/ Language: English / Genre:sf_horror

Orgy of Souls

W White

Twenty souls for his brother’s life is a price that seductively beautiful Samson is willing to pay. Twenty souls drenched in blood, powdered with cocaine and more than one kind of ecstasy. A fair trade for the life of a brother. A fair trade for the life of a priest. And everyone he meets seems so willing to give theirs away. Samuel’s faith often wavers. Diagnosed with HIV and in rapid decline, he hides his disillusionment in the rituals of the priesthood. But when Samson brings him the first blood-signed contract for a young woman’s immortal soul, the steamy world of high fashion male models and the quiet decay of a sickly priest begin to writhe against the realities of life, death, and otherworldly power. Brotherly love is a deadly seduction, beauty a dangerous game. Come worship in the brutal temple of Orgy of Souls. Your faith will never be the same again.

“ORGY OF SOULS is a gripping tale of two brothers whose lives have taken radically different paths—but those paths intersect via some surprising twists and turns. With raw prose, vividly drawn characters, and a chilling touch of the occult, Broaddus and White draw you in and belt you right in your emotional gut.”

—Stephen Mark Rainey, author of BLUE DEVIL ISLAND and THE LEBO COVEN

“Broaddus and White are an unlikely pairing of talents that works astonishingly well. Orgy of Souls is a powerful, innovative work of fiction and one I recommend wholeheartedly. A damned fine read!”

—James A. Moore, author of DEEPER and CHERRY HILL

Wrath James White and Maurice Broaddus

ORGY OF SOULS

To Mom.

Acknowledgments

Wrath James White

I would like to thank my wife, Christie, and my son, Sultan, and my daughters, Isis and Nala, who put up with me every day while I chase the dream of being a successful writer. And, of course, Maurice.

Maurice Broaddus

I would like to thank my wife, Sally, and my sons, Reese and Malcolm, for their patience with my mood swings and sacrifice of time while I continue to serve my muse. Also the Indiana Horror Writers, Kelli Dunlap, and Chesya Burke for their continued support. And a special “thank you” to my hardworking and underpaid message board moderators, Lauren David and Ro Griffin. And, of course, Wrath.

We would also like to thank all the past and present members of the Maurice Broaddus message board: Levitepriestess, Green 19, Marc Dav, Mark Johnson, Dougdubyou, Harley, Sheryl, Crystal, and Ron. Without you and your example of how conversations could be had, this probably wouldn’t have happened.

Foreword

I was asked in an interview once whether or not my religion kept me from writing about certain things. In general it doesn’t because I think anything can be written about, and it’s the skill of the writer that crafts the story told. There are times when I can’t get to a certain place that a story or character needs to go. In times like that, it’s good to have friends to call on, friends like Wrath James White.

For people who know the two of us, that never ceases to amuse them. We have very little in common; in fact, beyond being bald, black writers, we are polar opposites. Our writing styles, our lifestyles, our politics, our worldviews, our spiritual perspectives. He writes for those with “a taste for the violent, the erotic, the blasphemous,” while I write introspective, atmospheric stories. He’s a hedonistic humanist and I’m a Christian, the facilitator (a nebulous title coming from the Greek meaning “we don’t want to keep explaining to the congregation that one of the church leaders is a horror writer”) at a church called The Dwelling Place.

Our friendship revolves around our mutual respect for one another. We are able to have conversations on some of the prickliest of topics because we listen to one another, we’re not interested in converting one another, and we are genuinely interested in seeing how the other person comes at things, even if we don’t agree. We’re also both intrigued by the idea of faith.

If there’s a “big idea” to Orgy of Souls, it’s the examination of the idea of faith. Seen as a crutch by some, faith is that sometimes tenuous, sometimes stronger than we think thing that keeps our world in order. Although, we’re both men of faith in our own way, be it faith in ourselves or faith in God. We each are on our own spiritual journey. My faith follows a story, something that especially resonates with me as a writer. However, Wrath’s faith is every bit as rich and varied as my own.

I don’t know much for sure, which allows me to learn from everyone. I can guarantee that the path and ways that I follow in my spiritual journey are going to look different than anyone else’s. I’m certainly not afraid of questioning or going through a period of doubt. Faith includes doubt. God is big enough for us to question, doubt, and wrestle with. In fact, He expects us to. The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty. Finding faith is like falling in love. There is an element of mystery to both, and let’s face it, in any proposition, we’re uncomfortable with mysteries, the “I don’t knows.” There are times while we are falling in love when we feel like we have been chosen and times when we choose to do it. Let me tell you, when I’ve fallen in love (each and every painful time), it has caught me off guard and swept me up.

Orgy of Souls was quite the stretching exercise as we both got to play in each other’s literary sandbox. Sure, the story is part an examination of faith, but it’s set against the backdrop of plenty of sex and violence and the occasional demon. Hey, sometimes exploring faith can be messy.

—Maurice Broaddus

1

Samson glided through the dance club, the pounding bass a second heartbeat in his chest, his body bouncing slightly, almost imperceptibly in time with the rhythm. His eyes sparkled with lust as he gazed across the dance floor at a sea of sweltering, undulating flesh. He wanted to make love to the entire room, the entire building, the whole faceless mass of humanity. No one person stood out from the next. They were all the same to him, neither male nor female. Only flesh. And he couldn’t wait to throw himself among them, to feel the press of their bodies against his, their smooth skin, slicked with perspiration, sliding against his own. He popped another tablet of Ecstasy and his flesh began to tingle. This was his element. People waved to him, shook his hand, patted him on his back, hugged him, and gave him the occasional pound and kiss. There were few people he didn’t know. He’d been a bouncer here once upon a time, and he’d recently done a stint as a guest DJ on Friday nights. Then his modeling career had taken off and he’d quit his job at the club, but the lights, the music, and the women still drew him. Just another patron on the prowl for someone to swap body fluids with.

“Samson! Samson!”

A sprightly Polynesian woman charged off the dance floor straight towards him. She had long black hair that curled slightly, thick heart shaped lips, slanted eyes with long lashes, dimpled cheeks, and a huge smile that seemed almost electric beneath the flashing colored lights. Though probably no more than five-foot-three inches tall, her body was amazing. She had a thin waist above wide, curvaceous hips squeezed into a mini-skirt that revealed her smooth muscular cinnamon brown legs. She wore a baby t-shirt that exposed her midriff, revealing the beginnings of a six-pack. The t-shirt itself was stretched almost to bursting by breasts that seemed disproportionately large for her diminutive frame. They were at least a D cup and natural from the way they bounced and wobbled as she made her way toward him.

“Remember me?”

He didn’t.

She smiled at him waiting for him to respond with her name. Instead he gathered her into his arms and hugged her. Then he took a chance and kissed her, a deep soulful kiss that sucked the breath from her lungs.

“Wow. I guess you do remember me.”

“I have to confess. I can’t remember your name but I could never forget your beautiful face.”

She blushed.

Too easy, Samson thought.

“My name is Tara. We met here a year ago on Memorial Day weekend? I was on spring break?”

Samson smiled and shook his head, still unable to place her.

“We went out for breakfast after the club and then back to your apartment and we spent all night in bed until the next morning.”

“Oh yes, I remember,” he lied.

There were a hundred women who could have approached him with the same story. The only difference would have been the date. True, most of them were not half as beautiful as Tara. He gathered her into his arms again, pulling her close to whisper into her ear.

“Do you want breakfast now?”

“I’m not really hungry. Are you?”

“Not at all. Not for food anyway.”

“I was thinking the same thing. You want to come to my place this time? I live here now. I just graduated last month and decided to move to San Francisco. I had so much fun here when I came for spring break. I had so much fun with you. I can’t believe I ran into you again.”

“I’m glad you did.” Samson smiled.

His smile was one of the things that had landed him his first modeling job. His teeth were bright white and contrasted starkly against his mocha complexion. He had unusually European features for an African American. His nose was small and narrow, almost pointy, and his lips were full but not exceptionally so. His high cheekbones, startling green eyes, and strong angular jaw gave him the look of a matinee idol. His hair was curly and kept short and neat, shaved close on the sides with the top gelled and moussed into a stylish coif. If ever the word “pretty” could be used in reference to a man, Samson was that man.

Samson followed Tara out of the club, lingering behind to watch the bounce and sway of her tight, though large and well-rounded, posterior. Physically she was everything he could ever want in a woman.

“You know, I saw an ad in a fashion magazine with your picture in it. I had no idea you were a model. My girlfriends thought I was lying when I showed them your picture and told them I knew you.”

Tara continued to ramble on and on as Samson smiled and nodded his head, barely hearing a word. He stared at her beautiful, flawless body and thought only of her immortal soul, wondering if it was as lovely as the flesh that clothed it.

She would be his first.

2

Father Samuel turned the pages of his breviary, his eyes moving across the hymns and prayers, his mind adrift on waves of distracted thoughts. It was as close to prayer as he allowed himself these days. Huddled in the corner of a pew in the sanctuary chapel, he escaped to the nearest thing to solitude that Our Lady of Mount Carmel had to offer as he prepared to say Mass.

Some days were easier for Samuel than others. There were days when his faith made perfect sense to him. Christ dying on a cross as a sacrifice reconciling man and God. The Bible being God’s inspired Word, instructing man on how to draw closer to Him, no matter what century he lived in. The Holy Spirit speaking to man, comforting him in his dark times.

Then there were days like today.

Christ was some loon running around claiming to be God and was strung up for his efforts. The Bible was a collection of books men chose in order to maintain their power and grip on people. The Holy Spirit was his imaginary friend who remained silent when it counted most.

Samuel dry-swallowed his pills though he was tempted to wash them down with wine.

“Samuel?” Father Glenn tapped him on his shoulder. A short, bulbous man with a jowly face punctuated by a large nose, Father Glenn managed to sneak about the chapel without making a sound. “You’re up.”

“I know, I know.” Samuel closed his breviary and stood up, fighting a swell of nausea. “Shoot you for it.”

“What’s in it for me?”

“I’ll take the next month’s worth of confessions.” A lot of old women prone to complaint numbered among the faithful of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. They came to the confessional more for the company and conversation, gossiping by way of confessing.

“Forget it. You like confession. Tell you what. You take hospice visitation.”

The prospect gave him pause. Though he wasn’t up for Mass, he doubted he was any more up for a trip to the hospice ward. Father Glenn could be a thoughtless bastard that way. However, Samuel had a bit of a gambler’s streak in him. “Odds or evens?”

“Odds.”

“One. Two. Three. Shoot.” Odds. “Damn it.”

“You look good today. You’ll be fine,” Father Glenn turned from him.

“You’re a magnificent liar, but thanks.”

Samuel’s vestments weighed especially heavy today, but that might have been his general weakness, his body wasting away beneath his robes. The pasty film in his mouth tasted like decaying meat. He walked around the chapel, greeting his parishioners, the tingling in his hands and feet down to a dull burn. He preferred the numbness.

Samuel knew he was going through the motions.

His was a pernicious strain of AIDS. He wasn’t a drug user, and despite the recent bad press regarding his religion, he did not engage in sex, anal or otherwise, not since he’d taken his vows and only once before, with the woman he thought he would marry. No, in service to God he got the disease—a blood transfusion while on a mission trip to Africa. In October he was diagnosed with HIV and within months had full blown AIDS, a strain resistant to three out of four classes of medication used to treat HIV.

Politely pushing through the throng, he couldn’t help but think of how he missed his brother, Samson. Samuel and Samson, his devout mother’s idea of a joke. They weren’t twins—Samuel was, in fact, fourteen months older—however, she treated them as if they were. And they did share a special bond of sorts, he supposed. Though being the younger brother, it was Samson who was the overprotective one, probably due to his growth spurt that had left him towering six inches above Samuel. Samson had always called him his “little brother” because of the height difference. In high school, Samson would often walk in front of Samuel proclaiming “My brother’s coming through. Get out the way.” His idea of a joke, his way of showing love.

No greater love has a man for his brother and all that. If Samuel couldn’t find God in his brother’s love, there was no God to be had. With that, he had the topic for the morning’s homily.

Samuel’s malaise began to ease as he drank of the blood and ate of the flesh of Christ. That same divine love he often questioned—when the fevers and chills burnt through his flesh and kept him up all night tossing and turning—now filled him with its unmistakable warmth. One after another the faithful knelt before him to take communion, and he could see the light of faith burning furiously in their eyes as he placed the sacrament upon their tongues and blessed them one by one. His own doubts were not mirrored in his parishioners. Their faith humbled him. These were people he had grown up with, gone to school with, played handball on the streets with, now coming to him for spiritual salvation. Samuel thought it odd that the old woman who’d once called the police on him for smacking a tennis ball through her window during a stickball game now knelt before him and called him Father. But he could see none of his own discomfort reflected in her eyes. For her, all was as it should be.

By the time Communion ended Samuel felt like himself once more. Those who came to him for guidance expected a man of absolute unquestioning faith. They expected Samuel’s word to be the word of God given a human voice. He owed them no less.

Samuel took several long moments before entering the confessional. He stared at the stained glass windows painted with scenes of Moses bringing the Ten Commandments down from the mount, the virgin birth, Jesus being crucified and then rising from death as the living God to save all of mankind from sin. As it always did, The Savior’s sacrifice brought tears to his eyes.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…” Samuel whispered softly as he stared at the large crucifix that stood behind the pulpit and imagined what agonies Jesus must have endured. It seemed a sin to question His love after such a sacrifice. For whatever reason God had chosen to test him, he would not fail Him. Father Samuel entered the confessional; minutes later the door slid open on the other side of the screen.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It has been three days since my last confession.”

Samuel recognized the voice. Mrs. Lucy had been best friends with his grandmother and had actively participated in raising him. She had even spanked him on more than one occasion. She was already old when Samuel was born, so he had a hard time imagining the hard-drinking, pot-smoking, free-loving party girl his grandmother had told him about, the one who spent night after night in the jazz and blues clubs that dotted the waterfront back in those days. He sometimes had to stifle a chuckle as he tried to picture it. Now she was one of the most pious and faithful women he knew, attending church almost every day. He’d heard the worst of her sins long ago, and some had indeed raised his eyebrows. Her confessions now ran toward the pedestrian, stealing an apple pie recipe from a television show and passing it off as her own, coveting Ms. Cicily’s new hat, speaking too harshly to the mailman when he delivered the mail late on the day her social security check was due. Samuel listened to it all patiently then gave Ms. Lucy her penance.

Some of the confessions Father Samuel heard were more interesting. He heard the usual adulterous thoughts (too many of them acted upon), petty thefts, cheating on taxes, lying, coveting, hating. Occasionally, he received a confession that tested his faith and some that made him want to rip open the confessional door and beat the hell out of the bastard on the other side. A man sauntered in to confess to repeatedly raping both his son and his daughter along with several other neighborhood children. Samuel had urged the man to seek counseling and made confessing to the police part of his penance. He never heard from the guy again.

Today was not nearly so dramatic. Aside from one woman’s confession of smoking crack and using methamphetamines while her husband was at work and she watched the kids, the confessions were all pretty mundane. Then he heard a familiar voice from the other side of the confessional.

“Forgive me, Brother, for I have sinned.”

He had been about to correct the man when he placed the voice. “Samson?”

“Shh. You’re not supposed to say my name. Isn’t that breaking the sanctity of the confessional or something?”

“You’re doing that just by being in here. You’re not Catholic anymore. You don’t even call yourself a Christian.”

“Just because I’m not particularly fond of God doesn’t mean I don’t believe in him. Who would I blame for all the crap in the world if God did not exist?”

“This is a confessional, Samson. Are you here to confess or just to poke fun at my beliefs? You could have waited ‘til Thanksgiving dinner for that. Why break a tradition?”

“Why all the hostility today?”

“I’m sorry. It’s been a hard day.” Samuel stifled a sigh and rubbed his temples.

“You not feeling well? Do you need me to take you to the hospital?”

“No. Thank you, but no. I’m okay.”

“Good, good. I’m always here for you, you know?”

“I know, Samson. I know. You’ve always been solid that way.”

The ensuing silence was more uncomfortable than he would have imagined. Samuel knew how hard it was for Samson to see him suffer. His illness seemed to affect his brother more than it did him. Still, he didn’t want Samson to come back to the church just to make his dying brother happy. He hoped that his brother had genuinely come back because he’d finally felt the love of God within him. He was, of course, wrong on both counts.

“I do have something to confess.”

The seriousness in his voice made Samuel pause. A powerful dread crept over him. Father Samuel lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “Maybe you should talk to one of the other priests.”

“You won’t hear my confession?”

“I just don’t know if it’s right. I’m your brother. It feels like, I don’t know, a conflict of interest. Besides, in order for confession to mean anything, you must have a penitent heart.”

“No, I only want you to hear it. After all, I did it for you.”

The hairs on his neck stood on end and he sweated despite the cool temperature in the air-conditioned room. Samuel’s first thought was that Samson had taken another trip over the border into Canada to smuggle in HIV medication. He had warned his brother more than once about doing it, but had done so half-heartedly. Being an AIDS patient himself, he thought the prices the pharmaceutical companies in America charged for HIV drugs were criminal and so he’d said nothing when he’d looked in his medicine cabinet to see that his own supply of immune boosters had mysteriously quintupled. Even now he was torn between his fear of seeing his brother get caught, his distress at knowing that Samson had once again broken another of God’s commandments, and his own excitement at the prospect of a supply of experimental drugs.

“What did you do?”

“I took a soul.”

“You did what?”

Samson slid a small stack of papers beneath the screen that separated them. Samuel leafed through the pages. It was all written in legalese and he could barely make sense of any of it.

“What is this?”

“It’s a contract. It’s all perfectly legal, my lawyer drew it up for me. It gives me all rights, privileges, and powers including ownership of the signer’s immortal soul. A woman signed it last night, in blood. She signed her soul over to me for one night of sex.”

Samson’s voice brimmed with pride. It almost sounded as if he were waiting for his brother’s approval.

“Samson…this is…why? Why would you do something this perverse and…blasphemous? This is wrong. What are you trying to prove? That you’re some kind of God? You want to prove to everyone how great you are by having them sign their souls over to you?”

“It’s not about my ego, Samuel. It’s about your life.”

“My life? What does this have to do with me?”

“Remember when I was a kid and I wanted to be a dancer? Mom talked Dad into letting me take lessons. I stayed with it for four years. I went every day. Then one day I realized that I would never be a dancer, no matter how hard I tried. I could work at it hard enough to be good but I’d never be great and only the great ones make a living at it. So, I quit, just like that. Mom was so disappointed in me. She thought I was just being flaky. You and Dad didn’t really care. I think Dad was just happy to find out I wasn’t gay. I’ve never been good at anything, Sammy.”

“You just needed to find yourself.”

“No. I’m just not a talented person. I’m not particularly smart. You were always the straight A student. I was just average, except for the way I looked. When Mom and Dad talked about you, they imagined that you would grow up to be a famous politician or maybe a lawyer or a Nobel Prize-winning scientist or author or maybe a black leader of some kind. They thought you could have been absolutely anything. They were so proud when you decided to become a priest. But when they talked about me all they ever said was how handsome I was. How I could grow up to be a famous actor. Then I tried acting and failed at that too. They talked about me becoming a model. So I did. I’m one of the highest paid male models in the world because that’s all I could ever be.

“You know why they never talked about me becoming a politician or a lawyer, Samuel? Because I’m useless. They knew it then. I’m a beautiful piece of nothing. I used to see how envious you’d get when everyone would talk about how handsome I was and when all the girls would chase after me. I don’t think you ever knew how envious I was of you, though. To me, you were always the perfect one. You were the smart one, the one who never got into trouble. When I was fighting in the street you were turning the other cheek. When I was fucking everything that moved you were taking your vow of chastity. I should have hated you for being so perfect, but I never did. I love you, big bro.”

“I love you too, Samson. But what does any of this have to do with this…this contract?”

“Because it isn’t fair!”

Hurried footsteps rushed toward the confessional in response to Samson’s outburst. There was a tentative knock on the door.

“Father Samuel? Is everything okay?”

“I’m fine. I’m fine. We’re just about done here.”

The footsteps backed away and Samuel returned his attention to his brother.

“Sorry about that. Samson, what are you doing? What are you trying to do?”

“You’re the perfect one. You’re my better half. And God is taking you away from me. You’ve done everything He’s asked of you. You’ve devoted your life to Him and look at you.” Vestments couldn’t hide Samuel’s thin wrists or drawn face. Though born so close together, Samuel seemed to have aged a decade since their last visit. Samson neared tears. “He’s taking you away!”

“So, you want to punish Him for it? You can’t do that, Samson.”

“I can do whatever the fuck I want! And no, I’m not punishing Him. I want to strike a bargain with Him. Your life for the souls of His precious children.”

“You can’t do that, Samson. God has a plan for me. We may not understand it but we have to trust His wisdom.”

“If wanting to save my brother’s life is a sin, if His plan means that I have to watch my big brother rot and die, then fuck His plan.” Samson stormed out of the confessional. Samuel listened to his brother’s heavy footfalls as he left the church, wondering what he was going to do.

3

“You’ve got to go.” Samson disentangled himself from the woman’s velveteen embrace, the woman whose name he no longer remembered, nor cared about; his mind was already on other things. Samson rode the crests of his orgasm to an elevated state of consciousness. It harnessed his concentration and focused him for the task at hand. Whatever she had to say, she did so to his back. He already had her signature on the contract and he had taken all the pleasure he could from her flesh. There was nothing more he needed from her, nothing more she could offer. He visualized the sigil. “Don’t be here when I get back.”

Samson always believed that there was a transcendent aspect to sex, a spiritual energy to be had, a sexual alchemy that might be used to bend reality to his will. He only had to find a way to channel his sexual energy. The sigil drawn on a piece of paper absorbed the energy generated by the act. It was a symbol of his brother. Healthy. How he was meant to be. Meaninglessness in a universe that had no meaning he understood; however, meaninglessness in a universe with meaning, in a universe run by God, that was unacceptable. Samson’s plan to collect enough souls to barter for the life of his brother had only been a desperate thought, nothing more than a fantasy, until he discovered the book. The Key of Solomon. With it, he would summon the Enemy.

His shower was only part of his cleansing ritual. He remained naked; nothing would block the flow of his power during the ceremony. There was freedom in performing the ritual in the nude. To perform magic of this difficulty, he needed a special mindset. His fast continued, but it was the sex that truly began his act of consecrating himself. None of the bullshit about being chaste, storing up a pool of sexual energy. Sex was power. Through it he would tap God’s power or at least thwart His will.

It had been a long day for him, bleeding long into the night, but his work was not complete. Samson, finding his apartment empty, closed the red drapes across his windows. Lit only by candles, he made this his secluded place, his sacred place. Kneeling over his blade, he prayed. He drew a magic circle with the knife, carving a barrier to the outside world. Methodically, he worked with the same care and patience he used to seduce women, etching pentagrams and hexagrams along the circle. The crosses and bowls of holy water, he stole from his brother’s church. A slight indiscretion to pay if his boon was granted. His place secure, Samson crossed the room, knelt, and stabbed his knife into the wood floor again. This time he crafted a triangle to hold the demon. He inscribed the name Michael within it, then wrote the names of power on its edges. Anexhexeton. Tetragrammaton. Primematum.

In the end, the ritual came down to belief, power, and names. The rest was window dressing to focus his mind and energy.

“I invoke you, terrible and fallen god who prowls like a lion among the children of Adam, who rules under threat of damnation and eternal hellfire by the power of the Supreme God, Elohim, over all Spirits, superior and inferior, I invoke and command thee by the true name of God, Yaweh, in whose image I am created, who sacrificed His only begotten son for my sins. O the most great and powerful name of God, JEHOVAH, TETRAGRAMMATON, who cast thee out of Heaven with the rest of the faithless angels into a boiling lake of fire; by all the other potent and great names of God, Creator of Heaven, Earth and Hell, of all contained therein; by their powers and virtues; which Adam heard and spake when he was cast from the garden; by the name which Jacob learned from the Angel on the night of his wrestling and was delivered from the hands of his brother Esau; by the name which Lot heard and was saved with his family; by the name ZEBAOTH, which Moses named, and all the rivers and waters in the land of Egypt brought forth frogs, which ascended into the houses of the Egyptians, destroying all; by the name SCHEMES AMATHIA, which Joshua invoked and the sun stayed upon his course; by the name ANEHEXETON, which Solomon spake and was made wise; by the name EMMANUEL, which the three children, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, chanted in the midst of the fiery furnace, and they were delivered; by the name ALPHA and OMEGA, which Daniel uttered, and destroyed Bel and the Dragon. Hear me and make all your scourge brethren obedient to me,” Samson screamed into the night.

The night retorted with silence. Samson knew the spirits had to be commanded, his tone certain, yet not disrespectful. A fine line to walk. In truth, he imagined this was how life was for his brother, time wasted talking to someone who wasn’t there.

“I have brought the names, those souls I have to barter.”

For an hour, he implored the empty air. Sweat glistened on his body. He sliced his arms in blood tribute. Drops of blood sizzled in the candle flames.

“Why won’t you answer me?”

“Not enough,” a voice finally murmured and extinguished the candles.

Samson collapsed into an exhausted heap of spent flesh. “I’ve failed.”

“Twenty for one.”

“Twenty souls?” Samson asked.

Samson felt his hopes sink. There was no way he could find twenty women willing to sell their souls for sex. It was impossible. Well, nearly impossible.

“Twenty for one. Their blood must be spilled for the covenant to be made.”

Samson shivered as the meaning of the words sank in.

4

Working at Matthew’s House, a hospice for those dying of AIDS, Samuel felt like he was set up to fail. There was little he could do for them since nothing he could say or do would prevent any of them from dying. It was the perfect metaphor for all of his life’s work—futile efforts while everyone around him died anyway. He muttered a quick prayer to refocus himself on his duties and responsibilities. If he could provide any measure of comfort, he needed to do so. And some of the clients brought a special joy to him.

He made his way to the back corner of the floor. From the way she sat stiffly, he knew the pains in the woman’s neck and head must be excruciating today.

“Bless me Father, for I have sinned.” She closed her eyes and put her hands together as if ready for her penance. Then she peeked out from one eye.

“Give me a break.”

“It’s true. I’ve been up to no good since my last confession. Adultery. Murder. Stealing. I’ve been working my way through the top ten like it’s my personal to do list.”

“Have you even left this bed?”

“No, but I have big dreams.”

“Us grown folk call them fantasies.”

Nkosi Bhengu, originally from South Africa, was the third of six girls. Her family had been missionaries in South Africa and she spent her childhood there. She came to America to go to school and major in journalism. However, she couldn’t escape the legacy of her AIDS-torn country.

Strikingly beautiful in a haunted sort of way, she had the sort of face meant to be immortalized on canvas. It was her thick, hearty laugh that drew him to her, though he was certain that she had once captured many a man’s heart with her bright eyes. Before. Chronic diarrhea and sudden weight loss were the first signs. By the time she showed symptoms, the disease had ravaged through her body.

“How are you doing?” Samuel asked.

“Fine.”

“Really?”

“What do you want? I’m still dying, but I feel pretty good. Bring me my mirror.”

“Why? You still look beautiful.”

“You are an accomplished liar, Father,” Nkosi said. “Every morning I look at myself in the mirror. Then I’m ready to say my prayers.”

“You’d have made a great nun.”

“I’m still breathing. No need for the ‘would haves.’”

She sat up straighter in bed as he handed her a mirror. Using the IV stand to raise her body, she studied her reflection until satisfied. She set it down and began the Lord’s Prayer. Samuel joined in.

“What’s the matter, Father? Your head’s not in the game today.”

“You’ve been in America too long.”

“Not long enough.” Nkosi gestured toward her cup. Before Samuel could feign protest, she put her hand to her head in a dramatic swoon of being too weak to pour her own water.

“Neither of us chased after AIDS.” Samuel filled the cup and handed it to her. “It’s not like we asked for it.”

“True, but I know how you get, finding any excuse to blame yourself.”

“It’s not me I’m blaming right now. I know that the church is supposed to be Christ’s bride, but I feel like we’re the wife clinging to an abusive husband.” Samuel took the empty cup from her and offered to refill it. She waved him off.

“I can’t be angry at God. He didn’t send this disease, but I can be angry at it. This invader.”

“But God…”

“Don’t ‘but God’ me. Your arms are too short to box with God.” Nkosi said.

“Now you sound like my grandmother. I’d like Him to at least know He was in a fight.”

She laughed that infectious laugh of hers. “Maybe I should be the priest and take your confession. You’re not doing a great job at the whole ‘comfort the dying’ thing.”

“I know.”

“Hey, I was kidding.”

“I’m just tired. People forget that we’re no different, you know? I’m no further up the spiritual ladder than anyone else, I’m only on the clock more. It’s hard coming to terms with the fact that this is where God wants me to be. What He wants me to go through. I don’t know. There’s something…not very humble about the whole ‘God has a plan for me’ line of thinking.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re here.”

“You’re a good friend, Nkosi.” Half the time Samuel didn’t know who was meant to be comforting whom.

“Come now. What else? You have that ‘worrying about things I can’t control’ look on your face still.”

“It’s Samson.”

“Your brother?” Nkosi asked.

“Yeah. He’s back and I have this feeling he’s in trouble—in way over his head—and I don’t know if I can help him.”

“You can’t save everyone. Not even those you love. We make choices and we have to live with the consequences.”

“Free will’s a bitch, huh?” Samuel gave a sad smirk.

Nkosi sat up as best she could and put her hand on his. “Sometimes when a person is bound and determined to destroy themselves, you just have to get out of their way. You have to come to realize that there’s not a damn thing you can do about it.”

“But you don’t really buy that, do you?”

“No. That’s why God created big brothers.”

5

Samson tried to rid himself of his perpetually bored expression as he prepared for his photo shoot. He wanted to get this thing done in as few shots as possible and he knew that this photographer was a perfectionist with no qualms about wasting rolls and rolls of film while his models stood in some ridiculously agonizing pose waiting for him to get that one in a thousand shot. Samson was not in the mood.

His disposition was completely wrong for modeling. Even when the fashion industry first embraced Samson, he’d been rather dark and brooding. He hated the fake smiles and artificial laughs that went hand and hand with high fashion. It pained him to manufacture emotion the way the camera demanded. His disgust at the world and disdain for the entire entertainment industry bristled in every syllable he spoke, which explained his failed acting career.

Now—being sprayed down with a mixture of water and baby oil in preparation to shoot an underwear ad while the effeminate photographer called for him to purse his lips and then to smile and look sexy as if he were some poseable action figure—he had to stifle the urge to slap the hell out of the patronizing little queer.

“Don’t lift your chin that way. It makes you look like Popeye. Flex your abs a little bit more. You should have done a few more sit ups, honey, you’re looking a little soft. Is there anything we can do with that bulge? We aren’t shooting pornography here. Maybe we should tape it down or tuck it back or something. Don’t worry, darling, it’s not nearly as uncomfortable as it sounds. I’ve spent entire weekends with mine tucked back so far you couldn’t see it even in a bikini.”

The photographer’s name was Jacque Willet, and he was the hottest fashion photographer around. Samson was the hottest male model in America, if not the world. However, the two did not mix. The man had a way of making Samson feel degraded, but even he had to admit that the photos were amazing. Samson didn’t care how much he was getting paid for this shoot, and it was quite a bit—he’d signed a multi-million dollar contract with the underwear company to be their poster boy—he still felt exploited and it pissed him off. The smile fell from Samson’s face as he stared at the photographer. All his hate and disgust for the man boiled to the surface.

“Oh, now that look could work. It’s not what I was looking for but it’s actually kind of sexy. Hold that.”

Jacque Willet snapped off photo after photo as Samson imagined sacrificing him to the god of debasement and destruction. Not until then had he truly believed that he could do it. When the photo shoot ended, Samson stormed off the set into his dressing room.

“I don’t know who the fuck pissed in your Wheaties this morning, but you almost fucked up the whole shoot! I don’t work with prima donnas!” Jacque shouted at his back.

“Neither do I,” Samson growled as he slammed his dressing room door.

6

There was something about the hospice that made Samuel immediately rush to the shower when he returned home. A film of death, an inevitability, that he had to scrub off. He looked at his mild paunch in the mirror, cupping his belly and jiggling it up and down as if he could shake it away. He knew it was only a matter of time until his “AIDS diet” stripped him of it. He had already lost a lot of weight. The outlines of his bones began to reveal themselves along his arms and legs. His belly, as had been his curse all his life, was the last place he lost weight.

The water hit him with a hot sting as soon as the glass door closed behind him. He moved to turn the temperature down then decided that he wanted to feel the scald, enjoy the ability to feel anything. The poor water pressure spit out drops in fits and spurts within the glass tomb of the shower stall, splattering his shaved head. The other family legacy was his premature baldness. His illness nibbled at his vanity, but not so much that he wouldn’t shave his head rather than nurse a balding pate. He turned his back to the stream, leaning against the rear of the shower enclosure to allow the hot water to scourge him. If he had any courage whatsoever, he’d open his veins now and be done with it. The thought of being discovered naked in the shower—a conflict with his personal vanity—was only made worse by the knowledge that suicide was one of the greatest sins. Ultimately, however, he wanted a better ending to his story.

The sputter of the showerhead caused him to turn around. His routine was to hold his mouth ajar to rinse it out, but he was met with the taste of rusty nails. Opening his eyes, pink splotches spotted the floor. His skin blistered under the pelting water. Sores scored his flesh; his budding melanomas swelled like overripe fruit. The cratered flesh of his arm, riddled with spent pustules, issued thin trickles of blood like poxed stigmata. The wounds cracked, drowsy eyes filling with tears of mucous-like pus, before bursting in splays of blood.

A startled scream escaped his throat as he tumbled out of the stall. Samuel patted at his skin as if he were on fire. Only his now all-too-usual discolorations marbled him. Scarlet streams, a blood frieze, streaked the shower. He grabbed a towel to sop up the mess, but after a few unsuccessful swipes he unfolded it to make out the words “Blood Must Be Paid.” He dropped the towel into the remaining pool of blood. When he found the courage to pick it back up, it was no more than a crime scene inspired Rorschach.

7

“Vodka. To one of your better creations.” Samuel filled his glass most of the way then added a splash of cranberry juice—something to calm him down—and toasted his Savior. Surely the blood spatter was from an animal caught in the pipes; he made a mental note to call the plumbers out. The hemography had to have been a trick of his eyes. That was the easy explanation. He swallowed a large gulp. “You just don’t let up, do You?”

With only the press of the empty spot in his all-too-lonely bed waiting for him, Samuel chose to wander the rectory. Ghosts and spirits filled the sanctuary, echoes of the past. His parishioners had long shuffled off with each lit candle, with each recitation of the ancient ritual. A formless, nameless dread kept him awake more nights that he cared to remember; a spiritual blind spot of ache and discontent. No joy, no terror, just the endless numbing that faith provided until the candles were lit in his shadowless home. Samuel, content with his role as a cog, never questioned, and always did what he was told; trusting that God knew what was best. Some people were just like that. Not everyone was cut out to be a leader of men. Some had to do the work, carry out the vision of others. The truly best were those who knew their role, their place in the greater scheme of things, and settled into it.

“The ironic thing about choice,” he said out loud to no one, “is that usually when you make the wrong decision, the right one is there in front of us, also. Some people love the drama, the stirred pot of making the wrong decisions. Or they’re addicted to it or something ‘cause they keep making the wrong decision. Playing the odds, you’d think they’d accidentally fall into a right decision every now and then. But no, they keep going their own way, screwing up their lives and taking those who love them along for the ride.”

There was something hard-wired into people that made them content when they believed in something bigger than themselves. All the expectations were like a false hope that God kept yanking out from under him.

“You like messing with people, don’t You?” Samuel took another swig of his juice. “We’re like Lucy and Charlie Brown, You and I…and I don’t look good in yellow.”

When it came to being in control, Samuel didn’t know who was worse, Samson or himself. Maybe that was why religious belief annoyed Samson. If a supreme being existed, He held the ultimate control, not Samson. If the universe followed any sort of order, he could learn the rules, no matter how abstract. That was what Samson did best—adapt. Don’t give him any bullshit excuses for your life. You were responsible, you were in control of your own destiny, no matter the hand you were dealt. But Samuel couldn’t live like that. Things, life, had to have meaning. Things had to come together in a way that made sense, even if he couldn’t see the whole picture.

Right now, he was content to search for meaning within the rest of the bottle of vodka.

8

Samson knew he was dreaming as soon as he walked through the sanctuary doors to find a bed among the pews. The parishioners scattered at his approach. A body writhed on the bed—a two-backed beast tucked beneath the tender mercies of a neglected Christ on a cross. Paint flaked from his brow and face as he peered over the unfolding scene. Rat-chewed feet hovered just over the bed. The moans from the sheet subsided.

A malefic odor assaulted Samson, the air redolent with the stench of infection and decay. His brother lay too still on the bed, the tattered covers pulled up to his neck. Samson couldn’t help but note how ugly and unflattering the bedspreads were; knit fabric that someone gave up on. Samuel’s emaciated body dangled from them. Splotches, like a serpentine tattoo, ran along his frail arm. Red pustules bubbled up as if his skin were subject to unseen flames. A slow gasp escaped his barely open mouth. Samuel’s sunken skull turned toward him, a black wax oozing from his ears. His eyes flushed red, vessels rupturing with his body’s betrayal, turned upward, staring beyond him.

“Save me.”

Samson awoke. Still in his dressing room, he heard the crew outside breaking down the set; the whining, lisping voice of Jacque Willet punctuated every movement, micro-managing the entire process. He must have only been asleep for a few minutes. The night was still young.

9

Samson showered quickly and slid back into his Armani shirt and pants. He ran a hand slicked with mousse through his hair and stepped out of his dressing room, trying to slip out of the building quickly. Jacque waited nearby, next to a table stacked with hors d’oeuvres and Perrier water, pretending to not stare at Samson’s dressing room. Samson ignored him and turned to his friend Amon, who’d just come from the elevator.

Amon was a stunning mixture of Middle Eastern, Spanish, and something Asian. He was the model they called on when they needed someone exotic to round out a shoot. Samson would never admit it to anyone but Amon himself, but he actually thought the man was much more beautiful than him. He didn’t understand why Amon wasn’t more sought after. Not that the man was starving, but with his extravagant tastes, he still moonlit to make ends meet. If they hadn’t been friends they probably would have been rivals. The man’s looks would have made any other man jealous.

“Hey, honey!”

Amon was gay, but not a mincing stereotype like Jacque whose theatrics Amon found every bit as annoying as Samson did. Amon simply preferred the affections of other men. Once or twice he’d enjoyed Samson’s affections when Samson had been younger and more curious. Now, they were just friends.

“Hello, Amon.”

“Honey, you don’t look well at all. You aren’t getting sick are you?” Amon stared at Samson with genuine concern, cupping a hand against his cheek as much to offer comfort as to check for a fever.

“I’ll be okay. I just can’t stand dealing with that asshole.”

Amon didn’t need to ask who he was referring to, turning to look right at Jacque, who stood mere yards away trying to eavesdrop on the conversation.

“Don’t let that little faggot get to you,” Amon stage-whispered loud enough to be certain that Jacque could hear them. “He’s just mad because he hasn’t fucked you and I have.”

Amon and Samson both laughed.

“I’d better go. You take care of yourself.”

“You too, honey.”

They hugged and Amon planted a light kiss on Samson’s lips then winked at Jacque, who jealously studied them. He turned his head but remained rooted to his spot.

“You’re a bad man, Amon.” Samson laughed.

“I do try.”

Amon walked past Jacque and onto the set with his chin pointing skyward, glancing at the photographer who once again averted his gaze. Samson took the opportunity to make a dash for the stairs before Jacque could speak to him again. Unfortunately, Jacque still caught up with him.

“Leaving? We’ll go down together, okay?” Jacque smiled from ear to ear, batting his fake eyelashes. Everything about him had the veneer of artifice—from the eyeliner tattooed above his cobalt blue contact lenses, to his collagen injected lips, to his anorexic liposuctioned body, to his perfumes and makeups that were so expensive that one bottle of face cream could have paid a month’s rent in most San Francisco apartments.

“Fine.” Samson mumbled back, making no attempt to hide his disgust for the man.

“Good. I’ve been meaning to talk to you. We’re going to be working together a lot and I know we haven’t gotten along well in the past. But with us both selling drawers for the same company at a couple million dollars a shoot, I just thought we should get a bit closer. I mean, this contract could make or break both of our careers. We need to get along or we’re both going to wind up on the street. So why don’t we just kiss and make up? How about I take you out to dinner tonight? Anywhere you want to go. It certainly would not hurt my reputation to be seen waltzing around town with one of the world’s most beautiful men, and it just might help us get a little closer.”

“How close exactly did you want to get?”

Jacque looped his arm through Samson’s and led him out of the elevator into the parking garage, whispering in his ear, “As close as possible, handsome. As close as possible.”

“Fine.”

10

The date went well. The appetizers—escargot in mushroom caps smothered in garlic butter, little crackers with smoked salmon and imported Beluga caviar covered in green onions and sour cream—were heavenly, and the lobster was superb. They sat across a candlelit table in one of the most exclusive restaurants in San Francisco.

“My dad kicked my ass and then kicked me right out of the house when I told him and my mom that I was gay. I don’t know why he was so shocked. I used to make dresses and things for my sister and me and then I would take pictures. I wanted to be a designer back then. We would play runway and practice our model walk. I know, I’m one of those gay stereotypes that make other gay men furious. They like to pretend that flamboyant faggots like me are some straight male invention, but we exist. We’re here and we’re queer, as they say.”

He took a long sip of Cristal and stared at Samson over the glass, waiting for some reaction.

“So what’s up with all your little boy toys that follow you around the set? Are you dating any of them?”

“Honey, I’m dating all of them. I may not be quite as lovely as you, but with a little cosmetic surgery here and there, I can still turn a few heads. Besides, I’m rich and that makes me infinitely attractive.”

“But no serious relationship?” Samson smiled seductively, flirting almost instinctively. He traced a finger around the lip of his champagne glass and then bit his bottom lip. Jacque’s breath hitched.

“No, nothing serious.”

“Ever?”

“I’m not one of those gay republicans who get married, adopt kids, and open joint bank accounts. For me, anonymous sex is part of the allure of the lifestyle.”

“Yeah, that’s a pretty good line. How long have you been telling yourself that? Do you believe it yet?”

Jacque laughed. “No. I still haven’t really convinced myself.”

“I didn’t think so. Everybody wants to be loved, even the worst of us.”

“And that’s why I hated you the first time I laid eyes on you. You are far too intuitive for your own good. Models are supposed to be pretty little empty-headed things. You think too much.”

“Yet still, in the end, I’m just another pretty little empty-headed thing like all the rest, no matter how much thinking I do.”

They finished off two more bottles of Cristal before stumbling out of the restaurant and falling into a waiting limousine. Jacque pawed all over Samson before the door to the limo was even closed. Samson endured the photographer’s attentions and even returned his kisses.

“You know, I didn’t think you were gay. I mean, I figured you’d probably slept with a designer here and there to get into a show like everyone else, you know, gay-for-pay maybe, but I didn’t think you were really into guys.” Jacque stroked the erection in Samson’s expensive jeans.

“I’m not gay. I’m not attracted to guys in the least. Just ask Amon.”

Jacque paused.

“So then you want something from me in exchange… but what? I mean, you’ve already got the underwear contract. Despite all of my yelling and threatening I couldn’t really take that away from you. So, what?”

“I want your soul.”

“My soul,” Jacque smirked, “I did tell you that I wasn’t into commitment, right?”

Samson knew the proposition sounded ridiculous on the face of it, but to those who didn’t believe in things like souls, it struck them as little more than telling Santa what they wanted for Christmas. “And I told you that I wasn’t into guys but you’ve still got your hand on my dick.”

“So I do.” Jacque said with a giggle.

“So, if you want more, you’re going to have to sign a contract.”

“Honey, I don’t sign anything unless my lawyer looks it over first.”

“That’s fine. I’ll leave the contract with you. You can get back to me when you’ve made up your mind.”

Samson rapped on the partition that separated them from the driver. The partition lowered and the driver peered back at them through the rearview mirror, his reflective sunglasses doing little to mask his disgust.

“Yes, sir?”

“Drop me off at club Requiem.”

“Can I come with you?” Jacque asked. He was so intoxicated that he appeared as though he were about to faint.

“No. Go home. Sleep it off. We’ll talk in the morning when you’ve decided.”

11

Nkosi’s room allowed a measure of privacy, an oasis of dignity against the encroachment of an intractable trespasser. Like all of the rooms, a large bay window faced the rising sun. Painted a neutral taupe, not falsely cheery nor hope-crushingly dreary, the room was an austere testimony to Nkosi’s life. Samuel sat next to her bed and watched her for nearly an hour as she slept before she knew he was in the room. She waved meekly for him to draw near. Her breathing had grown shallow, her voice no louder than a whisper, lost in a swirl of semi-consciousness.

“Don’t you want your mirror?”

“The way I look? My eyes so big and hollow, like I’m already dead and I’m staring back from the other side.”

A Bible lay open on the stand that used to hold her meal trays. It mocked him. The deceitful strength that so long buoyed her had fled in the night. She couldn’t walk, her thin frame no longer capable of supporting her. She convulsed as if gripped by a terrible chill. Her weak voice, once so vibrant, unnerved Samuel.

“I hadn’t heard from your family. One of the nurses had to call me.”

“I just wanted to hide from everyone. No one should have to look at me.”

A paralyzing fear gripped him. He avoided meeting her eyes because every time he did, he became afraid. He wanted to comfort her, to tell her to be strong, that she was having a bad day; hope stuck in his throat. She didn’t have much longer—the disease consumed her so quickly, yet she stared at him as if he was supposed to have the answers.

“I don’t know,” he said finally.

“I didn’t ask. Anything I want to know, I’ll find out soon enough. Oh, the way I must look. You can see my skull and bones. You look like you’re losing more weight, too.”

Samuel dropped his head. The Nkosi he knew faded in and out, already repeating her thoughts through the jumbled haze of her mind. The last thing he wanted was to talk about his own struggle with the virus. He eyed her long dull curls that puddled into her pillow.

“You think God abandoned us, don’t you?” Nkosi asked.

“Don’t you?”

“Hold my hand.”

Samuel wrapped his hand with hers. Her muscles tensed, and he knew she meant to pull him closer, so he leaned in.

“You have been God for me. You’ve wiped my tears and held my hand. Your presence…I feel Him through you. Don’t you see?”

“If I’m God, I’m doing a pretty lousy job of things.”

She coughed violently, all that remained of her barreling laugh, spittles of blood spraying her sheets. Not that he had anything to fear from them. “You’re doing better than you think.”

“I wish I had your faith.” He held her tighter.

“Mine? You’re funny. It’s been yours keeping me going all this time. But I’m so tired.” She folded into him like an exhausted dove. Still so beautiful, so loving, so trusting, his heart yearned toward her. She charged the very air around her, the air he breathed.

“So that’s it?”

“That’s it. I stare out the window and I want to see one more day. Keep looking out for your brother. He’d be lost without you.”

The words fell like loose dirt on a coffin. She closed her eyes, still smiling a bit. Her breath became shallower, settling into sleep.

12

Requiem, a hole in the wall night club, used to be a church. The refurbished sanctuary was now the main dance floor broken by rows of columns. Clusters of tables and chairs separated it from the lounge and bar area, the words “Entertainment one better than sterno enemas” painted on a nearby column. A dimly lit balcony ringed the main floor as huddles of shadows watched from above. Roadies scurried about the stage that had once supported a pulpit and choir loft, preparing for the band, Madonna’s Abortion, to play.

An overweight girl with a feather boa draped around her shoulders and her hair pulled up sat in a corner of the club. A crescent moon caught in a shower of stars advertised tarot readings. Her business cards read “The Witch Cottage.” The prospect intrigued Samson; he’d never gotten a tarot reading before. He sat down across from her, attempting to hide the condescending smirk etched on his face.

“How much?”

“Fifteen dollars. You can ask me as many questions as you like. Here, shuffle these cards.” She handed him a stack of well-worn, oversized cards. Samson shuffled them awkwardly then handed the deck back to her. She dealt them in front of him.

“How long will I be married?” he baited her. He wasn’t going to let this turn into one of those eerie moments. He suspected how this worked: the more he expressed on his face or in his voice, the more information she’d have for the con.

“You will end up alone,” she said as if she didn’t hear his question. Studying the cards with a brooding intensity, Samson wanted to lean over to see what she was reading. “If you did the right thing, which you won’t, things might work out. You’re being punished by the Divine. What you’ve put out is coming back to you.”

“Yeah? Well, fuck you too.” He threw a twenty dollar bill in the fortune teller’s face as he rose from the table.

Techno strains from the band drew him back to the main floor; the music was little more than violent whining, like rending metal to a beat. Maroon light bathed the stage and the fog machine worked overtime. Between the multiple strobes and psychedelic haze of smoke, the dancing figures were little more than shadowy faces crying in the night. Sticking to the periphery, he walked to the bar, discrete from the dance area in its own pocket universe. Candles created flickering pools of amber light from the lounge. Incense burned in scattered piles. Samson ordered a drink, but everything tasted gray.

No, tonight was about the hunt.

He turned his attention to the gyrating flesh. Reading people, women especially, was what he did. One woman strayed from the pack of her friends as if afraid to catch a case of popularity. She chewed on the tip of her right thumb, her hair pulled back in a low maintenance ponytail. Leather straps encased her small breasts. Boots came up to the knees of her lanky legs, a matching mini skirt barely covering her behind. Her face was androgynous, not pretty, though fascinating all the same, conspicuous by her paucity of makeup.

She lacked the smell of prey: too little of the neediness, the lack of self-esteem, the eagerness to please that Samson knew he could twist and pervert until she was happily signing her soul away for the self-validation of casual sex with one of the world’s most desirable men.

That was when he spied his true intended. She struck a pose of too-cool-to-dance, catching herself if her head bobbed to the music. Her tall frame possessed an awkward grace, her swaying suggested sexiness in its own way. She wore a blood red gown that flowed and swirled with her movements. Long ivory gloves, the sleeves slit up the middle, revealed lengthwise scars down her wrists. Her long black hair—too black, obviously dyed—draped down her alluring neck. Her skin chalked to a drained, grayish hue, bordered on whiteface. She met his lingering gaze.

She had probably spent two hours getting herself ready for the club, afraid to be seen without every hair intact, every visible patch of skin creamed and powdered to a ghostly white pallor. Afraid that others would see the missing parts of her if they weren’t covered in make-up, afraid that she was little more than a pretty thing others wanted to fuck. An Egyptian hieroglyph encircled her large eyes, giving them a vaguely Asian appearance. Radiating a special brand of vivaciousness, she would do. She sauntered over to him.

“Why do you keep staring at me?” she said with a deep, gravelly voice. A sexy rasp. Completely affected. Another layer of her mask.

“Because you’re beautiful and I want to make love to you.”

Her eyebrows rose sharply and a smile broke quickly onto her face, shattering her cool aloof exterior. “Damn! You don’t waste time with small talk do you?”

“Not when I find what I’m looking for, when I find someone worthy of what I have to offer.”

“And what is it you’re offering?”

“Freedom. I’m offering absolute freedom through total subservience.”

“Oh, you’re a dom then? I would have never guessed you were into all of that. You don’t dress the part,” she said as she stepped back to get a better view, taking in Samson’s Bruno Mali shoes, Hugo Boss jeans and Versace silk shirt.

“Why else would anyone come to a club like this?”

“Most people come because they have no idea what they want or what they are.”

Samson leaned over and breathed his next words directly into her ear. “Oh, I know exactly what I want and exactly what I am.” His deep, resonant voice vibrated against her earlobe as his lips brushed against her jaw line.

“And what’s that?”

“I’m looking for Life,” he said.

“Well, there’s no life here. Usually, only the lost come here. I think you’re looking for what we all are—love.”

“Love?” Samson laughed out loud, the bemused expression on his face bordering on pity. “My father always told me that there was no such thing as love. It was just a four letter word you used to get pussy. People toss it around too casually for it to mean anything. I don’t believe in love. Fuck love. My way is much better.”

She nodded, though her face appeared pained. “Yeah. Fuck love. It’s overrated. I haven’t really loved anything since my mother died when I was two years old. I never even got to know her. Only a smell I always imagined my mother would smell like, a mix of tea rose oil and a soft scent, like baby powder. I don’t even know if that’s how she really smelled. It’s just all I can remember.” She chuckled without mirth. “Two loveless souls finding each other, that’s quite the coincidence.”

“I don’t believe in coincidence. Everything happens for a reason,” Samson said. “It must be someone’s plan.”

“So you still believe in God?”

“I never said I didn’t. Who else would you blame for your mother’s death or my parent’s never giving a fuck about me, if He didn’t exist? I just don’t get His sense of humor.”

“Me neither, but then, I’m not a believer.” She wrapped her hands around his, curling his hand into a fist.

“Let’s get out of here,” he said.

“To where? Do you know where the after-hours party is?”

“The only party that matters is the one at my house. Do you want to party with me?” He smiled when he said it. Then he reached out and caressed her cheek with one hand while still holding her other hand. She returned his smile, her eyes already clouding with lust.

“I don’t do drugs or anything anymore. I’ve been clean for almost a year.”

“I’m not offering drugs. I’m offering me.”

“I’m not really into the whole B&D thing either. I don’t really get off on pain.”

“The type of submission I’m talking about doesn’t require whips and chains. I want you to submit your soul to me.”

“My soul?” her face twisted into a scowl and she stepped back from Samson as if he’d slapped her face, “What are you. some born again Christian or something? I told you, I don’t believe in God.”

“I said I wanted you to submit your soul to me, not Christ.”

“Well, that does sound kinky.” She smirked at him again, attempting to be coy and seductive.

“I want you to give me your immortal soul. Your soul…” He turned her hand so that the palm rested against his hard pectoral muscles, then began to slide her hand down his chest, over his rippling abs, over his belt buckle, to the thick swell of his cock bulging through his jeans. “…for my flesh.”

Her hand trembled as he slid it back up his body, over the striated muscles beneath his silk shirt and up to his pursed lips. He kissed each finger, then released her hand and let it fall back to her side. The woman took a deep breath to calm herself. Still, her voice shook when she spoke.

“That’s…that’s a pretty high price. Are you worth it?”

“It’s not so high a price for an atheist. If you don’t believe in God, then what do you need a soul for? This should be a bargain for you…and yes, I am worth it.”

He winked at her and licked his lips, looking her up and down.

“You’re pretty sure of yourself aren’t you? Shouldn’t you be the one offering me your soul to sleep with me?”

“Sex is easy to come by. You are beautiful, but beauty in a woman is expected. It’s not so terribly remarkable. Just look around this club. There are beautiful women everywhere. I could pull ten girls a night out of this club every bit as lovely as you. How about you? How many men like me could you pull out of this club?”

She took a head-to-toe appraisal. “Okay, so there aren’t a lot of men as fine as you. But is that worth my soul?”

“Come with me and find out.”

13

Samson was amazed at how easy this was. He had expected to meet far more resistance. Were he still a devout Christian he would have found it offensive how easy it was to talk a woman out of her soul. Samson lifted the woman off the bed as he continued to thrust deep inside of her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist. Most of her weight was supported by Samson’s hands cupping her buttocks as he slid her up and down his body, her clitoris rubbing against his washboard stomach even as his erection swelled within her. Her legs suddenly tightened around his waist. She whipped her head back and screamed. Her body began to buck and thrash as the first of many orgasms ripped through her like a hurricane.

“Who’s your God now?”

“You are! You Are! My soul to keep,” she said as he settled her back down onto the bed and began kissing his way down her body, still slick with their combined sweat. “My soul is yours to keep forever.”

Once again Samson marveled at how little the human soul was worth to those who possessed it. He could only hope it would be worth more to Him.

14

Samuel wondered when exactly his childhood died. When was that precise moment? When did he lose—without mourning—his ability to look about creation with a sense of awe and mystery? To have his soul astonished and eyes light up with glee because the world was rife with the amazing and unexpected? To be able to believe in miracles? That was what he longed for—to truly encounter the miraculous.

Samuel, for all of his talk about community, led a solitary existence. The sheets of his bed were pulled taut with a meticulous crispness. A chair rested under a free-standing light; he hated reading in bed because the words slurred together in a pool of slush as he drifted to sleep. A television set faced the chair on the opposite side of the room, but he had long ago lost the remote and never thought it worth the effort to cross the room to turn it on. To call it a life would be to infuse his world with color and vibrance often found wanting. No, he chose his gray, contemplative way, a monk’s solitude as if balancing some scales only he saw. Making up for Samson’s life. Foolishness, he knew. God didn’t work that way—leave Karma to the Buddhists.

“O God, by the life, death and resurrection of Your only begotten Son, You purchased for us the rewards of eternal life; grant, we beseech You, that while meditating on these mysteries…we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.”

This morning, the walk from his chambers to the main vestibule proved especially long. The days of gothic architecture were a thing of the past, but Samuel couldn’t help but feel nostalgic for the shadows and arches that stretched within cavernous cathedrals. A call to glory made terrifying, he thought. Our Lady of Mount Carmel, though quite cavernous, was bright and cheery. A fountain spurted mildly in the lobby beneath a statue of Mary. The lights were too brilliant and somehow off-putting. He knew before he took his seat in the confessional that he would regret getting up this morning.

“I did it again, Sammy.”

“Samson?”

“I met a woman at the club. She was so lost, so alone. After we made love she told me all about how she’d grown up without a father, how her mother had only been fifteen when she gave birth to her so she’d been raised mostly by her grandmother. She told me about getting pregnant herself when she was fourteen and having an abortion and how it still plagues her when she thinks about how old her child would have been if it had been born. She cries every year on what would have been her child’s birthday. She was young and didn’t know anything about life and she’d been taken advantage of by a much older man. That’s when she stopped believing in God. I guess the guy was very active in the church and no one believed her when she told them that he was the father of her child. Her grandmother slapped her for it. Still, with all the animosity she had built up inside her toward the church and God, she had the hardest time signing the contract when it came down to it. She even cried after she signed it.”

“You’ve got to stop this, Samson. You need to think about your own soul for a minute.”

“I’ve known that I was going to hell for a long time, Samuel. I’ve broken commandments God hadn’t thought about giving us. There’s no hope for me.”

“I know that you think you’ve wasted your life, but look at all you’ve accomplished, how successful and famous you are.”

“If I die it won’t matter. The world won’t stop spinning.”

“It will matter to me. Don’t you care if you live or die? Is your life that bad? That…empty?” Samuel touched the screen that separated them in the confines of the booth.

“I care, Bro. Believe me, I care. But I also care about you.”

“I don’t know what you think you’re doing or why, but intentions don’t count. Caring doesn’t count. How you live is what counts. Did you really think you’re life’s purpose was to protect me?”

“You’re all I’ve got, Samuel. All we have is each other.”

“Then why take the one decent thing in your life and strip it of all meaning? Everything I’ve done, everything I’ve stood for…this goes against all of it. You have so much anger inside you. You define yourself by your mind and your body; you trust yourself too much, have too much faith in who you are. You’ve gotten by on your looks and your charm and it’s pretty much gotten you everything you wanted out of life, but you are still hurting. You use sex to cover your pain and self-loathing, to be a balm on the emptiness of your life. I think that’s how you see God: He’s just another irresponsible father who refuses to follow through on His responsibilities.”

“Well, isn’t He? How many times have you prayed to Him to cure you? How many times did we pray for Dad not to beat us? How many children are praying right now while they starve or die of diseases or neglect or abuse? Isn’t God just like our father who art on earth? Hasn’t he ignored us the exact same goddamned way? But then Dad didn’t ignore you did he? He only ignored me. He loved you.”

“See? Things always come back to Dad.”

“Fuck Dad! If he doesn’t love me then I don’t love him either. I’m over all that childhood shit. I’m talking about you and me.”

“I know. You have all of this distrust and anger and then God has the nerve to take away your best friend.”

“That’s right. That’s exactly what He’s fucking doing. God doesn’t give a fuck about either one of us. He didn’t stop you from getting sick and He hasn’t stopped me from…”

“From what?”

“Nothing. It’s too late for me.”

“Jesus forgives, Samson. He forgives us all. I don’t believe in pat answers to difficult questions. I wrestle with my faith every day. But, this isn’t about me, it’s about you. It’s always been about you. Your needs. Your redemption.”

“I don’t want His forgiveness. Not for me anyway. He should be asking for my forgiveness. I just want Him to stop punishing you for my sins.”

“Is that what you think? You think this is all happening to me just to punish you?”

“I’ve got to go, Sammy.”

“Is that what you think?”

The door to the confessional opened and Samson rose to leave.

“I love you, Bro.”

“Wait! What about your penance?”

“Save it. There is no penance for me.”

The door to the confessional closed. Minutes later, it opened again and the next parishioner shuffled in.

“Bless me father for I have sinned…”

Haven’t we all. Samuel thought as tears welled up in his eyes. Haven’t we all.

15

“Can I take your coat?” Samson held out his hands. Bare-chested and shoeless, wearing only a pair of jeans, his body glistened in the light of the bright moon. Tara brushed past him with a knowing linger of her weight against him. She slipped from her thin jacket in a fluid motion. She reeked of alcohol and stale smoke, reporting promptly from her interrupted evening at Requiem for his booty call. “Here, I’ll take your purse, too, if you’d like.”

“My, aren’t we being the complete gentleman?”

“You make it sound as if I’m usually not a gentleman.”

“I’ll let you know when I want you gentle.”

“Goes with the spirit of the evening. If I gave you my belt, would that make you happy?”

“Well, let’s just say I plan on putting it to good use later.”

“Promises, promises.”

Tara’s long black hair had been pulled into a loose ponytail, highlighting her dove-like eyes and practiced smile. Her electric blue satin camisole bobbed merrily with each step, matching the bounce of her freed breasts. A black leather miniskirt showcased her toasted almond complexion. Samson led her to his spacious living room. Haunting, tuneless strains of hip-hop influenced jazz emanated as dull beats from his speakers. Spartan by design as well as necessity, the unadorned walls held a bleakness about them. With no knickknacks along his shelves, the room was impersonal. Cold.

Only a picture of him and Samuel, in much younger and happier days, rested on the mantle above the faux fireplace next to a stand with a Japanese Samurai sword and two other smaller swords. Tara immediately gravitated to it, running her fingers over the swords. She removed the bushido blade from the stand and ran the sharpened edge over her tongue, bathing the cold steel with her saliva. The very tip cut into her tongue and her blood ran down the blade. She began to dance with it, a striptease, sliding the blade across her breasts, over her belly, down between her legs, leaving trails of her own blood and saliva.

Samson sat, mesmerized by the dance. If she’d wanted to, she could have cut his throat before he could have so much as blinked, he was so enthralled. When she slid the sword back into its sheath and replaced it on the stand, he sighed his disappointment; he’d wanted to see more.

His heart skipped with apprehension when she picked up the picture of Samuel and him. The sight of her cradling it quickened the pulse at his temples, inviting a sliver of doubt that tugged at his insides as he wondered what his brother would think. Not that his brother had many positive things to say about how Samson chose to live his life. Samuel tended to keep his disapproval to himself, carrying himself without judgment of Samson, which was why Samson remained close to him. Samson couldn’t remember the last time he spoke to their mother. With something akin to remorse threatening to stir within him, he wiped a cold sweat from his forehead. His course was set. After several deep, calming breaths, he steeled himself to his course of action; he had simply come too far to turn back. He took the picture from Tara and set it face down.

“Would you like something to drink?” Samson asked.

“Whatever you’re having.”

The best thing about being “Samson,” he often thought, was the multitude of connections he managed to make. People always wanted to be able to get their hands on whatever, whenever. From celebrities to lowlifes, he mixed with them all because you never knew who could provide. So he was never in want of alcohol or drugs, no matter how exotic. Tara took the glass from him and stepped nearer in order to kiss him passionately, reveling in the heat of his musk. She ran her hands along his naked back before letting her hand trail down to the bulge in his pants. Taking a large swallow of his drink, he proceeded to kiss her neck then work his way lower, running his tongue along her belly. He slipped his hand under her camisole and teased her nipple. Samson poured some of his drink into her navel and sipped. Tara leaned back against the couch and languidly drank. Like a boy unwrapping a Christmas gift, his free hand unzipped her miniskirt. A lone tuft, like a pubic soul patch, greeted him.

“Do you know what a covenant is?” Samson asked.

“Mmm-hmmm.”

“It’s a binding agreement between two people. In the Old Testament, you didn’t make a covenant, you cut a covenant.”

“Sounds kinky,” she cooed.

“You see, I have this problem. The contract you signed, it wasn’t enough. Just words on a page, not especially binding, less so with all the lawyers we have today. So we need some sort of, well, sacrifice might be too strong of a word, but it gets the point across. It just sounds so dramatic, you know.”

“Can’t…” Tara’s eyes glazed and her glass tipped from her unmoving hand. Samson moved toward her, checking for a pulse before squatting to lock eyes with her. He took another breath, scooped her up, then lowered her onto the rug in the center of his room.

“Yeah. That would be the tetrodotoxin extract taking effect. It’s a paralytic agent, the same base voodoo practitioners use to make zombies. You can’t move, but you’ll remain conscious. I slipped you a couple roofies, too, just to make certain. That’s important, because people, whatever their role, should enter into things with their eyes wide open.”

Tara’s lamb-like mewling began in earnest, following Samson as he left the room. Her protests increased when Samson crossed the room to remove the Japanese tanto knife from the stand of samurai swords.

“I guess this brings us back to cutting the covenant.” Samson stood between her legs. “The two parties kill an animal and cut it down the middle. Then they lay the halves opposite each other and walk between them as they make a vow: ‘May God do this and more to me if I break this covenant. This is a blood covenant and cannot be broken.’”

Samson slid the knife from its sheath and placed it between her legs. A true Samurai was said to be able to sever limbs, heads, and even cut an enemy in half with one clean stroke. Unfortunately, Samson was not a true Samurai. The blade wasn’t as sharp as he had hoped. He made a mess of Tara’s body, carving repeatedly at her pelvic bone, trying to cut her in half, reducing her sex to a bloody ruin as he brought the blade down again and again as if he were chopping a block of wood. Her eyes were wild, screaming soundlessly, trying to do the work her paralyzed vocal chords could not manage. He hacked and slashed through meat, bone, and organs, wielding the blade more like a hatchet than a knife. Her breath quickened, chest rising up and down, panting like a dog. She was going into shock from the pain and blood loss. Her body began to convulse violently, thrashing on the floor like a woman in the grips of a titanic orgasm, saliva and blood foaming up out of her mouth. She had bitten through her bottom lip and it unhinged on one side and hung down her chin, giving her a lopsided grin. Fat bubbled up like bright yellow popcorn from the gashes and avulsions he’d chopped in her flesh. Samson dropped down onto all fours, his stomach heaving desperate spasms against his spine as he regurgitated the last vestiges of his stomach contents into the widening pool of blood.

Samson was still dizzy when the spell of nausea subsided. Saliva mixed with vomit dripped from his mouth and chin which he wiped with the back of his fist before gripping the hilt of the tanto knife in both hands. He rose to his feet, his stomach threatening to revolt again as he studied the butchered meat between Tara’s thighs. Samson sucked the scalding bile back down his throat, then turned and snatched the sword from the mantle. It was sharper, heavier. He swung it in a wide arc down at Tara’s groin, wielding it the way he’d seen it done in countless movies as a boy. He turned his head as blood and bone flew into the air when he wrenched the sword from her groin for another strike, trying his best not to throw up again. He had no idea at what point Tara finally died. When he had last peered into her eyes as he hewed at her pelvis with the tanto knife, she’d still been completely conscious, eyes still trying their best to convey their pain and terror as if she thought to reach some last remnant of humanity within him. By the time he’d gone for the sword, she’d begun those corybantic convulsions, growing still only after he’d chopped halfway through her pelvis. Her chest had continued to rise and fall until he’d cut well up into her abdomen, breathing out her last breaths as her bisected intestines spilled out onto the floor on either side of her.

The ribcage was considerably easier.

Images reverberated in his mind—the echo of the knife cracking into her, the sword slicing through the meat of her breast and bursting ribs, the sight of her organs spilling out of her divided torso and her head falling free from her neck. It took nearly twenty minutes but he managed to cut her completely in half and separate her head from her shoulders. Chunks of strawberry red pulp spattered his arms, face, and chest.

The horror of what he’d done slowly sank in. He knew that he’d had to do it, to save his brother. If there had ever been any hope of him one day entering heaven, he’d surely ended that with his…offering. He’d have to come up with something better for his next meeting with Jacque. Perhaps he’d forego cutting him in half. He knew he wouldn’t have the heart for that again; it was just too damned messy. The main thing was the spirit of the law, the contract and the blood. Death for life. Twenty for one. You live and learn.

Samson was confident that the effete little photographer would sign the contract. His loneliness trailed like a palpable fog around him, one that none of his expensive perfumes and makeups, his airs and affectations, could disperse. He’d sign the contract and Samson would cut his soul from his chest.

A surge of exhilaration swept through Samson as his stomach settled. He had broken the final commandment, had completely defied the will of God. He took a moment to wonder if perhaps he was starting to enjoy the ego boost he got from having someone sign their soul over to him, the feeling of power he was enjoying now. Samson began to wonder if he was really still in this for his brother. He had to admit that even as revolting as the process of dismantling Tara’s body had been, killing made him feel like a god.

16

“Is this thing for real?” Jacque barely let a few days pass before calling Samson to set up another date. He made a show of examining the contract again.

“What did your lawyers say?” Samson reclined on a velvet loveseat in the VIP room of Club 7, one of the most exclusive nightclubs in San Francisco. Society’s elite packed the room, including a smattering of TV and movie stars, rock, pop, and hip-hop stars, and models like himself, rubbing elbows with businessmen and mafiosos. Everyone seemed to be high on something. A bottle of Moet rested between Samson’s legs, lines of cocaine covered the table in front of him. He casually leaned over and snorted one, wiping his nose with the sleeve of his Versace shirt.

Jacque sat on a recliner next to him with a dusting of cocaine ringing each nostril. His eyes twinkled from the Ecstasy he’d taken earlier in the evening and the cocaine fueled his passions to blinding, manic heights. Two of his usual boy toys hovered in the background casting jealous glares at Samson behind Jacque’s back. Samson flicked them both the finger and then ran his hand down between his legs to seize his cock, brandishing it at them as if it were a weapon. Jacque was so high and so focused on Samson that he misinterpreted the gesture as some type of crude come-on and licked his lips in reply. Samson rolled his eyes and chuckled to himself.

“So? What did your lawyers say about the contract?”

“My lawyers say it’s an air-tight contract. They just aren’t sure what it’s actually for.”

“Just what it appears to be. It is a contract giving me all rights, powers, and privileges, including the right of ownership, of your immortal soul.”

Jacque laughed.

“But you can’t be serious. I mean what does that even mean?”

“It means that when you die your soul won’t go to heaven or Nirvana or fucking Valhalla or wherever it’s supposed to go. It won’t go to hell. It would revert to me.”

Jacque smiled, opening his mouth wide without laughing. His eyes were still sparkling like diamonds in a volcano.

“Soooo, then you’d have two souls? What good would that do you?”

“I’d have much more than that.”

Jacque leaned over and took the bottle of Moet from between Samson’s legs. He drank the remaining champagne straight from the bottle in long gulps until it was almost empty.

“Well, I don’t believe in all of that religious bullshit. When you’re dead, you’re dead. And when you’re alive, you’re alive.”

“Then you shouldn’t mind parting with your fictitious soul.”

Samson took the bottle of Moet from Jacque’s hands, maintaining eye contact the entire time, and drained the last of the champagne.

“To fuck you? I wouldn’t give a fuck if there really was such a thing as a soul. Spending the rest of eternity with my soul in the possession of such a beautiful man would be my idea of paradise anyway. Heaven would be a drag. Do you think they even fuck in heaven?”

“Probably not. Best to get in all your fucking down here while you can.” Samson produced a hypodermic needle. Jacque’s eyes widened in fear. He shook his head slowly back and forth.

“I don’t do the hard stuff.”

“No. This isn’t heroine. This is to take a little bit of your blood. The contract has to be signed in blood.”

“Oh, Jesus! Are you serious? Honey, you are just too melodramatic.”

“Maybe. Still, that’s the only way you’re getting a piece of me.”

Jacque stared at Samson for a long moment with the hypodermic needle between them in Samson’s outstretched hand. Samson smiled when he saw the first hint of fear break through the photographer’s façade. For a split second the flamboyant fashionista appeared almost sad—his eyes moistened and his bottom lip quivered. Then he sighed and took the needle from Samson’s hand.

“Fuck it. You only live once right? This could be the most expensive piece of ass I’ve ever had. You’d better be worth it. Oh, you know what I heard? I heard that Icon magazine has you in the running for this year’s “world’s sexiest man.” Can you believe that, shit? Now I’ll be able to say that I fucked the world’s sexiest man. What a trip!”

“Yeah. What a trip.”

Jacque slid the needle into the thin blue vein in the crook of his elbow and drew out his blood with an ease and sureness that belied his assertion that he wasn’t into hard drugs. He signed his name on the contract in a theatrical calligraphy and slid it back to Samson. Samson smiled and stroked the blade strapped to his thigh beneath his loose-fitting Tommy Hilfiger jeans. He was so excited that his erection was almost as hard as the knife that had inspired it.

“Let’s go to my place.”

17

Samuel remembered a night, soon after he got his license, when he and Samson were following some girls home after a party. Ostensibly it was to make sure they got home safe and had nothing to do with the fact that the girls were having a sleepover and the brothers were trying to crash it.

The road was four lanes of street and the tract of land it cut through contained overdeveloped lots of expensive subdivisions. Back then, the road was a long, straight, poorly lit stretch, going from two lanes down to one whenever it came to one of its frequent bridges. Samuel knew it well and was used to playing chicken with oncoming traffic, other cars yielding to let him pass. Too late, he saw movement along the shoulder of the road, a black Labrador retriever charging into the range of his headlights. Samson cried out “Watch it!” but there was no time to swerve.

Everything moved quickly after that. The braking squeal of the tires interrupted by the double thump of something hitting the car. Samuel saw flashes of two bodies coming over the windshield, suddenly feeling worse that he had hit a mother and her pup. Pulling the car over, he watched the taillights of the girl’s car speed off into the night, oblivious to what had happened. The brothers sat there for a minute, Samson’s hand still locked onto the dashboard, having braced himself for impact. Samuel’s heart fired against his chest, pistoning so fast he didn’t know if he’d ever catch his breath again.

“You all right?” he asked with a weak voice. Samson only nodded. They opened the doors to survey the damage. Blood smeared the window and streaks of shit trailed along the car. Wet, rasping winces led them to the brush along the side of the road where Samson found the mother, or rather, what was left of her.

Blood was everywhere; pools slowly formed, Samuel was amazed at the body’s ability to keep going, to fight for life even when all hope was gone. The dog’s breathing was reduced to gasping puffs of steam in the cool night air. Samson knelt beside it, the blood staining his hands and clothes, and put his hand on the poor beast’s chest, letting it feel his warmth and presence until it finally stopped breathing. The sight of his brother, kneeling and covered in blood, haunted Samuel. The picture of both horror and compassion – he looked so lost, so in need of someone to guide him, and Samuel never felt up to the task.

At times like these Samuel wished that his father was still alive. The man had been hard and sometimes even cold but he was the wisest man Samuel had ever known. He told it like it was, even when it was all fucked up. Samuel needed that type of counsel right now, to know what to do about Samson. Consulting with other priests left him feeling like he was some sort of tattle-tale, yet he didn’t want to take it to God in prayer either. As if somehow that wasn’t keeping everything between him and his brother. This was ironic considering he often chastised others in his parish about the ridiculousness of that type of thinking. “You can’t hide anything from God. Your confessions have to be complete and honest.” But he was having a hard time following his own advice.

He cracked open his Bible and began reading, finding himself going over the words without really thinking about them. All he could think about was his crazy brother out there collecting souls to ransom for his life. It was the most outlandish thing he’d ever heard. Samuel forced himself to go back and reread all the passages he’d just read, this time concentrating on the words, trying to force himself to think about the verses. But once again he began daydreaming about Samson, preoccupied with the madness of his mission and one nagging question: “What if it works? What if Sam really gets God to let me off the hook? Would I be okay with that? Would I let all those women lose their souls to save my life?”

It wasn’t his life that he was afraid of losing. It was his dignity. He was afraid of the humiliation of a slow, agonizing death. He didn’t want to break out in rashes and melanomas all over his body and lose weight until he was some emaciated scarecrow so weak and brittle that he could barely stand. Nkosi was his living nightmare. He chastised himself for his pride and tried to read the Bible again, but the tears welling up in his eyes blurred all the letters. He began to pray because sometimes that was all there was left to do. No magic formula, only feeble words, the jumble of nouns and verbs he hoped came together to tilt God’s ear in his direction. He only wanted to be heard, if not answered in the way he’d have liked.

“I don’t want to die like that. Oh God, I’m so afraid. Give me strength, Lord. Give me the strength to endure this test.”

18

“Stop! Stop! Jesus! This isn’t what I wanted!” Jacque screamed.

“But it’s what I want.” Samson smiled as he checked the leather restraints around Jacque’s wrists and ankles. The photographer was lashed to a seven foot crucifix in his basement “playroom” by thick leather cuffs secured with steel bolts. Samson cracked a thick leather bullwhip across the photographer’s back, drawing more blood as the braided tip broke the sound barrier and sliced through his skin, reducing the blood to a pink mist as it tossed the spray back into the air.

“Oh God, God, Jesus, God, no. I can’t take it! Let me down you sick motherfucker!”

“All you have to do is say the safe word if you want me to stop.”

“You didn’t give me a fucking safe word!”

Samson cracked the whip again, spraying more blood into the air.

Perspiration washed down Jacque as he strained against the nerve-rending agony in his back and buttocks. Samson watched the salty sweat run into the man’s wounds, knowing it amplified his anguish. Strips of skin and flesh hung from his back like tattered silk, curled up where the whip had flayed it away from the muscle, cutting deep lacerations whose pain must have run clean through to the bone.

Samson steadily increased the intensity of the torture, slowly letting go of all pretense of consent. A profusion of safety pins pierced Jacques nipples and even more were clustered in his scrotum. Jacque had been okay with that, not issuing a single complaint as Samson threaded each pin through the wrinkled flesh surrounding his testicles. He hadn’t begun to complain until he’d felt the first sting of the whip.

“That’s too hard! You’ll draw blood like that.”

“Relax. I know what I’m doing.”

“What are you doing with that cat? That’s just for show. You’re not going to really use that on me are you?”

“Jacque, I’m going to do whatever the hell I want to you. I own you remember? Body and soul.”

From the look on his face, Jacque got the first notion that he was in trouble. Blood rained down his chest, back, and legs. Occasionally Samson let the whip stray low and its ruinous tip bit into Jacque’s perforated nutsack, causing the photographer to convulse in such pain he almost puked.

“When you want me to stop all you have to do is say ‘Kill me.’ Then your suffering ends.”

“I signed your fucking contract! I just wanted to fuck. What do you want from me?”

“Oh, you know what I want.”

“You’re going to kill me aren’t you?”

“How else am I supposed to get your soul? Wait for you to finally OD? No, by then it will be too late. I need it now.”

“But why? I never did shit to you! I haven’t done anything to you! Why are you doing this to me?”

Samson stood naked in a widening puddle of Jacque’s blood. He dropped the bullwhip and Jacque breathed an exhausted sigh of relief until he caught the glint of steel in Samson’s hand. His breath seized in his chest.

“No. No. Oh, God. No. Why? Why?”

“Because I don’t like you, Jacque. You are a pompous, egotistical, manipulative parasite. And I love my brother. You are going to die so that he can live. But first I am going to enjoy myself. You wanted to fuck? Let’s fuck. But I’m kind of big and you look kind of tight back there. I think I’m going to have to widen you up a bit before I can fit.”

The knife bored its way inside Jacque and slowly rotated. He screamed and kicked and fought against his restraints. He had briefly passed out by the time Samson replaced the knife with his own turgid flesh. Samson’s hard thrusting deep inside of him awakened him. Like a caressing finger, he ran the knife along Jacque’s belly. Almost as an afterthought, Samson sliced from the photographer’s abdomen to his throat.

“You still won’t get my soul.” Blood bubbled up from the photographer’s mouth as he spoke, spraying from his lips and dripping off his chin onto his blood-drenched chest.

“Oh, no? And why is that? You signed a contract. In blood. Your soul is mine!”

“But I never owned it. It wasn’t mine to sell.”

Samson paused. Intestines flopped out of the massive gash in the photographer’s torso as blood poured out in sheets. It was amazing that the man could still talk. In fact, it was impossible.

“What do you mean you never owned it?”

“I sold my soul to the devil back when I was a teenager. See, according to my parents, I was already condemned to hell for being gay so I figured, what the hell did I have to lose? So I sold my soul for fame and fortune, and the opportunity to fuck the sexiest men in the world.”

Jacque’s voice grew weaker, little more than a whisper. Samson felt the photographer’s heartbeat against the knife, slowly fading. The photographer laughed and more blood sprayed from his lips. Samson withdrew himself from the man and walked around to face him.

“Bullshit!”

All of the blood had drained from the photographer’s face. He already looked like a corpse.

“Oh, it’s true. It’s all true. You’ll see. You wanted my soul so bad, well you’ve got it, but I think you’re going to have to fight to keep it.”

“Fuck you!”

He grabbed Jacque by his chin and jerked his head back as he began sawing through the man’s esophagus, trying to remove his head. Gurgling sounds continued to come from the photographer’s throat as Samson slashed through it with the blade. It sounded as if Jacque were still laughing at him.

19

Evil had to have a face.

Samuel left it to smarter people than he to argue the finer philosophical points about the nature and origins of evil. He was more practical. He knew it when he saw it. True evil had to be incarnated—the brutality humanity was capable of inflicting on itself—or worse, experienced. In all of his years in the priesthood, he had learned much about the darkness, the shadow that trailed people. He saw it as a process, a corruption, much like the virus that slowly ate away at some of the very things that made him human. A stalking entropy from within that created moral blind spots, that allowed people to treat each other badly. He feared for any who got caught up in the rush, the confidence that came from it.

Evil had to have a face; only now, Samuel feared that face belonged to Samson.

Ever since the incident where he and his brother hit the dog, Samuel hated driving at night. He loathed the swirling bundle of neuroses that accompanied him every time he got behind the wheel, though it grew worse at night, the rataplan of his heart as he turned onto poorly lit roads. He hated negotiating the darkness through the vision of his headlights, but he had to get to Samson’s.

Samuel knew that he and Samson were inextricably linked, sharing a special connection, an inner language that only they understood. They had a bond forged from years of relying on each other, and Samuel had too long ignored the feeling that his brother was in trouble. Needed him. Samson was so disillusioned, as if God had pulled on a thread of the tapestry of his world and forced Samson to watch it all unravel around him. And it would be so like Samson to embrace the darkness, the nightmares, the hurt, rather than flee to the light.

If he had faith that there was light left to flee to, Samuel supposed.

Even Samuel didn’t know what to think of a God who was in meticulous control of everything yet allowed atrocities to happen, of one who stood back like some master chess player, moving people around, arbitrarily allowing horror into their lives. Maybe he didn’t know God at all or didn’t understand how He worked. It was difficult to reconcile all of the depictions of God that he’d been taught. Samuel had questions, but he didn’t know if the answers would terrify him more than not knowing.

Yet he couldn’t just give up on Samson, couldn’t abandon him. Something stirred Samuel, tugging at his heart like a nagging spirit. Part of him knew why he had sat back and done nothing for far too long. Should Samson’s scheme work, Samuel’s hands would be guilt free. He hadn’t done anything wrong and certainly couldn’t be held responsible. He prayed that he wasn’t too late to undo his mistake.

Samson was still a creature of habit, keeping a spare key hidden in the light fixture. He might as well have a lit neon sign that read “I left it unlocked. I dare your dumb ass to enter.”

Samuel wandered around the place, as it had been years since he’d been invited. The drift in their closeness began when he had entered the priesthood. The decision alone had started a rift, but his vows made it official. The way Samson saw the situation, it was the first time God interfered in their lives.

A noxious scent wafted in from the kitchen. Precariously stacked dishes lined the counter, tumbled piles slid into the sink. Remnants of hastily prepared meals teemed with small black ants. The plates that bobbed above the surface of the water, thick with bloated bits of food, sported various shades of mold. Samuel quickly retreated from there and shut the door behind him.

The living room wasn’t what Samuel expected to see from his brother’s place, every bit the enigma Samson had become. Clean lines. Everything meticulously in its place. The pile of coasters neatly stacked on the corner of the coffee table. Rows of alphabetized CDs alongside a shelf of books arranged in descending size. The incomplete set of samurai swords. The sole item warming the sterile feel of the room was the framed photo on the mantle. Samuel picked it up, noting that not a speck of dust rested on neither the mantle nor picture. His mind drifted to the story of Moses.

People knew the burning bush Moses. The “let my people go” Moses. The parting the Red Sea Moses. The Ten Commandments Moses. They forgot the “I’ve sinned and can’t go on” Moses. For forty years, he had wandered the desert alongside the Israelites, listening to their grumbling and complaining. Though the Lord had provided for them at every turn, sending manna and quail from heaven for food, leading them, providing signs for them, still they murmured. Until one day, Moses snapped. Slamming his staff into rocks, he summoned water. However, the act dishonored God, demonstrated a lack of faith, and for that, he was not allowed to lead them into the Promised Land. At the end, though, Moses charged his people with a message of hope. Though disappointed, he had come to accept God’s judgment.

Samuel longed for that peace, then wondered who was he to think that he deserved peace.

He sat on the couch, imagining what life would be like if he had made different choices. Stretching out his arms, he sank into its embrace, a knot of jealousy working itself in his belly. To be Samson. To have women at his beck and call. To have “the life.” The pangs of envy gave way to something else. He barely noticed it at first, like a slight breeze on a hot day. He sensed that something was off. That he wasn’t alone.

All about him, something powerful and old poisoned the air, perhaps toying with his mind. The coffee table suddenly pulled back. The lines of the room canted to odd angles, as if the veil of reality were being tugged back. His ears filled with the roar of ocean waves crashing into rocks. He studied the couch. The surface was clean, but beneath, the stains remained. Something bad had happened here. Something…defiling. The couch bled; life sprayed from it as if from a severed artery. His soul shriveled against the gnawing that threatened to overwhelm him. An ancient hunger demanding more. Never satisfied, all consuming, a shadow devouring his very being. The roar in his ears turned to laughter. Deep, mocking laughter.

And the blood. On his hands, on his clothes, in his mouth. His stomach lurched. Samuel made a mad dash toward the bathroom, diving for the toilet before spilling his meal into the porcelain. He staggered back to the couch. It seemed ordinary enough now, and he prayed that no one would show him anything different. He reached for a mint from the bowl of candy that sat on the end table when he noticed the book of matches.

Requiem.

20

Jacque’s soul crawled beneath Samson’s skin, worming its way into his muscles and vascular system, pumping through his veins into his heart and invading the thin capillaries of his brain. As he walked the dark streets on his way to the nightclub, he could feel it working deeper and deeper until it invaded every cell. This was the sensation he had expected to feel with Tara’s soul, this marrying of his flesh and spirit to hers, but he had felt nothing. With Jacque, the man’s soul had become a part of him until, at some subatomic level, they were joined.

Samson walked faster, eager to get to the club. His adrenaline was racing. Sweat beaded on his skin as he nearly jogged the remaining blocks to Requiem.

A cold chill raised goose bumps on his neck and arms, causing Samson to stop suddenly in the middle of the sidewalk. As if he had walked through a frozen spider web, and now it was all over him.

Samson began to tremble as he felt the presence of another soul. Tara. He could feel her fly to him as if she had been lingering around all along waiting for someone to show her the way inside. She followed Jacque, letting him lead the way. Tara’s whimsical spirit shrieked in horror as it coated his skin and began to slowly seep into him.

“Welcome home, Tara.”

Samson started walking again, though his flesh felt bloated as he neared the club. He was certain that everyone he passed on the street could see the other entities within him, rippling beneath the surface of his skin like cats fighting beneath a blanket. Gradually, the riot of souls quieted down as they submerged deeper and deeper, migrating from his flesh into his own immortal spirit. Samson smiled as their warmth filled him, replacing the chill in his bones with their vibrant energy, like warm brandy on a cold winter night. This was not an unpleasant feeling at all.

With only two souls, Samson knew his blood covenant was far from complete. He needed more. If God was watching, He would be coming for him soon. Coming to claim what was His. If Jacque was telling the truth, someone else might be coming as well. At any rate, Samson knew he didn’t have much more time. He also knew that getting women or even men to sign the contract would be a slow process. It would be quicker to just rip the souls right out of them. But then they wouldn’t technically belong to him and God might simply take them back. The contracts had to be signed for this to work.

The line to the club stretched all the way to the end of the block. The excitement of those waiting to get inside electrified the air. Each and every one of them would be affecting airs of cool aloofness once they were let in, despite the annoying puppy-dog enthusiasm they currently displayed.

At the front of the line two large bouncers in black turtlenecks and leather jackets manned the door. A thin wannabe model with platinum blonde hair wore a baby tee with the words “Porn Star” emblazoned across the front of it, a miniskirt, white tights, red hip boots and a white faux fur coat. Another bouncer stood behind her, manning the guest list and the VIP line; his steroid enhanced muscles bulged through the layer of leather.

Samson stared her up and down, thinking she had a far greater chance of becoming a porn star than the model she imagined herself to be. Her face lit up when she saw him.

“Samson! I heard you were spotted at Club 7 the other night partying with Jacque Willet? I hope you aren’t going to break all of our hearts and tell us you decided to play for the other team?”

He leaned over and whispered in her ear, reaching inside her fur jacket and hefting one of her saline-filled mammaries, rubbing the nipple with his thumb as he spoke.

“Why don’t you meet me up in VIP as soon as you get a break and I’ll let you decide for yourself what team I’m on. Pick out a few other lovelies to join you. I’m celebrating a new contract tonight.”

Samson checked his pockets. In his shirt pocket he had a prescription bottle labeled Acetaminophen. Eight hundred milligrams written out to Jacque Willet. Samson knew there was anything but Tylenol in that bottle. It contained at least twenty hits of Ecstasy.

He opened the bottle, and pulled out one of the pills that he popped it into her mouth. She sucked his fingertips lasciviously before she swallowed the pill.

“Tell them the party favors are on me tonight.” Samson kissed the little porn star, tasting the bitter chalkiness of the Ecstasy. Then he unhooked the velvet rope that separated them and walked past her into the club.

The flashing lights, the artificial smoke, the club goers in lace, leather, and latex, gave the club a haunted house ambiance that Samson found rather silly most nights, but tonight it felt almost inviting, as if everyone in the club sensed the bloodbath that was about to ensue and welcomed it. Grateful to be released from their pathetic pseudo-death, their garish mockery of the undead. Grateful for a chance to experience the real thing.

Samson checked his other pockets as he dove into the sea of humanity, sweating and gyrating around him, their flesh pulsating and undulating with the techno drum beat. In his pants pocket he found what remained of Jacque’s stash of cocaine. It might be hard for Samson to find enough people willing to sell their souls for sex, but in a club like Requiem, he was willing to bet they would line up to sign the contract in exchange for a few lines of coke and some Ecstasy. Killing them all afterward would be the most difficult, but also, certainly, the most enjoyable.

Samson approached another bouncer. He was dressed identically to the ones outside, right down to the hormone enhanced physique, except that he was white and had blonde dreadlocks down to his ass.

“Hey Samson, what’s crackalackin’, Bro?”

“Hey, Milton. How do the ladies look tonight?”

“There’s some thoroughbreds mingling about. A dime piece or two here and there. You know what I’m sayin’?”

Samson hated white boys who affected black slang. He found it offensive and condescending. It made what he was planning a lot easier to stomach.

“Hey Milt, you want some X, man?”

“You ain’t sellin’ that shit in here are you?” Milton brushed his dreadlocks away from his eyes and narrowed them at Samson.

“Nope, this is just for my friends.”

The bouncer glanced up and down the stairs to be certain no one else was watching. There were so many people wearing dark or mirrored sunglasses in the Stygian gloom of the nightclub that Samson wasn’t certain how the man would have known if anyone was watching or not.

“All right then, what you got?”

“Coke or X. Whatever you need.”

“How about a little of both?”

“There’s one catch though.”

Milton crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at Samson suspiciously.

“Yeah, and what’s that?”

“I have this contract that gives me ownership of your soul. You sign it and you get to fly for free tonight.”

“Man, you crazy!”

“I’m serious. I’m collecting souls tonight and you’re my first.”

“You want my soul? Like a vampire or some shit? I didn’t think you were into all this Goth shit. But all right, what the fuck then. Let’s do it! Give me that shit. I’ll sign it. But I want a little more than just some drugs if I’m going to give up my soul. You know what I’m sayin’?”

He moved in closer to Samson until his erection pressed against Samson’s leg. In the black lights, the whites of Milton’s eyes and teeth shone neon green, creating a gruesome ghostly effect. With his thick nest of dreadlocks swirling around his head he looked like a wild banshee. Samson gripped the knife in his pocket, eager to draw the man’s blood, drain out his soul drop by drop. Even in his relationships with other men, it seemed to always come down to sex. He’d have to examine that with his therapist one day.

“I didn’t know you were gay.”

The bouncer smirked. “Look, I ain’t gay. I fuck around a little bit here and there, but I ain’t gay. I might be bi or some shit like that. I ain’t never let nobody fuck me in the ass if that’s what you mean. I do the pitchin’. You know I’m sayin’? But I just ain’t never seen a muthafucka as pretty as you. I just want to make out with you a little. We don’t even have to fuck. You can just jack me off or some shit like that.”

Samson smiled. Killing this one would be fun. “Some place private then?”

“We’ve got a little closet up in the VIP room. I’ve got the key.”

Samson followed him up into VIP and into the closet, laughing quietly at the irony. Milton flipped on a light switch and a tiny fluorescent bulb in the back flicked on. The closet was empty except for some old boxes filled with party decorations from Christmas, New Years, Valentine’s Day, and various other assorted holidays. They shuffled back amongst the Styrofoam Santas and Easter eggs and big cardboard hearts until Samson’s back touched the wall.

“How about that X?” Milton’s eyes already twinkled with the effects of some type of amphetamine, his pupils were the size of silver dollars.

Samson popped open the little prescription bottle and handed him one. The bouncer swallowed it dry, grinning wide in expectation, his erection tenting the front of his pants as he stroked it through the coarse denim fabric, leering at Samson. Samson tapped out two neat lines of coke on the back of his hand and offered those to Milton as well. Milton kneeled down and snorted up both lines like a pro.

“Now sign the contract and we can play.”

Samson withdrew one of the contracts from the roll of papers in his jacket and seized Milton’s finger, jabbing it with the tip of an old fashioned ink pen, drawing blood.

“Ouch! Don’t do that shit, man!”

“It’s just a nick. Relax. You need blood for the contract.”

“You’re serious about this shit, huh? About wanting my soul and shit?”

“Oh, I’m very serious.”

“Cool. I’m cool with that, Mr. Lucifer or whatever you think you are. You want my soul? It’s yours. I ain’t doin’ much wit’ it anyway.”

He scrawled his name quickly onto the contract then turned and wrapped his arms around Samson, kissing him sloppily. Samson slid the tanto knife between the bouncer’s ribs, up into his heart, neatly severing his aorta. Milton sighed, went rigid for a second, and then dropped, his lifeless body collapsing like a punctured sex doll. Samson watched the body convulse amongst the party ornaments, voiding all its fluids as Milton’s brain starved for blood.

The bouncer’s soul enmeshed him immediately, still horny, still wanting to fuck as his spirit adhered to Samson’s flesh. Samson sucked in several quick breaths as Milton’s soul invaded him. The sensation was shocking, bitterly cold at first like a splash of ice water. The spirit coursed through him in a heady rush, the sensation a cross between having the meat flayed from his bones and being caught in the throes of an orgasm.

Samson stepped out of the closet, his shirt stained with blood, certain that no one would notice or care. He was reeling from the powerful sensations of this third soul charging through his veins like a blast of nitrous oxide, filling his capillaries, his muscle tissue, his every sinew, every organ. Even his skin crackled with the energy of Milton’s spirit, sparking in the air like static electricity. He could feel it following the path blazed by Jacque and Tara until it had permeated every iota of his essence, joining with Samson’s own spirit, enervating him. He was starting to enjoy this feeling and wasn’t so sure he wanted to give any of these souls away.

Even to save his brother.

The minute Samson stepped back into the black lights of the VIP room he saw the girl with the “Porn Star” shirt mount the stairs with five others in tow. This was going to be easier than he expected.

“So where’s the party?”

“You sign these contracts and the party starts right now.”

Samson held up the bag of cocaine and all of their eyes zeroed in on it. He reached into the pocket of his jacket and handed them the contracts and the pen.

“What kind of contracts are these?” The girls took the papers without reading them and instead looked to Samson for clarification.

“They are contracts giving me sole ownership of your immortal souls. Sign them and I own you forever.”

Samson laughed ghoulishly to lighten the mood. They all laughed with him.

“You’re crazy.”

“Just sign the contract so we can party.”

“Is this for real?” One of the girls asked hesitantly as the others squinted, trying to read the fine print.

“Yup. I want to own your souls before I take your flesh—that way even our spirits can make love. Love is, after all, the desire to unite with the love object. Fucking is so incomplete in that regard. It’s just a marriage of the flesh. This is a marriage of the soul.”

“Man, you talk pretty. My mother always warned me about pretty talkin’ niggas,” said one of the glamour models, a black one with a large afro and big hoop earrings. She had big brown eyes, thick pillowy lips, long muscular legs, and an ass like an Olympic sprinter.

Samson smiled back at her.

“Maybe your momma was right. If you ain’t down you can always leave the way you came. But if you stay you have to sign.”

Another girl piped up with another question, but he’d quit listening. In the end, she’d sign, too. She was a typical model type, six feet tall, blonde, and barely a hundred pounds. He thought he detected a slight Swedish accent. She’d probably worked hard with a vocal coach to lose it. Probably thinking her accent was the only impediment to her acting career and not the fact that she looked like every other would-be-actress in California.

Samson dehumanized them in order to make the kill easier, but he knew that being naïve and superficial were not sufficient flaws to merit what he had planned for them. He’d have to kill them knowing that he was taking innocent lives. After the murders he’d already committed, he found the notion surprisingly easy to swallow. His brother’s life was worth more than every cum-dumpster in this club. Their deaths would open up more room on the world’s casting couches for other self-deluded sluts.

The girls still squinted at the papers, trying to read in the darkened club.

“Samson, you are one twisted dude. But hell, I’ll sign the shit. I’ve been wanting to fuck you forever!” said the little porn star. She was already too high to care.

“Please, allow me,” He pricked her finger with the pen, “You have to sign it in blood.”

“I’m so high I just want to feel your cock inside of me when the Ecstasy kicks in. There’s nothing like fucking on X, you know? I hope one of these bitches licks pussy. That’s the best feeling ever. Getting fucked and licked at the same time while you’re high! Oh my God! I almost came just thinking about it! Hurry up bitches and sign the man’s contract! Let’s get ta fuckin’!”

She was loud and obnoxious and he would normally not have touched her with someone else’s dick, but tonight, she was perfect.

The girls all did what they were told. They all signed. Every one of them. Then they started stripping out of their clothes. Some added little burlesque hip gyrations and coy winks, the black chick bent over and made her ass shake and wobble like it had a mind of its own. Samson was unimpressed. Their flesh was now just in the way of him getting at their souls. Still, as long as it was being offered, he might as well indulge.

Samson laid out the coke on one of the art deco-looking stainless steel tables and all the girls bent down and inhaled in unison, filling their noses with the synthetic heavens. Then he handed out the Ecstasy.

“I’m horny as hell! Take out your cock. I want to suck it.”

“Come here.”

He reached for the thick one with the Olympic ass and she stumbled toward him as if she was in awe. Her huge breasts wobbled to and fro as she came over and straddled his lap. Samson wore only his underwear. He placed a tab of Ecstasy on her tongue and gave her a sip of Cristal from a glass one of the girls brought with her to wash it down.

“Kneel down between my legs.” He reached out for the porn star. “Both of you.”

Again they looked at each other nervously, not sure what to do. Then they did as Samson asked, kneeling down between his legs as he withdrew his cock from his silk boxers. He gave the skinny girl some Ecstasy as well. They both twittered with excitement.

“Kiss each other.”

They reached apprehensively for one another, still giggling as their lips touched and then their tongues intertwined. Samson’s manhood swelled as he watched the two girls kiss. He reached out and stroked their hair. They turned to look at him, smiling, excited, waiting for more instructions.

“Now, suck my cock.”

He lowered the Olympian’s head to his penis and let out a moan as it slid easily down her throat. He pushed the skinny girl’s head down and soon her tongue pressed on his scrotum, and then squirmed its way up the crack of his ass. In minutes he was baptizing their young faces in his seed. He knelt down and kissed them both.

“That was beautiful, girls. Do you want more?”

They both nodded eagerly, tittering again. All of them reached out, kissing, caressing, and sucking every inch of him as it was revealed. Samson fell down amongst them, indulging himself briefly in their mouths and vaginas before unsheathing his blade and cutting them open one by one. They were so high, he’d already killed the first three before the others even noticed. He hamstringed one before she could run and tackled the other two as they made for the stairs, slitting their throats one at a time before going back to finish off the one he had crippled. He slit her open like a fish and tore her heart from her chest. One by one he cut out each of their hearts. He then picked up their blood-dappled contracts, and shoved them back into his jacket pocket before dropping it back onto one of the suede couches.

He dragged their bodies into the closet, and waited. It wasn’t long before two more girls ventured upstairs to join the party. Samson still had a dozen more contracts left in his jacket and the night was young. If God really loved these worthless sacks of flesh, then perhaps Samson would have plenty to bargain with for Samuel’s life; maybe even enough to get himself into heaven, or at least an exalted place in hell.

The girls smiled wide, obviously new to the club and happy to be there. Unlike the rest of the club goers they hadn’t yet learned the airs of apathy. Eyes glowing in the black light, they looked like two demonic nymphs. The room radiated from his earlier party, the air thick with the scent of sex tinged with blood.

“Hello ladies,” he said. “Do you want to party with me?”

20

Requiem was in an older industrial section of town. Historically preserved and then reclaimed by the young, its thin streets congested at all hours of the night. Samuel had only a vague sense of where he was going. Dark alleys veined the city blocks. Shops stacked upon shops, night clubs piled upon night clubs, cramped and claustrophobic. At well past midnight, there were more people out than he would have imagined. Usually in bed by nine o’clock and fast asleep no later than ten, he had led a rather sheltered life. College students tumbled out of one bar, staggered to an alley to puke and piss, then stumbled into the next. The party never stopped.

Samuel focused his thoughts on his brother. He wondered if this was how his brother lived. This bizarre nocturnal existence of night clubs, alcohol, drugs, and sex. Everyone around him carried a quiet desperation, an insatiable longing—all appetite and lust—so powerful that it pained even him. Suddenly, something moved in his spirit, a whispered alarm that warned him that he was in danger. A scream was forming at the base of his throat even before he started to turn, and two pairs of hands grabbed him from behind and pulled him into a narrow alley between two warehouse buildings.

“What are you doing?” Samuel cried out.

Two men dressed in expensive silk shirts and with hair perfectly coiffed, stinking of hair spray and expensive colognes, seized him and dragged him further into the sunless gloom of the alleyway. Despite their frail, effeminate appearance, he struggled in vain within their tremendous grip. A wave of nausea, like an attack of dizziness, hit him. His mind reeled. Their faces began to warp, melting and reshaping, running like wax, layers of reality peeled back for his inspection; the pretty feminine beauty masked an ugliness that rattled the young priest. He had seen their faces before in the old non-canonical texts he used to read in the church library back when he was first ordained—the ones that described demons and other fallen creatures. Truth be told, part of him considered them a myth, nothing more than fairy tales to terrify children.

Samuel had consulted with deliverance ministries, huddled old men telling what amounted to spiritual ghost stories in hushed voices, as if sharing secrets kept even from themselves, because to give voice to them too loudly would be like dragging a nightmare into waking reality.

“Help! Somebody help me! They’re trying to kill me!” Samuel struggled to break free from the two hell-spawned GQ models. He knew it had to have something to do with Samson. What the hell have you gotten yourself into, my brother?

“Scream all you want, they can’t hear you. They won’t hear you. The sheep have to maintain their illusions.”

Samuel had known why those old men whispered. He knew it was for the same reason he pushed those stories to the back of his mind. There came a point where faith shouldn’t confront, no, be confirmed by, reality. There needed to be a buffer between the spiritual and the physical. He needed the platitudes of “God moves in mysterious ways” and “life is full of mystery” to explain the reality he was comfortable with. He needed the protecting shade of mystery from the reality of demons, of spiritual forces.

He wondered what he must look like to the passers-by, a black priest fighting two metrosexual male fashion models. They couldn’t see the evil and sinful corruption in his two attackers or else their terror would have mirrored his.

“You can’t save him. He’s ours!”

“What do you want with my brother?”

“He has something that belongs to us.”

“What? I’ll pay it back for him!”

“Yes. You’ll pay. And so will he.”

Their fingers squeezed the soft meat of his throat. Samuel saw the delight in their eyes at his slow torture, enjoying the dance of fear in his eyes. The crushing pressure would soon rob him of his voice. The final darkness called to him, but before he gave into its embrace a whisper nudged the desperate bid of an exorcism.

“I bind you in the name of Jesus Christ.”

The creatures paused as if contemplating a joke they didn’t quite get. In every book he’d read, for a true exorcism he had to speak to the possessed person directly. But he didn’t know anything about the two strangers. No ground had been prepared nor was he sure he could depend on any formulas, even for such obviously minor demons. He wasn’t even sure these two were possessed. They might have just been demons disguised as humans. He wasn’t sure what to do and his options were running out. If he didn’t figure something out quick he’d be in Jesus’ loving arms sooner than he ever imagined. In the moments his prayer command bought him, he wondered “What would Jesus do?”

Samuel kicked one of his attackers in the balls.

The creature, all too flesh and blood, released him. Samuel kicked his companion as well. They both curled up into fetal positions, moaning and cursing. Samuel had a moment to wonder if he might be able to exorcise them both with a few more well-placed kicks. Instead, he ran. Abandoned on the sidewalk, spat back into what passed for reality, Samuel wandered through the concrete intestines of the city. The wind sighed a mournful dirge to an intermittent rain, like a woman fighting back her tears. The buildings loomed and canted, reflecting the hypocrisy around them in the metallic sheen of their dark windows. The night lights burned bright, blurring, like the exaggerated makeup of a whore. Women with no modesty offered up their bodies. Teens staggered about, mollified by drugs. The homeless begged for change, chased away from the club doors. Samuel staggered in an out of focus haze, cold biting deep into his heart.

On the verge of collapsing, a renewed vigor washed over him when he spied the dull lights of a sign.

Requiem.

Dropping Samson’s name to the bouncers, Samuel entered with ease though he felt every bit the alien. This wasn’t his world: the drugs, the music, the dancing, the awkwardness of approaching the dance floor. The rest of the night club remained shrouded in darkness, the neon and black light giving the patrons the appearance of glow-in-the-dark zombies. Locked in masks of drugs and tortured beauty, passing off sex as need or a bartered commodity, the clubbers were sad clowns on preening display for one another. They smelled of pot, sweat, and melancholy desperation. A woman with a spider web tattooed on her face ran up and kissed him.

A maroon light flickered and swathed the DJ in flashing crimson shadows as he spun records that blurred into industrial white noise. The effect disoriented Samuel as he lost his equilibrium in a sudden vertigo of sensory overload.

The cloying incense barely covered the body odor. There was an allure to the scene, though his spirit recoiled at the idea. All the designer clothes and high fashion makeup, the couples openly groping each other as they tottered on the edge of the stage, visibly intoxicated. Amidst the madness, a woman wearing a wedding dress with a black sweater and black gloves danced toward him, her arms out in a helicopter twirl. She called to him with a siren’s seductive voice.

“I am entropy, the ending chaos that consumes all.”

It sounded like a line from a Gothic novel he ought to remember but couldn’t, something with angst-ridden vampires contemplating their existence. She grasped his head between her hands, pulling it close to her. Her hot breath steamed across his neck, her tongue caressed him beneath his ear, before tracing a circle into his neck. He felt his manhood swell. She kissed him on the lips before dismissing him.

The crowd thickened, but through it Samuel spied his brother talking to a woman at the rear of the club. Dancers flailed their arms like burning windmills. Samuel pushed his way through the throng, not taking his eyes from the two of them. Two somnambulant wanderers lost in a dream of reality, the reality that began on the other side of the club’s doors.

“Samson!” he called out.

That was when the screams started.

One moment, Samson was taking her right there in the middle of the crowd, her face contorted in approaching ecstasy. The next, Samson’s body rippled as if a tidal wave rushed over his flesh. Hunching over, his body swelled, his muscles engorged; perhaps he even grew taller. The woman’s bliss interrupted, fractured into a rictus of frozen terror and suddenly splayed apart as if split by some unseen scythe. Then Samuel saw the blade, gripped by his brother, blood raining down from a knife in a long liquid red film. It was the tanto knife from the sword rack on Samson’s mantle, the one that sat next to the picture of the two of them.

Blood splattered the walls around them. Samson was awash in it.

He didn’t mean to kill her. Lord, I have to believe that he didn’t mean to kill her.

The erupting screams turned to blind panic. Bodies pressed past Samuel, threatening to carry him off in the undertow of their fear. He struggled to make his way to his brother, determined not to believe what his heart already knew.

“Samson, what have you done?”

“Samuel, you—you weren’t supposed to see this. But I’m glad you came. I was going to tell you everything in the confessional. Now I don’t have to. Don’t look at me like that, Samuel. You don’t understand, but you will. You’ll see. Everything I’ve done, I’ve done for you.”

Samson took off his shirt and knelt over the strewn remains of the woman, sifting through her flesh. He divided her organs in a pattern that made sense only to him. He dipped his fingers in her blood and painted a series of symbols on his skin.

“My God, Samson! What the hell are you doing? We’ve got to get out of here. We’ve got to get you some…some help.”

Deep down Samuel knew that whatever was wrong with his brother was far beyond the help of a psychiatrist. His face betrayed a stoic determination that didn’t seem so much insane as possessed. Anti-psychotics weren’t going to do anything for him.

“Help? I don’t need any help. I’m helping you.”

“Helping? Helping me? This…this is not helping. Whatever you’ve done, you didn’t do it for me, you did it for you!”

“No, Samuel. I’m trying to save you. I love you, man. Don’t you see? I’m just following the rules of your God. He demands sacrifice, doesn’t He? Blood? Life exchanged for life?”

“Samson, this…my disease, it’s my test. My faith…” The words failed him. He didn’t want to fall back on tired clichés; he’d come too far for that.

“If inflicting pain and suffering is how your God tests faith, He’s a vindictive son of a bitch ain’t he? Why would you want anything to do with a motherfucker like that? I’m the only one who can help you now, Samuel. Me! Just like I always have.”

“No, Samson. God will help me if it’s His will. Either way, there’s no justification for this. You used to believe, you wanted to believe, that’s why you hurt so much. The question isn’t how you can keep believing in God, but how you can keep believing in yourself.”

Samuel stepped forward and a face appeared under the skin of his brother’s chest, distending his flesh as it writhed to the surface. It gnashed its teeth at Samuel. Other mouths opened and closed, screaming from beneath the skin; hands pressed against the flesh prison.

Samuel backed away, shaking his head in disbelief. A dozen different faces pressed to the surface of Samson’s flesh like bubbles boiling up to the top of a roiling cauldron before disappearing back down inside. Most of them were women. Tears streamed from Samuel’s eyes as he began to comprehend the amount of destruction his brother had done in his name.

“You can’t save yourself, and then you turn your back on me when I can save you? After all that I’ve done for you?”

“But there are things after you. I’ve seen them. They tried to get me, too. They’re coming. We’ve got to get you out of here. Whatever you’ve done, you’ve unleashed something, something evil, and it wants you.”

Samson’s hands still dripped blood, the woman’s gutted body at his feet. He wore the defeated face of a child who knew he was about to be punished. His eyes scanned the club, now almost empty, then glanced back over at his brother.

“You can’t save me, Samuel. Why are you still trying? I was lost a long time ago. There’s no salvation for me. It’s you we have to save. You’re the good one. I don’t matter. Saving you will be the one thing I ever do that really matters.”

“It’s never too late, Samson. I’m not near as good as you think I am. I cling to Christ, I hang onto Him for dear life, as long as I have to.” Samuel studied the woman lying at Samson’s feet, her empty eyes staring back at him. “She didn’t have to die. Not for me. None of them did.”

“You dying won’t bring her back. It’s done now. He’s coming.”

“Who? Who’s coming, Samson?”

Samuel sensed the presence of another.

“God is coming. Or one of His angels. The angel of death. I’ve been talking to him. I’ve been bargaining with him for your life. Your life for these souls. He’s the one who told me to do this.”

“Oh my God, Samson! We’ve got to get the hell out of here! This isn’t God! God wouldn’t do this. I don’t know who you’ve been talking to, but it ain’t no angel. We’ve got to go! We’ve got go, now!”

The melancholy thrum of empty drumbeats pounded, the club grew humid with an almost palpable malevolence. Samuel grabbed his brother’s arm and tried to drag him across the floor. His heart sputtered in his chest. An overwhelming sensation of evil threatened to crush the air from the room.

“No! We’ve got to stay! I have to fulfill the bargain!” Samson struggled in his brother’s weak grasp.

“Samson! Don’t you feel that? There’s something really wrong here. Something bad is about to happen. Something really fucked up!”

Hearing Samuel snapped Samson out of his stupor. He turned to his brother in amazement. “Did you just curse?”

“We don’t have time for this!”

He dragged Samson toward the door with very little cooperation from his brother. Samuel feared he was in shock. If Samson hadn’t been so big, Samuel would have tried to carry him. Police sirens approached but they were background noise as the foul stench of a thousand corpses and the cries of the damned filled the club, suffocating his senses. Bile clogged his throat. The last of the club goers had exited the building. The GQ demons strode into the club and approached Samuel.

Samuel pulled out his cross. Again thoughts of Moses haunted him. He prayed that it wasn’t too late to take Samson’s punishment onto himself. “I know exactly what you are and I don’t fear you.”

“You think your fragile belief will do anything? It’s just a cross. Don’t endow it with special powers.” They spoke in unison, as if sharing a collective mind.

“May the almighty and merciful Lord grant unto you pardon and remission of all your sins, time for amendment of life, and the grace and comfort of the Holy Spirit.” Samuel clutched his cross as he prayed. “Into thy hands I commend my spirit—for thou hast redeemed me, O Lord, thou God of truth. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son—and to the Holy Ghost. Amen.”

“Fuck your prayers and your God! He abandoned you pitiful apes to us. Now we’ve come for what belongs to us.”

With the predatory rictus of hyenas approaching a sick animal, they smiled. Darkness came boiling into the club like storm clouds, concealing something enormous. Supernatural screams filled the room. Bones and blood struck the floor at Samuel’s feet, all that was left of the two demons that had attacked him. Bones and blood.

Within the bleeding piles of shattered, masticated bones, Samuel saw what approached from the shadows. His legs shook and the spit dried in his mouth; tears trickled from his eyes and his bottom lip trembled violently. He turned and ran, gripping the crucifix in his hand so tightly it cut into his palm and blood trailed down his arm. He was happy to see that Samson was right behind him. The glare of street lights slammed into them after the gloom of the night club; the smog-laden air of the city was bittersweet, the traffic the cacophony of life.

“What the hell is that thing?” Samuel asked.

“I don’t know! I don’t know! Oh, shit! What the hell did I do! What did I do?”

“Save it, just keep running!”

“I’m so sorry, Samuel. I’m so sorry. I was just trying to help.” Samson caught up to Samuel, who had stopped to catch his breath. “What the fuck was that back there?”

“That is what your dumb ass has been listening and praying to for the past few weeks. That’s your angel!”

Samson fell silent. They ran toward the subway station, noting the streetlights winking out behind them. The darkness advanced.

“Fuck the subway. We ain’t going to make it!”

“We can’t give up, Samson. Hail a taxi.”

“Are you kidding me? You don’t get out much do you? Ain’t no taxi stopping for us this time of night. Did you forget what color you were?”

“That thing is getting closer!”

“What about a church? There’re churches everywhere. You think we’d be safe in one?”

Seeing that thing come out of the darkness had robbed Samuel of all his resolve. The only hope they had at all was the thought that if hell existed—and that could be the only place that thing could have come from—then heaven had to exist as well. And if heaven existed then God existed. He clung to that promise as the stench of hell, of burning meat and boiling blood, pursued them through the dark streets along with the sound of screams, shredding flesh, and breaking bones. The beast killed everything in its path.

“I don’t know, Samson. I don’t know.”

Samson fell silent again, trying to remember anything he’d read in those old grimoires about sending a demon back to hell.

“I can’t keep running, Samson. I’m too sick. I feel like I’m dying.”

“You’re just out of shape.” Samson said, not wanting to acknowledge Samuel’s disease. Samson scooped him onto his shoulders in a fireman’s carry and took off running again. “You’ve lost a lot of weight.”

“I’m dying, Samson.”

“Don’t say that!”

“It’s true. You’ve got to accept that. Look at the hell you’ve created trying to deny it. You’ve got to accept the fact that I’m dying.”

“I can’t. I can’t.”

Samson turned another corner and almost crashed into a line of party-goers lining up outside of Club Deviance, a gay club in the Castro district. Samson spotted Amon exiting a taxi, but he was so out of breath he could barely speak. He dropped Samuel from his shoulders and gestured toward him.

“Samson! You’re covered in blood!” Amon yelled.

“It’s my brother, he’s hurt. We need your taxi.”

“Oh, sure honey. I won’t be needing one for four or five hours.” Amon waved to the taxi driver, a portly dark-skinned Italian with thick curly hair and a face like a piece of tanned leather. “Wait. This is my dear friend Samson. He’s one of the sexiest men on earth and the highest paid male model in the industry. Take good care of him and take him wherever he wants to go.”

“Thanks, Amon. You’d better get inside the club quick!”

Amon heard the screams. “Gay bashers?”

“No…worse. Just get inside the club and stay there until it passes…and thanks for the ride!”

Samson helped his brother into the taxi and then dove in after him. “Get us the fuck out of here! That way! Fast! Just drive!”

Samuel sucked in shallow gasps of air, broad patches of sweat soaking through his shirt. His color was all wrong, his ashen skin cold and clammy to the touch.

“Don’t die on me, Samuel. You can make it!”

“Samson, what is that thing? You have to know what it is. Try to think. How did you summon it?”

Growing up, Samson always had a tell for when he’d been caught, his signature turn away, that betrayed his inability to hold a poker face. So when Samson turned his face away from his brother, Samuel already suspected what he was about to say.

“I knew.”

“What? You knew what?” Samuel pressed.

“I knew it wasn’t an angel. I knew exactly what it was.”

“How could you do this? Why? What is it? How do we stop it?”

“I tried to call God, I did, but he wasn’t listening. I prayed to every angel, every saint. I got nothing! What was I supposed to do? Let you die? I had to try everything, so…”

“So what? What did you do?”

“I think I really fucked up, Samuel. I think I brought Satan here!”

“It can’t be. One of his demons or some kind of dragon maybe? The Old Testament talks about all kinds of creatures…that…that can’t be Satan.”

Samson lowered his head and said nothing. They watched through the taxi’s rear window as clouds of darkness billowed through the streets. Flames flickered in the dark, a forest fire silhouetting a prehistoric lizard of some kind within the black smoldering miasma. A dinosaur, but not like any dinosaur either of them had ever read about. This one had six heads.

“Faster! Drive faster!”

In the rearview mirror, the cabbie’s thick eyebrows rose high on his forehead. The taxi lurched as the accelerator went to the floor.

“We’ve got to find a church! If that thing is Satan then maybe he won’t be able to enter.” Samuel looked down at his hand. His fist was covered in blood as he continued to squeeze the crucifix in his palm. He opened his fingers and studied the tiny effigy of the crucified Christ. Instead of the rapturous expression he normally wore, Jesus, saturated in Samuel’s blood, writhed in agony.

“There’s a church about four blocks away! The-the big one! St. Christopher’s!” the cabbie stammered.

Samson’s body was a riot of activity. The souls within him seemed to be struggling to break free, to flee his flesh before whatever evil Samson had brought to earth could claim them. His body stretched and morphed as more than a dozen souls fought their way to the surface, their hands and faces pressing against his skin, clawing and biting in their effort to escape. Samuel watched in mute horror, wondering if the beast outside was the only thing he had to worry about.

Sparks flew from the taxi’s rear fender as it rounded the corner on two wheels. A surge of heat blasted the cab and the windows exploded, showering them all in bits of tempered safety glass.

“It’s getting closer!” Samuel yelled.

“I’m doing eighty! I can’t go any faster with all of these turns. I’ll flip the car and kill all of us. Where did that thing come from and why the hell is it chasing us?” The cab driver was having a harder time dealing with everything that was going on than the two brothers. His panic actually relaxed them. Samuel grew dizzy, his chest burned with each breath.

“There’s the church! We’re going to be okay, Samuel!” Samson tried to sound positive even as his face contorted in agony while perspiration issued from him as he fought to contain the restless, panic-stricken spirits within him.

The cabbie turned the wheel sharply and jumped the curb, driving the taxi right up the steps of the church and bashing open the church doors with his front bumper. Samson grabbed his brother and hauled him out of the car, pulling him into the church. Samuel’s legs dragged behind him, his body limp in Samson’s arms.

“Come on little brother, you’ve got to fight. You cannot die on me now!” Samuel was still sweating profusely, wheezing as if he were having an asthma attack. His eyes rolled, focused on nothing. “Don’t die, Samuel. Stay with me little brother. Stay with me.”

The cab driver slammed the church doors shut and bolted them. He scurried about to barricade them as best he could. Samson set his brother down on the floor then joined the cabbie in snatching up pews and piling them in front of the door.

“I don’t think it could fit through those doors anyway.” Samuel whispered in between his labored breaths.

“He’s right. If that thing wants in here it’s going to come right through the wall.”

All three of them turned to look at the wall as if expecting it to implode at any moment. Returning his attention to Samson, the cabbie backed away, wild eyes staring at Samson’s undulating flesh. The souls inside of him bubbled his skin, preparing to mutiny. “What the fuck is wrong with you? You possessed or something? You’re what brought that thing here, aren’t you? What the fuck are you?”

“He’s my brother,” Samuel whispered.

The cabbie glared at Samuel, his eyes falling on the white collar barely hidden beneath his jacket, and began to relax again.

“Well, what the hell is wrong with him, Father?”

“It’s that thing out there. It’s doing something to him.”

“It damn sure is! It’s tearing him apart from the inside out!”

Throooom!

Something struck the church, shaking it to its foundations.

“Shit! It’s trying to get in here.” The cab driver lowered his voice. “What does it want? Why is it here?”

Both Samuel and the cabdriver faced Samson now.

“It wants what I promised it,” Samson said. “It wants these souls.”

“Fuck, then give them to him!” the cab driver shouted.

“It isn’t that simple.” A stranger’s voice that came out of Samson—a high-pitched, near-feminine voice exaggerated like that of a drag queen. Even Samson’s face had changed.

“Samson?”

“No, this is Jacque Willet. At least, that’s what I called myself when I was still human, before I sold my soul to a demon and became one myself. Before your brother here decided to try and take my soul back from Asmodeus.”

“Asmodeus? Is that what’s out there?”

“No. That’s who’s in here, what your brother invited in when he took my soul. What’s out there is far worse. That’s who you apes once named Mastema. Hostility. The Adversary. The Satan, if you will. He is the deceiver of man and the leader of fallen angels. He has come in the form of Leviathan to take what is his.”

“Bullshit! This is all bullshit! There’s no such thing as demons!” The cabbie spit out the words with as much venom as he could muster. He twitched, his face convulsing with ticks as if he were imitating the chaos in Samson’s flesh.

“Then what the hell is it then? What do you call that thing out there?” Samuel’s strength was slowly returning.

“It has to be some kind of genetic experiment. Something escaped from a science lab like Jurassic Park or some shit like that. Like one of those dinosaurs they cloned and grew in a lab.”

FULFILL THE BARGAIN. BRING THE SOULS TO ME NOW!!!” the beast cried from outside the church.

The cabbie’s eyes widened, staring in bewilderment at Samson and Samuel. He held himself like a frightened child.

“A dinosaur that talks, huh?” Samuel shook his head and he rose from the floor. Dusting himself off, he reached for the Bible in his breast pocket. He knew he was the only one who could put an end to this madness.

The stained glass windows shattered as the beast exhaled; smoke billowed into the church. Candles melted, dripping wax onto the floors. Tapestries caught fire and burned to ash in an instant. Even the pews smoldered. The walls of the church cracked as if wounded, belching dust into the already polluted air. The floors quaked.

Samson, or whatever demonic presence now controlled him, stood gibbering madly in front of the church doors, his flesh still undulating as the souls clustered within him sought exodus before the coming holocaust. Samson turned and peered at Samuel, grinning wide like a lunatic, ropes of saliva drooling from his mouth, eyes burning like funeral pyres.

“He’ll rip the souls right out of your brother’s flesh. All of them!” The cabbie sucked in a quick breath and clutched his chest as if having a cardiac arrest, drawing Samson’s attention. “Then he’ll take yours as well.” Finally, he pointed at Samuel, “You, he’ll let live. He’ll let you live with the memory of your brother’s death, of his immortal essence being torn apart and consumed, then shat out into the inferno. Then, when you pass away in your bed, drink yourself to death, or succumb to your disease, he’ll come for your soul too.”

Samuel knew that his faith alone would not be strong enough to defeat the hellish abomination tearing through the church walls.

“FULFILL THE BARGAIN!”

“What was your bargain? What bargain did you strike with my brother?”

“YOUR LIFE FOR TWENTY SOULS.”

“I can’t let you take these innocent souls. I can’t. You can’t take my brother!”

Leviathan’s laughter drove Samuel to his knees. “THERE ARE NO INNOCENT SOULS!”

“I can’t let you take my brother!” The strength in his voice surprised him. The cabdriver stared at Samuel with renewed hope in his eyes. Samuel felt the weight of his expectations and wished he had an actual plan to save them.

“THEY ARE MINE!”

The front of the church crumbled to dust and the darkness rolled in. Leviathan emerged from the shadows. His presence stole the breath from Samuel’s lungs and burst the capillaries in his eyes, making him weep blood. Standing in the church entrance was a creature like an enormous crocodile with six snake-like heads, each filled with rows of dagger-sharp teeth like the jaws of a shark, and eyes that burned like exploding suns. Its mouths erupted like volcanoes, belching flame and ash and dripping molten lava-like drool onto the church floor, leaving steaming holes wherever it touched.

Samuel remembered the description of Leviathan in the Bible, which fell short of what stood before him now. It raised one of its taloned claws to rend Samson’s flesh into a steaming pile of meat, bone, and viscera. Samson or Jacque or Asmodeus, or whatever being that had control of his brother’s body, simply stood there with an idiot’s grin, arms outstretched in welcome.

“Take me home, Master.”

“Not if there is no bargain to make.” Samuel stepped in front of his brother and shoved him out of the way just as Leviathan’s claws struck.

“NOOOOOOOOoooo!”

The creature bellowed, crying out as if it had been the one disemboweled, its voice bringing the rest of the church down around them. Samuel’s body came apart as Leviathan’s claws sliced through his flesh and bone. He smiled as the life fled from him, his last sight the disappointment on the face of Satan and the sorrow in his brother’s eyes as the spirits vacated his flesh. Samuel fell to the floor in pieces, intestines tumbling out across the marble floors in thick oily coils, even his skull laid open to reveal the brain matter beneath.

“Samuel! Oh God! Samuel no!” Samson rushed over to hold his brother, gathering up the broken pieces of his corpse. He cradled his brother’s head in his lap and rocked back and forth, eyes squeezed shut, holding back hot tears. Clinging to the darkness of grief and regret, not giving voice to the pain that ached his soul. If the beast wanted to take him now, it was more than welcome to.

Like an enormous tidal wave of unrepentant fury, it crashed against his brother, its force abated. It slowly withdrew to whatever raging sea of chaos, whatever fearsome place it called home. Not that Samson cared. The sound of a vacuum being filled, the sounds of wet slithering retreat, the cursing howl of an enraged creature as if stabbed in the heart, nothing mattered to him. He clutched his brother, praying perhaps that sheer force of will might stitch him back together and bring him back.

“It’s gone, buddy,” the taxi driver said. “Whatever it was, it’s gone now.”

“Yes. Yes he is.”

His brother had died for him, died to keep Satan from getting the souls Samson had stolen, the souls he’d stolen to save Samuel’s life. None of it made sense. Everything he’d done to save his brother and now Samuel was dead anyway.

“It should have been me, little brother. Why’d you do it? I don’t deserve this. I don’t deserve it. You shouldn’t have done it for me. Not for me. I’m not worthy of this. All those people I killed. I’m not worthy of this.”

He knew what his brother would have said. With the cacophony of restless souls now gone he could hear his brother’s voice in his head as clearly as he had heard theirs.

“Then become worthy of it.”

21

The tabloids speculated wide and far about the fate of Samson. Rumors floated around that he had checked himself into the Crossroads Center for rehab for an undetermined amount of time, desperately in need of mental rest. After all, he was questioned as a “person of interest” in connection to the disappearance of famous photographer Jacque Willet. His name had surfaced in the events surrounding the tragic incident at a night club. Some news rags went so far as to ask if the loss of his brother, a priest, in a senseless accident might have been what pushed Samson over the edge and off the celebrity radar.

None of that mattered to Samson.

Mysterious circumstances. Tragic accidents. Evil could hide in plain sight because everyone would ignore it unless its wake splashed onto them. Like a bad dream they had to rationalize, but Samson didn’t have anything to say. Witnesses couldn’t accept what they saw. The jumbled mess of contradictory statements convinced police of psychedelic drugs being dealt out of Requiem. When asked about what happened that night, Samson stuck to the only refrain he knew for sure.

“I don’t know.”

Samson pulled into a parking lot and sat there. During his times of doubt, the thought of prayer still held the ring of something ridiculous, the superstitious mumblings to an invisible friend. These days, he liked the idea of being still. Of listening.

Samuel was the one for those higher ideas, wrestling with the theological implications of everything. Being caught up in a cosmological battle between good and evil, that was for better men to argue. Men like his brother. In a world of chance and random accidents—when the tumbling of natural selection led to the genetic fall of a man named Samuel and another man named Samson, with the odds of these two men meeting, much less being brothers, being beyond calculation—in such a meaningless world, why was there was still so much beauty and laughter?

“I don’t know.”

Samson walked the hallways, searching for the room number. All his designer clothes were gone now; he shambled along in clothes picked from Salvation Army bins. His hair was wild and unkempt and his eyes dark and heavy. Orderlies scrutinized then turned away from him. Nurses pointed him in the right direction, but with a wary, searching-for-security manner. No matter, Samson ignored them, choosing to focus on what he came to do.

He knew what it was like to be alone.

The room stank of grief and fear. The machines bleeped and chirped, exhaled and inhaled, a cacophony of life-prolonging measures. A black woman’s thin frame barely disturbed the sheets as she slept. Samson closed the door behind them but was overwhelmed by the feeling of not knowing what to do next. Guilt whispered like dry leaves across pavement. How many times had Samuel done this? He had been such a natural at this. Samson stumbled over the bedside chair, catching it but silently cursing himself for making such a racket. The woman stirred.

“Who is this handsome man?” she asked with an accented croak of a voice. She fluttered in and out of a dream state.

“I heard there was a beautiful woman here who I ought to get to know.”

“You look familiar.”

“You knew my brother, Samuel. I’m here to finish what he started.” With that, Samson took her hand.

And listened.

Afterword

Samuel had to die. There was just no other way to end it. See, I don’t believe in God, but Maurice does, very much so. That could have turned this into one long theological debate between an atheist and a faithful Christian rehashing the Evidential Argument from Evil. Why does an all-powerful omni-benevolent deity allow terrible things to happen to people? Why does it seem that good befalls the bad and bad befalls the good? Be thankful that we didn’t take it there. It would have made the book three times as long and could have gotten ugly. Besides, that’s what non-fiction is for. Maybe one day.

Our purpose here was to set up the premises of the argument for you: a pious and devout priest dying of AIDS, a vain hedonistic sinner living a life of fame and prosperity. What we could not do is answer the question for you because our answers would have been different. Very, very different.

I would have said that it is because God is an illusion at best and indifferent or even hostile to man at worst. Maurice would have said that it is because God is testing us or because you can’t have good without evil or because man brought all of the world’s evil onto himself by abusing his freewill. Or, we could do the honorable thing and admit that neither of us know anything about these big cosmological questions with anything approaching absolute certainty and put it all back on you to figure out while entertaining you a little in the process. So, we tried to present both perspectives but allow you to ultimately answer the question for yourself.

That’s why Samuel had to die and Samson had to live. Because if Samson died it would have seemed like a judgment on his sinful lifestyle. If God had come down from heaven and saved them both then Maurice would have jumped up and yelled, “Aha! So you do believe!” This way, the status quo remains and the question still lingers: Why does God allow terrible things to happen to good people and why does it seem like some of the worst people have the best luck?

Why did Samuel sacrifice himself for his murderous brother? Because he loved him and he was the good one and that’s what good people do. That’s what a good Christian would do. I like to think that that’s what Maurice would have done. He would have had faith that his sacrifice would not be in vain and it would give his brother another chance to redeem himself. Will Samson turn his life around? Who knows? I did. But then, I’m not quite as good-looking as Samson and not nearly so conflicted.

It all sounds so civilized doesn’t it? Surely there must have been bloody feuds during the writing of this? Surely Maurice must have shouted, “Damned heathenous infidel!” after reading my description of a woman being hacked in half with a samurai sword? Surely he must have at least written me back and asked me to tone that shit down a little? After all, some of the members of his church will probably read this; the same ones who already look at him sideways for writing horror in the first place. Certainly, he must have arm-wrestled with me over putting some of my own atheistic ideas into the story? Surely I must have battled with him over keeping his religious dogma out of it? What you just read could not have come out as smoothly as it now appears. Well, actually, it did.

See, the only way we could have written together in the first place is if we both had respect for one another. If I was going to use this as an opportunity to challenge Maurice over his beliefs or if Maurice was going to use this as an opportunity to save the non-believer then it wouldn’t have worked. So, if you were hoping for an ideological cage match between The Sinister Minister and Wrath then I do apologize. Maybe next time. This wasn’t about that. This was about telling a good story.

Oh, I’m sure Pastor Broaddus had a few moments of hesitation after reading one of my more graphic sex scenes. One of them did not make the cut I might add but I’ll blame that on the editor. And yeah, I must admit that I had to resist the urge to screw with the priest and make him a child molester or a frequent patron of street prostitutes or something, or to make him call out in vain for God to come save him and then renounce his faith when his prayer went unanswered. But that would have been inauthentic. What kept us in check was both our mutual respect for one another and the story. The story was ultimately more important than our own agendas. The story demanded honesty. And that’s why Samuel had to die; for the story. I hope you enjoyed it.

—Wrath James White

About the Authors

Maurice Broaddus’s work has appeared in Weird Tales, Horror Literature Quarterly, and a wide variety of anthologies. His story “Family Business” won first prize at the World Horror Convention Story Competition in 2003. Often known as the “Sinister Minister,” Broaddus says of the religious aspects of his writing: “As writers, our worldviews–from nihilistic to religious–are a part of us and thus a part of our writing. What we believe, why we believe, it’s all in there.”

Wrath James White is a professional fighter and writer, two pursuits that blend together to create unrelenting prose. His novels include Teratologist (co-written with Edward Lee), Poisoning Eros (co-written with Monica O’Rourke), and Succulent Prey. “If you have a weak stomach, a closed mind, rigid morals, and Victorian sexual ethics, then avoid my writing like the plague,” says Wrath. If, on the other hand, you want hard-hitting fiction where nothing is taboo, you’ve found the right author.

D.E. Christman is an artist that simply wants to scare the hell out of you. And he takes great pleasure in doing so. His Lovecraftian inspired work has been described as “Twisted, demented and wonderfully creepy,” a description he takes great pride in. Today he lives in Philadelphia, PA where he is regarded as one of the city’s premier zombie experts and has given various interviews and lectures regarding his knowledge of both the Living Dead and slaves of the famous Voodoo curse.

Copyright

This collection is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in these stories are either fictitious or are used fictitiously.

ORGY OF SOULS

Copyright 2008 by Wrath James White and Maurice Broaddus

Cover Art “Orgy of Souls” by D.E. Christman

All rights reserved.