Tales of Tadeusz

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Tennessee Writer: Short Story



Patron Saint of Reason
By Eric R. Ashley

My gaze fell down across the body of my favorite second cousin, Stephanie Moyers. The corpse lay like a blonde-haired doll on the faux stone bricks of the Clarissdale Mall’s main concourse. Her blonde with brown lowlights hair swirled around her heart-shaped face which was tilted upwards toward the skylight beseeching God for another minute of life, and around her right hand was a further swirl of blood which looked as if someone had stepped in it, and smeared it.
Gasps from the strolling shoppers around me, as they paused, and then realized that their eyes were not lying to them. A young American girl, tartan mini-skirt, metal blue t-shirt, and despite the paleness, the almost blueness of her skin you could see that she was the type of girl that would have been the life of a party. Her beauty did not lie.

Despite my wonderful fiance’, and the five years that had separated us, I had occasionally found myself thinking a carnal thought or two about Stephanie. Worse, or perhaps better, she knew. Long experience, I suppose, since I think most guys in her presence were just a bit dazzled. She treated the whole thing as one would treat a horde of enthusiastically affectionate puppies.

Had treated, I corrected myself bitterly. The crowd started coming in closer as I stood over her, and before anything further could be disturbed, I took a closer look. I wanted to remember her which was perhaps unwise as I had many fond memories of her already, and one more of her broken body would not help, but I could not let her go yet. And then I saw in the blood near her right hand, the word scrawled.

“Rite”.

My face grew long and sadder for in death she had continued to cling to delusion, and I stepped back even as someone said something about being a doctor, and began a ritual examination which everyone knew would bear no fruit, but sorrow. But rituals have to be observed, if not for the dead who are, if prepared like my cousin, already beyond all fear, then for the living who have to continue in a world of sin and madness. For it was madness indeed that was contained in her message to me.

She chose such a spelling because of her peculiar approach to the world.

“Why spell ‘right’ when its obviously better to spell ‘rite’”, she had asked me when she was seven, for her birthday party, pigtails bouncing as she flounced up to me, her favored, I think cousin, a serious minded twelve-year-old. I had alternated between exasperation and awe in my dealings with her, and this time, like many I could not find an answer.

My life changed that birthday which was her gift to me, because I went home, and searched up the spellings in the dictionary. Then I became curious of rites and ritual, and the reasons behind such. That and the desire to actually know the answers to her odd questions so as to not look a fool eventually led me to my double major in Political Science and Theology.

I stepped further back to the edge of the gathering crowd, and saw two young fellows, perhaps eleven or nine, both looking scared, and standing by a block-sided planter island amidst the concourse hall. Clad in their tough guy costumes of rock-and-roll t-shirts, and blue jeans with one holding the requisite skateboard, yet they all but shivered. They had been standing there for a long time. I had seen them in the background from the top of my eye as I had strode up, and their horror-struck gazes had drawn mine to Stephanie’s body.

In my neat trousers, and thin tie, and felt black trench coat, I looked moderately prosperous, well-ordered, and earnest. A trustworthy chap, my clothing proclaimed to the world. Policemen usually let me off with a warning about speeding. So armored, I nodded to the boys, and gave them a card.

“If you need to talk about this…” I began. One examined my card. It was for my position as a youth pastor at a local church.

The other began to babble after chancing a glimpse at my card. Something about her stumbling up this way, and staggering, and him wondering if he should do anything.

“And then she fell before I could do anything.” His starched white hair, and pale face looked worse than Stephanie’s. Poor little fellow felt guilty, wondered if he could have done anything to save her.

“Very understandable. You did right.” And then I paused. “I’m sure the police are going to want to talk to you. Not a big deal.” I said that as much for them so that the police would also reassure them. I really doubted the police needed any further witnesses.

“Besides it was hopeless.” The other, an almost solid black-haired guy, except for one deliberately disruptive splash of white spoke, looking elsewhere, anywhere but me or the body of my beloved friend, as he palmed my card, and slid it into an overly capacious back pocket.

“Why?” I asked sitting down on the planter's rim, and inviting them to do so as well with an easy gesture. His bitter look of repressed anger interested me.

“She came from the Suicide Café.” He jerked his shoulder, his left shoulder back down the concourse toward a crowd gathering in front of the mall’s famed coffee-shop. “Bunch of ghouls.” He growled, and I saw real anguish. I looked at his friend for explanation.

“Ah, Kathy, a, ah, friend of his went in there with an overdose of sleepers. She, ah, died.” The starched blonde looked pitiful, and then went to put an arm on his friend’s shoulder who violently shrugged it off.

“They did nothing. Nothing. Just sat there, and watched as she died while sitting at a table. I ought to burn their store down.” The fact that the store was in a mall might have been the only thing that saved it from his wrath. His fingers were balled into fists, and his dark eyes were glazed with tears. Mine were as well.

I’d heard of Strengler’s Coffee Emporium. It was very popular with a certain segment of the young population, but it was also a place where people, mostly young girls, but sometimes boys as well, the rumors said, cute boys, went to have their last cup of coffee. The stories said that the house even would make up a cup of hemlock for you if asked. I didn’t believe that, but I did believe the story of Kathy. And I knew that the town had tried to shut the place down several times, but had failed.

“There’s an explanation for behavior like that, Rick, “ I said after I asked for his and Mark’s names. The black-haired Rick looked up hopefully, at me, wanting a way to understand the senseless. I had only cold comfort for him.

“Its called Evil.”

There was a shock, a moment of connection, in his eyes, and I saw that he tossed off the slack categories, and lazy equivalencies that substituted slogans for real understanding that he had been taught all his life. Some actions were wrong, no matter how much the evil-doer might have been oppressed or how bad a hair day they might have had.

He cursed fluently, and I nodded in understanding. Your first knowing glimpse of Evil often provoked such a comment.

I made certain that both boys would come and visit me, and then I straightened up, and marched down the concourse toward the Strengler’s Coffeehouse. Fury rode me much as it must have had the Christ as he confronted those who looked good on the outside, but inside only held death. Whited sepulchers, mall-side coffeehouses. I stood for life and love, and service to my Friend who embodied both.

The floor clacked under my heels, and I tried to cool off slightly so that I could conceal my rage. Otherwise, I might not get through the door. Predators have an instinct for the fury of the righteous, and avoid it if at all possible.

Stephanie had called me a few hours ago, after a hiatus of several months, for you see, I had offended her. She had found some new friends. Objectivists. I had laughed outright when she had pronounced the name. Stiffly, she had gone on, trying to patiently explain to me her new insights about the Universe.

My anger evaporated as I remembered how I had poked fun at her new friends. You see, I had wanted to get past that boy of twelve who had not understood. I had wanted to be able to answer her questions. And then when she came to me, I had all the answers, and in my pride I gave her the truth.

But nothing but foul sounds came from my ringing of the bells of truth, the carrillion in the church steeple bleated and blooped despite my best grace. So she had said goodbye, sweetly, and I had wondered if she saw her role as stumping me rather than mine as providing her answers. I went to chew on that insight, and she didn’t call back.

Thus when she called me earlier this morning, after several months in the cold, despite my efforts to win her back, I was most eager to come and meet her at the mall. My old, but paid for and oil-changed every three thousand miles car, had taken me through the crisp fall air to the city’s biggest shopping center, the biggest one in the region. I had walked in heading for the Food Court, enjoying being out in the frivolities of commerce. Not for me the hatred of modern America’s love of gaudy display, and shopping. As long as they remembered that it was the tinsel and not the living tree, I would be happy. That was a mistake Stephanie had never made I thought with some filial pride.

Then the gazes of the young fellows, and the impossibility on the floor. I still had not really processed the event. Shattering grief, and the attempt to hold to my faith that all would indeed be well for Stephanie, despite the evidence of my senses waited for me tonight. I would rock and wail in the arms of my beloved wife-to-be, who come to think of it was also blonde. Tonya would weep with me.

But I react slowly in such ways. I don’t instantly get angry, or grieve. Of course, as I stared down the concourse, hiding my face behind some gloves I pulled out of a pocket, I had been a long time coming to my rage about the Suicide Café. I’d heard of this place years ago, and my new pastor had mentioned it several times in our morning prayers. It was the only time I had ever heard him pray for an infestation of cockroaches to cause someone to lose their license to provide food due to health code violations. He had prayed for the wrath of the Almighty to fall on this place. Perhaps his prayer was about to be answered.

Thus I put my anger away behind a practiced smile, useful for both politicians and pastors, and mingled with the remainder of the crowd outside the café. Indeed, it was as my new young friend had said; a few were saddened, but most were trying to get a peek at the dead body from the distance.

In fact, one fellow had a camcorder of her leaving the bathroom with a bloody neck, and then going back in. She had left a bit later with a clean neck. He was showing it around.
Sounds like a discordant chime rang in my head as I stared at the picture. Stephanie was neat enough, and a bit vain, as most girls in my experience are (and for good reason for rare is the man who can compete with them in beauty), but I also think a bit dramatic, and too focused on the essential elements of life. She would not have gone back to ever so neatly clean her neck, not when she was barely on her feet, and not when a lurid drop of blood could have been shown to great effect. I still remember her showing off her boo-boos, even taking off the band-aid so I could gauge the full effect of whatever latest skinned knee or scratched arm, or insect welt she suffered “so nobly” under.

I went inside, and discovered that this coffee shop had a few surprises. It had a lobby, all the way across the front of the store. There were two gates in a black iron grille on either side of a stone counter. These entranceways were guarded, for there is no other word, by a man of perhaps Columbian or Salvadoran origin. He was shorter than I, but his muscles exceeded mine by several inches, especially in the biceps. Frankly, he looked more a bouncer than your typical hyper-thin coffee house caffeine addict barista.

Also, it reigned surpassingly dark with heavy timbers of smoke-blackened wood holding up the roof as joist. The floor of the entranceway, and the counter had what I recognized as a number of spells from various traditions engraven, or painted. They made me uneasy, but I reminded myself of the supremacy of the God I worshipped. No prayer to Dagon could stop me, when Dagon had bowed his statue before the Ark, which had held the Presence of the God of gods.

As to the darkness of the room, with its multi-brown toned tile floor, and its dark chestnut tables, and crimson bench covers with faint lighting in antique, redone gaslights which permitted electricity now, but only just barely did they gleam so that I could make out no detail on the back wall of the long rectangular room. It was oppressive, the kind of place where one knew in one's bones you should not go, even if the skeptical, rational mind could find no excuse to flee.

To my left, the only source of brightness gleamed over the counter, reflected on the shimmering metal and glass display cases about a fourth of the way up the room. The entranceway was not as dim, but it also had metal grating of black iron, heavy and substantial in a way that seemed out of place in a mall which is the haven of the transient and ephemeral. This grating ran all the way across the room behind the bouncer and his solid stone counter, one layer of iron, except for the doubling caused by two gates which looked like they could be easily slid to the side, and locked.

“I wasn’t aware coffeehouses got robbed so frequently.” I tried to laugh to the bouncer, who simply stared at me. I cleared my throat, and asked for a table.

It did nothing to remind me of the glamorous, golden light-filled rooms of the Viennese coffeehouses I had once (and oh yes, as soon as we married, I would show these to Tonya on our honeymoon) had the great pleasure of seeing.

Still it was an attractive, and stylish place, if one is in to heavy timbers and foreboding shadows. If I have to do this effect, I’d go with a Gothic cathedral rather than this, but each to his own. I could see how Stephanie had said there were vampires here. I deeply wondered if she had found some drug here, and perhaps a little sadistic advice from a “friend”. I tried not to think she would be so gullible, but one of her chief strengths was that she was open-minded and logical. Which sometimes meant she stuck her fingers into fires in a spirit of scientific inquiry. But some fires don’t let you go, not easily anyways.

I made to enter, and the bouncer held up his hand in front of my chest. Then he pointed, once I had stopped, at a sign above the counter.

“No praying.” I stared at the simple, unadorned sign with something approaching absolute astonishment. There are some who feel as if a quiet word with the Maker is offensive to them, but I’d never seen nor heard of such a bald-faced proclamation by a business, which is theoretically worshipping Mammon anyways. I ran my tongue around my teeth, while he watched me. No doubt my clothes, and my general manner had given me away. I looked a preacher, especially to the discerning, which a bouncer would be.

Then my eyes fell down, perhaps of chance, and I saw four young men sitting alone at a table. I say alone, because they all sat separately, each in his own little space, despite being two to a bench. Their general air of serious profundity, and social unease, with the militantly cross expression on the face of the one looking my way twigged something in my memory. And I was already speaking before one raised a book, a thick paperback, a full handful of text, with a gold and brown design on the front, one of the most recognized color schemes and designs in the Western world, but that picture only confirmed my insight.

“I’m to visit them.” I said, jabbing my finger at the table of four. “Can you get a chair please?” He looked at them, and then rather irritably got me an additional chair to sit in the aisle in front of the table. It was my small way of reminding him that the customer is always right, and I was the customer. Perhaps it was petty, but then I found to my surprise that I rather did not care. Probing deeper, I decided that I despised the man. Not for his nationality since I’m your basic American who accepts the Other with practiced ease, or for the job which was honorable labor, but for the business which he was entangled with. It was hard to think that he did not know what was happening around here, and an honorable man would not have been associated with this business.

So it was in anger, that I sat down across from the four Objectivists, noting their copies of Atlas Shrugged (two), and the Fountainhead (one), and a small pile of newsletters, and a plastic box with “Dues” inked onto the side of the gray little box with a crude notch cut in the top of it. They had backpacks, and such on the crimson benches, as well.

“I’m Stephanie’s friend.” I said, and they nodded.

“You’re early.” One said, and then I knew. They had just arrived. They did not know. Stephanie must have just left before they got here.

The little vixen had plotted to have me come out here, and would have “innocently” exclaimed that “Here is some old friends of mine. Lets eat with them.” And thus the poor pastor would have been ambushed by four of her Randbot friends.

But that left the question of her belief in vampires. She had said she wanted to talk about the existence of the undead, specifically Dracula’s kindred. Or perhaps it was Lilith’s kin, she really did not know. Seeing as such are completely fictional, either answer or neither could be right as the author of the tale chose.

“So how is she? When is she coming? I thought, ah, that she would be with you.” The club president, Jeremy, asked. I paused and made myself ready to discuss her death with these four young men. Already, I could see that it would hit hard. No doubt at least two of them had been half or more in love with her.

“Not good.” I began slowly, answering the first question as I picked up a menu the redhead to my left handed me, only to be cut off by Jeremy again.

“I know. She’s been hanging out with us. Reading Ayn Rand, going to meetings. Its been good.” He was deliberately taunting me. Thinking that when I spoke of ‘not good’, I was irritable at their doctrines of humanity.

I wanted to raise my hand. Tell the boy to stop, but then so much of the time my job is to listen. So I looked at him closely, and the other three with him. Bright, independent minded, arrogant and willful, but honestly concerned about Stephanie. That made them a better lot than some of the boys who hung out with her whose only concern was seeing if they could get her to take her blouse and bra off.

“Then last week, she tells us she came here, saw a vampire. We tell her that’s nuts as there is no such thing. The supernatural doesn’t exist.” Kyle said with worry on his face, after he made the effort to introduce himself. He sat with Jeremy to my right, but nearest the wall.
I made a small protesting noise, just enough to note my disagreement.

One of the others, the redhead, laughed, and asked if I, a (sneer) pastor believed in vampires. I assured them that I didn’t. I asked him his name. Wayne, he replied, and despite his quickness of lip, I saw genuine concern and bafflement in his eyes. He too was worried about Stephanie.
I drew a shuddering breath, and prayed a second. This would be harder than anything I had done in a long time. So I avoided it, for the moment, telling myself, I needed to understand them better before I spoke.
The last boy introduced himself, Roger.

“So you were sent here to ambush the pastor, but meanwhile you’re worried about Stephanie.” I summarized, and they nodded, a bit uneasily since I was implying an alliance to help her. And to their mind I was probably a bad person, an altruist, a statist, a theocrat bent on destroying freedom and morality. To my mind, they were a bunch of teenagers led by a bright woman who had written some books decades ago, and this long-dead woman had held the emotional maturity of a ten-year-old. Which might be why its mostly geeky guys who follow their prophetess. Not to say they were evil, just a bit limited.

I bowed my head, and then raised it as if I had not planned the whole thing. I told them that I should like to pray for the situation. I did not say Stephanie as she was dead, and in Glory, and beyond my need of prayers. Indeed, I did pray both verbally for the boys and for wisdom under the hard burden, and in my heart for them especially as I was about to tell them of her death. And I knew from glances that at least two of the boys had serious designs on her. It would break their hearts, and expose their souls to the screams of despair.

Finished, I raised my head, and the leader of the boys smiled at me. Then he began to read from his book about a fellow named Ellsworth and his evil. Some sort of religious leader who wanted people to destroy themselves. They smirked a bit, getting back at me for making them listen respectfully to a prayer. In other times, I would have enjoyed the intellectual sparring. Perhaps it is not godly, but I really do enjoy arguing with skeptics. It doesn’t hurt that I’m usually much more equipped than they expected for their arguments. I’m human enough to enjoy wiping a snotty expression off someone’s face.

I raised my hand to interrupt.

“Gentlemen, I would love to chat, but there is a matter of urgent…”

Gasp.

The boy reading almost dropped his thick book as it sagged from his fingers. The others holding their various copies of Atlas Shrugged, or the Objectivist Ideal which had been stuffed in a pocket, with fingers placed on the passage they wanted to read me, turned and looked, and paled. I raised an eyebrow, rearranged my Bible to suit in my left hand, and looked over my right shoulder to see what the matter was. Their manner had the hackles on the back of my neck rising for I had no reason to believe they were anything but serious and well-intentioned young men.

But what I saw could not be prepared for. It walked across the coffeehouse floor. I say it because even though it was clothed as a man, I could not tell its gender. And even as I thought that and spun about to look over my left shoulder as it trespassed behind me, I wondered if such as it had a gender at all. Or if that was just one more thing it had given up when it was kicked out of Heaven.

A bloody mask, with jaw hanging open to expose a row of teeth, human, but for the front canines dripped blood onto its drenched ruffled shirt, and dirty black velvet vest. Its cape was holed and ripped so that I could look through it, but those holes led to other places to screaming faces and to impressions which could not be described in words for they had no meaning in our language but of pain and madness. Bones lifted themselves out of its ribs, and I swallowed vomit.

A young woman, busty, and with her nicely tanned midriff exposed in white t-shirt with some small design on the front the way that my fiance’ had told me she liked to wear around the house when she was vacuuming stood up, and practically wiggled for joy, like a puppy before this monstrous and poor imitation of a man. Near retching, I saw him reach out, and give her a bloody kiss on the neck. I wanted to say something, to shout, but then a waitress swooped up, and scooped the Bible out of my hands.

She was cute, and firm of hand and manner, and shook her head at me reprovingly.

“No, proselytizing allowed in here, Pastor.”

I looked past the trim barista to where the puppy girl had sat, and she had a dazed look in her face even as her friends congratulated her. The monster was gone, replaced by a man, such a man, style and power and wit etched his face just lightly enough to let you know he was a bit older than most of the females, but still in the range for it to be respectable to be seen with him. His black cape, and black vest and leather boots were outre’, but so cute. Even I noted he was attractive.

“Thank you for telling me, young lady.” I smiled at the waiting girl, promising nothing. But she could hardly stand around and force me to promise something I would never do, especially after I had been so polite.

I turned back to the group after the barista left. I tried to swallow. Couldn't.

“That was a vampire.” Roger said. “Perhaps we need to recalculate our theories.” He added weakly, and I noted that the most quiet one of them was probably their thinker.
“Me too.” I said, and then breathed in. This would be hard. “Stephanie is dead.”

They stared at me in disbelief, and then in mute pleading for me to announce that it was all a joke in very poor taste. Jeremy found out, in his secret love with her, began crying immediately. The other, Kyle, went last, and for him I worried, for his tears had the look of someone who had lost all hope. No fight was left in him.

Their leader, Jeremy raised his head, full of woe, and looked at me worried for his flock, in my terms, or a club in his. And I found myself saying words I had not expected to say.

“We can fight back. Its not something I say to everyone who suffers loss. Death and indeed murder are not something we can fight and win. We all will die…”

“He won’t.” The despairing one said.

“And the police are for murder.”

They shifted, and then one smirked. Okay, I’d forgotten I was dealing with Objectivists.
“But this is a creature from Hell, Kyle, and yes, we can fight it, and successfully, I believe, Kyle.”

“This creature is a personification of the death principle that all altruists subscribe too.” Jeremy spoke, and his congregation nodded. Okay, I could work with that. Thing is, most of the people in the room obviously saw the stylish man, and not the monster. He had some sort of spell on them, that even affected me when I had lost my Bible. I wondered as I stood how come they had seen him for what he was, as I had.

I told them that I was going to be right back, promised them, begged them to stay, which I probably should not have. They were children my conscience reproached me, but my reason answered back as I walked past the counter.

Seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen year olds are not children. They were old enough to bear responsibility for life and death. But that did remind me that if anyone had to die, it had better be me. I knew where I was going when I died.

“My friends, please stay here, I will be back very soon.” I looked back into each of their eyes, and caught them with all the intensity I could channel. It was not my own desire alone for which I entreated them, but that had been given to God, and came back infused with the kind of holy fire that is charisma. They looked at me the way a drowning man looks at a life jacket. I had a certainty in a world gone suddenly mad.

I left, and before I got out the door, I saw they were engaged in furious conversation. Not angry with each other, but at a great pace, and with fervent intensity. They were dealing with the issue on their own. I prayed for them, and swept out the door past the bouncer who dared not impede my path for the speed of my steps, or the power that filled me.

Still pushed by something, ah, Someone I realized, I had made my way out of the coffeehouse, and down the concourse to the Radio Shack. Walking in, I pulled out my credit card, and headed directly toward the heaviest looking laptop. Gulping at the price, I studied it for a second to see if it was truly as sturdy as the advertising claimed. It looked like one might usefully use it as a hammer, which is what I wanted.

A clerk materialized at my elbow, and I turned to him and said softly.
“I want to buy this, right now. I want several programs put on it, and booted up. And I want it done in five minutes. If not, I’m leaving.”

The clerk gulped, and took a quick look at the sticker price which was halfway to five figures, and dashed across the threadbare carpeting, and behind the counter. He grabbed a portable card scanner, a charged battery, explained in terse fashion to the manager, and came back in a clumsy sprint, trailing the manager.

“Four and a half minutes.” I announced with deadly calm. The manager accelerated off to his right, toward the back of the store, with his face blotchy speed-walked off to get my software programs. I merely kept studying my watch as the time wore down while the two underpaid young men, the clerk and the manager ripped open packages, and booted computers with a feverish abandon.

Four minutes later, I was heading out the store with offers of selling me speakers falling away behind me, along with some very happy commissioned sales clerks.

I quick stepped back to the coffeehouse, and waved my laptop at the stout bouncer behind the front desk. He begrudgingly let me pass with a grouchy expression as if he knew I was trouble, but could not figure out how. Of course, he was right. I intended justice, an execution. All part of the pastoral duties you might say, I thought giggling madly inside my skull.

If I was wrong, no one would be hurt, except for me who would be toted off to a mental asylum which I would deserve and need. If I was right, well, we would see how monsters liked the truth. And then it hit me. Sure, at least in my view, the Randites were limited and wrong, but was I not limited compared to the Infinite?

They at least believed in the Objective Reality of Truth, and they hated death and tyranny as did I. Perhaps, that was enough for them to see clearly past the enchantment of the monster. Nodding to the quartet sitting nervously across the room, the same four who had almost jumped up as I walked in, I licked my lips. Then I breathed a short prayer. My previous career had not included any opportunities for robbing convenience stores, a defect which I was beginning to regret.

I walked up to the coffee counter‘s line of three, stuck my finger in the pocket of the trench coat, and waited until I was served.

“Your money, please.” I spoke softly, entreatingly to the barista, the same that had harassed me earlier.

She blinked, looked at me, taking in the neat tie, and the subtly understated signs of “decent citizen”, and began to shake her head in denial that this outrage would interrupt her pretty little reality. So I pulled out a bellow from my speech training to pierce her narcissistic bubble. And I shoved my finger forward over the curved glass of the doughnut containing display (alright, they weren’t doughnuts; they were the up-market cousins of doughnuts though, and probably even worse for your health.)

“Give me all your money! Now!” We pastors are well-trained in speech, and my voice bounced off the walls shattering everyone’s pleasant little dabbling in nihilism with the appearance of bloody reality. I really hoped that no member of the National Rifle Association was in the shadowy hall, and carrying despite the signs at the mall entrance’s proclaiming eternal opposition to the citizen’s right to defend themselves. Because, if so, I would soon be explaining this ill-thought out plan to my Maker.

Gulping and gabbling my least favorite barista opened her counter, and made to empty it. That was a wrinkle, I had not considered. I wanted everyone to leave me alone with Mr. Maybe I Am the Undead.

“Get out! Get out!” I screamed the words over and over again, rising to a higher and higher pitch of frenzy. Spinning about, displaying the finger in my pocket to the world as the coffeehouse rapidly emptied, I used the other arm to play at grasping for the money over the counter.

The bouncer came around the counter as a wave of teenagers swished around his rock. I grinned directly into his face with the most malevolent expression I could manage pasted on my face. The message was clear. I would shoot him down, and enjoy it.

He fled, thundering out the front like a rhino in fear.

Panting for breath, hot and red-faced, I came down from the raving fit to look across the tables at the vampire who sat perfectly still and alone like a cigar store Indian I had once seen on a back-country roadside. Only his mouth moved, and that looked as if it had never moved the moment he stopped talking.

“I’m afraid you really chose the wrong establishment to rob today.” He chuckled in a mirthless way. “You and your cohorts.” He shifted his eyes, and it was as if he had flung my gaze like a hand with a rock. Dismayed, I jerked my eyes back to see him standing almost on my toes.
“You are strong-minded for a robber.” He breathed decay and old dust into my face, and I shivered from sheer terror. Nobody and nothing could stand against this creature. “You are mere mortals.”

“Oh, yeah?” The first other person to speak, the fiery redhead Wayne, stepped out of the table’s confinement, and slid to his feet, drew a pistol and dropped into a Weaver stance. His three buddies did the same with varying degrees of success. I was changing my mind, I loved Randites.

“Y-you killed Stephanie.” The leader, Jeremy said his face working between grief and rage.

The vampire turned slowly, and smirked. Then he licked a finger and its long nail with calculated intent.
“The tasty little blonde? I suppose I did.”

And then he breathed at them. And grabbed me by the neck. A bullet stopped his passage behind me, and I felt transmitted through his hand astonishment.

“I will kill your leader. Lay down your weapons, or he will die horribly.” His hand yanked on my neck so that I would soon have a crick in the neck, and then I felt a sproing as a muscle stretched in ways it was not designed to do.

Wayne, and Jeremy laughed. Kyle and Roger stared at him confused.

“Right. Well that might have worked if we…cared!” Jeremy said coldly with just a little pause to let me know what was coming, and then with malice aforethought said. “Fire.” I prayed and lifted my feet off the ground, both at the same time. Suddenly a hundred and eighty pounds hung from his hand, and then slipped with a slap of closing fingers through his bony grasp. A few of my hairs, and some of my skin were sacrificed, and I landed hard on my bottom on the brown tiled floor.

They opened fire. In the tile long, dark room it was incredibly loud with the multi-colored tile floor, the glass display cases, and the metal coffee makers to reflect the noise. The wooden arches, and the foam ceiling, and the red drapes along the walls did their part, but it was not enough.

I rolled away, holding the laptop to my chest, protecting it, and thumped my way to relative safety on the other side of a wooden table from him. There, I looked up to study my opponent, even as my fingers quested over my skull for signs of serious damage. I found none to me or him.

For as the shells hammered him, I saw him yawn, and knew this was not the way. Yelling stop, did nothing so I grabbed a coffee cup off the counter behind me, and slung it at the enraged Objectivists.

That got them to stop. In the silence that followed, we could hear him chuckle.

“Children of Adam, you really think your technological toys can destroy something older than your pitiful planet?” His words grew longer, and breathier as shadows crept up the wall behind him, and the frost rimed the brass of the counter bar’s rail, and laced the curved glass of the eclair display, and wrapped about the biscotti jar. I made to say something, and he pointed a finger at me. The words stuck in my mouth. Fear and embarrassment had a hold of me. Who was I to get in the way of such a magnificent creature?

“Give yourself to me. I am something your pitiful minds only dream of. I am what you call a vampire. A lord of darkness and mists. A thing older than your recorded history. Sadly, because of the curse of a God whose petty laws I broke, I must take of the blood of your kind in order to live. He claims to love you, but He made me what I am to take from you the free gift that I would not, but must.”

His words had me in tears. The grandeur of living century rolling upon another and another until millenia had passed left me only wanting to ask him questions of history for which I would willingly give up my life’s blood. Was there any higher calling that I could use my life for?
But luckily, my allies were less imaginative than me. He pointed his finger at them, and one quite earnestly spoke.

“You represent the death principle. You want us to give up ourselves to you because we are afraid of our true natures.”

That described me. But then, like a Voice, I heard, and have not I given you a new nature, made you alive that were dead? Do you not belong to Me? How then are you worshipping a false god? I fell to my knees confused. How could my God deny this wonderful thing? What cruelty was this? But on the other hand, I knew Him as just and kind.

“Altruist you want us to be.” Jeremy said softly. The vampire looked puzzled, and then with a soul-creasing smile nodded in agreement.

“Why yes, I suppose you could call it that. I want you to do something altruistic.”

He then held out his hands so as to welcome them to him, and somehow I knew that was wrong.

“Altruist!” Jeremy yelled, and then the other three joined in as of one accord. “Altruist!” The first word meant nothing but a puzzled look to the vampire. The second, heated by rage, and sung in chorus smacked him on the face, and left a line of blood down his right cheek.

“What deity do you worship? Who protects you?”

“Objectivists don’t need a deity, or a saint. We just need rational decision-makers.” Kyle explained. “Like Ayn Rand.”

The vampire winced at the name.

“So, you think this saint will protect you with your magic powers? I have killed the children of many gods. You will fare no better.” He sucked in the air, and began to grow, or his shadow did. I could not be sure in the room as darkness grew and lights suddenly lost their potency.
“I am the ultimate darkness. Into me, will all powers fall and fade.”

“Yes, you are the death principle, and like Thomas Paine, I have sworn…all together now” Jeremy, their leader paused to gather them all into a chorus as his line of troops faced down the seeming entrance to the Abyss which was forming in the midst of the vampire’s enlarged chest while his head seemed to brush the ceiling. “Eternal enmity against any form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

“I shall unleash the hordes of shadow and madness upon you. You cannot stand.” The vampire howled, and indeed something inside the blackness where his chest used to be moved. And glasses on the counter cracked, but the display cases did not.

And I saw something then, and begged forgiveness while laughter trickled out of my throat.
“What rot. What utter rot.” I laughed some more as the vampire and the stern warriors facing him turned to me. “Let me show you real power.” I held up a hand, and shouted in jubilation the words spoken at the beginning of Time.

“Fiat Lux. Let there be light.” Gleaming balls of incandescence and fluorescence and bacterial luminescence floated free of my hand, driving back the shadows until nothing remained of them but a shrunken man not even as tall as I.

“The Tempter is ever fond of illusion, and fear. He could not snare you with fear for your oaths protected you, but he could have you fight that which was not there.” I told my comrades who stared at me with dawning respect for Jeremy and Wayne, jaw-gaping amazement for Kyle, and just rubbed his, Roger's own eyes trying to see if the balls of light would go away.

“All right, Pastor, what now?” Jeremy called over to me, as we paused in the combat. Both sides had reason to try to think things over, and come up with new tactics. The vampire recovered quicker.

“Let me show you a word, priest. A word not of shadow, but of bloody power.”

He spoke a dreadful word that left me feeling as if I had witnessed the murder of Stephanie by my own hand, while holding out his arms with the hands palm down and level with the floor as drops of his own blood trickled, a holy, a separate, rain from any normal rain that had blessed the Earth. This rain could only curse the grass and the tree.

The blood pooled into four crosses, upside down, and then raced along the grouting in the floor toward my four young heroes. He then reached out an arm toward me, and squeezed empty air. The air left my lungs, and black spots began to form in front of my eyes.

“You five have given me the best fight I’ve had in the twentieth century…”

“It is the twenty-first, you moron.” Wayne snapped back. Perhaps the blood loss, or inspiration, but I found myself waving an arm at the four as they backed up, and I hung in the pitiless telekinetic hold of a sorcerous monster.

Indeed, they should for the blood grew more black, and malignant as it traversed the floor. Acrid smells, and the cries of demons were heard drifting up from the blood arrows. I seemed to see, in miniature, little demons holding weapons standing by the shores of their bloody Niles, and corrosive gunk marked the path of the arrows.
Bullets did nothing to them.

Jeremy looked at me, and I pointed. But Wayne understood first what I jabbed at. Without thinking, he trusted me. And slammed his precious copy of The Fountainhead down into the path of the blood arrow that was seeking his life.

Suddenly, bright, clear water shot back up the path annihilating the arrow, and shrieked and roared like a new broken dam as it coursed back toward the vampire. Without pausing to gape, Wayne did likewise to the other three arrows. The vampire leapt to safety atop a wooden table, and in so doing let me free for my comrades in arms had broken his concentration.
I rubbed my throat, and took a great gasp of air back into my lungs.

“Hey Vampy? I’ve got a word for you.” I walked over to him, every step going against more resistance as he held out a clawed hand baring my path. But with every footfall, I seemed to gain in immensity.

“As Samson carried the gates of the city, so you cannot stop me, foul and unclean spirit. Now is the time of your judgment.” It stopped its efforts.

“So I shall break your pitiful neck if you are immune to my magics, Servant of the One God.” He laid out his hand on my shoulder as I came to the edge of the table he stood on, and I slammed the Word into his gut. The Bible in NASV, KJV, the Vulgate and Hebrew on CD running on my rather durable laptop gave him a king-sized, no a universe shattering pain in the stomach. He gasped, and the remnants of his illusion faded while faerie fires that looked to be made of avenging Tinkerbelles, all armed with bright flecks of fire like swords sparked all about him. The fires ate at him, as it, a thing more of dead flesh and skeleton than man writhed in agony.
The four Objectivists sprinted up to get close to him, which was a mistake.

Tumbling to the floor at the base of the Objectivists’ feet, he blew cold, and the fires were gone.
“Clever bringing the Logres into my haven, right under my nose. I shall have to remember that trick.”

“I would not worry about it. I’m about to stuff it down your throat.” I roared at him in my divinely strengthened fury flipping the several hundred pound table aside like a television stand toward the wall where it shattered into kindling. I then stepped over him, and raised the laptop over my head.

Really? The voice of evil spoke in my head. He suddenly was standing, and an arm wrapped about Kyle’s neck. Four feet too far. He still could move faster than thought if he wished after he had entranced me.

“Toss it down on the ground.” Groaning inside, I bit my lip looking for some way to avoid this choice. Jeremy looked at me, and winked.

I did as the vampire asked. He, for the creature now clothed itself in illusion once more, laughed like the screams of the dying making fun of my foolishness. Now he would slay us all.
Jeremy dropped his book onto the floor.

The restaurant rocked like a ship in a gale, and the vampire was flung across the room to crash into a wall. All of us were staring at Jeremy in utter shock.

“What can I say? Atlas just shrugged?” Jeremy said with a smirk.

The vampire scoffed at him.
“Atlas is a mythical being.” But he did not sound convinced.

“I wonder. I expect the Earth, the whole Earth just shook.” I replied quite seriously.
“What would John Galt say about this?” I then asked the four Objectivists. With dawning light on their face, they grabbed their copies from out-sized pockets, and a backpack while the vampire tried to get to his feet. It was not quick enough. The vampire stood, and then Roger ripped off a button on his backpack, and held it out in front of him.

"Back you spawn of statists, tyrant, evil-doer. In the name of Objective Reality, and Ayn Rand, I command you." The vampire was sagged and slowed, but then it breathed out, and the Badnarik 2004 button in Roger's hand caught fire so that he dropped it where it guttered out.

But that was enough time. Flipping open pages quickly, the others began out of synch, but soon fell in as one with Roger joining them.

The speech ran on as they turned pages, and the vampire hissed against the wall, pressed there by the words of Ayn Rand‘s protagonist hero, John Galt.

“This spell will not go on forever. Then I will shred you.”

Actually, he was right. I needed something to finish the vampire with, but no need to let him or it know that.

“Um, Mr. Vampire, not to be disagreeable, but this particular speech goes on for fifty-three pages. You’re going to be squirming on a hook for a while.”

“Fifty-three pages?” The vampire said incredulously, sparing a second to bring his head up to look at me, despite the Power of the Faithful which beamed down on him from the copies of the Fountainhead the young men held in their hands.
I just smiled, and waved at him.

Then I leapt over the lowest part of the counter with the aid of the brass counter bar, and began looking in the various items under the counter. Nothing seemed handy to my purpose until I saw a wooden ruler right under the countertop. A pair of scissors used to open coffee bags, and I had a stake, and a mangled pair of scissors.

Problem was, the stake was a thin, flexing thing. What had I been thinking of?
Then I remembered that He takes the weak things of the world to confound the mighty, and I chose to have faith in my Maker.

I took up my laptop, which despite the drop on the floor still functioned. I checked, and it still have four open windows from different sections of the Bible which detailed God’s power over the dead.

Then I walked up to him, holding the laptop in front of me for protection. Laptop-whipping him first on the right and then the left added to his pain as he sagged under the beating of John Galt’s speech (for a moment I had sympathy for the devilish thing as the speech hurt my ears too). But despite my best efforts, and the pummeling of the Word Electronic, he still lived. It shrank him, by an inch, but he seemed harder, and more insane rather than destroyed.
But then I remembered Stephanie, and rage kindled in me a determination to strike for blood.

The ruler went in where his heart should be, and it did not break, but nothing happened except it came out of its own accord with smoke curling about it. He taunted me. I laughed as I had plenty of time while he futilely weaved and wobbled against the wall. The readers were barely to page ten of the speech.

He raised a hand against me, and I swatted it aside with the strength of Samson. And then there, I saw that I had left many strong chunks of wood off to the side of the room. I could go and retrieve one, and then in safety stab the vampire.

A step to the side, and then I wondered. How had I chosen this weapon? And for what purpose, but to show the power of God? If I struck the vampire down with my own good strong stake it would be a testimony to my own power.

“That twig will burn up in the power of my blood.”

The vampire grinned in the midst of his pain at me.

“No, I will not trust to your wisdom.”

Sometimes vampires move their hearts I knew from watching horror movies. Didn’t think pastors did that, did you? So stab. Miss. Stab again. Miss. Getting irritated and fearful as the ruler kept smoking, and small chunks fell off, I stabbed again.

He fell to dust.

I prayed over the dust, and then it too was burnt up in a fire not of this earth.
I looked over at my allies. They staggered, holding their copies of the Fountainhead, and Atlas Shrugged, and a Badnarik 2004 button as relics to shield against the awfulness we had just dispatched with help.

Too bad I couldn’t have them with me when I fought off the latest attempt by the city government to close our religious school. They would be capital allies, unafraid, serious, energetic, and hardnosed enough to make a fundamentalists blanch. But instead, the police came in, and took me away to jail. I took all the blame which was part of my plea bargain deal I insisted on with the D. A.. Otherwise, I planned on imitating Paul and Silas, and asking the One for an earthquake to rescue me from prison.

I get out on good behavior after four months. I take back all the mean things I’ve said about our revolving door justice system. I love it. So does my fiance’ who is eager enough to marry me, that she offered to have a prison wedding. I opted to wait for the week after I got out. It was grand, and Jeremy was one of my best men. More than a few people claimed to me, in quiet asides, to see Stephanie standing in on the maids of honor side.

Meanwhile, I hear my new friends are preaching the Word of a new Saint with power to make the altruists and the statists and the vampires quiver in terror. Already, our city is passing laws to make medical marijuana legal, and preparing a lawsuit to challenge the Federal government’s War on Drugs. And they bought, and refurbished the coffeehouse, renamed it the Rand Brew, and decorated it in glowing marble and shining gold with a statue of Liberty flanking one door, and Reason the other door. Both look like Stephanie.

Of course, my new friends just say, whenever I twit them, that their new beliefs are the essence of rationality, to which I agree. Faith is rational after all.

THE END.

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