New by Rich Logsdon...
Thief of Hearts
CONFESSION OF A DARK SAINT
Misty's Moonlight Sonata
The Night Uncle Willy's Car Caught Fire
Somewhere Between Tonopah and Beatty, Nevada
Time to Go
Rich Logsdon Reviewed Castaways on Planet Earth
Thief of Hearts
His name was Frank Crawley.
Slightly overweight, Frank stood 6'1. He had wavy black hair, piercing brown eyes, a winning smile, and broad muscular shoulders. Thick dark-rimmed glasses almost hid his eyes.
At one time, he had been called "the Muscle Boy of Venice Beach;" men, women, and children had congregated around him whenever he flexed. Then, almost overnight, he had become the Thief of Hearts. That's what the media had dubbed the man who roamed from community to community, seeking prizes. The prize was his victim's beating heart, which Frank removed with the skill of a surgeon.
Desperate for the ritual rush, the Thief of Hearts sought out ones that looked almost ordinary, just shy of beautiful: plain though pleasant, sometimes almost cute; a so-so body with passable tits and ass; neither too tall nor too short; maybe slightly on the quiet side. He always had sex before the kill, but it was the removal of the heart, the drinking of a small quantity of blood, that always brought him euphoria. The heart, he reasoned, was the cave’s soul, and the more souls he had—particularly souls of women—the longer he would live. At least that’s what the book—titled Maximum Rush?—had claimed.
One he found in a restaurant just outside of Nampa, Idaho, on July 14th of 2002.
Starting out at two pm on July 14th, he'd driven his Ford SUV down the coast from Tacoma and had hit hard but intermittent rains east of Portland. Just outside Ontario, Oregon, located on the Idaho/Oregon border, his car had gone into a spin. Cursing God for the next forty miles and guzzling water to assuage his immense thirst, he'd decided to find a place for the night right in the middle of Nampa, a dirty, sprawling southern Idaho farm town that smelled of brown rot.
Three nights before his arrival in southern Idaho, he'd taken Marilyn--mousy brown hair, a winning smile, nicely pointed breasts, recently separated from her husband, the junior high math teacher--over to a little spot along the Pacific. It was in a nightclub that he'd met her, a teacher by day, a dancer by night. Pretty sure that she regarded him as a prime catch, he had told her he was a well known medical doctor from the East coast and had rented a beach condo so they could get to know each other better. The condo proved to be a run-down, weather-battered motel, and as the ocean wind howled, he'd had sex with a sorely disappointed Marilyn. Afterwards, she had died without much of a struggle. A former nursing student, Frank had driven to a nearby grove where he'd placed her nude body on a plastic tarp, put on his surgical gloves, neatly cut out her heart, wrapped it, and put it into the ice chest he carried in the back of his vehicle.
And now here he was--the Thief of Hearts--right in southwestern Idaho. After checking into Ruby's Inn, a two-story dive next to the tracks, he watched some Judge Judy on TV, took some meds to dispel his dark mood, and then drove a couple blocks up to the restaurant, a decrepit 50's style joint with its parking lot half-full. Inside, country music filled the air and seemed to bring the memorabilia on the walls to life.
Hungry as a wolf, he requested a corner table, and the hostess with the tight black sweater coming just above her pierced navel and blue low-riders seated him in a booth on the far side of the restaurant. Being in the back was a blessing because it allowed him to examine everyone in the place.
Comfortably seated, the big man gulped glassful after glassful of iced tea while savoring roasted stuffed chicken. Being in this place was relaxing, with some country singer whining in the background and young waitresses scurrying to and fro. Between huge bites, he tallied his victims--he thought of them as "trophies"--on his paper napkin.
He was proud of these successes—one day he would tell his mother in Salt Lake all about this period of his life--and as he shoveled some peas into his mouth, it occurred to him that if awards were ever given for those who excelled in this bloody work, he'd certainly receive one.
It was when he was sucking the gristle off the second chicken leg that the earth titled on its axis, and number twenty-one entered the restaurant. At that moment, the music rang out a bit more loudly. The place’s semi-darkness dissipated. He took the leg from his mouth, set it on his plate, and wiped the grease from his chin with the back of his hand; the music stopped as he watched the hostess escort the one who would surely become his next trophy towards his section.
It was difficult for Frank, at such moments, not to believe that some dark divinity shaped his life. He was thinking this as, led by the hostess, she walked in his direction; she had a sexy walk, like she was used to showing off her body, and she wasn't wearing a wedding ring. He was thinking of his secret divinity when she moved past him without so much as a smile; her latex pants were so tight that, as she sat down at a table ten feet away (and facing his direction), he could see her lines. As he slowly set down his glass, she lowered her head, folded her hands between her legs, almost like she was praying—Please, he thought, no prayers--and studied the menu. Her kinky red hair, her thin, drawn face, her blood red lips, and her long, thin, slender fingers thrilled him; she wore wire-rimmed glasses and a blue and silver Seahawks sweater.
He was taking all this in—you know how it is--when a jolt, like a sickening electrical surge, scrambled his thoughts and turned them upside down. He felt his brain grow cold and numb, he wondered if he were passing from his body, and his extremities trembled as it dawned on him that this ordinary woman reminded him of someone he'd seen or talked to before.
He now kept his eyes on her, sideways, while taking a long drink of iced tea.
When she glanced up and looked at him, he felt his heart miss a beat.
"How are you, my fine man?" she said almost as if she knew him.
"Oh, I'm fine, I guess," he said, putting the glass down and wiping his mouth with his napkin.
"What's on the napkin?"
"Just some writing for my job. You know, making lists." His heart thudded wildly.
She nodded. "Lists are important. What do you do?"
"Oh, I guess I travel a lot. I'm kind of a collector."
"Really?" she asked. "What do you collect?"
"Oh, memorabilia. Sports stuff." Silently, Frank congratulated himself, for he did buy and trade sports memorabilia at the various conventions he attended.
"Where are you from?" She sipped from the glass of strawberry lemonade her waitress had set in front of her.
"Oh, you know, here and there. Southern Cal, I guess."
He looked down at his plate, picked up his fork, and shoveled some mashed potatoes into his mouth. When he looked up again, her glacial blue eyes were riveted on him.
"I'm from Las Vegas," she said.
He almost choked. He'd known the strip joints in Vegas, and he could easily imagine this one as a dancer. His three dead Las Vegas girls had been erotic dancers.
"You ok?" she asked, her eyes glimmering as if she were hiding a smile. "Drink some water. Raise your arms like this." She held her arms over her head.
Wondering if she really had been on the verge of laughing, he did as she suggested, and his coughing stopped.
"I'm a teacher. A lonely, single high school teacher," she said after he lowered his arms.
He relaxed. She looked like she might be a teacher. His mother had been a third-grade teacher. His sister was now a junior high school English teacher in Utah. "So, uh, what brings you here?" he asked, clearing his throat.
He paused as she placed her order with the waitress.
"I'm visiting my cousin," she said. "He lives in Boise."
"Yeah. Good old Boise fucking Idaho."
"Staying with your cousin, then, huh?"
She slowly shook her head. "Not on your life. He's married, got a huge family. I don't care for kids much. Besides, he's a jerk. When I was in junior high, I tried to kill the son-of-a-bitch."
He wasn't going to ask for details. He figured that she had to be an outsider, someone no one would miss right away.
"Nampa, then?" He could hear the hard rain drumming on the roof.
She picked up her glass and sipped some more pink lemonade. "A ways out of town. South. In a motel way the hell out in the middle of some of southern Idaho's famous beet fields."
She paused and looked across the restaurant toward the door. "Yeah. About twenty, thirty miles away. If you're interested...."
He nodded. "I've got time. Don't have to be on the road until noon tomorrow. We can go to my place if you want."
She smiled and winked just as thunder exploded. "Naw. I think you'll like where I'm staying. Lots of privacy. Out in farmland. Not many people checked in."
His heart reached the light, rapid animal beating that he often experienced just after the sex. Barely able to contain himself, he nodded. "OK," he said. "What? After we finish?"
"That'll work for me," she said. "By the way, I'm Beatrice."
"Oh," he said, "I shoulda introduced myself. I'm Frank."
"Hi, Frank," she said, just as her dinner was brought.
For both of them, it was the beginning of something very special.
"Coming, Frank?" she asked as she walked past his table. She had paid for her dinner and was on her way out. Solicitous, she slowed to brush his left shoulder with the long, thin fingers of her left hand. The sensation aroused him.
"Oh, yeah," Frank answered, hungry for another chicken but content to wait until later that night. Pulsing energy shot through his body like sparks of rich blood. The thought of being with Beatrice, the thought of what they were going to do, made him thirsty and hard.
Finishing his iced tea, he slid out of the booth.
Just outside the door, they stood under the small awning. It was very humid, and Frank was sweating like a pig. He sucked a toothpick.
"Fucking rain," she said, not looking up at him.
"You said it. I hate the goddamned fucking rain."
"Look," she said, pointing across the parking lot, "there's my truck, that powder blue GM piece of shit with the red gash on the side--next to the Caddy. I'm gonna pull left when I hit the exit. You follow."
"Sounds good," he responded, shoving his hands into his pockets. He was still hard.
She did have a Nevada license plate, and that briefly unsettled him. As she started to back out of her parking space, she looked at him, winked, and waved. Assured of a good time, he waved back, took the toothpick from his mouth and flicked it into the bushes next to the sidewalk. Then he loped through rain across the lot to his dark green SUV. His hands shaking with excitement, he climbed in and started the engine. As he backed out, he kept his eyes on the pickup. When he pulled up behind her, she turned left at the exit, her tires spinning on wet pavement. He waited a second, then pressed the accelerator to the floor and spun onto the road.
Thinking, this will be easy, this one will be a piece of cake, the Thief of Hearts followed Beatrice's truck. At one stop, he edged his car forward and nudged her bumper.
They drove through a downpour. With his thoughts fixed upon Beatrice, Frank barely noticed the rain, thunder and lightning as they headed south. Four or five miles beyond the city hers was the only other vehicle on the two-lane highway cutting through beat fields. Rain still fell, though not as hard. Large puddles had formed in the gravel and dirt along the sides of the road, spilling onto the asphalt and forcing Frank to straddle the centerline.
The drive seemed endless, and after finishing his forth bottle of water, boredom crept in. Frank was thinking of giving up when he saw no more than two hundred yards ahead a large white and red marquis and, next to that, a two-story, red brick motel. Approaching the entrance, Beatrice's truck slowed, its left turn signal flashing. Close upon her, he followed.
As they turned in, he noticed something unusual: the office looked closed, with its curtains pulled shut, and the rutted parking lot was empty. At the first room, in place of a window was a large piece of plywood. He braked. His heart raced. Abandonment struck him as strange but it was not entirely without a rational explanation: the manager could be out, a window had been broken, and the guests were yet to arrive. At least that’s what he told himself. Lustful sickness made him stupid, and he accepted any explanation.
Besides, he asked himself, what did it matter? It was to his advantage that the place looked vacant, and so he focused on his next victim: he would go inside her. Then, after pulling himself out, he would get behind her, wrap his legs around the lower part of her body and his arms around her head, and yank upwards and sideways until he felt the pop. He figured he was strong enough to twist her head off if he had to.
Confidence returning, he took his foot off the brake and moved forward. Peering through rain, he saw her truck at the end of the lot, parked facing the door to the last room. He eased his car into the slot next to hers and flicked off the headlights. The truck was empty.
He hesitated before opening his vehicle's door. There's something here that does not love the Thief of Hearts, he told himself, trying to picture what Beatrice looked like and recalling his earlier impression that she had looked familiar.
"Where the fuck could I have seen her?" he mumbled, dread welling inside of him. He got out, slammed the door, and stood in the rain as he considered the possibilities: college days, his one semester as a nursing student in a Southern California community college, the girls at the L.A. strip joints he used to visit before "hitting the road," the cities he had stayed in, the dives he hid in when he went to Salt Lake. Shaking his head, thunder cracking in the dark gray sky, he walked to the door. Without knocking, he grabbed the doorknob and turned to open.
It was then that the picture exploded in his mind like a neon sign. Boom, boom, boom, and there it was. He was certain he had seen Beatrice in one of the topless nightclubs in Vegas. Curiously, he had no memory of the dancer who had left with him that night--he couldn't remember her hair, her race, not one thing about her--but he vividly remembered the dancer, wearing red latex with holes for her nipples, who shook his hand and introduced herself as Beatrice. Surely, he thought, this was the one. Brief terror seized him as he stood just outside the door, fighting for control.
But, then again, memory can play horrible tricks; this is what he forced himself to think. Frank had learned that over and over. Besides, if Beatrice was that woman, that would mean that somehow she alone had tracked him down. Impossible, he told himself, for not even the police, not even the FBI, had been able to find him.
"Fucking impossible," he muttered aloud. Having said it, he could now believe it.
He pushed the door open and stepped into the room. The light over the bed was on, and a TV and an unopened suitcase lay atop the bureau across the room. Sweating, blaming the humidity, he walked slowly across the room to the bathroom; she'd be in there he told himself, calling, "Hello, Beatrice? Beatrice? Lover Boy is here!"
Thunder crashed overhead, lightning lit the room, and again he felt afraid. He thought of flicking on the TV to calm himself; he wished he had his meds. Then something moved behind him—he didn’t hear it; he felt it—and he spun on the old carpet.
At first, his eyes did not focus, a probable effect of fatigue. Then, yes, there she was, red hair drenched and wearing a black rain slick. She stood just inside the door, using both hands to point a .38 right at his midsection.
"Oh, Jesus," he rasped.
He froze, holding his arms out to his sides as if he were trying to maintain his balance. Now the fear numbed him, as if a doctor had just given him a fatal prognosis, and he felt he was going to leave his body at any time. Nobody had ever held a gun on him before.
"Hello, Frank Crawly," she said, using her foot to push the door shut behind her.
Breathing shallow, mouth open, mouth dry, he could think of nothing to say.
For a long time, it seemed, they held this pose, Frank frozen rigid with his thick arms out from his sides, Beatrice pointing the pistol right at his bulging stomach.
"OK," he finally said. "OK." It was all he could think of.
"OK, what, Frank?--or, if you prefer, Mr. Fucking Thief of Fucking Hearts?"
He took a small trembling step backwards.
"Frank," he said. "My name's Frank." He told himself to drop to his knees and weep like a small child, like someone begging God for forgiveness, but he couldn't generate that much movement.
"Jesus, no shit," she laughed. "And I'll bet you remember me, too. Just the way your mind would work. If you didn't know me, you wouldn't be ready to shit your pants."
He vaguely felt warm dampness in his groin area. "Please," he said. "Oh, for God’s sake, please. Don’t hurt me." He was little Frank Crawley again, and this woman was his big, bullying sister preparing to kick the shit out of him, once again, while Mom and Dad stayed out all night at some bar.
"Damn right, Frank. Please. Please beg. Go on."
"Please," he repeated, thinking the word pleased her.
"Pretty please. Say 'Pretty please.'"
"Pretty please." His voice sounded like a sob. "Pretty please" was the right thing to say.
She shook her head. "You're a regular case, Frank."
She went on, "One of the Vegas girls--Melody was her name--was my sister. We danced together. We loved each other. We made love to each other. Our parents died when we were small so we were pretty much all we had."
He couldn't remember Melody—he couldn’t remember any of them now--but he knew that he had done the same thing with her that he had done to all the rest. Certainly, he had thrilled to sip her blood.
He tried to draw a deep breath and actually shook as he inhaled. He wasn't sure if he could exhale when she said, "Sit down, Frank. On the bed."
His mouth was dry and his tongue hurt. He forced himself to turn so he could stumble to the bed and sit down. He was so scared that he actually fell sideways on the bed; his legs wouldn’t bend right. Pushing himself up with his shaking right arm, mouth closed, he looked at her.
"Take off your clothes, big boy," she ordered, "and then pull back the sheets and climb into that motherfucking bed."
Slowly, trembling, now sitting upright, he wanted to do as he was told. He had trouble remembering where to begin when she instructed, "Start with the shoes, big boy."
Clumsily, he bent down and slowly removed his shoes. It was difficult because his fingers wouldn’t work right.
"Now your pants, your shirt, and all the rest."
"Of course," he croaked.
It seemed to take forever for him to unbuckle himself, lift himself off the bed, and pull his pants off, and as he worked on unbuttoning his blue and green Hawaiian shirt, she went on, "It was about four years ago. She was found--what?--a week later, stuffed in a black plastic bag and placed in a closet in one of those fleabag motels where people go to fuck. No heart. I remember reading that you'd dug a hole in Melody and taken her heart. Which I imagine you still got with you, right?"
He slowly nodded without looking up. He was at the last button. "In the van," he said hoarsely. "Cooler in the back."
"In a cooler. How about that?"
"On ice." For some reason, he chuckled.
She stepped forward, scowled, put the barrel inches from his right eye, and said, "You know, it took me a long time to find you. You move around too much. Too fucking much. But I figured out your pattern."
When he said nothing, she continued, "Up and down, up and down, then sideways, inland. You always take a turn through Salt Lake."
"It's where my mom and sister are," Frank mumbled. He hated his sister but loved his mother. Suddenly feeling sick, he leaned to the side to vomit on the floor.
Patiently, like a saint, she waited until he was through. "Puke it all out, Frank," she said. "Just don’t get any on my fuckin’ shoes."
When he sat up and wiped his mouth, she again put the barrel inches from his eye. It never occurred to Frank to fight back. He was more concerned with the hot, sticky shit in his underpants.
"Did she struggle, you big prick? Did she call my name just before you broke her beautiful neck? Did you have to stick it up her ass? I'm talking about my sister!"
The questions meant nothing to him because he simply didn't remember. For his silence, she whacked the barrel of the gun across the bridge of his nose.
For a moment, as she stood back and watched, he blubbered. Then he returned to taking off his clothes.
After he had pulled off his wet shirt, dabbled in blood, he sat erect, hoping that this was enough.
She stepped back. "Get into bed."
Trembling, blood trickling down the side of his nose, he stood, and turned to face the bed. He couldn’t feel. Leaning over, he pulled back the cover and the sheets. At first, he couldn’t remember how to get into bed. When he slid between the sheets, his back to her, it occurred to him that he had not removed his white socks. Something stank. He pulled the covers around him and shivered uncontrollably.
"Frank," she said, lifting her left foot and kicking him hard in the small of the back, "Frank, you fucking meathead. On your back. Flat on your fucking back, head on that old pillow."
After he had done what she commanded, he glanced at her through beady and swollen eyes. Getting kicked had hurt, and he was sure he had been crying. Then he said, in a voice not at all manly, "I'm in bed, Beatrice. I did what you told me."
She stepped forward, gripped the covers and pulled them back. "Now," she said, "undies—Jesus, you messed yourself, didn’t you, Frank?--and T-shirt."
Lying flat on his back, he did as he was told. He was bleeding only slightly. He noticed his underpants were soaked, and when he removed them some of the shit stuck to his fingers.
Naked, except for his socks, he felt very cold, exposed, and very small. Slowly, he became aware that the rain was still falling.
"Can't get it up for your own execution?"
"Huh?" he responded.
She laughed and ran the barrel of the gun through her red hair.
"Believe in Hell, Frank?" she asked, putting the barrel against his forehead.
Sudden, choking chest pains made it impossible to answer. He gasped for breath; his vision blurred. "Please," he breathed. He had never known such cruelty.
"I believe in Hell, Frank, now that you ask. And Heaven, too. There's gotta be a Heaven where angels can dance and get away from all the sick, shit-in-their-pants, disgusting fucks like you."
She yawned, paused and studied him. Thunder exploded overhead.
"But you don't have to worry about Heaven, Frank," she went on, shaking her head. "In fact, Frank, I'm thinking you're gonna roast forever, like a pig on a spit. Snap, crackle, pop." She hissed.
Try as he might, he couldn't think of anything to say about Heaven or Hell. In the past few years, he hadn't given either one a great deal of thought. What he did think about was the pain that had moved into his arms and neck, and he felt that he was going to get sick again. He wished she would let him get up and wipe himself.
But she was insensitive to him.
"You want it in the head? Or up the ass?" she offered. "Did you give Melody or any of them a choice?"
"They didn't ask," he answered. He had never allowed questions; possessed of Herculean strength, he had just done it. "I drank her blood."
She laughed and lowered the gun, and he figured this was his reprieve. She would let him go, he’d claim more souls, and he'd see his mother and sister again.
"Say goodbye, Frank." She said it in a soft low voice that actually reminded him of his mother. He couldn't remember his father.
When he raised his eyebrows and said "Goodbye," she pointed the gun at the center of his forehead and pulled the trigger.
Blam: just one clean shot, she thought to herself, hands gripping the steering wheel at ten and two. And then another: blam. And finally another: blam.
The face would be hardly recognizable.
In the distance, she could see the lights of Twin Falls. It had stopped raining, and in less than an hour she'd be in Nevada. She would spend the night in Jackpot or Wells. She had some friends in Wells.
She regretted not making Frank suffer more. When she'd pulled the trigger, the gun had sounded, and slight blood sprayed from the skull. Dappled, she had watched as the pillowcase, supporting Frank's head, soaked deep crimson. Rage not yet subsiding, she had fired two more times.
She'd removed her slick and thrown it over the TV, and then taken off her clothes, for she’d always worked best in the nude. From her suitcase she'd removed two shining steel knives--one with a long, curved blade and the other with a shorter blade. Both had been engraved by her uncle years before. For several minutes, she had straddled the body, praying that she remembered the procedure she spent days reading and learning about.
Then, she'd gone to work, using the long, thin instrument to form a cavity and remove the barely beating heart. With the shorter knife, she'd severed veins and arteries. Then, she'd placed the organ on the next pillow. Exposed like that, the heart would tell investigators that this body belonged to the former Thief of Hearts.
Finished, she'd placed the two knives on the pillow next to the heart and, after getting off the corpse, had used the green blanket to wipe as much blood as she could off her own body. Then, still dabbed in blood, she had grabbed the knives, set them at the foot of the bed, and then climbed from the bed. With the dirty brown bedspread, she'd wiped off the knives, which she then placed in the suitcase. The knives would become family heirlooms.
After showering and changing into some new clothes and gloves, she had finished packing her suitcase. Then, locking it, she picked up her suitcase and headed for the door, certain that the murder would not be traced to her.
She was certain she would not be found out. Twenty years before, the abandoned hotel had belonged to a friend of her uncle Mac, who had recently died while serving a life term in a Florida penitentiary. Before disappearing in Southeast Asia, the friend had sent Mac the key to the hotel. In turn, Mac’s belongings had been sent to Beatrice in Las Vegas. Unless someone had seen her and Frank at the hotel—and that was unlikely with the nearest house a mile away--she would get off scot-free.
Now she was cruising through Twin Falls, another southern Idaho farm town. It was here, she remembered from long ago, that Evil Knieval had tried to jump the Snake River Canyon on a motorcycle.
At a stop light dead in the center of town, she told herself that she'd be in Las Vegas the next afternoon and would have at least a month to clear her head before her classes started. Once a lovely exotic dancer, she now taught English and literature in one the area's high schools and wondered, for an instant, what it would be like to begin the new year by saying something like, "Class, this last summer I killed the famous Thief of Hearts. Put three bullets in a man: one in his forehead, one for each eye."
On the Nevada side of Twin Falls, the rain began again as her thoughts turned to Melody. A redhead like herself, Melody had started dancing only six months before she had been murdered. By the time she was killed, Melody had actually begun to enjoy dancing nude, allowing men to stare at her pierced nipples or the lizard tattoo between her navel and pubis, giving them pretty much what they wanted in the back room. Occasionally she had let her customers take her home, something that Beatrice had told her not to do.
Beatrice recalled that, long before coming to work at the club, Melody had developed an insatiable desire for men of all sizes. "Big, medium, or small doesn't seem to matter," Melody had confided in her once when both were in high school. So when Frank had come along and she’d ridden his bone for close to an hour, Melody had accepted his offer to drive her back to his hotel where they could spend the night together. Melody had told Beatrice that this big man was someone important.
If the investigation into Melody's disappearance and murder had turned up any leads, Beatrice told herself, then I wouldn’t be driving through this Idaho shithole right now.
A year after the investigation had closed, Beatrice had taken a job in one of the Las Vegas high schools, secretly determined to follow all reports of the killings committed by the so-called Thief of Hearts. Satisfaction would come from her own ability to track down the son-of-a-bitch, much like she and her father had tracked deer through the forests of central Nevada, and put a bullet in his body at the first opportunity. Once she’d figured out the killer’s name and followed his pathway of crime, everything had fallen into place. It was as if she’d been born to track scum like Frank Crawley.
Now that I've cleansed the world, she told herself as hit the outskirts of Twin Falls, I can focus full-time on my teaching. Teaching, the successes that came with it, gave her immense pleasure; the year before, she'd even won an award.
Indeed, to Beatrice, there was no occupation quite like it in the whole world. And as far as she was concerned, because of its phenomenal growth, Vegas would remain the best place to teach in an elementary school. END
Either the cross or death.--St. Theresa of Avila
I. It is the last day of my captivity. You think this as you awaken in the bed of an ice-cold second story room.
As you pull the sheets closer, you hear rain drumming on the roof and window; rain reminds you of God's steady grace. Grace sustains you when your mind replays the events culminating in your conversion. Grace will give you peace when you take the needle.
Joints aching from the walking you did yesterday, you sit up in bed. Shivering slightly, you remember that you're in Seattle and wonder what the weather is like in sunny Las Vegas, where you lived five years ago. You finger the large silver cross dangling from your neck and glance at your watch. It's six in the morning, too early to shower and risk waking the Lutheran pastor and his wife, who took you in and sleep soundly two rooms down the hall.
After breakfasting around nine, you'll walk two blocks, hop on the bus, and, big floppy Bible in hand, ride to city center where you'll share the Gospel with anyone who will listen. Often, small crowds gather. It is then that the Holy Ghost will demand that you publicly tell, certainly for the last time during this period of earthly bondage, your exceedingly gruesome tale. Your story is your cross, every detail a nail.
II. Standing on wet pavement under the low gray Seattle sky, you'll begin with, "Her name was Lori."
That was the name on the website depicting the wavy-haired redhead with the gorgeous body. Her bio said she lived in Henderson, Nevada, and wanted a "sensitive man to love me body and soul." Crazy with desire, predatory as a mountain lion, you found her late one stormy night in January 1999 while surfing the net in your house’s second story guestroom. At the time, your family had just moved to Las Vegas, the tenth move in twenty years.
You remember that you were studying her homepage--she was pictured in a thin white negligee--when an image of the Savior blew into your mind, and He stood between you and the object of your depravity. Silently, you bid Him go away--He always frightened you. You reminded Him that you had angrily sworn off the Christian faith years before, just after your beautiful mother Esther shot your father to death in their bed twenty feet down the hall from your room. Esther had found Darrin putting it to the wife of the neighbor who had headed up a local satanic cult. You were ten at the time.
Heart racing, Jesus' image still nailed in your thoughts, you sat back in your soft, high-backed chair and pushed away from the computer table. Sweat dotted your brow and moistened your palms. You gritted your teeth and you forced your mind onto your last victim--also a redhead, also lonely, also gorgeous. It was somewhere outside Laramie, and she had squirmed and run; in the end, had submitted and taken the rope. Her soul had leapt from her body after you cut it from sternum to pubis.
As innocent blood soaked your mind and the wind shrieked your name outside the window, the image of the Savior faded, and you waited several minutes to regain wholeness. Finally, you returned to Lori's homepage, studied her face, and knew that she was consumed by a sorrow so crippling that she would be quite ripe for your plucking.
You clicked upon page one; the pictures there were mostly "boob shots." On page two, Lori was smiling while spreading wide, front and back, and you felt magic connection.
Then, like a hammer striking the side of your head, it hit you that you had seen this girl recently. "Oh, my God above," you whispered. You believed in sign and were now certain that some dark design was at work here. "Oh, my God; Oh, my God."
Your mind scampered in circles; you could not place her. Then memory cells ignited: this one, you remembered, worked at the nearby Wal-mart, just off Rampart. Several times in the past six months, she had checked you out, once even exclaiming, "God bless!" as you headed for the door. Tangible sorrow had saturated her voice.
Blinking and glancing at the screen, you remembered that she generally wore a sweater containing a message like "Redeemed by the Blood" or "By his Stripes." Though you had been raised Baptist, these messages sent the sickening chill of judgment to the marrow of your bones. The last time she'd checked you through, she had worn a black sweater with "God of Fire" printed in red over a golden cross. "God of Fire" had conjured such a dreadful image of damnation that you hadn't slept that night.
Pushing away fear and driving your thoughts back to the screen, you smiled; because she had already spoken to you, because she was drawn to smut, it should be quite possible to break beyond the "Savior barrier" and make her acquaintance. That done, you would move towards the cutting ritual that would free her soul and feed your own.
When you returned to her home page, you clicked the arrow on "Contact." That brought up a letter ready to be sent to her email address. This night, because you really didn't know her yet, you wrote nothing.
The next day after work, a prowling soul, you went to Wal-mart. You parked as close to the store and, because it was cold, ran to the main door. Heart racing, feet freezing, you walked to the homeowners' section where you picked up three bottles of stain. It was as you were standing in line that you saw her five check-stands away. Craving eye contact, you moved to her cue. After fifteen minutes, you found yourself face to face with Lori. Jaw set, she was wearing a blue sweater with the words "Stream of Living Waters" written in white.
"What does 'Stream of Living Waters' mean?" you asked as she processed your order.
"It's the name of a church," she mumbled, not giving you a glance.
"Also, I think it's what Jesus called the Holy Ghost."
The name of Jesus made your face twitch.
"Not many people believe in Him anymore." You almost stuttered as you spoke.
She looked at you, into your eyes, and sighed, brushing a strand of hair out of her face. "Not many people do anymore, I guess. Getting harder and harder to know God every day."
Eye contact always started it, and suddenly your heartbeat was a thin, rapid palpitation.
"But I guess you do, huh?" You had to force the words out.
"I surely try," she responded. "I was raised on Jesus though He hasn't been with me recently."
"Hasn't been with anyone recently," you snorted as you picked up your bag and headed for the door.
"God bless you, sir!" she said, her tone almost a plea.
Hating the expression, you nodded but did not glance back.
All through the next day, you couldn't stop thinking of Lori. During one your breaks at work, you even used your work computer to check her site. Then, after work, you phoned Kitty on your cell and told her you needed to pick up "one more thing" at Wal-mart.
It was after five when you moved though the sliding glass doors and pushed through the people milling around the counters near the entrance. Again, the store was frigid with late January cold as you walked to the pharmacy area and bought several packets of sinus medication. Hurrying to the front, your heart beating with coyote-rapidity, you saw her in the very last check-stand.
"Hey, I remember you," she said as you reached the front of the line. You put your meds on the counter, smiled, and briefly locked into her glacial blue eyes. This time, she wore a white sweater bearing the red letters "By the Blood of the Lamb." Under the words was a picture of a glaring Christ, face bloodied from the crown of thorns. Slight sickness shot through you, you could feel the blood drain from your face, and you wondered if you were going to faint.
The eyes are just pictures, you silently reassured yourself; they can't hurt me.
"Can never have too much of this stuff," you said, sniffing and nodding toward your medication.
"Got a cold today?"
You looked toward the doors to avoid the face on the sweater.
"Just stuffed up from the wind. It's that time of year."
"My husband gets it real bad, too."
You glanced at her face, briefly locked your eyes with hers, and imagined running your fingers through her long tangle of red hair and then gracefully slicing her throat and tasting her blood.
When you left, she yelled, "God bless!" You cringed as if whipped. Her tone was pathetic, pleading, and everyone heard her.
That night, over dinner, as your daughters rambled on about boy friends and school, you found that you couldn't erase Lori's face from your mind. It was attached to your brain by an invisible nail.
When Kitty asked, "Anything wrong, Carl?" you replied, "Oh, nothing. You know. Hard day at work."
That night, you dreamt about Lori, naked, sitting on your lap in the car, your fingers slowly wrapping themselves around her beautiful neck. Panting like a beast, you were reaching for the knife when, right in the middle of the dream, the Son of God appeared in a blaze of glory, His eyes riveting you and causing Lori to fade. You woke with a jolt and slept fitfully for the rest of the night.
All the next day, on edge, you thought about her. That night, after everyone else had gone to bed, you clicked the arrow on "Contact" and wrote her the letter that you'd spent all day composing. It was an inspired effort, and you told her that she was beautiful as the desert sunset. Then, you asked her why she had so given herself over to the devil. "Pornography is of Satan, dear child," you wrote and went on to explain that, for the past six years, your mission had been to search the net and reclaim the lost sheep of God. "And now, even now, the Lord has called me to bring you back into the fold, dear sweet Lori," you added, feeling a familiar tightness around your own neck.
The next day, as you worked through computer files in your small cold office, you upbraided yourself for having written this letter.
"She'll never buy the evangelical bit," you fumed as you completed work on one of your company's biggest accounts.
"What's that you say, Carl?" came the voice from the next cubicle.
"Evangelical now, are we?" It was Ralph Cummings, the freckled, redheaded lightweight that had joined the company two months after you were hired.
"Mind your own goddamned business, Ralphy," you retorted.
"Touchy-touchy," Ralph clucked. Had you been violent, you would have stepped around the corner, seized the little man's throat, and choked him to death.
Three nights later you received her response. "For a dear man of God," she wrote, "you seem attracted to my devilish beauty. Do you want a part of me? You can have me, you know, all things being permissible--God willing, of course :)"
"Bingo," you chuckled. You logged onto a Bible website and copied some Old Testament verses into your reply, in which you gently touched upon the sin of adultery. Blood pumping at a feverish pitch, you ended by telling her that you lived in Las Vegas, considered yourself an apostle, and asked if she would meet you to discuss matters of the Christian faith.
Outside, the wind battered your house, stars glimmered like little eyes, and the pain shooting through your head meant your sinuses would clog.
"This is a stupid thing to do," you scolded yourself as you signed the letter "Love, Apostle Carl," and pressed "Send." This time, you feared, you had gone too far with the evangelical pitch. For an instant, you wondered if your wife was awake and listening in the next room and decided that you didn't care.
One week later, just when you were ready to begin searching for another victim, an email from Lori arrived. It was early evening during the first week of February. The sunset had been a spectacular display of yellow, orange, and red, and Kitty and the kids were attending classical music concert across town.
"My dearest Apostle Carl," her letter began, "I appreciate the verses, and what you wrote about staying on the pathway to righteousness struck a chord in this witch's heart. (I'm not really a witch, but I think my sister Naomi is.)Just thinking about you makes me wet." At the end, she had written, "As I think of you, I sit naked in front of my computer, dream about sucking your cock, and touch myself;)" She had signed it, "All my love, Lori." She said nothing about meeting you.
Euphoric, you sent her more Bible verses, reminding her to be careful about the occult and telling her that God loved her gorgeous body. "Why else would He have made you beautiful?" you asked. You added that you liked thinking about her naked and that the good Lord never looked with disfavor upon His followers for indulging in an occasional sin; "The Old Testament is filled with scoundrels blessed by the Almighty," you wrote.
The next night, well past twelve, you logged on, opened your email, and read: "You gotta know I grew up in the Pentecostal church, and lost my virginity by fourteen and by the age of eighteen had my fill of holy-roller, gospel people." She ended, "I think I've lost my salvation, dear Apostle, and it's because I like to take on older men. (How can that be a sin?) You're an 'older man,' aren't you? Can we meet some time? Someone once told me that a child of God can never lose their salvation." Her P. S. went, "I live in Henderson ;)."
You wrote back immediately, suggesting that she meet you three afternoons later at 3:30 at The Lamb's Grill, a restaurant just off the Strip. Five minutes after you sent this email, you had your reply. "Lamb's Grill it is, sweet boy," she wrote; "I'll be there at 3:30."
Barely able to contain yourself, you risked one last message: "Be sure to wear something revealing. I wouldn't mind seeing your bosoms." "Tits" would be out of character for an apostle.
You waited, wondering if she was still on the line, and thirty minutes later you had your answer: "Carl, my sweet lamb. If I could, I'd be wearing nothing at all. Of course you can see my bosoms, as you call them. See you there. Now, go to sleep." She had not signed this one "Lori" or "Love, Lori," but that didn't bother you. That night, next to your wife, you slept like a baby.
The next cold, drizzly morning over breakfast you told Kitty that in two days you had to drive to Kingman, Arizona, for a business meeting.
"That's sudden," she said, sipping black coffee and looking across the table at you.
"That's what I told them," you mumbled, chewing your scrambled eggs and bacon in tiny rapid bites. You picked up the paper and scanned the front page of section B.
"What's it about?" she asked.
"Oh, same old shit." You kept your eyes on the paper.
"'Same old shit.' I just love it when you talk that way," she sighed, setting down her coffee and rising from the table.
"Sorry, pumpkin," you said, looking up. "Pumpkin" was the name you'd called her when you first met years ago at frat party. A member of a coven at the time, she had since lived her life in a Lutheran church you refused to attend.
"Guess I'm pissed," you continued. "It's with that group from Phoenix I've been talking about. They want to finalize some kind of deal. Herb needs me to go." Herb Spence was your boss.
"I don't remember you ever talking about any Phoenix deal," Kitty said from the kitchen. The running sink water told you that she was washing something.
You forced a laugh. "I think that's because you never listen."
"Oh, I listen," she replied in the bored voice that she had been using in the past six years. "But, for me, I guess things go in one ear and out the other."
"Guess they do with most of us," you answered, taking an enormous gulp of coffee and rising from your chair.
Two days later, suitcase and other items in your trunk, you drove into the parking lot behind Lamb's, a dinghy '50's style restaurant. The day had been cloudy and chilly. That bothered you because on the evenings devoted to your deadly ritual, you preferred the clear blue sky because that always meant a beautiful to spectacular sunset. As you eased your blue Honda into a space facing the door, your heart thudded with bestial anticipation as you thought of taking her to the desert.
After locking up your vehicle, you stood just outside the dark entrance and looked up. It was just then that the sunlight pierced the thinning cloud cover. Breathing deeply, you imagined the rays penetrating you and lifting the depression that had hung on you since yesterday afternoon. Always, late in the afternoon on the day before these little episodes, you were hit with what Uncle Ray the Preacher used to call "melancholia." It would last for about twenty-four hours, and always, the pall lifted when you met your next offering.
Now, as more sun broke though, you wondered how long you were going to be able continue your "spree." This would be the seventeenth—that meant seventeen corpses, all mutilated, scattered around the country you love. The first was been a redheaded topless dancer who worked in New Jersey. You had difficulty remembering the others. And always, while the local police had put out a missing person's report, the bodies had never been found. Even more miraculous, you'd never been questioned.
On this afternoon, you saw only two other cars, both on the far side of the lot: a black Cadillac with tinted windows and, next to that, a green Toyota with paint chipping off the dented driver's door. Because she had mentioned it in one of her letters, you knew that the Toyota belonged to Lori.
In a dark rush, you pushed the black glass door open and entered Lamb's. The air inside smelled of burnt meat. Eyes quickly adjusting, you saw Lori. She sat across the room in a large, red wing-backed chair, smiling at you. You shoved your hands in your pockets and approached her.
"You must be Lori," you said with forced calm as she stood.
She wore a low-cut gray sweater that barely covered her nipples. A short black skirt hung on her so loosely that you knew she wore nothing underneath. Your manhood swelling, your depression lifted immediately.
"You must be dear Apostle Carl," she said, stepping forward, wrapping her arms around your neck, and pecking you on the lips. "You don't look like a Man of God."
"That's what they all say," you laughed.
She drew back to inspect you. Clearly, she didn't recognize you. Your immediate impression was that you slightly repelled her, possibly because you were overweight, wore dark, thick glasses, and had thick red hair. Your stained blue Hawaiian shirt probably didn’t help. But you put these potentially crippling notions aside as the hostess, wearing a black gown, escorted you to a table on the far side of the restaurant. An older couple was seated at a table in the middle of the room.
"So, Apostle Carl, where do you go to church?" Lori asked, her voice somewhat strained, as she opened the menu and scanned the selections.
You shrugged. "Some Baptist church not far from where I live. It's not where you go, Lori; it's what you believe."
She looked up and gave a tight smile. "Which Baptist church? I've been to several here."
"Holy Oak Southern Baptist. Think that's the name. It's in North Las Vegas."
"Really? I don't know that one," she said.
"Not many people do," you responded. "It's new. We're meeting in a store."
"A mission church?"
"Yes. A mission church." You were lying but knew she couldn't tell.
"Cool," she said, returning to the menu.
You discussed food selections, praising the Italian cuisine. Then you decided to cut to the chase. "Churches aside, why are you posing on the web? Not that I mind but, still, one wonders why a child of God would do that. And I have to admit, some of those pictures are quite nice."
"Because God gave me a gorgeous body." Her eyes locked with yours.
"He did at that," you nodded, suddenly feeling blissful. "But still, I wonder."
You knew it was coming and, when it did, could feel the change in her mood; it was like the humidity before a storm. Slowly, she put down her menu. Color drained from her face, and her eyes widened. Hand slightly trembling, she reached for her water glass, brought it to her lips, and sipped, never taking her eyes off you.
You grinned--you knew what this was about--as she slowly set her glass down, her eyes still fixed on you. Temporarily, bliss gave way to fear.
"I've seen you somewhere, haven't I?" she asked.
You shrugged. "I dunno. Have you?"
"Oh, my God, I think I have. I know I have."
Your heart skipped several beats. The entire game hung on this moment.
"Might have," you answered, closing your menu and glancing toward the kitchen. You struggled to keep tension from your voice.
"My God above," she said, eyes still riveted on you, voice rising, "you're that guy that comes by the store. You're that guy. That guy. You asked me about one of my 'God sweaters,' as I call them. Didn't you?"
You wondered what she meant by the phrase "that guy."
"That was me," you chirped. "After one of my neighbors told me to look on the web, I couldn't resist."
"Yeah. Mike Hanson. He goes to Wal-mart every once in a while. I don't think it's that big a deal. It's kind of exciting, actually."
"Exciting...?" She forced a smile.
"I mean, if it bothers you...," you mumbled and forced a perplexed smile. You felt your heart was going to explode like a cannon.
"No," she shrugged, "I guess it's all right. I guess I should have listened to my sister. She said, sooner or later, I'd run into people who would recognize me."
The waiter was standing just off your right shoulder. "I think we need to order," you suggested.
Ordering brought a reprieve--you requested an expensive Riesling with dinner--but when you were finished, she picked up where she left off.
"OK, I remember you now," she said. "Bought all that sinus stuff last time, right? We wondered how you could use it all."
"That was me. Gotta have my sinus stuff."
Who the hell are 'we'? you wondered. You didn't like it when people talked about you behind your back.
"And so when I checked you out, at that time, you already knew about the site. Right? Well, hmmm," she said, pursing her lips, "I guess it's what I shoulda expected, huh?"
"Of course it is." You wondered when the waiter was going to bring the salads.
"Just the same, it kind of gives me the creeps. Almost feels like you're stalking me. But I know you’re not. I guess that's part of the thrill."
"Just part of the thrill," you nodded.
She smiled grimly, and for several minutes neither one of you spoke.
"Lori, what we're talking about is coincidence, pure coincidence," you began again. You stirred your fork in your salad and searched for words. "But let me say," and here you gazed into her eyes, "that I find you stunningly beautiful. And, yes, I guess I should have said something. Anyway, recognizing the girl on the site as the woman at the store made, what, made our getting together all the more urgent. All the more special. God-ordained, if you like. I didn't say anything because I wasn't sure I wanted you to recognize me."
She took a bite of her salad, then smiled. "Well, what the hell, huh? You only live once. I'm sure I've run into other men at the store who've seen my site. Probably lots. Just didn't know it. Guess I should be flattered you asked me out. Guess I am." The tension was dissolving from her voice.
"Hope so," you responded.
"And, to answer your question honestly--and why shouldn't I be honest?--posing nude gives me a huge rush."
You wanted to say "Me, too" when the waiter brought your main courses along with your wine. You had ordered shrimp scalopini, and she had gone for the chicken marsala.
Before taking her first bite, she made the sign of the cross over her plate.
Cold burned your neck and ears, and you almost choked. "Why'd you do that?" you asked.
"It's a blessing. When I was little, my priest used to do it."
"Well"--here you forced a giggle--"please don't do it again."
"It's just a habit."
You nodded and started in on your scalopini.
"You're married, aren’t you?" you asked.
"Unfortunately. And, on top of that, I got two kids. They're with my ex right now. How about you?"
"Divorced. Two daughters who live with the wife in Topeka." Years before, you and Kitty had lived in Topeka for a year and a half.
For a time, you talked about your children and said disparaging things about the woman you referred to as "the former Mrs. Carl." In her turn, between sips of wine, Lori said something about her present husband, a driver for a local delivery service, and mentioned her sister Naomi, a local dancer who had sworn since childhood to protect her.
Talking about family members was fine, but Lori didn't want to stay on that topic. Halfway through dinner, she began to talk about Jesus, Whom she had found as a child and subsequently lost. She said a few things about her struggles with the "condition of sin." Sin didn't interest you, and talk about Jesus made want to crawl into a dark hole somewhere inside your brain.
You drained your glass of Riesling and poured yourself another.
"The web site is my testimony to sin in my life, and right now," she laughed, "sin is clearly in control. The Devil, really. But you know what they say."
"What do they say?"
"Jesus saves. It's what my grandma always used to tell me. 'Lori, you just remember: Jesus is the rescuer.'"
Feeling a lump in your throat, you took an enormous gulp of wine and jumped right in, explaining your own job as an insurance adjuster and not giving her a chance to say another word.
During desert, she started up again, but this time, to your relief, she talked about growing up in Boise. You told her you'd been in Boise three or four times and liked the place very much. That seemed to please her, and when you walked out the front door, she took your hand.
It was cool and breezy in the parking lot, and as you stood next to your car, she shivered and leaned against you. That was when your bliss returned.
"Go away, winter," she groaned, burying her forehead into your shoulder. It was a sweet, almost endearing gesture.
"I agree," you murmured. "February can be a bitch."
"Can't wait for summer."
You turned, folded both arms around her, and said, "So, if you don’t like to be cold, why not let big-dick Daddy warm you up?"
"Yeah, warm me up, big-dick Daddy," she laughed, holding you around your waist and kissing you gently on the mouth. Warming to your cruel task, you reached down with one hand and right in the parking lot, you lifted her skirt and discovered that she was wearing nothing underneath.
"This is wonderful," you murmured, caressing her.
"It sure is," she purred.
You slid a hand between her cheeks, and she gave a slight gasp.
When you told her that you wanted to take her to a special place out in the desert, she agreed and again kissed you on the mouth. Releasing her hold and pushing her gently away, you turned and unlocked your car doors.
"Just wanna be with my Apostle," she said, sliding next to you in the front seat and putting a hand on your leg.
After backing out of the parking space and pointing your car to the exit, you noticed two men and one woman standing near the Cadillac. There was something strangely familiar about the woman, a raven-haired beauty who glared at you with cruel dark eyes.
On the drive toward Hoover Dam, she told about a trip she had taken with her parents, many years ago, through Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. She'd loved the Indian ruins, she said. Once you were beyond Hoover Dam, she leaned over, unzipped your fly, and pulled you out of your pants.
"Easy there," you said. "I gotta drive."
"I'll be careful," she cooed.
After an hour of freeway, just on the edge of twilight, you said, "We're almost there." She'd zipped you back up just you congratulated yourself on your perfect timing. Gazing down the highway, you saw the sign indicating that the exit was three-quarters of a mile away.
After taking the exit, you drove the thin ribbon of road north, toward the mountains. "Up ahead," you told her, "just a mile or so, there's a place where you overlook this hidden valley and see a spectacular sunset."
"I love sunsets," she answered.
"That's what they all say," you quipped.
The road ended in a small parking lot slanted slightly so visitors could see into the river canyon below. As you stopped and shut off the engine, a windblast rocked the car.
"I love the wind," Lori said.
"I do, too," you replied.
"Wanna get out? I bet it's real pretty standing right over the canyon."
"Yeah, it is, especially with the sun playing off the rocks." This is going to be perfect, you told yourself.
You got out first, walked around to her side, and opened up her door. When she climbed out of the car, she took your extended hand, and like two newlyweds you walked the twenty or thirty feet to the cliff's edge. Glancing into the western sky, you figured the sun had fifteen, twenty minutes left.
"Ooooh, this place is absolutely heavenly, Carl," she said, letting the wind take her dress and pointing across the narrow valley to a big outcropping where the sun's rays brought out pinks, purples, and reds.
"Yeah, this place is fucking remarkable," you said in the subterranean voice that you always used just before a kill.
She laughed and, as the breeze buffeted you, she squeezed your hand and tried to imitate your low voice. "Carl, the man of God. Did he say 'fucking'?"
You glanced back and chuckled, almost guttural, "Fucking right he did. But he meant something else. Sorry."
For a few moments, you held her hand and gazed across the valley. It was almost romantic until she said, "Carl, your hands are getting cold and sweaty. You all right?"
Always, your hands got cold and sweaty at this point, for the thought of blood brought the temporary freezing that would culminate in fiery, crimson ecstasy. "I'm fine," you said, taking your hand away. "Just thrilled to be with you."
As she folded her arms and continued looking across the canyon, you excused yourself. "I need to get something from the car," you said.
"Oh, I shall," you assured her, backing away. "Gonna get my camera. Maybe you could slip off your clothes."
She turned to look at you. "Say, now that's an idea," she agreed. "I'll give you a shot of my boobs. How's that?"
"Might be too cold," you said, continuing to back up.
"Naw." She shook her head and pulled her sweater over her head.
Retreating, you reached the car and opened the trunk. Briefly, you took your eyes off her.
The first thing you saw was the thin leather case carrying the two recently sanitized knives; each had occult engravings on the blade. Next to the case was the rope. With your left hand, you reached in and gripped a coil, thinking, I'll be the last person she sees. Your heart beat wildly as the desert wind kicked up some dust nearby. In your mind's eye you saw Lori's soul leaping from her body just as the sun dipped beneath the horizon.
You were almost upon her when she turned and glanced down at the rope. Her look registered puzzlement and terror.
"God bless," you said, so excited that your hands trembled. "God bless, God bless, God bless."
"What the fuck’s that?" she gasped. "That's not a camera. Jesus. That's sure as hell not something you take pictures with."
"Nope, it's rope," you smirked, sticking out your tongue and wriggling it at her.
Her eyes already bulging from their sockets, she didn't move, and it made you almost sad when you saw the tear run down her cheek. Arms dangling at her sides, she did not resist as you put the noose around her neck and slowly tightened it.
"On your knees, child of the Most High," you said. "Lucifer is waiting."
There was a pause as the wind blew mightily.
Then, as she dropped to her knees in the sand, she did something extraordinary, even absurd. Extending her arms upwards, throwing her head back, she began a lament, whispering at first, then almost shouting, and finally singing. The singing chilled you to your shriveling bone.
Long red hair blown by the wind, she sang, begging forgiveness, but not from you. "Turn me white as snow, O God of my soul," she sang. Where the hell does this come from? you wanted to ask. You are beyond His reach, you internet whore, you wanted to say and tried to laugh, finding that you couldn’t because you knew no one, really, was beyond redemption. You’d known that for a long time.
And so as you listened, her song exploded into the evening air, the canyon echoing and the words enfolding you. You hadn't the strength to pull the rope tighter.
Your legs trembled and your heart quaked, and suddenly, as if pushed, you dropped to your knees just as she faced the sun. You were no more that a few feet from her, and her voice bounced off the mountain walls and filled the spaces around you.
Have mercy upon me, O God,
according to thy loving kindness:
according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions:
and my sin is ever before me.
Against thee, the only,
have I sinned and done this evil in thy sight....
It was the beginning of the end for you.
Like one obsessed, she sang this prayer over and over as the hand of fear clutched your frantically beating heart. You knew, somehow, that if she meant the words of her song, God would honor her. As she continued praying, your fear moved to revulsion and loathing, and you understood, as if a light had been cast upon your soul, that it was your hated of God that had kept Him from you and made you hideous.
Then, as if two hands gripped your head, you turned and looked into the sunset. It was the sun as you'd never seen it before, five times its normal size, setting the horizon ablaze. In the web of Lori’s prayer, fire seemed to explode from the ball and bleed purple, red, and pink across the evening sky. Knowing you would lose your sight, you looked into the burning star and saw something. What was it you saw? It was, you’re sure, the shimmering silhouette of someone walking through blinding light.
You struggled to stand but had no strength to do so. As if nailed to the spot, you felt the sun burning into you. Who is it that is there? you silently asked. You recalled having read somewhere about similar encounters with something divine but had thought nothing of it; sheer logic ruled against a world that couldn’t be explained in terms of scientific causality. Yet, in the blaze stood a figure robed in white, head crowned with thorns, hands bloodily pierced, arms extended toward you.
The thought that Lori was to be the seventeenth victim pierced your heart, and the faces of the others whirled in your mind’s eye. Behind the faces faded, you saw your soul’s black mass and were suddenly afraid of being snuffed out for all eternity. You pushed to the back of your mind the thought that you could be going completely insane and, desperate, reached toward the figure, David’s words forming unbidden in you mind: Purge me, O God for I was shaped in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
You closed seared eyes, felt a gentle hand on your forehead, and heard the cries of a woman, praying that you be forgiven. In the steady breeze you said, aloud, "May God, forgive me. Cleanse me, oh Lord, of my iniquity and unrighteous." The response was immediate, and you felt as if someone had removed a ton of bricks from your back. Liberated, you opened your eyes and saw Lori standing before you. She was wearing her sweater and holding the rope.
Your eyes locked with hers, and as you stared you knew that Lori was forgiven.
But then something else. As a breeze blew against you, there came the whoosh of a car moving your way over the thin road. It did not strike you as miraculous that you still had your sight, and looking to the parking lot, you saw the black Cadillac from the parking lot behind Lamb's. When the car stopped, doors opened and three people--two men and a young woman--got out and slowly walked your way.
When you heard Lori breathe "Naomi," you knew it was your time. Closing your eyes, you dropped your head to your chest. You were not afraid and kept your eyes shut as footsteps drew near. You waited with bated breath, sensed someone standing over you, and felt the rope put round your neck and tightened. Then you felt a revolver’s cold steel pressed against your forehead.
You awaited death.
"Please, please spare this man," said a soft, sweet voice you recognized as Lori's. She has become a new creation, you thought, remembering one of Uncle Ray’s favorite phrases.
You felt like choking and waited for the crack of the pistol.
"Please, please, please," she pleaded.
There was the pause; everything hung in the balance.
"Give me the gun, Luke," came another voice, this one also female. You felt the gun's barrel taken from your fore head, the rope tightened just a bit. You opened your eyes.
Standing over you was a broad-shouldered man of medium height, his head silhouetted against the darkening sky. He stepped back, handed the weapon to a tall, thin woman with jet-black hair and blood-red lipstick. As Lori looked on, the woman smiled, studying you cruelly, and pointed the gun at your forehead, dead center.
Dizzy, your own eyes bulging, you whispered, "Do it."
"Oh, I plan to," she said, smiling. "Anyone fucks with my little sister, I'll blow their brains to kingdom come."
You were not afraid. You deserved this.
"Say your prayers, Jack," the woman said. You waited for Lori to say something.
And finally she did. "I prayed for his soul, Naomi," Lori said, "that it be released from Satan's hold. I even asked Jesus to bind evil from him from this moment forth."
"Sounds like you covered everything, little sister," the tall woman said, still aiming the gun at an invisible point on your forehead.
The light of day had almost completely faded, and a half-moon hung just over Naomi’s left shoulder.
"Do it," you muttered, knowing even then that the darkness that had gnawed your innards was gone and in its place was a small glowing light. You silently vowed that, if you were spared, you would to submit the rest of your life to the Savior.
III. And now, here you are, four years later, in a bed five miles from the center of rainy Seattle, Washington. Today you will lead more stray lambs back into the fold and then, around seven in the evening, head over to the old warehouse that was converted into a church. It will be a revival service, and at some point you'll walk to the front. Now an evangelist, Lori will recognize you. Her ministry started four years ago, and while her sister and thuggish boyfriends stayed in Vegas, Lori has moved around the country, leading services of prayer, worship, and healing. A year after your own deliverance, you began reading about her in magazines.
Rain continues to drum on the roof.
Lying in bed, arms folded behind your head, you think of Kitty, certainly puzzled and possibly devastated by your disappearance, but what could you do? Again, you replay your near execution in the Arizona desert. After you saw Jesus in the sun, after the sparing of your own life, you drove all night and into the next day, stopping finally at a small town on the other side of Denver. There, you gave your car to an old farmer and his wife and, with several hundred dollars in your pocket, took the bus to the East Coast where you began your own small ministry.
Every day, since then, you have remembered your depravity; every week, you have asked forgiveness, lived hand-to-mouth, and wandered from city to city. Almost daily, you have told someone your incredible story. Today, of course, your story stops, because this evening you will give up your freedom and accept total bondage to Christ.
And so here you are, in a cozy two-story house just outside Seattle, city of rain. The Lord's work must be done, you tell yourself; the spiritual battle must be waged even to the point of my own execution. You rise, shower, dress, and go down to the kitchen downstairs. There you eat a large breakfast with the Lutheran pastor and his wife, thanking them once again for taking you in two nights before.
After finishing a second helping of French toast, after your fourth cup of straight black coffee, you rise from the table and thank the couple.
"Thanks for taking me in," you say, putting on your gray parka and picking up the Bible you had set on the kitchen counter.
"It's a pleasure, Carl," Pastor Dave says, escorting you to the door.
"We'll eat dinner when you get back." A short, stocky bespectacled man, the pastor's name is David. You haven’t the heart to tell him you won’t be back.
Standing at the door, shouting "Goodbye, Ann!" you almost weep for the kindness of this aging couple, their children grown and gone.
Outside, in steady rain, you open your umbrella and walk two blocks to the bus stop. The heavy smell of pine fills the air. With two other people, one a young redheaded woman with a bright smile and the other a stooped old man given to hacking and cursing, you climb aboard the dull green bus.
You like sitting in the bus, and moving through suburbs, you glance occasionally at your reflection in the window. Your dark glasses have been replaced by thin wire-rimmed spectacles; there's a touch of gray in your hair, and your cheeks are slightly sunken.
Once you're in the city, you will listen to for small silent voice of God. If you are told to go inside a 7-11 and witness to the lady wearing the red scarf and blue coat, you will do it. If God tells you to drop off tracts at a Laundromat, you'll do just that.
As the bus approaches your down-town stop, not far from the water, you think of Abraham and Isaac and know that if God asks you to throw yourself in front of an oncoming truck, you will do just that. Of course, He will not make that request. He will instead and most surely carry you forth by His grace, this day and every day for the rest of your life.
And now, stepping off the bus into steady, dreary rain, you're certain that Lori will recognize you. With a joyful heart, you begin your last day of captivity.
I. Notes from lecture given by Abraham Cussak, Ph. D., 1998.
What can account for Frank Crawley’s fascination with the human heart—or, more exactly, with the removal of this remarkable organ from the bodies of those poor innocents who, in Crawley’s opinion, had forfeited their right to live? In the wake of Crawley’s death, numerous theories have been proposed to explain his obsession, but few have any weight.
Very little from his childhood or adolescence adequately accounts for Crawley’s depravity. Born July 25, 1953, Frank was raised on a small far near Eagle, Idaho, now a suburb of Boise. His house--a charming white, two-story, Victorian affair--is one that local historians have preserved in the interests of claiming southern Idaho’s heritage. A former Methodist, his mother Abigail was a junior high English teacher, known for her severity and her creativity. A collection of her poetry, The Iron Jaws of God, was recently published by Bucknell House in Oklahoma. Frank’s father Silas was neither intellectual nor particularly creative. While this crude man served for many years as an Elder for the Heart of Grace Baptist church, he spent most of his time managing a 1700 acre farm. His specialty was pigs, whose teeth Frank collected and put in jars. Silas’ several attempts to gain election to the Idaho State Legislature ended in staggering defeats.
Frank was not an only child. He had an older brother, Larry. A wiry man once given to extreme mood swings, Larry was born in 1951, apparently distinguished himself in Viet Nam, and is now an undercover police officer in Detroit. Frank’s sister Elaine was born in 1955. Until the time of her incarceration in Nevada’s maximum security prison, she lived in Las Vegas, where she associated with figures from a Kansas City crime family, occupied a large house, and oversaw an escort service.
Like most of the children in the Eagle/Boise area, Frank participated in sports, most notably baseball and football. Not surprisingly, Crawley did not distinguish himself at either endeavor. According to his brother, "Frank was one of those kids picked last for nearly every team. I felt sorry for the poor bastard. Frank loved baseball. Dreamed of becoming another Eddie Matthews (1), but he couldn’t hit a pitch to save his ass. He was a little better at football because he could block. What he most enjoyed was hunting rabbits with Dad’s .22. He always skinned the rabbits before he brought them to the house."
Silas and Abigail strove to provide for their children’s every need. It was out of best intentions that, every summer, they sent Frank to a church camp on Red Fish Lake in central Idaho. Frank hated the camp. Elaine recalls her brother’s disposition after he returned: "When he walked through the door, you could see he was down. Sometimes it was like he was ready to come at the old man with a bat or rip Momma’s head off. ‘What happened to my Red? I would ask in my softest voice. ‘Red’ was what everyone redhead was called in those days. ‘Oh, you know,’ he’d answer. ‘No tell me,’ I’d say. ‘Naw,’ he’d go. In later years, I took my brother into my bed and tried to help ease the pain. One night he said that the boys and counselors at camp did terrible things to him. I listened but did not believe him; girlfriends who went to the camp all loved it."
Frank did reasonably well in his classes through grade school and junior high. While not possessed of a remarkable intelligence, he performed above average and excelled in phonics and spelling, something which must have brought a smile to his mother’s face. In the fifth grade, his gruesome rendering of "Family at Christmas," certainly the most creative piece in the class, won him a trip to the principle’s office, and for that I am quite sure that young Crawley received the strap from his father once he got home.
Through junior high, Frank had some good moments, and late one night, when he was watching TV with Elaine, Frank confided that he wanted to become either a teacher or a minister. Frank knew the Bible by heart by the time he entered the ninth grade, quoted the scriptures frequently to classmates and teachers. Classmates called him "Preacher." In the eighth and ninth grades, Frank presented the morning Bible readings to all the classes at his school over the P.A. system.
Then came high school, a dark and cutting time. Frank’s difficulties in high school have several explanations, but they could not have significantly contributed to the magnitude of this man’s later psychological/spiritual disintegration, which expressed itself through some of the most gruesome murders ever documented in the Western United States: a neat, deep slicing open of the chest; the use of pruning sheers or clippers to cut bone and tear back the rib cage; the surgical precision used in removing the heart in such a way that the thing may have remained beating.
When he entered his sophomore year, Frank Crawley was "almost grotesquely overweight," according to several former classmates. These people estimate that young Crawley weighed somewhere around 300 pounds. Undoubtedly, his weight played a role in Frank’s social life: this poor lumbering youth never dated and had only one friend, the quadriplegic Mike Stevens. Mike died in a trailer-fire in June of ’71.
His teachers, at least those who are still alive, remember Frank not for his poor academic performance—who, after all, remembers the low "C" or high "D" students?--but for his sullen behavior. "When Frank walked into class," said Lorraine Hudgins, his junior English teacher, "he did so often muttering to himself. One received the distinct impression that the words coming from this teenager’s mouth were unspeakably obscene. I can still picture him: bent over, as if he were carrying a heavy sack of grain; arms like tree limbs hanging loosely from his torso; furrowed eyebrows which almost hid eyes glowing like obsidian. When he slept during class, and he did so frequently, I often shook him awake. One afternoon, out of sheer frustration, I struck the sleeping giant boy with the textbook. He awoke sobbing, and as his face turned dark red, the rest of the class laughed."
Frank Crawley’s high school years were marred by events that would have sounded alarms in the head of any modern school psychologist. Allow me to share two anecdotes. In the Fall of 1970, a dog’s carcass was found hanging from a shower head in the boys’ locker room. The discovery occurred early Monday morning, and the blood coagulated around the drain suggested that the animal had been killed in the shower room, possibly on the preceding Friday night. The dog, a prize-winning Doberman named Bell, had belonged to a young man who had habitually taunted Frank. No one doubted Frank’s guilt, but no one could prove it, either.
Then, late in the spring of 1971, Senior Class President Molly Banks discovered the head of a pig in her school locker. Hysteria mixed with vomiting ensued, and the school was closed down for the day. When Ms. Banks had to be committed to a psychiatric unit, Frank Crawly could no longer contain himself and openly claimed the misdeed as a product of his own cruel genius. Frank’s prank did win him the favor of several classmates, who loathed the insolent Molly Banks as much as he did and apparently admired a vile deed as much as the next fellow. Curiously, while he was reprimanded by school officials and punished severely at home, Frank was not suspended and, in fact, was allowed to graduate on time.
In high school, Frank did poorly in his classes, got into frequent fistfights, and, for a six month period during his junior year, was sent away to a school for delinquent boys; there, the fighting, coupled with abuse, was an almost daily occurrence. Of course, this confinement came to an end, and a thinner Frank Crawley returned to high school. During his final semester, he received on his report card one A, one B, three Cs, and one D. It was probably due to the encouragement of his mother, the discipline from his father, and a huge portion of "luck" that Frank graduated in 1971.
Following high school graduation night, marked by the decapitation of two of Frank’s classmates, Mr. and Mrs. Crawley committed their son to a psychiatric facility in western Oregon. At the recommendation of Silas’ half-brother Jedidiah, then a senior resident at this facility, the Crawleys told no one that they were sending their son away for the summer.
When Frank concluded his Oregon treatment in September of ’72, he remained in the cold, wet climate for several months under the care of this uncle, who had some rather unusual interests, the most notable of which was his involvement in a cult that practiced the "dark arts" in a day when it was not popular to discuss witchcraft and Satanism. Every week, the doctor took his nephew to this place of worship: a white, wooden, steepled building nestled in the hills outside Eugene. There, the young man was exposed to a group of human beings whose indulgence in rituals long condemned by the Christian church made them the subject of a book Jedidiah would later write about the flourishing of the occult in the Western hemisphere. According to one witness, Frank’s interest in the rituals assumed a "dangerously obsessive" nature, and against the advice of his uncle, young Crawley began staying up well past midnight, committing certain profane passages of sacred texts to memory. On the weekends, Frank disappeared into the forests surrounding his uncle’s house; there, armed with his own .22, young Crawley shot small animals, skinned them, and then, with a pocketknife given him by his uncle, disemboweled them.
When Frank returned home two days before Christmas, 1973, he was a changed young man. He did not seem vicious, stupid, or psychotic. Many in the community noticed that Frank Crawley was a different man, and his sister and brother seemed genuinely glad to see him. "Perhaps you devil-worshipers just have better diets," Elaine jokingly commented over dinner the first night Frank was home; "perhaps a little Satan is good for everyone." From letters received, Elaine had heard some stories about her brother’s escapades in Oregon. Eighteen years old, Elaine was graduating from high school that spring. She did not believe at the time that anyone seriously worshiped Satan. Frank took the jest quite personally, and that night, in bed with his sister, he threatened to rip out Elaine’s heart if she ever made light of him again.
During this December 1973 visit, pony-tailed Frank weighed in at a trim 210 pounds, wore a beard, and had a girlfriend, a striking raven-haired beauty named Elizabeth, whose disappearance became public record in May of 1981. Frank’s parents would not allow their son to sleep in the same bed with his girlfriend—at least not in their house. "You two aren’t married yet, are you?" Silas asked Frank over dinner Christmas Eve night. When Frank sullenly shook his head, his father gave a knowing nod and said, "Then you must take separate beds." Frank and his girlfriend left the next morning, and Frank was never to see his parents again.
In November of 1974, Frank and Elizabeth moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Southern California. Trained as a nurse, Elizabeth took a position in a local hospital while Frank worked part-time boxing groceries at a supermarket and attended classes at a nearby community college. Determination drove Frank, who excelled in his college studies and in 1976 was admitted into a college nursing program.
Frank and Elizabeth’s social life at the time centered upon another religious group, the Fellowship of the Nephalim(2), whose rituals can be traced to ancient Babylon. I think it is fair to assume that the rituals of the Fellowship resembled those practiced in the Oregon church and incorporated practices common to some of the more insidious forms of witchcraft and Satanism. The New Nephalim, extensively discussed in Walter Jacob’s The Evil That Dwells Among Us, held the belief that success and happiness in this life depended upon the commission of practices many would consider bloody and barbaric.
In 1977, Frank and Elizabeth began to drive from Southern California to Las Vegas once a month. There they stayed with Elaine, then a dancer in one of the big shows on the strip. Apparently, Frank and Elizabeth got along famously with Elaine and her boyfriends.
It was in November of this year that, responding to an anonymous call, two Las Vegas policemen discovered in a downtown apartment the body of a young female dancer. The woman—Nicole Cussak--had been brutally murdered: chest sliced open, ribs cut and broken, heart removed, one eye removed, and several teeth missing. The murderer had left without a trace: no fingerprints, no footprints, no semen or urine—nothing. This was the first of many such murders that would occur once every six months for the next seventeen years. In the years that followed, similarly mutilated female bodies would be found in motel rooms in Utah, Idaho, Montana, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and California.
Local and national media dubbed the killer "The Thief of Hearts."
Beyond the mutilation, other things linked the murders. One is that the bodies were always found within a block of a church, usually Baptist but sometimes Methodist. Too, on one of the walls of the room containing the body, investigators always found, etched in blood, the name of a pagan/demonic deity; Chemosh and Asherah were the most commonly used names(3). Another is that, on the restroom mirror, the killer often drew a round, seamed face—sometimes the face frowned, and sometimes it was sad. In the space under the face would be a reference to a Biblical episode involving the Devil or demons--Mark 5 was common(4) and below that, there was always a four digit number.
Victims were frequently prostitutes, but sometimes they were housewives. All of the women, by our culture’s standards, would have been considered relatively attractive: thin, nice figures, pretty faces. It is my theory that all the women were somewhat promiscuous. It would be seventeen years, from the first mutilated female victim to the last, before Jonah Reynolds, a private investigator specializing in psychic phenomenon, deciphered the "code." His narrative, I think, speaks for itself.
II. Narrative of Jonah Reynolds, 1994 (Excerpts reprinted from LA Examiner).
It was a foul night in October of 1993: rainy, windy, cold—typical Salt Lake.
My wife Rebecca, my son Aaron, and I had just moved from Milwaukee. I had long been a curiosity among parapsychologists; these new psychologists were fascinated by a renegade detective who used paranormal methods to solve his cases. At the time, Rebecca was a psychologist studying the connection between mental illness and the so-called supernatural. I had just lost my cousin, a beautiful blonde who had danced for big bucks in a Stockton nightclub.
At around midnight, I sat before my computer, going over names of women who had been murdered by the "Thief of Hearts": Beverley Fischer, Maria Navarro, Annie Reynolds, Deborah Windgate, to name a few. Below each name were the facts: scripture verses, digits, description of the drawn faces and so on. Because this animal struck every six months, I knew the next murder would occur soon. Desperate fathers of the most recent victims had hired me to find the man who had butchered their daughters.
As I studied the information, a vague profile that had been building the last few nights became clearer. Clearly, the killer had an obsession with the darkest, most frightening aspects of traditional Christianity--that involving the "powers and principalities of darkness--"and had grown up in a very conservative church. Almost certainly, the fellow believed himself to be possessed. His use of scripture verses and names of demons also pointed to a possible involvement in groups forbidden by traditional Christianity. Beyond this, I figured he had to be a man of considerable strength to cut away the rib cage; and he knew something of surgery, for his heart-severing was always precise. Yet, the removing of the heart made little sense, as did the four digits always found on the bathroom mirror.
I remember looking away from the computer and listening to the wind shriek. Tree branches banged against my window; thoughts took shape and danced in my brain. My wife was in the next room watching TV.
It was then that I recalled having read something about human sacrifice years before in college in the early ‘80s. The piece had touched upon forms of ritual disembowelment. I faced my computer, blotted out the sound of the wind, and struggled to remember the source. Nothing came immediately to mind. Had I read the piece in a newspaper? In a magazine? In a textbook? In a novel?
Closing my eyes, I leaned back in my stuffed leather chair. I remembered that the essay—I was certain that it was an essay, or written like an essay—was documented. That is, the piece was the product of some one’s research. That eliminated the newspaper. And it eliminated novels; I was a prolific reader of novels dealing with the occult.
I forced myself to breath deeply. As I did, something in my head dislodged and started floating to the surface. In a minute, as my mind cleared of clutter, I had it: the book was titled Babylonian Mystery Religions, something I had bought from a second-hand bookstore.
I opened my eyes, congratulating myself on my ability. My brain still held the book, and I could see its cover, a beautiful woman looking at her reflection in a pool of water inside a temple. If I relaxed, my mind would bring forth the exact passage. It was a potentially dangerous method I had learned from a college psychology professor, Dr. Paul Keith, who often experimented on his students, sending them into semi-hypnotic states so they could recall buried memories. Some students, of course, refused to participate, particularly after one young woman had awakened screaming and bleeding from both arms, claiming she had been scratched by demons.
I had never suffered ill effects from this method, and so now I sank deeply into myself, floating like a feather down a soft dark-corridor. At the end would be a door, and when I opened the door, I would find the passage.
And then the darkness shattered.
"Hey, what are you doing?" something beyond the darkness asked. I wondered if it was the silent but rebuking voice of God.
The voice repeated itself with, "Jonah! What are you doing? What’s happening?" My eyes shot open. I slowly turned my head. There, five feet to my left, standing in the doorway, was Rebecca.
"I was recalling something," I muttered.
"You were twitching, Jonah. I don’t call that relaxing."
I wanted her to go away.
"Even now, you’re shaking. Look at your hands."
As something banged against the side of the house—an old tree limb, surely--I glanced down at my hands, clutching the arms of my chair. She was right: I was trembling.
"Let’s go to bed," I said.
In bed, Rebecca asleep beside me, I uttered a prayer asking that I be allowed to identify the "Thief of Hearts." I didn’t pray to any particular deity. I figured one was as good as another.
Sleep came as I felt myself dropping into the soft darkness.
Around four, I sat up in bed, sweat pouring from me, flicked on my light, and tried to clear my mind. Trembling almost violently, I felt chilled to the bone. I’d had this kind of nightmare before: one that sucks your mind and soul, doesn’t want to let you go. I knew that if I could just force myself to identify certain objects in the room, I would be fine.
And so, in dim green light I began: soccer trophies from my years in college; a print of an ancient painting Rebecca and I had admired in a museum in Europe; my wife, who slept soundly to my right; the old RCA TV that sat on the dresser and had belonged to my parents; my shirts and pants hanging in the closet across the room; my shoes, Hushpuppies, on the floor next to my bed; the book, something by G. K. Chesterton, on my night stand--and on and on. My heart thudded in my chest.
But the focusing wasn’t going to work, for I could feel the dark think inside my head slowly, slowly seizing me—it was like an incubus, though I doubt such things exist--tightening its grip with every second, and I fought to do the room again. Through a hazy darkness that had not been in the room moments before, I looked to the TV and wondered, stupidly, if it was on. That was as far as I got as I felt pushed back into my bed. I wanted to glance sideways and ask Rebecca to help me, but my eyes closed involuntarily. Lids locked, I paid attention only to the beating of my heart. The iron jaws of panic gripped me, and I knew I was being shoved back into the dream that I had just escaped.
For a moment, I struggled to escape the dream; the sensation resembled that of drowning. My efforts proved futile, and I let go….and I fell and fell and fell into smothering blackness.
III. …the smothering blackness dissipated. Somehow, she was I, sitting on a bed in a room shrouded in dark haze. It was hard to breathe. Across the room stood a big man, long red hair done in a pony-tail. He was naked and hard, his eyes dark stones. As I studied him, I understood that I was locked inside a woman’s head—I was seeing through a woman’s eyes.
I wasn’t sure if I could think, but I knew numbing fear filled her.
The man had to be around 6’4’’ and weigh close to 300.
"Ever go to church, Eva?" he asked. He seemed far away.
"No. You?" This frightened voice was not my own, but it seemed to come from me.
"Shit, Eva, I was raised in a fuckin’ church. My daddy whipped me with a board if I even told him I didn’t want to go to church."
I felt her choking on the words. I don’t know what she said.
"Momma didn’t much care what he did to me," the big man continued." She was afraid of him. When I went to church, I sat between her and my sister."
"Where was church?" came Eva’s barely audible voice.
"Up north." He leaned over and picked up a bag that had something written or drawn on it.
"No. Idaho," he said, rising. "Near Boise."
I was aware that Eva brushed a strand of hair out of her face.
"I like you naked. You look good naked," he said, his voice almost guttural.
I could hear loud rock and roll. As it pounded through the walls, I realized my situation: I was asleep, on my bed and next to my wife, yet I was also trapped in the mind of a woman whose thoughts, words, and actions I could not control.
I became aware that Eva was peering through the dark haze and pointing at his bag.
"What’s there?" she asked, tremulously.
"Souls of the possessed," he said.
He grunted something and looked away from her.
"Anything else?" She tried desperately to make conversation.
"Tools." With the bag in one hand, he licked his lips. He fixed his black eyes on her.
Quivering, Eva asked, "Tools?"
"This is one," he said, taking his hand away from his member, reaching into the bag, and bringing forth a long knife. He put the knife back and said, "And this," pulling out a saw.
He laughed. "Used to use sheers."
"For what?" she whined.
"What do you think?"
Sobbing now, she did not answer.
"Cutting rib-bone, honey."
She gave a retching sound.
"So I can get to the heart—and the soul."
A smothering sensation as I felt Eva wrapping her arms around myself—her flesh was ice cold—and heard her whimpering.
She looked up. Knife in hand, he tossed the bag aside. Music pounded through the walls. I think Eva tried to force a scream, but she couldn’t get enough air in her lungs to make the sound come out.
Holding the knife, he walked around the bed, and climbed next to her. There was nothing I could do as he reached forth his free hand and stroked Eva’s hair.
"Put your hand on my cock," he said. She did as he said.
"I have a little girl," she sobbed.
With his right hand, he put the point of the knife between her breasts. He was still hard, and she still held him. Slowly, he moved the knife downward, drawing blood.
Then everything began to fade to black
The next thing I heard was a gentle voice, an echo, calling, "Honey, honey, wake up." It was like a song. The voice slowly pulled me through black pitch, out of Eva, and back to something else calling honey…..
IV. "Honey," the gentle voice said. "Jonah."
I struggled to open my eyes. I knew at that moment that I was back in my room and that I was Jonah Reynolds, but my arms and feet felt bound. I didn’t remember any ropes from the dream.
When I felt something pierce my own chest, I screamed and my eyes shot open. Slowly, the sickening heaviness of the nightmare diminished; the pain receded.
"Hi," I said, perhaps an hour later, looking into Rebecca’s eyes. "How are you?"
"You’ve had another nightmare," she said, stroking my moist brow. I sat up in bed, the sheet and blanket soaked.
Putting her arms around me, Rebecca kissed me gently on the cheek.
I got out of bed around noon the next day. Still in a fog, wondering if I were going insane, I stumbled around the house as Rebecca assured me I would be fine. I wondered where my son was. I couldn’t remember. I wanted to call the doctor, but Rebecca said no.
I remember going to bed that night, my chest and teeth aching terribly, and sleeping the sleep of the dead. No nightmares; just complete rest.
The next morning, my head was clear as a bell. Pain was gone. Then, as I was drinking coffee and looking through the newspaper, I read the headlines: "Teen Mother Found Murdered in Ogden Motel." The name of the victim was Eva Winters. Eva had a two-year old daughter.
I looked at Rebecca, seated across the kitchen table from me. "It’s the Eva from the dream."
Rebecca held her coffee cup to her mouth with both hands and watched me.
"The ‘Thief of Hearts,’" I said. "I’m on the verge of cracking this thing." I learned later on that day that the four digits left on the mirror in Eva’s motel room were 6763. The deity’s name, scrawled in blood on the wall, was Bel(5), long regarded as one of the Nephalim.
During that next five weeks, I went through the names of all the Satanic cults in the West; I made a listing of men from these cults; I ran a computer scan on everyone born in the Boise area between 1945 and 1960; I matched up names. Following a hunch, I even investigated lists of mental patients in Idaho and bordering states.
After looking through the lists of former Idaho residents admitted into nursing schools, I narrowed the list to eight men. Finally—and discovering this was easier than you can imagine--I figured that the four digits always constituted the last four numbers of phone numbers belonging to the victim’s parents or parent. The number had been there all along; I had been the first to see.
It was one hour, almost exactly, after I had placed a call to the parents of the next victim that the monster killed again. His thirty-fifth victim was a Sacramento stripper named Amy Baker. And, yes, Amy’s mother’s phone number ended with the digits 6763.
The new digits were 0057. The new deity’s name was Dagon(6).
During my subsequent search, I confined myself to the Western states. After another month and a half of logging into my computer all the phone numbers ending in the four digits 0057, I found what I knew I had been looking for. The 0057 belonged to Abigail Crawley, a seventy-seven year old widow living in Boise.
V. Elaine’s narration (as related to Dr. Cussak at Nevada State Maximum Security Prison near Ely, 1996).
Forgive my saying so, but I think you ask too many questions, honey. Anyway sit down in that chair—this cell is my palace now--and I’ll take this chair, and I’ll tell you the story. The guard’s there, so you’re safe. (Actually, I wouldn’t hurt a fly.) I want you to listen and just be quiet.
I got a phone call late one night in March. Ruben Aquino— my boyfriend at the time--was out, and I’m fairly sure that he screwing one of my girls. They’re all younger than me. (Nice tits and ass don’t amount to much once you near forty, I guess.) I was sipping a Tom Collins, Momma’s favorite drink, and watching the Tonight’s Show with Jay Leno.
Then, the phone rang.
"Is this Mrs. Elaine Crawley?" asked the voice.
"Well, yes," I began, "but I haven’t used that name in a long time."
In the pause, I could hear him breathing. I think the hairs on the back of my neck prickled.
"What’s your name now?" he asked.
"Crystal," I answered, heart in this girl’s throat. In Vegas, I went by Crystal. "Anyway—and I hate being rude--who the fuck wants to know?"
"The FBI, ma’am. My name is John."
I used the control to put the set on mute. At first I thought one of my girls was in trouble again. You know how young, sexy woman are: from time to time, one of them would mixed up with some thug that every law enforcement agency in the country is looking for. But that wasn’t it.
"What is it, John?" I asked.
I listened to John’s story—it sounded like he was talking at me from the inside of a whale—and when he finished my soul had shattered into a million pieces. At first I just couldn’t believe what he said, kind of like denial. He was telling me about that Frank had killed over thirty women.
"OK," I said, breathless. "Then what?"
"I know who’s next."
Honestly, I didn’t like the tone of John’s voice.
"So does this mean my brother’s the one everyone’s been so worried about?" I asked.
"What I’m trying to tell you, Crystal, is this: The digits he left at the last crime scene are the last four in your mother’s phone number." He told me what this meant.
Then, slowly, like he was speaking to a fifth grader, he went over it all again and added some more: how Frank always wrote the name of some demon on the wall with the girl’s blood; about things he wrote on the mirror; about what he did to the bodies.
This time it clicked.
And when it did, I got this weird, sick feeling, like my blood running ice cold. My head went numb, and I said something like, "John, you’re making this up, aren’t you. And you’re not FBI, are you?"
"No, Crystal," he said, "I’m not making up anything about your brother."
I hung up the phone, went to the bar, and poured myself several drinks. I can’t remember if Ruben came home that night. Until five in the morning, I sat and thought on my couch and figured out what I had to do.
I knew Frank lived in an old converted garage just outside of Pahrump, a little place next to Las Vegas. So, with a couple old boyfriends, I drove out one Sunday night. It was windy and raining a little bit. Lightning flashed in the dark sky from time to time. Frank’s place was just north of town, and when we pulled up front, I smelled ozone in the air.
The building was dark and, of course, Frank’s car was gone. I knew he was attending the evening service at Power of Grace Pentecostal church, "trying to pull the shit together," as he’d told me a few years back.
The yard was dirt, rock, and sagebrush. As I sat in the car, on the passenger side, I wondered how my brother could live in such an awful place. Little Eddie the driver put on a Sinatra CD, and then he, Big Dumb Jeff, and I waited until around four when we saw the car lights coming down the dirt road.
By this time, it was raining like hell. Frank’s front yard had turned to mud. Holding my breath, I watched while my brother—he had two armloads of groceries—unlocked the door and went inside. Then, Snaky Ed, Big Jeffie, and I got out and walked up to the door. Wearing the leather coat my other brother Larry had sent me a few Christmases ago, I knocked.
Frank opened the door, ran his fat and meaty hand through his long dirty red hair, and did not smile. "Elaine," he mumbled.
"Frank," I said. "Sorry about the mud."
Then, the goons behind me, I stepped inside, put my arms around him, stood on my tiptoes, and as he leaned down gave him a kiss on the cheek.
The floor was gray concrete. In the middle of the room was an elaborately designed Oriental rug that I’d be sure not to get muddied. His unmade bed stood against the far wall and beneath the small wooden cross I had given him years before; a large-screen TV sat on the table to my immediate right, directly across the room from the bed. There was a kitchen over to the left with a sink piled high with dirty glasses and dishes and a refrigerator that was probably full of rotten meat.
Then I looked up. "Oh, Jesus, Frank," I said. My head spun as truth dangled above me. "Jesus H. Christ." It was a name I’d heard my father use.
Hanging by thick strings from overhead beams were photos of naked women—black and white mostly, but some color. Some had been alive and beautiful when the pictures were taken, but most of the bodies in the photos were cut up and were quite dead. Some of the pictures were just body parts. And there was something else I noticed: in some of the color photos, most of his victims were redheads.
Of course, I am a redhead.
I was looking at the pictures when the Snake—Ed--put his hand on my shoulder and pointed toward the bookcases. One bookcase was between the refrigerator and the far wall where his bed was, and the other was between the TV and that wall.
"What?" I asked.
"Just look," he answered.
Frank had lined the shelves with jars, all containing something floating in a red murky liquid. Feeling drained, I stepped up to one of the shelves so I could get close enough to see. Then I noticed another jar contained teeth—hundreds and hundreds of teeth.
Trembling, I turned to Frank standing in the middle of the room, big hands shoved deep into his pockets. He was looking at the ground.
"Who’s ‘Dagon,’ Frank?" I asked. It was the name he’d scrawled on the wall of his last victim.
"I can’t remember," he muttered.
I fought to control my rage.
"Were you going to slice me up, too, Frank, and put your sister’s heart in one of this jars? Keep me as another prize?"
When he nodded, I stepped up and hit him in the mouth with a closed fist. I’m pretty tall for a woman.
"Gonna rip out my heart, too?" I wanted to know.
He looked at me with his obsidian eyes--and then, professor, I knew for sure. Sometimes, as Momma used to say, you can tell evil—and when you do, you have to get rid of it.
I glanced at Jeff and Ed, then back at Frank.
"Frank, please, before I do anything, tell me, please: what is this shit all about?" My nose was running like it did when I cried as a little girl.
He spoke. "It’s about a lot of things. It’s about the night I asked you for your heart."
"It’s about your heart."
I looked at my goons; Snaky Ed actually seemed amused. "Why don’t you two morons say something?" I snapped.
"What you want us to say?" That was Big Dumb Jeffie with sad droopy eyes and a scar running down his cheek.
"It’s ‘cause we ain’t here to talk," Little Eddie said. Little Eddie had a thin black mustache, a quiver in his cheek, and rat’s eyes.
I turned to my brother. "I’d have given you my heart, Frank," I said. "Jesus, Frank, I’d have given you everything. All you had to do was ask. I’d have given it."
I waited for about fifteen minutes, said a prayer I had learned from my mother, and took the gun from the inside of my jacket. Then I told the goons to do what they had to do.
This they did, professor, and because I’m his sister, I had to watch him bleed and cry and suffer and die.
V. Dr. Cussak’s conclusion.
Years before his sister finally visited him, Frank had purchased an old mechanic’s garage; quite a capable man in ways, he had turned the place into his living quarters, the "base of operation," from which he carried out his schemes.
Two weeks after his sister’s visit, Frank Crawley’s body was found. An elderly couple from Twin Falls, Idaho, stopped by Frank’s home. Thinking it was a fix-it garage, they climbed from their automobile and were immediately assailed by the foulest odor either had ever smelled. They promptly telephoned the police, who responded within the hour.
When authorities entered, they found what remained of Frank Crawley. His sister’s punishment—and I am quite certain that what authorities saw was work performed under the guidance of Elaine "Crystal" Crawley—had gone beyond simple mutilation. Frank’s limbs had been severed and placed, conspicuously, on the shelves, two on each side of the room. The jars, naturally, had been rearranged somewhat to make room for the shelves’ new occupants. Then, two things were missing: the head and the heart. Frank’s heart was found in the refrigerator’s freezing compartment. As for his head—your guess is as good as mine.
The theory that Frank was the product of a maladjusted childhood seems week because it is easily refutable: certainly, numerous people have suffered the abuse he did, but most of them did not become serial killers. The "multiple personality" theory is so riddled with flaws that it does not merit serious consideration. More plausible is the "depravity" theory, put forth in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and asserting that some people are simply born with a "bad seed." Another possibility, of course, is the phenomenon known as somnambuliform possession, a form of hysteria found in ancient cultures. In short, did the deities, whose names he scrawled in blood on the walls of his victims’ rooms, somehow inhabit Frank Crawley’s body? The possibility should not be eliminated.
I suppose that one cannot reach a definitive conclusion in this matter. In light of my own daughter’s death, however, I do take great comfort from the fact that Frank Crawley is quite dead.
1. Eddie Matthews was the star third baseman for the Milwaukee Braves in the ‘50s and 60’s.
2. "The Nephalim [Gen. 6:4] are considered by many as giant demigods, the unnatural offspring of the "daughters of men"…in cohabitation with the "sons of God" (angels). This utterly unnatural union, violating God’s created order of being, was such a shocking abnormality as to necessitate…the Flood." (Merrill F. Unger. Unger’s Bible Dictionary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1957; 1961).
3. According to Unger(see above note), "Chemosh..was the national deity of the Moabites, honored with horribly cruel rites like those of Molech, to whom children were sacrificed in fire." Of Asherah, Unger has this to say: "Frequently represented as a nude woman bestride a lion with a lily in one hand and a serpent in the other…, she was a divine courtesan…. Her degraded cult offered a perpetual danger of pollution to Israel and must have sunk to sordid depths as lust and murder were glamorized in Canaanite religion."
4. Mark 5 recounts a story in which Jesus exorcises madman from the region of the Gadarenes and sends the "legion" of demons into a herd of pigs. The story would have particular significance for Frank.
5. Bel was "the patron god of Babylon (Jer. 51:44) identified with Marduk, head of the Babylonian pantheon. The Hebrews called him Merodach." (See Unger.)
6. Dagon was an "ancient Mesopotamian deity…generally represented as having the body or trunk of a fish, with human head and hands…. [He was] the symbol of water and all the vivifying natural powers which take effect in warm countries through water."(See Unger.)
By Rich Logsdon
I. Of Dr. James Rostock. It is a grim spring day along the Oregon coast. The sun will continue to hide behind the clouds for another two months. Worse, my old friend Dr. James Rostock is dead.
In 1984, Dr. James Rostock, a professor of archeology from a university in Cairo, was very much alive, and it was then that he claimed that he had made a remarkable discovery in a dig south of the Dead Sea. It was a discovery that he would conceal up to his death.
To state his position briefly, Dr. Rostock asserted that he had found in an earthen jar a remarkably preserved document that he referred to as the " angel text." The "angel text" is an account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. According to Dr. Rostock’s dating, the this document was written around 2000 B.C. and originated from an area near the site of the legendary cities. Biblical scholars have placed the destruction of these two cities at around 2065 B. C.
A struggling scholar, I am somewhat skeptical of Rostock’s discovery. Who in the academic crowd would not be? Like most of my colleagues in the arts and sciences, I rejected the Bible even before I entered the university, where I first met the professor. Now, as a professor teaching a combination of religious studies and literature in a small but obscure Northwestern college, I labor even more to accept and attach my name to a narrative that theoretically was spoken by an angel to a priest named Zerach.
To put it more simply, if my own grandchildren, aged nine and thirteen, don’t believe in angels and would find anyone who claimed to do so a matter for laughter, then I can only with difficulty swallow the bait that the now deceased Dr. Rostock dangles before me.
Yet, reluctantly, I do at least take the bait. One reason for doing so is that I promised the professor, years ago, that the manuscript would be made public following his demise. Another reason is my wife, who alone kept any vestige of religious faith in my family, and so it is out of love for this now deceased woman that I release this letter, sent to me by Dr. Rostock shortly before his death in a Jerusalem hospital, as well as the so-called "angel text."
II. Professor Rostock’s Letter.
My dear Richard,
The air is foul in the Holy City. The moon has turned blood red, and I am close to death.
But I must push aside concerns for my eternal soul.
The last time we met, I promised when you and your wife dined with me in Cairo that I would send you this text when time came for me to depart this world. (With the text I send my own copious notes.) After years of painstaking thought and study, I can find no evidence that this document is (1) a copy of a pre-existing one, (2) a literary exercise, or (3) some kind of fabrication intended to delude the religious officials of the day.
Each point must be considered. (1)As for the "copy" theory--it would likely be impossible at all to give its composition an approximate date. Further, since religious documents written before the date of the "angel text," as I often call it, make no reference to the priest Zerach’s narrative whose composition frames the text, I must assume that it originated around the date that my research indicates: 2210 B. C. (2) As far as considering the narrative contained in the document an exercise in imagination--it is extremely difficult to establish the existence of a literary tradition, past or present, that religious figures transcribing something given to them by someone or something of a supposedly "supernatural" origin. Certainly, the history of literature contains examples of humans making contact with the supernatural—Marlow, Goethe, Shelly, and Stoker come to mind—but no one was asked to take seriously Faust’s encounter with Mephistopheles. Nonetheless, contemporary scholars (yourself included) have attempted to discredit the O.T. books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel (these are but examples) by claiming that these writings constituted a literary tradition, the existence of which is merely conjectural and has yet to be established. (3) The "fabrication" theory—As for this theory, there may be certain plausibility. But keep in mind that anyone found guilty of falsifying such a religious document around the time of the text’s composition would have been condemned to death by the courts of the day. Of course, the writers of such documents can be and have been accused of suffering from mental disorders, but this position depends upon establishing that the writers of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakuk, Zechariah and such were off their collective rockers.
Therefore, dear friend, I ask you to release this strange and most unsettling text posthumous to my own death. My desire to hang on to my own reputation has prevented me up to this point from even breathing a word about the "angel text." But when one faces death, reputation counts as no more than a fig. Further, I cannot prove that the "angel text" is anything but what it is. Considered within the context provided by Genesis 18, in which God and Abraham reach no agreement, it is just as plausible that the "angels" were sent into Sodom and Gomorrah (See Genesis 19) with the intention of sparing the city but removing Abraham’s brother.
I write this, knowing that I am approaching the end. I fear, dear friend, that I shall spend eternity in the "great outer darkness," as you call it. The very thought of this fills this old, dying body with icy fear.
Pray for my eternal soul.
Accordingly, out of affection for this man, I present both Genesis 18 (King James version, I am afraid) and the "angel text." The second cannot be understood apart from the first.
III. Genesis 18. And the men rose up from thence, and looked toward Sodom: and Abraham went with them to bring them on the way. And the LORD said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do; Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the LORD, to do justice and judgment; that the LORD may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him. And the LORD said, Because the cry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grievous; I will go down now, and see whether they have done altogether according to the cry of it, which is come unto me; and if not, I will know. And the men turned their faces from thence, and went toward Sodom: but Abraham stood yet before the LORD. And Abraham drew near, and said, Wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: and that the righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? And the LORD said, If I find in Sodom fifty righteous within the city, then I will spare all the place for their sakes. And Abraham answered and said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD, which am but dust and ashes: Peradventure there shall lack five of the fifty righteous: wilt thou destroy all the city for lack of five? And he said, If I find there forty and five, I will not destroy it. And he spake unto him yet again, and said, Peradventure there shall be forty found there. And he said, I will not do it for forty's sake. And he said unto him, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak: Peradventure there shall thirty be found there. And he said, I will not do it, if I find thirty there. And he said, Behold now, I have taken upon me to speak unto the LORD: Peradventure there shall be twenty found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for twenty's sake. And he said, Oh let not the LORD be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten's sake. And the LORD went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.
III. Angel Text: Zerach. The words of Zerach, priest of Oboth, located by the River Arabah, recorded in the fifth month of the thirty-third year of the third period since the great devastation that took the life of all the earth’s creatures but Noah.
The skies were filled with ash, and for two weeks the sun had been the color of blood. Visitors told us that a great explosion had occurred to the north: Sodom and Gomorrah were no more.
Fearing the end of days, I Zerach was drawing water from the river when I was approached by a man in white raiment so bright that I could not look in his direction. As I knelt, I put my hand in front of my eyes. The glow from his garments dimmed, and I could now look at him. I did not recognize him. The sun disappeared behind the gray canyon walls, and in the soft light filling the air around us I saw that he was uncommonly tall. He had a dark face and gold eyes that blazed like fire stones. His hair was thick and black, and he wore around his waist a sword.
"You are Zerach," he said. Three paces away he stopped and sat upon a rock and watched me.
"Yes," I spoke back, "I am Zerach."*
I felt faint.
"Do not be afraid," he spoke.
His words were soothing.
"Who are you?" I asked.
The day continued to darken.
"Are you [of the] Nephalim?" I asked. Nephalim are a race of giant men that have existed since the days of Noah.
"Are you then angel of the Lord?" I said.
"No, not Nephalim. I am as you think: an angel of God," he said. The day darkened, yet we were engulfed by light. As he sat on the stone, he leaned over and picked up from the ground several small stones. "I am Yonotai."
My heart quickened. My heart pounded and my lips quivered; decay crept into my bones, and my legs shook.
"What does the Most High want with me?" I asked.
His eyes blazed. "You are to record all that I tell you," he said.
I feared I was near death, for I could not refuse God.
"I have nothing to write with," I said.
I was sure that I was a dead man.
He told me, "You will remember." His eyes blazed.
And so it was. What follows are the words of Yonatai, the Angel of the Lord.
IV. Angel Text: Yonatai. I came with Michael. A golden-haired Michael dressed in red and white and carried the great gold sword [that brought him] fame in the battles with the Dark Prince, whose legions overrun the earth. I wore brown and white.**
We walked from Mamre, near Hebron, where God had spoken with Abraham. The desert we traveled was dangerous and desolate, known for wild animals and overrun by thieves. The sun burned in the sky. Nothing bothered us on our journey.
We had been sent to bring out of Sodom the man Lot, nephew to the great prince Abraham. Sodom was one of five cities in the Vale of Siddim. The others were Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim, and Zoar. Surrounded by sulfur pits, Gomorrah was like Sodom, a place of cruelty and wickedness. Because one of his daughters and her husband lived in Gomorrah, we were to give Lot time to call all his family to him before taking him away.
At close of day, we stood on the side of a mountain called Sodom that overlooked the fertile plain and the slime pits. Crouching in the terrain around us were the dark angels, wretched fallen things who feared light. We heard their laughter and whisperings.
We saw the great cities in the distance next to the Dead Sea. The land around the cities was fertile and green. Numerous points of light indicated fires set by travelers, who camped outside the cities and roamed the streets by day and night looking for young boys or females. From the cities, from the innocents who could not escape, cries of wailing and sorrow filled the air.
We walked the [next] day and came to Sodom an hour before sunset. Hundreds of people moved through the huge gate. The gate was like the mouth of a lion. Inside the city, through the gate, was the Black Temple of Bel Ziel, dedicated to Ashtoreth. Their priests were eunuchs, and their ceremonies required young boys be given to the priests.
As we passed through the gate, a small, round man in a green turban, a purple scarf, and garments striped in red and green came out of a chamber in the wall and walked toward us. He bowed before us with his face to the ground. This was Lot.
Lot rose and led us beyond the gate and into the city. "My Lords," he said, "please turn aside to your servant’s house. You can wash your feet and then go on your way early in the morning."
Michael looked at him. "We shall stay in the square of your city," he said.
"Oh, no, my Lords," Lot protested, "you must stay with me. I have a house that is ready and food that is prepared. My daughters and their husbands are with me."
"Let us stay with Lot," I said.
And Michael agreed.
Sodom was a bad place. A suffocating stench filled the air. Shouting, screaming, laughter, and weeping filled the air. The people that we saw behaved like animals. Many people were drunk and shouted obscenities, fighting among themselves and spilling blood. Many of the women looked like whores, particularly those gathered in front of the black temple. They wore no covering over their painted faces and dresses of the brightest colors. Some exposed their breasts. Two or three approached me, but when I looked at them they stopped and backed away.
In the square, I saw men and women kept in cages. Lot told us these people were captives from enemy tribes and were to be sold as slaves. All those in cages had been savagely beaten; some were blind, and others were missing limbs.
We came to a tavern before Lot’s house. Shouting and laughter drew me in, and through the darkness I saw young naked boys sitting on the laps of the men. Anger burned within me. From a room in the back, I heard the crying of a woman, and when I entered the room I noticed several men with her. She too was naked, blood ran from marks on her body, and the men had been assaulting her. I reached for my sword. It was then I heard Michael calling to me from the entrance, and I turned, walked out of the room and followed Lot and Michael to his house.
Lot’s family had already gathered and did not need to be called. Lot had two daughters, each one married, and an able wife, who washed our feet.
For dinner, we ate unleavened bread and drank of some wine.
After dinner, we heard loud banging on the door. Behind the pounding were the voices of a mob. "Send out the two beautiful men that are within," they shouted. "We want to have sex with them." I boiled with anger as Lot rose from the table, went to the door and opened it. His daughters went with him.
"Do not go out to these people, Lot," I said.
"These are friends," he said.
He stepped outside and shut the door. Though we remained seated, Michael and I heard what Lot said to the crowd.
"No, good people, friends," he said, "do not do this thing tonight. Look, I have two beautiful daughters, who are virgins. You can have them and do with them as you wish. But the two men are special guests, and you must not touch them."
But Lot’s words made the crowd angrier. "Who are you, Lot?" they shouted, speaking blasphemies against the most High. "You do not belong to this place, yet you rule over us and treat us as servants. If you don’t do what we say, we’ll do worse things to you."
"Please, take my daughters," Lot said.
And Lot continued to plead, and the men grew less angry.
"All right," they finally said, "but send them out right away."
Then Lot opened the door, seized his two daughters, and drew them out into the street. He handed over his two beautiful daughters to the men, walked back inside and closed the door. I could hear their screams over the yelling of the men.
I quickly rose, strode to the door, and stepped outside. Many men were gathered in the streets. The dark angels hovering over the people fled as soon as I came out. Lot’s daughters were crying, and one of them had been undressed and was being held by several men.
"I command you to release these women!" I shouted. My voice thundered. But the men who held them did not release either one of Lot’s daughters. I repeated my command but none heeded me. Some laughed and scorned me.
I raised my sword in my right hand, and a flame leapt from the sky. Then everyone in the crowd began to scream grew still and silent. The fire hung just above them; their eyes melted from heat, and all but Lot’s daughters fell to the ground where they crawled about like blind, grunting animals.
I took the daughters back into the house, and Michael told Lot that we must leave now.
"Time has run out for Sodom," Michael said. "Surely, the Lord will now destroy these two cities, Lot."
"But how can God do this?" Lot asked, afraid. "Is not God merciful and just?"
"You need to pack your belongings, you and your family, and leave with us now, so that you will not be destroyed, too," I said.
Lot could not move. Fear shook him.
"Do you not know what happened to the men in the street, Lot?" I asked.
"Yes, I know," Lot said.
"It shall be the same for this city and for Gomorrah," Michael said. "We must leave soon."
So Lot went into the back room and spoke to his sons-in-law, but they mocked him and called him a fool.
"God will not destroy this city," the young men said. "He will not harm his people. Besides, it has been this way in Sodom for over one hundred years."
Lot reminded them of the days of Noah, but they refused to go. So, under the covering of night, Michael and I left with Lot, his wife, and their two daughters.
And as we walked to the edge of the city, a group of angry men approached and addressed Lot. And Michael stepped in front of Lot….
[A part of the text is missing.]
…and I returned from Zoar, where we had taken Lot and his family. I stood on the side of the mountain. And as I looked down at the cities, I remembered Lot’s daughters and anger burned within me. And I raised my sword toward heaven. The moon overhead turned blood red, and four great stars began to burn and out of each came a river of fire. And the rivers of fire joined over the two cities, and at the place where they joined a greater flame burst forth, filling the sky over Sodom and Gomorrah and falling upon the two cities. The conflagration spread over the earth, and when the heat reached me I turned away. As I turned I saw Lot’s wife not far from me. She had been kneeling and weeping, praying for the two cities. And when the heat touched Lot’s wife, she became rock and ash. I had asked Lot, his wife, and his two daughters not to come back with me, but Lot’s wife had disobeyed.
I looked back, and I saw the earth split in two and swallow the cities. Sodom and Gomorrah sank into the bowels of the earth like ships into the sea.
And so I walked up the mountain and back to Zoar, and Lot’s wife was not with me. And so Lot and his daughters were saved but his wife perished….
IV. Angel Text: Zerach. And when he had finished, the Angel of the Lord rose from the rock on which he sat and went his way. For a long time, I stood by the river and felt a great hollowness in my heart. "Is this how God treats those who do not do His will and seek to obey him?" I shouted. I had been to Sodom and Gomorrah many times and thought of my friends in those cities. I was now afraid of God and sought His forgiveness. I dropped to my knees and prayed, and when I finished, I picked up the stone vessel I had take down to the river to gather water and went back to the village. And there, I told the story Yonatai had told me to all the people, and they were amazed and fearful. "What if God should strike us for any little thing?" they cried. "What are we to do, Zerach?" And when I could not answer them, they grew very angry and threatened to kill me. They and the dark angels came against me. So I fled….
V. Final Thoughts. The rain continues. My bones feel damp. The "angel text," particularly the section told from the angel’s perspective, alarms me.
As I re-read it, I think of Jonathan Edward’s "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." When delivered by the soft-spoken Edwards, people came forward by the thousands to receive Christ. And I think of the ancient Biblical prophet Habbakuk. Around 700 B. C., Habakuk learned that God was going to unleash the Babylonians upon Israel and then turn right around and destroy the Babylonians. Interestingly, the Babylonian captivity did occur less than a century after the prophecies of this man. However, the most interesting aspect of Habakkuk’s prophecy is not just that it pre-dated the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians (or Chaldeans, whichever you prefer) but that the prophet questioned God’s judgment. At the end of this short book, Habakkuk quakes with fear as he accepts and awaits the God-orchestrated disaster.
* * * *
"What particularly fascinates me, Richard," Professor Rostock confided in me back in June of 1996 when my wife and I dined with him in a restaurant in Cairo, "is that only a lunatic would make up a God like this. Only a culture in the grips of severe psychosis would invent and then obey such a monstrous deity."
I had been watching the Egyptian sunset. In the desert environment, polluted by cars and industry, the sky was exploding with colors.
"Not sure I follow you," I said.
"I doubt the text is a fabrication; you know that. And, at this point in my life, I don’t think the God that sends the angels is a fabrication. You can’t seriously make up something, or someone, like that."
I looked at my wife, Andrea. She gave me a blank look, so I turned to the professor.
"How can you say that?" I asked. "You believe this God was or is real? How can you?" The professor’s lifestyle had never been a secret to me or to the larger academic community.
"What else can I say?" he asked, a look of near hopelessness on his face.
We didn’t say much for the rest of the evening.
But, then again, what can any of us say?
Uncertain myself, even a bit fearful that the document may contain a shred of truth, I offer you the "angel text."
May God have mercy on us all.
CONFESSION OF A DARK SAINT
By Rich Logsdon
Note: The setting for the story about the reclusive mystic Sebastiano is northern Italy in either the tenth or eleventh century A. D. Taking liberties with the legend contained in the recently discovered manuscript, I have rendered the story in first person. RL
I. Young traveler, I welcome you. I am Sebastian, and for many nights I have dreamt of your coming.
It’s a bad time to be out in this winter land of snow. The Alpine night air is death-cold. So walk with me next to the frozen river—it’s the way to my dwelling--as the sun disappears behind snow-capped mountains.
Indeed, we must move quickly, for the night air will freeze our lungs. My small warm place lies through these pine trees to your right. Look where I am pointing; you can see it from here. From the outside my dwelling is a dirty hut with a hole in the roof for smoke. Inside, however, my dwelling is clean. Ten years ago, during a spring storm, I erected the structure. With help from Brother Pietro, I cut and hewed the wood, and I broke and fit the stone. As you pause at my door—you can see it from here--run your hand over the wood. It is a special oak found only in this northern area. The golden cross on the door is a gift from the nearby monastery and has kept the dark prince from me.
Here: Allow me to open the door for you. Now, lower your head, come inside and approach the fire.
II. In Christ’s name, I welcome you to my sanctuary. Let my fire warm you. God is gracious, and we shall soon eat.
Of course, you must stay the night. You see, on cold winter nights, great wolves stalk the forest. As darkness thickens, they'll surround this dwelling. In the wind, you'll hear their howling; as you drift to sleep, they'll snarl a small measure from the door. But before we eat and sleep, allow me to tell you my story.
What you have heard is true: through me, God has healed the afflicted and demon-possessed. Once, the healings were as common as drinking water. I would preach in a small meadow beyond a mountain village. Hundreds came. I wandered among them, prayed and laid hands upon the sick. Lepers were cured, cancers removed, blindness and deafness taken away. I became so enamored of myself that for a time God denied me the privilege of bringing healing to anyone.
Then the exorcisms began; God is never idle. The crowds commonly had one or two possessed by demons. It was in a village east of here that God’s small, still voice told me to command Satan to leave a young woman—the village whore. She had green eyes and red hair. She stood in the back of the church and heckled me in an obscene tongue. Unafraid, I shouted to the demon in the name of Christ; I called its named and commanded it out.
When I spoke, the woman screamed, vomited, and collapsed like a bag of dirt. Others—two hundred were there--thought her dead. Then the dark thing inside her shrieked, cursed the Savior, and departed through an opening in the roof. Hours later, after most had departed, the woman awoke, and she was a new person, kind and gentle of disposition. To this day, she continues to serve the Savior.
Now to the beginning. I am the product of a relationship between a brother and sister who were burned for witchcraft when I was one year. I was raised by my uncle Donato, a carpenter and an educated man—he became the mayor of a small village hidden among the mountains to the south--and by my blessed, gentle aunt named Anna. This gaunt, dark-haired woman, for whom prayer was a second language, instructed me in the ways of God. Anna knew Latin and taught me to read and speak in several tongues. Often, she sang me to sleep.
Raised by these two kind people, I had a glorious life. Surrounded by the forest, mountains, rivers, and meadows, I played with the other children. We roamed the countryside and played children’s games.
I thought my village was a paradise.
Then, one spring morning, after the snows had melted off the lower mountains, soldiers from the north came like thieves in the night. I stood on a trunk in the pasture next to uncle’s house; the other children and I were playing, and I had become king. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a flicker in the forest, then another, and then yet another. Focusing on a large swaying branch, I saw them: tall warriors, standing under the trees behind the far side of the village. Glancing around, I saw them standing next to the trees a short distance from us. We children watched them pour out of the forest like silent wolves. There were hundreds.
They swiftly moved forward and did not acknowledge us. At fourteen years, I should have been seized as an adult and died a brutal death.
I watched as they dragged my aunt and uncle from the house. My uncle was a large, strong, dark complexioned man, and it took several to subdue him. At the time, I knew that God would rescue my protectors. I waited for the sky to open, for a ball of flame to appear, but nothing happened.
I watched as the soldiers undressed my aunt Anna, and she screamed and called to me. My uncle, bound by rope to the great pine in front of our house, roared with rage. I ran towards Anna but, no more than twenty paces from her, I froze, as only a coward would do, and I could only observe as the soldiers took turns assaulting her. Then, they bound this good woman to the tree, next to my uncle, and burned them alive.
For a year I remained in the village, eating food left in the houses, hunting forests with packs of children a little younger than I, and managing to survive on deer, elk, and rabbit. My uncle had taught me to hunt and kill.
Many times, after the sun had gone down, I returned to my house and prayed that God would restore my aunt and uncle. I clung to the belief that they would one day emerge from the forest. A tall, sensitive young man, I was haunted most every night by the same dream: Anna and Donato screaming as huge red flames consumed them.
Finally, God sent me peace and urged me to leave the village. Packing my belongings and taking my uncle’s wealth, which he had buried in a wooden box behind the house, I left and traveled north and east, wearing my uncle’s clothes of forest green.
One early winter Alpine night, I encountered a band of rogues, the sort that live off the fair and innocent through cunning and craft. I saw them in a crowded tavern by a small lake on a clear and cloudless night, stars filling the sky, the air bitterly cold. In that tavern that night, I treasured my place by the roaring fire. Bunched around a thick table across the dimly lit room, they were drinking, cursing, and insulting the servers and patrons, both men and women. They had no respect for God.
I paused from my eating and studied them. I had never seen people so vile, and I could not help but wonder if any one of them had been among the soldiers who had murdered my aunt and uncle. They sensed intrusion and glared back at me. The entire tavern grew silent.
Finally, the biggest one—a heavy-set, bearded, one-eyed man with dirty jet-black hair that hung down his waist—rose, threw his chair against the wall, and walked over to me. He wore a red vest and shirt and dark brown breeches. "Fee, fi, fo, fum," he thundered as he moved. His drunken friends laughed and encouraged him to "teach the young dog to lick the feet of his master."
As the lummox towered over me, I remained sitting, head bowed, pretending to concentrate upon my meal. I slurped from a wooden spoon the lentil soup that I had ordered with roast pork, my favorite meat. Trembling seized me then, but it was not fear. Young traveler, I loathed this man and imagined the pleasure in slitting his throat.
I had never been in combat. Tormented, however, by my earlier failure of courage, I would not be afraid. As fury built, I fought to ignore the man. I ate. He watched. I took a sip of ale and glanced at the fire. Incensed that I did not acknowledge him, he lunged forward with a roar, grabbed my plate and bowl and threw them on the floor. And then he struck me a ringing blow to the side of the head.
"Are you the man for me, boy? Is that what you think? Are you the man for me? Or are you too green for one such as me?" he bellowed to the laughter of his friends and others too afraid to oppose him. At that moment, I wanted to strike the man, but I had been taught not to resist evil and to always turn the other cheek. So I sat still, staring at the door as he struck my face with the back of his hand several times until I bled from the mouth.
The fires of rage ignited, and I clenched my fists under the table. I slowly rose to my feet and placed my face inches from his. Our eyes met. We stood like this for some time. The place had gone silent again.
He said nothing, but when he blinked several times I knew that this man would be no match for me. I did not blink.
Stupidly, he looked back at his friends. One of them—a small, stooped man with trembling hands and eyes of the Devil—rose, walked crab-like toward the large man and handed him a club made of wood and metal. "Perhaps you have forgotten your favorite instrument, Lucio, the one that tears flesh from faces," the small man hissed.
In semi-darkness, the Lucio nodded and grunted. He took and looked at the weapon and then glanced at me. Anger now burned in his idiot eyes, and as he raised the weapon I quickly removed my blade from its sheathe and, in the blink of an eye, held it to his throat.
"Stand back, you great lug-wart, or I’ll slice your huge body, cut out your eyes, and spill your guts," I said. I laughed when I realized that my words I would certainly have earned my aunt’s disapproval.
He froze. Winter wind battered the walls. Wolves shrieked.
I could see he was daunted because one so young dared challenge him. We were like a picture: the giant Lucio trembling, a young man’s knife at his throat.
Things were looking very bad.
His friends shouted that he would prove himself a coward, calling him a woman, then coming forward and nudging him in the back. As the ape brought the weapon down I jumped sideways, and the blow glanced off and cracked my left shoulder. Dizzy with pain, I sank to one knee and bowed my head. I squeezed pain from my mind and prayed God would give me the power to strike this man and his friends dead.
Oafish, Lucio studied me. As I silently prayed, my pain retreated. God restored my strength; power swept from my feet to my head. When he raised the weapon for another blow, I sprang to my feet and, slicing upward, ran the blade diagonally across his face.
He roared and staggered back.
It was a deep cut. Men yelled and women screamed as Lucio’s blood spurted like a geyser. Some of it dabbled me. Releasing his weapon and clutching his face, he stumbled in a circle. Then, dropping his hands and gritting his teeth, he lunged and, as he seized my neck, I grabbed his arms and fell backward, pulling him on top of me.
Gathering around us, his friends and some of the patrons laughed drunkenly and encouraged him to kill me.
As Lucio tried to strangle me, I tensed the muscles of my neck and smiled, for his strength was not as great as mine. It was a splendid moment among the damned, young traveler, for quick as night, I thrust the knife into his side—like this--just below his ribs and up to the hilt. I did this three or four times. I had never killed a human before, but as Lucio’s hands fell away from me, and as he sat unsteadily on top of me, I rejoiced that life was leaving him. May God forgive me.
When Lucio toppled sideways, panting like a wounded beast, I rose and, standing in the slick of blood, faced his friends. I should have struck then as they trembled and slowly backed away. Once they reached the door, they quickly turned, opened it, and fled into the night.
My heart and brain feverish with excitement, I knelt over Lucio, wiped my blade on his clothes, then stood again. I looked around the room. Men and women cowered together, sure that I would butcher them, and in the flickering light from the fireplace I could read fear on their faces. That pleased me.
Finally, a woman whom I took to be the tavern keeper’s wife shuffled up to me. I admired her because she showed courage that few others in that room possessed. I also thought of killing her.
"Those who have left are friends of the sheriff," she said meekly, bowing her head and avoiding my eyes. "If you don’t flee, he and his men will find you, torture you publicly, and kill you for sport."
"They are too many, young man," she said, stepping forward and gently placing a hand on my shoulder; "they’ll gut you like an ox." It was as if I had been briefly touched by God, and feeling bathed in the warm glow I once associated with my aunt and the stories about Jesus, I sheathed my weapon, thanked her, gathered my belongings from under my table, and left the tavern.
It was a full-moon night. Wolves prowled the area—I could hear them all about me as I walked in harsh wind through the forest--but they did not come near.
I walked a small path through the forest and towards mountains that loom not far from this dwelling and surround the monastery where Pietro lives and prays daily. As night wore on, I felt lifted out of myself, like a soul departing the body for the Eternal Kingdom.
* * * *
Days later, I arrived at a town not far from here. You may have come through it; it well known for its great red stone church. Never had I seen so many people in one place, and I spent a good part of the first day walking through the streets, where everything one can imagine is sold: kitchenware, great plumed hats, thick colorful scarves, boots, doves, chickens, turkey, every kind of food. Because I had my uncle’s treasure, I found lodging over a stable, and at the week’s end I began working at the shop of an old carpenter.
The old carpenter, who spoke as I did, was losing his sight and needed an assistant. For three years, I worked for the fellow, who daily read the scripture and prayed over each meal we shared.
At the end of the third year, desiring more than the carpenter’s preaching, I joined a group of soldiers passing through the village. They were looking for anyone who wished to make his living, as they did, fighting for the various armies throughout this northern land.
Within the year, as a foot soldier fighting in the service of the infamous hunch-backed prince Dominico, I learned I was a very good fighter. I relished taking lives. I relished hewing and hacking limbs. After a battle, I couldn’t wait to kill again.
Yes, young hunter, I was a splendid fighter.
* * * *
It was during one early winter campaign that my group was commanded to take a small river village known for harboring a witch. Witches were common in those days. The hunchback prince made it his mission to hunt down and execute all whom he suspected of practicing the dark crafts.
This river village lay some distance from here. It had a small church where St. Martin once spent the night.
The evening before, we camped next to the river down from the village. Fighting the cold and dreaming of carnage, I drank until I could not stand. When morning came, we ate and hastily equipped ourselves. Then, like wolves, we crept through the forest and concealed ourselves among the trees around the village.
A river ran through the village, which was surrounded by steep, snow-capped mountains. Spring and summer in this place would be beautiful. But I would not allow my mind to dwell on these thoughts, and when I signaled attack, I was seized by the rage had come to accompany my desire for blood.
Picture it, if you can: I Sebastian ran bellowing down the small road leading through the town and towards the dwelling that I knew belonged to the richest and most powerful family. With the help of several others, I broke down the house’s thick, wooden door and found within only a young raven-haired woman and her daughter, a small redheaded thing with large soft, terrified eyes and a heart-shaped birthmark on her cheek. It was warm inside the house, and a fire blazed in the grate.
"Where is your husband?" I demanded. I was struck by the woman’s beauty. She was dressed in a white and red dress, and had piercing blue eyes, full lips, soft gentle hands, and a thin shape.
"My husband is gone," she whimpered, extending thin arms in a gesture signifying that she was seeking mercy. Fear shook her. "Please, leave my daughter and me alone," the woman implored.
As I looked into the woman’s eyes, and as her daughter watched, I lowered my sword, turned, and told my companions to wait outside. "Kill the husband if he comes," I instructed them.
They smiled, then laughed and nodded their heads. They knew what I had in mind, and they knew that I was not willing to share with any of them. As my fellows stood outside and watched others of our small but cruel army slaughter the village’s adults and children, I raised my sword against her neck and commanded the woman to undress.
Too frightened to resist, she quickly removed all of her clothes. Long black hair flowed down her shoulders and onto her small breasts; her nipples were reddish-brown, her flesh white as snow. Breathing deeply to quell fear, she backed up and lay on her back on the table in the middle of the room. To me, she offered herself. For a time, I studied this treasure. She said nothing. I heard my fellows laughing outside.
Then, as her daughter wept, I mounted this woman. In those days, my appetites were insatiable. Perhaps I was possessed.
When I had finished, she lay exhausted on the table where no doubt she, her husband, and her child broke bread. It was then the lust for flesh became desire for blood. I removed my knife from its sheath, glanced at the daughter, and then strode forward, plunging my weapon into the woman’s stomach and slitting her throat. Blood sprayed everywhere: on the walls, on the floor, on the bed, even on the daughter. God forgive me, I derived pleasure from this act.
Next, I moved toward the daughter, my hand still gripping the sword handle. Seizing girl around her head, I pried open her mouth and, as I sang a song that my aunt had taught me, I cut out her tongue. I know neither why I did this nor why I did not murder the child. As I walked toward the door, I hesitated and looked up. It was as if I had just been struck by a rock, for placed on a crossbeam was an iron cross.
The woman I had just raped and killed was no witch.
* * * *
That was sixteen years ago. It was one year to the day after the event, as I slept with my regiment just outside the walls of the duke’s castle, that I had the first of many dreams in which I was haunted by the screams of that Christian woman. In my dreams, again and again, I plunged the knife deeply into her. At the end of the dream, bloodied and nearly decapitated, the woman always stood before me, pointed at me, and stated a prophecy that made my blood run cold.
Dreams are from God or Satan, young traveler, and so I often woke up yelling and delirious.
My men, those closest to me, thought I was losing my mind.
"These are dreams God has sent upon me from Hell," I remember telling them one very dark night. "God is punishing me." I trembled uncontrollably and wanted to weep but would not allow myself to do so in front of men who had always looked up to me in battle.
"These are the dreams caused by too much drink," laughed one of them, by daylight a broad-faced man whose name I forget but who had been recently accused by one of the men of cowardice. Normally, I would have killed him for making such a bold remark.
It was so dark not even the outline of my own hand placed before my face was visible.
"I have not drunk this night," I responded, weakly and hoarsely, sitting up in my bed. That much was true: that night, I had not consumed any wine or beer. In fact, I hadn’t drunk for months.
"Then you need to examine your soul," said another from across the room. I knew the voice to belong to a tall, thin man who had proved to be a tremendous fighter. "This is between you and God."
His words pierced me like a sword. For a long time, I said nothing.
"Yes," I finally murmured, "my eternal soul. Yes, I do need to examine my soul."
For six months after that night, at the advice of one who claimed to be a physician, I remained in the military encampment. Through winter and spring, he gave me herbs and medicines and told me to walk daily. Fears of judgment consumed me, and I wandered the infirmary like one of the dead. When the physician was away, I did little but walk and sleep. I had trouble eating and rarely kept anything down.
Alone, so no one could see me, I began to pray to the God my aunt and uncle had worshiped. In the weeks that followed, however, my condition worsened, and at times I broke into a feverish sweat and my heart beat erratically. During the day, as I often lay in bed, I was assailed by images of the bloodied woman and her daughter. I stopped eating.
I was wasting away. But one night, an unusual thing happened. Certain that I was dying, I lay a-bed. My candle burned low on the table next to me, and I was hoping for a peaceful end when I closed my eyes. In a flash, the darkness within me exploded into light, and opening my eyes I saw descending through the wooden roof a winged angel of God. Floating to the foot of my bed, he told me to leave the infirmary, to leave the camp, and promised that if I did so, and if I pledged myself to Christ, God would heal me.
When the angel left, I felt the power of God moving into me and enabling me to get out of bed. That night, as the other sick and dying slept, I returned to my barracks, packed my belongings and left soldiers whom I regarded as the only family I had on earth.
Desiring to end my torment, seeking union with the Savior of my aunt and uncle, I wandered as a crazed person in the dark green forests and high mountain meadows. My appetite gradually returned, and I ate whatever the forest provided. My black and dirty hair grew down to my waist, and my fingernails became black claws. I reeked. When I walked through a village, no one stayed in the streets long enough for me to speak to them; everyone fled, for I had become as a curse. In the villages, though I often begged from door to door, I was not given any food or drink, so I was forced to return to the forests, and there I found a cave and lived off small animals, roots, slugs, and spring water.
Sometimes my thinking would clear, particularly at night, and in those moments I wondered if God had sent a demon spirit to torment me. At night, before I struggled with sleep, which often stayed away, I knelt and wept in my cave that for a time served as my home. Nightly, on knees bloodied by the rough stone floor, I asked God to forgive me for raping and murdering the woman and for disfiguring her daughter. Weeping, I asked him to forgive me for killing Lucio in the tavern. I asked him to forgive me for the murderous life I had led as a soldier. God’s ways are beyond our knowing, young traveler, and for a long time the only answer I received was an occasional cold mountain wind whistling outside my cave.
But I learned during that year of my madness and exile that God does not abandon his children, even though He may sift them like wheat. Finally, the horrible dreams stopped and it was then that God flooded my soul with the message that He would never leave me. I began to sleep through the night. When I slept on the straw in the cave, angels often filled my dreams and I awoke knowing that the Kingdom filled the very air I breathed.
During spring, I moved out of the cave to an area not far from here—a meadow set in the middle of towering mountains--and there I was allowed to stay with an old couple. For three years, I did everything for them: I cut the wood, I hunted and prepared the meat, I nursed them in sickness, I protected them from robbers.
One day, just as the late fall rains began, I was walking through the forest looking for meat for the old couple, and it was then that I was captured by a group of four men and two women. A dirty, savage people, they threw a great net over me, and then, as I cried out and struggled to escape, they jumped out of the trees surrounding me and, with great sticks, beat me viciously. As I lay on the ground, bleeding freely and several bones broken, they dragged me in the thick net back to their camp.
In their camp down by the frozen river we walked beside today, these savages freed me from the net and then undressed me. As I tried to stagger to my feet the men kicked and struck me repeatedly. The two women hurled stones that cut.
Throughout the nights and through the next two days, they used forms of torture upon me. One of them enjoyed putting a flame on the soles of my feet so he could hear me scream in pain. I knew that the repeated agony would drive me back into madness, and silently I cried out to God, asking Him why he had turned me over to people of the Devil.
Then, one morning, as rain poured from the leaden sky, they bound naked me to a stake with a heavy wooden crossbar near the top. This was to be my end. One of the women—a tall, thin woman with short hair, who might have passed for a man--remembered me as soldier. Her name was Francesca. She stood a foot away from me and said I had been part of the group that had murdered her parents and brothers and sister.
"You are the one known as The Butcher," she said as she approached me with a large knife in her hand. "Do you have a heart?" she asked. She studied me. Her eyes were filled with the dark hate that I had seen in many whom I had enjoyed killing.
"Yes, I have a heart," I said, my voice broken. I breathed with difficulty. "Everyone has a heart."
The rain increased and I felt chilled to my soul.
"The devil has no heart," she yelled. The rest stood behind her. I thought of the tavern where I had learned the pleasure of killing human beings. Dank, disheveled, the woman grinned. Her teeth were perfect and she paused and put the blade to my chest, just below my heart.
I had never seen it rain so hard.
"No," I mumbled, not sure if my words were clear, "he certainly does not. But I am not the devil."
From deep inside, I could feel fear move to the surface.
"Are you the devil?" Francesco asked, grinning with contempt. She did not seem to notice the rain.
Icy panic swept through me.
"No," I whispered, "I said that I am not the devil."
She nodded, a wry smile on her face. "Then, if you are not the devil, you must have a heart. "
Silently weeping, I begged God’s forgiveness and wondered if He would abandon me as he had my aunt and uncle.
"I am going to find out if you have a heart," she said.
As she pushed, the sharp blade slowly entered my flesh between my ribs. The scent of my own blood filled the damp air.
I looked away, turning my eyes and thoughts onto the pines. Shrouded in dark clouds, the mountains were no longer visible. As Francesco shoved the blade more deeply and began cutting the flesh around my heart, something extraordinary happened.
The air around me became uncommonly bright, and I squinted and looked up for the source. My eyes scanned the sky as the damp air grew brighter and brighter, and looking up, I saw the clouds lifting from the mountains; the rain stopped. Just over the largest mountain, I saw a parting of the clouds, and then a golden glow. I could feel heat from the glow. Risking blindness, I looked into the brilliant glow, and as I did I saw another cloud that looked as if it had been made of spun gold.
I heard a beautiful singing; it was heaven.
I continued to look up. I shall go blind, I told myself.
In the midst of the cloud was a throbbing radiance, and in the radiance one clothed in pure white garments, a crown of stars on His brow. His arms clothed in white raiment were raised, and His hands and feet had been pierced. His voice filled the heavens and the earth, and my soul knew the words. A shaft of light burst from the man and fell upon me.
I felt no fear. Pain had temporarily left me, and I felt my bones melting, my heart quaking. I opened my mouth to praise God. No sound came out, and slowly I looked down at my enemies. All of them, Francesca included, had dropped to their knees. Bathed in light, some looked at the vision, hands shielding their eyes, while others turned away. None could rise, nor could I move, as I watched the Savior fade, saw the cloud turn from gold to gray, and waited until the skies were once again dark.
I looked at those who had tortured me. Their eyes were upon me and held only fear and confusion. Francesca gazed up with her mouth open. The knife lay on the ground next to her, and looking down at my chest, I saw that there was no wound.
I took deep breaths and closed my eyes.
No rain fell.
It was then I felt warm fluid slowly flowing from my forehead onto my beard, a warm, tickling fluid streaking from my hands down my arms; I felt the blood on my feet and, in the eye of my mind, I saw the bloodied Jesus hanging from the cross.
I was bleeding from my forehead, my hands, my side, and my feet. I had heard stories of men bearing the wounds of Christ but had never believed. But now His blood poured out of me and spilled onto the muddied ground.
Then I felt the Spirit was flowing into me, and I felt lifted beyond myself on that gray, rain-drenched day.
I looked to my enemies but no longer saw them as my enemies. Francesca fell prostrate to the ground, her face in the mud and her arms spread before her. One of the men, a great fat fellow who later became a monk, kept to his knees and bowed his head. His name was Pietro. As the rain began again, Pietro wept and prayed aloud.
The others seemed untouched. In the angry shouts, they rose growling, slowly backed away, then turned and falling and tumbling in the mud ran into the forest.
I hung through the afternoon, consumed by the chill that comes from rainy autumn cold. Francesca and Pietro remained kneeling, their hands clasped in front of them and raised above their heads.
As darkness fell, they unbound me and lifted me from the cross. I barely had the strength to move, so they took me back to their camp and, in the great tent, wrapped me in blankets. In the weeks to come, they moved me to a dwelling outside a nearby village where I became ill unto death. I would remain at the door of death through the harsh winter. These two daily cared for me. They gave me food and drink, and I slowly recovered.
We stayed together until late autumn. When the first snow fell, Francesca left for the nunnery to the north, and it is there that she lives to this day. Having taken a vow of silence, she speaks to no one but God. Pietro took me to his brother’s dwelling just on the other side of the ice-river you walked down today. We spent another cruel winter together in a small, warm lodge where we prayed and sang.
That Spring, before leaving me to live in the monastery just not half a day from here, Pietro helped me build this lodging, which I have joyfully inhabited since that time, more than ten years ago. It was from this small lodging that I began my earthly mission, wandering the forests and countryside, teaching, preaching, healing, and casting out demons.
For the last two weeks, God has spoken to me in a dream, and what he has shown me makes my blood freeze. Sometimes, I think of venturing outside in the snow and taking my chances with the wolves. One cannot, however, tempt God.
These dreams have not let me sleep. For fourteen nights, I have watched the growth of the little girl whose mother I raped and murdered. Her name is Gabriella. In dreams, I watched Gabriella grow into a beautiful young woman, one who cannot speak and whose one desire is to avenge her mother’s death. Her hatred of me drove her nearly mad, and at fifteen, she left the home of her cousin, who had taken upon himself the job of raising her. Eager to shed my blood, Gabriella prowled the woods and villages, luring men to dark spots. Each time, she waited for the man to begin enjoying her before removing a knife she had concealed under a bed or directly beneath her and slitting his throat from ear to ear.
Each murder was more hideous than the one before it, and soon Gabriella was dismembering her victims; once, in the dreams, she tore out the intestines of a young, strong blonde man whose wife had just died of smallpox.
The final dream came three nights ago. I shall tell you every detail. It was a year ago, on a day marking her mother’s murder, that in a tavern Gabriella offered herself to a young university student from Denmark. The Danes are a proud and warring people, and one winter night this youth was telling of his country’s exploits. A harsh winter storm had kept all residents inside their houses, and few visitors left the inn. It was, I believe, around midnight, as the young man and his fellows were drinking and conversing, that a young woman with flaming red hair and an unusual birthmark on her cheek walked past them. Her blouse hung open, and when this youth saw her, greatly aroused, he took her by the hand, stood, and asked her to his room. His room was on the third floor of this wooden building.
Gabriella agreed, and the young man carried his mistress up the stairs and over the room’s threshold, barring the door behind him, and began undressing himself. In all this the woman never spoke. The youth turned away from his catch as he removed his shirt and his breaches. It was time enough for the woman to take from her person a great sharp knife that she had strapped to one of her legs, swiftly move to the young man and shove the blade into his back.
The young man screamed weakly—one can barely speak with a blade in the back--but the storm outside muffled his sounds. As he fell bleeding to the floor, Gabriella seized his ankles, turned him over, and dragged him back to the bed. She was enormously strong and, with little effort, lifted the young man onto the bed, bound his wrists and ankles to the bedposts. Though severely wounded, the young man was awake, and he watched as she pierced his stomach with the knife. Then she stood back, smiled and watched the young man, still conscious, bleed to death.
The young man’s body was discovered in the afternoon three days later. The walls had been streaked in his blood. There was no sign of the woman Gabriella. She had left the tavern and wandered back out into the storm. Though the young man’s friends could remember what she looked like, the sheriff and his men could not find the beautiful young woman.
And now, here, this woman Gabriella crouches in front of the fire and looks at me. Her eyes, your eyes, are two blackened dots.
My child, I have done you a great wrong. But bound to Christ, I am no longer the soldier who raped your mother, cut out your tongue, and watched outside as others hacked your frantic father to death. Your mother and father are safely in Heaven.
Nonetheless, I offer myself to you. I stand now and remove my thick robe. I do not resist. Take my life. It is just retribution.
I see you stand and walk around the fire to approach me.
End my years of torment, and bring your knife to my throat. Drive the blade through my neck, and do not be deterred when you see that Christ’s wounds have become, somehow, my wounds. To the end of my days, I must bear His grief. These are my hands and feet; they bleed. My forehead bears the scars of the crown. I bleed; I bleed; and so, with one cut, I am with Christ.
Your blade quivers, Gabriella. You hesitate. Do you know why? Perhaps you have been moved by my story. Perhaps you see that I have already suffered. Perhaps, you will stay with me and offer yourself to the One who promises to break you, mould you, and shape you.
Your blade is at my neck. It pricks; it cuts; do I die? What you must do, Gabriella, do quickly.
Why, child, do you hesitate?
And this is the story of Sebastiano, which I have pieced together on the basis of manuscripts preserved in a small museum in northern Italy and attributed by scholars to the young woman Gabriella, who committed her life to serving the Savior and who cared for Sebastiano until the day he passed from this earth.
Milan, Italy. Summer, 2001. RL
I. This is Jen's apartment.
It's the dead of night, and the
door is slightly ajar. You walk in and flick on the light switch next
to the door. Nothing has prepared you for what you see.
The beige walls, the photos of the Amazon jungle, the pile of
clothes in the corner, the white couch, and the living room's light
green carpet are spattered with blood, its pungent metallic odor
hanging in the air like fine smoke. You see more blood in the small
kitchen: on the stove, on the yellow refrigerator, and in and around the
sink. The kitchen floor is covered with it. The body, you have been
told, is in the bedroom.
As you stand on the blood-soaked carpet, you wonder how your Jen
could have anything to do with this. You think of her: a bright young
woman with light brown hair, beautiful blue eyes, large breasts, and a
gorgeous ass. Jen dreams of going to Brazil and has a crazy sense of
humor. You remember when she scored the winning goal for her high
school soccer team during the final game of the season. You remember
seeing her in a fight in the Taco Bell parking lot, the larger girl
throwing herself at Jen, who stepped aside and kicked her opponent into
bloody unconsciousness. You remember your surprise at seeing her at
church, sitting four or five rows back with her parents, stern but quiet
types. You've known Jen forever, it seems.
You've left the door open, and turning and looking into the
cavernous night you listen for sirens. You hear nothing. It strikes you
as odd that the police have not been alerted. Then it hits you: the
murder is recent, an hour old.
Death hangs in the air of the apartment like an immense bat and, as
you turn towards the kitchen, it beckons you. Locked in someone
else's nightmare, you try to think, for you must try to piece things
together. You don't have much time. Some one is waiting outside for
II. Looking at the blood on the walls and floor, you're breathing in
short rhythmic bursts, like a frightened animal. It's a sickening
feeling. Attempting to put it all together, you start with the
weather, the time of year.
It's now early October when the stifling heat of the Las Vegas
summer has usually given way to pleasantly sunny days. For the past
week and a half, however, temperatures have soared into the hundreds.
It's been a record-setter for this time of year, hotter than hell, and
people have been acting crazy.
* * *
Two nights ago, as you lay in bed next to her sharing a joint and
dreaming of Brazil, Jen told you that she'd been fighting for the past
year with one of her neighbors, a heavy-set Latin man four doors
down. The man claimed Jen was responsible for his mother's death.
"What's with that shit?" you muttered. "Listen," Jen said and then
told you what happened: in the playground out front of the apartment
complex one night last week, the man turned his large, snarling German
Shepherd on her.
Jen's arm around you, you stopped breathing as you imagined the
story. Jen said when the dog attacked, she was terrified and angry.
"But I didn't run," she added. Bitten on the foot, Jen picked up a
pipe lying in the sand next to the swing and struck the howling dog
again and again in front of screaming mothers and crying children until
the animal lay dead, a bloody heap of fur. "Heat does funny things to
people," Jen sighed as she kissed you, turned over, and drifted off to
* * *
As you stand in the small universe of blood, the picture in your
brain changes, and you recall going to a casino with Jen maybe a month
ago. As you pulled the slot machines side-by-side, Jen said she
regretted her childhood. Pumping quarters, she went on about how she
struggled with the memory of her mother and father, whom she hadn't seen
in years. You know all about her family. Because Jen's mother drank
like a fish, parenting had been left up to the father, a short, stocky,
swarthy man with the disposition of a Rotweiler.
Glancing about the room, you see the pile of clothes, and you
recognize a sweater she wore in high school. During her first year after
high school, you recall that Jen took a job as a stripper at a local
club, where you fell in love with her. That's when she became your Jen.
Making money at the club would be easy, friends assured her, and sure
enough within a year's time Jen was one of the most popular dancers
there. Dancing under the name of Star in the club's semi-darkness, she
displayed a wonderful animal energy.
After her breast enlargement, she built up a male and female
clientele whose continued business assured her lots of cash. After
another year, she had enough money to move out of her parents'
house-her parents had stopped speaking to her anyway--and rent her own
apartment in a residential area in the northwest part of town, pay her
own bills and buy a car.
A gorgeous dancer, Jen went in for small flower tattoos, nipples
rings, and pierced genetalia. Yet, after four years of stripping, sick
of aging men who demanded her services night after night, she took a
lower-paying job at the Tender Trap, a blue collar restaurant famous for
waitress with gorgeous bodies and small minds. Always hungry for her
company, you followed her there.
* * *
Now, standing next to the TV screen streaked with blood, your mind
turns to earlier today. You both work at the Tender Trap-or, at least
you did. Today, the restaurant became a madhouse around 11:30,
customers-mostly male-pouring like hungry dogs through the double
glass-doors and clamoring to be served. "Yap, yap, yap," Jen kept
mumbling. "Shut up, cunt," you heard Jen say to one male customer, who
told her she had a sweet looking can.
Clad in tight-fitting orange shorts that rode half way up their
asses and skimpy T-shirts designed to expose ample boobs, you, Jen and
the other girls worked feverishly, taking orders, carrying food,
cleaning tables, and talking when you had the chance with the mostly
middle-aged men. By 12:30, every table was full, the jukebox blaring
Fats Domino and customers standing at the door waiting to be seated. At
one point , Jen told you she felt ready to explode. "Like workin' in a
fuckin' zoo," she said.
III. Trying to make sense of it all, you're still in Jen's
apartment, standing in the kitchen, the air saturated with the odor of
blood. Midway through the sultry afternoon today, when the flow of
customers trickled off, Jen ran out to her car and brought back an
envelope. "I want you to read something," she said to you with a
laugh. You followed her to the back room where she sat down at a
wooden table attached to the wall. Only a two customers remained in the
restaurant, one the skinny biker that smelled like pig shit and exhaust
and the other the thick swarthy guy that always sat in the corner,
eyeing the girls and never saying a word. His nick name was Monk.
Jen disliked Monk, ran him down behind his back, and refused to wait on
In the back room, Jen relaxed with a glass of Pepsi and a huge
spicy chicken sandwich. "Yum, yum, " she said, wolfing her food.
Sitting across from her, devouring chili, you watched as she opened
the envelope and took out the note. She pushed the note across to you.
"You nasty little bitch," it read, "it is time to meet the Reaper. I'm
gonna chop you into tiny pieces."
Giggling as she ate, Jen mumbled she couldn't take this note
seriously. In fact, at the first opportunity, she said that she
wanted to show the ad to her on-again, off-again boyfriend Jayboy, a
crazy twenty-six year old balding ex-air force man with a deep Arkansas
accent and a penchant for violent sex. . "Think it's his letter?" you
asked. You remembered then that , when Jen tried to dump him weeks ago,
Jayboy had threatened to go on a killing rampage. "Hasn't the balls to
write this letter," Jen replied. "If he wrote it," she added, "I'll
slice his pecker off."
This was less than twelve hours ago.
IV. This is the rest of the story as Jen told it.
"I left the Trap close to five. When I walked to my car, I saw a
blue Ford station wagon parked about twenty feet away. My hair
bristled. I was being watched, and as I looked at the figure
silhouetted in the car's shady interior, I knew it was Monk, a beast
hiding in a cave. I stood for five minutes, keys an inch from the door,
my eyes fastened upon him. Then, I unlocked my door, climbed in,
started my car up, and left the parking lot in a fury of rubber and
"I stopped at Albertson's on the way home. I needed milk, eggs,
bread, meat-the usual. When I was walking down one of the aisles,
looking for bread and humming an old gospel tune, I saw him. Wearing
sunglasses, Monk was dressed in a faded leather jacket, his hair
combed in a Elvis Presley swirl, standing at the end of the aisle
twenty feet away. I would have said "What's up, ya freak?" but
decided not to. I turned around and headed the other way. When I
checked out twenty minutes later, Monk was no where in sight.
"Driving through falling darkness, I felt hungry again, so I went
through Burger King, picking up two spicy chicken sandwiches, curly
fries, and a large diet coke and then headed to my place. In my rear
view mirror, a mile from home, I saw Monk's car rapidly pulling up on
my bumper. lights on bright. Jesus, what I wouldn't have given for a
sawed-off shot gun. I floored the gas pedal and pulled away easily.
Cooling my rage, I drove around for some time before heading home.
"When I got home and walked through my front door, I knew something
was wrong. It's one of those things you feel, like the dark angel
that hovers outside my dreams. I never panic, so after flicking on the
light I walked to the tall book case to the right of the door, reached
up and took from the top shelf a large black and white wooden box
containing two long, curved knives with golden handles; I had
inherited these years ago from my grandfather, a man from the old world
who believed violence was the last and most meaningful resort.
"I took one knife out, set the box on the floor in front of the book
case, and fingered the razor-sharp blade. This blade, I knew, would
easily slice through anything, and I held the weapon between my teeth
as I undressed in the front room. Gripping the knife, I walked to the
bathroom. Except for my watch, also a gift from Grandfather, I was
naked. It was when I walked into the bathroom that I could feel his
brooding presence, almost certainly coming from my guest bedroom, the
one room I hadn't visited.
"I was sweating; this had to be perfect. In the bathroom, after
turning on the light, I placed the knife on the lid to the toilet, right
next to the tub. Knowing he wouldn't make his move yet, I turned on
the warm water and stepped into the tub and under the shower. My heart
beating rapidly, my dark angel suspended just over me, I waited.
"I waited for maybe an hour, the only sound the drizzle of the
shower. Then, I heard and felt it: the rumble from the guest room of
someone opening the sliding closet door. My body going electric
from fear and excitement, I quickly grabbed my knife and watched
through the mist as the handle to the bathroom door slowly turned. My
hand did not tremble. The knife's handle felt perfect to the grip as
adrenaline rushed through me like heroine.
"At that instant, I felt that my whole life had been a prelude to
this moment: standing in the shower, warm water bouncing off my back,
poised in the tub, gripping the blade as I watched the door slowly open,
saw the dark, heavy dark figure at the door, a small ax raised slightly
over his head. Like a great cat, I leapt over the tub, thrust the great
curved knife into his huge belly, and gave the blade a mighty twist in
memory of my grandfather. He stood, a huge man, eyes bulging, mouth
open in a silent bellow. Blood spurting on me, the walls, the
curtain, he dropped the ax, yanked the knife from his body, let it
fall, turned and moved away from me.
"Picking up the knife, I caught him easily before he reached the
front door, thrust the blade deeply into his back, just above the right
kidney. This time, the man emitted a choking hiss as he tried to
scream. He reminded me of a fat snake.
"As the man turned to face me while struggling to balance, I saw
blood dappling the walls, the ceiling, and the carpet. The apartment
seem to fill with celestial light, and I heard singing. Blood was
universal, and I felt God for the first time in my life. Yet, I could
not identify the man though I knew I had seen him before. Blood pouring
from him, he moved awkwardly forward, bumped me and I mercifully let
him pass. I watched the ox stumble back into the kitchen where he
leaned over the sink, grabbed the faucet, and sputtering and choking,
crumpled to the floor in a pool of blood. I wanted to dance.
"Yet ecstasy occasionally brings bewilderment, and I wasn't sure
what to do. After several moments, I walked into the kitchen, knelt
down, extracted the knife from his back and stabbed him several more
times. Then I rose, washed the knife off under the cold water faucet,
and lay the blade on the counter. Taking deep breaths, I reached down
and turned the body over, grabbed the feet, and moving backwards
dragged the heavy corpse into my bedroom.
"I lay the body inside the door, between my unmade bed and the
closet. Still curious, I turned on the dim light next to the bed,
knelt and looked at the face. A thread of blood trickled from the
corner of his mouth. I shook my head. This could not be Monk, I told
myself. Monk would have been short and much darker complexioned. Nor
could this be Jayboy--this man had long, stringy black hair. Besides,
this man was large and fat. The dead man looked a bit like my father,
but he was certainly not that. He might have been the man from four
apartments down. I don't know. It didn't much matter. All I knew is
that I'd just killed a man and had enjoyed it immensely. I felt that I
had touched the sun.
"The job done, I stood, wiped the blood off my watch, and saw that
it was around ten thirty. I wondered if anyone had heard. I walked
back to the bathroom, climbed in the shower, which was still running,
washed and soaped again and again until I had all the blood off. I
turned off the light in the living room. Then I went back to the
bedroom and, trying to ignore the body, dressed in a clean sweater,
clean pants, and clean sneakers. Cleansed, I took some money that I
had stashed in my dresser, turned off the light, then moved over to
the wall, opened and climbed out my bed room window and into the night
and walked three blocks to Angela's house."
IV. That was Jen's story, which you'll hear repeatedly over the next
couple of weeks.
Still standing in Jen's living room, you now hear sirens, and you
think: It's about fucking time. The sirens are still far away and
you wonder if you have time to see the body, which is why you came.
"There's a corpse in the bedroom," you'd been told, and never having
seen one, you couldn't resist coming. But now you have to leave.
Nonetheless, you make yourself walk forward, over the kitchen floor
sticky with blood, and into Jen's bedroom. You flick on the light to the
left of the door, and a small ceiling light provides dim illumination.
You glance around Jen's bedroom, a cold, damp place whose walls remind
you of a cave. Then, you slowly look down, and there it is, just
inside the door, lying in a heap like an enormous pile of dirty
laundry. You wonder how this thing could ever have been human and
shuffle around it to get a better look. Its eyes are open, the face
slate gray. Your eyes move to the stomach where you see the darkly
gaping wound. Blood darkens a faded red T-shirt. Morbid curiosity
suddenly seizes you, and you are tempted to kneel and touch the opening.
Oddly, you feel nothing, and rising you see the man's neck, notice
that a large chunk of flesh is missing; you glance at the crotch, a
darkened bloody mess, and then run for the front door as the sirens
Outside, the night air is cool and crisp, almost cold, and you
realize that the heat wave is past. Tomorrow will be a normal,
beautiful sunny fall day, and you think of your father, your mother, and
your two little brothers, who are looking forward to Halloween. You
haven't seen these people for a year. You assure yourself that you'll
call them soon and tell them that you love them.
Anxious to go, Jen is waiting in your car out in the street, and you
quickly open the driver's door and climb behind the wheel. "Angela, you
got blood on your cheek right next to your mouth," she says, and you
frantically wipe off the stain as she adds, "And some blood on your
lower lip, too. Just a spot." Dizzy, you have promised that you'll go
with her to a place where she'll never be found. Mexico City is a less
than a day away.
"I've got friends in Mexico City," she says, lighting a joint as you
start the engine, put the car in gear, pull away from the apartment, and
speed down the street. The sirens are almost deafening, but you have
As you drive through unlit back streets, Jen goes on: "Couple years
ago, in a little place outside Mexico City, friends and I got into a
fight over drugs and shit with these other guys and my friend shot an
old woman that had nothing to do with anything. Cops down there didn't
do shit." As you listen, you think of Jen's neighbor four doors down
and your blood runs cold as you wonder if you'll turn out like Jen. You
hope not. You want to ask her about the corpse's neck but haven't the
courage. Not yet at least. You're glad it's still night.
When you hit the interstate, you wonder what Mexico City will be
like. You've heard that it's big and dirty, and you know you'll have to
trust Jen. Jen will be good to you just so long as you are good to her.
Taking the car up to ninety, hoping to reach Phoenix by sunrise,
you're pretty sure you and Jen can fly out of the country before anyone
can figure things out. Cops are cops, and it generally takes them a week
to move on anything. When they come for you and Jen, you'll be in
Mexico City, wrapped in a cocoon of sensual darkness and dreaming of
living happily ever after in the steaming jungles of Brazil.
by rich logsdon
Woe to those who plan iniquity,
to those who plot evil on their beds!
At morning's light they carry it out
because it is in their power to do it. (Micah 2: 1)
I. I was driving the highway 93 alternate through hard desert rain
in central Nevada, rain pellets exploding on the car's metal. It was a
steady, relentless mid-day deluge in July, the sky growing darker by the
minute. I was tired of travel, my thoughts tied to nights I had just
spent in Arizona. The droplets on my windshield assumed a crimson hue,
no doubt due to atmospheric chemical residue of Nevada. An image of
decapitation thrust itself into my thoughts and I grew sick.
To steady myself, I slowed to thirty-five. When you go over sixty
in a flood like this, your car travels on a film of water separating
tires from asphalt. The image of skidding out of control, leaving the
road, and rolling-over kept playing in my head. It had happened once
before. I'll tell you about it. Three and one half years ago in a
similar rain in northern Arizona, my van left the road at ninety and
rolled several times, crushing and decapitating a woman I was
considering marrying. I was so high on speed that I felt no pain.
Crawling through the broken passenger window, my vehicle upside down and
roof partly crushed, I looked back at Jenny's bloody, mangled form
belted upside down in the passenger seat and thought to myself, "I have
done this thing. God, forgive me." Standing outside in the driving
rain, drenched in my own blood, I stood mute until four in the morning,
when the highway patrol finally arrived.
Spiraling into the quicksand of depression during the following
weeks, I left medical school and was banished from the church. Family
and friends disowned me. Confessions and attempted exorcisms did not
free me from the guilt and memories. With loads of money in my family
account, I became a wanderer, one of the soulless thousands traversing
this country's landscape.
After the accident, wandering with no destination, I began living
under the curse. I call it "the curse" because it is as real and
tangible as my bad leg. Everywhere I went-and I traveled across the
country several times-I wove a web of death. Whoever I spent some
time with on the road had a chance of ending up dead. It didn't matter
if the person was another male with whom I discussed the weather or
stock market prices or an attractive female whom I spent the evening
with; chances existed that that person would wind up dismembered,
poisoned, shot, drawn-and-quartered, or hanged.
Sick stuff, I know. My avenger-there had to be someone else in
this sick little drama--likely was someone who knew Jenny, a relation,
possibly her brother or her father, individuals who had respectable
professions-one a college professor, the other an accountant. Or
perhaps the avenger was someone Jenny never told me about, someone
lurking in the shadows. Maybe it was someone who knew me. I knew it had
to be someone.
II. Thoughts of the curse filled me as I drove through torrential
rains in central Nevada. Although the air conditioning was on full
blast, the humidity was oppressive. I had difficulty breathing, and my
clothes were saturated. To take a break-I had been driving seven hours
straight-I decided to stop at a crossroads casino thirty miles south of
Half a mile from the casino I saw the van, at first a blur through
the constant rain and the thud, thud, thud of the wipers. I slowed to
about thirty when I made out a blue GMC van with its four-way flashers
on. I crept past the van and leaned over to look out the passenger
window. I could see no one in the driver's seat-all the other side
windows facing the road had drapes. I was about to drive on when I saw
a red smear on one of the draped passenger windows. I pulled to the
side of the road in front of the vehicle and stopped. I had to stop. I
felt I had no choice.
I shoved my car into neutral, put on my brown leather hat, grabbed
my leather jacket from the back seat and put it on. Then I opened the
door and began the walk back to the van. I had about twenty yards to
go. My progress through the rain was slowed by my having to drag my
Sludging through gravel and mud, I prayed everyone in the van
was all right. When I got there and looked through the front
windshield, then the driver's window, I could see no one inside. I
limped around to the driver's door, opened it, and leaned in. "Anybody
in here?" I said. "Hello? Hello?" The keys were still in the
ignition and the engine was idling. The thunder crashed overhead and
then I heard a whisper. Then another. Then another.
"Hello?!" I shouted. "Need help? Anybody in here?" As I waited
and took a few deep breaths, I smelled the ozone and the metallic odor
of blood. The thought of someone bleeding made the skin around my
temples contract, my jaw and legs twitch. Determined to carry out my
repentance, however, I hopped into the van.
Between the last two seats-it was a ten-seater--I found the
body. She was rolled up in a ball, smeared in blood from head to foot;
I was reminded of a fetus. I hunched over the woman, looked at her
face, my limbs growing cold as I felt the iron cloak of familiarity. I
felt for her pulse in the wrist and then in her neck. This young woman,
once a beautiful blonde, was dead.
Since Jenny's death, I'd seen plenty of dead people; corpses
generally didn't bother me. This one did because this corpse belonged
to the woman I had just spent two nights with in Flagstaff. Her name
was Madeline and she had described herself as a "highway hooker." As
I studied the body, I felt the creepy, sickening sensation of being
followed. Clearly as if I had heard the voice of God, I knew that
whoever had left Madeline's body was watching me.
I knew someone was watching because I could feel invisible pin
pricks on the back of my neck. Slowly, then, afraid of what I'd see, I
looked up at the front windshield. A clown's face was plastered to the
window, staring at me. I froze, waited motionless, and in the next few
moments watched the face fade; I had, I think, just experienced a
delusion. As a child, I had been afraid of clowns.
I looked back at Madeline. As the rain beat on the van, I
struggled to collect my thoughts, briefly saying a prayer to guide
Madeline's soul away from Hell, wondering what had caused her death and
who had driven the van. The what would remain a mystery. The who had
an identity that I needed to know. After the prayer, I examined her
head and body. I could see no bruises, no puncture wounds, nothing to
indicate that she had been beaten, stabbed or shot. Nor could I figure
where the blood had come from; she hadn't been cut. Her death was a
I was now alone, in an abandoned van with the corpse of the
woman I had spent the last two nights with. The cops, I realized, would
likely be here any minute. This situation would look bad to any
officer. Not relishing the thought of being convicted and going to
prison, I considered alternatives. Realizing that I could neither stay
with nor report the body, I decided to leave, knowing that whoever had
done this thing had had me in mind.
I turned and moved to the open door to return to my own car. As
I did, I looked through the van's front windshield. While the rain
continued to come down in sheets, I couldn't see my car, but as I
stared, I saw a figure walking towards it. I peered, forcing my gaze
through the rain. This, I hoped, was also a delusion, a symptom often
Stepping out of the van, I began to walk in the direction of my
vehicle, fairly certain that I would not find it, when I tripped over
something. I landed on my side in the gravel next to the road and, in
the downpour, sat up and looked back. About ten feet from me lay the
headless body of a pig. Blood had coagulated in a thick pool around
it. I wondered why I had not seen this thing from the front of the
van. Then I walked around the dead thing, and looked in the distance
for my car. My car was gone.
I could not stay with the van. I had no other option: moving
around the pig, dragging my right foot, I decided to walk the distance
to the crossroads casino five hundred yards down the road. As I began
walking, slipping in thick mud, the rain abated, and I could make out
the casino about a half a mile in the distance. Against the dark sky,
its red neon sign blazed, the words "Black Eddy's" beckoning travelers
from miles around.
After twenty minutes, I entered the casino parking lot just as the
dark sky exploded with thunder and lightening and the rain began coming
down again in torrents. As I approached the double glass doors, I
glanced at the few cars in the parking lot and spotted my own--a
fire-engine red 1962 Chevy Impala-in the first row from the door. I
counted seven other cars-there may have been more-- and, patting the
side of my jacket and assuring myself that I had my grandfather's
twelve-inch hunting knife, I entered the place. I felt that if I could
find the person who stole my car, and who had no doubt murdered Jenny
and many others, I could free myself of the curse. Ready to sing, the
blade quivered against my skin.
For a moment, I stood in the dark entrance, my eyes adjusting to a
small casino consisting of two black jack tables, a poker table, and
slot machines placed against the walls. A cloud of bluish gray smoke
hovered near the low ceiling. The lighting seemed slightly red. Seated
at the slot machines were four or five people, all elderly, all smoking,
all staring at me. A tall black man with gray hair and trembling
hands stood behind one of the tables, dealing to two customers. His
eyes bulging from their sockets, the dealer looked at me, and as he did
so the man and woman sitting at the table turned in their chairs.
"You Black Eddy?" I asked. At 6'4" tall, I was half a foot taller
than this man.
"You Micah?" he asked in a gentle, almost timid voice. The question
stopped me. I was expected.
"Yes," I responded with my accustomed formality. "Now, you Black
He looked down and shuffled the cards, then looked up at me again.
"Do I look like Black Eddy?" he said, this time in a low soft voice.
I paused. It was playing a game. I made my move. "Yeah, you look
like Black Eddy. You're Black Eddy."
"That's 'cause I am Black Eddy," he replied, smiling hugely. The
place was absolutely silent. I could hear only the steady, muffled drip
of rain outside. Black Eddy said "Careful, Micah," and went back to his
dealing. His two customers, the man and the woman, turned to glance at
The male customer was a short, stocky blonde with a ponytail, angry
blue eyes, and a red and blue flannel shirt. He had square, bulldog
head, a goatee and mustache, and after he looked my way, he glanced at
the floor and spat. The woman, Hispanic, was gorgeous: wearing a flimsy
black dress, she had raven hair cascading down her back, dark brown
eyes, red lips and finger nails, and wore a thin black dress that was
cut so low that it revealed the nipple of her left breast. Around her
neck, she wore a cross I had given her four years ago.
III. "Hello, Micah," she said, melancholy, perhaps a bit drunk.
"Hello, Nina," I responded; "read any good books recently?" I felt
aroused, as always, in the presence of this woman.
Nina smiled, brought her cigarette to her lips and inhaled. After
she exhaled, never taking her eyes off me, she commented, "You fucking
pig. Last thing I read was the one you left me with nearly three and a
half years ago. Something by Augustine. Just before your accident. You
"Confessions," I responded, remembering that the last time Nina had
been with me at a fine restaurant in Vegas she had told me that she
loved me, had cried and expressed her desire to live with me. I had,
after all, slept with her many times and, during one desperate point in
my life, had lived at her place for seven weeks. For some reason, over
Beef Wellington, I had agreed to allow her to move in with me the
following week. "The name of the book was Confessions of St. Augustine.
I had given Nina the book after I had met Jenny Santana, a young
innocent who dealt blackjack at Binion's and fucked like a demon. With
Jenny, I fell under some kind of spell. Vowing to Jenny never to see
another woman again, I had dropped off a copy of Augustine's work at the
night club where Nina worked; on the inside leaf, I had written
something like, "To Nina, the sexiest woman I know. Have a good life.
I love you. Micah."
For years, Nina had been an exotic dancer, and until I met Jenny I
had thought her ideally fitted to my idiosyncrasies. Nina was good in
bed, stunningly beautiful, and shared my fascination with Western
mysticism. After I dropped the book off at Little Sweethearts, I had
hoped never to see Nina again. I had, after all, pledged my soul to
Jenny. A week later, the rollover had taken Jenny's life.
Seeing Nina now at Black Eddy's, I remembered the letter she had
sent me after the accident; in it, she had threatened suicide, branded
Jenny a witch, and told me that I didn't deserve to live. "You have
wounded me to the depths of my soul," I remembered that she had
written. Now, with the woman in front of me and a dead girl in a van
five hundred yards down the highway, my heart quaked.
My thoughts were on my knife as I glanced at Nina's neck. You
rotten stalking bitch, I forced myself to think, struggling to accept
that Nina had been following me for over three years. Then, I turned
my gaze upon the short chunky man with the pony tail. I don't forgive an
insult, so I limped up to him, my eyes locked with his, looked down,
spat on the sawdust floor, glanced up and said, "You're sitting in my
place, little man." His nostrils flared as he glared at me.
I allowed him to step down and face me before whipping out my
hunting knife and jabbing it towards him. I held the blade at his
throat. He was muscular but by no means stupid. "What's your fuckin'
problem, Jack?" he said, backing off a bit. I could see his hands
trembling and enjoyed the rush of power. As I kept my eyes on him, my
knife at his neck, he moved back again.
"Leave him be, Micah," Nina said, slowly. She had turned slightly
and was facing us. "This is not worth it. He's not in it. This is
between you and me, Micah, you and me. This guy's not even a dot in the
"Micah." The voice belonged to Black Eddy. It boomed across the
room like the voice of God. "No trouble here." The place remained
silent, all eyes on me.
I paused, breathed deeply, began to relax and took my knife away
from the man's throat. Realizing that I had nearly killed a man I had
never seen, thinking now that perhaps he had not intended to insult me,
I took the blade of the knife in the other hand and presented it to him,
"Please accept this as a token of my apology," I muttered. My
quarrel would be with Nina, not this man. "Please forgive me, Black
Eddy," I said, looking at the dealer.
Forgiveness, however, did not come. It rarely does on this
The man pointed the knife up at my throat, then looked at Nina.
"I'll remember this, what, Micah is it? I love to play with knives,
Micah," he said, his voice shrill and hollow as death. Then he pulled
the knife away from my neck and inserted it behind his belt. Spitting
again, he walked towards the door.
I turned back to the table, sat on the vacated stool, and played
through about ten hands. Noise gradually returned to the room as Nina
played next to me, and we sat in silence, making no eye contact.
Finally, tension growing, I said, "You're gonna come with me tonight,
Nina. We've got unfinished business." I looked at her.
Nina turned and smiled weakly at me. She was a beautiful as
ever. I wondered why I had passed her up.
"Unfinished business? Is that what you call it?" she snapped. For
Nina, anger was rare.
"That's what it is," I asserted.
"You walked out on me, Micah, you son-of-a-bitch. I never wanted
to see you again." I looked into her eyes.
"You have a funny way of making that point," I commented, and I
couldn't help but think of the trail of ten or twenty corpses in the
past three years.
"I never made that point. You made the point. You never came
"So," I began, "so you follow me around the country, like some
"Micah, godammit, I haven't followed you anywhere," she snapped. I
could see fire in her eyes. "I've done my best to fucking forget you.
What do you mean 'followed you around'? What do you mean 'psycho
I was getting impatient. Nina had to be lying. Up to this
point in my life, I had murdered no one. If my courage and
determination held up, Nina would be my first.
I leaned on the table in her direction, put my right arm around
her, and said, "But tonight, you're coming with me." I grabbed her arm
and squeezed. "You're mine now." She winced, and I realized that
physical force would not win her back to me.
"Hey, buddy," Black Eddy said softly so only Nina and I could hear.
"You leave this girl alone. You leave Nina alone. Things are rarely as
they seem, Micah."
I looked at the old man, took a deep breath, and started over.
"I'm sorry," I said, studying Nina's face. I paused for a minute,
hoping my words would sink in. I could hear the slot machines clinking
around me and figured the old people had gone back to their games by
now. As I looked at Nina, mustering all the sweetness I could find in
my dark heart, I saw a tear roll down her cheek and thought to myself,
Jesus, this is just too much. "Nina, honey, sweetheart: please forgive
me. Please. I am behaving savagely. Please forgive me. My God, you
are gorgeous as ever, " I said, hoping to play her emotions.
She looked at me long and sad, took a drag on her cigarette, and
then looked away. "It's all right, Micah," she said in a subdued voice,
and I remembered my first impression with her, years ago, as I held her
in a back room of the nude bar: this woman tended to be incredibly
naive, willing to forgive and forget anything just to have a
relationship with a male. "It's all right, Micah. All's forgiven."
I looked into her sad eyes. "You know, Micah," she added, "I have
prayed for this night of your return. I have prayed and prayed. I guess
God answers prayers, huh?"
"I guess so," I said, trying to remain emotionless, noncommittal.
It was then that I did something that surprised ever me: pulling
her toward me with my right arm, with my left hand I grabbed her face
and forced her to look right at me. Then, slightly exhilarated, I
kissed her on the mouth as hard as I could. "I still love you, Nina," I
whispered, breathing as much sincerity into my voice as I could.
Truthfully, I wasn't sure that I didn't still love this woman.
When I slowly pulled back, I noticed she had her eyes closed. I
remembered that Nina always kissed with her eyes closed. I could feel
her tranquil spirit and knew she had enjoyed the kiss. I kissed her
again, this time more gently and for a longer time, and felt almost
guilty thinking about the task at hand.
"I'll be right back, Micah," she said, slowly drawing back. "I'll
clean up in the ladies' room and come right back. Then we can leave
together and, I dunno, start over. Just start over. I'm glad you're
"Be careful, girl," said Black Eddy, looking at me instead of her.
Eddy knew there was poison in the air.
"I'm ok, Eddie," she said.
She slipped off her stool, brushing her hands between my thighs and
squeezing my hardness, and walked to the women's restroom. Determined
not to lose her, I tipped the dealer twenty dollars and followed. When
she looked back at me with a coy I-want-to-fuck-you-again smile, I blew
her a kiss and said, "I just want to wait for you outside the restroom,
Nina. I can't wait."
"Be right back," she said, winking, even giggling, then entering
the restroom. This was the old Nina. I knew she wasn't going anywhere
this time. I had her where I wanted her. I would gladly wait, so I took
out a pack of Camels, opened it, took out a smoke, and lit up.
IV. I must have waited twenty minutes, leaning against the tile
wall, smoking cigarette after cigarette. Curiously, no one went in, and
a few fat elderly ladies came out. Finally, I moved to the entrance,
stood just inside, and strained to listen. At first I couldn't hear
anything. But I could smell, very faintly, the sour thick metallic smell
of human blood, but I thought little of it, figuring that part of my
mind was remembering the scene in the van.
Then, I heard a banging, a cracking almost, that came at regular
intervals. I didn't think much about it until it occurred to me that
the only thing in the restroom capable of making that sound was the
toilet seat-someone had to be operating the seat. "What the hell?" I
I felt sick at heart. Ice choked my veins, and my body felt numb-a
textbook reaction to stress so great that the body no longer feels the
fear, only the complete killing of physical sensation. Shouting "Nina!
Are you coming out? Nina! Nina!" I stood at the entrance, hoping to
hear her voice or see her emerge only to learn that she had take twenty
minutes to doll herself up. Instead, I heard a whisper, a lengthy
susurration, as of some letting out a long breath. It sounded like the
wind; it sounded like death.
Shaking, I walked into the restroom just as the toilet seat clacked
again and again. The restroom was not large, with perhaps five stalls,
but the floors and one wall was streaked with blood, likely a message to
me. My head spinning, I heard the toilet seat bang again, from a
stall at the back, and as I moved towards the sound I noticed the back
window was missing. The opening in which the window had sat was about
two feet by two feet and approximately five feet off the floor. Someone
had taken the window out from the outside, I speculated. I saw another
streak of blood just below the opening. Then I turned to the last
Bloodied legs extended under the stall, and as I opened the door I
saw Nina: she was still fully clothed, but her dress and arms were
coated with blood from a gaping wound in her neck. Her glazed eyes were
open, dumbly observing me, and a crimson thread trickled down one side
of her mouth. I noticed that the tips of her raven hair, flowing over
her shoulders, were stained dark crimson. The knife lay next to her,
on the pink tile. I looked at the weapon, reached over, and picked it
up. It was my knife, I realized, the one my grandfather had given me.
My name was lettered on the handle.
I howled like a jackal, moaned like an owl. I had been caught in
the middle of a horror film, a victim of some inhuman predator. I
was no m ore than an insect caught, once again, in a monstrous web. My
head spun and I felt sickeningly borne out of myself. For a moment, I
had the sensation that the ground was becoming quicksand, sucking me
into the dark Pit. I waited for the portals of Hell to explode through
the walls, releasing hordes of demons.
I commanded myself to breathe slowly, steadily. Gradually, coming
back to myself, I turned my gaze back on Nina. This was not supposed to
happen. My life with Nina had predated the accident. An hour before,
I thought, just before I entered the casino, this beautiful, broken
woman had been playing cards and talking to Black Eddy. Now she was a
bloody, clotted mess. I couldn't find the words to pray that she might
be released from the dark powers of the world.
I knelt in front of Nina, inwardly begging her forgiveness,
wondering if she could hear my thoughts. She was approaching death's
kingdom. I saw her mouth moving as she attempted a few words, but no
sound came out because her throat had been slit. As she labored to
breathe, she did so in the long gasps that I had heard form the door.
As I watched, without warning, she sighed, and mercifully her breathing
stopped. Eyes still open, Nina died.
I stood, my legs trembling, trying to recall The Lord's Prayer.
Thinking of the man with the ponytail, I wondered what kind of
diabolical being would commit such an act. Knowing I had to get out of
the casino as quickly as possible, I leaned over, picked up my knife,
wiped it carefully on my jeans, and then escaped through the window.
For obvious reasons-I had stepped into the blood, had smeared it on my
clothes; besides, I didn't want to be seen-I couldn't walk into the
It was just as I was climbing through the opening for the window
that I heard the voices of two or three elderly women coming into the
restroom. They yelled and screamed as I jumped from the portal and
landed on the wet ground just beyond the wall.
From the back of the casino, in a drizzle, I walked through the
desert back in the direction of the van. The blanket of clouds overhead
still darkened the sky. When I finally reached the road, I found that
the van was gone. The headless corpse of the pig was still there.
Sirens were approaching from the north.
I cut back through the desert behind Black Eddy's, the way I had
come, walked for another hour, and found the abandoned motel about one
mile north on highway 93. The motel had been built about one hundred
yards off the highway, a fact that favored me tremendously. For few
days, I lived off what food I could find in the desert and behind the
casino. For a man accustomed to the desert, as I was, this wasn't
In the three days I stayed in the motel, winds of death whipping
violently through the area, Black Eddy's went crazy with cops. One
morning, I counted seven Nevada Highway Patrol cars out front of the
casino. Obviously, someone had found Nina's body. For a reason I
attribute to divine protection, no one checked the abandoned motel,
which my father and I had stayed in thirty years ago. Creeping around
the back lot of the casino on the third night, I picked up a two-day old
newspaper and read that a nude female body had been found in the desert
about a mile down the road. The article said that, according to the
autopsy report, the body had been smeared in pig's blood. The newspaper
included three photos: one of the van, one of PonyTail and one of me. In
the article, Black Eddy had described us to a tee.
V. As I write, I am sitting in a room in a truck stop in a little
town forty-three miles north of Twin Falls, Idaho. I was fortunate to
hitch a ride on the other side of Ely. As far as I know, the trucker
(some unshaven, overweight kid in his twenties who had memorized Charles
Dickens by heart) is still alive. Hoping that PonyTail must be in this
area (since he goes where I go), I have been asking if anyone has seen a
1962 fire engine red Chevy Impala. The car is so rare that I figure if
anyone saw it, he would remember. A couple of high school kids told me
the other night, when I was eating dinner at Taco Bell, that they had
seen a car matching my description last week at a speedway just outside
of Twin. The kids might have been lying, but I can't take chances. I'm
going to head over that way soon. I've still got my knife, which
carries stains from Nina's murder and which sings nightly for the blood
of my avenger.
in response to Doug Tounoury's poetry.
I. In his forty-seventh year, in a small coastal town south of Portland,
Professor Robert Gaines had dreams of Heaven. A professor of English
literature who insisted on wearing blue jeans and Tweed jackets to his
lectures, Gaines was beside himself. He could not understand how this could
occur. The timing, he thought, was bad.
Intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, Bob Gains had nearly
extinguished his capacity to feel remorse over the commission of any
wrong-doing. The movement towards a "constructive sociopathology," as he
humorously put it to his most intimate friends, had been a life-long task.
Since turning away from his grandparents' Presbyterian church, Gaines had,
immersed himself in reading works by the best minds of the twentieth century.
Angered that he had been duped into studying a God that was alternately
vengeful and merciful, he had zealously studied the naturalists under the now
deceased Professor Walter Wright, and during his intellectual/spiritual
pilgrimage had been led to accept David Hume's argument, made two centuries
earlier, that miracles could not occur in a universe governed by natural laws
of cause and effect. As a young pot-smoking Ph. D. from one of the best
California universities, Gaines had embraced the existential universe and
Sartre's atheism, at one point nearly committing to heart the original French
version of Albert Camus' L'estranger. A few years later, he had found
Pychon's application of the second law of thermodynamics-the theory that
entropy begins once a body of energy reaches critical mass-a suitable
replacement for the Christianity of his grandparents. After all, the tendency
towards disintegration meant that chaos was absolute. Consequently, the claims
that in a universe of shifting signs no belief could have a basis rang true as
a church bell, and so he had burned into his heart the premise that any
religious construction was an imaginative tool used to deny the existence of
Devoid (therefore) of any conviction in the forty-seventh year of his
life, he had determined to murder his younger brother Ruben-always the family
favorite--and seize the family wealth. Any act, Gaines reasoned, was morally
equivalent to all other acts in a universe lacking absolutes; killing a zebra,
for instance, was no worse and no better than frying an egg. "Hats off to
Charley Manson," Gaines had been overhead to say at faculty parties.
He and Ruben had not liked each other from a very early age, but a
violent disagreement over whether to provide care for their aging grandparents
had divided them years ago, and so Robert Gaines had neither seen nor heard
from his brother for over twenty years. His mother was dead, his father
teetering on the brink, both his grandparents were gone (Acting out of no
conviction, he had not attended family funerals.), and his brother believed all
good things came from God. Certainly, Robert reasoned, Ruben did not deserve
to inherit the small fortune that would be left by the father, at one time a
wealthy investment banker in San Francisco.
II. The dreams of Heaven, therefore, were infuriating, particularly since
they came when Robert was finalizing plans for Ruben's demise. Once the dreams
started Professor Gaines could not stop thinking about them. Perhaps, he
reasoned, the dreams were caused by the stress of murdering his brother; but he
felt only pleasure in planning to extinguish Ruben. He considered the
possibility that he had a brain disease, but a check-up with his doctor quickly
removed that suspicion. As far as the possibility that the dreams were of
divine origin-well, to Bob Gaines, God was out of the question.
Yet, one day, as he was ploughing through the first book of Paradise Lost
in his British Literature class, he found himself entertaining the notion
that Milton's writings were predicated not upon a denial of traditional
Christian belief but upon a reserved acceptance of a God who would throw
one of His own creations out of Heaven. Upon another occasion, as he read
Donne's Holy Sonnets alone to himself in his small house overlooking the coast,
he found himself moved to tears as images of the City of God flooded his mind;
he thought about his brother living alone in a cabin in northern California;
for an instant, he even missed his grandparents.
III. I must be losing my mind, Bob Gaines told himself as he sat one late
night at the window of the diner overlooking a small Oregon bay. It was late
November. Waiting for his dessert, he puffed on his pipe, wondering if he
should make an appointment with a therapist. The steady rains of the last
forty days had abated, and the small town had been wrapped in thick fog since
late afternoon. Maybe, he thought, I need to take a good long walk down the
coast, find some attractive promontory, and throw myself headfirst into the
Later, as he drank his coffee and worked on his cherry pie, he thought of
how easy it was going to be to have his brother murdered: because Ruben lived
in a cabin in the woods without a telephone or a computer, Robert planned to
hire a killer through a third party, to whom he would never reveal his
identity. He had set up the chain of events, as logical as Aquinas' argument
for a Prime Mover, and it would be impossible to trace. Professor Gaines liked
to imagine his brother's final agonizing moments, the rope pulled tight around
the throat by someone three time Ruben's strength, the pain and suffocation his
brother would experience.
Why, then, the dreams? he kept asking himself as he rose from the table,
walked to the front desk to pay, and exited the diner.
IV. The dreams had begun several weeks before, on the night marking the
fifth year of his divorce from Helen, who had moved out with their obese and
pimply-faced son Reinhart as soon as Robert began experiencing severe
Gaines remembered that, in the first dream, he had stood on a promontory
overlooking the ocean when he had glanced up into the sky. As he had stared
upward, as if on command, he had seen the darkening blue sky crack like an egg;
as the two halves of the sky pulled away from each other, another sky,
similar to the first, again cracked like an egg, its two halves pulling apart
and revealing yet a third sky. In his dream, he had found this spectacle
terrifying yet awe-inspiring. As he had watched, waiting for another
splitting, he saw the image of a golden city. It struck him, even in his
dream, as a reflection, like something glorious seen only through its shadow on
water. The beauty of the reflected city had overwhelmed him, and he had heard
a distant singing; as he had strained to listen, he knew that it was the most
harmonic, the most moving music he had ever heard. The song, in fact, reminded
him of a waterfall, an analogy that during his waking hours would strain his
own logical capacities to the breaking point. Finally, in this first dream,
standing on the turret of a building near the wall of the city stood a man who
resembled his brother.
When he had awoken from this dream in the middle of the night, he had felt
shaken. He had forced himself out of bed and gone downstairs to pour himself a
drink and, hopefully, clear his mind of delusion. As he drank into the early
morning, he couldn't stop thinking about Ruben, imagining Ruben kneeling and
praying for him.
"Jesus Christ," he muttered to himself again and again as he put the
bottle of Scotch to his lips, hoping the alcohol would burn away the dream. As
he drank deeply, Robert tried to force into his mind the picture of his brother
gasping for breath.
The next day, following his last class at 3:30 PM, Gaines hopped in his
Toyota and drove to a nude bar in Portland to escape the images of the City of
God that had filled his mind that day as he had lectured. He stayed at the
bar until midnight, when he met a dancer. She had been one of his students
several years before.
"I'm very depressed and lonely," he had told the young woman as she sat
next to him at the bar. Her stage name was Rose. He couldn't remember her
real name. "Jesus, I'm lonely."
"Most people are," Rose answered, slow, pensive. Gaines wondered if she
were working him for a series of lap dances.
"I have these dreams at night...," he began, taking a sip of warm beer.
"I have dreams, too," she said, putting her hand between his legs. Gaines
was immediately aroused.
"Not like these." He explained the dream and found that she was
interested. As she listened, she massaged him.
"Don't bet on it, Professor," she said, sure of herself. He squirmed, and
she removed her hand.
"Do you believe in God?" he asked. He wasn't sure why he asked.
"It's not a question you get asked in a place like this, y'know?" she
commented, smiling, and he was sure at that moment that this woman could have
earned no more than a C in his class.
"Just the same...," he began.
"Yeah, I do," she said, quickly. " Mama always said, 'Put the damned
cards on the table, Elizabeth.' Anyway, I grew up Pentecostal. Hard to forget
God, even when I dance. Gave myself to Jesus when I was fourteen. Hallelujah
and praise the Lord and all that crap. Big mistake."
"Why a mistake?" Gaines asked. He had done something similar when he was
sixteen, just before he got fed up with his grandparent's church.
"Because you can't ever get away," Rose said.
"Jesus. God. What d'you think? It's like one of those seal they use in
space crafts. Can't break the fuckin' seal."
"Jesus," Gaines said, more as a swear word than anything else.
"'Fraid so," said Rose. "I need a drink. Several maybe."
Gaines considered pinning this girl down like an insect onto cardboard and
demonstrating his intellectual porwess. Instead, he bought Rose several drinks
and, half an hour later, he asked her to come home with him.
V. On the Monday of the third week after the dreams began, just before he
left for work one morning, Rose asked, "What about those dreams, Bobby Boy?"
She had started calling his "Bobby Boy" the very first night they'd slept
together. He wasn't used to such informality, but he liked it. He preferred
to call her Rose.
"Dreams?" said Gaines, sitting at the breakfast table, chewing French
toast and drinking coffee. "What dreams?"
"Dreams of heaven, dumb shit. Of God. You told me about them when we
met," Rose said him, slurping her orange juice. She sat across from him.
"Oh, those." Gaines had not dreamed of Heaven for two weeks. But now
that the question was asked, he remembered the dreams of the last several
nights. In these dreams, he told her over a breakfast of cold oatmeal, he
had found himself wandering alone, endlessly, through a maze of darkened
hallways, searching for his brother and Rose. The hallways smelled smoky, made
him think of smoldering flesh, and he sensed the presence of snakes and bats.
"These dreams scare the hell out of me, Rose," he said, feeling suddenly
helpless. "I wonder if in these dreams I am in Hell."
She reached across the table and took her hands in his. Looking into his
eyes, she said, "They're only dreams, Bobby Boy. But y'might be in Hell.
"That's what I keep thinking," he mumbled.
That night Professor Gaines dreamed again that he was standing on the
promontory overlooking the ocean, gazing into an infinite sky, at the center of
which stood a city. The golden city occupied the entire sky, and as he
studied the buildings, he noticed that each structure contained colorful
etchings that wove themselves into intricate arabesques and, from there, that
each arabesque was connected to others in one splendid, eternal design. If
you looked at part of the design, you might get the impression of chaos; if
you considered the whole, you were struck with the orderliness of all things.
Overcome by beauty, he wanted to touch the buildings, their designs, to
study the larger patterns that they formed together. In his dream, he felt as
well in the presence of someone greater than himself. And, as in the other
dream, he heard the singing, constant, eternal, incredibly beautiful and
pictured within his mind, within the dream, a host of angels. Within the dream,
he envisioned a choir of angels, his thin and bespectacled brother Ruben
standing in their midst, singing joyfully.
He awoke from this dream at 4:30 and decided to dress for class and stay up
for the rest of the night. As he walked downstairs to the kitchen to pour
himself a drink, he couldn't erase the images from the dream. The dream within
the dream-the vision of Ruben-was unnerving. He decided to turn his thoughts
to his brother's murder. After all, this would be the day that he would make
the contact that should end, two or three weeks later, in his brother's death.
It was just as he was tipping the new bottle of Scotch that Rose came into
the kitchen. It was 7:30, and Gaines seemed distant, almost crazed to her as
she cooked his bacon and eggs.
Then she slowly turned to look at him. "I had a dream, Bobby Boy, you
Gaines looked up from his coffee, broke into a cold sweat. "What? Tell
me." He had to know.
"You got a brother, right? Well, in this dream, you take him out into some
old vacant lot and, as he kneels, you bash his head in with an aluminum bat.
Pretty fuckin' bloody."
Robert nearly choked on his coffee but said nothing. He felt that he had
been caught and envisioned, for a second, the throne of God.
"That it?" he asked, hoping to take the conversation anywhere else.
"What?" he said. "What? What?"
"At the end of the dream? Well, Professor," she paused, looked around the
room, sipped coffee, "a rope is put around your neck and you are hanged until
dead. Very fucking dead."
Gaines rose from the table, picked up his brief case, and headed for the
door. "I'll be home at three," he said, closing the door behind him.
VII. In his dreams during the next two weeks, the professor once again
found himself wandering an endless maze of darkened halls. He could hear
cries and moans coming from behind the locked doors, and he became aware that
someone following him. Whoever it was gave him chills, and as he struggled to
wake up, he found that he could not break his slumber and so he spent the night
in his dreams wandering dark passages, sensing the presence of something truly
evil on his back, wondering what had happened to Rose and Ruben. He thought he
could hear his brother's voice calling to him, but the doors to the hallways
would not open. He looked for Rose to ask her for advice, but couldn't
remember where she had gone. Just before he woke, he saw a hangman's gallows at
the end of the corridor.
Then, two weeks and a day after the last series of celestial dreams,
having been informed that afternoon that his brother's decapitated body had
been found stuffed into a mine shaft, he dreamed of a huge, towering mountain
covered with forest. Out of the top of the mountain flowed a stream, whose
waters ran downwards, covering the mountain side with creeks, rivers, pools,
and lakes. The water would always run over, around, or maybe even through
the impediment, whether in the form of a fallen tree or a boulder, and make its
way down the mountain. For three successive nights, he had this dream.
He knew, too, that the water flowing out of the top of the mountain was the
grace of God and that the streams of water, by the time they reached the
bottom, had criss-crossed and formed a single intricate design that recalled to
him, as he dreamt, the buildings and their designs he had seen weeks before.
By the third night, the presence of the being standing near him filled him with
joy, and looking at the mountain he saw his brother standing near the mouth of
a cave, waving to him. Desperate, sensing that he and not Ruben was in
terrible danger, Robert reached for his brother, knew that not in a billion
years would he ever traverse the space separating them.
In the dream,his throat hurt terribly; it felt parched and swollen, and he
wished his brother would give him drink of water. Suddenly, he realized he
hung from a noose suspended from a gallows.
When he awoke with a jerk at five in the morning, he got out of bed and
frantically stumbled into the kitchen. He felt like shit. He felt dead
inside. He hated these dreams of Heaven.
He noticed that his hands shook and he felt sick to his stomach. As he
tried to force the dream out of his mind, he made himself some strong coffee
mixed with alcohol. Slurping coffee, he fought to extinguish the growing flame
of remorse over having Ruben killed.
Where the hell did this guilt come from? he asked himself. The more he
fought it, the stronger the remorse grew. Finally, inexplicably, Robert Gaines
set the cup down on the table, buried his head in his hands, and silently
wept. He wept because he couldn't stop the dreams and because he figured
that if God did exist He was communicating through the dreams. He wept for his
brother, whom he suddenly missed.
Rose found him sobbing as she entered the kitchen.
"What's the matter, honey?" Rose was dressed only in a Seattle Mariners
sweater. Sensing crisis, she walked over to him, put her arms around him, and
held him like a baby.
"What it is, punkin?" She had never called him "Punkin" before. It was a
name his mother had used on him and Ruben. He felt himself melting inside.
He didn't answer, fighting to control himself. He wished he were dead.
"Hey," she said, turning his head towards her, "ya gotta tell me, Punkin.
I'm the only one you got."
He hesitated. His brother gone, his grandparents having passed long ago,
his father barely hanging on, his colleagues always distant with him, he sensed
an overwhelming need to confess. This isn't the goddamned middle ages, and I
don't have anything to confess, he thought.
"I had my brother killed." The words poured out of him in a rattle that
Rose had only heard from a dying aunt years ago. "I murdered my brother,
Rose held him then ever more tightly, kissed him on the forehead, and
stroked his hair. Still sobbing and trembling, he was glad she was there. Then,
as he gradually got a hold of himself, he told her the story: how he had gone
through an acquaintance of a local attorney to contact a guy in northern
California that made a living hiring killers; how when he learned that his
brother's body had been found in an old mine shaft he had lost his lunch; how
he had seen his brother waving to him in dreams; how between the celestial
dreams he always found himself walking an endless, dark corridor, something
evil at this back; how in last night's dream he had been a hanged man watching
his brother wave from the Kingdom of Heaven.
Rose sat and listened, drinking coffee, showing occasional surprise but
never seeming shocked that she had been living with a murderer.
"So what you gonna do?" Rose asked gently, patiently as Gaines came to the
end of his story. "What you gonna do, Bobby? What're we gonna do?"
It had never occurred to him that Rose considered their relationship as
anything but temporary. And he knew then that he needed her.
"I don't know," he answered. "I think I'm not a suspect. Cops never
"A positive sign. But what you gonna do is what I asked you. What we gonna
What you gonna do? The words stuck in his head, flashing on and off like
an advertisement, and he knew his life depended upon the answer. He felt
incapable of giving an answer.
"Like I said, Rose, I haven't the foggiest. Turn myself in and wind up
going to prison? No thanks. Maybe even get the death penalty. Nothing I can
do. Except wait and maybe pray."
"What?" she said, squinting as if looking into a bright light. "What'd you
"Maybe pray? I think I said that."
"Pray?" she'd never heard him used that word before. "You pray?"
"Yeah," he said, sighing and rubbing the sides of his forehead with both
hands. "That's about all I can do. And I don't even know how to do that
"Y'don't know how to pray?" Rose said. "Grew up in the church and don't
know how to pray?"
"Been a long time, Rose. Too long," he said, wishing that he could pray.
He looked at Rose, who smiled. And then this woman who had likely been a
mediocre student surprised him.
"Let me show you," Rose said in a voice so soft and sweet that he was
reminded of the picture of an angel that had hung on the wall of his
grandparents' bedroom. "Lemme show you how to pray. "
"What?" Gaines began, unsure how to take this offer. No one had prayed for
him or with him for a long time.
"I'll pray," she said, looking him in the eyes and then reaching across the
table and taking one of his hands into hers. She closed her eyes and bowed her
head. "Close your eyes and bow your head, Professor," she said in a soothing
tone. He did as she told him.
As Rose began, Professor Robert Gaines found himself hoping that God was
real. As he listened to Rose's passionate prayer, his mind began to form
images: first, of birds flying over the ocean; next, of a man preaching to
thousands along the lake that Bob Gaines figured was Galilee; finally, of an
enormous field of rich green grass and flowers of all colors buffeted by a wind
that blew gently.
"Jesus Christ," he breathed, and as he uttered the words he saw the Man of
Sorrows hanging bloody on the cross, the clouds behind Him black as night. It
was as if, with his eyes closed, Rose muttering a prayer he was no longer
listening to, he was standing at the foot the cross. He could feel the hard
parched soil under his feet, hear the weeping of women near him, feel the
presence of something magnificent sweeping with the wind over the landscape.
Gazing up at the cross, he saw the man's eyes closed, realized the man
hanging from the cross was dead, noted that a crown of thorns woven around this
man's head. Sick at heart, Professor Robert Gaines knew the man hanging on the
cross had died for him; he reasoned in his vision that if he, Robert Gaines,
could be transported to the foot of the cross, that if the dead man hanging on
the cross was who scriptures claimed He was, then it was a certainty that the
bloodied, hanging man could rise from the dead. He begged in his heart for
forgiveness for all sins, past, present, and future, and knew in an instant
that he had been cleansed of all unrighteousness.
When he opened his eyes, he looked at Rose. As he stared, the sense of
the vision slowly faded, and felt returned to himself.
"What?" she asked, and he wondered how she couldn't know. "What happened?
I heard you say 'Jesus Christ.' What happened?"
Gaines looked at Rose, realized she still held his hand, knew for the
first time in his life that he was be forgiven. Saying nothing, he smiled,
leaned forward and kissed Rose gently on the mouth, and then rose from the
"I dunno. Maybe everything is going to be all right," he finally said,
barely audible, images from the vision slowly disintegrating as he moved away
from Rose. He stood in the doorway between the kitchen and the family room.
"Everything seems fine." He realized that he must accept responsibility
for committing a sin for which he had been forgiven. That was imperative.
So was confession.
As he remembered seeing his brother waving to him in his dreams, Robert
Gaines walked into the family room and over to the phone. Sitting down in his
black leather chair, he reached under the table, grabbed the phone book, put
the book on the coffee table in front of him, and found the number he wanted.
He started to dial his lawyer and then slammed down the phone.
What the hell am I doing? he asked himself. What in the hell am I doing? He
glanced at Rose, who studied him. His lawyer had been the one who had made the
contacts that had resulted in his brother's murder. Besides, he knew
confession would ruin his professional life.
That night in bed, as he waited for sleep, he thought about what he had
seen during Rose's prayer. The imperative seemingly attached to the "vision"
were out of the question; accepting responsibility for the murder entailed
confession, and confession was out of the question.
The image of the cross seemed more distant by the second, almost as if it
were pulling away from him. He had said nothing about the "vision" to Rose,
who slept next to him; while the scene had seemed real, he found himself
wondering if he had become delusional in the months leading up to and following
his brother's murder. The dreams, if they were delusions, could easily be
explained as the reaction of a guilty conscience; but, up to this point in his
life, Gaines had become convinced that a "guilt conscience" was a
psycholinguistic construct that the church had somehow imposed upon people as a
way of controlling them. In short, part of him was certain that he was
somewhat mad; the other part wanted to believe that he had had a religious
experience, one that should form the cornerstone of his life.
Thinking brought confusion to the mind of Professor Robert Gaines, who
had sought for many years the sense of order provided by his own "constructive
sociopathology." He had no idea where he should go from here; while the dreams
and the "vision," if that's what it was, were now vague recollections, they
were still inextricably woven into the "ineluctable modality" of his own
existence. Yes, he had had his brother killed.
But am I willing to pay for this crime, he asked himself, even if doing so
would please a God that I cannot see? Cain, he recalled, had wandered the
earth a condemned man. And, he wondered, am I not forgiven? Is that not what
my grandparents church taught, he asked himself. If forgiven, then why
Growing sleepy and feeling remarkably peaceful, wondering if he had stood
at the foot of the cross (and beginning to believe that he had not) he decided
to plot a course of action in the morning. As he thought about the dark
corridor of his other dreams, he knew that things were always clearer in the
morning. In the morning, over a cup of coffee with Rose, he would decide what
I. A beautiful girl in the prime of life, Misty Reynolds should have known better than to walk to the corner store after midnight. Especially on a full-moon night in October.
It was on full-moon nights, the metropolitan police department reported a year ago, that crazies crawled out of every nook and cranny. This was when children disappeared, carried away by the unrelenting tide of evil, their faces appearing on the back of milk cartons months later. This was when bodies filled with bullets were found in the desert of southern Nevada.
Crime had washed through the city for as long as Misty could remember. Born twenty-four years ago, Misty had attended the citys schools, was elected prom queen her senior year, played youth soccer in the inner-city leagues, and even won a starting position on the community colleges team. Yet, always, even in the safety of her parents home, she sensed something or someone dark awaiting her in the bushes along her street or in her dreams at night, and occasionally sensed deaths dark wings brush her before she woke.
II. Hours before her walk to the corner store, she told her boy friend Jason that, contrary to what many claimed, evil was tangible, real as molten lava. She wondered what she would do face-to-face with darkness. "I think Id run," she speculated aloud, throwing herself onto her bed next to Jason, who was lying on his back and glumly staring at the ceiling. "Then, who knows? Maybe Id fight? What would you do, boyfriend?"
"Hell if I know," muttered Jason, attempting nonchalance. Jesus, thought Jason, still studying the ceiling; here we go again. It was not the first time he had listened to Mistys inanely incoherent ramblings. A Bible college dropout with a cross tattooed on his upper left arm, Jason locked his fingers behind his head as he lay on the bed, cigarette dangling from his mouth, squinting and blowing smoke that eventually carried out the open window into the cold night. He tried to listen to the Beethoven CD hed inserted in Mistys player. A young man with a shaved head who generally carried a hand gun, Jason didnt want to believe in much of anything right now except Misty, who sat against him, wondering where the passion of their relationship had gone.
"You been filling your brain with idle thoughts again?" asked Jason, glancing sideways at his girl. Tonight, as every night, Jason wore a black T-shirt with no printing. "And where the fuck does this questionWhat would I do if the devil came calling?--come from? Where does it come from?" At twenty-eight, Jason had had his fill of superstitions, knew he didnt want to marry and have children with this woman, even wondered if she were doing crack. "And who the hell cares anyway? Evil belongs in Star Wars," he added, taking the cigarette from his mouth, sitting up and looking at Misty. A man capable of deep thinking, Jason knew Mistys views would be classified by current intellectuals as medieval or psychotic.
"No, boyfriend, Im not making anything up. I believe this stuff. My grandma says she believes in devils, ghosts, vampires, witches, and horrible things like that, so I do, too, " Misty replied, jumping up from the bed and walking to the window, suddenly feeling chilled. She had just remembered that her grandmother had died in her sleep just last month.
Jason took the cigarette from his mouth, examined the tip, smiled, thought about forcing a laugh and then decided not to. "Misty, my best advice to you is to try not to think about this crap. Dont fucking think, okay? At least dont fill your mind with that rubbish better confined to the junk heap with Augustine, Aquinas, and Abelard. When you think," Jason added, looking down at Misty, who huddled in the blanket up against him, "when anyone thinks twisted thoughts, they often get in some kind of trouble. Now come one over here with me on the bed."
Misty had heard of Augustine, Aquinas, and Abelard, all brilliant theologians, but said nothing. She was used to men who insulted her intelligence, thinking she was stupid; teachers and coaches had done it for years, probably because of her good looks. She had learned that, to get along, she had to get over the insults. So she sighed, turned from the window and look at Jason, smiled, and said nothing.
Dragging deeply on his cigarette, Jason went on, his eyes focused on an invisible spot on the floor. "Next thing you know, youll be having visions, a regular St. Teresa of Avila. Youll wake up claiming to have seen the Virgin Mary, the Prince of Darkness, or the many rooms in the Kingdom of Heaven. You know what I mean?" Jason figured the best way to handle Mistys fancies was through obscure allusions and mild humiliation. His father, a professor at a local university, had used it on him and his mother many times. Besides, since leaving Bible college, Jason didnt want to have a discussion touching upon theology.
"No, I dont know what you mean, Jason. And, anyway, Ive been having visions, if thats what you wanna call them," Misty insisted, walking over to the bed, sitting next to Jason, and pulling the top blanket around her. "Ive read about them in class at college. I bought this book on Western Mysticism last week at the college bookstore. Evelyn Underhill is the author. Creepy, creepy shit, but real. You know what I mean?" At that moment, an extraordinarily cold wind blew through the window, touching both, and Jason wondered if he had passed into an old Twilight Zone rerun.
"Get that nonsense out of your mind, Misty," Jason responded, not wanting to venture into the territory of dreams and the supernatural, having come to believe nonetheless that dreams were often supernatural manifestations. He looked at Misty, put his arm around her shoulders and drew her closer to him. "No one believes that superstitious horse shit anymore. I sure dont."
"Well, I do believe in that horse shit," Misty replied, pulling away, looking at Jason, flinging her head back. "I do. I have to. I dont care if you or anyone else thinks Im nuts."
"OK, babe," muttered Jason, reaching his arm out and pulling her closer again, "youre not crazy. Youre all right. Sane as a jackrabbit. So go ahead and tell me about it. Your dream or your vision. Whatever. Tell me about it. I wanna hear it, as a former theology student gone wild. I really do. And then, Im gonna jump your bones." He began stroking her hair.
Misty paused for a moment, aware that she was being patronized, thought of hitting Jason in the mouth, then closed her eyes, let the smile drop from her face, and thought. As she did so, she seemed to Jason to withdraw, something she had done in the past and something that always made Jason nervous. He remembered that shed withdrawn in restaurants, in movie theaters, at drive-ins, and even at the mall, that when she did she stopped communicating for hours, that it happened only when he wasnt listening to her ramble about vampires, witches, and warlocks.
"Just tell me about it," said Jason, kissing Misty on the forehead, then leaning over her and the foot of the bed and dropping his cigarette in a Pepsi can on the floor. On his way back he reached inside the blanket and under Mistys sweater. "Cmon, Im listening." Sometimes, Jasons father told him some time ago, you gotta play along with the women before you get what you want. Jason at the time knew exactly what his father had meant, and now the advice came back to him and he decided that he would wait this one out.
"Its happened several times," Misty began, growing colder, "always at a certain time during the month, and it always scares the piss outa me." Misty shivered, glanced to the door, and Jason, knowing she couldnt see it, rolled his eyes in mock credulity.
"The first time," she continued, looking straight ahead at the open window, "was about six months ago. I remember the moon was full and bloody, and a silvery blimp hung suspended over our bright city. When I began to drift off to sleep, I heard the whisper of a breeze, felt the touch of the wind upon my face, then saw a vivid blue lightlike a star--glowing at the foot of my bead and filling my room, and in the light I could see the figure of a man."
Jason did not want to hear this, would rather have been down on the Strip with his buddies, but gently squeezing one of her breasts he let Misty continue. "Wasnt me in the vision, was it?" he asked, hopeful, knowing full well Who it was that stood in the center of the vision. Feeling the mysterious hand of judgment move over the bed, Jason trembled and wondered if he should leave.
Caught up in vivid recollection, Misty turned and looked in to Jasons eyes, gave Jason the look he would have died a thousand times for, and said, "No, Jason, it wasnt you. Some man. Older than you. Bleeding and hanging from the wooden cross. It was Jesus, I think. Suffering, weeping, he looked up and spoke to me, told me not to be afraid, that He would be with me until the end of the age. Or something like that. Didnt make sense. I thought I was gonna die. Im sure it was Jesus."
Jason knew then that Misty, starting to exude warmth, was telling a truthat least as far as she was capable--and possibly, though an occasional bimbo, had the mystic capacity to apprehend what lay beyond David Humes natural world in which everything could and must be explained in terms of natural cause and effects. At least, he recognized, she had seen somethingor thought she had seen something.
Misty continued, now putting her head on Jasons shoulder, both moving back on the bed to lean against the wall. "Every month, about the same time, I have a similar vision, just when I drift off. This blue light, like a small sun blazing at the foot of my bed, and always the man inside the blue. A first I screamed my head offGoddamn, did I scream--and that brought both mom and dad running into my room, who told me that I had just had a bad dream and not to worry, to go back to sleep. Its the full moon, my mom said, and I tried to believe her but couldnt. It was my grandmother told me the next week that the dream was real, maybe from God, maybe the spirit world. Said it meant something bad might happen. Or something good. I dunno."
Exasperated, Jason thought: this really is getting too weird; it was like what he had read in the textbooks about crazed medieval Christian mystics. It was giving him the creeps. He wondered if his girl friend had gone too far over the deep end and hoped she wouldnt soon start speaking in tongues.
"Its just a damned dream," he said, trying to assure himself as well as his girl that the vision could not be true but knowing better and desperately wanting to move on. He pulled Misty over onto him. "Or," he added jokingly, "a dream of the damned."
"I think its God in that dream," said Misty, allowing Jason to lightly kiss her on the mouth. Smelling of smoke, Jason always kissed gently at first.
Holding her head in her hands, kissing him on the mouth and allowing him to run his hands over her body, she grew warm under Jasons touch and purred, "Yes, Jason, I think its God."
"I think youre right, girl," Jason whispered, now fully aroused, feeling Beethoven fill him, loosening Mistys pants and sliding his hands down onto her bare ass.
Sleepily, she reached over to the table next to her bed, saw Jasons gun, realized he had accidentally left it behind and would therefore likely return for it, reached out, and held and caressed the small pocket-sized weapon. Always, when making love with her, Jason would take the gun from his jacket and place it where he could see it. This time, he had forgotten it. On the cable station, an old Lana Turner movie was playing, and as she relaxed and let herself drift off she wondered what it would have been like to be Lana Turner.
IV. When she awoke, it was after one. The television was still on, and she recognized Robert Mitchum in the 1950s film version of the Raymond Chandler classic Fair Well, My Lovely. It was a good movie, almost better than the book, which Misty had read several years ago. She wondered, for an instant, if she could kill a man like Philip Marlow, the detective-hero of Chandlers novels.
Sitting up in bed, she felt empty and hungry and knew that she wouldnt go back to sleep for at least an hour, and, since tomorrow was Friday and she had only one class early in the afternoon, she decided to get dressed and walk down to the corner convenience store to buy some soda and anything else that looked appetizing. She arose, put on her jeans, her blue sweater with an LA Lakers logo on the front, and then her black leather jacket that had her name written across the back in bold red letters.
Finally, to feel what it was like, just once, she decided to take the gun, which she put into one of the deep pockets of the jacket. Although she had gone with Jason to target practice and had reeled off a few rounds herself(never missing her target), Misty had not carried a gun with her before. Then she turned off her TV.
Stepping softly down the carpeted stairs, she knew her parents, now in their early sixties had probably been in bed for three hours at least and so she gently opened the door to let herself out into the cool October night, softly shutting the door behind her. Outside, she felt strangely different, even more alive. She felt in her pocket for the cold barrel and knew the surge of power that she had heard often comes from carrying a weapon.
As she walked down the short sidewalk towards the street, thinking about Jasons gun, she looked overhead at the enormous full moon, beautifully illuminating the night sky, and felt thankful that she had worn her leather jacket. Fingering the gun, she felt good as she walked the empty street, conscious of all the lives in the houses lining the block, glad she was Misty Reynolds and not the dentists daughter who lived on the corner, and thought about her class the next day. Taught by Dr. Wilbur Frost, Introduction to Western Religions had become her favorite class, Frosts lectures frequently touching upon rituals, customs, and belief that she wished were still part of a society that seemed more intent on monitoring the sales of drugs and the spread of violent crime than upon providing for itself a framework that could, possibly, give meaning to her own confusing life.
She walked two more blocks. It was just as she was walking across the parking lot toward the store entrance, the sign shining brightly above her, the full moon beyond bathing the night in nocturnal splendor, that she saw the primer gray Oldsmobile parked in front of the store. Instinctively, she tensed. The body of the car was dented from bumper to bumper, and she noticed a spider-web crack in the passenger window on the drivers side and a black pentagram on the door below. She observed that no one was inside the car and that the drivers window was rolled down or missing.
When she pushed open the glass door and stepped inside the store, she was struck by total silence. Usually, at all hours of the day and night in the store, a radio or a television was blaring, filling the air with music or the sound of people talking. But the TV situated behind the counter to her left was not on; the radio, where ever it was kept, was also silent. Glancing around the store, she could not see Miguel, the old clerk who generally took the night shift. Looking up and down the aisles, she suddenly saw in her minds eye the image of Miguel being shot in the forehead. The revelation hit her like a crow bar.
Sick to her soul, she froze in the middle of the store, no longer interested in buying something to eat or drink, knowing something was wrong, trying to reassure herself that Miguel had simply gone to the restroom, felt in her gut that she must get out of the store. Then she remembered that she was armed, and stood her ground.
Buried in the deadly silence, muffled voices came from the back. It was like listening to people talk under water. "Anyone here?" she asked, apprehensive, her stomach tightening. As she awaited a reply, she could no longer hear the muffled voices, so she called again, this time more loudly, "Is anyone here? Anyone back there?" She felt herself going numb as she heard a muffled shout coming from the back followed by two popping sounds. She thought first of fireworks and knew Miguel had been shot.
Frightened, now moving to the door, she heard someone coming from the back, the sound of heavy footsteps running to the front. It was just as she pushed open the door that she looked back, saw a heavy-set man wearing a beard and a hunting cap come out of the back and yell at her to stop. She noticed the man was missing his front teeth and carried a handgun. Misty knew there would be another man as well and so ran out of the store, sprinting in the direction of her house as the two men pushed through the glass door and yelled at her to stop.
Unable to help herself, she stopped just at the corner, turned, and looked. "Hey, little girl; hey, Misty," one of them bellowed; Misty could see him clear as day as she stopped and looked back, saw that the speaker was taller than the other man, bald like Jason, and had a silver tooth in the front of his mouth. As the tall man smiled and nodded at his grinning heavy-set companion, Misty knew, somehow, that she was possibly facing her last night; certainly, this was the end of something. She turned and began running as the men jumped in the car, started it noisily, backed up screeching, and pulled out of the store parking lot after her.
Misty ran for her life, moving like the wind up the sidewalk that led to her house three blocks away, but she was no match for the car. The two men caught her within seconds, the car pulling into the driveway immediately in front of her and blocking her way and the two men jumping out and pursuing her, the tall one immediately on her, grabbing her by the shoulder, throwing an arm around her neck, telling her "Relax, Misty baby," bearing her to the pavement under the weight of his body. Wondering if she were dreaming, she screamed wildly, asking herself why no one responded, crying out finally to Jesus, feeling a blow to the back of her head and closing her eyes and yelling "Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!" as she sensed herself engulfed in swirling, muddy darkness.
Then, she saw in her minds eye a blue phosphorescent glow, the man from the visions in the center, watching her, his eyes sorrowful, reaching out to her and touching her, filling her with strength to endure, as suddenly full consciousness returned and she felt herself being dragged along the street, someone holding one of her arms, felt herself dropped, and opened her eyes.
The short, heavy-set man stood over her, pointing a shot gun at her face. She was going to end her life in the middle of her own street, late at night. "Say your last, Misty, you little bitch," the man growled, as Misty heard the tall man shuffling up and saw him too staring down at her. Both men laughed and paused, and the stocky man lowered the shotgun.
Something is wrong with their eyes, Misty thought to herself, and looking more closely saw that the irises of the mens eyes looked like fragments of broken glass, each piece reflecting darkness. She watched the short man turn his head for an instant and grin wickedly at his taller companion. She knew then she had just met the Devil.
As if given a second chance, Misty remembered Jasons gun, slipped her hand into her pocket, felt cold steel, felt for and released the safety(as Jason had told her to do when, weeks ago, at the firing range, he had explained the workings of the gun), withdrew the piece, pointed it at the chest of the bearded man just as he turned back towards her.
It was like a freeze-frame, all three figures immobilized at the point of action, beautiful background music provided. Somewhere in the distance, she could hear Beethovens "Moonlight Sonata." Not blinking, suddenly realizing that she was not afraid to take the life of another, not afraid to die, she pulled the trigger.
Blood banging furiously in her brain, numbed by rage and fright, she did not hear the weapons explosion, did feel the gun nearly leap out of her hand, and searching for the bullet hole in the bearded mans chest turned Jasons gun on the taller man and without looking directly fired once, twice, three times. As the larger man fell backwards, the crack of the gun now audible, she smiled at the bearded man, who stood dazed before her, holding the shotgun to his side; without giving it a second thought, she pointed Jasons weapon at the mans head, and fired once, sure that she had hit the mark. The man spun, the top of his head taken off, spun again and fell three feet from Misty.
Temporarily ecstatic, the sonata still playing in her mind, Misty stood, pointed the gun at the stocky mans twitching body, pulled the trigger again, watched the body jump as the bullet penetrated the body, and then stopped and waited. Now towering over the bodies of the men who would surely have raped her and taken her life, Misty waited and waited, for what she was not sure, saw the pools of blood gathering under the bodies, saw out of the corner of her eye lights in the houses across the street go on, heard sirens in the distance, tossed the gun into a thick hedge that grew in the yard next to the driveway where the car had stopped, and stepping over the two bodies ran the remaining two blocks to her home.
When she entered her house, Mistys mind cleared. She figured that, shortly, the police would be banging on her door, then hauling her away for questioning. As she walked numbly into the dark kitchen to call Jason on the phone, she heard movement upstairs, knew that one or both of her parents were out of bed, inwardly gave thanks that her parents were all right, then heard her mother shout frantically form the top of the stairs, "Misty??? Misty? Is that you honey? Is that you?" She knew the fear in her mothers voice, had heard it before, and instinctively responded to calm her mother.
"Its just me, Mom," Misty said, exhausted now, forcing herself to sound normal while, her hand now trembling, she reached for the phone. "Everythings fine, Mom, just fine," she said in a voice that she knew sounded cold as steel, and she wondered, as she knew her mother listened at the top of the stairs, how her parents could not know something dreadful had just happened.
"Honey," came the voice, "theres two police cars down the street. At least, I think its two. Lights are flashing everywhere. Your father thought he heard some shots." As she had done before, Mistys occasionally hysterical mother was asking her daughter for directions.
"Go back to bed, Mom," Misty replied, not sure why she didnt tell her mother that she had just shot two men in cold blood, almost without blinking, and was now waiting for the police to take her away. "Mom, Im all right. Everything is all right, " she added, even calmer this time as she heard her mother respond, "OK, honey, just so long as youre here. Your dad and me were worried. Just worried is all. You know how we are." For Misty, preserving her parents safety and peace of mind meant protecting those same elements in her.
"Nothing to worry about, folks," Misty said, fighting to remain calm, not wanting to upset her mother or make her father sicker, then lifting the phone and punching Jasons number.
Sure that her mother would go back to bed, Misty heard the phone ring four times before she got the recording: "Hello, world, this is Jason. Im away from my desk right now, but at the beep if you could be so kind...." She could hear the Beethoven piece in the background.
When the recording finished and signaled for her to leave her message, she spoke: "Jason, you need to come and get your gun. You left it with me. Something bad has happened."
She waited for an instant, hoping Jason would pick up the phone, sure that he was lying in bed next to the phone, listening to the message.
Putting the phone gently back in place, Misty remembered that she had thrown the gun away, knew the weapon would be found soon, and wondered what was taking the police so long. Glancing out a side window, she saw that the moon was setting.
She waited through the night, sitting next to the phone, gazing out the living room window at the street, watching night slowly give way to dawn. Around 6:30, sure that her usually peaceful existence would not be disrupted for at least another day, she arose and walked slowly upstairs, not certain what would happen, wondering what she would learn in religion class today, knew that eventually she would become front page headlines, suspected that her life from this point on would never be the same.
V. Jason rolled over in bed, listened, froze when he heard Misty say something bad had happened.
Sitting up in bed in his one-room apartment, Jason reached for the pack of cigarettes on his night stand. Always, it seemed, he needed a smoke. Now was no exception. He wondered if he should pray for Misty, thought better of it, then lit up. Inhaling deeply, he pressed the button on his CD player and waited for Beethovens "Moonlight Sonata" to fill the room and lull him back to sleep and forgetfulness.
In the darkness, wrapped in soft sounds, he remembered what Misty had said hours before as he had impatiently listened in her bedroom, one thing on his mind. He recalled thinking, as he had dressed in Mistys room after the sex, that he should pick up his gun and take it with him. But something in his girl friends voice had set off an alarm, and he knew even then, inexplicably, that something wicked was coming Mistys way. And he knew she would have to face it alone, perhaps soon, so he had left the weapon, fully loaded, next to her bed.
Since leaving Bible college, Jason had fought the frequent intuitions of evil that, once again, he had felt that evening with Misty. All his life, hed had haunting premonitions, and if they were from God, he thought as he inhaled more smoke, he wished God would just leave him the hell alone. If God were real, he knew, then he was indeed Mistys keeper; hell, he was everyones keeper. Jason knew from the tone of her voicenumbed, as if spoken by a dead personthat something terrible had happened, that he was supposed to know about it and do something about it, and that he, somehow, was now permanently part of it.
Forcefully, even angrily exhaling smoke out his open window, looking at the moon sinking towards the horizon, he realized that his inaction, his failure to remain with Misty when he sensed disaster, had permanently complicated his life. Flipping his cigarette out the window and lying back to resume sleep, letting Beethovens sounds drown thought, he had no idea where to go from here. His mind and soul churning within him, he wasnt sure if he should even care about Misty. Wondering if he would eventually have to marry her, he didnt want to care.
by rich logsdon
I. Right smack-dab in the middle of Hell. Thats where Uncle Willy
Parker thought he was as he squatted in the emergency parking lane of
the I-95 freeway that ran east to west through Las Vegas. He was about
500 feet from his car, watching his old automobile being eaten by an
angry ball of flame.
Jesus, thought Willy, things cant get much worse than this.
He inhaled deeply on his cigarette and looked enviously at a
blank spot on the asphalt directly below him. A man with a receding
hair line who tied his dirty brown hair in a pony tail, Willy knew he
had seen better days, but he couldnt remember many. Tonight, because
he was running out of clothes, he wore a black leather jacket, a black
T-shirt with a red "Ozzie Rules" on the chest, and black levis. He
could almost feel the blazing heat through coming through the pavement
under his feet and thought, crazily and for an instant, of removing his
black cowboy boots.
To Willie, watching the flames consume a car that had
occasionally served as a second home (particularly when he took off to
gamble in Pahrump, a small town just outside of Vegas), was like seeing
the judgment of God first hand, and shivering slightly he suddenly
remembered years ago, sitting with his mother in the old Bruce Street
warehouse that had been converted into a Pentecostal church and
listening to Blind Pastor Rays sermons on the wrath of the Almighty.
Ray had frequently described The Good Lord as an all-consuming fire. In
his minds eye, Willy could visualize blind old Ray standing in front of
the congregation--made of drifters, dealers, prostitutes, teachers and
lawyers--holding up his floppy Bible with the brown leather cover and
proclaiming the Word to all who would listen. The thought of Pastor
Rays strangely moving sermons now jolted Uncle Willy.
Thinking of how much he missed Pastor Ray, Willy dragged deeply
on his last Lucky Strike. He felt like a condemned man facing a firing
squad, and it occurred to him that he was under some kind of curse,
things having gone so bad in the past five years with his wife Rachel
dying from a stroke and his having to spend time in the county jail for
attempted robbery of a Seven-Eleven.
It was 11:30 at night, late November, and just thirty minutes
ago Willy had left the parking lot of Crazy Luck Casino, a downtown
place where (hoping to make his fortune) he had once again drunk and
gambled away most of his paycheck at the blackjack tables. Bringing his
car up to fifty, he had just entered the freeway headed east toward his
girlfriend Ambers apartment when he had smelled smoke and then, five
minutes later, had seen flames shooting through the floor board and from
under the hood of his 76 primer gray piece-of-shit Chevrolet. Without a
second thought, almost as if he were prepared for such a catastrophe,
Willy had calmly pulled over to the side of the freeway and, leaving the
car running in neutral, had lept out the door and walked rapidly away
from the car. At the time, he didnt much care if the car exploded with
him ten feet away. It was a car he had kept and steadily maintained
since his Daddys death back in 83. A week before, Willy had tuned and
timed the car himself.
As Willy now watched his car explode, throwing thousands of
metal and glass fragments into the air, he felt his thoughts to his
Daddys death and wondered, anguished, if there was some sort of cosmic
connection going on here.
II. The burning car brought back the memory of the day his Daddy,
mean old Fred Parker, had explosively departed this planet. A vicious
son-of-a-bitch, his Daddy had nevertheless been Willys best and only
Just before Freds apocalyptic exit, on New Years Day in fact,
Willy had been sprawled on the old faded green couch in the living room
of his fathers house, his two boys Runt and Spike lying on the floor in
front of him. Rachel had decided to spend New Years day with her
parents. Willy and his boys had been watching the bowl games all day.
Then his Daddy disappeared. A balding, gap-toothed,
marijuana-smoking old man who, stooped by age, still towered over every
one else in the family, his Daddy had gone shuffling out to the kitchen
to get himself and Willy a couple of cool ones from the old white
Westinghouse Frigidaire, which had sat in the same far corner of the
kitchen for as long as Willy could remember. In the Parker family, even
when Moma was still alive (She had died in a head-on automobile accident
on the day of Willys graduation from high school) and all the Parkers
and Remingtons had gathered in the old house on D Street to celebrate,
New Years Day had always meant drink as much beer as you can between
twelve and twelve.
When the oven had exploded with an loud KAWHOOM!, taking Daddy with it
in a fury of gas and flame, Uncle Billy had at first sleepily, drunkenly
imagined that the sound had come from the TV set. After all, it was
half-time at the Orange Bowl, and to please his pain-in-the-ass
sons--both of whom had their ears phones on so they could listen to
tapes while watching TV--Willy had turned the set way, way up so that he
couldnt even hear himself think. And actually, after drinking twelve
bruskies, Uncle Willy hadnt given his Daddys prolonged absence much
thought until the end of the third period, when it looked like Alabama
might win by at least thirty points.
Finally, thirsty and impatient, Willy had pushed himself off the sofa
and headed to the kitchen, calling out, "Daddy, Daddy, wheres my
damned beer at?" When he walked through the splintered wooden door that
had once separated his Mothers kitchen-kingdom from everything else in
the house, he had nearly vomited at the amount of blood on the walls,
ceiling and counter and from the gas and smoke fumes that had not yet
spilled out of the three shattered windows. One look at the oven, now
blackened from flame, told Willy what had likely occurred: opening the
door of the gas oven to take a peak at the turkey, Daddy had likely lit
a dooby, little realizing that while he had turned on the gas over an
hour ago he had forgotten the bird, which had remained in the
Uncle Willy had squatted on the tiled floor, studying the scene, as his
two sons had walked in. All that remained of Fred Parker were his two
black cowboy boots, now smoldering in the middle of the kitchen floor,
and his black cowboy hat, which lay on the floor right next to the
boots. "Jesus Christ!" Willy had exclaimed, a tear in his eye, "I guess
thats the end o Daddy."
Runt and Spike had come running in and stood next to their father,
surveying the scene unmoved, as if they had seen similar disasters a
thousand times before.
"Grandpa was sure a mean fucker, huh? Guess Im gonna miss the ole
bastard, " the eleven year old Spike had yodeled, wiping his nose with
the back of his hand and staring at his grandpas smoking boots. "Oh,
well, ya gotta go sooner or later is what I always say. Speakin of
which: I guess its time for us to go home, huh, paps?" was all Runt,
the older one, had said. Instinctively, Willy smacked the obese
thirteen year old to the side of the head with his callused open hand.
"Yeow!!" Runt had screamed like a mountain cat and rubbed the side of
Then, opening the fridge and grabbing the turkey, Willy had pushed both
boys out of the kitchen, out of the front door of the house, and driven
back to their trailer home in North Las Vegas. When Willy had gotten
home, he had at least had the good sense to phone an emergency number.
III. Willys thoughts came hurtling like a meteor back to the
present, where his car burned before him.
"I coulda been in that fuckin car," the dazed Willy mumbled
to himself, frantically searching his pants and coat pockets for another
pack of Lucky Strikes, a flask of whiskey, anything to steady his
nerves. All he found was the small loaded pistol, which he carried with
him always for protection against what he called "the mean element" of
"And if I hadda been in that car," Willy added, aware that no
one but the Good Lord Above was there to listen, "I woulda been dancin
with Daddy and the angels right now." The thought of being reunited with
Fred Parker made Willy sad and glad at the same time. Even though he
loved Amber, a thirty-five year old dancer who generally made enough
money at the nude bar to keep them both fed, Willy still sorely missed
Cat-like, Willy crouched in the darkness, the moon full over
head wondering what to do next. The fire had begun to die out, leaving
the gray and charred frame of his car resembling the skeletal remains of
a prehistoric dinosaur. He wondered for an instant how he could go on,
how he could live his life from this point.
Suddenly, Willy had what could only be termed a personal
revelation. Looking over the years, he saw his life as a blackboard
design, bracketed by the two fiery incidents, with a lot of small fires
in between. In 88, five years after Fred Parker had given up the
ghost, Runt had been gunned down by a fatal shooting at a Seven-Eleven
over on Rancho, near Clark High School. Then, Spike had somehow
contracted malaria and died on New Years Day of 9393 was the year
Willys wife Rachel had died, too. Willys life seemed to be caught in
some kind of holding pattern.
In 95, Willy had found Amber, or rather Amber had found Willy.
Seeing him sitting alone in the corner of the nude bar, she had
approached the loner with the pony-tail, asked him if he wanted her to
dance for him, and towards the end of the evening had asked Willy to
drive her home. Willy figured that Amber acted because she was desperate
for a man; in reality, Amber had felt sorry for Willy. His parents,
children, and car now gone, Amber was about all he had left on this
He wondered what Blind Preacher Ray was doing right now. Since
it was a Saturday night, he knew that the pastor--if he were still
alive--was likely preparing for a day of worship. To give him credit,
in fact, Ray had said some of the best things Willy had ever heard. For
a blind man, Ray had actually made a lot of sense. Willy wondered what
Ray, that old floppy brown Bible in his hand, would tell him to do now.
For a split second, Willy thought of using what change he had left to
call the blind Pastor for guidance.
But just as suddenly, Willy changed his mind, particularly when
he saw the police cruiser pull up behind the smoldering remains of his
car, their reds and blues furiously flashing in the night sky. Willy
hated cops. As the two patrolmen got out of their squad car, walked
over to and then around what remained of his car, Willy realized that he
hadnt been seen. Too, he was smart enough to know that if he did
approach the two cops, they would take his name, ask for some ID, and
then do a check on their computer. Then theyd know about the
long-standing warrant for Willys arrest, a warrant that to be paid in
full would mean at least a year in the slammer.
No sir, I sure as Hell do not want that, Willy thought to
himself, feeling the small bulge of his pistol in his jacket pocket. I
sure as Hell do not want that. Promising to himself to call Amber
tomorrow, Willy walked to the concrete barrier on the side of the
freeway and put one leg over it. He looked back at the cops, who
appeared to be searching for an ID number somewhere on the body of the
car, and then looked below at the darkened apartment complexes, houses,
and stores of one of the oldest, most run-down and crime infested
neighborhoods in the Southwest. A week ago, the body of an old high
school acquaintance, Billy Smith, had been found in a dumpster out
behind a Mexican restaurant.
Willy figured he had no choice really and, putting the other leg
over the concrete barrier, walked and slid down the rocky dirt
embankment to the vacant lot below. As he reached the bottom, dust
billowing around him and covering his clothes in a thin gritty film, he
could see some shapes that he recognized as human moving across the
lot. Looking further in the distance, he noticed two or three people
milling in front of Leroys 24-hour liquor store located across the
street on the other side of the vacant lot.
Without giving it another thought, reassuring himself that his
gun was loaded, Willy started off across the vacant lot in the direction
of the store. Willie knew that things could only get better from this
IV. As Willie entered the liquor store through its large glass door, his
hand on his pistol, the tall, stooped gray-haired black man standing
behind the counter gave him a malicious look. This must be Leroy,
Willie thought to himself, and Leroys got fire in his eyes. For an
instant, the old man reminded Willie of his Daddy: same height, same
squinting mean brown eyes, same thin and gangly build. Hesitating for
a moment, keeping his hand on the gun in his pocket, Willie tried to
look mean right back, then knew that he could not shoot this man. His
life a chain of big and small fires, Willy suddenly felt very tired,
defeated, and wanted to rest. He wanted to put the fires out once and
"The fuck you want here?" the old man bellowed, not batting an eye,
seemingly undaunted by Willys presence. Stunned, Willy said nothing.
"What you want I asked you!!!" This time, the man screamed in rage at
Willy. His hands under the counter separating himself from the rest of
the store, the grizzled old man suddenly, knowingly glanced at Willys
right arm, saw Willys hand stuffed into the side pocket of the black
leather jacket. "You got a gun in there, you piece of white shit? You
got a fuckin gun, you white son of a bitch? Cause you do, you do,
motherfucker, you shoulda used it soon as you came steppin through
that fuckin door."
Willy froze as he saw the old man slowly bring his hands above the
counter, saw Leroy cushion the stock of the gun against his shoulder,
saw the sawed-off shot-gun aimed at his chest, yelled something, felt
the force of the shotguns blast even before he heard the guns
deafening explosion, wondered if he were in a dream as he flew backwards
into and through the glass door, shattering the thick glass like it was
thin ice, feeling himself land like a feather on the concrete of the
Lying on the pavement, his head on concrete and glass, Uncle Willy
felt no pain, only a light chilling sensation moving through his body,
and he became aware that he was struggling to breathe. He was
suffocating. This has to be a dream, he thought to himself; this has
gotta be a dream. Willy didnt feel anything as he somehow commanded
his left hand to move to his chest and then to a spot in front of his
face. His hand covered with blood, Willie realized that he had been
shot and was probably dying.
Uncle Willy Parker tried to catch his breath again and again and
again, but no matter how hard he tried, he felt he was suffocating.
Unable to raise his head, Willie looked at the full moon straight up
above him, then saw the old black mans face in place of the moon. This
must be Leroy, my executioner, Willie thought to himself, struggling for
the breath that wouldnt come.
Closing his eyes while fighting for a final breath, Willys mind
flooded with images of his car burning up on the freeway, of Amber
dancing nude at the club, of his boys laughter, and he now wished he
had called the blind Preacher Ray. The preacher would know what to do.
Too, Willy realized that the hour of his judgment had arrived.
As he sensed his light fade and darkness descend like an iron cloak
about him, Willie opened his eyes one last time and could just make out
the face of Fred Parker. Willy had waited for this for a long time
"Hello, Daddy," Willie rasped, breathing his last and wondering what
had taken his father so long to get back to him.
by rich logsdon
His Bible open on the night stand, Preacher Frank lay on his back
in his motel-room bed, wondering whether he should watch a ball game
or rent a porn flick. Exhausted from a long drive, his body still warm
from the desert heat, he was spending the night in a seedy motel in
Hurricane, Arizona. While the air-conditioner hummed from its perch in
the window, Frank continued to sweat.
He had started his drive from Las Vegas at 8:00 that morning and had
driven for six hours through the sizzling Nevada and Arizona desert. To
keep his mind occupied, he had played tapes that a friend had made on
the writings of Neitzsche and Foucault, whose insights concerning the
disintegration of Western Civilization could not overcome the sweltering
boredom of the drive. In fact, save for an encounter in Williams,
Arizona, with a blonde gas station attendant who claimed she was in her
fourth year at Northern Arizona University, the drive had been
uneventful and hellishly hot.
This would be the last time, Frank decided as he now lay on the bed,
that he would drive from Las Vegas to Albuquerque to see his brother and
mother. Next time hed pay the price and fly.
The gas station attendant had stayed in his mind from the moment Frank
had met her. When he had stopped at the Texaco, he was paying for gas
and buying some soda and potato chips when she had asked, "Where ya
goin, big boy? And can I come with ya?" She had the sexiest voice Frank
had ever heard outside of an adult movie. Her name-tag said Karla.
Frank had never been called "big boy" and couldnt think how to
respond. For five minutes, he stared dumbly at her: long blonde hair,
blood red lips, a black T-shirt with "Bloody Muse" stenciled in red on
the front, and shorts that fit snugly around the waist and started three
inches below the belly-button, pierced with a silver ring. He noted
her vivid green cat-like eyes.
"You look like you might need some company, sweetie," the blonde said
playfully, smiling, and Frank found he could not look away from her.
Struggling to yank forth a convenient scriptural promise buried in his
mind and finding nothing but lust, Frank explained that he was headed to
Albuquerque and hoped to make Hurricane before dinner time.
"I know Hurricane," she said, a glint in her eyes. "I know Hurricane
real well. Why in the hell would anyone want to stop in Hurricane."
Aroused by the beautiful girl, Frank began to run at the mouth: "I
dunno. Im an assistant pastor of a Lutheran church.. In Las Vegas.
They call me Preacher Frank, though my real name is Ned Glover.
Originally from Boise, Idaho. Anyway, what...? what? what? Im going
to visit some relatives in Albuquerque, and Hurricane happens to be on
he way. And why is it that you know Hurricane?"
"Cause," she giggled, "I grew up there. Still got folks down
Wish they were dead. What a fucking hole, though."
"Not so bad if youre passing through," Frank assured her, his tone
"Everybodys just passin through Hurricane. Thats why its a
hole. Shit, Preacher Frank from Idaho, everyones just passin through,
period. Were just souls movin through the Valley of the Shadows." She
smiled as she said this, revealing perfectly white teeth, and leaned
over the counter to draw closer to Frank. Through the T-shirt, Frank
could see the outline of her ample breasts resting on the counter. For
an instant, he wanted to touch the spot where he knew a nipple would be
but knew that in doing so he would be breaking some oath he had made
"Well," said Frank, made slightly uncomfortable the girls crude
speech, "Im only staying one night." He wished he could take Karla
"One night in hell, baby boy," she purred, looking coyly at Frank. "On
its best night that place is hell. I can show you Paradixe in Hell you
want me to."
Frank felt chilled, broke into a sweat, realized he had never received
an invitation like this one. "Oh, I doubt its that bad," Frank
responded, hesitantly, unsure where the girl was going with this and
wishing he could stop the conversation. He generally felt comfortable
discussing anything but Hell, whose existence he had been known to
vehemently argue against.
"Youll see," Karla said, leaning over and gently kissing Preacher
Frank on the mouth. The kiss burned deep within Franks soul, and he
felt himself going hard as a rock. "Youll see," she repeated.
"Well, Lord willing, I gotta go," Frank said , dizzily, seeking escape.
As Frank said this, he inwardly noted that the girl was probably half
his age and wished that he were young again. Sometimes, in the late
darkest hours of the night, Frank inwardly confessed to himself that he
would sell his soul to the Devil for one sweet broad. His wife had left
him for another man ten years ago. He had no children.
"Well, Preacher Man Frank, you have a nice trip is all I can say," the
blonde responded, returning Franks change and, as she did, giving
Franks hand a tender, warm squeeze. Warmth rushing through him, Frank
felt like he was going to explode into ecstasy. He felt strangely
drawn to Karla, whose presence seemed to drain him. Too, he sensed that
his soul might somehow be in peril but didnt much care at the moment.
Then the girl winked, blew him a kiss, said "I gotta get back to work
now," and turned to the next customer in line, an older woman with kids
who looked like she had been on the verge of saying something rude to
Frank and the blonde.
Dazed, Frank walked out of the store, got into his 85 black
Oldsmobile Cutless, dreaming for the next three hours or so about how
nice it would be to have someone like Karla spend the night with him
in Hurricane, imagining her sitting with him know, her hand placed
between his legs, wishing even that he had taken her and allowed her to
do what she wanted with him in the front seat.
Now Frank lay on his back on the motel-room bed, gazing at the ceiling.
He had turned the television on as soon as he had walked into the room,
had found a baseball game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the
Cincinnati Reds, but had found his thoughts drifting back to the Texaco
blonde. How I would have liked to take her into the back room and screw
her like a mad dog, Frank said to himself, aware that even in thinking
this he had committed a transgression.
Frank switched channels until he came to the hotels adult film
section. Desperate to satisfy himself, he indicated his preference for
Gangbang in Paradise. Ten minutes into the film, he knew he recognized
one of the woman as the girl back at the Texaco station. Her screen name
apparently was Heavenly Trash, and she and two other women in the film
were on the verge of taking on three men apiece. As he watched, the
camera focusing mainly upon Karla, he could not stop watching. Seeing
her again made her real, and he could almost feel her presence in his
Frank suddenly awoke in the semi-dark room, aware that he had been
asleep for some time. Hours had passed since he had fallen asleep.
Looking up from his bed, he noticed that his set was off. I must have
turned the set off myself, Frank thought to himself, but I dont
remember doing so; I sure as hell do not remember; maybe its the
heat. Then, as Frank lay back on his pillow and sank into the soft bed, he
realized that the room was warmer than it had been earlier, the air
conditioner was off, and a warm breeze was blowing through the room.
Realizing that the breeze originated in the direction of the bathroom,
Frank suddenly knew that he was not alone in this room, and looking
around called out, "Anyone there?" In the dim light, he noticed that
the Bible on the night stand was still open to Isaiah, his favorite
Frank waited, his heart racing. He sat upright in bed for a full
twenty minutes, feeling the breeze, listening to the desert wind when he
heard a movement from the bathroom and the unmistakable voice: "How have
you been, big boy? Ready for your night in Hell? Are you ready for me?
Ready for your night in Hell?" He looked to the bathroom, saw the dark
figure silhouetted in the frame of the door, knew that his dream to
spend the night with the Texaco girl had been answered.
As Karla walked towards him, Frank smacked his chops: Her skin golden
brown, Karla was topless, her two large breasts among the most beautiful
he could recall ever having seen, the nipple of each pierced with a
golden ring. He noticed that she still wore her shorts.
"How did you get in here?" Frank whispered, apprehensive, a lump in his
"Windows open, lover," she said in a deep, sexy, mature voice that
seemed to belie her age, which Frank put somewhere between sixteen and
twenty-two. "In fact, I opened it. So I just came on in."
Panic slowly rising to the surface, Frank remembered that the
bathroom window had been bolted when he first entered the room late that
afternoon. When he traveled, he had always made sure to check the
bathroom windows first thing.
As she walked closer, her green eyes once again mesmerizing him, Frank
noticed the cross tattooed between her delicious breasts. This cross
was upside down. But Frank tried to ignore this as he felt himself
aroused by the girl, and so reaching out and fumbling with the button
and zipper, he began to slide her shorts down her legs, overjoyed that
she wore no panties.
He studied the girls body, noted the blood-red lizard tattooed just
above her shaved pubic area, knelt forward, gently kissed the image of
the reptile, moved downward over her flesh with his tongue and as she
stepped out of her pants and parted her legs he licked the region he
most desired to enter. She was wet.
"Oh, preacher man," the girl cooed, "youre good at this, I can
youre very, very good at this."
As Frank drew back, she moved even closer to him, wrapping her arms
around his head and pulling him to her. Gently, with his mouth, he
seized one of her nipple rings and gave a slight tug. When she gasped,
he repeated the move, then putting his arms around her lifted her off
the ground and placed her on his bed.
As he stood back, undressing, he studied every part of her body in the
dim light. This girl, he decided with pleasure, is the most beautiful
person I have ever been with; come Hell or high water, Im not going to
pass this up.
As he thought these words, he felt his attention inexplicably pulled to
his night stand, noticed the open Bible, couldnt take his eyes off the
Bible, which he had opened to Isaiah 53. Jesus, what is this? Frank
asked himself; just what the hell is goin on? It was as if two
invisible hands held his head in place so that he had to notice the
Bible. The sensation was terrifying for Frank, and briefly an image of
himself being dangled like a spider on a web over a lake of fire flew
through his imagination.
Just what the hell is happening here? Frank silently demanded of anyone
who could listen to or read his thoughts.
Instantly, as if a voice had spoken, Frank could swear he heard someone
say, Its you thats happening, Frank. Its you.
Frank froze, aware that some part of him was in peril. His eyes riveted
to the Bible, Frank had the feeling that his head was about to explode
into a million tiny piece. Suddenly remembering the passage to which he
had opened the old worn Bible, a hand-me-down from his grandfather, he
felt his sense of sexual arousal diminishing, strained for all he was
worth to look back at the girl, who was gazing at him with the green
cat eyes. Her eyes, however, could not hold him this time, and he
looked back at the open Bible, saw in his minds eye the image of the
Son of Man, beaten, humiliated, suffering, dying a lonely death. In his
imagination, the image flowering in his mind, filling him with a sense
of the immensity of the Man of Sorrows, he remembered the Medieval
paintings in European museums, paintings depicting the Saviors agony
and knew for a certainty for the first time in his life that the Savior
had suffered for him. He had thought the museum images silly and
pathetic at the time, but now these same picture, bursting forth in his
imagination like fireworks on the fourth of July, overwhelmed with the
sense of a presence he could no longer ignore. The presence, beyond his
ability to articulate what it was, was as palpable as the floor he stood
"Hey," the girl whined from the bed, "hey, preacher. What the hell is
goin on here? What in the hell is goin on with you? I thought you
wanted me to take you to Hell and back. Cmon honey, lets go for a
ride." With this Karla slowly spread her legs, began massaging herself
between her legs, exposing the pink flesh Frank had spent most of the
afternoon thinking about.
Frank looked back at the girl, felt the fire of passion almost
rekindled, and then realized as if he had been hit to the side of the
head with a two-by-four that he had gone too far. In his heart, he knew
he could not have this girl. Unable to carry through with what would
have been an evening of delight, he slowly, somewhat reluctantly bent
over, retrieved his clothes, and began dressing.
Karla stopped massaging herself and, still lying on her back, stared at
Frank. "Wait a minute, wait a minute, preacher man," she said in an
irritable voice, "just you wait one fuckin minute. I come all the way
to this little shithole, at your request, to be stood up by you? You
come on to me, lick me, suck my nipples, and thats it? Thats it. You
piece of shit, Preacher. You piece of shit." She said this without
conviction, laughing almost, as if she had done no more that lose a card
game. Then she looked at the open Bible, realized what had sparked
Franks reaction, and then smiled. "Hey, Preacher, I did this for you.
And, Hell, God wont care. God never cares. Never. God thinks what
were gonna do is beautiful."
Frank hesitated, thought for a moment, felt he had to answer, so
responded, "I dont know what I am. Jesus, Karla, I honestly dont
know what I am at this point. And, yeah, God cares." At least I think
He does, Frank inward confessed to himself.
Minutes passed as Frank and Karla studied each other in the
partial darkness, the girls eyes showing fear and disgust. In the
stillness, Frank could sense that of the room Karla exuded a horrible
darkness. Yet, as the image of Jesus carrying the cross to Cavalry
painted itself in his mind, Frank felt the peace that had drawn him to
the ministry years ago, a peace that had eluded him for many years, ever
since his wife had left him. This is like the story of Christ calming
the storm, Frank thought, remembering how Jesus had slept in the bottom
of the boat bouncing wildly on the waves as the storm had raged around
the frightened disciples, who had finally awakened their master. Jesus
had calmed the storm with a word.
The girl suddenly sat up and hopped off the bed, on the side opposite
to where Frank was standing. "What the fucks this shit? What the
fuck, man? What is wrong with you? What s wrong with you? Whats wrong
with you?" she chanted, rage in her voice, waiting for Frank to respond
to her. " Give me my fuckin clothes, Preacher. Just hand em over, "
she asked, pointing to her shorts that lay in a bundle at Franks feet.
"Give em to me. Therell be another time."
"I dont think so," Frank murmured.
"Honey," Karla responded like a striking cobra, "you can count on it.
We will meet again, apple dumpling--and I wont let you off so easily
the next time." Now, she smacked her lips at Frank.
Uncertain about what Karla meant, Frank kneeled down, grabbed the pants
and tossed them to her. "Wheres your shirt?" he asked.
"In the bathroom, theyre in the bathroom," the girl pouted back, her
disgust not sufficient to hide the fact that she seemed hesitant to go
past or even near Frank.
"Get your shirt on and please leave," Frank said, buttoning his pants
and looking at the wall over the bed. "Just please leave. Get out of
here. I cant do this. I wont do this. Im sorry...."
In a flash, the girl went by him and into the bathroom, then returned,
pulling her shirt on while heading to the door.
At the door, she looked back only briefly. Then, smiling coyly, she
hissed, it seemed to Frank, "Well meet again, Frank. Oh, yes we will.
You may not recognize me, but I will have you. I will fuckin have you.
That is one thing I know." Her departing words felt heavy to Frank, like
the Old Testament warnings of divine judgment. Quickly, Karla unbolted
the door, opened it, stepped outside, and slammed the door shut. The
room seemed to tremble in the dark wake of the Texaco girls departure.
On an overcast morning, Frank hit the road around 9:30, after a
breakfast of bacon and eggs at the restaurant attached to the motel.
Speeding to Albuquerque, Frank thought about the night before, wondered
why he had passed up an opportunity for an evening of incredible
sex. Doubt over his actions lingered. Had the images that had
flooded his mind just as he was removing his clothes the night before
come from his subconscious, which somehow then must carry the script of
the civilizations code--or did they genuinely come from God? Slipping
a tape on Derrida and the errors of deconstructionism into his radio,
Frank knew such speculation bordered on the preposterous.
He wondered how his friends would act, how they would expect him to
behave. Most of his intellectual friends, many still active in their
churches, believed the Gospels to be fabrications of a church intent
upon ruling the world. Jesus wasnt real, they asserted. One friend had
shown him a fifth gospel that presented a different view of the Son of
Man and pointed to the existence of more hidden "gospels" that would
invalidate Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. A former girl friend had even
convinced him that the very God he had worshipped as a teenager and
young man was merely a symbolic construct of a civilization whose
religion, art, literature, and community reflected the biases of the
Yet, the suddenness of the images, being flooded with a vision of the
Savior, had shaken him. He couldnt believe that the open Bible had
triggered the images. He could recall other instances when he had had a
girl in his motel room while his Bible lay open next to his bed, and
then he hadnt been overcome with such images. So what had been
different this time? Why now? Had he been repulsed by the upside-down
cross that Karla had tattooed between her breasts? This thought, too,
was absurd, for his mind had afforded the same validity to Satanism and
the occult as it had to the religion he was supposed to represent.
Besides, several of his close acquaintances claimed to worship at a
Suddenly, as a tape on Derrida played, deconstructing belief in the
existence of absolute reality, as the truck pictured in the rear-view
mirror moved right upon his black car like the hand of judgment, Frank
was seized by dread. It was as if something as tangible as an eagle
with huge wings had perched on his shoulders, wrapped itself around
him. And he felt, for the first time in many years, a fear of being
punished for transgression. His heart began to race, palms grew
sweaty, and beads of perspiration formed on his forehead. He tried to
reason away his fears as by-products of a dying culture.
As he drove, distracted, he felt the air inside the car becoming
unbearably hot, and felt he might catch fire if he did not act soon.
He wondered if he were going insane.
Fearing madness, he nevertheless took the next exit, headed for a mile
or two off the main freeway, and then pulled his car to the side of the
road, switched off the engine, and stepped out of the car. It was 3:45
in the afternoon, in the vicinity of the Painted Desert in northeaster
Arizona. He felt the suns flames licking him as he allowed his gaze
to wander over the empty, parched, yet hauntingly beautiful desert.
Huge desert mountains loomed to the north and south, and so he stood,
staring at the landscape which had always seemed to him the perfect
symbol for infinity and eternity.
Frank feared that he was lost. No longer did he know where he was
going in this dark world. No longer did he fully understand where he
had come from. He wondered, for the thousandth time in the past several
years, if God really did exist and, if so, if He could work through the
natural realm and drive one from transgression. I think that is
precisely what happened to me last night, Frank confessed to himself,
aware that a heart-felt confession of faith even out in this vast
wasteland would likely bind him to God forever--if God existed. He told
himself that if he knelt and prayed, if he said the words out of passion
and belief, then according to ancient scripture he would be transformed
in the twinkling of an eye.
The sun was becoming unbearable, its heat reminding him of medieval
paintings whose artists had rendered the fires of Hell in vivid reds,
yellows, and oranges. He paused, sweat pouring from him, exhausted,
thought of the Texaco girl, saw in his minds eye the red blazing
Texaco star looming over her station (A kind of pentagram? he
wondered), blamed himself for passing up the golden opportunity, thought
for an instant of getting in his car and heading back to Hurricane when,
inexplicably, as if he had been pushed, he dropped to his knees beside
his car. On his knees, staring at the ground stretching out before him,
he waited and waited; he wasnt sure why he waited, just felt it was
something he must do. Then, sorrow and joy simultaneously pouring into
and exploding inside him, Preacher Frank saw a small reddish-brown
lizard scramble through the hot gravel away from him as, for the first
time in over twenty years, he began to recite the Lords Prayer
SOMEWHERE BETWEEN TONOPAH AND BEATTY, NEVADA
by rich logsdon
Driving through the Nevada desert at 2:30 on a cold March night reminded Nick of journeys into the underworld. He had read about these mythic journeys in college literature classes. Nick imagined that he was guiding a ship down a river into the driest region of hell where the dark sky was like soft black lead, almost palpable.
Nicks reverie was broken by harsh winds. Typical of early spring in the high desert, cold winds buffeted Nicks car, occasionally causing him to grip the steering wheel to prevent the car from jumping off the road. A half-moon hung suspended overhead, a scythe in the night sky. Nick forced his thoughts away from death.
It was spring break, and Nick and his wife Stephanie had been driving since early morning from Eugene, Oregon, where both attended the graduate school at the university. Stephanie, originally from Minnesota, had never met Nicks parents. She especially wanted to meet Nicks father, a pastor in a Full Gospel church in Las Vegas.
Now somewhere between Tonopah and Beatty, Nick figured that theyd arrive at his parents house in Sumerlin, in the northwest part of Las Vegas, around six in the morning. Innocent and beautiful as an angel, Stephanie slept in the passenger seat.
The highway stretched endlessly beyond the headlights, set on bright. Peering into the sandy darkness, Nick barely made out the red tail lights of the car that had passed them half an hour ago. A native of Las Vegas, Nicky hated driving the Nevada desert.
Edgy because of the gusting wind, Nicky slowed to fifty-five, pushed the radio button, and found a Christian broadcast. The speaker was talking of Gods judgment. "Itll come upon you like a thief in the night," proclaimed the evangelist in a gravely drawl that Nicky recognized as belonging to Preacher Mike Woodrow. Now in his sixties, Preacher Mike had baptized Nicky when he was entering junior high. Nicky loved Mike, felt peace descending like a quilt, and turned the radio up.
Preacher Mike rolled on. "It might be today, it might be tomorrow, it might be next week, and it might be next year. Or it just might be next hour. But were all gonna be called to reckoning sooner or later, and were gonna hafta stand before the throne of God and when He asks what we done with our lives we gotta tell him. Oh, yes we do. We gotta give account, everyone of us, sooner or later. Some of us its sooner. Why, I feel the Spirit of God right now tellin me, tellin me right now that somewhere out there in radio land, someone, someonehe might be workin in a casino, he might be home, he might be drivin the desert at night--someone out there is gonna be called this very night to judgment. Oh, glory Hallelujah, praise God, lets pray, lets pray right now for that person, lets pray right now for that person who this hour will be called to eternity to meet the Master."
Same old same old, Nicky thought, smiled, and relaxed, recalling numerous sermons in which Pastor Mike had spoken like that. Nick couldnt wait to get home to see his parents and call on Preacher Mike.
Nicky listened to Preacher Mike explain how the prince of this dark world prowls the earth like a beast, looking for souls to devour, when he felt and heard, through the wind, something hit against the front right bumper. Fear shot through Nicks soul, and the night seemed to become darker. In the instant, Nicky had also heard a screech, something in pain. Then, Nick remembered seeing something dark along the side of the roadtwo shapes, really--a split-second before the impact.
Nicky wondered what he had hit. A wild dog or coyote, some animal walking across the desert highway. Something large. It could not have been a rabbit, Nicky thought as he pulled to the side of the road and stopped. For a moment, Nicky sat, looked through the wind at the dark night sky, and wondered why he felt compelled to stop and see what he had hit. Wouldnt it be better just to drive on? Nick asked himself.
Nick resigned himself to fulfilling what his father would likely call a moral obligation. "Back in a minute, sweetheart," he said quietly to his sleeping wife, putting the car in neutral and leaving the engine running. Stephanie smiled, her eyes still closed, and adjusted herself in the seat, which she had slightly reclined. Reassuring himself that his wife would be fine, that God carefully watched over his flock, Nicky left the radio on as he opened the door against the violent wind and stepped from the car.
About a hundred yards back, Nicky said to himself, walking with the wind at his back; thats where the impact occurred. In the cold darkness along the desert highway, the peace that he had felt moments before gave way to sickening unease. The darkness palpable, visibility intermittent, Nicky was thankful for the light of the half-moon. As he trudged along the highway, not another soul in sight, Nick remembered his mother telling him long ago, on dark haunting nights, that the light of the moon meant God was watching.
Suddenly, he stumbled against something big and nearly fell forward. What the hell is this? Nicky asked himself, realizing that whatever he had fallen over was much larger than a rabbit or a coyote. Fighting the wind, Nicky gained his balance, turned back, saw the dark form and knelt down.
It was a huge dog, a Rotweiler, Nicky thought, one of the largest dogs he had ever seen. The side of the dogs head was a mass of blood and its left leg was attached by a tendon to its body. His car had nearly taken the dog apart. This is death, thought Nicky. It is lying before me. Then Nick saw the leash attached to the dogs neck. Jesus Christ, thought Nick, Jesus H. Christ, looking around for another body but seeing nothing on the road or in the desert.
Slightly sickened, Nicky wondered what the dog had been doing in the desert at 2:30 in the morning. No one walks a dog after midnight in the desert. He wondered what had happened to the person holding the leash, if indeed there had been a person. Nick shook his head, looked at the moon, and decided to leave the dog along the side of the road. It was just as Nicky was rising that he heard the muffled scream through the howling wind. Ice sticks entering his heart, Nicky stood, frozen to the spot, just able to make out the shape of his car in the distance, the light inside the car on. This alarmed Nick, for the light came on only when the door was open, and Nicky had made sure both doors were closed.
Feeling darkness caving in around him, Nick knew in his heart that something had gone terribly amiss. Intuitively, he knew he and Stephanie were now involved. Stunned, his mind spinning, Nick heard another scream, this one louder, something a wounded animal would make. The sound came from the direction of his car. Instantly, as if experiencing a vision, he recalled seeing as a youngster a film of a mountain lion killing a deer. Just before its death, the deer had screamed, and Nick had been surprised at how human the deers death wail seemed. Then, the deers throat torn open by the predators powerful teeth, the lion had emitted a roar, this one deep, primordial.
His legs nearly buckling from fear, Nicky forced himself to run against the powerful wind to his car. He knew he should never have left his wife alone. Ten yards from the car, panting and wheezing, he saw through the sand gust that the passenger door was ajar and the passenger seat was empty.
"Steph!!" he frantically called, stumbling to his knees on the asphalt. "Steph!! Steph!! Steph!!" he bellowed, his mind dizzy from fear, "answer me! Honey, honey, honey, answer me! Are you all right? Where are you!!??" Nick listened to the howling wind, felt sand blown into his face, and waited, crouching on the pavement. Sensing the worst, he picked himself up and moved on.
When he reached the passenger door, he saw the car was empty. Nick stood, pressed his hand against the sides of his head, screamed in rage, cursed himself, and tried to collect his thoughts. Im being an idiot, Nick to himself. Shit like this does not happen out of movies and Stephen King novels. Shit like this just does not happen. He hoped that Stephanie had stepped out of the car to relieve herself in the desert. In his heart, he knew better.
Telling himself to stay put, Nick looked across the desert where he knew Stephanie must have gone and in the light of the half moon he could just make out a fence about forty feet off the road. Peering into darkness, he noticed that the ground between his car and the fence had been furrowed in the direction of the fence and imagined something huge dragging his wife through the desert. Fuck this, thought Nick, trying to ward off the dark thoughts. Fuck this; Stephanie must be on the other side of the road. But as he gazed through to the point where the furrows led, Nick saw a shape at the base of one of the fence posts, a dead animal perhaps.
Nick felt ice on his soul as he plodded across the desert to the shape. Five feet away, he knew for sure. He could smell it. He could feel it. The left side of her face a bloody pulp, Stephanies clothes--she had worn a gray University of Oregon sweater and gray jogging pants--were soaked in blood. Nicks scream tore the night sky, temporarily silencing the wind. Holding his head between his hands, sure that he had stepped into a nightmare from which he had to awaken, Nick dropped retching to the ground. Kneeling over the most beautiful woman he had ever known, Nick checked for signs of life.
He leaned down and put his ear close to her smashed nose and mouth to check for breathing. Nothing. He felt the neck artery for a heartbeat. Nothing. Frantic, he took Stephanies wrist in his hands and checked for a sign of life. Nothing.
Nothing. Nothing. Nothing. In the chilling emptiness of the Nevada desert, Nick put his arms around the limp body, embraced the body, prayed silently to his Savior, wondered what the Savior was thinking, and wept.
It was just as he heard her weakly moan and realized that Stephanie was still alive that he felt it. He had felt it before: the sure sensation of the presence of evil, and he could feel it at his back. The hairs on the back of his neck bristled, and his mouth went dry. Wishing that he and Stephanie had never left Eugene, wondering why they were not still in Eugene, snuggled against each other beneath the covers, Nick knew he had to turn. Sickened by the deadening presence, carrying his wife like a baby, Nick rose, turned around, and looked behind him.
Nick strained to see a huge man standing ten feet from him.
Well over six feet tall, wearing a long black coat that hung to his black boots, the hairy bearded man stood silent, his hateful glare hitting Nick like a fist, and Nick felt out of breath. Nick knew that he was powerless before this stranger, who stood between himself and the car.
Hands in his coat pockets, the man made no movement and said nothing. He simply glared at Nick. For a minute, Nick stared at the man, feeling light-headed, as if he had been transported into darker, insane world. His heart pounding wildly in his throat, he sensed that he had come face-to-face with the devil. He felt trapped and mortally afraid.
"Please," pleaded Nick, whimpering, clutching the limp body of his wife next to him, "mister, I gotta get my wife to the car. Shes been hurt. Bad. Real bad. But shes alive. She may not have long."
The tall dark man continued to glare at Nick. A dark, primeval thing, the man didnt move, didnt talk. A man without a soul was the thought that crazily went flying through Nicks mind, the incarnation of Satan.
"Hey, mister, its Stephanie, my wife. She nearly got killed, somehow, I dont know how." But even as Nick spoke, as he worked to talk himself out of the situation, Nick knew the story: the dog had belonged to the man, and the man retaliated. In response, the man grinned hugely, maliciously.
Knowing that he stood before something he could not defeat, Nick tried again. "Please, mister, please, in the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, oh please," he whimpered, "please let me take my wife to the car. Please, please allow me and my wife to live."
The wind blew harder, kicking up an enormous sandy gust that seemed to block the stranger from Nicks sight, and as Nick squinted through the impenetrable sandy darkness, he could no longer see the man. The wind died and in the light of the half-moon Nick felt the chill of death. He saw the man standing in front of him, two or three feet closer. Then the man reached into his pocket, took out a cigarette, lit it with a lighter in the impossible wind, and inhaled deeply. Finally, he spoke, very slowly, his low voice emanating from his own darkness: "Son, dont you ever use the Lords name around me. Dont ever say that name. Anyway, lets just fuckin see what the score is. First, that was my dog you killed. That was my fuckin dog. That was my only fuckin dog. Used to be my daddys dog, and when I was little I used to ride that hound like a horse. But it seems people always kill what belongs to me." There was no emotion, no feeling to the mans voice. It was a voice made of steel. The man looked straight at Nick, then at his wife, and for an instant Nick thought he could detect mercy in the mans movements.
"Im sorry about your dog, mister," Nick began, seeking the right words. "Im sorry, truly, truly sorry. God, I am sorry. But, mister," Nick added, beginning to tremble uncontrollably, "this is a woman you injured. A woman. My wife. This is a flesh and blood human being. We have to get her help." Nick felt dizzy, insubstantial, as he temporarily did not have a body.
The man sucked on his cigarette, the tip glowing like the pit of hell. "Youre right, boy," the big man began, cigarette still dangling from his mouth, "that is a human being that needs help. So was my mother, so was my daddy, so was my wife, so was my baby girl, my baby boy, and they was all killed by a train up in Missoula. Last year I think it was."
Nick dimly recalled reading about an incident in Missoula about a year ago. It had made evening news for one week straight. As Nick recalled, however, the people had been shot as they slept. The suspected murderer, some one named Jack or Jax, had not been found. A recent series of prostitute murders in the desert around Las Vegas had also been attributed to the Missoula killer, who had been spotted three weeks ago in a nude bar in North Las Vegas. His mother had kept Nick informed.
The wind died down, giving Nicks head time to clear. "I am very sorry about that. Thats awful. I remember reading about it. My God, my God, my God, I..., I... Im sorry for you. You have a right to be mad."
"I dunno," said the man, running the fingers of one bony hand through his dirty dark brown hair. "I just dont fuckin know no more. Maybe nobodys got a right to anything."
Then the man paused, never taking his eyes off Nick.
"But you know what, boy?" the man asked, defiance in his voice.
"What?" Nick asked, wishing that God would intervene and stop this conversation and let him and his wife go. Where the hell are you, God? Nick shouted inside his mind.
"I dont give a shit. I dont give a shit about anything no more. All the time, I feel dead inside, a walking dead man, wondering where his soul has gone. So, fuck me, kid, all Im doin is gonna even the score. As many ways as I can. I got that comin."
Nick stood still, clasping his wife to him, frozen in fear. Something wicked this way comes, thought Nick. For five minutes, the two men studied each other in the wind.
"Dont I got that comin?" the man asked, and Nick could hear the pain in the voice. "God Almighty Himself, he knows I got that comin!" The mans voice had built to a roar, and Nick quaked inside.
"I dont know," Nick responded, his mouth going numb from fear. And Nick realized that maybe he didnt know. Maybe he didnt know anything. Maybe there was no God. Maybe there were no absolutes. Maybe his Dad and Preacher Mike were dead wrong. Nick shuddered and, for the first time in his life, saw a cold dark empty universe. Death would be final, Nick thought. His mind spun out of control.
"Ever been to church, boy?" the man growled, his eyes riveted to Nick. "I think church is a good thing." The mans voice went right through Nick.
"Sure," Nick wheezed, gasping for breath, feeling like he was suffocating, "my dads a Holiness preacher. How about you?" Nick asked desperately, his voice shaking.
"Myself," said the man, inhaling and exhaling deeply on the cigarette. Smoked flowed like water from the mans mouth. "I was born and raised Pentecostal. Even wanted to be a preacher once, goin about the country preachin the gospel and bringin folks to the Lord. Goddamn, I use to pray to God to let me be a preacher. God! i would say when I prayed alone in my bedroom at night. God. Lemme serve you as a preacher. I got a heart for you, God. I wanna serveand pardon me for sayin His nameI wanted to serve Jesus. Hell, boy, people woulda called me Preacher Ray Jax and I woulda a been somebody. A regular Billy Fuckin Graham. But know what? You know what? I wound up working the rails. Just like my old man. Workin the goddamned rails. No fuckin sense to it. No fuckin sense to anything. I remember goin to prison outa high schoolI got blamed for some shit I never done--then I got out and went to work with Daddy. Did kill a couple men in prison, I gotta admit, but its dog eat dog in there. Anyway, I went back to the rails. Dont matter. I this dark world it dont seem to have made a lick of difference whether youre the guy that cleans shit outa animal cages in the zoo or the President of the United Sates. No difference at all. Rails was fine."
Then, the man stood slowly, almost graciously, like a dark prince, thought Nick. He is going to let me pass, Nick assured himself, relieved, feeling returning to his brain. He is going to let me live. Stephanie will be all right. All he wanted was to talk. Talking saved my ass, Nick assured himself silently; this guy just wants someone to talk to.
"You believe in God?" Nick stuttered, not sure why he asked this particular question, not sure why he didnt use that instant to dash to his car.
The man savagely snapped back. "Course I believe in God. Hell, devils believe in God. Problem is, God dont believe in me." The wind died, as if in response to this remark. Nick again felt the darkness caving in around him.
"No, no, no," Nicky replied, trying to summon courage and belief if only to save himself. "God is for everyone. Everyone. We can all go to heaven. You. Me. My wife. Your daddy. We all got a chance." Nick was not sure he believed what he said.
The big man inhaled deeply on his cigarette, looked away from Nick and up at the half-moon, and then said, "No sir. You are wrong there. You are dead, fuckin' wrong. God has cursed me to the ends of the earth, I do believe. I am like Cain though I sure as hell aint Cain. That's why shit keeps happenin' to me." Nick heard sorrow and grief in the mans voice and started to walk to the car. Nick knew this would be his only opportunity.
Nicks movement triggered a lightening response; and the man, seeming to grow even larger than before, quickly stepped in front of him. "Not so goddamned fast, boy," growled the man, using his arm to push Nick back about a foot and then reaching under his coat and slowly drawing forth a small handgun. "Not so goddamned fast. Not so fast. Not until you I give to you the prize you won tonight. Hell, boy, I do believe it is high time for you to meet your executioner, to go spinning into that great beyond that makes cowards of us all." Slowly, the man raised the gun and pointed it at Nicks forehead.
Fear came rushing back like a freight train, and Nick dropped to his knees, as if pushed, still clutching his wife. He could no longer feel, so he closed his eyes, told himself to pray, sought Gods forgiveness for his sins, wondered if there was a God, felt himself screaming inside, and saw only endless darkness, pure and absolute.
"God...." Nicky sobbed, terrified, losing all hope. "God, God, God...."
His soul breaking into a thousand pieces, peering into the
abyss, he suddenly saw a gentle explosion of light in his mind, felt the
light fill the universe and push away the darkness, and saw himself
and his wife.
In his minds eye, eternally young, he and Stephanie sat together in a boat on a lake just north of Eugene. Stephanie was pouring him some hot tea, his favorite beverage, and Nick could not recall ever having seen the water and the sky so blue. Nor could he recall feeling so happy, and he looked at the sun rising over the eastern horizon as a fish jumped nearby. Nick looked into Stephanies vivid blue eyes, smiled, and felt a dull pain coming from somewhere he could not identify. He and Stephanie would be on this lake forever. Nick wondered if he were in heaven.
The man fired once, the force of the blast pushing Nick backward as the bullet entered the young mans brain. The tall man lowered the gun, walked over to the still-twitching body and looked down. He noted that Nicks legs were bent underneath him and that he was almost smiling, and the tall man from Missoula hated Nick for that. There was a small blackened hole in the middle of the kids forehead. The man looked up at the moon and thought of the moons he had grown up seeing in Missoula. Then, still burning with cold rage, he looked down at Stephanie, whose body was sprawled awkwardly and face-down on top of her husband, wondered if she had been beautiful, raised the gun, pointed and fired two bullets into the back of her skull. When the woman jerked and gasped, the man knew he had killed another human being. Ecstasy temporarily filled his soul, and he felt like flying.
"This dont mean shit," he finally muttered to himself, sensing his own empty darkness return and wondering what would have happened if he hadnt pulled the trigger on the boy. In his heart, the man believed it didnt matter what would have happened. It was all the same.
Putting his gun back inside his coat, the man took the cigarette from his mouth and flicked it into the wind. No need for this shit, he thought, walking towards the road. No need for this shit at all. No need for anything. No sense to anything.
It had been a hard night, but it would be morning soon. And that would bring another hard day for the man, who walked past the still idling car and in the direction of Las Vegas.
TIME TO GO
I. Stephanie Thrush slouched on the metal bench in the darkened corner of the night club dressing room. She rested her back against the faded chipped green metal locker in which she had kept her dance outfits for the past four years. In a moment of dark confusion, her career as a dancer had ended that night, and so, a floppy brown Bible open next to her on the bench, she had spent the last fifteen minutes trying to meditate upon scripture, seeking promises shed once heard shouted from the pulpit. The words on the page, however, swam muddily before her, and thus she closed the book. The words seemed as dead to her as her own soul.
Silently cursing, Stephanie couldnt pray either. Half an hour before, eyes closed, head bowed, she had tried, words bouncing back like a rubber darts off a brick wall and wondered what had become of her soul. Surely, she knew what she was: a gorgeous blonde nude dancer with blue eyes, a nearly perfect figure, and a blue star beautifully tattooed over her left breast, who had nearly drained the bottle of Scotch, sitting upright at her feet. She wasnt sure of much beyond that and certainly did not know where she was going.
Music boomed steadily from the other side of the wall, and she sensed the dark addictive energy that had once fed her, heard the muffled laughter of men and women simulating sex, and now wanted no part of it. That dark world, partially illuminated by reddish stage lights, had been her world, one she had chosen as years ago she had angrily rejected her sister Rhonda, the unwavering self-appointed saint, cursing her sister violently one evening as the two had fought in the front room the night before Stephanies departure. Having bloodied her sisters nose, Stephanie had rejected Rhondas beautiful but oppressive stained-glass medieval world, according to which the devil prowled like a beast, looking to devour the innocent.
II. Now, feeling devoured, empty and inebriated in the back room of the night club, Stephanie wanted to turn back the clock, desperately wished she were sitting at home back in rainy and cloudy Seattle, watching TV with her sister, discussing scripture, going to church, anything. She felt dead inside and realized that she had felt that way for years. At that moment, sitting alone in the dressing room of the Vegas night club, absorbed in her sorrows, she would have given the family fortune to be with Rhonda.
Glancing almost resentfully at the closed Bible, Stephanie had seen her career derailed that night, hurtling suddenly like a speeding car off the freeway of success. For four years, she had performed nightly, stripping in front of hundreds of gawking, yelling men, doing dirty lap dances for favored customers. The most popular stripper at the Blue Star, situated on Industrial Road behind Als 24-Hour Towing Service, Stephanie Thrush had been making up to $500 per night, four nights a week. But now she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that her career had burnt out like a comet entering the atmosphere, extinguished by a visit from one whose bold voice had never left her dreams. Her thoughts clouded by the alcohol, she felt dimly afraid, yet knew she had to move on.
III. Nearly five years ago, she had moved out of the Seattle apartment she had shared with her sister. Sadly, Stephanie remembered that, a week before the fight and the move, she had just taken a job stripping in a club north of Seattle, and when she had excitedly told Rhonda the next morning, her sister had grabbed the old family Bible that generally stayed unopened on the coffee table in the middle of the room, and had reminded Stephanie again and again that the judgment of God was at hand for the entire world. "Check your watch, Steph, and check your soul," Rhonda would warn her, using her favorite expression, always adding, "Times running out." Rhonda would then launch into one of her sermons, and rather than give in to temptation and hit her sister, Stephanie usually left the apartment.
One night that week, however, as Rhonda read from Jonathan Edwards "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," Stephanie had lost it and attacked her sister with both fists. They had fought like wild cats, Rhonda the eventual loser. Later that night, at 3:00 in the morning, hours after the fight, still furious with her sister, Stephanie Thrush had moved out without saying a word and driven her dark blue Chevy Nova to Las Vegas in two days.
IV. With one hundred forty-seven dollars and fifty cents to her name, she had taken up lodgings in a battered sickly green and white trailer north east of the community college in North Las Vegas and had gone looking for a job the next day. Finding a job in Vegas was simple as pie. By evening, she had been taken on as a stripper at the Blue Star. After two years, she had earned enough money to move into an expensive townhouse situated just west of the city, on a small hill overlooking Las Vegas and affording a breathtaking view of dazzle and glitter. She had bought a top-of-the-line Infinity, a baby blue, to match her eyes. She had had several breast implants, which took her up to a size 38 D, and the much anticipated requests to pose nude for the magazines like Boob and Rear End had quickly followed. Her wardrobe consisted of the most expensive and most fashionable dresses on the market, Stephanies preference running to sheer outfits that showed off her beautiful figure and photogenic breasts. She had, in fact, appeared in adult films put out by a fledgling adult industry entitled Pornworld. The thought of having sex on screen had thrilled her and had succeeded, she had hoped, in putting an unbridgeable distance between her and her sister. In fact, she enjoyed doing the films a bit high. High was all right, since we was already mainlining speed and alcohol. Anyway, being high hid from her the growing emptiness that she had felt about a year after leaving Seattle, that engulfed her like a black hole, and that now, at times when she was alone and straight, threatened to devour her like some dark beast.
Yet, feeling somewhat triumphant with her new life, she had hoped never, never to see her sister again. At twenty-eight years of age, free of Rhonda and Seattle, Stephanie figured she had it made.
V. She now sat in the dressing room at the back of the club, wondering how the alcohol would affect her, wondering why the evening had turned out as it did. This evening had begun as any other. She had walked through the dark glass doors around six PM, inebriated but satisfied, having just allowed her boyfriends cousin Alex the Werewolf to screw her brains out in the restaurant down the street. After strutting into the back room and changing into a red and black string outfit that barely covered her nipples and crotch and putting on her high-heels, Stephanie had spent the first hour of the evening not dancing, just walking through the darkly lit joint, feeling her body wrapped in cigarette smoke and alcohol fumes, occasionally stopping to sit with a familiar customer, going into Guest Lounge for several dances and whatever else her customer wanted. By the time she had taken the stage at 7:30, she was smashed but already $246 richer than when she had come in. No doubt, shed told herself as she began removing her clothes on the stage to the beat of "Welcome to the Jungle," this is going to be another extraordinary evening.
Then, dancing sensuously, imagining a giant snake wrapped around her, she had noticed a stooped gray-haired old black man wearing sunglasses and making his way to a table just below the stage as she danced, using his white-tipped cane to find his way. She had immediately turned away from the man, turned back, turned away, then turned back. "Holy shit," she had gasped. She knew this man.
She had nearly frozen as knowledge came like a bolt of lightening shattering the darkness of her life: it was the one she and Rhonda had called Blind Preacher Ray, who sat like one who could see, put the floppy brown Bible on the small round table in front of him, and turned his face up toward Stephanie (dancing without a stitch on) through sunglasses whose wire, circular rims had become his trademark when, years ago, he had gone from church to church in the Seattle-Tacoma region, delivering sermons of such fire and brimstone that hundreds of sinners were reportedly saved each night.
Even as she had danced, the image of the snake retreating rapidly from her imagination, Stephanie had quickly remembered, in almost a visionary flash (a picture vividly expanding in her brain) that she along with her sister Rhonda, and her mother and father had attended Rays Pentecostal church in the low-rent section of Seattle years ago. Those had been good years, growing up in a church that rocked with gospel, that transcended racial and economic boundaries. It was a church that took care of its elderly and comforted the sick.
For an instant, now pushing herself to continue dancing, she had moved away to the other end of the stage, peering through smoky darkness of the club for familiar faces, tried to locate Dr. Burns, the devious, screwy-eyed college political science professor who always paid her well, then felt her head jerked forcibly around so that she had to look at the preacher, who blindly gazed up at her. It was as if two invisible hands had taken hold of her head and forced her to look towards the blind man.
Slowing her routine, still attempting to move with the music, unable to take her eyes off the blind man, she had felt like an insect under a telescope, a spider caught in the middle of its web, with an enormous eye watching her from above; she had recognized the sensation as marginally psychotic, and sensed her own guilt and failure melting in her guts like a huge block of ice. She had felt the eye before as she danced and had thought nothing of it. But now, she sensed that something was almost upon her, refused to look up, fearing she would be looking into the eye of God.
Going numb yet still mobile, fighting panic as the icy fear coursed like electricity through her, she had looked through the hazy glowing dark light, tried to lock eyes with the man behind the shades, the man who once knew her like a book, the one man apparently still capable of looking into the torn spider-web of her soul. Desperately, feeling the dark energy that had sustained her for four years flowing out of her, she had struggled to move numbly, slowly to the music, her routine dead, the audience losing interest as if on cue, all sound fading but the thumping of her own heart, and she almost screamed, "So, God, what am I supposed to do now?"
Now barely moving to the beat of the music, having run down like a wind-up toy, Stephanie had also remembered that she had had a Technicolor dream the night before about Ray singing in heaven with a choir of saints. She had clearly recalled that her sister Rhonda had been in the dream, standing next to Ray, who wore no sun glasses in the kingdom of Stephanies dream. Rhonda had been dressed in a gorgeous flowing white robe. The dream had struck her, as she awoke in the middle of the night, as both oddly comforting, certainly wonderful, and a bit frightening. She had wondered if she were going to die soon.
On the stage now, she had stopped, stood, and stared. And as she had gazed down at Preacher Ray, she had sought for rage to somehow sustain her dancing but felt only the compassionate soul beckoning her to come down and sit.
As the song stopped and she nervously stepped down from the stage and down the stairs, she had thought of Rhonda, knew this had to do with her sister, and walked to the Preachers table.
V. Clothed in her string outfit, feeling very much found out, Stephanie had sat in the stuffy worn chair next to the one occupied by Blind Preacher Ray, hoping this moment would pass, that she was having a terrible dream, knowing that his words would come, flowing like a river that poured from a source she no longer drank from. He had, after all, come for her. She was quite sure of that.
Sitting in the red felt chair, trying to watch the tall heavy blonde Magic go through her routine, Boston playing steadily in the background, Stephanie had felt her head throb with pain, her insides crumpling within her, and as she turned to the old man she knew that he would turn to her. He did, and she saw that he wore the same old huge gold cross that members of his congregation had given him as a Christmas present almost twenty years ago. (It was the year her father had been diagnosed with cancer and, prepared to die, had been prayed over by Blind Preacher Ray and some of the elders one evening in a Dennys restaurant just south of the church, where she, Rhonda, her mom and dad used to go for evening meals. A month later doctors could find no trace of her fathers cancer.) The effect had been instantaneous, as if she had suddenly pushed through the dark walls that had kept her locked in some dark dream of her own creation.
"Hey, daddy," she had called to him weakly, feeling like the little girl who had come to know Ray at church school over twenty years ago. She had hoped for mercy, felt like weeping, wanted to reach out and touch the blind mans face.
"Hello, Blue Button," the preacher had responded, using the name he had given her years ago when she had sung her heart out in the bathroom just behind the pulpit in the tiny hardware store where the mission congregation had gathered. Though she had no recollection of the event, she had been reminded of it until she graduated high school of the time that she had interrupted one of Preachers sermons with a song she had made up about blue buttons and angels.
Stephanie had breathed deeply, wished for a coat or something warmer to clothe her, felt chilled in the stuffy darkness of the nightclub. As always when she talked to this man, something stirred within her and, as she smiled, she felt that her soul was actually coming alive within her, that in time it could blossom as it once had. In the cold darkness of the club, she had felt the powerful warming presence of the man, and she sensed she was on the verge of beginning something new, though she didnt know what.
"What you doin here, Daddy," Stephanie had asked weakly, even compliantly, seeking strength but finding only a submissive spirit that gave way, as it had years ago, to the words of the one man who had always inspired within her a reverence for that which she now could not name. "Youre a long ways from home, Daddy." She had smiled weakly, hoping for a reaffirming response.
"Lookin for you, little one," had come the gentle answer, and the blind man had looked her way, seeing but not seeing, knowing immediately (she knew) the condition of her soul. She had felt him gazing into her with the eyes of his own soul and wondered if he could see anything.
"Lookin for me? Why?" she had asked, suddenly a child seeking assurance that everything was all right. An image of Rhonda, covered in blood, one arm having been bloodily blown away, had suddenly flashed through her mind, and chilled to the bone she wondered if she should get a drink. Instead, she had looked to Ray.
"Cause you need to come with me now, this night that you are called." Rays words, deep and tonal, had reverberated right through her, and it had made her think of the Old Testament, of how God spoke through his prophets.
Stephanie had felt as she were swimming in swirling dark water. Now just what is this all about, she had asked herself, unable to make sense of this encounter and thinking, This man I havent seen for years comes in my place and tells me its time to go, and I havent seen Preacher for years; havent seen anyone from home in years; dont want to. Then she had begun cautiously, testing the waters beneath the icy veneer of her own cultivated facade. "Thought you were dead, Daddy," she had laughed in a soft, timid voice that she hadnt used for years. She wasnt sure why shed said that.
"Whaddya see, child? Do I look dead to you? Besides, Lord got lots for me to do. Which is why I am here." Ray had laughed at this, a deep laugh from down in the spirit that as a young girl Stephanie had loved to hear. Now, however, her world moving towards transformation, Stephanie had to be careful. Hardened by the lessons of life, she intuitively knew she had to proceed gradually.
"Like, what? Get me away from here, take me home?" had come the question, Stephanie hoping briefly for one final evening on the stage. But in her heart, somehow, Stephanie had known that it was time to return, time to go back.
The Preacher had paused, looked up into the darkness above the stage, rubbed his right hand over his short-cropped gray hair, then turned again to look Stephanies way, and the slow urgency with which he moved told her, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that something was wrong, that this was an emergency, the end of something, and panic grew quickly in her. Stephanie shivered, hesitated, tried not to ask, then asked.
"Its Rhonda, isnt it?" she whispered, fearfully. Again, the bloody image of her sister flashed through Stephanies mind, her sister Rhonda, the only remaining member of her family. Stephanies parents had been killed three years ago as, driving from Seattle to Vegas, her own father at the wheel, both parents insisting on the visit, her parents car had collided head-on with a semi barreling down the wrong lane at two in the morning. An evil thing, both parents had died instantly, her mother decapitated, her father crushed almost beyond recognition. She had seen Rhonda at the funeral and afterwards had fought verbally with her sister, the two nearly coming to blows again.
Stephanie had remembered this now as the Preacher raised his head, looked at the stage, set his jaw and pursed his lips as he had always done when he was near tears. Stephanie knew the mans emotions, recognized them now as her own, felt anguish for her sister.
"What happened to Rhonda?" Stephanie had gently demanded, sitting upright, facing the Preacher. Realizing she did not hate her sister, she was near tears. "Is Rhonda all right?" She felt the freezing iron chords of fear unravel and continue to melt in her stomach.
The Preacher had slowly turned his face toward her, the sounds fading, and said, "Rhondas dead, Blue Button. Rhondas dead. Died three nights ago. Time for you to come on home."
Stunned and shamed into silence, Stephanie had looked up at the darkness hovering over the tables and stages, wondered who or what might be up there, allowed a bloodied image of bats and demons to pass through her brain, realized she was losing touch with the world around her and then shivered slightly. She didnt want to hear that Rhonda was dead. She wished Ray had stayed away.
"Happened late at night in a supermarket parking lot, honey, a truly evil thing," the Preacher began in a slow drawl that he always used in moments of tenderness, "when she was walking out of the store to her car. Pack of kids, wild things, drive by, hang a shot-gun out a back window, and shot your sister dead. Blast nearly tore her apart some people say. Some woman wont give her name seen it from her car; says Rhonda must have died instantly."
Stephanies mind reeling, she had thought for an instant of getting sick and wondered if somehow she had wandered out of one nightmare and into someone elses nightmare. Just twenty-four hours ago, she had recalled, she had been dancing happily on this stage, knowing that at 2:30 her boyfriend Carl the Jinx would pick her up in the parking lot out front and take her home. Tomorrow she was supposed to visit her agent and the companys new producer, always looking for easy chicks. Now this horrible thing.
"It happened three nights ago?" Stephanie had asked, slowly turning to face the Preacher. "I didnt know. I should know. I shoulda known. You or some one shoulda called. Shit." Stephanie had felt suddenly dizzy, light-headed, a bit panicked, as if the floor of the universe had dropped out below her. "Shit, shit, shit."
Wondering if she should cry, wondering why she didnt cry, Stephanie could still feel the ice in her heart melt, old feelings return, knew again the agonizing guilt she had experienced after hurting her sister and then leaving Rhonda in the dead of night. And she realized that, in the back of her mind, she had never considered a reconciliation with her sister an impossibility. Indeed, in her heart, she had counted upon some kind of reconciliation at a future point in time, perhaps just before one of them died. Now, it was too, too late, and Stephanie felt very much alone.
She had put her head in her hands, closed her eyes, breathed deeply, and tried to pray. She had not expected this in the darkly crowded night club.
As she had known he would, Ray had leaned over toward her, almost as if he could see her, bent low towards her, put his arm around her shoulder. "Got somethin for you, Blue Button. I want you to take it. Its here with me. Here it is; heres a vision," Ray had whispered now, as he had always done when speaking of something truly sacred. "Get ready to see something, little Button. Just lean back, relax, close your eyes. Its all right, honey. Just close your eyes, nobody gonna hurt you, and listen and youll see."
What in the hell is this, Stephanie had thought to herself, opening her eyes for an instant and glancing at Ray, now inches from her, hearing the constant music but no longer feeling it. What the hell is this? She had trusted the man, knew he would never harm her, but this request was unsettling
"Whats that, Daddy? Close my eyes and get ready for what?" Stephanie was more confused than defiant. She had looked hard at Preacher Ray, and he turned his head in her direction, and she knew he could see her. She wanted his direction.
"Just relax and close those beautiful blue eyes. Lemme give this to you," was all he said, his voice soothing as a summer shower after a heat wave. And, without questioning the Preacher again, she had muttered, "Oh, what the hell?", leaned back, rested her head on the soft back of the chair and closed her eyes. "Shoot, Daddy," she had said. "Lemme have this vision," she stated, not quite believing what was about to occur.
Then, waiting, Stephanie had remembered, years ago, that several members of the congregation had from time to time experienced visions in the form of dreams. Visions were always from God, not a manifestation of deeply buried and unresolved conflicts. Let it come, she told herself; let it come, oh, please let it come my way.
"Im ready," Stephanie had finally said, bracing herself as the old man leaned over and, very gently, placed his hand on her forehead.
"In the dream," Ray had begun, his voice slightly rising, the words flowing through her like warm milk and honey, "I am standing on a mountains, clothed in a white robe, the greenest trees surrounding us, the sky so blue it hurts to look. This place is Eternity. And on that mountain side I stand with Jesus, your momma, your daddy, and Rhonda. They are all together, happy, like we all used to be, singing, swaying , holding hands, and between songs Rhonda asks about you, about how she and her parents missed you and look forward to seeing you. Then we all kneel and sing, the breeze whipping through the tires a sure reminder of the presence of the spirit of God."
Before Stephanie had had time to comment, she had felt the sensation of warmth flowing around and through her and was reminded of how she had sometimes felt during Rays sermons years ago. And then, almost without having to think, a picture had formed itself in her mind, like a movie on a screen, and she could see the mountains, huge, towering, and green, waterfalls beautifully cascading down the sides through the trees that were the greenest that Stephanie had ever seen. Relaxing, eyes shut, Stephanie had let the vivid blue sky surround her, enfold her, and felt the ground under her feet and the breeze moving through the trees, realizing that somehow she had entered this place that Ray had given her in the form of a vision, saw her father, her mother, and her sister standing not twenty feet from her, dressed in glorious colors of red, green, yellow, and white. Behind them stood a tall wiry handsome black man, smiling at her knowingly, and she knew it had to be the Preacher. And next to the Preacher stood one whom she had seen and known before, light emanating gloriously from him....
The vision had ended abruptly, and Stephanie was left in total darkness. Am I dead, or am I dreaming? she had asked herself. Afraid, she struggled to sit up, terrified, opened her eyes, heard the music and smelled the smoke and alcohol, and realized that she was still in the night club, seated next to the Preacher. Her ears buzzing, feeling indescribably different, she had asked, "What was that?"
The Preacher looked at her, smiled, said, "That was the vision."
Struggling to gain her bearings, her sense of reality, Stephanie had sat back, sighed, and wondered if someone had laced her drinks earlier in the evening with some hallucinogenic wonder-drug and realized that was not likely. She had fought to regain that which she had lost in the last few minutes. "People dont have visions, Ray, and I sure as hell dont know what that was. Wasnt any damn vision." Yet, she did not doubt that she had seen something.
Finally, "What you want with me?" she had asked, yielding. The music was pounding in the background again, and one of her closest friends in the club, a black girl named Rhea, had taken the stage.
"I want you to come back with me is all," had been the answer, a small still voice calling to her through the hazy darkness of the club.
"Preacher, Daddy, " Stephanie had begun, "I got nothing to go back to if youve come to take me home. My homes here now, Daddy. Please try to understand that." She had known arguing would be futile, knew that she now had no home, but had to try anyway even though, at this moment, she had felt certain that she would be leaving Las Vegas.
"Huh-uh, no its not here, your home, Baby Blue," the Preacher had corrected her. "The Lord says it is time to leave this place. So you come with me. Ive come to take you, honey." Again, Stephanie had felt the pull of the still silent voice, sensed she was being pulled out of some kind of cave.
Fighting to resist the Preachers words, Stephanie had known she had already lost the battle, felt within herself a caving in, an acquiescence to the Preachers words, like some force both inside and outside of her was not letting her make up her own mind, pushing her to consent to go with the Preacher.
Stephanie had sat there, alone, for an hour, the Preacher right next to her. This, she told herself over and over, was totally fucking impossible. A Preacher comes into where I work, touches my forehead when I have my eyes closed, and I have a fuckin dream or vision?? No, this was impossible, she silently reminded herself. This is stupid. Stupid, stupid, stupid. Yet, finally, sensing something inevitable, Stephanie had given in. She could not fight this.
Time had come. She had opened her eyes and looked square at the Preacher. "Ill meet you outside the front door, Daddy," she had said, slowly rising from her chair, her legs weak and trembling, feeling no longer an attraction to the bar, only a deep, dark emptiness that she feared but that she knew would be filled if she followed Ray. In her heart, she had known she had to go.
As she began her walk to the back dressing room, Ray had risen from his seat, and tapping with his cane on the ground, made his way in the direction of the two glass entrance doors. As soon as she got into the back, she would open her locker and take out the floppy brown Bible that she had carried with her ever since she had left Seattle. It was the Bible that had belonged to Rhonda.
VI. Slamming her Bible shut and looking up at the dark patch brooding above her, Stephanie stood groggily from the bench. She was fully clothed with her New York Yankees baseball cap on her head, a Detroit Red Wings sweater, blue faded jeans, and sandals, all gifts from Carl the Jinx. Time to go, she thought to herself. Time to leave this fuckin place, start over, she told herself, rising from the bench, kicking the bottle aside and walking through the door into the club, then walking through the dark club to the big glass door that led to the outside world.
It was just as she put her right hand against one of the glass doors and pushed outwards that she remembered, as if someone had just struck her to the side of the head with a two-by-four, that Preacher Ray had been dead for three years or so. She remembered with the astounding clarity of a new church bell the morning of her parents call as she had sat in front of the tube, watching Jackie Gleason reruns late one afternoon. "Preacher Ray is dead, honey," Stephanie remembered her mother saying, tearfully, over the phone. "He died in his sleep a couple nights ago, God bless the man. One of the elders just found his body in his bed." It was at that moment in her life that Stephanie had felt something die inside, a light go out. She had wept briefly over the death of the one adult in this world who could love and forgive her, and by afternoon was watching her soaps.
She thought now, this night, of the announcement of Rays death, confused, stunned, as she opened the glass doors and strode into the parking lot at 2:15 AM., a sliver of a moon overhead. Looking around, she did not see Ray, knew in fact that Ray would not be there, then suddenly understood Rays message, his words "Time for you to go home" making complete sense as she looked up, startled by the screech of car tires close to her, the blazing headlights nearly blinding her, saw the dark blue Chevy Nova boring down on her at top speed, saw, heard and felt the dull thudding and bloody impact of her body against the cars front end as, spraying blood, she flew into the air, free as a bird in flight, lifted off the earth, aware that she had just left this world, feeling no pain, joyful about seeing Rhonda and her mom and dad. Its where she belonged.
She knew too that Ray was waiting for her on the mountain side, standing in a sea of the bluest sky imaginable, a place with an eternally blazing sun, and she swore she could hear the singing of heavenly hosts. Now, floating in a beautiful haze of blue, she couldnt wait to get there.
by Rich Logsdon
I found a dimpled spider, fat and white
On a white heal-all, holding up a moth
Like a white piece of rigid satin cloth
Assorted characters of death and blight
Mixed ready to begin the morning right,
Like the ingredients of a witches broth
A snow-drop spider, a flower like froth,
And dead wings carried like a paper kite.
What had the flower to do with being white,
The wayside blue and innocent heal-all?
What brought the kindred spider to that height,
Then steered the white moth thither in the night?
What but design of darkness to appall
If design govern in a thing so small.
Design by Robert Frost
Late one cool fall afternoon in Las Vegas, a shivering, slightly
inebriated Bill Spinx sat alone in his lawn chair in his back yard,
the surface of the water and touched him to the bone as the sun sank
behind the blue-gray mountains to the west. He wondered when Uncle
Mark, driving down from Boise, would arrive. Soon, it would be dark and
he would have to return to the house, trudge upstairs to his study, and
prepare for tomorrows lecture on his favorite topic,
socioculturally-induced mental disorders.
For now, he found refuge outside, in the darkening afternoon, away from
the battle raging within his household. The breeze, generally a
foreshadowing of a storm this time of year, felt good. He wondered how
Uncle Mark, a rough man he had always looked up to as a father and
hadnt seen for years, would handle the situation. When Bill was much
younger, his Uncle Mark had always known what to do. Uncle Mark had even
gotten Bill out of jail once.
The shouts and screams echoed from the house, a beautiful wood and
brick two-story located in northwest Las Vegas, and he knew that his
wife Gretchen was once again letting Justin have it with the board, the
belt, or a rolled-up newspaper.
The day had just gone bad. Having talked over the phone the evening
before with his uncle, who was spending the night gambling in Reno,
Bill had driven into the garage at 2:30 that day in a terrific mood.
His last classthe History of Violence in Cinemahad finished by two.
Predictably, upon walking through the door from the garage, he had
found the children lying on their stomachs in front of and gazing up
at the television, a gigantic Toshiba with a 37" screen, both
anticipating an afternoon of action-filled cartoons.
The "good stuff," his eight year old son Justin insisted, started
around 3:00. About a year ago, Justin had found a station specializing
in childrens cartoons, some that Bill had ever heard of. The three to
four hour cartoon-a-thon consisted of some familiars, such as "Raiders
of the Lost Ark"and "Smurfs," but included as well some hed never
heard of: "Savage Sisters," "Darkling Plain," "Rodent Feast" (this one,
Justin had insisted over dinner one night, was hilarious), "Twisted
Terror," "Vampire Vixens," and the like.
With Justin and his sister Lisa watching the tube, Bill and his wife
had sat down at the kitchen table to enjoy a late lunch of warmed-up
three-day old Dominos pizza and Coors beer. Between them, they went
through at least a case a week. After about ten minutes and three
beers apiece later, they had heard their darling five-year old Lisas
shrill scream, followed by an exchange that had become as much a part
of family ritual as evening prayers:
"Fuck you, Justin!!"
"Fuck you, Lisa."
"Fuck you, asshole!!"
"Fuck you, you little cunt!"
Next came the loud slap and more screams and crying from Lisa. They
knew Justin was punishing his sister once again and they tried to ignore
the commotion. As Bill and his wife ate and drank, the screams had
slowly subsided. Then all had gone quiet save the unmistakable sound
two cartoon characters slugging it out on the set.
After several minutes of unnatural silence from both children, Bill
and Gretchen had bolted like race horses from the table and into the
family room where they had found Justin suffocating five year old
Lisa with the red and white sofa pillow that Bill had given
Gretchen last Valentines day. Lisas muffled screams and twitching
legs told the parents that she was still alive.
These "attempted homicides," as Gretchen had jokingly labeled Justins
attacks on his sister, had become common household occurrences in
the last six months but up until today had always occurred early in the
morning or late at night. Justin was now seeing a therapist, Dr.
Harvey Mellon, one of Bills associates at the college, three times
a week, but aside from finally agreeing to say prayers with the family
at the dinner table, Justin had made no improvement.
This afternoon, before the proverbial shit hit the fan and Justin was
once again either denied television privileges for the next three days
or whipped silly by his mother, Bill had grabbed what remained of
his pizza as well as two six-packs of Coors from the fridge and had
high-tailed it out the back door and onto the patio. There he could
finish his lunch in relative peace, drink as much beer as he liked,
gaze at his own dark reflection in the pool, and hope for his uncles
arrival, which would certainly force a peace onto the household. Bill
had decided months ago to leave the discipline up to his wife, a tall
and thin dark-haired woman of Northern European descent whose ideas
of family discipline were likely derived from the literature of the
He watched the sunset, always glorious in southern Nevada, the yellows
and oranges giving way to red, purple and dark blue and wished that he
were aboard one of the jets now streaking into the western horizon.
Taking enormous gulps of his cold beer, he remembered that the
tremendously over-weight Dr. Mellon had warned Gretchen and him never to
punish their children by denying them the simple technological pleasures
of late twentieth century America. "Why punish yourself by turnin off
the television or the computer, which you both gonna wanna watch
anyway--and guaranteein a fight between the kids?" Dr. Mellon had
gasped and wheezed over cookies and Pepsi late one evening about a
month ago. He had been invited for dinner and, complaining of stomach
pains after a desert of chocolate cake and ice cream, had requested to
Taking another enormous gulp of beer as darkness began spreading
across the sky, Bill angrily recalled that Mellon had continued:
"Stroke the little buggers when they do somethin right. Just stroke em
and stroke em. They love that." At that point, Bill remembered that
the wheezing Mellon had bitten into one of the enormous
chocolate-chip cookies that his wife generally saved for the kids.
"Hell," puffed Mellon, breathing cookie crumbs onto his clothes and
onto the floor as he talked, "if that fails to do the trick, jes
take a old leather belt to their bare little bottoms." Mellon paused to
drain his third can of Pepsi. "Yknow," he belched, "pain can be a
great motivator." Mellon had chuckled as he had wobbled out of the
Spinx front door, his bulging stomach now packed: "Back to home, Daddy
always whipped my ass if I got outa line."
On his sixth can of Coors, munching on old pizza and staring into the
pool, Bill thought it curious that his obese colleague was unmarried
and, as far as he knew, had no children or girlfriends. Bill also
wondered how this huge man, responsible for advising parents, had
ever made it through his first two years of college.
Right now, because his son had once again tried to terminate his
sister, Bill took the safest course of action, drinking beer and
waiting for the evening star, some symbol of hope, to appear just over
the mountains to the west. He loathed all forms of violence; his
parents Thomas and Eunice had never laid a hand on him; but, when he had
reached his eighteenth birthday, Eunice had given him two hundred
dollars, a sack lunch, some old clothes, a foot in the rear end, and
told him to hit the road.
With the disappearance of the sun behind the mountains, the breeze
became a wind. He could hear the shouts and screams continuing from the
house and knew that Gretchen had finally lost her patience and was
likely chasing Justin up the stairs with some kind of weapon. Little
Lisa was probably laughing hysterically; nothing pleased her more than
to see dear old mom whip her brother senseless, and when the beatings
began Lisa would normally position herself about five feet away from
Justin, making sure that he could see her, and laugh silently as
Gretchen began the punishment with the usual, "Honey, this is going to
hurt your mother more than it hurts you."
Bill was normally not a religious man, and had given up reading the
Bible several years ago, but the hour of desperation had come. On his
eighth can, he realized that things could get no worse. He stood,
thanked the good Lord for his job, his wife, and kids, looked down at
the pool, thought about diving in, and prayed that peace would be
established in the Spinx household before Uncle Mark arrived from Reno.
Mark was one of the last surviving relatives outside Bills immediate
family and Bill hadnt seen the man for twenty years.
After his brief prayer, Bill sighed, reached for another Coors, lay
back on the lawn chair, and closed his eyes. Breathing deeply to
force himself to relax, he tried to envision himself as a huge bird in
flight, but he only saw himself as a bat, blindly flying through
impenetrable darkness. He remained tense as a board as the shouting
As he lay there, he thought again of Uncle Mark, the gaunt man with
midnight-black hair wearing red long-sleeved shirt and black trousers
and grinning hugely in the family picture Bill kept over the
television room sofa. Marks expression reminded him of a movie he had
seen as a child, "Mr. Sardonicus," about a man who had dug up the body
of his deceased wife to reclaim a winning lottery ticket and had turned
into a ghastly grinning ghoul. Bills wife and daughter had asked
numerous times that the family photo be taken downit was enormous,
occupying most of the wall behind the sofaand put in the study or,
more appropriately, burned out back late some night when no one could
report a neighborhood fire. One night last month, Lisa had awakened
screaming and crying. She had dreamed that she had been standing in
the living room when Uncle Mark had stepped out of the painting,
grabbed her with hands whose fingers resembled knives, and then begun to
eat her arms and legs.
Of course, loyal to the family of his birth, Bill had refused to move
the picture. "It stays right there, boys and girls," Bill had asserted
at the dinner table the very next night, bringing his fist crashing
down onto the table like a bowling ball. Gretchen and the kids had
jumped in their chairs, put their heads down, and silently resumed
their meal of steak and potatoes. No more was said about the picture.
While he looked grotesque in the photo, Mark was a good man; Bill
was quite sure of that.
After all, when Bill was growing up in Boise, Idaho, it was his Uncle
Mark who had taken Bill and his brother Maurice to the movies ("Mr.
Sardonicus" among them), to ball games out at the old Braves field, to
the Meridian race track to watch "demolition derby," to the occasional
boxing matches held at the Idaho State Fairgrounds. It was Uncle Mark
who, as Bill and his brother began to show an interest in girls, had
provided his nephews an unending supply of booze and condoms. "Boys,
you just cant have enough of these," Mark had said late one
Thanksgiving afternoon as he and his two nephews sat under the shade of
the old oak tree in his mothers backyard. Bill had noticed, at the
time, that Mark, grinning grotesquely, was holding a package of
He remembered as well the vicious stories his relatives circulated
about Mark, but everyone in his family had spread nasty rumors about
other family members. There were Berthas improbable stories about
Marks cooking his poodle in an oven, about Marks having sex with his
Bertha and his own mother, about Marks neglect of his own wife, and
about Marks going to jail for beating a man to death at a local bar.
As he awaited his uncles arrival in the twilight, Bill sadly
pondered the recent near deaths of his mother and her sister Aunt
Berthathey had been badly injured in a garage fire three weeks ago at
his uncle Marks home in Meridian, Idaho. Apparently, a friend of
the family had attempted to bring murder charges against Mark;
however, nothing could be proved and in anger Mark had decided to
spend the next two and a half weeks getting out of the Boise valley and
heading to greener pastures.
It was now dark. Bill sighed, looked up from the lawn chair and
realized he had nodded off. He felt dizzy, opened another Coors, and
brought the can to his lips. There was no moon in the night sky, only
an occasional star. The wind pounded against the house, but he had no
desire to rejoin Gretchen and the kids. He wished at that instant for a
cigarette, remembered that he had left his pack inside his briefcase,
which was sitting on the floor of the study. Suddenly he realized the
screaming inside the house had ceased. Relieved, even stunned, he arose
from the lawn chair and, can of beer in his right hand, headed into
He found Gretchen and the kids seated in the living room, in a row on
the couch, glumly silent. The shattered television screen had a large
hole in the center, through which a wisp of smoke drifted. Seated
across from them in the black leather chair was a hugely grinning man
he knew had to be his Uncle Mark, holding a cigarette between two
fingers of one hand while calmly blowing smoke rings that swam through
the dim light provide by the table lamp next to him.
Still thin as a post, Uncle Mark had a dark gray beard and mustache,
which gave him a certain dignity. His hair was receding and met
in a widows peak at the top of his forehead. Bill noticed that
Marks fingernails had yellowed from tar and nicotine and that Mark was
wearing a black leather jacket, a bright red shirt, and faded blue
"Why, Uncle Mark!" William exclaimed, head spinning from having
consumed nearly two six packs, "youve arrived!!! Glad tsee ya."
Bill stumbled across the room and, after Mark put his cigarette in his
mouth and arose from the chair, shook the hand of the uncle whose coming
had somehow brought peace.
"Hey, Billy," rasped Uncle Mark, his voice showing the effects of
smoking over three packs a day for the past thirty years, "how the hell
are ya? Ya son-of-a-bitch, where ya been?"
This was the Uncle Mark of old, a man who said whatever came to mind,
regardless of who was likely to be offended--and plenty of family
members had been deeply offended. Bill overlooked the reference to his
own mother and quickly gulped the remains of the beer he had carried
into the house.
"Fine, Uncle Mark, just fine. I was outside getting some fresh air.
Didnt know youd arrived," Bill responded with a slight belch. He
looked at his wife and kids; though somewhat inebriated, he read the
numbing power of fear in their expressions.
Mark sat down, stared at the photo over the sofa. "I was just tellin
Shirley an the kids here about your mommy an your daddy. Which I
didnt know your daddy real well. Always seemed like a good guy, yknow,
one of us, but always told me to stay away from your ma," Mark paused,
took a drag on his cigarette, exhaled slowly, and continued.
"Uh, thats Gretchen, not Shirley," Bill corrected his uncle. Mark
acted as if he hadnt heard his nephew. Bill looked at Gretchen and the
kids, who remained rigid, speechless, white as sheets.
Uncle Mark now looked at Bill, squinted through the smoke coming from
the cigarette he held between his thumb and forefinger, and pointed the
free middle finger at his nephew. "Now, Billy boy, it does sound like
you been havin some trouble with your offspring here. Oughta keep em
more in line."
The cigarette went back between Marks lips. "And fuckin-A, son, on
the very goddamned night when your sweet ole uncle arrives all the way
from piss-ant little Meridian, Idaho. Now that is showin, Billyand I
speak with the utmost fuckin respect, maam--what people in our family
used to call real bad manners." His speech over, Mark grinned horribly,
cigarette held between huge yellowing teeth.
"Shit, boy, I musta rang that door sixty, seventy times, all a while
hearin screamin and hollerin your wife and kids make, shee-yit, and
decide just to take my chances and come on in. Come on in, Mark, I says
to myself. So I did. When I walked over the threshhold an in through
that damned door," here Mark gestured toward the door for emphasis,
"what I see but old Shirley here--uh, Gretchen, xcuse me--whalin the
shit outa junior there on the stairs. Cant stand to see that kind of
shit, a parent beatin up on a kid, so I grab her by the hair, put this
to her forehead"--here, Uncle Mark pulled out a small pistol from his
coat--"an just told her tstop." Marks eyes were big as saucers as
he told the story. "She just shut up and went to the sofa with them
kids and sat down, not sayin nothin, just listening to old Uncle Mark
talk about your mommy an daddy. Hehehehe. Course, I wouldnt
never have used the gun on her or the kids. At least not right away.
(Hehehehe, thats a joke, nephew.) Then, cause its showin some crap
flick bout a guy diggin up his wifes grave , I blew out your
goddamned set. POW!" Here, rage etched on his face, Mark pointed the
gun at what remained of the television. "About which," and here the old
man took a deep drag on his cigarette, the rage gone, "I am truly
sorry. Id like to buy a new one when I get the money."
Bill stared at the old man, pursed his lips, and nodded to himself.
Sweet mother of god, Bill thought to himself, some people just do not
change. His family members always used to talk to each other this way.
Of course, no one had ever really used a gun, but he had grown up with
guns and, at one point in high school, had threatened to use one on a
boy who had been dating his girl friend. Uncle Mark had been the only
family member, however, to really support Bill in this situation.
"Well, thank you Uncle Mark," said Bill, seating himself next to his
uncle and attempting to regain some degree of control, "I appreciate
the offer. And I was wondering, Uncle, could I bum a smoke?" "Thats
my Billy," rasped the old man, reaching inside his coat for a pack of
Camels, which he extended to his nephew. Ever since the Korean conflict,
Uncle Mark had smoked nothing but Camels. "Now, why dont you an
Shirley here just tell ole Uncle Mark ("Thats Gretchen," corrected
Bill.) what in the hell is goin on in this crazy house."
Bill inhaled deeply on the cigarette. Looking at Gretchen and the
kids, still sheet-white and frightened, he began recounting the
problems with his son Justin, the advice from Dr. Mellon, and the
recent altercation of the day. Mark listened patiently, occasionally
exclaimed something like "Jesus H. Christ!", smoked four or five
cigarettes until, one half-hour later, the room was so thick with
smoke that Bill couldnt see the books lining the shelves behind the
When Bill finished, Gretchen and the kids were coughing but saying
nothing. "Mind if I open the door, uncle?" Bill asked.
"Dont mind at all," came Marks response, dragging deeply on a Camel he
had smoked to the nubbins.
William opened both the front door and the back door, expecting a
strong wind to blow through the house. Oddly, it was as if the wind
refused to enter full force, sending a timid breeze instead. It had
begun to rain outside. The smoke inside seemed remain in small
clouds, clinging to the objects of the room. Uncle Mark continued to
puff away, staring thoughtfully off into space.
"Yknow, boy, I always liked you, you been like a son to me, so Im
gonna shoot from the hip. Uh, thats a joke, maam," Mark added, looking
at Gretchen. "This shit aint Justins fault. Sure, hes a little bad
ass; but he aint the problem."
Uncle Mark squinted harder at Bill this time. "Its yous the problem,
Billy boy, sittin out by your damn pool, gettin drunk, while your
little lady here whales the daylights outa your son and the little girl
here thinks its funny." Mark paused, put one cigarette out in the
ash-tray hed placed on his lap and lit another. "Anyone should be
beatin the kid, should be you. But I aint one for beatin kids.
Someone beats kids deserves to die." Mark paused, darkly scowling at
some spot on the floor. "And this doctor your kid been seein dont know
Bill, Gretchen, and the kids sat in stone silence, letting the words
sink in. "Im gonna speak my peace then go to bed, nephew. Angers a
ugly thing. Made me kill a friend once in a bar in Boise over,
shit, buyin a drink. Thats years ago. Before you was born. That
night, shit, before the war, we both wanted to buy this Indian girl a
drink or two. Both us wanted to fuck the daylights outa her real bad.
(Please pardon my French, kids.) I seen her first but that didnt
matter. He swang at me, we were both kinda drunk, and I broke a whiskey
bottle over his skull. Sounded like one those great big light bulbs used
on movie sets explodin. Then, I get him on the floor, sit on his
chest, and beat his face in with my fists." Mark closed his eyes,
seemed on the verge of sobbing, reconstructing the scene. "Billyhis
name was Billy toonever come out of it and died in a coma three months
later. I went to jail. Met your ma there. Come out a changed man."
Uncle Mark rose to his feet, sniffed loudly, stretched, yawned, and
added, "You the one got the gun in this family, nephew, so tspeak. An
thats the lone fact o your existence.. Now, if you all will please
excuse me, wheres the toilet, wheres the shower, an wheres my damn
bed?" Mark was ready to turn in.
In stunned silence, Bill escorted his uncle upstairs to the room next
to the one he shared with Gretchen. He had no idea how long Mark planned
on staying. For all he knew, Mark could be here until the day he died.
One thing was certain to Bill: Mark was family, and family should look
out for family.
When Bill came back down the stairs, his knees were shaking, the doors
had been closed, and the sofa was empty. Smoke still hung in pockets
in the air, and he realized that Gretchen and the kids had likely gone
upstairs to bed.
Bill looked at the hole in his set and felt hollow inside. He
puzzled over what Uncle Mark had meant with the comment about the gun
and wondered if, just possibly, he had opened his doors to an even
greater evil than the one he had run away from just hours ago. He
wished he had kept a copy of the Bible around the house.
Standing in the middle of the room, listening to the hall clock
ringing midnight, he felt a cold wave of fear rush through him and
moved to the kitchen to grab another beer. When he opened the
refrigerator door, he heard a shuffling of feet behind him. He turned
and saw Gretchen sitting alone at the kitchen table, her unfinished
pizza and beer still in front of her. Her face was blank; haggard,
expressionless, she reminded him of pictures hed seen of war refugees.
Then getting up slowly, almost painfully, she walked toward him and
looked into his eyes. Gretchen, Bill noticed, still had beautiful blue
eyes, which brought to mind of an instant an image of this evenings
beautiful sunset. "The man is absolutely obscene, William," she
whispered, near tears. " No, hes evil. Get rid of the son of a bitch.
Bill said nothing, just pulled the tab to the beer can and began to
drink in enormous gulps. This would be his tenth or eleventh or twelfth
beer. He had lost count. It didnt matter any more.
"William, use your head, for Gods sake! Youre a professor, an
educator!" Gretchen shouted in a whisper. "The man could barbecue us
in our fucking sleep!" Though he had never heard Gretchen use
vulgarity, Bill said nothing. Nothing seemed impossible any more.
"Either he goes," Gretchen began again, her eyes blazing in rage, her
voice trembling, "or the kids and I are out the fucking door. Gone to
God knows where. Just gone. Whoosh. The man," here her voice dropped to
a barely audible whisper, "is crazy and evil, William. Its plain as
the fucking nose on your face!"
But nothing was plain to Bill now as Gretchen moved away through the
lingering smoke to go upstairs, and finishing his can, he reached into
the refrigerator for another. He had no idea where to go from
Castaways on Planet Earth: Rich Logsdon Reviewed
Reviewed by James Robert Strope
The Night Uncle Willys Car Caught Fire on I-95
Rich Logsdon sets his stories in Nevada, an exotic state of being as well as a location that seems the last of the American frontiers. With its liberal laws and its population of newcomers, Nevada exhibits the freedom inherent in chaos.
Uncle Willy is a self-composed man, a pastiche of cowboy, hippy, family man, and outlaw. Incomplete, unsuccessful in any of his roles, hes broken down on the highway. Ever on the edge of life with regard to money, relationships, and possessions, he comes in from the outside, independent yet unconsciously wishing to join.
In Mr. Sardonicus, Bill Spinx sits in his lawn chair sipping beer from a can, barely keeping the lid on his life. He has a job in the university, a wife and family, and a house with a pool but hes estranged from all this, his life a desperate effort to keep it together. His children accelerate the process. His doctor is sick.
In Time to Go, Stephanie Thrush is a stripper at the peak of her life looking into the abyss.
In Texaco Girl, Preacher Frank is suspended between reality and fantasy, caught in a motel room with visions of heaven and hell.
Logsdons stories are landscapes of existential angst. His characters are marooned travelers expecting something nameless from their lives, who accept and reject the sordid opportunities, and who seek meaning. They peer into the nameless mystery thought possible within the prosaic harness of daily life.
The expectations are nameless and the disappointment pervasive. We are disallusioned without knowing the illusions. There is no way to complain. There is not even the language of complaint in Logdons stories. Apart from Spinxs "socioculturally-induced mental disorders", there is no mention of their origin and Logsdon passes no advice on how to surmount them. What is offered is the naked landscape of being.
Are we abandoned? Is there any one to blame? Bangkok Anny?
I admire the clarity of the many visual images the author presents and I sense purpose and art in the absence of explanation, moralization, and prophesy. I can image myself in each of the situations he describes.
A professor of English teaching at a community college in southern Nevada, Rich Logsdon wrote a Ph. D. dissertation in which he applied the formalist theories of the University of Chicago's R. S. Crane to six works from Eighteenth Century English literature. He has written three editions of a textbook titled Community College Reader; a fourth textbook, a revision of Reader, is forthcoming from Pearson Custom Publishing. Additionally, he has published three short story collections on-line: Alex the Wold-God, Valley of the Shadow, and Sweet Darkness. He is coeditor of and contributor to a collection of short stories, titled Las Vegas Stories and forthcoming from the Univesity of Nevada Press. He has written and published over one hundred and fifty stories, most of them in on-line journals and most of them! w! ithin the tradition of gothic horror. Currently, in his fiction, he is turning from horror to disturbing, often grotesque forms of Western mysticism (See "Confessions of a Dark Saint," published recently in SF Salvo.). Further, Rich is senior editor of the small print magazine Red Rock Review and has organized (in Las Vegas) poetry readings featuring the likes of such highly respected writers as Kim Adonnizio, Dorianne Laux, Gerald Stern, Olga Broumas, Willis Barnstone, Alberto Rios and Dianne diPrima. Recently, he has agreed to coedit, with sci-fi writer Thomas Fortenberry, an anthology to be titled Burning Angels (Call for submissions is pending.).