Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Hallow: Part 2

     "What is your name!"
The blow felt like a bag of potatoes had been dropped from ten feet high onto his chest. He was quite certain this lick had cracked a couple of his ribs as the burn raced through the span of his body, the breathing more painful than the assault now. The threshold to stay conscious was beginning to be more and more challenging, fighting the urge to blackout from both the pain and the Electra-shock of his travels to get here. Time was not on his side. He had to work quickly if he wanted to stick to reality this time.
     "I am only going to ask you one more time, you sack of rotten lunch meat, what is your fucking name!"
Where was he? Where had he been prior to getting here? Focus. Ignore the burn in your chest, the shouting in your ears, the difficulty to stand on your own two feet. Where are you?
     "I think we knocked him stupid."
Here was cold and poorly lit. Here smelled of urine and dried puke. Here was an interrogation cell. Dubbed as "The Janitor Room" by the staff. The cell was outside General Population, beyond the prying eye of the security system, out of reach from the Warden, stowed away deep below what was known to the faculty and inmates as, the Hive. The Janitor Closet was far worse than any solitary cell. To those who knew about this place, the mention of it brought immediate obedience to the most seasoned and deadly inmates the Hive had to offer.
     "I think this one has given all he is going to, sir."
     "Too bad. I was just getting my swing down."
The guards all froze at the turn of the doorknob.
     "What the fuck?" The one holding the pillow case filled with soap whispered.
The lunch meat on the floor winced. A guard stifled his grief with the palm of his bloodied hand.
     "Shut up!"
The ringleader among the four guards stepped forward, leaning onto one knee, slapping the cheek of the docile inmate.
     "Yeah. This one is finished. Take him to "Smitty" and tell him this one got himself into some trouble in the yard. He will not rat, if he knows what is good for him," he said as he noshed his teeth on the last bit of his sentence, "This is our little secret, right lunch meat?"

Focus. Let the mind introduce itself to you slowly. Your surroundings dictate actions, actions dictate the outcome of the host. First priority: protect the host. Remember, it is not yours to abuse. You are a visitor here. Observe. Collect. Disband. 

When he woke, he found himself in the medic ward. Each bed was filled with a body, each body a different reason for being here, a shank wound, rape, disease, a failed escape attempt. He tried to move, but the sharp pains overwhelmed him. He grimaced. His chest was tightly wrapped in bandages. He could feel the weight of his beating upon his lips, swollen and bruised. His eyes were puffy, on the cusp of shutting completely, his vision distorted but not blinded. Thank god. Not all trips were successful ones. The last host had been CTD, the most dangerous vessel a traveler could land inside. Close To Death, be it suicide or victim of a violent crime. It was part of the risk involved with Telejumping into a host. First came the disorientation, and then control of the vessel, which was a lot like learning to fly only doing so in complete free fall. Fail to gain control and both the host and the donor instantly crash. The risk was an easy one for Adam. The journey into a host body meant that he could gather some intelligence on the world outside. Perhaps, if he was lucky, find a way to travel to a host that could allow him to find his son. It was a long shot, if any at all, but one he was very much willing to risk life and limb for.

     "Well, you're awake sooner than anyone expected."
Adam concentrated on the motor receptors of the host. Always a difficult task, considering each person was different than the next. If this host brain were considered a bi-plane, Adam's link was set for the controls of a jet plane. This would take some getting used to. He slowly turned his head.
     "A woman?"
     "Good. Your eyesight is not nearly as bad as it looks." She smiled at him.
     "I'm sorry...I just mean-"
     "Too pretty to be working in the medical ward of Saint Luke's Correction Facility? Yeah. That is what I told myself to, before I took the job. It's not as bad as you might think though."
She took his pulse. Her hands soft and oddly warm. Across the room was a small window without any bars that allowed some natural light to flood into the ward.  He assumed it was not much of an escape, since most of the patients were tied to their beds, and those who weren't did not have the strength to lift themselves out of bed.
     "Are you always this pleasant with inmates?"
     "Honestly? No. You don't strike me as a threat though, for some reason, no matter how unassuming that tattoo on your face is."
She picked up a silver plate from the bedside table and held it in front of him. Half his face had been tattooed in black tribal lettering. His face had been pummeled too much to know what any of it said, though he suspected it might have been "ouch" or something to that affect.
She gave him a quizzical look, and then a shot of morphine for the pain. He lifted his head back as the icy medicine soothed the burning in his chest. Ah, now he could clearly see the controls. Drugs held a certain advantage to the donor, allowing for ease of access to the brain. The free fall he had been in prior was now under his control. Like riding a bike, he thought.
     "Do you trust me?"
     "No. You're in prison...for murder, I think."
     "What if I told you I knew things about you that I shouldn't. Would you believe me then?"
     "Unlikely, but go ahead. Wow me."
The inmate closed his eyes. For a moment, it appeared as though the inmate, Jaurez number 119023446 was laying in the bed, and not the person she first walked up to minutes before. His eyes opened, panicked and confused, cursing her and yelling to be released from his binds, and then clam. His eyes opened again, a smile etched across his tattooed face.
     "Your mother, Jean, is battling ovarian cancer. There is an experimental drug called Prothenall that have promising results, however, your mother cannot receive the drug because it has not yet been approved."
The nurse took several confused steps back. She had never seen this man before. There was no way he could have known this. She turned to call for the guard outside, when the inmate called her, this time, by name.
     "Janelle, please. I have very little time. I know you are a devout. Your mother, who is also a devout, would listen to her heart and not her eyes. Please. I am begging you."
Janelle paused. She attempted to hold back her tears.
     "Who are you?"
     "My name is Adam."
     "Adam? Fine, Adam. What do you want with me?"
Janelle turned. Her instincts said there was, at least, a good story she could share with her friends with this one.
     "Okay, Adam, I've nothing else to do right now. Humor me."
Vessel control, transmission is breaking up. Host is resisting reboot. Expect recovery procedure.
     "Jesus...No time...Time...Janelle, I must know the time-"
    "Four Twenty-"
     "No, damn it! Year, time of year!"
His outburst forced Janelle to step back. "Um, 2012...October 30th!"
Mainline breach. Brain stem failure. Recovery imminent. 
     "Where am I? Location...City..."
The inmate tensed. Every muscle in his body converted into a single convulsion. His chest lifted from the bed as though pulled by an unseen force, or the result of a defibrillator shock that brought back a heartbeat more familiar with the body.

Connection lost. 
The pain was nearly unbearable. His head felt as though it were caught between two polar magnets, each refusing to give in to the other's demand for his brain, splitting it down the middle, the static charge rushing down his brain stem into his spine.
     "No! Goddamn it, get me back. Get me back, now!"
Algorithm gateway open. Link unconfirmed. 
     "Same period?"
Confirmed. Host connection not stable. Possible DOA or DIP. Jump not recommended.
     "Noted. Establish link."

The image started out blurry, like all the others. When his visual link removed the static noise, the young woman's face was wet, filled with tears, make up running along her cheeks, cries echoing all around him, and then he saw the barrel pressed against her temple. The most dangerous part of Vesseling was not knowing the host, or the environment of thew host. It was, in the literal sense, the truest form of taking a "Leap of Faith". The image was gruesome in the mirror. There were voices shouting, begging, bargaining...and there was another familiar voice. A demon perhaps. Adam felt the initial impact of the bullet, a deathly blow to the center of the host brain, yet the instant death would not follow.
Interruption. Foreign link detected. Source...Omega 666.111.666.111. 
     "Omega? Root?"
Root relay Omega, source 000.1
     "The Motel?"
Demonic possession...Static...rerouting in 3, 2, 1.
     "No, wait!"

The light ate away the darkness. The pain of its luminosity intense, burning his eyes like pepper spray, a different kind of pain than he was used to. This was a good burn. An easy transition into a new host, a smooth leap inside a vessel that was undisturbed, unconscious.
Link Permalink established. 
     "Open your eyes." A voice low and sweet said.
The smell of rubbing alcohol hit him hard. Its stinging cleanse wiped across his right eyebrow. The nurse was gentle and smiled kindly at him.
     "You got yourself a nasty gash there Sarg. I hope the other guy got what was coming to him."
     "Hmm? Um, yeah. I'm sure he did."
The door opened and in stepped several men, dressed in uniform, armed with attitude and pepper spray. They huddled around him, slapping him on the back, cracking jokes about his injury, making passes at the pretty young nurse tending to him.
     "Jesus H. Christ, Sarg, the fact you walked away from that shit with just a cut and a few scratches is a goddamn miracle!" One said.
     "What the fuck happened back there?" Another asked.
He sat silent while the others continued their joking and flirting. It allowed him enough time to access the memory banks of the host. The two pudgy co's Funny Boy and Eclair were standing to his left cracking jokes, and the tall slender one asking the floor nurse to dinner and a movie was Casanova. Outside the host memory banks, these fellas looked familiar.
     "Those...knuckleheads...will know better next time." Adam replied.
     "Especially that one you threw out a window, Sarg." Funny Boy said.
     "Ended up in worse shape than that other fella, aye Cas?" Eclair said.
     "What other one?" Asked Adam.
     "Just some lunch meat that needed a lesson in manners, Sarg." Casanova said, still focused on the young nurse. "Janelle, is it? How about we grab some dinner after shift?"
     "Janelle?" Adam said.
He turned to the young nurse. Was it possible? Finally, he had leaped into the same period and managed a stable vessel in one link. Adam had once again found his faith, when his well had nearly run dry.
     "Why don't you three get an early start on the paperwork I need on my desk in an hour. Be sure to dot all the i's and cross the t's too. Oh, and Funny Boy, make sure you check on Peter Pan. Lieutenant Mettle will want details with his injuries."
     "Yes sir!"
Casanova kept his eyes on the prize before him.
     "That means you too Cas."
Casanova put his hand next to his right ear, like a pretend phone, mouthing the words, "Call me." as he backed out from the room. Adam's first impulse was to pick up where he had left off with Janelle, but quickly changed his mind. He was now in full control. The game was different now, open to alteration on the fly, his options no longer limited. He thank her for patching him up, and then left the med ward. It was not easy, trying not to react to this new freedom he had sought out for what now felt like an eternity. He made his way out from six house, leaving his post as he reached for his walkie to inform his team of his early leave.

He found his Blue Honda Civic in the parking lot, searching his pocket for the keys, jabbing them into the ignition. On the passenger seat was the morning newspaper, its headline read, "All Hallows Eve: The story behind the tradition." He could not help himself, grabbing the paper and finding the article. Like all myths, this story was filled with inaccuracies, pieced together with witches and goblins to drive sales. If they only knew, he thought, folding the paper and placing it back onto the seat. In the backseat of the car was a black backpack. He reached back for the pack, sitting it in the passenger seat, inspecting it. An extra pair of street clothes, a cellphone, a pistol with an extra clip, and a GPS was inside. There was also a badge.
     "Angel's Security." Adam laughed. He tossed the badge into the pack and laughed again.
He shifted the gear and backed out from the lot and onto the dark road heading west. With Saint Luke's in his rear-view mirror, he plotted his course. He Looked at the clock on the dash. It read, 12:01am. 
     "Happy Halloween, Sargent." He said to the man in the mirror. And then laughed some more.

The lights of the civic rounded the curve as it veered onto the highway. Adam had arrived, and found a host that offered him everything he needed to continue his journey. God had given him a pass. He deserved it. they deserved it. Above all, his son deserved it.  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

The Gospel of Judas

For those few faithful who have followed this blog, Thank You. The hardest thing to do is captivate an audience, especially when you are not as skilled as others in keeping them entertained. The first series of Tales From A Motel focused on Father John Writhe, which was the focus of the overall story in my vastly empty head. His story ended with his "awakening" and the destruction of the Motel. But there was another key arc that was pushed aside for length. Here, I have linked the main arc with the events that occurred after "John" which you can refresh memory HERE. Then comes the "mini" series, if you will, that introduces Sister Aeglaeca into the story. Below is the final of both arcs into one complete plot. One day, this may take on the shape of an actual series of books. Until then, I wanted to give those of you who have been with me, most of the main story line, because I think you all deserve it. As always, I appreciate sharing this, if any of you deem it worthy of such. Enjoy. 


“Let him who seeks continue seeking until he finds. When he finds, he will become troubled. When he becomes troubled, he will be astonished, and he will rule over the All.” – The Gospel of Thomas

The Motel appeared abandoned. It always appeared abandoned. It sat in the middle of an open desert, beneath an orange and crème skyline. The sun had peaked at its zenith, creating a watery mirage beside the Motel’s boarded up doors and windows. The compacted dirt in the parking lot whisked up and formed an occasional cloud of sweltering hot dust. The pickup truck pulled off the barren highway and parked in front of the lobby. The No Vacancy sign hung from its cord, swaying gently long lost to the rusted old nails that once held it in place. Given the nature of the place, one could assume the Motel had remained in this state of asunder for some time but, like the mirages around it, this too was a matter of visual perspective. Ironically, perspective had become central for all things in this world, blurring reality with the surreal post-satanic occupation of Lucifer’s earthly reign.

For the Stranger, the Motel was both an assignment and a curse. He had spent a decade of his life buried deep within the Archives of Rome’s Cathedrals, studying the history that dated as far back as the Apostolic Succession. The Church held many secrets, none more damaging to both the clergy and the faith it instituted than that of the Motel. Like all secrets, the truth can only remain buried for so long, until the unsuspecting comes along and trips over pieces of its forgotten skeleton. A key development in the Stranger’s own understanding of the Motel came some years back, during his own personal encounter with the mysteries of the Motel. The aftermath of his stay remained with him, buried deep inside his subconscious mind, laying in wait, like a sleeping giant, which slowly seeped through like a dripping faucet.

* * * 

He stood silent and majestic, his clothes laden with dust and sand, his feet worn and weary and his toes lacerated from several days of hard travel across Judaea. His mind savagely plagued with guilt and shame, tugging at his heart-strings, pestering him night and day, for turning his back on the man called Jesus of Nazareth, for a mere thirty pieces of silver. He could not help but wonder as Jesus listened to the people persecute him, if an innocent man was worth 30 pieces of silver how much could that same innocent man get for an egregiously traitorous friend?

“I bring before you a guilty man, charged with crimes against the empire, yet I see and hear only from a philanthropist whose actions have not brought disdain for our beloved Rome. Still, you have me send him to his death?” the Prefect shouted to the people.

It was then that Judas noticed a black hooded figure lean down close to Pontius Pilate’s ear. The being spoke, his words heard only by those it wished to hear, and then he faded back into the line of men. Pontius Pilate fell silent. It was evident to Judas that whatever the hooded figured had whispered held more influence over the outcome of the trial than anything Tiberius Caesar could command from the throne. Judas then turned his focus to Jesus. His deep blue eyes fell sullenly towards the ground at his feet. His face was no longer bright instead he appeared worried and crestfallen. The fate of the Messiah was no longer in the hands of Rome or its people. Judas had hand-delivered the Son of God to the Dark Prince of hell. He then heard his Savoir speak to him.

“Remember this day.” The voice was a choir of whispers that lifted his soul onto its own cross in which to bear.

Something chimed from inside the glove compartment of the truck. The driver leaned over the seat, opened the glove box and pulled out a cell phone that lay next to a semi-automatic pistol.


“John? Thank God, you are alive”

“It is good to hear your voice again, Sister Aeglaeca.”

“Where are you John?”

“The Motel.”

“The Motel? Why?”

“To give you back your piece of mind, to restore the damage I’ve done and to hopefully bring closure to an old wound.”

“What are you talking about John? How did you find the Motel again? Tell me how to get to you and-“

“No! You have done enough already. Please, Aeglaeca, trust in me as I trusted in you.”

John looked to the briefcase on the passenger seat. Everything has changed since she and I last spoke.

“What are you not telling me, John?”

“If I find him I am not telling you goodbye, but I promise the ocean and the sun will return to you, this I swear.”

John snapped the cell phone in half and threw the pieces out the window. He sat still, his thoughts focused on the Motel that stood ominous, before him. A lot had happened since his last stay here. Back then, John was just an ordinary man trying to live an ordinary life with his wife Gloria, who was eight months pregnant with their first child. They had decided that his name was going to be Jack, and that his birth was going to change everything for the young newlyweds. Ironically, it would be Jack’s death that brought about the change.

"No, please God, No!"

Shouts escaped from the mangled car, it had spun out of control on the wet pavement, swerved around an oncoming car, rolled onto its side several times before wrapping itself around a tree that cut through it like a hot knife through butter. The back of the car erupted into flames, caused by a ruptured fuel tank, which licked the rainfall and sizzled as the twisted metal cooled. The fuel spread throughout the wreckage, along the roadside and into the front end of the vehicle that once had been the family SUV. Amazingly, the two occupants inside the vehicle were still alive. Each in distress, bleeding heavily from deep cuts caused by the shattered windshield, and bones surely broken during the violent impacts, but, nonetheless, alive. The driver, fading in and out of consciousness, unbuckled his seat belt, but found that his legs were pinned beneath the steering column. His passenger moaned, muttered words lost in the chaos of the accident, and then fell silent again. Fighting the urge to pass out, he reached for the latch of his passenger's seat belt trying to shore up the grip it had around her neck; but his fingers came a half an inch short from freeing her. Her lacerated face did not express anguish, still beautiful as the day he laid eyes upon it, masked by blood it would be the last image he ever had of his beloved pregnant wife.

They took my only son from me. A small part of him, the part driven by vengeance, was thankful for the angel that spared his life that day; but the rest of him had long died, inside that car.

Rife with ferocious anger, the Stranger stepped out from the pickup. The toxicity of the air burned his lungs laced heavily with sulfur. It was a constant reminder of Satan’s earthly reign, a sign of the apocalypse, the smell of victory for the Horde and the fall of God’s people. John approached the lobby door. He placed his hand against the glass, watching it ripple across the chalky surface of the door, distorting the span of the Motel as a whole. He grinned. Vanity- it had always been his favorite Sin. John pushed his hand through the vortex and slowly stepped through to the other side.

Judging by the unexplained weather events playing out on the small television monitor sitting on a counter in the lobby, hell had become significantly cooler. Hellfire and Brimstone had always been descriptors for Hell, but now, on earth, Hell meant record snowfalls in regions across the globe that had never seen a snowflake. It was a nice touch, the demon thought, as it perched behind the counter. The images on the screen were of the Sahara, which had unseasonably cooled during the day rather than at night, bringing its first new snow since 1979. This frosting, however, changed the landscapes of Cairo with endless slopes of fresh powder to traverse, with a backdrop to frozen pyramids skirted with ice. Coastal shorelines flooded inland, up to fifty miles in some lower sea-leveled communities, turning rural towns into wetlands, threatening countless lives, uprooting families who had never even seen the ocean. Believers waited, scouting the heavens for the Horsemen to come. They waited for the sound of trumpets to thunder across the sky. They waited for seals to be broken. They waited for God’s winged warriors to ascend from Heaven and slay the Beast of Hell. The Horde swept across the world like an incurable plague and, still, the people waited.

It did not take long for the churches of the world to fade into obscurity. Religion had already become shrouded in mockery- the scandals had ripped through the heart of the faithful. They submitted to the Horde. Without His presence, humanity would have no other choice if it were to survive.
The demon lifted its deformed little head from the monitor and greeted its guest. One of the Damned stood inside the archway holding another lost soul captive. The poor bastard wiggled like a worm from the end of a hook, pleading for mercy, fighting reality with what he had once only known as scary stories preached to him as a child in church. The Devil was real, and very much in command. When the Damned finally spoke, its voice started as a distant scream that grew louder as it pushed the air from its scorched lungs, wailing to its master.

“Ahhnother one of Hhhisss fffaithhful.”

The man squabbled, pulling at the demon’s arm, trying to keep his feet from being drug along the floor. The demon jumped down from its perch, and scampered over to the human. It could not have been more than four or five feet tall with a long scaly tail snaking along behind it. It was also very skinny almost corpse-like with much of its skeleton protruding from its blood red skin, plagued with blotches of dead black flesh- daily floggings had left the demon permanently spotted. The demon ran up the man’s leg and swung around his torso. The demon looked directly into the man’s eyes and grinned, and exposed a single finger, which it then used to carve “666” into the man’s forehead. The Demon leapt onto the floor and waived the Damned away, “Throw it into room 18.” The forehead carving was not part of any indoctrination; it simply enjoyed religious traditions and the usage of its baseless assumptions.

* * *

The tide gently rolled up onto the shore. Sister Aeglaeca lost herself in the peaceful beauty of the ocean. Surrounded by white sands, open blue skies and blissful puffs of white clouds hanging overhead, this place had always been her safe house in which nothing could touch her. Here, no harm could come to her. On the outside, her body would often feel the unwarranted beatings of an abusive father, but the sting of parental distrust never soured her heart here. This place, gifted to her by her guardian Archangel Grigori, had sheltered her in her most desperate of times, but now her world had suddenly turned topsy-turvy. Appearing to her on the beach, the Archangel looked defeated. His wings were charred and ruffled with deep gashes that oozed black angel blood. Grigori stood several feet away from her, with a desolate look about his perfectly scarred face.

“I’m sorry my dear, I’ve failed you.”

“I do not understand.”

“Beyond the sea, the enemy has closed in on you. Too numerous for me and I have become overwhelmed, thus you will soon wake and find yourself in the aftermath of battle. I will not be there, but promise that I am always by your side.”

The angel faded. The ocean pulled back into the sea, which was now the color of crimson, and the sand had discolored with the blood of the fallen and the sky was now bruised black and blue. Sister Aeglaeca clutched at her stomach. The pain was sharp and sudden. When she opened her eyes, the room was ablaze. There were fallen demons all around her, some without their limbs and others that lay motionless as flames licked at their blackened flesh. It took all that she had inside her to roll off the splintered table, choking on the smoke filling her lungs, crawling beneath the plumes and over the dead on her way towards the exit. Images of battle pieced together before her eyes. Blood stained her habit, her skin, her hair, her fingernails- the ends broken and splintered with the flesh of her enemies. She tasted her victim’s blood on her tongue, spitting out remnants of a demon’s finger onto the floor. With a single excruciating breath, she lunged into the burning hallway. Her body felt like gravity had gripped her, squeezing her lungs with the slightest movement. Sweat stung her open wounds, and her ankle snapped under her weight as she attempted to stand. The heat from the flames no longer affected her, too numb to notice the burn and too embattled with her wounds to care. She fought the darkness, inching her way further along the hall, refusing to give in. As she slowly made her way to the exit, dragging herself along the floor with the assistance of her sword, her focus was solely on the exit door and escaping the burning building.

The door gave way to her body and she spilled into the darkness outside. Sister Aeglaeca fell onto the snow-covered pathway, her shattered ankle screaming up her leg, into her torso, sparking every pain receptacle in her brain to fire at once. The fresh snow melted the moment it touched her pinkish red skin, soothing her burns and easing the swelling of her joints. Once safely out of harms way, she collapsed into a snowman and lost consciousness. Upon regaining consciousness, she felt tiny hands pull at her hair, while some felt at her breast and others tried to find access up through her habit. One child, a boy about the age of twelve, with a tattoo of the number of the beast across his chin felt something sharp and colder than snow press against his throat. Seeing the glimmer of a blade in the pale moonlight, the other children dispersed, leaving the boy at the mercy of the young nun who threatened to remove his head from his shoulders with the slightest twist of her hand.


The boy looked perplexed. Once he felt the edge of the blade nick his skin, he understood. The boy shut his eyes and began, “Our Father, who art in Heaven”

“There’s a good boy.”

After a few moments, the boy opened his eyes and the nun was gone.

Flames reached up into the night sky, where a flock of winged creatures passed a block away from where she had last seen Father Writhe and Grigori. Sister Aeglaeca turned- Vapula, she thought. Probably just scouts attracted to the firelight, like moths to a flame. She walked among the shadows, sticking to alleys and backstreets, keeping out of sight as much as she could to avoid patrols. There were many patrols, lead by Cerberus hounds that could smell purity from a significant distance. The advantage of being a warrior for the Holy Bridge was that there was no purity in war. Murder was acceptable in the right scenarios, even God resulted to violence in order to bring forth peace. There was no way to avoid it- sometimes a flood was the only way to cleanse a world lost to chaos. For Sister Aeglaeca, her sword was no different, and the Holy Bridge supported her violence no matter how much blood she spilled, for they were the ones who taught her how to wield it. She moved along the side of a wall, paying close attention to the long slash down her forearm. Her wound had all but healed since her escape. She stopped, thrusting her back against the shadows. A Cerberus hound crept across the end of the alley, sniffing the air with all three of its heads. After a moment, and with some objection from one of its heads, the beast moved on with half a dozen Damned trailing behind it. She reached the end of the alleyway and spotted a lone phone-booth sitting across the street. Once inside the phone booth, she dialed and silently prayed for an answer.

“If I find him I am not telling you goodbye, but I promise the ocean and the sun will return to you, this I swear.”

“John? John!” She slammed the receiver onto the hook, pressing her forehead against the chilled glass.

Sister Aeglaeca closed her eyes and for the first time, she could not see her safe house. The warmth of the sun was no longer kissing gently against her cheeks and the ocean now a sea of infinite salt and sand. Only the darkness remained. She remembered the words spoken to her by the Angel. She stood for a moment inside the phone booth and watched the world beyond the icy glass, tears streaming down either side of her bruised cheeks. It was all like an awful dream from which she could not wake. There was no order. No authority, only the rule of the Horde, cold and unforgiving, remained. What more could one man and one woman do that God could not himself? At least they had the might of an archangel at their side, but even the grace of Grigori had not been enough. She lowered her head to pray, then realized there were enough prayers in the world to go around, deciding on something more tangible. Sister Aeglaeca reached inside her habit and removed her blade. Her sword was the only thing that still made clear and concise sense to her, glimmering against the frozen glass of the phone booth, the only tangible answer she had that had not failed her. She prayed for her safety, and for the safety of John, keeping a continuous eye on the outside. When she spotted an unsuspecting patrol, she opened the door to the phone booth and bolted for her enemies. Lucifer had taken everything she loved away, and now it was time for her to take something back knowing she would likely die in the process. For now, however, the avenging nun lived- may God show her enemies’ mercy for her sword shall only serve them justice.

There was a knock at the front lobby door. A small panel opened up to the visitor standing outside. He wore a black brimmed hat and long black trench coat. His head was lowered just enough so that the demon could not make out his face.

“Demon or Damned?”

There was no answer and the demon would not get the chance to ask again, the tiny metallic object penetrated its frontal lobe and exited out from the back of its skull. The demon buckled under the weight of its death, falling to the ground. The lobby door opened and in stepped the Stranger. He walked confidently and purposefully, making a mental note of all available exits and cover in case his cocky swagger were challenged by any one of the demons looking on. The Demon, sitting at the front desk, looked up, once more, from the monitor. Its blood red eyes caught sight of the unexpected guest and turned towards him. The Stranger approached the desk and placed his briefcase upon it, smiling beneath his hat. The demon sniffed the air cautiously.

“You’re no demon. Damned, perhaps, but certainly not demonized.” The small demon said as it sneered.

The Lobby now felt fuller, tinged with the sickly smell of seared flesh. The Damned lurched closer, hissing, screeching with anticipation. It was hard to know who had the upper hand in the Lobby, a room full of hell spawn or a mortal man who spoke calmly and respectfully as he opened his briefcase, showing it to the Demon.

“I’d like a room.”

“Would you now? And whom might I ask are you?”

The Stranger ran his thumbs over the locks of the briefcase, unlatching them. Demons do not frighten easily, spending eternity in hell tends to thicken one’s skin; however, the contents of the briefcase raised the kind of fear within the demon that only the devil himself could raise.

“Doesn’t look quite the same as I remember.”

The Stranger sat the weapon onto the counter and patted it, “times have changed since it was last used. There are more practical uses for metal these days.”

The demon sat back on its perch. Curiously concerned, the Demon sneered.

“You cannot defeat him.”

“I will not ask as nicely the second time.”

The demon held its hand up to its mouth and regurgitated a small triangular-shaped key, and then placed it onto the counter, pushing it through the little opening in the glass.

“Come to exorcise some demons have you father?” Spotting the white collar the Stranger wore around his neck, the demon snickered.

“Just one.”

The Stranger closed the lid of the briefcase and took the key, placing it into his pocket.

“Forgetting something, father?” The Demon asked tapping the glass indicating the pistol on the counter.

“There was only enough metal for the one bullet. Consider it a keepsake.”

* * * 

The hill of Golgotha was filled to capacity, yet eerily quiet. If you closed your eyes, the feel and the sound of the surrounding people suggested something other than a crucifixion was occurring. They prayed but did so to themselves. It felt like everyone was waiting for the clouds to part and the hand of God to reach down and pluck his son from his wooden cross. The smell of blood and urine was thick in the air, putrid and acidic on the tongues of those who lingered at the foot of the cross, whose acronym read INRI. From the high wall of the city, Judas could clearly see the Lord as his life faded from his body. Judas’ eyes welled up. He turned away from the hell mound that would later be central in the eventual construction of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. It was then that he heard the second words spoken by Jesus from Calvary. "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." The fading Messiah then turned his head towards the gates and whispered, “Except for you Judas, you shall live forever.”

They were words that haunted Judas Iscariot day in and day out. Words that had brought him here to the gates of a rich man whose name remained a secret from his memory. He handed over his silver and shook the man’s cold and bony hand. The man turned away from him, leaving Judas to the field in which a single colossal tree stood bare of its leaves. He ascended the tree, climbing up to its highest branch, where he removed his rope belt from his waist, tying one end around the branch and the other into a noose that he then slipped over his head. Surely, no man could live forever- death would be his salvation. It would be his way of asking for forgiveness, an eye for an eye. Acting on impulse, he tossed himself off the branch and fell back to the earth. The noose tightened at his neck, his body reacting instinctively, his hands reached up and grasped hold of the rope. Slowly the rope slipped through weakening fingers. Immortality was for the frail weak souls who feared what waited beyond the darkness- yet Judas could not will himself to let go.

John pushed the key into the slot. Instantly, the key sparkled and grew hot, burning his fingers despite his leather glove. He let go of the key and watched as it melted in the slot, oozing from the keyhole onto the ground at his feet. The door opened slowly, and a brisk chill rushed out into the hallway. John stepped inside and kicked the door closed with his heel. The darkness swallowed him whole. The layout of the room had never left him, moving freely without light into the bathroom where he placed the briefcase onto the sink. He opened the briefcase and felt inside, removing the objects from within. He could hear scratching at the door and at the boarded up window outside the bathroom, signs of the damned clawing at the entry, finding that the knob refused to turn in their hands. The nails in the boards would not tear away from the siding and the boards themselves would not splinter at their demands. The Priest had called to the Motel and it had willingly answered him.

John felt around in the darkness and sat on the edge of a tub, legs in front and his hands resting in his lap. He felt the energy growing within the Motel Room, sweeping inside the bathroom with him. It felt to John as though a hundred unseen serpents coiled up from his feet, toiling at his legs, and slithering around his torso to his chest. The dark energy swelled around him, spitting its sulfuric breath into his face. When it finally spoke, it did so through John’s own lips.

“Why have you returned here, Priest?”

John tried to speak, but found that his voice was no longer in his control. Instead, he thought about his answer and pushed it out from his mind.

“We both know why I am here.”

In front of him, two candlewicks caught flame. The light illuminated the bathroom in an orange glow. A large rectangular mirror projected a man sitting on the edge of a tub, whose silhouette moved with John, but John knew it was not his reflection in the mirror. Between the burning candles there lay a leather pouch and an old rust encrusted spearhead that seemed to draw the attention of the man in the mirror.

“I’ve spent most of my waking life asleep, dreaming of a life that was not my own. Believing I was someone else, walking among this estranged world and pretending that I belong. Then the accident happened and slowly everything started to become clear to me.”

John rose. He took the spearhead into his hand and placed it against the mirror. He knew the Motel was more than just a gateway to hell, or a conduit between heaven and hell. If he were to reach that place in which Judas Iscariot resided, he would need a tool that could match the awesome power the Motel pooled inside its satanic walls. There was only one thing in this world he could think of that would hold such divine gifts, the Holy Lance of Gaius Cassius Longinus- the weapon that pierced into the side of Jesus Christ. The spearhead cut into the glass like a diamond, carving out a small hole in the mirror. John sat the glass to the side and stood silent. He noticed that there was now a hole in the stomach of the man beyond the mirror, unaffected by the anomaly, he continued to watch John, quizzically.

“When I realized what had happened, there was nothing I could do. The deed had already been signed in the blood of my Gloria and...Something far worse than my own death introduced itself to me…you. ”

In the darkness, the air was now heavy with the fumes of gasoline. Echoes of Gloria resonated, as well as a kindred spirit of an unborn child.

“I offered you a second chance. A purpose in which to fulfill, and you graciously accepted.”

“You offered me eternal damnation!” The thought raced out from John’s mind with such fury, the cries and weeps of both Gloria and his unborn son, Jack, dispersed into oblivion. “That is what I learned here. Drawn to this purgatory for lost souls, this gateway between heaven and hell, forced to live a lie so that you could find Him- failing in your poor attempt at penance.”

“And so you defy the laws of your God in order to do what? Come here and smite me? Hell has overcome the Earth and you focus your attention towards a petty vengeance you cannot possibly serve. What will you do, here, John? What can you do?”

“Free us.”

John took the pouch in hand and unstrung the thin piece of twine from around it. The contents of the leather pouch clinked together and chimed like chain mail against the ceramic sink. John could now feel the anguish inside that was Judas. Freeing him, along with Judas, was not just a euphemism, but an act of God Judas never considered himself.

“He will never allow you to do that. This world is his now, the battle has already been won outside this forsaken Motel. God has moved on, John.”

“You sound pleased.”

“Lucifer and I are one, you might say, indebted to the other. My sin opened up the doorway he needed. I suspect you shall not make it much further in your plans. Both worlds are now his. You have no tactical advantage in this.”

“And that, Judas, is where you both are wrong.”

The scratching and screeching of the Damned outside the Motel room grew louder and more enraged, desperate now to gain access inside. Word of the Priest’s presence quickly spread up through the Horde, reaching the throne of hell itself. Lucifer listened intently to his Marquis tell him of the man some had called the Judas Priest. Without reply, the Dark Prince of hell rose from his throne, his massive red and black wings unfurled at his back, lifting him among the ranks of hell, spiraling like a mythical dragon upwards inside the Ninth Gate that would transport him to the Motel.

It was during his yearlong stay in Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano that John found an old Index entitled “Ταξίδι του νεκρομάντη” or “The Journey of the Necromancer” The Index referenced Dante and his supposed encounter with Charon, which seemed astray among Christian Codex. Nevertheless, John found the answer he needed to return to Judas, where the Devil’s influence was more restrained- on neutral ground. He poured the contents onto the sink in front of the opening. “Think about what you’re doing, John.” Hearing these words felt odd to him, having repeated them many times over before. On the sink lay several silver coins, twenty pieces to be exact, that looked, even in the dull candlelight, to be very old. John then recited Charon’s incantation over and over, “Tibi, quaere, qui locus mortuorum.” He reached into his pocket and produced a gold obolus. On one side was the face of a bearded man and the other of a boat crossing a river, he placed it in his mouth. From the opening in the mirror, a thin bony hand reached out, palming the coins into its fleshless hand, and then retreated inside the mirror. Moments later, the hand reached hauntingly from within the mirror a second time, this time asking for a different kind of payment.

“John, it doesn’t have to end this way.”

“Yes, Judas, it does.”

John touched the skeletal fingers that spread out and wrapped around his hand like a spider trapping its prey, pulling his hand, and eventually his entire self, in through the glass, but not before John could snatch up the Holy Lance from the sink.

There was nothing but the infinite darkness around him.

Slowly, the world filled with light. John found that he was now standing in a large field, stained crimson in color. He felt things crawling on his tongue, spitting he found that the obolus had turned to maggots. Twenty yards from John was a lifeless tree and the hung corpse of Judas Iscariot.

“I look like hell.” Judas began, still speaking through John, “His ears must have been ringing this whole time. Eye to the western skyline, behold, the Devil has come to collect.”

Had it been a painting, the picture would have suddenly and without warning started to bleed from top to bottom, the portrait would blur into one singular phantasm of color racing across the canvas. John could just make out what appeared to be a black dragon in the middle of the prism of chaos. It was only a matter of time, before Satan made his presence felt. John hurried towards the tree, reaching for a branch that snapped under his weight. He tried again on the opposite side of the tree, this time finding a branch that supported him. Carefully, but hastily, John climbed higher, trying not to pay attention to the beast growing nearer with each powerful thrust of its wings, ignoring the terrible howl it produced. Below, the ground swirled and hissed as Vipers and Cobras slithered anxiously, waiting for one careless step. Judas also screamed at him, his brain felt caught between visceral vice grips, squeezing, crushing his will one word at a time. Lucifer then raised his massive reptilian chest, sucking in the sulfuric air, blowing out a great swirling storm of fire and ice, raining hale over Aceldama, pelting John all over his body and head. The sulfur burned his lungs, breaking him down, piece by piece, as he reached for the final branch and pulled himself out onto its limb.

Judas’ corpse swung violently in the winds, his perfectly preserved body had long lost its soul, but still carried the burden of its sin. Meant to hang for eternity, just outside the golden gates of heaven, the hand of the Judas Priest was inches now from cutting through the rope that fashioned the noose of torment at the neck. Lucifer now close enough to smell the fear on John, swooped in as the Holy Lance bit into the ancient ropes. John only saw the darkness inside Lucifer’s mouth, as the corpse of Judas fell to earth, swallowing him whole. All was calm. The outcome unknown, however, everything felt right in the world, the voices silent. The pain and suffering now soothed, healed over without scabbing. Finally, both John and Judas were free.

The ocean crawled up onto the beach and tickled the ends of Sister Aeglaeca’s feet. Beyond the tide, life, outside her safe house, waited for her return. She no longer sensed Grigori; however, there was the presence of another. It was familiar yet distant, like a memory, which she could not quite place. She laid her sword at her side and squeezed the warm sand between her fingers. She was comfortable again- complete. She could not distinguish death among the living and did not care to pursue either one. She felt in her heart of hearts that there was enough time to know for sure, but, for now, she would sit here and enjoy the sunrise and a promise kept by a friend.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Hallow: Part 1

Her face hung like Davinci's Mona Lisa in his mind, silent and beautiful, with twilight colored hair than hung well past the small of her back, and eyes of opulent sapphires that sparkled like gems inside a treasure box under the pale moonlight. Her cream colored skin was without a single wrinkle, no imperfections of any sort, smiling at him with a calming embrace.. Her lips moved, mouthing in Arabic the words, "I am Knowledge. I am the fruit from the tree." She reached out her hand, calling for his own, guiding him through the twilight, cold shivers running the length of his spine like current along a live wire. She pulled him into a void of intangible weight and structure, no solid ground to stand upon, no sense of "here" as though he were whisked into a dream inside a mind not his own. Several yards ahead, a tree, bare of its foliage, burned intensely inside the void of nothing. He turned and gazed blankly at the woman's face, shimmering in the firelight. She squeezed his hand tighter.

"Before you is the tree. Once, a tree full of life. Its fruit plentiful and infinite in its wisdom. The beginning of all things. The seed of life. His gift to us.The tree of knowledge, now the burning bush, an echo of Him. Our salvation. The tree is dying, its flame withering, the knowledge fading. It fades because the knowledge base has severed its connection with us. The gift in which I gave unto all has been cast aside in these dark times."

He looked on to the burning tree and listened to the crackling of its bark, simmering into oblivion. The tree of knowledge? His young unfocused mind was beginning to piece together the puzzle before him. Then a faint voice echoed all around him, which seemed to have affected the woman clutching his hand.

"Our Lord, the true prince of time, gave us the power, contained within the fruit of this tree, consumed by me, my gift unto all mankind, banished for my sins from the garden of Eden-"

"Eve!" The voice now closer was heard shouting.

The name enraged the woman gripping his hand, turning to him, her face noshing fangs and her eyes like two exploding stars, burning with a fire he could feel within his chest. It all happened within a fraction of a second, the force of her hand pulling him towards her, her face bent and angry, her mouth gaping with needle-like teeth zeroing in on the veins of his neck.

"Eve, no!"

An arm pierced through the darkened void, grabbing the woman's head, pulling it safely away from the shaken young man. A second arm fought through the void and wrapped around her waist, pulling her against the nothing. She released her grip, struggling with her unseen attacker. Her once perfect face now reptilian in appearance, strained and hissed, lashing at the air with her long pink tongue, the slit of her eyes never leaving sight of its target. His own disbelief kept him trapped within her Medusa-like gaze, which allowed her to make a final attempt at his throat. Unable to see the whiplash of her serpentine tail, coiling at his neck and squeezing, the last thing he could recall was the sound of his own neck snapping.

11:49pm The eve of Halloween

Norman Hallows sprung up from his bed, his momentum carrying him off the side onto the floor. He could still feel the pressure around his neck, finding a new appreciation for the air rushing into his lungs. His bedroom door opened, with a shadowy hand flicking the light switch on the wall.
     "Norman. Are you all right?" His mother asked, helping him back into his bed.
     "Yeah mom, I'm fine. Just had...a strange dream."
     "Probably had too much to eat earlier."
His mother placed the covers back over him. She smiled. Her smile reminded him of the woman from his dream.
     "Mother. Do you remember the story you once told me as a child, the one about the burning tree?"
     "The Apple of Sodom. I remember."
     "Tell it to me again."

The request caught her off guard. Nevertheless, she continued to smile at her son, and then told the story once more to him. The story he remembered was of an unfaithful Thane, whose wife suspected him of adultery. She claimed he had been seen, dressed as a woman to avoid detection from the King's royal guard, spending long nights inside his harem of whores. The Thane swore on his life and land that his heart belonged to his suspicious wife; but, she wanted more than a politician's promise. She expressed her concerns to her King, who immediately turned to a local Warlock, promising him asylum within his Kingdom to practice his dark arts in return for his services. The Warlock concocted a potion that he then used to soak apple seeds with, planting them in the royal orchard. The magical tree grew quickly, sprouting its fruit that was then placed inside the King's harem. When the Thane finally showed himself again, he indulged in the King's ripest fruits and finest wines as well as his best women, relishing in not only pulling the wool over his wife's eyes, but those of his old foolish King.

The next evening, the Thane's wife woke to find that her husband had not yet returned from his labors. She set out to inform the King who, along with the Thane's wife, went to his harem. Each whore was dressed in evening attire, all wearing ceremonial mask and long white veils. It was consider disrespectful to know the identity of the harem, therefore, the King could not simply have them remove their mask and reveal their true selves. Instead, he ordered them to stand in a line, calling for his Warlock. He stood at arms length, inspecting each one, without a single touch or word expressed. He paused before one of the women, who did all she could not to tremble.
     "This is your man." He said.
     "Are you Sure?" asked the King.
     "Quite sure, your majesty. The fruit is filled with a non-lethal poison that irritates the throat in males, breaking out in a rash that is further agitated by one scratching at the infection, as this one has been doing."
The Thane dropped to his knees and begged for mercy. His wife broke out into tears, insulted in the highest regard a man could hand to his spouse. The King took no mercy. The Thane would be hung by the neck from the very tree that bore the fruit, as a gift to his new bride, and then immediately set fire to. His execution would be both a warning and lesson to those who dared commit acts against one of God's most sinful commandments. His land would become an Apple orchard, and the wife would wed the King, for his pity for her was great and merciful.

     "Okay. That would explain the dream. Why would you tell that to a child?"
She sat quiet for a moment, and then took her son by the hand.
     "Now, your turn to tell me a story. This dream, you saw a burning tree? Was that all?"
Norman told his mother about his dream, the woman and how she turned into a snake. But, it was the voice calling out to him that peeked her interest the most.
     "Do you know who it was?" She asked.
     "It...sounded a bit"
     "I see."
She leaned over and kissed him on his forehead.
     "Enough stories for now. You get some rest. Tomorrow is going to be a big day for you. For us all."
As she started to shut the door, Norman called to again.
     "Mother. The woman, from my dream...she mentioned the Garden of Eden. Wasn't that the name of the Thane's wife from the story?"
His mother switched off his light. She lowered her head as she half nodded. "Yes, son. It was."
Norman lay in his bed. He turned to the clock on his bedside table. 12:00am
     "Halloween. Never liked the day much, myself." He said as his eyes closed and he feel back to sleep.

Norman's mother slipped back into her bed, trying not to disturb her husband.
     "Everything all right dear?"
     "Yes, my love. Norman just had a nightmare is all. He is fine now."
     "Do you need me to go check on him too?"
     "No. You go back to sleep too."
She lay silent, looking up to the ceiling. The worry of a mother was beginning to cause a light sweat to develop on her forehead. Halloween was upon them. 18 years had come and went too quickly, she thought. She turned to her husband and held him close.
     "Goodnight, My sweet Adam."