Chapter 1 -- Prologue
Jordan’s Bank, Massachusetts
Fifteen years ago
The desecrated church stood just beyond the town cemetery; a ruinous hulk, the skeleton of a once formidable adversary who had long since succumbed to a debilitating malignancy. Within it were the vestiges of its golden age: the pews, splintered and overturned; the wooden crucifix, split in two, demeaned by the filth of the rodent inhabitants who used it as a stepping stone to higher reaches; the tabernacle, shrouded in a tangle of cobwebs which served as a death trap for unwary insects; the baptismal font, capsized amid a sea of debris and animal excrement.
Prudence Martin was oblivious of these manifestations of decay. Indeed, she was barely conscious, unaware of almost everything. Her hands and feet were completely numb, rendered that way by the heavy ropes which sliced into her flesh, cutting off circulation. Her breasts, just beginning to blossom, were covered by a thick, brown slime that dripped from the broken rafters above her. In her rare, lucid moments, she could barely make out their shapes, suspended from the abbey ceiling and appearing like gigantic daggers which had slain some imaginary dragon and had been set there to dry.
A sound echoed in the deep recesses of her mind. She struggled through the darkened abyss, forcing herself back to consciousness, to reality. She forced open her eyes.
She peered up at the rafters, where they still sat unperturbed from the last time she had spied them – how long ago was that? Two? Three days? Except that they now were bathed in a hoary glow from the moonlight which filtered through the crevices in the roof. The church possessed the same musty stillness as before. But what had roused her from the black reverie? A sound. She heard it again. Someone had entered the chancel. She heard footsteps reverberating through the darkness…the rustle of heavy fabric…
And suddenly It was standing over her. Someone (something?) in a purple robe. A hood covering its head, shadowing its face. And then It spoke: Exurgent mortui et ad me veniunt.
Although she didn’t understand the words, she was certain that she recognized the voice. She had heard it before…somewhere in town…someone she knew…
And then, to her right, she felt something…a presence…a Blackness…moving toward her.
She suddenly felt warm. Sweat beaded on her forehead and trickled down her face, flooding her eyes, blinding her to the movements of the figure and…the Blackness.
She squeezed her eyelids tightly closed, then frantically fluttered them open until her eyes cleared; she made out the figure looming over her. Its hood had fallen off and she recognized the face.
I know you! came the triumph of recognition – until it yielded to a more important discovery – the shiny blade of a knife descending upon her.
FROM THE UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPT OF CHRISTOPHER MCGUIRE
I believe it was Mark Twain who said the difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and lightning bug. Since I am not a writer by trade, I hope you will excuse the appearance of any “lightning bugs” in the following narrative. I have endeavored to set down in a clear and succinct manner certain events which transpired during this most recent spring and summer. It is by no means an exhaustive, detailed journalistic report capable of documentary proof. Rather, it is a sincere and personal account of a sinister corruption; a corruption of both flesh and soul; living and dead.
I’ve only just begun and already I’m getting ahead of myself. Perhaps I should stay within the confines of a chronological framework. While there is no clear cut starting point, let us suffice with the publication of the following article:
HOLLYWOOD BOMBSHELL FOUND SLAIN IN
MALIBU BEACH HOUSE WITH ESTRANGED LOVER
Los Angeles (AP) – Erika Manning, everyone’s favorite sweetheart and Hollywood bombshell, was found brutally slain in her Malibu beach house yesterday afternoon. On-again, off-again boyfriend, Chad Newell, was found with her, with a gunshot wound between the eyes. Although all details are not yet known, some sources close to the subject suspect that Manning’s love-hate relationship with Newell climaxed into a bitter argument resulting in a murder-suicide. The bodies were discovered by Manning’s agent, Chris McGuire, who was stopping by the home to close a film deal for The Golden Goddess. According to inside sources, the film, based on David Jenner’s best-selling novel of the same name, would have catapulted Manning into superstardom. Manning’s ten-year-old daughter, Fanchon Manning, who was staying with friends at the time of the slayings, remains in Los Angeles until further arrangements may be made. Manning’s body will be transported to Jordan’s Bank, Massachusetts for a private funeral in her home town.
Although the article was carried by major wire services and reported on all the national news programs, the incident remained, for the most part, obscure. Even the gossip columnists didn’t capitalize on it, muzzling their muckraking skeleton finders into an uncharacteristic silence. The proverbial sweeping of Erika Manning under the carpet would have been considerably less significant if it were not for the fact that she was, by far, the fastest rising female star in America. Insiders had been predicting that she soon was to find herself on a high-speed career trajectory; one not seen since Jennifer Lawrence nailed the Hunger Games franchise or Selena Gomez nailed Justin Bieber. Moreover, she had been one step away from closing the biggest movie deal of the century: David Jenner’s The Golden Goddess, the tepid adventure yarn about an infamous seductress; the role would have unequivocally established her megastar status as well as her female superiority in the film industry.
But the details surrounding her life – and death – were deliberately downplayed even though her fans undoubtedly would have eaten them up. Not even the likes of Perez Hilton could ferret anything out. Indeed, a number of people, fans and non-devotees, would have been fascinated in the juicily laden coroner’s reports which were mysteriously deep-sixed. They’d have been completely baffled to learn that Chad Newell’s heart had been ever-so-neatly lifted from his body. And they probably would have been shocked, appalled, and downright repulsed to learn that beautiful Erika Manning had been decapitated – and her head was never found.