"The Church of Lost Souls" was one of those stories that came to me in a moment's epiphany while pondering the power of religious belief. It appeared as a short story (in somewhat more graphic language) on Fangoria Magazine's "Frightful Fiction" web page edited by Tom Deja in October 2001. Originally, I planned the story to serve as the first chapter of a novel. Giving it some thought, I decided it worked much better as a graphic novel. What follows is the script I wrote adapting the story into comic book format.
Script for the graphic novel
Page 1: Panel1: Inside a small law office. Any angle you prefer. Our heroine, Rita Esperenza, is sitting at a desk, with a stack of books to one side. She's typing on a keyboard with a computer monitor on a desk in front of her. One wall is covered with bookcases, filled with big thick law books and journals. If we can show another wall, it should have a window in it. It's dark outside, with a half moon. Rita's dressed conservatively. She's fairly attractive, looks to some extent like Jennifer Lopez.
Caption: Her name is Rita Esperenza. She's an Assistant District Attorney in Los Angeles, assigned to the Gang-Violence Detail.
Caption 2: It's nearly eleven at night. Time to break. She's been working since nine this morning. What she didn't finish today could wait till tomorrow.Panel 2: Rita, standing in the doorway to her office, shutting off the light. She's carrying a briefcase. No coat. It's LA in late spring.
Caption 3: Home. A hot shower. A snack. Then bed, and a good night's sleep.
Panel 3: From the rear, Rita walking away from us, down a long row of empty boxes. She's wearing a mid-length black skirt, has long dark flowing hair. Carrying a briefcase under one arm. Closer to us, there's a young woman dressed in cleaning-woman outfit, either using some sort of floor cleaning machine (or vacuum cleaner) or washing the floor with a cloth. Perspective makes it clear she is close to us while Rita is not.
Caption 4: Her preparations for the Salinas murder case were near finished. Caption 5: The trial was Thursday. It was her first big case as lead prosecutor.
Panel 4: Similar to panel 3. Rita has moved further away. The cleaning woman has taken a small cell phone from her pocket. Her back is to Rita. She's punching in a number.
Caption 6: Jose Salinas was a leader of the Latin Lords Street Gang.
Caption 7: He's twenty-three years old.
Caption 8: In the past, he's been prosecuted for murder, rape, armed robbery, and arson.
Caption 9: But he's never been convicted.
Panel 5: Rita at the back of the room, opening a door. The cleaning woman has the phone up to her face and is talking into the receiver.
Caption 10: This time, Jose made a big mistake.
Caption 11: He killed a hooker in plain view of two undercover cops.
Caption 12: For once, the Lords couldn't intimidate the witnesses.
Caption 13: Jose was going down for Murder One. 25 to life, no parole.
Washerwoman 14: She's on her way.
Full page spread: Rita standing in front of a security desk, with a big fat man, dressed in a policeman's uniform, sitting behind it, smiling at her. She's signing out in the security ledger. Typical high security office building set-up, with a sterile lobby, big doors leading to the street. Whatever decorations, etc. that give the building some depth. Our main focus is Rita.
Fat Man 1: Working late again, Ms. E?
Rita 2: I've got to be ready for the Salinas case, Carlos. It's my big chance.
Fat Man (Carlos) 3 - Yeah, so I heard. That Salinas, he's a mean SOB.
Carlos 4: Well, good luck, Ms E.
Rita 5: Thanks, Carlos. Good night.
Rita 6: See you tomorrow.
Caption 7: The Church of Lost Souls by Robert Weinberg & etc. etc. etc.
Panel 1: Close-up of Carlos. He has a portable phone to his ear. Rita can be seen just outside the glass doors, walking away from the building.
Lenny 1: Bitch just left. Should be at the parking lot in three-four minutes.
Panel 2: Rita walking down a fairly deserted street, carrying her briefcase.
Caption 2: Rita works for Los Angeles D.A., Sam Casey.
Caption 3: There's an election this fall. Sam wants Salinas convicted and behind bars.
Caption 4: Winning the case will give Rita's career a big boost.
Panel 3: Rita walking into a gated (with one of those security gates like at a railroad crossing that couldn't stop just about anything from going through) parking lot. She's holding her car keys in one hand. Lots of shadows on the walls, making it spooky looking.
Caption 5: Twenty-eight years old, the daughter of poor immigrants from Mexico, she wasn't doing bad.
Panel 4: From a distance, overhead view. Rita walking through a near-empty parking lot towards her car. Big searchlights casting pools of light on the ground, the rest of the parking lot in shadows.
Caption 6: The first of her family ever to graduate high school, much less college and then law school, she was living proof that sometimes the system worked.
Panel 1: A beat-up old black delivery van, the kind with no windows other than in the back doors at the top, comes roaring at Rita. She stands there, paralyzed in its headlights.
Caption 1: From start to finish---
Panel 2: A side view of the truck. The sliding door is open and three guys in black muscle-T's are grabbing Rita and pulling her into the truck. One guy has her by the neck, the others each have one of her arms. She's struggling, but without much luck.
Caption 2: ---the entire kidnapping ---
Panel 3: A rear view from over the head of a wino lying against a building, watching the truck zoom out of sight.
Caption 3: ---took less than thirty seconds.
Panel 1: The black pick-up truck in an underground parking lot. The truck is parked next to a big old Cadillac. The trunk of the car is open. The three gang-members from the previous page are lifting up Rita, her hands and feet tied, a gag in her mouth, and putting her into the car trunk. A fourth Latin Lord is opening the door to the car.
Guy at door 1: Hurry up.
Guy 2: Throw the bitch in the trunk and let's roll.
Guy 3: I wanna be out of the city before the cops know she's gone.
Panel 2: Focus on Rita's face, her eyes open, very wide, a horrified expression on her face, the gag in her mouth. She's inside the trunk of the car.
Caption 4: Rita was no fool.
Caption 5: Her captors weren't hiding their faces.
Panel 3: The car driving on a road in the desert. It's night time, and the desert looks empty and weird, with tall cacti casting strange shadows on the ground.
Caption: Which meant she was going to die.
Caption: Very slowly.
Caption: Very painfully.
Panel 1: The parking lot. There's a bunch of policemen doing things - one man kneeling on the lot, taking measurements of a tread width. Another is photographing the scene. A third cop is talking to a bum. There's a couple of police cars with their lights flashing in the background. To the front of the pic, we have three men in trench coats, the two detectives in charge of the case, and Lenny McGuire, Rita's boyfriend. One cop is older, black. Other is Caucasian, younger. Lenny has red hair. He's pretty steamed. The cops are calm. Black Cop 1: We're sorry, Mr. McGuire, but all evidence points to the kidnapped woman being your fiancée.
Black Cop 2: Security cameras got a pretty good picture of the van when it slammed through the gate. We're looking for it now.
Lenny 2: Looking? Looking for it! You know who took her. The Latin Lords! They're sending a message to the DA's office. You mess around with ours, we mess with yours.
Black Cop 3: Don't give up Mr. McGuire. The Lords might want to trade Ms. Esperenza for Salinas.
Lenny 4: Trade her, detective? My father's a judge. I know the rules. The DA's office doesn't make deals with criminals.
Lenny 5: The Lords know that too. They took Rita for revenge.
Panel 2: From the rear and side, view of the desert, with one solitary car, the Cadillac zooming down on a gravelly, hardly noticeable road. They're driving towards the pueblo style, adobe ruins seen in so many books and movies. There's a courtyard that is surrounded by ten feet walls and some open rooms facing the courtyard. There are a few of the ruins to the rear that look better than those in front.
Caption 5 (cross over from previous panel - Lenny): They're planning to rape her. Rape her again and again and again until they drive her crazy.
Caption 6 (cross over from previous panel - Lenny): Then, they'll shoot her full of holes and dump her body in front of the Court building.
Caption 7: A warning to anyone, including the DA, about taking on the Lords.
Panel 1: The chamber is black. There are no windows. There's a solitary heavy wood door with a pad-lock. The door had been closed from the inside, and a thin layer or clay or mortal has been applied to the crack as well as the ceiling. Strange, as it looks as all work was done from the inside of the tomb. A lone figure, a man just under six feet tall, laid on top of a plank-wood coffin in the center of the narrow room. He is dressed entirely in black. His wrinkled skin is the color of ancient, sun-baked parchment. His hands are folded across his chest. His chest remains still, unmoving. Yet, he did not appear to be dead. Only sleeping. There are two huge candles glowing at the foot of the coffin.
Panel 2: Same picture, with very similar details. The eyes of the corpse are open, big wide eyes. He has a curious look on his face, almost a frown. His body looks to be made out of straw it is so stringy, very very thin, and all his veins more than penciled-in lines.
Caption 1: He was awake.
Caption 2: Something had awakened him.
Caption 3: Brought him back from dreams of darkness.
Caption 4: He had to know what it was.
Panel 1: Rita, sprawled in a corner of the ruins, where two walls come together. Behind her, old adobe walls that run upwards out of the picture. She's bruised and battered. There's a welt on her forehead. She looks scared. Her skirt is fairly high up on her thighs, and her blouse is ripped, with several of the buttons missing. The four kidnappers are standing in front of her, in a semi-circle. Their shadows stretch out toward Rita, almost as if the shadows are reaching for her. One of the gang members is holding a whiskey bottle.
Paco (the one with the bottle) 1: Hey, bitch. This is your lucky night.
Paco 2: We're having a big party and you're guest of honor.
Paco 3: We're gonna show you a good time.
Rita 4: I'm-I'm an assistant district attorney.
Rita 5: Kidnapping me is a major crime.
Rita 6: You're all in trouble. Don't make it any worse.
Rita 7: Let me go. Now.
Panel 2: Close-up of Paco's face. He's young, cruel, with several scars on his face. Maybe a short, very thin goatee. He has bad teeth, yellow and several of them black. He's grinning.
Paco 8: Oh, I'm scared.
Paco 9: We're gonna get in trouble.
Paco 10: You scared too, Sal?
Panel 3: Close-up of Sal. He has a thick bushy head of hair, thick eyebrows. Narrow face and jaw. Wearing a silver crucifix around his neck (we see him from the upper shoulders and higher). Wearing a black muscle-T like all of the Lords.
Sal 11: Yeah, Paco. I'm trembling'.
Panel 4 & 5: These two panels make one larger picture. The other two gang-bangers. Benny and Gator. Full-length shot of both of them. They look younger than the other two. Benny is pretty fat, with a real baby-face look. He's holding a tire-iron in one hand. Gator is thin, with really thin arms, with several tattoos. He's holding a piece of chain.
Gator 12: Enough talk. We gonna do her?
Benny 13: Me and Gator want to do her like the bitch in Pasadena.
Gator 14: Make her squeal like a pig.
Panel 1: Paco and Rita, face to face. She's pushed herself up against one of the walls. He's down on one knee, his face not far from hers. In one hand, he's holding a switchblade with a five-inch blade. He's still smiling. Rita looks terrified.
Paco 1: Looks like you got a problem.
Paco 2: I told my friends we're gonna have a party. With you.
Paco 3: I can't disappoint my amigos, can I?
Panel 2: Close-up of Rita's face. She's bruise, battered, her hair disheveled. Bruise on her forehead. Tears in her eyes. She looks a wreck.
Rita 4: I can pay you. Whatever Jose's giving you, I can give you double.
Rita 5: No questions asked.
Rita 6: Cash. Lots and lots of it.
Panel 3: Close-up of Paco. He's taking a swig from the whiskey bottle.
Paco 7: Cash?
Paco 8: I'm tempted. But---
Panel 4: Tight focus of Paco's hand, holding the knife, sweeping across Rita's face, cutting open her cheek.
Rita 9: Ahhhhhhhh!
Paco 10: Gonna' leave a scar I bet.
Panel 1: Paco, laughing, holding the knife in front of Rita's shocked features. There's blood on the blade, blood dripping from the blade to the ground. Blood is dripping from Rita's face as well.
Paco 1: Scared you, didn't I?
Rita 2: Yes. You scared me.
Panel 2: Picture of tall Latino man in prison scrubs, holding onto the bars of a jail cell. He's big and mean looking.
Paco 3: Well, my friend, Jose Salinas, he scares me just like I scare you.
Panel 3: Focus on the small pool of blood forming on the ground.
Paco 4: So I do whatever he says.
Paco 5: Cash is nice. But stayin' alive is better.
Panel 4: Paco standing, Gator standing next to him.
Gator 6: When you gonna stop talkin, man?
Gator 7: Let's get started.
Panel 5: Focus on the blood, from a side view, sinking into the soil. Like the diagram of a root going into the ground, we're following the trail of the blood as it sinks into the earth.
Paco 8: First things first.
Paco 9: Benny, Gator, grab her.
Panel 6: Rita struggling with Benny and Gator. Each of the Lords is hanging onto one of her arms. Desperately, she's kicking in the air at Paco, who's a few feet away.
Paco 10: We need to send the D.A. a message.
Full page spread: Rita, spread eagle on the ground. Benny is holding one arm flat on the soil. Gator is holding the other. Sal has her legs. Paco is standing just past Sal, holding his switchblade. Rita has a horrified expression.
Paco 1: I'll start with her hand.
Paco 2. Her fingerprints are on file.
Paco 3: There won't be no confusion when they get the package.
Rita 4: What are you saying? You-you - can't!
2 panels. 1st has two inserts.
Insert 1: Rita's hand, the fingers pressed hard against the soil so that they are flat. If possible, try to show some tension in her hand, as if she's trying to bend her fingers into a fist.
Paco 1 Nice fingers.
Paco 2: I bet the DA will recognize them real easy.
Insert 2: Focus on Paco's hand, holding the knife.
Paco 3: Every day, we're gonna send your boss a present.
Paco 4: Ten days, ten fingers.
Large Panel 1: Rita's face. She's screaming in agony, her features distorted with pain, her mouth stretched as wide open as possible.
Rita 5: NOOOO-O-O-o-o-o-oooo!!!!!!
Panel 2 (bottom section of the page. Rita sprawled unconscious on the ground. Paco standing, holding a small box in one hand, bloody knife in the other.
Paco 6: Spill some whiskey on the wound, then put some tape over it.
Paco 7: Can't have the bitch bled to death.
Paco 8: Then tie her up and let's have some beer.
Panel 1: Back to the blood, trickling down narrow cracks in the dirt. No captions.
Panel 2: The blood forming a small stain on the roof of the crypt. Again, no captions.
Panel 3: Old man, touching the roof with two of his bone-like fingers, pressed together like one. He's touching the blood stain.
Old Man 1: Innocent blood.
Panel 4: He's touching his two fingers to his mouth. His tongue is thin and bright red, looking like a snake. His eyes are bulging out like light bulbs.
Old Man 2: Calling to me.
Panel 5: The old man, standing in front of the door to the narrow crypt. He has one arm out, as if he just pushed at the door. The door is lying on the floor.
Old Man 3: Thy will be done.
Old Man 4: On Earth as it is in Heaven.
Panel 1: Her hands clutched tightly into fists, pressed to her head, Rita waits for the horror to begin. We can see that on the hand where she had her finger cut off there is a piece of dirty linen wrapped around her hand, with dabs of blood on it. Her hands are held together at the wrists by gray duct tape. So are her feet. She's sitting pressed back against the wall, her legs out in front of her, her skirt up to her thighs. She's in an awkward position, pretty much unable to move.
Rita 1: Dear God…
Rita 2: Please…
Rita 3: Let me die quick…
Panel 2: Close-up of Rita's face. She's looking up, her face rising from her fists, as if she's heard something from the other end of the courtyard.
Rita 4: Who's there?
Rita 5: Please, help me. Please.
Panel 3: The other end of the courtyard. An old fountain with adobe pool and a few abode and brick statues in the moonlight. A tall figure, clad in black, with his face covered by a dark hood. Shadowy and indistinct.
Figure 6: Whooooo-- aaaaaare-- youuuu?
Panel 4: The figure, now somewhat closer. The figure is dressed in a black cloak with a hood, wooden sandals. The face under the hood is in shadow, but the eyes are glowing yellow-green from beneath the hood.
Figure 7: Whyyy-----arrrrre-------youuu----hereeeee?
Panel 5: Rita, holding her hands out in front of her, almost as if she's praying.
Rita 8: My name is Rita Esperenza.
Rita 9: I've been kidnapped by four members of the Latin Lords street gang.
Rita 10: They're going to rape and kill me.
Rita 11: Can you telephone the police?
Panel 1: From Rita's viewpoint. The figure is only a few feet away from her. She can look at the face inside the hood. It's very old, with yellow eyes and a face that looks like it has been mummified, there are so many wrinkles.
Old Man 1: I-I-I ammmm ssssorrrry.
Old man 2: Theeere --- issss --- no --- telephone here.
Panel 2: Side view, the figure with its hands out, reaching for Rita's imprisoned hands. Rita is staring at the strange figure, tears running down her cheeks.
Rita 3: You're just some old drifter.
Rita 4: You've got to leave. Now.
Rita 5: Before the Lords realize you're here.
Panel 3: Close-up of the old man's shriveled hands holding Rita's mutilated hand in his. The bloodstains on the dirty cloth are plainly visible.
Old Man 6: This -- is -- a church.
Old Man 7: Do you request sanctuary?
Panel 4: A view of the hands again. The blood is gone from the cloth. The old man's hands don't look as wrinkled.
Rita 8: Please.
Rita 9: I don't want to die.
Panel 5: Close-up again of the face under the hood. Some of the wrinkles are gone. The old man still looks old, but not incredibly old. His features are firmer, stronger.
Old Man 10:
Panel 6: A switch-blade knife held in a hand, flipping open.
Noise 11: Swoosh.
Panel 7: A tire-iron held in one hand, hitting the palm of another hand.
Noise 12: Thwump.
(three large panels)
Panel 1: Top half of the page. From Rita's viewpoint. Moonlight glimmering, showing the four gang members, each holding their weapon, standing a few feet beyond Rita and the old man. Paco's in the front, with the other three teens beside him in a small semi-circle. They're all smiling, mean nasty expressions that give their faces a demonic look.
Paco 1: Well, well.
Paco 2: The bitch found herself a boyfriend?
Paco 3: We heard you talkin.
Panel 2: Focus on the old man. His face is no longer so wrinkled, but he still looks fairly old. He is on his feet, one hand raised as if making a stop sign a few feet in front of his body (or a cop, motioning for a car to stop at an intersection).
Old Man 4: This woman is under the protection of the church.
Old Man 5: If you fear for your immortal souls, you will leave her alone.
Panel 3: Focus on Benny (young fat guy, with the tire iron), pointing the tire iron at the old man. His buddies all have their weapons in the air, ready to fight.
Benny 6: Fuck you.
Benny 7: Damned fuckin' looney. I hate looneys.
Benny 8: This ain't no fuckin' church.
Benny 9: And you ain't no fuckin' priest.
Panel 1: Benny, with the tire iron, jumping forward, a wild look on his face.
Benny 1: Enough fuckin' talk!
Panel 2: The old man bends his body unnaturally (his legs remain firm on the ground, but the upper half of his body bends sideways like a snake, forming an S curve, so that Benny's club doesn't hit anything.
Sound 2: Whoosh.
Panel 3: The old man's hands wrap around Benny's head, one hand on his forehead, the other hand on the back of his skull. Benny's face has a surprise look on it, his eyes wide open.
Panel 4: Old man's hands still on Benny's head, but now it is turned completely around on his shoulders, so that it's facing the rear.
Sound 3: crack!!
Panel 5: Benny on the ground, the front of his body facing the dirt, but his head looking up. His eyes are still wide open. His lips are open slightly.
Benny 4: Fuckin' looney---
Panel 1: Paco lunging at the old man with his knife.
Paco 1: Get the old bastard!
Panel 2: The old man thrusts his right (or left) hand into the side of Paco's neck. There are needle sharp claw-like nails on the end of his fingers. Paco's flesh is ripping beneath the nails.
Sound effect 2: Sploosh!
Panel 3: From the shoulder of the old man. The old man pulls Paco forward. A horrified expression on Paco's face.
Paco 3: No-no-no-no-no!!!!
Panel 4: Paco collapsing to the ground, blood spurting like a fountain from the front of his neck. His eyes are twice normal size.
Paco 4: M-o-t-h ---
Panel 1: Gator, on the old man's back, his chain wrapped around the old man's neck. He's pulling it tight like a strangler's noose.
Gator 1: I got him!
Gator 2: Stick him, Sal, stick him!
Panel 2: Sal jams his switchblade knife into the old man's chest, burying the blade up to the hilt, while Gator hangs on with his hands on the chain.
Sal 3: Take that, motherfucker!
Sal 4: You fuckin' killed Paco!
Panel 3: The old man, twisting one arm in a totally unnatural manner, grabs Gator by the back of the neck. This should look really weird, definitely not something that could be done by normally twisting an arm.
Gator 5: Uck!
Panel 4: Gator flying into one of the adobe walls. His head hitting it straight on. His head exploding like a tomato being thrown against a wall.
Sound effect 6: Crunch!
Panel 1: The old man looks down at the knife sticking out from his chest. There's no blood coming from beneath the blade.
Panel 2: The old man pulls the knife out of his chest with one hand. Let's show it actually half in his chest, half out of it.
Panel 3: The old man holding the knife up in the air. There's no blood on it. Moonlight is shining on it. Sal is standing a few feet away from the old man.
Old man 1: You thought to kill me?
Sal 2: Holy Mother of Jesus.
Sal 3: Please, please---
Panel 4: Sal collapses backward, his knife wedged right between his eyes.
Old Man 4: May God grant you mercy.
Old Man 5: For I cannot.
(three larger panels, the third with an insert)
Panel 1: The old man, most of the wrinkles gone from his face, bending over Rita. He's ripping the tape from her feet.
Sound effect 1: Rip!
Old Man 2: Will you be able to find your way to safety?
Old man 3: I cannot accompany you.
Panel 2: Rita standing up, the tape gone from her hands. She's pressing one hand over the cloth covering her missing finger.
Rita 4: I-I'll cross the wires in their car.
Rita 5: I can drive.
Rita 6: Sooner or later, I'll find a cop.
Panel 3: Large picture. The old man standing, his head down, his hands held in front of him, as if in prayer. Behind him are the bodies of the four gang members he killed.
Old Man 7: I will pray for your safety.
Old Man 8: Vaya con dios.
Insert: Rita's face.
Rita 9: I-I must know.
Rita 10: Who are you?
Rita 11: What are you?
Full page spread: Our defining statement. We're looking over Rita's shoulder, at the old man. The moon is shining on him. He's standing in the courtyard. He has his arms raised as if uttering a benediction. The moon is thus casting his huge shadow, forming a cross, on the adobe wall behind him. We can see his face clearly. The old man's wearing the black robe of a Catholic priest. There's a trace of crimson on his lips and some dark stains on his black robe.
Old Man 1: This is Iglecia de los Espiritus Perdidos---
Old Man 2: ---the Church of Lost Souls.
Old Man 3: I am Father Francisco Hidalgo de Mendoza.
Old Man 4: I am its priest.
Old Man 5: And, I am a vampire.
Be sure to read Bob's article, How to Write Comics & Other Stuff.
Visit the Comics page.
Visit the Nightside page.
Return to the Main Page.