Thursday, September 3, 2015

To Reign In Hell: Introduction -- Hell is Murky

In a 1991 Rolling Stone article entitled "Sympathy for the Devil: It's not easy being evil in a world that's gone to hell," Lawrence Wright found several of Anton LaVey's autobiographical claims to be wholly or partially untrue. Since that time Wright's findings have been reproduced by many people wishing to "debunk" LaVey: estranged daughter Zeena's "Anton LaVey: Legend and Reality" is probably the most famous example. This has resulted in a widespread belief that Anton LaVey was an inveterate bullshit artist whose every word was a lie including "a," "and" and "the." A man who died in poverty yet refused to monetize Black Masses is scorned as a con artist who was only in it for the money. And Satanism, a philosophy that shows remarkable integrity and coherence throughout LaVey's career, is dismissed summarily as fraud from a fraudster.

As with William S. Burroughs and Andy Warhol, Anton LaVey's persona is one of the most important parts of his oeuvre. Any study of LaVey and his philosophy must touch upon the facts of his life and any serious biographer must ascertain where truth ends and fiction begins – and when that question matters.

* * * * *
Several weeks ago Adam Lanza slaughtered twenty children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School. Every bedtime since Annamaria has insisted we read Sesame Street's Imagination Song. Every bedtime since I have choked up as Ernie sails off into the sunset.

"And the nicest place is the middle of imagination," I sing, my voice cracking as my daughter nestles heavy-eyed against me, "when I'm there."

Many of my fellow Americans think I have been duped. They have decided those murdered children and grieving families are all part of a plot to take away our guns. James Tracy, a media studies professor at Florida Atlantic University, is claiming that the emergency personnel on the scene were really "crisis actors" hired by the Obama administration and states "one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation's news media have described." On Senator and Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's website, The Daily Paul, staffer vinceableworld writes in a since-deleted post:
So far I've seen dozens of conflicting stories. I've seen some very convincing theories of actors playing roles. I've seen some fairly conclusive evidence of look-alikes... I've watched a police trooper threaten to PROSECUTE people putting out "disinformation." 
I have not seen ONE SHRED of evidence that any kids are dead or that the Sandy Hook massacre even happened. All we have is hearsay - in a court of law that doesn't mean a darn thing. 
So tell me what evidence have you seen that these kids died and haven't been shipped off to... god knows where?
They are just crazies, I tell myself as I wipe my eyes and Annamaria smiles softly and nuzzles her pillow. And of course they are: nobody sane could possibly believe this was a false flag operation. Yet as the debate over gun regulation has continued it has becomes increasingly clear the Powers That Be are taking seriously the loons we've come to call without a scrap of irony "Sandy Hook Truthers." The NRA and its paid politicians have circled the wagons, more concerned they might lose their gun market than that more children might lose their lives. It is convenient for them to act as if those grieving parents are just using it to promote their liberal New England agenda, as if those dead children washed off the blood and went home, as if the whole thing never happened and we can safely ignore anyone who says otherwise.   

I no longer weep for what we have lost.  Now I weep for what we have become.

* * * * *

When I started this book I used noted American genealogist William Adams Reitweisner's LaVey family tree to trace Anton LaVey's paternal line back to Nebraska and a liquor salesman named Leon Levy. Levy rose to some prominence in Omaha only to run afoul of gangster "Irish Tom" Dennison. As part of Dennison's efforts to gain control of Omaha's saloons and drinking establishments Leon Levi was arrested numerous times on trumped-up licensing charges. Later his wife divorced him, yelling in court "I would rather go to the pen for twenty years than stay with my husband for one day!" and charging him with cruelty and "overindulgence on his part of the cup that cheers."

It was a magnificent beginning. It had family drama and a powerful crime boss who used the law as a club to get what he wanted. LaVey claimed his father had been a liquor salesman: it would make perfect sense for Michael Levy  to continue in Leon's trade. I patted myself on the back, secure I had just figured out a great deal of what made Anton LaVey tick and certain that it would only get easier going forward.

Then I discovered that the "Michael Levy" in question was 15 years' older than Anton LaVey's father.  And that he died in 1931 rather than 1992.

And that I had just wasted several weeks following one of America's leading genealogists down a rabbit hole. 
* * * * *
"I’d rather have my background shrouded in mystery," Anton LaVey told Lawrence Wright. As was often the case, he got what he wanted. I have presented the available primary evidence and attempted to place it in the context of its time and place. When lucky, I have been able to find a newspaper clipping, a census record, a city directory listing or some other scraps of data which confirm or refute LaVey's claims. More often I have been forced to rely on conjecture and speculation, or to admit that it is anybody's guess as to what happened. There is very little certainty to be had when looking at Anton LaVey's life story, only a Rorschach blot to be interpreted as the viewer will. And as with a Rorschach blot those interpretations often tell us more about the biographer than the subject.

In The Satanic Bible LaVey promised "Here you will find bedrock."  There's very little bedrock here, just some guideposts pointing out interesting anomalies in the swamp. Those determined to think Anton LaVey a fraud will not be dissuaded by evidence of his integrity; those convinced he is a liar will not be persuaded by examples of his honesty; those who imagine him a devil-worshipping reptilian Illuminatus will not be silenced by inconvenient facts. Satan has always been misunderstood and those who will take up his cause can expect no better.

But enough from me. Who cares about the porter when you're standing at the Gates of Hell?  Hopefully my words have whetted your desire: enjoy the performance!

Kenaz Filan
Newark, New Jersey, 2015

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Case for Kishinev: More on Anton LaVey's Grandmother (Now With Excerpts!!!)

When I began research on To Reign in Hell, I was trying to figure out the reality behind Luba Coulton's stories to her grandson. It has been an uphill battle.  The Coultons were working-class folk who received little media coverage. The European records were subject to several wars and a well-funded, meticulously organized effort to wipe them from memory.  But by comparing those stories to history and to the scant available evidence I have been able to trace a tentative roadmap of Grandma Luba's early career.

Every available document -- census forms, marriage licenses, birth certificates, etc. -- lists Luba Coulton's birthplace as "Russia." Luba was also Jewish: among other evidence, her August 1955 funeral was held at San Francisco's Sinai Memorial Chapel. Hence she was almost certainly born in the western part of the Russian Empire, as Jewish residence in the Russian Empire was ruled by the Pale of Settlement. With very few exceptions, Mother Russia was "beyond the pale" for Jews so this would place Luba's birthplace in the area of modern-day Poland and Ukraine.

On the 1940 census Luba Coulton tells the census taker she had four years of education. This may not sound impressive but few Jewish girls in 1880's Russia were so lucky. Religious schooling was the only education available for most Russian Jews and that only for boys.  There was one notable exception, the region between the Pnut and Dneister Rivers known as the Bessarabia Oblast.

The Russians won Bessarabia in two of their many conflicts with the Ottomans -- the 1806-1812 and 1828-29 wars, to be more precise. But gaining territory is one thing: ruling it is quite another. Bessarabia was mostly wild, the populace largely Romanian-speaking peasants who were no more sympathetic to the Russians than to the Turks or Austrians. To cement its hold the Empire passed laws encouraging emigration. Farming, inn-keeping and other jobs forbidden to Jews elsewhere within the Pale were allowed in Bessarabia: secular schooling was available to Jews in Bessarabia's main city, Kishinev.  Many found these opportunities irresistible. In 1847 Kishinev was home to 10,000 Jews: by 1897 50,237 Jews made up 46% of Kishinev's population. 

Russian primary schools of the time were open to students 8-11 -- a four-year curriculum. Only a small fraction of the Russian Empire's children received even that much schooling. Luba could read and write in several unrelated languages which each used different alphabets. In 1894 only 21% of the Empire's subjects could read and write at all. Those four years of schooling suggest that education was deeply important to Luba's parents. And they also suggest that her family was of relatively modest means since they could not afford further private education for their daughter.

In Secret Life of a Satanist  LaVey recounts Grandma Luba's accounts "of bloody battles fought against Turkish and Russian invaders [and] between Hungary and Romania over the rights to rule." The Ottomans and Russians fought yet again in 1877-1878, when Luba was nine. Kishinev was a major staging area and Luba would have seen Russian battalions and artillery parading through the streets. But though there was a large Romanian population in Kishinev there were few ethnic Hungarians, certainly not enough to fight for the right to rule.

Still, there is linguistic and other evidence linking Grandma Luba to Hungary. LaVey talks about his great-uncle Laszlo and claims he took "Szandor" to honor a relative: both names are more Budapest than Bucharest.  And in the Chicago Sentinel we find entries linking Gertrude Levey's older sisters to activities at Agudas Achim, a synagogue for Chicago's Hungarian Jewish community.  It is difficult to explain these anomalies.  But one of the more plausible answers lies in a location near the Empire's border which had a sizable population of Hungarian-speaking Jews -- a wooded land the Hungarians called Erdély and the Romanians Ardeal or Transilvania.

At the end of the 17th century the Austrian Empire won Transylvania. There as in Bessarabia the ruling Austrians faced a restive Romanian population: there they also encouraged Jewish emigration as a buffer against unrest.  In 1785-86 there were not quite 9,000 Jews in the Transylvania region (the Principality of Transylvania plus the neighboring counties of Partium and Banat): by 1867 there were over 100,000.  These Jews spoke Hungarian -- one of the official languages of what became after 1867 the Austro-Hungarian Empire -- and typically identified as Hungarians of the Mosaic faith.

This made them especially unpopular with the Romanian peasants. Anti-Semitism was already deeply ingrained in Romanian culture: in 1716 Demetrius Kantemir wrote the Moldavians (Romanians) "considered it hardly a mortal crime to kill a Turk, a Tatar, or a Jew."  Throughout Europe ethnic communities were coming together to demand recognition as the age of empires gave way to the age of nations.  In October 1784 an uprising began amongst Romanian serfs in Transylvania: it ended in February 1785 with Hungarian authorities publicly torturing the rebels to death. To Transylvania's Romanians the Jewish newcomers were agents of their oppressors, devils who broke Horea and Cloșca on the wheel like they had broken Jesus on the cross.  

But while tensions were high in 19th-century Transylvania, Luba Coulton's parents might have left for other reasons. Transylvania was a remote part of the Austrian Empire with little in the way of industry and little opportunity for advancement. Kishinev, by contrast, was a booming town strategically located along the route to Odessa and the Black Sea. This excerpt from Pinkas Hakehillot Romania (Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities in Romania) might explain how Hungarian-speaking Jews wound in the Russian Empire:
In the 1850s and the 1860s the [Russian] authorities encouraged trade with Romania, Austria and Russia. The Jews who came from those countries were permitted to reside in Kishinev and other places and to deal and trade and be craftsmen. The permit was good for one year and could be renewed. Many Jews who were foreign citizens were able to deal in trade and to establish industrial plants and craft workshops. 
The case for Kishinev is largely circumstantial, but it is the best explanation I can find for the data at hand. Anybody with evidence that would contradict or confirm this narrative is urged to contact me:  I also welcome alternative explanations which better address the available information.  In the meantime, I leave you with an excerpt from the actual manuscript itself -- a few paragraphs from Chapter 4: The Dogs of War (1938-41).

On Thursday, May 27, 1937 the Golden Gate Bridge opened: some 200,000 pedestrians made their way over the 6,450-foot bridge spanning San Francisco and Marin Counties across San Francisco Bay. Though he did not cross riding a unicycle, tap-dancing or walking backward as some did, Howard Levey was among those making the crossing. He and his parents would soon cross again. Ninety years earlier fortune-hunters came to San Francisco to strike it rich: in 1938 the Leveys left San Francisco for a comfortable life and home with a back yard.

If Mike and Gertrude Levey hoped things would get better so too did Mill Valley. The Great Fire of July 2-5, 1929 burned 2,500 acres and 117 homes: a few months later came the Great Depression. The town's businessmen hoped the bridge would bring new families to their community. Perhaps they were discussing prospective townsfolk over breakfast at Espoti's the morning the Leveys moved in.  Mill Valley needed people more polished than the WPA workers slurping coffee at the counter, they might say, but more sensible than those artists and Bohemians taking over summer cottages San Francisco's ex-wealthy could no longer afford. Had they known of the Leveys as the sun drove the last of the diaphanous redwood-scented fog from Mt. Tamalpais they would have certainly declared the family just the right sort.  

As America was gearing up for the horrors of war, Howard was perusing horror novels like Bram Stoker's Dracula. He combined the Gothic imagery therein – and later the peasants and pitchforks of Universal films – with Grandma Luba's tales. The Transylvania she knew only from her parents' accounts was re-envisioned as a dark wellspring of magic, a place where he could set himself apart from the suburban blandness that surrounded him.  Like many first-generation Americans of the day, Gertrude and Michael Levey were products of the melting pot. They showed little interest in their heritage or in what was transpiring in the Old World: neither were they affiliated with any of the local synagogues or Jewish organizations. While Howard knew little about Judaism and felt little affinity for his Jewish heritage, Count Dracula was a far more accessible and welcoming presence. And because Luba came from Vlad Tepes's kingdom her grandson could claim a link to the vampire prince and his power. 

Friday, May 1, 2015


It's been at least a decade since I could write off my failings as youthful indiscretions, and at least a decade before I can start blaming them on second childhood.  But though I have still not learned how to act my age, neither can I ignore it.  Statistics say I have more days behind me than before me. Whether the curtain has just opened or is about to close, I am in the third act of my life's 3-Act Play (Spoiler Alert: I die at the end).

A recent physical garnered me a clean bill of health. I am in excellent shape for 50. I only notice the bad shoulder when I move a certain way, feel the bum knee when I'm walking up a steep incline, lose my breath on the fourth flight of stairs. My capacity for love has only grown: my libido is another story.  I'm not (yet) a doddering old man but neither am I a virile young stallion in peak physical condition. And over the coming years those little problems will likely become bigger ones.

I know now that many of my childhood hopes will go unrealized. I will never become a great musician; never gain fluency in any language save English; never become a physician, lawyer or college professor.  Those dreams died before the dreamer and won't be resurrected. While I'll surely learn new things as the years progress my days of Bowie-esque self-reinvention are over.  The toolkit I have acquired to date is what I carry through the years ahead.

But amidst my losses I remain keenly aware of all I have. There may be other lovers and the light between us may die but the partnership Kathy and I have created will never be duplicated.  For fifteen years and counting we have transmuted each others' failings into strengths. We have stayed together through good times and bad, at our best and at our worst:  always we have acted from a place of love. No one else will shape my soul the way she has and no one else will be mother to our child.

November 28, 2011 marked our last great Transmutation, as we shed all my other masks and became parents to Annamaria Sigyn Estelle Filan.  Since that time I've struggled mightily with who I was and what I was to become. Caring for Annamaria has goaded me past all my limits. The years since her birth have been in many ways an Ordeal:  my writing interests have been put on indefinite hold and I remain unsure where, if anywhere, they will go from here  Yet though "Daddy" may sometimes drive me to my knees, it is far and away the best role I have ever played.

Through my life with Kathy and Annamaria I've come to understand something of what Pietas entails. I have a responsibility to protect my child as I am able from this world's dangers and to teach her what I can about its wonders.  This is not just a legal fiction but a fierce all-consuming call  that resonates not only through my being but through all of Being.  I act in the sacred Love fueled by Fear, the love of the wolf for cubs and the herd for calves, the drive to protect and propagate the species. It is a power which reaches from the base of the animal kingdom up to the Gods who celebrate, rescue and mourn Their children.

That love is its own prayer and its own immortality. The past can be rewritten to glorify the villains and demonize the victors: it can be forgotten altogether; it may crumble into dust and fade into heat death and meaninglessness. But it still stands before Eternity no matter how odious our stupidity or how pretty our lies.   There is and was and ever shall be this moment when I am lying here beside my daughter, always the soft rhythmic thumping of her feet against my side as she soothes herself, always the warm soft darkness whispering to us and to all that we love and we are loved and we must sleep.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Impietas V: Omnis

[Artaxerxes] therefore gave orders that Mithridates should be put to death by the torture of the boats (σκάφη, skáphe).   Now, this torture of the boats is as follows. Two boats are taken, which are so made as to fit over one another closely; in one of these the victim is laid, flat upon his back; then the other is laid over the first and carefully adjusted, so that the victim's head, hands, and feet are left projecting, while the rest of his body is completely covered up. Then they give him food to eat, and if he refuse it, they force him to take it by pricking his eyes. After he has eaten, they give him a mixture of milk and honey to drink, pouring it into his mouth, and also deluge his face with it.  Then they keep his eyes always turned towards the sun, and a swarm of flies settles down upon his face and hides it completely. And since inside the boats he does what must needs be done when men eat and drink, worms and maggots seethe up from the corruption and rottenness of the excrement, devouring his body, and eating their way into his vitals. For when at last the man is clearly dead and the upper boat has been removed, his flesh is seen to have been consumed away, while about his entrails swarms of such animals as I have mentioned are clinging fast and eating. In this way Mithridates was slowly consumed for seventeen days, and at last died.
Even today scaphism is considered the apex of human cruelty. The idea of binding a man in his own wastes while vermin devour him alive fills us with horror.  But if this is a grievous crime against humanity, how much greater is the wrong we have done the Gods?

Like Artaxerxes we have bound the Divine fast. All the multitudinous Deities, all the Powers of Fire and Ice, all the spirits of sparkling stream and rushing river, of storm and sunshine, mountain and plain -- we have shoved them into a single boat and labeled it "One God."  We have buried Their holy places under cathedrals and churches: we have declared Them mere masks, empty images to decorate the Truth we torture.

We have gorged our captive with sweet praise. We declared him Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnibenevolent. Where have claimed our captive God mighty beyond all comprehension, beyond all measures, beyond all limits.  And yet even as we declared his might we tightened the bonds, leaving Him and His Church an ever shrinking arena while claiming more and more for a god-free society.  And given this treatment it is not surprising our captive has rotted.

An all-benevolent God could not stand by and allow suffering; an all-powerful God could accomplish any goal without causing suffering; an all-knowing God would be aware that this is an imperfect and unjust Universe.  A Creator possessede of all these powers who threw us into this world would be a bloodthirsty sadist, the Demiurge of the Gnostics with a particularly nasty imagination. He certainly would be nobody worthy of worship -- and it is such a short and easy step between One God and none at all.  And so it is that today we find people seeking to understand Deity through these lies, then turning away in disgust when they find only a fly-blown corpse.

If we are to move beyond this we must understand that our Gods are as bound to this World and this Wyrd as we are. Like us They must fight tooth and nail to carve out a place for Themselves and Their loved ones. Like us They err, like us They struggle, like us They create meaning where no meaning existed before.  Let us call Them powerful beyond our understanding and declare Them worthy of honor and respect (what the Anglo-Saxons called weorðscipe).  Let us give Them the veneration They deserve and honor that which They achieved through heroic effort.  But let us understand that we can only know Them by acknowledging both Their strengths and Their flaws; let us know that we do Them no kindness by poisoning Them with absurdity.

Friday, September 26, 2014

FICTION: The Kind That Leaves Me Alone (Excerpt)

Now that he has a couple centuries' worth of oxycodone David guesses he should be happy for pill whores.  He can't pretend Xamanda is anything else as she sleeps beside him beneath the tarp: a junkie knows a junkie sure as he knows his own baby. Once he could have hated her for being so pretty, David thinks as he runs his hand through her fluorescent orange hair. But when you can see somebody's soul there's no joy in degrading her. Nor in knowing she's fond of you, just not so fond as you hoped.

David rolls out of bed and checks the nightstand clock, 4:30 am. Drew's father is bringing him back at 3:00pm and if he finds her pilled out again she's liable to lose the boy altogether.  David sets the alarm for noon then looks for a place where it will take Xamanda time to find the beeping alarm. Finally he puts the clock near the bathroom, throwing last night's panties atop it for good measure. David knows no matter how bad off you was the night before, once you see the toilet you ain't going back to bed without a piss.

And if you're still blocked up from last night's pills you gonna go get a cup of coffee to get the yellow river flowing. By the time Asshole McAsshole the Fourth gets here she'll be fine.

Outside the window above Drew's crib the sky is already catching fire. David can see the razor blade on the coffee table in X-ray relief against the shimmering glass: wax and talcum residue floats grey as the spots on his Daddy's lungs.  Xamanda's not moving, David would be worried if he couldn't hear the soft patter of her heart across the room. That girl don't know when she's had enough. David chuckles. Or maybe she just wants too much.

"Ain't no medicine gonna fix neither of us, darlin'," he says to the smoldering sky. Xamanda stirs but does not wake. David lifts up the tarp and tucks the sheet and comforter around her, it gets cold up here at night and the wiring won't take a space heater even if she wasn't three months behind on her light bill.  He has to stop for a second to admire her, even after a baby her titties still look you in the eye and wink. Then he moves on to the pile of papers on her desk.  

It takes a little digging, she ain't no better keeping records at home, Professor, but finally he finds the disconnect notice in the top right pile. Her Daddy sent money twice, he ought to know to get the account number and pay it hisself.  Amazing what folks forget once they get a brick house.  He finds his flannel shirt beside the nightlight then shoves the notice in the pocket behind his Marlboro Reds. Grown folk can live without power, Lord knows he's done it, but it ain't right for a child to lie scared in the dark.

David walks over to the coffee table and picks up the razor.  He picks up the rolled dollar bill from the floor as he's stepping into his pants, then places it in his left nostril as he carefully scrapes every stain into a grey-white line.  One quick sniff and everything is clean again. David wipes it down with his red hanky to make sure no trace remains should Drew try to stand on the edge, he's bound to start walking any day now, then covers the table with Xamanda's sari fabric.

The stars above Drew's crib are gone now: the moon is fading like Jimson weed closing up for dawn.  David puts the blade in his wallet's credit card slot and scans the place again for incriminating evidence. When he finds none he puts on his baseball cap and pulls the tarp off Xamanda. She stirs and raises her hand, she's fine, she'll be fit as an untuned fiddle tomorrow.  David wishes he could stay like they talked about but he can't help no further now. It's near sunrise but he can still get home without hurrying more than a little bit. And besides, if Asshole raised his voice too loud it might wake David up and that wouldn't be good for nobody.

"See y'all tomorrow night," David whispers in Xamanda's ear, then, hesitant, "I love you." She smiles: David closes his eyes so he cannot see her dreams.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

FICTION: Panic in Detroit (Excerpt)

Pierre knows the Lord means for him to walk among men again. Otherwise He wouldn’t have sent a purple Cadillac, a grocery bag of cash, a steamer trunk of marihuana and pants that fit perfectly.  He who knows all tongues sent His message in the language of scents and snarls:  one whiff and Pierre’s words rose like Ezekiel’s dry bones, Goddamn that smells like some fine muggles.  And while the little fellow’s clothes were past saving the big guy went down with hardly any fight, he barely moved after his friend’s bloody baseball cap landed at his feet till Pierre yes yes Pierre my name is Pierre broke his neck.

The season’s first frost crunches under Pierre’s knees as he kneels. When he finishes drinking from the little fellow’s left leg, not so warm as he might like now but a thin velvet blanket is better than none at all, he looks around for a place to wash. The sand piled by the steam shovel will get the worst stains, but a man, yes a man, needs water to make himself presentable.  He lopes to the stream over the hill, his hands touching the ground till he reminds himself to walk upright.

When Pierre returns the big man is still slouched against the car, his unblinking gaze affixed on heaven tight as his dead hand on his crucifix. Pierre tries to get the Detroit Pistons jersey off but the big man doesn’t want to let go. Of course, he realizes, they were angels. Though I’m not sure why angels had a dead body in their trunk. He ponders this for a moment as the shattered stars twinkle overhead and the first frost crystals form on the little fellow’s bloody torso. Finally Pierre loosens the fingers as carefully as he could, only breaking two, and gets the jersey and the long undershirt beneath.  The cross reflects moonlight on the big angel’s chest between THUG and LIFE.

“Agnus dei qui tolli peccata mundi, miserere nobis,” Pierre sings as he closes the angel’s eyes and remembers the priest with the pale hands. “Retournez-vous aux ciel, Ange d’Seigneur” Pierre forgets the Latin but he remembers Notre-Dame de Montréal and expects an angel’s more likely to know Français than English.  “Merci pour votre aide et pour le muggles. Vous-etes un chat froid et un gros papa. Adieux.”

Once he puts a new hole in the belt the big denims fit like they were made for him. Pierre remembers watching kids dressed like this from the woods. Back then he wondered why they were bothering with clothes at all though of course not in words. Now Pierre understands perfectly. They give a man air and let him feel nature on his nature in a matter of speaking. And the shoes fit perfectly and even have his lucky number 15 on the sole.  Like clockwork, baby he remembers the experiments, of course, a beast can only take what’s thrown to it but a man can try to understand his situation.

There’s a shovel in the trunk beside the dead body. Pierre figures if the angels were kind enough to see that this man got a fitting burial it was only right he should do the same. Within a few minutes there are three holes, Pierre’s new clothes are a bit soiled but nothing a washboard and some soap won’t take care of. The man in the trunk is already stiff and some sticky unidentifiable liquid has stained the rug they wrapped him in. Pierre moves the bundle gingerly and just manages to avoid the maroon glop, soil goes away with a wash but body fluids stain forever. The big angel goes quietly and falls peacefully to his final rest. For a moment Pierre ponders what to do with the little fellow’s remains then realizes he can pick them up with the shovel. A short stroll to gather him together and soon all three are properly interred.

The clouds are gathering over the moon. Pierre smells freezing rain coming in, he barely feels the elements but he knows a man finds shelter for himself and certainly for his automobile. He looks around a bit for the crank, then decides he will explore Mr. Stanley’s invention out later. Picking up the back end like a wheelbarrow Pierre shoves the Cadillac into a thicket, not that he needs to hide it, nobody works a quarry in a Michigan winter. But he remembers the man who let them ride in the Steamer had a garage put aside for it, just like a stall only with no hay on the floor.  A machine slower than a horse and twice as filthy, Antoine said afterward as he rubbed white spirits on his soot-stained cravat. Behold the future.

“They ain’t near so sooty no more!” Pierre announces proudly, his hand on the hood. He realizes no one is listening of course but keeps talking anyway, he’ll need the practice if the Lord is sending him among men again. “Once I learn to drive we’ll be traveling in style, daddy-O! This is a Cadillac and they’re real fine cars. I saw an ad for one in a magazine in …” he pauses “when President Eisenhower was in office. They’re a smooth ride with V8 power and interior luxury. People see Professor Chauffant pulling up in a horseless carriage like this, there’s no telling how much elixir they’ll buy.” Pierre pauses again, his eyes downcast this time. “Or would, I guess.”

They left half a joint in the driver’s side ashtray, they never got a chance to lock the door and Pierre figures every gravedigger should earn an honest wage, especially considering his clients are no longer in need of anything. And since the big angel had a lighter in his pocket, Pierre is especially certain it’s an omen. The locusts are quiet, they’ve been driven away by the presence of God or maybe they just don’t like the taste of red velvet. What are we, moths? they ask as they fade into the smoke.  Goodbye. Goodbye. Goodbye.

Pierre looks in the back seat. The grocery bag isn’t full like he first thought but there are rolled bills covering the bottom, mostly twenties and fifties.  He grabs a couple rolls and discovers neatly trimmed stacks of newspaper substituting for currency beneath the first bill. I thought Antoine was the only one knew that trick.  Pierre shakes his head. Looks like these fellows was even touchier than that hotel manager. There’s still a fair bit of money though, enough to last a while and he won’t need to worry about muggles either, he’s got a stash that would have made Fat Tyrell envious.

An owl hoots by the stream. Pierre grins broadly as he realizes the enormity of what God has gifted unto him.  He speaks aloud again, hoping his voice will carry through the water. “Maybe we can’t have Professor Chauffant’s Medicine Show, but we’re going to be the heppest vipers in…” he looks down at the newspaper in the back seat. “Detroit, baby! Detroit!” 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

FICTION: Shatterer of Worlds (Excerpt)

“No sir that would not work.” Pierre says to the tramp in the battered plaid suit. “Some years ago I lit an entire shack full of dynamite.  While the experience left me insensible for a brief period I remained, as you can see, fully intact.”

Everybody guffaws as the plaid tramp passes the bottle to the little lame hobo.  Pierre remembers this from before the darkness descended, stories around a campfire to pass the time, a place where a stranger can speak the truth knowing nobody’s going to believe him anyway. 

“You hear that, Chuck?” the weasel-faced boy by the tarpaper lean-to asks the burly one-eared man squatting beside him.  “Think he could take a mortar round like you did at Guadacanal?”

The burly man looks up, the stubble on his jaw nearly as long as his buzzcut. “It was at Chosun, not that a little pansy like you would know about war.”

The weasel-faced boy sneers. “Not that you’d know who your Daddy is.”

“What did you just say?” Chuck asks slowly as he stands.  Pierre holds up his hands, palms facing outward as if he could shove away the jagged anger rising at the fire’s edge.

“Easy, cats. No need for aggression, let’s have a chilled out session, you need some relief and I got some sweet leaf.” He snaps his fingers as Chuck’s rage cools back down to annoyance and reaches into the backpack for the joint lying atop the shotgun shells. “The smoke is my deliverance and salvation, keeps me out of bad situations, provides my questions an explanation.  And if you two gentlemen will partake I’m sure you’ll be able to put your differences behind you.”

“How about that, Chuck?” The boy turns his attention to Pierre.  “He ain’t just good at exploding, he can rhyme too.”

Chuck stares at Pierre’s cigarette.  “Don’t you read the papers? That stuff will make you crazy.”

“My experience, sir, is quite the opposite.” Pierre strikes a kitchen match against the sole of his boot. “When I first met Mary Jane, the weight of my sorrows pressed me so that I could but cry out in my despair. And then, as I wept and raged in a forest, a little Mexican man came to me with a fat smoldering reefer.  One draw of that fine Mexicali tea and I began to feel like myself again.  I tried to pass it back but he said, ‘No, all yours’ and disappeared.”

Pierre inhales, then blows out smoke and hands the joint to the plaid tramp.

“I still believe him to be an angel sent to offer me balm for my affliction. And since that moment I have always taken pains to keep Miss Mary Jane near at hand.”

“Pass that over here,” the boy says. “Ain’t every day you get to smoke reefer from an angel.”

Chuck grunts his disapproval. “Johnny, you gonna be even funnier than you already are.”

“Weren’t you listening?” The boy examines the joint. “This comes from God.”

The little lame hobo looks up. “You oughtn’t be mocking a man who’s telling the truth.”

Johnny starts to respond but something in the old man’s unblinking grey gaze stops him. The fire crackles as he turns to Pierre.

“I met another of your kind a long time ago. I wasn’t no older than Johnny nor no smarter. This one looked my age when I met him but he was older. I bet he still looks the same even though I don’t.”

“Yes sir,” Pierre hesitates for a second. “He probably does.”

“I was working in Michigan then, at the Callimac Mine on the Gogebic Range.  You know where that is?”

“Yes sir,” Pierre says as he stares at the flames reflecting in the old man’s eyes like Diogenes-lanterns. “On the Upper Peninsula.  I used to know that area real well.”

“Business was still just holding on then. Everyone knew things was near tapped out.  There wasn’t but a skeleton crew working by the winter of ’16. Everyone else had been let go and I was planning to head to Detroit to see if they had anything for me in the new automobile plants. That was when we started dying.”

The scent of piñon pines wafts on the evening breeze.  Pierre remembers the smell of balsam firs and white spruce and frost over swampland: he draws on the joint as if its cherry might drive away the long-ago cold.

“It was a hard winter and we lost one with every snowfall. At first we figured they was just moving on like we was going to move on.  Then right before the New Year we found what was left of Aleksi.  Jefferson, the security guard, said it was a bear. Only he couldn’t explain how this bear tore a grown man to pieces and didn’t leave no footprints.”

Pierre passes to the little lame man, who shakes his head.  He stretches the joint out toward Johnny but the boy stands motionless as his sneer melts into terror.

“Two nights later it snowed again and we heard shots in the dark. Next morning Jefferson was gone.” The old man takes a gulp from his pint. “Later someone told me they found his badge and his gun in the woods that spring. Never heard of them finding anything else.”

Chuck eyes Pierre warily: the plaid tramp hesitates before taking the joint from him. Pierre stares straight ahead into the fire, hoping the last dancing flames will distract him from memories of loud noises and acrid smells and a brief stinging spark exploding into shrieking red velvet shreds. The old man stares into the flames with Pierre, his knuckles white as he clutches the bottle.

“That was when we all decided to go. But the railroad wasn't running and all the roads were blocked. There was no getting out save with a dogsled or a snowmobile and we didn’t have neither.  Big Bjorn remembered Jefferson had a pair of snowshoes. But then Kowalski pointed out even so you couldn’t walk to Ironwood without spending the night in the woods. And wasn’t a man in that camp willing to do that."

“Winters are hard in that part of the country,” Pierre says, trying to keep the words coming. He can feel the smooth brass of the Pinkerton man’s watch and wonders what time it is now, a beast of the field knows light and dark but a man can read a clock, it was three seconds past 8:38 when he came in and when he looks down again it is exactly 9:32.

“Since we had nothing else to do, we all decided to wait for death or the train, whichever got through first. Turned out to be neither.”

The dancing flames are flickering lower now, nothing left but embers and fear and the little lame man sitting on his orange carton. Pierre extends his hands, easy cats, and the plaid tramp becomes a blank gap-toothed smile but Johnny and Chuck are out of range, he can feel their terror but can’t snuff out its locust-song. The lame man eyes him quizzically.

“The other fellow was different. You make folks calm. He couldn’t help but make you feel like there were spiders inside you.”

Chuck moves away, Pierre thinks he might run into the hills but instead he grabs a handful of sticks and kindling and throws it on the smoldering fire.

“I was the one keeping watch when he walked into camp. He didn’t leave no tracks in the snow. The way that thing in the woods didn’t leave no footprints.” The old man drains the rest of his pint. “The way your boots weren’t muddy even though you had to cross a creek to get here.”

“Quit it, Pops,” Johnny says, his voice a high whimper. “This ain’t funny no more.”

“Wasn’t funny at all,” Pops says, smiling faintly despite himself. “I wanted to run but I couldn’t turn away even though looking into those eyes was like sticking your head into the maw of hell.”

Not like hell, Pierre thinks, like a great empty void and at the bottom snow and stars and hands so pale the moonlight reveals knuckle-bones beneath the skin and a sad-eyed boy singing Domini Deus Noster, Miserere Nobis.

The old man continues. “He told me there was no monster in the woods, just a soul in torment and that it wouldn't trouble us again. I asked him what he meant and he said he couldn't take away its suffering but he eased it for a little while. Then he laughed and I swear to God I soiled myself when I heard that laugh.”

Singing till you can’t help but sing with him, Miserere Nobis, and then you remember language and fall sobbing to your knees in the snow and there is no singing, just a pale hand on your head and a soft voice saying “A beast of the field howls but a man has words to sing with.”

“The next morning they finally cleared the tracks and we all left on the next train. Except Kowalski. We found him in his bunk with his throat slit.”

“Stop it, Pops,” Johnny is nearly crying now.  “Stop it.”

“What’s the matter, Johnny? Thought you didn’t believe in any of this bullshit.” The old man laughs as he turns again to Pierre. “Don’t worry, kid.  If you meant us harm we’d all be dead right now, ain’t that right?”

Pierre hesitates then decides he doesn’t want to go to Dr. Oppenheimer with lies on his conscience.

“Yes sir,” he nods. “That’s right.”