TV Brings Me Closer To The World
rating: +16+x

The fluorescent light flickered overhead, its high buzzing echoing on the blue tile. There was a drain in the center of the concrete floor. Some of the tiles looked newer than others.

The world is full of shapes, forms humming with meaning. Light twists and turns in front of Marlin, imparting its impossible secrets to him.

He has seen the face of God. Closeup on his mouth as blood seeps from a broken tooth over his cracked and sore-encrusted lips.

Marlin has seen a miracle. Not a moment of crowd psychosis in an overheated tent revival. Not an odd occurrence lent significance after the fact. A bona fide miracle, something that cannot possibly exist and yet does.

He knows the world cannot be the same. He doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. For the moment, he settles on silence.

Marlin's good wrist was handcuffed to a heavy metal table. Without noticing, he picked at the scabs covering his hands until they began to bleed. The blood was thin and pink.

He waited.

There is a God. Not one of insubstantial belief. Not of rotting flesh made perfect. A God of light. Pure and strong and direct. One who speaks to Marlin. Who loves him.

Finally, the two agents entered.

Outside of the dark of the Atlanta night, he could make them apart a bit better. Still interchangeable, but at least now they were individuals, instead of a single mass. Both were bulky, probably late middle age. One had red hair buzzed short and a sallow complexion. The other had receding black hair swept into an unconvincing comb-over.

The redhead dropped a folder on the middle of the table, his look daring Marlin to pick it up. When he didn't, the redhead scowled and sat down, his partner following suit a moment later.

For a minute, the two men simply sat there, glaring at Marlin, the empty seconds ticking by.

Suddenly, a coughing fit overtook Marlin. He doubled over, hacking up thick globules of phlegm onto his torn shirtsleeve.

It only took a few seconds, but it was already too late. Whatever atmosphere of intimidation they had been trying to summon had been shattered.

The dark-haired one sighed. "I'm Agent Semple, this is Agent McPherson," he began.

"We're with the FCC," said Agent McPherson in a flat voice.

Marlin gave a choked laugh.

McPherson continued, unfazed. "What can you tell us about Ion Popescu, alias Father Sunday?" he asked, "We know you came into possession of a video of his recently."

"Mr. Popescu is wanted on over three dozen charges, all serious," Semple said, "And anyone who has contact with him is, well, he's of interest to us."

Marlin isn't listening. The two fat men quack on, playing good cop bad cop, but all Marlin can see are their two bulky frames, like granite slabs.

Zoom in, pan between the faces of the two men. There is no light that escapes from them. Like the people on the television, at least before.

There is a god. There is a god. There is a god.

And his name is Father Sunday. He is the conation, and he speaks to Marlin through the air and through the light.

"So," said Semple, "Are you willing to assist us? We can make it worth your while."

"You can walk out of here today," McPherson offered, "We can even see to it that little rat hole you call a TV station gets a life-line."

Marlin stared at the two men, a blank expression on his face. They stared back, equally impassive. Finally, Marlin leaned back.

After a long silence, he spoke. "I don't think you guys are from the FCC," he said.

"Why you-" Semple lunged at him, thick veins bulging in his forehead. McPherson held him back, telling the agent to calm himself, apologizing to Marlin. Marlin gave a phlegmy cackle as Semple tried break free.

A sound came over the commotion. The two agents paused, their ears perked.

A distant bark. Two, three.

The agents withdrew from one another. Both reached beneath their jackets, each pulling a meaty-looking gun. They made their way to the door, both peaking through the narrow reinforced window.

"Don't move an inch," Semple growled, pointing at Marlin. Marlin lifted his arm, displaying the handcuff locked around his right wrist.

McPherson motioned to Semple, who nodded. With a rush, McPherson threw open the door and darted into the hallway, just out of Marlin's view. A split second later, a bark and a spray of red against the door.

The body of McPherson toppled awkwardly against the door frame, what remained of his head lolling towards Marlin.

"Je-" Semple gasped, hand covering his mouth. Before he could finish, another bark, this one closer. The gunshot echoed and rebounded off the cheap tile of the cramped interrogation room.

Semple's neck burst red, knocking him back into the room. His eyes remained opened, uncomprehending, as he fell to the floor and was still.

There is a god. There is a god.

There is a ringing in Marlin's ears that fills everything. Pan to the bodies. He knows he should feel something, but as he looks at their bulky forms, the thick red already beginning to pool beneath them, all he can see is shapes.

There came a voice from the hallway. "Marlin?"

Marlin cocked his head. He recognized the voice. "Paul?"

The barrel of a rifle poked around the frame of the door. A moment later, Marlin saw the face of CIVIL-TV's long-time technician appear in the doorway. His face was covered in a fine mist of red spatters, the blood on his coke bottle glasses catching in the fluorescent light.

For the first time since he had seen the face of God, Marlin was dumbfounded. As he grasped incoherently at words, Paul stuck his head out the door. "Here!" Without waiting for a response, he began to dig in the pockets of the dead shapes.

Several seconds later, a second figure appeared in the doorway, holding another rifle. As Marlin registered the face of Jeanine, his secretary, his mind went fully blank. He stopped trying to even babel and stared at the door once again, half expecting to see Mr. Ansley, his high school shop teacher.

After a moment , Paul approached triumphantly, a key in his hand. Slung over his should was an old messenger bag. With a click, Marlin felt the lock against his wrist fall away. As the handcuff clicked open, a block disappeared from Marlin's mind.

"Paul?" he asked, recognizing the insanity of the situation, "Jeanine? How-?"

Jeanine shook her head and rolled up her sleeve. The flesh above her wrist was knotted with sores, several of them crusted and cracked, exposing the muscle and bone beneath. The wounds wept something thicker than pus.

"Do you really think that you were the only person who ever saw the tape? That saw the broadcast?" she asked "How do you think the kid got into your office?" There was an edge to her questions, but no tone of malice.

Paul smiled. "For years, Marlin," he said, anticipating the next question, "That's why I followed you from ABN - I knew that sooner or later, you'd find a tape - the tape. I saw the original broadcast - we both did - and could feel it speaking, guiding us." He reached into his satchel and emerged with a tape. The tape, the one with the spidery lettering.

"Sarkic Sermons."

Jump cut to Marlin's face, bruised and crusted with dried blood. He hears the words, but they do not matter. His eye, bloodshot and twitching, meets with Paul's. He can see wondrous things, see that Paul is another soul seeking perfection. The light dances in his eyes, and Marlin understands perfectly.

There is an argument that will be broadcast. Two men, both ignorant, wading through the mire. Each will claim to have the answer on how to blossom the nation. But they will not - they only have the tools of flesh, chained to space. People will be watching, their eyes wide and their minds open, seeking to know the answers.

Marlin knows that he must show the people the true answer. A word beyond corruption. One which he and Jeanine and Paul are so tantalizingly close to. Their bodies, diseased and dying, the only things holding them back. Ready to rot off altogether, leaving only clear, direct light.

Close up to Jeanine's eyes, crinkled in joy.

"I knew you'd understand," she said.

"C'mon," Paul said, jerking his head towards the door, "we saved something for you."

As he made his way to the door, Marlin leaned down and took the gun off of one of the two shapes that had once threatened him. He held it unsteadily in his right hand.

The trio made their way down twisting cinderblock hallways, some decorated with shapes and spatters. Eventually, they came to an unmarked office with the door ajar.

Inside, a man lay on the floor, clenching his gut. The blood had soaked through his shirt and jacket. He groaned, his eyes screwed shut. His legs scrabbled feebly against the air.

Marlin recognized him.

Lazslo Vadasz.

The man who found tapes. The one who had pleaded with Marlin to walk away. The only person besides Paul and Jeanine and the kid who knew about the Father Sunday tapes at all.


"He tried to run, but we couldn't let anyone escape," Jeanine said, matter-of-factly, "You understand."

Marlin nodded and crouched down next to his long-time associate. "Hey Vadasz," he said. The name tasted ancient on his tongue, like some language learned and forgotten a lifetime ago.

Vadasz's eyes flickered open. "M-Marlin?" he asked. His voice was weak and hollow. There was barely see any light in them.

Marlin smiled. "Yeah, it's me," he said. After several fumbling attempts, he cocked back the hammer on the pistol.

"I know you were working for the shapes, Vadasz," Marlin said. He aimed the pistol at Vadasz's head, just below the ear.

Vadasz wheezed and tried to whisper something. Marlin spoke over him. "But it's okay, Vadasz. I forgive you."

Marlin cradled Vadasz's head in his bad hand, gripping him tightly.

"I forgive you. And I love you," he said, "And Father Sunday loves you too."

Vadasz began to shake, his eyes locked on the gun at the corner of his vision. "Marlin, n-"

The blast tore through the small room, almost rupturing Marlin's eardrums. Jeanine and Paul winced.

What remained of Vadasz's skull spasmed. For a few seconds, thick tumors began to bloom, then died back just as quickly.

Far above, Marlin sees a spirit, flying free from its rotting body. It dances and twinkles against the lights of the city before joining with a thousand million others in a place up, up beyond this world.

Close up to Marlin's bloody smile as he lovingly lays down Vadasz's corpse.

There is a god.

"We should go," Jeanine said.

As they drove down Peachtree, Marlin's mind hummed. He knew the plan instinctively - go to ABN, broadcast the sermon. But Marlin also knew that plans fell through, that there were always unforeseen problems. Some abstracted part of him, from the days before, tried to account for possible complications.

Every time he tried to narrow in on a specific thought, he began to feel fuzzy. Some combination of head trauma, pills, tumors, adrenaline, and ecstasy kept him from focusing. Paul was driving, chain smoking and flicking butts into the night. Jeanine stared into the distance ahead, murmuring to herself and nodding.

A thought flitted across Marlin's mind. He tried for several seconds to let it go, but found it would not leave. Finally, as they paused at a red light, he stuck his head between the front seats.

"You saw the broadcast- what was it? Did you see Father Sunday?"

Paul stopped mid-drag. Jeanine didn't turn to look at Marlin, but her lips stopped moving. She glanced out the corner of her eye.

More silence.

The car started again as the traffic light flipped to green. Jeanine shook her head, then opened her mouth.

"It was beauty," she said before turning to look out the window. She began to cough, trying to cover it with her hand.

Marlin's mind goes back to the shapes in the cement hallway. He recalls his death-soaked life. The voices of the chorus, of the congregation call to him, worming into his thoughts and illuminating them. He can feel their joy, and it is his own.

Paul nodded. "What we saw was what we needed to see."

"Yeah, but do you know it originally was? What was filmed? What was the sermon?"

He glanced at Marlin, tensed, then turned back. "Doesn't matter. It is what it is, what it became, that's important. You know that." Jeanine began to hack.

Marlin sat, formulating protests, then realized that it was pointless. They were past questions now, anyhow.

He slumped in the seat and began to pick at the fingers of his left hand. The skin shredded like tissue paper beneath his nails. There was no blood that welled from the wounds, only the muscles and tendons. Had his body always been like this? So distant and fragile?

As he wondered, Paul pulled up to the ABN lot. "Rock and roll," he said, thumping the side of the van. In his hand, he shook the tape, eliciting a hollow rattle.

The trio had pulled up to a service entrance, one Marlin recognized from smoke breaks a hundred thousand lifetimes ago. Sure enough, the cement floors outside the entrance reeked of acrid smoke.

Jeanine was about to push open the door when she began to cough. A wheezing rattle, then something more, as if she wanted to expel everything. She doubled over as she hacked out putrid air.

Something large fell from her mouth, landing on the cement with a slick thud. Deep red with white streaks, it twitched on the floor, then began to wither and rot. Jeanine looked up and smiled through teeth dripping with blood. Paul clapped her on the back, a grin on his face. Marlin stared at the crumbling mess before pushing open the door.

Long angle shot of the concrete hallway. Around and within and along the white-painted cinderblock walls freewheel countless members of the congregation, their spirits free from the bodies that once imprisoned them. Their faces are too numerous to count, too joyous to behold. Marlin aches to join them.

Marlin, Jeanine, and Paul stride down the hall. Jeanine's cough is still rattling in her chest. At the far end of the hallway, Marlin sees a shape. Something heavy and fleshy. Without breaking stride, he raises the gun and fires. The shape starts, a hole opening up in the wall beside it. He takes another shot. The shape opens the door and skitters inside, into the news room.

The screaming was audible even before they reached the door. Muffled clattering, yells. Furniture toppling.

Paul moved ahead and kicked open the door leading into the ABN newsroom. The layout was different from when he had left, cubicles shuffled into new lanes, glass-walled meeting rooms made into offices and offices into meeting rooms. The wall of televisions, tuned to ABN stations across the country was still there, at least.

There were screams and gunshots as the three of them entered, but Marlin didn't hear them. It had been so easy to get caught up in the shuffle of everything before. His nose always to the ground, seeking seeking another story another promotion another edge, he had never noticed how high the ceiling went, up far into the distance until it vanished into inky black.

Only the wall of TV's followed up into the black, a thin white line of information and love travelling into infinity, piercing the dark, immutable and immaculate. He looked into the television sets, all of them all at once.

There is a god, there is a god, there must be a god, there is a god, and he is looking at Marlin, Father Sunday sees Marlin and Marlin sees the congregation, laughing, their faces joyous. He sees Vadasz and the boy from the video and a hundred thousand others passing like ghosts through the signal. Marlin wants to weep. At the beauty he sees. At the beautiful thing he will become - no longer Marlin or Jeanine or Paul, but something sacred and immaculate. At the beautiful thing they are going to do, an act of love - of true, unrestrained compassion.

The screens flash. They flip to the scene unfolding in front of Marlin - Paul and Jeanine crouched down, trading fire with the lone security guard. Several bodies sprawled on the floor. One shot, two, three rip through Paul's stomach, pulverizing his guts into a slurry of blood and flesh and bile. He gives a strangled groan, but does not stop shooting. Zoom in on his face, focus on the sweat beading up almost immediately.

Marlin moved between the cubicles, keeping his head down. He could feel the light suffuse him and guide him. Craning his neck out from the corner, Marlin saw the side of the security guard, his attention still affixed to Jeanine and Paul. Slowly, so slowly, he made way to the guard. He cocked the hammer on the pistol.

Interior shot, Marlin's soul. He can feel himself dissolving, soaking in the triumphal beauty of the congregation. They know all, and can never steer him wrong.

Just then, someone pulled the fire alarm. The walls lit up with a thrumming light, rancid-smelling water spraying from overhead. The shrieking of the alarm reverberated off of the infinite walls of the news room. The guard started and turned his head, catching a glimpse of Marlin. He twisted around, gun raised.

They both pulled the trigger. A split second later, Marlin felt something eat through him.

The guard's throat bloomed red as he stood there, his face frozen in idiotic surprise. His gun clattered to the floor, and he held onto a cubicle wall to support himself. Marlin lined up another shaky shot. This one tore through the man's head. The man crumpled into a shape on the floor.

The congregation whorls about, ravenously joyful.

Marlin looked down. A perfect circle began to grow and expand fractally from his chest onto the damp fabric of his shirt. The pain was dull and distant, as if it were happening to someone else.

He turned to Jeanine and Paul. Paul, propped up against one of the cubicles, weakly trying to hold his guts inside of him. His face was ashen, and his whole body seemed to shudder with every breath. Water gathered at nose and chin, accumulated into a drop, then fell. He stared into the middle distance.

Jeanine was dead. At first, Marlin thought it had been a gunshot. As he staggered closer, he saw the lesions, muscle and bone torn apart. The water sputtered and turned to steam as it touched her skin, mottled with tumors.

Paul looked up at Marlin. "I saw," he began, then seemed to lose track of his words.

Marlin crouched down beside his friend. Paul's lips trembled. There was fear in his eyes.

"I saw," he said again, gripping at Marlin's shirt with a blood-slicked hand.

Then Paul's eyes saw nothing. The shape of his body slumped over. Marlin knew there was no prayer that would compare with what he was about to do, what they would do, but even so, he prayed for Paul.

He grabbed the cassette tape of the Sermons from Paul's bag and lurched towards the control room.

Cut to Marlin's soul. Bright and luminous and perfect. Aching to be free, to free others in a final show of compassion and love.

He is a soul. He has a body.

A body with a collapsed lung and a shattered wrist. One rotting from the inside out, unravelling with each step. The physical body cannot stand prolonged contact with true reality, he thinks.

Father Sunday and his face, the face of the congregation, it had awakened something long-dead in him.

The true Marlin, numinous and bright and perfect in every way.

Just as he would do for the viewers, the people beholding the entire truth for the first time.

The congregation wraps around him, snaking around each limb, each inch of flesh. It is weightless, yet impossibly strong.

With each step, Marlin could feel his body decay. Tissue became thick, then wetted with rot. Scars and old wounds opened up. He could feel his flesh pulse as thick tumors emerged all over his body.

His cracked and bleeding lips spread a smile full of disintegrating teeth. He held the only physical thing that mattered. The gateway to the congregation.

As he shambled to the control room, he could feel it warp and distend in his grip. Like it was too much to be held. The cassette heated up, searing the tattered flesh of Marlin's fingertips. He was past the point of noticing.

Finally, he reached the control room. The debate of the two men was still ongoing.

President Reagan smiles, shakes his head. Cut to Mondale, frowning. Cut back to Reagan.

"Marlin," Reagan says.

The glass screens blink. They see the tape. The truth. They need it. The cassette slot on the control station yawns hungrily.

Marlin had to lean against the console to support himself now. At some distant point, some distant part of him had worked these controls. It felt like coming home.

He didn't hear the police enter. He didn't listen to their commands. All of Marlin's world was this one simple and final action.

The VHS tape clicked into the console.

For a split second, there is Ronald Reagan, mid-quip. Then the screen goes blank.

The congregation. Brought direct into a million households.

The police officers yelled, their words thick and slow like molasses. Even if he had wanted to understand them, Marlin couldn't have.

Marlin felt the bullet burn through his chest before he even heard the bang. Then another, and another. The monitors behind him shattered one by one, sputtering sparks as they burst.

His body was dead before it hit the floor. One of the cops pumped an extra four rounds into it just to be sure.

Up up, long delirious burning blue, a thing that had once been associated with the body of Marlin Wexler laughs and wheels, free and glowing.

It flies into the warm embrace of a glowing glass thing it had called the congregation, but is not called that. What had once been attached to Marlin Wexler laughs as it is burned away, united. There is only the thing that is not called the congregation, moving into a million souls more.

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