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Sick and Sin
or: The Second Failed Baptism of Miss Marybeth Prowse
part 3
by J.(Channing)Wells


Late. Hell, it was already late when I came here. Now it's early. My long-lashed eyelids are drooping pleasantly, and it's a wonder I've even managed to get this far. I yawn, bigly, and haul my big ol' naked body offa the chair. Time to sleep. Goodness knows, tomorrow the owners of this place might come back; or it might be weeks. They didn't leave a note as per that. But the presence of the little card in the bathroom reassures me that all this door-being-left-unlocked business was intentional after all, and furthermore, the SCAB-friendly shampoos in the bathroom suggest that there's no danger of the owners being unpleasantly surprised by the specific nature of their houseguests. No question--whoever this is what owns this place understands how things _used_ to be.

My goofy grin has resolved itself into a small, contented smile, but I am no less satisfied. I have visions of that bedroom with the patchwork quilt that particularly appealed to me, and they're nice visions indeedy.

I am about to indulge those visions, in fact, when I notice the staircase.

It's not an impressive thing. A little, steep, narrow set, half-hidden in a nook in the wall, leading to the hitherto-unseen second floor of the building.

I shouldn't be poking around more than is absolutely necessary. I really shouldn't. But this odd, ramshackle building has yielded more comforting, neat-ass stuff than I can ever remember having seen packed under one roof at any time in my life before, save perhaps at certain large Natural History musea. Just one more room couldn't hurt. Then it's off to bed, for the kind of night's sleep that I've been craving for what feels like ages now.

What the hell.

Still firmly in the buff, I ascend the narrow stairs.

* * *

I am struck with the impression of space. The lights here are not on, but I am struck with the impression of space, nonetheless.

The cooling-system is less strong here, lending the faintest hint of a toasty-warmer cast to the air, but the environment is still far from uncomfortable.

Disorientation follows, a bit. I am confused; there is a strange feel, a tickling at the familiar parts of my memory. I am also struck with the impression of oddness, that this room, or rooms like it, aren't usually found here in the general plan of typical schemes-slash-architectures. A moment later, I reassure myself that this building hasn't really followed the traditional lines of design yet; why on earth should it start now?

I am wondering why there is a familiar feel to this place, and I am wondering all the way up to my finding the switch that controls the lights.

I flick it on.

I catch my breath.

My eyes wander around the room, as I stand poised here on this incongruous little stairway. Back behind me is a slightly oversized pair of double doors, probably the traditional means of entry. The carpeting is a neutral, pleasant green. And...

Well. In places like these, one cannot long avoid having ones eyes drawn to the focus of the room. This one is not so gaudy and willful as the one in the church in the town that I used to call my home. It is simple, elegant, bearing more resemblance to a beautiful, hearty-old butcher-block table than to an instrument of worship. An altar. And suspended above it is the Christ-In-Glory.

Everything is still, as still the end of Time.

Of course. In all my hanging around downstairs, in all my soup-eating and book-reading and shower-taking and quilt-dreaming, I had never stepped back to take in the big picture. _Why_ all this... stuff? Why, in the middle of the woods, a big, pieced-together but impeccably maintained building, with the facilities to board more than a dozen persons for a period of less than a weekend or, easily, up to several weeks on end? Why, indeed?

A retreat-hall. A religious thing. I had stumbled across the Christian equivalent of a summer-camp lodge. No one home now, but some benevolent soul had thought to keep the lights on and the doors unlocked. Heedless of potential vandals, thieves, willing to risk property damage on the off chance that some lost soul would, unscheduled and unannounced, barge in through the primeval woods, in need of solace and shelter...

I almost do the whole born-again thing. Right then and there. Collapse, crying, before the altar, under the ceiling-fans mounted in the steepled wooden roof. Dedicate my heart and soul to Mister Jesus H. Fucking Godalmighty Christ on the basis of one beautiful night of soup and showers. I am ready, ready to do it all.

My internal cynic slaps me one good one across the face, then, and starts in on trying to give me a good talking-to. Lissen, "Ginger." These is probably the same kind of folks after all that your parents were. You know what _they_ felt about you. About your beliefs. If you had let the Big L-Word slip in front of them, and then they later had heard from the factory folks what had happened to you at one-oh-seven pee em on that day of It, their little brains would've gone clickaclickaclick and established a direct cause-effect relationship. They woulda' done it for Amy. Why should their own daughter be any more sacred?

A voice responds. The voice of a very, very small girl. God loves me. See what he did for me tonight?

The internal cynic hesitates, briefly, unwilling to smack the little shit as hard as she had previously smacked me.

In that moment, the moment where my cynic has nothing to say, I happen to notice the piano, and I am put in danger of being born again once more.

The _piano_.

Oh, of everything, let there not be books downstairs, let there not be tinned soup to be heated, let there not be warm quilts on the beds, let there not be showers to indulge in. Let there just be this piano, here, alone, in the dark of the woods. I care not. I am still near to rapture.

Without even being conscious of it, my hooved feet begin shuffling across the carpet, down the aisle between the rows of shallow pews. My cynic is a hundred, hundred thousand miles away.

Gently, I kick the stool out, and seat myself, sliding open the cover in one, slick-varnished motion.

The memories come again, in a long, unbroken flood, starting with Chopin's Waltz in A-Minor, scored for the Pianoforte. And this time, they do not stop.

* * *

And then.

When the last, single quiet notes of music have faded, many aeons later. When I have released my last finger from the last key and let up on the sustain pedal with my right hoof. When all is quiet once again.

I am soft inside. And my black-hearted cynic is nowhere to be found.

"God." I whisper. "I... don't know if I'm doing this right."

Nothing but more silence.

I start again, more colloquially. "Y'know, Gawd, for being such an unreasonable and unfair shit as you usually are, you 'parently have at least some basic idea of how girls like me wanna be treated."

The colloquialism sounds hollow, false. I try a third time. "Lemme see if I can put this into words here." I start. "I guess... what I'm wondering here is..."

I swallow.

"Listen, damnit, is this You? Or is all of tonight just the by-product of some batty old priest with an Old South sense of hospitality, or, potentially, Alzheimer's fucking disease? Forgets to lock up the house, goes away for couple'three weeks... I can see that."

The words waft off into the silence. The artistically-cast Christ looks on with immutable expression from above the altar.

Softly, almost pleadingly, now. "Look, just... tell me. Somehow. What I should be taking from all this."

Somehow. Sha. What am I expecting, cherubs to whisper in my ear? I need... something. Something sensible. A chaotic system that God, _on the off-chance that he exists_, could influence... to send me a sign...

My eyes cast around the room one more time.

They alight.

On a reading-shelf, near the back, along one wall. A little reading stand. Which supports, prominently upon it, The Best of the Best Books, in Gilt Red Hardcover.

That'll do.

Trepidatiously, I walk away from the piano towards the back, and stand before the little shelf. My steps are rigid, military. The air is thick about me, and I might or might not be feeling Destiny in its Approach. I don't care, one way or the other. But I must _know_.

"God." I say, more formally. "Tonight, just tonight, you have caught me so _completely_ off-guard that I don't even recognize my own actions anymore. I've been up an' down a fucking roller-coaster this week, and I'm loose, and jittery, and flapping around, looking for an anchor, any anchor. I've lost my family, my friends, my home, and, very nearly, my name and my life and my very being."

I take a deep breath.

"Tonight, here in this house, you... have stopped me from losing those last three. The ones that mean the most to who I am."

Another deep breath.

"So you got me snared, you do. You got me beat. All you need to do, right now, is give me one, teeny little sign. If You _are_ there, and You _are_ concerned about everybody worshipin' you, like Father Hugh says you are, you almost got me sold out praisin' You on the goddamn streetcorners. All you need to do is sho'me some of that infallible power of yours. I'm not gonna ask you to take away my sickness or nothin'. Not even anything big. No strain on You whatsoevuh."

I flip open the ponderous Bible, its trimming glittering gold.

I close my eyes. Like I did at the streams in the wilderness.

"I'm gonna flip through this thing." I address the sudden darkness. "An' I'm gonna stop exactly where it feels right to. An' I'm gonna plant mah finger on the page, just exactly where it feels right to."

A tense, electric pause.

"God, all I ask is that the one verse that I point to tell me what it is I need to know."

I can almost imagine that I hear a hum, of gathering Power.

"You ready?" I say. "You only get to do this once."

There is no reply.

My jaw resolute, I grab the gold-leaf pages into my hand and begin fanning them, applying the old poker rationale of card-cutting. Just wherever. As long as it feels right.

There is a page. It feels right. I let the book fall open.

I lift my finger before me, then, and like a dart, I bring it down. It impacts the mass of thin papers with a hollow 'thunk.'

Slowly, feeling the inexorable vertigo of being drawn into a turbulent, forked stream, knowing that the next few seconds will decide your course of sailing for Only-God-Knows-How-Long, but trusting, trusting, Lord help me, _Trusting_, I open my eyes.

Psalm 52. Verse 5. Right on the dot. No niggling with boundary lines.

God shall likewise destroy you forever.

I recoil. As though I had placed my finger into the mouth of a serpent.

He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place.

My jaw trembles.

And uproot you from the land of the living.

I stand in stunned, shocked silence.

God shall likewise destroy you forever.

With a cry of despair, I slam shut the book and back away. Suddenly nothing is right. Nothing. It's all been a vicious prank. A lie. A goddamn celestial episode of Candid Fucking Camera, all set up to make me _suffer._ This whole damn night. HE, _FUCK HIS BLACK HEART_, _DID THIS TO ME_. Ripped me to pieces with his pet virus, one of the greatest venues for evil ever produced by either Heaven or Earth, slapped together an entirely new corpse for me, the corpse of a beast, a God-Be-Damned BEAST...

I whip around, my mouth still gasping, and gaze full aface to the image of Christ above the altar. I had found it impassive, stolid before. Now I see on its face the sneer that always was there. That I had been too entranced by books and pianos and soup and... SHIT! All of it! Too entranced to even NOTICE that _that_ FUCKER was sitting there GRINNING at me the whole time! _JUST WAITING FOR THIS!_

I'm being played with. I'm being fucking played with. He _enjoys_ watching me hurt! GOD FUCKING FUCK, HE _ENJOYS_ IT!

I scream, then, and my anger seizes me in its clawed grasp.

With an apoplexic whinny-shriek, my rage burns my body backwards, undoing every lick of progress towards the humanity that once I had. The pain leaves me staggering, torn to flinders again, until I stand, wholly bestial here in this hideous mockery of a shrine to this shit-faced God of Gods.

Fuck him... FUCK HIM!

Frothing and snapping at the air, I do the only thing that I can, that my rage permits me. I kick. Sharp horn hooves, driven by a half-ton of pure muscle, slam into the nearest pew. Its shoddy mountings shear like twigs, and it collapses.


My eyes are white with triumph.

Gloriously, I wheel on my front hooves and kick out behind me in another direction. I catch the angle a bit wrong, this time, and it takes two solid, soul-clearing blows to shatter the back of the pew behind me into splinters. It feels _good._

Again! And Again!

Not content with hurting me, and hurting me, and hurting me, he decided to give me a few little hours of kindness, just so he could FUCKING hurt me more. I was in _DANGER_ of losing it _COMPLETELY!_ No, fucking NO, that would not DO, for Mister J.S. FUCKING _GOD!_ You can't _hurt_ the mindless! You can't continue their pain!

He's keeping me... alive... so he can hurt me more...

Another strangled whinny-scream, and I break into two strides of full gallop, directly towards the front altar. I _rear_ before it, FUCK your genuflection, you BASTARD!

I kick, until it too is destroyed.


A good rear mule-kick sets the suspended Cross swinging as well. But its mountings are too strong for me to break at this angle, and I am thirsty for blood, not pastimes, so I content myself with a couple good hoof-marks just below where it counts. Nearly cackling at _that_ thought, I gallop back to the rear and bring the reading-shelf containing the filthy, gilt-outside rotten-at-the-core Bible crashing down, and I savage and trample the fallen Book with my front hooves. More! MORE!

Whip around. Back to the front.

The _piano_.

With a thunderbolt, the image of the pristine little girl appears in my mind, the girl that, apparently, I was, when I once was Marybeth Prowse, before I became Ginger the Devil Horse. She stands there with those wide, innocent blue eyes, looking up at me in horror, at what I have become.

I pause, my muscles frozen.

Then I think of Amy, and the little girl is swept away. I trample her, in fact, beneath my hooves. And the destruction begins again.

The piano dies a discordant death. I shatter its rubble even when it is down, for its betrayal, and when one sharp stick of dislodged wire pricks me in the thigh, I exact my revenge by leaving no portion of it unsplintered. There is little left of it but tangled wire and matchsticks when I have spent my wrath at _it_. I'll show 'em what it's like to be uprooted from the fucking land.

Once the piano is destroyed, there is an exhausted lull as my chest and sides heave. More death, my brain screams. More killing. My body cries out in protest, not for moral obligation, but for sheer weariness. These two factors struggle for primacy.

One more destruction, is the outcome of their debate. I pick my target carefully, but as I have already destroyed everything even remotely liturgical in the room, I am forced to satisfy myself with one, last, good, solid kick to the right-side wall. Perhaps to leave my hoofprints buried in the plaster, a sort of blazen signature. Who was it that destroyed your little place of worship? Why, it was the Devil Horse. Cackle. Cackle. Cackle. Cackle.


I hit a water pipe.

There shouldn't be any water lines here. Not in the wall, at least. There aren't even any plumbing fixtures in the immediate area of this desecrated chapel. But a pipe I strike, regardless. A product of the strange and piecemeal architecture of this place, no doubt.

A flood of water flows out.

And continues to flow.

And continues to flow.

I am sprayed, as by a hose, in the first burst of pressure. The licking flames of Ginger the Devil Horse are extinguished in one whiff of smoke.


I look around at what I have wrought. As I relax, my body unconsciously slips out of my control and returns me, painlessly, to my more familiar two-legged horse-shape.

Ohshit, I remark again. Water flows. Gushing out onto the floor. Soaking into the neutral green splinter-flecked carpeting, turning it an ugly storm-black.

Seeping down. Through the floorboards, I imagine. To the floors be--


My eyes are wide.

Running now, I leap over the wreckage of the broken rail, and down the narrow steps which first brought me into this room. Wunderful, Gin. You bust a waterpipe in the room die-rectly above the book-room. The usual mix of poise and intellect that yew so consistently de-splay.

Once there, I survey the shelves, then the ceiling. Nothing coming through yet. But that's _not_ a waterproof floor, by any stretch.

I have no idea when the curators of this little place are coming back. Hell, it might be dawn of the next day, by now. I haven't been near a window and my wristwatch is long, long lost.

If they find me here...

I grit my teeth. I clench my jaw.

A decision is made.

I begin moving the books. Away from the onrushing water...

On my third trip the water breaks through... and it is black...

Black... and deep...

* * *

The books were all moved away from the area endangered by the broken water pipe. They were found stacked haphazardly on the dining-room table, and then, spilling over to the chairs and the floors as well. A certain Father Daanikker, denomination uncertain, who usually watched over the place, was heartbroken and distraught to the damage done to his facility. I read this in a discarded paper in a bus-station, a day or two later. There was a sort of retreat-thing shed-yu-uld to take place there starting just a few days after I arrived. A bunch of SCAB Children of Christian Families, of course, which, I guess, might have explained the odd choices they made for the complimentary toiletries, just in case. I do not know whether Fr. Daanikker ran the place with the "shit happens to good people" theory of SCABS, or the ever-popular-with-the-Prowse-Family "shit happens to you, and it's your own goddamn fault" theory, and frankly, I don't much want to know. He said that the retreat would still go on, of course. Christians, I have noticed, tend to thrive and prosper when people beat them up and look like they're trying to oppress them. Must be a throwback to the old Roman days, or somethin'.

Apparently, it had been the work of the Humans Firsters, or some related organization. It was "speculated" the retreat-hall had been a target because of the SCAB-supportive event which was to take place there. A carefully-neutral journalistic tone rendered me unable to identify the bias of the author of the newspaper article, but regardless of what he felt about me, and my new-found minority-race, I wanted to go back and shake the fella', saying, look, see, you got it all _wrong_, I _am_ a goddamn SCAB, it wasn't cause'a race-motivated hatred that the place got busted up.

No, I responded to myself, bitterly. But it was still motivated by hate, nonetheless. And so, it's not like my motivations were somehow more pure.

Fr. Daanikker reportedly had expressed confusion as to why a vandal would go through the trouble of wrecking the chapel but then go through such pains to save the library. Perhaps two individuals, someone had suggested, but then, why didn't the Good Samaritan who rescued the books from water damage seem to make any effort to contact the owners of the building, instead letting the water damage continue by leaving the proprietors to discover it for themselves, several days later? Police were still looking. I was long gone. Moving. Moving.

He was also quoted as having said something to the effect of how maybe they shouldn't leave the place unlocked after hours anymore.

I had never intended to sour their little event. I had never intended to destroy Fr. Daanikker's faith in Southern... or perhaps, Christian... hospitality. But I did, I did both.

God could have stopped it. Surely, He, in his fucking almighty wisdom, could have _foreseen_ what a nutcase like me would do upon reading that verse. Surely He _knew_.. Surely He could have steered me away from it, while I was still in the darkness of my eyes-closed-ness. Given me some nice, happy-smiley verse like Psalm 23 or one of those "Blessed-art-thou-when-people-beat-the-shit-outta-you's" that the Big J was fond of spouting off. I woulda probably praised Him the miracle of my rebirth from the rooftops. He would've had a _hell_ of a follower in good ol' Ginger.

He didn't _want_ me. For some reason, he didn't _want_ me.

I can't, don't, understand.

But when I think about this too hard, I am reminded of the old joke. Okay, so there's this one guy (there's always 'this one guy'), and there's been this really _awful_ flood, or somethin'. An' he's sittin' there on the roof of his house, all the while the water's gettin' higher and higher. So this rowboat, see, it comes along. And the guy in it sez, "Hey! Dumbfuck! Get off the house and get inna' the boat!" But the guy sez, no, he's gonna trust in God to help 'im out. So the first boat, it rows away. So then there's this motorboat, same deal. Guy still stays. Then there comes this Red Cross Rescue boat, and they try and try to get 'im to come, but he doesn't. Finally, there's this helicopter gonna airlift him off. But no, he's still trustin' in God. So, finally the water sweeps 'im away, and he dies. (I love morbid jokes.) So he's standing up in Cloud City, talkin' to the Divinity 'imself. An' he sez. "God, oh, God, why didn't you _help_ me! I _trusted_ you!" And God takes 'is cigar outta 'is mouth an' sez, "What the hell d'you mean, kid! I sent you (tick off points on fingers) A rowboat, A motorboat, a rescue ship and a Fucking Helicopter!"

You gotta say it in the right ak-sent, or it ain't funny.

Point being, I had a roof over my head, a shower, hot soup, twenty billion books, a piano, and still, I wanted more. More more more. I can just imagine God saying, just like he did to the guy, "Hey, Look, how much you want from me, heah?"

I want it all. You're the goddamn omnipotent one, not me. You tell me. Explain to me the plan. Tell me why you couldn't do just that last, one more thing. Tell me.

You are confused? Asks the big-eyed little girl.

Yes! I scream. I am _fucking_ confused.

The words howl around in my head and die into silence.


It would be worth it...


I were to...

Next time Anne Darling drags me along to that big ol' cathedral that she always goes to...

To maybe...

I can't complete the sentence.

It would cause _questions_ to arise in Anne's mind to see Raw, Sweet-South Sociology Bitch Ginger with her hands folded in front 'a her. Questions I do not have the strength, nor the self-confidence, to answer.

Can you pray, with an outward mockery of bored disdain? Can you keep the same face that you wear into church, day after day of accompanying your lover, the same nonchalant, analytical face, carefully masklike to shed all questions, and yet, somewhere inside of you, deep inside, _believe_?

Maybe. It's probably not ideal.

But perhaps it's a fair attempt at a start.

Ach. Hell. What the fuck am I thinking. The whole concept of "God" is just way too confusing. He, _assuming_ that He exists at all, stresses me out in a bad way. He hurts me. Causes me pain. I'm better off not believing in Him at all, I think, because then, I don't have to muddle through complicated questions about how both God the one who Hurts and God the one who Heals can exist in the same being. And I don't need any more complications in my life than I already got. It's just... _simpler_, more sensible, this way.

Anne prepared well for this, her first dive. She prayed about it, for one thing. Sitting there in that big church, pious as all get out. I went with her, like I always do. It's always another lie. I manage to turn every church-trip we take together into a quiet sociology exercise. Without telling her, of course.

The Sociology of Church?

Lemme try and put it to you this way.

Is Amy still alive? I had asked Momma.

They who Believe shall have Life Eternal. She replied.

But what does that Mean? I wanted to scream. What if she _died_ still thinking, believing, that she was a Lesbian?

I phrased it better. So that Amy's shame remained buried with her. If her SCABS was in punishment for a secret sin, _what if_ she died, not having admitted the sinfulness of her act, not confessing it as a sin, indeed, not believing it was a sin at all?

Then it's in Jesus's hands, now. She replied.

_Momma Didn't Know_.

If I asked my Momma, Momma, If you had the power to give Amy the Life Eternal, would you?

My Momma would have answered, "Yes!" Unequivocally. With no hesitation. _Of Course_ she would, if she had that power.

And yet, when asked what she thought God's opinion on the matter would be, she _didn't know_.

Why the _HELL_ does mankind insist upon manufacturing deities that are _worse_ than _themselves?_ The Greeks did it. The Romans did it. The Norse did it. And the Christians, lots and lots of Christians (not including Anne, ah'think) believe that their God would _actually allow_ one of his creations to be in eternal torment, or oblivion, with no chance nor hope for salvation, even though they, imperfect mortals that they are, could not fathom nor stomach such a thought.

I don't understand. And my incomprehension makes me angry.

My anger is deeper, and more personal, as well.

I cannot stomach a deity who would allow the travesties that the world wreaks upon its people. Who would permit such things. We say that our deities are omnipotent. But to state that is to admit that God is, personally, responsible for every violation of _anything_. Because He (hypothetically) could stop it. But He (hypothetically) does not.

I cannot stomach a god who would allow Amy to die. Who would string me along up 'til the last moment, in Father Daanikker's little chapel, on the verge of professing eternal devotion, and then just pull the rug out from under me, leaving me with no _choice_ but to hurt and destroy.

There is one more question I had asked my Momma.


Yes. She replied.

Momma, you know what you said about Amy?

Yes. She replied.

Momma, what does it mean if _I_ get SCABS?

_Momma Did Not Reply_.

* * *

Anne is gone from my side, ready to make the plunge into the cold, calm Atlantic waters. We shared one last kiss, horse and Thylacine. I wished her luck. She thanked me.

Anne has faith.

Somehow, damn it all, Anne has faith. She _believes_. With an innocence born of... something. An innocence born of just sheer innocence, and wonder, and joy, and an optimism for the Human Condition that couldn't even be beat out of her by a crowd of narrow-minded thugs with coin-rolls. She didn't even start out human. And she has everything, _everything_ that I do not.

Anne enters the water. Laughingly, she ducks her face under, and just for the briefest moment, I lose sight of her for the glare of the sun off the ocean.

When my eyes are next able to focus, she is already near the crew port of the _Proteus_, already touching its beauteous, nubby-projectioned enameled steel skin. She is about to enter, on her way to approaching the pilot's couch, deep in the economical, warm darkness of her cherished submarine. She is almost about to haul herself in, when she turns around once, to look at me standing, alone, on the deck.

She smiles. I wave. She waves. I smile.

My heart's not in it. But I put on a good show.

With one last adjustment, Anne vanishes within.

Then, and only then, comes the true pang of missing her.

Her two passengers, the maximum that the crowded little submersible can hold, quickly vanish within as well. Anne told me that one doesn't need a _whit_ of special training just to ride along. I had wanted to go with her, on this brief, fledgling mission of hers.

It was found that, even in my most human-like guise, I am simply too big a creature to fit in the tiny interior of the _Proteus_.

I am here, stuck forever on dry land, on these earth-dwelling hooves and this probably-made-up fear of the water. And Anne is off to baptize herself.

The hatch closes.

"Well." Says a grizzled, turtleneck-clad officer standing nearby, just barely within earshot. "Never thought we'd see one of her kind running that ship."

I bite my lip, to keep it from quivering.

"She warn't even born human." Adds another, staring out at the departing submersible. "D'ja know that?"

The first nods. "Ayep. A woman. And not even a natural human one 'a that." He shakes his head in wonderment.

There is silence, but for the waves and the faint noise of the receding engine.

"I'll be damned." He concludes.

And at these words, I finally burst into tears.

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