Loading...
Menu
Ebooks   ➡  Fiction  ➡  Christian  ➡  Fantasy

The Resurrectionist Book II: Lost People

p<{color:#000;}.

The Resurrectionist Book II

Lost People

Michael Gesellchen

Copyright © 2016 Michael Gesellchen

All rights reserved.

ISBN: 153729718X

ISBN-13: 978-1537297187

“Through me you go into a city of weeping; through me you go into eternal pain; through me you go amongst the lost people.”

-Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

Exile

I’m damned.

A curse placed square upon my shoulder.

I won’t seek forgiveness. It cannot be found.

I won’t seek understanding. It cannot be comprehended.

The man next to me knew the aforementioned affliction like none other, exiled from a loving embrace, forsaken. Our hands shook violent against wet cheeks and shallow breath, bound by a brotherhood of brokenness. His curse betrayed a prince. My curse sold the world.

Chapter 1

You’re all going to face it someday, the strangest oddest feeling, empty and alone. Standing outside your body, looking into the lifeless shell of your former self. We’ve all looked into a mirror, this is different, way different. You’ve never seen yourself from the outside, how others see you. It changes your perspective, for better or for worse … I guess that depends.

My passing; two weeks before my eighteenth birthday. I never made it to manhood. People were crying, classmates I’d never known. I wasn’t sure they even knew my name. Guilt tightened my heart. I should have taken more time, put in a greater effort to know them. I was wrong to stay so hidden all those years.

The gymnasium was packed full. People made me nervous. It’d always been that way. The fear of being the center of attention followed me into death. You’d think when you die everything about you that was broken gets fixed. It doesn’t work like that. The crap you drag with you only gets bigger. My advice, clear your slate, leave nothing unfinished.

They hung my football jersey next to my picture. A banner stretched across the gym, a pink heart with # 81 inside. Coach talked to a group of students and parents sitting on metal folding chairs about my work ethic and what a team player I was. It was kind of him, but from his clichéd speech, he didn’t know the real me.

They ushered in the family … my family. Attending your own funeral, they don’t prepare you for that. Mother’s body shook, held up by grandmother, heavy from the weight of losing a son to tragedy. Grandma was a rock … but not today. No parent should have to bury a child, let alone a grandparent. Dad followed behind, hand on mom’s shoulder, eyes cast forward above the casket, unable to look directly. They took their seats and I floated over, looking into each pair of eyes, trying to find the heart. I couldn’t … it was gone.

I turned, face clenched in agony, unable to stop the crying. I let them down. Logic tells you that getting murdered isn’t your fault, but a piece of you feels like it is, like you could have prevented your fate had you been a better person, had you taken a better path. My family would never know the truth. I didn’t die in a crash. I was murdered. Truth could have given purpose to my death, a way for them to turn their anguish into action.

The angst that runs through you when you watch a loved one experience that level of pain will cause you to wish for annihilation. Hell was bad, watching my family was a nightmare. The only thing holding me upright was knowing the culprits would be held accountable for the pain they created. Remorse will drown them one day, causing great repentance; maybe eons from now, but judgment will come to pass.

Principal Johnson offered his sympathies and thanked everyone for coming before inviting Justin to the stage. My spirit followed closely behind as he stumbled on his way to the platform. It was unlike Justin to be so nervous in front of a crowd, maybe he was sorry. True remorse causes the soul to tremble.

“Thank you all for attending.” I stood next to Justin as he looked upon all the mourners in the crowd. “It would mean a lot to Will to see everyone here. I believe he is with us today, smiling.” Justin began his eulogy.

“Yeah bro, I’m right behind you, but you’re wrong about the smiling part.” I whispered into his right ear, forcing a stutter.

“Um, he … Will is, was, is … a good person, one of the best I’ve known.” Justin shook. “It took time and effort to get to know Will. He liked privacy, but once he let you in, it was well worth the effort. When I moved here two years ago I didn’t know a soul. I admit I approached Will because he looked lonelier than me. We hit it off right away. My only regret, I got but two years with him. William Stark had no enemies.”

“Except for you,” I whispered into Justin’s left ear. He paused, stumbling over his words, sensing a negative vibration.

“Will was one of those people who was easy to like. His quiet kindness made you drop your guard around him. You could talk to him about anything. He was a gentle listener.” Justin said.

“I can smell the crap coming out of your mouth. Brush your teeth. It’s disgusting.” I said before looking out into the crowd. Randy was in the third row, crying. I always thought nothing bothered him. Justin’s words moved a lot of people in the gymnasium. If Justin was lying, faking his remorse, he was one hell of an actor.

I can’t believe Justin had the nerve to speak at my funeral. He did nothing to prevent my death. It’s was Corbin’s hand and knife that severed the silver cord tying my spirit to its earthly body, ending my final breath … but Justin was just as guilty. My blood covered his soul. Curse the day I got involved with Justin and Corbin and their bedeviled Project Gateway. Gateway was meant to bring salvation to the lost, at least that’s what they lead me to believe. I was destined to enter the spirit world a crusader of the damned, instead Gateway became the orchestrator of my destruction. I regret the day I didn’t grab the nearest blunt object and destroy Project Gateway when I first set eyes on it.

Principal Johnson thanked Justin for his words and talked about how Millersville had seen too much tragedy, how it needed time to heal. I’d like to think his words reached the hearts of the students. Young people are the keys to change, elders are set in their ways. Maybe someday Millersville would break from its intolerance and closed mindedness that the Puritan movement worked so hard to spread.

Justin hugged classmates after my funeral. People thanked him. The aggression in my body swelled to boiling. Justin was a murderer, not a source of comfort. I screamed for people to listen but no one heard.

The gymnasium slowly emptied. I followed Justin home after the last piece of cake had been served, riding in his car, a ghost in the passenger seat. Unable to fight the heinous thoughts, my hands gripped firmly down on Justin’s neck, inflicting a slight tickle in his throat. He reached for a cough drop, like that could save his wretched soul.

The phone rang from the console next to him. “Corbin, I wasn’t expecting to hear from you.” Justin’s voice cracked as he swallowed the remains of the half chewed lozenge. A soft, “ok,” his only remaining utterance.

Justin pulled into his driveway and removed the key from the ignition. I stood outside his bedroom window, reluctant to follow. Frost lined the edges of the glass pane, the earth cold and hard. Almost a year had passed since Justin and I walked down the worn gravel road leading to the old Victorian house that held the mysteries of Project Gateway in its dingy basement.

Creeping in the darkness and hiding in the shadows, I watched Justin’s movements. He wasn’t the confident person I’d known in life. He was changed, afraid of something.

Part of me felt sorry for Justin, a slave, brainwashed and robotic. His future held no promise. After a life of slavery, death would be the same. An eternity of servitude to the unholy, unless he was resurrected; the reason I was here. When you die they send you back. Some sort of mission training, Code of the Resurrectionist, at least that’s what John told me.

Justin was in too deep to simply walk away. In time, Corbin would take him out, unwilling to risk Justin exposing Gateway and all its dark secrets. I needed Justin’s attention. I’d learned a few tricks during my time at the Richmond farmhouse. A time I recall with horrid disgust. The Browning’s lived in a house that favored me. It owned a history, a dark past. Vile spiritual residue permeated the atmosphere. The perfect storm for a haunting.

Justin was alone in his room, surfing the web on his iPad when I passed through the wall like a vapor. Pacing the room, I circled Justin before crouching behind his body, blowing a cold wind down the back of his neck. Justin sat up, scanning the bedroom. I stepped back, moving to his right side I ran my hand up his arm to his shoulder. He didn’t notice. I needed something bigger. I stepped to an empty water glass sitting on Justin’s desk, took a deep inhale and focused my will on moving it. Nothing happened.

Try his thoughts, a voice sounded from within.

“Justin. It’s Will, I’m right beside you.” No response. Justin walked to his desk and sat down at the computer. I stood behind him before moving into his neural pathways and finding the connections that controlled his fingers. I placed Justin’s hands on the keyboard and pressed down hard before lifting his eyes to the screen.

I’m here, Will. The words flew from my mind through Justin’s fingertips and onto the computer screen.

Justin jolted up from his chair, head shaking. “Will?”

“Get back to your computer, ya dingbat. It’s not like we can talk. Sit, write.” I said, even though his human ears couldn’t perceive my spirit voice.

Justin moved back to his computer. “Good, now let your mind go blank. Let me write through you.” I whispered.

I come as a messenger, not as a friend. You’re in danger. You need to leave, get away from Corbin before it’s too late.

Justin broke his hands from the keyboard and stared out into his room. “Will, are you here? If you really are … I’m so sorry.” He spoke out loud.

“Save it bud, I’m not looking for sympathy. I’ll deal. You’re alive, I’m dead, end of story.” Justin couldn’t hear my voice, even though I desperately wished he could.

“I can’t just pick up and leave, you know that. The police are keeping a close eye on me, taking a closer look than I’d like. I spoke at your funeral today. I’d been asked to say a few words, about you. You were a good person, Will. I played you, we both did. I see that now. Corbin and I were wrong.” Justin said. I stepped back, pacing the room before looking up at Justin’s computer. The words on the screen were from his speech, the eulogy about me.

“Sorry about the accident. We had to stage it, make it look like you fell asleep at the wheel and hit that tree. Please, forgive me Will.” Justin’s face fell forward, wrought with guilt.

***

I fled before emotion took control. Being around Justin was like breathing in asbestos, his toxic aura darkened my judgment. Standing outside, I closed my eyes to meditate upon my home in the city of light. The growl of an engine broke my concentration. I opened my eyes and saw the silhouette of a large figure climb into the driver’s seat of a dark van parked two blocks away. It was evident I wasn’t the only one interested in Justin’s affairs. I floated over to the van and climbed in.

Oddly, I was calm. You’d think crawling into the passenger seat next to the man who murdered you would cause at least a slight ripple in your blood pressure. I looked squarely at Corbin. His big belly hung over the seat belt strap, creating rolls of fat that oozed and jiggled with each bump on the gravel road. His beard had become long and scraggly, entrapping the remains of a leftover tuna melt. The sight repulsed me but had a way of reducing my fear. Seeing Corbin for who he really was, an overweight coward, almost made me feel sorry for him.

The van was immaculate, not a speck or crumb could be found. If he spent half as much time taking care of his inner-self as he did his outer environments, he wouldn’t be half as disgusting.

I’d never been to Corbin’s home until we pulled into the driveway of a modest one story rambler. The exterior appeared well kept, a fresh coat of white paint glowed in the moonlight. Corbin didn’t strike me as the handy type. He must have hired the work done.

Corbin opened the front door and stepped inside. I passed through the wall as spirits do. He walked by the refrigerator without stopping, sitting at a computer, listening with focused unease to a monotone police scanner broadcast. A book with a picture of a winged man resembling an angel holding a sword made of fire rested on the corner of his desk. Corbin reached down, pulling a second book from the drawer. I moved behind him, looking over his shoulder. I swallowed disbelief when my eyes read the name at the top of the page. Ezekiel.

I glanced around the room, a picture of Corbin hung on the far wall, a younger and slimmer version. He was a holding a diploma of sorts. I stepped closer, it was a confirmation certificate. Corbin was a Puritan.

I looked back at him sitting behind his desk, head bowed and hands folded. Darkness hung over him, a cloud of black. I could see his prayers. They formed shapes and symbols of light that floated up, but were blocked by the darkness, consumed by black before ever going out.

His lack of faith is preventing his prayers from reaching the father. My inner voice rang out.

Corbin was praying out of repetition drilled into him from an early age. His prayers were superficial. The black mass hanging above seemed to be emanating from inside, from within his soul.

I blew on the back of his neck, a common trick spirits use to get the attention of humans. Corbin looked up and raised his head. A tingling went from his neck down his spine, unable to shake the feeling he was not alone.

“I find your lack of faith deeply disturbing,” I whispered into his left ear, channeling my best Darth Vader.

“I find your disregard for privacy equally disturbing.” Corbin spoke into the air. I jolted back. His ability to hear me was astonishing. If he had the gift of clairaudience he must’ve kept it hidden from the world, at least he hid it from Monika and I.

“Who are you?” Corbin asked.

“Wouldn’t you like to know?” I retorted.

“You work for Sunny?” he asked.

“Yes,” I lied.

“Did he send you?”

“Yes,” I lied.

“What does he want? What do you want? They know about the girl.” Corbin said.

“Your soul.” I deepened my voice to sound as evil as possible.

“It’s not for sale.” Corbin said.

“Who said I wanted to buy it?”

“You can’t have it!” Corbin snapped.

“I’m not the type who pays, more of a taker.” I snarled.

“That wasn’t part of the deal. Sunny assured me my soul would owe no debt.” Corbin said.

“Let me tell you about my master. He takes what he wants, when he wants it. He’ll say anything to further his agenda. You’ll be his slave for eternity.” I ignited a fire in Corbin. Sweat formed on his brow, heart rate increasing along with blood flow. He fidgeted in his seat before standing up.

“Get out!” He shouted and fled the room.

“I’m going no where.” I followed.

Corbin grabbed a Bible from his kitchen table, unaware I was a creature of light and didn’t fear the Good Book. The Bible wouldn’t hurt me, but I didn’t want to blow my cover. I let out a guttural growl as Corbin swung the book, flashing it around the room.

“Cast ye back to the fires of hell, dark spirit!” Corbin shouted. I opened my fingers, revealing knife-edged nails. I swung hard at Corbin’s face, slashing three scratches into his cheek.

Black smoke filled the room in a flash. A heavy gravitational pull bore down on me, a mistake to lash out. Violence of any kind was never tolerated by inhabitants from the realms of light. Vulnerability and mental imbalance could cause my fall to hell if I wasn’t careful. I departed before all self-control was lost, charged emotion shattering the lamp bulb next to Corbin, causing a violent gust of wind that left him shaking on the floor of his modest one story rambler.

I stopped outside, fighting to gain control over the darkness that consumed from within.

Headlights reflected off the kitchen window as I stood in the moonlight like a midnight stalker on Corbin’s front porch. Justin stepped out before walking up the front steps and knocking.

“Where the hell you been!” Corbin threw open the front door open, grabbing Justin’s shoulders.

“You look horrible. What happened?” Justin asked, pulling away.

“We have to get the lab. There’s work to do.” Corbin replied.

“I can’t … did Will’s service today. I don’t have the energy right now. I gotta tell ya man, speaking of Will-”

“We’ve got a problem.” Corbin cut Justin off, stepping to him with vexed intensity, faces inches away.

“What problem?” Justin stepped back, stumbling slightly on the top step.

“The police, they found her body.”

Chapter 2

I ascended to the realms of light above the earth after gaining some control over the negative emotions clinging to my heart. Basically, I just stuffed them back down to their home deep within my soul. Always a temporary solution, I knew they’d be back, like trying to lock the door on a hoard of zombies, they’ll always break through. The experience left me drained, seeing Justin and Corbin, my family, my funeral. I needed to heal.

I approached Monika who stood alone in the courtyard, her custom bright glow reduced to dimness. “You’re no longer a missing person.” I said.

“I heard about that.” She replied, not making eye contact.

“You going to the funeral? It’s weird.”

“I can’t. It’s too much. I can’t look into their faces.” Monika scanned the ground, trying to find beauty in the morning glories at her feet, but an aura of sadness told the truth.

“I understand. It’s not easy.” I reflected her feelings. “How’s your family doing?”

“My poor father, I’ve heard he hasn’t gone to work since his baby girl went missing.” Monika said.

“Sorry, I mean, that was a stupid question.” I looked away.

“It’s ok, Will. I know your heart. Your intentions are well meant. To be honest, I don’t know. I can’t bring myself to check on them.” Monika trembled while speaking, her eyes remained cast toward the ground.

“Would you like me to go, you know, look in on them?” I asked.

“Would you Will? It would mean a lot.”

“Of course.” I said, seeing Monika’s face for the first time as I reached out to touch her shoulder. Her straight blonde hair fell forward before her blue eyes faded, gluing themselves back to the flowers as I stepped away.

It was too soon to go back but I owed it to Monika. I could never repay her for all she’d done. I left the courtyard and the city of light, willing myself to the home of Monika’s earthly parent’s. Always a difficult task to leave love and breathless beauty, trading it for the chaotic mess that is planet earth.

Two police officers walked up the steps to the front door of the Kingsbury’s house. I stood next to a rose bush, reading one of the officer’s thoughts. He was new to the job. A nervousness ran through both legs before stepping slightly behind his senior officer, using him as a human shield from the emotion soon to burst.

The senior officer knocked on the door. I could see through the walls of the house as if they were made of glass. Monika’s mother sat up from her slumped over position at the kitchen table. Her quivering hand and delayed reaction told me she wasn’t expecting company. The lump in her throat and deliberate swallow told me her heart was filled with the false hope that it might be Monika knocking.

“Mrs. Kingsbury, my name is officer Olson. This is officer Carter. May we come in?” Monika’s mother’s eyes filled with dread. She didn’t need a fortune teller to know what was coming.

“My baby,” she whispered. Officer Olson gave a heartbreaking nod, unable to choke the word, yes. Monika’s father caught his falling wife before she hit the ground. He held her tight as she wailed and convulsed on the floor. Her body formless, all muscle control lost.

“We need you to come to the coroner’s office and identify the body.” Officer Olson said after great pause. Neither Monika’s father or her mother spoke. “Take your time.” Officer Olson motioned for officer Carter to wait in the squad car while he stood in the doorway as both parents sat catatonic on the hardwood floor.

A second squad car arrived. One male and one female officer entered the home. Forty minutes passed before Monika’s father emerged. Officer Olson escorted him into his vehicle. I hopped in the backseat.

“We’re sorry for your loss.” Were the only words spoken the entire drive. I followed the three men into the coroner’s building, feeling my stomach constrict like a wrung out dish cloth. I didn’t want to see her, even though it wasn’t really her, not anymore. There’s something final about it, seeing the body, knowing you’ll never return to it.

The room was icy and callous, cold stainless steel lined the shelves, void of anything that resembled love. Monika’s body had been laid out on a metal table, pale blue, green algae strewn throughout her golden hair. Monika’s lips were white, the wound that claimed her life turned black with infection.

I bent at the waist, clenching my sour middle, trying to clear the image from my mind.

Monika’s father didn’t falter, he looked for two, maybe three seconds. “Yes,” he said before turning to walk away.

***

I sat next to Justin in the rickety old fishing boat the night he dumped Monika’s body into the Bear Creek river. He was a mess. It took him six hours to wrap her body in plastic garbage bags. He tied it with chain and two cinder blocks. His hands shook so vigorous he couldn’t grip the rip cord to start the boat, that and he never bothered to check that the motor was out of gas. Justin used oars to row himself and Monika’s body to a point of depth in the river. Bear Creek isn’t known for it’s calm. Justin was tossed around like a toy. A section of chain wrapped itself around a log, pulling Monika’s body to the bottom. It only took eight days for that same rough current to break her body free and send it floating to the campgrounds.

Justin couldn’t row back against the current. His boat was pushed three miles down river. He had no choice but to call Corbin, who picked him up and hauled the boat home. Justin almost joined us as a spirit that night after Corbin learned of his botched attempt to cover up the murder.

I couldn’t stay in the coroner’s office any longer. The memory of that horrid night left a pit in my stomach and an unease I needed to get rid of. I escaped through the walls of the building as spirits do. Standing outside in the parking lot, rain had pooled next to a rusty pickup truck where the pavement started to crack, reminding me how broken and fragile the physical world can be.

It’s odd, standing in the rain and not getting wet. I didn’t miss it at all. I was glad to be free from the world and all it’s cruelty. Seeing Monika’s body didn’t bring searing anger like it did that night in the boat, it left me dumbfounded, man’s inhumanity to mankind.

***

“You saw them?” Monika asked after I returned to her. “Tell me, Will. Were they ok? Please tell me they were ok.” I shook my head, unable to lie. Monika shook as I reached a hand to her. Words are useless in a moment like this, they get in the way. Time ceases, you stay with the person as long as it takes, for however long the emotion needs expression.

When people on earth lose someone close, the pain they feel, like they are alone, stuck, is also felt by the person who has passed on. Maybe even more so. Bonds are strong in the spirit realms. Glue becomes cement. So strong that many who have passed on remain attached to their loved ones on earth. Some don’t even know they’re dead, haunting the places they once dwelled.

John taught me a comfort prayer which I recited mentally while placing my index and middle fingers on Monika’s forehead. Monika’s soul felt tears cleared a blockage in her aura, allowing the healing process to begin.

“Thank you, Will. Thank you for staying.” Monika said, wiping her moist cheeks.

“I felt a blockage around your heart. Healing’s slow, it takes time and requires great care. Prayer helps. I know it’s hard but you’ll see them again. It will be a glorious reunion. Take some comfort in knowing that.” I said.

“You’re strong, Will.” Monika said.

“I wish I was as strong as you, Monika.”

“You’re strength is that you care, Will.”

“How high up are you now? How far along the spiritual path?” I asked.

“I’m progressing well, they even gave me my first charge.”

“You’re own charge. Wow, that’s great, Monika. That makes you a guardian angel!”

“Thanks Will. To be honest it’s a little scary. I feel overwhelmed. The kid is troubled. He needs a lot of help.”

“Sounds like someone I know.”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Monika’s mood lightened.

“Well, he’s lucky to have you watching over him. He’s in the right hands. Take comfort in knowing that.”

“Thank you, Will.”

“Come see me when you’re up to it.” I told Monika before returning to my temporary abode in the city of light.

***

My home was simple, a room actually. I had a desk for study and a bed for rest. When you first become a spirit you still need to lay down from time to time, not to sleep, but to restore your spiritual energy.

After I rested, John came to my room to guide me to the feast that was prepared. A banquet is held to honor newly arrived souls to the realm as a way to make them feel comfortable and welcome. I was happy to leave my room, but afraid to go. Not much changed after my death. I still experienced angst in social situations. I was told that in time it would leave me. How much time, I do not know. There is no time in the afterlife … only eternity. If it took that long, I was ok with it. I was learning acceptance.

The Great Hall was more beautiful than any magnificent architecture on earth. I once saw the Sagrada Familia on video from the library for a homework assignment. I was fourteen. It stole my breath, but the Great Hall stole my soul.

When John opened the doors to the Great Hall I was surprised, and relieved. I never liked being the center of attention. Even in death the thought of it sent my chest into shallow convulsions. The feast was for me, and about five hundred just like me, newly arrived souls to the realms of light. There’s safety in numbers. No speeches needed to be given, only a celebration of us.

The meal was light but filling. Since our arrival most of us hadn’t shed our need for sustenance and food. Actually, food is not required at all by the spirit body, but it helped to ease our transition and provided familiarity.

We ate the sweetest fruits, most colorful vegetables, and softest breads. Wine was served but nobody was drunk. Self-control existed here, nothing like I’d seen in the hells where debauchery and excess ruled.

The efforts that the loving spirits of the realm went through to make the new arrivals feel comfortable was a saving grace. All beings in the realms of love were true angels.

I was seated with a group of young spirits my age, late teenagers. There were tables of older spirits but oddly, no one appeared over thirty. I turned to a man sitting at the table behind me. It felt safe and allowed me to turn my face away from the people at my table. A habit I still hadn’t broken.

“How long have you been a spirit?” I asked.

“We’re all born spirits, young man.” I blushed, feeling that I had offended the man with my ignorance. “About 600 or 700 earth years I suppose.”

His response startled me. “You don’t look a day over 30.” I said.

The man laughed. “The ageless secret. Everyone here is thirty, kid. I was told it’s the prime age of a man. If a child dies, that child will continue to grow and mature in the spirit realms until he reaches thirty. When an old man dies he works backward. The more his soul progresses the more beautiful his appearance becomes.”

“I’ve experienced that, first hand.” I said.

“You must have been old when you passed. How old?” The man asked.

“Seventeen.”

The man looked at me with a wrinkle in his brow. “I’m sorry, when I called you kid I didn’t mean it literally, just thought you may have came up from below.” I returned the confused look. “An immature looking soul often means that soul is lacking in spiritual development and understanding. Those souls come from realms lower than this one. The lower the realm the darker it becomes. You’re young so you wouldn’t have seen them. I tell you, I once travelled to first realm of hell. It was horrible, the arguing and fighting, the slavery to drink and material things. I tell you, you’ve never seen anything like it. I was once like those poor souls there now.”

“Why did you go back there?” I asked.

“I was on a mission.”

“Mission?”

“A missionary, ministering to the thousands of lost souls trying to find their way out of darkness and into the realms of light.”

“Were you successful?” I asked.

“No. Not one soul benefited from my presence.” I sensed angst in the man’s tone.

“Maybe in time they will come to find their way.” I said.

“You sound like my guide. That’s why I’m here. She said I did a wonderful thing for the spirits in hell. I don’t know, I don’t see it.”

“I’m guessing the spirits in darkness have nothing, no hope to cling to. Small acts of kindness contain the full glory of heaven.” I said, borrowing the words because I couldn’t find any of my own.

“You seem wise beyond your years, kid. You’ll go far here.” The man said. I shyly looked away. “You’ll learn about your mission from your guide. We all have one. They send you back, back to where your life on earth failed, where you can make amends and heal your soul.”

“Hell is no picnic, that’s for sure.” I said, reflecting the man’s feelings back to him.

“You have no idea, kid. Be careful. A nice kid like you, things could go south in a hurry. If they do, they’ll eat you alive down there.”

“Believe me, you’re preaching to the choir.” I said.

“What do you know about it. You ain’t never been to no hell.” Again, I blushed, feeling as if I offended the man.

“I meant on earth. I was in hell there.”

“You don’t know nothing about it, kid.”

I nodded my acknowledgement towards the man, feeling it best to turn from the conversation, in case he asked me for the truth. The truth of how deep in hell I once was. The truth of how I afraid I was to go back.

***

After the banquet I left the Great Hall, happy to be alone and free from the stress of forced conversation. I stopped to rest at a marble bench along the path home, filling my spirit lungs with the hygienic air of the pristine realm calmed my core.

“Will!” The voice sent a lump crawling up my stomach to my throat, my peace fading. I don’t know why I still felt butterflies around her, after all we’d been through. Some people, special people, are like that. They own a mystique you can never wrap your head around.

“Allison.”

“It’s good to see you too, Will.” Allison paused for a second before bursting into laughter. “You don’t know how great it is to see you!” Allison couldn’t contain her excitement and lunged to embrace me.

“What’s wrong, Will? Aren’t you glad to see me too?” Allison could feel my hesitation.

“Sorry, You just caught me off guard.” I said. “How did you find me? I can’t believe how vast these spirit realms are.”

“So like you, Will. So serious and down to business. John told me about the banquet. I had to come as fast as I could.

“I’m sorry.” I smiled. “It’s really great to see you.”

“Isn’t it amazing.” Allison did a twirl, her voice bubbling with the same enthusiasm I had known since she first came to me in Mrs. Hanson’s third grade class. “The energy, the colors, they’re so vibrant. So alive!”

“It is beautiful.” I said.

“Show me your home, Will. I’d love to see.” Allison said.

“It isn’t much. Far from the mansion worlds of the Father’s house.”

Allison took me by the hand and lead me down the marble path. “It doesn’t matter, not anymore. We’ve both done things we aren’t proud of. We have to live with that now. The important part is that we’re together.”

Allison had a way of calming my despair. I was happy to be in a realm of light and out of the darkness. I wasn’t advanced, like a kindergartner taking his first steps toward graduation, my road was long.

“Like I said, not much to look at.” I opened the door and ushered Allison into my room. “There’s the desk where I study things of the spirit. Kindness, patience, tolerance, love for all.”

“I’ve studied this book too.” Allison said, grabbing for the book on my desk.

“It’s fitting, I mean, for people like us.” I said.

“Wouldn’t it be great to meet the author someday. I bet he’s in a spiritual realm high above the highest heavens. So famous!” Allison spun on her toes and handed me the book.

“He definitely was enlightened. I think we both can relate to it.” I placed my copy of The Divine Comedy back in its place on my bookshelf. I don’t think Allison grasped the true meaning of the work. Dante was a name people of the high realms spoke with fondness, but Allison’s intention was different. She was attracted to the fame, not the spiritual meaning of his work. Her road was long, as was mine.

“Will, I see concern in your Spirit. What’s wrong?” Allison asked.

“It’s nothing.” I shook my head.

“You can talk to me, Will,” was all Allison said. It never seemed hard for Allison to get me to open up, she had a gift for it that other people didn’t.

“The work, it’s so hard. I feel so conflicted. You’d think that doing good or least trying to do good would be easy, like God would have just designed it that way. I feel like he asks the impossible sometimes.” I said.

“I know what you mean, Will. I always felt that way when I was on earth. I didn’t have the best teacher as you know, my perspective was skewed but that didn’t mean I wasn’t responsible for the choices I made. I did a lot of good for people, but I also failed. I wish every day that I could undo my suicide. I wish every day I wouldn’t have let my father’s oppression consume me and drive me to that terrible act.” Allison buried her face in her hands.

“It’s ok, Alison.” I reached for her hand.

“I wish I had the guts to do something different and not always do what I was told or follow what my father thought was right for me. I’m learning to forgive him, but pieces of anger still cling to my soul. I’m trying to do the spiritual thing and forgive, but it’s so hard. It’s so hard to follow the spiritual path when you’ve been so wronged.”

“Why’d you take your life?” The words left my mouth before I knew they were spoken and could take them back. “I’m so sorry Allison, you don’t have to answer that.”

“It’s ok Will, um, I really thought I was getting back at him, teaching him a lesson, you know. A way of saying, you can’t control me anymore. I tried in vain to tell him how I felt but no words could make him understand the emotional pain I felt. The act I committed was the only way to make him understand. I don’t know. I always felt out of sorts, like someone else was calling the shots, certainly not me. It’s almost as if it just happened, like it was all a dream. Sorry, probably not the most satisfying answer.”

“It’s ok, thank you for sharing with me.” I said. “I’ve felt like that before. It’s like something dark lives inside. It has this power over us, I don’t know. It just feels that way sometimes.”

I never told Allison the truth of her father’s death, that it wasn’t an accident, that I was there. I learned later on that John and the angels of light kept the truth hidden from Allison too, feeling that when the time was right I should be the one to tell her and doing so was an important step in my healing process.

“You get me, Will. More than anyone else.” Allison hugged me tight. “Can I tell you a secret?”

“Sure.”

“Promise not to tell John or anyone else. I don’t want them to know.”

“What is it, Allison? You can feel safe with me.”

“Sometimes I feel the darkness is still inside me.”

“Well, that’s nothing to be ashamed about. We’re all on the spiritual journey, but none of us have reached the destination. Even Monika is still learning. Maybe talking to John would help.”

“No, Will, please don’t mention anything to him. Not just yet. I want to work some of this out on my own first. You know, for my growth. When the time is right, I’ll talk. Plus you know how John can be.”

I understood Allison completely. Her reluctance to talk and share her innermost struggles can be felt by everyone. It’s never easy to be truly vulnerable.

“Don’t worry, Allison. I’d never break your trust. I get what you’re saying. John is John, I guess, by far the most intense person I’ve ever met. Sometimes I want to say, ‘dude relax, take a vacation, go to a beach, pet a dog … I don’t know, something. Like I said, John is John. For being the beloved disciple, he’s not soft, but he does care deeply for us. I think that’s why he pushes so hard sometimes.”

“Thank you, Will.”

“You’re strong Allison, I don’t know how you do it. How you keep going, having been so wronged, so betrayed.” I said.

“Sacrifice.” Allison said.

“Sacrifice?”

“My mom, I learned it from her. The way she cared and would do anything for my father. You saw it. We both did. My father and I had our differences but I truly admired how much my mom loved him. How she dropped her guard, let those hideous creatures consume and drag her deep into the bowels of that evil city. She did it out of love. She gave herself for someone else, took on my father’s pain so that he could gain hope. I could never be as strong as her.”

“I think you’re strong.” I said.

“Look! You have a window!” Allison ran her finger along the wooden sill, acting delighted, but it felt like she was changing the subject.

“I do!” I said, matching her enthusiasm. “It’s funny you know, when we spend so much time without something so common you learn to appreciate the small things. Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of it all.”

“You always make sense to me, Will.” Allison leaned in and kissed me on the cheek.

“Oh Will. It really is great to see you.” Allison sighed. “I have to get back. Group prayer and mediation will be starting soon. Until we meet again.”

“Until we meet again.” I said, nodding as she left my room.

“Sometimes I wish you made sense to me.” I whispered soft enough for Allison not to hear me.

Chapter 3

Tension and anticipation rocked me on the edge of the bed, fingers running through my short brown hair, massaging the back of my neck when he arrived.

“You seemed troubled, William.” John stood in front of me.

“There’s this pressure I can’t shake. I don’t think I’m think I’m the Resurrectionist person you think I am.”

“You’re doubting again, William.”

“I’m still not sure my purpose in all this.”

“The Resurrectionist’s are a group of united souls dedicated to honoring the tradition of the, Harrowing of Hell.”

“Sounds delightful, John, but I’m guessing that’s not a festival of fun with a ticker tape parade at the end.”

“After his death, the Son of God descended into the dead … hell. The Son ministered to the lost and forgotten, showing them the path to redemption, God’s love filling the soul through prayer and the work of the Holy Spirit. Resurrectionist’s are dedicated to upholding that tradition. You’re one of us.” John’s voice was powerful. His presence forced me to stand up and shake off the self-doubt, like I could really hide it from a being who sees everything.

John Zebedee visited often, counseling much like he did in his office at school, back when I knew him as Dr. Z. He taught me that true spiritual energy is the love of God, a connection through the Holy Spirit, God’s grace reaching out to man’s soul. We prayed for healing. The first thing John taught me was how to cry. Seems simple enough, but in truth boys learn early on not to cry, crying is unacceptable. It’s a teaching of the false prophet who hides in the subtlest of places. To cry is a gift from God. To snuff it out is error. When I was alive I was dead, numb to emotion, avoiding life and all its arduous feelings.

“We have a problem.” John said.

“You don’t say.”

“The dark armies know about Project Gateway. Their leaders have corrupted and twisted Corbin’s mind. He’s under their control. Your friend, he’s still alive, for now.” John said.

“Justin, I wouldn’t exactly call him a friend.” I said.

“William, you must go back, again. Warn him of the danger before it’s too late, before he’s no longer part of the physical world.”

“I tried already. It didn’t work. I’m not strong enough. I’m not like you, John. I’m not an apostle.”

“You are strong enough. You must believe, William. Let go of your fear. Let go of your doubt. Leave it with God. You must.” John didn’t waiver.

“I can’t just let it go. It’s not that easy. It’s complicated.”

“True courage is taking action with fear, not without. I have something to show you.” John said.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Please, look inside.” John held the palms of his hands open while I peered into them.

“Justin … is he?”

“He will be if we don’t act soon.”

I saw Justin chained, a group of what appeared to be twelve dark figures circled him, forcing him against his will into something terrible. Part of me liked it, took pleasure seeing Justin caught the web of his deeds.

“I can see your thoughts.” John said.

“I know. I can’t help it. Like I said, I’m not like you.”

“This is a powerful awakening for you, William. It takes great spiritual strength to love your enemies. It takes a titan’s strength to resurrect one.” John said.

“I get it John. I understand the message of forgiveness, but I don’t feel it. It’s too soon for me. I can’t let it go that easy.”

“You’re right. It is too soon for you, but there isn’t a lot of time. His future isn’t written in stone, William. It can be altered. Justin can stop Corbin. He still has a chance at redemption. Justin needs your help and your guidance. Project Gateway must be destroyed.”

“That’s the best thing I’ve heard all day.” My voice rose. “I’ve regretted becoming entangled with Gateway ever since I first saw it.”

“Project Gateway itself isn’t bad, but it has fallen into the wrong hands. Justin and Corbin are the only living souls who know of its existence. Corbin won’t stop until he frees Sunny Miller. He’s closer than you think.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much about Sunny Miller, John. Last time I saw him he was nothing but a puddle on the floor thanks to the demented demon he was serving.” I said.

“Our sources tell me Sunny has grown powerful, that he’s formed an unholy alliance with something worse.” John said.

“What sources?”

“We have eyes and ears in the hells. They’ve been tracking Sunny’s movements. He’s no longer bound by the demon who tormented him, and you for that matter.” Fear ripped through me at hearing John’s words and the memories of unrelenting pursuit by Sunny’s former master.

“What’s his motive? What’s Sunny after?”

“Uncertain.” John shook his head. “It hasn’t been revealed to us.”

“You think Justin can stop Corbin?” I asked, desperately wanting to distract my mind from the horrid memories.

“With your help, William. Justin sees the error of his ways. If he confesses, goes to the police, Corbin will be stopped.”

“Wishful thinking. Justin’s not going to willingly turn himself over to the police. I know him. There’s no way.” I said.

“The pain in his soul burns strong. The guilt of his mistakes is creating an unrelenting pressure. He’s close to breaking, something has to give. If you help Justin, he will see that confession is the first step to healing. Justin is a minor, he still has a chance. In time he can be free from the weight of his sin. With help he can change.” John was right. Helping Justin might give us the edge to stop Corbin, but doubt loomed over like a bad omen.

“There’s a bigger picture at work. You can’t always see it. You must believe, William. You must exercise faith.” John said.

“You always say that. I mean no disrespect, but I’m tired of the so-called bigger picture. How do you know there isn’t just an endless road that leads to nowhere? You said yourself that you continue to grow and evolve, and you’ve been at it for over two thousand years. It’s just so hard to accept sometimes.” I buried my face into my hands. I felt like crying but nothing came.

“It is hard.”

“What?”

“Faith … it’s hard.” John said, his words surprised me. Everything seemed so effortless for him. “Angels are not ominous, we cannot foresee the future. We only have the voice within to guide us, the voice of God.”

“Yeah. What does your voice say? What does God tell you?” My words were harsh but I knew John understood they were born from frustration. John paused and took a step towards me, looking me in the eye.

“I wasn’t much older than you are now when the Son of God first showed his face. My brother and I were skeptical. How could anyone in their right mind not be? He came from nothing, humble means, he didn’t appear to be the great and powerful king that was prophesied.”

“Why did you follow?”

“Faith, the voice within was strong. I knew I had to follow, I just knew.” John said.

“Did he really expect you to drop everything, your entire life?”

“No, not at all. My father had a prominent fishing business at the time. As a family we were quite successful.”

“Must have been hard for him to lose two sons from the family business.” I said.

“Actually, my father encouraged James and I to follow. Deep down he wanted something deeper for us.”

“Um, again, no disrespect, but your brother was murdered and you endured your fair share of torture and torment. You can’t tell me your dad wanted that for his boys.”

“An unfortunate side effect of following a rebel. There was no animosity. You must remember, William. The people of my time lived in absolute fear of God until the Son came along and shattered that perception. A loving God did not exist in the minds of men before the Son revealed the truth.” John had a way of making me forget who he was. He seemed like a trusted friend, a father figure, in reality he was a powerful cosmic being. It blew my mind every time I paused to wonder.

“There’s nothing I can do to help you. You’re a saint. The disciple whom Jesus loved. Far greater than me.” I said.

“Where I’m from, the Kingdom of God, they just call me John.” He paused, allowing his words to sink into my doubting mind. “You can help me. In more ways than you know. There’s a reason for everything and every stage of life. I told you before and I will remind you again. Do not underestimate yourself. There are things you can do that I cannot.”

“Hell.”

“Yes.”

“I hate that word and everything it stands for.”

“Rightfully so.” John said, pacing around my small room.

“I have to go back don’t I, alone? I don’t have a choice.”

“You always have a choice. Free will is the law of the universe.”

“You’ve been to hell. You and James found me there, remember?”

“We can exist in hell for a short period of time, but we cannot help the truly lost because we cannot create a connection with them. We are on such far ends of the spiritual continuum. We are literally polar opposites repelling one another.”

“You need me to go back because hell is a realm too dark and heavy for an enlightened being such as yourself.” I reflected John’s words.

“You’re right William. Hell proposes a problem. I have to dial down my energy to such a degree that I am rendered almost powerless. That is why I could only guide you to the outskirts of the forsaken city. It’s why James had to stay hidden in the sewers. Our spiritual energy would demolish the inhabitants of the city if we were to enter.”

“Why not? Why not just destroy the whole damn thing!” I said.

“Because, destruction is not God’s will. God is a being of love, a being of forgiveness. If he wanted to destroy the city he would do it himself. He permits the city to exist.”

“Why? Seems a little reckless to me.”

John smiled. “Every created being in God’s universe serves a purpose, even if those beings have fallen far off the spiritual path. It’s God’s will that all his children return to him in paradise, even the ones who’ve lost their way.”

“What if they don’t want to go? What if they want to stay where they are, torturing poor souls and living in ultimate sin.”

“You’re right, William. God will never force any of his creatures to come to him against their will. Instead, he simply leaves the door open for their return. Someday, he might close it. We do not know for certain. God has never fully revealed his plans. In my heart I suspect one day he will close the gates of heaven but only time will tell and only after all of his children have refused his gift of paradise. That’s why I have been praying so hard.”

“You’ve been praying for God to shut the gate?”

“No, I’ve been praying for him to keep it open … long enough for my spiritual brother to return. I’ve been praying for him to come home and claim his spot at the Lord’s table.”

“Judas.”

“You’re the key, William. The answer to my prayers. It’s always been you.”

John’s words chilled me. I knew he wouldn’t speak them unless they conveyed some sense of truth, they were haunting. The pressure of those words shook my foundation.

“When?”

“When the time is right and your affairs are in order. William, come with me. There’s one more thing.”

John lead me out of my room and through the marble walkways of the enlightened city. The city was busy, just as city’s on earth are. The difference, there were no strangers here. Everyone was a trusted friend, and you never had to lock your door.

I was brought to a large room, much like the IMAX theater my parents took me to for birthdays as a kid when they could afford it. During bad years when dad was between jobs I’d just get a trip to Reynold’s Ice Cream parlor. I really didn’t mind. I think it hurt my parents though, not being able to give me the world.

Three large figures stood in front a giant panoramic monitor that stretched over fifty feet wide. “William, all men are held accountable for their time on earth and how they used the precious gifts given from on high. Tell me, what have you done with the time you were given?”

As the question was asked my entire life flashed on the screen. I read once of a man who had been pinned under his car after it slipped off the jack. The man claimed to see beings made of light as he watched his life play out before him. A doctor later discredited his claim, saying that the injured man’s brain had been deprived of oxygen and the beings he claimed to see where nothing more than a team of doctors standing over him and the bright lights of the operating room shining down. I guess that doctor will be in for a surprise when it’s his turn.

A three dimensional play unfolded on the monitor, myself cast as the lead actor. Not just the highlights, everything. The good, the bad, and the mundane. Every thought, every action, every desire. I intuitively knew how my thoughts and actions affected those around me. I lowered my head, unable to look at the three beings of light standing before me.

“Look closer. You’re avoiding.” One of them said.

An invisible force compelled my chin up and my eyes to see. An air of sadness hovered over Allison as I watched her look at a picture of me when she was sixteen. Her thoughts were as visible to me as words on a page. I know you’re hurting, Will. I just don’t know how to help you. You won’t let me in.

Samantha, daughter of the fortune teller Marla Williams was there, at least the image of her. Atrocious darkness loomed over her. Thoughts of dying and escape fought to get inside. They were held back by an energy, a force Samantha felt intensely but couldn’t see. I shivered when I saw it. The force was inside me, emanating from my heart.

“How can this be?” I asked the three beings standing in front of me.

“Your kindness, William, kept the dark thoughts out.”

“I never even tried to help her. It was just small talk, a small kindness is all.”

“Small acts of kindness contain the full power and glory of heaven. Small acts of kindness save souls. That is what you did for the young woman.”

A warmth came over me but only for a moment before darkness fell. I couldn’t turn from it. It was laid bare for all to see. I watched Reverend Channing brush his teeth and wash his face, the night the devil entered his home. Thunderous clouds rolled in as a skinny, bony, creature of evil slithered up the old staircase. The creature I’d become after letting the darkness into my soul.

I wanted to hide, bury my face, when I watched his body fall from the second floor. Like trauma tightening it’s unforgiving grip, the imagine froze it’s permanent home in my mind.

I watched as I negotiated that deal with the hell demon, like peasants squabbling and haggling over the price of cabbage. I sealed the Reverend’s fate like a coward, thinking I was saving myself, but in truth damning my soul.

“That’s enough.” The monitor went blank. A sharp pain then great warmth filled my chest. I lifted my face to the three beings, tears falling like a baby.

John walked me home. He didn’t say a word. He knew I wasn’t ready to talk.

Chapter 4

Plans were already in place before I arrived in the realms of light. People think the universe is chaotic and random. I assure you it’s quite the opposite. The intricate design the creator puts into the universe is astonishing. Nothing is overlooked. The smallest detail is woven into the fabric of creation. The angels on high have seen Judas’ demise, yet love him just the same. Like generals planning a great battle, the angels had been planning Judas’ resurrection. I had my part to play, that’s all I knew. I hadn’t the ability to fully fathom the mission, it’s complication beyond my comprehension. The only instruction I received was to be ready when I was called.

After a period of rest and contemplation I was brought by the three spirits who conducted my life review to what I can only describe as a command center filled with technological advancements far beyond anything known on earth. Standing in the middle of the command center was intimidating. Spirits great and small bustled around, each with tasks, no one more important than the other. I tried to make myself invisible, until John approached, smiling softly. His green eyes and boyish looks softened his intense demeanor, but not by much. He wore his dark hair a bit longer than he did when I remembered his as Dr. Z. It had a lot of natural curl, puffed out a bit around the ears, made his head look bigger.

“Don’t worry about the life review, William, and don’t place too much weight on it. Our time on earth is short, yours shorter than most. Earth is a great teacher, but that’s it. Even if you had lived to a hundred, what’s a number compared to eternity?”

“It was hard to watch, you know, the bad parts.” I whispered.

“All we can do is learn and grow. That’s what life on earth is all about. Earth is a time of preparation, but now the preparation is over.”

“It’s time, isn’t it … Judas?”

“William, please, I have something to show you.” John lead me to a darkened room, away from the commotion. “Only a select few know of the mission to bring Judas home.”

“By the looks of things out there I’d say every soul in the realm knows of the mission.” I said, slightly confused.

“Those spirits are hard at work bringing lost souls out of darkness, but the mission to resurrect Judas is classified. Please sit.” John directed me toward a metallic circular table in the middle of the room.”

“I’m amazed how clean everything is here. I haven’t seen so much as a particle of dirt since arriving in the light.” I said.

“The inhabitants of these realms take great care of the things around them, knowing everything is a gift from God.” John said, as he sat across from me.

“What did you want to show me, John?”

The cloudy white mists floating above John’s hands cleared when I peered into the vision glowing against the background of the dark room. Judas appeared transparent, half real, half imagined. His face muddied and his garments torn, making it difficult to see his features. I watched as he made his way to the forsaken city I’d escaped from. The pit I found him in a fading memory. Judas fumbled along the outside of the great wall until he was directly opposite the Gates of Hell.

“What do you see, William?” John asked.

“I don’t know, it’s dark.”

“Concentrate, what do you see?” John asked again.

“He’s back in that hateful city.”

“Dis.”

“I didn’t mean any disrespect, John. That’s what I see.”

“What?”

“You said, ‘Dis.’ It’s slang for disrespect.”

“No, the city of Dis. That’s where Judas is, but he doesn’t belong there.” John said.

“He’s standing up. He’s looking at something.”

“What is it?” John asked.

“Looks like some sort of door. Yeah, he’s trying to open it. There’s some type of writing on the door.”

“What kind of writing?” John asked.

“Like a number, maybe a … 2.”

“What’s behind door number two?”

I chuckled. “Hoping for a new car but I’m guessing it’s a zonk. Let’s make a deal, John.”

“Focus William!” John’s sharp tone told me he wasn’t in the mood for jokes, or maybe he just wasn’t a fan of daytime TV.

Three doors appeared across from Judas, numbers and a intricate seal etched into each one, the lines too dirty to make sense of it. Judas stood in front of the middle door, tracing his finger around each line, the final causing the door to open and a red glow to illuminate the image of a beast with seven heads. Judas turned his face to the horizon, something resembling a comet streaked through the sky just before the beast rose from the seal and devoured his spirit.

I looked up at John as the vision faded. “What’s this all about?” I asked. John remained silent. “You’re asking the impossible,” I shook my head.

“It can be done.” John replied.

“How?” I asked.

“I will instruct you, teach you the ancient ways, the lost arts. Everything starts with prayer and a calm mind. A calm mind is a focused mind. If mind wanders so can the soul. To resurrect Judas you must have the utmost calmness and focus if you are to connect with his soul. I will teach you to believe, William.”

“You saw that beast. Judas didn’t stand a chance. How are we even breaking into hell for that matter?”

“I’m not breaking in. You are.” John said.

“Um,” was the only sound I could produce.

“I’m a being of pure light. The darkness would be overwhelmed.”

“Right, it’s a bad idea for you to go to hell because you’re too powerful.”

“Yes.” John said.

“That’s like benching your star player because he’s too good. With all due respect, John, I’m feeling a little used. Do you even care what happens to me? Am I just a pawn, a disposable piece of heaven’s game? You saw what that thing did to Judas.”

“There’s still much darkness and ignorance in your soul. Enough to allow you to pass beyond the gates of hell, beyond the beast, beyond the evil.” John was serious.

“Tell me you’re at least giving me a secret weapon, a holy nuclear bomb or something.” I said.

“There are no weapons in this war.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” I put my head down. The room felt cold and empty.

“What’s the use of weapons when death is merely an illusion? You can’t kill evil. What you can do is bind it, control it, and keep it locked away until it can be transformed. This is a spiritual war fought between powerful intellects and commanding souls. Your weapon is your light, soul, and the God that dwells within it.” John placed his calming hand on my shoulder.

“If there’s still darkness in my soul, how will I find God in it?”

“Through much difficulty, trial, and error. Remember, Judas hid in that pit for two centuries before you freed him. That’s when you first found the light.”

“Why did he go back when he was free? He gave himself up so easily.” I said.

“It was the only way he could seek true self-punishment. The hunters, demons, and inhabitants of the City of Dis revered him. They gave him false praise and false authority. He despised it all, wanted none of it. He’d rather endure unimagined torture than be celebrated for his misdoings. You see William, contrary to popular belief; Judas wasn’t an evil man on earth. He was a young kid who made a mistake. A mistake that was forgiven as soon as it was made. It’s time he forgave himself.”

John pointed to a monitor hanging from the ceiling in the corner of the room, the ancient scene replayed. Judas, a young man, not even twenty, thought giving up his master would force the Son of God to display his great power. So distraught and consumed with guilt, Judas threw a noose around his neck, the branch breaking before the job was done, the fall to the rocks below finally killing him.

I watched Judas’ spirit jar free from its body. Depraved unclean spirits surrounded him, ready to devour just like they did when I was dragged into the pit. Judas was beaten and tormented, almost as if an initiation had taken place before he was raised up and worshipped by the dark spirits. He fled in horror, the monitor went blank.

***

My soul warmed with compassion upon seeing the fear Judas felt after his death. I knew it dearly. It’s not the decrepit creatures that scare you. It’s the horror of the realization that the choices you’ve made have damned your soul. You search frantically for an excuse, a scapegoat to place the blame. You never find it. Your soul, that pure and pristine creation, knows the truth and always will.

“Was it the devil? The beast who devoured Judas?” I asked, unable to shake John’s vision from my mind.

“There is no literal devil, no polar opposite of God. There are beings, powerful beings bent on destruction that will claim to be the devil, but there is no duality.”

“Duality?”

“The belief that God and the Devil are equal. God, a being of ultimate good; the Devil, a being of ultimate evil. It’s a false belief. God is all powerful, he has no equal.”

“So the devil is just a product of human imagination?”

“More or less, but that doesn’t mean there’s no such thing as evil. We use the term Devil to represent what our minds can’t grasp. The devil is archetypal, representing the shadow, created by the free will that lives inside us all.”

“What about demons? I assure you they exist. I’ve met a few first hand.”

“The popular story is that Lucifer, a powerful being of light, grew resentful of God’s love toward mankind. His pride and arrogance caused him to fall from heaven. A third of God’s angels followed him becoming what you know as demons.” John said.

“Is the story true?”

“I can’t say for certain, but I doubt it.”

“How does an enlightened being such as yourself not know for certain?” I asked.

“Ancient peoples relied on story and metaphor to convey their understanding of history and how the world around them worked. My personal belief is that this story is one of those cases. All we know of the past is what’s recorded as story. Does reading a history book give you absolute truth? No, it can only give you an idea of truth. Some things are beyond even my comprehension. William, you seem to forget I’m just like you, formerly human.” John was right. Despite his famous past, he wasn’t all knowing. John was simply farther along the spiritual path than me.

“What if the stories are true? You said you weren’t certain. What if Lucifer exists?” I asked.

“If Lucifer does dwell on some low plane of existence, then nobody from the realms of light has seen or heard from him, not since the fall anyway.”

“What fall? What’s that about?” I asked.

“The story of the fall of man. Again, a story I can neither confirm or deny. As it goes, Lucifer became filled with pride. He didn’t think a being as powerful as he should be serving mankind. As the story goes, Michael the Archangel, threw Lucifer out of heaven after defeating him in a great spiritual battle.”

John opened his palms. This was the story the ancients told to help them understand spiritual matters beyond their comprehension. A ball of hazy white light hovered above his hands, the mist cleared when I peered inside at two powerful beings of blinding light.

“A fine day is it not brother.” The first being said.

“A fine day indeed.” Responded the second.

The two were alone in a garden. Behind them appeared to be a palace made of glass and light. It’s beauty beyond human language’s ability to express.

“Can you pass the fruit?”

“For you brother, I’d give the world.”

“Do we have to have this conversation now? I just want to eat in peace.”

“You think you can save the world?”

“I guess we’re having the conversation.”

“Why save the world when you can rule it! They should be serving us, the powerful, not the other way around.

“I can do nothing without the power our father gives me.”

“You’re a king.”

“I’m a servant.”

“What glory lies in servitude?”

“The kingdom is built on servitude, the glory lies within.”

“They are beneath us brother. Can’t you see. We shouldn’t waste one breath on them. They should serve us. Again, the weak should serve the powerful!”

“Father loves all his creatures regardless of strength and status.”

“What about free will, brother. The great gift. Surely we are meant to let it shine. Surely the power father gave us should not be kept hidden like some wretched deformity.”

“Power should be used in times of necessity, from a point of service, not from a point of rule.”

“Very well, Michael. I see you shall not come to view things my way on this fine day, but I shall continue to show you the light.”

“Someday Lucifer, I fear your mind will become twisted with self-righteousness, the light father gave you will have all but gone out, trapping your soul in ice.”

John closed his hands and the image faded. “That’s the story our history books tell. Eventually, the so-called devil was able to lead mankind away from God. It was inevitable, only a matter of time before the great spiritual battle would commence … the battle for the human soul.”

“But you said the story might not be true? Sorry John, but you’ve got my head spinning.”

“There’s a hidden lesson here.”

“I figured you had something up your sleeve.” I said.

“The past is the past, the future is the future, the present is reality. There’s value in studying the past and planning for the future, but don’t hold them as absolute truths. The past may not always be what it seems. The future is forever changing. Right now is the absolute truth.”

“I get what you’re saying, I think.”

“My point is this … don’t let things of the past or future scare you. Whether or not Lucifer is real, it doesn’t matter. If you believe in him, then you will fear him, then you will be lead astray.” John said.

“What about this battle? How did they fight if they had no weapons?”

“Thought creates reality. God’s love for mankind is overwhelming. His loving thoughts created an environment that no longer suited the shadow side of mankind, thus causing his fall. The fall is metaphoric. God’s thoughts grew in love, creating the realms of light. Fallen beings have allowed their thoughts to become twisted, creating the realms of darkness. It’s likely the beast we saw tormenting Judas was a product of mankind’s dark subconscious.”

“You really want me to go against that?” I asked.

“Yes,” John was serious.

“What makes you think I can succeed?”

“Faith.”

“How am I supposed to kill the beast, or Lucifer, if he exists, for that matter?” I asked.

“This is a spiritual battle, William. There is no death, remember?” John said.

“I don’t understand how you win a battle if you can’t kill the enemy.”

“You take away his power, render him useless and helpless.”

“What’s evil’s power?”

“Deception, take away the lies and you take away the power. How do you fight a lie? With truth. The truth is we’re never separate from God. Bring truth to Judas and he’ll walk right out of hell.”

“You make it sound so simple.” I said.

“The lie’s been around since the beginning of man. Have you heard about the serpent in the Garden?” John asked.

“I remember some version from Sunday school.”

“The serpent is symbolic of the human ego or self. Many people have a biological fear of snakes. As the stories and legends grew the poor serpent became the scapegoat, representing how self-righteousness implanted its seed deep in the mind without you knowing it’s even there. The saying that the serpent lies is very true. A thief in the night, if corrupted, the ego can steal one’s light. You won’t know it. You won’t see it. You won’t hear it coming. It’ll work his way inside, twist and contort the victim’s mind, turn friend against friend, create confusion, stress and fear. The ego will create division and separation, the biggest of all it’s lies. A corrupted and manipulated ego can lead people to believe they are separate from God, when in reality no one is separate from God. You learned this first hand.”

“Who or what is causing this manipulation?” I asked.

“Us, or at least a part of us. A dark part born from the gift of free will. Fallen beings know this, pulling at the illusion the ego creates. The biggest danger is their ability to twist the ego’s reality, create subtle illusions, and turn friend into foe. Evil is strong, William. If it ever broke out of hell, I shudder to think of the darkness that would follow.”

“What keeps evil from getting out?” I asked.

“Love. The power of God.”

“We should be safe then.” I said.

“Yes … and no. Free will is held in the highest regard. God didn’t create evil, evil is born in the mind and spreads like a plague. What starts out as small childish behavior grows into the darkness we know today.”

“You say this darkness can’t be killed. What then? How do we stop it?” I asked.

“Evil has been contained, held by chains of love, but it’s time may be coming. Evil grows stronger as the world grows darker. Planet Earth has been long delayed both spiritually and technologically. There’s a reason for that. Humans still wage war with each other, brother verses brother. Many other planets in the universe have long since ended their blood shed, not mother earth. Her sons and daughters continue to spill one another’s blood on her soil. The darkness created from bloodshed weakens the chains that hold evil in bondage. If love fails the earth will fall to hell.”

“Can God stop it?” I asked.

“That remains to be seen. God is the ultimate respecter of free will, even he is bound by his own law. Long ago he decreed that the free will of man shall not be interfered with. Mankind holds the key to his salvation, and his destruction.”

“Say I was able to gain entry past the sealed doors, then what? You saw that beast spring up and devour Judas. Will that happen to me?” John stared at me in silence. A terrible concern filled his spirit.

“Yes.”

“Yes!” My voice rose two octaves. “Um, ok. You really need to work on your salesmanship. I appreciate your honesty but come on, at least sugar coat it, for my sake.”

“I’m sorry, William. There are complexities beyond your ability to comprehend. I have to be brutally honest here. There can be no misconception.” John took great pause, the first hesitation I’d seen from him. “Let me be crystal clear. If you accept the mission to return to hell and resurrect Judas, the beast will devour you whole.” John leaned in, looking me square in the eye, his authority radiating power, “before this is all over, you will cry out.”

Chapter 5

Trepidation filled my lungs with it’s nauseating toxin. I fled, head spinning, a chest crushing vice making each breath punishing. Unlike Dillinger, I was caught ten minutes later. John found me cowering behind a metal rack in a utility closet.

“Guess I’m still a runner, you know, when the heat is on. My emotions, they just get the best of me sometimes.” I was embarrassed.

“You’re troubled.” John’s face was empty and expressionless as he spoke.

“I was about to say the same about you. You’re pale. Excuse the pun, but you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” I said.

“Maybe I have, it’s just the way you’re lying like that, behind that metal rack, in this closet.”

“You kinda dropped a big one on me there.” My neck tightened as he helped me up. Was John kidding? Nobody in their right mind would agree to a suicide mission like the one he proposed. His detachment hurt. He believed letting me get swallowed whole by a hell beast would be a productive venture. He’s the one who needed council.

“Sorry William. I came on too strong. Sometimes I forget how young you are, and how much I’m asking of you.”

“It’s ok. I know how much Judas means to you. Wanting to help someone you can’t … it’s hard.”

John swallowed the lump in his throat before turning to walk around a metallic table in the room, coming full circle before speaking. “I suppose you’d like to know how it’s going to work, how you’ll pull Judas from the pit.”

“Um … I suppose that would be nice.” I cracked a smile. John gave a wink.

“What do you know about possession?” He asked.

“Like spirit possession?”

“Yes.” John said.

“It doesn’t end well.” My mind flashed back to the one and only experience I’ve had with possession, the Richmond farmhouse.

“Possession is nothing more than brainwashing and mind control, that being said, it’s highly dangerous.”

“If you control a person’s mind you can make them do whatever you want them to.” I said.

“Right, the darkness uses this phenomenon to it’s full advantage. The majority of possessions take place after a person dies. They occur on the astral plane, the realm between the physical and spirit world.” John said.

“How does it work?” I asked.

“In every created being there exists three parts. A physical body, a spirit body, and a soul.” John said.

“What is the spirit body anyway? It feels so much like my physical body, at least when I had one.” I rubbed my finger tips across the middle of my torso, feeling the magnetic energy of my light body.

“In a lot of ways the physical and spirit bodies are very similar. The spirit body is less dense as it is comprised mainly of etheric energy or prana, as Eastern cultures call it. Ether is a compound like physical matter such as atoms and molecules. Ether exists in the earth’s atmosphere on a much subtler level than atoms. Your spirit body is made of this etheric compound. It too will die, just like your physical body, leaving a spirit shell behind.”

“You mean I’m going to die, again? I thought once you died that was it.”

“There is also a figurative spiritual death, called the Second Death.” John said.

“I’ve heard if that. I think.”

“The bible talks about it. Once the spirit body falls away, only soul is left. Soul was created in the image of God. The soul, by design, can not act outside the laws of harmony and love. The brain exists in the physical body, the mind exists in the spirit body, the soul exists in God. Part of the reason you struggle, the reason all humans struggle, is that you still have a mind.” John said.

“Isn’t mind a good thing?”

“Mind is needed until it is no longer needed.”

“Cryptic much, John.”

“Obviously, the brain serves a function. It keeps you from walking into oncoming traffic and allows you to remember where you left your car keys. The mind, which exists on the spiritual level, allows for advanced thought. It allows you to contemplate the mysteries of spirit and God.”

“What about the soul? What’s its function?” I asked.

“The soul simply knows. It knows God is ultimate and love rules the universe. Too often, humankind places mind above the soul, creating blockages and causing the soul to take a backseat. When you reach the seventh spiritual sphere, the Kingdom of God, mind will fall away. From that point on you’ll forever be acting in the laws of love and harmony.”

“So, you just become a slave to God? What about free will?”

“Free will still exists. When you are pure soul, like I am now, your free will choices and actions will always be made out of love and for the higher good.” John said.

“So you could never falter or make a mistake again?” I asked.

“No, because my soul, created in the image of God, will not allow it.”

“But you say you still have free will.”

“Yes, I do. I am free to make my own decisions but they will always be the best decisions because I am free of my mind. Does that make sense?” John paused to allow my contemplation.

“Maybe,” was all I could come up with. John tried to explain but knew I was unable to understand. He smiled kindly, fully accepting my ignorance. Deep inside, I knew John had my best interests at heart, even though things seemed so blurred at times.

“We’ll come back to that. For now, I’d like to focus on the subject of possession.” John said.

“I’d rather focus on a deep dish pepperoni pizza … and a big old glass of fountain Coke … not diet either, John, regular.”

John paced the room, it was evident he was accustomed to teaching serious souls well advanced on the path to the Kingdom of God, not sarcastic daydreaming teenagers. I liked to push his buttons a little, it was good for him.

John fell back into teacher mode, pretending to ignore my comments. “When a person dies a natural death of old age, there is very little danger. Through the natural process of living on earth, the spirit body slowly deteriorates along with the physical body. When physical death occurs it’s easy for a soul to free itself, but when there’s tragedy, there’s concern for danger. During tragedy, the physical body is no longer able to sustain itself and dies, but the spirit body hasn’t gone through the natural aging process and remains strong. This is how people become trapped in the astral, the world between the worlds.”

“Can they get free?” I asked.

“Often, a soul can shed its spirit body if that soul is genuinely good. It may have been a good soul that died prematurely due to a traffic accident for example. That soul will be able to pass to the realms of light and love with little resistance. The problem is that the soul leaves behind it’s spirit body. The strong spirit body becomes a shell that floats in the astral atmosphere until it decays. These astral shells possess the greatest danger. Souls from hell are always on the lookout for these shells. Using the dark arts, they can enter them for a limited time and freely roam the astral and earth planes. You remember, it was how you were able to remain in the Richmond Farmhouse, so close to the boy.”

“I remember. Justin chanted some mumbo jumbo and I was able to create a body.”

“Justin drew an astral shell to you through meditation and you stepped inside. Much like putting on a ‘space suit’ as you called it.”

“I’m not proud of it.” I looked at the ground so I wouldn’t have to look at John. “I always thought meditation was a good thing.”

“Meditation brings spiritual energy to the practitioner. Beings of light and dark both use meditation to increase their spiritual energy. The difference, beings of light use their energy to serve God and others. Beings of darkness use spiritual energy to gain supernatural powers and to control others.”

“Are supernatural powers bad?”

“Depends how they’re used. The Son displayed supernatural powers for the greater good. Turning water into wine, loaves and fishes, walking on water to show us the way. All of humankind possesses the potential to perform these acts. There’s really nothing supernatural about them.”

“I guess the average Joe just hasn’t learned the way.”

“Exactly. Someday it’ll be commonplace. Anyway, souls of the damned use meditation to possess the shells of former spirit bodies, hoping to cause tragedy and thus create new spirit shells to possess until they are destroyed. It’s a never ending cycle.”

“How are they destroyed?” I asked.

“If left alone, spirit shells will decay naturally, much like a physical body does. Ritual and prayer can speed up the process. When you were driven out during the ritual of exorcism the spirit body shell you were borrowing was destroyed, causing you to be pulled back to the fires of hell.”

“Is this the reason dark souls look to create and cause so much destruction and chaos?” I asked.

“Indeed.” John said. “When the Son of God was crucified his body was laid in the tomb but never found. There’s a reason for that. Because of this tragedy, two angels came to earth to speed up the dematerialization of the Son’s physical body through a process of accelerated radiation that human science has not yet discovered. These are the angels Mary met in the garden, as recorded in the Bible. Are you familiar with the Shroud of Turin?”

“I can’t say that I am.”

“The shroud is the burial cloth of the Son’s physical body. Earthly scientists have long studied the image on the cloth and have not yet been able to determine how it got there. The image was formed due to the radiation residue of the dematerialization process. The angels wanted to keep the physical body out of the hands of grave robbers and also to prevent the remaining astral shell from becoming a temporary home to some demented soul from the netherworld.”

“I can imagine if a dark soul found an astral shell as strong as the Son’s, it wouldn’t have been good.” I said.

“You’re correct. Possession of a spirit body is gradual, the entity must work hard to crack the owner’s defenses, but possession of a spirit shell is not difficult. If no one is living there, there’s no defense against attack.”

“Like squatters.” I said.

“What are squatters?” John asked.

“It’s slang for homeless people who go around taking up residence in abandoned or vacant homes.”

“I’ll never be able keep up with the latest mortal slang, but yes, that’s a good analogy.” John said.

“During possession, dark souls, or demons as people like to call them, often use intimidation and supernatural phenomenon to create an atmosphere that excites fear. In reality, these demons are relatively powerless. The key is in the scripture. God gave dominion to man over demons. This holds true today as it did eons ago. No demon is more powerful than the human. What demons are good at are lies and deception. They make it seem like God is nowhere to be found. They play off this illusion. People begin to think God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t care, because if he did, he wouldn’t allow bad things to happen.”

“The Kingdom of God is built on faith. Faith strengthens the kingdom and thus strengthens the human. It’s a two-way street. The way to defeat a haunting is to remain calm, remain faithful, and believe in God. The problem is that demons have become very good at making this task difficult.”

“How?” I asked.

“The ego, demons are master manipulators of the human ego. They trick their way inside using illusion and deception. The ego is the part of man’s mind that believes he is greater than himself. The ego sees itself as separate and apart from God. This is the farthest thing from the truth. Demons use this illusion to their advantage. People chase worldly things like money and power. They believe this gives them control. It’s a lie. God is in control and always has been, but the ego thinks itself is in control. It sees power and believes this is the truth. Money and power on earth is always a temporary illusion. It always dies. Your friends, Justin and Corbin, have fallen under the spell of the ego’s illusion. They believe that freeing the demons will grant them power. They’re wrong, dead wrong.”

“I always knew Justin could see never see anything greater than himself.”

“Justin’s not unusual. He’s young and misguided. You can help him. You can show him the light.” John said.

“What about Corbin?” I asked.

“He’s not ready. You can’t help someone who does not want to be helped.” John said.

“How did it get so bad?” I asked. “How did he slip so far?”

“Corbin’s story is not all that uncommon. He grew up in a broken home. There was no abuse, but there was no love either. Corbin’s family simply existed. They rarely interacted with one another. There was no laughter, strangers living under the same roof. He was never misguided, he simply was never guided.”

“Corbin wasn’t one for socializing and never had many friends. He grew angry because of this. Isolation, too much of it, it’s never good. One must find the balance in all things. Time spent alone is good, but Corbin took it to the extreme. He once went four months without seeing another human being. He was gifted with a powerful and sharp intelligence, a genius, parallel with the greatest minds in history. Corbin could have been the next Isaac Newton, but he misused his gift. Corbin developed Gateway, but at what cost? Unlike Newton, it cost Corbin his soul. Newton brought advancement to the human race. Corbin will bring destruction, unless we can stop him.”

“Can he do it? Can he break the chains that bind the evil?”

“Yes, but not alone.”

“He still needs Justin?” I asked.

“Yes, and he needs you.” My eyes grew large and my mind scrambled, causing me to pause before speaking.

“Well then he’s screwed. That will never happen.” I scoffed.

“Careful William, history is a great teacher even if the stories it tells aren’t always absolute truth. Arrogance led to Lucifer’s fall. Don’t let it take you too.”

“Really, you think they’ll get to me? Not a chance.” I said.

“Evil is powerful and intelligent, don’t underestimate it. Dark souls are masters and turning a person’s weakness against them. Nobody in history sets out to fall. Always a seed is planted and grows without awareness. When you plant a garden, you don’t see the produce grow. You check one morning and it’s there. Don’t let this weed take hold.” John said.

“How do I stop it?” I asked.

“Weed the garden of your mind everyday … then do it again.” John said. I could see concern on his face. He wasn’t joking, but falling under evil’s spell seemed like the farthest concern for my mind.

“So you think the element of surprise will work?” I asked, wiping my forehead with an uncertain hand.

“It has before, it will again. The darkness will underestimate you. To them you’re nothing. I doubt you’re even on their radar.”

“Thanks for that.” I said, again looking down at my feet. John could sense my lack of confidence.

“That’s how a carpenter and a handful of fishermen beat the darkness.” John said, snapping away my nagging doubt in an instant.

“I can see by your expression that the light bulb is gone off.” John said.

“How’d you do it?” I asked.

“God didn’t beat the darkness with a powerful king and legions of warring armies. That’s not his way. The humblest, most unlikely, a child born of common means. From these common roots grew a charismatic leader of men who brought light to a dark world. A powerful speaker with the ability to stir hearts and grow love in the souls of men. To stir passions for spiritual glory, not the worldly glory that the ego stirs. True love, true spiritual glory, that same power lies in all of us, it lies in you, William.” John said.

“I’m not him.” I said.

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” John said. “Those words survived. The Son spoke them and I wrote them down.”

“Come on John, you can’t be serious. You can’t compare me to him.”

“There is a difference, he had faith, you have doubt. The biggest challenge the host of heaven has today is getting humans to believe in their true potential just as we did so long ago. We can’t float down from heaven. Mankind must learn to save himself rather than look for a miracle. The miracle is inside them. It’s inside all of them. William, the miracle is you. Chose the spiritual path and you’ll go far. People ask themselves where they’d like to be in five years. I like to ask people where they’ll be in five thousand years.”

John was right. It wasn’t a powerful army with swords of gold, it was a peaceful warrior, a Robin Hood and his band of merry men that once upon a time beat the so-called devil.

“The only place to go is up, but sometimes we have to go down before going up.” John said.

“I don’t want to go to hell alone.” I said.

“This has to be an inside job. The element of surprise is foremost and frankly, our only prayer. David versus Goliath. If I came it would only serve to condemn you. Your cover would be blown.” John said.

“You really think I can possess Judas? Forgive me, John, but part of me thinks you’re nuts.”

“I’ve been told that before. When I left my job to follow the Son I had plenty of people telling me I was crazy.” John said.

“How do you have such absolute faith in me?” I asked.

“You did it to the Richmond kid at the farmhouse.” John said.

“Yeah, but the kid was easy. He had no faith. Part of him even wanted it.” I said.

“You just illuminated the key to your advantage.”

“If that were true it would mean Judas wanted to be saved. By the looks of the vision you showed me he wants no part of salvation.” I said.

“Part of him does. Part of all of us wants to go home. A piece of Judas wants to be saved. The small speck of light you once found in your soul exists in his soul too. It’s in everyone.” John said.

“What’s stopping him?” I asked.

“Pride. Breakdown his pride. Create a crack in the armor just like you did with the boy. Then you’ll gain possession.” John said.

“Say that I actually make it in, then what? My reign of terror was short-lived if you remember. I wasn’t very successful.”

“The darkness is manipulating Judas’ ego. You only need to control and influence Judas long enough to loosen the screws. Then, maybe Judas will see the light. The dark plague on Judas’ mind can be lifted long enough to free him.”

“How do you know it will work?” I asked.

John smiled, “have faith.”

“Teach me.” I said.

“Start with prayer. Prayer is the vehicle which strengthens faith. Pray as much and as often as you can. Create a mind which is in a constant state of prayer. Believe in its power. Prayer without belief is simply lip service.”

I lowered my head full of doubt, feeling I’d never reach the level of faith John had for me.

“It’s common, for people in our line of work to feel what you’re feeling. Don’t be alarmed, William.”

“What’d you mean that it’s common to feel this way?” I asked.

“The spiritual path is never easy, as you know. I felt it, my brother felt it, the Son felt it … fear and frustration.”

“You mean the Son of God was scared?”

“The Son of God was fully human, William. He had all the feelings and emotions you and I do … hopes and fears. Frustration sets in when free will rules. The Son offered salvation to all who had ears to listen. Unfortunately, the souls who could hear and perceive the true spiritual meaning behind his words were far and few between.

“He did it anyway, that’s what you’re getting at, right?” I said.

“That’s the beauty of his life. He knew full well the repercussions of his actions. He did it anyway. He had free will, just like you and I. He did it anyway. He could have stayed home, not embarked on his teaching mission, maybe raised a family. All fine things, all in the realm of free will, the father would have been pleased. He did it anyway.”

“You’re telling me God would have been OK with the Son not taking up the mission, not bearing the cross?”

“Yes.”

“How?”

“Because God respects choice. God doesn’t want us to be robotic. The Son gave himself willingly so that others may live by his example. Deep down he knew if he left his home to proclaim the power of God’s divine love changing the souls of men, it would mean his death.”

“He did it anyway.” I whispered looking down at my feet.

“He did it anyway.” John said, turning his back and stepping through my door into the hallway.

“Wait, John.” I called out as he was walking down the hallway. “What did he look like, the Son?”

John turned and smiled, “like the rest of us … a sunburned Palestinian.”

***

John pitched a hard sale. He had a way of opening my soul, getting me to look deep. The problem, I saw darkness. I fought hard against the images of Reverend Channing and what I did to him. The depths of my being screamed that I was the one who needed redemption. I was the one who needed to be saved. Deep down I could feel it, a future void of happiness, empty.

I returned to my room and laid down on the bed. That’s when the blinding pain bombarded my head, opening a vision in my mind. My soul seemed to float through the ceiling, climbing to the realms of the high heavens. Winds swirled me and I felt heat like fire. I couldn’t see, the light was too bright, but I could hear. Voices spoke and I knew them immediately, James and John.

“There’s a greater work at stake here. You know what I am talking about. We’ve worked so hard, so many years. We don’t have eternity, not on this matter. You know it to be true, James. Time is limited here. William is our best chance.” John’s voice sounded from my right side.

“We’ve given so much, John. I know that. Neither of us are the type to give up. Nobody will question our efforts or our heart. Sometimes we have to let go. Some things are not meant to be. I’m beginning think this is one of those lessons. Free will rules here. It’s Judas’s will, not ours, and not God’s, that will determine the outcome. It’s time to walk away, brother.” James’ voice sounded from my left.

“I respect your opinion, but I’ll never give up. I can’t walk away. I’ll say it again. William is our best chance to bring Judas home.” John argued.

“I don’t know John. I’ve got to disagree. Call it off. William isn’t the one.”

“No James, it’s him, he’s the one. He’s the one to pull Judas out.” John’s tone intensified.

“But he can’t see it. He can’t see all of it, the whole picture.” James pleaded.

“Nobody can. That’s the point isn’t it brother? The Kingdom of Heaven is built on faith, blind faith.” John said.

“And you need William because of his blindness.” James’ voice sounded condemning.

“He’s no different than we were all those years ago, sitting on that log eating those fish. Why did we do it? Why did we follow the Son? We had no clue who he was other than speculation. We chose to follow anyway. We chose blind faith.” John said.

“Are you sure about the plan, about how it’ll all go down?” James said.

“I’m sure. It’s the only way. It has to be William. It’s always had to be him.” John whispered.

“What about the price, John … what about the price?” James’ voice faded and the vision snapped away as quick as it came.

I jolted upright in bed, my soul feeling like it had been jammed back into my spirit body, those final words haunting me to the core.

I stood up and walked over to the only window in my room, clenching my stomach. Looking out over the colorful flowers and rolling hills of green had given me peace, this time was different. The colors weren’t bright. The once fluffy white clouds grew heavy and dark. I turned from the window, sliding my back down the wall to the floor. A bad moon on the rise.

Chapter 6

The street outside Justin’s home was quiet and dark; the atmosphere heavy, muddy, thick. I don’t know why I returned, maybe for answers, maybe for familiarity.

A full moon illuminated the rope swing hanging from a rugged oak in the front yard. I remembered the first time I saw it. Justin was showing off, bragging about how he could climb the rope and hang from the branch above. Allison was there, the reason for Justin’s theatrics. He slipped, allegedly leaving a nasty sprain in his wrist. Allison rushed to his aid. I felt jealousy, wanting her closeness for myself, bitter for not coming up with the spectacle even though I knew it was wrong. I later learned Justin faked the injury to milk Allison’s affections, wearing a brace for a month afterward, my first insight into who Justin really was.

I floated down the long narrow sidewalk up to the front porch. One light was out giving the home a neglected feel. I passed through the front door, ascending the stairs to his bedroom. The door was shut, something Justin never did, never passing on the opportunity to let someone in for a chat. Something felt off as I entered the room. I froze. Justin was sitting on the edge of his bed holding a small handgun.

“Justin, no!” I shouted as if he could hear me. He sat mesmerized, staring into the gun’s barrel, passing it from one hand to the other. Justin was in a dark place, so dark his mind was sheathed in black smoke, leaving me straining to see his thoughts. A combination of deep remorse and fear flowed from Justin’s aura. Remorse is good, it meant he could be reached. Fear is a nightmare. People hide from fear, run from it. Only true heroes dare to face down fear and confront it head on. Something neither Justin nor I knew anything about. The only thing Justin faced was the barrel of a gun. He was running, something I knew well.

I stretched my hand to reach for the gun but froze solid. Panic took a hold on my nerves, my old acquaintance. I’d always known an extreme fear of guns. I stepped back and breathed deep, concentrating all thought towards stopping Justin from going through with it. Colored energy flowed from my mind and heart into Justin’s spiritual aura. Green is the color of healing. A bright green hue formed around Justin’s spiritual body but could not penetrate. I focused harder, prayed longer, until the room glowed bright green. Only a thin black layer blocked the light from entering Justin, from saving him. Fear was the blackness surrounding him. He simply couldn’t let go as he raised the gun to his head. I fell face first on the ground unable to watch what was coming. A Mack truck couldn’t have hit as hard as I hit that floor. Even as a spirit it jolted my core.

***

The murder of Mr. Chase was never solved and the police had no leads. No one knew Corbin and Justin were conducting a paranormal investigation of his house the night he was murdered. Corbin needed to finance his research. What better way than hit up the richest man in town. Mr. Chase was a prominent business man in the state, very straight and narrow, one of the few in Millersville. Owning a chain of outdoor sporting goods stores, he’d done quite well for himself.

Mr. Chase wanted desperately to cling to his sterling reputation, his livelihood depended on it. If word got out that he feared the running’s of the imagination, believed in ghosts, he would be just like the rest of the Outsiders and the sporting community would shun him. Mr. Chase didn’t even want his family to know he feared the paranormal. In reality, he had nothing to fear. Justin, under the direction of Corbin, faked the haunting.

A phantom dancing after midnight, Justin pranced around the Chase home, leaving lights on and moving objects from their intended resting place, making sure the phenomenon happened only to Mr. Chase. It’s not uncommon. Fortune tellers and circus folk have been staging parlor tricks for centuries to drum up a little business when times got hard.

Mr. Chase arranged for his wife and children to be out of town the week of the investigation. No one had a clue. Suspicion rose after Mr. Chase turned up missing the same weekend his wife and children were out of town. The police initially believed he simply disappeared and didn’t want to be found. A man with as much money as Mr. Chase could pull it off. The only wrinkle was that his portfolio remained intact, not a penny was missing.

Rumors floated around town that his wife had him killed so she could cash in. There was never any evidence against her, why would there be, the case remains open.

Justin hated himself for what he did and what happened to Monika and myself. He hated Corbin even more. It shouldn’t have shocked me like it did when the room went silent. I opened my eyes to see Justin’s journal lying on his bedroom floor, expecting Justin’s spirit to be standing next to it but instead found nothing. The last journal entry gave a confession to Mr. Chase’s murder, Corbin’s death, and his own.

I bolted out of Justin’s house in time to catch him pulling out of his driveway, heading to confront Corbin. “Justin! Trust me, revenge will backfire, it always does.” I screamed to an unresponsive zombie as I entered the car, eyes glazed over, his mind in a far darker reality than my own. Needing a miracle, I jammed my finger into the dash of his car, interrupting the radio signal, causing a wave of static to come across and the dashboard lights to flicker. Justin slapped the dash hard with his right hand, knocking my finger out of the electrical box.

I crawled into the engine. You know how people blame gremlins when things go bad? They’re partially right, but it’s not gremlins, its desperate spirits trying to get the attention of humans too blind to see their own self-destruction.

I pulled hard on every hose, nut, and bolt in that engine, nothing worked. I felt my spirit body become moist and warm, panic. Gateway was less than five miles away. Justin would be there soon.

A flash of blinding light appeared next to me. “Not a car guy huh, William.” It was John. “Neither am I. More of a donkey man but I’ve learned a few tricks over the years.” John reached his hand down, grabbing hold of the ignition coil. He took his left hand and directed the electricity away from the coil and into the ground, causing Justin’s car to stall.

“What the hell!” I heard from the driver’s seat as Justin pulled over to the shoulder. He got out and looked under the hood, unable to find anything wrong.

“We’re not allowed to directly interfere with a person’s free will, but can on occasion manipulate a person’s environment.” John said.

Justin pulled out a cell phone and called a tow truck. Part of him seemed relieved which told me he wanted help. He just didn’t know how to get it.

“This is a temporary fix, William. Justin needs further intervention to be swayed from the destructive path he’s currently on. It’s only a matter of time before he tries again.”

“How long?” I asked.

“That I can’t say. We cannot predict the future.” John said.

John and I stood beside Justin on that dark highway as the tow truck lights grew brighter. His body shook and his mind raced with scrambled thought.

“How can I help him?” I asked.

“Right now, in his current state, you can’t. He needs rest. Rest is always the first component of mental clarity. His mind will settle by morning.”

“What then?” I asked.

“Communication.”

“I’ve tried. It didn’t work. He couldn’t hear a word I tried to tell him.”

“You’re not strong enough to create a full manifestation like I did when we met at your school, but you can communicate. We just need a medium.” John said.

I looked at John with that look you get when the light bulb goes off. John looked back at me, intuitively knowing what I was going to suggest, his face pale.

“Corbin.”

***

The idea was repulsive, but when your back is pinned desperation sets in, and desperation is a breeding ground for creativity. I left Justin’s bedside the next day after his mind had stabilized and followed Corbin into his house, trailing him throughout the home, creating subtle cold spots around the residence. Corbin was adept at noticing the paranormal. It didn’t take long for him to realize he wasn’t alone.

“Who’s there? Tell me your name? What do you want?” he asked, I pushed hard against the closet door. It rattled slightly, Corbin was not easily shaken.

“You’re not going to scare me. I’ve dealt with your kind before. In fact, I’ve dealt with far worse.” Corbin spoke into the air. “I’m going to continue on with my business. I don’t care if you’re here or not.”

Corbin entered his bathroom and turned on the shower. I snuck in, waiting for the bathroom to steam up before taking my finger and tracing the word revenge into the steamed mirror.

Corbin got out of the shower and dried off. His body startled when he saw the mirror. I could see his mind scanning a list of names whom he’d wronged. William Stark stuck hard into his brain. I made sure of it.

“Will.” Corbin smiled. “Is that you causing all this mischief? I bet you’re pissed huh? I get it, but come on man. You against me … you’re not winning that one.” He said, pulling a voice recorder from his desk drawer. I caused the red recording light to flash three times, getting his attention.

“Ouija.” I spoke into the recorder, wanting a tool to make sure the communication was clear as could be.

“So you want to chat. Well then, let’s chat.” Corbin got a spirit board and sat down. I sat across from him, placing my hands on the planchette.

“Are you angry?” Corbin asked. I moved the planchette to the word no, half in denial. “Then why are you here?” I spelled the name, Justin.

“Justin, what about him, you want something from him?”

Communicate.

“You want me to tell him something?” Corbin asked.

Yes.

“What?,” Corbin asked.

Medium. U.

“You want me to act as a medium for you to speak to Justin.” Corbin said.

Yes.

I took my hands off the board. Corbin stood up and walked around the room. “Tomorrow night. He’ll be at Gateway. You be there too. Now get out!”

***

The next evening I waited inside Gateway for Justin show. Not much changed. Corbin was in his usual spot in front of his computer screen. The couch in the middle of the room looked as if it hadn’t been sat in for months. A colony dust bunnies had taken up residence on the floor under Justin’s desk.

I heard footsteps as the ceiling joists creaked above me. Justin walked in thirty seconds later. I could see through him, right to the gun between the waistband of his jeans. Guns made me nervous. Cold, void of empathy, destruction their only intention.

“Hey Justin, over here.” Corbin motioned for Justin to sit on the couch. “This is crazy, but I think Will was in my house last night, his spirit anyway.” Corbin said.

“Will? Are you sure?” Justin asked.

“Yeah, he communicated through an Ouija board.” Corbin said.

“What did he say?” Justin asked, dropping his guard and looking down at the coffee table.

“He said he wanted me to kill you.” Corbin said. Justin’s body tensed as we both let out a collective gasp that shot though the room. When Justin lifted his eyes from the coffee table he found them looking down the barrel Corbin’s revolver. “Now, reach behind your back and place your gun on the table.” Corbin ordered Justin.

“No!” I shouted at both Corbin and Justin, neither able to perceive as much as a whisper. “This is not what I want. I’m here to save you, both of you!”

Justin’s energy field turned black as he reached behind and pulled out the gun, placing it on the table. “Why?” He asked.

“Revenge. Will wants you dead. Probably to deal with you face-to-face.” Corbin lied.

“Revenge? You’re the one who killed him … and Monika. Not me.” Justin said.

“Not you, yes. It should’ve been you, if you had any balls, but you don’t. You leave others to your dirty work. Anyway, it doesn’t matter. Will didn’t stick around to explain the details and I really didn’t care. Now, get up slowly and walk to my van.”

“You don’t want to do this, you can’t.” Justin pleaded. “The police, if they find me dead, they’ll come knocking.”

“That’s just the thing, Justin. You’ll be dead alright, but you won’t be found.”

“Corbin stop! I’m begging you!”

“It’s going to look awfully fishy when you turn up missing. I’ll tell them how you always talked about skipping town. A runner looks guilty does he not?”

Corbin bound Justin’s hands and feet with wire, rendering him helpless before forcing him into the back of his van.

“I know you’re here, Will.” Corbin spoke out loud. “You should’ve moved on, left well enough alone. You shouldn’t have come back.” I tried in vain to free Justin but was powerless. Corbin drove out of town. Justin’s mouth was gagged, the only sound for miles was his choking on spit and doom.

“This is where you your ride ends.” Corbin said, stopping at the edge of a secluded woods. The rushing Bear Creek river sent chills down my spine. Corbin placed a bag on Justin’s head. His eyes wide with terror. His body wiggled and writhed against its restraints. I screamed for Corbin to stop as he dragged Justin to the river’s edge. “This is how you properly dispose of a body.” Corbin yelled as he slid Justin’s twisting flesh down a large slippery rock and into the river. The roaring water swallowed Justin fast and hungry. I scrambled after him … screaming for his spirit.

Chapter 7

I sprinted down the gloomy riverbank fully expecting to see Justin’s spirit standing alone and lost. I called out to him telepathically. If he was near he’d have heard me, nothing. The weather picked up, intensifying into heavy rain. Winds swirled, causing the tips of the evergreens to sway wildly.

In the distance I saw a faint light, thinking it might be the glow from Justin’s spirit body as I approached. The glow wasn’t that of a Spirit. It was a lantern. Odd that someone would be standing alone on the riverbank in the middle of the night during a pouring rain. The glow increased as I drew near, giving way to a silhouetted figure. It was tall, almost a foot taller than me.

“My coin.” A gruff voice sounded, knocking me back. How could this person know I was there? I was a spirit.

The figure turned, “my payment.” It said holding out it’s hand. It wasn’t human … at least not anymore. “You want passage, you pay for it.”

The figure was muscular with glowing reddish eyes. Scars lined its face, like scratches. The skin was pale and gray.

“I’m looking for my friend.” The words choked from my mouth.

“No friend here.” The figure said, looking down at the rope in its hand. The rope was tied to a small boat that crashed in the waves of the rushing river. A crack of lightning illuminated a large pole, like a staff, lying in the boat.

“You seek passage?” The figure asked.

“What’s across there? I can’t see anything, it’s too dark?” I said.

“Hell.”

I looked at the figure, a callousness that would strike fear into the noblest warrior stared back at me. I swallowed hard, turned, and ran. A growl sounded in the distance behind me. I didn’t look back.

I scoured the shoreline, frantic as mouse in a cage for any sign of Justin or his remains but found nothing. I couldn’t shake the image of the figure standing on the riverbank, haunting.

I returned to Gateway, looking for any clue. Corbin was sitting at his computer, eating a bucket of KFC like nothing happened.

“I see murder hasn’t affected your appetite.” Corbin was unable to hear me, distracted by a game of Minecraft. I scoured the Gateway lab with great haste before I could no longer stand Corbin’s presence, the sight disgusted me. I found nothing and returned to Justin’s house, hoping I might find him … dead or alive.

His room was empty. Had the river claimed his life he would’ve likely returned to a place of familiarity. The house phone rang. I could hear his mother’s voice downstairs.

“Mrs. Browning? There’s been an accident. Your son’s at St. John’s Hospital. He’s in a coma.” Was all I needed to hear before I was standing at Justin’s hospital bed.

Justin was looking down upon his body unaware I was standing right beside him until I touched his shoulder and he about floated through the roof.

“Good God! Will!” Justin said falling back to the floor. “Am I dead? Are you here to take me to the afterlife?”

“No, you’re in a coma.” I said.

“A coma?” Justin said.

“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing to a young man standing at the foot of Justin’s bed.

“He’s my brother. Works at the burger joint on the corner. Mom called him. She’s on her way. God Will, I’m so scared!”

“Your brother? I never knew you had a brother.” I said.

“He stayed behind in California when my mom and I moved to Millersville. I asked him to come after I heard he was getting into trouble at school. I thought finishing his last year of high school here, where I could help him, would be good for both of us. He’s always looked up to me.”

“Sounds like trouble runs in the family.” I said.

“Will, I’m so sorry.” Justin turned toward me.

“Save it!” I snapped.

“I deserve that.” Justin hung his head.

“Do you remember what happened?” I asked.

“Yeah, kind of, Corbin threw me in the damn river. I blacked out, woke up to large man with red eyes standing over me. He was asking for a coin or something, wanted some type of payment. I told him I didn’t have anything. He just grumbled. Something about the old ways and traditions being lost, how it was impossible to earn a decent wage in modern times. He kept saying, ‘the sticks.’ I said ‘yeah, we’re in the middle of the sticks, it’s Millersville.’”

“I met him too, while looking for you.” I said.

“Who was he?” Justin asked.

“I don’t know, some demon probably. Scared the daylights out of me.”

“It’s Styx … with a Y,” a soft voice sounded from behind. I turned to see Monika standing behind us. “The being you met was Charon.”

“Who?” I asked.

“You never bothered to study your Greek mythology did you? Charon is the ferryman. He ushers lost souls across the River Styx, into Hades. Will, I’m surprised you didn’t recognize him, you both being ushers of sorts.”

“Sorry, must have fallen asleep during that lecture.” I said.

“You’re lucky you didn’t go across, Justin. The silver cord surely would have been severed from your body. Your spirit would have been lost in hell for God knows how long.” Monika said.

“This is crazy.” Justin said. “So I’m not dead, but you’re dead. I can see you both.”

“Yeah, about that.” I said.

“Oh God! Will. Monika. I’m so sorry about what happened, that you had to die.” Justin was visibly shaken. The three of us shuffled our feet, no one looking at the other.

“I can’t be here.” Monika said, pulling away. Justin slumped his head further down.

“I … I’m sorry.” He said, Monika was gone.

“Will, I know I can’t say anything or apologize enough for what happened. I’m sorry.”

“Okay, Justin.”

“Now what?” He asked.

I shrugged my shoulders, “looks like you’re caught between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”

“What should I do?” He asked. “Will, you gotta help me out.” His words felt like demands, like he was ordering me around, like he always did.

“I don’t have to do a anything!” My harshness jolted Justin.

“I’m sorry, Will. You’re right. I’m just so scared.”

Part of me took pity in that moment. It was a small part. “Well, I was once in your position if you recall.”

“I do,” Justin looked down.

“You’re free to move about the spirit world, at least the earth realms. I’m guessing your access to the higher realms of light is well, restricted.” I said.

“I messed up big time, didn’t I?” I could see the glow of his spirit body change. Sparkles of red danced through his aura. A wave of genuine remorse fell over him.

“Look, I’ve learned a little bit during my short time over here. There’s always forgiveness, even for guys like us.” I said.

Justin smiled briefly. “Thanks Will, you were and still are a great friend. I’m sorry I wasn’t one to you.”

I imagined every profanity I’d shout at Justin when we first met face to face. Nothing came. It’s hard to be angry with one who shows true contrition.

“We got to keep you alive.” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“You can go back. Share your story. Stop Corbin. People will listen, you’re good at that, get them to listen. I saw your journal. You were going to confess to the murders, kill Corbin, and then yourself. At least until I stopped you.”

“You knew about that. Wait a minute, you stopped me?”

“Well, a friend of mine, technically. A spirit far more advanced than I caused your car to stall. This is a second chance for you. He told me to help you. It’s why I’m here.”

“Who was he?” Justin asked.

“Names are unimportant.”

“How do I make sure I stay alive?” Justin asked.

“Pray, stay by your body. I’m going to return to my home in the Summerlands. I’ll ask for help and pray for healing.”

“Don’t leave me, Will, I’ve never felt so alone. I’ve never been so scared.”

“I’ll be back. I have to go and get help.”

“The Summerland, huh?” Justin said.

“Yeah, one step above the earth plane. Not much different really. The sun is always shining, reminds me of California. You’d like it.” My words were meant to comfort Justin until I returned. Seeing him for who he really was, a scared kid, softened my heart. He wasn’t the cold hearted boy I thought he was.

“I hope to see it someday.” Justin turned and sat on the bed next to his comatose body. I floated out into the hallway. Monika was there, listening.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“It’s so hard. I’ve got so much anger towards him, even for my spiritual advancement.”

“What he did is wrong.” I said.

“It’s not even about me. It’s about my family. They didn’t deserve this. They’re the ones suffering. Me, I’m great. I live in a realm that is more beautiful than I could’ve ever imagined, but the thought of them stuck here on earth, agonizing over me … it’s too much.”

I put my hand on Monika’s shoulder. The young man, Justin’s brother, stepped out into the hallway, his eyes filled with tears, taking one last look at Justin’s comatose body before turning and proceeding down the hallway. He stopped, right where Monika stood, a feeling came over him.

“That was odd. It seemed like he could sense your presence, Monika.”

“His name is Jacob.”

“You know him?”

“He’s my charge. That’s why I’m here, for him, not Justin.”

“You were right, Monika. I wouldn’t have ever believed that your charge was Justin’s brother. No wonder he’s troubled.”

“He’s a good kid, Will. We can’t pick our family.” My sarcasm seemed to upset Monika. “I just hope I can help him is all.”

“You will. I’m sorry, now isn’t the time for jokes. You hold your calling to the highest regard, Monika. That’s why you’ll succeed.” I felt bad for poking fun at Justin’s brother.

“I’m going to talk to Justin. Tell him how much he hurt my family.” Monika said. I grabbed her arm before she could enter Justin’s hospital room.

“Wait, I have to ask you to stop. In time you can express your feelings. You have every right to do so. But now is not that time. Justin’s in a far too fragile and vulnerable state. Please, I’m begging you to hold off, Monika please.”

Monika took a deep breath and waited. “Okay, you’re right. I’ll do it for you, Will.”

“Thank you. Let’s get outta here. Hospitals creep me out.”

I took Monika’s hand and floated out of the hospital, stopping in the parking lot. A light rain was still falling. It always seemed to rain in Millersville, fitting for a sorry place like this.

“You heading back to your home?” I asked.

“Yeah, I feel guilty though.” Monika said.

“Why’s that?”

“I still haven’t visited my parents. I know they can’t see or hear me, but my presence, they could feel it. I just can’t bring myself to see them right now.”

“I understand. Don’t beat yourself up. In time you will go and comfort them.”

“Thanks Will.” Monika said, tears formed at the corner of her eyes, the very same time my eyes grew huge.

“Oh God! No!” I yelled.

“What is it?”

“The van parked over there.” I pointed. “It’s Corbin.”

Monika and I teleported back to the hospital room. Justin’s spirit was frantic, trying to fight Corbin off his physical body but it was no use. Corbin held a pillow down on his face, cutting off his air supply. A brazen move considering the hospital was littered with security cameras, but I suppose a man with the tech skills of Corbin would have no issue hacking the system and deleting the footage.

“We’ve got to do something!” Monika shouted.

“We need to sound the alarm, get the nurse’s attention.” I’d slowly been gaining success in manipulating the physical environment. With forceful intent I concentrated hard on the IV sensor, forcing it to signal the end of the IV bag even though it was over three quarters full. The alarm sounded loud in Corbin’s ear, forcing him to relinquish his grip on the pillow and scurry out of the room. A nurse came rushing in to check Justin’s vitals, which quickly stabilized.

“Huh,” was the nurses’ only utterance before she left to return to her station.

“Thank God you two were here. I couldn’t hold him off.” Justin was distraught.

Monika and I looked at each other with relieved eyes. “We bought some time, but he’ll be back. He’ll try again. He won’t stop.” Monika said.

“I’ll follow him, make sure that when he does try again I’ll know about it. You should head back, work on a plan to stop Corbin. Keep your ears on. If I call, come running. Justin, you stay here. Anything goes wrong, we’ll be here.” I instructed.

“Thank you. Thank you, both.” Justin said.

I left the hospital and waited at Corbin’s home, watching from a window as he pulled into the driveway. I crept behind him when he entered, wanting to grab the closest object and slam it into the back of his brain.

“We got a problem Stark, you and I.” Corbin felt my presence. The intensity of my thoughts giving me away, making the environment ripe for hostile psychic communication.

You’re right, we do. I sent my thoughts out to him, engaging in a battle of wills.

“I need you, Will. We both know that. Congrats, you’ve got the upper hand.” Corbin spoke aloud, picking up a bible from his desk.

Didn’t take you for the religious type.

“I’m an opportunist. With the good Reverend Channing dead and gone, the mindless Puritans needed someone to lead them … and I needed followers. The end of days is near, William Stark, guilt will be on your hands. You’ll bring the earth to her knees.”

You’re more deranged than Reverend Channing. What do you want?

“I want to play, let’s make a deal.” Corbin said.

I’ve never known you to be sarcastic type, besides, I’m tired of that game. I responded.

“I’ll leave Justin alone if you help me out.”

I’ll pass.

“Let me say it again, in a way you’ll understand. Listen hard, Stark.” Corbin said. “I won’t take Justin’s throat and rip it out of his body, if you pitch in.” Corbin was trying to push me around. “I just need to borrow you for a second. I need your juice or power or whatever it is that allows you to guide souls out of the underworld.”

You want me to help free that creepy relative for you. Every family has one.

“You’re a smart ass, Will. Actually you don’t have to do a thing, just let me borrow your power. Sunny is already at the door, I just need you to turn the knob.”

No deal.

“Let’s get your spirit locked into Gateway, huh? It will only take a painless second. Hell, you can both go to the police. Rat me out. I won’t try and stop you.”

I paused before sending my thoughts out in response. It wasn’t a bad deal. Sunny would be free from Hell which wasn’t good but he’d be confined to the astral plane. There’s always a risk of possession, but he could be driven out should that happen. Together, Justin I could build a case against Corbin, bring him to justice for the murder of Monika, Mr. Chase, and myself. He’d never walk in sunshine again.

What do I have to do?

“Stand over by Gateway. Surround the device with your energy. When I power it on it will make a connection. You’ll produce enough energy to create a vibrational pull, essentially creating a bridge for Sunny to walk out on.”

You’ll be hunted. We’ll come for you. You’ll be brought to justice for the murders you committed. You have my word.

“I would expect nothing less.” Corbin’s energy was unnaturally calm.

Confliction ran through my mind. Taking the deal was huge risk. Some might say foolish. I pinched myself, pulling my mind from temptation. The chance to put Corbin away for good was enticing, but not worth the price tag.

Sorry Corbin, no deal.

“Too bad. Funny though. I knew you wouldn’t go for it. That’s why I did what I did.”

What?

“Slipped the morphine injection into Justin’s IV before placing the pillow over his face. Don’t worry I’m sure he went peacefully, better than drowning in that cold river.”

My heart squeezed hard and tight within my chest.

You’re lying! My thoughts screamed out.

“Am I?” Corbin whispered.

“Hello Will.” A voice sounded. I turned to see Justin’s spirit standing right behind me, the silver cord forever severed.

***

“Oh dear God.” I fell to the floor. “Why didn’t you tell us, Justin?”

“I deserve this. I deserve death. I didn’t deserve to live after what I did to you and Monika and Mr. Chase.” Justin said.

“We could’ve stopped him. You and I together. We could’ve put Corbin away forever!”

“I don’t know, Will, maybe, maybe not.”

“You couldn’t or didn’t want to live with yourself. That’s why you chose to die rather than stay and fight!” I said, anger exploding out.

“Don’t say that Will, please don’t say that.”

“I was supposed to help you, save you!”

“I’m sorry, Will. I was scared! Can you forgive me?”

“We don’t have time.” I said. “We need to get out of here, now.”

“What, why?” Justin asked, as the crashing boom of a thousand footsteps banged in the distance like loud cracking thunder.

“Hear that? That’s why.” I said.

“What is it?” Justin tilted his head, straining to hear the faint but increasing noise.

“Marching.”

“Marching?” Justin asked.

“The armies of Hell, they’re coming.”

“For what?” Justin asked.

“You.”

“What!” Justin’s breathing intensified. “Please Will help me!” Justin shouted.

“Damnit!” I grabbed Justin’s arm and yanked him to me. “You can’t run from the law on this side. You’re going to be brought to justice.”

“I am begging you with all my heart and soul, Will, all of it. Help me!”

“Look out!” I yelled as a blackened hand, bone fully exposed, reached through the floorboards and wrapped its broken fingers around Justin’s ankle pulling hard and knocking him to his knees. I reached out with both arms, holding Justin’s body in a bear hug.

A second hand reached up and grabbed Justin’s other ankle, pulling so hard I was yanked to my stomach and flattened on the floor.

“Will!” Justin screamed, his body slipping through my arms before being pulled into eternal darkness.

Chapter 8

I hated self-loathing, but it was something I’d always been good at it. If you’ve ever been depressed, really depressed, the kind that steals your light, you’ll know what I am talking about. Loathing becomes your friend. Not the good friend who encourages you to do your best, but the bad friend who tempts you into poisonous risk. The friendship is toxic but you can never bring yourself to end it. Doing so would mean the death of your best friend.

“You’re doing it again.”

“What?” I tried to hide my loathing but it was pointless. She saw right through my defenses.

“Where have you been? I thought you’d have at least tried to contact me.” Monika said, standing in the hallway outside my room. “You look troubled.”

“I’d imagine you’ve heard,” I said, standing up from my bed. I walked to the desk and poured a glass of water, even though I had no need to drink.

“Yeah, I heard.” she said.

“I suppose you’re happy, Justin being served and all.” I held the glass in my hand, looking straight through it.

“Nobody could wish hell on anyone. I’m not happy about this, Will, believe me, not one bit.” Monika grabbed my hand, forcing my attention from the glass. “Do I want Justin to learn from his mistakes? I do. I want him to feel painful remorse, but I don’t want him to suffer torture and torment in the realms of darkness.”

“I believe you Monika, I just feel so heavy. I should have tried harder to help him.”

“There’s nothing you could have done.”

“I barely hung on when the devils pulled him down.”

“The weight of his sin pulled him down. Sin allowed the dark spirits to grab hold. His vibration was slow and dense, matching the vibration of hell. Not even the mightiest angel grip could’ve clung to a soul that heavy.”

“We could have ran.”

“You’d have been caught.” Monika said.

“We could have hid.”

“You would’ve been found. Will, stop blaming yourself! It’s not your fault.”

Monika was right, but I couldn’t shake the heaviness of the guilt on my soul. As much as I despised Justin for what he did, deep down I was desperate to save him from his gruesome fate. Experience was shaping me into who I was supposed to be. When a rose died, part of me died with it. The journey had been perilous, the scars numerous. The scars were symbolic, they told me one thing … I belonged in the trenches. As much as I tried to deny it, I couldn’t. The work was dangerous, dirty, scary, but I was made for it, the privilege was mine. The scars told me that, they told me I was vulnerable, but never broken. The scars told me I was a Resurrectionist.

“I’m going with you.” Monika said, snapping me back to the present.

“What are you talking about?” I said, turning to look out my window.

“I know what you’re going to do.” She whispered.

“What?”

“Stop pretending. I know your soul. It won’t let you rest until you’ve pulled Justin out. I’m going with you, Will. To hell.”

“No.”

“I’m going.” Monika insisted.

“You’ve done too much. You’ve sacrificed too much for me already.” I said.

“Will, it’s what I do. I’ve been helping lost souls long before you came on board. Remember?”

“No, I can’t let you put yourself at risk.”

“I can guide you through the trouble and turmoil of the underworld. You need me.” She said.

“I can’t drag you into this. It’s too much.”

“Guiding you will yield tremendous spiritual growth.” Monika said.

“I see.”

“Don’t think my reasons are selfish. I’d go even if I gained nothing.”

“That’s the problem, Monika.”

“I don’t understand.” She said.

“You’re blinded by me. I don’t know what it is, but you don’t think clearly when I’m involved.” Monika looked away. “Why?” I asked.

Monika paused, staring outward then back to me. “I guess it’s time you learned the truth of who we are.”

“What truth? What are you talking about?” I asked.

“We’re soulmates.” Monika said, waiting for my response.

“Soulmates?”

“Yes.”

I didn’t realize just how blinded Monika had become. She believed us soulmates. I had to end this now, no matter how much it would hurt her.

“Allison is my soulmate.” I said as soft but direct as I could. Monika didn’t respond. A slight ripple formed in the energy around her spirit body. A small wave of dark red light released itself into the surrounding atmosphere. It’s all I needed to learn of Monika’s feelings toward Allison and her disagreement with my position.

“Will, listen to me. Allison is not your soulmate. I know you once had feelings for her but you must let them go. You must let her go.”

“Why are you saying this to me?”

“Because it’s the truth.” Monika said.

“I love Allison.” The words shocked me.

“This isn’t about love.” Monika said, her harshness stirring animosity.

“Don’t do this too me. I’ve hurt Allison too much. I’ve hurt her family too much. I have to make it right.”

“She doesn’t know the truth does she? About her father’s killer?” Monika said.

“How dare you! Just leave me alone.” I turned my back to her.

“I’m sorry, Will. Forgive me. I crossed a line.”

“Go.” I said.

“Will, let me help you.”

“Get out!”

***

I stayed in my room the equivalent of three days on earth, searching my mind for answers, but mostly staring blankly at the wall. Monika said she and I were soulmates, but I’ve only ever had true feelings for Allison. I was Monika’s weakness. If I let her follow me into hell I would be the death of her. I felt awful for blowing up the way I did, but the stress of failing, it was too much.

I needed to breathe. I’d been meeting Allison in the city gardens often. The bright colors, perfume smells, and her bubbling spirit calmed my disturbed soul like some magic elixir.

I watched her bounce from flower to flower, pausing at each one to take in its beauty like she didn’t have a care in the world. The spell the gardens put her under intoxicated me, cares seemed to fall away, if only for a moment.

“Will.” Allison said loudly. “You’ve got to smell this jasmine. It’s wonderful!” I smiled but remained silent, looking down at the flower, seeing it’s beauty for the first time.

“Do you know why I love the gardens so much?” Allison asked.

“The sense of peace they bring.” I responded.

“Wisdom.”

“Wisdom, how so?” I asked.”

“There’s knowledge here. With knowledge comes power.” Allison twirled.

“I don’t follow.” A confusion worked it’s way into my brain.

“Because you can see the difference of where we once were to where we are now. Will, we survived hell. We survived together. That gives us knowledge. That gives us power. Without seeing the ugly, we’d never see the beauty.”

“I understand. I guess in some ways you’re right, Allison.”

“I’m right in all ways.” Allison’s tone turned from playful to serious. I paused in silence, unable to form a response, the confusion returning.

“Cat got your tongue, Will? Is that any way to treat an old friend?” Allison said.

“Sorry.” I looked up. “My mind, I can’t stop. It chatters.”

Allison burst out laughing. “That’s not the only thing that chatters. The buzz around town is all about you.”

“Buzz?”

“You’re a hero, Will.”

“I’m no hero.”

“They say you’re some chosen one. This resurrectionist guy who’s going to do something important. Must be exciting to be you. Tell me about it.” Allison said.

“I can’t really talk about it. The specifics are classified. To be honest, I don’t really know much. All I can feel is the presence of dread and impending doom.”

“I figured you’d say that, Will. You’ve always had that problem. That’s why I wanted to see you.”

“What problem?” I asked.

“You only see the dark side. You only see what could go wrong. You never see what could go right. Even now, here in this beautiful garden, you only see ugliness.”

“You’re right, Allison. It’s so hard for me. I don’t know why.” Maybe there’s a darkness in me too. Maybe there always will be. John talked about acceptance and being who God made me to be. The demons knew acceptance. They weren’t trying to find the light. They knew they weren’t made for it. Maybe I should take note.

“You underestimate yourself. Will, you never see your true potential, how good you really are.”

“What makes you say that?” I asked.

“Are you kidding me? We really need to work on your self-esteem. You really can’t see it can you?

“No.”

“Do you remember pulling me out, saving me from Hellfire? Surely you haven’t forgotten that.” Allison said.

“I remember.”

“Then use it. Use it to fuel your mission. Take that experience and grow from it, gain confidence.”

“It’s just hard.”

Allison smiled, “Will. I owe you everything. You saved me. You saved my soul.” Allison believed in me, hoping to convince me to believe in myself.

Allison wrapped her arms around me, her embrace warm and inviting, pleading for me to stay in that garden forever. How can a person trade heaven for hell, of their own free will. That’s what John was asking, the impossible.

“I have to go, but I’ll be back,” she said.

“Don’t stay away long.”

“I won’t.” Allison kissed her middle and index fingers and held them to my forehead. A confused rhythm played upon my heart.

***

I’d always been a runner, not the good kind, the emotional kind. The only thing I desired was the solace of my one window room, to bury my face in the feather pillow on my bed, and retreat back into to my self-imposed prison.

“Monika. You’re here.” My body startled. Monika was standing in the middle of my room with her back turned to me when I opened the door.

“I feel bad, about how we parted.” Monika said, turning to face me. Her eyes drab, without expression.

“Me too. I’m sorry. I just don’t know about this soulmate thing.” I said.

“You’re confusing the definition of soulmates. You’re thinking about human love. Love between two people. I’m talking about soulmates in the spiritual sense. God created the soul. At birth, it divides. Two equal but separate halves. Soul mates are Yin and Yang. They separate in order to experience life independently. When both of them return to the spirit they are reunited and made whole. Will, you are my other half.”

“How do you know? How can you be sure?”

“Will, I just know.” Monika looked sharply away, her long blonde hair wrapping around her neck.

“I’ve always believed Allison and I were soulmates. You may not want to hear this, but I believe Allison and I still are. Sorry if it upsets you.” I said.

“You really don’t get it. You just don’t get it, Will.” Monika shielded her face and left abruptly. I didn’t chase after. She needed time. I wasn’t fully on board with the soulmate thing. It upset her.

I left to find John. It felt awkward but I had no one else to turn too. I hated to disturb him with trivial things such as women troubles. My only hope was that an enlightened being such as himself would remember what’s it’s like being a teenager. John often lectured at the university that inhabited my realm of light, something all spirits from advanced realms did to help the lesser developed souls progress along the spiritual path.

I walked along the busy city streets, always blown away by the immaculate architecture. Arches and artistry were the themes of this city. Beautiful hand carved stone sculptures, no detail too small or overlooked, as if each atom was shaped by God.

People whispered as I walked by, at least it seemed that way. Allison said the buzz was about me. I’ve never been comfortable with people’s eyes on me. It made me fidgety, like they were judging.

“She’s lying you know.” A voice sounded from the alleyway leading to the university.

“Allison. Did you follow me here?”

“Your heart was troubled when we parted in the garden. I could feel it when I touched your mind.”

“Allison, we need to talk.” I grabbed her arm, pulling her deeper into alley and free from the staring eyes. “It’s no secret, even though I’ve never said it. You know it’s true. My feelings for you run deep.” Surprised by my own response, I couldn’t find the words to continue.

“I know, Will. I’ve felt your love deeply. I could feel it when alone in hell. Your love for me kept me going … and alive.” Allison said. I still couldn’t find words. Allison grabbed my hand and held on tight. “I’m going with you. I’m going on your mission, to resurrect Judas.”

“What!” Allison’s words rocked me.

“You don’t have to pretend, Will. I know, you don’t have to hide.”

“So you know the truth, about my mission?”

“Yes.”

“Allison, no. You can’t risk it. It’s too dangerous.”

“I can’t let you go alone.” Allison said.

“I won’t be alone, Monika is coming with me.” I lied. In truth I wasn’t letting anyone come with me. Monika didn’t know it yet. It was a poor choice of lies that only fueled Allison’s distaste for Monika.

“Monika?” Allison looked genuinely hurt.

“Yes.”

“Will, she might have good intentions but I don’t think she will be much help. She’s like a ghost. How can a phantom help when things get tough. I’ve been through the fire with you. We survived together, we’ll do it again.” Allison said.

I never told Allison that it was Monika who pulled us both out of hell. How her prayers gave me strength and warded off our demonic pursuer.

“Monika told me that she and I are soulmates. That our souls were two halves to be made whole.” I said.

“No, that can’t be. Will, you and I are soulmates. We’re meant to be made whole.” Allison said.

“That’s what I thought, at least I used too, but why would Monika lie about that?”

“She obviously has feelings for you, Will. She’s just saying that to keep us apart.”

“No, Monika’s not like that. She’s too spiritually advanced to let human love cloud her judgment.” I said.

“There’s just something about Monika that isn’t right, Will.”

“I know there’s tension between you two, but Monika’s cool. You two are just different that’s all.” I said.

“No, it’s deeper than that. I can feel it. She’s about the only person who repels me. Most everyone is drawn to me for something or another. At least it always used to be that way.” Allison said.

“It’s because you’re a fun loving, outgoing person. Monika is deep, quiet, thoughtful. Some people can be put off by that, see her as aloof. I assure you she is far from it. She’s one of the most caring people I know.”

“It’s more complex than that. Something in her aura, her spirit pushes me away like a sour apple.”

“I don’t know, Allison.”

“You’ve got to choose.” Allison said.

“Don’t say that to me.”

“Look Will, I know Monika is better than me.”

“Don’t say that either.” I said.

“No, she is. She is more advanced. She’s a better person.”

“John warned us not to think like that. Allison, people are all different and on different paths of their spiritual journey. It doesn’t make anyone better or worse than the next person. John said all people are loved by God.”

“I know what John said. I just wonder if Monika is using her righteousness to make you think she’s better than she is.”

“That doesn’t make sense. Why would she do that? What does she stand to gain?” I asked.

“You.”

“Love, spiritual love isn’t like that. It’s not possessive.”

“Well, I can see whose side you’re on.” Allison jerked her arm away and ran out of the alley and into the city streets.

“I’m not on anyone’s side, Allison!” I yelled out but got no response.

Something was off with Allison. I wondered if she knew the truth about her father’s killer and buried it deep in denial.

I made my way to the university and found John. I needed clarification regarding the truth about soulmates.

Walking through the university hallways reminded me of my days at Millersville High School and meeting John, well Dr. Z. in his office. It felt surreal. So much had changed since then, yet so much remained the same. After all I’d been through, I was still the same anxious, self-doubting kid I’d always been.

John was sitting at his desk when I knocked on the door.

“Monika’s correct about the existence of soul mates, Will. Whether or not you and her are true soul mates, I cannot say. Only the Father in heaven knows that for sure.” John said.

“Is it that obvious? Am I that easy to read?”

“It’s all over your face, as they say.” John looked up from his studies.

“How can I find out?” I asked.

“The process of finding one’s soul mate is a journey. Much like everything spiritual.” John said.

“I’m beginning to see a pattern here,” I said.

“Seek and ye shall find. No truer words have been spoken.” John said, placing an ancient looking manuscript on the table next to him. “If you truly desire to find your soulmate the answer will be in your heart.”

“In my heart, Allison and I are soulmates.”

“It takes time to find your answer. Meditate and pray. The answer will come in God’s time. Listen to your heart when both are near. Which vibration is stronger? Which pulls you in closer? That’s your first clue.” John said.

“They’re both insisting on accompanying me on my mission.” I said.

“The choice is yours.”

“Really? I thought you’d be the first to squash the idea.”

“The biggest challenge for you, William is to learn to stop looking outside yourself for answers. Stop doing what others want you to do. That includes me. The choice to accept this mission and who comes with you is yours and yours alone.”

“Ok John. I get what you’re saying.”

“There’s no shame, William. Making decisions is difficult, especially when the answers aren’t black and white. Sometimes it’s easier to let others make decisions for us. I get it, but outside decisions might not always be the best for us because the god the dwells within our soul always knows what’s best, if we just stop to listen. Remember, always pray for guidance and the answers will reveal themselves.”

“I’ll work on it.”

“I must warn you, any tension in the group will be intensified in the realms of darkness. The beings there will feed off it. Be sure the tension is resolved before the mission.” John said.

“Can I ask you something?”

“You can ask me anything.” John said.

“You don’t remember, do you? What it’s like to be young … in love.” John gave a quizzical look but remained silent. I turned to leave, pausing in the doorway before guilt turned me back around.

“Look, I want to postpone the mission to save Judas. I want to help Justin.” I said to John who paused, slowly looking up from his reading.

“That’s not a good idea, William.”

“What do you mean? I thought you wanted me to help Justin. You just got done telling me to make my own decisions.”

“You’re missing my point. It’s always wise to seek outside counsel before making a decision. Weigh the facts and evidence presented before making any choice. The facts are that circumstances have changed…due to his passing onto the spirit world. Justin is where he needs to be at this time.”

“I know you have a thing about Judas, but he’s been gone for two thousand years, what’s a little more time? I can get to Justin, before the darkness corrupts him, before he gets pulled further down, before he becomes one if them. Just like his great grandfather.”

“Our sources tell us Justin is right where he needs to be. Trust God, William, Justin is serving a purpose. You need to let him go.”

“How’s rotting in hell serving a purpose?” I asked, frustration brewing.

“Like I said, William. Trust God, have faith in the process. Tampering with things can cause trouble if things aren’t meant to be tampered with. Let sleeping dogs lay. How about that for mortal slang?”

I walked out without saying goodbye, John annoyed me, his talk about making my own decisions, then not even letting me help Justin, hypocritical. How could I help Judas if I couldn’t even hold onto Justin? Why couldn’t John see that? He was no help in the soulmate department. Doubt crept in as to whether Allison and I were really meant to be, but maybe she was right. Maybe Monika was blinded by me, because of my potential. She seemed to think it was her duty to draw the spiritual power out of me, to mold me into a true Resurrectionist. Racking my brain until the end of time would not bring me any closer to the truth. I prayed, and left it to God. Hoping in time the truth would be revealed.

I retreated to my lonely room. I wish when you die you’d could leave your troubles behind, but they follow like a lost dog. Things had to change, I needed to start thinking for myself, that was the message right? Something deep within fueled the rage that exploded like a volcano from my mouth. “I swear to God, Justin Browning, I will pull you from the darkness. I swear to God I will save you!”

Chapter 9

I floated into earth’s atmosphere, needing to escape the vice grip tightening down on me. Millersville appeared normal, well, as normal as the Devil’s rendition of Sedona Arizona could ever be. Townsfolk went about their daily lives unaware of the true darkness surrounding them. A black mass of wicked spirits hovered over one person in particular, drawn like a magnet to an elderly man. I kept my distance, spying on the actions of evil, and the distraught old man. I saw nothing unusual, no reason for so many cursed spirits to be attracted to this soul.

His routine was the same day after day, waking up at six o’clock each morning, preparing one egg, one piece of wheat toast, and one cup of black coffee. After breakfast he’d walk from his house to the post office which was three blocks away. Each day he’d check his mailbox. He received no paper and most days it was empty except for a few flyers which he’d throw away before walking back.

When he’d arrive at home he’d sit in an old worn recliner chair, doing nothing but staring blankly at the bare wall in front of him. At preciously noon, he’d get up from his chair and make lunch. One egg, one piece of toast, one cup of black coffee. After lunch at preciously one o’clock he’d walk out to his front porch and sit on an old wooden swing to stare expressionless out into the street.

People passed by but no one said a word or looked in his direction. The afternoons would crawl, fading into evenings. At preciously five o’clock the man would get up and go inside for dinner. Each night he’d make one egg, one piece of toast, and drink one cup of coffee, black. After dinner, he’d move back to his old worn recliner to sit until bedtime. At preciously ten o’clock the man would get up from his recliner, brush his teeth, wash his face, and go to bed.

Each night, the wicked spirits would dance around his room, laughing and squealing with delight. They’d call out to him, heckling and disturbing his sleep.

I hid between the sheetrock one night to get a closer view. The old man tossed and turned, “please leave me alone, you got what you wanted,” begging until first light.

“You’re right, we got what we wanted when you surrendered and we enslaved your will.” The spirits whispered.

“Why won’t you leave me alone?”

“You never made a choice.”

“I won’t choose.”

“No choice is still a choice, is it not? By turning your back you sealed your tomb, not in dirt or stone, but behind these empty walls.” The decrepit spirits cackled and harassed the old man.

“There’s no point in choice. Free will doesn’t exist … only fate!” The man lashed out.

“Without choice there’s ignorance. That’s what you are, a blind, ignorant old man. You belong to us forever … William Stark.”

***

They say dreams are gateways into the soul, revealing insights into reality. Was the old man me? Or some grim future version of me? The vision disturbed me, haunting my core. The dark spirits haunted the man for not making a choice. More disturbing than the dark spirits was abandonment, living a cursed life. The old man, distraught with guilt for sitting on the sidelines, tormented by sins of omission, unable to move on. I couldn’t do it any longer, let evil slowly steal my light and hold me prisoner.

John said the decision was mine. I needed to stop looking outside myself for the answers I sought. I needed Monika. I needed Allison. I needed them both.

“You were right about me, about my need to rescue Justin from his grim fate. I can’t explain it. I don’t get it, after all he’s put us through. All I know is that you’re right about me, Monika … how we gonna do this?” I stood in the entryway of the sanctuary room gardens in the city of light.

“We’re going to use the back door.” Monika was sitting alone at a desk.

“The back door?”

“You already knocked on it.” Monika said.

“What are you talking about?”

“The river.”

“Oh no, you’re joking right? The freak at the river, no way. He’s pissed. He’ll rip my head off. I ran off without paying him.”

“He won’t even remember you, besides this time we’ll make sure you pay Charon.”

“Nope, not happening.” I said.

“You got a better idea?” Monika asked.

“Look, if you’re putting yourself on the line, I have to be truthful. Justin isn’t the only soul in hell I’m after, there’s one more.”

“Judas.” Monika responded.

“What? How’d you know?”

“John came to me, Will. He told me of your mission to free Judas’ trapped soul, how we can catch a ride to the City of Dis. Will, he also told me to make sure you leave Justin alone.”

“John told me this Judas thing was a top secret mission. Seems like the whole realm knows.”

“I think you have Allison to thank for that, Will. I haven’t said a word.”

“Did John say why he told you?” I asked.

“He cares deeply about you, Will. Of that there’s no doubt. I think he wanted me to go with you all along, but he said it had to be your choice, he couldn’t force it.”

“Why not Justin?” I asked.

“John said it would be too much too soon, that there’s another time and place for Justin, and now wasn’t that time.”

“How does Allison know? Did he bring her in too?”

“I don’t think so. That wouldn’t make sense.” Monika looked away.

“Give Allison a little credit, Monika. She did survive her time in the pit. She’s tougher than you might think. Maybe she’s the added muscle we’ll need.”

“No.” Monika was blunt.

“Well, Judas is locked in hell. It’s not like I can just waltz in and say ‘hey, I’m taking him with me. Can you please show me the exit?’”

“No.” Monika wasn’t joking.

I sat on bench across from Monika, searching my mind for another way. “Allison’s coming with us. Look, I need her. Besides, I had a vision, a nightmare really. Scared the daylights outta me. I was alone, in hell … at least my own personal version of it.”

“Will, no. She’s not stable. She’ll be pulled down. If you’re not careful she’ll pull you down with her.” Monika said.

“I’m coming.” Allison’s voice sounded from the rose bush outside the window of the sanctuary. I glanced towards Monika, her eyes wide open.

“Were you spying on us?” Monika asked.

“Save it.” Allison snapped, entering the sanctuary. “I come to these gardens all the time. Can’t help it you left the window open.” Allison turned to me. “You’re right, Will. You need help. Someone who has hands and feet, who can watch your back, someone who isn’t a ghost.” Allison’s eyes met Monika with a coldness that caused me to look away.

I looked at Monika. “She has a point. I could use a physical presence when I’m in hell.”

“Absolutely not, I forbid it.” Monika asserted, choking back disgust.

“Excuse me? You forbid it? It’s not your call!” Allison took a step toward Monika.

“I’m not trying to be difficult. It’s for your own good, for your safety.” Monika said.

“Thanks, but I don’t need you to keep me safe. I can take care of myself.” Allison said.

“What’s with you two anyway? We’re supposed to be on the same team. Everyone take a step back. We’ll figure this out.” I said, playing peacemaker. “Look, I spoke to John, he said it was my decision.”

“That’s right. The choice is William’s.” John materialized in front of our eyes. “The mission is his. Free will choice must be honored.”

“John, you startled us.” I said.

“I sensed trouble in your heart. I couldn’t let you enter hell in a state of confusion.”

“But don’t you think it’s dangerous?” Monika asked.

“Indeed, very much. Allison, your decision to enter hell by William’s side is more dangerous than you know.” John spoke.

“I’m aware, I’ve been there too.” Allison said.

“Shouldn’t you stop her?” Monika directed the question towards John.

“Following William is extremely dangerous for both of you, for us all, but we must allow choice to enter in. Free will choice must always be held in the highest regard, even if we don’t agree with it. God created free will for a reason. To choose freely is a great and powerful gift. God never violates his law. He may not always agree but he allows choice.”

“I think it’s crazy.” Monika said. “What if the choice is wrong? What if the choice leads to dire consequences, death even?”

“My brothers and I were told the same thing once upon a time. The thing is, people were right. You’re right Monika. Look at what happened, all were killed, except me. I was the lucky one they say, to have been tortured numerous times but to have always escaped with my life.” John said.

“How did you escape, anyway?” Monika asked. “It’s written that all of the other disciples were in hiding, except you who followed all the way to the cross. How is it that you weren’t killed?”

We all looked at John. Monika raised a good question.

“By all accounts I should have been killed. I was saved by grace. The Holy Spirit moved in the captain of the Roman soldiers that day on the hill. He was ordered to carry out the crucifixion but admired my loyalty to the Son. He ordered his men to let me go free, saying loyalty such as mine should not be punished. That’s how I escaped.”

“Listen, the point is it was dangerous for my brother and I and all who were eventually to become the founders of the church, but what if we hadn’t followed?”

John turned to me. “The decision is yours, William. Know that although I cannot follow, I’ll be guiding, my prayers will not cease until you are returned home, all of you.” John vanished as quickly as he appeared, returning to the Kingdom of God.

John’s message was clear. Monika understood even though she didn’t like it. There was no stopping Allison. She was convinced she needed to follow. Deep down I was glad … very glad.

I looked at Monika and Allison. “I need you both. I see that now. I’m scared. I’ve seen things, in my dreams and visions, horrible things. I never want to be alone. I’m scared.” My last comment was directed at Monika.

“You’re not alone, you have me.” Monika said.

“I know, but with Allison I have a second pair of eyes, ears, and hands. Your high level of spiritual development barely allows you to be a ghost in the realms of darkness. Monika, this is a good thing. Allison and I aren’t there yet, maybe this will be good for both of us, help us both to grow spiritually.”

“I just don’t want to see you get pulled down, Will. I care about you too much.” Monika’s blue eyes filled with tears before she turned and left.

I turned to Allison, “are you sure?”

“I am, Will. Look, I’ve made some poor choices in my life that I’m truly sorry for. I want to make things right, right within my soul. I need this, Will. I need to help you.”

“Thank you, Allison. That means a lot. I don’t need to warn you of the dangers of hell.”

“No Will, I know what I’m doing. I hate to say it, but do you think we can trust Monika?” Allison whispered.

“You don’t need to worry about her.” I said.

“I know she’s more spiritually developed than we are, but she’s not perfect, not like John.” Allison said.

“Monika’s dedicated to her development and to the holy work of rescuing lost souls. We can trust her. Believe me, we can trust her.”

“I trust you, Will.” Allison turned and left.

“Be ready. I’ll call soon, pray.”

***

I returned to my room to rest and prepare. A million thoughts about what lay ahead bombarded my mind. Every negative doubt seemed to fling itself, catapulting into my mental field. No rest.

I propped my back against the corner wall. Like a prizefighter, I raised my hood and shut the world out. A tension rose from my spine to the top of my head. I saw myself trapped, evil bearing down from all sides. It was a sign of things to come. I saw tension and turmoil within the group, within my soul. A resurrectionist must remain balanced at all times, one slip of the mind can send him down a path he won’t recover from.

John warned me about Judas, I studied his case file. He was a resurrectionist in the making. Only two years older than me when he committed that fateful act. One bad choice. One slip is all it took, two thousand years later he still hasn’t recovered. His choice didn’t come from evil intentions as some people might think. He knew the Son of God held tremendous power. His fault was allowing himself to grow frustrated. The Son didn’t flash his power to the high priests and Roman authorities like Judas thought he should’ve, choosing instead to remain humble, exercising his gifts only when necessary and only when a greater purpose could be served.

Judas felt that by giving the Son up, he’d be forced to show his power to the world, to save himself. The Son chose an alternative path, facing death with love and compassion, showing the world that death can be overcome and thus becoming the greatest figure to ever walk the earth.

Though I cannot confirm this, it is said that the Son forgave Judas as soon as he kissed him. Judas hasn’t forgiven himself. That’s what we’re up against. That’s our mission, teach Judas to forgive himself.

I met Monika in the garden after my preparation. She wore a dark robe with a hood that covered most of her face.

“You ready?” She asked.

“My stomach hurts and my hands shake.” The words were hard to speak, my breath shallow and forced.

“Mine too, Will. Mine too.” Monika whispered.

“I don’t feel ready at all, Monika. John seems to think so, he seems confident anyway.”

“I trust him, Will. He knows what he’s doing. He knows better than we do. He wouldn’t give you this great of a task if he didn’t think you were right for the job.”

“Thanks Monika. That’s helpful. I just need to believe in myself for once. Where is John anyway? I figured he’d meet us here.”

“I don’t know, Will. Maybe he thought it best not to let us get emotional with teary goodbye’s.”

“Hmm … maybe.” I said, feeling abandonment.

“Here you’ll need this.” Monika handed me a tattered gray robe.

“Gee thanks,” I said.

“You’ll need to fit in, look the part. Here, I brought one for her too.” Monika handed me the same style robe for Allison.

“Thank you,” I said.

“She coming? Or did she get cold feet?”

“She’s here.” I said turning around to see Allison approaching from behind. I handed her the robe. Allison put it on without saying a word. She knelt down next to a rose bush, pausing to inhale, the last scent of sweetness she’d have for a very long time.

“Well, I guess the time for small talk is passed.” I said.

I looked at both women and took a deep breath, bowing my head in silent prayer before emerging.

“Let’s get this over with.”

Chapter 10

The night before battle causes tremendous reckoning. Any soldier will tell you that. Tomorrow might be your last. Hopefully you can look back on a life well lived. If not, there will be sorrow. I felt like throwing up. I knew I would.

John had taught me mesmerization as part of my resurrectionist training. I gained the ability to shroud my true thoughts and confuse the inhabitants of hell. They could never gain true sight into my soul and mind. I could project phantom images of wickedness and evil while allowing the love in my soul to continue burning. It was tricky business. Slipping up meant the possibility of being consumed by evil thoughts.

All humans experience negative thoughts. It’s not until mind falls away and we reach a state of purification, of pure soul, that we are truly free from all negative thoughts. If we listen to them, believe them, we give them power. You can fight them. Some fight for a very long time, but in a place like hell it’s only a matter of time before they’ll win out. True purification meant the death of my mind, the ultimate goal. If you’ve seen what I’ve seen, been where I’ve been, you’ll know, you’ll be disturbed, you’ll understand.

I’ve studied great spiritual truths in the realms of light, met great spiritual masters, but still couldn’t fully shake the anxiety that clung to my mind like an iron clamp. I was told each person will receive true healing if they seek it. I’ve also been told that each person is responsible for his own healing. It’s a big part of the reason I chose to accept John’s mission. Maybe the journey could bring peace to my heart.

***

Monika took my left hand and Allison’s right. She entered a trance, reciting a mysterious language. We descended down from the realms of light. Every part of my being screamed to be taken away, screamed to be rescued. I closed my eyes and opened them to find myself standing on the Bear Creek bridge, built when Millersville was founded over one hundred and fifty years ago.

“I thought we were going to some magical, mystical river, you called the Styx.” I said.

“Yep, this is it.” Monika said.

“And all these years I thought my friends and I were just swimming in a normal river, gotta love the Devil’s Rendition of things.” Allison said.

“You know the veil between the two worlds, physical and spiritual, is thin in Millersville.” Monika said.

“Yeah, believe me, you don’t have to sell me on the idea. I know.” Allison said.

“What now?” I asked. My strategy was to minimize as much as possible the interaction between Monika and Allison.

“We need to find Charon.” Monika said.

“I was afraid you’d say that.”

“I have his coin. Funny how easy it was to come by in my realm.” Monika handed me a worn looking gold coin. “A popular currency in ancient Greece, highly valued on earth. Useless in the realms of light and love.”

I put the coin my pocket. The face was faded with the image of some guy in a Caesar haircut.

“Look at all the people. They have no clue we’re here.” Allison said.

The bridge crossed the river at its calmest place, creating a natural spot for vacationers, families, and children to swim and play. It was hot on a Saturday and many had come to take advantage of the river’s cool waters.

“I’ve never seen it so busy before.” Allison said.

“They’re not all living.” Monika said. “Look close, around the head.”

Allison and I each took our time looking over the people in the crowd. Sure enough, some people had a faint glow of light surrounding their heads, others did not.

“The ones with the light still occupy a physical body. The light is a barrier, keeping the dead out.” Monika said.

You’d never notice at first, but once you see it it’s impossible to ignore.

A group of spirits approached a small child playing in the water. Their intentions weren’t clear. They appeared to be trying to get the child’s attention.

“What’s going on there?” I asked Monika, pointing to the child.

“The spirits are harmless, they’re just lost. Sad really, children are easier to communicate with than living adults. Children are new to the physical world. They haven’t yet lost their spiritual connection to the realms of light like most adults have. The lost spirits are looking for help and direction.”

“Will they find it?” I asked.

“If they look hard enough. Seek and you’ll find.” Monika said.

“Does the child see them?” Allison asked.

“This one does.”

“She doesn’t seem too concerned.” Allison said.

“She sees them as regular people. Like most kids, she’s lost in the world of her imagination, doesn’t bat an eye.” Monika said.

“Were you like that?” I asked.

“Yes, ever since I was little, spirits have tried to communicate with me. I wasn’t able to ignore or block them out like this fortunate girl. She could be a strong medium someday.”

“What did you do, when you couldn’t shut them out?” I asked.

“I was afraid. I tried to hide from them but it was useless. I would be found. Ironically it was the Fritz family who first recognized my gifts and helped me to learn some control.”

I glanced towards Allison while Monika was speaking. Her face was glued to the ground. She looked up at me, I quickly looked away. I never told Allison that I met Corey in hell, about what I did to him and those other poor souls, I could never bring myself to think about it. I pushed it out each time it tried to enter my awareness. It tried all the time.

“We should keep moving.” I said to change the subject and break my tormented mind.

“Right, we need to find Charon.” Monika said.

“Where is he?” Allison asked. Monika raised her pointer finger toward the campground shower.

“Is he some kind of creep? Why is he hanging out in the women’s shower?” I said.

“It’s hidden. To him it’s a boathouse.” Monika said. “The starting point where he fairies the damned across the River Styx.”

We walked toward the woman’s public shower. A small chorus of voices sounded from the playground. A group of Puritan school children were singing. “Soon and very soon we are going to see the king. Soon and very soon we are going to see the king,” echoed throughout the grounds. I understood the message but couldn’t shake the feeling that the words held a different meaning for me.

I was invisible but it still felt wrong, walking through the doors, like I was violating someone’s privacy. I pictured Justin in my mind, ecstatic at the opportunity to enter the woman’s shower undetected, saying what a true blessing it was. He’d tell me I was a stick in the mud for my lack of enthusiasm. He wasn’t like me, I wasn’t like him.

Hot running water formed a mist in the back of the shower. “There it is. The gateway to hell.” Monika said. “Beyond the mist is the land of eternal nightmare.”

We stopped, each looking at the other, no words exchanged. Allison stepped forward, taking the lead, her body less than an inch from eternal flame. I wanted to reach out for her, pull her back from the edge, but my arms hung down at my side as she took the first step and faded away. I turned to Monika and swallowed hard, placing my right toe on the line between the world’s like a toddler daring to step into the street. I turned one last time, looking behind me, looking for him.

“I think of him as a father, you know. It hurts, John not being here.” I said to my own surprise. Monika nodded before looking down. “I wish my real dad was here. He’d make it all ok. He was good at that. I miss him.” I faced forward, staring into the void.

“It’s ok, Will. I know.” Monika tried to reassure me as we stared at each other, both hesitant to take the final leap.

“William.” The voice from behind was strong. John approached fast, embracing me in a long bear hug. My body fell limp to the floor, tears bursting emotion. John fell with me, his body covering mine, protecting me like a father.

John picked me up, wiped the tears with each of his thumbs. “Oh God, John. I’m so scared. I’m so afraid.” I couldn’t let go of him as the truth finally came out.

“I know, William. It’s ok. I know.” John said. “You’re father was a good man, William. He’d be proud, damn proud, as am I.” John’s words meant the world to me, fueling a surge of power and pride from within. “I want to thank you,” he said.

I smiled. “Let’s hold off. You can thank me when it’s over, after I bring Judas home.”

“No, I want to thank you for teaching me … for reminding me what’s it’s like to be human again.” I let go of John, turning to face the void, turning to face my fear, choosing to face it all.

“Give’em hell … Resurrectionist!” John called out as I stepped forward into everlasting fire.

***

The mist parted and we were transported into another world. The weather turned from beautiful sunshine to violent wind and heavy rain. Thunderous crashing of waves echoed against the ferry house walls. Confusion fell everywhere. Newly arrived souls and spirits scrambled around the docks, not knowing what they were looking for. Cries and screams were heard throughout as they were forced onto boats against their will.

Charon was a brutish specimen, giving no mercy to the wailing souls. Hundreds of henchmen worked under him. I doubt they were on the payroll, as their service was forced. Whips and chains herded souls like sheep onto boats that stretched farther than I could see. Lightning seemed to crack against the blood red sky with each scheduled departure.

The crying and wailing shook my already fractured soul. I could feel Allison shaking next to me. I reached out and squeezed her hand until the shaking stopped.

Monika was hidden to the souls of the realm, as they were unable to detect anything of real value and higher spiritual development.

“You look like a ghost.” I turned towards Monika.

“Because I am.” She said. “My spiritual development is much greater than yours.”

“Thanks Monika, tell me something I didn’t know. You don’t have to rub it in.”

“As you know, it renders me unable to fully grasp a hold on this realm. I can’t fully interact. You can see me because your development is higher than the natural requirements for this realm. The inhabitants here have no clue of my existence.”

“That’s a good thing right?” I asked.

“Yes and no. I can get into places you can’t, but I cannot interact with this realm. You’ll have to be the hands, feet, and muscle.”

“Watch out!” A frantic spirit shouted at me as I bumped into him, his face pale white, his fear raging like fire. Allison and I kept moving through the crowd, afraid to slow down. It felt like Grand Central Station for the hellbound. Each ferry ushered spirits to various levels of hell according to the defilement of their souls. We were forced to stop next to a boat loaded with poor unfortunates headed deep into the pit.

“Putrid defilement encrusts your wretched souls.” A vile creature stood on top of a thick dock post, spewing vulgarities at his passengers.

“Please, I didn’t know. I don’t belong here.” A groveling soul crawled on his hands and knees to beg for mercy. The creature jumped down, reaching its talons out. It didn’t take long for the man’s insides to become his outsides.

“Don’t watch. We have to keep moving.” I whispered to Allison.

“Where?” Allison whispered back.

I scanned the docks. “There.” I said looking in the direction of a boat with two souls hung up on masts, their body’s shredded to ribbons. “We’re going as deep as we can.” Allison looked at me with fearful concern.

We approach the ship, blood and organ parts spilled out over the dock wood like fish guts on a working harbor. I slipped on the slim, landing hard on my back. A dock hand reached down and pulled me up before taking his time to look us over. “You don’t belong here. Get the hell out!” It shouted, spit landing on our faces.

“Let us on.” I said. The creature grasped it’s cold clammy hand around my throat, squeezing until I coughed.

“Get the hell out!” It shouted.

“I have payment.” The words choked from my lungs as I reached up and held the coin in the palm of my hand.

The creature snatched the coin and grabbed the back of my robe, lifting me like a rag doll and throwing me onto the ship. I landed heavily before looking up to see Allison being pushed forward, falling hard on the deck next to me.

Bile an inch thick covered the boat deck, the stench nauseating. Before I could stand up a sharp blow landed in my ribs. A wet muddy boot found its way into my chest. A drop of blood coughed out and landed on the other boot.

“You’ll pay for that wretch.” A fist pounded down, finding a home in the back of my head. I stayed down, motionless until the beating stopped and I was left in a soaked puddle of despair.

There’s nothing Allison or Monika could do to help me. The creatures were in control of this boat. Their power in this dark realm was immense. Lucky for me, there were so many poor souls that the creatures couldn’t keep up.

“Over here, hurry.” I grabbed Allison’s arm. We scurried into a dark corner away from the commotion. I lifted a worn tarp, beads of water flinging off. “Quick, get under.”

“Are we safe here?” Allison asked.

“Only if we’re lucky.”

“I’m scared, Will.”

“We need to wait here, for as long as we can, until the ride is over.” I said,

Unfortunately for Allison, even in death, I never overcame my inclination towards sea sickness. Even though I had no stomach, the feelings were real and so was the projectile vomit that landed on Allison’s lap. The only option, stay hidden under the vomit infested tarp.

Styx was no float down the Rivera. Violent waves crashed against the boat. Souls were thrown overboard into God knows what fate. Horrible sea creatures swam along the boat, waiting for the fallen. Allison clung tight, digging her fingernails in so hard that I had to pull her arm away for a second.

“Sorry Will.”

“It’s okay. Sorry for the vomit.”

“It’ll fall off.” She said.

We waited under the tarp for what felt like ages before crashing hard into something solid, the jolt knocking Allison and I from our hiding place, rolling us forward into a group of cursed souls.

The world was black, the air thick and muddy. I hated it. Everything about this place of darkness repulsed me. You can never get used to the smell. A charnel house of odors thick as tar. My eye twitched with each inhale as we were herded off the boat like slaves in the new world.

I’ll never get used to the feeling. The heaviness and exhaustion one feels upon entering the Kingdom of Hell. Each step forward took a titan’s strength and a heart of impeccable faith. Severe depression will render the body catatonic. All hope drained. In a loveless land, the body feels like it’s being held together by string and scotch tape.

“Woe to you wicked spirits! Enter the land of fire and ice … for all eternity!” Charon’s deep voice boomed from the captain’s deck. A leather whip cracked from behind, stinging against my back as I was pushed forward, falling hard to the rocky shore.

I looked up from my hands and knees, into the masses that lined the banks, recognizing them immediately … hunters.

Chapter 11

Scared as hell souls ran in every direction causing a tornado of black chaos. Hunters mounted beasts of horrible disgust, chasing newly arrived spirits with barbed whips and heavy chain. Torn cloth worn like bandanas across the face shielded the hunter’s ugliness, yielding an air of mysterious horror.

Allison paralyzed as a whip cracked and wrapped itself around the neck of a fleeing soul. The hunter reared back on it’s mounted beast pulling the damned spirit hard to the ground.

“Run! Don’t stop!” Monika’s voice sounded in our ears. “Head for those rocks!”

A rock formation jetted out in the distance. I grabbed Allison’s hand, put my head down and ran only to fall face first, cracking my chin on a sharp rock. Blood splattered the rock as an excruciating jolt shot up my leg. I rolled over to see a dismounted hunter standing over me, a morning star mace with a slightly crooked handle hung by his side, the source of the blinding pain in my foot.

“Go!” I screamed.

“Allison grabbed a handful of dirt and sand from the ground, hurling it in desperation at the hunter’s face, temporarily blinding his vision and causing him to stumble backward. Allison ran, weaving her way to the rocks. I prayed for her safety while fearing for my own.

Instinct told me to scream out for Allison’s help but experience knew better. I couldn’t blow her cover, swarms of hunters would tear the place up looking for her. Before the disoriented hunter could regain his sight he was blindsided by a stampeding beast without a rider, knocking the him motionless to the ground.

“Hurry, Will. Crawl. Suck up the pain. You have to get to safety before you’re caught.” Monika said.

“Allison.” I said.

“I’ll double back and find her as soon as you’re safe. Now hurry!”

I stayed low, hoping the mounted hunters wouldn’t see me army crawl to a large boulder about fifty yards away; hearing the blood curdling screams of the unfortunate souls who weren’t so lucky to evade capture. I prayed Allison’s voice wasn’t mixed with the chorus of agony as I propped my back against a boulder hidden from sight.

“Allison.”

“In a minute.” Monika said.

“She doesn’t have a minute. Now!”

“Keep your voice down. If I don’t tend to your ankle neither one of you will make it.” Monika reached down, rubbing her transparent hands on my displaced ankle, reciting prayers of healing. The pain told me it wasn’t normal. Monika continued to pray and lay her hands over the crooked bone. To my amazement, the foot slowly corrected itself. The pain reduced to minor numbness.

“How’d you do that?” I asked.

“Stay still. You need a second to recover.”

“This was a bad idea, Monika.”

“John warned of the toil and strife we’d face.” Monika said.

“John’s going to have to find another. I’m not as strong as you think.”

“Stop Will. John warned us that hell wouldn’t be easy, that the demons are strong and their lies stronger. Don’t slip, now more than ever we need to exercise faith.”

“I have to know that Allison is ok. I won’t rest until she’s accounted for.”

“You must exercise faith, Will. Believe Allison is ok and she will be.”

“I don’t have what you have, Monika.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Monika said, her response confusing. I fully expected a rally speech about never giving up, about how prayer and faith would guide us out of despair, but Monika’s trembling voice told me the levee was breaking.

“You know I’m right, Monika.”

“What do you want me to say, Will? There’s nothing I can do or say that will convince you otherwise. Only you can do that, only you can find the strength within. If you cannot, then maybe it is best to go.”

“I’m wondering if the mission to rescue Judas was doomed from the get go.” I said.

“Now isn’t the time for second guessing.”

“The docks, the boat ride, separation. I see clearly what my heart was trying to tell me all along. I’m no hero, no chosen one. I’m going home, but not without Allison. She’s coming home with me.” I said. “Will you help me find her?”

Monika was silent, unsure of how to proceed. A twisted force pulled her in two directions, her loyalty to John and the mission, and her unconditional love for me.

“You love her, don’t you, Will?” Monika looked away as soon as the words left her mouth.

“I just don’t want to see her get hurt anymore. She’s been through enough, I shouldn’t have let her come. Please Monika, will you help me?” Monika remained hesitant. “Look, I can’t feel it, you know, faith. I can’t feel it like you can. Something’s missing. There’s a disconnection, a void. I don’t have what you have. I just want to find Allison and go home.”

“What about the mission?” Monika spoke softly. I looked upon her ghostly face, moisture forming at the corners of her deep eyes. “What about John?”

I breathed deep. “I wanted to help him, I truly did, but I was in denial. I believe part of him was too. Deep down I knew from the start there was no pulling Judas out of hell. Think about it. It’s an impossible task. The sooner I find Allison and get us home the sooner John can move on from his denial. We all can move on. I know your feelings toward Allison. It was wrong for me to ask your help. I won’t hold it against you. There’s no hard feelings.”

“So that’s it? You’re quitting? Just gonna give up on the mission before it’s even started. Give up on Judas? On John? On me?” My eyes cast down, the ground felt harder and the air colder as bone cutting wind swirled us.

“This isn’t the way.” I whispered.

“If I find her will you keep going?” Monika asked. I paused, letting the words sink in before looking up into nothing. Monika vanished.

“Wait.” I scanned my surroundings, eyes darting left and right, body shaking with the discovery that I was now truly alone. I didn’t take long for the separation I feared the most to become reality. “I guess I don’t have a choice. So much for free will.”

Bad thoughts hammered my brain. It was a mistake to come back. It was a mistake to let Allison come with. I signed her death warrant. My stomach clenched.

Scratching and scathing came from all sides of the darkness. A stray arrow shattered against the boulder behind me. Voices grew louder and closer, causing panic. I crawled to the edge of decaying brush and tree, losing myself in the camouflage of the undergrowth before rising to my feet, running regardless of the pain through the trees, far into the barren waste of the dark land.

The landscape confused my navigation, always the same. Darkness painted against a blackened sky, a faint reddish glow permeating the land. It only took a second before up became down and the white knight was talking backwards.

I stopped running to catch my breath, a fatal mistake, no rest for the wicked. A giant beast swooped down from the midnight sky, a nightmare screaming toward me, eyes glowing white hot as it dug it’s Freddy Krueger claws into my backside. It’s powerful wings spread out wide, screeching blasts of scalding wind behind as it sped through the air, carrying me like a field mouse to a hawk’s family dinner.

The beast’s talons dug deep into my skin. Chunks ripped off causing my fall from its grip. I hurled towards the rocky ground below. Seconds before my body exploded like a watermelon rolling off a picnic table, the creature swooped down again, jabbing deeper into my flesh. It’s claws wrapped tight around my ribs, assuring it would not drop its prey a second time, the pain taking me to the edge of unconscious.

The beast carried me across the unending rocky wastes before landing on a ledge high above the ground below. It could transform its shape at will, alternating between beast and demonic form at random. The demonic form was large and imposing. It had the shape of a man but it’s figure grossly misshapen. Large muscular biceps and forearms protruded out, sitting upon stilt like legs, making it several inches taller than it should’ve been. The head was large and covered by a helmet, reminding me of walking through the ancient warrior display at the city museum.

“What are you gonna do with me?” I whispered.

The demon pointed to a small entrance that opened up to a cavern, never speaking, preferring to project his thoughts into my mind. By the sheer force of powerful intimidation I was compelled forward into the cavern. Uneasiness pumped through my veins. Darkness surrounded me. Inside the cavern was pitch black, but there was noise, unholy screeching and scratching. Groaning faded in and out, louder and softer, the ground seemed to move beneath me. I walked forward powerless to stop until a stone wall did it for me.

I put my hand out to steady my balance. What I pulled off the wall I will never forget. Wet, stringy, and thin, enough to break me free from the demonic thought control.

I ran back to the entrance of the cavern, smacking hard into the stone like statue of the beast demon who brought me, knocking my body to the ground. I lifted my hands. Rotted stringy hair soaked in blood fell from my fingers as I let out a death scream right into the beast’s wild eyes. A dull dirty ball of reddish light formed inside the demon’s hands, used as a lantern to light our way back into the cavern.

I can’t tell you I was held against my will because I’d be lying. I was drawn to the demon like a magnet. He felt like a teacher, like he had something to give. A mystique surrounded him, like a bad accident, I couldn’t bring myself to look away.

I followed, moving slowly through the poorly lit darkness. Ever present in the unseen background was the grizzly grinding of machines. I knew not what they were, but imagined every possible horror of what they might be.

The demon neither spoke or made sound. The only noise, the perpetual grinding that grew louder with each step deeper into the cavern. Then the screams, screaming from whichever direction. I saw one. Its arm reached out for mine. A finger touched me, cold and clammy, I snuggled up tight to my demonic guide. He didn’t take kindly to the affectionate gesture and shoved an Ovechkin forearm in my side so hard my shoulder felt like it popped from its socket when my body struck the wall.

I watched from the ground as the demonic figure floated away, the light fading with him causing me to scurry and follow, not wanting to be consumed in a void of black.

I caught up and entered a part of the cavern that opened up to a larger room, reminding me of a north pole exhibit I once saw during the Christmas season at the Millersville mall, but this was the devil’s version. Small decrepit imps scurried around working to create only what I could describe as devices of torture, the source of the grinding which now pounded my ear.

The devices weren’t meant to create physical torture, they were designed to cause great psychological damage. Like a vacuum the unrelenting noise sucked and pulled at the minds of the victims, leaving them heavy and drained.

“We’re preparing for the tribulation.” A voice sounded from behind. I spun around but didn’t respond or ask any questions. “Leave us.” My demonic guide bowed his head, turned and left.

“What brings you to this place of finality brother?” A hearty laugh arose from the shadows before my frazzled nerves gave way to the sheer panic that now entrenched my veins. The voice emerged from the cave wall, half sheathed in darkness.

“Brother?” I said aloud, only to hear James’ still voice in the back of my mind, do not engage, reminding me of when he guided us through the city during my first tour in hell.

“Surely a soul as enlightened as yours must be a brother of mine.” The voice, faintly familiar, called. I hobbled, stepping back to gain distance from it, the sensation of warm liquid filling my shoe.

“It’s rude you know, to ignore someone’s wishes to make your acquaintance.” A silhouetted figure twisted by evil materialized in front of me, his beard stained red, I didn’t need ask why. His eyes were surprisingly white, drawing me in. I’d never seen eyes that bright in hell.

Against my better judgment and the voice of James’, I spoke. “Your eyes, they’re white. I haven’t seen that in this realm of black.”

“Spiritual light.” The being replied.

“That doesn’t exist.” I played dumb.

“I assure you it does. I’m living, or dead proof.” His laugh echoed around the cave.

“How?”

“Meditation.”

“You don’t look like the type.” I said.

“Meditation brings power and control. With it, I can bend other’s wills. Break them. Force them to do my bidding.”

“Do they fight back?” I asked.

“They tire before I do.”

I nodded downward, stepped to my right, escape consuming my thoughts.

“You’re free to go. We cannot hold you here, the door is to your left.”

Walk away. Don’t engage. I turned my body to the door.

“But don’t you know it’s rude to part without well-wishing the other party?” I remained silent. “We’ll meet again soon. You have something I want.”

My brain flooded with the image of Allison locked in chain, tormented unrelenting.

“The boy, the one you let slip through your finger’s.” I froze, confused by the demon’s response, Justin?

Do not engage! James’ voice now screaming in my ear. Like a magnet attracting it’s opposite, I was pulled back around. The demon was mesmerizing. His thoughts overpowered my mind. His eyes gave a false comfort. I fought for control but couldn’t gain it.

“You know about him?” The words left my mouth without any forethought.

“I’ve been watching you, since you first stepped foot upon my boat. I’m impressed, it takes an iron will to sneak into hell.”

“You’re not Charon.”

“Charon works for me. There’s a hierarchy to things. I’m the top of the food chain.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“A friend.”

“I don’t have any.”

“You’re gonna need one.”

“How do you know Justin?”

“He’s family.”

***

I didn’t recognize the once beloved philanthropist turned Norman Bates. John was right. Sunny Miller was a far cry from the puddle of despair he once was. The doctor, as the twisted souls called him; was sharp, sturdy, sadistic.

“You’re a long way from home … Resurrectionist.” The words sent a jolt up my back. I was in trouble, deep, my cover blown right off.

“What do you want?” I asked.

“My great grandson. I sent my henchmen to collect his soul, problem is, he wasn’t heavy enough to hold onto. Something’s tying him to the realm of hell just above this one.”

“What do you want with him?”

“Darkness can put out the light, extinguish the flame. You have a connection. You’re hatred for my boy runs deep. Why hide it? Why deny it? You serve the light. It’s written all over you. I assure you, no other endeavor has ever been less productive. You can pull the boy down to me.”

“No.”

“I’m guessing you only know half the truth. So typical of the light, always hiding the truth, never wanting you have knowledge of your full potential. A Resurrectionist can work both ways. Like an elevator attendant, you can push the down button too.” Sunny said.

“As much pain as he’s caused, Justin’s just confused. I can see why. He never had the best role models. I won’t betray him.” I said.

“Oh but you already have, you already pushed the down button. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you butter fingers.” Sunny smiled, seeing right through my defenses, seeing the worst parts of me. He was right. I let Justin slip through my fingers, purposefully.

“You don’t have to pretend here. You don’t have to hide what you really are.”

“And what’s that? Tell me, who I really am.”

“One of us.” Sunny flashed his talons, spreading his fingers wide. I stepped back, afraid to look into the ugliness that was inside me. “I don’t suppose I could get you on the payroll full time.” Sunny’s grin made me cringe, teeth gnarled and rotten. “We have one hell of a benefits package.” He shook with vile laughter, worm and rot falling from his body.

“That will never happen.” I said.

“I can see the future in all it’s glory. In time, you’ll hand him over. You’ll bring my great grandson right to me.”

“And if I don’t.”

“You don’t have a choice. Fate controls you. I control you. Fall in line, or pay the price.” Sunny said turning to face me. Black veins strung out like lighting bolts from his eye sockets bulging with hate.

“What about free will?”

“Bring me the boy you let slip through your fingers.” Sunny’s tone sent a stern message. He wasn’t messing around, and he wasn’t in the mood for a philosophic debate.

“You’re speaking about Justin in third person. Does that make it easier? Does that make it less painful to be what you are?”

“Watch your tongue. I’m king here. You’re only still standing because I’ve allowed you to.”

“You can’t hold me here. I can take Justin and walk right out of hell.” Sunny’s tone lit a fire under me. Sometimes in hell, you have to push back.

“You’re right … but you won’t.”

“There’s nothing you can give me that I don’t already have.” I said.

“I know about the girl.” Sunny whispered, a smile cracking his lips. My stomach soured. This time there was no mistaking, Sunny was talking about Allison.

“You’ll never find her.” My eye’s stared into evil, a possession overcoming me.

“My best hunter’s are searching right now. It’s only a matter of time.”

“Allison’s soul is free, like mine, she doesn’t belong to the darkness. She’s not like you.”

Sunny grabbed a torch light from the stone wall and walked to the center of the room. A black bowl, similar to a small caldron stood on a rickety wooden table. Sunny poured a jar of red dust into the bowl before chanting an incantation and lighting it on fire.

“Look.” He commanded. I stepped to the table against my will, peering inside the bowl. I saw a horrifying image of Allison on her knees, pleading, begging for something. My inner voice told me to deny it, an illusion, mere sorcery, but I couldn’t shake it.

“She’s more like you than you know. You two keep yourselves here. You won’t leave without her, and she won’t leave without her father.”

Seven hooded beings surrounded Allison. I watched as one emerged from the shadow, stepping to an altar. The leader chanted and raised his arms, commanding the others in a dark ritual. He opened his hand. The heart fell, dangling on the chain from his finger. My charm, the one meant for Allison, the charm I never had the courage to part with hovered an inch above her heart.

The hooded beings picked Allison off the ground as she struggled to free herself, placing her writhing body in a wooden box lined with straw. Agonizing screams echoed against the walls when the leader grabbed a torch and removed his hood. He looked deep into her eyes but said nothing as he reached down and lit the straw on fire.

“The Reverend.” I whispered.

Chapter 12

The brutish beast working along Sunny lead me down the mountain through a series of winding tunnels and caves before pushing me forward into the barren wastes. I stood alone in a midnight desert, no sun on the horizon, it’s light just as damned as the rest of us.

The air was oppressed with foulness forged by the evil deeds of those who called hell their home. Thick fog hung above the worn foot path. Monika’s voice, my beacon guiding me towards the objective, was gone. Blinded sight reminded me of looking through a windshield covered in muddy frost. Screeching and moaning coming from the fog made me want to curl up in a ball. Part of me longed for the tight confinements of the mountain caves. Being in the open, vulnerable to attack, produced a neurotic mind set. Allison, where the hell are you?

My freedom was contingent on finding Justin and bringing him to Sunny, a deal I falsely agreed to. John warned me to stay away from Justin, to “let sleeping dogs lay,” as he called it. Besides, I knew better than to forge a deal in hell. Sunny promised to “take care” of Reverend Channing once I delivered Justin. I didn’t want to know the details of what that meant. My hope was to buy enough time to free Allison and get home.

An eerie chill swirled me, mind losing its hold on reality, hypervigilant for what nightmare might be walking in the shadows. The wastes are toughest part of hell. In the cities there’s chaotic order. The demons call the shots and the souls of the damned naturally fall in line. In the wastes there’s no rest for the wicked. A free-for-all with ruthless consequences. Vile creatures of unimaginable disgust roamed freely. The sad part, they were created by the minds of men. Thought creates reality. Whatever men can dream of ends up in the spirit realms.

Something unnatural moved in the darkness, startling my senses. Countless scales seemingly glistened, covering a long cylinder body. I didn’t know if it was real or imagined. What’s the difference in a place like this?

I scurried, taking cover behind a rotted tree trunk just off the dirt path. Around the edge I saw a dark hooded silhouette. A man bound with tight rope tied around his hands was dragged along while tiny stones scraped away his skin cell by cell, a trail of blood following behind. His left side was ripped open, revealing broken ribs, a flap of skin the only thing keeping them tied to their owner. The man’s eyes were open but he made no screams or cries for help. I guess that was better for him. Maybe acceptance allowed him to cope. I watched the dark figure pass. I couldn’t see into its face, the head covered with a hood, I was thankful. The figure vanished into the darkness behind me.

I too was once dragged to hell and thrown into the abyss; unable to forge the image of the man being dragged along to God knows what fate out of my mind. A tattooed memory, an eternal scar, an endless guilt. That’s why I had to save Allison. Anyone who says hell is eternal, that the souls belong here forever, you’ll change your tune. When you see what it’s truly like … you’ll want to save them all.

***

Footsteps, loud, running. Something closed in. I raised my hands in defense. A flash of black, a wooden handle beat across my face, knocking me to the mud.

A warrior spirit stood upon the rotted tree truck. Battle and strife lived behind his eyes, knowing nothing else. A savage war cry cut my soul, a headhunter looking for a scalp staring down on me, pulling a long knife from his belt, eyes turned to fire.

A second, then third spirit approached, yelling for the headhunter to finish the job. I reached hard, covering my head with my arms. The headhunter raised his blade. I kicked and screamed before he was pushed off by another in his group. A scuffle ensued but was quickly ended by the presence of a much darker force, the silhouetted figure emerged, still dragging his captive on the ground behind him. The captive was handed over to a savage who quickly removed and dragged him into the shadow. The remaining savages stepped back, not willing to challenge the authority of the dark leader.

The savages covered their ugliness with war paint. Intricate design and artwork that would impress Picasso covered every inch of face, a mixture of muddied clay and blood.

I couldn’t understand the language they spoke but gathered that the leader wanted me whole. Two savages forced me into a cage that rested on top of a wooden cart driven by four slaves. I leaned into the ear of one of them, whispering through the iron bars.

“Are we going to the city?” I asked.

The slave turned to me but didn’t speak.

I asked again, “are we going to the City of Dis?”

The slave opened his mouth. He could speak no words. His tongue had been cut out.

We traveled some distance before the leader motioned for his group to stop. The headhunters worked quickly to set up camp. It looked like we were stopping to rest. When the fires were lit, the leader reached into a satchel, pulling out a jug and raising it high into the air. A ruckus cheer rose from the group.

Jug after jug was pulled and consumed with haste. A few headhunters took to song, the majority took to fighting, squabbles over territory and oddly, scraps of cloth. It didn’t take long for the tribesmen to pass out from a combination of punches to the head and pulls from the jug.

The fires dwindled to embers when the last man fell face first to the ground. Instinct kicked in. I knew from experience a scene like this meant death. The wasted tribesmen would wake up wrapped in the chains of another group. Their scalps and tongues severed just like the rest of them.

I scanned my area, looking for anything I could use to defend myself. A wooden tent stake stood crooked, half heartedly pounded into the ground. I stretched my arm through the iron bars as far as it would go, fingernails scratching against the stake just beyond reach. Hands trembled, silence filled my ear. I hated silence. Darkness and silence, a deadly combination, and I was in the deadliest of places.

I’ve really messed this up. John, If you can hear my thoughts, I’m sorry. I just want to save Allison and come home. Guide me. Help me find her …tell me it’s going to be okay.

“Prayer, the voice of desperation.” A hand reached from the darkness and wrapped its fingers around my wrist before I could pull back. The dark leader of the headhunters emerged from the shadow as I threw my body as far back in the cage as I could.

“How are you not like the rest of them, a puddle of mud?”

“It’s a sin for a Puritan to consume alcohol of any kind. Besides, not like you’re going to find the good stuff down here. Nothing but hooch and toilet wine.”

“You can’t keep me from her, Reverend.” I mustered the strength to whisper.

“I warned you to stay away from my daughter, William Stark. I’ve made it my life’s work to keep you two apart.” Reverend Channing’s voice was cold. Minor traces of Reverend Channing’s former humanity was all that remained. If it wasn’t for his voice I’d never have recognized his cracked and withered face. It felt like looking into the mirror at the worst part of myself.

“How’d you find me?”

“I’ve been tracking my prey.”

“How long you been following me?”

“Since I broke your stupid foot.” I saw the mace style weapon dangling from Channing’s belt.

“You’re a hunter. Doesn’t surprise me that you’d be running with the scum of hell.”

“You don’t know anything about me, Stark. I’m not a hunter by choice. The darkest ones rule this god forsaken realm. If you rebel against them, you’ll be turned to mush. What good am I then?”

“I watched you drag that poor unfortunate behind you. You hunters are all the same.”

“Demand has driven the market up as the tribulation draws near.”

“You’re a coward who’d sell his own daughter to save himself. You hunters do the demon’s bidding to advance this so-called tribulation, whatever the hell that is.”

“You’re wrong. I’m trying to prevent the tribulation. I’ll sell the man to keep going. I don’t enjoy it or get some sick twisted pleasure. I need things, weapons for one. If you’re going to survive the pit, you better learn to fight.”

“There’s a better way.”

“You sold me out, William Stark.”

“I came back for you.”

“That’s supposed to make it all better. Some sniveling boy begging me to come with him. I’m right to keep you from my daughter. You’re a monster William Stark!” The Reverend snarled.

“I used to think the same of you … at least that’s what I thought before I learned the truth about the light.”

“You know nothing of the truth or the light.” The Reverend snarled.

“What you did to Allison, you don’t have to do anymore. You’re never truly lost.”

“You can’t always take the high road. Sometimes you have to take the low, something you haven’t learned yet, Stark.”

“If you so as much put another scratch on Allison I swear to god it’ll be the last thing you do. You corrupted her once. I won’t let you do it again.”

“My worst nightmare played out before me when I watched you fall off the boat with my daughter. You can’t be together. I’m doing you a favor but you’re too stupid to see it. You think you have it all figured out. You’re wrong. Allison belongs to the devil.”

“You still believe that nonsense. Let me tell you something about the devil. He doesn’t exist. You need to get that through your thick Puritan skull. The devil is an illusion, just a bunch of crazy people like yourself, bent on doing things their own way.”

“You’re wrong, Stark. Dead wrong.”

“You want to brand your daughter with a scarlet letter. You want to label her The Whore of Babylon. For what? Is that why you burned the box? Rest assured, either way, I’ll make you pay for it.”

“The price of heresy. I’ve done nothing to my daughter that she hasn’t brought upon herself.”

“What I watched is beyond sickness. You burned her because she followed a different path from your oppressive Puritan ways. You’re the one who should burn in a flaming tomb.”

“It’ll save the world.” Reverend Channing whispered.

“You want to save the world? From what does the world need saving may I ask?”

“You.”

“You’re as crazy as they come. The world needs saving from the likes of you, and all the other crazy old preachers spouting off about the end of times!” I lashed out.

“You don’t get it boy. I warned my flock that the rapture was nigh … I’m the only one who can stop it.”

“Go ahead and try. I dare you.”

Channing swung his free hand toward me, unleashing the long iron chain that once bound our eternal souls, the heavy chain quickly wrapping itself around my body.

“You can’t keep me here.”

“Don’t have to. You keep yourself here. You always do because you don’t think for yourself. You’re blind, always doing what others tell you, never listening to your desire.” Channing said.

“Let me go!” I screamed and fought against my restraint, cursing myself for engaging Channing.

“You know it’s true. Why are you back in this forsaken wasteland? Because you wanted to be? Or because someone convinced you to be? You’re easy, William Stark, too easy.”

“Stop with the lies!”

“I’m speaking the truth. You can’t see the whole picture. You’re too blinded by what you think is love. Allison doesn’t love you, William.”

“You know nothing of love! Your cold heart drove her away!” I screamed.

“I did what needed to be done, regardless of what you think.” Reverend Channing’s callousness towards his daughter was repulsive. I tried to lash out but couldn’t move my arms against the tight chain.

“You’re deranged!” I shouted.

“Not deranged, just afraid.”

“Afraid of what?”

“Why do you think I went down to that street corner, standing on the rickety milk crate every Sunday? Because I know what she is, William, and I know what you are.”

“You’re sick, crazy in the head. You know this chain won’t hold me. I’ll break free.” I wrestled with chain wrapped around my body.

“Go ahead, put on a show for my customers, been looking for a strong young man such as yourself. You’ll fetch a fine price in the auction house. You’re going to know exactly what it feels like to be sold as a piece of junk.”

“Money has no value here. Don’t you know that?” I said.

The loose end of the damning chain came down on my face, feeling like my teeth were knocked out. “Watch that tongue boy? A word of advice, in this place you’re better off cutting it out. I’m not looking for money. My daughter is around here somewhere. You think you’re searching for her. You’re wrong, she’s searching for you. She’ll drag you down … and the world with it. Selling you is the best way to get you far far away.”

The Reverend summoned a beast that stood directly over me, as he hastily wrapped my hands and feet with rope. Channing picked my body up and threw me face down across the back end of the beast which carried me into darkness. I underestimated the Reverend, corrupted by hell, he’d grown strong.

The beast was large, ugly, and dumb, making for a rough ride. It had no intelligence than that of it’s master, blindly doing what it was directed to do. My body bounced over sharp spines protruding from its back, my ribs on fire when I finally was thrown off.

“Get up, Stark. You’re not hurt.” Channing growled. He was different since I last saw him, darker, much darker.

I fought fast against the rope and chain, hesitation would lead to abuse, but was unable to reach my feet. The Reverend slapped an iron collar around my neck. The feeling brought back memories, torment of when the tables were turned. Recollections I’d give anything to erase.

“Come on.” The Reverend pulled hard on the end of the chain, jolting me along with him. “If you won’t walk, I’ll drag you.”

Channing pulled me into a rickety shed, wood weathered and decayed, throwing me into a pen with iron bars and a cold stone floor.

“You’re enjoying this aren’t you, getting revenge over me. You’re going to hand me over to the demons. You want to see me suffer as much as you did.” I said.

“Revenge is not my motivation.” Reverend Channing said. “Although I must admit some satisfaction for justice being served. It’s only natural.”

“I’m happy for you.”

“Always a smart mouth. You should be thanking me. I’m doing you a favor, although I’m not doing it for you. I’m doing it for mankind.”

“Right, to save the world … psycho.”

“Selling you to the slavers is the best way to keep you and Allison apart.”

“Until I find her, or better yet, until she finds me as you seem to believe.” I said.

“Slavers are masters at moving cargo in secret, believe me, you won’t be found.”

“You can’t keep me from her. I’ll tell her everything. She’ll see the truth of what you really are, Reverend. Allison has a good heart. She’ll see that you belong here and by doing so set herself free from you forever.”

“No William, she won’t see me, she’ll only see you. That’s why I’m sending you away. Someplace you’ll never be found. Stay away from my daughter, Stark! You hear me! You stay away!” Reverend Channing snapped, swinging a heavy fist down on my face.

I spit blood onto the cold stone, looking up through watery eyes. “That’s never going to happen.”

Chapter 13

I woke from unconsciousness, eyes scanning the room. Several small cages with iron bars sat empty except for one. The broken man I saw being dragged by Channing lay motionless on a stone floor stained red. I could see his features more clearly. He was slender with an athletic build, square jawline, hair brownish red with a light wave at the tips.

“Can you hear me?” I whispered, there was no response. “Listen, you’re in danger. We both are. You have to get up and run.” I said, hoping in vain the stranger would rise to his feet and save me from my damnation.

A loud bang jolted me around as the door to my slave pen popped open. A runt of a man came scurrying in and unlocked my chain from the wall. He had the features of the savages, but half the size and the deformation of a leper. The imp giggled, slobber and drool splattered the back of my hand. I pushed him down, over powering with ease, grabbing him by the leather collar around his neck and slamming his body in the cage that once held me.

I frantically searched for a way out, seeing a closed wooden door in the back. I hustled passed the cages, a ring of keys laid spread out on a wooden table. The thought of trying to free the unconsciousness man flashed through my mind, but I convinced myself otherwise. Reverend Channing was right about one thing, in order to survive hell, sometimes you have to take the low road.

I opened the wooden door and quickly closed it behind me. The room was lit by three old fashioned lanterns. A coldness consumed me. Along the wall sat a burnt box lined with blackened hay.

“Allison … God, Allison … are you here?” I prayed for an answer but heard silence. I searched the room but found nothing of use, just various symbols and pentagrams drawn on the floor. A second wooden door sat opposite the first. I hurried to make my escape.

Surrounded by pitch black, a small fire was the only source of illumination outside. I heard grunting and a painful screech from behind. Channing’s beast was feeding, whatever it ate was still alive. My fist clenched defensively but the beast had no interest in me, with its belly full it just wanted to be left alone.

I scanned the dim area for any sign of Channing before fleeing into the surrounding wilderness. Trudging through muck and mire, motivated by fear, I pushed my body hard, dreading what the future held should I be caught. Thorns and twisted brush pulled at me from all sides, as if they were holding me prisoner, as if Channing controlled them at will.

My head spun like a compass without a magnet, navigation confused. The decayed undergrowth was thick and unending. I weaved in and out like a mouse trapped in a maze, but found no cheese. A large tree root jetted out like a LAPD spike strip, half buried in the ground, catching my foot. Body falling, my forearm landed between the cold steel jaws of a bear trap. God himself couldn’t stop the hair raising shriek from coming. Blinding hot pain forced acid from my stomach, phantom lungs choking. My bloodied hand shook violent as it scrambled to free the shattered arm.

Dread filled my eyes when they looked at the morning star mace dangling from a chain next to my head, and Reverend Channing’s grinning face bearing down on me.

“Running again, Stark. You need to learn that running only makes your problems bigger.”

Channing open the trap, freeing my mangled arm. I wailed in agony as he hoisted me onto his shoulder like a sack of potatoes and carried me back to his camp.

“Shut your mouth, Stark! You’ll draw unwanted attention.”

Channing laid me on the cold ground away from the fire, as if a small kindness was too much for him. He loaded a satchel on the back of his beast and walked to me. Channing jerked my arms behind my back before binding my hands with rope, taking the pain to excruciating levels.

“Quit complaining, Stark. It’s a broken arm, nothing compared to what I’ve endured.”

“You’re making it worse for yourself. Your acts of evil are turning your soul to dust.” I said through gritted teeth.

“When my work is finished, I’ll retire.”

“It’ll be too late.”

“Only for you, William.” Reverend Channing slung me back over the beast, it’s bony spine jabbing my side like a fire iron. My body shook, fearing the journey.

More than once we were attacked, but motivated by an intense belief that I was some abomination, Channing wasn’t about to share his catch. Travel demolished me. Intense pain left me drifting in and out of awareness. I managed to raise my head one last time before it collapsed. The same arches I passed under long ago towered above me. Abandon all hope ye who enter here. I didn’t know then what I know now, Dante’s epic poem. I studied Dante in the realms of light, an inspired poet. I learned all true inspiration comes from God. Truth found its way to Dante’s pen. I wished it wasn’t so.

I closed my eyes while passing under the death gate. A group of bandits rushed the Reverend, his beast giving a ferocious growl.

“We want what you have.” One bandit spoke.

“Well then, pay the price, highest bidder wins.” Channing replied.

“We don’t buy slaves. We take them.” The bandit stepped to Channing’s beast. The Reverend unsheathed a sword from his belt and swung wide across the band. Fingers and limbs fell to the ground. Blubbering and pain echoed, sending a stern warning to other groups. Don’t even try.

We moved unmolested to the center of the City of Dis. Much like the open markets of old, spirits wandered about, mingling and haggling with one another. Reverend Channing stopped next to a building and dismounted the beast, tying it to a post, like that could stop the monstrosity should it decide otherwise. Channing grabbed the end of my chain and pulled me into the building. All attention focused on our entrance, a frenzy of arguments ensued, the language worse than any R-rated movie I’d ever seen.

“Alright. Hurry up. Ya got merchandise bring it over. Don’t waste my time pissin’ around.” An intimidating overweight figure called to Reverend Channing from the back of the room.

I was pulled through the crowd and placed on a pedestal with the other merchandise. A haze of carcinogens that even the seasoned smoker would hack on choked my lungs. Angry vile spirits looked me over, one in particular. I stared into perversion. The spirit was repulsive beyond ugly. Her teeth were sharpened like spears. Four horns exploded from the back of her bony skull, stringy hair hung to the shoulders. Eyes danced with excitement as she gazed up and down my body. A talon scraped across my chest, dragging deep and drawing blood.

My teeth clenched and my head turned away as she dug deeper before pulling the finger out of my rib, raising the blood red finger to her mouth, drinking in the red like a thirsty dog. I prayed she didn’t like the taste, but her expression told otherwise.

“No Furies allowed in the auction!” The overweight man yelled, pushing the woman away as she let out a deafening high pitched scream, turning to black flame and mist.

“Alright! Open house is closed. Get the hell out! All of you!” A voice boomed over the crowd as five large spirits began forcing people out. When the building was cleared the merchandise was led by one by one into the open market to be auctioned like cattle.

I waited for my number to be called, praying I wouldn’t end up as fodder for the demented woman who liked the taste of my insides.

“Get up here!” A dark spirit yanked the chain. I tumbled forward, scraping my nose before scrambling to my feet and scurrying up the stairs to the raised platform. I scanned the jeering crowd. Reverend Channing stood off to the side of waiting to collect the highest payment.

“Looks weak. Feed’em to the dogs, better yet, the snakes!” A voice called out.

“Snake pit! Snake pit!” Cried three other voices.

“Come on. Get your bids up. This lad is worth more than ten shillings.” The use of shillings told me this group was formerly English. You can always tell a spirits’ heritage by his dress and mannerisms. Groups of spirits tend to stick to their own kind. This is especially true in the realms of darkness where racism and bigotry run rampant.

“Look at that arm. It’s mush!”

I turned my body, hiding my broken arm as best I could. One thing about auctions in hell … you want someone to buy you, if you don’t sell you’ll end up as entertainment at the executioner’s family picnic.

“Fifteen.”

“Twenty.”

“Twenty-five.”

The numbers began to rise, despite my useless limb.

“One shilling,” called a voice made of dust and gravel. I turned to the Reverend as he stood off to the side, a shuddering look fell over him.

Approaching from the street was an old fashioned buggy with a covered top, like you’d see a horse pulling, but there were no horses here. Horses are majestic creatures with homes in the realms of light. Here, the buggy was pulled by spirits, slaves of whom ever rode inside.

Six men, three on each side pulled the black chariot. Whispers stirred amongst the crowd.

“The Prince.” A voice from the crowd called out. “The Prince is coming, bow.” The crowd parted, allowing the chariot to come to the edge of the platform.

“One shilling.” Called the voice made of dust and gravel from inside the chariot.

“One shilling. One shilling, sold!” Called the auctioneer as if he was in a hurry to get rid of whatever rode inside. “Go collect your handsome payment.” The auctioneer motioned Reverend Channing to collect his payment. Channing’s eye’s opened wide, face ghost white, hands trembling.

A black curtain, pulled away on top of the chariot. I couldn’t see inside. A thin bony hand protruded from the opening. Stringy flesh hung from the wrist.

“I assume you feel adequately compensated?” The voice said, making my stomach churn.

“Yes.” Reverend Channing’s voice trembled as he accepted the shilling, a dread like no other fell over him.

“Good, I aim to keep my subjects well compensated.” The voice said.

I looked into Channing’s eye’s for a half second before he collapsed on the platform, agony engulfed them as his head buried in his hands. I’d like to think he fell from exhaustion and relief, but comisery told me his soul just made the biggest mistake of its infinity.

***

I followed along with the slaves who pulled the chariot, cradling my broken right arm in my left, feeling numb and dead. We walked a silent, endless mile. The only sound, tired groans of the overworked slaves.

A ruthless feeling of fatigue and dehydration caused me to stumble forward. The sharp sting of a cracker’s whip against my back forced my chin up. Against the blackened sky stood a once majestic castle, now giving way to decay.

After crossing the drawbridge I was led by a slave into the depths of the castle. Small cages lined the dungeon stretching farther than I could see.

The horrors of hell’s dungeons are designed to kill the fiercest warrior spirit. Great battles are fought in the lowest hells; defeated soldiers dragged to dark prisons like slain prey to the lion’s den.

Vile beasts patrolled the dungeons, always vigilant. Things worked different here. The goal wasn’t to keep prisoners confined, the goal was to dare them to escape. To give something away, dangle it in front of you like a carrot on a string is more crushing to the soul than confinement. Escape meant excitement, given for the beast’s amusement. So when the cell door opened, I wasn’t about to play.

One of the beasts stood out in front of my door, its nostrils flaring steam and moisture. The fierce red glow emanating from its eyes and elongated lower cuspids protruding from it’s mouth sent tremors through my body. “Follow.” It growled.

“You’re going to have to drag me out. I’m not giving myself willingly over to torture.”

“Torture? I wish, but no.” The creature spoke, it’s voice gruff and gnarled.

“Yeah, what then? Vacation?” I asked.

“I’d give anything to cut that tongue out of that smart mouth.” The creature entered my cell and grabbed the chain off the wall. I had no choice but to follow.

I was led up the same stairs I’d come down and into a narrow hallway that opened to a large foyer. The main floor would have been immaculate had it not been for the depravity of the items inside. I once did a report on English royalty in junior high. The pictures of Buckingham Palace reminded me of this place. A spitting image but for the deterioration and decay. The chairs would surely collapse if you sat in one. The desk in the corner didn’t look strong enough to hold a paper weight.

The creature led me through a large pair of doors and into a small den or office of some sort. The smell that blasted my face made my stomach turn, worse than a sushi restaurant dumpster in mid July. Behind an executive desk sat a slender, bony, brooding figure.

“I’m the prince of this kingdom.” The figure turned to me, it had no eyes, only black holes in a skeleton face. Maggots fell from the sockets in handfuls. The figure was oblivious to them, like he’d grown used to their chewing on his face.

“Well?”

“Yes,” was all I could say.

“It’s custom to bow in the presence of royalty.” The creature who brought me here said while shoving it’s elbow in my back. I dropped to one knee and then the other, placing my face on the floor.

“Rise subject,” the Prince said as I slowly stood back up. “When I pay you a compliment it’s courteous to acknowledge it. Your parents never taught you manners did they? That explains a lot.”

A long dark cape fell to the back of the Prince’s knees, resting just above his ironclad boots. Thin armor made of black leather gave his shoulders a pointed look. Flies circled his head, attracted to his death.

The Prince walked slowly around his chamber, stopping to seemingly inspect the various artifacts and trophies around the room, bones, skulls, and trinkets of competitors vested.

My eyes grew large, filled with fear and apprehension when I saw it dangling around a decaying human skull. I recognized it like it had been part of me, a part of my soul.

The heart was pristine, perfect as the day my grandmother gave it to me. She told me to save it, to give it to the one true soul who was meant to be mine. The charm, Allison’s charm.

“She’s a beauty is she not?” I jumped at the Prince’s voice as he caught my eye staring at the charm.

“Forgive me dark father. I didn’t mean to stare.” The Prince rushed me, gripping hard around my neck and pushing me back.

“Never blaspheme in my kingdom! Understand?”

“Yes, sorry sir.”

“There’s only one dark father, I am not him. Nope, just a servant in his great kingdom.” Boy, I was just like you once, dumb and stupid. I made myself into what I am now. I rule this corner hell, but I don’t call the shots.”

“Yes sir, master, of course.” I said. The Prince loosened his grip and I pulled myself to my feet.

“I see you admire it just as much as I do.” The Prince said giggling, his moods more unpredictable than a teenage girl’s.

“Indeed, master. A trophy?” I asked.

“Just something the cat dragged in. Duke is a bit of a junker. He’s always bringing trash in here for his art, as he calls it, traveling the vast wastes of hell searching for the perfect piece. I don’t know what he does with it all, I don’t ask and he doesn’t tell. Duke’s never been much for words.”

“I see.”

“I don’t trust Duke. He’s got a hidden agenda, but then again so do I. Duke isn’t the first two-faced soul of the damned.”

“Can’t you just order him around? You’re above him, right?”

“Appearances aren’t always as they seem boy. I’ve got my eyes on Duke, I brought him in because I needed some dumb muscle around here, part of me is beginning to regret I didn’t purchase the lifetime, no questions asked refund warranty. I’ve got my eyes on Duke, you’d better do the same.”

“I understand.”

“She was a wretch of a woman, whatever it was that Duke dragged in here, got her at an auction in a dark land far from this one. She carried the charm, kept it close. It had great value to her, until I ripped it from her hands.” The Prince laughed deeply. “Like I said, a wretch of a woman. I had no use for her.”

“Well, she’s someone else’s problem now.” I said.

“The woman who sold her, now, she’s something I could find a definite use for.”

“She was powerful?” I asked.

“Oh my yes, powerful, I’d love to have her sorcery commanding my armies. She’d be a great asset, but something told me she was trouble and not worth the investment.” The Prince said.

Heavy regret fell upon me for leaving the charm the in the church offering during my previous stint in hell. Part of me wondered if my charm had found Allison in her darkest despair.

“You seem confused.” The Prince said.

“It’s nothing.”

“You want it?” The Prince asked. My body screamed yes but I had to let it go.

“No, master, I can never take your trophy.” I paused, the Prince remained silent. “What was her name? The wretch?” I took a chance. Judging and risking that the Prince’s mood had lightened.

“Why, are you interested?” The Prince’s attempt at humor was disturbing. “Wretch. That was her name.” I smiled, pretending to join in.

“You’ll earn it then. We have much to do.” The Prince said.

If the Prince had Allison’s charm then chances are she could be close. I had to play his game.

“What do you want from me?” I asked.

“Help.”

***

The vile beast lead me back to my holding cell. It never bothered to lock the door. Something felt off, I sensed it immediately before sitting down.

A man was in the cell next to me. “How long have you been here?” I asked, in desperate need for connection. He didn’t respond. He smelled like death. “How long you been here?” There was no response. I leaned in, ready to force an answer out of him. Force and aggression are what the inhabitants of hell know, it’s how you play the game.

“Hey, I’ve seen you before.” My response startled even myself. I looked down at the man’s midsection, his tattered shirt soaked red. “I met the man who dragged you, he got me too. I’ve gotta say though, it must have been better than being chewed alive by that monstrosity I saw following you. It looked as if it’s skin was made of metal.”

“You saw me? You were captured too?” The man spoke.

“Yes.”

“You did nothing to help.” The prisoner stared at me. I looked down, ashamed of my neglect. I forced myself to look back into his eyes and search for the words to say. Behind his eyes lived an emptiness I’d never seen in another soul, all hope abandoned, a long long time ago.

“I guess I only have myself to blame. People are only concerned about themselves. That’s my fault.” The prisoner said. “That arm don’t look too good.” He looked at my arm which had turned dark blue fading to black, before taking a knife from his pocket.

“Look, I don’t want any trouble.” I said, pushing myself to the back of my cell.”

I watched prisoner remove his shoe and cut the sole from the bottom. He removed the rope that acted as a belt from his waist and tied it to the leather sole.

“Here take it, it’s temporary, but it’ll help.”

I slung the rope around my neck, rested my tortured arm on the leather sole, a temporary sling that took pressure off the excruciating pain, allowing me to finally breathe relief.

“My god. Thank you. Thank you for your help. I don’t deserve it. The man was silent. “Why are you here?” I asked.

“Because of a woman.”

“You and I have a lot in common then.” I said.

“Leave me alone.”

“You want to get outta here?” I asked. The man turned to me as if I was crazy.

“And go where?” He asked.

“To a better place.”

“I can’t go there.”

“You can.”

“The door is locked and I don’t have a key.”

“Listen.” I said. “There’s forgiveness for all.”

“Not for what I’ve done.” The prisoner said.

“The demons told you that. They’re lying. You must pray. Fill your soul with the holy spirit and you’ll be lifted from this darkness.”

“Leave me alone, kid.” The prisoner turned his back before I could finish. Frustration drilled it’s menacing perfume into my being, getting the best of me. The only thing to do was sit against the wall of my cell and fear what was coming next.

Pitch black, alone, panic. John talked about the impossible mission and how I’m the one to pull it off. Why do I even care? He wants his spiritual brother back, where the hell is he? John can come down here and do the job himself.

You cannot help those who do not want to be helped. John’s teaching echoed in my ear.

“You listening or something, John? If so, please, come down here, help, lift a finger. You talk about God being an almighty father, tell you the truth, I’m not seeing it. Does God even exist? Have you ever even seen him? Cause I sure haven’t.”

I stood up. “Does anyone here want to be helped?” I shouted out loud for all the dungeon prisoners to hear, knowing I was better off talking to the stone walls surrounding me. “My god, I’m giving you people a golden ticket to paradise and nobody wants it! What more can I do?” I stomped my heel hard into the ground, releasing a roar of pent up frustration from deep within before falling to the ground, face buried in my one good elbow.

Now you know how the Son felt.

Chapter 14

Fingernails scratching on iron triggered an adrenal response. I scanned the cell for the man next to me but found no one. Had I imagined the whole thing?

“It’s time.” A gnarled voice sounded as a dungeon beast led me from my cell to the Prince’s chamber. When I arrived the Prince had his back turned towards me, lost in deep contemplation.

“The lessons will come fast and hard so pay attention. There’s no time to relax. Our foes are fierce and unrelenting. We’re twice as much.”

The Prince lead me down a long, narrow corridor. Small windows, about the size of a fist lined the walls. The faint sound of grinding coming from the other side, I had no desire to look through the glass.

The corridor opened up to a room. The Prince took us to the back where small pools of muddy water sat in rows on the ground. The room held a force bent on dominance and war, powered by dark emotion.

“These are my eyes and ears, bi-location multiplied.” The Prince said.

“Bi-location?”

“A soul can appear in two places at once. I learned to multiply this effect. I see through the eye’s of my subjects. I’m in them, they’re in me. What you see in the pools, my subjects see in the field.”

“Are you searching for something?” I asked.

“We’re on lookout for attack.”

“How often are you attacked?” I asked.

“Always.” The Prince said with iron resolve. “A new threat has emerged. One they call the doctor. I’m searching for him, I feel he’s searching for me. I’ve been unsuccessful in determining his location, but it’s only a matter of time.”

“The doctor?”

“I hear his experimentation is unorthodox.” The Prince said. I knew exactly who he was referring to, Doctor Sunny Miller. I learned first hand about his unorthodox methods.

“Do you know what he’s after?”

“What all my rivals are after, my kingdom, my knowledge, my temple.”

The Prince climbed a pyramid staircase to an altar with a small statue. The top of the statue rested a wheel with four swords butted together, each blade pointing outward. The Prince grabbed hold of one blade, spinning it like a contestant on The Price is Right.

“The Doctor is searching for a key to an ancient lock.”

“What does it open?” I asked.

“Fairy tales and myth my boy, it doesn’t exist.”

“How’d you come to rule your kingdom?”

“Biting, scratching, clawing. Evil deed after evil deed until it was all burned away, until my conscience no longer burdened me.”

“Must have been hard.”

“I loved three things when I wore the flesh of a man bent on conquest and authority; wealth, women, and wine. I live by one rule. If you don’t take it, someone else will.”

“Does anyone ever win?”

“I always win.”

“How do you keep going?”

“By harvesting the same thing that powers this temple. I have more dark energy than the others.”

“How do you get your energy?”

“We take it from souls, through violence, death, and oppression … anger and hate. Strong emotion creates the dark energy that drives my war machine.”

“What’s my purpose?” I asked. “You want me to gather dark energy for you?”

“You won’t be collecting. You’ll be creating.” The Prince scared me, of that there was no doubt. His plans scared me even more.

“How do you know I’ll succeed?”

“Because I can smell it.”

“It?”

“You, because you stink, like hell, like debauchery, like evil. Your training starts now.” The Prince said, pointing to the floor. “Look into those pools.”

I watched as small imp like goblins climbed, scratched, and clawed at a clueless middle aged woman sitting by her kitchen table, a half bottle of Smirnoff and a coffee cup resting next to her.

“She has been out of work for close to a year.” The Prince said. A pile of papers had been pushed to the edge of the table, an open checkbook sat out in front of her. The phone rang without end. It wasn’t hard to see her thoughts, how her body cringed with each ring of the phone, driving her closer to breaking.

“Leave me alone!” She slammed the phone down on the table.

“Every ounce of dark energy is earned.” The Prince said. “This was once a happily married woman, a year ago she received the promotion of her life, you can bet we had a hand in that. What’s even better, she worked for a company riddled with corruption. She was neck deep in fraud before she could set up her voicemail. Company went under while she was head of quality control, lets just say there aren’t many second chances in the game of corporate greed. Nobody will hire her. Her husband left, it was the perfect excuse, besides he wasn’t in love with her anymore. Yep, we had a hand in that too, convincing a pretty young blonde at his office that he was a catch.”

“We earned this one. You can see my pets scratching and clawing at her brain, the noise alone is torture. Soon, and it won’t take long, she will see there’s only one way out, when she takes it, we’ll be there to collect.”

“You’re going to take her soul?” I asked.

“I can’t own a soul. Souls are always free. I collect the dark energy left in the environment and use it to fuel my war machine.”

“What happens to the soul?” I asked.

“It remains hellbound for as long as it does, then disappears.” The Prince said.

“Disappears? Where does it go?” I asked.

“It ceases to exist. It’s energy depleted, it can’t go on.”

“Maybe it goes to heaven.” I said.

The Prince lashed out striking my face, leaving a large gash. “There’s no such thing.”

I wasn’t about to challenge his perception that souls can ascend out of the darkness through prayer.

A second pool caught my attention. A man stood in a pulpit. I stepped closer, leaning in.

“What about this one?” My voice cracked when the words came out, hoping I didn’t give myself away.

“That’s nothing, although Duke seems to think there’s something there. Waste of time.”

I watched Corbin address a crowd gathered in a small Puritan church. The words he spoke were meant to comfort, but the feelings behind them held an alternative motive.

“What do you think is going on?”

“I said there’s nothing there. Quit wasting my time.” My head scrambled for a reason why Corbin was leading a group of Puritans, but the Prince was tiring of my questions.

“What’s my job, master?” I said, playing to the Prince’s ego. He pointed to a pool behind me. I watched as a dark shadow loomed over a group of young children running on a playground. The kids had no clue the ominous shadow was present.

“This has been our greatest undertaking, in the making for years. Look, the boy standing alone next to the slide.” The Prince said. I took a step closer to the screen. The boy watched with excited anticipation as the other kids ran and played tag. Something held him back, a bigger kid, maybe a year or two older. He was the one who called the shots, directing and ordering the other boys and girls around the playground. I took another step closer, close enough to peer into the kid’s eyes. A second figure, equally dark stood directly over his left shoulder.

My heart skipped. I recognized the dark shadow figure immediately. The same demonic being that wrapped its claws around my ribs and carried me high in the sky, dropping me in the midst of Sunny’s demented cave of delights.

I knew instinctively the dark figures were there for the same thing, to oppress and corrupt the boys, but a second factor was involved. The dark figures were in direct competition with each other. They hated one another with as much vigor as they hated the boys.

The dark figures needed each other but had no clue how to work together. No words or communication was exchanged between them, only signs of aggression. Two hungry wolves squaring off over a fresh kill.

To a simple observer, it would be easy for the two to work together. One pulling the bully’s strings, the other pulling the strings of fear, keeping the victim suffering in silence. They didn’t see it that way.

“Duke works for me. He’s good. This won’t take long.” The Prince said. My mind raced with confused thought. The demonic figure, Duke, as the Prince called him seemed to be working for Sunny. Something was off. There was more to Duke than I knew. I decided to keep quiet until the truth revealed itself.

I watched as both demonic figures shrieked at each other, broken skeletal bones exploding from their backs, each rising above the playground twenty feet in the air. Duke growled and initiated his attack, bodies locked in close, hand to hand combat. They grappled, each gaining slight momentum and then losing ground until Duke opened his talons like a Swiss army knife. He gripped hard around his rival’s neck, squeezing until black ooze secreted between his fingers, dripping onto the playground below. Duke’s opponent wrestled free, dragging himself away from the playground.

Duke wasted no time, rushing behind the older kid, leaning into his ear. “The weakling, show him who’s boss. You’re in charge.”

The older kid walked over to the younger without hesitation. “You wanna play or what?”

“Oh yes,” the younger boy squealed with excitement and nervous apprehension.

“Then tag you’re it.” The older kid slapped the younger boy’s shoulder hard.

“Ouch!”

“Stop being a crybaby. You’re it!” The older kid ran off yelling, “chase me runt!”

The younger boy chased with all his strength and energy but was out matched. The older kids were simply stronger and faster and let the younger boy know it. Taunting and teasing ensued, led by the bully. In reality, Duke was at the helm pulling the strings, leading the kid. He whispered mean thoughts into his ear, encouraging him to act on those thoughts. The pool rippled and muddied. I turned to the Prince.

“Looks like you got your man, err kid.”

“Yes,” the Prince grinned wide. “I said Duke was good didn’t I?”

“You did.”

“Good, you’ll learn a lot from him. You’ll be his understudy. You’ll be a big help.” I swallowed hard. My knees trembled.

“It looks like Duke got his kid. I doubt he needs much help. The bully seems to take direction well.” I said.

The Prince turned to me with squinted eyes. “Oh, I don’t want the bully. I want the other one.” I squinted back in confusion. “You have much to learn. Get the hell outta my sight!” The Prince shouted, as he motioned toward the prison guard who grabbed me hard, throwing me to the ground and dragging me back to my cell.

“Duke will be here soon. I’d be ready. He doesn’t like slow learners.” The creature ripped off his torn vest revealing a scar that ran the length of his torso from his throat past his navel. “Let me repeat that,” he said. “Duke doesn’t like slow learners!” Spit flew into my face.

***

I slunk down the wall of my cell. No chain wrapped around my neck, no turned lock. The large wooden door at the end of the dungeon closed hard, reducing all light to the faint reddish glow that illuminated from outside.

I put my heavy head to rest against the cold stone floor, holding the grapefruit sized swollen elbow against my stomach, wondering if I’d made the right choice. I wanted to live up to my Resurrectionist name, to do good in John’s eyes, but doubt crept in as the odds were stacked against me. The guilt of failure weighing heavy on my soul.

Staring into darkness can and will drive you mad. You’re forced to think, reflect on all the mistakes you’ve made, if you’re in hell then chances are you’ve made a lot. Your body itches all over. You want to dig your eyes out from their sockets. The screams of tormented souls engulf you from all sides, the worst part, you begin to wonder if they are coming from your own tortured soul. It would drive the most sane person to madness. Think of what it does to us.

My nails carved a sliver of skin from my arm. I looked ahead to flick it towards the wall when a putrid smell filled my nostrils. A cold wind blew dust from the ground into my face. I reached up to rub it from my eye and felt hard bone grip my hand and wrist.

I jerked back but couldn’t move my wrist. A second hand delivered a striking blow down on my shoulder, feeling like it popped out. My body shriveled and contorted on the ground. A pointed steel boot dug itself hard in my midsection, forcing blood from the depths of my gut onto the floor.

Pointed fingers grabbed the back of my skull and forced my head against the stone wall behind me, pinning it there indefinitely. I couldn’t see a form, but the smell of death filled the air. Drops of moisture from what I assume we’re nostrils flaring hatred, warmed my face.

“Duke?”

“Master.” Trepidation made me dry heave. I knew better than to respond. “Follow,” it growled.

We left the dungeon holding cell and walked into the castle courtyard. Duke was the same imposing figure he was when he first lead me to Sunny’s chamber. There’s no way to convey the anger and hatred oozing from within this powerful menace. I walked slightly behind, dwelling in the shadow of evil beyond my comprehension. Each step forward taken with focused intent, one slip and I was dust.

“Stop.” Duke said as he dropped to the ground, releasing a long sharp talon and scribbling a symbol into the dirt. I recognized it. I’d seen it a thousand times on spray painted on buildings and empty walls throughout Millersville.

Duke began chanting words and sounds I’d never heard before. A dark cloud formed above us. I knew what was coming. We were going to earth. I inhaled, a portal opened in the cloud and we were sucked through. Before I could exhale we were standing upon the earth’s soil. It was dusk, the minimal light hurt my master tremendously. Duke pointed to a boy sitting alone at a picnic table outside the school.

“That’s him, that’s the boy?” I recognized Jacob immediately, Justin’s brother. “He looks so much older. What happened?” I asked.

“The vision you were shown happened in the past,” Duke said. Jacob aged at least ten years if not more. We watched a small bright light dance around him, Duke’s eye’s following the light intensely.

“What is it?” I asked. Duke squeezed my shoulder and we turned to mist in a flash. Duke flew to Jacob and swirled around him.

“You are not welcome here.” A thunderous voice boomed from the atmosphere around us. Our mist continued to swirl. “You can have the girl … but you can’t have the boy.”

We continued swirling Jacob, as the small light grew brighter and brighter, pain growing more intense, burning us alive. I unleashed a horrendous scream.

Great pain riddled Duke, but his iron will and resolve wouldn’t allow him to show it.

Duke recited chants until a black veil formed around us temporarily reducing the searing light, protecting us with it’s shield.

The booming voice recited what sounded like prayer, shattering our armor, fire roaring in like a fierce lion. I looked back at Jacob, sitting quietly on the picnic table completely unaware of the spiritual battle raging around him.

Duke let go of my shoulder and the mist was gone. A violent suction pulled us through the crust of the earth. I looked upward as my body fell back to damnation. Blinding white light engulfed the boy. Monika fell to the ground next to him, drained from the fight.

Chapter 15

Thunder rose around us. Emerging from all sides were vile, disgusting creatures, souls and spirits. Panic rushed me. I cringed looking upon the castle courtyard after costing Duke the fight. My weakness forced him to use his power to create a shield, draining him of his reserves. I opened my mouth, about to scream for John.

“A great victory for the great Duke!” Shouted a voice as the herd erupted wild and raucous cheers. Duke stepped to an altar in the middle of the castle courtyard.

“My Legion, this is indeed a great victory!” Confusion engulfed me as the crowd cheered wildly.

“The Guardian Angel is weak, pathetic!” Duke yelled. I felt offended, wanting to remind him that Monika sent him packing, not the other way around. She was far from weak.

“There’s a chink in her armor, and where there’s a chink there’s vulnerability. The angel worries. She has fear. She worries over another. Heart is cloudy where a void lives. She’s not complete without her soulmate.” The crowd roared wildly.

“A guardian angel without a soulmate? Master, how can this be? Is this even possible?” A voice from the crowd called out.

“It is possible. It means that the angel is near completion, the final phase is fusion with her soulmate.”

“Where is this soulmate?” The voice asked.

“If there hasn’t been fusion, it’s still in hell.” Duke said.

“What’s the plan?”

“Make sure fusion never happens.”

“How?” The voice shouted from the raucous crowd.

“We hunt it.”

Duke jumped from the pedestal, landing hard grabbing my shirt and pulling me with him through a series of alleys and corridors until we were alone, away from the crowd.

“In here.” Duke lead me into what seemed like an old blacksmith shack you’d see at your county heritage museum. Duke moved a pile of cooled metal with ease, it must have weighed a thousand pounds. He reached down to the floor, brushing away dirt that revealed a hidden door. Duke removed the lock and opened it.

Stomach acid filled and burned my mouth as I looked into eyes bulged with terror. Allison lay in a wooden box. Chained to her coffin.

“Let me talk to her.” I pleaded with Duke who reached into Allison’s mouth with a hooked finger and removed her gag.

“Will, it was Monika! She brought me here. I told you she’s got it out for me. She sold me like a slave at this auction. Oh god, Will. It was awful. Will, she’s evil!” Allison was full of tears.

“Allison, that can’t be. Monika, she wouldn’t do that.”

“Please, Will, listen to me. You’re blinded by her. She’s corrupt. She isn’t right. She seems to think you two are soulmates. She’ll go to any extreme to make her twisted idea seem real.”

“What if you’re wrong? What if Monika is my soulmate?” I said.

“You don’t mean that, Will. You and I are soulmates. You belong to me, not her.” I was lost for words. “Will, look at me. I’m here because she brought me here and sold me to that.” Allison’s eyes glanced over toward Duke who didn’t flinch. “She was supposed to guide us, keep us safe. Look at us. We’re both here because of her. She brought us here, part of some twisted plot to leave me behind and have you for herself.”

“Enough!” Duke commanded, shoving the ratty gag back down Allison’s throat, slamming the box lid hard, locking her in darkness. “You heard it yourself, boy.” Duke grumbled. He was right. I heard it with my own ear. Monika told Duke that he could have the girl … that he could have Allison. I took a step back, my leg gave out, causing me to stumble backward and knock over a small wobbly table. Duke grunted as if I had offended him. His eyes sent a message that there better not be anymore mess ups. Duke pushed me forward, out of the blacksmith shed. My mind scrambled for a plan, a way out, nothing but silence filled it. “You cost me a fight like that again, boy, one more mistake … it’s going to be very very bad for her.”

***

Two dungeon guards led me back to the cage. This time I invited the silence and the pitch black. Screams of the tortured souls were like distant mouse whispers. Thoughts pounded my brain. Why? Was Monika right? Was I her soulmate? Even if it was true she’d never hand Allison over to the darkness, no matter how strong her dislike. At least that’s what I used to think … before the world turned on its head.

I wanted to slip away, like a mountain climber losing grip, falling into nothing. Betrayed by the light. John didn’t prepare me, not like he should have. He said he had faith, that he believed in me. Monika said the same, but I never did. Time was running out. Duke was using Allison as leverage against me, forcing me to obey to his will, forcing me into trespass. I was being hunted. Heavy pressure like none other grinded itself downward. The weight of it all pinning me to the bottom of that stone cold floor.

“The Prince wants a word, get up.” A guard said, walking to my cell. The guard reached for my bad arm, I pulled away, causing him to anger. A swift boot landed on my knee, sending it in an unnatural direction. A second guard entered the cell, lifting me to his shoulder, feet dangling behind, heavy with doom.

“Can’t this wait?” I said, entering the Prince’s chamber. My words were born from frustration. Normally that kind of talk landed you a black eye and a bruised rib, but I didn’t care. The guard grumbled but said nothing. The Prince sat with his back towards me, running his bony finger across the blade of a heavy battle axe.

“I told you Duke was good didn’t I?”

“You did.” I said.

“Soon, he’ll come for my throne. I can see his focus.”

“Doesn’t he work for you?” I asked.

“My kingdom is always under attack.”

“Can you beat him?” I stepped back bracing for a punishing blow that never came. “My apologies your majesty, of course you will, forgive my ignorance.”

“No,” said the Prince.

“No?”

“You will.”

“My pardon, master, I’m just a peon.”

“I know what you are.” The Prince said, my body tight and rigid. “Why do you think I brought you here?”

“Again, my pardon, but I don’t understand.”

“Don’t hide. Never lie to me.” The Prince paused. I wanted to run.

“Normally, if a creature of light was standing in my chambers I’d squash it like the bug it is.” The Prince said. I scanned the room looking for a weapon and escape route. Nothing. I was trapped like a tourist at Wall Drug.

The Prince slammed his fist on the table. “You’re tainted. I brought you here for a reason. There’s work to be done.”

“Work?” My voice creaked.

“The work you were born to do.” The Prince said.

“You want me to create dark energy?”

“No.” The Prince said.

“No, but that’s what I thought-”

“Allison.” The Prince interrupted.

“Excuse me.” My heart froze hearing the Prince say her name.

“Allison was the wretches’ name.”

“Oh.” I said, turning to the door, not wanting the Prince to see the emotion well up in my face.

“Take the charm. It was always meant for Allison anyway, right William?”

I stopped cold, unable to take a step forward, unable to run.

“Like I’ve said all along. I know what you are, and you have work to do … Resurrectionist.”

My heart fell to a pit of despair. The Prince knew my secret. He saw right through me, seeing the whole time. I kept silent, my back turned.

“Take her back to the light, away from here. I want the both of you to get the hell out!”

Chapter 16

Guards returned me to the dungeon. I felt better in my cell sitting with my back to the cold stone wall. Familiarity brings comfort, even in the worst of places.

The Prince offered me a deal. He’d give me freedom if I’d take Allison and walk away. It was a gift from heaven, a get out of jail free card. Every part of my training screamed not to take the deal, every my part of my desire told me I had no choice.

“Don’t do it.”

“Who said that?” I stood up, peering into the darkness. “It’s you. Who are you?” The mysterious stranger sat with his back against the cell wall opposite mine.

“You know better than to make a deal with the devil. I can see your thoughts.” The stranger said.

“I told the Prince where Duke was holding Allison captive. The Prince said he’d come get me, later, after Duke was distracted with his wine. He’ll free Allison, she and I will walk out of this godforsaken place together. How can I not take a deal like that? I don’t have a choice. I can’t leave Allison here.”

“There’s always a choice. Sometimes, in hell, you have to make the hard choice. You can’t save everyone. You can’t save them all.”

“I been told that before, from someone I despise. Who are you?” There was no response. “You a saint from the light? Is that why you can read my thoughts? Are you following me?”

“Deals forged in hellfire go bad. That’s what they do. They go bad. Is that what you want?”

I stepped into the stranger’s cell. A puddle of blood from his mutilated midsection formed between the cracks on the floor.

“You know from experience.” I said. The stranger nodded.

“Make your way to Dis. Get to the docks. Find passage.” He said.

“Passage to what?” I asked.

“There’s a woman in a cave. She can help.”

“Who?”

“Go, she’ll find you. I’ll distract them.” The man rose to his feet, holding his side, stepping into the dungeon hallway before making his way out. The demon guards squealed as the chase was on. I slipped out the back door.

I grabbed a tattered cloth the stranger left on the ground, wrapping it around my head and shoulders before wandering into the castle courtyard, mind racing with the stranger’s words. Deep down he was right. Everything about taking the deal seemed bad, as much as I desperately wanted it to be good.

The castle drawbridge was lowered. The two guards operating the mechanism laid in the mud, sound asleep from a drunken stupor. I very much doubt they’d have tried to stop me anyway. For whatever reason the Prince wanted Allison and I gone, he seemed scared, but it was too easy. John once warned of the false path. It seemed my only choice was to follow the stranger’s advice, but who was he and could he be trusted? He was leading me back to the City of Dis. Surely, no good could come from this.

“I’ll come back for you, Allison Channing. I promise I won’t leave you in despair. I’ll find a better way. I will save you.” I whispered with heavy guilt, stepping across the wooden drawbridge weighted and slow, hands twisting the knife deeper into Allison’s back with each foot forward.

I recalled from my first tour in hell that all paths lead to the City of Dis. All I had to do was find one and follow. It didn’t take long for my eyes to see the illumination of an old worn trail, seemingly calling to me, inviting me in.

The next part I knew I’d dread with my whole heart. Hunter’s lined the pathways and roads in hell. Vigorously patrolling for poor fools trying to escape. Capture was the quickest route to the city, but also the most painful … I just hoped the pain wouldn’t be excruciating.

I walked forward, feet shuffled with uncertainty and dismay. The blackness around me was eerily quiet until I stopped.

“I can’t do this.” I whispered and turned, head shaking, something deep within snapping. “I can’t do this! Allison’s coming with me!” I screamed out, not caring who heard. The knock against me, I never made my own choices, I always did what others told me … no more. I was the Resurrectionist, not them. Certainly not some crazy stranger being held prisoner in the depths of hell. My breath labored with adrenaline when soft footsteps formed from behind. I swallowed deep, raising my hands, ready to knock out who or whatever was following.

“My God.” A frightened and shaken Allison approached with haste from the surrounding shadow, embracing me hard.

“Thank God, Will. I found you.”

“How?”

“The Prince let me out. He said you were supposed to meet me and we’d leave together. I’m not sure why he’s helping me. Were you looking for me?” Allison asked.

“Yes,” I lied, unable to tell Allison the truth of her abandonment.

“Will, it’s bad.”

“What’s bad?”

“Justin. We have to help him.”

“What are you talking about, Allison?”

“Duke, I saw things. He’s planning something for Justin. I’m not sure what, but if we don’t help him it’s going to be bad. Will, even the Prince seems afraid.”

“I got that feeling too, Allison. I think Duke is planning to double cross the Prince. The Prince said he couldn’t stop Duke from taking over his Kingdom. I don’t know, Allison. I don’t know if I can help Justin.”

“Will, you have to. You’re a Resurrectionist. You can save Justin, take him home. If you don’t it’s going to be bad. You can take us both home. Enough is enough, take us home.” Allison looked at me with pleading eyes.

“John warned me to stay away from Justin, that his time in hell was serving some greater purpose.”

“That doesn’t make any sense. Why would John, a being of great light, want someone to suffer hellfire?”

“I don’t know, Allison, but you’re right. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make sense for John to send me on this crazy impossible mission to resurrect Judas, none of it makes sense. It feels like things are beyond my control, happening for a reason no matter what I do. Nothing has gone accordingly since we stepped foot off Charon’s boat.”

“Can we just go home?” Allison whispered.

“What do you think Duke is planning to do with Justin?”

“I spent much more time in the castle dungeon then I cared to. I tried to block and repress it. All I know is that it’s really bad.”

“Sunny Miller, the demented doctor is looking for Justin. I think Duke is in allegiance with Sunny.”

“It’s only a matter of time before someone gets to Justin. That’s why we need to get there first.” Allison said.

“You’re right. It’s time I followed my heart, not what others tell me to do. I’m so sorry, Allison. This is all my fault. I got you into this. I should’ve never let you come.”

“It doesn’t matter, Will. I found you. We’re together again.” A lump formed in my throat. The words of Reverend Channing haunted me. He warned Allison would find me, not the other way around. He was right.

“Look, there’s a series, a labyrinth of caves not far from here. It leads to an upper division of hell. Monika and I worked through them. I thought she was leading us up but I guess she had other plans. I think I remember them well enough. Please Will, now is the time to run.” I hesitated, sitting on the ground, eyes bouncing off every object around me. “Will, you’ve gotta focus. Let’s go!” Allison was adamant.

“I feel so confused and conflicted. I can see the concern and the genuineness in your face, but Monika?” I said.

“Will, I know you trust her, but you shouldn’t. Look, I can’t force you to believe me but I’m telling the truth.” Allison said. “Let’s get out of here, find Justin, make our way back to the realms of light. We can figure it all out then.”

“Do you think Duke knows?” I asked.

“Yes, it’s only a matter of time before he finds out we’re gone and comes looking. We must hurry. Do you hear that?” Allison asked.

“Hear what?”

“Thunder. It sounds like thunder.”

“I don’t hear anything.” I said.

“We have to move.” Allison said.

“Which way are the caves?”

***

John taught me to listen to my soul when both Monika and Allison were near. Inside was the truth. I believed Allison was telling the truth about Monika, that she dropped her off in the depths of hell, but I believed Monika had a reason. I just didn’t know what that reason was. Monika wasn’t a sell out. Monika wasn’t evil. I’ve watched her risk everything to save Jacob.

Allison guided us. “The caves aren’t far but we should hurry.” We made our way across the rocky wasteland, under the eerie red glow that permeated the land.

“There it is again, do you hear it?” Allison said.

“Thunder? No, I don’t hear anything.” I said. “Allison, what’s going on? Something feels off.”

Allison dropped down, pressing her ear to the ground. “Come, listen.”

“We should really keep moving, Allison.” I said. Allison didn’t respond, keeping her ear stuck to the ground. I dropped next to her. Before my face hit the ground I could hear it. Vibration, faint then louder, more intense, like thunder.

“Allison, Run!” I reached over and pulled her up, looking off into the distance, a thundering herd was barreling through the wastes, heading right for us. I looked up into the midnight sky. Wings as wide as the horizon beat fast and hard against the eternal night. “Now!” I shouted.

Allison and I sprinted toward the opening in the mountainside, neither daring to look behind. The violent windstorm created by the flapping wings told the story. Thunderous pounding of trampling feet grew louder with each breath, forsaken souls chasing their prey with vengeance and bloodthirst. Voices sounded above, the loud clang of a henchmen’s axe landing at our feet.

“We’re not gonna make it! It’s too far!” I screamed, looking over my shoulder as a second axe was coming down on my neck.

“Dive!” I pulled Allison to the ground as sharp knives dug into my back. We were lifted high in the air by a winged beast before crashing hard into the mountain side and falling onto a ledge above the growing mass of henchmen below.

“Hurry, into the cave!” The Prince commanded, folding his broken wings behind his back.

We worked through a twisting maze of black rock and confusion until the voices faded into the darkness we’d left behind.

“What happened?” I asked when we finally came to rest.

“I was going to ask you the same thing. Where were you?” The Prince was stern, but I remained unresponsive. “I’ll tell you what happened. My head’s on a platter. Duke’s gunning for me. He’s their fearless leader now, my kingdom lost.”

“Thank you for freeing Allison … even though it cost your kingdom. We owe you.”

“Duke probably doesn’t even know she’s missing.” The Prince whispered, eyes cast down, seemingly ashamed.

“What?”

“I’d been watching you, in the dungeon.”

“You were spying on me?”

“I have eyes everywhere. I watched this intense light surround you in your deepest despair. It seemed to lift you, propel you forward, even though you thought you had nothing left. I watched you pray. I tried it too.”

“You don’t pray.” I said.

“Tell me about it. You’re praying … no way, left me vulnerable and open to attack. It stole my kingdom.”

“Why’d you do it?”

The Prince looked down at me from his tall frame, a seriousness floating in his eyes. He remained silent.

“You want to be saved, don’t you?”

“Blasphemy!” My words angered the Prince. “The only thing I want to save is my kingdom. That’s why I wanted you and this wretch out of here. You’re trouble. I see what my gut was telling me.”

“How’d it feel, prayer?” I asked.

“Like I never want to do it again.” The Prince said.

“Salvation can feel that way, at first. Tell me, you ever flown this high before? High enough so that the henchmen couldn’t go?” I asked. The Prince didn’t answer. “Prayer lifted your broken wings out of that lowly state.” I said.

“Duke is powerful, he will find a way up here. We don’t have much time.” The Prince said.

“Then we need to keep moving.” Allison said.

“Which way is it?” I asked.

Allison scanned the darkness. “It’s just a little further, um … I think,” her hesitation drove me to action.

“It’s okay, there’s another way.” I dropped to one knee, lifting my face to the sky, sending my thoughts and prayers to the only one who could guide us out of the darkness.

The Prince looked horrified, like he’d been punched in the gut. A bluish white ball of light floated down through the stone ceiling. The light was barely the size of a pinhead, but to us it was blinding, as if we opened the gates of heaven.

“Follow the light.” I instructed.

“My eyes, my site. It’s gone.” The Prince squinted in pain, covering his face.

“Take my hand, I’ll lead.” I grabbed the Prince’s hand and headed into the light. We maneuvered through twists and turns, falling often, but the light never wavered. I prayed frequently to the detriment of the Prince. His dark energy faded with each prayerful desire for light, burning away the darkness.

We came to a crawl space in the cave that opened to a larger cavern. A pit below, an abyss darker than I’d ever seen.

“We don’t need prayer to tell us that’s the wrong way.” The Prince moaned, pointing towards the black pit. “Please stop with the damn praying. It’s driving me nuts!”

“Okay, let’s take a break, figure this out.” I said.

“Are you sure? What about Duke? We have no clue how far back his henchmen could be. We need to keep going.” Allison said.

“Look.” I said, pointing to the Prince who laid exhausted on his back, his energy completely drained. “We aren’t going anywhere, not without rest.”

Allison and I sat with our backs against the stone wall of the cave.

“He creeps me out. It’s the flies and maggots that gross me out, you can never see his eyes, always chewing on those sockets.” Allison whispered.

“Yeah, I agree, that is one creepy guy, or thing, or whatever it is.” I said.

“I know what you’re thinking, Will, but he’d never fit in up there. You can’t save the Prince. I think we should just go.” Allison said.

“We can’t judge, Allison. We don’t know until we cross the finish line, by then, maybe he’ll change. Look at him. Just a small amount of prayer has reduced his darkness by landslides. Maybe he’s ready. Maybe he’s closer than you think. That’s the point isn’t it? Go through hell, become a changed person. At least that’s how it was for people like us.”

“Maybe you’re right.” Allison said.

“I know I am. We were both given a second chance, saved by grace. You took your life … I’m a murderer.”

I wished the words would’ve never left my mouth. Allison’s face went pale and cold. “What? Murder? Who?”

My mouth felt like I swallowed a thousand razor blades. There’s no way you can prepare to answer question like that.

“I don’t know. It was an accident.” I said.

“You can talk to me, Will.” Allison said, the only person who could get me to open up.

“When … you know, after you were gone. I thought I was holding it together, working through my grief with Dr. Z. I was wrong. I didn’t allow myself to feel anything. I stuffed all that pain down. It exploded like a volcano. I put it all on your father. When I got involved with Project Gateway I used it to sneak into your house as a spirit. I caused him to fall from your second story railing … I caused his death.”

Allison stared blankly before speaking. “I had a lot of issues with my dad. You know that, Will. The thing I hated the most was he never let me be with you.”

“You cared about me?”

“I loved you, Will. I still do.” The condemnation I feared most never came. Allison’s voice was sweet and forgiving, it meant the world.

“Did he ever say why? What is it about me that he’s so afraid of?”

“I don’t know for sure, just more of his deranged religious fever. Something about predestination. He said some souls, certain people are marked, cursed. He said you were one of those souls, Will.” Mind fell silent, a tingling filled my body.

“Resurrectionist.” The Prince’s voice startled me. “Do you believe it? That there’s redemption for something like me?”

“You were listening.” I said, snapping back to the present. “I won’t lie to you. There’s pain before salvation, not for all, but for you there’s pain.”

“I’m fully aware of the consequences of my choices. I’ve been running from them for a long time.” The Prince said. “Souls in hell know fully the extent of the darkness they have brought upon the world. We remain in hell, stuck, we know nothing else.”

I couldn’t see it before but I could now, contrition lived behind his eyes. John talked about a soul having to be ready before it can be pulled out of it’s despair. Maybe the Prince was ready, maybe my path led me here for this moment.

“I’m sorry. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to resurrect you.”

“You’re stronger than you think.” The Prince said.

I paused before speaking, looking into the Prince’s eyes. Trying to convince myself that the contrition I saw wasn’t an illusion.

“Tell me. When someone attacked your kingdom, your war machine, your glory. What did you do?” I asked.

The Prince leaned in, eyes flaming. “I ripped the eyes out of their sockets and shoved’em down their throats. Then I’d gut them, pull the eyes out and shove them back in, just so they could watch.”

I leaned into the Prince. My eyes matching the intensity in his. “Imagine, your body exposed, pinned. Metal spikes being pounded into your bare wrists. The bacteria encrusted head of a rusty spear being driven into your rib cage-”

“We celebrated.” The Prince interrupted. “I know what you’re getting at. I stood on that hill. My legions feasted for weeks, months, drinking in blood and power.” The Prince appeared to be in ecstasy reliving his past.

“Tell me, how did that turn out?” I asked.

A sobering look fell across the Prince’s face. “Where do I begin?”

“The Holy Spirit. You need to be filled with it in order to raise your spirit from the depths.”

“Never heard of it.”

“You were there that day? On the hill? You remember.” I said.

“Yes.”

“What did he say?”

“He mumbled some garbage about forgiveness.”

“Was this when the spikes were driven in?”

“Sometime shortly after.” The Prince said.

“That’s what it means to be filled with the Holy Spirit.” The Prince stared at me as if I was speaking a language foreign from his own. Part of him heard me. Truth never falls on deaf ears. A piece of it survives. The listener may not know it, understand it, but some day, at some moment in time they will. The truth always survives.

I wished for John’s Council. He didn’t prepare me for this. I searched my mind for alternate options. There weren’t any. The only chance of survival was to work with the Prince.

“You’re serious.” I said.

“I am.”

“Like I said when you asked what I wanted from you. I want help. Duke will never stop. I know that. I’ve been doing this a long long time, but it’s over.”

Internal sirens blasted me. Do not believe him, it’s a trick. A part, a small tiny speck in my heart told me otherwise, experience. My experience told me redemption is possible, that forgiveness is available to all who seek it.

“It won’t be easy.” I shook my head. ”How we’ll get you out of here, I have no idea, but we will.” The Prince nodded his head in agreement. I like to think an ounce of peace found him in that moment. The first he’d known in a long time.

“There’s a problem. The only way to escape hell is through hell. There’s no back door outta here.” I said. “You’ll grow weaker until you grow stronger. You’ll endure tremendous pain, remorse and contrition, for actions taken in the darkness now exposed to the light.”

“I am prepared.” The Prince said.

***

A loud thud and whirl sounded next to my right ear. The Prince leaned forward swinging his left arm wildly at his back. I rushed in and pulled hard on the bloodied handle, retrieving a stone knife sharpened to a deadly point. Shouts and voices barreled up fast behind us.

“What now!” Allison said.

“We gotta pray, try and lift up, raise our vibration!” I shouted. Trying to focus an anxious and hurried mind on prayer is like dropping your keys time after time as the serial killer grabs you from behind.

“No time.” The Prince said, pointing to the dark pit.

“No way! Monika told me never to jump in the pits, they only lead down, falling farther into dark heavy evil. Hunters often line the pits with wooden posts, carved to a point, impaling their victims and then harvesting them as slaves.” I was out of breath.

“We jump!” The Prince grabbed me and then Allison’s arm as a second dagger flew between our heads, pulling us down into the abyss.

The fall wasn’t like I’d expected; short, quick, and painful. Shock waves shot up my ankle, landing awkward on a hardened stalagmite. Allison screamed, her hand impaled on a stalagmite next to me. I dragged myself over.

“Bite down on this!” I shoved the flap of my torn shirt in her mouth, as the Prince pulled her hand off. I pulled my shirt off quickly, wrapping it around the hole in Allison’s hand.

“We have to move. You’ll be ok.” I looked Allison in the eye with a confidence I didn’t know was in me.

We zigzagged in and out of the stalagmites, most taller than our heads, making travel a guessing game. It reminded me of getting lost in the autumn corn mazes as a kid, but this was no game. Battle cries came from all directions. Duke’s voice boomed, commanding his army to spread out and surround us.

“Stick close, stay together. If you separate, you’re done for.” The Prince said. I clung to Allison, not giving an inch, putting my deepest faith in us.

Grinding swarmed around us growing louder and closer with each step. “Look, up ahead,” said the Prince.

“I can’t see anything. What is it?” I asked.

“You hear it, don’t you?” The Prince asked. I strained to hear while continuing to push my body harder.

“I hear something.” Allison said. “Sounds like water, or a river.”

“Look!” The Prince’s voice grew strong. Water sprayed against rock in the short distance, illuminated by the faint red glow that permeated the land.

“What is it?” Allison asked.

“The Styx. Now’s our chance, we gotta focus our energy. The law of attraction will take hold. The Resurrectionist can pull us up like a magnet.”

We stopped at the edge of the water that ran like a river of blood. “Focus your energy, meditate.” The Prince instructed before letting out a wild scream. The point of a henchmen’s arrowhead buried deep into his shoulder as he covered Allison with his body. I watched the Prince show true sacrifice, giving himself for Allison. My heart moved.

“I’m taking you topside. Give me your hand!” I yelled. The Prince grimaced in pain as a second arrow landed in his shoulder. He reached his hand out for mine.

“No Will! It’s too dangerous! He’s not one of us!” Allison cried.

“Allison, I must! I’m a resurrectionist. It’s my destiny.” I pulled the Prince towards me.

“No!” Allison screamed, slapping the Prince’s hand from mine. “You’re not strong enough to take us both. You have to leave one behind. You must choose!”

“You’re strong enough. You can take us both!” The Prince screamed against the noise grinding down on us.

I turned to Allison as two henchmen fought to slice her throat. Allison ducked. “No. Will, the burden is too much. You can’t bare that kind of sin. We’ll all be chop suey. What good is that? Better him than us. Will, he’s a demon. I’m an angel!”

Henchman, twenty to thirty of them bore down on us like a herd of zombies, forcing us to the edge of the water. I fell heavy into Allison’s moist eyes and grabbed her wrist, flinging our body’s into the Styx as the Prince was consumed in a violent fury of rage. My heart filled with betrayal, axe blade after axe blade driven into his body, mutilating him faster than a magic bullet. The Prince’s eyes appeared from their black sockets for the first time as the rapids rushed us away … they were human.

Chapter 17

Allison twisted and spun, I coughed and choked, tossed like a raft caught in raging water, our bodies pushed upward through the violent river. Allison turned purple, gasping for air as if she was dying. I embraced her and drew on the power that was always in me. My love for her created a protective bubble around our bodies. The raging Styx roared around us, inside the bubble was calm.

“What are you doing?” I asked Allison who placed her index finger on my forehead.

“I saw a vision of Justin. I’m using the law of attraction to pull us closer. The river will guide us.” The rapids calmed, spitting us out on the rocky banks, free of depths and it’s dark embrace. Allison smiled a wave of relief, feeling jubilation.

“What’s wrong?” Allison sensed my gloom, knowing I didn’t share her joy.

“I left the Prince behind.”

“He was a demon, Will.”

“You said I couldn’t save us all. I listened to you, like I always do, but I should’ve tried.”

“Will, listen to me.”

“No, Allison, no. I know what you’re going to say, that I’m beating myself up, that there’s nothing I could have done, but once again I never even tried.” My face glowed hot with emotion, frustration and anger.

“Will, listen to me.”

“Allison, just stop! Please.”

“We’re not safe yet.” Allison said. “Justin’s holed up in a village on this upper plane of hell. We’re getting close.”

“Allison, you don’t look so good.” I reached out and touched her face. It was cold, freezing cold. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m ok, Will. I’m tougher than I look. It’s just the stress. I’m fine.” Allison reassured me as we worked our way along the rocky banks of the Styx toward a shoddy fishing village, not so much as a soul milling around grounds.

“Do you think it’s safe?” I asked.

“Safer than Duke’s henchmen baring down on us. We won’t be bothered. Spirits here aren’t violent, they’re hiding. We won’t be noticed.”

The village was a ghost town. The only thing missing was the tumbleweed blowing in the wind. Like all towns in hell, it was run down, dank and depressed. I longed for the beauty of the gardens back home and the safety of my one window room.

“Where is everyone? Usually entering a new territory in this forsaken land gets you a black eye and a broken jaw.” I said.

“The spirits here are locked in their own self-absorbed world.” Allison said.

“How’d you know about this place, Allison? How’d you know Justin was here?”

“I saw it in the castle pools, when I was first brought there by Monika. Duke was studying it like a commander preparing for battle.” Allison pointed to a decaying building. “That’s where Justin is.”

“I’m not sure about this.”

“You’re ready. I’m with you. Remember that.”

“Get in, get him, get out. That’s the plan.” I whispered under my breath.

“Let’s just go, before Duke finds a way up here.” Allison urged. “Get Justin and take us home, Will.”

We approached the front door of a large dormitory style apartment building that reminded me of inner city public housing. The floorboards creaked with each step down the narrow hallway. Paint chips fell to the ground from the cracks in the worn ceiling.

“This is it.” Allison said as I stood outside a door to one of the many housing units. “I think this is the one Justin’s in.”

“You think? I’d hate to find out what’s living behind these doors.”

“Just knock. It looks like the unit I saw Duke studying.” She said.

The door opened, my heart pulsed with torrid intensity. An eyeball peaked through a narrow crack before the door exploded, sending wooden darts into my face and a big metal pipe ground to a spearhead whizzing passed my left ear.

“Will! Allison! Oh my God. I can’t believe it’s you, hurry.” The door flung open and slammed hard behind us. “I’m so sorry.”

“You almost took my face off.” I said, reaching up, pulling a sliver of wood from my eyebrow. “What is this, a lead pipe?”

“You can’t be too careful. Hoodlums run rampant in this building. They try and break in.” Justin appeared paranoid, as if he hadn’t rested in days.

“Next time I’ll be sure to call before knocking.” I said, making sure Justin could sense the sarcasm in my voice.

“I couldn’t see him for what he is. Corbin is a monster!” Justin said.

“Ok, calm down. I understand.”

“It was awful, Will! Those things, they pulled me through the floor. I’m still picking splinters from my torso.” Justin lifted his shirt revealing a ribboned mess of muscle and flesh. “I was attacked, scratched and clawed, beaten bloody. For some reason they stopped. They seemed scared of something or someone. After that I scrambled to my feet and as soon as I stood my body was sucked into space. It sounded like a loud vacuum all around me until I landed here. It’s funny, I thought the afterlife would be more, I don’t know, colorful.”

“Yeah Justin, about that-” My voice trailed off, my thoughts right along with it. The inside of the housing unit was worse than the outside. Black mold, thick and crusted, clung hard to every ceiling corner. A stove, tiny refrigerator, like the ones you see in a college dorm, and small kitchen sink sat off to my right. The drain pipe connected to nothing, emptying into a bucket below. I doubt the water even ran. A bed, well a mattress without a frame laid on the floor to my left, littered with holes and stained brown. Bits of fabric were torn and missing, nibbled by rats I assume.

A broken table stood in front of me, maybe offering enough room for two. It didn’t matter, there were no chairs. Oddly, trophies of all sizes and shapes were stacked in the corner, chaotic and unorganized, not like the trophies the Prince collected, these were the kind you’d get from winning a community rec tennis tournament.

“What’s with all the trophies? I asked. “You decide to take up league bowling in the afterlife, Justin?”

“When I get angry I break them, but they keep putting themselves back together. I hate them!” Justin’s anger showed itself. I quickly backed off, not wanting to push.

“Bro, you know what I’d give my soul for right about now?” Justin’s sporadic and trailing thought told me of the stress he was under.

“Um, I don’t know Justin, a Holiday Inn?”

“A PBJ.” Justin smiled. I knew he was just avoiding the underlying distaste for whatever those trophies meant to him.

“Are you joking? Of all things you pick a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. What are you, five?”

“That’s exactly my point. Don’t you remember when your mom would slap one on the plate in front of you. You didn’t have a care in the world. The only thing that mattered were those two pieces of bread and that sweet gooey goodness in the middle.” Justin’s eyes floated up to the ceiling, caught in a moment of bliss.

“I guess that sounds nice.” I said, running my finger on top of the table and awkwardly wiping the black on my leg.

“Mom probably just made them because they were easy and it was something she knew I’d eat, but I loved’em.”

“She made you feel good.” I said.

“She made me feel safe.”

“You miss her.”

“I do. She reminds me of a better time, we were still innocent.” Justin stared at the ground before raising his eyes to mine. “I never told you.”

“Told me what?”

“The reason we moved to Millersville.”

“You always seemed guarded about your life on the west coast. I left it alone.” I said.

“I had it all, man. A great life. I was popular, good looking, athletic, smart and outspoken.” Justin paused, a slight gasp in his breath before continuing. “People told me to move on. Do you know how hard that is?”

“What are you getting at, Justin?”

“That’s why my dad is like this, ever since he got sick, he’s never been the same. It kills me to see him like this.”

“What happened?”

“He started hallucinating, having these horrible visions about my brother and I, like something bad was going to happen to us.”

“Bad, like what?” Allison asked.

“Death. He kept telling me I should’ve done more, that I was better, that I should help my brother, not bring his destruction. I don’t know, just a bunch of crazy talk as far as I know. My dad said I was bigger, my brother was smaller. I was outgoing, he was shy. I was athletic, he was a klutz. I had perfect skin, his face looked like a pepperoni pizza. He said I was too hard on him, that I pushed him around too much.”

“What are you getting at, Justin?” I asked a second time. A dark smoky cloud hung around Justin’s chest. He looked at me, face pale, eye’s empty.

“Your brother will turn eighteen … the day he’s sentenced to die.” That’s what my dad would repeat over and over when his delusions were at their worst.

I stood silent, unable to grasp what Justin was telling me. Had his brother done something atrocious?

“Your brother, the young man who stood by your hospital bed while you were in coma … Jacob.”

“You’re still angry with me.” Justin said, changing the uncomfortable subject. “Will, please, I feel awful, terrible, like my hands have been covered with the guilt of her blood.”

“Good.” I blurted, before I could stop the words.

“I deserve that.” Justin hung his head. “Have you heard from her? Is Monika Ok?” I glanced over to Allison, remaining silent, her eyes glued to the floor. I breathed deep, exhaling the angst that had been building since seeing Justin’s distorted face when a disheveled, heavy set man came at me like a whirlwind and vigorously shook my hand before I could respond. His hands clasped tightly over mine.

“Will, this is my dad, Paul. He passed just before we moved to Millersville.”

“Good to meet you! Good to meet you!” Paul’s smile revealed yellow stained teeth. A wave of heavy oppression hit me, oozing off the man like steam from a hot spring on a cold day.

“Please come sit down, sit down.” Paul’s voice carried like thunder through the room as I sat on the shoddy mattress. It was easy to see where Justin’s boisterous demeanor came from.

“Would you like something to eat? I’m making pizza.” Paul laughed, taking a frozen pizza from his freezer, unwrapping it and placing it in the microwave. Contrary to popular belief, food is abundant in hell. Foods familiar to a spirit’s era can be had with ease, the catch, they turn to dust when you put them in your mouth. Sadly, it doesn’t stop those with a taste for gluttony.

“Shouldn’t that go in the oven? I don’t think you can microwave that kind.” I said. Paul hummed a tune, dancing around his kitchen without a response.

“Um, no thanks, I’m not hungry.” I said.

“Will,” Paul said. “How’s it going man!” Laughter filled the room. Paul’s voice was raspy from years of cigarette smoking. I glanced up at Justin who motioned me over.

“My dad took his life when the sickness took over. I think I’m here to look after him.”

“Mental Illness?”

“Doctors diagnosed him with some kind of psychosis. I guess it affects his moods and thoughts. I remember my mom telling me about it but I didn’t get it, still don’t. He used to be so vigorous, I guess he still is, but in a crazed way. He won’t ever step outside.” Justin’s eyes cast down, his breath releasing a heavy sigh.

“He seems happy.” I said.

“For the most part, but he needs constant care. It’s exhausting. If his symptoms flare up, well, it’s a nightmare.” Justin said.

“How you doing?” My tone gesturing that I understood how difficult it was for Justin to care for his father.

“It’s so hard, Will. You gotta help me. I’m afraid I’m stuck with him until I can find a cure. If I have to hang around here one more second I’ll crack. There are beings outside. They whisper through the walls and cause him to hallucinate. They don’t come in, they remain hidden, I think to add to his torment. The worst is the noise, this god awful grinding, like metal on a chalkboard. My poor dad, he hides under the sink when they start in on him, doesn’t stop shaking for hours afterward.” Justin said, a noticeable tremor in his hand.

“Just like in the physical. I met a woman briefly while I was in the hospital recovering from my coma. She told me that voices made her hurt herself. After my stint in hell I knew exactly what those voices were and what made them. Wretched souls such as my former self.”

“I can’t take it, Will. It doesn’t stop. His care is constant, unrelenting, driving me nuts. I need help, someone to relieve me just for a minute. I tried to leave. I hated myself for it but I was going nuts. This presence though, dark and brooding, watched me from the end of the hallway. It had this mysterious power over me, compelling me to return like I was chained here, forced against my will to stay in this decrepit building forever.”

“I’m sorry, Justin. You’re not going to like what I have to say. I think you need to be here. You’re right, you’re here to look after your dad.”

“I can’t, not anymore. I feel awful, but I can’t.”

“I’m afraid without you near, your dad will fall. A spirit far more advanced than me told me your time in hell is serving a purpose. I think that’s why you’re stuck here.”

“For how long? I can’t take anymore.” Justin was visibly upset.

“For however long it takes, I guess.”

“Will, you’re a Resurrectionist.” Allison said. “We can skip all that. Use your powers. Show the darkness you’re the one to be feared, not them.”

“John warned about the false path. He said if it seemed too good to be true it probably was.” I was beginning to wish I hadn’t introduced John to mortal slang.

“Please Will, I know I haven’t been a good friend to you and I know I don’t deserve any of your help, but I’m beginning you, please don’t leave me in desperation. Please don’t leave me alone.” Justin was crouched on the ground, his face wrought with hopelessness. A feeling I knew all too well. To be without hope is a life without parole sentence. My heart reached out to him in that moment. The love in my soul erasing the past in a moment of forgiveness. Hopelessness was the glue that bonded our souls. I vowed in my heart long ago, to never let another experience the despair I once knew.

I reached forward, placing a reassuring hand on Justin’s trembling shoulder. “We’ll find a way. Your dad will be free. So will you.”

A wave of relief came for a brief second upon Justin. A pit came to my stomach, knowing I just made another promise I couldn’t keep.

***

“What now?” Justin said. I looked at Allison as we stood inside the rotted dump that imprisoned Paul’s soul, watching him stuff uncooked pizza into his face, giggling like a lunatic.

“The question we need to answer is, how do we exorcise a demon in hell?” I asked.

“An exorcism?” Justin said.

“If we have any chance to help you, we must free your father’s soul of attachments, we must ascend together. You mentioned a dark presence hovering over your dad, preventing you from leaving.” I said.

“How could I miss it?” Justin was sarcastic.

“Sunny.” I said.

“My great grandfather? You mean he’s keeping my father here?” Justin said.

“And you.” I said. “Your father’s illness left him open and vulnerable. Without proper care and support, it happens all too often.”

“It’s Corbin, he had me so brainwashed. Why did I listen to him? God, I’d give my life to take it all back, for someone to wash it away.”

“Sunny’s not strong enough to create a full manifestation on this plane of hell, but he is strong enough to haunt it.” I said.

“I feel sick.” Justin replied.

“John taught me about possession. It was supposed to free Judas, but maybe it’ll free your father long enough to loosen Sunny’s hold on him. With Sunny gone, maybe I can gain control long enough for us all to walk right out of hell.”

“Judas?” Justin questioned.

“A story for another day.”

“You’re crazy, Will, but maybe what we need is crazy.” Justin convinced his father to lay on the stained mattress and rest. I prepared as John had instructed, hoping his training wasn’t all in vain. I circled Paul’s body, placing my hands an inch above his forehead and running them to his torso, reciting prayers of exorcism to the light … but the light never came.

“What’s wrong? Is it not working?” Justin seemed stressed.

“There’s nothing there.” I looked up in disbelief, head shaking.

“What do you mean, nothing there?” Justin asked.

“His soul, it’s deeply fractured. His mind is like a liquefied nest of tumors, but there’s nothing there. The reason the my prayers didn’t work is because they’re the wrong prayers. This man needs prayers of healing, not prayers of exorcism. There’s no demon possessing his soul.”

“I don’t understand.” Justin said.

“This isn’t good. You’re not safe, Justin.” Allison said.

“No one is safe here.” I replied.

“I wasn’t talking about the environment, his mental state. I can see it. It’s highly unbalanced.”

“What then?” I asked.

“Did the demon leave?”

“Maybe, or more likely he was forced to leave.”

“Now’s our chance. We can leave, now.” Allison insisted.

“We can’t leave without Paul.” I said.

“We don’t have time. Duke could be here any second.”

“I’ve left too many behind already. I can’t leave another. I’m beginning to think taking the low road, the easy path, is the false path John warned about.”

“There’s no shame in retreat, Will, as long as you don’t give up the battle.” Allison pleaded. “We gotta go. We can come back later, when we’re at full strength.” Allison said. “There’s a vortex not far from here.”

“It’s Justin’s path, his father, it’s his decision.” I said, John’s teaching rang out. Free will must be honored.

Allison and I both looked Justin in the face, his lip trembling.

“It’s ok Justin” Allison said. “You don’t always have to put on a show. It’s ok to be vulnerable, it’s ok to cry.”

“I’m a coward.” Justin broke down sobbing. “I just want to leave. Please get me the hell outta here.” Justin buried his face in Allison’s arms.

“Ok Justin. It’s ok.” I placed my hand on Justin’s back, unable to feel anymore emotional pain. “Where’s the vortex, Allison?” I asked.

***

“Hurry, we need to venture off the path. Always dangerous so keep your eyes open and follow my lead.” Allison guided us through a thorny undergrowth of twisted dry brush. My legs burned from the scratches left behind. My spirit body felt cold, ice cold. Two hardships in hell are the ever present darkness and the freezing cold. The colder the atmosphere the more concentrated the evil.

“Are you sure we’re going the right way?”

“Shh. I can feel it, over here.” Allison said, pulling Justin and me with her. “The warmth of the spiritual vortex is designed to attract lost souls.”

“So, what are you saying? Are we going the wrong way?” I asked. “Are we lost?”

“Long ago, guardian spirits left their blessed mark upon this cursed land, scattering hidden vortex’s throughout. The sacred energy will allow us to recharge and formulate a plan. It’s across the Styx.”

“That’s a problem. I can travel the Styx, but I’ve never crossed it.” I said. “The ferryman, where is he? Charon.”

“No Will, don’t you see. You’re the ferryman. You’re the pilot. You’re the Resurrectionist. You can get us across.”

“I think we should find Charon and pay him for a ride.”

“No time, Duke could be here any second. Will, stop doubting, I believe in you!” Allison said.

“How?”

“Walk.”

“Across a wild river. No chance.” I said.”

“It’s been done before, once in history, a man walked across the water.” Allison said. John taught me the story, of how the Son used supernatural phenomenon for the greater good. I had to believe. I had to take a leap of faith.

“Ok.” I breathed deep. “You’re right Allison. I trust you.” I took Justin’s left hand and Allison’s right, stepping onto the water. It was as solid a frozen lake. I smiled, releasing relief with each step forward.

“You’re doing it, Will!” Allison exclaimed.

“Let’s just get across.”

“Keep going.” Allison said. “You can make it.” Rushing water pounded against us.

“It feels like I’m slipping.” A wave of panic rushed me. “What’s happening?” My left leg fell into the freezing water. Panic turned frantic, the raging waters swallowing, pulling us down. I squeezed tightly to both Allison and Justin, forming a bubble of protection, just as a tidal wave forced us to the bottom.

“Law of Attraction.” I said. “It’s taking hold.” The bubble protected us from the harmful waves, but it’s weight was too much.

“Law of Attraction? Why is it pulling us the wrong way?” Justin asked.

“Justin, your soul is too heavy, your sin is pulling us down. John told me you were serving a purpose in hell. You were supposed to stay by your father, but you chose abandonment … we all did. I should’ve followed my gut. I should’ve listened to John. Oh God! What have we done?”

“Ask her.” Justin said, nodding towards Allison who was crying, his face pale.

“Allison, what’s happening?”

Allison looked at me, eyes wet. “I think I messed up, Will. Bad.”

“Allison, you’re scaring me.”

“You were right. You could have saved us both.” I looked at Allison, her eyes different, something hid behind them.

“What are you saying to me, Allison?”

“It wasn’t Sunny possessing and holding Paul’s soul captive. It was the Prince, until he lost his grip.”

The bubble crashed hard and burst into the jetting shore of the lower realms.

“Duke came to me, before the Prince freed me. He showed me a vision of Justin and what the Prince was doing to his father. It was awful, Will! Duke said you could help Justin and his father. He said he’d let us go. He said he’d command his henchmen to fall back if I convinced you to leave the Prince behind.”

“Why didn’t you say anything, Allison!”

“Don’t yell at me!” Allison snapped.

“The Prince truly sought salvation then. He was serving a purpose. John taught me that all created beings serve a purpose no matter how far they’ve fallen. The corruption of Paul’s soul provided an opportunity of growth for Justin and his father. Had I saved the Prince I could’ve have helped him see the light, that releasing Paul’s soul was the right thing to do. The act would have lightened the sin in the Prince’s soul, causing him to ascend. We would’ve all walked out of hell together … and never looked back.” I bent over at the waist, teeth clenched.

“I thought you could save us, Will! You’re supposed to be the hero, right? What’s wrong with you!” Tears fell hard, intense pain lined Allison’s face, her fists banging my chest. “That’s why I agreed to help Duke, trade our lives for the Prince … better him than us, right? Tell me I’m right! Please Will, tell me I’m right!” Allison tilted her head, looking up at me.

“No Allison. It was a false path … and we’re all guilty.”

“My father was right about me then … I am the devil’s daughter.”

I opened my mouth to scream for John but froze when I saw the herd of henchmen surrounding us on the rocky shoreline. Dread filled my eyes when they looked into to a demon warrior’s grinning face. The warrior tightened his powerful grip, twisting it’s colossal hands on the ivory handle before swinging the gigantic barbarian club across my chin.

Chapter 18

I awoke inside a massive crowd, hanging upside down like a prize pig being led to the spit, bound in chain by the armies of hell. My eyes searched for Allison but found nothing in the mass.

“The fires of the dark father will burn bright for the kingdom to see!” The warriors cried. I looked into the black eyes of the one who knocked me cold. Hate lived behind those eyes, terror behind mine. It unleashed a fierce growl which ignited the others. I dropped my head, leaving it to dangle back and forth. We crossed the bridge that hung over the swampy marsh, crossing right back into the castle.

Demon warriors lead me into the courtyard. The masses of damned souls made it impossible to see until they parted; allowing me to be carried by my captures through the corridor and into the temple.

Duke emerged from the opposite hallway. The demons placed me on the ground at his feet and bowed their allegiance. Duke stepped over me without so much as a glance before reaching a pedestal and lifting his shoulders to address the small crowd that made it inside.

“This traitor, this heretic was planning treason!” Duke shouted. “I assure you, the punishment will be swift and severe!” My body tightened to protect itself from the forthcoming abuse, but soon learned the words weren’t meant for me. Duke pointed his bony finger to the dungeon gate. I lifted my head. Trashing and raging, bearing heavy chain, the Prince was dragged into the temple, scars covering his body.

“The Prince held you in bondage. No longer! The heretic will be sacrificed. Ready are the fires of our dark father! Let him burn in the tomb of fire!”

Head fell, weighted with heavy guilt. Mind flashed to Dante’s sixth circle of hell where heretics were burned alive in tombs of fire. A warrior picked me up by the back of my arms, forcing me to watch what I had created. The Prince was pulled into the middle of the temple. Duke jumped down from the pedestal, etching his symbol in the ground, causing it to crack and rift like a sinkhole. Demon warriors fell into chant that waxed and waned as black smoke and tremendous heat rose through the crack.

“Rack him!” Duke commanded.

The Prince was dragged to the edge of the rift, an unfortunate warrior lost his footing in the chaos, screaming headfirst into the blazing inferno. Chains were placed around a large pulley dangling from the ceiling, the Prince’s body jerked hard, hoisted over the crack. My eyes pierced the pupils in his skull while he hung suspended in mid air, a faint light flickering within their depths. I quickly looked away, not wanting the Prince to see the weakness forming in my ducts, but the screams brought me back. The body was lowered into the raging fire, pulled out only to be dropped back in, charred and blackened.

Despair, agony, depression. They don’t make words for the pain I felt. I should’ve pulled the Prince out of hell. I should’ve freed his soul from the anguish it now endured.

***

A reflecting pool swelled on the ground next to me, catching my attention like a breaking news headline. The rippling water calmed as Corbin lead a group of Puritan followers down a deserted street. I tasted stomach bile leak into my mouth.

“I will lead us to heaven my flock. Come, all is prepared.” Corbin called to the six trailing Puritans.

“We believe in you brother.” A man from the flock said. He appeared disheveled and spoke uneducated.

“I’m scared, papa.” A young boy said, tugging at the man’s pant leg said.

“Keep walking. Pa’ll handle this. Just leave him be and stick by momma.” A teenage boy walking beside spoke to the child. It didn’t take long to see that the group of Puritan followers were all from the same family.

“We’ll be born again in the purifying waters. Stay calm my children. God is with us tonight.” Corbin’s voice was relaxed and fatherly.

I watched the group through the pool as they approached the Bear Creek river. A small folding table holding a bowl and cup sat on the beach sand. My stomach tightened, intuition telling the truth that rationale failed to push away.

“Come friends. Let your souls be cleansed. The feast has been prepared. Eat the bread and drink the wine.”

Corbin raised a ceremonial chalice to the sky before lowering it down, instructing the youngest to drink first, taking a page out of Jim Jones’ diary.

The ground trembled, poisoned bodies feel one by one, the mother cried.

I turned, not wanting to see, unable to watch. My soul unable to bare anymore darkness.

“It’ll be over soon. You’ll be with your family in heaven … drink.” Corbin whispered … then the crying stopped.

***

The statue on top of the pyramid staircase began to turn and grind, in desperate need of WD-40, like finding a rusted wind-up toy in the wet grass after a long winter.

“It’s time. It’s in place.” Duke motioned for one of his guards to take me. We walked to the base of the pyramid staircase where a great fire was raging. Twelve beings circled the fire, equal distance apart. Each the same height, except for one who stood a half foot taller. The tall man climbed the staircase and stood next to the statue with the four swords. I saw no face. Thought forms arose from the top of each head, elaborate symbols and drawings floated into the fire.

The group recited incantations that grew louder and more intense with each breath. The swords glowed white hot, the statue spinning faster than a centrifuge. The demon warriors of hell fell into some type of black mass worship ceremony, vile and disgusting. The air filled with nauseating toxin, heavy and thick. I choked.

The raging fire split in half, opening a space with no flame. In the space I saw Justin’s brother, the boy Monika fought so hard to protect. Duke dropped to one knee, etching a symbol on the ground. My bones knew it, a showdown on the horizon. It wasn’t going to be a Sunday stroll through the park.

The dark leader motioned from the altar atop the pyramid staircase, pointing to the shadows. I cringed. Two warriors stepped forward, readying to seize. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, but they stepped right past, pushing others aside and opening a path. Justin appeared from the shadows, forced to the altar next to the tall figure, collapsing to his knees, face wrought with devastation. The fires ragged brighter, an image formed inside.

“And now, you’ll finish what I’ve started … descendant.” The figure spoke, voice mechanical and robotic, Sunny. The once beloved doctor and philanthropist, founding father of Millersville had overthrown the Prince of hell, forged by hate and consumed by evil.

“Don’t make me do this. Jacob’s innocent. I’m the bully, he doesn’t deserve this. I pushed him around before he could even walk; at home, at school, playing.” Justin’s body shook and begged.

“My research is nearing completion. You’re going drive the last nail. Show your brother what a failure he is, how he broke his family in half.”

Duke stood next to me, leaning in, whispering. “Everything has come full circle. Strong is the bond between family, especially brothers. A natural bond, stronger than titanium is formed, but when it’s cracks, it shatters. All we had to do was twist and pull.”

“Justin was the bully on the playground I saw reflected in these pools. You pushed the buttons, turning brother against brother.” I said.

“Justin sold his soul when he let us in.” Duke said. Thought forms strong as iron protruded from Duke’s mind, reaching out to Justin, holding him in psychological bondage. “It was all for show. The Prince thought Sunny and I were rivals. United, we’ll bring the Tribulation. The Prince is weak, corrupted by fear of his own paranoia. Tried to deceive me once he figured out I was coming for the kingdom. He possessed the boy’s father, holding them both captive in a plane beyond our reach, until you freed him. The Prince knew once we had the boy it was over for him. Even tried to bring you on board to save his sorry backside.”

“Take me instead.” I said, turning to face Duke. He looked at me through squinted eyes before reverting his attention to the flames.

“When I found the chink in the Angel’s armor, I also broke through to the boy, planted a seed in his brain.”

“A seed?”

“The boy’s father, retired cop, regional champion trick shooter turned crazed psychotic lunatic, deadly with a handgun.” Duke and Sunny were pushing Jacob into an unthinkable act. Use Paul’s handgun to free himself from the automatic thoughts of worthlessness placed by Justin from a young age.

I stared into the roaring fire as the images continued to form, watching as if standing in the Browning’s front yard, observing Jacob’s movements through transparent walls.

The living room was filled with wilted flowers, the neglected remains of Justin’s passing. My heart pounded harder than a masonry drill when I saw it tossed amongst a scattered pile of sympathy cards, red letters across the top. A birthday card rested on the kitchen table, the number 18 the only thing legible.

Jacob trembled, his aura spewed angst as he stepped methodically down each stair to the basement. Unpacked boxes lined the floor. Jacob kicked a couple, sliding them out of his path before stopping at a group stacked together against the back wall, the word trophies written in black Sharpie across each one.

Jacob removed the top box then the second before opening the cardboard flaps of the third. He reached inside, pulling a gold trophy, a figurine stood with one arm extended and a small pistol in his hands. Jacob mumbled the engraving, Champion Marksman, before placing the trophy on the floor next to him. Emptiness filled Jacob, abandonment and isolation.

Justin stepped forward, his movement labored, an inch from his brother’s image in the raging fire. “In the garage, under dad’s old tool cabinet.” Justin’s speech was rigid and forced, his willpower gone, a slave under Duke’s control.

Monika’s entered the roaring fires, her thoughts clear to me.

This is a mistake you can’t undo. It will follow you for eternity. You think it’s bad now, it’s going to get much worse, unless you stop. You don’t have to travel the dark road. I’m with you. I’ll guide you out of torment and into the loving arms you so desperately long for. Please Jacob, stop.

Monika’s prayers and guidance fought with reverent to break Jacob’s frozen heart, numbed by a lifetime of abuse and neglect. Sunny’s intense meditative focus was driving the boy, forcing his hand and pulling the strings.

Jacob turned and started up the stairs, making his way through the kitchen, past the living room and out the side door. He followed a broken stone path that lead to the garage before reaching down to lift the rusted door.

Dust particles danced in the sunlight as the heavy wooden door shot upward. Jacob stood in the driveway for a second, squinting as the dust cleared before shuffling his feet toward the tool chest. He reached underneath and ran his hand along the bottom until he felt a small magnetic box.

Mind raced for a plan, fidgeting and fumbling, I subtlety tried to break Duke’s meditative concentration. Nothing worked, he was too focused to even belt me. I looked back into the fire. Jacob pulled a large lockbox from beneath his mother’s bed, one lock removed and soon the second. Several handguns lined the box lying on the floor. Jacob reached out, touching the guns as I stood desperate and hopeless.

Jacob picked one gun and stared at it, shifting from one hand to the other. I never held a gun before. I had no clue the make or model. All I knew was that he held it with deadly intent.

If I had a physical body, my pants would have been wetter than Niagara Falls. Jacob walked back into the bedroom closet pulling two boxes of shells from the top corner. I glanced over at Duke, his focus more intense with each passing second.

Jacob loaded the gun.

Jacob, Stop! Monika grabbed and pulled at the gun in Jacob’s hand unable get close enough to make a difference, held back by thick black smoke created from Sunny’s meditation. To her, it was as thick as a brick wall to you.

I stepped behind Duke. Readying to rush the staircase and attack Sunny, choke him out for as long as I could, hoping it would be long enough for Monika to cut a hole in the wall and rescue the boy. Duke didn’t notice me, too engrossed in meditation.

I tightened my fists before glancing into the flame one last time to see Jacob grab a second gun and then a third. I paused, loosening my grip, releasing my hand and covering it to my side. Jacob stood up from the edge of the bed, placing the three guns in his coat pocket.

I stood motionless and confused. Jacob walked out of the house and got into his car. Sunny never let up, meditating and chanting hard. Black energy accumulated, swirling above Jacob like storm clouds.

Monika followed close behind, screaming fervent prayer, never able to penetrate the dark clouds that consumed the boy.

Jacob drove four miles before stopping the car. Sunny altered his incantation, descending the staircase and kneeling at the Prince, raising his arms high. An awful vibration of evil welled up from the Prince’s burnt corpse. Sunny controlled the dark energy consuming the Prince as his body writhed and convulsed, a loud suction popping, the spirit shell severed and free.

I watched the spirit shell float around the temple. Sunny placed his hand on Justin’s head, the shell descended from the ceiling, transposing itself onto Justin’s body, taking his form and likeness.

Sunny directed the shell into the flame.

“Brother. Is it really you?” Jacob quivered and gasped. The image of Justin’s body appeared as a ghost in the passenger’s seat.

“Please, Justin. Tell him to stop! You don’t have to do this! You have free will!” I screamed in desperation. Duke swung his heavy fist across my face, sending my body twisting to the ground.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t be the brother you wanted me to be. I’m getting sicker … like dad. I don’t want to be that. I’m seeing things … ghosts … you. I’m angry, pissed off all the time. It gets inside. I can’t stop it. I hate it. I’m scared. The world I see is void of any morals. TV teaches me how to be cool at the cost my soul. The preachers in town talk about love, they don’t mean it. As soon as they’re done they rush to the polls, voting for leaders who wage war, lining their pockets with money. We’re supposed to love one another, but what’s the point in a world ravaged by deception and lie? There’s no hope. There’s no future for any of us.” Jacob’s face went blank, his eyes turning from Justin, staring forward. I watched anguish contort Justin’s face through the raging fire as his brother spoke. Justin never whispered a word. He didn’t have to.

Jacob opened and closed each firearm chamber three times, making sure there wouldn’t be any problems. He stepped out of the car, placing one foot on the ground and then the other, walking twenty paces before looking up at the faded green and white sign hanging above the doors to the vestibule.

Millersville Senior High School. Home of the Wolverines.

Chapter 19

“Take me!” I screamed, rushing Sunny’s altar only to be dropped by a piercing arrow to the side, shot by a demon warrior standing guard.

“Take me!” I screamed from the ground. A second warrior planted his heavy boot into my other side, blood coughed, vision blurred.

“Please.” I whispered, barely able to get the word out. “I have power. I’m worth much more than the boy. I … I’m a Resurrectionist.” A hush fell over the crowd of warriors. I closed my eyes, knowing I just damned myself with those words.

“Did you hear that my disciples?” Sunny stepped from his altar. “Seems we have a celebrity in the house. A Resurrectionist!” Sunny’s voice raised, a cheer erupted from the crowd. “Tell me, Resurrectionist, to what do we owe the honor?”

“Call this off. Take me. You know what I am. You know what I can do.”

“You want to make a deal, problem is, you don’t have anything to trade.” Sunny looked deep in my eyes.

“I can free you.”

“You’re obsolete, washed up, old news compared to what’s coming.” Sunny’s voice was cold and hard. “You’re nothing more than a glorified taxi driver.” Sunny stepped back to his altar, “finish it.”

I hid my face until Duke’s thick fingers wrap around my neck, pulling it up, forcing me to look. Through blurred vision I saw Jacob walk the school halls. His eyes appeared transparent, glazed over, like there was nothing behind them. Students passed him by on their way to classes, engaged in mindless chatter and distracted with text messages, completely unaware of the tragedy bursting.

The lunchroom doors flung open. Jacob passed through them, hands clammy and heartbeat rapid, enough ammunition to take out half the student body.

“I can’t believe I got a B on that Civil War test.” A group of freshman girls was sitting at a round table. “Do you guys want to meet at the mall for pedicures before the dance on Saturday?”

“Yes! I’m so excited. I can’t believe I’m going with Jason Carter. I’m so nervous.” A girl blushed. It was the only conversation I could make sense of, everything else jumbled, the noise of 200 voices speaking at once.

Randy sat in the corner table, our table. He was the one person other than Allison who understood me, back when things were normal, back before all hell broke loose.

I had a connection with Randy, deep and unconditional. I summoned my soul and every ounce of love in it. Randy, Jacob Browning, there’s a gun in his coat. Stop him.

Randy stood up, back turned, four-year letter winner according to his jacket. A tingling formed on the nape of his neck, the product of my thoughts.

Randy stood twenty feet from the gunman, my thoughts intensifying to internal screams. The jacket, look at the jacket! Randy glanced over, catching a glimpse of something shiny in Jacob’s pocket.

“Oh my God!” Echoed off the walls as shots rang out. Screaming students climbed over one another, reaching for the door as mass confusion ensued.

“Shooter! Shooter! Get down!” A teacher emerged from the lounge, yelling across the cafeteria.

Within seconds the crowd thinned. The football star had the gunman pinned to the ground yelling for help. That’s when I heard the chamber empty. That’s when I watched Randy’s body go limp. A few surrounding students swarmed Jacob, pinning his body to the linoleum floor, Randy’s blood pooling around him.

***

Black filled the temple. Intense grinding and scratching sounded from inside the staircase, like something was trying to get out. The statue at the top of the pyramid stopped instantly, all light vaporized in that moment, blinding darkness. The demon warriors seemed drunk from it. One fell into me, knocking me down in the chaos.

I scanned the blackout for an escape despite the wind being knocked from my phantom lungs. The corridor leading to the courtyard laid a few feet to my left, it’s hallway illuminated by torch light.

I dragged myself in the darkness, scrambling to my feet only to fall forward. A sharp rock jutted out from the wall, I grabbed hold, stabilizing my body. I reached the courtyard and felt a hand grab mine, it was soft, it wasn’t Duke.

“You have to climb. Hurry!” A voice called, the hand pulling me into the shadows. I followed, having no choice.

“I’ll boost you as high as I can.” I recognized the voice, disguised as a warrior, the stranger in the dungeon.

“Why are you helping me? Are you an angel?” I asked.

“The flaming sword has kept mankind from destroying creation, until now, until the Serpent was let back in.”

“God … what have I done?” I froze.

“Hurry! Go! You must go! The city of Dis. There’s a boat waiting for you.” The man knelt down forcing me up on his shoulders. I heard the grimace of pain. “Climb!”

The long cracked nails protruding from the ends of my fingers broke from my body with each frantic scale up the wall. Oddly, it made the climb easier despite the searing pain coursing through my hands. I looked down for the stranger but could only see darkness.

Duke called to his legions. Thunderous war cries echoed off the stone walls surrounding the courtyard. Two ladders, one on each side of me were placed as I reach the top.

“Climb, bring the boy to me!” Duke commanded his soldiers. I flung my body over the side of the wall, not wasting time on a climb down, landing heavy and taking the full force of ankle breaking pain.

Shock prevented the screams from leaving my mouth after seeing my mangled foot caught in a thorn bush. Bloodied hands shook violent as they scrambled to free the crushed foot tangled in undergrowth. High pitched cries grew louder, the armies of Hell bearing down on me. Seconds left before I’d be consumed by malice, doomed to an unimaginable fate.

I willed myself through knee high swamp water, trudging through muck and mire, hearing war cries unrelenting. I pushed my body hard despite the searing pain, dreading what the future held should I be caught a second time. Thorns and twisted brush pulled at me from all sides, as if they were holding me prisoner, as if Duke commanded them too.

I took a deep inhale, diving head first into the muddy moat surrounding the castle, trying to block out thoughts of what grotesque creature may be living at the depths.

My body was pulled against it’s will into a crude drainage pipe. Rushing water engulfed me, the terrifying sensation of drowning again and again driving my nightmare. Darkness and water entombed my spirit until it was dumped into a larger body of water I knew intimately … the Styx.

***

Hell was alive with buzzed excitement, I could feel the energy like a bad storm on the horizon. The forces of darkness on the verge of breaking through.

Wrought with disgrace I flung myself deeper into the river, wishing it to carry me to the darkest recesses, the weight of guilt pulling me hard against the raging waters before landing heavily on unforgiving rock.

If a soul could be destroyed I’d welcome it gladly. I was afraid, the judgment of the light impending. I couldn’t look John in the eye. He’d never see me again. I belonged to the darkness. I belonged to hell.

I ran through a series of caves and hovels like the ones I’d fought hard to escape from, cut off from all light. Alone with my thoughts, they hammered without mercy.

You aren’t the golden boy they all thought you were. You’re a pawn in the battle for the human soul, used up and tossed away, chained to the bowels of hell, you’ll never be able to show your face. You’ll carry the shame with you for all eternity, never able to shake it. It’s yours forever.

All paths in this realm lead to the city of Dis. I passed a band of thieves along the trail, feeling eyes crawl up and down my body. They passed without incident. The bandits could sense it, I wasn’t worth the trouble, obsolete. Even the hardened souls of the damned took pity on a wretch like me. One of the members grinned and nodded in my direction. He knew it was me, the one with a curse greater than his own. I was marked, branded for the world to see, evil too busy, too preoccupied with the Tribulation to bother with one lost soul.

I entered a part of the city reminding me of pictures of Venice Italy I once saw. Decaying buildings were connected by a series of canals and bridges. City streets were void, the small fires lit by the street gangs reduced to embers. Souls of the damned felt the surge of darkness about to plague the earth. The mass of dark energy allowed souls wrought with sin to rise up.

Whispers and paranoia swirled from the dark alley. I couldn’t see faces but guessed five or six. My guard went up, scanning the city for a path to the docks, keeping one eye on the shadows.

I followed a large street which lead to narrow cobblestone, just enough room to drive a horse and buggy through. Looking up at the blackened skyline I saw a deformed woman staring down at me from the rooftop of a three story tower.

“Can you see the docks from there? Which way?” I took a chance. The woman didn’t respond. “Barca. Barca.” I repeated. I took a semester of Italian in high school after a short obsession with The Godfather. The woman raised her finger, pointed over my left shoulder before ducking out of sight. I turned down the darkened street, neurosis increasing my speed.

“The docks!” I demanded, grabbing the arm of the first soul who walked by.

“You seek Charon?” The city dweller responded.

“Yes.”

“Then open your eyes.” The soul pulled away.

“What do you want?” A gravelly voice sent a shiver up my back. I turned, not expecting to see the spirit I’d been so haunted by.

“Transportation.” I said, swallowing dry mucus.

“No ride is free.” Charon mumbled.

“I have payment.” I held a coin between my fingers. Charon walked away, wanting nothing to do with me.

“Do it yourself.” He grumbled.

“What? You’re the ferryman.” I said.

“So are you!” Charon pointed to a rickety gondola boat crashing against the crumbling brick of the stone streets it was tied to.

“That thing have an Evinrude? Looks like it survived World War I and II.” I snarked, Charon moaned and walked away.

I boarded the boat. A small bucket sat in the seat next to me, unassuring. I maneuvered the boat through the rat infested canals, not sure which way was up and which was down, until cool water soaked my feet. Had a feeling I’d be needing this. I reached for the bucket, doing my best to scoop excess water and avoid ramming the narrow canal walls.

Water filled faster than I could scoop. I tossed the bucket to the side, using all my energy to row harder. In haste, I miscalculated a turn, ramming hard into a wall. Brick crumbled down, landing on top of me, the extra weight sending water gushing in. I reached high to pull myself up to the street but the ledge was too tall, water up to my knees.

“Someone help me. Give me a hand!” I reached up, calling out to the crowd forming on the street above. An onlooker leaned over the edge, our eyes connecting for a moment.

“Chew on this.” He scoffed before kicking two diseased rat carcasses down on my head. The crowd erupted into sneers and snickers, then departed.

I kicked the dead rat, stomping it into the hole. It was too big, bloated by rot. I frantically searched for a way out when the nauseating words of the onlooker came to me. I turned my head and swallowed my breath, knowing what I had to do. Reaching down, I grabbed the rat, putting it’s head in my mouth, biting down as repugnant blood filled my cheeks. Tears ran from my eyes. I couldn’t stop the gag reflex firing without control as my mouth filled with acid and bile. I squeezed the rat corpse between my fingers, the remaining blood draining to the bottom before I jammed the headless carcass into the hole. It fit better than OJ’s glove, the water stopped.

I grabbed for the bucket out of instinct but missed the target, expunging stomach contents all over myself.

A carving on the bottom inside of the bucket caught my eye, a map of the canals. I couldn’t shake the feeling of being guided. Monika? John?

The map lead a path through the canals and out of the city. The passage was short. For that I was happy. The problem, the canals dumped into a raging, violent sea. My rickety gondola and beheaded rat patchwork were no match. Winds tossed my boat worse than the S.S. Minnow.

Lighting cracked from all sides. A tidal wave rose up higher than a skyscraper before swooping down on my lonely vessel, crushing it like a bug, driving me hard to the depths.

One thing about being dead is that you can never die. An oxymoron, I know. I wished I could’ve died with my boat in the violent water, it would’ve been so much less painful. Drowning is a horrible death, having to do it over and over, experiencing it’s dooming terror. Struggling against the gravity of a million gallon of water bearing down on you, feeling your lungs fill with liquid over and over as you gasp for air is a nightmare you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. My light went black.

***

I laid in slime and seaweed until a distant voice caused my eyes to open. My spirit had washed up onto a rocky shore.

“There he is.” The faint voice sounded.

I lifted my head as a rowboat pulled up, scraping it’s bottom on the rocky beach.

“Help me lift him in.” A woman’s voice spoke as two spirits stepped out, lifting and laying me inside. We rowed a short distance. Neither one said a word before my consciousness faded.

I was awoken by multiple wraps on my head. “Wake up.” The voice was soft.

“Let me be.” I said.

“Wake up.” The voice persisted. I stared into the face of disfigurement and distortion. Hideous and awful, the woman made me want to vomit, but something was different about her eyes. No malice lived behind them.

“What do you want? Where am I?” I asked.

“Cave of the Apocalypse.” The woman said.

“Sounds lovely.” I whispered, barely able to keep tears back, reaching my breaking point.

“It’s an island, Patmos, in Greece.” The woman replied. “Come,” she said.

“No.”

“You cannot stay hidden forever.” She said. “Your soul won’t allow it.” The woman left, her words wouldn’t leave me in peace. They worked their way inside, digging their nails in hard, right where it counts.

“Wait.” I called out, getting up to set after her.

“Come,” she said.

I was led into a rickety wooden building about the size of a large shed that stood outside an opening to a cave. I expected to see hopeless souls such as myself laying in the corners and under tables. I found none of that. I was acknowledged, welcomed in an odd way with the nods and half smiles of the deformed faces.

“Look.” The woman said, bringing me to a large glass mirror. “What do you see?” I gazed into the mirror. The reflection was horrible, worse than the reflection I saw at the Richmond farm house so long ago.

My eyes had turned from blue to grey, hair was gone. My nose hung crooked to one side, left eye swollen shut, Duke’s heavy hand leaving it’s lasting impression. The skin on my face had cracked and withered. My lips receded back, revealing a permanently disfigured mouth, gums and rotted teeth exposed for the world to see.

“I see ugliness.” I said to the woman.

“I wasn’t talking about your face, I was talking about your heart.”

“My heart?” I looked to the middle of my chest. The light was there, small, but it was there, like it was in the realms of the light, like it had always been even when I was too blind to see it.

“You see only the surface. You lost your way. You fell victim to it.” She said.

“Victim to what?” I asked.

“Yourself.”

“Myself, yeah I kind of figured that much.”

“Your ego.”

“My ego. No. That’s far from the truth. Arrogance is never been my kryptonite.” I said.

“Ego takes on many forms, arrogance is just one of those many. The ego blinds us from the truth. The ego points out our faults and keeps the truth hidden from us.”

“What truth?”

“Forgiveness.”

“There’s no forgiveness for what I’ve done.” I said.

“Your self-imposed guilt is preventing you from seeing the truth. Nothing shall come to pass that cannot be undone, that cannot be forgiven.” The woman said.

“Not in my experience.”

“You sound like a broken record. All souls that have passed through these gates believe they are beyond forgiveness, beyond repair. They wash ashore. Some have been rotting for eons on that beach despite the many efforts to help them.”

“Who are you people? What is this place?”

“A refuge.” The woman spoke.

“I’m beyond second chances.”

“We take care of each other, company breeds hope, not misery.”

“I don’t need mothering. I need to be left alone.” I said, turning to find the exit.

“Believe me, you do. The woman, her help, she’s a saint.” A broken voice spoke out.

“Not what I would picture as a saint.” I said.

Silence ensued. The mirror I had seen myself in began to cloud over. I watched thick blackness swirl the earth’s atmosphere, building and concentrating. The darkness was strongest over a place all to familiar, Millersville, raging to epic levels, threatening to wipe it all away.

“Tomorrow marks the anniversary of our dear Reverend Channing’s passing.” I watched Corbin emerge from a side door and approach the altar, addressing a group of eight remaining Puritans. His sight jolted my panic. Always calm, murder unable to rattle his nerves. “Reverend Channing taught us to prepare for the judgment day. I’m here to tell you my friends that the hour is upon us.” A collective gasp released from the crowd. “The beast is crawling from the abyss as we speak.”

“Tell us good sir. When will we be taken to heaven? When will we be saved from God’s wrath on earth?” A man cried out from the back pew. Members of the congregation grew fidgety and restless, their fears excited, a lack of true faith evident. “Please sir, tell us. When will we be Raptured? When will the chariots of fire arrive to take us to heaven?”

“Soon.” Corbin removed a red cloth from the altar, revealing an exact replica of the pyramid staircase and flaming sword statue I’d scene in the Black Temple of hell.

Corbin twisted the statue with both hands. Intense grinding and scratching followed, the same torturous noise I’d always heard buzzing around Sunny. A black cloud of smoke filled the church. The walls shook under the violent expansion. People coughed and covered their eyes. A hard wind hammered against the poorly built church. A chunk of the roof ripped clean off. Panic erupted. A woman burst into tears before running outside, the door flung wide open.

“Look,” cried the man. “The sunshine is gone. It’s midnight but only four o’clock in the afternoon. The lord, is this a sign? Is he coming?” The man’s voice cracked.

“The rapture is nigh!” The Puritans shouted as they ran down main street.

***

“Is it true?”

“Yes, the rapture is upon us.” The deformed woman said.

“I did this, I brought this on.” I fell from my waist to my knees. “I never saw it coming. I thought I was doing the right thing by helping Allison. I should’ve left her chained in Duke’s box. I should’ve never went back for Justin. I unlocked the door that let the devil in.”

“The serpent lies. That’s why we’re here.” The woman said, sitting down on a broken chair.

“Can it be stopped?” I asked.

“No.”

“There has to be some way.” I said.

“No, the Revelation, the Rapture. Its prophecy. It shall come to pass. It was written right here in this cave.”

“The Book of Revelation. John’s work. He wrote it here?” I asked, the woman nodded. “Do you know him?” The woman was silent.

“You know him … don’t you? You were looking for me on that shore. He sent you, didn’t he?” My voice raised in angst, the woman kept her silence.

“Wait, if there’s no stopping it, if it’s written as true prophecy, did…did John know I’d fail? Did he send me on a death mission?”

Silence permeated the already doomed atmosphere. I looked at the woman, her eyes unable to look into mine, angst turned to rage.

“Answer me!” I lunged for her throat, wrapping my hands and squeezing tight until she broke free. Two disheveled spirits grabbed me and pulled back. “Did John set me up!” I screamed.

“We don’t know!” The woman broke her silence. I breathed hard and heavy, waiting for her to continue. “All we know is that John asked us to watch over you, and that you’d need our help at some point. That’s all we know.”

“Don’t cover for him. I want the truth!” I demanded. The woman fell back to silence. “Who are you!” Silence ensued. “If you see John tell him I’m looking for him. Tell him I have questions that I want answers for!”

“It’s not safe to leave.” The woman finally spoke.

“Since when does anyone give a crap about my safety!” I yelled, slamming the door behind me.

“Where are you going?” The woman called out as I walked toward the beach.

“To find John. To prove him wrong. Prophecy can be rewritten. I’m going to stop his Revelation!”

Chapter 20

“Wait!” The woman ran towards me. “Don’t you see? Don’t you get it?” She said. “The devil lives in the darkness. He survives on trickery and deceit. What you’ve done is expose him. He doesn’t see it, doesn’t know it. His arrogance will be his fall. Once the devil is exposed, you’ll see him for what he really is. Once the devil is brought to light he can be destroyed. Let’s figure this out together.”

“No. No! No! No! I’ve had far too much help as it is, help has only gotten me into trouble. From now on I do things on my own. I don’t need anymore help!”

“You can’t do this alone. It will destroy you.” The woman’s voice barely above a whisper.

“What’s the difference? What’s one more failure on my list? I’m already destroyed. Just get me a boat. I give up on the praying thing.”

“You planning to cross the Atlantic on a fishing boat?” The woman seemed annoyed with my defiance. “There’s an easier way. Follow me. At least let me help you that much. There’s a vortex in the back of the cave. The spiritual energy is strong there. The same energy that gave John his vision two thousand years ago.”

“Last time I trusted someone to lead me to a vortex I ended up getting my heart ripped out.”

“Where do you think you’ll find John? Where will you look?”

“Where it all started.” I followed the woman up the beach and to the back of the cave. She was right, I needed something more than a boat. Candles circled the ground next to an altar, giving off white smoke.

“Take my hand. Meditate upon your destination.” The woman grabbed my hand and I closed my eyes. Within minutes I heard the rushing roar of the vacuum open up, sucking me in, hurling me up to the earth plane.

The spiritual veil separating mortal from immortal stole my breath, like standing toe to toe with a champion fighter, I knew deep down I was in for a world of pain. The layer of energy that separated earth from hell had withered. It scared me to death. A once impenetrable force now cracked and faded. The world between humans and devils separated by tissue paper.

***

The world had grown volatile. Shifts in the climate were no longer subtle, they’d become sismatic. Millersville was a ghost town except for a few remaining Puritans. People could sense it like a bad omen. The darkness took care of the rest, driving people from their homes and destroying families. This was where it all started, the beginning of the end.

I floated up and down the vacant streets, an eerie chill surrounding my spirit, avoiding where I needed to be. Rain intensified as gutters became small rivers. The deserted streets fell pitch black after the power had been knocked out, flash lightning the only source of illumination. I heard crying from behind.

“I warned you, Stark.” A weeping voice sounded from the ground next to me. I turned to see a bloodied Reverend Channing sitting on the curb, his back against a bus bench.

“You got out.” I said.

“You opened the door.” Channing’s voice was soft. “You judged me wrong.” The voice falling to a faint whisper.” The Reverend coughed a mixture of blood and black. I remained silent, unable to respond.

“I warned you. You were too stupid to see it, blinded by what you thought was love. Why do you think I came to this street corner every Sunday? I knew what you were. I could see it. That’s why I tried so hard to keep you from my daughter. I knew that someday, should you two come together, the Revelation would be upon us.”

“That’s why you hated me, why you drove your daughter away.” I said.

“It was out of love for her, Stark. Sometimes love means letting go. A lesson you could never learn.” For the first time I saw Reverend Channing for what he really was…a scared father.

“What do you want from me, Reverend?”

“You’ve already destroyed everything I’ve loved, William Stark. My family, my church, my salvation, all of it. I don’t want anything from you. You’re the devil.”

I continued forward, turning once to look back. Reverend Channing’s head was slumped over, resting on a concrete leg of a bus bench, a broken man.

I continued up the hill to the high school, walking past the football field when I saw it. The one place in all of Millersville that had once provided a bleak source of comfort, my sanctuary. The sight caused memories to flood back. I remembered having to lower my shoulder three times against the boiler room door which would stick but never lock, opening to the place I’d come to calm myself after panic took hold. It seemed so miniscule now, a simple panic attack, nothing compared to where I’ve been. I thought of Dr. Z., the man who would become John the Apostle. I preferred to remember him as Dr. Z. It felt simpler. I longed for a place of simplicity.

Violent winds shook hard, banging the boiler room door lose, sounding like cannon fire. I rushed inside.

The school generator kicked on after power was lost. Eerie red lights illuminated the dark hallways, giving way to shadows, turning the establishment of learning into a place of nightmares. Voices danced around me, first faint then louder, then down to whispers, then that God awful grinding.

“Who’s there?” I called out. The voices came from behind, sending every hair on the back of my neck into standing position. I dove forward, rolling on the ground before popping up to defend myself. I saw nothing, the grinding stopped.

“You following me, Reverend!” There was no response.

“Who are you?” I called out.

“I’ve been called many things, Serpent, Adversary, Devil. I have many names. I am these things.”

I turned in all directions, frantic to find the source of the voice which seemed to come from all around. Was the voice inside me?

“I am you.”

“You are not me.” I whispered

“I was born in the garden but existed long before. The garden was the key that opened the door.” The phantom voice sounded.

“Door to what?”

“The human soul.”

“Are you God?”

“They say God invented man, gave him the credit. They’re wrong. I invented man, as soon as the creatures took that delicious first bite.” A loud clap of thunder sounded from above. “The ego was born. Creation of the separate man. Man before the fall was asleep. I freed him, gave him life. Does anybody ever thank me? The final phase is near completion.”

“What phase?”

“Surely you’ve read the book of Revelation. Your mentor wrote it, surprised it wasn’t part of the curriculum, or maybe, just maybe there’s something he didn’t want you to know. We all have an agenda.”

“What do you want from me?” My voice squeaked like a mouse.

“To keep a promise.” The phantom voice sounded in the air, surrounding me. “We all want knowledge. With knowledge comes freedom.” The voice said. “I make the same promise to you that I made so very long ago.”

“You’ve got nothing I want.”

“You can know the mind of God. The one you call John kept secrets from you, did he not? People say I’m the trickster, that I’m the great deceiver. What about God? What does God know that he doesn’t want us to know? I proposed that very question all those eons ago. Knowledge is a powerful thing. They knew what God knew, they knew good and evil. The knowledge you seek is behind door number two.”

Just as the voice stopped speaking those words the school lights came back on. The room was illuminated like it had always been. I turned to my left as if compelled from the inside, a lump forming in my esophagus. Three doors stood before me, I’d seen them before, when John opened up the vision of Judas. The doors were utility closets for the janitor’s tools. Each door had a number. As you would expect, door number two stood right in the middle.

“What’s in there?” I dared to ask, not wanting to hear the answer. There was no answer. I was alone, directly in front of the enigmatic door. I swallowed hard. Was the phantom voice telling the truth? I stared at the door, a doorway to the mysteries of the universe. If history was any teacher, I should know better than to open door number two.

I reached my hand forward and then pulled it back. Walk away. A voice whispered from my soul to my mind.

I bent over clenching my sour midsection. A loud bang sounded behind me. The door to the boiler room swung wide open. Violent wind and driving rain pounded outside.

Ignorance is bliss but knowledge is power. That’s the choice I offered her. In the garden they had bliss but not power. God wanted to keep it for himself, keeping them blind. Ask yourself this William Stark, what is God hiding from you? What does God not want you to know? Ask yourself these things … Resurrectionist. What do you choose?

I took a deep inhale, held my breath, and turned the knob.

Chapter 21

“Think twice, before doing that.”

“I figured you’d show, once the dirty work had been done.” I turned to see John standing in the boiler room doorway.

“If you go in there, I cannot help you.”

“But that’s what you want, right John? You want me to go in there of my own free will, so you can be off the hook when the Revelation gets pinned on me.”

“You’re spirit is off balance, William. I can see it in your aura.”

“I’m right. It’s true. You’re hiding something from me. You knew about this, didn’t you? The mission to save Judas was doomed from the beginning. I was never going to pull him out. You knew the whole time I’d be chasing a white rabbit, you knew I’d fail, fall like Judas. It’s true. You’d stop at nothing to fulfill your prophecy. That’s why you recruited me. That’s why you came to this school, pretending to be a guidance counselor. You needed a sap to pin it on. Someone to trigger your Revelation.”

“You’re not seeing the big picture, William.”

“Let me tell you about the big picture. You, and the rest of your heavenly host used us as pawns. Well, no longer. I won’t be played. What does it matter anyway, devil’s in the garden. Game’s over. It’s my fault.”

“You fell under the illusion of the ego, you let the serpent steal your light, William.”

“You didn’t prepare me.”

“I warned you about the darkness and it’s ability to create subtle illusion, turn friend into foe.”

“Well, looks like you were right … congratulations. I couldn’t stop it. Allison’s misguidance, Justin’s weakness, Randy’s death, this whole tribulation thing. You look at me and see a failure, you see a disgrace.”

“That’s not true, William. It was your thoughts, your prayer that reached through to Randy. You were the one with the connection. You were the only one who could reach him.” John said.

“I’m the cause of his death. Looks like there’s two murders on my record.”

“I know you’re angry, it’s ok, but blaming me won’t help. It could’ve been so much worse, William. Randy’s act saved everyone in that lunchroom. Don’t you see that?”

“Everyone but poor Randy.” I said.

“Randy is being cared for by our best healers. They’ll help him through his trauma. He will make a full recovery and become strong through his experience. Remember William, no greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends.”

“Enough with the scripture, John. I’m done. You didn’t bother to lay down your life. You didn’t come down to the pit and put it on the line. The only help I got was from stranger who’d appear at random when my butt needed saving. That stranger wasn’t you!”

“Your mind is twisted, stop. You’re heading down a dark path. Let me help you. Your tour in hell was rough. Rougher than most.”

“Rough? John, I bit the head off a rat to stay alive. I’d say it was more than rough.”

John paused, a familiarity in his eye. “You’re welcome for that.”

“What? That was you? You’re the one who kicked dead rat carcasses down on my head?”

“Kept your boat afloat. I never promised hell would be easy, William.”

“Now I see why the Son only lasted three days.”

“You need to step back, William. You’re out of line. You’re woefully out of balance.”

“Yeah, I wonder why. You couldn’t have given me a hand instead. You don’t think that would have been easier than swallowing diseased rat blood?”

“I couldn’t let my cover be blown. Resources are scarce in the darkness. Sometimes you need to use the tools you’re given. Sometimes you have to get creative.”

“What about the sea? When I was drowning, over and over?”

“I couldn’t reach you. I didn’t have the power. I have to dial everything down just to step foot in hell. When Sunny completed the ritual, hell opened up for us, but barely.”

“When I first heard Judas’ story I thought he was delusional, stuck in his own self-pity. Now, I’m beginning to see things his way. Your God, if there really is one, used us. You can’t tell me he truly cares what happens to us. If he did we wouldn’t be in this position right now? We wouldn’t be staring down the black hole of the apocalypse!”

“William, you’re angry, you’re not thinking rationally.”

“Save the psycho babble. You couldn’t even fix my stupid anxiety.”

“You’re forgetting free will.”

“Save it! You knew exactly what would happen, what would become of me. You can’t believe we are truly free. You’re forgetting about fate.”

“You have a choice. Come with me, or open that door.”

“I don’t belong with your kind. You know it as much as I do.”

“I must warn you, William. Do you know what happens? When the Revelation is completed. When the beast walks the earth?”

“It doesn’t matter. I deserve it. I’ll own up to my fate. The heavens will close, the earth will become hell and all those living upon her will be slaves for eternity. But you already knew that. You knew of my fate, my predestination, that’s why you hid it from me.”

“You have choice. You can come with me.” John reached his hand out.

“I belong here. You know it more than I do. I’m a Resurrectionist.”

***

Time stopped in that moment, my breath empty when I passed the threshold of door number two. I expected a flash of blinding light, but there was nothing. The air was quiet and still until a faint rustle jolted me. I walked to the back of the closet. Behind a metal shelf, curled up in the fetal position, lying on the floor was the knowledge the phantom voice promised me. I knelt to the ground.

“I know who you are.” I spoke softly. There was no answer.

“I’m not going to hurt you … Judas.” He remained balled up on the floor, motionless. “Do you remember me? I helped you … once upon a time. How did you find this place?” I asked.

“The same way you found it.” Judas’ voice was barely above a whisper.

“You ran back to the motherland after I pulled you from the pit. I figured you’d be chained to some demon’s demented dream of torture device.” I said.

“They brought me here. They told me you’d be coming. They told me all about you.”

“The phantom?”

“No, my brothers.” Judas spoke, my heart sank with the truth. It hurt more than you’ll know, more than anyone can.

“Your brothers, James and John, they set us up.”

“Yes, they brought me here.”

“Why didn’t they bring you to the realms of light?”

“I want no part of that place. The devil, or phantom as you call it was right. He promised you knowledge. I’m here to give it to you, confirm what you already know as the truth. We’re pawns, you and I. We were never meant for glory, not like them. We were breed for nothing less than whipping boys. Sorry, but I want no part of it.” Judas said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“John wrote about us, in Revelation. We’re the witnesses, the two. I’m guessing he never shared that with you, did he?” I didn’t respond. “Didn’t think so. You were set up. If not by him, then by God. Of all the people in the world, God chose us to be evil.”

“You’re not evil. You were young, you made a mistake.”

“I’m a villain, and so are you. You were chosen, like I was. It takes two to tango. The only interest John has in you is fulfilling that stupid prophecy of his. He’ll stop at nothing to make it true. We all have our parts to play in God’s version of, Shakespeare on Ice.”

It didn’t take long to see why Judas remained in hell. He was angry, bitter at God and the light. Judas believed in fate, predestination, not in free will. He blamed God for his lot. His hatred towards the light prevented his soul from ascending to the heavens.

“Face it. We are nothing in the eyes of God. Just pieces on his tortured chessboard. Toys for his cat to bat around when bored. He doesn’t care about you, me, anything but his own amusement. You want to know what I really think?” Judas said.

“What’s that?”

“His Son is a sap. His own father left him out to die on a piece of wood and he still gives him all the glory. No thanks. If my dad did that to me, you’d better believe I’d hit the door running and never look back. Talk about the ultimate child abuser.”

“How do you know it was God’s will that his Son die that way?”

“Even if it wasn’t God’s will that his son be crucified, even if he was simply murdered by those who saw him as a threat, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that God is all powerful and he could have lifted a finger to help. Instead, like the absentee father he is, he did nothing. Same goes for me. He could have had me born in a land far away. Instead, I was born in Palestine. Tell me, am I right? Tell me I’m right?”

“I don’t know.” I said.

“How’d you like it? To be the most hated man in history, the ultimate villain, more hated than Caesar, Herod, and Hitler combined.”

“You thought you were doing the right thing. John told me that.” I said.

“So did Hitler.”

“Listen-”

“No, you listen, kid. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be me? Try going on a job interview and saying ‘hey, my name’s Judas, nice to meet you,’ they’d show you to the door before you could even take a sip of the free coffee they offered you.”

“Do you know how many Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John’s are in the world? Do you know how many Judas’s there are? Parents aren’t lining up at the hospital window to name their kids after me.”

“The worst part, the worst part is that Christians celebrate the crucifixion, like there’s something to celebrate, yet my name is repulsive to them, hated and rebuked. If it wasn’t for me there’d never been a crucifixion. Why isn’t my name in marquee lights? Where’s my spiritual glory? My sacrifice was greater than his, don’t you think? He had to rot for a few days, I’ve rotted for centuries. Had he done what I’d thought he’d do, my name would have been lost in the sands of history. I would give anything to be erased from the minds of men and spirits. Now, I’m repulsed by them.”

“Tell me what happened, how it all went wrong so long ago?”

“I knew the Son was powerful. I wanted the world to see it. There was nothing malicious in my intent. Nothing evil. It was a mistake of youth, arrogance, and most of all ignorance. John is right about that, but it still doesn’t make me any less of a villain. The choices were mine fully. I knew the consequences of them. My ego thought the Son would prove himself, show the world his glory. That seed, that thought was planted, by the adversary. I thought if the Son was captured he’d have no choice but to reveal his true power. Reign wrath down on his captors. Bring the anger of God down on the Romans for being a corrupt empire. I was wrong, the Son didn’t lift a finger to save himself.”

“Why didn’t he stop them?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I still don’t know. All I’ve learned is to accept the truth. The reasons behind it are a mystery to me.”

“You were tricked.” I said. “So was I.” I sat with my back against the wall of the 10×8 utility closet, next to a man who knew pain like no other. A moment of connection formed in the most unlikely of places. A long silence passed before he spoke.

“You know we can’t go back don’t you? We can never show our faces in the realms of light.”

“There’s a time I would have argued with you, not anymore, not after what I’ve done. Now, I truly understand what it’s like to be an outcast.” I said.

“We’re cursed, you and I, doomed for eternity. I know what they tell you, the code of the Resurrectionist. I used to be one, at least in the making. They’re wrong. Not everyone can receive salvation. There’s no place for us, no home.” Judas’ words hit me, the awfulness of our situation realized. We could never go back, never see our loved ones again, never go home. I fell to the linoleum, unable to control the tears that fell with me.

Hopelessness is hell, a bottomless pit you can’t dig out of. My only salvation was the man sitting next to me, a man the world despised. The worst of all sinners according to Dante, was now my friend, our fates sealed for eternity under the weight of our failures.

The boiler room door banged against wall from the heavy wind. I sat up to close it when I felt a weight on my shoulder pulling me back down.

“Stay with me, just a bit longer. The eleventh hour is upon us, all hell’s breaking loose. We both know it. I haven’t felt this close to another human being in a very long time. Please, stay here, with me.” Judas’ voice trembled.

I sat back down next to the man who shared my pain. The winds howled outside, filling the utility closet with ice cold air, the banging of the boiler room door growing louder. The eleventh hour indeed upon us, all hell breaking loose. Panic pulsated through my being. I broke, burying tears into the palms of my hands.

“The chariots of fire have taken the righteous to heaven. There’s nothing left.” Judas covered his weeping face with his withered hands.

“What does that make us?” I asked, falling next to him, embracing the man I’d become.

“Lost People.”

Epilogue

Water gushed in from the pounding rain outside, filling the boiler room fast, threatening to overcome it.

“We need to move!” I yelled.

“Leave me be.”

“Do you know what it’s like to drown, over and over again? Believe me, you don’t want to find out. You’re coming with me.”

I lifted Judas to my shoulders, holding him in a fireman’s carry, water approaching my knees. Outside was pitch black. The streets had become white water rapids, the Bear Creek well over capacity. I prepared for the worst. Lightning filled horizon. I watched a small boat grow bigger as it approached, the same boat the woman used when she brought me to the cave of the Apocalypse.

“Give me your hand.” The stranger reached down, the mysterious man who’d helped me through hell when I needed it the most. I lifted Judas from my shoulders as the stranger pulled him aboard. He reached his hand down and pulled me up. My elbow popped, never fully recovering from the crushing power of Reverend Channing’s bear trap. My teeth grinded in agony.

“We have to get back!” The stranger shouted against rushing water and thunderous lightning. “My wife, she can heal you!”

“Why are you helping me?” I asked, throwing my body over the edge of the boat, lying on the bottom heavy from exhaustion. The stranger stood over me, eyes cast down, rain pouring off his face.

“Because you’re just like me. Because this is all my fault.” The man glanced down at his wounded midsection, ribcage missing.

“Tell me your name.”

“Adam.”

###

“Do not be afraid; our fate, cannot be taken from us; it is a gift.”

-Dante Alighieri, The Inferno

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

I live in Minneapolis Minnesota with my wife and our two children. I love all things paranormal, spiritual, and supernatural. I am currently in the process of writing the third and final book to the Resurrectionist Trilogy entitled: The Resurrectionist Book III: The Great Tribulation. I love spending time with my family and write as often as time will allow. I hoped you enjoyed reading this book. Let me know what you thought at [email protected] and leave a review on Amazon.com.

 


The Resurrectionist Book II: Lost People

"Not all souls experience bliss. Not all aspects of the afterlife are fluffy clouds and golden halos. An insane mission, an epic rescue, that's what John was asking, the impossible. Why did I do it, trade heaven for hell, of my own free will? Maybe it wasn't free will, maybe something greater than myself force my hand. Either way, it doesn't matter. If you've been where I've been, seen what I've seen, you'll be disturbed, you'll understand ... you'll want to save them all." -William Stark Forced by circumstance and calling, William Stark must choose again to put his spirit to the test. Descending into hell to resurrect one of the most hated men in history, no easy task for a teenager taken before his time. Plagued by fear and self-doubt, William must find his inner strength and courageous heart; or risk being consumed in the everlasting fires of eternal nightmare.

  • ISBN: 9781370237180
  • Author: Michael Gesellchen
  • Published: 2016-10-08 04:50:17
  • Words: 64885
The Resurrectionist Book II: Lost People The Resurrectionist Book II: Lost People