In the dark recesses of the city the denizens of darkness included skid row winos, down-and-out prostitutes, and drug addicts, who were especially prevalent at night. So far, the early evening shadows had not engulfed the city. For a moment Adam was distracted by a tall, gaunt and shaggily bearded man in a threadbare suit, clutching a tattered bible as he strolled up the street. The stranger, who reminded him of some of the street evangelists seen around Pershing Square, waved a bony hand at him and called out in a voice hoarse from preaching “This is no place for you sir. Call a cab. Go home!” When Adam didn’t respond, he cried out in disbelief “Are you ill sir; do you need assistance? If I were you I’d hail the first passing bus. There’s a bus stop down the road. Hop on it and head home before you get yourself mugged!”
“Thank you for your concern,” Adam murmured, almost to himself.
The man saw that he was acting strangely. There was genuine compassion in his face. Instead of preaching to him as he had probably been doing all day, the stranger was concerned that he might be ill. After crossing the street a ways, however, he looked passed Adam at something in the shadows, made the sign of the cross, and retreated back to the curb.
Emerging into the sunlight was a sight unfamiliar to the preacher’s eyes. Big Molly, a monstrous parody of a streetwalker, was afoot. Inspired by this portent, the preacher called out as walked down the sidewalk
“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy…”
What a strange thing to utter in this hopeless place, were Adam’s thoughts as he watched the man disappear into the hollows of the city. The beast mentioned in the passage, he recalled, was the Antichrist. “And why not?” He asked himself light-headedly. It seemed to Adam, as he remained disoriented by his grief, that this corner of Los Angeles was already damned.
Out of the shadows, Big Molly, the woman who had terrorized him earlier, now waved a greeting to him as their eyes met. Somehow, she no longer repulsed him quite so much, and the prospects of being near her seemed better than wandering the city alone.
“Hey fellah, you look awful!” she shouted in her deep, frothy voice.
Earlier he had genuinely thought the same of her. Now, as if in a mental fog, he shuffled toward her monstrous hulk, wondering if this dreadful woman might somehow help. He didn’t even mind very much her foul wine-stinking breath. His blazing, gray eyes searched for sympathy in her abysmal expression, finding only a grotesque face and small, twinkling black eyes.
“My name’s Adam Leeds,” he announced flatly, avoiding her gaze.
“My name’s Molly. Big Molly, I’m called,” she replied, extending her hand.
“Glad to meet you,” he said, reaching out with hesitation.
Her hand was like warm, uncooked fowl, the bones beneath lost in the loathsome fat. Among the features of this woman, however, the eyes seemed most inappropriate. They reflected cold, external bits of light, as the glow shining on ice or marble instead of that radiating from internal body heat. They reminded him of the mechanic’s insensitive eyes. The way she studied him, in fact, was so reminiscent of his experience with Henny Lumpkin that the shadowy premonition following him from the gas station began creeping back into his mind.
Suddenly, as if to accentuate his fears, the street evangelist’s voice rang out in the distance: “And I beheld another beast coming up out of the earth; and he had two horns like a lamb, and he spake as a dragon…”
This time the passage was alluding to the False Prophet foretold by the revelator John. For a moment, Adam stood there wondering if these apocalyptic messages were meant for him. He had always believed in a historical interpretation of Saint John’s work, but the timing for the two passages quoted by the evangelist was too perfect. Was not Big Molly a beast? He knew, of course, that the second beast mentioned by the preacher was the False Prophet.
How very strange. How very strange indeed, he thought as Molly began coaxing him in an ill-suited, falsetto voice: “Come on, let Big Mary help. You poor baby. I’ll fix you some tea.”
“Tea?” He murmured faintly. “… I never drink tea.”
“You’ll like this tea,” she cooed, winking one of her dead-fish eyes.
Torn between an old dream and her simple persuasion, he let her decide for him, being pulled gently into the shadows and swallowed up in a building nearby. As the entry door was opened by Big Molly and slowly shut behind them, he could hear the evangelist shouting another apocalyptic warning in the background, the man’s voice fading as he followed her into the hotel.
“And he exerciseth all the power of the first beast before him, and causeth the earth and them which dwell therein to worship the first beast, whose deadly wound was healed…”
The street evangelist’s message would haunt him in the days to come. As his voice faded in the distance, the hulking form led him up a rickety flight of stairs, down a long, garbage strewn corridor, and into a small and dimly lit apartment, in which an eclectic collection of worn furniture, an antique television, and walls cluttered with garish artwork and photos greeted him on all sides.
Finally, when he came upon a torn and well-stained easy chair, he found himself halting within the smelly room, settling into to the cushion below, his arms falling heavily onto the arm rests and head falling back onto a dirty throw pillow she had placed behind his neck. He sensed that she was nearby, but he had closed his eyes in disbelief of what he was doing and where he wound up. Soon tea was brought to Adam in a small China cup and laid on a small circular table beside the chair. Big Mary stood in the background as he lifted up the cup, sniffed the harmless looking beverage and began sipping the tea.
After hearing footsteps and wondering if she was retreating from the room, it grew progressively dark around him as if night was descending before sleep. His eyelids became too heavy to hold up, though he fought with determination to stay awake. An indeterminate period of time passed, forever lost to his conscious mind. It was the sensation similar to what a patient has when awakening from an operation. Though an hour or two may have passed, the blackout seemed instantaneous, as if he had just closed then opened his eyes. Then, with his eyes wide open, in total darkness, the light began to brighten, and he realized he had company again in the room. Close by, breathing heavily, the incarnation of evil waited. He could feel its presence behind him, until suddenly, moving out as a phantom in the dimly lit room, its shadow began taking form.
Convinced, at that point, that he was drugged, he wondered groggily if the woman was just playing a sick game with him. Perhaps, if he were lucky, she would only trifle with him before turning him back onto the street and would not do something unspeakable to him in his state. He was so weak he could barely move, and yet he pictured himself rising up and fleeing from the room.
“I can’t be here! I can’t be here!” He whispered frantically. “I must escape before it’s too late!”
Except for the movement of his eyelids, however, he remained inert in his chair. The formless shadow skirted the room a few moments as he mumbled fearfully to himself. One second it looked very much like a witch riding a broom and the next it appeared as the silhouette of a chimney sweep holding his sweeper in one hand. A menagerie of animate and inanimate shadows were shown on the wall for his benefit but none so frightening as the earlier specter of a great obese lady with outstretched arms.
“Molly, what do you want with me?” he asked fearfully. “Why are you trying to scare me? I thought you were my friend.”
“Calm yourself,” a soft, feminine voice, which sounded nothing like Molly’s, whispered close by.
“You put something in my tea!” He tried to shout, finding his voice trailing weakly out of his throat.
“You drank freely,” the shadow replied, lithely moving as a shapeless cloud passed his face.
Feeling the same cold draft he had experienced in his study, Adam cried in a strangle whisper “Oh dear God, stay away from me! I don’t want to play your sick game!”
“I gave you something to calm your nerves,” it explained gently, “something to prepare you and ease the shock.”
“What do you mean? Who are you? What do you want?” he asked, closing his eyes tightly and covering his face.
The specter, whose sensuous voice contrasted its amorphous silhouette, spoke once more only inches from his shielded face: “I’m not going away Adam. Thanks to your wife, I’ve been with you for several years. She was my window to your life, because she was the key to your heart and mind. But she has served her purpose. Now she’s becoming a burden—a millstone around your neck. I don’t want her to destroy you Adam. She’s causing you to doubt yourself and lose focus upon your goals. You were once a firebrand. It was your own special brand of New Age Christianity that drew me to you. I’ve never seen a more dramatic contrast in a married couple: the career oriented and single minded minister and the self-centered and self-destructive wife, clashing at every turn. You’ve belonged to the new age of faith and reason and wanted to become its spokesman and leader…. And now you shall do just that through me, your new mistress and spiritual adviser. Adam, let me help you with your goals and dreams. With me you can’t fail!”
He couldn’t rise, for his body was still heavy from the drug, and his thoughts were struggling through a thick mental fog. With a childish hope that this was all a nightmare and a desire to will himself awake out of this dream, he shook his head and chanted lines from his favorite psalm over and over “Yeah though I walk through the Valley of the shadow of death, thy rod and thy staff comfort me…”
He saw, in spite of his efforts, an intangible and undulating mass, the room’s dim light giving its cloudy shape an ethereal glow as it hovered in one spot in the center of the room. Suddenly in the background, as if a movie was being projected onto the wall, figures performed behind the specter. They were, he could immediately see, Cora and another man, locked in a frenzy of lovemaking he had never experienced with his wife. The anomalous host, as the narrator and projectionist, stood in front and then to the side of the scene, pointing a gnarled four-fingered hand toward Cora and her partner.
“Who is this woman Adam?” It asked in a dull voice.
“The woman is my wife,” he answered hoarsely.
He felt numb with agony. Watching the swarthy man make love to his wife was visual manifestation of his recent revelation over the phone. He had been reassured then of her infidelity, but the evil room had deliberately caught them in the act.
“Enough!” He cried, his mind reeling with imagery.
“Yes, . . . quite enough,” the specter agreed.
He wanted now to protest and weep aloud, but his throat was too swollen with grief, so he could only make strangled croaking noises, which caused the specter to laugh softly as it hovered around the room. He had begun thinking of the smoky filament as a woman, which made it seem that much more perverse. He was being tormented in a most cruel way. He now watched Cora withdraw from her partner, light a cigarette and lie there next to him in the darkness. Adam recognized the swarthy man as the motorist who had stopped in front of his house to ogle his wife.
“Who is this man?” The specter whispered eerily.
Adam tried to answer but felt emotionally shattered after what he had seen. Although the words could not pass his lips, the specter quickly replied “He’s legion!”
“Have you seen enough?” It asked tauntingly. “You’ve been in denial for a very long time.” “You must kill her, Adam!” The whisper became a shrill, coarse voice. Although audibly similar to Molly now, the form remained a nightmarish shade, floating as a chimera about him as it waited for his reply.
“I can’t do that,” he found his voice, “Cora’s my wife. I’m a man of God.”
“Yes,” it replied promptly, “thanks to her, a failed man of God! Your wife collides with your ambition and mocks you at every turn. She’s a damper to the fires within you—a mental flue slamming down upon your dreams!”
In the shadowy setting, a stranger stroked his wife. After watching them rut on the wall, his feeling of betrayal had peaked. His understanding for what she had become was complete. All of the psychological literature and Biblical passages sought for comfort had been reduced to one simple fact: Cora was a drunken slut. She was beyond redemption, and he felt only hatred and contempt for her now.
The notion of murdering his faithless, amoral wife resurfaced once more in his mind. As if a channel had been changed, however, the scene shifted to a different place in a future time. As the form hovered buoyantly closely, a crowd was projected onto the wall. They were standing on a parkland green cheering a distant figure, who was elevated on a platform. Strangely enough, noted Adam, strung between two posts over the platform, a banner read “Salem for the People”.
“Salem,” he murmured, awed but dismayed by the setting, “who is Salem?”
At this point, it made little sense to him, for his mind was still locked in upon the first set of scenes. The platform grew steadily larger. It was only when the specter zeroed in on the speaker that his significance became apparent. Though the words were garbled and unintelligible, he could see that it was he, Adam Leeds, speaking to the multitude. Salem, he recalled, was the Hebrew word for peace, yet in spite of being drugged there was turmoil in his mind.
“Is this my future?” He asked, a gnawing anticipation growing in his mind.
He remembered now the lofty meditation that had dominated his thinking earlier: a successful minister of God and spellbinding preacher of the gospel who gathers the faithful into the fold. It was an old dream, shared by young pastors since the time of Saint Paul. Right now, however, it seemed ludicrous, having nothing to do with his current state of mind.
“This is only the beginning,” promised the specter. “Behold the more distant future!”
The crowd was much larger now. Apparently whole cities were marching in the streets and shouting slogans with the triumphant figure of Adam Leeds shown upon banners and posters held high. Yet once again it was all unintelligible, except for the vivid images and the enthusiasm of the apparent crusade.
“What are they saying?” asked Adam, trying to rise from the chair. “Who are those people? Who am I suppose to be?”
“Calm down,” the form demanded softly, “all things will come. For now it’s not important what they are saying. It’s not even important who they are or what you’re called. It’s only important that you’ll lead them against a disbelieving world.”
“World?” He uttered, settling uncomfortably into his chair. “What am I to be? Surely, you don’t mean world!”
“Yes,” the form promised breathlessly, “you shall become universal. Your message will reach all ears!”
“Message?” His mouth dropped in disbelief. “What message? Who am I?…Who are you?”
“All things will come!” declared the specter. “Be patient, listen and watch!”
He had been in denial about the presence in his home. Now, after experiencing the present horrors, he was unable to hide from the truth: Henny Lumpkin, Big Molly, his current host and the breeze blowing through his home and church were one and the same. Something evil had blown his way, and was here now in this room… Satan.
The scene behind it clouded a moment then shifted back to Cora and the stranger in the shadowy room. Somehow, during the short interval, they had been revitalized. Her legs were suddenly anchored around his brutish body. She moaned and squeaked and the man uttered the ancient primordial sound of rutting: “uh-uh-uh-uh-uhhhhhhh!”
Lithely, with a beautifully manicured hand, the specter pointed to the scene. A dagger was poised theatrically in mid-air above the oblivious nudes. Touching the suspended blade daintily, it chanted in a feline whisper “Kill her! Kill her! Kill her! Let her blood be a bond between us and her death be your sacrifice to me. Become my child, my anointed, and deliver her to hell were she belongs!”
Cora had never behaved with such abandon with her husband. He felt betrayed and defiled by what he endured. Memories of his many ordeals with his wife mingled with the current vision of her lovemaking. Finally, as if on cue or secret command, her partner retreated, leaving her alone on the disheveled bed.
“What are you waiting for?” Its whisper filled his head. “Kill the bitch!”
As he bolted passed the specter into the scene, Cora was shielding her private parts with a pillow. Finally caught in the act, she seemed to be more embarrassed than afraid of the familiar figure enveloping her on the bed. Scooting to a shadowy corner, she cursed him for his sudden intrusion. She had not seen the knife clutched behind his back. In a flash of burning memory, the events that led up to this discovery overwhelmed him as the ugliness poured from her mouth. When he tried to bring his target out of the corner into the lamplight, she fed his rage by slapping, kicking and spitting curses into his face. Grabbing a hank of hair, he pulled her from the dark corner, stabbing repeatedly at the exposed torso in the light. When her body grew limp, he released her hair, letting her fall limply onto the bed.
It was over. The bloody deed had been done. A modest impulse drove him to pull the sheet over his wife, creating a bloody hourglass shroud on the bed. Despite the carnage, he noticed with curiosity that there was no blood on his hands. Though it struck him as strange that gore had not splattered onto his skin and clothes, it seemed no more peculiar than being transported to their bedroom across town.
Suddenly, as if it had all been a dream, darkness enveloped him. The shiny dagger in his hand and butchered body below him disappeared, and he stood at what inspired him as the edge of eternity: that threshold he had many times envisioned between the spirit and the flesh and between energy and matter. This led him back to his earlier conclusion upon meeting the specter that he had been drugged. The murder scene could have been a hallucination. Perhaps he was merely asleep, the entire episode dreamed up by his tortured mind. Any moment, he told himself hopefully, he might awaken, dispelling forever this nightmarish ordeal.
His conclusions, however, remained guided by hope more than belief. He recalled the street evangelist’s haunting warning “This is no place for you sir. Call a cab. Go home!” He wished now that he had listened to the preacher. Blinking tearfully at the suffocating blackness, he called out Christ’s familiar exhortation “get thee behind me Satan,” but it carried a hollow and belated ring. In the background Satan called back cheerfully “I’m behind you now Adam one hundred percent!”
Once again, he was back inside the master bedroom. Reaching around for leverage, he stumbled into the bedpost and lingered there fearfully at the foot of the bed. Inexplicably, the lamp had been turned off, leaving him in almost total darkness.
“Cora,” he shouted, “are you here my wife?”
“The Lord does not listen,” Satan assured him. “I sent Cora straight to hell where she belongs.”
Praying that he would awaken from this nightmare into vindicating reality, he fingered the little lamp beside their bed and flicked the switch. A blast of light, much greater than before, filled the room, instantly sending a tremor through his brain. For a moment, he just stood there looking down at his handiwork. In one violent discharge, he had turned their nuptial bed into a butchering site. The gore hung malodorously between the bedposts. Every inch of the mattress had been splattered with Cora’s blood while she tried avoiding the knife. Now, except for a top knot of dark curls and a grimy hand protruding, a sheet clung to her perfectly outlined crimson body, the multiple stains offering grim confirmation of the slaughter beneath. Despite his shock, his eyes were drawn now to the bloody shroud, and he found himself inching closer to the bed.
Reaching down shakily, he lifted the edge of the sheet just enough to catch a glimpse of its grisly interior. Cora’s mouth gaped wide and her blue eyes stared lifelessly into space. Inching the sheet down a ways, he could scarcely believe the savagery. At this point, he lost his breath as well as his balance and stumbled into the side of the bed, so that her entire torso emerged with the spring of the mattress as he fell forward onto the bed.
Face to face with Cora’s ghastly expression, he glanced down at her eviscerated frame. A foul odor was issuing from her mouth as if it came from the bowels of hell. Recoiling from this horror, a wave of revulsion rolled over him as he sprang from the bed, causing his gorge to rise up his throat. Staggering out of the room, he found his way to the bathroom, bending over the toilet after snapping on the light. He could not remember ever feeling such nausea. Retching sounds in the hollow of the commode followed for painful moments until physical relief came. An overwhelming emptiness filled him as he flushed the commode.
“The cross is lifted from my back” he uttered bitterly, “…forever!”
There was no reply yet from Satan, but the same abominable smell issuing from Cora’s mouth now rose from the toilet. “It’s brimstone,” he told himself, “the odor of hell.”
“You’ve finally succeeded!” He cried aloud. “My hands are bloodied—I’m a murderer! What are you waiting for? Here’s my soul!”
After spitting defiantly into the toilet, he heard the echo of satanic laughter and saw the specter’s head rippling anomalously in the water below, but this time he found two black orbs staring up from the bowel. Inside each eye, an image of his butchered wife reflected from the water. As it studied his expression, a crooked smile broke its amoebic face.
In fascinated horror, Adam, in turn, studied the toad-like face in the commode. After his horrendous deed, it seemed appropriate that the face of the devil looked up at him now.
“That’s right, look closely,” it prodded, “you’ve witnessed only part of the picture.”
Scenes of firemen silhouetted in front of a burning house now appeared in the blackness, and Adam nodded with understanding.
“Very soon,” the specter promised, “the authorities will find only a pile of ashes and will have to conclude that you’re wife died in a tragic fire. You, for your part, will be born again.”
“You’re blackmailing me,” Adam concluded hoarsely. “Born again? What a sick turn of words!”
“Let’s just say,” it replied slyly, “I’m offering you protection—a way out. I’m offering you glory too!”
The flames faded, and familiar scenes filled Satan’s emptied eyes. Over an expansive green lawn, from a bird’s eye view, a surreal setting was once more presented for his benefit. He saw on the lawn a mounting multitude listening to a distant speaker, and then crowds marching on the street, arms locked in camaraderie as they waved banners and sang a partisan song. For reasons Adam could not yet digest, his name exploded on every corner—Salem for the people, and for a moment longer the implications boggled his mind. Satan had expected this imagery to be a catharsis for his shock, but the reverend spat again into the commode, then flushed it, a deadpan expression spreading over his face.
The toilet bowel beneath him flickered with other reminders. The grisly murder, a household fire, and a flaming body crackling on a burnt out bed frame appeared in the midst of the human hordes, joining in a swirling kaleidoscope, and Adam’s gaze was filled with crowds, banners, blood, and fire—the contrasting elements of blackmail and temptation. While Satan promised, it also threatened, apparently trying to convince him that the glory road was the only way out of his dilemma and into the world outside. The answer—his solution—swirled below him. In the center of this cinematic chaos rippled the amorphous image of Satan saying to him now “This it your only way out!”
For the time being, Adam understood this message dully. He was in too much shock to be comforted by distant fanfare. It made no more sense to him now than it had the first time when he had seen it on the wall. Still imprinted on his mind was the butchered body crackling hideously on blackened springs. The rest of Satan’s vision remained in the shadowy realm of temptation, stronger for his spirit’s weakness yet still weaker than a mortal’s fear of hell.
“What am I going to do?” he asked miserably. “Where can I go?”
“Do nothing and go nowhere,” the specter replied in a soft, feminine voice. “After you leave this room, walk no further than the street. Here, in this neighborhood, you will be safe until the morning hours. Don’t try to escape!”
When its voice trailed off to a faint whisper, Adam glanced down in time to see it disappear into the dark hollow of the commode. The symbolism of its grimy departure toward his own life’s significance was clear. For a moment he broke into hysterical laughter as he sat there on the floor. Rising up onto shaky legs, he looked around numbly at Molly’s filthy bathroom. When he passed light-headedly through her bedroom, the memory of the murder loomed large in his mind. In place of blue walls, brass bedposts and bloody sheets, dingy wallpaper, a rickety wooden bed, and a frayed bedspread greeted his eyes. Everything in the living room, for that matter, was harmoniously filthy and intact for him, except for his absent host. Big Molly had disappeared with the others. The apparition (a.k.a. Henny Lumpkin, Big Molly, and the ghostly specter) had seemed to vanish as a genie back into the commode.
The devil, of course, had not left the apartment. It had played another trick on him. After the murder, it had merely fallen silent. The surrounding apartment had likewise grown eerily quiet. There followed a stillness inside him and a feeling of inexplicable emptiness, and yet he sensed its presence as surely as the troublesome breeze he had felt so often this month. Instead of Christ, it had been the devil knocking on his soul. While corrupting his wife, it had, by close observation, eavesdropped on his thoughts. Now, as a result of the murder, it no longer had to eavesdrop. The door had been opened, allowing Satan to invade his mind. He could feel it as shadow as he exited Molly’s apartment, an indwelling spirit looking out from his eyes.