Albert Camus

Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Evil is knocking on his door - The Fraternity of the Soul Eater by Scott A. Lerner

Maybe it’s because he knows that, as inadequate as he may feel to the task, he and his friend Bob may be humanity’s only hope against ancient supernatural forces combined with modern genetic engineering. Come hell or high water. Or in this case, the underworld or subterranean pyramids.


Published: June 15th, 2015
Cover Artist: Sabrina Sun

It’s been a while since Samuel Roberts was called upon to save mankind, and he’s getting restless. His girlfriend Susan thinks he’s a danger junkie, and he’s worried he has a hero complex. He’s back to his usual small-town lawyerly duties in Champaign-Urbana, handling divorces and helping people beat DUI raps. But then a young fraternity pledge calls. During an initiation ceremony he witnessed the live sacrifice of a young woman, but he had so much alcohol in his system that no one believes him. Except Sam. Lately Egyptian lore has been creeping into his life, his dreams, and his movie preferences, and he’s pretty sure he knows why. Evil is knocking on his door again. 

Is the call welcome? Why can’t Sam be satisfied with his comfortable legal practice and gorgeous redheaded girlfriend? Maybe it’s because he knows that, as inadequate as he may feel to the task, he and his friend Bob may be humanity’s only hope against ancient supernatural forces combined with modern genetic engineering. Come hell or high water. Or in this case, the underworld or subterranean pyramids.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater is the third book in the Samuel Roberts Thriller series, which began with Cocaine Zombies and continued with Ruler of Demons.

Good vs. Evil 

One of the common themes in Ruler of Demons as well as Cocaine Zombies is the concept of good vs. evil. In books and movies it tends to be easy to determine which is which. Sometimes it is as simple as looking to see who is wearing a white hat and who is donning a black one. Realty is more complicated. Few people are pure good or pure evil. Hitler was a vegetarian and spoke about his love of animals. Stalin was said to have loved his mother. Mother Teresa wasn't particular about who she accepted donations from, including some strongmen who probably didn't come by their money honestly. She apparently had a few other faults as well. 

In the world of the paranormal identifying good and evil is even easier. Demons, Vampires, and Zombies are often portrayed as soulless creatures of the night, without qualms when it comes to murdering the innocent. Writers also tend to portray evil characters as ugly and good ones as attractive. In Ruler of Demons, a character's goodness or evilness cannot be determined just by looking at them. 

Ruler of Demons revolves around the idea that sacrificing innocent people can bring about the End of Days. This seems like an easy call on the good vs. evil scale. Yet it is not. Since ancient times, there have always been people who believe that performing acts of great evil will summon the messiah to earth. Thus, they practice evil to bring about a positive outcome. 

In Ruler of Demons it is unclear if the ancient cult is seeking to summon the messiah or the devil. I also explore the question of whether or not the devil is a creature of pure evil. Did the devil simply get bad press in the Bible? 

These issues are relevant in our day and age. Terrorists believe they are doing the Lord’s work when they murder the innocent. Perpetrators of evil usually claim they are in the "right"--whatever that means. Religion has often been used to justify bad acts, from slavery to war. Religion has also helped feed the poor and clothe the needy. 

Yet, all of these heavy philosophical issues need not be resolved in order to enjoy Ruler of Demons. There are problems fiction can’t solve. I know, crazy, right? In fact a hug and a bottle of bourbon will do more to bring people together than any novel. That said, you never know. 

I also find that snacks have the ability to help bring people closer together. It is hard to be angry at a person, no matter what your philosophical differences, when there is a snack tray in front of you. My suggestion would be to cuddle up by the fire with a special someone along with a tray filled with chocolate, cheese and a copy of Ruler of Demons. Unless you read the book, you'll never know if Sam will actually save the world or if mankind has run out of time. 

When you're done, you may still have questions about the nature of good and evil. Sam, Bob, and Susan are--in the end--just regular people confronted by unusually powerful religious zealots. Mostly I just hope you enjoy their company.


Chapter One

I’d been staring at the blank screen of my computer for the last two hours. I had seen too much. I had opened doors that should not have been opened. In a world filled with demons and monsters there was simply no room left for the mundane. I owed the Fourth District Appellate Court a thoughtful and detailed brief. I owed my client the effort he paid me for. Yet at times it all seemed so pointless. My black thoughts were interrupted by the telephone.

“Law Office.”

“Sam, it’s Susan.”

“How may I be of service?”

“How about dinner tonight?” she asked.

“Sure, what do you have a taste for?”


“Indian as in Mahatma Gandhi or Indian like Geronimo?”

“Like there are any Native American restaurants in Urbana. Can you even think of an example of traditional Native American cooking?”

“Buffalo burgers and fry bread.” 

She knew better than to respond. I could just see her rolling her eyes. “How about Mumbai Grill at five thirty?”

“I will be there or I will be square.”

Susan was my girlfriend. We’d been through a lot together. She was worried about me. She thought I was depressed. She was right, of course; I was depressed. We just didn’t agree on what I should do about it. She felt I should see a doctor. I felt I should not.

I was depressed because I realized the world was filled with evil and indifference toward suffering. I was depressed because I knew that the forces of darkness would rise again. I was depressed because it was unlikely I’d have the luck and strength to defeat them again. I was also depressed because the Mumbai grill had Chapati bread instead of Naan.

I was also wary of mental health care providers. They can help with the symptoms of depression but have no pill to cure the underlying problem. The problem is not that I fail to perceive the world as it is. The problem is that I see the world exactly as it is. So the question was not why I was depressed, but why wasn’t everyone else? As you get older you realize each day is another day closer to death. I used to find solace in the belief that I could leave the world in better shape than when I got here. Lately, however, I was starting to believe the world was not getting better. If anything, people were less kind than in the past. The environment was becoming irreparably damaged. Evil was simply waiting like a wolf until the bunny that is humanity hopped a few inches closer. 

Don’t get me wrong: I was still able to function. I didn’t take warm baths while listening to Johnny Cash sing “Hurt,” with only a straight razor for company. At the same time I wondered what would happen if I did. Would it make any difference?

I decided to go for a walk. It was the beginning of October but warm enough that I didn’t need a jacket. I wore jeans, tennis shoes, and a gray T-shirt with Bucky the Badger extending his middle finger toward any onlooker. A plain gray sweatshirt covered the obscene gesture. I’d been scheduled to be in court today, but the judge’s clerk had called to inform me that the hearing had to be continued due to a judicial conference, thus explaining my casual attire.

I have short brown hair that is beginning to gray. I’m not sure if that is due to age as much as it is due to having seen too much in my life. I’m in pretty good physical condition for my late thirties. I’m of average height and consider myself relatively handsome, although I’ll admit there are those who disagree.

I found myself walking in the direction of campus. I walked west on Main Street and took a left onto Lincoln Avenue. Soon I was passing dorms and red brick buildings. Most of the campus buildings at the University of Illinois are composed of red brick—actually, a combination of two colors of brick, both reddish but slightly different hues. The campus was busier than usual. The students were taking advantage of the warm weather and wandering about.

Each year the students look younger and younger. The girls, or as is more politically correct if not more accurate, the women, reminded me of how old I was getting. Their impossibly firm bodies and unwrinkled faces reminded me of more innocent times. Sometimes I thought I recognized someone from high school, only to realize the person I would have known would be twenty years older. The boys appeared just as young but were attempting to look older with the addition of scruffy beards and multiple tattoos. My father told me he knew he was getting older when at the football games he spent more time casting inappropriate glances at the mothers than at the students. At the last football game I attended I found myself concerned that the Illinettes, in their skimpy outfits, might take a chill if they did not put on sweaters—or maybe sweat suits. When did I become so old?

Having lost track of time and direction, I realized I was walking down Gregory Street. On my right was the back of the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. On my left was the front of the Stoakfield Museum. 

It is an enormous modern building, a venue for numerous plays and performances throughout the year. It was built in 1969 and has various levels and roofs. In front there is an outdoor amphitheater and inside, a number of indoor theaters in various sizes.

Some of the more important milestones of my life were marked in that building. My high school graduation and my law school graduation both took place in the main auditorium. I was pleased to be finished with my formal education. Neither ceremony provided me much in the way of satisfaction. At least at my high school graduation there were the whoops and hollering of proud parents at inappropriate times to break up the boredom. It was always the parents of the children who barely graduated that made the most noise. That would be the last graduation ceremony they expected to attend, so they wanted to make it count.

I also remember the hidden corners of the roof being an important high school hangout. There was a movie theater down the street known as the Thunderbird Theatre, which has since been turned into a bar and local music hangout. Next to it was a pizza place called Tretoes. The owner was a Russian immigrant who had lost two toes to frostbite. He named the place after his remaining three toes, Tretoes.

People used to go to the movies and smoke pot on the roof. After seeing the movie The Wall, I took my girlfriend up there to make out. I feel a bit ashamed. I can remember the name of the pizza place but have long since forgotten the name of the girl. I do remember that she was young and smelled of cigarettes, pizza, and apple-blossom shampoo. Her hair was long and dark and her skin was pale. I don’t remember if at the time she was considered pretty, but in retrospect most high school girls were. It’s not just their youth but their optimism that makes them attractive. Amazing how life sucks the beauty from this world. It is a true eye-opener when you first realize you can’t be whatever or whoever you want to be—all the lies of parents and guidance counselors coming to light.

The worst part of adulthood is the shocking discovery that love can be as tiring and stale as any other emotion, given enough time. Children born with endless potential grow up in a world where it is mostly wasted and tossed aside. The souls of our youth, like rusted tin cans, fill the trash heaps we call penitentiaries and minimum wage jobs.

The sadness evoked by dredging up my past caused me to turn away from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. I veered to my left and moved up the walkway to the Stoakfield Museum. Built in 2002, the museum was made of the same familiar red brick as most of the other buildings on campus, yet it relied heavily on glass and cement as well. The metal roof was towering and gave the structure a more modern look. The museum’s collection used to be housed on the top floor of Lincoln Hall, a 1911 building located on the quad. At the time it looked like a junk shop; ancient artifacts were shoved together, only inches apart. I kind of liked the chaos. I felt like an archeologist, discovering new items each time I came to visit. It was a bit disconcerting, however, to see an old tea cup next to an ushabti—a funerary figurine from Ancient Egypt—or a bronze sculpture next to an old radio.

The Stoakfield Museum was completely different, perhaps in an effort to rebel against its predecessor. The artifacts were elegantly displayed in their Plexiglas cages. The floors were white and the sun shone through large windows. The display area was twenty times larger with a third as many artifacts. I was told most of the collection was sequestered in spacious rooms in the basement, inaccessible to the public, and that only five percent of the collection was on display at any one time.

I walked up the wide, curved staircase to the second floor. It seemed to float, for the individual stairs didn’t touch the ground but were built into the wall. The room I enjoyed most held the ancient artifacts. I’d been told that an impressive collection of Babylonian and Sumerian clay tablets was hidden from the public. A few sat in their display cases waiting for admirers. What I wanted to see were the items from ancient Egypt. For some reason I have always been fascinated with ancient Egypt. As I walked into the room, a large ebony sculpture of the Pharaoh Khafre stared out at me. It was impressive, but I was disappointed to see a sign indicating the statue was a reproduction.

There was a new display I had not seen before. In a glass case was a papyrus with a picture of the jackal-headed Anubis, standing before a scale. The scale looked like the common image of the scales of justice, with a heart on one pan and a feather on the other. Underneath were rows of detailed hieroglyphs. The description next to the document read “Spell Number 26 from The Book of the Dead.” Apparently the heart of a dead man would be weighed. If it weighed less than a feather, the soul would go on to the afterlife. The afterlife, sometimes referred to as “The Land of Two Fields,” was a heavenly place. If the heart was too heavy, the soul would be devoured.

The ancient Egyptians believed the soul was in the heart. Therefore the heart always remained with the mummy, while other important organs such as the stomach, intestines, liver, and lungs, were stored in canopic jars. Other organs of less importance, such as the brain, were cast aside.

I looked up and saw another display I hadn’t noticed previously—a new ancient mummy in its case. The phrase “new ancient mummy” reminded me of “jumbo shrimp.” In other words, an oxymoron, a term that sounds like something a stupid teenager would use to wipe his face. The mummy was the museum’s second. It was larger than the first and slightly darker in color. It was shaped like a giant Cuban cigar, lying in its Plexiglas tomb without a sarcophagus or a mask. It must have felt naked. The lyrics to the song “King Tut” started running through my head. Childhood memories of a banjo-playing comedian on roller skates appearing on The Johnny Carson Show filled my mind.

I looked down at my borrowed Jaeger-LeCoultre watch. It was almost five, and the museum was about to close. I headed out the door, leaving history behind me. It would take a half hour to get to the restaurant. If I walked at a leisurely pace, I would be there early, but that was all right.

When I reached the quad, I stopped to watch the squirrels gather acorns and whatever junk food the students had left behind. It was fall and the trees had turned various shades of yellow and orange. The squirrels seemed particularly industrious. It must have been happy hour for squirrels. They seemed to ignore me but nod to one another as they passed, food bulging their cheeks.

About the author: 
Author and attorney Scott A. Lerner resides in Champaign, Illinois. He obtained his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and went on to obtain his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. 

He is currently a sole practitioner in Champaign, Illinois. The majority of his law practice focuses on the fields of criminal law and family law. 

Lerner’s first novel and the first Samuel Roberts Thriller, Cocaine Zombies, won a bronze medal in the mystery/cozy/noir category of the 2013 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Awards. The second book in the series is Ruler of Demons. The Fraternity of the Soul Eater is book 3. Book 4, The Wiccan Witch of the Midwest, will be released on Halloween, 2015. 

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