Sunday, October 23, 2016

Neon Gods (Chapter Excerpt-Rough)

The city became a powder keg. In the few short days after the news leaked of who had been shot backstage at the Basement, the heat rose exponentially in New Los Angeles. With no word yet whether the victim had survived, droves of people began to congregate at the club. The NLAPD realized within minutes that police tape and heightened senses were gonna be needed to keep some semblance of order. Like rival gangs, members of the Church of Man began gnashing their teeth at Christian believers who even after the god descended, still held to faith by a thread. They barked at each other under makeshift hand-painted signs. As officers taped off the club entrance, yelling evolved into pushing and it was apparent that arrests would soon be made. Apollo sifted through the crowd careful not to inadvertently cause a riot. He fought the urge to roll his eyes when a member of the Church exclaimed, “The gods have always been dead!” in his ear. “Perhaps so.” He said quickly and moved on.
As he got closer to the front entrance, he saw a semicircle of people on their knees. They appeared to be in submission to Allah but he knew that wasn’t right,. He knew it was mourning. Bouquets of flowers formed a mosaic of color in the middle. Like a campfire, mourners seemed to gather warmth from the assemblage. Crosses and bibles were strewn almost haphazardly around the shrine. Apollo witnessed terrible wailing. As if all the sorrow and grief bottled up after the gods descended was fully unleashed in an lament for Jesus Christ. Mourners wept openly. Unconcerned at etiquette, some lay down sobbing as if searing their faces against hot pavement was somehow prostrating themselves to god. The suffering was almost unimaginable.
Apollo couldn’t help but empathize. He had known his share of loss. He had also witnessed death. He wondered vaguely if his followers would lament in this way when he passed. He doubted it and couldn’t say why. Sure, there had been a time when social bonds in all forms would have crumpled at the death of Apollo. But not any more. It was clear the Middle East religions, once little more than tribal city gods, had now become profound and almost mystically influential.
He knew he still had a place called home. Greece was always calling. Greece called out to him every moment of every day but it had been in a cold ally in New Los Angeles that he’d awoke. And he’d remained. At least for now. Apollo fidgeted and felt eyes on him. A peculiar sensation as if somebody stood directly in back of him breathing on his neck. He knew he was being watched.
In the corner of his eye, he saw signs and fingers pointed at one another. Time seemed to slow as angry mouths screamed obscenities. Such hatred in a time of grief. He thought absently. Bodies moved around him, swallowing him in their center. He felt hands tugging at him; Smelled sweat and fear in the crowd. Then there were eyes locked onto his. They were expressionless and soft. As if working out a curiosity or mystery.
The man was surprisingly still given the action around him. He simply stood there looking at Apollo. Dumbfounded, Apollo watched the man approach him. He stopped a few feet from him. His eyes traveled up and down the god and he frowned. “ מה אתה רוצה עתיקה” He said. Apollo recognized the language as Hebrew but couldn’t say how he knew it. It just sounded familiar to him. Deciding to make a game of it, he answered in his native Greek tongue. “Δεν καταλαβαίνω.” The man’s eyebrows raised as if he too recognized the language as Greek but had no conception of what was said.
They stood staring at each other until both cracked a smile. “Do you use the common tongue?” The man said with a heavy accent. Apollo nodded. “I do.” The man looked around. His eyes taking in the scene around him. He was an old man. Once perhaps as athletic as Apollo yet not quite as lithe. His brown skin and bushy beard would have made him appear hipster if not for the feral look in his eyes. His head shaven, he hunched over as if carrying a tremendous weight. His heavily lined face had the impression that he’d suffered windburn. He wore rags. They seemed to slough off of him like skin. But his eyes were alert. Birdlike. Apollo wondered which one he was. That accent and dialect was obviously Jewish but he knew it was possible this one was some obscure Canaanite or Jordanian deity he knew nothing about. For all he knew, this one belonged in a pyramid. “El would be so dissatisfied.” The man said. El? Apollo thought quickly. A Canaanite god then. “Where are you from?” He asked nonchalantly. Not willing to give up the game just yet. The man fixed his eyes on Apollo. “I came to my people by way of caravan routes between Canaan and Egypt.” Not Canaanite then. “Look at them clamoring.” The man continued. “The death means nothing to them. Not really. Even those who weep have never sacrificed anything.”
Apollo found it surprisingly difficult to keep eye contact with this deity. He seemed ferocious and stormy. “And the man shot did?” He ventured. His bushy beard twitching, the man hesitated for a second. “Yes. He sacrificed all.” Apollo let his gaze fall on a woman kneeling at the shrine. Her face disfigured with grief, she clutched a rosary to her chest. “Still.” The god said quietly. “They mourn for him. They feel the loss perhaps more viscerally than we do.” There it was. Cards on the table. I know what you are. The man’s face darkened. “They perceive nothing. If they ever did. They fail at every turn. None remember the Shavuot! The Sukkot means nothing to them! And we wander still!” He looked around enraged. Apollo smiled inwardly. Stormy indeed. “And then there’s you.” The man spat. His face contorted into a grimace. The false idols.”
Apollo could feel the anger in him begin to stir. He noticed his palms sweaty. “No less false than you. They just no longer care to see your pillars of cloud and fire. Your miracles.” He said the last word slowly. Letting the insult seep in and fester. “Where are your miracles now?” The man spat in front of him. “The idols with their statues.” He said tauntingly. “Always with their statues. I needed no statue. The Temple had my cherubim and they were the empty throne! I cared not! My people bore witness. Even him.” He nodded towards the Basement. “Even he called out to me in his last moments.” Apollo smirked. “Condemn them if you must. YHWY.” Apollo accentuated his name. Letting every syllable drip off his tongue like milk and honey. He turned and strode off as a string of curses followed in his wake.

Monday, October 10, 2016

NEON GODS. Chapter Excerpt

New Los Angeles breathes with the seasons. As organic as its people, the city is layered with modernism built on the detritus of the past. Like Jerusalem or Rome, NLA’s history is right underneath all who walk its streets.
From above, its symmetry reminds one of an upside down chandelier. Countless lamps and mirrored windows bounce light in all directions. The city sparkles and shines its luster polished in the night sky. NLA’s towering buildings push skyward like fingers. The most popular being the famous Tower of Man. An engorged symbol of man’s achievement over the gods, this two hundred and fifty story colossus serves as a beacon of humanity’s dominion in the universe.
Built by billionaire real estate mogul and Reverend Pious McNally, the Tower was an answer to the god’s loss of grace. In excess of 450,000,000 dollars, the monolith is now the most sprawling and ornate structure in the world. Upon its completion, it was immediately a topic of conversation and compared to the Freedom Tower in New York City and the Jeddah Tower in Saudi Arabia.
In design, the Tower is a marvel of angled mirror panels that twist around giving the impression of a helix. From outside, one gets the impression of movement. As if the Tower is rotating counter-clockwise. It’s base is adorned with a vertical beam and lintel not dissimilar from the Lion Gate in Mycenae. Alongside this are gaudy fountains and floral designs all meant to invite the passerby through its doors.
Stepping inside is like stepping into a Roman Basilica. There is a pronounced temperature change that one feels immediately. The coolness is accented with a silence common in cathedrals. But the crown jewel of the Tower is its 75 meter x 25 m mural called ‘Ascension of Man.’
Painted over a three year period by popular artist Giovelli Cortan, the mosaic depicts mankind in all its glory. A human man stands exalted as the center of the universe. Galaxies with all their suns and planets surround him and cover him like celestial clothing. His head is back and his arms wide and beckoning. His lithe body and delicate features give him a feminine countenance. Blue eyes couple perfectly with brown locks and sensual smile. He gazes outward, at us, as we admire him and his place in the universe.
On either side of are representations of the religions of the past. Jesus Christ, Krsna, Buddha, and Moses all gaze up at him adoringly. Their faces bliss., they’re hands outstretched, deities of the past now worship the ascended man. But behind these relics are demons that are slowly devouring them as they revere mankind. Meant to show that dogma will eventually be their downfall, the gods of yesterday are being eaten, Their eyes plucked out, dismembered, devils clutch their genitals, winged serpents flick tongues in their adoring open mouths. Some are on fire, others being torn to pieces. But always they wear a beautiful adoring smile. The Ascended Man looks outward to all his admirers watching the scene unfold. His piercing gaze the hope for the future.
For the past three years, the Tower of Man has also served as a meeting place and head of operations for Pious’ Church Of Man. A religious order founded by the Reverend and boasting three hundred thousand members, the church places humanity as central role in the creation and maintaining of the universe.
Leaving traditional doctrine behind, the human soul is exchanged for human achievement. All aspects of an afterlife filled with ecstasy and misery are replaced by human life experience. For the church of Man, humanity and only humanity is deserving of worship. A grace once exclusive to the gods now bestowed solely upon mankind.
Discarding all forms of religious text or ritual, the Church as it is commonly called, simply chose to perform ritual that governed Man’s place as creator and arbiter of the cosmos around him. There is no longer a need for deities outside of ourselves because they too are now experiencing the human endeavor. The Church of Man provides a service the gods can no longer perform. With Pious acting as prophet and CEO, he is accompanied by two acolytes that organize weekly sermons and daily activities. The church has become a booming conglomerate of business savvy and media oriented entities all used to further the message of ‘Man’.  

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Chapter Excerpt NEON GODS


When Hank dropped Sadie at her apartment, she was relieved to find Eli sitting on her front steps. She was even more elated when she saw that he’d brought a floppy eared black puppy along with him. Jumping out of the car, she squealed at the lab and danced over giggling. “Who’s this?” Eli picked up the pup and handed it to Sadie. “She’s called Amber. I thought you two would get along.” Sadie buried her face in black fur.. “Where’d she come from?” Eli looked at her then at the dog. “She was a rescue. I just found her and we became friends.” Sadie smiled. “I like her. I think we’ll get on just fine. You coming in?” She stood up and unlocked the apartment.

Eli followed her inside. He hadn’t know what to expect from Sadie’s apartment. Her contamination issues usually meant the place was frighteningly clean. Every other time he’d stopped by, it was dicey whether he would even get through the door. That was the way it was with obsessive compulsive disorder. She described it as a broken record that played nonstop in the back of her mind. She was constantly in a fear of contamination loop. Even him walking through the door was enough to make her double her gloves and get anxious. As he walked in, she fidgeted as she stood in the sparse living room. There wasn’t the typical accessories you’d find in a woman’s place. The room was intentionally dim. As if bright lights would showcase the dirt and she sought to avert driving herself up a wall. Red accent lights provided a dark room experience. There was a record player but no television. Books were meticulously stacked in various places around a living room that had one futon and one lounge chair. He guessed she might sleep there. A picture hanged on the far wall opposite the kitchen. A dusty pic of a young Sadie perhaps twelve years old. Beside her stood a gentleman in his early thirties. Dark complexion and deep-set eyes accompanied a mischievous smile. He had his arm around her as she beamed at the camera. Before the phobias began.  The pic seemed to have been taken in the country. A sea of yellow flowers surrounded the pair.

Eli sat down and watched Amber bound around the room. Her tail wagging and panting, Sadie knelt down and placed a bowl of water in front of her. Eli found it odd that her issues didn’t seem to include a mangy, flea infested mongrel. As if reading his mind, she sat down on the floor. “I’ll probably clean five times after you guys leave. Like for real.” Eli chuckled. “There ya go girl.” She whispered at the pup. “So what happened with the cop?” Eli asked. “Oh, he is just a giant dickhead.” Eli looked up at her while petting the puppy. “Did he try to frisk you naked?” “Oh it’’s not like that.” She said choking back a giggle. “He’s just a typical cop asshole. I think he’ll leave me alone now.” She paused and fixed him with a stare. Eli felt his face get hot. He stared at the bridge of her nose determined not to feel awkward in front of this girl. “Oh, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing here.”

Outside, he could hear the beginnings of a rain shower. Drops trickled down the window and soft staccato tapped on the rain gutters and apartment shingles. Perspiration formed on his brow. “I was just wondering if you’d seen Dionysus? He hasn’t been home in a few days. That’s real strange even for him. He hasn’t been to that dive bar he wants to move into either.” Sadie shrugged. “I haven’t seen him since we were at your place. Do you think he’s in trouble?” Sadie carefully picked out some incense and lit with a small lighter from her oak coffee table. The smoke funneled out from her hand and Eli got a scent of Jasmine. He inhaled deeply. This is what he’d smelled on her the night at the Basement. It had been the incense on her clothes. He closed his eyes. “I don’t know.”

A sudden bang outside the window drew a startled glance from Sadie and a yelp from little Amber. Sadie stood and parted the curtains. Peering outside, her eyes narrowed. “What the hell?” She mumbled. Eli continued. “I don’t know. It’s just strange. He’s usually either at home or at the bar. Not much a social life on that one.” Sadie sighed. “No, it’s probably something the way this week is going. I’m about done with gods and bodies and detectives.” Eli waited. “You know he wasn’t the first one.” Eli knew she referred to Jesus Christ. “There were like two or three before him.” She got up and fetched a small pipe from an end table drawer. Sitting on the floor, she opened a ziplock back and sniffed. “You smoke?” Eli nodded. “Sure. So you’re saying there’s a serial killer hunting descendents.” Sadie took a long pull from the pipe. She held her breath then slowly exhaled through her nose. To Eli, the sight evoked the image of a Chinese dragon. She handed the pipe to him and he cupped his hand over the bowl.

Again, a loud bang outside made Sadie jump. She whirled to the window while Amber ducked underneath the couch. Eli stood up quickly. A little too quickly. Dizziness clouded his vision and he felt his legs go wobbly. Sadie was now at the door peering out. “Just shut the door and lock it.” He said. “It’s probably just a cat.” Sadie turned toward him, her face pale. A strand of hair had come loose from the bun on her head and was resting across her cheek. As she breathed quickly, it fluttered away from her face and back. “It’s ok.” He said. Sadie shook her head. “No.” She whispered almost to herself. “There’s somebody outside...on the sidewalk...staring at the door.” Eli felt the hairs on his arms and neck stand up. Peering outside, he squinted through the rain but noticed nothing out of the ordinary. “You sure? I don’t see anybody.” Sadie looked like she’d seen Bloody Mary staring back at her through a bathroom mirror. Her lip was quivering. “It...was a woman I think. She was wearing a raincoat but her hair was drenched and she was staring at me when I opened the door.” Eli went back to the window. “A woman? Probably just a passerby.” “Staring at my fucking door?” Sadie shot angrily. “Her face. She was looking at me with pure hatred. Her eyes were like demons.” Eli took a deep breath and shook off his chills. “I didn’t see anybody. It’s probably nothing. A crazy bum in the rain.”

Another bang like gunshot jolted Eli and Sadie into near terror. It was louder and sounded like broken glass. “It’s on the other side, Near the bedroom.” Sadie went to the kitchen and pulled out a long carving knife she’d only used once or twice during the holidays. It was heavy in her arms and felt like dead weight. Trembling, she walked to the bedroom to find her window shattered. Shards of glass lay on her pillow and duvet. It’ was as if the window had exploded inward. Looking for a rock or brick that the woman may have thrown from outside, a low hum and rustling from the thick foliage that surrounds her apartment brought her back to the window. “Go away! I’m calling the cops!” She bellowed out into thick darkness. A short giggle answered her almost immediately. Gasping, Sadie grabbed her phone from her pants pocket and realized the card Hank had given her was in a bag she’d dropped in the bathroom.

Making her way there, she slammed the door and stared down at her gloved hands shaking violently. The phone was also a nuisance with her and she dropped it on the linoleum floor.  “Goddammit.” She moaned. As she bent to pick it up, she heard Eli in the living room calling out for the puppy. Recognizing the urgency in his voice, Sadie heard him calling out for her again and again. She began to dial Hank then stopped. As she stared at herself in the mirror, she noticed that her shower curtain was pulled shut. A habit she never adopted, Sadie stared at the curtain she had left open earlier that day. Swallowing hard, she reached out to pull it open.Her mind racing and her legs close to buckling underneath her, she stood in mute horror as she began to hear the whimpering of a puppy coming from the other side of the curtain. Gasping and covering her mouth, she stifled a scream when again she heard its soft cries. Reaching out, she threw back the curtain to reveal the young woman from outside holding Amber by the scruff of her neck.

The woman was drenched and dirty. Soiled teeth jutted out from a large jaw and narrow cheekbones. Gleaming hazel eyes seemed misshapen and too far apart on her face.Her gangly limbs swam in the yellow yellow slick and for a split second Sadie thought the woman looked like an adult infant. The puppy yelped as the woman shook her and held her out in front of Sadie. “Here carcass….” Sadie meant to flee but her mind had retracted and her legs wouldn’t move. As if in the throes of a night terror, she stood paralyzed. Her breath caught in her throat. The woman raised a small dagger and looked down at the puppy struggling and yelping in her hand. Sadie felt something warm running down her leg and realized that she had urinated on herself. The monster in the shower noticed it also and flicked her tongue cackling.

Suddenly, the bathroom door burst open and Eli rushed in diving into the shower stall. Sadie shrieked as the young woman turned and was thrown back against the wall by Eli’s momentum. Chaos ensued as Eli screaming for Amber was stabbed in the arm and shoulder. Dropping the puppy, Sadie watched it flee into the living room as two more women in yellow rain slicks entered the apartment. Sadie slammed the bathroom door and dialed Hank’s number. “Help us!” She shrieked. Dropping the phone in the sink, she jumped in the shower and began stabbing the woman in a frenzy.

Then Sadie saw all red. Filling her mind, an ocean of blood filled her lungs. She was transported to a field covered in corpses. Their bodies sprouted up from the ground like weeds. Arms and legs entwined, Sadie could feel the rotten pulp of their flesh. Then up from her feet seeped blood and bile. She saw the young woman and her sisters cutting down men, women, and children. She witnessed them revel in murder for its own sake. The blood rose past her toes and to her ankles. Still she heard their screams. Or was it her own? The countless screams filled her mind. Under a blood sky, she saw another man. The blood now to her knees. She gazed out on a lake of blood. And still it rose. And still they screamed.

Sadie blinked and realized that blood was spurting all over Eli’s face. Willing herself out of the phantom vision, she brought the knife down again and again. Eli crawled out and threw himself against the door as the other two women began stabbing at the door trying to cut their way in. Panting and Shivering, he wiped blood off his face. “I’ve got to find Amber. I need to find Amber….” Sadie now sobbing grabbed the phone from the sink but couldn’t hold on due to her gloves. Outside the door, they heard more screaming and glass breaking. Sadie flinched as a man’s voice screamed in rage. “He’s here.” Eli gasped while wrapping a towel around his left arm. “Hank’s here.” Then an unnatural silence descended upon the apartment. A sudden stillness like the moments after a car wreck. Dazed, Sadie sat down on the floor and covered her face with her hands.

As Eli and Sadie huddled in the bathroom, a sudden calmness seemed morose and uninviting. Eli inspected the wound on his arms and frowned. “Are you hurt?” Sadie asked. “Not really. She didn’t get me that good. I think the blood has already stopped.” Inspecting his arms, Sadie stood and began dialing 911. Slowly, the bathroom door opened and a stranger stood on the threshold. Eli pushed Sadie behind him. “Get out!” He said through gritted teeth. The man glanced at the blood soaked bathstall and ragdoll lying broken in the tub. His brow furling, he looked past Eli and addressed Sadie. “The others are gone. I’m here to help.” Shivering uncontrollably and teeth chattering, Sadie stared at him vacantly. The man turned to Eli. “Find a blanket. She’s in shock.”He stepped forward and was met with the tip of a blade. “I said...get out.” Eli wildly shoved the knife under the man’s nose. “My name is Apollo. I can help you.” The man’s bright blue eyes surveyed the bathroom. He had a youthful, handsome face. Eli got the impression that he was too handsome. Perhaps the perfect caricature of what masculine beauty should be. Short cropped hair and ebony skin, his long dark lashes complimented the blue of his irises. A blue and yellow track suit covered proportions that relayed perfect symmetry. He smiled warmly and picked a towel from the rack. “Get her covered in this while I find blankets.”

Sadie unable to look at the bathtub rushed out and into the living room. She gasped at the wreckage of her apartment. Water soaked and caked in mud, her carpet revealed where the intruders had stepped as they entered. Broken glass littered the floor like confetti. “It’s so dirty.” She said to no one in particular. As Amber tumbled into the room, Sadie stared absently watching her.

Twenty minutes later, Hank arrived at the doorstep. His analytical instincts on overdrive, he worked out immediately that there had been three assailants; all were small in stature and probably female. His mind flashed to the photograph in his loft. What did this girl get herself into. He scanned the living room and found Sadie on the couch wrapped in a blanket. Her eye makeup smeared and hair disheveled. She rocked back and forth as if pulled by the weight of her necklace. “I got here as it was happening.” Apollo said from the kitchen. Hank’s eyes bore into the god. “Good you were here.” Apollo either ignoring or not catching the dripping sarcasm, nodded his head. “Indeed. I-” “What were you doing here?” Hank interrupted. “I was following the girl.” Apollo shot back. His blue eyes becoming crystalline. “I thought this girl might be hiding something. Clearly, somebody else had the same idea. Both are lucky as hell to be alive.” Eli looked up from petting Amber and fixed Apollo with a cold, hard stare. “You know who they are?” Apollo sat down next to Sadie and put a reassuring hand on her back. Eli’s fierce gaze hardened further. Addressing Hank, the god narrowed his eyes. “They are descended. All three. The fact they killed one is miraculous.” “A triple goddess?” Hank asked. “I’ve heard of the hag, maiden, and mother but I don’t know many crones with that much dexterity.” “No.” Eli chimed in. “All three were young. They were young women.” Apollo nodded. “They were the Androktasia. Sisters of the Phonoi and spirits of murder. They all three preside over killing away from the battlefield. They are murder incarnate. And you killed one.” He turned to Sadie. “You have no idea how lucky you are. And how much danger you’re still in.” Eli pursed his lips. “I can protect her.” “Not from this.” Apollo replied. “Not ever. You killed their sister. They’ll never stop hunting you. And they have millennia experience with murder. They’ll make it slow. They’ll make it hurt. Sadie stirred. Her dark circles giving the impression she’d aged years in just the past hour. “I can’t stay here.” Apollo picked her cell phone up off the floor and handed it to her. “Do you have somewhere you can go?” Sadie nodded. “I think so.” As she dialed Freya’s phone, she wondered how many times she’d have to clean before she’d be able to sleep.