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The Best of 2013

The Afternoon Circle Jerk Society
by Amanda Earl

Beating the Gothic Out of Her
by Amanda Earl

Real Irish
by Amanda Earl

Mercy and the Man. . .
by Amanda Earl

The Revenant
by Amanda Earl

The Vessel
by Amanda Earl

The Too Beautiful Boy
by Arthur Chappell

The Accidental Fetish
by Corvidae

Never For Punishment
by Daddy X

Like a Brother
by Big Ed Magusson

Old Dogs
by Big Ed Magusson

Goodbye Roger
by Huck Pilgrim

He Sends His Regrets
by Huck Pilgrim

A Small Favor
by Huck Pilgrim

Ava's Honey
by john e

LOX
by john e

Eclipse Sex
by Oxartes

Adam and Eve on a Raft
by Robert Buckley

Dead Man's Switch
by Robert Buckley

Does Immortality come with a Pension?
by Robert Buckley

Embraceable Ewe
by Robert Buckley

A Fragile Desire
by Robert Buckley

Surviving Winter
by Robert Buckley

You're the Only One
by Robert Buckley

Dissolve
by Sybil Rush

Bing Cherry Silk
by Valentine Bonnaire

Colony, Collapsed
by Valentine Bonnaire

Have a Nice Day
by Valentine Bonnaire

l'heure bleue
by Valentine Bonnaire

Once Upon A Time . . .
by Valentine Bonnaire

Red Suede
by Valentine Bonnaire

Yellow, like the daffodils
by Valentine Bonnaire

Novelette

Invisible Lines
by Raziel Moore



Archives

By Alan
Curtain
Other News


By Alice Gray
Slick 50
The Fourth Veda
Stolen Hour


By Amanda Earl
Daddy Complex
The Graffiti Artist
Sex With An Old Woman
The Vampire Responds


By Ann Regentin
What Never Dies
Newborn
Remembering
Surrender


By Big Ed Magusson
The Fix
Methadone


By Brady Sutton
Girls for Leash
The Peculiar Case of...


by C. Sanchez-Garcia
An Early Winter Train
The Doll
The Lady and The Unicorn
Riding the Dog
Fidelis


By Cervo
An Evening At...
Readiness Is All
Chinchilla Lace
Fridays At The Benoit
Cruising On A Sea...
Bitsy Takes a Test
Touring Persephone
Are You Kidding?
Quigley’s Harvest
Mr. Merridawn's Hum
Angels’ Spawn


By Cherry Black
Mrs. Priestly
Face Down
Just A Simple Black Dress


By Chris Bridges
Second-hand
Fast-forwarding
The Whitechapel...
Passing Notes


By Daddy X
Nikki Didn't Like It
Overscratch
A Woman in My Position


By Dominic Santi
Drillers
Kiss of Peace


By G. E. Russell
Judgement Day
Nebulous
First Love, Last Romance
Snow White
This Desolate Eden
The Glass Cage
You Like It Like That...


By Helen E. H. Madden
When The Angels Fall
Husbands and Wives
The Fifth Horseman
The Monster Beneath...
Neighbor of the Beast
Over the Rainbow
Going Viral
Virtual Love


By Helena Settimana
Balance
Highway 69
Amadou
The Space Between


By J.T. Benjamin
The Question
Thornburg Sex Survey
Alternating Weekend
Secret Lives and Lusts
What are Friends For
Olivia's Ulterior Motive
Advice From Miss Millicent
The Baby Doll
The Journals of Chastity
Use Me
Zachary's Perfect Date


By Jill
Kidnapped
Sheila Discusses ...
It's About Sex
A House On Fire?
Maureen and Sheila...


By john e
I Wish My Dick...
johnny's jackoff journal
Saturday Morning


By Julius
In Praise of Pussy
Tight, Tighter, Tightest
You Rang Madam?
The Newcomer


By Juniper Maclay
Lunch Break
The Scientist
Public Transportation


By Keziah Hill
Laying Down the Law
Strawberry Flavoured Joy
The Second Coming
Angel
Dutch Masters


By L.A. Smith
Missionary Position
Both Hands


By Lara Nickles
Almost
Hero


By Lilie Berlin
Naughty Little Girl
Color Less Ordinary


By Mike Kimera
Kneading
Soft Option
At the Adult Bookstore
Postcard
Playing With Barney
Deserving Ruth
Till Death Do Us Part
Happy Anniversary
Mating Calls
It May Not be Art...
Living With It...
The Last Taboo
Hand-Jobs
Fucking Ugly
Paying For It
Sex with Owen
Ask Alice
The Sisters
Bar Snack

The Angel of Loneliness

by Robert Buckley

 

erotic fictionLocan railed under his breath at the flat, seamless darkness that continued toward inky infinity.

“Fucking GPS – ain’t worth a shit. Wish I had a fucking map.”

Rachel stirred beside him. “Hmm, are we there yet?”

“I have no idea. I knew I shouldn’t have trusted this fucking thing. Give me a map any time.”

“I can get one up on my Smartphone.”

“I can’t read something no bigger than the palm of my hand. I have to see North, South, mile markers. I need something that’s made of paper that you can unfold on the hood.”

“Sometimes I think you’re a lot older than you let on.”

“Oh, yeah? Maybe I’ll pull over and unfold something else on the hood.” His gaze travelled along the angle of her legs, drawn up onto her seat, to her pale thighs luminous in the dark, even more luminous than the dashboard. He had a hard time keeping his eyes off her since that morning when she slipped on the black jumper.

She rolled her sleepy eyes. “What time is it?”

“Around midnight. We should have made Vegas hours ago.”

Her shriek made his ears pop.

He punched the brake pedal with his heel and swung the wheel over. The car halted on the side of the road engulfed in a haze of fine dust.

Locan’s eyes darted about the interior. Had a bullet come crashing through somewhere?

Rachel drew herself into a fetal clutch; tears trickled over her cheeks.

“Jesus, what happened; what’s the matter?”

She could barely speak through her sobs. “Hurt.”

“Huh? Where? Let me see.”

“Scared ... so scared. They’re coming ... alone ... so scared.”

Locan stared into her eyes. They were focused on something far away.

“Jesus ... what the fuck is going on?”

Instinct told him to get back on the road. He gunned the engine; a spray of soil arced behind the vehicle as it pulled onto the pavement.

He had only travelled a mile when he saw the taillights. A pickup truck was stopped at an odd angle blocking the right lane of the two-lane highway. He slowed and stopped on the shoulder and stepped out of the car.

Two men appeared from the side of the road and stood side by side. Neither said a thing.

“Having some trouble, guys?” Locan asked as his gaze scanned their outlines for any sign of a weapon. He had already spotted the long-barreled firearm that hung in a gun rack in the truck.

He stepped closer to the men, gauging their distance from each other. One wore a cheap leather jacket, the other one of denim over a flannel shirt.

“Ain’t no trouble,” the one on the left drawled. “Just hit a critter is all.”

“Yeah? Nobody hurt?”

“Just the critter.”

“Ah, well, that’s good. Can I give you a hand?”

“Nope,” the other said. “We’re taking care of it.”

“Hey, what did you hit anyway? Don’t see much wildlife where I live. Mind if I take a look?”

He didn’t wait for a reply but walked past the men to the shoulder beyond the truck. The animal lay trembling, its left rear leg drawn up.

“What the hell is that ... a coyote?”

“Yeah, fucking vermin.”

“I guess it needs to be put out of its misery.”

One of the men laughed. “Ya hear that, Ray?”

“Shit, Earl, must be one of them critter rights types from back East.”

The one called Earl clapped his hands and laughed. “I know the one ... what gets those celebrity twats to pose naked.”

“Yeah ... ‘I rather be naked than wear critter’.” Ray laughed like his lungs would fall out of his mouth, but abruptly stopped. He motioned to Earl as each focused on Rachel who had stepped out of the car.

“Fuck sakes. Hi there, missy. Would you rather be naked than wear critter?”

Locan turned and grinned at the cretins and sized them up: two knuckle-draggers who would never accomplish anything in life except turn a ton or two of food into shit, and make misery wherever they went. But then his attention focused on the blue electricity sparking off Rachel’s fingernails. The cretins hadn’t noticed it, yet.

He didn’t need her to shift now. Besides, he’d hate to have her lose that little black jumper.

“Hey, boys, I’m just saying, we ought to put it out of its misery,” Locan said.

“Who the fuck you calling ‘boys,’ man?” Ray snarled. “You ever seen a boy with a bucket of balls and a yard of dick?”

“What weren’t a nigger?” Earl added.

“Guys ... just saying.”

“Ray ... put the poor fucking critter out of its misery,” Earl mocked.

“Sure will ... might take a while.”

Ray swaggered to the truck and lifted a chainsaw from the bed. He looked at Rachel.

“You wanna watch, honey? I know some bitches get off on flying guts. After you can spread your pretty knees for me and Earl.”

He revved up the chain saw and smirked at Locan. “You don’t mind ... do ya, asshole?”

Locan returned his grin and brought a revolver into his hand as if performing a magic trick. He squeezed off a single shot that hit Ray square in the middle of his chest knocking him back about three and a half steps before he fell onto his ass on the pavement, then slowly unfolded onto his back, as the still-running chainsaw skittered out of his hand and sputtered. His eyes stared at the stars in a perpetual expression of abject surprise.

“Holy shit goddamned Jesus-fucking-mother-cripes!” Earl raised his hands. “What ... what the fuck you do that for ... a fucking coyote?”

Locan leveled the revolver at Earl.

“Aw, Jesus, man, don’t do it. We didn’t mean nothing. Aw, shit ... don’t, please.”

“Prove to me that you have a soul.”

“Huh?”

“Tell me something you did that was really bad.”

“I ... I ... I don’t know. Ray and me did lots of stuff.”

“Bad stuff?”

“Yeah ... sure ... hell ... we just regular guys, is all.”

“Tell me something you did that was really bad,” Locan pressed. “You ever burn a puppy alive?”

“Huh? Shit, no.”

“Hmm. You ever rape anyone?”

“What? Uh, been convicted.”

“Who?”

“I ... Jesus, please!”

“Who?”

“Just ... just some little retard girl. Shit, she didn’t even know we was doing it. Fucked her mom good too when she was drunk as shit.”

“Did you feel bad about it?”

“Huh?”

“Did you regret it?”

“I ... regret?”

“You know what fucking regret means, moron?”

“Ah ... well, shit ... sure I was ... uh, regretting. Had to do five years ... I paid my debt.”

Locan shook his head; he gestured toward Rachel.

“Tell you what. I’m going to shoot that girl in the head, and since this is a .357 magnum, it’s going to blow her head right the fuck off. I want you to toss her headless corpse on the hood of my car and fuck her right up her dead, headless ass. Can you do that for me?”

Earl’s hanging jaw closed and his lips curled into a grin. “Why, sure ... I’ll fuck anything. I’m your man, dude.”

“I thought so.” Locan leveled the pistol.

“Jesus, man, I said I would ... I don’t know what you want me to say ... no!” Urine trickled over Earl’s shoes.

“Where’s that bucket of balls?” Locan asked, and pulled the trigger. Earl back-flipped and landed in a pile on the pavement.

Locan turned toward Rachel. “You okay?”

“I wanted to tear them to pieces,” she said.

“Yeah ... well, that wouldn’t have been convenient.”

“Mullens is going to be pissed.”

“Yeah.”

Locan stepped over to the animal. Its desperate eyes strained toward him as it tried to crawl away.

 “Let this guy know that we’re not going to hurt him.”

“Huh?” Rachel said.

“You and this coyote are experiencing an empathic exchange. That’s what happened in the car when you screamed. Let him know it’s okay; we won’t hurt him. Feel it? Talk to him, or just think. He’ll get it.”

Rachel kneeled beside the injured animal. “Yes,” she said. “Shhh, it’s okay.”

She laid her hand on its back. “It’s not a he, it’s a she.”

The coyote became tranquil. Locan lifted the coyote into his arms and carried her to the car, gently placing her in the back seat. He walked back to the truck and rifled through the cab.

“Aha! A map. Looks like a dozen years old, but it’ll do. C’mon, let’s go.”

“What about them?” Rachel asked, gesturing toward the dead cretins.

“What about them?”

Locan briefly consulted the map, then pulled back onto the roadway, steering around the truck. The sky was beginning to lighten.

On the outskirts of Las Vegas he drove into a facility of long, low buildings surrounded by chain-link fence. He retrieved the coyote and he and Rachel brought her inside.

A young man in a government uniform greeted them at a desk.

“What the hell is this?”

“Coyote,” Locan said, “Ran in front of the car.”

“It’s alive?”

“Well sure it’s alive; wouldn’t need to bring a dead one here.”

“It’s awake?”

“We going to chat all day, pal, or are you going to take her off my hands.”

“Her?”

“Jesus, is that all you do is ask questions?”

“Um, wait a sec.”

The man picked up a phone and spoke briefly. A moment later a woman in a white lab coat appeared.

“You a vet, ma’am?” Locan asked.

“Yes, Dr. Beverly Baines.”

“Great, got a hurt coyote here, doc. Can you take her?”

“Um ... yes. Car?”

“Hit her last night.”

“Maybe she’s just bruised. We’ll need to X-ray.”

“Fine.”

“She let you just carry her like that?”

“Um ... well, it’s my niece here. She has a way with animals.”

“Oh.”

“Thanks, doc; gotta go.”

Walking back to their car, Rachel said, “Niece?”

Locan shrugged and grinned.

As they slid back into the car, Rachel asked, “What is this place?”

“Government place ... Department of the Interior, I think. I was here a few years back when I was investigating a whachamathingy – chucababre. I knew they had vets here. They’ll fix her up, let her go. Regular vet might have been reluctant to take her.”

“So, you have a soft spot for animals, huh?”

“I sleep with you, don’t I?”

“Shithead.”

“Yup, that’s me.”

*    *    *

FBI Special Agent Mullens called to divert them to the airport. He greeted them outside a special VIP gate.

“Ah, shit, Mulls,” Locan spat. “We’ve been driving lost in the desert for five goddamned hours. We want to go to our hotel.”

“Nope. I have orders to turn you over to these gentlemen.”

“Huh?”

Locan turned toward the two blond men in severe black suits standing a distance away. Their hair was cut in a military fashion.

“Swiss Guards?” Locan asked.

Mullens shrugged. “Look, I don’t know if you’re in the shit or what. I just got an urgent directive to put you guys on a flight back to Rome. The Schwarzenbooger twins are supposed to babysit you on the way.”

“Is it about those two piles of shit we left in the desert?”

“Huh? Oh, them. No, nobody gives a shit about those two, real bad actors. It’s being treated as a drug transaction gone awry. But, Jesus, since you mention it, are you on a personal mission to annihilate all the white trash in this country?”

“Hmm. You really have no idea what this is about? Racey and I are exhausted. What’s the hurry?”

“The Vatican didn’t explain; we just got the request. Might have something to do with Cardinal LeRoque retiring. You know they put some American bishop in charge of the Paladins, a fucking ex-Marine. Maybe he’s just getting his odd ducks in order.”

“Fuck. I didn’t think of that. Okay. Thanks, Mulls.”

Rachel took Locan’s hand. “What the hell?”

“I guess we’ll find out. Damn, I need a shower.”

“Me too.”

Their companions said nothing as all boarded the plane.

“At least we’re in business class,” Locan said.

Rachel laid her head on his shoulder. One of the SGs scowled.

Locan snarled. “What the fuck’s your problem, Fritz?”

The SG sullenly turned away.

*    *    *

Locan felt like a zombie as he and Rachel slogged their way along the corridor of Da Vinci airport almost ten hours later. There was to be no respite, no rest. They would be driven straight to the Vatican and the headquarters of the Palatinae.

“We must have really pissed someone off,” Locan grumbled.

Two uniformed officers took custody of them from the Swiss Guards and escorted them into the building where they were separated.

Locan was left seated in an interview room. He rested his head on the table and immediately dozed off.

“Locan!”

“Huh?” He lolled his head back and squinted with one eye at Captain Jacoby. The dwarf’s eyes barely rose above the level of the table.

“Captain, what the fuck is going on? We’ve been travelling nearly eighteen straight hours.”

“Hmm, well, can’t help that. You were already supposed to be checked in at the hotel in Las Vegas.”

“Got lost, then waylaid.”

“Yes, Mullens told me. Was it really necessary?”

“Huh?”

“To kill those two men you encountered.”

“Yeah ... I thought so. Necessary and righteous.”

Jacoby replied with a sour expression.

“This is a general recall. Cardinal LeRocque is retired; Bishop Galway is directing the Palatinae now.”

“So I heard. Fucking Marine, huh?”

“Colonel Tyrone Galway before he took Holy Orders. He’s very interested in you, Locan. Somehow he got the idea you were a loose cannon.”

“Loose cannon? You could take that a couple of ways here in the Vatican.”

“Locan, you’re going to meet with him this afternoon. Try not to be witty. Also, you will surrender your revolver to the cardinal. Everyone is being issued a Sig 9mm.”

“I’ll keep my revolver.”

“No ... you won’t.”

“Wait a minute. I remember now; this Bishop Galway got some write-up in the Italian prints because he has a huge private gun collection. He thinks he can just take my Python? Well, I don’t care if he is a Marine, I’ll ...”

“Keep your mouth shut and do what you’re told. Jesus, you act like you have an option, Locan. You don’t ... end of argument. Get cleaned up and get some rest. Then get your ass over to the Bishop’s apartments.”

“Fuck. What about Rachel?”

“What about her? She’s due for an interview too; in fact, all the Paladins are. He’s a military man, wants to know his troops.”

“Aw for ...”

“Don’t say it. Get out of here.”

Locan stood and staggered a step to the side. He nodded toward Jacoby, yawned, and turned to leave.

*    *    *

Rachel was exhausted; her eyes blurry with fatigue. But she came away from her talk with Captain Jacoby keyed up and anxious, especially after being told she would be interviewed by the new director of the Palatinae, Bishop Galway. She was driven to what Locan had called “the shabbiest street in the Vatican’’ by the young police officer who insisted on seeing her to the door of the tiny bungalow assigned to her.

Addio, signorina,” he said, as he let go of her arm and smiled.

She nodded in reply and nearly stumbled over the threshold.

She hadn’t spent a night there in more than a year. Memory led her toward the bedroom, but after catching a sniff of her underarm she thought she should shower first. Maybe she’d catch a nap in the tub.

She thought she detected movement in the corner of her eye, turned and gazed at a patch of shadow that wavered. She chalked it up to fatigue and stumbled toward the bathroom door.

At once she was lifted off her feet by two strong arms that circled her from behind. Someone was kissing her neck and then burrowing a nose beneath her arm.

Petite soeur.” The whisper issued from a pair of lips that brushed her ear. “Your scent makes me moist as fog.”

“Huh?”

Long, elegant fingers deftly undid buttons and hands slipped beneath her jumper, caressing her belly and hefting her breasts.

Another whisper from the lips nibbling her earlobe: “Jolie petite fille.”

A hand continued its gentle invasive journey over the curly crown of her sex; fingers thrummed up a charge of electricity that pulsed, subsided, and pulsed again.”

“Clare?” Rachel barely squeaked. She was still being held off the floor.

“Shhh, little sister.”

“Please ... don’t ... please ...”

“You do not like?”

“Yes ... I do like ... please ...”

A gentle laugh buffeted her ear. “You are so ... quaint, Cheri.”

Her orgasm was sudden, a deep thud. Rachel melted into Clare’s embrace, abandoning even the pretense of resistance.

She became vaguely aware of the taller woman standing with her in the shower, of being lovingly soaped and rinsed by the beautiful, long-fingered hands that had assailed her, and then of being lifted into Clare’s arms and carried to her bed.

She awoke to the sensation of those same hands languidly rubbing her back and behind, and of kisses along the hillocks of her spine as light as the touch of moth wings.

“Clare? What ... what are you doing here?”

“I sensed your cry ... the terrible loneliness ... were you dying?”

Rachel forced her brain to boot up. “I don’t know ... could you mean ...?”

“Every creature faces death. Most live out their lives in solitude and pass without notice, and yet, when their ends come, they yearn for something to comfort and ease their souls’ passage. Did such a creature’s plea find its way to your heart, little sister?”

“The coyote. I didn’t know what was happening. Don’t tell me ... will this happen ... does it happen to ... you know ... us?”

“Sometimes ... it is ... random?”

“Oh, great. Another wrinkle to my strange existence.”

Clare tickled her tailbone by drawing a finger between her ass cheeks.

“Clare ... geeze, I can’t ...”

Clare laughed. “You think you are being ... disloyal to Locan? You are so adoringly quaint, little girl.”

“And this is okay with Connor?”

Clare trailed her tongue along Rachel’s spine as Rachel sighed and shivered.

“Connor has lived a thousand years. Very little affects him,” Clare said. She pulled away the sheet and nibbled Rachel’s ass.

“You love Connor,” Rachel said. It was not a question.

“You love Locan.”

There was a soft knock at the door.

“Oh, shit,” Rachel stirred. “I have an interview.”

“Not to worry, Cheri.” The room was instantly subsumed in intense blue light.

Rachel clad herself in a robe and went to the door. She was greeted by the same young cop.

Ciao,” he said. “I thought I saw a flash, like an electrical spark. Did you have ... uh ... the short circuit?

Then, straining to look around Rachel, he said, “I did not know the signorina had a dog.”

“Huh? Oh, just ... um ... puppy-sitting for a friend. And yes, a bulb blew out.”

“A very big dog ... the eyes ... they are very ... beautiful, like ... glowing ...”

“Yes, well, just give me a minute.” Rachel closed the door and turned to consider Clare, sleek, lethal, and her eyes, like backlit blue arctic ice.

*    *    *

“Apartment,” Locan muttered, and followed that with a mirthless laugh. The bishop’s residence bore no resemblance to what he considered an apartment, what his mother used to call “a flat,” referring to one floor of a dingy triple-decker in a dingy neighborhood.

No, this apartment was more like a palace, or a museum, and while it was all of one floor its many rooms could easily have housed four families in his old neighborhood. But these digs were allocated for one guy, his Excellency, Bishop Tyrone Galway, colonel, United States Marines, retired.

Locan shook his head as he waited in the foyer. A young, pretty nun gestured to him to follow her.

She led him down a corridor adorned with art depicting battles and warriors. She halted and signaled for Locan to wait as she knocked on the door.

From inside, a gravelly voice replied, “Show him in, sister.”

Locan entered the room. A well-muscled man in his sixties hunched over a table. He was short, maybe five-five, compactly built. His hair was white and cut in the military style. His square, solid torso was clad in a black shirt; the Roman collar barely contained his neck. He looked up at the nun and smiled.

“Thank you, Sister Sonja.”

She nodded and left.

“Locan,” the bishop said.

“Your Excellency?”

“Really?”

“Sir?”

“That’s more like it.”

Locan nodded warily.

“Cardinal LeRocque and Captain Jacoby speak very highly of your results. You know how to adapt and improvise.”

Locan nodded again.

“You don’t believe in any of it, though, do you?”

“Sir?”

“Ostensibly, the Paladins’ mission is to investigate and eliminate any supernatural threat to the church or the Holy Father, but you don’t believe in the supernatural, do you?”

“Sir, I’ve seen some pretty weird ...”

“Yeah, so have I. But no matter how weird ... or spooky, I figure there is some explanation ... scientific explanation.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you know who almost got this job?”

Locan shrugged.

“Bishop Vladich Wonkowski.”

“Wonky? The exorcist? I’m sorry, I mean ...”

“It’s okay; everybody outside his circle calls him Wonky too. See, he believes in demons and monsters; they’re the other side of the coin for him.”

“Sir?”

“If there are demons, well, then there must be a God and angels, right?”

“I guess there are some who believe ...”

“But not you. Do you believe in God at all, Locan?”

“Sir, the day my mom told me there was a God, I started talking to him. I think I was about four years old.”

“And?”

“It was pretty much a one-sided conversation until my early teens. By then I’d run up against the Sisters of Charity.”

The bishop laughed. “And some sour old nuns turned you off believing in God entirely.”

“I guess I learned what was bullshit.”

“So ... you don’t believe. Do you believe in anything?”

“I believe in the soul ... I just don’t think every Jack or Jill has one.”

“Is that what you tell yourself each time you erase a life with that big Colt Python? Oh, by the way, do you have it?”

Locan held his hand protectively over his hip holster.

“C’mon, hand it over. That’s an order that can’t be appealed, Locan.”

Locan unholstered the revolver and handed it to the bishop.

“Oh, that is a beauty. Royal blue finish ... just exquisite. I heard they have a tendency to go out of time.”

“This one never has.”

“Then you mustn’t shoot it as much as I was led to believe.”

“Only need one shot. That’s why I like revolvers. You can spray an entire clip from a semi, like some punk gangbanger who can’t aim for shit. A revolver gives you that fraction of a second to consider what you’re doing is righteous.”

The bishop’s forehead furrowed. “Hmm, well, everyone, Vatican police, Swiss Guards and Paladins are being issued the Sig 9. Uniform ammo, etc. I’ll keep this.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but it’s not yours to keep.”

“Mister, let me explain something. You have nothing but what the Holy See gives you; you don’t have a wage or salary, the money you’re given is a stipend to cover your needs and expenses. If you used any of that money to pay for this Python, then the Python belongs to the Vatican.”

“Nothing,” Locan said flatly. “So, when does it end?”

“What?”

“The stretch. I didn’t ask for this, none of us did.”

“Actually, some of you have. You know that, too. We’ve expanded this small force of ours. My predecessor recruited some exceptional individuals, many outside the faith. That put a bug up old Wonky’s ass; he didn’t care for Cardinal LeRocque’s ecumenical outlook. His eminence even recruited one or two atheists like you, Locan. That is, you do consider yourself an atheist?

“I like to keep an open mind.”

“The difference with you, Locan, you’re serving your penance here rather than serving a murder term in a state prison.”

“You can’t murder something that isn’t human.”

“Actually, the late Father Fred Custler was ... mostly human. His body became host to an invasive something-or-other that made him ...well, what he became.”

“He killed kids. He tried to kill my little sister.”

“He couldn’t help himself, like a junkie can’t help stealing to feed a habit. He was controlled ...”

“He knew what he was doing.”

“So you punched a hole right through his chest and yanked his heart out. See, that’s what really got our attention, your blunt method of dealing with him. Extreme, even figuring an Irish temper into the equation. Bottom line is, if we didn’t pluck your ass off to the Vatican you’d be doing time. The same goes for your pretty little partner. Don’t forget that.”

“Rachel ... she ... it wasn’t her fault.”

“I know. It was her great-grandmother’s fault for spreading her knees for that charming loup garou in Louisiana ...”

“What?”

“Didn’t take a genius to figure out what she is, Locan. Her clothing allowance gives her away.”

“Clothing?”

“Every time she shifts, goodbye clothing. We’ve pretty much figured out how it works, this metamorphosis or transformation, or whatever you want to call it. It happens at the subatomic level, lots and lots of energy released. Clothing vaporizes.

“Locan, we have documents in the archives that go back to the Roman legions. Reports of clashes with creatures allied with the Celtic tribes, brilliant flashes of blue blinding legionnaires and hatching wolves larger than the army’s mastiffs. You know, I’m going to be interviewing Ms. McDaniel too. I’d love to have her demonstrate and see that flash of blue for myself.”

A voice behind Locan flowed like honey and bourbon, slightly accented: “I wouldn’t recommend looking at it straight on, Your Excellency.”

Locan turned to see Connor smiling, sitting in the alcove behind him.

“What the shit?”

“Locan,” Bishop Galway said, drawing his attention back to him. “As you can see by Mr. Murphy’s presence, I plan some changes vis-à-vis the Paladins. The church has sanctioned the hunting and killing of Mr. Murphy’s ... uh ... species for centuries. That stops ... right now.”

Locan turned again and gazed at the man who always defied any effort to place an age to him.

“Connor, it’s true?”

“Locan, my friend, it’s the damned technology. It’s come on so quickly. It makes it so much more difficult to hide in the open. Bishop Galway ... he is quite enlightened ... for a churchman.”

“I never ever expected to run into you here,” Locan said.

“Nor I.”

“And so you see, Locan,” Bishop Galway said, “I don’t care that Ms. McDaniel is a hybrid werewolf.”

“Please, Bishop Galway,” Connor interrupted, “I find that a needlessly sensational and tawdry term.”

“Hmm, sorry. Then how ought I to refer to ... um ...”

“There is a name for my people, Your Excellency, not spoken for centuries, but I doubt you could ever pronounce it. As for Ms. McDaniel, she’s a young woman, a human being.”

“Fair enough. And you must tell me sometime how you acquired the name Murphy. In any event, Ms. McDaniel and all like her, either hybrids or ... unpronounceables ... are off the kill-on-sight list. Damned ballsy of you, Locan, to hide her among our ranks, in plain sight.”

Bishop Galway put his hands together. “Perhaps your ‘stretch,’ as you put it, will be up soon. But I think you’re at home here. Ms. McDaniel too. Think about it. I’ll see you both ... together ... two days from now. There is a matter that the Holy Father wishes us to look into. Gentlemen, good day.”

Locan and Connor strolled through the Holy See stopping to watch the tourists in St. Peter’s Square.

“Lots of bygones to just let be bygones, Connor,” Locan said.

Connor nodded. “Well, perhaps it’s time to draw the curtain of charity over that millennium.”

“How about Clare?”

“She is wary ... as usual.”

“Where is she?”

“Visiting with Rachel, I should think.” Connor turned a sidelong glance at Locan and winked.

*    *    *

Locan watched Rachel watch Clare as she danced with Connor.

“Quite a striking couple,” Locan ventured.

“Huh?” Rachel responded, unable to tear her gaze away from the pair, each over six feet tall, Clare all fluid motion in a leg-baring black dress, Connor, his face chiseled out of granite, solid but lithe. His eyes as dark as onyx, hers frighteningly beautiful backlit blue.

“They look like they were sculpted,” Rachel said finally. “By one of those mythical Greek artists.”

“They’ve had a lot of time to learn how to look good.”

“They’re so beautiful it scares me.”

“How’s that?”

“Because ... a long time from now ... will I look like Clare ... would I even recognize myself? Will time make me a totally different person?”

Locan couldn’t answer. He sipped his drink and watched the couple, who had captured every admiring eye in the club, glide over the dance floor.

“Hey, Locan.”

“Hmm?”

“Clare ... well, she kinda snuck up on me today.”

“Yeah, well, imagine when I found out Connor was sitting right behind me at Galway’s place. I nearly shit. He must have been there all the time ... gone dark. Never saw him.”

“Yeah ... Clare must have gone dark too. I might have seen her, but ... the thing is, she ... well ... surprise isn’t quite the word.”

Locan swirled the liquor in his shot glass. “Clare likes you ... a lot.”

Rachel turned her face toward him. “A lot ... you know how much?”

“Enjoy yourself?”

She shrugged. “Lots ... lots and lots. She did things to me that ... well ... Locan, I ...”

“Clare ... she’s ... she’s ... Clare.” He shrugged and chuckled.

“Does it bother you?”

“Rachel ...”

“Aw, shit.”

“What?”

“Whenever you call me Rachel I just ... it means you’re serious ... and that scares me.”

“Well ... I was just going to say that ... rules ... the kind of rules that everyday folks follow to keep their lives in order ... I don’t think they apply to us ... they just can’t.”

“Then, how do we make our way?”

“Play it by ear, I guess.”

She leaned over and kissed him and he nestled his nose into her fragrant, chestnut hair.

“She really, really likes you, then ... huh?”

She drew away, her mouth forming a grin as her tongue pressed against her cheek. She slipped her hand between his thighs.

“Locan ... you’re excited.”

“Huh?”

“You are ... oh, my ... you’re hard as steel.”

“It’s just you ...”

“You ... you’re ... listening to me tell you about me and Clare ... you, you ...”

“Well, c’mon, Racey. Two beautiful, lethal women ... together.”

Clare and Connor returned to the table.

“We’ll talk about this later, Locan,” Rachel said, her lips pouting through a smile.

Connor began to laugh out loud.

Later, in the predawn hours at Rachel’s bungalow, she shivered in a sheen of perspiration after Locan had reclaimed her with a deep-penetrating fuck. They had begun face to face and ended with his big hands clutching her hips driving himself into her womb from the rear, pouring his fluids into her in a series of spasms accompanied by grunts, whimpers and indecipherable endearments.

Now he snored, his arm and thigh slung protectively over her.

“Locan,” she whispered and shook her shoulder.

“Huh?”

“Clare ...”

“Wasted ... tell me tomorrow night.”

“No ... Locan, she told me that she felt what I was experiencing with the coyote.”

“Coyote?”

“In Nevada. The empathic exchange. She felt it too through me, even though she was thousands of miles away.”

“Well,” he yawned. “You two have a bond. It’s not surprising.”

“She said it may happen again; I could connect with another creature or person in their most extreme moment. She said, no one, person or animal, wants to die alone, that wherever they are their soul cries out for something ... comfort, I guess.”

“That sounds kind of like Galway’s ‘no atheists in a foxhole’ rag.”

“But, it was true, with that coyote. She felt ... such loneliness ... a wild animal. What’s a wild animal know about loneliness?”

Locan kissed her, held her tighter, and said, “Go to sleep.”

*    *    *

Locan and Rachel stood across the avenue from the bishop’s residence.

“The new boss,” Locan said. “So far he’s been full of surprises.”

“He reminded me of my grampa,” Rachel said.

“I didn’t know you had a grampa.”

She rolled her eyes and shook her head. “Yeah, just like everyone else ... two of them, in fact.”

“Uh-huh. But this guy reminds you of one of them?”

“My mother’s dad. We used to have bizarre conversations, and not because he was old and wacky. He had his wits right to the end.”

“Bizarre, huh?”

“At the time they seemed bizarre. He’d say weird things like, ‘Rachel, your mother’s given you a Jew’s name. It’s a pretty name, and you’re a pretty girl – you’re going to get into trouble, that just stands to reason. Homely girls just don’t get the same opportunity to get into mischief’.”

“Did he have something against Jews – or homely girls?”

“Not that I was aware of, he liked everyone, his favorite poker pal was a rabbi, but he’d say weird shit like that. He used to go on and on with my mother about her Italian husband.”

“He didn’t like Italians?”

“I dunno. The thing is, my dad was a combination of Irish and French. He didn’t look anything like an Italian.”

“And you say he had all his wits, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“And Galway reminds you of him?”

“Uh-huh. In a way. When we talked yesterday I got the feeling ... well, like he really cared about me, like my grampa did. Sort of protective, you know? He asked me about my family and growing up, then he’d zoom off into some non sequitur ... like blue pie charts.”

“Blueberry pie charts?”

“No, blue pie charts.”

“Oh, you mean your ass.”

“What?”

“Never mind.” Locan gave his head a quick shake. “We better go in.”

The same young nun greeted them at the door and immediately escorted them to the bishop’s office.

He sat in a plushly upholstered chair in a corner of the room puffing on a pipe. He gestured to them to join him.

“Pull up some seats. Ms. McDaniel, delighted to see you again. I enjoyed our chat yesterday.”

“Thank you, Your Excellency.”

“Have either of you heard of Roderick Bowen?”

Locan and Rachel looked at each other, and shook their heads.

“Not surprised, even though he was a billionaire back when being a millionaire still meant something. An industrialist, entrepreneur, inventor – he used his wealth to back projects way ahead of their time. I’m talking about the early twentieth century. He was a great supporter of Nicola Tesla; I’m sure you’ve heard of him.”

“Yeah,” Locan said. “Made Edison look like a third-rate electrician.”

Galway chuckled, “Indeed he did.”

He drew a puff from his pipe and let the smoke ribbon away from the corner of his mouth.

“Bowen was a devout Catholic and very generous to the church and church-sponsored causes. But, for all his wealth and influence, he endured some blows to his soul such as we’re all subjected to in life. He lost two children; his wife became mentally unstable and died in an institution. A woman who would have become his second wife was killed in a freak accident.”

Locan and Rachel waited a moment for the bishop to carry his story forward.

“Anyway, he began to think – think about his relationship to God, in fact, about mankind’s relationship to God. He developed the notion that God wasn’t the all-loving father that the church teaches he is. He decided that God was more like a remote, indifferent parent who had brought children into the world and essentially lost interest in them. And like a remote parent, all He wanted was for them to behave. Meanwhile, He figured He didn’t owe them anything, much less a paradise in the next life.”

“Huh?” Locan said.

“That’s right. Bowen surmised that Heaven was no paradise, just a place to go, and that people shouldn’t expect miracles, or anything more than the gift of life from God. Heaven was no more than a celestial railroad terminal.

“The church teaches that what we think of as Heaven is the pure bliss we experience by being reunited with our loving Creator. Well, Bowen didn’t believe it. He railed against hope and joy, if you can imagine. He said joy and hoping for joy were nothing more than cruel illusions, deceptions that would break your heart and crush you with despair.”

“He doesn’t exactly sound like the life of the party,” Locan said.

Galway shrugged and bit his pipe. “He didn’t want to see people hurting and in despair, so he essentially came up with a religious philosophy that if you don’t expect much, you won’t be disappointed. He taught his followers ...”

“What? Followers?” Locan’s face conveyed disgust. “People bought into that morose idea?”

“You have to understand, child mortality was still very high in those years; antibiotics only came into their own at mid-century. And then there was the Depression worldwide. People saw Bowen’s ideas as a way to cope with crushing burdens. So, yes, they signed on, to avoid the pain they stopped celebrating anything joyous, including Christmas, childbirth, anniversaries, anything.

“Bowen acquired enough followers that he laid out a community where they would not be ridiculed. It was what used to be called a company town. Members of the community worked at a factory nearby owned by Bowen. They lived in housing provided by the company and raised their families according to Bowen’s tenets. He sited this village in a little notch of a valley in Vermont’s Green Mountains. There’s one road that goes in and out. It’s not the kind of place you drive by or through. The only way you end up there is if you set out to go there. Only outsiders who do that now are utility people, to maintain the phone and power lines.”

Galway blew another puff of smoke from the side of his mouth.

“Now, of course, Bowen’s philosophies conflicted with the church’s teachings; but the Holy See turned a blind eye. Bowen had contributed so much money to hospitals, charities, religious causes. So he was left alone to cultivate his odd musings. So long as he kept his ideas and his acolytes out of the mainstream, pontiffs let him have a pass.

“Meanwhile, he built a church in Bowentown – that is the name of the community. But it’s unlike any church in Christendom. Made entirely of Vermont granite, it’s small actually, accommodates about a hundred people, but it has a steeple – no, not a steeple really – it’s more like a hollow cylinder of  stone, with no windows, no way of letting in light, and it pokes it’s way about two hundred feet into the sky. From the inside it is nothing more that a shaft of blackest night. You see, it was how Bowen reminded people that if they looked up to heaven, that’s all they would see, not light, but darkness.”

“Holy shit,” Locan said.

“Nothing holy about it. But, it gets stranger. Bowen had a statue commissioned, an ugly, horrid thing – he called it the Despairing Madonna. It’s of a woman lying upon the ground looking up, her face conveying not a prayer, but the realization that her prayer has fallen on deaf ears. It reclines beside the altar.”

“He sounds seriously disturbed,” Rachel ventured.

“And it gets even stranger,” Galway continued, his brows hiked. “During a service at the church back in the thirties, the face of the statue was reported to have glowed a sort of sickly green. Then, all in attendance swore they saw the visage rise into the dark vault above them, rise all the way to the top where it remains to this day. I’m told the people in town refer to it as the Angel of Wrath. Here, look at these photos.”

Galway handed the pictured to Locan.

“Ugh! What a fucked-up face. Looks like a gargoyle on meth.”

Galway laughed. “Good description. It’s entirely different than the statue’s face. Now, here’s another thing. That picture was taken with an ordinary camera with a 50mm lens. It should rightly only show up as a green smudge.”

“It fills the frame ... like it was taken a foot or two away.”

“Some kind of optical illusion. With a naked eye it looks a good distance away, as you can imagine. But use any optical tool, any lens, and it looks like it’s right in your face, sizing you up. People believe that it is there to punish any who stray from the joyless path. They even think it may be responsible for the hideous deaths of a pair of residents ... and that’s where you two come in.”

“How?” Rachel asked.

“Two men, two fathers, Bowenists, family men, were discovered ripped to pieces in the woods surrounding the village. The state police are investigating, but their findings so far are inconclusive; they’re not willing to call the deaths homicides. They think it might be an animal attack, a bear, perhaps even an elusive catamount. But ...”

“What?” Locan said.

“Your friend, Mr. Murphy – by the way, did he tell you how he came to acquire the name, Murphy?”

“Uh, no.”

“You must ask him sometime; very amusing.”

“Uh, sir?”

“Oh, yes, as I was saying, Mr. Murphy said his intuition, his instinct tells him the killings were perpetrated by ...” Galway’s gaze slid toward Rachel. “Well, he doesn’t like the word I would ordinarily use, so let’s just say, Ms. McDaniel, he thinks someone ... or something like you, or he, did the deed.”

“I take it we’re going to Vermont,” Locan said.

“Tomorrow you’ll fly to Boston, and connect on a regional flight to Burlington where you will meet your FBI liaison. Of course you’re travelling on diplomatic passports so feel free to pack any special ordinance. I wonder ... will you require a clip of silver bullets?”

“That’s Hollywood horseshit. Connor would have told you. All it takes, if it comes to that, is a regular bullet. It just better be a damned fast bullet.”

“Perhaps you’ll be grateful for your Sig 9, then. You can spray an entire clip.”

“If only it were that easy.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that, Locan. I told you that we would not hunt them again, but this is a special case. And while you’re there, see what you can do about bringing that goddamned goblin out of its perch. Bowenism has gone on far too long. It’s antithetical to everything the church teaches about love and salvation. If it were to be rediscovered by the mainstream media it would cause problems; I’d like to see it dealt a death blow.”

“Maybe I’ll have to chat with Mr. Bowen.”

“You’re a bit late for that. He died twenty-three years ago; he’s buried in the little town cemetery. The town is overseen by Sister Gwendolyn Lancette, his executor and successor.”

“A nun?” Locan exhaled an exasperated sigh.


PART 2


Mullens met them at the gate at Burlington International Airport. A tall, intense man accompanied him.

“Locan, Rachel, welcome to the Green Mountain State, the land of milk and maple syrup.”

“Gee, thanks.”

Mullens turned to his companion. “Lt. Detective Roger St. Cyr, this is Garreth Locan and Rachel McDaniel. We, that is, the bureau has no interest in this matter – just now – but Vermont State Police insisted on being included in your, uh, investigation.”

“Could I see some ID?” St. Cyr asked. His face was expressionless as granite.

Locan shrugged, and he and Rachel flipped open their ID wallets.

St. Cyr’s face came alive.

“Palatinus ... Christ ... you’re for real. I thought you were an urban legend cops used to whisper about at police conventions.”

“Hmm, well, we’re not here to step on any toes, Lieutenant. The Vatican’s interest in these matters is pretty narrowly focused.”

St. Cyr resumed his granite visage. “Fine ... jurisdiction, of course ...”

“Is all yours,” Locan nodded.

Locan drove behind St. Cyr’s cruiser as they followed it to Bowenstown. They drove for more than an hour through lush forests until the cruiser took a hard right. Locan followed it into a hairpin turn and continued along a road bounded by two high ridges. Eventually it opened into a compact valley.

“Holy shit!” Locan and Rachel said at once as they spied the tower jutting into the sky.

“It looks like a big rocket,” Rachel said.

“Nah ... it looks like a big granite dildo.”

The village was laid out along a neat geometric grid with the town burial yard and the tower at opposite ends of the cluster of homes. It looked like any planned bedroom community. Off to the right, set high on a ridge was a building resembling a fortification. They followed the cruiser to another building being exited by throngs of children of all ages.

“Look at the faces on those kids,” Locan said. “Have you ever seen such a mirthless bunch of juveniles in your life?”

“Jesus!” Rachel yelped. “Oh, my God.”

“What? What’s the matter?”

“Feeling ... sick.”

“Huh? What happened?”

“It’s passing. Just a terrible, terrible wave of loneliness came over me.”

“Could you tell who it came from? You’re keying in to someone, something in pain again.”

“I know. Jesus, such melancholy.” She scanned the children leaving the school with their blank faces, but could not determine which, if any of them, she’d connected with. “I think people who feel this hopeless become suicidal.”

A pair of nuns in green-gray habits exited the building, then a taller nun in a slate gray habit appeared in the doorway. Her eyes fixed on Locan and Rachel.

“I bet that’s Sister Lancette,” Locan said.

“I don’t think so; that woman can’t be more than forty,” Rachel said. “According to Galway, she should be closing in on seventy.”

“Still, I’d bet ya anything.”

They exited the car and followed St. Cyr toward the nun.

“Sister Lancette, this is Garreth Locan and Rachel McDaniel ... from the Vatican.”

The nun’s body stiffened and she drew in a deep breath.

“Well, we haven’t heard much from Rome these many years.”

“How many years?” Locan said, smiled.

The sister’s right brow cocked. “Many. Please, come with me to the convent house.” Her head tilted toward the fortress on the ridge. They followed her along a path to the great house.

“This was Roderick Bowen’s home. He bequeathed it to the order. We oversee Bowdentown.”

“What order is that, Sister,” Rachel asked.

“The sisters of Our Lady of Sorrows.”

“How uplifting,” Locan muttered under his breath.

They entered the convent house and its interior of dark gray granite walls. No art, not even a bit of color could be seen to ameliorate the sullen surroundings.

“Lieutenant,” Sister Lancette said. “Have you any more to tell us about poor Mr. Braden and Mr. Wollock?”

“I’m afraid not, Sister.”

“Well then, good day.” She dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

Embarrassed, St. Cyr glanced toward Locan and Rachel. He turned and left like a petulant boy who had been told he could not go out and play.

“Please, come with me,” she said to Locan and Rachel, and led them to a smaller room, not quite as dismal. A plush sofa dominated the room as well as a pair of chairs.

The sister turned and displayed a sneer of a smile. She began to doff pieces of her habit. Shawl, wimple and the plain dress fell to the floor in a pile. She stepped out of them wearing denim shorts and a cotton tank top straining to contain an ample bosom. She shook out her dark hair and plopped onto the sofa, inviting to them to sit.

“Well, what were you expecting?” she asked and crossed her long legs. She canted her hips in a coquettish display.

“I was expecting a dour, seventy-something battleaxe,” Locan said.

“Reports of my age have been ...” She pressed her finger to her chin. “Oh, yeah, greatly exaggerated.”

“Uh-huh.” Locan nodded, his gaze tracing the long line of her pale legs.

“Sister,” Rachel said, “We’ve been sent here to ...”

“Yeah ... a pair of fucking Paladins. Jesus, I guess Rome’s decided to lower the boom finally. I was kind of expecting it, but I figured it would come during the reign of that Polog pope.”

“You are certainly not what we expected,” Locan said. “But, be that as it may, tell us what you can about the killings.”

“Bear.”

“Really? You sure?”

“What the hell else could it have been? They were gnawed on.”

“What about the victims? Just family men? Any ... issues?”

“Issues? These people avoid issues. That’s the whole point of this perverse religion. They can’t even have an orgasm for fear they might enjoy themselves and have it double back on them. You’ll never see a sorrier bunch of assholes in your life.”

“Sister,” Rachel said, “I don’t understand ... aren’t you ... I mean, your order, your position here, isn’t it to promulgate Bowen’s philosophy?”

“Bowen took me in when I was in trouble ... by trouble I mean I was pregnant and alone. I’d had a whirlwind romance with a guy and then he disappeared. I had a child ... but it didn’t live. I was going to kill myself. Bowen told me all my grief didn’t really mean anything. I had to look past it, accept what life doled out. It all made sense at the time. I thought he was going to marry me; instead he made me become a nun. Sure, why not? I was young; I didn’t know what else to do. He also said he’d make me his heir; instead he shackled me to this fucking zombie town. I’m locked in, and I’ve been trying to figure out a way to get control of his money so I can shut this horror show down and get on with my life. I figure I deserve it. But his will is ironclad. If Bowenville were to disappear, his millions would go into a conservation trust, for forests and wild animals for crissakes.”

“Why don’t you just walk away from it?” Rachel asked.

“I can’t. It’s not that easy; there are reasons.”

“Are you sure you can’t tell me anything about the guys who were killed?” Locan pressed.

She sat up and her knees separated. Locan had the distinct impression that she was aiming her pussy at him.

“Okay,” she said. “Both families have girls, daughters, who recently turned up pregnant. I figured it was incest. That maybe the guys couldn’t take any more lifeless humping with the old ladies and decided to turn to their daughters. You think that’s sick, but in this town it makes sense.”

“How’s that?” Rachel asked.

“Very few of the original Bowenists are alive now, and they’re in their nineties. These are second and even third generation. The pull of the faith isn’t so strong. I’m surprised it hasn’t come apart by now.”

“The other nuns ...”

“Knuckleheads ... like most nuns. They don’t have a clue; they still believe and teach the bullshit.”

“Hmm,” Locan said. “I’d also like to take a look at your green goblin.”

“Oh, that fucking thing. You can if you can stand it. It scares the shit out of everyone. Scares me too, the malevolent hunk of shit. Nobody knows how it stays up there. Father Gendron should be over there finishing up Mass. He’ll give you the nickel tour. Meanwhile, I’ll have some rooms prepared for you ... or would you prefer just ... a room?” She licked the corner of her mouth.

Locan and Rachel were well down the path before he said, “Well, what did you make of that?”

“You kidding? I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the woman. She’s not telling us everything. If she despises the place she would have found a way to move on. No place to go, my ass; something’s keeping her here.”

They walked through the town passing expressionless residents until they stood before the granite church. They had to crane their necks to look up at the tower.

“What a fucking monstrosity,” Locan said, before they entered.

The pews were empty, but a white-haired priest stood at the altar packing a chalice into a carrying bag.

“Padre?”

The priest dropped the chalice, which went clanking down the altar steps. He held a hand over his heart.

“Sorry, Father,” Locan said. “Didn’t mean to startle you.”

“Startle? In this place? What could possibly startle me? I almost had a heart attack.”

“Sorry, again. Father, my name is Locan and this is Ms. McDaniel; we’re from Rome.”

The priest clapped his hands together. “Thanks be to Jesus, it’s about time. There has to be a stop put to this.”

“Father,” Rachel asked, “what are you doing here?”

“I drive up from Rutland to say Mass for these people. I hate to come here, but someone has to minister the sacraments to them. But, it’s all so wrong. Look at this place; they call it a church, but I won’t leave the Eucharist here. And this ... work of art,” he said, pointing to the statue of the reclining woman. “Looks like a bag lady with the DTs. And worst of all ...”

The priest pointed up into the vault of darkness. “There’s that son of a bitch of a thing. You think I like having that over my head while I’m celebrating Holy Mass?”

Locan and Rachel looked up at the glowing green smudge.

“It’s awfully ugly,” Locan agreed.

“The people believe it’s alive and ready to pounce the second they experience the slightest bit of joy. It’s a sick place, this is.”

“Someone ought to take it down,” Locan said.

“Too scared. Besides, how would you get near the thing? It would take a month to raise enough staging.”

“Hmm,” Locan tugged his chin. “Father, Racey, would you mind stepping back a bit?”

“Huh?” the priest said.

“Oh, no,” Rachel rushed to take the priest’s hand and tug him toward the pews.

Locan lifted his pistol from the holster at the small of his back and aimed at the thing. Several ricochets echoed about the vault as he emptied the clip at the glowing smudge.

“Damn, wish I had my Python.” Locan stared up; the thing was unaffected by his volley.

“Um, Father Gendron, you know anyone nearby who could bring in some lighting equipment?”

“No, but I’ll make inquiries, son. If you intend to knock that demon bastard down, I’ll find all the lighting you want.”

Locan grinned.

*    *    *

Mrs. Charles Wollock appeared to Locan like a woman whose brain had been shot full of Novocain. Her expression wasn’t so much dour as blank.

“Ma’am, we’re here from Rome. We’re here to look into your husband’s death.”

Her voice was flat. “Death comes. What is there to investigate?”

“The circumstances, ma’am.”

She didn’t even shrug in reply.

“Your daughter, Melanie,” Rachel said. “May I speak to her?”

“I don’t see why that would be necessary.”

“We understand she is pregnant.”

“It happens. It’s another burden. We cope.”

“Of course,” Rachel said. “Do you know who the father is?”

The woman held Rachel in an unreadable gaze.

“Please, Mrs. Wollock. I’m going to have to insist.”

“She’s in the yard, doing her homework.”

Rachel smiled. “Thank, you.”

After Rachel stepped outside, Locan asked, “Have you any idea what your husband and Mr. Braden were doing in the woods? Did they hunt?”

“Hunt? Of course not. Our men do not squander their time in empty pursuits.”

“I see. Not even a ballgame, I suppose. They might get excited. Do they ever get angry?”

“Anger is a sign that you have not kept your faith; that you expected a reward and were inevitably disappointed. Hope is foolish.”

“Tell me something, Mrs. Wollock, do you ever hug your children?”

The woman turned away, her lips twitched. “Please, I have nothing more to say.”

Locan left the home and waved to Rachel who stood with a girl of about sixteen in the yard.

“I’m headed over to the church,” Locan shouted.

Rachel nodded.

*    *    *

“Melanie, do you understand what’s happened to you? Do you understand that you’re carrying a baby?”

The girl nodded, but did not return Rachel’s gaze.

“Can you tell me who did this to you?”

“Why are you asking me these things? No one asks when something happens; everyone just accepts. Aren’t girls punished out there?”

“Out there?”

“In the world. You make a mistake and people get angry.”

“So, you’re getting pregnant was a mistake? You didn’t intend for it to happen?”

“No, of course not. We were just playing.”

“Playing?”

A tear trickled over the girl’s cheek. “Please, Miss, don’t tell anyone. We’re not supposed to play.”

“That’s crazy, Melanie, children just naturally play.”

“No ... not here. But it’s so awful. We just wanted to run and laugh. We, that is, some of us would sneak into the forest and play. Most of the other kids were too scared, they said we’d be snatched to hell by the green devil, but they still wanted to.”

“Play ... like just games?”

“Yes, and running and chasing and laughing. There’s no laughing in Bowentown, Miss.”

“What other children, Melanie?”

“At first there were maybe ten or fifteen, but after a while, the grownups must have found out and kept them in after school. Then it was only me and Lisle.”

“The other girl who’s pregnant now?”

“Yes, she’s my best friend.”

“No one else?”

Melanie looked back toward the house, then whispered, “And the boy in the forest.”

“Boy? One of the other kids?”

“No. We don’t know where he comes from. He just lives in the forest. All the other kids know about the boy in the forest.”

“What’s his name?”

“Peter. We used to see him here and there. We’d see him looking at us from the trees. He looked like he was alone. Lots of times he didn’t have any clothes.”

“None at all?”

Melanie nodded.

“Sometimes he’d be wearing funny clothes that didn’t fit him so good, even ladies’ clothes. But lots of times he was just naked.”

“Okay. And he became friends with you and Lisle?”

“Yeah. We used to play at a special place. There’s a stream from a spring and it makes a little pond. You can’t really swim because it’s so small but you can splash.”

“I see.”

“He just wanted ...”

“What, Melanie, what did Peter want?”

“He liked to be held, hugged. We would hug him for a long time and he was just so happy.”

“Did you do anything with Peter besides hugging?”

“Lisle liked to touch Peter; we let him touch us too. Lisle said ... well, she said her mother told her that she would have to learn how to let a boy inside her when she grew up and got married. We decided to try it with Peter, to see what it was like. It wasn’t so special, but Peter really liked it and after a while, Lisle and I liked it too.”

“I see. Melanie, where can I talk to Peter?”

“I don’t know.” She shrugged. “He lives in the forest.”

“Melanie, how did your dad react when he found out you were pregnant?”

Melanie turned away from Rachel. “I don’t know. He talked to other people about it at church.”

“And?”

“Father came home angry ... I never saw him angry before. He wasn’t supposed to get angry. I didn’t know what to think. Some people said he must have done it to me; they told him to leave Bowentown. Then Lisle’s father said she was going to have a baby too. Lots of people were upset; they said someone was taking advantage.

“Taking advantage?”

“Someone who had lost the faith, and now they were ... I don’t know. I didn’t mean for any of this to happen.”

“Of course, you didn’t. So your dad was angry?”

The girl began to sob. “He hit me, Miss. He hit me and made me tell him about Peter. Mother tried to stop him and he hit her too. He went ... crazy.”

Did he and Mr. Braden go looking for Peter?”

The girl could only answer with a nod. Her sobs overtook her and Rachel took her into her arms.

Mrs. Wolloch ran out of the house. Rachel steered the girl into her mother’s embrace.

“Yeah, that’s your job.”

*    *    *

Locan saw the truck outside the church just as dusk was settling in.

Three men set up klieg lights around the altar. Father Gendron directed their efforts.

“Pardon my French, Father, but I’ll be glad to get the hell out of here,” one man said.

“You and me both, son.”

“Okay, we’ll fire up the generator.”

Another of the crew ran out to the truck. In an instant the lights shone their brilliant beams straight up the tower.

“Holy mother of God,” Father Gendron said.

Locan looked up into the illuminated vault. A spiral stairway of black beams set into the granite began about thirty feet up and continued to the top.

“I never knew it was there,” said the priest.

“No one was supposed to know it was there. No one could see it in the darkness. Now, I need to get a hold of Lieutenant St. Cyr. We’ll need a ladder to reach the first step and I expect the state police have a Geiger counter they can let us borrow.”

“Geiger counter?”

Locan nodded and grinned.

The ladder was set up just as St. Cyr arrived.

“Bring it?” Locan asked.

St. Cyr handed him the device. “What’s up?”

“Me. Get the two-way too?”

St. Cyr handed him a hand-held radio.

“Okay, I’ll be in touch.”

Locan started up the ladder.

“Be careful, son,” Father Gendron warned. “Those beams have been hanging there for decades.”

“Just wish me luck, Father.”

“Better a prayer.”

“Yeah, whatever.”

The ladder leaned against the first beam. Locan held to the side of the vault, there was nothing else to put a hand to. He started up each step, testing each beam before he proceeded. Almost twenty minutes later he was only halfway up the tower. The heat from the klieg lights sent waves of warmed air up the vault. Sweat trickled off his forehead. He remembered climbing the Bunker Hill Monument when he was a kid; that was a cakewalk compared to this.

The beams became shorter as he neared the top. The thing – the goblin – swung, buffeted by the columns of hot air, so its visage followed Locan’s progress.

“That goddamned thing’s moving; looking at me,” he hissed.

Locan noticed a small platform above the goblin and the pulley. The goblin dangled from it by a line.

Locan spoke into the radio. “Damned thing’s hung up here with ... um ... looks like nylon ... no, it’s silk. I think it’s parachute line. It was hauled up here by pulley. Now, let’s see ...”

Locan flicked on the Geiger counter and held it to the goblin’s face; it crackled like a bag of potato chips being crushed.

“Yeah, thought so.” He reached above to the platform. His fingers brushed a lever; the goblin hurtled toward the lights.

“Heads Up! This bitch is coming down fast!”

The smash of the goblin crashing into the altar echoed up the tower.

By the time Locan descended, the church had filled with residents. The altar had cracked and collapsed. The goblin was broken in two but still glowing.

“It’s coated with tritium,” Locan said. “The same stuff that makes watch faces glow. Careful, it’s mildly radioactive.”

“How’d you figure that?” St. Cyr asked.

“That factory of Bowen’s that everyone worked at back in the thirties ... it manufactured watches.”

Locan turned to the congregants, most of them gape-mouthed at the destruction.

“Bowen knew holding on to a faith that suppresses joy went against human nature. So he arranged this little illusion to fortify your resolve, or scare you into toeing the line. I can’t tell you exactly how he did it, but he wanted it to be awesome and frightening. And all these years you and your predecessors have been scared of this ... half-assed lawn jockey. I’m not going to tell you how to live the rest of your lives, but Father Gendron’s here to offer guidance. He’s a good guy. Listen to him.”

*    *    *

Rachel, naked, slipped out of the convent house and listened to her heart beat. A heavy blanket of despair enclosed her soul and a tear trickled over her face. Her soul had locked on to Peter’s from the moment she arrived.

Brilliant blue light illuminated the woods like a lightning flash and in an instant she was bounding through the trees, senses attuned to every living thing in the forest. She blurred past trees and over rocks and rises as she climbed the ridge and followed the contour of the land until she reached a hidden plateau. The sound of a brook was her beacon.

She found him sitting hunched by the little pond. He was naked, trembling. As he turned toward her she shifted. He closed his arms across his eyes.

Now they stood facing each other, his jaw hanging, and eyes wide.

“Peter,” she said. “It’s okay; I’m here to help you. I’m your friend.”

He stumbled back a step.

“I’m Rachel. Melanie told me about you.”

She stepped toward the boy slowly, holding out an arm, her palm up.

“Come to me, sweetheart. It’s okay.”

He stepped toward her warily, but with a pleaful gaze.

She embraced him, gently guiding his head onto her shoulder.

“Shhh, it’s okay.”

“Cold,” he said.

“Yes ... I’m cold too. Let’s sit on the grass.” Together they sat, sharing body heat. She rubbed her hand briskly over his back; he reciprocated.

“You feel nice,” he said.

She smiled and continued to rub his back and arms.

She could shift, try to take him along, but she suspected he didn’t understand what happened to him when he shifted. She decided to wait for the dawn, and endure the chill.

“Peter, Melanie told me about her father, what he did.”

“Why was he so mean to her? We didn’t do anything bad, did we? He hurt her; it made me so mad. He and Lisle’s father came after me. They said they were going to kill me; they called me awful names.”

“What did you do, Peter?”

“I don’t remember ... I just got crazy ... I got mad. Everything turned blue.”

“Okay.”

 They held each other and shivered.

*    *    *

Locan confronted Sister Lancette in her bedroom as the sky turned pink.

“Wake up, sister,” he said from a seat in the corner of the room.

She stirred. “Who? What?”

“We need to talk.”

“Mr. Locan?”

She sat up and stretched, the bedclothes fell away revealing her breasts and belly.

“Don’t call me sister anymore, please. It’s Gwen.”

“Fine, Gwen. We still have to talk.”

She threw the bedclothes off her entirely.

“I always sleep in the nude. Its feels so liberating after wearing that goddamned costume all day.”

Locan nodded, smiled.

“Jesus ... you want to fuck? I haven’t had a man inside me in ... I’ve forgotten. Please, whadya say?”

She separated her thighs. Her fingers thrummed her sex.

“C’mon ... I still have a pretty good body, don’t I?”

“Very nice, Gwen. Ordinarily, I’d be happy to. But we really have to talk now. I’m just waiting for my partner.”

“Oh, yeah. Miss McDaniel. She’s pretty.” Lancette shrugged. “Hey, she can join us too. I won’t mind.”

“No thanks.” Rachel’s voice drew Locan’s gaze toward the door.

“Oh, shit!” Lancette moaned. “What is he doing here?”

Rachel, clad in a blanket, guided Peter, also clad in a blanket, into the room.

“Mom?” he pleaded.

“I told you ... you can’t stay with me anymore. I’m sorry, you just can’t.”

She glared at Locan. “Fuck you goddamned bastards.”

The boy wept.

“He’s your child,” Rachel said. “You put him out ... out in the goddamned woods. He’s a child.”

“He’s fifty-five goddamned years old!”

“And you, Gwen,” Locan said, his voice mild and even. “How old are you?”

She hesitated, then said, “Seventy-three.”

“You don’t look a day over ... thirty-nine?”

“The man who you had your whirlwind romance with,” Rachel said, “the one who left you pregnant. He told you a fantastical story, the reason why he couldn’t stay with you. You figured it was horseshit, until the years began to slide away, and you didn’t age. Peter ... well he started getting into trouble, but he didn’t age normally either. See, a mother and an unborn child pass a lot between them: food, of course, and blood and such. Peter passed longevity to you; his longevity. He was his father’s son.”

“He just wouldn’t grow up,” Lancette said. “I’m seventy-three goddamned years old and I’m shackled to a sixteen-year-old with barely the maturity of a ten-year-old. I agreed to come to Bowentown because I thought I could hide him, keep him safe here, out of trouble. You have to understand; people had been hurt. He’d get upset and ... people got hurt.”

“You put him out,” Rachel said.

“I let him sleep with me for years. I gave him clothes, food. I just couldn’t take it any more. Then those stupid girls ... they made him do that; that’s how they got knocked up, the stupid little cunts. It’s their fault their shithead fathers got ... got ...”

“Mom, can I come back? I’m so lonely.”

Rachel patted Peter’s arm.

“You put him out in the woods? The fucking woods?”

“You know what he is,” Lancette said.

“And you were going to leave, wash your hands of him,” Rachel said.

“What the fuck else was I supposed to do? I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be his mother forever. I just can’t do it. He kills people for crissakes!”

“Don’t leave me, mom,” Peter pleaded.

“Get him the fuck out of here!”

*    *    *

Peter slept beside Rachel as she combed her fingers through his hair. The sun was beginning to rise above the crown of the forest outside the window.

Locan sat in a chair watching them, his hands together, fingers forming a cathedral arch.

“We can’t help this kid,” he said.

“Then what are we going to do?”

Locan sat silently a moment. “He’s dangerous. Like any kid, he’s going to get frustrated, throw a tantrum. Except, with him, when it happens someone’s liable to die.”

“We have to do something, Locan.”

“Only thing we can do ... put him out of his misery.”

“Locan, no ... no, you can’t.”

“We have no choice. Connor told me male hybrids don’t do well. They don’t mature as well emotionally as females or as quickly. A hundred goddamned years from now we might be looking at what appears to be a twenty-year-old guy, but he’ll think and act like a thirteen-year-old. Besides, what kind of life would he have? It would be so lonely, Rachel. You feel that, even now.”

“His heart’s been broken so many times, Locan. His father ... he could have been ...”

“Your great-great-grandfather? For that you feel some obligation to him?”

“He’s been hurt so much, Locan.”

“All the more reason to end his suffering. Damn, this place is so perverse. Kids in this town ... the kids in Russian orphanages get more affection. But at least they have a home. What’s this kid going to have ... the woods?”

“I could ...”

“No, don’t even think that. He’s not your mistake.”

Rachel began to cry. She cried herself to sleep.

*    *    *

The clearing was kissed by sunshine and a brisk breeze that presaged autumn.

Rachel knelt next to Peter, holding his hand. Behind him, Locan drew back the slide of the Sig 9.

Rachel tried to hide her despair, forcing a smile to reassure Peter.

“Okay, pal,” Locan said, and laid one hand on the boy’s shoulder. “Rachel and I are going to see to it that you’re never lonely again, and no one will ever again hurt your feelings.”

Peter nodded. “Will my mom be with me?”

“Sure, kid.”

“Promise?”

“Yeah ... you bet. I’ll take care of it; I’m your guardian angel, pal.”

“Rachel,” Peter said. “Hug me.”

“Yeah ... sure,” Rachel held him and swallowed her sob. Then Locan gently pushed her away.

“Stay nice and still now, Pete.”

“Mr. Locan, thank –”

The fading echo of the gunshot lingered just a moment longer than Peter’s soul.

*    *    *

The terrible silence launched Rachel into consciousness. Desperately her gaze swept around the room; her heart pounded.

When she realized Peter still slept beside her, the tears came in a torrent.

She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and slid away from the boy. Where was Locan?

She hurried from the room and down a stairwell that led to the foyer. There she found Lancette in out-of-fashion clothing, bearing an out-of-fashion suitcase.

“I’m leaving,” she said. “The whole town’s gone crazy. They’re yelling, cursing ... laughing. Bunch of idiots.”

“And Peter?”

She shrugged. “You want him? You keep him.”

She lifted her bag and stepped through the door.

Rachel found Locan with Father Gendron and Lieutenant St. Cyr. She watched him shake their hands, then he approached her holding up a piece of paper.

“A message from Galway,” he said. “Or, more likely, Connor.”

“What is it?”

“GPS coordinates.”

“That’s all?”

“Yup. Know where it is?”

Rachel shrugged.

“Northeast Kingdom.”

“Huh?”

“That bulge of northeast Vermont that squeezes northern New Hampshire up against Maine. The fucking Bermuda Triangle of New England. Lots of strange stuff up there ... spooky people.”

“Really?”

Locan laughed. “Must be, if that’s where they’re sending us.”

“For what?”

“I guess once we land at these coordinates we’ll find out.”

“What about, Peter?”

“Oh, yeah, we’re bringing him.”

Peter sat quietly and without complaint during the long ride. The further north they travelled, the prettier the countryside became with an early effusion of autumn color.

Locan cursed the GPS as it led him off the state highway and along a road that may have been an ancient creek bed.

They drove as far as they could before the road merged into the forest. To their left a flat meadow stretched toward a high hill, and on top of the hill a stone house.

“I guess that’s our destination. Nothing else around here. Might as well be on the goddamned moon.”

They left the car and began walking toward the hill and house. Soon they found themselves walking through an ancient, overgrown burial yard.

“Quaint,” Locan said. Then he shifted his weight and scanned the high grass.

“What?” Rachel asked, holding tight to Peter’s hand.

“Oh-oh.”

A pack, trotting around them in a circle that steadily tightened.

“Nice doggies,” Locan said, as he backed toward Rachel and Peter. He slowly reached for his pistol. One of the animals growled.

“Yeah, maybe that’s not such a great idea.”

A young woman appeared as if out of the air. A little girl held her hand.

“Hi,” she said. “I’m Paula. This is Evie, my daughter.”

“Um ... where? Never mind. I’m Locan and this is Rachel and that’s ...”

“Peter ... we know.” The young woman smiled.

By the time Locan turned back toward Paula an old couple and a young man stood with her.

“Holy shit!” Locan jumped back. “Where’d you all come from?”

Paula laughed. “Sorry, this is Lon and Mowri, and Eian, Evie’s father.”

Rachel stepped past Locan and held out her hand to Paula, who smiled and nodded. Their hands clasped, blue electricity danced along their arms.

“The young man can stay with us,” the woman named Mowri said.

She stepped toward Locan. “You are Locan ... the Paladin.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“That is all right with you ... Paladin?”

“That is ... very much all right with me, ma’am. He’ll be safe here, right?”

Mowri nodded. “You must never speak of this place.”

“No ma’am.”

Mowri placed her hand on Locan’s chest. “Your heart feels familiar.”

“Huh?”

“Goodbye, Paladin.”

He nodded and looked back toward Rachel.

Her chin trembled. Locan quickly turned back where Mowri had stood, but she and the others had vanished.

“Peter’s with them,” Rachel said.

“What did you see, kid?”

Rachel just shook her head and smiled, a tear rolled off her cheek.

*    *    *

He just managed to turn the car around without the tires sinking into a soft patch. He drove gingerly back up the path to the highway.

“I wonder if I can point this pain-in-the-ass GPS at the Chateau Frontenac,” Locan said.

“We’re going to Quebec?”

“Yeah, and when we get there we’re going to drink and laugh and ...”

“What?” She giggled.

“I’m going to celebrate your legs and your ass and your belly, and your pussy. And your pretty, pretty face. And there will be joy in Muddville, says I, Mighty Casey!”

“You’re nuts.”

“Yeah. And don’t it feel wonderful?”

_______
© 2012 Robert Buckley. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

Bio: Who is Robert Buckley? Read his bio on the Erotica Readers & Writers Association website.

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