“Moloch” Dark Fiction by Charlie Sutphin

Offering to Molech, illustration by Charles Foster, 1897
Offering to Molech, illustration by Charles Foster, 1897
 Beware the flames of Moloch: lest they turn the soul to ash.

--Ugaritic Proverb


Sprawled upon the kitchen floor with paralysis numbing his face, Thomas saw the universe from a different perspective. The circumstances were dire, but a poetic lining lessened the pain. A piece of glass from a broken bulb reflected the light of the sun and created a spectrum of iridescence. Cold seeping through his cheek formed a dusty taste while the other cheek began to spasm inspiring the poet to contemplate if this was what was meant by risus caninus. With vision flickering, pulse quickening, Thomas smelled something smoldering as he slipped deeper and deeper into Moloch’s embrace. 


A month prior to the accident, Thomas sat in a lawn chair and drank wine from a paper cup. He watched insects buzzing around a hole in the backyard. Several miles away a train rumbled across the Norrowtuck Trail. A horn sounded in the distance. The irony seemed obvious. A poet of small renown, the professor spent considerable effort searching for images, fusing them in pursuit of beauty and meaning, which wasn’t what he held in his hands. The student papers stacked on the ground appeared as formless as Howl itself. The groan of the train seemed apropos of his status as newly appointed associate professor at the University of Massachusetts.

I am the servant of shit,” he mumbled aloud.

A breeze stirred the lot. The professor took off his shirt and sniffed beneath an armpit. The wine tasted flat, but that was fine. The previous night he and the student had enjoyed three bottles. The effects of the alcohol led to one thing after another and now, grading the student’s paper, he knew in advance she would receive an A for services rendered in spite of the quality of the work or the services.

In the poem titled Howl by Allan Ginsberg the author utilizes a technique known as parataxis, coupled with a fixed base to reinvent poetry in the 1950s. Utilizing hallucinatory imagery, Ginsberg attempts to demolish the old order through a creativity of style and language.

The misbegot misspelled the name! Content was both shoddy and unimaginative. Students failed to grasp that Ginsberg and the Beats were failed poets, failed human beings, a failed movement lacking sublimity. The vulgarity offended, the work expressed no tonality but bludgeoned with directness: alcohol, cock, endless balls. Who wanted to be poked by Brando and scream with joy? Madness: hydrogen jukeboxes, Fugazzi’s, pubic beards and lobotomies!

Thomas watched a snake slither toward the buzzing in the middle of the yard and approached to get a better look. The insects were miner bees excavating beneath the dirt. He shooed the snake into the woods and an image sliced the surface of imagination. The serpent was the Moloch of the modern world sent to devour the ascendant bees on their voyage from ground to air. What would inspire worship better than holocaust as the bees were immolated in flight? Rather than plug the hole with a bag of mulch or spray a stream of insecticide into the opening, he would torch the bodies with a can of aerosol and watch them ignite like radiant fireflies flushed into the night. What a glorious image for the heart of a poem. What a glorious tagline: Death at the feet of Moloch.

Wanting to coalesce serpent and bees, integrated through the metaphor of the Ba’al of the Canaanites, Thomas pledged to know Moloch, breathe Moloch, synthesize Moloch into the folds of mind before delivery into poetic ode. He would peel back layers of thought in search of the evil beneath. Eyes shut in a darkened house or standing at midnight in the bog of Lawrence Swamp, Thomas would fathom the underworld entity, the serpent charm of Ugaritica that gave rise to the baby killer mlk—and will it to life. Past the voice of consciousness, spiraling and playing with eddies of cognition, he would tap the spirit of poetic inspiration and conceptualize that the god he sought was none other than Self—always Self, nothing but Self as that was all there was to be! So he mined deeper for the spirit of Moloch and the serpent and the holocaust to follow.  


Explain me in petty dreams of pouty girls with hungry mouths, salacious curves, balls squeezed red in tight-clenched fists as vision transforms to nightmare.

I hear you.

Explain me as nullity rampages the world, ravages sons and daughters, immolates meaning as you kneel before my altar staring risus caninus in envy of what you cannot have.

I see you.

Explain me as charred carcass intoxicates the senses and appendages twist into submission to be ground like meal for a rapacity that consumes itself in flame.

I taste you.

Explain the frenzy that rattles the bars of incarceration as I HOWL to escape a prison of non-belief to reclaim my world one mind at a time until the exhalation of smoke-filled breath encompasses earth in a flood of annihilation.

I smell you.

Explain disease in the bowels, waters soiled, crops ravaged, excrement befouling the land as starvation rages across the world.

I feel you.

Explain the progression as man devolves into ever-startling acts of barbarism—erupting into flame in the name of god, incinerating congregants as they pray in the name of Allah; as men of god bury themselves in virginal boys and drive their lust as ghostly member disappears in pain and pleasure; as disparate men search for an angry fix, lash victims to bedposts, violate them before offering a gas-fueled dynamo to the host as the authorities wait for the carnage to subside: all is well in the kingdom of Moloch.

I want you! – in dreams that celebrate abnegation through the vision of anointed verse.

“HUUUH!” the poet of small renown startled. Arms flailed at the space surrounding the bed. “HUUUUH!”

Upright, alone in an empty room, he heard silent laughter.


The students stared like ungulates. The stupidity stabbed at the professor’s self-esteem, but such was required of an assistant professor (and poet of small renown) aspiring to climb the ladder of academic success.

“So what do you think of Howl?” the professor asked. “What of the first section? What is Ginsberg attempting to convey?”

Professor Crane listened and nodded, praised and chided, smiled and feigned interest. He paced the perimeter of the room. The clock ticked. Pausing next to a woman, he glanced at her breasts and brushed his fingertips across the top of the desk.

“That’s right,” he said, responding to an inquiry about the use of sexual language. “Word choice is explicit for the period. Ginsberg’s publisher was sued for obscenity laws but vindicated on grounds of artistic merit.”

For half-an-hour a handful of nincompoops parried points back and forth with emphasis on the progressiveness of words and the underbelly of society. Verses were highlighted; context applied when necessary while some phrases remained veiled in incomprehension.

“What of the second part?” he inquired near the end of class, “and the invocation of Moloch?”

The students squirmed. Professor Crane understood it was time to intervene but decided to assail a final student before taking control of the discussion.

Scanning the roster on his desk, matching a name to a face that rarely spoke, he asked: “Nichelle, what do you think Moloch represents?”

“I’m not sure, sir,” she said and looked downward, “evil, I guess, because he writes about the Nightmare of Moloch and describes him in a negative way.”

“Good!” said the professor. “Evil—anything else? Ginsberg explained that Part II ‘names the monster of mental consciousness that preys upon the Lamb.’ What do you think that means?”

Hands sprung upward in support of Nichelle, but the professor continued looking toward her.


“I’m . . . I don’t know, Professor, but in the Old Testament I think Moloch is the false god the Jews worshiped in defiance of God and were punished – so maybe the Lamb is Jesus and Moloch is the devil?”

The professor shook his head in surprise before retreating into the safety of pedagogy.

“Nice, Nichelle, that’s good: thank you. What you say is partially true but things are more complex. You’re correct that Moloch is mentioned in the Bible, but even the Bible doesn’t know exactly who or what he is. For example, in one passage Moloch is referenced as the abomination of the sons of Ammon, which is a mis-transposition. The actual god of the Ammonites was Milcom; they were different deities.”

Recent convert in the ways of a fire-eating demon, Professor Crane walked to the drawing board and jotted down some names.

“You don’t need to know this,” he explained, “but Moloch originally was invented and worshiped by the Ugarits. In Canaan, he was known as Melek before the Hebrews translated him into Moloch and perhaps Malik and Melqart as well.”  

In anticipation of lunch the students stared cow-eyed.

“We’re almost out of time. So quickly—we’ll finish next week—can anyone tell me or does anyone know the significance of the historical Moloch? Why Ginsberg invokes him as a malevolent being in the second part of Howl?”

The students fidgeted for release.

“Because he ate children,” the professor explained. “Deep in the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom the ancestors of the Jews are supposed to have hurled children into the fire of Moloch as tribute to the underworld god. Ginsberg alludes to this when he writes . . . ”

All eyes focused on the professor. He fingered down the lines of the text looking for the proper verse. Not finding it, he closed his eyes and recited from memory.

Moloch is cannibal! Flaming dynamo whose ear is a smoking tomb, whose hunger knows no end! Such words relate to the god’s taste for flesh in what became known as the Valley of Slaughter.”      

The bell rang. The students fled. The professor closed the book and gathered his belongings. Nichelle stood by the desk.    



He waited and thought before continuing, “Nichelle?”

Her midnight face radiated the passivity of conviction. The professor intuited this was not a person to be dismissed—and understood the danger.

“I think Moloch is condemned in the book of Jeremiah,” she said with a stillness that was alarming. “ . . . and maybe in Chronicles. I know about it from church, but you said something that bothers me and I wanted to clarify.”

“Of course,” he said, “—what’s on your mind?”

“You alluded to Moloch as an invention of a group known as the U-grits?”

“You caught that, Nichelle,” he said. “Good. I’ve been studying the origins of Moloch for a poem I’m working on.” 


“What makes you think the U-grits invented him?” she asked. “I don’t understand. Moloch is Satan, he’s the Devil. How can someone have invented him?”

The professor recognized the agenda. Rather than explain about the stele that was dubbed Ugaritica V and the snake charms found in the ruins of Ras Shamra on the coast of the Mediterranean where mlk was first memorialized, he would disarm the situation and live to fight another day. Zealots were not to be provoked in the halls of an institution of political correctness.

“They were called Ugarits. Let me write it down for you,” he said with a toothy grin. “And you’re right, of course. No one invented the essence of Moloch, they only provided the name. Undoubtedly, evil and everything it represents has existed in endless manifestations since the dawn of time.”

“Since the Garden of Eden.”

“I wasn’t there but, yes, since before the Archangel began his watch. How about that: does that answer your question?”

He handed the student the paper with the word Ugarits across the top.

“It does. Thank you, Professor Crane,” she said and exited the classroom with head held high.


Crisp air pinched the face of the professor as he walked across campus to Lyman Bridge. Looking over the rail, he watched the rivulet and waited. Vision catalogued into a litany of images: contrails of iridescence from oil streaking the surface; strands of web from a pylon; refractive clouds reflecting a halo around his head. If he waited and watched, more would come. Sounds tickled the air: a trickling noise, the rustle of wings, distant voices. Everything existed for extrapolation into meaning. In the midst of it all, a blob stared from the water with half its circumference illuminated by light, the other obscured in shadow. And shadow was where he wanted to be — to embrace the darkness that was half his nature and the realm of Moloch conjured by the intensity of his work.

I see you and through the alchemy of words the reflection transfigured into a Minotaur on fire: Moloch in flames, Moloch consumed in the fever of the poet’s mind. The professor pulled a notebook from his backpack and recorded the image. The work was forming; perhaps a post-modern refutation of Ginsberg’s wastrel verse centered upon Moloch as Ugaritic demon devouring flesh and bellowing the cries of immolated children until death by drowning in a rising tide.

Back home, the professor opened a bottle of wine to celebrate the capture of creativity. Confident of the substance and structure—the only thing remaining was to put all the pieces together. He relaxed at the kitchen table and waited for inspiration. He drank, fiddled with his pen, scribbled doodles as the sun cast shadows across the floor.

 Charles Sutphin has lived in Indianapolis for 50 years. His cobbled career includes editor, journalist, writer, attorney, professor, investment manager and venture capitalist. Married for 30 years with two children, he taught at the University of Indianapolis for decades. His fiction was published liberally in the 1990s and recently in The Flying Island and The Helix Literary Review.

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