View Full Version : Journey to Azmerith - Chapter 3

May 26th, 2012, 09:13 PM
Chapter 3
Nails and Thorns

Evening arrived and Michael wasn’t home. Worried about him, Karolyn kept busy by putting away dishes and tidying up the kitchen. After the blow up that morning, she had missed Mass and hadn’t gone to the graveyard either. Instead, she had tried to draw again, without much success, had searched her father’s closet and found a locked chest where she guessed the drawings were, and read the first few chapters of a book named Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. The book was about an orphaned girl and so far she liked it except that she wasn’t familiar with many of the words and had to use a dictionary constantly unless she wanted to skip over the word and guess at its meaning.

The front door banged open and without knocking Aunt Gen entered the foyer. She cast a glance at Karolyn in the kitchen and then turned to the living room. “Your dad asked me to watch you brats again,” she called and flopped onto the couch grabbing the television remote. She put her spike-heeled boots on the coffee table and started switching channels. Aunt Gen had come to stay.

Karolyn rolled her eyes. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you,” she whispered.

“What? What did you say brat?” called Genevieve, flipping through channels until she found the Springer show.

“I asked how long he’ll be gone,” answered Karolyn, stepping into the foyer and looking at her Aunt. She noticed Genevieve had gotten several new piercings. Besides the nose ring and the two rings that adorned each side of the red triangle that was supposed to look like blood on her otherwise black lower lip, there were rows of dangling loops over her ear spools. She now had added rows of tiny studs and rings where her eyebrows used to be. She had shaved her eyebrows and drawn new wickedly angled pencil thin ones above the new beads and rings. Karolyn couldn’t tell if she used a permanent ink marker or had the new eyebrows tattooed. As usual, Gen was arrayed in layers of black lace and leather, wore leather gauntlets and a black leather studded collar around her neck. Her hair was dyed raven’s wing black; she had shaved the sides of her head except for sideburns which were braided. “I see you got some new jewelry,” remarked Karolyn, noticing the new piece that hung around her neck with the strands of tarnished silver beads. “What is it? A coffin pendant?”

Aunt Gen smiled, revealing her stained teeth that looked as though she had been drinking from a can of black paint. “You like it? It’s yours if you want; might do you some good to face the reality that hangs around your own neck.”

Karolyn reached into the top of her blouse and found the slender silver chain she wore. “This is the only pendant I need,” she said pulling out her silver crucifix for her Aunt to see.

Genevieve put her hands in front of her heavily masqueraded eyes, black painted fingernails wriggling as she emulated the dying scene of the Wicked Witch of the West of the Wizard of Oz movie and shrieked “Wicked little girl! I’m melting! Melting….” and then laughed in a high pitch. “Dead man on wood around your neck! Be real, Karolyn. Wha’did ya think. I was gonna burst into flame?”

“Jesus isn’t dead,” stated Karolyn. “He promises eternal life and it’s silver, not wood.”

Genevieve cackled at her. “Well I’m not a werewolf either. Sheeze, I thought your mother was into fantasy but you put the whipped cream and cherries on it.” She took a miniature cigar and lighter out of the black sequined belt purse she wore, lit the cigar, placed it between her pierced lip rings, and blew out a cloud of putrid blue-grey smoke.

“Dad doesn’t want you smoking in the house,” said Karolyn.

Genevieve looked around the room as though searching for something. “Hmmm, well I don’t see him.” She lifted a cushion on the couch and looked under it. “Nope, he’s not under there. I guess he left me in charge here. Hey, whacha got to eat? Go back in the kitchen and do your Mary Poppins thing. Make me something scrump-dee-dee-licious bitchus!”

Karolyn was livid. It was bad enough that Aunt Genevieve was her usual obnoxiously rude self but the mention of her mother in a nasty tone made her tremble with a very non-Christian rage. Part of the trembling was from the fear she felt; fear of what she was imagining, the other part was from the thought that she was about to go through with it. She would run at her aunt and smash her face with her fists and then while holding her down by her choker she would tear every one of the piercing rings from her face. For a long moment she held this thought and then felt herself let out a long-held breath. She thought of Sister Jessica’s advice, “Whenever you’re mad at someone, just think of what our Lord Jesus would do.” She turned and went back to the kitchen. “Maybe an exorcism would do it,” she whispered.

Meanwhile at the internet café on San Pablo Boulevard, Michael was finishing a game of Mortal Kombat. The arcade machine was old and beat but the CPU was still functional and to Michael it was the best use for a quarter he could find. The game was a classic and he was very good at it. He had killed Reptile and his score was over 12 million, the highest score ever on that particular machine. He entered his initials in the high scorers’ box and having no more quarters started on the way home.

Pumped and confident after his victory he cut through the neighborhood away from the busy traffic of the main boulevard. Though the distance was about the same and it would save no time, it always seemed faster when walking if there weren’t so many cars streaming by. Anyway, he didn’t like the boulevard where some of the cars would slow down and the men inside would stare at him. He didn’t know what they wanted but he was sure it wasn’t good. He felt great walking through the neighborhood. He had beaten every opponent in Kombat and now his name was at the top of the list for all time. He doubted that anyone in Berkeley would ever top his score. Four blocks passed under his feet like he was walking on butter, and then he realized that he was in front of Saint Ambrose’s church, his old parish. He tried not to look at the edifice.

Suddenly Bruce Raiden, the self-proclaimed head of the altar boys bounded down the cement steps from the triple set of wooden doors at the church entrance and stood before him. Bruce was a big boy, big with beefy hands and a broad waist. He was double Michael’s weight, a head taller and when he stepped onto the sidewalk he blocked it completely. “Hey Mike, how you doing? You coming back? I can get you the Thurible job.”

Michael hated the Thurible and Bruce knew it. The Thurible was the censer suspended on chains that held burning incense. The boys who carried it usually burnt their fingers until they learned better. Michael had burnt his fingers several times and once his leg. That was the day that Father Neffam put burn ointment on his leg, a day he would never forget. “No, I’m not coming back, just passing by,” said Michael taking a step toward the street to pass around Bruce.

“Well hold on,” said Bruce, stepping with him and still blocking the way. Bruce put his big beefy hand on Michael’s chest. “I want to talk to you a minute.”

Two other altar boys who had strayed out of the foyer were coming down the stairs. Whatever instruction or practice they had been there for was over and they were in their street clothes. Bruce glanced at them, and then turned back to Michael. “I want to know why you left and what your plan is now. You don’t have any plans, do you?”

“I plan on going home now. That is if you don’t mind moving your fat ass out of my way,” answered Michael. He knew immediately upon feeling the word slip off his tongue that he had made a big mistake. Even as the word fat came from his mouth he wished that he could somehow grab it and pull it back before it reached Bruce’s ear, and then there was the word ass. It was a BIG mistake. Even the boys coming down the stairs froze at hearing those words from the small boy who stood in front of the massive Bruce. To them they had just seen David sling a stone at Goliath, only no stone was in sight.

At first Michael only felt the sensation of flying. He was in the air and the air was all around him. It seemed there was a whistling sound and he could see high in the sky that the stars were out, not too many, because of the city lights, but there were definitely stars up there. He heard the voice of a boy; one who he guessed was one of the boys on the stairs saying, “Wow! What a punch!” and the other boy exclaiming “Awesome,” and then there was a laugh. The next thing he felt was the sidewalk kind of slapping him in the back of the head. It didn’t hurt right then so his mind noted it like a simple fact, noted and stored it for later reference. Next he felt the sensation that his face was burning, as if the molten head of a sledgehammer had slammed into his left jaw, eye, and nose. It flashed though his mind that there was blood gushing from his nose. He could taste blood in his mouth. He noted it and moved on. The thoughts took a tenth of a second, and then the back of his head did hurt.

Realizing that he had been punched and knocked down he thought of Mortal Kombat. He imagined jumping to his feet and executing a perfect flying kick. He would give a warrior’s yell as he planted one foot on his opponent’s chest in the vicinity of his heart, cracking his ribs. It would be a spinning leap and with the other foot, he would kick Bruce’s head sideways, stunning him. He would then take the stance of a ninja, give the death cry, and plunge his fist through the broken ribs to the heart. The thought took all of a quarter-second before he saw Bruce bending over him with his fist cocked back to throw another punch. Quickly he rolled, sprang onto his feet, tripped on the second step of the Saint Ambrose stairs, felt his knees hit the fourth step and scrambled upward.

Bruce was somewhere behind him, grunting, his second punch thrown but missed. Michael heard the fist smack into the sidewalk. He didn’t look back. There were only six more steps to reach the open sanctuary doors, six quick steps and he would be inside, safe. He thought he would be safe; Bruce wouldn’t dare attack him with God watching. Somehow, he flew again. He wasn’t sure if he leapt that far or if Bruce had hit him from behind but it seemed he flew through the centermost of the church’s doorways into the foyer. There was a set of three inner doors that were between the foyer and the chapel. They were closed. As Michael reached for one of their brass handles he felt himself spinning. Bruce gripped his collar and threw him like he was a Frisbee. “Let me go!” yelled Michael. “This is God’s House!” As he yelled he felt a strange hope arise within that if God was around he would hear and be so pleased that Michael had acknowledged Him that He would help out. Then his back slammed into the statuary table at the side of the foyer. He stumbled backwards into figurines of various saints, displayed there for sale. Two Saint Jude’s clattered to the floor. Most of the other statuettes toppled over. Bruce had tossed him from the center of the foyer all the way to the side. “You better keep your mouth shut,” said Bruce. “God doesn’t like traitors.”

The other two altar boys came back up the stairs and stood in the open doorway blocking escape. “He hates traitors,” taunted one. “Judas,” said another. Michael looked at them and though his vision was blurred recognized both as boys who were once his friends, at least church friends. With the back of his hand he wiped some of the blood from his upper lip. “You two are the traitors,” he said.

Bruce stepped closer, his fist cocked and ready to throw another punch. “You’re gonna keep your mouth shut. Right?”

Michael’s left hand swept a number of the saint statues and one votive candle from the top of the table toward Bruce. The move was designed to distract him while his other hand opened the chapel door and he passed through. His goal was to make it to the front of the chapel and go out through the side door. He entered the left side aisle and the exit was nearly straight ahead. He ran alongside the dark wooden benches that filled the left half of the chapel. He knew he could out run Bruce once he got to the street. The other boys might catch him but probably wouldn’t try to do anything more than hold him. He thought he could shake them off.

“Now you’re really in for it,” bellowed Bruce from behind. The running footsteps of the boys echoed through the chapel. All three were after him and Bruce was faster than Michael anticipated. Halfway along the aisle Michael leapt onto one of the pews and ran across the bench to the center of the chapel. That gave him some distance from Bruce but what he hadn’t expected was that one of the smaller boys was running down the center aisle and was there when he reached it. The two collided and Michael fell flat on his stomach, his chin thudding against the tile floor, his arms outstretched toward the altar. He slid a ways and before he could get up felt the weight of Bruce straddling him, sitting on his buttocks, pinning him to the floor.

“Hey now look at this!” shouted Bruce. “Now’s your chance to say you’re sorry, Judas.” He grabbed Michael’s hair and pulled his head backward so that he was looking up at the crucifix centered directly behind the altar. “Say you’re sorry to Jesus.”

The crucifix of Saint Ambrose’s altar wasn’t as bloody and agonized as some. The Jesus figure was depicted as healthy, lean not starved, weary but not yet passed out or asleep. The wounds of the nails in hands and feet as well as the sword wound in His side were shown with a minimal amount of blood. Even the crown of thorns was more vine-like than thorn. The most striking feature of the crucifix was the eyes. Michael had noticed that no matter where in the congregation one sat, the open eyes of Jesus seemed to be looking straight at the viewer. He noticed this feature again as Bruce pulled his head back and made him look at it. He was looking straight up into the eyes of Jesus and Jesus was looking back. “Help me,” he whispered.

“Help you? Is that what you’re gonna say? Yeah, you need help. Help to see the light. Say you’re sorry for leaving His service,” demanded Bruce.

“No,” groaned Michael trying to lift his hips to throw Bruce off balance. He felt his chin hit the floor as Bruce let go of his hair and hit the back of his head with an open hand. “God, help me,” he begged, earnestly.

Bruce pulled his head up by his hair again and made him look upward. This time he thought he saw in the edge of his vision someone standing in the shadows at the side of the altar, someone wearing black with a white collar at his throat. He couldn’t say for sure but he thought it was Father Neffam.

“Help me,” he begged, this time hoping that whoever it was would intervene.

“Say your lips are at His service,” said Bruce. “Say it.” His tone was exultant, triumphant even, and loud. It was as if he wanted Father Neffam to hear.

“Get off of me! God help me!” shouted Michael.

“God helps those who help themselves,” taunted one of the altar boys standing next to Bruce.

“My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth,” said the other mockingly quoting the Bible.

“Get off of me you faggot. You’re all going to Hell!” bawled Michael.

“Shut up Judas,” growled Bruce slamming Michael’s head to the floor. “That’s exactly the kind of thing you’re not gonna say. These things I command you, that ye love one another. That’s John Fifteen. You’re gonna swear to God Almighty that you’ll keep your mouth shut. Swear to the Virgin too.”

Michael felt dizzy after his head hit the floor. He heard footsteps leaving the altar and then heard the side door open and close. Whoever had been standing there had left. He was beginning to fear for his life. “John didn’t mean it that way,” he said faintly. “He didn’t mean it the way you were taught.”

“Let brotherly love continue; Hebrews,” quoted one of the boys kicking Michael in the ribs.

Michael knew the quotes. All of the boys knew the quotes if they knew Father Neffam. He taught each of them in Catechism and then especially in the private counseling sessions that he held in the rectory office where a plaque on the wall read: “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you: -- Thessalonians 3:12.” Father Neffam was very fond of that quote.

“Swear to Jesus you’ll do nothing to disgrace our parish,” demanded Bruce, again lifting Michael’s head up.

“I didn’t do anything,” mumbled Michael. “I hate you Jesus. I hate this church. Why won’t you help me? Help me God!” He was looking directly at the crucifix, straight into the cold watchful eyes of that wooden face as he said these words. Saying them, he suddenly felt the request to be worthless, that no one was going to help, that no one even heard. “I hate you God,” he whispered. Suddenly he felt strong, stronger than he had ever felt before, He felt a blackness surround him, as if the black water of a raging river was lifting him up with its power.

It seemed strange to him that he was back at the internet café playing Mortal Kombat. It seemed a dream, only instead of standing in front of the screen he was inside the video console. He was fighting Reptile again, kicking and punching with blood flying everywhere. He executed a perfect kick to Reptile’s stomach, doubling him over, and delivered a second kick to Reptile’s face sending him stumbling backwards. He kicked Reptile when he was on the floor and heard the cracking of bones. Sub-Zero had tried to stop him and he spun around, grabbing Sub-Zero’s arm and breaking it over a pile of bricks that had suddenly appeared. For a moment the bricks looked like the back of a church pew. Next, Scorpion tried to run away but Michael ran after him and executed a flying double kick into his back, knocking him headlong into a wall. Scorpion crumpled to the base of the wall and lay there crying. Michael thought it strange that the characters weren’t acting as they usually did. They didn’t get up to fight again after so few moves.

He wasn’t sure of what happened after that moment. When he was outside on the sidewalk he thought he had probably blacked out and had the dream some time after Bruce smashed his head against the floor. All that had happened in the church seemed a bad dream but looking at his torn and bloody shirt he knew it had been real, at least up until he blacked out. He didn’t know how much time had gone by since then. When he got home he sneeked in through the back door and went straight to his room without waking anyone.

It wasn’t until Sunday afternoon that he heard from Karolyn about Bruce and two other altar boys who weren’t at morning Mass. Father Neffam asked the congregation to pray for them as they had been in an accident the night before. They were badly injured. After Mass, Karolyn asked one of the Sisters what happened and she thought they were hit by a car while leaving church. Bruce had several broken ribs and one of the boys had a broken arm. The other boy had some bad scrapes and bruises. “He looked like he ran into a brick wall,” she said.

In Michael’s journal he wrote: “High score in Mortal Kombat, 12-million. Took out the trash at Saint Ambrose.”

May 28th, 2012, 07:08 AM
I have read all the three chapters you posted till now.
The first chapter sounded more like a Prologue than a chapter in itself. It was good, no doubt about it, but not a chapter in itself. Moreover the style of writing seems different for first and other chapters. (I cannot describe how it felt different.. May be it was the difference that you hoped for!)

But overall as a reader, I will like to know how the story is going to proceed.

May 28th, 2012, 06:39 PM
Not to give anything away but just so you know, this is a serious fantasy, a year was spent researching multi- cultural mythological beings and the religions of early civilizations. The intended audience is international.
Thank you to all for the help. Your comments are truly spots

May 28th, 2012, 06:42 PM
My phone did -spots- the correct word is appreciated.

May 29th, 2012, 01:43 AM
PS Chapter one was a prologue but too many lazy readers skip the prologue so I changed it to ch 1.
It may be that I have a bit about the Akvan later.

May 29th, 2012, 05:19 AM
Woodroam I do not know about many readers who skip prologue but I do read it :)

As I said Chapter One's style is a bit different with you using yourself as a narrator while you as a narrator have actually vanished in next chapters.

May 29th, 2012, 06:11 AM
Thanks. I might experiment a bit with that narrator voice. It's a little difficult in the Berkeley section as all I have there are the kids journals, but once they reach Lemuria I have all kinds of records from both good and evil mythological beings. I will see how it goes.

May 29th, 2012, 05:53 PM
Very cool story! Had me hooked through all three chapters - I appreciate that you used real myths and truths as the setting for your story. I think that is a great take. I look forward to reading the full novel. I don't really have much to add; there are a few minor edits needed and I agree that "Chapter one" should be the prologue, but overall I really like it.

December 18th, 2012, 03:27 AM
Woodroam, I love reading prologues! :D They make a story really interesting to me :) I don't have much criticism, although in this sentence: "Pumped and confident after his victory he cut through the neighborhood away from the busy traffic of the main boulevard." I think there should be a comma after 'victory'. :)