CJ’s Nightmare, An Excerpt from The Potency.


CJ adjusted the fine, silk collar on his shirt and brushed aside a barely visible spec of fuzz on his slacks. He looked up to see Chul seated, smoking in front of an enormous wooden book case. He was sure they had not met before, but things were going well and so CJ smiled and introduced himself.

“I am likely the most evil man you will ever meet,” CJ said. “I don’t know if I mean it, but that does little to pollute the flavor as it rolls off my tongue, if I may take liberties with that particular metaphor. I say it often. Usually under my breath, in the shower, sometimes where others can hear me. I have variations as well. Sometimes I say ‘I’m not that good a person. You wouldn’t like me if you knew me. I’ll corrupt everything.’”

Chul nodded his head – knowing, understanding – but CJ felt the need to explain further, just a little bit more to make sure no ambiguity remained.

“This probably makes me sound like a self-pitying depressive or an old Gothic with delusions of martyrdom. I assure you I am nothing of the sort. It is, in fact, only with a very strange sense of detachment that these echoes reverberate through my life.

“When my internal dialogue turns toward self hatred, as it often does, I imagine myself well dressed and in the company of important people. I think of judges and members of big city planning commissions. My hair is always perfectly coifed and my shoes glimmer a rich brown in the expensive glow of high society. A beautiful waitress in black stalkings serves everyone Grey Goose martinis to go with our figs, prosciutto and salmon mousse. The jurists take these delicacies from off silver platters and gather around me to chit chat. I wink and laugh. I hold out my hand and gesture as if to say ‘wait, I’ve got a good one.’ Then it comes out, full of cheer and casual as an A-lister adjusting his neck tie. ‘I am likely the most evil man you will ever meet.’ My guests chuckle and thank me for the amusement and I give them a knowing smile.”

Chul produced a packet of sweet smelling, loose tobacco and offered CJ a pipe. CJ accepted and Chul spoke.

“As a connoisseur of self-loathing,” the Korean said. “I would likewise give thanks for those fine words. You offer such a sophisticated take on detesting oneself.”

CJ lit the fine tobacco and took a deep breath before continuing his speech.

“Thank you, it’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who appreciates the pleasures of exclusive, rarified self-hatred. But I should continue. I’ve always partaken of self-hatred in this way and, though it is a very carefully crafted thing, I do not know from where this guilty pleasure arose. If this voice were attended by any real anger or resentment or even humiliation then I would try to silence it. But it’s not. It’s happy and offhand and shines with an easy cosmopolitan sophistication – like reading the New Yorker in the lobby of a Neiman Marcus, waiting for the tailor to finish your latest designer suit.

“It’s been this way for as long as I can remember. Maybe my parents taught me speech by running a 24 hour loop of H.P. Lovecraft stories. I don’t know and I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I tell you this because I don’t want you to think it came from the God of Potency interfering with my thoughts. I’d love to blame him, but that voice is as native to my mind as these fingers are native to my hands.”

CJ raised his hand and wiggled his fingers, as if to prove that fingers and hands do, in fact, go together.

“I realize, Chul, that this is probably not what you expected to hear when you asked me to tell you something about myself, and I know such things are not common topics of discussion upon first meetings, but I wanted to inform you of my own volition.”

Chul smiled and showed his benevolence, his understanding. CJ’s confidence swelled to such rarified heights, such pleasant altitudes. Still, CJ would go just a little bit further; he would absolutely ensure Chul’s complete understanding.

“So please,” CJ said. “If you judge me unstable or weak, if you think I’m likely to endanger your ship or your mission, tell me now and let’s skip the pleasant emptiness of gentle rejection. I am, if nothing else, a lover of true things and I would not want you to think you must coddle my psyche.”

Chul smiled again and answered at length.

“Do not fear, my friend. What is life if not a struggle to control one’s hatreds and hide one’s resentments? And we must consider this time as well. We seek to murder a stranger and not in any courageous sense, either. Who could take honor in a random killing, against an enemy who has no means of retaliation and no time for preparation? Certainly not cultured practitioners of self-hatred like ourselves. But this is not all. Even in this inglorious murder, you lack the strength to take life and leave the responsibility to me. Surely, if ever you have earned the right to despise yourself, it is now.

CJ smiled, Chul laughed and they made merry among the sweet smelling wisps of tobacco smoke, drinking fine whiskey beneath the shelves of leather-bound books.


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