Before the Spoiled Blood pandemic and before they firebombed the cities my mom rented the upstairs rooms to an assortment of losers. Unattached drifters who had little money and fewer career prospects would live there until the welfare tap ran dry or the grocery store refused to accept food stamps for Night-Train or cigarettes. They all influenced me in some manner, the most important being that I never wanted to be like them no matter how unbearable life became after the Great Transmogrification changed everything.
In the beginning there was Harold Bent Shaft. His nickname came from an affair gone awry. He was 100% Cherokee and hated everything that wasn’t: Nez Perce, Mormons, Jews, anyone who dared to mistake him for Hispanic. He stole twenty pounds of venison steaks from the barn freezer but left a dream-catcher he’d made out of hemp cord and chunks of turquoise scattered around the muddy pond across the field. I suppose he saw that as a fair exchange.
There was Evelyn and her entourage of cats. She cast spells, constructed horoscopes, sculpted homemade candles into male and female effigies. She had a calendar depicting felines, fencing foils clasped in their paws, Elizabethan ruffles around the throat, swooning over a pond’s surface in imitation of Ophelia. She collected porcelain unicorns and channeling crystals. Evelyn seemed to believe that the mystical combo of mineral deposits and meditation would help her lose weight. She was enormous and dyed her hair a synthetic vermilion shade. Your basic white trash Wiccan.
I was a smart ass 14-year old who used words like “vermilion”.
Michael moved in when my mom was renovating the upstairs. He had no problem settling down in a bare room, walls fuzzy and pink with insulation. The bathroom had a shower but no sink or mirror. He said he was from Minnesota where “simply having hot water was a luxury”. He was extremely tall and had a beard that made him look like Rasputin.
Michael believed in a lot of things. I was open to the possibility of some. He had a motley assortment of occult paraphernalia that I found fascinating: dog-eared tarot cards sticky with fingerprints; Polaroid photos of blurry lights in the sky; a plastic statuette of Mary, her cheeks streaked with wetness, the baby Jesus cradled in her arms looking like a wizened little man. Michael told me to be careful with that one- she was a bona fide relic that miraculously wept.
My mom took people in like strays so we got to know Michael a bit more over dinners. He loved to ramble on about his theology, a mixture of Protestant doctrine and ancient astronaut mythos topped with a heady dose of the Great Tribulations. He saw indisputable proof of the End Times in the quarantining of Seattle and Portland as well as the media blackout which prevented anyone from learning much about the violence.
Seraphim brushed wings with extraterrestrials in Michael’s pantheon; Nephilim were the offspring of angels, aliens, and humans, the cursed spawn of interspecies fucking. Buddha and Jesus were cosmic heroes whose DNA had been altered by benevolent grays (cherubim) to combat the evil grays (archangels). It was a jumble of sci-fi faith warped by new age tenets and Jack Kirby’s New Gods meets the Old and New Testaments. It was the Book of Revelations with lasers and alternate dimensions.
Michael loved his tarot decks. The cards portrayed archetypal images, templates were shared between brains like some Bastian-type primordial consciousness. He claimed that with the aid of God he could trace these images back to their primeval origins and reveal the past, present, and future. God’s love inhabited the gaps between electrons, neutrons and protons and this love held everything together. God was cosmic glue who kept entropy at bay.
I had a vague notion of a God. I was convinced that all other religions did their best but only Christianity got it right. Most folks believed that an omnipotent Being orchestrated the whole affair, but a rare few like Michael preached that the messiah rode a dildo-shaped shuttle through space and time distributing wisdom amongst the stars. Despite his bat-shit insane ideas his faith seemed just as meaningful as the practitioner of any mainstream religion- this made me question the validity of fealty in general. Religion began to lose its respectability, my faith began to diminish as I actually gained some insight by seeing the logistical flaws in Michael’s theology. What with civilization rapidly collapsing I simply couldn’t hold onto any philosophically convincing definition of a God so this too became as untenable as tarot cards and dildonauts.
Things happened quickly. My mom caught the bug and her body shriveled up then bloated with new life. Weird ropy appendages replaced her limbs and she was no longer beautiful but something unique and remorseless. I managed to lure her into the barn and barricaded her in there securely. She wasn’t happy about it but tough love and all that.
Michael boxed up his stuff and left In the middle of the night. I couldn’t hold a grudge against him; humanity was done for. Sure he was leaving a fucking kid to fend for himself but it was a new world. I like to think he thought I was smart enough to get by on my own.
The next morning I explored his room. It smelled like sandalwood incense and yellowing books. He left an abalone shell full of Zig-Zag packets next to a stack of Fate magazines from the 80’s. I kicked aside some empty cardboard boxes and found a book titled Passing Through the Lychgate. There was a tattered photo tucked between the pages to mark a chapter on suicide. The snapshot showed a younger Michael holding hands with a strikingly pretty woman. His eyes were partially closed, both had a big smile on their faces, their heads enveloped in a glowing Kirlian aura.
I found his weeping Madonna idol abandoned on the window sill behind a dusty drape. Her tears were still glistening and emitted a strong odor similar to rubbing alcohol. I realized it was clear fingernail polish painted on the Virgin’s cheeks to mimic weeping. The polish shone like it was freshly wet when the light caught it just right.
© Christopher Slatsky
Mr. Slatsky is a freelance writer in Los Angeles. Other words of his may be found in the Arcane anthology (ed. Nathan Shumate) and Death Head Grin.