Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Farewell To A God (Year In Review)

As the old year draws to a close, I give thanks to the god Erechthonius, for all his past guidance, his wisdom, his comfort, and direction, as he makes ready for his departure to the realm of the dead, from whence he will soon rise, after he takes some comfort within the arms (and stuff) of the goddess, of course. In the meantime-

In other words, it's time for a roundup of the past years observations, reflections, and rants.

Scorpio-Yep, what better astrological sign to dwell on the meaning of the myth of Persephone while musing on it's likely inspirations, with The Rape Of The Maiden

For that matter, Jesse James did some looting and pillaging in his day, and what did he get for all his trouble? A cautionary tale for all those who think politics is a noble profession.

If Jesse's story don't prove that point, just look at how poor old Saddam Hussein ended up. All that hard work for nothing.

Of course, some people don't mind being abused. Dakota Fanning didn't even mind being raped, she'll have you know.

All this violence, rape, mayhem, and overall nastiness got me to thinking, just What Would Gandhi Do? I came to the conclusion the old boy was a bit of a whack job.

Hey, we all have our faults, in fact, I even went so far as to defend the indefensible-Rosie O'Donnell-in Whack Jobs Have Rights Too.

Some whack jobs though, well, what can you say, some of them you are better off just washing your hands of them. At least you'd damn well better if you shake hands with Sheryl Crow.

CBS washed it's hands of Don Imus, and MSNBC did too. I've missed the old fart ever since.

But that's the media for you. As long as you make them money, you can get by with almost anything. And, as Paris Hilton found out, if you have potential, they'll give you a helping hand.

What do they think she is, a goddess or something. Well, considering who I discovered the Stregha goddess Aradia might well be based on, that's entirely possible.

The Japanese of course have a far more practical view of wanton women. Fuck 'em and forget 'em. Well, I say they should at least pay them the going rate.

If Captain America had known about those antics back int he day, he would have been incensed. Nowadays, unfortunately, Marvel Comics decided they didn't want to deal with any controversy, so they killed the good captain off.

Some heroes just ain't what they are all cracked up to be. Some gods aren't either. Take for example, the Mychaenaean God Enyalios and the Christian Jesus Christ. Not the kind of guys you want to turn to to put out a fire.

Well, some people just outlive their usefulness, don't they? I think so, and that is precisely why I'm glad this woman was killed.

But, let's end the year on a high note, shall we? Since that motherfucking Al Gore won the Nobel Prize, by God, I think I deserve one too.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Real Witches Ball Mask Of Depravity

Former author AJ Drew makes an attempt in the accompanying picture to prove the allegations of brain damage he is always claiming. According to Drew, the "ritual" at the International Real Witches Ball was a solemn affair. Reportedly, five surviving victims of past child abuse related the accounts of their purported abuse. Afterwards, Drew presided over the ritual conducted aimed at Gavin and Yvonne Frost in effigy.

The bulk of the ritual consisted of copies of the Real Witches Bible withdrawn from the rear body cavities of the effigies, made to simulate their anuses. Drew and his wife Aimee both performed this action, whereupon they read the offending passages from the book, which Drew insists, to any who will listen (an audience which grows increasingly smaller as time marches on) that the passages in question mark the book as a "pedophilac instructional".

After reading the passage, the books were then literally shoved back up the Frosts's asses, from which, according to Drew, they shat them out.

The following pictures will serve as an illustration of the "sacred" nature of the proceedings.

One can only wonder that, if this was actually a magical ritual, involving group power raising and energy conducting techniques aimed at the frsots, exactly what these people are going to draw back their way. I bet it won't be pretty. Let's move on to the next picture for a particularly gruesome display

In this picture, an unidentified woman pours an apparently alcoholic beverage down the oral cavity of one of the effigies, in an apparent protest of a part of the book in which it is suggested that young children are to be intoxicated with mead following a fast, before they are ritually deflowered.

She is of course taking Drew's words on faith, a classic mark of the brainwashed in all ages. AJ Drew has continually misrepresented the fasting process as one in which celebrants are denied all food for a period of time. In fact, actual fasting typically involves a reduction of food intake, and limitation as to type of food. Nor is there any proof that underage children were actually initiated in this manner, or in fact in any manner, sexually or otherwise, by the Frosts, who added the offending chapters in their book thirty five years ago as a means of pointing out the cultural historicity in their view (probably wrongly) of such ritual initiations in ages past.

In fact, The Church of Wicca, founded and operated to this day by the Frosts and their daughter, Bronwyn, take no initiates under the age of eighteen years old. When the book was written, by the way, Bronwyn was a little tyke. She is now a major officiating leader of The Church And School of Wicca, and has firmly stated she was never abused sexually or otherwise by her parents.

But hell, why let a little thing like the truth put a damper on the festivities? Let's see what else the gang is up to, shall we?

This all kind of puts you in mind of Krystalnacht, doesn't it? Brown shirted thugs-in this case a group of Nazi witches-encouraging ritual violence against a couple of elderly people in the name of purifying Wicca, and Paganism, so it can be what AJ Drew wants it to be. Judging by AJ's views as regarding the First Amendment, which he insists is meant to protect "society"-not individual freedom of expression-I would imagine one can make the case Drew holds a rather collectivist view of Paganism.

Of course, we can haggle over what it all means. Druid adherent Shadowhawk, from whom I derived these pictures, claims they are Nazis, and compares Drew to a wannabe Hitler. I am beginning ot think he is possibly correct, though in some regards they strike me more as communists. Whether they are one thing or another, I know one thing for a fact-they are as much of a fringe movement among pagans as any other fringe group.

There are many people who take exception to what the Frosts wrote in Good Witches Bible who take just as great or greater exception to AJ Drew and the antics of him and is followers.

In fact, I went through a whole lot of past pages in Witchvox today, and found no mention of this event. Drew of course will insist that Witchvox is being unfair, or are corrupt, or whatever. The point is, if this had popular support among large groups of pagans, it would be impossible for them to ignore it.

After all, I am certainly not in AJ Drew's corner, and here I am talking about it, huh?

FIIZZZZZZZZZ-That is the sound of the little dud firecracker that was the Real Witches Ball-hardly the dynamite blast reverberating throughout the pagan community AJ Drew assumed it would be.

Thanks to the images goes to Shadowhawk over at Pagan Perspectives

Costume For A Catwoman

Catwoman Livea-Trick Or Treat?

Who could ask for anything more?

Monday, October 29, 2007

An Inspirational Vampire Tale

UPDATE-BRAIN FART ALERT: Instead of me editing it, let's see who finds the brain fart in this post.

Another group of characters in my novel Radu is a group of young vampire practitioners led by a young man named Joseph Karinski. Among the members of his group are Sierra Lawson, an aspiring artist and heavy metal singer; Milo Richmond, a drug addled slacker who spent the majority of his time in the novel working a fast food job as a terms of his probation for a drug offense; Sherry "Larceny" Adams, an S&M hooker, bald and with a devil's goatee and mustache tattoo; George "Rhino" Dodd, a borderline retarded would-be arena football nose-tackle; Spiral Lamont, Joseph's girlfriend; Raven Randall, the most alluring and yet the most vicious and blood-thirsty of the group; and finally, Debbie "Spanky" Leighton, the youngest at sixteen, and who presided over the brutally savage execution of her own parents along with the rest of the cult on the occasion of what was described as her "sweet sixteen party".

Some people might think that such characters as these are way over the top, even for a novel. Well, all right then, how about real life?

These are the true faces of some of the real-life members of the Murray Kentucky youths on whom my fictional cult is based.

They were led by the person shown here, whose name is Rod Ferrell, currently serving life without parole.

This girl, whose name is Heather Wendorf, is the real life inspiration for Debbie Leighton, although she was actually cleared of involvement with the death of her parents, which was said to have been perpetrated by Ferrel alone. Yet, he was assisted by various other members of the real-life cult in the top photo.

A bit of their history I now reproduce from this site

(Beginning of copy)

Accused with Ferrell and Ms. Wendorf of killing the Wendorfs are Dana Cooper, 19, of Murray, and Scott Anderson, 16, of Mayfield. Charity Keesee, 16, of Murray was charged with being an accessory to murder. Extradition proceedings in Baton Rouge are to begin Monday. Calloway County prosecutor David Harrington described Ms. Cooper as a "follower, someone who wanted to be liked. Probably easily manipulated." A young woman stopped in a grocery store who graduated from Calloway County High School with Ms. Cooper last year said the girl craved attention. "But this vampire stuff?" she asked, refusing to give her name. "There was nothing that suggested that. She was just strange."

Police say Rod Ferrell met the Wendorf's 15-year-old daughter, Heather, when he lived in Eustis with his father. Ferrell, 16, moved back to Murray last year to live with his mother.

(End of copy)

Also included in the article is a portion of a letter Rod Ferrel's mother wrote to a teenage lover, in which she tells him-

"I longed to be near you ... to become a Vampire, a part of the family immortal and truly yours forever," the letter reads. "You will then come for me and cross me over and I will be your bride for eternity and you my sire."

Sweet, huh? In addition to murdering Heather Wendorf's mother and father (Heather reputedly described her life with them as "hell") Ferrell beat them to death with a baseball bat.

While the gang lived in Murray, they were part of a local vampire role playing game, one of the game spots being that in the following picture.

Ferrel and his gang were as bloody and murderous a group of kids that ever coalesced into a group. Ferrell himself was accused of murdering two dogs in an animal shelter, one of them by ripping off it's front legs.

Just the kind of guy you would like to see impaled on a sharp stake, kid or not. At the very least, one hopes he will never be released from prison. Unfortunately, the others might qualify for parole at some date in the future.

I think the fate my fictional group suffered would be preferable.

Susan Walsh-A Disappearing Act

The character of Grace Rodescu in my novel Radu is roughly based on the woman in the photo above, and on her story, which can be read in the Unsolved Mysteries article here.

I was always fascinated by this story, a portion of which I will reproduce in part as follows-

(Beginning Of Copy)

From early childhood Susan Walsh's dream was to be a poet and a writer. But a broken home and an unhappy childhood made reaching that goal a constant struggle. By the time Susan was in her twenties, she was an admitted alcoholic, drug addict, and a stripper. Still, she kept her dream alive. Stripping paid her way through college. When Susan graduated in 1984, she cleaned up her act. By 1988, Susan had been sober for four years. She had married and had become a devoted mother. According to friends, the two things that mattered most to Susan were her son and her career as a journalist. Eventually, Susan and her husband separated. Though Susan still dreamed of being a writer, she had a tough time getting breaks. To support her son, she went back to stripping, unable to resist the easy money and seductive lifestyle.

Ironically, stripping helped provide the critical boost to Susan's journalistic career. Eventually she landed an internship at New York's free-wheeling Village Voice, researching the sex industry. She soon turned up a hot story. Russian mobsters in New Jersey were allegedly forcing young Russian women to work in strip clubs like slaves. Susan earned praise for the Russian mob article but she also got threats. She felt she may have made enemies. Susan's next big project may also have put her in jeopardy. In the early 1990's, bizarre vampire clubs began springing up in New York's Greenwich Village. The clubs boasted a dicey clientele, many of whom claimed to be real blood drinkers. Susan was so taken with the vampire world, she started dating a man who claimed to be one of the undead. Susan wrote a detailed article, but in this case her judgement seemed skewed. She apparently believed a lot of what was being told to her. To Susan's disappointment, the Village Voice never ran her article on vampires.

(End Of Copy)

And then, of course, she vanished, in June of 1996. She has never been heard from since, though there have been I think a handful of unconfirmed sightings. I think she is dead, personally, but at whose hands. The Russian mobsters she reported on? The vampire cults she attempted to infiltrate? Did she, in fact, chuck her life altogether and go into hiding under a new identity?

Grace's story will end quite differently, just as the life of the character I have developed is very different in certain regards from the real life person on whom she is loosely based. Still, she was the inspiration for the character, and it seems only to fair to give credit where credit is due, as we approach the season where the dead are watching, and may be taking notes.

Samhain-Death Greets The Warlord

Time to let it all die the death it deserves. Samhain is after all the time of the year for letting go of all those things that should end. The current on-going feud between the followers of AJ Drew and the supporters of Gavin and Yvonne Frost is one such example.

No, of course, I know this will not be the end of it. It will just be the end of it for me. It is not my battle. I said my piece and made my contribution to the debate, because it is of importance to the Wiccan/Pagan community. Now, let it go where it will, it will go there without me.

To be sure, I will continue to read the Frosts blog, and I will continue to comment on those posts where I feel I might have some positive input. As for the rest of it-this witch war is over.

The main reason I have come to this conclusion is mainly one to do with time and energy, both better spent on pursuits that are more positive. The negative energy that encompasses me these days saturates me with a force that drains my psyche, and actually tends to put me in a depressed state of mind, after the heat of the battle has calmed.

This calls for some explanation, perhaps. There are no victories won in these kinds of conflicts. There are only wounds that refuse to heal, that fester and swell, until eventually the infection becomes as much of a threat to ones spiritual life and emotional health, as any infectious disease can be threatening to life itself.

Healthy debate is good, but this is not healthy. Therefore, I put my sword back in the scabbard, and go off to heal my wounds. There will be other fights, I am sure, and other foes will raise their ugly heads. Those are the easy ones. The hard ones are the ones that present a pretty face, and an attractive figure. Those are the foes one has to watch, as in the end, they have the power to maneuver you into positions and predicaments in which you do not want to be.

In the end, I have learned from attuning with Ares one very important fact. The deadliest enemy you will ever face is the one that looks at you from the mirror every day. After all, he knows all your secrets, and all your weaknesses, as well as your strengths. It is far, far better to make him your friend, as he may well be the only true friend you ever have in this mortal world.

At least, he is the only who will be with you from the beginning until the end.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

AJ Drew Molests Gavin And Yvonne Frost In Effigy

There is a growing trend among many pagans, even among some Wiccans, to discount the legitimacy of The Law Of Three. A lot of this you might well put down to self-serving attitudes. The Law of Three, basically, states pretty much the same thing as is implied in the Golden Rule, and in the Laws of Karma. When you do something bad, it eventually comes back to bite you on the ass. Another way of stating it might well be that old familiar, “what goes around comes around”.

What was that Malcolm X said in relation to the Kennedy assassination-something about chickens coming home to roost?

It is actually a standard, universal belief, and when you get right down to it, it does not really have anything to do with metaphysics or the occult. It is nothing more than an inherent law of nature. No busybody group of deities invented or created it in an effort to make sure we all mind our “p’s and q’s”. Nope, I am afraid the process is a bit more scientific than that.

More than that, I will not say. There is only so much I will explain free, and this is not one of them. I will say this, however. Well, no, I won’t even say that. It is a reality, though. Oh, to be sure, we can haggle about the exactness inferred in the mention of the number three. That might well be a bit simplistic, I will accede that much. Otherwise, the wisdom of such laws is no more arcane or mysterious than knowing not to stick your hand on a red-hot stove burner.

AJ Drew, the former pagan author, has done a bit more than stick his hand in a blazing fire, and he has induced a good many other individuals to follow him on his ill-advised path. True to is word, AJ Drew at this year’s Real Witches Ball led and participated in a so-called “sacrifice to caring”, the promise of which induced many invited luminaries to the RWB to back out of their previous commitments to do so.

Among those who backed out were Llewellyn author and Fate magazine contributor Donald Michael Craig, as well as author and Stregheria witchcraft expert Raven Grimassi. These are just the ones I can think of right off the top of my head. There were others who took exception to what was widely proclaimed would be a sacrifice in effigy of Gavin and Yvonne Frost.

Drew was quick to defend his planned activities, and yet denied any plans to sacrifice the effigies, and he took particular exception to rumors the effigies would be burned.

I personally think he planned to do just that, and backed out, though I cannot prove this. However, it seems obvious this might well be the case, and that AJ Drew, being too proud and stubborn to back out, realized he had to come up with something. What he did, however, was so weak it borders on the pathetic, the juvenile, and the profane.

AJ Drew and his assorted allies, friends, and followers-


I would hope that any who might read this post would ponder that. AJ Drew planned this event as a protest to roughly three pages of a Frost book published thirty-five years ago. These passages of The Witches Bible were indeed controversial, theoretical, and yes, questionable. Sensing a way to gather publicity and perhaps followers, AJ Drew, the former pagan author, again, molested the Frosts in effigy, along with other RWB attendees.

At the same time, AJ Drew claims he is brain damaged. This is the reason he gives for why he no longer can write. Perhaps he is telling the truth, and those among us who think he is covering his ass in the event of a potential lawsuit for harassment, libel, and slander, are wrong. Perhaps he is indeed brain damaged, despite the fact that he evidently knows how to work in complicated computer codes as he does for PaganNations. He also can create various items made of metal, such as ritual swords and knives, and other things of which are purportedly of admirable artistic value. He is in fact, despite his alleged limitations due to brain damage, a master blacksmith and, it would appear, somewhat of an architect.

He is also not so brain damaged that he cannot comprehend the rabble-rousing effects of his words and accusations against not only the Frosts, but also those of us who defend them.

Now, I will be the first to admit, I do not know how much of the goings-on at the RWB were actually rituals of a magical or an allegedly spiritual nature, and how much of it was nothing more than a bunch of drunks with a bit too much mead raising hell. If the latter, it is probably nothing for them to concern themselves with.

If, on the other hand, this was an actual magical ritual, involving power-raising and visualization techniques in conjunction with group energy projected into this act, I would advise all involved to take the proper precautions to cleanse themselves and prepare for the blowback. It will not be pretty.

I want to say this one more time-


I am curious about something. I would like to ask AJ Drew if his wife Aimee participated in this molestation ritual. If so, I think I should give him clear warning.

Hate to break it to you, AJ, but when those chickens come home to roost, I do not think you are going to be sitting around fondling your crotch when it happens. I don’t think you are going to like what might well happen too much, and I certainly don’t believe you will consider it a laughing matter. Neither will Aimee. Neither will any of the other people who participated in this ritual.

Of course, I could be wrong, in some cases. Some of these people might just like it fine. Or, they might well think they will.

The Curse Of The Bubblegum Fairy

"Run run run just as fast as you can
You'll never catch me I'm The Bubblegum Man"

Abuse of a child in any manner can have a profound effect on his or her psyche. They can become quite destructive individuals as children and as adults as well. They can be harmful to others. They can be harmful to themselves. In a number of cases, they can become habitual abusers in the same manner that they themselves were abused.

I have recently locked horns with an individual, a man called variously Archaeus and Shadowshaman, who claims that an adult male relative abused him as a child. I tend to believe his story, precisely because he never went into detail as to the exact nature of the abuse, only that it was sexual in nature. He did, however, describe it as "sodomy" and as "rape", without going into any more explicit detail.

He was also physically abused and threatened, allegedly, by his step-father, on what according to him was a regular basis, seemingly from at least the time of his first molestation (apparently by a different male relative, although this is unclear), until the second occurrence some years later, by another and unrelated older male.

At this time, he recounts, an older male of his neighborhood approached him with an offer of friendship. One day, the person in question produced a piece of bubble gum and asked him if he would like to see him put it in his mouth and make it come out a different place. When the then child Archaeus warily said yes, the older individual put the gum in his mouth, unzipped his pants, produced his dick, and started masturbating. Archaeus ran away in horror. He has never stopped running, it seems.

The question is, is he running away from, or to, the molester? Lately, he has run into the arms of molester AJ Drew, who-obviously playing up to the potential for latent homosexuality that exists within a good many victims of molestation by same sex perpetrators-flirts with him outrageously. He does this by calling him “handsome” and a “sexy brute”, which I here paraphrase, not having the exact quotes in front of me, and not particularly eager to go back and read this drivel. These phrases are, however, the gist of the post given in honor of Archaeus by AJ Drew on the The Yeti’s Cyber Smithy blog.

He is doing this of course as a means of encouraging friendship and support from Archaeus, who indeed may well be still looking for love and compassion, understanding and acceptance, from an older father or big brother type figure, such as the type that molested him in his youth.

He encourages him in his assaults against Gavin and Yvonne Frost, and against me, whom he describes on his site, in a hoverbox that accompanies his link to my blog, as one who “attacks anyone who disagrees with Gavin and Yvonne Frosts belief in the molestation of children.”

The Bubblegum Fairy attacks, in my case, because he takes exception to my question as to how he thinks he has the right to criticize the Frosts morality, seeing as how he has none himself, nor any integrity.

This man, being of weak mind, and obviously looking for an opportunity to prove his “manhood”, fell in love with his friend’s wife, after engaging in an affair with her. When she called off the affair (probably after using him for what she could get from him, probably with her husbands permission and culpability), he evidently proclaimed his love for her. New York pagans roundly denounced him for this openly, while probably laughing at him privately. What does he do? He makes excuses. He criticizes them for criticizing him and his weakness. Oh, the married couple in question were in an “open relationship” he says, and blah, blah, blah. He just cannot get over this rejection, it seems, and is incensed that any would dare criticize him.

Regardless, I am sure they laugh at him, just as he feels people laughed at him as a child, or would have if the matter of his molestation by an adult male, especially back in those days, became public knowledge. The Bubblegum Fairy is, then, a matter of laughter and derision. As a child, he kept silent, as his rage and humiliation festered and grew.

Now, the Bubblegum Fairy is looking for satisfaction. The Bubblegum Fairy is looking for revenge. The Bubblegum Fairy is looking for love and acceptance.

Enter the Frosts and AJ Drew.

Nobody wants you anymore, Bubblegum Fairy. You are not a cute little boy anymore.

Moreover, regardless of what AJ tells you, you damn sure are not a handsome, sexy brute. You are just another Bubblegum Fairy.

Grow up and get over it. We all had it rough at one time or another. I had my problem with bullies growing up. All kids have it hard one way or another. There is nothing special about you. A lot of kids were abused, some sexually, some physically, some mentally, some emotionally, some in various combinations thereof.

Nerds had it rough. Geeks had it rough. Fat kids had it rough. Skinny kids had it rough. Poor kids had it rough. Rich kids had it rough. Good looking kids had it rough. Ugly kids had it rough. Even the jocks had it rough.

You're alive, Bubblegum Fairy, so be thankful.

Oh, and one thing more. Please-

Stop writing bad, pretentious poetry.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Radu-Chapter XXII (A Novel by Patrick Kelley)

Previous Segments:

Prologue And Chapters I-X

Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI

Radu-Chapter XXII (A Novel by Patrick Kelley)
18 pages approximate

Radu-Chapter XXII

Aleksandre left numerous messages and checked with various contacts, but he always received the same answer-Detective James Berry was unavailable. It was as though he disappeared from the face of the earth, although the inference seemed to be that Berry was on paid leave of a medical nature. Still, there was no word as to the nature of his condition. Were he wounded in the line of duty this would certainly have made the news. On the other hand, Berry was technically an undercover detective, so perhaps the lack of information made sense. Khoka began to wonder if he was dead, or even dismissed from the police force.

He had good reason to believe that, in fact, Detective James Berry was a very corrupt individual, and this worried him when he thought of his past involvement with his niece. Now, he had another matter that he had to attend to, one he had put off for far too long. Grace Rodescu was coming to the church, and he dreaded it. He feared her more than he feared Satan, but realized he had to face her eventually.

Now, as he stood outside The Church of The Blessed Sacrament awaiting her arrival, he could feel a pair of baleful eyes staring down at him from some unfathomable distance, as the dark clouds seemed to gather over Baltimore. He almost was compelled to turn and, facing the church, looked up toward the tall, thin cross that set above his church’s steeple. That is when he saw the great black bird staring down at him from atop the crossbar of the cross, almost as if poised to swoop down upon him. The black vulture spread her wings and craned its neck towards him, and suddenly flew away from the golden colored cross.

Within seconds of its departure, a huge bolt of lightning smashed into the juncture of the upright beam and the crossbar. The latter part then reacted to the impact by becoming dislodged and falling to the ground, leaving only the long, thin upright spire pointing towards the thick black clouds above. Through those clouds, the setting sun was barely visible, a dark red like a wound that tried desperately to heal. Such was the intensity of the blinding flash and the concurrent thunder, it struck Khoska as an evil portent.

He crossed himself and uttered a quick prayer to the Risen Savior and The Blessed Virgin, and as he did so, he barely noticed the approach of Grace Rodescu. Smoke still rose from the upright of the former cross, which yet glowed from the impact of the lightning.

“What in the hell happened here?” Grace demanded. “It sounded like a bomb went off just now.”

“Lightning struck the cross on the church,” Aleksandre explained. “Right before it happened there was a vulture up there, looking at me like it wanted to devour my soul. If I did not know better I would swear it was an omen of your arrival.”

“Well, you can stop worrying,” Grace said. “The only thing I want to devour is a little of your time.”

For a moment they were both silent.

“A vulture, huh-you know, they do seem to have a habit of turning up in the weirdest places. What color was it?”

“It was a black one,” he replied. “Now, if you please, let us go inside. I want to warn you, though, I have guests, and I do not want to have any trouble. Just come in and say your piece and I will give it my consideration.”

“I guess you heard about Bradley Marlowe?” she asked, ignoring his warning as they made their way toward the front door of the church.

Khoska looked warily down at the ground where now the old crossbeam rested, in part propped up against some hedges by the door.

“From what I heard he tried to set the entire basement of the funeral home aflame with a blowtorch,” he remarked, “and then just walked off and left it lying on the concrete floor spewing out flames. He must have been insane. Well, at least his body was identified, though they still are not sure yet of the identities of some of the others. There seems to have been at least one or two whose presence there is unexplainable. He must have been a strange, tortured man.”

“You don’t even know the half of it,” Grace replied. “In fact, when I tell you”-

Suddenly she stopped and looked in disbelief at the figure that stood at the sacristy directly ahead of her as they entered the church.

“What in the hell are you doing here?” Grace demanded.

She looked with anger and revulsion on the figure of Sierra Lawson, who merely returned her surprise with a demure smile.

“Hello, Grace sweetie,” she said. “Long time no see.”

“Alek, do you know who this girl is?” Sierra demanded as the “girl” who had been for a brief time her live-in lover looked at her with mock sentimental longing.

“I’m just a girl who is looking for a place of refuge in the midst of a cold, cruel world, Grace,” Sierra said as she licked her lips.

“Is this the ‘company’ you referred to?” Grace asked, once more directing her attention to Khoska.

“Yes, and I know all about the two of you,” he replied. “I know all about the sinful nature of your former sexual friendship, and I know about the drugs. I know as well you did not part on the best of terms, but that is none of my affair.”

“We didn’t part on any terms,” Grace replied. “She just left, and took some of my personal property with her, after I took her in and offered her my friendship and support.”

“And don’t forget the part where you treated me like I existed for your every whim,” Sierra said, at last starting to show her true level of enmity toward her former mistress.

Khoska looked on in interest and some trepidation as the two women showed more open anger and bitterness in their facial expressions and voices.

“Why shouldn’t I have used you”? Grace replied. “That’s all the hell you are good for.”

That was it. Sierra tackled Grace and within a matter of seconds had her on the ground, as Grace flailed at her, punching and gouging at her face. Sierra parried her thrusts and began pounding Grace’s head, as Grace finally started reaching in desperation for Sierra’s throat. All she could manage was to put the palm of her hand on Sierra’s face, but Sierra merely moved her head to the side, and smashed Grace on the side of her own head. Then, she arose, kicking at Grace’s head, which Grace at length covered futilely as she crouched and tried to roll away.

“Anything else you want to say to me, you bitch?” Sierra demanded as she kicked Grace once more on the small of the back.

Khoska decided he would put an end to this now before the two of them wrecked the church, or before Sierra killed Grace in the midst of it. He grabbed Sierra as he stepped between her and the helpless Grace Rodescu.

“All right, that’s enough,” he said. “I’m telling both of you now, to stop this.”

Grace was bloody and crying, while Sierra was breathing like a raging bull, itching to tear into Grace one more time, but she promised Aleksandre she would relent.

“I guess we know who the badass is now, don’t we bitch?” Sierra shouted.

“I said that’s enough!” Aleksandre thundered.

Grace now pulled herself up on her feet, clinging to a pew as she slowly rose. She wiped her face and pushed back her hair, obviously in pain from the pummeling she had just experienced.

“You’re right, she’s not worth it,” Grace said. “Besides, from what I hear, she probably doesn’t have that long to live anyway. All her friends are dead, and I think she is probably going to be joining them really soon.”

Sierra turned away at the mention of the fate of her former friends, and Grace pressed on.

“Let’s see, how was it? Oh yeah, Debbie Leighton got a bullet in the brain, Milo Richmond got his guts all cut out, Rhino Dodd got his brains beat out with a car jack-and oh yeah, Larceny Adams, the bitch that shot me and almost killed me. I hear someone decided the best way to remove her facial tattoos was to put her on an acid trip, with real hydrochloric acid, about a quart of it, all on her ugly face. Oh, and just for good measure, she got a buzz saw through the abdomen by way of her cunt. Ouch, I bet that sure smarted.”

“Shut up, Grace, I’m warning you,” Sierra warned her, though obviously distraught and hurt at Graces taunts as to the fate of her friends. Aleksandre looked at Grace in wonder at her unmitigated cruelty.

“Yeah, somebody sure is looking out for me,” Grace continued, obviously reveling in Sierra’s pain. “It seems like, in fact, I think I have a real friend somewhere. God only knows what he has planned for you. When it happens, Sierra dear, I do hope you think of me.”

Sierra looked at her with her eyes now wide with terror.

“None of us did anything to deserve that,” Sierra said. “You’re as much a monster as he is. It wouldn’t surprise me if you aren’t in on it with him.”

“No, I’m just cheering him on-whoever he is,” Grace replied. “As for you not deserving the fate you might have coming, I am sure many people might feel differently, if they were still alive themselves. Debbie Leighton’s father and mother seem to come to mind.”

“All right, Grace, you’ve made your point,” Aleksandre said, strangely sympathetic to the young woman who now seemed filled with terror. “You wait out here, Miss Lawson, until we are finished.”

Aleksandre and Grace started to walk toward the back, as Sierra sunk into a seat at the back pew, her heart pounding as her breaths came in deep spurts. She held her breath, trying to control her frayed nerves. Joseph talked her into coming here, and she regretted it now. Why did they not just leave Baltimore the way they had planned? Why did Joseph think he had to confront Marlowe Krovell, and how did he think this old priest could help him?

She wanted help, real help, but did not know who to turn to. Grace obviously hated her now, and at the very least would not help her. Joseph was obviously deluding himself into thinking Marlowe was some kind of creature that required some kind of special powers to overcome. It was ludicrous that he would seek this old man out as the source of such faith, and now Sierra blamed herself for bringing him here. While she lived with Grace, she looked at all her old contacts, the phone numbers and addresses. She quickly discovered the identity of the old immigrant Romanian Priest, but Grace would not reveal much about him. She seemed to intimate they had an affair once, but otherwise said nothing, though it seemed much more complicated than a mere sexual relationship. If only she had kept her thoughts to herself, she and Joseph would now be away from here. Now, Joseph would not listen to her, and she feared the consequences.

Now, here she was, in the middle of a Catholic church that was not Catholic because they do not follow the pope, and it brought back all the bad memories of Catholic school, and the boring classes and bad grades that always got her family down on her. Now, here she was in this place, and she could feel a presence here with her, but it did not seem right. She had never felt anything before she met Joseph. It was all meaningless ritual and bullshit. Then she met Joseph, and he made her feel alive. Why in the hell did he of all people delude himself into thinking that this small, insignificant church, that held a thousand shadows cast by candlelight, also held all the answers to their current dilemna?

She thought of the past, and the exciting rituals and group orgies she enjoyed with Joseph, and Milo, and Rhino, as well as Larceny and Raven, and even Spanky for that matter-and there was Spiral, of course-

Then she felt the touch of a hand. She jumped and turned, but no one was there-yet, someone was there. She could feel the presence of someone. Someone was watching her, from somewhere close by. She wanted to call out for Joseph, for the old Priest, even for Grace, but she dared not. She was ashamed, and she was very afraid.

“You killed me,” she heard a female voice say.

The sound of the voice, so familiar, cut through her like a knife made of arctic wind.

“Why did you kill me?” the voice asked again. She knew who it was. She imagined it, of course. It could not possibly be real. She stood up and tried to collect her wits, as she stood alone in the church, surrounded by the darkness and the candlelight, which Joseph always said was where darkness met light, and life met death, and they walked together on the same plane of existence.

Still, there was no circle here. She was in a church, but without a circle cast there was no protection from the spirits of the grave. Where, she wondered, was the north? The sacristy faced east, she realized. She would start there. She had to have a circle, an energy circle to protect her from the ravages of death, and vengeance.

“You kill me,” the voice said, and Sierra looked at the statue of the Virgin Mary, but saw the smiling face of Spiral Lamont. She gasped, turned, breathed deeply, and turned back. The vision was gone, a figment of her fearful imagination.

She started at the sacristy in the east, and invoked the power of the air, the way Joseph taught her as she picked up a censor of incense smoke. She walked the circle with it. Then she stood at the south and invoked the elemental power of the fire, at about half the distance from the sacristy to the door. She picked up a candle and walked the circle. She then walked to the doorway, the same door at which she watched the entrance of Grace Rodescu in the company of the old Priest. She invoked the power of the element of water. Finding the sacramental bowl of holy water, she put it to her lips, and then cupped it in her hands. She walked the circle as she allowed it to sprinkle out through her cupped hands.

She then stood at the northernmost part of the inside of the church, and as she looked for something appropriate to use for an invocation of the elemental power of the earth, she noted what seemed to be an urn. She opened it, though it was a struggle. There seemed to be something inside. She poured it out into her hands. It seemed to be some kind of dirt-no, it was ashes, she realized. She smeared them on her forehead, and she walked the circle, spilling small amounts of the ashes on the floor as she walked.

By the time she finished casting the circle, she now stood at the North, facing the South, as she began an invocation to the goddess Hecate, and to the god Dionysius. She asked them both to appear to her, and to save Joseph, to deliver him from the madness he was now afflicted with, and to bring him back to her. She asked them as well to protect her and Joseph from Marlowe Krovell, but she received no answer, save the sounds of laughter.

“You freed me”, said the same voice she earlier heard. She turned and briefly saw what appeared to be smoke emanating from the urn from which she had removed the ashes, those same ashes with which she had anointed her forehead. The smoke now surrounded her, and a voice spoke to her through the darkness, into her right ear.

“You killed me,” the voice said.

“Spiral, stop this,” she said. “Please, leave here.”

She tried to control her anxiety, her fear, but she could barely contain her mounting terror. She tried to tell herself that this was merely another one of Marlowe’s tricks, but all the while, she could feel the very real presence of Spiral Lamont. She looked around her, consciously aware of the ethereal circle she had cast, and within which she now felt she had imprisoned herself.

The icons of the church, most of which she was unfamiliar with, seemed to laugh mockingly at her. They were not her gods. She trusted Hecate to guide her and protect her, but now she felt the Goddess had deserted her. She wanted to run, far away, but she could not leave Joseph behind in this place. She had to find him, and so she made her way through the circle, and out of the main part of the church, down the short hallway that led to various offices, and from there on to the living quarters.

She tried to sneak past the office that the old Priest used, but she heard his voice, speaking with someone. She stopped long enough to hear the voice of Grace Rodescu. She stopped to listen, and could tell that despite the distraught nature of Khoska’s tone, Grace was adamant.

“He owes me,” she said determinedly. “He brought me here, and even adopted me, so legally I am his daughter. I demand that he respect my rights as such. The others I do not care about.”

“So, that is what this is all about,” Khoska noted. “You are not after revenge, or justice. You want your legal inheritance. Do you not understand that this is a very delicate situation? Moreover, need I remind you that you are the one who is responsible for his being removed from the Church?”

“Only because he would not accede to my request,” Grace explained. “That was the worse I could do at the time. Now, however, I have more than innuendo and circumstantial evidence. I have spent years researching this matter, and I have real, verifiable proof, the kind of proof that will stand up in any court of law in this country.

“Voroslav Moloku took me from Romania, adopted me, and put me in the care of two people who sold me into sexual servitude, and made me a heroin addict in the process. I knew I was not the only one, and that I would eventually find others. I knew that I could not be content to find a mere one or two. Therefore, I found more than that. I am working on finding some more. Let us say that if their story is ever told, a good many people are going to be in a great deal of trouble, not just your son-in-law.”

For a while, there was silence, and Sierra decided this was the time now to find Joseph, while the old Priest was suitably distracted. She had to talk reason to him. She had the strangest foreboding that their very lives were at stake this night. She made her way down the hall toward the living quarters in the home annex to the church, stopping first at the bathroom at the end of the hall. She was sick, dizzy, and nauseous, and as her guts were going through as violent an upheaval as she had ever experienced, she knew she would vomit at any moment.

She entered and shut the door, and then turned on the light. She kneeled down at the commode and started to vomit violently, feeling as though she might well go into dry heaves. She had not been this sick in years. As she finished, however, the light went out, and she rose, going to the sink to wash her hands. As the water raced from the old rusty pipes of the church, however, she heard once more the same voice, almost like a stage whisper.

“You killed me,” it said. She jumped and looked toward the mirror, but instead of her own face, she saw now the bulging, purple face of Spiral Lamont, her dull eyes emanating death, the bloody, slashed throat pulsating from the wound inflicted by Joseph in a rage at the information of her betrayal with Marlowe Krovell, information Sierra herself provided him. Now, however, Spiral merely looked at her and smiled.

“Sing it to me,” she hissed from the terrifying aspect that stared back at Sierra through the mirror.

She ran from the bathroom, the thought exploding in her consciousness that she like all the others had partaken of Spiral’s blood on the night they all took part in her murder. Spiral was a part of her and of Joseph, as she had been a part of all of them. Now, another part of April was a part of her. She wiped the ashes from her forehead.

Then, she felt a strong grip of a hand on the back of her right shoulder, and stood paralyzed, then broke down and cried in desperation and terror.

“Sierra, it’s me, Joseph,” the voice said. “What is wrong with you?”

Sierra turned, but slowly, until she saw it was indeed Joseph, and not a mere trick.

“Spiral is here,” she told him. “Joseph, we have to get out of here.”

“What are you talking about?” he said. “Spiral is dead.”

“Joseph, what did you tell that old Priest?” Sierra said.

“I told him everything I ever done,” Joseph said. As, indeed, he had. The old man demanded that price in return for granting Joseph the assurance of spiritual absolution and forgiveness. Khoska assured him this would be the only way to confront and defeat the demon that currently plagued him.

Therefore, Joseph told him about his early childhood and teenage rebellions against his Baptist minister father and his mother. He admitted to every dark thought and evil inclination of overweening pride and anger. He talked in some trepidation of how he had murdered his best friends dog because his friend refused to lie for him over some matter that would have conceivably kept Joseph out of a good deal of trouble both at home and at school.

“Joseph, there really is no need,” Khoska objected, “to concern yourself with”-

However, Joseph insisted, as this was a matter that caused him some agony.

“You know, that dog loved me, would always come up to me wagging its tail and”-

Joseph could not go on with the story, whereupon Aleksandre urged him reluctantly to press on. Joseph cried, and related how he had fed the dog antifreeze, in the middle of the night, and then got up early to see the old faithful Irish Setter yet alive, though in obvious pain and agony, looking up at him with mournful, piteous eyes.

Joseph could not go on that day, and Aleksandre had to encourage him the next day to understand that, as bad as this certainly was, he was a child, and no one could expect him to understand or appreciate the impact his actions might have. Furthermore, the fact that he now realized the wrongness of his actions and felt genuine remorse proved that in fact he had made great spiritual progress. However, he had much farther to go.

Therefore, Joseph continued over the course of the next five days, telling of every seemingly incidental event in his life. Every petty theft, every evil thought, every vengeful or spiteful impulse, both those acted on and those merely imagined, he gave the utmost scrutiny.

There came the day when his father, the Baptist minister, finally had enough and, finding a bag of marijuana under Joseph’s mattress, he ordered him out of the house, and told him never to return. Within a period of less than four months, Joseph found himself in jail, charged with burglary and drug possession. As he was yet a juvenile, he found himself sent to a group home where he met Milo Richmond, who seemed to look up to him much as an older brother. They formed a bond that would never end until Milo’s recent murder.

He later met Rhino Dodd, who walked in on him and his girlfriend, Raven, in the middle of the best sex Joseph had ever enjoyed. Rhino beat him badly and may have killed him had Raven not intervened. She busted him over the head with a full bottle of liquor. Rhino, drunk at the time, and high on methamphetamines, woke up in bed assuming it was a dream. Joseph introduced himself later at the club where Raven worked. Rhino did not remember him.

They became involved in an auto theft ring for a brief period, and though Rhino’s stupidity caused their apprehension when he drove a stolen Lexus to Joseph’s apartment, Joseph took the rap for the incident. It was during this incarceration that he met Sierra Lawson and Spiral Lamont. They were both Goths. Milo was as well, so Joseph knew how to relate to the two girls, and soon discovered he had an affinity for them. They even seemed to view him as some kind of leader.

They ended up leaving the home, running away, Sierra and Spiral going to the extent of seducing the operator of the group home, who did not report the three of them missing. No one from the state or the city seemed ever to get around to looking for them, and so they eventually formed a group, which soon evolved into a cult.

It was under the most bizarre of circumstances that he had met Larceny Adams. He sat watching television, when he saw his father, the Baptist minister who, along with his own mother, had told him to leave the house and never return. His father, who never bothered to check up on him, was delivering a tearful message. It was to a man who had been a deacon and an elder of the church, and who now was missing, having run off with a young teenager by the name of Sherry Adams, and taken all of the money the church had in a special fund.

The strangest thing was that the money did not vanish until almost two weeks after the man ran off. His father had been too stupid to consider changing the bank account number or other information to reflect the situation, and now was crying, on local television. Joseph laughed. Well, it was funny, after all. What was especially funny was he knew exactly where the guy was. He always maintained a private apartment-a loft apartment-in the city, which he kept under an assumed name. Joseph one night followed him there, intending to rob him, and went back there days afterward. When he broke into the place, however, there was nothing worth stealing, so he forgot about it.

Well, he forgot about it until this night, as his father stood on television sobbing, tearfully entreating his former friend and associate to do the right thing, to turn himself in.

Later that night, Joseph, along with Milo, Sierra, Raven, Rhino, and Spiral, went up to the old loft apartment, but nothing quite prepared them for what they would find. The man looked to be dead, and the girl, Sherry, now bald and adorned with facial tattoos reminiscent of a devil’s mustache and goatee, was crying frantically. The man seemed beaten and cut, bleeding while tied to the bed.

The girl begged them not to tell on her, as she put it.

“I only did what he wanted me to do,” she swore. “I think he had a heart attack. I swear I didn’t kill him, not on purpose anyway.”

“Yeah, right, so where’s the money he stole from the church,” Joseph demanded. “I guess he did that all on his on too.”

“You think I made him?” the distraught girl exclaimed in seeming disbelief. “No, I swear, he told me we were going to the Bahamas. Then, he got me drunk, him and some friends, and when I woke up in the morning I have this shit on my face.”

“Hell, I think it’s pretty fucking cool myself,” Milo told her, as the girls of the coven gathered around her, offering her expressions of sympathy and even compassion, something they rarely showed-at least not sincerely.

“It’s over there in that drawer,” she said, pointing to a dresser. Milo and Joseph walked to the chest-of-drawers and found it in the large bottom drawer, packed so tightly within that they had trouble opening it. It was eighty-seven thousand dollars, in one hundred dollar denominations.

“What the hell are we going to do with all this shit?” Spiral asked Joseph.

“We’re going to spend it,” he replied.

“What about her?” Rhino said.

Joseph looked at the girl, obviously worried about the repercussions of what had transpired in this loft apartment.

“To hell with her,” Sierra asked. “What about him?”

At that exact moment, the man groaned, and opened his eyes.

“What the fuck? He’s still alive?” Sierra said.

“Oh, great, now what the fuck are we going to do?” Spiral demanded, as the Adams girl suddenly became more terrified than ever, not sure whether to be relieved or more frightened than ever.

“Joseph, this is not good,” Milo said. “We have to do something.”

“I know,” Joseph responded as the man squirmed, trying to pull himself up off the bed, yet still tied down with the ropes to the headboard, from which he now frantically tried to free himself.

“So what do we do?” Milo asked.

“We eat him,” Joseph replied.

Rhino was the first, and tore into the mans stomach, gouging and ripping his flesh, and Raven soon followed, and then the others joined in, as Joseph at first just watched them, almost amazed at the profound power his simple, almost whimsical suggestion had on them. He looked at the Adams girl, and saw that the sight entranced her.

“You know, you could probably stay here,” he said. “I know the man who owns this place. As long as you pay your rent, and put out every now and then, he will not say shit. The apartment is already in an assumed name, so nobody need ever know.”

“But how will I take care of myself?” she asked. “My parents are dead, and I have no family.”

“Just keep doing what you were doing up here,” he said. “There’s big money in it if you know what you’re doing, and evidently you know what you are doing.”

By the time he finished this conversation, the man was sufficiently dead, and by the time a period of three days transpired, there was nothing left of the unfortunate former deacon and church elder but a few large bones. They dried them up and pounded them into a powder. Joseph gave Sherry the money to pay the rent and left her twenty thousand dollars extra. He told her he would be around to help her from time to time, but he ended up sending Rhino to check on the girl.

After more than two years went by, Raven had died and the girl, now known as Larceny, would take her place both as Rhino’s girlfriend and in the coven, which soon evolved into a vampire group, with Joseph as the High Priest, and with Spiral as something along the lines of a High Priestess, yet subordinate to Joseph. She was an incarnation of Hecate, while he was an incarnation of Dionysius, as well as Vlad the Impaler, and, when it suited his fancy, Adolph Hitler.

The latter was a means of assuaging the reluctance of Rhino and Spiral to be involved, even tentatively, with the Seventeenth Pulse, which came about due to Joseph’s association with Gus Rakowski, the organized crime mid-level boss who owned and operated The Crypt. Joseph wanted to become an associate of the Russian mob, and offered his services to Rakowski, who told him he would have to prove himself before he could sponsor his membership.

“The fact that your great-grandfather was an immigrant from Russia is not quite good enough,” Rakowski explained. “In fact, that he abandoned the mother country in the midst of the Great War is somewhat of a drawback. You know we demand permanent loyalty above all else, and once you are in, you never leave. You do understand that, do you not?”

Joseph assured him that he did, and in fact, Rakowski’s reluctance was actually beneficial to Joseph, who did not truly desire admission into the higher echelons of the mob, even if that were remotely possible. It would amount to too much of a sacrifice of his preferred lifestyle. Yet, an association with the organization, however tentative, was certainly advantageous to anyone who desired to carve out a respectable niche in what Joseph perceived as the real world.

Joseph proved his worth by setting up a meeting with a man named Marshall Crenshaw, and other members of the black inner-city gang known as the Seventeenth Pulse. Rakowski and the gang leaders agreed on a territorial settlement, and even worked out a courtesy arrangement to do some limited business.

In the meantime, Rakowski agreed to let Joseph handle his own drug business within certain defined areas, though in fact Joseph had free run of the city. As such, he lived his life to the fullest, he and the vampire coven of which he was the leader.

Not a month went by that a victim was not by them claimed, and it seemed as though Marlowe Krovell would be just another victim, until Raven Randall unfortunately fell in love with the strange young loner she originally intended to set-up. She broke up with him in order to save his life, after initially dating him in order for him to become the group’s next sacrificial victim.

When she died of an overdose, Joseph never suspected Krovell. Raven had simply changed. Of the entire group, she was the most sadistic, the most murderous, and at the same time, the most beautiful, and the most sexually aggressive. She was the most personable, as well as the most talented. It was she who encouraged Sierras artistic pursuits, but Sierra was not on Raven’s level. None of them was on Raven’s level. Joseph himself was not on Raven’s level, and he himself acknowledged this fact, if to no one but himself. One person, however, seemed to be her equal, at least in her mind, and that person was none other than Marlowe Krovell. Joseph simply could not accept that, and hated him even more, since Krovell-or Krovelescu, as he pretentiously called himself these days-had escaped the fate Joseph originally planned for him.

When Raven died, and Krovell showed up at the Crypt some weeks later, the most humiliating event in all of Joseph’s life occurred, when Krovell, not being content to beat him up in the course of a barroom fight, proceeded from there to rape him anally, with the approval of the crowd. Everybody saw it. Spiral, Sierra, Milo, Rhino, and Larceny, who recently became a full member of the coven on the death of Raven, all saw it, though they pretended not to.

That was not the worse of it, however. Gus Rakowski saw it as well, and called him into his office, where he told him privately that he should not allow Marlowe to get away with that.

“You have been degraded more than any man should ever be degraded, and in front of everyone in this bar. Do you know what this means? It means that I can no longer do business with you. You have lost all respect, and a man who has no respect, he has nothing in this world. Power is something with which I cannot trust you. You have only one thing left, possibly, and that is wisdom, provided you understand how to see this as an opportunity for growth. Frankly, though, I would be reluctant to allow you to wash my car at this stage.

“Good day to you, sir!”

That was how it all ended. Joseph was distraught, feeling he had lost everything, but the worse was yet to come. A few days later, Sierra complained about Milo’s infidelities with a sixteen-year-old girl named Debbie Leighton, whom most people in the neighborhood knew by the name Spanky. He had picked her up where she habitually hung out, outside The Crypt, and Sierra had returned home from her classes early one day and caught the two of them in bed together.

She came to Joseph, crying and distraught, demanding that something be done to the girl, and that Joseph reprimand Milo. At first, Joseph had merely laughed, and told her that her and Milo’s personal problems were none of his concern.

“How many times have you and I fucked over the last couple of months, by the way?” he asked her.

That seemed to be the end of it, but over the following days, an unexpected development occurred when the police arrested Milo for possession in the course of an undercover sting operation, right outside The Crypt. He was very lucky to get off with one year’s probation, but Joseph suspected Sierra of complicity in his arrest and confronted her privately. He knew Sierra could not lie to him, and he was right. She broke down and cried, and confessed to her treachery.

“Do you know you could have got us in a hell of a lot of trouble?” he demanded. “Most people would rat us all out, including you, yet you take that kind of chance, and for what-so you could get revenge on Milo? Shit, you are always telling me you are tired of him anyway. So what was the fucking point of this?”

Joseph honestly planned to kill Sierra at that point, and intended for the entire group to take part in the punishment. Sierra was well aware of this. She knew Joseph too well by this time, and was under no illusions as to the depth of his feelings for her. He was not one to take any kind of betrayal lightly. She knew she had to think of something.

“So you think infidelity is no big deal, do you?” she said. “So I don’t guess you mind that Spiral has fucked another man behind your back, right?”

Joseph warned her not to compound one mistake with the even worse transgression of a false accusation, but she was adamant.

“Very well,” Joseph said, though he was by no means convinced. “I tell you what I will do. First, we are going to initiate Debbie Leighton into the group. I am going to do it in such a way that you can have your little revenge on her. In fact, she might not survive the night. If she does, and otherwise proves herself worthy, I want you to accept her. I do not just want it, I demand it. After that, when the time is right, I am going to find out about what you’ve just said about Spiral, and I’m warning you now, Sierra, if you are lying, this is the time to come clean. Otherwise, I want to know right now-who did she cheat on me with?”

Sierra looked at him like she was dreading revealing the name, and her reluctance made Joseph think momentarily that she was wary to admit she had lied about the whole thing. He stood waiting, resolutely, not saying anything as he kept his gaze peeled on her, until she finally stammered out the name.

“It was Marlowe Krovell,” she said. “It was the same night the two of you fought at The Crypt. Really, I should not have said anything. You had told her to leave, and she was just upset. Really, Joseph”-

“Shut up!” he shouted. “I swear to God, Sierra, if you are lying about this, its curtains for you. You do understand that, don’t you?”

Sierra assured him she understood, and was telling the truth. It was not until some seven months later that he finally confronted Spiral, at the Leighton Farm, where he ordered all of them, including Sierra, to take part in her punishment. They all stood in a circle and, one by one, they denounced her, and watched as Joseph strangled her, and then cut her throat. They all partook of the blood of their former friend and coven member as she died by their hands. They then took her body to Larceny’s apartment, where they kept it frozen for a few weeks. They then transferred the corpse to the Krovell mortuary, where they unceremoniously deposited it on the back porch.

Joseph never understood why no one ever reported the body’s discovery there, or why there evidently was never any funeral, there or anywhere else. He wondered whether the police might not even have retained the body in their custody at the city morgue, while conducting an investigation into the mysterious murder. Yet, no one saw fit to question him or any of the others. He even went so far as to inquire of Spiral’s family as to her whereabouts. No, they had not seen her, nor did they have any desire to see her.

Therefore, the question remained-what had ever become of the body of Spiral Lamont, whom Sierra now insisted haunted her inside this very church? Joseph insisted she tell him everything, and so she did, including the ritual she just this night performed.

“You invoked Hecate?” he asked. “That’s probably what did it. I still do not know how she could enter into this church, though. You are imagining things, Sierra. It has been a rough few months, and you are distraught, and feel guilty over what we all did to her. You telling me about her fucking Marlowe is what caused it, remember?”

“I saw Spiral before I invoked Hecate,” she replied. “Then, when I invoked earth with those ashes from that urn, her presence grew even stronger. Joseph, I think those were her ashes. That old undertaker guy gave Father Khoska the wrong urn. That’s the only thing that makes any sense.”

Joseph took a deep breath, as he tried to come to terms with what he was hearing. Could it possibly be true, that Spiral Lamont now haunted this old Orthodox Church? Could this be the final test of his spiritual maturity? Could this be the initial conflict of the coming ultimate battle?

“All right, Sierra, go on and get out of here,” he told her after some deliberation. “I’ll take care of it.”

“What about Krovell?” she demanded. “What if he’s out there, waiting for me to leave here?”

“Just stay out on the church grounds until I send for you,” he said. “Stay out in the car if you want to. Just do not leave the grounds. This might be one of his tricks, something to drive us away from here.”

“Well, if that’s what it is it’s working pretty damn well,” Sierra replied.

She left, obviously still terrified and fighting back tears, as Joseph made his way back toward Khoska’s office. He thought of all the confessions he had made to Khoska, the hours upon endless hours of instructions in the faith. It seemed natural to him, though he was certain his family had abandoned it in the course of Soviet communist rule way before those days of his great-grandparents hasty flight from the Soviet Union during World War II.

Still, they were a religious family-superstitious, even-and this culminated in his own father becoming a Baptist minister. That was the hardest thing he had faced up to so far. Khoska had insisted that he try to make amends with his father and mother. He tried, but his father was as cold, harsh, and uncaring as ever.

His father heard the news, of course, about Joseph’s and the others arrest on charges of murder, the drugs, the vampire cult, and everything else, and expressed amazement that Joseph had gotten out on what seemed a technicality. Of course, his father had his own way of looking at things.

“The devil takes care of his own, Joseph,” he told him. “What are you calling me for? Have you not caused your mother and me enough shame and embarrassment, to say nothing of pain and grief? Now, you have the gall to call here, after hiding in a so-called church that worships saints and bows to idols. You are not my son. Leave your mother alone, and never call here or come here, ever again.”

Joseph told him he merely wanted to say he was sorry, and ask for forgiveness. His father said nothing, just hung up the phone. For the first time in years, Joseph Karinsky cried. Khoska seemed to know then, this young man was truly sincere, truly wanted to make amends for his past, and wanted to rectify to what extent was possible the sins of his life. That night, a mere two nights ago, he baptized him, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Joseph was amazed at how things had turned out. Gus Rakowski had offered him the opportunity to make amends and prove his worth. Joseph had maintained cordial relations with Marshall Crenshaw and the Seventeenth Pulse, and though he had been forced to seek work in the real world-as a cab driver, no less-he still made a good deal of money selling marijuana and heroin purchased in bulk from Crenshaw. He was starting to turn things around, and then Gus made him the offer of a lifetime. All he had to do was distribute some marijuana to some school kids, poison it, and wait out a few days in jail until an investigation led to the Seventeenth Pulse-with Joseph’s help, of course. The police would drop all other charges in return for their cooperation.

It would be the end of the Seventeenth Pulse, their influence and their interference. After all, Rakowski and the Russian mob had influence with certain members of the police force, who had in fact infiltrated the Pulse, one of whose most trusted members was a citizen informant. It would be relatively easy.

Up to a point, it seemed to go just as Gus promised. Unfortunately, the unexpected discovery of the Leighton’s bodies caused an unforeseen difficulty not easily surmounted. Thanks to Rakowski’s behind-the-scenes influence, they escaped prosecution for that, but then Spooky Gold proved not to be the kind of gang leader that would go down easily-not without a fight. It ended up costing Rakowski his life at the hands of Spooky Gold. Sierra had seen it all, had seen the death of Gus at the hands of Gold, as well as the deaths of both Spooky Gold and Debbie Leighton at the hands of the renegade cop James Berry. This had been the turning point for Father Khoska. Before hearing this, he had been very wary of many of Joseph’s claims. When he heard of Berry’s involvement, however, it was as if a light went off in his head.

In fact, Joseph feared that Khoska might turn him away at any time, which would have been devastating. He now had no one to turn to. True, though the Pulse now viewed him as a treacherous foe and at one point vowed vengeance, they were now for the most part dead or incarcerated, and awaiting trial on charges that would send them to prison for the rest of their lives. What few remained had relatively no real power.

At the same time, Joseph Karinsky had no one else to turn to. He had no power, no influence, no contacts, nothing-not even a dead-end job as a cabbie. He had no one to turn to but Sierra, and now Marlowe Krovell was out there, waiting to exact a horrible retribution. He explained to Khoska that Joseph seemed to be a vampire, one of the walking dead. Khoska laughed at this assessment.

“He is not a vampire,” he told him. “There are no such things as vampires. There are devils, however, and he might well be that-a devil incarnate.”

Then, Khoska looked him solemnly in the eyes, and told him what he needed to hear, and at the same time dreaded hearing.

“I will help you,” he vowed. “However, you must do exactly as I say. You must tell me everything. Leave nothing out. You have to have faith. If you do, the Lord will forgive all your sins. I can baptize you and sanctify you. You will be able then to destroy this fiend, but there will be a price, and you must be willing to pay it. You must not only be willing, you must insist on paying it. You must spend the rest of your life making restitution. If that means prison for the rest of your life, or even an eventual death penalty against you, you must go through with it willingly.

Let me warn you right here and now-do not think for one minute that you can destroy this creature and then turn your back on your vows, Joseph. I promise you, the ritual I will perform on you will destroy you if you do not hold up your end of the bargain. You will feel the power when the time comes, and you will know I am telling the truth. If you wish to back out of this, now is the time.”

To Sierra’s amazement, Joseph agreed. He never in his life felt so sure of anything. Therefore, Khoska conducted the rituals, a set of them, the most intense experience Joseph ever felt. Now he knew why, regardless of the power he felt, despite the assurance of salvation and the promise of forgiveness and an eternity in heaven, for some reason it did not seem adequate.

He had left out one very important detail.

He knocked on the door of Khoska’s office and Khoska told him to enter. When Joseph did do, he was reluctant to speak in the presence of the woman he recognized as Grace Rodescu. The woman looked at Joseph with a withering glare, and then announced that she was finished here.

“Call Voroslav tonight, or tomorrow,” she said to Khoska. “Tell him I more than mean what I say. Tell him I am deadly serious, and he does not really want to find that out the hard way. As for the others-well, I can deal with them.”

“Very well, Grace, I will deliver your message,” Khoska said. “Now, if you will excuse me”-

Grace said nothing, just looked coldly at the two of them, as she walked out the door.

“What seems to be the problem Joseph?”

“I think I forgot to tell you something-about Spiral Lamont.”

“Your former girlfriend, the one you and your other friends murdered for her infidelity with Marlowe Krovell,” Khoska said. “Yes, I remember the name, but what of her?”

“I forgot to tell you what we did with her body. We left it at Krovell’s mortuary, on the back porch. Yet, no one ever reported her death or the discovery of her body. There was never a funeral for her, either.”

Khoska looked distantly interested, yet somewhat wary, when he asked him exactly what this had to do with anything.

“Those ashes in the urn that are supposed to hold the remains of your granddaughter-I think they are hers. In fact, I know they are. April has been here tonight, in this church. She is still here. For some reason, either accidentally or purposely, Marlowe’s uncle gave you the wrong set of remains. I think it was purposely. He is probably helping Marlowe and sent her here to get me and Sierra.”

“Joseph, you are going off the deep end, my boy,” Khoska said as reassuringly as he could. “For one thing, my granddaughter was cremated more than two weeks before you came here. As for Brad Marlowe, he is dead. My granddaughter’s funeral was the last one conducted on the night of his death and”-

Khoska stopped, as a chill wind seemed to infiltrate the office, and a realization dawned on him. He was in fact speechless.

“Father Khoska, what is the matter?”

“There is a small corridor at Krovell’s Funeral Home. It leads from the funeral parlor directly to the crematory furnace by way of conveyor belt. After the fire, just a few days ago, the investigators discovered an empty coffin lodged within that corridor. The entrance to the crematory furnace seemed shut off, entirely blocked. Odd though this seemed, I never considered the ramifications-until just now.”

For a moment, Khoska fell into a grim silence, and Joseph watched him with alarm, as his demeanor seemed to grow ever more morose and withdrawn.

“Oh, my God-Lynette,” he finally muttered sadly.

He then looked at the sound of the door opening and saw Grace Rodescu, standing there in the doorway.

“What you told me about Brad Marlowe,” he said. “It really was true, wasn’t it?”

She just stood and stared at him, saying nothing, as Joseph just looked on, unsure of what was happening.

“You need to come out here now,” Grace finally said. “Something is happening, and I have an idea it’s not good.”

They walked out behind her, but Aleksandre pushed his way in front of her when he caught sight of Sierra Lawson standing at the lectern at the front of the church, obviously in a daze. Yet, she seemed to be preparing for something-but what?

“Young lady, what do you think you’re doing?” Khoska asked as, incredibly, Sierra began pulling off her clothes.

“She’s coming for me,” she said. “Spiral wants me to sing to her. She wants me to sing a song that we wrote together one time. Joseph, do you remember that song me and Spiral wrote, the one I used to sing with the Mocktones?”

“Sierra, please, don’t do this,” Joseph said.

“But the guys came here just for this,” she said as she turned and indicated apparent forms that no one could see, save she alone.

“What guys? Sierra, there’s no one there.”

“Well, you are blind then. There’s Mickey, and Johnny is over there, and look, Ricky even brought his drums.”

“Sierra, the Mocktones are not here,” Joseph said. “You’re imagining things. It’s a trick, Sierra, a hallucination.”

However, Sierra no longer heard him, as she continued to undress. Having seen all he could stand, Aleksandre Khoska prayed loudly, a prayer of exorcism, commanding whatever demonic force had entered his church to depart, as he then confronted the obviously deranged young girl who had complained about their presence in the church for the entirety of hers and Joseph’s stay over the past week and a half. Aleksandre tolerated her bouts of depression, her incomprehensible mood swings, her contradictory expressions and attitudes, and even her sacrilegious utterances. This was something he simply could not tolerate, and as he rebuked Satan in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit, he took hold of the now completely naked Sierra Lawson by the back of the right shoulder.

“I command you, evil one, depart from”-

Before Khoska could finish, however, Sierra turned and, with a savage roar almost more animal than human, she grabbed the old priest by the neck and lifted him off his feet. Before Grace or Joseph either one could react, she flung the old man down to the ground as though he were little more than a bag of feathers. Grace and Joseph were rooted to the spot, in shock and horror, as Sierra just stood and laughed. Grace finally ran to Khoska, and lifted his head. The old man was still alive, but almost unconscious, obviously injured by the assault. Joseph walked slowly up to Sierra, but she seemed not to notice his approach.

The band was playing, and Sierra now started singing, the same song she and Spiral had written together after they both, having murdered a victim some three years ago, engaged in lovemaking right by the body of the would be john, whom they later cannibalized.

You killed me
You destroyed heart
I can’t find
No peace of mind
You ripped my soul apart

She was all over the front of the church, at the lectern and back and forth, as The Mocktones now became a band of demons. Their discordant melodies and harmonies raged, in Sierra’s consciousness, in unison with her vocals, her range going from a glass shattering high pitch down to a low, guttural tone over the course of the songs versus and chorus.

Joseph was beside himself, unsure of what to do, as Grace stood and approached him.

“Can’t you do something to stop her?” she demanded.

“I’ve never seen her like this before,” he replied, unable to conceal the hopelessness in his voice. “It’s like she has been taken over by something. I don’t know what to do.”

“Bullshit!” Grace replied. “If Aleksandre dies, both of you motherfuckers are going to pay dearly for it, I promise you that, so I advise you to rein her in real quick, before I do it for good.”

Joseph held his forehead and wiped the sweat off his brow, his nerves in knots, as Sierra continued wildly dancing at the front of the church, an imaginary demonic audience seeming to lead her on, to energize her, as she danced in rhythmic unison to a band that existed only in the inner dimensions of her ravaged consciousness. So distraught had he become, he could think of nothing to do, so he dropped down on his knees and prayed to God for deliverance.

“What good do you think that is going to do?” Grace demanded. Suddenly, she stopped, looked around, and slapped at her neck, and then at her forearm, and then at her forehead, until finally, her entire body began twisting and squirming. She began cursing, as Joseph looked up from his desperate prayers. Grace seemed to be dancing as Sierra sung the bizarre song she and Spiral had long ago composed. It now became an ode to death and the underworld, where spirits of the dead engaged their lusts in utter desperate helplessness, never achieving satisfaction, as they begged for the end of consciousness.

Upon looking closer, however, he could see that Grace was not dancing. She seemed to be engaged in a desperate attempt to ward off what appeared to be insects of some sort. Then, as he drew closer, he could see what looked to be mosquitoes, swarming all over Grace Rodescu. She began screaming in pained agony, as the vociferous insects, seemingly thousands of them, covered her so entirely they blocked sight of her. They soon appeared to be a veritable cloud of hungry mosquitoes, as Grace Rodescu existed now only in agonized screams of torment that almost formed a discordant harmony to Sierra’s ever more frantic and disturbed vocals.

Those vocals soon reached their climax, as Sierra began screaming.

“Kill Me! Kill Me! Kill Me!
Just Like I Killed You
Kill Me! Kill Me! Kill Me!
That’s What I Have To Do!

Joseph watched, paralyzed, as Sierra reached down to the sacramental table and extracted what appeared to be a knife, a long knife with a black handle. It was the covens ritual knife, the athame Joseph had specially ordered for use by the group, the same athame with which they ritually killed all their victims, the last one being Spiral Lamont. Sierra must have gone out to the car and brought it in here. What, he wondered, was she going to do with that in here?

“Sierra,” he pleaded desperately. “That’s my athame. Give it to me-now, Sierra.”

Sierra did not hear him, however, as she continued singing the chorus of the song while simultaneously plunging the athame deep inside her stomach. She would then withdraw the blade, and as she continued singing, would plunge it back in, withdraw it, and plunge it once more deep inside her. She continued this repeatedly, and though at one point she looked toward Joseph with a look of desperate pleading, she yet seemed helpless to do anything but continue stabbing herself as she sung.

Finally, Joseph moved toward her, overcoming his unbridled terror at what he witnessed, determined to stop her by any means possible-but a sudden force stopped him almost in mid-step, and held him firmly rooted to the spot as Sierra continued her song, and her uncontrollable act of self-mutilation, as her blood flowed throughout the front of the church.

She now laughed as she collapsed to the floor, and began writhing around in the blood that pooled under her, as Joseph struggled against the force that held him a helpless captive.

“It is over, Joseph,” a malignant voice whispered in his ears. “You have played your role to perfection. You did exactly what I wanted you to do. You came to this church for absolution, seeking forgiveness from God and protection from me, and have given me a power over you I never could have had otherwise.”

He tried to turn, as he recognized the hated and hateful voice of Marlowe Krovell. Marlowe, however, would not allow him to turn.

“Keep your eyes on Sierra, Joseph,” he said. “The show is almost over. Do you remember when I told you that what I did to the others would be nothing compared to what I would do to the two of you? Well, what you are seeing now is a mere hint of what I have in store for you. Of course, you could prevent that, simply by rejecting God. I am afraid it is too late for Sierra, however.”

As he said this, Sierra attempted to rise. Crying, yet weakly singing still, she stretched her naked, bloody body out on the altar of the Eucharist.

“I don’t care what you do to me Krovell,” Joseph said. “I will never reject God.”

“Remember the time I raped you, in The Crypt?” Marlowe asked him. “Well, that made you a part of me. Now, thanks not only to that, but also your baptism, you are helpless. I can only partake of the blood of those who are pure, or have become purified through baptism, or with whom I have a prior sexual connection. That is one of the peculiarities of my curse. You, Joseph, are more helpless than ever to resist me.

“The real irony is-it doesn’t matter. I do not want your blood. I do not need it. I only need to see you suffer, in the worse possible way, before you finally die.”

“Do your worse, Marlowe,” Joseph said. “I command you, Satan, depart from me, in the name of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit”

“Oh, that is what I am about to do, Joseph,” Marlowe replied. “I am about to depart, and so are you-so are you. Do you forgive me, Joseph? Do you forgive me for killing all of your friends, and for killing you?”

“I forgive you, Marlowe, and ask that God forgive you,” he said. “But there is no need for this. My forgiveness will not help you, even if you really wanted it. You have to want it, Marlowe. You have to want it from God, and I can’t give you that. You have to repent. I know you have reason to hate me but”-

“Oh, but you are wrong, Joseph,” Marlowe said. “Like I told you before-I am not Marlowe. I have taken his body, and his brain, and his memories are something I struggle with. They are what is leading me to do this. I cannot take complete control of his body until I bring all of his struggles to some kind of resolution. You, Joseph, will bring me one step closer to bringing about that resolution. Now, turn towards me. Look at me. Tell me what you see.”

Joseph turned, struggling to turn away from Sierra, whom he hoped against any reasonable hope might yet be alive. He turned and looked straight into the green eyes of Marlowe Krovell. What he saw in one brief instant left him devoid of all hope.

“Yes, Joseph, it is time for you to die,” Marlowe said, as Joseph went totally limp. Marlowe carried him toward the door easily, as though Joseph had now become weightless, while Grace Rodescu crawled painfully toward where the body of Sierra Lawson lay dead upon the Eucharistic altar. The mosquitoes continued to buzz all over her, biting her continually in their feeding frenzy on her now helpless flesh, leaving her by now so weakened she had not the strength any longer to try to ward off their vicious onslaught.

She pulled herself up to the Eucharistic table upon which Sierra Lawson now lay, dead, her features a hopeless contortion of agony and terror as her lifeless eyes stared out into the abyss as though towards her own private hell-an eternal reckoning she had laid the foundations of from her earliest days.

Grace cried, not so much for Sierra, nor even for the agony that she now endured, but for the future, the one she feared awaited her-a hopeless future filled with despair. She turned from her now dead one time lover and cursed the darkness, and made her way toward the still form of Father Aleksandre Khoska, who she feared dead as well, taken from her, along with whatever hope she might have for the life that had so long ago been denied her.

Khoska though was breathing, yet barely, and his pulse was feint. She whispered to him, desperate to wake him, and yet fearful of doing so, lest she rouse him from his unconsciousness and drive him into a shock from which the old man might never recover. She had to call someone, a doctor, an ambulance, anybody that could deliver him safely to the aid for which he was in such obvious and desperate need.

Now, he was stirring, moving just a little, as his breathing, though erratic, was at least somewhat stronger than at first. What would she say to him if he awoke before help arrived? She had to get to the phone fast. She had to ignore the pain of the malicious insects that singled her out exclusively.

She remembered the night at the Leighton farm, and her encounter with the same kinds of insects that abounded at the abandoned and remote country home. Phelps had been with her that night, but he seemed unaffected. She remembered the black vulture that fed on the carcasses of the long dead cattle as it glared at her ominously with its eyes, so enamored of the dead and rotting flesh. They looked longingly towards her.

She pulled her way, painfully and desperately, toward the door to the hallway that led to Aleksandre’s office, when she suddenly heard, from outside the church, horrendous screams of agony, of utter desolation. Hell had invited itself into this sacred domain, the home of saints, and of sinners looking for salvation. Hell and its denizens had free reign of the Church Of The Blessed Sacrament, and had despoiled and defiled it with a thousand unspeakable abominations. She had to fight on. She would not give in to defeat at the hands of insanity unleashed. She still had her wits about her. She had to keep her emotions in check.

She was suddenly once more a young girl, barely twelve, walking down a lone, country road, far from civilization, naked and raped, and bleeding, near death. She walked for so long, no longer aware who she was, or what had happened, and no longer caring. She only knew she had to walk, until she saw the figure in the dark gray burlap robe, his face shrouded by darkness and a hood from which shined those baleful, piercing dull red eyes, eyes that shone like unpolished rubies through the darkness of her soul, and saw everything about her, and for the first time, understood her.

He followed behind her for some distance, until the cars headlights heralded the appearance of someone she knew she should avoid, someone she knew she had to get away from, and so she turned toward the figure in the robe. Then, he removed the hood, and she saw his face. There was something about it that was so terrifying, and yet so familiar. Now, she saw the face again, and understood now who he was. At last, she understood. She screamed, and continued screaming, until she could scream no more, and nothing emanated from her throat but an empty, silent scream of utter helplessness.

Even through this vacuum, however, she could hear the front door of the old church slamming shut, as the mosquitoes that covered her now abandoned her swollen, burning body, now covered with welts, swollen and disfiguring welts that forced her eyes almost completely shut.

Yet, she saw now the mosquitoes had abandoned her and sought out a new feast in the form of the man in ancient clothing, the tall, muscular man with green eyes and long blonde hair, wavy and flowing past his shoulders, until they covered him as they previously covered her. Yet, he did not fight them. He stood, with arms outstretched, and for a brief instant, she could see that his mouth was open wide as they entered the waiting orifice. Time was now meaningless to Grace Rodescu, and though it may have been a matter of seconds, it could just as easily have been an eternity, before the mosquitoes were finally gone, and nothing stood before her but the form of Marlowe Krovell, who looked at her, appraising her, with a look of suspicion, and then-relief.

“Come, it is time for us to go, Grace Rodescu,” he told her.

Grace said nothing, as she walked slowly toward him, until she got close enough to him that he reached out and grasped her shoulder, and then guided her toward the open door.

Aleksandre Khoska rose slowly and painfully, and watched them leave through the door of the church. He knew he was now alone, and started to cry, even though there seemed to be a presence with him this night. He felt the presence draw up to him, and he knew soon that whoever it was looked upon him with a sense of overwhelming sadness.

“Aleksandre, there are two kinds of flower,” the voice said. “Do you know what they are?”

“That would be annuals and perennials?” Aleksandre asked, unsure of what was happening. What was she doing here now?

“No, Aleksandre, there are two kinds of flour,” she repeated. “There is self-rising flour, and there is all-purpose flour. Do you understand the difference? All-purpose has no salt, so you must add salt every time you use it. Self-rising flour has salt, and so no salt is necessary or desirable. You do understand this now?”

He was sitting at the kitchen table with Marta, his wife, who looked upon him with aggravation.

“Yes, Marta, I know this, of course,” he said. “What is your point? Marta, what are you even doing here? Please, sit down and do not leave right away.”

“I have no time for your foolishness, husband,” his long dead wife told him. “Listen to me carefully. The next time you buy meal, remember, it is the same as when you buy flour. You have self-rising and all-purpose. Some things call for one, some things call for the other. One thing that you always need, though, is salt. Do not make me have to tell you this again.”

She smiled at him, and kissed him, and then he awoke in a sweat. He rose, and fumbled for the light switch on the wall. Something had happened here, he knew. Something terrible had transpired, and he looked around, hoping it had all been a horrible dream. Before he found the light switch, however, he saw the naked body of Sierra Lawson lying on the Eucharistic altar, and the blood on the floor all around it. He drew closer, and saw that it was real, not a mere hallucination cast by the shadows of the candlelight. Sierra was dead. Her blood was everywhere. She was naked, and the large black handled blade now protruded from her stomach, the result of what looked to be a gruesome black mass conducted in the aftermath of his collapse.

Her blood was all over the floor, and almost appeared to be what he could only think of as an artistic masterpiece, Satanic though it was.

He stood and stared into the Rorschach type designs, and he could see himself in them. He was standing at the gates of hell, surrounded by escaping demons, teeth barred as they clutched at him, grasping for him as they surrounded him, affording him no avenue of escape, as he looked toward the distance, calling on the God who seemed to have abandoned him.

The sweat poured from his brow and dropped to the floor below him, beads of perspiration that themselves became as drops of blood. He was dizzy and the room spun around. He gagged and choked back his vomit, overwhelmed by the horridly ghastly vision he in his helplessness and his own sinful weakness was unable to prevent. The heat was unbearable, and he felt as though in thrall to a raging fever, and feared he would be unable to pull himself together, to gather enough strength to leave the church and summons help.

Now, a shadow approached him, and he could smell the comforting aromas of lilacs, wafting ever closer to him.

“Grandfather, please, let me help you,” he heard the voice say. He looked, and saw the face of his beloved granddaughter Lynette, walking towards him with outstretched arms.

“You are ill, grandfather. You need to rest.”

Aleksandre looked into the eyes of the girl. His eyes then caught sight of the urn, emptied and dropped onto the floor near where he now stood, and he saw the ashes, which seemed to form an arc from his line of vision.

Lynette smiled as she walked closer, her arms outstretched, but her eyes hid a silent, ravenous hunger as she opened her mouth to reveal the fangs of the great beast who feeds on the blood of the saints. Joseph had been right all along, he thought.

“I rebuke thee, evil one, in the name of The father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit,” he shouted in a desperate display of all the internal strength he could summons. Lynette’s expression changed, her face transmogrified into that of an evil, venomous girl, with multiple piercing that went up the length of her right cheek, with eyes of laughing yet malicious hatred and vengeance that glowed from beneath her closely cropped pink hair.

She now stopped as he held out a crucifix from her chest and called on TheCrucified Lord and The Risen Savior, as well as The Blessed Mother and The Holy Spirit. She continued to laugh, though she snarled, and then growled, as he dipped his hands into the bowl of holy water that waited next to him. He flung it at the demonic entity that waited to assault him and destroy him, though biding its time, waiting her him to succumb to the frailties of mortal flesh ravaged by old age and despair.

“I cast you into hell, with the devil and his angels. Depart from this sacred place, ye worker of iniquity, you abomination of transgressions, you vile Satanic whore and mother of devils. Depart to whence you came and to the hell where you belong.”

Suddenly, she had changed, and was now once more Lynette, who looked at him piteously.

“Grandfather, you are a sick man,” she said. “You are losing your mind. You are hallucinating. Please, let me help you. I am not dead. It was all a big mistake. It was a trick.”

“Shut up, lying bitch from hell,” Aleksandre shouted as his terror welled up inside him to such an extent he turned it into a kind of energy that he directed towards the Lord and the Blessed Virgin, invoking the Holy Spirit to deliver him from this evil deception. He knew he had not the strength to defeat this unspeakable, unfathomable spawn of the devil, which had found a place of refuge in a sacred house of God. Only God Himself could do it. He all but gave up, knowing that if God would abandon him to the power that now ravaged him, then he himself was helpless to defeat it.

“Destroy this evil, Lord God,” he said, now deciding not even to address the deceptive entity that now stood before him, looking at him sadly with the face of his dead granddaughter. For some reason beyond his comprehension, he moved to the Eucharistic Table where lay the dead corpse of Sierra Lawson and, for no conscious reason, he extracted the black handled athame plunged deep inside the abdomen of the corpse. He drew back with it, and then pointed it at the vengeful wraith, and approached her.

Lynette now pleaded with her grandfather to put the blade down, but Aleksandre ignored her, even as she met his advance by approaching him, with now tearful entreaties to let her help him, to allow her to heal him. He looked at the blade, caked with the blood and gore of Sierra Lawson, and then at the form of his niece. Yet, as he looked within her eyes, he could see the heart-wrenching, destitute truth, that what walked the earth this night was a creature not of the living, but of the dead and the damned.

He plunged the blade deep within the chest of the approaching girl’s form, whereupon a piercing scream shattered the night. The wraith suddenly seemed to break apart, and turn to dust and to ashes, for a brief second revealing the true form of the spirit of evil deception, before it finally, with a deafening shriek, collapsed and faded into nothing but barren, scorched death.

The wind blew, and then it howled. Aleksandre knew he might well yet not make it out of this church alive. Yet, he had to make the attempt. Whatever had transpired here this night had only occurred due to his failure to understand the seriousness of the foe that invaded the sanctity of his sacred abode. He had prepared for this night, had meditated for years, and when the time came, he was yet unprepared.

Now, he looked about him, within his church, The Church Of The Blessed Sacrament, and saw the devils handiwork. Satan had almost destroyed him this night, and in the process made a mockery of his life’s work, all in one night, in almost one fell swoop.

Aleksandre made it out the door. The fever raged. He was burning. He was dizzy and nauseous, and on the verge of total collapse. He feared that if he collapsed out here, it would be over. He would never recover. The wind blew, as if in a mocking harangue of his weakness and failure. He tried to make it towards his nieces Toyota, the one possession that she left to him upon her death. He had never driven it. In all these weeks, he wondered if it would start. He had not driven in so long, he wondered if he could now do it, especially in the state he was in now.

He fumbled for the keys, until he found them and unlocked the door. He got in the drivers seat, and turned the ignition. It did not seem as though the Toyota, parked and not driven for so long, would ever start, but after three unsuccessful attempts, the engine started, though it ran weakly at first.

He found himself entertaining the ridiculous thought that he should not be driving this car. His license had long ago expired, after all, and if the police stopped him, they might well give him a ticket. He laughed at the thought, and then he cried in desperation, as he turned on the headlights. The engine was now running smoothly and strongly, but he knew he had to be cautious driving away from here. He was still very weak, and very sick.

He looked ahead, and that is when he saw the pile of crumpled clothing in the driveway in front of him. He left the car running, and though he was still weak and dizzy, and deathly feverish, he got out and walked with a great sense of dread to where the pile of abandoned clothing stood waiting for him, almost in front of the door, as though left haphazardly for the purposes of a donation to the poor and downtrodden.

On closer inspection, however, he recognized the items of used clothing as the faded, tattered jeans worn this day by Joseph Karinsky. Along with these was his shirt, his undergarments, even his shoes and socks. As he sat pondering what this could possibly mean, he heard a slight groan from some indeterminate distance and direction. He looked back toward the church, and saw the puddle of blood, soon expanded by another drop illuminated by the streetlights as the wind howled in laughter.

Khioska looked up and saw the dreadful, terrifying sight of Karinsky, impaled on the now single stake that made up the vertical spike of the cross, running the course through his rectum, all the way up through his mouth. Joseph moaned in agony, as he shook uncontrollably, though every movement seemed to increase his already unbearable misery to an unfathomable degree. Khoska felt the entire world spinning around and the ground giving way with him, even before he saw the outline of the horrible black vulture, even now gorging on the exposed flesh at Karinski’s crotch.

Khoska cried and fell to the ground, even as he thought he heard the somewhat whimsically childlike summons of a distant voice, calling for a child, or perhaps a pet, by the name of Cynthia.