READ IT NOW! BROODING – CHAPTERS 4 & 5

Published July 11, 2013

Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.

CHAPTER 4

“Why so troubled?” Valiant asks Goodfellow as they ascend from Al’s room to the roof of the Morehouse abode. “I thought such discord would please you.”

Grunting, Nicholas answers, “If you thought I missed the crimson mantle on Ty Morehouse’s shoulders, you must think me blind. But how ironic that an old stoner should have the gift of prophecy. Yes, his words trouble me. Especially his mention of an advocate – which is definitely not what this world needs. Religious bondage has long been one of the most useful tools of my trade. I don’t want such hard won deceptions exposed. Thankfully, Ty’s affinity for mood elevators, and his too-easily-angered demeanor, render his words ineffectual.”

“Maybe to his brother,” Valiant says, “but Al heard him loud and clear.”

“Perhaps. And why do you look so nonchalant?” Goodfellow asks Valiant. “I thought such discord would upset you.”

Glancing Heavenward, Valiant sighs and replies, “Many Christians would likely write Ty Morehouse off as a crazy heretic like his family does, but that doesn’t mean his words aren’t true. They’re all too true. Far more damage has been done to Christianity by Christians themselves, than by all its most vocal naysayers put together. It breaks God’s Heart. It breaks my heart. And that smug look on your face tells me you know it, too.”

“Oh, I know it,” Nick smirks. “Believe me, I know. So … what’s next?”

“Follow me,” Valiant tells the demon. “Our next stop is that church.”

As they descend to the ground – the moon and sun swapping places in the sky as they do – they see the parking lot of Trinity Methodist fill up with cars. Scores of people – couples, families, and loners – are making their way inside. They are all here: the healthy and hurting, the free and captive, the righteous and self-righteous. Among them – unseen by any except Val and Nick – are not only dozens of angels, but quite a few demons, as well. Angels and demons of all shapes and sizes, walking, talking, floating, comforting, and tormenting. Many of the demons are small enough to ride comfortably upon the shoulders of their hosts, filling their ears with pride and sanctimony.

With a devilish grin, Nick tells Valiant, “These people, these pathetic chattering chimps, would be positively gobsmacked if they only knew how many of my kind had infiltrated their precious ranks.”

“Perhaps someday someone will tell them,” Valiant replies.

“Well, we can’t have that. Besides, they wouldn’t believe …whomever. They would dismiss such a one as readily as Reverend Morehouse booted out his beatnik brother.” Seeing Valiant chuckle at this, Nicks adds, “And if you are insinuating that this someone is the advocate of which Ty Morehouse spoke …”

“I’m insinuating nothing,” Val replies. “Come, we need to see something.”

Passing through the church’s front doors and down a flight of stairs to the left, they go down a hall and dissolve through the door of a closed classroom.

 

CHAPTER 5

The Sunday school teacher was droning on about something, but …

Al hadn’t been paying attention to the lesson. He was upset and distracted. Through the basement classroom window, he saw that Uncle Ty (who’d arrived at the house after Al and his family had gone to church) had already packed up his belongings and loaded them into the back of a small U-Haul truck, doing so at nearly superhuman speed. The man was currently strapping his Harley to the trailer behind it. It was almost 10:30 a.m. (church service started at 11:00), and before Al knew it, he saw Uncle Ty close the back of the moving van, hop up in the cab, and drive away again. The only thing that kept Al from crying right now was that he’d pretty much drained his tears the night before. And yet –

The teacher said something then that struck Al so very wrong, he quickly diverted his attention back to the classroom. (Al was normally in the 4th – 6th grade class, but since his regular teacher was sick this morning, his class had been combined with the 1st – 3rd graders.) The teacher’s name was Grace Davis. Al didn’t know her well – she was married to his father’s Associate Pastor.

“God loves good little boys and girls,” the woman had said. The statement was directed toward her daughter, Susan, who was also in class. Disturbed by this – and recalling all that Uncle Ty had said the night before – Al decided to call her on it before she could continue. Without raising his hand, he replied, “God loves all little boys and girls, not just good ones.”

Mrs. Davis turned so fast and spoke with such venom, Al was taken aback. “I was addressing my daughter, Mr. Morehouse. You may be our minister’s son, but if you have an issue that you wish to discuss, you can either raise your hand like a gentleman, or wait until class is dismissed. That way you will not disrupt my teaching, nor undermine my authority when I am correcting my own child.”

“But I was just saying …”

Stepping from the flannel-weave board on the wall (the story of Daniel and the lion’s den now hung there from a mass-produced, Methodist curriculum), Mrs. Davis took two steps toward the table at which her class sat. Though she was an attractive woman dressed in a pretty paisley dress, she now loomed witch-like over her students. For a moment, Al thought he could actually see insanity stirring in her eyes, brimstone running in tendrils from her nostrils, and a cackle hiding beneath her tongue. Just as swiftly, however, she changed back into an image of sweetness and gentility. Al seemed to be the only one to notice.

The other kids sat upright in their chairs, hands folded neatly, eager for the chance to give a correct answer to one of Mrs. Davis’s queries, and thereby receive one of the gourmet chocolates that she doled out as rewards.

Al saw Mrs. Davis change. It wasn’t his imagination. He saw it. The only other person here who may also have seen this lightning-quick transformation was Grace’s daughter, Susan. But Susan looked like she was upset by something else entirely. The girl’s eyes were either staring blankly, darting fearfully, or closed in prayer or sleep. Al didn’t understand it, but he sympathized.

“Al,” Mrs. Davis oozed, “what do we do when we have a question?”

A parental voice within Al’s mind told him to raise his hand like she was goading him to do, but instead – ignoring her lead – Al looked closer at Susan.

He had known her since his father hired her father seven months earlier. In that time, they had played together a few times on the playground or in the church’s gym. Susan was fun, smart, pretty, and a little sad.

She looks a lot sad now, Al thought. She looks lost and scared. He decided to ask her if she was okay after class. Her troubles were undoubtedly connected to this crafty, shape-shifting woman who was instructing them.

“Al,” Grace went on, “do you have a question or not?”

Yes, Al thought, haven’t you got a cauldron somewhere that needs stirring? He caught himself before it slipped. While he was ready to press the woman about her statement, concern for Susan stopped him. If he made a scene now, he might be unable to check on her later. Looking at Mrs. Davis, Al swallowed his pride, put on his most innocent face, and respectfully replied, “No, ma’am.”

“Good,” she told him. “Now where was I?”

Their class was dismissed soon after.

As the other children poured out into the hall to find their parents, Susan stayed in her seat. Al left the room, but tarried outside the door to hear what Mrs. Davis had to say to Susan. He didn’t have to wait long until he heard:

“Stand up, young lady,” the witch spat, “and stop looking so miserable. You’ve been acting weird all morning. What kind of mother are people around here going to think I am if you continue this way, hmm? Answer me.”

“A bad one,” Susan said in a voice so submissive that it broke Al’s heart. “That’s right. And what kind of mother am I?”

“A good one.”

“And what kind of daughter are you acting like this morning?”

“A bad one.”

“And why do you need to be good?”

“Because God loves good little girls,” Susan answered lifelessly.

“Yes. Now straighten up. I can’t go to the service with you this morning. I‘m helping in the kitchen because we’re having a potluck in the gymnasium after church. So here’s what: I want you to sit in the front pew so Daddy can keep an eye on you from the platform. I want you to put on your sweetest smile and be on your best behavior. That way, when God sees you sitting there, He’ll not only be pleased with you, but pleased with me. Here’s two dollars tithe for you to put in the offering plate when it goes by. Remember, God loves a cheerful giver. I need to collect my teaching materials, so you scoot along and make me proud.”

Al had never been so angry as he’d been the previous evening (when Chris pulled a Judas on Uncle Ty, and his dad evicted him), but the rage he felt inside right now was its equal. Al was furious; morally offended even. Mrs. Davis was crazy all right – to paraphrase Uncle Ty, the lady was a pew-warming, tongue-clucking Pharisee if ever there was one – but Susan was paying the price.

Get her out of here, a strange voice spoke in Al’s mind. Get her out quick.

Al didn’t know whose voice that was (his own? a Higher Source?), but even then a plan was starting to form. There would surely be consequences (ugly ones), but this little girl was more important. Al had already paid the ultimate price last night. What more could his father take away from him?

As Susan came out of the room and headed toward the stairs, Al came up next to her, lightly bumped her shoulder with his own, and said, “Hey, Susan.” Startled, the girl jumped and almost cried out … until she saw who it was. Glancing toward the classroom (very relieved to see the door was now closed), Susan looked back and whispered, “Hi, Al.” She tried to smile for him then, but the performance belied her.

Suddenly, Al was much more concerned about her than he had been. Susan could barely focus on him. Her amazingly long- and dark-lashed, pale blue eyes would find him briefly, and then either dart away or roll up behind her lids. Her left cheek twitched; her feet fidgeted; her hands pulled nervously at the fabric of her pink dress.

Like Susan, Al didn’t know the word traumatized, yet he knew something was way wrong. He started to ask if she was okay, but – already knowing the answer (and wanting to obey this urgent voice in his mind) – he instead took her hand, led her down the hall, and into an empty classroom at its end. The girl went with him easily. Closing the door behind them, Al turned to her and said, “Susan, I don’t know what’s wrong, but … you’re hurting. A lot. Am I right?”

Susan’s eyes rolled up again, and Al squeezed her hand to get her attention. “It’s okay, Susan, I’m right here. Did something bad happen?”

Susan shook her head as her eyes welled with emotion.

“I won’t tell anyone,” Al continued, “not if you don’t want me to.”

As a tear ran down Susan’s cheek, she quickly, ashamedly, wiped it away. Al repeated, “Did something bad happen?”

After a long pause, Susan nodded.

“Can you tell me what it was?”

Susan shook her head fiercely.

“Was it something that happened at home?”

Susan shrugged.

“Was it something that happened here?”

Eyes crossing and darting, Susan finally looked back at Al. She searched his eyes for trustworthiness and, finding it, nodded once more. “Was it something that your Mom did here?”

She shook her head.

“Did somebody who goes to this church do something bad?”

Nod.

“Did they do something bad to you, or did you just see something bad?”

“I heard it,” Susan whispered.

“Okay,” Al said, squeezing her hand again, relieved that she was talking. “Church is s’posed to be a safe place, but … sometimes it can be scary, can’t it?”

Nodding yet again, the girl replied, “Very scary.” Although Al had more questions, Susan beat him to them by asking, “You’re good, aren’t you, Al?”

Al chuckled. “Well, my folks don’t think so.”

“I think you’re good,” Susan added.

Recalling the words of Susan’s mother, Al told her, “You’re good too, Susan. No matter what your mom says. You are good.”

Eyes briefly rolling again, Susan asked, “I am?”

“Yes. You’re good because God made you. Not just because you behave.” Al thought that sentence was odd; he didn’t buy it; not when good performance won praise and bad received condemnation. That whole good/bad thing was kind of messed up, Al thought, especially when it imprinted a character label inside a child’s mind based on behavior. (Get her out, Al.) “Do you trust me?” he asked.

Susan thought for a moment, finally nodding.

“I’m going to get you out of here for awhile,” Al said, “and take you to a Magic Place where you won’t have to be scared. Okay?”

Susan considered this. While she knew she would have to pay the price of her mother’s wrath, she also wanted to be anywhere other than this church. The thought of sitting in the front pew – and behaving like “a good little girl” while looking at her Daddy and Nadja on the stage – was more than she was capable of handling. When she looked back at Al, Susan told him, “Okay.”

Al opened the door a crack, peeked into the hallway, and saw the coast was clear. Leading Susan again by the hand, the ten-year-old boy and eight- year-old girl ran toward a door with an EXIT sign over it, and went outside.

They came out in back of the church, where a narrow strip of faded asphalt separated the building from a deserted field. Two large Dumpsters sat at the far end, and Al – squinting against the sun – spotted a black Camaro parked next to them. He couldn’t see the driver (the windshield was illegally tinted), but one arm dangled out the driver’s window with a cigarette planted between two fingers. The license plate was personalized, Al saw, and read GRIM-1.

(Hurry, Al. No time to waste. Get her out of here now.) Al obeyed.

It only took five minutes to walk three blocks. When Susan realized where Al was taking her, excitement blossomed in her previously vacuous eyes. The sign over the retro establishment was big, beautiful, multi-bulbed, and read: THE LUX.

Looking at the schedule in the ticket booth, Al saw that their Hitchcock Fest was still on. Today’s first feature was North by Northwest. According to Uncle Ty, the movie wasn’t nearly as scary as PSYCHO or The Birds. It was a ‘romantic-comedy-thriller’. Perfect, Al thought. Just what the doctor ordered.

Still holding Susan’s hand, Al adjusted his wind-blown tie, stepped up to the ticket booth, looked at the redheaded teenage girl in the cage, and asked, “Could I have two tickets for the eleven o’clock North by Northwest, please?”

The girl looked down at the diminutive pair, seemed briefly confused, and then smiled. To Al, she said, “You were here yesterday, weren’t you?”

“I was,” Al answered. “With my uncle. He told me this place was magic. He was right. And now I’m taking my friend, Susan.”

“Well, you are certainly a darling couple,” she said. “And look at the way you’re dressed. Are you on a date? Or are you playing hooky from church?”

Susan giggled at that. As she leaned closer to Al, she whispered in his ear, “She thinks we’re on a date.”

Squeezing Susan’s hand, Al replied to the ticket girl, “We’re on a date.”

“Well, I’ve never seen such a handsome gentleman and lovely lady before. That’ll be two dollars, please.”

Al’s heart sank. This had been going so splendidly he forgot he was broke.

Susan slipped something into Al’s hand then. He looked down and saw two wrinkled dollar bills. Recalling where Susan got them, Al grinned lopsidedly, and took a perverse thrill in pushing them under the glass. Ticket stubs in hand, Al opened the door, led Susan into a cylindrical tunnel with flashing lights, through the plush foyer, and into a massive auditorium where the little girl’s oohs and ahhs were music to Al’s ears. After selecting two seats in the middle of the meagerly filled room, Susan spoke reverently, “It looks like a church.”

“I know,” Al replied. “Pretty cool, isn’t it?’

“Really cool. Did you mean what you said before, Al? Are we on a date?” Recalling the lost and haunted expression on her face only minutes before, Al simply smiled and replied, “Yes, we are. Are you having a good time?”

“I’m having a real good time,” Susan told him.

The redheaded girl from whom they’d bought tickets came down the aisle.

Al thought they were busted … until he saw that she was carrying a bucket of popcorn and two soft drinks. As the girl entered the row of seats ahead of Al and Susan, she walked over and said, “It seemed like your financial resources were a little low, and – since you two are so adorable – I thought I’d take the liberty and bring you some refreshments. These are on the house, so … enjoy.”

In utter shock, Al accepted her offering and said, “Thank you very much.”

“Yes, thank you,” Susan added. “Wow, Al. This place is great.”

“I know,” Al replied, “but the magic really starts when the curtain rises.”

Sipping soda and eating popcorn, Al and Susan sat in silence for awhile, drinking in the splendor that was The Lux and waiting for the show to begin. After a few minutes, Susan leaned over and hushed, “It was my Daddy.”

“Your Daddy? What do you mean?”

“My Daddy was the one I heard do something scary in the church.” “What did he do?”

Susan leaned closer and whispered, “He and Nadja did a bad thing in his office yesterday. I was under his desk, but he didn’t know I was there.”

“Nadja?” Al asked. “Nadja Kelley? From the worship team?”

Susan nodded.

Al pondered this briefly. He’d noticed before when Pastor Eddie sometimes visited with Nadja (in the foyer or at church functions), he looked not unlike … a wolf – one who wanted to eat her up. “When you say bad thing, do you mean … like what grown-ups do? In their bedrooms? Like how babies are made?”

Susan wasn’t sure about the ‘babies’ part, but nodded anyway.

Al took her hand again and just sat in silence with her. He didn’t know it, but he consoled her far more than he realized by just doing what he was doing. After awhile, he said, “I don’t ever want to grow up. I don’t want to live under my parents roof anymore, but I don’t ever want to act like a grown-up.”

“Me neither,” Susan replied, scooting closer to Al and laying her head on his shoulder, “they’re way too crazy.” And with that –

– the lights dimmed, the curtain rose, and for the next 2 1/2 hours, Albert Morehouse and Susan Davis found a little peace in their otherwise crazy lives.

 

go to CHAPTER 6.

 

READ IT NOW! BROODING – CHAPTERS 2 & 3

Published July 11, 2013

Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store. Previous chapters can be found here.

CHAPTER 2

The little girl was afraid.

Huddled under her father’s desk, she struggled not only to stifle her tears, but to figure out exactly what she was hearing. Part of her knew what was going on – as awful as it might seem – yet a more protective part of her mind refused to believe it. Even as the big desk began to shimmy and shudder, the knowledge was too much for her young mind to process.

Why is Daddy doing this? she thought. What is Daddy doing? 

(Three blocks away, in the dim auditorium of The Lux, Albert Morehouse and his Uncle Ty were still talking about PSYCHO. At least until the opening credits for The Birds began to roll.)

Susan Davis was beyond afraid. She was terrified. Paralyzed even. 

After all, she was only eight years old. She’d wanted to spend more time with her Daddy this Saturday afternoon (the last day of June) and, to surprise him, she sneaked into the back seat of his car before he went to work. For seven months, her father had been Associate Pastor of a quaint church called Trinity Methodist – it sat in a quaint lot in a quaint suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. 

Susan didn’t know why her daddy needed to go to church on a Saturday, but because she simply adored the man, and also because she wanted to get away from her mother for awhile, she figured she’d surprise him by stowing away in his car. After her dad had parked in the empty lot, had gotten out of the car and made his way toward the building, Susan watched him unlock the church’s front doors. She prayed he wouldn’t lock them again before she had a chance to get inside herself. She then got out of the back seat and ran toward the church – a picture of innocence in pink overalls and blonde pigtails. 

After tugging hard on the front door, Susan slipped inside … and stopped. Stained glass windows let dim light in the dark foyer, but still – without music playing or people milling or teens flirting or jaws flapping – the place seemed much different on this Saturday afternoon than it did on Sunday mornings or Wednesday nights. It was usually a safe haven; now it just seemed spooky. 

Ascending the main stairs, Susan looked left and saw that the sanctuary also seemed ominous without a halogen-lit fellowship of believers in its pews. The choir chamber was deserted, the pulpit unmanned, even the wall-mounted cross (normally backlit with fluorescent bulbs) was now hidden in shadows. 

Susan had a bad case of the creeps. She wished she hadn’t come. 

As she turned to look down the dim hallway where there were classrooms and offices, the desire to find her father turned into a need. Susan walked that way – past the High School class, Adult Singles class, Rev. Morehouse’s office, all seemingly empty – and found the door to her father’s office. It was ajar. 

Poking her head in, she saw that it was also unoccupied.

She entered the room and called out, “Daddy?” No answer. 

After hearing a noise from the hall, Susan almost bolted back through the doorway to find respite in her father’s arms, but … she stopped, listened, and heard … giggling? Not only did it not sound like her dad, it sounded distinctly feminine. The giggling grew louder, closer, and – with no time to reason why – Susan quickly bolted under her father’s desk.

Someone burst into the room. Rather two someones.

Susan couldn’t see anything, but the giggling was accompanied by laughter. She knew it was her dad, but the timbre of his titters sounded like a stranger. 

The door banged against the wall, and was quickly closed and locked. Susan heard grunts, and kissing noises, and clothes being removed.

Her father said something then, half moaned: “Oh, Nadja.”

Nadja? Susan thought. Nadja is one of the pretty ladies who sings on the worship team. Why is Daddy kissing on Nadja? At that moment, an avalanche of paper and other desk accessories cascaded into the hole where Susan hid. She wasn’t sure what they were doing up there, but thought it might involve something to which she’d often heard her mother allude … er, rather a lewd.

It was Wrong. It was Dirty. It was Shameful. It was The Bad Thing

Curling up in a ball, Susan trembled. She didn’t know the word intimacy, but she knew what it was like to crawl up onto her Daddy’s lap and feel safe. She knew the treasure of being able to place her cheek upon his and giggle at his tickling whiskers. She knew the wonderment of being held by him in an embrace so tight, warm, and secure that surely nothing could hurt her. She also knew that all of these riches were presently being ripped away from her.

Susan clenched her eyes, clamped palms over her ears, and silently prayed, Oh dear Jesus make them stop, please make them stop, please o please o please. She repeated this over and over, not stopping until the desk stopped moving.

An eternity later (or about 20 minutes), Associate Pastor Eddie Davis and Pretty Worship Team Lady Nadja ceased rutting and got dressed. After a few whispered sweet nothings, they agreed to adjourn to the downstairs lavatories.

Susan waited for them to leave, gave them time to get downstairs, and then darted like a mouse out of the office. As she ran down the hall …

Something crashed in one of the classrooms.

Susan halted in her tracks, peered into the dark Adult Singles classroom (lit only by a venetian-blinded window), and sensed movement.

Beneath the large table, hunkered in shadows, a menacing figure lurked. Two red-reflected eyes stared at her from the dimness.

Susan stood frozen, heart fluttering within her chest like a bird in a flue. Suddenly she ran toward the foyer, down the stairs, out the front doors, and returned to the back seat of her father’s Chevy sedan. She desperately wanted to cry, but – knowing her father would be getting in the car shortly and driving back home (she hoped) – she held on.

Eddie got in soon after and drove back the way he had come.

Fifteen minutes later, Susan’s father parked his car in the wide driveway of a beautiful, three-story, multi-gabled Victorian house. 

(If Albert Morehouse had been here, he would’ve been shocked: the house greatly resembled the one he had just seen in PSYCHO. It was larger than the Bates House and, rather than being in disrepair, was painted white, pink, and robin’s egg blue. There was no hill and no motel, of course, but the landscaping, foliage, and brickwork were impeccable. Two towering willows stood sentry.) 

Eddie Davis shut off the engine and got out of the vehicle. 

Susan stayed hidden, trauma-impaired brain trying to formulate a plan. With a fast prayer – Please God, help me get to my room – she got out of the car and headed to the backyard. After going up the back porch, in the back door, through the kitchen and past the parlor, she headed for the master staircase. 

“There you are, Pooh,” Eddie spoke from the parlor. He was seated on a floral-print couch next to Susan’s mother, who had been napping for the past couple hours. (Even before sneaking into her dad’s sedan, Susan knew her mom would be knocked out for awhile; the woman’s purse was a virtual pharmacy, and one could set a clock by her regular consumption of its abundant medicinals.) 

“Where’ve you been?” Eddie asked.

“Playing,” Susan answered flatly.

“Are you okay?” Eddie Davis went on. “You look a little pale.”

At this, Susan’s mother Grace looked up from her pillow. The woman was obviously still groggy from whatever combination of pills she had swallowed. “You doin’ okay, Sooz?” Grace slurred.

“Yes, Mom,” Susan replied, noting something strange. She’d always known there was a wide age difference between her parents (her mother was 48, her father 36), but at this moment the variance was obvious. They looked more like mother and son than husband and wife. There was no physical resemblance, just a division formed by weariness and vigor, wrinkled features and taut skin. Recalling what happened at the church, Susan caught a dim lucidity of why her father had sought the embrace of another woman. The actual reasonings were beyond an eight year old’s ability to fathom – especially in her current state of shock – but perhaps all was not as it appeared to be in the Davis house. 

As the weight of her terrible secret pressed down on her, Susan told them, “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll lay down for awhile.” She then went upstairs to her room, climbed up on her bed, hugged a pillow as big as she was, and wept. 

Susan wasn’t sure how long she cried – maybe three minutes? – yet it wasn’t nearly long enough to halt the despair constricting round her ribs like a serpent. Tears were weakness, her mother had told her repeatedly. Susan never fully believed the statement, but realized she was too frightened to be so defenseless. She needed to shut off her tears. She needed distraction. 

Clean. Play. Run. Read. Sing. Draw.

Do something – anything – to keep from being so vulnerable as to cry. 

Disassociation was another word foreign to Susan, though her mom’s knack for it was quite deft. Grace Davis had many such ‘solutions’ for psychological problems, most far beyond Susan’s capacity to understand at such a young age.

This house was Grace’s legacy; she had grown up here in its seven-bedroom expanse. Both of her parents had died in an automobile accident when Grace Stoppelmoor was only twenty, and her inheritance included the house, three acres of property, and nearly $250,000. Grace became as frugal and practical with these assets as her father had been. She hired the smartest bankers she could find to ensure that her estate (and its earned interest) would allow her to never have to work. Throughout her 20s and 30s, Grace kept herself busy with the restoration of this vintage home. This task so occupied her time that – trips to the market notwithstanding – she hardly ever left the house. Grace never considered herself an agoraphobe, but rather a fiercely dedicated homemaker. If busyness was her stock and trade, Grace honed it to an art form. After all, busy people never had to feel. Not exactly a theory which one needed a Ph.D. to figure out, but one which drove millions to insanity, nevertheless.

Two things in Grace’s increasingly isolated life offered solace: her cats and her Christian faith. Her parents had been staunch fundamentalists, and Grace still practiced their performance-based gospel to the greatly-misinterpreted letter. She read her Bible and a devotional every day, listened incessantly to the southern gospel music which had been her father’s favorite, and attended two church services on Sundays (a.m. and p.m.) without fail. Granted, with her unacknowledged fear of public places, Grace never attended any one church for long. Rather, she church hopped. She was attractive enough to have numerous suitors attempt to pitch her woo, but as soon as anyone got too close, she moved on without a backward glance. This went on for many years.

Grace was thirty-eight when she met Eddie Davis. He was a landscaper she had hired to excavate the backyard, plant more trees, and construct a stone walking path. Since she greatly feared becoming an old maid, Grace allowed herself to be beguiled by the handsome younger man sweating in her yard. She began to allure him in a manner both cunning and proficient. Her blouses became skimpier, her shorts grew shorter, her lemonade sweeter, and her visits with him more intimate. Eddie Davis grew quickly enamored of this rich and lovely older woman. Their courtship was swift, their engagement swifter. Susan was born soon after Grace’s fortieth birthday, and was doted upon as much as her father’s kindness (great) and her mother’s neurosis (even greater) would allow. 

When Susan was four years old, Grace ordered a faith-based, home-school curriculum through the mail. She wasn’t about to let her precious little angel be corrupted by the public school system’s edicts, nor be defiled by its petri-dish manner of mass education where children bounced off one another like infectious amoeba. Susan belonged here, in this Christian home, where the lessons she was taught, and the influences to which she was exposed, could be more easily controlled. Fine was the line between protecting one’s child from the world and isolating them from it, but Grace never stopped to consider it. Despite her efforts, she did little to prepare Susan for the world outside the Davis vacuum.

Grace had always wanted to be a pastor’s wife. Though she claimed this was due to her love for the Lord, position and prestige were equally motivating. While Eddie Davis was not the ideal candidate for the pastorate (he was a lapsed Catholic with a few college credits), he compensated with good looks and natural charisma. After Grace repeatedly proposed to him the idea of not only converting to Protestantism, but attending seminary, Eddie finally caved. Two and a half years later, Eddie got his first job at Trinity Methodist Church. Pastor David Morehouse hired him, and things had gone splendidly … at first. Yet, it didn’t take long for Grace’s behavior to grow erratic – to Eddie’s eyes anyway. As Grace was one of the prim and pretty Sunday school teachers, he wondered if anyone else at the church had noticed yet. She taught grades one through three – big surprise, Susan fit this category. Eddie knew his wife did not deal well with extended public relations (an hour in a crowd could literally make her face twitch), but her behavior of late had turned even more bizarre. Her appearance was also affected. Whereas once Grace was nearly obsessive about clothes, hairstyles, and make-up, her recent efforts seemed like overkill. Her reliance on psychotropic pills was also increasing. Eddie didn’t know what to do. He didn’t exactly wear the pants in this house, and standing up to Grace, especially when she was whacked on meds, could be dangerous. And so … 

Over the course of the next few months, Eddie’s eyes began to wander.

They didn’t have to wander far.

Nadja Kelley – 27-years old, slim, single, sexy, with the voice of an angel – stood on the same platform as Eddie every Sunday morning, leading worship. Eddie was so attracted to her, he rarely glanced her way during such times, lest the congregation see the truth. Pastor Morehouse, perhaps sensing trouble, told Eddie that Nadja had a reputation for weakness in the area of sensuality … especially with bad boys. Though the information was offered as a warning, it seemingly had the opposite effect. Nadja was attracted to Eddie as well, and – despite their efforts – they quickly fell into a torrid affair.

Their first adulterous congress occurred after a Wednesday night service in the band room of the church’s basement. Thereafter, their liaisons grew more frequent, less discreet, and often took place in either that musty old band room, or Eddie’s office. They’d met at other places – motel rooms, Nadja’s apartment – but none provided the same frenzied and forbidden thrill as the church. 

Whatever pangs of rationality or conscience Eddie might have had about this were obliterated by desire. Since Pastor Morehouse lived in the parsonage next door, these chapel trysts had to be cleverly arranged around the minister’s schedule. Today had been safe: the good Reverend and his Missus were visiting relatives in Blue Springs and wouldn’t be back until late tonight.

Yes, Grace was going slowly insane, but Eddie was catching up fast.

Eddie didn’t know his daughter had witnessed (audibly, at least) his most recent indiscretion. Neither did he know Susan hadn’t been the only one spying.

He did suspect there would eventually be consequences for his actions.

He just didn’t realize they would be so quick. Or so dire.

 

CHAPTER 3

Wearing a blue Superman jersey, Albert Morehouse hunkered on his haunches, elbows on knees, grimy hands dangling between them. Dusk was closing in, and Uncle Ty had just finished an oil change on his ten-year-old Harley-Davidson Sportster. The fact that this totally boss bike was the exact same age that he was wasn’t lost on Al. Uncle Ty had even let Al assist him on this task, and the black grease on his little hands felt more like a Rite of Passage than merely something to be washed off with a bar of Lava. Al’s dad never let him help on his car – of course, the reverend rarely even checked under the hood or carriage, usually letting professional mechanics handle such dirty work.

As Ty cleaned his mess off the Morehouse driveway, Al stood and inspected the intricately-airbrushed, teardrop gas tank of the Harley. It was gloss black, with big, blue, Creature Feature letters on it, spelling the ironic moniker: TYLER’S REVENGE.

Al had never seen anything cooler in his life than Uncle Ty’s Harley.

“Can we take her for a spin, Uncle Ty?” Al asked.

“Gettin’ dark,” Ty replied, readjusting the light-blue bandanna around his head, “but if you want, we can ride her around the parking lot a few times.”

Ty didn’t have to ask twice.

As man and boy rode TYLER’S REVENGE around the parking area of Trinity Methodist Church, Christopher Morehouse looked up from his bedroom desk and glared out the window at his uncle and little brother. The noise pollution pouring out of the Harley’s glass-pack muffler was enough to raise the dead, much less keep a thirteen year old from doing his homework. It wasn’t that Chris didn’t like his Uncle Ty, but ever since the man had taken up residence in their basement, a huge rift had grown between them. His father’s brother had never come out and proclaimed to have a favorite between his two nephews, but it was obvious to anyone with eyes that Al was the one he liked best. Maybe it was because Al was too young to realize their uncle’s influence was unhealthy, inappropriate, and often just sinful. More than once, Chris had called his uncle to account for a few of these things – the man’s idolatrous obsession with film, his tattoos, his cigarette habit, his verbal approval of attractive women, his occasionally salty language – and yet every time he did, Uncle Ty came back with a rebuttal which made Chris feel like a hypocrite. Uncle Ty even said to him once, “Stop acting so Pharisaical.” Chris hadn’t initially understood his uncle’s words, but – later on, searching through his Bible – he got the gist of it. He didn’t agree with it, but he got it. And didn’t like it one bit. That a jobless, irresponsible, twice-divorced, tattooed, overgrown kid could have the gall to compare an ambitious teenager to a Pharisee, upset him to no end. Since then, Christopher basically avoided the man, spending most of his time in his room.

And yet … it sure looked like Al and Uncle Ty were having fun out there.

Maybe I’m being too unforgiving, Chris thought. If I’m really concerned about Uncle Ty having a bad influence on Al, maybe the best solution is to provide a better influence myself. That was all the self-goading he needed. Dropping his pen and closing his notebook, Chris headed downstairs and went out to join his uncle and brother.

As Ty circled the lot – Al clinging to his torso – he realized even over the noisy pulsation of his hog, he could actually feel little Al’s giggles of delight. It was a sensation nearly like a salve on his turmoil-laden heart. He had spent too many selfish, self-destructive years running from a past that never tired of pursuing him, yet the simple vibrations of a little boy’s laughter touched him in a tender place he thought was long since dead.

When Ty saw that his other nephew was watching from the yard, he was in such an amiable mood (unusual for him without artificial assistance) that rather than dread the sight of the boy, he saw an opportunity to patch up their differences. Ty didn’t dislike Chris, but the boy was certainly his father’s son, in ways both good and bad. Now that the hermit had come out of his cave, Ty told himself to accept Chris the way that he was, just as he had done for the giggling boy now on the back of his motorcycle. Ty steered toward the yard.

Screeching to a halt in front of Chris, Ty smiled at him. Chris smiled back. Al was jumping up and down on the back seat of the hog, giddy with delight.

“Hey, Chris!” Al cried over the loud engine. “Wanna go for a ride?”

“It’s up to Uncle Ty,” Chris replied.

“Hop on, buckaroo,” Ty told him.

As Al got off the motorcycle, he was so excited, so pumped with adrenaline, he said something that, immediately after, he knew would ruin this fragile reconciliation between his uncle and his brother. Without thinking – and with innocent excitement – he cried, “Uncle Ty, your Harley is totally kick ass!”

“Hey, now. Language, Al,” Chris scolded. “You know better than that.”

Ty’s heart sank. He knew from past experience where this was going and did not want to get in the middle of it. He also knew that Chris blamed him for Al learning such allegedly blue lingo. Yet, until the boys’ parents returned from their trip tonight, he was responsible for seeing that Al and Chris didn’t fight or argue. Too often he ended up not as referee, but as an active participant.

Reminding himself for the thousandth time that he was the adult here (and also not to biasedly take Al’s side as he was so inclined), Ty turned off the Harley so he wouldn’t have to shout, and said, “Al, your brother’s right. That’s probably not an appropriate term for a boy your age. If your father heard you say it, who do you think would get in trouble?”

“You would,” Al replied.

“That’s right.” Turning to Chris, Ty paused, weighed his words, and said, “Chris, I know your dad has taught you a lot about what God finds acceptable and what He doesn’t. I agree with much of it. I, too, believe in God and Jesus. No, I don’t look like your typical Christian, and I’m not comfortable in church, but that’s only because …” Ty stopped, left eye twitching as if he were recalling something terrible. Finally, he went on, “…coming from the abusive past your dad and I came from, I’m hypersensitive to any kind of legalism or hypocrisy. You just corrected your brother for using the word ‘ass.’ And since Al is only ten, you were probably right to do so. But that word means so many different things that a blind offense at it makes Christians seem … puritanical. An ass can be a donkey, a dumb person, or your bottom. The expression kick-ass means excellent. A bad-ass is a tough guy. There’s a hundred other meanings. My point is: think about the context of a word before you get so bent out of shape. Ask yourself whether or not there’s any hate behind what’s being said. That’s what’s really important. Otherwise, you end up sounding like a prude.”

Ty wasn’t one to make speeches … unless someone pushed one of his buttons, and then he was as capable of preaching as his brother. But it was also a good little speech, he thought. He was far more intelligent and insightful than his appearance led most people to believe – an attribute that had gotten him out of (and into) his share of fights. He hoped Chris would take what he had said in the genial spirit intended, however …

“Who are you to judge me?!” Chris screamed, red-faced and fire-eyed. “You can’t keep a job! Or stay in a marriage! You smoke! You’re covered with tattoos! You live in a fantasy world of movies and motorcycles! Worst of all, you’re teaching my little brother to follow in your footsteps. He idolizes you!”

“Shut up, Chris!” Al cried. “Uncle Ty is right. He wasn’t trying to be mean to you. He was just saying …”

“I heard what he’s saying! He’s saying that I’m prudish and puritanical. Maybe I am, but at least I’m not a liar!”

“I’m not a liar,” Ty said.

“Oh, yeah?!” Chris shot back. “You told me this morning you were taking Al miniature golfing, but I know where you really went. You took him to The Lux to see Psycho! Do you know what my dad would do if he found that out? He’d be furious, and you know it. Why are you even here? Why don’t you move, Uncle Ty? You’re a grown up! You should act like it instead of an overgrown kid. Stop mooching off my parents and take care of yourself for a change! Nobody wants you here except Al, and you’re corrupting him like …”

“He’s not c’rupting me!” Al screamed back at him. “I love him! He’s real! He’s more real than you are, you big … phony!” Al didn’t hate his brother, but Chris was threatening the thing he held most dear. He knew Uncle Ty would move out someday, but wanted to prolong his stay as long as possible. In a world where nobody understood him, Uncle Ty got Al. That, in itself, was priceless.

Without another word, Chris stormed back in the house, slammed the door behind him, and returned to his room.

Al went to his uncle’s side, looked up at the man’s face, and saw two things clearly: pain and sadness. He wanted to make those awful expressions go away – forever – but was clueless how to do so. Speechless and befuddled, Al simply put his arms around Uncle Ty, and hugged him tight.

An hour or so later, as Chris fumed in his room, Al and Ty sat on the couch in the unfinished basement, watching a rerun of the original Star Trek on an independent TV station. Uncle Ty called himself a Trekkie, and had passed on his addiction of original series Trek to Al. Al didn’t have many heroes in his life, but running a close second to Uncle Ty was Captain James Kirk. The roguish captain was strong, confident, valorous, and quite the ladies man. He could also be a bad ass … but perhaps such descriptors were better left unspoken.

For a month and a half, the Morehouse basement resembled (of all things) a small bijou. Uncle Ty owned a huge video library, methodically arrayed on shelves bookending a big TV, bigger speakers, and an antiquated-but-powerful McIntosh 240 tube amplifier. The bare walls had movie posters pinned to them; including Universal’s unholy trinity: Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man. There were sleeved lobby cards, Aurora models, dioramas of iconic film scenes, thick books about directors, actor biographies, 70mm film cells set in Lucite, laminated ticket stubs, roadshow programs, and other Hollywood ephemera. While escapism came natural to children, when it came to the celluloid brand, Al could not have handpicked a better teacher. Ty considered Al an apt pupil; a virtual sponge who never tired of soaking in his encyclopedic film knowledge. Ty had never considered himself a role model, but ever since coming to live here – and finding himself the aim of one nephew’s fanatical admiration – he took the responsibility quite seriously. And yet given his propensity for brooding, self-loathing, and artificial mood-enhancers (not to mention the occasional suicidal thought), he sometimes questioned the healthiness of his influence.

“You gonna be okay if I go outside and smoke a cigarette?” Ty asked Al.

Al nodded, attention enrapt by Jim Kirk as he battled the reptilian Gorn.

Ty headed out through the garage, stopped to get something out of a secret compartment under the seat of TYLER’S REVENGE, walked across the parking lot toward the church’s gymnasium, and lit a Marlboro. Ensuring his solitude, he also fired up the remains of a joint, and leaned against the building.

With one leg propped on the brick, Ty looked cool – actually, he was a bit of a mess. His words to Chris had obviously stung the boy, but Chris’ words had stung, too. Ty didn’t have all the answers. Maybe he didn’t have any answers. Does your heart hurt? Do you feel like you don’t belong? Is life too painful? Well, fire up a joint; or go to the movies; preferably at the same time.

Maybe Chris was right. Who was he to preach morality? As he took a drag off the Marlboro in his right hand, and then a deeper one off the jay in his left, he considered what he might do to win the boy’s trust again. One of the reasons Ty had sabotaged two marriages was that he was positively petrified of being a father. He didn’t want the responsibility of raising a child when he felt so screwed up himself. Maybe he owed Chris an apology.

Ty was also flummoxed by his nagging suspicion that there was something profoundly wrong with modern-day Christianity. There were seemingly scores of legalistic traditions that the church had proclaimed as Gospel for so long, they no longer knew the difference. And yet each time Ty attempted to expose these errors – using scripture no less – his family accused him of being a heretic. A crazy one at that. At times, he almost believed they were right.

After taking a third toke on the joint, Ty stripped the cherry and returned the little roach to his cigarette pack. Putting a Wint-O-Green Life Saver in his mouth and Visine in his eyes, he glanced back toward his brother’s house.

A dark silhouette stood at the window of Chris’ bedroom … watching him. The figure darted away as soon as Ty looked up, and suddenly …

Ty knew how it was all going to go down. His goose was most likely cooked.

A car pulled around from the backside of the gym then: a black Camaro. The driver slowed down for a moment, looked briefly at Ty, and then tore out of the lot and down the street, burning rubber and swirling blue exhaust.

Ty – both startled and confused by this – noted that the license plate on the Camaro read GRIM-1. He grunted, wondering if the driver was just as freaked out as he had been. After all, what was a burly, long-haired, tattooed biker doing smoking cigarettes (among other things) in the parking lot of a church? It was probably just teenagers looking for a place to chill, or make out, or possibly do what he had just done. Remembering that he may (or may not) have been spotted by Chris doing the one thing that was going to get him evicted, Ty started back for the house. Right before he reached the yard, David and Ruth Morehouse pulled their Suburban into the driveway. Ty (sucking madly on the Life Saver in his mouth) greeted them as they got out. “Hey, bro. Hey, sis.”

“Hi, Ty,” David replied. “Did you see that car speeding out of here?”

Ty nodded, saying, “Yeah, I think it was parked behind the gym, though I didn’t check for vandalism or anything. It was prob’ly just some kids partying. In case you do find any damage later, I got the license plate. It was GRIM-1.”

“Okay. Everything go all right with the kids?”

As Ty grabbed their bags from the Suburban, “Same as always,” he replied.

“I don’t mean to be rude,” Ruth said, waddling hurriedly toward the house, “but I’ve got a pee-pee emergency.”

“My wife, the potty mouth,” David retorted.

Ty chuckled at that, but without much humor. No Dave, Al and I are the potty mouths in your house. As a matter of fact, when it comes to being potty mouths, we kick ass! After closing the Chevy’s back hatch, Ty picked up the suitcases off the driveway, and headed inside with his brother.

“You all right, Tyler?” David asked.

Ty shrugged, grunted, and carried the luggage in as David held the door. “Mom says to tell you, ‘Hi,’” David told him.

“Mmm,” Ty grunted again, setting the bags by the foot of the stairs.

“Where are the boys?”

“Same place they were when you left ‘em.”

This time David grunted. “Let me guess, Chris is in his room, and Al is in the basement watching …” he glanced at his watch, “Kirk and Spock.” When Ty nodded, David took off his coat and asked, “Sure there’s nothing wrong?”

Before Ty could answer, Ruth appeared at the top of the stairs. She looked tired from their drive, but Ty thought there was a look of concern on her face beyond that. “Dave,” she said, “I think you’d better come up here for a minute.” Behind her, Christopher stood in his bedroom doorway wearing a smug grin.

David joined his wife upstairs, and they both adjourned to Chris’s room.

Ty sighed resignedly, worst fears realized. Knowing that time was short, he went down to the basement and saw Al engrossed in the finale of Star Trek. While the denouement played out, Ty gathered courage for the business ahead. He waited for the credits to roll, went around the couch, and turned off the TV. Before Al could ask why, Ty squatted in front of the boy and took his hands in his own. In an emotion-choked voice, he said, “Al, you know I love you, right?”

Al nodded and replied, “Sure.”

“Well … I don’t think I’m gonna have much more time to spend with you.”

“Why not?” Al asked, noting that Uncle Ty’s breath smelled minty and his clothes had a musty/sweet smoke odor. He knew sometimes his uncle smoked things besides tobacco. Al had his suspicions, yet – not wanting the gavel of his father’s judgment to drop – he never breathed a word about it. His ten-year-old mind usually thought of it in terms of: Uncle Ty is putting another Band-Aid on his heart because he hurts inside. He wished that he could wave a magic wand and heal his uncle’s troubled soul, but – knowing that he couldn’t – he just loved him instead. “Why not?” Al repeated.

“Well, your parents just got back and … I don’t think they’re gonna be very happy with some of the things I’ve been doing. It’s not their fault. I’m the one who’s … broken some promises I made when they agreed to let me stay here.”

Eyes brimming, Al asked, “What promises?”

“That’s not important. What is important is that you know I think you’re a terrific kid. You’re special. You made me believe in family when I gave up on that word a long time ago. You’ve got tons of potential, Al. I’ve watched your parents show an unfair partiality to your brother, but … you’ve got the savvy, the instinct, the passion, and the heart. And no matter what happens …”

Loudly, from the stairwell, David called: “Al?”

“No matter what,” Ty hurried, “I will always think the world of you.”

“Al, come here please,” David repeated. “Your uncle and I need to talk.”

“No!” Al screamed, hopping off the couch and clinging onto his uncle. “No! You’re not gonna make him go away! I won’t let you!”

“Al,” Ty said softly, embracing him, “you need to listen to your father.” “No! I hate him! I want to go with you!”

“I know you do, Al. But … we both know that can’t happen. Not right now. You need to obey your dad. Please, Al. If not for him, do it for me. Please?”

Al calmed himself, but was shaken to his core. With hot tears scalding his cheeks, he hugged Uncle Ty fiercely. Ty hugged him back with equal fervor. After a moment, Al let him go, spun around, and sulked upstairs, eyes shooting poison daggers at his father. As he climbed another flight to the second floor, Al went past his brother’s room, and saw his mom in there talking with Chris.

And suddenly it was all clear: Christopher had ratted out Uncle Ty.

Murderous fury flashed inside Al, making him want to throttle his brother. The only thing that kept him from doing so was the knowledge that if he did (and ended up in jail, juvenile hall, or possibly the nuthouse), his uncle would be disappointed in him. Al went to his room, closed the door, blocked it with a chair, and knelt down next to the furnace vent on the floor. He put his ear to it, trying to hear the conversation in the basement. He could hear, and clearly.

Dad: “Grow up. Get over it. How long will our past control your life?”

Uncle Ty: “Like it doesn’t still affect yours.”

Dad: “Did you take Al to The Lux to see Psycho?”

Uncle Ty: “Wow. Did Chris tell you that? Yes. I did. I’d do it again.”

Dad: “Did you jump down Chris’s throat because he told Al not to curse?”

Uncle Ty: “I wouldn’t put it like that. He was being too self-righteou …”

Dad: “Yes or no?”

Uncle Ty: “Yes, but …”

Dad: “Did you smoke pot in the church parking lot before we got here?”

Uncle Ty: “It doesn’t matter what I say, you’ve got your mind made up.” Dad: “Just answer me, Tyler.”

Uncle Ty: “Yes.”

Dad: “That’s three strikes. You know what that means?”

Uncle Ty: “… What? I’m out?”

Dad: “You got it. You’re outta here. Pack your stuff and get. No, wait. You can collect your things in the morning. I want you gone this minute.”

Uncle Ty: “Who are you? I know my brother. I love my little brother. And you are not him. It’s like the Body Snatchers got a hold’a you. You’re evicting me because I took Al to the movies and smoked a little pot? Right, I smoked pot. My heart hurts. You know why it hurts. You experienced the same abuse I did.”

Dad: “Yes, I did, but God healed me of those wounds a long time ago and …”

Uncle Ty: “Pppffhh, right.”

Dad: “… that’s why He’s blessed me with a home, a family, and a church, while you’re still wandering in the wilderness. “

Uncle Ty: “Well, isn’t that where all the lost and broken people live? You know, your supposed target audience? Whatever happened to love one another? Or does your take on Christianity’s most basic tenet apply only to those holy enough to sit in your pews? Something is incredibly wrong when those who need to hear the Good News the most aren’t welcome inside your church because they self-medicate a little differently than you do. And you do.”

Dad: “What are you talking about? I’ve never used drugs in my life.”

Uncle Ty: “Your drug is religion. Sanctimony. You’re like a Pharisee, man – obsessed with obeying rules and avoiding sinners. Which is the opposite of how Jesus acted. Jesus drank with sinners, defended them to the religious police, and loved them in spite of their behavior. That’s the model to show your flock. Instead, you’re grooming pew-warming Pharisees who show up on Sundays to share gossip, compare clothing, give you money, and cluck their tongues at those hooligans, like me, who can’t keep to your made-up list of thou shalt nots.”

Dad: “You stand there, stoned, and presume to tell me how to run my …?”

Uncle Ty: “Why wouldn’t I feel that way? You’ve demonized everything that I hold dear: movies, TV shows, actors, musicians, rock-n-roll, pot, hippies, or whatever else doesn’t meet your priggish list of moral acceptability.”

Dad: “Those worldly things are not appropriate for …”

Uncle Ty: “I know, I know: ‘Good Christian soldiers marching in the Army of the Lord’. Ugh, you sound just like Dad. Only you’re so totalitarian about it, you’re not marching in the Army of the Lord, you’re goose-stepping.”

Dad: “What did you say? Look, if you want to backslide by soiling yourself in the secular––fine––but you’re not going to do it around my …”

Uncle Ty: “Backslide? Secular? Worldly? Your definitions of those words are seriously flawed. How exactly are you teaching your family and flock to be light in a dark world when you keep them completely isolated from it?”

Dad: “We’re to live in the world, not be of it. Ty (sigh) you’re my brother, and I love you, but … you’re the one who’s not over the past. You’re the one who’s being unforgiving, and judgmental, and bitter, and rebellious, and …”

Uncle Ty: “Sure, I am. I’m bitter about the poisonous brand of Christianity that Dad crammed down out throats, and I’ll rebel against it till my dying day. But you – who should know better – are passing on to your children! Arrgghh! What? You think I’m not a Christian because of my choices? Who’s judging who here, brother? You’ve already turned Chris against me. If you do the same to Al, it will break my heart. You are teaching Al – right now – that I’m too vile of an influence to be around him. And that’s bullshit. That’s about unforgivable. If I had kids, I’d keep them as far away from you and your church as possible.”

Dad: “Get out, Tyler. You are no longer welcome in this hou …”

Uncle Ty: “You know what this world needs? It needs an advocate for its walking wounded; those whom the church has either turned off or turned away. My ‘sins’ were simply herbal and cinematic, and it got me the boot. What about all of the other lost souls out there who need God’s love and grace? Somebody needs to plead their case. All you do is alienate them. Hell, you make God look so absurd to those outside of your bubble, you practically propagate atheism. You put a pious price tag on God’s paid-in-full gift of salvation, when that gift is for the worst of us – even an old hippie like me – and not just those who look and act the way that you think they should. I’m ashamed of you.”

Dad: “You’re ashamed of me? That’s a laugh. Get out of here, Tyler. I wash my hands of you. We can finish this conversation in Heaven … if you make it.”

Uncle Ty added something then that Al didn’t understand, but would never forget. He wouldn’t forget any of this. “Whitewashed tombs,” Uncle Ty said. “These people honor me with their mouths, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Dad: “GET OUT! NOW!”

Al rushed to his his window and saw Uncle Ty mount his hog, kick-start it, and roar away. Looking down, crying, Al saw tears fall on the Superman crest on his shirt. He laid on his bed then, buried his face in his pillow, and screamed.

 

go to CHAPTER 4.

 

READ IT NOW! BROODING – PROLOGUE & CHAPTER 1

Published July 11, 2013

Want a taste of BROODING before commiting to a purchase? I have decided to post the first few chapters online to better whet your appetite. I will provide links at the end of each to the next chapter, and to Amazon and my e-Store.

PROLOGUE – VALIANT & GOODFELLOW

Nicholas Goodfellow is not the Devil, but he knows him.

Standing in a cemetery on New Year’s Eve, snowflakes swirling about him, he hides at a distance among the trees, a shadow amidst shadows, studying the small funeral party. Bedecked in black boots, faded jeans, white poet’s shirt, and a black velvet jacket – Modern Victorian Casual – he finger combs his long blond hair, cocks an aesthetic eyebrow, and sighs disappointedly.

Summoned from abroad by his superior, Nicholas had been told that his new assignment was of monumental urgency. He’d considered many possibilities on his supersonic flight here to Kansas City – everything from racial tensions to terrorist factions to assassin grooming – yet is more than a little insulted when finally espying his quarry.

There are only two people in the funeral party, not counting the Reverend: a rail-thin woman in her mid-sixties, and a little boy perhaps five years old. The lad is so fair of countenance, Nicholas has to look twice to make sure the tyke isn’t actually a little girl. Donned in coat, cap, and mittens, the boy stares blankly at the handsome coffin suspended over the open grave.

As the minister reads from the Bible, Nick takes note of the name on the temporary grave marker: Susan Davis. This is surely the right place, but why in Hell would the services of such an accomplished demon be required at such an inconsequential funeral? Sensing motion above and behind the boy – practically Dickensian in his waifishness – Nick looks up … and gets his answer.

The man standing guard over the runt is seven feet tall, adorned in a bright tunic, wrist cuffs, gladiator shins, and shiny armor that do little to conceal his massive shoulders, barrel chest, and the ample wings pleated upon his back. With anvil jaw, kind blue eyes, and hair as long and blond as Nicholas’ own (when the demon chooses to appear in such a guise), the angel cocks his head at Goodfellow, grins knowingly, and says, “Hello, Nick. I’ve been expecting you.”

Nicholas nods and chuckles. “Valiant, my old friend,” he replies with a wry British lilt. “I should have known. My hopes were dashed when I saw my mission was such a wee pretty one. I may not know what lies in store for such a broth of a lad, but surely your presence at his side portends very special plans.” Stepping nearer to the boy, Nick leans down and inspects him more closely. “Look at those eyelashes,” he speaks. “Kind of a girlie boy. Reminds me of a shepherd boy we fought over centuries ago. I’ve learned not to underestimate such ragamuffins. Worlds can be turned upon such a puny axis.”

Valiant squats down and places one massive hand upon the boy’s shoulder, ministering what comfort he can on such a horrible day. As he gazes up at the handsomely-visaged demon, he asks, “What would you like to know?”

Nicholas chuckles again and scoffs, “Bollocks, Val. What are you saying? You’re going to offer up such background information freely?”

“Why not? Who’s to say such knowledge wouldn’t hinder your efforts more than help.”

“Touché.” Nick points at the fresh grave, asking, “The boy’s mother?”

Valiant nods.

Gesturing toward the old woman, Nick further asks, “His grandmother?”

Valiant nods again.

“And his father?”

Valiant stands up and replies, “To understand this boy, you do indeed need to know the story of his parents. In fact, it is essential. But perhaps it would be easier to show you than tell you.”

“And how do you intend to do that?”

Valiant proffers his hand.

Nicholas just stares at it. “You must take me for a bloody fool.”

Offering it more fervently, Valiant tells him, “We were once closer than brothers, you and I. Just because you deserted me when your master chose to lead his rebellion against our Lord doesn’t mean that I’ve lost all affection for you. God has instructed me to tell you everything you need to know about this boy. Further, He has given us the ability to step back through time so I may show you the strange circumstances of his parentage – a tale both touching and tragic. We need to go back about fifteen years or so. It involves murder and mayhem, sex and sin, drugs and demons, legalism and hypocrisy … you know, all of your favorite things. The fighting will come soon enough – believe me, I am looking forward to it as much as you – but this is only the beginning. Take my hand.”

Nicholas Goodfellow hesitates for a moment, but finally reaches out and grasps the hand of his angelic old friend.

As a vortex of white/blue light flashes around them, pulling them into its electric maw, they are soon deposited in another part of town, hovering over what looks like a majestic old movie theater.

Descending through the roof and into the dark, cathedral-like auditorium, they spy – amongst the sparsely populated house – a thirtysomething man and a pre-adolescent boy, seated next to one another, eating popcorn, drinking soda, popping Milk Duds, and watching a black-and-white film.

The man looks like a hippie or a biker, and the little boy …

The little boy is …

 

PART 1 – DANGEROUS GRACE

CHAPTER 1

The little boy was mesmerized.

Had his parents known where he was right now they would have been quite displeased. He was with his Uncle Ty, and the black-and-white images flickering on the gigantic screen before him were like nothing he had ever seen. Hugging his knees to his chest and resting his chin between them, ten-year-old Albert Morehouse watched wide-eyed as the thriller unfolded.

A woman named Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh), who had just stolen $40,000 from her employer, was checking into a motel in the California desert run by a shy, modest, and boyishly handsome young man named Norman Bates. After sharing supper with him, Marion retired to her room to take a shower. What happened next would have a profound impact on the little boy watching this film–at least in regards to his passion for cinema–an impact that would shape his future in ways he couldn’t imagine in his first year of double digits.

Most people would argue that little Al was too young to attend a Hitchcock festival, but Uncle Ty’s enthusiasm was as infectious as it was potent.

The theater they occupied was called The Lux – “latin for light,” Uncle Ty had told Al. The Lux was a classic movie house, built in the 1920s, which had been rescued from ruin by its current proprietor. The restoration had obviously been expensive, but the owner seemed more intent upon preserving history than recovering any financial investment. The theater was enclosed by an unseemly strip mall, yet stood its ground like a sacred relic from a time long since passed. In addition to its multi-bulbed marquee and cylindrical ticket booth, it held two balconied houses. The first house showed second-run films at $1.00 a ticket; the second, whatever classics the owner felt like running.

As a sheltered preacher’s kid, Al had little-to-no experience with cinema (patronage of such was roundly frowned upon by the church board), and yet even to one so green, Al knew this place was special. Not to mention gorgeous; with an altitudinous ceiling, Roman columns, paisley-velour wallpaper, gold-leaf fleur-de-lis, a massive oval stage, and classic film posters in ornate frames, the room strongly resembled … a sanctuary: The Church of the Flickering Screen.

Al was too young to know the word irony, but – somehow, being here – he understood it fairly well.

When Ty Morehouse had seen in the newspaper that The Lux was hosting a series of Hitchcock films this week, he quickly made plans – furtive plans – to take his favorite nephew Al and indoctrinate the boy. Ty’s brother was Pastor at Trinity Methodist, situated three blocks from The Lux. Since Rev. Morehouse and family resided in the parsonage next to the church, this made Ty’s plans a little tricky. But Tyler Morehouse had been outwitting – if not out performing – his little brother for most of their lives.

At thirty-five, Ty was two years older than his “saintly” sibling, and had certainly taken a different road in life. A physically- and religiously-abusive boyhood had heavily influenced their adult lives, driving one to seminary and the other to the University of Hard Knocks. Although each Morehouse brother had his preferred manner of coping with this unsavory past – the ways were as disparate as they were desperate – often each method proved … problematic.

Ty was a twice-divorced, currently unemployed carpet layer, who rode a Harley-Davidson, had long hair, half a dozen tattoos, and who often ingested herbal substances which altered his frame of mind. (Al knew nothing about those mind-altering herbs. Even if he had, his opinion would not have swayed: he thought Uncle Ty was way cool.) After the double whammy of his second marriage going belly-up, and getting laid off of a job he’d held for three years, Ty Morehouse was temporarily living with his brother’s family – he’d resided in their basement for over six weeks now. Al couldn’t have been more thrilled.

Al knew that his uncle hurt inside. He occasionally saw a distant pain in the man’s eyes, but this knowledge only made him love his uncle all the more. In addition to spending gobs of quality time with him (like today), Uncle Ty accepted Al just the way he was. Al considered it an honor to return the favor.

Though Al’s dad was wont to sermonize about “God’s Unconditional Love,” the preacher’s own attitude was often so critical and judgmental – toward his sons and brother – that his message was rendered moot.

Despite all he’d been taught, Al thought that sinful Uncle Ty showed him far more unconditional love and acceptance than his saintly father ever did.

Again, Al didn’t know the term, but realized nonetheless, it was ironic.

Al loved the Lord. He’d asked Jesus into his heart a few years before, had memorized countless Bible verses at the behest of his Sunday school teachers, and had a firm grasp (far beyond his years) of the Judeo-Christian theology in which he’d been steeped all of his life. Yet in Al’s little window of experience – which revolved greatly around Trinity Methodist – it seemed the actions of most Christians rarely mirrored the grace, mercy, and compassion of God’s Son while He trod upon this earth. Much like irony, the word hypocrisy was also beyond Al’s vocabulary, but he had an instinctual understanding of the term that was rather remarkable. Yes, his Uncle Ty was flawed, but at least he was genuine. In Al’s book that went a long way.

As Hitchcock’s PSYCHO drew to a close, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) sat in a secluded room at the police station. Watching a fly crawl on his hand, his mother’s voice spoke softly in his mind: “I’m not even going to swat that fly. I hope they are watching. They’ll see. They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, ‘Why she wouldn’t even harm a flyyy.’”

As the lights came up in the sanctuary of The Lux, Al looked up at the man seated next to him and – with a glint in his eyes and a grin on his puss – said, “Uncle Ty, that was awesome!” 

 

go to CHAPTER 2.

 

American Masters – Johnny Carson: King of Late Night

Published July 23, 2012

Hard to believe that Johnny Carson left The Tonight Show nearly a quarter century ago, after an amazing 30-year run.  For Americans between 1962 and 1992, Johnny was not unlike a grown-up bedtime story – for we watched him from our beds, and he was the last thing we saw before nodding off.  Whether he was killing in his monologues (or dying, and simply letting silence and a blank stare get a second chance at the laugh), or poking fun at Ed, or doing Carnac the Magnificent, or offering us an endless parade of unforgettable, and often legendary guests, Johnny Carson truly was the King of Late Night.

I expounded on this a few years ago with a post entitled Bette Midler Bids Johnny Carson Adieu, focusing on Johnny’s farewell show.

David Letterman reached that 30-year pinnacle before shuffling off into retirement, and for years I (and many others) considered him to be Carson’s TRUE heir to the late night throne. However, Jimmy Fallon has proven night after night that he is a worthy successor to Carson (certainly more so than Jay Leno), if only for being consistently original, surprising, and (most of all) FUNNY. Actually, Fallon, Stephen Colbert, and Jimmy Kimmel have all stepped up and given each other worthy competition at that post-news, weeknight hour, but each of them owe a  significant debt to Mr. Carson.

PBS.org recently posted a documentary on their American Masters page, entitled American Masters – Johnny Carson: King of Late Night.  I just finished watching the 2-hour program, and it was so good, and nostalgic, and entertaining, I decided to post it here.

The copy from the PBS page reads as follows: Quite possibly the biggest star that television has ever produced, Carson commanded, at his peak, a nightly audience of 15 million viewers – double the current audience of Leno and Letterman – combined. Rarely giving interviews, Carson chose to remain a very private man whose public persona made him an American superstar. He once revealed, “I can get in front of an audience and be in control. I suppose it’s manipulation. Offstage, I’m aloof because I’m not very comfortable.” American Masters Johnny Carson: King of Late Night explores this dichotomy and enigma, unearthing clues about Carson’s childhood, early days in the business, and personal and professional life.

Interested?  Of course, you are.  So, without further ado: Heeeeere’s Johnny!

Movie Review – MARVEL’S THE AVENGERS

Published May 10, 2012

After spending four years setting us up with Iron Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America – with savvy post- credit teasers in each, reminnding us The Avengers Initiative was underway – Marvel Pictures have finally assembled their Avengers and released them on a voracious public already a’drool with anticipation. This team of big muscles and even bigger egos, have been thrown together in a film that could have been (and should have been) a train wreck of superheroic proportions.  That it works on so many different levels is a testament to Marvel’s visionary creative team, a cast that compliments each other (even when they’re at each other’s throats), and a writer/director who obviously knows his iconic characters, as well as how to bounce them (quite literally) off of each other.  Simply put: Marvel’s The Avengers is spectacularly entertaining, MORE than the sum of its parts, and hands down the best “ensemble” comic book movie ever made.

The plot does assume that you’ve seen all of the previous films but, even if you haven’t, shouldn’t be that hard to decipher.  Loki, Thor’s adopted brother, comes to Earth via the Tesseract – that glowing cube used by Johann Schmidt/ Red Skull in Captain America – and immediately starts either killing those he meets, or enslaving them with his glowing staff.  Loki (Tom Hiddleston – who for some reason is MUCH better, and more threatening here than he was in Thor) wants to subjugate Earth and rule over its inhabitants as King.  An alien being known as The Other, has charged Loki with bringing him the Tesseract, and in return, promises him an army of Chitauri (basically reptilian badasses) to assist him in conquering Earth.

What is one to do? Especially if one is Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson)?  Answer: assemble the Avengers.

That this team does come together to fight this global threat is a given.  That they spend the first two thirds of this film fighting each other is unexpected, a pleasure, and seriously ups the ante of the original threat.  Can these notorious loners ever put aside their egos long enough to form an alliance?  Well, Iron Man and Thor have egos …

Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) is still a corn-fed boy scout, a man very much out of time (he doesn’t get a lot of the modern-day references thrown at him, but it’s funny when he DOES), and someone who still very much acts like the patriotic, nerdy-but-buff World War II badass that he is.  That he eventually takes charge of this team (and that the others LET him do this) is a pleasure to watch.  (Also, if you ever wondered what would happen if Thor’s Hammer met Captain America’s shield … wonder no more.)

Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is still as narcissistic as you want him to be, and his quips about the others are some of the funniest in this film.  I don’t want to spoil any of them, but I can’t resist quoting at least a couple.  For instance, he refers to Thor as both “Point Break” and “Shakespeare in the Park,” and at one point asks him, “Dost thou mother know you weareth her drapes? ”  Now THAT’s funny!  RDJ knows this role quite well by now (he is much better here than he was in IM2, thanks to Whedon’s script), and seems to have been anticipating this film as much as the rest of us.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) doesn’t show up for the first 40 minutes or so, but when he does, when this film finally starts letting these disparate characters bounce off each other (and BOUNCE they do), this film kicks into gears you didn’t even know it had.  When this hammer-swinging, lightning-charged, Asgardian God of Thunder (who does look like he should rideth a surf board) first shows up, ready to kicketh his brother’s ass, his struggle is made that much more powerful by the fact that we know he still loves his brother.  And speaking of Loki …

Tom Hiddleston (if I didn’t say this before) is a much bigger threat than he was in last year’s first Thor film.  He seemed kind of wimpy in that movie to me, but here, with a new glint in his eye, an evil smile (to rival Jack Torrance, the Joker, Hannibal Lecter, and Alex from A Clockwork Orange), and a longish flip-style haircut, he literally oozes charismatic menace.  Especially when he is holding hundreds of people hostage, and threating to kill them if they do not “kneel before him.”  Whether or not Whedon meant to remind us of General Zod in Superman II (it reminded me of this), the line fits Loki, and he seethes it with perhaps even better venom than Terence Stamp did over 30 years ago.

Jeremy Renner is fine as master archer Hawkeye (though he is under Loki’s control for a good chuck of this film), and Scarlett Johansson is equally good as Black Widow (in fact she is MUCH better here than she was in IM2).  Originally I wondered why these two were included in this incarnation of The Avengers (weren’t four enough), but after viewing the film, I actually couldn’t imagine this story without them.

As for Bruce Banner and the Hulk (and yes, I saved this for last on purpose), after middling returns and critical apathy for 2003’s Hulk with Eric Bana, and 2008’s The Incredible Hulk starring Edward Norton, Marvel decided to reboot this character one more time for The Avengers.  The choice of indie- actor Mark Ruffalo may have been a head-scratcher to most, but this is casting know-how at its most savvy.  Ruffalo makes for the most satisfying Doctor Banner since Bill Bixby portrayed the character on TV in the 1970s and 80s.  In fact, Bruce Banner in this movie, with his humble mannerisms, genius IQ, and knowing sense of humor, is just as compelling as his green- skinned counterpart.  He takes a joke well (love it when Tony Stark pokes Banner in the side, and immediately peers into his eyes to see if they change), and has finally learned how to (somewhat) control the Hulk.  When he does make the change, he is also capable of more than just thoughtless rage.  I wouldn’t call this a thinking man’s Hulk, but he is definitely smarter, funnier, and knows how to both smile for the camera and knock someone out of a snapshot.  Also, thanks to brilliant CGI, this Hulk actually looks like Ruffalo, which helps immensely in identifying this creature as the dark id of someone we care about.  The audience with which I saw The Avengers cheered more than once when the Hulk worked his magic.  Especially when dealing with Loki.  This movie was already a huge pleasure, but watching the Hulk steal it made it even more so.

As a fan of the films leading up to this, I had pretty high expectations.  That those expectations were not only met, but exceeded, is pretty amazing.  Writer/director Joss Whedon (already having a pretty good year with the critically-lauded the Cabin in the Woods) proves he was not only the man for the job, but possibly the only man for the job.  He has crafted a film that is intelligent, funny, emotional, action-packed, and chock full of all the summer tentpole movie goodness that audiences could want.  And then some.

After a record-shattering opening, this film is already a smash hit.  Where we go from here is anyone’s guess.  (The folks over at DC have got to be crapping bricks at this point, trying to figure out how to get a Justice League movie going.)   All I know for sure is that this film is supremely entertaining, and I plan on seeing it again soon.

If I haven’t made my point yet, The Avengers is a relief, a wonder, and (yes) a marvel.

MOVIE GRADE: A

The Cabin in the Woods – movie review

Published April 15, 2012

Where does one begin to write a spoiler-free review of The Cabin in the Woods? How can I encapsulate this story – frankly, the most original, funny, and entertaining horror movie I have seen in years – when half of its charm is in the discovery itself. I don’t know, but here I go.

The Cabin in the Woods starts in verrrry familiar territory, as five attractive young people pile into a camper and head into the wild to spend the weekend at the titular location. These five are archetypical: Curt the jock (Chris Hemsworth), Jules the slut (Kristen Connolly), Holden, the sensitive smart guy (Jesse Williams), Marty the stoner (Fran Kranz), and Dana the virgin (Anna Hutchinson). The disparity of these personalities is part of the joke: birds of a feather generally do flock together, unless of course a film needs a rather motley crew to bounce interestingly off one another as in The Breakfast Club.

We’ve been here many times before, especially in the 1980s – whether in the Friday the 13th films, or Sleepaway Camp, or, most notably, in Sam Raimi’s first two Evil Dead movies. TCITW pays homage to all of those, and then some, but doesn’t beat us over the head with too many obvious pop culture references. There are nods to previous horror films, to be sure, but many are so geek specific that if you DO get one of the obscure allusions, you will probably feel pretty special, or hip, or geeky … you know … like the other two people laughing in the theater because they got that joke, too.  The film plays on our awareness of horror film tropes (especially what may lurk in a dark cellar), but does so with style and intelligence, without letting the joke spoil the suspense. While the Scream films of the 90s brought a hip awareness to their slasher proceedings, TCITW goes infinitely further in turning its own genre on its head. And boy is that putting it mildly it mildly.

This film goes places I not only did not see coming, but that I have never seen in a film of this type. I spent the first half trying to figure out the mystery of what was going on. Why DO we keep cutting away to those guys in ties (Bradley Whitford and Richard Jenkins, who damn near steal the movie), who work at a facility that may or may not be doing some high tech surveillance work? This is not a spoiler – the movie opens with this dorky duo. In fact, for the first few minutes, I thought I had walked into the wrong theater.  By the second half, I was watching in slack-jawed awe, saying to myself, Holy shit, are we really going THERE? Only to discover that not only are we going there, we are going well beyond THERE. Where is THERE, you ask? No place you don’t want to go – you just don’t know it yet.  But, the less you know about that … hell, the less you know about the entire movie, the better.

Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it goes to the next logical place that you never thought of. There isn’t a Big Twist Ending pasted on at the end – no Shyamalamadingdong here. From the opening frame to the last, this film’s complex plot is well thought out and slowly revealed. And how often does THAT happen in a horror film? Or IS it a horror film? Or a deconstruction of a horror film? Or is it science fiction? Or … I’ve said too much already.

Joss Whedon (co-writer and producer) and Drew Goddard (co-writer and director) have both come a long way from their days on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And with this one film, announce to the world that they are forces with which to be reckoned. To date, this is the only film Goddard has directed, and even this has sat on a shelf since 2009, after MGM filed for bankruptcy. That may have been providential as … none of the five visitors who go to the TCITW was a known name in 2009. Cut to three years later and Chris Hemsworth (Thor) is on top of the world – especially with the imminent release of The Avengers. His name may draw some viewers who wouldn’t ordinarily go to a horror film, but strong word of mouth will (hopefully) do the rest. Needless to say, 2012 is going to be a banner year for both Hemsworth and Whedon, who wrote and directed The Avengers. (Banner year for the Hulk, too, HA!)

Oddly enough, if there is a breakout performance in this film, it is not Hemsworth (though he is fine). It is Fran Kranz as Marty. Normally the “stoner” archetype in movies like this is played strictly for laughs or is portrayed as an annoying buffoon. Not so here. Marty does provide comic relief (his travel coffee mug is classic), but he may also be the wisest of all the visitors to this cabin. The Stoner Sage – haven’t had one of those on our screens since Jeff Bridges donned a robe, flip flops, and a White Russian. Also, if anyone ever decides to make a biopic of Dennis Hopper, Fran is your man.

If TCITW does well at the box office, of course the producers will want a sequel. Or (shudder) a prequel. But I don’t think this is franchise material. I can’t say so without giving anything away, but I would be happy if this was simply the brilliant stand alone feature that it is, towering over its milked-to-death predecessors.

Three things regarding the trailer for TCITW: One – nothing in the trailer made me want to see this film. I went because the buzz on it has been out of the stratosphere. Two – the trailer at once tells too much, and not enough. The same damn trouble I am having trying to write an enticing, yet spoiler-free review. Three – don’t watch the trailer. I know some of you won’t be able to resist (that’s why I am not posting it here), but trust me, if you can possibly see this movie without ANY foreknowledge save what I’ve written here, DO SO.

Yes, it is only April, but The Cabin in the Woods is fresh, funny, original, intelligent, and the best time I’ve had at the movies so far in 2012. For the rest of this year’s films, regardless of genre, the bar has been set high.

MOVIE GRADE: A-

 

FIRST OFFICIAL LOOK: Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises

Published April 11, 2012

We haven’t really gotten a good look at Anne Hathaway as Catwoman from this summer’s The Dark Knight Rises – Christopher Nolan’s closing chapter of his brilliant Bat-Trilogy.  From the few glimpses of her in the teaser trailer, and some blurry location shots taken by Pittsburghians, I’ve had my doubts as to whether Anne could ever hope to compete with Michelle Pfieffer (who we all know is the BEST Catwoman) as Selina Kyle.

But judging from this image (finally with ears!), released today by Warner Bros., it looks like Anne is going to have more than just Dark Knights rising.  I’ve wondered how Catwoman would figure into the ultra-serious Nolanverse of Batman, and this just seems like a perfect fit … in more ways than one. Love the boots. Meow.