Houses of the Holy

Chapter One—Drums in the Deep

"(T)hese remarkable voyages were . . . undertaken chiefly from the wish to find lonely places, where these anchorites might dwell in peace, undisturbed by the turmoils and temptations of the world."—Fridjof Nansen

"From the houses of the holy, we can watch the white doves go / Out the door comes Satan's daughter, and it only goes to show."—Led Zeppelin

There was a party at the ruins.

Deep in the mountains outside the city limits of Oslo, Georgia, was an anomalous structure. Five low buildings—not quite high enough for a man to stand up in—constructed of expertly-fitted dry stone, each with a single large slab of stone for a roof—were situated in a circle around a large dolmen—a gigantic round stone balanced precariously on three small stones. Next to the dolmen was a well constructed of dry stone. This anomaly—overgrown with blackberry vines—was situated snugly at the base of a hollow in one of the mountains. Who built these buildings, when, and why, was wholly unknown—many archaeologists had opted to study these ruins, but they were located on land owned by the Mithgarth County James Cooper Memorial Historical Society, and the Mithgarth County James Cooper Memorial Historical Society frowned on outsiders.

In recent times, the ruins had become a popular gathering place for the youth of the town of Oslo. On this warm May night, under a full moon, a celebration was in full swing. All of the notable socialites of Oslo High School were present. There was a blazing bonfire next to the dolmen. There was music, fireworks, and more than enough social lubricant to go around.

Seated between two of the buildings were two highschool-aged youths, one Molly Ruth Maguire and her significant other, one James Ratham "Rat" Stephens. They sat gazing at the bonfire, unwilling to partake in what they considered to be frivolous festivities, preferring instead to enjoy one another's company. Rat handed Molly a jug of clear liquid. She took a deep draught from it.

She coughed, gagged, and wheezed. "Dear Lord, Rat, where the fuck did you get that stuff?"

He shrugged and took a drink himself. "My uncle made it."

Molly, satisfied with that answer, took the jug from him. She produced a small red pill from her pocket as washed it down with a slug of the liquid. She offered one of the pills to Rat along with the jug. He accepted.

As the level of the jug got lower and lower, the tongues of the two lovers began to loosen.

"Say," asserted Rat, "weren't Linda and Frank supposed to be here?"

"They're gone, buddy. They came here for a minute just to say they were here, then they ran off into the woods."

"Huh. Wonder what they're doing out there."

Molly leaned over and plucked him on the head. "They're screwing, you idiot. They're out there in the forest doing it like a couple of bunny rabbits! All those two ever do is screw. Gimme that jug." She yanked the jug from Rat's hands and finished off the last of the liquid in a series of hearty gulps. She then cast it into the shadows and collapsed, her head resting comfortably in Rat's lap. She purred.

"Y'know, Ratham, you and I can go screw in the woods if you want to. Linda and Frank won't mind; there's more than enough mountains to go around."

Rat nodded. "Can we?"

"Are ya sure ya want to?"

"Definitely. We can ditch the party; nobody'll care."

Molly motioned to her crotch. "Well, it's just that the ol' sacred temple here has been sampled six ways to Sunday by half the guys in the school." She moved her hands up to her breasts. "Even your old buddy Frank has had a crack at these once or twice." She purred again. "Although I certainly can see what those two like so much about the woods. Making sweet, passionate love, naked on the bare ground . . . it'd be a three-way. You, me, and the Earth Mother. And then afterwards we could pick leaves out of each other's hair, check each other for ticks, scratch each other's chigger bites . . . doesn't that sound wonderful?" She kissed the crotch of his blue jeans. "You're crazy, James Ratham Stephens. Crazy as a bedbug. Crazy as a rat in a tin shithouse. But I love you for it."

Molly sat back up. She pulled from her pocket a small box of matches, a tobacco pipe, and a plastic sandwich bag full of what looked like oregano. She carefully poured some of the bag's contents into the pipe, tamped it down, struck a match on a convenient stone (strike-anywhere, of course; strike-on-box matches were for pansies), lit the pipe, and inhaled happily. Rat stared.

"What? You think you're the only one with an uncle who understands how to make money in the mountains?"

Rat shook his head. "You're smoking a pipe."

"And? I like it. Makes me feel like a scholar. Want a hit?"

Rat nodded and accepted the pipe. He took a deep toke and laughed as he exhaled two well-formed smoke rings—he'd spent years honing the skill and was fairly proud of it. The two of them passed the pipe back and forth until the cannabis was exhausted. Molly tapped the ashes out onto the ground and returned it to her pocket.

"Munchies," she coughed jovially.

Rat chuckled. "Do what, now?"

"Hungry; need food. You got food?"

Rat nodded and opened up the courier bag that he always carried with him—from its depths, he produced four small, dry, shriveled mushrooms. He handed two to Molly.

She giggled. "What're these?"

"Uh . . . cheeseburgers."

Molly shrugged and tossed back one mushroom, and then the other. Rat followed suit. The two spent the next several minutes holding each other, watching as the flames and shadows twisted and contorted into unnatural shapes. The shadows cast by the frolicking party-goers seemed to take on lives of their own, dancing independently from those that had cast them. A dark spot underneath the dolmen seemed to be gathering itself up, forming the shape of a large black cat. The cat crawled out from beneath the standing stone and stretched, mewing loudly. Molly stood erect and walked over to it. Just before it came within her reach, it darted several feet to the right. Molly chased after it, giggling. It hopped up onto the edge of the well, looked down into the swirling blackness, and jumped in.

Molly stood at the edge of the well, looking down into its swirling depths. Something in the back of her stoned mind told her that what she was about to do was a very, very bad idea, but try as she might she could not resist. She sat up on the edge of the well and jumped into it feet-first.

As she fell, there was a resistance—something had grabbed her hand and caught her just as she fell. She looked up; it was Rat. The well was deep, and Molly was far from touching the bottom; her weight pulled Rat in headfirst.

The two fell, and fell, and fell, for what felt like days, the light of the bonfire flickering into the opening of the well-shaft growing smaller and smaller until it disappeared altogether, replaced by a swirling sea of trippy shapes and colors.

The two of them hit water, and sank like stones in pitch darkness. Water filled their lungs. They began to black out.

When the two of them regained consciousness, they found themselves standing upright in about two feet of cold, clear water, the mouth of the well just barely out of the reach of their hands. It must have been around noon, because the blazing sun was directly overhead. Molly groaned; she found that she had a pounding headache.

At the mouth of the well, obscured by the sun, there appeared what seemed to be the head of an old, almost bald man. Upon seeing the two children trapped below, he mumbled something inaudible and slipped out of sight. A rope was thrown down into the well from an unseen source.

Molly, because it seemed like the thing to do, grabbed the rope, tested her weight against it, and began hauling herself out.