I’d like to welcome back Martin Berman-Gorvine, with another short story written specifically for the Halloween Extravaganza. I always look forward to his submissions, and I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.
A Tale of the Age of Moloch
By the time Lisa Henry broke out of the Castle, it was already Mischief Night. That meant she had just three days to live before she would be taken out when Black Mass ended at midnight, tied spread-eagled to the hood of Jack Kolver’s 1963 Ford Thunderbird, and become the Virgin Sacrifice Unto Moloch with a flick of the Pastor’s knife.
Since she was understandably unhappy at this prospect, she had done everything she could think of to avoid becoming Prom Queen of the Class of 1982. As a Nice Girl who was also stunningly gorgeous, with large almond-shape dark eyes and a lustrous mane of black hair, she had her work cut out for her to avoid her unspeakable fate when she started school last fall, her senior year at Chatham’s Forge High School. But she gamely did her best. She started by getting roaring drunk on moonshine for Homecoming and ralphing all over Mr. Goff’s spit-polished tasseled loafers. Since the shoes were the guidance counselor’s pride and joy, and he had the power to bust her Student Caste from Nice Girl all the way down to Slut, she figured she was set. Instead he wiped off the shoes with a damp paper towel, escorted her to the staff bathroom, and held back her hair as she finished emptying her stomach.
She tried talking back in class, even taking Moloch’s name in vain in Religion class with Mrs. Larssen. The old biddy merely patted her on the head and told her to calm down. Well, there was the more direct route to getting relabeled as a Slut. Her boyfriend, Chad Miller, was even more popular than she, a clean-cut blonde Jock who was the star Grabber for the Cheetahs in their blood-soaked grudge-match Games against the Linwood Lions. In the highly unlikely event that Lisa’s head did not end up separated from her curvy body and propped up like a gruesome hood ornament on the T-Bird the morning after All Souls Day, everyone expected her to marry Chad and have like a dozen kids, which would play hell with her figure. That prospect was only slightly more appealing than the sanguinary option, so she cheated on Chad with gusto and abandon, juicily smooching random guys in the crowded school hallways between class, making out with his best friend Jimmy “Punch-Drunk” Jones in the bleachers as the stands were filling up for a Game, and consummating her loss of innocence one memorable night during a January thaw with Frankie “Four-Eyes” Feldstein. Since Four-Eyes was the Platonic ideal of a Nerd and Lisa the foremost Nice Girl of the Class of ‘82, fucking him in full view of the T-Bird altar was a double sacrilege, a heaping of Caste Miscegenation on top of Unauthorized Sex. Poor Frankie took the full brunt of the punishment, though he went to his death on Chief Punisher Ariadne Mitchell’s dreaded Impaler shrieking that it had been worth it, and Lisa got off scot-free.
Chad laughed off Lisa’s betrayal. After all, he had been boinking Chelsea Everard, the Chief Cheetahs Cheerleader and another so-called Nice Girl, since sophomore year. But Lisa still held out high hopes she would get pregnant. Then Goff would have no choice but to bust her down to Slut. Even though that meant she’d probably end up a Holy Ho in the Consecrated Cathouse after graduation, it would still beat becoming Moloch’s All Souls Day treat.
No dice. There was blood in her panties, regular as pit-and-pendulum clockwork, and Lisa was inconsolable. Her mother tried to comfort her. “You don’t understand, Mom!” she wailed. “I’m gonna be the next Virgin Sacrifice!”
Mom’s cheek twitched. “You’re thinking a bit much of yourself, aren’t you, young lady? The way I hear it, Chelsea’s a shoo-in!”
“That dog, with her simpering smile and her strawberry-blonde curls? Puh-lease, Mom! It’s been blondes three years in a row, and everyone knows that Moloch likes a little variety!” She vowed to herself she’d get knocked up no matter what it took, but Chad just chuckled and pushed her away when she tried to corner him, and to all the other guys she was radioactive after they had been forced to watch Frankie’s agonizing death.
In the end, Lisa was right to worry that she would be Chosen. She was smack in the middle of Moloch’s spotlight when the high school gym ceiling rolled back to reveal the shadowy, towering form of the bloodthirsty god on Prom Night. She screamed and tried to run, but her classmates and teachers formed a solid ring around her, and the god’s enormous claws closed around the waist of her bright pink sequined gown and bore her away, wriggling and straining against the iron grip, to the Castle for her ritual four-month imprisonment.
Lisa the Apostate refused to surrender to her fate, chipping patiently away at the crumbling concrete walls of her cell with her metal food tray. The Castle was a former National Guard armory, built in 1922 when Chatham’s Forge was a part of the United States, and its structural integrity had been compromised forty years later when the Russkies nuked nearby Philadelphia during the War of the Judgment, also known for some inexplicable reason as the Cuber War. Maybe the nuke bombs were shaped like cubes, or something. Lisa had never been one to pay attention in history or any other class; Nice Girls were discouraged from doing so, anyhow. It was just as well—knowing how and why Moloch had really come to power in the shattered post-World War III world would have driven her to despair. As it was, she industriously flushed the dust from her work down the cell’s toilet each day, until the pipes filled with cement and the stench became unbearable. Nevertheless, she persisted, and broke out to the empty neighboring room on Mischief Night, not that she knew the date by the time she freed herself and ran down the stairs in her soiled Prom dress and pumps, a shit-stinking Cinderella.
It can’t be this easy, she thought as she barreled through the front door of the Castle and charged down Boot Hill in the darkness, making a beeline for home. As she ran, the sight of blazing trees in front yards brought home to her how much time had passed while she was imprisoned in the Castle. Mischief Night was an old tradition in Chatham’s Forge. Every year, Army draftees soaked bales of torn-up old copies of Moloch’s Truth, the local newspaper that was sold in town as toilet paper, in a vat of corn oil. Then they fanned out down the deserted streets at dusk, draping them over tree branches in the yards of those the Pastor had designated Enemies of Moloch. (Gasoline would have been preferable as lighter fluid, but since the War the stuff was worth its weight in molten gold.) When the air-raid siren atop the Town Hall went off, the trainee soldiers set the trees alight for the greater glory of Moloch, and his Enemies counted themselves lucky if the flames didn’t spread to their homes.
None of this was Lisa’s concern at the moment. Her parents were strictly orthodox, her little brother Ralph even more so; thus, there was zero chance of their big old oak tree being torched. Cutting across strangers’ backyards, ignoring the barking of the German shepherds their rich neighbors kept as guard dogs, she arrived gasping for breath at her own back door and began pounding on it, yelling for her family to let her in.
A few seconds later Ralph yanked the door open. In the four months Lisa had been gone he had grown at least an inch and his hair had darkened. “Pee-yew, Sis, you stink,” he said, pinching his nose between thumb and forefinger.
Mom’s fretful voice came from behind him. “Who’s making all that racket and breaking curfew? And didn’t I tell you to clean out the drain field for the septic tank?”
“I did, Mom! The smell is Lisa!”
“What are you talking about?” Mom demanded, shoving him aside. “Lisa is—oh, dear Moloch, it is you! What are you doing here?”
Having planned for this moment, Lisa burst into carefully rehearsed tears. “Oh, M-Mommy! It’s so awful! The Pastor himself came to my cell and told me I’m unworthy to be the Virgin Sacrifice! I’ve never been so humiliated in my life!”
Mom’s big dark eyes bulged. “But why? What did you do, young lady?”
“Let me in and I’ll tell you all about it.” Mom shut the door behind her, but immediately started gagging at the stench. “G-go take a bath first! I’ll have to call your father at work to come deal with this! You are going to be GROUNDED for a very long time for messing up Moloch’s Sacrifice, missy!” Lisa ran upstairs, her heart soaring, as Mom called Dad at his night watchman’s job at the Punishment Farm. It’s going to be all right, she thought, as she stepped out of her Prom dress and into the freezing, beautiful spray of their bucket-shower. Instead of hating the sandpaper-like soap that was all they could afford, she luxuriated in it and its faintly sour smell. I actually escaped! All I have to do is lie low for the next three days, the Pastor will grab Chelsea instead, and I’ll be home free!
As she was drying herself off she heard the front door slam, followed by her father’s voice. Daddy sounded angry, but how could that be? She’d always been his favorite. Disgrace to Moloch or no, wasn’t he overjoyed that his only Lee-Lee had returned to him alive?
He was not. She only caught snatches of the snarled conversation he had with Mom, but they were more than enough. “Naïve idiot!” he said, followed by a slap, a loud thump and Mom crying. He hadn’t hit her that hard since she was a freshman! Then his footsteps thundered up the stairs, hard enough to make the floorboards vibrate. Lisa dove for the door, turning the lock in the nick of time. “Open up! Open up, you MONOTHEIST!” Dad roared, rattling the doorknob as he followed up with a string of swear words that were almost as bad. He was throwing all his weight against the door as Lisa slammed the window open and jumped out, still clutching the towel. She wrapped it around herself and ran blindly, her tears streaking out behind her like rain off the windshield of a speeding car, a sight unseen in her world since before she was born. Her adrenaline was running so high she didn’t even notice she’d twisted her left ankle until the pain began to slow her down. As she limped up an unfamiliar street by the light of a burning TP’d tree, she also noticed she’d lost her towel and began to sob. There was no way out. Dad was going to raise the alarm and in minutes, everyone in town would be out hunting for the Lady Godiva of Chatham’s Forge. They’d tie her to a stake and heap damp pine branches beneath her feet, to smolder and roast her alive, slowly. Ariadne Mitchell would design a brand-new torture rack just for her. Moloch Himself would tear her intestines out while she watched…
In the normal course of a person’s life, ruminating over all the terrible things that might happen is worse than useless, it is maladaptive, a cause of anxiety and overall misery. At this moment of peril for Lisa, however, this mental tendency did the job it had evolved to do and spurred her to action. She didn’t want to die, and if she was doomed anyway she wasn’t going to go out on Moloch’s terms. So she limped down the street as fast as she could, heading by instinct toward the darkness at the edge of town.
Everybody knew there was nothing outside town but radioactive woods filled with cannibal Mutants. To protect his people against them, mighty Moloch had erected a big, beautiful Wall that was invisible to the naked eye but would slice you in two if you tried to walk through it unauthorized. Only Army raiding parties were allowed out, to enslave select Muties and drag them back to the Forge. And yet, it was whispered that if you kept your eye on Brandywine Creek, which cut through the center of town, you’d notice that it flowed through the Wall as if the barrier wasn’t there. So if you could hold your breath and duck under the water at just the right spot, and push yourself forward for just the right amount of time, escape was possible. Only someone truly desperate would attempt it, however, because the creek was shallow and narrow at the point upstream where it crossed the Wall, and filled with raw sewage at the downstream end.
Lisa, of course, was truly desperate. So she followed her nose through the chilly night air, frantic to find the stink she’d just washed off. Somewhere she heard the barking of dogs as a posse was assembled to hunt her down, and she jumped as the air-raid siren blasted. There were shouts in the night. She stumbled on, dry-sobbing as she scaled fences, tripped over tree roots and stubbed her toes on unseen rocks. At last, she glimpsed firelight from a burning tree reflected off flowing water somewhere down below, and took off down the slope so fast she almost fell, twice. “Stop right there, infidel!” a man’s voice yelled. There was a loud crack and a bullet whistled past her ear. Lisa jumped off the bank, drawing a deep breath as she plunged toward the sewer outlet, though the smell was so foul she began to choke before she even hit the surface. Never mind. Just… have to… follow the current… but how far, how far? For a Forger, Lisa was a pretty decent swimmer, and she’d taken part in a breath-holding contest once where some Nerd passed out and turned blue. But she’d never tried to swim underwater before, and already her lungs were aching. Just… a little… further… Just… a little more… and I’ll be free, in the woods. She poked her head above the surface a fraction of a second too soon.
Now, if this was a made-up story, you’d expect to hear how Moloch’s magic Wall sliced the pretty girl’s head neatly off her shoulders, spilling her guts into the muck and proving that You Can’t Escape Fate. After all, Lisa was lovely, and terrible things are always happening to comely young women in Gothic tales. Moreover, in seducing poor Frankie Feldstein in hopes that she would be rejected as Virgin Sacrifice and Chelsea Everard would take her place, she was treating other human beings as a Means to an End, in violation of the Golden Rule, Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” philosophy, and numerous other religious and ethical precepts. Thus, the mythical force of justice should have gotten her. However, this occurred in real life, and she surfaced in the free air of the forest with nothing worse than a skinned elbow, although she did nearly die a few days later from the raging infection spawned by introducing raw sewage into an open wound. But a tribe of Freemen, as they preferred to call themselves, had already found her and were nursing her through her delirium, while curly-headed Chelsea died in agony and terror at the hands of Moloch and His Pastor, thus becoming the Virgin Sacrifice of the Class of 1982. For the rest of her life, Lisa would be haunted by nightmares of Frankie and Chelsea.
And that, kids, is the whole story of how come my left elbow looks like I have an enormous burn scar, and also why I scream a lot in my sleep. I hope you’re satisfied.
If you found this story terrifying, nauseating and utterly tasteless, you will certainly not enjoy Martin Berman-Gorvine’s four-book alternate history horror series, Days of Ascension, to which it is a prequel.
Martin Berman-Gorvine is the perpetrator of the four-book Days of Ascension horror novel series, of which Judgment Day is mercifully the last. All Souls Day (2016), Day of Vengeance (2017), and Day of Atonement (2018) were also published by Silver Leaf Books, in an inexplicable lapse of literary judgment and good taste.
Martin is also the author of seven science fiction novels, including the Sidewise Award-winning The Severed Wing (as Martin Gidron) (Livingston Press, 2002); 36 (Livingston Press, 2012); Seven Against Mars (Wildside Press, 2013); Save the Dragons! (Wildside Press, 2013), which was a finalist for the Prometheus Award; Ziona: A Novel of Alternate History (as Marty Armon), an expansion of the short story “Palestina,” published in Interzone magazine, May/June 2006 (Amazon/CreateSpace, 2014); Heroes of Earth (Wildside Press, 2015); and Monsters of Venus (Wildside Press, 2017).
Martin lives in Maryland with his wife and the younger two of his three sons, four cats, and two Muppet-like dogs.
Days of Ascension 1: All Soul’s Day
If a demon and its servants ruled your ordinary town, demanding an annual virgin sacrifice, would you have the courage to stop them? And at what price? This question confronts Amos Ross, Suzie Mitchell, and Vickie Riordan, high school seniors in the new horror novel, All Souls Day.
In an alternate reality of the 1980’s, twenty years after the Cuban Missile Crisis triggered World War III and left the United States a devastated wasteland, the ancient, demonic god Moloch, whose worship was forbidden by the Old Testament, exercises absolute control over the Philadelphia suburb of Chatham’s Forge. The town is an oasis of prosperity that the nuclear war hardly touched, but its comfort comes at a fearful cost: at the high school prom every year, the prettiest and most popular senior girl is chosen by Moloch and his servant, the evil Pastor Justin Bello, to be spirited away to a former National Guard armory known as the Castle, where she is imprisoned alone for five months only to be beheaded and eaten alive by the demon on All Souls Day, the second of November, the anniversary of the war. And this year, 1985, it’s Suzie’s turn…
Days of Ascension 2: Day of Vengeance
What if you escaped being sacrificed to the evil god Moloch and banished him from your town at a terrible price in blood and destruction… only to become prey to gods more powerful and ruthless still?
Teenage friends Suzie Mitchell, Amos Ross, and Vickie Riordan are plunged into this terrifying dilemma in the ruins of their hometown, Chatham’s Forge, in a world devastated by nuclear war. Stumbling through the wreckage, they must confront the physically living but soul-dead remains of their friends and family, the vengeful victims of the old order in the Forge, the ascent of the powerful and seductive goddess Asherah, and worst of all… the deeds they themselves are tempted to commit in their rage and grief.
Days of Ascension 3: Day of Atonement
When human rebels overthrow a god of human sacrifice, only to bring about the rise of a goddess even more cruel and perverse, is there any chance human dignity and freedom can survive?
High school sweethearts Amos and Suzie have been surviving in the woods with their two little children and a small band of the like-minded for seven years, ever since they destroyed the bloodthirsty god Moloch. Their friend Vickie is with them, but she lives under a curse because she fell under the spell of the goddess Asherah, murdered dozens of people in her name, and then turned against her. Can Vickie overcome her overwhelming guilt and the curse that exiles her from human society—and can she and her friends bring Asherah down? And if they do, what new bloodthirsty gods lie in waiting? Find out, in Day of Atonement!
Days of Ascension 4: Judgment Day
Twenty-five years ago, high school friends and lovers Amos, Suzie and Vickie destroyed Moloch, the evil god who reigned over their hometown of Chatham’s Forge, taking the Prom Queen in sacrifice each year. Together they have set up their own alternative society far from the Forge, which is now ruled over by an even more powerful and evil god, Ba’al. God Himself is hiding from this new threat in an abandoned 7-Eleven in Cape May, New Jersey. Can our heroes survive?
Release Day: To Be Announced