Acts of the Saints
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by K. A. Schuster
Description: Books burned, adulterers stoned, gays attacked, government leaders and institutions controlled by a religious hierarchy, visions of a worldwide holy war--is it happening in the Middle East?or in the United States? Paragenesis is a coalition formed by ultraconservative religious leaders and their devout followers. A man known only as the Summoner, never seen in public, is its leader. As this juggernaut gains momentum, cherished rights and freedoms are swept aside, and the United States becomes a theocracy as fierce and unforgiving as any within the Islamic world. Two ordinary citizens--Catherine, a divorced woman, and Theodore, her alcohol-dependent former parish priest--set out to find the coalition's secret nerve-center, the Citadel, gathering whatever information they can by traveling the "Devil's Railroad" from one resistance group to another. In St. Louis they meet Martin Sovalle, a bisexual man of startling beauty with whom Catherine falls in love and who disappears following a vicious vigilante attack. Unbeknownst to Catherine and Theo, the Summoner has in fact been luring them to his headquarters for the purpose of playing out an End Time drama he believes God has relayed to him in a series of visions. And Martin Sovalle has become his bait. What happens once the lives of these four people collide at the Citadel is something none of them--except perhaps the unlikely mystic, Theo--could have foreseen? Contains controversial material, graphic language, and moderate violence.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2006
eBookwise Release Date: December 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [443 KB]
Reading time: 254-356 min.
The picture faintly presaged death: a slouching man caught in mid-stride beneath a poplar, his eyes eerily supernal above the stark cheekbones and upturned coat collar, his shadow thrust before him like a tarnished razor; in the background, an expanse of blankness--a wall, perhaps.
He seemed to be looking straight into the camera.
Catherine's ribcage contracted as she studied the figure. "So this is him," she said with a bit too much awe. She sensed Theo glance over her shoulder as he passed behind her.
"We don't know," answered their host, Donald. "Not for certain."
Catherine couldn't seem to look up from the photograph. "You said your source was reliable," she murmured.
"He is. But when it comes to the Summoner...."
Lifting her eyes, Catherine saw Donald shrug helplessly. He had a spiky haircut and shrewd, deliberate gaze. He was leaning against the window, his butt on the sill, his arms and legs crossed in what Catherine read as a symbolic gesture of prohibition. A corner of her mouth hooked into an ironic, private smile. She was the only woman in a house with eight men, but seven were gay--or so she'd been led to believe--and one was a priest.
Catherine smelled Theo's approach before he dipped over her shoulder and gently wrested the photograph from her fingers. He was the priest, her traveling companion on the Devil's Railroad. The web of his scent--the lingering traces of frankincense, certainly more imagined than real, that seemed to overlay his skin and mingle with the dross of perspiration and contraband alcohol--was more familiar to her than her own husband's. But, then, her husband had walked out ages ago....
Theo moved off and resumed his pacing. Catherine turned from the fire to face the eight other people in the room, their expressions variously grim or weary or almost pathetically optimistic.
"So you don't know when or by whom this was taken?" Theo asked, his voice, as always, like white cotton. His face was unreadable.
"'Fraid not," Donald answered. "But it's all we can give you"--he flashed an unpleasant smile--"aside from local news."
Another man in the group snorted contemptuously. It was Jack, he of the smeary eyeglasses and displaced hip. "There is no such fucking thing as 'local news' anymore," he sneered. "There's what we're fed by the media, which is the same all over the country, and there's what actually happens on the streets, which is the same all over the country."
"Your hip.... "Catherine realized too late there was no delicate way of broaching the subject. "Did they do that?"
The other men in the room either looked at Jack or looked at the floor. Theo had stopped pacing. His forefinger tapped the edge of the picture. Catherine couldn't tell where his eyes were directed.
"It's the same all over the country," Jack repeated in a monotone. "And it's not news."
Those who'd been watching him looked away.
Theo continued, thoughtfully, to caress the edge of the photo. "One more reason to find this man," he said.
"If he actually exists," Donald added.
"Oh, he exists."
Catherine's eyes sprang to Theo's face. It was the first time she'd heard his guarded speculations coalesce into certitude. When and how did he come to believe ... ?
She rose and walked to the window to get away from the heat of the fireplace. The suburban St. Louis street was placid beneath its shroud of moonlight, but, above Catherine's shoulder, spirit flames danced on the pane. She thought of other fires.
One book--a Bradbury title, perhaps--lifted with gleeful distaste from some attic cache in an Illinois farmhouse and dropped with a flaring match into a pail, or one thousand offending volumes hauled from a Georgia library; the Satan-inspired CD collection of a Massachusetts teenager who'd "gone over"; or, as Catherine and Theo had seen in Nevada, a Planned Parenthood clinic, reduced amid the reek of gasoline and the sound of jeering voices to a flaming skull...
Grasping the window frame, Catherine pressed her forehead to the cool glass and closed her eyes.
...Or the disinterred bodies of AIDS victims, crumbling to ash on a purifying pyre in Golden Gate Park.
Fire. It had its own logic in these times.