It occurred to me since launching my Kickstarter for Mercury Revolts that I haven’t actually posted any excerpts from the book. It also occurred to me that I haven’t updated this blog since November. So, in a stunning example of synchronicity, here’s the first chapter of Mercury Revolts. If you want to read more, make a pledge to the Kickstarter and you can get your copy before everybody else!
Milhaus, Texas; August, 2016
The summoning wasn’t going well.
Josh, who had been elected High Priest by dint of his encyclopedic knowledge of Demonology for Imbeciles, had accidentally drawn a hexagram instead of a pentagram, at which point the ceremony had devolved into an extended argument about whether a hexagram was an acceptable demonic gateway.
“What is your concern, exactly?” demanded Josh. “That the demon is going to be confused? Or offended, maybe? That he’s going to show up and say, ‘Whoa, hang on, that’s a hexagram, I’m out.’”
“Don’t be a douche, Josh,” replied Brayden, an Unholy Acolyte. They were all Unholy Acolytes except Josh. “The book says the ceremony has to be conducted perfectly, or there’s no telling what might happen.” Brayden was the newest member of the group, and he was still a bit skittish about the idea of summoning a demon. He had suggested they start smaller and work their way up to a demon. “Maybe do a marmoset first,” he had said, hopefully. “Or a ferret.”
But the other Unholy Acolytes had overruled him. They didn’t share Brayden’s love of exotic furry animals, and in any case Josh was fairly certain that marmosets were mythical creatures.
All told, there were four members of the First Satanic Church of Milhaus, Texas: Josh, Brayden, Clay and Kaylee. The four of them had met in Mrs. Statham’s remedial Spanish class at Smith & Wesson Public High School and had bonded over a shared hatred of irregular verbs and Mrs. Statham’s in-class proselytizing, which was of dubious legality even by Texas standards. “Repeat after me,” she would say. “Vamos a la iglesia a orar por nuestros pecados.” Let’s all go to church to pray for our sins.
“Screw that,” said Josh defiantly one day, “I’m a Satanist.”
This declaration had gotten Josh sent to the principal’s office. The principal, a tired old phys-ed teacher, had insisted that Josh recant, but Josh sensed (correctly) that the longer he maintained this ruse, the fewer irregular verbs he would be subjected to. Eventually the ACLU got involved, and someone suggested that Josh would have a stronger case that his religious freedoms were being impinged upon if there were some solid evidence that he were a practicing Satanist. The next day he found a copy of Demonology for Imbeciles in his locker, and he had no trouble recruiting a few more aspiring Satanists whose struggles with conjugation left them feeling spiritually empty.
That was several weeks ago, and the ACLU had dropped its suit in exchange for assurances that Mrs. Statham would curtail her proselytizing during school hours. The First Satanic Church of Milhaus, however, lived on. It never grew beyond its first four members, though, who met irregularly in Brayden’s aunt’s basement, and lately it had started to feel like they were just going through the motions. Enamored of his newfound authority and desperate to keep the group going, Josh had suggested that summoning a demon might spice things up. The idea wasn’t as popular with the other members as Josh had hoped: Kaylee and Clay were convinced the summoning wouldn’t work, and Brayden was terrified that it would.
“Seriously,” said Brayden. “We need to be careful. If we do this and something goes wrong …”
“What?” interjected Kaylee, through a menagerie of painful-looking piercings. “What’s the worst case scenario, Brayden? We fail to summon a demon?” Kaylee was the only female of the group, and also the smartest of the four, which wasn’t saying much. Her parents substituted permissiveness and cash for affection, which had resulted in Kaylee weighing nearly three hundred pounds, approximately six of which was in the form of hardware attached to her face.
Brayden shrugged. “I just think if we’re going to do this, we should do it right.”
“And by ‘do it right,’ you mean that we should try to summon a tamarind?”
Brayden’s face flushed and he sank into the cushions of the lumpy old couch. Clay was to his left and Josh and Kaylee were sitting on easy chairs with badly worn and stained floral upholstery. Brayden’s aunt’s basement was like a furniture graveyard.
“Fine,” said Josh, who had been dragging the edge of his sneaker around the pentagram in an effort to adjust the lines. “I fixed it, see?”
“What the hell is that?” asked Clay.
“Pentagram,” said Josh defensively.
The group regarded the blurred lines dubiously.
“It looks like Bob Marley,” said Kaylee.
“It does not!” Josh protested. Then, after a moment: “Who’s Bob Marley?”
Kaylee sighed heavily. She already had her doubts about Josh’s fitness as High Priest, and his ignorance of a revolutionary leader like Bob Marley only cemented his incompetence in her mind.
“Whatever,” said Clay, the most pragmatic of the group. “My mom wants me home by eleven, so if we’re going to do this, we need to get started.”
“OK,” said Josh. “Let’s do this.” He rooted around his backpack, producing four black candles and a cigarette lighter. He lit each of the candles in turn and handed one to each of the three Unholy Acolytes, keeping one for himself. He directed them to take their places around the ersatz hexagram and opened Demonology for Imbeciles to the chapter on summonings.
Demonology for Imbeciles was a strange book, even by …for Imbeciles standards. After dominating the instructional book market in the 90s, the publisher of the …for Imbeciles books, I Don’t Get It, Ltd., fell on hard times due to the rise of a plethora of free instructional websites written by and for imbeciles. Imbeciles wanting to build a gazebo or breed cuttlefish found all the information they needed online without having to pay $19.95 for Building a Gazebo for Imbeciles or Breeding Cuttlefish for Imbeciles. IDGI’s response to this threat was to launch the …for Cretins line of books, aimed at people who were too stupid to get on the Internet. When titles such as Watering Plants for Cretins, Four-Way Stops for Cretins, and Are My Clothes Inside Out Again? for Cretins inexplicably foundered, IDGI spent $6 million on market research, which informed them that most of their target audience thought cretins were a kind of aquatic animal. The …for Cretins line was thus relaunched as the …for Total F*cking Dumbshits line, but this effort failed as well because, as it turns out, even total f*cking dumbshits have a little pride.
The end result of this series of failures was that IDGI began to skimp on the content of their books while simultaneously attempting to broaden their appeal. Thus Quantum Physics for Imbeciles, Feng Shui for Imbeciles, and Urban Engineering for Imbeciles shared the same cartoons, with minor variations in the captions. Demonology for Imbeciles was a rush job thrown together from various public domain sources of dubious credibility by an editor whose knowledge of the occult was gleaned entirely from Black Sabbath records and I Dream of Jeannie. As it happened, though, the editor had come across one of the few extant recipes for a bona fide demonic summoning in the semi-coherent ramblings of an eighteenth century inventor and occultist named Josiah Vandersloot, which Vandersloot had published under the awkward title The Little Book What’s About Demons. Had Vandersloot’s grasp of English syntax been on par with his knowledge of the dark arts, the publication of The Little Book What’s About Demons might have ushered in a golden age of demonology, but unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), most readers were unable to make any sense of his garbled prose. The IDGI editor cleaned up the verbiage as best he could, throwing in Rush lyrics when he got stuck.
The result was that although Demonology for Imbeciles was almost entirely rubbish, chapter fourteen included, purely by chance, a nearly flawless recipe for summoning a demon. The only thing missing was the name of the demon to be summoned. Demons guard their true names jealously, and it’s virtually impossible to summon a demon without knowing his or her name.
Demonic names are represented by a complex sigil that is generally comprised of a geometric figure enclosed in a circle. It is commonly thought that the pentagram is a Satanic symbol, but in fact the use of a pentagram in Satanic ceremonies arises from a misreading of ancient texts in which a five-pointed star is used as a placeholder for the name of a particular demon. Trying to conduct a summoning by using a pentagram is the spiritual equivalent of asking the telephone operator to connect you to Insert Name Here.
By an odd coincidence, Josh’s imperfect hex-cum-pentagram very closely resembled the sigil for a certain fallen angel who had been exiled on a distant plane as the result of the accidental detonation of a small nuclear device at an interplanar transport hub. And so it happened that shortly after Josh finished reciting the incantation on page 124 on Demonology for Imbeciles, a cloud of sulfurous smoke arose from the sigil, enveloping the terrified members of the First Satanic Church of Milhaus, who dove behind the furniture for cover. After a moment the smoke began to clear, revealing a lanky figure who immediately doubled over in a fit of uncontrollable coughing, apparently overwhelmed by the fumes. After some time it became clear that the man was trying to speak.
“…open… window…” the man gasped.
His initial fright having been supplanted with nausea, Josh eagerly complied, propping open one of the ground-level basement windows. Clay found a small electric fan which he turned on in an attempt to disperse some of the rotten egg smell.
“Ugh,” said the man, waving his hand in front of his face. “You never get used to the smell.” The four congregants stood gaping at the newcomer. They weren’t sure what a demon looked like, but none of them had expected this. Other than being exceptionally tall and adorned with an absurd shock of silver hair, he looked like an ordinary human being. Male, good-looking – if a little lanky – apparently about twenty-five years old.
“Are you… a demon?” asked Brayden at last.
The tall man frowned. “Let’s not get hung up on labels,” he said, regarding the dilapidated furniture of the basement. “Speaking of which, what sort of operation are you running here?”
“We’re Satanists,” announced Josh, trying to sound confident.
“Ah, Satanists!” the man said, nodding. “Adherents of Lucifer. Of course you realize that Lucifer is in Heavenly custody, and therefore unable to continue his rebellion against the highers-up? And that even if he weren’t, all transportation between the Mundane Plane and the Infernal Plane has been cut off, thanks to the some knucklehead detonating a nuke at the planeport?”
The assembled congregants of the First Satanic Church of Milhaus gaped, speechless.
“Of course, you must know something about interplanar travel,” said the man, “seeing as how you summoned me.”
Josh pointed wordlessly to the copy of Demonology for Imbeciles, which was resting on the back of a dilapidated easy chair. The man picked it up and thumbed through a few of the pages. “Ugh,” he said. “Where do they get this crap? How in hell did you manage to… oh. Wow, they stole the whole summoning chapter from Vandersloot’s The Little Book What’s About Demons. Man, I thought we’d burned all of those.” He frowned, staring at the corrupted pentagram on the floor. “But how’d you know my name?”
“Your name?” asked Kaylee.
“Well, you misspelled it,” the man said, gesturing at the sigil, “but you got the phonetics right.”
The four regarded the sigil. “That symbol is your name?” asked Josh.
The man nodded. “More or less.”
“How do you pronounce it?” asked Josh.
“Oh, no,” said the man. “I’m not saying it out loud. Bad enough you wrote it out like that.” He dragged his foot across the sigil, obliterating it.
“But what do we call you then?” asked Kaylee.
“You aren’t really going to need to call me anything,” said the man, “because I’m not planning on hanging out with you morons.” He walked passed Kaylee and began up the basement stairs. He stopped and turned, grinning. “But if you’re wondering what name to give the malevolent entity you’ve unleashed on the world,” he said, “you can call me Mercury.”