by Richard Long
Paperback: 488 pages
Publisher: Open Eyes (June 7, 2012)
The Book of Paul is a supernatural thriller that begins in New York’s East Village in the mid 1990’s. Unlike standard genre formulas, The Book of Paul combines liberal doses of humor, sex, mystery and gothic horror. The style is extremely cinematic, with short titled chapters that interweave the fast paced action in a cross-cut editing style.
Think: Rosemary’s Baby meets Pulp Fiction.
Guided by WILLIAM, the painfully lonely narrator of the story, the reader is thrust into the hidden world of an ancient feudal society presided over by PAUL, a charismatic villain who guards the powerful secrets of his talismanic book. If you subscribe to the notion that a thriller is only as good as its villain, you’re in for a delicious treat. Paul Kelly makes Hannibal Lecter look like Holden Caulfield.
As the story begins, we are introduced to MARTIN, a reclusive mercenary type in the Sergio Leone “man-with-no-name” vein. He meets ROSE, an East Village tattoo artist, which awakens long-suppressed memories of his horrifically abusive childhood at the hands of his mother and Paul, the mysterious stranger who abducts Martin on his eighth birthday. Martin is having trouble remembering what he did with Paul for all the years they spent together, but he is about to experience a very uncomfortable awakening.
When he’s not undergoing body-modifications at the hands of an “implant” specialist called THE STRIKER, William collects serial killer memorabilia. What kind of things? The things they collected. Or as he puts it: “Everybody knows about the severed heads that Jeffrey Dahmer kept in his refrigerator. But who do you know that actually has one?” William first interrupts the third person omniscient narrative to hint at his connection with the other characters. As the story unfolds, his first person interjections become more frequent as he gradually reveals his relationship with Martin, Paul and Rose through glimpses into his private journals.
More could be revealed to entice further interest: the gruesome Chapel hidden in a squatter slum in the desolate wasteland of Alphabet City; the members-only serial-killer club called The Dead End; the centuries old rivalry between Clan Kelly and the lineage ending with Rose and her father, Johnny the Saint; the mystery of the crucified angel; and the driving force behind all of Paul’s nefarious deeds -- his ruthless ambition to control the boundless power of The Maelstrom.
Stylistically, The Book of Paul could best be compared to the early writings of Peter Straub (if he were funnier), Bret Easton Ellis (if he were scarier) and playwright Martin McDonagh (if he wrote supernatural thrillers or gothic horror).
He practiced smiling.
Looking in the mirror, Martin pulled up the corners of his mouth, trying to duplicate the expression of the blond-haired man on the TV with the big forehead. Something wasn’t right—the eyebrows? His eyes darted back and forth f rom the mirror to the television, posing, making adjust- ments here and there…lips down, more teeth…comparing…nope. After a few minutes, his face started to hurt and he gave up.
He did push-ups instead. Push-ups were easy. He did two hundred before he had to stop and change the channel. A show called The Nanny had come on and he leapt up like a cat as soon as he heard her whiny voice. He pressed the remote button with blinding speed-click, click, click, click, click-until he found an old black-and-white movie. Good. He liked those. He went back to his push-ups, his face tilted up so he wouldn’t miss a thing.
In the movie there was a woman who was worried that this man didn’t love her anymore. She didn’t know it, but the man was worried that the woman didn’t love him either. They spent all this time (he couldn’t even count how many push-ups) trying to make each other jealous, hoping that would make the other one love them again. Martin didn’t understand any of it. He looked at them laughing and smiling while they tried to trick and embarrass each other, then went to the mirror and practiced again.
It still didn’t look right.
Birds were chirping, dogs were barking. It was a bright, bright beautiful
cool crisp day in the neighborhood. Junkies were up with their crackhead cousins, prowling the lanes of Tompkins Square Park, looking for a not quite empty vial to suck on or maybe a john so they could buy one. The gentry joggers were up already, circling the park in huffy, puffy laps, their pounding hoofbeats echoing the clang-whirl-shwoop-crunch of the mob- owned garbage trucks.
Ho-hum. Rose slowly fingered the ring on her nipple and wondered why she couldn’t get back to sleep. The garbage trucks were the obvious reason. The booms and bangs down below sounded like artillery fire. Still, she usually slept like a pile of cannonballs at Gettysburg. When she went down, she stayed down. At least until noon. She worked nights at the tat- too parlor, happily infecting all the ink-crazed kids with HIV and hepatitis C (if they were lucky). She didn’t realize she was doing that. She’d been following the sterilization techniques handed down by her creepy boss. Unfortunately, they weren’t any more effective than the jar of clear blue liquid that the barbershop used to sterilize combs. In the time she’d been working, she had already been responsible for the possibly fatal infection of eleven pierced and tattooed members of the “tribal community.”
So Rose, blissfully unaware of her crimes against humanity, lay wide awake at nine-fifteen in the morning, twisting and turning her nipple ring. She wasn’t sure why she was awake, but now that she was, she knew what she wanted to do about it. As she rubbed the two silver rings that held her clit hostage, she wondered again why she was up so early and why she felt so…horny? Hungry? What?
She knocked off a quick O like she was popping a wine cork, light and charming but nothing special. That’s when she realized it wasn’t a sex thing. So what was it?
She gripped the rings on both nipples and stretched them upward as far as she could, dragging her small twin mounds along like a pair of stub- born mules. She pulled and pulled until her nipples ached, then held the rings at the Maximum Stretching Point, feeling the pain course through her, then settle back down again. She didn’t back off even a millimeter, just took some deep slow breaths for a moment or two and tried to pull them out even farther.
She thought of a dancer doing hamstring stretches, and she figured the technique and level of pain must be fairly equivalent. After slowly yanking them out again, she thought, I’m in training, and started giggling so hard she had to let go. Thwack. Her tiny tits and sore, swollen nipples bounced back against her chest like a pair of hard rubber balls. Boing. Giggle. Ho- hum. Hmmm. So it wasn’t the sex and it wasn’t the pain or the sexpain or the painsex. So what was it? She looked out the window at the blue morn- ing sky and the green bushy trees and the squirrel tightrope-walking on the fire escape and the cling-clang of the garbage truck and…
She was happy. She was unreasonably, deliriously happy! But why? The “why” brought a tiny f rown to her tiny face, but the “happy” was so much stronger that it brushed away the “why” with a single gust of cool fresh air that came blowing through her curtains.
She threw the covers off the bed and let the breeze wash over her until her skin was a textured roadmap of goose bumps, pits, posts, rings and colored ink. She breathed and the ink breathed with her. She sat on the edge of the bed and jingled like Donner and Blitzen. She smiled and she looked out the window and knew something good was coming her way.
Rose stood up and stretched and took a deep breath and yawned and padded into the hallway where her yoga mat was waiting. She spent the next half hour going through her routine, a rare carryover of the training and discipline that dominated her preadolescent life as a competitive gym- nast. She could do headstands and handstands and down facing dogs like nobody’s business. In fact, it took some fairly severe contortions for her to even break a sweat, but by the final lotus pose, a slippery sheen of perspira- tion coated her arms and chest.
She sniffed her armpits, bowed to the altar at the end of the hall and lit three candles. The candles were nestled between a variety of crystals and minerals, some so brightly colored she often wondered how something that vibrant and wondrous could actually be growing like a plant on the walls of caves in total darkness. Or like her amethyst geode, actually growing inside a rock, like an egg hatching a million-year-old purple crystal baby. Her favorite gemstone was one her mom gave her, a brilliant red crystal she called a bloodstone. Its smooth, squarish surface was easily five inches across and three inches thick, one of the largest of its kind, she’d been told. She rubbed it for good luck like she did almost every day, then pranced into the bathroom for a very long, very hot shower.
She hummed a happy song while she soaped and scrubbed and rubbed and shaved and shaved and shaved. She wasn’t sure what the song was or where she’d heard it before. After three more humming choruses, it suddenly came to her and she could see Natalie Wood dancing in that dress shop, looking in the mirror while the other girls scolded her for being so silly. Rose looked in her defogging shower mirror, liked what she saw and sang out right along with them, “I feel pretty…oh, so pretty…”
You tell your children not to be af raid. You tell them everything will be
all right. You tell them Mommy and Daddy will always be there. You tell them lies.
Paul looked out the filthy window and watched the little girl playing in the filthier street below. Hopscotch. He didn’t think kids played hop- scotch anymore. Not in this neighborhood. Hip-hopscotch, maybe.
“Hhmph! What do you think about that?”
Paul watched the little black girl toss her pebble or cigarette butt or whatever it was to square number five, then expertly hop, hop, hop her way safely to the square and back. She was dressed in a clean, fresh, red-ging- ham dress with matching red bows in her neatly braided pigtails. She looked so fresh and clean and happy that he wondered what she was doing on this shithole street.
The girl was playing all by herself. Hop, hop, hop. Hop, hop, hop. She was completely absorbed in her hopping and scotching and Paul was equally absorbed watching every skip and shuffle. No one walked by and only a single taxi ruffled the otherworldly calm.
Paul leaned closer, his keen ears straining to pick up the faint sound of her shiny leather shoes scraping against the grimy concrete. He focused even more intently and heard the even fainter lilt of her soft voice. Was she singing? He pressed his ear against the glass and listened. Sure enough, she was singing. Paul smiled and closed his eyes and let the sound pour into his ear like a rich, fragrant wine.
“One, two, buckle my shoe. Three, four, shut the door…”
He listened with his eyes closed. Her soft sweet voice rose higher and higher until…the singing suddenly stopped. Paul’s eyes snapped open. The girl was gone. He craned his neck quickly to the left and saw her being pulled roughly down the street. The puller was a large, light-skinned black man, tugging on her hand/arm every two seconds like he was dragging a
dog by its leash. At first, he guessed that the man was her father, a com- modity as rare in this part of town as a fresh-scrubbed girl playing hop- scotch. Then he wondered if he wasn’t her father after all. Maybe he was one of those kinds of men, one of those monsters that would take a sweet, pure thing to a dark, dirty place and…
And do whatever a monster like that wanted to do.
Paul pressed his face against the glass and caught a last fleeting glance of the big brown man and the tiny red-checkered girl. He watched the way he yanked on her arm, how he shook his finger, how he stooped down to slap her face and finally concluded that he was indeed her one and only Daddy dear. Who else would dare to act that way in public?
“Kids!” Paul huffed. “The kids these days!”
He laughed loud enough to rattle the windows. Then his face hard- ened by degrees as he pictured the yanking daddy and the formally happy girl. Hmmm, maybe he was one of those prowling monsters after all. Paul shuddered at the thought of what a man like that would do. He imagined the scene unfolding step by step, grunting as the vision became more and more precise. “Hhmph!” he snorted after a particularly gruesome imagining. “What kind of a bug could get inside your brain and make you do a thing like that?”
“Monsters! Monsters!” he shouted, rambling back into the wasteland of his labyrinthine apartments, twisting and turning through the maze of lightless hallways as if being led by a seeing-eye dog. He walked and turned and walked some more, comforted as always by the darkness. Finally, he came to a halt and pushed hard against a wall.
His hidden sanctuary opened like Ali Baba’s cave, glowing with the treasures it contained. He stepped inside and saw the figure resting (well, not exactly resting) between the flickering candles. At the sound of his footsteps, the body on the altar twitched frantically. Paul moved closer, rubbing a smooth fingertip across the wet, trembling skin and raised it to his lips. It tasted like fear. He gazed down at the man, his eyes moving slowly from his ashen face to the rusty nails holding him so firmly in place.
The warm, dark blood shining on the wooden altar made him think about the red-gingham bunny again.
“Monsters,” he said, more softly this time, wishing he weren’t so busy. As much as he would enjoy it, there simply wasn’t enough time to clean up this mess, prepare for his guests and track her down. Well, not her, precisely. Her angry tugging dad. Not that Paul had any trouble killing little girls, you understand. It just wasn’t his thing. Given a choice, he would much rather kill her father. And make her watch.
Martin felt good. So good he would have smiled if he could. Today was
laundry day. He’d been awake for hours, doing his exercises (one thousand sit-ups, push-ups and chin-ups, plus a wide assortment of martial arts rou-tines), reading his favorite periodicals (Popular Mechanics, Soldier of Fortune, Lost Treasures). Even so, he was still able to tinker with his home surveillance system, take his shower at precisely nine a.m., and then finally…move on to the laundry.
Martin enjoyed many things in life: hunting, hoarding, watching TV… but he loved doing laundry the most. Every day was a contest between him and hard water. New York had the hardest water, like it had the hardest everything else. It helped with the dishes, breaking down the dried spa-ghetti sauce on his plate like hot corrosive acid. It helped in the shower too, where he rigged a special high-pressure nozzle that practically ripped the skin from his knotted muscles. He entered the bathroom with great determination, carefully hanging his gym shorts on their special hook, and proceeded to shave every hair on his head, chest, arms, underarms, legs and groin with an electric hair clipper, to a uniform one-eighth-inch length. One less thing to think about. Then he turned on the shower as hot as he could stand it, stepped inside and reveled in the fire hose blast of all that hard, hot water. Ahhhhhhh.
Martin was hard too. Looked hard. Felt hard. Yet his one true luxury in life was softness. Soft shirts, pants, underwear…soft sheets, pillows, blankets. Martin cursed the water silently as he washed his hand washables. He had more hand washables than most people had laundry. How could you trust your personal garments…fabric that came into physical contact with your skin…to anyone else? He muttered and fought fiercely against the hard, spiteful water, but just as he felt the clothes in his hands raise a mushy white flag of surrender, he suddenly heard a sound he never heard in all the time he had lived there. The doorbell.
Martin had one of those spring-button doorbells that almost dislocates your
finger when it pops back out, making that “Ding-dong, Avon” sound. He craned his head over to the peephole while keeping his body to the right side of the doorframe in case the Avon person happened to be carrying a shotgun and wanted to punch a window through the door and his newly trimmed belly. He was being extra careful because he was trained that way, not because he was expecting any trouble. Better safe than sorry.
In the peephole’s fish-eye distortion he saw the spiky hair of the girl who recently moved in upstairs. He had seen her on a few occasions, but he doubted she had seen him. Curious but ever cautious, he opened the door an inch and peeked outside. She was young, early twenties he guessed, probably five foot, two inches. Her hair was also short and jet black. She had big dark eyes, long lashes and a thin gold ring in her nose.
Martin waited, saying nothing. He hated nose-rings and wanted to hand her a Kleenex. She said nothing either, looking at Martin’s eye in the door crack. The silence didn’t bother Martin in the least. He spent nine- ty-eight percent of his time waiting and watching. He had the patience of Job. Besides, this was her errand. Whatever she wanted, she would either get around to telling him or she wouldn’t.
“You the super?” Rose asked finally. “No,” Martin replied.
“My sink’s broke,” she grumbled.
Martin said nothing, since he had no idea how to be concerned about her problem.
“You know where he lives?” she asked after three more uncomfortable seconds. She began fidgeting from staring so long at the unblinking eye.
“Yes,” Martin said.
Rose paused a second, wondering if this guy was just stoned or an idiot or mean or what. “Well, do you think you could tell me?” she asked finally, tapping her foot.
Martin hated foot-tapping even more than nose-rings and paused even longer while debating whether to tell her. “Next door,” he said at last, as Rose was heading back up the stairs.
“Thanks a lot,” she said, her voice dripping with the sarcasm distinctive of New York City apartment dwellers.
“You’re welcome,” Martin said, ignoring her sarcasm and incapable of it himself.
He closed the door and looked through the peephole, catching a glimpse of her hair moving toward the apartment next door. Glad to have concluded the exchange, he was happier still to return to his hand wash-ables, pulling out a bottle of Forever New from under the sink where there were six more keeping it company. Then he heard the ding-dong again.
His reaction to the doorbell both startled and confused him. He ex-pected to feel annoyed at being interrupted yet again from one of life’s greatest pleasures, but instead he felt a flutter of excitement. Why? He walked to the door and opened it a bit wider this time, shocked at himself for not looking through the peephole first. But it was just the girl, as he expected, still unarmed and grumbling more than ever. “He’s not there,” she said.
Martin said nothing. The super was in the hospital, where he would remain for the foreseeable future, having slipped in the bathtub after knocking back a fifth of vodka.
Rose stood in the hallway, still expecting some kind of response. Then her eyes widened as she took in the part of Martin’s body he had exposed through the six-inch gap. His bare chest was rippling with sinewy muscle and covered with a glaze of short hairs that ran from his chest in a ribbon to his navel and below, disappearing in the loose gray cotton of his gym shorts. Her eyes followed all the way down and she felt an involuntary spasm in her crotch when she saw the big lump in his.
Martin remained silent, watching as her eyes bounced back to his face like a diver on a springboard, hoping she hadn’t been caught. Just as quickly, they drifted back down again.
“Know where he is?” Rose blurted out, struggling to maintain eye contact.
“No,” he lied, feeling the lump grow bigger from the unaccustomed attention.
“Know how to fix a sink?” she asked with more tension than she in- tended, partly because of his unwillingness to speak unless spoken to, yet mostly due to a sudden re-emergence of one of her favorite sexual fantasies involving household repairmen.
Something clicked inside Martin’s head when she asked that last question. He wasn’t sure if it was the question or the way her voice was quivering, but he responded immediately and with some real enthusiasm this time. “Yes,” he said. “I do.”
The Good Stuff
“My name is Rose,” she said to the air in front of her as they climbed the stairs.
Martin said nothing, his senses too occupied with analyzing the changing surroundings to respond even if he had the inclination. When she turned around suddenly to face him, he almost went for the quick kill punch to the Adam’s apple he automatically used whenever threatened in close quarters. But he pulled back before she even noticed.
“And what ’s your name?” she asked in the tone you use for a shy three-year-old.
He felt angry at her patronizing tone. He wasn’t an idiot for Chrissakes. Yet he was shocked to see his anger melt away under her smil- ing gaze. “I’m Martin,” he replied.
I couldn’t believe it! His real name! What was going on here? I want- ed to shake him and say, “Hey wake up!” But I wasn’t there, not all the way. So I kept my mouth shut.
“Hi, Martin,” said Rose, shaking his hand and smiling again. Then she turned with a toss of her short black hair and started up the stairs again.
Martin actually looked at his hand before following her.
As soon as Rose opened her door, Martin’s eyes bugged out in won- der. Had he entered some science-fiction teleporter? A time machine? A Moroccan opium den? She couldn’t have been living here more than a few months, yet every square inch of the walls was covered in exotic draperies, the intricate patterns almost causing him to hallucinate. His eyes scanned across them and down to the floor, which was layered with what looked like big, white, hairy yak-fur rugs on top of Persian carpets. Resting on the rugs and carpets were giant silk-embroidered pillows, so many he wanted to count them, but his eyes lingered on the low table they surrounded. The table was made of black teak and held over a dozen fat beige candles, all lit and dripping into the red dragon inlays carved into the surface.
Fire hazard, he thought, ever the pragmatist. How she could even think of leaving her apartment with so many candles burning? She could burn the whole building down! He would escape, of course, his acute sense of smell alerting him far in advance, but that didn’t mean he shouldn’t snuff them out right now for the risk they represented.
“The sink’s over here,” Rose said brightly, extinguishing his thoughts instead.
She was pointing at a door and he was shocked again to realize that he couldn’t match the floor layout with his own apartment. It must be the same or at least a mirror image. That was one of the things he liked most about apartment living, the predictability of the environment. But every- thing seemed so different.
“Over here,” she coaxed in a warm, relaxed voice. When he didn’t immediately respond, she took his hand and led him. He looked at her small hand in his and watched in disbelief as his feet started moving, skirt- ing the pillows to follow her. On his way, he paused in f ront of a thick (couch? mattress? futon?) covered with the silkiest blankets he’d ever seen. Everything seemed so soft, including the translucent curtains draped from
a central gathering on the ceiling. They surrounded the bed on all sides like a wispy cocoon.
Rose tugged on his hand again, pulling Martin away from the won- derful cocoon.
On their way, they passed in front of her altar. Martin stopped again, mesmerized by the candlelight illuminating all the gems and minerals. He stroked the large red gem much as Rose had done, not for luck, but for the sheer pleasure of the tactile sensation. It was so beautiful. The candles made it look like it was glowing from within, like it was alive and might respond to his touch with an even greater display of brilliance.
“Nice,” he said appreciatively, crouching down to gaze at it even more intently.
“It’s a bloodstone,” Rose bragged, elated that he was enjoying it as much as she did.
“Rhodochrosite,” Martin corrected her. “Probably f rom the Sweet Home mine in Alma, Colorado. It’s a fine specimen,” he added, standing up again, “best I’ve ever seen.”
“Thanks.” She beamed, his admiration erasing her frown from his pre- vious comment.
They silently stared at each other for a moment that stretched out far too long until she couldn’t take it anymore and pulled on his hand again. Yes, Martin thought, feeling the same discomfort and needing to get back on firmer ground. The sink.
When they passed through the door, Martin landed with a whump! back on the planet. It was like he was in his own apartment again—sink over here, cabinets there, just a normal kitchen—no candles, no rugs, no softness, no nothing! He wanted to run back into that other world...the world on that side of the door! But he stood there dumbly, his mouth open, his head swiveling back and forth between the two rooms.
“I’m not finished,” she said, not sure why she was acting so apologetic. “I blew all my money fixing up the other room.”
Money? All you need is money? Martin thought, not sure why he felt so angry and disappointed. Then he looked at her pretty face and turned his attention back to the sink, grateful for something to do. “It’s not bro- ken, it’s clogged,” he said with characteristic bluntness. “Don’t you have a plunger?”
“I tried.” Rose said with a shrug, holding up the still-dripping imple- ment. Then she added with a wince, “Macaroni and cheese.”
Cute, Martin thought, an unfamiliar warmth invading his chest.
He grabbed the plunger and pounded the drain like a pneumatic drill. The clog was obliterated in eighteen seconds and his anger had almost vanished too, when a fresh new horror caught his eyes.
“Woolite? You use this shit?”
Rose didn’t understand the appalled expression on Martin’s face, wasn’t even quite sure she heard him right. Did he really just make a dis- paraging remark about her fabric softener? She didn’t have time to ask. He was already out the door, grunting, “I’ll be back,” like you-know-who.
Martin flew down the stairs, unlatched the seven pick-proof locks and the cold-rolled-steel dead bolt and threw the door open so hard the frame almost splintered. He grabbed a jug from his special stock and bounded back up the stairs. Rose was waiting right where he left her. There was something about seeing her lean against that sink that made his cock in- flate like a meat balloon. The hard-on was a real surprise for him. Even so, he didn’t pay any attention to it, as usual.
She did. Martin had a really big one. Figures. Why should someone who couldn’t care less if he used it or not get a really big one? The head of his cock pushed its way out the leg of his gym shorts and was still growing down his thigh. Rose knew her mouth had to be open as she watched its progress, but she couldn’t do anything about it. When she looked back at his face, she was even more shocked to see he was completely oblivious to what was happening. Instead, he turned to the sink and thumped down the big plastic jug.
“Here, use this,” he said proudly, handing her the bottle. “This is the good stuff.”
Rose couldn’t decide which was a bigger turn-on…the man standing there with his big huge cock hanging out his shorts like a fat log, or the fact that he was so blissfully unaffected by it. She reached down, grabbed the big fucker in both hands, looked him straight in the eye and said, “No. This is the good stuff.”
Paul wiped the blood from his hands before lifting the heavy book and placing it gently on the lectern. “That wasn’t too smart Junior, you droppin’ by unannounced,” he chuckled. The body offered no argument. There wouldn’t have been one even if he were still conscious. “So much to do, so little time,” Paul sighed, pulling out the other nails, hog-tying his ankles to his neck, stuffing the body in a burlap sack and hefting it over his shoulder as easily as a bag of flour. He patted the sack on the rump and stomped out of the room, winding through the black corridors before depositing his burden with a thud on the filthy floor of another dark room.
“Have a nice nappy-poo! I’ll be back in time for supper!” he shouted, waving to the still-silent lump as he tromped back through the hallways to his candlelit sanctuary.
He sealed the door behind him and walked to the lectern slowly, deliberately, reaching under his shirt to extract the key dangling from a chain around his neck. He unlocked the wide leather strap binding the massive tome and felt the power course through his veins as soon as he opened the ancient leather binding.
He rubbed his hands gleefully. There was so much fun in store. New friends to meet. Old bonds to renew. Paul relished every encounter. One more than all the rest.
Which isn’t to say that no one else mattered. No, you couldn’t say that. But nothing mattered more than him.
No one was more important than Martin.
Into the Softness
She dropped to her knees right there and took him in her mouth. It was a tight fit.
“Wow,” he said. She looked up at him and would have smiled if her lips weren’t stretched so thin.
Martin didn’t have many experiences to compare this to, but he guessed that she was very good at this. She was. She had amazing tech- nique and knew all kinds of special tricks, but she didn’t need any of that now. She was in higher state of need and she sucked him hard and loud and sloppy. Martin groaned from the intensity of it…of her.
Her tongue was pierced with a stainless-steel barbell that she was rub- bing on the soft-hard tube of his urethra. He got scared because he knew she must have something in her mouth doing this to him, but he couldn’t imagine what it was or how she got it in there without him seeing it. But he didn’t stay scared. He got harder and he knew he had to do something, something more…but not in here. He needed to do it in there…in that room.
In the softness.
Martin picked her up and carried her in. She thought she might pass out from the excitement. He slammed the door behind them and Rose’s heart slammed in her chest.
He paused once they were inside and let the dark lost world wash over them, waiting until the candles and smells and the absolute quiet erased any memory of anything that had ever happened before. Then he gently set her down on the bed and stepped back to watch her sink into the billowy fabric.
Rose looked at him standing there, so still, his hands slightly out to his sides like he was trying to keep his balance. She was afraid for a mo- ment that he might be too tender, but when she saw the heat in his eyes, she relaxed and smiled at him. He looked like he was going to smile back, but his features evened out, smooth and unknowable. She looked down and saw his cock was harder than ever, his gym shorts in a pile around his feet. She unbuttoned the black fabric buttons on the front of her tiny dress and pulled it apart so she could show him her small breasts and the other rings he hadn’t seen yet.
Martin came to her like a big cat, low and lumbering, rolling his shoulders as he crawled on top of her. He moaned as he straddled her naked chest, the softness caressing him, coming from everywhere at once. He paused for a moment on top of her, staring at the rings in her nipples and the long golden chain winding between them like a lazy river. At the end of the chain, a small shiny key drew his attention even more than the nipple rings. He felt his heart tighten with dread, but when he looked closer he saw it wasn’t the same. Still, it looked so familiar. Hadn’t he seen it somewhere before? He tried to remember, but his eyes kept moving, scanning her creamy skin and the crescent moon tattoo and finally resting on her face again. Her smiling face.
When she smiled he felt something move inside his chest. It was more intense than the warmth he felt before, like congestion…but rum- bly…louder. As he leaned over to kiss her smiling lips, he noticed a little drop of water had fallen on her chest. On the key. He looked to the ceiling to see if there was some kind of leak, but the angle wasn’t right. The rumble in his chest grew louder when he realized the drop had fallen from his eye.
Call me William. I remember everything. It’s what I do.
I didn’t plan on entering the story so soon, but I just couldn’t take that last scene. Why? Why should it matter to me if they fucked each other’s brains out? I thought you’d never ask.
All these things happened once upon a time in the East Village, when outlaws still roamed, junkies copped and squatters squatted. I lived there too, before gentrification and the unusual events you’re about to witness swept all of us away.
I have a true photographic memory, the kind that guarantees a per- fect score in any test, the kind that easily passes itself off as high, perhaps genius intelligence, even if there are no other outward indications that this is the case.
I sit. I watch. I listen. I record. I see all these people, but they don’t see me. I wish things were different. I’m lonely too, like they are. At least I can admit it.
Some of them are better than they seem at first. Some of them are worse, much worse. Sometimes I think evil is just loneliness with nowhere else to go.
Take me for example. All my life I’ve struggled to do the right thing. Well, most of it anyway. I’ve fought hard and long against the darker urges, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. It’s easy to lay the blame on genet- ics, or on Paul and The Striker. I could even blame Rose if I wanted. But as
I watched her and Martin through my closed eyes, as I heard her scream a cry of pleasure I had never heard, seen, felt, or even imagined, something clicked inside my head.
I wish I didn’t see so much. I hate this gift sometimes. When I was younger, I thought everybody had it. I guess I was about six or seven when
I mentioned “the eyelid movies” to Mother. She dropped her cup of tea. “You get them too?”
She told me she had them all the time when she was younger and so did her sister. Her sister went a little crazy because of it, she said. That was the most I ever heard Mother talk about her past. She did tell me more about the eyelid movies though. She called them her visions. She said they were really strong when she was younger, then they came less and less fre- quently. Sometimes they showed the future and the past, but most of the time they were about other people, what they were doing or thinking in the present. It was more like that with me, I learned. Mine never faded away. They got stronger and stronger and stronger. After a while, I didn’t have to close my eyes, though it helped cut out the clutter of whatever else I was looking at. Mirrors and ponds are good too, but I like clear blue skies the best. It feels like I’m looking into another dimension. I suppose that’s true.
Sometimes I can’t see anything. Sometimes the visions are so clear, it’s like I’m in the same room. They were much too clear that fateful morning. I could see everything. I could feel everything too. Their hearts beating. Pounding. My head pounding in a queasy echo. And right before I ran to the bathroom to heave up all the hate churning in my guts, I saw some- thing else.
I wasn’t the only one watching.
The Book was everything. As his blunt fingertips skimmed the crinkled
pages, old memories flickered through his mind like the stroboscopic sput- tering of a hand-cranked nickelodeon. Paul breathed in deeply, savoring the poignant rhythms of a story that had been told and retold at numberless firesides for countless centuries until it was finally, faithfully recorded in this, the only volume of its kind in existence.
He rifled through the yellowed leaves faster and faster, the words and images cascading in a blinding flurry, pages turning and yes, the Great Wheel turning with them, faster first, then slower and slower so slowly until…
Paul stopped at the center of the book. He stared at the two blank pages. They had remained forever unmarked, but showed him everything he’d ever known or would ever need to know. His eyes rolled backwards into his head until only the whites were showing. No, not the whites. His vein-etched orbs were the color of coffee-stained teeth. They matched the ancient vellum leaves almost perfectly.
He stared at the pages with iris-less eyes and he saw. Saw Martin in bed with the girl. That girl. They’d been circling each other day after day, passing each other on the staircase, shopping in the same deli, flitting to and fro like moths circling a lightbulb, far more oblivious to each other’s existence, to their significance, than he. And now, she was here, driven by the will of her scum-sucking sire, her very presence heralding the prophecy. They had found each other. They had rutted. And even though neither of them had an inkling of what had passed between them, of what it meant or how deeply their connection was ingrained and yes, foretold, they would eventually arrive at the truth of it, and with that truth they would fully awaken. To each other. They would know.
He would never allow that to happen. Measures had been taken.
He gazed at the metal-studded face of the girl, oblivious to anything accept the man lying next to her, the man she inexplicably adored, the man she would destroy by the strength of her compassion, if she could not be stopped. He saw the mark on her chest, the crescent she concealed with her first tattoo. He saw the mark on Martin’s chest, the ring encircling his solar plexus. It was the sign he knew would appear this cycle.
The training, as always, had been long and arduous. But the boy exceeded all his expectations. Her fingers toyed with the ridges of Martin’s scar as if she knew the story it told. The long, sad story. He thought back to the early days. The very early days. There was so much hope then. Now everything was stained and faded. So much promise. So much loss.
The only consolation to his sadness, rage and loathing was that he was not alone in the witnessing, or his suffering. Right before he closed the Book, he saw one last, and not too startling, vision. It was me. Staring right back at him.
Before I met Rose, before all the darker roads it led to, I had always been a
collector. Being a collector is a lifelong adventure, an endless treasure hunt. If you’re a collector, you know exactly what I mean. If you’re not, you’ll probably never get it. Being a collector means that there’s always some- where to go, always something to do, always the possibility of excitement, of discovery…of eureka!
It’s little wonder why I love it so much. Collecting is the great obses- sion and distraction for the terminally lonely. The greater the obsession, the more compelling the need to seek and acquire, to escape that gaping hole. I needed all the help I could get.
I never actually thought about becoming a collector. I already was one from as far back as I can remember. Most kids play with toys. I collected them. I would line them up in rows just to look at them. I didn’t really de- fine any of this as “collecting” until they came out with those monster mov- ie models you would assemble with that wonderfully stinky, toxic, brain cell-eating glue that millions of children are now deprived of.
My collecting got out of hand gradually, by degrees. Always drawn to the morbid, I branched out from my monster toy collection to monster magazines and movie stills. I read every horror novel ever written. As I grew older, I began to lose interest in horror books. The monsters and ghosts and ghouls had gradually lost their main appeal, which was their ability to genuinely frighten me. They just weren’t real enough.
I turned to the occult. Once again, I studied everything I could get my hands on—Gnosticism, Hermeticism, Luciferianism, Satanism, Pythagoreanism, Rosicrucianism, Paganism, Thelema, Kabala, ancient leg- ends and obscure myths, witchcraft, pagan festivals—the Druids. It didn’t stop with books. I learned about divination. Numerology, the I Ching, and the tarot. And guess what? I suddenly discovered that my little “gift” wasn’t limited to visions of the here and now—I could see the then too. Well, some of the time. Those visions were always murky by comparison, distorted like a funhouse mirror. Even so, it was enough to interest girls at a party. Keep the bullies off my back.
I loved the tarot and started collecting old decks I found at flea mar- kets or in musty, dusty antique shops and secondhand junk stores. One time I found a hand-painted deck that was so old I couldn’t believe it. The dealer only wanted forty bucks for it, which I haggled down to thirty. Any good collector is a good haggler. I recently had it appraised for several thousand dollars, though I’d never think of parting with it.
See? That’s what is like to be a collector. Treasures mean so much more than money.
I never told Mother about any of my occult wanderings, but I’m pret- ty sure she saw anyway. One day out of the blue she said, “Never use your gift for personal gain. And stay away from the darkness.”
Oops. Too late.
I left Mother as soon as I turned eighteen. I couldn’t wait to get as far away as I could, applying to East Coast Ivy Leaguers. My SATs and GPA were in the top two percent nationally. Got a scholarship to Harvard. Impressed? You needn’t be. I was expelled after the first semester for selling acid in my dorm. Oh, well. I didn’t fit in with the pink Lacoste polo shirt crowd anyway. My asshole preppy roommate ratted me out. I never should have had a roommate. Never had one since.
I fled Boston for New York, far away f rom Mother’s outpost in Berkeley, moving into a small, cheap apartment between Avenues A and B. With only a high school diploma and minimal job skills, my career prospects were fairly grim. Even if I stuck it out at Harvard, I still wouldn’t be catnip for any headhunters, unless there’s a greater demand than I’m aware of for graduates with a major in evolutionary biology and a minor in anthropology.
Guess what I did to make a living? Fortune telling. I put an ad in the Village Voice. The headline read: Scientific Readings. The “scientific” part mainly consisted of combining the numerology interpretations with the zodiac designations of the minor arcana cards in their readings. Translation: I could pick the dates when shit would happen. The accuracy of my read- ings was a surprise even for me. I had a very strong repeat business, which financed what I really wanted to do: collect stuff.
At first it was more of the things I’d already been collecting. Tarot decks, Ouija boards, amulets, talismans and books. Lots and lots of old books, particularly books of spells, incantations and invocations. Grimoires. The Testament of Solomon, the Clavicula Salomonis, The Black Pullet, The Book of Simon the Magician, The Book of Enoch, The Sworn Book of Honorius, The Pseudomonarchia Daemonum. Blah dee blah blah.
We’re talking ritual magic here. Alchemy. I learned Latin, Greek, Coptic, Arabic and Aramaic just so I could read the original texts and come to my own conclusions about the proper translations. I spent every dime I made when the opportunity arose to possess one of the (hopefully) authentic manuscripts. The culmination of my efforts—and the beginning of my degradation—occurred after visiting a very old man in a very old bookstore in London. He claimed to have in his possession (and was offer- ing for sale!), a slim volume with a white leather binding and yellow vellum pages, written in Greek. He said it was the Corpus Hermeticum written by Hermes Trismegistus.
Depending on who you ask (if you actually know anyone who’s heard that name), Hermes Trismegistus was either: a) the Greek god Hermes; b) the Egyptian god Thoth; c) a combo Hermes/Thoth god; d) the human/ god grandson of Hermes; e) a spiritual figure, maybe a god, maybe not, who reincarnates throughout history teaching his secret doctrine to worthy initiates or, f ) Moses.
I was fascinated with the various legends surrounding Trismegistus, so I jumped in with both feet, reading everything I could find, sorting through all the contradictory suppositions. My research began, as one should I sup- pose, with the gods. Thoth was the god of wisdom who invented writing. Hermes was a herald, messenger and inventor. HT was thought to be all of that and more—a great sorcerer, the first alchemist—and a very prolific writer, composing thousands of texts, most of which eventually found their way to the Great Library of Alexandria. Only a handful of manuscripts survived the heretical purges of the newly Christian Roman Empire.
Whether HT was a demi-god, a great sage or even a real person, all scholars agree that a rich legacy of esoteric teachings sprang f rom the Hermetic tradition. The surviving books attributed to Trismegistus or his followers were usually written in the third person, even though Hermes/ Thoth is usually the main character—a kind, patient, wise teacher. Basically, he’s the answer man. The answers are usually veiled in cryptic dialogs be- tween himself and some thickheaded apprentice, or one of his equally dense sons, Asclepius and Tat.
The most legendary Hermetic work is the Emerald Tablet, which is said to contain the secrets of (drumroll, please) creation. The sacred text was carved into a big green crystal or maybe the world’s largest emerald. Composed of only fourteen verses in most translations, the Emerald Tablet became the basis of alchemy—the cookbook of creation. There are proba- bly as many legends surrounding the origin of the Emerald Tablet as there are tales of its disappearance, discovery (and subsequent disappearances and rediscoveries). One thing I know for certain, it’s not on display in any museum.
The Corpus Hermeticum is Hermes/Thoth’s greatest hits compilation. It contains most of the extant writings. So when this really old guy told me he had a really old copy of the Corpus Hermeticum written by the Great Master himself, I knew it had to be utter horseshit. Yet even if it was a legitimate Greek transcription I could interpret myself, it would be worth whatever he wanted.
He wanted $11,100. “Interesting. How’d you come up with that price?” “That’s the number,” he replied grumpily in an unexpectedly rustic
American accent, turning his head away, waving his arm like he was shooing a gnat. I thought he was being cute or ridiculous, equating the price with Hermes III, but I didn’t ruffle his feathers about it. I was too anxious to get my hands on it to get into a pissing match with the old geezer about something so petty, even though I was already haggling with him in my head.
When he opened his small safe, put on his white gloves and pulled it out, my heart was beating like a bongo. He made me wear gloves too, which wasn’t surprising, even though my fingertips were itching to come in direct contact with the ancient vellum. Vellum is skin, by the way, usually lambskin, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
My first reaction was complete elation. I’d seen enough volumes like this to know that the binding and vellum could possibly come from the same time period associated with most of Hermes/Thoth’s writings— around 300 CE—the key transitional period from papyrus scrolls to parch- ment codices, driven by the emerging power of Christianity. The Greek hand-lettering was also consistent with other ancient manuscripts f rom the same period I’d seen in various metropolitan libraries. Best of all, just
f rom reading the first few pages I knew that the material was truly the Corpus Hermeticum. Reading it in Greek immediately highlighted some discrepancies in the Latin and English translations I’d previously seen.
Boy, this is going to be fun!
Then I saw it. There on the spine, like a turd on a lotus flower. Someone had written “Hermes Trismegistus” in black ink block letters.
“What is this shit?” I shouted, my booming pissed-off voice startling even me in the cramped quarters of his tiny office.
“Don’t know who did it, don’t really care. Just wanna get it outta here. Been nothin’ but trouble for me. That’s why I’m sellin’ so cheap. You know I’m sellin’ cheap, dontcha?”
I did. Despite the blasphemous desecration, it was still worth much more than the asking price, unless it was an extremely well-executed forg- ery. That was a risk, but one I was willing to take. “I’ll give you ten thou- sand,” I said. That was a hell of a lot of tarot readings.
“The price is the price,” he muttered, crossing his arms across his bird- like ribcage.
I paid. Cash. When I finally held it in my hands, skin to skin, I got such a rush I thought it really might be magical. I couldn’t wait to get back to my room and dig in. But he had another jack-in-the-box he was dying to spring on me.
“Ever hear of anthropodermic bibliopegy?” he whispered as I made for the door.
“Yeah,” I said, a shudder tinkling the ivories of my backbone. “Books bound in human skin.”
“Ever seen one? Held one?” he asked almost tauntingly, displaying his yellow teeth in a quivering grin for the first time that day.
“No,” I said. But I knew I’d be holding one soon.
He strained to reach the shelf above my head, pulling a book down, handing it to me. No gloves this time. No, you wouldn’t want gloves for this. The cover felt…I guess crinkly would be the best way to describe it. Stiff and crinkly. The inside cover was smooth as suede. There was an inscription on the first page, written in an elegant hand that made it even more maca- bre: “The bynding of this booke is all that remains of my deare friende Malachi Firth, flayed alive by Connor O’Ceallaigh on the First Day of November, 1238.”
“I have more,” he said with a deranged spastic eagerness. He certainly did. Lots more. Mostly courtroom accounts of murder trials, covered in the skins of the condemned, a fairly common practice according to my new buddy, the Crypt Keeper. Once he saw how much I was enjoying my- self, he figured I was a kindred spirit so he brought out the heavy artillery. “These ain’t for sale,” he whispered. “But I thought you’d like to see.”
He opened a blue velvet curtain that hung floor to ceiling, concealing a doorway and the contents within. It was a narrow room, almost like a closet, with a creepy icon of some saint against an otherwise bare wall at the back. It was surrounded by bookcases containing many shelves holding many, many volumes, all with the same creamy tan bindings I was becom- ing way too familiar with.
“Wow,” I said, honestly impressed. “That’s a lot of books.”
“No, no…” he groaned, like I was some idiot totally missing the point. “Read one!”
I picked one out at random and started thumbing through it, my eyes getting wider and wider with every page. “Is this what I think it is?”
“Read another, pick any one,” he cackled, so excited I thought he would crap himself.
Holy Mother of God. They were diaries. Written by murderers. Notice the plural. Perhaps ten or twelve small volumes would be written in one hand with a similar binding style. Then there would be an equal number, or in some cases up to thirty or even fifty, written by another sicko, each and every one of them covered with the skin of their victims.
“Where the hell did you get these?” I asked, my head spinning as I grabbed one after the other, thumbing through quickly. The gruesome de- scriptions were beyond anything I had read in a hundred horror novels or even the nightmares I had afterwards.
“Can’t say, can’t say,” he repeated in a mumbling chorus, shaking his head, the gleam in his eyes snuffed out instantly by my prying question. “Have to close now, anyhow. Good day to you, sir,” he grumbled, suddenly as surly as when I came in.
Crazy old coot. I was pissed at him for giving me the bum’s rush, but I had my treasure to ease the sting. I went back to my hotel and stayed up all night reading and writing. Had some revelations that bordered on the sublime, but my mind kept erasing those visions of a divine realm bathed in ethereal light and replacing it with the sight of a cramped closet filled with hatred, torture and sadistic glee.
I went back the next day. The store was closed. I cursed. Even stomped my feet. My plane was leaving in a few hours. I took the flight, figuring I’d come back again soon and get another dose of that horror of horrors. But I kept putting it off and putting it off. When I finally returned three years later, the store was empty of everything but cobwebs.
I couldn’t get that sick scrawling script out of my head. I was so pre- occupied with what I’d seen that I started reading books about serial killers. Suddenly, they were much more interesting than all the horror books or the occult mumbo jumbo. Scarier too. Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, Jeffrey Dahmer. The real monsters. Monsters like I saw in the Skin Library. I learned a lot about them. What they did. How they did it. Where they lived. It was the last category that really got me into trouble.
One day while I was wandering around my favorite flea market, I saw a painting of a clown. The seller had no idea who the artist was—I could tell by the price tag and his complete lack of interest when I forked over three dollars for it. But I knew. Oh, yes, indeed. John Wayne Gacy. After I went home and proudly hung it on the wall, I began to wonder: What if you could get your hands on some of the real collectibles from serial killers? The things they collected?
A few days later, that crazy bug of an idea shaped itself into a plan. I would go on a road trip. Stop by some of the homes and haunting grounds of these real-life monsters. Maybe visit some of the police precincts where they were captured and see what I could find. See what might be available. At this point, I suppose it wouldn’t surprise you that I was quite successful in my quest. I’m quite sure that certain people would do almost anything for a peek at my collection.
Who could blame them for their curiosity? I mean everybody knows about the severed heads that Jeffrey Dahmer kept in his refrigerator. But who do you know that has one?