“Resurgence” – Chapter 14–Field Trip to Hell

CHAPTER 14

Saturday dawned bright and cold. There was a light frost on the ground, yet another indication that winter was on its way. Trudy fought against the idea of digging out her sweaters, but it was far too cold to wear her usual summer clothes. Especially up on that hill.

She shuddered at the very thought of going up to that evil place. The only positive result of this day’s Open House at “A Better World Medical Research” was that her dad had a better chance of relaxing afterward. One less intense pressure on him. He’d grown increasingly bitter, and that shroud around him even more pronounced, as the days had gone by.

Everyone in the family was going to be at the open house. Trudy and her brother had been hired and Lydia, being married to the project manager, had to make an appearance also, although it was plain that she was in agony from her hidden wounds.

Once dressed, Trudy made her way downstairs. She was in no hurry; she’d been successful at avoiding her dad the past couple of days, but knew they’d have to eventually share space today. She steeled her nerves and pushed through the door into the kitchen.

There was no need for her to worry. Her dad wasn’t at his usual place at the table. She looked questioningly at her mom, who was watching the birds as she finished her breakfast.

Lydia glanced at her daughter and said, “He got in late, but should be up soon.” Then she sighed as she returned to gaze out the window. “Hopefully we’ll see the end of this project today.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” said Trudy. She poured herself a bowl of cereal and took it to the table, her attention also drawn to the birds outside.

The little creatures suddenly all took flight as the kitchen door swung open again. Steve grumped in and, without a word to either woman, poured himself a cup of coffee. He stood at the sink with his back to them, studying the world outside the window.

“Steve?” Lydia said, her voice hesitant.

“Hmph.”

“Do you want breakfast?”

“Nope.” He turned suddenly, and Trudy was astonished at how sunken-in his eyes were. “We need to get up to the open house. Where’s Pat?”

Lydia seemed as shaken up as Trudy at his appearance. “Well, um, he’s probably still getting dressed, or…”

“Out running? He’d better not be. We’re expected up there in fifteen minutes. There’s going to be a press conference, the mayor will be there, all that. We can’t be late.”

“No, he’s not out running. He…”

“Right here.” Pat swung through the door. He looked like he hadn’t slept or shaved, and his clothes looked like he’d just picked them up off the floor and thrown them on.

“Couldn’t you have dressed better?” Steve reprimanded him.

Pat gave his dad a look that shook Steve to his core. The glare was part fear, part anxiety, and—could it be—actual hatred? The younger man stared down his elder, and glanced ever so quickly at the injured arm. His eyes narrowed, and Steve had the uneasy feeling that his son knew…something.

“What?” he challenged Pat.

“Nothing,” his son spat at him. “Never mind.” Pat turned away and went over to hug his mom.

“Sweetie, you look tired. Didn’t you sleep well last night?” Lydia looked worriedly at her son’s exhausted face.

“Not really. Just one of those nights, I guess.” Gabriel, we’d better be able to come clean with Mom pretty soon, or I’ll slip and tell her anyway. We can’t let Dad get any worse. “I’ll just get some coffee, and that should keep me going until I can get home and take a nap.”

He passed by Trudy and squeezed her shoulder. She looked up and smiled sadly at him.

Steve threw his hands up in frustration. “You two act as if you’re going to the guillotine!” he yelled.

He tore out the door. “Get up that hill within a half hour!” The slamming of the front door reverberated throughout the house.

Lydia looked sadly at her kids. ‘Normally, I’d try to get you two to make up with your dad somehow. But I’m afraid there’s no way to do that. Something is eating away at him, I can tell, and until this project is over, we’ll all just have to try and keep out of his way.”

Trudy and Pat exchanged looks. This was the last straw.

They were on the verge of telling their mother everything when Gabriel appeared.

“Gabriel, so nice to see you,” Lydia exclaimed, hope and happiness replacing the pain and sorrow that had become so common in her world lately.

He smiled at her. “I’ve been wanting to come see you, but I’ve been unavoidably detained.” His face turned serious. “I came here to tell you to be really careful at that building complex today. The portal Pat and his friends found still exists, and…”

“It’s gotten to Steve, hasn’t it?” Lydia stated. “Don’t try to deny it. My wrists, ankles, and skull tell me otherwise.”

“No, I won’t deny it,” Gabriel said. “There are definitely evil powers at work here. Don’t let it infect you.”

“But what about Steve?” The worry and sadness returned to Lydia’s face, and the tears she’d held back for so long flowed freely. “What will happen to my husband? No matter what he is doing now, no matter what is happening to him, I still love him. Please, get a message to the Lord to keep him safe. I don’t know what’s going on with him, but…it hurts! It’s killing us all!”

Gabriel put his arm around Lydia while she wept, and caught the eyes of the others. Pat’s face was fierce and angry, and Trudy’s was scared. “After today, you can tell your mother everything,” he transmitted into their thoughts. “Give it one more day. All Hell is about break out, and it will be important for her to know everything.”

Pat’s jaw set, and he merely turned and stormed through the door. Trudy watched him leave and, with a sad look towards the archangel, walked out also.

Lydia turned her tear-streaked face up and said, “I’m sorry they’re acting that way. You can see how Steve’s behavior is affecting them.”

He nodded. “Yes. I can’t blame them. Just make sure they don’t do anything rash.”

Lydia sighed. “I hope I can.”

 

Trudy caught up with her brother upstairs in the hallway. “Pat? What’s going on? Besides what we’re already dealing with, that is.”

Pat glanced back down the hallway, then pulled his sister into his room and shut the door. There he told her what he’d seen and experienced the night before.

Trudy’s face turned ashen, and she looked like she was about to be sick. Pat knew he had probably looked the same way when he saw it happen.

But she gulped down her emotions, shook herself, and looked steadily into her brother’s eyes. “What should we do now?”

Pat had to admire her courage. If nothing else, this horrendous trial was definitely molding her into one of the bravest women he had ever known.

He said, “I plan on confronting Dad with what I’ve seen. He has to know that I know; in fact, I think he suspected this morning. But I don’t think he knows how to get out of it. Maybe he needs our help.”

“Do you think it’s…Lilith?” Trudy’s voice shook as the idea hit home.

Pat shrugged, his face tired. “I don’t know. But Gabriel’s right. We have to be on our guard up there. Don’t let on that you see anything out of the ordinary. It might be the death of us all.”

Trudy nodded.

At a call from their mom, they went downstairs. The three of them left, heavy-hearted, to drive up the hill that held so much danger.

 

The first things they noticed were the two school buses. They sat in front of a two-story building toward the back of the property. People were emerging from the interior of the buses, gaping in amazement at their surroundings. Lydia and the kids watched them; some were wrapped in filthy blankets, others without hardly enough clothing to cover their bodies.

“The homeless of Seattle.” Steve’s voice suddenly behind them made them jump.

He was a totally different person from the man who had stormed out of the kitchen earlier; more like the man his wife and children knew and loved.

“Steve?” The woman’s voice behind him changed his expression immediately. His face closed down into a visage of cold woodenness. “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

A stunningly beautiful woman stepped out from behind him, practically pulling another man along with her.

“Delilah, this is my wife, Lydia. And my kids, Pat and Trudy.” His voice held no emotion. Lydia had a feeling that, if he could, he would run from this woman, from here, from everything having to do with this building complex. She wondered why.

After all, he’d been okay with this project at first. Perhaps they’ve spent too much time together…

Delilah was smiling brightly at her. “Lydia, so nice to finally meet you. Steve never stops talking about you and your lovely children.” She bestowed the same dazzling smile on Trudy and Pat. But for some reason, her smile faded ever so slightly as she gazed at them.

She peered closely at Pat, then Trudy.  “Have we met before? I seem to remember you from somewhere.”

“Oh, well, it’s a small town. We get around here a lot. Always busy.” Pat grinned uncomfortably and glanced at Trudy. He had to nudge her, for she was staring open-mouthed at Delilah and the stranger with her.

“Is there a problem, Trudy?” Delilah asked, her smile further tarnishing.

“Uh, no, sorry. It’s, um…” She turned abruptly to the man beside Delilah. “Aren’t you Howard Messer?”

Nice save, sis, thought Pat.

Howard beamed. “Yep.”

Delilah gave him an icy look before he could say anything more, and he melted back into the background. Trudy almost felt sorry for him.

“Well, let’s have a look around, shall we? I’m sure our star construction manager is just dying to show off what we’ve accomplished up here.” Delilah hooked her arm into Steve’s and started off toward the main building.

“Yeah. ‘Dying’,” Pat murmured.

“Pardon?” Delilah whirled around, and Pat could see a brief fierceness in her face.

“Hm? Oh, just…nothing.” Pat made his best attempt to smile.

“Yesss…,” she answered slowly. Her gaze was intense, and Pat started to squirm under that look.

Steve touched Delilah’s shoulder, with a worried glance toward his son. “Let’s see the main building first, shall we?”

“Yes, let’s.” Her hypnotizing stare broken, she smiled again at Steve.

Pat blew out his breath in relief. He turned and whispered to his sister, “Any blackness, shrouds, whatever?”

Trudy shook her head. “I’m not having any signs or manifestations of any kind today.” She looked worried. “I never thought I’d say this, but I wish I could see them now. We’d get a lot more questions answered that way.”

“Not yet,” came a voice into both of their minds. “Soon enough.”

With a glance toward each other, Trudy and Pat followed the others into the building.

 

“What do you think?” Steve asked his wife. To Delilah, he said, “This is the building where she used to work.”

“Really.” Delilah sounded as if he’d just said he liked to watch paint peel. Trudy couldn’t believe how mercurial this woman’s mood could be. She looked to her mom, aghast at Delilah’s rudeness.

Lydia ignored the woman. She was too busy gaping at the transformation that had taken place in her old office. Gone were the floor-to-ceiling windows, with their view of the forest outside. Small ones, up towards the ceiling, gave little light through the blinds that covered them. Wood-paneled walls absorbed the artificial light that came from small fixtures in the ceiling, and heavy wooden doors replaced the old glass-and-metal ones.

“It’s certainly a lot…darker.  And why this expensive wood paneling?” Lydia ran her hand along the wall.

“We thought it would be easier for the employees to stay on task if there aren’t a lot of outside distractions,” Delilah explained. “Those people getting out of those buses—many of them have never held jobs, or lived inside four walls before. Outside distractions may cause them to lose focus.”

There was no warmth in her voice. In fact, her whole demeanor seemed to give off a frigidness that was almost too much for Lydia to bear. Delilah’s attitude towards her confused Lydia; as far as she knew, she hadn’t offended Steve’s client.

She was distracted by her son’s voice.

“Huh. That’s interesting,” Pat was saying. He moved his hand in front of the wall. “No shadow. How is that happening?”

He heard his dad’s sharp intake of breath, and felt those cold black eyes of Delilah on him again. “And aren’t you the observant one?’ she asked, barely concealing her anger under a façade of polite respect.

She chose not to answer his question, turning to Steve instead. “So, shall we see the cafeteria now?” she asked brightly, looking around at everyone.

“N…no, I, I’m not feeling well all of a sudden,” Lydia said apologetically. “I should go out and maybe sit somewhere.” She smiled shakily and turned to go.

“Howard,” Delilah said, “be a dear and see if you can help Mrs. Bronson.”

Pat caught the sharp inflection behind the warm voice, and knew that old Howard Messer wasn’t the “boss” of anything.

“Sure.” Howard shrugged.

“Oh, and Howard,” Delilah added as he started to leave, “see if maybe she’d like to work here too.”

Lydia winced as her hidden wounds shot pain throughout her body in waves. She was able to hobble to the door, but then couldn’t open it. Howard was by her side in an instant, helping her outside.

Delilah’s eyes followed them out, cold and disdainful. Pat looked away from her before she could catch him staring at her.

“So, are you two ready to start working here?” The buttery warmth was back in her voice again.

“As ready as we’ll ever be, I guess.” Trudy said. “Meaning, we were certainly hired quickly. Takes a few days to take it in.” The glare her dad had shot at her softened after her hasty explanation.

“Well, yes,” Delilah said as she led them further down the hall. “We want to hire local people too. Wouldn’t look good to just hire outsiders when people here need jobs too. And Steve’s told me how talented you two are.”

So we have warehouse and filing jobs? Trudy’s unspoken question was cynical, but it didn’t show on her face.

“Thanks for the, uh, chance to prove ourselves.” Trudy hoped her smile looked genuine. She sure didn’t feel grateful.

If Delilah suspected the falseness, she didn’t show it. She led them back outside and across a green, sculpted commons area. “And here we are at the cafeteria,” she announced, opening yet another pair of heavy wooden doors.

 

“And these are the dorms, or, should I say, the living quarters.” Delilah swept her arm in front of the building, game-show-host style. “No furniture yet, but I daresay these folks are happy enough to have a secure suite of rooms to live in. The…furniture…will come later.”

Trudy looked up at the wide, long wall of the employee building with a feeling of trepidation. Even without her sensory gift switched on, the place was creepy. It looked more like a prison than a home.

The wall that faced them was lined with small windows, each covered by what seemed to be a very dense curtain.

Delilah’s eyes followed Trudy’s gaze. “Questions?” she asked the girl, eyebrows arched.

“Um…I guess…it just looks like it’ll be pretty dark in there too. Such small windows.”

“Again,” sighed Delilah, losing patience, “these were homeless people. They don’t need to see the outside world, since they lived in it for so long. Besides, the building is south-facing. Smaller windows will keep it cooler during the summer for the inhabitants.”

Trudy nodded, understanding. “Ah. Thanks.”

Delilah smiled tightly. “Nothing else is really ready to see yet, but this is a start.”

“Well, thanks for the tour,” Pat said, glancing towards where he could see his mom and Howard. “Think I’ll go back and see how Mom’s doing.” He excused himself hastily and started across the compound to where Lydia sat in the shade of a cottonwood tree.

“Me too. I, uh, have a babysitting job coming up.” Trudy ran to catch up to her brother, leaving Steve and Delilah outside the dormitory.

 

Lydia sat in the shade with Howard hovering at her side. I don’t see why everyone puts him down, Lydia thought. He seems very nice.

“Can I get you some water?” Howard asked.

Lydia looked up at him gratefully, and noted the concern in his soft brown eyes. “Thanks, but no.  I’m…I have…bad memories of this place, is all.”

“Previous employers hard on you?”

Lydia shuddered. You’ve no idea. Aloud, she said, “I was here when this place, I guess, imploded.” She had long ago tired of trying to get anyone to believe that the demonic events a couple of years ago actually happened. Too many people had been convinced by the popular media that the whole thing had been mass hysteria.

Howard sucked in his breath suddenly. Lydia looked where he was suddenly staring, and gasped as the wounds of the stigmata formed on her wrists.

“That…what is that?” Howard gasped, stepping back.

“Oh, this.” Lydia tried to make light of the wounds. “They show up when I get too tired. Kinda weird, huh?”

“Yes…” He looked away, then said hurriedly, “It looks like your kids are on their way over. I, um, need to get back to showing folks around, and make sure the audio’s working for the press conference. See you later.”

He walked off quickly, before Lydia could say anything else. He passed Pat and Trudy without a word, his blue eyes cold as ice.

“Doing okay, Mom?” Pat sat down beside Lydia. She gave him a tight smile.

“Not really. Look.” She showed her kids the marks.

“Oh no. And…Howard saw them. That’s why he bolted.” Pat watched the figure of the man as he hurried away. “Wonder who he’ll tell. As if I couldn’t guess…”

“Pat!” Trudy shot him a warning look.

“What?” Lydia looked from one to the other, suspicion on her face. “”What are you trying to keep from me?”

At that moment, to the kids’ everlasting gratitude, Kim and Ned hailed them from the pathway. They had little Toby in tow.

Lydia waved and smiled, but said in a quiet aside to Pat, “Don’t think I won’t ask again.”

Pat blushed and gulped. He knew he couldn’t keep it from her much longer.

As the little family approached, Lydia asked, “What brings you guys here?”

“What else? We’re hoping one of us will get hired here,” Ned replied. “With this many people here night and day, they need an experienced security chief.” He grinned and thumped his chest. “That would be me.”

Toby stretched his arms out to Lydia. “Auntie! Me hug.” Kim let him go, and he ran to his “aunt”.

Lydia looked dubiously at the bulge under Kim’s maternity dress. “Do you really think they’ll hire you in your condition?”

Kim glanced down and smiled. “Baby’s current residence isn’t permanent. I hope they can see beyond this. I think I read that the company will have a day care here. We really need the income. I didn’t realize my unemployment was coming to an end.” She looked sheepishly at her husband.

He responded by putting his arm around her shoulders and pulling her close. “Don’t worry, babe, we’ll get through this,” he assured her as he kissed the top of her head.

Lydia watched them with a mixture of happiness and pain. Happiness that these two had such love for each other; sadness and pain that, not too long ago, she and Steve had had that same type of loving relationship.

Toby’s squirming woke her from her reverie. He’d seen someone coming toward them.

“Unca Steve!” he yelled, breaking free and running toward him. But he stopped short at the sight of Delilah and Howard accompanying him.

Steve grinned at the little boy and beckoned to him. “Come here, buddy!”

But Toby wouldn’t come any closer. His happy smile disappeared, and he turned and ran back to his parents.

“Scary,” he said. He buried his face in his mom’s leg. Kim looked down at her son, confused and a little embarrassed.

“He’s never been like this before,” she said. She gave the newcomers an apologetic look.

“Probably just his age,” Lydia said. “All kids go through phases like this.” She held her arms out to Toby, and he ran to her.

“Steve? Who are your friends?” Delilah had turned on the warm voice again. She practically fawned over Ned, who looked uncomfortably at his wife.

“This is Ned Sawyer and his wife Kim. And their son Toby.” Steve gazed sadly at the little boy, who had his head buried under Lydia’s arm.

“Very nice to meet you,” Delilah purred. Howard, behind her, rolled his eyes. His business partner held out her hand to Ned, her back to Kim.

“Yes, we are very happy to be here,” Ned said, stepping closer to his wife so that Delilah had to look at both of them. “We’re both looking for work. Who would we talk to?”

A united front was something Delilah wasn’t comfortable with. It signified love, strength, reliance on one another; she couldn’t get through it, and the love energy burned her demonic spirit. So she turned her attention to the most vulnerable member of the family.

“Looks like you’ll be a family of four soon,” Delilah said in an enthusiastic voice, gesturing at Kim’s baby bump.

“Oh. Yes.” Kim laughed, pressing her belly. “But not for about three months or so.”

“Ah.”

“Do you have kids, Delilah?” Ned asked.

“No.” Her voice dripped with distaste.

“Like asking a teetotaler if she likes whiskey,” Pat whispered to his sister.

But Trudy was caught up in her own thoughts. “Hm,” was all she said. She was looking quizzically at Howard.

“What is it?” Pat asked under his breath.

“Something about Howard. I can’t figure out what it is.”

Delilah was bending towards Toby. “And how are you, young man?”

Toby gave her an owlish look, one eye exposed over Lydia’s arm. He dug in further, a thumb in his mouth, and stayed silent.

“Lovely child.” Delilah straightened up. The smile was still pasted to her face, but her eyes were cold.

Kim’s mother instincts went on sharp alert as she saw the look that the woman gave her son.

Delilah said to Ned, “Howard is the person you’d talk to about jobs. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go to my office. The city’s sending out someone to do some sort of inspection. Paperwork always.”

She bestowed a generous smile on all present, glanced disdainfully at Kim’s belly and the scared boy, and walked away. “Howard,” she tossed over her shoulder, “come along soon. We have to have a meeting about today, preferably before the press gets here.”

Steve made a move as if to follow her, but Delilah stopped him with a look. “Not now, Steve. I’ll…call…you later.”

Lydia could see the haunted, longing look on her husband’s face, and her heart twisted within her. She held Toby tighter, tears welling up in her eyes. The kids could see their mother’s distress. Pat’s jaw turned white as he tensed it in anger.

Kim and Ned were busy talking with Howard. Trudy turned from her mom’s sad countenance to the lively conversation about experience, hours, and wages.

And it was suddenly clear to her what was odd about Howard. It took all of her will not to stare at him, hardly able to believe what she realized. But she didn’t say anything to Pat for the moment. She needed to talk to him in private.

Getting Kim’s attention, she said, “If you want, I can take Toby back to the house. I think the walk down the road would do him good. Tire him out for a while.” Trudy turned to her mom. “You look worn out, Mom. Maybe you should go home too.”

Kim smiled gratefully. “Thanks, Trudy. Then Ned and I can talk further with Howard.”

Ned nodded happily and walked over to Toby, who’d pulled his head out from under Lydia’s arm once Delilah had gone.

He tousled the boy’s curly hair. “You go with Trudy, okay? We’ll come get you in a little while.”

Toby bobbed his head silently, then hugged his step-dad.

“That’s my boy.” Ned kissed his son. “See you later.”

Kim hugged and kissed Toby in turn while Pat and Trudy helped their mom up.

Steve stood by uncomfortably. “Well, uh, I guess I’ll see you at home.” He fidgeted, unable to look his wife in the eye. Then he turned on his heel and trudged toward the building currently under renovation.

Lydia avoided Kim’s questioning look, busying herself by looking for her car keys in her purse. “Yes. Right. Well, the kids are right. I should go home. I’m sure I’ll feel better once I’ve had a rest.”

She started for the parking lot. Pat and Trudy fell in behind her after saying good-bye to their friends. They couldn’t help but notice Kim and Ned watching them, worried expressions on their faces.

And Howard, impassive.

“Pat.” Trudy whispered.

“Yeah?”

“Howard’s eyes. What color are they?” Pat started to look over his shoulder. “No, don’t turn around. What do you remember?”

“Um, let’s see…he has blonde hair, maybe some grey. And he has blue eyes. No, wait. His hair is a light brown and his eyes…brown? You know, I don’t remember.”

“That’s because…okay, this is going to sound weird, but…his eyes kept changing color. I hadn’t noticed the hair, but sun and shade could influence that. When we met him, his eyes were blue. I remember thinking how they were such an odd shade. And when we saw him stride away from Mom, they were blue. But just now, as he was talking to Kim and Ned, they were brown. I’ve heard of peoples’ eyes changing color with their moods, but never this dramatically. Green to hazel, but not blue to brown.”

Toby had been holding Trudy’s hand and kicking leaves, listening to the two. Now he piped up.

“Scary mans.”

“You mean ‘man’. There’s only one,” Trudy corrected him automatically.

“Mans.” Toby was insistent. He let go of Trudy and touched his fingers as he said, “Man, man, man.” He held up the three fingers he had touched. “Mans.”

Then he thought a moment. “Bad doggy,” he murmured.

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“Resurgence”: Chapter 13

CHAPTER 13

“Argh!”

Lydia turned from the sink, surprised at the sound coming from her husband.

“Steve?”

“The light. Why does it have to be so bright in here?”

Lydia’s brow furrowed. He’d never complained about the light before.

“You got into bed rather late last night,” she said in a conversational tone, masking her worry. “Maybe you just didn’t get enough sleep.”

Steve grunted and sat down, his back to the window. He looked exhausted.

Lydia brought him some coffee, which he barely tasted. She sat across from him, wishing she could do something to help him avoid the morning sunshine. But there were no drapes at this window; she had insisted on it when they’d bought the house.  This was her bird-watching window; they had laughingly decreed it so on that very first day.

With just a brief glance, she could see that the light was not the problem. His employers and Delilah wanted their new venture to have its open house tonight, a full week earlier than agreed on at the time the contract was signed. Steve had kept workers going around the clock, putting in odd hours himself to keep up with the demands put on him. His eyes had dark circles under them, and his skin was pale. He had shaved, but half-heartedly, and bristles remained where he had missed with the razor.

She grasped his hand. “Hopefully, this will all be over soon.”

He nodded in silence. “I was up late last night, and got a call from up the hill. A guy had found a hole in the basement of the building where you’d worked. It led down pretty deep, no stairs. Stunk like, I don’t know, sulfur or something. I had them re-cover it. But it took a good chunk out of my night.”

Lydia’s skin crawled with the thought of that place, but she didn’t remark on it. They sat in silence for a moment.

Then Lydia brightened at the memory of a call she’d gotten that morning. She knew Steve would regard it as good news. “Oh, Kim called. She and Ned will be getting home soon, and then they’ll come by for Toby.”

Steve looked maybe just a little less unhappy. “When?”

“Some time this afternoon or evening.”

“Good.”

All of a sudden he felt himself heating up. His tone got sharp as he asked, “Why did they take so long anyway? Just dumping their kid on us, while they loll around doing nothing!” He stood abruptly and walked the floor, agitated.

Lydia watched him, shocked. Where is my patient, loving husband? All of a sudden he’s a…beast in a cage. I understand tired, but this?

 He stopped suddenly, and looked as if he would start ranting again. Lydia was about to say something when there was a knock on the door.

Steve whirled, a look one level above annoyance on his face. “Who the hell could that be this early in the morning?” He stormed through the kitchen door. Before it slapped closed, Lydia glimpsed a delivery truck pulling away.

Her husband walked back into the kitchen, carrying a small box. He studied the return address.

“New Orleans? Oh, it’s that professor who called me about the wood we found.” His eyes darkened. “Oh, don’t tell me he sent it here!”

He pulled the box open, not an easy feat with the fibered tape crisscrossing its surface. Lydia marveled at how strong Steve had become.

Active construction work is doing him good in some ways, anyway.

He lifted the wrapped object, smaller than the palm of his hand, out of the box. Suddenly, and violently, he threw box, wrappings, and the item down onto the table as if it had bitten him. He backed away from it, shock in his eyes. Then he noticed Lydia staring at him.

“Stupid box,” he said, his voice shaking. “I got a cut from it.”

Lydia knew that wasn’t the case, but played along for the sake of not getting him riled up even worse than he was.

“Do you need a bandage?” She made as if to get up.

“No, no, I’m okay. Just get rid of that thing, would you?” Then he stormed out without another word.

Lydia, stunned, could only sit and listen to the front door slam.

 

Pat and Trudy had been about to go down the stairs when they heard their dad rage through the dining and living rooms. They peered down into the first floor and saw him stop long enough to pick up their applications. He read Trudy’s note and stuffed it into his shirt pocket, hesitating just for a moment. Then he charged out the door.

The kids exchanged glances, continued down the stairs, and went into the kitchen. Their mother was holding an open box and reading a creased, unfolded piece of paper with interest.

“Mom? What’s with Dad?” Trudy asked.

“Erm? Oh. He had a bad night.” Lydia didn’t want to trouble the kids with their dad’s emotional struggles. She hoped he would calm down before it got so serious that she would have to go into details with them.

“What’s that you have?” Pat pointed to the box.

“Not sure yet. I’m reading the note that came with it.” She gestured toward the wrapped item. “The box was delivered this morning. It was for your dad, but he doesn’t want it.” She looked up from the paper, but only for a moment.

Trudy and Pat caught each other’s eye. “The box,” Trudy mouthed.

Pat nodded. He turned back to his mom. “So what is it? Who’s it from?” he asked.

Lydia finished reading and handed the note to her son, perplexed. “It’s from a Professor Brown in New Orleans. Apparently he was running a carbon-dating investigation on this piece of wood that was found in that buried house.” She frowned. “Wonder why? I mean, the place is made of wood, there’s wood furniture everywhere. What was so special about this chunk?

“But, look.” She pointed to some data on the paper. “It says here that the artifact is a lot older than any other wood in the house.”

Pat read the findings, and his breath caught in his throat. “Middle Eastern in origin. About two thousand years old…” And we’re supposed to deliver this to Nick. Why?

An incredible, almost unbelievable answer formed in his mind. It was almost too powerful to keep to himself. But he had to, at least until he and Trudy were out of the house.

“Mom,” he asked, “did you say Dad doesn’t want it?”

“Yes. He said to get rid of it. Why?”

“Do you mind if I take it? I have a friend who is really interested in this forensics/archaeology stuff.” No lie there.

“No, please, go ahead. But if your friend doesn’t want it, bring it back. I have an odd feeling about it.” She gave the still-wrapped object a long, wondering look.

“Okay. Sure. Thanks.”

He and Trudy barely made it through breakfast, trying to look patient and to take their time. Lydia listened to them as they discussed their plans for the day. Trudy was still feeling skittish about going into the park again, and Pat was going to take her out there to work through her anxieties.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Lydia looked worried.

Trudy nodded. “I feel like it’s something I have to do.”

This was true; it was something both kids felt certain of. But the main reason was to meet Nick, with Miriam in tow. Both Pat and Trudy hoped that they would soon be able to tell their mother everything. They were not comfortable tap-dancing around the truth the way they had been doing.

The two youngsters left the house and went directly to the hardware store. Pat hoped Miriam would be there. She hadn’t answered her phone that morning. Trudy, for her part, was looking forward to meeting this obviously exceptional young woman. She hoped that they would have at least some things in common.

As they walked into the store, Pat spied Miriam standing by the customer service desk. He waved and hurried over, Trudy close behind.

Trudy almost gaped, just like her brother had done earlier.

He’s right—she’s gorgeous.

But there was something else about her. A gentleness and a peace that Trudy felt could not be touched or destroyed by anything or anyone.

The welcoming look on Miriam’s face encompassed both of them, and Trudy knew they would hit it off immediately. Pat thought his new friend looked even better in regular clothes, but refrained from saying anything. He knew from experience that his mouth didn’t connect with his brain very well when he was around her.

“I’m glad we found you here, Miriam,” said Trudy. “Pat tried to call you, but there was no answer. We’re just going to the park to do some long-distance walking. If you’re not working, would you like to come along?”

Pat smiled at his sister, grateful. She was not tongue-tied in the least, whereas he kept tripping over his words.

Miriam grinned. “Sure, I’d love to. I’m just here to pick up my paycheck. Today’s my day off.”

Pat finally found his tongue. “Great. Did you want to stop at the coffee shop or anything first?”

“Nope, I’m good. Probably lucky I wore my trainers today.” Miriam lifted her tiny foot, which was encased by a new red athletic shoe. “Okay, shall we go?”

“Oh, wait, I have to get something first.” Pat shook his head, smiling sheepishly. “Turns out my friend needs those ax handles after all. We’ll drop them off when we see him. He’s on the way.”

Pat made his purchase and they left the store.

Miriam got into the back of Pat’s car before Trudy could suggest that she sit up front. As Miriam settled herself in, she spied the box from New Orleans in the other seat. Trudy thought she looked just a little uncomfortable when she saw it. But the look passed, and Miriam smiled at Trudy as she buckled herself in.

“You could sit up here, if you’d like,” Trudy offered.

“Oh, no, I’m fine. I like to ride in the back, really.”

Trudy grinned and shrugged as she got into the front seat. To each his own, she thought.

On the way to the park, Pat explained to Miriam that Trudy had had a bad experience while walking through it the other day. However, he didn’t go into details. Miriam nodded and glanced sympathetically in Trudy’s direction.

Trudy screwed up her courage as they stepped onto the path into the woods. Miriam could feel Pat’s sister tense, and put a hand on her shoulder.

“Just think to yourself that nothing will happen while your brother is with you. You are safe.” Miriam’s voice was gentle and comforting.

Trudy nodded, but she still gulped as her memories washed over her. She found herself gripping both Pat’s and Miriam’s hands as they got deeper under the trees.

As they passed the path she had taken the day of her attack, she relaxed a little. “I was down there the day I…the day it happened.”

“What actually happened? Can you tell me? Is there something we should tell the police?”

Miriam’s concern was genuine. Trudy thought again how very lucky they were to have her with them. Hopefully. She was still in the dark about what they hoped she’d agree to. They themselves weren’t sure, in all reality.

Trudy was about to answer when she heard someone shout. Pat hailed back and started abruptly up a slight incline, through some thick bushes. She hesitated, her heart once again rocketing around in her chest.

“Go on,” Miriam whispered, “I’m with you.”

Somehow those few words were all that Trudy needed, not only to go forward, but to suddenly feel in control over all of her anxieties. There was a power not her own stirring within her as she climbed up the hill and through the foliage.

She was still marveling at this sensation when the three of them emerged from the bushes into Nick’s campsite. Nick was waiting for them, a big, welcoming smile on his ancient face. Pat was still ahead of the girls, the ax handles heavy in his grip. Trudy and Miriam were obscured by his body.

“Good to see ya, Pat. Ya brought those handles—good. And the box. Gabriel said you’d probably got that. Oh!” He peered behind Pat. “You brought company.”

His eyes darkened in suspicion for a brief moment, and he looked questioningly at Pat.

Trudy stepped up.

“Oh, right. Trudy. My eyes. Sorry. You know…” He stopped talking when he saw Miriam.

Pat and Trudy were shocked and amazed at his reaction. His face became suffused with joy and love, and he went down on one knee as he stared up into Miriam’s face. He took her hand and whispered, “My Lady.” Then he kissed it and held it to his face.

Pat, embarrassed, was about to apologize for Nick’s behavior. But he went mute as he saw Miriam’s own countenance. It seemed to give off a faint glow as she smiled softly at the old man.

“Nicodemus, old friend. It’s good to see you again.”

Wondering at this, Pat looked back and forth between the two. He turned to see Trudy’s reaction, and was not prepared for what he saw.

Trudy’s eyes were huge. She stood frozen, her hands in front of her, the fingers splayed. Pat wasn’t even sure she was breathing. But then she muttered something, almost inaudible.

“Mary…”

Pat’s eyebrows rose. Trudy caught him staring at her and said, a little louder, “It’s Mary. Jesus’ mother.”

“What??” Pat whirled back to look at Miriam.

She smiled gently at her new friends, then nodded once. “Trudy’s right. She knows because of her gift, which is also her weapon.”

To Nick, she said, “Do get up, dear man. I know your old bones must be tired of being in that position.” Her eyes sparkled in amusement.

“Yes, he does creak a lot, doesn’t he? Especially his mouth.” Gabriel was with them, a grin on his face.

Miriam gave him a kiss on his cheek. “Good to see you, Gabriel.”

There was a flutter of wings, and a bright white bird flew out of nowhere and landed on Miriam’s shoulder. Trudy looked curiously at it, then a look of shock and remembrance came over her face.

“That bird. It…was that…the same bird that…?”

“Saved you?” Miriam asked. “Yes. He saves you at all times. All of God’s people know Him because of the Spirit.”

“‘Spirit’?” Pat looked doubtfully at the small dove.

In response, the bird suddenly shimmered, much like the angels Pat and Trudy were so familiar with. But there was no doubt in any mortal’s mind that the angels’ abilities came from this source. There was no comparison.

The shimmer grew in size and power, then shifted into a bright column of unapproachable light. Then, just as quickly, the light coalesced into a swirling vortex of sparklingly pure water. If left unleashed, that water could quickly cover the earth, of that there was no doubt in any mind there in the campsite.

Just as suddenly, the water became a fire that gave off intense heat but burned nothing.

After a moment, up to the point where the heat became almost unbearable, the fire shrank down and subsided back into the shimmering light. The column reverted back into the shape of the white dove, which perched innocently on Miriam’s shoulder as before.

She looked lovingly at the bird. “He doesn’t say much, but He gets His point across.”

Pat and Trudy were still frozen in amazement and awe, too astounded to talk. Nick, however, had seen the Spirit more times than he could remember. But it didn’t take away from the reverence he had for the Third Person of the Trinity.

Nick cleared his throat, which broke the trance that his young friends seemed to be in.

“Begging your pardons, my Lord, my Lady, but shouldn’t we get started?”

He trudged over to his tent and brought out the iron spikes. Miriam’s gentle countenance changed to bitter sorrow at the sight of them. She looked away.

“I’m sorry you have to see them again, my Lady,” he apologized, “but these are necessary for the coming war.”

“I know, Nick. But the sight of them breaks my heart, even now.”

Trudy couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to lose a child, much less have him tortured, brutalized, and then abandoned by those who had claimed to be His friends. But she knew sorrow, and she could understand that. Without thinking of who she was comforting, she put her arms around Miriam.

Jesus’ mother did not pull back. She let herself be comforted by the young mortal who had so easily become her friend.

Trudy looked at the spikes, then at Nick. “What are you going to do with them?” she asked him.

“Not sure. Pat, get one of those handles to me, willya?”

Pat handed one to the old man. Nick looked from the handle to the spike and brought them together in various positions. He looked up at the Dove.

“How did You want this done? You’ll have to be fairly clear on this…” He was going to joke about his deafness, but thought better of it. This was not the time to be kidding around.

Seemingly on their own, the wood and the nail came together and met end-to-end. The blunt end of the spike overlapped the short end of the handle by about an inch. Nick pushed the two items together and looked up at the Dove again.

Nick’s hands, the wood, and the iron suddenly gave off a bright glow. It went on for a few seconds; when it subsided, Nick took his hands away. The stake and the wood were now united seamlessly.

“Okay. Well. Now, that’s pretty clear,” Nick said, staring at what had been created. “Pat, please get the other two.”

The others were transformed the same way, and in as little time.

Nick gestured to Pat. “Your weapons. Now you must find two worthy allies to carry these into battle with you.”

“What about…?”  Pat pointed to Trudy.

“She will point out the Afflicted when the time comes,” Gabriel responded. “Your job will be to stake them so that the trapped souls can be freed and the demons destroyed.”

“Okay, wait a minute,” Pat said. “Just how big an ‘army’ are we going to need? Last time we had this…sort of thing…happen, it was worldwide. And this time?”

“The demons’ portal is here,” Gabriel replied. “You have seen it, up in those old buildings. The Ancient Evil is here. This time, the Dark One is using his Bride, Lilith, to create a campaign to take over souls here first. He plans to afflict as many souls as he can, who will in turn afflict others. He will, in this way, attempt to take over the world for his own plans.”

“And you know this.” Pat could hardly believe what he was hearing. “Yet everyone’s letting it continue?”

Miriam spoke up. “Don’t lose faith, Pat. It’s all for a reason. Again, no souls will be lost that don’t want to be. These trapped souls will be free to go on to Eternity.” Her face turned sad. “And those who side with evil, we can’t stop them. Unfortunately, there will be many who will.”

“I still don’t really understand, but okay,” Pat said. Trudy nodded in agreement, totally confused.

He turned to Miriam. “Now, Gabriel said you’d be ‘key’ to the success of the mission. What did he mean?”

Miriam smiled at him. “Do you remember that night on the hill with your friends? When the portal was opened?”

Pat shuddered. “Oh, yes.” He shook his head quickly, trying to erase the memory that had come to his mind.

“And that voice that told you that someone would be sent to protect you?”

Pat nodded, and his awe grew with his comprehension. “The rosebud…”

“My favorite flower,” Miriam said, putting a gentle hand on Pat’s shoulder. “Yes, Pat, I’m here to protect you and your army.”

She looked over at Nick. “The box, Nicodemus.”

“Oh. Right.” He picked it up and brought out the artifact, still wrapped. Then he looked worriedly at Miriam. “Will you be okay?”

Miriam’s eyes grew sad again, and she nodded in resignation. Trudy put her arm around her shoulders.

Nick unwrapped the item. It was, indeed, a small piece of ancient-looking wood. He then pulled something out of his pocket and shook it out of its tangled shape. It glinted gold in the mottled sunlight.

It was a necklace chain, on which hung a small mesh bag, also gold. Nick opened the bag and inserted the wood into it. He then held it out to Trudy.

She took it, a question on her face.

“This,” said Nick, “is the last known piece of the True Cross. It was placed in a house in New Orleans over a hundred years ago, to keep the most, or should I say, second-most dangerous vampire in history captive.”

“That house Dad was working on?” Pat was aghast.

“Yes. The beast was unleashed, but without the venom it had before its capture. The worst of the three was taken by the denizens of Hell.”

“Wait. Three? What do you mean?” Trudy interrupted. She flushed in embarrassment as all eyes turned to her. “Only because, the soul of that, um, ex-vampire that attacked me? She told me something about three souls and two not to be blamed. What did she mean? Does what she said have something to do with this ‘beast’?”

“The Dark One’s evil play on the Trinity,” Gabriel explained. “The vampire, this beast, under Lilith’s control has three souls trapped inside the body he is occupying. Two have long since removed themselves from active predation. But it’s the third one that we are concerned with. He was added after the beast escaped from his prison, and is the one that is happiest doing the will of the Devil. This is the one we have to flush out.”

“You don’t know who it is?” Trudy asked.

“We do, but this information has to be discovered on a mortal basis. Otherwise, the demons will realize they have been discovered by divine agents, and will just hide away again.”

Trudy put the chain around her neck. That was when Pat noticed something missing.

“Your crucifix, Trudy. Where is it?”

Trudy explained about her weekend with Martha, telling the rest about the demons that had attacked them and how she had used her crucifix to ensure that the Ouija board’s ashes would never be used as an active portal for the minions of Hell again. In turn, Pat told her about what had happened up on the hill that night, when that portal had been opened.

The small group talked and planned until the morning shadows were replaced by the direct light of noon in the glade. Then they all bade each other good-bye. Miriam left with Trudy and Pat, while the Spirit and Gabriel disappeared in their usual way and Nick went into his tent for his fishing pole.

The three walked on in silence for a while, as the afternoon began to warm up around them.

Then Pat broke the silence. “Okay, um, Mary? Or Miriam? Which do you prefer?” He wasn’t even sure if he should address her in such common terms after hearing Nick’s way of speaking to her.

Miriam touched his arm. “Go ahead and call me Miriam. It’s what I went by in life, and I’m used to it now.”

“Okay. I’m wondering…okay, this may sound weird…are you living like a…like us? I guess what I’m asking is, do you need a place to stay? Do you sleep?”

Trudy snorted. “Oh, that was clear as mud, Pat.”

Pat gave his sister a look, which Miriam found funny. “You two remind me of my own brothers and sisters.” She laughed. “And, yes, I sleep. I have an apartment.”

Pat grinned, feeling more at ease. “Another question. This will be somewhat clearer, I hope.” He drew a deep breath. “When can we fill Mom in on all of this?”

“You’ll know.” Miriam’s face sobered. “But not right now. Not everyone in your family can be trusted. And because of that, she has enough to deal with right now.”

The siblings nodded, thinking of their dad’s irritated mood lately.

As they approached Pat’s car, Miriam said, “Try not to reveal what you know, and what you’ve heard today. Powerful forces will be massing soon, and you don’t want to give away any hints that you know anything at all. The demons will use your weaknesses to wrest the information from you. Trudy, keep your necklace hidden.”

Trudy slipped the mesh bag into her shirt.

Pat asked Miriam, “So, do you need a ride? I mean, what with you being, uh, who you really are?”

Trudy rolled her eyes.

Miriam laughed again. “Yes, I would appreciate that.”

 

When Pat and Trudy got back to the house, they were just in time to see Kim and Ned about to leave with Toby.

“No way! You guys are back!” Trudy ran to hug Kim. Then she put a hand on her friend’s swollen belly. “Not long now.” She grinned.

“Not soon enough,” Kim groaned. “I feel like I’m carrying a dozen watermelons.”

Pat swung Toby up into his arms. His little buddy had jumped out of his parents’ car and had run to him. “You were going to leave without saying good-bye?”

Toby burbled happily, then said, “Bye-bye. I come back.”

Kim and Ned just beamed. “The little guy’s grown so much,” Ned exclaimed.

Paramount in the minds of the Bronsons was, You have no idea.

Raphael shimmered nearby. His message was mentally broadcast to Lydia and her children: “He will not show any of his talents until he is grown. I will be here to protect him from the coming battle, but he won’t need me to guard him after that. Not until he is grown, and must take his own place in salvific history. Farewell, my friends.” And he was gone.

Everyone said their good-byes, and Ned pulled the car out of the driveway.

As they made their way into the house, Pat asked, “Where’s Dad? His truck’s here.”

There was a slight hesitance, then Lydia said, without turning, “He’s having a meeting and then drinks with Delilah and Howard. He’ll be home late.”

She quickened her pace, her back stiff, leaving Pat and Trudy behind. She went inside, then straight through the house and into the backyard.

“Uh-oh, they’ve argued,” Trudy said. “Wish I knew why he’s being such a…”

“Beast?” Pat had a distant, worried look on his face. “Yes. I wonder.”

 

About eleven o’clock, Pat heard an engine idling on the street outside his window. He peered out of his darkened room and watched as his dad got out of a sporty-looking car.  Opening his window, he strained to hear what was being said.

His dad shut the car door, said something that Pat couldn’t catch through the open car window, and started to walk toward the house. But a voice from within the vehicle made him stop abruptly. He turned slowly back to face it, shaking his head “no’ in response to whatever the voice had said. He backed away, his feet seeming to make a great effort to do so. The voice in the car became more insistent; her voice took on a resonant timbre.

And suddenly that voice was surrounding Pat, too. He couldn’t make out the words, but it frightened him to the core. It was cold, evil. And it seemed to penetrate the very walls. He put his hands over his ears, but he couldn’t shut the sound out. It caused him to shake with a terror he didn’t understand. But his instincts told him that something evil was happening down there in the yard.

He could only look on helplessly as his father took slow, unwilling steps back toward the vehicle. As he walked, still shaking his head, he rolled up the sleeve of his injured arm. His voice drifted up, faintly:

“No, please…”

Pat watched, his heart pounding in fear and confusion, as his dad put his arm inside the car window.

Suddenly, Steve cried out in pain. His knees buckled, and he had to grip the door frame to keep from falling to the ground.

Pat was frozen, helpless. He wanted to run, to get down there and help his dad, but his legs refused to obey him. He was pinned to the spot, helpless in the spell caused by that voice that had surrounded him.

The memory of those welts on his dad’s arm came to mind, and suddenly it all became clear.

And Pat knew, his stomach sick with despair. His Dad was involved with the coming war, just like him and Trudy.

But, willingly or not, he was on the wrong side.

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Resurgence: Chapter 12

CHAPTER 12

“Trudy. You’re down early.” Lydia took one look at her daughter’s haggard appearance and knew it had not been a restful night. “You didn’t have any more nightmares, did you?”

Trudy flopped down on a chair and rubbed her eyes with her fists. “Nightmare? Oh, right, nightmare.”

She seemed confused. “Right. No…no problem.” As she yawned mightily, she stretched her arms toward the ceiling. Then she lowered them and shook her shoulders to get her circulation going.

Seems okay, Lydia sighed to herself. I hope we can return to normal around here now.

She got up to refresh her coffee. “Want some while I’m up?” she asked her daughter.

“Sure, that would be great. Perhaps some French toast, a bit of bacon, maybe some…”

“Right. I’ll get right on that,” Lydia replied drily. They exchanged warm smiles.

“Did I hear bacon mentioned?” Steve came through the door. Smiling, he went to his daughter and bent down to kiss the top of her head. Trudy smiled up at him.

Then, to Steve’s surprise, her face suddenly transformed into a look of sheer terror.

Steve reared back, alarmed. Then he put a hand on her shoulder. “What’s wrong, love?”

Trudy flinched under his touch and turned away with a whimper. Lydia, perplexed, walked back to the table. She carefully put down the coffee she was carrying, and sat down to look  into her daughter’s eyes.

“Trudy, what’s the problem?”

Trudy couldn’t meet her parents’ gaze. She buried her face in her hands.

After a moment, she spoke, her voice muffled. “I don’t know. Must be the nightmare.” She put her hands down, but kept her gaze on the table. “Sorry, Daddy.”

Lydia and Steve exchanged worried glances.

Trudy had a sip of her coffee, then quickly stood up. “Gotta go get dressed.” She brushed a kiss on her dad’s cheek and ran out the door.

Lydia could see Steve’s jaw working. She stood up and went to him. Laying a gentle hand on his arm, she looked imploringly into his eyes. “Please, dear, don’t be upset. She’s been through a lot since yesterday.”

Steve turned away, frustrated, and looked as if he was going to bring his fist down on the table. At the last moment he stopped, then slapped his open hand down instead. “Well, why am I the target? What did I do?”

His voice rose as he vented the anger that had been building up inside him for the last several days. The lack of privacy, the added responsibility of taking care of a small boy, the child’s astonishing acts in the past twenty-four hours, and other reasons he couldn’t quite work out, all combined to stoke the fire of his temper. Once it started, it came out in an unstoppable torrent. A part of him that was still rational was deeply grateful for his patient, caring wife, who stood quietly by and let him rant.

He paced the floor. “I mean, suddenly I’m some sort of pariah to her, and I didn’t DO anything to her. What attacked her had been female. I don’t get the connection. I tell ya, Lydia, this whole thing stinks.

“This ‘mission’ thing, our house always filled with some sort of supernatural visitor or other, and besides that I get no rest at work either. Delilah’s always coming up with some weird scheme or other, and when I object, she goes over my head and gets her way. Why am I even THERE?”

He finally wound down, although there was still a lot he wanted to get off his chest. How he seemed to be powerless, not only against the threats to his family, but also in the way Delilah made him feel. Especially the latter; no way was he going to tell his wonderful, perfect wife how he seemed to be more and more attracted to his client, definitely against his will.

Lydia said nothing, just walked over and put her arms around him. Steve inhaled her familiar scent of vanilla, and was finally able to relax.

As long as I have Delilahwait, WHAT? NO! As long as I have Lydia, everything will work out.

He pulled away, gently, reluctantly, and kissed Lydia for a long moment. Then he smiled and turned toward the door into the living room. “I’d better go before I get us in trouble.”

Lydia smiled at his remark.

Steve stopped with his hand on the door. “Where’s Pat? He’s usually up at this time.” He turned and looked quizzically at Lydia.

“I believe he’s with that old fisherman in the park. Or just running.”

“Well, he’d better start thinking of a job.” Steve’s mood was darkening again. “He’s had enough ‘free time’. If he’s going to live here, he’d better start contributing.” Then, without waiting for a reply, he pushed through the door.

On his way to the front door, he glanced up the stairs and saw Trudy coming down. Toby was at her side, an ever-present companion. He smiled tentatively at his daughter. “See you later?”

“Sure, Daddy. Have a good day.” She smiled, but the effort was more like a grimace. Her eyes were wide, her nostrils flared, and she was gripping the bannister so hard that he could see her white knuckles from this distance.

“Bye Unca Steve.” The boy did not run to him as he usually did. He stood beside Trudy, holding her hand, and gazed at Steve with solemn, unsmiling eyes.

Steve’s temper rose. Fine, he fumed to himself, I’m leaving. Gads, when is that kid going home? He could hardly believe the ferocity of his own thoughts.

Trudy watched him. As he slammed out the front door and stomped to his truck, she let out a choking sob. Sitting down on the step, she let her defenses go and cried her heart out. Toby stroked her head comfortingly as great, wracking wails tore from her. She rocked back and forth in short, spastic movements that brought her no relief.

She was gradually aware that Toby’s presence had been joined by another. Lifting her head and swallowing her grief, she was grateful to see Gabriel sitting beside her. Without thinking, she buried her face in his shoulder and cried even harder.

Gabriel simply held her, while Toby patted her arm. The boy and the angel looked across the top of Trudy’s head at each other, knowledge of ages past and futures vaguely known reflected in both of their faces.

Trudy was finally out of tears for the time being. She sat up and wiped her eyes with her hands. It suddenly dawned on her how close and personal she had been with the archangel.

“Oh, Gabriel, I’m so sorry. I didn’t even think when I…”

“Don’t worry about it. We’re friends, right?” Gabriel produced a tissue, which Trudy accepted gratefully. “Now, is there something we need to talk about?”

“It’s Dad. I don’t know, ever since last night…”

She started in panic and moved to get up. “Mom! I have to tell her.”

“No, not yet. Tell me first.”

She looked at the messenger from God. “You already know, don’t you?”

“Not clearly, no. But you have noticed something. What was it?”

Trudy gulped and put a shaky hand to her mouth. Tears ran down her face. She closed her eyes for a moment, willing herself to stay in control.

“I noticed…first…last night, when he came home. There’s some sort of blackish-grey, I don’t know, mist? surrounding him. It was like that—that creature—that attacked me. But she was surrounded by red, with a blackness in her. I don’t know how I could see it, but I did. And now Daddy has it. The grey mist, with just a little black in him. But it’s growing!”

Her eyes flew open with the realization. “Gabriel!” She clutched his arm. “He’s going black in his center. Something is causing him to go dark. And that grey…it’s like a SHROUD!” The control gave way, and she collapsed on him again.

Lydia, who had been in the backyard trying to sort out her own thoughts, came in at that moment. She had heard the sound of their voices, muffled through the door. When Trudy started crying, she dashed into the living room and to the foot of the stairs.

“Gabriel? What happened?”

He smiled gently down at her. “She’s still suffering from the trauma of yesterday.”

“Maybe I should…” Lydia began as she started up the stairs.

Toby came down towards her, his little arms out. “Aunty, I hungwy.” His voice took on the whiny tinge of a little boy who was being unfairly kept away from his food.

“I have Trudy,” Gabriel assured her. “Take care of Toby.”

Lydia let the little boy wrap his arms around her neck, and carried him into the kitchen. Trudy watched them go, and then looked frantically at Gabriel. “I have to tell her. She has to know.”

Gabriel brushed her wet, tear-soaked hair away from her face.

“And what could she do with the information?” He cupped Trudy’s chin in his hand. His look was sad. “Thus your mission has been partially revealed to you. I know about your visitor last night; we were happy to welcome her home. Your help will be essential in freeing others who will be afflicted like her.”

“‘Will be’? Can’t it be stopped?”

“We want to eradicate the monster who is at the core of this. No one she afflicts will be lost, unless they want to be. There is nothing we can do about them.”

Trudy looked worried. Gabriel brought his eyes level with hers. “Don’t worry. I will stay close and help you carry it off. Trust me. I won’t let you fail.”

He was so close, and Trudy was so scared. She did it before she could help herself; she kissed him quickly, full on the mouth.

They both drew back, shocked.

Embarrassed, Trudy leapt to her feet and ran up the stairs, leaving Gabriel staring after her as she disappeared down the hall.

 

Pat found himself in the hardware store. He didn’t remember going in, but here he was. It was uncomfortable, standing there in his running shorts and an old sweatshirt, gaping mindlessly at the shelves. Not knowing any good reason for being there, he turned and headed for the exit.

And then he saw her.

She was standing on tiptoe, reaching up for a box just out of her reach.

“Let me get that for you,” he said, stepping over to her.

“Oh, would you please? I’d appreciate it. There never seems to be a ladder around when I need one, and I have a rather cranky customer.” She turned to smile at him, her eyes full of gratitude.

Pat could only stare numbly. She was the most beautiful young woman he’d ever seen in all of his life. Dark, lustrous hair, smooth olive complexion, and big brown eyes full of kindness and warmth.

She laughed, a sweet, tinkling laugh that made Pat think of a clear, clean mountain brook. The light scent of roses…

“Excuse me?” She waved her hand in front of his face. He blinked, coming back to himself.

“Um?” Oh, now don’t I sound intelligent…

“The box?” She pointed up to the shelf.

“Oh. Right. Cranky customer. Sorry.” He gave her an embarrassed smile and easily lifted the box down.

“Thanks.” She smiled gratefully and hurried off.

Pat sighed as he watched her disappear around the end of the aisle. Then, after looking around to maybe get a clue as to why he came in, he shrugged his shoulders and started for the exit again.

As he reached the doors, he met her again as she was coming in from outside.

“Hi again,” he said, surprised and grateful at the same time. “Did your customer get what he wanted?”

She sighed. “I certainly hope so. He had a ton of things to take out to his truck, and needed help getting it loaded.”

“And you did it? I mean, why didn’t one of the warehouse guys do it?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Think I can’t handle it?”

“No, no I didn’t say that. Oh boy, sorry, I…”

She laughed again, and he wanted to swim in that mountain brook, drink from it, live by it the rest of his life.

“I’m just teasing you,” she said. “The truth is, he’s on crutches and was getting very tired. I didn’t want him to have to wait around for someone else to show up and help, and I’d just gotten him into a better mood. Besides, it was mostly plants. Nothing like concrete or bags of rocks.”

“Ah. Well, er, that…was…nice of you.”

Lame! Try again!

“Uh,” he glanced at her nametag. “Miriam? Maybe you could help me find something?”

“What might that be?” Her eyes sparkled with merriment. He knew he had to find some reason, and fast, for asking for her assistance.

Out of the blue, he said, “Ax handles.”

What?

“Really?” She looked surprised.

“Um, yeah. See, I have this friend who lives in, I mean near, the park, and he was saying the other day that he could use some good…ax…um, handles…” His voice trailed off as he considered how ludicrous his excuse was. For whatever reason, he felt ashamed to have made up the story.

But as Miriam directed him to the right area, he was surprised at the conviction growing within him that he was, indeed, supposed to buy these items. And that he had to take them to Nick.

He was faintly aware that she was saying something.

I am really scoring points today…

“What type of handle? There’s wood, there’s fiberglass, there’s a polymer…”

“Um, wood. I guess. Uh, yeah.”

“There are different lengths for different ax heads. Do you know what kind your friend has?”

“Oh. Crud. No.” Suddenly it all seemed so pointless, taking up her time and trying to convince himself that he had a good reason, other than the fact that he was crazy about her.

“Look, I’m going to go now. This has been a total fiasco. I don’t know why I said ax handles, I don’t really know if my friend needs one, and—thanks for the help, Miriam, but I’d better go. My dad wants me to look for a job, and I’m wasting my time and yours.” He smiled apologetically, touched her sleeve, and walked away.

“Wait!” Miriam called out as she caught up with him. “Maybe we could, you know, get off on a better footing. Maybe over coffee?” She looked hopefully at him.

“Hey, yeah, okay.” Pat’s heart had just sailed over the moon. “When?”

“I get off in about an hour. Want to meet up at the new coffee shop across from the library?”

“Sounds great, Miriam. See you then.” He grinned and turned towards the door.

She was beside him again, her rose-scented perfume teasing his nostrils. “I didn’t get your name…?”

“Oh, I’m such an idiot. So sorry.” He held out his hand. “Pat Bronson.”

She took his hand in hers, and the universe stopped for him. But just for a moment; he came back to himself as she said, “See you in a bit.”

“Miriam!” called one of the employees. “We need another cashier. The lines are getting long.”

“Oh, okay. Coming!” She turned to Pat. “Gotta go.”

Pat walked home in a daze. It wasn’t until he was in his room that he realized that he hadn’t had his wallet at the store anyway. So why had he gone in?

 

The new coffee house was sparsely populated; the afternoon crowd had thinned out, leaving just a few customers scattered around the café. Pat and Miriam had secured a quiet corner, which was furnished with comfortable chairs and a small table.

After their time together, Pat could not remember much of what they had talked about. He only knew that he had to spend more time with her. They decided to go out to dinner on the weekend, exchanged phone numbers, and went their separate ways.

Pat meandered slowly up his walkway, his mind whirling with the day’s events. After turning the key in the door, he sort of danced into the house.

His dad met him in the foyer. He seemed agitated, and Pat’s dreaminess started to unravel at the edges.

“Where’ve you been, Pat?” Steve asked.

“Just out with a girl I met today. Oh, Dad, I have to tell you about her…”

“Later,” his dad interrupted. He blocked Pat’s path, his arms crossed over his chest. The frown on his face told his son that the day had been less than ideal. “Have you looked for a job yet?”

Poof! went the dream, its tendrils vacating Pat’s mind in a flash. He rolled his eyes. “Yes, I put in a couple of applications this morning.”

“Well, at least that’s something.” Steve turned and picked up some papers lying on the table beside his chair. “Here, fill these out.”

“What’s this?” Pat took the papers from his dad and looked at the top page. “‘A Better World Medical Research’? Where’s that?” He looked quizzically at his dad.

“It’s the company Delilah is putting together. That’s what’s going in on top of the hill.”

Pat could feel his stomach drop, along with his jaw. “Dad, I told you what happened up there. I couldn’t possibly spend any time in those buildings.”

“I’ve been up there and nothing’s happened. You’ll be fine. Delilah’s holding a warehouse position open for you, and I think it’s damn generous for her to do so. Fill out the application and I’ll take it to her tomorrow evening.”

“Evening?”

“She likes to stay away during the work hours. Doesn’t like all the dirt flying around, she says.”

“Neat freak, huh?” Pat grinned at his dad, but the smile disappeared when Steve didn’t return it. “Dad, it’s a joke.”

“Right. Your sister is filling one of these out too.” Without another word, Steve sat back down in his chair and picked up the newspaper.

Pat shook his head slowly, perplexed. He gave his dad a long look and walked toward the stairs.

What’s gotten into him? I know he’s tired, but he’s never been like this before. That Delilah person must really be driving him hard. Or Howard, but I doubt it.

Just before he started up the stairs, he looked over his shoulder at his dad. He was disturbed to see a look of confused pain on Steve’s face as he gingerly rubbed a spot on his arm. He’d rolled up the sleeve, and even from this distance Pat could see the red welts along his arm.

“Dad? You okay?”

Steve’s head jerked up, and he hastily rolled his sleeve back down. Then the hard look he’d had on his face earlier returned. “Why wouldn’t I be?” he growled.

“I just wondered…oh, never mind.” Pat turned and went up the steps, wondering at what he had just seen.

He knocked on Trudy’s door, and got another surprise when she opened it. Tears were running down her face, and she clutched part of the application form in one fist while wiping her eyes with a tissue in the other.

“Trudy?” He didn’t get in another word; she flung herself into his arms, sobbing.

“Okay, sissie, okay, let’s go back in here,” Pat crooned to his sister, as if she was a scared child. He quietly shut the door and sat her down at her desk. The rest of the application was scattered across its surface.

“What is it, Trude? The application? Dad? Both?”

“I don’t care about the application, not as much as I do about Dad.” Trudy sniffed and hiccupped. “Something’s happened to him.”

Pat rubbed her back. “I think he’s just over-tired. He’s been putting in some long hours.”

“That’s not it. But…but…I don’t know if I can tell you. Gabriel said not to tell Mom…”

“But you can tell Pat.” Gabriel suddenly appeared before them.

Trudy gasped and blushed. To Pat’s amazement, she turned away from the angel. Gabriel looked a bit uncomfortable himself.

“In fact, you must confide everything about your missions to each other. Then you must recruit others to help you, others you know you can trust. As for me,” here he paused, and Trudy looked up at him, hope and embarrassed avoidance competing on her face, “I must keep some distance from you. Conditions here will soon deteriorate if I stay.”

He glanced at Trudy, who had despair written all over her face.

“Your father,” he explained gently. “He resents my presence. It’s causing problems in his relationship with the rest of the family. Raphael, since he stays with Toby, does not seem to be a problem. Toby himself is, though. His parents will be back soon, and hopefully your father’s heart will return to the loving attitude he had before.”

Gabriel’s eyes reflected a deep pain for a moment. Pat wanted to ask him about it, but something more urgent took precedence.

“Something I saw tonight really bothered me, Gabriel,” he said. “It was really strange.” He then proceeded to tell his audience what he’d seen at the foot of the stairs.

Trudy’s eyes got wider and wider, and she covered her mouth with both hands. When Pat finished, she seemed frozen in that position. A whimper escaped her lips. After about a minute, with the other two watching her curiously, she was able to rasp out, “That explains it…”

“Explains what?” Pat looked from his sister to Gabriel, who nodded his head at Trudy’s unspoken question.

“Yes, you can tell him. You must.”

Trudy then told Pat of the events of the morning, and how she saw a black mist around their father. “That blackness is eating away at his soul. We have to find what’s doing this, and stop it.”

“But how? We don’t even know what ‘it’ is,” Pat objected, but gently.

“But we do. They’re back!” Trudy looked to Gabriel for confirmation. “Aren’t they? Not just one, but…who knows? And one has gotten to Dad!”

Gabriel nodded sadly. “The worst, and oldest, of them all.”

He then addressed Pat. “Nicodemus knows what to do. He will instruct you and your recruits. Pat, stay close to Trudy as you recruit your army. She has been given the ability to see into others’ souls. It is something she is only able to do when the time is right. She won’t see it during an ordinary day, but if needed, she will be able to see the inner torment of the Afflicted. She will then need your help in freeing them. You will need those ax handles, three of them—the longest you can find. Wood, not synthetic. Also, there will be a box delivered here tomorrow.

“You are to take it to Nick, along with the ax handles. And, Pat,” here he gazed very earnestly into the young man’s eyes, “take Miriam with you. She is key to our success.” At Pat’s surprised gasp, the angel smiled. “Yes, we know about her. Very much. Don’t ask anything now. Just do it; she’ll understand.”

Even in her fright and anguish, Trudy had to smile at the idea of her brother finally gaining an interest in a girl. It had been a long time; he hadn’t even looked at the opposite sex since a heart-rending break-up in high school. Pat caught her look, and grinned back at the memory of his time spent with his new friend.

Gabriel looked gently at the brother and sister, then slowly shimmered out of sight.

“Miriam?” Trudy lifted an eyebrow.

“Tell you later.” Pat sighed.

“You’d better.”

“Maybe it’ll be way better than that. Certainly sounds as if we’re all going to be on the same team.”

Trudy put her hand lovingly on her brother’s arm. “I can’t think of anyone I’d rather have on my side.”

The two of them then spent the better part of an hour filling out the required information on the applications. Trudy then took the papers downstairs.

The house was dark; apparently her dad had gone to bed. Her mom had had a bad headache, and had spent the evening in bed, so it was no surprise that she was not up. Trudy put the papers on the table by the front door, along with a note she had written:

 

Dear Daddy,

                                                              Here are the applications. Pat and I didn’t fill them out because we wanted to. We did it because we love you.

                                                                         Trudy

 

She hoped that, in this way, she could reach him somehow. It was no longer a question of being able to withstand the shroud-like mist that had gone around him; she knew that she had to let love overcome her fear. It was the only way she would be able to guide him back from the abyss he seemed about to fall into.

 

 

 

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“Resurgence” – Chapter 11

CHAPTER 11

As he stood in the darkness outside his home, Steve silently hoped that all he would find on the other side of the door were earthbound mortals, and only the ones that he knew and loved. It had been a very strange evening, and he felt somehow drained. Try as he might, he couldn’t put a finger on why, although he remembered bits and pieces.

Okay, I remember walking into the building with Delilah. Okay, I remember that. Not much light left. I felt stupid being there, and that we hadn’t brought a flashlight. There was…oh, right, I ran into something sharp, and I patched it up. Or did I?

Hmmm, seems okay now. He felt where the sleeve had torn when he’d gashed himself.  Where’s the bandage? I could have sworn I put a bandage on it. Oh well, guess it wasn’t that bad. Then what? Okay, yeah, that kid had come along and we left.

He mused on the evening a little more, but just became more perplexed. I didn’t do squat. So why am I so tired?

He shrugged, put his key in the lock, and turned the knob.

The atmosphere that greeted him once he was inside was not the one he had hoped for. He stood just inside the door and sighed with quiet frustration as he looked around at the assembly of beings. Not the cozy family scene he was hoping for.

Lydia was on the couch, Trudy’s head on her shoulder. It looked as if his daughter had been weeping.

Well, hanging out with Martha in a dead woman’s house doesn’t exactly make for a cheerful weekend.

Toby sat quietly at the women’s feet, coloring in one of his books. Every few seconds he would break off to look up at Trudy, then he’d return to his crayons.

Pat was in a far corner, talking quietly with Gabriel and an ancient man Steve had never seen before, while Raphael stood quietly observing the street through the plate-glass front window.

Steve cleared his throat, unwittingly making Trudy jump. She let out a little yip of surprise, her hands flying up to her face as if to ward off a blow. Toby jumped up, climbed into her lap, and held her tight.

“No, Toody, it okay. It Unca Steve, you daddy.”

Steve was thoroughly surprised by the boy’s behavior. Toby was only a bit under three years of age, but here he was acting very adult-like in his protection of Trudy.

“Protection”? Why did I think he was protcting her?

“Hello all,” he said, trying to sound cheerful but not quite making it. “I wasn’t expecting so many, uh, bodies here tonight.” He walked over to the couch and kissed Lydia, who smiled gently up at him.

She noticed his sleeve. “What happened?”

“Nothing much. Caught it on something.”

Then he turned to his daughter. As he kissed the top of her head, she flinched and drew away.

Steve’s brow furrowed in concern. “Trudy? What’s wrong?”

She looked at him, wild-eyed; for some reason, she seemed for all the world as if he terrified her.

“Sweetie,” he crooned, reaching out to touch her.

Toby’s little hand gently pushed his away. Surprised, Steve turned to look at the child, and almost fell over.

The boy’s eyes were luminous; it seemed as if he could see through to Steve’s very soul. “Unca Steve, no. My Toody. No touch now. Later okay, not now.” And without another word, the baby turned back to Trudy, stroking her neck, making little comforting noises.

“What…” Steve whispered, scarcely believing what he’d just seen.

“Trudy had something happen to her today,” Lydia began, then stopped. Steve could see her trying to come up with the right words, but not succeeding. At last, she drew a deep breath, decided on the basic unvarnished truth, and gave the expectant air the words it had wanted to hear all evening.

“Trudy was attacked.” Lydia closed her hand on Steve’s and held it tight. “By a vampire.”

“What? But—they don’t exist. Anymore. They’re…gone…aren’t they?”

Nick spoke for the first time. “Not all of them. Not the worst. She hid the last time heaven and hell clashed.”

“‘She’?’

“Yes.” The old man fell silent.

Steve gave him a long look, then turned his gaze back to at his daughter. She looked so scared. Instinctively, he started to reach out to comfort his daughter, but drew his hand back.

He turned to the others. “What about…did…?” He fluttered his fingers at his own throat.

“She had been bitten, but we were able to get to her,” Gabriel explained. “The vampire was distracted by the Master in His dove form, so Trudy was able to get a scream out. We…” here he indicated Pat and Nick, “were nearby, and ran to her.”

“They ran. I’m too old,” Nick interjected.

Steve gave the stranger another quizzical look, and turned back to Gabriel.

The angel continued, “Pat was able to get a crucifix in the demon’s face. She ran off, right into Nick’s path.”

“And I did her in with this.” Nick held up a crude length of iron, sharp on one end.

Steve nodded. “Uh-huh.” He regarded the old man. “Um, have we met?”

Pat spoke up. “Oh, sorry. Dad, this is Nicodemus.”

Steve quirked an eyebrow. “Go on.”

Lydia stood up, laying Trudy gently down on the sofa. Toby sat beside her, keeping vigil.

“Honey,” she said, addressing her husband, “let’s all go out to the kitchen. Except for Trudy and Toby. And Raphael, of course; he will probably want to stay with his boy.”

Raphael nodded silent assent.

Steve allowed himself to be led through the door and to the kitchen table. Pat brought him a cup of coffee (“Decaf, Dad.”), and the explanations commenced.

 

As he lay in bed later that night, after all of the guests had either left or disappeared, Steve thought over all of the weird and wild tales he’d been told earlier that evening.

Vampires again. Nails from the True Cross. And a two-thousand-year-old ex-Pharisee. Unbelievable.

The only thing that really mattered from the last few hours was the way his daughter had looked at him. It completely horrified him that his baby girl would be so frightened of her own daddy. It was becoming more and more obvious to him that this whole Divine Mission thing was a really bad idea.

“Hey, God,” he whispered, so as not to wake Lydia, “why don’t you go get someone else to do this dirty work? Leave my family alone.”

No answer. He didn’t expect one. As he drifted off to sleep, he imagined he heard Delilah’s voice calling him.

“You bugger off too, lady,” he murmured, “I’m not on the clock.”

 

Lilith paced her small room, frustrated at Steve’s weak connection to her.

“How am I going to get to him again? I don’t have enough power over him yet. He just stays by her side,” she snarled and grumbled to herself.

Howard sat in the one hotel room chair, idly changing the TV channels. He didn’t respond.

Lilith stopped her pacing and glared at him. He glanced up at her, then returned to staring at the screen.

“What.” It wasn’t a question.

“Can’t you do something besides hardwire your brain to that video machine? We have a problem here, and I want it resolved.”

“And I want Lois back!” Howard thundered, throwing aside the remote. “Guess neither of us is getting what they want tonight.” He got up and strode over to the small refrigerator and pulled out a bag of pilfered blood. Once he had it torn open, he had it drained in seconds.

Lilith watched, her lip twitching in disgust. But there was hunger in her eyes; she hadn’t fed in a couple of nights.

Howard gave her a scornful smile as he held the empty bag in front of her face. “Snob,” he said disdainfully.

“I just don’t like the idea of some apparatus getting my meals for…”

They both had the same idea at the same time.

“Syringe!”

Howard smiled, seeing Vlad’s exploits through Judas’ and Cain’s memories. Those two trapped souls shuddered with revulsion.

“No, no…better than that. We have to find someone, a nurse, to draw blood for, like, a test or something.” Lilith thought for a moment.

“I have it!” she yelled triumphantly. “He cut himself on that piece of metal, remember? So maybe he needs to be tested for tetanus. We just have to convince him to get himself tested. The nurse can do the blood draw, and give me his blood behind closed doors.”

Howard shook his head. “Who are you going to get to do this? It’s illegal, you know.”

Lilith sneered at him. “Idiot. Go visit the blood bank again. This time, walk through the front doors just before they close for the night.” She took his chin in her hand, and stared coolly into his eyes. “Get yourself another thrall. Maybe you’ll get lucky, and her name will be Lois…”

 

After a lot of tossing and turning that night, Trudy was finally able to drift off to sleep. But the respite was short-lived.

She suddenly sat bolt-upright, with the certainty that someone was watching her. Pulling her covers up to her chin, she glanced quickly around the room.

Nothing.

She drew a relieved sigh and lay back down. Just as she was closing her eyes, a movement at the end of her bed brought her straight up again.

What she saw made her blood run cold.

Nooooo!

She threw her covers off and ran for the door.

Locked! And it would not open; the knob was stuck tight. Terrified, she turned and braced herself for the worst.

For there, standing before her, was the vampire-woman that had attacked her that evening.

Trudy let out a blood-curdling scream, unlike anything she had ever known herself capable of. She held her hands up to protect her throat, her breath coming in short, panicked gasps.

But the monster just stood there, motionless at the end of the bed, and waited for Trudy to stop panicking—which she did when she realized she wasn’t in any immediate danger.

She’s not attacking. Trudy stood flattened against the door, staring at the apparition in wonder. Why isn’t she attacking?

The woman finally spoke. Her voice was not audible to Trudy’s ears; rather it was picked up by a sense Trudy had never experienced before, somewhere in her mind.

“Please,” it spoke, “do not fear me. It was not I who attacked you. I was there, and I abhorred what was happening. The demon that took over my being when I was changed was the one who was at fault.

“I had been its prisoner. But now, because of your brother and Nicodemus, I am free to move on to the next reality.” She was starting to fade as Trudy stood, open-mouthed, trying to absorb what she was experiencing.

“I am being taken up,” the vision said, a glow of sheer joy on her face. “Please thank your brother for me.  A word of warning, though: He who changed me is one of three. The other two within him are not responsible. Please judge them leniently. They are prisoners also.”

“Who? Who is this person?” Trudy asked. “How will I know who it is?”

But the woman’s soul disappeared in a glow of holy light.

It was then that Trudy became aware of pounding on her door. How long it had gone on, she had no way of knowing.

“Trudy? Trudy! What’s going on? For heaven’s sake, open this door!”

She turned the knob; to her surprise, it yielded easily. Her parents were on the other side, wide-eyed with panic.

“What?” She tried to sound as if she’d just woken up. No way did she want to share what she’d just experienced. Not at this hour. And besides, there was something about her dad that warned her against revealing too much. What that was, she couldn’t fathom. But for the first time in her life, she felt she couldn’t trust him. And that was unnerving.

“Sweetie, we heard you scream. Are you alright?” Her mom grasped her shoulders, then gave her a tight hug.

“Uh, yeah. A nightmare, I guess…”

Her dad sighed in relief. “Good. Well, I’m glad you’re okay.” He reached out to touch her face, and it took all of her will not to pull away.

“Yeah, me too. G’nite.”

She stepped back and started to close the door. As her parents walked down the hall to their own room, she followed them with her eyes.

What is it with Dad that’s so weird? Why am I feeling so scared of him?

Suddenly she felt another presence in the hallway. Little Toby stood in the doorway of his room, his teddy bear dangling from one hand.

She smiled at him. “I’m sorry, Toby. Everything’s okay. Go back to bed.”

He gave her a long, serious look, then closed his door.

 

“Are you sure this is necessary?” Steve asked as he rolled up his sleeve.

“Definitely. You had quite a nasty scratch. We just want to make sure you aren’t infected with anything.” The nurse smiled at him as she applied the tourniquet.

Steve was puzzled. “Don’t you usually just give a shot? Why the extraction?”

“Considering the, um, circumstances behind the demise of the previous company in the Magma buildings, we’re rather interested in the possibility of some link between the mass hysteria that happened here and what may have been going on in the atmosphere. Your blood donation would help us find that out.”

Delilah sat beside him as the nurse readied the needle and tube. Steve was extremely uncomfortable with the proceedings; not because of the blood donation, which he had been through before, but because of the two women’s behavior during the procedure. It made him uneasy to see the intent interest on their faces, as if chocolate ran in his veins.

“Um, do you have to get so close?” he asked of Delilah, who was almost as close to him as his own skin. “I’m sure the nurse—Greta, is it? He peered at her name badge. “She probably has had plenty of experience, and can handle things on her own.”

He tried to shift away from Delilah’s overpowering nearness.

Yet Greta was just as wolfish in her behavior. Steve couldn’t understand the glassy-eyed stare, her short breaths (She’s practically drooling!), and the way she kept running her finger up and down the crimson-filled tube, almost lovingly. He was feeling somewhat nauseous.

What is up with these two?

“If you’d be more comfortable, I can leave. I just wanted to make sure you understood what we were doing, and why.” Delilah got up from the stool beside him and, with a lovely smile, excused herself.

Steve watched her saunter out of the room, a dreamy, silly smile on his face. He caught the nurse watching him and sobered up quickly. “Okay, just…keep on with the job.”

“Uh-huh.” Greta shook her head, a small smile trying not to run across her face.

“It’s not like that,” Steve objected, then wondered why he’d said that. As if it mattered what Greta thought. I’ll probably never see her again.

Greta just glanced at him, then concentrated on her work.

Steve looked at his watch. “Will we be done soon? I have appointments to keep.”

He looked up at Greta, and was alarmed to see the tip of her tongue protruding from her mouth, licking the edges of her teeth.

I’ve seen this type of behavior before. But where…?

Then he remembered. Trudy! Just before she was completely taken—that day I ripped my finger on the rose thorns…

“I—I think that’s quite enough.” Steve pulled the needle from his arm. “Two tubes should be more than sufficient.”

Greta tried to stop him, but wasn’t quick enough. Steve gave her an anxious, quizzical look as he stood and left the room.

Greta gazed longingly at the two tubes of blood, but, obedient to her new master, she took them to the back room and set them on the counter. Then she returned to her duties. There was the clean-up to attend to.

And besides, there might be a way to get at that leftover blood…

 

Lilith came back into the clinic through the back door. She was pleased with how the past hour went. It was so nice to find so many recruits for her employee team, and they were just trusting enough to allow her to become their closest confidante. Closeness, for her, bred satiation; already she had a dozen or more thralls that she could feed from.

“Greta!” she called. “Where’s that package you had for me?” Lilith glanced around the laboratory.

“I left it there on the counter by the phone,” Greta called back.

Lilith scanned the counter, but no blood-filled tubes were in sight. “I’m not seeing it. All I see is a yellow copy of a courier form.”

“What? No one came in that I know of.” Greta ran back to search with Lilith. She snatched up the paper and read the description of items taken. The tubes, labeled “unmarked”, were on it.

Greta looked over at Lilith, panic growing in her heart. She’d heard about Lilith’s anger, and she knew she didn’t want to be a part of it.

“DAMN!” Lilith yelled, tearing frantically through the paperwork and detritus on the counter. “I needed that—item—for my plans. Now what?”

Greta had an idea, one that probably saved her existence. She had saved these items for herself, but she figured that, if she could save her skin, it was worth giving up. Hurriedly, she went to her locker and produced a box. She opened it and pulled out a couple of blood-soaked cotton balls.

“I was nervous and kind of scratched him up with my initial insert. These are the cotton balls I cleaned him up with.”

“You’re sure,” Lilith said skeptically.

“Yes! Absolutely! We hit a real oil field, as it were. I remember wishing I’d had something to catch it all in.”

“To help him, or to to get yourself a little snack for later?” Lilith quirked an eyebrow at the nurse, and was rewarded with a very embarrassed look. “Thought so. Well, never mind.”

Greta gasped as Lilith picked up the cotton balls, put them in her mouth, and swallowed them whole.

“This had better be enough for me to control him, or your head’s on a plate,” she growled at the nurse.

 

 

 

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“Resurgence”: Chapter 10

Oh, it’s starting to get busy now…

CHAPTER 10

As she drove home Sunday evening, Trudy’s mind whirled. The weekend had been far from the quiet couple of days that she had expected.

After the Ouija board had been completely consumed, she and Martha had scraped the ashes, still smoldering, into a big tin pail full of water. Once they’d made sure no cinder still lived, they had taken the pail outside to the back corner of the yard and buried its contents. Trudy had taken the crucifix from around her neck and placed it on the cold ashes just before the girls had filled in the hole.

This morning had had its surprises as well, but good ones. As Trudy had been going out to go to church, Martha had silently joined her. Not wanting to spoil her friend’s tenuous hold on these first grasps toward a life of faith, Trudy had smiled at her but had made no comment. She knew that if any fuss had been made at all, Martha would have skittered off and shut herself back into her old convictions. As it was, Trudy had no guarantee that Martha would keep searching. She had to leave it to God to keep watering and fertilizing that infant seed until it came to flower in His light.

After church, Martha had decided to go back to her own apartment rather than stay in the house, so the two friends had packed up, secured the place, and parted company. Trudy was glad that Martha had made that decision; even with the Ouija board destroyed, something still didn’t feel quite right about that house any more.

As she approached her own street, Trudy caught sight of the park. A strong urge to go for an evening stroll under the trees came over her. Pat was always saying how much better he felt after some time among the flora and fauna; she thought maybe she could use a little alone time herself, to think over the events that had happened and maybe pray a bit. A lot.

After parking along the street, Trudy headed for the path that led around the lake and was soon enveloped by the thick foliage. Taking a gravel path that led off from the main one, she walked until the sounds of the passing traffic could no longer be heard.

Her senses were almost immediately soothed by her surroundings. The wind whispered through the oaks and evergreens, and the smell of ripe blackberries and late roses combined in a heady mixture. She could smell the moisture in the air and could hear the lake lapping at the shore in a steady, comforting rhythm. The sound reminded her of when she was little, and her mother would take naps with her. It sounded just like her mother’s deep, even breathing as she lay next to her.

Ferns and moss, interspersed with rhododendrons, combined in many-hued shades of green, her favorite color. The sound of the gravel made a steady crunching noise under her feet, and birdsong came from the throats of robins, finches, chickadees, and other birds she couldn’t readily identify.

I have to agree with Pat; this is certainly a…

A flash of movement in the underbrush, and Trudy suddenly found herself pushed against a tree, its rough bark cutting into the back of her head. A hand was around her throat, and she was shocked to find herself suspended a foot or so above the ground.

Her assailant was a petite young woman, fully a head shorter than Trudy. It would have been ludicrous, and even amusing, if it wasn’t for the woman’s immense strength.

And her eyes, which were dilated and red.

And the…

Oh, God, help!!

The fangs!

They were growing longer and sharper as the vampire leered at her. Trudy’s heart hammered in her chest, and she struggled with all her might to get away. Kicking her assailant brought no response except a high-pitched shriek of laughter.

She could feel something warm and wet on the back of her head; the wound that was caused by striking the tree bark was now starting to bleed. The vampire could smell it; her nostrils dilated, and she grinned in response to the odor.

She licked her fangs. “I hear your heartbeat. It is like a bird trapped in a cage. And your blood—so sweet…” She came closer, her mouth inches from Trudy’s throat.

Trudy’s eyes rolled wildly; she kicked, twisted, trying to push her assailant away. “Abba!” she whispered, unable to shout. “Father God, help me!”

The woman chuckled. Trudy felt immense pain in her back as the vampire pulled her down the trunk of the tree. Then the monster struck.

Trudy gasped as agony filled her entire being. She found herself unable to breathe. The blood was pulled so hard and fast from her veins that it was a physical pain that reverberated throughout her body.

Suddenly there was a flurry of movement. A small bird, blindingly white, came between the vampire’s face and her prey. The fluttering of its wings caused the monster to move away in irritation and surprise. Whenever the vampire moved in to resume her feeding it struck at her, making it impossible to finish Trudy off.

Trudy took the opportunity to scream for help. In the depths of the forest, surprisingly, she caught the attention of more than one pair of ears.

Pat was sitting with Nick and Gabriel at Nick’s campsite. They were going over some of the main information that Pat needed to know about the Hunters. Trudy’s scream came to them from a short distance away, and Pat knew immediately who it was.

“Trudy!” he shouted, and ran off towards the sound. Nick followed sedately at a distance, and Gabriel brought up the rear. The angel had shimmered into invisibility, just in case.

At the same time, Lilith and Howard were roaming stealthily through the foliage from the other direction, searching for Howard’s wayward protégé.

Lilith was disgusted. “Great. I told you to take her out to hunt. But no, you had to give her that bagged-and-tagged crap. Now who knows where she is?” She glanced over at Howard. “You know yourself how hard it is to be spoon-fed. We are created for the hunt.”

“Yeah, yeah, get off my back, willya? With the whole business venture, I sort of forgot.”

The scream made them freeze in place.

“Over there,” Howard whispered, pointing.

They moved soundlessly in that direction. Before they cleared the shrubbery, however, Lilith motioned for Howard to stop. They peered between the leaves and branches and saw their new vampire in action.

They could see that she had a mere girl in her clutches. But something was odd; there was a white bird flapping about the heads of the two, between predator and prey. Blood streamed down the girl’s throat, but their vampire couldn’t get to it. The bird attacked her by fluttering in front of her face whenever she tried.

“It’s just a dumb bird. Why doesn’t she do something?” Howard muttered.

“Shh!” Lilith whispered. “I hear something.”

Footsteps pounded down the path. The two fiends watched as a young man came into view.

“Trudy!” he shouted, and ran toward the girl and her attacker.

As he got closer, he dug into his pocket and produced a shiny metal object. Howard and Lilith couldn’t see what it was, but it certainly had an immediate effect on their offspring. The woman screeched, covered her eyes, and fled down the path that the man had taken.

Suddenly a much older man blocked the vampire’s way. As she approached, heedless of his existence, he plunged something into her chest. She screamed once and exploded into dust.

Howard and Lilith both felt her destruction, Howard more than Lilith. He crumpled to the ground, pain and anguish contorting his face. Howard had made her and felt the loss keenly, but Lilith recovered quickly; the destruction of the vampire was not directly related to her. As Howard attempted to pull himself together, Lilith peered at the ancient man, who was still standing on the path.

She made a small sound of surprise. “Nicodemus,” she said softly, almost to herself. “I wondered where he was hiding out.”

She chuckled softly. “Idiot – now he’s shown his hand. So he’s here, is he? I have to wonder who his student is.

“All in good time; for now, we’d better go. I feel another presence here, and not a safe one.” She pulled Howard up from the ground, and silently they left the way they had come.

“You okay, Trudy? Oh God! No, you’re not!” Pat inspected the bite marks. “Gabriel, I think we need your help here.”

The archangel, still invisible, was beside the siblings in an instant. “Good thing you were alone when you said that,” he admonished, glancing around. “Someone might have heard you.”

“Oh hell. Oops, I mean, I didn’t think…”

“Yes, I understand.” Gabriel sensed an unseen presence. “I don’t believe we have anything to be worried about. Still, there was someone here. The question is, friend or foe? This bears looking into.”

Trudy moaned and slumped to the ground.

“But first, let’s take care of our girl here.” Gabriel closed his eyes and waited for a moment, listening.

“No, they’re gone.” He touched Trudy’s neck and back, and the wounds healed immediately. “Let’s get her home. She may be whole physically, but the psychological wounds are going to be there for a long time.”

“My car…” Trudy muttered.

“It’s already in front of your house,” Gabriel said, stroking her hair.

Pat pulled her up gently and supported her as they all walked back down the path.

 

“She’s gone into shock.”

Lydia watched as Trudy rocked back and forth in the kitchen chair. Her daughter held her arms protectively crossed against her chest, one hand spasmodically stroking her own shoulder. Her eyes were glazed, unfocused. Toby stood beside her, his hand on her leg, his worried brown eyes gazing up at her.

Trudy didn’t seem to realize anyone’s presence. Pat and Gabriel watched her face, hoping for some sign of recognition. Nick stood by himself on the other side of the room, feeling uncomfortably out of place.

Lydia twisted her hands under the table, her wrists in agonizing pain. Her ankles also hurt; this was a new sensation in her experience with the stigmata. She could also feel the renewed stabs of pain in her scalp, a sensation she had not experienced since her original restoration from the world of the undead.

“Toody?” Toby reached up on tiptoe and put his hand on Trudy’s cheek. She turned her unseeing gaze toward him. A moan escaped her lips.

Raphael, ever present, touched the boy’s shoulder. “Toby, I think we should find something for you to do. Come on, let’s go in the other room.”

“No!” Toby’s response was loud, vehement – and quite unchildlike. “Bad doggie got Toody!”

He crawled up into Trudy’s lap, which caused her to stop rocking. He put his little hands on either side of her face and touched his forehead to hers. “Toody! You come back here! Play wif me!”

Their eyes locked, and it seemed a full minute before Trudy finally blinked.

She shook her head and rubbed her eyes. “What the-? What am I doing here? I was in the woods…”

Then the memory of her attack hit her and she shrieked, over and over. Toby, not the least bit frightened, held her as tight as he could while she fought her way through the nightmare all over again.

Gabriel moved forward, wanting to comfort her, but a surprisingly stern look from Toby stopped him in mid-stride. “No, Unca Gabel. She my baby. She okay now.”

The room was absolutely silent. Even Trudy was conscious enough to hear and understand Toby’s words, spoken with all gravity and in a way that totally defied his brief years.

Nick merely smiled to himself as he watched the drama play out.

Trudy hugged her little friend and looked around at everyone. She suddenly put a hand to her throat, panic in her eyes.

“No, you’re okay,” Gabriel assured her.

She closed her eyes in relief and sighed, pulling Toby closer. “Thanks to the good God,” she breathed.

“Good thing we heard you out in those woods, and were close enough to get to you,” Pat said.

He pulled something out of his pocket. “Also, this seemed to help a lot.”

Lydia gasped when she saw the object. “Where—where did you get that?” she stammered, pointing to the crucifix on its chain.

“Oh, yeah, I meant to tell you. I found this when Sean and Ryan and I were up at Magma. It was in an old overgrown fountain.”

He noticed his mother’s wide-eyed stare. “Mom? What is it? What’s wrong?”

Lydia opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Finally, after much effort, she was able to rasp, “That’s mine. Vlad took it away the first day he imprisoned me.”

 

Steve grumbled as he kicked through the debris on the floor in one of the Magma offices. He could think of a thousand things he’d rather be doing on a Sunday afternoon in late summer. Not the least of which was to be spending it with Lydia.

But Delilah had beckoned, so in accord with his employers, he had obeyed. And here they were, in an unlit building, trying to make remodeling plans by the light of a setting sun.

He lifted a piece of moldy ceiling tile from the trash on the floor, then yelled and promptly dropped it again when a huge rat scurried out from under it.

“Delilah, really, couldn’t this wait? I can’t give good remodeling advice, or any kind of a price estimate, when I can’t see what I’m doing.”

He peered up at the blown-out ceiling, wondering what in the world had gone off to destroy it so badly. That in itself will cost a fortune, he thought.

“Oh, don’t be silly, Steve. I’m sure you’ll do just fine.” Delilah was sitting on the edge of a desk, idly fingering the abandoned belongings of some long-ago employee.

“Okay, okay, maybe some of the more noticeable items,” Steve conceded. “But it’s getting late, and…” He did a quick visual search for the rat, shuddering at the thought of coming across it again.

“Now, Steven, you’re not going to let a rat scare you off, are you?” Delilah chided, her voice right in his ear. Steve jumped; she was suddenly standing beside him, although he hadn’t seen her move.

“Uh…” He backed away, and turned to pick up some more acoustic tile.

This place is a dump. More of a tearer-downer than a fixer-upper.

He was suddenly very aware of her intense gaze; trying to ignore her, he stepped away and attempted to concentrate on the job at hand.

“First thing we’ll need to do is get a crew in here to clean up this mess, and to cart all these computers and supplies out. No doubt someone will want to come up and claim it. Legalities, you know. You and Howard can keep what isn’t taken.”

Steve turned back to find Delilah sidling up to him again. Her eyes had gone almost completely black.

Steve was transfixed by her stare, but only for a moment. Then he blinked and shook his head.

I’m more tired than I thought, he reasoned. But why does she keep getting so close?

He was startled by an unbidden thought. Unless it’s…no, it couldn’t be. Why me? Why not Howard? He’s much younger and better looking. And why in this godforsaken place?

“Wh-where’s Howard, by the way?” he asked, trying to sound casual. “Isn’t he interested in what we’re doing here? I mean, to the building, of course. I…”

“Howard’s busy,” Delilah said, a hint of distaste in her voice. “Don’t worry, I’ll tell him—everything.”

She was inches from him now, and he could feel her breath on his face. He was backed up against the wall of a cube; he tried to slide sideways and caught his arm on a sharp bit of metal protruding through the join between the cube panels.

He howled in pain. Grabbing his arm, he pushed past Delilah.

“Steve, what did you do?” Delilah sounded genuinely concerned.

“Tore my arm on something.” Steve gritted his teeth and groaned, bending over in agony.

Then he stood straight and glared at Delilah. “This is it. I’m going home, Delilah. I can’t see what I’m doing, and this cut hurts like hell.”

He pulled his hand away to look at it and winced. Blood seeped through the gash, and he had nothing to stanch the flow. When he put his hand back, he was frightened and a little nauseous to see that the blood was coming through from between his fingers.

Delilah put her hand over her mouth, her eyes shocked. “Steve! Oh, dear, you really did hurt yourself. Here, maybe I can help.”

He pulled his arm away from her advance. “No, I am probably going to need stitches. I’m going, now, to see a professional.”

“Please, let me help. I was trained in first aid. Let me at least look at it. I can tell you if you need stitches or not.”

She took hold of his arm and pulled it toward her face. Steve tried to wrest it from her grasp, but was unable to get out of her grip. He was only able to watch, in growing horror, as she seemed to be lifting the cut to her mouth.

“What—what are you doing?” he yelled. He pushed at her and yanked at his arm, to no avail.

Delilah laughed, a little abashedly. “You’re right—the light’s not so good now. I should have taken your advice.”

But she only held tighter. “It’s almost dark. Hold still; I can’t make it out when you’re jerking like that.”

Steve stopped his struggle, mentally berating himself for imagining the worst. Comes from having all those heavenly visitors around, constantly reminding me of the most horrendous time in my life.

He stood, quietly but impatiently, as Delilah squinted at the gash.

“I…think…you’ll…be…okay…” Delilah’s voice had suddenly changed to a husky rasp, her breathing labored.

Before Steve could blink, her mouth was over the wound.

Steve’s stomach lurched as he realized, all too late, that she was sucking on the gash, drawing blood out from him with amazing rapidity. The room started going black, and he felt as if he would drop where he was. He couldn’t even cry out, he had suddenly become so weak.

“Just making sure it’s not…infected…” Delilah purred.

A sudden bang and crash made her jump.

Steve took the chance to pull away, and was sickened by the sight of his arm. The skin on either side of the cut was grey, the skin puckered. He backed away from her, realizing in shock what she had done. Fortunately for him, her attention was drawn to a figure by the far door.

“Sorry, sorry, that was me. Fell over some junk. Man, this place is a mess.” A young man in overalls picked himself up off the floor and waved. “I’m okay.”

“What are you doing in here?” she demanded. “No one’s supposed to be in these buildings yet.”

She was angry; Steve wasn’t sure if it was because of the young man’s presence or because she…

What? What had she done? His mind was blank when he tried to recall what was going on just a few minutes before. It had been right there, some reason to be alarmed, but now it was gone.

The stranger came towards them, a flashlight beam guiding his way. “Boss told me to come up here and get measurements. Carpeting. But it’s way too dark in here for that now.”

“I didn’t order any subcontractors up here yet.”

“Oh. Really? Well, I better go back and tell the boss to check his paperwork.” He grinned. “If he thinks he’s gonna get out of paying me double-overtime, he’s got another think comin’.”

He pointed the flashlight beam towards the door. “Need some help getting out?”

“Sure. Thanks,” Steve answered quickly, interrupting whatever Delilah might have said. He heard her sigh in frustrated resignation as he practically ran to the worker. “Let’s go.”

I don’t care if you want to sit in this burnt-out shell all night. I’m not going to.

Delilah followed behind as the two men left the building.

“Do you need a ride, ma’am?” the young stranger asked.

“No. Thank you. I came out here in my own transportation.” Her words were like ice as she stared angrily at the worker.

“Okay,” he said cheerfully. Then he turned to Steve. “Hey, how about you?”

Then he noticed Steve’s wound. “Oh, wow!” You going to be okay? That’s a nasty tear.”

“I’ll be fine, thanks. I’ll go see a doctor if necessary.”

Steve turned towards his client. “Good night, Delilah.”

But she was gone.

Steve looked around quickly, puzzled. “Well, that was quick.”

“Huh. Sure was.” The youngster looked toward where Delilah had been, and was quiet for a long moment. Then he turned back to Steve.

“Alrighty, guess I’ll see you later. My car’s at the far end of the property. ‘Servant’s entrance’.” He snickered at his own joke and loped off, leaving Steve alone.

Steve shook his head tiredly, got into his truck, and pointed it down the hill toward home. Behind him, unnoticed, his benefactor disappeared in a ray of light.

 

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“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.

 

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“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.”

 

 

 

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“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.

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“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…”

 

 

 

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“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.

 

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