Friday, September 23, 2011

John 1:2

The long oblong table was still and quiet. On the table were two stuffed turkeys baked in butter and filled with Duck dressing, three honey baked hams, a whole roasted pig, six baked chickens, stewed potatoes, steamed carrots, broccoli, canned yams peppered with sugar cane and cinnamon, a copious amount of vegetables and an abundant amount of greens with a carafe full of balsamic vinegar. Six bottles of, uncorked, vintage wine dating back to the third crusade sat within reach of the twelve men huddled around the table. Above them, tiny flames flickered from two massive chandeliers, hooked to long chains that dangled from a steel track in the ceiling, spanning the entire length of the table, that burned more than two thousand separate pillar candles each, providing the only source of light in the dining hall. The candles slowly burned, their wax collecting into silver stem holders that would overflow before the candles ever melted halfway down. As the wax flowed out from the holders, the chandeliers lightened as the chains lifted them up to the ceiling that triggered a tension spring above the concrete rooftop. The spring lever would then release a series of mechanisms that controlled a propane tank within the machinery above, sparking a constant stream of fire that lit the two thousand wicks on two more chandeliers that lowered from the ceiling, starting the whole morbid process over again. Those who sat at the table were quite familiar with this pre-ritual dinner, which took place once every one hundred years. It was sadistic and beautiful in both its symbolism and process, meant only for the highest ranking men of the cloth. Among the twelve participants, only the Vicar of Christ knew of this thousand year old ritual and even he was too haunted by its practice to bare witness. As sick and twisted as this ritual was, it was also vital in keeping the world above in its current state of control. It was called the Rite of Cleansing, and it was one of seven rituals to take place in secret underground churches all across the world.

Before this day, six other similar rituals had been completed successfully. Only the Rite of Cleansing remained and it was the most important ritual of them all, for it called for the highest leaders and tested the faith of those who were supposed to be the next holiest men aside from the Vicar himself. If this ritual ended like the other six before it, God's blessing would come forth and wash away the sins of the world. It would bar evil for another hundred years from manifesting into flesh. The men ate and drank their wine and soon became intoxicated and fat and spoke of sinful wants and desires and needs. As they shared their playful side with one another, the table grew heavier with the wax from the candles. Their food splattered with film that went unnoticed when consumed by their glutenous mouths, swallowed by the swine of man and jovially at that. In time, the wax had covered the entire tabletop, but this did not stop the men from eating and pouring their wine until their golden chalices ran dry, which then collected the candle wax that was happily consumed. The men, like the table and its contents, grew heavy. Their arms fought to lift their glasses to their lips, their tunics and cloaks covered now and their faces stung from the hot drippings. By the time the second set of chandeliers had lowered from the ceiling, the men were weak and groaning form both the burn of the wax and the burden of its weight on their bodies. Candle wax had set their feet against the ground and fixed them to their seats. Their stomachs ached from the food and the wax and the wine each had consumed as the other told stories, some terrible and others so distasteful and crude that it was suspected that demons had found their way inside them. Twelve hours in and the room was nearly cast in darkness. There were no more stories. No more eating or drinking. There was a curious smell to the dining hall, pleasant and yet grotesque, like someone had ignited sulfur in a room full of Jasmine. As the final blip of firelight died out, casting the dining hall in pitch black, a voice filled the room. It said, "This time the Black shall overcome."  

There was a series of knocks against the old wooden gates of the Shad'villa parish. They were hurried knocks that begged for an equally hurried response, which would not come. The gate broke open with a firm kick that tore the lock from its hinge that crashed against the cobbled path, bouncing aside in the tall unkempt grass of the churches courtyard. Heeled shoes clanged off the cobbles as the nun rushed up to the door of the church, trying the knob to find it locked. The door was cast iron in construction, its hinges discolored by the rust of time, but still firm enough to keep out anyone not wielding a siege battering ram. She looked for a knob but the door was without such devices, which meant it would take more than a simple twist of fate to open. It was dusk out, and a slight cold breeze blew up onto the landing. The nun turned, drawing her sword from beneath her habit, readying it in front of her. 
     "There is no need for that, sister." The small dwarf man before her said. He did not flinch and carried himself as though he were expecting her. 
     "You are too late." He said.
     "If that were so, I too would already be dead." 
     "The Vicar's whore has come to save the wicked has she?" 
The dwarf wore a white cassock with a black and white stole draped around his left shoulder, his thick hammy hands clasped in front of him, wrapped in rosary beads in constant prayer, trying not to succumb to pleasures of the flesh. His comments were not taken lightly, feeling the air beneath his legs as they were kicked out from under him. He cracked against the pavement, with a forceful pressure at his chest that was her heel digging mercilessly above his heart.
     "Give me one reason I should not collapse your chest and run my heel straight through your black heart Deacon."
The dwarf fought for air, lungs burning as he sucked wind as best he could.
     "Do your worse wench! shall not gain entry...without my blessing."
She bent down, grabbing the Deacon by his collar, hoisting him up into the air and against the door. Every bone in his back shattered against the iron door, whatever air his lungs managed to take in had been knocked out of them by the blow. Her worse was still to come, but, first, she wanted to hurt him, punish him for his lack of commitment, judge him for being such an unforgivable Judas Priest and make him bleed from the ducts of his eyes.
     "You will regret permitting me such guiltless access to do as I will."
She took his head, slamming it against the door. The world went dark for a moment, brought back to light by repeated slaps that stung each side of his face.
     "God would never...allow such cruelty no matter the cause." He said weakly.
She took the beads from his hands and wrapped them around his neck, each pass around his head tightened the chain, cutting off the air, teasing death's doorstep.
     "God is not here, Deacon. I will give you only one chance to open this door now stained with your own blood. Continue to stand your ground and I promise I will make you a temporary fixture."
The Deacon had reached the moment in life, when a split second determines whether you continued to live or die and your whole life flashes before you, where he must choose a path of the righteous or that of the spoiler. He had been sworn to secrecy and, more importantly, commissioned by the Patriarch as herald of the New Sun for his services. The Shad'villa would fall under his rule and, in doing so, he would become a bishop shortly after. The strain of his own rosary around his neck forced instinct to act where his will had finally broken. His hand moved across the iron door to a space where the facing of the door sunk in the shape of a hand. His fingers spread over the grooves in the door and with a final desperate act of survival, he pressed in on the grooves. There was a click somewhere inside the doors inner workings and a series of wheels turned, sliding the steel bolt from its post unlocking the door.
     "Wait here."
She held the Deacon's hand against the pressure plate, stabbing it with her sword, completing her promise to make the Deacon dwarf a temporary fixture. She left him to his screams outside silently agreeing with herself that, if he was still conscious, she would dress his wounds for his troubles upon her return. She stepped inside the dark church, fading into the grey darkness as screams pleaded with her to reconsider.

The door opened to a young man standing on Father Jessley's porch. He was dressed in plain clothing. His hair was pulled back into a pony-tail behind his head that ran down to the middle of his back. He wore a sleeveless, tie-dyed, shirt that exposed his long lanky tattooed arms that stiffened at his sides once the door opened. His right arm, he noticed, had a red, fire breathing, dragon inked onto his bicep, its tail coiling down around his forearm ending at his wrist where the word "rock" was also tattooed on each of his knuckles except for his thumb; this knuckle was branded with a star. His pants were torn and poorly patched and he was bare-footed and bleeding from the bottom of his feet. His skin was clammy and he was sweating profusely, even on a mild day such as this one. It was not in Father Jessley's nature to turn a blind eye, but this young man unnerved him, and the way he stood there eyeing him as though they knew one another only added to his jitters.
     "Yes?" He said cautiously.
There was a slight pause in a reply. The young man was uncertain how to approach the priest. He had wanted to wait until morning, when the church opened its doors, but he did not have time to wait. The authorities were already searching for him and his was certain his friends had already ratted him out.
     "Fff...father, I...I have come a long way to find you. You are the only one who can help me. Clear my name or convince the police-"
     "The police?" This was something he was certain that he did not want to involve himself in, regardless of how he felt about helping others. "I'm sorry. I cannot help you." he said, shutting the door quickly and locking it.
     "Please! I have nowhere else to go."
The Priest stood behind the safety of the door, waiting, listening, for the man to leave. He had hoped this would not result in him having to call the police, which he added from behind the door.
     "Step away from the porch please and I will sit out some food and water for you, but that is where my charity ends. Understood?"
There was desperation in the young man's voice as he asked for just a moment more of his time.
     "I know this will sound crazy, must believe me Father. God...he...I was sent to you by God."
Another crackpot, he thought to himself. It was not uncommon to have a man or woman, down on their luck, show up at his doorstep every few months in search of charity or shelter, when the weather called for such measures. Generally, at the threat of phoning the authorities, they would leave or adhere to his offering of a quick bit to eat at a distance, but this was not so this time 'round. He heard something thump against the other side of the door, as though the young man had placed his head against it. If he was going to go to jail, he was going to go with a clear conscious, telling his story that began as he woke up in a hotel room the day before with a dead hooker in his bed and a world of trouble unfolding inside a drunken haze. The door unlocked again, opening slowly, to find that the young man had sat at the doorstep, his back against the door frame, as he continued with his story.
     "I ran. It was all I knew to do at the time, father. What else could I have done? I could not stay and explain to the police how a dead woman ended up naked in my bed. I could have told them the truth, which was I had been partying throughout the night, after playing a reunion gig at the Pony Express, and combined with the drugs and alcohol the whole blessed day is a total loss of memory. But, what authority would believe that as a defense?" The young man turned his tear-ridden face to Father Jessley and burst into a fit of emotion. "I could not bring myself to stay behind...and I set up the room to make it appear as though another man, who was passed out in the closet, was in the bed with that woman instead of me!"
Father Jessley was at a loss. For the first time, he did not know what to say or how to approach the grief stricken man before him. He did not need to rely on faith to know that his words were sincere and true. He reached down and placed his hand onto the man's shoulder.
     "Come inside, my son. Allow me to address your wounds and provide you with food and something to drink."
He assisted the young man to his feet, helping him inside. He took him to the kitchen and sat him at the table, while he poured him some water, which he quickly drank. Father Jessley then took to his fridge and took form it a plate of assorted cheeses and deli meats, which he had brought home from the morning's mass, sitting it in front of the man.
     "Tell me, what is your name?"
     "Wade." He said reaching for a sliver of brie and a piece of ham. "Wade Keller. Please, you have to help me father. I did not kill that woman," Wade paused as he chewed, considering his own words, questioning them on the inside and hoping like hell they sounded honest enough on the outside, "I do not deny being there with her, only that it was not me who took her life."
Father Jessley was an older man, a man in his sixties who was nearing retirement from the cloth within the next few months, planning his life after his servitude to the LORD. His service in the church was long and fruitful with its spiritual wealth and existential prevalence within the church, serving as Parish Priest and Deacon to the Holy Simpatico. His role as both Priest and Deacon had provided a plethora of challenges, but none more plagued with moral obstacles than the one before him. If this were confession, he could deem the man's confession as spiritual guidance and remove any civic duties from his conscious. But the man was not sitting inside a confessional. This was a man sitting at the table of another man confessing his innocence to a murder and asking for God's asylum.
     "Why are you telling me this?"
His question, as expectant as it should be to any man, came across insulting to Wade. His neck crooked and his bottom lip began to quiver.
     "Have you not heard my words father? Because She told me you would help me."
     "She who, Wade?"
     "The Angel. She was the one who directed me here to you. I thought it was some kind of hallucination, an aftershock to all the drugs from the night before, but she was no hallucination or dream father. She was...surreal to be sure, but her touch was just as honest and real as this food I now eat, or the hurt from my wounds on the bottom of my feet. Her words were like my own thoughts motivating me, helping me clear my head and get off that bus, before the police caught up with me."
Father Jessley had filled a large aluminum bowel with warm water, sitting it at Wade's feet. He then took a towel from the cabinet, some antibiotic solution, along with some band-aids and gauze from the closet nearby. It was both a gesture of kindness and an act of his faith to help a stranger with his wounds as others had helped Jesus as he carried the burden of his cross. It was also to keep his mind from wandering into the realm of fear, for he was not convinced that his life was not still in danger.
     "This might sting a little." He said as he moistened the towel and applied it to the bottom of Wade's foot.
His feet were mauled, cut throughout the pads of his feet and heels by rocks and sticks, with tiny blood clots forming beneath the skin. His wounds were concurrent with someone running without regard to the terrain, assisting with Wade's continued confession of how he ran into the woods, once the tour bus had come to a stop, never looking back as voices shouted for him.
     "I must have ran for hours," Wade was saying, "I am not sure if it was drugs or a combination of drugs and adrenalin, but no matter how much damage I did to my feet, I still ran never feeling any pain, even now. When I was not able to keep pace, I refused to stop or address the wounds. I just kept walking. The Angel had told me that in order to redeem my soul and exonerate my spirit, I would have to find Father Jessley of Saint Patrick's Parish. As I walked, still coming down from my high, I found my way here to your doorstep." At this, Wade stopped and looked down to the Priest. "I have no earthly idea what state or city I am in, Father. How could I have possibly found my way here, without some kind of heavenly guidance directing me?"
Father Jessley was quietly shaken at this. He never told the man his name and there was nothing to indicate such outside the church. Even more unsettling was his tale about the Angel visiting him, both in his dreams and manifesting itself in reality as though he were talking to it as he now talked to him. There was an element of honesty with his story that disturbed father Jessley. Not because Wade had named dropped him, but because of how his story correlated to Deacon Jessley's affairs and not Father Jessley, Parish Priest. He moistened his towel in the crimson water bowel and addressed the wounds on Wade's other foot.
     "Did the Angel tell you anything else?" He asked inquisitively.
     "Only that you would know what to do."
Father Jessley rested on his heels.
     "I do not believe your wounds need any stitching. You are very lucky not to have done any worse." He said taking the bowel over to the sink emptying it. "You will need to stay off your feet. I am not a doctor, but it doesn't take a medical degree to know that your cuts need to heal a little before you trample them again. Plus, maybe there are some fresh clothes and shoes that fit you in the donations room at the church. Finish eating your food and I will run over to the church to see about some clothes. What are you, 36, 34?"
     "34, 34."
     "My mistake. I will see what I can do for you." He said starting for the door.
     "Father...Can I trust that you will not phone the police and lock yourself away inside the church?"
     "Trust not in me, my son. Trust in the LORD as I have by allowing you, a stranger, inside my home."
Father Jessley opened the door and stood for a moment.
     "And, for you, I am not the Father Jessley. That title is for those in need of the Lord's forgiveness. You need something much more; therefore, you may call me Deacon."
     "If I do not need forgiveness, Deacon, then what is it that I need?"
The door closed. Wade sat alone at the table, eyeing his surroundings. By all accounts, it was a simple house whose kitchen came with simple instruments; a blender, a toaster; a kettle on the stove; a microwave and a wall phone with a Post-it note stuck to the receiver. On the Post-it note were the words "take out" scrawled beneath an 800 number. Wade closed his eyes only for a moment, which was all the time his body needed to shut itself down and fall asleep. His fate was now literally in God's hands

The nun stood at a stairwell that spiraled down into a dark shaft located inside the church's northern transept, which was not a part of the church's original blueprint construction and only known by the Deacon and his Major Bishop. Knowing the layout of The Seven Churches of Sodom as they were known, was part of her training and taught to her by Mother Strange. Moments ago, she had slid her finger along the marble flooring, finding the small groove within the marble, lifting it to discover the stairwell. Her sense of smell was instantly bombarded with the scents of Jasmine and a faint odor of death that quickly permeated the transept, flooding the Crossing and into the Nave and Chancel. Knowing what waited for her, she covered her mouth and nose with her hand and pressed onward into the darkness below, carefully finding her way in the dark one step at a time. It felt like she had traversed a hundred steps or more, before she had to stop and control her gag reflex from failing. What she first thought to be the smell of death was actually Sulfur that was now burning her eyes the closer she came to the dining hall. Her training came to mind, hoping this would detract her from the fact that the smell was beginning to sicken her beyond her means. The Rite of Cleansing. A sacrifice in His name for the sins of man against his only son, and part of the Dead Sea scrolls recovered inside long forgotten caves along the West Bank.

The scrolls told of the Last Rites of Man, which were then sent to the Vatican and sealed by order of Pope John Paul I, along with the Secrets of Fatima. The Rites of Man, as memory served, were translated and preached as the Seven Deadly Sins. To the masses, these were biblical lessons of morality, individual riches that never fulfilled God's desires for man, providing comfort to the wicked where only praise and faith were needed. But, to the threefold order of the church, it meant something far more sinister and unkind. It was the undeniable truth behind the veil of lies the church had spent two thousand years trying to bury. She only understood bits and pieces of it, containing this knowledge because those who pulled the strings and worked the levers behind the curtain had employed her to carry out their will. Then, one week ago, everything changed. A chink in the armor of God was exposed and the enemy of good had taken advantage of the moment. As she understood it, the line between good and evil was slowly beginning to blur. An Angel had appeared to her parish, cutting the throat of its bishop, bleeding him like swine. It had spoken in tongues she did not understand, but Mother Strange understood all to well. She was protected, while her home burned to the ground and by the hands of an Angel. Everything she knew about her faith had been turned belly-up and exposed. She recalled the words Mother Strange had spoken to her that morning, before mass was to start.
     "Do not question these words child. If the first snowfall bestows an early winter, you will go to Alexandria. There you will find the Rite of Cleansing and begin to walk your chosen path."
It did not mean much to her at the time, but now they fused to her psyche like barnacles on the bottom of a cruise ship. She reached the last step and stood in the darkness, wishing she had kept her sword and its security. There was nothing on the walls around her to indicate a switch to bring from the darkness the light of sight, recalling the zippo she had swiped from Detective White. She reached into her habit and found the cold metal casing, pulling it from her pocket. Unsure of what to expect, she steadied herself, flipping the top of the lighter, thumbing the wheel that sparked a small flame. For the first time, she recalled that fear she felt  each time her father came into her room as a child.
     "What in God's name."
It looked like a scene plucked straight out from Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, except not as sculpted and chiseled down to its most minute detail. This monstrosity was demented in its construction and morbid and, even more unsettling, self-inflicted. All of the men were sealed from head to toe in wax, some of which dried as it repelled from the chandeliers above, like frozen stalactites found inside limestone caves. Their skin had fused to the wax, turning it pink in color that bubbled and blistered as the wax dried. Their grief stricken faces captured, like fossilized creatures encased in amber, some moaning and others caught within a scream. There was one, in particular, whose face was calm, free of surprise and guiltless, whose head was straight, but his eyes looked up to the ceiling. His body was unique, relaxed, unlike the others. He sat at the head of the table, one hand gripping his chalice while the other clutched at his pectoral cross to the point his hand had bled, but it was his headdress that captivated her the most. It was large, dome shaped, with three separate rows of diamonds and jewels encrusted into its base and had a single golden cross adorned at the top. To her own eyes, it was a crown of crowns, one resting atop the other, mended by its gems and forged by its gold that was the massive crown of wealth sitting upon his head, slightly polished by the wax now covering it. She did not recognize the face below the crown, but recalled where she had seen the crown itself   in a painting that hung in one of the adoration rooms in Saint Thomas Parish, which had been reduced to ash last time she saw it. As she moved the lighter closer to the man's face, she fought desperately with her memory to recall the name associated with the painting. Was this man the same man in the painting? An impossible question to ask, yet one that warranted an answer she was not yet prepared to accept.
     "Clement?" She heard herself say.
Was this Pope Clement VIII? If this were true, it would make him 475 years old, simply an impossible number regardless of the miracles she had seen. As the flame neared, the eyes of the man turned to her, causing her to lose balance and fall backward onto the ground. The lighter top had snapped shut and fell from her hand as she tried to stop her fall, throwing her back into darkness, echoing across the concrete. Her breathing picked up, her heart raced inside her chest, as she searched the floor around her for the lighter. She tried to tell herself that it must have been a trick her mind played on her that it could not possibly be whatever crazy concocted story her mind made it out to be, but a lot had happened over the past week and she had witnessed things no one could relate to in any way, unless they had seen the same things. She focused on her breathing, slowing the pace of her heart, regaining her composure in the darkness, only to lose it again when the lighter clicked open. The flame illuminated an area about four feet in front of her. The hand that held it was, she could see, bloodied and dripping onto the floor.
     "Novice." The voice said. "Have you learned nothing in all your years of marriage to your spiritual husband? You do not force your way inside another man's dwelling without knocking first. You do not rummage through his things and you certainly do not have your way about his home coming and going as you please."
The flame lifted to the end of a cigarette, tucked into the mouth of the Deacon dwarf. The end of his cigarette caught fire, ignited in a bright red glow, for a brief moment, showing part of a man's face and part of something else far from human. The sight of the Deacon sent chills up and along her spine. He then showed her the sword she had run through his hand, inching it in front of her face, growling like an angry volcano from his throat.
     "I am not...afraid of you, demon."
     "An unwise thing on your part bitch." The Deacon snapped, inching the end of the blade closer to her throat.
     "Why are you even here? You cannot possibly understand what you see before you, for it dates back to a time when humans were just elaborate skin suits for those of us who walked among this realm. You were nothing more than temporary vessels then. A temporary rental car for us to utilize, while applying the finishing touches to what is rightfully ours." The Deacon said.
It was all she could do not to break down and forget all of her training. the sight of the demon was a reality she had only been told about, warned in how to avoid, given the tools needed to survive when possession was threatening; but this, this was flesh and moved in the same existence she occupied. She did not think or have the will to ask if she would ever be confronted by another human, possessed by a demon, and have the right to murder it in cold blood. And the demon knew this.
    "Still on about the War in Heaven? I feel like this story has been told already and it has humans reigning as the victor, if memory serves."
    "Another invalid tale, spawned by monkeys to inflate their own egos. I suppose you believe a talking snake cast your mother and father from the Garden of Eden too." He mocked.
    "Your blasphemy will be your demise!" She spat, daring the blade to touch her skin.
    "And yours will be key in opening a new door for all of us!"
    "Go on then, coward! Slit my throat and bleed me where I sit."
    "Oh, how I wish it were that easy." He said, lowering the blade. "My role is one of far greater importance than to bleed you dry, but, I promise you this, I will eat your heart soon enough."
With this, he tossed the sword to her and flicked the lighter shut, casting them in the darkness again. With her security policy back in hand, she swung blindly in the dark, slicing through the air, finding nothing. She sat still, listening for any sign of a footstep, ready to cut through it the moment a noise registered. What had the demon deacon meant by "rightfully ours" and how did this have anything to do with the Rite of Cleansing. She closed her eyes tightly shut, trying to find that moment where all things were safe from harm, her personal get-a-way from the outside world, where she first met the Angel. She had not spoken with him since she was a child and wasn't even sure if he was real or just a figment of her own creation.
Her skin warmed under the bright sun. Waves rushed up onto the shore tickling her feet as she sat on the beach, digging her fingers into the sand, grounding her spirit inside this moment. Her eyes remained closed, fearful that, if she opened them, she would lose sight of the beauty around her and, for the moment, she needed something bright and beautiful in order to face that which was dark and ugly.

Father Monroe had not been called "father" in some time now, as Patriarch to the North American Parishes his role in the Catholic faith had reached its highest order. Everything that happened inside any church within the thirteen colonial states did not happen, unless he authorized them too. His territory was the oldest in the country, therefore, the earliest settlers brought with them the history and traditions of the church from the motherland, which also contained the secrets of all the brotherhoods. During his time as Patriarch, he had managed to remove most of the stain of history from his churches, but not all things could be easily removed by order alone. There were those who still believed in the old Orthodox ways, preaching the gospel as it was intended, by men who no longer lived in such times yet still force fed the masses with old ideals. He first received word about the burning of Saint Thomas less than a month ago, after a lengthy telephone conversation with the local authorities and Father Tremble, who had explained how four others, Father Nieght, Father Sims, Father Day and Father Emilio had left the church at the Angel's request.
     "I beg your pardon, Father Tremble, but did you say Angel?"
     "I have asked myself that repeatedly and can honestly say I am still unsure of what it was that I witnessed."
    "I want you on the first flight to Philadelphia. Do not speak another word of this to anyone else, do you understand?"
And that was that. He would meet with Father Tremble and take his statement to the Vicar of Christ for further council. Until then, he would do all he could to keep the events at Saint Thomas between the church and the local authorities. Which is exactly what had happened since, the police were no longer investigating the arson, a false report was put out for the media to consume and any other deflection would come straight from the church, which was quite skilled in such public matters. Then he received a letter, addressed to him personally, with his civic name and not that of Patriarch. It was addressed to him by an individual who went by the name, Marquis Sabnock. The name instantly brought a cold fevered sweat to his forehead. He sat back in his chair and read the note;

Dear Patriarch, 

My firm is very interested in a certain plot of land your Parish holds title over. I believe it was once home to Saint Thomas' parish, which, regrettably, burned to the ground. I have on good word that you do not plan on rebuilding the church and wish to be the first to offer you a sum in the range of five million dollars cash for development rights to this land. My firm is very excited about this opportunity and wishes to advance this purchased as quickly as possible. If you are interested, feel free to contact me at the number listed on the enclosed card. 

With your blessing, 

Marquis Sabnock

Patriarch Monroe scratched at his bearded chin. Real Estate was a lucrative business and there was a lot of money on the table for 6 acres of land, scorched by fire and painting black where only green grass once grew, which sounded too good to be true. Still, he thought as he eyed the pile of folders on his desk, each one a different lawsuit, a separate but equally embarrassing class action against his division all asking for money from his Parishes already tapped bone dry from out of court settlements. In his heart, he knew there was something nefarious about the letter, especially with a name like that belonging to the one who penned it. There were whispers among the Episcopate and Presbyterate and Diaconate orders of a unholy uprising unfolding like a ladder, section by section, reaching all the way up through the hierarchy, some had said in the quietest of shadows, even to the Pontiff himself. In any case, there were pressing matters that needed his attention now. It had always amazed him, as both a participant and witness to the influential pressures of Greed and how its reach penetrated even those hearts of men who proclaimed to be next to godliness. With a single phone call, Patriarch Monroe distanced himself even further.    

Thursday, September 15, 2011

John 1:1

The fires had finally been extinguished, burning for nearly 12 hours, reducing the church to nothing more than its concrete foundation and plumbing. The fire was not like anything Fire Chief, Tom Mann, had ever seen in his twenty plus years with firehouse 17. The closest thing he could compare the smoldering pile of ash to was Ground Zero, but even that had some evidence of a structure left behind in the rubble. But this, this fire had left nothing behind. The mop-up was still being conducted and, so far, nothing conclusive had come back for the cause of the fire. In fact, it appeared there was never even a fire to begin with, which further perplexed the Fire Chief who would have gone with another theory had he not seen the immensely tall flames licking the skyline himself just a few minutes before. Everything about the fire was suspect. How it started. How it came to an end, after pouring thousands of gallons of water on the flames, bleeding the hydrants dry and calling in back up engines from four different firehouses around the surrounding metro. And the flames, he recalled, were hotter than anything he had ever come it contact with, forcing he and his men to battle the blaze from nearly double the distance in order to be effective. Fireman Russo, a ten year veteran, had severe burns along the front of his body without ever coming within seven hundred feet of the flames. It was though the heat targeted him alone, for none of the other firemen in his unit were harmed at closer distances.
     "Chief Mann?" Said a voice behind him. 
     "Hmm, yes?" 
     "Detective White," he said extending his hand in greeting, "This is my partner, Detective Carter."
     "Yes, detectives. How may I help you?"
     "We understand you found someone inside." Said Detective White. 
     "Yes, that is correct. not saying much. When we came upon the compartment she was inside-"
     "The compartment?"
     "Yes. After we...after the flames died down, we located a small metallic door in the floor, where the sacristy  is located. When we opened it, the girl climbed out from the cubby-hole and refused any medical treatment. Not that she needed any, she was in good health and spirits. Docile, but you could just tell that she was not effected by the events as much as someone who had just lived through a fire might be."
     "Do we know a cause?"
     "Are you kidding? Look at it. Along with this sweltering heat of summer, some hot spots must have reached two bills. The soles of some of my boys boots melted it was so hot at one point. There is nothing left but pipes and concrete. I'll tell ya' detective, in all my years I have never seen a fire like that and I doubt I will ever see one like it again."
Detective White nodded to the Fire Chief. 
     "Keep us informed if something changes." He said walking away. 
 As the two detectives walked towards the woman, Chief Mann knew he would not speak with the men again, because the only thing that would change about this fire is his own sleeping habits, for the mystery of how the fire happened and its subsequent end would keep him awake for weeks to come. 

The first thing Detective White noticed about the woman was that she was not a casual church goer, dressed in a black nuns habit and still wearing her white coif, veiled to shadow parts of her face. The second thing he noticed was how beautiful she was, even mostly covered, with ivory skin and petite hands that lay clasped in the seat of her lap. She had movie star lips, thick and plush that captured his imagination in ways that would make most respectful men shift uneasily in their pants. He instantly felt guilt rush over him. Not a man of God himself,  but schooled enough in Catholic practice to know he was nearly half mast over one of God's many wives. He turned to Detective Carter, asking him to take a few statements from other firemen, still puzzled by the Chief's bedazzlement over an event he should be well versed in battling. When the woman stood to greet him she could not have been any taller than five foot three, and a buck ten sopping wet; but, she carried herself quite a lot taller than she appeared. She was chatting up a fireman who was also smitten by her, laughing and flirting with her, forgetting that he was here to do a job. When he came to them, the fireman shook himself back to reality and ran back to his Chief. 
     "My name is-"
     "I know who you are, detective." She said looking up to him with a gentle smile. 
     "If I were to tell you how I knew you, you might assume me to be some lunatic and call in the paddy-wagon, carting me off to some nearby asylum for the rest of my days. So, I suppose, I should let you proceed with your unnecessary introduction." 
     "Well, that is quite a way to start out a conversation, sister, but, since you know me, perhaps I can cut with the pleasantries and ask who you are and how you ended up inside a secret compartment inside the church sacristy?"
     "I'm afraid that will be a little more difficult with its explanation. May I bum a cigarette from you?"
This request did not seem to register to the Detective. 
     "I may be a nun, detective, but I am also human and have my vices. And in case you're wondering how I know you smoke, you have yellow-stained fingertips, which suggest a heavy smoker that is common among people in your profession. And don't feel embarrassed about the evidence for my own detection skills are required for the unique profession I am in."
A woman after his own heart, he thought as he reached into his pocket and procured a cigarette from the packet, lighting it and then handed it to her. 
     "You mean being a nun?"
She laughed. It was a quick chuckle, but still something she had not done in some time. 
     "Heavens no."
     "Then what do you mean?"
     "I'm sorry detective, but there are very important and powerful individuals who cherish their secrets, which I happen to be one. And, although I do wish to assist in any way I can, there are limitations which go far beyond the ruling arm of your badge."
     "Respectfully sister, there is no greater law than that which I represent."
     "I beg to differ. Respectfully."
Detective Carter returned. His face shared the same puzzlement of Chief Mann's earlier, and when he explained to Detective White that the other priest and nuns who ran out from the church, before it caught fire, failed to see or say anything to him when questioned, the entire scene began to smell to high hell of lies and deception. For now, the only thing he had was arson at best. It did not make much sense to start a fire and then remain at the scene down below, although this approach was daring enough to be believable; however, the nun was hiding something and did not make any attempt to try and hide this from him. 
     "See what more we can get from the hotheads and meet me down at the station afterward."
     "What about her?"
Detective White turned to the nun. After a moment he said, "I would venture to say you are willing to come down to the station and make a statement, but it would likely be a short and sweet one. So, how about coffee and some lunch on me, instead?"
She took a long drag from her cigarette, sizing up the tall medium built man before her. There were many gaps between his questioning her and her answering his questions, suggesting a personal motive to have her all to himself. Perhaps he wanted to win over her trust, to later mount some kind of impersonal attack against her character or learn more about her role in the church by deceptive means of flirtation.  
     "Very well. I accept."
He took Detective Carter aside so that his words were not easily heard.
     "I want you to get as much history on this church as you can. See if any of the priest are willing to assist you with this and maybe provide you with some kind of order, or hierarchy of this particular parish."
     "You got it." 
     "Oh, and find out who the ruling bishop is and see if you can get in touch with him."
     "Shall we then, sister?" He said extending his hand to her, "I'll buy, but I am leaving any tips up to you."

Detective White sat in a quiet booth situated in a corner away from the rest of the Ardent Grille's patrons, a local breakfast bar and personal favorite that provided enough privacy to speak freely with the woman, sitting across from him, who he had yet to finger as neither a witness, a victim or potential suspect. They had not shared a single word with one another during the drive, perhaps being too defensive to engage one another in such close quarters. There was definitely tension among them, Detective White noted. He stirred creamer into his coffee, laying out his cigarettes.
     "Help yourself."
     "Now that you have me away from your partner, detective, would you like to ask me the questions that have stewed in your mind since you first laid eyes upon my legs?"
He was sure the redness in his cheeks had given away his embarrassment.
     "I'll just cut to the chase then. I think you and I can agree that whatever happened inside that church, it was far from the norm. Not your typical case of arson or random act of God."
She chuckled at this last part.
     "And you hope I can provide you with some since of reality to support whatever crazy theories going around at the crime scene. Tell you that I saw firsthand what that man did, before setting fire to my home, killing the only mother I ever loved in the fire."
     "The Fire Chief did not say anything about that."
     "No, I suppose he would not have had enough forensics to suggest anyone perished."
     "Those who were inside at the time all made it out safely...only you managed to remain trapped, which is, I suspect, the reason you sought refuge from the smoke and flames down inside that basement closet you were found in. One could speculate that you may have even been stored there, if one thought about it long enough."
The woman stared down to the table, sliding her hand slowly across it towards the cigarette packet, fishing a slightly bent stogie from inside and placed it between her lips. Her eyes grazed over his left hand, which hovered over his Zippo lighter like a tarantula raised up on its hind legs in warning, seeing the tattoo on the palm of his hand. It was a simple design, a point that started just below his middle-finger and angled to the bottom of his thumb, across the flat of his hand and back to his finger. It was a simple black triangle that stuck out, like a throbbing cartoonish thumb, in certain circles that doubled as both a brand and universal ID to those within The Black. Her heart began to speed up, adrenaline flooded every nerve in her body, her instincts fought for control of the wheel pushing her right hand from the table into her lap, closer to the blade still at her side.
     "Or one might assume, being a nun and all, that I knew of the storage space. After all, it does contain all of the church's charitable goods, such as can goods and clothing for our fortnight food drive, Deacon Joseph oversees. Perhaps he can better provide you with a cause for it than I." She explained as she surreptitiously scouted out the nearest exit.
     "Of course you did. It must have been terribly frightening, trapped inside a burning building as it collapsed around you. Very lucky."
     "Luck is a false deity among the rich detective."
     "You know, for a nun, you are very radical with some of the things you have said."
     "And for a detective, you have an interesting choice of body markings." She said eyeing his hand.
Ah, he thought to himself, the tattoo. The day he had decided to join the cult, receiving his mark, was still as fresh in mind as the breakfast rolls on his plate.
     "You mean this?" He said showing her the mark once more. "Just some stupid thing I did ten years ago, when I was still rebelling against the world, partying beyond my means and fucking women left and right, married or single, fat or small without regard to any one's feelings, including my own, along a destructive downward spiral that may have lead me straight to prison. A friend of mine was all into the satanic cult, never to the point he knew anything about it at all, aside from the devil horns (at this he flashed his hands in the iconic symbol of 80's hairbands and death metal rockers around the world, bending his ring and middle fingers down touching his thumb while his index finger and pinkie pointed straight up like horns) and owning a goat named Lucifer. He eventually became involved with this group of misfits whose shtick was dabbling in the black arts and Demonology, which, in order to become part of this sect, one needed to have the Mark."

Detective White looked away from her. She could see his humility was authentic, to the point he might have changed the subject right then had she not asked him to continue. It was highly unusual for someone with the Mark to be so open about their experience, begging the question was he truly a member of The Black or just a wannabe with stories and a bad tattoo?

     "Anyway, my own foolish curiosity took me all the way to an acquaintance's house on the lower east end of town, drunk off my ass, high as hell and minutes away from my first tat. I wanted to get it on my arm or someplace I could easily cover with an article of clothing, like a shirt or something; but, they insisted it be on the bottom of my hand."
     "All religions, even those less appealing to the masses, have their own unique practices. I am sure eating the body of Christ and drinking his blood might be a bit unsettling to someone who practices Buddhism." She replied kindly.

She wasn't sure why, but the more he opened up to her the more she wanted to tell him about herself. Knowing full well she could never divulge all of her secrets, she humbled herself enough to tell him a bit about her own life. She spoke of her family, how they perished in a fire when she was young, leaving out the bits about her father and the atrocity of him murdering her sister on that dire evening long ago. Her story arc took a turn from here, joining the covenant at the age of 12 where she spent the remaining part of her life in study and servitude of God. Every defensive mechanism inside her sounded its intuitive alarms. Whether or not he was telling the truth about his experience with The Black, at the end of the day, he was still connected to the sect and that made him dangerous. The fact he might not have known this for himself did not matter. It was nice, she thought, being able to speak to a man without having to recite the Rosary afterward. But, there was still the mission. She stood, her bones cracking as she stretched.
     "So, have I said enough to warrant my leaving without you arresting me in the process?"
     "As I said earlier, even if I had questions to ask, you would be likely not to answer them. I do appreciate the chat however, it was most informative."
She started to leave when Detective White called to her.
     "One last thing sister. Was I ever at risk of you pulling that blade beneath your habit on me?"
There was a long pause between his question and her answer.
     "No, but I fear there may come a time when I will. Good day detective."
Detective White pulled out his wallet, throwing enough money onto the table to cover the bill and then looked up to find that she was nowhere to be found. His phone vibrated inside his pocket.
     "Detective White, speaking."
     "It's Carter. I was able to get the name of that bishop, after a little encouraging. Name's Antonio Verelli. Apparently he was some kind of pariah within the church who pissed off a lot of brass, so much so that his rank of bishop is currently under review with folks at the Vatican."
     "Anything else?"
     "Yeah, that hot nun of yours, turns out no one knows a thing about her. No names, no identification at all. One of the older birds said she recalled something about being orphaned."
     "Understood. I'll be back in the station soon."
The second he hung up with Carter, he quickly dialed a second number. The voice on the other end was very old, having to take a breath in-between each of his words spoken.
     "My master. The church has been completely destroyed. I have on good authority information that suggest the bishop, Antonio Verelli is dead. And...there is something else."
     "Go. On. My. Son."
     "I have reason to believe there is an outsider now involved, although I am uncertain of her motives."
     "Her. Motives?"
     "A nun. She was found after the fact, safely inside a hidden compartment in the church's sacristy. I lost contact with her, but I have plenty of evidence to run through the system." He said collecting a few butts from the ashtray.
     "Very. Well. Do. Not. Pursue. Her. Your. Focus. Now. Is. Finding. The. Priest. His. Location. Has. Been. Sent. To. You."
There was a click and the call ended. Detective White sat for a moment, his thoughts weighing on the woman and his incredible desire to know more about her. They were both very different and on very uncommon ground. Part of him wished they had met long before, when his life was still his own and he could be himself with her, pursue his attraction and arrest whatever emotions that came with this. He looked at the Mark on his palm and knew this could never be.
In the car, Detective White sat eying his computer screen. The information on the priest was before him, along with a thirty year history of the man, his life, his family, and all thing in-between. Like the nun, he did not look like any priest he recalled as a boy. He was young and there was something about his eyes that spat danger, like a cobra, into the faces of his enemies. He phoned the station a final time, the voice of his partner greeted him.
     "Carter, see what you can find on a Wade Keller. I am emailing you the 411 on him now. Thanks bud."
As he placed his cellphone back into his pocket, he felt the hot burning grip of a hand around his throat and a voice that growled its words into his ear instantly turned his skin white with fear.
     "Hello again, Bryan. The Black calls upon you."
The car erupted into flames that rose up into a ball of fire, before changing into a plume of thick black smoke drifting slowly into oblivion. Below, the car and its driver were gone without a trace of it ever being part of this world. Nearby, a woman watched the plume of smoke fade into the gray sky, where a single snowflake floated down, kissing the side of her cheek. She scooped the crystal onto the end of her finger, melting into a tiny droplet of water, studying it. She then lowered the veil of her coif and sought shelter in the shadows of the alleyway.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Remember Me.

Snow had fallen for several days in a row, without breaks in the weather pattern, piling on new layers of fresh powder every hour until it covered the wooden steps leading up to the porch of the old cabin in the woods. This was the first snowfall in over twenty years and weathermen were visually perplexed, even though they continued to power through the forecast as best they could. The reality was that there was no explanation. Even if one presented itself, it would only be localized to the surrounding area. It could not possibly provide a logical enough reason for why the snow event covered the entire country, slowly spreading in every direction as the days pressed on. Outside the cabin, the snow had covered every sign of man made progress, the gravel road leading to the Cabin, the Oldsmobile buried out front, the favored wicker chair encased inside an igloo of snowflakes on the porch. Inside the cabin, however, an old dust laden machine hummed. Once, this machine created life from the tiniest molecule, its mission to breathe life into a lost love, to restore what was right in a world that had wronged its designer. It had failed. It had not lived up to the design its maker had given the better half of his life to. But its efforts did not go unnoticed...

Outside the old Cabin, a few feet from where the porch steps lay buried in snow, a warmth swarmed around the frozen tundra, melting it down, inch by inch, revealing the frozen carcass of a man, dressed in a white smock, whose hand lay over his chest petrified into a fist. Snow had preserved most of the body with only a few signs of decomposition around the face, where hungry wildlife tasted flesh, still salty from tears. The man's eyes were opened, two clear orbs of deep regret stared straight up to the heavens, forever trapped in whatever final thought that crossed his mind the moment of his passing. A warm gentle hand lay against the corpse chest, consoling the trapped soul inside, speaking through the darkness of its demise, reaching out for the lingering life present, but caught between this world and the next. The aura surrounding the being was a vibrant prism of color that appeared to pulsate, which, if looked upon through a telescope, would have been seen as a kaleidoscopic explosion of color and shapes. It was never easy to look upon the grace of an Angel, especially when it did not desire to be seen. 

The Angel lifted its free hand to the sky, snowflakes turned to ice chips around its glow, and uttered two words that resonated through the gates of Saint Peter, echoing throughout the embodiment of Lazarus and the whole kingdom of Heaven. The Angel whispered; "Remember me." The chest of the corpse rose and fell as though that final breath, the vessel in which the spirit leaves the body, was finally allowed to exhale; but, instead of leaving the realm of the living, the soul returned to the body and the man was once again alive.  The man lifted up from his snowy grave, looked around for a moment, and then faced the Angel kneeling next to him. 

     "Because, Professor, your purpose has become far greater a need than your death."
     "Are you the Angel of Death?" 
     "No. I am someone who requires your unique approach to an ideal that has long been lost to the rest of the world."

The Professor mulled this over, his attention now on his cabin, partially consumed by the biggest snow he had ever seen or known of. He did not have to ask why or know how this had happened, suspecting a similar event to occur years before, during his first testing of his machine...his machine?

     "An ideal lost to the world, you mean HOPE?"
     "Yes. Your machine, as well as your brilliant mind, Professor, is of great need to a cause that I can not begin to fully explain its importance and prevalence."
     "But, HOPE still needs work. It failed...
     "Failure is just another means to succeed the next time round. Now, please, we must go."
     "No!" The Professor said, rolling away from the Angel and getting to his feet. "I cannot. I...will not."
The Angel moved swiftly, like a sudden wind gust that discombobulates one's balance momentarily, its glow dispersing the snow around it and shaking the Professor's core with its aggressive grip around his dampened smock. 
     "Your selfishness has always lead to your failure, Professor. Your life is precious to me, but do not think for a moment that I will not put you back form whence you came and do so far more inhumanly than just laying down to die like a rabid dog!"
If the man was anything, he was fearless. The Angel's anger did not phase him, standing his ground and even trying to push back. 
     "I was prepared to die before you Angel! Do your worse, but I will not break."
The professor felt his chest cave, his heart struggled to beat as though it were being bound by chains. The Angel had taken hold of his black heart, squeezing it, contemplating crushing it in its hand. It then released the Professor, who fell to his knees at the Angel's feet, struggling to regain his breath. 
     "No. You will not break, will you. Your efforts with Jocelyn, before and after her death, have left you marred. If I told you that you and your machine could save humanity from a certain hell, you would continue to stand your ground, wouldn't you? Perhaps you need more than words. Perhaps you need tangible means to force your self hate aside for the greater good. Behold, Professor, the truth to your new life."

The Angel placed his hand flat across the Professor's face. The world was now a canvas of hot white nothingness, and then the visions slammed against his consciousness. His knees buckled under him, never feeling the crush of the frozen mud against his kneecaps. He was propelled through a series of places, some filled with demons, lashing out at people, ripping flesh from their bones, consuming them like sheep. Some were empty graveyards, lifeless churches hung in the background like long abandoned pyramids in a desolate wasteland of skulls and bones. The final vision was of a single long grave, far removed from the others in the graveyard, set aside where only those who knew it was there could see. The image expanded closer as his head smashed against the grey and chipped concrete, the words close enough now that even in the dark grey sky were easily seen. The words INRI branded his subconscious mind. When he was once again with the Angel, his eyes flowed freely, bleeding the hurt and pain in the form of black tears that stained the ground at his feet. The emotions passed, helped to his feet by the Angel. 
     "Now do you see?"
The severity settled and the scientist returned. He nodded and walked towards his cabin, the snow melting around him as subtle improvements to his machine already flooded his mind. 
     "There is much work to be done." He said opening the door to the cabin. 
The Angel turned, looking to the cold grey sky. It had begun to snow again, thick heavy flakes drifted down over him. One snowflake passed through the glow and touched the Angel's face, settling for a moment and melting into oblivion. 


Friday, September 2, 2011


"And the sky opened like the belly of a gutted fish, spilling evil, unseen since the War in Heaven so long ago, down upon the Earth. Those of us who fought the Dogs of Hell did so with heavy hearts, slaughtering our brothers and sisters to protect Man from themselves. Lucifer may have been defeated that day, but a lesson was learned by us all-Our LORD had chosen them over us."  

LORD have mercy for the Angel will not.