SPINCHBURG, NEW JERSEY, 1976
“Coming!” Violet yelled, finishing her vodka, pulling her ratty bathrobe tight as she stomped to the front door. She knew it wasn’t the landlord, he was still out of town (and thank Fnerk for that; Violet had been out of work for two months now and was on the tenuous edge of eviction). She drew the curtain aside.
The Doctor’s face, pale and shiny with sweat, leered on the other side of the window, rabid breath fogging the glass. She stepped back, startled. He banged on the door again; an urgent pounding.
She twisted the lock free, opened the door. The Doctor stepped into the apartment without saying a word. Joni Nobody was behind him, bringing dark madness into Violet’s home. “Hi,” she said, lighting a cigarette, floating into the room. Violet hadn’t seen Joni Nobody in over five years. Not since they’d all lived together at the Briarpatch commune. The change in her appearance was shocking. She’d dropped a lot of weight. Black circles hung below her sad, swollen eyes. Her hair was filthy and matted. She was wearing a stained red tank top and a short black skirt that revealed bruises, scratches and scabs on her long, pale legs.
Two young kids straggled in behind her. Violet recognized Benny at once, even though the last time she’d seen him he’d been a mere toddler, barely speaking yet. He had to be around eleven now but was already taller than all of them. His black hair was long, covering most of his face. He was all long limbs, his arms and legs stick-thin. His skin was almost translucent, showing blue veins and the outlines of his bones. If he pulled open his shirt, she was sure, she’d see the purple shadow of his heart pulsing against his ribcage.
A little girl followed him. She looked like a younger, prettier version of Joni. She was startlingly beautiful but moved like a girl ashamed of being human. Of having a body. She was bent over, almost folded in half. She held her arms tight against her chest, eyes down, seemingly filled with fear. She took little hesitant steps, like a cat in a new room. The girl’s body-language revealed a disturbing ordeal in her recent past.
Violet said, “Well, hello there,” in her best nursery school voice but all the girl did was flinch in response. No eye contact. No sign that she’d even understood Violet.
“Nice place,” said the Doctor with his usual sarcasm, pretending to admire the coffee table covered with empty bottles, beer cans and ashtrays filled with cigarette butts and roaches. He raised an eyebrow at the kitchenette which was overflowing with dirty dishes and trash, stinking of rotting garbage. A haze of fruit flies hovered over everything.
Violet shut the door. “Thanks,” she said, hoping (and failing) to match the Doctor’s sarcasm. The place was a toilet, she knew that. The walls were crumbling, water-stained roadmaps, the ceiling an upside-down plain of chipped, peeling paint that snowed onto the faded, threadbare carpet. A carpet that retained the smell of urine and puke no matter how many times she shampooed it and seemed held together only by stains.
It’s a shitty cesspool, she thought. And I still can’t even afford it.
“I didn’t expect to see you guys again. What brings you here for this impromptu reunion?” she asked, trying to keep her annoyance out of her voice.
Joni collapsed on the sofa, picked a sliver of tobacco from her tongue. “We’re getting the Temple going again,” she said. “It’s time.”
Violet moved toward the kitchenette. “You’ve got to be kidding. The Temple? What brought this on?” She lifted the bottle of vodka to her guests, said, “Drink anybody?” then poured herself another dinner glass of warm vodka. She’d started drinking in the morning a few months ago. It was a dangerous development, she knew, but what the hell. Sometimes she needed it. Starting each wretched day was nearly impossible without it...
“No thank you,” said the Doctor. He looked nervous, his eyes darting around the place as if looking for hair-trigger traps. “Please, sit down,” he told her, as if she were the guest.
Violet sat beside Joni. She smelled awful. A noxious combination of ripe body odor and a musty medicinal pill smell you notice in old hospitals. Benny had taken over a corner, all but his mouth hidden by night-black hair. The girl was shivering like a frightened dog behind the Doctor. Violet took a long sip of vodka and a pleasant warmth spread through her empty stomach, and a few seconds later, up into her brain where it belonged.
“Why now?” Violet asked. “After all these years?”
“Benjamin is ready. He’s reached the Dark Spark. He’s gone beyond Nothing,” Joni said.
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“We have a leader again,” the Doctor said. “A real leader. People will follow him.” He gestured toward Benny. “He’s not like the others. He truly is Divine.”
The corners of Benny’s mouth curled up into a knowing smile.
Violet looked at him. “Benny?” His smile to her looked more smug than beatific. More supercilious than saintly.
“Benjamin,” said the Doctor. “Show her.”
Benny stepped forward, raised his long chalky hands and parted the hair from his face with all the dramatic flourish of a theater curtain opening. Violet gasped when she saw his eyes. They were as black as tar yet filled with the light of a billion stars. His eyes were innocent, primal and had been purged of a soul. Violet saw a frightening omnipotence in his stare. She felt a violent excitement in her stomach and bowels. Her heart began to race.
Nah, wait. Hold on. Don’t fall for THAT. That’s just an old Manson trick.
His smile changed from one of knowing amusement to one of boundless love. “It’s not a trick, beautiful one. Charles Manson is a charlatan and a buffoon. He has no real power."
“How did you know what I was...” She broke off the question.
He laughed. “I probed your mind. I know how to do that.” He spoke with a clear lovely voice that seemed to resonate like a giant invisible bell around the apartment. His face seemed constantly in flux, morphing into various identities. Violet saw her late husband, Johnny Red flicker by, his shiny blue eyes and big-toothed grin, triggering an ache in her chest. She saw poor Lydia’s sweet, soulful eyes, staring into The Void. She saw Christ on the cross, gazing toward a descending heaven, and an obese Buddha contemplating her like an ageless mystery, grinning like an idiot. She saw Krishna and Mohammed and Dr. Joyce Brothers...
And finally, the black alien eyes of the Dark Spark Itself, pulling her into the past/future/now. It was all one: illusion and physics, space and time, the multiverse and the atom. All one. All her. All everything. She felt her molecules traveling at the speed of light toward the heavenly center of the Universe.
“Will you follow me?” Ben asked, arms out, palms up, beseeching her with a plaintive gesture.
Violet was overcome with emotion. She fell to her knees and began to sob, face buried in her hands. He was what she’d been waiting for all her life.
“Yeah,” she murmured. “I sure will.”
Lydia stubbed out her cigarette and dropped the butt into an empty beer can on the coffee table. “Good job, honey,” she told her son. “Mommy's proud of you. Get cleaned up, Violet. We got a lot of miles to get behind us.”
“Where are we going?”
“Colorado. We’re setting up the Temple there. But there’s a lot of work yet to do.”
The Doctor broke in. “Yes, we’ve all taken on certain responsibilities. Like at Briarpatch. You’ve been assigned kitchen duty.”
“Oh.” Violet thought for a moment, remembering what life had been like at the Temple at Briarpatch.
Finally she said, “On second thought never mind. I’m gonna hang here some more. Y’know, `cause I’ve, like started to put down roots and all. But you guys have fun though...”
Kitchen duty? Fuck that. Eternal Salvation delivered directly by an Ambassador for the Cosmic Divine could wait a little longer. Besides, Match Game was coming on.
This is the only Gene I want in my pool.