We begin our story with two unnamed men who appear to have walked right out of Twilight and into our story – they are described as “perfectly proportioned” despite being seven feet tall. Our setting is revealed to be a town called Ashton, no state or country given (though it’s obviously good old USA); . Kutcher aside, Google informs me that there is an Ashton in Idaho – which currently has water that is unsafe for infants, good to know – but the name-dropped Whitmore College appears to be in Whitmore, California. Wikipedia tells me there was an Ashton in California – but it’s a ghost town, abandoned somewhere around 1900. So odds are this is meant to be a plausible-sounding fictional town. The back of the book only reiterates that it’s a “typical small town”, so I guess this is our Everytown, USA. The town is listed as having 12,000 people, including college students; it’s described as “small, innocent, and harmless” when seen from above, like “the background for every Norman Rockwell painting”.
The time, we are told, is “late”; the date, a “full-mooned Sunday night”. We’re given a little more specifics when we’re told it’s the Ashton Summer Festival, which is described as an “exercise in frivolity and chaos”, “a wild time, a chance to get drunk, pregnant, beat up, ripped off, and sick, all in the same night”, thrown purely for the benefit of the departing college students. The book was written in 1986 (and copyrighted again in 2003, according to my copy); however, the text describes a carnival with “rides, booths, and portapotties”, including a ferris wheel, a merry-go-round, a “street disco”, “nickel movies”, and “whatever else could be had, over or under the table”. Putting aside the obvious orgies and other debaucheries, when did movies cost a nickel? My research* indicates movies haven’t cost that little since before the Great Depression, setting this novel around the turn of the century; however, the discotheque, or “club without a live band”, only hit the US in the 1960s, so if the term “disco” is in use, we’re talking not long before the book was written. I suppose these are meant to be dirty movies, but a nickel still only goes so far in the 80s.
Also, how many small-town orgies does Peretti think were going on behind his back? Or are simple carnival games such as tossing a dime into an ashtray meant to invoke the sort of debauchery he’s describing? Pro tip: no amount of merry-go-rounding can get you knocked up, and I doubt they go fast enough to make you sick even after prolonged exposure.
Of course, the real answer is that we’re not in Ashton, USA; we’re in Gomorrah, watching the two angels. Unfortunately, this isn’t porn, so they don’t get gang-raped. Instead they guide a photographer to take pictures of “some shadows moving stealthily behind the booth”. Ooh, mysterious.
They then climb a hill to take in the sight of the town, and we get our first inkling of the meaning of the title: the town has “a very special kind of evil”, “designed and purposeful”. The angels rapidly hide from this baby-raping Hitler feeling, and then we see our first demon: a shadow that “crawled, quivered, moved along the street toward the church”, emitting sounds like “the scratching of claws along the ground, the faint rustling of breeze-blown, membranous wings”. Its breath is described in detail as rancid and red in color, its eyes reflecting the “stark blue light” of the moon**, with a stark “death-mask grin” and “rows of jagged teeth” – clearly, a stealthy creature which the townspeople have no idea is walking among them.
So the angels, being angels, explode it.
The angels, having teleported inside the church while we were watching the demon crawl around, discuss whether it was a spirit of harassment, doubt, or fear. One angel, clearly blinder than the other, asks “how many would you say there are?” only to be told the ever so helpful estimate of “much more than we”. They head through the church to talk to the Pastor – noting, mind, thanks to a bulletin board on the wall, that church attendance and offerings are down. Is this a normal thing, to advertise to the congregation just how much they gave as if to shame them into giving more? In plain view, too, so anyone who walks in can get in on the shaming business, which the cameraman rapidly does, pointing out that the furnishings show either “humility or neglect”.
The angels come across a “young man, very young”; he is, of course, blond, and is therefore immediately marked as “the little warrior […] standing before the Lord for the sake of the people, for the town”. This being a Christian novel, of course the one lone man praying fervently instead of partaking in the soul-damning ferris wheel is enough – the two men reveal themselves as angels by, well, turning into angels. Sexy, sexy angels, with “silken, shimmering, nearly transparent membranes” – wings is a word, you know, and it doesn’t just apply to birds – that “undulate in a spiritual wind” while they “minister peace to their young charge” until he stops crying.
They then cease to be relevant. After all, our REAL heroes have to save the day – everyone knows holy warriors of God are basically useless dead weight. But they sparkle, so we’re all good!
* ten minutes on google