If a mother is mourning not for what she has lost but for what her dead child has lost, it is a comfort to believe that the child has not lost the end for which it was created. And it is a comfort to believe that she herself, in losing her chief or only natural happiness, has not lost a greater thing, that she may still hope to ‘glorify God and enjoy him forever.’ A comfort to the God-aimed, eternal spirit within her. But not to her motherhood. The specifically maternal happiness must be written off. Never, in any place or time, will she have her son on her knees, or bathe him, or tell him a story, or plan for his future, or see his grandchild.”
The most successful serial killers are always the boys next door—gentle children of summer, flashing smiles like soft breezes through a park, sharpened knives wrapped in grass-stained Levis. I was akin to these monsters. I was camouflaged and deadly, a viper smiling in the dark.
To be a truly great demon you’ve got to be attractive—no one sensible gets taken in by a goon. I was born with summer-blond hair, a soft evening smile, and the sweetly dark taste of defiance slashed across my lips—a scrawny, scuffed up teddy bear with a voice that could string words like lights across a carnival midway. Believable, that’s what I was: a perfect distraction for the careless mark.
They never saw me coming.
Some of the evil fucks I later ran with were way too ugly to be of any real use. The cops read them like a beacon flashing on a street corner. But not me—the code of the demon, my code, was to fit in, to move from the inside out, to slide into their world, to lodge myself against their love, and then to attack from beneath the skin.
When people refer to demons, they invariably claim we come from the underworld. God, I hate that cliché. It makes us sound like we’re all hanging around in a bondage cavern, trying on leather gear and waiting for tricks. And while I do love the smell of leather and I thoroughly enjoy caves, I tortured people for fun, not profit. The concept of a demon coming from underground is pure shit.
If you want to know where demons truly come from, I’ll tell you: we’re from right here. We exist in a shadow that lies over your world—a kind of transparency of evil that some demented teacher laid out on an overhead projector. We move around you, through you, in you. We are your fathers, your sisters, your lovers. We are your next-door neighbors. We come and go as we please—although it’s a bit harder to leave when we’ve taken residency in a body. The old Hebrews used to call their angels “Those who stand still,” and the name they gave themselves was “Those that walk.” If a demon was ever called anything, it was usually prefaced with a very terrified “Oh my God!”
I I I
I think, before we go any further, I should take a moment to clear things up. This is a memoir, not a biography. If you want facts, I suggest you call the local authorities—they’re loaded with trivial information on my human form. If you’re looking for a discography, or yet another failed rocker’s tale, then grab your laptop and pop my name into your search bar—I’ve left a trail of electronic dust from here to Mars. I’m not going to give you those things or comfort you with what you think is the truth. This story isn’t for you—the voyeur feeding on the destruction of a man. This is a story for those that find themselves too far from home, a traveler’s tale of monsters and bad ends. It’s a story for those that think there’s something golden at the end of the road—when there isn’t.
I I I
I stepped onto your world in the Bay Area of San Francisco in 1961, but I didn’t stay there long. I was quickly shuttled down to Long Beach—a working-class town chock-full of blue-collared laborers, retired navy men, hustlers, homosexuals, and squares.
My human father was in the military so they’d moved often. He was a junior officer with, at the time, three other children—two boys and a girl. Biologically speaking, I was the sport: a spiritual mutation that crawled out of hell into humanity.
From the book An American Demon: A Memoir by Jack Grisham
An hour passed. I sat in the quiet of my office and ordered a bus ticket.
Within two hours I was dragging my suitcase down a street that paralleled Interstate 15. I walked past Palace Station where OJ was caught and thrown in the slammer. I turned east on Sahara Avenue and made my way through the hundred-degree heat over the freeway. The Sahara Hotel loomed in front of me. I’d stayed there for several days when I moved back to Las Vegas. Then I was at John’s house, living in his spare room. Now here I was walking back to the Sahara, pulling my suitcase along a dirty street and looking down at piles of broken glass on industrial rooftops.
That night I sat on the edge of my bed and stared toward the window as darkness flickered with casino lights and hummed with the monorail’s monotone singing.
In the morning I packed my suitcase for the last time. I walked out of my room. No hint of remorse for having quit my job. I simply began my journey as some journeys begin—an invisible string tugged my ass along.
The elevator had a musty odor. The doors opened and I passed the Sports Book and the lobby. The casino was nearly empty. In a few corners sat sleepy drunks. They streamed money into machines. Just a little slower than usual. Rusted automatons.
Outside, an endless sidewalk stretched along a horizon of heat. I started walking and stopped at the corner of Sahara and Las Vegas boulevards. The air was hot. I wore a black backpack that I’d stuffed with my laptop and clothes and dragged a black suitcase that looked like an old pregnant Labrador about to spew a giant litter of cloth puppies. It sagged, but I had a good hold of its flimsy plastic handle.
About that time the transient came.
God said his angels are all around us. They look like people. For all I know street performers are a breed of angels meant to watch us when pretending they’re desperate to be seen. They stuff their big feathery wings into jeans pockets. They tuck ripples of pink-skinned wing muscle, all feathery and silky into raincoats and cloaks, and, though they may be a little below us, carry invisible swords and magical timepieces that compress our paths into mere moments.
Those are the holy jugglers and poet rappers of the Word. The men of sleight of hand flashing jokers, and ministering minstrels with guitar cases open like bloody mouths eating dollars. They are the homeless locust eaters watching us come and go and breathing on us their angels’ breath and God light.
Before the light could change there came the transient talking up a storm. Talking fast. “You’re going somewhere special,” he said. “You’re going somewhere special with bags like those! Hot enough for you? I’m going to see destiny. She’s this way,” he said.
He stepped into the street before the light could change. He looked sun-worn and carried a bag of plastic bottles. His eyes were wild with uncertainty and the cosmic insanity that fills the universe at such moments in the desert. His clothes were urban, old; they fit him like a sloppy dishrag sliced to fit with a dirty butcher’s knife.
My destination was the bus station downtown on Main Street next to the Plaza Hotel. It was the dirtiest place I’d seen in Vegas, with its broken down restroom and shit-coated urinals corralled by strands of yellow tape.
My shoulder was already sore just dragging my life to the corner. Already forgetting about the transient, I stepped into the crosswalk just as the light changed. I crossed Sahara and gazed through car windows at empty morning faces. I looked up at a boarded casino dressed in black awnings. Just past that I saw the Stratosphere Tower. There flew a helicopter, while down on the street a motorcycle with a big moustache riding it roared past. I saw security guards wandering to work. I saw druggies hard up for the question of life to smack them in a fix of morning clarity.
Across the Sahara I made my way down the long snake of Las Vegas Boulevard. I yanked my bag along, which flipped over more than once as I dragged it. I barely missed the toes of bus riders waiting on shaded benches. Hard faces stared into the heat, past me and my bags. Some looked up at the Stratosphere Tower, at its moving amusement park machinery more than a thousand feet above them.
Further along I stopped to rest at an abandoned swimming pool. I snapped a photo and went on my way. My hand and shoulder ached as I walked up and down parking lot driveways and street curbs. Near one casino, the same transient sat on a small cement ledge. If he had angel wings I couldn’t even see a ridge of feathers beneath his shirt. He grinned at me and watched me pass into the heat. I finally took a longer rest by a wedding chapel, only to be passed again by the giggling transient. He rattled his bag of bottles and laughed as if spooking some ghost he saw inside of me.
I didn’t have any water and didn’t want to sit in the bright light. So I continued on the sun-baked sidewalk. I reached Charleston Boulevard and crossed it, heading into the old Huntridge District. I cut along streets, and passed through a transient park where bodies littered benches in multi-colored rags, and carts made their slow way, pushed by dirty hands. One group of transients sat against a wall by a fountain. Even in the heat they wore heaps of clothes. Their innermost layers, I imagined, were fused to cracked and caked lesion-covered wings, and to scabs where needles had burnt pools of coagulated blood onto drug-hot arms.
I dragged my bags slowly through, looking to see if the transient from outside the Sahara had made his way here. I looked to see if he was dancing a jig, or had miraculously transformed old plastic bottles into a puppet show of tales of the Vegas underworld: dancing demon can-can 7-Up mermaids, Coca-Cola devils of casino executives, big boss radio Fanta clowns with explosive-painted faces and forked tongues riding a carousel of Papa Johns pizza boxes and McDonalds fast-food toys—all lit on fire from the burning desert slot machine handles pulling reels of endless flames.
Several streets further, outside a Bank of America, my mouth was parched. I had nothing to drink so I just licked my lips and headed up some steps to where I pulled some of my last cash from an ATM. Heading back toward the street, I saw one of the most lonely of women and so smiled at her, the Queen of the Sin City Transients. I’d seen her many times before as she sat on a bench like it was her throne. Surrounding her were bags of food from trashcans, generous well wishers and back alley refuse piles. She was plump, rosy-cheeked and had the brittle hair of a sunburnt aged maiden of fire. She held a carton of soup and drank deeply as pigeons wandered past her feet. Piles of blankets and a cart sat nearby. I was a sweaty mess as I passed. I looked over but she ignored me, except through the farthest corners of her eyes, as little girls do.
I looked back, half expecting my transient friend to be there bowing at her feet and rattling his bag of bottles. I imagined a cloud of fire springing up at her feet, orange reflecting in her once shadowy black eyes, and her waving a wand, casting demons into the desert and demands to be carried out at midnight by fallen angels.
The bus station was close. I scooted on a sidestreet to Fitzgerald’s Casino, where years before I watched green-haired old ladies laugh and spin penny slots. Now the penny machines were even more gimmick-plagued. Their seats were filled with anxiety-ridden souls. It was a New World casino order, where penny slots tricked old ladies out of hundreds of dollars rather than the mere ten bucks they were used to losing. Those days of free martinis and enough cash left over to get a new green wig had gone.
Now I walked among a new generation of forlorn faces. With them I finally sat dehydrated and thankful. I ate at a McDonalds with a blank stare before eventually making my way to find brief refuge in the Plaza Hotel. There, I sat on a bench and changed my shoes and socks and prepared myself for the bus ride to California.
When I was a teenager, I believed I had a special gift. I imagined I could sense the forces of good and evil.
For me, unseen spirits were everywhere: behind the sofa, hiding in corners, perching in rafters, standing at the foot of my bed. Some were good, some were evil. I could feel them watching me. When they went past me, they made my skin ripple into defense mode, shooting my hairs into attention as if they were spiny quills that could function as armor. One of Fear’s cruelest jokes.
Anyhow, angels and demons filled my adolescence, thanks in large part to my radical Youth Group. Based on ancient biblical text, a full one-third of the angels were thrown to this planet from the spiritual dimension after a little disagreement between Lucifer and God. Not knowing the starting number of angels makes it a little tricky to estimate at what count this puts the planetary-based demonic forces, but I imagine they’ve got a fairly hefty camp down here. In the church of my youth, for example, we were well aware of demonic influence in our daily lives. Temptation could occur – and did – nearly every minute of the day.
Wish you had her car * think about sex * don’t be the first to say you’re sorry * you are better than her * wish you had her boyfriend * tell your boss you’re working * watch PG-13 * think about sex with your boss * buy a lotto ticket * (sex) * speed * tell the officer you weren’t * say damn * think about sex with the officer * tell her she doesn’t look fat.
I’m telling you, every damn minute.
If my feelings back then were any indication of reality, of course, that would mean that each person has a demon around them pretty much constantly. Perhaps they are extraordinarily zippy and go from person to person at a rapid rate, but if what we as a congregation felt was any gauge, it stands to reason that each person must have at least one demon next to them at all times. Taking into account that demons probably enjoy other activities from time to time (coffee breaks, bone fire dancing, volleyball, etc.), then it is also reasonable to assume that they rotate around a bit.
For the sake of factoring in a life for the demon, let’s just say that the demon spends on average 50% of his or her existence on matters of human temptation. At nearly 7 billion people on this planet, it is reasonable to assume 2 demons per person for full coverage, making the total demonic headcount somewhere around 14 billion. This does not, of course, factor in any Hell-bound demons—which may or may not be counted in the one-third evicted from Heaven’s gates after aforementioned power struggle—nor does it factor in the exclusion (or inclusion, for that matter) of any sort of union type benefits.
So, at 14 billion demons, the one thing I could count on was that there were 28 billion angels. Which brings to light an obvious problem: The Bible never said how many of those angels resided on planet earth.
Think about it, God threw 14 billion (or thereabouts) demons to the earth, but how many angels do you see in the Bible? There’s the chorus that sings when Jesus is born. There’s the one who wrestles with Jacob. A couple show up in the town of Sodom once and nearly get gang raped. One delivers some sort of news to Mary once. Aside from a few other mentions, that’s about it.
So, what was I supposed to believe? Sure, there could be two angels for every demon here on earth, but there is certainly no guarantee of this. Do half reside down here to match the demonic forces while the other half live heaven-side where they can attend regular choir practice and be on hand for spontaneous profound trumpet blowing? Do some of them simply have summer homes here, but their main residence is up on high?
To make things even more problematic as a teenager, I knew that if I wanted the help of an angel, I had to ask for it. And I don’t mean a general “protect me today” type prayer, oh no. It had to be specific. Please go with me today to the corner of 15th and Pearl and protect me from anybody who may wish harm on me or my wallet and who also happens to be wearing leather chaps and a ballet tutu.
Consequently, I had angels and demons on my mind a lot. I was in tune with them. I felt them. Being from a church born in the Holiness Movement and a close cousin to the Assembly of God, I was pretty sure I knew that angels were all protestant Holy Rollers. When my parents took me to the Notre Dame Cathedral in France, my skin got all jittery when I was surrounded by Catholic demons. Later, at the Hill of Cumorah in upstate New York, an educational pilgrimage to see what the Mormons were up to, I felt the dark cloud of oppression weighing upon me. On the trip to Manitou Springs, CO, passing by a porto-fountain outside a New Age bookshop with Yanni playing over the loudspeakers, my very soul nearly shuddered to ash.
I began to educate myself. I read books like Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness in which angels and demons battled over control of the Illuminati’s lair, an unlikely small town in the middle of the US of A. I watched television shows like Michael Landon’s Highway to Heaven and Touched By an Angel. I learned that angels don’t always have wings, sometimes wore lipstick and even occasionally fall in love.
But even so, with all of my knowledge and premonitions, I wanted a sign that what I was feeling was, in fact, real. I spent hours on my knees by my bed at night begging God for just a peek.
Please God, I’m going to open my eyes now. And when I do, please let me see an angel. It doesn’t have to be a long look because I think I might wet myself, but I really need to know that you’ve got me covered here. Ready…go.
And nothing ever happened.
OK, God. If you won’t show me an angel, then give me some other sign. I don’t know, maybe a quick look at my dead grandmother or something. No wait, that sounds freaky. How about just a flicker. A flicker of an angel in my room and I’ll leave you alone on this topic for the rest of my life. Deal? Ok, ready….
All of my questioning and a lifetime of doubts has been put to rest by this one glimpse into the spiritual realm.
Without further ado, I present to you:
Jesus on my pumpkin.
I have received my sign.
(And just to clarify, his face is in the upper left corner – in profile. It is NOT the weird tramp looking guy in center under the hat.)
So why now? Why when my faith has dipped to an all-time low and I’m nothing but a starving writer has Jesus decided to appear to me on a gourd? I don’t know. But I suspect that the question has something to do with the answer.
For more information, please watch this informative video of me and my pumpkin.
…and when you’re done with that, please go to eBay and bless a starving writer.
The first time Cole ever heard of rapture children was at the orphanage, where there were three: a boy and two girls. Rapture children had been around before, but since the pandemic there were lots more of them. Rapture children were children who’d been sent by God to be lights in the coming dark. They would be among the first of the living to be caught up to Jesus’ side (right after the holy dead). God had endowed them with special spiritual powers so that they could lead others in the countdown to the Final Battle. Though Pastor Wyatt says there is nothing in the Bible to justify this, his wife Tracy is among those who believe it.
After her mother’s death, Evangeline and her father had moved to the United States from France, renting a narrow railroad apartment in Brooklyn. Some weekends they would take the train to Manhattan for the day, arriving early in the morning. Pushing through turnstiles, they followed the crowded tunnel walkways and emerged into the bright street aboveground. Once in the city, they never took taxis or the subway. Instead they walked. For blocks and blocks across the avenues they went, Evangeline’s eyes falling upon chewing gum wedged in the cracks of the sidewalk, briefcases and shopping bags and the endlessly shifting movement of people rushing to lunch dates, meetings, and appointments—the frantic existence so different from the quiet life she and her father shared.
There are many weird success stories in America, but Trans-Siberian Orchestra has to be one of the weirdest.
Trans-Siberian Orchestra has released five albums in the last thirteen years—three of which comprise the band’s Christmas trilogy: Christmas Eve and Other Stories (1996), The Christmas Attic (1998), and The Lost Christmas Eve (2004). Each has earned platinum status. The band’s latest release, 2009’s Night Castle (albeit, not a Christmas concept album) peaked at number 5 on the Billboard 200 chart. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra has become so popular there are two touring factions in America, covering each of the coasts: TSO East and TSO West.