brought with him.  After a few chapters, he slithered into his sleeping bag for the second night, feeling completely at ease. He made plans for the following day as he waited for sleep to overtake him. He wanted to see if he could hike down, someway, to the small, rocky beach at the bottom of the cliff.   He anticipated, excitedly, the prospect of seeing those big, black jagged rocks up close.  Jack had no idea how, or even if, he could hike down there, but figured it worth trying; this sort of curious investigation gave him something to do out here.  He contemplated possible hiking routes as his consciousness dissolved seamlessly into the coffin of deep sleep. He did not dream.
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The pain was excruciating. Jack felt as if he were on fire; as if he were being burned alive. He leapt out of his sleeping bag, fell into the wall violently, and crumpled onto the ground, writhing and squirming in agony.  He was sweating profusely.  He was scared.  Jack had no idea what was happening, and he wondered if he was having some sort of seizure or if had been bitten by some exotic insect.  He lay on the dusty floorboards of the cabin, scrunching himself into the fetal position, trying to overcome the pain long enough to think clearly. But just as quickly as it had come, it left. Within a split second he suddenly stopped feeling hot and nauseated and all the pain dissipated. He returned to feeling normal finding himself sprawled out on the floor now, looking up at the ceiling, trying to collect his thoughts and figure out what had just happened.  He wondered if he should seek medical attention, but immediately realized he could not hike back to his car in the dark woods.  He checked his watch: it was 3:27am.  He was exhausted, frightened, and disoriented. He decided to get up and go outside to catch his breath and try to calm himself down. He stumbled out into the foggy night, and sat down on the single step leading up to the porch.  Jack took a few deep breaths; in and out.  The moon back-lit the fog just like it had the night before, and he peered up and out towards the lighthouse. The sight struck him immediately.

There it was again.  

A figure standing next to the lighthouse, obscured by fog, but definitely there.  Remembering his discovery of rocks and bushes by the light house earlier that day, and physically drained from the strange sickness that had just overwhelmed him back in the cabin, he didn’t let himself get scared. He just stared at it, noticing its complete lack of movement.  There was a solid breeze coming off of the ocean, and the trees and bushes around him were waving gently in the wind.  It must be a rock, he thought to himself.  But he noted that it seemed taller than any of the rocks he had seen earlier that day.  The more he stared at it, the less it seemed like it could be anything other than a person; just standing there. A slow, apprehensive dread began to bubble up in his stomach as he strained his eyes to peer through the fog and focus on the object.

After a couple of minutes of intense looking, scanning for any movement, Jack resolved to stand up and approach the object.  He was not going to let fear get the best of him, his rational mind knew it couldn’t actually be a person and he was determined to prove that to himself.  His glare unwavering, he lifted himself off the stair and proceeded across the open terrain toward the figure. As he walked, however, something strange began to happen.  Every step he took seemed to be accompanied by a noticeable thickening of the fog, almost as if he were actually retreating from the object he was walking towards. Determined, however, Jack kept walking in the direction of the lighthouse; each step dramatically reducing visibility until he could barely see his own hand in front of his face. Jack felt his heart rate increase, and the dread that had been bubbling up in his stomach came to a full boil. He stopped, turned around, and tried to find his way back to his cabin.  After what felt like several hundred steps he stopped again, turned 90 degrees to his left, and began quickly walking in that direction.  The more he walked, however, the more lost he felt, and the more intense the fear became, until he eased into a scared jog, and then burst into a desperate sprint. The fog thickened. Jack searched frantically for the lighthouse or the cabin or the tree line, anything by which to orient himself, but he only seemed to get deeper and deeper into fog and into his own fear; he began crying and screaming out for help. Now he could not even see his hand in front of his face anymore, and upon realizing this he collapsed onto the ground sobbing uncontrollably.  Sprawled out on his back, he stared wildly into the thick, viscous fog, screaming. He felt like a madman.

Suddenly, out of the milky fog directly above him flashed a black rock which descended with lightning speed and brutal force onto Jack’s face.  He lost consciousness; the hazy white fog giving way instantaneously to a profound black oblivion.

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When Jack awoke, he was disoriented and in extreme facial pain. He could barely see anything, and had no idea where he was. He touched his face, feeling what he assumed was dried blood. His whole head was throbbing in agony, and when he slid his fingers across his lips he noticed, horrified, that he had several teeth missing.  He groped for something to grab onto that might assist him in getting to his feet.  He managed to stand up and assess the situation. To his surprise, he realized he was in the top of the lighthouse, looking out over the ocean.  It was still night, but the fog had almost entirely cleared away.  He tried to recall how he got up here, but couldn’t.  The last thing he remembered was walking toward the figure by the lighthouse and then getting hopelessly lost in the fog.  He turned around and peered out through the glass towards his cabin just in time to catch a glance of something, or someone, walking into it. His eyes adjusted to the darkness of the inside of the lighthouse, and he oriented himself to the stair case, remembering the treacherous nature of the crumbling spiral stairs, but overwhelmed with a growing sense of white hot anger at whatever was harassing and attacking him. He cautiously darted down the staircase, steadying himself by holding tightly to the sturdy railing as he descended. Once at the bottom, he made a beeline out of the lighthouse and toward his cabin; running as fast as he could, eager to end this nightmare and the mysterious figure at the center of it. As he approached the cabin he bounded up off the grass, over the stair, and into the cabin.  Jack was heaving with his shoulders slumped forward aggressively and a look of madness in his eye.  The cabin was pitch black except for whatever moonlight was able to flood in through the open door. He squinted and scanned the room, seeing nothing and no one. He screamed “who the fuck are you?! What do you want from me?!”, but no response.

Suddenly the door behind him slammed shut so violently loud that Jack flinched, turn to face the door, and while retreating out of fear, tripped over his sleeping bag and fell straight onto his back.  He groped for the wall behind him without taking his eyes off of the door, and managed to sit up against the wall just in time to see the door slowly open back up with an eerie creak. Jack glared out of the cabin doorway and could again see a figure standing next to the lighthouse. He staggered to his feet and bolted toward the figure across the field. As he got within 10 yards of the thing, he stopped and sternly demanded “who are you? Why are you doing this?” The ghostly figure, still cloaked in the dark shadow of the adjacent lighthouse, simply turned away from Jack, walked calmly towards the cliff’s edge, and leaped off the side letting out a horrific scream as it fell to the jagged rock strewn beach below.  Jack ran to the edge of the cliff, baffled and horrified, and looked over to try and get a glimpse of the body.  But as he looked over the edge and scanned the beach with the aid of the moonlight, he could see nothing but rocks and the ocean.  As far as he could tell, there was no body. There was no sound. Nothing. He stood at the edge of the cliff, completely bewildered.

He impulsively checked his watch, hoping to anchor himself psychologically in the concreteness of time: it was 3:27am.

“Impossible!” he whispered to himself aloud.

Had an entire day passed since he woke up in that strange fever and got lost in the fog? True, the fog was gone now, and judging from the pain in his face he deduced that he might have been rendered unconscious from a fall or something.  But that doesn’t explain how I got to the top of the light house, he said to himself inwardly. He turned to face the cabin, his back facing the ocean and the jagged rocks in the surf below.

Just then he glanced up from his watch and found himself face to face with the figure; but it was no longer shrouded in darkness and silhouette, its face was long and pale and grotesque, and its eyes the deepest, darkest black that Jack had ever seen. It let out a murderous scream and shoved Jack violently back off the edge of the cliff. Jack sprawled out, looking up at the figure as he fell, unable to form an emotion or a thought before his body slammed forcefully into the black jagged rocks below. The sound of Jack’s body hitting the earth was drowned out completely by the riotous sound of the ocean lapping up onto the rocky shore.  

Jack fell into an eternal sleep, never to awaken again.  
He did not dream.