Pentecostal Punk Rock
For Robert Bloch
Ira Finney never expected the girl at his apartment door to be selling religion. Begging, perhaps, or ringing the wrong doorbell, but peddling God was a surprise. She claimed to be a Pentecostal, but he had never seen a Punk Rock Pentecostal before. She had orange hair with a shaved spot on the right side of her head and her clothes were a mixed bag: oversized sweater, a plaid skirt, one white sock (the other foot was sockless) and what looked like plastic rain shoes. Over her shoulder was a plastic raincoat. There hadn't been a sign of rain in weeks.
Under her arm was something large and flat, and clutched in her fist like a club was a roll of tracts. She pushed the roll at him.
"Here," she said.
He was intrigued. He took one. Glancing at the face of it, he saw that it read: Pentecostal Punk Rock, the Wave of the Future, So Get Your Shit Together.
He looked at the girl and smiled. She was chewing gum, but she smiled back. She was oddly attractive. Like a cute mongrel mutt. And having been separated from his wife for a year now, and having spent many lonely nights without so much as a look at a woman, improved her looks, made him feel brave.
"Why don't you come in and tell me about it."
"Not much to tell," she said, coming inside, looking around while she popped her gum. "It's all in the paper there."
"Don't you want to make a convert?"
She shrugged. "Yeah, sure, but we don't work for it. I gave you the tract, that's enough. You got your chance. You don't pay attention, ain't my fault. You'll get yours when the big flood comes."
Ira smiled. The girl was obviously unaware of the Bible. The Flood was the first time God destroyed the world. Next time, according to The Bible, destruction would be by fire. He didn't say anything to that effect, however.
"Well, if you don't work to make converts, how come you came inside?"
She smiled "Wanted to see how somebody like you lived."
Ira used his smile again. He was going to try and put the move on this girl. She looked like the type that had been around, and might want to go around once more. She also looked like someone who wouldn't expect any ties, any real emotional involvement. And though he didn't like to think it so bluntly, what he needed at the moment was simple. Sex.
"What's that under your arm?" he asked. "A book?"
"Sounds," she said, and handed it to him for a look. It was a record album. It was called Pentecostal Punk Rock: Pogo Out. It was by some group called The Destruction.
"Perhaps we could hear it?" he said.
She smiled. "Hey, man, you trying to put the make on me?"
"I'm working at it."
The smile got bigger. "Maybe that's all right. You're kind of cute for a straight. I ain't saying it's all right, now. I'm just saying maybe, got me?"
"Yeah, I got you."
"This kind of music doesn't look like your scene, man," she said.
"Does this religion?" he said, holding up the tract.
"No, but you got to try, you know. God and his work and all that crap."
"I see. You been canvassing long?"
"Going door to door?"
"Oh. Just since I became a true believer. About a month ago."
"Is this branch of the Pentecostal church new?"
"I'll say. Brand new. The other Pentecostals don't have a thing to do with us. They say we're crazy and don't know what's up. But they don't have a clue, man. They won't be crowing so loud when the flood comes."
"Hey, you wanna hear those sounds, or not?"
He put the album on the stereo and waved her to the couch. She sat on one end and he sat on the other. He looked at her and smiled. She smiled back and glided down the couch to sit next to him. She tossed the raincoat off her shoulder onto the floor, dropped the tracts on top of it. He let his arm slip around her shoulders. She didn't seem to mind. It felt very good to have his arm around a woman. It had been a long time.
The music started, if you could call it that. It sounded like a recording of car wrecks, train derailments and plane crashes set to music.
After a minute of this, the girl, overcome, leaped to her feet and started bounding and flailing about the room. It didn't look so much like dancing, as it looked like she was struggling with an invisible opponent.
The music built.
The girl began to chant under her breath. Some of it sounded like Bible verses, most of it nonsense. Suddenly she stopped and looked at him.
"Hey, you're not digging the sounds."
"Well," he admitted, "it's not my thing."
"I can see that. Well, too bad."
She leaned over and kissed him. He kissed her back, and the kisses got hotter and hotter. His hands explored, and hers returned the favor. The music beat like a struggling heart in the background.
Pretty soon their clothes were off and they were flopping around on the couch like spawning salmon. The first time it ended quickly, in a passionate rush. The second and third time took longer and was sweeter. After that, she turned over the album, which seemed nearly endless, and they retired to the bedroom.
It had grown dark and he turned on the lamp next to his bedside. It had small wattage and provided a pleasant light for lovemaking. And strangely, it was by this dim light that he first really took note of her body. She was astride him, head tilted up in ecstasy. From that angle he could see the rapid pulse in her smooth neck and the pointed tip of her chin. He could see the bottoms of her eyes, and they were expressionless, bulged out, as if she were being pumped up with air. From his angle they looked lidless.
Her body was sleek, lean and boyish. Her breasts little more than bee-stings. Her white flesh, especially the small bulge of her belly, reminded him of the underside of a fish. For some reason he suddenly felt nauseous with her, as if he had eaten something bad and not until this moment realized it.
He was more than happy when the music finished, and she with it. She lay beside him and fell fast asleep.
Lying there, no longer straining with passion, she looked quite different. More feminine. But her flesh felt clammy and the sweat that clung to her was in large beads and smelled heavily of salt. It was like breathing beach air. He found he could not lie beside her.
Rolling out of bed, he put on his robe and padded to the living room, turned on the light. He sat down on the couch and wished now that he had never let her in. He hoped she would depart tomorrow without trouble. He hoped, too, she wouldn't want an encore.
Idly, he reached over and picked up one of the tracts, opened it.
The contents were strange indeed. No wonder the Pentecostals didn't claim them. Who would?
Mixed with Punk lore and band reviews were excerpts from The Bible and a mass of strange letters and designs that looked akin to Egyptian hieroglyphics. There were also newspaper extracts about violent crimes, a few graphic photos of victims of maiming accidents, murders, and rapes.
Finney felt repulsed, but curiosity caused him to examine it closer. He couldn't decide from the tracts if the Punker sect was opposed to these things, for them, or just damn indifferent.
As he read, he realized that the girl's statements about the flood were not entirely out of whack. At least not with her religion. The flood of old, as well as the story of Jonah being swallowed by a great fish, were of considerable importance to the Punkers. In fact, comments about water occurred over and over again in the tract. And as for the Biblical prediction of the second destruction of the world being caused by fire, the Punkers were in total opposition. They said God had changed His mind, and Acid-Face Ronnie knew the score.
Acid-Face Ronnie was the prophet of the Punk Rock Pentecostals. It was his contention that God had spoken to him personally, and had assured him that a flood was going to be the way the world went out this time as well, and all the old bets were off. Acid-Face Ronnie claimed it was like when the Old Testament was out and the New Testament was in. Only now this was the New New Testament (referring to the tract, Finney took it), and those who did not heed its warning were going to be "drowned suckers."
God was bored with the whole human race thing and was all out of the forgiving mood. It was survival of the fittest, and it was time to heed God's new law or face the big, deep wash.
The album was mentioned in the tract. It was part of what helped you prepare for the flood. It was the sound of car wrecks, train derailments, plane crashes and the like set to music. There were also, the tract claimed, the screams of the injured and the dying on it.
A cold chill wriggled its way up Ira's back. He wondered how the Punkers could have come by such recordings. He hoped it was all hype. The idea of cold-bloodedly causing those things to happen so they could be taped made the hair on the back of his neck bristle. Surely it was all a hoax; something to go with their unconventional lifestyle.
Skipping to another page, he found something about becoming one with water, but he couldn't make sense of it. It seemed the Pentecostal Punkers thought that if you danced to their album, doing a thing called The Pogo, recited certain Bible verses, as well as verses provided in the tract by Acid-Face Ronnie, you could hope to survive.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of thunder. It was loud and reverberating, like someone slamming a baseball bat against a sheet of tin.
It was then that he noticed the walls were bleeding great drops of condensation.
Ira got up and touched the wall. It was damp and cold and smelled bad, like rotting seaweed.
Thunder rumbled again.
He went to the window, drew the curtain, looked down from his twelve story apartment in the city. It was raining briskly and the neon lights below made everything look distorted. The buildings all seemed under water, like stalagmites beneath the sea. The neon lights were like colored coral, and the lights of cars like the glowing eyes of small, scuttling fish.
He rubbed his tired eyes, and just as he brought his hands down, he thought he saw something dart by his window. It had been so fast, it was nearly subliminal, but he couldn't help but think what he'd seen was a man. A Punker with a mohawk making swimming motions against the night sky. A Punker who was part human and part ...
He shook his head, as if to clear it of obstructions. He could not have seen anything. That was preposterous. He was twelve stories up. People did not swim in the air, and they certainly did not look like that—a Punker with a fin on his back, and in place of legs, a long, flickering fish tail.
Leaning on the glass, Ira tried to look around the corner of the building, but the angle prevented such nonsense. He saw nothing more out of the ordinary, and realized he had seen nothing in the first place. He had Punk Rockers on the brain.
He laughed, but it was more of a rattle than a laugh.
He found himself drawn back to the couch and the crazy tract. He flipped back to the part on how to survive, cruised again over the section dealing with the album, the chanting and the dancing. There were also warning signs listed for the end of the world. The usual stuff. Violence in the streets. Nations squabbling. Things that were difficult to be accurate about.
Then it got down to more immediate concerns.
There would be a prophet (Acid-Face Ronnie, of course). The prophet would spread the word—quickly, because there wasn't much time. Some would listen, most wouldn't. The prophet was not to sweat those who didn't. His job was to spread the word, not worry about its acceptance. God had told him to tell his friends and relatives first, then others. Then, in the month of December.
Ira paused in his reading. My God, he thought, today is December the 12th.
It would begin to rain, suddenly, after a long dry spell. There would be the smell of the sea, and all things, animate or inanimate, would forecast their watery future to those who had heard the word, even if they had not accepted its truth. They would have visions of the future; visions of the world's doom.
Scanning more of the tract, he found greater detail on surviving. The chanting, dancing and such, supposedly allowed the true believer to "become one with the flood," whatever that meant. And those who didn't become one with the flood would drown and become food for the survivors.
He let that idea bounce around inside his head for a moment.
Good God, they were talking about cannibalism. Living off the drowned or the drowning. It was repulsive.
Continuing to read, he found that even believing did not guarantee survival. One's degree of strength and protection had to do with one's degree of belief and commitment. Levels of belief had levels of award.
He tossed the tract aside. He was getting as crazy as the girl and this nut, Acid-Face Ronnie. He was starting to consider this stuff.
Sure, the wall bled smelly water, but that was nothing prophetic. Maybe a nest of rats had eaten away the insulation and something in it had killed them. Then it rained after a long dry spell, and with it being a cold December . . . well, the weather could have caused condensation and carried the stink of the dead rodents into his apartment by route of water beads. A little farfetched, but possible. Certainly it made more sense than that garbage in the tract.
Albums of destruction set to rock music? Cannibalism? A God that saw the world as a cosmic joke and decided to mix the old rules with some new ones, then give them all to a crazed Punk Rocker and send him out to form his own religion?
It just didn't add up.
As for the vision at the window . . . hallucination. Couldn't have been anything else. He was overly tired and maybe the intensity of the sex act after such a long dry spell had something to do with it. Farfetched again, but still more in the ball park than Pentecostal Punk Rock.
Or maybe the girl had slipped him something? That was a strong possibility. Her type was always taking something, and the way she had looked when they made love, the oddness of her eyes...
But they hadn't drunk or eaten a thing, so how would it have been passed to him? Kissing? Were there some drugs that could be passed that way? Her kisses had tasted strange, like . . . like the after-lurk of a bad oyster dinner.
That was crazy. Drugs passed by kissing? It made no sense.
He felt a tide of queasiness pound its surf against him and he hung his head between his knees to let it pass.
It did, but not fully.
He rose, went to the bathroom and splashed water on his face. His reflection in the mirror was very pale.
Leaning forward, he pushed the top of his head against the mirror and stared into the sink. The water was still running, and as he idly reached to turn it off, a great glob of seaweed oozed out of the faucet and plopped into the sink. This was followed by molasses-thick mud and small, shiny fish. The fish flapped their tails weakly in the muck. The smell of seaweed and fish filled his nostrils.
Ira threw up in the sink.
Lifting his head, he saw his reflection in the watery mirror. The muscles in his face jumped, as if firecrackers had exploded beneath his face. His cheeks were equipped with gills and scales. He would have screamed, but he was too shocked to find his voice.
He closed the lid on the john and sat down there, dizzy, confused.
It was true. The Punk Rockers were onto it. The end of the world was coming by flood, and he, who had been introduced to it by the girl and the tracts, was having visions of the future, and it was a depressing one.
The album. Had to play it. Had to chant and dance. If he was going to survive, he had to do that. There was that thing about levels of believing, and though he was having a hard time believing any of this, he had to be ready when the flood came.
Standing, he chanced a glance into the mirror. His face was back to normal. The only thing in the sink was vomit. He turned on the water. No fish came out. He let it run until the vomit washed down the drain.
His new-found faith backslid. Maybe it was all a hallucination.
But at that moment, lightning cracked loudly and the air was filled with the smell of ozone and rotting fish. It practically raped his nostrils.
He darted into the living room, put on the album, turned up the volume. He grabbed the tract off the floor and found the verses.
The music started and he began to dance, trying to copy the way the girl had moved. He read the tract as he danced, which wasn't easy. He stumbled over the words, having to stop dancing every few seconds to read them better, push them into memory. Then he'd resume his pogoing, reciting what he had memorized.
As he bobbed up and down, the stink of the sea and ozone increased. Rain began to rattle against the windows and roof.
The bedroom door opened, and the girl, naked, came dancing and smiling into the room. Her arms and legs gyrated wildly, like the limbs of a spider being electrocuted. Her mouth opened and the chanting rolled out. She jumped over the back of the couch, landed on the cushions, kicking them to the floor and following after them. She wheeled and leaped about the room. It was wild and graceful at the same time.
Ira, in spite of himself, found his eyes drawn to her nakedness. He saw too that she had that look about her eyes again; the bulging, lidless look.
Ira jerked off his robe, tossed it aside, danced with the girl, the both of them chanting. One moment he felt foolish, the next exhilarated.
Gradually the air became more difficult to breathe. The walls weaved in and out as if great hands were pressing from all sides. A window blew in, sprinkled glass on the carpet. Rain blasted in after it in a torrent. The curtains flapped savagely like the wriggling tongues of snakes tasting air. Ira could see nothing but great darkness outside. The neon made no reflection against the night sky.
The apartment lights went dead, and so did the album, but it was as if he could hear the music in his head. He found to his surprise that his vision had altered and he could see quite well in the dark, even well enough to read the tract. He chanted louder, danced more vigorously to his mental music.
The girl had thrown herself on the cold, wet, glass-sharded carpet and was flapping about like a fish in shallow water. She spun around on her buttocks, and finally popped to her feet, her eyes glowing in the dark, her ass dripping blood from the glass cuts.
Then it all happened at once. The walls turned to wet crepe and the floor rose up and the ceiling came down. Ira found himself swimming into a massive wave of water, plaster and sailing furniture. The tract had slipped from his hand and momentarily plastered itself against his face.
The wave went higher, and he found he could climb it, like a roach scuttling up the side of a toilet bowl.
So up he went, and when the wave washed back in a wet loop and rose up again, he saw between his fast-shriveling legs the flip of his long, scaly tail. And when he reached out to grab water, to swim forward, he saw flippers, not hands, and when the wave pushed him up yet again, he saw rising from the foam the tip of a skyscraper, its copperish windows blinking briefly as an escaped ray from the moon pierced the clouds reflected against it. But that was soon gone, replaced by water. Then he was no longer swimming, but trying to claw his way up the collapsing wall of his apartment. There was the sound of that wild music in his head, as well as the sound of the waves and the storm. He had come unglued for a moment in time and space and had moved backward.
The apartment weaved in and out, and finally the white walls and furniture were replaced by dark water, debris and the screams of the cold, wet, drowning non-believers. And this time he did not shift back in time. There was only the water now, and its wet future. Debris and dead bodies boiled past him.
Torquing his slick, wet body, he looked behind him, saw the girl's face. But the face was like a mask worn by something else. She was big and long, sleek and gray. Her eyes were beginning to slip to the sides of her head, and he found that it was the same in his case. His range of vision was changing.
When he looked again, the girl's lips were projecting forward, falling open to reveal great teeth that crashed against the surf. She swam toward him with an enthusiasm that frightened him, and he immediately knew why. He had survived the flood through belief, same as her, but his was
sudden belief, not long held like the girl's. Her chanting and dancing had been going on for some time and she was good at both. He was not.
He remembered what the tract said about the levels of belief and award, and he understood what that meant now. He had become one with the flood by becoming fish-like, and so had she. Only she was a bigger fish. A more powerful and deadly fish.
A hungry fish.
Twisting once to view behind him, he saw that her eyes had slipped completely to the sides of her head, and the only vestiges of humanity left to her were an orange slash of hair on the left side of her skull and a fast-fading bump of a nose that lay dead center of her tooth-filled snout. A sizable dark fin like a flattened pyramid rose from her back.
He tried to scream, but he could not. No vocal cords.
The fin went under and the water went up, carrying him with it, driving him to the summit of a black, wet spire. And as he crashed down, he saw waiting for him the girl—or what she now was. The orange hair patch was now an orange stripe of skin across her bony head and the bump of a nose was gone. She rolled her head to the side to position her bulging eye for a better view of him; opened her mouth to give him a better look at those rows and rows of sharp, dagger teeth. And try as he might to avoid them, he could not. She was too quick, too purposeful.
With a whip of her big, sleek body, she burst up to take his soft head into her hard mouth, and she squeezed down violently, tasting the first of the many lesser species that the Lord had provided for one of his greatest true believers.
Make your way back here Thursday, November 3, for more Mojo magic!
"Pentecostal Punk Rock" originally appeared in Deathrealm. It later appeared in Bestsellers Guaranteed, a collection published by Ace. "Pentecostal Punk Rock" © 1989 Joe R. Lansdale. All Rights Reserved.