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The Holidays are Here?!?

I’m facing major surgery on December 4th. That’s just three days short of the anniversary of the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Whenever this time of year approaches, I jump into full Christmas mode beginning on November 1. But, this year will be different. Christmas celebration for us will be dialed back a bit.

So, I have already put up our “Homecoming Tree”. It is not yet decorated and sits in our living room waiting for its mantle of shiny decorations. This year, Sherry has decided to dig out all of our vintage Precious Moments decorations. Some of these date back 40 years! Decorating the tree will be quite nostalgic!

I guess it is fitting that this is the year I release my novelization of “The Homecoming Tree”, a play I wrote and directed at Brookwood Baptist Church in 2005. In looking back through my photographs of that play, I found one of my father. Sean, my son, took those photos on black and white film and when we developed them, yes, developed them — not digital, the developing process left artifacts on the photographs. These artifacts resembled what you would see on a genuine old film. Here is the photograph of my father as he is looking up at the set for the play.

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A Thanksgiving Gift for my Readers!

I am so grateful for all of you who follow my blog and read my book series. On this Thanksgiving Day I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ for my very life, my very existence, my redemption, and for my purpose. I hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you live in the Shreveport area, don’t forget to come by Friday night, December 6th for my book signing and launch of “The 11th Demon: The Ark of Chaos”. All four of my books will be available and they would make GREAT Christmas gifts!

And as a treat for any of my readers anticipating the next book, here is the FIRST CHAPTER of “The 11th Demon”:

Grimvox reference USNA-FCaskey111563

The Priest

November 1963 Dallas, Texas

“Shall I kill the human?”
I wearily lifted my head at the sound of the demon’s voice. His host body wore a brown

Nehru jacket, and a silver chain hung around his neck. On the chain, a red jewel glistened in the weak light. The demon’s features were dark beneath a shock of black hair. His eyes were disturbing: totally white with no pupils.

“We need him.” The pale man standing next to the demon stared at me with his red eyes. His face was ageless beneath his bare scalp and marred only by a star-shaped scar on his cheek. He wore a long black overcoat and black pants. A stray ray of muted sunlight came through the shrouded windows of the abandoned asylum. In that meager light, his chest glowed in the darkness. He moved across the debris-strewn floor to crouch before me. “His will has been gutted. The fight has gone out of him. Isn’t that right, Father?”

“Then why do we keep him alive?” The demon crossed his arms over his chest.

The pale man nodded and licked his large teeth with a very red tongue. “He is our only connection with the girl.”

So that was why they wanted me. They were using me to get to Mary!

“Don’t look away from me, Father,” the man said. “Unlike most of your kind, the touch of your flesh does not harm me.” He pressed his cool fingertips against my cheek and turned my

face around so all I could see were his hideous red eyes. His breath smelled of fire smoke and vinegar. “For you see, Father, you are a failure. You think you serve your master, but your love for the girl’s mother has undone your commitment.”

I jerked away from his touch and struggled against the ropes holding me to the chair. “If you hurt her, I will kill you!”

The demon laughed, his voice echoing up into the empty rafters of the hospital ward. “You cannot kill Lucas, human. Now, Lucas, where is the girl? I need her.”

I glanced at the demon and his empty white eyes. “Please don’t harm her.”

“Please don’t harm her.” He mocked me and shook his head. “I have plans for her, human. Why would I want to harm her?” He removed the necklace from his neck and held it up to the ray of light. As it moved, the jewel changed from pale green to vivid red. “Do you see this jewel? Watch how it changes color with a shift in your perspective. It is the Metastone, human. I plan to give this to the girl’s mother as a gift. It will not harm either of them. In fact, it will transform them!” He sighed and placed the jewel back around his neck. “Why am I even trying to explain these matters to a mortal? Lucas, take me to the girl, and then we will no longer need this human.”

“Perhaps we do not need to kill him yet.” Lucas squatted before me and tilted his head to the side as those crimson eyes regarded me. “I am wondering, Father, why you have not tried to exorcise my friend’s demon? Hmm?” He tilted his head the other way and blinked slowly like some great white reptile. “Why haven’t you just spoken the Words? I know why, Father. You have lost your connection with the Power, haven’t you? It is because of your love for this woman—what is her name? Millie?”

“Molly,” I whispered. Nausea overtook me and I retched. Lucas was right. I was empty, impotent. I could no longer see my Lord; only the girl and Molly’s hauntingly beautiful face.

“You see, Father, it is not the eleventh demon who has harmed the girl.” He reached out, grabbed my collar, and tore it from my neck. “It is you.” He grasped the top of my shirt and ripped it from my body. I shivered in the cold air as Lucas gestured to the demon. “For you have forsaken the only Power that would allow you to defeat this demon and to save them. In betraying your master, you have unwittingly betrayed your love.” He unbuttoned his coat and it fell open to reveal his bare chest. “You are lost, Father. But, there is one way you can save the mother and the girl: Swear allegiance to the eleventh demon. Once you do, this mark,”— he brushed his coat aside and a hideous tattoo of a beast stirred to life on his flesh—“will be yours. It will live right here.” His cold fingers caressed the skin at the base of my neck and I flinched.

Lucas’s chest was covered with tattoos. A scorpion squirmed across his collarbone. The head of a wolf howled over his breastbone. But, these were no ordinary tattoos. They lived! Arcane creatures moved and struggled on his white flesh. This new tattoo was one I instantly recognized. I had seen it in the ancient book—I wish I had never opened it! The creature was a chimera, a beast with the head of a lion, a snake for a tail, and, coming out of its back, the head of a goat.

“If I swear allegiance to the eleventh demon, will the lasses be safe?” I closed my eyes and saw Molly standing at the church altar with the girl’s hand in hers. God forgive me!

“I do not need the allegiance of this creature, Lucas!” the demon said, moving across the trash-covered floor without stirring any of the debris. He floated above it all and came to rest behind Lucas. “My patience is wearing thin. The timing of my plan is critical.”

Lucas stood up and raised an eyebrow. “Your plan?” he asked the demon as he studied my face.

“This is the year the Council begins its grand plan to rain chaos down upon this ‘one nation under God.’ Unfortunately, at times, the Dark Council is thwarted by the Other. To deal with such a possibility, I have developed contingency plans of my own to complement those of the Council. And for those plans, I will need the girl.”

Lucas tensed and his gaze shifted to the demon. “Contingency plans? You play a dangerous game. The Council’s plans have been long in the making.”

The eleventh demon shrugged. “You know very well that each member of the Council develops his own backup plans! We are far from united in our efforts.” He examined his fingernails. “Your faith in the Council is well known, Lucas. Since you are such a toady for the Council, go tattle on me if it pleases you.”

“Toady?” Lucas frowned. “I do not serve the Council of Darkness, Chimera. I serve the Master. Would you like to tell the Master that you think his right hand man is a ‘toady’?”

The demon stiffened. “Listen, underling, you will not speak to me that way! I know what you are and you are not one of the Fallen. You may be the right hand of the Master, but I am far superior to you. The Master trusts me, Lucas. Take me to the girl. Now!” His voice grew in volume and for a second, I saw the beast that possessed the human rear its ugly head. It was like a specter surrounding the man.

Lucas smiled, his impossibly white teeth gleaming in the darkness. “If what you say is true, then you will not mind if I consult the Master.” Lucas held out his hand. A swirl of red smoke billowed from his palm like a small tornado and then a pleasant, handsome face appeared in the smoke. Was this Lucifer? He was more fair than foul.

“Chimera, you try my patience,” he said from the smoke. His eyebrows arched and his face twisted in anger. “If you insist on continuing with your ‘contingency plan,’ then I want your talisman.”

The demon stepped back. “No!”
“Lucas, take care of this!” Lucifer bellowed. He disappeared as Lucas closed his palm. Lucas gazed at his empty hand and slowly clenched it into a tight fist. “The master is well

aware of the lack of cohesion in the Council, Chimera. He wants me to have leverage. So I am gathering the talismans of the members of the Dark Council. If you wish to fulfill your plan, you will give me the talisman.” He glared at the demon with his crimson eyes. “Or shall I summon the Master to speak to you in person?”

The eleventh demon’s face paled. “I will not allow this human to see my talisman.”

Talisman? Clearly, it wasn’t the Metastone they were talking about; I could see the jewel glittering on the demon’s chest. “What is a talisman?”

Lucas glanced at me. “I tore yours away, Father.” He retrieved my stained collar and held it up with two long, delicate fingers. “This once meant everything to you, didn’t it? Now, it means nothing. So easily discarded at the touch of a woman’s hand.” Lucas dropped my collar on the floor and stepped on it. “The eleventh demon’s talisman is not the jewel that hangs about his neck. That is merely a tool, Father. No, his talisman is as important and defining as your collar was to you. And, he does not want you to see it.” Lucas rubbed his hands together. “I think that can be arranged.”

The demon nodded and reached into his pocket. Something long and golden flashed in his palm. I tried to focus on it, but it was blurred, indistinct, otherworldly. “What is that?”

The demon floated toward me and the odors of fire and soot surrounded us. He knelt before me, the golden talisman flickering in the periphery of my vision. He put his left hand, hot and sweaty, on my forehead. I tried to pull away from those hideous empty eyes. Lucas moved behind me and held my head in his cold hands.

“I will let you keep one eye so that you may see the fate that awaits those who follow in my footsteps. For the eleventh demon demands total commitment, Father! Will you renounce your allegiance and find love with the mother of this girl? If so, you will be mine, and your death may be avoided.”

I was frozen with fear, paralyzed by their inhuman power. The thin gold needle appeared at the edge of my vision. It plunged into my right eye, and then there was pain beyond imagining. 

Entertaining Angels Unaware

Stuffing belongs in cushy chairs, not in turkeys. I grew up eating cornbread dressing and the only thing stuffed in a turkey was those weird turkey parts my mother chopped up and put in her giblet gravy. To this day, I crave cornbread dressing at Thanksgiving. My wife is in the other room right now cooking up her spicy sausage based cornbread dressing and I plan on “stuffing” my face with it Thursday!

My love of cornbread dressing goes way back to my mother’s cooking. Each Thanksgiving, my family would travel to central Louisiana to a small town called Saline. There, my grandparents lived in a huge, hulking house that belonged on Universal’s backlot tour right beside the house from Psycho. It ached with age; sagging steps; pebbled paint so layered it looked like the gray skin of a huge dragon. The floors were so caked with sand and dirt, you could sweep for days and never get all of the grit out of the house.

But, no matter how forbidding the house seemed any other day of the year, for Thanksgiving it burst with life and laughter and food. My mother’s family was huge and my mother and her sister had married two brothers so the Hennigans and Caskeys celebrated their family reunion together each year. Three tables worth of food would fill the dining room beneath a swaying bare bulb on a long black wire like a vine growing through the far ceiling. And, we would gather around my grandparents and pray and thank God for another year and eat all afternoon.

My grandfather had been a deputy sheriff during the Great Depression and had been on the posse that hunted down Bonnie and Clyde. He would tell his stories each year of how each man who was on the actual posse that shot the criminals all ended up dead from alcohol or suicide. Grandmother would sit beside him behind her thick glasses and her easy smile and hair like wild cotton and nod. She was warmth and comfort personified; a short, full woman with a just right hug and a dry kiss.

There is a memory that transcends all of the food and the fragrance of yeast rolls and the pebbly taste of cornbread dressing. It never failed, amidst the babble and clanging silverware and laughter, there would be a knock at the back door. My grandmother would painfully rise up from her chair and go out to the screened in back porch. There, she would find a couple of men, maybe an older child wishing her a Happy Thanksgiving. These individuals were well known to the folks of Saline. Today, we would call them homeless. Back then, we called them helpless. And, it was the duty of any God fearing Christian to help the helpless.

This was a message I carried away from my grandmother. She passed away when I was thirteen and my memories of her were mostly centered on the kitchen and her biscuits and the great, unwieldy old fashioned washing machine with the wringer she used to wash clothes. She was a quiet woman with a deep abiding faith and a slight smile. But, when the helpless would come to the house at Thanksgiving, she did not pity them. She did not send them away empty handed.

During the Great Depression when my grandfather was a deputy sheriff, their family, as destitute as it was, still had much compared to most occupants of the failing farms and drought stricken world around them. My mother would tell me stories of these men, “hobos” and “bums” without work who would pause at my grandmother’s back door and ask for a morsel of food. My grandmother would always have something to give these men. Even with eight mouths to feed, she kept something aside. And, when they came by, she would give them food with a glad heart and helping of blessings. Why?

My mother told me many times how my grandmother would looked at her hungry children and explain that these men, these “helpless” in need might be angels in disguise. God might have sent them to test her hospitality; to plumb the depths of her heart to see if she did indeed love the unlovable as Christ had loved us all. My mother, long after Granmother passed away would nod and smile and quote this Bible verse:

 

 

Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2

My mother has passed on now. My father is 97 and lives in a nursing home where he regularly “ministers” to the residents around him who are in “worse shape” than he by singing old hymns in a loud and sonorous voice. He is entertaining “angels unaware”.

I cannot say that I have ever met an angel. At least, not an angel that did not fall from heaven. I have met a demon and I can clearly recall moments in my life when I have been in the presence of great evil. But, I have been around many individuals throughout my life filled with love and laughter and life. They have encouraged me. They have shared my stories, my pain, and my life. I often wonder when I meet someone on a trip or on a foreign soil with whom I seem to have an instant connection if God has sent an “angel unaware” to test me; to plumb the depths of my heart. When I was in medical school a psychiatry professor taught us not to take our frustrations home but to “dump on a stranger” and take out our frustrations on someone we will never meet again. I raised my hand in class that day and told him I could never do that. He wanted to know why and, I am ashamed to admit, I did not tell him.

You see, I can never meet a stranger. I can never meet someone and think poorly of them. For some reason, each person I meet seems to be someone special and unique; a treasure to be discovered; a story to be heard. I owe that to my mother and her mother before her. I am always looking around me for an angelic visit. They taught me well. They taught me the worth of each individual in the eyes of our Creator. “You may be better off than anyone, but you are no better than anyone.” That is something my mother taught me and I will go to my grave with it. I will not become cynical. I will not become bitter as I age.

I will look at each person fresh and openly knowing that one day, I will entertain an angel unaware. And, for that I am most thankful this Thanksgiving Day.

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