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Years ago, I walked into a shopping mall wearing a black shirt with an image of an American Buffalo head. It was one in a series of endangered species types of shirts and beyond its value as clothing and the fact that I thought it looked somewhat cool, I didn't think much more of it.
A shaky cluster of nebbish types standing in front of the mall thought otherwise. They claimed to be from a church in that town which called itself The Door. I knew little about the church or even if these guys knew much about it; their grip on reality was none too steady.
What I did know about these characters was that they intercepted me and asked me why I wanted to worship Satan.
At that moment in my life, I suffered fools gladly so I asked them what the f*ck they were talking about. It seems that the brown and black buffalo head on my shirt, with words next to it that read "Great American Bison", looked for all the world (to them) like the European Christian Goat-Head version of Satan (never mind that the Bible refers to Satan numerous times as The Serpent, i.e. scaly lizard/dragon/snake type).
Calmly addressing them, as one would reassure a child frightened of thunder, I said the design on my shirt was that of an American Buffalo, or Bison: as clearly stated.
My words meant nothing to these panic stricken dimwits who rightously insisted that it was "I" who was being naive: fooled into advertising the face of old Scratch himself.
I was not lost however, the power that Satan had over me was not absolute. To prove that I was still able to be saved, one of them told me that he had come from depths far deeper than my own, yet was saved by Jesus. He then went on to say that he had been a thief, a junkie, a wife beater, child beater, slept with prostitutes and had even had sex with animals. But thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ . . .
I stopped him right there and told him that I take advice from no drug addled, bitch slappin', dog f*cker. He looked at me wth such a shocked expression that I suspected his whole story was a lie - fabricated to make every self-pitying loser say "Well I'm not that bad. Maybe there is hope for me after all . . ."
In James Newman's chapbook, HOLY ROLLERS, that scenario is taken one step further. Richard Laymon once said that "horror writers imagine the worst case scenario." So imagine if that guy at the mall was instead preaching in your neighborhood, walking among the children playing in their front yards. Imagine him coming right to your door, your house, your family. Imagine him with a gun.
Newman does and in his chilling chapbook, your heart is kept teetering at the edge of suspense for 28 long pages. Such a story could never have worked as a novel. Some stories are complete in the short form and this is one of them.
So compelling is HOLY ROLLERS that I know of at least one other person who has read it - a Christian himself - who is looking at his life with fresh eyes. Both evil and good can have their extremes and in that far left - far right landscape of absolutes there is no room for tolerance, compassion, or humanity. There is only a breeding ground for hate disguised as ideology - perversion disguised as rightousness.
James Newman, also a Christian, takes on the darker side of evangelicalism with a depth of knowledge that few agnostics or humanists would possess. In HOLY ROLLERS he feeds out the line of reality without ever crossing over into the unbelievable.
That is what makes this story so very chilling. It is just-so-believable.
Many people who have seen the movie JAWS have said that they never felt safe in the ocean afterwards. Some can't go back in the ocean - not even knee-deep. Reading HOLY ROLLERS may be akin to watching the movie JAWS. You may never open your door for a Bible toting stranger again.
This review copyright 2001 E.C.McMullen Jr.
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