An excerpt in honor of National Ferris Wheel Day

Author at Wonder Wheel

The author descending into the tunnel that leads to Coney Island’s magnificent Wonder Wheel.

In addition to being Valentine’s Day, February 14 is also National Ferris Wheel Day. This unofficial national holiday is held on this day to honor the birth of the inventor of the Ferris Wheel, George Washington Gale Ferris, who debuted his attraction at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair.

In this excerpt, the demon Choronzon has possessed the dead body of heartthrob actor Rudolph Valentino and is pursuing Piper on the Coney Island boardwalk…


Return of the Sheik

“You killed Valentino so you could get close to me?” she asked.

Killed is such a harsh word. I prefer recycled.

Choronzon’s voice was near. He wasn’t on the third tier—he had never left the first!

Piper spun around in her bare feet, but she wasn’t fast enough. Valentino’s form leaped from behind one of the carousel’s ornately carved benches. His soft hands grabbed her throat and they both toppled off the whirling machine.

They hit the boardwalk hard and Choronzon rolled on top of her. His black eyes pleaded with Piper’s but his hand remained on her neck.

“I’m not going to hurt you!” he assured her. “I just want a place where we can talk without being disturbed!”

Piper gave him a frantic nod. Choronzon released her neck and stood. With a forceful lurch, he yanked Piper to her feet. Then, holding her wrists tightly behind her back, he jostled her down the boardwalk.

Wonder Wheel loading station

The author at the loading station to the Wonder Wheel.

Before them, the Wonder Wheel rose one hundred fifty feet into the air. The sign at the center of the wheel was dark and none of the bulbs on its perimeter were lit. But Piper could make out the twenty-four enclosed cars as if it were the middle of the day. Eight of those cars were suspended from the wheel’s outer frame, like those on a traditional Ferris wheel. The other sixteen cars, however, hung from inner spokes so they could slide back and forth on tracks as the giant wheel rotated.

Piper felt the wind pick up and heard it whistling through the spokes. Choronzon shoved Piper down the entrance ramp.

When they reached the loading station, he opened the door to one of the swinging cabins and thrust Piper into the rear seat. Then he sat down in the front seat and closed the screened door.

With a wave of Choronzon’s hand, the Wonder Wheel’s engine growled to life and all its light bulbs ignited in sequence. Then he twirled his finger and the motor went into gear. The cabin began to rise into the windy night.

The car slid on its track toward the center of the wheel and began to swing. When it reached the top, the howling wind rocked it even more.

“Where’s Crowley?” Piper asked.

Choronzon turned in his seat so he could address her.

“Crowley is borrowed flesh. A mere gateway, like Mina Crandon. But you and I, Piper—we transcend the gate. I can keep this body for as long as you like.”

“So you’re just going to discard him the way a snake sheds its skin?”

Choronzon curled his ruby lips upward. Like an unruly child who had never ridden a Ferris wheel, he threw himself back and forth to make it rock.

Wonder Wheel sign

Some of the Wonder Wheel’s cars hang from inner spokes so they can slide back and forth on tracks as the giant wheel spins.

“The ancient Greeks once worshipped me as the god Pan—the lord of amusement and pleasure. To become potent once again, it was necessary to incarnate in living flesh and join my nature with a human soul. But Crowley has proven too frail to fully channel that power.”

The light bulbs on the edge of the wheel blurred. Beyond them Piper could make out white-capped waves pounding the beach.

“In order to bring forth my will in this world, I needed the creative womb of a willing consort. Through Crowley’s association with Dr. Crandon, I found my consort—a green-eyed blonde named Mina Stinson.”

“Margery,” Piper said, looking off in the distance like the name offended her. On any other night, the view of the boardwalk, the ocean, and the Manhattan skyline in the distance would have been spectacular.

“Yes. Margery,” Choronzon said with a nod. “She was to conceive two children. One made of flesh that would harbor the spirit of my sire, Pheneas. The other would be composed of dark matter to be inhabited by his sister-bride.”

“Khafra and Nitocris,” Piper muttered, remembering Houdini’s tale.

“Aren’t you the clever girl?” Choronzon said, smiling through Valentino’s bright teeth.

They were going down now and the swinging car dropped and soared toward the outer edge of the wheel. It was a giddy and odd sensation as the car went careening toward another car in front of it. At the last second, it swung up over the other car and then rebounded backwards.

“Yes, Khafra and Nitocris,” Choronzon said. The cabin’s swinging motion didn’t bother him. “They were to be the architects of the New Aeon, the gateway foretold in prophecy. Their union would rip an alchemical hole in the fabric of reality and give birth to a new race of gods that would rule over those who dwell in the light.”

After several back-and-forth movements, the cabin reached the bottom, still rocking but not as much.

“But things didn’t go as planned, did they?” Piper said, folding her hands between her legs.

Choronzon scowled. The car swept past the ramp and started up again.

“Despite what you may have learned in Sunday school, it was my fallen comrades who made gods of your race. Knowing Good and Evil, the serpent bade ‘know thyself.’ But with knowledge came the capacity to lie. And in that, the student has surpassed the teacher.”

They were reaching the top for the second time. She wanted to hear this and figured the best way to keep him talking was to provoke him.

“You tried to match wits with Houdini…and lost,” she said with a smirk.

The wind gusted. The car rocked. Then the rain started.

“Yes,” Choronzon admitted. He looked out at the ocean as though he could see across its turbulent waters. “Your uncle is a very public man. It didn’t take long for me to realize he had escaped the fate I had set for him in the shadow of the Sphinx.”

He was yelling so that she could hear him over the wind. The rain was coming in through the screens and pelting them in the face.

“I didn’t know the depths of his duplicity until the day we performed the ritual and I realized he had presented me with the wrong jars. Nor had I expected he would create for himself a personal vampire to spy on us—a vampire who had once been his own brother!

Piper could see the flashing sign at the bottom growing larger as the Wonder Wheel completed another rotation. With a gentle finger upon her chin, Choronzon nudged her head so that she was gazing into his large, black eyes.

“But Houdini was not the only one who deceived me that day. There were other parties present who had agendas of their own.”

Wonder Wheel 1926

A view of the Wonder Wheel as it looked in 1926.

They were going up again, and Piper thought she spotted two figures on the boardwalk running toward the giant Ferris wheel. She kept her eyes fixed on Choronzon’s so he wouldn’t spot them.

The demon, however, was too engrossed in telling his tale to notice anything going on outside the cabin.

“To breach the realm of dark matter and summon those obscene mockeries of life she calls pseudopods, Mina had allowed Dr. Crandon to perform surgical alterations to her body. In return, Crandon promised to implant a magical child within her, sired by her brother from beyond the grave. They had attempted a similar experiment on their own the year before.”

Alan, thought Piper.

The caged cabin reached its zenith and a gust of wind shook it again. The rain pelted the roof. Piper’s body was shaking, but she wasn’t sure if she was shivering or trembling.

“But your ‘experiment’ didn’t work out either, did it?” Piper said, folding her arms across her chest. Despite the peril of her situation, she was enjoying how furious she was making the demon.

Choronzon shook his head and made a sound like a snarl.

“Your uncle used a spell he copied from the walls of the tomb where I had imprisoned him. He banished Khafra’s spirit from the canopic jar and replaced it with the spirit of his deceased mother. There were no less than three spiritual entities vying for control of your body that day.”

Piper recalled the three flittering objects that had bombarded Mina’s inflated belly upon the altar. But she said nothing because she feared Choronzon would stop talking if he knew that she had been present at her own birth.

“What ultimately took custody of your body I know not—perhaps some unholy synthesis of all three. But I was convinced we had succeeded in creating our star child, granting Queen Nitocris a foothold in this world.

“Crandon, on the other hand, believed Mina had birthed a moon child, the male principle, in which Khafra’s spirit would dwell. Before we could determine who was correct, Houdini’s pet vampire stole you from us.”

The Wonder Wheel was dropping again. Piper felt a lurch in her stomach but not because of the ride.

“So, that’s it then?” she asked. “I’m the Star Child?”

Choronzon chuckled.

“My dear, I’m not entirely sure what you are. I recently learned that Houdini had skimped on the spell that created his vampire. Instead of the arcane blood of a snow bat that I used for my pet servant, the fool used the terrestrial blood of a rodent—which may explain why you can dwell in the daylight as a mortal, but with all the associated frailties of a mortal.”

Again, they reached the bottom and Piper’s heart sank. Nobody was standing at the loading platform. The two people she had seen must have assumed there was nothing peculiar about the Wonder Wheel operating at this hour. No one was coming to her rescue.

“You must understand, the goal of our efforts was a noble one,” Choronzon said, completely ignorant of his captive’s disappointment. “To purge humanity’s destructive urges and bring about peace on Earth.”

“But at the expense of our souls, right?” Piper asked, remembering her conversation with Margery.

“And give me one reason I should let this world go on,” Choronzon challenged, his eyes growing wider. “It is filled with sin and vice and all manner of corruption. It requires a new god to lead it. Let the world be remade in our image. Everything will die—earth, air, fire, water. Your hell will be our paradise.”

The wind howled. The cabin rocked. Choronzon shook his head.

“But I have come to realize that this is not what I want,” he confessed, lowering his voice. “I have lived in a human body long enough to appreciate the joys of a terrestrial life—to relish the warmth of the sun on my face. If Pheneas is reborn and lies with Nitocris, the children that will issue from her endlessly fertile womb will enslave or destroy the human race. Her open womb will be the gateway to hell.”

“My father explained it all to me,” Piper said. “When the gates of hell are opened, your friends will enter our world through the subconscious minds of your followers.”

Choronzon nodded. “And Dr. Crandon has assured a special place for my fiercest champions. It seems that freaks of nature have a natural affinity for the process.”

Piper gaped at him and her whole body went rigid.

“You leave my friends alone!”

She was about to stand up in the cramped cage so she could slap the smile off Choronzon’s repulsively beautiful face. Then over his shoulder, she spotted something moving. As the wheel lifted them up, Piper could make out something crawling like a giant caterpillar along one of its struts.

“Unless I find a willing instrument to work through, I will be powerless to prevent it,” Choronzon continued, “And that instrument, Piper, is you!”

Piper twisted her mouth in disgust. She kept trying to peer through the rain without drawing Choronzon’s attention.

There was no doubt about it. Someone was crawling on the strut just above—now below—the rail on which her own cabin swayed.

It was Henri!

Which meant that Sal was close by!

“I am a soldier, Piper. Pheneas is my commanding officer,” Choronzon said, oblivious to what was happening outside the cage. “Unlike him, I’ve already crossed over into the mortal realm—a demon’s soul in a human body. But this body is nothing more than a suit of clothes, unless I find a worthy companion with whom I can forge a new race…a race greater than human, greater than demon.”

Piper continued to hold his attention with her eyes as Henri pulled himself across the strut. The slick metal and the wheel’s movement had no effect on the zombie at all. And why would it? Henri had no fear and his muscles never tired.

Choronzon caught Piper’s roving eye. He turned and pressed himself against the rear screen.

“Amazing,” the demon said.

It wasn’t the response Piper was expecting.

“I had heard your Creole friend had created a necromaton that requires no ectoplasm to fuel it. But to see it function is another matter entirely! No wonder Crandon is infuriated.”

Choronzon was clearly amused.

“What is it, I wonder, that drives the creature in the absence of a full soul?”

Their car swept past the loading point and there was Sal standing on the ramp whispering commands into his wanga. He shot Piper a look and pointed in the opposite direction of the passing wheel. What did he want her to do?

Choronzon glanced at Sal and then at Piper as the cabin started its journey up again.

“So that’s how the lad does it,” the demon said. “The necromaton’s soul has been enslaved in the Obeah charm about his neck. It obeys his every command!”

“No, it’s not like that!” Piper barked at him. “Sal can’t break Henri’s soul free from it.”

“Don’t be so naïve, my dear,” Choronzon chuckled, keeping his eye on Sal’s brother. “How well do you know your friend? The fact that the necromaton is so well preserved makes me wonder how many other secrets he is keeping from you.”

Lightning flared as they reached the top, casting Henri’s body in a spotlight of blue as he pulled himself to a standing position atop the cabin in front of them.

A peal of thunder followed and Piper realized what Sal wanted her to do. They were going back down, which made the cabin slide in the direction that Sal had been pointing. Henri’s cabin, however, did not move.

With Choronzon’s back turned toward her and his attention focused on Henri, Piper lunged at the demon with all her might.

“Thanks for the offer, Rudy…” she shouted.

The momentum of the rocking cabin amplified the brunt of her impact, hurling Choronzon through the front screen.

“. . . but I’d rather have babies the natural way,” she finished. “Human babies.”

Choronzon disappeared through the steel mesh but his hand held firmly onto the front edge of the cabin. Piper leaned over the edge and saw him dangling several feet above the next car. Henri clawed at the demon’s kicking feet as the car rocked back and forth.

“You don’t understand, Piper!”

Choronzon’s eyes pleaded with her but their desperation had nothing to do with his predicament.

“You’re not human. You will never bring a child into this world the natural way.”

Piper glared at him.

“You are my soulmate, Piper—a human within a demon’s body.”

His voice held a richness to it like the distant chimes of the El Dorado.

“You are the sun, I the moon,” he said as though the danger of falling meant nothing to him. “Even now, an irresistible urge consumes you, drawing you closer to me. Follow your nature, child. It is your destiny.”

Piper looked at him more closely. She was astonished at the change she saw, for his eyes wore a new expression. They were incredibly tender now and moist with tears. She had never seen so much unhappiness in someone’s eyes and an overwhelming remorse seized her.

Choronzon’s feet dragged along the ramp as the car once more flew past the bottom, but he continued to hold on as they swept past Sal. Henri was now above them as they rose back into the air.

“Meet me at the Poughkeepsie train station before the arrival of the autumnal equinox.” The lips were Valentino’s, but the words were Choronzon’s. His voice seemed tortured by a passionate distress. “Come alone.”

“And why would I do that?” Piper asked, ready to pry his fingers off the rim.

“The New Aeon will happen with or without you, Piper. But join with me and it will happen gradually—the terrible fate that awaits your freakish friends will thus be averted!”

Just then, Henri leaped from his car and snatched the demon around the waist. Choronzon faltered and lost his grip. Zombie and demon fell to the earth but neither struggled nor screamed.

As he fell, Choronzon fixed his eyes on Piper and called out, “Poughkeepsie station—if you ever want to see your father again!”

Then both bodies hit the boardwalk with a sickening crunch.

The wind blew. The Wonder Wheel creaked in protest. Piper’s cabin started back down.

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