Skeleton Wings in the Closet



I was once drowining in sorrow, but now I'm drinking from the ocean of life.  Indeed, my spiritual journey has set sail! -- Ralph Oxner [autobiography excerpt]

The world has opened up for Ralph Oxner after having been completely closed for so long! -- Newport News [article excerpt]

Once a lowly mental patient, Ralph Oxner is renewed, rejuvenated, and reborn.  Almost overnight, he was transformed into the valiant super-heroic figure called 'The Ox!' " -- The Boston Buzz [article excerpt]


        The Sea Gypsy advanced at a steady pace on rustling, high waves, under a drab evening sky.  Passengers mingled on the decks; others ate in the dining room; some exercised in the gym; and the library was packed with readers.  But the cocktail lounge was nearly thread-bare.  A lone twenty-six year-old lady was perched high and straight on the bar stool, admiring the rounded counter's ice-blue marble surface.  She was also in the act of leisurely sipping a margarita through a long, thick coiled, green party straw.

        Suddenly, her peaceful solitude was disturbed by a familiar sounding voice.  "Seeing that big straw between those puckered lips reminds me of something," it stated.

        Immediately, she lifted up her head and looked over her left shoulder.  To her dismay, the overhead recessed lights illuminated The Sea Gypsy's head computer logician, Jason Brown.  The little, blonde, twenty-seven year-old playboy delinquent hopped up on one of the stools which flanked the woman's curvaceous frame.  His mischievous expression was accentuated by a wily smile.

        "Oh shit!" she exclaimed.

        "Whatever happened to 'Hello?' " he retorted, relishing another opportunity to be as annoying as possible.  Jason Brown loved playing with people's heads, especially Angel's.  She had taken her eyes off of him and was now back to focusing on the counter top.

        "What do you want, Jason?" she tersely asked.  The thick level of irritation expressed in her vocal tone delighted Jason because it indicated that he'd already gotten under her skin.

        "Don't worry, honey.  I'm not going to tease you about all of the skeletons in your closet," he fibbed.  "All I want is to say 'Congratulations' and extend my best wishes to you and your fiancee."

        "Yeah, right!"

        "I'm serious!" he said, trying, in a high pitched tone, to sound sincere.

        "Well, thanks.  Goodbye!"

        "You're making me feel unwelcomed, Angel"

        "Good!  That was precisely my intention!  But, unfortunately, you're still here."

        "Ouch!  I just felt your sting.  You really live up to your last name!  You know, you're not the only one who's allowed to sit at the bar and have a drink.  By the way, where's the bartender," Jason curiously inquired.

        "He left a few minutes ago to take care of some business.  Said he'll be back in about an hour," she flatly informed, still looking down.

        "Great!  That gives us plenty of time to chat in private."

        "Did I say 'an hour?'  What I meant to say was 'any time now.'  Sorry, no time to chat in private.  Bye."

        "Does he know about your past like half the people on this yacht?"

        Angel didn't dignify his taunting question with a reply.  She just kept her head down and eyes focused on her half-full glass, vainly wishing he'd go away and leave her alone.

        "More importantly, does Ralph know about your past??"



        Now Angel was the one who was stung!  She popped her head up and glared menacingly into Jason's devilishly gleeful, blue eyes.  "Jason, I swear to you," she sternly said, while pointing her index finger at his smirking face... "if you tell Ralph, I'll either kill you or make you wish you were never born!!!" she vehemently warned.

        "Okay, I promise I won't tell him.  But I do have a wedding gift I'd like to give him."  Jason got off the stool, walked over to the cherrywood console and exposed the saloon's fifty inch pop-up flatscreen television set.  Then he inserted a disk into the DVD player and pressed PLAY on the remote.  As soon as the moving images appeared on the screen, Angel's little butt departed the stool seat and her long legs dashed to the TV.  She quickly ejected the disk, broke it in half, and threw the pieces at Jason's cracked-up face.  He was enjoying a hearty laugh whilst Angel was fuming.

        "What's wrong?!  You don't think Ralph would like watching you engaged in a menage a trios with Biff Big and Hunter Hung??  I sure as hell do!!  But I guess that's because I'm not planning to spend the rest of my life with you!"

        "You son of a bitch!" she screamed.

        "I've got all of your movies in my room, as well as a duplicate of the one you destroyed," he said, clearly unaffected by the destroyed disk.  His convulsion of laughter had subsided.

        "Hey, I wonder if Ralph would consider you a better porn actress than a piano teacher," he further goaded.  Angel slapped him hard across the cheek.

        "Ooh!  I could have you charged with assault, on top of property destruction.  But, lucky for you, I'm a nice guy."

        "You're a low-life scumbag!" she shouted.

        "Ehh, whatever!  I'm not saying I'm going to show Ralph one of your porn flicks.  But, then again... I'm not saying I won't.  Torturously leaving her guessing, he winked and strolled out of the saloon with a broad smile upon his boyish face.

        Angel returned on the high stool, only this time her posture was hunched over, with her fingertips touching her descended forehead instead of a straw.  The little twerp had really gotten to her this time!  She would feel like dying if Ralph found out that she used to star in adult films.  The distressed beauty sat there thinking about how best to handle the situation.

        Someone else entered the saloon.  He immediately observed her dispirited body language.  That prompted the customary inquiry: "Are you all right?"

        This voice was unmistakable.  And, under normal circumstances, it would have been inviting.  But she was too ashamed to look the speaker in the eyes.  With her head hung, she muttered, "Hi, Ralph," barely loud enough for him to hear her.

        "Mind if I join you?" he politely requested, clearly sensing that she was downtrodden.

        "No, go right ahead," she said lackadaisically.

        "Hey, what's wrong, precious?" he asked in a voice teeming with concern.

        She didn't reply.  Then Ralph sat on the stool seat beside her and rubbed her shoulder.  At that moment, she came to terms with the fact that she'd have to divulge her sordid past and let the chips fall where they may.  If honesty cost her Ralph's hand in marriage, then that would have to be the cruel wage for her transgressions.  It seemed as if her deplorable sins had finally caught up with her.  And she hardly felt like an angel!  Some way or another, Ralph would inevitably find out, she reasoned.  And she preferred it come from her mouth as opposed to an outside source, such as that reprehensible little punk, Jason Brown or overheard gossip.



        First, she took a deep breath.  "Ralph, we need to talk," she feebly said, while looking timidly at him, painfully making eye contact despite her overwhelming shame.

        That opening statement: "We need to talk!," coupled with her uneasy mannerisms, caused Ralph to jump to a conclusion.  He naturally assumed that she was on the verge of dumping him, and having a hard time going about it.

        "You don't have to say it -- you want to call off the wedding," he interjected, sounding and feeling utterly dejected.  "I should've known that all this was way too good to be true -- a girl like you falling for a guy like me.  You were probably just on the rebound.  Is that it?!"

        "No, Ralph!  That's NOT it!!!  I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you!  But after you hear what I'm about to tell you, I'm afraid that YOU'LL decide to call it off."

        Ralph's facial expression instantly switched from dour to perplexed, as he intently looked her square in the eyes.

        "I have to level with you, Ralph," she bravely began.  "You thought you knew everything about me, but there's something I've been keeping from you.  It's definitely not something I'm proud of!"

        "What is it, Angel?  Don't worry, I won't judge you!  You can tell me absolutely anything!" he assured her compassionately.

        And so Angel's story commenced: "When I was studying classical music in college, I needed more tuition money than I was making as a waitress.  One day a man left me a note with his tip.  It said: Want to make $2,000 a day?  Possibly get famous, as well!  If so, call me between 9 and 5 at... (followed by his number).  Well, I called out of curiosity, just to check it out.  It was introduced as a 'Talent and Modeling Agency' by a female receptionist.  She went on to explain to me that they specialized in promotions, and offered clientele opportunities for national casting in commercials, TV and movies.  She informed me that the gentleman in the restaurant was an agent.  Then she asked me if I'd like to make an appointment to drop by for some free snap shots.  It all seemed legitimate, so I agreed.  You have to bear in mind that I was only eighteen and very naive.  I had just moved to New York City and thought that anything was possible.  When I arrived at the studio, I was disappointed because it was less elaborate than I had expected.  So, the cameraman took some head shots, which he said would be entered into my 'promotional portfolio.'  Even though it wasn't glitzy, I left the place feeling very optimistic about my future in either entertainment or modeling.

        "The next time I came in for more photographs, the agent unfolded a wad of twenty one-hundred dollar bills and said I could have all that money if I'd just pose topless.  Of course, it wasn't something I was enthusiastic about doing.  But, at the time, I really needed the money, so I went along with it.  I felt like I just couldn't wait to get famous and start making big money in the process.  I had bills to pay and a high tuition on top of that!  Future topless photo sessions ensued and, before I knew it, I was showing literally everything for the camera -- legs spread and all.  I was getting paid more and more with each photo shoot because I was so pretty and willing to go so far.  It was all so gradual and manipulative -- the way they maneuvered and handled me.  I have to hand it to those people!  They were extremely savvy!  They really knew what they were doing!  They operated like pros!  And the money was SO tempting!!!  Now I realize that the love of it really IS the root of all evil, like the Bible says.

        "I felt like I had fallen into quicksand and I knew that I had compromised my ethics, not to mention hurting my self-esteem.  I started doing drugs to cope with the guilt and depression.  Cocain was my drug-of-choice and, as everyone knows, it's not cheap!  So, I needed even more money in order to support my drug habit.  Regretfully, I turned to adult films.



I'd hit rock bottom, and my mind wasn't even clear enough to focus on my music studies.  My grades began to decline.  In the ensuing semester, after my drug use had really escalated, I failed most of my instrument classes and was put on 'mandatory probation.'  That meant that unless my GPA (Grade Point Average) improved to at least a D plus, my ass would be kicked out of the Music Academy.  Porn is all I had to fall back on!  Now, THAT'S a bleak thought, isn't it?!  I knew I had to do something and do it quick!  But I didn't know what to do!  I had no idea how to save myself from myself.  All I knew was that my life had spiraled out of control and I was up to my neck in quicksand.

        "One day, after violin class, my instructor approached me and said she'd like for us to chat in private.  'Is it about my grades?' I asked.  'Yes... and other things, as well,' she replied.  That had me speculating the substance of the 'other things' on her mind.  My warped mind presumed that her intention was to proposition me.  I was prepared to 'do her' in exchange for a higher grade.  That's how far I had fallen!  I was a total degenerate.  We planned to meet back in the classroom at five o'clock that afternoon.  Right after I arrived, she locked the door and we sat in desk chairs, facing each other.  To make a long dialogue short, we had a frank discussion about my drug abuse and everything that led up to it.  I felt more naked at that time than I ever did while I was doing porn.  It turned out that she could recognize when I came to class high, due to certain tell-tale signs I displayed.  She said she used to be a drug counselor.  So I guess she was really able to spot us chronic drug users!  I broke down and began sobbing. 

        "She told me there was only one thing that could help me.  'What's that???' I asked, skeptical, yet hopeful.  I was at the end of my rope, desperate for deliverance, and willing to listen to anyone's advice.  She said that my only hope was to take the detoxification program administered by a self-help organization called 'The White Light Liberators.'  At that time, I wasn't even aware of their existence.  She testified to seeing dozens of drug addicts go, and stay, clean after going through the detoxification process.  So I contacted the W.L.L. headquarters and told them about my situation.  The operator convinced me that they could help me, so I decided to give it a shot.  I figured, What do I have to lose?!

        "Within two months, I was completely free of any desire to get high.  It was an absolute miracle!  And no more durgs meant no more porn.  So, it was a double blessing!  Then I made a decision that would seem to be contrary to reason; although I was leaving the world of porn behind me, I resolved to go by my screen name.  That would serve as a perpetual reminder of just how far I'd fallen, but also how high I'd risen on the wings of the Liberators.  They did exactly what their name implies; they liberated me!  I was a drug and sex slave, and they set me free!  I am so grateful to them for that!

        "My porn career lasted only seven months.  I was still only eighteen years-old when it ended.  But I was on the verge of becoming Jenna Jamison three times over!  No one in the industry, including her, came even close to matching my looks and sex appeal!  Right before I went into detox, I was preparing to star in a big budget flick with a major adult film label.  My agent told me that my earnings for that movie alone was set at $850,000.  I turned it down.  But I don't regret getting out of the business when I did!  Being a multi-millionare porn queen wasn't even an option with me at that point!  I'm a cult porn star... something I'm not proud of, mind you!  It sounded like I was just bragging, but my point is that it doesn't bother me when, every now and then, someone hears or reads my name and goes: 'Are you the... uhh... actress??' I take opportunities like that to share my story and educate them on what the Liberators have to offer; I mean, to offer people in general -- not just those with chemical dependencies.  My line is that The White Light Liberators have the knowledge and the tools for handling all of life's obstacles.  And everyone faces obstacles throughout their lives -- whether it's basic stress, social anxiety, family problems, work-related issues, et cetera.  I tell them that The White Light Liberators can improve the overall quality of anyone's life."



        Angel's full-fledged confession felt cathartic, but she was, nevertheless, nervous as hell about its potentially devastating consequences.  Would honesty pan out to be the best policy in this particular case, she wondered.  Within a few seconds she'd know!

        "So, there ya have it, Ralph!  Ever since you accepted my proposal, I've been looking forward to the day when your last name replaces the slut's name.  I don't even identify with that slut anymore, but I still would like to wipe her last name clean off my slate!  That'll symbolically bury the last fragment of my porn legacy.  Now I guess it's all up to you, honey.  Must I continue to 'Sting' like a bee, or will I turn into a mighty 'Ox??' "

        Ralph's facial expression did not betoken his already-made decision, and intentionally so.  With bated breath, Angel awaited his answer like a defendant on trial for murder waiting apprehensively for the foreman to read the jury's verdict.  Her future hung in the balance!  Wordless seconds passed.  The silence was killing her, and she considered it a bad omen.

        "I'm looking at... Angel... [He paused for a full five seconds just to torment her a little longer and add to the drama, all the while maintaining his poker face.] ... Oxner!"

        Angel, overwhelmingly relieved that he said Oxner instead of Sting, let out a euphoric shriek, and firmly wrapped her arms around the burly body of her Ox.


        Gayle Rosedale had her Bible opened, and her eyes were on the verse, Revelation 12:9.  That's when the jingling bell alerted her that someone was entering her thrift store.  As always, she went to greet the incomer.  Lo and behold, it was none other than her favorite customer, the one whom she'd taken under her wing, Miss Frances Queen Prescott.  She knew what she'd come for, and hoped she was ready to take on the challenge.  Allowing a non-Gypsy to gaze into her crystal ball... boy, was she breaking the rules!!!  It was, indeed, risky business!  Gayle hoped she was not making a big mistake!  They chatted for a little while and then got right down to business.

        "Now, Frances, once again: the objective here is self discovery, not entertainment.  You MUST keep that in mind!"

        "Don't worry!  I will!" promised Frances.

        "All right, have a seat at my desk and we'll get started."

        Frances eagerly complied, without delay.  Her bottom was on the seat in a flash.  She couldn't wait to get the gazing underway!  Minutes later, it was all set up.  On the desk before Fran's face was the crystal ball, and on her shoulder rested Gayle's hand.  Frances was formally instructed, in a serious but calming tone, to close her eyes, clear her mind, relax her body, and breathe deeply.  Frances prepared herself accordingly.  Within about five minutes, she was adequately at ease both mentally and physically -- primed to gaze.  Siren seemed to be ready, as well.

        "I see something!" Frances excitedly squeaked.  The ball was "coming alive," as the Gypsy folk say.  Faint hues and tints, along with indistinct, shifting images enveloped the sphere.  Within twenty seconds, vague, but recognizable, human forms were developing.  The images gradually evolved to the stage of identification.

        "Oh, I know who that is!  That's the Indian lady I saw in here."

        "In this store?" Gayle asked.

        "No, in Siren," Frances clarified.

        "Oh, okay.  You're talking about Tituba."

        "Mmhmm," Frances murmered, keeping her eyes glued on the globe.  She observed that the Indian slave's apparel was flamboyant, which she considered at odds with her humble social status.



A colorful turban and a shawl with fringes accessorized her head and shoulders; a beautiful, silver medallion hung on her chest; her long, raven hair was highlighted by sparsely scattered, embroidered beads of green, orange and blue; and the full length of her tall body was covered by a scarlet bodice and a black gown.  Tituba's impressive fashion statement concluded with a pair of brown moccasins, which were in good condition.

        Following an additional twenty seconds, a crystal clear image was furnished.  It was even more vivid than real life.  The setting was, again, the kitchen, and she'd eventually learn that the scene she was witnessing transpired way back in 1692.

        "Okay, Frances.  Don't get too excited.  Stay alert.  I'll be periodically challenging you with simple arithmetic equations to solve.  It's not that I care about your mathematical skills; I just need to continually test your level of awareness.  If you're unable to solve them anymore, or take too long, it'll indicate to me that your mind is beginning to slip away.  That's when I would pick up Siren and move her from your view.  It would be for your own good, of course.  But I hope it doesn't come to that!  Okay, what's eleven plus nine?

        Frances didn't dally in providing "twenty" as the correct answer; she said it in a fraction of a second.

        "Good!  Now, while you're gazing, I'd like for you to talk it out like a sports commentator's play-by-play feedback.  This will help you keep your focus... and your mind!"

        "All right.  Let me see what's going on here," Frances enthusiastically began.  "Those same seven white girls are with Tituba in the kitchen again.  But this time, three other white girls are present, as well.  They're older.  I'd say they're about seventeen or eighteen.  All ten girls are dressed in conservative, formal attire for that age.  They're all wearing long dresses.  If they had on pajamas, it would look like a slumber party -- with all of them gathered together like that.  In fact, I kind of get the feel that it's a slumber party type mood."

        Frances went silent for nine seconds as she gazed like a motionless wax statue.  That worried Gayle a bit.  "What's fifty-seven plus thirty-six," she tested, her tone revealing alarm.

        Ninety-three," Frances swiftly replied.

        Gayle was relieved, as well as impressed.  "Your mind is sharp, but you still need to struggle to maintain your consciousness," she said.  It was spoken in a tenor of exhortation at Fran's computational quickness.

        Frances resumed, "Okay, now all ten girls are sitting on the floor with their legs crossed.  I wonder what they're up to.  Now Tituba is coming toward the 'body circle.'  She's carrying a glass of water in her right hand and an egg in her left hand."  Gayle smirked wily because she knew what was coming next!

        "Now she's standing in the center of the circle with the glass and egg.  The girls are all looking up at her with eyes full of anticipation and excitement."  Gayle, being familiar with the practice she was hearing described, nodded, the wily smirk remaining on her face.

        "Hmm.  A glass of water and an egg... looks like fun!" said Frances sarcastically, not knowing the objects' functions nor understanding the purpose of the activity.

        "Tituba just cracked the egg shell on the edge of the glass." (What's she doing now? Frances asked herself, momentarily breaking out of her commentator mode, before continuing on.)  "Okay, it looks like she's trying to separate the white from the yoke.  Yeah, that's what she did!  And she's depositing the egg white into the liquid.  She just dropped the shell and the yoke in a pre-situated canister to dispose of them.  She laid the canister aside and picked up the glass.  Now she's displaying the concoction to one of the older girls in the circle -- holding it at arm's length in front of her face.  The girl is just sitting there, staring at the glass.  Judging from her facial expression, I'd say that she's experiencing heart-pounding suspense.  I can't imagine what could be so dramatic about an egg white in a glass of water!"

        Gayle smirked again, and knowingly said, "You'll see," sounding, and looking, like a cagey serpent.



        While Frances spoke, her eyes remained fixated on the history film going on inside Siren.  Those eyes were piercingly intense, even though the action was currently stagnant and the content ostensibly boring.

        "Well, nothing's happening inside the glass," said Frances.

        "It takes a little while," Gayle replied.

        Frances wondered what kind of intrigue could possibly be on the horizon.  "I bet a little fish is going to leap out of the glass," she speculated.  Not needing to comment, Gayle just smiled, while Frances watched and waited.

        Following another nine seconds of golden silence, Gayle chimed in, "Add twenty-nine plus forty-four and then subtract forty from the sum.

        Frances said "thirty-three" in less than three seconds.

        Gayle exclaimed, "Hey, that was quick!  I'm surprised.  You're smarter than I thought."

        "Thanks... I think," Frances lazily retorted.  She kept looking into the crystal ball, waiting for something interesting to transpire.  Finally, a sign of activity!

        "Ooh!  The egg white is starting to change shape!" she announced briskly.  "Hmm.  It looks like a... Oh, my God!  It's a coffin!  That isn't by accident, is it Gayle?"

        "No, what you just saw is a primitive form of divination.  It's a poor man's crystal ball, so to speak.  Whatever shape the egg white takes is the fate that awaits the glass gazer.'"

        Frances resumed reporting on the sequence of events: "The girl that's been gazing directly into the glass now looks horrified.  Her hand is over her mouth.  The other girls are disbanding the circle to get a closer inspection of the physically manifested omen.  Simply put, they're getting up to look inside the glass.  I can tell by the looks on their faces that they're aware of the fact that the coffin signifies death.  They're young, but not stupid.  The poor girl that just received the bad news from the glass appears catatonic.  I mean, she's on her knees, and she looks frozen stiff.  Her face is blank -- no expression whatsoever.  I guess she's in shock.  Now her shoulders are shaking.  Her arms are also beginning to shake.  So is her head.  Very spastic movements!  It looks like she's suffering from a fit.  It's getting worse!  Her upper torso is gyrating and her legs are flailing."  [Her peers quickly disperse in order to avoid physical injury from those frenetic limbs.]  "An epileptic seizure is minor in comparison to her convulsion.  The girl's body is thrashing wildly and it's completely out of control.  It looks like it is being electrocuted by a thousand volts.  She's drooling.  Her eyes look extremely frantic, like she's horrified beyond belief!  This is terrible!"  Frances's voice quivered.  "I can't watch it any longer!"  She sprung from her chair and dashed out of the office crying.  Gayle pursued her in a mission of consolation.

        "Frances!" hollered Gayle -- halting her in her tracks as she headed down the hall for the front door.  The upset young lady whirled around in acquiescence to her spiritual advisor's commanding tone -- like a child obeying a strict parent.  "Come back to the office, honey.  We need to have a talk."  Frances did as she was told.

        Gayle sat behind the desk this time, and politely offered Frances the more comfortable easy chair.

        "You know what Siren was trying to reveal, don't you, Frances?"

        She raised her head and nodded.  Gayle saw that her eyes were thickly glazed over in tears.

        "You remember it now, don't you?"

        Frances nodded again.

        "That negatively charged packet of energy has been in your cells throughout your life, hon.  And it has been inhibiting your life force like a dam restricting the flow of water.  It's been causing you recurrent emotional pain, and suppressing your highest potential for happiness and freedom of expression.



Up until now, you didn't know the source of your negativity, so you couldn't do anything about it.  But now that Siren has lifted the veil and made you aware of that incident in your past life, you can begin to heal the psychological wounds."

        "Oh, my God, I'm remembering more of that life!  Only a few months after I had that fit in the kitchen, I caught pneumonia.  I recall lying on my death bed, feeling sad and scared.  So how would I go about resolving all of the negative energy I've acquired from past lives??"

        "That's an excellent question!  My recommendation is The White Light Liberators.  They have tried and proven techniques at their disposal.  They can really dig into someone's past life and get to the root of people's problems.  And, believe me, there are always a lot of those roots to be pulled up!  Why don't you contact the W.L.L. and find out what they're all about," advised Gayle.  Then she warned, "Just don't mention your experience with Siren to them because they'd think you're nuts!"

        "The White Light Liberators, huh?!" Frances said, mulling over the idea.  "Well, Aaron Hughes is a member, so I guess there must be something to them!" she reasoned.

        "Yeah, he's 'the man,' isn't he?!" agreed Gayle.

        "He sure is!  I haven't been to the theatre in years, but I think I'll go see him in The Wild Life of Billy the Kid."

        "With your boyfriend, I suppose," said Gayle, prying a bit.

        "Oh, I don't have a boyfriend," Frances informed in a low tone, looking downward.

        "Are you looking for one," inquired Gayle.

        "Tell me where to look, puhleez!  Actually, I haven't been actively searching.  I guess I've always kind of hoped that 'Mr. Right' would just walk up on my doorstep.  I admit I haven't looked hard enough for a mate.  But the main reason I'm still single at thirty-four is because I'm meticulously discriminating.  I won't go out with a guy just because he happens to be handsome and has a good personality.  That's not enough for me!  If I don't feel love at first sight, I'm simply not interested.  Isn't that peculiar?!"

        "No, I just think you have a 'Fairy Tale' mentality.  You're always wishing that Prince Charming will ride his white horse into your life.  But maybe you ought to take the initiative and seek Prince Charming out, instead of passively waiting for him to come to you.  I mean, we are living in the 21st century, ya know."

        "Hmm.  That sounds like a good idea!" Frances said, with a sprout of hope in her voice.  "But like I said, I don't know where to look.  The Internet is definitely NOT for me, so don't even say it, Gayle!"

        "No Internet, huh?!  Well, how about going to church to fish them out?" Gayle suggested.

        Frances chuckled and replied, "I think of the church crowd as consisting of either insincere phonies or self-righteous hypocrites.  The Internet would actually be a better option!"

        "Well, there's a lot of truth in that, Frances!  The holy Bible tells us about those types of folks.  Take, for example, these seminary students.  First off, I'm lucky that Southeastern Institute of Theology is down the street because it gives me a lot more business.  Those kids come in here and buy lots of stuff because they're on fixed incomes and can't afford to shop at expensive retail outlets.  But they're also annoying as hell because they're a bunch of dumb-ass know-it-alls.  They've got it in their heads that they're saints.  And they look down on everyone that doesn't believe exactly like them, or live up to their standard of perfection."

        "How so?" asked Frances.

        Gayle explained: "It's like, if you've been divorced, you're a piece of crap.  They're judgmental as hell!  One punk actually wrote me a freaking three-page letter about how I'm a huge sinner and going straight to hell for selling Pro-Choice bumper stickers.  It didn't matter to him that I also sell Pro-Life bumper stickers!  I informed him of that fact, but he didn't want to take it into consideration.  He didn't understand that I wasn't promoting abortion or trying to impose my beliefs on other people, like they're always doing!  He wouldn't listen to my argument that people should be entitled to freedom of speech and that that's the hallmark of America!  In short, he refused to listen to reason!  His mind was completely closed!"

        Frances shook her head and said, "It's sad that there are so many people like that in the world!  By the way, didn't two seminary students recently get arrested on child molestation charges?"



        "Yeah, they sure did!  The first one has already been convicted and sentenced.  He was a youth counselor.  I think that's what The Lake Weekly said.  I was appalled when I read in the paper that Southeastern issued a 'No Comment' statement when the media asked them to comment on the scandal.  I think that if they truly had Christ in their hearts, they would've expressed some degree of sympathy for all the boys that the pervert molested.  But NO, not even an apology!  Nothing but a cold 'No Comment!'  I guarantee you that their only concern is Southeastern's public image, not the abused children!  I'm sure that their first thought when they received word of the charges was, Oh, shit!  This is gonna look bad on our school!  And just think: for those two lowlifes that got caught, there are probably a slew of other seminary students who have either gotten away with the same thing or secretly harbor those disgusting urges but haven't acted on them yet!  Seminary pedophiles are probably a dime a dozen!"

        "Yeah, that's a good point, Gayle!  I never really thought about it like that!"

        "But even though there are definitely some bad Bible-belt apples out there, give the church scene a try!  Heck, it couldn't be worse than the bar scene.  Believe me, I know!  Been there, done that!"

        "Oh, I wouldn't ever go to a bar!  But I'm game for church!  I'll give it a shot and see what happens," Frances said with a hopeful smile.  "But I don't know if I could stomach sitting through a preacher's sermon!" she added.

        "That's a good trepidation.  The true essence of religion has been twisted for the purpose of making people feel guilty and worthless.  Guilt weakens the psyche, which makes the mind more vulnerable to manipulation and control.  Implanting guilt in someone is paramount to psychological rape!"

        "Hey, that makes a lot of sense!" exclaimed Frances, impressed by Gayle's knowledge and wisdom.

        "Although that was the sinister intention of the founding church fathers, there are still some good preachers out there that don't try to screw with peoples' heads, and reach in their wallets.  Your mission is to find one of them!"

        "Well, I'll definitely try!"

        "Good luck, honey!"

        "You think I'll need it??" asked Frances, fishing for a compliment.

        "Probably not!  You're so cute, Frances!  I'm sure that one day you'll find your prince," she assured the never-married, thirty-four year-old virgin.

        "Well, I just hope it happens before I reach your age," Frances teased.

        "Keep talking like that and I'll turn you into a toad, little missy!" threatened Gayle, as she scrunched up her face and wagged her finger at Frances.  Frances laughed at her impression of the Wicked Witch of the West.

        "You're such a good friend, Gayle," she said.  One of Fran's many character attributes was her appreciation of her friends.

        "Now, don't you go trying that egg white trick at home," warned Gayle.

        "Why not?" asked Frances.

        "Because God didn't create the future for us to know!  Undisciplined divination can take the adventure out of life.  We all need to be surprised, even if it's an unpleasant surprise!  Siren understands this -- which is why she won't provide my eyes with everything I want to know."

        "You mean Siren actually thinks like a person?"

        "Yes!  She's what they call 'artificial intelligence.'  Crystal balls and DNA are, in fact, made from the same substance.  DNA is a crystalline transmitter and receiver of information."

        "Well, don't worry!  I won't copy Tituba's antics.  The egg white practice doesn't appeal to me after I saw what a horrific effect it had on me in my past life.  A crystal ball is definitely my divination-of-choice!  Besides, Siren is way more technologically advanced than that simple egg white technique."

        "Of course!  A Gypsy invented her!  What would you expect?!" Gayle proudly retorted.  Then, she thanked Frances for the visit, and assauged her that, although the crystal ball experience was stressful, spiritual progress had, indeed, been made.  Before she left  the store, Gayle fetched a book out of the trunk and entrusted it in her hands.  The title was How to Attract your Soul Mate through Psychic Intuition.