Elementary spirits are like children: they torment chiefly those who trouble about them… it is these who frequently occasion our bizarre or disturbing dreams… but they can manifest no thought other than our own… They reproduce good and evil indifferently, for they are without free will and are hence irresponsible; they exhibit themselves to ecstatics and somnambulists under incomplete and fugitive forms… Such creatures are neither damned nor guilty; they are curious and innocent. We may use or abuse them like animals or children.
— Eliphas Levi, Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie
by Tom Bradley
It’s a glorious Easter Sunday morning in Hiroshima Cathedral’s parking lot. Sam Edwine is wedged behind the wheel of a bashed-up Mazda sub-compact, just trying to accomplish a little sleep.
Meanwhile, almost directly underneath the car’s crumbling differential, deep in the demon-rife blackness of the cathedral crypt, Sam’s wife squats with a coven of expatriate papists, taking certain purgatory-avoidance measures better left unimagined.
It’s a bad surprise when one of Sam’s bloodshot eyes pops open of its own accord just in time to witness a manifestation. Some wisps of Boom Town’s brownish nitrogen dioxides swirl together with a bushel of airborne diesel particles and coalesce into a tiny center of consciousness.
Wandering tentatively around the churchyard, it approaches the Mazda and rattles a burnt-crisp knuckle against the windshield.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Dr. Edwine. Did I awaken you?”
Sam is too horrified to respond.
“Please forgive my appearance. I’m just trying to do my Paschal duty. It’s the first time since I botched the flame dance that I’ve had the courage to come here.”
When Sam reaches out a trembling hand to verify the existence of this salamander, it shrinks away, hissing, “Noli me tangere,” and disappears into dark billows of carbonized hemp fiber. Floating and chattering, it envelops the Mazda, smudging the windows.
“I can’t shake your hand, professor,” comes the muffled whisper from between wads and folds of this strange fabric. The stuff has been configured vaguely to resemble the indigenous garb of a nearby island-nation which, through the expedient of sex slavery, provides oceans of orgasms for the grandsons of Great God Hirohito.
“My body is unlucky now,” says the wraith, peeking out and flashing a toothless rictus. “The Yakuza pimps won’t touch someone tainted with death, and they aren’t fond of freelancers. So they refuse to sponsor the renewal of my entertainer’s visa.”
These words slough off in threads, and slip beneath the car, to emanate from the beer cans under the seat. Now they unwind from among the stash of Methedrine-dusted joints in the glove compartment. And now they radiate in a web from Sam’s own lumbar ganglia.
“I am an outright illegal alien. Immigration is after me, and just because of my vocation I’m unloved by the municipal authorities. So I must disguise myself as what I truly am by birth. Nobody would ever suspect me of voluntarily joining such an oppressed minority.”
The exotic garment looks more like a transient’s rags than a formerly indentured hooker’s work clothes. But the butter-fingered flame dancer seems to feel an emotional attachment to it, so Sam says nothing.
“All by myself, I’ve introduced a new kink to the local salary-men. They pretend to re-rape my people, in emulation of their proud forbears. My third-degree burns make it all the more titillating for them to pay homage to the spirits of their revered ancestors.”
The baked child rematerializes for a moment in order to glance down at herself. “I know it’s not in the best of taste,” she says, smoothing away a few wrinkles and dust particles. “But it’s the only halfway decent outfit I have.”
“I think you look nice,” says Sam, wondering why she lingers. It’s almost chow-time around the subterranean altar. Meat’s on.
She inspects her invisible reflection in Sam’s side-view mirror, adjusts her costume, and ruffles up the few filaments of black floss that have managed to sprout from the mass of broiled tissue that once was her scalp. She lifts her ashen blouse and presents a scabby, scrawny, ribby torso.
“I may have stayed away from here a long time, but I can kneel a lot longer than any of those pious people–and on cobblestones too.”
Then, bravely, like a small phoenixed Maid of Orleans, she limps toward the concrete steps that plunge into the crypt chapel.
Suddenly, grunts and howls filter up through the pavement in lascivious descant, as from Milton’s asphaltic Hell. Eucharistic racket, Mrs. Edwine shrieking on top, freezes the flame dancer in her tracks, and she begins to weep.
“I want to pray!” she wails.
Sam unfolds himself from the Mazda and stands by her side, not two feet from the steps — closer than this husky atheist has ever gotten. He mutters, “You’re only a few steps away from sanctuary. Enter now into the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Romish, and jab like that.”
Sam himself, of course, will never go down there, not as long as he remains uncremated. At his mother’s knee, little Sammy learned the definition of the word simile by coolly considering the nicety of the wine and bread. On the other hand, each Sabbath his otherwise rational wife trembles before a wafer thin slice of the sole material that puts her in divergence with post seventeenth-century thought. It would be not only disrespectful, but insane to approach something that substantial with a head full of attitudes flip as Sam’s.
“Don’t worry,” he repeats, cringing from the brink. “You look real nice.”
“But I’m ashamed.” She holds up melted, webbed, nail-less hands and tries to cover a noseless face. “There was no time for rehearsal because the salary-men were getting impatient. I did my best, Dr. Edwine, but my arms weren’t strong enough for the benzine goblets!”
“Never mind,” says Sam. “We all have our spastic moments. My own asshole is fluttering pretty bad right now. Besides, these mackerel-snappers are obligated to embrace you. You won’t be the first magdalen they’ve embraced. See? Father Itchy-Nookie or whatever is down there, all suited up in his prettiest rhinestone dress and big glans penis hat, and he beckons you to come on down. Don’t keep him waiting.”
Sam turns on his heel — or tries to. He must say his goodbyes. Subtly, he will fuck off back into the car and roll up the windows tightly, before his wife’s father confessor sprouts goat horns and granny teats and breaks out the meat cleaver.
“You never come to mass,” comes the voice, lisping. The little whore’s waxing all shy and babyish now, plying professional skills other than terpsichorean. “If you come, too, everybody will be so surprised they won’t notice me.”
Try as he might, Sam can’t seem to disentangle their elbows. But the paralysis doesn’t extend all the way up to his tongue and teeth and lips; so, teetering vertiginously over his would be seductress, he tries to start a conversation that will last through the benediction and the recessional and obviate this whole horrible fucking moment of truth in a stampede of shriven faithful. He commences babbling through a parched mouth–
“See the finger bowl thing down there with the heavily rouged plaster-of-Paris Barbie doll perched on it? That’s full of valid-but-illicit holy water that exists but isn’t supposed to be wet, except it is anyway, and you moisten your pulse points ever so slightly with–”
“That’s not holy water, Dr. Edwine. It’s baptismal water, and you’re not allowed to put your fingers in the font.”
“So, you’re a blood-guzzler, too, eh? You know, my mom baptized me a low-church Epis–”
Gray tears of plasmatic lymph begin to flop from under a pair of out-of-mesh eyelids.
“Oh, come on,” moans Sam. “Don’t make me feel like an ogre. If you’re hell-bent on making communion, little Missy, you’ll have to shuffle up that aisle under your own steam. My whole, hefty metabolism recoils like an albino vampire from the Real Presence. Why do you reckon I spend my Sundays snoozing up here in the parking lot?”
Nevertheless, the creature pulls him toward the pit. He wrenches his hand away and turns to flee. But the flame dancer’s arm suddenly grows sumo muscles, and the good doctor is beneath the surface of this planet before his knees can lock.
* * * *
The fricasseed Filipina flits on scorched crow wings, shedding benzine goblets left and right, which explode like tactical thermonuclear devices.
Father Itchy-Nookie lurks simultaneously in all the crannies of this catacomb, his clutch purse brimming with transubstantial gore — Sam knows this without separating either seizured sets of eyelids. To the assembled expatriate congregation, Hiroshima’s chief attorney of nothingness dispenses wads of gristle and scab, flopping them greasily from the chipped rim of a crude ceramic chalice. And, unlike Sam’s present interlocutor, the wads are not even properly cooked.
Like a Baphometic cocktail party, the Catholics, Mrs. Edwine included, squat in vulgar positions around the altar, play with themselves, and trepan their own children with ragged thumbnails.
Sam rises from their midst, not looking quite like himself. It’s almost as though a fraternal twin is standing in for him, disguised in his occidental-style beard and rumpled academic clothes. Not forgetting to genuflect piously, he climbs behind the altar, upsetting the cross.
His spouse and the other Mariolators choose the moment of the professor’s leave-taking to yowl, in un-American Popish Esperanto, a cannibal hymn in the mixolydian mode–
Pluck forth thy royal diadems,
pluck forth thy locks entwined within,
pluck forth from radiant brows the flesh
which pads the seams where headbones mesh.
Sam crawls into a hidden recess in the wall and rummages among a gaudy treasure-trove of sacred objects and other such assorted jiggery-popery: pyxes, monstrances, reliquaries, crucifixes, icons, ruby-studded rosaries.
Pry back thy scalp like fecund sod,
expose thy rank farm’s protein pods,
chip free thy skull, let marrow drain
till one grey tegument remains.
Mrs. Edwine’s warbling soprano and the snarls of the elementary spirits gradually blend together with Sam’s seismic snores, and transmogrify themselves into the whining of a tiny internal combustion engine at full throttle.
And when thy brain is amply shown,
and naught is left of skin and bone,
then serve thyself to Christus Rex,
or suffer our collective hex.
After an indefinite period of time Sam emerges, looking different again. On the anterior portion of his skull he displays the face of Grünewald’s Saint Anthony, cheeks, forehead and scalp stretched like rubber by talons and beaks. Shouldering a golden shovel, he heads for the exit, a flashlight of purest platinum poking from his pocket. But, before vanishing, he turns and addresses the ravening parishioners in a voice other than his own.
“I have memories stored up, good and bad. But mostly neutral.”
About the author:
Tom Bradley’s latest book is Energeticum/Phantasticum, coming early this winter from MadHat Press. He has published twenty-five volumes of prose and poetry with houses in the USA, England, Canada and Japan. His interview with Marc Vincenz can be seen here: https://www.ragazine.cc/2017/01/marc-vincenzinterview/. Further curiosity can be satisfied at tombradley.org.