Is This the Fastest Paced Psycho Killer Novel Ever?


By Dean Koontz

It’s been years, literally more than we care to count, since we read Intensity and, testament to Koontz, we can’t get the terror of it out of our minds.

It’s one of those rare thrillers that when started you can’t, and we mean this literally, you can’t stop reading. After Intensity, we went on to read many of Koontz’s works. Some are better than others; however, none compare to this for sheer galvanic … well there is no other word … intensity.

However, what we like best are psychological thrillers and dramas that put you directly into the mind of the killer or the victim, allowing you to experience, as much as you can vicariously, what they are feeling.

After Intensity, you might consider these books, a couple of which we’ve mentioned before: John Fowles’s stellar first novel, The Collector, concerning sociopathic Fred Clegg, who kidnaps his girlfriends and imprisons them; Deborah Kay Davies’ True Things About Me, the first-person tale of a woman led over the edge by a sudden fit of sexual compulsion (often brutal, so you are warned); and I, Killer, detailing the decline of a haunted predator who tumbles into his own version of hell. w/c


Rod Serling and the Trump Presidency

The Twilight Zone: It’s a Good Life (Season 3, Episode 8; 1961))

Rod Serling (from story by Jerome Bixby)

While Rob Serling could not possibly have had Donald Trump in mind when he aired what many call one of the best, if not the best, episode of The Twilight Zone, “It’s a Good Life,” there’s little doubt he had infantile placating, immature behavior, and authoritarian predilections in mind. It certainly feels like a commentary on our lunatic Nineteen Eight-Four like politics and our man/boy president. Just imagine a leader so capricious, so self-absorbed, so vindictive that he might welcome a new Siberia, or revel in Anthony Fremont’s cornfield of people with bad thoughts, i.e., not one hundred percent square with his own. It might look a lot like “It’s a Good Life.”

If you’ve never seen the episode, you should watch it. You’ll find all the original episodes of The Twilight Zone on Netflix. You can also find them on CD. And to give you can idea of what it would be like to exit in world ruled by someone with a child’s mind, look at this clip of the final minutes of “It’s a Good Life.” Now, that’s real scary stuff.   

By the way, yes, that is Cloris Leachman. Interestingly, all the principal players are still living. Bill Mumy played Anthony (though he does resemble Ron Howard as a boy). w/c

From the Dustbin, in Time for New Year’s

Apocalypse Cow

By Michael Logan

What is it about an apocalypse we love so much? Perhaps deep down we suspect as a species we are just too darn smart for our own good, not to mention the good of creatures coexisting with us.

In this quite good tale of human over ambition gone awry, scientists under the direction of the British government engineer a particularly nasty virus. It shuts down pain centers, renders the infected aggressive and sexually insatiable (a bad boy joke on the part of the male scientists), and transmits via airborne particulates (sneezing) and suppurating sores (hideousness). It’s not supposed to transmit to birds or humans, but then, you know, the best-laid plans usually do go awry, and in Logan’s hands to action-packed and often humorous effect.

The cast of characters, all broadly drawn, reminiscent of those in the really wonderful movie Shaun of the Dead, in their oddity number: Geldof, the woefully put upon boy, and his parents, earth mother and environmentalist extremis Fanny and pothead father James (who surprises when he sobers up); Terry, the abattoir worker who bathes in self-pity and who believes he can’t get women because he smells like rotted meat; David and Mary, he a mass consumer of meat, she the lush object of Geldof, both the parents of a pair of bullies, as well as the object of Fanny’s animus; Lesley, the journalist canned for incompetence, to her chagrin as her father was a world-renowned war correspondent; and Brown, the evil agent of the government whose job is to clean up the whole mess, primarily by dispatching the aforementioned cast of characters.

Once Logan introduces the characters and the virus escapes and multiples, nonstop action ensures as our band of characters battle and quip with each other and race out of the clutches of Brown and the virus that leaps to all furry creatures, including cute squirrels and despised rats, earning the UK a well-deserved international quarantine militarily enforced. Our band makes a mad dash for the Chunnel that, unfortunately, consumes many of them.

You’ll find it a very enjoyable, often funny, sometimes gory, well-written tale of a possible apocalypse. Nothing here to strain the old brainpan, so fear not.

However, if you prefer your man made disasters with more intellectual substance, you might want to try perhaps one of the best tales of genetic engineering for the good of humankind misappropriated by a kid genius for his personal amusement to the utter woe of the world: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It’s an absolutely terrific story by a very accomplished writer.

By the way, contrary to Apocalypse Cow‘s promo copy and what some say about it, it’s not a traditional zombie story. It is an uncomfortable peek at what hubristic humans can inflict on the world acting to smart for their britches. w/c

Terror Destroys a Small Town

‘Salem’s Lot

By Stephen King

Ever wonder what Bram Stoker would make of the industry that has sprung from his groundbreaking 1897 Dracula? Though not the first vampire novel, it proved to be the one that launched hundreds of sharp-fanged anti-heroes. It’s an industry and a character writers, film studios, and television have worked practically to death. Yet, we never seem to tire of the Count and his brethren.

Which brings us to Stephen King, the writer most will acknowledge as the modern master among masters of horror and the macabre. For his second outing, he chose vampires in a small Maine town, and readers, even now, are the luckier for it. You can say this about most of King’s early works, Carrie, The Shining, and The Stand (first half): it’s a masterwork of terror.

What makes ‘Salem’s Lot, as well as these others so appealing, appealing enough to read a second time years after your first reading? It boils down to small town life, ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events, clear writing, terrific pacing (at least in these early novels), and powerful, literal descriptions. King puts you in the situation and the action and because his characters are much like his readers, you can easily project yourself onto the pages. In short, he’s completely relatable.

You’ll find no better work among his pile of writing illustrating King’s strengths. Could there be a more representative American small town than the Lot? Don’t many small towns have a sinister house occupied, or once home to, the town curmudgeon (not a killer, for sure, but scary, especially in the eyes of children). The Lot has a rhythm to it, a way of living that stretches back years, a dull sameness that locals like and set their emotional clock by. Like any town, though, it’s not perfect bliss, or even close to blissful. It’s relatively poor. It’s filled with its share of misfits. It even has a town dump that many who grew up in small towns will recognize. Above all, everybody knows everybody else, maybe a virtue but which contributes to its succumbing to evil.

Even Ben Mears is a small town boy. He’s published a couple of books, true, but hasn’t achieved any kind of fame and no fortune. He returns to his roots to face a fear that has haunted him, and to get a really good book out of the experience. That fear resides in the old, abandoned Marsten House stilling atop a hill overlooking the Lot. Horrible things happened there long ago, long before when Ben was a boy.

Ben gets more than he bargained for. He gets his greatest fear multiplied a hundredfold in the form of Barlow, an ancient vampire come to establish residence in the Lot coincidental with Ben’s arrival. Poor Ben loses so much: a new love in the form of tragic Susan, new friends in the forms of Matt the high school teacher and Jim the doctor, the new novel he’s written deeply into, and most of all, any comfort and joy in living. Yet, with young Mark at his side, he does gain a new and pretty meaningful purpose in life as one who now can see behind the curtain of quotidian life, like that that the Lot enjoyed before Barlow’s arrival.

There’s one other characteristic of King’s writing that unfortunately ‘Salem’s Lot doesn’t have: stunningly memorable characters, among them religious lunatic Margaret White, rabid fan Annie Wilkes, pyromaniac “Trashcan Man,” the list is long. Vampire master Barlow could have been such a character, ancient, big, nasty, egotistical, and above all, wonderfully bombastic. It isn’t often said about novels, but ‘Salem’s Lot would have benefited immensely from deep background on Barlow. Nonetheless, ‘Salem’s Lot is still a heck of a powerful horror yarn. w/c

Joyce Carol Oates Shares Nightmares

The Corn Maiden

By Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is among our best and certainly most versatile writers, one who not only can scribble persuasively in most any genre but also plumb depths often lacking in the efforts of others. You can regard this mostly very good volume of “nightmare” tales as a prime example of the extra value she injects into the common fright tale.

In “The Corn Maiden,” she reaches beyond the obvious terror of a child kidnapped by a demented classmate to explore a working mother’s fear for her child and her own fitness as a mother, as well as the effect on a falsely accused teacher. The longest, best paced, and most heart-pounding story in the collection.

“Beersheba” and “Nobody Knows My Name,” while different also share a quite ingenious connection; that is, our inability to definitively understand what is stirring in the mind of another. In the first story, a nearly forgotten daughter returns to extract satisfaction from her father. In the second, a little girl, apparently normal on the outside but horribly psychotic inside, deals with her newborn sister.

“Fossil Figures” and “Death Cup,” too, share a connection, that of two brothers of two very different natures, separated for years, who come together to end their lives side-by-side. What differentiates them and how they reach their endings together is something you will enjoy discovering yourself.

“Helping Hands,” concerns a widow trying to come to terms with the early and surprising death of her husband (originally published a few years after the death of Oates first husband, Raymond Smith). So blinded by her loss and by her need to project and receive love, to be cherished and cherish, she cloaks a war veteran working in a disabled veteran’s donation shop with virtues we clearsighted readers feel can’t be real, leading us to fear for her.

In the final story, “A Hole in the Head,” a plastic surgeon with insecurity issues, a ruined marriage, and suffering from financial desperation, allows a patient to seduce him, against his better professional judgement, into performing a bogus procedure on her, trepanning, the drilling of holes in the skull to release evil spirits. And, indeed, evil emerges, but of a quite different sort than the doctor expected.

While the stories vary in quality, overall the collection will leave you properly disturbed, maybe even give you a nightmare if you dwell on their underlying ideas. w/c

A Terrific Horror Movie for Tonight

The Others (Amenábar, 2001)

There’s nothing quite as good as a psychological horror thriller. We had only high praise for The Babadook. Now, add to the list of the best The Others (Los Otros). It’s Spanish filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar’s first English-language feature and the winner of numerous awards, including the first English-language feature to win Best Film at the Goyas. It won seven additional Goya awards, among them Best Actress for Nicole Kidman.

Here’s what we said about The Others in our review that appeared previously elsewhere.

When death and destruction surround you, you attune every fiber of your body, every cell of your brain to holding on to life even beyond anybody’s ability to preserve it.

In Alejandro Amenábar’s beautifully filmed and gradually paced horror film, we meet Grace Stewart (Nicole Kidman, superb in the role) living in a rambling country house located on Jersey (British Crown Dependency, located off the Normandy coast). WWII has just ended and Grace and her two children yearn for the return of husband and father Charles (Christopher Eccleston).

Mysteriously and suddenly, her house staff has disappeared. But fortunately three servants led by Mrs. Bertha Mills (Fionnula Flanagan, who won a Goya for Best Supporting Actress) appear at her door seeking positions. Grace hires them, then introduces them and us to her children who suffer from a rare photosensitivity disorder. Under no circumstances can sunlight be allowed into the house, otherwise Anna (really well played by Alakina Mann, who won a Goya for Best Performance by a Younger Actor) and Nicolas (James Bentley) will burn to the point of death. Needless to say, affairs get progressively weirder until the truth reveals itself to Grace and to us.

Horror films, for the most part, are schlocky constructions of cheap thrills and gore. Of course, we love them for just that. However, they can be elevated into thoughtful films (case in point, the terrific The Babadook, which taps our deepest fears).

Such is the case with The Others. The issues here revolve around facing your worst behaviors, your personal weaknesses, your need to deny and erase bad deeds, and, ultimately, to reject and reverse your own mortality, as well as that of those you love.

If a mindless scare fest is what you seek, this movie will disappoint you. If, though, you desire suspense, strangeness, and the psychological legerdemain of the human mind, you’ll not do better than with this award-winning film. c/w

The Inside-Out Woman: 16: Receptacles and Vessels

The Inside-Out Woman


“Mommy, Mommy, open the door,” begged Dominic, across from the door on the floor, his back against the bed, legs pulled tight to his chest, embraced by a shivering, teary Dominica hunkered on legs tucked beneath her.  He stared at the door, and listened to his mother, puzzled and frightened by her rhythmic thumping and runic screaming. 

“I’m ‘fraid, Dominic.  Make Mommy come out.”

“It’s a bad storm, Mommy.  Please come out.  Please,” Dominic called in his loudest voice.

My dear, you’ve really tumbled down a rabbit hole, haven’t you?  What a mad hatter your Pater is.  Honestly, dear, how you suffer the beast befuddles me.  It certainly does.  Though, I must accept a tiny bit of responsibility.  Yes, for I should have returned to you sooner.  You’ll forgive me, dear, won’t you?  You, more than anyone, appreciate how delightfully absorbing my little world is.  None of your Pater’s nonsense there, I can assure you.  Oh, twiddle-dee, water under the bridge, as they say; I’m here now.  Please don’t force me to be stern with you, dear.  You know I despise playing the disciplinarian.  It simply doesn’t suit my Mamie personality.  I’ve always been the sunnier, brighter, more delightful, more desirable sister.  She hated me for my disposition, you know.  I mean, poor sis, who wouldn’t?  Be that as it may.  To the task at hand.  Stop your crying, dear.  Dab dry your tears.  Gather up our babies.  They are terrified darlings, and with good reason, for if my ears aren’t deceiving me—and I assure you I’ve always been blessed with acute hearing—the heavens are about to open.  Release yourself now, dear.

“Mommy, Mommy,” Dominic and Dominica shouted in a chorus of relief and jubilation at the sight of Iam’s foot pushing open the door.

They scurried on hands ands knees to her and reassumed their spots on either side of her, mindful not to disturb the box she balanced on her knees.

“Dominic, please get the lid.”

He obeyed and retrieved it in a doggie dash.  Iam removed the newspaper article, placed it on the contents, and covered everything with the lid. 

“We’re done with the box for a while.  How long have I … have you waited for me?” perceiving considerable time had elapsed, perhaps an hour, maybe more judging by the lit bedstead lamp and the darkness outside the window.

“Lots,” answered Dominica.


“A long time, Mommy.”

She pointed at the window.  “How long has that been going on?”

“Forever,” said Dominica

“After you closed the door, it started raining.”

Wind moaned around the house, snapped direction, bumped the house siding full on, rattling the windows, vibrating the floor, shifted again, resuming its moaning encircling.

“That?” referring to the flash of lightning and boom of thunder.

“It just started.”

She felt as if she had revived from an enduring, disturbing, draining nap.  Every part of her hurt from immobility, leaving her body like stone, rigid, heavy, and anchored to the floor.

“Dominic, Dominica, help me up.  We’ve got to get downstairs,” she said, placing the box next to her and shoving it into the blackness of the closet.

She gave them her arms and they tugged her forward valiantly and, at last, she pitched onto her knees, and stood up.

“Follow me,” she said, first stumbling from the room, next awkwardly walking to the stairs, limber again as she descended, and downstairs restored, all the while with the children clutching her on either side.

“What happened?” said Dominic, as they slogged through the mess outside the half bath.

“An accident,” Iam said.  “It’s nothing.  Don’t be afraid.”

“I’m not,” said Dominic.

“Me either,” said Dominica.

“Dominic, turn on the lights.  And, Dominica, switch on the TV.  Let’s see when the storm is supposed to end.”

She sat on the edge of the couch with Dominica searching stations for a weather report.  “Daddy’s coming home?” she asked, working the remote.

“Sure, honey, storms don’t stop Daddy.  There, hold on Dominica.  If he finishes his work, he’ll be home tonight.”

A summary forecast appeared in a scroll at the bottom of a stockcar race as Dominic joined them on the couch. 

“Okay, well, it isn’t as bad as it sounds.  Severe thunderstorms and a tornado watch ending around midnight.  It’s just a watch.  We know they never mean much, don’t we?  I think we can make it to midnight okay, don’t you think?”

They nodded, Dominica timidly.

“We’ll have some dinner, watch a fun movie—”

“‘Cinderella,'” Dominica said.

“‘Toy Story,'” Dominic said.

“Well, let’s see what time it is.  Maybe we an watch both of them before bedtime.”

“Mine first,” said Dominica.

“Dominic, find something you and Dominica can watch before we put the movies in and I’ll see if it’s time to start dinner.  It sure feels like it.  I’m hungry.  How about you two?”

“I am,” said Dominic.

“Me too, me too,” chimed Dominica.

Well, what a relief, dear.  I’ve never been a fan of thunderstorms.  They’ve always frightened me to death.  And you know, electricity doesn’t agree with me.  I’m always the worse for it.  Your mother, it never troubled her in the least.  She had a notion electricity was the best remedy for me.  I believe she would have enjoyed watching me electrocuted, if they’d allowed it.  I can’t recount all the times I saw her—I imagined I saw her lollygagging in the corner munching popcorn, snorting.  Oh, that nasty laughing through her nose.  My, the thought of her piggy snuffles, it disgusts me. 

“Hmm, I’m thinking meatloaf and mashed potatoes.  Doesn’t that sound perfect for a stormy night?”

Why, dear, you read my mind.  At this precise moment, I was saying to myself, “Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and gravy would be scrumptious tonight.”  Don’t forget the gravy, dear.  Thick brown gravy is our favorite, not the red stuff.  The red stuff gives me the willies.

“Yes,” they said, as she rose and Dominic found a cartoon appealing to them both.

“With brown gravy, too.  We can’t forget the brown gravy,” she said, heading to the kitchen.

With the children settled, Iam entered the kitchen consumed with meatloaf, enumerating the ingredients, worrying if she had breadcrumbs, how she might concoct a proper meatloaf without them, remembering yellow, a temptation, a note, the priest, the consideration, vaguely her rage, a mess to clean up, attend to it while the meatloaf baked and the potatoes boiled, forgetting, glancing at the clock to confirm her suspicion she’d spent a couple of hours in the closet, in Hell, wondering, too, if Billy had finished, hoping she was right and the storm would not prevent him from coming home tonight, glimpsing the pitcher, whiffing the rank hut, recalling Aunt Margie never made a meatloaf, bounding from thought to memory, back and forth, when the cat’s eyes seized her and would not relinquish her and commenced to expelling everything from her mind and filling the vacancy with letters it formed with each swing of its big blazing eyes and click of its resonant curved scimitar tail, until her whole world reduced to the two words forming in the air before her, giant, unmistakable letters throbbing cruelly on children’s building blocks, each letter a vivid color, pulsing as if living, as if liquid, undulating as if a bizarre blood coursed through them, animating the letters so they levitated from the blocks, where airborne they united and transformed into a whole monster, a terrible slithering serpent with raven hair and piercing blue eyes and a blinding red maw, and darting from the gaping, sour hole a split deep ruby tongue that flicked at her, preparing to devour her, then enwrapping her and pulling her into itself, into blackness, absorbing her into the reality she had run from; and spelled on the glistening skin of the serpent, the only image in her head as she dissolved into the creature:  Resurrection Vessel.

She had dropped into her bunk an hour earlier dirty and exhausted, grateful Pater cancelled the Council meeting.  Now a hand rocked her gently.  She awoke slowly, her eyes glued shut by sweat, with a headache forming, and for a moment she forgot where she was.  It was the fragrance, sweet and fruity, like raspberries or strawberries or berry blue, not natural, though, but manufactured on a base of alcohol.  In a moment, she recognized it as the perfume Pater keep in his cabin for the girls she wasn’t suppose to know about.  Unsealing her lids, she looked into Nessa’s eyes smiling down upon her, and next to hers the pair belonging to Lotta.  The two were like their names and they moved with the stealth of sylphs.

Sitting up and rubbing her eyes clear of the gunk, she asked, “What time is it?” and like a mother, “You two should be asleep.”

“It’s midnight,” Nessa whispered.

“Pater kept us up,” Lotta hummed.

“Pater needs you, Marcella.”

“Osma is with him.”

“We woke her.”

“We took her to Pater.”

“We were going to wake you, too.”

“She said let you sleep.”

“Yes, let Marcella sleep until she knew what Pater desired.”

“Osma cares for you very much, Marcella.”

They giggled, two girls bursting with a secret they were bound not to tell.  “It’s a special night.”

“Special?  What are you talking about?”

“Come on, Marcella, come on and see.  Pater needs you, and so does Osma.  Come on,” they trebled low and sweet.

Iam dragged herself from her bunk with the aid of their ethereal tugging.

“I know the way, girls,” she said, when they insisted flanking her and guiding her.  “Get to your cabin.  Get some sleep.”

“Pater excused us from work tomorrow,” Nessa said.

“He said our work was done—”

“Shhh, or you’ll break our oath to Pater.”

“Oath?  What is up with you girls tonight?”

“Sorry.  We promised,” Lotta said.

“All right, we’re here.  Now, to your bunks, the both of you.”

It occurred to her, tapping on Pater’s cabin door, and entering when he summoned her to “Come,” that she never was a girl, never really innocent, not like Nessa and Lotta, who were brought up in the Church and weaned on its moral code.  The highest order of angels granted to him by his Father, said Pater; seed bearers of faith who would sprout a new, stronger Universal One; seraphim who would propagate his future.

The air conditioning, like the heater, a privilege Patter allowed himself as he worked around the clock and often met with Council members in his cabin, chilled her.  Pater reclined in bed covered by a sheet up to the mound of his rounding belly, sipping burgundy from a crystal goblet.  On the edge of the bed, sat Osma, naked but for the brilliant white towel she dried her hair with.

“Are you enjoying your time in the fields, my little warrior?”

“I am learning much, Pater.”

“Yes, I hear you are.  The experience will strengthen you.”

“Thank you, Pater.”

“I have a new mission for you, Marcella,” he said, moving over to allow Osma to slip under the sheet and nest beside him.  “But, first, into the shower with you.”  He reached under the sheet, touching himself.  “Don’t forget to cream your hands.  They must have toughened in the fields.  Hurry.  Nothing can be revealed or begin without you.”

“Yes, hurry, Marcella,” Osma snickered, accepting a goblet from Pater, into which he poured a generous serving of his prized burgundy. 

In the bathroom, Iam leaned against the closed door.  Pater had trapped her.  He had broached the subject with her a few times in the Los Angeles Temple.  He said he wished to share himself with his most faithful and valued Council members.  She didn’t understand him, reminding him they shared much already, including each other intimately.  He proposed a different, more elaborate sharing; he wished to share with Osma and her together the fluid of perpetual life only he carried in him.  More, he said he wished for the three of them to merge as one, as his Father was the merging of three parts.  He offered her the chance at divinity on earth, before the great calling, which he sensed nearing with the velocity of a descending holocaustic thunderbolt.  Sharing a sexual trinity with her Pater and Osma would prepare her for another and unique role in Universal One that he would disclose to her soon.  She’d resisted, wounded by the assault of solo Ricky’s amigos.  Now, Pater had robbed her of choice.

She went to the shower and ran the hot water until steam billowed from the stall, transforming the bathroom into an oven.  She stepped in and the water nearly scalded her, but she didn’t lower the temperature; instead, she allowed the scorching water to raise the red on the surface of her browned skin, like hellfire forcing past, present, and about to be sin into the open for ablutionary consumption.  When she finished, she stood before the mirror, cleared the condensation, and examined herself.  She dragged her hands across her chest, between her breasts, over her stomach, trying to peer below her flesh, like she did when she was a little girl.  What she sought was gossamer; perfectly transparent when pure; translucent when impure; black when withered from abuse or neglect.  To her sorrow, she discovered hers was past withered, not even a black kernel.  Hers was vanished:  she was soulless.  She suspected back at the Los Angeles Temple the night of Pater’s proposition.  Her foreboding intensified when she came to “Feed the World” the first time.  It abated with the appearance of Fabian.  But here it was, the truth, undeniable; that what she believed her salvation, what had been her salvation, was the source of her condemnation; it was the reason her soul had deserted her.

And so what waited for her in the room meant nothing; it couldn’t hurt her; she would find her consolation in Fabian, and she would return to the Los Angeles Temple resolved to respond to the crisis of her missing soul in her familiar fashion:  she would run away.  She hoped she would, at least, for if this was not sufficient impetus, what would be?

She hung the towel on the hook behind the door and entered the room naked, more naked than Pater and Osma could imagine.

“Come, little warrior, come on my left side.”

He raised the sheet for her.  She settled in next to him.  He draped an arm over her and his hand wandered down to her breast and cupped it, as his other hand did Osma’s.  He smelled sweet and sour, of wine and sweat, of pleasure and labor, and the blended odor struck her as sulfuric. 

“Can the two of you picture us?” he asked.  “Can you picture the scene?”

Iam and Osma lay silent, sharing between them a glance of questioning.

“We are like a holy work.  We are like a religious triptych.  We are like a church fresco.  We are like men envision the Trinity.”

As he spoke, a glaze descended over his eyes, and Iam and Osma, locking their eyes, realized he was no longer aware of them, didn’t feel them next to him, for they knew from experience he was elsewhere; he was off on an astral flight, flitting who knew where.  And in that embracement of eyes, what Iam saw in Osma, Pater’s right hand, shocked her.  Osma possessed the very core of being she’d lost.  Osma possessed a soul, a stained, withered black dab.  But it was there, and, defective as it was, still it served as a compass for Iam, pointing to something she didn’t recognize until now, something Osma understood, accepted, nurtured in for who knew how long; that Pater was a blasphemer, a manipulator, a user, a solo Ricky.  The difference, the fountainhead of his control, he was educated, charismatic, and adorned in the white robes of ersatz belief; and, chilled by a draft of air conditioning or the cold hand of fate, she couldn’t distinguish, she glimpsed rampant paranoia underneath the ceremonial robes and golden sashes of Revelation

“We are the Trinity on earth,” he said, between them again.  “But for weeks, visions have plagued me.”  Both murmured, consolation from Osma, dread from Iam.  “These men of today, they see what I am about.  They understand how my growing power, the kingdom of my Father it is my mission to establish on earth, how I will use these to pry apart their greed infected grip on God’s people.  I feel, my most faithful, I feel the enemies of my Father and me marshalling against us.”

“We’ll fight them, Pater, as we always have,” Osma said, forever the fervent right hand.

“Your name truly fits you, God’s servant,” he said, caressing Osma’s breast and tracing a circle around her nipple.  “I have to say no.  They are too strong to resist with arms.  Our Swords are brave and skillful, but outnumbered.  No, our resistance that I plan will be different.  It will be monumental in its boldness.  It will be a rising up of the Anointed People, an astounding testament of belief that will eclipse anything the world has yet seen.”

No, Iam realized it wasn’t the artificial cold that sent shivers through her, that paralyzed her chest and held her breath fast in her, that dropped a veil of red terror over her eyes; it was a prophecy delivered centuries ago, a fantasy to some, but scripture, law, destiny to Pater; it was the calling up.

Osma put words to it.  “Pater, are we rapturing out?”

My God, thought Iam, an exit represented on the Black Night headbands, the people of the One with angel wings flapping them upon Pater’s command for the Home Chant and ascending in redemption red squadrons to the heavens where they would enjoy unfathomable rewards to the envy of the world-bound.

Pater laughed.  “We’ll talk of coming events another time in a meeting of the full Council.  Tonight, I’ve begun preparing for my departure.”

“Departure?” Osma pried.  “Where are you going?  For how long?”

“You’re filled with wonder, my faithful servant?  You know better than all what’s happening in Los Angeles, how our enemies, the newspapers, the television reporters, the Federal authorities, and who knows who else, are working overtime to trump up offenses they can use against me.  The true word, the acceptance of it, our growth, it is driving them insane.  They are resorting to desperate measures.  I don’t want to frighten either of you, but you should know … oh, how I wanted to avoid revealing this to you on such a special night … but you must know … my assassination may be imminent.”

Osma, startled, said, “No, it can’t true.” 

For the first time in a long while, a real prayer wriggled up from Iam’s girlhood; she prayed it was true, that this time, not like the dozens of other claimed attempts, this time it would come to pass.

“Sadly, it is.  Armand himself alerted me.  You know our Sword commander has informants in the LAPD.  He informed me last week, and we’ve been formulating plans since.  Not religious, governance, or business plans, or you would have been involved.  You both are my most valued advisers on those matters.  No, these are … let’s call them logistical plans.  Soon, you’ll hear the details.  I’ll say only that Armand believes if I disappear for a while our enemies might shelve their plans.  Others have disappeared and returned the stronger for it.  Look no further than Jesus Himself.  Off to the desert, tested by Satan, returned a man with a focused purpose.”

Iam saw Osma melt against Pater, relief washing the concern from her face.  “The house.  I am so happy you received the inspiration to buy it.”

Pater occasionally left the Los Angeles Temple for short retreats.  Several years earlier, when Iam was new to the Council, she accompanied Pater and Osma to the Baja with the mission of locating a suitable site for his retreats.  They settled on a small house in Ensenada with a view of the ocean and La Presa and bought it immediately with cash Osma carried in her purse.  The swiftness of the purchase and the pile of bills surprised her, but as she involved herself more deeply in Church business, she saw the practice was typical; the Church paid cash for nearly everything, and Osma served as the banker.  That trip was the first and last time Iam saw the house, though Osma mentioned in passing over the years several trips she took there with him.

“Yes.  So, you see, there’s nothing to worry yourselves about tonight.  Tonight we celebrate.  Tonight I will reveal to you joyous news.  Tonight you will believe the promise that Universal One will go on regardless of our enemies’ intentions.  Destroying Universal One is an impossibility.  Our Church is a continuum, my lovely servant and warrior.  It stands on a foundation of everlasting life, my everlasting life, past, present, and future.  You know by your faith that I have lived in the past and will live in the future.  And, as with everything, you will assist me.  You will be instrumental in my perpetuation.  You will be my instruments, the primary receptacles of my Resurrection Vessels.”

Resurrection was nothing new to Osma and Iam.  Christ resurrected.  People of all sorts believed in their personal resurrection and elevation to life everlasting; it was an impeachable tenet of most religions.  Pater, however, over the years, added a new dimension to the concept by blending it with reincarnation.  When he spoke of resurrection, specifically his personal perpetuity, he meant by way of reincarnation into another temporal life in the whole form of himself, incarnated after resting and renewing in his Father’s house.  Pater’s continuum would go on until he accomplished his Father’s mission of returning all the people of the world, who had been led astray by the sin of Adam and Eve and the incessant evil of the devil, to Him. 

Osma and Iam naturally assumed Pater would die and return as a newborn somewhere on earth.  He would then start again to wage his father’s earthly battle of universal unity and salvation.  But exchanging glances, Osma’s eyes communicated to her that Vessels was a codicil she alone comprehended.  Osma beat Iam in asking the question they shared.

“Pater,” asked Iam, “what do you mean by Vessels?”

“God’s servant and my little warrior, I’ve have preached on my origins.  I am from my Father.  What do you suppose I mean by that?”

“God gave you life,” Iam said, instantly, like the brightest girl in class impressing the teacher.

“God gave you life, and you, too, Osma,” he said, squeezing both their breasts, eliciting murmurs from them.  “God gave life to everyone one of the Anointed surrounding us in our great monument to His goodness, and to all the good and bad—innocent and pure from God’s fingertip, let us not forget, and bad through their own devices and their willingness to accept the devil as their Baal—to all the world’s inhabitants.  No, God did more for your Pater.”

He fell silent, seemly lost in another reverie, or off on another flight. 

Iam closed her eyes, let escape a murmur of satisfaction as they burned pleasantly against her lids.  But Osma, herself dreamy, though not with sleep but with the pleasure of the wine and the man to whom Iam knew she was devoted, asked, “Pater, what blessing did God bestow upon you?”

Revived, he said, “Well, in the beginning, the first incarnation was familiar.  Like my brother, God placed the seed of me into a specially selected woman, the Prime Receptacle.  She possessed the faith and love in God to understand her good fortune and mission.  She nurtured me until I matured and took up the work of my Father, the very work that has engaged me for thousands of years.  It is a difficult undertaking, my two faithful believers.  People prefer to be consumed by their own petty lives than by the life God has waiting for them.  Many times, innumerable times, I have perished, always by the efforts of men who cannot tolerate God’s good word, God’s power, who abhor the very thought of a kingdom opposing their own.”

He trembled and sweated and gripped Osma and Iam hard, until their pained cries calmed him.

“Please,” he said.

Osma handed him his goblet of wine.  He drank it off in a long, loud gulp.  “Blood of the Father give me strength.”  Osma took the goblet.  “Thank you,” he said.  “You have always known what I need.  I am grateful for you, God’s servant.  Come here.  Let’s settle down.  I promise to be a good Pater.  Okay, there, where … It infuriates me.  Several times I’ve come close to fulfilling the mission God blessed me with only to be foiled by agents of the Great Nemesis.  If it were not for unbelievers like that vindictive worm Harlan Johnson.  He has been my crucifier.”

“I’m sorry, Pater,” Osma said.  “We’re sorry.  We tried.”

“Yes, don’t worry yourselves.  Don’t let it spoil our evening.  You’ve turned away many of our enemies.  Even the best earthly creatures can’t bat a thousand.  Ted Williams couldn’t.  No, Johnson is a worm and a cockroach, slippery and filthy, and it’s near impossible to kill either of them.  At least, thanks to your efforts, his discomfort supplied your Pater with a delectable consolation.”  His eyes blanked and he laughed softly, and this vision both could see; that of letters streaming to Mrs. Johnson, and, the consequence, Harlan Johnson miserable in the efficiency until he’d convinced his wife they were a cruel ruse.  “Well, your solace is the jealous trait of women.  I’m sure she’s watching him like a hawk.”  He chuckled.  “My Father has always blessed me with wives who understand I am for all the people.  Fidella is yet another.  Praise you, Father.”

“We are grateful to the Father for you, Pater,” they chanted, Iam rote to Osma’s fervency.

“Please, kiss your Pater.”  Together, they arched up and kissed his cheek.

“Such delightful innocents,” he chuckled, hugging them.

“The Vessels,” Iam said.  “You were explaining them.”

“The Vessels will be from you, Osma and Marcella.  You are my primary receptacles.  I will plant in you the seeds of my next life.  Once the seeds germinate in you, you will carry and give birth to them as males, and they will be my Vessels.  Residing in my Father’s house, I will oversee the maturation of these Vessels.  When the time is propitious, I will select the best one among them.  I will descend from my home, forfeit the love and hospitality of my Father, and enter the fray for God’s souls once again.”

“But,” Iam asked, “what will become of the child?”

“Marcella, for a warrior, you process such a tender heart.  I know it is your gender.  The Father designed you to care and nurture.  It is a glorious design and like most of His gifts the enemies shit on it.  It is simple and necessary:  I will subsume the Vessel and it will be me.  To the amazement of all the world, the boy will be a whole man in a child, and they will refuse to believe it; they will not comprehend such a thing could happen, not in the modern world of logic and science; they will be no different than the temple doctors who marveled at my brother.  What a glorious event, remember?  ‘And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast.’  What a scamp, sneaking off from his parents and setting up shop in the temple with the learned doctors.  He was a daring fellow, for sure.  Smart, too.  ‘And all that heard Him were astonished at His understanding and answers.'”

“What of the child?” Iam asked, catching the spark of love in Osma’s eyes, but wondering if maybe she was wrong about her; that maybe she, in addition, believed, or wanted to believe so hard, to fortify and justify her love.

“He will go.  Science is correct about that, at least.  You can’t have two bodies occupying the same space simultaneously.  Science understands the simple things, but not the complex.”

“He will die?”

“Marcella, what is with you?  Mortal life ends for everybody, and then we all are raised up and born into a heavenly life.  We, the true believers, never die; we live forever and ever.  He will return to his heavenly home and live for eternity.  And he, and she who carried him and prepared him for me, will enjoy a special place in Heaven, close to my Father and to me, when I return.”

“What a glorious reward,” Osma said.

“You see, Marcella, Osma understands.  The spirit possessed her.  In Heaven, we’ll be a big, happy family.”

Osma stirred and laughed softly and pushed against Pater as if she wanted to jump inside him.

Iam said, “Yes, it is a glorious reward.”

“That is our purpose tonight.  You will deliver Vessels, and yours will be the cream.  The Father has imbued me with special strength and vigor; He has multiplied the seeds in me; and as His good farmer, I have begun sowing them tonight.  I will continue His work steadily for several weeks.  At the end of that time, we will test all the receptacles and determine which ground has proved most fertile.  After, secure in the certainty of continuity, we will deliver our powerful message of faith and promise to all the world.”

Pater directed them.  Osma first, always the right hand first.  A rest.  Libation.  Iam second, treated more brutally, as a warrior wishes and deserves.  As he mounted behind her and Osma knelt in front of her, she saw the excited eyes of Nessa and Lotta and others like them, and she wanted to cry, and she did when he yanked her hair in his passion and thrust her into Osma.

Afterwards, Pater fell asleep.  Osma and Iam took turns showering.  Iam could not clean herself no matter how vigorously she scrubbed and left only when Osma urged her, “Hurry, will you.  It’s almost morning.  We can sleep while he sleeps.  Hurry up.”

On their way out, Osma said, “Wait.  Let me show you something.”

She pulled a box from under Pater’s bed, beckoned Iam to her knees, and opened it.  She gazed on bright packages of pregnancy testing kits. 

“When any of us begin to feel the Vessel inside us, we are to come to Pater for one of these.  I intend to be first, Marcella.  I love you, but I will be first.”

Iam hugged Osma.  “I pray you are,” she said.