Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Interview with Game Developer Patrick Frye

First appeared in Infuze Magazine June 2005

Patrick Frye reprinted it on his webzine, ICEPOWERED, earlier this year.

This interview is pretty old now but our motivations haven't changed and neither has the industry all that much.

Michele: We'd like to know about you, who you are, how long you've been a Christian and a bit about your technical background.

Patrick: My name is Patrick Frye. I was raised in a Christian home but I don't think I truly understood what it meant to be a Christian until about five to six years ago. Up until then I consider my faith to be nominal. This was partially due to the church I was attending at the time, which didn't teach the Word. Then I again, I may have been thick-headed.

I worked for a Department of Defense contractor where I produced the software that controlled satellite communications systems in spy planes used by the U.S., Britain, and Australia (along with some other NATO countries). It was stressful since there were always deadlines to meet.

Now I work in a service oriented department at a non-profit Christian ministry so the amount of work goes up and down and... no deadlines.

What is your position at TGS and how did you become involved there?

I'm the Lead Engine Designer, a.k.a. "code monkey." I provide the tools for the level designers and artists; it's their job to produce the actual content for the game. Of course, that means if the resulting game is horrible I can't be blamed. Just kidding. I actually have been submitting many ideas during the pre-development design stage for Nightmares. In the first game, Eternal War: Shadows of Light, I didn't have any input at all into game play since I came on very late in development. Most of my work was in upgrading the original engine with additional features and fixing major issues.

As for how I joined TGS... If I was going to work in the game industry I wanted to produce games that not only entertained but could teach a solid Bible-themed message. Along with a group of other people I started a company called Gamers Underground Movement Productions. To make a long story short that endeavor failed and I decided to set aside my own plans in favor of furthering the Christian game industry in whatever capacity was available. I believe that one of the largest issues facing the Christian game industry is the fragmentation of the talent pool, since everyone seems to want to develop their own little pet project. At this point the industry realistically cannot support that. So I set about looking for a solid Christian game developer that seemed to have a good track record. I submitted my resume to TGS and was immediately accepted.

Tell us about Eternal War and please discuss some of what is involved in the making of a game.

Here is the storyline in a nutshell:

Eternal War takes place in the suicidal mind of John Coronado, a desperate teen ready to take desperate measures to escape his "personal hell."

You are Mike, a friend sent to help John out of his pain and struggles before his time runs out. Traveling down the road of malice and destruction, Mike is faced with hundreds of obstacles ahead of him to overcome through the only power that John thought abandoned him."

There are a variety of specialized fields involved in game production including:

* Management (Finance, Marketing, Sells, Website, etc)
* Game Design Leads
* Programming (Rendered, Sound, Networking, Engine Architecture, Scripting, Physics, etc)
* AI Programming (I list it separately because it's pretty much its own field)
* Script Writers
* Level Designers
* Sound/Recording Artists
* 3D Modelers
* 2D Texture Artists
* Play testers
* Musicians

For learning more about the game industry I suggest www.gamedev.net and www.gamasutra.com.

How do see the ministry possibilities for the Christian gaming industry?

In movies the message is given to the audience and it's only passive interaction. With video games the audience becomes involved and they are forced to think about the message and to make decisions based upon it. Brain research scientists have discovered that a person's thinking can either be changed or solidified by modifying or reinforcing the brain's neural pathways. While it is difficult to change old neural pathways with enough dedication it is possible.

The U.S. military has taken this research and they use 3D combat simulations in order to desensitize soldiers to possible violence they might face in their first real combat and hopefully prevent them from freezing up and getting themselves killed.

Most people don't realize this, but the video game industry has already surpassed the movie industry in worldwide net profit. It could also be said that the ability to effect society is already greater. Movies usually run between 1.5 to 2 hours and most people spend a limited amount of time thinking on the subject matter contained within. AAA title video games usually contain anywhere from 12 to 60+ hours worth of game play content and many gamers will play popular games for months or years. While playing these games, certain neural pathways are consistently being reinforced. Because of this the potential to effect people is huge -- both positively and negatively.

So far this great potential has not been met. The "message" in the storyline of most video games is usually fairly neutral in scope and for the most part does not hold a social agenda. Just like Nintendo's Mario, most games still consist of a hero, a basic goal, and a bunch of bad guys blocking the player's path to the goal. It's slowly gotten better with in-game cut scenes and game play scenarios and environments that actually mesh and belong in the story. Technology and funding for years was mostly the limiter but those limitations are slowly being erased. Game developers are just now starting to talk about games where players will feel for the characters and think of moral situations. This brings about the possibility of producing games that can change the audience's views and thinking on moral issues.

I will state one caveat right now: those who claim video games were the cause of incidents like the Columbine school shooting are just looking for an easy target to blame for responsibility... other than themselves. At the same time those who claim that playing video games does not effect them at all usually are not being honest with themselves. Reality lies somewhere in between.

In males, depending on the game type, there is usually a raise in blood pressure and heightened aggression. This effect is limited in duration and usually dissipates within minutes after the person has stopped playing the game. Now the effect on a person's thinking is dependent on the subject matter and the perspective the person chooses to take when playing the game. As for me, when I play a First Person Shooter I view it the same way as I do paintball. Just like the board game of chess, I'm out to beat my opponent(s) by "tagging" them with a certain set of rules and tools (weapons).

On the other hand, the Columbine shooter's anger at their classmates caused them to recreate their classrooms in custom levels in the old game Doom. In this manner they simulated killing their classmates over and over before actually considering doing the deed in reality. If a person views playing video games in a similar way they should not being playing video games and should seek counseling!

Desensitization towards violence is also a rightful worry when it comes to children. During that stage in life the brain is still developing and is highly malleable to change. If a child's boundaries are being taught through video games and not by their parents then I would be worried also. At the same time children should be taught that there are real repercussions to their actions, whether it be in reality or in a game.

Publishers are very careful about claiming video games have no correlation with violence... mainly so the bottom-line isn't effect and so they cannot be held legally liable; not because all game developers actually believe this. Isn't it odd how software publishers claim educational software can teach children to think a certain way yet deny that "just for fun" games can have any effect on the mind? An employee at Id Software once made a statement to this effect: "After a very long session of play testing one level designer noticed that he was automatically thinking of ways to defeat and kill his fellow employees as he walked the hallways. His brain could not tell the difference between reality and a video game. Now even though this was a short time effect on his mind needless to say this freaked him out."

The Grand Theft Auto series is famously used an example, since in it the player role-plays as a criminal who is out to gain power using any means possible. The game play mechanics are laudable but the message detestable. But that is not the only way to package a message to an audience. The games Fable and The Sims did not comment on homosexuality but merely introduced it matter-of-factly by allowing the player's character to marry a non-player character of the same sex. While not actively advocating homosexuality through words, the message was still the same: homosexuality is normal behavior. In fact, not reinforcing homosexuality in the game as "special" only enhances this message.

In the same way, Two Guys Software doesn't plan on bashing the audience over the head with the Bible every time they play our games. We plan on integrating moral themes into our games without disrupting the player's game play experience. In Christian literature, authors Ted Dekker and Shane Johnson go about writing their stories the same way. The characters, settings, and plot draw the reader in and then they are introduced to concepts where they think about moral issues, and sometimes the basic message of the gospel, sometimes without God or Jesus mentioned until the very end. This way non-Christian audiences are not immediately scared off by blatantly Christian packaging of the message.

When it comes to EW: Nightmares, the plot will be considerably darker in content. This is where we'll probably get the most flak from the Christian gaming community, but we're not too concerned about that. This time around we're going to approach the story more authentically. We've been doing research into the real-life effects that abusive use of drugs, porn, suicidal thoughts, rage, and occult influences have on people. It's not a basic "messed up kid who needs help" story again, we're aiming more for a chaotic conflict zone, each zone having it's own type of chaos that the player interactively helps a game character overcome. So the game will be a lot darker but also much more powerful in message.

Where do you see the industry headed?

At this time the largest problem facing the Christian game industry is the lack of adequate financial investment. The majority of companies are being run from home and the work is done only on available spare time outside of normal day jobs.

The other huge problem in the industry is this: Everyone wants to own their own little company and pursue their own little vision of a great game; they want full control and to be "the boss". Some times this is due to pride, but usually it's the heartfelt desire of people to fulfill their dreams. While these desires are laudable this also severely fragments the talent pool since we have hundreds of little companies/groups made up of maybe 5 to 10 people on average.

I'm reiterating this point from above because I consider it so important: I quickly realized that the only way to succeed is to set aside my dreams for the short term and join an already established company that appears to be succeeding. Perhaps in the future, once the Christian game industry has matured, I might be able to develop my own dream but I must learn to be patient. To complete my thought, if all the available people would band together under one company it might be possible to be competitive. If we have a hundred people working part-time on the side it would be approximately equal to about twenty to twenty-five full-time workers. Of course, managing all that would be crazy and be a full time position by itself but at least it would be possible to competitive with the secular industry and thus financially successful.

One of the reasons these small groups fail is because they are overly ambitious. They have grand visions but do not consider the reality of creating their vision in terms of resources, time, and capabilities. Some people are just starting to realize this error. As one game developer put it: "I'm just sick of project ideas -- whole projects even -- just being discarded because there's no time or it gets old or its too hard." Then these groups run into another problem, that of reducing their game to the point where it is irrelevant in the market. Most "simple" game play styles are available in such quantity that many are even free! It's quite impossible to sustain a working business plan which includes profitability when faced with such a situation.

Another problem is the lack of business sense in the industry. The majority of people starting these Christian game developers have no clue what to do when it comes to even simple business practices. The last paragraph could be used as an example. For another example, when I started Gamers Underground Movement Productions with several others, none of us had any practical experience at running a business. Fast forward to the future. TGS does receive help from Christians in the secular industry but day-to-day decisions are still left up to us, as well as marketing and other disciplines we are sorely lacking in.

Only once the talent pool is consolidated into professionally operated corporations funded by investors and run by experienced managers do I see the Christian game industry as being able to stand on its own. It's going to be a hard road and I imagine it will be years before the fruits of our labor pay off and the Christian game industry has settled down into a more settled, more "normal" routine.

What, if any, have been your biggest obstacles in dealing with the Christian community?

You'd be surprised at how the majority of mainstream Christian publishers we've talked to say Christians should not play video/computer games. It's practically the same situation that occurred with the Christian music industry in the 60 and 70s, where those with the money and who were in control of the industry said rock and roll is evil. At the same time it's amazing how many secular magazines/newspapers (like Fortune, MSNBC, etc.) are asking to interview us (TGS) about these emerging "religious games." The secular media actually paints a brighter picture than most Christians, estimating that the Christian game industry will exceed five hundred million dollars in several years.

One of the few Christian publications I've seen that has even mentioned the Christian game industry is World Magazine. But even then their editorial had a negative slant, quoting Mack and others out of context, and complaining that we have any type of violence in our games. Conflict of some type in video games is pretty much unavoidable, as is a certain level of violence. In the letters to the magazine section I saw letters about that article printed over a period of several months. These letters were all negative, saying they were appalled we were making such games and calling us hypocrites. Do I see these same people screaming about the blood-soaked, gory descriptions in the popular Left Behind series?

The reason most Christians don't play Christian games is the same reason why most gamers don't play our games: With the resources we're forced to work with we can only produce games that are five to seven years behind the game play curve (or worse). The AAA titles of the late 90's were made with a budget of less than a million and maybe twenty to forty people. Today's games are made with budgets typically exceeding several million dollars (two million dollars a month for Valve Software's recently released bestseller Half Life 2) and a staff of over one hundred people. The original Half Life was released in 1998 and to this date, the Christian game industry hasn't produced a game that can match it -- though, to be fair, many recently released secular games don't match it either. To put it pointedly, the majority of gamers have grown tired of games that play like Quake 1... and that's the quality level a spare time budget allows developers to make. While it's impressive that Eternal War: Shadows of Light met and exceeded the gameplay of Quake 1 considering it was developed on spare time and a limited budget, it still isn't enough to compete with today's market.

Now, the problem isn't a lack of Christian talent -- there are many Christians already working in the secular game industry in companies like Sierra, Activision, Electronic Arts, etc. These guys have even expressed interest in joining Christian game developers like N-Lightning or Two Guys Software. The problem is that the majority of these guys have families, mortgages, and bills to pay. Joining a Christian game developer would mean a huge pay in cut that, quite frankly, they can't afford at this time.

Many publishers will look at TGS and other Christian game developers and then claim the reason they aren't interested in backing us up is because of our lack of major financial success (or in the case of secular publishers mainly just because we're Christian in the first place). What they don't seem to comprehend is the lack of success is largely due to a lack of money, marketing, business management, and store shelf space... things only they could provide. It's a Catch-22 since we first have to be financially successful in order for them to consider providing the necessities required for us to be financially successful in the first place.

Why does there need to be a Christian game industry that creates games specifically to be marketed to Christians alone? Can't Christians just work from within the mainstream game industry?

When I think of the Christian game industry I agree that it shouldn't be centered around games created specifically to be marketed to Christians alone. Preaching to the choir or specifically targeting a yet-to-exist Christian game market has always seemed a waste of time to me, though I know others in the industry might disagree. It's possible that type of business plan might be financially sustainable in the long run, but that's not my interest. Two Guys Software's goal, for example, is to reach out to hardcore gamers with Biblically sound values and game play that anyone could appreciate. The idea is to overtly integrate moral issues and a message into the game play so that non-Christians don't feel like they're being bashed over the head with the Bible.

We've actually received more interest from secular media outlets like Forbes and MSNBC and mostly scorn from Christian publishers and media. "Christians shouldn't play video games, especially if they have any sort of violence at all in them" is usually the type of response I hear. There are actually many Christians in the mainstream game industry, from Sierra to EA, but I know from experience that the publishers will bulk at the idea to produce games that discuss sound moral issues in any manner; even if the Bible, God, or Jesus is not brought up explicitly. Using the word "Christian" will almost always get you shown the door immediately. That is why there is a "Christian" game industry, because at this time it seems that is the only way the games will be produced.

Where do you see TGS five years from now?

I cannot give an exact time frame but we're expecting the development of EW: Nightmares to take several more years. We're currently seeking financial investment and/or support by a mainstream publisher, either Christian or secular.

If a young person wished to become involved with the Christian gaming industry, what advice would you give them?

To be able to make good games you have to recognize good games and the game play mechanics behind them. What makes a "good" game is a fickle thing and often requires the tweaking of many variables over a period of months in order to balance out the game play.
I would recommend reading game development websites and magazines so you can become familiar with the industry. Depending on your planned specialty you may have to be well grounded in technical matters.

An Interview with Demonologist Keith Johnson

Appeared in Teenage Magazine 2007


When God works we glory in His miracles and greatness. When Satan works we remember that the Christian walk is no game.

Keith and Sandra Johnson are paranormal investigators. For a number of years they have helped people with their questions and problems regarding this field. Along with hosting a local paranormal talk show in their native Rhode Island, Keith also serves as consulting demonologist for TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Research Society, whom many have seen on the sci-fi channel hit series, Ghost Hunters.

Keith graciously took time to answer a few questions exclusively for TeenAge...


TeenAge: Please tell us who you are and a little about your organization, New England Anomalies Research.

Keith: We founded New England Anomalies Research, in October of 2004, as a means of investigating the paranormal as a team, as well as assisting people who are facing situations which may possibly involve paranormal phenomena. More and more frequently, we find that people are requesting help with these types of situations, and they are often extremely grateful to find an organization they can turn to for help.


TeenAge: When someone hears the term ‘Demonologist’ it tends to sound a little bit scary; as if a demonologist is someone who hangs out with demons. Would you define the term for us and explain what it is that you do?

Keith: Essentially, a demonologist is someone who studies the history, theology, nature and activity of the demonic realm, and is able to apply this knowledge.


TeenAge: How does your Christian faith help you when dealing with these situations?

Keith: It is through our Christian faith that we feel protected when entering a situation where a demonic entity may be involved. We know that we are not dealing with these situations under our own authority, but that we are protected and guided by Jesus Christ.


TeenAge: On the heels of that question, Keith, how did you and Saundra each become involved with paranormal studies? Is that how you met?

Keith: Sandra and I actually met when we were involved in a theater project together. As far as becoming involved in paranormal research, my interest was originally peaked by the fact that I grew up in a house when paranormal phenomena occasionally took place. Sandra also developed an avid interest in this field, and this, combined with our Christian faith and desire to assist others who were seeking answers, led us to investigating these types of cases together.


TeenAge: What happened on your most startling or frightening investigation?

Keith: A fourteen-year-old boy was subject to demonic possession, and while we were helping him, his aunt also went under possession. This was a perfect example of demonic spirits working together.


TeenAge: Can demons read minds?

Keith: Demons can mainly pick up impressions, and can seemingly read the thoughts of someone who is demonically influenced. However, they cannot read the thoughts of someone who has the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.


TeenAge: Can Christians become possessed?

Keith: A Christian cannot normally become possessed, as in being taken over by a demonic entity. However, a Christian can be tempted and even demonically influenced to a degree, if his or her guard is down. This happened on at least one occasion to the Apostle Peter.


TeenAge: When it comes to paranormal investigations, a very common set of initials one hears are the letters EVP. Could you explain what that means and how it relates to your investigations?


Keith: EVP stands for Electronic Voice Phenomena. Essentially, this is disembodied voices being picked up on either a magnetic or digital recording. Often these voices are picked up during a paranormal investigation, sometimes even while we are interviewing the client. They are generally only heard when the recording is played back. However, we would caution that voices caught in this manner are not necessarily the voices of departed human beings, and they can also be very deceptive.


TeenAge: My thirteen year old friend wants to know when you hear voices on an EVP how can you tell if they are demonic or human spirits?


Keith: If a voice captured in EVP form reacts negatively to any mention of God or Jesus Christ, then it is likely that of a demonic spirit. Most EVP messages are very brief and whispery, and often of a negative or sarcastic content.


TeenAge: You occasionally work with TAPS on the sci-fi channel show, Ghost Hunters. I heard part of an audio once for a show that Ghost-Hunters never aired. It featured Keith performing an actual exorcism and was really quite frightening. But I recall hearing a great deal of Christian prayer also going on during the same episode. Any thoughts on why it wasn’t shown? Too scary, or too Christian?


Keith: There are actually quite a few episodes of Ghost Hunters which, for a variety of reasons, do not wind up being aired on TV as part of the series. This particular episode was perhaps considered a little too controversial. However, an upcoming preview of it was shown, which resulted in many people asking questions about what actually happened. Let me just say that the exorcism was successful and the victim was eventually freed. The entire session was extremely physically and emotionally draining on me.
(Because there were so many inquiries, I did wind up writing out what happened in full story form, which can be found on the stories section of our web site: www.nearparanormal.com.)


Teenage: Many teenagers are fascinated with the occult. Could you offer any words of wisdom, or even warning for those who want to learn more about it?


Keith: The occult can be very dangerous, and also very, very deceptive. At first, it can even sometimes seem very alluring, such as the opportunity to gain advantages or to communicate with the spirits of departed loved ones, as through the Ouija board or automatic writing. But make no mistake...these are false promises, designed to trap people into getting in over their heads. It is often easier to lure in a demonic entity than it is to get rid of one. These spirits have the wisdom of the ages, and will look for any opportunity to infiltrate the life of someone who may be lonely, depressed, or spiritually vulnerable. But also, take comfort in the fact that Jesus gives us protection always read this out loud when entering a situation where the demonic may be involved. against these unholy forces through faith in Him. A good method of protecting oneself against demonic forces is to put on the "Armor of God," which is described in Ephesians, chapter 6. Sandra and I always read this out loud when entering a situation where the demonic may be involved.

_______

In case Ephesians 6 doesn't ring a bell, here's the section to which Keith is referring:

Ephesians 6:10-13 KJV

10 Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.

11 Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

A good passage to remember, no matter what you happen to do.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Bless the Children: Appeared in AlienSkin Magazine Jan. 2007

Excerpt........



My name is Glob. Around sundown today I went above ground to get groceries, and this is how my trip went.

I was a little miffed when I went to the TV/Stereo shop on the corner. I just wanted to catch a glimpse of the news, find out what’s going on in the world, y’know? So I’m watching, and the next thing you know, this dumb show comes on about these lousy little reptiles that get doused in nuclear waste then, ‘Bammo!!” They transform into heroes! Man, like, what if they were nuclear tapeworms? Would they eat the bad guys from the inside out? They should have made a show about us. At least we used to be human.

My girlfriend, Bucket, says we still are. I don’t know.

So anyway, I’m standing there, my hood is pulled over my head when the manager yells, “Hey, kid! If you aint’ buyin’ get out!”

And I thought I wasn’t a Rhodes Scholar.

Well, I already had my chain jerked a little anyway, so I spun around and stuck out my tongue. The dude screamed like a girl then started saying swear words about the costume shop down the street.

“Go on!” he cried. “Get!”

I said a few words about his over-sized rear and took off.

I took my usual path down the alley that runs adjacent to S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, USA.

Chet’s Diner was my first stop. Sitting on the back steps were the four bags he leaves everyday. I leaned forward and smelled the soup. Mmmm, minestrone. I peaked in one bag and saw he had included a can of V-8 especially for our girl Loosey. She needs extra vegetables, but her jaw doesn’t work very well. I also noticed the bags were sturdy and had handles. Good ol’ Chet.

Of course, before this had been Chet’s place it had been Sal’s, and Tawan’s and also Larry’s.. But hell, those guys couldn’t deal and became real inconvenient. Inconvenient people die. My mother taught me that.

So old Chet is a good boy. We help him, though, it’s only fair. Like the time he was robbed. Friggin’ burglar stole a ton of money and equipment. Expensive stuff. Police couldn’t find him, but we did. Chet got his stuff back and I let Patch abort him. He didn’t live long. A good deal all around.

Next stop was the church. Father Hillary left a small box of medicine we needed with a note attached; ’Will have extra clothes, blankets and batteries tomorrow. The ribbon is in with the medicine.’

I felt excited and tore open the bag for a look. There it was, a strand of velvet, all ruby-red and soft. It was a present for Bucket. Man, I knew she’d love it. She loves tying things around her head. I also saw Father Hillary had included his usual present: a Bible. I gave asnort of laughter and chucked it to one side. That Father Hillary, sometimes he’s a hoot. Always talking about the great life you can find just reading the Bible. Maybe it hasn't dawned on him that I'm dead, so what's a dead man need with a life? But the Father is still a pretty good one. I’ll have to carve a lot of flesh before I find a replacement for him.

I put the box in with the juice and headed for my last stop, Wilma’s Natural Food Mart. She was supposed to leave us organic apples, but when I got to her back door, I didn’t see anything.

Disgusted, I pounded on the door. Wilma opened it and peaked out. She’s thin with gray lines in her hair, always wears blue jeans and acts like she’s doing me a big, fat, favor. She’s got it wrong.

She looked at me and stuttered, “Oh, its-its….y-you.”

“You-you? Who-who?” I talk like that to her. Freaks her out. “Say who I are.”

“I’m not calling you that-that name.”

I told her, “My name Glob. I wanna apple.”

“You’re not a glob.”

“Liar.”

Her eyes said she was a little scared and guilty at the same time. I thought, N.G., Wilma, N.G.

“Look,” she told me opening the door. “Come in. We have to talk.”

“I wanna apple,” I said and waddled in after her.

She lead me to her office which was a real mess, let me tell you. The paperwork on her desk looked so jumbled you’d have thought it had a life of its own. There were bills held in check by a marble paper-weight; a spiked message skewer over-flowed with messages and order sheets covered her desk like insulation. Being an orderly kind of guy, I was just plain friggin’ appalled. And this slob was supposed to help me. Tsk, tsk.

She sat in her rotten old desk chair and motioned for me to sit.

I told her, “Glob stand.”

“Uh…all right,” she stammered. Then she smiled in that same kind of way Bucket does sometimes. Except, when Bucket does it, she’s usually congratulating a two year old for pooping in the right spot. I aint’ two years old. This chick spoke like we reached some major compromise.

“All right…Glob. Stand. But we will talk. I’ve been letting this arrangement go on too long. You must see that you need help! My church has a youth Pastor who could help you to...”

“I wanna apple.”

Her eyes flashed, “Stop talking like that! You’re not stupid! I don’t think there’s anything wrong with you! But you do need spiritual help and physical help. The swellings are there, but you could see a doctor! You could be a normal boy!”

Her words punched a button with me so big and touchy I wanted to nail her right there. But I was in a bad position. I kept cool and moved closer to the desk.

“Gimme apple! Gimme now!”

She rolled her eyes to the ceiling and said, “That’s it young man! You can’t be more than fourteen and if there are other children like you down there…don’t you see? They need a doctor! Jesus didn't save your lives just to have you hold them captive in the dark till they all die or don’t you care?”

Inside my anger flared like an exploding volcano. Didn't care? She had NO idea! But since she was about to die, I told her the truth. I leaned forward on her desk and gave her my most intelligent smile. “Wilma, Wilma, tsk, tsk. My clan is officially dead. Or so you’d expected when a person is aborted. But a few of us made it, as you well know…”

I never used this voice with her and I could see her face go slack with fright, as if she had just learned a fatal secret. She had.

Wilma gasped, “You’re normal!”

I grinned and yelled, “Surprise!” Then snatching up the paper-weight, I slammed it into her temple and she slumped to the floor. I felt the side of her neck and found no pulse. But it didn’t matter. I felt in my pocket for my switchblade, pulled it out and snicked it open. Grabbing a fistful of her hair, I yanked her head up and slit her throat. No hard feelings, but when I kill someone, I make sure they’re really dead.

I waited at the back door to her office. I could hear the clerk out front yakking on the phone and having a grand old time. No one else was in the store. I slipped out. Near the back door I found the sack of apples and oranges she was supposed to leave for me before she came down with the bleeding heart sickness.

I grabbed the sack and left.

Does it end well? Hmmmm....we'll have to see!

Soul Mate and Blessed Infant: Appeared in Infuze Mag. June 2005

It doesn't happen too often, but once in a blue moon I write poems. The first was a poem, the second became a medieval style song, performed locally.


Soul Mate

I always knew you were there,

A companion almost too good to be real.

Someone who could do the impossible

And love me...

just the way I am.


I always prayed you were there,

the elusive soul-mate

only others seemed to find.


You fill my heart,

You touch my soul

Just knowing you exist...


I thank God for you,

again and again,

I thank God for you...




Blessed Infant

Blessed Infant rest your head
Sleep baby, sleep
Laying in a manger bed,

Sleep baby sleep.
A thousand stars may grace the skies,
but one shines brightest for you tonight.

Come so that we may have life,
Sleep baby, sleep.
Sleep baby, sleep.

On Rejection: Appeared in Perpetual Mag. Spring 2008

“But it’s a good story!” the Writer insisted. “This is a Christian horror magazine, isn’t it? So what’s wrong with being a little scary and a little ugly? It’s the genre, man!”

Waldo folded his hands. “You know, the Bible says in all things we are to give God the glory. Here, you’ve written about a teen-aged girl who suffers terrible, frightening things after becoming involved with witchcraft. How is God glorified?” To emphasize his point, Waldo held the manuscript aloft. He always felt such gestures were important to set himself above the Writer. “What spiritual lesson could this possibly teach?”

The Writer shrugged, “Uh, stay away from witchcraft?”
“Yes, but does it, in the process, clearly point the reader to God as the one great Creator over all? And where are the Bible verses? You used so few one might doubt your allegiance to the True God.”
Waldo could see the Writer’s jaw drop.
“Look mister,” the Writer said. “Just because I’m not spewing Bible verses every other line doesn’t give you or anyone else call to doubt what I believe!”
Waldo smiled. Bringing this one down would be easy.
“Well, I suppose it was too difficult to write in a character that could have witnessed to the girl.”

The Writer threw up his hands. “I could have, but it doesn’t always work that way!”

Waldo rose from his chair. He would stop this man in his tracks, and use his own religion to do it, too. “It will never work that way if people don’t have the example set before them!”

The Writer rolled his eyes. “Look, Waldo, what do you want? A scary story or a witnessing tract?”

Waldo frowned. He liked the Writer’s attitude more with every passing minute. His went easy. “Well, I can see an excellent story coming together right in front of us! This is all about someone almost violently opposed to Christianity trying to find a way to slip their doctrine before an unsuspecting Christian audience. But notice: in the end our merciful, living God will triumph!”

Waldo took a seat again.

The Writer’s face had the wide-eyed, slack-jawed appearance of total shock. “Do you really think that’s what’s going on here?”

“The Bible says, ‘Ye shall know them by their fruits.’”

“Y’know, I’ve dealt with plenty of other Christian publishers and no one, no one acts like you! So what? I didn’t write what YOU thought I should write and that makes me ‘violently opposed’ to Christianity?” His shock melted into anger as the sound of his voice skipped a decibel. “And then you have the guts to throw a Bible verse at me?”

Waldo sat back. “Now, now, in the name of my Lord, calm yourself.”

“What?”
“You have to admit, yours is not a Christian story.”
“It’s my story!”
Waldo paused. “Your story?”
The Writer spoke, his voice low, breaking, “Yeah, the names are changed to protect the innocent. I had to come to a really low place in my life before I realized I needed to change. I was hoping if somebody could read about it and see where this stuff leads, it might spare them the trip.”

“Or…” Waldo said, gently, “…it could draw more people to evil…”

Eyes shining, the writer whispered, “Maybe…”

“Please,” Waldo said. “I can’t use this story, but please take it. Spend time in prayer and ask the Lord God what it is He really wants you to write about.”
The Writer silently took the manuscript from his hands and left.
A few minutes later Waldo pulled out a cell phone and punched in a number.
“Yes,” he said to the man on the other end. “I believe I’ve devastated another one. Tell the Elders our coven’s plan is working perfectly….”

Innocent Blood

Published in Perpetual Magazine/ August 2008

According to dispatch, this one was messy.

Hank Broward stepped out of his car, pulled out a cigarette and lit up. He thought the old townhouse looked like something out of one the magazines his ex-wife used to read, all painted and well-kept. But this one held something terrible inside.

He blew out a stream of smoke.

A police officer stood outside the front door. His face was pale. He stared straight ahead.

Broward stepped across the crime scene tape, and flashed his badge.

“Mitchell inside?”

The guy took a breath. “Yeah.”
”This one as bad as they’re saying?”

“Worse.”

“This your first corpse?”

The officer shook his head. “Naw, I fought in Iraq, man. I never saw anything like this. Someone killed her and then kept killing.”

“I did a tour,” Broward said as he stepped inside. “Do me a favor. Stay out here. No reporters get near this place, okay?”

“Got it.”
Sergeant Brad Mitchell met him in the living room.

“Heard it was gruesome.”

Mitchell’s face was stone. “You’d have thought the killer had a huge paper shredder. I’ve seen some sick sights, but…damn.”

“All right. I need to get pictures. You find any sign of entry yet?”

Mitchell frowned. “What? You want me to take your pictures, too?”

“Throw me a bone, man. Hey, I’m getting’ too old to spot all the details.”

Mitchell bit his lip. “There’s one thing, and I mean only one. And this could be the fault of a lazy plumber. There’s a drain pipe in the basement floor with the cover off. But if that’s the entry, the killer is pretty damn small and doesn’t mind crawling through a sewer.”

Broward huffed, “Lemme look.” He followed Mitchell to the room with the body.

“You might want to cover your nose.”

Broward didn’t ask, but yanked a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it over the lower half of his face.
Mitchell opened the door. Even with the handkerchief, the coppery stench of blood made its way to his nose.

“Yeah,” Mitchell said, misreading his reaction. “Sick aint it?”

“Who the hell does this crap?”

Hank shook his head, took out his camera and snapped his pictures.

#

Back at the station, Broward sat across from Daniel Delaney. Delaney was young, head covered with thick brown hair, good smile, married, one kid, one on the way.
Delaney’s eyes stared at the mountain of paperwork.

“Sounds like some kind of hit, either that or somebody really hated her. But damned if I can figure it out. We got Angela Simpson, 38, divorced, no kids, works at the children’s library.” Delaney scratched his head.

“I dunno. I get sick of paying alimony. Maybe her ex went over the top.”

“Can’t be. He’s dead. Two years ago. Cancer.”

Broward grumbled over his own stack of papers. “Hmmm, and just the one set of smeared prints. I gotta wonder if this isn’t some kind of cult killing. There were patterns of marks and indents in the carpeting…”

“Glad to see you, Broward,” Captain Zeph said, as he strode toward them. “Heard you had a horrible headache and couldn’t get your ass in here this morning. What was it, the flu or a bad case of Jose’ Cuervo?”

Broward’s voice was toneless. “Flu.”

Zeph nodded. “Yeah, thought so. You know, next time you get the flu you should try a nice Bloody Mary in the morning, it should help.”

“Thanks. I will.”

“I hear this ones coming up as empty as the case last week.”

Broward raised an eyebrow. Yeah, well, last week Myra Klinsky sure as hell wasn’t shredded. From all reports she spent her forty-five years helping the poor and apparently the cosmic reward for such service was to end up as an empty skull full of half-dissolved teeth. That and a Medic Alert bracelet dangling from one of her bound wrists gave them her identity.

But her death, like Angela Simpson’s, was gruesome, dramatic. The acts were just sick enough to be the same M.O., whatever that M.O. might be.

Without a word, Broward opened the Klinsky file. After an initial read through offered nothing new, he looked up and told Delaney. “Get your coat, we’re hittin’ the neighborhood.”
#

Three houses down from the Simpson home, Delaney and Broward stood on the porch of Teresa McKenzie as Ms. McKenzie sucked her cigarette and gave her armchair appraisal of Ms. Simpson’s life.

“Oh, yes, I remember all the way back when she was still married,” Teresa said, pushing back her dark curls. “A great girl. A little bit wild in her younger days, though. Lemme tell you something,” she blew a puff of smoke and dropped her voice to a low, gossipy level. “Fifteen years ago, she got pregnant while her husband was in the Navy. She comes to me begging to drive her to a clinic to get rid of it. She was so upset, I just drove her to that place over on Michigan Avenue.”

Teresa’s face twisted with discomfort. “We didn’t really talk much after that. The whole thing was just so weird, ya know? But who knows? Maybe that boyfriend came back and finally decided he didn’t like what she did, or maybe even her ex-husband found out she was fooling around while he was off risking his life for his country and gave her paybacks. What do you think?”

“We’re not sure yet, ma’am,” Broward said. “But thank you, you’ve been a big help.”

Broward’s mind uncontrollably wandered back to the night he caught his wife naked with another man. It was the first and only time murder ever seemed like the right move. She screwed around, and he still got stuck with alimony.
No freakin’ justice.
His cell phone rang and Broward drew it from his pocket. “Yeah?”

“Broward? Zeph. We got another one.”
#
Broward thought ground zero for the next murder was more like a three ring circus.

Outside the Elm Tree Oasis Apartments, the ME and police personnel had to fight their way past news vans and camera’s. He saw the KOAX news van pull up. Red-haired Gina hopped out, tailed by her cameraman.

Broward groaned.

“Broward! What’s up with you not letting me in the loop?” she cried. In her perfect imitation of someone who gave a crap, she lifted a hand and added, “These murders are vicious, the people need to know! You gotta give me something!”

Broward showed her his back and headed for the building, Delaney with him.

Sergeant Mitchell, eyes darker than yesterday, looked up and gave a weary exhale. “We gotta quit meeting like this.”

Broward asked, “What’s with all the press?”

Mitchell scratched his head. “Well, a delivery boy found this one. He calls every media outlet he can think of and then calls us. Big freaking hero, right?”

“What kind of a mess are we talkin’ about, Mitchell?”

Mitchell eyes were steady. “Someone took a pair of scissors, lodged them in the base of her skull and tried to scrape out her brains.”

#

Back at his desk, Broward looked over the new file. Madeline Smith, 40 year old African American, single, never married. She had worked as a care giver at the Greater Chicago Retirement facility.

He drummed his fingers on the desk top. This time they found the marks again: strange patterns poked into the carpet. Aside from someone walking around purposely gouging the floor with a stick, he had no clue what caused it or why.
A nurse in an old folks home. Nothing stolen, no known enemies…

His head began to ache as he read the files one more time. On the surface, all of the victims sounded like innocent, caring, women. Broward’s eyes wandered over to Delaney’s desk, to the picture of his chubby-cheeked two year-old.

Innocent women, innocent children.

He weighed the idea back and forth. Was somebody trying to make a point?

Terrorists? A crazed ex-boyfriend?

Somebody who feels really screwed-over.

That was a feeling he understood. What with Jennifer having to live ‘her life,’ and ‘find herself.’ But she sure had no qualms about taking his money.

Freakin’ whore.

Maybe, like Angela Simpson, they weren’t all that innocent.

“Hey!” Zeph appeared at his desk.

“There’s a big protest on the avenue right now at the Lake Michigan Women’s Center.”

Broward shrugged. “I guess it sucks to be them.”

“Yeah, well, the guy leading the protest is telling everyone and his mother he knows who killed your victims. So why are you still here?”

#
To Broward, the scene outside the abortion clinic looked like a cheering squad from hell. A group of over forty people, mostly women, lined up the legal distance away from the clinic. Directing their cries with a bullhorn was a guy Broward recognized. Rev. Hammer. He dressed in black from head to foot, the dark making a perfect contrast for the gold chains and huge, silver, jeweled cross he wore around his neck. The hand he gripped the bullhorn with was encrusted by gaudy rings.

“Who’s going to hell!” he shrieked.

The crowd pointed towards the clinic and thundered,

“They are!”

“When are they going?”

“Now!”

Delaney’s jaw dropped. “All we need is Rod Serling.”

Posters with outrageous profanities were waved by gray-haired grandmothers, housewives, and businessmen. Broward noticed a few of the tamer ones said, ‘Keep your legs together, sluts!’ and ‘God hates whores!’
“Yes! Let’em hear you in there as they kill their children: God hates whores! God hates whores!”

The crowd picked up the chant.

“GOD HATES WHORES! GOD HATES WHORES!”

Broward suddenly pictured the plaque of Jesus his mother hung in his bedroom when he was a child. It depicted the Shepard King sitting on a log watching, smiling, as children and lambs frolicked. This scene was 180 degrees removed.

He muttered to his partner as they headed into the street. “Who was this guy’s Sunday school teacher? Charles Manson?”

“GOD HATES WHORES!”

The hyper, sweaty little man, glanced up as they strode forward.

“The established order has come to take me away! No matter what man does to me! Don’t give up the fight…”

The noise pounded against his head. Broward raised his voice, “Reverend!”

Rev. Hammer lowered his horn, straightened his shoulders and held his head high. Broward could see he was proud to be, hoping to be a martyr.

It would probably double his donations.

“Have you men come to arrest me?”

Delaney told him, “No.”
The man’s shoulders slumped.

“We need to ask you a few questions, Reverend.”

“Leave the Reverend alone!”

“Don’t abuse him!”

Reverend Hammer lifted a hand and the crowd went back to chanting, with new fervor, “GOD HATES WHORES!”

He set the bullhorn on the ground and folded his arms.
“Yes, gentlemen?”

Broward rubbed a temple, “Reverend, get your people to quiet down. Now!”

Rev. Hammer thrust his nose in the air and waved for quiet. The crowd didn’t completely hush, but at least the noise level was livable.

“What do you want?” he spat.

“Sir, we’re investigating the murders in the area.”

“Oh! Yes!” his head rolled back as he spoke. “I can help you find your killer right now!”

He thrust a finger across the street. “There!” he cried with all the drama of a stage actor. “Abortion killed those women! The killer is God’s avenging spirit come to take the lives of all those who spill innocent blood!”

Broward glanced at Delaney.

This guy is nuts.

A grim smile curled the Reverend’s lips. “You men don’t believe me? Here, look at these and then ask the pampered slut who runs that place if there isn’t something wrong!”

A smug, triumphant sneer spread across his face. Hammer reached into his breast pocket, pulled out three sheets of paper and waved them in Broward’s face.

Annoyed, he snatched them away.

In his hands were receipts. One at a time he handed them to Delaney. There was one for each victim. Each woman had terminated a pregnancy at the Women’s Center.

“Reverend? How did you obtain this information?”

The Reverend’s eyebrows levitated to the sky. “Oh! I told you, God knows what’s going on! He called me to be part of His plan! He put this information in my hands!”

“How?”

Rev. Hammer smiled as he tugged a postmarked envelope from his pocket. “It came by US mail.”

Broward and Delaney exchanged glances. “Sir, I’m afraid it’s not legal for you to have these private medical records in your possession.”

Rev. Hammer’s eyes darted back and forth, nervous.

“You said you weren’t here to arrest me.”

Broward saw realization dawn in the man’s eyes: he was in trouble.

“Uh, detectives?’ he said. “I-I really did get those in the mail.”



#

Hammer turned out to be a huge disappointment. During his interrogation, his nose shot back into the air. “Do what you will! I am an instrument!”

“An instrument?”

“That’s right! An instrument of the Almighty! No other pastor in the entire city has the courage to preach what I preach!”

The interview ended when he lowered his voice and in a tone that sounded like a man tottering on the edge, hissed, “Don’t you feel eyes on you, Detective? Don’t you feel you’re being watched?”

Outside the room, Broward sighed, “Delaney, the women’s center is the one thing all three victims have in common. We might as well check it out.”

Delaney grumbled, “And what if we don’t find out anything?”

“Zeph is going to toss Hammer in the lock up. We’ll see if he’s ready to talk after he’s been hammered in the ass for a couple of nights.”

Delaney gave a short, mirthless laugh, “Yeah, he’ll be an instrument all right.”

#

As they entered the Lake Michigan Women’s Center, Broward could feel depression like a blanket wrap around him. With the murder of babies going on in back, this could never be a very happy place.

In the waiting room, seated in hard plastic chairs were young women. A few held the hands of older ladies, another girl, teary-eyed, sobbed next to a nurse. They looked up with gazes that were haunted, embarrassed, a few simply cold.

On the walls, cheery posters of famous women from all walks of life, gazed out at him. One picture portrayed a fit, beautiful, bikini-clad woman with a dazzling smile, striking a victory pose on a sandy beach. Above her blazed a single word: CHOICE! Broward couldn’t picture any of the girls in this room ever taking her place.

Broward noticed the clinic looked awfully ‘lived-in.’ The floors were scuffed, the walls, fingerprinted. He thought it looked like the sort of wear and tear done by children.

The crying girl began to sob louder and the nurse took her hand and directed her to the back.

“No, honey, no,” he heard the nurse say in a hushed voice as they rounded the corner, “it’s not a baby. It really isn’t human yet…”

Her words made Broward flinch. He looked over at Delaney. His eyes were trained at the floor.

In a wall of glass brick at the front of the room, a window popped open. “May I help you, gentlemen?” A beautiful, smiling receptionist peered out.

Broward flashed his badge. “We’re here to see Carolyn Johnson.”

“Oh! Oh yes! Hold on, just a moment. I’ll buzz you in!” She pointed to the left. “The door, over there.”

The door buzzed and Delaney shoved it open. Broward could see by his stony expression how little he wanted to be here.

In a barely audible voice, he asked, “You okay?”
Just as quietly, Delaney hissed his response. “I love my kid too much to be okay.”

Before them, the hallway floor was stripped down to the concrete. A woman came breezing down the hallway toward them.
“Get it together,” he whispered. “Or get out.”
Delaney nodded and stayed put.

The woman was tall, blonde, with a white lab coat whisking about a perfect set of legs. As she approached, she extended a white hand that looked and felt as soft as butterfly wings. Her nails were buffed and rounded. Broward noticed a diamond wrist watch. He glanced at Delaney and could almost read his mind.
“Gentlemen, I’m Carolyn Johnson, I’m the owner and director here. Please excuse the hallway, the carpeting was supposed to be replaced today. I assume you’ve come about that horrible Reverend Hammer?”
“Partly,” Broward said and introduced himself and Delaney. “We’d like to ask you a few questions, ma’am.”
“Of course, we’ll speak in my office.”
She led them to what must have been the cleanest spot in the entire building. Her office was tastefully decorated in shades of pink and green. Her degrees lined the walls. The carpeting in here looked fine.

Broward settled himself into one of the leather chairs in front of her desk and commented, “Nice office. I’ll be honest with you ma’am. When I first walked in, I thought the place looked a little messy for a medical facility.”

He made the statement, and then watched her. Her eyes grew huge with indignation for a moment and then she broke into a high, nervous, laugh, “Oh, my God! Thank you! Some one else agrees with me! The kid that cleans here stomps around in football cleats. I told him not to, but he says he doesn’t have enough money to but a different pair of shoes right now. I should fire him, but he’s a really young, orphan kid. Just got out of high school, so I’ll keep him, but I guess I better get him some shoes myself.”

“The cleats tore up the carpet?”

“Oh, it was destroyed! There were tiny holes punched in so many places, we had to get rid of it.”

All of the hair on the back of Broward’s neck stood. He paused, wondering if Rev. Hammer had managed to utter a madman’s prophecy, because suddenly he felt as if he were indeed being watched.

For a moment he studied Miss Johnson’s face. “You have an address for the boy? I’d like to ask him some questions.”

Carolyn blinked. “Well, he’s coming in early to wash the outside windows. He should be here in just a few minutes. Brian isn’t a bad kid. He has no police record at all. And trust me, we checked, too, because his eyes gave us cause to wonder.”

“What do you mean?”

“His eyes are black. There’s no color in his irises at all. It’s very disconcerting at first, but,” she said with a shrug, “it’s just how he’s made. He wears sunglasses a lot to hide them. He’s also a little immature. But he doesn’t seem to have an axe to grind over what we do here. So I guess I’m saying my complaints about him aren’t ‘throw-him-in-jail’ serious.”

“I’m sure he’s fine,” Broward said. “I just have questions.”

Carolyn took a breath. “Well, I assume the main reason you gentlemen are here though is because of that awful Rev. Hammer…”

“Does Rev. Hammer seem to concentrate on your clinic or does he go after all Women’s centers?“

Carolyn frowned. “You’ve no doubt had plenty of time to listen to Rev. Hammer and his rumors. I hope you didn’t believe all of his garbage.”
Broward’s eyebrows shot up. “Maybe you could you tell me your side of the story?”
“It was a long time ago and we don’t talk about it. But I’m sure you’ll be able to find it on your cop computer or whatever you people use. And-and really it was an incident we handled and it’s over and done with. Do you understand?”

He nodded. “Yes, ma’am, I do. But since I don’t have one of my fancy cop computers here, and since I’m working a triple-homicide investigation where every second is crucial, and since you have information I need that you’re not willing to share–I may have to call a judge and get a warrant for your arrest on the grounds of hindering my investigation. Do you understand?”

She pressed her lips together, not wanting to talk, then finally, “About thirteen yeas ago we had a man working here and…and we discovered he was selling whole fetuses to different places, genetic labs, even cosmetic companies.”

Cosmetic companies?

“What happened?”

“We had him arrested, but he had a break down. He’s been at the Shaker Heights Rest Home ever since.” Carolyn looked a little green. “Of course, when Rev. Hammer heard about this he began telling his people we trafficked in human fetuses. He even visits our old employee at the mental hospital then runs around telling people the man swears he hears fetuses talking to him at night.” She shivered. “It just gets gruesome, you know?”

Broward nodded. “Sounds like it.” His mind ran a million different directions.

“I’d like to look into the companies he dealt with. You wouldn’t think there’d be a market for that sort of thing.”

“There’s a market for everything.”

‘Splat’

The sound of a wet brush hitting her office window caused them both to jump.

Carolyn gave a nervous laugh. “Speak of the devil. There’s Brian.”

Broward took a good long look at the boy as he stood outside scrubbing the window. Brian Scoggins was tall, Broward estimated maybe a full six feet and a very slender 150 pounds. His skin was so white it was nearly translucent. Stringy, black, hair hung around his head, and as Carolyn warned, he used a pair of dark sunglasses to cover his eyes. Broward thought maybe that was it. Perhaps not being able to see his eyes caused the immediate impression of untrustworthiness.

Brian moved with the precision of the damned. Even when he pulled out a squeegee to knock the soap and water from the windows, Broward watched each stroke happen, quick and carefully, then precisely repeat until the window was dry and clean.

He rose from his chair and extended a hand. “Well, I’d like to thank you for your time. I’ll round up my associate, we’ll have a word with Mr. Scoggins and be on our way.”

Carolyn smiled prettily, “Anytime, Detective.”

Outside, Delaney stood with one ear to his cell phone, while both eyes stayed focused on the kid.

“…Yeah, Lieutenant, Broward’s coming out right now. I really think we’ve got at least one more person to talk to here. Call you back.”

Delaney pocketed his phone and kept his voice low. “That kid shows up, goes inside, comes out with his window washing stuff and a gear bag he dropped down by the first set of windows he did. Walks past me twice, never says a word. Okay, so maybe he’s just not friendly. I start walking toward him and he looks up at me so fast, I felt like I was trying to sneak up on a fly. So I thought I’d wait for you.”

“You’re a wuss.”

“Yeah, I know. But check out the glasses: he’s working on the alley side of the building, in the shade, wearing sunglasses. The guy already acts weird so is he on drugs? And check out the shoes, they’re over-sized football cleats. The carpets at the crimes all had patterns of holes or indents. I say we both talk to the kid.”

“Lead the way, man.”

As they walked down the alley toward Brian, the boy’s head swung upward and Broward understood what Delaney meant. He moved with preternatural speed. And Broward didn’t like the dark shades he wore. After nearly twenty years as a cop, he was used to having people’s eyes tell him stories long before words made it to the mouth.

“Brian Scoggins?”

The boy let his squee-gee dangle from his hand.

“Yeah?”

“I’m Hank Broward, this is my associate, Detective Delaney,” he showed his badge. “We’re with the Chicago PD. If you don’t mind, we want to talk to you a moment.”

Brian gazed at the ground. “’Bout what?”

“Just gathering information. You’ve heard about the three women who were murdered recently?”

Brian kept his face aimed at the ground and gave a slight huff. “Yeah. Real freak show. What about it?”

“All of the ladies had procedures at this clinic, so we’re talking to everyone connected with the place.”

For the first time, Brian raised his head. “’Procedures?’ They only do one thing here.”

Broward paused. Fishing for more reaction, he asked, “You got something against abortion?”

Brian’s voice was toneless. “Aw, hell no. Why would I? All they do is kill humans. Sure it bugs me, but now you’ll think I must be the killer because I work here and don’t like abortion. Well, fuck you. I can do both.”

“Don’t get so offended. How about that guy who used to sell fetuses from here? That’s pretty sick if you ask me.”

“Yeah, heard about him. That religious dude talks about him all the time. But what the hell, if you don’t have a problem killing babies, why would you have a problem turning them into a cash crop? People pay big bucks. At least, that’s what I hear.”

Broward had to admit, as creepy as the kid made him feel, he had a point.

He changed tact. “You always wear those sunglasses?”

“No.”

“Mind taking them off?”

“No.”

Brian took them off and gazed back down at the ground. “You know, I bet my mom would have come here. I bet if she knew what I’d look like, I bet she’d come here and kill me. I bet she would…my carcass would pay a lot of rent.”

Broward felt the goose bumps traipsing up his neck as he and Delaney exchanged glances.

The kid was nuts.

“Son,” he said, keeping his voice calm. “Let me see your eyes.”

Brian kept his head down and muttered, “Okay.” Then with that same lightening speed, popped his head up and announced, “There. Happy?”

Broward held his expression. Delaney raised an eyebrow. Scoggins’s eyes were nothing but black pools, not a trace of an iris, not even the slightest hint of color to break up the darkness.

Brian went back to staring at the ground.

Broward asked. “You live with your parents?”

“I don’t have parents. I got a room.”

“What do you mean? Are you an orphan?”

Brian shrugged. “I don’t know who my father is and I guess my mom is alive. I kinda look for her in my spare time.”

“Hmmm, need help with that?”

“Uh…naw. I only know the year I was born and that I’m from Chicago. I don’t really expect to find her.”

“Let me know if you change your mind.”

“Uh…okay.”

Delaney glanced at him. Broward knew that sounded like a closing out line, but it wasn’t.

He partially turned as if about to leave. “There’s one thing your boss mentioned. A box of thirteen year old records went missing last month, about the same time you started working here. Know anything about that?”

Suddenly, Brian’s hand twitched and wrapped around the skinny side of his long, thin squee-gee. Broward casually lifted his hand as if slowly scratching an itch on his clavicle, putting him in position to instantly draw his gun.

“You sure she said everything in that box was thirteen years old?”

Broward’s whole body went on alert. He could sense the kids emotions crank up. Those black, souless eyes found him and he saw his knuckles turn white as they gripped the squee-gee. One more push, one more shake to the tree and he knew the kid would reveal one way or another if he was their boy. Broward stepped out with another statement that he knew implied the impossible. But if the kid were crazy, maybe it would work.

He stared back into his eyes and said carefully, “I think one of them was at least eighteen.”

It happened so fast there wasn’t time to stop him. Brian gave a strange, high-pitched shriek and plowed the squee-gee towards Delaney’s middle. At the last second, Delaney ducked and dodged, but Scoggin’s caught his shoulder and rammed the squee-gee in to its handle. Delaney cried out and stumbled forward. Broward whipped out his Ruger and immediately fired on him. On an average day, he was an excellent shot. At close range, he should have nailed him. But in half a heart beat, he was watching Scoggins hurtle down the alley. He fired again, but could have swore Scoggins saw each shot coming and dodged appropriately. He was impossible to hit.

“Dan!” he cried and scooped his partner into a sitting position. The squee-gee stuck freakishly out of his shoulder causing a maroon flower to blossom all over his coat.

Delaney caught his breath, his forehead sprouted beads of cold sweat. “I…I…hit 9-1-1…on cell…get him. Get the little bastard…”

Broward gripped his gun and took off just in time to see Scoggins, already at the end of the alley, with gear bag over his shoulder, toss a manhole cover to one side. Then he vanished.

As he drew closer, he noted the discarded cover. Just like the Simpson basement.
Below him he heard someone run through shallow water. His suspect was getting away.

“Damn!” he holstered his weapon and climbed into the black hole. At the bottom, he found himself at the intersection of four pipes and looked around. About an inch of water ran beneath his feet and in the dim light he searched for wet footprints to tell him direction his perp ran. To his horror there was nothing but slight wet marks scattered before the opening of each pipe as if someone dipped the end of a stick in the water and tapped it hundreds of times, straight down, onto the dry parts of the cement. Marks like on the carpeting.

“What the hell?”

He peered down each pipe. Dim light dragged itself down the end of one and he could hear movement that same direction. Broward’s heart pounded. There was no guarantee the perp went that way. There was a better chance he was hiding in one of the dark pipes, waiting for him to take the lighted way where he’d make a spectacular target. He considered firing down the other three tunnels, but the mix of fumes in the air, and the possibility of alerting others nearby, made him lower his weapon.

Broward took a breath and headed into the lighted tunnel.

Hunched over and straddling the inch or so of water that ran between his legs as he ran down the pipe, Broward moved along awkwardly.

The temperature around him dropped the closer he drew to the end and a thick smell of sulphur hung in the air.

Suddenly, he was back creeping through the alleys of Iraq. The dark windows watched him like soulless eyes and the enemy was anywhere and everywhere. Waiting, hungry. He had that same sensation now, of being sized-up for a kill. Mouth dry, heart pounding, he inched forward.

The activity at the end of the tunnel increased. The invisible eyes never left him and he constantly glanced over his shoulder, nervous. But he saw nothing.

Ahead, he heard more movement and high-pitched, screeching sounds. He carefully, very carefully, hazarded a peek.

The pipe emptied into a small cave and half-way across the ground appeared to bubble in black, rolling waves, like a pot of boiling water. Then Broward felt his jaw drop and his face contorted in sheer horror and disgust. It wasn’t the ground that moved. A massive swarm of huge, soft, centipede-like, worm-like, disgusting creatures swarmed through the filth, and mud; their fat, pulsating, bodies tangling violently with each other. He could make out tentacles that waved and curled as they fought, some ending in things he thought looked very much like hands. The other appendages ended in blunt points, like centipede or spider legs. Judging from their size, they were heavy enough to leave an imprint.

Broward glanced up and gasped. Five more of the worm-like creatures flew out of a pipe at the end of the cave and landed squarely onto the other monsters.

Oh my God! They came through the pipes!

The creatures continued to make their weird, screeching noises that sounded at first like finger nails on a chalk board. Broward’s heart seized as he realized they were speaking.

“More! Give us more!” The cry began and the others quickly picked it up.

“More! More!”

From around a bend in the cave, pieces of red meat went flying into the swarm and the beasts scrambled insanely to devour it.

Broward didn’t move, he could barely breathe. A single word came to his mind: Abomination.

Suddenly, he realized his cheeks were wet with tears.

What are they eating? Dear God, what are they eating?… Who’s feeding them! Dear God, is it Brian?

Fsssshoooh…

Broward froze, then gripped his gun. The strange hiss was at his back. Instantly, he spun and opened fired and for a single moment, a tiny flash of time, he saw one of the creatures and even as he emptied his Ruger, screaming out his fear and terror, Broward knew that if he lived, he would never be the same. He saw a face. Not a normal face with smiling lips and shining eyes, but something that looked like a human being trapped in a balloon. He even cackled as his own hysteria lead him to think, He’s trying to escape with his nose! If he shoves his nose hard enough against the skin, it will cut him open!

The creature grabbed at its wound and fell writhing to the ground.

Broward felt a rumbling begin beneath his feet. He didn’t stop to consider what it could be, but climbed and kicked his way over the creature and prayed to God he had enough of a head start.

Don’t straighten up too fast…don’t straighten up too fast..!
He couldn’t afford to hit his head or pass out or…They were already at the pipe. Broward ran faster.
There were wails. Movement stopped at the body, but only for a moment.
Broward burst through the pipe at the other end and threw himself onto the ladder. Like lightening, one of the creatures appeared behind him.
Broward shrieked, “Jesus! No!”

The figure screamed something inhuman at him and Broward felt it leap onto the ladder, it’s tentacle ‘hands’ grasping for his legs.

He shrieked, “No! No! No!”
Face as drenched in sobs as his body was with sweat, Broward banged his legs against the ladder as he kicked away the creatures hands and frantically scrambled up and out of the hole, panting, gun drawn, ready to shoot anything that climbed out after him.
But nothing did.
His vision swam. He saw Zeph running towards him and his words sounded like he spoke through molasses.

Broward drew his weapon and shrieked at Zeph to stay away.

The next thing he knew several men were holding him down until a pinch on his arm dragged Broward into darkness.

#

Broward slowly opened his eyes. The scent of alcohol and Lysol hung in the air. He was in an adjustable bed and a puny TV hung on the wall. Delaney sat in a nearby chair watching a game show, his arm bandaged and in a sling.

Broward’s mouth felt like the Sahara, but he managed to whisper, “Hey…”

Delaney’s head popped up and he grinned. “Hey, he’s back!”

Broward tried to sit up and found he couldn’t. Three heavy straps held him firmly to the bed.

“Huh? What the…?”

Delaney looked apologetic. “Yeah, it sucks. But Zeph said the doctor wasn’t sure how’d you react when you woke up. I’ll go get him. Heck, ya’ look fine to me.”

“Wait…” he said, curiosity getting the better of him. “What did I do? I don’t even remember.”

Delaney gave a short laugh. “From the sound of it, you got a little high on those sewer fumes. I heard there was some sort of small gas leak down there that shouldn’t have been. But I guess we’ve learned that you sniffin’ fumes equals visions of mutant, half-human, bug-morphing creatures. Man, you really know how to freak.”

“Oh, my God,” Broward gasped, his memory creeping back. “That’s right! The fumes! And-and sulphur. I must have been higher than a kite!” He closed his eyes. “Thank God! I’ve never been more scared in my whole damn life.”

“Well, you’re okay now, man. Everyone understands. Sounds like your head just needed a chance to clear. Scoggins got away, but at least we know who we’re looking for now. I’ll get the Doc.”

“Hurry up. I gotta take a leak.”

Shortly, Broward’s restraints were removed. But the doctor informed him he wanted a few more tests before discharging him.

‘A few more tests,’ thought Broward. Right. Translation: needs another yacht payment.

“If you want, Detective Broward, feel free to shower and relax.”

Hank took him up on it. It was good to wash away the ‘second skin’ sensation sweat and dirt left on him. And although the memory of his horrific visions still played in his head, he could deal with them. They were what they appeared to be: drug dreams, nothing more. As he scraped the layer of stubble from his face, Broward had to admit, he felt like a new man.

Then he heard a strange sound in the shower. Broward cocked his head and listened.

He heard it again.

Still unsure, he walked over to the stall and waited.

No, it’s the water dripping…It’s water rushing through the pipes…It isn’t…

The sound came again and Broward dropped to his knees, eye’s bulging from their sockets. He pressed an ear to the drain pipe. His breath quickened as he waited all the while praying silently, Please God, no, no, nononononono…

But he heard it again. It was a sound most people would have mistaken for mere noise, but Broward knew better. Echoing up from the pipes was a word that made him recoil and scream. Over and over he heard the creatures calling, “More…more…”

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Pensacola Harbor: Circa 1962

Appeared in Perpetual Magazine 3/2008


not that it matters, but this story is based on an actual event…


You’d have thought everything in the world was going to go just right. The sky was crystal clear, the waters in the Gulf of Mexico were a shimmering emerald green and a light fresh sea breeze kept us all just cool enough.

Yeah, were we ever fooled.

The year was 1962. Me and three of my friends, Vick, Jack and Marty were bored with summer jobs and girls that said, ‘no’ too much. We decided to spend a day out snorkeling in the waters off Pensacola’s beach.

We packed up the cooler with as much beer and water as it would hold, stuck it in Jack’s big, inflatable army raft and headed out for the Meyer Mancel, one of the oldest wrecked ships in the bay. I think it went down around the time of the not- so- Civil- War and a good chunk of the hull still breaks the water’s surface. Amazing, you wouldn’t think it would still be there.

It wasn’t a bad time, lot’s of talking and drinking, laughing about who was and wasn’t making it to college in the fall; who’d got laid and who was lying about it. You know, the usual crap.

But this was before the days of Doppler Radar and the weather man was some guy who relied on aches in his big toe to make a prediction. So there we were, yucking it up and this storm comes out of no where and hauls us out to sea. We wound up way closer to the wreck than the shore. But then, as the storm ended, the fog rolled in and that’s what gave us pause. We couldn’t hear the water on shore from where we were and couldn’t make out any land marks. Worse yet, it was getting dark and we worried about paddling the wrong way.

“Shhh!” I can still see Vick standing there, waving for us all to hush up, just like we were going to be rescued. “I hear something!”

Silence. The water lapped against the raft and splashed out in the gulf, but that was all.

“What was it?” I asked.

Vick shook his head. “I don’t know. I thought maybe…”

And then we heard it: a long low hiss out somewhere in the fog. It chilled my heart. I heard it and thought, I’m going to die.

Jack’s eyes were the size of dinner plates. “What the hell?”

“SSSSSSSSsssssss…..”

I froze, petrified. The sound was big and close and like nothing I had ever heard before or since.

My mouth fell open, my heart raced, cold sweat beaded on my brow.

“Guys,” Vick whispered. “Grab a paddle and let’s get the hell out of here.”

Good idea, but too late. From out of the fog I saw a creature straight out of hell. Its neck rose a full eight feet out of the water, its head was like a blunt triangle. I remember seeing a dark ridge on the top of its skull. I couldn’t scream, I could barely move. All I could do was watch this creature glide towards us. In its last few feet, great flippers rose out of the water and the beast gave itself an enormous push forward. It never stopped; there was no mercy, no compassion. The monster opened a gaping mouth and with a deafening roar dove onto the raft.

I shrieked, “Jump!” and leaped into the water. I swam as far away from the thing as I could until my nerves backed off. I stopped. The guys were gone. I didn’t want to lose them, not like this.

“Vick? Jack?” I called into the fog, “Marty? You guys out there?”

“Here!” I thanked God. I didn’t want to be out there alone. “I got Marty with me, Steve! I…I…I don’t see Jack.”

I was sick. “From-from where I am,” it was hard to talk all of a sudden, “I can see the wreck. Follow my voice and we’ll swim for it.”

Vick’s choked response was, “Yeah, yeah…”

I heard them swim towards me and rejoiced for a second when I saw their faces. But it was only a second. The monstrous head split the surface and suddenly Marty was gone.

Vick screamed. I grabbed him and shouted, “SWIM, DAMMIT!” I shoved him forward, but it did no good. The long neck came up again and crashed down on Vick.

I made it to the wreck, and managed to find a little space in the bow where I wedged myself in and waited.

You know what it’s like to be hunted by a big animal; something that would rip your insides out while you’re still screaming for help?

I prayed a lot before morning, I begged, I pleaded and I guess God heard because the thing finally went away.

The Coast Guard got me the next morning, shivering and jabbering and took me home. I spent six nights in jail because no one believed my story and they thought I killed my friends. But they couldn’t keep me forever. No bodies.

Besides, they all thought I was crazy once I told them what ate everyone. It was a dinosaur. Yeah, go on and laugh. But that’s what it was. I know they’re not supposed to be around anymore, but that one didn’t get the message. Tell me different all you want, but I know what I saw that night.

Man, I need a drink.

Sound Byte from the end of the World

Appeared in The Bohemian Alien Feb. 2008


The new moon had already risen seven days earlier when a fist pounded on my door. I cursed as I opened it and saw not only Ahmet, but his worthless pig of a son, Tomis. Together they are as attractive as half a cow, but they do not smell as good. Black mustaches drip off their lips like rancid oil.

I sneered in their filthy faces and spat, “What do you want?”

Ahmet folded his great slabs he had for arms and grunted, “My rent, Marye. NOW!”

I threw my hands in the air. “What? I go out and get stiffed by your miserable friends and so now you expect me to have money! What am I? A magician to pluck it out of the air? I don’t have the money. That’s all!” I reached to slam the door in his face, but his fat hand lurched forward so swift and hard, I was knocked back onto the floor.

Nodding to his son he muttered, “The daughter is in back.” And Tomis lumbered off.

Horrified, I bolted upright, “You can’t! My daughter is with child!”

Ahmet shoved me back with his boot and I swore at him with greater fervor.

“Shut-up” He growled. “Why would he hurt her? Next month we may have to take her in trade for your rent once again.” Then raising his arms, indicating I was to undo his sash, he hissed, “Get busy.”

Despite my daughter’s cries, it went very well. I know she was uncomfortable, but what can either of us do? It is how we are forced to live in this pig sty of a town.

In an hour we had paid the rent in full. Relieved to have that behind me, I changed my dress, combed my hair, told my daughter to grow up and went into town.

In back of the café where I often find employment, people were gathering to peer out the rear window. A couple of gray-haired old men began taking bets on whatever activity was going on.

Two traders were shouting in the alley way. One was Joseph. Tall, powerfully built, his long wavy hair tied back, he looked like he had to but step on his opponent to win this battle. The other was Samekh, a small, dark, greasy, weasel of a man. I did not see much of the fight because while they were at each other, I went from pocket to pocket, lightening the patrons of their burdens. Ha! Gold and silver are so heavy after all!

From the alley came such loud cries of pain from Joseph I craned to look out of sheer surprise. Samekh, the cheat, the weasel, had several of his friends in tow and they were doing…things to Joseph. Ah, it was a business dispute, and if I sought help for him or tried to step in, it would only cost me my life and they would have continued on with Joseph, so what should I do? It was not my affair. It kept the café entertained long enough for me to fly out the front door. I intended to head for the dress makers. It had been a hard day already, I deserved something for myself. But I was interrupted once again.

“Marye! You evil whore!” the screams of Ahna, the baker’s wife followed me down the street. “You stay away from my husband or I will slice you!”

I screwed up my lip and sneered, “Oh, you want to slice me like bread? Perhaps you should stop your screaming and take care of your man. It is not MY fault you do not please him. You are ugly, I am not.”

Ahna is a hefty woman, very strong from carrying babies on her hips and kneading bread. She snatched up the large, wooden bread paddle they use as if it were a feather and came charging after me like a great, angry, she-bear. Panicked, I pulled out the dagger I keep strapped to my thigh and held it out. “I will slice you, Ahna! You know I will!”

She stopped, but still held the paddle like a weapon and we stood circling each other in the street, one waiting for the other to drop her guard.

“I HATE YOU!” shouted Ahna. “You are poison, you are cow dung. You are everything wrong and then more.”

“Oh? And you are so pure? Who cheats their customer’s, a loaf here, a copper there? You are so good?”

Ahna’s answer was to lunge forward with a great roar. She swung and struck the side of my face. The earth spun and I staggered, in the mean time, she struck me again and again…

“STOP!” A man’s voice cried out and with some relief I saw it was Ben-Wazzeem, one of the herb traders in town. “Ladies! Ladies! I’m sure none of us want the Law to come,” he said reasonably. “Now Ahna, everyone knows your husband goes to this harlot and now you’ve made your point to her, so stop worrying about it.” He put a companionable arm over her shoulder trying to cheer her. “Look at it this way, it could be worse,” he said a grin splitting his face. “He could be visiting a goat!” They both laughed at my expense.

He took her hand and patted it gently, “Your husband still provides, still takes care of you, so he is a good man at least, no?”

Ahna thought about it and nodded, “You are wise. And you are right: Marye is at least better than a goat.”

“That’s it. Now back to your babies.” She spat at my feet and walked away like a pacified elephant.

I was still panting from the encounter, still enraged by their exchange. Wazeem looked me over and cocked his head. “I am surprised you are still here in town.”

I gasped, “Why?”

“‘Why?’” he echoed, incredulous. “The circus! There is something happening out there. I was on my way before running into this cat-fight! She would have beaten you to death; you know that, don’t you?”

I felt my bruised sides and nodded.

“Well, then,” he clucked. “I think you have at least a couple of minutes for the man who saved your life. My alley is empty.”

I followed him, still desperately gripping my dagger. In the alley, he turned, put his hands on my shoulders and lightly pushed down, but instead of going to my knees, I rammed the dagger into his belly and yanked it up toward his breast bone.

I have killed men before, and as they die, they all look the same. Eyes wide and amazed that I would dare hurt them and words of ‘why’ on their lips. Wazeem was no different. Before the light died in his eyes, I told him, “You compared me to a goat.”

My revenge satisfied, I headed for The Circus.

It is not really a circus. We have all called it that for many months since the carpenter began bringing creatures in to populate it. But it is so odd and so many strange things happen there, it is something to see.

I took the walk over the first, then second hills outside of town and though I have seen the circus many times, the site of it still made me gasp. It is the largest, single structure I have ever seen. The sons built it at the bequest of their mad father. Yes, he must be mad. This building is larger than the king’s palace. It is long, and made from lumber treated to become gopher wood. Yes! You may ask why a building is made with gopher wood. Why would it need so much protection from moisture and dampness? That is the true madness here! The carpenter, a fool named Noah, calls it a boat! And who but a mad man spends a hundred years building a boat so huge, so far from the sea?

Then the animals began to come. Creatures the likes few have seen. Even great long neck dragons came here, laid their eggs and the young clambered on board. Beautiful birds, young, snowy white bears, baby elephants . . . they all came to Noah’s boat. His huge gangplank lays open and he constantly calls for us to join him, but then, he is mad and there is enough madness about.

I ran where much of the town had gathered. It was a carnival as men drank their wine and cavorted, singing songs about Noah and his lunacy. Two men began to dance naked and called out, “Noah! This is what we think of your God!” One of them urinated and cried, “Oh, look! The rain came!” The crowd, including my self, laughed.

But there was silence when Dhalet the High Priest of the Sun joined us. He wore a dazzling, white robe, his headdress was lined in pure gold, on the end of staff was the golden image of the fish god. Flanked by his priests, he stood before Noah’s boat and cried out, “Noah! You will speak with us! Speak with us, now!”

I waited, suddenly forgetting all that had happened today. Noah . . . I had not seen him in years. Some said that now lightning flew from his eyes, some said he spoke to spirits. Not for the first time since coming to this place, fear pierced my heart.

Above us all, striding out onto the fruit of his insanity, Noah stood on the deck of this boat, this ark he calls it. He was very old, but he is still a man’s man and I felt my body ache with desire for him.

I could easily picture him out cutting and carrying lumber alongside of his sons. His beard was long and white, but even from this distance, you could tell that here was a man with fire in his soul.

“My neighbors!” He cried. “The Lord has spoken to me! He will send the rains in one week. I beg you! Please do not be left! There is room! Come! Anyone!”

There were chuckles and snickers, but not a soul moved toward the plank.

“Noah!” cried Dhalet. “In the name of our holy gods, I ask that you listen to reason and come out of there! You must see the insanity here! Let us use this lumber to build homes for your neighbors! We will slay the animals for offerings and feast for many weeks! You will be a hero! Revered and loved! It is I that implore you! Come out! Come out now.”

“There is ONE GOD!” Noah bellowed in a voice that seemed to shake the hills. “It is His will that I do! His alone! Repent of your evil and come with us before it’s too late!”

“Enough!” Dhalet cried. “All of you! Tear that ark apart! His lumber is our lumber!”

Like many of the men, Orzet, another carpenter from town, cried, “About time!” He joined the throng of men heading for the gangplank.

Then, that is when the Great Thing happened. This gangplank, this creation of wood and sweat, so thick I have seen several heavy animals walk up its path with scarcely a creak; this large, heavy door lifted from the ground. Not a single man touched it. Not one rope was tied to it. The men ran back in fear as the door lifted to close of its own accord. Slowly, it rose, closing, closing . . . a resounding ‘thud’ haunted the air as it shut with a finality that made me afraid. Not even Dhalet could make anyone raise a hand against the ark after that. They were too fearful.

We left The Circus a much quieter group that day.

I have watched the faces of people this week and part of me has felt like I am watching the walking dead. But the sun still shines, the breezes are still cool and sweet, and I remind myself Noah is a religious madman, nothing more.

But it has been seven days and now the rains have started. And it is not a mere shower; the water is falling in torrents. Even still, this should not be a surprise. The autumn rains are often heavy, except the rains aren’t stopping. The storm should be slowing, but this one grows stronger. Right now it is night and my daughter sleeps in back as always. The rains aren’t stopping and I know what I must do. While there is no one to stop or ridicule me, I will make my way to the ark. I would take my daughter, but in her state, she would not make it and waking her would only cause her pain and fear. To leave her is merciful.

I will go to the ark and pound on the door. I will scream, claw if I have to. I will promise anything, as long as he allows me in. And he will let down the gang plank for me. He has to. I will MAKE him.

I must hurry. The water is seeping under my door.

Samaqyazeel

Appeared in The Bohemian Alien and Perpetual Magazine/ May 2008


“You have been in heaven, but all the mysteries had not yet been revealed to you, and you knew worthless ones, and these in the hardness of your hearts you have made known to the women, and through these mysteries women and men work much evil on earth.”
Say to them therefore: “You have no peace.”‘

Enoch 16:3,4


Henri squinted as he gazed across the New Mexican desert. The El Capitan Mountain range stood holding back the light of a sinking sun. Henri tugged the brim of his hat down to help keep it’s dying rays out of his eyes. He would be heading that direction, all the way to the mountain peak.

Henri straightened his shoulders, adjusted the small bed roll on his back and took a swig from his canteen. He put one foot in front of the other. No one said he had to, but Henri felt walking the distance was important. He had to give in order to receive.

The signs were clear, the knowledge from his teachers, invaluable. If he did not falter and showed no fear, by tonight he would be in the presence of an Ascended Master.

He pictured his earthly master, Jean-Pierre, as he leaned over the Ouija board, his entire body quaking with realization.

“Mon Dieu, Henri!” Master Jean Pierre paled as he pushed his white hair away from his face. “He is not in the Arabian desert! The spirits tell me he is to be found in America! In New Mexico. Go to him! You know his name! If you speak it, he will do your bidding,” Master Jean Pierre’s eye’s fairly glowed with excitement. “He will make you powerful!”

Henri’s long strides kept him on a steady course.

Power, oui. How he needed, craved power! Many had scorned Master Jean-Pierre.
Others ridiculed his own writings and his descriptions of the strength and greatness of the Ascended Masters. Fools! To doubt their existence was clearly an act of insanity.

But tonight he would pledge his loyalty, his body and very soul to the god Samaqyazeel and all mocking would end.

An hour passed. Henri began his climb of El Capitan with legs heavy as lead.

All is well, all is well, he told himself. I must come to the end of myself. There must be nothing of me left and then the Master will rebuild.

He picked up one foot and put it down, then another, he was leaving his old life forever.

Henri! Come! It is time for church!

Henri looked about. The memory was so clear he half expected to see his father beckoning him to climb into the family car.

Church, he scoffed. There lay the weakness of all mankind. When his mother died, did God give her back? No. When his father’s business failed, did God give them money? Not at all.

“Those days are done!” he cried in the darkening woods. His breathing deepened. His legs felt on fire. The moon would rise soon and his way would be clear.

The ground beneath him slanted ever upward. “…Keep…keep…going…” he gasped.

Two more hours past and he kept climbing. The woods with its mountain side evergreens gave way to fields of skree, loose rock waiting to slide out from under him. Henri feared if he stumbled here the incline was so steep, it could be a fatal fall. He planted his feet and took another drink.

Breathing heavily he kept telling himself, “Almost there, almost there…” At last he stood below the summit and stared out across the vista. Brilliant stars throbbed overhead and through out the mountains coyotes began to howl. Far below, the foothills resembled a black, rolling sea.

Henri leaned heavily against the rock face and longed to lie down. Heart pounding, body exhausted, he was almost there. Henri closed his eyes. He could feel it now, the end of himself. A sense of holy dread fell over the area and Henri felt eyes upon him, watching, waiting.

From above, the sound of voices in a low steady, chant, filled him with fear and excitement. Others.

“Why shouldn’t there be others?” he whispered in the dark. “My god can call all of his people…yes…yes…Go. Go to them.”

He gave an exhausted chuckle as he started the climb. “Ah, Henri, you are speaking to yourself now, no? You are surely your own best company!”

Now that the sun was gone the air grew colder by the moment. Henri dug his fingers into the rock, balancing and hauling himself ever upward.

The sound of his father’s voice jarred him.

Henri! Come back! Come home, son!

Henri nearly lost his grip. Startled, he grabbed the rock face and glanced around.

“My father is not here…he is nowhere…” he whispered, pressing his cheek into the rock. “You are exhausted, Henri. There is rest at the top. You are almost there…”

His hands were starting to bleed, but he didn’t care. Those days were done.
A cruel voice from his childhood howled with laughter.

Henri! You dress like a pig!

He gritted his teeth and continued. “Of course I looked like a pig,” he muttered. “We had no money…” he gasped with effort, “…My father no longer cared…Ah! I will show you!”

With the determination of the damned, his body quaking with exertion, his heart thudding, Henri crawled and clawed his way to the summit. What he saw thrilled him.

In the midst of a small plateau, a fire blazed before a large flat, boulder. Circling the fire, were men. Some naked, some clothed in robes, others wore jeans and flannel shirts, all prostrated themselves as they uttered the name of their god, over and over.

“Samaqyazeel! Samaqyazeel! Samaqyazeel!”

The seekers of power! Henri’s face quickly dampened with tears of joy. These were his people. Truly he was home.

He tried to stand and walk to them, but his legs collapsed and he crashed to the ground.

I am too weak! Oh, Samaqyazeel! I am so tired!

His body aching with exhaustion, he dragged himself across the rocky surface.

A man from the circle, looked up, saw him, rose to his feet and called across the plateau. “Are you the Frenchman?”

Henri pushed himself to his knees, threw back his head and laughed. “Ah, oui, I am French! Forgive me, brothers. I am exhausted.”

There were cries of joy from around the circle and several of the men leapt up to help him.

“He will come now!”

“The blood of the Frenchman will bring him!”

“Now he will come!”

“He said that would draw him!”

Henri’s spiritual brothers surrounded him and lifted him up.

“My brother,” the first man said. “We mingle our blood and he will be here.”

They carried him to the rock, where Henri stood, dumbfounded as he watched each man step forward. The leader handed them an ornate dagger and each one sliced his arm and let his blood drip upon the rock alter then returned to his spot in the circle.

The leader took the dagger and handed it to Henri while around him the others chanted Samaqyazeel’s name.

“Share your blood.”

“Samaqyazeel…Samaqyazeel…Samaqyazeel…”

His stomach turned, but Henri was determined. If these gave blood, he would give more. Henri set his jaw and rolled up his sleeve.

“Samaqyazeel…Samaqyazeel…Samaqyazeel….”

The men’s voices beat the air like a drum. Dizzy with weariness, the sound alone made him woozy.

“Samaqyazeel…Samaqyazeel…”

He took a deep breath and jammed the knife into his arm. The act was surprising painless. A mirthless smile spread his lips as he watched his own blood drip onto the stone.

“Samaqyazeel…Samaqyazeel…”

As one voice, the men silenced themselves. The atmosphere became electrified, over head heat lightening danced through the sky, a blast of icy wind tore through him.

“Kneel and speak his name,” the leader said.

Henri melted to the ground and shouted, “SAMAQYAZEEL!”

A sudden boom of thunder shook the mountain top and in that second, the air thickened and split and out of the fire rose a beast like Henri never dreamed or imagined. A full fifteen feet high, a great, worm-like dragon came forward. Black, oily, scales covered its undulating body. Its head and snout were long like an alligator’s, its mouth held in a permanent death grimace that displayed rows of pointed teeth. Samaqyazeel opened his mouth and roared and Henri heard it as the roar of thunder.

He felt no comfort or joy in his presence, but a fear so encompassing all he could do was shut his eyes, scream the name of his god and pray the end came quickly.

“SAMAQYAZEEL! SAMAQYAZEEL!”

Weeping, wishing he had strength to stand and run, Henri realized the plateau had once again grown quiet.

From above him, a voice said his name, “Henri Dubois?”

Slowly, Henri lifted his face. A man stood over him. Not just any man. He was tall and glowing. Snow white robes wrapped around his body. Long, yellow hair hung about his head and when Henri gazed into his eyes, he saw a deep and terrible intelligence, but also the nobility and compassion of a thousand, thousand lifetimes. This was his god.

“S-samaqyazeel?” he choked.

“Yes, Henri. I am here.”

For a few moments, Henri wept for joy. “I-I have longed for you. We knew…my master and I…we knew from the old writings…we knew you were still here…”

“I am pleased. I could sense you searching, so I called you. You have a great purpose before me tonight, Henri. Rise and answer your calling.”

Tears streaming down his face, Henri cried, “Yes, Lord! Yes!”

He jumped to his feet, but his exhaustion, the high altitude, and even higher emotions finally took their toll. Henri collapsed in a heap before his god.

The leader of the others gasped. “My Lord Samaqyazeel. He is so weak. What is his worth to us?”

Henri felt Samaqyazeel gather him in his arms and lift him easily, as if he were a sleeping child.

“‘What is his worth?’” Henri, half-aware, watched the star filled sky over head, his heart still awe-struck with the being who cradled him close as he walked.

“His calling is an act of love.” Gently, with all the tenderness of a caring father, Henri felt his beloved god laid him on the flat, raised boulder. Taking the dagger in both hands, Henri watched, puzzled as Samaqyazeel raised the knife over him. “It just so happens, I love French food.”

The knife plunged down into his belly. Henri’s eyes bulged open. As his world dimmed he heard Samyazeel call, “Faithful ones, join me in my feast!”

A cry of glee went up from his followers. And before Henri could pass from this life, the feast began.