Prologue of “Willing Servants”:
Sergeant Bradford looked out over the devastation from the safety of his patrol car, the radio squawking just at the range of hearing. Below, blackened remains of neighborhood upon neighborhood stretched off to meet the setting sun. When the last of the contractors’ trucks swept headlights across the empty road and disappeared over the hill, he got out and walked down a steep driveway to nowhere. This point, the farthest south and east of the firestorm damage, looked like a pointing finger from above, as if the fire sought out this one sight, so far from the rest of the burn, with intelligent purpose.
He remembered the row of single-story or split-level cottages that lined the street before the fire, split levels on the odd side of the street, single-stories on the even. In a neighborhood most Oakland residents knew nothing about, gardens blossomed and tall trees grew, structures and paint appeared well maintained, save for one property.
In his mind, he could still see it at the end of the driveway, behind a screen of dead branches from trees planted so close to the house that the front foundation reared up. Windows either stared with flat darkness or hid behind gray plywood patches. While around the rest of the neighborhood stood cords of fresh, white lumber, this patch of ground remained black and burned, so far untouched by reconstruction.
Bradford continued down the driveway and around to the concrete slab, a former porch. Where the front door once stood now lay a steep drop to the crawl space under missing hardwood floors. The sergeant stopped here, not wanting to sift through the charred remains.
“I just wanted to make sure you burned,” he said aloud.
His eyes couldn’t help but trace a trail he himself had followed nearly ten years before, the length of time this house had been abandoned. Through the front door, his foot exactly parallel with the lock, charging headlong into a living room filled with antique furniture and hundreds of kick-knacks and pounds of fragile bric-a-brac. Screams and growls came from the other end of the house. Bradford ran though the kitchen to a hallway, finding three doors. Two stood open, and his eyes darted to them and away as quickly. Bradford was almost certain he shouted “Police!” as he broke down the bedroom door, gun drawn.
His lips formed the word silently as he stood amid the wreckage. Philosophically, he mused that those two impacts—his foot against the front door and his shoulder against the one in the bedroom—set him on a dual path from that moment on. On one hand, it led to a promotion from traffic patrol to the Violent Crimes Unit, and he believed subsequently to his current rank of sergeant; on the fast track to command, as his lieutenant put it. On the other hand, it led to his divorce, and his inability to sleep at night.
Philosophy aside, he couldn’t shake the goose flesh that crawled up his arms beneath his warm Tuffy jacket or his constant fondling of the 9mm holstered on his hip. Even though the nightmare house remained only as a bombed-out hole in a fire-blackened neighborhood, his memory rebuilt the place more solidly than any contractor would ever do.
His feet slipped when he smashed the bedroom door half off its hinges. Slipped in blood that soaked nearly the entire off-white wall-to-wall carpet; that painted the walls in arcing spatters, even the ceiling and overhead light were dotted in red.
All of it came to him in the quick beam of his flashlight, held away from his body to make him less of a target for gunfire. On the bed, the beam caught two eyes, reflecting the bright light like an animal’s. He crouched on the bed on all fours, black shirt, white collar, stripped from the waist down. The man, too, was painted in blood; chalk white flesh peeking through in streaks on his face, his legs. The shirt shined with fresh liquid, the collar pinkish with it. When the man saw Bradford, he snarled, showing teeth stained in blood. Bradford aimed his gun, a .38 special in those days, at the dark mass of the bloody man’s body.
With his finger slightly squeezing the trigger, Bradford told the man not to move, or to get on the floor—he couldn’t remember exactly. At the same moment, he saw the woman.
She lay on the bed beneath the crouching animal-man, white hair matted with dark crimson and brown, eyes staring at nothing. Red smeared her mouth and cheeks like ghastly clown makeup. Frail and naked, Bradford guessed her age somewhere around eighty. The old woman bounced and flailed on the bed with stiff, creaking movements.
Because the animal-man was still fucking her dead body.
And worst of all, he recognized a series of torn, glistening marks running up and down the victim’s corpse, though his mind desperately wanted not to acknowledge the fact. But he couldn’t deny his senses, even in the wan light of his flash. Bite marks, human bite marks torn into the skin, some surrounded by drying brown stains—pre-mortem, the coroner would say. The man savagely ripped the woman apart with his teeth, eating her flesh before she died, and while she died, and after…
Bradford’s teeth clenched involuntarily
His gun went off
The man flew off his victim in a spray of blood
More blood added to the gruesome slaughterhouse
Then more and more as Bradford walked forward, still shooting
In flashbulb moments from the blasting revolver, the officer saw the downward-pointing pentagrams scrawled on the walls, satanic, fresh
Four, five shots entered the animalistic predator, making his body jerk, his naked legs in spasms, his red-stained erection falling
“This is officer Bradford, I need back-up at 9092 Greene Street,” he said into the mic on his shoulder, rote, routine, training.
Six, the last one in his head, right between the reflecting beast-eyes; and the cop saw that the eyes were white-blue, darkly ringed, wolf’s eyes.
Bradford inhaled, cordite, blood, shit, viscera burning his nostrils, exhaled hard, as if to rid himself of the horror. Dumping his shells, he reloaded, rote, routine, training, and went to the victim. Just a quick look showed her eviscerated from her sparse gray pubic hair to the visible bone between wrinkled breasts. He moved out of the room, searching the rest of the house, talking in his radio, he needed backup, detectives, an ambulance, he’d found the predator priest, code three, please, everyone.
Leaving a trail of red footprints across hardwood floors and throw rugs as he checked closets, cupboards, any place large enough for a man to hide. Point of entry, he saw, was a jimmied back door leading onto a deck. He touched nothing, leaving only scarlet shoe marks that faded more with each step.
As he gazed at the grooves on the back lock, a crowbar, he imagined, he heard the growling and the screams again in the bedroom. He ran back, slamming his hip against the corner of the stove, nearly falling. Sirens echoed in the distance, the sound of little solace compared to the predatory snarls coming from twenty feet away, the tearing scream of defiance or pain or both—neither sound very human.
Again, with the flashlight held away from his body, Bradford entered the bedroom, this time turning on the overhead. Shock rose in him, cold and sudden, leaving him paralyzed in the doorway.
Light, still smoky with gunpowder, blazed clinically down in a solid beam. The body of the woman once again floundered on the mattress, dead arms flopping. The bony knees were raised, the feet off the bed. Her torso heaved back and forth on the scarlet- and sienna-drenched sheets. Howling, shrieking sounds filled the room, echoing off the walls. On the floor, the half-naked man lay dead. Animal sounds rose in volume as the dead lady’s corpse was flogged harder and harder. Sounds with no source.
Bradford pointed the gun at nothing, at the nothing that forcibly raped the lifeless body, at nothing, nothing, nothing there, though he could see indentations around her ankles where fingers seemed to grip, twin indentations on the mattress where knees must be—must be, but were not. Organs, purplish gray, green, sickly, creamy white, fell from the open cavity on the victim’s abdomen, spilling to both sides of her wracked, pale form.
A dresser on the far wall began moving, bumping up and down on the floor. Pictures fell from the walls as one, smashing simultaneously on the soft carpet. Both bedroom windows blew open, swinging in a gust of unfelt wind. The bed itself lifted, pounding its legs on the floor, but barely disturbing the victim and invisible predator.
Reaching a crescendo of pounding, screeching, roaring, cacophony, the fragile old lady’s body ripped in half, head lolling to the left, stained spinal column and ribs to the right, meat falling on all sides with a tremendous rip louder than all the unnatural noise in the small chamber.
Bradford fell on his ass, gun still aiming in mid air. At once, the room froze into quiet, normal stillness, save the quite pat of dripping …
Officer Bradford twisted, gun raised, finger tight on the trigger. Someone knocked the weapon from his hand. It went off, a bullet puncturing the ceiling. Cops everywhere, uniforms, suits, the hall full of cops and light, hands shaking him, someone vomiting behind him. Jump suited EMTs ran forward, in spite of the voices shouting for them to leave. Then, Bradford gazed at the ceiling racing past him like a maze as they wheeled him out of the abattoir on a gurney.
Standing on the concrete slab, Sergeant Bradford felt his heart race at the memory from more than eight years before. Unconsciously, he took his pulse. Those ten minutes of his life remained fully focused, fully intact, a burn scar on his mind; yet the month after the incident was lost to him. He knew he was hospitalized for a time. Perhaps for the whole month, but he couldn’t be certain.
Bradford’s refusal to talk about what happened after gunning down the man ate away at him, awake or asleep. To this day, he never said a word about the invisible presence; to this day, it still festered inside him, waiting to be purged.
At least the place, the house, the room, no longer existed, the firestorm pointing a blazing finger and erasing an entire neighborhood. Bradford last visited two years before almost to the day. He hoped that 7.1 on the Richter scale was enough to shake the place apart. But the earthquake, though destroying half the Marina District over in San Francisco and collapsing the Cypress Structure on the West side of town, hadn’t touched the quiet neighborhood in the hills, though it stood less than a quarter mile from the Hayward Fault. Loma-Prieta hadn’t touched the nearby fault, making the cop believe that an act of God was not enough to rid the city of the hellish place.
Now, with the house gone, the real underlying problem surfaced again. Bradford’s promotion hinged on the fact that he’d solved the case of a serial rape-murderer, ending the matter without a trial—only a brief inquiry into his actions that, considering the violence and the apparent strength of the suspect, passed without a great deal of scrutiny by the IAB. But in the sergeant’s mind, the case remained open.
He’d tracked the Predator Priest, as the papers called him, through several eye-witness accounts that the detective squad overlooked, mainly due to the proximity of St. Stan’s Cathedral to the scenes of the attacks, mostly on hunches, mostly on his own time. Father Mark Joaquin Bloch, actually defrocked for a decade, lived in his deceased mother’s house three blocks from the church. Through happenstance, Bradford learned the first murder started a week after Bloch’s mother’s death. And Mrs. Bloch’s resemblance to the other victims sparked a suspicion deeper than the mere hunches he followed.
For all the good police work he put in, however, the end result still stood out as unsolved in his mind. What happened to the final victim, Lorraine Hartwell, white female, age seventy-eight, was not the work of what the FBI called a sexual sadist.
But what had happened to her, Bradford couldn’t say. He wanted to know, with absolute certainty, that it wouldn’t happen to anyone else ever again.
And yet a hunch, much like the ones that caused him to find the supposed murderer, told him otherwise. Pulling a pack of cigarettes from his coat, he remembered the fatal words of his doctor two weeks before. He put them away, feeling he needed to hang around the world a while longer.
What people are saying (Reviews):
(from the Alameda Sun, local newspaper)
Local Author’s Visceral Work a Terrifying Thrill Ride
Written by Nick Petrulakis Published: Friday, 09 March 2007
Willing Servants is not for the faint of heart. Its first five pages contains a scene so shocking in detail and execution, that it may force readers to put the book down and seek out something — anything — a little less visceral.
For those readers who are able to soldier on, they will find Eric Turowski’s first novel to be a thrill ride. Bloody and profane, yes, but exhilarating all the same.
Turowski’s premise is a novel one: Mara Singleton heads up a modern-day team of ghost hunters who work on behalf of the real estate industry. Their mission? To ensure that Realtors don’t sell homes that are haunted, because in the Bay Area’s market, million dollar homes can lead to million dollar lawsuits. So Singleton and her crew suss out homes, and in 99 cases out of 100, the house gets a clean bill of health. The fun of course is with that other house — the one percent where paranormal activity is discovered.
Singleton’s operatives work in a hectic environment — pressured by Realtors to report that houses aren’t haunted, pressured by homeowners who know that something’s been going bump in the night, so what is it?
Across the country, Singleton’s father is working with the FBI — albeit reluctantly. Everett Singleton is gifted — some would term him psychic — and he’s been roped in by the federales to ferret out the whereabouts of girls gone missing.
Looming over all the stories is the menace of the Predator Priest – the boogeyman who started the novel off in particularly grotesque fashion. Someone is hunting and haunting Singleton, and it appears that the Priest could be back.
In these pages, seemingly innocuous events suddenly have sinister overtones when viewed closely. Each of the stories builds on the other — the horror on one coast coloring and informing the terror on the other.
Another thing that denizens of the Bay Area will appreciate is his attention to scene setting and detail. Singleton’s story largely takes place in the East Bay.
Rockridge, College Avenue, the Oakland Hills — they all loom large and in Turowski’s hands the hills do come alive. On one hand, readers here will experience that pleasant sense of recognition when a place familiar to them is remarked upon. On the other hand, this is a story where you might not want to recognize the terrain because of the beasts that walk through them in a world that becomes Turowski’s own.
The willing servants of the title are those pitiable persons who have become hosts over thousands of years to an invader, a demon who has been seeking the perfect host, the perfect vehicle to allow him to roam free, creating havoc and destruction never before seen. Unfortunately for Singleton, she possesses the qualities that this invader has sought for centuries.
If you want to find out what happens next — you’ll have to buy the book.
Or, you can ask the author himself. Eric Turowski will be at Books Inc., 1344 Park Street, Tuesday, March 13, at 7:30 p.m.
Nick Petulakis is the manager of Books, Inc. in Alameda.
(from the internet)
What do you get when you mix crime drama, ala Silence of the Lambs with a possession novel like The Exorcist. Besides coming up with a great book like Legion (the vastly underrated sequel to The Exorcist) you get Turowski’s Willing Servants.
I’m not joking when I compare this book to two powerhouse novels like Lambs, and Exorcist: this book is compelling edge-of-your-seat literature. It is really two stories that come together. The first is the tale of Mara a ghost hunter, much like the TV show on cable, that helps people determine if the house they are about to buy is haunted. The second is the tale of her father, also a psychic who has come out of retirement to hunt down a child killer. Both are being plagued by a demon force that neither of them is really prepared to deal with, and in the end it shows.
This book is compelling when it needs to be and graphic when it needs to be. If you though The Exorcist had brutal scenes in it, you haven’t read this yet (two words: priest sodomy). The first chapter of this book will leave you reeling and hanging on for more, and by the end of the book it delivers.
The compelling part comes via some very interesting insight into the world of exorcism and ghost hunting. You can tell that Turowski has put a lot of effort into researching this book, and with that research comes a level of fascination that is hard to match. This is one of the must haves from independent publishers, trust me.
You can find his book at www.rabidpress.com/store.htm.
Gabrial Llanas is Dred’s in-house book reviewer.
A Must Read!, August 19, 2006
By Mimi Jane Marte “Ins8ableAz” (Alameda, CA United States) – See all my reviews
Sure to be a best seller. Eric Turowski’s first novel is packed with horror and paranormal suspense. A must read if you are a horror/thriller lover! I was unable to put the book down as he spun me into the story as if I were there. I can’t wait to read what he writes next, brilliant.
A genuinely scary read!, August 18, 2006
By Karen M. Zimmerman – See all my reviews
Okay, I’m biased. I was a big fan of 20th Century Pulp, Eric’s first book, which is one of the reasons I wanted to get to know him. And, I was one of the first people to read Willing Servants, before it was published.
But, I’m a very discriminating reader, being a collector for years before opening my own bookstore. And, quite a jaded horror book and movie fan. I just don’t get scared or creeped out by much.
Eric is really a talented writer – this book grabbed me, drew me in, and scared the hell out of me.
So buy it, and read it on some stormy night, when you’re all alone. You won’t be sorry – Turowski is one of the best horror writers to come along in a long, long time.
Fabulously scary, a must read!
A reviewer, a horror lover, 09/04/2006
This book was hard to put down, the author grips you with page turning suspense. Very well written and unpredictable. I would highly recommend this book to any fan of horror/suspense type book. Stephen King watch out!