This blog contains excerpts and commentary from the developing the novel, beginning with “excerpt 1”: Fire of Norea: From Ashes, first excerpt. A new blog will be published periodically, up until publication. Please leave feedback, this is a work in progress! Thank you for your interest.
I will proclaim to the world the deeds of Norea!
This was the woman to whom all things were revealed; she was the prophet who saw all the worlds of the Cosmos. Wisdom burned within her; she saw mysteries and knew secret things, things that God, in His eternal wisdom, kept hidden from the Divine Counsel. She went on a long journey, was weary, worn-out by divine challenges, and then rallied, without rest, against the Ruling Usurpers of Order. This is her story, told in three volumes.
הָאָרֶץ וְאֵת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֵת אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא בְּרֵאשִׁית
Part I: Genesis
1982: The Exorcism
First, there was light, a piercing radiance striking into the darkness of her being. Out of the light, the world slowly took shape. She was drunk, in a stupor, struggling to make sense of the chaos as it slowly succumbed to luminous order.
She blinked her eyes and rubbed her mouth. “Ugh. I drooled again.”
Linda said, “If Dot ever catches you sleeping, you know you’re going to be in some deep doo-doo.”
“What time is it?”
“Three a.m. And that clock doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry.”
“It’s like a ghost town around here this time of night. Where is Dot?”
“Down the hall, getting some coffee. Don’t worry, I told her to get you some, too. I figured I’d let you catch some shuteye until she got back. You still not getting any sleep?”
Rachel shook her head. “We never get out of here at seven like we’re supposed to, and then I got to go home and get the kids ready for school. It’s too late for the bus, so I have to drive them.” She sighed and leaned back in the chair, rubbing her eyes. “Eat breakfast, walk the dog…I only got time for a few hours before I have to pick the kids up again.”
Linda said, “You’re preaching to the choir, honey. I say get rid of the dog.”
“I love that dog. So do the kids. So, no.”
“I was talking about Aaron.”
They both laughed.
The charge nurse returned, her rubber soles squeaking across the recently waxed floor. She gave Rachel a cup of coffee. “One cream, two sugars, is that right?”
“Thanks, Dot, I appreciate it.”
Dot leaned over the counter of the nurse’s station. “I know I’m getting old, but when did that become the latest fashion?”
Rachel stared back at her, confused. “What?”
“You got a paperclip stuck to your ear.”
Linda walked down the hall, leaving them alone.
The clock beat out slow seconds of time and steam wafted patiently from their paper cups.
Dot: “You’re going to do something for me. I won’t say anything about you falling asleep again, but you’re going to buy the rest of my tickets for the cow bingo.”
“My money’s in my locker. But okay, I can do that. Thank you. And I’m sorry.”
“And if you win something good, you got to split it with me. Fair?”
“There’s nothing fair about chance, right? That’s why they call it chance.”
“If the Lord wills it, we’ll make it through this night and everything will turn out all right, Rachel. God doesn’t leave anything to chance.”
Rachel laughed. “So you’re saying God even guides the cow poop?”
“If God doesn’t control every little thing in the universe, what’s the meaning of anything?”
Linda jogged frantically from the other end of the hall. “Guys? Guys! You need to come in here, right quick. There’s a man with a chicken in a room and I think he’s going to kill it!”
Dot’s hands landed solidly on her hips. “There’s a who doing what?”
“The Vang boy, room 116. There’s a guy wearing a mask in there, about to cut up a live chicken!”
Dot said, “Oh no, not on my watch!”
Rachel rushed around the desk, knocking over the coffee. Hurrying down the hall after Dot, she wondered why God would make something like that happen.
In room 116, a young man’s body lay in the bed, a catheter, IVs, monitor lines and an orogastric tube running from it. Vang and his family, all Hmong, had been repatriated to the area after a decade of political asylum in Thailand. His grandmother and young sister stood close to him, holding a live chicken between them. An elderly man paced the small space at the foot of the bed, bouncing at the knees while clapping with ribbon-adorned hand cymbals. A black cloth draped over his face.
Dot said, “What are they doing in here? Call security.”
Linda: “I tried to tell them it’s past visiting hours. I tried to talk to them, but they won’t budge.”
“Do they speak English?”
“I don’t think so, I don’t know. Maybe the little girl does.”
“What’s the patient’s name?”
“Zaj. Zaj Vang. It was a motorcycle accident, multiple fractures, concussion, punctured lung. Some internal bleeding, but that subsided.”
“Do you know any other names?”
The grandmother and sister watched the exchange solemnly, continuing to hold the chicken.
“I don’t know. We really shouldn’t even have this patient, Dot, he’s been in a coma for two days. We’re not equipped for this.”
Dot pushed Linda out the door. “That’s not our decision, and anyway, he is our patient. Call security. Now.”
“Okay, I’ll hurry.”
Rachel said, “What do we do?”
Dot: “Well, he’s got a knife and we can’t move the patient. What do you suggest?”
Rachel: “Wait for security?”
Dot grabbed Rachel’s hand and lowered her head. “Pray. There’s nothing else we can do.” She spoke in a loud voice, attempting to drown out the man’s rhythmic chants. “Almighty, merciful Father, we thank you for sending your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to the world to save us and set us free from the bonds of sin. We trust in your power in this moment of dire need, Lord!”
The shaman turned on his stocking-covered heel. His dance became more elaborate, his chants louder. He raised his hands above his head and shouted.
“Dear Lord Jesus, we surrender everything to you, our will, our desire, to the deepest recesses of our hearts. We trust in your power and grace, dear Lord. By the awesome power of your command, come among us now and drive Satan from our midst!”
After ceremoniously placing the cymbals on a woven blanket, the shaman turned in a complete circle and then patiently accepted the chicken from the grandmother. He held it up, facing its head toward the window, and gently blew air under the feathers of its wings.
Dot opened her eyes to the ceiling and raised Rachel’s hand into the air. “Fill us with your Holy Spirit, dear Lord, and save us this day from the power of Satan!”
The shaman cradled the chicken against his chest and pulled the curved blade from the waist of his jeans. Slowly, methodically, he pulled the knife across the chicken’s throat. The chicken’s eyes grew wide and its wings fluttered nervously. It clucked once before its head fell back against the man, nearly severed. Then the dead chicken flailed violently, spraying blood across the room.
“Cover us in the most precious blood of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, from the top of our head to the soles of our feet! Cast out anything that should not be in us, oh Lord!”
Convulsions racked the young man’s body and he moaned against the tube in his throat. He raised his stiff arms and rolled his eyes up into his head. He raised his knees and curled at his pelvis, contorting his torso into a dramatic arch. His toes splayed and curled as though he were in intense pain.
The shaman approached the bed, rocking the chicken to and fro, spraying the floundering beast’s blood over Zaj’s body. He continued to chant.
Dot pulled Rachel to the floor, gripping her hand. “Lord, I know where there are at least two gathered in your name, you promise to come among us. We ask that you do this now. Come among us, Lord, and dispel this agent of Satan! We ask this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!
Zaj Vang fell back against the bed and trembled. The shaman repeatedly tossed the chicken toward him and hauled it back in a circular motion, drenching the white sheets in thick, dark blood.
The flailing chicken kicked about with excited, lifeless talons, slicing at the shaman’s old hands. As he tossed the chicken’s body a final time, the bloody plumage slipped between his fingers and the dead bird flew out over the bed, landing on Zaj Vang’s heaving chest.
The young man curled into a fetal position and encircled the chicken. A slow, steady sigh emanated from his chapped lips.
All light and sound seemed to leave the room in a moment.
The shaman trembled and whispered something incomprehensible.
The grandmother covered her face and cried.
Zaj’s sister crawled under the bed and started to scream.
Rachel: “What’s happening?”
Dot: “I don’t know, but I think things are about to get worse.”
Darryl, the security guard, ran into the room and slipped across the blood-soaked floor. Flailing, he grabbed at the sheets on Vang’s bed.
Casually, Vang gripped his throat with strong, claw-like fingers and screamed at him through the tube. His eyes swelled in their sockets as he lifted Darryl from the floor and effortlessly tossed him against the far wall. Vang hopped up into a crouching position and surveyed the room, his arms spread at his sides in a defensive position.
The shaman threw his head cloth on top of the cymbals, wrapped everything together, and made his way toward the door, his head down and shoulders hunched.
Zaj Vang watched him with wild eyes. He looked down at the grandmother crying in the corner and then watched as the security guard slowly approached him with his hands raised in the air.
“It’s okay,” Darryl said. “No one’s gonna hurt you.”
Rachel said, “I don’t think tonight could get any weirder.”
Vang turned and saw Rachel and Dot for the first time. He bent toward them with clenched fists, the narrow cords of his lean musculature stretching against paper-thin flesh. Slowly, he pulled at the lines connected to his body and ripped them away, one by one. His head turned slowly, as if on a loose axis, pulling laboriously away from the orogastric tube until it wrapped around his throat. Vang moaned and flailed, frantically pulling against the tube. Darryl tried to aid him, but Zaj’s body twisted away, rolling around on the hospital bed, covering himself in sticky blood.
Dot: “Just keep praying for that poor boy, Rachel, it’s all we can do. What church did you say you go to?”
“I didn’t,” said Rachel. “I’m Jewish.”
Zaj Vang leaped across the room and landed on the window sill. hythmically slapping his face against the glass.
Dot sighed and slowly stood. “That’s right, you’re a Yankee. Don’t you worry about the souls of your children?”
Paradise Motel, Berea, KY.
The diminutive man crossed the threshold to the outside world, dressed only in striped pajamas and a jipi fedora, hand-woven by Mayans in the caves of the Yucatán peninsula. Osvaldo Pugliese’s Andrés Selpa floated from the motel room behind him. He rolled a cigarette, lit it and tossed the match, watching as a flat-bed truck bounced across the crumbling asphalt. Beyond a thin trail of scrub pines, the drone of semis drifted through the thick mid-summer air like bored cicadas.
“What’s for breakfast?” His companion, a towering woman, peered from her room into the bright morning, squinting as she drew a short silk robe across her dark, muscular body. She then pulled her long dark hair away from her face. “Hey, you know you’re barefoot?”
He nodded at the truck. “I got you something.”
“If it’s not a bacon and egg biscuit, you can shove it where the night never ends.”
The driver hopped from the cab and approached slowly, reading from a clipboard. “A, uh…Reverend…What?”
“That appears to be a blue 1972 Buick Electra, is it not?”
“Uh, yeah, that’s what it says. I guess just sign here and this baby’s yours.”
“Thank you, my good man. And this is my companion, Ms. Yasinovskaya. She will be driving.”
“Oh, okay.” He glanced up at her and touched the bill of his cap. “It’s a, uh…it’s a pleasure. I’ll have her down in a jiffy!”
As the driver unloaded the car, Reverend What said, “I thought perhaps you would scream when you saw it. You do realize the leg room this model offers?”
“You put a bomb in our last car. You can’t expect me to just pretend that never happened.”
“The end justifies the means, my dear, you know that. There are times when we must never leave a trace.”
“It was a convertible coup. A 1960 Jaguar XK150 DHC, and you replaced it with a Buick.”
“At least the color’s right. Right?”
“It looks like a bubblegum cigar.”
Reverend What dug through his scraggly beard and scratched his chin. “There was another incident during the night. I need your assistance.”
“I want to watch it burn. May I?”
“In due time, my love.” He snatched his gnarled cane from the edge of the threshold and used it to tap the bill of his hat. “First, we’re going to North Carolina.”
“I suppose you want me to drive?”
“That would be quite lovely, yes.”
“Just so you know, you call me your valet again, I’ll slit your throat.”
“An occupational hazard, to be sure, if one decides to share adventures with an assassin. Duly noted, my dear.” Reverend What smiled broadly. “Very well, if the terms are agreeable, let us retrieve our bags and be on our way.”
“Oh, no. First, you’re going to tell me what happened in Nazareth last week. That’s part of the deal, or I don’t go. I’ve come to terms with the fact that you’ll never tell me about Belżec, and that’s fine, that’s your secret. But if we’re going to be partners, you can’t leave me alone while you go off on some secret quest and hide all the details from me. Not if you expect me to keep tagging along.”
Reverend What produced a dented flask from his shirt pocket and swallowed with a grimace. “Kumiko, my penchant for secrets has a purpose. I swear, your distrust for allies rivals the grudges of…” He returned the flask and shook his head. “Never mind. Perhaps this heat simply gets our blood up, as they say.”
“After all this time, please don’t tell me you’ve suddenly learned how to keep your mouth shut. If you weren’t so impossibly short, I’d swear you were an imposter.”
Reverend What returned to his room, waving his hand. “Thy mind doth present itself as a labyrinth, my dear. This morning, I need a driver more than I need a thread of truth. After all, the pedals are quite beyond my ability to reach them.”
To be continued…