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    Home / College Guide / The Rest of The Novel
     Posted on Tuesday, April 16 @ 00:00:04 PDT

    Here is the rest of my novel. I changed the name from The Reluctant Killer to Clandestine Covenant, but the text is the same. Its a rough copy with some errors corrected with a red line through them. The correction is right next to them, mostly spelling. I was tired but wanted to post it now. Im sending a clean copy to Amazon KDP for sale, also setting up a paperback. Mostly I want a good copy for myself. Its a matter of completing a project rather than making money. Clandestine Covenant Decent Into Darkness John M. Anthony COPYRIGHT © 2021 by John A. Mallozzi All rights reserved. This book or any [portion] thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever. without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental, and not intended by the author. CHAPTER ONE “In each of us there is another whom we do not know. It comes over you like the night, with black shadows.” -Carl Jung Tom Bianco walked down the street to his lovers apartment, cellphone to his ear, a package of flowers and a box of chocolates held in his other hand.

    But we were supposed to get together at seven. Im not ready to see you yet. Itll take me about another hour or so, said Darsey. How about I wait in your apartment, if thats okay with you. I dont know. Just dont snoop around or touch anything. But I cant wait to see you. I think about you all the time. That’s nice. Look, I better get ready. You dont sound too enthusiastic. in fact, you sound annoyed. You mean so much to me; being in love and getting me out of my depression. Maybe its a little bit of an exaggeration, but you saved my life, he said. “Oh, okay. Let me get ready. I cant argue with you right now. Maybe we can discuss our relationship after dinner. Listen. Im not going to drop you right now. I mean not just like that. We need more time together. What do you mean by drop me right now? Nothing, its the first thing to come to mind. It really doesn’t mean anything. Im not trying to be a pest, but you mean everything to..., she hung up. Maybe Im being a little too sensitive, he muttered to himself. The front door of her apartment building is always unlocked, so Tom walked in. The doorbell and speaker intercom were on the right-side wall. Youre here already? she said, buzzing open the inner doors lock.

    Tom ran up the 2 flights of stairs to her apartment and knocked on her door even though it was open. Let yourself in. I brought you f and box . Do you have a vase and some water for the flowers? Just leave them there on the table [. ]Ill get to it later. Tom took a seat on the sofa. He fondly remembered how they made love there. He looked around the apartment wondering what he could do to pass the time for an hour besides playing with his cellphone. There was a dark leather covered diary on the living room coffee table. It had a lock built into the front cover. The key was still in it. Although he felt he hoped that by looking through it, he could learn more about her and why she was becoming so cold to him. On the first page in her own handwriting was a quote in large decorative letters. Love does nothing but make you weak! It turns you into an object of pity and derision, a mewling pathetic creature no more fit to live than a worm, squirming on the pavement after a hard summer rain. Teresa Medeiros The quote just made Tom even more eager to read the diary. Next, he quickly flipped through the pages. On the top of each page was someones name, first and last; with a small photo beneath it .

    He imagined they must be old classmates or people from work or maybe some sort of club. But It was odd that all the photos were of men, no women. The information written on each page included the date they met and the date they broke up. Below was information about profession, income, possessions, etc. Tom found it hard to was a gold digger with an obsession for details. On the last several pages the photos had a thick black magic marker line diagonally through them. Even more embarrassing at the bottom of each page was an evaluation of the relationship. His own information was on the third page. The date when the relationship was over was not filled in. But it meant she was still dating the two men ahead of him. More personal information was included. The man on the first page was. easily susceptible to obeying her and putting her in charge of the relationship by command or by deception. Other information included warmth and friendliness; sexual ability and finding him attractive. One was crossed out because he is clumsy with sex and not as wealthy as she would like. Up front was a good prospect. He was a rich man but maybe a little older than she would like. His money still kept him in the running.

    As to Toms evaluation, she wrote that his adoration to her was amusing, and he had good skill with sex. Not sure yet how wealthy he was. Her plan was to string him along and let him fade away, while she simultaneously tried several other prospects. If he rejected her first it would be okay. There were the others she was working on. As soon as Darcey was ready to go, Tom confronted her with the diary. What the hell is this notebook? You are collecting lovers and comparing them until you find the most profitable and amusing. We are supposed to be a couple. You are nothing but a cold-hearted gold digger. Ill just have to cross you off my list she said shrugging her shoulders and smiling. He meant nothing to her. Tom saw how she was not upset at all about the end of their relationship. He knew it was hopeless. Tom ran out of the apartment before she could see his tears forming. All he wanted now was to go home. He decided to spend some time in the bookstore he passed every day on the way home after He wanted to calm distract of the best way to kill himself. He would never actually do it but the old suicidal feelings he once had were coming back. This bookstore was not one of the large chain stores with bright lights, coffee shop and couches.

    It was a small independently owned store. The faded and chipped gold lettered sign on the door of the bookstore was barely legible. Aba...don...d Boo...s was all that remained of the intended Abandoned Books lettering. Sleigh bells attached to the inside of the glass-paneled door jangled loudly when he pushed the door open and stepped up into the store. A thin shorthaired teenager wearing wire framed glasses sat behind the cash register at the counter. He briefly looked up then returned to his reading. The worn badly scuffed wood floor creaked with every step. The owner had constructed shelves from old planks of scrap lumber placed close together making it difficult to squeeze through the aisles. The weight of the books bowed down some of the shelves so much that the slightest nudge could cause them to crack sending the books tumbling to the floor. A few tables covered in dust displayed the larger books. The whole place was cluttered and sloppy. He rubbed his nose, which burned from the strong musty smell of damp decaying paper. He smiled. The bookstore’s name was appropriate. It only offered old unpopular books mostly used. Some were leftovers from other bookstores. While the prices of these books were surprisingly low, the problem was in finding something worth reading.

    Walking through most of the aisles, he found his way to the back of the store. He laughed when he saw the sign above the last section of shelves handwritten in pencil on a piece of warped white cardboard: “Self-Help”. He believed a more [appropriate title] was “False-Hope”. He read the book titles recognizing most of the popular fad therapies from the past that had gone out of style. At one time or another, he read most of them. The memories of his past as a sad desperate reader went through his mind. If I can only find a book to point me in the right direction, Ill be able to turn my life around. Ill find how to make my life have meaning and discover true happiness. Ill be rid of this black cloud of sadness.” It was the same as all the other times. He believed his compulsion to look for a solution in self-help books was pathetic. Many times, in the past, he looked for the one book that promised to make things better. When he thought he found the book with the answer to his prayers a feeling of hope would temporarily soothe him. After trying the suggestions, he did feel better. Even though the depression was gone, nothing had changed. It was all an illusion. He needed the delusion that he was in control doing something to make his life better.

    Then when the depression returned, the way it always did, he realized once again that he was fooled into having false hope. He was certain that behind his sadness there was a real evil that was somehow hidden from him. It was not all in his mind. Some evil reality was there. For a while, he was not even reading the titles; only looking at the different heights, colors and thicknesses of the books. Some were in good condition almost new. Others were ripped, stained or had broken spines. They all began to become a blur. He stood staring into space as if in a trance. Unable to find a book that interested him he shoved a book he was holding back onto the shelf. From out of nowhere there was a woman standing several feet away from him. She pushed the book she was holding down on the same shelf. It was placed in an odd way with the spine down and the pages up, wedged in tightly between the other books. Tom could not look away from her deep blue-green eyes. She had straw-colored blond hair that almost hung down to her shoulders. She stared back at Tom and smiled. He began to walk towards her. She turned and ran. All he could see was her firm athletic body as she left the store and went down the street.

    Curious, he took her book off the shelf. It was about an inch thick with a smooth black leather binding. The page edges were gleaming with beautiful gold leaf. It felt pleasantly heavy with a strong scent of leather and old incense. Engraved into the leather of the front cover in vivid colors was a large dragon. It was curled in a broken circle with its open jaw reaching for its tail. There was a stream of fire coming from its mouth shooting towards its tail. When he looked for a title or author, he found none. He opened the book to the introduction page that began with an explanation of the image on the cover. According to the anonymous author, the engraving was a variation of an ouroboros, a serpent eating its own tail to symbolize the eternal cycle of Nature. It was Nature re-using the minerals from dead animals and plants to grow new life. It meant creation from destruction, of life from death. However, on this cover instead of the serpent eating its own tail to sustain its life there was a dragon destroying its own tail with the fire spewing from its mouth. It symbolized the destruction of the universe, putting an end to itself and everything else. Tom looked at the back cover.

    Taking up the entire space was a large gold letter “Y” on a deep blue background. This letter was different from an ordinary “Y”. The side pointing to the left ended in an arrow while the side pointing to the right was blocked. It ended in a short horizontal line. He skimmed through the book but could not find an explanation of its meaning. For now, he was more interested in exploring the rest of the book. He turned to the first chapter titled “Beginning”. There was an illustration with the viewpoint from behind, looking over the shoulder of a man holding a blank sheet of paper. The man’s left hand held the paper steady on a dark wooden desktop while his right hand held an old wooden fountain pen with a metal nib, its point about to touch the paper. It was like a painting he once saw but could not remember where, maybe in a museum or a book on art history. Looking up for a moment to see if anyone else was in the store Tom saw the young man behind the cash register was still reading. Except for the two of them, the store was empty. The first chapter explained the author’s philosophy and reason for writing the book. Not in the mood to study the details, he read quickly through the chapter.

    After a few pages he was a bit confused, but he understood the point; we cannot always be sure of what is real. Attempting to sit on the floor to read more, his legs started to cramp. Because the store had no seats, he made his own seat by piling up a few books and sitting on them. It was easier than standing. While he skimmed through the pages, he found many beautiful illustrations in vivid color done in pen and ink, framed in gold leaf. With the book opened flat these illustrations always appeared on the left page with the chapter headings on the right page. In a chapter titled “Seduction” there was an illustration of two young lovers sitting on a bench holding each other close and kissing. This struck a chord with Tom. What he really needed was someone to accept him as he was. He needed someone who loved him and wanted to share her life with him. The problem was his anxiety around others. He hated being alone yet that was when he felt most comfortable. When he forced himself to be with others, he saw how uneasy he made them feel. Tom became used to only a few dates before the woman was gone. A few drunken nights together did not make for much of a love life. He returned to his reading.

    A chapter on “Well Being” began with an illustration of a naked young man with a strong muscular body in top physical condition. A servant helped a man into a coach in the chapter titled “Fortune”. The man was well dressed. He had a sack of gold coins in his hand. He turned to the second chapter titled “True Freedom”. The chapter began with the assertion that everyone is born with a conscious force or spirit of nature. This force was supposed to protect the man or woman from the opposing forces of evil. Without this protection the temptations of evil were too strong for an ordinary person to resist. However, the author argued that even though this was a necessity when people were ignorant the modern educated person has no need for this outdated protection. In fact, the force interfered with the amount of freedom and opportunity open to him. What a load of crap, Tom muttered. He was tempted to stop reading and put the book back but was curious. The author went on to describe the dire effects of this interference. As he continued reading the chapter Tom was amazed at how accurately the author seemed to be describing his present situation. Freedom to have more control over his life was what he needed.

    What he read next perplexed yet excited him at the same time. The author insisted that to have true freedom to live a better life he must willfully take an action that might seem wrong at first. Nonetheless, this action was the first step in taking back control of his life. Not sure what it meant he continued reading what seemed more suited for the introduction to a fantasy video game than a work of non-fiction. The author insisted the reader take the book without paying for it. He claimed that willfully taking this action was the first step in taking back control of his life. He explained that the reader would understand after discovering the secret that he was going to describe later in the book. Tom continued reading. “I no longer have the need to make money. My only motivation is to help the few select people who are wise and brave enough to learn how to use the secret I am about to reveal. These are the people who deserve to know what I know and when enough people learn the secret, we will meet sometime in the near future to form an elite society and join forces to change the world.” Even though it seemed irrational, even silly, Tom thought it would be fun to play along and take the challenge.

    The risk of being caught excited him. His pulse raced with the danger and the guilt of doing something wrong. Tom looked for security cameras. Then he thought about it. If the storeowner was too cheap or too poor to buy decent shelves, he was certain he could not afford an electronic security system. By the cash register, the young man was still preoccupied with what he was reading, completely ignoring him. Tom unzipped the top of his shoulder bag. He always had this black leather bag with him wherever he went. It was a comfort for him, a sort of security blanket. Its many zippered pockets and slots, more than enough for pens and memo pads, gave him a false sense of being organized. Giving in to the impulse, Tom slipped the book into his shoulder bag, put the bag’s strap over his shoulder and quickly left the store. Once outside he laughed to himself. It felt good to get away with the crime. He never shoplifted before and was not eager to start now. He rationalized his behavior by telling himself he was going to return the book the very next day, no harm done. His mood magically changed from despair into excitement and hope that come with a new adventure. This alone was worth the risk.

    CHAPTER TWO After leaving the bookstore Tom headed for the Bus Stop Diner where he usually had supper. It was on the way to his apartment. Snow began to fall with a cold wind blowing the icy snowflakes in his face. He wiped the melting flakes away from his eyes as he squinted to see. The diner was only half a block away. By jogging he was soon at the front door. The familiar smell of stale coffee and greasy food made him nauseas. Standing inside the doorway he stopped for a moment. Across the street was Café de France, a restaurant he always avoided. It was too expensive for a student like himself with a part time job and an ever-growing student loan. The excitement of getting away with stealing the book put him in the mood to take a chance, to try somewhere new even if he could not afford it. “What’s the worst that could happen? [He] asked himself. He went back outside into the cold to cross the street. Pushing his way through the heavy wooden doors of Café de France, he found himself in the vestibule. It felt good to be inside away from the cold snow. When he passed the second pair of doors a comforting warm burst of air filled with the sweet aroma of various foods deepened his hunger.

    A tall attractive woman in her late forties dressed in black greeted him at the door. She looked him over doubtfully a few times. Then she asked him if he had a reservation. “Well, I didn’t plan on coming here. That’s why I didn’t make a reservation.” “I don’t think we can seat you,” she said. “The place is half empty and it’s snowing out there.” “I’m sorry but,” she began to ask him to leave when [a waitress] came to the door and whispered something to her. The [waitress] was about his age, in her mid-twenties. She was attracted to him when she first saw him come into the restaurant. He reminded her of a lost dog that needed to be rescued. “Oh, all right but I don’t see why you want to bother with him.” The woman reluctantly escorted him to a small table at the far end of the restaurant near the kitchen. “We usually save this table for one of the staff when they take a break, but I’ll let you sit here.” She tossed a menu on the table before turning her back, returning to the front door. Tom managed to catch it before it slid off the table. When he opened the menu, he saw it was more than could afford. The [waitress] who got him past the woman at the front door came to the table with a smile.

    For a moment he forgot why he was there. Everything in the room faded away until it was only the two of them. “Do you like what’s on the menu? You have a choice of an appetizer, a main , and a dessert. The house salad and bread come with the meal. Tonight’s special is a roasted Cornish hen with the chef’s special sauce. We also have salmon or the usual steak. Can I bring you something to drink?” He loved the sound of her voice; not paying attention to what she was saying, only listening. She was not a blond, blue-eyed cliché. Her smooth white complexion was framed by wavy, shoulder length, almost black hair. Her eyes were dark blue, dark enough to appear black in dim lighting. “What’s your name?” Tom asked in a firm yet friendly tone. He was surprised at himself. He usually spoke in a low, almost inaudible voice. His boldness in coming into an expensive restaurant, his confidence when speaking to a beautiful woman, he wondered if stealing the book was somehow responsible. “Angela. What’s yours?” “Tom,” he said. He loved how well her name suited her. “It’s nice to meet you Tom.” “Angela, I have a bit of a problem. I’m a part time student with a part time job and a large student loan.

    Anyway, I’m not sure why I even came in here.” “I know how it is. I’m a student too and I work here part time.” “Listen if you can’t do it, I’ll understand. I’ll quietly leave. I don’t want to cause any trouble, especially for someone as nice as you. You see I only came in because I pass this place every day. I was curious. I didn’t realize how expensive it is here. Is it okay if I only get some coffee with a small piece of dessert?” She gave him a warm smile. “Let me talk with the chef.” Tom watched her walk past the swinging door next to his table, which led into the kitchen. He got ready to sneak out, but she returned just as he stood up. “Going somewhere?” She smiled in a teasing lighthearted manner. “Well, I…” “Sit down. You’re very lucky tonight. Mr. Snider, he’s one of our best customers but he’s also hard to please sometimes. He ordered the Cornish hen then changed his mind. Now he wants salmon. The chef is fussy. He’d never cook the hen then warm it up again if someone decides to order it later. It would be a waste to throw it in the trash. Besides, part of my pay includes having whatever is left over in the kitchen. He agreed to let you have a meal on the house.

    ” “You saved me much embarrassment. How about having dinner with me sometime to thank you?” Tom was prepared to accept her rejection gracefully. “I’d love to. How about tomorrow? It’s my day off.” “Sure…” “Excuse me Tom, Mr. Snider wants me. I’ll be right back.” It seemed too good to be true. She was going out with him next night. He realized it must only be pure chance but, in a way, taking the book did lead him into this restaurant, which allowed him to meet Angela. Angela smiled at him while gracefully balancing a stack of dishes on her way back to the kitchen. “I’ll be right back,” she said. She was back a short moment later. Her speed impressed him. “Here is your salad and bread sir. I hope you don’t mind I put the house dressing on the salad, a light sweet olive oil and vinegar mixture. And here is small plate with olive oil to dip the bread.” “Very good. Will the appetizer take long?” Tom said playing along, pretending to be a demanding customer. “I’ll bring it out right away sir. Sorry for the delay.” “What about my drink?” [He] asked feigning irritation. “Again, I must apologize. What would you like to drink?” “Oh, nothing; the water will be fine.

    ” Angela smiled, and then playfully smacked the back of his head. He reached for her waist, but she was too quick for him, disappearing through the swinging doors into the kitchen. Surprised and pleased with his new personality, Tom was sure the only difference that could account for this change was the book. Angela brought out the appetizer of three types of cheese and the Cornish hen at the same time. “It’s slow tonight so I can sit with you for a few minutes.” “Great, I love your company.” She smiled. Taking his fork, she helped herself to a piece of cheese before taking another piece and bringing it up to his mouth. When he opened his mouth, his tongue reaching for the cheese, she pulled it away. They both laughed. She took a tiny nibble from the end of the cheese before bringing the fork toward his mouth again. This time he was quick enough to bite the cheese before she could pull it away for the second time. Again, they both laughed. “Here, I’ll let you eat in peace,” she said handing him the fork. “I’ll be back with dessert and coffee.” It was one of the best meals of his life. Angela made it special. She sat down with him for coffee and dessert. They exchanged phone numbers.

    “Angela,” Tom hesitated for a moment, losing his train of thought. He loved the sound of her name, gazing into her soft welcoming eyes, and... “Yes? What were you about to say?” “Oh…ah… I mean you live so close to me; I wonder why we never met before.” “I know. It does seem a bit strange at first, but we work different hours and go to different schools. This is the only time we had a chance to cross paths, that’s all.” She walked with him to the front door. He pulled her close, gave her a tight hug and kissed her on the cheek. The softness of her skin against his lips and the sweet scent of her body filled him with passion. He expected her to pull away from his embrace, tell him the date was off, and maybe even slap his face. Instead, she hugged him back and lightly pressed her lips against his cheek. Her dainty hug, the touch of her lips, their physical closeness, all increased the fire in his soul beyond anything he had ever experienced. They slowly pulled away from each other. Tom took her hands in his. She smiled, slightly blushed then looked away for a moment before gazing deeply into his eyes. They were both lost in a state of wordless fascination. She watched him leave the restaurant.

    Once outside he hugged his shoulder bag with the book inside close to his heart. It brought him such good luck. He planned to go back to the bookstore in the morning to explain how he “forgot” to pay for it. Only instead of returning the book, [he would] keep it after paying what he owed. CHAPTER THREE It was not snowing when Angela left work. Instead of going straight home, she took a slightly longer way through a nearby park. She enjoyed the walk in the park during the day. Now she had a chance to see it at night. She walked past a playground to a small pond set aside for sailing toy boats. During the daytime, this section of the park was full of activity from children and their parents. The loud screeching, laughter and occasional crying of children would fill the air. In contrast, the playground was now silent and dark. The sounds of street traffic were all she heard. Beyond the playground was Prospect Park Lake. It was too far into the park and away from the street for Angela to feel safe. Angela imagined how good it would be to find someone who loved and needed her. She always found it hard to flirt with a man but this time she surprised herself. With Tom it was different.

    Physical attraction yes but she was never so at ease with a man after first meeting him. She wondered if Tom felt the same way or if it was only an infatuation, something to enjoy before finding the right person. Tom followed Angela into the darkness of the park. He was curious to see Angela walk home. He was not stalking her, only watching from a short distance. Once they were out of the park and at her apartment, he intended to let her see him but for now, he was more comfortable only following her. This behavior was more a compulsion than a choice. Follow her quietly. Well figure out why later, Tom told himself. He hoped she was not meeting another man. Alone in the dark, bundled up tight in her woolen coat Angela turned her back to the wind. “Hey lady, do you have the time?” Angela inhaled a short gasp of freezing air. The man’s sudden loud request was startling. She had no idea he was so close behind her. The way he painfully grabbed her on the shoulder frightened her the most. He was a tall husky man. By the way he looked at her; she knew he was up to no good. “It’s eleven thirty,” she told him the time without looking at her watch. This way she could avoid looking away and so keep her eye on him.

    One of her friends taught her this trick if she ever found herself in such a situation. “Come on pretty lady, don’t be so shy. Give me a little smile.” Angela turned and began jogging away. Afraid to look back, she could not tell if the man was still following her. After jogging a little further she stopped and turned to see that the man was there, watching her from a short distance behind. When he saw her looking, he slowly walked in her direction. Angela walked faster. In this section of the park, there were fewer streetlights. The ones that remained were spaced far apart. After a while, the only light was from the dim gray sky. Angela saw a shadow or blurry movement from the corner of her eye. She stopped again to see if the man was still following her. At first, there was no one in sight. There was no sound of footsteps. She feared he might be quietly stalking her from somewhere in the dark. She left the park hoping it was safer out on the street. Then she saw some movement by a bush. Then something moved behind a tree. Then again, there was some movement next to a parked car. Her heart raced. She tried to make some sense out of what she saw. Was more than one man following her or was it her imagination? Maybe the man was gradually getting closer.

    Angela quickly resumed her fast walk, breaking into a jog for a brief time then back into a walk. Now the sound of footsteps coming from behind drove her to run faster. Even then she doubted herself. She wondered if she was only running away from the echo of her own footsteps. She could not stop now. The man might still be coming after her. Angela stopped to catch her breath. Again, she felt the man’s painful grasp on her shoulder. “Let go of me. What are you doing?” “Don’t be bashful. You know you want this as much as I do.” She spun around to look at the man. He had a tight grip on her shoulder. She also saw something moving behind the man, but his head blocked the view. The man turned his head to see what she was looking at. “There’s no one there. Don’t worry we’ll have our privacy.” Angela tried to pull away, but his grip was too strong. Then she tried to kick him in the groin, the way her father taught her, but the man [anticipated] her move and shifted in time to avoid her knee. “Oh yeah I love it when they want a little rough foreplay,” he said in a tone which seemed to brag about his [expertise] in molesting women. Before she could scream for help, his hand covered her mouth.

    Before she could poke him in the eye, he turned his head away. He was always one step ahead of her. He withdrew his hand before she could bite him. Then he punched her hard in the face. Everything began spinning. Her legs became too weak to hold her up. She saw the filthy smirk on his face, the trees whirling, and the sidewalk coming up to her face. As Tom reached them, he saw a dark shadow reach around and grab the man’s legs causing him to lose balance and fall. At first, he was afraid but his rage at someone trying to hurt Angela was too much to resist. With a heavy rock Tom smashed the man’s head repeatedly, unable to stop himself. When she awoke, she saw Tom. She let out a sigh of relief when she realized she was okay. Except for her terror, the pain from where the man punched her was her only injury. Youre okay Angela. I took care of him. How did you get here? Were you following me? Why didnt you catch up with me so we could walk together? Im glad you rescued me, but I dont understand. You were lucky I happened to be here in the park, Tom lied as he hugged her softly. He did not tell her how good it felt to smash the mugger’s head with a heavy rock. After repeated blows the man’s head cracked like an egg with blood and brain seeping out.

    Did you call 911? she asked. We cant do that. Why not? Arent we supposed to let someone know so he wont try it again? Tom looked away. He was not sure he could trust her. Angela became silent. Listen to me Angela. Im usually not like this. I mean I never hurt anyone but when I saw what he was doing to you, I lost it. I lost all control. I dont even remember what I did. I could not stop until he was still. Where is he? Im pretty sure I killed him, so I put the body behind the trees near the bushes. What? You killed him? This is just too much. Why did you have to kill him? Tom hugged her tightly, hoping she would keep the murder quiet. You saved me. I dont want to get you in trouble with the law. He got what he deserved. If hes dead he wont be hurting anyone else, she said as she pulled away from him, trying to rationalize what he did to the man. Maybe it was just an accident. Thats the way I feel. Why go through all that grief when nothing good can come of it? It will be our secret, he said. Little was said as Tom walked her home. They did not hold hands. Once at her apartment she gave him a brief hug before going inside and locking the door. Tom knew she would need some time alone to sort things out.

    He could not blame her for being a little distant. CHAPTER FOUR Back at his apartment, Tom [immediately] returned to where he had left off on chapter three, Initiation Ceremony. The illustration was of a man on a road that ended. There it split into two paths. The path to the left was wide and straight. It gently sloped downward. The path to the right was narrow and had several sharp turns. It was a steep climb. On this Y-shaped road, the man headed down the path to the left. The chapter began with the reassurance that if he later changed his mind and believed the new direction in his life was not right for him, he could easily go back. The following chapter held the key to reversing the ceremony. Tom decided to read over the next chapter quickly to be sure it would be possible to change his mind. Even though he did not believe that anything in the book was real, he was curious. He was having such good luck; meeting Angela, an expensive gourmet meal for free, rescuing her. Tom felt it would be foolish to stop now even if his good luck was only a series of coincidences. He was enjoying himself. Why should he stop? He continued reading. The author explained the ritual. It was more a matter of giving the reader the courage to be on his own.

    However, it still required that he set the proper atmosphere. Tom closed the blinds to block out the streetlights because the room had to be dark. There had to be complete silence. Luckily, the other tenants in his apartment building were mostly older retired people who went to bed early. When he read the next paragraph about the need for candlelight and a certain type of incense, he feared the ceremony would have to wait for another night. In frustration, he turned to the back of the book. The last pages were stuck together. When he took a closer look, he found a crack between some of the stuck pages and the loose ones. His thumbnail barely fit into the crack. By using more force, he was able to pry the pages apart. He carefully rubbed the seam hoping he had not damaged the book. It formed a tightly fitting box. Soft red felt lined this hidden compartment. One item at a time he carefully took the contents out of the compartment and placed them on the kitchen table. Everything he needed was there; candles, candleholders, incense, a razor blade, a white rag, and a round cloth that opened into a circle about one yard in diameter. Imprinted on the cloth was the same image of a serpent that was on the front cover of the book.

    The back of the cloth had the symbol that was on the back cover of the book, a large letter “Y” altered in the same way. The left fork ended with an arrow while a short horizontal line blocked the right fork. Underneath the cloth at the bottom of the compartment was a small clear glass vial half-filled with a dark blue liquid. He closed the back of the book to continue reading where he had left off. Following the directions was like playing a game for him. It was a different type of game. It was not a computer-generated game nor a board or card game. The novelty of the procedures lured him into the ceremony. He wondered what would happen. How would it feel? What was next? He slowly went ahead with the ceremony. As instructed, he took off all his clothes then sat on the floor of his living room. The book with all its contents was now on the coffee table. The side of the cloth with the altered letter “Y” was facing up. Tom hesitated when he read the next section. It required him to cut his left palm with the razor blade. He must smear the blood from this wound along the bottom of the “Y” and then continue up to the left fork of the letter. After the blood soaked into the cloth, he was to turn it over, so the serpent side was facing up.

    Tom paused for a moment before continuing. The razor easily cut deep into his hand with only the slightest pain, but when he smeared his blood on the cloth an intense heat went from his hand up his shoulder, past his neck and into his head. Damn it! There must be something on the cloth. He knew it was too late to wash his hands. Any damage would have happened by then. Besides, the instructions forbade it. He used the white rag from the book as a bandage. The heat instantly stopped. Tom continued with the ceremony. He placed one candle on the dragon’s head and one on its tail. The dragon’s fire destroying its own tail symbolized the end to Toms old ways to make room for the beginning of his new life. At first, he could not get the candles to light. Down to his third attempt he was about to give up. He believed the candlewicks were too damp to take the flame. Tom tried another match. Both candles simultaneously shot up flames over a foot high filling the room with an intense skunk-like smell. Gagging and nauseated by the overpowering stench he blew hard into the flames. At first the flames jumped up even higher almost setting his eyebrows on fire. A moment later, they died down to a more normal size.

    The skunk-like scent changed into a pleasant creamy aroma. Inhaling the creamy scented smoke from the candles, he forgot for a moment where he was and what he was doing. Tom realized he was intoxicated by whatever was in the smoke from the candles. He continued the ceremony by placing the black inch high incense cone in the center of the cloth. He touched the tip of the cone with one of the lit candles. Instantly, the cone hissed sending sparks flying in all directions. A thin black line of smoke rose straight up. It hit the ceiling forming a huge mushroom shaped black cloud that spread out in all directions. When the cloud floated down to the floor, Tom did not choke or cough on the heavy fumes. Instead, he enjoyed being light-headed. A moment later, the smoke detector beeped. Inebriated by the fumes Tom staggered into the kitchen where the detector was in the ceiling. The chair he climbed on swayed back and forth while he twisted off the top of the device and pulled out the battery. Back on solid ground, he opened the window to let the smoke escape. The rest of the black smoke was in the living room making it difficult for Tom to see where he was stepping. The smokes scent reminded him of an old church he once visited with his parents when he was about six years old.

    It was after the funeral for a friend of the family. His parents wanted to say some prayers before leaving for home. At the time, a quiet peacefulness came over him as the sun began to set. The sunlight filtered through the stained-glass windows on the right side of the church. There was a lingering scent from the incense used in the ceremony. The slowly changing light of various colors coming in through the stained-glass windows passed over the casket. Long dark shadows forming behind the casket from the setting sun fascinated him as they crept in overtaking the entire church. An evil power seemed to force out the holiness. He panicked, grabbed his mother’s arm, and began to cry. “It’s okay. Don’t be afraid of the dark. They’ll soon turn on the lights.” Even now, the memory of evil dark shadows creeping in to overtake the holiness occasionally came to mind in a fleeting moment or in a nightmare. Next, Tom examined the vial. It held about a tablespoonful of dark blue liquid. The vial itself was made of clear glass. It was embossed with the image of a serpent wrapped around the vial until its head faced its tail. Etched fire came from its mouth. The vial had no label, which worried him.

    It might be some narcotic. But he did not want to stop now. As far as he knew, one vial of dope could not get him hooked. Tom unscrewed the cap and carefully smelled its contents. The stench caused his nose to burn and his eyes to sting. After a moment, the irritating fumes changed into a pleasantly soothing vanilla-like scent. He took a deep breath, closed his eyes, and swallowed the sweet liquor. Nothing happened for a moment. Then all at once, it hit him hard. The room began to spin. He planted his hands firmly on the floor to keep his balance. His vision began to fade. The words in the book became blurry. He tried to focus his eyes by squinting. It did not work. In a panic, fearing the liquid might have permanently damaged his vision, he ran to the bathroom sink to splash cold water into them. After a moment, he realized there was no reason to try flushing the poison from the outside. The substance was working from inside his body. “What if there was something poisonous in the vial? Methanol can blind you if taken internally,” Tom questioned himself. “If my vision is affected it might be too late to do anything about it now.” He could only hope his partial loss of vision was temporary, that it would pass when the effects of the liquid wore off.

    He had come this far. He decided to complete what he started. He returned to his place before the book and candles on the living room floor. He felt the presence of evil in the room. In the darkness, he saw something move but he could not be sure because of the dimness of his vision. “Who’s there? Get out now. I have a gun and I’m not afraid to use it,” he bluffed. Before he could get up to look for the intruder a fine high-pitched ringing in his ears increased in volume until it was unbearably painful. Tom covered his ears then shook his head until it stopped. Assuming there was no one else in his apartment he returned to reading by candlelight. The words were barely legible in his present state. He read several passages aloud. In a dreamlike state, he heard the loud clang of a cathedral bell. “Why aren’t you at work?” An echoing voice thundered through the apartment. Seeing only darkness, he realized the blue liquid from the vial in combination with the incense and smoke had now completely blinded him. Instead of fear, he could care less. He heard himself mumble something incoherently. “You sound terrible,” the thundering voice reverberated. “Why don’t you take the day off? I’ll put you down for a sick day.

    ” Tom dreamed he got up and walked down a long corridor still naked from the ceremony and still in a state of bewilderment. How he found himself in this corridor was a mystery. His vision was returning. He was able to see blurry shadows. Tom realized he was hallucinating but could not stop it. It just felt so real. There was something he was intent on doing yet had no idea what it was. Then he saw himself outside in an open field. Behind him from a distance, the indistinct shape of a flying creature with glowing fiery red eyes came ever closer. Tom ran. The creature kept getting closer until it changed into the form of a dragon. It flew slowly flapping its wings. The air swished with every slow flap. Tom screamed out in pain as the dragon’s flames burned his back. The flames engulfed his entire body until all he could feel was pain before losing consciousness. CHAPTER FIVE Through tightly closed eyelids, Tom saw some light, a good sign. He was not completely blind. He opened his eyes. The clear image of the cloth with the serpent on it was the first thing he saw. He felt relief at not being blind, yet he was angry with himself for taking such a risk. He looked around the room. On the floor of his living room were the burnt-out candles, incense, and empty vial.

    “It looks like a crack addict lives here. What would Angela think if she saw me now, naked and stoned? He looked for the book, but it was gone. It was not on the coffee table where he left it. Searching for the apartment, he found it sitting on the open windowsill in the kitchen. He assumed he must have put it there when he was wandering around his apartment in a drugged state. Tom reached for the book. A gust of wind sent it flying down to the sidewalk three floors below. Still naked he ran down the steps. He was outside in less than a minute. Even though he did not actually believe it, he felt inside that if he lost the book, he might not be able to reverse the ceremony. His feet were numb from the frozen sidewalk, and he shivered uncontrollably from a wintry gust on his bare back. When he picked up the book, he was surprised it was not damaged, not even a scratch or dent. “What the hell are you looking at?” Tom yelled at a lady passerby. Surprised at seeing a naked man standing on the cold street she turned her head and quickly walked away. A moment later, he was once again in his kitchen looking through the book for the chapter. He was in a hurry to reverse the procedure.

    He was sure the entire experience was due to whatever was in the blue liquid from the vial. Even the smoke from the candles and incense had an effect. All he wanted now was for everything to be back to normal. Tom thought about how sometimes everyone performed some small ritual to ease their anxiety. Some people knock on wood. Others cross their fingers. He wanted to read the chapter so he could reverse a spell he did not genuinely believe in . It would make him feel better about the whole experience. But when he looked for the chapter, it was not there. There were several blank pages between the chapter before and the chapter after but nothing where the chapter should have been. There was no drawing, nothing but blank pages. That was when he feared he was in for some trouble. His pulse raced, he broke out in a cold sweat and felt an intense tightness in the pit of his stomach. He was not sure if it was the aftereffects of drinking the vial of liquid or if it was only fear. All he wanted now was a new start with Angela. He put on his clothes, grabbed the book, and ran down the stairs. He was on his way back to the bookstore to set things right. On his way to the bookstore Tom passed a gas station with a combination donut, ice cream and sandwich shop inside.

    He decided to go in for a quick breakfast. He walked up to the counter and passed several other customers wandering through the store. The man behind the cash register seemed bored and angry. “I’d like a jelly donut with coffee and some orange juice please.” “We only have orange juice in a quart or half gallon container. The donuts are on a rack on the side wall. The coffee is in the center aisle. A few tables and chairs are by the window. Grab what you need, and I’ll ring it up.” Tom imagined smashing his book into the man’s face splattering blood in every direction. The vivid images came to him unexpectedly and involuntarily. He closed his eyes and shuttered in horror. “Are you alright or what?” The cashier asked more annoyed than concerned for Tom’s wellbeing. Tom did not answer. He gathered what he wanted, paid for it and then took a seat at the last table in the corner by the front window. After a sip of coffee and a bite of the donut, he took the book out for another look. He hoped that somehow the instructions on reversing the ceremony were still in the book. He checked to make sure if a printing error may have resulted in the chapters not being in numerical order.

    No, only blank pages were where the chapter once was. Frustrated he began reading the next chapter titled Guiding Forces. The illustration was of a man walking down an alley with the light source coming from behind projecting his shadow in front. Other shadows in lighter shades of grey came from different directions. A new guiding force will soon come into your life. This force will help you realize all the options now open to you. It is up to you to follow the new path your life will take. Tom took another bite of his donut, washed it down with some more coffee, and then returned to the book. “This guiding force is sometimes experienced as a new thought or idea. Often it is only a vague feeling, one that would never have occurred to you. Sometimes the feeling that someone is watching might precede the thought. At other times, you may see a vague image moving from the corner of your eye. However, after turning your head you will see nothing there.” Tom was sure the entire description was nonsense. The author might be using the power of suggestion to make him believe that the changes in his life were happening. “Your senses are now heightened. Your reflexes are quicker. You have precise control of your actions.

    You will need to use these powers in your new life.” Finished with his meal of caffeine, and fat; he discarded the remnants in the trash. The bookstore was down the street. He was eager to put an end to his involvement with the book. At first, he walked right past the bookstore without seeing it. He stopped at the corner and retraced his steps until he found a bookstore, but it was not the same. A red-lettered sign on a black background displayed a new name for the store, A Band of Books. It replaced the faded and chipped gold lettered sign on the old door, Abandoned Books. Through the window he saw couches and chairs. Sturdy wood shelves replaced the rickety shelves he saw the night before. The well-lit store had a tall ceiling with the usual security cameras hiding behind the obvious black half-globe covers. In the back of the store was a coffee shop. An electronic beep replaced the jangle of sleigh bells as he stepped up into the store. “May I help you?” The woman behind the cash register asked him. She was an attractive woman in her late thirties. Her tight skirt and low-cut blouse revealed a firm athletic body. “I can’t believe how much you’ve improved the store. Last night it looked like a dump.

    Now it’s brand new. When did this all happen?” Tom asked. What do you mean?” She seemed puzzled. We’ll be here for three years, come this December.” That’s not possible. I was here last night. All this was not here.” She gave him a strange look. “Maybe you were somewhere else.” Tom was not sure what to say. He was sure he was in this store the night before. Instead of continuing to question her, he decided to get down to the business of returning the book. “Are you the manager of this bookstore?” “Yes I am.” “Well last night I left the store and forgot to pay for this book. It wasn’t until I got home that I remembered,” he tried to put a nicer spin on his shoplifting to prevent any trouble. She took the book from him and turned it over to look at the front and back cover. Then she cracked the book open for a moment before slamming it shut. “This is not one of our books. Perhaps you forgot to pay for it at some other bookstore,” she said, putting an emphasis on the word “forgot”, implying Tom was dishonest. Tom could not concentrate. He saw the woman’s lips moving but could not respond. “Hey, wake up. I said this is not one of our books. Are you listening to me? I’m busy.

    Take the book and leave.” Still there was no response from Tom. “Please go now. I’m busy. I can’t stand here trying to get an intelligent response from you.” “How can you be so sure?” Tom asked. “We don’t stock diaries or journals.” Tom chose not to insist. She must have seen the blank pages where the missing chapter was supposed to be and assumed the entire book was blank. “Sorry to have bothered you. I’ll check the other bookstore.” “I’m sure you will,” she said emphasizing the word “sure”. She rolled her eyes in disbelief. In a hurry to get ready for his date with Angela he shoved the book back into the pocket of his shoulder bag then headed for home. CHAPTER SIX Tom showered, shaved, put on his nicest shirt and corduroy jeans. After checking the time, he ran down the steps and out on to the street. The book was still in his shoulder bag. If he did not hurry, he would be late for their first date. Angela lived only a few blocks away from his apartment. He thought again about how strange it was that they had never met before last night. A strong gust of wind pressed the book into his side, as if pushed by someone, as if bringing to his attention its part in helping them meet.

    He arrived at her building early, but he did not want to appear overly eager. Besides, she might still be getting ready. As he waited, Tom leaned against the building and watched the cars as they passed. “Hey mister, want to buy some flowers?” At first, he saw no one, only hearing the hesitant voice of a woman. He looked down to see a poorly dressed elderly woman. “Only five dollars,” she said. Some flowers for Angela would certainly make a good impression. Tom felt the book press into his side again as if being jostled by someone pushing by him. When he turned to look, he saw no one. In a fit of rage, he imagined punching the old woman hard in the face, breaking her nose, blood pouring down. Even though the image was only in his mind, he winced at the brutality closing his eyes in disgust. The woman showed him roses, carnations and daisies. All were wilted with most of the stems bent or broken. “Yeah, this will make a great impression.” He laughed to himself but felt sorry for the woman who most likely picked the flowers from a trashcan. He gave her a ten-dollar bill and told her to keep the change. She smiled. He entered the short hallway leading into Angela’s place and then stopped at a glass-paneled door.

    It was locked. A security camera attached to the ceiling faced directly at the entranceway. He looked for Angela’s name on a row of a dozen buttons on the wall to the right of the door then pressed her button. “Who is it?” Angela’s sweet soft voice answered. “It’s Tom. Are you ready?” There’s no elevator. You’ll have to take the stairs. I’m on the third floor, apartment 3B. I’ll unlock the door when you get here.” She buzzed the electronic door lock. Tom entered the dimly lit hallway. He was about to walk up when he thought he saw something in the shadows underneath the stairway. The silhouette of a man darted into the darkness. Taking the chance that it might be someone dangerous Tom walked towards the darkness. “Who’s there?” He walked deeper into the darkness looking for the source of the shadow. At first the shadow did not move. Then it slowly blended into the background with the other shadows until he could no longer see it. When the headlights from a passing car lit the corner all the shadows below the staircase vanished except for what he thought was the shadow of a man. When he approached the silhouette, it became smaller until it too seemed to disappear into the corner.

    “Now the damn book has me seeing things.” He told himself it was only the shadow of a passing car, but he was starting to worry. His experience with the dragon last night, the image of hitting the cashier at the donut shop, images of beating the poor old flower lady, dark figures lurking in the shadows; Tom felt violent disturbing changes in his thoughts and feelings. He ran up the staircase to the third floor. The flowers were now completely bent with petals falling everywhere. In a fit of rage, which was way out of proportion and not the way he usually behaved, he flung the flowers hard against the wall. They made a splat leaving a wet green stain. Afraid of his overpowering rage, he stopped for a moment to calm himself. Her apartment was to the left. After taking several deep breaths to quiet himself, he knocked. The door slowly opened, and he caught a glimpse of Angela running into her bathroom wrapped in only a towel. She covered her breasts with her arm. The towel rode up exposing half her bottom. “I’ll be out in a minute. Can I bring you something to drink while you’re waiting?” “No thanks, I’m fine.” When Angela finally came out Tom lightly embraced her at first then hugged her firmly, pulling her close.

    She lightly brushed her lips against his. “You’re so beautiful. Is that the bruise from last night? Does it look bad? Its not too bad. I only hope I wont get arrested for beating my girlfriend. Angela pretended to slap him. Im joking. No one will see it unless you point it out to them in a bright light. Did you mean what you said about my being your girlfriend? Of course. When they looked into each other’s eyes time seemed to slow into a dreamlike pool of wordless awareness. “Well, are we going out?” She whispered quietly, seductively. “What?” “Are we going out now or would you like to sit for a while?” She asked putting her hand on his shoulder. She led Tom to her sofa. First we should talk about what happened last night. We must get things right about this. It was terrible yet in a way it brings us closer in a very short time, Tom said. As you told me, I didnt call the police. I owe my life to you. My hero, she said with a warm smile hugging him close with her head on his shoulder. Tom petted her hair. It was still a little damp from her shower. He breathed in the lavender scent of her shampoo. Do you trust me? That Im not a murderer just because I went too far and killed a man to rescue you? Of course, I trust you.

    Can I trust you not to go to the police? I dont want to get involved with long police procedures. Besides, I wasn’t hurt much. But you know what’s strange? In the news on TV this morning there was no mention of a murder last night, she told him. I dont know why they wouldnt report it. Maybe they haven’t found the body yet. Walking out of her apartment and down the stairs Tom saw something approaching them from behind. Angela turned to look when she saw him turn. He distracted her by taking her hand. “Where are we going?” “McQuade’s Tavern, it’s quiet. A lot of college students hang out there. They have surprisingly good food for a fair price. We can get to know each other a little better. After dinner we can catch a movie if anything good is playing.” Once at the tavern Tom opened the door for Angela. A tall man, his eyes half closed from too much alcohol pushed passed them before she could enter. Angered by the man’s rudeness Tom headed towards him in a rage. In a way, it felt good to him. The chance to hurt the man was exciting. Angela stopped him. “Let’s not let him ruin our time together,” she said gently squeezing his hand. It took a moment for him to calm down.

    The strange thing about the incident was how he overreacted. It would have never bothered him so much before. Tom led the way to a booth in the back of the tavern where they would not be disturbed. He took a seat. Angela sat next to him on the same side of the table. She slid over and took his hand. Their bodies made soft contact. The warm comfort of her touch put him at ease. “What would you like to drink?” He asked. “I don’t really drink much. Most of the drinks burn my throat and taste bad.” “How about trying a sweet wine? It has a mild taste. It may not be that good to a wine expert, but I like it.” After a few glasses of wine and some food, their conversation became easy and open. However, Tom was still visibly upset. “Is something troubling you? Why don’t you tell me what it is? It might make you feel better to share it with me. If not, just tell me it’s none of my business. Was it what happened last night?” “I’m not sure.” “You don’t have to tell me all the details but maybe it will help us feel closer knowing we can trust each other.” After another glass of wine, Tom decided to give her a general idea of his problem. “I’m upset with this book I’m reading.

    It has something to do with free will. It claims there are powerful forces released when turning away from traditional spirituality. It’s all nonsense, yet it bothers me.” “It’s only a book. So, stop reading it. You’ll forget about it,” Angela said. “It’s not just a book.” He went on to tell her some of the details. After another hour they were half finished with the second bottle of wine when he decided to let Angela in on a little more of his secret. “Well, how can I explain it? My thoughts, feelings; even my actions are somehow different. Sometimes I feel something is following me urging me to do things I would never dream of doing before.” They were silent for a moment before Angela spoke. “When I used to go to church at Saint Michael’s I really loved Father Alphonsus. He was kind and helpful when he heard my confessions. Go have a talk with him. Maybe he can help ease your mind.” Tom felt Angela was the woman he was searching for his entire life. He knew he was being overly romantic, maybe because of the wine but it was like being reunited with his long-lost soul mate. Angela looked through her purse shuffling papers, looking for something. “Here it is.

    I have Father Alphonsus’ card. He gave it to me when I was having some problems with an old boyfriend. Take it. Give him a call. Tell him I sent you. You have nothing to lose.” Tom took the card to humor her. He never intended to call this Father Alphonsus. “It’ll be Halloween soon,” Angela said, trying to keep up the conversation. “Do you like Halloween? Do you get dressed up?” Tom asked. “No. I was curious to see if you liked it.” “I think it’s for kids. We pretend at scary events where you can laugh afterwards is silly. There’s nothing to laugh about with real life horrors like wars and murders. People are killing and torturing each other all over the world.” “I didn’t mean to make you angry. I was only curious. What about the other holidays coming up, Thanksgiving and Christmas?” Angela asked. “My mom and dad passed away. I’ve lost touch with the rest of the family, so I stayed home. Sometimes I go to any restaurant that’s open then go home and watch TV.” “We have a lot in common. When my parents were divorced, I stayed with my aunt until I was old enough to be on my own. We never got along. Now I never hear from any of them. I sometimes spend the holidays with a friend or stay home like you,” she said.

    “We can spend the holidays together,” Tom said. “I’d love that. We can make them special.” They talked about many things and the time went by quickly. Before long, it was too late to see a movie. Tom suggested she come by his apartment for coffee and more conversation. When they stood up to leave Angela stumbled. She grabbed on to Tom’s jacket to prevent an embarrassing fall. Unaccustomed to drinking alcohol she could barely walk without leaning on him. Tom intended to bring her safely back home after some coffee and time for the effects of the alcohol to wear off. Once they were outside Tom thought he saw the strange dark shapes again. Angela held on tight to Tom’s jacket. She focused on not falling and did not notice how upset Tom was becoming. He told himself it was only his imagination. That it was the aftereffects of the wine combined with the nervousness of a first date. What he wanted most now was to be free from the commitment he made to the book. Tom turned his attention to helping Angela walk. He almost had to carry her to his apartment. She dragged and tripped over her own feet. Once inside he sighed with relief. They were now safe from the shadows of the night.

    He sat her down on the sofa of his living room. She seemed so helpless, so foolish to trust a man she hardly knew. A wave of pure lust came over him. All romantic caring feelings he had for her were gone. This was so different from his usual personality. “Angela, while the coffee is brewing would you like to try a bit of liquor? It’s sweet orange in taste. Ill mix it with some ice. It’s very refreshing. It may help wake you up,” he lied. He poured the drink, fantasizing about being naked with Angela on the couch. It was a normal healthy daydream, which soon turned into something unspeakably evil. Little by little, they drank one glass after another until the fantasy turned into a hellish nightmare. The lust raging through his body became uncontrollable. Plans on how to dispose of her body after he raped her forced themselves into his mind. Tom pressed his hands hard against his temples until the thoughts stopped. When Angela passed out on the couch, he lost all control. He rolled her on to the floor face down, loosened her belt and pulled her skirt down. She wore a paper-thin red panty, which he pulled down with a quick tug. He pulled up her blouse undid the back of her bra and turned her over onto her back.

    Her breasts and soft nipples easily slipped out when he pulled down her bra. Angela quietly moaned. It was all happening too fast. Tom imagined he was only watching himself in a porno movie not actually doing it. “I love you, Tom.” She did not in the least way resist. But he could not go on with it. He could not take advantage of the woman he loved. He wanted her to be sober and willing not drunk and helpless. “I love you too. I’ll make you a little more comfortable.” He gently put her perfect breasts back into her bra and fastened the back. Her blouse, panties and skirt came back in place; Tom sat her on the couch and began massaging her feet. “That feels so good…Tom…” She sighed. “I only want to make you happy,” he said. “Tom, did I fall off the couch?” “You [fell] alright. I straightened your clothes. Now we’ll have some coffee before I take you home.” “You’re so good to me.” “Not at all and I mean that. I’m not good at all.” When they finally made it back to her apartment Angela could not get her key into the door lock. Tom opened the door. He picked her up and carried her to her bed. Angela loved the feel of Toms muscular body as he lowered her onto the bed.

    She wondered how he could be so strong yet so gentle. Why didnt you take advantage of me when we were in your apartment? Im not sure, Tom whispered as he sat on the edge of her bed. It was all happening so quickly. In only a few days, Angela was in love with him. This frightened her. She asked Tom again. You could have easily turned this into a... Angela was not sure what to say next. The bedroom was quiet for what was for her an uncomfortably long time. She held back her tears. She wondered if maybe she was not his type that he did not want to become too involved with her. I want to have a serious relationship with you, not some one-night stand, Tom said. Give me a kiss goodnight before you go, Angela whispered as she put her arms around him. CHAPTER SEVEN Father Alphonsus sat alone behind his desk at the rectory deep in thought. He remembered his life before he entered the priesthood. It was when he was married. Even now twenty years after her death he often thought about his wife. A stroke took her from him in an instant. He was grateful she did not suffer a long illness, yet the shock of her death meant the end of his former life. Religion always played a major role in his life.

    Before he met his wife, he intended to join the priesthood. They met in college while taking the same course on philosophy. As her death happened in an instant so too did their falling in love. It seemed to him so long ago, more a dream than a reality. When he chose marriage over the priesthood Father Alphonsus felt psychiatry was the best alternative. At one time mental illness was believed to be a form of demonic possession. Gradually it became an accepted illness that responded to treatment. He would serve God by helping the sick of mind instead of helping people spiritually. After her death, he gave up his psychiatric practice to join the priesthood as he first intended. Though at times being alone was painful, he was sure he could never find another woman to take her place. All he wanted now was a quiet life. Celibacy in the Church seemed the best way of living, freeing him from the distractions of money, family, children and sex. Yet he often wondered if his decision to leave everything behind to begin a new life as a priest was the right one. Father Alphonsus went to the window overlooking the backyard of the church. Sparrows gathering by a hanging birdfeeder reminded him of Saint Francis who saw all of nature as a mirror of God.

    Saint Francis believed he was a brother of all that was alive. A story about Saint Francis came to mind. Birds of various kinds were feeding on the ground near the monastery where the saint lived. Saint Francis spoke to them about praising God who clothed them in feathers, gave them wings to fly, provided them with pure air and cared for them without any worries. The birds came to him instead of flying away. All Father Alphonsus wanted now was to be like those birds free from the cares of life. He laughed. Whenever he walked up to the birds, they flew away in fear long before he could take a step closer. They knew he was far from being a saint. He returned to his seat behind the desk to continue brooding. When he first entered the priesthood, he found the quiet peacefulness he desired. That only lasted a short time. One day the bishop came to Saint Michael the Archangel Church to give him a special assignment. The conversation about his assignment played in his mind, more like an imaginary happening than a reality. “Father Alphonsus, I want your expertise in psychiatry to fill an important need for our parish.” “I’m honored and will gladly do what I can.” “If you knew what I want you to do you might not be so eager.

    ” Father Alphonsus’ curiosity peaked. “With the illness of Father Jones, he is taking an early retirement and I want you to help our new exorcist.” “But I’m a psychiatrist. I believe such matters have a physical bodily cause and can be treated with medication and counseling.” “Well, that’s the reason I want you. I want you to use your knowledge of psychiatry to help [determine] if a person is in fact [possessed] or the victim of mental illness. You will not treat him. You will refer him to a local psychiatrist. If, however you can find no medical explanation you will refer him to our exorcist.” “First of all, I’ve told you already that I do not believe in demonic possession. Secondly, I have no idea how an exorcism works.” As to the first objection, you are a priest and there are many references to exorcisms in the New Testament. ‘He gave the power against unclean spirits, to cast them out’ (Matt. 10:1) is one example. You must try to have faith in this. The second point will be resolved by firsthand experience. I’m certain that when you [encounter] a true demonic possession you will see how it works.” “I’m a psychiatrist. I’m sure these cases are due to epilepsy, hysteria, schizophrenia, or some other physical and psychological disorders,” Father Alphonsus protested.

    “Yes. But not all. That’s why we want you to make sure the person is really [possessed] before we send him to the exorcist who will perform the ritual.” Both Father Alphonsus and the bishop were quiet, not sure what to say. The bishop spoke first. “Everywhere people are afraid of demonic possession. They dont know much about it but still they fear it. They look to us for answers. Even though the entire subject is not clear we must help them.” “But how?” “We can’t say we have no idea what to do. You have more of a belief in psychiatry than in exorcism. Once you learn what to look for, once you are sure psychiatry will not work then youll know when to send the afflicted soul to the exorcist.” Father Alphonsus paused for a moment before deciding. “I’ll do my best.” There was always one point that troubled Father Alphonsus. When he [possesses] someone against his will, the devil attempts to scare and force the person into giving up his soul. In effect, the victim has not chosen to be with the devil. He cannot be totally to blame. Prayer and exorcism can save his soul. On the other hand, he could never understand why anyone would freely choose to give up his eternal soul for a temporary gain.

    Why would anyone sell his soul to the devil knowing he must spend eternity in hell? Father Alphonsus believed a more likely scenario was to seduce the man gradually into committing ever-increasing acts of evil in exchange for what he desires. As the sinner becomes closer to Satan, he begins to reject God. He finds himself at home with the devil and other evil doers. He becomes like a member of a gang. The result is the same. In effect, he has sold his soul to the devil. In such a case, an exorcism was of no benefit because the devil has not entered the persons body. Instead, the man is fulfilling his part of the agreement in exchange for the benefits Satan can give him. How could he solve such a case? He was sure there must be a way to invalidate such an unwritten contract, but he did not know how. Father Alphonsus checked his watch. It was almost time to hear the confessions of his parishioners in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. This always made him anxious. He calmed himself then headed for the church. CHAPTER EIGHT Tom took a cab to Saint Michael the Archangel Church. It was not because of any strong spiritual beliefs. He was desperate. It was worth a try. He promised Angela he would see Father Alphonsus.

    Assuming the priest might have an office somewhere in the church he looked there first. The church was in the style of a great medieval cathedral only on a much smaller scale, a miniature cathedral built of stone and stained glass. Over the large wooden doors leading into the church was a statue of an angel. The angel’s wings were spread out behind him for balance. He was pushing a long sword into the chest of a horned demon lying on his back with his hands unsuccessfully trying to deflect the sword. “Almost as good as Spiderman,” Tom mumbled to himself as he pulled open the door. The light coming in with him sent shadows in every direction. When the door closed behind him, the shadows vanished. They were replaced by a dim light coming from several lights encased in tall hexagonal glass fixtures. The lights were held up by chains strung down from the high ceiling. In a moment, his eyes became accustomed to the dim lighting. He could see the daylight pressing against the many stained-glass windows. The light was held back by the thick glass. Except for an old man sitting in the front pew the church was empty. There was a statue of Saint Michael by the altar. This time his sword was inches away from the chest of a serpent-like demon instead of the horned devil in the statue above the front doors.

    When Tom saw beams of red and blue light landing beside the statue, he turned and went back outside. It was too much like the lights that frightened him in a church when he was a young boy. He looked for another way to see the priest. Then he noticed a covered walkway towards the side of the church that led to a modern brick two story building. Reaching the door, he read the note taped to its window. “Confessions from three until five.” It was a quarter to five. Tom went back into the church. This time the old man sitting in the front pew was gone. Wanting to get it over with he decided to find Father Alphonsus in a confessional if he must. He could not wait until five. There were four confessional areas built into the walls on each side of the church. They had closed wooden doors flanked by deep purple curtains where the penitent would enter. By looking closely, he could see that only one confessional was dimly lit . Above the door was Father Alphonsus’ name engraved on a small rectangular wooden board that slid into a metal holder. Tom pushed past the curtain. Inside there was a padded wooden plank for kneeling facing a dark double-screened window that concealed the view. “Father Alphonsus, are you there?” He believed he saw a wood panel slide open removing one of the screens.

    He could see an obscure shadow on the other side of the screen. “Are you Father Alphonsus? I need to talk with you about something which has me deeply troubled.” The shadow moved. Then he heard an indistinct mumble or hum or rasping sound, which Tom assumed was the priest. “A friend recommended I see you about a problem I’m having. You see I’m reading a book that has me troubled. Following the author’s instructions, I took the book without paying for it.” He listened for a response from behind the screen but only heard the same mumble or hum or rasping sound he heard before, which he took as a sign that the priest was listening. “Then I performed a ceremony involving candles, incense and a vial of blue liquid, which I drank. It was all only a game for me.” The same mumble or hum or rasping sound came from behind the screen. “It has to do with free will and forces released when turning away from traditional spirituality. And well, I’m not sure how to explain it. I want to put it all behind me. But now I’m haunted by terribly evil thoughts, nightmares and shadows. I’m sure it all has to do with having a guilty conscience.” This time there was only silence from behind the screen.

    Tom wondered if he might have shocked the old priest. “Father Alphonsus, are you listening to me? What do you have to say?” More of the same mumbling sounds which Tom wished he could understand. “I know it was wrong for me to take the book and experiment with spiritual ceremonies I know nothing about, but can you help me get back some peace of mind?” Again, there was no response, only the sound of wind passing by the confessional. When Tom looked through the screen separating him from the priest the dark shadow moved to one side. “Why don’t you have the decency to answer me?” Still there was no response. In a fit of rage, he left the confessional. Tom was determined to find out why the priest behind the closed door did not respond. He tried the doorknob. It was unlocked. The door flew open. It was pushed from inside. When he looked, there was no one there, only an empty chair. Terrified that he was either being haunted by evil spirits or completely losing his mind he ran outside. “This is all due to a guilty consciousness. Maybe I’m more religious than I thought. That’s what it must be. The guilt must be driving me crazy.” Hoping the old priest had the answer that would set his mind at ease; Tom left the church and headed back to the rectory.

    He pushed open the door to the rectory and went inside. There was a large desk set at an angle facing the door. A grey-haired woman sat behind the desk. I must see Father Alphonsus right now.” Hes very busy. You must have an appointment to see him.” If you dont get him out here right now, Ill go back there and get him myself.” Ill see what I can do,” she said more out of being frightened by his wild demeanor than having any true compassion for him. A portly priest with a red face came out from the next room. His brown eyes were partially hidden behind a pair of large wire framed glasses. He was wearing the customary black suit and white collar. Hello. Im Father Alphonsus. Step back into my office where we can talk in private,” he said in a gentle soothing voice. Tom followed the priest into a large room with an immense desk, twice the size of the receptionist’s already large desk. The desk was set against the wall, which had the usual paintings of Christ and Mary. There was also a painting [of] Saint Michael, this time with huge wings that could easily power a small plane. He was standing on a man with hoofed feet and a long tail. This time there was a different shorter sword plunged deep into the creature’s chest.

    Now how can I help you? The priest asked, closing the door. He sat behind the desk. Tom took a seat on the leather chair facing the desk. “Father Alphonsus I’m having some difficulty with feelings of guilt, nightmares, evil thoughts. A friend told me about your ability and I ah…” Nervous, he could not concentrate, for a moment unable to explain why he was there. “You said you are bothered by guilt. What did you do to make yourself feel this way?” “Well, I sort of; well, I shoplifted a book.” Father Alphonsus looked at him for a moment before speaking. “There is much more to this isn’t there? Take your time and explain it as best you can.” The old priest swiveled his chair to the side then cupped his hands as if in prayer. This time his thumbs were under his chin, his fingers encircling his nose, his head bowed, and his eyes closed. “I found a mysterious book. It has no title and no author. There’s a serpent engraved on the front cover. The serpent is sending fire towards its own tail.” “I see. Except for the fire it’s a variation of an ouroboros.” “Yes, that’s right.” “Okay, continue.” “Well, I shoplifted it, the way the author suggested.

    I believed it was all an interesting game, a sort of playacting. Later that night I performed the ceremony described in the book. It was fun. The back of the book opened into a sort of box that [contained] all the items I needed. I even drank the vial of blue liquid that was included.” “What went wrong?” “There was supposed to be a chapter to reverse the ceremony. I made sure I saw the chapter before doing the ceremony. After the ceremony the chapter was gone, only blank pages in its place.” “Continue please.” “Now, I see strange shadows come and go. I have terrible thoughts and urges. I almost raped my girlfriend. I want it all to stop. I want to start over. I don’t want special freedom or knowledge.” “You said you almost raped your girlfriend.” “We were both drinking. She was so drunk she did not resist. She didn’t even realize what was happening.” “Why did you stop?” “I couldn’t go on with it. I couldn’t take advantage of her. I wanted her to be sober and willing, not drunk and helpless.” Father Alphonsus looked up and then turned his chair to face Tom. “You did the right thing. Perhaps we can have a formal confession where we can try for reconciliation.

    Even if you do not intellectually believe in the spiritual reality something deep inside you feels this reality and needs to make amends so you can be at peace.” Tom felt relieved that the priest understood his predicament. He wondered if it was possible to have religious feelings on a deep emotional level even though intellectually, he did not believe. He hoped the priest was right. “Tom, if you’re not ready right now we can have the confession at some other time when you feel the moment is right.” “Yeah, that might be best.” “Let me have a look at the book. Maybe I can help you better once I’ve seen it.” It was strange. He was sure he put it in the pocket of his shoulder bag before leaving his apartment. Tom got up and searched all the pockets of his bag. The book could have slid into one of these pockets. Tom checked each pocket twice, but the book was not there. “Father, I must have left it at home. I hope I didn’t lose it. Usually, I have it in one of the pockets of this shoulder bag. I don’t know how it happened but it’s not here now.” “Well, bring it in tomorrow. I’ll be free after lunch. Meet me here at about one. In the meantime, perhaps we can say a prayer together.

    ” “I’m not sure. I mean I don’t want to pretend at something I’m not sure I believe in.” “Do it to humor me.” The priest came out from behind his desk and then pulled up a chair facing Tom. He took Tom’s hands, placed them on their now touching knees and covered them with his hands. I dont feel comfortable doing this. So, if you dont mind, Ill just leave now. Okay, I understand, Father Alphonsus walked Tom to the door. CHAPTER NINE Once outside the rectory, Tom’s cell phone rang. Hi Angela. How did it go with Father Alphonsus? Okay, I guess. I couldnt find the book. I was sure I had it in my shoulder bag, but it wasnt there. Its very strange. I cant wait for you to tell me all about it. Are we still going to meet at McQuades? Angela asked. Sure, I’ll catch a cab. Give me about half an hour.” A cab came around the corner by the church and pulled up to the curb. The driver was an enormous man with a large round face and short crew cut hair. He was too bulky for the cab almost taking up the entire front two seats. Need a ride? He shouted, peering at Tom over a pair of tiny wire framed glasses. It was more a statement of fact than a question. Tom was just able to enter the cab and close the door before it sped away.

    “Hey, I didn’t tell you where I want to go.” The driver slammed on the brakes causing Tom to bang his head against the thick clear plastic partition separating the driver from the passengers. He twisted around in his seat leaning back until his head protruded through a small window in the plastic divider. Only inches from Toms face, the driver’s breath reeked of garlic, onion, tobacco and beer. Tom sat back to escape the stench. The driver stared over his glasses, which sat down low on his nose. They were more of a decoration than a practical visual aid. “Well then where would you like me to take you?” [He] asked with an angry knowing smirk before sitting back down in his seat. Tom heard the man mutter under his breath. “I know where I’d like to take you, to hell with me.” “Take me to McQuade’s Tavern.” In case there was any trouble, Tom took note of the drivers name on the license underneath his photo, “Levi Osami”. McQuade’s Tavern,” the driver shouted as he slammed on the brakes. This time Tom put his arm up in time to prevent banging his head. He jumped out of his seat on the driver’s side. “How much do I owe?” “What?” “How much do I owe?” “You owe much more than you can pay for with money dickhead.

    ” With that, he sped away before Tom could pay him. “Now who’s the dickhead?” Tom shouted back. The shadows by the tavern shifted from the passing car headlights. He believed he saw a detail in the shadows that did not make sense. One long shadow did not move with the others. It [remained] in a fixed location. Then when he moved closer to get a better view the shadow appeared to run behind the building and then it disappeared. A customer left the tavern a moment afterwards sending a dim stream of light across the parking lot. This would explain why the long shadow disappeared except that it disappeared before the door was opened. Tom assumed the discrepancy was only due to his mind confusing the entire situation. When he reached the glass door of the tavern, he saw his reflection in the glass along with the reflection of a man right behind him. Tom entered then held the door open for the man. There was no one there. Again, he wondered if these visions were all due to being tired or if there was more to it. Once inside it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness of the tavern. Angela was sitting at the far end of the tavern in the same well-hidden booth where they sat the night before.

    When she saw him, she got up to give him a tight hug and a soft kiss. “How did things go?” She took his hand and led him to the seat next to her on the same side of the booth. Did you like Father Alphonsus? Tom was about to speak but stopped when he saw Levi the cab driver come into the bar. Tom imagined him to be a gigantic beach ball with a huge round head balanced on top. He wondered if the cabby was looking for him to pay for the ride. Levi sat at the bar. “Hey asshole can I get a beer or what?” “No need to get rude,” the bartender replied. “Get me a beer, whatever’s on tap.” “We have several…” “What are you stupid or something? Pick anything. Bring it to me right now.” Even though Levi obviously did not exercise to keep fit, carrying all that weight gave him tremendous strength. In a fight, the bartender would be no match for him. Tom walked towards the bar intending to pay the cabby what he owed. “Going somewhere?” Angela asked. It reminded him of what she said when they first met at the Café de France. “I have to pay for my cab ride. The man didn’t wait for me to give him the money.” Tom turned around to look at the bar. Levi was gone. He must have left the tavern or sat somewhere else.

    In any case, Tom was relieved that for now he did not have to confront the man. Tom, did you have a chance to speak with Father Alphonsus?” Angela asked, wondering why Tom seemed disoriented. “Yeah, but like I told you, I didn’t have the book with me. I’m sure I put it in my bag but when I looked for it, it was gone. Maybe it’s somewhere in my apartment. Anyway, I’ll meet with him tomorrow at one.” “I can come with you if you like.” “I don’t want you to go to so much trouble. I’ll take a cab.” “Don’t you have a car?” “I don’t really need a car. It saves me a lot of money.” “I’ll pick you up and take you to the church if you like. I can come in with you or I can wait in the car until you’re done,” Angela offered. “Well, I could use the ride and moral support. You wouldn’t mind waiting in the car?” “Not at all, I’ll do some reading. Besides I’m eager to see that mysterious book of yours and find out what Father Alphonsus thinks about it.” “I’m not so sure I want you to see the book. Not until Father Alphonsus has a look at it.” “Why not?” “I’m not sure. I mean it would make me feel better if Father Alphonsus saw it first.

    ” “I understand. You can show me the book only when you’re ready.” Angela leaned against his side. He reached over putting his arm around her waist. “It’s getting late. Why don’t I drop you off at your apartment?” She asked. “Your apartment is close. Why did you drive?” “I’m still a little scared from the other night.” When they left the bar, Tom looked for the cab driver again. There was a cab parked outside. “You don’t need to look for a cab. Remember I have my car,” Angela said watching Tom stare at the cab. “I know but it’s the same cab that I took to get here. The driver is a weirdo. I don’t understand why he didn’t even wait for me to pay for the ride. Anyway, I appreciate you taking me home.” Angela’s car was at the far end of the parking lot. Tom was glad he was there to keep her safe. He was finally with someone who seemed to care for him the way he cared for her. CHAPTER TEN Too intoxicated to drive, Levi Osama left his cab parked by McQuade’s tavern and walked home. He usually parked his cab on the street in front of his one room apartment [located] in the basement of a three-story building. It was a sectioned off area of the basement by the plumbing pipes, electrical wires and heating system.

    Two one-foot-high windows created the dim lighting and a view of the sidewalk. One room with a cot, stove and shower made up his living area. Even though he had more than enough money to live better it was all he wanted. He had no need to keep the room neat or even clean. His few pieces of clothing were hung on a stand under one of the windows. He only changed what he was wearing when necessary, usually if they became too stained and smelly. There was no need for the stove because he only ate out at a fast-food restaurant or a pub . For Levi this was home. Earlier that night when Levi took Tom to McQuade’s tavern he followed Tom in . Levi ordered a beer at the bar before going into the dining area on the other side of the tavern where it was dark and hidden. He was comfortable in the dark where he could watch without being seen. Tom was on the other side of the bar having dinner with Angela. Levi watched. If Tom was not with Angela, he might have taken a chance on following her outside. There would be no need for small talk. What he wanted was simple and straightforward. Levi did not understand why anyone would ever want to get married. Trying to have children baffled him. “Why go through all that trouble just to get laid?” He always said.

    He was not sure if he wanted to go to a strip club or rent a porno disk. He was too tired to visit one of his prostitutes. “Hey dumb ass, how much are you going to soak me for tonight?” The waiter reluctantly came to his table with the bill. “Here, take this and keep the change.” “Thank you. This is very generous.” “Shut up. Stop the bullshit. Easy come, easy go. I make so much money I have no idea how to spend it. I don’t have to go around kissing everyone’s ass to pay the bills.” The waiter could not understand how Levi made so much money driving a cab. He was sure there was more to it. Levi pushed the waiter out of his way as he headed for the door where he paused for a moment, then walked back to his table and sat down. “Hey dumb ass, come join me for some conversation and hard drinking.” “I’m not allowed to drink while I wait tables.” Levi got up knocking the table over with his belly. The door leading to the tavern office was at the back of the bar. Levi pushed the locked door open bending the hinges and cracking the doorframe. “Here’s some money. I’ll be drinking with your dumb ass waiter so don’t fire him or I’ll come after you.” The manager thought it best to humor him.

    The money helped make up his mind. Back at his table, Levi ordered drinks for his waiter and himself. After a short while, both slurred their words and had difficulty keeping their eyes open. “Listen…Ah…What’s your real name?” “James.” “Well James, if you make me happy, I might be able to let you in on what I have. I mean how I make my living. There’s plenty of money and very little effort.” “What is it?” James asked. “Are you a religious man?” “I’m about as religious as anyone.” “You’ll have to give it up if you want to do this work.” “I don’t think I can. “ [Well] let me explain how it is with me.” Both men were quiet for a while until James spoke. “You were going to explain something to me. I forgot what it was, but I think it had something to do with church.” “Oh yeah, that’s right. Now this is how it is for me.” Levi paused for a moment to collect his thoughts. “Why did God make me big, fat and ugly; with no control of my emotions?” James raised his eyebrows. He was not sure how to answer. “Well, I say fuck him. I’ll stay with the ones who understand and accept me as I am. They put me in an important position, to help Lilith.

    She’s my beautiful companion, not a girlfriend but someone important who needs my protection. I help her [eliminate] the newcomers who refuse to keep their promises.” “Newcomers for what? Is this a club or something?” “If you want to be part of whatever it is we’re doing youll have to renounce your religion and join us.” “But I can’t give up God.” Levi passed out, his head on the table. “I need some help here,” James called out to the bartender. “I see your companion has had enough for the night. Do you know where he lives?” [The] bartender asked. “I have no idea. Listen, can you help me get home? I can’t drive like this.” “Sure, I’ll take you. But what do we do with him? We can’t leave him here,” the bartender said. “How about if we leave him in his cab? When he wakes up, he can drive himself home,” James said. CHAPTER ELEVEN The next day it was almost ten before Tom finally woke from another night of fitful sleep interrupted by vague nightmares. He put on a pot of coffee and poured himself a bowl of cereal. He was not sure if it was corn, wheat, or whatever kind of flakes or squares. It really did not matter to him. They all tasted like pieces of cardboard and Styrofoam coated with sugar.

    Clumps of foul-smelling semi solids came from the container of milk. Tom decided it was best to skip making breakfast. There were several fast-food restaurants on the way to the church. He was sure Angela would not mind stopping for breakfast. After a quick shower, he went outside to wait for her, this time making sure the book was in his shoulder bag. “We’re early,” Angela said as she drove up to the curb. “Good, we can stop to get something to eat.” Tom checked his shoulder bag again to make sure the book was there. He knew it was there, but he had a strange feeling that it was somehow trying to escape. “What’s wrong Tom?” “I’m a little nervous. That’s all.” “You met Father Alphonsus yesterday. Didn’t you like him? “He’s okay, I guess. It’s only that I’m not that religious. I’m only playing along, humoring him. I seriously doubt he can do anything to help me.” Five minutes later they were at the Train Stop Café. From the outside it was a typical 1950’s style [diner] but with the appearance of a railroad dining car. Inside the original diner was remodeled into a miniature restaurant. A few tables set close to each other replaced the old booths and barstools.

    Angela parked in one of the only three spaces left. A short walk across the graveled lot, up the steps, then Tom held the door for her. “I have a seat in the back by the window. Is that alright?” The [waitress] asked. While they looked at the menu, Tom noticed a woman sitting at the table across from theirs. Her sparkling blue-green eyes and straw-colored blond hair that almost hung down to her shoulders fascinated him. She stared at Tom while smiling playfully, obviously flirting with him. Angela turned to see what he was staring at before giving him a questioning look. “I can’t help it. It’s only a physical response, like a reflex,” he whispered hoping the other woman could not hear. “Yeah, right; some reflex,” Angela whispered back. “But it doesn’t mean…” “I know. I’m only giving you a hard time.” I recognize her. I saw her at the bookstore where I found the book. She was the one who put it back on the shelf. The blond smiled at him again and then crossed her legs, her short skirt riding up high on her thighs. The edge of her blue panties was just visible. Why are you staring at her again? If you’re so attracted to her, why dont you go sit with her instead of with me? Its just that I recognize her from the bookstore, and she had the book before I did.

    Thats why Im looking, Tom lied. He felt a strong attraction to the woman, but it was not just a physical attraction. There was a mysterious almost spiritual fascination. “Are you two talking about me?” The blond asked, giving Tom an alluring wink and a smile. Tom found it funny. She was being too obvious and silly. He shook his head in disbelief. “Ah, no; not at all,” Tom said. “Are you two lovers or only friends? Because if you’re free I’d like to meet with you sometime. My name is Lilith.” “We’re in a relationship,” Angela said in an angry tone of voice. “I wasn’t talking to you sweetie. Let the man speak for himself.” “I’m flattered but she’s right. We’re going out.” “We’ll see how long that lasts. Shes delusional if she thinks you wont drop her to be with me, Lilith said. Youre the one whos delusional. We have something special that no one can ever stop, Angela yelled back. Tom spent the rest of the meal trying not to look at Lilith. He could tell from the corner of his eye that she was still staring at him. When he took a chance on a brief look Lilith fondled her breasts over her blouse slowly moving her hands up to her bra straps pretending to adjust them.

    “Come on Tom let’s get out of here. We have an appointment to keep.” Angela took his hand and led the way. As they stood up Lilith jumped to her feet and bumped into Tom causing him to drop his shoulder bag. The book was now on the floor. Heres your book, Lilith said. Thanks. My pleasure, Lilith said as she surreptitiously kissed a note and slipped the lipstick covered scrap of paper into his pocket. Following Angela to her car Tom glanced at the note. “Lilith Veil. I know about the book. Call me.” On the other side of the scrap of paper was her phone number. Angela was quiet during the short ride to the church. Tom also remained quiet. His thoughts alternated between wondering what Lilith had to do with the book and his appointment with Father Alphonsus. Angela parked at the curb. “Tom that woman at the diner is up to n

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