It was a search engine alert and a phone call that brought me back to the story of Sam Lewis, and I’ll start with the phone call, since it follows from the end of my first article, standing over Sam’s grave in a Jewish Cemetery, worrying about the hurt I imagined learning her son wrote an anti-semitic novel would do to Sam’s mother, but then, she called me shortly after my article was published. Not the one I imagined and pitied, as if I knew her, but his real mother, the one who had read my article, then read her son’s book, then called to invite me to her home.
I was surprised and relieved to find out that she wasn’t angry at me for what I wrote. She didn’t want to “set the record straight” or scream at me for defaming her son. She wanted to do what all mothers that have lost try to do with the memories of their children, she wanted to help me understand him, to contextualize his actions, to humanize his decision…she wanted to make him live again. She knew instinctively as a mother what good defense lawyers take years to figure out, the best way to defend a terrible thing is not to try and excuse it, but to ground it, to let a fact-finder see the decisions made through the lens of a narrative, one that makes sense and one that brings real emotional weight with it. She asked me to come visit her to tell me the rivers of hidden life beneath what I knew about Sam.
Her home in North Nashville was hidden behind a yard filled with wild-garden growth. It didn’t look untended, it didn’t seem cluttered, but it was uncontrolled in a way that wove the plants and bushes on the ground into the low-hanging limbs of the trees spread above them. The path from the driveway was hidden by a fern whose broad leaves had to be pushed aside to walk forward, revealing a small porch set back from the road, deep in the shade and surrounded by mosquito nettings. Anna Levin, Sam’s mom, pushed open the screen door into the house and stepped outside as I walked up, welcomed me with a small handshake and let me inside. As she entered, Mrs. Levin touched her hand to a copper mezuzah with a small Star of David engraved onto its surface, affixed to the right side of the door frame.
Her living room was dark and cozy, even in mid-afternoon when I arrived. I learned in our initial talk, as we walked through the house, that she had lived here all of Sam’s life. The first ten years of that life had been shared with Sam’s father, but he’d died of cancer just before Sam’s eleventh birthday. She was at great pains to relay to me just how badly that had hurt Sam, how close father and son had been and how the son had never really recovered from his loss or from how much pain the father suffered on his way to death.
Walking into Sam Lewis’ childhood room after all the time I had spent thinking about him was a powerful experience. For all my work on the first article, the real theme was how little I actually knew about him. About his motives. About his philosophy or values. His personality. All I had of him was a half-hour public reading, a website blurb, and an awful mystery of a book that seemed to come from a man it should not have come from. And now I had gone from looking at him through the wrong end of a telescope to looking out with him from his secret keep.
Anna had kept the room essentially as her son left it the day he moved out, on his way to a dorm at the Hebrew Union College campus in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he stayed for a year before dropping out and heading back home to Nashville. A small bed, neatly made, flush against the far corner, over it a poster for Tarkovsky’s Stalker, a great movie but not one I’d expect to see in every teenager’s room. Opposite the bed, a wooden desk was pushed up against the wall. Several photos that looked cut from magazines or books were taped over it. I recognized Stephen King and H.P.Lovecraft, others looked like Rabbinical figures, and there was a garishly colored illustration of a grey-bearded man in Biblical robes looking into the sky as vehicles made of concentric wheels swooped through the sky above him.
The small bookshelf next to the desk looked hand-built, dark brown, almost black, but not because of the wood, instead the stain had been applied by inexperienced hands that lathered it on too thick. I kneeled down to look at the books on it cluttered shelves. Sam’s mom let me know that her late husband built the shelf when Sam was five or six and just starting to get interested in books and reading. “Sam could read when he was so young. He used to read his night-time books to us,” she remembered.
The collection was…idiosyncratic. Stacked on top were the tools of a burgeoning writer. A blue brick of a collegiate dictionary with its gilt lettering rubbed bare, topped by a red paperback thesaurus and an old style guide. The Kings and the Lovecraft were there on the first shelf, next to Lord Dunsany, Clark Ashton, Robert Bloch, and Phillip K Dick. I moved some of the bric-brac sat across the front of the shelf, a snow globe from the Parthenon, a postcard from the Space Center in Alabama, to pull out a couple of volumes. Flicking through I culd see underlined passages and marginalia dashed off in small block letters. On the second shelf was a line of Jewish religious texts sitting vigil: the Torah, volumes of the Talmud and the Mishnah, and books on Kabbalah and Merkabah mysticism.
The bottom shelf was something else entirely: Shirer’s Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Evan’s Third Reich trilogy, Kershaw’s multi-volume Hitler biography. These weren’t racist propaganda, they were credible histories, scholarly tomes that were clear on the Nazi evil and the horrors of the Holocaust. The other half of the shelf shifted and degenerated into their polar opposite: David Irving’s Holocaust denial, copies of Camp of Saints and The Turner Diaries. I had read Lewis’ own book more times than I should have by that point. Every-time trying to glean anything about the nature or personality of its author, and through those readings I had a pretty detailed understanding of its style and narrative techniques. These three shelves, as random as they seemed, constituted the DNA of The Midnight Mountain.
I don’t think Mrs. Levin knew what was sitting on her son’s shelves, held by the work of her late husband’s hands. Obviously she knew the Torah, but I doubt she knew the type of books it held space with on that bookshelf. She let me snap a photo to catalogue and take notes later, and while I framed my shot, she walked over to the closet door and opened it. She pulled on a hanging cord and the bare bulb clicked on. I could hear her digging around on the top shelf, pulling boxes aside and sorting through stacks of files and paperwork. At her feet, I could just make out the shadowed form of a couple of boxes leaned against the wall, roughly the size of a board game. The one in front had an illustration of a friendly looking rabbit wearing a tuxedo popping out of a top hat, across the top in impressive font: Mark Wilson’s Complete Course in Magic!
When she turned back around she had a a couple of black, hard-covered notebooks, together with a few spiral-bound ones and some manila folders stuffed with papers. “You know that Sam’s father was a writer too, right?” Of course I didn’t know any such thing. Barely knew her son’s real last name before now. I asked what he wrote about and she handed me the black notebooks. I cracked the first one open and saw the same neat, block script from the papaerbacks I had just flipped through, organized in tight paragraphs across the page. Each new thought was indicated by a quick tick of the pen on the left hand side. It wasn’t a diary, it was a writer’s journal, full of the seeds plot ideas and brief character sketches of people he saw throughout his days. I fanned through the pages, trying to take in as much as I could in that moment. I saw thumbnail sketches of little green men and flying saucers scattered along the margins and between the text. Shorthand descriptions of futuristic cities and battles in space against alien invaders.
I also saw that the handwriting on the page became shakier and less uniform as the pages turned, the last few, before the entries tapered off and stopped, were full of text that veered from their guiding lines into diagonal drops across the page. The language in the last few entries was painfully disjointed either because his thoughts were going or because it was just to difficult to write through the pain of the cancer that took him.
She handed me one of the manila folders from the closet after I closed the buckram cover of the notebook. Inside were sheafs of typescript, some paper-clipped together, others stapled, a few loose pages sticking out around the edges of the folder. Scattered between the pages were a multitude or story rejection slips from all sorts of publications, but mostly sci-fi and men’s magazines, some I recognized and others that had collapsed long before the internet had the chance to finish them off. “He was rejected so many time…always rejections…but he never gave up trying,” Sam’s mom remembered with a shake of her head that might have been pity or admiration. “He would try not to show his disappointment in front of Sam, but his son was so proud of his writing and so wanted his success. He would always find out who my husband mailed his stories off to and would ask at the end of every week to find out if they had responded.”
That was a last manila folder in her hand, thinner than the other. “When Samuel left, we split his father’s notebooks. Sam took all of his own journals and stories. He started his own writing right after his father passed away, almost the very next week after the funeral.” She handed me the last folder, “He left this one behind in his desk, I don’t know if he forgot it or didn’t want it, but I saved it with his father’s things.” It wasn’t difficult to convince her to let me lay them out in a grid on Sam’s childhood bed, pull back the cornflower blue curtains covering the window to let in more light, and photograph each page to print and read later. She offered me coffee after we left Sam’s room, which I gladly accepted hoping for as much background as I could get. As we walked out I noticed another Mezuzah on the frame of the bedroom door. Mrs. Levin followed my attention and smiled. “Sam insisted that we have one placed for his bedroom. He always sought to honor God wherever he could.”
I asked her more about Sam’s childhood. Most of her answers were typical of a smart, sad and isolated child. Sam was a good student, he especially excelled at his religious studies. For a time after his father’s death, he had thrown himself even harder into Torah studies, preparing for his bar mitzvah. Sam even impressed the rabbi of their own Temple, who had taken special interest in him after his father’s death, seeing it as his duty to make sure Sam was ready for entry to adulthood. Eventually the rabbi had even recommended additional schooling on the weekend if Sam was committed to the path of rabbinical studies.
Sam had an uneventful bar mitzvah according to his mother, his reading was passionate and competent. But soon after she noticed changes in Sam. He became much more withdrawn, even for a child already prone to isolation. He also started writing more, locked in his room, bent over his desk. He became regimented about his efforts, setting aside time every day to reach a set word count, a practice, as he once explained to his mother, he picked up from Stephen King. Horror and science fiction became his religion, taking up the attention and time he had once spent on his Torah studies. For that he had plenty of precedent, his dad had not been a particularly observant Jew, but his shelves had been stacked with plenty of Poe, King, Asimov, Bradbury, and the ever-present Lovecraft. Most of the fiction on Sam’s bookshelves had once belonged to his dad.
I said a grateful goodbye to Mrs. Levin. She’d been kind to a man who had tarnished her memory of her son in a horrific way. But she knew who her son was, the hurts he had suffered and she believed, ultimately, in the forgiveness of God. She wanted me to find out who murdered her son, something I had lost sight of. I got so consumed by who Sam Lewis the writer really was that I almost forgot he was Sam Levin the murder victim and that somewhere in Nashville was a killer apparently dedicated to an apocryphal white-supremacist terrorist organization called the Phineas Priesthood, which is where the search engine alert I mentioned at the beginning enters the picture.
Property of the Portland Police Bureau
Interrogation Room #6 Video Feed
For Official Use Only
At the start of the video is just a darkened room, the door to the hallway is cracked enough that a stab of light illuminates the aluminum edge of a white erase board and a single chair pushed under a laminate table-top. Fast-forward ten minutes and Detective Abe Blyther walks into the room. The overhead lights automatically trigger and all eight by eight, grey-carpeted, utilitarian feet of the room are visible. Behind him, Edward Leed Boniface is led into the room in shackles, guided by an uniformed officer, who takes him to a chair against the far side of the table, keeping it between him and the door.
Boniface and the detective are civil, even friendly, as they review the rights waiver form, which the prisoner immediately agrees to sign. As the next two hours of the interview/confession make clear, he has absolutely no intention of trying to hide the fact the he murdered Dale Butler, or the reasons why he did it. They discuss the background facts: Boniface had gone to work for Butler about fifteen months ago, straight out of high school. Butler was the founder and editor of Retrograde Press, the publisher of Boniface’s favorite book – The Midnight Mountain – and Boniface had come to Butler burning with passion for the white supremacist cause. His fanaticism for Levin’s book, a man he and the world only knew as Sam Lewis at the time, was matched only by his commitment to the founding of a white Aryan state on land currently occupied by Oregon, Washington, and Idaho. Known as the Northwest Imperitave, it’s an idea that has been around since at least the 70s, a fever dream of the racist right, who chose the area due to its coastal proximity and its remoteness from any large minority populations or the center of federal governmental power. Racist enclaves, compounds, organizations, cults and hideouts have dotted the northwest corridor for decades for these very same reasons.
I’ve posted a link to the entire transcript of the interview on this paper’s website, what follows here are the excerpts most relevant to my article, picking up after Boniface has taken the detective on a detailed walk though of his murder of Butler. On the erase-board above them, Boniface has obligingly drawn a detailed map of the Retrograde press offices, drawing a red X where he left Butler’s body (the bloodied knife he used was recovered on his person when Boniface was arrested):
Detective Blyther: Here’s what I don’t understand Edward. If you loved The Midnight Mountain and all the other books Butler published, explain to me why you killed him. Help me understand that. What’s your side of this?
Edward Boniface: Butler was a fucking race traitor. Simple as that.
Blyther: What do you mean?
Boniface: I mean just what I said. He was a fucking traitor that took his 30 shekels of silver from a filthy Jew and published a poisoned book he tricked us into believing was the product of a superior Aryan mind. I believed in it, everybody did, it was my favorite damn book.
Blyther: What book is that, Edward?
Boniface: The fucking Midnight Mountain. Sam Lewis is a fucking Jew. I’ve seen the emails. I snuck into Butler’s office. I just wanted to know more about Lewis. I just wanted to reach out to him to let him know how much his words meant to me.
Blyther: What emails did you see, Edward?
Boniface: They were in his filing cabinet, he kept files on every author he had, for royalties and tax stuff, you know? He’d print out every email sent between them, just to keep backups in case of any legal shit I guess.
Blyther: I’m sorry Edward, I don’t understand one hundred percent. So you saw something in emails between Butler and Sam Lewis, something that made you mad?
Boniface: What I saw was Lewis admitting he was a goddamn kike right from the beginning when he first sent his book to Butler. What I saw was Butler agreeing to hide the fact that Lewis was a Jew because Butler was broke and I guess he knew that he could sell The Midnight Mountain. He betrayed everything we stood for, the whole reason I worked there and loved what I did. If whites don’t have our purity in this fight, if we can’t choose principles over money, we have nothing and we will lose ourselves in the end. My people needed to know what kind of traitor Butler was and Butler needed to pay for his betrayal. (Boniface starts to get excited and raise up out of his seat.)
Blyther: Ok. I follow you, Edward. Take it easy now. I’m gonna send an officer out to find those emails you’re talking about. We need to have those, to make sure that a fair understanding of your story is out there, ok?
Boniface: Good. Thank you.
Blyther: I’m just here for the truth, Edward. That’s my job. The other thing I want to know about is this. (We see Blyther pull a printed photo from his case-file on the table and slide it across to Boniface.) What is the mark on Butler’s chest? Did you put that there?
Boniface: Yes I did. Absolutely.
Blyther: Help me here. I don’t know what that is. Can you explain it to me.
Boniface: Can I stand up for a second and show you something? (The detective and the uniformed cop, who is still in the room off to the side glance at each other.)
Blyther: You can stand up, just for all our safety, make sure you don’t come around the table or anything, alright? (Boniface nods his head in agreement and gets up from his chair, the chains around his wrists and ankles jingle as he moves. He grabs the bottom of the black T-shirt he is wearing and pulls it up to reveal his pale, thin chest. Dead center, over his sternum bone is a black tattoo that looks like a capital P with a line intersecting the vertical stem just under the hump. Later I will get a chance to see the picture on the table, carved into Butler’s chest in the exact same spot, is the same symbol. Both are identical to the figure also carved into Samuel Levin’s body.)
Boniface: Have you ever heard of the Phineas Priesthood?
Blyther: No. Who are they.
Boniface: They aren’t anybody. They can be anybody though. Anybody who is willing to stand up for the white race. To protect it from traitors and race-mixers. Numbers 25:6-8. Read it for yourself. (Here Detective Blyther makes note of the verses. My own research shows this is a story of a man named Phineas who kills a Hebrew man and his Baal-worshipping lover with a single spear thrust. Instead of punishment, Phineas and his descendants are awarded a permanent priesthood by god for his virtue. The modern racist concept of the priesthood was suggested in a book called Vigilantes of Christendom: The Story of the Phineas Priesthood, copies of which were found in the Retrograde Press warehouse and offered for sale on their site.)
Blyther: Are you saying you are a member, Edward?
Boniface: Now that I’ve spilled blood for the white race I am. I claimed my place…and others will too. A full re-founding of the priesthood! (At this point, Boniface is still standing up, showing his Phineas tattoo, but he lets his shirt drop and slams his cuffed hands down on the table. The uniformed officer jumps up and grabs hold of him.)
Blyther: Calm down Edward! Calm down!
Boniface: Fuck you! You race-trading pig! If you weren’t a puppet of your ZOG (Zionist Occupational Government) masters, you’d let me walk out of here a hero! (Boniface starts backing into the corner struggling away from the officer. Detective Blyther pulls the table back and away, and comes around to help the officer, the take Boniface to the ground and call for others. Chaos until Boniface is dragged from the room, still screaming and cussing. The door is shut behind them, muffling their voices.)
After a few minutes of empty room, the automatic lights turn back off and the room goes black
Movies reporters be damned, most of a journalist’s job happens in endless, dreary lines like the one at the Portland City Property Assessor’s Office, which was my first stop after the rental car desk at the Portland Airport, direct from Nashville. The yellowed fluorescent lights overhead merged with the cream carpet and the tan bureaucratic walls until it felt like I was floating in a tapioca purgatory. When my turn at the front finally came after about half an hour (millennia), I paid the required fee and the clerk handed over a fat envelope full of the the documents I’d requested online before my trip, my name written across the front in black marker. Another fifteen minute drive to my budget motel room fronting the interstate and I started laying out the detailed tax and property records for Retrograde Press on the pastel, floral-patterned comforter covering the queen-sized bed.
The search alert came through about a month after Samuel Levin was killed. I’d set one for Dale Butler during my research into Sam’s past, one of the few names I could tie to him. The alert linked me to a Portland newspaper article about Butler’s murder. The article wasn’t specific in the details but a mention of some sort of “cutting on the chest” prompted me to contact the Portland authorities. Turned out they were extremely interested in what I shared with them. But not interested in sharing much more with me. I’d imagine detectives from Portland were in touch with detectives from Nashville pretty quickly, but again past providing the initial connection I didn’t get much cooperation from either department. Which meant all I could do was wait for the court proceedings to play out. I knew through sources that the local police traveled to Portland to interview Boniface, but it was clear that he couldn’t have been Sam Levin’s killer. His court-appointed defense attorney was able to produce unequivocal proof that he was in Portland on the day of Sam’s death.
Financial records showed Retrograde press and, by extension, Dale Butler were in a lot of trouble several years back. I found multiple liens placed on the property for outstanding debts owed to printers, paper suppliers, machine repairers, on and on. It seemed that every subsidiary industry in the book publishing business had sued and won a judgment against them. I’m not sure anyone short of an accountant or bankruptcy lawyer could answer how they managed to stay afloat for as long as they did and continue to publish books that had absolutely zero chance of success beyond its audience of racist zealots. But that’s only the story of the earlier records. The financial picture turns significantly rosier in the most recent years. One by one, the judgments are paid off and the liens satisfied until, just a year before his murder, Dale Butler was running a profitable publishing concern. Not surprisingly, according to the paperwork in the file I received, the first judgment was settled less than six months after the first edition of The Midnight Mountain was sent to press.
The empty waiting room of the Retrograde Press editorial offices wasn’t much different from any other front office space decorated in the mid-80s and never to be updated. Formica floor tiles, wood paneling on the wrap-around receptionist desk installed in the corner. Potted plants hung from twine-holders in front of dusty, yellowed aluminum blinds that let the late-afternoon sun through in heavy, slattered shafts that fell on old copies of racist magazines like American Renaissance and the Journal of Historical Review (read: Holocaust denial). Standard waiting room drear…except for a gilt-framed print hung right behind the reception desk, showing Hitler in a knight’s silvered armor astride a black horse, imperiously holding a Nazi banner as he rides. Opposite the front door, another one led back to the interior offices. I flicked through the set of keys given to me by the property manager and found the right label and made my way deeper into the building. The owner had been surprisingly agreeable to my request to look inside, I got the sense she felt guilty about who she had taken money from all those years and helping me tell this story was an attempted salve to her conscience.
Past the door was a cramped hallway about thirty feet long, covered in more wood-paneling, the only light inside was the deep-cardinal sun behind me, casting my shadow the length of the hall. I felt along the wall until I found a light switch and the frosted globes spaced along the ceiling lit up revealing the doors lining the hall. The first one on the right was marked as a bathroom and another beyond it led into a little kitchenette and break-room area. A door sat at the very end of the hallway. Walking to it I came to a an unmarked door on the left. I opened it and found a crypt-like closet choked full of unmarked boxes. I opened the box on top of the stack nearest me and found dozens of copies of The Midnight Mountain. I grabbed one, opened it, and was surprised to see that it had been signed by Sam. I checked other copies in the box and every one of them had his signature on the page just inside the cover. I had no idea when or if Sam had made his way out to Portland, or maybe Butler made a trip to Nashville, it seemed like too many books to have mailed either way, but as I write this I haven’t been able to confirm or deny any of the possibilities.
The door at the end of the hallway was Butler’s office. My editor had a friend at one of the local newspapers and they had connected me with another reporter in the city who had taken an interest in Butler’s murder and was willing to help me while I was in town. They’d been able to get copies of some of the crime scene photos. I pulled the photos out to compare. The furniture was still there but the chaos visible in the photos had been cleaned up, except for the dark stain in the carpet right in front of the desk, where Boniface had mutilated Butler’s body. The only remnant of the violence that had occurred.
Along the left wall were built-in bookshelves that housed what appeared to be multiple copies of every book published at Retrogade in both hardback and paper back editions. An interested reader can get a list online if they have a need to know but since I started writing these articles, I’ve worried that I’m giving too much air to the heinous ideas expressed in these books and I don’t see any reason now to catalogue or preserve their names another time. Butler’s outdated desktop computer was still there, the monitor sitting on top of the hard drive had a crack running in a jagged diagonal line across it. In the photos, it looked like it had been pushed off the desk and cracked when it hit the floor during the struggle. This was the computer that Butler had used for his first contact with Sam Levin and since, along with the crime scene photos, I had received copies of the emails between them, it felt like an appropriate place to see what they had to reveal about Sam.
Dale’s side, as I had guessed, was straight forward enough, he saw a marketable product and a way out of his financial hell. I don’t imagine the fact that Sam was Jewish caused him to lose sleep. In fact, his emails reveal that his only worry (presciently it turns out) was if his readers ever found out the truth about Sam. Butler suggested the slight but necessary change from Levin to Lewis, as if Sam was a refugee arriving at Ellis Island, anxious for a fresh start on a new anglophone shore.
Sam’s place in all of this, how he ever came to that shore, why he wrote The Midnight Mountain was always the bigger question and the deeper mystery. I hoped reading his communications with Butler would give me some idea by the end of them, but it turned out it was all right there in his first email.
From: Samuel Levin (Eldergods81@fastmail.com)
To: Retrograde Press Submissions
My dad believed in understanding the darkest parts of our nature. He thought if we could know humanity at its worst, we would be able to imagine it at its best. The awful was a black, scrying mirror that showed us what good there could be by showing us the void that remained when it was gone. That’s what I’m offering to you here. The worst I can imagine and it’s clear to me that your press is the only one that would possibly publish it.
We are enemies. More to the point, I am your enemy. I am a Jew, just like my dad, just like like my mom and just like their parents stretching all the way back to the sacred Tablets that play a part in my book. I think I learned the lessons of history too well, absorbed them too deeply, they metastasized in my bones and left part of me sickened on the inside. What I wrote is a protoplasmic discharge, a disembodied knocking, of that disease.
From all I can tell of your readers, their favorite pastime is to both fantasize the death of my people, while at the same time denying the existence of a very real historical attempt to do just that, and if you read my book, you’ll see it slots right in to that delusion. I’m angry that nothing has ever come from me as easy or as cleanly as Midnight Mountain. I ashamed that I’m choosing vanity over decency. The truth is I’d rather collaborate with Jew-haters than bury what I’ve written. Read it or don’t. Publish it and complete the peh’shah or don’t, and leave me uncovered in my grave.
Obviously, Butler read the book, I’d imagine the email was too bizarre to pass up, probably what Sam intended. I had too look up the term peh’shah and it’s a word for sin in Judaism, but suggests an egregious, deliberate version, a direct defiance of God, an assault on the Throne.
I suppose it’s appropriate to end in a library. Writing about Samuel Levin has sometimes felt like a catalogue of libraries, and like all the others I’ve run across in his life – the stacks of books at the racist convention in Nashville – the boxes and shelves at Retrograde Press – the bookshelves in Sam’s childhood home, this collection of books in a reading room inside the Downtown Nashville Temple, is a reflection of its owners. The room is quiet and comfortably temperature controlled and the lighting is muted, outside the saffron puddles of light under the scattered reading lamps, surrounded by rows of intricately carved oaken bookshelves. Each book is bound in rich earth tones of leather or buckram with gilded Jewish script winking from their spines.
Rabbi Levinson wandered down a dimmed aisle while I waited for him at a reading table. He stopped midway, leaned down and pulled a volume from the shelf. He held it up as he walked back over, “The Genesis Rabbah, a midrash to the Book of Genesis.” He flipped through the pages looking for a particular section, found it with a satisfied huff and laid it down on the table on front of me, keeping his finger pointed at a specific section, “Here, this is where his dedication is derived from.”
I pulled the book towards myself and lined it up next to one of the signed copies of Sam’s book I’d taken from the Retrogade offices. Just above Sam’s signature was the book’s dedication: Blessed are you L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has released me from the punishment of this boy. Rabbi Levinson, the Temple’s senior Rabbi, had been there long enough to remember Sam and was still on friendly terms with his mother, who still attended Temple services frequently. He explained that this was the traditional prayer spoken by the father at a bar mitzvah as proscribed by Rabbi Tzadok in the Genesis Rabbah, he gently tapped the line on the page as he spoke. I thanked the Rabbi and asked if it would be alright to stay and browse the shelves for a little bit. He was happy to give me some time to work and takes notes or photos if I needed.
Once he left, I found I was having a hard time taking in the full meaning of the dedication, which had always eluded me until now and instead of looking through the Temple’s collection of accumulated ancestral wisdom, I pulled out the printed copies of the story Sam’s mother had let me photograph, Sam’s early juvenalia. I’d read it before now but in light of the dedication, I felt a deeper sympathy for the sad, confused little boy at the center of the story. I remembered Sam’s mother told me that he loved to take spools of thread from her sewing box when he was little. He’d run dozens of lengths of string from wall to wall in different heights and directions across his room over which he would zip-line his action figures for hours in little play-battles. Mrs. Levin remembered peeking in his door and watching him duck under and step over thread barriers as he made his way across his room, slowly bending and contorting his body to avoid knocking one down. Were Sam’s mind or heart any different?
Excerpt from an early short story titled My Father the Shoggoth, by Samuel Lewis (writing as Samuel Levin) – Used with the permission of the author’s mother.
The attic was hot. Of course, the attic was always hot in August, but it was the only place David could get any privacy from his parent’s prying eyes. As far as his mom knew, he was up here to look through the trunk that had belonged to his grandfather and had old uniforms, war medals, and some letters from his grandmother inside. Sometimes he liked to look through them. But that wasn’t why he was up here today. Today he needed the dormer window. He liked that he knew it was called that, a lesson his dad shared one especially hot Sunday digging around for his senior yearbook, in order to prove mom wrong about some bit of high school lore.
The window sat in its recess on the west end of the house and in the late afternoon the sun poured through like hot, orange snakes that slithered across and down through the gaps in the rough plank floor. David set down his armful of baseball card binders and trading magazines, camouflage for the manila envelope shoved between them, which he had pilfered from his dad’s desk while he was at work. A black stamp on the front read “Centennial Hospital”, next to a red one warning “Bo Not Bend” and that “Radiology Lab Results” were enclosed. His dad’s name was written in block letters across the top edge.
Time was getting short, his dad would be home any time now and David had to make sure to get the x-ray back before he noticed it was gone. When he slid it out of the envelope the image printed on the stiff plastic was undefined and cloudy, like a dark nebula at the edge of known space. He pulled some thumbtacks from his t-shirt pocket, which until recently had been holding up the bottom corners of his current favorite poster, depicting Lon Cheney’s Wolfman prowling through a foggy, moonlit forest. With them , he tacked up the x-ray, centering it in front of the choking heat of the attic window, which revealed the distinct outline of his father’s head.
And there they were. Seeking, scrabbling, stygian tentaculum. They were in there. In his head. Taking over his mind. He knew it and he welcomed them. His dad was lying to his mom. Probably the doctors were lying as well. There was no way they couldn’t see what David was seeing. He’d walked to the library, looked up brain tumors, he saw the picture in the encyclopedia.
This was different, there was a black blob in the middle of his head, it was true, and that was the cancer. That was what his mother was crying over every night. That’s what was supposedly giving his father the headaches and making him fall over at random times for no reason. But she hadn’t seen everything. There had been his dad’s face when he didn’t think anyone was looking. It looked conspiratorial. It looked welcoming and secretive. David knew his own father had made a deal with the dark entities outside time’s linearity and outside the sane walls of our reality.
His mind was the way. The cancer eating it from the inside out was not leaving behind a hole in his brain, it was opening a gate, a door to the outer realms beyond the edge of the universe. A black portal criss-crossed by the decayed remnants of his brain matter, like viscous strands of a spiderweb. David, looking at the translucently, illuminated icon of the twisted corridors worming their way through pale tissue, understood his father was willingly providing a path for eldritch entities to make the journey from their cursed lands to our world. He was letting them in, he was an eager harbinger and David was the only one who knew. It was then David realized that, for the sake of his sanity and his mother’s, he had to destroy his father the shoggoth!!
David Chad Hindman is an attorney and public defender in Nashville, TN. Besides writing and his family, he is committed to the struggle for equal justice, compassion, and dignity for all on a daily basis. His work has previously been published in Eclectica Magazine.