A novel detailing the last days of a twisted man's idea of paradise in rural America. There are things beyond death that no human deserves.
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Straddling the line between horror and paranormal thriller, Prophet Shorn details the last few days for a town started by a powerful and charismatic mayor and leader of his people. But the town has dark secrets and Edgar Shorn has even darker ones.
Jo Rondel and her daughter Candy arrive in town in a car that will go no farther. Jo is convinced this is where her hope of a better life has been leading her, but things which at first seem slightly strange quickly escalate into a terrifying trap that no one gets out of alive.
Jo falls under the hypnotic spell of the mayor and Prophet, and Candy finds that her only hope lies in Elijah, the mild-mannered and seemingly Alzheimer's-bound librarian. As the people fall victim, one by one, to their leader's depravities, Jo realizes she will never see the larger world again. Edgar Shorn's evil secrets force her into accepting her fate, but though her forgotten past finally catches up with her, she never stops trying to save her daughter.
Candy is learning in just a few days what it means to grow up hard and fast. The final showdown between Shorn and Elijah, protecting Candy, proves that good is stronger in this world, but there is a price to be paid. Candy's life is changed forever, and the future doesn't look bright for a four-year-old who didn't ask for any of this.
Jo woke from her half-sleep half-unconscious state with the feeling that she had forgotten something terribly important. She couldn’t imagine what it could be. Yes, she had remembered to file for a Vegas divorce from that bastard Eddie. She wondered if it should be a record of an annulment since it had lasted less than twelve hours, then decided she didn’t much care. With two husbands under her belt and neither one anything to write home about, right now she didn’t care if every male on the planet disappeared in a mushroom cloud; she might even push the fabled red button herself.
Her mind was fuzzy, and she tried to think back about how bad her bender had been; it must have been bad, the way she felt. Her whole body felt like it had been beaten and kicked around. Her private parts felt abused and maybe bleeding; what kind of male son-of-a-bitch would take advantage of a girl while she was just getting reacquainted with the bottle? Then she remembered: any kind of male son-of-a-bitch. Whoever he was, he must have used a date-rape drug on her; her lack of memory was probably a blessing at the moment.
The next thing intruding on her consciousness was that she was on cold, dank concrete. She figured she’d better open her eyes and see what kind of alley she’d been dumped in. She suddenly realized she was naked, and her eyes flew open all at once. She winced, expecting bright sunlight or maybe a cop’s spotlight trained on her: something had wakened her. It was still dark. Her mind mumbled a thanks for nighttime, but it got lost on the way to her lips.
Just on the edge of her hearing was a soft sigh.
That got her. It was Candy! She had promised the girl she would never forget her again. But she was sure her daughter would forgive her if she knew how sick the woman was right now. She got as far as hands and knees before gagging and retching drily. Somehow that was worse than actually vomiting; it certainly hurt more. When her pounding head allowed her to move again, she looked around. The sun had started to rise, though at an alarming rate; and she wondered if she were experiencing hallucinations or if they were just small blackouts, allowing gaps in her perception of passing time.
What she saw took her breath away. It was beautiful. It was Heaven. She was glad Candy was here with her; the last few days hadn’t gone so well for either of them. There were the requisite clouds as ground for them to walk on, and she forgot that it still felt like a concrete alley to her knees. The pearly gate was behind her; when she looked back, it was just swinging silently closed. She faced front again. There were tall Roman pillars lining the way; beyond them were the most beautiful garden and most perfect trees she had ever seen, though she couldn’t identify any of the fruits hanging from the boughs. Before her and a little above was a white light. It didn’t hurt her eyes to look at it. Just there ahead of her, running toward the light, was Candy’s small form. She recognized it, though it was indistinct and just a dark shadow against the light. Maybe something was wrong with her eyes. But she trusted her legs; she jumped up then promptly fell back down again, bashing her knees roughly but not feeling it. She tried again to gain her feet, and was unable.
“Candy!” she cried out as loud as her croaking voice would permit. “Candy!” This time it brought on a spasm of coughing that left a line of bloody spittle dangling from the corner of her mouth. What had happened to her glorified and pain-free body? Where were all the music and harpists with wings?
“Candy, wait.” This soft call from near her ear echoed her thought so closely, she assumed at first it was her thought. Then it was repeated a thousand times in a moment, each repetition becoming slower and deeper in pitch until she couldn’t hear it anymore. In an instant of frozen fear, her head creaked around to peer at her left shoulder. There was a small red devil standing there: horns, pitchfork, and all. Her head whipped around to the opposite side, dizzying her and making her fall flat on her face. She had seen no angel with halo and wings. What she had seen at first refused to fit into her mind, and she squeezed her eyes shut.
“No, No, NO, NO!” Her refusals scraped from her throat and degenerated into a coughing fit, leaving flecks of bloody mucus splattered on the floor in front of her. She forced herself to look again at a terrible parody still playing out beside her; she stared in horrified fascination at endless replays of something which at first she was sure had never happened, but watching seemed to verify the truth of the obscenity.
There she was as she had been a few years earlier, with husband number two beside her in a Vegas hotel bed; this time, though, it was Edgar Shorn she had married. There was no hangover, no bitterness, and no hurried divorce. It started out as a beautiful fantasy, with the perfect man being everything she had dreamed of as a girl, even though it had happened so suddenly in a forget-about-yesterday-don’t-worry-about-tomorrow town. They woke simultaneously with no morning breath, and made slow and gentle but still passionate love for several hours. She had never been so happy. Then it changed.
In the play before her now, the scene was the same but not quite: she and Edgar were married and in bed, but Edgar was a large and powerful devil, raping her repeatedly while she struggled against him and screamed until there was no air left to scream with. Her wedding dress, thrown carelessly over a chair, had transformed from white to a deep scarlet with black and crusted stains everywhere on it. Around them both were a hundred demons with forked tails, dancing and cavorting in a circle, chanting something she couldn’t understand. They moved faster and faster until everything was a blur, then froze as Jo saw herself ripped in half starting at the groin and continuing to her neck. Her head remained intact, and she saw everything more clearly than she ever wanted to. She saw Edgar move in with a vile-looking seed, and plant it in her, and she was one whole body again. Fast forward to her growing belly, and the birth of Carmen; the images flashed like the frames of a primitive movie. Carmen was still a beautiful and perfect child, but Edgar snatched her away as soon as she had entered the world. He smelled her, and tasted her with his forked tongue, and he flung her back at Jo.
“Whose child is this?” he roared. “Take it away and burn it; I did not father this abomination!”
Jo turned from him, and sheltered Carmen in her arms. She wanted nothing more to do with the man/demon, but a hundred other demons were not done with her. Though they never touched her, they projected shadow shapes on the wall in front of her. There was an outline of one of them biting off a baby’s head and devouring it; there was the shape of several of them slicing up a child with a knife and serving it to hungry diners; there were many more of individual devilish forms performing unspeakable acts with a human body far too small to be anything but her child. She saw herself there, and the Jo in the play watched with glee and growing delight; the real Jo kneeling on the hard concrete denied this with every ounce of conviction she could muster, and she started to feel her mind slip a little sideways, as though these atrocities would eventually drive her mad. Her eyes drifted closed again.
“. . . in hell,” she muttered weakly. Her eyes fluttered open, and there was Candy bending over her, now her own four-year-old she knew.
“Mommy, you okay?” she was asking, frightened.
Jo reached for her daughter with arms that trembled and wouldn’t straighten completely. Then it was Edgar Shorn bending over her.
“Mommy, you okay?” he asked in Candy’s voice. Then he bent his head back and laughed insanely, his own deep and throaty and incredibly cruel mirth. The laughter grew louder until Jo had to cover her ears with her hands. The sound suddenly intensified, and Jo realized she was holding a horn to each ear, looking like a high school cheerleader. She released her hold, but they had been glued to her hands. She held one to her mouth and shouted through it: “Candy!!”
The girl had disappeared again. The sound echoed back, empty. Jo’s frustrated tears burned her skin where they landed. It was growing dark again.
Before her she saw a small, shimmering light. It came closer, and she saw a firefly hovering there with a human face that could have been her mother’s.
“Have you seen Candy?” she asked.
“Come with me,” it hummed in a singsong.
Jo began to crawl after it. Her knees were scraped and bloody by the time she bumped into something. It was a plain structure built of bones in the center of the room, and there was something on top of it. Jo painfully pushed herself to her feet, leaning on the edifice. Her abused knees would not let her stand straight, so it was a less painful fall for her when they unhinged in shock and spilled her back onto the floor. Lying across the fixture, still dripping fresh blood down every surface of the altar, was the body of her daughter with no head. She recognized the very clothes she had been wearing earlier in the day. She had thought there was nothing left that could shock her more than she already was; she had been wrong. She understood now why people from history books tore their clothes in their grief, but being naked already, she did not have even that simple outlet. She simply howled her grief at the ceiling until she was only coughing up more blood.
“Come with me,” the firefly chanted when it was quiet enough for its small voice to be heard.
Numb and thoughtless and open to any suggestion, Jo started crawling again. She left twin trails of blood which no one would ever notice. After a time of moving forward with her head hung down, she again bumped into something. This time it was a cooler with the lid closed. The firefly dipped toward it, then held steady so she could see by its light. She took off the lid and saw her daughter’s head inside, with blood still leaking from the ragged stump of a neck. With a cry of disgust, she flung it from her, then crawled quickly to retrieve it--it was her daughter she was throwing away! The firefly followed with its small light. Now she saw in there a mummified skull with spider webs in the otherwise empty eye sockets. Sobbing, she grabbed it from the chest and hugged it to her, where it crumbled to powder. She inhaled suddenly and smelled Candy as she had been as an infant, bathed and powdered and ready for a nap. Jo wailed loudly, still hugging herself and rocking back and forth, as if lulling her daughter to sleep. A hundred shadows of her moving form stretched out across the length of the room.
Then the shadows changed. They became her and Candy at a hundred different points in the past, as the demons first stole and then mimicked her memories. Jo reached desperately for the ephemeral images, and fell on her face, denying they weren’t real. She closed her eyes and let herself cry. A noise in the other direction made her look around. A hundred images of her and Candy in the future stared back at her. She was helpless to stop herself from studying each picture in sequence down the line. She saw herself as an aging and decrepit hag; she saw Candy as first a brooding teen, then a mute runaway, then an invalid with horrible scars running all over her body, then a grizzled old woman barely able to keep herself upright in a wheelchair. This couldn’t be true! She must be seeing someone’s poor idea of a dreadful joke.
Most of the pictures were of Candy alone, and Jo noticed that she herself was not present in the later ones. She was now vanishing from each photo one before another until there was only her in the closest one, looking almost as she knew she must look right now: terribly bruised and beaten, eyes already closed. By the look of stillness on her puffy, swollen face, she was already dead. The real Jo could not close her eyes or look away.
Candy’s images changed into short and isolated movies. Jo watched in helpless fascination some of them through until the end. The first one depicted Candy just waking up in some unknown hospital, and Jo could clearly see the radiation symbol on the walls and the opening door. Someone in a yellow suit and hood came in and asked her questions through a speaker in the glass separation. Candy looked at the man, but refused to speak a single word. She was very pale and thin, and looked to be about the age she was now; but her eyes had aged immensely. They looked like they had seen the dreadful secrets of the universe, and would never forget a single detail.
The next movie was of her several years older, and in an unfamiliar school. She was in front of a desk in an office with the door closed. The man behind the desk bore the unmistakable look of a principal at the end of his patience. He spoke in short, clipped sentences that Jo could not hear clearly; and the girl got up to leave. There was only rebellion in her eyes.
Another showed her running in tattered clothes and beat-up shoes next to a winding highway at night. She fled a pair of headlights that quickly caught up; Jo’s perspective was from the driver’s seat. She saw the lights deliberately swerve to hit the girl a glancing blow that sent her flying into the woods, then dip in a sudden braking motion. Her point of view now jostled like someone walking, and she saw the end of a gun barrel swing up into the picture. She saw Candy lying still at the base of a tree, her head at the wrong angle to the rest of her. There were sudden flashing red lights, and the holder of the weapon turned around without firing and began to run in the opposite direction, back toward the car. Jo could not bear any more of that movie. Her daughter still had a little of the same chin and nose that she recognized; other than that, she could have been any runaway in any roadside woods that people deny they have seen.
All the rest of the movies showed Candy in a wheelchair, old, older, oldest, and that was all Jo could bear to see of them; her mind refused to work out any other details in this deranged and hopeless future. She wept silently; her emotions were exhausted and would allow no more than that. Jo finally closed her eyes and gave up conscious thought.
Edgar’s demons began to rain down on her their hatred and scorn of a humanity they could never understand or experience for themselves. There was bitterness and jealousy and personal affront in every blow. The demons who had once been angels, had once been the favored ones of God, and had fallen from grace now hammered this upstart human into insensibility and unconsciousness and looming death with all the fury of pent-up hatred--this was their sole motivation and it was all for the people favored by the Object once of their worship and now their scorn, but still Master of them and all they knew. These later and obviously inferior creations had been tempted and had fallen from grace, same as they, and had been offered a second chance, a Redeemer. Had the demons a Redeemer? No, no, never. This was why they dedicated themselves to the torture, deception, and destruction of these abhorrences, these younger siblings, so weak and stupid, and now the favored ones.
So the fury of the demons knew never a faltering or a rest after all these centuries; only this paltry means of expression, which they used more and more often and viciously as their end approached. They knew of the Lake of Fire; they knew of their eternal damnation, which far outweighed anything they could conceive for their human brothers and sisters. And they tried to drag all they could with them to their doom.
What they did now to Jo was not new; it had been done before countless times to countless people. Her body was attacked and pummeled repeatedly by invisible forces that dropped from the air and crashed into her with great speed and force. Bruises appeared suddenly on Jo’s helpless body where there was a rare unbruised spot. She cried out and moaned and pleaded for help to no one. And no one listened. The beating continued until her body was one large purple and swollen mass. The pictures that formed and dissolved and formed again in her mind took her from her sanity; each was more horrible than the last. The demons used all their knowledge of a long history of terror and torture and irrationality to fashion ever new and more horrifying likenesses to throw at her; her mind absorbed each until she simply curled up into a fetal position and untethered mind from body.
At some point, her body gave up its life; but the demons continued to passionately rain down fury upon it for a long while. The last thing they did was to carefully arrange around Jo’s body the bones which had comprised their altar; this unconsumed sacrifice offered up by Edgar Shorn was acceptable, and would contain their spent fury until its slow decomposition released it again. They were appeased for the moment. Jo’s swollen face and open eyes looked out from their eternal prison.
Finally, exhausted, the demons fled this place and sought Edgar. He would provide understanding; he would be solace for them. He felt them join with him some time after he returned to his rooms from the kitchen, where he had turned all the recognizable human forms into unrecognizable hamburger; and they all entered into a well-deserved rest. When he asked them about her fate, they were sullen and silent. He didn’t push the issue. If there was no trust, there was nothing.