The Mystic

Best of the Boards
Alvaro Alarcon


Alex was down on the bed, strapped in four-point restraint. Medical personnel surrounded him. One medical resident in fact got on top of him and injected him with something in the behind. Whatever it was, it made him fall asleep fast. He woke up again later, not knowing what time it was. He was in the hospital, again.

Those were the memories he had of being in the hospital in Montreal. Everything had turned out to be false, namely his involvement with the CIA and so forth, but the love he found in the hospital corridors turned out to be true. Her name was Sophie, and she had beautiful blond hair. She was a smoker, but that didn’t bother him. Another thing he loved were the tuna fish sandwiches his parents had brought him when they came to visit him in the ward. It was how the bread was toasted that made the sandwich so good.

That was 2001. Now it was 2003. Alex was no longer paranoid as he approached the confessional. He entered it and knelt down.

“Father, I have sinned,” Alex said.

“Yes, how?”

“I curse the Lord’s name.”

“That’s blasphemy,” the priest responded.

“I… I am not thankful for what the Lord has given me.”

Father issued no response, as if he was expecting Alex to say more.

Alex continued: “I don’t know whether to see an angel dressed in black is a good thing or a bad thing. My psychiatrist thinks it’s a bad thing. What would St. Joan of Arc think of it?”

“Well, I don’t know… is that all you have to confess?”

“Yes, I am not thankful for what the Lord has given me and my cursing of His name.”

“I give you a penance of an act of kindness.”


The priest proceeded to minister Absolution to Alex.

After the rite was done, Alex said: “Good bye.”

Alex left the church, making the sign of the cross as he left the doors, and crossed the parking lot to his car. He was hungry for some fast-food and decided to go to a local burger joint, knowing that the quality of the food there was low but any repulsion he had for it was overwhelmed by a craving for fatty food. While in the car he kept on meditating on the meaning of the angel dressed in black. Could he really transcend the narrowness of modern psychiatric treatment and apply a spiritual dimension to what he saw?

He arrived at the burger joint and ate a hamburger. Once done with the French fries, he went back to the car and headed home. The late March air was warm, unseasonably warm. Once home he made himself a coffee, one of the good dark kinds that came out of one of the steel Italian stove top machines. With this coffee he sat down outside on the terrace with a piece of paper and a pen. He put the paper on a tray so he could write on a smooth surface, rather than the rough one of the table. It was time to write a letter to Sophie.

Sophie and Alex’s love did not last much longer than the hospital stay, but the friendship endured. They were bound by a common affliction, that of mental illness. As the sick and the injured, they got along well. Alex began to write.

Dear Sophie, March 28, 2003

I hope all is well in Montreal. I received your e-mail last week and for whatever reason decided to write to you in snail-mail, as they say in English. Today I went to confession. I know you are not religious; and I always marvel at the way the non-religious can perform good works better than the religious at times. My dad is like that. In any case, in regards to your question, I can go up to Montreal to visit you in two weeks, and yes, Isaac will come along.

In confession I discussed with the priest what I saw a few years ago. I remember seeing an angel in black keeping watch over me, observing me with neutral eyes. It is my goal in life to find out who this angel in black is and what he (or she) wants.

That was all Alex could write for now, even with the flow the caffeine through the fabric of his nerves. Sophie was a good friend of Alex, perhaps his best friend, and she would listen to whatever she had to say. Alex had been up to see her numerous times, and the last few times he had been up in Montreal with Isaac. Together all three of them were led on tours of the city by Sophie.

Alex was a student. He was six feet tall, had wavy brown hair with a reddish tint, had a few freckles on his face, and was lean, but not skinny. On the whole women found him attractive. Despite this, his relationship with Sophie was Platonic.

That evening, Isaac and Alex were in a bar. Heavy set, Isaac had blond hair and had played football in high school. He had been actually a star of the football team. He projected stoic resilience to the world, something that attracted the women. John, another friend of Isaac and Alex, decided that it was his attitude that turned off women. Either way, they were enjoying beers in the bar. The group of three sat at a table. It was 1 a.m. Saturday morning. The evening had been warm and pleasant, and Alex looked forward to the days when he could eat outside on his porch. The pleasantness of the evening ran away like mice caught in light when an old face appeared in the bar.

Or at least it appeared to be an old face. Alex had mistaken one man for another, possibly one saint for a sinner. No, that man in the corner was not Chad, the Chad the bully, drug dealer, and vagabond of Alex’s adolescence. He was merely a man who looked like him.

Soon Alex went home, walking to his house through a drizzling rain. He thought of his character. “That’s important, character that is,” he thought.

It wasn’t until Wednesday, when heading home from the college, that Alex thought of the angel. He did so while passing in the car the apartment of a friend. He was an older friend who went by the name of Bo. The weather had changed; it became cooler.

Alex parked the car. The temperature was cool and the sun was starting to come out of the clouds. He rang the doorbell of apartment 3B. Then came Bo to the front door. He was a tall, muscular, African-American man, a graduate of Harvard and a mystic of the Village School.

“Alex, ¿cómo va todo?” Bo asked jubilantly.

“Bien, bien,” responded Alex, who spoke much Spanish, which he learned at home from his dad. Bo too had taken some Spanish in college, enough to travel down to Mexico and take peyote.

“Come on in,” said Bo.

Alex went on in. The apartment was on the second floor and Alex had to go up a flight of stairs, poorly lit, to get there. Once on the second floor, Alex could hear music of some exotic country, he thought India perhaps, and the smell of incense.

“Come in, friend,” Bo said. He looked at Alex and smiled. Bo was dressed in jeans, which were quite large, and to use the vernacular, “baggy.” He wore an equally baggy sweatshirt. Bo had a shaven head.

Alex entered the living room. It too was poorly lit. The place smelled of a sweet incense. A plume of smoke came from an incense stick on the coffee table. The smoke seemed to get lost in the shadows of the room. The walls of the room were painted beige. In one corner of the living room there was a set of weights for muscle building. Near to the weights was a stereo. There was no T.V. Opposite the stereo by the other wall there was a couch. Next to the couch and by the window there was a set of low bookshelves, filled with books. The books were of all sorts, but there was a large section on mysticism and the occult.

Feelings of envy shot up in Alex’s worn-out soul. But they soon subsided.

“Would you like a drink?” Bo asked.

“Yes, please,” Alex responded.

“Of what, water, milk, orange juice, whiskey, beer?”

“A whiskey please, with ice.”

“A whiskey on the rocks it is,” said Bo.

Alex knew he shouldn’t drink, taking those damn pills day and night. But still, if the medication kept him okay, what fear need he have of alcohol? He’s not Muslim.

Alex had known Bo ever since high school. Bo was a few years older than Alex, but the two had gotten to know each other through intersecting social circles. Actually these social circles were different groups of pot smokers. Never underestimate the power of marijuana to bring people together in the spirit of pseudo-gregariousness. Alex had been off drugs for a while. Sex he preferred not talking about. Rock and roll he loved.

Bo also poured himself a whiskey. Alex was never sure how much Bo drank. He thought it was a small amount. Bo was in control. Bo had always seemed to be a man. He had a virility about him that was present wherever he went. Maybe it was the kicking the marijuana habit a few years ago and the beginning of the weight-lifting habit. Also, Bo had as a God-given gift a strong physique.

“So, you know I drink very rarely, and use drugs never,” Bo said.

“Yes, I know,” Alex responded.

“So what’s going on with you nowadays?”

Alex went right to the point: “I want to schedule a séance someday.”

“With Julia too?”


“And who do you want to contact?”

“An angel. An angel dressed in black.”

“An angel…” Bo said, mulling the idea.

“Well we can do it.”

“Good. I want to see what I can learn…”

“I thought you were into all the rationalist ways of thinking…”

“What about being rationalist about the soul, the spirit? About the ways of the spirit? About God, has that been forgotten?”

Alex did not know what, or how he would confess the next time he saw the priest, Father Costello.

“Ahh, I see. What about your Catholicism? Won’t that keep you from using the séance as a tool?”

“I don’t know how, but ever since I saw that angel I’ve felt as if there is a riddle in my memory, a riddle that must be solved in order to get a greater understanding of the world…and also to have an easier time of my memories of the past, most of which are good you know.”

The conversation became quiet. Alex, at that very moment, felt as if he was far from becoming a Rotarian. Bo, his good friend, could never become one. Unorthodoxy felt good; it was the essence of life on this earth.

The next day the temperature spiked up into the 60s. Alex was walking through a forest, his dog by him. The sky above was a clear blue with quite a few clouds. It was 2 p.m., and Alex was happy that his afternoon class had been canceled for whatever reason. It was not the first time that semester that the professor had canceled class. Duchess, Alex’s dog, was a Black Lab, by all accounts amiable. The dog wasn’t on a leash, and appeared to relish being in the woods. Alex was using this time in the woods to think of how he could finish writing the letter to Sophie. By the time he arrived home, he was pretty much sure of what he wanted to write. He continued working on the same letter that he had begun on March 28th, just a few days ago.

In any case life does go on regardless of this riddle with the vision. I play around and I love life. No obstacle seems too great for me. I can conquer all challenges. I say this to tell you, to remind you that you too can be a conqueror of all in life. Have no fear Sophie, I as your friend will not let you down.

So soon I will visit you in Montreal. Isaac will come too, I’m sure. He always can. Maybe we’ll take the train, but that takes seven hours when by car it takes only four. I look forward to seeing you.

With good intentions,


Alex put the letter in the envelope, put the required amount of stamps on it, and placed it on the chest of drawers down by the entrance where all the outgoing mail in the family was placed. Alex S. was a happy man. This was in stark contrast to what he had been a few years ago, a man who had stood on the bridge crossing the Normanskill and looked down into the frigid January waters, which were partially frozen, entertaining grim suicidal impulses. “Oh how life changes, especially for the better!” thought Alex.

Oh, how Alex had changed… Emotions Anonymous had helped him change. He recalled reading the stories of survivors, survivors of emotional breakdowns, and how they had gone on to make better lives. In his room upstairs, in a private corner, he still kept his “Blue Book,” the handbook of Emotions Anonymous, which detailed every step of the program. By the grace of God he had stepped forward into a better world, one not fraught with tension. He had a little tension, but not so much. Emotions Anonymous, or EA as it was known to its members, was not a part of his life anymore. In its place he had developed an unsettled relationship with the Lord…

Perhaps he didn’t like EA anymore because of the man he met there, Brian, whom he had felt been a jerk. But the program was good, and it helped people put their problems in perspective. In any case, despite the riddle of the black angel, Alex felt that he had a serene place in the world, that he had peace of mind. Hemingway was right when he wrote in For Whom the Bell Tolls that the hero Robert Jordan was better off not worrying, that worrying got a man nowhere in life, that it was a waste of energy.

“Yeah,” Alex thought, “Hemingway would’ve been all right if he went easier on the liquor.”



“The Mystic” was first posted at Smiles and Soap, TC’s beginning writers board.
E-mail: alvaro.alarcon[at]