OK…encouraged by your enthusiastic approbation…I shall post some more of my epic. Here’s another little teaser. You read the prologue (posted previous)? Good. You’ll notice it’s in prose. The main chapters are in a broken sort of poetic dialogue. These are the chapters having to do with the voodoo priestess (Mama Nancy) and the dark muse she summons (Crow) to help her contact the lost angel (Syth) and get him to go into the Underworld (Sheol). So the poetry is the medium of the spirits and magic and ritual. In between these chapters are short, self contained chapter/stories I’m calling “Interludes.” They are in prose and tend to deal with more mundane, real world stuff – things that have something to do with the surrounding chapters (if not in story, than in theme) thus…the line of my plot (if you follow along and draw it) goes not in straight lines, but in the universal shape of the spiral. So here is a little interlude below. Following the prologue is chapter one (or Book One). Following that, is a set of Interludes. This is one of them:
Interlude: Ash Wednesday
©Joshua Alan Doetsch
“…what is this quintessence of dust?”
-William Shakespeare, Hamlet, II.ii 308
“I found a miracle,” says Curly; so I hang up the phone and grab my camera and wonder why he said it in the tone of voice a gent might reserve for, “I found a decapitated head in my fridge.”
Curly meets me outside the church, one of those stone cathedral jobs you find in big cities, and his eyes bulge out in the way that only Curly’s eyes can bulge. Between the eyes is a black smear on his forehead. It’s Ash Wednesday, a few chimes before midnight.
I press a twenty into his dead-fish hand. “Relax Curly, you’re in the company of a friend.” Using “friend,” I illustrate the wonderful elasticity of the English language. I might also have used “source” or “meal-ticket.”
“J-Jake I…I don’t think they’ll like having…one of your kind here.”
“Cold feet Curl?”
Hmph. Not like my “kind.” Probably not. But they won’t be above snagging a copy of the publication, in line, at the grocery store next week – gawk at the ridiculous photos, read up on the latest adventures of the Bat-faced Boy, learn that goldfish commit psychic vampirism on their owners and how you can keep it from happening to you.
“No sweat Curl, I’ll just go in disguise.” I lick my thumb and press it to my forehead. A long, final drag on my cig, and then I press it to the wet thumbprint, with a hiss of spit and embers.
Curly shudders and I smile. It’s very grade-school of me, but I get a kick out of making him shudder. Sometimes you have to stop and appreciate the little things.
Inside the lobby, the stained-glass filters the outside street lights, painting the room in every shade of spooky. Curly must have squealed to one of his fellow parishioners because I hear a voice hiss, “Scavenger.”
Scavenger? Yeah. That’s me, lady. Wily F-ing Coyote.
Hungry eyes – the better to spot an opportunity with.
Shifty paws – the better to snatch an opportunity with.
Lying tongue – the better to shovel bullshit (so sweetly, that you’re eating out of my undies, oblivious to my opportunity-snatching).
“Come on Jake,” says Curly, eyes still bulging like a cartoon frog who thought he was getting a meal, but now sees the fly, armed with a giant flyswatter, coming right at him. Inside the church proper, the air hangs heavy with tension, acrid and thick, and the incense hits me with the nausea of childhood memories. Curly and I ambulate down the aisle – the coyote and the frog.
The place is almost empty, but graveyards, libraries, and old churches are never really empty, you can be by yourself, but not alone. The eyes of the statues and paintings of the saints follow me across the whole room. I don’t think I’m welcome here.
Don’t sweat it gents, I’ll be out of your hair before you can say, “Self-righteous suicide.”
Underneath my coat, I turn on my camera, anticipating the ambushed photos snapped before I’m ushered out. My flash powers up with a sleepy whine. Curly mumbles about the “miracle” that disrupted the mass. I don’t really listen. I’ve seen miracles before.
We get to the altar. The tabernacle glistens in gold and gilt and guilt. The priest stands in a fugue. He doesn’t even notice me.
Good. Pictures with impunity.
I don’t know why people make such a fuss over these things. There was the stigmata guy in Gary – he drilled holes in his hands and feet in order to get money from believers. There was the oil puddle that onlookers swore reflected the face of Jesus in Joliet. There was the form of the Holy Virgin in a mildew stain on a porn shop’s ceiling, just south of Milwaukee.
I don’t know why they make a fuss, but they always do.
And I take pictures.
And I make some extra coin.
I aim my camera. “Alright Curl, whenever you’re ready.” Curly grabs the mettle lid. Underneath rests the blessed ashes. Every year, at the start of Lent, the faithful come down the aisle, the priest says a prayer and smudges ash on their foreheads. Presto. Only this year, the mass was interrupted.
Curly lifts the lid. There’s a face. Of course.
Then…I freeze up.
I don’t breathe.
I can’t even click a picture.
It is moving. It is screaming. There’s no sound, but it writhes, like a face pressed up to a gray, silk sheet, and it screams silence – screams like a demon mime – screams like one of those tragedy masks – screams like that painting, and I find myself thanking someone I haven’t talked to in a really long time that I can’t hear the screams…
Something crashes on the floor. It’s my camera.
“I think…it fell,” says Curly. All I can do is nod, nod as if he’s talking about my camera.