Almost fourteen years ago Ted and Glenda Eyerstone were married in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in a small hideaway chapel, on the outskirts of that famous mountain town. It was an elopement; they could not wait for their planned date some three months later. And there were some less dramatic, practical reasons as well. The honeymoon was spent alone in a small cabin tucked high in the foothills, with a spa, a bar, a king-sized bed. They didn't leave the cabin for three days. They still had their ceremony later for friends and family, in a bigger church with an intricately latticed multi-tiered cake, celtic music strummed by a friend of the bride who played for free, massive explosions of hyacinth, peonies, and blood-velvet roses, a proper minister, a lavish wedding dress, a teary-eyed father either glad to finally be giving her away or simply overcome by the moment. And this second wedding day was beautiful, moving and made Glenda very happy and Ted very relieved when it was finally over. But they had that secret between them: they were already married. Privately, they enjoyed this special knowledge that only the two of them knew, and Glenda hoped no one else would find out about for the rest of their lives.
No one ever did. A secret sunk is a secret well-kept.
Ted stood on the balcony of their 12th story apartment, looking down at the city sparkling many-colored jewels in the night. His wife was inside on the sofa-- now a good thirty pounds heavier than the day they were married-- pretending to read a magazine, a Cosmopolitan, or Vogue. She was working on her fifth glass of wine and he was well into his third Brass Monkey. A light tinkling of some anonymous jazz played on the stereo. Ted had introduced her Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, and others, early on in their marriage, but somehow only the most platitudinous, non-confrontational jazz appealed to her. And now that's all she listened to, almost out of spite, Ted thought. They had just returned from a dinner celebrating the retirement of one of her bosses at the CarpetWorld marketing firm she had worked for all these years. He could smell the leftover scent of her perfume, something bottom-heavy from the Amber family, still clinging to his nostrils, like a lingering snide remark. He was a chemist who worked for a small local perfumery, and it was "his bag"-- as Glenda liked to spit out, lushly at any social event or gathering, in a taxi to a driver with sunken stars for eyes, on the phone to telemarketers confused by anyone unusual enough to try to have a conversation with them. She never bought or used any of the perfumes he created for the company, or any of the other companies he'd worked for during in the past fourteen years. He stopped giving them as gifts to her early on in their marriage. But she loved to tell the world he invented perfumes for a living. Only her manner in telling was like someone trying to sell a clunker to a high school kid by telling them about all the hot women he's had in the backseat over the years.
It was something she had said, of course. Wasn't it always? One of her co-workers, some alcoholic swooning salesman named Rex, had leaned his rosy snout well into Glenda's pumped-up cleavage and took a deep snort, then commented something banal about her "enticing odor". She reeked like a dead tree slathered in cinnamon oil! Get it right, asshole! But no, Ted was his usual subdued, passive self and downed drink after drink, shrivelling up a bit more with each one.
When one of the office girls, Sheila Something, blurted out drunkly at him, "Why are you so quiet Ted!" he nearly sprang from his coiled rattlesnake position and hurled himself clear over the table, through the gathering storm of cigarette and cigar smoke and residue of office gossip and bolts of shrieking laughter like lightning, to clutch both hands around her tiny neck, squeezing hard, too hard and fast and bloodlusty for anyone to prevent her certain death. It was a question he heard every time he went out with his wife and after years of stuttering out lame explanations-- "Im a happy-go-lucky introvert!", "Well, you know, I'm a scientist by nature, and chemist by profession, and our types tend to sit back and observe the world..."-- he finally came to the conclusion a pale polite smile and bobbing of the head was the best response.
At the time Ted was not doing so well with his company, and his salary and commission had been cut dramatically. When a waiter passed by, Glenda patted the boy on his ass and said for all to hear, "If my husband had an ass this tight, I wouldn't care if I had to pay all the bills!" They all turned and looked at him, . "Haha, dear."
Within a week his company regretted to inform him that they were no longer in need of his services. They wanted to go with a newer, fresher team. Team? He was the only one getting the ax!
"You know the game, Ted," his immediate boss, Franklin Invernes, was saying as Ted packed away his supplies, "The owners just don't understand that inspiration for new and appealing colonges is not something that can be cornered, defined and put on a deadline... you're a good guy, Ted, a talented guy, Ted, and you've made this company more money than Gene or Rene even realize..." Then Franklin, that vacuum of forget already forming, ceased to speak. He could of just as easily been an surfboard leaning against the wall with a placating smile airbrushed on it.
As he carried his box through the maze of hallways to the elevator, Grigory Vintii, one of the company's salesmen and happy-hour comedian, came out of a glass door leading to the graphics department and patted him on the back. Vintii had made a small fortune last year off Ted's line of curry-chutney, and other indian cuisine-themed perfumes, with a top note of applescent and a fougere base.
"Say, old sport, you're not going to come back with a load of guns in your trenchcoat and blast up the joint, are ya old pal.. heh heh..."
"I don't even own a trenchcoat."
Then Vintii's sun set suddenly, going blue-dark morose. "Hey, Teddo, you know I'm just kidding with ya? Good luck and all."
Out on Broad Street he felt underwater, and the box of chemical supplies and personal items weighed in his arms like a ship's anchor. Steamy August clouds lazed overhead. A bus-- not his-- zoomed by too close to the curb, and he felt the rush of air from it like a whitecap. Although it went by at thirty or more miles per hour he saw, or thought he saw, every face on the right side of the bus, and they all had blackened, dead eyes, drooping mouths, dishevelled hermit hair.
The hot lava sun poured down on him. Everything, buildings, cars, people, benches and bus kiosks, seemed to sway like submerged vegetal matter. He began to walk slowly south toward the river. A homeless black man carrying, of all things, a broom, sat up against grafitted wall of an abandoned shopfront and smiled toothlessly at him. Ted went over to him and dropped the box.
"Want to trade?"
A look of incredulity flashed in his bloodshot eyes. "You want my broom, boss? What you got there?"
He looked into the box, studying the items, not really grasping their meaning.
"What am I gonna sweep off the concrete with when I lay down tonight?"
But it was obvious to Ted the man wanted these strange vials and containers and folders more than he wanted the broom. "Here, take it."
As Ted began to walk off with the broom, the black man shouted, "Hey, white boy, what you want with that broom anyhow?"
I'm going to give it to my wife as an anniversary present.
After walking several blocks, his bones like swamp water, Ted noticed a young woman sitting alone at a bus kiosk. He sat on the bench beside, careful not to invade her sphere of comfort. He would not classify her as exactly beautiful, but her large and luminous eyes were intriguing, and her straight black hair cut abruptly just above the shoulders appealing. She wore an orange and black leopard-patterned blouse with thin straps instead of sleeves and tight black leather pants. Her body gave the impression of a long slender candle misshapen over the years with globs of redistributed wax. But her face was young. She was no more than twenty-five. When she turned her head to see who sat down near her, she didn't flash away shyly, like most people would, but her gaze seemed to linger uncritically upon him. Perhaps even a slight smile cracked, after taking notice of the broom which rested between his legs. Then quite suprisingly she said something.
"Are you the kiosk keeper?"
"Hmm? Oh-- this?"
He squeezed the handle tightly with his left hand.
"It's a present for my wife."
The girl scratched her cheek and waved away a fly from her face. He noticed part of a tattoo showing on her right breast. She had a pair of shades saddled on her thigh. She put them on."Well, here's my bus, catch ya--Hope your wife doesn't fly the coop." She boarded the bus and Ted watched as her strange lumbering gait took her all the way to the rear of the bus. Not once did she look his way.
He walked the entire three miles to his apartment building across the river. Halfway across the pedestrian bridge he stood and watched some guy do an epileptic dance. He was wearing really tight blue shorts and a cut-off T-shirt, and sandals on his feet. A baseball cap lay on the ground, apparently there to accept coin from interested onlookers. Past him, the river curled toward Wolf Shoe Bend-- where a mental hospital had been built on top of sacred Cherokee burial land-- its gray-brown water blending finally into the hazy hills. Asocial cumulus clouds hung heavily in the sky, unwilling to consort with their fellow cloud-brothers and form a refreshing afternoon thunderstorm. The nut job's rain dance wasn't working.
By the time Ted reached his apartment, he was hot, humid and angry. It finally sunk in properly. The bastards had fired him! Suprisingly, he found his wife home early from work. She was stirring up a drink a ttheir small pullaway bar underneath the blank wall, where the large original Hallfleece painting used to be. He remembered his wife's expression of revulsion when the delivery men brought it to the apartment (its dimensions were 9' by 6') and unwrapped it from the brown paper covering. "What...in..the. That's hideous!"
"I thought you'd like it Glenda."
"It looks like a poorly drawn monk being flushed down a giant toilet bowl! The colors are so bland and brown and uninspiring. It makes me wanna hurl!"
"I believe that was the artist's intent, Glenda. Why does it always feel like we're in an Edward Albee play?"
"Who's Edward Albee?"
Yes, Ted reminisced, if only their conversations could be like they once were, so literate, so piquant, so arousing. He realized his shirt was soaked in sweat."Hi, honey."
He held the broom bristles-side up, like the farmer's pitchfork in American Gothic.
Glenda nearly spilt her drink, laughing suddenly, violently. "You havent called me 'honey' in fourteen years of marriage, Ted! What have you turned jokester all of a sudden. Brushing up for open mike night down at the Happy Nugget? What the fuck do you have there, Ted!"
She giggled nervously.
"Oh, Glenda, sorry. I almost forgot our anniversary. I got this for you..."
"Ted, you're an idiot. Our anniversary isn't for three months," she blurted, then something distant, like the sun visible from Neptune, dawned on her. "Oh." "Well that's just lovely, Ted. A fucking broom."
"No, dear. I just remembered. Suddenly. Had to grab the first thing I saw you might like. Knowing your unfashionable and eclectic tastes... Well, I thought about bringing the owner of this broom instead for dinner. But I fear he couldn't chew the food you normally prepare.."
"Ok, ass. Why are you home, it's early." She took down her drink in one gulp.
"Babe I got some good news and I gots some bad news..."
It was morning in the summer mountains, but Wilson Greer was already beginning to sweat. And like most mornings these days, he felt his heart skip around in his chest with those increasingly strange beats. He leaned on his walking stick, light-headed. He thought, irrationally, that if he bent over to pick up a curious pebble, or spy the morning routine of dung beetle, he would die. But the dizzying palpitations stopped just as quickly as they came on, and he felt alright again. Stream became unhindered by boulder, river to dreaming ocean, blood flowed to greater blood. In the midst of his having to leave, thoughts of his daughter flooded back-- how many daughters of the forest had he adopted in an effort to forget the real one? Who knows. Memories always bled back from the sleeping oceanic past to disturb his hermitage. There was nothing to do to combat it, he had decided years ago, so he simply just got on with his day.
He didn't want to leave his home of over a decade, but the new road paved through the mountains had brought tourists, more hunters, poachers, adventurous city-dwellers, fat older couples on motorbikes and also, more ranger presence. They were running him off finally (for all these years they knew he was here and cast a blind eye, but now they were going to pave the dirt jeep trail that wound its way around Old Smokestack mountain; he even had a few terse exchanges with Tucker McKinlin, a stern-faced ranger whose wife died of cancer when she was only thirty-five). Twelve beautiful years of isolation dissolved so sweetly into memory, were now coming to an end. His eyes pointed down and focused on one random spot on Cutler's Mountain, thought perhaps he saw a trickle of water. There probably wasn't a forest service road to get his truck anywhere near there. He could never find it anyways. Once under the canopy he'd lose track of the spot; he would never find that exact location, no matter how many times he bore it into memory. He decided to call it... heaven.
The day he left his church, his wife, his daughter, he did not also leave behind his religion. It was just as real-- heavier in fact-- than the materials he hauled up in his truck to build his hideaway home. Only difference was-- and it was a big difference-- that now he preached to the trees, to the rocks, to the rushing water. Sometimes a squirrel paid his sermons a moment of respect, before suddenly remembering a more promising nut to crack.
He headed back to his shack, made of river rock and poplar planks, with a roof built with swiped sections of corrugated steel siding from an abandoned warehouse down in Knoxville. Beside the shack was his faded green rusty Ford pick-up truck that he rarely drove anymore, with a tattered blue tarp thrown over the bed. He kept canned goods and other supplies there. He felt sweat streaming down his chin under his ratty gray-brown beard and under his cap. It was hot here, even at four thousand feet up, probably as high as 80 degrees. But in his chair in the shade underneath a slope-stunted beech tree, he would cool off quickly, catch a cooling breeze, maybe slide into a noon-time dream.
He hoped it wouldn't be like the last one. That one was too much pain. In the dream Wilson had decided to trim up his beard, get a haircut, put on a nice cheap suit and go visit his daughter in Sevierville. He expected to be greeted warmly by first the old hound in the yard, then a flock of happy screaming grandchildren, his ex-wife, Almira, rocking serenely, but with a slightly sardonic smirk, in the chair on the porch, then finally, by Julia, his daughter. But those expectations were not met. The hound barked and snapped viciously from the tight end of his chain, a brood of dirt-faced children stood expressionless in the yard. Then as he got closer they watched him, their eyes filling with dark expression, the younger ones with suspicion, the older ones with menace, and the old lady in the rocking chair spat tobacco out at his shiny boots in lieu of a greeting as he stepped onto the porch. "You don't belong here. You never did." Then Julia came out on the porch, wearing a flowing yellow dress and a white sunhat. But her hands were raw and calloused and big like a man's. She was holding a rifle crosswise in her hands. That had been his daddy's rifle, and those were his daddy's hands...
As he sat in his chair, occassionally flicking at blackflies, he wondered what would happen if he really did go down in the valley and visit his daughter. It was six months ago, that he drove by the double-wide trailer she and her mother and his four grandchildren lived in. He saw a tall bearded man with a baseball cap smoking a cigarette on the built-on porch, talking to another shirtless man sitting on an uprighted stump. Probably another boyfriend, or for all he knew, her husband. Wilson only drove by once or twice a year, and this was the first time he'd seen this man. Each time he came down out of the mountains to drive by his daughter's place, it was a different vignette, a clouded window, into the that life he left behind. He would also, invariably, drive by his old chapel where he used to perform impromptu weddings for tourists, but also where he gave sermons on Wednesdays and Sundays. He had only a small following, less than twenty members, and he often wondered if all had been assimilated by other churches, or did one or two lose their faith and backslide because of his sudden, inexplicable dissappearance. For the longest time, he fantasized that some of his flock would search him down and try to convince him to come back to the world, where his message was sorely needed. But no one ever came.
Off to the northwest he saw over the valley thunderstorms growing, merging, into one great supercell front. There would be rain and wild lightning this afternoon. The worst were those storms that skipped the valley entirely and formed directly in the upslope of the hills. Those storms came on with a supernatural abruptness, swallowed the mountain whole, turning all of Old Smokestack Ridge into a plasma lamp of sorts. Weird greens and blues, then up through the purples, reds and oranges as the sun broke back through the clouds. After, the forest would drip for hours, and that sound always had a purring effect on his soul. Distant thunder falling echoing away on the other side of the range, the storm tattered and defeated for the moment, only to gain momentum once again rising to meet the next ancient range to the west, deeper into North Carolina. The pungent rot of dead wood and understory would surround him like a warm breast, and he would sleep then, settled or unsettled, until early evening. In the almost dark he would start a fire and heat up a can of beans and have some stale crackers and a ripe tomato to go with it.
But now the sun baked over the small garden he kept and the gloom stayed over Knoxville. He was fond of imagining one of those storms over Knoxville one day simply taking away the whole town, leaving behind nothing but bare ground, no remnant of civilization. Just fertile red dirt to be reborn again. Maybe the storm would die off before hitting the mountains. That happened sometimes.
He slipped into a dream that had more truth in it than most dreams. He was still living in his old home near Gatlinburg and he walked in from church service to find his young daughter and still youthful wife, together, pleasuring a strange man while he sat in his recliner. The man had a shaved head, but long angular goatee, a tattoo of a pentagram on his left shoulder, and one of a dancing skeleton in tophat on his right forearm. His arms were crossed but there were other strange markings on his chest as well. A deeply disturbing stench filled the room, his nostrils, his brain, like an atomic cloud bursting.. perhaps a cross between incense and corpsereek and animal dung. Julia and Almira, both pulling their mouths off the stranger's organ at the same time, looked startled at first, then both began to smirk and laugh at him. Almira spoke: "You're home early, dear..." Then right before his eyes, the two women embraced and twisted into each other like writhing snakes, face going into face, chest merging into chest, until there was only one woman left. On her forehead was a small hole dripping blood and her eyes were sparkling ruby. It was a woman he seemed to both know and not know. She pointed at him with her left hand, then she said, "Join us, my husband, my father. It is pleasure you can not even imagine..." She reached for a butcher's knife that was on the coffee table.
In the background the dark man, now robed in black said, "Look close, Will's son, into the eyes of the fly."
Wilson jolted awake and nearly fell out of his chair under the stunted beech tree. He was drenched in sweat by the nightmare. The sun was covered by the almost-living swarming clouds. He could see rain was imminent, as sheets were folded into sheets down into the hollow he called White's Cove. The wind, like a great hissing of flies, disturbed the canopy above him. Thunder, a stroke on the brain, rattled bones of memories there.
"O Lord, I should of done the deed. Forgive me...."
Weeks after telling his wife he got sacked from his job, Ted could not help but notice the relief in his wife's eyes. And these times were few, because she was always gone, staying overnight with Rex the Ridiculous, he was certain, and he was suprised how little he cared.
With wide-open nights and new eyes, he took to walking around town at night. On the first night out he again saw the homeless man from whom he had exchanged his work supplies for that broom (which still leaned on the foyer wall). He was with some stringy man with long unwashed hair, rows of dilapidated teeth and a ragged Pantera T-shirt. They both smelled like musk and swamp gas. The old black man didn't seem to recognize him, but the haggard metalhead smiled blackly, and said, "Give us a couple bones my man. We're like hungry you know." Ted passed on silently.
Behind him he heard, "Hey, hey! That's the white boy took my broom!"
Ted kept walking, faster now, but soon felt a strong hand grab his shoulder. He turned and saw it was the black man now. Recognition was flashing in his bloodshot eyes. "Gimme my broom back, boss. The wizard of Oz, man, he wantsit so we can get back to Kansas, dig? Wait, Clicks here just wants him some brains." A hideous tubercular cough-laugh followed.
The other guy cackled. "Lamar, you is the shit, bro! The wizard ah Oz is my favorite movie, main. Scared the bejeebers out of me when I was a kid!" Then speaking to Ted, "Lamar here says you stole his broom. I suggest you return it to us. Or-- or... give us a couple twenties. We can call it even".
Lamar looked skeptical. "Naw, I wants my broom, cuz. It belonged to my crackwhore ole lady and she's sho nuff the wicked witch of the west! Ain't that so, Clicks?"
Clicks stood with his arms crossed over his chest, nodding in agreement. "Bitch cast spells. Did. Whacked. Righteous man, give us some bread."
Ted fumbled through his wallet and gave the men everything green he could find, a total of maybe seventy dollars. "I'll bring the broom back too. Here take this. I just got to get going." He was caught in that uncertain space between being mugged and just offering charity to some disenfranchised individuals. It was a most unpleasant space to be in.
They took the money and headed off in the opposite direction, probably to get a cheeseburger.
On the second night, he avoided Malcom X Avenue, where he'd been accosted by Clicks and Lamar and stayed on Vinecourt Blvd, which was trendier and catered to the local university crowd. There were plenty of late-night restaurants, bars and local music venues, and drunken, sputtering college girls ambling along the sidewalks or in the street. One girl was being-- he assumed-- unwarrantedly abrasive to a potted plant outside a crowded beer joint. As he passed her he looked into the place and noticed the girl from the bus kiosk weeks ago, sitting at the bar, staring into a half-empty mug of Killian's Red. Her hair was mussed as if she just woke up and didn't bother to brush it down.
"Say, dude. I know you." It was the girl who had been puking into the potted plant.
"I-- I don't think so. How old are you, twenty?"
"As if, dude. My big bro is the bartender here. You're not with the pigs, are you? Because if you are, I'm twenty-one, AND A HALF!" She laughed as if this was the funniest joke in the world.
"Not a cop no, and if you will excuse me..."
Ted started inside, but the girl grabbed him by the shoulder. Second time in two nights a strange night crawler had done this to him. This time he was angry.
"Please don't grab me like that, miss." He suddenly realized he was holding tightly the girl's forearm. She jerked it away. He noticed red finger-shaped marks where his hand had been.
Her eyes were climbing up through viscous layers impetuous charm and novice civility. "Oww. I don't like your tone, mister. Buy us a drink, dollface." Simple, lusted over charm was back, in the blink of an eye. In other times, in other places...
But here and now, he simply said, "No."
He walked on, toward the Garden of Vines and the Debutt's Museum of Southern Railroads. From there he could see the river, black silk with silver streamers of moonlight, and the vestiges of the Tennessee River Rail Bridge. It was the oldest bridge to cross the river within the city limits. A vertical lift bridge that he hadn't seen "lift" for barge traffic in his lifetime, he had always been fascinated by the houses that sat atop each lift tower. He imagined all sorts of cranks, massive pulleys, cogworks and squeeling metal sounds up there. When he was a boy he used to think evil shadow creatures lived there, slept undisturbed and comforted by the horrific banshee winds. The bridge was a relic, rusted over, but still functioning. It still suprised him it had not been razed or rebuilt to modern codes. But he reasoned since it was only for rail traffic, Norfolk-Southern was a bit less strict in following safety codes or the aesthetic principles of your typical urban beautification society. Ted was one who found it alluring, even beautiful, even in its present worn-down state.
On the third night, he noticed the broom missing. A muggy September wind blew in from the patio. Apparently his wife forgot to shut the sliding glass door before she took off to fuck Rex the Reticulator once again.
On the fourth and fifth nights he decided to stay in and see if his wife would show up. She never did. He stayed drunk. In his closet laboratory, he fiddled with pine extract, antelope musk and his wife's orgasmal fluids. She had been a good sport from time to time, got to admit it to yourself, Ted ole boy...
On the sixth night he considered filing a police report, but decided against it. He broke down and called her cell phone. It went straight to voice mail. All he could bring himself to say was, "Hi, honey, dinner's ready." The ding of the microwave soon after verified this statement.
It really pissed him off-- for reasons he could not quite pin down-- that Glenda had taken, thrown out, or flown out on, his broom. The last possibility amused him, sourly.
He went out to his balcony and stared out over the river, and to the left, way in the distance, the Tenn-Bridge. Something odd made his eyes double-back. Hmm, that's strange. He'd never seen a light on in any of those weird high houses on the lift towers before. And even more strangely-- surely an ocular illusion-- the lights flickered as if the illumination was not electric but fire.
Laughter like thunder made the rafters of the chapel vibrate, threatened to bring the whole worn-out building down. Then silence filled the room, the screaming of a baby subsiding as some dreamy-eyed woman held it under water too long. Candle-light caused long wire-thin shadows to flicker against the flaking walls. Someone grafitti artist had painted the words, "Love Light Lester", on one of the walls in lurid red. Bubbles rose to the top of the greenish tank, and then finally, a stillness. The woman with strawberry hair, let the lifeless child sink to the bottom. She was completely naked. She began to massage her breasts and flick her tongue like a snake.
Down below, hooded figures knelt on both knees in a semi-circle around a tall man covered with tattoos. He held, both hands gripping, a glinting daggar out from his abdomen and pointed it at each member, and spoke some words, the same each time. "Sine ullo desiderio vive et ama." Candle-scent and feces mocked the air.
The floor of the abandoned chapel was littered with dust and broken glass and assorted litter. Every window, blasting loud black night, had panes of jagged anarchal glass.
The tall man, also naked, spoke again: "And someone else tonight must die."
Almost before he finished, his hooded disciples hissed loud whispers in chorus, "Pick me, pick me, pick me...." Chaotic shadow-fire danced across empty pews.
Their leader laughed. "No dipshits! We must kill a pig tonight! Some fat cow and her vapid mercantile whore of a lover! I have a plan..." He tugged at his goatee, irritatedly.
Then up to the tranced and still writhing woman, "Julia, love, wake up. Please take the thing from the waters and bury it in the forest. Remember, six feet down!"
The woman's eyes suddenly caught candlelight, flickered demurely, and she smiled. She reached down with one arm and grabbed the lifeless infant by its arm and pulled it above the surface of the water. It had been a boy child. Its parts flopped wildly as she yanked it and smothered it not unlovingly in her arms. She slipped beyond the red velvet curtains backing the baptismal alcove. The green dead waters slurped gently, then rested, quiet for now.
Outside the chapel, Wilson Greer sat in his idling truck, wondering what was going on inside his former house of worship. He turned his headlights off, and waited, watching through the side windows a concerto of flickering lights, expecting the whole place to go ablaze any moment, but it never did. He was certain he saw Julia among those who had entered over two hours ago.
A Knoxville station, through intermittent static, bleated out some Dolly Parton song, then after that, something way too old and sticky, by George Jones. He thought about walking up to one of the lower windows and seeing what was going on inside, but he stopped himself every time the desire to crept back up. After about an hour of watching, the lights inside went out. and soon after, dark figures sifted outside the side entrance, like jets of smoke. They all headed for the rear of the building. Then soon after a beatup van grinded through the gravel parking lot and headed south on the highway. Wilson waited another thirty seconds or so and pulled out slowly from his partially hidden location in a lot across the street and followed the van at a comfortable distance. In his rearview mirror he noticed a sudden explosion of incarnadine violence, bloodfire and wildsmoke, rapture and tumult, then all was lost as he took a sharp curve away from the city and bent toward the adumbrate foothills of the Smoky Mountains. He lost the radio station completely and clicked off the sudden blast of senseless static. For a long time after, still following the van south and south, his mind echoed the static, memories thoroughly dissolved now into nothingness. Nothingness night black and unloving like a dead lover back. South and south, road bending back and forth, up and down, a drugged orgasmic woman writhing beneath him. Love was a circle through the black. Night clouds ate through hills of dead october. Love was a circle of fire etched upon the black veins of night-trees slacked.
A memory blazed suddenly, of Julia underneath a massive and mostly dead oak tree many many falls ago. She was eight or nine. The tree looked split halfway down the middle, as if from some giant's axe, and a blackened streak remained from a long forgotten lightning strike. There was copper and gold tones in the October sunset, turning Julia's blonde hair into twines of firesnake. But what he remembered most was her face. Did his imagination create this face, or was the memory true? He could not rightly say. But her expression was not befitting a child; there was dark wisdom, even lust, in her eyes. And a smile betraying too much knowledge, too many layers of regret and empty passion, red and redolent eyes. Scent of dead burning leaves, womanmusk.
And in him growing again, unnatural, unwanted, evil desire. "No! No! No!" he shouted then, and even now. Even now as the secret, dead and withered, tossed around like windblown oak moss in the sepulchre of his brain. Thoughts we drink to drown or allow suddenly, almost without meditation, to fly away on broomsticks into star-scarred october nights, to pollinate the world of nightmares, stitch the masks of the prematurely dead, these empty children breathing beneath with no life, no heart, into slumbering ears the secrets of the eternally darkened life. "No!" Again he shouted as his daughter reached down and plucked a slug from the trunk of the tree. Smiling she placed it in her mouth, and chewed slowly, deliberately, vilely, savoring its sour spongey death....
Spike, the tall one, the bearded one, the one driving, knew all along he was being tailed. Julia had spotted him even before they made it to the old abandoned wedding chapel on Codsack's Cove drive.
"Will he follow us all the way to the High Sanctuary of the Blue Heron?" Julia, sitting in the passenger seat, her face rigid and alternating long slow notes of dark with short blares of silvery light from oncoming headlights, barely opened her lips, saying, "He would follow me to Hell, and try to convert The Great Silent One himself. Stupid fuck."
They drove south and south, getting high on hellstench and hillshine. For forty miles, Spike manipulated Julia's clit while the rest of the coven writhed languorous and bewitched in the back of the van, bodies merging into one many-legged thing, an orgasmic catepillar. Merging was something grander than Love, a magical lava flow of desire, from volcanoes of lust and murder.
One day the anti-rapture of dead bodies will come, when stinking skeletons with hanging bits rotted meat gather in city centers, godwhores and motherfuckers encircled and fucking the empty spaces between bones, flickering twig-like remnants of tongues dancing around fire and fountains filled with shit-clumped sewer water. Then whole hives break off to roam the countryside for living survivors, humping with bones sharp as swords any fleeing warm-blooded thing. Screams of terror and pain quickly sublimating into moans of intense orgasm. Great gouts of green-tinted cum shower the country-side, sliming the trees, the abandoned buildings, monuments of a dead society. Earth becoming a sick green sun, pulsing erotic seas of mucus-- an orb of sickness palpitating infinite and divine. Miles-long black catepillars swimming forever, and rising to the surface to spout out lakes of catarrh sulphuric phlegm into a bloated atmosphere. Broken from its orbit now, it flies like a witless bomb through galaxies growing more massive with each aeon, each parsec, scouring green hell across the universe.
And on the twelfth night, devil's night, eve to all hallows' eve, Ted concocted a scent that sent him into dizzying hallucinations. Just playing around with odd ingredients, by accident really. One whiff, and he was gone. Storms of fire and duststorms of glass across a red-tinted venetian landscape, crossing burning dune after dune. Exoskeletons of strange arthropods carpeted the ground. Flame geysers sprayed from the holes dotting the bleakscape like gopher holes in hell.
Lamar was finishing the last of the bottle of vodka, while Clicks stood on the bank, one foot higher and resting on a huge river boulder, an unwitting caricature of John Ross himself. Lamar was sprawled out on the bench thinking about Halloweens past, when he was a kid in the ghetto. One time his older brother was the ghost of Robert Johnson and he was dressed up as the devil. A four foot ten inch red-faced devil with horns made of aluminum foil. He wore a black tuxedo his mother had bought him for his Uncle Sherman's wedding, who one year later was shot by cops during a break-in of a pawn shop. They went down to the crossroads, brought smiles to a couple street girls and pushers and brought home sacks full of candy. At that moment, it seemed like the only truly wonderful moment in his entire life.
"Yo, Lamar! Check that out!" He was pointing down the pathway, deep in greenish shadows. A man was strolling their way. He looked fucked up on something. He was wavering as he walked, his head rolling around slowly on his neck.
Lamar saw, and made an immediate identification of the man. It was that guy whole swiped his broom.
Clicks was heading straight to the man. "It's that motherfucker again! Hey motherfucker.. Beautiful night isn't it." Lamar tossed the empty bottle and walked over and they both faced Ted, who seemed barely conscious, and certainly didn't realize two men were accosting him. He walked right through them, shouldered them out of the way. Lamar and Clicks looked at each other, stunned.
"Did you see his fucking eyes!"
Moon-haunted clouds peeled away finally from the Railway Bridge. Keeping their distance, Lamar and Clicks followed Ted as he made his way to the edge of the riverfront park and onto the embankment that rose to meet the tracks. They looked up and saw a great flickering of lights, definitely fire, inside one of the structures atop a lift tower. And what appeared to be dark bodies flowing against it, in weird shadow dances. "Looks like he's going up there," Clicks whispered.
Massive cogwork and chains and pulleys stood idle inside a room bursting with the light of a center bonfire. Against the walls shadows stretched, retracted, writhed and connected in chaotic patterns, completely unmathmatical and wild. The heat was magnificent. The stench was of burning death.
Spike and the others tossed brooms onto the fire to quench its thirst, its eternal thirst. Piles of brooms of various head shapes and handle lengths littered the room in piles. All twelve were naked and greased with pig lard and their own mingled sweat. At times it appeared whole bodies merged into and out of each other. Julia into Michael, Michael in Orlene, Jake into Donna, Julia in Glenda. Only Spike stayed distinct and whole the entire time. He did not dance with the others. He waited. He could smell the coming of the infernal scent, the one he had longed for since discovering his love for maggots on his thirteenth birthday. He ate a mouthful of maggots and made love in them in his dreams. "He's near, my empty children!"
Ted, with a thousand red eyes, the eyes of flies, walked along the tracks towards the lift tower. Great Blue Herons, lined on each side of him, were silent and still, twinkling like dark jewels, onxy, sapphire. Once he reached the tower he opened the gate whose lock and chain lay busted on the ground. He climbed up the steep and narrow stairs that doubled back in an edged spiral all the way to the landing where the house sat. When he made the landing he peered into the one of the windows then pulled out the vial of perfume had had concocted earlier. He took one whiff and his eyes brightened and pulsed red to sun-red. He tossed the vial into the High House of the Blue Herons and had no time to escape the explosion, but he did not scream with the rest before burning parts, arms, legs, heads with hair of fire, arched out away from the bridge and went hurling, smoking, blackening, into the Tennessee.
"Holy fuck!" Lamar shouted.
Both Lamar and Clicks took off running down the long track they had come from, ears ringing with the explosion, and when they slide and tumbled down the embankment and realized they were in the clear, they stopped and looked up at the lift bridge. "What in the great goddamn is that?"
They saw a huge fly-like creature flying out of the hanging moon-glinted smoke. They saw, as it approached, it's gleaming red eyes. Then as the creature flew low through the ornamental trees and just above them, they felt the red dust emitted from glands underneath the unholy fly fall on their heads. It was a burning, but an orgasmic burning. It was a wretched smell, but one they loved. They walked away slowly back toward downtown, with red pulsing eyes.
Wilson Greer had watched the entire events of the explosion from his pick-up truck parked just above John Ross Pier. When he saw what came flying out, he backed out of his space and flew through silent streets until he made the Interstate. Several times in the 3 hour drive back to his high hermitage he thought he saw red eyes in his rearview mirror, only to realize it was the backlights of vehicles that had passed him in the southbound lanes. By the time he reached Sweetwater, some of the gutwrench subsided and he turned on the radio. It was a staticky sermon of a local radio preacher denouncing the evil pagan practices behind Halloween celebrations. He flipped the station away and found a news report. The national guard was heading to Chattanooga. Something, some kind of terrorist activity, had occurred in Chattanooga.
He knew better. He cut off the interstate at Sweetwater and headed east to the mountains.
In a light snow shower he finally arrived at his shack on Old Smokestack mountain. As he stepped down from the stepboard, he felt his heart flurry and skip in his chest, and then, a piercing pain. He clutched his chest and tried to take deep breaths. He grabbed his flashlight from the truck and sighed with relief when the pain passed and his heart thumped normally, if a little on the brisk side. He flicked on the flashlight and headed toward his shack.He stopped when he trained the light over to his chair underneath his shade tree. His heart went insane. Sitting in that chair was the tattooed man from his dreams, with eyes blood red. He was smiling. He put his hands together to mimic the shape of a church.
"Here's the church, and here's the steeple, open it up... and there's the people."
Here's the church, and here's the steeple, open it up... and there's the people.. Again and again.
Wilson was frozen and could not move. Spike, now with enlarged luminous fly's eyes, finally came face to face. The flashlight scattered dampened light in the high grass. But the red eyes illuminated the scene:
In one quick move, Spike reached out with his left hand and grasped Wilson Greer's face and ripped it completely off. Then he turned the flimsy mask around and showed it to the man with wide-open lidless eyes, a face oozing blood and fat and exposed new skin. Then Greer's eyes were red as well, blinded by blood and he sank into the night.