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Plumage from Pegasus
THE ENTIRE literary world was in shock. Not since James Frey returned all his royalties on A Million Little Pieces had the expectations and fundamental assumptions of millions of readers, bookstore owners, publishers, agents, editors, librarians, journalists, and publicists been so drastically undermined.
Father Anders M. McGreavey had announced his apostasy.
The famous fiction-slinging priest, responsible for more than fifty works of highly moralistic tale-telling, had abandoned his calling. Defrocking himself and also stepping down from his academic positions, Father McGreavey had left behind his sober, sensible home in Chicago and relocated to temporary lodgings—at least all his confused followers prayed they were temporary lodgings—in the historically sleazy Chelsea Hotel in New York City.
Since his unheralded, hasty, and shocking departure, ex-Father McGreavey had remained incommunicado, his future course of action unknown. He had resisted all attempts by the media to interview him, despite offers of hundreds of thousands of dollars from various tabloids.
But he had agreed to speak with me, off the record.
My current job as a senior writer for Publishers Weekly did not earn me this unique access, although it was understood that once ex-Father McGreavey was ready to release his full story, my magazine would be the one to break it. Rather, a personal connection had fostered the private interview.
Forty years ago, I had been an altar boy in ex-Father McGreavey's parish. We had maintained our friendship ever since. And my staunch Catholicism had never waned, aligning ex-Father McGreavey and me on the same spiritual plane.
Or so I had assumed, until his mind-boggling desertion of the Church.
Now, as I tentatively crossed the seedy lobby of the Chelsea, heading for the stairs to ex-Father McGreavey's third-floor room (I had decided to bypass the urinous elevator), I frantically ransacked my mind for any plausible explanation for the novelist's actions. I knew for a fact that no woman was involved—the presence of any such romantic liason would have been impossible to hide—and no other sensible motivation presented itself.
Trudging up the stairs, I tried to imagine the condition in which I would find my old friend: elated, despairing, numb, confused…?
Nothing prepared me, however, for what I encountered.
The door to room 333 swung open to my knock, and there stood ex-Father Anders M. McGreavey.
He was dressed as a Goth: black pants, black shirt, black-painted fingernails, black trench coat, clunky Doc Martens. His eyes sported mascara, his lips black gloss. Macabre silver jewelry festooned his person.
In short, he resembled the publicity pictures of Pat Boone circulating when that quintessential white-bread pop star issued his heavy-metal album.
But ex-Father McGreavy was genuinely angry. Pissed off, in fact. Not so much at me, I suspected, as at the mysterious agent of his change.
"Rory O'Brien! You're late, damn it!"
"I—I'm sorry, Father. The traffic—"
"Don't call me that anymore! Now, get in here!"
I sidled in nervously. The room was a shambles. Teetering piles of CDs and books occupied most flat surfaces. And they were the most unlikely candidates for ex-Father McGreavey's recreational reading and listening I could have conjectured: Black Sabbath, GWAR, Nine Inch Nails, Insane Clown Posse; Aleister Crowley, Laurell K. Hamilton, Clive Barker.
Additionally, the room held enough liquor to outfit a small tavern (although all the bottles were unopened), cartons of cigarettes, a hookah, some bondage gear, and numerous vials of prescription drugs.
I hardly knew where to begin. "Fath—I mean, um, Anders. Is all this really yours?"
Ex-Father McGreavey looked disdainfully around at the sordid accoutrements of his new lifestyle. "Oh, it's mine, all right. Purchased it all myself. But you needn't imagine I've sampled any of it. I'm supposed to, according to my instructions. But I just can't bring myself to. Not yet, anyhow."
"Instructions? From whom?"
Casting a jaundiced eye upward, ex-Father McGreavey jerked a thumb ceilingward. "Him. His Nibs."
"God? You've gotten instructions from God to outfit yourself like this?"
The ex-priest removed a marital aid from a chair and dropped down wearily into the seat. I did likewise.
"Exactly. He's been behind the whole thing from the start."
"God Himself told you to quit the priesthood, abandon your old life, and take up this new existence?"
"Yes. Despite all my protests—and you know how I can argue theology! The Lord and I went back and forth over this for months. But at last I was persuaded to do as He asked. Kicking every step of the way, but complying nonetheless."
I was silent for a long time, disbelief obviously manifest on my face, until ex-Father McGreavey exploded at me.
"Look at me, Rory! Dressed like Rasputin and living in this den of sin! You've known me for four decades! Do you really believe that I would act like this on my own impulses? Wouldn't it take divine marching orders to get me to do something like this?"
I had to admit the logic of this. "But—but why? Even assuming that God directed you to behave in this fashion, what possible reason could He have?"
A deep sigh escaped the ex-priest. "It's all connected with my writing."
"But certainly none of your books could have offended God enough to merit this punishment."
"Oh, no, this isn't punishment for my writing. Rather, it's a kind of perverse testament to the magnitude of my literary role. You see, it all begins with that damnable Anne Rice—"
"What possible connection could a tawdry pulp novelist of vampire novels have with you and your work?"
"Now, now, Rory, no need to diminish Anne Rice's literary efforts. Admittedly, her books were not to your taste nor mine. But she was a definite craftswoman with a devoted audience. A figure of some power in the mortal sphere. In fact, her position was rather analogous to my own."
I began to get a faint glimmering of the answer behind this whole affair, although at first I could hardly credit it.
"Are you saying, Anders, that since Anne Rice's books glorified darkness and debauchery at the same time that your books magnifed holiness and light—"
The tarted-up familiar face of my friend exhibited impatience with my circumlocutions. "Yes, yes, let's cut to the chase, shall we? While I was working for God, Anne Rice was laboring for the Devil."
Epiphany overtook me. "But she's not working for the Devil any longer. She's renounced her old ways, written that book about Jesus—"
Ex-Father McGreavey shot to his feet. "Precisely! She's jumped Old Scratch's ship! She's switched teams! Apparently there's now some sort of cosmic imbalance. And I've been nominated to set it right!"
"The Lord—the Lord has traded you to Satan?"
Ex-Father McGreavey slumped. "Yes. I understand the same thing happened when C. S. Lewis converted from atheism in 1929. Henry Miller had to abandon his comparatively circumspect youth and move to Paris in that same year, embarking on his famous course of degeneracy."
"But—but this is outrageous!"
"I agree! It's worse than the Cubs dumping Sammy Sosa! In order to fulfill some ancient pact between the Lord and his unholy adversary, I'm expected now to live an utterly dissolute existence and compose books in what is laughably called the 'horror' genre. As if any fictional horror I could conjure up would match the actual misery of my own plight! But what can I do? I've always been obedient to God. I can't stop following His commandments now, even though it looks to the world as if that's precisely what I'm doing! No, I've got to go along with this charade. At least until the balance swings the other way. I imagine if Tim LaHaye took up Satanism, I might be allowed to resume my old life—But no, there's no hope for me! I'm stuck in this new role. The black sheep of God."
I rose from my chair and patted my old friend reassuringly on the shoulder. "At least you'll have the satisfaction of knowing you're helping restore the celestial balance of the universe. And to be frank about your change, surely there must be some, ah, worldly benefits to your new status."
Ex-Father McGreavey looked down at his outfit and grimaced. "Certainly the laundry bills are much less than for all those white robes.…"
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