Joe Greegan liked Sunday mornings best. His wife and children slept late, and he always headed out to the beach with the dog. It was early August, and he liked to pick that perfect hour when the previous evening’s coolness was just beginning to fade, and the crisp salt air still tickled his nose. For a workaholic, married attorney and father of two, it was the only time of the week he really had to himself. A hundred and sixty-six hours to get two. Typical Southern Connecticut trade-off.
When they hit the beach, the black Labrador broke into a sprint, in anticipation of the stick his master was about to toss. It was all clichéd, but that’s exactly how Joe liked it. He lobbed a piece of driftwood over the dog’s head, and the lab ran into the surf to get it.
I have a good life, he thought. Sure, his wife had cheated on him ten years ago but she confessed, and he had forgiven her. Or at least, he forgave her after he cheated in retaliation—which he did not confess—since it was the only way he could get the bile out of his system. What of it? Adultery was a fact of life in his world. If it happened to you, you simply dealt with it.
Harder to deal with was the blow delivered by his idolized older brother Phillip, a respected pediatrician in Baltimore. Respected, that is, until images of child pornography were found on his computer. When Phillip went to jail, the only way Joe could come to grips with the matter was to tell himself that his brother wasn’t the world’s first pedophile, neither would he be the last. Pedophiles were everywhere. They certainly weren’t welcome, but they were definitely a part of Joe Greegan’s world.
Their father Michael had been a policeman for forty years, and retired with distinction. Certainly nothing unusual about being a cop. Humans were incapable of policing themselves, so others had to be hired to do it. The problem, of course, was that you could only hire humans. They beat and sometimes shot the civilians they were paid to protect. They frequently allowed themselves to be paid off by organized criminals. The unorganized ones, the cops simply shook down.
Joe’s father sometimes supplemented his own meager salary this way. Was he a bad man? Nah. He paid his taxes, never cheated on his wife, and loved his kids. Him being a staunch Catholic there were seven of those kids, they needed to eat, and seven kids had trouble eating on a cop’s salary. Was a cop on the take wrong? Yes. Unusual? No.
Joe’s grandfather Jack was a soldier in the First World War. During a fierce engagement near Vaux, he was knocked unconscious by a mortar shell blast and left for dead. When he came to, he wandered about lost in the French countryside for days. Frozen and hungry, he was taken in by a young French woman whose husband was himself away at war. After three days of food and warmth, he began to feel better. On the fourth day, he raped her. He never intended to; the idea never entered his head until just before he did it. But he had been too long away from his wife. And he knew he could get away with it.
Only he couldn’t. Killing he justified on account of the war, the rape he could not. The combination of the two ate him up, especially when he went home to a wife and friends who thought he was a hero. I’m a killer and a rapist. A killer and a rapist. He tried to drown out the memories with alcohol, but the alcohol was voracious. It ate his job, his marriage, his internal organs, and eventually took his life.
But there was nothing unusual about a soldier who was a rapist, because there was no such thing as war without rape. In Joe Greegan’s world, nations fought wars and men raped all the time.
But Greegan’s life was good. He counted his blessings. He was a well-paid attorney. He lived in the richest county in the richest state in the richest country in the world. Sure, he’d had some marital trouble. Who hadn’t? He’d also played fast and loose with some of his escrow accounts, and had a close scrape with the bar association. But he had an old friend on the committee, and thank God for that.
He watched the dog jump around in the surf. Life was good. He was in good health. Barring an accident, he’d live to a ripe old age…
…Old age… you slowly become a prisoner inside your own shriveling, malfunctioning body…
He banished the thought. No. NO. Life was GOOD. It could have been so much worse. He could have been born blind or brain-damaged. He could be a Bolivian silver miner with black lung disease, making 75 cents a day. He could have been in the camps at Auschwitz, on the beach at Omaha, or a slave in Virginia, 200 years ago. He could have been any of those things, because all of those things existed, or did exist, in Joe Greegan’s world.
After three days of food and warmth, he began to feel better. On the fourth day, he raped her.
The lab came running back from the surf with the stick in his mouth. But something was wrong with the horizon behind him. Greegan squinted. There was a strange strip of black between the water and the sky—and the blackness was growing. It grew upwards and outwards. It was consuming the sky and the water, and began to encroach upon the beach.
Joe was petrified. He turned to run, but the blackness wasn’t just coming in from the ocean but on both sides, as well as from the rear. He was slowly being encircled in darkness. The blackness ate up the beach, and then it engulfed the dog. Joe held up his trembling hands, and watched them disappear. He let out an awful scream, but the darkness cut the scream in half.
There wasn’t anything left. Joe was gone, and so was his world.
What Joe didn’t know, in fact could not have known, was that aeons ago, when God warned Adam & Eve about the forbidden fruit, they passed the test. They and their billions of offspring were, even now, living in a paradise, without hatred, fear, sickness, or death. Indeed, God had given Adam & Eve the simplest test imaginable, because their failure would simply have been too horrible to contemplate.
But God, being curious, began to contemplate it. What if they had failed? He began to imagine a world where humans were bereft of His protection. God being God, His musings were fueled by incalculable power. The humans in His reverie became sentient. They had substance and weight. Hopes and dreams.
God extrapolated this vision out thousands of years, and He didn’t like what He saw. Disease, desperation, endless hatred, and death. And the wars. The killing was mind-boggling, even for God. After viewing several millennia of this in what for Him was an eye-blink, He got sick of it.
In fact, He got tired of it just as Joe Greegan was out walking his dog. There was no way for Joe to know this, of course. How could he? Poor Joe.