Secrets from a Church Basement: The Desperate Diary of Fresco Ayers

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Insanity Will Be My First Defense

I wish I had some clarity. If you've got it, you're lucky. Believe me, I know a few things about clarity. I had it once. But things change. Boy, do I know that too.

I'm just another symptom of a wider disease taking hold of the world's people. We're all paying attention to the wrong things. A person can work for years to bring about something wonderful, be so close to making it happen, and then get shut down and told to shut up.

That's what happened to me. I stay quiet about my former work so that I don't have to bury my daughter prematurely.

I'm so tired of being punished for doing the right thing, for working in the interests of humanity. Science should be used to bring us together, to bring us closer to the mysteries of our existence here, not to make it easier to destroy each other or give the elite a way to escape the mess they've made of the planet.

I've tried talking to the priest about it, but his answer to everything involves God. I'm just not sure I'm ready to concede myself to a supernatural higher power. Mind you, I might be getting close.

It's cold down here. That's one problem. This place just never warms up, even in the summer (which I'm thankful is close to arriving). And the light down here is spotty at best. The shadows have replaced my dreams. I can't sleep.

What I see is not right. But it's what I hear that is pushing me toward insanity. When I get a recorder, I'll find a way to capture it and share it with you. If it's on tape, at least I'll know it's not all in my head.

No matter, though; I have on several occasions now thought seriously about what to do about the creatures that move in the shadows and ask me for favors. Should I kill one to see what I'm dealing with? They can't be human. For one thing, their skin has a deep-red shimmer to it. (I call them blood drifters. The priest is convinced I'm just having waking nightmares caused by sleep deprivation.)

These blood drifters speak of a curious place, a different kind of reality that parallels our own. They even mentioned my discovery, something I've been trying hard to forget since I'm not allowed to speak about it.

They say they are just messengers. I say the jury is still out on that. They want supplies from me (paints and canvas). If they turn out to be nothing but art students pulling a prank, I'll be pissed. Hell, I already am! Do you have any idea how much art supplies cost?

I'm not sure what to do. I know that if anyone ends up dead, it'll be because I've already gone crazy. I'm hoping that doesn't happen.

But I've got to go. The shadows are moving again.


Your Senses Require No Apology

It's happening. I'm now convinced of it. All of my work is being exploited for the selfish purposes of a few. But they have no idea what they are doing.

It's getting warmer. The trees along the street outside are usually full of fresh leaves this time of year. Today, I saw many falling off of their branches as if it was late autumn. It's the kind of thing I'd expect.

After Wednesday's noon service, I was polishing a few of the pews. Several of the regular parishioners were gathered in a corner of the cathedral whispering to each other. These are older folks, many in their eighties. They've lived around here most of their lives.

I managed to get close enough to hear a little of what they were talking about without looking suspicious. (I don't want the priest getting on my case about freaking out his little old lackeys of the Lord. Heaven forbid they spot a black man showing interest in what they've got to say.)

Anyway, they were saying they have never seen a year like this. They talked of the sun rising in the wrong places, clouds of the wrong texture, a lack of bees in their neighborhoods, and a constant vibration under their feet. Their bones are rattling, they say.

It would be easy enough to write their observations off as nothing but the effects of too much holy wine, candle smoke in the eyes, and the brown cloud that hangs over this city. But it's the last bit that gets me: the bones. The vibration. I feel it too.

Then, of course, there are the blood drifters. I never accounted for anything like them in my research. I'm determined to find out if they are real. I just don't know how yet.

I paid one of the priest's altar boys to make a run to the art store down the street. As a result, I'm fresh out of cash for another week. (No new books for me for a little while. I hope I don't snap.)

I placed the supplies into the shadows along the furthest wall from my bed. Within minutes, they disappeared into a swirling blob of red mist that smelled of sweaty Parmesan cheese. I don't know any other way to describe it. It was kind of disgusting actually.

I vomited for two days afterward. The priest suggested I pray to this healing saint or disciple or some such dead guy with a goofy name. I told him to suck on some Junior Mints and offered a couple. He took 'em and shut up.

I'm worried about what'll come from the paints. I really can't stand most artwork these days. A lot of it looks like the work of monkeys and elephants on meth. Actually, that's not fair; stoned animals would do a better job than the human hacks of today with their unintelligible conceptual cries for mama.

Mind you, I can't be certain that "art" is what the supplies will be used for. It could be that my shadow friends intend on defiling the church. That's a clean-up job I really don't want. (There's something about having to wipe down statues of a virgin and her tortured half-naked son that really doesn't sit right with me.)

In any case, it's either time to put me away with the other crazies or to start paying attention. When I get some real evidence to share, you'll be the first to know. Please stay with me.

It's all starting to happen.


Earless Rabbits and "A Gift from Lucy"

I nearly ended my life on Tuesday. It all started with an unexpected visit from Adam, the altar boy who's been helping me out. He was distraught.

For the better part of an hour, I couldn't understand what he was trying to say. I've never seen anybody cry with such desperation.

"Adam, calm down," I said. "Tell me what's going on."

"He's gonna do it to her too. He's so angry."  

"Who? Adam, who are you talking about?"

"My sister was screaming and screaming. She was so damn scared. I'm such a wimp. I ran." Adam's cries were getting really loud, echoing through the basement.

"Dead rabbits on her bed! She woke up to a pile of dead rabbits!"

"OK, OK. Adam, please, calm down. Tell me who did this."

"He hates animals. At Easter, he told us that if we ever brought home a pet he'd have to feed it to us for dinner. I thought he was joking. My sister's always wanted a bunny."

"Did she bring one home?"

"No. It was the neighbor's. She was so happy to play with it. She didn't even bring it inside."

"You think your dad did this?"

"He was in a rage, shouting something about bunnies being sacrilegious and the work of Satan trying to take people away from Jesus."

Adam paused for several minutes. Then, he said, "I brought one to show you."

He pulled a limp rabbit from his backpack. It was a smaller one, probably no more than a pound. Its gray fur had no blood stains or any sign of trauma. Besides being dead, there was just one strange thing about it: it had no ears, not even ear canals. It was as if it had been born without them.

"They were all like that. At least ten of ’em," he said.

My heart pounded. My skin dripped. I had seen this in my experiments.

I've been reading about earless rabbits being born in Asia lately. I've chalked it all up to normal genetic deviations, overly aggressive grooming from mother rabbits, or maybe even a result of the radiation from Fukushima's nuclear meltdowns. But to see completely earless rabbits in this city meant that something else must be happening, and it's further along than I thought.

"God help us," came another voice. The priest had been eavesdropping. He took the rabbit from me and told Adam to go upstairs.

"Fresco, this is a warning," he said. "Do you have any idea how it looks to have a screaming altar boy running into the basement of this house of worship? Don't force me to make a hard decision."

He left me alone with my thoughts, a bad idea given everything that is going on. I felt like I'd done something wrong. Maybe I had already snapped and didn't know it.

I was so upset and confused and lonely. So I decided to make a noose and be done with it. I didn't see any point in carrying on. There is only so much hollowness a person can handle.

Then I smelled sweaty Parmesan cheese. Except, I knew that I hadn't left any new supplies for the blood drifters. As I looked around the basement, I spotted it. It was a painting, about two feet by two feet and in a style I really dislike and don't understand.

As I walked up to it, I heard a voice whisper, "Keep going. There is a message here, a gift from Lucy. Share it."

The rest of my week was uneventful. I've just been staring at this painting, wondering what it means, and worrying about Adam and his sister. I feel so alone.

I took a picture of the painting with a camera that Adam lent me.

I no longer have the mental capacity to decipher such stuff. I wish "Lucy" had a clear return policy. I have a rotten feeling there will be more to come.


Confusion, Catharsis, and Emotional Cannibalism

I wish I could accurately describe what I've been feeling since last week, but the right words are hard to come by. Adam is missing. I think he's probably run away. It's what I would do; it's what I have done.

Why does life do this? It comes out of nowhere. Your days can be passing with joy and comfort until, boom, you suddenly have a choice between sure death and running from everything and everyone you love.

My daughter, Jo, never understood why I had to keep secrets from her. After her mother died, we formed a pact, an agreement that we would always be open with each other and share everything. She was only six when it happened. I never thought she'd remember.

With her life threatened so many years later, I couldn't keep my promise. I just couldn't. I know it confused her. She was hurt. She was saddened. She withdrew.

I wanted so badly to tell her why. I tried to let her know, at every opportunity, how much I loved her. But that didn't seem to matter. Depression gripped her and wouldn't let go. She cut me off, refusing to acknowledge me as her father.

Desperate for her love, I almost let the secrets slip. Almost. Instead, I ran.

Of all the places to hide, I can't believe I picked a Catholic church. These are the people I blame. These are the people who took my wife from me, Jo's mother.

Yet here I am. Every day, as I clean up after these true believers, I watch. I stand in awe of the spectacle.

I've come to think that "sinners" require marble altars, golden chalices, grand archways, and windows of stained glass in order to try and feel better about themselves, to conceal their deepest insecurities, to make their cages feel less like cages. It doesn't work, of course.

They are desperate for God's approval as they live every day with guilt over being human. The pomp and pageantry is a facade and a trap.

The priest denies such notions. "We celebrate the love that Jesus has for all of us," he will say. "God allows us to repent for our sins as we strive to be closer to Him. There is no trap here."

I like the guy, and I'm thankful for his help, but his blind faith can be hard to take. I'd sooner cut my eyes out than believe in a mythology created by men to control and oppress the natural wonder, potential, and curiosities of humanity.

Why so many people have faith in a system that feeds on their insecurities and encourages them to repeat that "spiritual" favor on others is beyond my comprehension.

If Holy Communion isn't a ritual display of this emotional cannibalism, I'm at a loss to know what else it's about. "Body of Christ, body of Christ, body of Christ…." They pretend to eat the flesh of Jesus and sip on his blood. This is the territory of werewolves and vampires, is it not? How can they be so sure they're on the right side of good and evil?

I don't mean to rant. Despite my anger, I don't hate these people. I'm just confused as hell.

I miss my wife. I miss my daughter. I miss knowing who I am. And, now, I miss Adam.

Yesterday, I thought I was going to explode. My emotions were combusting inside, but I had no good outlet to deal with them. No matter what activity I tried, nothing got rid of them. I couldn't cry. And I couldn't identify what I was feeling. I still can't, mostly.

But something remarkable happened the other night. Three blood drifters stepped out of the shadows and stood by my bed as I was struggling to sleep. At first, I panicked. But then a calm came over me.

I heard soft voices and distant melodies and the background noises of another place. It was eerie but also kind of beautiful.

I cried and cried. It felt good. I was finally able to sleep.

If I ever find Adam, I'll learn how to record the sounds for you. I just hope he hasn't been completely devoured.


Monster Sex and Fire in the Confessional

What a morning. What a week. Until these past few days, I'd never experienced extreme horror and euphoria simultaneously. My brain is out of control. It's great. To quote James Brown, "I feel good!"

I don't know where to begin. Man, the world needs this.

Sunday service: I'm sweeping the entry to the church and listening to the priest give his sermon about the false idols of our time (celebrities and such). It was good, I thought, except for the fact that everything he said could be equally applied to that ridiculous mythology he preaches.

Anyway, as I'm watching the folks in the pews eat up his words, I happened to glance over to one of the confessional booths on the right. Smoke was seeping through the door cracks. I should have gone for a fire extinguisher, but I was mesmerized and having pleasing flashbacks from earlier in the week (more on that in a bit).

The smoke grew thicker, but nobody seemed to notice or care. The priest is talented that way.

The show picked up as everyone kneeled in their pews to be lead in prayer.

"You are all on your own!" A young man was yelling from the second-story loft where they keep the organ and choir. He shouted it about three times before heavy rock music blasted through old speakers.

It was not the kind of soul tune I'm used to grooving to, but I found it had a nice charm. It was anthemic. It got me pumping my fist (when the priest wasn't looking). And I loved the lyrics:

Just how deep do you believe?
Will you bite the hand that feeds?
Will you chew until it bleeds?
Can you get up off your knees?
Are you brave enough to see?
Do you want to change it?

I laughed until I cried as the parishioners stumbled over each other in a panic to escape their precious cathedral. By now, the fire was really raging.

I couldn't help but dance. The young man was singing loudly with the tune. "Will you bite the hand that feeds you? Will you stay down on your knees?"

When about half of the Sunday morning flock had fled, I got the opportunity to look up and see the dude who started the party. It was Adam.

Holy hell, I thought. As the music ended, he took a bow. Then he jumped. He landed on the priest.

A few moments passed in silence punctuated by echoing coughs. I nearly fainted. But as I approached the believer and his former altar boy to see if they were hurt, emergency crews pushed me away.

I walked outside, trying to understand what had just transpired. I didn't arrive at any conclusions. It was what it was, and I had fun. I know that should worry me, but it doesn't.

I'm far beyond normal now. I mean, really out there. On Wednesday, I had sex with a blood drifter.

Yeah, it's true. She was amazing—a seductive, slinky, silky monster. The believers can have their silly rapture. I've got my own, courtesy of a red-skinned savage from a place I think I'd like to visit. If there are more like her there, it's where I must go.

She left behind another gift from Lucy. Lord knows how many more pieces there will be.

I have a feeling this party is just getting started.


Kiss My Rumpus Detective Studefrummtice!

Well, the party was short-lived upstairs, but I'm still having fun. Can you believe that I'm now under suspicion for the fire to the precious confessional?

The police detective with the funny name, and even funnier nose, has determined that I'm a person of interest. I can't take the guy seriously. He demands eye contact when I'm answering his stupid questions, but the only thing I can see is an ugly schnoz that is best described as an elephant wanger with a wicked right hook. (He gets way too animated during his interrogations.)

Oh, yeah; he's also Catholic. He told me he begged to be on this case. I'm not sure he's ready for it. In fact, I have a feeling he's part of the "special" unit.

Still, I don't want to get too carried away here. He found a few old diary pages that I'd ripped out and discarded. He says he'll be using them in his investigation. I simply said, "Have a good time with them, and don't forget to share them with your pious pals."

Meanwhile, I hear that the priest has been summoned to the Vatican. Must be something more important than the events here. The upstairs is still taped off as a crime scene while the fire department investigates. And my new pal Studefrummtice says that Adam is currently in solitary confinement at the mental hospital. He survived his jump but fractured his collarbone.

The blood drifters have left me lonely and longing this week. I suspect they are afraid of the dimwitted detective's giant proboscis.

So I will leave it at that for the time being as I wait for the God-fearing gumshoe to pucker up.


Innocent Sinners Have More Fun

I asked politely, but the detective did not put lips to my amazing tuckus. His loss.

He did, however, find the balls to arrest me. But he had to call for a squad car in order to take me "downtown." Either his own vehicle was stolen or he rode in on his bologna pony.

So I got thrown in the slammer. Since I was offered the customary phone call, I nearly dialed up Jo. Instead, I listened to my better judgment. She probably would have written me off for good, which is not something I can bear.

I have to say, I really dislike prison. One day was quite enough. It wasn't the junkies and numbskulled robbers that bothered me. It was all the damn hookers telling me how fine I looked.

They whispered in my ear, offering to do some nasty stuff to me when we got out. After getting it on with a blood drifter, however, I don't have any attraction to human women, especially not of such trashy variety.

As it turned out, Studefrummtice didn't come up with enough evidence to hold me beyond 24 hours.

(Pay attention you tally whacker snout: I'm not guilty! But if you want to keep believing that Adam and I are partners in arson and scaring away the Sunday sheep, then so be it. I've got nothing to lose, and I'm having a grand, jovial time. So keep taking my involvement on blind faith. You're really good at it.)

Adam is still being held at the psychiatric palace while he waits for his big day in court. He isn't allowed visitors.

And there haven't been any church services performed here since the fire and fun. The priest is still away. Amazingly, I've been left alone to tend to the cathedral.

Whatever Mr. Limpy Bratwurst Nose thinks of me, the Vatican doesn't seem to share his opinion. For a reason I don't yet understand, it's pretty clear that they want me out of jail and in this church. They could have locked me out by now. I could torch this place if I wanted to. And, believe me, I've thought about it.

I love the high I'm on. The shadows have been good to me. In fact, they woke me up the other night with the sound of some kind of tribal rhythm. I grabbed the cheap digital recorder I found in the priest's office and tried to find the best place in the church to capture it (about three rows back from the altar). I'm sorry about the quality, but until Adam is freed, it's probably the best I can do.

But I do have one big problem. I'm nearly out of food. I'll probably have to go upstairs and ask Frank (that's what I call the Jesus statue near the entrance) to conjure me up some loaves and fishes.


Can a Priest Be a Devil?

I received an eviction notice on Tuesday, for only the second time in my life. It was from the priest.

He has special timing. I've been lonely, hungry, and starving for some action. It's been quiet around here. All church services have been cancelled indefinitely, and the blood drifters haven't given me any new highs for several days. It's like they're waiting for something.

I don't know who the hell is going to actually come and remove me from the premises. Perhaps Studefrummtice. Or perhaps the Pope will send his flying monkeys.

In any case, here is what the priest's letter says:

Dear Fresco,

Only God can save your troubled soul. It is clear to me that you are in the grip of Lucifer. As the custodian of my perish, I cannot in good conscience allow you to go on frightening the good people who come to our house of worship to pray to Our Lord and ask for His forgiveness.

Unless you are willing to undergo Church counseling (and possibly an exorcism), you are no longer welcome here. I have already found a janitorial replacement. The stains you have left on our statues are disgraceful. You stand in defiance of God and the Blessed Mother Mary in spite of the Church's generosity toward you. My patience has run its course.

I will be returning from the Vatican within the next week. Please gather your items and leave our sacred cathedral. In time, and with the grace of the Holy Spirit, you might find your way back. Until then, may Jesus protect you from further harm.


Father Joseph Ambrose

Needless to say, I'm in disbelief. (I guess that's my problem!) I don't know what to do. My head says leave, but my gut says stay (even as it grumbles). Am I really the villain he makes me out to be? Am I really in the grip of evil?

No matter what happens, I intend to keep exploring the mysteries within the shadows. I'd be a fool not to. This is too big to let go.

One last thing: Another painting was left for me. May God have mercy on my "troubled soul." Yay.


Blood Bubble Impedes Man of the Cloth

I ran through the church naked during Wednesday's mass. The priest tried to grab me, but he couldn't get within 10 feet. Neither could the police. Perhaps he'll have to call in the National Guard.

In God's house, I now feel like a god.

The priestly little fellow returned from the Vatican late Monday night. He fainted when he saw me dancing on the altar. Poor soul.

If there is a line somewhere, I'm sure I've crossed it. But I'm learning that it is the edge of life that provides the feeling of, you know, living!

What is strange to me is how, despite all of the ruckus I'm apparently causing, the Church has not yet bothered to provide the priest with any assistance. Instead, he is being forced to go back to the police, an inept unit of pistol-pissing halfwits.

The only thing he has managed to pull off is to keep me away from the food. (I think he's discovered the only weakness in my bubble of stealthy blood-drifter guards: They don't follow me outside the cathedral.) He now stores the eats off-site. Even those tasteless Communion wafers. (Maybe they taste better as the flesh of God's son. One can hope.)

I can't leave the church without being pummeled or shot. And yet, I do not starve. My shadow friends have introduced me to grub that I assume is from the world they inhabit. I'm thankful, but I'm also revolted.

I've had some disgusting slop before (my mama's Spam'n grits come to mind), but never anything this bad. These things taste like vomit from the hairy butt of my fat Auntie Rolanda.

Until I come up with a proper name for them, I'll simply describe them as over-grown amoeba maggots with rat-like tails protruding from all "sides." They are hospital blue and wiggle with more jello theatrics than Auntie's thunder cheeks. I'd take a picture, but I'd lose you forever.

It's going to be a long process, I believe, to find a way to cook these into any kind of form that my taste buds will not want to protest over. Their saving grace is that they give me more energy than drinking five cans of Mountain Dew in one sitting (a favorite pastime that I suspect I'll be missing for a long while).

Lest you think I'm a moocher, though, I continue to perform my janitorial duties with vigor. It's just that, now, I can do it anytime I please, however I please, and in whatever dress code (or non-dress code) I please.

When the priest gets angry, I just tell him to suck on another Junior Mint. He likes those.


Unforgettable Ignorance

Small minds will believe in big lies and even bigger superstitions. I learned that firsthand when I watched, with horror, the "West Memphis Three" get convicted of murdering those poor young boys because they happened to enjoy dressing in black and listening to heavy metal music. The witch hunt performed by the evangelical hicks in that community was a disgrace. They turned what was already a terrible event into hell on earth for three awkward-but-innocent teenagers.

So, despite the mysterious stupor I currently find myself in, I thought I'd celebrate the fact that they are out of prison. I'd raise a chalice of something naughty, but I don't, at present, have anything like that.

My head is cloudy. I think I've crashed. I did, however, receive another painting from Lucy. I find this one a little creepy. Could it be the work of Satan?

Simple minds want to know.


The Sun Giveth, but the Son Taketh Away

On behalf of life-giving stars and other natural wonders everywhere, I'd like to take this opportunity to tell humanity to GIVE THE UNIVERSE A LITTLE MORE CREDIT!

By insisting on living inside of your (admittedly tasty) box of Make-Believe Crunch, you are being robbed of the nourishment and satisfaction that comes from discovering the true beauty and mysteries of this universe.

With a full schedule of masses now back in swing, I've been noticing just how tragic the worship of God-in-man's-image can be. I can actually see it happening. I think the "food" that now sustains me is triggering parts of my brain that enable me to witness a wider spectrum of reality.

I still haven't figured out a good way to prepare the nasty critters (I'm not even sure whether they qualify as plant or animal). But I've taken to calling them meebarats. I've tried frying them, steaming them, baking them, broiling them, grilling them, and even smoking them, but nothing makes them taste any better. And I sure as hell am not about to try one raw. The blood drifters are no help in this regard. (I think I have become their entertainment.)

Anyway, the tragedy of religious faith is now plain for me to see. The more people pray and focus on the scary fairy tales, the less color they carry with them. I watch vivid hues drip like wet paint from their auras. It's all I can do to keep from mopping up during the priest's sermons.

I enjoy stories, believe me. They can enrich our lives and help us understand ourselves and everyone around us. But when stories replace facts and critical thinking as the ultimate guiding lights of our existence, they become the thieves of human potential.

In that way, stories can become our oppressors. We give ourselves permission to ignore the facts in exchange for the salty sweetness offered by a pretend reality, even as the world around us crumbles.

Watching the willful ignorant now either makes me get angry or laugh hysterically. Sometimes both.

Thankfully, the blood drifters continue to supply much-needed diversions in the form of sounds from their reality. So I leave you with another recording. This one came from the hallway that leads to the priest's sleeping quarters. Despite all of the pounding, he didn't wake up. I guess Jesus gives his believers more than just blinders.


Churchy Chitchat Really Chafes

They don't make lotion for this crap. It's unfortunate, really. My blood bubble can't protect me from the kind of closed-loop discussions that make me want to find an idiotic Satanist to sacrifice my tired, unrepentant intellect on a burning altar while allowing the world's insanity to fully consume me.

The priest: "Fresco, you must stop this madness. This is not God's plan for you."

Me: "Oh? What is 'God's' plan for me?"

The priest: "We are all here to learn how to love Him and serve His purpose. He wants us to transcend our sins so that we may join Him in His Everlasting Kingdom when it is our time. Fresco, you are on the path to somewhere else, somewhere terrible."

Me: "You mean Hell? I don't believe in such mythical nonsense. There is enough torture here on Earth. I don't need to die to find misery and suffering. It's all around us. You say that 'God' loves his children, but I think he must be using the wrong dictionary. Or maybe he suffers from Alzheimer's."

The priest: "Yes, indeed, there is suffering here. But it is not for us to know why. Our Lord works in mysterious ways. We must have faith in His plan for us. All will be revealed when we join Him in Heaven. But we first have to prove that we are worthy of such a gift. It is not enough to go on sinning without repentance."

Me: "So 'God' does not want us to question his plan? We are all supposed to live by one of the world's greatest works of half-baked fiction as interpreted in umpteen different ways by men too afraid to say 'I don't know' when confronted with hard-to-explain realities?"

The priest: "I beg you, Fresco; embrace His love! Repent now and patiently endure your suffering. It is the only way to be saved."

Something about that last statement sent me over the edge. My skin tingled from head to toe as if trapped beneath a whole-body cast made of wool. I had to tear it off and scratch that itch.

I grabbed the nearest candle holder and gave the priest a little taste of heavenly suffering. It didn't kill him. But I do suspect he'll be unconscious for a good while. I'm not proud of it.

So pray for me. Or don't. (I have "a plan.")


An Unexpected Ally:
Everything's About to Change

The priest recovered. But it wouldn't have mattered anyway. He's on the sidelines. I'm now untouchable. And it's not just because of the blood drifters.

Incredibly, I've been talking with someone in the Vatican. He said I'll be provided the protection and funding to pursue my research.

"We know all about you and what's going on there," he said. "Your work is very important to us, and we don't want to see it used in the terrible way we think others intend. If you get back to it, we'll ensure your safety."

I let my emotions get the better of me and agreed to his terms, which I'm not sure I want to write down just yet. I worry about Jo.

But I can't let this go. It's a second chance. I just hope the Church is as powerful as it claims and that I'm not too late. I can't believe this.

He also hinted that the paintings I've been getting match a collection that they've kept hidden for centuries. I don't know if I buy it. It might have been a psychological trick to convince me to agree. Regardless, I'm all in now.

There's no time to waste. Events are happening around the globe too rapidly. The other side is ahead.

Meanwhile, another painting arrived.


Desperation Is a Cardinal Mistake

The only thing worse than making a deal with the devil has got to be making a deal with a sniffling cardinal from Rome who has an annoying tic that causes him to shout "Jesus loves pigs and paper pancakes!" during conversations that are supposed to be on the down-low.

It's a miracle he's made it so far up the holy ladder. (Perhaps the Vatican has affirmative action for unintentional jesters.)

I'm already regretting my decision to agree to his terms. He seems to know far more about my research and what's involved than even I do. But the Church is like the Mafia; you can't just back out of a commitment and live to tell about it. I'd probably be strangled with a rosary (or something equally as humiliating).

I'm overwhelmed with worry. I can't get my mind to focus. It's been so long since I last conducted a test. I've misplaced my confidence.

Unable to get my scientific mojo up to speed, I stepped out of the church for the first time in weeks. Miraculously, nobody showed up to try and arrest me. (I guess the cardinal truly does wield great influence, at least over the pious pricks of the local police force. I'm talking to you Studefrummtice.)

I went to visit Adam even though he's not allowed to see anyone.

The lady in charge at the asylum said he'd been transferred to another facility. She looked like she was hiding information or afraid of saying the wrong thing. She couldn't tell me where he is being held now.

But as I walked away, I swear I heard her humming and mumbling, "Jo, Jo, it's in the flow." I turned and ran back. The lady was gone. My requests to speak with her again went unanswered.

The blood drifters have been quiet. Something's brewing.


A Prayer for the Overwhelmed

Some people choose to live madder than a hatter on a hungry god's platter. Others choose to live a little more gracefully. Me? I plunge deep and hope I don't drown or get eaten by the real creatures, the demigods of the abyss.

The following poem (or prayer?) was left for me a couple of days ago. It was etched into the top of my wooden desk:

Jo, Jo
It's in the flow
Call upon the Father
Or rest within the water
Angels of the fire
Demons of the sky
Servants bound together
Through the deeds that you require
Freedom or Fates
The next world awaits
Brave the colors and grieve
Then listen for another's Eve

I guess somebody doesn't feel I'm worried enough about my daughter. Is this a threat? Is it a set of instructions? Both?

Jesus! How much am I supposed to handle all at once?

Last night, the blood drifters were having some fun. They've taken their audio performances to a whole new level. I recorded their new ditty next to what is likely the world's ugliest statue of the Holy Virgin.

What the hell is going on?


Circular Clues Like This Can't Lead to Heaven

The cardinal is a bad man. I can't prove it yet, but I believe I'm working for a psychopath.

I'm back to not sleeping. And even though I can currently leave the church without any bother and eat anything I want, the only thing my body will tolerate are those god-awful meebarats. I'm pretty sure even Julia Child couldn't have found a way to make them taste good. (I only eat them now to avoid having to clean the precious altar after a penetrating and uncontrollable poo spew from my own thunder cheeks.)

I'm running circles in my head that only a tortured schizoid theosopher would understand. My girl, my baby girl is threatened, if not being held hostage. It's something I can feel. I'd call her, but she wouldn't answer my calls now even if she was OK.

Of course, the whole situation with Adam is also nagging at me. Where was he taken? Will he ever be released? I feel for him as if he was my own son.

The blood drifters continue to perform their "music," but I've been too busy conducting my experiments to capture it.

I did receive a new message though. It was just one sentence, whispered in my ear. I assume it was from a drifter, but with the stuff I've been working on I can't be sure. The invisible person/thing/ghost/God-impersonator said:

"You don't know Jo from Adam."

At first, this just pissed me off. "I think I know my own daughter!" I screamed. (This was during Tuesday morning's mass.)

Then it hit me: I'm either completely bonkers now, or I was just delivered another clue to solving my whole messed-up predicament.

I could use a stiff drink. A 20-year-old single malt would be nice. Too bad it would taste like shit (and cause the same).


This Conversation Hurt Like Hell

The priest spoke to me for the first time in a month. I apologized for knocking him unconscious, but he didn't seem to care. In fact, it wasn't like talking to the priest at all.

"Why haven't you seduced any monsters lately?" he asked.

His question threw me, coming as it did from a guy who claims to be celibate and likes to admonish me for my sinning, "demon-whoring" ways.

"I'm just busy working," I said, "keeping your darling cathedral clean."

"You, sir, are a damned fool. How have you been feeling?" This was another question that didn't make any sense to me.

"I really should be getting back to it," I said. "Someone lost their breakfast in one of the confessionals."

The priest stood against me, grabbed me by the balls, squeezed hard as if trying to juice them, and in a low, grumbling voice said, "Seen a doctor lately?"

When I didn't respond, he walked away with a bounce in his step. I writhed in pain on the marble floor.

That was a few days ago. Since then, I've been thinking: Where the hell was my protection? Neither the cardinal's influence nor the blood drifters prevented the priest from hurting me.

The deeper I get into my experiments, the stranger things get.

By the way, another painting was left.


Packing for the Vatican

I'm going to Rome. The cardinal isn't giving me a choice. "We're at the threshold," he said. "You miss it, you die. And so does your girl."

Archbishops and other clergy from around the world are gathering for some kind of special event. I get the sense I'll be their guest star.

I'm scared. This can't be good.

"It's the trip of a lifetime, Fresco," the cardinal said. "You're going to be the first."

The first what? The first WHAT? I never had a chance to ask. I've chewed down all of my fingernails thinking about it. The priest is already gone or else I'd demand an answer from him while returning last week's painful "favor."

This is agony. But such is life, I guess. The priest is right about one thing: I'm a damned fool. I just don't know what else I can do but go along with everything now.

I'm trapped. So, Vatican, here I come. After that, I haven't a clue.


Dead and Back Again

Resurrection feels worse than drinking two gallons of absinthe followed by a tequila chaser. Or so I imagine.

"You're in a special club now, Fresco." I awoke to the voice of the cardinal. I needed more sleep. The permanent kind, to be more precise. "You are going to do great things for us."

What happened before that is a blur. I arrived in Rome and was promptly greeted by a lovely young lady. Except, she refused to speak. She stared into my eyes, took me by the hand, and then…I blacked out.

My memory of "the Vatican" is fragmented.

I remember smelling the mustiness of a cave. It was cold and damp and dark. I think I was blindfolded. And handcuffed.

I heard chanting and bells. And horrible, terrible high-pitched squealing. Like a small animal being tortured.

I felt a needle go into my right arm.

That's it. After awaking to the cardinal's voice, I passed out again. I don't remember going to the airport, being on a plane, or anything. Yet here I am back "home."

To say that I am disoriented would be putting it mildly. I am panicked. And frightened beyond eternity.

What happened to me? What did they do?

In my dreams, the blood drifters tell me that the "righteous ones" killed me. Dead. Kaput.

Yet, here I am.


The Bells That Have Me By the Balls

I like sleep as much as anyone, but not when it becomes involuntary hibernation. The blood drifters are relentless with their damn "music!" The thing is, instead of annoying the hell out of me and keeping me up, their banging drums and chanting are keeping me in a deep, sleepy trance from which I can't escape.

To make matter worse, the bells they are now using infect my dreams. The melody repeats endlessly in my mind. It's like this is all part of someone's sick grand plan for me. Or, maybe, the drifters are helping me overcome whatever the Catholics did to me in Rome.

Answers are hard to come by, especially since I can't stay awake long enough to think.

I did manage to record one of the most recent performances with the bells. Those God-awful bells!


A Fountain of Youth
(If You Can Stand the Aftertaste)

It's like used holy water after a service for soiled homophobes. It's like rotten fish that's been blessed by a plundering priest.

It's like mold from a box of 20-year-old Communion wafers that have been soaking in the juices of that rotten fish.

"Wake up, Fresco. You're an immortal now. Good luck." The crackling voice hit my dreams with the crash of a thousand gongs. My eyes popped open in a flash. So did my bowels.

I was out cold for several days. Now I wish it had been permanent. The foul taste is always present. It overpowers everything I eat. It's torture.

What did I do to deserve this?

So you know, I tried offing myself again. I couldn't help it.

I wasn't so successful. Not only did my body repair itself, but the taste came back stronger.

I need answers. Maybe they are in the latest painting left behind for me. But if so, I can't recognize them.

Hell, at this point, I'd trade my new chance at eternity for just one good clue.


The Echoes of a Blank Mind

My head has been empty since waking to find that I might be stuck on this planet as a living creature for far longer than I deserve. The thoughts barely trickle in now. It's all I can do to write a coherent sentence. And the church has been quiet. Really quiet. With one exception.

A new "poem" flitters in and out of my mind like an endless echo in a forgotten cave. (Yeah, I'm not sure that makes any sense either. But it sounds good to me in this moment.)

Jo, Jo
It's in the flow
Follow the crow
Or make it solo

I have a feeling the only way to understand any of this is to get back to work. If only I had a mind for the experiments now. I'm sure I'll have hell to pay from the cardinal if I don't hop to it soon.

AND SO IT GOES. And So It Goes. and so it goes. . .


A Real Crap Shoot

Well, I blew it. I really blew it! A couple imaginary shots of tequila and one wrong calculation later, I'm now staring at a hole in the ceiling of my lab (or the floor of the church bathroom, as the case may be).

It happened while the priest was giving his sermon to all of the old fuddy-duddies. I really thought I had the correct measurements this time. I would finally realize the breakthrough I've been hoping for. I was equal parts excited and depressed (I miss Jo so much). So I needed a little something to take the edge off.

I guess science and pretend alcohol don't mix. KABOOM. The blast sent toilets flying into the adjoining streets and some of their contents into the pews. "Holy shit!" I yelled. Then I laughed the hardest I ever have. My eyes are still watering (although that could just be from the noxious fumes of the exposed sewer pipes).

Of course, I was smack-dab in the middle of the explosion. But I don't have a single scratch on me. I stood in the middle of a storm of chaos, watching the destruction unfold before my eyes in slow motion.

Then I heard music. But this was not from any church choir. The sound coming from the site of the blast was the loudest and most eerie I've heard to date. I think the blood drifters were trying to make a statement (and not just to me).

The authorities never even showed up. Not even to help the few parishioners who were slightly injured. I guess the cardinal means business. He doesn't want anyone interfering with my work.

So it's back at it for me. But you can hear a little snippet I recorded the day before the blast. (I think the drifters were just warming up.)


To Be a Fool

I saw a blackbird. It vanished near the site of the explosion. Poof!

I'm going to follow it into the world beyond. A whispering voice assured me it is possible. If I'm lucky, I'll find some answers there.


Beautiful Fear and a Spook Most Near

A billion daring colors. A changing kaleidoscope of arresting patterns and terrors. A place you could never dream. A world of selfish emotions but exquisite grandeur.

It trapped me. It magnified my fears. They were my addiction. They closed around me like jealous creatures. How I escaped I don't know. But something, or someone, came back with me. It's got power and…an obsession. I sense it.

I'm raw to this ugly world. It hurts to feel. I allowed myself to be cursed. For that, I shall have to pay. But I won't be the only one.

Pity the fool who follows the blackbird. I may never be forgiven.

Lucy's messenger left a new painting. It greeted me upon my return. I can only hope that it, along with the others, holds a message to help all of us.