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Chapter One


The Reverend’s Wife




          Topside, on a heavily traveled road, exhaust was blown from automobiles.  Nearby factories and refineries emitted hazardous fumes that fingered up to the sky.  Despite efforts toward prevention, these pollutants still collected in the breeze constantly, in ever increasing doses.  Rejoining the primal gases of oxygen and nitrogen, they were diluted but never went away.  Pockets of smog still clung to portions of the city, cloaking the surrounding hills with a gray haze.

          On the same road heading into town, near a company that processed chemical fertilizer, more gas rose up, curling slowly and imperceptibly from the pavement until it spread itself as a thin layer of fog.  After fading gradually until it could not be seen, it had the appearance of a heat chimera hovering over the road.  Where the other gases rose mindlessly and aimlessly upward, it malingered purposely for a while in the same spot, until the time was just right.

          As if on cue then, it soared as steam boiling from the pavement, rising invisibly, intangibly, and spreading itself thickly as sewer gas over the ground.  Hesitating awhile as it fingered its domain, a peculiar shadow developed below as it took on new shapes and new power.  A long exploratory tentacle materialized, a tail followed, and two black eyes appeared in the vapor, scanning left to right, up and down, and straight ahead.

With an ancient predetermined purpose, it began searching for its quarry.  With increasing momentum, it came closer to its destination.  Darting through alleys and over rooftops, it wound through traffic and filtered through the parkland.  After awhile of invisibility, it transformed back into a whole range of slimy, filmy, and will-o’-the-wisp creatures.   Soon, however, its love for theatrics subsided, its momentum steadied, and it began hovering prudently back on its path: first as a tiny white cloud, then as a fading morning mist, until finally it was scarcely more than an inkling: a faint odor of brimstone mingling with the breeze.

          It knew it was near its goal now.  There was no mistaking the geography so far.  Its excitement, expectations, and sense of purpose were almost more than it could bear.

          When it reached its destination, it was in a mood for serious business.  All its life had been aimed at this moment, and everything it stood for was wrapped up in this spot.  So cautiously now and meticulously it sniffed the house and, as carefully, probed and touched the foliage surrounding its walls, until, finally, peeking into the windows again and soaring once more around the house, it seeped instantly inside.

          “At last,” it whispered breathlessly. “I have arrived.  It’s time to begin!



          Hovering anxiously over the floor now, it scanned the shadows for sound, movement, and the odor of bodies.

          It saw, immediately, something peculiar about the house and definitely not right.  It was too dark for this time of day, and it was much too quiet.  There was also, in spite of the sun outside and workaday world, a secretive look to the house.  Its curtains were drawn, the windows were closed, and a television flickered mutely in the corner—all ingredients of a deep, dark secret but nothing extraordinary, at this point, and nothing unexpected.

          The house was merely asleep, it concluded.  There was, down the hall a ways, grunting and groaning sounds, as if someone was awakening from the throes of slumber.  The overall eeriness of the place had nevertheless stirred its imagination.  A familiar aura filled the house.  For a moment, as it savored the setting, its own chamber came into mind.  Cut off from the world above, it had been its dungeon, just as the house seemed to be for them.  The Reverend Adam Leeds and his wife, shut away against a busy world, seemed trapped in the shadow of time, but unlike them it had come out.  For the first time in creation, it was totally and unequivocally free: the purest form of malevolent energy ever known.

          As it darted through the house, it changed excitedly over a menagerie of characters fortunately beyond the occupant’s view.  Goblins, gargoyles, and gorgons blinked on and off as it zoomed down the hall.  When it reached the end, however, it faded to a subtle haze.  The sound it heard earlier had likewise changed significantly.  There was, instead of moaning and groaning, a retching noise, as if someone was sick.  It realized, after constant observation, that it was the wife, not the husband, making these sounds.  Adam Leeds had not yet returned home.  While Satan waited for him to arrive, it wound surreptitiously back to the living room, curious to know why a television would be on with no one to watch.

          Déjà vu filled the visitor as it approached the set.  With its volume turned down, the big flat screen set was an eerie sight in the darkened room.  Standing over four feet from the floor with a fifty-inch girth, it was far too massive for the modest living room, and yet it reminded Satan of its own porthole for looking up at the world.  The high definition screen was filled with a cable news program in which a panel of talking heads were arguing amongst themselves, until a commercial broke in.  After several of these annoying interruptions, the setting suddenly changed to a man standing on a stage.  On the entertainment-sized screen, the speaker loomed large—his gray eyes blazing with purpose, jowls vibrating, and fist mercilessly pounding a bible in one hand.  Even without words, it was obvious what this man was.  He was, like the one it had selected, a man of the cloth.  Although, upon closer inspection, he was much older than him, he was far more animated than Adam Leeds.  The preacher’s face sweat profusely as he beat and wrung his tattered bible and worked his wrinkled jaws.  Unlike the self-conscious Adam, it recalled, he appeared to be uninhibited, his dynamic movements at variance with his crotchety old frame.  Even with the volume turned down, his message seemed to convey, “Back off, you’re going too far.”  His appearance had been timed just right to catch Satan’s eye.

          As Satan studied the scene, it began reading the old man’s lips.  “Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!” were some of the exclamations erupting from his ancient mouth.  So far there was nothing in his sermon but that old time religion.  There was nothing to suggest he was acting on behalf of God.  And yet the old man’s eyes seemed to be riveted upon Satan, as if he was looking right into this room.  When Satan turned the volume up, it knew immediately that the sermon was personal and a direct assault.

          “I know you’re out there Satan, and God does too.” He moved forward on the stage.  “A clock, dormant since the beginning of time, will soon begin its countdown.  The time of miracles will return!”

          Before turning the volume back down, it began changing the channels, discovering that the preacher was on every channel on the set, hollering warnings about Satan, the Antichrist, and the End Times.  Because there could be hundreds of cable channels on the television, this was a most ominous sign.  It was the same fundamentalist diatribe heard countless times before from the Porthole of Hell’, with two important exceptions: this time it was hearing it topside, not indirectly as an eavesdropper catching scenes here and there; and this time it seemed to have a special purpose.  Now, after being muted again, the old preacher’s eyes seemed to follow Satan as it exited out of the room.

          Knowing what the old preacher had been saying had been disquieting enough for Satan.  When it realized why the old preacher was speaking at this particular hour, it grew increasingly alarmed, and, against its better judgment, had turned the volume up.  Now, in the stillness of the house, the old man’s Apocalyptic warnings hung as shadows in its mind, and the wonder of who the old man was filled Satan with dread.

          After hearing sounds in the hall, it turned from God to the long, dark road ahead.  “All right,” it whispered aloud, “you made your point.  But in the end the joke will be on you!”



          As it darted down the hall, it could hear another wretch and then coughing and hacking, but then there was the sound of a lock rattling somewhere in the house.  A key was turning, probably in the front door.  Suddenly, the Reverend Adam Leeds entered the house, with briefcase in hand, charging through the living room into the hall.  Instantly, now that the minister was here, Satan vanished from sight, settling quietly onto the floor.

          Watching him step forward now was an exciting event.  For a long time, the Reverend Adam Leeds had been its choice.  At the foundation of the minister’s apostasy, which recommended him to Satan, was the new age Protestantism he preached—a feel good religion of positive thinking which lacked the moral imperative of the fundamentalist Christianity, or so his critics said.  In many ways, it found amusing, it was not Christianity at all.  Yet in the young minister’s troubled soul, which encouraged the tempter’s entrance into his life, lie human nature, which continued to battle with his God.  Much of the work needed had already been done.  He had all the qualifications required for the job: ambition, self-doubt, and a growing disappointment with life.  Now, to its delight, he exhibited two of those qualifications this hour: doubt and disappointment.

          “Cora, where are you?” he called. “What’re you up to?  Answer me woman.  I’m onto your tricks!”

          Following quickly behind, it watched him place his briefcase on his desk then storm down the hall toward another sector of the house: the bathroom.

          “Cora!” it sounded the darkness.  “What’re you doing back here?…. I thought you were in bed with the flu.  You’re at it again, aren’t you?  You’ve been drinking again!”

          A wretch erupted, followed by vomiting into a hollow abyss.  As he reached the door, it heard him grumbling under his breath:  “Why lord?  Is this a test?  Am I being punished?”  Prayer followed, and then groaning, and several curses, as the sound inside grew louder and reached a peak.  Yet, as the vomiting died and the woman lapsed into oblivion, the reverend calmed himself, straightened his shoulders, and began tapping gently on the door.

          “Cora,” he said hoarsely this time, “you promised.  Why’re you doing this to me?  Are you that unhappy?  Are you that miserable?  Why can’t we talk?”

          When he pressed his ear to the door the woman was still stirring but couldn’t speak.  The sound of the toilet flushing, however, explained her silence and justified his suspicion. 

          “Cora,” he shouted again “you don’t clean the house!  You don’t cook or fix yourself up!  You drink, you smoke—anything to make me miserable…. Why Cora?  Tell me why!”

          It was an incomplete summary of the woman’s decline.  Several faults had been left out, which had been seen repeatedly from the Porthole of Hell: conniving, lying, and adultery—just to name a few.  Etched into Reverend Leeds’ face were signs of his suffering: the premature aging and haunted look of someone who catnapped but rarely slept through the night.  There was something else in his demeanor and sad blue eyes not registered in his voice.  A foreboding was mirrored in his gaze.  He had a defeated look as he lingered there by the door.  He must have wondered how she had stayed drunk all this time.  On his income, she would have needed more than her housewife’s allowance to stay high.  If he knew that she also took marijuana and occasionally pills, he would have to conclude that she was either stealing from his wallet, borrowing from her friends… or something unspeakably worse. 

          Obviously, thought Satan, he too was hiding from the truth.  He was hoping that his prayers would finally work and that her drinking would somehow end.  He could not let himself believe how hopeless she had become.  To concentrate upon her unfaithfulness, at this point, would have driven him mad.  So resting his forehead against the door, he uttered a tired, unchristian oath, and his eyes closed in despair.

          “Are you watching this,” Satan whispered down to Abaddon.

For a moment, the reverend tried halfheartedly to enter her den.  His hand gripped the doorknob and a look of determination was registered on his face.  But the look quickly faded and the hand slackened when the door wouldn’t budge.  He just stood there with his forehead pressed against the door, mumbling prayers that were really curses under his breath.  After inspecting the young man closely, Satan realized that he had no intentions of entering her den.  He seemed afraid, at this point, and filled with dread, which was understandable given the temper of this wench.  As Adam backed away then retreated down the hall, Satan followed him into his study and watched anxiously as he picked up a letter opener he would use to unlock the door.

          “Go on, Adam, unlock the door!” It wanted to say, as the young man procrastinated at his desk.  A flood of clever and compelling words were just waiting to be uttered by Satan into his protégé’s ears, if only he was ready.  It would have relieved infernal tension to whisper to him “Come on, you fool.  Go in there and bash her brains in.  Don’t just stand there; the woman’s a millstone around your neck.  She should be destroyed!”  Although the temptation was strong and the moment seemed so right, Satan’s instincts, which were seldom wrong, recommended caution and prudence, until just the right hour.  Remaining invisible now, it rose up slowly to the ceiling, hanging as an ominous unseen cloud.

          During those moments of inactivity, Satan noticed that he had dropped the letter opener and was staring, probably from exhaustion, into empty space.  Soon, if not awakened by his own fears, he would be sound asleep.  As his head fell forward and his eyelids drooped lower and lower, his new mentor sighed audibly and drifted down the hall toward the source of the minister’s despair.  Upon reaching the bathroom, a feeling of excitement gripped Satan as it filtered beneath the door into the dark, smoke filled room to the very core of the young minister’s problem:  his drunken, adulterous wife.



          For several moments, it hovered expectantly around the room.  To his infinite mind all was well, everything being reduced to this moment in time.  The cosmos it understood was likewise reduced to this room: a microcosm with profound implications.  The small chamber had all the right signals.  It was not as sinister as its chamber in hell, but it seemed darker, far more smelly, and was filled with unhealthy air.  There was something unique about this place—a primitive cave-like quality indicating it was the woman’s private den.  Truly this was a lioness in decline.  Her odors were a blend of vile fluids and ill wind with an undertone of femaleness, rather than femininity, and another odor added that made it all the better: alcohol.

          With such a foul collection of smells, the aroma of bourbon was difficult to detect but was nevertheless there, emanating from the minister’s wife.  A commode, bathtub, and shower filled three corners of the room.  In the remaining corner, crumpled on the floor were the woman’s robe and slippers.  Obviously ready to take a bath or shower, she had been detoured on the way.  Except for the minister’s reticence, everything was perfect so far: the burdensome and mischievous wife, emotionally fed up husband, and a situation that could only get worse.  Slowly and invisibly, it circled the woman, sniffing, probing, and then settling vaporously in the corner nearest the commode.  Another odor now entered the woman’s nose: brimstone, barely detectable in this awful stench and yet triggering a response in the woman’s brain.  For Cora Leeds, unlike her husband, was not shielded by faith or sobriety.  She was, the Tempter knew, in an appropriate state of mind, ripe for the damnation gripping her soul.

“Daughter of darkness,” it whispered finally, “it is I, your better half, speaking.  Arise!  Awaken!  Open those moonshine eyes!”

          Stirring in response, the epitome of moral decline, Cora Leeds was about to see its shape.  Although others had seen it in different forms, she would be the first mortal to see its amorphous change.  She was in no condition to understand what she saw, and she could barely hear its call.  But a totally new experience was overtaking her, something that her alcoholic mind found both terrifying and totally strange.

          From a drunken haze now, she felt its presence and sensed it staring from across the room.  She knew she was lying naked in the dark, on a cold damp floor with the sound of water gurgling nearby.  But she did not know where exactly or even if she was awake.  It was much too dark, and it was much too strange.  To her foggy mind the shadowy line between dreams and reality had never been too clear.

          “Daughter,” it prodded “… I’m over here … in the corner … come on, turn your empty head!”

          “Wha-a-a-at … izzz … hap …. ninng?” Her tongue rolled thickly in her mouth.

          “Happening?” It snickered. “Nothing up there on the ceiling …. I’m down here … to your left …. Over here …. Look at me, wench!”

          “Huh?” She squinted “Where? …. I can’t see nuthin’.”

          “Then rub the vomit from your eyes!” It commanded softly.  “I am not one of your hallucinations…. I am real.  This room is real!… Your husband’s voice is real!”

          Hearing her husband’s voice outside the door had comforted Cora Leeds.  Like it or not, his voice and touch, as experienced through mind altered states, were her respective reference point and anchor to this world.  When delirium tremens overtook her and creatures were walking, flying or crawling inside her head, he would pray for her, sometimes angrily, and use psychology on her until she was brought back down to earth.  But this time his muffled curses remained outside her terrifying world and then he was suddenly, inexplicably quiet, which made this visitation even more ominous.  While listening hopefully for a sound outside, she watched two yellow catlike eyes move slowly toward her in the darkness.  An ethereal light outlined the amorphous, pulsating shape, but it was far too abstract for her drunken mind to grasp.  As the eyes and shadow began to change, Cora still wondered if she might be asleep.  She had seen uglier specters before, ranging from bugs to bloodsucking bats, but each time she had seen these creatures, the room had reeled, the sounds seemed garbled, and a dreamlike quality pervaded the room.  This time the room did not spin around her, and one single specter was focused in front of her gaze.

          Laughing softly then, it rose to an awesome height.  After taking on substance, it lifted toward the ceiling as a genie from a bottle.  “Is this how you picture me?” It looked down with amusement now.  “A horned fiend, with a pitchfork, sporting a devilish tail?”

          “Yes,” She mouthed mutely, “… oh yes!”

          “That is the way everyone sees me.” It edged closer. “Somewhere, a long time ago, someone had a nightmare just like you, and dreamed me up: a horned, fork carrying, half goat-like creature with red skin and feline eyes …. But the truth is, I am much worse than that.  Watch this!”

          Confronting her childhood phantom at last, she shivered uncontrollably, a look of horror frozen upon her face.  While her husband remained silent outside her den, the effect deepened.  As the specter continued its bizarre game, the symbolism was not lost on her in spite of her condition.  Her nakedness, the darkness, itself, and the Devil appearing in the room seemed to be proofs that she had gone too far this time and that her husband, now suddenly silent, had been right all along …. She had finally made it to hell.

          From conventional boogieman down to creeping unknowns it changed, a crooked grin spreading across its mutating face as it inched slowly across the room.

          A scream formed on her lips but was halted by the paralysis in her throat.  The thing coming toward her defied description.  She remembered previous deliriums.  Rodents, reptiles, and bugs had crawled on her skin.  She had several times been chased by bats around the room.  But this time she seemed to be wide awake.   This did not feel like a dream or the DTs.  All around her was the proof of her wakefulness: her discarded robe and slippers, her cigarettes on the floor, the faint gurgling from the toilet nearby—everything except her husband’s voice ….  Was this where she would spend eternity now, locked in this cubicle with that monster close-by?  The question caused hysterical laughter to erupt inside her head.  Like a fish treading water, her mouth opened and closed in an effort to scream.  But she was beyond normal fears this time.

          As the specter slithered in slug-like fashion toward her, she cowered on the floor, unable to emit her voice.  In a whistling, arctic voice then, it ordered her to get up off the floor and sit back on her throne.  When she didn’t move, it touched her with a slimy paw to prod her on, until she was again perched on the commode.

          “What you need is another drink,” it laughed softly as she gripped the seat. “Where’d you hide it? …. Come on, where’s it at?”

          As something continually mutating, it hovered inches from her face.  While sniffing and probing the woman on her throne, its body became a mass of vibrating tentacles that touched everything in their path including her shivering breasts.  When its gorgon head was mere inches from her face, it sent one of its tentacles over her shoulder into the tank beyond.  After pushing the lid ajar, the probe entered the cavity and felt around.  There, in the darkness, were two bottles, one of them floating half full beside a full bottle still unopened and sealed.  Taped crudely above the waterline was a plastic sack filled with marijuana and pills.  Ignoring this stash, it snatched up the half empty bottle, carried it dripping over her breasts and tucked it carefully between her legs.  When the woman did not immediately respond, it lifted it up, unscrewed the lid, and angled it toward her lips.

          “Bottoms up!” It whispered icily.  “Open your mouth, and tilt your empty head.  Hurry now!  Drink up quickly before he returns!”

          Responding obediently now, the woman’s eyes widened with each new gulp.  After allowing several swallows down her throat, she sat there glassy-eyed, staring at its face, no longer certain that she was even awake.

          “Ar-r-r-re you-u-u reee-eal?” She managed to ask.

          “No, my daughter,” it chortled, retreating from the room, “think of me as one more hallucination, another manifestation of delirium tremens.  Ta-ta!  Adios!  Sayonara!  Go back to your twilight world; it’s where you belong!”

          At this point, the specter became translucent, gradually disappearing beneath the door, leaving Cora staring mutely into space.  Its final words were blurred in her mind because of the condition she was in.  Now, after the last jolt of alcohol, she was even more inebriated than before.  Her shadowy world was again reduced to a silent, intangible dark.  Her head, in mindless twilight, drooped low as her body floated weightlessly in the room.  Somewhere, in the conscious world below, there was commotion and muted sounds as Cora began leaving her troubled world behind.  Somewhere, on the fringe of madness, now lost in her drunken mind, Satan had left its imprint, which would, it was certain, remain muddled until the latter day, when Cora Leeds, the minister’s wife, finally made it to hell.

          For now, with the specter gone, there was again silence in the room.  She had that weightless, light-headed feeling preceding unconsciousness, turning everything past and present into a shadowy dream.



          As she sat there on her throne, Cora’s head fell forward, and her arms dangled loosely at her side.  For several moments, as she teetered on the commode, her balance was inexplicably maintained.  Slowly her frame inched further and further forward, until she was on the verge of falling off her throne.

          From the shadows, something rattling in the lock and a voice, that seemed far off, from another world, resonated outside the room.  She was uncertain if she was awake at this point and not even certain where she was.  After her most recent experience, the noise outside seemed insignificant.  She had, she recalled dimly, just experienced a hallucination so real it had left her paralyzed with fear.   Now she appeared to be falling asleep and yielding to gravity as she tilted forward on the commode.  The noise, after all, was out there, in another world, unseen, a mere annoyance, as yet unidentified in her drunken state. 

She could hear the voice become louder, more distinct, until she had an inkling of who it was: a man, sounding like her husband, on the other side, in that other world, very loud and very upset, but so far, far away.  She also recognized, as dim-wittedly, her current location, yet finally, even as the voice grew louder and more persistent, slipped off the toilet seat to sprawl face-forward on the floor.  Her nose twitched, and her eyelashes twittered.  A slight frown contorted her face as her cheek slid across the cold bathroom tile.

Rolling onto her back, a portrait of moral decay, she discovered slowly, with mounting anxiety, that this was not a dream.  She had, after having sex with that stranger, drank hard and fast before retreating to this room.  The whole world had slipped away, interrupted it appeared by a dreadful dream.  Now the world was back: all twenty-five thousand miles of it—crammed suddenly back into this tiny room …. There, on her right, lying mysteriously in a heap, was her robe and slippers, where she had dropped them…. Over there, gleaming ominously in the dark, was the toilet, her private liquor locker, its lid ajar, and a spare pint of red-eye floating in its tank.

          It was all here.  She was not asleep.  She had, in fact, slept for only a few moments and was now awake in the very same world she had tried to escape, which meant it was true, all of it: the voice, the knocking, and cold, thick dark.  Though she had left her husband telltale evidence before, he had never caught her in the act or discovered her stash.  It had always been after the fact, when she was sober enough to be confrontational and put up a fight.  She was trapped naked in the bathroom this time drunk out of her mind.  She could barely move.  Weeks of sneaking around, hours of secret pleasure, had been uncovered by one stupid move, because she had timed it all wrong.  The most she could do now was tidy herself up a little, gather her wits, and try to hide the evidence …. But how?  Where?  She would be lucky just to make it to her knees.

          Crawling onto the toilet robe in hand, she deposited the empty bottle into the tank and shut the lid.  Her first impulse had been survival: a primitive urge to hide her goods.  Her next impulse was biological: the natural urge to use the commode.

          Suddenly, without warning, the door flew open and light flooded the room.  She just sat there stupidly, relieving her bladder and struggling into her robe.  The slight frown deepened on her face as she decided what to do.  As he entered the room, she pulled the terry cloth up to her breasts, after inserting only one arm into the robe.  He had said it before—every word of it.  He called upon God and His angels and prayed for strength to stay his hand.  Was this a test for him?  Was it punishment?  Why was he, among all men, cursed with such a wife?

          But something was added this time: an undercurrent much deeper than before.  This time he was in control.  He shook her hair, cursing the body beneath.  His voice took on a strange power that shook her mind as well, as if he was truly speaking for God, Himself, to the worst sinner on earth.

          Her moment of truth had come!



          She remembered having deliriums before.  Bats, snakes, and scorpions had crawled on her skin.  She had more than once been covered with slime and been chased screaming across the floor.  Today, this very hour, she had her worst hallucination so far.  She had been spooked by the Devil, himself, as hell seemed to claim dominion over her soul.  But these experiences were not real; they had all been dreams.  This time she appeared to be wide-awake while being tormented by her visitor.  This time a real-life horror was confronting her: her husband, angrier than she had ever seen him before.  For the first time she could remember, he was mumbling curses instead of praying for her soul.  Drunk as she was, the sound was sobering and filled her with dread.

          Would he beat her now?  Would he just go on shaking her hair?  Perhaps he might just wring her neck.  The motive was there.  She had given him cause.  After months of sneaking around, in fact, it was a wonder it had taken him so long.  He could have caught her doing something really bad such as partying with the mailman or meter reader this week.  This was only a routine binge, nothing to draw blood over or cause such pain …. What was he doing?  Would he keep shaking her hair until it fell out and her teeth rattled out of her head?  Suddenly, to make matters worse for her, an idiotic smile distorted her fulsome lips.  A mindless and hysterical laugh followed, which made him shake her hair that much harder, until finally, after several shakes, he let her go.

          For a moment, she sat there mutely on her throne, staring dumbly into space, a slight frown replacing the smile on her face.  This was nothing compared to her previous experience.  But that had been a dream, had it not?  This was now, and it was real.  It was not bats, scorpions, or the Prince of Darkness confronting her this time; it was her husband.  As God’s angry agent reaching down through the night, his voice, more than his actions, frightened her now.

          “Cora, look up at me,” he whispered. “…. I want you to understand exactly what I’m going to do.”

          “Do-o-o?” She blinked. “Wha’ you-u me-e-ean do-o-o?”

          “It’s a surprise,” he said, reaching over to snap on the light.

          Being a night creature, Cora was momentarily blinded.  A dull shock of pain surged through her skull, her bloodshot eyes blinking stupidly as his presence registered in her brain.  The voice, having been given a body, now took on identity as he stood there in the room.  The Reverend Adam Leeds, her husband, had caught her in the act.  She would now be punished in his own righteous way.

          “First,” he explained hoarsely, “I’m going directly to the source.

          “So-oursh?” her lips formed around the words. “Wha’ so-oursh?”

          “Next, I’m going to dump it out,” he reached over to the shower, “before I give you your surprise.”

          “Shurr-prise?” she drooled. “Wha’ kinda’ shurr-prise?”

          “Listen,” he said, as the water fell, “sound familiar?  This is no ordinary shower Cora.  This shower is not meant to merely clean your body.  It will be like a baptism of the soul—the starting point on your road to recovery.”

          Her punishment was about to begin.  Adam’s lofty words registered slowly in her mind.  The sound of water droplets drummed his message home.

          “No-o-o-o,” she whimpered, “you keep a’ bottle.  Lemme ‘lone.  I don’t wanna shower!”

          “Too late!” he pointed accusingly. “Judgment’s at hand!  Scolding you isn’t enough, Cora.  You need a lesson—one I’m going to give you right now!

          “Leshun?  Wha’ leshun?” she moaned unhappily.

          After seeing the toilet lid ajar, Adam had saved this demonstration until now.  Watching him fish out the remaining bottle and dump it into the sink did not alarm her.  It had been cheap stuff, easily replaced, and somehow he managed to miss the plastic bag filled with marijuana and pills.  But when he put his hands on her, she began thrashing frantically and tried to escape.  Adam Leeds, her meek and peace loving husband, was becoming a firebrand.  Her eyes widened.  She lunged feebly for the door.  For a moment, as they grappled there in the bathroom, Satan watched in amusement as Adam took action against his wife.  Ironically, it was a battle of good against evil, one more effort by the minister to save his worthless wife.

          Cora grew furious as he reached down, grabbed her beneath her armpits and yanked her to her feet. 

“Stop that,” he said through clenched teeth, “it won’t do any good, not anymore.  You’re getting off this path of self-destruction.  There’ll be no more booze or drugs in our house.  Whether you like it or not Cora, you’re taking the cure.  You’re going to dry out.  You’re going to be spiritually cleansed!”  

          As he dragged her across the floor, she kicked, shouted obscenities, and tried unsuccessfully to bite his arm.  But Adam was relentless this time, and his grip was strong.  For once he had caught her in the midst of a binge instead of merely smelling it on her breath after the fact.  She was just barely conscious enough to protest and yet too weak to successfully resist.  This stage of drunkenness was perfect for what he had in mind; she could see and hear him but could not do him bodily harm.

          When they had reached the shower, he released her, parted the curtains, and yanked off her robe.  After a long history of debauchery and immodest behavior, a flicker of modesty nevertheless caused her hand to drop self-consciously to her groin while an arm lingered nymph-like upon her chest.  Briefly, to Satan’s delight, a flicker of desire answered in Adam, causing him to reach out awkwardly and touch her breasts.  But it was a mistake for her to drop her guard; her statuesque pose left her vulnerable and easily pushed.  The urge to stroke her body therefore passed as an ill wind, being replaced by determination—cold and calculating.  That once exquisite body and cherub face had lost its innocence and charm.  Cora, who had been suffering from the flu, now stunk of alcohol, vomit, and BO.  Her body sagged and bulged from constant misuse and yet was still alluring in the spots that mattered most.  The pouting mouth, large breasts, and hour glass shape had again tempted his soul, momentarily blinding him and temporarily deafening him, but not for long.  Right now he was protected by his faith and renewed revulsion.

          This wretch, the one who had shared his bed and his life, seemed to be a million spiritual miles away from him.  She had, with Satan’s help, chosen the opposite side of everything he held dear, including his faith.  In an age when the majority of the population had turned against alcohol and tobacco, she had embraced these vices as a protest against his church.  In her own careless and unpredictable way, she had managed to alienate all of his friends.  She had made him look foolish to his congregation by never coming to service.  The realization that even now, in her present condition, she could still beguile him, filled him with loathing.  She made him ashamed that he was a man with needs beyond the will of God, and yet that hint of innocence and charm lingered.  That touch of the old mystique twinkled in those bloodshot blue eyes.

          “In!” He commanded, pointing to the shower.

          “No,” she shook her head.

          “Now!” He insisted, giving her a shove.

          “No-o-o-o,” she whimpered, “I won’t do it.  Lemme go!  Plee-eease lemme go!”

          Get into the shower!” He shouted.

          Gripping her shoulders, he whirled her around and aimed her at the water.

          “You-u-u cannn’t do-o-o thisss!” She wailed.

          “I can.  I must.  I will!” He replied, calmly pushing her in.  “I’m going to finish what you started but this time with water instead of booze!

          EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” She squealed, stumbling into the tub.

          Suddenly, as she expected, a million shock waves rocked her frame.  As the icy droplets drenched her body, Cora gasped for breath.  Adam expected her to scream again afterwards and bolt from the shower.  But she just stood there with her mouth open and eyes popped wide, a long sputtering exhalation whistling out her throat.  Quickly now, Adam reached down, turned off the water, and fled the scene.

          Cora, in slow motion, stepped awkwardly over the tub searching for a towel.  Her flaccid muscles were stiffened by the shock, preventing her from buckling to the floor.  For a brief moment, she was wide-awake but just as inebriated as before.  In jerky, dazed motions, she dried her shivering skin, until her muscles began to thaw.  She sat there a few moments longer on the commode as the flaccid feeling returned to her limbs.  When her wake up shock had passed, she found it difficult to move and even think.  There had been, she recalled dully, a frightening ordeal earlier.  After this point, it was a blur for her except for one terrible set of images in her head: Adam turning on the water, pushing her into the shower, and then a million jolts coursing through her muscles and the very marrow of her bones.

          “Ba … bass …. bassturred!” she tried to say, a frown forming over half shut eyes.

          As he sat locked in his study, he listened with curiosity as she staggered down the hall.  Still feeling the effects of her binge, she became momentarily disoriented, wandering zombie-like throughout the house, until winding up back in the hall.  Dimwitted curses gurgled from her throat as she beat on his door, until ultimately she sank to the floor in drunken rage.  For several moments, he could hear her sobbing outside—the proverbial drunk crying in her beer.  Afterwards, she began coughing uncontrollably, on top of everything else suffering the symptoms of the flu.  After a few moments of dormancy, interrupted by sobbing and hacking coughs, Cora rose up shakily on her legs, uttered one loud bloodcurdling shriek then staggered back down the hall.

          In what part of the house she would finally crash he was not sure, but he hoped it was in her bed.  In the past he had come home to discover alcohol on her breath, which she had attempted to hide with chewing gum and mints.  More recently, she had become a closet lush, hiding her problem from him when he was not around and making up for lost time when he was away.  But this had been a first.  Today, after sneaking around for weeks, perhaps months, she had been caught in the act.  Obviously, Cora had spent much her household allowance on cigarettes and booze.  Her behavior was not a passing phase, as he had hoped, but a full-blown physical and spiritual illness totally out of control.

          A feeling of conviction filled him as he sat there at his desk.  A small victory against alcoholism had been won.  She might have trouble remembering it, but Cora’s moment of truth had come.  If only symbolically, her road to recovery had begun.  There would be a long struggle ahead requiring patience, vigilance, and prayer.



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