Several weeks ago my friend Joe made a mock up cover using a photo I had played with on my phone. The title, Phobophobia, was his idea. The only problem was, I didn’t have anything I was writing that might fit the title. I liked his idea for the cover a lot, and put it on the back burner as I continued working on Lonely Are The Dead.
As it so happens, progress on LATD began to become a fight to get anything written. I sort of know where I want to go, but the ending has been eluding me. Everytime I would open the file, I’d stare, and edit what I’d already written, but couldn’t-and still can’t-figure out the right ending. The one I had in mind would serve its purpose of tying the tale up, but it’s not one I’m happy with.
And then last night in a conversation on facebook, Joe asked me if I was working on anything new. I had a couple of ideas for a short story for the next Fossil Lake anthology, but instead I wrote, “I have an idea for my next one, which I kind of got from that phobophobia cover you did. Lots of bugs, boils, and a serial killing priest.” Thus surprised me as I did have an idea involving bugs and boils, but the serial killing priest was a new element. However, it intrigued me, and I started thinking about it. I went to bed, and when I woke up this morning I knew how the first chapter would go. I banged it out in about an hour, and very happy with the results.
As I was writing it, I was struck with another inspiration: I would not only connect it with Barbed Wire Kisses, but also introduce the main character in LATD, psychic detective Napoleon Santierre. What follows is part of the first chapter from Phobophobia. A one sentence synopsis would be: Father Rossi is a serial killer priest who chooses his victims based on his phobias, and Santierre, with the help of his victims and other ghosts sets out to uncover and stop him.
As always this is coprighted by myself and none may be used or excerpted without my express permission. Enjoy.
Our Lady of Perpetual Dispensation
Father Rossi sat in the confessional, and wiped sweat from his smooth upper lip. He could feel it beading on his hairless scalp, and felt it trickle down his brow. Some errant droplets slid down into his eyes, stinging them. When that happened he would push the frames of his bifocals up and wipe at the tear ducts with a dainty finger. Even with his thin frame, the confessional was cramped, and with the air conditioning on the fritz, and claustrophobia beginning to kick in, hearing the sins of his parishioners seemed unbearable.
Not for the first time, Rossi pictured himself as the Lord wandering through the desert,. Dried, on the verge of bleeding skin buffeted by hot wind. as sand ripped at the flesh and blinding him at the same time. Arizona was no place to be without working air conditioning, particularly in the summer. Rossi sighed and opened the door. It had been almost fifteen minutes since the last sinner had bleated their litany of crimes against God, and he wasn’t surprised to find the church empty. The only noise to pierce the quiet was the repairman on the roof tending to the cooling units.
The priest took his walking stick which was leaning against the flimsy panel that separated him from the confessor and stepped into the oppressive heat of Our Lady of Immaculate Dispensation. He surveyed the small area as he always did when he finished his obligation, and wondered, again, as he always did, what he’d ever done to be placed in such an unremarkable, almost forgotten parish. The wooden pews were ancient, even when he’d arrived almost a decade prior, and almost unbearable to sit on for any length of time. The hymnals, on the rare times they raised their voice in song, were tattered. Pages were missing, and indeed, so were some of the covers. What remained of them had yellowing pages with fading ink. Rossi had continually asked for the funds from the Bishop to renovate or at the very least replace the hymnals but his requests had always been rebuffed. “Tough times, declining numbers, maybe another time…” is all he heard. When Rossi heard the Bishop was driving a new Lincoln town car he stopped asking.
The priest walked up the aisle, eyes focused on the altar and the large crucifix attached to the back wall. The eyes of a Christ in agony seemed to follow him. He knelt before the creaking altar, genuflected, and jumped as the sound of something crashing came from above. Rossi looked up and saw some of the plaster floating down like dirty snow. “What in blazes?” he said under his breath. He turned around, marched down the center of the church and opened the front doors and was accosted by the ruthless heat and blazing sun. Rossi for once ignored the weather, and walked around the wood and stone building to the back. There was a rickety wooden stairwell that led to the roof, as well as the bell tower though there hadn’t been a bell in place since the late 1800’s. Holding his cane in one hand and grabbing the splinter laden banister with the other, Father Rossi climbed up what was essentially a fancy ladder and peered over the Spanish tile roof top.
There was no response. Rossi set his cane down on the edge of the roof, careful to not let it fall over. He pulled up the hem of his cassock so as not to trip on it and set a foot on the roof. With great care so he didn’t go falling off either, he pulled his other foot onto the fragile terra cotta shingles and held out his hands to gain his balance. After a moment, he made his way to the middle where the rusty evaporative cooler sat like a malignant growth, and saw the repairman straining to lift it back onto the metallic shelf it had fallen from.
“Need a hand?” he asked.
The repairman looked up, eyes hidden behind a pair of 99 cent store sunglasses. “About six of them.”
Rossi gave a slight smile, and bent down on his haunches, and the repairman waved him away. “No need, this ain’t going anywhere, ‘cept maybe through this roof if we mess with it.” He stood, and offered a hand to help the priest up. Rossi accepted the help, and heard his knees pop as he stood. He reached into the slit in the side of his cassock, and pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket. Rossi wiped the sweat from his face, and ran it around the damp collar.
“I’d give this last rites father. It’s done for.” He then went on to explain everything that was wrong, and how he might be able to get parts, but no guarantees as this model was so old, and should have been replaced years ago. Rossi nodded, a fake smile amidst a darkening face. He would nod, and give an “I see,” once in awhile, but all he could think of was the sweat.
The soiled clothing, the wet skin, and the bacteria that could form in the excretion. While no doctor, he knew that sweat could be cesspools for any kind of bug and cause ringworm, illness, and God knew what else.
No, I’ll have none of that, he thought. Rossi processed all he’d been told and concluded that despite its age, the cooler could be fixed, but the repairman didn’t want to. Already he was gathering up his tools, and placing them in a canvas bag, his work here done. What the priest saw was a lazy sinner only intent on sending Mother Church a hefty bill for doing absolutely nothing except get a tan.
The repairman zipped up the bag, grabbed it by the handle and made his way to the staircase. He noticed the can laying on the roof, and bent to pick it up. He gripped it by the bottom and offered the handle end to the priest. Rossi took it and held firm. Before the repairman could release it, Rossi gave a hard shove, throwing the worker off balance. He yanked his cane away and poked him in the chest sending him back and over the side of the church. Rossi heard the satisfying sound of his skull cracking on an exposed rock.
Rossi climbed down, careful to fall himself, and when he reached the bottom, stood over the repairman. Blood and gore leaked from the open wound, as his eyes fluttered in his sockets and his limbs twitched. He stepped over the soon to be dead man in search of a glass of water.
Then maybe he’d use the phone in his rectory.