Crown of Thorns

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Crown of Thorns

By Mark Slade

Blake came to Kerr’s séance, hoping to get in touch with his dead son.

Miles had committed suicide almost a year ago, just as Gregory Blake decided to quit his nationally televised show where he gave his sermons every Sunday morning at eleven a.m., a prime spot for syndication, right before football. Rev. Archbishop Gregory Blake, his full title, had his show, loyal worshipers that hung on to every word he spoke, nice cars, and a nice home in Canyon.

But he also had a lot of troubles. Twice a divorcee, women and drink would always complicate Blake’s life. Almost tried twice for being Heretic, he had less than half of the Church Officials he could call his friends or colleagues. It was Blake’s outspoken rants on Homosexuals in the Church, and getting the right literature to for married couples and non-married couples concerning planned families, or the fact he didn’t believe Mother Mary was  a virgin when she had Christ, that was kind of way of thinking as a carrier of Christ’s words and teachings, really ticked them off. None of that weighed on his mind as much as being able to talk to Miles one last time. Tell him, he was sorry.

Blake often wondered if he should have stayed a lawyer and never entered the Church.

“Has been something of a year filled with turmoil for you, my dear Gregory,” Kerr said to Blake, as they took a seat at the table Kerr would use for the séance.

“I’m sorry to say,” Blake slurred. “My whole life has been filled with turmoil, Anthony. I sometimes think that I relish those moments more than the happy ones. I know I remember them better after a glass of something.” Blake giggled.

Kerr poured another shot of Rye and handed it to Blake. “I don’t know, Gregory. I sometimes feel we bring strife upon ourselves.”

‘Yes, Anthony. We probably do,” Blake drank the rye down quickly. “We all have our crown of thorns to wear.”

“You mean ‘our own cross to bear’, don’t you?” Kerr poured himself a shot and swallowed it hard, covering his mouth as he coughed.

“No, I do not. I wish not to be quoted with such clichéd poppycock. I want to be remembered for my own words, not something uttered by thousands of misinformed spiritual terrorists.” Blake’s face became red, and the heavier he breathed, the more his glasses fogged up.

“Carful, Gregory,” Kerr said. “God is listening.”

Joanne came in the room, her heels clicking on the wooden floors. She stood in front of Blake, actually towering over him, with that dissatisfied look on her face, both hands on her hips. Her normally green eyes were now burning red with anger.

“You always seem to find a bottle somewhere,” she told Blake. “And you,” she pointed at Kerr. “How in the world are the dead going to understand you if you are slurring your words?”

“Better yet,” Kerr giggled. “How am I not going to understand the dead’s slurring without a drink.”

“Your followers are ready for the séance, if you want to know, Anthony.” Joanne said.

“Wonderful,” Kerr said exuberantly and clasped his hands. “Then let’s begin, what do you say, Rev. Archbishop Blake?”

“I’m fully able and ready to begin, Mr. Kerr. Show the audience in Joanne.”

The door opened and twenty or more people entered, began to take their seats on metal fold-up chairs placed around the table in a circle. As advised by Kerr, everyone wore black and brought with them no silver or gold jewelry. Often, Kerr had stated, silver and gold would turn any spirit away, malicious or not.

Joanne sat beside Blake, immediately taking his hand in hers. She felt perspiration dripping from his palm. “No need to be nervous, Gregory,” She whispered to him. “I’m here. Remember that.” Blake patted her hand with his free hand and gave her sheepish smile.

“Please dim the lights,” Kerr said. He nodded to Blake, who sighed deeply before reluctantly accepting Kerr’s hand. “Let us begin.” Kerr closed his eyes. The lights went down, and candles that surrounded a picture of Miles, were lit. Everyone bowed their heads, Kerr whispered the Lord’s Prayer. There were a few minutes of silence and then a candle fell over. The photo of Miles caught fire, burned a strange blackish-hue. The audience cried out, and Kerr quieted them down.

A stagehand trotted over and put the fire out before it touched the table cloth.

“It’s alright, folks. It’s alright. We have everything under control.” He stood, raising his hands to urge everyone to sit back down. The stagehand tried to take the picture away and Kerr stopped him. “No, no, Eric. I need that. Just leave it. Yes. Thank you.” Kerr caught his breath, gave everyone a reassuring smile. “Shall we begin again?”

****

“Hello, Gregory?” Blake could hear Kerr on the line but there was a lot of static coming from his end.

“Anthony? I can barely hear you.” Blake yelled into the telephone. “I don’t know what’s wrong, we’re only three blocks away. Why is there so much static?”

“Maybe they are working on the lines. I don’t know.” Kerr said.

“As soon as I take my shower I’ll be right over. Joanne is out shopping, so she won’t be able to come.”

“I wanted to talk to you about the séance from the other day,” Kerr tried to cut in. Sometimes when Blake got going, he spoke too fast for anyone to get a word in.

“Oh, yes! I think it went well! Thank you so much for getting in touch with Miles.”

“No, Gregory. It did not go well…..”

“Why must you say that? It was sublime….”

“Please be quiet, Gregory! I’m sorry, I didn’t mean….”

“Why would you take such a tone with me…?”

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Just…listen, please.”

“Alright. What?” Blake was snippy. He didn’t like it when people told him to stop talking. He had a point to be made, always.

“The séance….I’m not so sure I did get in touch with Miles,” Kerr said.

“Of course you di. We all heard him coming through you.”

****

Kerr bowed his head. When he looked up, his eyes were wild, the pupils dilated. His mouth was slackened and a low, terrible moan thrust itself upon everyone in the room. Some gasped, some nearly bolted out of their seat. Blake was so startled he gripped Joanne’s hand harder. She patted his hand to let him know to loosen his grip.

“Why not me?” Kerr moaned. “Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy? Why?! Why?! Why not meeeeeeeeeeeeee?”

“Miles?” Blake whispered. Tears flooded his eyes. He fought hard to keep them back, but they dribbled down his cheek. “Miles? Is that you?”

“Shhh, Gregory,” Joanne said. “Anthony said not to interrupt. You could break the connection to the dead side.”

“I needed you!” Kerr suddenly stood. He carried on, his voice broke from a falsetto to a deeper, low-pitched voice. “I needed youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu!”

Kerr fell back in his chair, exhausted. He lowered his head, eyes closed for a few seconds. Everyone was on pins and needles, breathless, and frightened for what was to come next.

Kerr raised his head, sighed deeply, and laughed. “Wow,” he said. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief and laughed with him. “That was an intense set of moments.”

****

Blake said into the telephone: “I really must take my shower if I am to come over for the second séance.”

Kerr hemmed and hawed before he got to the point. “Gregory, I think its best you don’t come and sit for a reading. At least until I can figure what this aggressive energy is……..“

“No, Anthony. I must insist……”

“Gregory,” Kerr whined. “I’ve come to like you very much. I also respect you, have always respected you. So, please. Just…. let’s only use the telephone for a few weeks. Hmm?”

Blake angrily slammed the phone down. “Ridiculous!” He screamed.

Blake slammed the bathroom door, muttering to himself. He turned on both hot and cold faucets, let them run together for a minute before turning on the shower head. He undressed, then tested the water. It was exactly as he liked it, more cold than hot. He climbed into the shower and pulled the God-awful green and yellow shower curtain around the tub. The water flowed all around him as he lathered up.

The bathroom door flew open, ricocheted from the wall.

Blake stopped rinsing and listened.

“Joanne?” He asked, “Is that you?”

No one answered. He heard footsteps. Blake peered out of the shower curtain. He saw no one.

“Maybe I didn’t shut the door correctly and the air conditioner blew it open.” He told himself. He continued his shower, washing what little hair he had left. The shower curtain formed a tight fist and struck Blake in the midsection. He screamed out, fell to his knees. Another area of the curtain formed a fist and struck Blake in the face repeatedly. He cried out, blood dripped from his broken lips. He saw three more fists form in tight plastic balls. Blake bowed his head, pushing his face into the bottom of the tub. He felt quick, rapid-fire punches to his left ribs, buttocks, and left leg. The shower curtain was suddenly torn from the bar.

Weeping, Blake raised his head up to see his attacker. No one was there. But in the mirror, written in steam, he saw: Why not me?

“Gregory?” Blake heard Joanne call his name out. “Didn’t you hear me ask how much longer you were going to be in the shower…?” Joanne stood in the bathroom’s threshold, shocked to see Blake lying in the tub, face down in a pool of his own blood. She ran to Blake and helped him out of the tub. She wrapped a towel around him and led him to their bed. “What happened, Gregory?”

Blake laid on the bed and sighed. “Miles visited me,” he said.

****

“Are you sure you feel up to this?” Joanne asked Gregory. He looked at her as if he didn’t understand the question.

“To miss my chance to appear on another nationally televised chat show?” Blake lit another cigarette while the other one sat in the ashtray, still burning. “Of course I feel up to it, Joanne. That’s a silly question.”

They were sitting in the greenroom of the Marty Washington show, which is more of debate program than a talk show. The host, Marty Washington had written to Blake, declaring him the most courageous of all the religious leaders including the Pope. Washington had a tendency to turn his supposed admired guests just create watchable television. Washington liked to bring out the guest, seated next to Shirley Leeson, a respectable columnist for the New York Times. On the other side, was Washington and his crony/sidekick Dick Deagle, a penny-ante, third-rate comedian, who once was booed for delivering one of the worst standup routines in the history of the Tonight show.

“I just thought…well…after what happened yesterday…” Joanne sighed and shrugged.

“Ohh,” Blake laughed, squeezed her hand. “I’m fine, darling. That was maybe not as a big a deal as I made it out to be.”

“I worry about you. Maybe you are working too hard.” Joanne kissed Blake on the cheek and he laughed again.

“Perhaps you’re right. As soon as we get to my apartment in London, I’ll take a week off before polishing my next book.”

“That’s a marvelous idea, Gregory. We can take in some sights.” Joanne became very excited. Blake could see the wheels turning inside Joanne’s head, planning their trip. “Perhaps we could to Paris for a day or two as well?”

“I don’t see why not? Yes. Yes, of course. Say,” Blake licked his lips. “I feel like a coke. Could you go into the hallway and get us a couple of them, dear?”

“Yes, I sure will. I think I have enough change,” Joanne dug into her purse, moving items from one side to another.

“Oh, I believe I have some change in my pocket…..”

“No, no,” Joanne stood, and with four quick steps, she headed out the door. “I have it. I sure do.”

Blake laughed, shook his head. “Her mind is not on getting two cokes.” Her mind was on the trip to London, and possibly planning other things to come after the trip. That was how Joanne worked. Planning everything in months in advance, writing them in her planner and getting upset when nothing goes according to those plans.

Blake took a drag off of his cigarette, stubbed it out in the ashtray before noticed he had another one lit. “My, my,” he said and reached out for it.

The cigarette rose into the air, turned its lit end toward Blake. Blake gasped. There was no time to react except throw his hands in front of his face, but the cigarette managed to slip through and burn Blake on his cheek. Blake screamed out. He swatted at the cigarette as it drew back and dashed Blake’s cheek twice more.

Joanne entered the greenroom, fiddling with her purse. “The machine was acting strangely. I put the money in and spit it two Cokes…….” Her eyes focused on what was transpiring. Joanne dropped the Cokes and let out a shrieked. The Cokes crashed to the floor, the tops bust open and liquid sprayed the floor, sending the aluminum cans sliding toward Blake’s chair.

Now lifeless the cigarette fell to the table, the filter breaking in half. Blake was still screaming, his hands still swatting the air. Joanne ran to Blake.

“Calm down, Gregory. Calm down.”

“Look…..look….”

“I saw it, yes. I saw it, dear. Shhhh. It’s alright.”

Blake’s body shook, mumbling to Joanne, he said: L-L-Look!” He brought his finger down, pointing at spilled soft drink that spelled out Why not me?

****

A week later, Kerr called Gregory, asking him to meet at Ferguson’s bar and grill. Gregory arrived with Joanne on his arm, much to Kerr’s annoyance.

“I thought you were just coming?” Kerr said.

“Why would I come to lunch without Joanne?” Gregory laughed.

“I thought you liked me!” Joanne cried out in mock mortification.

“I adore you, Joanne….but……”

“But what?” She asked. The waiter showed up, placing three menus in front of them. “Could you give us a few minutes?” Joanne told the frail, older man.

The waiter smiled and quipped, “Take all the time you need.” He waddled away, disappearing into the kitchen that was blaring loud jazz.

“You were going to finish that sentence, Anthony?” Gregory tossed his menu aside in a huff.

“I’m not sure you want Joanne to hear this,” Kerr said after a bit of silence.

“What are you on about?” Gregory slammed his hand on the table.

Joanne patted his hand. “Gregory, let Anthony explain.”

Anthony shifted uneasily in his chair. “You had a secretary named Rose Davison.”

“Yes,” Gregory sniffed the air. “She was my secretary, my editor, and she handled much of my affairs when I lived in London three years ago before the television program. Yes. What are you getting at, Anthony? At the moment, I don’t like you very much.” Blake’s face was getting redder, his breathing became shorter.

“Look, Gregory, I don’t like myself very much right now, nor having this conversation. I don’t like what might happen—I’m sorry,” Kerr said to Joanne. ‘I did some digging and I made a few calls to a friend in London. He had heard something about a suicide victim by the name of Rose Davison. She killed herself in your apartment, Gregory.”

Joanne gave Blake a stunned glance, and he looked away, tried to hide the guilt on his face.

Kerr continued. “The spirit we contacted was not your son Miles. Somehow, I think you want to believe it is his, Gregory. The spirit that I brought into your life is very bitter and feels very rejected by you.”

“Rose Davison,” Joanne said, still looking at Blake. “You are talking about Rose Davison.”

“Gregory….this spirit wants you to acknowledge something…. I believe it is Rose….”

“No,” Blake blurted out. “No! I will not acknowledge her! She was nothing more than my damn secretary! That is all! Miles is the one trying to contact me!”

“When were you going to tell me about her, Gregory?” Joanne bowed her head and began to sob.

“There’s nothing to tell, Joanne. I swear.” Blake said calmly. “She was nothing more than my secretary.”

“In your apartment, Gregory, the two of you worked on your book until late at night, but you two always retired to your bed,” Kerr said. “Gregory, just give Rose what she wants and she will leave you alone…”

“No!” Blake jumped up from his chair. “It was Miles! It was Miles trying to reach me!”

Suddenly, there was a change that came over Joanne. Her eyes were no longer blue, but a pale white. Her skin was longer tan, had become a deathly white, and her hair had morphed into a honey-blonde from a jet black and even grew longer. Her lips had once been too small had become full, and a perfume that Blake recognized that only Rose wore.

Kerr was in shock. His mouth moved, though no words were heard.

“Why not me?!” Joanne moaned, reached out to touch Blake. “Why don’t you love meeeeeeeeee?! Why?! Why?! Why not meeeeeeeeeeeeee?!”

Blake gasped, recoiled from Joanne’s touch. Blake pushed his way past Joanne. Again, she reached out for him, grabbing his minister’s apparel with a hand, tearing it at the bottom. He ran toward the door.

“No!” Blake screamed.

The ceiling moved as if it were in an earthquake, and a chandelier was disconnected. Falling fast, it fell on Blake, knocking him to the floor.  Part of the chandelier rested on his head, the crystal points jabbed into Blake’s scalp. Blood slowly poured from the wounds onto the tiled floor, spelling out the words Love Me.

Joanne had returned to normal. Screaming, she buried her face into Kerr’s chest.

“All this time, I thought I was the one that brought Rose to Gregory,” Kerr said, hugging Joanne close to him. “The whole time it was you.”

Find more from Mark Slade on his blog! You can pick up an anthology he co-edited from Lulu!

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