Cheating with Christ

Today Will Be Different

By Maria Semple

The midlife crisis, isn’t wonderful fodder for screenwriters and novelists? Treatment can be hilarious or serious, or, as in Maria Semple’s new outing, a blending of both. Eleanor Flood Wallace is about to turn 50. She’s enjoyed a career as an animation director on a successful television show. She’s a woman of many opinions all of which come at the reader regularly, usually coated in humor.

She also has a very precocious little boy named Timby (credit autocorrect for it); he may be the funniest character in the novel. She has a wacky toy pooch, Yo-Yo (which describes Eleanor quite nicely). And she’s married to a very successful hand surgeon, Joe, who, among other things, is on contract with the Seattle Seahawks, and he’s a saint. And, oh yes, she lives in Seattle. Sounds ideal, but there wouldn’t be much of a novel if it were.

When she discovers that Joe’s staff thinks the family is off on vacation, she wonders if Joe’s throwing her over for another woman. Roll out the self-deprecation. Her search for an answer serves as the propulsive drive of the novel, mean to get you from A to B in a zig zag line that wends you through her life. Turns out it was an eventful one, filled with bad parenting, a stage mother, a beautiful sister whom she has a falling out with over the sister’s controlling socialite New Orleans husband, and her own feelings of insecurity and her general daffiness.

All this entertains for the first hundred pages or so, until it turns to tedium and Eleanor’s humorous wackiness disintegrates into something you want to escape. Really, you get tired of her. You think, Good for Joe. Who could deal with this daily?

If you persevere, however, you stagger into a clever ending, for dear Joe is having an affair, of sorts. But it’s with someone and a philosophy both rejected in their youth, and which is one shared thing among many differences. That’s got to, and does, hurt, just like getting there does. w/c


Coming of Age in Crisis

The Girl Who Slept with God

By Val Brelinski

In Val Brelinski’s well done and often moving debut novel, readers see the world through the eyes of a girl (Jory) just reaching puberty (13 turning 14), raised with two sisters (little Frances and older Grace), in rural Idaho, as a member of a small evangelical church, by parents who eschew the modern world of the 1970s. As she comes of age, she has to deal with 17-year-old Grace’s return from a mission in Mexico pregnant and claiming it to be the work of God, with parents (Oren and Esther) in turmoil and at odds, and with an older man (Grip, in his 20s), of dubious background, who befriends her, a relationship not a few may find creepy (though Grip reveals himself to be a noble character).

You’ll find the strengths of the novel in Brelinski’s gently melodic tone, upon which you’ll find yourself drifting, as if on the Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” (Pure Moods, Vol. I), and the change in Jory, both in her maturation, her personal strength, and the world beyond her church and insular religious school. In other words, this is a novel not so much about the mystical, which you might expect from the title, but one grounded firmly in the experiences of families dealing with crises and young women grappling with their new roles as young, social women. Read with this in mind and you’ll find it an impressive first effort. w/c

The Terrified Spiritualist

Nightmare Alley (1946)

By William Lindsay Gresham

There isn’t much that is truly unique, especially within genre fiction, and usually that’s the way readers like it, since they approach these books with certain expectations. William Lindsay Gresham’s Nightmare Alley most assuredly fulfills those expectations by creating a dark world and populating with people who live in the shadows. Then Gresham goes beyond what you expect, deep into carney life, deeper into spiritualism, and deeper still into the scarred human psyche. His novel teems with double crosses, murder, sex (even touching the edges of SM), and the willful and cruelest twisting of people’s beliefs and grief for personal profit.

Stan is a haunted young man when readers first meet him in a traveling Ten-in-One (a sideshow usually with ten acts in a row, some involving “freaks,” for one admission). He has plenty of ghosts in his past, all issuing from psychologically trying childhood. Imagine the worst things a boy can see and you’ll have foresight into Stan’s motivations. He learns much about carney life, including what a geek is, an alcoholic who will do anything for a bottle, even bite the heads off live chickens to amuse the yokels. He also meets Zeena, a mentalist, from whom he learns the tricks of the trade and with whom he carries on an affair. Her husband, while not a geek, is an alcoholic who comes to what most assume an accidental end. Stan steps into the act, and why not, as he’s already been in the man’s bed.

At the Ten-in-One, he meets sweet, young Molly, the electric girl. He carries on with her while perfecting his skills as a mentalist and also delving into the world of spiritualism (basically, the belief that the soul exists after death, with the added feature that the dead wish and try to communicate with the living). Stan harbors and cultivates the vision of hooking a big fish and taking him or her for a bundle. He even goes so far as to gain ordination in the spiritualist church. Stan’s quite the smart fellow, well versed in mentalism, electricity and devices, religion, and most important of all, the human desire to believe. It’s this entire span of the novel, the Act 2, if you will, that really elevates it and sets it apart from the general run of American noir. Tossed into this is psychology, particularly after Stan, haunted even more by his past, visits psychologist Lilith Ritter. If Stan defines blackguard then Lilith is the scoundrel who sets off his petard. It is she who supplies him the mark he’s hungered for. And it nearly all works out for Stan, if only he had been able to surmount his nightmares.

Everything, then, devolves in the last act, wherein Stan finds himself older, sicker, addicted, and sliding into his past, to where he began, only now as the freak. Really, though, will you be able to muster even a dollop of sympathy for him?

Noir writers of the period tended to live hard lives and few were unfamiliar with the bottle. Gresham, who committed suicide at 53, partially blind and suffering with cancer, led a particularly eventful life that included folk singing in Greenwich Village cafes, jobs in journalism and advertising, more than a year as a medic with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. Later his first wife, Joy Davidman, and he became enamored of C.S. Lewis and said’s return to and advocacy of christianity. Joy Davidman, after her marriage to Gresham dissolved, married Lewis.  Gresham went on to explore other spiritual interests, among them occultism and L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics. In other words, a most interesting fellow. w/c

What was an Anchoress?

The Anchoress

By Robyn Cadwallader

Anchoress: a woman in religious seclusion; a female anchorite, or hermit; for the purpose of leading an intensely religious life of prayer and contemplation apart from the world.

Anchorite life became more common in the middle Medieval age and in England, both the time and setting for Cadwallader’s generally interesting and sometimes compelling novelistic exploration of the phenomena. However, the author focuses mostly on the temporal aspects of her anchorite, Sarah, and not nearly as much on the mystical quest of the one dead to the world seeking spiritual rebirth. In Sarah’s case, her motivations for the anchorite life seem skewed to bad experiences in her young life, more of a way to escape into the protective arms of Christ than a purely spiritual reawakening. For this reason, some may approach the novel expecting more than it delivers.

At seventeen, Sarah, who has lived the religious life for a time, enters her anchorhold. While she has her Rules (for more on their composition, see the Ancrene Wisse: Guide for Anchoresses). She soon discovers that her seclusion is anything but, as the world, in the form of her maids, lord, priest, and villagers intrude upon her devotions. To intensify her experience, she engages in extreme forms of self-discipline, weakening herself and setting off a period of hallucinating. As her story progresses, we readers learn more about her motivations for seeking a secluded life. These make up the driving force of the plot and are best left for readers to discover on their own. Suffice it to say, these are all temporal.

Father Renaulf is her confessor. He’s none to pleased for the task. He is more interested in his work as a scribe and in building a first-class scriptorium at his monastery. Over time, though, he develops a relationship with Sarah based on respect for her while doing everything in his power to help her resolve issues tormenting her.

Cadwallader does a good job of recreating an era that will seem completely alien to the modern mind. Two things will strike readers immediately, these being the lowly state of women who find it almost impossible to control nearly any part of their lives and the power of feudal authority to direct every element of peasant existence, though these particular peasants appear to find a way to resist their odious overlord, the thoroughly unlikeable Sir Thomas, he being a fellow who could have benefited greatly from a modern course on cultivating his interpersonal skills.

In a novel of this sort, you might expect flowery, somewhat refined language and a bit of lost peasant vernacular, something more along the lines of what you’ll find in the novels of Sir Walter Scott, as in his terrific adventure, Ivanhoe (highly recommended). Alas, Cadwallader elects a simpler modern approach, so the dialogue sounds more like what you encounter in typical popular novels of today.

In sum, then, while an interesting subject, it could have been better, which is not to say that many will, nonetheless, enjoy it. w/c

Challenge Your Beliefs

Wise Blood

By Flannery O’Connor

In her letter (O’Connor was a prolific letter writer) responding to reader Ben Griffith (3/54), O’Connor remarked halfway through about Wise Blood this way: “…it is entirely Redemption-centered in thought….perhaps it is hard to see because H. Motes is such an admirable nihilist.” And, indeed, it would seem redemption is the theme, as in the end Motes does come back as a corpse to his landlady Mrs. Flood, who sums things up succinctly: “Well, Mr. Motes, I see you’ve come home!” Of course, as readers discover after a bit of consideration, there’s more to see here in addition to and mostly in support of the redemption idea.

For Motes’ return concludes a rough journey that turns on the conflict of free will vs. determinism, but which also allows O’Connor to address other concerns, among them the question of what constitutes truth, blind faith vs. empiricism, humankind’s spiritual aspiration vs. animalism, human isolation even in a crowded world, and violence.

Some of these strike the reader immediately and on nearly every page of the novella, most particularly the conflict between free will and determinism. For example, Motes is in full rebellion against religion in which he had been inculcated since boyhood. Returning home from war a wounded vet, he rejects religion and even tries establishing and proselytizing his own anti-religion, the Church Without Christ. To no avail, though, as to everybody who sees him, he appears marked as a preacher. The suit and hat certainly don’t help much, nor his constant ranting about Truth. He cannot seem, no matter how hard he tries, to escape his fate; it has been ordained for him. The Truth he espouses is the empirical: what we see, feel, and experience in our temporal world. This doesn’t allow for religious trappings, like a soul, redemption, or salvation, The Truth to the vast majority, including O’Connor.

O’Connor paints a pretty bleak picture of Taulkinham, barren lands, dirty streets, confining rooms, and a preponderance of pigs roaming the landscape, not to mention a citizenry that often feels alien in its grotesqueness. Among these folks are Asa Hawks (the ersatz blind preacher), Sabbath Lily Hawks (the 15-year-old daughter who sets about to seduce Motes, providing a sin for redemption), Onnie Jay Holy (the charlatan preacher who steals and corrupts Motes’ church and Motes’ concept of Truth, prompting another sin by Motes), Mrs. Flood (the landlady), and Enoch Emery, the 18-old-boy in search of human companionship.

Enoch lives up to his name in his dedication to Motes, in spite of Motes constantly ignoring and outrightly rejecting him. More, though, Enoch aspires to one thing: friendship. Pitched out as a child and shunned by Taulkinham, he bemoans the town as thoroughly unfriendly. Warm companionship is purely aspirational for Enoch, for his Wise Blood, his instinctual driver, forces him to do things quite alienating, like peeping on women at the local swimming pool, indulging in sweets (his animal desires), regularly insulting people, and the like. He also holds a fascination for animals (the animal nature of humans) and works at the zoo. In the end, his aspiration for friendship falls away and he finds himself in a kind of hell; that is, in an ape costume spurned by humankind.

Further on this concept of baseness, Mrs. Flood exhibits distrustfulness. It’s interesting that Motes comes to spend a version of eternity with her in his little hermit’s nest, for she has been suspicious throughout the story that Motes is trying to put something over on her. She can’t figure out what it is but she knows it’s there. (This, as an aside, is a trait Othello would have benefited from regarding Iago.)

As for the other concerns of the novel, isolation and violence, you’ll find ample examples scattered throughout, not the least of which is Motes’ withdrawal from the world, characterized by his self-blinding and tiny room, and the brutal treatment of children and the murders committed by the key characters.

In short, while Wise Blood may appear simple, and certainly is short, O’Connor crowds and layers its pages with a lot of weighty contemplation on the salvation of humankind, thought provoking ideas that force readers to slow down and dig deeper into the text and themselves. w/c

The Religion of Pedophilia

Prophet’s Prey (2015; Amy Berg, Showtime Documentary)

Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Even if Warren Jeffs and FLDS don’t ring a bell with you, the image of women in prairie dresses and 19th century hairdos will. These women and their more than 400 hundred children appeared on evening news programs beginning in April 2008, when Texas authorities removed them from the YFZ Ranch near Eldorado, Texas, after a report of child sexual abuse.

Amy Berg’s compelling documentary, based on the book of the same name by Sam Brower, proves a thorough and disturbing investigation into how one very determined man using religion can exercise absolute control over people who want, probably, need to believe. Jeffs certainly isn’t the first to dupe and manipulate people to satisfy his own predilections for control, sex perversion, and financial gain. He is, however, somewhat unique in that though convicted and serving a life sentence for sexual abuse of children and candidly revealing himself a charlatan to his believers (shown in the film), his flock remain faithful, and, many will find this infuriating, he continues to control the church and issue “revelations” from his prison cell.

Megalomaniacal personalities, such as Jeffs’s, fascinate us and have been the subject of interesting and often riveting novels (such as serialized recently on this site), novels that sometimes seem to fictional to believe. Yet, as the Warren Jeffs and Jim Jones of the world illustrate and attest to over and over again, truth truly is stranger than fiction.

If you subscribe to Showtime, you should find in their On Demand offering shortly. If you are not a subscriber, we’re sure the documentary will find its way onto DVD. In the meantime, you might read Brower’s book.

For a sample of what you’ll see in the film, take a look at the Prophet’s Prey trailer. You’ll experience a couple of quite stunning aspects of Jeffs in the trailer. His voice, his monotone cadence, it disturbs and puzzles simultaneously; how could such a voice, such a presentation, lull and mesmerize people into absolute obedience? you’ll wonder. Jeffs in his prison cell, where you see him standing stock-still in an almost catatonic state will have you speculating about what’s passing through his mind? Deception, insane hallucinating, or calculation? w/c

The Inside-Out Woman: 27: Redemption

The Inside-Out Woman


Cease, Marcella, no more.  I am stuffed with your defiance.  Your disobedience is unworthy of the Anointed Mother; you, the mortal woman selected by my Father from the billions to renew my life, to raise me, and to march by my side in the final crusade, the Great Climax foretold by the divinely inspired John.  It is the time I’ve awaited.  The end, it is coming, and I am recalled to life to bring it on.  Marcella, see, witness how prophecy is realized.  Look, it is as it was written:  I cometh with clouds, and every eye will see me.

Dominic in hand, Iam dropped to her knees in the ravaged field.  She embraced her son, and froze in the commotion of destiny’s advancing fulfillment.

“Mommy, please, run.  Run,” begged Dominic, rebelling against her bloody embrace.

You fear for the girl, Marcella, like a mother.  It is right a good mother should worry for her children.  However, do not trouble yourself over the fate of the girl.  My Father, the most gentle of caretakers, has scooped her into His Eternal Arms.  He will care for her as another child of His reincarnated son’s mother.  Little warrior, the time is upon us.  A great and marvelous deed waits on your devotion and courage.  Lay the vessel on the ground.  It is hallow earth, and soon to be sanctified and exalted by His Sacred Touch.  It will be as perfect an altar as that fashioned by Abraham at His command.  Lay down the vessel, Marcella.

“No,” she whimpered, clutching Dominic tighter, feeling his breath enter her through the gashes streaking her chest, binding mother and son again like a life cord.  “No.  Please, no.”

Dear, pick yourself up, brush off the spell of the beast, and run.  Listen to the one who cuddled you as a girl.  Listen to our sweet boy, Dominic.  You must run or the three of us will perish.  It is a demon who seduces you, and it is a foul and cruel tornado that will kill us, if you do not move.

Prostrate the vessel.  God commands it, Marcella.  Emulate Abraham, God’s trusting servant, the unwavering and unquestioning believer.  Validate your true faith, as Abraham did his.  God gives life.  God does not destroy life.  God can do no wrong.  Therefore, what will transpire will be good.  My Father makes a promise to you, Marcella.  You shall conceive in your womb a blessing for all the nations of the earth, because you accepted the New Annunciation.  You, the New Divine Mother, will save the world through me.  Lay down the vessel and fulfill the wish of my Father. 

Yielding to a deep yearning for salvation, to the long ago connection of community and acceptance, to gratitude for the courage to escape from a horrid old life, and to an entity who still enwrapped her in his bewitching magic, she said, “Lie down, Dominic.”

“No, Mommy, run.”

“Dominic, you must lie down.  To lie down is to be safe in the arms of the Father.”

Dominic looked from Iam to the funnel drilling an erratic but immutable path through the field to them.  He hammered Iam’s weeping chest.  He shook off Iam’s weakened grasp.  He freed himself and ran from the funnel toward the house.

Follow him, dear.  This is no time to allow the ghosts of the past to fog your mind or to retreat into our pleasant world.  Follow Dominic.  Follow him to safety. 

Chase him, Marcella.  Seize the impudent rascal.  He defies God like a progeny of Lucifer.  After him.

Iam obeyed their orders.  She darted after Dominic, impervious to the lashing of the wind and rain, the flashing and the claps of thunder.  She caught him before he gained the yard.  She grabbed his arm.  He fought.  She overpowered him and turned him to the funnel.  She secured him with her arms.  She forced him to his knees and knelt with him.  She gazed upon the rotating tower of destructive wind and rain, of uprooted farming and shattered industry, a pinpoint apocalypse, in fixed supplication, and her arms transformed to unbreakable steel bands around him.

Dear, you were doing very nicely for a while.  Back in the house and in the yard, you stood up to the monster.  How proud I was of you.  I nearly burst my buttons with pride.  Did you sense my admiration?  But now, well, this will not do.  You must refute the creature.  If you cannot, allow me to step in.  I possess the will and the strength, and most important, sweet ladybird, the love.

Excellent, Marcella.  I have changed my mind and compliment you.  He is not a son of Satan but a lively sprite, a delight of energy.  Yes, you have presented your Pater with a feisty vessel.  Such vitality, it is all I desired the night of our trinity.  I knew you were the one; you would do justice to your Pater.  I’m sure I will be an exemplary son to you; though, judging by the boy’s fiery inclination, I may occasionally try you as well, as I mature and depart you to go make real my Father’s mission.  As I will demand your toughness, so the vessel requires it now.  Subdue the vessel with the hilt of Abraham’s Tool, as a mercy, and then open it for my entry.

Dear, please, I implore you.  Allow me to assume control.  This beast exerts a deathly power over you.  The creature always has.  But I have hardened to it.  I see the monster with sober eyes.  It is no savior.  It is death.  It is no god.  It is the devil.  It seduces and manipulates, dear.  The thousands who believed in it, the one hundred forty-four, and others, who died at its will, your friend Emily—who saw the truth too late—among them, they believed it.  It rewarded their faith with holocaust.  Oh, how I regret the clipping, dear.  I planted the idea in you of saving it as a remembrance and as a warning, not as the hex it has become.  I felt the beast’s power from the first.  I sensed it insinuate itself into you in Paradise.  I hoped you would remember the destruction; that you understood it could happen again.  And now the beast wishes to take you, the family, and my life.  No, I will not stand for it.  Please, before it can inflict further harm, release me.  Release me, dear.

Your words seep into me like reeking sewage, you blasphemous whore, you, the one rightfully called nutburger.  Marcella, the Anointed People are saved.  This very moment, above us, all partake of the fruit in my Father’s gardens.  What we strived for on earth, they reap in heaven.  And though Osma betrayed your Pater, my mercy and the mercy of my Father shine on her and she is forgiven of her most treacherous sin.  Lift your striking hand to God, Marcella, and prepare the vessel for the miracle of my resurrection.

She raised her hand grasping the knife, slowly, as if the instrument had fed on what suffused her, as if her renewed doubt had weighted the sacrificial tool and rendered it unwieldy.  At the apex, as she was about to slam the hilt onto Dominic’s bobbing head, a voice came to her in patches.  “Evil Spirit,” it intoned.  “Jesus,” it implored.  “Command,” it cried.  “Obedece,” it asserted.  She stopped.  She froze.  Though the storm thrashed her face with stinging rain, she felt the tears spill down her cheeks, and she tasted them in her mouth. 

Next, the words washed over her in a torrent of exhortation.

“Evil One.  Unholy Demon.  Obey me.  You must obey.  By the agony of our Lord Jesus Christ, by His Holy Resurrection, by His promise of eternal life in the presence of the Eternal Father, by the good works and the sacrifices and the sufferings of all the Saints in Heaven, by the certainty of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in the last days to judge the living and the dead, to raise up the righteous and to cast down the unrighteous, reveal yourself, reveal yourself and any minions who may be aiding you.  Revelas y respuesta a la Verdadera Palabra de Dios.

Why, my goodness me, dear, my toes tingle with relief and joy.  My heart throbs.  He is here.  Our Disinherited Knight has materialized.  And lo and behold, he is the priest.  He is the priest who has set his cap for us.  Oh, how simply scrumptious.  Sir Holy Knight.  Sir Templar.  Sir True Knight Templar, the uncorrupted guardian and defender of pilgrims.  Look, he even wears the white tunic.  He flourishes the weapon of the cross.  He is our gallant Sir Mario of Holy Redemption.  Señor Mario de Santa María.  Dear, you simply must release me this very instant.  Our holy warrior and I will expel your Pater.  We possess the will and the might.  You will be free.  We will live.  Release me, dear, now.

Through her tears, the rain, the wind, in the white flashes, through the tumult in her head, she saw Father Chapas hovering over her, as if a descended Michael, a vision of piety in his flapping stole and billowing surplice. 

Father Chapas stared down on her.  He signed her with the cross, and lowered the crucifix to her forehead.

“I invoke the divine power of the Father, of Christ, of the Holy Spirit,” he chanted three times.  “Show yourself, Evil One.  You cannot resist the true word of the true Lord.”  His face was grim, as befitted his mission, but his eyes blazed, she thought, with empathy and love. 

Father Chapas gazed upon her with compassion and horror at her wounds, with surprise at how blood and water had mixed and dyed her dress pale pink, with pleasure at how the muted hue flattered her, with concupiscence at how so much it was like he imagined her flesh.

He flinched and shuddered at the vision, and shouted into the roiling sky, “You demon.  You deceiver.  You unholy sorcerer.  You are unclean and you spew your filth on all who cross your sinful path.  You exploit the weakness of man, Evil One.  I confessed to the only God that I am servant unworthy of the True Light.  In His infinite mercy, He has shown me my sin, and He has absolved me.  He has strengthened me so I may resist your temptations, Condemned One.  In his Divine Name, I expulse your deception from me as I would regurgitate foul, poisoning bile.  Now, reveal yourself.  The Father commands it.”

“I am the Pater,” mouthed Iam, relinquished to him.  “I am the son of God.  I am the Lord you worship and serve.”

Father Chapas probed Iam’s eyes, plumbing for her immortal soul and the demon devouring it.

“You are a blasphemer.  You are an invading foe.  You are an unholy worm.  You are the enemy of faith and you feast on its annihilation.  Eres el enemigo de la raza humana.  You wish us nothing but destruction.  You wish this poor creature of God eternal suffering.  You have already injured her.  You will hurt her no más.”

“Priest, observe yourself.  Heed yourself, you pathetic fraud.  Open your ears to hear the good news from me, pretender.  Here is my mother to be.  Heed what I promise her:  for behold, henceforth all generations will call the mother of Pater blessed.”

“You vile abominator.  You prove your villainy with your slander and your defamation of the true and only Holy Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary.  You are a demon and the root of evil.”

“You stupid shaman.  I am foretold.  I am come to end the wickedness.  Hear the word, you witchdoctor who dresses like a trooper in my ministerial corps.  ‘A whirlwind came out of the north, a great cloud, and a fire infolding itself; and a brightness about it, and out of the midst thereof as the color of amber, out of the midst of the fire.’  It is my Father, as prophesized by the ancients, come to give me new life and send me on my mission to deliver His wrath upon a sinful world.”

“You are a fiend.  You are an equivocator.  You are an unholy prism.  You mold the True Word to your unholy purpose.  No, Evil One, the Lord comes in the clouds to summon His Watchman.  He says to the Viligante:  ‘In my fury I will let loose storm winds, because of my anger there shall be a flooding rain and hailstones shall fall with destructive wrath—'”

“Shut your heathen mouth, false priest.”

“He says, ‘I will tear down the wall you have whitewashed and level it to the ground, laying bare its foundations.  When it falls, you shall be crushed beneath it; thus you shall know that I am the Lord.’  Those are the True Words of God told by a True Prophet, demon.  This display of God’s wrath will not end until you release His faithful servant woman.”

As he spoke, Father Chapas nested the crucifix under his arm.  He opened his sick call kit.  He removed his sprinkler and bottle of holy water.  He closed the kit, reached under his surplice, and jammed it into his pants pocket.  He filled his sprinkler and discarded the bottle, working in a veil of tranquility he had not experienced in months, perhaps ever, at peace in the swirl of the storm and in the face of incarnate evil. 

Dear, our noble priest certainly has taken the measure of your Pater.  Let’s you and me together give the beast the heave ho.  Life within us will be much pleasanter without him.  Come on, dear, out, out, damn spot, for he is a cursed blot on our happiness.  Let the knightly priest have him.  Now, heave ho.

“You are gravely mistaken, false priest, misguided retainer of mine, who is truly of the Father,” spoke Iam, in deep, stiff annunciation.  “I am come to end your wickedness.  You are a sinner, false priest.  I feel your sinfulness as if it were stamped upon your forehead in hot, crimson stigma.  You are a counterfeit, are you not?  You are a strange, priest.  Your sin, you counterfeit priest, is lust.  Yes, it is, you randy red-dicked fake.  Come on, you pagan priest, show us the seat of your faith.  Take out your swollen holy wand and sprinkle us with your holy spunk.  While you stroke, for you most assuredly must suffer the punishment of impenitence as well, we will prepare for my return.”

Dear, you understand what you are doing.  You are permitting the creature to assume control of us.  You understand the consequences.  He will doom us, you, Dominic, Dominica, Billy, and me.  All of us will die if you continue to allow this.  Dear, I love you and have stood by you.  When you were a child, I was your mother.  I love you, dear.  I do not wish to see you die.  Push the beast aside for a moment.  Open the door for me, dear.  Between you and me, I am the stronger one.  In alliance with the quixotic priest, we can send the beast home to Hell.  Life will be idyllic with it purged, dear.  You will live in a garden without cares, my sweet love.  I promise.  Just open the door for me.

Regaining herself, Iam pleaded, “Help me, Father Mario.”

“Lower the knife, child,” he urged, she a veiled bleeding Madonna in his eyes.

“I can’t, Father.  He will not let me.”

“Allow Dominic to come to me.”

“I can’t, Father.  He needs my son.”

“For what purpose, Mir— Mrs. Brick?”

“For his resurrection, Father.”

“Evil One, I summon you.  Ven a mí.”

Lost once more, Iam curled her lips in a grotesque mimic of a smile and, like a misbehaving child, stuck her tongue out and wagged it at him.

“Evil Spirit,” declared Father Chapas, shaking the sprinkler over Iam’s head, “you cannot resist the blessed water of God.  I cleanse you from this poor servant.  I wash away your foulness with it.”

Iam laughed.  “Father, holy one, ordained servant of God, dildo your ass with sprinkler and your holy water.  You are a pitiful excuse for a man of God.  You are a pitiful excuse for a man.”

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I expel you, Evil One.”

Iam’s laugh rose above the roar of the funnel.  “Behold this, holy man, ‘I am your God, and I am against thee, and draw forth my sword out of his sheath against all the flesh from the south to the north.  Seeing then that I will cut off from thee the righteous and the wicked.  Sigh therefore with the breaking of they loins!'” 

She whipped the knife down and thrust it between his legs. 

Father Chapas staggered back, howling, but held firmly the cross and the sprinkler.

“You are what you wish to be, are you not?  You are a eunuch to better praise your Lord and master.  Gelding takes your feeble mind off of desires that should not occupy it.  It is my favor to you.  Now, be off.  I have my Father’s work to attend to.  Lay down the vessel, Marcella.  I am ready.  The laughable holy man has refreshed my vigor.”

“You cannot harm me, Evil One.  You cannot dissuade me.  You can fight me, but you cannot win,” cried Father Chapas, convulsed in agony, yet still presenting the cross and sprinkler by the grace of preternatural resolve.

“Watch yourself, disgusting eunuch, or you’ll find more than your little red cock and shriveled marbles separated from you.”

“I am like David, who defeats giants.”

“Are you, now?  And like your hero would you kill for your pleasure, too?”

“I am forgiven by God, and strengthened by His forgiveness.  ‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer.'”

“Listen, half man, ‘A sword, a sword is sharpened, and also furbished.  It is sharpened to make a sore slaughter,'” exclaimed Iam’s voice, her arm flashing the knife.

“‘He is my rock of refuge, my shield, my saving horn, my stronghold.'”

“Enough volleying of scripture.  It is time to open the vessel.”

Lightning flashed and thunder reverberated under them as Iam sprang into action.  She threw Dominic to the ground and pounced on him, pinning his arms with her legs.  She placed her free hand under his chin, pushed his head back, and braced and tilted it to expose his neck.  She brought the blade down.  She rested it on his throat.  She squeezed the hilt and began to draw it across his neck.  She squeezed more and fought her trembling hand.  She screamed, “Aunt Margie, take me into your bed.”

Oh, dear, come; come to me.  See the room and the treasured Jasperware and the warm bed and the protective covers; and watch as I lift them for you.  Do as you did as a little girl.  Shelter yourself under the covers.  That’s right, dear, scoot down.  Get comfortable as I lower them onto you and snuggle close to you.  Oh, isn’t this delightful?

“As nice as I remember, Aunt Margie.  It’s so warm and safe; I never want to leave.”

How dare you, you  miserable old hag bitch?  You really presume you are capable of stealing her from me?  She is my life.  She is the fulfillment of a great prophecy.  It is God’s will you tamper with.

“Here’s how,” screamed Iam, flinging the knife over the head of Father Chapas, who had sunk to his knees.

You witch.  Marcella, expel her.

“Dominic,” cried Iam, gathering the hysterical boy into her arms, “Dominic, I am sorry.  Forgive me.”

“Mommy, you were going to kill me.”

“No, not me.  It, something that possessed me, Dominic.  Something from the box.  It wanted to hurt you.  But it won’t.  It won’t.  Do you understand me, Dominic?”

“Yes, Mommy.  It was a bad thing.”

“Oh, Dominic, it was a very bad thing, a terrible monster.  But it’s gone, and I love you, Dominic, I love you so much.  Now listen.  I want you to get up, get up and run to the house.  Run to the house and get under the deck.”

“I’m afraid, Mommy.”

“I’ll be behind you, Dominic, after I help Father Chapas.  But you must not wait for me.  You must go now.  The tornado is almost on us.  Run as fast as you can.  Go, now, dear, lovely boy.”

Dominic was on his feet hugging and kissing Iam.  She returned each, kiss for kiss, while pushing him away, urging him to run to the safety of the deck; until, finally, he was reconciled to her wish and off.

“Father Chapas, I’m so very sorry for letting this happen to you,” she said, kneeling before him and taking his face in her hands, touching the blue blade protruding from his neck.  “The cat, such a sweet thing, such a thoughtful gift, it was possessed and transformed into a doer of evil.  You’ve suffered for me, Father, and for your agony, I offer you the only chaplet at hand, these kisses.”  She kissed his forehead, each cheek, and his lips, a cuneiform of tender brushes.  “You are blessed, Father Mario.  Forgive me, Father.”

“It wasn’t you, Mrs. Brick.  It was the demon.  It has been the demon all along.”

Marcella, what is this, allowing my vessel to run from his predestined duty?  What is this outrage?  I am Pater.  I am of the Father.  I am who you believe in.  You are the Anointed One.  You are to be my mother.  You are to be the new Queen of the Heavens.  Why do you deny me?

Pater, forgive me.

“Poppycock and dribble.  His name is Pater.  He believes he is the son of God.  He wishes to be born again.  But, Father, he is the devil.  He is the epitome of evil.  He is crazy.  He wanted me to kill our son.  He wanted to enter our son’s body and come back to life.  He wanted to rule the world, and destroy it, too.  Father, please, I beg you.  Expel him.  Exorcize him.  Take him from us and cast him down to burn forever in Hell.”

“Help me, Mrs. Brick.” 

Father Chapas, dazed, in shock, but still gripping the crucifix and the sprinkler, raised his elbows.  Iam placed her hands under his arms.  He pushed himself up and she helped lift him into a crouch.

You have given yourself over to the old whore.  Marcella, your sin against your Pater is most grievous.  You are like your amita, Osma, a betrayer.  You are a Judas, Marcella, a Judas bitch.

“Please, my sick call kit.  In my pocket, Mrs. Brick.”

She reached into his pants pocket, moist with his blood, and removed it.

“Open it.  The rites book.”

She did as he instructed.

“I am weakened and cannot remember it perfectly, so I must read it.  Luke ten.  Yes, please hold the book steady.”

I was right about you, Marcella.  You are the Great Harlot.  You are the Great Whore of Babylon.  Like a whore, you sell yourself to any man, Ricky and his amigos, Lukas and Fabian, and who knows how many others.  Would your husband like you if he knew you were a whore, a whore from the beginning, a whore with another wetback, this one who calls himself a priest but who lusts for you?  Would he like you then, Marcella, as the whore you are?

“Mrs. Brick, the passage, quickly.”

She placed the sick call kit between her legs and battled the wind to find the section Father Chapas requested.  But the clatter in her head distracted her and she could not steady the book in front of Father Chapas’s eyes. 

“Father, it is a cruel beast.  Hurry, Father, and rid us of him,” she said, steadying herself, thrusting the book at him. 

He recited, “This is the word of the True Lord and you must obey it, Evil One.  ‘I have observed Satan fall like lightning from the sky.  Behold, I have given you the power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and upon the full force of the enemy and nothing will harm you.'” 

The power of the word coursed through him and he straightened from his crouch. 

“Father, are you able?”

He nodded.  “Turn the pages, Mrs. Brick.  There, stop.  Hear how the True Lord protects and heals His chosen, and condemns serpents like you, Evil One.  Listen and depart His servant.  ‘In My name they will drive out demons, they will speak new languages.  They will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them.  They will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.'”

He smiled at her.  “Hold these, Mrs. Brick.  I will take the book and the kit.”

After the exchange, Father Chapas removed the pyx.  He pushed the sick kit into his pants pocket.  He said, “Kneel, Mrs. Brick.”

“Yes, Father, but the tornado.”

He glanced back at the funnel that was nearly upon them.

“I believe God sent it to us.  It is here to serve a holy purpose, Mrs. Brick, and it will wait for us.  Bow your head.”

She breathed, “Oh, my, but you are as cool as a cucumber.”

“What, Mrs. Brick?”

“Nothing, Father, except that I am at the mercy of God.”

“God is all merciful and all forgiving.  We can commit no offense that God will not forgive us for.  As long as we are sorry and make our amends with Him, He will forgive us, for we are His creations and He loves us.”

“Thank you, Father.”


She bowed and he laid a hand on her head.  “You, Evil One, Great Tormentor, Eternal Liar, Vicious Serpent, you claim you are a god and you wish to be born into the world again.”

Marcella, or nutburger, whichever is leading this insurrection against me, tell this voodoo priest he is mine and he serves me and I will be recalled to life.

The kneeling figure repeated Pater’s words as he spoke them.

“How, Evil One, do you plan to be reborn?”

I will defeat you.  I will retake what is mine.  I will retrieve the vessel the woman prepared for me.  I will open him and gut him and cleanse him like a holocaust offering and I will enter his sanctified cavity and breathe life into it and set about the work of my Father.

She repeated the words as they were pronounced in her mind.

“A boy.  Who would believe a boy, Evil One?  You would wait years for power.  But, why wait, when you can fulfill your destiny immediately?”

No, we can’t allow this Aunt Margie.

Quiet, Marcella.  The priest sets forth a sensible proposition.  Ask who the vessel might be, though I believe I know.

She obeyed.  “Who?”

“Me,” declared Father Chapas.

You.  You are pitiable.  A lovesick priest.  A dickless priest.  The little warrior sliced and diced your dick balls for you.

She spoke the Pater’s words and thought, Aunt Margie, please, do not allow this

“You shock me Evil One who professes godlike powers.  Are your powers so weak you cannot mend what you have broken?”

My powers are beyond your comprehension, you puny excuse for a man, you wetback, you Indian, you crossbred mutant.

The taunts spilled from her.

“Evil One, I am like Thomas.  ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side—'”

You are either an unbeliever, despite all the accouterments of your priestly office, or a fox.  I think you are a fox.

Her lips curled, and Father Chapas noted how she resisted the spirit’s manipulation of her.  He smiled with understanding and encouragement that soon her suffering would end.

“As a priest, I can help you in your mission by giving you access to believers.  As a fox, I can help you build an empire on earth.”

Slyness is a virtue in a holy man, priest. 

His eyes told her she was forgiven everything. 

“I wish only to absolve this woman of her sins and give her the body of Christ.”

Proceed.  I will watch and learn.

Father Chapas steadied himself against the cyclonic wind.  He carefully opened the pyx.  He removed a host.  He closed and pocketed the pyx.

“Child of God, you are a sinner, as are we all.  God, in His infinite mercy, forgives you, for there is no sin He will not forgive the children He loves.”

“Thank you, Father,” Iam replied.

“Let us pray with confidence in the words our Savior gave us.  Our Father …” and they recited the pray together.

When they finished, Father Chapas held the host before her eyes. 

“This,” he intoned, “is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Happy are we who are called to His supper.”

“Lord,” she said, “I am not worthy to receive You, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”

She opened her mouth and he laid the host on her tongue.  It was as it had been when she was a girl.  As the host melted, she felt her body glow with hope and peace, and the world changed.  In her eyes, Father Chapas stood tall and serene.  He exuded life and holiness.  Over his head appeared a golden nimbus, and from it radiated a golden shaft of light.  It pierced the black and green sky and rose up, up, an infinite ray of goodness that, she believed, issued from the spirit of God.  And around him, the nimbus spread, until the world was gold and unbearable, not because it hurt, but because the joy of goodness was more than a mortal could bear.

Then, for the first time that day, and, perhaps, for years, she felt free.  Her pain, her sorrow, it vanished.  She was tranquil, even as she gazed into the world and saw Father Chapas recede from her.  He disappeared and the house she ran to replaced him. 

Faintly, she heard his voice.  “Corre, Maryam, te he liberado. Ahora está en mí, no mires hacia atrás.  Corre.

She looked back to the voice and found Father Chapas.  His golden cloak was gone and he had turned to face the funnel that was upon him.  She wanted to cry out to him, but she couldn’t; she had no voice.  She could only watch as he spread his arms to embrace the funnel, and it took him up into itself.  He rose to it spinning like a pinwheel, arms and legs splayed.  He was a man with five points; he was a pentagram, she thought, a symbol of the evil captured within him.  From him, the winds stripped away the stole, the surplice, and all his clothing.  After he was as God had created him, his legs came together and she saw him as the symbol of sacrifice; saw that he was victorious; that he had defeated the Evil One, the Evil Pater, Creature, Beast, and Monster.  And then the funnel swallowed him.

“Mommy,” shouted Dominic, who had fallen at the edge of the yard.  “Mommy, help.  Fast, the tornado.”

She caught Dominic’s hand.  She jerked him up.  They raced for the deck, until she brought them to a sharp stop.

“What?” cried Dominic.

“Look,” she said, pointing to Billy’s white work shed.

Atop the shed, clinging to the peaked roof spine was Dominica.

“Dominica,” yelled Dominic.  “Dominica, we’re coming.”

They trotted to the shed, where they urged Dominica to slide to the ground.  She required a minute of frantic coaxing before she skidded off the roof and on to them.

“The wind put me there.”

“Do you hurt anywhere?”

“No,” she said, “but my chest feels punched.”

“The baby corncobs,” said Dominic.

“Mean babies,” said Dominica.

“Okay, children, we can sort it out when we are safe under the deck.  Let’s go.”

“It’s on fire,” cried Dominic.

Iam shielded her eyes.  She saw the glow of fire in the kitchen.

“We don’t have other options,” she said.

She gathered Dominic and Dominica, one under each arm, and dashed with them for the deck.  As they ran, the funnel assaulted them with debris that struck and seared like BBs.

“It’s skipping,” cried Dominic.

They looked and ran.  The funnel zigzagged this way and that, an undisciplined terror that teased with the hope it might bypass them and tormented with the inevitability it would grind them to pulp. 

They arrived at the deck as the funnel crossed into the yard on a direct course for the house.

“Under, under, quick,” Iam shouted.

Dominica squirmed under.  Dominic followed, with Iam right behind him.

“Daddy,” yelled Dominica.  “It’s Daddy.”

Dominic scurried next to her and both stared at their father, afraid to touch him, fearing he might be dead.

Iam wedged herself between the children.  Billy was stretched out on his stomach.  She ran a finger across his forehead.  He was burning with fever, but he was alive.  She reached a hand under his chest and felt the beat of his heart.

“He’s hurt, but he’s alive.”

“Can I kiss him?” asked Dominica.

“Me, too,” said Dominic.

“Yes, but be gentle.  It’s better he sleeps until this is over.”

They each pecked his exposed cheek, leaving little lip prints in the dirt and blood that coated his skin.

As they crawled back from him, an explosion rocked the ground and a few seconds later the planks above them erupted under terrifying pounding, howling and throbbing as objects beat down on them.

“What?” said Dominic.

She shifted herself to view into the yard.

“The garage,” she said.  “The garage is gone.”

“The tornado?” said Dominic.

“It’s gone, too,” she said.  “It’s heading back into the field, heading south.”

She was about to add, “We’re safe,” when shingles and boards and glass and gardening tools and everything else that was in the garage showered down in force on the deck and the yard.

“Get back,” she commanded.  “Get back, away from the opening.”

As she turned away from the sight of garage remnants bouncing and skidding across the yard, a spade she often used thudded and pinged on the ground and careened under the deck.  The handle struck the back of her head.

“Mommy,” the children screamed.

She didn’t hear.  She couldn’t hear them.  She was gone.