An Excerpt from Perry Brass's recent novel, The Substance of God, A Spiritual Thriller
I came back squirming, wide-awake, alone. Completely naked, all twitching muscles and shooting nerves, my eyes filled with grit. I kicked my way out of the black covering I’d been left in, as my body pulled itself up into the dark cold air from a cold metal table. Every joint in me cracked.
My stomach sucked in a shocking gasp of cold air. I sat up as straight as I could, looking at the white tag dangling from my right big toe. Pulling up my knee, I bent towards it, my fingers stiffly struggling to remove the narrow card. My toe had swollen around it, but I managed to loosen it, bringing it up to my nose. Eyes barely focusing, in
the dim light I read who I was.
A half-sob rattled through my dry mouth. Springing off the table, I hit the tile floor on the balls of my feet, reborn. Then a pain sliced through me, shooting straight up my legs to my head and I crumpled to the floor, holding onto my skull and weeping from the agony of it. Better to be dead.
The pain ebbed away, and I was just alive. Beautifully.I got up, weightless, with that pure lovely lightness you think will happen after
death. The room was dark and still with no windows. Suddenly a light so real that it flooded my eyes seemed to pour in all around me, pushing back the rush of fear I’d felt with that burst of pain.
I felt normal in the most transcendent, truthful way.
And I was, if I’d read the tag right, Leonard Jason Miller. It was like meeting an old friend, someone you’d recognize in a crowded bar. He’s over here. At least I was no longer alone. I now had an identity to claim for myself. I rubbed the residue of dried grit from my eyes. How had this happened to me?
How was an atheistic, Jewish scientist-cocksucker, once dead, now bouncing off a steel table in the dark? There was no time to breathe in my light. I had been marooned in death. But now I had rescued my identity myself, or that self had been saved for me.
Creaky after being in one position for so long, I felt a wave of jubilant energy hit me.
I wanted to dance. Do a little turn. Experience myself unwinding from the corpse I had been, some of that tense twitching finally relaxed. With my arched feet and toes on the cold floor, I performed a few motions, a glowing white fleshy jiggle, penis flopping side to side, the love handles that stayed on me no matter what doing a little bump, grind, and shimmy. In the dark, my hands glided over smooth slabs, formica counters,an extended metal sink, cabinet drawers, then the blurred profiles of a few stiffs laid out under sheets. I wasn’t even afraid; they only seemed like more furniture.
I almost broke down giggling. Even after my killing pain, I was alive—ecstatic—I was going to be Leonard Miller once more! I knew it! That was his—my—name! As I performed my little impromptu gestures of redemption, my elbow knocked over a small glass beaker from the edge of some counter. It crashed to the floor.
I jumped out of my skin. Breathing through my mouth to keep from throwing up, I took slow breaths. The
terrifying crash of that glass lacerated me, like a child trapped against his will, forced back into the corner of his worst punishment. I tried to hold on to myself. I had to keep from falling apart—I had to do something.
I would replace myself.
None of the corpses left out on the slabs would do. Somebody would miss them. Finally I was able to read the label “UNCLAIMED” on one of the body drawers, and
pulled it out all the way.
Inside was a shrunken old man, bony and toothless. He looked like a plucked chicken on ice, with a wrinkled sagging belly attached. I was saving him from Potter’s Field, I thought, popping off the tag attached to his rubbery big toe. I put my own tag
on it. Then with a grunt, I hoisted him up out of his drawer onto my back. Even with my new surge of energy, it was an effort.
Breathing hard and almost falling over, I managed to haul him to the table where I’d awakened. I struggled to unzip my bag all the way, still holding on to the guy, who kept shifting about awkwardly like a big sack of beans.
Both elbows squeezing down on his cold, ribby chest, I managed to clamp him onto the table while I disengaged the metal zipper, then stuffed him back into my bag. In a flash I’d zipped it all the way back up.
I was almost out of breath. My heart was pumping furiously. Even naked I was ready to make a run for it, when I heard footsteps approaching from outside.
A flashlight beam caught me through a narrow window in the door. I scrambled from it like a startled rat. Towards the back of the room, I spotted another rolling table with a white sheet tossed over it. Grabbing the hem, I stretched it down almost to the
floor and crawled under it, scrunching my stomach and hips against the cold tiles.
My head began to throb again. I lowered it. The cold tiles felt good against my cheek. My heart pounded as the door clicked open and a flashlight’s beam drew a trail of rippling light over the pale front of the sheet. For a moment, all I could do was listen to the pounding inside my body, echoing in my ear against the tiles.
As the beam left the outside of the sheet, I raised the side of my head just enough to make out the click of footsteps in the front of the dark room.
“Seymour! Ain’t nobody ‘live in here. I don’t care what you heard!”
“Yes, ma’am. But I heard somethin’. I don’t know what, but I heard it.”
A light switch snapped on. Extremely bright overhead lights bounced off the white tiles, the glare assaulting my eyes even through the sheet. The woman’s heels moved in quickly towards me.
“Seymour! See anything special in here?” Her click-click got more impatient.“Seymour! You take one more drink on your shift and it’s gonna be all over with
for you. You can switch places with some of these poor folks here. Understand?”
I watched her shoes walk away from me.
“Yes, ma’am. But I tell you, I heard somethin’ funny.”
“Yeah, and you been seein’ pink, too.” Her heels paused. “Honey, this is the kind of place where we all hear strange things. We all get rattled sometimes. But they ain’t nothin’ in here.”
Click-click-click in a circle.
“Wait a minute. Seymour?”
“Look at this mess! Did you see this? Somebody’s broke a glass and they’re gonna just leave it for the next shift!”
Footsteps halted; lights snapped off.
“I got a lotta paperwork to do, Seymour. Don’t mention that broken glass to nobody. ‘Else I gotta write it up.”
The door closed. I waited in the dark under the sheet as their voices and footsteps disappeared into oblivion.
Oblivion was a destination I knew: footsteps. Voices. A hellstorm of glass. . . waiting for me in the recent past: Me, alone at night, in a small brightly lit corner of my lab. The delicate, near-perfect silence of state-of-the-art equipment, expensive gauges and pumps measuring and moving micro-quantities of materials. Hushed tick-tick of the
large black clock on the wall, above orderly rows of desks and tables.
I saw myself examining a small fragment of ancient human tissue sent to me in secret by an old friend.
For weeks I had been trying to pierce its well-guarded mystery, my face glued to digital microscopes and slides; my brain already over-steeped from the volumes of files I had prepared from it. I had been dazzled by the gradual unfolding of its DNA, the
seductive fan dance of its genetics, which suggested that even to the most untutored mind, this tissue might be, by any definition, as alive as I was.
The cells in it were still living, and I still had no idea how. It hypnotized me: this bit of human flesh that had remained alive, centuries and centuries past the extermination of others. My brain took on its secrets, its ability to regenerate itself beyond any borders of time that we knew. I was intoxicated with it, gorging on my own expanding knowledge like a ravenous bee in a bed of the rarest pollen, an activity that is to scientists intellectually provocative on one hand, and shamelessly close to sexual on the other.
Very late that night, I was close to becoming unraveled myself by my own exhaustion, so I ignored a muffled stirring from beyond the door, the steady advance of a distant storm.
Footsteps. Then whispers. I shrugged and let it go as the sound moved quickly, past the reception area and
the once tomb-quiet hallway. Then the click outside the lab of the main light switch.
The big clock stopped.
I got up in the dark, by reflex palming the tissue, quickly jamming it inside the high black elastic top of my right sock. A swarm of men in dark ski masks surrounded me.
“What do you want? What d’ you—!”
They grabbed me and hit me with something hard, over and over again on my neck, head, and body.
“Wha-? Wha-? Wha-?” I tried to say. Hands choked the scream out of me. I was flailing as they fanned out to cover the place, shattering glass, hurling
logbooks, equipment, files and documents to the floor. There were four, five, maybe six of them; they took turns punching and striking me. Obviously they had known when I’d be alone, when the tissue I carefully guarded would be out.
Someone with I.D. must have let them in, past the guard twelve flights down, who was contracted from the outside and basically unreliable. He would not be doing another round for at least an hour, unless they had cornered him and tied him up. Under one of those masks was a Trojan horse in my own lab, who was evidently prepared to kill me.
Playing dead, I hit the floor, squeezing my eyes shut. As racks of test tubes and glass petri dishes crashed down on me, their cultures exposed like oysters pried from their shells, the thugs grabbed my head, banging it again against the floor until I passed out. Somehow I came to again, rolling on to my stomach. Blood from inside me surged up into my throat.
The beating stopped. Still, I couldn’t open my eyes, like they’d been nailed shut. The darkness was like a wintry polar midnight, squeezed dry of all light. Next, a kind of pale hazy glow dropped towards me and I felt a comforting silence blanket me, as off in
the distance I heard the chaos of destruction continue. Through the haze, figures appeared: Mom and Dad, dead, their index fingers on their lips, as if they were warning me to stay quiet at a movie.
Don’t get up, Lenny. We’ll take you out ourselves. We have all sorts of things for you at home. Your little black-and-white TV set. Your favorite macaroni-and-cheese dinner from the box, with the toasted crumbs on top. That new Schwinn bike with the white fringe on the handlebars that you always wanted. We got it for you. Come on, it’s going to be yours.
They both took me by the hand, leading me towards home and my new bike, until an iron rod cracked the back of my skull like an eggshell, and my life stopped.
I saw Jesus.
He seemed endless, like the sky, and shirtless. I drifted right up to his face, to his lips. He was smiling at me, his skin all beams of white light waving towards me. He told me something without words, but I was right there, floating towards him as if gravity itself were pulling me to him and the message was streaming directly from his lovely
head and into mine. This will be easy. Easier than we had thought. Or was that me at twenty with long hair when I thought I knew everything? He was so beautiful. Never had I seen anyone so beautiful. (Could this be me? I was enchanting. . . .)
Don’t worry. You’ve been lucky.
I contracted. Became small, heavy, no longer floating. Sinking down towards the bottom, suddenly I couldn’t reach up to him, but sank into a bog of blood. Lucky? I’d been murdered and was sinking through the catacombs of my own death, lined with
tormenting fear, hard, real, tightening. The lights, those little glowing flickers at the far physical edges of me where Mom and Dad had offered their hands, went out. I stopped sinking.
The fear stopped, replaced by something else.
Gratitude for the end.
It was over.
I crawled out from under the sheet. The people who had killed me would do it again. There was no telling where they came from and how many they were. I would be followed. This was no intuition: I knew it. My own self was speaking to me: I couldn’t just come back to life—presto! Somewhere out there were my murderers, and they wouldn’t let their work go undone. Once you’ve been killed as violently as I had been,
you can never really escape. I’d been given a reprieve, but there was no way of telling how long it would last, or what I was now.
How alive was I? Was I really Leonard Miller? Or had that tiny bit of tissue created something else entirely?
My head began to hurt again. Funny idea: Me, my own clone! I chuckled. If fate’s distant bell were calling me forth from death, there was no telling how much time I had in front of me, before the same bell rang again.
I did not want to hear it.
The Substance of God, A Spiritual Thriller
[perrybrass.com](c)2017 Perry Brass/Belhue Press
“Brass hangs a provocative exploration of the connections among spirituality, carnality, and love—meatier subject matter than most genre fiction deals with, though not unusual in this author's imaginative work. The Substance of God is a deft consideration of the philosophical need for a good God, of the physical lust for good sex, and of the emotional need for real love - a lot of heft, but it's also good, light reading.
Richard LaBonte, Book Marks, nationally syndicated book review column.
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Paperback: 232 pages
Publisher: Belhue Press (November 10, 2003)
Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 0.6 x 8.6 inches
Cover photo by Jack Slomovitz
Darkness was now the element of my creation, as nurturing as the liquors of the womb.
--from The Substance of God, A Spiritual Thriller, by Perry Brass
This book may shock you, but you won't put it down until the end. Perry Brass has done it again combined politics, spirituality, and white-hot Eros in a non-stop action novel. From the kinky hook-up scenes of Manhattan to the sex-soaked hammams of Istanbul, from sci-fi possibilities and biomedical ethics to the sexual ethics of a married Christian fundamentalist on a gay sex spree he cannot stop, nothing compares to The Substance of God. What would you do with the Substance of God, a constantly regenerating, "self-cloning" material originating from Creation? The Substance can bring the dead back to life but has a willful "mind" of its own. Dr. Leonard Miller, a bio-researcher secretly addicted to gay "kinky" sex, learned this after he was found murdered in his laboratory while working alone on this strange material.
Once brought back to life, Miller must find out who infiltrated his lab to kill him, how long will he have to live again—and, exactly, where does life end and any Hereafter begin?
Miller’s story takes him from New York's secret underground sex scenes to the steamy all-male baths of Istanbul. It will deal with the longing for God in a techno-driven world. With the deep attractions of religious fundamentalism and the fundamentals of "outsider" sexuality, both as forms spiritual ritual and cosmic release.
And Miller, the unbelieving, hard-core scientist, will be driven himself to ask one more question: Is our often-censored urge toward sex and our great, undeniable urge toward a union with God . . . the same urge?
Find out the answers to all of this in The Substance of God by Perry Brass.