Easterland

( 1 )

Overview

God has spoken, and Catholic scientist Dr. Bishop must obey. Instructed to facilitate the birth of the new Christ, Dr. Bishop performs an unusual fertility experiment on two very different mothers in the American Southwest. Nine months later, twin boys are born. The boys, Peter and Paul, are almost polar opposites as they pass through childhood and become men.

Their paths begin to converge when televangelist Billy Tarr has a dream about Armageddon and the second coming of ...

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Easterland

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Overview

God has spoken, and Catholic scientist Dr. Bishop must obey. Instructed to facilitate the birth of the new Christ, Dr. Bishop performs an unusual fertility experiment on two very different mothers in the American Southwest. Nine months later, twin boys are born. The boys, Peter and Paul, are almost polar opposites as they pass through childhood and become men.

Their paths begin to converge when televangelist Billy Tarr has a dream about Armageddon and the second coming of Christ. In the dream the face of the New Jesus is revealed, along with the desert location where he will announce himself. But does the face belong to Peter, currently managing a motel in Texas, or to Paul, who drives a cab in New Mexico and lives in a cave?

The answer starts to unfold on Ash Wednesday, when Billy Tarr makes an unscheduled stop in the desert, instantly recognizes the landscape from his dream, and proceeds to launch the largest televised revival meeting in history-Easterland!

Edgy and wholly unique, Easterland delivers a fast-paced romp that is by turns complex and rich in its examination of the human condition and the nature of good and evil in the modern world.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
2013-11-05
A novel from debut author Prentice about two reluctant Christ-like figures and their collision in the desert. Catholic scientist Dr. Bishop has his hands in a strange experiment. Under the impression he has been instructed to aid in the second coming of Christ, Bishop devises a way to impregnate two women with what he believes to be the genetic substance of God. Utilizing a coin-flipping technique as a means to interpret God's will, Bishop helps bring two very different men into the world: Paul, the son of a young immigrant who believes she has seen an angel, shows great promise at a young age but very little in the way of motivation later in life; and Peter, the son of a chain-smoking simpleton who would only believe in an angel if she saw it on TV. Peter is so deficient in social skills that he's sent away to a special boarding school. After adulthood finds Peter managing a run-down motel and Paul occasionally driving a taxi, in steps TV evangelist Billy Tarr. Billy is determined to realize the dream he's had about an imminent apocalypse and the second coming of Christ. Following his dream's instructions to set up a vast evangelist operation in the desert, the stage is set for the coming of a savior, but will it be Peter or Paul? Both bear a resemblance to the figure Billy saw in his dream, and yet, though they're made of the same stuff, neither seems to come close to his biblical forbear. Alive with a quick pace and frightening peculiarities (Peter in particular proves to be an oddly terrifying creation), the story adroitly progresses through moments of suspense. Though Bishop's experiment is founded on shaky science, such a shortcoming is soon forgotten in what proves to be an intriguing desert climax. Portraying modern evangelism without too much cynicism--Billy, for instance, is a flawed true believer, though not a caricature of one--the book ably handles the dicey conceit of a manufactured second coming without too much mockery or praise. The end result is a story both strange and oddly believable. Rapidly paced and abutted with surprises, this sharp-eyed book shows just how strange the second coming might be.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781475988338
  • Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 5/31/2013
  • Pages: 346
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Read an Excerpt

EASTERLAND


By PATRICK HENRY PRENTICE

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2013 Patrick Henry Prentice
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4759-8833-8


CHAPTER 1

Maria


The night Maria saw the angel began just like any other night when she went to the laboratory to feed the dogs. After dinner she finished her chores—turning the compost, scattering corn for the chickens. When she was done she stuck her head in the kitchen door. Her father was at the table fixing a boot and didn't look up.

I'm going now. The señor is expecting me.

Then go.

She pulled the bicycle out of the shed and walked it to the abandoned highway. Hiked her skirt up and started pedaling. It was a warm night and she rode slowly to savor the feel of the air on her skin. Around her the desert ran without interruption to the horizon and even though it was nighttime you could tell where the horizon was because that was where the stars stopped.

Mostly the road was flat. But toward the end there was a descending hill, not too steep, that led to the building where the señor kept his laboratory. For this final stretch the girl coasted with her hands off the handlebars as she always did, holding her skirt open so she could feel the air against her thighs. This was her favorite part of the job, coasting down the last hill at night with her skirt lifted, hearing the sound of the bicycle tires against the asphalt and the faint whirring of the wheels and the fluttery sound of her dress and the sound of her own breathing and nothing else.

When she came to the laboratory she got off the bicycle and laid it on its side in the dirt next to the long low building. From far away, the sound of a train, going through the pass over near Magdalena. The señor's Cadillac was parked in front and there was a light on in the back where he usually worked. Which meant he had come back from Texas early. Or wherever it was that he went. She thought it was Texas.

Maria walked inside and turned on the light. The laboratory was a converted warehouse with a concrete floor. Metal shelving ran down three walls and on the fourth the señor had put the twenty-one dog cages.

Maria opened a sack of dry dog food and began scooping it into metal bowls. One and a half cups for each dog. She moved from one cage to the next, sliding the food and a bowl filled with water through a hatch at the base of each cage.

When she came to the end of the line of cages she stood, indecisively, looking at a door at the far end, hoping this wouldn't be one of those times the señor would need her help for the blood-taking. During this procedure a dog would be put on a metal table and she would hold its head and talk to it soothingly while the señor did something with a long needled syringe down near its hindquarters.

Should she tell him she was here?

Maria went back outside and stood for a moment in the still dark air. A small gust of wind blew out of the east, lifting her dress above her thighs, flapping about her waist with such insistence that she had to use both arms to settle it back in place. The feeling of the cool air against her bare skin produced a curious constricted sensation in her throat. A dark and nameless excitement swept through her.

From somewhere in the distance came the low rumble of thunder. Above her a reef of charcoal-colored clouds had sprung up and the stars that were visible only moments before had been obliterated.

A storm was coming.

The girl went back inside. For some reason the dogs had retreated into the shadows at the back of their cages and stopped their peculiar crooning sound. She found the silence unsettling.

Hola, she said. Qué es?

The hound in the first cage came slowly forward and pressed its muzzle against the wire mesh. She allowed it to smell her fingers and lick them. Once again she felt something stirring inside of her.

Then she heard a voice.

Maria.

At first she thought it was the dog who had spoken her name because the sound came from nearby. But the dog wasn't even looking at her. Its gaze had shifted to the door leading outside. At its base a streak of pale blue light. Maria felt the hairs on her arms start to tingle and she could hear the blood pounding in her ears.

When the door blew open she half expected to see someone standing there. A maniac maybe, or a ghost. But there was nothing in the doorway. Just the wind picking up outside. Then she heard a pinging sound, and another, above her, on the tin roof, almost like popcorn popping.

Maria.

This time she was sure the whisper came from beyond the door. From outside.

A cool wind was drifting in from the door. She could feel it around her legs, grasping at her dress, as the pounding overhead got louder and more insistent. Slowly she approached the door and by the time she stood at the entrance the noise had ceased.

Oh, she said. Dios.

The ground was covered with hailstones as far as she could see, glowing almost blue in the uncertain starlight. They covered the señor's car and they covered her bicycle, it's wheel turning, the spokes glittering with tiny white stones. Maria thought it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

After a while she stepped outside. Her shoes making a crunching sound. She knelt and picked up a handful of smooth white pebbles and put one in her mouth savoring the cold against the heat of her tongue.

When she looked up she saw it.

The figure was standing about fifty feet away. Motionless.

Staring at her.

She had the impression of whiteness though she couldn't have said whether the figure was dressed in white or simply blended in with the mantle of hail that stretched to the horizon. Nor could she have said whether it was a man or a woman. The only thing she was certain of was that the figure was the source of the voice that now repeated her name for the third time and whispered these words in her ear: Para ti.

Maria's mouth formed the words silently. Para ti.

She heard the crackle of lightning in the distance, a faraway soothing sound. Still watching the figure, she knelt down and placed another hailstone on her tongue. After a while her eyes teared up from the effort of staring. Maria blinked a few times and when she could see again the figure was gone. She waited for a while to see if it would reappear and when it did not she turned and ran back through the building past the dog cages and down the dark hallway to the small room where the señor was working.

She entered the room without knocking.

The señor was standing at the window, looking outside, but it was the wrong side of the building to have seen the figure in white. She said the first thing that came into her mind.

There was an angel. Outside. He talk to me.

The señor looked at her for a long time and pointed to a chair. She sat down.

What did the angel say?

He say, Maria. He say it three time.

And that's all?

Then he say, para ti.

Para ti. The señor regarded her intently. Then what happened?

Then he go away.

She sat with her hands folded in her lap while the señor went to the window and looked out. She thought he seemed sad because tears came to his eyes.

God bless you, he said.

Then he asked her if she had ever tasted champagne.


Charlene


It was about midway through her pregnancy that Charlene Ponto began to wonder if it had been such a good idea to have a baby after all.

Babies were cute, no doubt about it. But she was worried how Mr. Ponto would react to the news that he was going to be a father since her husband had made it perfectly clear how he felt about children before they got married.

They're too loud, he told her, too expensive, and they take up too much of your time. On another occasion, when he was drunk, he confessed to her that children, especially very small ones, reminded him of vermin.

At the time he told her this Charlene was despairing of ever getting married and Mr. Ponto had asked her out several nights in a row. No one would have described Mr. Ponto as a catch, but Charlene wanted to make sure she didn't upset the applecart just in case he was planning to make an honest woman out of her.

Why ruin your figure, she said. If I want to dress something up, I'll get a doll.

It turned out to take a while but eventually Mr. Ponto popped the question. Why don't you and me get married next Saturday, was the way he put it one morning while brushing his teeth.

Really, Charlene said. You mean it?

Mr. Ponto nodded and spat brownish globs into the sink. One condition, he said. No kids.

Fine, Charlene said. No kids.

So they'd gotten married on a Saturday, and the following Tuesday Mr. Ponto had gotten his tubes tied. As far as he was concerned, that was that.

But that wasn't quite that for Charlene.

In the first year after her marriage she started to see things differently, kid-wise. She began to notice mothers and their children in the park or at the mall, and realized there was something cute about kids in spite of all the noise they made. Sometimes she'd see pictures of mothers and children in a magazine or on TV and she'd feel a warm and comfy feeling inside her. From her reading she knew this was a manifestation of The Maternal Instinct, something every woman was born with, even her.

So it was the Maternal Instinct that got Charlene Ponto to start thinking about babies again. Because she wasn't getting any younger. She was thirty-six and beginning to feel a stab of panic most days, usually at about five in the afternoon, that Mr. Ponto would leave her. That she'd wind up old and lonely. Childless. To calm herself she'd fix a nice frosty highball and take her pack of Marlborough Ultra-Lites out to the stoop, where she would worry she was drying up inside. She had a mental picture of the few remaining eggs inside her female machinery turning brown and shriveling up. Eventually she got up the courage to ask Mr. Ponto if he might not consider having kids after all, since she'd read it was possible to perform a reverse vasectomy that was eighty-five percent effective.

Mr. Ponto had given her a funny look and told her she must be out of her fucking mind.

It was clear to Charlene that her husband was one of those men who couldn't share their feelings and felt uncomfortable talking about the things that were important to women. Like The Maternal Instinct. The more she thought about Mr. Ponto's curt response the more pissed off she got. She began to think that maybe it would serve him right if she got pregnant on her own. And if he didn't like it that was just too bad. She was a woman after all, and everyone knew that women changed their minds.

But there was a problem. Two problems really.

The first problem was, she didn't know any man who might want to have sex with her. The other problem was that even if she did, Mr. Ponto would almost certainly kill them both if he ever found out.

Then Charlene happened to notice an ad in the newspaper for a fertility clinic. A picture of a young couple holding hands and looking sad. And below that a picture of the same couple holding a baby and smiling. From the words in between the pictures Charlene gathered that the specialists at the clinic might be able to help you have a baby. Even if your husband was sterile like Mr. Ponto was. In vitro something or other. Which sounded like maybe they'd give you a baby scientifically, without the sex part.

For a while Charlene stared at the pictures of the sad babyless couple and the same couple happily holding the one provided by the clinic. Then she closed the magazine and put it back in the pile next to the couch. That should have been the end of it. Would have been.

If not for The Coincidence.

The coincidence was that the clinic was just across the street from the place she liked to buy pizza at. So one day on a whim she decided to drop in and see what kind of babies were available and what you had to do to get one.

She found the visit disappointing. Instead of just telling you what kind of babies they could provide in a way you could understand, two young women from the clinic took her into a room and made her fill out a form while they explained a variety of very complicated procedures and asked her a bunch of questions. Like what kind of man Mr. Ponto was and how much money did he make and did he ever hit her.

She told them her husband was a quiet sort who never said much about anything and had only hit her one time in the three years they'd been married. Which was forgivable, because he was trying to give up smoking at the time. Unfortunately Mr. Ponto didn't take her into his confidence regarding finances. But he made whatever an assistant sales manager for a chain of hardware stores made. Enough to rent them a real house with a little yard she could see from the kitchen window.

The clinic ladies had looked at each other and scribbled in their notebooks. Said they'd get back to her, all snooty like. Charlene left the clinic without saying goodbye and walked across the street and ordered a small pepperoni pizza with extra cheese. She consumed it at a table in the corner, every last piece, without giving the clinic another thought.

And that's how it would probably have ended if Dr. Bishop hadn't called.

She was watching Wheel of Fortune when the phone rang. The man on the other end identified himself and said he had gotten her name from the fertility clinic. Then he told her that while he wasn't an official part of the clinic's staff, he thought he might have something to say that would interest her.

For a moment Charlene had trouble recalling what clinic he was referring to. Then he mentioned babies and it all came back.

Charlene listened with half an ear while he talked. She was trying to solve the puzzle on the TV screen before Vanna White turned over any more letters, so there were some things the doctor told her she didn't quite follow in the details. But the gist of it was that if she was agreeable he could come over to her house and plant a baby inside her at her earliest possible convenience.

Charlene hesitated. Considering Mr. Ponto's objections, she knew that what she should say was, No thank you. But at exactly the moment when those words might have formed in her mouth, Vanna White turned over the final letters on the puzzle.

The phrase was "BUNDLE OF JOY."

Charlene didn't think it could be clearer what she was supposed to do. She wanted a bundle of joy for herself, and if Mr. Ponto didn't like it he could lump it. So she told Dr. Bishop he could come over the next time Mr. Ponto went to visit his mother in Abilene and they could discuss his proposition in greater detail.


Maria


Maria awoke in the late afternoon the day after she saw the angel. She was lying in a strange bed in a strange house and realized the señor must have driven her there from the laboratory. But she didn't remember it.

In truth she could remember nothing of what happened after the señor opened the black bottle with the cork that flew across the room like a gunshot. He had poured the champagne into two laboratory vials and said, To the angel. They had clinked glasses, and she could remember the way the champagne bubbled in her nose and how the second glass seemed to taste more bitter than the first.

After that she could recollect nothing.

But the angel she recalled with extreme clarity. Standing there at a distance, all white, looking at her and saying her name. That would be etched in her memory forever.

She started to get out of bed, then suddenly realized her head hurt inside, a dim throbbing, not unlike the soreness she also felt in her breasts, as well as farther down, in the area of her womanhood. Maria lay back against the pillow waiting for the discomfort to pass but instead she fell asleep. When she opened her eyes again it was twilight outside and the señor was sitting in a chair next to her.

You're alive, he said.

Her tongue felt swollen and there was an unpleasant metallic taste in her mouth.

Que paso, she managed finally. It was hard getting the words out.

You saw an angel, the señor said. We need to talk about that.

Maria looked at him but said nothing. Maybe it had been a mistake to tell the señor what she had seen.

How do you feel?

My head hurt, she said.

Champagne has that effect sometimes. I had to carry you to the car myself. Fortunately, you don't weigh very much.

He flexed his thin arms and she saw he was making a joke about himself. Look at me, I am old, I am weak.

Maria smiled, then pulled back the bedcovers and started to swing her legs to the floor when the señor stopped her.

You need to rest for a day or two. I've called your parents and told them where you are, so you don't have to worry on that account.
(Continues...)


Excerpted from EASTERLAND by PATRICK HENRY PRENTICE. Copyright © 2013 Patrick Henry Prentice. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 25, 2013

    The new Messiah is born (via in vitro fertilization) in this int

    The new Messiah is born (via in vitro fertilization) in this intriguing and skillfully 
    rendered sci-fi novel.

    “I went on a fool’s errand. A hornet stung me in the eye … I was given some insight into 
    the way the universe works.” That’s how Dr. Bishop explains the colossal mess he’s made after 
    being asked by an angel to create a new Messiah in his laboratory. Easterland is the first novel 
    by veteran television writer Patrick Henry Prentice, who offers a bizarre but credible 
    contemporary slant on the Biblical story of Jesus of Nazareth.

    “Doc” Bishop, a scientist by trade and a Catholic at heart, shuns the natural method of 
    conception as unsuited to the Biblical task he’s been assigned and instead impregnates a young 
    virgin through a mysterious form of in vitro fertilization utilizing DNA from the Shroud of 
    Turin (“a first year biochemistry major could have done it”). Receiving word from above that 
    his first trial might have gone wrong, he tries again, resulting in two prospective contenders for 
    the title of Christ, genetic twins Peter and Paul. One is born to great celebration and expectation, 
    the other to disappointment and resentment.

    The twins’ destinies cross when televangelist Billy Tarr sees the face of a new Christ 
    during a dream about the end of days. While making an unscheduled stop in the southwest 
    desert (on Ash Wednesday), Billy immediately recognizes the setting of his prescient dream and 
    is moved to start Easterland, the largest tent revival in televised history, right on the spot. Will 
    Peter and Paul meet there and initiate Armageddon?

    Created by an author who acknowledges having written science fiction for pulp 
    magazines “in a previous incarnation,” Easterland is sci-fi for the religiously minded (believers 
    and scoffers). The narrative jumps back and forth between the upbringings and early adulthoods 
    of mankind’s two possible saviors, raised in radically different circumstances.

    Each chapter is told from a distinct character’s viewpoint, but the changes do not jar;
    in Prentice’s practiced hands the overall thrust of the story remains dominant. Because of the many issues that stream 
    through it, the novel provokes thought but avoids getting bogged down in religious or 
    sociological pondering.

    One note of concern, however, is nonstandard punctuation, as quotation marks are not 
    used with dialogue. While most of the time dialogue is separated from narrative, occasional 
    snippets pop up in a paragraph: “He had poured the champagne into two laboratory vials and 
    said, To the angel.” This questionable convention can hinder comprehension in what is an 
    otherwise compelling read.

    The front cover art has a professional look, with its divided face—a hint of a ghostly 
    visage from The Shroud on one side, and a man with classic Jesus features on the other. This 
    echoes the story’s theme: how can we recognize the true Christ?

    Any readers not immediately turned away by the subject matter (through an excess of 
    piety or cynicism) will find Easterland to be a fast-paced novel with an intellectual backbeat. 
    Prentice realistically dissects in a modern context the salient elements of the New Testament 
    story of the Messiah and examines how expectations, or the lack thereof, impact human destiny.

    Barbara Bamberger Scott -- CLARION reviews

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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