Posts Tagged ‘Soul’

Evelyn Grimes (Novel Excerpt)

April 2, 2017

 

Prologue: Best Laid Plans

1.

January 14th, 1956.

Stark City, Oregon.

12:35 p.m.

“You guys ready?” Lenny Stern whispers through clenched teeth. His pale, thirteen-year-old face gleams with sweat; an odd mix of nerves, apprehension, and lust.

“I’m keen,” Billy Cooligan replies, giving his friend a pistol salute with his right finger. No exaggeration, either. The semi-erection in his pants proves it.

“Sure,” Johnny Pearl says, though the poor, conflicted teenager isn’t sure at all. Unlike the other two, he harbors real doubt about their foolhardy plan…yet not enough to intervene. Thus, Johnny follows their lead, playing perhaps the most villainous role of all.

“Good. Now shut up.”

Lenny edges away from the door, still peeping through the thin crack between it and the doorframe. He hears Sister Marie approaching. Her leather sandals echo on the hard tile…and the familiar sound makes him smile.

The moment of truth has arrived.

2.

Leonard Stern, William Cooligan, and Jonathan Pearl; the disgraced teenage trio huddles behind the large door, careful not to make any noise on the grate landing. The short flight of stairs before them spiral down to the humid boiler room; the place they’ve all agreed upon to perform their monstrous deeds. Down there, in the rusty bowels of Saint Peter’s Orphanage, a line will be crossed, and a crime committed which will come back to haunt them all.

“Here she comes,” Lenny warns.

Rubbing his thin hands together, Billy hisses in anticipation.

Johnny tenses. A chill races up his spine as he thinks: How did things ever get this far?

3.

Right.

How did things ever get this far…?

A fair question, indeed. And in those dreadful moments before Sister Marie reaches the door, Johnny relives the genesis of their crime. Last Monday, at lunchtime. He, Lenny, and Billy had sat together in Saint Peter’s mess hall, munching roast beef sandwiches and slurping milk, when their idle conversation about baseball shifted to something a bit more prurient:

Sister Marie, and her long, slender, legs.

Of course, the good Sister remained ever demure in her nun’s garb, but Lenny had enthralled Billy and Johnny with a fictitious tale about once looking up her dress. “No panties,” he’d assured his wide-eyed audience. “That means she’s always ready to go!”

From there, the conversation devolved into each boy’s lurid fantasy of getting Sister Marie all alone. It didn’t take long before they began to salivate like dogs in heat, and that’s when Lenny laid it out to his pals in the form of a dare:

“I betcha she’d love it if the three of us got her alone. Then we’d see just how ready she really is…”

Billy and Johnny had glanced at each other. Neither wanted to look weak in front of Lenny.

“So how about it? You dorks got the guts?”

Well. Of course, they did.

But truth be told, Johnny hadn’t wanted anything to do with it. He’d agreed because he didn’t want to be ridiculed by everyone in Saint Peter’s. And because Lenny threatened to have his other, older friends kick the shit out of him if he snitched to anyone about their plan.

Now, the timid boy stands before that stomach-turning edge, staring into the dark abyss of his own soul.

Waiting.

So. The rest of the plan had been easy. Just before noon, Lenny approached Sister Marie and asked with doe-eyed innocence if she could meet him in the east hall after lunch. “It’s real important,” he’d said, tugging on her sleeve for emphasis. “Honest.”

“Well, of course I can,” the good Sister replied with a tender smile, never suspecting his true intentions. Not for a moment suspecting the horrors awaiting her in that mirthless boiler room…

4.

“Leonard?”

Sister Marie stands just beyond the stairwell door, and Lenny hears the faint echo of her voice in the hall. “Over here,” he answers, opening the door enough to show his face. “I’ve got something to show ya…”

A moment passes.

The nun looks at the boy, frowning. The boy gazes back; nervous, hopeful. Grinning the disarming grin of a small but prodigal demon.

“Alright,” she says at last, her frown softening.

Thus, without thinking, Sister Marie walks toward her doom, reaching out, her young and beautiful face etched with concern.

5.

Everything happens fast:

Lenny snatches Sister Marie’s hand and jerks her across the threshold before she can react. Billy tackles the hapless nun’s legs, knocking her into Johnny’s waiting arms. Panicked, she shrieks before Lenny clamps his sweaty palm over her mouth. Together, they lift the wriggling, writhing, woman off her feet and carry her down the stairs.

“Don’t drop her, guys!” Lenny shouts.

“We won’t!” Billy replies.

Silent, Johnny grits his teeth, tightens his grip.

The three boys’ hurried footsteps echo in the dank stairwell. Once at the bottom, Lenny, Billy, and Johnny pin the terrified woman to the floor.

Intent on damning their very souls.


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Thank you for reading!

JLR

A Messy Divorce (Short Story Excerpt)

January 18, 2017

1.

Happy birthday to me, James Jefferson Ruddock—“J.J.” to his friends, “Jimmy” to his family, and “James” to his soon-to-be-ex-wife—hummed to himself, setting a small cake on his kitchen table. Happy birthday to me—

Scowling, J.J. let out an awful belch.

Haaappy biiirthday, dear J.J….

Another pause, this time to let out a long, mournful sigh. J.J.’s wide chest rose and fell with the effort. His shoulders twitched. His chin drooped. He stood there, all alone. A great big bear of a man, half drunk, feeling every wretched moment of his age, trying like hell to find one thing—just one—to feel happy about. Anything at all.

Happy birthday…to meee!

“Alright,” J.J. grumbled, clapping his large, calloused hands. He reached for his half-full—or half-empty, in J.J.’s current state of mind—bottle of Wild Turkey, swallowed a good-sized knock, and belched again.

“Another year older, J.J., ol’ buddy! An all by yourself on your birthday. How fantastic is that?”

Quivering with rage, J.J. cast his eyes to the dark ceiling and ran his free hand through his thick, black, forelocks. He wore his hair long, and at the end of its swoop J.J.’s hand closed around the rear length and tossed it from his shoulders. That felt better. Not much, but less disheveled. The wayward hand then swung around and smoothed the front of his beard. He kept that long, too. Long, but well-manicured. Not bushy. J.J. couldn’t stand the sight of wild facial hair.

Huh! Call me an animal, after all I did for her!

J.J.’s left hand tightened around the bottle. His right hand curled into a white-knuckled fist. His jaw clenched. His lips twisted into a feral moue. At that moment he would’ve given anything to have his soon-to-be-ex-wife there with him, bound and gagged, just within arm’s length.

Sneering at his own pain, J.J. grunted. “Damn you, Brenda.”

Sighing, the bitter celebrant lowered his chin, took another swig of whiskey, and paused to admire his dessert. A plain, round, German chocolate cake, frosted with coconut. He’d bought it at the grocery store along with a pack of blood-red birthday candles, then arranged the candles to show his age. It had taken eight of them to form the 3, and another eight to form the 9. With the lights out, the flickering flames spelled out the exact number of years he’d been alive to the shadows and anyone else who cared to know:

39

And beside that glowing cake sat a plain business envelope, addressed to James Ruddock, with the words:

OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS

stamped in red ink across its face.

J.J looked from the cake to the envelope, then back again. “Some birthday present,” he muttered, raising the bottle to his lips. The whiskey stung the tip of his tongue, creating a shaft of pleasant heat which ran from the top of his gullet to the depths of his large belly. He took in half a mouthful, but didn’t swallow. Relishing the flavor. The sting. The heat. The approaching stupor.

Damn that woman, anyway…

Standing there, swaying on his feet, J.J. stared into the candles on his birthday cake. Their hypnotic glow soothed him almost as much as the whiskey, leaving him oblivious to the surrounding shadows. Beneath his beard, a grin formed. The urge to spit that cheekful of Wild Turkey at the flames came on strong, and in his mind he pictured a majestic fireball erupting from the wanton act.

But, no; that wouldn’t do anything except ruin the moment and the cake.

Flicking his eyes back to that loathsome envelope, J.J. felt another wild urge. Why not just snatch the damned thing up and hold it over the candles until it caught fire? Why not just stand there and watch his troubles go up in smoke?

But, no; that wouldn’t do anything except delay the inevitable.

Pondering those sad facts, J.J.’s eyes began to glisten. From the whiskey, of course. Not the searing heartbreak. Not the dull pain in his uncompromising heart. Not that.

No way.

Screw it! J.J. thought, throwing his head back and gulping the whiskey into his stomach. “An screw her!” he finished aloud, slamming the bottle down beside the envelope—

Thunk!

J.J. grimaced from the knock, then leant forward, planting his rough palms on each end of the small fold-up table. The ring on his left hand glimmered in the candlelight.

Whoo-eee! Strong stuff!”

It took a moment for J.J.’s mind to clear. Eyes shut, face bunched, he shook his head, causing hair and beard to splay as if hit by a sudden gust of wind, then belched again, causing the miniature flames to dance as if hit by the same gust. “Now,” he said with all seriousness, his glassy eyes open and alert and fixed upon the blazing 39…

“What should I wish for?”

J.J. lived in a doublewide trailer home, parked in a shabby trailer court. He’d lived there since dropping out of college due to a severe meniscus tear. Up to that point, from the age of six, football had been his entire life. He’d played all through elementary, middle, and high school. How he’d loved slamming his shoulder pads into the wannabe tough guys at every high school in the state. And he’d found it even more satisfying on the college level. The rush of adrenaline, the roar of the crowd, the thrill of victory after battering everything in his path; it all made him feel like a winner. A gladiator. A true beast among men.

Then, on one cold autumn night many years ago, another beast had slammed into him at a bad angle, causing him to fall the wrong way. And with all that weight toppling down…

“Son,” Dr. Tolbert said after the surgery, “you’ll be able to play again, but you won’t be as fast. And another injury to that same knee might leave you with permanent damage. Get me?”

Yeah. J.J. got him, alright. When a man’s forced to swallow all his pride in one gulp he’s always afraid he might choke. But J.J., in true bestial fashion, chewed his up real well before turning in his helmet and cleats. And there went his football scholarship, too. Still, he couldn’t complain. The construction business had been good to him over the years. He owned his trailer free and clear, owned his truck, and felt comfortable knowing that he had no debts.

Except one.

Brenda Rose Galway. He owed her a broken heart.

So. The time had come at last. What the hell should he wish for?

Still leaning over the small table, still staring into the ornate row of hot, orange-yellow tongues lapping the air, J.J. sighed, trying to focus his beer—and whiskey—addled mind. Brow furrowed, lips pursed, his cold blue eyes took on an odd gleam; catlike; reflecting a fire within, and the fire below. He looked deep into those tiny flames, past them, and into the murky haze of his dying marriage…

J.J. remembered the moment he first met Brenda Galway; walking into the Quickie-Mart near downtown to buy a six-pack and fill up his truck. She’d worked there as a cashier, and smiled as he came in. How young and sweet and innocent she’d seemed back then…

J.J remembered one night in the throes of passion when, quite to his surprise, Brenda had made a strange and unnerving request. “Bite me, lover!” she’d whispered, clutching his thick neck with both arms and burying his mouth into her shoulder. “Bite me hard!” At first, he’d been reluctant…but her insistence overcame his timidity. So he’d bitten her. Just hard enough to leave marks in her pale flesh for a day or so. And from then on that strange act became a semi-regular part of their lovemaking.

An what a sucker I was for not bitin’ her throat out when I had the chance!

Shaking his head, J.J. remembered the day when it all began to unravel. The day he’d found out what Brenda had been doing behind his back. The day he’d found those pills in her purse and confronted her in the very kitchen in which he now stood. Oh, God, that long, miserable, contentious day when he’d found out what a lying, conniving, heartless, woman he’d married all those years ago—

“Yeah, I found out, alright. Found out a lotta things. I found out what you really are. An I found out what I really am, too. Nothin’ but a big goddamn dummy.”

The bear grunted, bared his sharp shiny teeth at the birthday cake.

“Yeah, Brenda, why don’tcha come on over now? I’ll be more than happy to clamp my jaws on your…warm…throat…”
J.J. paused, letting his words drift off like the smoke trails from the candles below. A moment passed, gravid with possibility, then he grinned.

“That’s it! That’s my wish!”

Then he laughed. Long, loud, and hearty. A cruel, vengeful, satisfied sound which shook his massive frame and brought tears of a different sort to his eyes. The culmination of eight years’ rage and regret. And when the last chuckle and snort passed over his lips, J.J. Ruddock closed his wet eyes and made his thirty-ninth birthday wish:

“Hey, uh, God? It’s me, J.J. I prayed to you a lot as a boy. I prayed before every game, remember? But seein’ as how it’s my birthday an my wish ain’t too holy, an seein as how it’s Halloween an all…well, I guess I better direct this prayer to the other guy. The guy with the horns an the pitchfork, ya know…

“Please forgive me. Just this once…”

An now, here’s goes nothin’.

“So, uh, anyway. Devil, can ya hear me? I’m callin’ out to you tonight, an it ain’t the whiskey talkin’, neither! I’m aimin’ to get your evil, undivided attention. You hear? It’s your night, ain’t it? Halloween? Spooks an ghosts an witches an vampires, an who knows what all roamin’ around?

“Well, it’s my night, too, goddamnit! My birthday! An I want my wish!

“Do ya hear me, son? I WANT MY WISH!”

Coughing, shaking from the fury in his words, J.J. squeezed his eyelids as tight as he could, afraid that if he opened them even for a second the feeling would be lost and the spell would be broken.

“Alright, Devil. I’m sure ya got my point so I’ll get on with it. What I want, what I need, is to somehow get Brenda back in my clutches…so I can bite her one last time. So I can sink my teeth deep into her fleshy ass an chew it up to my heart’s content. Raw an bloody, just like that steak I ate tonight—”

Again, this bear of a man laughed. Again, he belched. And with each exhalation the flickering flames danced ever higher, as if reaching for J.J.’s breath; as if wanting to be extinguished so his wish could be fulfilled.

“So let it be written, so let it be done! Be it known that on this day, October thirty-first, All Hallows Eve, my birthday, The Year Of Our Lord, Two Thousand an Thirteen, beneath a full moon, I, James Jefferson Ruddock, do hereby wish for vicious, awful, blood-drenched vengeance upon my soon-to-be-ex-wife, Brenda Rose Galway-Ruddock!”

Another pause, but no laughter, no belch. Just silence. Solemn. Dreadful. The sound of judgment passed; of verdict given; after the gavel falls but before it strikes the pad.

“Amen,” J.J. finished. “Amen.”

And with that, this great big bear huffed, and puffed, and blew his whiskey-breath over the cake, over the shimmering 39, flexing his belly, straining his lungs, trying with all his heart to extinguish every last flame in one symbolic act.

But J.J. needn’t have worried or strained. The candles went out with ease, one by one, as if they wanted to die. As if their deaths had been ordained by some higher—or lower—force.

And…as the last candle shuddered out, a single tear fell from J.J.’s left eye.

2.

With the candles extinguished, J.J. found himself in darkness. Not total, unrelenting darkness, but shadowy, phantasmal darkness. The glow of a streetlamp bled through the kitchen window, and pale moonlight shone through the cracks in the blinds in the living room. Just enough radiance to make out shapes of things around him, yet just enough to play endless tricks on his whiskey-burdened mind.

But darkness didn’t scare J.J.

Never had, never would.

Still leaning over the table, the big bear shook his head as if he’d just been whacked on the jaw. Gotta be the booze, he decided, blinking the sudden grogginess away.

That, an gettin’ myself all worked up…

Thin tendrils of smoke wafted up from the spent candles. J.J. coughed, then straightened to his full, monstrous height. In silhouette he looked like a great, hairy ogre standing in the kitchen of an ordinary man’s house. Indeed, the top of his head almost touched the ceiling.

“Well,” J.J. grumbled, snatching his Wild Turkey from the table, “here’s to gettin’ all worked up!”

He took a slug from the bottle and grinned as sweet flames lit up his throat.

“Goddamn, that’s good! An now, nothin’ left to do but cut the—”

Thump-thump-thump-thump-thump!

J.J. jerked and jumped at the jolting sound. He wheeled around, swaying on his bare feet, and faced the living room. Whiskey sloshed in the bottle at his side. His hand tightened around the neck.

“WHAT THE—?”

Thump-thump-thump!

And then he understood. Halloween night. A tiny fist knocking at his abode. A tiny fist attached to a tiny boy or girl craving something sweet and good to eat. Trick-or-treaters! J.J. realized, grinning a more satisfied—and malicious—grin than when he’d cursed his soon-to-be-ex-wife…and began creeping toward the front door.

3.

Ugh!” Colin Ryerson sighed, knocking for the second time—

Thump-thump-thump!

—and suppressing a yawn. How had he, of all the rotten luck, gotten stuck chaperoning his younger sister and even younger cousin? Easy. Lame parents. Lame parents who insisted he come along to visit his grandparents at their ghetto trailer court, and, oh, gosh, wouldn’t it be great if he’d take the girls around while the grownups sat around yapping about nothing?

Yeah, great. I could be home right now, making out with Audrey “B.J Queen” Lang and actually enjoying life. But nooo. Mom’s gotta have a shit-fit over the girls’ costumes and go see Nanny and Poppy.

“Maybe no one’s home,” Nina Ryerson said, turning to her brother. She’d dressed up as an 80s glam-rocker; frizzy pink wig, big yellow Elton John sunglasses, a neon blue leotard, and to complete the ensemble, a plastic guitar; hot pink, hanging from her shoulder by a rainbow strap.

“Duh!” Colin answered. “That’s a good bet since the lights are off, geekazoid.”

“Well, you don’t hafta be mean about it! You’re just mad cuz you couldn’t stay home and play kissy-face with you’re bimbo girlfr—”

“Audrey ain’t my girlfriend, dork.”

“God! I swear, you think you’re sooo cool just cause you’re fourteen.”

Colin shook his head. “Aw, shut up. Let’s go.”

Gertie Torino, Colin and Nina’s seven year old cousin, frowned at them. Why did they have to fight so much? The little girl had worn a tutu and dancing shoes, her soft auburn hair in pigtails, and at that moment looked like the saddest ballerina in the world.

“Come on, guys. Stop arguing. There’s only one more house left on this row, anyways.”
Nina turned to her cousin and smiled. Both girls clutched orange plastic bags decorated with cartoonish vampire bats, and looked forward to sharing their bounty once they got back home.

“Okay, Gertie. Let’s go.”

“Great idea.” Colin stepped between them, left hand falling upon Nina’s left shoulder, right hand upon Gertie’s right shoulder. “Now move it.”

But just as they turned to leave, the front door swung inward and something leapt from the darkness onto the porch—

RAAAHHHWRRR!

Perched on the bottom step, all three children flinched, screamed, and fell backward. Going down, the girls flung their precious bags into the night and wrapped themselves around Colin. The boy hugged them close, still thinking of their safety despite his own panic, and tried to cushion the fall for all of them—

Thud!

The startled children landed in a heap. Colin felt the impact on his tailbone, both girls scraped their elbows, but nothing serious. The resultant cacophony of squeals, shrieks, and yells echoed down the dark street.

“Jesus, girls! Run!”

Nina and Gertie scrambled to their feet, both now bawling in terror. Poor little Gertie had almost wet herself from the shock. That growl hadn’t sounded human! So bestial, so sinister; something like the buzz of a chainsaw crossed with a lion’s roar. Enough to send two small girls scampering for their very lives.

Holy shit!

Eyes wide, heart hammering, Colin rolled to his knees, scuffing up his designer jeans. He saw the shape on the porch, outlined in shadow, standing very still. A man, after all. A big man. Either wearing a wig or possessing quite a mane of hair. Getting to his feet, the boy’s temper exploded:

“Hey! Just what is wrong with you, mister? You just scared the crap outta my sister and cousin!”

“An you, too, I bet,” the giant shadow replied in a deep, truculent voice. Then it began to laugh. A big, satisfied, belly-laugh; too loud; too long; the guffaw of a dumb redneck who’s had way too much whiskey.

Maddening to the indignant boy’s ears.

“Yeah, real funny, jerk! I oughtta call the cops on your retarded ass right now!”

“Jerk?” the ominous shadow repeated, snorting more laughter. “Cops? You really need to get a sense of humor, kid…”

Okay, moron.

Smirking, Colin reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone. He had two numbers on speed-dial: Audrey “B.J. Queen” Lang, and 911. “Oh, I got your sense of humor…right…here…”

But the threat—which he’d meant to enforce—never left Colin’s mouth. Because the man had just stepped forward into the light, exposing a face Colin wished he’d never seen.

Oh, shit!

“That’s right, kid. Just what I thought. Now get on home before I jerk you up by the throat an spank your narrow ass. Hear me? An tell your ol’ man he better not come a-knockin’ or else I’ll do the same to him, only ten times worse.”
Then the savage man smiled. An awful, demonic smile which Colin never forgot.

“Trick-or-treat, huh, kid? Whaddya say?”

Oh, screw this!

With an odd exhalation—not quite a groan, not quite a whimper—Colin Ryerson forgot about calling the cops and started running. What he’d just seen had frightened him to the marrow and he couldn’t get away fast enough. Away from that crazed, evil-looking man who liked to scare little kids. Whose eyes had glittered like yellow diamonds in the moonlight; like a feral cat he’d once seen in his backyard. Whose teeth had looked like razor sharp fangs; not fake vampire teeth, either. And whose hands looked more like claws, capable of cleaving him in two with one swat.

4.

Aw, hell! J.J. thought, feeling a sudden pang of regret at his cruel prank. Poor little girls lost all their hard-earned candy…

Nice move, jerk.

The big man had taken one step down his porch when it began. His bare right foot emerged from shadow, looking very much like a mastiff’s paw; twice as much hair as before. But J.J. didn’t notice his foot—or the extra hair which had sprouted on his forearms—because he’d begun to itch all over. A deep, burning itch, far beneath the skin. J.J. wanted to scratch, to tear, at his own flesh as a sudden dizziness came over him.

“What the…?”

J.J. groaned, staggered, and caught himself in the doorway. In his newfound agony he also didn’t notice the extra length of his fingernails.

“Christ!”

Now a fever set in to compliment the burning itch, as if J.J.’s internal temperature had shot up into the danger zone. Much hotter than he’d ever felt before. Like being roasted from the inside out.

“What…what’s happening?”

The bear took a deep breath, felt his stomach clench as if rejecting the crisp night air. He grunted, falling to his butt in the threshold of the doorway. For a moment J.J. thought—and hoped—he’d puke up whatever had caused the pain.

I’m screwed here! Royally! Gonna need an ambulance!

But screwed didn’t quite do J.J.’s situation justice. Every bone in his body ached. The muscles in his arms and legs burned. He itched from head to toe. Pain stabbed at his eyes. His teeth throbbed. His tongue felt thick and useless. Every inch of the big man suffered in some way; steeped in misery, right down to his very soul.

Oh, for Christ’s sake! What in God’s name is…?

But the thought died away, replaced by a dreadful certainty. J.J knew what had happened, and why. After all, he’d called out to the darkness—

Do you hear me, son? I WANT MY WISH!

—he’dmade that vengeful plea—

Raw an bloody, just like that steak I had tonight.

—and he’d blown out the candles, sealing his own fate.

“Oh, no! No, no, no! I’m crazy but I ain’t that cra—”

Again, J.J.’s stomach clenched, cutting off his useless appeal for mercy and making him scream.

“JESUS! Please stop this! I-I cant take no mo—”

Another spasm. Another scream. Another worthless prayer.

“Naw! This ain’t how I meant it! This ain’t even—

GRRRAAAHHH!

This time, J.J. rocked back, falling into the shadowy recesses of his home. Snarling. Whimpering. Tearing at his clothes and writhing like a rabid dog. But before he collapsed, J.J. saw the last thing he’d see with human eyes on this soon-to-be-gory evening:

The moon.

Full and bright, peering at him from the darkness like some lidless, alien eye. Silent. Stoic. Not passing judgment, yet working the malignant will of hell.


“A Messy Divorce” is part of the collection: Living The Nightmare.

Available for digital download @ https://books2read.com/u/4NR629

Available in paperback through Amazon.com @ https://www.amazon.com/dp/1986415325

Thank you for reading!

JLR

Pentecost (Short Story Excerpt)

January 17, 2017

author-2

April 14th, 2017
Stark City, Oregon.
6:01 a.m.

“I will extol Thee, Oh Lord!” Reverend Gideon Brahm recited with all the enthusiasm he could muster. Bathed in flickering candlelight, his eyes stung from lack of sleep. His throat ached from seventy-eight hours of near-constant preaching about life, death, love, Pentecost, and—he hoped—resurrection. “For Thou hast lifted me up…”
Gideon’s heart sank as he gazed at his dwindling flock. Three days ago, he’d begun this doomed experiment with twelve handpicked apostles, and half of them had fled.

Half of them had denied him.

“And hast not made my foes to rejoice over me!”

Tall and lean, Gideon looked much younger than his actual age of forty-three. He wore his light brown hair shoulder-length, framing his smooth, handsome face. A face that’s charmed many out of their money, and lured many others into his thrall.

“Oh Lord, my God…”

Even now, hair mussed and tangled, eyes ringed with dark circles, Gideon radiated warmth and compassion. A natural born leader. A man you’d trust with your very soul.

“I cried unto Thee, and Thou hast healed me!”

Before Gideon lay a white satin sheet. Atop the sheet lay a pale, putrescent thing which couldn’t be healed—by The Lord or otherwise. A corpse. A naked old woman. Name, unknown. Cause of death, unknown. Its wrinkled face looked slack and peaceful; eyes closed, lips parted. Arms spread in a T, fingers curled into partial fists.

The eternal pose of the crucified.

“Oh Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from the grave…”

Washed but not embalmed, the old woman’s body had been culled from Stark Memorial Services by a fellow devotee. Already, it carried the sour stench of death, and the flesh beneath its breasts and buttocks had begun to blacken.

“Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down into the pit!”

Around the corpse sat the remnants of Gideon’s flock. Like Gideon, they wore white satin robes tied at their waists with golden cords, and nothing else.

“Sing unto The Lord, Oh ye saints of His…”

To Gideon’s left sat Dennis Moore. A kind man with a kind face, Gideon thought. A distraught woman lay across his lap, weeping. Dennis held her, chewing his bottom lip as he absorbed the sermon. Gideon had known Dennis for five years. A friend invited him to Gideon’s now defunct Lambs of Nazareth bible study group; long before Gideon proclaimed himself an actual prophet.

Before a lot of things.

“And give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness!”

Marla Smith, the woman clinging to Dennis, had also belonged to the Lambs of Nazareth. A very average woman, Gideon thought. Unloved, unmarried, and childless. But Gideon had slowed Marla’s descent into spinsterhood with several detours to his bedroom. Not that she’d minded. It felt good to be wanted, and the lovemaking had grown in both frequency and intensity—

Until Hope arrived.

“For His anger endureth but a moment; in His favor is life!”

Beside Marla sat Rick Daniels, shivering and stroking his thick, blonde mustache. He looked like a used car salesman, Gideon thought. Gideon had known Rick for three years. After ordering his flock to disseminate flyers proclaiming him a Prophet of the New Age, Gideon first met Rick, flyer in hand, outside his church. Fresh from rehab, Rick had seemed lost and lonesome, and Gideon welcomed him with open arms, advising him to fill his life not with booze, but with God.

Trading one addiction for another.

“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning!”

Beside Rick sat Gwen Robinson, grinning, hands clasped between her flabby breasts. Not a very bright woman, Gideon thought. But pleasant; the very definition of obedient. And gullible. When Gideon spoke in tongues, she’d shout, “Praise Reverend Brahm!” When Gideon placed his hands on an arthritic old man and proclaimed him free of pain, she’d shout, “Praise Reverend Brahm!” When Gideon spoke of the paradise awaiting all those who followed him, she’d shout, “Praise Reverend Brahm!”

And by the rapture on her face, Gwen had zero doubt that Gideon would fulfill his messianic prophecy.

“And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved!”

Beside Gwen sat Ruth Miller—the oldest of Gideon’s flock—impassive as she brushed the corpse’s hair. Impassive, though her thin hands trembled with every stroke. Two years ago, Gideon had convinced Ruth of his power by conducting a séance in which he’d contacted her uncle; the man who’d molested her at the tender age of twelve. “He says he’s deeply sorry,” Gideon told her. “And he wishes he could take it all back.” Afterward, Ruth handed Gideon a check which had decimated her savings but cemented her position in the flock.

And both enjoyed the benefits of forgiveness.

“Lord, by Thy favor, Thou has made my mountain to stand strong!”

Shaking, Gideon turned to his most beloved follower, Hope Rochester. So beautiful, so pious and docile. A former cheerleader, and it showed. Long, slender legs. Petite waist. Firm breasts. Bright blue eyes. She sat with her head bowed, blonde hair shrouding her angelic face. Though exhausted, looking at Hope stoked a wicked desire deep in Gideon’s loins.

A temptation into which he’d already been led.

“Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled!”

Dennis, Marla, Rick, Gwen, Ruth, and Hope. All of them believed that God—not fate, not luck, not mere coincidence, but God—had brought Gideon into their lives. Thus, they believed that God had gathered them together in Unit 313 of the Warrington Arms apartment complex to witness a miracle.

To be touched by the Holy Spirit.


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Thank you for reading!

JLR

Delirium Tremens (Short Story Excerpt)

December 20, 2016

author-3January 4th, 2017
Stark City, Oregon.
5:53 a.m.

“JESUS CHRIST!” Daniel Jax screamed as four large security guards began strapping him to a hospital gurney. Lightning cracked the air above him, and black spiders swarmed beneath his dirty clothes. Each of the guards had seized a limb, applying hard rubber cuffs for Daniel’s—and the nurse’s—own safety. “I HAVE TO SAVE ZOEY!”

“Easy, sir,” the guard securing Daniel’s right arm said. “We’ll be done in a second.”

“IT’S GONNA EAT HER SOUL!”

Daniel convulsed, turned to the guard with bulging, bloodshot eyes. He wanted to scream, I’m not crazy! but couldn’t find the words. He wanted to tell him about his family, about the beautiful Cape Cod home he’d bought by becoming one of the top insurance salesmen in northern California.

But most of all, Daniel wanted to tell him about the lightning.

“Man, he stinks!” The guard securing Daniel’s left ankle shook his head. “Gotta be wearin’ at least three layers!”

“Okay,” a tired, gray-haired nurse said. “What’s the story here, guys?”

“Looks homeless,” the guard securing Daniel’s right ankle said. “Medics found him in an alley downtown, screaming about demons. Seems very dehydrated.”

“Uh-huh. Name and age?”

“I.D. says, Jax, Daniel. Forty-three years old.”

“Daniel.” The nurse laid her gloved hand on his shoulder. “My name’s Blanche. There’s no demons. You’re having a psychotic episode brought on by severe alcohol withdrawal.”

Having screamed himself hoarse, Daniel turned his bulging eyes to Blanche. The guards had finished strapping him down and he felt helpless. Unable to sit up. Unable to reach out. Unable to do anything but gape and shudder beneath the pale overhead light.

“I know it hurts, but I need you to hold still while I insert your I.V.”
With a sad groan, Daniel shut his eyes, still squirming as thousands of spider legs pricked his flesh. “It took her!” he whispered. “I saw it!”

Nodding, Blanche slid the needle into Daniel’s arm. Daniel hissed, looked up with fear and pain etched into his face.

Another whisper: “I have to save Zoey!”

Blanche shook her head. “Alright, Daniel. Now it’s fluids, fluids, fluids. I’m gonna order a Thiamine boost, and a heavy dose of Diaxepam to help you sleep.”

Fists clenched, Daniel strained to sit up. “I have to save her!”

“You’re gonna be here for awhile, so just lie back and ride it out. Once these DTs pass, we’ll get you evaluated and outta here. I’ll do everything I can to help you, but right now I’ve gotta go check on my other patients.”

Daniel flinched from another crack of lightning as Blanche left, shut off the light, and closed the door. They’d put him in one of the rooms reserved for psychotic patients. No T.V., no sink; nothing which could excite or harm him. A beam of light shone through the observation window onto his face. Already, the shadows in the corners had begun to writhe and swirl. But they didn’t know. Medics, security guards, nurses; normal people. They couldn’t see the true horrors which lived in darkness. Daniel knew because he used to be like them—used to be normal. Then the lightning came, shattering every bit of normalcy he’d ever known.

“I’ll find her, goddamnit! Before it sucks the life out of her forever!”

Still squirming, Daniel took deep breaths. It didn’t help. The lightning still cracked. The spiders still swarmed. And he craved alcohol as never before; like a cramp in the center of his being. If not for this mission, Daniel would’ve killed with his bare hands for a sip of beer. But he couldn’t save Zoey drunk. To save her, he had to bear this agony.

The agony of Delirium Tremens.

“Great news!” Blanche said, pushing through the door. “Got your meds. How are you feeling?”

Gasping, Daniel looked at Blanche. How long had she been gone? A minute? An hour? Daniel had no clue.

“Still riding it out, I see. Well, this’ll help…”

As Blanche injected the Thiamine and Diaxepam into Daniel’s I.V., Daniel again closed his eyes. The Thiamine didn’t matter, but the Diaxepam would be his savior.

God’s mercy, coursing through his veins.

“Alright, Daniel. Nothing left to do but lie back and try to rest.”

As Blanche left, Daniel twisted in his restraints. Lie back and rest? No way. Not when he had a life to save. A life more important than his own.

I’m coming, Zoey! Just hold on a little longer…

Propelled by his racing pulse, the Diaxepam slammed into Daniel’s brain with locomotive force. All at once he ceased writhing and his eyelids began to flutter. His sharp exhalations dulled, becoming deep, almost contemplative sighs.

Hold on…Zo…ey...

One last sigh, then Daniel went slack. Head turned, eyes closed, lips parted. Not quite snoring. Several minutes of blessed nothing passed before Daniel began to dream. The same dream he’d had for the last twelve years: rummaging around his attic on a muggy March evening. His daughter, Caroline, has found a large black widow spider in her room, and he’s vowed to cleanse the house of all insects. Outside, the sky has darkened and the wind has risen; very apropos for the impending holocaust. Bug spray in hand, he’s found a small infestation of creepy crawlers in a dusty corner. As he advances upon the large, silken web, Daniel hears a clap of thunder. A storm, he thinks, taking aim. And as he pushes the spray button, a bolt of lightning strikes the roof above his head. So fast, so sudden, Daniel doesn’t feel the jolt, but collapses beneath the dry explosion—

BOOM!

“Shit!”

Daniel’s eyes snapped open. Leaving his sleeping form behind, the homeless drunk’s ethereal self sat up and slid off the gurney. He always felt the same after the dream; anxious, drained…and in serious danger of slipping into the bad place. The realm of spirits, shadows, and demons.

But this time, he wanted to go.

God help me.


If you enjoyed this excerpt, please subscribe, like, and share.

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Thank you for reading!

JLR

Lucifer In High-heels (Short Story Excerpt)

May 2, 2016

August 16th, 2017.
Hinckley, Oregon.
4:23 p.m.

Disgusted, Lance Felder held Ursula’s hips as she gripped the oak headboard. Moaning, the thin, oversexed woman ground her pubic bone into his upper mandible. Painful, but not unbearable. Ursula had wanted to make love—again—but Lance hadn’t been able to muster the strength for another mattress rodeo. So he’d begged off, claiming fatigue—not mentioning the half bottle of wine he’d polished off after lunch—and offered her what he called “his specialty” instead: a Felder Tongue Ride. With a sigh and a roll of her Botoxed eyes, Ursula had shrugged off her silk robe and shoved him onto her king-sized bed. Then she’d climbed aboard, straddling Lance’s face while he forced his tongue onto her flesh.

Not that Ursula tasted bad. Not at all. She groomed and took care of herself. She just didn’t taste young. She didn’t taste fresh.

“Oh, honey!” the enraptured woman moaned, rocking her hips to and fro. “Oh, Lance, baby! Oh, yeah! Just…uh!…oh, yeah, right…THERE!”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Ursie. Just get off already.

When she had, Ursula slid to Lance’s right, collapsing in a sweaty heap. Hands pressed to her face. Lips sputtering. Legs quivering. Bleach-blonde hair a mess. Lance couldn’t help but notice the graying roots, the veins in her weathered hands.

“God, Lance! You do that so well!”

“Thanks, babe. You know I love getting you wet.”

With an inner sigh, Lance rolled over and gave Ursula an obligatory kiss. She thrust her tongue in his mouth. He winced but reciprocated.

“What a day. Think I’ll take a nap.”

“Sounds good, Ursie.” I guess fucking and lounging by the pool all day is pretty tiresome.

“Wanna join me?”

Lance sat up, hoping his desperation didn’t show. “Uh, I’d love to, babe, but I got some work to do.”

Ursula grinned. “The novel, eh?”

“Yeah…the novel.” Just another piece of my heart. Destined to be ignored.

“Is it as good as the first two, you think?”

You mean the first two that were rejected by every publisher on both coasts? “Oh, it’s even better.”

“That’s great, darling! I can’t wait to read it…”

“When it’s finished, babe. You know that.”

“I know.” Ursula yawned, exposing capped, bleached teeth. “But you know I get impatient.”

“Oh, I know,” Lance replied with no trace of sarcasm.

“Hey, would you be a doll and mix me a rum and Coke.”

“Yeah, sure.” And I’ll be sure to take it easy on the Coke.

Another yawn. “Thank you, honey.”

Lance climbed over Ursula—enduring another kiss—and strode into the hall. Barefoot. Shirtless. His upper body toned and tanned. Dark hair jouncing on his shoulders. A thick beard hiding his forlorn expression. He wore a pair of ripped designer jeans, slacker style; low on his hips, top button undone. At thirty-two, he still looked twenty, but felt much older. A Bohemian soul, no longer young at heart.

All that money, and all she does is drown her troubles in booze day after day…

 

Hands thrust in his jean pockets, Lance turned left, walking down the wide staircase.
The day had gotten off to a bad start, and promised to end even worse. Lance had awoken next to Ursula, slipped out of bed without waking her, and crept downstairs. The maid, Louisa, had wished him a good morning and started a pot of coffee. Outside, Lance had gone through his morning workout of push-ups, crunches, and twenty laps in the pool. Then, coffee in hand, he’d opened his e-mail to find two rejection notices from two different publishers:

Dear Mr. Felder,

Thank you for your recent submission. Unfortunately, this doesn’t meet our publishing needs at this time. Feel free to submit again. Good luck publishing your novel elsewhere.

Sincerely,

Publisher-at-large.

Two of those in one day. Talk about heartache.

Lance had sat, head in hand, for awhile, then plunged back into his current novel. The story of a man traveling cross-country by train, en route to see his dying father one last time. A good story. A worthwhile story. A story he had to finish. Lance had gotten a few strong sentences down when Louisa appeared to inform him that Ursula had awoken. Of course, he didn’t have to drop everything and rush to her side…but he did, anyway.

Gotta keep the bread buttered.

Ursula always slept in the nude; said it made her feel young. Looking at her naked form, Lance couldn’t help but notice the wrinkles and creases creeping into her flesh. She tried, though. Oh, how she tried. Personal trainers. Weird diets. Plastic surgery. But Father Time had grabbed hold, and wouldn’t let go. She had twenty years on Lance; old enough to be his mother. Still, he’d climbed back into bed as he had so many mornings and reassured Ursula as best he could. Still beautiful. Still desirable. They’d begun in the normal way, but after growing tired of her desperate kisses, Lance had flipped her over and vented his frustrations at not being published with every thrust.

And Ursula had loved it.


“Lucifer In High-heels” was published in Ramingo’s Porch Issue #1, now available @ Amazon.com:

https://www.amazon.com/Ramingos-Porch-Issue/dp/0998847658/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1511617834&sr=8-1&keywords=The+Ramingo%27s+Porch

Thank you for reading!

JLR


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