TIHSON

THE ATHEIST BIBLE

Chpt 1 - Chpt 2 - Chpt 3 - Chpt 4

A month of reflection and panic created this book, my infamous literary masterbation. It was cathartic to write, and whatever it can offer you as a reader, it is my sincerest hope you can find within it some personal epiphonies of your own.

We are long past the time we can pretend our past isn't destroying our future. Welcome to The Atheist Bible.

CHAPTER 1 - JULY 5TH

"Forgiveness is not a unique or absolute product of the religious mind."

I've come to see this as my first atheist thought. That's important, because I think it killed my wife.

The sun is coming up, and I've been awake for two days. There is a park outside my hospital window, a wide rolling field dotted with oaks and maples, and even with my limited vision it is very pastoral in this summer weather. I can also see a large branch, it's bark thick from age, swinging gently in the breeze. The tree itself is out of my line of sight, but it must be very close to the building as the foliage is nearly touching the glass. Its leaves are a vivid, living green, and they accent the more sombre and earthy greens of the grass beyond. If what the doctors tell me is true, I'll be here long enough to watch those leaves change. Fall will come, and on such majestic old trees as these, the colours will probably be spectacular. I'm not in too much pain right now, as long as I don't move. I suppose that isn't a big surprise considering the amount of drugs they've been feeding me, and that's nice. To be able to disconnect from the pain and just heal.

They tell me the car was totalled. They tell me I'm lucky to be alive.

Four ribs shattered. Both legs and my right arm in traction, with my hand looking like a science experiment. My jaw is wired shut, and my face feels swollen and hot. I'm guessing the bandages on my head do nothing to hide the fact I probably look like a ghoul. The list goes on. Internal bleeding, and a line of stitches along my hip that will leave a truly manly scar. I was told they removed an impressive collection of junk from a hole punched into me just above my pelvis, and when I asked what it was, they said it appeared to be the contents of the glove box.

The glove box. In my guts.

I try to lean over, I want to see if my one good arm can reach the water, and a searing pain tears up my spine. Of course the cup is just beyond my reach on the day table. I'm guessing the wheels are really slick, because I've noticed it moves all over the room as the day wears on. From the moment I woke up yesterday I haven't been able to reach it. They've pinned the call button to my sheets near my good hand, and after some fumbling, I trigger it to see if I can summon a nurse or an aide to help me get a drink. For the briefest moment I dream, allowing my head to wander back in time. Just a moment.

She did it on purpose. I'm broken and she did it on purpose.

The bright red light blinks reassuringly above my head to let me know the call button has been activated, and I lay unwillingly on my back, thinking bedsore thoughts, as I begin the wait. I am now officially meat, and I have been since I arrived. A warm sack of formerly human goo that makes noises and leaks at various times of the day and night. The management of the leaks, the wrappings, the weights and the pillows - that's the job of the hospital. I won't be human again until some time after I leave this place, this horrible, terrible place I need so much, which they assure me will actually happen. Until then I am maintained and managed.

As time passes, the call light remains busy just beyond my sight. I know this from its reflection on the thirty-year-old traction rig, the tubes alternating from industrial grey to industrial pink, and my mind sinks deeper into this dreamy blank state. I'm floating and waiting. The drugs in my heart making my love for myself personal. I watch the light tinker with the clock, and it just keeps flashing, steady and perfect, while I imagine watching the nurses ferry syringes to and fro. Back and forth. Fill the syringe and empty the syringe. Rush to the desk and fill out a form, while the light beckons to them from the console.

I am room 4b. I know my light is blinking at them over drugs and pens, while papers witness the time passing and I'm still afloat in my room, anxious and waiting to get a drink from my wandering table. I've been awake for two days, and the routine of being a passive patient has asserted itself so strongly, I don't even think to question it. I am pliant. I do as I'm told. I wait for what I need, and if I'm lucky they will bring me drugs. I'm not in too much pain, as long as I don't move, but yesterday when I first woke up, I was. Great pain. It was so large and so vast, I wanted to use colours to describe it. Nothing mattered to me but the pain, and as I think these thoughts my little red light keeps distracting me, insisting I watch its repetitive boredom on the traction bars over my head. With a jarring suddenness it occurs to me the pain will return, in fact I can feel it trying, and my call light becomes a bit more important. I'm thirsty, and as I look at my sterile room, I hope they remember to give me my pain meds as well. My drugs. Mine, and I want them to know it. I want a drink, and I'm in pain, and I'm becoming afraid.

What has she done to me?

Nothing you didn't ask for ... nothing you didn't deserve.”

I loved her. What the hell am I supposed to do now?

I'm going back again. Time is contracting and I'm trying not to see. The green walls are bare, save for the tubes and connectors and lights all hospital rooms seem to need, and I'm trying not to think how I ended up in this bed, afraid of a pain I can feel creeping towards me from the shadows, unable to remember a time when I was brave.

I think I killed my wife, and for my trouble she tried to kill me back.

You did not kill me, you saved me, and I tried to save you.

I really need to get out of this hospital. I'm not going to survive it. The drugs are keeping me alive, but they feel like they're killing me to do it.

I've been awake for two days, and I don't want to remember my life. I wish I could fall back into my bed, to float and not care, but the light hurts my head, and I'm feeling time pass more urgently. It's like I've just walked into a room, interrupting a fist fight. The vibrating tension in the air is shaking my broken bones and I don't understand why. I wish the light would stop. I wish my wife had not tried to kill me. I wish I could find my time. I can't feel my feet, and my legs look too large.

The sun is shining through the window, and the trees in the park remain bright and beautiful. Persistently normal. I can feel the panic rising, and I try to listen to the outdoors. Something from reality that can help me stay sane. These rough hospital blankets are smothering me, and I strain to hear through the window. Glass lets in the light, but I need a sound, any sound. On the branch I can see a small yellow bird. I want to hear it sing. I look closer and I can see its small beak move, but no sound accompanies the motion. Focus on the bird, I tell myself, watch it sway on the branch and watch the beak. The motion of sound. The look of sound. I know it exists, because I've heard it before.

With effort, I find I can hear him singing.

The faint song isn't able to easily penetrate this room's convalescent fog, but I've brought as much of it in as I can, and I won't let go. The light keeps its anxious time over my head and I hear a bird on a branch outside my window. He's chirping. The bird is a Yellow Warbler. Dendroica Petechia. A male. I don't know how I know this, but I trust the knowledge and refer to him as he in my mind. I have him in my head, holding onto the real world by seeing him speak. The hint of the sound is keeping the call light away from me. I can't see it anymore and suddenly I'm a bit safer.

I feel a small bravery trying to return to me, and the joy of its arrival makes me larger. I take a slightly deeper breath.

A gun goes off in my chest and I stop everything. My heart. My lungs. My blood and my bile. I stop it all to allow my body to live through the pain my deep breath has somehow triggered. The bird is gone. My courage is gone. I'm once again cowering and alone, and the jarring red curse, endlessly counting the seconds over my head, is going to make me scream.

This is your reward. Your atonement. Your lack of faith has angered God and you are being punished!

Enough! Stop!” I yell at her through the grotesque remains of my lips, but the pain and the wires reduce my effort to choked whispers.

"Nurse!" I try to yell. A croaking wad of steaming meat makes a splashing noise.

There is no God. There are no gods. I cry to the walls and the blankets, silently screaming my pain into the universe as I tell my bird companion the gods are not real, and it will need to deal with its bird life alone, and I'm crying because knowing doesn't make the pain go away.

The nurse walks in to find me quietly sobbing. In between sobs I'm muttering incoherently to myself, at least to her, and she reaches over my trapped body and turns off the call light. A part of me senses its absence, but I can't stop feeling my heart beating, caged in my chest. She glances at her watch and makes a note in my chart while I gurgle next to her. I open my eyes a bit wider and see she is lifting my blanket, probably to check my bandages. I can see her face, that passive face of the common action, and I watch as it changes in front of me. She sees what I see, I know it. She sees there are no gods to save us anymore, and she feels her own panic rising. It's right there in her eyes. My blanket falls from her hand and I feel better knowing I'm not alone. I can feel my body floating in the bed, a soft cotton sphere. She reaches for me and we console ourselves in the warmth, a wash of love coursing through me. I love everything. I don't care about the past anymore. I killed my wife, and for that she tried to kill me and now she's dead. My wife is dead, and I am in love with the universe in the arms of my nurse, as I bleed through my bandages and into my slowly filling lungs.

CHAPTER 2 - JULY 7TH

My home. I have a home.

The night is quiet on the ward and my hearing is improving. The curtains are drawn on my window in the evenings because the lights illuminating the parking lot make it hard for patients to sleep. Without the view, I find the time passes more quickly thinking. Laying in bed with my wide thoughts keeping me company, and during this selfish time it just now occurs to me, I have a home, a home full of life, and I'm not there to take care of it.

It's an old two story brownstone full of plants, two large tanks of the fish and corals I've been nurturing for years, and a young cat I've been sharing dependency issues with. The cat's name is Franklin, and I named him that for no better reason than it popped into my head looking at him for the first time. He's an especially beautiful animal, at least I think so, with shortish hair that's nearly perfectly black. Franklin has always been healthy, but I've been here for about seven days, and he can't get out to forage for food while I'm gone.

"Franklin will starve ... help him ..." The sound of my broken voice grates my ears, and the words are unrecognizable. My soul feels stained. I think of my fish in their large saltwater tanks. Marine tanks. Hard to maintain, and not something any random person can walk into the house and check. Salt levels, protein levels, light levels, heat levels, acid levels, every level has to be perfect or the minute ecosystem of the tank dies. The fish die. The corals die. Even the damn rocks die if I'm not watching everything like a hawk. It's been seven days, and I suspect even with professional help I might have already lost them - and then I remember that until now I hadn't even given them a thought.

I feel like I've betrayed them. Franklin and my nameless fish.

Franklin is not a large cat, but I haven't left any food out I can remember, so I know he is suffering. The thought crushes me, and in my head I see myself getting up, and with courage beyond my species, I make my way home. He sees me crawling up the cold stone steps, with bandages trailing behind me and blood in my eyes, and his look of appreciation is there, right there in the window, and I see it. We have connected, and we share the feeling of joy together, because I've saved him from certain death, and he loves me for it.

A patient cries in the room next to me and I realize I'm dreaming.

Five days of torture. They tell me my body is healing, and I'm being dragged along for the wretched ride in spite of myself, but I know my mind is toppled. I don't trust my eyes or my heart. I can't stop my mental wandering. One minute I hope the pain meds are coming, and the next I try to forget what Hellen looks like.

Hellen is my wife.

My wife tried to kill me.

Hellen tried to kill me.

Now she won't leave me alone.

It's too much, way too much emotion and I start to sob again. After the incident two days ago, every movement is dangerous - they still haven't figured out what collapsed my right lung and caused me to tear my stitches. They will soon; they've assured me they have been working on arranging the operating theatre and the proper specialists to make it happen, but until then I have to keep as still as possible so I don't start the bleeding again.

I wake up short of breath, and they drain the fluid out of my lung with a tube.

The sobs will go away soon, as they have before, and the fear I feel in the darkest part of my consciousness is helping put them down. Hellen is the topic I can't touch. She's the golden dagger, and my still-beating heart her sacrificial target. I just hope I'm not insane.

The walls are dark and the ward is quiet. The patient in the room next to me was electrocuted while moving a stove in his home, and the electricity blew off a part of his leg. The cries I hear from him coincide with my own constrained agonies, as we both weep, inside and out, for the coming of the pain killers. Our lives are being lived in four-hour increments, and the woozy sleep of narcotic lust is what we are each trying to achieve. His cry a few minutes ago makes me wonder if we are due, but I'm not feeling much discomfort, and I wonder if perhaps there is something other than physical suffering making him yell.

I am alone in my room and the past is making me cry, making me feel I've lost what little mind I have left. Perhaps my neighbour is alone as well, and if there are demons who feed on our singular visions in time, could they be at him too?

We are all God's children, and we will all be saved.

Hearing her voice, I feel my body attempt to run a chill down my spine, but the damaged parts of me are holding so tightly to control, the chill is stifled. I can feel my jaw is trying to hold the tension in spite of the pain it's bringing to me, and although I can't tell, I fully expect I'm grinding my teeth. How much does it take to chip a tooth with your jaw wired shut? Will it hurt?

The lives in my charge take back my thoughts, and I remember I'm facing a problem.

How am I going to get help for my cat and my fish, when I can't even speak?

I reach up slowly with my good arm and try to grab hold of the nurse's chart. It is sitting on the edge of that fucking rolling table, and if I can just get hold of it perhaps I can write something down. The effort is more painful than I expected though, and although I can get my hand up to the chart, I don't have the strength to grasp it. The drugs and the damage have made me so weak I can't even hold the pen, so I slowly lift and drop my blunted arm in an effort to move the chart closer. I imagine an observer would see my efforts as feeble, but to me I'm a superhero. I keep lifting my arm, the pain in my side burning away my reason and logic, and the hand I know belongs to me keeps opening. My fingers rest softly on the board, and each time they make the trip I cheer inside, but it's a sham. They are simply resting against the papers. Resting against the thin aluminum of the clipboard. When I try to pull them down my fingers slide off, leaving no trace. My skin is as dry as the papers I've been trying to move, and they aren't able to generate enough friction to tease my goal anywhere nearer to me.

My mind cracks slightly as I repeat this futile dance.

I'm so weak. How can I live like this? I'm trapped in this broken shell while my whole world slowly dies. I don't want to hurt them. I don't want to return home to an abattoir of my failures. Franklin has done nothing wrong, so why does my injury have to hurt him? My wife tried to kill me, and instead she killed my cat.

She killed my fish.

She killed my plants and my home.

She killed my world.

There is no death, only rebirth. If your world is dead, it is because you killed it.

I take a shallow breath and try not to think about it. I stop trying to get the clipboard and allow my arm to return to my side. Betrayed by my own body. Utterly betrayed. I hate myself in a way I don't remember ever experiencing before. If I could, I would hit myself. I would ball up my one good fist and smash myself into the oblivion I deserve.

Crush the mind that can't see past my truth. Crush the heart that would have me dead. Crush the weakness I am. Just crush the whole thing. I want to leave. I want to die.

What have I done to deserve this hell? What did I say to Hellen that made her do this to me?

But, I know what I did. I told her the truth, and it made her insane.

I fall backwards in time and remember the recent close call with my stitches, and I realize for the first time even if I had managed to get my hand around the water glass, I wouldn't have been able to drink from it. I was not in any condition to do it.

That was the kind of truth Hellen faced, only instead of the truth of water, she was faced with the truth of her soul.

I told my wife she didn't exist, and she believed me. Her death was nothing more than a prophecy of self, fulfilled.

CHAPTER 3 - JULY 9TH

Part of me remembers the real world. The world of logic and love. The place I used to rest my head when I was tired, the place where I used to run in the rain. I'm getting stronger, just a little, and as I do, part of me wants to return to the place outside of here.

Outside of my annihilation.

There isn't any real comfort in my life, unless I count the artificial love of the drugs. I'm not happy or positive. As I watch the world outside live its life without me, I'm holding on to the hope the doctors are telling the truth, that I'll eventually make a full recovery. They say they can justify such optimism simply because all of my injuries are minor when viewed individually.

They make a hell of a noise together though, I think to myself.

My left arm is working passably now, and I was able to write an awkward note asking for help to take care of my home. That's helped me a lot because as much as my life is a living hell, losing Franklin and my tanks in such a cruel way would have made the damage so much worse. The nurses were actually quite amazing, really. From my few scratches on the paper they realized what I wanted, and I was able to guide them through the phone book, pointing out the people they could call for help.

Getting my plants watered and Franklin fed was actually pretty easy in the end. They called my boss and asked if he could stop by my home and do the work. He was fine with the idea of helping one of his own, and I was relieved to hear later Franklin was at the vet's office, skinny and tired, but with proper nourishment he would be fine. It had been almost nine days, but he had made it.

As for the tanks and my plants, things hadn't gone so well.

Most of my smaller plants had died from a lack of water and light. I keep the shades drawn after dusk, and the accident which put me here happened long after I would have normally been in bed. The larger plants looked like they might be salvageable, at least according to my boss, and all I can guess is size matters, at least for plants. The tanks were gone though, just finished, and nothing was going to save them.

Marine tanks are not easy to maintain, and although I don't know exactly what happened, I can guess. The artificial ecosystem became unstable somehow, maybe too much protein in the water, or more likely a small fish died from lack of food. One small rotting body would quickly poison the tank. The bacteria feeding on death would cause the oxygen levels to crash, and the remaining corals and fish would have smothered.

Two worlds destroyed, unremarked and without witnesses. My fish had no names, so I'll mourn their loss alone.

Trying not to think of my life before this place is making me tense. I find my thoughts drawn back, against my will and better judgement, to my life before the accident. Held fast, lying on my back, stretched by wires and wrapped for company, I've nothing else to do but work hard at keeping sane. How was I able to function before this? I think of the things I did every day as if they were impossible. My body did the work and I fed it. That was the deal, and it was going along just great. Hellen, that miserable word, seemed happy to be with me, at least until I killed her, and the space that image takes in my thoughts is immense. Impossible. It couldn't have been as easy as I remember it.

We lived in one of her family's more modest homes, six bedrooms on twenty acres, and when she asked me to leave, I suppose she did it to protect herself from me. The day I left, both of us supervising heavy men abusing my things into a crude looking van, we tried not to be cruel about it.

If I had wanted to be cruel I could have been. Easily.

"Leave me alone." I respond quietly.

Hellen came from a very wealthy family. She was a senior banking executive of indeterminate job description, at a level where applications are less important than breeding. She made more money than most people can comprehend and she wasn't aware, at any level, the family money that came before her had made it possible. She always thought, and was never afraid to say, the people who didn't do as well as she were somehow just not trying hard enough. Homeless people were homeless because they were lazy. Families were broke and the elderly lacked proper care simply because they had not been frugal enough. It was never because the system had been so obviously skewed against them. Against us all. She couldn't see it. It was because of this background when she looked at me, even as far back as the time we dated, I could see she 'understood' my choice of career to be far beneath her.

I drove a bus.

Really blue collar stuff, and really difficult to explain to someone with her upbringing. She always told me she thought I was above the job, and I suspect she said it to convince herself she had chosen a worthy mate. If I had chosen to drive a bus for reasons other than some sort of noble self-depreciation it would have reflected badly on her, at least in her eyes, and more importantly in the eyes of her family.

In hindsight, I think our getting together was a compensation tactic on her part, and a symptom of apathy on mine. I know she saw me in the same delusional light as any one of a hundred random magazine articles, each of them describing in envious tones some bored stockbroker abandoning his wealth and stature to do something romantic and menial.

"I gave up all that money to drive this little boat in the Caribbean, guiding tourists through this beautiful coast," the newly liberated millionaire says in the interview.

They never mention he used millions of his dollars to set up his little escape, and they never mention the millions sitting dusty but loved under his mattress. I was Hellen's way of telling herself she wasn't one of the affected rich. She was in touch with the common person, so much so, she even married one. The fact she made herself believe I wasn't common, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary, well, that's what delusional means.

For my part, my apathy allowed me to not care. I saw a rich, beautiful woman who seemed to love me, and I was too young to realize her wealth and her heart would never really be mine.

Thinking about this isn't easy, and in the most unhealthy sense I've been mulling the days of my life with her in my skull, like rocks in a tumbler, for days. The memories and the emotions are wearing smooth, rolling more and more quietly together, and they are becoming more beautiful each time I examine them. Removed from reality and removed from time, they seem somehow better than just emotions, better than just memories. They are becoming smooth and clean, and no trace of blood or tears or soil or sand remains.

We were a miracle. You were on vacation and I was travelling for work. The two of us so far from home, surrounded by millions of strangers, and yet we found ourselves together in the same small cafe. We ordered coffee as a couple for the first time that morning, and we fell in love. Our joining was beautiful. You can't say otherwise.

I open my eyes, pulling myself back from my introspections, and look outside. The time of day seems unimportant and I'm surprised by the sun. My eyes start to water, causing my vision to blur for a few seconds. The gruesome smell of my bandages, my consciousness trapped by an odour, makes it hard for me to look outside without tearing up.

Since I arrived last week, the park hasn't changed, but I see it more clearly for what it is, a small ecosystem struck and minted in the middle of a busy city. The birds and the squirrels, the crows and the dogs and the cats, all of them living with people, feeding off our scraps, walking and living and mating and dying, with us on the hill.

My eyes are full of quiet tears as I watch the world happen on the hill. I can't go there, not yet, but I can try to picture the person I will be when I do. The impossible person in my future who is above this crap. The hero who will not hate this artificial world with its pain and its drugs. The person who will be able to recognize his insanities and love them for what they are.

They will be me.

Right now, the smell of these bandages is keeping me in this room, in my cell, in this rank and broken body I can't use without suffering. The walls smell of rotting wounds. When I pull my chin down painfully to look at my swollen, purple legs, I can also see minute spots of blood on the bed rail by my feet.

When I think about my time with Hellen, it sends me to a dark place. Crucified to my bed in this temple of blood. I'm told I'll live again, but until I do, Hellen's memory will keep me lodged in this rankest pit of hell. I used to love her in my own way, but the golden dagger prods deeper into my heart, and the temple of blood is vibrating.

Like so many couples, we used to enjoy our talks.

I still do.

Once, soon after I began to openly discuss my new-found atheism, I told her the weekly confessions of her church were just a big religious lie, and she should come to terms with the fact a truly moral person wouldn't need to be threatened by a god in order to want to do good, or to desire being moral or just. I called it owning our evil, and when I suggested the idea she should somehow own the evil she did, that she should be personally responsible for her unjust hatreds and her unfair derisions, she stopped me cold. 'This sort of nonsense will not be entertained' was how she phrased it. It was just a few days later we had the fatal conversation. Just a few days until I said the words that killed her.

Hellen had come home from work quite upset. Large protests were happening outside her office tower, led by people who wanted some accountability from her bank. They demanded an open accounting of the bank's actions and they demanded restitution for the results. Hellen understood the issues, not surprisingly considering she helped make the decisions. She knew she didn't have a moral leg to stand on. She also understood better than most, the bank's well-documented history of financial actions against the interests of common humanity. Eventually, the police had to be called to clear a path, allowing her staff into the building.

As she was ferried through the crowd behind large shields and even larger men, the accusations hurled at her by the protesters struck her as naive and silly. On her way home, Hellen visited her church, and when she returned home later that evening, we spoke of what happened. She tore into the people who had been so publicly angry with her.

"You can't expect people to be perfect all the time, as if we lived in some sort of Utopian fantasy," she began.

"People are callous and mean, and they will steal and lie to get what they want all the time. We all sin, we all fail at being good, and you have to forgive them those sins, otherwise there would be no hope of salvation for anyone," she said.

Without any warning my face reddened. Without thought or filters, I spoke from my heart. I became angry, at her specifically, and not just her point of view. I heard her words and they became nothing more than a scripted cop-out. A way for her to excuse the bad behaviours of bad people. The bank Hellen worked for was well known for its brutality in the name of its capitalist ambitions, and even better known for its lack of concern for the consequences of its actions. She wanted to add a layer of religion in some vain effort to excuse herself and her company? The arrogance of it made me want to scream. The protesters were not the ones doing the evil, but somehow that was what I was being asked to believe. I wouldn't have it. I told her if she wasn't comfortable with what she'd done, then that was her moral quagmire to resolve. I told her she shouldn't paint the innocent victims as bad people, simply because they wanted her company to behave morally. As I spoke, her anger grew, and as the angry moments passed, I could see her building the next justifications in her mind.

I saw then, the truth of her argument. She didn't care about the justifications or the rationalizations. They were unimportant. The reality was, she simply saw me and anyone who opposed her as stupid. As beneath her. She assumed anyone not on her side was an idiot.

She was on the side of faith, and nothing more needed to be said.

I opened the bomb-bay doors, and let fly the first of my many assaults on her immortal soul.

"People are not perfect, I never said they were, but when you screw up you have to understand the evil you perpetrated, the wrong you created, was a creation of your own. God did not make you do bad things, you did. If you steal a mortgage from a family for profit, you did not abrogate your will to anyone, and you haven't been guided by some mythical hand. When I hurt the woman I love by telling you this, I do it by my own free will, hopefully for our mutual gain, and with my own desire to not be harshly judged. However, when your immoral actions are discovered, when they are exposed and judged, you have to remember only you did the wrong, nobody else. Not your parents, not your peers, and most certainly not any sort of god.

"The society we live in must deal with you, just as the protesters are dealing with your company. If our society is healthy, if our culture is not corrupted, then you can expect to be forgiven. Restitution will be expected, but in the end, if you are to return to society as a productive member, forgiveness must be assured and it must be absolute. Did you imagine somehow only a church goer can forgive? Seriously, forgiveness is not a unique or absolute product of the religious mind. Those protesters are right. You and your company are in the wrong, and nothing but your actions from this day forward will change that. If you and your banker friends want to rejoin decent society, you will all need to stop. To expect forgiveness before then is delusional."

Her heart stopped at that moment.

My legs hurt, and I can't hear the birds through the smell.

CHAPTER 4 - JULY 14TH

The surgery to find out what collapsed my lung was today and it went well. They removed a splinter of bone from a broken rib which apparently caused all the trouble. I could breathe better this afternoon once the anaesthetic wore off than the day my lung collapsed. I still can't look down well enough to see, but I'm told the scar is quite small, with only seven stitches.

When I was a kid seven stitches would have given me demigod status in school. Now it's considered a minor hiccup in my day.

I was surprised when my nurse showed me a photograph of the splinter. It was much smaller than I would have guessed, certainly much smaller than the stiletto it forced between my ribs each time I tried to breathe without tears. They say it was literally pointing sideways, directly into the layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs. The Pleural sac. All I knew from my little spot in hell was I couldn't take a deep breath, I couldn't cry, I couldn't do much of anything until they drained the gore that filled the place my lung was supposed to be.

Morning ablutions took on a whole new meaning for me. A person doesn't easily forget a tube in his side releasing cupfuls of odiferous hot blood plasma every morning. I won't miss that, now that I can begin the process of forgetting it ever happened.

A nurse offered me my first meal since I arrived, a chocolate flavoured nutrition drink, and she was very good about feeding me. I've never been fed before, and if I wasn't so helpless I might have actually enjoyed it a bit more. The drink itself was delicious, and if it was chalky I didn't care. As I worked hard to swallow each small sip, my stomach tight after two weeks of inactivity, the nurse kept playing with her hair. Some sort of french braid she was constantly adjusting as she held my straw. Watching her the entire time she was helping me, I was human and connected. After I finished eating she placed a bedpan under the day table. She did it just before she left, in the same way someone would turn off the lights.

Hospitals are about habits.

I am literally being held, partly suspended over my bed by threaded bolts which go through what's left of my bones. Those bones are being pulled straight by the bolts, which are in turn being pulled by straps, which are then connected to cables, and those cables are attached to weights. It would take bolt cutters and a lot of morphine to get me out of this bed. It should be easy to understand why not one slight deviation from the usual routine has ever been detected by me, not in the two weeks I've been awake.

Awake, drugs, sleep, awake, turn white from the pain, drugs, sleep, awake, grind my teeth in pain, lights out, drugs, sleep.

The nights tend to be less eventful.

I'm beginning to distrust habits. After Hellen and I had our first little talk (the one where I let her know I wasn't going to be her soft shoulder to cry on whenever her bad behaviour started to cause her problems) it was almost as if a habit had been created after just the one event.

Our talks, during which we used to have a great time discussing some pretty weighty topics, went badly downhill. I became the self-appointed finder of her intellectual flaws, and the flaws I found (my intellectual bread and butter) always focused around her two religions: money and the church. Each of them provided her with a myriad of moral blind spots, which I was able to weave into and out of as I took my shots at her. As I dissected her spiritual corpse.

If a man ever deserved to be killed by his victim, I suppose it was me.

After more assaults on her spirituality than I care to remember, Hellen knew very well I was not going to capitulate to her beliefs any longer. Our last big talk ended when I belligerently explained to her morality, forgiveness, compassion, altruism, all of the great and noble states of the human condition were in fact just that - traits of humans. In doing so, I lost her completely. To her, these traits were the direct result of being pious and well-bred, while I saw them as traits that were co-opted. Taken, then corrupted to serve the wants of small and dangerous men.

"The bastards own your soul, and they expect you to pay rent!" As I spoke the words, I could see her flinch. From her point of view, my attitude was heresy.

It is.

She was gone to me from that moment on, but even if I had noticed, I couldn't act. Speaking those words, hearing myself voice them to her, something had changed in me as well. Something had been awakened.

I never actually told her that night (she might well have died an even more tragic death if I had) but as I tore into her for the last time, as my attempted destruction of her personal illusion came to its climax, even greater ideas were forming in my mind. They came to me with a speed and certainty I still can't explain, and as the final, fatal words came from my mouth, as I sent the last volley of canon fire into the bow of her spiritual ship, I realized fully and completely a person who worships a religion could never be as noble or as just as a person who did not. The reason was simple and elegant.

Her churches and her cash - they were her filters on the world, on the universe, and the reality of it we all share. They would never allow her to see honesty, or faithfulness, or anything good about us as people. She couldn't see it because her beliefs tainted the colours of the real world, giving everything she saw a wash of her beliefs, altering their shades to match and conform to the beliefs she had been taught since her birth. Everything she saw was tinged. A shade applied that was untrue. Nothing of her view could be honest. Nothing could be truthful. Not her motives, not the results of her actions. It was all filtered through the mental obligations of her wealth, of her piety.

As I voiced those final parting words I could see, without those filters, everything was sharper. Brighter. A person's good was more pure, and because we own our evil, a person's evil became an even greater blight on themselves and our species. Without the filters, without the ideologies they perpetuated, a person was liberated to see the world as it was. The universe became both larger and more real. Time had meaning and the little yellow bird on the branch outside my window, who I still see from time-to-time, can exist along side me as an equal. I can react to him with a truth that would be impossible if I saw him as less than myself.

I'm different, of course, but more? A lack of filters say no, just different.

My first atheist thoughts eventually brought me to a place where I pitied Hellen, but they seemed right. That was enough.

Thinking back to the day of the protest, I know a part of me also died. How could it have not? The ideas, the direction they would clearly be taking me, they were new to me, and I wasn't expecting them. They were so immediate, so obvious and scary for their novelty. I've always been content to allow life to happen. I was easy to please ... but this line of thought took hold of me, the feeling of freedom I couldn't even explain ... I found myself wanting to follow up. I wanted to be a part of this scary new world I was imagining.

I think my old self took one look at where I was headed and simply stopped breathing.

To this day, understanding the limitations placed on her by her religion and her cash, I still can't think of any way she could have been the better of me as a person. Not one. Her enormous wealth allowed her to buy far more than I ever could, and she had so many friends she even hired staff to manage her relationships with them, but as far as what was good for the human race? During our talks I started to feel she was dangerous, in a way I didn't yet comprehend. I became aware a small part of me was afraid of her, and because I didn't fully understand why, it confused me.

Of course, judging by the lovely purple and red colour of my two legs bolted to the bed in front of me, I was right to be afraid. If she had been told to put the whole of humanity into the car with us that night, to protect her beliefs, I'm not sure she wouldn't have done it.

We all live with our fantasy of the end, of our own personal apocalypse, and I know hers had been bred into the bone. She was taught to play her role in one way only, and her great tragedy was she didn't even know she was just acting.

Give me chocolate carbohydrates through a straw and suddenly I can think. I've been awake for two weeks, and I can see I'm slowly healing. I'm still insane, but it's starting to feel like the good kind of insanity. The kind that can make friends.

Habits are dangerous things, especially in the herd. When everyone follows them, as they do here in the hospital, the habit becomes invisible. Nobody sees them. They become the shadows of our intellect, kept in a small envelope in the basement, easily forgotten but so important. I can see it all the time in this place. The staff rush by doing the important work of important people, and at no point does it appear to dawn on anyone they are repeating the same important work they did just minutes before. The older nurses, the ones who have already celebrated their first retirement only to return a year or two later, they understand. They are answering to the power of habit. The way it keeps you safe. The hard edge it keeps to your throat to motivate you, to make you work. But that's not its job. There might be such a thing as right and wrong, but it doesn't care. A habit's purpose is to be. Its measure is itself, always looking inwards towards its fulfilment.

Ideology and rhetoric are habits, and they are the enemies of rational thought. They are its enemy primarily because they look so much like it.

My legs are smaller, less swollen, and I'm feeling braver than I did even a few days ago. I know it's an illusion though. I know, nailed to this bed, in spite of everything I do to avoid it, eventually I'll become a child in pain, fearful and scared, eyes begging for the needle. Until then I'll enjoy this time. No tears, no anger.

There is such a thing as right and wrong, but our problem is its measure. No god, no economic rule, no mantra or religious doctrine can ever presume to tell us what is good. That can only be judged by one simple idea. If what we do is going to hurt our species, individually or as a whole, either directly or by wilfully damaging any part of this world we need to survive, then it is, by that measure, evil.

No filter will let that one through. Not ever.

The next chapter is coming soon ...