Thursday, September 20, 2012

Scary Inspiration

As any good artist will tell you, inspiration is the key to creating something from nothing.  As a novelist, I typically will take a story or interesting or scary time of my life and mold and shape it into a compelling piece of writing.  In my new novel, Terminal Restraint, I’ve done that with a tale told to me by a friend a while back.

I recall I was in my early twenties, and we were sitting in another friend’s living room, and this was the first time I had met this guy, Dave.  He had a bald head and goatee (kinda like me), was tall and athletic (kinda like me), and he appeared to be on speed or some other energy-boosting drug (not like me).  In his hand he held a bottle of Mountain Dew, and he swore up and down that’s all he had consumed that night.  Shortly after getting to know him, I knew he was telling the truth, as I’d never seen the guy take any drugs, not even smoke any cigarettes.  I don’t think I’ve ever even seen him drink.  But anyway on this particular night in his agitated and jumpy manner, he told us a story that I’ll never forget.

He and a couple other guys were driving up State Route 36 from Altoona to Ashville, Pennsylvania.  The road runs through a rather remote area, and the sun had set hours before.  At one point, the driver turned to them and asked if they wanted to see a Satanic church.  Uh, what?  The passengers all laughed, but a mile or so up the road, the driver turned into what appeared to be an old abandoned dirt road.  He drove on through dense forest in the dark of night, their car jostling them as they drove over deep potholes, until they reached a clearing.  And there, before them, was an old structure, a church, with red lights glowing in the windows.

As they slowed to a crawl and the driver turned out the lights, they began to hear screams coming from the church.  They listened for a few minutes, but then suddenly dogs began barking—not from one distinct spot up ahead but from all around them.  Several of the passengers reported seeing animal eyes looking at them from the darkness, and they immediately turned around and fled, going at a much quicker pace down the dirt road than that at which they had travelled up.  A third of the way down, a set of headlights appeared behind them, and they could tell that their pursuer was coming up on them fast.  They finally exited the dirt road and took off back up Route 36, and behind them they saw the car pull out into the road, stop, then drive back up.  And apparently their driver had predicted the dogs barking and the pursuing car, as he’d done this twice before and witnessed the exact same events.

Dave’s little story was scary, but of course he had doubters.  One person commented that they were probably just trespassing and being pursued by the property owners.  Another asked if it was just Christmas or Halloween and if the lights were just decorations.  Dave swore up and down that none of that was the case, and I can honestly say that for years I’ve wondered about this mysterious Satanic church.  And the few times I’ve travelled that road, I’ve looked for this mystery driveway, but alas I’ve never found it.  Then again, it’s not marked, so why would I?

I’ve always had a fascination with the dark/odd/quirky/taboo.  I think a lot of people do, but they are just afraid to admit it—at least publically.  I was always one to listen to controversial music: AC/DC, Motley Crue, KMFDM, Marilyn Manson.  It was never in an attempt to rebel or just be different, rather it was me trying to understand what all the fuss was about.  And of course I’m partial to rock and industrial.

About ten years ago, a friend of mine said that I resembled Anton LaVey, the man behind the Church of Satan.  At the time I had only an inkling of who Anton LaVey was, but after looking him up, I was dumbfounded.

Me circa 2002.  Creepy, right?  I didn't even know!  Of course, I read all about him and his beliefs.  While I don't personally agree with them, they are very interesting, to say the least!

When I began writing Terminal Restraint, I had this idea in my head of killing off my main character.  But I needed some way to bring him back, or at least make him “not dead.”  I’d already done the technology thing in my first two novels, so I figured I’d delve into the paranormal with this one.  And what better way to do it than to use the idea of black magic?

So I began perusing the web and researching a little more in depth, and the more I read about black magic and, in particular, LaVeyan Satanism, the more I realized how it’s not really at all like how I had imagined it to be.  I mean, I knew who Anton LaVey was and that he had his Church of Satan, and I knew they didn't actually have human sacrifices, but there's a lot to them that I had merely glanced over a decade ago.  LaVeyan Satanists, for starters, do not believe in Satan.  They are atheists.  And the black magic they do isn’t really what you think.

But by this time I had already had half of my novel written, and even though theistic Satanists are quite different, I wanted to stick with the Church of Satan theme.  So I had to change some things up, and of course I still wanted to get all of my hidden messages through to my readers.  But I still managed to pull a bit of Dave’s story into my work, and sure enough LaVeyan Satanism plays a big part.  After all, I was his spitting image!

Below is the first chapter of Terminal Restraint.  If you like it, check it out on Smashwords or feel free to hit me up for a coupon for a discount.

Chapter 1

Autumn, 1974

The hunter green Jeep Cherokee slowly pulled up the long and winding driveway, its tires crunching over the cracked slate and loose shale.  The old man glanced down at his map again for reassurance, steering clumsily and trying to confirm whether this was the correct driveway.  The dirt road had not been maintained well, and numerous thickets and briar trees scratched and clawed at his vehicle like children drawing their nails down an elementary school chalkboard.
The house, as described to him by the panicked young man, was up a long and twisty driveway off of Route 36 between the small city of Altoona and the tiny town of Ashville in central Pennsylvania.  The private road was barely noticeable, and he almost missed it even in the bright sunlight of the afternoon.  Even the rusting mailbox to the side of the driveway had been obscured by a fallen tree branch, and he was lucky to have spotted it with his poor vision.
The beleaguered caller had asked him to come during the evening, but he had refused, and he was thankful for his decision as he surely would have had more trouble finding it in the darkness.  In fact, he might not have even come at all had the young man not sounded so urgent in his request.  He had instantly wanted to know more about what exactly he was dealing with, but given their nature, he felt it best to arrive and then be filled in on the specifics of the problem.
As the Jeep rounded a corner, the small white house appeared off to his right.  The sun-soaked and faded siding and absence of several shutters made the dwelling fit well with the rest of the surroundings.  The grass was knee high, and several dilapidated cars of varying ages sat around the property.  Either the owners were not wealthy, or they just did not care much about appearances, but that was not for him to judge.  These people lived their lives as they did, and that was their business.
He pulled to a stop and slowly and methodically exited the Jeep.  A dog barked somewhere nearby, startling him with a low-guttural tone that made him think the beast was of a large and mean breed, which only served to increase his reservations.  He hoped the animal was on a leash or tied up, as he was far too feeble to fight it off.
Reaching into the passenger seat, he grasped for his ornate wooden cane.   It took several attempts to retrieve it, but once he had the handle in his grip and the end firmly planted on the ground, he felt a little more at ease.  He could walk without it if necessary, but he preferred the comfort of having something to lean on when he grew tired, as he did so often as of late.
“Hello, Mr. Barakat!”
The paunchy old man turned to the voice and squinted as an icy cool wind struck his face and stung his eyes.  It took him several moments before he spotted the much younger man descending a small set of steps from the dilapidated porch off to the side of the house.  As the young man approached, he could see that he was barely older than a child, only in his early twenties, and he wore a black smock and black casual dress pants with cuffs around the ankles.  His brown hair was neatly combed to the side, and he had on thick glasses with large black frames.
“Do you need any assistance with anything in your vehicle, Mr. Barakat?”  He approached quickly and shook the old man’s hand.  His manner was respectful yet urgent.
“No, no, I’m fine.  I’ll send someone out for it if it is needed.”
Taking the elderly man gently by the elbow, he replied, “Very well, then.  I’m Wilson Potter, and this is my home.  Welcome, and thank you so much for coming.  You can’t imagine how relieved we are to see you.”
Mr. Barakat nodded and, feeling a little less wary, allowed the young man to lead him up the stairs and onto the porch.  He took each step one at a time and was nearly out of breath by the time he reached the top.  Leaning heavily on his cane, he rested for several seconds, peering out at the thick forest surrounding the home.
Wilson waited patiently for him to catch his breath, and when the old man appeared ready, he led Mr. Barakat into the house and into a small dining room.  He pulled out a heavy oak chair for his guest, and the older man slowly lowered himself into it and rested with a heavy sigh.
As the Mr. Barakat glanced around briefly, he noticed that the house was sparsely furnished and rustic, just as the outside had appeared.  The home, both outside and in, did little to shed light on why Wilson Potter had summoned him.
“Mr. Barakat, can I get you something to drink?  Water, or tea or coffee, perhaps?”
Mr. Barakat cleared his throat to speak, coughed twice loudly and violently, and then gruffly said, “Tea or coffee would be fine.  Whatever you have.”
A thin pale woman appeared from a small room off to the side of the dining room, and she introduced herself as Helen.  He shook her hand politely, and she excused herself, turned, and hurried off down the hall.  He then waited patiently for Wilson to bring him his beverage.
A few minutes passed until the young man brought in a steaming hot cup and sat it down on a saucer in front of him.  “Tea,” he said.  “Do you need milk, or honey and sugar or anything like that?”
Mr. Barakat smiled and replied, “Oh, some honey and sugar would be delightful.  Thank you.”
Wilson scampered back out of the room again, and Mr. Barakat couldn’t help but notice the chips and cracks in the saucer and cup.  As he had deduced earlier, these people were either poor or just did not believe in material possessions.  Either way, Mr. Barakat would thank them and treat them kindly.  They needed his help, and that’s what he was here to provide.  These were his type of people as well, especially if they did have money but chose not to spend it on lavish items.  Simple and modest.
The young man returned a few moments later with a small glass jar of honey and several sugar packets.  He sat them on the table near the old man’s mug and then pulled out a chair adjacent to him.
“You had no trouble finding the place?”
Mr. Barakat smiled thinly, but he responded, “A little.  I won’t lie; it wasn’t the easiest driveway to find.  Miles and miles of woodland and then a barely visible dirt road?  I’m not sure I would have been able to find it in the dark.”
Wilson frowned and nodded.  “Yes, I apologize for asking you to do that at first, Mr. Barakat.  We just don’t like our neighbors knowing too much about us.”
Mr. Barakat nodded.  “Yes, I understand.  It’s fine.”
He slowly and methodically added a dollop of honey and two packets of sugar to his tea.  “I can’t recall if I’ve ever been to these parts.  If I have, it hasn’t been for many, many years.  When I was a lad a bit younger than you, I think my father may have brought me through here, although I can’t say for certain.”
Wilson seemed to perk up a little at this revelation.  “You were visiting someone?  You knew people from around here?”
Mr. Barakat began to laugh softly but then broke out into a coughing fit that rattled his entire body.  He reached for his cup of tea, but seeing that it was still too hot, withdrew his free hand as he coughed into the other.  Wilson jumped up and returned with a glass of water, and Mr. Barakat took it and quickly drank down half.  He continued to cough for several more minutes before the fit finally subsided.
Observing him with concern, Wilson uttered, “I’m sorry to drag you out here, Mr. Barakat.”
“Oh well, it’s not too much of a problem—at least yet, anyway.  But as I was about to say, I grew up in Salamanca, New York, and we would travel down this way from time to time to trade with the Amish and Mennonite people that lived in these parts.”
Wilson frowned, but then he quickly nodded and looked away.  Mr. Barakat keenly noticed his expressions and grinned.
“Not the type of people you would expect me to be associated with, I take it?”
“Oh, no, Sir.  I mean, no, I didn’t imply that.  I mean, well, yes, I suppose it seems a little odd.”
Mr. Barakat continued to smile.  He was thoroughly enjoying the young man’s perplexed state.
Helen came into the room suddenly and sat down at the table.  She had applied a minimal amount of makeup and had changed into a conservative blouse and black dress.  Her long, black, curly hair hung down neatly, and she appeared intent and ready to join in on their conversation.
“Mr. and Mrs. Potter, you will come to a point in time in your lives when you realize that nothing alarms you.  Nothing can shake your convictions.  You’ve pretty much seen and done it all, and if you haven’t, it probably wasn’t worth seeing or doing.  But before you get that far, you must realize that when something odd or different or alarming comes along, you must never ostracize it.  Rather, you must learn from it, embrace it, and use it to your advantage.”
They looked at the old man, slightly puzzled, and nodded pleasantly.  He could sense that neither of them seemed to fully comprehend the meaning of his words.
“What I’m trying to explain to you is that you, being of devout faith to our following and ideals, will recognize that all the world is filled with people, and even though we teach our kind to mind ourselves and live free, we must recognize that others do still exist, and that they may serve a purpose for us, even if their ideals are quite the opposite of what we believe.  We shouldn’t turn our backs on others—we should use them to acquire those things that we desire.  That is our way.”
Mr. Barakat eyed each of them as they both smiled and nodded again.  They seemed to understand this statement a little better than the first.  This was a test, whether they knew it or not, and so far they were passing—but just barely.
“So, on to the matter at hand.  I understand, from your message, that you are the leader of the Grotto of this area.”
Wilson nodded slowly.  “Well, yes, Sir.  I guess I’ve been unofficially leading a group of nine of us for the past few months.
Mr. Barakat took a small sip of tea and stared at Wilson, silently commanding him to continue.
“Oh…umm…yes, we’ve been meeting several times a month for the past three or four years.  We were formerly led by Reverend Silvio Palomino, but he passed away just recently.”
“Oh, Silvio?  From Philadelphia?  I did not know he had relocated to this area.  He’s dead?”
“You knew him?”
“Yes, although I hadn’t spoken with him in many years.  Probably a decade, now that I think about it.  We worked together back in San Francisco prior to meeting Anton.”
Wilson and Helen glanced at each other and smiled, briefly.  Mr. Barakat was bemused by their reaction.  They apparently had had doubts that he was the real deal.
Casting his eyes down toward his lap, Wilson softly explained, “Yes, we all loved Silvio very much.  He was a father to all of us.”
 “I hadn’t known that Silvio passed.  He was fifteen or twenty years younger than me, though.  In his late fifties?  Was he ill?”
“He was killed in a car accident, Mr. Barakat.  A drunk driver.”
The old man frowned.  “That’s a shame.  He was a decent man.  I offer my sympathies, and I’ll have to stop by his grave before I depart.  Now then, what is the reason for my being here?”
Wilson glanced at Helen again, and he bit his lip as if chewing on it would help him find the words he struggled to say.
 “Mr. Barakat,” replied Helen, apparently taking over in light of her husband’s inability to voice their concerns.
“Yes, young lady.  What is it?”
“Well,” she said, “we are questioning our allegiance to the Church.”
The elderly man elicited a slightly comical frown.  This was not what he had expected.
“I’m sorry?  You mean to say you are starting to question our tenets?”
The two glanced at each other again, and Wilson replied, “Sir, there is something you need to see.”
Mr. Barakat was growing impatient, but he complied.  They all stood up, and he followed Wilson out a rear door and into the unkempt back yard.  The sun was beginning its descent from the sky, and Mr. Barakat noted the time on his watch.  He had expected this to only take a fraction of an hour, and he was hoping to be long gone from this area by sunset.
As they walked slowly down a barely recognizable path through the back yard, Mr. Barakat saw that they were approaching a small woodshed.  A battered red and silver wood axe leaned against the side of the shed, and a heavy silver chain held the door shut.  The windows had all been boarded over as well, and Mr. Barakat could easily see that the chain and boards were newer additions to the older structure.  They quite obviously did not want anyone seeing or gaining access to what they had inside.
“I am not here to play games, children.  I’ve driven a long way.  What in the world could be in this structure that would have anything to do with me?”
Wilson turned and looked at Mr. Barakat, and the fear in his eyes, clearly evident, indicated that they obviously had stumbled upon something that rattled their beliefs.
“Before I open this, Sir, I just want you to know that what is in here seems to go against everything we’ve believed and have been taught and instructed.  We have been devout followers of the Church of Satan.  We are true atheists and have never believed in a higher power.  We know that the only God is ourselves, and we have never questioned those ideas.  There is no afterlife.  There is no God.  There are no such things as angels or ghosts or devils.”
“Yes, yes.  That’s all very good, Mr. Potter.  So what, you are going to show me proof that the Church’s teachings are false?  You are going to show me a miracle or something of the sort?  Son, Christianity has been doing that since its inception—long before the Satanic Church came to be.”
His tone was becoming very sarcastic and disrespectful, but he had already made up his mind that whatever these two had to show him was a waste of his time.  He did not come here to be mocked.  He was a fourth degree Magus.  He had worked directly under the Order of the Trapezoid since its beginnings in San Francisco a few years prior.  He was now the highest ranking member of the Church of Satan this side of the Mississippi.
“Sir, please just look.  If you can tell us what this is, then we will be most relieved.  But we have no explanation, and, quite frankly, it scares us.  No, it terrifies us.”
The old man leaned heavily upon his cane, but he motioned for them to open the doors to the woodshed.  He wanted to get this over with so that he could get back and contact High Priest LaVey to have these idiots removed as active members.
Wilson pulled out a large key and inserted it into the lock that secured the two end links.  He undid the heavy metal chain slowly and then tossed it to the ground.
As he began to pull open the door, Wilson explained, “We found it—sleeping, we think—in the woods.  We chained it up and locked it in here.  It hasn’t been fed since…well…since we put it in here two weeks ago.”
Mr. Barakat scoffed.  “So it’s dead of starvation, then.  Is that what you’re telling me?  What is ‘it’, exactly?”
As Wilson pulled open the rickety door slowly, deliberately, the sunlight shone brightly into the shed.  Mr. Barakat peered in, looking from left to right before seeing the pale figure huddled in the corner facing away from them, only his naked and bony back visible in the light, the skin hanging on his body like melted wax.  His pants were ragged and torn, and his bare feet were caked with mud.  A brownish substance seemed to cover parts of his torso, although it was difficult to see what it could be.
Without a doubt, though, it was a man.  A human being.
As Mr. Barakat turned in anger toward the couple, he saw out of the corner of his eye that the man moved, scurrying away from the light.  Not only was he not dead, but he seemed to move with the fluidity of a teenager or young child despite his appearance.
“You have a…a person in there?”  His eyes searched Wilson’s face for an answer, and he instantly became wary as he began questioning their motives.  Where these people murderers?  Had they invited him here to chain him up as well?  Torture him?  Were they Christian zealots disguising themselves as Satanists with grandiose intentions of kidnapping him in the name of their God?
Mr. Barakat glanced over toward Helen, afraid that she would be holding the axe or a gun and motioning him into the shed.  Instead, though, she held nothing, just staring at the filthy and grotesque man inside.  Wilson had even taken a few steps back and still seemed frightened—even more so now than he had before.  Whatever was going on here, they were absolutely terrified of the individual they had locked up in this shed.
Pointing to the pale man huddled in the corner, Wilson urgently stated, “Sir, that’s not a man.”
Mr. Barakat shifted his poor eyes back to more closely examine the individual.  The emaciated man was certainly aware that they were there watching him, and he seemed frightened as well.  He shivered several times violently, and Mr. Barakat realized that he had no other clothing or covering to protect him from the chill.  How in the world had he survived two weeks with no warmth or food?  What was wrong with these people?
“Sir, are you OK?  What is your name?”
Mr. Barakat took a few tentative steps closer when the man turned abruptly and made a savage guttural noise at him.  His face—its face—was twisted into a horribly disfigured and grotesque mask.  The eyes, black as coal, stared back, large unnatural shadows hanging under them.  The skin, not just pale but a faint bluish tint, seemed to be hanging off of its bony face.  It looked like a man, or what would have once been a man, after he had been dead and buried for several weeks.  In other words, it resembled a corpse.
Suddenly its long and wiry arms reached out and clawed at the old man, and as he back-pedaled, his legs gave out and he toppled backwards onto the ground, crying out as pain overcame him from nearly all over his eighty-year-old body.  The creature was chained to the back wall of the shed, and Mr. Barakat was just safely out of its reach, but it tried over and over to grab ahold of him, clawing and scratching at the dirt, hissing incomprehensible threats.
“What in the hell is that thing?” screamed the old man as he recoiled in horror and pain.
Wilson ran up to help Mr. Barakat, but as he hooked his hands under the old man’s armpits and began pulling him backwards, the monster pulled hard at his bindings and began bending the links in the chains.  It was furiously strong, and it stretched the chains just enough to reach its slender, bony hand out and grab the old man by the ankle.
Wilson pulled hard, but to his surprise and dismay, he saw Mr. Barakat’s expression change.  At first he thought the elderly man was just shocked or frightened by the ghoul’s grasp, but then he realized that his guest was in severe, unequivocable agony.  He seemed to be having a heart attack as his face had turned pale white and his entire body became limp.
“Helen!” cried Wilson.  “Help!  Help, dammit!”
She had grabbed the axe from outside and ran up to swing at the creature’s arm, but it turned its dark, soulless eyes on her and screeched.  Hearing the horrible sound it made, she stopped, frozen in fear, and could only stare as the horrific scene unfolded before her.
Suddenly Mr. Barakat reached up and grabbed Wilson loosely by the hair.  He had turned ghostly pale, his strength nearing depletion.  Looking up into the young man’s eyes and with his last dying breath he whispered, “Burn us.  Burn us both.”
Wilson scrambled backward out the door and watched in horror as the creature pulled Mr. Barakat into the corner.  Wilson had been staring at the now lifeless body of the old man, and he waited fearfully for the creature to rip into the man’s flesh.  When the creature didn’t though, and he looked closer, he saw that the monster was instead staring back at him, almost as if it knew him or recognized him.  Its eyes were black and cold like icy death, but there was a familiarity to them that was inexplicable and terrifying.
It hissed something at him.  A word.  Was it?  No.  It couldn’t have been…
His name?
Wilson grabbed the heavy shed door, and as he swung it closed, he heard the creature hiss his name again.
Slamming the door shut, he turned to look for his wife and was shocked to find that she had already grabbed a can of gasoline and begun dousing the shed.
“Helen, wait!  We don’t know what that thing is!  We can’t just kill it!”
Turning to look at her husband, trembling with fright, she replied, “Yes, we have to!  Mr. Barakat said we have to!  It’s a demon, Wilson!  It’s the living back from the dead!”
Before he could say another word, she lit a match and tossed it onto the shed, watching the flames shoot up the side like little wicked tongues, determined to erase the monstrosity and dead old man inside from existence.
“Helen, you don’t understand!  I think that was him!”
She stood back, watching the fire engulf the small structure, and turned to face her husband again.  “Who?” she asked, as she folded her arms across her chest, hugging herself for comfort but finding none.
“I think that thing was Reverend Silvio!”
She shivered, either from the chill of the afternoon or the horror they’d just witnessed, and ran to her husband’s arms.  They both stood together, crying and watching the structure burn.  The paint on the walls blistered and the shingles on the roof began to fall inward as the blaze grew.
Less than a half an hour passed before the small shed had burned to the ground, leaving nothing left but ashes and the everlasting memories of the horror they’d just witnessed.

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