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

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The Face of the Terrorized

The Face of the Terrorized: Sean Duffy (R., WI)

So, what is terror; or more precisely, what is the goal of terrorists? Is it to kill lots of people? Sure, if you can get your hands on a particularly horrific weapon, such as a dirty bomb. You could kill many people, sicken many more, and put infrastructure out of commission for a very, very long time. Certainly something like this is entirely possible. And maybe there are terror groups out there with the contacts and logistical skill to acquire, sneak in, and detonate such a bomb. Just the idea makes you quake in your shoes.

Therein lies the power of terror: the very thought of the unimaginable will probably spur you on to agreeing with activities under the guise of security you might not otherwise ever countenance.

Or is the goal of the terrorist just that: instilling enough fear that you will give up what you hold dear in exchange for the hope of safety. Survival, after all, is a human imperative.

A terrorist, however, doesn’t need a bomb to accomplish his mission. Nowadays, he doesn’t really need to conduct many terror attacks, either. A few here and there will do the job. Why? Because of the very idea expressed above: keeping people frightened enough to forfeit what they at least claim to value as barter for survival. You lose when you give up your values for the mere promise of safety, since, logically, guaranteeing physical safely is impossible.

No, this tradeoff is not rational. People capable of rational thought know that they are more likely to be injured or killed doing most anything else—driving to work, walking in a field on a stormy day, even slipping in the shower—than be shot or blown up in a terrorist attack. But terror is a weapon designed not kill as much as it is to stimulate your visceral fear of death. It’s like when occasionally you awaken in the middle of the night in momentary terror with the thought, “I’m going to die. I really am going to die someday.”

So, then, what does terror look like? If you were watching CNN Tuesday morning (2/7/17), you got a glimpse. Alisyn Camerota interviewed Congressman Sean Duffy, who appeared at various points unhinged, at other times illogical, and often lost at sea. All as he attempted to defend the banning of groups of people from entering the U.S.A. with the idea of preventing a handful of evildoers and bad hombres (to use a couple of recent presidential terms) from sneaking in to wreak havoc in our cities and heartland. Is Duffy really afraid? Who knows for sure, but what we do know is he is trying to scare everybody else, and doing a pretty poor job of it apparently.

Take a look, and keep in mind that you are looking at exactly what terrorists want, what has them laughing, what inspires them back in the redoubts.

Camarota interviewing Congressman Sean Duffy on CNN, 2/7/17. w/c

The Monsters Among Us

“The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”

Twilight Zone, Season One, March 4, 1960

Several things have made the original Twilight Zone among the most memorable television series ever aired. First, it never failed to entertain. That’s first and foremost, for without this crucial factor present, Rob Serling could not have successfully delivered any message then or now. Second, nearly every episode had something significant to say about the human condition. It’s rare to find such a program, or even such a book, play, or film. And third, the Twilight Zone continues to speak to every generation that watches it. That’s because the anthology series dealt with topics we can’t ever seem to resolve. We live with them from generation to generation.

Case in point: “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.” Recall the time. We were in the throes of the Cold War. We feared nuclear conflagration. Anyone who lived during the period, your parents and grandparents, will testify to its palpable nature. Nevil Shute’s bestselling novel On the Beach riveted readers in the late 1950s. Two years after the airing of the “Maple Street” episode Burdick and Wheeler’s Fail-Safe scared the hell out of the nation.

What makes “Maple Street” such a brilliant episode for today, for each and every one of us, is how it speaks directly to our current situation. Like almost nothing else, it perfectly dramatizes our worst fears, our worst instincts, and the very goals of our current enemy, the Islamic State. “Maple Street” is the very definition of terror, of how to turn a nation against itself, how to drive it into giving up everything it holds sacred, the values upon which it was founded. As the alien perpetrators comment at the end, you don’t have to invade a nation to conquer it. You simply instill terror, terror that turns neighbors against neighbors.

And isn’t that exactly what is happening today? We turn on our televisions and hear our political leaders and wanna bes rant, spouting nutty ideas, ideas that will surely bolster people’s worst ideas about us. Reasonableness, thoughtfulness, calm reason, let’s toss these out the window in favor of, as the residents of Maple Street do, running from one house to next in search of the enemy, in unconscious bidding to the enemy.

You can find “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” on DVD collections available from your public library and streaming services. Take a look and think about how it speaks directly to our times.

And then keep this closing voiceover in mind when people are losing their heads around you:

“The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices — to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill — and suspicion can destroy — and a thoughtless frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own — for the children — and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is — that these things cannot be confined — to the Twilight Zone.” 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

The Inside-Out Woman: 27: Redemption

The Inside-Out Woman

CHAPTER 27:  REDEMPTION

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.”

“Bow.”

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.

COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, August 24, 2015: CHAPTER 28: EVENING STAR

The Inside-Out Woman: 25: Escape

The Inside-Out Woman

CHAPTER 25:  ESCAPE

Mixed in the clatter and crashing to the rear and the howling and roaring to the front, Iam detected another sound, the faint bray of a pursuing animal.

Her eyes were fastened on Dominic and Dominica.  She was reluctant to detach them, even for a second.  She imagined her bead as a chain temporarily anchoring the children to the deck until she could latch onto the hands of each and drag them to a safer place, the windward shed or garage maybe, or even, if possible, to the van, and use it to do what she’d done before, escape.

But the call was a seductively familiar siren.  She clawed the slider to brace herself and glanced back.  Through the fusillade of house ware, shadowy in outline, was a thing, not upright like a human, a bent creature, flailing at the missiles, plowing toward her.  No, it was a man, she saw.  It bleated her name and the names of the children. 

“Billy,” she whispered. 

“Willy, Willy,” she screamed, stopping only when the wind drowned her call in rain, wrenched her from the slider, and pitched her onto the deck.  She fought it as it separated her from Dominic and Dominica.  It attacked her viciously, thrusting her off the deck, down the stairs, toward the yard, where it could shuttle her head over heels to the cornfield, where the black singularity loomed and advanced.  It would have, but she defeated it by hooking her arm, her hand still gripping the knife, around an open risers.  In an instant, Dominic and Dominica scuttled down the steps.  As they passed her, howling her name, they each seized a part of her, Dominic her free arm, Dominica her head. 

“Under the deck,” she yelled into Dominica.  “Under, under, now.  Dominic, get Dominica off me and get under.”

“No,” screamed Dominica.  “No.  I want my Mommy.”

“Dominic, please.”

An arm and hand tore at Dominica, tore, and tore, and finally yanked her from Iam’s head.

She saw the pair scurry down along her body and disappear. 

She released her grip.  She dropped to the ground.  She belly crawled under the deck.

“You okay?”  She felt her eyes bulging and the words issuing like an accusation.

“The knife, Mommy,” said Dominic.

She held the knife up to her swollen eyes, remembered its purpose, darted a glance at Dominica, recalled what she’d inflicted upon herself in defense of her daughter and her son, and began to unhand it.

Marcella, no.  It is the tool that will resurrect your Pater and through me bestow salvation on the world.  Use the tool on the girl now.  She’s a burden.  You can see that, wrapping herself around your head, endangering you, endangering the vessel, endangering our divine mission.  She will be a mightier burden after I am reborn, when you must devote yourself to my nurturing.  She will try to steal your attention from me.  You cannot allow this to come to pass.  Use the tool now.  Rid us of the encumbrance now.  Then bring the boy to the altar my Father builds for sacrifice and my new incarnation.  His finger from on high points to the spot, Marcella.  Follow it.

Dear, I implore you for all who depend upon you, on behalf of the children, Billy, and your poor aunt, who has lived in you and loved you every day since your birth, drop the knife, strike it into the ground, rid yourself of the beast’s instrument of destruction.  Don’t you see that when it speaks of salvation, it talks about its alone?  The monster cares nothing for us, cares not a wit for anybody but itself.  It wants to possess you, dear, and in possessing you gain new life.  Drop it, dear.

Marcella, oh that I could reach across the space of your mind and strangle the whore.  Loves you?  Loves herself, the selfish wench.  I discern clearly her motive.  I have lost none of my powers of discernment, little warrior.  I can penetrate her subterfuge, even if you cannot.  The motive she attributes to me is hers.  She uses you, Marcella.  She uses you for her own purpose.  It is a great, mortal sin she wishes—defying the will of God.  For I am of Him.  You know I am.  You have always believed I am.  Take the tool and inactivate the child.  When you do, you will also silence the Great Harlot.  We will be at peace and free to stand at the tip of God’s finger, where you will witness the promise of resurrection fulfilled, for in that instant the storm will vanish and salvation will begin.  The knife, Marcella.  The girl, Marcella.  Act like the warrior of the Anointed People you are.

Iam screamed, “Shut up.  Shut up.  The both of you leave me.  I want to run away from both of you.  I would rather be sucked into oblivion than listen to either of you for another minute.”

“Mommy, no,” cried Dominica.  “No.”

“Mommy, no,” pleaded Dominic.  “You can’t leave us.”

“We love you, Mommy,” whimpered Dominica.

Marcella, when you defy me, you defy God.  How dare you … you command your Pater to be silent? 

My, dear, how inappropriate of you.  You certainly must understand I wish nothing but the best for you.  To tell me to shut up.  I never.  But the storm, the creature, I suppose these are sufficient to put anybody off.  Though, I must tell you, I’ve been though some extraordinarily challenging episodes and have always managed to maintain my decorum.  However, I forgive you, because I love you as I love life, dear.

Father, will this harlot ever be quiet?  Will You not silence her and grant Marcella the power to bring forth the destinies You have willed for us?  Marcella, use the knife and let’s go to God.

“Not you.  Them.”

“Them who, Mommy?”

“Them, them from the box.  Them from the box you opened, Dominic.”

“I didn’t mean it.  I didn’t mean it, Mommy.”

“Them.  They are in here,” she cried, drumming her head with the knife’s hilt.  “They are in here and they won’t leave.”  She struck herself harder.  “Shut up.”  And harder.  “Leave me alone.”  And opened a wound that bled down her forehead and into her eyes.  “Please.  I beg both of you.”

“Mommy, you’re hurting yourself.  Stop hurting yourself,” cried Dominic.

“I’m scared, Mommy,” joined Dominica.

Iam laid her head down in the soil and sobbed.  “I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.  I can’t do it.  I can’t fight them by myself.”

“Runaway, Mommy.  Runaway from them, Mommy,” said Dominica, bringing her face to Iam’s and kissing her cheek through the blood and dirt.

“They won’t catch us if we run real fast, Mommy,” Dominic encouraged.

“The van,” Iam said, looking up, clearing the blood from her eyes.  “We’ll take the van.  We’ll drive away.  They won’t get what they want, neither of them.”

Dear, we are quite safe here.  We have shelter above us and we are low to the ground.  Remaining is the safe and sensible course.  Please, listen to me.  You are not acting rationally.  Allow me to take over, just for a while, to set things right.

Insufferable whore.  Run, Marcella.  Run to the finger of God.  Go.

The storm raged on.  It pounded the farm with rain.  It flashed with blinding light.  It crisscrossed the bruised sky with jagged streaks of pure white fire.  It sounded ear-splitting crescendos that lifted the earth upon which the three lay.  It gathered up the things of the earth and shot them in all directions, and those things dislodged more things, and they too rose on the current of the storm and intensified its destructive battering.

Iam turned herself.  She peered from under the deck to see the siding of the barn rippling, as if the storm had gotten a hand of its wind into it and was running fingers along the boards, until the boards could no longer resist and flew away, some pulling around and up toward the vortex, and some aiming in arching trajectories at the shed, the garage, and at the house and the deck.

She hesitated.

Now you are thinking sensibly, dear.  Let’s stay put.  We’re safe here.  You’re a good girl, dear.

What do you fear, Marcella?  My Father clears the way for you.  He litters the sky to stop our enemies.  You, Anointed One, mother of me, He used His ultimate power to protect you.  Go.

“I’m not listening.  I’m not.”

“What, Mommy?  Listening to what?” asked Dominic.

“The storm,” she said.  “Don’t let the noise scare you.  Hold my hands, the both of you, and run.  We’re running to the van.”

“The knife, Mommy,” said Dominic.  “Let go.”

She tried.  She couldn’t release it.  “I can’t.  I need it.”

“For what?” he asked.

“For you.”

“Mommy.”

“For … protection.  Take my wrist.  Dominica, grab my hand.  Come on, do it.  Let’s go.”

They scurried out from under into the open.  Iam jerked their arms to pause them.  She knelt and surveyed the short route past the garage to the gravel driveway.  She saw the car.  The engine was running and the lights were on.

“Billy,” she said.

“Daddy’s home,” cried Dominic.

“Daddy, help,” shouted Dominica.  “Help!”

Iam pictured Billy hunkered in the kitchen, fearing he was lost; she said, “Maybe he’s in the car.  Let’s go see.”

She pulled them into a crouch.  They ran toward the van and Billy’s car.  As they rounded the deck, explosions, piercing and rapid in succession, like gunshots, froze them.  She dropped onto the gravel with the children.  Next to them, the garage shattered and splinted and in front of them the gravel spit at them. 

“Cover your faces,” she yelled. 

They let go of her to shield themselves. 

Before she threw an arm over her own, she saw the reason.  The wind had torn the nascent corn buds from the stalks and was peppering the garage with them.

She felt Dominica rise.

“Stay down, Dominica.”

“Daddy,” she cried.  “I want Daddy.”

“Dominica.”

Before she could grab her, Dominica was up and a step into a dash to Billy’s car.  In that instant, the wind widened the swath of its assault.  A cob caught Dominica in the chest and blew her onto her back.

“Dominica!”

Iam tried to rise, to turn, but cobs pelted her and Dominic, driving them unto the gravel.

When the attack ceased, they turned to see Dominica rising and falling on a current of wind toward the black funnel.

She grabbed Dominic and ran to the deck.

“Get under.”

“No, Mommy.  I want to be with you.”

“Get under, Dominic.  It’s safer.”

“No.”

He tempted her mightily to crack him in the head with the knife’s hilt and push him to safety.

“Let’s go,” she said.

As they pivoted in the direction of the cornfield and the approaching funnel, she glimpsed new light in the driveway.  Headlights, she thought, rescue squad, police, thank God, as she and Dominic raced to find Dominica, who had vanished.

COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, August 10, 2015: CHAPTER 26: MR. BRICK

The Inside-Out Woman: 24: Hell’s Gate

The Inside-Out Woman

CHAPTER 24:  HELL’S GATE

Billy rushed north on Route 41, slashing a tunnel of light through the moist pitch night, until he crossed into Sullivan County and plunged in the throes of the storm that had left Knox without him.  As the road vanished into the steel deluge, as the rain balls exploded on the roof like miniature bombs, as the wind blew down a wall of resistance, as the road transformed into a sluice, he slowed, and slowed, and crept, and stopped. 

He slapped the steering wheel, always a surefire method of speeding up events, and flung in a few shit, shit, shits to supercharge the effect, and ceased when the frustrated efforts yielded nothing but aching palms. 

The car was sealed.  The weather couldn’t touch him.  Yet, he was wet.  Sweat drenched his shirt.  His crotch was distressingly soggy.  His face itched with tears.  He cried because he had to reach Iam and Dominic and Dominica, but the conspirator summoned all his inimical powers to impede him.  He descended into irrationality and screamed at Jim Smith Miller, this resurrected Pater, this self-deemed god, “Hurt them, hurt them, and I’ll kill you.”  He sucked a breath.  “Stay in Hell, where you belong, you bastard.”

He wept and pleaded with the genuine Lord for mercy, implored Him to end the storm so he could save his wife and his children.  They were in danger and he feared for them.  He saw the devil on the windshield, mocking him from the photo in the clipping.  MASS EXECUTION.  The Mass Executioner.  This demon threw up a mighty obstacle to prevent him from rescuing them.  “Lord, God in Heaven, help me.  I beg you.”

Suddenly, his distress over the furious storm and his hindered progress vanished from his mind, and with it his irrationality, his introspection, and his obsession with a phantom. 

“What’s wrong with me.  Why didn’t I do this earlier?” he said to the radio as he switched it on.  He reset the dial to the local Sullivan station.  Within a minute, he received the message, the clarion answer to his prayer in the voice of the local weatherman advising everyone within the vicinity of his broadcast of danger, to seek shelter immediately.  Tornados had touched down in several Sullivan County locations; damage had been wrought; injuries had occurred; possibly, though unconfirmed presently, lives had been lost. 

Lives.  Lives, like Iam’s, and Dominic’s, and Dominica’s.  Precious, loved lives sacrificed through happenstance; or sacrificed because he wasn’t there to save them.

“Thank you, Lord,” he cried.  “Thank you.  Now, please, guide me.  I pray you, guide me.”

The message could not have been clearer if the weatherman had burned it in lightning in the torrent.  Race to them.  Race to them and save them.

Heedless of the great storm barrier, Billy pushed down the gas pedal and accelerated and accelerated faster, and faster, and miraculously his headlights torched a bright parting of the water that brought him through Sullivan County, through the battened down town of Sullivan, across County Road 25, and into his driveway, next to Iam’s van.

Strangely, the world, such a void before, was brighter here, as if a great mass, a sort of earthbound black star, busily absorbed the darkness, replacing it with a lightness that resembled a wound, a painful bruise, yellowish green, surrounding a mass of all the world’s black concentrated in an obscene singularity bounding from the far reaches of the corn field to Billy’s house.  It descended from on high, a wide funnel mouth at the top to a slender tip at the bottom, like a big, fat, death-blackened finger.

For several seconds, Billy could not move.  Then he exploded and he could do nothing but move.  He tore at the door handle.  He sprung open the door.  The fiercely circulating wind thrust it back at him, jamming his fingers, caving them.  His left fore- and index fingers screamed in pain and he knew they were broken.  He pushed again.  The door came at him again and he met it with his shoulder, forcing it into the fury.  Before the wind could defeat him a second time, he rolled from the car, under the door, and along his gravel drive.  The gravel lacerated his face and his hands, but he felt nothing.  Even his protesting fingers quieted, for he gave none of these attention.  He rose to hunker.  He focused on a single objective:  get into the house; save them.

As if the wind reasoned and strongly objected to his intentions, it increased its velocity, preventing his standing, and when he tried, staggered him back against the car door.  He foiled the wind’s plan by falling to his knees.  He crawled across the driveway.  He ignored the gravel biting his knees.  He crawled across the lawn, oblivious to the water stinging his wounds.  He put the house between himself and the malicious wind.  He stood and charged.

He struggled with the porch door, as if the storm was behind it, fighting his efforts.  With urgent anger, he reared and lunged at it.  It tricked him.  It opened freely.  The force of his assault sprawled him on the floor.  He scrambled in a mess of torn boxes, what felt like sand, what smelled like wine.  Yellow littered the porch, as if Iam and the children had partied in it.  But, no, it couldn’t have been.  There was the wine.  Nothing was consumed.  Everything was smashed and mashed and shredded and shattered. 

He yelled for Iam, for Dominic, for Dominica, but his voice vanished into the howling wind surging through the door.  Around him, the house issued discordant objection to the wind tearing it asunder.  The wind pulled the house this way and the house turned that way; the wind yanked it outward and the house tugged inward, and reversed when the wind did to oppose it.

He stood and advanced.  He dropped and crawled through more debris, cellophane wrapped toothbrushes, binkies, lint remover, the contents of the half bath dumped onto the floor.  He entered the living room.  The wind gave up its pursuit.  The house’s groans and creaks multiplied as it stepped up the assault on its exterior. 

He steadied himself.  Images danced on the television screen.  “Cinderella,” he muttered, Dominica’s favorite.  Glasses and plates scattered on the floor.  Snacks for watching the movie.  He envisioned them on the sofa, huddled, munching, frowning and laughing with the unreeling, Dominica, though she’d seen the movie a half-dozen times, bursting with anxiety, Iam reassuring everything would be fine; after all, it was always fine, and this time it would be no different.  And Dominica studying her doubtfully as if maybe, just maybe, this was the time it would turn out bad, real, real bad.

Voices followed, pierced the commotion, shrieks, sharp, high yelps, as if terror reigned in the kitchen, as if someone or something was dying; worse, as if his wife and his children were being murdered.

He dashed to the doorway.  The house rocked.  He grabbed the jamb to steady himself.  He saw a woman framed in the slider.  He didn’t recognize her.  He recognized the dress, frilled with pink ribbons, and the askew veil.  Iam.  Iam the bride, a bizarre vision of torment streaked with blood, flashing a knife, dashing into the storm. 

“Iam,” he screamed.  “I’m—wait, wait.  What are you doing?”

He hurtled himself off the jamb into the kitchen.  The room ambushed him with a maelstrom of projectiles, each seemingly aimed at him by an invisible nemesis, the conspirator, a satanic controller. 

He struggled forward and saw the chairs spring up and thud down, up and down, then spin, then tumble, and spin like tops, until one launched at him.  He attempted dodging it.  He lost his balance on the undulating floor.  The chair struck his legs out from under him.  He went down howling, as if a willful attacker had whacked him with a baseball bat.  Through his shriek, a word came to him faintly.  “Willy,” she called.  She needed him.  She was desperate. 

He fought to rise.  His left leg collapsed under him.  The pain lit up his brain and nearly extinguished his consciousness. 

“Iam,” he cried.  “Iam, Willy’s here.  Dominic.  Dominica.  Please.  Wait.”

The kitchen blasted away at him.  Cups, dishes, glasses, pot and pans, its full complement of artillery swirled and streaked and struck with sharp reports against the walls, the ceiling, the floor, and him. 

He dragged himself to the juddering table.  He sheltered himself beneath it.  As if the controller anticipated his purpose, the table toppled.  The edge gorged his left ankle.  He cried out in anguish from the searing pain, and from despair over his sorry, aborted rescue of his family.

In the sink, the lunch dishes and glasses and lemonade pitcher rattled.  Then the house gave a mighty twist and the floor thrust up.  The plates and glasses in the sink contributed their shattering demise to the cacophony of the kitchen.  The pitcher leapt from the sink, minus its handle, which added its chime to the dissonant noise of the kitchen.  It arched into the room.  It flipped end over end. 

Billy, who had looked to his knee and his ankle, turned back to see the pink lemonade pitcher the second before it careened off his head.  He didn’t see or hear it shatter on the floor beside him.

COMING NEXT WEEK, MONDAY, August 3, 2015: CHAPTER 25: ESCAPE