He was, in a way, translucent. You could see through him as if he were a veil, a shadow of fabric through which a bright light revealed every curve, every ugly imperfection, every hideous flaw. I think he knew his personality was impossible to hide, but he tried to conceal it, nonetheless.
Stegner Mephistopheles was an odd man, the sort of man you assumed was the output of a bad writer’s imagination until you met him in the flesh. He was bent and distorted, a brittle, stunted skeleton of frangible bones upon which layers of flab and soft muscles had been stretched in haphazard fashion over the course of his eighty years. But his personality shone like a beacon from a lighthouse, albeit in a shark-infested sound, a place where the shallow shoals and crumbling reefs litter the water. It was his attraction, that concentrated beam of refracted light, that drew me to him. I knew he might present a danger, but I simply couldn’t resist.
Caught off guard by his infectious laugh and the twinkle in his ancient eyes, I opened myself up to Stegner. We told one another stories of the lives we’d lived. His stories were like old, dry leather, revealing his world as inflexible and unyielding. Mine were more malleable. But as I listened to him talk about living through three wars, through social upheavals, and how he lost four wives to avarice and disease and trickery, I came to realize he was not just an old man with stories. Stegner Mephistopheles was a teacher, a gifted teacher meant to draw me in and pull me close with his words. His hard, unyielding leather was an explanation, a tale of how we grow and calcify with time and experience and pain. It was through his stories that he revealed his role in my life and how it would end.
I tell you this now so you will understand more directly than did I that Stegner Mephistopheles was my introduction to Death. At once ghastly and terrifying, yet exquisite and alluring, Stegner taught me Death is just an exchange. He exchanged his role, in teaching me, for his own perpetual respite. Now, I will do the same for you. And when the time is right, you will become the teacher. I know, it sounds treacherous, but it is not. You can almost see through me, can’t you, to the other side? You’ll come to recognize that my soft and flexible stories have fossilized, too, so that yours can flow between them, finding a place they can harden into the stiff relic of what your life will become.
This is very good, John. This kept me reading!!!