Stretched Upon the Altar
Alec Bryan

If it weren’t for medication, I would not be telling this, could not be telling this, would have smashed my brains against the windshield at one hundred and fifty miles per hour, should have spackled the wall with four-shot smatterings of blood, brain and bone, could have then rested from the purblind straits of mortality, the pertinacious pangs of reality, the wretched state of neutrality, and would not have had to get up at six o’clock in the morning and drive the crowded interstate to the subway station.

     I am stretched upon the altar of Abraham, says the sacrificee.

     I am willing knife, elevated, ready to drop, says the sacrificer.

Whoa, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe, woe is me, undone, unmade, unable to be both sacrificed and the sacrificer. Cannot kill the part of me required. Physician kill thyself then get up and heal thyself! I cannot get over the sensation at the moment of impact, the moment of sacrifice. It is paralyzing. It replays. Over and over again the situation. Over and over again the perplexity, the failure, the fever, the loss of weight, the inner journey, the return journey, coming up for air, empty handed, empty headed except for the wretched pain of failure.

The river of time flows into eternity, flows over eternity, flows under eternity. The river of time is contaminated, sewer water, entering pristine rivers. “Altarolysis” I, John Driscoll, murmur under my breath. Altarolysis: the breaking down of the moral fiber, the spiritual cell attacked by lysins, the fear of acting against one’s nature and at the same time the fear of offending the omniscient and omnipotent God, the unwillingness to place all, heart, mind, body and soul, upon the altar. I have heard the saintly say that man is constantly confronted with his greatest weakness. Heard them claim God’s grace offers growth only through the sacrificing of oneself. Heard them pronounce the edicts of God as “sacrifice, sacrifice, sacrifice.” Forty years they wandered solely for God to prove them. To see what was in their hearts. Am I up for such a trek?

     I am stretched upon the altar of Abraham, says the sacrificee.

     I want to believe I would let the knife fall, says the sacrificer.

If it were the case, and I needed to sacrifice all, I would return to the place of breakdown, to my teen years, return to my room, my parent’s house, lock myself up for weeks, months, years, until I could accept the will of God and sacrifice the one thing I cannot sacrifice. It isn’t so easy. It is impossible to give up the one love that makes life worth living. I am balking. Yes, I admit it. I, John Driscoll, am balking on the steps of the altar. I have followed this far and cannot mount the final step, cannot plunge the knife into my own heart. The eye of faith is both blind and brutal. And I am constantly confronted with my failure. “Altarolysis” I sneeze out as I enter a crowded subway. No one hears.

“There now! There now!” Klonopin is kicking in. I might have otherwise been shaken from my task, been unable to continue. I need my nerves. I wonder. I wonder what Abraham thought as he raised the knife high above his head, as the noon-day sun beamed off the metal, as the gleam of the blade flittered in his thirty-four year old son’s eyes. No indication of Abraham’s inner thoughts is given. He does not let us know the degree of difficulty, stays hush-hush on the matter, relies on Paul to tell much later how Abraham saw the promises of eternity afar off, in the distance, and this somehow buoyed him up, but does not say what it cost him, how his heart beat, how his mind wondered in amazement if his seed would be as myriad as the marbled sands of the seas and deserts, when he was sentenced to kill the very birthright; No, he does not say what took place on the interior. I will. I, John Driscoll, will tell what sacrifice costs. I will not hold back.

I must tell this first. How life constantly brings us, splays us out upon the altar of Abraham. A secret I must tell. The sacrificer is always the sacrificee as well. To kill a son is to kill a part of father. To destroy a love is to destroy a part of lover. It is just that simple.

The subway rocks back and forth and jars me out of my revelry. “Altarolysis,” I whisper into the ear of the lady sitting next to me with her briefcase on her lap and her shoulders covered by her pinstriped power suit. “Pardon me,” she replies. I say, “Is that an Ann Taylor?” The woman looks at me as if I asked an inane question, raises her scoffing eyes then turns the other way. Should have, could have, would have, had I any sense this morning. “Kick in Klonipin. Kick in damn it.” Heart is about to explode, lungs implode, knuckles are stark white, teeth can’t grit anymore without chipping.

      I am stretched upon the altar of Abraham, says the sacrificee.

     Anything but to see a knife gleam in my son’s eyes, say the sacrificer.

The meeting starts at 9:00 am. Overpaid clowns with leather suitcases and bulging wallets gather in a circle around a table to talk about golf and great vacation spots. The man next to me asks if I have my presentation prepared. “I do,” I say nonchalantly. “It is on the revival of human sacrifice. I feel like virgin blood must be shed to expiate for the sins of this generation.” The man laughs and is about to pass my comments off as absurd and facetious, but I give just enough of a serious look into his doughy face to make him unsure if I am joking or not, and this makes him uncomfortable. He turns to his assistant and ignores my existence. The meetings always start late.

More time for revelry. So it begins like this. At first I think life is playing a joke on me. “Come on you Cosmic Clown, quit playing charades with my life. I know what is meant to be, and this love is to be fulfilled. I am surer of this than anything.” I even laugh a little when I begin to think it is not coming to pass the way the inner self seems to be assured it will. Sara, stricken with years, experienced this when she was told she would bear a child. She laughed. She laughed because she knew the impossibility of such an edict whether from the mouth of an angel or not. And so it is with all—they laugh when at first confronted with the altar.

Oh if it would end there, if the Higher Power would just strike us down in our act of laughter, in our doubt, if we did not have to traverse and travail in the heat of the day. But no, step two is so awful. Step two is the realization that what is required is required, what is a joke is not a joke anymore. Oh the pangs, the pangs, the ramblings, the trembling, when one realizes the inner self has been duped into believing there would be a way out and there isn’t. It is like walking into an open door because a spring breeze blows softly through the room, and fragrant flowers waft generously, and the view from the open window is of a sea, or a lake, but upon entrance the door is slammed shut, the breeze ceases, the flowers blanch, the shutters fall, and all that remains is the loss of light and staleness of unstirred air. Where has the door gone, or was it ever really there? And if there was any inclination of what awaited upon entering, who would enter? Who would fumble around in the darkness looking for a knob that may or may not exist?

The meeting begins. The first presenter tells how one can see monetary gains, personal and corporate, without having to sacrifice their personal time. Pie charts are shown and bar graphs illustrated to drive home his point. He sits to an impressive applause. My time has come. I arise and walk to the front. I preface my speech by deriding the first speaker. “If you take away the personal sacrifice of your employees, you deny them the satisfaction of giving a piece of themselves they want to give anyways.” A general uproar ensues. This room of clowns thinks I am the joker. Blushing, I click on the computer and bring up my first PowerPoint picture. It is of a starving child about to die of hunger and of a vulture waiting for death to befall the child, so it can pick at the flesh. The picture has always struck a tender nerve within me. I tell the corporate bigwigs how we have lost touch with the human aspect of life, tell how business has become a bureaucracy, an inhumane vulture, and how people have become numbers and functions, and value is measured by output and income, not heartbeats and thoughts. Another uproar ensues. “Heartbeats!!!” one man guffaws while hitting his knee. My entire speech goes this way. Each valid point I try to make is met with laughter. I sit down to a standing ovation. The CEO tells me “thanks for lightening the mood.” As my nine o’clock dosage of OxyContin kicks in, I fall back into revelry.

     I am stretched upon the altar of Abraham, says the scapegoat.

     How can I kill the one thing I love? says the sacrificer.

Of course, irony does not end in the dark room. Once one does find the doorknob and exits, more brutal ironies await, and the wish is to return to fumbling around a dark room. Oh, the irony when Abraham realized what was required of him, when he realized flesh of his flesh would die by his hand, when he saw fathers laughing with their sons as they traveled to the fields or as they sat down to eat together, and he knew he would not evermore in mortality. I, John Driscoll, do not like step three. Step three is perhaps the cruelest of all. To see the object of affection affectionate with another, to see the object of affection living on when a death of sorts has occurred within himself, is a cruelty few understand. Anxiety, neurosis, and bitterness rancor within heart, mind and spleen and I, John Driscoll, can be found raising my fists to the heavens. But this is a variation. Abraham had to physically kill his most beloved possession, and I, John Driscoll, only suffer a metaphysical death and watch as the ghost of past love continues to haunt the recesses of my deranged mind. I cannot quite let go even though the death has already occurred. I am constantly confronted with my failure.

      My mind is bound upon the altar of Abraham, says the unwilling  sacrificee.

     My hand is forced against its will to let the knife fall, says the timid sacrificer.

I take the subway back to my car. At least the corporate meeting allowed for an early departure from the regular seven to six way of office living. I make it to the car and instead of driving home to the empty house, I head for the hills. I am depressed. My noontime Klonipin is one hour away. I take it early. Otherwise anxiety, neurosis, and bitterness might force me to plow my car into the upcoming barrier. So this is what happens when a sacrifice lives on, when it refuses to die. The river of time is a bog; it does not flow; it stinks; and no one wants to cross it. I make it to the hilltop, park the car, and sit upon a large rock. I am overcome with sadness and a vision of my love and loss continue to hammer themselves into my head. Do I like this pain? Did I not come up here to get away from such thoughts? You cannot run from the altar, only to it.

Just as I am about to climb down from the rock, and almost as a reiteration and reaffirmation of my aforementioned comment, I see my Rosie’s grey Subaru Impreza WRX STi drive by. There is someone else in the passenger seat. Once they are gone, I realize it wasn’t her, was the wrong color and the wrong make. I need to take my Ambien; I have to sleep more.

I am stretched upon the altar of Abraham, says the young boy.

I do not know enough of life to go through with this, says I, John Driscoll.

Please altar! Don’t require this of me. I am just a little boy and way too young to feel so old. “Kill him,” says the voice. “Kill the boy once and for all.”

Alec Bryan lives in Utah and doesn’t even have one wife. His first novel is being serialized by Prick of the Spindle, which after the third installment will be published as a book via Aqueous Books this September, and is titled Night on the Invisible Sun. Short stories can be read at Oddville Press, Dogzplot, LITnIMAGE and The Waccamaw Journal, and forthcoming in Pank. Visit him at to see further information about the author and his projects.