January 2014 has come and so have my latest self-published book editions. They’re not revisions, for the most part. Sure. I corrected instances of missing dialog punctuation but these fixes do not truly set the 2014 editions apart from those of the previous year. There are exceptions, but these are so minor that I let the refreshed publication date record their histories.
Take a look at my printed books at Lulu or my identical ebooks at Smashwords.
A big exception is Pazuzu – Manifestation, the first book in my Pazuzu Trilogy. I made clear alterations to its ‘Prelude’ and the first leg of chapter one, ‘The Wilderness’. And here they are…
Rage makes the swollen hands of this ranked priest tremble. Captain Ioannu is the victim of extortion, that or lacking amphetamine makes him angry. He tugs a collarless white shirt and finally removes his heavy black uniform jacket. The UnChosen caste calls his choice drug ‘Ape’ – the street name for a new junk that typically changes users into anxious, howling gorillas.
Such base consequence could never happen to a priest, a born member of the upper echelon of the Chosen caste and an officer in the Church. The associated pomp and dignity granted the position guards against that uncivil lunacy. No, the unquiet phases of the chemically grown monkey would not drive Josiah Ioannu into madness. The Church had promoted this middle-aged priest to captain because his genetically endowed discipline gives him immaculate willpower. After all, Captain Josiah Ioannu had been born a Chosen. Even without a rank, birthright grants him authority over his Mortal God.
Nonetheless, his responsibilities crush Ioannu under stones. “The Church presses too much work on mid-grade priests. They drive me to use the damned drug.”
The wretched soul rationalizes, “I’m old.”
He also confesses to himself, “The problem with Ape isn’t the drug, but rather not having any. Nothing at all.”
Sobriety-sharpened nails press into his chest and head. Beneath his tormented rut, the priest tells himself, “Being clean banishes the blessing of knowing exactly what to do in any situation… and making sense of other people. Nobody listens to me when I don’t have Ape, they just babble and interrupt me when I talk.”
Sobriety truthfully compromises the man’s ability to control his god – the Mortal God and all those forsaken UnChosen dwelling inside his squalid quarter next the Wall.
Materially, he deals with an unprecedented crime inside the walled city of Khetam. Very recently, there on the sands of the Chosen’s Promised Land, Reverend Elmer had been murdered. The man was a subordinate priest Ioannu had assigned the parish custodianship of Saint Erasmus. He thinks aloud, “A sympathizer killed him.”
The Wall separating Khetam from the world of the Shur foremost protects the city from the ravages of heathen terrorists. “No full-blown heathen can get into this city,” Captain Ioannu mumbles. He righteously believes no one passes through the Wall without the approval of the Church or its military. He tells everyone, “The Chosen exercise exclusive entrance into Khetam.”
All UnChosen once permitted behind the Wall now live in desolate parishes like Saint Erasmus. Ioannu thinks, “A suitable batch of hovels for those spineless degenerates.” Still, the caste and status of the murdered victim raises the severity of the crime to an act of terrorism. The Church and its military’s censors had debated if news of the crime should be made public, but the single body never made a decision.
One thing Ioannu was certain – the presence of pagan tablets on the altar inside Saint Erasmus will never be reported to the public. The Church had immediately confiscated and destroyed the sacrilegious objects. Whatever the dead Reverend Elmer had once planned with them is better undiscovered. The blasphemous controversy goes with him into death. Withal, the late Reverend Elmer brought the awful fate upon himself.
In the midst of Ioannu’s coping with his withdrawal from Ape – that and the murder of a priest too curious about an archaic and forbidden religion – the phone in his office rings. The man on the other end of the telephone line calls him, “Sir.”
Reverend Benedict Gage calls, again. The Aper is a non-commissioned bastard from the city of Gomorrah. Captain Ioannu had just hung-up on the irreverent extortionist.
“Why do you keep calling here?” Ioannu shouts into the phone inside his dark and private office at the Church. He tells the caller “Stop calling me.”
“Captain – Ioannu.” Reverend Gage stutters with the aggravated squall of an addict. “I know you don’t know me from Adam, but you have something I want.”
“A demotion?” threatens Ioannu. “How, in the name of the Mortal God, can you even dare speak to me with such lack of respect?”
The two priests share an addiction to Ape, with a difference. Ape helps Reverend Gage lose respect for his superior officers, sending him out-of-the-way to a place like Gomorrah. The drug gives the non-commissioned priest arrogant hopes and ambitions – whereas Ioannu had already gladly achieved his own pinnacle.
Uncovering his hand, Gage says, “Listen, I know you’re related to Judah Ismael, the crime-lord in this city.”
Hopefully, despite the truth, this blackmailer didn’t know how complicated the relationship between Captain Ioannu and Judah Ismael had become. The captain is the crime-lord’s connection with the Church. Although, in-law Judah’s patience had grown thin with Josiah, resulting in Ape becoming difficult to find in Khetam and impossible to obtain. Like Ioannu, many of the priest’s brethren in the Church had stopped coming to their offices at headquarters. Those nervous wretches who report this morning are useless and hide in the dark behind locked doors.
“That is a sad coincidence,” Ioannu claims. He speaks of his relationship to the UnChosen crime-lord.
“I know you keep the military away from Gomorrah,” Gage states. “And I know Ismael is your Ape connection.”
“I know you are a dead man, Gage,” Ioannu shouts over the phone. “How dare you call me with your crazy accusations.”
“Listen.” Gage shouts back. “Military patrols will come to this city, whether you like it or not. Ilu Yehowah is here in Shur’s northwest. Colonel Onesiphorus himself is coming here.”
Colonel Onesiphorus’s trip to Gomorrah presents a bigger problem, one Ioannu should have anticipated – he knows the colonel sweeps through the region annually. Captain Ioannu reports to the colonel, as would Gage when the bishop arrives at Gomorrah. Gage, the tattling Aper, may tell their superior officer anything.
Ioannu capitulates. “What do you want?”
“An assignment away from Gomorrah and heathens,” Gage barters. “This city will fall to terrorists next, Yehowah is here.”
“Let me think,” Ioannu replies immediately. The solution comes to him with a staggered breath.
The situation seemed to work itself out – a custodian position has recently opened at Saint Erasmus and a priest materializes who will shut his mouth if he’s invited into Khetam. Josiah does not think when he offers the position to Gage, though this wretched extortionist may again one day twist Josiah’s neck. Nevertheless, the treacherous possibility fails to occur to him and does not stop Josiah from asking Gage a more crucial question. “Will you bring Ape into Khetam?”
“No, of course not,” Gage denies with a strained snort.
“Please, there’s none here. You won’t find Ape behind the Wall.”
Gage thinks he cannot trust Captain Ioannu with the truth. To his treacherous ear, his supervisor’s plea sounds like a trap. “No,” he squeaks.
“That’s unfortunate,” answers Ioannu before hanging up. Josiah had looked forward toward another batch of Ape for himself.
This morning, the colors of the sky possess weight. At the faraway horizon, where a wide, blue bruise is caught between dark and light, the hues are luminous gases – layers of yellow, orange and pink pressed together by the nothingness of the previous night. The rising sun pushes warm colors upward, burning them away, and bleeds sore purple from the sky. A stumbling, shirtless man then falls into the morning.
He knows where he is, but the bare wraith cannot remember who he might be. Beneath caked dust, he appears overall red and covered with angry pustules. His torso resembles an antique table dusted by careless strokes. With each of his heavy steps, the dirt encrusted upon his chest and back drops off in flakes.
His own shoulders bear upon him with a foreign weight he wants to throw off. The extra fleshy padding around his waist only adds to his burden. The gain had crept upon the smoldering man with stealth, over years of denial and through moments of complacent acceptance. Growing fat once seemed a natural process of age. The extra weight had introduced itself as a hobo trespassing the rails, a sneaky hanger-on who refused to be shaken off. Overweight as he is, he feels he is Chosen.
The tired posture and swollen, blistered gut of the man make him a forlorn caricature. His arms swing with the weight of pendulums knocked from their paths. And this broiled devil lumbers across a desolate, alien world – the only living thing exiled and cast into Hell. Desperate thirst comes without warning.
He feels his insides bake and he imagines his already bulging belly will bloat until the skin bursts and all his juices bubble out. The very last of his fluids will evaporate even before dripping to the ground. Such is not the death the empty man desires. He will not die sizzling in his own fluids. Instead, he prefers drying-up. He wants to disintegrate, to become part of the dust – blood red dust.
A clear, familiar voice speaks into his left ear and sounds like his own. “You have certainly wandered enough.”
The disconnected specter speaks with finer clarity than the stumbler – absent of the muffled hesitation he struggles to overcome in ordinary conversation. This voice sounds rehearsed and confident, far from his own verbal fumbling. His voice, like a nasally monologue recorded on an answering machine, seems an amputation, separate from any concept he believes about himself; whatever that could be now.
The better voice resonates as if echoing inside an empty room. Just as abrupt, it vanishes and a second of stillness fills the void. Leaded footfalls on packed dirt and a muffled ring in the man’s head dispels the silence; much like listening to a radio station when an announcer misses his or her timing – until a burst of sound jolts the dead air. Yet the voice is not scratched with static heard on radios. Nothing disturbs its dismembered words. The voice and the man’s plod across the dry waste remain exclusive and opposite each other.
The wandering man does not bother looking around, because the sporadic company of the invisible voice is his only companion. It had joined him earlier that day, or mayhap the day before. Time passes as fleetingly as the voice. This moment, the sun has traveled only a quarter of its path across the sky when the waste becomes miserably hot and bright.
The suspended days and endless expanse of dirt disorient him. There is no, and there was never relief. The previous night had been sweltering, and the man had stumbled through the darkness, unsure when one day ended and another began. Yet he must walk and find his way or die.
From the road, the desert had never appeared so large. He would have easily spotted scant landmarks if he rode in a car or truck. Regardless, the man thinks he can recover his bearings. His sense of direction had always been amazing, or so he believed.
Though he could not recall why he found himself in the middle of nowhere, he suspects he had a destination when the dangerous trek began. The ‘when’ is now long ago, hidden beneath hours and unending dunes of sand. If he had brought any water, it was now gone. He did not know what supplies he had packed for this journey, and he now lacks a pack and even a shirt. All he apparently owns are a pair of scuffed laced boots and crusted khaki pants with empty pockets.
“Hey, wouldn’t a tall glass of cool water be great?”
The voice, barely noticeable beneath hot winds, teases like some subtle siren – hidden within whirlpools transformed into sand dunes. The thought of a gulp of water lights in the mind of the stumbling man, but he deliberately quashes it; none is to be found here and he will not torture himself. Entertaining pleasant fantasies seems more conducive to his survival.
The wanderer dreams he finds that siren and she takes the poor, baked fiend to her dune. They lay down and her bare skin is cool, like the ocean in which she was born. Her eyes, green as kelp, compete for admiration against lips that flirt and glisten with the sheen of pearls. Rescued and transformed, he tires of the colorless desert and travels back to her sea. He will never be thirsty again, and never care and recall how or why he discovered himself alone in the desert. Finding the bliss of love and the sea are the answers, and she is the reason for his journey.
Dehydration had afflicted him long time ago and stumbling on his feet was currently just a pretense; he was already lost and dead. Heat exhaustion was near, but still, the voice calls. It names him.
“Benedict.” This time the voice shuts out every thought. “Ben.”
Ben jerks leftward with such violence, he twists completely around, a marionette thrown into a clumsy pirouette by an amateur puppeteer. The momentum pulls him off his feet and he falls forward as if his strings are cut. His shoulders remain hunched while he lies face down in the sand.
With a huff and small cloud of dust, Ben flips himself over and sees the orange cauldron of the sun over his toes. He had stopped sweating, which is not a good sign, but he lacks any will to worry. His name will be forgotten, if ever really known. He recalls it now, because the voice had reminded him. His name is Ben.
Ben closes his eyes and pictures rippling waves drift upward from his body. He feels stuck to the ground, a part of it. This land might also be called Ben and he is merely a piece of desert, like the dust stirred by his steps. The particles will eventually settle back down and rejoin the suffering man; misplaced specks relocated from one part of the desert to another, but still part of the whole.
His breath becomes the hot breeze and he exhales a gust that singes the inside of his gaping mouth. When Ben opens his eyes, the sun hangs directly overhead as a white whirlpool in a smooth blue ocean. A mighty hand had polished away the waves and ripples; “Not God’s hand.” The Mortal God was gone. The voice told him, although the man already suspected.
“Ben, you’re wasting the day, dreaming.”
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