“Resurgence” – Chapter 9

 

CHAPTER 9

Trudy pulled up to the curb and cut the engine. Silently, she stared at the house that had always been such a happy, welcoming place for her. Although she hadn’t visited often, Martha’s grandmother had always treated her like her own kin. Kindness had had its roots in this woman’s soul.

Now the little house looked so forlorn. Although friends and relatives had taken care of the yard, the front of the house still looked somewhat lost without its loving gardener’s personal touches.

Trudy sighed. This was not going to be easy. She got out of the car, pulled her overnight bag from the back seat, and walked up to the cheerfully-painted front door. Such sadness lay behind it.

She had barely knocked when the door flew open, and Martha hurled herself against Trudy. She was sobbing so hard that she trembled all over. Trudy put her arms around her best friend, and waited in comforting silence for the tears to subside.

Finally, Martha stepped back. Her eyes were puffy and red, and Trudy’s heart went out to her.

“Martha, I’m so sorry.”

Martha nodded and managed a self-conscious smile. “Sorry about breaking down just now. I thought I had my act together. Hadn’t cried in a couple of hours. But then when I saw you…” She hiccupped, swallowed, and managed to keep her emotions under control. She shook her head to clear it, then realized they were still on the front porch.

“Oh, what a dope I am. Come in—sorry to have kept you outside like this.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Trudy replied. She followed Martha into the house.

Looking around, she took in all of the familiar things that had made this a house a home for Martha’s Gran. But it seemed that they, too, had gone into deep slumber, as had their owner. There was a quiet that did not bring comfort, a feeling of something lost that could not be found—an expectant air of waiting that would forever be disappointed.  Even the dust motes seemed to be in a stasis of hope.

Her reverie was broken when Martha asked, “Do you want something to drink? All I really have is water, and…um…okay, just water.” She smiled a sad apology. “Haven’t felt like going to the store.”

“Water’s fine,” Trudy answered. “Maybe later we can go shopping together. Get some groceries into the house.”

Martha’s eyes showed her gratitude. “Thanks, Trudy. Let’s do that.”

The two young ladies settled themselves at the kitchen table and talked for hours. It was as if they’d never been apart. Trudy knew that Martha needed to talk about her grandma and the pain she was feeling, but she let her grieving friend prattle on about ordinary things. She wasn’t going to push the subject. It would come in its own good time.

Late in the afternoon, after they had finally gotten around to stowing Trudy’s things in the spare bedroom and buying groceries, it hit. Martha poured her heart out to the one person she could feel open with. The shock, the fear, the loneliness. The feeling that there was no reason to move on. Not to mention the responsibility of what to do with Gran’s house and the rest of her things.

Trudy’s heart was just about breaking for her friend. She stretched a hand out and covered Martha’s. “Please realize that Gran’s in a much better place now. Try to believe that,” Trudy said softly.

They’d been down this road many times. It was a frightening place for someone without faith; Trudy prayed that God would help her find the words to bring Martha to the light.

Martha had always resisted Trudy’s attempts and the idea of a forever-life before, but death had not been such a close companion when she and Trudy had had these discussions in the past. Martha still held back; she had not been one to believe in things unseen, and was wary about plunging into what Trudy believed simply so she could use faith as a comfort and a crutch.

“I wish I could believe that, Trudy. It would certainly help. But I just…don’t…know.”

Trudy was trying to think of a response, when she felt a sudden energy in the room. She started at the sensation and looked around in mild alarm. Nothing seemed different, but somehow everything was changed.

Martha had stopped talking and was staring at her. “Trudy? Something wrong?”

“Uh? No. Yes. I mean—don’t you feel it?”

Martha looked around too, trying to understand what Trudy was talking about. “I don’t feel or see anything. Trudy, what is it?”

Martha became alarmed as she saw her friend staring, frozen, towards the hallway into the back of the house. She whirled to see what it was that had caught Trudy’s attention, and saw nothing but the empty doorway.

Trudy’s voice, sounding oddly distant, caused her to turn back. Trudy was smiling, with her eyes glued to whatever had caught her attention. “She’s fine, Martha. She’s very happy. Oh, there’s a man beside her. And she is so pretty, Martha. She wants you to know that she is very proud of you, and not to worry too much about her things. She says her will is set up to take care of it all.”

Martha was dumbfounded at what Trudy had said and how she was acting. She didn’t know whether to be shocked, happy, or angry, so she tried them all out at the same time. Angry won out.

“What?? Trudy, don’t play with my emotions. I’ve never know you to do such a thing. How could you treat my feelings so shallowly? If this is your way of getting me to believe in a hereafter, you’re going about it all wrong!” She caught her breath and glared at Trudy, who seemed to have not heard her. “Besides, Gran didn’t leave a will. Not that any of us know about, anyway. If we’d found a will, there would be a lot less bickering, and…”

She trailed off, out of breath. She was absolutely livid, not because of what she perceived as mockery of her grief, but also because Trudy hadn’t reacted to anything she had said.

Trudy continued on as if Martha hadn’t said a word. “She says you shouldn’t be angry with me. I’m supposed to tell you something so you’ll believe me.” She was silent for a moment, then nodded. “Gran was buried in an aqua-colored dress, the same one she wore to church on Easter this year. The casket was open at the funeral, and you had them put on her favorite pearls and a ruby ring. Then your Aunt Hazel took the jewelry right before the burial. Was she supposed to do that?”

Martha’s jaw dropped, and she could only stare at her friend. How could she have possibly known that? Unless Gran is actually here…She looked around again, scrunching up her eyes to catch a movement, a light—anything to prove that her grandmother was there like Trudy said.

She turned back to Trudy. “How did you know any of that? And the jewelry? How did you know? We all thought someone had stolen them. No one confessed to having taken them. Aunt Hazel? Well, wait ‘til I…”

Trudy interrupted her. “And the will. Before she goes, she wants to tell you that the will is duly signed and legal, and can be found in her safe-deposit box at the bank.”

“A safe-deposit box?” Martha could hardly believe her ears. “We didn’t know about that, either. She didn’t tell anyone. Wait, don’t those things have a key? Where is it? We haven’t come across one, and we’ve been sorting things for a couple of days now.”

Martha swiveled her head to gaze back down the hallway again. Feeling a little foolish, she spoke to what seemed to her like empty air. “Gran, I have to know where the key is!”

“In her bedroom closet, taped to the inside bottom of the big pink hatbox on the top shelf,” Trudy replied.

Martha jumped up and was about to run and retrieve it, but the idea of passing through her grandmother’s spirit made her uneasy, so she sat back down.

Trudy suddenly sat up taller, alert to something. “Oh, she’s going now. She was only granted this short time to help you. Oh, Martha, her soul is so bright. Like sunlight, but more…real, somehow.”

“Trudy, make her stay! Please! I don’t know how you’re doing this, but tell her I don’t want her to go!”

“Don’t make her stay, Martha. She’s tasted Heaven, and nothing, not even her great love for you, will keep her here.” Trudy focused her eyes on her friend in silence. Then, after a moment, “She’s gone.”

Martha’s tears flowed again, and Trudy silently held her. This was probably like having her die a second time, she thought. Why did this happen? How could I see what I did? Thank You, Lord for allowing it, in order to comfort Martha. I only hope she comes to believe because of it.

After a few minutes, Martha sat up. She picked up a napkin and blew her nose, and wiped her eyes with the palms of her hands. Then she stared numbly out through the window into the backyard. Finally she spoke.

“You really saw her,” she whispered. It was not a question.

“Yes. I don’t know how or why, but yes, I did.”

Martha nodded. More silence. “You were right. We did bury her in that dress. She had the pearls and ruby ring on at the funeral. And the pieces were stolen.”

Trudy nodded.

“One more thing, then.” Martha got up and walked back to the bedroom that had been her Gran’s. Trudy could hear things being moved around, and then a gasp. She was about to go find out what happened, when Martha walked shakily back into the kitchen. Her face was ashen, the look on it one of sheer incredulity.

Sitting down, she reached for her water glass. After a long drink, she set it down. Only then did she slowly stretch her arm across the table toward Trudy and open her hand.

In her palm was a small key, with a paper tag tied on with string. And there, written on the tag, was the name of the bank and the words “Safe Deposit Box #10″.

 

The bank was closed for the weekend, so the two girls wandered through downtown for the afternoon, looking though shop windows and watching people as they passed by. Martha was more like her old self away from the house, and Trudy was glad she was able to take her friend’s mind off the grief she’d been living with for so many awful days and nights. Reality would descend again, soon and hard enough.

Trudy wondered to herself whether or not she should approach the subject of eternity again. Pushing the issue would only make Martha back away, but Trudy felt very strongly that she was in dire need of the protection and assurance faith in God would give her, now more than ever before. She didn’t know why; it was just a feeling.

She was surprised, then, when Martha suddenly stopped in her tracks in front of a church they were passing. Trudy, who had walked ahead, turned back to see Martha staring at the brick-faced front of the building.

“Martha?” Trudy walked back to her friend.

Martha continued to stare at the church. “This is where Gran went for Sunday services,” she whispered, almost to herself. “I wonder if it’s open…” Then she turned to Trudy, her eyes suddenly imploring. “Trudy, we have to get in there. Don’t ask why—I don’t know. But it’s important!”

“Okay, okay, we’ll find someone.” Trudy was taken aback by her friend’s sudden urge, but not really surprised. It seemed as if Martha was finally going to try her toe in the waters of faith.

The front door of the church opened and a man stepped out. He squinted at the sky, put a hat on his balding head, and turned to lock the door.

Martha pounded up the walkway, Trudy following a bit more slowly. “Please don’t lock up!” Martha cried out, “I’d like to go in,” she explained to him when she got to the door.

Surprised, he asked, “Well, why? Services are tomorrow at 9am. I was just making sure everything was in order.”

“Oh, please? It’s important,” Martha pleaded. “You see, this was my grandmother’s church for years. I just want to respect her memory.”  Her voice cracked, and she stopped to get her emotions under control. “She died last week, and the funeral was in the mortuary. No one arranged anything here, where she had been happy for so many years.”

The man smiled softly and opened the door. Martha thanked him, and slowly walked into the church’s interior.

Trudy smiled at him also. “You’ve no idea how wonderful this is,” she whispered, and followed her friend inside.

Martha made her way up to the front, letting her fingers pass over the tops of the pews and gazing at her surroundings in quiet thought. She sat down on one of the benches and just stared silently at the pulpit, as if listening to the voice of some long-ago preacher.

Trudy waited just inside, not wishing to intrude. After a few minutes, Martha got up and, with a last glance toward the front, slowly came back down the aisle. Trudy followed her out the door.

“Thank you again,” she said to the kind gent who had been waiting patiently to lock up the building. She glanced at Trudy, then addressed him again. “I’ll be back.”

Trudy’s heart leapt. Thank You again!

There was a box on the porch when they got back to the house. It was addressed to Martha, but had no return address.

“Odd. Why would this come to me here? My mailing address is a PO box, and it’s not in this town.” Martha took the object into the house and set it on the table. “Well, might as well see what it is.”

“Can you tell who it’s from by looking at the writing?” Trudy peered over Martha’s shoulder. She was uncomfortable about Martha’s opening it, although she couldn’t put a finger on the reason.

Martha turned the box to the light and squinted at the scrawled address. “I think it’s Aunt Hazel’s.” She brightened. “Hey, maybe she’s had a case of the guilts, and she’s returning the jewelry.”

She tore into the box. There was a hand-written note inside. She read it silently, then looked at Trudy, puzzled. “It says, ‘I’m sorry for your loss, and hope you don’t mind that I took the jewelry. I needed the money to pay bills. I hope this present will help you feel closer to your Gran.’ Well, I was hoping for the jewelry, but I guess that won’t happen. I wonder what she could have sent.”

She dug deeper into the box, tossing crumpled paper onto the table. Finally she stopped, frowned at the contents, and pulled the item out.

It was an ancient Ouija board, stained with age and use, but still readable.

“How strange! I don’t even know how to use one of these things.”

Trudy was suddenly frightened to her core. “Martha, put that back in the box! Better yet, burn it all! Just get rid of it!”

Martha was alarmed at the fear in Trudy’s voice. “It’s just a game, Trudy. There’s no harm in it.”

“When you try to call forth spirits, Martha, you have no idea who, or what, will answer. You have only your belief that you are connecting with the person you want to talk to. But the beings of darkness use these very items, and the weakness of mortals, to fool people into believing that they are communicating with long-lost friends, relatives, or whoever. It’s how they make their way into someone’s home—or heart. They get in, and soon they control the people they’ve fooled.” Trudy was trembling violently as she stared at the game.

Martha gave her a long look. “So, you’re saying that you can see all the spirits you want, but I can’t use a mere toy to play like I’m talking to one?”

Trudy shook her head. “Martha, like I said, I have no idea how that happened. It’s never happened before, and I doubt it will again. But these things…Martha, you don’t know what you would be going up against. The powers of darkness are way beyond our own.”

Martha looked from Trudy to the board, and then back again. She made up her mind. “I can’t just dump it without trying, Trudy. Maybe I can get Gran back, even for a short time.”

“Please don’t, Martha…”

Martha ignored her, and set up the board while Trudy looked on helplessly. She prayed silently as she watched her friend make what might be the biggest mistake of her life.

When she’d gotten the board prepared, Martha sat down in front of it. Darting a defiant look at Trudy, she closed her eyes and put her hands on the pointer.

“Gran, please come to me. Come and speak to me,” she said in a whisper.

Nothing happened for a long moment. Then, Trudy gasped as a spirit materialized before them.

Martha’s eyes popped open, and she stared where Trudy was looking. “What? What do you see?” she demanded.

Trudy just stared wordlessly, her fingers clutching the chair in front of her.

The apparition slowly arranged itself into the shape and visage of Martha’s grandmother. But there was something—not right—about it. Trudy watched for a few seconds, and then she knew what it was.

The bright, burning light that was Gran’s soul was missing. This entity was black at the center. It had Gran’s face and physical appearance, but only for a moment. It slowly transformed into a hideous caricature of the woman it was imitating.

Black wraiths began to seep out from the floor, leaking from between the tiles and slithering over the floor’s surface. Trudy shrieked as the forms came toward them.

“Martha! Stop! Get away from that!”

“Trudy! You’re nuts! There’s nothing there!” Martha shouted. She was growing angry at the way Trudy was behaving; there was nothing she herself could see but a normal, quiet kitchen. Quiet except for her raving lunatic of a friend.

She groaned. “Okay, I’ll let go. See, I’m letting go now.”

But her hands would not release the pointer. Puzzled, she tried to pick the pointer up; it wouldn’t come off the board. She was now starting to get scared. She looked over at Trudy, who was staring, horrified, at the floor and backing away.

“Trudy! Help me!”

Martha gasped as she noticed that the pointer was starting to move on its own. It flowed slowly and deliberately as it chose the letters for its message. The hapless prisoner of its spell watched, terror mounting, as the pointer spelled out:

Y-O-U  A-R-E  M-I-N-E

Trudy screamed as a black shadow loomed over Martha, who was twisting and fighting the pointer. Just before the wraith could strike, Trudy leapt between it and her friend. The words burst from her throat:

“In the name of God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, I command you to be gone!”

The black horrors screeched and writhed, drying up and blowing away like ashes. At the same time, the pointer loosed itself from Martha’s hand. She quickly pulled away from it.

The two girls clung to each other in terrified silence. Martha then picked up the Ouija board, the box, and the papers. She silently walked to the fireplace, threw the things in, and set a match to the pile. She and Trudy watched as the pyre burned. As it was consumed, Trudy could have sworn she heard screaming.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resurgence”: Chapter 8

CHAPTER 8

Pat ran past the middle school,  down a lane that led to a small lake. He knew this path like the back of his hand; it was where he went when he had to clear his mind.

He turned right and made his way around the edge of the lake, being sure to watch for the tree roots that insisted on growing through the tar that the city had laid down. This plan for making the course easier for walkers and runners had not passed muster with the natural growth of the surrounding area. Regardless of what anyone did to civilize the pathway, those roots grew right through, bulging and cracking the surface.

He was carefully wending his way through a particularly dense area when he felt a stinging barb in his leg. He stopped at once and looked down at his calf.

There was a fish hook snagged in his skin! Not only had it caught, but because of his speed of motion at the time it went in, it had also dragged a good inch or two. Blood oozed from the gash and dripped down into his sock.

He worked it loose, grimacing in pain, then stood back up to follow the fishing line in order to find who its owner might be.

“Sorry, son. Didn’t see you coming,” said a voice from within the foliage.

Pat watched as an old man, fishing pole in hand, emerged from the greenery and ambled towards him. The fisherman seemed almost too old to still be alive; Pat could not remember seeing anyone so ancient-looking in his life.

“Didn’t expect to see anyone out this early,” the old man explained affably. “Tryin’ to find me some breakfast.”

Pat grinned, dismissing the whole incident as an accident. “No problem. Good luck finding anything in that pond, though. Not much in there this time of year. The brook that feeds it is probably dried up.”

“Well, hasn’t been too bad. Got a couple of rainbow trout yesterday. Good eatin’.” The old man smiled, showing cracked, yellowed teeth.

Pat was surprised. “Really? Never heard of anyone getting rainbows out of this little pond.”

The man chuckled. “Ya just gotta know what they like, and how to call them.” He worked at getting the fishing line back onto the reel. Then he spied the gash on Pat’s leg.

“Oh, that ain’t good. Looks like I sprung ya a leak.”

Pat looked down at the wound. “Guess I ought to get home and take care of it.”

He turned and started back down the path. “See ya.”

“Wait!” the fisherman called. “I can get ya fixed up. I have some bandages and stuff in my tent up there.” He pointed back through the foliage. “Come on up. Hate to see you have to cut your run short.”

He left no room for refusal, just turned and started up the hill. Pat had just opened his mouth to say he’d be fine when the old man slipped and fell, hard, on his knees.

Pat rushed up the incline. “Are you okay? Here, let me help you up.”

“Oh, I’ve fallen harder than this and survived,” the older man insisted. But at the next step, he almost fell again. His face twisted in pain.

Pat lifted him to his feet again. “Best get you to your tent. Looks like you’ll be the one to need first aid.”

“Much obliged—say, we haven’t exchanged names, have we? Mine’s Nicodemus—Nick for short.”

“And I’m Pat. Good to meet you, even in these circumstances.”

They puffed on, wordlessly, until they came to a flattish clearing.

Nick’s tent sat in a circle of sunlight coming through a break in the dense treetops. A chair was conveniently placed near the tent’s entrance.

Pat helped Nick to the chair. “Okay, so where’s the first aid stuff? We should really get ice on those knees of yours. You took a pretty vicious fall there.”

“Oh, I think I’ll be okay,” Nick said, stretching out his legs and rubbing his knees. “The bandages and things are in my backpack just inside the tent flap there.”

Pat nodded and went to work on opening the tent. It was an old canvas one, and the flaps were knotted down tight. He was too busy concentrating on the ties to notice how very carefully Nick was watching him.

Pat finally got the knots undone and slipped inside. The backpack was right beside the entry; he picked it up and brought it out.

“Okay—now where? One of the side pockets?” Pat hoped fervently that the bandages could be found quickly; the day was not getting any earlier, and he had other things to do.

“Nope—think you’ll just have to upend it and sort through everything. I’m not very organized, being alone and all.”

Pat suppressed his frustration. He said, “You know, the cut is not that bad.” He turned his leg; the wound had pretty much dried up. “I don’t think I’ll need to bother you after all.”

“Wish you’d go through the bag for me.” Nick’s voice had suddenly gotten very solemn and quiet.

Pat looked at him quizzically. Why the change? He gave Nick a long look, then slowly turned back to his task.

“Sorry, Pat, didn’t mean to set you off,” Nick chuckled, all gravity gone. “It’s just, well, I could use some help getting that mess cleaned up. Never seem to get around to it.”

Pat found it a weak explanation, but continued to sort through the contents of the backpack: boxes of moldy raisins; a paperback that looked like it had been hauled out of water—at least Pat hoped; a couple of sealed, relatively fresh-looking sandwiches; and numerous single unwashed socks. Pat thought a big fireplace and a well-placed lit match might be a better idea than sorting through this junk.

He sat back. “No bandages, as far as I can see. Do you want all—this—back in the bag?” He shuddered at the thought of handling Nick’s dirty laundry again.

Nick pointed at another pouch, still zipped closed. “Try in there.”

Pat shook his head—why do these things always happen to me?—and opened the pouch. He dumped its contents out on top of the other things, not knowing what horrible surprises might be lurking within.

To his surprise, what fell out were three long, crooked pieces of iron, but unlike any he’d seen used in his lifetime. These looked old, like the museum pieces he’d observed on occasional trips to archaeology exhibits.

“Where did you get these?” he asked Nick, wonder in his voice. He looked up at the old man.

Nick’s face was solemn again. “From a friend. He no longer needed them so I took them, uh, off his hands.”

His eyes grew dark, intense, his stare seeming to turn inward for a moment. Then he blinked, and smiled at the younger man again.

“Well, sir,” he continued, “I was going to use them to maybe put up a door if I ever got a house, but it don’t look like that’s gonna happen. Why don’t you take them— you’re a young feller, and who knows, maybe you could find a use for them.”

Pat thought how ludicrous it would look, him running down the path carrying iron spikes.  “Thanks, but no, I really don’t see that happening.”

“You will,” said Nick gravely.

He started, seemed to realize something, then grinned at Pat. “I mean, young guy like you, I bet you could put something together. Go on and take ‘em. My gift to you. For helping me back up to my tent.”

Pat suddenly remembered the old man’s tumble on the slope. “Oh, that’s right—you need ice. I’ll be right back.” He started back down the hill.

“Pat! Take these na–, I mean pieces of iron with you.”

He was about to object, then thought, Maybe, since this old guy seems a bit nuts, taking these sharp objects away from him would be a good idea. He’s dangerous enough with just a fish hook!  

Pat walked quickly back up the hill, stooped down, picked up the iron bars—

–and fell over in a dead faint.

Gabriel materialized beside Nick, and together they gazed at the motionless form.

“About time he showed up,” Nick said. “I was about to give up. Not getting any younger, you know.”

Gabriel had to chuckle. “Come now, Nicodemus, you know you aren’t getting any older either.”

Nick huffed. “Well, maybe not, but it’s been a long haul any way you look at it.”

Gabriel sighed. “It won’t be long now.”

Nick’s eyes watered, and he sniffed as he wiped them on his sleeve. He put a hand on Pat’s shoulder. “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

 

Pat’s mind cleared, and he found himself standing among thousands of tents in the middle of a desert. The sun was dropping toward the horizon, and all around him he could see people emerging from their dwellings. They didn’t seem to see him as they went about their business, which was good because Pat was having a hard time believing what he was seeing himself.

Was he somehow plunged into a historical re-enactment? If so, how did he get here?

The people—men, women, children—all had on dusty, road-worn, ankle-length robes. Veils or headdresses covered everyone’s heads, and leather sandals protected their feet. Pat could hear the bleating of lambs and the lowing of cattle. The sounds of a strange language rang about him as people hurried to get their evening meal prepared.  

A sudden shriek, and a cry of “Help! Seraph!” came from a couple of tents away. Pat found it odd that he could suddenly understand the language, but didn’t take time to think about it. He ran with the rest of the crowd to the tent.

A woman lay unconscious, two punctures in her ankle attesting to the reptile’s attack. And then suddenly another shriek, where he had been standing only moments before. And another to his right, then another behind him.

The camp was in an uproar. The ground seemed like it was moving, but a closer look revealed that the motion was caused by thousands upon thousands of deadly vipers. They were moving quickly into the camp, biting anything that came near them. Pat couldn’t see any way of stopping them.

Another shout, but this one with the ring of authority. The silhouette of a man appeared, standing on a rise at the edge of the encampment. His back was toward the setting sun, and it made him look as if he was glowing. Somehow, without even trying, his voice rang over the entire encampment, above the shrieks and cries of the populace.

Suddenly there was a stirring in Pat’s hand. He opened it, pulling it up with a quick jerk. He looked down in panic, certain that an asp was about to bite him.

The iron rods, which he had still been clutching in his hand, lay on the ground. Pat was puzzled—why had he felt that motion? If that wasn’t a snake about to bite, then what had it been?

The iron rods suddenly moved on their own. Pat stared agape as they shivered, writhed, and melted together end-to-end. He couldn’t believe it—the rods had formed themselves into a serpent! As it slithered away, with Pat staring in astonishment, its color changed from a dull grey to a glowing gold.

It quickly approached the man on the hill, who was still trying to quiet the people down. He picked up a pole, which had a cross-piece nailed to the top. He spied the golden snake, which had frozen into a lifeless coil. Picking it up as well, he hoisted its coils over the top of the pole, resting it on the crosspiece. Shouting again to the people, he exhorted them, especially the bitten ones, to look at what he was bearing through the camp.

Gasps of awe and amazement ran through the crowd as people, barely alive, looked at the golden snake and got up as if nothing had even happened. The people shouted and danced with joy as they saw the other snakes slithering out of the camp and over the distant dunes. Pat could hear what the people were chanting—it sounded like his name!

Pat! Pat!—

 

“Pat? Pat! Hey!”

He opened his eyes and found himself lying in the leaves next to Nick’s tent. The sun shone through the trees, which had begun to show their fall colors.

Nice, Pat thought, fading out again. I like fall…

“Pat!”

He woke up again and saw Nick, and someone else, looking down at him. The stranger was in shadow.

What was that…he remembered something about snakes…

With a shout he sat bolt upright, his eyes darting from Nick to his companion and back. “What the— where—what happened?” He shook his head, trying to comprehend what he’d just experienced.

“Calm down, Pat. You’re okay,” Nick said soothingly, his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “You passed out there for a bit.”

Pat gazed at Nick, still confused. Suddenly the other figure came into the light.

“Gabriel!” exclaimed Pat. “What are you doing here? What’s going on?”

“Hold on.” Gabriel put his hands up. “Let me explain.”

Pat raised his eyebrows, waiting. It was making a little more sense now. Any time an angel was involved, weird things were bound to happen.

“Go on.” He sat in the leaves with his arms wrapped around his bent legs and stared at Gabriel.

The angel nodded and looked over at Nick. “We’ve been friends for a very long time, Nicodemus and me.” He leaned towards Pat, staring at him intently. “And I mean a very long time.”

“Please, I am in no mood to guess your meaning. I have had a lousy couple of days, so would you just speak plainly?”

Gabriel sighed. “Okay, I will, as you put it, say it plain. Nick here is a Hunter. He and his brethren have been Heaven’s agents in trying to keep the number of Accursed down to a minimum, or destroy them altogether, since the beginning of human life on this planet.”

“‘Accursed’?”

“You know them as vampires.”

“What?” Pat was incredulous. “I thought the incidents of—That Night—took care of all that.”

“Don’t we all wish. But that was never promised. No, as long as Lucifer and his kind are allowed to roam free, there will be a threat of vampires and others of their ilk.”

“And how does our friend here,” Pat indicated Nick, “fit in with all of this? Just what does being a Hunter mean?”

Gabriel was about to explain when Nick held up his hand. “No, let me tell him.” He stretched both arms out towards Pat, palms up.

Pat shrank back at the sight of the scars, cross-shaped, on the old man’s forearms.

“What happened?” He looked questioningly up at Nick, compassion replacing impatience.

Nick smiled. “I knew you’d be a good choice. Always putting others ahead of yourself.” He nodded approvingly. “Okay, now that I have your attention…” He took a deep breath and let it out.

“Now, considering the, um, circle your family moves in these days…”

“You mean like Gabe here?”

“Exactly. It should be a little easier to understand who I am, and actually believe it.” Nick closed his eyes. He hesitated a moment, then his eyelids fluttered open.

“I was granted the gift of an extremely long life, in exchange for my help in destroying the demons that prey on human blood. Guess I’m doing a good job—been at it for over two thousand years.” Nick let that soak into Pat’s mind.

The youth’s eyes grew wide. He could hardly believe what he was hearing, but here sat one of the mightiest archangels of Heaven right beside him as well. What was there not to believe?

Nick continued. “You know where it reads in the Bible about the Pharisee who believed in Jesus? Who came to see Him in secret?”

Pat nodded. “Ye-es, I know that—wait a minute. That’s you?”

Nicodemus nodded. “The same. After I talked with Him, I was making my way home when Gabe here met up with me. We had a long talk, mostly him talking and me being numb with shock, but by the time he explained things to me, I was ready and willing to become the next Leader of the Hunters.

“As you probably recall, I was the one who requested Jesus’ body and donated my own tomb for His burial.”

Nick picked up the iron spikes that Pat had dropped. “However, what’s not written is that my cohorts and I also took possession of His Cross. In the dark of night, we broke it up and carted away every sliver. We also took—the nails.”

Pat sucked in his breath and stared at the nails Nick held reverently. He stared up wordlessly at Nick, and then over to Gabriel.

“I-I thought…” he stammered. “I didn’t realize…”

“Yes, I know. It’s alright. How could you know?” Nick smiled reassuringly, then continued.

“About the Hunters. Now this was told to me by Gabriel here, so he can vouch for me.

“The original Hunters were the men of the tribe Cain married into. They…”

“Hold it.” Pat shook his head in confusion. “Do you mean Cain, as in the Book of Genesis?”

“Yes. Now don’t interrupt. Anyway, when Cain was forcefully taken by Lucifer and his bride, Lilith…”

“Wait! Sorry,” Pat said as Nick rolled his eyes and blew out his breath in frustration, “but you can’t just dump information like this on me and expect me not to ask questions.”

Gabriel leaned over to Nick. “He’s got a point, you know.”

Nick pushed Gabriel away and shook his head, but with a glint of amusement in his eyes. “I suppose.”

“Okay kiddo,” he addressed Pat, “let’s get this passel of questions out of the way. Then maybe I can get this story told before the first snowfall.”

Pat smiled inwardly. Nick was a cranky old codger, but definitely a softie at heart. “Okay, this— Lilith.” he began. “I remember Mom and Dad telling me she was seen around here just before—all that—happened.”

“Yes. Lilith. She thought she was going about unseen, but the energies of the angels massing for battle caused her to become visible to mortals. She went to ground—hid—when the battle began. Like many, she was not roused to action at that time. Her Master, Lucifer, had other plans for her. Plans that are starting to take effect.”

Nick looked to Gabriel, a tired sigh escaping his lips. “Now I’m all talked out. It’s your turn. Not easy for a man my age to keep yammering on like that.”

Gabe snorted. “Uh-huh. I’ve heard that line from you for at least a thousand of your years.”

“Uh, guys?” Pat interrupted. “I still am confused about something. Well, lots of things, but right now it’s enough to know this—why did I pass out when I picked up the nails?”

“Did you dream?” Nick asked.

Pat started. “Yes. How did you know?”

Nick nodded. “Yep. I was told that would happen. It’s part of the preparation for you. To accomplish the mission God has planned out for you. That is, if you accept. Everyone has a particular mission in life, great or small. Lucky you, to have it all spelled out for you.”

“A mission. You mean like what we were told after the battle? When Mom returned to us?” Pat dreaded the answer, but had to know.

Gabriel nodded. “Yes. You are being asked to become a Hunter. Help Nick here recruit others, make ready the weapons. Your sister is learning, this day, of her mission as well.”

“What will she be doing? Oh, wait, maybe I don’t want to know.”

Gabriel said, “No, and I couldn’t tell you anyway.”

“Ah. No surprise there.” Pat sighed.

“If you two are through with your tea party, can we move on?” Nick asked in frustration.

Gabriel gave him a look, then gazed intently at Pat. “Do you accept this responsibility?”

Pat swallowed hard. “Um…”

The two others waited.

Pat laughed uneasily. “Well, it is a lot to think about, after all.”

“Don’t think. Act, son. Remember, it is a directive from God Himself. As with all of His servants in the past and present, He will not give you any burden you can’t handle.”

“Yes, Nick, I know that. But it’s all so—sketchy. I don’t know any details…”

“And you won’t know, unless you accept. Not to force you—if you turn it down, nothing ill will be thought of you.”

Yet both Gabriel and Nicodemus knew Pat’s answer already.

Pat closed his eyes. He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. Opening his eyes again, he gazed at the angel and the Hunter with a new calmness and resolve.

“Yes.” he said firmly. “I’ll do it.”

 

 

 

Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resurgence” Chapter 7

Okay…so…that wasn’t a “doggy”.

CHAPTER 7

Late that night, Lydia half-woke to the gentle bounce of the bed as Steve crawled into it, She turned over to face him.

“You made it. We wondered if you’d get here tonight.”

“…mmm…tell you tomorrow…tired….”

“Of course. Glad you’re home. G’nite. Love you.”

“Unhnn. Nite…love you…” He murmured something else as Lydia was dropping back off to sleep.

A minute later, her eyes flew open. Did he just call me Delilah?

 

In the mornin, Lydia got up quietly, careful not to wake her husband. Out cold, she thought as she gazed at the snoring heap of blankets. Poor guy—wonder if he got any rest at all while he was gone.

Downstairs in the kitchen, she made herself some coffee and toast. Taking it to the table, she sat down at her usual place to watch the birds outside at their feeders. A brush of fur against her leg let her know that the cat, Queenie, was up and wanting breakfast. By the time she’d squared away the cat’s needs, Pat had come downstairs.

“Coffee?” she asked him.

He didn’t say anything as he put on his running shoes.

“Pat?”

“Huh? Oh—sorry, Mom. Just kind of distracted this morning. I’ll have some when I get back from my run, thanks.”

“Okay. So—how was your evening?”

He gave her an odd look—worried? Angry? Fearful? Whatever it was, it sure wasn’t happy.

“Pat? What happened?” Anxiety started creeping into her heart.

He put a hand on the doorknob, then turned to her. “I’m not sure, but it wasn’t—well, it was not good— but no one was permanently hurt. I…”

“What do you mean?” Lydia’s mind went into overdrive, with dire scenes of car accidents, bar fights, dog attack…

“Mom—I need to go. After I sort this whole thing out in my head, then I can tell you. Right now I don’t know what to think.”

“Can you tell me the basics?”

Pat sighed. “Okay, I’ll tell you this. Something’s going on in—or should I say under—the Magma buildings, and it’s not good.”

He was away before she could ask anything more.

Lydia sat back down. The sunlight streaming in through the kitchen window had previously been comforting, but now she could not seem to get warm. The thoughts of what had happened to her and to others on that hill, thoughts that were never far from her consciousness, boiled and bubbled to the surface to frighten her once again.

The sound of the kitchen door opening made her jump.

Steve walked in, stretching and yawning.

“Oh, Steve!” Lydia ran to him and flung herself, sobbing, into his surprised embrace.

“What? What’s wrong?” Steve held her, confused. He felt her tremble as she cried into his shoulder, and just waited.

She finally quieted and pulled away, looking up at him with red, puffy eyes. Steve put his hands on either side of her face and kissed her tenderly.

“Now what’s this all about? Let’s sit down and you can tell me.”

Lydia turned away and started toward the coffeemaker. “Let me get you a cup…”

“Never mind that right now. I can wait. Tell me what’s bothering you.” He held her arm, firmly but gently, and gathered her to him again. Then he led her to the table, sat her down, and pulled up a chair beside her.

She blew her nose into a napkin and wiped her eyes with her bathrobe sleeve. Again, Steve waited.

Finally, she began to speak. “It’s been a long weekend with Toby here, and then with what happened yesterday in the park with him, I’m—I don’t know—oh, Steve, it’s starting again!” The tears threatened to return, and she rubbed her eyes fiercely, willing herself to regain control.

Steve’s mind whirled. What? “It”? She can’t mean…

“Honey, please, just tell me what happened yesterday. What happened to Toby?”

At that moment, Toby burst into the kitchen. He saw Steve and flew at him, a huge smile on his little face.

“Unca Steve! Yay! Unca Steve!” He jumped into Steve’s lap and hugged him tightly.

Steve laughed and returned the favor.

“Hey, kiddo, how ya been?” He was puzzled—nothing seemed wrong with the little boy.

Then he noticed the shimmering energy that passed quietly through the closed door. He looked questioningly at Lydia and twitched his head toward the apparition.

“That’s Raphael,” Lydia said with a tired sigh. “He’s taking guardianship of Toby for a while.”

Raphael solidified and nodded a solemn greeting at Steve, who just shook his head in wonder. The archangel Raphael? Who next? Are the Apostles being invited for lunch?

Toby tapped his Uncle Steve on the face, and gave him a very serious, solemn look. “You miss dinner. I make bissits, and you not here,” he said accusingly.

“Oh, rats! I’m so sorry, Toby. There was a lot of traffic, and a car accident, so I got home very late. Are there any left?”

Toby beamed and scrambled off of Steve’s lap. He ran to the refrigerator and fought the door open. He pulled out a plastic bag, then slammed the door shut. On his way back, he reached up to try and get the coffee pot.

“You want coffee?” he asked as he scrabbled for the handle of the glass carafe.

“Toby! No!” Lydia was half out of her seat, Steve along with her.

Raphael moved swiftly as the wind, and caught the hot container as Toby pulled it over on himself. Not a drop spilled.

“How about you let me handle the coffee, Toby”? he asked the little helper. “You just get that bag over to Uncle Steve.”

“Okay.” Toby ran to Steve and thrust the bag at him. “Here ya go! Yummy!”

As Steve reached for the bag, Toby pulled it back for a moment to seize one for himself. He held it up to show his uncle. “No park boogers!”

“Eh?” Steve looked to Lydia for clarification.

Lydia shook her head dismissively. “Just a way to get him to wash his hands,” she whispered.

Steve bit into his biscuit. It was a little dry, but tasted pretty good. “Very nice, Toby. Good job!”

Toby’s smile could have lit up the room. “Me and Toody maked ‘em.”

“Oh, well, you two make a good team.”

Steve was just thinking how nice a cup of coffee would taste, when Raphael handed him a cup.

“Um—thanks.” The mind-reading thing’s a little disconcerting…

He said to Toby, “So—you went to the park yesterday.”

Toby nodded, his mouth full. “Doggy!” he said around the mush.

Raphael’s countenance flared for a moment. Steve noticed.

Uh-oh. Something tells me this ‘doggy’ figures in on what is upsetting Lydia.

Footsteps clattered down the stairs, and Toby bolted for the kitchen door. “Toody!”

As the door closed behind him, Steve looked over at Lydia, who had had had time to recompose herself.  She seemed a lot calmer.

“So now can you tell me what went on?” he asked her gently.

Lydia glanced at Raphael. He, in turn, seemed to turn his thoughts inward.

And suddenly, there stood Gabriel beside his angelic brother.

“I thought it best if both of them were here to fill you in on—things—beyond yesterday,” Lydia explained.

Steve was grateful that he had slept well. Otherwise he might have put all this down to hallucinations caused by exhaustion. As it was, his patience was wearing thin with all this extra company, when all he wanted was a quiet morning with his wife. There had been a time, not so long ago, when he had been in awe of these heavenly visitors, but now it was so commonplace that he had begun to see them more as a supernatural nuisance.

Lydia saw that Steve was getting agitated, and started in without further hesitation. She related the events of the previous day, and then told him what Pat had said just an hour or so earlier.

At the mention of the Magma complex, Steve’s eyes flew open wide. He got up and started pacing, rubbing his chin, obviously upset.

Suddenly he stopped and stared at the angels. “Magma? What’s going on there—do you two know?”

Lydia was perplexed by his reaction. “Why? Besides what I just told you, that is. It’s not like we’re going to have anything to do with it.”

A sudden horrible thought struck her. She looked closely at Steve. “Are we?” she asked in a quavering voice.

Steve squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. Oh, great…

He sighed and looked at the floor. “My clients are planning to start a medical research facility in those buildings…” He rubbed the back of his neck.

“What!!” Lydia exclaimed. “Up there? Do they know the complex’s history?” She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“I told them what I could, but they just got even more interested. That’s one of the reasons I was so late last night—besides the traffic and accident. These clients—well, one of them—she’s the one who owns the New Orleans lot that I went to supervise. Now she’s hooked up with one Howard Messer and plans to underwrite his next scheme.”

“Howard Messup?” came a voice from near the door. Trudy joined them, after having listened to the conversation from the other room.

“The same.” Steve turned and smiled at his daughter.

“Good morning, Trudy.” He went over to her and kissed her on the forehead. “Dressed already? That’s a surprise.”

“Yeah, I have to go down to Martha’s. Her grandma passed away, and I’m going to help Martha keep herself together for a while. At least until she can sort through—everything. Poor kid—the relatives are all over her about her grandma’s possessions.”

Steve said, “I’m sorry to hear that. Let her know she’s in our prayers.”

“I will, Dad. Now if someone would put a hold on this little boy here, I’ll be going.” Toby was clinging to her, refusing to let go.

“Stay here, Toody! Stay and play wif me!”

Raphael strode over and touched the boy’s shoulder. “Toby, let’s go get some of your toys. I’ll play with you.”

“Oh boy!” The little guy shot out of the room and up the stairs, Trudy completely forgotten. She stood looking after him.

“Well, alrighty then…” She smiled at Raphael. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Trudy kissed her parents good-bye, and looked at Gabriel as if she wanted to do the same to him. Knowing how she felt about him, he merely smiled and squeezed her shoulder.

It’ll have to do, she thought resignedly.

After she left, Steve returned to his story.

“This woman, Delilah Atherton—she has more money than brains, I think.”

“Oh!” interrupted Lydia. “That explains it.” At Steve’s questioning look, she said, “You called me Delilah last night.”

“I did? Not surprising, considering how much she’s monopolized my life for the past week or so. Anyway—she’s really taken with the whole idea of getting this operation up and running. I will say this—she seems to have her heart in the right place. Wants to hire Seattle’s homeless population to work there. Plans on refurbishing one of the buildings as an employee residence.”

Lydia’s wrists began to throb. The angels noticed it right away. At a warning look from Raphael, she refrained from saying anything about the pain, although she was curious as to why they wanted her to remain silent.

Steve went on; he hadn’t noticed what had happened to Lydia, as he was engrossed in his own dilemma.

“Okay, this is the worst part.” He drew a breath, blew it out. The tension in the air was palpable as everyone waited for him to say what was on his mind.

Finally—“She wants me to be the head foreman on the project.”

“No!” Lydia stood and went to him, grasped his shoulders and looked intently into his eyes. “Steve, you cannot go up there. From what Pat said, there are darker things up there than mere memories.”

“There’s nothing I can do about it. Somehow—guess it was because of how exhausted I was—she got me to say I’d do it. Then, before I could tell her I’d changed my mind, my bosses at corporate made it part of the contract. And they won’t let me rescind my agreement. It’s my job on the line now, not just what I want or don’t want.”

Steve looked helplessly at Raphael and Gabriel, who were conferring quietly with each other. “So what do I do?”

“Okay, hang on a moment,” Gabriel said, seeing Steve’s agitation. As the mortals watched in wonder, Raphael and Gabriel began to give off an intensely brilliant light. It would have blinded the humans if they had not had divine protection bestowed on them. Obviously, the two angels were in conference with their Master; nothing else would have caused such a rapturous glow.

When it finally subsided, Gabriel gazed at his two friends. “Do not break your promise, Steve. We can work with this. But expect to see me around the workplace, at least until we ascertain what is going on.”

“Do you really think…?” Steve broke off as Gabriel’s form started to disappear.

“I’ll be back,” he reassured them. “Pat’s in need of my help.”

Before Pat’s alarmed parents could ask any questions, Gabriel was gone.

“Pat?” Lydia looked at Raphael, alarm in her eyes.

“Don’t worry. He is not harmed. He just needs some guidance,” Raphael explained. “He is being given his mission.”

Lydia swallowed hard. So it’s come to this. The reason I returned from Heaven…

Before she could say anything, Raphael suddenly shimmered into invisibility.

“Toby. Follow.” And he led the way out of the kitchen.

Toby! They had been so caught up in their conversation that they’d forgotten all about him.

Fine grandparents we’ll make, Lydia thought.

They rushed through the kitchen door and gasped as they saw that the door to the street was wide open.

And Toby was standing in the middle of the road!

Raphael was already beside the tot as Lydia and Steve raced out of the house. He put out a hand to stop them as they charged across the lawn.

“Wait. Watch. You will see part of what awaits him, and why I am here to guard him.”

As Lydia and Steve clung to each other, watching in terror, a dark mass undulated towards the boy.

“Doggy!” Toby was excited, jumping up and down, laughing happily.

The wraith suddenly rose up into a terrible figure, overshadowing the little boy. Just before it engulfed him, Toby frowned at it in anger and disappointment. He raised a chubby little arm to the heavens and pointed the other at the entity in a way that was nowhere near toddler-like.

“Bad doggy!” he yelled. At that same instant, a beam of light, too unbearably bright to look at, coursed from the heavens. It made Raphael look like a shade in comparison. Through Toby it coursed, entering his upraised arm and exiting the one pointed at the black miasma.

The entity screeched once, and then disintegrated.

Toby was left alone in the street, looking puzzled. He turned and saw the trio—Raphael, ready for anything, his hand on the hilt of his sword, and his favorite aunt and uncle, staring wide-eyed at him.

“Where doggy?”

Lydia rushed to him and gathered him up in her arms. “That bad doggy’s gone, sweetie.”

“Good. I tired.” And he fell asleep where he stood.

Lydia looked up at Steve, amazed. “What just happened here?”

Steve shook his head in wonder.

“You’ve just had a taste of what this child is destined to do,” explained Raphael. “What you just saw— that shadow—was a minor demon. A scout, if you will. Toby handled it well. But there will be more, and he will not be untouched by the present difficulties, which is why I am here.”

Lydia held Toby tighter while he slept on. Steve bent down and gently lifted the little boy out of her embrace.

Wordlessly, they all went back into the house.

Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resurgence”: Chapter 6

I actually had someone ask me if I was going to continue! Yay! That, to me, is big news.

Okay–so, here goes:

CHAPTER 6

Lydia tried to send Toby into the bathroom to wash his hands.

“Don’ wanna wass hands!” he bellowed defiantly.

Lydia sighed, then looked apologetically at Gabriel. “I’ll be right back…” She marched her little charge down the hall.

Gabriel smiled to himself as he listened to the exchange between Toby and Lydia. It was good to know that love was still alive in the world.

“Toby, you can’t make biscuits if you don’t wash your hands.”

“Why not?”

A pause, then, “Toby, you could serve dinner on that lower lip. Quit pouting.”

“Don’ wanna wass hands!”

“But you have to. You see, you have park boogers on your hands. They’re okay at the park, but no one wants park boogers in their biscuits. Makes them taste bad. You want people to like your biscuits, right?”

“Ye-e-es…” Then, his voice a little brighter, “Will Unca Gabel have bissits?”

Gabriel smiled wryly as he heard Lydia pause again, then reply, “I think he would love your biscuits. But I know he doesn’t like park boogers in them.”

“Why?”

“Um…because…they, um, get stuck in his teeth.”

“Oh.”

Then silence, except for the water running and the sound of splashing.

“Whoa! No, Toby, don’t eat the soap suds.”

“Taste yummy. Want some?”

“No, thanks. I’ll give you something better when we’re through.”

“What? Want now!”

Gabriel chuckled as Lydia blew out her breath in frustration. Obviously it had been a really long day.

Lydia came back into the kitchen, towing a very wet little boy.

“Gabriel, I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting.”

He smiled reassuringly. “Don’t worry about it. I never have gotten used to the concept of time, so I don’t really think about it. Besides, I was enjoying listening to you.”

Lydia smiled, a little embarrassed.

“Cookie!” piped up Toby.

“Oh, I did promise you something better than soap. Okay, one cookie, then that’s it until after dinner.” Lydia smiled ruefully at the angel. “Who knew he liked vanilla-pomegranate so much? Back to regular soap for our boy here.”

She took down a box from a high cupboard and handed Toby a cookie. She then sat down across from Gabriel and looked intently at him. “So…”

She was at a loss for further words; thoughts of what had transpired at the park, along with his ominous words earlier, swirled in her head, blocking any coherent statements she might have made.

Gabriel met her gaze. In a quiet voice, he asked, “Something happened today, didn’t it?”

Lydia instinctively wrung her hands, as if trying to get rid of a cobweb.

Gabriel saw the move. “Your wrists? The stigmata?”

Lydia nodded, fear nibbling at the corners of her conscience.

Gabriel reached across the table and took her hand. “Don’t let fear in. Know that the Master knows, and cares, and doesn’t forget His friends.”

Lydia took a deep breath in an attempt to steady her nerves. “I know, but my mortal brain still fires on those neurons. Difficult to control when I don’t know what’s in store. Again, a mortal thing.”

Gabriel nodded. “I understand. Even though I have never had the, I guess you’d call it ‘freedom’, to feel fear, I’ve seen it enough times.” His eyes grew distant, sad. Then he shook his head, returning to the present.

“What happened that brought on the sensations?” he asked her gently. “What re-awakened them, do you think?”

Lydia looked surprised. “You’re telling me you don’t know? And you, an archangel at God’s side?”

Gabriel shrugged. “Well, I guess you could say that I know, after a fashion. But I’d still like your take on it. Besides, your reaction somewhat colors the next step we must take.”

Lydia pondered this for a moment, not thoroughly understanding it. But Heaven had its reasons…

A tug on her sleeve brought her attention sharply back. Toby stood beside her, impatiently waving a large spoon he’d retrieved from a drawer.

“Make bissits!” he demanded.

Lydia stifled a groan. “Toby, we have to wait until I’m through talking to Uncle Gabriel. Can you find something else to do until then?”

There was that lower lip again…

“You pomissed!” Toby all but stamped his foot.

Gabriel cleared his throat. When Lydia looked up at him, he surreptitiously hooked his thumb toward the staircase. “Perhaps someone else…?” he suggested.

Lydia smiled in relief.

Of course. Trudy!

She looked back down at Toby. “Tell ya what, kiddo. Get Trudy to help you make them. She makes really good biscuits!”

Toby brightened the room with his smile. “’K!” And off he ran, up the stairs.

“Toody!” he bellowed imperiously. “Make bissits! Wash first—no park boogers!”

“What?” came a distant, confused voice.

“Make bissits—bissits—BISSITS!!!”

“Oh, for the love of—okay, alright already, you little stinker.”

A melodious little laugh, and little running feet came pounding back down the upstairs hallway. They were joined by a set of much larger ones.

“Gotcha!”

Toby screeched in delight, and Trudy’s laughter mixed in with his. The two of them came down the stairs into the kitchen, Toby wriggling in Trudy’s arms.

Trudy froze in awe and surprise at the sight of the mighty archangel stretched out in a chair at the kitchen table. Never will get used to that, she thought to herself.

Gabriel smiled at her. “Good to see you, Trudy.”

Trudy, face flushing in embarrassment, shifted Toby to her hip and poked a stray bit of hair behind her ear.

“H’lo”, she said shyly. That was all she could manage; ever since their first meeting, her heart had done flip-flops at the mere thought of him. And now it was hammering in her ears. She knew it was silly, and pretty much a dead end, to fall in love with an angel. But, considering her history with mortals so far, this was much more preferable.

Toby wriggled impatiently, and Trudy set him down. He ran off, and she tried to meet Gabriel’s amused gaze.

“So how’s it going, living at home again?” he asked.

Trudy had been away at college, but after the incident that had changed their world, she felt she needed to be closer to her parents. After graduation, she had packed up her belongings and headed north.

“Okay, but I miss my friends. Especially Martha.”

Gabriel’s smile faded momentarily, but then it returned. “Have you seen Martha lately?” he asked.

A shadow crossed Trudy’s expression. “No, but…I’m going down this weekend.” At her mother’s surprised look, Trudy explained, “I just got a call from her a little while ago. Her grandma died, and she’d like me down there at the house for a while. Keep her company, you know?”

“Oh, poor Martha,” Lydia said. “Is this the grandma who raised her?”

“Yes, since Martha was seven. She’s having a hard time.” Tears welled up in Trudy’s eyes. “Martha doesn’t understand the Eternal like we do. I’ve tried to explain it to her, but she just doesn’t get it. I feel so bad for her.”

Gabriel held Trudy’s hand, a grave look on his face. “Doesn’t she remember what happened globally not that long ago?”

Trudy reluctantly pulled her hand away. “Yes, but she puts it down to mass hysteria.” She moved away from Gabriel, not wanting to remember it herself. Her own mother, lying still as death in the church, torn to ribbons…

No!

Trudy glanced away, refusing to let the thought go any further. “Where’s Toby? He got me away from a good book, so we’d better make those biscuits. Else some little bottom is going to get it!”

She hustled out of the kitchen, hollering for Toby.

Gabriel watched her go, and sighed.

“So much of humanity has convinced itself of that interpretation. Those alive today were physically untouched, so they think it was all imagined. Or that those who died somehow ‘deserved’ it.”

“Not all,” Lydia reassured him. “Trudy believes—how could she not? But you have to admit, That Night was pretty horrific. Many people would rather just forget the terrors they heard and saw.”

“If we don’t stop Lucifer from this plan he’s conjuring now, what you went through will seem like a walk in the park by comparison. Which reminds me…” He looked questioningly at Lydia, who self-consciously hid her wrists under the table.

“Don’t be afraid to face this,” he said. “We need the strength and faith of all of those who stand by God.” His face was all seriousness.

Lydia drew a breath, and plunged in. “We were at the park, Toby and me. He suddenly stopped playing and stared into the woods. That’s when I started getting that throbbing again.” She rubbed her wrists, willing herself to remain calm. “He said he saw a dog, and would have run over to the tree line if I hadn’t brought him home.”

Gabriel nodded.  “A dog.”

“Big. Black. I could only glimpse it for a moment.”

“Not surprising. A demon shows itself for a reason. Very few mortals can see one for what it is.” He suddenly realized what he’d said. “Of course, I don’t have to tell you that.”

“No. I think…”

Just then, Trudy burst back into the room. Lydia looked up, concerned at the confused look on her daughter’s face.

“Trudy? Can’t you find Toby?”

“”Yes, he’s just there in the living room.” Her voice had an odd quality to it. “But he’s acting—you have to see this!”

She ran back out, Lydia following. Gabriel hesitated, listening to a Voice he loved so well, then got up to join them. His outline began to shimmer, making him invisible to all but a chosen few.

Toby was standing in the living room, staring out the plate-glass window toward the tall bushes across the street. He had one finger in his mouth; the spoon, forgotten, had fallen at his feet.

Lydia felt Gabriel’s presence come up behind her. Toby giggled at that same moment. He didn’t break his stare, but pointed at the foliage with his other hand. “Doggy!” he said around his finger.

Lydia rubbed her wrists against her arms and hugged herself protectively. She stepped toward the little boy, forcing herself to remain calm.

“Toby?”

He laughed and did a little happy-jump. Still he did not look away from where he was staring.

“Toby…remember the biscuits?” Lydia knelt in front of him, trying to block his line of sight. He simply wriggled away and kept staring out the window.

Trudy looked from her mother, to Toby, to where she knew Gabriel stood. She was on the verge of panic.

“What’s going on? Why’s he like this all of a sudden?” She grabbed Toby’s arm and frantically jerked it. He stood firm.

“Toby!” she screamed, “There’s NO DOG!”

“Doggy!” was the insistent answer.

There was suddenly another presence in the room—another angel. He stood unobtrusively behind the group in the living room, his form shimmering as brightly as Gabriel’s. He nodded to his brother.

Gabriel quietly stepped up to Toby and stroked the curly-haired little head. “Toby? I sure would like a biscuit.”

That broke Toby’s concentration. He whirled around, grabbed the spoon from the floor, and headed for the kitchen. “Toody!” he yelled over his shoulder, “Bissits for Gabel!”

Trudy’s jaw gaped in surprise. Toby stopped, turned around, and came back. He grabbed her hand and tugged.

“Come ON!”

Then he saw the new arrival. They all did.

The new angel smiled and gestured for everyone to go back into the kitchen. Once behind the door, he and Gabriel solidified into material forms.

Lydia took a guess. “Raphael?”

The angel gave her a smile and a half-bow.

Trudy could only stare. Toby hid behind her.

Gabriel crouched down in front of Toby and said, “My brother is here for a visit, Toby. Could you be his friend? He likes biscuits too.”

Raphael looked confused for a half-second. Then his countenance lightened, as Gabriel clarified the meaning with one thought directed to him. He also crouched down and smiled at the little boy.

“Yes, Toby. I don’t know anyone here, and I sure need a friend.”

Toby looked to Lydia for reassurance and she nodded, smiling. Then he turned to Raphael, and his smile beamed almost as radiantly as the angel’s. “No park boogers in bissits!”

Raphael raised an eyebrow. “Well, I certainly hope not.”

He smiled wider as the little guy headed for the pantry. Trudy, still dumbstruck at the sort of company her family attracted, followed behind.

Lydia looked at Gabriel and Raphael in turn. “Okay, what’s up, guys? Heaven doesn’t usually unload almost all of its archangels for no good reason.”

Raphael was all seriousness. “That boy is marked down for glory. All efforts are being made to assure that his way is clear. I am to stay by his side, especially now. In a while, after Satan’s current plan is carried out and subsequently destroyed, Toby won’t need me near him as much. But for now…oh, don’t worry, you won’t see me as you do now,” he said, noting the look on Lydia’s face. “I’ll be as unobtrusive as his own guardian angel.”

“Speaking of which—isn’t that enough? His guardian angel, I mean?” Lydia looked perplexed. “Not that I mind you here,” she added hastily. “We could use all the protection we can get.”

“Under ordinary circumstances, yes. Absolutely. But Toby’s special, and as such is a specific target of the forces of evil. And, as you say, you could use the extra protection.”

Lydia shuddered. Just what were they all in for?

 

Outside, the black beast waited impatiently for the boy to return to the window. It was puzzled—how did the child break the thrall it had put on him? He’d almost been out the door and across the street, when he’d suddenly turned around and run out of the room. Could the women it had seen with the boy have done something? How could they? The beast had sensed some sort of power in the older woman when they were at the park, but certainly not enough to overcome its hold on the brat.

It waited a little longer, then it turned and trotted off into the deeper forest and disappeared among the shadows.

 

“Don’ wanna go bed! Want bissit!” Toby clung to a small bit of a much-drooled-upon remains of his kitchen triumph as Lydia dressed him in his pajamas. As promised, Raphael stayed out of sight. But Lydia knew he was there, standing outside the bedroom door. Toby knew too; no matter how Raphael tried to make himself unnoticeable, Toby had more than just his eyes to know he was there. The boy had a gift for seeing the invisible.

“Ray like bissits!” Toby exclaimed, holding his sodden treasure out to Raphael.

The angel smiled and shook his head. “I’ve had plenty, Toby, thank you.”

“Tell you what, Toby,” Lydia said, “We’ll put your biscuit in a napkin and you can have it tomorrow.”

In answer, Toby glared defiantly at Lydia and popped the mess into his mouth. At the taste of the gooey blob, now tainted with dirt and pet hair, he made a disgusted face and spit it onto the floor.

“Eww! Park boogers!” he yelled.

Lydia wrapped the glop in a tissue and handed it over to a surprised Raphael. “Please get rid of this. Trudy can show you where the garbage…” She stopped as the parcel simply disappeared from between his hands into thin air.

“Okay, never mind.”

She turned to Toby. “Now your teeth are all messed up, but we’re not going through all that trouble again. Let’s hear your prayers, then you get into bed. Raphael will stay with you—it’ll be like a sleepover.”

And how do I explain Raphael’s presence to Kim and Ned when they get home?

 

After the lights were out, Toby lay half-asleep in his bed. All was quiet; the light from the stars gave off a dull glow, and outside the crickets chirped their good-byes to the summer season.

Abruptly, Toby sat up, eyes wide. Raphael watched him from the far corner.

Toby stood on his bed and gazed out the window. He splayed his hand against the glass.

“Doggy…”

 

 

 

Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resurgence”–Chapter 5

CHAPTER 5

Lydia sat on a park bench, watching Kim’s little boy, Toby, as he played in the sand. She exulted in the late-summer evening, feeling the wind play softly through her hair. The breeze smelled of the end of a warm, dry day, and the sunlight was cooled by the promise of an autumn that was soon to come.

She smiled as Toby poured sand from his shovel onto his little arm. He giggled as he felt the gritty substance tickle his skin.

Such a short time ago, he was just a helpless little infant! Lydia had been with him from the start, helping Kim with her labor and then sitting up nights with the baby when Kim was exhausted and needed a break. Toby’s father had disappeared when Kim learned she was pregnant, and he had never resurfaced. If he ever did, Lydia would definitely give him a piece of her mind; Toby was as close to a grandchild that Lydia had for now, and she was fiercely protective of both Kim and the baby.

At present, she was looking after almost-three-year-old Toby while Kim and Ned had gone off on a much-needed vacation. Lydia thought back on the way Kim’s and Ned’s relationship had grown— frustratingly slowly, in her opinion. The two nearly-newlyweds had been virtual strangers at work; in fact, Kim had pretty much scorned Ned. The friendly security guard had no place in her social radar, nor she in his…

But the events of “That Night”, as Lydia and her family called it, had caused the two of them to finally meet and get to know each other better.

But not before Ned had tried to kill Kim…

No! That wasn’t him! And he was saved, as was Kim, in more ways than one. Lydia had to remind herself of that whenever memories of “That Night” surfaced.

Kim had had a very hard time with that too, although Ned had remembered none of it. Since no one spoke of That Night outside of the immediate family (Kim included), he still didn’t have any memories of what had happened. The events between when the two strangers had visited him in his office, and when he had woken up in the church basement, were still blotted from his mind. He did, however, remember Kim sleeping against his shoulder…

No one wanted to tell him what he had done, either. The attack on him the first time had nearly sent him into complete insanity; filling in the blanks would be cruel and useless in light of the close relationship Ned had with all of them.

So, the relationship had grown slowly between the two. When the company they’d worked for suddenly went bankrupt, they became even closer—with conversation and comfort, going to employment workshops and job fairs together, rejoicing with each other when interviews were arranged, and consoling each other when someone else was chosen for the job. And, as Kim came closer and closer to her due date, their affection grew into something much deeper.

When Toby was born, Ned was completely helpless as to how to act and where he fit in with Kim’s new life as a mother. It took months of hinting, pleading, and prodding on Lydia’s part to get the two of them to talk openly about their expectations, both of themselves and each other. Everyone knew Kim and Ned were going to get married—except for Kim and Ned, apparently.

But in the end, they did finally find love. Surprising, wonderful, happiness at long last.

They were married a year later, and now, with another little one on the way, they had taken some time to go off together. Soon enough, their lives would once again be happily overrun with the care of a new infant.

Lydia wondered how Toby would react to a baby in the house. He’d always been a sweet, uncombative child. She hoped he would remain so.

A sudden gust of cold wind made her shiver. Her skin prickled, and a shudder flew down her back like a frightened bird. She put on her discarded sweater, looking around for a danger she knew couldn’t possibly exist.

Could it?

A small coo of surprise and a delighted laugh caused Lydia to look over at Toby. She was startled at what she saw, and not just a little worried. Toby had stopped playing, and was looking towards the line of trees that was the edge of a forested greenway. His hands were stilled in mid-air, as if he was about to clap. There was a look of pure happiness on his face.

“Toby?” Lydia called, and was relieved when he immediately turned in her direction. “What do you see, sweetie?”

“Doggy!” he exclaimed.

Lydia stood at once and walked calmly over to the boy. Not wanting to startle Toby, but not liking the idea of some dog loose near her baby, she smiled somewhat warily and peered into the forest. “Where’s the doggy, Toby? Is he still there?”

“Hee-hee! Doggy!” Toby pointed a chubby little finger at the forest. Then he waved. “Hi, doggy!”

Lydia looked again, and started at the sight of a large, black dog which was just inside the shelter of the trees. It stared out at them; then, just like that, it was gone. That is to say, the idea of a large dog shape was gone. The deep dark remained, making the shadows around it look grey in comparison.

Lydia’s wrists throbbed, a pain which had been gone since That Night. She looked at them, not wanting to see what might be happening. To her relief, there was nothing different about their outward appearance. But the return of her old wounds frightened her more than that dog—or whatever it had been.

She carefully and calmly took Toby’s hand. “Come on, baby, it’s getting late. Let’s go home.”

Toby pulled back, frowning. “I want play wif doggy.”

Lydia squatted down, and busied herself gathering toys and cleaning sand off her little charge. “Another time, Toby. Doggy has to go home too. It’s dinnertime, and I have to fix something to eat.” She had an idea that would take Toby’s disappointed mind off the “doggy”.

“I know!” she said as she put Toby’s jacket on him. “Let’s make biscuits. Uncle Steve will be home tonight, and he loves biscuits. You can help make them—how does that sound?”

Toby beamed at her. “I make bissits.”

Lydia smiled, relieved. “Yes, dear, you can help make the biscuits.”

To her consternation, Toby turned toward the forest again. “Bye, doggy. I go make bissits!”

Lydia followed his line of sight, feeling horribly on edge. She scooped up the boy and the toy bag and headed out of the park, glancing back anxiously.

Among the trees, the shadow watched as she left. A low rumble of evil laughter emanated from it.

 

It was only a half-mile or so back to the house, and Lydia practically flew there, fueled by adrenaline and fear. It didn’t help that Toby kept looking back over her shoulder and calling for the “doggy”. She was immensely relieved when she got home and inside. Knowing it would do no good against what she suspected, she locked the door anyway. She heaved a worried sigh, and turned to go unload boy and toys in the bathroom.

But she drew up short when as she beheld a shining Being in the doorway to the rest of the house. He was bathed in brilliant light, and his face was like the sun. He was dressed in armor, and a magnificent sword hung at his side.

Lydia sighed. Ever since That Night, it seemed the heavenly host had taken somewhat of a shine to her and her family. She never knew who would be visiting, or when. Sometimes she half-wished they had phone service in Eternity. It would be nice to have some sort of advance warning on occasion.

“Gabriel.”

The angel nodded, the light fading to a mere glow. Toby had wriggled out of Lydia’s arms, and was rushing as fast as he could toward him.

“Unca Gabel!” he shouted as he flung himself at God’s messenger. Gabriel swung him up off the floor, smiling with sheer joy.

“And who’s my favorite nephew?” He grinned at the little boy, then turned a more serious face to Lydia.

That look said it all.

Lydia shook her head in disbelief. “So soon? I’d have thought we’d have at least a few more years.”

“Sorry,” said Gabriel. “Lucifer has upped the ante, and plans something a lot sooner. It doesn’t help us that so many mortals bought into that ‘mass hysteria’ theory.”

“‘That Night’. Yes. Why, though?”

Gabriel sighed. “I think you can guess. People don’t want to believe what they have decided is unbelievable. So they put it down to a mass mental hallucination.”

He turned to walk into the kitchen, with Toby giggling and tugging on his hair. “We need to make plans. Your children and husband will be involved, as you will too.”

Lydia sighed again and followed him. Well, that was brief, she thought. So much for “a time of peace”.

 

On the back porch of a downtown pub, Pat Bronson and a couple of his friends were sitting and drinking a toast to the sunset. They’d been there awhile, finding many things to salute with mugs of the tavern’s own microbrews. So far, they’d toasted each other, the tavern, the barkeeper, the wait staff, and the croutons that sat in a little bowl on their table.

Sean hiccupped and belched, which sent the three friends into fits of loud laughter. But seeing the looks from the people at nearby tables, Pat shushed the other two, looking around apologetically. “Okay, guys? Maybe we should take our road on the—oops, I mean, our show on the road.”

Sean snorted. “I’m not driving like this. I wouldn’t know which car door to open, or which steering wheel to get behind. I’m seeing at least two of everything.”

“Hey, I got it!” piped up Ryan. “Let’s take a hike! We could go up the hill there.” He waved in the general direction of the mountain that rose directly in front of them, its base starting about a half-mile from where they were sitting. Pat had gone up many times; it was an easy climb, and had some spectacular views of the town and farmland.

“I’m in!” he exclaimed. “Let’s pay our tab and get up there before it gets dark.”

“What’s wrong with hiking in the dark?” Sean asked. His smile was turning into a smirk. Pat knew that look; Sean had a reputation of considering himself better and braver, faster and smarter, and every other “-er”, than anyone else. Letting him have his way when that smirk came on always let to trouble. And it sounded like this evening could end them up in a big vatful.

Pat leaned over the table towards his inebriated friend and spoke slowly, as if to a child. “Be-cause – we – don’t – have – FLASH – lights, and I don’t care to fall off the side of a mountain.”

Sean grinned up at him. ”No problem. We’ll get back okay,” and here came the mischief, “because we’ll stay the night in that old wreck of a building complex tonight.”

Ryan paled at the mention of the abandoned Magma buildings. “No way. I am not going to put even a toe on that property. Are you nuts? Didn’t you hear what happened to those investigators who went up there last week?” His voice was almost at squeak level with fear.

Sean leaned back in his chair and regarded his friend. He crossed his arms, a smile flitting across his lips.

“Not really. What happened?”

Ryan stared back, disbelieving. “They lasted about two hours! Then they packed up in a double hurry and sped down that road. They never even stopped in town—just blew outta here. I saw them!”

Sean laughed. “Well, of course. They wanted everyone to believe what they already thought they knew, that the place was haunted. It just underlines everyone’s suspicions. I, for one, don’t believe it, and I want to go up there.” He looked over to Pat, who was leaning on the porch rail and staring up at the complex.

“Whaddaya think, Pat?” Sean signaled the waitress, who came over and gladly accepted the wad of cash Sean handed her. “Keep the change,” he whispered loudly to her. She smiled sweetly at him and moved off to another table. He followed her with his gaze, then turned his attention back to his friends.

Pat’s face was grim as he looked up at the decaying hull of what used to be his mother’s workplace.

“No. I’m not going up there,” he said quietly.

Sean shook his head and laughed again. “”You believe those stories too?”

“After what happened there, yes.”

Sean rolled his eyes. “Nothing ever happened there, except for an electrical fire and a company losing its shorts in bankruptcy court. Hardly anything scary and paranormal about that.” He snorted in derision and finished off his beer.

Pat’s mouth was a determinedly stubborn line. He gazed at Sean for a moment, then picked up his phone and keys from the table. “Think I’ll go home. The walk home will do me good. Thanks for the beers.”

Ryan looked helplessly from Pat to Sean, then back again. He never was one to make decisions, and this really put him in a quandary. He didn’t want to go up there, either, but his friendship with Sean was older and stronger than his relationship with Pat. To side against Sean would label him disloyal at best, and a craven coward at worst. Pat could get away with his decision, because he had always had the self-assurance to go his own way. He, Ryan, did not.

Pat waved good-bye to the waitress and set off toward home. He only hoped that Sean’s determination to hike up to Magma would run out of steam, and soon. The sun was setting, and the hiking trail could get pretty dicey at night. There was always the option of merely walking up the road to the complex, but he knew Sean would never do anything that easy.

Halfway home, Pat heard someone running behind him. He turned just as Ryan caught up to him.

“Whoa, Ryan, what’s up?” Pat looked behind his friend, who was doubled over and gasping for breath. “Where’s Sean?”  A growing fear spread from his heart to his stomach as Pat imagined the worst.

Ryan, finally able to almost catch his breath, pointed up the mountain.  “Damn fool…drunk as a skunk…decided to drive up there…”

“Good Lord,” Pat murmured. He broke into a run, back towards the mountain. Ryan groaned and started trotting back himself. Days of playing computer games did not train one well when it came to actual physical exertion. But he knew Pat could handle things on his own, and Ryan would get there when he could.

Heedless of his own earlier warnings about the dangers on the trail, Pat started up without hesitation. He hoped that his night vision would be good enough to keep him out of danger. The waning twilight made the twists and turns of the pathway very difficult to see, and he had to take special care not to run straight off into open air. Since the trail was not city- or county-sanctioned, no one had ever put up railings to keep people from tumbling down the slope. All there was to warn hikers was a sign at the bottom, telling them of the dangers. It had been put there by the Magma Corporation, and it, like the buildings, was rotting back into the land.

As he stumbled yet again, Pat cursed at himself for being so stupid as to take this way up. But it was faster than the roadway that Magma had created for its employees and visitors. For him, a trail practically straight up the side of the mountain was no problem, but he hoped Ryan would use the road. He didn’t want to have to collect a mangled body on the way back down.

Pat was thoroughly winded by the time he reached the top. As he leaned on a tree, panting, he let his eyes wander over the abandoned campus. It looked a lot sorrier up close than it did from the foot of the mountain. Amazing how a couple of years could change things…

Gone were the neat lawns and carefully-arranged foliage that had kept the forest at bay. Now trees shot up through broken sidewalks, moss covered brick and plaster, and wild blackberry vines were everywhere. They obscured the walls and crept into broken windows. As the day darkened into night, the silence was ominous with memories and dread.

“Knew you’d come,” a sudden voice exulted behind him.

Pat jumped, startled, and turned to see Sean’s mocking face next to him in the near-darkness.

“You idiot!” Pat hissed. “This is crazy. We have to get out of here, now!” He pulled at his friend’s arm. “Where’s your car?”

Sean shook Pat off, looking confused. “My car? It’s still where I parked it, back in town. Why?” He looked around. “Where’s Ryan? He said he’d meet me here, but wanted to take the trail. I walked up the road; I wasn’t about to climb that stupid trail.”

Then Pat knew. “Ryan! That little bastard. He tricked me into coming up here. Told me you’d gotten into your car and drove up. Oh, wait ‘til I see him. I’m gonna…”

The thought was not completed, as Ryan came puffing up the trail. Pat groaned. His friend had taken an awful risk coming up that way. So many things to yell at him about, so little time…

“Ryan! You liar!” Pat stormed over to him, his face a thundercloud.

Ryan hung his head. “I’m sorry, Pat. I didn’t know what else to do. I…”

“You could have gone home, like I was trying to do. Instead, we’re up here. Why, Ryan?”

Ryan blurted, “Because if I left with you I’d be down one friend because Sean would never forgive me. And I was worried about him coming up here alone.” He looked abashedly at Sean, who quirked an eyebrow at him.

“Really…,” Sean muttered sarcastically. Louder, he said, “Well what’s done is done. Let’s have a look at this old wreck and then call it a night, shall we?”

Pat backed toward the trail, his eyes on the nearest blown-out hulk silhouetted against the trees in what little remained of the light. “I said I’m not going in, and I meant it.”

Sean asked in a mocking voice, “What, afraid of wee ghosties?”

Pat’s eyes narrowed as he gazed apprehensively on one building in particular. “No,” he whispered. “Worse. Much worse.”

“Oh, I give up.” Sean turned and stomped off. “You coming, Ry?”

Ryan looked pleadingly at Pat as he turned to follow. Pat looked away, staring up at the tops of the trees and at the few stars that had begun to shine. He heard Ryan sigh and trudge away.

Go with them. They will need you.

Pat started. What??

The command, for it was not a suggestion or an idea, seemed to come from all over, but from within himself at the same time.

“Lord, is that You?” he asked within his mind.

Take care of My wayward children. They are heading into danger.

Pat unhesitatingly broke into a run, following the other two young men through the overgrown greenery. As he turned down a broken-up path, sure he was following their voices, he almost ran into a large pile of stones. He put his hands out to keep from falling into it, and then recognized what it was.

At one time, it had been a fountain, tucked away in the relative safety of the building beside him. He could see the pipe above the basin and the skeletons of long-dead leaves piled within. As he pushed the leaves aside to see if there was any water left in it, his hand touched something small and metallic. Grasping at it in the near-dark, he brought it up and tried to examine it with what little light remained.

“More light would be useful,” he murmured.  Then he suddenly remembered his phone. If he activated it, the light from the device would glow long enough for him to see what he’d found.

Quickly, because he still had to chase down his friends, he shone the cell’s light at his find.

A crucifix! On a chain! What an odd place to find such a thing.

Pat shoved it into his jeans pocket and took off again. He could hear Sean and Ryan at the front of the building, apparently trying to break in.

“There’s plenty of broken windows—why don’t we go through them?” he could hear Ryan whining.

“Because they are overflowing with blackberry vines. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t bring my armored truss tonight!” Sean shot back at him.

Pat came around the corner to see Sean putting his strength into trying to get a partially-opened window open with a tree branch.

“Just gotta push a little more…” Sean grunted.

“Guys, we shouldn’t…,” Pat started to say, but just then the window’s frame buckled. Glass blew out and fell in a shower over them.

“Oh, crap! You guys okay?” Pat rushed over; he had been far enough away to avoid being caught in the glass spray. “Careful—that glass could be on your clothes or in your hair.”

“I think we’re okay.” Sean carefully checked his jacket and jeans.

Then he stared at Pat. “Hey, you changed your mind. Cool!” He grinned at his reluctant friend.

“No, but someone has to be able to tell the paramedics where to find the bodies.” Pat felt ill as he tried to make light of the situation. He’d been commanded to go with them; was he supposed to keep them out, or just go in with them and see what happened? No more orders seemed to be forthcoming.

Sean clapped Pat on the shoulder. “Good man.” He turned and strode back toward the hole he had made. “Well, let’s check the place out.”

Before Pat could say anything, Sean was through the window.

“Wow! It’s like…wow! What a mess!” His voice echoed from within. He stuck his head back through the window.

“Nothing’s been taken out of here. Chairs, computers, even pens and pencils. It’s a looter’s paradise!” He grinned, then said, “Not that I’d do such a thing…”

“Good thing,” Pat growled.

Ryan was at the window, curiosity overcoming trepidation. “Hey, get out of the way and let me in! Let’s look for flashlights—hopefully we’ll find one that has working batteries.”

Pat sighed and followed them in, but not before he looked up at the heavens and shrugged. Well, what can ya do…

The three adventurers made their way slowly into the darkness, shining the soft beams from their phones in order to get some idea as to what they’d stepped into. The lights reached only far enough to allow them to walk a few steps at a time.

Sean ducked into a cubicle, and Pat could hear him rummaging around in the drawers. “Found one!” he cried triumphantly as he flicked on a bright beam. “Nice one—looks like one of those survival-type flashlights for extreme hiking.” As he examined it, the beam fluttered around the cube, up to the ceiling, and in Pat’s eyes.

“Hey! Watch it!” Pat put his hands up to block the glare.

“Oops—sorry.” Sean brought the beam down to the floor.

“Wait.” Pat had seen something. “Shine it back up at the ceiling.” Sean complied, and the two of them stood with their mouths agape.

Wires, pipes, and insulation hung in ribbons from an enormous hole above them. It looked as if someone had set off a bomb between the floors.

“I’m thinking we’d better not try to go upstairs,” Sean whispered, still staring.

“I’m thinking we ought to just leave,” Pat answered.

There was a crash behind them, and both men jumped. Ryan’s voice came from the darkness. “Sorry— fell over something. I’m not finding any more flashlights.” His feeble phone light wavered in front of him as he approached them.

He stopped and stared at their faces, the shock on them highlighted in the flashlight’s beam. “What’s up, guys?” he asked. “You look like you saw a—no, you didn’t, did you?” His voice rose up in fear. “A ghost?”

“No, Ryan—look!” Sean aimed the beam up again.

Ryan gave a low whistle. “Wow, what a mess!”

As they stood gazing up at the ceiling, a distant thump caught their attention.

“W-what was that?” Ryan stuttered in fear, looking around wildly. He staggered out of the cubicle backwards, scrabbling behind himself for the window.

“Oh, come on, Ryan. This place is probably full of rodents, raccoons, and what have you. We are, actually, in an abandoned building surrounded by a forest.” Sean snorted in derision and started walking towards an inner door.

“Where are you going?” Pat asked as the light bounced away, leaving him and Ryan in the dark.

“Further in, of course. No going upstairs, but I do believe this place has a basement.”

“Are you nuts?” Ryan called after him.

The light flashed back at them. Sean called, “You have a choice. Come with me, or sit in the dark. I’m off.”

“You certainly are,” Pat muttered. “Off in the head.” He shook his head and started through the maze of cubes to join Sean, if only to save him from himself. Ryan followed reluctantly behind, starting at every sound.

Sean smiled triumphantly as they came up to him. “Good choice. I’d hate to have all the fun by myself.” He turned and led the way down the hall, the other two close behind. His beam shone on a stairwell at the end of the corridor.

“Look—our adventure awaits!” Sean laughed and sped towards the stairs, his companions having to increase their speed to stay within the relative safety of the light.

The walls were covered in graffiti; Pat noticed a number of pentagrams and satanic expressions smeared in red. The media used did not look like paint…

Ryan was trembling. Pat could see that, if even one thing happened out of normal, his poor friend would probably be sent over the edge into hysteria.

“Ryan, look.” Pat pointed towards their left. “There’s a door to the outside right there. How about if you wait outside? You could watch and see if anyone’s coming. Who knows—we may have sent off a silent alarm.”

Ryan shook his head emphatically. “No, I’m okay,” he insisted, although Pat could swear he could hear Ryan’s frantic heartbeat from three feet away.

“What was that?” Sean hissed, suddenly halting. He held up his hand to quiet his companions, and listened.

“Like, breathing, or maybe the pipes are leaking?” Ryan asked, a tremor in his voice.

“Something like that. Let’s go down, check it out!” Sean started down the stairs. Pat and Ryan looked like they would prefer to be anywhere else, but unless they could find a decent flashlight, they were stuck with accompanying their adventurous friend.

“One quick look around, and we’re gone, got it?” Pat demanded.

“Yeah, right, whatever. Hey, look!” Sean pointed to a pile of something in the middle of the basement room they’d entered. A battered office chair sat next to the pile.

Pat, curious, walked over to the pile, bent down to see it more closely, and then pulled back sharply with a curse. “Bones. Lots of them! Don’t know what kind.” At the sound of Ryan’s whimper of fright, Pat said, “But it looks like some little animals. Possum, rat, who knows? But—small!” he emphasized.

“Wow! This basement has a basement?” Sean had lost interest in the pile, and was shining the flashlight under the stairs they’d just come down. There was a hole in the floor, covered by a heavy wooden door.

“Whaddaya figure? A wine cellar? A place to hold the bodies?” Sean snickered at Ryan’s yelp of fear. “Oh, please, Ry, man up, willya?”

Sean peered closer at the heavy wood. “Hey, what’s this?” He shone the beam over the surface. There was something embedded in the center of it.

“A cross? Really?” Sean grabbed it out of its place before Pat could stop him.

“What? It’s just some wood!” Sean exclaimed as Pat tried to snatch it. He raised it over his head, where Pat couldn’t reach it.

Suddenly there was an explosion, and Ryan screamed. The other two looked over at him and saw him pointing at the strange door, his face contorted in fear. His mouth was open, but he had stopped breathing in his panic.

The door had blown off the hole, and the yawning chasm seemed to be filled with shapes darker than the surrounding blackness within it. Screams, faint at first, grew in escalating volume as the shapes found the new exit.

Pat and his friends stepped back, aghast at what they were seeing. One of the shapes emerged, as terrible and black as the deepest of despair, and turned towards Sean.

As it descended on him, Sean gibbered with fear, backing up until he was against a wall and had nowhere to go. The shadow was almost upon him when he remembered the cross in his hand.

He whipped the wood up and held it before him. The demonic shape stopped, fell back.

Then a horrid chuckle seemed to emanate from it as it approached again.

“Stupid boy!” it laughed derisively. Then its voice became the pit of all nightmares. “Any fool can put two pieces of wood together and call it a cross. This talisman has no power in your hands, for you lack faith in the Enemy Who gave it meaning. Now, as a token of gratitude for letting us out,” it sneered, “I give you eternal damnation!”

It flung itself at Sean, but Pat had moved a split second before. With the crucifix he had found in the fountain in his hand, he darted in front of Sean.

Staring fearlessly at the apparition, Pat said in a commanding voice, “However, I do not lack that faith. It fills me, sustains me, makes me whole. And I commmand, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you return to that hellhole and stay there!”

As he said this, his voice got increasingly louder and stronger. His last words rang through the building.

The shadow screeched at those words, writhing and twisting in on itself. But it obeyed, as did its companions.

“This isn’t over, boy!” it threatened, as the wooden slab fell back over the hole in the floor.

Pat gasped for breath, suddenly feeling very weak. He looked behind him.

Sean had fainted, as had Ryan.

Pat was trying to decide what to do when suddenly a soft bluish light, like moonlight, filled the basement. There were no windows, so Pat couldn’t put it down to outside influences.

He pulled the cross talisman out of Sean’s inert grip, and went to put it back over the opening.

No. Let Sean have it.  

“But what about…?” Pat pointed toward the hole.

Let it be. There is no stopping the events that are coming now. Trust Me. You will not need to fear. I am sending someone who will protect you.

The light disappeared. Pat picked up the flashlight, roused his friends, and led the way out. Sean and Ryan, both very wobbly, followed without comment.

It wasn’t until they were back down the hill that Pat suddenly felt something in his closed fist. In the glow of a street light, he opened his hand…and stared in wonder.

In his palm was a perfectly-formed yellow rosebud.

 

Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resurgence”: Chapter Four

So–what do you think so far? Please leave a comment. And if you’re interested in the first two books, here’s the link for them: https://www.amazon.com/K.-R.-Morrison/e/B009RBRJ0C/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

CHAPTER 4

Steve sat on the end of the bed in his hotel room, staring numbly at the TV screen. He could hardly believe what he was seeing.

The video showed flashing lights in the dark, emergency personnel rushing around, and a body bag, occupied, being lifted into a coroner’s wagon. Those images were not what had caught his attention; unfortunately, they were daily fare in this modern world. The reason for his dumbfounded stare was that this news story was located at the very lot where he had been just a few hours before.

The announcer droned on: “The body was found by a security guard who had just come on shift at midnight. The man who was on duty before him has been reported missing, and a search is underway.

“The tarp over the buried house had been disturbed, and that is the focal point of the search. Police have—“

He was interrupted by a shout. The cameras panned immediately from the announcer to a close-up of a man’s head popping up out of the hole. Everyone on the site clustered around him, so that any audio was drowned out. The news reporter and the camera operator ran toward the crowd and tried to wedge their way in to get some information.

The station suddenly cut to a commercial. Steve waited impatiently for the news to return. As he waited, his cellphone rang.

“Steve Bronson. Oh—Mike? What’s the story out there? Yeah, I have the news on here in Seattle.” He listened, then almost dropped the phone in surprise and shock.

“They found WHAT? How do you know? Oh—you’re there? Okay, okay, keep track of what’s—What?  They found the missing guard in the COFFIN? Gang signs where?”

Steve’s face screwed up in disgust. “Well, that might go a long ways to explain things. Rotten neighborhood—I felt unsafe even during the day. Okay, keep me informed. Thanks—bye.”

Steve turned off the TV. No need to keep watching, since Mike was right there. To hear it again on the TV news would just make it worse.

His head whirled with questions. How did the security guard get himself murdered?  And where were his clothes? How did anyone know about the casket in the buried house?

So many questions. He wished he was home and completely ignorant of this whole dilemma. But he had to spend an extra night away due to the fact that he had to meet the high-and-mighties at corporate downtown tomorrow. Hopefully, sometime during the night, he would be able to come up with some answers that corporate could use against the inevitable newshounds.

And what would the client think when she learned of this mess? Steve rubbed his eyes and passed his hand over the top of his head. She’ll go nuts, is what. Well, he’d just have to handle her the best he could, whenever he saw her again. He was sure he’d hear from her soon, considering what had happened on her lot in New Orleans.

The phone rang again.

“Steve.” he answered.

“Mr. Bronson, this is Professor Brown in New Orleans.”

“Oh, yes. How are things progressing?” He was surprised at the very late hours the professor seemed to keep.

“We have been very busy today, but we have made some progress. I thought I should call to let you know what our preliminary findings were on that piece of wood.”

“Ah, yes. And…?”

There was a long pause. Steve was beginning to think the connection had been lost, then Professor Brown cleared his throat. “First of all, let me reiterate that no conclusive information has been presented yet. It may take up to two weeks to be absolutely sure. But—“ another long pause—“ it is not from around here. And it’s ancient.”

“Just how ‘ancient’?” Steve was getting impatient; he wasn’t especially interested, except for the circumstances under which it had been found. He could understand the professor’s interest, but Steve had had a long day.

“At least a thousand years old. We believe it’s from a tree species that grows, or grew, in the Middle East, or perhaps in the North of Africa.”

“Wow!” That was a surprise. “Let me know what else you find. Thanks for the update.”

“Certainly. Good night.”

Steve clicked off and, since he was too tired to go anywhere for dinner, flipped the TV back on and passed through the channels. Too early to go to sleep, and nothing else to do.

The action of the rapidly-changing TV stations was mesmerizing. He found himself going into a trance of sorts, as he continued to push the button on the remote.

Beside him, next to the bed, a barely-discernible change in the air occurred as Lilith materialized as no more than a frisson of energy. She gloated to herself as she let her gaze travel down his long, lean body. As she leaned over him, she pricked the skin on his neck with a sharp demonic talon. When he absentmindedly swiped at the irritation, Lilith had to smother a giggle. Oh, she was going to enjoy this…

She licked her lips as her fangs grew. Her breath came harder and she saw the bloodlust mist as it covered her vision. Reaching out, she lunged at his shoulders—and missed completely.

His phone had rung simultaneously. She swiped at empty air as he rolled quickly to grab the phone from the nightstand.

“Hi, Lydia! How’s my favorite wife?”

At the very moment when he uttered Lydia’s name, a sudden surge of energy crashed into Lilith—a power she had not felt in eons. It picked up her still-invisible essence and threw her backwards, through the closed door and into the hallway. She kept going, straight through the next wall and back into Howard’s room.

Howard was also watching TV. He looked up, surprised, as Lilith landed in a heap in the middle of the room. She was round-eyed with surprise at what had just happened to her. Anger swiftly replaced the more vulnerable emotion.

“Went well, did it?” he asked.

“Shut up,” Lilith growled, and disappeared back through the wall.

“When do I get dinner? It’s not getting any earlier!” Howard yelled after her.

She poked her head back through the wall. “I have to think. Go find someone. But—remember, we do not want to be a threesome, so kill or go lightly. I know what Judas is capable of.”

Howard shook his head as she disappeared again. He got up and went to the refrigerator, where he pulled out a bag of red fluid. He tore off a corner with his teeth and had the contents gone in a flash.

Nasty. Well, cold blood was better than none at all. Barely. That blood bank across the street was certainly in a handy spot. In and out, invisible, and problem solved. But of course there was no challenge to it. Nothing like the hunt. He preferred hot blood from a frightened victim, the heart racing, the stream spurting into the back of his throat…

He groaned. Maybe he should call room service and have them bring up, um, “dinner”…

 

Lilith paced up and down the hall, frustrated. She’d tried to get back into Steve’s room again to latch onto him, but that powerful force was still present. What could be causing that? Only angels, or…worse…had that kind of power. Why would he be protected so strongly?

A tingle in the back of her head told her that her Dark Master was near. She held still, waiting.

No entities appeared, no smells of sulfur or changes in atmosphere, merely a vision worming its way into her mind.

Two vampires bent over a woman’s body in a blood-spattered room.

Lilith smiled. Her type of scenario.

Her smirk vanished as she saw unbearably bright light pass through the ceiling above them. It broke into three columns, and then manifested further into three armored Beings, each bearing a mighty sword.

Lilith gasped, then growled as she recognized one of them. Michael! The most powerful of the Creator’s heavenly host! She watched helplessly as he gave a signal to the other two beings. They rapidly dispatched the vampires, who had been so intent on the destruction of the mortal before them that they had had no idea of what was going on above them.

She then heard her Master’s voice, mere thoughts in her head. “Lydia Bronson. The one who decided to come back. These two servants you just saw destroyed were Vlad and Lucius, lost to my use for now. Michael saw to that. You know what is needed.”

Yes. Revenge! Lilith’s eyes narrowed. Revenge for what Steve’s wife had done to Vlad, revenge for the power that emanated from Lydia Bronson so strongly that it enveloped her husband in a mere phone call.

Perhaps—and Lilith smiled evilly at the thought—perhaps that power could somehow be used against Lydia, and against the Creator and his happy sheep. It was worth the risk. And if Lydia could be utterly destroyed into the bargain, well, so much the better.

Steve was a different matter.

Lilith continued to pace. She needed him as her slave, so that she could pursue her plans without questions or obstacles. But how to get to him, if she couldn’t get close enough to change him into her thrall?

She was still deeply in thought as she wandered back into Howard’s room, just in time to see him finishing off a housekeeper. The woman lay on the couch, her face frozen in terror. Her fingers were still deep in Howard’s hair, clutching, even in death trying to push him off.

“Howard! Dammit!” Lilith stomped over and, disentangling the woman’s fingers, rolled him off of her. He had the good sense to look embarrassed.

“She just…came in,” he explained helplessly. “I guess she thought the room was empty. I couldn’t help myself.” He frowned at Lilith. “It’s your fault for taking so long.”

Lilith rolled her eyes and sighed. Then the hot, coppery smell of the victim’s blood hit her nose, and she groaned with hunger and desire. Without another thought, Lilith fell on the hapless victim and completed the job of emptying her of life.

Then she got up and looked at Howard. “What. pray tell, did you plan on doing about the body? I am fairly sure she’ll be missed. And the rest of the staff will know she came up here.”

Howard looked lost. He hadn’t given any thought to the consequences, only that he hadn’t hunted in far too long. A bag of pilfered, donated blood just wasn’t enough.

Suddenly the body stirred. The housekeeper sat up, eyes red and mad, new fangs glistening.

Lilith blew out her breath in frustration. “Oh, you’ve done it again, Judas. I’m pretty certain it wasn’t Howard. Another mouth to feed. Well,” she sighed, “you can keep her, but you’re responsible for her.”

Howard looked over at his newly-awakened offspring. A thought came to mind almost immediately, one that would actually make her useful. He asked her, “How would you like to be my personal assistant in a new business venture?”

The new vampire nodded dumbly. She had her mind on blood, not a career.

Howard looked over at Lilith and shrugged. “Well, we have to start somewhere.”

He got another bag from the refrigerator and handed it to the new staff member. “Finish this off. We’ll hunt later.”

* * *

Steve sat at the bar, toying with his nachos, and waited.

He had been very surprised when he found out that Delilah had also arrived in Seattle; surprised even further when she told him, over the phone, where she was staying—right here in the same hotel.

So even though it was late by his standards, Steve had gotten himself presentable and had come down to wait for her. He wasn’t looking forward to what he had to tell her about her New Orleans lot.

How he wished he could have just gotten into his car at the airport and driven home tonight. But he had a lot of fires to put out at corporate, and home was a couple of hours away. What should have been a routine update on a build in New Orleans had become a media nightmare, and it would take all of his energy and intellect to get through this.

He noted his reflection in the mirror behind the bar, and was startled to see how tired he looked. Home and Lydia would help him immensely, but unfortunately that was not in his immediate future.

He glanced to the bar entrance again, and saw Delilah framed in the doorway. Fresh-looking as a flower; not for the first time, he marveled at the resilience of youth. She was accompanied by a man whose face Steve knew, but couldn’t quite place. He looked like he was in his late thirties perhaps, with longish hair, and somewhat uncomfortable in what seemed to be brand-new clothes.

Delilah met Steve’s gaze and smiled. But instead of coming over to meet him where he sat at the nearly empty bar, she and her companion took seats at a table near the door. She motioned for him to join them.

Puzzled, Steve gathered up his plate of nachos and his drink and walked over to their table. Delilah smiled brightly at him as he sat down.

“Steve, it’s so good to see you again. What a surprise to find you here, in the same hotel. Isn’t it, Howard?” She had to nudge her companion, who was looking at the drinks menu.

“Huh? Oh…yeah.”

Delilah frowned as Howard returned to perusing the menu.

Steve tried to return her smile, but those facial muscles were already in bed, asleep. The best he could muster was a sincere effort at a twitch at one side of his mouth.

Delilah looked concerned. “Is something wrong?”

Steve rubbed his eyes; their lids were strongly hinting that they’d like to join his smile muscles.

“No, not with me,” he replied wearily. “Just exhausted. I was up at four this morning and it’s almost midnight now. That is a really long day, when you add in the time difference.” He drew a sigh and squared his shoulders for what he had to say.

“Delilah,” he began, “I don’t know if you heard, but your lot in New Orleans is off-limits indefinitely.”

“What??” She obviously hadn’t heard. “Whatever for? I mean, once the archaeologists and history officials are done with it, what’s to keep me from building over it? If they want to pull the house up, I’m willing to wait, but…”

“Um—there’s been trouble. Big trouble. Two murders on the scene. One inside the house itself.”

Delilah was speechless.

Steve continued, “I’m really sorry about this. Looks like the murders were gang-related—at least one, anyway. There’s already so much tension between the rival gangs in the area that there’s bound to be an outbreak of revenge and counter-revenge. The police have sealed the place up tight. That entire neighborhood has had extra patrols put on it, and if anyone on the streets even sneezes funny, well…let’s just say it’s a good idea to steer clear for a while.”

Delilah sat in silence, thinking. After a moment, her smile returned. “Oh well, not much we can do, then. Just—leave it. I’ll pay everyone what I owe for all the hard work they did, plus a week’s wages for time lost.”

She leaned over and gazed into Steve’s eyes. “Besides, I have some other irons in the fire.”

Steve stared back. Those eyes! So…beautiful. So mystifying…so…NOT LYDIA!

He tore his gaze away, deciding that now would be a good time to make his acquaintance with Delilah’s companion.  The poor guy was obviously bored; Steve wondered why he was even there if Delilah was paying so little attention to him, and way too much to himself.

“Sounds good, but who’s your friend here?” Steve held out his hand as Delilah nudged Howard. “I’m Steve Bronson. I was on the site to help with Delilah’s plans for her lot. As you heard, it’s at a standstill.”

The man glanced a bit sourly at Delilah, then shook Steve’s hand, smiling affably enough.

“Howard Messer.”

Ah-ha! Steve thought to himself. So that’s why he looked familiar.

“I thought I recognized you.” Steve was diplomatic enough to avoid mentioning why he had heard of Howard Messer. Practically everyone in the media had nicknamed him “Howard Mess-up”. Everything he touched turned to chaos and disappointment.

Howard’s smile faded a little, then returned just as quickly. The silence that followed became a bit awkward. Neither man knew what to say that wouldn’t be stupid or insulting.

Delilah finally intervened. “I met Howard in New Orleans, and I’ve agreed to underwrite his new business. And it’s going to be based right here, near Seattle!” Delilah looked as happy as if she’d just won the lottery.

Steve could only stare, dumbfounded. Was she the only person left on earth who hadn’t heard of Mr. Messer’s famous business nosedives?

“You’re sure about this? I mean,” Steve added hastily, seeing Howard’s frown, “do you have the funds to see such a plan off the ground, and the means to keep it going until it is a success?

Until. Right…

“Oh, yes, I’m sure I do. Daddy has lots of money, and Howard’s idea is just the perfect thing for what he wants to invest in.” She smiled indulgently at her friend.

Steve was interested in spite of himself. “And what is it, may I ask?”

“Medical research. Specifically, blood-borne pathogens. Finding what’s wrong and making it right. We still have a lot of planning to do,” here she took Howard’s arm and smiled joyfully at him, “but we can take our time, hire the right people, all of that.”

You’d think she was talking about planning a wedding, Steve thought to himself. He had to force himself not to roll his eyes.

He smiled at the two of them. “Well, I hope it all goes well with you. Best of luck.” He raised his glass, realizing only now that neither Delilah nor Howard had ordered a drink.

Odd…

Delilah looked surprised. “Oh, you’ll be right along with us—you and your company. We plan on hiring you to renovate the building complex I’m buying.”

Steve set down his glass a trifle hard. He was not ready for this little surprise.

“Really? And do you have a place picked out?” He toyed with his drink, trying to cover his astonishment. As he raised the glass to his lips, he waited for her reply.

“Oh yes. A big place a couple of hours’ drive from here. Used to be owned by Magma Enterprises.”

The glass fell from Steve’s hand. He stared at Delilah, the shock evident on his face.

Magma? That’s where Lydia worked. Where…”

“Steve? What’s wrong?” Delilah was mopping up his drink while he stared, unseeing, remembering the horrors that had taken place there not so many years ago.

“Steve?” Delilah patted his hand, making him jump. He snapped back to the present.

“Huh? Oh, sorry, did you say ‘Magma’? That burnt-out shell that’s been rotting on the hill overlooking Morningview?” he asked.

My hometown.

“Yes, that’s it. Why? Is something wrong with it?”

“It’s just…no one’s been able to do anything with it since Magma folded. Vagrants break in for shelter occasionally, but never stay the night there. Investigators, both police and paranormal, have tried to explore the place, but run out, unable to stay more than an hour.”

“Haunted?”  Howard leaned over, showing more interest now than in the entire time he’d been occupying space at the table. “That’s perfect. I love the challenge!” He smiled, delighted.

“Yes—or worse,” Steve answered him. “I wouldn’t spend a minute there, myself.” He shuddered at the thought.

“I hope you change your mind.” Delilah touched Steve’s chin, turned his face to look into her eyes.

He fell into their blackness, floated along in their silky softness, rolled in their embrace. He heard himself muttering, “…’k…”

Wait–what have I just agreed to?  

That thought broke the hold she had over him, and he shook his head, hard. Then he rubbed his eyes yet again.

“I’m sorry, Delilah, Howard. I have got to get to sleep. My mind’s playing tricks on me.”

Delilah arched an eyebrow. “Really.” She sounded amused.

Something’s wrong here…Steve got up quickly, almost knocking over his chair. “I’ll, um…see you around maybe.”

“Yes. Tomorrow, in fact. Bright and early. We’ll fill out the paperwork at the office.” Delilah looked like the cat that had eaten the canary. She smiled and looked out at him from under hooded eyes as she toyed with a strand of her hair.

Steve looked surprised. “Paperwork?”

Delilah grinned happily. “Yes, of course. You just agreed to be my foreman on the project, remember?”

Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resurgence”: Chapter 3

CHAPTER 3

The first thing Howard was conscious of on his way to awakening was that, for the first time in years, he was stone-cold sober. The second was that he no longer hurt. Anywhere. Body, mind, spirit—especially spirit. Following closely on the heels of these two sensations was the feeling that he was no longer alone inside his own body.

At first, the awareness of the other two presences was more of an idea, a thought that eluded him like quicksilver when he tried to grasp it. But gradually, as he moved away from wherever he’d gone to, which remained unclear, he started to make out two indistinct forms in his mental vision.

They emerged from the depths of his unconscious mind, pixels of light and dark, coagulating into the shapes of two men. At the same time he was finally able to see distinct features, he became aware of a tugging at his mind and the sensation that, not only were his thoughts and experiences being exposed, they were being absorbed by the two figures that co-existed here with him.

Well, this has to stop, he thought indignantly, no matter what strange things are going on.

“Who are you?” Howard demanded, scowling at each man in turn. “Where is this? Are there more of you? Let me out of here.”

Neither answered him. The first being looked, to Howard, just like any other Middle-Eastern man he’d ever seen. Yet the clothing was odd, somehow. And the sandals on his feet—unless they were some sort of retro fad, he’d swear they were the same as what he’d seen in the Bible picture books he used to read to his kids.

The other one was really strange. Clad only in some sort of animal skin, this one’s features were very primitive-looking, as if he had just stepped out of an Ice Age exhibit at the museum.

They both had their eyes closed, breathing deeply, their arms out from their sides. Howard could see their fists clench and unclench as the data stream from his own mind was drawn into theirs.

Finally, the pulling he had felt in his memories abated and the two men relaxed. Opening their eyes, they stared at each other in wonder.

“Amazing. What a change in the world since our imprisonment,” said the Middle Eastern man. The other merely nodded, clearly relishing this new knowledge.

Howard’s patience, never long, was shot. “Oh, enough of this. I demand some answers! Who are you?” he demanded through gritted teeth.

The first man, seemingly the more outspoken of the two, looked at Howard in pity and shook his head briefly. “Best to let Lilith tell you.”

“Lilith?” Howard was truly puzzled now. “Who’s Lilith?” He glanced around in the space they occupied. “Is she in here too?”

“Oh, that’s right. Name change. Don’t know why, but whatever. She does what she does.” The spokesman held out his hand. “At the moment, we are CJ. What we will be called is still a mystery to both of us.” The other nodded.

“What the blazes are you blathering about?? Again—where am I?” Howard was beginning to panic— what he had blown off as being a really odd dream was too real now. He could see nothing past the greyness that surrounded the three of them, but he knew that he was in a strange new reality—and he didn’t like it one bit.

“You are still quite safely in your physical body. She’s destroyed mine,” Middle Eastern said bitterly, “so now we’re rooming with you.” CJ smiled nervously, both of them, casting nervous glances at each other.

“So do we both fight him and share control, or take our chances?” whispered the primitive to his counterpart.

“Wait—wait a minute.” Howard rubbed his eyes wearily. “Are you saying that I now have three personalities? Because I’m quite sane, and—“

“Not three personalities. Souls. Three of us, in one body. The Devil’s little joke on the Trinity.”  Seeing Howard’s confused look, CJ Dominant asked, “You know, God? Trinity? Father, Son, Spirit?”

“Yes, yes, I know all that.” Howard snapped irritably. “I’m not…wait, you haven’t answered my other question. Who’s Lilith? I need to talk to her and straighten some things out.”

CJ Primitive snickered softly. “As if we haven’t been trying for millennia…” he muttered to himself.

Dominant gave him a “shut-up” look and turned back to Howard. “Ah, yes. Well, my dear Howard Messer, Lilith is actually your new friend Delilah. And she now owns your soul.  As she does ours.”

“No! I don’t believe that!” Howard tried to back away, aghast and terrified.

Suddenly CJ Primitive held his breath and listened, eyes gazing upward, hearing sounds that Howard could not. He seemed as if he was waiting for something to happen. Then he looked Howard in the eye.

“Well, you’ll have every chance to talk all you want, if you end up being the one to control our body. I think we’re about to wake up.” He took a warning step toward Howard. “That’s a big ‘if’. Keep in mind, neither of us,” he nodded toward his cohort, “goes down easily. Vlad won before, but only because we fought individually. We won’t make that mistake again.” The two invading souls glanced at each other conspiratorially.

“Vlad? Who’s Vlad? Where is he?” Howard spun around, as if there might be a third being creeping up behind him.

“Vlad Tepes. You know—Vlad the Impaler? Count Dracula?”

Howard was incredulous. He stared into nothing for a brief minute, then shook his head, hard. “Damn bartender. Hallucinogenics,” he muttered to himself, glancing at the two beings. He rubbed his forehead. “Wait ‘til I regain consciousness and sic the cops on him. Then he won’t think it’s so funny to zing the customers. Good-bye business, hello lawsuit.” He managed to grin at the thought.

Then he felt a sharp kick in his side, and heard a somewhat familiar female voice.

“Howard! Wake up! We have to get you cleaned up and out of here.”

Howard suddenly found himself alone. His mind swam leisurely toward consciousness, holding back, luxuriating in this new privacy and quiet. CJ, or whatever, was gone, and he was alone with his thoughts. Floating, floating, hmmm, hmmm, hmmm…

A sharp slap to his cheek and he was awake, staring up at a woman’s face. A rather lovely one…hmmm…bring on the hallucinogenics…double them, as a matter of fact. Who knows who I’ll see next…hmm…hmm…

The woman rolled her eyes. “Judas!” she commanded in a voice that brooked no dissent. “Get up here! Now! This guy’s worse than you ever were.” She stood up, brushing the hair out of her eyes. “Hades, I sure know how to pick them,” she said to herself.

Howard felt a push in the center of his mind, and suddenly he was standing next to CJ Primitive. CJ Dominant was nowhere to be seen.

“Taken control, as usual,” CJ Primitive said sullenly. “After thousands of years, you’d think I’d get a chance, but no…”

“How do you think I feel? I’m in my own body, but no longer in control of it!” Howard shouted. “And why the HELL is this making sense??”

Primitive held up his arms to ward off a blow that didn’t come. Howard gaped at the being’s reaction to his fit of anger.

“You wonder why you’re not in control?” Howard snorted disdainfully, shaking his head. “It’s because you’re a wuss.”

“Hey!” Primitive put his arms down and turned away, hurt. “I’ve gotten soft, stuck in the background all this time. At least when Vlad was in control, I had Judas to keep me company. Not the best of companions, but at least he didn’t call me names.”

“Wait—what? Judas? Who’s—you’re saying…” Howard pointed randomly, not knowing which direction CJ Dominant had gone—“That’s…JUDAS? THE Judas? But—no way that…” He sputtered and his voice trailed off, not knowing what else to say.

“Now don’t be so surprised. Haven’t you picked up on our memories? You must have. Didn’t Lilith say anything to you?” CJ mused about this for a moment. “Well, that’s odd. Oh, well, that’s Lilith though. Forgets all about us when she is hell-bent on a prize.”

He turned to Howard and laid a hand on him companionably. “Well, it’ll all come clear soon enough. Things will make more sense after you’ve died by day for the first time. Then we’re in a different world, and…”

“Hold it. Here we go again with the crazy stuff. ‘Die by day’? What’s that all about?” Howard was losing the tenuous grasp he had on his sanity. This day was not going at all well.

Primitive sighed. “Okay, obviously the data stream was only one way, from you to us. Guess you weren’t conscious long enough.”

“All I remember was seeing a gorgeous woman standing over me, getting angry, and now I’m back here again.” Howard remembered thinking that a liaison in a dirty alleyway was rather disturbing, but he kept that thought to himself.

“Then allow me to fill you in on what’s going on. You’re not going to like it, but neither did any of us. So there we are.” Primitive stuck out his hand in an unexpected modern gesture. “Name’s Cain—and yes, it’s the Cain from the Book of Genesis, so don’t ask.”

Howard’s mouth opened and closed convulsively, his eyes wide as saucers.

Cain smiled reassuringly. “Once you’ve died by day and then awakened entirely, you’ll understand everything.” He held up a hand at the next barrage of questions. “Hold it. Let me finish what I’m saying.” He looked steadily into Howard’s eyes.

“First of all, the term ‘awakening’ is when someone is turned completely into one of the undead. Until then, he or she is in kind of a holding pattern between alive and, well, me.”

“‘Undead’? Like ‘zombie’?” Howard was near panic, sure that he had gone completely over the wall into looneyville.

“No, not zombie. Not so simple as that. Now, remember that Vlad the Impaler was part of our merry crew at one time. And what was he?” Cain was enjoying being the one who knew everything for once. First time since, well, ever actually.

“V-vampire?” Howard unconsciously put a hand to his throat.

Holes!

He let go in a full-blown panic. “No! I won’t! Never! How do I get back and get Judas out of me? And you?”  Howard caught at Cain, but the man’s ephemeral form merely closed over his hands like fog. The soul of Cain shook his head. He actually seemed to pity Howard.

“You’re stuck. And Lilith won’t let you back until she needs some aspect of you that she finds important.”

Something suddenly occurred to him. “Oh—this won’t help, but you need to know. Lilith is the bride of Satan, his first and favorite slave. You should look her up in one of those computer things everyone’s always staring at these days.”

Howard never wanted a bottle of whiskey so badly in all his life. Just one big series of swallows, and this would all be a blur.

Suddenly, without preamble, he was in full control of his body again. He was standing now, the muck of the alleyway clinging to his clothes. And Delilah, or Lilith, or whatever, was speaking to him.

…and we’ll be leaving for Seattle tonight, after some unfinished business.”

Howard backed away, trembling, shaking his head in disbelief and terror. “No! I—I can’t! I WON’T! You get these two out of my mind and leave me alone! I’ll—I’ll just get by without you. Go away!”

Lilith turned her full attention on him, gazing in dull surprise. “Nice of you to join us, Howard…”

She advanced on him, her eyes like ice, her voice edged in death-cold steel. “You really think it’s that easy? Just ask, and we will go away? You seem to have an idea of what has happened, or you wouldn’t be cowering against the garbage like that. Had a nice little chat with Cain then? He’s hordes of fun, isn’t he?” She laughed sarcastically. “Such an idiot. There’s good reason why he’s left in the background.”

Howard was still backing away, stumbling over trash and slipping on puddles. Lilith just kept coming toward him, taking her time, as do all beasts of prey. Her eyes stared holes into his soul.

“My dear Howard, there is no going back. You have only one choice—our Master’s orders.”

“I n-never agreed to any of this!”

Lilith’s eyebrows arched. “Didn’t you now? As I recall, you said you’d do ‘anything’ to become a success.”

“Not this!” Howard found a shred of courage, and clung to it with his life. “How could I know this is what you had in mind?” he shouted.

“What does she have in mind, Howard?” asked a new voice from the mouth of the alley.

“Damn!” Lilith hissed in a low voice. “Judas, take control.”

She whirled around to see a man observing them, leaning against the brick wall of the pub.

Putting on her most alluring smile, she slithered towards him. His attention was definitely caught.

“Hmmm, what have we here?” the stranger crooned, giving Lilith the once-over about three times. Her body-hugging evening dress did not leave much to his imagination, which was working overtime.

“And what have we here?” Lilith purred. She put out her hand and grazed his shoulder, smiling seductively.

“Are names important?” the newcomer asked.

Then he looked at Howard, a sneer on his face. “Except for Mr. Messer’s of course. I don’t know what you see in him. He’s pretty famous for screwing up. Or did you know? Makes big bucks and then flushes them down his throat.” He grinned. “Can’t wait to tell the press about this little escapade. Caught with a—well, lady—in a back alley, reeking of whiskey and dung. He’ll be sunk even further.”

He looked back at Lilith with a self-satisfied air. “You’d be better off with me. We can have ourselves a good ol’ time.” His hand was on her back, drawing her closer.

Lilith’s voice was deep, ancient ice. “Hmmm. I don’t think so.” The man drew back, shocked at this rejection.

Then he smiled broadly. “Surely you don’t mean you prefer The Mess to me?”

Lilith gave him the briefest of frigid smiles. “You’re not my type.”

He grabbed her, drew her up to him, his face inches from hers. “And just what is your type?” he whispered hoarsely in her ear.

A quirk of a smile on those lovely lips; he missed entirely the cruel spark of demon fire in her eyes.

“You’re not breathing.”

The man’s eyes widened in surprise, then he laughed. “Well, of course I’m breathing.”

Lilith laid her hand gently on his chest. “Oh, my mistake. I’m sure we can fix that.”

The man’s eyes went from merriment to puzzled, then rapidly into terrified shock. His breath came in short gasps as his face turned red from lack of oxygen. He tore at Lilith’s immovable hand and struggled to back away, but found he couldn’t move. He was paralyzed with fear as he saw Lilith’s face transformed into true evil.

Finally, when he was on the verge of collapsing, she let him go. Gasping in great lungsful of air, her victim backed away, not taking his eyes off the she-devil who had almost destroyed him. Then he turned and tore out of the alley and down the street.

Before Lilith could react, a large black shape raced past her. The beast was on the hunt.

“Don’t be gone long,” she mentally yelled after it. “We have a flight to catch.” Then she laughed to herself. “All for the best, really, that guy showing up. We’re not on a dinner flight.”

* * *

Inside the beast’s mind, Cain was grinning from ear to ear while Howard looked on, stupefied with shock.

“The only part of this putrid existence I’ve come to enjoy!” Cain shouted, as excited as if he was on a carnival ride.

Howard could only look on helplessly, seeing what Judas saw from inside his own disembodied mind. He watched, horrified, as the beast caught up with his prey, jumped him, and clamped its jaws—his jaws!—on the man’s throat. The neophyte vampire wanted to throw up at the sight of all that blood streaming from the gashes on the victim’s neck.

“Wait for it…”said Cain, almost giddy with anticipation. “Wait…for…it…” He closed his eyes and smiled, hardly moving.

The beast pushed its muzzle into the open wounds and drank. Howard closed his eyes too, but in disgust and loathing.

Suddenly, that was all pushed aside, as a feeling of incredible power came over him. It was better than any drug he had ever abused, because he got the high without losing his identity. This was what he had been looking for. This completed him!

Cain, of course, felt it too. Howard could see him swaying, his eyes half-closed, a big grin on his face.

Howard got it, this whole undead experience.

Okay, I’m in. What now?

* * *

The beast trotted back into the alley. An orange feral cat watched from the top of a garbage dumpster, her tail flicking.

They both transformed at the same time. Lilith just stood there, shaking her head in wonder.

“A dog? What happened to the wolf?”

“Gotta change with the times and geography. No wolves here, but lots of dogs. And what about you…Catwoman?”

Lilith blinked in surprise. “Judas?”

“Yes…who else could have pulled this adventure off? Not Howard—psh, what a whineyass. You think Cain and I are just stupid relics from past centuries? We pick up on things pretty fast.”

Sirens howled in the distance. Lilith listened, then turned to the monster. “Okay, great, you’re geniuses. Now put Howard back in control.”

“What? Why? I’m doing quite okay here…”

“We need him to go pack whatever he owns from that flea-bitten dump he’s been living in, and get out of those disgusting, smelly clothes. He has to have his own personality and face on the body when we get on that plane.”

“Why? He seems like he has made a name for himself that isn’t all that pleasant. Who would care?”

“Howard needs to be seen on that flight because of what we will be doing in the near future. We have an appointment to keep, which will change things forever. And people need to make the connection. The media has to know where he is and what he is doing now. Call it marketing—it’s the beginning of a brave new world for our kind.” She walked a few steps, then turned and looked back at him.

“Wipe your face. You’re a bloody mess.”

They settled themselves into the first-class section and watched the other passengers as they passed down the aisle. Lilith entertained herself by imagining them all with their faces frozen in one last rictus of terror, their bodies strewn throughout the cabin. And she standing in their midst as the plane went down, covered with their gore.

But a jouncing disturbance kept disrupting her thoughts.

Howard couldn’t seem to keep still. He kept turning around and looking behind him, playing with the overhead lights and air jet, and leaning over her to look out the window.

Lilith watched him, taken aback by his behavior. Was he high? Had his victim been loaded on coke or something? Then it came to her, and she caught him by the shirt front as he bent over her a third time.

She forced his face towards hers, and confirmed her suspicions. Cain’s and Judas’ visages kept coming to the surface, as excited as kids.

“Get back in there and put Howard in control,” she growled at him in a low voice.

Howard surfaced. He smiled apologetically. “They’ve never been on a plane, so…”

“Shhh! Someone will hear you and think you have some sort of multiple personality disorder. We can’t have that, can we? It’ll rather spoil your chances at remaking yourself.”

Howard sighed, settled back, and closed his eyes. Actually, ‘multiple personality’ pretty much described him now. “Not my fault you put…”

He caught himself and opened his eyes, looking around for anyone who might have heard him.

“…that you did what you did.”

He finally settled down and feigned sleep. Lilith sighed and pulled out an in-flight magazine. She was still reading it when they landed in Seattle.

* * *

They checked into a nearby hotel and settled into their rooms. Howard was perusing the TV channels when Lilith suddenly materialized in one of the chairs.

He jumped, surprised. Then he let out a breath and said indignantly, “Must you do that? Hell, you almost made my heart stop.”

“Uh, guess what—it already has. Or mostly.” She gave him a lopsided smile.

“Which reminds me,” Howard said. “I have a lot of questions.” He sat on the edge of the bed and stared intently at Lilith. Since he had had the chance to chat with his “roomies” on the flight, he was now less frightened of her.

They had shared their memories and thoughts with him, and by the time they’d made Seattle, there was nothing about them that he didn’t know. And their attitude toward their jailer was now his—fear had no place with him.

“And I’m hungry,” Lilith retorted. “Can we delay the interrogation until after I’ve fed?” She looked bored; Howard was told by the others that he could expect that attitude very soon in their relationship.

“How are you going to do that without someone noticing? You can’t go around killing people without being noticed. And you didn’t like my idea.” He nodded toward the room’s small refrigerator.

Lilith glanced at the fridge and wrinkled her nose in disgust. “I have my ways, Howard. I’m sure the three of you had a lovely chinwag on the plane, so you needn’t ask such a thing.”

“True,” Howard said, “but there is one thing we’re all still mystified about.”

Lilith looked at the ceiling and let out an exasperated sigh. “Oh, fine, get it over with. What is it?”

“Why us?”

“Why you…what?”

Howard started over. “Why were the three of us chosen for this…plan…thing? Why not anyone else in history, besides Vlad, of course. He seemed a natural.” The name sent chills down Howard’s spine; like the other two, he was horrified by the Impaler’s unworldly cruelty.

Lilith stared at him for a long moment, then she slowly smiled in wonder, shaking her head. “I was wondering when someone would get around to asking that. Believe me, I asked the same question to the Master. ‘Why him’? I’d ask. Seemed such stupid mortals to be using. Except Vlad…”

She smiled in dreamy memory. “He was a really great adventure…”

“Um—Delilah? Lilith? Hello?”

“Oh—right. Anyway, the Master told me one time. Guess it’d be okay to pass on this little nugget of knowledge.

“Cain represents the Creator’s first mistake, breeding you loser piles of carbon in the first place. Judas represents His second mistake—allowing said chunks of carbon to have freedom of will, to decide to love or hate… Judas did the most vile thing of all, by killing the Son.”

Judas interrupted her, the eyes now brown and furious. “I never!…You…I didn’t!” he sputtered in impotent rage.

“Oh shut up and go away, Judas. We’ve gone over this for centuries.”

Howard pushed his way back to the forefront. “And me? Why?”

“You were convenient for the time and events we are preparing for. Disgraced, despairing, totally lacking in anything that could be perceived as morally upright. Your core was as black as if rotted by plague. Worse. Perfect for us to conquer.”

“Oh, well, thank you so much,” Howard snapped. “Tell you what. You go away, and we’ll proceed on our own, like Vlad did. None of us care for your company any more—as if we ever did.”

“Not happening. Vlad was useful for his vicious, destructive use of the power to create our offspring, but he drew too much attention. Good thing he was removed. You, Howard, have the cool head and business acumen to drive this project, now that you won’t be drinking…booze. With alcohol no longer an issue, you won’t be slugging the profits down your pie-hole anymore.”

Howard ignored the barb. “What, exactly, is this ‘project’?”

“Well, making offspring, of course, but in a different way than before. Replacing mortals’ free wills with a mind and soul chained to the powers of darkness, until there are no souls left that can be claimed by their Creator.”

“And how am I supposed to do that? Hunters are still out there somewhere.”

“They won’t bother us. We’re going into a legitimate business.” She looked levelly into his eyes. “We are going into medical research.”

She smiled at Howard’s shocked reaction. Then, standing up, she said, “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get a drink.”

“Where from?”

She smiled. “Across the hall. One Mr. Steve Bronson.”

**********************************************************

So–what do you think so far? Please leave a comment. And if you’re interested in the first two books, here’s the link for them: https://www.amazon.com/K.-R.-Morrison/e/B009RBRJ0C/ref=dp_byline_cont_book_1

Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Resurgence:” Chapter Two

CHAPTER 2

“Oh, do shut up. You’ll wake the neighbors.”

The sardonic voice in the darkness in front of him made the vampire leap in surprise. He hissed, fangs and talons ready to tear up whoever had been fool enough to let him out.

The voice, and the body it belonged to, moved toward him in the darkness. A distant memory made him pause.

Could it be? Lilith?

She sauntered over to him, dimly glowing with her own ethereal light. He didn’t recognize her at all, but knew it was she beyond a doubt. The clothes, the hair, the demeanor—all very strange. But they could not completely conceal who she was, at least not to the eyes of one who had spent eons with her.

She smiled. “Welcome to the twenty-first century… Um…okay, which one of you is driving?”

The beast stood confused. ‘Driving’?

Then it hit him. ‘Twenty-first century’? Twenty-first century?!

Just like that, over a hundred years and more of existence, gone in a flash. It had to be true; he’d never seen such clothes on a woman before. Imagine, a woman wearing trousers!

“Well?” Lilith sounded amused. “Are you going to say anything? Or did Vlad take away your voice before he left?”

“You know about…?” He could only get out a squeak after so many years of silence. His throat was beyond parched from lack of sustenance.

“Oh, yes, we knew. He popped right into Hell when he was, shall we say, ‘liberated’ from your body. Made a terrific impression.”

She peered closely at him. “So which one are you? Looks like—oh, yes, how could I forget those big, brown, anguished, I-hate-myself-and-everyone-else eyes? Must be Judas. Am I correct?”

He nodded, dazed. Not a few minutes ago, he was in the world inhabited by the undead, and now here he was slammed face-first into an unknown new one. He couldn’t comprehend what was happening.

Lilith was pacing, her eyes looking at the floor, tapping her lips with a finger.

“Lilith— ”

“Shut up. I’m thinking.”

“ ‘Shut…’? What?” How could he do what she wanted if he couldn’t understand what she was saying?

She rolled her eyes, noticing his confusion. “Okay, listen up. For over 100 years I have been inhabiting this world while you’ve been holed up in an inaccessible room. So let me do the thinking. We have things we need to do, and I need you to just follow my lead.”

Judas shook his head to try to clear it. Such strange language, and so unexpected from a woman, even if it was Lilith.

She continued pacing. “First, we need a new name for you.”

“I am Judas.” The statement was strong, decisive, and unquestioned by the soul of Cain, who was hiding in the background of the monster’s mind.

Lilith gave him a half-smile. “Um, yeah—no. Even in this day and age, people avoid that name like the plague. We could go with Cain, but that means he’d be in control, and he wasn’t so good when he was just in his own body.”

The primitive features of Adam’s son appeared on the face and snarled. He opened the mouth to hurl insults, but was subdued by Judas’ stronger personality.

“Got it!” Lilith stopped pacing, finger pointed up. Then she lowered it at Judas. “We’ll call you CJ. Cain and Judas. That’ll work for this time period.”

“I will make my own decisions!” barked the beast. “I was in control of myself for many hundreds of years…“

“And then you got jumped by who knows who, some Hunter, no doubt, had the Vlad kicked out of you,” she chuckled at her own joke, “and got put in deep freeze until now. Yes, really great judgment calls there.”

A new question finally made itself known in CJ’s mind. “How did you know I was here?”

Lilith looked at her fingernails, admiring the red paint on them. At least, he thought it was paint. He salivated, thinking of what it might be…

Finally, she answered him. “Oh, we’ve always known where you were.”

What?

CJ felt the anger of two frustrated souls welling up rapidly within him. It burst from his lungs in volcanic wrath.

“WHAT? You’ve KNOWN? Yet you left me here for over ONE HUNDRED YEARS???”

“HEY!” Lilith yelled back. She advanced on him, painted nails now her horrible claws, beautiful face transformed into her real visage. CJ stumbled backwards, momentarily frightened into silence.

Smoke rose from her. She looked like damnation triumphant as her eyes bored holes into him. “There was this little matter of something wedged into the keyhole. A piece of that CROSS!!! And how can any of us get past that, you tell me! It certainly kept you from getting out!”

One hundred and more years in a room with no sustenance and no means of dying hadn’t put CJ in a very good mood, and he rose up himself, matching her horror for horror.

“And what, pray tell, has happened to your talents for bewitching mortal men into doing what you wish? Surely you could have found someone to enthrall—someone who knew which end of a shovel to use in order to dig a hole. And with a little more talent, he could have plucked out that noisome sliver just as easily as someone else seems to have done now.”

Lilith seemed to physically deflate as she returned to her human appearance. She responded in a much calmer voice, “For some reason—I don’t know—I couldn’t hold anyone in thrall for this purpose. Believe me, I tried,” she said in an almost pleading voice, her eyes unnervingly human in remorse. “But something held them all safe from my plans.”

“But anyway,” she continued a little more blithely, “at least you’re out now. We can get on with what we’ve been assigned to do. Finally.”

“Wait.” CJ hesitated. “Is Vlad still—a part of this ‘assignment’?” He didn’t like the idea of that filthy, depraved soul controlling his body again. Memories of his cruelties made the two remaining souls cringe in disgust.

Lilith’s face reflected disappointment, but only briefly. “No. He and Lucius became great pals at Headquarters, and were given an assignment together.”

“And?”

“They screwed it up completely. Taken down by the Creator’s winged puppets.” She shook her head ruefully, smiled a half-smile without humor. “They think they’ve won, the little do-gooders. Well, our Master’s not without some retaliatory strategies. And that’s where you and I, and Howard, come in.”

“Howard?”

“We’ll meet him tonight.” She looked at something on her wrist. “Oh, damn. We’re running late—all this time talking to you instead of just pulling you out of here.”

CJ looked at Lilith’s wrist. “What is that?” he asked.

“This?” She held up her arm. “It’s a wristwatch. You know—a ‘timepiece’?”

“Interesting. And it’s fastened somehow around…”

“We don’t have time to talk about modern inventions. We need to get you fed,” she saw CJ’s eyes flare in hunger, “and get to our meeting with Howard.”

She twisted around into the dark, then dragged something heavy from behind her.

It was the security guard, who had learned too late that a pretty face didn’t mean a pretty heart. Getting to him at been all too easy. All she had to do was play the helplessly lost stranger, and he had become putty in her hands.

Now he was bound and gagged, but very much awake. Lilith had put him in thrall just enough to keep him quiet, but when he saw the lean, pale madman before him, his eyes widened in panic. He squealed and struggled, his heart racing.

Lilith stepped back. “He’s all yours. Try not to turn him, and don’t get his blood on his clothes. You’ll be wearing them.”

The poor mortal was in full-blown panic, and was struggling to his feet.

“You’d better hurry before I take him instead,” Lilith whispered hoarsely, her own eyes glowing red. Her tongue all but lolled out of her mouth.

CJ needed no more prompting. He fell on the hapless guard, and finished him in seconds. The mortal’s final screech was absorbed by the walls of the house, which had heard such sounds for decades and were not impressed. CJ was so efficient at his kill that his victim’s very skin became wrinkled and dry.

Lilith whistled low. “Boy, when you finish ‘em off, you don’t mess around.”

CJ looked up at her questioningly, blood dripping from his chin.

She shook her head impatiently. “Never mind. Get this guy’s clothes on, and make it quick.”

 

It wasn’t as quick as Lilith would have liked, since such inventions as zippers had to be explained enough so that CJ could manipulate them.

“Crap. Next time I’ll find you a guy in sweats,” she muttered as she helped CJ into the clothes. CJ wanted to ask what she meant by ‘sweats’, but thought better of it. Hopefully, he would pick up on these modern-day expressions quickly.

Once he was dressed and his face cleaned up, they headed for the ladder. Suddenly Lilith stopped, laughing to herself.

“Wait a sec. Got a great idea.”

She went back and picked up the security guard’s naked corpse and settled it into the coffin. Then she clawed a mark on the man’s torso. CJ looked on, puzzled.

“What will those mortals think when they look through this place tomorrow!” Lilith laughed.

“What kind of rune did you mark him with?” CJ asked. “I haven’t seen that one.”

“It’s a gang mark. Groups of people are waging war on each other everywhere, and once the news gets out about this mark being here, the local gang is going to blame the one that uses this one. Hopefully it’ll start a turf war, and won’t the Master be happy about that!”

Before they left, Lilith flung CJ’s old clothes into a closet. They then departed the house. CJ was surprised that they exited by use of a ladder, not realizing that his grand house had been eaten by the very earth it had stood upon. What a surprise it was when he emerged onto the roof, only to find himself standing on solid ground.

He gaped at the empty lot, with the fence around it.

“Wha…? WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MY HOUSE?? He walked as if in a daze over the top of his once-grand mansion.

“‘Hell’. Yes, close guess. It sank into a huge hole that just opened up below it.” Lilith checked her watch again, hurrying toward the sidewalk. “Come on, we have to get going.”

“Not so fast, lady.” The voice came from a dark spot under the trees. A huge man appeared, a machete in his fist. “No one comes through my territory without paying the price.” His gaze all but tore off her clothes.

Lilith answered his gaze, level and cool. “And that price would be…?”

The stranger huffed an odd imitation of a laugh. “You have to ask?” He stuck the knife under her chin. His free hand roamed the contour of her collarbone, then started making its way south. His breath came harder, his heartbeat hammered enticingly.

“Oh, CJ,” Lilith called in a singsong voice, not taking her eyes off her assailant.

CJ turned.

The assailant kept his eyes, knife, and hand on Lilith, but addressed CJ. “Stay where you are, and I’ll only rape her. Come near us, and you’re both dead. Got it?”

“CJ.” Lilith’s voice was cold, her eyes taking on the bloodlust CJ knew so well. She directed her full, unmasked power on the would-be murderer. He was suddenly unable to move, the knife fallen from his unnerved hand. He choked on his own fear, trying to fight his paralysis in order to get away from her.

Lilith spoke one word.

“Kill.”

CJ screeched like a banshee and flew up in the air, glorying in his freedom, and then dove with murderous finality onto Lilith’s attacker. As he ripped into the man’s throat, Lilith stopped him.

“Save some for me. I haven’t fed either, you know. And we have to keep poor Howard from being totally sucked dry.”

Without moving his head from the blood gushing from the torn throat, CJ merely growled at her. He was feeling much better now.

 

“Come on! Howard’s waiting, and I don’t want him to get away.” Lilith pulled CJ behind her down the deserted street. He could barely keep up, what with ogling all of the changes he saw around him.

His neighborhood had deteriorated. The houses that lined the street, once so grand, were now nothing more than deserted shells. Groups of young boys drifted in and out of them, some lounging at corners, others talking in hushed groups, each eyeing the other clusters with distrust and anger.

“Even the same gang members don’t trust each other,” Lilith whispered to him.

‘Gang’. Another thing to ask about later, CJ mused.

They passed a tattoo parlor. A young couple was just coming out, the boy so covered with art that his original skin was difficult to detect. He had a bandage over a new masterpiece; the smell of the blood under the gauze caused CJ to lose control. He lunged at the couple, his fangs bared.

The youngsters hesitated, shocked at his behavior. Then the tattooed kid smiled wide, staring at CJ’s demonic grimace.

“Whoa, dude, where’d you get the fangs?”

CJ simply stopped and gaped at this reaction.

The girl next to the boy answered for him. “Oh, I’ve seen ‘em for sale at the tourist traps on Bourbon Street.”

“Oh, man, let’s go get some.” The boy started off in the other direction, dragging his girlfriend behind him.

“Bram, you do NOT need fangs! You cause enough trouble,” the girl giggled. Yet she cast an apprehensive look behind her at CJ.

CJ looked at Lilith, not knowing what to think.

She shrugged. “Yep, that’s the world we’re in now. Lots of folks not believing in the demonic, but also not believing in the divine. Good pickings for both sides. Our task is to get to them before the Creator does.”

CJ, deep in thought, was not aware of the presence of a car driving down the street. When it rushed past, it was such a surprise to him that he screamed, clutching frantically at Lilith.

“Oh, damn, I forgot.” Lilith sighed, took CJ, and spun him around to face her. She stared into his eyes. “That was a car. People get from place to place in them. Now be quiet and just—deal with stuff as it comes along, okay?”

“What’s his problem, lady?” asked a man sitting in a doorway. He reeked of booze and urine, and had a grocery bag of belongings beside him, along with several empty whiskey bottles.

“Um—he just got back from the war. Stress thing. I’m trying to re-socialize him.”

The guy in the doorway nodded drunkenly. “Yep, been there. Say, you try Dr. Norman on King Street? I got his card somewhere…”

He fished in the pockets of his oversized trench coat and produced a business card. “Don’t know if he’s any good, though.” He smiled, showing grey, broken teeth. “Can’t afford to go to him myself.”

“Um—thanks. We’ll think about it.”

They hurried off, leaving the man still holding the card. He looked at them, looked at the card, and shrugged. Putting it away, he fell asleep almost instantly.

CJ looked back, puzzled.

“We didn’t kill him.”

“No,” Lilith sighed, “give him a couple of days, and he’ll do that to himself.”

 

Howard Messer stared into his empty glass. He shook it a couple of times, trying to drain more alcohol out from between the ice cubes.

Messer. Good name for him, seeing as to how he had messed up everything. Again.

His shoulders slumped in despair and resignation. The suit he wore, once so grand, was threadbare with overuse. It was the only one he now owned, and it was what he wore to every job interview he could score. But, no matter how he interviewed, his track record was there on paper for all the world to see. Every endeavor, every brilliant idea, had been financed, had worked for varying amounts of time, and had collapsed into a bottle of liquor.

He winced, holding his stomach. How ironic—the alcohol that had eaten away his life savings, his wife’s nest egg, and then his kids’ college funds, was now eating away at his insides too. Not that he cared anymore. If things didn’t pan out tonight, he was going to take that short ride off a long cliff.

Somewhere in Maine seemed nice…

He rapped on the bar for a refill. As the bartender picked up the glass, Howard felt a cool, gentle hand on his arm.

The bartender took one look at the newcomer, started in fear, and suddenly remembered something he’d forgotten to do. He hurried away, leaving the whiskey bottle on the counter.

Howard looked blearily at the woman who had come up beside him.

Gorgeous…

But, he mused to himself, beauty got more beauty – ful the more the whiskey flowed—ha ha. He reached for the whiskey bottle and tipped some of the liquid into the glass the bartender had abandoned.

“I don’t think you need that, Mr. Messer. Or should I call you Howard?”

He suddenly found himself holding an empty glass once again. His eyes meandered their way back over to his new companion, seemingly taking the scenic route all on their own.  

Woo—what a looker! He’d take her upstairs to his room right now—if he had one.

“Who’re you…?” he managed through his whiskey fog.

Wait, who is this beside her? Howard squinted, then took a sniff of his glass. He didn’t know this place put hallucinogenics in their drinks. How else to explain the woman’s companion? His face…weird…unclear, like the faces seen in dreams. Howard peered closer at CJ, whose face kept switching from Cain to Judas, and back again, unbeknownst to Lilith, who had her back to him.

She smiled and held out her hand. “Mr. Messer? Howard? I’m Delilah. We spoke over the phone today? About venture capital?”

Howard straightened right up—ish. His last chance! Yes, he remembered the call. But he hadn’t believed it. Yet here she was in person—in very rich-looking person.

He took her proffered hand.

“S’good to meetcha.” Damn! Why weren’t his words clear? He would have to take better care to enunciate.

The nutter behind her was staring at him, then at the walls, and the people around him. Howard gestured toward CJ.

“S’m—I mean what.is.the.matter…um…matter.with.him…?”

Lilith laughed to herself. The sot! Out loud she said, “Oh, that’s my cousin CJ. He just got out of the state hospital. I brought him along to expose him to, well, to re-socialize him, you might say.”

A young, pretty barmaid flounced over, giving CJ a wide smile and an almost complete look at her own personal menu. CJ stared, enrapt, but not where the young temptress was expecting. He was focused entirely on the throbbing of the vein in her neck. She didn’t notice. “So,” she breathed at him, “what can I get you?” She leaned over the bar, inches from CJ’s face.

He made a sound in his throat, a mixture of growl and whimpering desire. Lilith turned at the noise.

She could see his claws starting to extend, his eyes widening, could see the tips of his fangs just showing—

“CJ!” she hissed sharply.

He jumped, startled out of his bloodlust trance. “What?” He looked nervously around. Had he done something?

Lilith smiled at the girl, who looked perplexed at this exchange. “It’s been awhile since he’s been out in public.” To CJ she said, “She asked if she could get you something.”

“Um, L—Delilah…,” he gestured helplessly, his tongue almost hanging out when he glanced at the barmaid.

She smiled seductively. “I know what he needs. After hours, come back and we’ll take care of it.” She turned, gave CJ one last look over her bare shoulder, and flounced off, her blonde hair swaying seductively across her back.

CJ almost cried. “Oh, I have to, I simply must! Can I?”

“No! We…” Lilith/Delilah suddenly stopped mid-sentence. Then she smiled to herself and shrugged.

“Why not? But only after we’ve concluded our business.”

She turned back to Howard, who had been communing with his whiskey glass. The poor ice cubes were about done in.

Wrinkling her nose in disgust, Delilah took a deep breath. She put her mouth to Howard’s ear and whispered, “Let’s go someplace else, shall we? It’s far too crowded in here.”

Howard’s inebriated heart soared. Then it plummeted just as rapidly. He shook his head, making the room bounce around in his vision. “You don’ wanna—WANT. TO.—get involved with me. I’ll jish screw it up.”

Delilah smiled. “You let me worry about that.”

Howard belched. “(Skuseme.) I don’ got no place to go.”

Delilah traced his cheekbone with her finger, trying to hide her nausea. Oh, the Old Fart owes me big time for this one, she thought to herself, meaning her Dark Master.

“I do,” she said.

She planted a 100-dollar bill on the bar. The bartender noticed it immediately. “Change?” he asked, testing the paper for authenticity.

Really? That must have been a helluva bar tab. “No,” she told him, “you can keep it.” He looked at her nervously and rushed away.

Howard squinted at the two or three figures of CJ beside Delilah.

“What about him? He’s…must go away.”

Still trying to sound sober. Well, that’ll happen soon enough, Delilah thought, hiding a smile.

She turned to CJ, and spoke to him in barely a whisper. “Wait for me in the alley.”

CJ got up and headed for the door. His curiosity got caught on everything he saw, so it took him some time to make it across the room.

Finally he was out the door. Delilah blew out her breath in frustration, and balled up her fists. Idiot.

But then she turned again to Howard, all sweetness and light. “Okay, I got rid of him. Gave him some money for, um, ice cream.” She winked at him; Howard thought briefly of the barmaid, and thought, If that little weirdo could get some—

“Lesh go then.” He staggered to his feet and rolled towards several doors in his vision. Delilah clung to his arm, guiding him towards the right one.

The steamy night air hit his lungs and made him gasp for breath. This humidity was not on his list of favorite sensations.

Delilah looked at him, concerned. “Are you okay, Howard?”

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. “Oh, sure, I jus’ have a hard time breathin’ this humi…hoomy…huma…”

“Humidity?”

He nodded.

“Hey, just sit down over here and I’ll find you a cold, wet cloth to use until we get to my car.” She steered him towards a crate deep in the alley, which seemed to Howard to be really close, but took forever to get to. His knees buckled as he fell against it, breathing heavily.

Delilah stood over him, their lone figures unheard and unseen in the rush of the midnight hour outside in the street. Sirens blared, people yelled and laughed, and music pumped relentlessly from car stereos. Delilah loved this century; she could get away with practically anything in public, and no one would notice or care.

Howard lay on his side in the muck, snoring peacefully. The alcohol being sweated out through his pores sickened her.

A noise came from the darker depths of the alley.

“CJ? Get up here, you idiot.”

He came up to stand beside her, blood dripping from his mouth. “Barmaid,” he chuckled happily.

“Well, I hope you’re still hungry. Do our Howard in, won’t you?”

CJ looked down at Howard. The drunk was passed out in garbage, drool trickling out of his mouth. He reeked of whiskey and incontinence.

CJ turned away. “I thought you’d be hungry, Dee-li-lah,” he said mockingly.

She grabbed him, pushed him to the ground beside the snoring sot.

“Do it, you turd!” she shouted angrily. “It’s not a suggestion!”

That look again. She could turn a heart to stone. And he wasn’t at all convinced that there weren’t dark emissaries standing beside her.

CJ reluctantly went back to Howard and half-heartedly sucked the man to the point of turning him. After the barmaid, it was really a rotten turn to his first nocturnal adventure in decades. The man never even woke up, his heartbeat sluggish. Boring.

CJ stood up, swaying from Howard’s blood alcohol level. Delilah moved swiftly to CJ’s side and waited.

Howard groaned and sat up. His eyes were clear, but filled with the hunger the other two recognized from their own experiences. CJ had worked his magic again.

Delilah smiled. “Very good, CJ. Only one thing more is required.”

In one swift move, she pulled the machete she had kept from earlier that evening, and sliced into CJ’s neck, decapitating him cleanly.

Both the head and body dissolved into dust as the souls of Cain and Judas, incredulous, floated above the scene. They took one look at each other and tried to scramble away, free at last.

But Delilah had other plans.

She opened her mouth and inhaled mightily, dragging those two unfortunate souls into her being. Then she sat on Howard’s legs, held him as he struggled against her, and forced Judas and Cain into the body of the man once known as Howard Messer.

 

Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

And so it begins…

As promised/threatened, here begins Book 3 of my series, “Pride’s Downfall.”

Book 3 is entitled “Resurgence: The Rise of Judas,” and continues the story of the Bronson family and their fight against the powers of darkness.

Chapter One starts where Book 2, “UnHoly Trinity”, leaves off. In fact, it is the same as the last chapter of that book.

So, without further ado, I give you Book 3, Chapter 1:

CHAPTER 1

New Orleans

Present Day

            Steve Bronson looked up from his clipboard as his foreman rushed across the street towards him. The New Orleans heat and humidity were taking their toll on the Northwest native;even at its summertime worst, his home state couldn’t hold a candle to this torment.

He wouldn’t be here at all, except for the strange turn of events that necessitated his organizational abilities. Construction crews rarely faced a situation like this; in fact, he’d never heard of anything quite like what they were having to deal with in this dig. He imagined that protocol everywhere was being rewritten, as details emerged on this lot they were trying to build on.

Preliminary x-rays, now part of the procedure in historically-sensitive construction bids, had revealed a large, hollow area five or six feet below where all of the bulldozers and equipment had been sitting just days before. He had been called in because he had had experience with archaeological digs in the past.

“Okay, Sid, what is it?”

The foreman wiped his brow and looked back across the street. “Looks like a roof.”

“What??”

“Yeah—like a whole house just sorta sank into the ground.”

Steve groaned and turned to his assistant. “Mike, notify the subcontractors. Looks like there’ll be a helluva delay. City too. They’ll want all interested parties in on it—historical society, whatever. I imagine the archaeologists will get their knickers in a twist if they aren’t notified too.”

“Got it, Steve. Anything else?”

Steve smiled at the assistant. Such an innocent…

“Not for now. But get your phone ready—the shit will be hitting the fan shortly.”

Mike looked puzzled, but started making his calls. Steve turned back to his foreman.

“What’s it look like?”

“Well, just from a preliminary look, it’s in amazingly good shape. Not sure of the age—no one remembers a house ever being there. It was an empty lot before Katrina, so who knows how long it’s been there.”

“See if there are any areas where we can gain access. Might as well see if there are any other surprises under that roof. I’ll have Mike check the city records to find out where the hell this thing came from, and when.”

The foreman nodded and trotted back across the road. Steve could hear him barking orders at his men.

Overseeing the almost-surgical proceedings, Steve couldn’t help but be impressed by this crew. They seemed to have an almost proprietary attitude toward the dig and the treasure they were unearthing. He looked at the roof pieces, carefully labeled and piled in a safe place, and at the tarp that was put over the exposed roof, a hole neatly cut in it and positioned over the entrance they had made. No doubt about it, this crew deserved much more than they were being paid.

“Who do you have going down?” he asked Sid.

The foreman pointed to two men, already armed with flashlights, oxygen tanks, and gas masks. “Chad and Rene, two of our best. They’ve been trained in archaeological procedures—even went down to a couple of shipwrecks in the Gulf. I trust them completely.”

Steve nodded, and watched as a ladder was lowered into the opening through the roof.

“Be sure to test the flooring—we don’t know what stage of rot it might be in.” Sid hollered.

The two men nodded, indicating the ropes they had fastened to their waists. The other ends were tied to a nearby backhoe, with two other men standing watch over them. Sid nodded, gave the thumbs-up. Soon Chad and Rene were down the ladder, leaving the rest to wait up top.

Chad turned his flashlight on halfway down the ladder and shined the light around. “Holy cow, would you look at this?”

Rene, two rungs above him, gave a low whistle.

“Wow. You’d think folks just up and left a month ago.”

Everything they could see was still in place. Not even a window was broken. Dust covered everything, but beyond that, it looked like a museum setting.

“Well, keep going. Don’t make me stand here contemplating the landscape.” Rene tapped his friend’s fingers playfully with his foot.

“Okay, okay. Let me test the floor…”

Chad climbed down to the bottom of the ladder. He put a foot on the floorboards, tentatively at first, then with his full weight.

“Hunh. Guess no one told the termites about this place.” He jumped up and down a couple of times. “Solid.”

Rene followed Chad down the ladder to stand beside him. “Still, be careful.” His flashlight was now on as well, searching the corners.

“Bet the historical society’s gonna want to have this place pulled up in one piece and taken to some other spot. Lady who bought this piece of property is not gonna want to keep it here, that’s for sure.”

“Helluva fancy basement she’d be getting.” Rene snorted. “So much for our crew getting anything done. Might as well go home and break open a few brews.” He shook his head and turned to go back up. Just then, his light cast over a loveseat in the back of the room.

“What the–?” He played the light back over what he’d thought he’d seen. “Oh, hell.”

“What?” Chad looked at where the light was pointing. “Lord…”

On the loveseat was the remains of a human body.

 

“Oh, damnation.” Steve squeezed the bridge of his nose, trying to ward off the coming headache. “Where’s Chad?”

“Still down there. Saw a hallway he felt needed exploring. I wasn’t staying with the skeleton any longer than I had to.” Rene was still in the ropes, in case Chad needed help, but the gas mask was off and his face was a ghastly pale color.

Steve peered closely at him. “You okay?”

Rene took a deep breath. “Yeah, I’m all right. Just wasn’t expecting it. The stories…”

Steve was instantly on the alert. “What stories?”

Rene looked around, hesitated, then plunged in. He seemed embarrassed at telling the tale.

“Folks round here, they won’t tell an outsider, but we know—there’s a story that says there used to be a grand house here, but it fell into a sinkhole over 100 years ago. Land has never been quiet since. Folks say you can hear screaming and moaning come up from the ground—that’s why no one’s ever built here.”

Rene looked as if he needed to put a lot of space between himself and the lot. But Steve had questions.

“You knew about this before the excavation?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Yet you told no one.”

“I didn’t believe the story myself. Then when the roof was found, I thought, okay, well, that don’t mean nothing.

“But when I saw that skeleton…” Rene’s hand shook as he wiped his face.

Steve looked at Mike, who nodded. “Already got Forensics on the line. They’ll be here within fifteen minutes.”

“Okay, good. Now someone get Chad out of there. We need to stay out of the way until the remains have been taken by the forensics people.”

 

Chad’s flashlight illuminated the space down the hallway, and he hesitated. He knew he should have left with Rene, procedure being what it was. But overwhelming curiosity got the better of him, and he stepped cautiously into the passageway.

The light revealed a door at the end of the hallway, with other doors leading off to right and left. But it was the one directly ahead of him that caught his attention, because it was the only one that had a huge pile of dirt and bricks in front of it.

“How in the–? he muttered. Flashing his light at the ceiling made him even more puzzled.

No hole in the ceiling—how did this pile get here? The house had settled evenly, almost deliberately in a way. There was no way for this debris to just magically appear here.

He ventured close to the end of the hallway. Stopping at the edge of the pile, he idly picked up a brick, hefted it, and then put it back. He was about to take out his cellphone and take a picture when something else odd caught his eye.

The lock mechanism in the door flared for a moment in the flashlight’s glare, and Chad took a closer look.

Weird.

There was a piece of wood jammed into the keyhole. It was a fairly decent size, and seemed to have actually deformed the hole.

What kind of force could have caused that? Chad reached over the pile and pulled on the wood. Surprisingly, it came out easily with one tug.

Curious, he shone his flashlight into the keyhole. Would the room beyond be full of treasures, like Tut’s tomb, or a big nothing like that gangster-safe thing a number of years ago? Chad completely abandoned the idea of following protocol and, clambering up to the top of the debris pile, he put the light and his eye up to the hole.

He jumped back immediately. With a shriek, he fell off the dirt pile and backed away hurriedly. With the wood tight in his grip, he ran with all speed out of the hallway, and didn’t stop until he was up the ladder and back to the land of the living.

 

“A what??” Steve was incredulous.

“A coffin! Behind one of the doors!” Chad was panting, as much in fear as in exertion. His eyes were wide and his face pale.

“How odd. Are you sure?” the woman beside Steve asked in a low, almost purring tone.

Chad blinked and stared at her.

Wow! Gorgeous! Raven-black hair, big black eyes, and a figure that didn’t know how to stop.

She glared at his open admiration, but then smiled. “Delilah Atherton. I own this lot.”

Her voice held a tone of iron, and something else, which caused Chad to tremble and lose all physical interest in her. Something wrong here…He reached into his pocket and grasped the rosary he always carried.

“Um—hi,” he managed to stammer. He then turned to Steve.

“There was this door at the end of a hallway, with all this dirt and stuff in front of it,” he said in a rush, glancing uncomfortably at Delilah, who was showing far too much interest, “and there was this piece of wood in the lock.”

“Wood? What wood?” Delilah’s eyes seemed to blaze at this information.

“This.” He uncurled his fist, exposing the shard. Steve picked it up, looking curiously at it.

“That’s when I looked through the lock, cos I couldn’t get the door opened—and that’s when I saw the…the coffin…” Chad gulped, looking apologetically at his boss. “I can’t go back in there…” he whispered, his voice shaking.

“Not necessary,” Steve assured him. “Forensics and the university’s archaeological staff will take over from here.”

Chad nodded, wiping his forehead, and walked away toward Rene. The two talked animatedly between themselves, glancing at Delilah and looking uncomfortable.

Steve felt Delilah’s eyes on him. He looked up from the wood shard and smiled.

“Sorry,” here he held out the wood to her, “did you want to have a look?”

To his surprise, Delilah jumped back as if burnt. “NO!”

Did she just hiss?? Steve wondered to himself.

She quickly regained her composure. “I…I have a thing about touching dirty things. I can see it fine from here…” She looked at her watch. “Oh, dear, I have an appointment to keep. I’ll keep in touch.” And that quickly, she was gone—down the street, into her car, and away.

Steve shook his head in puzzled wonder. What was that all about?

A small cough behind him made him whirl around.

Two men stood in the shade, one in a business suit and the other dressed in khaki shorts and a T-shirt. The suit man spoke.

“Mr. Bronson? I’m Brett Taylor, from the historical society. This is Professor Brian Brown from the university’s archaeological department.”

“Great! Glad you could both make it so soon. The sooner we get this project tagged, bagged, and out of here, the better for all of us.” Steve wiped the sweat from the back of his neck. He missed home, missed Lydia, missed the cooler weather. And he knew the evening wouldn’t be much better, but at least he could escape into air-conditioned rooms.

His heart dropped at their hesitance to answer. They merely exchanged glances with each other and looked uncomfortable.

The professor spied the article in Steve’s hand and gestured at it. “Is that something from the house?”

Steve had forgotten the item. “Oh—right. One of my guys found this in a keyhole.”

“A what?” Brown asked skeptically.

Steve related what Chad had told him, handing the wood to the professor.

Brian looked at it with little interest at first. “Probably just a piece of wall, or—“

Then he peered at it more closely.

“Wait.” His voice took on a serious tone as he reached for the glasses in his shirt pocket. Putting them on, he turned so that the piece was in full sunlight.

“It can’t be…,” he muttered in growing excitement. He turned to the group of students he had brought with him. They were grouped around the roof samples, notebooks in hand, writing down observations.

“Eugenie!” he yelled.

A young woman separated herself from the group. She looked slightly older than the others; Steve guessed that she was a junior assistant or intern.

“Sir?”

“What can you tell me about this house so far?”

“It looks to have been built about 150 years ago. The ground makes it appear as if it was simply swallowed by a—sinkhole, I’m guessing.”

“Anyone been inside, besides the construction crew?”

They heard a curse as two men labored to get a body bag out of the roof hole intact. Brown groaned, “And the forensics team…”

“Yes,” Eugenie answered him. We’ve had a preliminary sortie down there. Seems everything is intact, down to the books and knickknacks on the shelves. Weird.”

“Any wood that looks like this?” He held out the shard.

Eugenie touched it, hesitated, then took it from Brian.

“This came from down there?” she asked, eyes wide.

“Yes. Why?”

“This shard’s ancient. Well, at least much older than the house. I’ll have someone go down and see if there is anything that looks like this, just to be sure.

Brian said, “I’ll take the wood back to the lab and run some tests.”

Steve nodded and reached for his wallet. “Here’s my card. Let me know what you find out as soon as you can.”

“Will do.” The professor turned away, going back to his knot of students. Eugenie was having a hard time convincing the group to volunteer for the fact-finding mission. They had all seen the body bag, and had heard about the coffin.

Steve turned to speak to the historical society representative. “And what can I do for you?”

“We’d like to have copies of any and all information, pictures, test findings—all pertinent information. It is our hope to exhume the house and put it on the state’s list of historical sites. But we have to have the proof before we can get state or federal grants to even start an excavation.”

Steve sighed and handed out another card, which Taylor took. He put it into his pocket.

“Thank you. We’ll be in touch.” He turned on his heel and went back to his car.

“Mr. Bronson?”

Now what…

The coroner had walked up behind him. Steve turned, eyebrows raised.

“We have removed the body. And we did find the coffin. I have a team coming tomorrow to examine it and the rest of the house. Until that is done, I’m afraid all activity must cease at this site.”

Steve rolled his eyes. Another night snuggled up to a bottle of headache pills… “Did you find anything inside, the, uh…”

The coroner looked uncomfortable. “No, none of my staff would open it. Superstitious bunch.”

“Ah. Understandable,” Steve agreed. He signaled to Mike. The assistant nodded in turn, and spoke to the crew lounging around in the shade. They moved off to their cars, some looking back sadly, others pairing off to head to the nearest bar.

Steve watched them go. He felt bad for them; they were a really good bunch and needed the work. When he got back to corporate, he’d see what he could do about getting them paid some sort of compensation for the time they were delayed here.

 

The lot was deserted, the roof pieces carefully laid back over the hole. Temporary chain-link fence had been brought in and hastily erected around the entire site.

As evening approached, the only living being left there was a security guard. He sat in his car with the doors locked, slumped down in the seat so as to be less noticeable. This was a really bad neighborhood to be found in at night without some sort of protection. And a firearm, which was all the guard had on him, was not nearly enough to keep the denizens of these blasted and rickety buildings at bay. He sat, unmoving, praying to survive until midnight, when the next unlucky stiff got to take over.

Inside the underground house, a low rumbling started. The foundations did not shudder; the chandeliers were still as death. Through the floorboards rose dark wraiths. Some solidified into formless black masses, taking on substance. Others, lighter, less ponderous, formed into what looked like round, floating sea urchins. Blacker than the memories of the worst nightmares, they skittered on the ceiling and walls. Occasionally they would emit quick flashes of lightning.

Once the mists stopped rising through the floor, the emissaries of Hell moved purposely through the rooms, seeking.

They gathered in the hallway that led to the door with the coffin behind it. Swarming over, around, and through each other, the entire mass thundered toward the door, the shadows moving thickly across the floor, the black orbs fluttering across the walls. They reached the end of the hall, and the dirt and bricks exploded into dust. The door flew open for the first time since the late 19th century, and the blackness overran the coffin within.

Suddenly the lid of the coffin shattered. Pieces of wood flew up and out, raining down to the floor in a torrent of clatter. Part of the group of shadows separated itself from the rest and dissolved back into vapor. It drifted over the inert body in the coffin, and with sudden precision forced its way into the mouth and nostrils of the apparently dead form.

A groan, and the body sat up. The eyes opened, looked around at its surroundings, and then saw the open door.

With a scream that came from the years of frustration, anger, madness, and, above all, unrelenting hunger, the creature flew out of the room.

The monster had arisen.

 

 

 

Posted in Resurgence: The Rise of Judas | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An open letter to my eight-legged neighbors

(Warning: spider pictures ahead)

Hello critters

It’s me, that two-legged large being that puts a hand through your webs all too often.

It’s not that I mean to; after all, it’s not a pleasant sensation. I know how much time and effort it takes to make that web, and that you’re probably pretty tired after finishing it. However…you are in my garden, and sometimes you have built your home across the tomatoes that I have grown.  I try to work around you, but it doesn’t always work out.

I don’t know what your realtor told you about me when you took up residence, but he was lying if he told you that folks like me didn’t exist. Don’t feel bad–mine lied to me too.

Me: Any poisonous spiders in this area?

Realtor: Nope, not at all.

Uh-huh…

spider4

Brown recluse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

spider3 Wolf Spider

 

 

 

 

 

 

spider2  Black Widow

spider1 Garden spider

 

So…yeah.

Okay, I think I can come up with a plan that is mutually agreeable. Especially where these poisonous ones are concerned.

I will keep an eye out for you and your webs, and try to keep from walking through them. You, for your part, have to keep your webs out of areas where I normally walk. You have eight eyes–use them! Putting up webs across my path is just not a good idea. I won’t see them–they’re pretty transparent. If they weren’t, I don’t think you’d be a successful prey creature. Bright blue or rainbow would be just dumb, on your part.

I know you’re out there. Chances are good that I am never more than four feet from a spider in any situation. Dropping down in front of me or climbing any of my appendages would only lead to tears–and not for me. Your plans for that day could come to a very tragic end. A surprised human is not a pleasant thing for a tiny arachnid like yourself.

In other words, don’t draw my attention.

I will allow you in my home – that’s the big covered thing with all those delicious silverfish in it – as long as you don’t multiply into too large a population. If this happens, I do have to cull the herd. Keep your seed to yourself.

And the poop you leave under your web–that has to stop. Don’t be surprised that I spray your leavings with foul-smelling cleaner. You’ve been warned. Get a diaper.

By the way, the tolerance for your existence in the house goes only as far as me. Stay out of sight, and the other members of the house will not suck you up with a vacuum or swat you with paper. Tragic ending for you–makes no never mind to me. Sorry–but this is your warning, after all.

Eat silverfish, not humans. No biting.

If you see someone outside spraying around the house, make as fast a trip to the center of the yard that your legs can take you. He won’t spray there. You’ll last another day.

Okay–a lot to remember. But it would be worth your while. Keep this where all of your friends and neighbors can see it.

A last word: if you skitter across my bed or hang out inside my bathtub, that breaks all bargains.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments