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The Proving Ground Violence has a trickle-down effect, and not just the gangs lived by the warrior code in the South Bronx.

We kids did too. Even if you tried to avoid it, it found you. The tough kids—the thugs in the neighborhood—always tested news kids on the block, and since we moved around so much, my brothers and I constantly had to prove our mettle. These were the walking time bombs, the lowlifes in the neighborhood who wanted to get their way all the time, so they beat up on the weaker kids. I stood up to them but tried to play it cool, not wanting to become a thug like them.

I sized up the competition. Jose I could take, and maybe one or two more— but six against one were bad odds. Jose felt my hesitation and smiled a slow, devious grin. Is John good enough to be one of us? I knew Jose wanted me to steal some candy bars, potato chips, and maybe a few canned drinks for them.

Either I did it or I would be labeled a sucker. Jose took his pocketknife out of his jacket and pretended to clean his fingernails, making sure I saw the shiny silver of the blade. Yo, are you down with us or are you a punk?

They kept after you till you did it. I never got caught—I stole ice cream from the ice box, potato chips from the rack, sodas from the refrigerator. Sometimes he caught me staring at him and made a funny face in return, as if to say, Hey, boys will be boys.

Hatred churned in my gut, a hatred honed to a razor-edge by his years of neglect and abuse. Maybe our home life would be normal. Walking on Eggshells In spite of our miserable existence, my brothers and I looked up to our mother as our hero.

She did the very best with everything, and she did whatever she could for us. Soon he began demanding things, taking valuables and money from us. I walked around holding my breath as soon as he left, afraid to relax. Finally, no sooner had I let out a sigh of relief, no sooner had my mother, brothers, and I restored the craziness to order, harmony, and some small degree of peace, than my father would come back in and destroy everything again.

Things began to fall apart even more financially. We lived in the slum apartment buildings for what seemed like an eternity because it took my mother years to save up enough money for us to move out. Her worried face saddened my brothers and me; we knew she wanted the best for us but could not give it. But we were rich in the love she gave us. In spite of everything, we could count on just one thing—our mother loved us.

Yet she seemed strangely bound to our tormentor, my father, and powerless to do anything about it. The end of the year and the holidays especially were a tough time in our home. When school started in September, it was the first strain of the end of the year on our meager household budget.

My brothers and I had no choice but to wear the same clothes and coats from the year before because there was no money to buy new things. We loved the masquerade nature of it, getting to be a superhero, cowboy, Count Dracula, werewolf, or ghost for a night. It was fun going from house to house to collect bags of candy apples and fruit, chocolate bars, and candy corn.

Some years all four of us were decked out in our Halloween glory, and other years only two of us got real costumes due to the slim household budget. For the two of us left out, my mom compensated by painting our faces, transforming us into ghouls and devils from the neck up.

I had just looked in the bathroom mirror one last time and grinned at my reflection—my eyes, painted black as coal, even freaked me out a little. He kept tripping on his long black vampire costume and sounded muffled through the plastic mask that covered his face.

The streets of the Bronx came alive on this night, with costumed kids darting this way and that across the noisy streets. Even the hookers that worked the street corners traded their usual miniskirts and fishnet stockings for provocative Halloween costumes like cats and Playboy bunnies. We met up with some of our friends and headed for an apartment building rumored to have the best candy in the neighborhood.

The door to the apartment was open, and white smoke poured from the dark room beyond. Our creaking footsteps on the landing signaled whoever lived there, and she flew out at us dressed like a witch, screaming and cackling into the hallway. We shrieked and laughed, enjoying the good Halloween scare, then held our bags out for the candy she offered. I went back to her door four times that night. My fascination with the dark, mysterious nature of the underworld gained a foothold that year, and the supernatural seemed to step out to meet me.

Years later, as a warlock and high priest of Santeria, I would look back on this time of adolescence and realize my spiritual eyes were being unlocked for the very first time.

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One night, after playing down the street with my friends, I came into our building and headed for the stairwell. She looked human, but her head was impossibly large —all I saw was this freakish head popping out, a clown smile on her face. My heart froze in my chest and I lunged back to the first floor. After waiting ten minutes, I tried again. The woman looked very young, with long black hair and pale white skin. I had never seen anyone like her in our building before, and a sick feeling in my gut told me something was not right.

She was not right. Desperate to get home, I ran back to the main lobby to see if anyone was going upstairs so I could walk up with them and make it past the dreaded second- story stairwell. It took me an hour to finally make it home; in the end I walked upstairs with another resident of the building, and of course the dwarf lady never showed up.

Back and forth she went, in quick succession, and as she glided by she would turn her head and smile as if taunting me. Terrified, I ran into the kitchen. She turned from the stove and looked at me. There are lots of ladies in this neighborhood. A worried look framed her face, and I knew she realized that whatever I had seen impacted me greatly.

I peeked around the edge of the curtain. By the time she glanced out, the gliding lady had floated out of sight, leaving only a flash of red behind. One day weeks later I ran outside to meet a friend in the vacant lot beside our apartment building, and we fell into a rock-throwing competition, seeing who could score the most hits at a window on the sixth-story building across the street.

I bent down to see what it was and saw a beaded Indian necklace with bright colors lying on the ground. I stuffed it in my pocket before Tommy could see because I knew he would try to take the necklace from me. In that same instant I heard someone call my name, and it sounded like my mother. But my mother never called me. Years later I realized what I heard was a familiar spirit—a principality that roamed the air. When I went into our building, I kissed the necklace and put it around my neck.

This is going to protect you was the immediate thought that came to my mind. A few years later, when I took my first steps into witchcraft, my main spirit protector was an Indian chief that called itself Tawata. It was this spirit that threw the necklace out of the sky, I realized—initiating me to the dark side before I ever even heard the word Santeria.

Unbeknownst to me, the strange portal into the supernatural was opening wider, and in my youthful innocence and hunger for a father figure I walked right into it— without realizing the price I would pay.

I put on my sneakers, stuffed the money deep in my pocket, and ran down the stairs to the street below. In the street, I started fast-walking across the avenue toward the convenience store five blocks away, ignoring the cluster of Reapers gathered here and there on the street corners. Without warning I felt something creepy following me, and I cast backward glances over my shoulder. Looking up the street, from a distance I saw a blue Chevy parked under a streetlight.

The closer I got the more familiar the car looked. As I approached the car I saw a man slumped over the steering wheel and knew it was him. Excited but nervous, I went up to the window and tapped. Do you need my help? He rolled down the window.

For a fraction of a second my heart lifted and filled with compassion for him. His voice came out in a pathetic slur, but I understood every word. Leave me alone! Go home! I buried him that night in my thoughts, in my heart, in my life because he demolished me to the point where I wished he was dead.

I came home a different boy that night. As far as I was concerned, I was open for a new love in my life, a fatherly love to a son.

Where would I find it? For some reason, my mom brought me along, perhaps as moral support for this venture into the unknown. We turned down a side street near Tremont Avenue, stopping in front of a white two-story house situated close to the curb.

That must be where they do the readings , I guessed, and sure enough within a few minutes the lady of the house came through the curtained doorway, gesturing for us to follow her back. When Cookie finished she asked my mother if she would be interested. Mom hesitated, but Aunt Maria convinced her so my mother agreed, afraid to say no and disappoint her sister-in-law.

She went on for a few minutes, loading my mother up with misery. The next thing she said was about me. Beads of perspiration dotted her pretty forehead, and my stomach roiled with anger that one more thing just got added to her already heavy load of worries.

She promised the card reader we would return within a week for my cleansing ceremony. A week later my mother took me back to the tarot card reader, who was a high priestess and medium in an occult religion called Santeria. In the kitchen, I sat and talked with her until someone from behind me tied a blindfold around my eyes and led me to a room where together they tore off my clothes and bathed me with herbs and plants. Terrified, I shook with fear but kept silent. I had no idea what would happen next.

Suddenly the high priestess and her helper started singing songs to the five main gods of Santeria: Obatala, Yemaya, Ochun, Chango , and Oya. Sometime later they dressed me in white and took me to another room where I was offered up to the five gods. When they finished singing, I was given five beaded necklaces to wear, each representing the color of a particular god. They told me to bow down in a certain fashion, repeat the names of the five main gods, and thank the gods for receiving me.

During the process the two women became my godmothers in Santeria. They wrapped my head in a white bandana and told me I must stay dressed in white for seven days. The world of Santeria had become real to me. My life would be controlled by the guardian spirits that rule over espiritismo and Santeria. I would no longer belong to my mother but to incredible forces beyond my control, for these entities had stepped up to fill the void in my heart that yearned for a father.

After this, every weekend one of my godmothers took me to what they called centros espiritismo churches to learn how to work the mesa blanca. I learned from the very best, people dedicated to Santeria and espiritismo for thirty, forty, fifty years of their lives. They called themselves mediums. As I made my weekly visits to the centros, I learned how to communicate with spiritual forces of different ranks, cast spells, and recruit others into the religion—spirits that I now realized were diabolical spirits, or demons.

About sixty people gathered in rows of folding chairs set up facing the mesa blanca. Aunt Maria took me there for the first time on a Friday night. Something in the atmosphere told me this was not a regular meeting. People stood in clusters talking before the service, but they took their seats when the six mediums assumed their place at the white table. Glancing around, I saw that I was easily the youngest one there, so I sat somewhere in the middle, trying to lose myself among the older people.

John, would you come up here please? I walked to the front and Cookie sat me on the edge of the mesa blanca so I could watch, listen, and learn as the mediums worked the table. The service started about 9 p. One by one the mediums performed cleansings, gave readings, and prophesied over those in the folding chairs who had come for healing or guidance or deliverance from spells. I nodded, instinctively aware that I should remain silent. In time I grew bold enough to start speaking out things I saw in the water too, or the different vibes and spirit voices hovering over the table.

The mediums would target individuals in the audience, placing a glass of water and a candle behind their chair. The woman in the chair shook visibly, tears spilling down her cheeks.

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Suddenly the medium started yelling like a madman, foaming at the mouth. His eyes rolled back in his head, showing only the whites, and he practically floated in the air before grabbing the victim by the throat. Every time a spray of holy water hit the medium, his body jerked and contorted.

By this point, I could see that the medium was in a trance—no longer himself but something diabolical. Finally, he fell back as if dead, growling and making weird noises as the other mediums drove the demon spirit back to hell. Amazed, after that I prayed to this special new deity— my protective spirit—daily, even moment by moment.

Before our astonished eyes, she hopped out of her seat, jumped up in the air, and spun around like a ballerina—spinning and spinning nonstop for several minutes.

Her eyes were not her own, her hands were not her own, and her feet were not her own as they floated, not even touching the floor. Later that evening at the white table, Aunt Maria stood paralyzed without blinking or moving her features for over an hour, looking like a mannequin.

Dressed all in black for a change, she stood trapped in a trance with a demon that was new to the occult but not new to her. I left the service even more astonished about how the demon world worked, and I learned something new—not only how powerful the spirits of the dark side could be, but also that they have no respect for age. The purity of that six-year-old was snatched away that night.

She was now one of us, never to be an innocent child again. This was the life I lived for weeks on end, months on end, and years on end. After the service was over, often an adult would pull me aside and smile down at me. You will win many souls. I was part of something great. For the first time in my life, I enjoyed the acceptance and love I never got from my father. I looked forward to the next validation the following Friday night. We were free. A couple of desks got overturned in the mad dash for the classroom door, and once we broke out into the halls they cleared within seconds amid loud whoops of celebration and ghetto- blasters cranked to ear-splitting levels.

It was Christmas. Nothing could contain our excitement. What about you? Everybody turned to see what my response would be. My brothers and I had a good feeling that, for the first time, we were going to have a good Christmas.

My father always does the right thing. You wanna go to the candy store? People jostled along the streets with the ever- present noise of traffic and police sirens in the background.

New snow started to fall as we walked, covering the dingy Bronx neighborhood in a fragile coat of white. When I burst through the door of our apartment, there was the Christmas tree, still bound with twine and leaning in a corner of our tiny living room. Just like he said he would? Your father promised to be here this year—remember how I told you that?

Later that night we hauled the box of ornaments and lights down from the closet shelf. My brothers and I transformed that plain-looking tree into a real Christmas tree. After all, he had promised this year. The days leading up to Christmas passed quickly, and suddenly it was Christmas Eve. After I helped clear the dishes away from the dinner table, I went over and stood beside my mom as she scraped leftovers into a container. She paused a second too long. You and your brothers are gonna have your toys to play with in the morning.

My groggy mind took only half a second to register. We tore down the hallway and spilled into the living room. He came, he came! George and Eustaquio tumbled in after him. My father had come home for Christmas and brought presents for his family. He ordered my little brothers to hold off on the gifts until he passed each one of us the present with our name on it.

It was good to see him home with us for once after so many Christmases when he was an absentee dad. I started to open the present and glanced up at Mom in the kitchen.

She smiled back at me from the stove, where the smell of eggs frying wafted out into the living room. My fingers struggled to tear open the gift, it was taped so much. My heart, so full of joy at seeing my family all together on this special day, sank into the pit of my stomach. With his cruel, sarcastic comment, my father had killed whatever Christmas spirit resided in the Ramirez household. In that one instant of cruelty he had spoiled it all.

One of the neighbor boys must have been playing with his new Christmas toys and got called inside for supper. Once again my conscience bothered me, and I felt the burning guilt of my crime, but I never confessed to it.

The False Penitent The years churned on, with my father in and out of our lives and startling changes happening in my own body. The reflection in the bathroom mirror showed a young man with new dark hair growth on his chin and upper lip. Yet for all my advancement in the world of witchcraft, I was still a boy craving the love of a father—an earthly father I had given up on. Though my dad was rarely home, word of his escapades drifted back to us, twisting the knife in my gut with every fresh story.

At some point late that night, after the others left, he and Manuel got into a disagreement about who was a better man— back and forth they compared themselves, regarding women and money and who drove the better car. As the argument escalated, suddenly my father jumped out of his seat and grabbed Manuel by the throat, choking the life out of him. My dad fell to the ground. Manuel called and told the police my father came to the house looking for a fight, and he was forced to stab him in self- defense.

An ambulance carted my father off to the hospital. I never witnessed my dad getting in a fight. What he did in the street, he did in the street. But as time went on, he got even worse. Sometimes he was beat up badly and had to go to the hospital again. When we visited him, he made profuse promises to my mother that he was going to be a changed man.

He announced dramatically, almost pitifully—gasping and wheezing because of his injuries—that he was going to stop drinking and playing around with other women. It almost seemed like he was repentant. And we all wanted so much to believe him. Give me another chance! My brothers and I stood awkwardly to the side of his white hospital bed, watching the embarrassing scene. Once he even kissed her hand and double-kissed her wedding ring. It was the only time I ever saw any real tenderness from him.

Deep inside I suspected his actions were prompted by being in the hospital and afraid to die—not out of any real love and concern for my mother. Because when he got better and the fire was back in his belly, as soon as his wounds healed, you could see his eyes dancing with plans, even from his hospital bed.

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He was glorying in all the attention. I turned away, hiding my tears as I stared out the hospital window. Once discharged from the hospital, of course nothing changed. Farewell, My Father One night my father was out with a drinking buddy at his favorite social club. Every poor neighborhood had a club like this one, an adult hangout where the liquor flowed and infidelities flourished. Details of that night only filtered back to me later, but the story goes that he was having a good old time with a barmaid, one of his many mistresses.

As she served him his drinks, they flirted back and forth, with whispers, giggles, and cute talk. Witnesses said she was wearing a low-cut top, skintight skirt, and fishnet stockings.

She had been dancing around drunkenly, tottering on high heels, just a half hour before my dad entered the club. While they flirted and laughed, a man entered the club, a stranger to my father who turned livid and purple when he recognized the woman my father canoodled with.

As the stranger watched them flirt back and forth throughout the night, he became enraged. Noticing the confrontation, the Great Eustaquio jumped up from his seat to shout at the stranger and defend his friend.

The angry stranger had something final in mind. Without warning, in the middle of that escalating argument, he pulled out a piece of gray heavy metal from his black leather jacket. Pandemonium broke out in the bar, and the gunman fled into the night on foot and disappeared. He just got shot. That night it rained like I had never seen before in a very mysterious way. It seemed as if heaven was crying and the sky was mourning.

The raindrops fell heavy and hard like fifty-cent coins dropping from the sky. It rained nonstop. As I watched the throng of policemen and curious onlookers surrounding the whole area, I asked myself why God was crying.

Was it because my father lost his chance to go to heaven? I stood there, shivering from more than the cold rain, and tried to make the tears come, but my eyes and heart were empty. All the bad thoughts I had toward him flooded my mind. At first I felt great guilt at my thoughts prior to his death. My daily wish for his demise had finally come true. I thought then that the torment and hell would be over. Later, I realized that the scars only covered my own internal injuries that would continue to haunt me.

The next few years passed in a haze of struggles that my mother, brothers, and I constantly faced in our lives, trying to keep things afloat.

The year after I turned sixteen, something good happened for once; turned out to be our lucky year. It was a bustling, vibrant community, and we were proud to be a part of it. It came to a point where we had problems with the white kids in the area, many of whom were racist and wanted to beat us up.

The first week we moved there they acted like they wanted to start a rumble. Every time we came outside they tried to chase us back into the building where we lived. As my brothers and I walked to the corner store one day, here were the white kids hanging out in front of the candy store, taunting us and grouping together to try to set us up.

Run, George! Run as fast as you can! Our Uncle Jimmy, an ex-gang member of the Reapers, decided to put things right on our behalf. He went and talked to the wannabe white hoodlums in the neighborhood. I heard about it secondhand that night at our apartment as he gloated over the way he scared them straight. A real fight. You tell me what to do: We can call it peace or we can start a war.

A wise decision, no doubt. Eventually we became good friends with most of them and laughed about our initial standoff. Since I was sixteen and the oldest, and with no father figure at home, I was becoming the man of the family. It was a better opportunity to help my mother in a better way. I gave half the money I made to my mother and kept the rest. Life settled into a good rhythm on Fordham Road, and best of all we had a real park to play baseball in—no more throwing catch in dirty vacant lots filled with broken glass and rusted car parts.

Whenever I entered the park, I was supposed to cross my arms over my chest in tribute to the demon spirits that ruled the foothills and woods there. My brothers always stood in awe and fear, making sure I entered the park with reverence, because if not they feared they would be harmed as well as me. But today I had other things on my mind and sauntered through the gate without stopping to pay respect. In my conscience I felt the weight of those demons hovering over me, waiting for me to pay them respect, but I pushed it aside.

A handful of their friends took seats on the bleachers to watch the game. As it turned out, it was a baseball game nobody forgot. Halfway through the game the sky turned dark as thunderclouds gathered overhead. We kept looking up at the sky, surprised to watch it turn from bright sunshine to dark so suddenly. Get a hit! A violent gust of wind blew through the park, bending the tree branches as they rustled against one another. Suddenly a lightning bolt cracked the sky wide open, followed by a rumble of thunder so loud it shook the ground.

Somebody screamed. By now the wind had picked up even more, howling and whipping against our faces and tossing our hats off our heads. Meanwhile it seemed all hell was breaking loose in the sky overhead and the contorting trees around us.

The next guy up at bat hit a huge pop fly ball, but our outfielder missed it and dashed after the ball. The batter tore off running, yelling for his teammate on second base to bring it home. I knew it was broken even before I heard him scream. Instantly a cluster of guys surrounded the boy writhing on the ground at home base. Amid the crack of thunderbolts, the sky opened up, unleashing a torrent of rain over the ballpark.

The bleachers cleared out as the onlookers ran for cover, scattering to their cars and the picnic pavilions. My brothers and I stood in silence as we watched the ballpark empty. At this point everything was gloomy and dark, as if nightfall had come early that day. Fear gripped us and our hearts pumped wildly, because we knew something supernatural was happening. We all felt it. Eustaquio glared at me. This is all your fault. I knew you should have done what you were supposed to do when we came into the park.

You should have paid your respect! I knew Eustaquio was right. My cavalier attitude had roused the anger of the spirits that day. We said goodbye to East Fordham Road and in moved to the projects on Crotona Avenue, one of the toughest neighborhoods in the South Bronx. Even the neighborhood looked like it was in pain because of the corruption and rundown buildings, where graffiti covered every concrete wall within reach.

This was a place where you could touch the poverty. And always, hanging in the air over everything, was the ever-present reality of crime.

Right next to the bodega grocery store on the corner, the Chinese takeout looked like a miniature Fort Knox. Now we played baseball and football on a schoolyard concrete lot—no longer the lush green park of the East Bronx.

We lived a block away from the Bronx Zoo, and sometimes I wondered whether we needed to be caged up and the animals set free. The pent-up anger, frustration, and rebellion of those who lived in this neighborhood were contagious, and we caught the infection.

Or, worse, you would glimpse the body of a young man covered in a white sheet, nothing but his sneakers sticking out. In a tough neighborhood like the one we now lived in, someone always wanted to test you and see what you were made of, and my brothers and I were really tested. Whenever we came home from school, we never told Mom about all the fights because we knew she would worry.

We tried our best to hide the cuts and bruises, making some lame excuse for why our bodies bore the marks of street violence. Eventually the neighborhood bullies got tired of fighting us, and we became friends. But being friends was worse than being enemies because every bad thing these guys did, we followed along just to fit in. Hey, who said there were any good boys in the hood?

My brothers and I knew there was no way out for us, so we adjusted to the environment of drug dealing, shootouts, muggings, stabbings, and death—which went on every day—by hanging out with school friends who lived in better neighborhoods. The violence in the neighborhood was out of control. One time involved a friend of mine who was very well-known with the drug dealers in the neighborhood.

As he sat in his car at a stoplight, two guys drove up on a motorcycle. Before it was said and done, bullets rained into his car, cutting his life short. I was stunned by the news. That was life in the hood—alive today and dead tomorrow.

When he finally came out, he paced the hall like a caged animal. I saw a crazed look in his eyes and knew something was wrong. Why are you not acting right? George avoided eye contact and kept pacing. Forget it.

Now I started pacing back and forth. The next morning George finally decided to go outside. As my brother turned around, the guy shot at him five times.

All five bullets missed him. When I heard the news, I knew that the demons I catered to—the demons I served—protected my brother. In that instant I also understood my mission and assignment from hell was to put my brother in jail, where he would be safe, not stand by and watch him end up in the cemetery. That day my powers increased in the demon world, and I set out with a vengeance to destroy the life of the person who tried to kill my brother.

That person better die! Do you hear me? Then you will truly know that I am your dad. Jail was the safest place he could be, so I summoned the demons to inquire what to do to put him there. The demons sent me to the four corners of the neighborhood to collect dirt from the place where my brother used to hang out with his boys.

Next I wrote his name on the inside of a brown paper bag, wrapped it up, and put it in a dark bottle with the dirt of the four corners.

Finally I turned it over to the devil and placed it in the cauldron—a cast-iron pot where the devil and his demons meet.

Within twenty-four hours my brother George was in jail. But not everyone I knew escaped death so easily. Several months later, two cousins who made their living selling drugs got into a territory fight that ended in a bloodbath.

One of the cousins was better at the game than the other. Late one night, Gary decided to make extra money while his cousin Ron was away. As Ron spotted Gary, he pulled out his 9mm gun and fired away, spraying bullets until Gary hit the ground. Ron crossed the street and finished him off. Early the next morning my brother George ran upstairs and told us the news.

A cluster of police cars blocked the crime scene, but as I peeked through the swarm of officers and medical personnel, I saw the bloodstains on the pavement. Oddly, in that moment, the only thing that crossed my mind was the pool of blood that was wasted—blood I could have used for witchcraft.

How I regretted not being there to collect that blood before it seeped into the asphalt. Chapter 6 A Night of Voodoo The devil was on a mission. Although I had been a practicing warlock for nearly ten years now, it was time to go deeper. Unseen forces pulled me into new levels of evil I had only heard about previously. Voices talked in my head, and my waking and dreaming hours blurred with strange visions. Satan was reminding me that I had a contract to fulfill and I belonged to him.

I woke up in a cold sweat, jumped out of bed, and looked around the room, my breath coming in gasps. Nothing was there. Outside, the familiar nighttime Bronx sounds filtered through the dingy windowpanes.

Deciding it was just a nightmare, I crawled back under the covers and soon fell asleep. This time I found myself by the ocean, and I knew that Madre Agua— the spirit that rules the ocean—was talking to me by the edge of the water.

I could hear the waves rush into shore and then whoosh back out to sea. Overhead, the sky was lit by a million twinkling stars. When she spoke, I heard her voice resonating in my spirit: I am the one who will guard you and protect you. You need to step out and bring people to the religion so you can have your own village of people.

You have been chosen and called for this. She wore a necklace around her neck made out of seashells, and her long black hair flowed in the wind, framing her angelic face. But despite her beauty I could feel that she was fearless and very dangerous.

When my eyes settled on the familiar furniture of my bedroom, I realized something curious—though I was at home in my bed, I could still smell the ocean brine, it was so real. Pulled back into sleep again, this time I woke up high on a mountain in the deepest part of the forest.

Towering trees surrounded me on all sides, and I felt the spongy forest floor beneath my feet. Right in front of me, between two trees, stood a big Indian chief spirit, maybe nine or ten feet tall.

As I looked at him, I knew it was Tawata, my main protective spirit, the one who threw the beaded necklace out of the sky for me to wear when I was nine years old. You will have my powers to tell people all about their lives, their destinies, and their purpose. It is time to get started. What went on in these gatherings was pure evil.

One of the most demonic initiations used by espiritismo was the cigar burning. One Friday evening after midnight, Aunt Maria got demon-possessed by a spirit who called herself the mother of Haiti—the principality that guards Haiti. Speaking through my aunt, the demon spirit requested dark rum and a cigar. Somebody brought the liquor to her in a coconut shell, and I watched as my aunt lit the cigar and puffed on it until the coal turned red-hot.

Her eyes dark with purpose, Aunt Maria called three of us to the front, including me. The other two, a man and an older woman, went first. The man was told to lift up the back of his shirt. As he kneeled on the floor in front of my aunt, she plunged the lit cigar into the bare skin on his back. He screamed like someone trapped in hell as she branded him in different parts of his back.

Finally, he passed out.

Quivering with fear, the woman came forward next. Aunt Maria commanded her to close her eyes and extend her arm. At last she approached me and told me to hold out my arm and close my eyes.

As I stuck out my arm, I felt the heat of the cigar approaching my skin like a flaming torch. She pressed the red-hot coal into my arm and held it there, searing my flesh. I locked my teeth and squeezed my eyes shut tight, allowing the cigar to remain on my skin, because I knew I was called to do this. I overcame the pain and the smell of my own burning flesh—and that night I knew I was one of them. She gestured for me to step into the hallway apart from the others.

I knew it was time for war.

Glancing around the candlelit room, I realized I was standing among a select group of mediums who had ominous powers. But we caught it, and it was time to teach them a lesson. Earlier that day my aunt had purchased a dozen dark-colored roosters for the purpose of sacrificing—we needed their blood to do the witchcraft.

That night, we all gathered together prepared to do war.

As the conga players started beating the drums near the front of the gathering, the atmosphere was set and I felt the spirits of espiritismo enter the room to receive the sacrifices. The presence grew heavy; thick darkness hovered over the basement as the smell of cigars and rum perfumed the air. The hair on my arms and the back of my neck stood up as I felt shadows passing by. We chanted as the conga players beat the drums harder.

Some sang, some danced to the demons, others lit up cigars and blew smoke while still others sprayed rum on the four corners of the basement floor, with the symbols of espiritismo in the center of it. In time we felt hell arrive in that basement. Even the roosters, squawking from their cages, knew that evil danced in the air.

You could see terror in their eyes, as if they knew they were going to die. As the music played the energy in the room got heavier and heavier, and I knew that in just a matter of days our enemies would pay. Aunt Maria distributed the voodoo recipe of what we needed to do to chasten those who betrayed us.

I had a taste for blood that night—my heart was pumping fast and my knife was sharp, ready to behead a few roosters. I was excited to be one of those chosen to kill the roosters. When I was done, claws and feet and beheaded necks were scattered all over the basement floor. The demons cackled with delight through the mediums who lent them their bodies for the ritual, their demonic laughter mingling with the screams of the birds. Sometime later we heard that the house of our enemies caught fire and burned to the ground.

They became homeless and had nowhere to stay. I knew they learned a hard lesson not to mess with fire, because we were fire. The drawing to the dark side seemed to be getting stronger.

All this made me hang out more with my friends and brought on more drinking, more women, more clubbing, and now sex. I started to get a hunger for the club scene. I was living like my dad without realizing it.

The life that I hated him for had now become my life. The curse upon my father had not only reached me but was now taking over my brothers as well. We were out of control and headed in the direction my father had once lived. Now she had four sons that reminded her of the abusive-drinking husband she had lost.

Old doors and wounds had been reopened. Graveyard Ritual Fall came and with it a chill wind blew through the Bronx, forcing its residents to layer up and lean into the cold air as they made their way down the noisy city streets. For me, autumn meant one thing—the approach of Halloween, my favorite holiday.

Halloween is the most mysterious, carnal, and devilish holiday of them all. To me they were fools, like little kids playing with matches, not realizing the thing they played with had the power to kill. I knew the real meaning of this black holiday: Halloween is the night to have the most demonic powers available to use to kill and destroy those you hate. The week before Halloween, I prepared for a special assignment to do just that—inflict suffering and death on three people I was contracted to destroy.

That Wednesday night, St. Ilia, the demon spirit that owns the gates of the cemetery, instructed me to visit the tombs of those who had died recently so I could capture their spirits. My second godmother in the religion, a one-of-a-kind witch, met up with me and we walked the fifteen blocks to the walled cemetery. No one lurked about as we approached the wrought-iron gates of the cemetery. As usual, the gates were locked after sundown, so my godmother waited by the gates while I paid my respect with twenty-one pennies, then climbed the wall to leap over.

As I stood on the wall, I gazed into a sea of concrete tombstones and was in awe. The statues of different saints distinguished different parts of the cemetery—even the place of the dead was beautiful.

I roamed the tombs. It was fresh graves I sought, not old ones—graves only weeks old. Ilia, I visited three graves that night—two that had committed suicide and one that was shot to death.

My assignment was to take those spirits home to use them against my enemies, and those people would die the same way the ones in the graves had died. It was cold. The ground of those tombs felt like ice as I knelt before each one and carried out the contract, using the pieces of white candles, a cigar, and white rum I had brought. Just leave me alone. But my irritation soon gave way to excitement as the demon spirit led me from grave to grave.

I shivered. My veins pumped with adrenaline as I realized that in just a few days Halloween would be at my door; I was going to go out and have a good time with my boys—my enemies long forgotten.

We were too cool to be dressed in costumes. Instead I wore a nice pair of jeans, a white shirt, and had my hair slicked back to perfection. We could hear the music pumping loudly as we approached the club on foot. I can feel the vibes. Inside the scene was electric, with a few hundred people all dressed out in crazy costumes and the dance floor packed with bodies gyrating to the salsa beat.

The atmosphere was right. I could feel the eerie Halloween chill in the air, and I knew the spirits wanted to communicate with me. I saw her in the corner—a beautiful girl in a short, black, elegant witch costume with long black hair and pale skin. She had the face of an angel, and instantly I knew I had to have her.

But somehow I knew it would be different for me, even though I was shy about approaching her. Go to her, a voice in my head commanded. I sauntered across the room and stood right next to her at the bar.

Her back was turned to me as she talked with her girlfriend. She turned around, and a slow smile spread across her beautiful face. As we danced on the dance floor, we kept gazing at each other and smiling. I live in Brooklyn. I hope we can get to know each other better. We kept dancing all night, and at one point I felt the spirits telling me to kiss her.

Without warning I leaned over and kissed her full on the mouth, and she went into shock—she even stopped dancing for a few seconds, at a loss for words.

I did it for shock effect and it worked. As I leaned back I gave her a devilish smile. When the club closed I walked Mari to her car. She wrote her number on a piece of paper and gave it to me.

I nodded, memorizing the numbers as soon as I read them. I had a wonderful night. Walking on my way home into the night, I felt mystical, excited—and I was already planning my next move. A fellow warlock in the religion offered the use of his basement for the ceremony, and as the calendar moved toward October 31 I felt excitement stirring in my veins.

In twenty-five years, only two previous weddings had been performed like the one about to take place. Stepping into the basement that night was like stepping into hell, with the atmosphere on fire— not only from the people attending but from the different spirits gathered there to witness the diabolical wedding taking place that night. The basement was decorated with twenty-one colorful handkerchiefs representing the twenty-one paths of the dark side.

An altar made out of leaves and tree branches stood at the front and center of the room. Mari and I both wore the protective colors of our main demon spirits—she in a blue and white cape, and I in a red cape.

In that moment the contract was sealed. Twenty-one people with different ranks of powers stood on either side of the altar to bless the wedding. It was a wedding of demons, congos, negros, madamas, indios, and gypsies that came down that night to celebrate and prophesy about our marriage. We celebrated until five in the morning. A Date with the Unknown As I stared into the eyes of Mari, my new bride, I remembered the first tarot card reading I took her to two years earlier—her first encounter with espiritismo.

Like most people, Mari did not know that card reading was one of the twenty-one paths to the occult. The tarot card reading came about easily, naturally, not long after Mari and I met on Halloween night at the club.

Three days! I looked across the table at Carmen. I smiled at her, pleased to see how eager she was to enter my world. But what they thought was going to be fun turned bad when they both were exposed for lies they had told me. I know that for a fact. And yours is gonna be rough! Eventually Aunt Maria called Mari into the back room to do her reading.

I stayed out front, but Mari shared the details later about what went on in the back room. As Mari looked on intently, she watched Aunt Maria prepare herself for the tarot card reading. She reached for her bottle of perfume and ceremoniously cleaned herself then turned her dark, lifeless eyes onto Mari and held out the perfume bottle with a dim grin. As the first deck was laid out, the nightmare began for Mari, with Aunt Maria telling her about her childhood, her broken home, and the dysfunctional family she was brought up in.

As Mari heard my aunt speak these words, not knowing a thing about her past, she choked and tried to hold back her tears. Does my nephew know about this?

This card reading has come to an end, and you will tell him everything. Before that night was over, I learned everything there was to know about Mari, her secret boyfriend, and the girl who claimed to be her sister. From that point on, Aunt Maria and I formed a tight relationship because that was the night I made a pact with the devil and the power of espiritismo. I loved having the power to control and the idea of pretending to be one person, yet being another.

It was like leading a double life. It drew me closer and more involved in a relationship with the devil and his demons.

That night Mari decided she would break up with her live-in boyfriend, but only if I forgave her and was willing to commit myself to a serious relationship with her.

I said yes to both. Put simply, you already have the deck separated into reds and blacks, twenty-six red cards on top of twenty-six black cards. If you take this deck and now deal it into two fairly even piles, no matter the order you deal, going back and forth, you will always end with both piles having a stack of black cards followed by a stack of reds cards. In order to guess the colors, or have the spectator guess the colors, you just have to pull the needed card off the top or the bottom of your pile.

Both packets will be perfectly separated into their respective halves, so if you need a red card, you simply take it off the bottom, or a black card off the top. Of course, these colors can switch. To know the color, just look at what the bottom color is on the deck that they are dealing.

You do this after the shuffling procedure. Again, I will assume that you arent familiar with the properties of shuffling a deck in Out of this World order. The basic concept is that a person can overhand-jog shuffle a deck once or twice without disturbing the color separation very much. This is because they are mostly shuffling a bunch of reds into other reds and blacks into other blacks. This shuffle sequence isnt fool-proof though. You will likely have to go through and do a quick preliminary color test, removing the couple of colored cards that might be in the wrong spot, and having the spectator genuinely guess.

With these couple of cards moved, you can note the bottom color. Whatever the bottom color is will be the top color after the dealing sequence. This is the only memorization that needs to take place. You can now give them the deck and turn away as they deal, knowing what the color order will be. Everything else is then performed as I described.

If you saw red on the bottom, then you know the top section of your packet will be red. So you have the spectator name red or black, and if they name red, you take a card off the top and bring it up onto the table 5 for them to flip. If they say black, you grab the bottom card and bring it up. Two reds in a row would mean two reds off the top, and I dont think I need to patronize you by going any further.

After theyve done four or five colors correctly in a row, reacting accordingly, I will then start to take some chances. Once they say red and I bring it forward, I openly look at what the card is. I then ask them to guess if they think it is a heart or a diamond, trying to voice force the correct one by raising my tone slightly. I always name the force item first. You would be amazed by how reliable these techniques are if youve never attempted to use them.

You could also have them guess if its high or low, trying again to guide them to it. If they get it wrong, they at least get the color correct. You can then go through another slew of simply having them guess the color, then again try to get them to guess something more specific. As they name them, I lay them out in a straight line across the table. When you have maybe eight to ten cards left in your hands, you are going to stop them.

Under the table, you will give the cards a quick and easy mix. Split the cards in half, fan them gently in each hand, and push them together. Now you can bring the pack above the table and spread them along the rest of the pile, showing a random pattern instead of separated colors.

I do this spreading of the negative pile so that when they spread the yes pile they can see a side-by-side, making it that much more pronounced. I cant explain how powerful the Out of this World reveal is after theyve just guessed more than half of your pile. I just love how fair everything is, and love that the spectator gets all of the credit and attention that they deserve for partaking.

A brand new deck will be setup with thirteen black cards, then thirteen red cards, then thirteen more black and thirteen more red. By cutting the deck perfectly in half, you will be riffle shuffling red cards into red cards and blacks into blacks. You can then have them do the overhand shuffle after this. Look at the cards and remove any that are out of place by having them guess, taking them through the unique mix after, as they deal the cards exactly where they want.

But as Ive explained, I would rather have the spectator get the praise. Its completely up to you as the performer. I just feel the way it is setup and structured now creates a nice build for the ending reveal. You can say that perhaps their confidence waivered on that card, or that it doesnt really matter and we arent perfect. If they get it right, thats great. If they get it wrong, just have them focus and really try to believe that they can do it. In either scenario, you get to see what the top color is, and can easily deduce what the bottom color is.

There is a fifty-fifty chance that the bottom card will end up on top of either pile. So when you take the top card off of your pile under the table, if it isnt the bottom card you 7 memorized, then you can now cleanly reveal the top card in their pocket, and have them take it out before the Out of this World ending.

You can then secretly count how many times they say yes, and can reveal the number of cards they hold in their pocket. But its possible for the spectator to guess several methods. They might even think you just counted the cards in your pile behind your back and subtracted to get their pile.

Better to just leave it as is, in my opinion. The only modification will be that rather than holding the pack squared together, you spread the cards out in a one-hand fan, resting them against the small of your back. This way anyone behind you cant see the faces, but you still know the colors.

You can then ask, What is the next color?

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So dont freak if youve got a crowd around you. And you may choose to put their no pile into your pocket and remove the red or black one by one. I just think that the spectator will assume that I am doing some sort of switching in my pocket.

You could always have someone check, if you and they are comfortable.But this spirit—the beautiful Spanish gypsy—earned the privilege of staring at herself in the mirror. Jingga Dan Senja. It's heartwarming. Dia siap menerima konsekuensi dari orangtuanya karena bukannya pulang membawa ijasah tetapi membawa aib bagi keluarga besar Oetomo. Pas meluk erga yang lagi nangis.

JOSIE from Saint Petersburg
Feel free to read my other articles. I am highly influenced by sport stacking. I enjoy reading books anxiously .