You asked me to keep a record of my experiences, Mr. X. But I have refrained from doing so until this critical juncture, for no other reason than to spite you, since I consider you quite repugnant.

How ironic you must find it, to be spurned due to the fruits of your own labor! Hoisted by your own bloody petard! I’m sure you can appreciate this circumstance—conceptually speaking—on some level, Mr. X, even if it irritates and infuriates you, constipated tight-lipped phony-smiling control freak that I know you are…

And now, at this late hour, when spite is no longer an issue (as I have quite satisfactorily spited you already, through all of my unrestrained antics), I hereby begin this treatise, o’ Theopolis…you X-man of power and might, brought quite low!

At this point, my loathing and contempt for you will best be communicated through writing about what I have endured over the past year of my life and what I have enjoyed in the last four months since enrolling in your experimental program. When questioned, you’ll deny everything, I imagine…but what do I care about that? I can honestly tell you that right now, it matters not in the least to me if people believe you and think that I’m just some wild-eyed nutter. People will believe what they’ll believe: what do I care? How history regards me, if it regards me at all, isn’t important. I only want what I want. I live in the now. Soon, I’ll die in the now and be no more; so what?

Once, not long ago, I was a seminary student, studying to be a priest of the Holy Roman Catholic Church. But as you know, I got ejected last year when I failed a battery of psychological tests. Was it all political, my ouster? Well, certainly not all…I can be honest about that now. Of course, my tender young ego was pained beyond reconciliation, which in turn precipitated—or rather, reactivated—a spiritual crisis; I felt betrayed, robbed of what I believed for so long was my calling, my vocation, my purpose. It was the only thing that gave my life a sense of meaning, but that all changed when they determined me to be mentally unfit for the priesthood.

Naturally, they tried to smooth it over. One of my superiors even told me, “It’s not that we’re saying ‘no,’ we’re saying ‘not yet.’” What I needed, he said, was some therapy, just to “get it all sorted out.” It was no big deal. Nothing but a thing. But there it was.

“Not ‘no,’ but ‘not yet,’” he said. Oh, but he was wrong! It was no; the profoundest of nos, to every possible question!

As a youth, I’d always kept the flood of chaos and desperation in my mind at bay by envisioning myself as a priest. There was a saving sense of mission there, rescuing me from an awful discordant clanging in my brain, one that rose to pitch levels on numerous occasions, rendering me despairing, hopeless, and suicidal. I’ve long nursed the teat of morbidity…scenting death everywhere, fearing it horribly, cringing in pitiful fright from the skull beneath the skin…only the Church, and my perceived vocation for holy orders, kept my head above the rising deluge…

After college, I duly enrolled in seminary school, where I threw myself into my work with a kind of neurotic vigor. I saw the light, and I was determined to reach it; I did my best to will my soul to go the distance, but something was holding me back. Was it God, luck, fate? Does it even matter what we call it? It is whatever it is; for some, a blessing, for others, a curse; to some, a benevolent, loving, wondrous delight, to others, a horrible, hateful abomination; the lift up to Heaven or the sweaty, grimy slog into the heart of the Inferno. Is one’s experience really less real than another’s? Can any perspective be discounted?

For me, things indeed switched in a hurry. God and the Church were with me, and then all of a sudden, they were against me. I’d been declared a reprobate, someone with psychological issues, specifically “depression, anxiety, and paranoiac tendencies.” This they discovered after I honestly answered some questions on a bunch of multiple choice tests.

I’d been assured that the evaluations were a simple formality. I’d forgotten who I was, so immersed was I in the bliss of finally being near my life’s goal…now, hearing these results was like a sucker punch to the gut; I reeled, not only from the pain and the humiliation, but also from the shock—it all came out of nowhere.

Or so it seemed at the time. This was only a year ago, but it seems more like a century…much has changed.

It was explained to me—by a different, less personable superior this time—that in our day and age the Church had to be careful. One’s discernment of his vocation was well and good, but one also needed to be of sound mental health. There were plenty who sought out the priesthood or other celibate institutions because they were “running away from their problems,” he said. Religious life, properly speaking, is not meant to be a retreat from the world, but an advance upon it. I didn’t even try to argue with him or assert myself in any way; what would be the point?

Following this discouraging interview, I came to recognize, for the first time, what I had only glimpsed in fragments before; it was starting to come together—I had some pieces of the puzzle, but I didn’t yet know for certain how they all fit, nor could I yet discern the picture they formed.

In the intervening year, I have given the matter a lot of thought and come to many conclusions, but I still had a ways to go before I received your curious solicitation four months ago, Mr. X. And since we formed our union, I have covered so much ground that I sometimes boggle from the sheer enormity of my enlightenment…

But before that crucial moment, during the last few months, I have kept a low profile. In the first few weeks after my expulsion from seminary, I was still reeling from bitter disappointment. The worst of it was having to tell my family, of course; I tried to represent myself as having left of my own accord, but I’m quite sure they all suspected something amiss. Especially my mother and elder sister; they’ve always looked at me like they see right through me, which unnerves me to no end, but I pretend not to notice…all of my siblings are much older than me, which has always made me feel set apart, at times, like a weird, freakish mistake.

Anyhow, I didn’t do much during that time (aside from temporarily losing my mind, of course). Most people who knew me during that period—or who believed they knew me, anyway—thought I was just “taking it easy”; indeed, my day-to-day existence was unremarkable. I worked as little as I could at various low-stress, low-paying temp jobs, and I freely accepted financial assistance, whenever proffered, from my upper middle class parents and highly successful older brothers.

People smiled kindly and said I was “taking a rest” to my face and no doubt called me a freeloading, slacking, mentally-deficient burnout once I was out of earshot. But no one could claim that I lived high on that wonderfully proverbial hog. I rented a seedy little flat, chosen partly for convenience’s sake and partly due to an overall aesthetic of squalor that I’d begun to cultivate. In my mind, I was already a no-vice; I’d accepted the vows of poverty and chastity happily and without protest. But obedience…well, that one was always a lot harder to abide. I freely admit it. In fact, during my time in seminary, quite a few of my superiors struck me as somewhat less than “super,” and try as I might, I could never feign the proper countenance of obsequious admiration mingled with subtle, good-humored self-abnegation that was expected of me as a lowly student. There was, I recall, one especially nasty run-in with a particularly irritating and greasily condescending Systematic Theology professor…and on it went.

My lack of humility used to matter to me. I perceived it as the worst, most egregious, and most damnable of my sins—my consternation over its persistence even kept me up nights—I prayed my share of rosaries, asking the Lord, through the blessed intercession of Mary and the saints, to remove this thorn from my flesh, to make me more personable, more agreeable, less prone to smoldering anger, silent, sullen impatience, brooding hostility, and obsessive fantasies of assertion and dominance.

I knew, in fact, that I had a way with people—some people—and that I could even be said to possess an excellent pastoral temperament, given the right circumstances; given, that is, that I met one truly in need. I wasn’t so good around those whose tendency was to spout smarmy lectures and register curt disapproval on cue, but I could easily handle those who needed to pour forth their miseries, beat their breasts, and cry out for counsel, guidance, comfort.

I am a good listener, Mr. X. Or rather, I could have been one, if they hadn’t drummed me out of the confessional booth on specious and spurious charges of being depressed, angry, and paranoid, if they hadn’t shamed me with the slur of being “psychologically damaged,” with all of its attendant humiliations. Not that I wasn’t those things, but who isn’t? What choice do any of us have?

What is life, after all? Do you still have illusions? I don’t. I’ve fallen headlong in love with truth, all thanks to you, Mr. X! You have saved me from lies, and thus, from life…is it any coincidence that those two words sound alike?

Now, I could have used my God-afflicted flaws as a means towards guiding my little flock during our mutual arduous trudge towards eternity, our crosses dutifully fastened to our backs…but it was not to be. And I have no regrets, not now. My rosary beads haven’t graced my quivering fingertips for the last few months, and they won’t ever again. If Mary and the saints want to pray for me now, they’ll have to do it on their own initiative. And if God Himself wishes to lend His gracious assistance without getting nagged into it by anyone’s constant intercessions—be the intercessors alive or dead—I have perfect faith that He can and will do just that.

It is of no consequence, anyway. I have seen the path that was chosen for me, and I now freely choose to walk this path, wherever it may lead. The joy, the thrill of it! I simply don’t care; my lack of concern isn’t really a lack, though, but a gain—it’s an exhilarating sensation, pouring through my veins, swelling my heart, filling me with awe and wonder! It’s the only way to be!

Thanks for making me this way, X. You’re the man.

Now I can do whatever I want to do; I am unrestrained, unchained…yet, for all that, I still dare to say no—not just no, but NO WAY! “Not yet?” No, not just “not yet,” but “never!” To be free to do, and to choose not to do: this is the ultimate freedom. It’s the way God Himself must feel. And now, like Prometheus, I have stolen a portion of the divine fire; I am a light unto myself, burning yet unconsumed.

It has been a long road to this point. But now, I see that all along I have carried a torch—my own little flame on my own little stick—and only lately have I found that the secret is to set myself on fire, to burn brightly, and just not care…to self-immolate and become my own little manifestation of negation.

And for this profound revelation, once again, I owe you a sincere debt of gratitude! You’ve taken me over the edge, where I wanted to go all along. In fact, I no longer believe that the cliff was ever here; I have always been falling, falling, falling, but only lately have I had the opportunity to reject and utterly erase all of the faux scenery in my sight that ever led me to assume the existence of a ground under my feet. I am now a burning, falling man, hurtling through a heartless void, but falling is no different from flying when there’s nothing substantial beneath you. To be aware that one is sinking forever may be a disconcerting feeling at first, but it soon becomes a pleasant, even a blissful condition. To float into eternal nothingness is to be truly free.


This is an excerpt from Andy Nowicki’s novella, Under the Nihil. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.