I had seen other purported miracles before, but it was hard to deny the resemblance in this one. The image stretched nearly to the top of the back wall of the cathedral, and contained all the requisite icons. The Blessed Virgin, The Child, and the halos encircling each of their heads. My first thought was that a group of students, late in the night, had painted her as a practical joke, but the visage was far too big, and painting such an enormous figure in a single night without alerting any of the nuns inside would have constituted a miracle in itself. Furthermore, there was no paint or dye of any kind on the wall. The colors seemed to have been imbued on the stone itself, and no amount of scrubbing removed or faded the holy image.

Lucia, a novice, was helpful. She was young, no more than sixteen years old, and possessed a subtle beauty in her face. She beamed when we were introduced, and emitted a joyousness at odds with the calm, cautious demeanor of the older sisters. The elder women in the convent did not strike me as fearful or apprehensive when I first met them, but in the face of Lucia’s exuberance, I found myself reevaluating that position.

Lucia led me to one of the main prayer rooms in the cathedral. Light spilled in from the large entryway, but there were no windows in the room. Candles lined the walls, and adorned the pews, leading to a central podium beneath a painting of The Savior. On the podium sat a small, purple box, adorned with a single golden crucifix on the front. The top of the box sat open, hanging behind the large container on golden hinges. It was empty.
“Here it is,” she said, announcing the object as if it was self-explanatory.

I picked up the box and examined it. The inside was coated with velvet, and the empty container seemed heavier than I would have expected.

“Try to close the box, Father.”

I did as the girl suggested. To my surprise, the lid refused to move.

“The hinges must be stuck,” I offered.

“I do not believe so, Father. I believe this box to be a miracle from God. We received this box two days ago, in the morning, at the entrance to our cathedral. I found it when I arrived to start my morning duties. It was closed when it arrived her, so I opened it. There was nothing inside, Father.”

“That sounds like a donation, not a miracle, Sister Lucia.”

“Yes, and that is what we thought. Sister Carilla, my mentor, agreed, as did the rest of the sisters. But when we attempted to close the box, we found it as you see it — stuck. And then, yesterday morning, the Holy Madonna appeared on our great cathedral. Father, I believe God has blessed us, for some reason that I cannot guess.”

After years of investigating miracles, I couldn’t help but be skeptical. Lucia’s story sounded not unlike others I had heard from small towns attempting to gain a boon by luring worshippers and tourists with a vague image of a saint. “Thank you for your words, Sister Lucia. You have helped greatly.”

“Then you accept that this is message from God? It is truly a miracle?” Her eyes glowed brighter than the box’s golden cross.

“I will stay here today, if your sisters have room for me. There are many rules and procedures for investigating holy occurrences, and it is impossible for me to tell what has happened here after only an hour’s contemplation.”

Lucia nodded, the fire from her face gone, for the time being.

My first day at the convent was informative. My second was worrying.

Lucia had woken with scratches running up and down her arms. The sisters gathered in a circle around Lucia. Some studied her wounds with the eye of a scholar. Others watched the girl herself for any giveaways about what had happened during the night. A few sobbed and wailed, fearing that the marks had been a punishment from God.
“Could it be stigmata, Father?”

The crowd of nuns parted to allow me to view the girl. “Stigmata wounds resemble the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ, Lucia. Have you not learned this in your studies?”

“Of course, Father, I did not meant to imply that these are the wounds of our Savior. But I have heard of other wounds appearing, wounds that match those of saints.” She presented her scoured arms to me. “Do you know of any wounds that this could resemble?”
I didn’t, of course. Lucia’s account of saintly wounds was purely fictional, as far as my knowledge went. But I humored the girl by examining her arms. I made special attention to view her fingernails. They held no blood, no skin. I pressed on one of Lucia’s scratches, expecting the girl to cry out in pain. She did no such thing.
“They do not hurt, Father. It is a blessing, not a punishment. A mark of pride and humility.”
“Father, Sister Ana Lucia will help you with any information you need. We will examine Novice Lucia and inform you of what we find.”
They found nothing, other than the scratches. No blood in Lucia’s room. No witnesses to anything strange during the night. No other wounds. My skepticism was being tested.

My second day was worrying. My third was horrifying.

Screams erupted now from outside the cathedral. At the wall where I had only two days before seen the Blessed Virgins, the sisters had fallen to the ground. Most of them were sobbing — the ones who weren’t had fainted. I turned my eyes to the wall, and let out my own cry. What had once been a beautiful homage to blessed Mary had been destroyed. Mary’s son was no longer Jesus, but a twisted devil. The Virgin’s eyes had been blotted and scratched in crimson, and started a trail of blood leading all the way down to the ground. Some of the nuns had dipped their fingers in the substance, and from the horrified looks on their faces, I could tell that it was not a trick.

We found Lucia kneeling in the prayer room, screaming of visions.Her hand grasped an ebony stiletto. Blood enveloped the blade, as well as her arm. When we entered, the girl turned to look it us. Deep, red pits resided where her eyes should have been. Dried gore lay in a stream down her face. She cried, but shed no tears.
“They will not stop, Father! They will not stop! I can see them! Please, make them stop!” She wailed, and thrust her finger out at the box. “Make it stop, Father! I beg you! Please, God, help me!”

The box was no longer empty. Lucia’s excised eyes lay neatly upon the black velvet interior. I couldn’t stop myself from edging my hands toward her eyes, from desperately wanting to place them back in her head. But the box would not allow it. As soon as my hand approached it, the lid snapped shut. I pried my fingernails under the lid, bending them back as I attempted in vain to reopen the box. It was too late. Lucia had fallen to the floor, and was now silent. Sister Ana Sofia, now weeping uncontrollably, shook her head as she cradled the poor girl in her arms.
The image on the wall was gone. I returned home and submitted my report. The miracle reported was a hoax perpetuated by a novice. The original eyewitness, Sister Ana Sofia, confirmed my account. I never visited the convent again. I did not tell anyone about Lucia’s box, for fear that it would again, for any reason, be opened. The box stays where it is, buried. Undiscovered, undisturbed.

Review: Naked Empire by Terry Goodkind

First, a little history for the unenlightened.

You have to wonder what happened to Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series. The first book in the series, Wizard’s First Rule is one of my favorite fantasy novels of all time. Stone of Tears, the followup, was not perfect, but it was a great addition to the growing epic. The books that followed never achieved the enchantment of the first novel, but still managed to be entertaining.

Then, somewhere between the fifth and sixth books of the series, Goodkind read Atlas Shrugged decided he’d rather be writing political allegory than fantasy. The sixth book, Faith of the Fallen, was a diatrabe of sorts againt Communism. Yes, Communism, the economic structure that hasn’t really existed since the mid-eighties. Way to be current.

Anyway, that book managed to be entertaining despite the proselytization. Richard’s (that is, the protagonist’s) struggles against against an ideal rather than a discrete enemy actually helped FotF become one of my favorites of the series.

The next book, Pillars of Creation, took a detour from this train of thought to tell the story of Richard’s long lost sister. Again, mildly entertaining in the league of some of the middle novels of the series.

Then comes the topic of today’s review: Naked Empire. Ho-ly crap. This is easily Goodkind’s worst book. As easily as one can tell Goodkind was introduced to Objectivism before writing FotF, one can see the author’s intentions and train of thought in writing this pile of scum. Goodkind, evidently, saw some war protestors (presumably against the Afghanistan invasion or the very start of the Iraq War, given the time period), was enranged, had a fantasy of murdering them all, and then made that into a book.

The novel concerns a new race of people, the Bandakar, who are discovered hiding away in some remote part of enemy territory. The Bandakar, to put it simply, are idiots of the highest degree. They are complete pacifists, sort of, and so refuse violence of any kind, believing that it leads to more violence. Of course, this society has now been taken over by Richard’s enemy, the Imperial Order, and they beg Richard to save him.

Of course, Richard needs their help to do so, so he must convince them of their evil ways. What follows are pages upon pages of excruciating sermon: “You must fight back!” “We can’t.” “You have to!” “We can’t!” “You have to!” I’ve essentially summed up half the book with those quotations.

The funniest part, however, is how tyrannical and scary Richard starts to sound. All the Bushisms about destroying evil instead of letting it destroy you are there, but Richard spouts it with such merciless cruelty that you could really see it coming from some dictator. Richard believes that the only moral course of action is to utterly destroy “evil” by any means necessary– the irony seems lost on Richard and the author that the enemy, the Order, believes the exact same thing.

Deeper in the discussion, Richard attempts to define the world as black and white and rail against Nihilism (again, way to fight against something relevant, Terry!). Essentially, Goodkind wants to have his cake and eat it to. He wants interesting, motivated villains, such as the leader of the Order, Jagang, and a sorceress, Nicci, who recently defected to Richard’s side. But at the same time, he wants his villains to be absolutely, unabashedly evil, with no hope of redemption. Goodkind seems to oscillate between these points of view at will.

Beyond the political discussion, the basic plot is pretty lame. Richard is poisioned, and has to go on a fetch quest to retrieve three antidotes from three different towns in the Bandakar “empire” (and no, we never really get a good reason why the antidotes are separated and hidden). On the way to get his antidotes, Richard and a small army of Bandakar drive the Order out of their villages. The rest of Richard’s group is completely tangential to the storyline — his sister is completely irritating, and his wife Kahlan, who until now has been a shining example of a strong female lead, is, in the end, relegated to the damsel-in-distress.

Oh, I can’t end without going back to the protester slaughter I mentioned earlier. Near the end of the book, a large group of pacifist protesters try to prevent Richard from killing the Order soldiers. Fine, I can dig that. But instead of making them real or giving them anything relevant to say, they shout stock phrases like “NO WAR! NO WAR!” Yeah. You can see the peace signs and flower power, and feel the RAGE in Terry Goodkind’s heart at these hippies. The lesson here is, apparently, any kind of protesting against war or violence is wrong, protesting war amounts to protecting pure evil, and such protesters deserve to be violently slaughtered. Man, isn’t Objectivism just the CHEERIEST little belief structure?

I’m not so sure if I want to give books scores, or just let the review speak for itself. But since this marks the 8th book in the series, and also the worst book in the series, I’ll go ahead and give it a 1/8.

Matt Borgard is praying to Ayn Rand that this series redeems itself in the final trilogy.

The Lives of Stars, Abridged

I see the light, and toward the source I run

with you beside, and spirits on our heels,

into the glimmer of a dying sun

Against the men and women we did shun:

they block our way, the only exit seals.

I see the light, and toward the source I run

And on our path, until our time is done,

we cast away our ever-loved ideals

into the glimmer of a dying sun

A mirror on the wall, our faces shown

I view myself, and what my life reveals

I see the light, and toward the source I run

The starlight breaks; our hiding spot undone.

The dark recedes, the shadow fades and peels

into the glimmer of a dying sun

And when you’ve made it through, I’ll strive, alone,

uncovering the half-truths we’ve concealed.

I see a light, and toward the source I run

into the glimmer of the dying sun

The Lives of the Ones You Love My song, gone: glutted by these divine spirits

Nihon Shoki


The security guard eyes me suspiciously as I approach the counter. He’s seen me for the past three months, two weeks and four days. “Namae?” he says. “Lolingusu-san,” I reply. My name is a rolling labyrinth of R’s and L’s. I am not Yamamoto-san or Tanaka-san, or even Sumisu-san. I am gaijin, and nothing more.

I sit down at my desk and smile at the secretary, who greets me with the standard ohayo. Her name is Takahashi-san. I don’t know her first name. No one knows anyone’s first name. I stare at her ass as she walks by, searching desperately for some folds under black pants, tantalizing clues to ease me into my workday. She usually wears a thong on Mondays. She wears panties on Fridays. Today is Monday.

I think about what it would be like to fuck her. To run my hands across her skin, like the moonlight, and caress her small, nearly absent breasts. To smell that scent that all these women seem to have, like lavender and snow. I wonder if it would be like all the Asian pornography, where the woman’s ecstatic moans sound more like embarrassed squeals and star-shattering screams start even before the sex does. I’ve had sex once since I’ve been here, with a girl from a bar. She was blonde, American, and smelled like cheap beer.

My boss appears. His rapid Japanese rends my fantasies like bullets, each word destroying a fragment of what keeps me sane. I only comprehend half of what he says, but it doesn’t matter. “Memo” and “report” mean the same thing in both languages. So does “sexy”; they say “I’m going” when they’re coming.

My living quarters are as mundane as my cubicle. I eat ramen tonight. I have it sent from home because they don’t have the right kind here. The television is worthless – news, soap operas, and anime – low quality. A music video appears on the screen. Notes flow nervelessly from a young girl’s lips, and her eyes, dazed, fix on a flushed sakura, a cherry blossom, falling feather-like into her upturned palm. Is this what they long for? What keeps them going in the face of indestructible idlenenss? I extinguish the television and the lights, and fall asleep, wishing there was a cherry blossom outside my window.