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"A unique underground classic. Combining unusual conspiracy theories with archetypal suspense/thriller techniques, Eccarius creates a compelling novel that propels the reader forward through a maze of blasphemous mystery that winds its way across the U.S., to Europe, and back again. Last Days is a real page-turner and makes the fangs of Anne Rice's vampires seem as dull as a butter knife." - Jennifer Joseph, San Francisco Bay Guardian Free Sample Chapter Chapter 1 THE BATTLE IS JOINED Hobgoblins are the consistency of little minds. -- Professor Holbach Providence is a quiet town. It has the aura of a graveyard: life is a daylight interlude of sadness and calculations of inheritance between nighttime orgies of witchcraft and tomb robbing. Official histories state that decay set in after World War II when competition from cheap foreign labor destroyed the costume jewelry industry, which itself depended on cheap Italian and Portuguese immigrant labor. But the truth is that when H. P. Lovecraft lived there in the 1920's the city was hardly more lively. More than one local sage has wondered if there might be some truth to Lovecraft's story of a Vampire entombed beneath the cellar of one of the pre-revolutionary houses along Benefit Street. Professor Holbach liked Providence, which was quite unusual, since he was not a native. It was a comfortable place for him to live, with mild weather, affordable housing, an Ivy League University, a few movie theaters, and a reasonable supply of lazy children from well-off families. He was a tutor; Professor was only a nickname. His paying students were of two types: the rich, who could afford hand-holding the year round, and the middle class, who could afford only to cram for exams. He did not work at tutoring particularly hard; he worked only to maximize his free time and comfort. He did not make a great deal of money and needed to spend even less. He had no great ambition and was not particularly fond of adventure, having tried it and found it more annoying than exciting. If he had known where accepting Cynthia Wass as a student were going to take him he would not have done it. He was compassionate, but he believed that trying to do too much good was prone to reversal. There was no warning. She appeared to be a nice, intelligent but unmotivated teenager good for fifteen dollars an hour in tutoring fees; that was all. Cynthia had to cram year round in several subjects to have a fighting chance of advancing a grade level each year. Her parents wanted her to get a high school diploma before she was married off. Her father was from a twice-removed female off-branch of a wealthy Rhode Island family which had begun with piracy, advanced to the slave and rum trade, and then graduated to banking and manufacturing. He had not been overly well-endowed financially or mentally, but survived as a well paid, mediocre accountant in one of the firms that kept track of the family fortunes. Her mother focussed her intelligence on keeping her affairs from her husband's knowledge. The Professor's sessions with Cynthia were not something to look forward to, but they helped pay the rent. If her parents had beaten her or psychologically or sexually abused her he might have taken a more professional interest; mainly hers was a case of dull- ness and lack of aspiration. For a while she had a crush on him and dressed up for the lessons, but that passed without incident. Then one rainy Providence afternoon she came in more attentive than usual. "Do you believe in Jesus?" she said when she had the chance. "Do you believe in Jesus?" he replied. "Mary Avakian says she saw him. He talked to her. She says it's not like church. She says now she's happy." The Professor twisted a strand of his beard with his fingers. "You never told me about Mary. Was she pretty unhappy before this happened?" "Like most of us, only she . . . let a boy get her pregnant. Then her parents took her car and allowance away. So she started drinking and her grades went down and her parents got really mad at her and they were fighting all the time. But now she's stopped drinking and says she loves her parents." "And Jesus just came to her all by himself? No one was trying to convert her?" Cynthia's face turned inward for a moment before she answered. "This guy Paul. She met him by the Wall. There's some kind of church down in Fox Point, but she only went there once. Her parents won't let her go. Paul says she should obey them." "Well. Whether you should obey your parents or anyone else depends on what they tell you to do." "She saw Jesus. He talked to her." "Have you ever had a hallucination?" "No." "It's pretty much like a dream, only it happens when you are awake or maybe only half asleep. You see or hear something that is not there. It starts happening regularly, psychiatrists call it schizophrenia and you end up in a nuthouse. There are a lot of causes, but in your friend's case it was from stress and depression. The dream or imagination circuits in the brain get shorted into the waking perception circuits. The reason she saw Jesus and not Mother Mary, the devil or her dead grandmother is because she was talking to this guy Paul. If she was talking to a Satanist she probably would have seen Lucifer." "I guess. I never liked church except to see my friends. But I'm a Christian. I mean, everyone is a Christian. I mean, there really was a Jesus and all." "Sure." Finding himself tempted to become vicious, he paused and entered a reassuring voice. "And there was a Mohammed and a Buddha. But that is no excuse for Christianity. Christians are always killing non-Christians and other Christians in the name of Christ. It's a sick religion. Be nice to Mary and I'm sure she'll get better of her own accord." "Do you believe in God?" "There isn't a God. This is a real world with real people and real problems. When someone gets killed they really die, they don't go to heaven, and when someone suffers they are really suffering, they aren't building up brownie points to please Jesus Christ. And, by the by, you really have a test on Friday and praying to Jesus is not going to get you a good grade. So let's hit the books." On Friday Cynthia got a B- on her test with very little help from Jesus. She decided to humor Mary by going with her to the church. Mary's behavior had been so ideal that her parents had given her permission to see a movie that night. Jesus was more important to her. Cynthia held Mary's hand tightly; she was as scared as Mary was excited. She had not been in Fox Point before. To her parents and friends it was a slum filled with thieves and rapists. In reality it was home to working Italians, Portuguese, blacks, and students, and had a very low crime rate. Appropriately the church was located off Redemption Street. Mary led Cynthia down an alley between two old wooden houses towards a bare light bulb outside an unmarked door. The door was unlocked. Standing inside the Church of the Living Christ, they could see rows of folding chairs facing a pulpit. Three of the four people already in the church were black. Mary hugged each of them in turn, which Cynthia found rather unchurchlike. She was relieved that she only had to shake hands. They sat while more people drifted in announced by blasts of cold air. To Cynthia they seemed mostly old, but few were over thirty years old. She did not notice the organ until it began to play. At that point there was no way to miss it. Attached to the front and rising above it, a glowing red neon sign said "Jesus" in foot high letters. Everyone was singing. Cynthia would have been terrified if Mary had not taken her hand again. Three rollicking gospel songs later Paul, a tall, thin white man in his twenty-fifth year stepped up for a few Hallelujahs and Amens and to introduce the Reverend Bob. He was a barrel chested black man with a creased but unwrinkled face, a crew cut, and a short mustache. His voice was deep and solemn. "Welcome to the Church of the Living Christ. We are gathered here for Love, not the love of mortals that waxes hot one day and wanes cold the next, not the love of the animal half of ourselves, but the eternal love of the Living Christ. "There are people who will tell you all sorts of lies about Jesus Christ. They will tell you: you must suffer. Have you not suffered enough? There is no suffering for the Living Christ. You won't find this living Christ in books, you won't find him in the churches of the rich or of the pious hypocrites. But if you open up your heart to Him He will come to you. Eternal love, eternal life! Many here can testify to this glorious truth . . ." The rest of the preaching was punctuated by Amens and Hallelujahs from the congregation. The closest Cynthia had ever come to being in such a tide of emotion had been at school pep rallies. She resisted, she was frightened, she thought them crazy, but the red neon JESUS pounded on her soul. After an interlude of singing they all started shouting "Testify! Testify!" A tall light skinned woman with red hair went to the front. "I was a prostitute," she said as if she were shouting Hallelujah. "Tell it sister!" yelled a black woman sitting beside Cynthia. "I was the lowest sort of prostitute. I was despised, I was desperate, there was no act I would not perform for money or drugs. My parents had beat me and my customers beat me and my pimp beat me. I tried to drown my sorrows in alcohol and drugs. Only they were drowning me." "Then I met Reverend Bob, and he told me it did not have to be that way. He showed me the way to the Living Christ. He did not berate me or tell me to give up drugs or prostitution. I left those things behind after Christ saved my soul. Now I have eternal life and Christ as my guide. Now I don't need drugs and I have an honest job to earn a living. Sisters, I am saved." The organ struck up "Spirit in the Sky." Cynthia was thinking how she was not happy, even though no one beat her and she kind of liked drinking and marijuana. Almost everyone in the church testified, including Mary Avakian. Cynthia half expected to fall down on the floor and see Jesus as the chorus reached its climax. But it was over. She was introduced to Reverend Bob and then left with Mary. A few days later the Professor should have known something was wrong when Cynthia did not try to evade her algebra lesson. Instead he attributed her increased concentration to the benevolent influence of his teaching methods. After the lesson she looked straight into his eyes. "He came to me," she said. I don't need this, he thought. "Jesus," he said. "He's eternal life. I'll live in him forever now." "What did he look like?" The Professor asked confidently. "He was surrounded by light. He had very kind eyes and a beard and long hair. He said to lie down and keep calm, then he kissed me and I was filled with light. I was! And all the pain and sadness was gone. I'm free." "Congratulations. I'm just curious. Do you remember what color his eyes were?" "They were blue." "And he had white skin?" "Yes." "I'm sure what happened to you was very important, but if you had been taken in by nuns you probably would have seen Mother Mary, and if it had been Hare Krishnas you would have been saved by Krishna. We know the historic Jesus was a Jew, and at that time Jews had not interbred with Europeans, so they had dark brown skin and eyes. Your mind manufactured its own salvation, and you won't really be free until you understand that." "I love you Professor. Christ loves you. You'll see." Seeing that she was temporarily beyond the reach of reason he gathered up his things. "Like the Pope loved the Albigensians. You aren't the first to try to convert me, so don't be disappointed if it does not work. I'll see you on Tuesday." The Professor was only briefly disturbed by Cynthia's conversion. He had been brought up Lutheran, and having rejected that he considered himself immune to the more virulent forms of religious dementia. He had met born-again Christians often enough, and once even spent a day at a Unification Church camp in California in order to see a cult from the inside. He had concluded that some of the sects were therapeutic. They took in social disasters created by sick parents and saved them, if not from hell, from drugs, brutality, and loneliness. On his way home he walked along a street that ran through Brown University, which is to say over an ancient Native American burial site. He had two courses and two incompletes to go before getting his bachelor's degree in Sociology. He had not even attempted to take a course in three years. The thought that he could go back at any time, get his degree, and go on to become a professor, lawyer, doctor, or businessman reassured him that he had chosen the correct course in life. "CIA out of Brown" was spray-painted on a wall, reminding him of the early seventies, when he had entered as a freshman and received A's in upper level courses. The rich could not even keep their own kids in line back then. But usually the bulk of students were conservative. Brown had educated Rhode Island's gentry for generations before football was introduced and Ivy League became a designation. With time it had become more of a national institution; in the 1950's it supplied the government with most of its CIA agents. One eccentric the Professor knew claimed the CIA's secret leaders met in the vast tunnel system that lay beneath the university. He did not consider giving Cynthia up as a student. He tutored her four hours a week, sometimes more before exams. That alone paid the rent. Mainly he taught her what she could have learned in class despite the incompetence of some of her teachers. The advantage of tutoring for her was mainly that she could not sit daydreaming of flirtations and improbable romances in foreign lands. Also she could not pretend to be stupid; the Professor knew better. She had no problems with English, though she did not excel in it. Her mother, however, had indicated to her repeatedly that math, accounting, and her father were bores and a waste of time. Her resistance to math and science was quite high. The Professor was seldom willing to believe that the slowness of some of his students was genetic. That was against his world view. He was willing to admit that if a fetus were exposed to alcohol or cyanide the organic brain damage would seriously impair mental function later in life, and rare genetic defects might have the same result. But, From his experience and reading, he thought most retardation was social in nature. Parents and teachers were infants' gods: a phrase from their lips could strike like a bolt of lightning, leaving a mortal permanently disinterested in (or afraid of) math, talking, genitals or life. He did not feel social that evening. He ate at home, talked to his girlfriend on the phone, and refused an invitation to play cards. He watched some basketball on TV, listened to the Talking Heads album he had received for his birthday, and read several chapters of a book on Native American mythology. When he went to bed he fell asleep easily. He liked to be conscious of his dreams and was a student of the writings of Freud and Jung. He regularly dreamed of his childhood or of such archetypal figures as the Old Man, the Charcoaler, and the Shrink. That night his dreams started in the house where he had spent his childhood. Eventually he was walking up a spiral staircase in an old castle. He was going to get ice cream out of the refrigerator for his father. He found the refrigerator: it was tall, white and wide. He was not sure how to open it. He remembered he had not said his prayers and knelt down. He made the sign of the cross and the door began to glow. Then its front dissolved into a pulsing red gate inscribed with the words "HUTE DIE WELT, HORTLAK KANLI." A figure appeared behind the gate, dark skinned and brown eyed. It extended its hand. "Come with me," it said. "I am the Living Christ. Rest your head on my breast and join me in eternal incorruptible light." There was something sinister about the apparition. "Mama, Daddy!" the Professor screamed, waking himself up. It was dark and the sheets were drenched in sweat. For once the heat in the apartment was more than adequate. Clearly, he reasoned, it was an anxiety dream from his abandoning his parents' religion, and it had been triggered by his dealings with Cynthia. Still, he had seldom had such a vivid dream. He thought that it might have been interesting to go through the gate given that Christ was an illusion. On the other hand people went mad and became Jesus freaks somehow. The light of reason was counterweighted by the darkness of centuries past. Providence is both sleepy and informal. People are apt to drop by for a visit unannounced; there is no need to buy an answering machine and set up appointments with friends two weeks in advance, as in New York City. The Professor wanted to get some outside perspectives on what had happened, and it was easy to arrange to have a few friends over the next evening. Sophia was a girlfriend, a Greek American who had come from New York City to teach at a junior high school. Libby was a black leftist who worked at a shelter for battered women; she was his only close friend who had grown up in Providence. Jack had gone to Brown with the Professor, lived in Providence off and on, read a great deal, and dabbled in smuggling and muckraking. After a suitable period of time catching up on minor gossip the Professor related his experience with Cynthia and the dream. "It's pretty creepy, if you ask me," said Libby. "A lot of the women who come into the shelter are Christians, and it sure doesn't keep their husbands from beating them. It's just one more form of slavery. Pretty soon you won't be able to have an abortion. The Nazis didn't allow abortions, you know." "Sure you've got your Falwells out there, but this particular incident hardly seems like a Republican plot," said Sophia. "Christianity has been on the wane since the French Revolution, but it's like drugs: it appears to offer something for nothing. But this born again Christian stuff seems on a different level, like hypnotism or some form of hysteria." "My problem in understanding this," said the Professor, "is that Christ appears to be a sort of archetype. If I am right then it could appear with another name but the same effect. Everyone has seen pictures of Abraham Lincoln, but he doesn't appear to people and tell them what to do. Maybe Christ is part of the collective unconscious." "Maybe in some sense Christ is alive," ventured Jack. "Christ is a pattern, maybe even a conscious pattern, that uses human brains as a host." "A parasite," added Sophia. "Don't you think you're getting a bit mystical?" said Libby. "And isn't that the problem in the first place, superstition and mysticism? I don't think that Jesus would still be causing trouble today if religion didn't serve the real material interests of the rich. Taxes, tithes and profits, sometimes I think we'll never get them off our backs." "I don't disagree with you, Libby," said Jack, "but there is something more going on with this born again stuff. Maybe it is just an induced psychosis, maybe American bankers want psychotic Christians for workers. Maybe we should check out this church they're going to." "No thanks," said Libby and the Professor simultaneously. The Professor continued. "It's hardly the plague, and probably Cynthia will recover. Most important, I saw Christ in a dream and I'm still sane, so it isn't like a vampire is stalking people." The discussion eventually shifted to other matters. The Professor was cheered because discussing the topic in a rational manner soothed his fear that his unconscious might be getting out of control. Just in case he slept with Sophia that night. In his dreams he was back in his parents' house, sneaking downstairs to get ice cream. His father heard him and asked why he was up. He said to go to the bathroom, but instead he went to Cynthia's house. "You don't believe in him," she said. "He isn't real," he said. "You don't have to believe in him. He is real." "You don't need him to be happy." He noticed she was wearing green eyeshadow and heavy black eyeliner. "But you do need love. Do you get enough love, Professor?" She came over to him, gazing seductively into his eyes. She sat down on his lap and kissed him. He pulled off her shirt and felt her sucking into his neck. He pushed her away, afraid they would be discovered, but she just said "You can have me, Christ is eternal life, everything is permitted." He ran for the staircase but it was the stone spiral and he knew he did not want to go to the top. "I'm dreaming" he said, but he touched the walls and they were solid. He ran down the stairs and started to relax, for they were the stairs of his happy childhood dreams leading to a pleasant meadow. He could see the gate to the meadow but there was a white freezer along the wall and he remembered the ice cream. He lifted the door. Inside, a bearded man in a gray three-piece suit beckoned him into his office. "Yes, you can go far with us, Professor. You've had your problems in the past, but we would like your unique talents here. We are a rapidly growing concern. You can have money, power, women, complete research facilities and freedom to publish, whatever you want. And best of all, eternal life. Just a kiss on the cheek and you're in." I've seen this before, something is wrong, thought the Professor. I don't want this job. But he was mesmerized, unable to move. As the man was about to kiss him the Professor saw fangs behind the parted lips. The Professor screamed, struggled, and awoke in Sophia's arms. The next day he was walking on College Avenue and noticed that Paul was there, preaching to a small group of people. Most were cynical Brown students amused at his rantings. "... is not the answer, money is not the answer, drugs are not the answer. None of these can give you eternal life. Jesus is the Answer." "Excuse me, sir," said the Professor. "Yes?" responded Paul. "Are you talking about Christ the Vampire?" said the Professor. "What?" "Christ the Vampire. He was a magician in ancient Palestine. The Romans tried to kill him." The Professor noted the confused horror in Paul's face and the amusement and disgust of different onlookers. "Only they didn't know to drive a stake through his heart. So he has lived ever since, appearing to people who are weak. Whoever accepts his kiss gets sucked into the whole trip and becomes a mindless zombie wandering around trying to suck in the living by saying things like `Jesus is the answer.'" "Lucifer, this man is possessed by the devil," screamed Paul, pointing his finger at the Professor. The onlookers were exiting quickly. The Professor had not anticipated the violence of Paul's reaction. He said very calmly "You'll get better if you stay away from the other zombies." He walked away, purposefully casual but very aware in case Paul should attempt a physical attack. He was able to contain his laughter only for the distance of half the block. But as Jack had said, "If you could kill that vampire with laughter alone Voltaire or Twain would have done him in."