We have something a little different for you today. I don’t want to ruin it and ramble on, trying to explain the brilliant nature of what you’re about to read. Instead, grab a cup of coffee and experience the genius of Jonathan Winn.
I thought he’d be taller.
He sat with me, this immortal Martuk. With his thick, dark hair and skin that hinted at an ancestry more Middle Eastern than European, he looked just like any other man in his 40s.
Of course, the truth was much darker.
I’d read his first book Martuk … the Holy and had just flown through Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche, when my phone rang.
“A quick chat,” he’d said, his voice deeper than I’d expected as he gave me the address of his favorite cafe on the Boulevard Saint-Germaine. But beneath the polite words there was a growl. A warning, really. A hint of the monster who pulled out tongues and plucked out eyes and punched through chests to rip out hearts.
Now here we sat on a sunny afternoon, our coffees in hand.
He took a sip and smiled. “This,” he said. “Around the world, millions of people do this. Sip coffee. Beyond language and culture, political beliefs and whether one is rich or has nothing, this is a thing that millions share. Despite the reality of who I am, this is what links me to the rest of the world.”
Another swallow, the delicate demitasse coming to rest in its saucer on the table. “When I lose myself and forget my humanity, it is always a small thing, like this, that brings me back.”
He looked out the window at the crowds clogging the Boulevard. “We used to chew the beans, you know. The coffee beans that grew wild on the hills. Before the 15th century or so when the Arabs – and of course, it was the Arabs because it was always the Arabs – discovered the beans could be roasted and ground and brewed.
“The animals would pull faster and work longer if we fed them coffee. And the shamans and priests could do marathon prayers.” His eyes found mine. “We soon learned that chewed or brewed, everything was better with coffee.”
“And that earlier coffee? How different was it from what we drink today?”
“It was thick and pungent. It was acrid. Bitter. It wasn’t something you’d enjoy or linger over. You drank it with a purpose. You had a long journey or a difficult battle, or many gods to speak with and placate. You needed energy and so that’s what you did. You soldiered through the slop we knew as coffee. What we have now is refined and pleasant. Back then, not so much.
“Of course later, one hundred years or so later, things changed. It became a popular especially after the coffee houses started springing up left and right. This was in, I don’t know, the 15th, 16th century. Something like that. In the cities in Egypt and then in what we know today as Persia, Turkey, Syria. People, huge crowds, really, meeting, talking, drinking coffee, playing chess, listening to music.”
“Exactly. That’s what people don’t realize. Things don’t change. The world doesn’t change, really. People don’t change. Those who sat sipping coffee in the 16th century, in Isfahan in Perisa or in Aleppo in what is now Syria, those people are just like the ones who sit here now.”
He glanced around the cafe. Noticed the group of German tourists scanning their maps, a jumble of shopping bags at their feet. The mother chatting on her cell phone, her eyes fixed on the baby sleeping in the stroller. He watched the waitress, an older woman with thick hips and thin arms, as she leaned on the counter. And the young couple tucked away in the corner, their fingers clutching stout porcelain. “I’ve watched the world change,” he said. “Civilations rise and fall. Whole worlds end. Yet it still remains the same. Always the same.”
For a moment, I’d forgotten who he was, this Martuk. Had forgotten about his birth in the sun-blasted Zagros mountains one thousand years before Christ. Had forgotten the centuries he’d seen. The bloody chaos he’d caused and the agony he’d endured. Reminded myself that this was a man who’d had a long life, a long immortality, even before something as unremarkable as a cup of coffee even existed.
I gave him a moment. “If I may, why the second book?” I said. “Why Proseuche? Was it something as simple as the story continuing?”
“Nothing’s that simple.” He finished his espresso in one final swallow, his finger raised to order a second. A small nod from me, and a second finger lifted to indicate two. “Writing doesn’t excorcise the ghosts. It emboldens them.”
“So why write?”
A moment of silence followed by a brief shrug. “Who am I without my ghosts? In this world that changes yet remains the same, they are one of my few constants. Their anger, their rage. Their fear and regret and sorrow. These things, I know them. They are familiar. Even here, even now, they walk with me.
“They are amaranthine. A word I now love, by the way,” he said with a grin. “Endless and forever and constant.”
He’d grown silent again, his eyes turning toward the church.
It sat across from us, squatting on a patch of earth it had dominated for centuries. The stone pale and worn smooth by time, it couldn’t help but steal your attention, if only for the smallest of seconds. He had a history with this church. A complicated one of friendship and secrets shared and mistakes made. Horrible mistakes.
“Do you have regrets?” I said, the words slipping from my tongue before I could catch them. I’d read Proseuche. I knew his story. Knew of his struggles and the shocking breadth of his sin. I understood the weight of these four words and that question mark.
“Yes,” he said, the new demitasse in hand, his eyes still on the church. “Regret obsesses me. But isn’t that the price for betrayal?”
“And in Antioch in the 3rd century –”
“A time of chaos. Of violence. Of demons and dark magic. And, yes, betrayal, too, of course. A price was paid. By a friend. A dear friend.” He closed his eyes for a moment. “This you know.”
“And now here, again, in modern Paris. Another friend. Another betrayal.”
“As I said, the world repeats itself.” He said, silencing my words with a gentle bite as he turned to me, felling the espresso in one gulp before standing to leave. “And people never change. That and my ghosts, those are the constants.”
I stood to join him. “So, before you go: you regret the sin, but do you regret writing of it? In Proseuche? If you could go back, would you still share how far you fell and the lives you destroyed?”
After a long moment, a moment where he, again, watched the crowds out the window and then the tourists, the mother and her child, the grim-faced couple in their corner, and the waitress near the register, he spoke.
“Yes, if I could, my secrets, my mistakes, would live safe and silent with me. I would not write. I would not speak. I would find the smallest corner of the world to run to and hide, so great is my shame and my regret.”
“But in the end, there must be redemption and forgiveness.”
He considered my words. And then he spoke.
“There must be?” He moved close. “Knowing what you know, of my brutality, my venality, of the aftermath of my brutality, would you forgive? Knowing all this, would you offer redemption? Could you?”
Before I could answer, he leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek, his hand resting on my shoulder.
“You could not,” he said, the whispered growl finding my ear. “And neither can I.”
Then he turned and left, the door closing behind him as, a monster hiding in plain sight, he slipped into the crowds lining the boulevard, escaping into the safety of anonymity hand in hand with his constant ghosts.
Screenwriter, playwright, actor, and author of Martuk … the Holy and The Martuk Series, Jonathan Winn was born in Seattle, WA. He currently lives in the US. Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche is his second full-length novel.
Martuk … the Holy: Proseuche can be found at