Now Reading


by Tim Rousseau

Now you have conceived and shall bear a son; you shall call him Ishmael, for the Lord has given heed to your affliction.” 

The young boy goes to bed and kisses his mother goodnight. He goes to bed and closes his eyes and wishes his family good sleep. He goes to bed again and wishes he could not but he is only six years old and must go to sleep because his mother says he must. Likewise, he goes to school even though he knows his teachers are liars.  

“Mother,” he says one day, “tell me about my brother.” 

“I will not,” she says. And that is the end of it, but the boy knows it won’t really be the end of it forever. The boy goes to bed and dreams of beasts and bodies and himself among them, flittering between flames and wreckage.

When they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the bottomless pit will make war on them and conquer them and kill them, and their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city that is prophetically called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.”

The young boy wakes in the night from a nightmare. He runs to his mother’s bedroom and screams in terror.

“Mother, I feel like I’m dying.”  

“You’re not dying.”  

“I feel like I am.”  

“It was just a bad dream.”  

“In the dream I was dying.”  

“How would you know what dying feels like? How do you know what dying is? You’re six.”  

The boy does not have a good answer to this and so goes back to bed and returns to his  dreams of dying. 

Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come.” 

The boy plays on the floor of the living room with his action figures of God and the prophets and other important things while his mother reads her tabloids on the couch. “When will we see Father again?” the boy asks.

“You’re interrupting my reading,” his mother says. “We’ll see him soon enough.”

“What are you reading about?”  

“You’ll understand when you’re older and wiser.”  

The boy wants to protest, but isn’t old enough or wise enough and so returns to his action figures.  

Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age, at the time of which God had spoken to him.” 

The day is again over and the boy again goes to sleep, though he protests fiercely until his mother carries him and places him under the covers.  

“If I go to sleep,” the boy says, “I’ll die again.”  

“You’ve never died before. How would you die again?” 

“How do you know?”  

“Because I’m your mother and I know these things.”  

“Have you ever died before?”  

“No, I have not.”  

“Then how do you know?”  

“Because I know death. Now, go to sleep.”  

The boy does not know how his mother could know death and not have died herself before. She may as well know what the sun feels like without ever having gone outside. Only, death is not like the sun. Instead it is cold and somber and he could not play with his action figures.  

For three and a half days members of the peoples and tribes and languages and nations will gaze at their dead bodies and refuse to let them be placed in a tomb; and the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth.”

On a fresh morning, the boy sits at his desk in his teacher’s classroom and listens to the lecture of the day. The other students eagerly focus on the old man standing by the chalkboard while the boy doodles pictures of another young boy with eyes closed and arms crossed. 

“Young man, what are you doodling there while I teach you knowledge of the world that is of the utmost importance?”  

“This is a picture of my older brother.”

“And why are you doodling a picture of your brother while I teach you knowledge of the world that is of the utmost importance?”  

“Because I want to know what he looks like.”  

“How can you draw a picture if you do not know what the thing you are drawing looks like?”

“I asked him and this is how he told me to draw him.”  

“It looks like he’s dead.”  

“He is dead.”  

The rest of the boy’s class snickers as their teacher grows frustrated with the boy’s flagrant lack of respect for his authority.  

“I am teaching you knowledge of the world that is of the utmost importance. Put your doodles away and pay attention to me.”  

“You are not teaching me knowledge of the world that is of the utmost importance. I already know what is of the utmost importance.”  

“Now that’s enough. Put that away and listen to my lecture.”  

The boy puts away his papers and listens to his teacher’s lecture but does not pay attention. He is thinking of his brother and things that are of the utmost importance.  

The beast that you saw was, and is not, and is about to ascend from the bottomless pit and go to destruction. And the inhabitants of the earth, whose names have not been written in the book of life from the foundations of the world, will be amazed when they see the beast, because it was and is not and is to come.”

The boy sits in the office of the counselor in a small, plastic chair that does not feel as comforting as the counselor’s voice implies it should.

“Your teacher tells me you’re drawing pictures of your brother in class when you’re supposed to be listening.”  

“I wanted to know what he looks like.”  

“Do you miss him?”  

“No, he died before I was born.”  

“Doesn’t your mother have any pictures of him?”  

“She doesn’t want me to know him. But I do, even though she doesn’t want me to.”

“How do you know him?”  

“By drawing pictures of him.”  

The counselor takes down some notes while the boy watches. The counselor scowls in a thoughtful manner while looking between the young boy sitting in a plastic chair in his office and the notebook in which he is referring the boy to a psychiatrist for further evaluation. 

3 ½ 
The beast was given a mouth uttering haughty and blasphemous words, and it was allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months. It opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven.” 

In a new office, and in a much more comfortable chair, the boy talks with a middle-aged woman who reminds him of his mother, except she has more letters listed after her name than his mother does.

“Tell me why you’re drawing pictures of your brother.”  

“Because I want to know what he looks like.”  

“You know him but you don’t know what he looks like?”  

“I only know him. I don’t know what he looks like.”  

“Does he tell you what to draw?”  

“No, I know what to draw.”  

The middle-aged woman who is now the young boy’s therapist squints through the beginning of age-induced presbyopia.  

“Do you know how he died?”  

“Father decided it was time.”  

“Your mother tells me they died together. They hit a tree.” 

The boy scowls and tries to make sense of this revelation. It does not sit well with the prior stories and he realizes she must be lying. But she is not one of his teachers and so can not be lying. He works through this conflict of thoughts.  

“Do you ever feel like your father has abandoned you?” she says to break up the silence.

“No, he made a mistake.”  

“What was that mistake?”  

“Taking my brother. But I am making up for it.”  

“How are you making up for it? Do you feel like you are responsible for carrying on his legacy?”  

The boy does not know how to answer his therapist’s question and remains silent. He is put off by the prying and is tired and desires to return to sleep and remove himself from them. He does not believe she is trying to save him from the cold and somber death.

3 ½ 
But after the three and a half days, the breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and those who saw them were terrified.” 

The boy is tired and goes to sleep and dreams again of dying, and he again wakes with a start in an escape from the cold and somber. He goes to his mother and wakes her.

“I can’t sleep.”  

“Go back to bed and try.”  

“I feel like I’m dying.” 

“You’re not dying.”  

“I feel like I am.”  

The boy’s mother sits up in bed and slides out from under the covers. She takes the boy’s hand and guides him back to his own room, pulling the sheets and blankets up over his body.

“I don’t want to die.”  

“You won’t die anytime soon. It’s time for bed.”  

The boy’s mother leaves him to his sleep. He returns to the beasts and bodies flittering around flames and the cold and somber death awaiting him. Through the night he wakes and does not remember who or where he is. His brother takes his hand and comforts him and walks with him to a river cutting through pastures and slaking their thirst. His brother takes him into the river and upstream toward a blinding light reflecting along the crystalline waters.

Tim Rousseau’s stories have appeared in The Atherton Review, After the Pause, and Newport Life Magazine. Additionally, several of his screenplays have been made into award-winning films, and his travel writing has won a Solas Award. He lives in Eastern Pennsylvania with his wife, and more of his work can be found at here.