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Notice the cover art for this novel. It was painted by my friend, Margaret Harwood, a wonderful artist. I’ve known Margaret and her husband, Jon (himself an artist with his camera), for a decade or more. When I asked Margaret to create the cover, she said, “What do these characters look like?” “Read my mind,” I said. And she did! The cover shows Brother Mudge, Isolde Bell, and Loretta, Patsy, and Tammy. I lived with those characters for a couple years while I was writing their story. I watched Brother Mudge preach, I watched his captive women suffer, I watched the horrendous, black, Beelzebub thoughtform grow on the roof of Mudge’s storefront church. I watched the vampire prowl around real locations in Orange County, like the Crystal Cathedral and Disneyland. The vampire lives in the condo a friend of mine owned. She also drives my friend’s car. In my imagination, I watched the women of the Quicksilver Moon coven coping with their lives. (Loretta lives in another friend’s house.) As I keep telling people, this book is very realistic … except for the vampire.
The story is narrated in the voices of the participants. It opens with Isolde Bell introducing herself.
My name at present is Isolde Bell, though I have of course had other names, other identities that I picked up and used and threw away when I was finished with them.
I remember where I was born, though not necessarily when. It seems to have been between 1375 and 1425, though the date is uncertain because our remote land had no use for the official calendars of church and empire. The Crusades had passed and the Inquisition was yet to be proclaimed, though freelance terrorists were always abroad in medieval Europe, and the Reformation and Counter-Reformation and the horrors of the religious wars they set off were also still to come. But I knew them all. I knew them all.
Do you know what Transylvania's claims to fame are? Vlad Dracula and Countess Elizabeth Bathori, the world's best-known children of the night. King John Sigismund (flourished circa 1568), the world's first Unitarian king. Transylvania is where I was born, some time between the ages of Dracula and John Sigismund.
I started writing Quicksilver Moon (under an earlier title) about the time the Far Right took out its Contract On America. Vampires are, so to speak, eternally popular, and though I'd written other (so far unpublished) novels, I wanted to work with an edgy, ambiguous character as protagonist. Seeing the world in fundamental black and white has always seemed boring to me, and as Isolde and her friends of the Quicksilver Moon Coven and Brother Mudge acted their story out in my head, and then on paper, I began to see how good and evil come in every shade.
Brother Mudge's chapters are based on his sermons. I actually bought a King James Bible so I could quote correctly.
Brother Mudge looked down upon his flock and was well pleased. Eighteen followers, and now a signed lease on this modest storefront. Well, he had the assurance of the Messenger, the promise of more followers. More witnesses. More power. Never again, he thought, never again would a church reject him. Never again would the more famous preachers-the men in whose images he had modeled himself until his eyes had been opened and he saw the Truth-never again would they or anyone else laugh at him. This was his congregation, his alone. Yes, it was small, but already it was growing. Yes, he was well pleased.
Brother Mudge looked down upon his flock again, and his voice took on the sexy, saxophone power that always attracted women, that pulled women into his black Cadillac. "Lord," he said, "Lord, we know the heathens. We know Thine enemies. We know those who follow the ways of Satan. And, Lord, we give thanks that You have opened our eyes and delivered us from our enemies, from their darkness and sin. We give thanks that You have indeed, yes, indeed, that You have led us away from temptation. Yea, like holy Lazarus we have come forth from darkest Hell. For it is written, And I knew that you hearest me always: but because of the people which stand by I said it, that they may believe that thou has sent me.
"Yea, Lord," Brother Mudge was swaying now, nearly singing in the passion of his sermon, "like Lazarus raised from the tomb, we too come forth. And like Your Son, we say to the sinners, Come forth! We call out to all who are sinners-the Satanists, the witches, the free-thinkers, the nonconformists, the heathens and whores. And we say to the devil they worship, Loose them and let them go."
Brother Mudge raised both hands, palms open as if to shower his personal manna upon his congregation. "Lord!" he sang out, "Lord, we will do Your Work on earth. Lord, we will bear witness to Your Work. We will rescue all who have sinned. We will command the father of lies to let them go. We will bring them back to Your mighty throne. We will bring them back to Your awful judgment."
And the preacher declares war on the witches. And who are these witches? Ordinary women who look just a bit like some women I have known. Quicksilver Moon Coven was founded by Loretta and her sister Tammy, both born in Mississippi and living in Orange County. Other members are Patsy, a 200-pound lesbian whose day job is technical writing. Debbie, a doctor's wife and the Queen of Clean. Marian, whose husband is a retired Santa Ana cop. Taeko Jean, whose mother was a Japanese war bride. Riana, an adult college student whose husband left her with two teen-agers ... and AIDS. (And what does a vampire think when facing someone with AIDS?) Lavender (not her real name), an actress who does temp office work to pay the rent. And their good friend, the Rev. Donnathea, a metaphysical minister who is the story's voice of true Christianity, a voice of love, charity, and reason.
The Quicksilver Moon coven stages a public ritual for Beltane and somehow the vampire shows up for the spiral dance. Women at the ritual have received anonymous, threatening letters. There is a discussion about persecution, and the vampire decides to help them defend themselves.
My grandmother always told me I was too passionate [she tells us], too greedy. It's true. I am not always reasonable, and I'm seldom friendly. Given my circumstances, can you blame me? If you were thrust into my circumstances, what would you have done? Would you suffer passively or take action? What would you do?
Do you know better than I do?
I must confess: I liked the women of Quicksilver Moon. I liked all the women in that room, all the women I spiraled with that May Eve. I liked their humanity, their questioning and asserting and quarreling, which arose as soon as I finished speaking. There is not, alas, as much unity among Witches as we would wish. Dear, simple, short-lived ones. They're still too much a part of the culture they try to reject and reform, and it's not a culture that promotes equality and the sharing of power. Darling short-lived ones. They read a few books, invoke a few minor goddesses, and they think they are wise.
Still, that night I loved them, for they were, by turns, passionate and frightened, foolhardy and brave.
I've been alone too long. Now I must help them find out who is sending misogynistic quotations from a highly edited holy book.
"Yes," said Isolde Bell, sitting down again in my antique chair, "I learned this blessing from my Honored Grandmother when I was a child. That was around the year 1400."
Well! None of us thought we heard her right. I could see Tammy's lips moving.
"Yes, my friends," said Isolde Bell, forestalling our questions, "I call you friends tonight, though if tonight does not go well, we will not be friends and you will remember none of what I am going to say."
What could we do? We sat still and listened. But, you know, actually we couldn't have said anything, even if we'd wanted to. We were a captive audience, if you know what I mean.
Brother Mudge sends the teenage wife of one of his two young deacons out to spy on the witches. The girl visits Donnathea's church and buys a tarot deck, but hides it in fear of her life. After things happen to her, the other deacon, Brother Arlo, and his teenage wife, Deloris, find the deck and do a midnight tarot reading. They have no idea what they’re doing of course. As it always does, the tarot--and their intuition--tell them what's going on. We see how these two are Brother Mudge's prisoners.
Friday night [Brother Arlo writes] is the night he says we’re supposed to have, you know, “conjugal relations.” Usually, Deloris and I can really get it on, and I get her to moaning to all get out. But tonight she just laid there. She didn’t make a sound. She didn’t even want to cuddle up afterwards. Later, it came to me that, like, what happened Thursday at the church had taken all the desire out of her.
And she kept on acting strange, too, like she had something on her mind. She gets like that sometimes, but who can understand women? Alls I know is that when I woke up, maybe three in the morning, she wasn’t there beside me. She wasn’t in the bathroom, either, and now that I thought of the bathroom, I had to get up and take a leak, and that’s when I saw the kitchen light was on. I went in to see what was up.
“What in God’s Holy Name are you doing?” I yelled as soon as I saw her.
She about jumped out of her skin. She was sitting at the table with some cards spread out in front of her.
“What is that?” I asked.
It is so something. Lemme see.” I came closer and took a look. It was cards with pictures on them, not a good respectable poker deck, but something else. “Those are the Devil’s cards! Where’d you get them?”
“They are not. I found ’em.”
Deloris gave me one of her famous squinty looks.
“There were Mae Angela’s. She showed ’em to me the day she got ’em at that weird church, you remember? How they sent her there? She hid ’em. They were in the hideabed, down in that big hole behind the cushion. In this purple bag.”
I poked around under the sink till I found an empty grocery sack and held it out to her. “You just put all those cards in this sack. They’re the Devil’s cards. You can’t have them here. What he finds them?”
“He never comes here. You know that.”
“They need to be burnt.”
No? No? A woman saying no to her lawful wedded husband? When the Apostle Paul specifically said, Wives, submit yourselves unto you husbands, as unto the Lord? “Deloris,” I said, making my voice as firm as possible, “you heard me.”
“No. You can counsel with me all you want, like he’s always telling you, but I’m not giving you these cards.”
Counseling has never done an earthworm’s bit of good with Deloris. You have to use psychology on her. So I stood right behind her and started to pray the Lord’s Prayer under my breath. I was up to “Lead us not into temptation” when I opened my eyes and looked over her shoulder. “What are they, really?”
“The box says ‘The Rider Tarot Deck.’ I don’t know how you pronounce that. Tarott?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“I found ’em yesterday afternoon, while you were at McDonald’s? I looked at ’em awhile and hid ’em again when you got back, but they stayed on my mind. So when I couldn’t sleep because—well, because, Arlo, we’ve got some stuff to talk about. Anyways … awhile ago I got up and got ’em out again. I just sat here and shuffled these cards like this, back and forth and back and forth, and these three cards here just leaped out at me. See?”
She pointed to a card entitled The Tower. It showed this big cement tower with a crown being knocked off it by this yellow lightning bolt and flames, and these two little bitty guys falling out. A genuine heathen blasphemy. But she knocked my hand away when I reached over her shoulder to grab it. The second card was entitled The Devil, and it sure did look like him. Horns, leather batwings, the devil’s star in the middle of his forehead. He had this little bitty man and woman in chains in front of him, and they had little bitty devil horns, too. “Don’t you dare touch that,” she warned me. The third card that had flown out of the deck was entitled The World. It showed a naked lady in the middle of a wreath of leaves, and the beasts of the Four Apostles were in the corners of the picture looking at her. Well, look, if the Apostles were there, I began to think, maybe these cards weren’t quite that bad, after all. I actually began to think about that.
“There’s this little bitty book in the box,” Deloris said. “I read it all the way through. It gives the meanings of all the cards. You wanna know what these three mean?”
“No! Sure.” I was humoring her, see?
“Well, it says The Tower card’s a card of disaster. Indigence. What’s that mean? And, uh, calamity and sin. As I looked at it,” she said, giving me her squinty stare again, “well, he came right into my mind. His church and all his preachings about sin and the devil and the false daughters of Satan. All that’s happened this week. The broken glass in the door. What … what happened. All that came into my mind, right while I was staring at this card.”
“How do you know?”
“Know what? It was just thoughts coming into my head, that’s what. The second card means the Devil, and the book says ‘ravage and violence.’” She turned and looked right into my eyes. “I sat and thought on that, too, kinda stared at the card awhile, and Arlo—his face came into my mind where the devil’s face is!”
“Yes! And these two little people he’s got chained up? That’s you and me. I just know it is.” I could see a thought just come to her. “Or Larry and Mae Angela?” She started to say more, but shushed herself, like she’s been doing for three days now. She looked like she was afraid of something.
“Yeah,” she whispered. “The Devil card made me feel afraid.” And we both looked over our shoulders, though we had to call to. “I mean, it made me know I was afraid. It’s like he’s up there, well, not quite up in the sky where God is, but up there,” she frowned and shook her head, “and … and he’s big and black and just staring down at us, daring us to commit sinful acts.”
Well, sir, I sure didn’t know what to say to that. I thought on it for a minute, but all I could think of was sin. So after a bit, I pointed to the naked woman card. “Well, what about this one? What’s it mean? Who’s she supposed to be?”
“The little books says, let’s see, ‘assured success, voyage, emigration, flight, change of plans.’” She looked at me again, the beginnings of tears in her eyes. “Is the church closed for good?”
“What do you mean? Yes. No. Hell, I don’t know. He doesn’t tell me things anymore. Since Larry ran away, he just gives me more orders. He told me to take the women there and clean the place.”
It’s a sin. I know it is. Just looking at those cards is a dreadful sin. We were sinning, just holding them, just reading that little book. But still, Deloris and I sat there in the dark of the night looking at those cards and reading what the little book said about each one. We didn’t talk about what we were doing. We didn’t talk about anything. A couple times, she got real fuzzy-eyed and told me what she thought some card meant. We just sat there with the Devil’s cards all night. I sort of got over feeling sinful after a while.
Come morning, I drove Larry’s van and took the women to the church and watched them scrub it from top to bottom. Around noon I went over to the deli, like usual, and brought back Wonder Bread and lunchmeat and Cokes. Don’t ask me why, but I left Deloris home that day. She’d fell asleep laying across those Devil’s cards and I left her sleep.
She was gone when I got home. A couple of the cards were on the floor under the table, and I picked them up and set fire to them at the gas stove, then I flushed the ashes down the toilet. Heathen fortune-telling. It’s against God’s law.
Deloris ran away. I’m going to find her. She needs me to protect her. If I’m lucky, I’ll find her. If we’re lucky, he won’t find us. I’m pretty sure I can stay out of his reach. If we’re lucky, we’ll get back home to Fresno. But d’you know what I’d really like? I’d like for us to go on up to Humboldt County and live up on top of a mountain in God’s green grass and pure air. And we’d be safe up there, too, up in the woods on top of a mountains.
How did these two kids get into this situation? What happens to Brother Mudge's harem? Why does the pagan vampire, Isolde Bell, go to the Christian hell, and how does she get out? What happens when Brother Mudge sets up a stage and begins preaching outside Loretta's house? There’s murder in this novel. I had edited the memoir of a retired police chief, so I asked him to help me write the police reports. BUY THIS BOOK. You can find it on line. If you want a signed copy, send me an email.